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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/25/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

*Please see below for an addendum to the transcript, marked with asterisks.

1:48 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  Let me do some quick remarks at the top, and then we’ll go to your questions.

Today we have a rather interesting and illustrative confluence of events.  The Supreme Court, as many of you have been covering, in a 6-3 decision turned away the last major legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act.  And just about an hour ago, the House, acting in bipartisan fashion, sent trade adjustment assistance and AGOA to the President’s desk.  These are obviously two quite different policy issues, but they illustrate some important things about this President and this presidency.

The first is, both of these issues were aggressively pursued by the President because of his laser-like focus on expanding economic opportunity for middle-class families.  The President’s core motivation for pursuing these policy priorities was to advance the interest of middle-class families.  And that is why he is so gratified today to see this progress.  

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, there are more than 6 million Americans that don’t have to worry about their tax credits being taken away from them.  These are working families, middle-class families and, in some cases, families that are working really hard to try to get into the middle class.  And having access to health care is important for their families.  It’s also important to their economic wellbeing.

Obviously we’ve had ample opportunity to make the case about how important trade is to ensuring that American businesses and American workers have the opportunity to compete in a genuinely 21st century global economy.

The second important thing about these two policy priorities is they illustrate the President’s willingness to work with whomever will work with him.  In the case of the Affordable Care Act, the President worked closely with Democrats in the face of blistering partisan obstruction from Republicans -- partisan obstruction that continues to this day.  But yet, because of the persistence of not just the President but of Democrats on Capitol Hill, we’ve made tremendously important progress for middle-class families all across the country.

The story on trade is obviously a little different.  The President had to work with -- the President’s trade priority was actually opposed by a majority of Democrats in Congress, but the President was able to work effectively with Republicans in Congress and build support among some Democrats in both houses to build an effective bipartisan majority to accomplish this goal.

The third is it demonstrates the President’s willingness to take on tough challenges.  And we’ve talked quite a bit about how -- and there was, frankly, a lot of second-guessing about the wisdom of choosing to pursue something like health care reform so early in the presidency.  This is something that Presidents in both parties over the last century had tried, and failed, to complete.  But the President took this on because he was committed to taking on the tough challenges and trying to make progress on even policy priorities that Washington, for a long time, it just kicked the can down the road on.

The same is true of trade.  There’s a lot of skepticism about the wisdom of the President trying to pursue this specific policy priority.  But the fact is, Democrats and Republicans were able to work together to achieve this goal.

And finally -- and then we’ll get to your questions -- the fourth thing -- and this is I think also important -- is we’ve talked a lot about the way that the President tries -- about the President’s leadership style.  He focuses on a longer-term objective, and keeps his focus there, and even in the midst of what he acknowledged in the Rose Garden were some setbacks; that by being able to focus on the goal, he was successful.  

There was a lot of talk about this, actually, during the President’s campaign in 2007 and 2008 -- that this element of his personality and his leadership style served him very well in that campaign.  I’m not sure that any of us who even saw that leadership style in the campaign understood how critical that approach would be in running the White House.  And ultimately, it has been really important.  That if the President had spent a lot of time reading the obituaries that were written about the trade legislation, or spent a lot of time worried about the columns related to the impending death of the Affordable Care Act, that we probably wouldn’t have made as much progress as we did.

So anyway, the point is that this is an interesting day for a lot of reasons, but I do think it tells even those of us who spend a lot of time working on these issues every single day, I think there’s a much broader story to tell about this President, about his values, about his priorities.  And hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to talk about that among other things in the briefing today.

So with that long windup, Nancy, why don’t you get us started?

Q    Can you tell us how the President learned about the ruling?  Some color about his initial reaction?  And did you guys have any kind of heads-up that the ruling was coming today?

MR. EARNEST:  We did not have a heads-up.  The Supreme Court obviously is very wedded to their process of informing the public of their decisions.  

The President was in the Oval Office receiving his Presidential Daily Briefing when his Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough; the White House Counsel, Neil Eggleston; and the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Kristie Canegallo, came into the Oval Office to inform him of the Supreme Court’s decision.  Ms. Canegallo has obviously been instrumental in ensuring the effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and she had been essentially running the process of sort of monitoring the outcome of the Supreme Court’s deliberations.  So that’s why she was involved in that discussion.

Q    So initial reaction?  High-fiving?  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:  I wasn’t among those who were in the Oval Office, but obviously the President was very pleased to learn of the news.

Q    And has he spoken at all or commented at all on the fact that it was John Roberts writing the decision, once again, that saved the Affordable Care Act?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, not that I’m aware of.  I think the President, though, in the comments that he made at the news conference in Germany a couple of weeks ago, made pretty clear that he thought this was a straightforward decision for the Supreme Court to make.  And I think that’s why many of us, as I mentioned earlier, were not that surprised that not just a majority of the Supreme Court but, in this case, six of the nine justices issued a ruling that we obviously believe is the correct one.


Q    So after the President found out -- and there’s a picture of -- actually of Denis McDonough and him sort of looking really happy -- what happened?  Did he call people?  Did he reach out and tell people, yay, we’ve won?  

MR. EARNEST:  After he learned of the news later this morning, the President did place a telephone call to Don Verrilli, who’s the Solicitor General of the United States, who presented the argument to the Supreme Court.  I believe that the President picked up the phone and congratulated Mr. Verrilli on his successful argument in the housing discrimination case, and obviously that was a decision that we were pleased about today as well.  But that was at least one phone call the President made today.

Q    And I mean, you said that you didn’t get a heads-up because of the Supreme Court’s procedures, but people obviously knew today was a possibility, right?


Q    How did you all prepare for that?  Did you have speeches written, or -- how did you prepare for that mentality?

MR. EARNEST:  There certainly were a range of contingencies that we planned for.  And we certainly were mindful of the fact that it was possible that we could face an adverse decision from the Supreme Court.  But we were pleased, relieved, and not particularly surprised with this outcome.

Q    And after he gave his remarks in the Rose Garden, what did the President do after that?  Was there some sort of celebration back there?  What did you all do?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of.  I think as the President ended his remarks, he said “let’s get back to work,” and I think that’s what we all did.

Q    On Iran -- last night, a group of advisors who are close to the White House -- former advisors to the President on national security issues warned that a potential deal is at risk of failing to provide adequate tough-enough safeguards.  How much pressure does this put on negotiators at this sort of critical juncture?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no additional pressure, I’ll say.  I do think that the negotiators understand the stakes involved here, and the negotiators are certainly feeling the pressure of the President and our P5+1 partners to reach an agreement that reflects the principles that were agreed to in Lausanne back in the first week of April.  That is what we have said all along will be necessary to complete these talks and to complete a final agreement.  

I think that’s one reason that -- I think that’s probably the most interesting thing about the letter, is the letter essentially lays out the kind of criteria that is broadly consistent with the framework that was announced back in April.

And the President was crystal clear that the only kind of final agreement we would reach is one that fulfills the principles that had previously been agreed to.  

Q    So you see it as being consistent rather than raising a red flag about -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  And I think that reflects my reading of the letter. 


Q    Some of the things the President said today -- that the ACA is here to stay; someday our grandchildren will look back on this -- it really seemed as if you could feel his legacy kind of solidifying on this in front of him, and then to get trade finished on the same day.  Does he talk about this -- how he views this in terms of his legacy at all?  I mean, do you feel -- do you get a sense that he’s feeling that now? 

MR. EARNEST:  I get the sense -- and I think this was based on private conversations but also based on what he said in the Rose Garden today -- that he is keenly focused on and aware of the impact that this decision will have on the lives of millions of Americans.  

The President noted that -- and I noted at the beginning -- that there are more than 6 million Americans that don’t have to worry about their tax credits being taken away.   But there are millions more who got health care because of the Affordable Care Act.  And there are tens of millions more Americans who didn’t get their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act that benefit from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act in a variety of ways.  

Women all across the country don’t have to be worried about being charged more simply because they’re a woman.  No one has to worry about being kicked off their insurance because they get sick.  No one has to worry about hitting a lifetime cap on their insurance.  And those are -- millions of Americans across the country who didn’t get their health care through a marketplace but do benefit in very real and tangible ways from the provisions that are the focus of the Affordable Care Act.  

Q    So this being, as you put it, such a big deal for his presidency and shaping his legacy, how does the President personally celebrate something like that?  I mean, does he later crack open a beer, or is he going to gather his colleagues together?  What is his personal celebration on? 

Q    A beer summit, perhaps? 

MR. EARNEST:  Possible.  Again, I think the President’s enthusiasm about the announcement is rooted in the impact that this is going to have on the American people; rooted in the impact that it’s going to have on middle-class families across the country and families who no longer have to worry about being one illness away from declaring bankruptcy. 

Q    But does he celebrate this -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I don’t know that the President has specific plans to celebrate.  He obviously is going to spend some time tonight writing an important speech that he’s going to give tomorrow.  But the President is obviously very gratified by the outcome, but he’s gratified because of the impact that this will have on millions of Americans.  This is why you run for the job in the first place.

Q    And we’ve heard such confidence statements over the last couple of weeks.  But the celebrations that we’re hearing from other administration officials too, and some of the things that they’ve been saying indicates that maybe it wasn’t such a level of confidence in the decision being this one.  Would you say that’s the case, that there was some real worry there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that there was a responsible contingency planning in place -- or at least thinking.  But again, in talking to you all earlier this week, I indicated that I wasn’t aware of anybody around here that was losing sleep over this.  And I think that was a reflection of the confidence that we had and the strength of these legal arguments, and six of the Justices of the Supreme Court agreed.  

Q    And lastly, obviously Republicans are vowing today to keep trying to repeal Obamacare.  The real fight on trade could come in the actual deal with Asia itself.  So maybe not such a victory lap when there could be big battles ahead.  

MR. EARNEST:  I think that’s exactly right.  


Q    Thank you.  Ten years ago, Senator Barack Obama said he was going to vote no for John Roberts because it was his personal estimation that Roberts had far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong and opposition to the weak.  But he also said he hoped he was wrong.  So what I would like to know is, does President Obama think he was wrong?  If he had to do it again, would he vote to confirm John Roberts?  Or does he think this was just such a slam dunk that Roberts had no choice and he’s really more strong than weak so far? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that’s a -- it’s an interesting question.  I think given the President’s unique relationship to Chief Justice Roberts, given the role that the two men have, I think I'm going to reserve comment on that.  I mean, I think the President was quite blunt about his assessment of the merits of this particular case.  And again, reading the opinion that Chief Justice Roberts wrote, it seems like there are a lot of areas -- at least with regard to this case -- where the two men agree.  

Q    So can I try another one?  Tomorrow, in addition to whatever Supreme Court rulings may come out that could create another flurry of running around, the President is going to go down to South Carolina.  And can you talk to us a little bit about, in addition to just being there to remember the Reverend, what he’ll use that speech to do?  How much of a gun control push are we going to hear tomorrow?  How will he handle the opportunity?  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there’s still quite a lot of work to be done on the speech, so I'm not going to be able to provide you a lot of detail in advance about what the President plans to say.  As I mentioned yesterday, the focus of the speech will be on celebrating the life of Reverend Pinckney and the eight others who were killed in the shooting last week.  

The memorial service is obviously for Reverend Pinckney.  There are other services that are being held for the others who were killed.  But the President will have an opportunity, I understand, to meet with many of the families of those who were lost last week.  And I think the President will be mindful of not just how sad it is that those individuals were taken from us, but also use the occasion to celebrate their lives.  

Even in some of the news coverage that I’ve had the opportunity to read over the last week, it’s clear that we’re talking about some rather remarkable people who have led rather remarkable lives.  Many of them, in the way that they went about their day-to-day lives, I do think serve as a genuine inspiration to others about the way that they lived their lives and about the values that they sought to embody in their day-to-day life.  And I think that’s something that’s not just worth remembering, but something that’s worth celebrating.  

And you’ll hear the President talk about this much more eloquently than I just did, tomorrow. 

Q    In reading Justice Roberts, the Chief’s ruling on the opinion, does this give the President any confidence or hints about how far he can expect to go either with his immigration policy, with any -- move on gun control that are outside of legislation?  Is he looking for clues in that ruling to see how far he can test the limits of executive power in the last year? 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think so.  And people who know a whole lot more about the Supreme Court than I do I think typically will warn against that.  And I know that there are some who actually tried to read into previous writings of Justice Scalia to try to interpret how he may rule in this case, and that kind of speculation was obviously wildly off base.

So I think as we consider these important legal questions that crop up periodically here at the White House, the President and his lawyers have a tendency to focus squarely on the law.


Q    I’m sure you noticed that Justice Scalia said that the health care law could actually be called “SCOTUS Care.”  (Laughter.)  I was wondering your reaction to that.

MR. EARNEST:  He certainly is living up to his reputation for an ability to turn a phrase, that’s for sure.

Q    But what does this say about Justice Roberts?  Because there’s been a lot of talk about the President’s legacy and this solidifying or going a long way towards solidifying a big part of the President’s domestic legacy.  What does it say about John Roberts’s legacy when it comes to this issue?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would hesitate to opine on that topic for a couple of reasons.  The first is there are people who know a whole lot more about the law and the Supreme Court than I do.  But the second is I’m also mindful of the business relationship, if you will, that exists between the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the President of the United States.

Q    Can you give me an assessment on Justice Roberts’s tenure as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll let others weigh in on that, at least for now.

Q    You don’t want to say anything nice about the guy that’s just now, for the second time, come to the rescue?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m sure he would appreciate the kind words.  I think the nicest thing that I could say about him was that he looked carefully at the law and rendered a judgment that he believed was consistent with a reasonable reading of the law.  And I certainly believe that that’s what he did in this case.

Q    Now, in looking carefully at the law, one of the things he said is the legislative process -- “closed-door legislative process does not reflect the type of care and deliberation one might expect of such significant legislation.”  He clearly thought that this was a law that was pretty sloppily written.  He’s not alone in that assessment.  What do you make of that now that you had to go through this whole process because of what you may call a snafu, but what was clearly, at the very least, a significant drafting error?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I actually think that the Supreme Court’s decision today makes clear that that wasn’t an error, and that the reading of the law and the reading of that phrase in the context of the law is quite clear.  And I think if it wasn’t, we would have seen a different outcome.  So there may be style points that are awarded in this case, but we’re not particularly concerned about them.

Q    Okay.  And then one other just unrelated -- an unrelated question.  In the wake of the debate over the Confederate flag in South Carolina and now, of course, in other states -- Mississippi -- does the President have a view of -- if you go up to Capitol Hill, you see all these statues of former Confederate leaders, you see other symbols associated with the Confederacy.  Does he have a view about whether such symbols are divisive and have no place in a place like the United States Capitol?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t heard him express a particular view on the statues.  And obviously, that will be a decision for members of Congress to make in terms of what kind of symbols they believe are most appropriate for the building in which they do the people’s business.


Q    The FBI named Michael McGarrity as the head of the fusion cell.  Has the President met him before?  Does he have any intention of meeting him in the near future?  And can you tell us if either Mr. McGarrity or the State Department or Pentagon deputy assigned underneath him will either prepare documents or be a participant in the Presidential Daily Brief on the status of hostages?

MR. EARNEST:  Major, I don’t know whether or not the President has had the opportunity to meet Mr. McGarrity.  Mr. McGarrity was given this newly created role for now because of the role that he has been playing over the last several years in the federal government’s effort to recover American hostages.  

So this was a role that was easy for him to slide into.  It’s certainly possible that in the context of that work, that Mr. McGarrity may have had the opportunity to meet the President, I just don’t know the answer to that.

Q    Did this go through -- up to the President’s desk?

MR. EARNEST:  This was a -- my understanding is that this is a decision that sort of came at -- this was a recommendation of the review group who conducted this particular review, that he slide into this role.  Let me confirm that for you, but I believe that that's correct.

In terms of the Presidential Daily Briefing, I wouldn't necessarily expect that he would be a regular participant there. As you know, there are a couple of things here that are relevant.  The first is that there will be a new position that's created at the Department -- or at the Director of National Intelligence -- the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  That is a confusingly named agency.  But there will be somebody who works in his office who will be responsible for collecting all the intelligence related to American hostages.  And so it might be that that individual is more likely to communicate information about intelligence to policymakers that need to know, including the President.

And then as it relates to -- obviously the NSC will continue to play a leading role in convening this policy group that will also interface with the fusion cell.  And so I would expect that a lot of the updates the President receives would also be from that policy group as well.  

So I don't think that there would be a routine need for Mr. McGarrity to communicate directly with the President in order for the President to be fully informed to the degree that he would like to be on these priorities.

Q    Would you say that there will be a higher priority placed on putting intelligence about American hostages held overseas into the PDB than was before?  Or is there no real change in that?  

MR. EARNEST:  I don't know that there would be a significant change in that regard, principally because the President has been pretty focused on this, and the President has already been receiving regular updates on the ongoing efforts to try to find and free American hostages.  I think it's certainly possible that the kind of information that the President receives is -- frankly, is better information because of the effort to try to streamline the information-gathering and analysis process at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Q    You had, it struck me, a kind of a nonchalant response to this letter about the nuclear negotiations.  And many in the foreign policy community that are not opposed to a deal see it somewhat differently.  They see it as a warning, like an enormous warning flag that these people who have worked close on this policy are fearful that the negotiations are going to yield something that falls far short of what their expectations were when they worked for the President and what they believed his expectations were when this process started.  Why is that an incorrect interpretation?  Because a lot of people I've talked to, they read it exactly that way -- not that this is reinforcing the administration’s point of view, that it’s like raising a very loud alarm that it's off track.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the reason that I would say that is simply that we've been clear about what kind of criteria -- or what will essentially be outlines of the final agreement, and that was what was announced in the political agreement the first week in April.  So I think that's why people can have confidence in the final resolution of the final agreement, is that it will reflect those principles that we outlined.  

And if the talks don't get to a place where we can essentially make sure we have a final agreement that reflects those principles, then there won't be a final agreement.  The President won't sign on to something that falls short of what was outlined in the political agreement back in April.

Q    Will he extend not only the negotiating period but extend the framework in an open-ended way because that is at least something that's agreed to and creates some room for future talks?  This is another way of saying -- you’ve already sort of conceded -- assumes June 30th is not a hard and fast deadline.  But I'm asking could it go much longer than that because that’s the only thing you’ve got going right now?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that's certainly not what we envision.  At this point, we have acknowledged that June 30th is the deadline, and it’s still a deadline that we’re operating against.  I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility that, much like what happened earlier this spring, that these are negotiations that could spill over the deadline by a couple of days.  But at this point, we’re not planning any sort of longer-term extension.

Q    One last thing.  Kathy Archuleta told Congress twice now, no one is personally responsible within the government for the hack.  She said the perpetrators are the responsible party.  I understand that part; I’m not asking you to disagree with that.  But for those who feel anxious and who are trying to find out and get on a call line where they wait four or five hours to get a non-response about what’s actually happened with their data, does the President -- or do you, speaking on behalf of the White House, believe no one is responsible for what was a hack in the first place, systems that were vulnerable, and then systems that were identified to have been vulnerable for seven consecutive years by inspectors general analyzing the systems at OPM?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Major, I can tell you that the President certainly feels responsible when it comes to making sure that the sensitive data of federal government personnel is properly protected.  And that is certainly not too much for those federal employees to ask, and that’s the expectation that the President has set out for his team.  And the President is certainly willing to accept that among his many other responsibilities.  Now, what --

Q    So this is on him?

THE PRESIDENT:  What’s also true is we’re going to need some help from Congress, and we’re going to need Congress to do their job.  We’ve put forward some very specific proposals that we would like Congress to pass when it comes to cybersecurity that would improve the ability of both the federal government and the private sector to respond to these incidents.

Q    Understood.  But if you look at the testimony who witnesses called -- and they were not hostile witnesses, they were not against the administration; some were former inspectors general -- they said these issues, these vulnerabilities could have been addressed even without cybersecurity legislation coming from Congress.  Those were things that are dealing the government and private sector doing a lot more to share and integrate.  But they said -- and again, they were not hostile witnesses -- they said these things could have been buttoned up internally; that it’s a management and leadership issue within OPM, not cybersecurity legislation, that is the real culprit.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think -- well, let me say a couple things about that.  I think it’s far too early to tell at this point exactly what could have been done differently to ensure that we would be able to have prevented this particular intrusion.  There’s still an ongoing investigation.  So it’s too early to speak to that.  

At the same time, the President and his team have acknowledged that there’s more that the federal government, quite frankly, is working very hard to do right now to bolster our cybersecurity and to bolster our cyber defenses.

We’re operating in a very dynamic environment against adversaries that have proven to be very innovative.  And this is a significant challenge, but this is not a challenge that’s unique to the federal government.  This is a challenge that private sector entities are dealing with, and even some media companies have experienced these kinds of intrusions in a way that have been damaging.

So this is something that we all have -- that across the public and private sector, that we’re all dealing with.  Again, I would reiterate, though, that some of the information-sharing that we need Congress to act on is information-sharing that would benefit the federal government.  If a private sector company is the victim of a particularly unique cyber-attack, we want to make sure that we can quickly communicate information about that attack not just to other private-sector actors, but also to the government as well, so that we can make sure that we’re not vulnerable to the same kind of tactics that were used to penetrate someone else’s system.  

So that’s why we’ve made that a real priority.  And Congress has really fallen down on the job here, and we want them to act.

Q    Since you said the President feels he’s responsible, has he told his team to give him metrics by which he can know when the cyber defenses have reached a certain level to remove vulnerabilities and deal with these endless wait times that people have, who are victims of this, trying to find out what they’re supposed to find out when they call the number on the letter that they were sent to by OPM?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President is serious about making sure that he’s regularly updated on the efforts of agencies in the federal government to bolster their cyber defenses.  And this is --

Q    Has he given them any marching orders?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I mentioned within the last couple of weeks here that this was actually an item on the agenda at a recent Cabinet meeting that the President convened, where every member of his Cabinet sat around the table, received a briefing about how important it is to take seriously these concerns about cybersecurity.  And there is a mechanism -- I believe that DHS has established this mechanism -- for tracking the progress that each agency is making in bolstering their cyber defenses.  And this is something that they are tracking very closely.  

Some of this is also not just to obviously making sure that they’re following through on this commitment, but also making sure that they’re getting the resources that they need to take the steps that are necessary to protect their systems.

Q    How about the wait times?

MR. EARNEST:  The wait times is a different issue.  I don’t know exactly how that’s being tracked.

Q    -- a contractor and everything, but it’s still a huge hassle.

MR. EARNEST:  There’s no doubt about that.  And I know that the contractor has undertaken some steps under some pretty intense pressure from the federal government to try to streamline that process.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Now that Congress has passed both TPA and TAA, when does the President plan to sign the bills?  And is there a signing ceremony planned for that event?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s my understanding that the President has received the TPA legislation because the TAA legislation only recently passed the House.  I don’t believe that’s actually been delivered to the White House at this point.  

I don’t have any details in terms of when the President will sign these bills, other than to confirm for you that the President is looking forward to the opportunity to sign them both.

Q    When he signs them, do you expect that lawmakers who were pivotal to the passage of the bill to be invited to the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any details on that yet, but as we start to make those plans we’ll let you know.


Q    Josh, it was a very complicated dance to revive TPA and TAA, and get it all to the President’s desk.  It wasn’t a simple process, and ultimately it required trust between the President, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and the few dozen Democrats in Congress who were going to back it.  Is there something that you take forward from that buildup of trust -- them delivering on TAA after they’d already sent TPA, et cetera?  Are there are other things that the President can work with Boehner and McConnell in ways that maybe hadn’t up until now?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Steve, I think this applies in a variety of different contexts.  But straightening out a snafu is not easily done.  That’s why you call it a snafu.  That’s why I called it a snafu.  (Laughter.)  And so the point is that, yes, that was difficult and it was complicated, and it did require some procedural tactics in order to get that done.  But we obviously were pleased to see that that happened.  

I do think that it illustrates that it is possible for Democrats and Republicans to work together on tough issues to make progress for the American people.  And despite these protestations from some Republicans that the President’s actions on immigration reform are somehow poisoning the well, that actually we can follow through on a principle that the President established, which is we’re not going to paper over the significant differences that exist between Democrats and Republicans.  They’re significant, particularly on economic issues.

But the fact is, we should set aside politics and focus on those areas where we do agree, even if there aren’t -- even if it’s not immediately obvious where we agree.  And even if the areas of overlap in agreement are small, there are still important things that can get done.  And that is a credit to the leadership of Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell to recognize that opportunity and to seize it.  

And I think what is really -- I think the biggest takeaway from this effort that has taken months now is that Democrats and Republicans, in order to get something important done, have to work together.  At each stage of this debate, going all the way back to the original debate in the Senate, it required Democrats and Republicans to build a majority; that when there were critical votes, a party line vote was not going to be enough.  That Democrats and Republicans were going to have to work together.  

And the President was pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this effort.  And we’ll have to see whether or not this serves as a template for confronting some other important challenges, and maybe even seizing some other important opportunities that may be presented before the Congress. 

Q    Well the toughest one is the budget, obviously.  We’re headed for another shutdown showdown.  There’s no talks.  Is the President going to pick up the phone and call Boehner and take him up on his offer and negotiate something?  Or is that something that we can still wait a couple months on?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we certainly don’t believe that Congress should procrastinate any longer in confronting this budgetary responsibility that they have.  What we have said is most likely to lead to success is for Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill to follow the approach that was established by Senator Murray and Chairman Paul Ryan.  

Ultimately, two years ago, in the context of the last budget agreement, those two -- a leading Democrat and a leading Republican -- sat down at the negotiating table and hammered out a budget agreement that didn’t reflect anybody’s idea of perfection.  Nobody got everything that they wanted out of those talks.  But what was generated, and what was produced by those conversations, was a genuinely bipartisan piece of legislation that reflected common ground between the two parties.  And the President was pleased to advocate for that bipartisan compromise when it emerged.  We would suggest that they follow a similar approach.

The administration will certainly be willing to support those conversations.  And we obviously are going to be sitting on the side of Democrats in those discussions, which shouldn’t be a surprise.  But ultimately, it is Congress’s responsibility to pass a budget.  And --  

Q    -- like in trade, the President has to be the one to get his troops in line.  The President needs to set the markers for what he’ll accept and what he won’t accept; what’s on the table and what isn’t on the table.  And the Republicans are not, at this point, willing to negotiate with Patty Murray.  They basically say talking to her now would be admitting defeat because they don’t want to raise the caps.  

It seems like unless the President is going to personally get involved, pick up the phone and call Boehner and McConnell, see what is potentially in the cards, we’re going to be sitting here just like two years ago.  You talk about Patty Murray and Paul Ryan; they only cut that deal after the government shut down, after there was already a crisis.  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would say for anybody that has a question about where the President stands on this, they should consult the budget that we produced almost five months ago now.  We presented it in public for a reason so that everybody could understand exactly where the President stands on this.  So if there’s any doubt about where the President draws the line, I would encourage them to consult the spreadsheets.  

But what I will say is that the President also is insisting that the Congress not try to pass a budget along the lines of a sequester.  That would undermine funding for critically important national security and economic priorities of the country.  And so there’s a template for solving this problem.  

And again, it’s a credit to Democrats and Republicans that they were able to overcome their differences last time, but we would merely suggest that they not wait for a government shutdown this time.  Let’s follow the path that we know works.  And the administration would -- and the President would certainly be supportive of that approach. 


Q    Josh, I want to ask you a few questions about the health care ruling and then move back to Iran.  In any case, I promise not to take as long as some of my colleagues whose initials rhyme with Major Garrett.  (Laughter.)  

Q    That’s rich, James.  I swear to God, that’s rich.  (Laughter.) 

Q    Let the record reflect the day that he was just invoked.  (Laughter.)  

Q    Not you. 

Q    You were just pressed at some length in this briefing to tell us whether the President celebrated this ruling.  You wisely desisted from descriptions of bubbly flowing.  Nonetheless, I wonder if you could tell us, does the President feel vindicated by this ruling?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t think that’s the way I’d describe it.  I think the President is pleased with this ruling because of the opportunity that it creates for millions of Americans across the country.  And that’s really what he’s been focused on throughout the context of this entire debate, and it certainly was the first thing that popped into his head when he learned of the decision.   

Q    In some public remarks that he made about this case while it was being adjudicated by the Supreme Court, he verged the possibility of the Supreme Court Justices not “playing it straight.”  Did the President believe that only a decision in which the Supreme Court came down on his side would be evidence of the Justices playing it straight? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, James, I think the President was pretty clear in his remarks -- that he was encouraging the Justices to follow the precepts of the law, and that in the President’s view, any fair reading of the law would conclude exactly the way the Supreme Court concluded today. 

Q    And you feel it’s proper for the President of the United States to be using his bully pulpit to encourage the Justices one way or another in their adjudication? 

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President was merely sharing his view of the law.  And I think the President, at several points in delivering that answer, made clear that this was a decision for the Justices of the Supreme Court to make on their own.  And the President certainly respects and appreciates the independent role that the Supreme Court has in this matter. 

Q    Lastly, on health care.  You told us earlier in this briefing that the President received the news of the ruling just as he was also receiving the Presidential Daily Brief.  Does the President typically take the Presidential Daily Brief at or around 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time?  It seems rather late.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it depends on his schedule for that day, but today that’s when it cropped up.  And they typically do it in the Oval Office.  And I think it’s actually often listed on the daily guidance that we issue every night.  

Q    On Iran, it seemed to my eye to strain credulity for you to cast this open letter, signed by 18 foreign policy heavyweights, five of them former top advisors to this administration, as some endorsement of the President’s approach.  This open letter states, and I quote, “Most of us would have preferred a stronger agreement.  We fear that the current negotiations may fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a good agreement.”  You say this is an embrace of the President’s approach?

MR. EARNEST:  I do.  They need not fear.  The fact is we’ve been very clear about what kinds of principles we will apply to ensure that we are shutting off every pathway that Iran has to obtaining a nuclear weapon, and instituting the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program to verify their compliance with the agreement.  

They actually lay out four conditions in the letter that discuss monitoring and verification.  They say that the final agreement should have “timely and effective access to any sites in Iran they need to visit.”  We agree.  The President has laid out the same principle.  

The second principle relates to possible military dimensions.  They say that the IAEA inspectors must be able in a timely and effective manner to take samples, to interview scientists and government officials.  We’ve certainly indicated that that would be part of the kinds of inspections that would be imposed on Iran.

The third principle they have identified relates to advanced centrifuges, that the agreement must “establish strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D testing and deployment.”  We’ve laid out exactly what we believe that should be, and that is a priority, and that will have to be included in a final agreement.  

The fourth thing was related to sanctions relief.  They said that relief must be based on Iran’s performance of its obligations.  We’ve made clear that that will have to be part and parcel of the agreement.  

And then the last thing, they talked about the consequences for violations.  They said that “the agreement must include a timely and effective mechanism to re-impose sanctions.”  We’ve talked at length about the need for the U.N. and for the administration to be able to snap sanctions back into place if we determine that Iran is in violation of the agreement.

So in terms of the principles that they have laid out, they are generally consistent with the principles that we’ve previously identified.  That’s why people need not be concerned that the President will sign onto an agreement that falls short of the principles that he has outlined back in April.

Q    So these 18 experts on foreign policy, including the former CIA director, David Petraeus; the former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Cartwright; five former top aides to this administration -- they all just fail to perceive how close to what you’re doing is their set of guidelines?  They all just got it wrong?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t think that at all.  I think what they’re doing is they’re laying out what they think is most important in terms of what an agreement should look like.  And given the fact that they used to work for the administration, I don’t think it should be a surprise to anybody that what they’ve identified as the most important principles for evaluating an agreement are quite similar to the principles that the President himself has identified.

Q    They’re telling you “most of us would have preferred a stronger agreement.”  How is that consistent with what the President is doing?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s consistent with what the President’s doing because the President has -- because they themselves have identified five principles that they think are important to including in a final deal, and those principles are generally consistent with the principles that we have previously identified too.

Q    So it’s much ado about nothing?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know if Shakespeare needs to be invoked.  (Laughter.)  But I think that what this letter illustrates is it illustrates that they have worked on this issue; that many of them have looked at this very closely, and they have arrived at a conclusion that’s broadly consistent with the kinds of principles that the President himself has established.

Q    And so when they say “we fear that the current negotiations may fall short of meeting the administration’s own standard of a good agreement,” they just don’t understand what the administration is doing, I guess.

MR. EARNEST:  I’d just tell them that they have no reason to fear; that the kind of agreement that the President indicated in early April that he would seek to complete by the end of June is consistent with the principles that we’ve put out, and that is broadly consistent with the principles that they’ve outlined in their letter.

Q    Do you know of any precedent for this kind of open revolt by a set of former aides to the President while he’s still the sitting President?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, James, I certainly wouldn’t use that word to describe it.  I think that this is a thoughtful letter, and it certainly is worthy of thoughtful consideration.  And again, it reflects the kinds of priorities that the President has already identified.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  The President said earlier today that the health care law has been settled over and over again, and it’s now woven into the fabric of America.  Yet a new poll released early this morning finds that 50 percent of Americans believe that this law should be overhauled or repealed entirely.  So obviously it’s not settled, at least with the American public.  You’re still seeing a dozen or so Republican presidential candidates saying this law should be repealed entirely.  Is this a communications failure on the part of the White House?  Why has the President not been able to sell this signature legislative achievement to the American people who now have been benefitting from it, or not, for two years?

MR. EARNEST:  Zeke, I think what I would do is I would refer you to the President’s remarks, where he noted that many people were benefitting significantly from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, not understanding that they were benefitting from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  

And I recognize in a political context that would be a significant problem, but in a health care context it doesn’t make a lick of difference when you’re trying to reduce health care costs and save people’s lives.

Q    But so now it’s been two years.  The White House talks about health care at least once a week -- at times, for stretches, it was every single day, social media, “Funny or Die.”  All these different ways of talking to people and still -- how to sign up for coverage, all the different coverage -- ways their health care is affected by this.  And still the public opinion hasn’t really moved much.  What’s the problem?  Are people liking something and then deciding they don’t -- are people benefitting from it and deciding, even though I’m benefitting from it, I still don’t like it?  That seems to be where most people are right now.

MR. EARNEST:  Zeke, I think you’re very focused on public opinion, and you certainly are entitled to make that observation.  We’re focused on health care outcomes.  We’re focused on the historically slow growth in health care costs.  We’re focused on the millions of Americans who have got health care for the first time because of the Affordable Care Act.  We’re focused on the tens of millions of Americans that no longer have to be worried about losing their health insurance just because they get sick, or having to declare bankruptcy just because someone in their family got sick.  

We’re focused on the small business owners that, for the first time, are in a position to offer affordable health care to their workers without having it risk or undermine the central success of their business.  Those are the results that we’re focused on.  And there will continue to be an active political discussion of the Affordable Care Act.  That is the essence of the American political system.

But in this case, there are plenty of people who are focused on politics.  The President is focused on the results of his health care reform law that’s making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans.

Q    Thanks.  And just one quick follow-up on Jon’s question from earlier.  He asked you about congressional -- statues in Congress.  A number of American military bases, which do fall under the purview of the executive branch, are named after Confederate officers.  Is that something the President has directed DOD to review, or is that something that the President is satisfied with?  I think it’s nine or ten bases are named after Confederate colonels or generals.

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any active discussion of the names of any U.S. military installations, but you can check with the Department of Defense on that.

Q    Is that something that the President would like to open up at some future point, or there’s been no discussion?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware that that’s something that the President considered, but if that changes we’ll let you know.


Q    Thanks, Josh. The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said today that China is the leading suspect in the OPM hack.  If that’s ultimately confirmed as true, what kind of response can we expect from the United States?

MR. EARNEST:  Byron, at this point I’m not in a position to talk about any potential suspects in the ongoing investigation.  I’d refer you to either DNI Clapper or to the FBI, who’s leading the investigation, for the latest assessment.  If they decide that it is actually in the interest of the investigation to be clearer about who they suspect may be involved, that will be a decision for them to make.

The other thing I will just point out is that I wouldn’t guess at this point about what sort of response the United States may consider at this point against whoever is responsible for this particular incident.  What is true is that if there is a response, it’s probably not one we are likely to telegraph in advance.  And two, you’ll recall that earlier this year the President actually signed an executive order authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury to levy sanctions -- financial sanctions against individuals who carry out cyber-attacks or who benefit from them.  That gives the U.S. government a whole set of new tools that didn’t previously exist for responding to incidents like this.

So I’m not telling you that those tools will be deployed in response to this incident, but they certainly are available.

Q    Changing topics, what kind of outreach is the White House doing with Congress as the Iran talks deadline is on its homestretch?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are members of Congress in both parties who serve on relevant committees who are part of frequent briefings by senior members of the President’s national security team.  Obviously there are members of Congress who are very interested in understanding the current state of negotiations.

And so I don’t know that there’s any sort of regular meeting schedule that’s been established, but I know it is not at all uncommon for members of Congress who are interested in this issue to get a phone call from somebody at the State Department or somebody in the intelligence community, or even somebody at the White House to give them an update on where things stand.

Alex.  Nice to see you.

Q    Nice to see you.  This trade deal, you’ve hailed it as a bipartisan accomplishment, you’ve praised the leadership of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.  Was it easier for the White House to work with Republican leaders than it would have been were Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that’s a difficult thing to -- sort of the counterfactual, if you will, if the elections had turned out differently.

I think what is clear is that regardless of who was in charge of the United States Congress, it would require a bipartisan effort to get this across the finish line.  So in this case, the President was dealt a hand where he had to deal with Republican majorities in Congress who were saying the President had “poisoned the well,” and indicating that they were not really willing to work with him on any sort of bipartisan priority.  

And we certainly were pleased that Republicans did not follow through on that threat and they actually set aside their partisan differences to try to find some area of agreement.  And in this case, I think that’s going to yield important benefits for the American public and for the American economy for years to come.

Q    On the Confederate flag issue, the President has said it belongs in a museum.  Yesterday, former Senator Jim Webb, who is considering running for President, called for respecting the flag.  Does the President think, in general, that anyone running for the Democratic presidential nomination should think that the flag should not be flown on state grounds, should not be endorsed in any way by the state?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not aware that Senator Webb has decided to throw his hat in the ring.  I did have the opportunity to read some of the news coverage of his -- apparently what is a Facebook posting.  Obviously he and the President don’t agree on this issue.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  A question on the transgender woman who interrupted the President on immigration policy during the Pride reception yesterday.  In an op-ed with the Washington Blade, she writes, “It’s heartbreaking to see how raising these issues were received by the President and those in attendance.”  If the incident were to happen again, would the President respond the same way?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the President was pretty clear yesterday that we hope it doesn’t happen again.

Q    And if it were to happen again, would the President respond the same way?

MR. EARNEST:  I certainly hope it doesn’t.

Q    Well, I want to follow up on that.  One of the issues the protestor intended to highlight was the treatment of transgender people in immigration detention facilities.  Transgender immigrants make up one out of every 500 people in detention, but account for one out of five people confirmed in sexual abuse cases in ICE custody.  Sometimes these individuals are placed in solitary confinement for safety, but that causes its own problems.  Is the President aware of this issue, and will he take administrative action to end it?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure that he is aware of the issue, but I’d refer you to the Department of Homeland Security and they may be able to give you some more information on it.

Q    All right.  In other news, a six-person jury in New Jersey -- while you’re at the podium -- rendered a verdict declaring a practitioner of widely discredited ex-gay conversion therapy committed fraud by promising it could change sexual orientation.  The President has spoken out in favor of banning this practice before.  What’s your reaction to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it obviously -- it sounds like the jury reached a conclusion that’s consistent with the President’s views on this topic.


Q    This is sort of a very light question on a more serious day, but here it goes.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s okay.  Light questions are good too.

Q    You have known the President for a very long time.  He seems to be letting loose a little bit more, at least from where we sit, I think, and I just wanted to get your thoughts on that.  I mean, even the heckling event last night, he -- you know -- “no, no, no, not in my house.”  I mean, it seems like maybe he’s a little lighter as his presidency has gone on, and I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President certainly is still dealing with some pretty weighty issues.  And I think it is fair to say that the President loves his job, and he is genuinely pleased about the opportunity that he has to do it.  And I think some of the enthusiasm that you see from the President, even in public, is consistent with the kind of enthusiasm that we see from the President even in private.

He is genuinely determined to try to make the most of every day that he has remaining here at the White House.  And so a lot can get done in 18 months, and the President is determined to use every single day to try to advance many of the priorities that he believes we need to make additional progress on.

Q    Is he -- I’m thinking of the Marc Maron interview -- is he more willing to just say what he thinks these days?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, are you suggesting that maybe the President has a bucket list of some kind?

Q    That is another example.

MR. EARNEST:  That is another example.  

Q    Stella got her groove back, et cetera.

MR. EARNEST:  Look, again, I think a lot of this is open to interpretation, depending on your perspective.  And the perspective that I have is somebody who is genuinely enthusiastic about the opportunity that he’s been given to serve the American people, to try and advance an agenda that he passionately believes in, and that is consistent with, frankly, the kinds of things he’s been passionate about throughout his career, even before he entered public life.

This is somebody who, once he graduated from law school and had lots of lucrative offers on the table, packed up his car and drove to Chicago so he could work in a poor neighborhood trying to meet the interests of -- advance the interests of working people on the South Side of Chicago.  And you don’t do that if you don’t have a lot of passion for trying to champion the interests of middle-class families.

And I think at the time the President was packing up that car, I don’t think he could ever have imagined that he would have the opportunity that he has now to use so much power and influence to try to advance the interests of middle-class families.  

So I think there is a measure of that that he finds very satisfying, and I know that he finds it very motivating.  And I think it does give you some insight into the enthusiasm that is occasionally on display.

Q    Do you think we’re going to see more bucket-list type both policy and verbage use?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I think you will.  


Q    Josh, two quick questions on health care.  The President talked about his continued desire to see states expand Medicaid, and his desire, looking forward, to work with governors or state legislators.  Because the case itself and what it turned on didn’t deal specifically with that part of the law, can you describe how the President thinks that the ruling today might encourage state legislators or governors to look ahead and think differently about expanding Medicaid?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Alexis, we’ve been pretty blunt about our assessment that many of the states -- I think every state at this point -- that is blocking Medicaid expansion is doing so for pretty blatant political reasons.  I think it still remains unclear if this will be an impact consequence of the ruling.  But I think there certainly is the potential that at least some of the political freight that has been attached to the Affordable Care Act might at least have been jostled loose.  And if there’s a little less politics infused in this debate, then maybe that will persuade at least some states to decide that they’re going to set those politics aside and actually focus on what’s in the best interest of the citizens of their state.

Because if you just evaluate the question that way, it's not even close.  It should be a turnkey kind of decision when you have the federal government paying for more than 90 percent of the cost of ensuring that uninsured citizens in your state who make more than the poverty line but yet not enough to qualify for health care subsidies -- it's clearly in their interest.  A lot of states that have done this have actually found that it has a financial benefit for the state.  

And so each state crunches the numbers differently, each state has had a different experience, but what is beyond question is the positive impact that expanding Medicaid has had on the health of millions of Americans.

Q    And just to follow, if the effect of this might be to jostle some of the political freight loose, looking ahead at Congress, does the President -- does he believe that this decision will not in any way change the disposition of Congress to look again at some elements of the Affordable Care Act in which there’s bipartisan support to make constructive changes?  I'm thinking of the medical device situation.  Does the President believe that's going to wait for a new Congress, a new President, or does he think that there’s potential after this decision to work together on fixes?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, Alexis, I think principally because of all of the politics that's been infused in this debate from the beginning, we haven't seen, at least to my mind, a genuine bipartisan, constructive effort to strengthen health care reform in this country.  Could one consequence of this decision be that members of Congress, principally Republicans, take a different approach here?  That's possible.  And the President has always indicated an openness to entreaties from both sides of the aisle who have a genuine interest in strengthening the law.  We will accept those kinds of offers in the spirit in which they’re received and see if we can find common ground and advance them.  But we haven't seen those kinds of proposals materialize over the last five years.  But if they do now, we're happy to have that discussion.


Q    Back on the bucket list thing, you kind of talked -- (laughter) -- no, but on a serious note, you kind of talked about this a little bit today.  But what else is on the President’s bucket list?  Again, on a serious note, you know, these are -- you had a huge sigh of relief, as you noted at the top of the briefing.  Trade is practically done, at least from a congressional standpoint; health care.  So what else in the next 18 months are you guys looking forward to accomplishing?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think I would differentiate between the President’s legislative policy priorities and the President’s bucket list.  (Laughter.)  Those are usually two different things.

Q    Bucket list of things you’d like to accomplish before you guys leave the White House.  I mean -- 

MR. EARNEST:  I'm referencing something slightly different when I referenced the bucket list. 

Q    I know.  A priority list, let’s call it the priority list -- a wish list, if you will. 

MR. EARNEST:  There you go.  There are a couple things that come to mind.  There obviously will be a continued effort to ensure that we’re maximizing the positive impact of the Affordable Care Act by effectively implementing that law.  And so whether it’s getting additional states to expand Medicaid or getting more Americans to sign up during the next open enrollment period, we’re going to continue to be very focused on that. 

When it comes to working with Congress, we certainly do have an interest in trying to facilitate some bipartisan compromise on Capitol Hill and avoid a government shutdown.  Avoiding the risk of the full faith and credit of the United States, we should be able to ensure that those kinds of decisions are made without drama and without a way that has a negative impact on our economy.  It’s going to require some compromise.  It’s going to require some bipartisanship.  Nobody is going to get everything that they want.  But we should be able to find some common ground there.  

There has been a lot of talk over the last six months about the possibility of working across party lines to implement some important reforms to the criminal justice system.  The President has hosted conversations with Democrats and Republican members of Congress here at the White House.  I would anticipate that future discussions like that will occur.  And I think that certainly is a ripe opportunity for us to work in bipartisan fashion and do something that would be really good for the country. 

There’s been some discussions about whether or not we can close some tax loopholes and use revenue from those closed loopholes to invest in infrastructure.  There is some indication that Republicans, at least in principle -- some Republicans in principle would support an idea like that.  We certainly would welcome conversations along those lines.  

So those are just a few ideas off the top of my head, but I think that’s a pretty good illustration of what I was trying to convey to Tamara, which is that that’s a lot of work to do in the next 18 months.  And the list is even longer than that.  And that’s why the President, again, I think is hoping to make the most of every single day that he’s got left in the office. 


Q    Thanks.  You just mentioned criminal justice reform, and that’s one of the questions I thought about asking.  There is a field hearing actually with the House Judiciary Committee, and on criminal justice reform -- just wanted to have a few of these.  And Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers are in agreement on this.  They want to do a sort of piecemeal -- have sentencing reform over criminalization in certain bills, whereas in the Senate it looks like our Chairman Grassley is a little bit skeptical of this.  Would the White House support doing it more piecemeal, which is being looked at in the House?  And how do you see getting over that hump in the Senate with Chairman Grassley sort of --  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Fred, I think it’s fair to say that we’re in the very early stages of this effort.  And we’ve had -- senior members of the administration, including the President, have had a wide variety of conversations with Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate on this.  And there are some ideas that we’ve started to hone in on that do enjoy some bipartisan agreement.

But there will be some other basic tactical questions that are related to what the legislation actually looks like and how it would move through the Congress.  Those are decisions that still need to be made.  But right now, we’re having a discussion that’s focused on the policy level.  And we’ve been encouraged by the kinds of early discussions that have taken place already. 

Q    And secondly, today there was a hearing with the House Oversight Committee regarding 24,000 emails that were lost when 400 -- more than 400 back-up drives were erased, concerning the Lois Lerner emails.  Chairman Chaffetz had said that this is -- could be a case of evidence actually being destroyed.  Does the White House have any reaction or any thoughts about that?  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I'm not sure that that’s exactly what occurred, but I’d refer you to the Treasury Department for a more fulsome answer.  


Q    I'm sorry -- 

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll give you one last one and we’ll go to Andrew.   

Q    Okay.  If I could just ask, based on that, Congress is getting fewer documents.  Does the President still stand by his belief that there wasn’t a smidgen of evidence -- or smidgen of corruption involved in the -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 


Q    The Palestinian Authority earlier today sent evidence to the -- or alleged evidence to the International Criminal Court in an effort to have Israel investigated for alleged war crimes.  I'm wondering, does the administration oppose the Palestinian move?

MR. EARNEST:  Can you say the first part of your question again? 

Q    The Palestinian Authority sent evidence -- what they call evidence to the International Criminal Court concerning alleged Israeli war crimes.

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware of that particular development, but we’ll get you an on-the-record response to that question.  

**[We have seen the reports and understand that the Palestinians are responding to a request from the prosecutor for information as part of the ongoing preliminary examination. Our position on this issue has not changed. We do not believe the Palestinians are eligible to accede to the Rome Statute and join the International Criminal Court. We have also made clear that we oppose actions against Israel at the ICC.] 

Q    Can you share it with everyone when you get it?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I’ll make sure that we get it around.  

Q    And a second question.  Earlier today also, around 200 Burundian students entered the embassy in Bujumbura and they were asked rather forcefully to leave, and convinced to leave.  I was wondering, was there any assessment as to whether they might undergo any persecution before that decision was taken to have them leave? 

MR. EARNEST:  I’m aware of this incident occurring, but I’d refer you to the State Department for the actions that were taken by the embassy in this matter. 

John, I’ll give you the last one. 

Q    Great, thanks.  The Affordable Care Act affects millions, if not tens of millions of Americans.  You’ve talked about that, and the President has as well, on countless occasions.  Would you agree that the hostage policy changes announced by the President yesterday only affect about 30 or so families in this country? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess I'm not entirely sure what you’re asking. 

Q    Well who’s -- my question I thought was pretty straightforward.  Who’s impacted immediately by the changes of the President’s announced Hostage Policy Review?  Is it just 30 families across this country? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, I guess the -- when Lisa Monaco, the President’s top counterterrorism advisor was here yesterday, she was asked specifically how many Americans are being held hostage overseas, and her answer was more than 30.  But I think the impact of the hostage review group’s recommendations is principally related to restructuring and reforming the government process for responding to these incidents, and making sure that we are effectively coordinating and leveraging all of the resources of the federal government to confront these very difficult situations.  And part of that effort involves streamlining communication with the families that are going through a terrible ordeal.  

But I don't know if you're seeking to confirm a specific number or --

Q    No, I'm not.  I think that Lisa Monaco was quite vague about it, probably intentionally, as to how many Americans are being held hostage at this very moment.  

MR. EARNEST:  I thought most people thought it was pretty revealing for her to say that it was more than 30.  

Q    More than 30.  I mean, it could be any number over 30, right?

MR. EARNEST:  I suppose that's true, mathematically speaking.  (Laughter.)  

Q    And that makes it vague, right?

MR. EARNEST:  I guess if that's your point, you're certainly entitled to it.

Q    No, no, I wasn’t making that to be my point.  My point was simply, whatever that number is, the policy changes announced by the President yesterday only right now at this moment affect those families impacted by a loved one being held hostage?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I guess that's right, but it certainly has a significant impact on the day-to-day efforts of members of the military, our diplomats, members of the intelligence community, law enforcement who do spend a lot of time trying to rescue Americans who are being held hostage overseas.  So they all are directly affected by the announcement from yesterday.

All right?  Thanks, everybody.

 END  3:00 P.M. EDT