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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/10/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:45 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Wednesday.  You all have presumably had an opportunity to dial into the call that was convened by the National Security Council and representatives from the State Department and the Department of Defense, discussing the announcement that the President and his team made today to ramp up our training, advise and assist efforts in Anbar Province in Iraq.  So I’m happy to take your questions on that and any other topics that may be on your mind.

Darlene, do you want to get us started?

Q    Sure, thanks.  Do you have any information on an American named Keith Broomfield who apparently was killed fighting ISIS in Syria -- fighting against ISIS in Syria?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any information on that, but we can check on that for you.  

Q    A couple of questions on trade.  With the House vote coming up on Friday, can you give us a little sense of what the President is doing last minute to kind of get some more Democrats to vote for that legislation?

MR. EARNEST:  The President does continue to be engaged with members of Congress in both parties about why he believes the House should pass legislation that’s already passed the Senate that would give him the authority to negotiate the most progressive trade bill that’s ever passed.  This is an agreement that the President believes is clearly in the best interest of middle-class families in the United States.  The agreement would include enforceable provisions related to higher labor standards, higher environmental standards, and specific language about the need to respect basic human rights.  

So the President, as you know, has been actively engaged in making this case both publicly and privately to Democrats and Republicans.  He spent most of his time talking to Democrats on this matter, and the President and his team will continue to be engaged in the days leading up to the vote in convincing Democrats and Republicans to build the kind of bipartisan majority that we also saw in the Senate.

Q    Does the White House believe that it will have more than the 18 Democrats who have already said publicly that they’re going to vote yes?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a whip count to update you with, but I can tell you that the President and his team are engaged in an effort to build a bipartisan majority to support this legislation.

Q    There was Medicare pay-for that was removed from the trade assistance package.  What does the White House think about that?  And do you think, having done that, that will encourage more Democrats to vote for the bill?

MR. EARNEST:  Darlene, as it relates to the specific pay-fors included in this legislation, we have acknowledged that this is something that Democrats and Republicans in Congress will have to work out, and we are supportive of bipartisan efforts to resolve some of these differences.  But we haven’t weighed in on any of the specific proposals that have been floated back and forth.  This is consistent with the kind of legislative process that we’ve seen on a range of issues; that’s not surprising that it’s emerged in the discussion of this issue as well.  

What we are ultimately seeking is the kind of bipartisan support for this bill that would allow it to pass the House of Representatives so the President could sign it into law and we could get about the work of completing the TPP negotiations with the other countries in the Asia Pacific.

Q    Finally, the Vice President has returned to the White House today to have lunch with the President and to meet with the Ukrainian Prime Minister.  Have you seen him today?  Is there anything you can tell us about how he is holding up?

MR. EARNEST:  I have not seen the Vice President today.  I know that -- but I was aware of his schedule and that he was returning.  But what I know from talking to those who have talked to him is that he has -- I think I mentioned this -- had the opportunity to mention this last week that the Vice President and his family continue to be moved by the incredible outpouring of support that his family has received in this very difficult time.  And I think that was on full display for those of you that had the opportunity to either attend or watch the funeral over the weekend. 
And this will continue to be a difficult time for the Biden family and for all of those of us who care deeply for the Vice President and his family.  But I think what is not a surprise to anybody in this room is that the Vice President is very dedicated to his job, and we obviously are pleased that he’ll be able to -- that he’s able to return today and to be focused again on the many difficult policy challenges that he has assumed in the role of Vice President.


Q    Thank you, Josh.  Going back, or as a follow-up to the call today, did the President consider sending more than the 450 troops that he ended up deciding on?

MR. EARNEST:  Jeff, I think that the Department of Defense official that you spoke to on the call I think explained the decision-making behind the decision to pursue this specific policy.  And that is starting from the question related to what is needed to improve our efforts in Iraq, what can we do to better support the strategy that has been laid out by Prime Minister Abadi, and what can we do to capitalize on those elements of our strategy that have proved effective in Iraq.  And the best way for us to do both of those things is to essentially expand the capacity of our train, advise and assist mission in Anbar Province.  That is to build up the capacity of Iraqi security forces, give them the benefit of training by U.S. and our coalition partners.  

We also are seeking to more efficiently provide equipment and materiel to the Iraqi security forces and those fighters that are working in concert with Iraqi security forces.  This will also allow the Abadi government to more effectively pursue either strategy to recruit Sunni tribal fighters into this effort.  

Those tribal fighters will also benefit from some of the advise-and-assist efforts that our military personnel are engaged in.  They will benefit from the expedited transfer of weapons and equipment.  And bringing them into this fight under the command and control of the Iraqi central government will be an important part of ensuring that we have Iraqi fighters on the ground who are fighting ISIL in their own country and even in their own communities.  

So in pursuit of that specific effort, the President and his team decided that expanding our training and advise and assist missions at Taqaddum Air Base was the right approach.  Then there was the consideration of how many -- or how large of an additional contingent of U.S. military forces would be required to undertake that mission at the new location, and the President’s national security team recognizing that force protection in Iraq is critically important.  Obviously, it continues to be a dangerous country.  Obviously, Anbar Province continues to be a particularly volatile region of an already dangerous country.  

So based on the analysis of the Department of Defense and other elements of the President’s national security team, they arrived at this number -- that about 400 or 450 U.S. military personnel would be required to carry out this mission at Taqaddum.  And that is the basis of the decision that the President made today. 

Q    And given the pressures that U.S. troops are under, given the political pressures that this White House and the President are facing to do more, are you confident, A, that that number is enough; and B, that these initiatives are enough right now to halt the progress that Islamic State has had?  

MR. EARNEST:  Jeff, the President and his team are confident that, for now, 450 troops -- additional military personnel are what is necessary to fulfill this expanded advise and assist and training mission to Taqaddum Air Base.

But what is also true is the President is going to continue to push his national security team to continually evaluate the strategy to take a close look at the tactics that are being employed in Iraq and determine which ones have proven to be effective, and ensure that they are being applied not just in those areas where we’re making progress, but also in those areas where we’re sustaining some setbacks.  And that’s been true in many locations in Anbar. 

As was referred to on the call, there actually are some locations in Anbar, near the other training base in Anbar -- at Al-Asad Air Base -- where we have seen Iraqi security forces that have been trained by coalition forces that have received the benefit of advice and assistance of U.S. military personnel, where we have seen the Iraqi security forces be effective in driving out ISIL.  That’s the reference to this town in Baghdadi, which is in Anbar Province, which is a town that was taken over by ISIL but essentially was retaken by American- and coalition-trained Iraqi security forces.

They did that not just using the training that they had received from our coalition; they did that with the advice of our coalition and with the backing of coalition military airstrikes.  That’s an indication of an area where the strategy that the President has laid out has yielded important progress.  And that’s the kind of progress that we’d like to see in other places in Anbar, but also in other places across the country in Iraq.

Q    Can you give us a sense of what else he would consider in terms of future actions when you talk about, and as Ben said on the call, not ruling out additional steps?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s hard to give you a real clear sense of exactly what other things are on the table.  The President has been clear about what’s not on the table, and that is a large-scale, ground combat operation inside of Iraq.  And the reason the President has ruled out that option is the President does not believe it is in the national security interest of the United States to us to do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves -- and that is to provide for the security situation in their country.

The United States is prepared to stand with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi security forces as they take the fight to ISIL on the ground.  We’re prepared to back their efforts with military airpower.  But the President does not believe that sending in a large contingent of U.S. ground combat troops is in our best interest.  It’s also relevant that the Iraqi central government does not believe that that would be a good move.

So we are working closely to coordinate our efforts with the Iraqi central government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Abadi, to pursue this effort.  And so it’s difficult to foreshadow what other things may be considered, but there is at least one prominent option that the President won’t consider.


Q    Thanks.  Somebody mentioned on the call that this option has been under consideration for quite a few months and that it only sort of resurfaced after the fall of Ramadi.  What took so long?  If the Prime Minister was telling the President and the administration months and months ago that they needed more training and acceleration of equipment and weapons, and even more intelligence sharing, what took the administration so long to decide that this was a step you needed to take?  

And secondly, what is the timetable for retaking Ramadi now?  Is it going to be this summer, is it going to be the end of the year?  And what about Mosul?  I mean, this seems like a shift away from emphasis there.  And I wonder if you could just say what the White House or what the President would consider to be success in terms of the timetable for retaking those cities. 

MR. EARNEST:  Julie, let me clarify the first part of the question that you asked.  The President and his team had been discussing the possibility of expanding the advise-and-assist mission into Taqaddum Air Base prior to ISIL taking Ramadi.  The specific request that was received from Prime Minister Abadi did not come until after the fall of Ramadi.  And that was at the same time that we were considering a wide range of other things that could be done to support the Iraqis.  

So it’s not as if there was a situation where there were a large number of Iraqi requests that had been made by Prime Minister Abadi that were not considered until after the fall of Ramadi.  The fact is, the President and his national security team, even before the fall of Ramadi, we’re considering a range of options, including this specific option of expanding our training and advising and assist mission to Taqaddum Air Base.

As it relates to the timeline for retaking Ramadi, those kinds of operational decisions will be decisions that will be made by Prime Minister Abadi and the Iraqi security forces.  They’ll make that decision in consultation with the United States and all of our coalition partners.  They’re certainly interested in the advice that U.S. military officials have to offer in that regard.  But ultimately, it will be a decision that they’ll make.  And so if there’s any sort of announcement about timing, it will come from Prime Minister Abadi’s office.

As it relates to the need to drive ISIL out of Mosul, I’ll say a couple of things about that.  The first is that our strategy -- and when I say our strategy, I mean both the strategy of the Iraqis and our coalition -- will be based on our knowledge of what’s happening on the ground.  And what’s happening on the ground in Anbar is a source of concern.  And the strategy that we have discussed today in terms of ramping up our training and advising and assisting mission reflects the concern about the situation in Anbar Province.  

And we are confident that these efforts will enhance the capacity of Iraqi security forces and those forces that are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government to addressing the situation in Anbar Province, and driving ISIL out of the province and ultimately out of Ramadi as well.  

We are also confident that that will eventually benefit the effort to drive ISIL out of Mosul, too.  So I guess the point is, we continue to be concerned about the situation in Anbar Province.  It’s not unrelated to the concern that we have, or about the priority that we’ve placed on ultimately driving ISIL out of Mosul as well.

Q    But you can’t say what the President would consider success in terms of a timeframe for retaking Ramadi or Mosul -- recognizing that it’s up to the Prime Minister to decide what the plan is going to be for doing so?  But what would the White House consider to be in line with what you’re shooting for here?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t put any sort of timeline on it from here.  But we have heard the -- shortly after the fall of Ramadi, the Abadi government announced a specific plan, back on May 19th, for what they believed was necessary to retake Ramadi and to drive ISIL out of Anbar Province.  And the expansion of our training, advising, and assist mission that was announced today is an effort to reinforce that previously announced strategy.  And the way that it will reinforce that strategy is both by bolstering the capacity of Iraqi security forces who will benefit from this training.  It also will make it easier for the Abadi government to fulfill the element of their strategy that’s dependent on recruiting local Sunni tribal fighters and ensuring that their efforts are coordinated with the Iraqi security forces as they take the fight to ISIL in Anbar.  And we can assist those efforts by offering advice and assistance to those Sunni tribal fighters, and we can supplement those efforts by ensuring that we’re efficiently delivering equipment and materiel to those fighters as they prepare to retake Ramadi and, ultimately, Anbar.


Q    You mentioned that the additional trainers and other things were being considered well before the fall of Ramadi.  But consideration is one thing.  Why weren’t these acted upon?  You said that Abadi didn’t ask for them until after the fall of Ramadi, but surely our advisors are the ones who are making the decisions when Iraq hasn’t been able to handle this ISIS problem from the beginning.  So why wasn’t the pressure put on, or the decision made, or the advice given to do some of this before the fall of Ramadi?  Because clearly the problems were identified.

MR. EARNEST:  Michelle, I’ll say a couple of things.  That these kinds of decisions are closely coordinated with the Abadi government, and in this case, the decision to expand the mission to Taqaddum Air Base was at the specific request of the Abadi government but also reflected the unanimous recommendation that the President had received from his national security team.  And these are the kinds of things that the President’s national security team has been considering for some time.  And it reflects the need for the United States, our coalition partners, and for the Iraqi government to be nimble as we respond to an adversary, an opponent on the ground in Iraq that has also demonstrated a capacity to adapt their tactics and to try to capitalize on their perception of weaknesses.

So that’s what we’re trying to do.  But ultimately we continue to have confidence that the effort to build up the capacity of Iraqi security forces, to enlist Sunni tribal fighters in the effort by bringing them into the mobilization forces and putting them under the command and control of the Iraqi central government, that this will be an effective tactic against ISIL in Anbar, primarily because when you’re bringing Sunni tribal fighters from Anbar into this fight, you’ve got local Iraqi security forces that are fighting against ISIL in their own province and, in some cases, even in their own communities.  

And we believe that will be effective because these are fighters who are fighting for their own towns.  And that’s a good thing both in the short term, in terms of trying to drive ISIL out of the town.  It also represents a path toward a sustainable solution; that ultimately, over the long term, what we need to do is we need to build up the capacity of local security forces and local governing structures to govern these territories.  And we’ve seen that this is something that the American people and the American military can’t do for the Iraqis; this is something the Iraqis must do for themselves.  And we want to help them build up the capacity to do exactly that.

Q    And the 450 additional trainers, that’s a doubling of the number that’s there now -- so obviously a significant increase.  But doesn’t that also point to a --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me ask you -- when you say doubling what’s there now, right now there aren’t any U.S. military at Taqaddum Air Base.

Q    Not at that location, but in Iraq.  There are about 450 designated for training, according to numbers that came from the DOD.  It was a breakdown of the 3,000 or so that are there now.  

MR. EARNEST:  Okay, well, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the additional 450 are all dedicated to training.  As I mentioned earlier, some of them are dedicated to force protection.

Q    Okay, got it.

MR. EARNEST:  But that’s -- but okay, we’re on the same page then.

Q    So compared -- when you look at the number that’s there now, this is a significant increase.  So I’m just thinking, doesn’t that also point to a significant underestimation in what was needed initially?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what it represents is a conclusion by the President and his national security team that the situation on the ground in Iraq would benefit from more trained Iraqi security forces and more Sunni tribal fighters that are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government who have received advice and assistance and equipment from the U.S. military.  And our strategy is predicated on ramping up the capacity of the Iraqi security forces, and enlisting Sunni tribal fighters in the fight.  And setting up this training and advising and assisting mission at Taqaddum Air Base will facilitate that effort.

Q    But just the fall of Ramadi alone, doesn’t that indicate a lot of underestimations there on the part of the Iraqis, as well as the U.S., who’s advising them?

MR. EARNEST:  Michelle, I think what we have said about Ramadi is that it was a setback.  There are, however, other places where the Iraqi security forces, with the support of the United States and our coalition partners, have made important progress.  And this is consistent with what we’ve seen in military conflicts -- that there will be areas of progress and periods of setback.  And what we want to do is we want to apply the lessons learned in those areas where we’ve made progress, and apply them in areas where we’ve experienced some setback.  And expanding our capacity to offer advice and assistance, and increase training not just to Iraqi security forces, but also to Sunni tribal fighters in Anbar, reflects the successful implementation of the strategy.

We know that, in other places, that has been successful in improving the performance of the Iraqis on the battlefield as they take the fight to ISIL in their own country.  So that’s why we’re applying it in Anbar Province.

Q    The Iraqis are also asking for all kinds of additional equipment.  Why isn’t it time for that right now?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that is part of this announcement, as well, is to ensure that we can more quickly and more efficiently provide that equipment not just to Iraqi security forces, but also to Sunni tribal fighters who are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.  

So, yes, the focal point of this announcement has been on additional U.S. military personnel who can carry out a training, advising and assisting mission at Taqaddum Air Base.  But what also is included in this announcement is a process for more efficiently delivering needed equipment and materiel to Iraqi fighters, either in the security forces or tribal forces who are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.


Q    I wanted to loop back on trade really quickly.  First, I wanted to ask about the letter that Richard Trumka sent today.  I’m not sure if you saw it.

MR. EARNEST:  I haven't seen it.

Q    Well, barreling ahead anyway.  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s try.

Q    He accused the President of mischaracterizing the union stance on trade, and he said that the President a few weeks ago said, on principle, regardless of what the provisions are, the unions are opposed to trade.  But he noted that, back in 2000, the AFL-CIO had supported the U.S.-Jordan trade pact, and he said that this kind of mischaracterization was essentially marginalized into an important Democratic ally.  I’m wondering what your response to that is.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me just say as a general matter, Justin, that I think that it is true that the President and many of the leaders of organized labor in this country have values that we share about the need to expand the economic opportunity for middle-class families all across the country.  That’s the focal point.  I’m confident that these leaders in the labor movement would say that that is their priority.  It also is the priority of President Obama.  And that is why when we confront the vast majority of economic issues that are moving through the Congress, that there’s broad agreement between the President and these labor leaders, but we have encountered a scenario here where there is a difference of opinion.  And it is a difference of a pretty strongly held opinions I think on both parts.  

And the President believes that he has made a powerful and persuasive case about why progressive Democrats should be supportive of this specific Trade Promotion Authority legislation.  It is legislation that writes in enforceable labor and environmental standards.  It included specific language related to human rights -- the first time that those kinds of provisions have ever been included in Trade Promotion Authority legislation.  And that’s why we feel good about winning the support of about a third of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate for this legislation.  

I don’t know that we’re going to get a similar percentage in the House, but it is a clear illustration that the President is not the only progressive Democrat who believes that this legislation is clearly in the best interest of middle-class families.  The President is going to continue to make this case to Democrats in the House.  He’s going to continue to make this case to Democrats across the country.  He does not expect that he’ll be able to persuade them all, but this reflects a difference of opinion.  It does not, however, reflect a difference when it comes to the priority that we all place on looking out for the best interests of America’s middle-class families.

Q    Well, I think the argument that they’re making is that it’s harder to make a case to progressives if you are mischaracterizing their position.  And we’ve heard this from the AFL-CIO, from Elizabeth Warren.  Is there any concern from the White House, especially on something that was rhetorical and off the cuff, but also kind of demonstrably untrue that the President has mischaracterized his opponents’ position on this?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t think there is.  I’m not sure there’s anything demonstrably untrue about what the President said, either.  But I think what is true is that, generally speaking, on the vast majority of economic matters that come before the United States Congress, the President and leaders of the Labor Movement are in strong agreement about what’s necessary to advance the interests of middle-class families.

In this case, there is a disagreement, and I would acknowledge that it is a sharp disagreement.  But the President has had success in making his case to Democrats in the United States Senate.  I’m confident that we’ll have some success in making our case to Democrats in the House.  And, frankly, if you look at some of the polling data, which I know that you guys are often eager to do, there’s some evidence to indicate that the majority of Democrats across the country agree with the President about this.  

But differences of opinion are not unusual.  What’s important is that we continue to have a set of shared values that relate to the importance of providing for the best interests of middle-class families.

Q    And then I just finally wanted to loop back to what Darlene was asking about -- the Medicare tweak that’s been floated -- the Pelosi-Boehner deal.  I know that you said that you haven’t weighed in, but I’m kind of hoping that you will weigh in on this because it’s I think kind of the last, I don’t know, stumbling block here.  House Democrats are upset because they say that this fix, which would have cut Medicare to pay for trade assistance for people who are hurt by the trade deal, won’t be attached to legislation that must pass as part of the deal.  Republicans are saying, well, now you’re trying to move the goal posts, possibly killing the entire package.  

So I guess to return to one of our favorite rhetorical tools, if representative Josh Earnest, D of Missouri, was voting -- (laughter) -- and presumably cared both about this trade deal but also about this Medicare cut, is the Medicare issue not important enough for him to want it attached to must-pass legislation?

MR. EARNEST:  Justin, that was a good try.  (Laughter.)  What I will say is that these kinds of decisions about legislative procedure and pay-fors are part and parcel of the standard legislative process.  And this is all -- there’s a reason they call it sausage-making, which is it’s not particularly appetizing to watch but it often yields a useful result.  And so as the Congress goes through this process, we’re hopeful that Democrats and Republicans will be able to work out an agreement that yields bipartisan support for this package of legislation that the President believes is critically important to our economy and to the interests of middle-class families.

Q    I guess to put it very bluntly, having the Medicare fix attached to must-pass legislation is not a definite priority of the White House?  It’s not something that you need to see in a final --

MR. EARNEST:  Again, these are differences in legislative mechanics that have to be worked out by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.  And, look, here’s the thing that we often do weigh in on, which is the need for Democrats and Republicans to try to work together to resolve these differences.  And so often we find that those differences don’t get resolved when we see that Republicans are unwilling to talk to Democrats about it.  That’s not what we’re seeing in this case.  What we’re seeing in this case is a good-faith effort on the part of Republicans to work with Democrats of good faith to try to resolve this particular issue.  And, again, it may not be particularly appetizing to watch, but if Democrats and Republicans continue to work together in good faith, I continue to be confident that they’ll be able to resolve their differences.


Q    Josh, on two different subjects.  For one reason or the other, U.S. troops remain in Iraq.  And now forces are being bolstered to help the Iraqi soldiers stand up.  Can you quantify how long U.S. troops will be in Iraq, even beyond this?  Because it looks like there is a need for U.S. troops in Iraq to help them in one way or another.

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t put a timeline on it, April, other than to say that the President has acknowledged since last year that this will not be a short-term proposition and that the efforts to support the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military as they take the fight to ISIL on the ground in their own country will require a serious commitment not just from the United States but from the other 62 members -- or the other 62 members of our international coalition.

The President built that coalition so the United States wouldn’t be in a position of carrying all this weight on our own, and the President has been very clear that the efforts of the United States and our coalition partners will be to support the Iraqi people.  We will not do for them what they must do for themselves.  And that will be a central tenet of this policy-making process.

Q    I’m going to go back and ask you to quantify or at least try to quantify.  Are we talking, when you say it’s not going to be a short-term proposition, well beyond the next 18 months?  Maybe into the next eight years or maybe even after the next eight years, or the next four years?  Can you help quantify this issue that’s not going to be a short-term proposition?

MR. EARNEST:  Not beyond what I’ve already said.

Q    So when you say not a short-term proposition, am I right to go down that track beyond this administration?

MR. EARNEST:  I think it is fair for you to say that the President does -- and we’ve said this before -- that we do not expect that the situation with ISIL will be resolved by the President’s last day in office; that this kind of instability and chaos, and threat to the U.S. interests around the globe is something that the next President will have to deal with.

Q    I was trying to say U.S. troop involvement, not necessarily ISIL U.S. troop involvement in Iraq for one reason or another.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that would apply, too -- that I would expect that at least some of the U.S. military personnel that are currently in Iraq will still be there when the President leaves office.

Q    And on the next subject, there seems to be a picture that’s going around making the news, with President Obama meeting with the Italian Prime Minister.  And he has something in his hand, and there’s a lot of question about what this white thing is his hand.  Can you tell us, is the President -- does he have a pack of cigarettes in his hand?

MR. EARNEST:  He does not.

Q    What was it?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know, April.  I wasn’t there.

Q    I understand.  But, I mean, did he tell you what it was?

MR. EARNEST:  You may not be surprised to hear that I have not raised this issue with the President today.

Q    Okay, well, the President, as you’ve acknowledged, he reads media reports.  And it’s everywhere, this picture with him holding something --

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure that’s the way I’d describe it.

Q    It is everywhere.  Check it out.  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:  I have.

Q    Well, I mean, and the size -- I’m not a smoker, but the sizing looks like -- so you’re saying --

MR. EARNEST:  I told you it’s not -- that they aren’t cigarettes.  Let’s move on.


Q    Josh, thank you.  I’m hoping you could respond to something that House Speaker John Boehner said earlier today.  He said, after hearing about the President’s plan to send 450 advisers, he said, “I think it’s a step in the right direction.  But as the President admitted the other day, he doesn’t have a strategy to win.”  Those are his words.  What’s your reaction?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s an intentional distortion of the President’s comments.

Q    Is the President confident, though, that this is a winning strategy and a complete strategy, to use the term that he used the other day?

MR. EARNEST:  The President is confident that the announcement that he made today to establish essentially a fifth base in Iraq -- where U.S. military personnel and some coalition military personnel will conduct training and advising, and assist operations -- will bolster the capacity of both the Iraqi security force, as well as the Sunni tribal fighters in Anbar that are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.

And that will further our strategy to assist the Iraqis as they take the fight to ISIL on the ground in their own country.  And we can support them through these missions that the President has authorized.  We can also support them with military airpower.  But ultimately it will not be the responsibility of the U.S. military to go in and do for the Iraqis what they must do for themselves.

Q    And to that point, you said earlier that this is the number, this 450 figure is the number for now.  Is there a point at which the President will rethink this number?  Is there a benchmark?  Has he said in six weeks we’re going to sit down and look at this, and determine if we need to add more troops?

MR. EARNEST:  The reason I said “for now” is because 450 is the number that’s required to carry out the mission that’s been expanded to Taqaddum Air Base.  So it is the number of personnel that is specifically required to do what the President announced today.  What is also true is the President has directed his national security team to regularly be in the process of evaluating the strategy and looking for refinements in ways to optimize that strategy.  This is one example of that.

What we have seen in other parts of Iraq is that Iraqi security forces that receive training, advising and assisting from U.S. military personnel, when backed by coalition military airpower, perform well on the battlefield.  And we want to expand the capacity of our operation there to train even more Iraqi security forces and to be prepared to train additional Sunni tribal fighters that are recruited by the Abadi government to fight under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.  Many of them will be fighting as part of these mobilization forces.  

And we want to make sure that our efforts to support the Iraqis in this particular element of our strategy is one that we have the capacity to do.  And that’s what’s driving the decision that was announced today.  That’s also what’s driving the decision to streamline the provision of equipment and materiel to Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribal fighters in that region of the country as well.

Q    And you’ve stressed that these 450 forces are not going to be in a combat role.  But what would you say to those who are concerned that this is mission creep?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President, I think as I’ve tried to convey to you, is very specific about what he expects about what their mission is.  We’re also very clear about what their mission is not.  These troops are not being deployed to Iraq to engage in ground combat operations.

Q    But they’re going to be in dangerous territory, Josh, if they are --

MR. EARNEST:  There is absolutely -- and I would not --

Q    (Inaudible) themselves.

MR. EARNEST:  There is no environment in which I would downplay the risk that these military servicemembers will face in Iraq.  We’ve been direct about the fact that the security situation in Iraq is tenuous, particularly in Anbar Province.  That’s why, as I mentioned to Michelle, that a number of the troops that will be a part of this mission will actually be at Taqaddum Air Base to provide security for the military officials that are directly responsible for providing advice, assistance and training to Iraqi fighters.

Q    And just one other topic, quickly.  Josh, is the President aware that, as of last week, four to five dozen Secret Service officials didn’t have their security clearances, and that this is something that Director Clancy has expressed is a problem and has ordered to be fixed by the end of this week?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kristen, I think what the Secret Service will tell you is that all of the officers, prior to stepping into their roles and assuming the significant responsibilities that they have, undergo, as you would expect, significant background checks, extensive training, and other measures to ensure that they can assume the significant responsibilities that they’re given.

And what I think the Secret Service will also tell you is that this backlog that has materialized has already been significantly reduced; that the backlog now is less than a dozen.  And I think this reflects two things.  One is, it reflects the effort that the Secret Service has undertaken to hire more police officers and agents to implement the reforms that Director Clancy has so doggedly pursued.  And it also reflects what he has acknowledged is making sure that these individuals have all the training and that they’ve received all of the background checks to perform the duties that they are expected to perform.

Q    And yet this is a problem by Director Clancy’s own admission.  Is the President confident that the Secret Service is getting better under Director Clancy?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, Kristen, as I think the Secret Service can tell you, that this backlog has been reduced to less than a dozen.  And that reflects the priority that they have placed on not just hiring more personnel, but making sure that those personnel have undergone the background checks and other measures that are necessary to fulfill their responsibilities.  


Q    Josh, thanks.  Affordable Care Act -- earlier today, we heard Congressman Ryan sort of grill, if you will, Secretary Burwell.  And he essentially said something about a one-sentence fix.  Is the President simply going to trot out this one-sentence fix, or is he going to work with Congress and broaden his approach if the court rules against Burwell?  Your reaction to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, to be clear, the only issue that’s before the Supreme Court right now is whether Americans in every state are eligible for tax credits.  The President believes that they are.  The Republican staffers who worked on this legislation believes that every American should be eligible for those tax credits.  And that, frankly, is a problem that can be fixed directly by Congress in a one-sentence bill.  

And Republicans who are resisting that solution -- if it’s needed -- are Republicans who have already voted 50 times to try to dismantle the law.  So their opposition to an easy fix for the Affordable Care Act is not at all a surprise. 

Q    How concerned are you about rising costs?  We read reports about double-digit premium proposed hikes coming up and how that might impact the American people. 

MR. EARNEST:  Kevin, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, those insurance companies that are considering a double-digit increase in premiums are forced to disclose those plans in advance.  They’re subjected to intense scrutiny by state regulators.  And that’s why, over the last two or three years that the Affordable Care Act has been in place, we’ve seen insurance companies regularly reduce those increases.  

And in fact, the overall numbers bear this out; that since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, we have actually seen the slowest growth in health care costs in recorded history.  It’s our view that that’s not a coincidence.

Q    I’d like to ask you about something you said earlier about Iraq, before I ask you one question about Iran.  You said, in Ramadi -- and I’ve heard you say this previously -- that it was a setback.  Given what’s happened in Mosul, given what’s happened in Ramadi, were the same fate to come to Baghdad, would you describe that as a setback?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, it’s our view that it’s necessary for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi security forces to take the fight on the ground to ISIL.  And there have been areas where they made important progress.  I mentioned Baghdadi, a town in Anbar, earlier.  There have been other places, like Tikrit and Haditha, where we have seen Iraqi security forces drive ISIL out of those towns.  And that represents important progress.

What we’ve also seen is, those forces that did have to retreat from Ramadi were able to, essentially, to reorganize themselves outside of Ramadi.  And they’ve been subjected to some ISIL attacks, but they have so far been able to, generally speaking, withstand many of those attacks.  And what they’re trying to do is to reorganize and reconstitute themselves, and prepare to retake Ramadi and ultimately drive ISIL out of Anbar Province.

And there is no doubt that the Iraqi security forces and those forces that are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government have their work cut out for them -- have their work cut out for them as they pursue this important task.  

Q    Lastly, I’d like to ask you about comments made by General Flynn and his testimony that the administration’s Iran strategy is wishful thinking.  He said -- and I’m quoting now -- “Once these sanctions are lifted, we’ve seen I think, really since 2013, the genie is out of the bottle.  And you know the phrase ‘snap-back sanctions’?  Well, that’s wishful thinking.”  Your reaction to the General’s comments? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ve been very clear about exactly what we envision, and that is diplomatic negotiations that are carried out to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And in exchange for Iran taking very specific steps -- steps that can be verified -- to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon, the United States and the international community would begin to offer sanctions relief on sanctions that had been specifically imposed on Iran because of their nuclear program. 

And that is, after all, why the sanctions were put in place in the first place, which is to compel Iran to come to the negotiating table and cease their pursuit of a nuclear weapon.  And that’s exactly the way that this was designed to work.  It certainly will not resolve all of the concerns that we have with Iran’s behavior.  We’re going to continue to have concerns with the way that Iran has engaged in destabilizing activities throughout the region.  We’re going to continue to have concerns with Iran’s support for terrorism.  We’re going to continue to have concerns with the way that Iran menaces the closest ally of the United States in the Middle East.  

But it is a priority for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And the sanctions regime that we have put in place has worked in terms of compelling Iran to come to the negotiating table.  And hopefully we’ll find out, sometime around the end of June, whether or not Iran is going to be serious about committing to shutting down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon, and cooperating with the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program to verify their compliance with the agreement. 

Q    So the General got it wrong when he said “wishful thinking?” 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I didn’t see the General’s comments. 


Q    I just interviewed Salim al-Jabouri, the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, who is meeting with the President and the Vice President on Friday, I believe.  He said that any arms that you’ve given to the central government, you have to make sure that it will reach the Sunni tribes in Anbar.  What mechanism do you have to make sure that actually they will receive these arms?  Because they are at the forefront of fighting ISIS in Anbar.  And why not arm them independently, just like the Peshmergas?  They’ve been working with for a while by themselves. 

MR. EARNEST:  Nadia, what we have indicated is that when it comes to providing equipment and materiel to fighters that are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government, that those are weapons that will be provided in coordination and under the supervision of the Iraqi central government.  

Now that is one of the things that we actually believe that we’ll be able to do at Taqaddum Air Base, which is to be able to work closely with the Iraqi central government and with U.S. military and coalition military officials to make more efficient the delivery of equipment and materiel to Sunni tribal fighters that have been recruited into the fight.  These are Sunni fighters that have been recruited by the Abadi government.  These are Sunni fighters that will benefit from some of the advice and assistance of U.S. military personnel.  And these are Sunni tribal fighters that will be fighting under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.  And that is how those individuals will be able to get access to weapons, equipment, and materiel.  And we believe that by more efficiently providing that equipment, that they’ll be more effective on the battlefield.  

Q    So you’re creating a Sahwa style just like the previous administration trying to fight ISIS or, al Qaeda in Iraq previously? 

MR. EARNEST:  When I'm trying to create a what? 

Q    A Sahwa, which is a similar model of what was done before to make sure that these Sunni tribes are able to stand up to ISIS by themselves. 

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t heard that term before.  But in terms of our strategy, what we have done is to provide equipment and materiel to those fighters that are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government in cooperation with the Iraqi central government in that effort. 

Q    One last question on Syria.  We just had four officials in the conference call just now, and the theme was your strategy of fighting ISIS, yet we have not heard anything about Syria.  Some reports say that ISIS control 50 percent of (inaudible) in Syria.  Can you ever succeed in fighting ISIS in Iraq without really having a -- strategy for fighting ISIL? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we believe is true about both Iraq and Syria, Nadia, is that these are fights that the United States will not take on on our own, and it's not a commitment that we'll take on -- or that we will bear for local populations; that ultimately, our strategy is predicated on building up the capacity fighters in Iraq and Syrian fighters in Syria to take the fight on the ground to ISIL.

In Syria, the challenge is more significant, simply because we do not have an obvious capable fighting force on the ground with which we can coordinate in Syria.  That is why our efforts have been focused on recruiting members of the Syrian opposition, putting them through coalition-led training programs that are operating at bases throughout the region, and then deploying them to the fight on the ground against ISIL.  So obviously, there is a significantly longer ramp-up period in recruiting those individuals, organizing them, training them, and then putting them into the fight.  

The other challenge that they face in Syria is that the local government in Syria is actually hostile to their efforts.  And that's obviously a very different situation than the one that we face in Iraq, where we have already an organized Iraqi security force and we have a central government with whom we can effectively coordinate our efforts.

So that's why, even though the challenge that we face in Iraq and Syria is significant, we have some greater advantages inside of Iraq that we've already capitalized on.  The challenge that we face in Syria is complicated by the fact that we don't have that obvious local fighting force with whom we can coordinate.  But it's one we're obviously seeking to establish through our training program.


Q    A couple of quick follow-ups.  First on Iraq.  Is the idea of deploying JTACs, these forward-deployed troops that would help call in airstrikes, is that something that is still on the table and under consideration?

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, what the President has said is that this is a tactic that he would be willing to consider at the recommendation of his national security team and principally his military advisors.  That continues to be the case, but that is not something that the President at this point has approved.

Q    Did he consider it when he made this move?  Was that one of the menu of options that he decided not to do at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, I won't get into the advice that the President has received from his national security team.

Q    Okay.  And then a quick follow-up on trade.  You said you want -- you're predicting a bipartisan majority, right?


Q    Is there any way to quantify just how confident you are?  Is this a slam-dunk?  Is this you're kind of confident?  Just how confident are you?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, outbreaks of bipartisanship in the House of Representatives in the last couple of years have not been common, so that's why I would not characterize it as a slam-dunk.  But, to be more optimistic, we have seen a sustained commitment on the part of both Democrats and Republicans in the House to pursuing the passage of this legislation in a spirit of bipartisanship.  And that's something that we've been gratified by.  Now, their work is cut out for them.  

And, look, here’s the other thing.  Even in the most functional of Congresses, trying the work across the party aisle is difficult, particularly when it comes to something as complicated as trade policy.  But what I would say is that we continue to be confident that Democrats and Republicans can work together to build a bipartisan majority to pass this legislation.

Q    Do you expect to get more than 10 percent of the Democratic caucus?  I mean, the President has been working hard on this and -- pretty forcefully on it.  I mean, is he going to have more than one out of 10 Democrats to vote?

MR. EARNEST:  What we're focused on is making sure we get a majority of the House.  And we recognize that in order to get a majority for this bill it's going to require the support of Democrats and Republicans.  But at this point, I don't have a breakdown of how many Democrats and Republicans will be involved on the “yes” side of the aisle at this point.

Q    Okay.  And did you get an answer for us as to who was it that covered up the television cameras in here and why?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't.  I don't have an answer to you on that.

Q    Can you take that question?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I'd refer that question to the Secret Service.


Q    Thank you very much, Josh.  Two questions on the foreign front.  First, recently, a Russian state-owned television network has run a controversial, well-publicized documentary concluding that from declassified documents, the decision to send tanks into Czechoslovakia in 1968 was to thwart a NATO uprising, not, as we believed all these years, to thwart an uprising by the people of Czechoslovakia against Russian control.  This has been written about in many publications, including the Financial Times -- and denounced, by the way, by the Czech and Slovak governments now.  Is the administration aware of this?  And does it have an opinion on this kind of broadcast?

MR. EARNEST:  John, I'm sure somebody in the administration is aware of this, but I'm not.  And, again, I missed my copy of the Financial Times today.  But we'll see if we can get you a response.

Q    Thank you.  And the other question is this:  Last Thursday, the IMF’s Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, assured reporters that in all likelihood there would be no impact on the U.S. economy by a Greek default, however she said -- and I quote -- “I say this with a very strong caveat.”  Is that something the administration agrees with?

MR. EARNEST:  I didn’t see Ms. Lagarde’s comments, but I can tell you what we've said about this, which is that we are concerned about the impact that a Greek default could have on the broader international economy, and things that contribute to some volatility in the international economy often have an impact on the U.S. economy.  

Q    On American economy as well?

MR. EARNEST:  That's what I said -- on the U.S. economy.  So that's why you’ve seen so much engagement from the Treasury Department to try to bring the Greeks and their partners together to resolve their differences in a way that will not contribute to instability either in the European economy or even in the global economy.  

And the President had the opportunity to discuss this a little bit at the G7, and we continue to be heartened by the fact that everybody seems to recognize that resolving the situation without -- prior to the deadline is in the interests of all the parties that are involved in the talks.  So hopefully they’ll succeed. 

Q    And no decision yet or announcement about a visit by Prime Minister Tsipras to the United States?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don't have any announcement about that.


Q    Josh, also this morning, Speaker Boehner called on the President to submit a revised AUMF, saying that the one that's up there now isn't adequate to the situation that's going on in Iraq.  Is that something you're giving any consideration to?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  What we've been very clear, Mark, is that the President has called on Congress to pass an ISIL-only AUMF.  The President has negotiated extensively with Democrats and Republicans in Congress about what should be included in that AUMF.  The President directed his national security team to write up draft AUMF legislation to send to Congress as a starting point for negotiations.  The President directed members of his national security team, including the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense, to go to Congress to testify before congressional committees in both the House and the Senate as they discuss AUMF language.

At some point, the Speaker of the House needs to take responsibility for fulfilling the basic duty of the United States Congress.  And that is, when it comes to these kinds of matters, Congress should have a voice, and Congress, frankly, shouldn’t be ducking the debate.  

And as I mentioned yesterday, we were gratified that at least two members of the United States Congress -- in this case, Senator Flake and Senator Kaine -- did take the draft legislation that had been put forward by the administration, made some edits, some reasonable changes that reflect their own views, and tried to encourage its debate on the floor of the United States Senate. That reflects some rare bipartisan effort to fulfill this important congressional responsibility.  

Unfortunately, the Speaker of the House, who, arguably, has more influence on that process than anybody else, is ducking the debate and looking to shift the blame for his failure to act to the President of the United States.  That's unfortunate.


Q    Josh, I want to follow up on your answer to Jon’s question, because it came up on the conference call, too, about the spotters in Iraq.  On the conference call it was sort of punted, the question.  And your answer to Jon seemed a little imprecise.  So can I just try again?  

MR. EARNEST:  Sure.  We're aiming for precision here.

Q    Yes, exactly.  So, Prime Minister Abadi, when he was here and he talked to the President this spring, he expressed publicly his feeling that with more assistance, the airstrikes could be -- his words were “more precise and effective.”  So my question to you is, does the President agree with the Prime Minister that with U.S. help, spotters, that the airstrikes could be more precise and effective, but that he is unwilling to okay that now because of his concern about U.S. casualties?  Is that what’s on his mind?

MR. EARNEST:  Alexis, what’s on the President’s mind is that our priority right now is on building up the capacity of Iraqi fighters on the ground to take the fight to ISIL in their own country.  

And there’s no doubt that the reason that this capability exists to have U.S. military controllers on the ground directing airstrikes makes them more precise and, presumably, more effective.  But at this point -- the fact is U.S. and coalition military airstrikes have already been plenty effective.  We have already seen that these kinds of airstrikes in many locations have significantly aided the efforts on the ground from Iraqi security forces.  And in the mind of the President, what is most lacking right now is a sufficiently trained and sufficiently equipped Iraqi security force and Sunni tribal fighters that are taking the fight on the ground to ISIL.

And so we want to support the strategy that Prime Minister Abadi has announced to put more Iraqi security forces through this training, and to support the efforts of the Abadi government to recruit Sunni tribal fighters, offer them some advice and assistance and equipment so that they can take the fight to ISIL on the ground as well under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.  That's the priority right now.  And that's the priority that Prime Minister Abadi himself has identified, and it's the priority that the President, with the announcement of this particular mission, is seeking to support.

Q    Your answer to Jon was -- suggested that the President had not received this recommendation from his military advisors. Is that correct?

MR. EARNEST:  What I said to Jon is that I wouldn't be in a position of reading out conversations or offering much insight into the private advice the President is receiving from his military advisors.

Q    But if he did get that, if he was in receipt of that advice, he would consider it.

MR. EARNEST:  That's correct.  And that's something that the President said for almost a year now.

Q    Bu then the next shoe to drop is, did he consider it and reject it -- and you are not answering that question.

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not going to talk about what advice the President may have received from his military team.

Q    The second question about Iraq, and that is the $800 million from the U.N. Stabilization Fund.  Can you add anything to what the $800 million -- how did it get arrived at?  Where did that come from?  What’s the goal?  Anything about the U.S. commitment to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Let me check on that for you.  I think I heard a different number than that.

Q    It's $8 million.

MR. EARNEST:  I think it's just $8 million that's been provided by the United States to that U.N. Stabilization Fund.  And the goal of that -- thank you, Jeff -- the goal of that fund is to assist those local communities that have recently been retaken from ISIL.  But again, the focal point of our strategy here is that one of the important reasons that the United States can't be in the business of fighting ISIL for the Iraqi people, the reason the Iraqi people need to do it themselves, is that this is the sort of enduring solution to trying to address the instability that we've seen there -- that what we need are enduring security forces and an effective local government to govern these communities, to provide security for these communities and allow these communities to thrive.

And so what the President believes we need to do is to, of course, support local fighters as they take the fight to ISIL on the ground.  When they succeed, the intelligence community needs to be there to help local governments build back the capacities that ISIL may have destroyed, or, frankly, didn’t exist when ISIL tried to -- or succeeded in taking them over in the first place.  
And so the President does believe that these international efforts to support those communities that have driven ISIL out are critically important to our long-term success, and that's why the United States has committed to supporting them.  And we're going to continue to encourage the other members of our coalition to offer up their financial support for this effort as well.


Q    On the OPM breach, why does President Obama plan to go forward with giving the President of China the honor of an official state visit here given not only this breach but the thousands of other cyber-attacks that this administration has documented that China has carried out against us?

MR. EARNEST:  Dave, as you know, the United States has not at this point identified a perpetrator in this latest reported breach of the OPM computer system.  So I don't have any new information for you on that.  That's something that continues to be under investigation by the FBI.  

But as it relates more broadly to China, we have previously on a number of occasions expressed our concern to the Chinese about some of their activities in cyberspace.  Some of those activities have actually resulted in a Department of Justice indictment of five Chinese military members.  So I think that's a pretty clear statement that we have concerns broadly about some of China’s activities in cyberspace.

What’s also true is that there are some areas where we're able to coordinate effectively with the Chinese.  One example is the Chinese have been active and important participants in the P5+1 talks with Iran.  And we value their contribution to that effort, and they have acted constructively, alongside other members of the international community, to try to prevent Iran, through diplomatic talks, from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  

And the President has talked about this, too -- there are going to be some areas with China where we're able to cooperate and some areas where we're going to compete.  And engaging with China has served this country well and it’s something that we intend to do for the foreseeable future.  But even in the context of those engagements, we won’t shy away from raising concerns about those areas of Chinese policy that we believe need to be changed.

Q    So given that answer, I take it there’s been no discussion here about disinviting President Xi?

MR. EARNEST:  None that I’m aware of at this point.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  The EPA announced today that it considers greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft a threat to public health and the environment but is deferring any rulemaking to see what a U.N. organization does first and then will write rules.  I’m curious whether, given that delay in the timeline, does the administration consider the carbon cuts that ultimately would come from this as helping meet the 2025 climate goal that the President has set out or is the idea this is a long-term project that would ultimately yield carbon cuts much later on?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, in terms of what impact this would have in the lead up to meeting the 2025 deadline, I’m going to have to have somebody follow up with you on that.

What I can do is I can give you a better explanation of this process.  The fact is, there is an international group -- the International Civil Aviation Organization -- that is currently examining the way in which aircraft contribute to carbon pollution and is developing carbon dioxide standards for aircraft.  The thing I think that’s important to note is that small-piston engine planes and military aircraft would be exempted from these rules, so we’re just talking about commercial aircraft principally here.  And I think it’s a common-sense reason why we would rely on an international standard.  And the reason for that is that obviously these airplanes operate in a variety of different countries in many cases, and even the airlines themselves have said that trying to deal with a patchwork set of regulations would be untenable.  And that if -- so what the EPA has announced today is essentially the beginning of an effort to lay the ground work for a broader international agreement and then implementing that agreement here in the United States.

So I’d refer you to the EPA for the details of that implementation process and for how the reduction in carbon pollution from those rules would contribute to our broader effort to meet some of the deadlines that we’ve previously announced.

Patty, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    The President said the U.S. didn’t have a complete strategy because it was lacking firm commitments from the Iraqi officials on recruitment and training.  Does he have those commitments now?  Specifically, what are they?  And it sounds to me like you’re saying the U.S. will directly arm the Sunnis -- you’re just going to let the Iraqis know that you’re doing that?

MR. EARNEST:  On your second question, we have made clear that we want to do two things.  We want to try to make the process of providing equipment and materiel to Sunni tribal fighters that are operating the command and control of the Iraqi central government more efficient.  And we’re looking for ways that we can do that.  And we can do some of that by establishing this training, advising and assist mission at Taqaddum Air Base.

Second, however, is we want to make sure that everybody understands, including these local Sunni tribal fighters, that we take very seriously the need for them to operate under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.  And that’s why the process for providing this equipment and materiel to these Sunni fighters will be done in close coordination with the Iraqi central government.

So I think your description of it might get short shrift to the important role that the Iraqi central government would play in that transaction. 

More broadly, the President I think was pretty blunt in the news conference that he did -- that he convened on Monday about the fact that right now the capacity that we have to train Iraqi fighters is larger than the number of recruits that we have right now.  What we are hopeful of is that by establishing this specific mission at Taqaddum Air Base in Anbar Province, that we can actually facilitate the recruitment of local Sunni tribal fighters by the Abadi government.  To be blunt about it, by training -- by opening this training mission essentially in the neighborhood where we want these Sunni tribal fighters to fight, we can make it easier for them to get training and equipment in Anbar Province, and then go carry out the fight in Anbar Province.  By shrinking that distance, we can hopefully make it easier for the Abadi government to recruit those fighters. 

The other thing that we hope is that by, again, establishing the training mission closer to the areas where the fighting is occurring, we can make it more easier and more efficient for specific Iraqi security forces to go through this training process and then be deployed to the fight more promptly and more efficiently. 

Q    But the President said he needed firm commitment.  So did you get those?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what the President was talking about is evidence of the Abadi government following through on the commitments that they had made to enlist more Sunni fighters in the fight.  The good news is these commitments come with the strong backing of not just Prime Minister Abadi, but Prime Minister Abadi’s full cabinet that’s multi-sectarian in nature.  It also reflects -- it has the strong support of Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar Province.

And so what we want to see is we just want to see results, and we want to see more recruits.  And we have been heartened that there is evidence that some of these recruiting efforts are starting to gain traction, but we hope that that trend continues.  Because right now what we see is that our training capacity outstrips the number of recruits.  But as these Sunni tribal fighters get recruited, as they get some equipment and material, and as they benefit from the advice and assistance of U.S. military personnel, we do believe that they can be effective in taking the fight to ISIL in their own country and, in some cases, even in their own neighborhoods.  And that is a core element of the military strategy that the President has outlined for degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.

Thanks, everybody.

2:54 P.M. EDT