Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/12/2015
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:26 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: It’s Friday. Cheer up, everybody. There’s plenty of news to report. Plenty of news to report.
Q You’re in good cheer.
MR. EARNEST: I am, I am. Let me explain to you why. Two reasons. The first is, today we were pleased to see a bipartisan majority come together in the House of Representatives to support trade promotion authority, and there were many people in this room rightly skeptical, as recently as two or three months ago, about whether or not Democrats and Republicans would be able to come together on such a significant legislative priority of the President’s, but also on a policy issue that I think everybody acknowledges is really complicated and politically fraught.
But we’re obviously gratified that we were able to advance that piece of legislation with bipartisan support. I would also note that we had 28 House Democrats who voted for that bill. That significantly over-performs expectations. Again, there was a lot of skepticism about how much Democratic support the President would succeed in building. And getting the support of 28 House Democrats is a good sign of the kind of bipartisan majority that the President was seeking to build.
Now, at the same time, as many of you have also written about already, I also feel a little like Yogi Berra. I’m tempted to walk out here and say it’s déjà vu all over again. Many of you who are frequent visitors of this briefing room will recall back on May 12th I walked out here prepared to answer your questions about how the Democratic Leader of body of Congress had handed the President a substantial legislative defeat on a significant policy priority that the President had identified. And I’m walking out here on June 12th prepared to answer your questions about your perception that the Democratic Leader of a body of Congress has handed the President a legislative defeat on a priority.
At the time, you’ll recall that I colorfully described the situation as a legislative procedural snafu. And to the surprise of very few, another procedural snafu has emerged. These kinds of entanglements are endemic to the House of Representatives. And I say that as somebody who does not have a lot of experience in watching the floor of the House. But the President is determined -- and I think as was evident from his visit to Capitol Hill this morning -- to build a bipartisan majority to make sure that we’re living up to our commitment as Democrats to fight for middle-class families. That’s the reason the President is in this office.
As the President pointed out rather forcefully in the Democratic caucus today, he wasn’t elected by the Chamber of Commerce; he wasn’t endorsed by the NFIB. The President is the President of the United States today because of his commitment to fight for working families and to expand the economic opportunity for middle-class families. That’s the reason he got this job in the first place. That’s the reason he was reelected into this office three years ago. And it’s what he’s going to continue to keep at the top of his agenda for the next 18 months.
And if we’re going to walk the walk when it comes to those progressive values, then it’s going to be important for Democrats and Republicans to come together around trade adjustment assistance. This is a program that will lapse on September 30th. That’s a problem because Republicans have traditionally opposed trade adjustment assistance, and, as everybody knows, Republicans enjoy significant majorities in both the House and the Senate.
So if Democrats want to make sure that we’re looking out for the interest of middle-class families, we need to make sure that trade adjustment assistance doesn’t lapse. The good news is we’re not just going to extend the program, we’re going to significantly expand it. The proposal that’s before the House right now would nearly double that program in size. And according to an analysis that’s been put out by the White House today, this is actually a program that will benefit 100,000 American workers each year for the next six years. That is a substantial benefit to middle-class families that are willing to go and make sure that they can get the training and skills that they need to go and compete for good middle-class jobs. That’s always been at the top of the President’s domestic policymaking agenda. It is today. And we’re going to continue to make that case in the House to build a bipartisan majority in the House for that legislation.
That was a slightly longer windup than I intended. But why don’t we go to your questions now. Nedra, do you want to start?
Q Since you brought her up, let’s start with Leader Pelosi. How disappointed is the President that she turned against this legislation after remaining uncommitted for so long, after he made a personal appeal to her? What happened there?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President has enjoyed a very long, warm, productive relationship with Nancy Pelosi. As the Speaker of the House, she helped shepherd in one of the most substantial, progressive legislative agendas in history. That on her watch, working closely with President Obama, we prevented a second Great Depression; we reformed the health care system in a way that has -- the benefits of which are becoming clearer every day and bigger every day. She presided over a House of Representatives that voted to reform Wall Street to make sure that taxpayers would not be on the hook for bailing out big banks that make risky bets. She worked legislatively with the administration to end "don't ask, don't tell." And these are all achievements that the President is quite proud of -- legislative achievements that required the skillful leadership of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Since that time, there have been other important -- there’s been additional important progress on other priorities the President has identified -- from the fiscal cliff and making sure that those at the top of the income scale were paying their fair share, to protecting the President’s ability to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I don’t know if anybody wants to talk about the Iran negotiations today, but if they do, one of my points of emphasis will be to remind you that because of a letter that was written and signed by just about every Democrat in the House of Representatives, the President feels confident that he’ll be able to use diplomacy to prevent Iran from obtaining and nuclear weapon. There has been an active effort by some in Congress to try to interfere with that ability. But because House Democrats have signaled that they’re prepared to stand strong with the President, we think we can accomplish that goal. And I don’t think there’s anybody who’s suggested that that priority is going to be threatened just because we might have a disagreement over this particular issue.
Now, what’s also true is we’re going to continue to make an aggressive case to all the House Democrats, including Leader Pelosi, about why it’s important for them to support trade adjustment assistance.
Q Given the resounding defeat today on trade assistance, what’s the President going to do to try to turn that around with the next vote?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President has spent a lot of time talking to members of Congress about these issues being a priority. And the fact is, as I mentioned at the top, making sure that workers have access to trade adjustment assistance is a top priority of the President’s. The truth is, it’s a top priority of every Democrat too. The last time that it was on the floor of the House of Representatives, it wasn’t just a situation that many Democrats voted for it. Every Democrat voted for it, including 125 members of Congress -- Democrats -- who are still in office.
And as I mentioned earlier, we’re not suggesting that they should merely renew what they voted for three years ago. We’re suggesting -- or four years ago. We’re suggesting that they should actually support a legislative package that would significantly enhance it. It would almost double the size of the cap, freeing up additional funds to help workers. It would allow 17,000 workers, who over the last 18 months have had their eligibility for trade adjustment assistance denied, to allow them to have their applications reconsidered again.
So that's an indication that this particular program can do a lot for middle-class families. And we know that there are a lot of Democrats in the House of Representatives who ran for that job specifically to benefit middle-class families and to make sure that they had a voice and somebody fighting for them in Washington, D.C. And that's why we feel like we’ve got a strong case to make in terms of trying to build a bipartisan majority for trade adjustment assistance.
Q The voting today was a little confusing, so if you could help us out a little bit on what happens if TAA can't pass. Does the Senate get back involved? Or what does the strategy become then?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this will be the subject of a lot of conversations between White House officials and maybe even the President today and over the weekend, and possibly even into early next week. So figuring out the legislative procedure and the path forward will principally be the responsibility of members of the legislature.
But the White House, as we have been in the past, will certainly be involved in those conversations because this is a priority that the President has identified.
Q Thanks. Is the President concerned that his meeting with Democrats on the Hill this morning backfired in any way? Some Democrats leaving that meeting said they felt insulted, said that the President tried to impugn their integrity when he told them to “play it straight” on the TAA vote. Is he worried that he may have frayed relations going into what might be another vote on TAA next week?
MR. EARNEST: Not at all. The President had a productive visit with the House Democratic caucus today. And he delivered a very strong case about helping those members of Congress understand precisely why he was strongly supportive of making sure that we are expanding economic opportunity for every American by opening up access to overseas markets for American goods and services.
He explained how, as a young man, he left New York and traveled to the South Side of Chicago where he tried to help a community deal with the closing of steel plants. And he talked about all the work that he’d done in the community there to try to help that community confront the powerful forces of globalization. He went on to talk about how, as a candidate for the United States Senate, he traveled to Galesburg, Illinois with then-Congressman -- Democratic Congressman Lane Evans. And while in Galesburg, the President spent a lot of time with citizens in that community who are dealing with the closure of the Maytag plant there. That's a plant that moved to Mexico. And he talked about the impact that that had on the community and on middle-class families in that community.
And the President said that he ran for this office determined to go and fight for the people that he fought for as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, and determined to fight for the people that he met in Galesburg, Illinois.
And this strategy of passing the most progressive trade promotion authority bill that's ever been considered by the Congress is an important part of that strategy. It doesn't, however, eliminate the need for Congress to make progress on the wide variety of other economic priorities the President has identified, from raising the minimum wage, to passing early childhood education, to investing in infrastructure, to getting immigration reform done. Those are all -- those all continue to be important priorities because they will also benefit middle-class families.
And the President is confident that he continues to have loyal partners in the Democratic caucus when it comes to those issues. But the fact is we haven’t seen cooperation from Republicans on those priorities, but on this one we have. And the President strongly encouraged Democrats to make up their own mind, and when they did, to play it straight.
Q Okay. Actually stepping away from trade quickly, Secretary Kerry was released from the hospital today and went home to his home in Boston. Do you have any updates on when Secretary Kerry is expected to come to Washington, and whether or not he’s still expected to participate in talks over Iran’s nuclear capabilities by the end of the month?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an update in terms of Secretary Kerry’s schedule. You can check with the State Department; they may have some more details. Obviously, we’re very pleased to see that Secretary Kerry is slated to be discharged from the hospital today, if he hasn’t been already. I think that is an indication that he is living up to his reputation as someone who is determined to get back into his office and determined to get back on the job.
And Secretary Kerry is tough. The truth is, he probably benefitted from a little rest when he was in the hospital; he’s been working himself so hard over the last several weeks. And I think he, more than anybody, understands the long list of priorities that are awaiting when he gets back to his desk, and we certainly are looking forward to him getting back on the job and wish him very well as he continues to recover from surgery.
Q But no contingency plans at this point about sending someone in his place or possibly changing the location of the talks?
MR. EARNEST: Nothing at this point. It’s not clear exactly whether or not that will be necessary, but additional scheduling updates will come from the State Department.
Q So you came out with that Midwest optimism, but in reality, when you look at it, was it really a good day for the President? He does not have anything on his desk to sign, and he has an uphill battle -- has to get two votes on Tuesday to get something to his desk, is my understanding. And the vote today was overwhelming. It was an overwhelming defeat by his own party. Isn’t your optimism a little misplaced?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think so, Jim, primarily because there was a lot of healthy, well-informed skepticism about the ability of the United States Congress to work in bipartisan fashion to pass something like trade promotion authority that is so complicated and so fraught with a lot of toxic politics. And based on a lot of good work in the Senate and some bipartisan work in the House, those odds were overcome.
Q But they didn’t really pass it, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: Well, sure they did. They did with 28 Democratic votes, and TPA has passed. That was actually going to be the hard one. The broad assumption in here I think -- I don’t want to speak for all of you; I’ve done that three or four times today -- but I think many people, whether they’re in here or not, assumed that it would be easier to pass trade adjustment assistance than it would be to pass trade promotion authority.
So the fact is the hard part has gotten done. When it comes to making the case to Democrats about why they should support trade adjustment assistance, we’ve got a really strong case to make. If they don’t act on it as early as next week, it’s going to expire at the end of September. This is a program that Democrats believe in; they unanimously supported it last time it was on the floor.
So we’ve got a strong case to make here because we’re not just talking about preventing this program from lapsing, we’re talking about significantly expanding it.
Q But the opponents of the trade fast track bill did what they wanted to do, which was undercut it by defeating the trade assistance bill. That’s what they designed -- was designed to happen, and it happened.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that’s what they designed -- that’s what they tried to do in the United States Senate, and there was at one point in time a procedural snafu that prompted a delay. And we’re seeing a similar dynamic in the House right now. In some ways, the one in the House is actually easier to resolve -- again, because we’re talking about a piece of legislation that the last time it was voted on got the unanimous support of Democrats.
And there are a substantial number of Republicans that voted for it today. I think it’s -- I certainly wouldn’t rule out the ability of the Speaker of the House to convince even more Republicans to vote for trade adjustment assistance. We certainly believe that we can convince more Democrats to vote for a program that many of them have previously supported, and that our economists can demonstrate significantly benefit middle-class families all across the country.
Q My colleague asked you about the President’s reaction to Leader Pelosi going against the President today. I’d like to ask you about what it felt like to have John Boehner bail out the President today with procedural moves.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not sure I would characterize it that way. I think that what you have seen over the last -- certainly over the last week, and the ground work has been laid in recent months, [is] effective coordination between the White House and the Speaker’s office to make progress on a shared priority.
This is the kind of bipartisan effort that the President has long envisioned. And unfortunately, we haven’t seen nearly enough of it, but in this case you’ve got to give some credit where it’s due -- to the Speaker of the House, who, despite his many ideological differences with the President, has said let’s put aside our differences and figure out how we can work together to build a bipartisan majority for a policy that we both believe will benefit our economy and will benefit middle-class families across the country.
Q But you don’t see the irony here, with Pelosi on one side, and Boehner on the other side with the President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I see is I see that there is a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives that’s standing with the President. Yes, that means a substantial number of Republicans. And I think that’s a testament to the President’s leadership ability too, that he’s willing to set aside his own differences with them to try to find common ground on this.
And again, I think the country is very well served by that kind of bipartisan spirit, and hopefully this will serve as a template not just for eventually passing trade adjustment assistance, but also making progress on some other bipartisan priorities that have been identified, including investments in infrastructure, criminal justice reform and some other things.
Q So help me understand then -- as I understand it, many of the Democrats that opposed the TAA today did so -- and I think the former Speaker said this in her final remarks as well -- they did so as a way of stopping TPA, which they don’t like. So if TPA has now passed with 219, and so the only thing standing in the way of TPA from actually getting to the President’s desk is now keeping TAA dead, don’t those Democrats all have even more incentive to continue to be opposed to it next week, if you guys bring it up again, than they do now? So you have a bigger hill to climb. I mean, how can you possibly say that you are going to convince more Democrats to vote for it now when it’s even more important for them to remain opposed to it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, because the case that we’ll make to them, Mike, is that they may have -- they’ve registered their objections with TPA. They hoped to block the passage of TPA, and it didn’t work. TPA did pass with a bipartisan majority. And now we’re going to go and make the case to them that they should support a policy that they have strongly supported in the past. And in fact, if they don’t, we’re going to see that policy that they strongly support lapse. Instead, they actually had the opportunity not just to make sure that -- not just to prevent its lapse, but actually to significantly expand it -- almost double it in size when it comes to the amount of money that can be spent on job training programs.
Q But then that means caving on their bigger goal, which is keeping TPA from going forward, right?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the TPA has already passed. And so now they have a question about are they going to support a policy that previously earned the unanimous support of Democrats, and are they going to seek to expand it and make sure that they’re not in a position where they’re essentially -- make sure that they’re in a position where they can offer support to those workers that are dealing with the challenges of globalization.
Q But if TAA doesn’t pass, then TPA is dead, right? I mean, if ultimately you can’t get it passed, it’s --
MR. EARNEST: Well, what’s true is the President shares -- I mean, look, this is true. The President agrees with Democrats that TAA is a priority. That’s the thing here. I would acknowledge that there are some differences of opinion, but there are far more areas where we agree than where we disagree. And I think this is the hallmark of a legislative procedural snafu. I think we know it when we see it now. (Laughter.) And clearly, that’s what we have before us today.
Q So to quote Yogi Berra, “It's not over till it’s over”? Is that what you’re saying?
MR. EARNEST: We can do a lot of that today, couldn’t we?
Q But to Mike’s point, I just want to put a fine point on this. The President will not sign TPA without TAA?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President has made clear -- the President has made clear that trade adjustment assistance is a strong priority, and that if we are going to take steps that the President believes is good for our economy and good for middle-class families to expand access to overseas markets, that one thing we also need to do is make a similar investment in those workers who are negatively affected by broader trends -- by broader globalization trends.
And what we know is we actually know how to do this now. And this is the thing that Secretary Perez wrote to members of Congress yesterday. He wrote a long letter, and I can get you a copy of that letter if you haven’t had a chance to see it. But essentially described what the benefits are of this trade adjustment assistance proposal. This is essentially a package of job training grants, and other funding that allows workers who can successfully petition to the Department of Labor to get access to job training programs that will ensure that they get the skills they need to actually get another job.
So this package is a very -- is a significant one. It’s a significant expansion of the package that’s poised to expire at the end of September. This will expand -- make trade adjustment assistance available for six years. It would nearly double the program in size. It would allow 17,500 workers, who over the last 18 months have had their eligibility denied, to allow them to have their applications reconsidered. And it would provide -- make available to workers 130 weeks of what’s called trade readjustment allowance benefits. Essentially, that means -- if you’re doing the math -- that means that that is enough assistance to go through a two-year training program; to go and get some really good skills that you know you can then use to go and get a good middle-class job.
So these kinds of programs we know make a real difference in the lives of middle-class families. And that’s the case that we’re going to make to Democrats. We’re not -- this is --
Q But no TPA without TAA? I mean, just --
MR. EARNEST: This is not a situation where we have to persuade Democrats to hold their nose and vote for something. This is an opportunity for Democrats to support the expansion of a program that they previously have indicated they strongly support.
Q I think that’s a non-answer. I don’t think you’re answering that question.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. I don’t mean to give a non-answer.
Q So the President will not sign TPA without TAA? Both of these have to be passed and packaged together, isn’t that correct?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as a matter of legislative procedure, that’s true. The House of Representatives can’t just send -- based on their vote today -- they can’t just send the TPA bill to the President’s desk and hope that the TAA bill follows. Procedurally that won’t work. Again, this is why I would describe this as procedural snafu. We have a situation where we have got a clear bipartisan majority in the House; we just have to work our way through the procedures so that it can make its way to the President’s desk.
Q And why did the President wait until the last minute to go up to Capitol Hill, to go schmooze lawmakers at the congressional baseball game last night? And what do you say to people in this town who believe that’s just too little too late?
MR. EARNEST: If that were all the President did, I would agree with them. But the fact is, the President held -- the President personally had dozens of conversations with Democrats in the House and in the Senate to make the case for this proposal. And those are conversations that took place over the course of months.
Often, in the course of the skeptical questions about whether trade could ever get done in the Congress, people would ask, “well, what’s the President trying to do to get it passed?” And I made reference to the fact that the President was regularly engaged in conversations. And that typically was small meetings that the President would convene with three or four members, sometimes in the private dining room off the Oval Office having these conversations.
Q Meetings we didn’t know about that weren’t read out to us?
MR. EARNEST: Right, that weren’t previously announced.
Q Why weren’t those announced? Why not tell the public that he’s having these meetings?
MR. EARNEST: Well, because the President wanted to have an opportunity to have a private conversation with them. And I think were some members of Congress who did come out and say that they had had conversations with the President about this. That was often in the context of announcing their support for the bill. There are other more high-profile settings where you saw the President make his case. For example, there were four members of Congress who flew with the President to Germany when he took his trip to the G7 just last weekend. It seems like a month ago.
Q But to jump ahead, when you see stories written over the next 48 hours that say that this vote that occurred on Friday contributed to the President’s lame duck status; when White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is quoted in those stories, he says what?
MR. EARNEST: He says the President successfully -- (laughter) -- is it awkward for me to refer to myself in the third person?
What I would do is I would simply observe that there is healthy skepticism across the United States Capitol, and across the country, about whether or not Democrats and Republicans would actually be able to work together in bipartisan fashion to pass Trade Promotion Authority. And because of the President’s leadership and because of the effective leadership of Republicans on the other side of the aisle that were willing to coordinate and cooperate with the President and his team, the President succeeded in that priority.
There is still a procedural snafu to work through, but that’s in the same spirit that has contributed to our success in passing TPA through the Senate, TAA through the Senate, TPA through the House. We're going to use the same strategy to pass TAA through the House, too.
Q Josh, when it comes to TAA and even TPP, many Democrats felt it was really a matter of survival for many middle-income Americans who could lose their jobs to globalization. What do you say about the issue of survival as you're trying to marry this globalization in trade with people that you're wanting to enhance TAA in case there is a job loss for some of these people?
MR. EARNEST: And this was the nature -- this was a significant part of the presentation that the President made to House Democrats today. It is impossible to completely insulate the United States of America and the American people from the broader economic forces of globalization. It’s just impossible to do so.
And so the question is: How are the leaders of this country going to prepare our economy and the American people to weather those forces? There are some who advocate trying to shut the United States out from the rest of the world. The President has zero confidence in that strategy.
The President believes that our economy and our people are best served if we actually try to engage the world, and engage the world in a way where we enter into agreements whereby they commit to respecting basic intellectual property laws, raising labor standards, adopting higher environmental standards, respecting and protecting basic human rights. That if we can get them to commit to doing all of that in exchange for doing business in the United States, well, what the United States is essentially doing is leveling the playing field, and we can go do business in all those countries, too. And when I say all those countries, we're talking about some of the most economically dynamic countries in the world. These are the countries that have some of the fastest-growing economies on the plant.
And giving American businesses and American workers the opportunity to do business in those countries with the more level playing field is tremendous opportunity. And that is the right way for us to respond to the challenging forces of a globalized economy.
Q When you say that it’s impossible to insulate the American people from this globalization in trade deal that you're doing, when you're in their rooms calculating the positives and the negatives, realistically what is this White House expecting when the trade bill goes through -- the numbers of jobs and the numbers of people who could lose their jobs because of globalization over the next six years, as you said, with TAA?
MR. EARNEST: You mean how soon do we expect this legislation to pass? Is that what you're asking?
Q No. I’m asking -- no. I’m asking realistically, in numbers, when you calculate the positives of TPA and the losses of globalization, realistically over the next six years, when you have this trajectory if TAA were to come to place, how many people realistically in this nation are you looking at that could realistically not be insulated, lose their jobs because of TPA?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me see if we can get you some economic analysis from the CEA. What I would merely say to you is that the United States, our economy and our people will be much worse off if we just lock in the status quo, if we don’t do anything. The President believes -- and there is some evidence to back this up -- that if we do enter into these trade agreements that seek to level the playing field with other countries, particularly those countries in the most economically vibrant regions in the world, that that will create jobs right here in the United States. That was the reason the President traveled to the Nike headquarter six or eight weeks ago -- that that’s exactly what Nike said.
Nike is a company with a history of investing in other countries, taking advantage of the economic opportunity that exists in other countries. And what Nike said was they said, if you pass this TPP deal and we get other countries to start to raise their labor standards and raise their environmental standards, and respect basic intellectual property rights, that what we’re going to do is we’re actually going to invest in creating jobs right here in America. Because we know, right here in America, we’ve got the best workers. We’ve got the best colleges and universities. We’ve got the most clever innovators. We’ve got the most ambitious entrepreneurs. And that’s an environment that Nike wants to be a part of.
So they recognize that, by engaging in the world, we can actually expand economic opportunity right here at home.
Q Okay. And on another subject -- Cleveland. The judge finds that the police officers who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, there is cause for murder charges. What does the White House feel about that after we watched this -- after the situation in Ferguson and in New York, and then there was Cleveland? What do you say to that?
MR. EARNEST: My understanding at this point, April, is that this is a case that’s now in the hands of a local prosecutor. And that local prosecutor will take a look at the facts. I’m confident that that individual will consider the ruling of the judge. But ultimately, this is a decision for the federal prosecutor -- for the local prosecutor to make.
The Department of Justice has obviously been engaged with the city of Cleveland to help them implement some of the reforms that they felt were needed there. But as it relates to the specific case, I wouldn’t have any direct comment on it.
Q Did Leader Pelosi tell President Obama that she was not going to support TAA before she went to the House floor?
MR. EARNEST: Kristen, what I will tell you is that prior to addressing the House Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill today, the President did have an opportunity to huddle with the House Democratic leaders, not just Leader Pelosi, but with the other members of the Democratic leadership. They had a private conversation before the President addressed the broader Democratic caucus. And that was a private conversation that they had, and so I’m not going to be in a position to talk about the details of that conversation.
Q But just to clarify, was it his impression, based on that meeting, that Leader Pelosi was not going to support TAA? Is that what you’re saying?
MR. EARNEST: What I’m saying is that they had an opportunity to discuss this at some length this morning, and I’m not prepared to talk about the details of that conversation.
Q And was he anticipating that he was going to support it leaving that meeting? We saw them come out. They seemed to be all smiles. What was his impression leaving that meeting?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the reason they’re all smiles is because that have a warm, constructive relationship that has yielded a lot of benefits for the American people. And there is so much of what the President has accomplished that wouldn’t have been possible without somebody like Leader Pelosi.
But again, I’m not going to get into the details of their conversation.
Q Let me put it this way: Was he surprised by Leader Pelosi going out on the floor and opposing TAA?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know that the President watched her specific floor speech. The President had an opportunity to speak to her before the caucus meeting.
Q Did he watch the vote?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t believe that he did. He certainly is aware of it. (Laughter.)
Q You described his relationship with --
MR. EARNEST: At the risk of underplaying it, he’s -- (laughter).
Q You’re describing his relationship with Democratic lawmakers as warm and constructive. I have to go back to this question and the perception that some of them had coming out of that meeting. Congressman DeFazio -- I’m just going to read you his exact quote. He said, “The President tried to both guilt people and then impugn their integrity, and I don’t think it was a very effective tactic.” I know you were arguing just the opposite, that you felt as though the President’s tactic was effective. But clearly his message didn’t get through. Does he need to change his strategy and his message?
MR. EARNEST: Now, Kristen, consider we succeeded in passing TPA through the United States Senate with bipartisan support. We succeeded in passing TAA through the Senate with strong bipartisan support. We succeeded in passing TPA through the House with strong bipartisan support.
Q But, ultimately, today you failed.
MR. EARNEST: It’s a pretty clear indication to me that our strategy is clear.
Q Overall, you failed, Josh. The President didn’t win today.
MR. EARNEST: Kristen, I don’t think that that’s an accurate assessment of what happened. The fact is, six months ago, and I think even in the last couple of months, we could find questions from you, asking skeptically -- and rightfully so -- about the capacity of the United States Congress and the ability of the President to work with Republicans in the Congress to try to pass TPA. And yet that’s exactly what happened today. There were also some skeptical questions about how much Democratic support the President would be able to build for this priority; that there are some who are saying, well, are you going to call it a win if you can only 15 or 18 Democrats? We got 28 Democrats to support it.
So from that standpoint, I think that is -- I think if you consider the results, that’s a strong endorsement of our strategy. But clearly, what I would concede is that our work is not done yet.
Q Do you worry that his message is not getting through when you hear that type of feedback from Democrats?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don’t worry about that at all.
Q Okay. And more broadly, just to follow up on Jim’s question, he asked is this too little too late. Some Democrat lawmakers say if the President had begun to foster relations with them years ago, that he would have had more success on a key piece of legislation that he’s fighting so hard for. What’s your reaction to that?
MR. EARNEST: I find it hard to believe that the President’s attendance at the 2014 congressional baseball game would have in any way contributed to the vote count today.
Q But, Josh, not just the 2014 baseball game --
MR. EARNEST: Well, that’s the prospect that some have raised, right?
Q -- but having more outreach on a more consistent basis --
MR. EARNEST: That’s the prospect that some have raised -- that, oh, if the President had just gone to the congressional baseball game before, that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen.
Q But having a more robust outreach on a more consistent basis.
MR. EARNEST: To be honest with you, Kristen, I think that the President takes much more seriously members of Congress and their concerns than some people -- than some analysts do when they’re considering how they make decisions about significant policy issues.
Q Josh, did the White House know in advance that there would be a vote on TPA even though TAA was defeated?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I’ll say is I think there was some indication that that was a possibility today. But I think, again, just in the short period of time that I have been observing activity on the floor of the House of Representatives, you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen until it happens. But there was some indication, based on private conversations we’d had with Republican leaders, that that was a possibility.
Q Well, since TAA was defeated, were you surprised that TPA was passed?
MR. EARNEST: Well, to be blunt, no. There was confidence that there was a bipartisan majority that had been built to pass TPA through the House of Representatives.
Q And at last night’s game, did the President actually bring up trade in glad-handing members of Congress on the field?
MR. EARNEST: I wasn’t there, so I didn’t overhear any of the conversations that he may have had with members on the field. I think mostly they were there to have a good time. I don’t know if he had a chance to twist any arms, but, again, I think that’s a pretty good illustration that goes back to what Kristen was asking. I don’t know if there were any members of Congress who would say that the President’s visit to National’s Park last night changed their vote on this issue.
Q There was already a lid for the day when it was announced, or it was hinted that the President was going to the game. Can you tell us how he decided, you know, I ought to go to the game?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President did view it as an opportunity to get out of the White House, which is something that he looks for the chance to do periodically. But I do think that he also thought it would an opportunity for him to sort of show some solidarity with members of Congress, even as they were out having a good time on the baseball diamond; that he could also sort of demonstrate that he’s paying close attention to the important work that they’re considering on the floor of the House of Representatives these days.
Q Clearly, it was a hastily made decision, no?
MR. EARNEST: It was, on relatively short notice. But thanks to the agility of your colleagues in the press corps, we got most members of the White House press pool into the van in time to go.
MR. EARNEST: Doug. I’m sorry, Doug.
Q That’s all right.
MR. EARNEST: I apologize.
Q That’s all right, no problem. Changing subjects to the cyber intrusion, the cyber espionage at the Office of Personnel and Management. I think it was earlier in the week you said it was 4.1 former and present federal employees who were potentially subject to this intrusion. I think the AP reported today that the number may be much higher. So I think two people who had been briefed on the matter -- as high as 14 million. Can you confirm that?
MR. EARNEST: Doug, at this point, I don’t have additional details about the ongoing investigation into this particular matter. You will recall that our law enforcement professionals did make an announcement at the end of last week about their preliminary knowledge that they had accumulated so far about the scope of this particular intrusion. But that investigation continues.
The thing that I mentioned yesterday in talking about this is that sometimes our investigators are reluctant to talk publicly in much detail about what exactly they have learned because it can give some helpful insight to our adversaries, frankly, about what kinds of techniques are used to investigate and mitigate and even deter these kinds of intrusions. So I know that our investigators are, however, committed to making sure that those who have been affected by this particular intrusion are advised as soon as possible, and that they get the resources and information that they need to make sure that they can protect themselves.
Q I’ve had a couple cybersecurity experts tell me that this is the biggest cyber intrusion since the Edward Snowden affair. And I’m curious, just given the massive size and scope of the federal bureaucracy and the cumbersome nature of turning around an aircraft carrier this size, whether the federal government is nimble enough to address these kinds of attacks when they can be changed so quickly, yet the federal government cannot with its procurement policies have competitive bidding on protection for these kinds of things.
MR. EARNEST: Doug, you're right that this -- that protecting the computer networks of the federal government is a daunting challenge, and it does require the federal government to be nimble -- something that's difficult when you're talking about an organization that's this large.
There are a number of steps that this administration has taken to try to address those concerns. We can get you a pretty good rundown of those things. But clearly, there’s more that needs to get done. These are the kinds of challenges -- this challenge that's facing the federal government is not dissimilar from the challenge that's facing the private sector, and large organizations in the private sector, as well. And that's one of the reasons that we have been pretty forceful in calling on Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation that the President has already sent up to Congress.
There are some steps that we could implement that require congressional authorization that could make not just the federal government but also the private sector more nimble and more effective in communicating with one another to make sure that we're doing everything we can to protect the computer networks and the data of the American people.
Let me give you one example of that, and I’ll do this quickly, is one of the priorities when it comes to dealing with these matters -- and in being nimble -- is information sharing. That one of the things that we can do is if one private sector entity has been the victim of an intrusion or even an attempted intrusion, sharing information about how that intrusion was attempted with other industries and with the federal government can be an effective way of making sure that other computer networks, including the federal government’s computer networks, can be shored up to protect against a similar intrusion.
So that's one of the reasons that we are aggressively advocating Congress to pass this piece of legislation, and it would have a tangible impact on the ability of this country to protect the data of the American people.
Q Since we know that the Chinese probably have access to background checks and security clearances now, they therefore know who American contacts are in China with Chinese people, friends, family, associates, confidants in that country. Do you think it might be necessary to remove people from embassy positions in China who have close contacts on the outside who are themselves Chinese?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Doug, we have not discussed publicly what we know right now about the extent of this cyber intrusion. We have acknowledged that, potentially, sensitive data about a substantial number of federal employees was breached, or is at least now at risk. But we haven’t talked publicly about the details of that. I’m not aware that the State Department has made the decision to take any actions in response to this specific matter. But if they have, you should ask them about it.
Q And quickly, one last question on this. Would people as high as Cabinet-level officers have that data stored at OPM -- background check information, clearance?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know the answer to that. I know that there is a substantial amount of data that is maintained at OPM. We’ll see if we can get you some more details about what’s there. We will not at this point be able to discuss in much detail about which data or how much data may potentially be affected in this particular incident.
Q Thank you, Josh. A Muslim Brother delegation was in town this week. And I understand they hadn’t had a chance to meet either people from State or here at the White House. Have you decided to cut all ties with this organization?
MR. EARNEST: No. Jerome, there has been no change in our policy with respect to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Obama administration and the United States routinely engage with representatives from across the political spectrum in all countries around the world. And members of the Obama administration have in the past met with Muslim Brotherhood representatives including as recently as earlier this year.
So it is true that no one from the White House or from the administration met with the current delegation, but that does not reflect any change in our policy toward the Muslim Brotherhood.
Q Why is that then?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I don't have a detailed explanation to share with you, other than to say that we're going to choose when is the appropriate time to meet with these foreign interlocutors. And we have obviously met with the Muslim Brotherhood in the past, as recently as early this year. But on this visit, no one from the administration will be meeting with them.
Q Back on the OPM hack, Harry Reid has said that the Chinese were behind this hack. Do you dispute that characterization?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Olivier, we have declined to offer our own official assessment about who may be responsible for this particular intrusion. So I don't have any information to share with you on that.
Q Okay. It wasn’t that long ago that the President made new policy by green-lighting the use of economic sanctions against people tied to cyber intrusions, such as this one, potentially -- though obviously it was announced before this. How close are you to announcing -- if you plan to announce -- retaliatory steps targeting either individuals or nation states at this point?
MR. EARNEST: It's correct, Olivier, the President did sign an executive order earlier this year authorizing the Secretary of Treasury to make some decisions about designating for sanctions individuals who may be responsible for specific cyber intrusions or just merely benefit from those cyber intrusions.
In talking about sanctions in the past, you know that we have often said that it is not in our interest to telegraph in advance any decisions that we may be making related to sanctions, primarily because it gives those who may be targeted the opportunity to move around their assets to try to escape these sanctions.
So I don’t have much insight to share with you, unfortunately, about where we are in that decision-making process other than to confirm for you that this newly available option is one that is on the table.
Q A few more on the same subject, and I’ll try to keep it quick. First, how concerned are you that this is going to chase qualified people out of government, or dissuade qualified people from joining government if they worry that their confidential information -- and some of these forms get into a lot of detail, and they’re very personal information -- if this is compromised? How concerned are you about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Olivier, I think the reason I'm not particularly concerned about that matter is that this is a challenge that is facing the private sector as well. And I know that those individuals who are being recruited by private sector entities also have to turn over significant amounts of personal information.
And the need and the strategy for protecting that information is something that both private sector experts and federal government experts grapple with. In fact, the President spent a lot of time encouraging those in the private sector to coordinate with federal government experts so that they can share knowledge and best practices and devise strategies that will bolster the defenses of both public and private computer systems.
So trying to facilitate that kind of coordination we believe will benefit everybody. But there’s no doubt that this is a significant challenge and one that is a priority for many private sector companies. It’s also a priority for the President and every federal government agency that he’s responsible for.
Q Last one for you. A lot of federal employees have received emails telling that their information was compromised and offering them support with credit monitoring. Have you received that message, and have you availed yourself of that service?
MR. EARNEST: I have not received that message at this point. My understanding is that the notification process, though, is one that is a rolling one.
Q Thanks, Josh. Just one on OPM before I have another question on trade. On the OPM hack, it sounds like you’re not willing to give a number in terms of -- we’re hearing as high as 14 million. But if you’re not -- if you don’t want to go that far, are you at least willing to say that during the investigation, the FBI has expanded beyond the initial estimates and that you actually believe that it’s broader than what it was when you first announced?
MR. EARNEST: Toluse, I don’t have any details to share with you about the investigation at this point. That as our investigators at the FBI and DHS gather more information, and if they’re comfortable -- if they reach a point where they’re comfortable sharing more information, I'm confident that they will. But that information will come from them first, not from me, because they’ll be making the decisions consistent with what they believe is in the best interest of the ongoing investigation.
Q So the 4 million number that we heard last week, is that the number that you’re sticking to? Is that a --
MR. EARNEST: Well, that is the latest number that was announced by the Department of Homeland Security, I believe, and I don’t have any updates for you beyond that.
Q And then also, last week you were asked about whether or not federal contractors were a part of this, and you said you didn’t think so. Is there any update to that?
MR. EARNEST: I actually don’t know the answer to that question. We’ll see if we can get you an answer to that. The other thing you can do is actually contact OPM and see if they can get you an answer too. But if both of us try that, maybe we’ll get you an answer.
Q And on trade, the TAA issue came up actually I think back on Monday or Tuesday with the Medicare fix. And it seemed like Speaker Pelosi -- Leader Pelosi was on board. She worked out a deal with John Boehner to fix that and take that off the table, and then it ended up that she voted against it. Were you surprised that after being on board she switched -- seemed to come out against it? And should the White House have done more to attack the TAA issue since you knew about this much earlier in the week and the President didn’t show up on the Hill until Friday to take on this issue specifically?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Toluse, a couple things about that. The President has been engaged in having a number of telephone conversations and in-person conversations over the last several weeks on this issue. So I'm not sure anybody can question the President’s commitment to engaging on this issue to build important bipartisan support for a legislative priority of his. And I think there is tangible evidence to indicate that that strategy was successful because of the passage with a bipartisan majority of TPA legislation. We obviously have additional work to do on the TAA bill.
When we were discussing this earlier this week, I complimented both Leader Pelosi and Speaker Boehner for effectively coordinating to resolve some concerns that some Democrats had raised about the pay-for of the TAA bill. And in the days ahead -- again, I hope that Democrats and Republicans will summon a similar bipartisan spirit to build a bipartisan majority for this legislation that, again, in the past, has earned strong support from Democratic members of the House of Representatives -- unanimous support last time it was considered.
There also is ample reason for Republicans to consider voting for this piece of legislation. We saw a substantial number of Republicans vote for it today, including the Speaker of the House. And we’re hopeful that House Republicans will continue to lend support to a program that the President believes is critically important to supporting middle-class families, particularly those that are dealing with the challenging forces of globalization.
Q So does your strategy on trade sort of shift now to a new strategy specifically focused on TAA? And if so, what is the new tactic that you’re going to use? Are you mostly going to focus on getting Democrats to I guess be fearful that this program is going to end in September? Or are you going to try to get Republicans to change their position and get the total package passed?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what has served us well in this process so far in terms of successfully passing TPA through the Senate and passing TAA through the Senate in bipartisan fashion, again, passing TPA through the House in bipartisan fashion today -- that’s an indication that our strategy has worked.
And we obviously have more work to do, but our strategy has been to make the case to both Democrats and Republicans about why they should support this legislation. Now, there are certain arguments that Republicans find more persuasive, and there are other arguments that Democrats find more persuasive. I actually would just submit that that means that there are a whole lot of reasons to support TPA. The same applies when it comes to TAA.
And again, this also is not about trying to scare people. This is actually about raising a legitimate concern. The fact is, this is a piece of legislation, a program that previously was supported by every single Democrat in the House of Representatives that is set to expire at the end of September. And what the President has advocated doing is not just preventing the lapse of that program; the President has actually put forward a specific proposal with a specific pay-for that was worked out between Leader Pelosi and Speaker Boehner to significantly expand that program in a way that would double the amount of money that’s available every year, and in a way that would allow 17,000 people who over the last 18 months have previously seen their applications rejected, to allow them to have their applications reconsidered. These are 17,000 workers who are in need right now.
And if the House will pass this bill, we can set about the work of trying to consider their eligibility again, under a different set of circumstances. That is going to open up access to these important benefits to many more people, and that is entirely consistent with the kind of progressive values that the President has long championed and that we know are strongly supported by members of -- Democratic members of the House of Representatives, and even some Republicans.
Q So a little bit to follow up on that. When Leader Pelosi was on the floor, she was talking about trying to get a better deal for workers. Has she asked you, or is seeking more money, or a greater package? Is there something you can offer her?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not aware of any specific requests that Leader Pelosi may have made, but again, this has been part of the conversations that she’s had with Speaker Boehner. And it’s possible that there may be some requests that have been made of the White House.
But again, I think the case that we would make would be focused on the amount of benefits that are included here. And again, I wouldn’t -- we’ll send you the letter from Secretary Perez that he sent to the Hill yesterday, the detailing, the extensive assistance that would be offered in this legislation, and explaining how this isn’t just a renewal of a previously passed package, but actually is a significant expansion of it.
Q Thanks, Josh. I just wanted to bring your attention to something that Congressman Jim Himes said; he’s one of your supporters on trade. He said today’s vote on TAA “hobbled the Democratic President.” So I’m just wondering how you square the claim that the strategy is working when even your allies are saying -- or suggesting that the President’s powers of persuasion are perhaps diminished here.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, all I would do -- and I would say this to Congressman Himes too -- is I would just encourage him to consider the track record here; that over the last month, we’ve seen that the Senate came together and beat the odds and built a bipartisan majority to pass TPA. The Senate came together, built a bipartisan majority to pass TAA. Just today, the House of Representatives came together, built a bipartisan majority, even in the face of some pretty intense skepticism inside the Beltway, and passed TPA.
The remaining stumbling block, one that I acknowledge remains, is when it comes to trade adjustment assistance. But I think as I’ve done a number of times here already today, we’ve got a very strong case to make to Democrats about how middle-class families all across the country would benefit significantly from the proposed expansion of trade adjustment assistance. And we’re going to make the case that they should support it, and we’ll keep doing that.
Q Thanks, Josh. I think after today’s vote and floor statements it’s fair to say that all the current leaders of the Democratic Party have come out and taken a position on trade. Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner right now to be the future leader of the Democratic Party. She would benefit from fast-track authority if she became President. How would it affect things in the House if she came out and took a position? And is President Obama satisfied with the leadership being shown right now from one of his potential successors?
MR. EARNEST: We would be very concerned about the position of Secretary Clinton if she had a vote in the House of Representatives. I assure you that if she did, she would be subject to a pretty aggressive lobbying campaign by the President on down. And we would be optimistic about the persuasive case we would be able to make.
Unfortunately, however, she does not have a vote in the House of Representatives. She’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing right now, which is focused on running a presidential campaign. And --
Q So you don’t think she’d be influential? Sorry to cut you off. But you don’t think she’s be influential to these House members? She would potentially be at the top of the ticket in the reelections that they’re concerned about.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it is entirely possible that -- she is obviously a significant figure in the Democratic Party, and people care a lot about what she has to say. But she’s focused on running her campaign right now, and is not focused on whipping votes in the House of Representatives, one way or the other. And that means that she’s got her priorities straight right now.
Q As others have mentioned, there is this perception that throughout the President’s term, that he hasn’t really engaged very much with members of Congress, and you have contested that perception. But why is that so widespread if it’s not the case?
MR. EARNEST: Well, frankly, I don’t know. I think that what the President has pursued is a strategy that has sought to engage members of Congress on important legislative priorities. And I think that’s been on full display not just in the last 24 hours or so, but over the last several weeks, particularly on this particular trade issue. And it served us very well in terms of the success we’ve had in passing these legislative priorities through the Senate. We’ve got some additional work to do in the House, but we’re pleased with the important progress that we’ve already made so far.
Fred, I’ll give you the last one, and we’ll do the week ahead.
Q Something that has come up in the course of the debate is something that Paul Ryan had addressed this week, is whether TPA might down the road allow the President to implement climate rules or immigration rules. One Republican during the House debate said that his concerns about that were satisfied. I wanted to ask, from the White House perspective, would the White House or would the administration ever consider using future trade deals if TPA is put into place for climate or immigration?
MR. EARNEST: My understanding, Fred, is there’s actually specific language that’s included in the legislation that prohibits that. This, I think, is a pretty good example of where there are significant disagreements between Democrats and -- between Republicans and this President. And we’ve made clear that we believe that immigration reform is a priority because of the economic benefits it would shower on our economy.
We’ve also made clear that dealing with climate change is a top priority. But the fact is, the President has sought very aggressively to make progress in those areas, and he didn’t need TPA to do it. So the President is going to continue to advocate dealing with the causes of climate change, and the President is going to continue to implement many of the executive actions that he announced at the end of last year to reform our broken immigration system. So that’s what the President’s focus is on.
Let’s do the week ahead.
Q That’s TWA.
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry?
Q “The Week Ahead” -- TWA.
MR. EARNEST: (Laughter.) Ah, yes, it is. Yes it is.
Q TPA --
MR. EARNEST: There has been a lot of acronyms todays. A lot of acronyms.
On Monday, the President will attend the graduation ceremony for participants in the 2015 White House Mentoring and Leadership Program.
On Tuesday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House.
On Wednesday, the President will deliver remarks at an investiture ceremony for Attorney General Loretta Lynch over at the Warner Theatre.
On Wednesday evening, the President will, here at the White House -- this should be interesting -- host a picnic for members of Congress. So that’ll be fun. (Laughter.)
On Thursday, the President will travel to the Los Angeles, California area to attend a handful of DNC events. And the President will spend Thursday night in Los Angeles.
On Friday, the President is scheduled to travel to San Francisco, California -- or at least the Bay Area -- to deliver remarks at the Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, as well as attend DNC and DCCC events. We’ll have additional details about the President’s trip to California early next week.
Q Anything this weekend we should know about?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don’t have any details about the President’s schedule this weekend.
Q Will trade be the weekly address subject?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t yet know what the subject of the weekly address will be, but we’ll have it in your inboxes shortly, I hope.
Thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend.
END 3:30 P.M. EDT