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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/17/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

*Please see below for corrections to the transcript, marked with an asterisk.

12:18 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I see some of my radio colleagues have decided to trade places today, so I encourage that kind of outside-the-box thinking.  (Laughter.)  If you guys want to do a little musical chairs, that would be fine with me.

Welcome to the Friday briefing, it’s finally Friday.  It’s been a very interesting and even historic week here at the White House.  So I’ve decided today to pull a little page from a strategy that has been employed very effectively by some of our cable news colleagues here, that in addition to the regularly scheduled programming, we’ll have a little bit of a crawl across the bottom with some additional information that can supplement your understanding of some of the arguments that are being made as it relates to the historic Iran agreement that was announced today.

I’m happy to discuss that if you’d like, but I know there are a number of other questions that may be top of mind.  So, Darlene, do you want to get us started?

Q    Yes, thank you.  I have a couple of questions on the shooting yesterday in Chattanooga.  And I was wondering if there’s any information emerging yet that points to a possible motive for the killing of those four Marines.

MR. EARNEST:  Darlene, this tragic shooting occurred only about 24 hours ago.  And the President yesterday took the opportunity to convey his condolences to the families of those who were lost in the shooting.  Those families continue to be in the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House, even today.  

The President received a briefing yesterday both from the Director of the FBI, as well as his top counterterrorism advisor here at the White House, Lisa Monaco, to get an update on the investigation.  The Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, is obviously involved in these ongoing investigative efforts. 

At this point, I do not have an update on the status of their investigation.  I know that the FBI made clear yesterday that they’re looking at a variety of possible motives, including the possibility of domestic terrorism.  So that is a part of their ongoing investigation, but I will allow the investigators themselves to provide you with an update when they’re able to.  The President indicated yesterday that he wanted to try to keep the American public informed as much as possible, in a timely fashion, on this ongoing investigation.  And I’m confident that our investigators will do exactly that.

Q    And what about information on whether anyone else was involved in the shooting?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, obviously they’re taking a look at all of these questions in the context of the investigation.  I don’t have additional information about that.

Q    The Army Chief of Staff said earlier today that security at military recruiting centers and reserve centers would be reviewed.  Does the President think it’s time to beef up security at places like that?

MR. EARNEST:  The President certainly believes that it’s appropriate for the Department of Defense to conduct a review like that.  The President alluded to this in his statement yesterday, that it’s important for us to take the necessary steps to ensure that our men and women in uniform are safe, particularly when it comes to our men and women in uniform here at home.  

And there was an announcement from the Department of Homeland Security about some additional steps that they would be taking.  There are some facilities that are jointly operated by the federal government and the Department of Defense, where the Department of Homeland Security has jurisdiction.  So I’d refer you to the Department of Homeland Security for additional steps that they can tell you about.  There will be some steps, I’m confident, that they won’t be able to discuss publicly.  But it certainly makes sense that the Department of Defense would be considering doing something similar.

Q    And then, lastly, the daily guidance for today included this rare line; it said the President will remain overnight in New York to spend time with his daughters.  Usually, you all would just say he’s remaining overnight in New York.  Can you flesh out the father-daughter weekend a little bit?

MR. EARNEST:  This is an opportunity -- as you know, the President is and had been scheduled to travel to New York for a fundraising event.  That is not particularly unusual.  But yes, the President is looking forward to a rare opportunity that he’ll have to spend a little personal time with his daughters in New York over the weekend.

I don’t anticipate that we’ll have a lot of details in advance about their activities.  But the press pool will obviously be there with the President, and we’ll inform -- your colleagues will be participating -- well, maybe not participating, but at least traveling along.  (Laughter.)  That might interfere with the personal nature of the father-daughter time.  But obviously we’ll make sure that you guys are aware of what they’re up to.


Q    Josh, what can you tell us about the President’s meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister this morning?  Were there any discussions of commitments the U.S. might make to defend Saudi Arabia in the context of the Iran deal?

MR. EARNEST:  Julia, this is a meeting that King Salman requested the President host in the conversation that the two leaders had earlier this week.  I believe it was actually on Tuesday that the President had the opportunity to speak with King Salman via telephone in Philadelphia.  

So as a result of that request, the President did sit down and have a discussion with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, to discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues, including the recent historic agreement that was announced this week.

As you’ll recall from the Camp David meetings that occurred back in May, the President and the GCC leaders pledged to further deepen the security cooperation between the United States and our GCC partners.  That includes building an even stronger, enduring, and comprehensive strategic partnership aimed at enhancing regional stability and prosperity.  

And in the context of those discussions, the Foreign Minister and the President also talked about the important bilateral relationship that exists between the United States and Saudi Arabia.  And there was a discussion about how to further enhance that close and longstanding partnership.  And I guess that will be the subject of some discussions that Secretary Carter will have with his counterparts when he visits Saudi Arabia next week.

There also was an opportunity for the President and the Foreign Minister to discuss some other regional issues, including the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen -- crises, I guess, in Yemen and Syria.  And there was a discussion about how to move both those conflicts toward a political solution.  There also was a discussion of the ongoing counter-ISIL campaign of which Saudi Arabia is an important part.  We certainly value the kind of contribution that Saudi Arabia has already made to that effort.  And there was a discussion about the progress that that effort is making as well.

Q    So those discussions on how to further enhance commitments, were those firm or were they kind of ongoing?  Or were there commitments made?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, they were a continuation of discussions that took place at Camp David back in May.  And you’ll recall that the strategic priority that the United States has identified is to not just deepen the bilateral security cooperation that exists between the United States and each individual GCC country, but rather to facilitate better coordination and cooperation among the GCC countries, and that there may be equipment and skills and training that the United States can offer that would make those countries more effective in coordinating their security efforts.  

In some cases, that involved the interoperability of some hardware.  In some cases, that just involves facilitating training so that they can more effectively coordinate their efforts.  And the President and the GCC leaders, when they discussed this issue at Camp David, agreed that there’s clearly an important role for the United States in terms of standing closely with our GCC partners when it comes to their security situation.  But that should not be to the exclusion of the GCC countries operating more effectively when coordinating with one another to provide for their own security.

Q    Also, this morning, Secretary Kerry was speaking on MSNBC, and he said that he raised the topic during the Iran negotiations of Americans being detained in Iran every time he had a chance to meet with the Iranians in the final weeks of the negotiations.  And he described it as he’s very, very hopeful that Tehran may listen and release those three Americans.  Does the President share that same level of optimism?  And what evidence does Kerry have, or the President have, to be that optimistic?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess for the characterization of the Secretary’s comments, I’d refer you to the State Department.  But I think this -- what his comments should indicate to you is the priority that the President places on the safe return of these Americans.

And I think the President gave a persuasive explanation in his news conference earlier this week in describing why he did not believe it was in the best interest of those detained Americans to be used as bargaining chips in a nuclear negotiation.  

The first reason is that it was not a foregone conclusion that a nuclear agreement would be reached.  And by attaching the plight of these unjustly detained Americans to a deal that may or may not go through does not seem like the most effective way to ensure their safe and prompt return.

But -- and I think the President went to great lengths to convey this too -- that does not mean that these individuals and their safe return are not a priority.  In fact, they are.  And the fact that Secretary Kerry so frequently raised them in the context of the negotiations I think should be an indication to you where the well-being of these American citizens falls on our priority list.

Q    Is there evidence that something may be in the pipes, that we may see a release soon?

MR. EARNEST:  What there is evidence of is a rigorous U.S. government effort to try to secure the release of these individuals.  But I don’t have a detailed update to provide you on our ongoing efforts.


Q    You just mentioned that there might be some equipment or expertise or otherwise that the U.S. could offer to Saudi Arabia.  Did the President make such an offer either in his talk with King Salman or with the Foreign Minister today?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the discussions that took place both on the telephone with King Salman earlier this week and in the Oval Office with the Foreign Minister today were a continuation of the discussions that took place at Camp David.  

And the other thing I think that is notable about this is that there was unanimity of opinion that those kinds of conversations are constructive, and do further deepen and advance the relationship between the United States and our partners in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf region.  And the President understands that the U.S. relationship with each of those countries is critical to the national security of each of those individual countries.  The President has also concluded that having a strong relationship with those countries is clearly within the national security interest of the United States.  And that’s the essence of these kinds of ongoing consultations.  And again, these are consultations that will continue when Secretary Carter visits Saudi Arabia early next week.

Q    And why wasn’t that meeting put on the schedule?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, typically, when -- well, I’ll start by saying that it is a little unusual for the President to meet with the official of a country who’s not also the head of state.  And this was, as I mentioned, a particular request from King Salman that the King made in the context of their telephone conversation.  

So this is not something that was formally listed on the President’s guidance, but that’s the explanation for why.

Q    And in the outreach that the White House has been doing with people here, as well as overseas, the White House mentioned yesterday that there were a number of offers made to have these intensive consultations with Israel, but they repeatedly turned it down.  Why are they not wanting to have those discussions right now?

MR. EARNEST:  I guess that’s a question that you should ask them.  The fact is this is -- the President believes strongly in the value of the security cooperation between the United States and Israel.  And there are a variety of ways in which that national security cooperation benefits the United States and our national security.  And we’ve heard a number of Israeli officials indicate that the security cooperation -- or the security relationship that Israel has with the United States is critical to the basic national security of Israel.  And that’s measured in a variety of ways.  

I think the most illustrative example is the effectiveness of the Iron Dome system that was initiated, implemented, and ramped up at the direction of President Barack Obama.  This is a system that last summer shot down a number of rockets that were fired by extremists in Gaza that were aimed squarely at Israeli civilians.  That has turned out to be a very powerful tool in saving the lives of Israeli citizens.  And the President has communicated directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu a willingness and even a desire to enter into specific discussions about how our security cooperation could be deepened and strengthened and further enhanced.  And we stand ready and eager to initiate that conversation or to enter into that conversation when the Israeli officials determine that they are prepared to do so.  

I would indicate that this is not a -- let me say two other things.  This is not an indication that somehow the security cooperation between the United States and Israel has been degraded in any way.  In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated that the level of security cooperation that his country has received from the Obama administration is unprecedented, and that cooperation continues.  And I can just give you two examples of that over the course of the next week.  

The first is, Defense Secretary Ash Carter will be traveling to Israel early next week, where he’ll be meeting with his counterparts and other senior Israeli officials to discuss our ongoing security cooperation.  And just this week, I understand that the head of counterterrorism at the State Department convened an important security cooperation meeting with the Israeli Deputy National Security Advisor.  And this was a discussion where they talked about a range of issues, including shared concerns -- these are concerns shared by the United States and Israel -- about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including by supporting their proxies in the region, like Hezbollah, that do menace Israel.  So this kind of security cooperation is ongoing and the administration is eager to seize on the next opportunity that emerges to start discussing how we can deepen that cooperation.

Q    When was that meeting, did you say?

MR. EARNEST:  The State Department meeting?

Q    Yes.

MR. EARNEST:  It was a meeting that occurred earlier this week.  I’m not sure which day.  I’m sure the State Department can give you more details on it.

Q    Okay.  And then the outreach that you’ve been doing with members of Congress here -- even some Democrats have expressed skepticism.  Is the White House’s stance that if they were to vote and then possibly even override a veto to keep congressional sanctions in place, would the U.S. then be in violation of the deal, or would the deal break apart?  Or what are you conveying to members of Congress that would be the biggest problem if that were to happen?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, the fact is, if the United States Congress were to successfully kill this agreement, it would have a terrible impact on the standing of the United States in the world.  This is an agreement not just between the United States and Iran; this is an agreement between the United States, Russia, China, Germany, the U.K., and France, and Iran.  And this is an agreement that is enthusiastically supported by, as the President said, 99 percent of the international community.  And for the United States, because of a congressional action, to isolate our country on such an important issue would be devastating to our standing in the world.  

It also would have some very practical consequences.  The first is that the reason that our sanctions regime against Iran succeeded in compelling them to the negotiating table is because it had a devastating impact on their economy.  The economic ties between the United States and Iran are not particularly significant, primarily because there are a whole host of other sanctions and embargoes that the United States has unilaterally placed on Iran.  

The key to the success of this latest round of sanctions has been the aggressive enforcement of countries around the world, including countries that aren’t even a party to this particular agreement -- countries like India, Japan, South Korea, and others that previously relied heavily on the importation of Iranian oil -- and by scaling back their oil purchases that had a negative impact on Iran’s economy but also had a negative impact on the domestic economy of those individual countries.

So the point is that the sanctions regime would collapse if Iran*[Congress] were to kill this deal.  And what that means is it means that the international leverage that we have previously used to reach this agreement would vanish.  The second is, Iran would still obtain the financial benefits of sanctions relief -- something that our critics have described as a financial windfall.  And the problem is, is Iran is going to get all of that money and the United States doesn’t get anything for it.

Right now, because of the sanctions relief that’s being offered, Iran is taking a number of significant steps to curtail their nuclear program.  They’re going to dramatically reduce their stockpile of enriched uranium.  They’re going to remove 13,000 centrifuges.  They’re going to overhaul and essentially dismantle, or all but dismantle, their plutonium reactor at Arak.  And Iran has committed to cooperating with the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.  

But if the U.S. Congress votes to kill this deal, Iran will get all the benefits of this deal without having to give up anything.  And that’s what I think ultimately has to be a fundamental question that members of Congress have to ask themselves.  Because the fact is, at this point, based on the conclusion that’s been reached by 99 percent of the international community, Iran is going to begin at some point -- under this deal -- will begin to receive sanctions relief after they have taken demonstrable verified steps to significantly curtail their nuclear program, and to make a public commitment that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that they will cooperate with a set of international inspections that will verify that they do not obtain a nuclear weapon.  Or Congress can vote to allow Iran to get off scot-free, and to get all the sanctions relief.  

That’s the fundamental question that is facing members of Congress right now.  And this is the essence of the case that administration officials have been making to individual members of Congress, and this will be the case that senior administration officials will be making in open testimony in Congress next week. 


Q    Help me with the math.  You said a number of times, 99 percent of the world community.  The President said 99 percent of the world.  Where is that number coming from? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess if you look at the population of the countries that are represented in this particular agreement, the vast majority -- 99 percent of the world -- is on the side of the United States and our international partners in implementing this agreement. 

Q    Have you done the math on our allies in the region, the ones that would be most directly affected by this agreement?  What percentage of our allies in the Middle East support this deal? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’ll let them all speak for themselves.  But at least when it comes to Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir, who is at the Oval Office today, he indicated that -- when he was at Camp David he indicated that “we” -- meaning, Saudi Arabia -- “welcome the discussions on the nuclear program between the P5+1 and Iran.” And Saudi Arabia has been assured that the objective is to deny Iran the ability to have a nuclear weapon, and that all pathways to a nuclear weapon will be closed. 

Q    So you’re telling me the Saudis support this deal? 

MR. EARNEST:  I'm telling you that the Saudis will speak for themselves.  But they -- it’s clear that the -- 

Q    But you -- I just asked you about our allies in the region.  So I know he supported diplomacy.  

MR. EARNEST:  But again, you can ask them what their view is of the agreement. 

Q    But the President just met with him; I assume the topic came up.  

MR. EARNEST:  I assure you that it did. 

Q    Do the Saudis support this deal? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I will let them speak for themselves. 

Q    Do the Emiratis support this deal?

MR. EARNEST:  I will let them speak for themselves. 

Q    Do the Israelis support this deal? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think they made pretty clear that they don’t.  (Laughter.)  But I think what’s clear, Jon, is you know who does support the deal?  The Germans, the British, the French.  Certainly, the President.  The Chinese, the Russians, the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Indians.  All of the countries that were involved in pressuring Iran to come to the negotiating table in the first place.  

Q    So the President is going to be in New York.  We understand he is not staying at the Waldorf, which is typically where he stays.  Is this because the Chinese now own the Waldorf?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any details about where the President will stay tonight.  Obviously there are a number of factors that influence the decision about where the President will spend the night when he is not at the White House.  And I don’t have an update for you in terms of those logistics. 

Q    But is this a concern?  And I know this came up shortly after the sale of the Waldorf.  But this is obviously the home of the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.  It’s a place the President typically almost always stays when he’s in New York.  Is there a concern about basically it being hosted by the Chinese? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, at this point, I don’t know -- it is, as Darlene pointed out, it is unusual for the President to be spending the night in New York.  Typically, the President will just do day trips to New York and come back.  So typically the only time that he would spend time overnight in New York is when he’d stay two or three days for the United Nations General Assembly.  And when he does, he does typically stay at the Waldorf. 

But I don’t have an update for you in terms -- 

Q    Will he be staying at the Waldorf this time for -- 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know where the President will be staying this year. 

Q    Okay.  And then I just also want to ask you this question of Congress.  A number of congressional -- a number of senators of both parties have raised concerns that basically this deal is going to be voted on at the United Nations before it is voted on by the U.S. Congress.  Is there any hesitation about that here at the White House to go to the U.N. before you actually go to Congress? 

MR. EARNEST:  No.  And the reason is that -- the first is, it’s important to reflect that this agreement is not between the United States and Iran; this is an agreement between the P5+1 and Iran.  And I know you know this, but just for those who are following this debate, P5 is actually a reference to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.  So it certainly is natural that those who are party to this agreement would be acting promptly to take it up.  

But what is clear are a couple of things.  The first is, there is nothing that the United Nations Security Council will do that would have an impact on sanctions that are imposed by the United States, sanctions that are imposed by Congress, sanctions that are imposed by executive order.  The United Nations Security Council has no jurisdiction over that, and they won’t have any influence over the decisions that are made as they relate to U.S. sanctions. 

The second thing is that the way that this vote is structured actually does reflect significant deference to the United States Congress, and that is we do anticipate that in the next few days there will be a vote by the United Nations Security Council, but it will not be adopted for 90 days.

And what that means is -- or I guess what’s convenient about that is we know that there is a 60-day window for Congress to consider this agreement.  And that means that Congress will have ample opportunity to do so, within their 60-day window, before this agreement is sort of formally adopted after the U.N. Security Council vote.   

Let’s move around a little bit.  Let’s see -- Justin. 

Q    First, if I can just follow up on what you said to Jon.  I'm wondering if that means -- I know that you guys don’t think it’s likely that Congress will have a veto-proof way to overturn the deal.  But if they were, would you go back to the United Nations during that 30-day period and ask them to revoke the agreement that’s --

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, I would not speculate on what would happen if Congress were to take the devastating effort -- or to succeed in the devastating effort to undermine the successful implementation of this agreement.    

Q    Can you talk maybe generally -- I know that there’s a lot of outreach going on with Capitol Hill -- but where you’re targeting your support?  I know the other day you mentioned House Democrats that had written a letter, and you felt like that was a number that kind of prevented, or was enough to sustain a veto.  Is that the group that you’re mainly focused on showing up at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me be clear about that.  What that letter said -- and we can produce that letter for you if you don’t have it in front of you.  This was a letter that was written in May by about 100 -- I think it was signed by about 150 House Democrats.  And that is enough to sustain a presidential veto.  

And what these Democrats indicated at the time was that they were supportive -- again, generally speaking, you should quote from the letter -- but that they were supportive of a final agreement that reflects the kind of outlines that were established in the Lausanne agreement in early April.  

And so that does give us some confidence that we’ve got strong support among House Democrats.  That, truly, is not support that we take for granted.  And there have been a number of conversations -- too many to count already -- between senior White House officials, senior national security officials, and House Democrats.  But those are certainly not the only conversations that have occurred.  The President himself has had conversations with senior leaders in Congress in both parties, and between -- 

Q    Has that gone past the four leaders that you read out?

MR. EARNEST:  I won’t get into the details of exactly who the President called, but I can confirm for you that they were in both houses and in both parties.  

But there have been, again, a large number of other conversations that Secretary Kerry has engaged in, that the Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, that the national security advisor, Susan Rice -- all of those senior officials have spent ample -- significant time on the phone with members of Congress, in some cases even had meetings in person.  

There have been a number of other group meetings that have been convened by other national security advisors to the President.  And these consultations will continue.  And they will -- these conversations will continue between Democrats and Republicans.  

And the other thing that I would say, to put it bluntly, is that if there is anybody in Congress who has questions about the agreement -- look, it’s complicated.  You guys have probably -- many of you probably thumbed through this already.  There are a lot technical details that are included in here, and we have acknowledged on the front end that these technical details are critically important.  That’s why we spent so much time negotiating them.  And frankly, that’s why we blew past the deadline on June 30th to make sure that the details were right.

So it certainly is understandable that there would be specific questions that people would have, and we would welcome the opportunity to get to answer them regardless of who in Congress is actually asking the questions.  So I can assure you that if there are individual members of Congress that want to have a phone call or have a meeting to discuss this, that we can put them in touch with a relevant member of the President’s national security team to have that discussion and to answer all the questions that they have.

Q    Two quick travel ones.  The first is, are there any plans for the President to go visit Chattanooga?  And the second is related to the fundraiser today in New York.  I know in previous off-years you guys have kind of set a number of fundraising goals for fundraisers for the President, for the DNC.  Obviously, we’re going into 2016 elections and it’s going to be extremely expensive.  And so I’m wondering if you guys have concrete, tangible goals of how much the President hopes to fundraise or how many fundraisers he hopes to do.

MR. EARNEST:  Justin, at this point, I don’t have any updates to the President’s travel as it relates to Tennessee, but we’ll certainly keep you updated if that changes.

I don’t have a tangible number to give you in terms of our fundraising goal.  The President is mindful of both the significant stakes in the next election, and also his ongoing responsibility, even though he’s not on the ballot, to be strongly supportive of those Democrats who share his vision for the future of the country.  

And so the President has been engaged in some fundraising efforts already, and I’m confident that over the next year and a half that the President’s engagement in this political debate in the advance of the next presidential election will only increase.


Q    Josh, thanks.  I want to go back to the issue of the U.N.  Why submit a draft resolution at this very moment?  And I understand the explanation that you gave to Jon, but it has clearly only roiled a number of lawmakers.  It seems like at this moment you’re trying to sell this deal to lawmakers to get them onboard.  Why do that at this moment when it seems to have only aggravated that situation?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, Kristen, this is an agreement that was negotiated between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.  And it makes sense that once that agreement has been reached, that the U.N. Security Council would act promptly to consider the agreement.  And that’s what they’re doing.

But out of deference to the United States Congress, there is a 90-day window before this approved resolution is formally adopted.  And what that means is it means that there will be time for Congress to use all the 60 days that they themselves requested to review the agreement, and to consider that agreement and even vote on it before the action that is taken at the U.N. is formally adopted.  

And it bears repeating that there is nothing that the United Nations Security Council can or will do to impact the sanctions that the United States has put in place, particularly those sanctions over which Congress has jurisdiction.

Q    Secretary Kerry said earlier today that he will be traveling to Doha to speak with officials in the Gulf States about the Iran deal.  What will the President’s outreach look like in the coming weeks?  And what does he say to the argument that some officials there have been making that this ultimately emboldens Iran, whether or not you agree with this deal?  That ultimately it emboldens Iran?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the administration will continue to engage with our partners in the region.  And I think -- 

Q    What will the President do?  What will that outreach look like?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it’s important to remember Secretary Carter is traveling to the Middle East over the weekend and into next week where he’ll spend time both in Israel and Saudi Arabia meeting with top officials there.  I’m confident that there will be some discussion of this Iran agreement, but certainly not the only thing that’s on the agenda there.  

You mentioned Secretary Kerry’s meeting.  You’ve made careful note, I’m sure, of all of the telephone calls that the President has already conducted this week with our allies and partners around the world to discuss this.  So I think that’s an indication that there will be -- that there’s a high level -- a commitment to high-level engagement when it comes to discussing this issue with our partners and our allies.

As it relates to the question that you’ve raised about an emboldened Iran, I guess I would disagree with I think a basic premise of that question, because as a result of this agreement, Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon.  There is nothing that Iran could do to be further emboldened than to obtain a nuclear weapon.  

So by taking the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran off the table, we can now focus on the other steps that are necessary to constrain their threatening of Israel, their support for terrorism, their support for proxies that destabilize the political situation in the volatile Middle East.  These are other significant concerns of our allies and partners in the region, and the United States remains committed to helping those countries address them.

But, as the President said in his news conference on Wednesday, there’s a reason that this has been -- that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon has been a top priority for the President.  Because a nuclear-armed Iran only makes them more dangerous, and certainly does only further embolden them.  This is a view that’s been articulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu himself.

So this is a shared priority against which we are making important progress.

Q    And can you characterize to what extent did this specific issue come up during today’s meeting?

MR. EARNEST:  I know that it did.  I don’t have details of the conversation, but, yes, you can be assured that this was -- a significant part of the discussion was on this particular issue, both the agreement that’s been reached, but also deepening the security cooperation between the United States and our GCC partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Gulf.

Q    I want to ask you about a domestic issue, something that has been the topic of big debate.  Some employees with Planned Parenthood were captured on video talking about fetal remains, the remains of aborted fetuses.  Does the President have a reaction to this debate?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t spoken to the President about this particular issue, and I’ll acknowledge that I have not seen the particular video in question.  I did read the news reports indicating that the policies that are followed by Planned Parenthood are entirely consistent with the strictest ethical guidelines that have been established in the health care industry.  But for those kinds of details, I’d obviously refer you to Planned Parenthood.

Q    And, Josh, just more broadly, does the President think that it is ethical to use the remains of aborted fetuses for medical research?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are medical ethicists that have taken a close look at this, and Planned Parenthood, I understand, has said that they follow those ethical guidelines and, in fact, the highest of those ethical guidelines.  For their compliance with them and what exactly that means, I’d obviously refer you to them.  I don’t have intimate detail of --or intimate knowledge of the kinds of practices that they engage in.  

Q    And you haven’t seen the video, so no indication that the President has?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know if he has or not.


Q    Quick question on Israel, a related question.  Is the administration considering the release of Jonathan Pollard?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that there is -- what I’d do is I’d refer you to the Department of Justice on this.  Obviously, Mr. Pollard is somebody that has been charged with serious crimes and is being confined in our criminal justice system, and I don’t have any update on his status.  I’d refer you to the Department of Justice on that.

Q    And just in the meeting with Foreign Minister Jubeir, was there any discussion of a visit by King Salman?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any potential visits to talk about at this point, but if we have any updates on that we’ll let you know.


Q    Continuing on the discussion with the ambassador, was there any indication or discussion with the President of the ambassador’s team meeting with his counterparts in Israel in the lead-up to the Iran nuclear deal?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m sorry, say that one more time.

Q    Was there any discussions with the President in that meeting with -- in terms of any Saudi meetings with the Israelis in the lead-up to the Iran nuclear deal?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I’m not aware of any meetings between the Saudis and the Israelis, but I’d refer you to those two parties for details about that.


Q    I’m just wondering if the President -- obviously opposition to this deal in Israel is bipartisan across the spectrum.  Would the President be interested in going to Israel and explaining the deal to Knesset, as Bibi did, coming here to Congress?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  That is a provocative idea, Gardiner.

Q    Knesset invited him --

MR. EARNEST:  Right, exactly.  To answer your basic question, I’m not aware of any plans to do anything like that.  But more generally, the President is mindful of the fact that this agreement is something that is being carefully scrutinized in Israel.  The President I think was pretty forthright about acknowledging in the news conference that he convened with all of you on Wednesday that he’s not just aware of the concerns that many Israelis have about Iran and Iran’s behavior.  The President was forthright about acknowledging that those concerns are entirely legitimate.  And the President has also been pretty forthright about acknowledging that the President has those concerns in mind when he goes to this effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  

It continues to be the President’s view that the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is through diplomacy.  It’s through diplomacy that Iran will voluntarily take the steps that are needed to shrink their uranium stockpile by 98 percent, to remove 13,000 centrifuges, to fill in the calandria at their heavy-water reactor with cement to ensure that it can no longer be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium.  

This is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And the important part of this is not that Iran has made those commitments, but that we can actually check to make sure that they live up to those commitments.  And we have imposed the toughest, most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program to verify their compliance to the agreement.

Now, what’s also true is that does not eliminate other concerns with Iran’s behavior.  But when Iran threatens Israel and uses anti-Semitic rhetoric to do so, that’s something that we strongly condemn.  And we understand -- the President understands the very significant danger that that poses to the nation of Israel.  But that danger would be even more severe if Iran had a nuclear weapon. 

And that’s why the President has made this a priority, and the President is committed -- in even conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu -- to trying to work more effectively together to counter many of the destabilizing actions that Iran engages in in the region, including by supporting Hezbollah. 

Q    Hey, Josh, what if the Israeli Prime Minister -- he’s already said that all options are on the table for him.  What if the Israelis, using U.S. equipment, bombed the Fordow facility and some of these other Iranian nuclear facilities?  How would the U.S. respond to that?  Obviously, we have deals where we have sworn support with the Israelis in almost any regional war.  What if they create a regional war that we don’t want them to, in this case? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Gardiner, I wouldn’t want to speculate on that particular hypothetical beyond acknowledging that obviously Israel -- the leaders of Israel are entitled, of course, to take the steps that they believe are necessary for the defense of their country.  They have a responsibility to make those decisions. 

But the President has also indicated that the military option on the part of the United States is one that continues to be available.  But the more effective way, the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is through principled diplomacy -- an agreement that’s structured exactly like this one that requires Iran to take some significant steps to curtail their nuclear program, and to agree to have those steps be rigorously verified by the international community. 

Q    Ash Carter is going to be in Israel next week.  He’s going to be asking sort of what the Israelis need.  What if the Israelis ask for these bunker-busting bombs and equipment that would allow them to do this bombing raid on their own?  How would the U.S. respond to those sort of requests? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t want to preview those conversations at this point.  But as a general matter, I can tell you that part of the message that Secretary Carter will be delivering when he travels to Israel -- and I believe this will be his first trip as the Secretary of Defense to Israel -- that the message that he’ll be delivering is that the United States and President Obama himself is committed to strengthening the security cooperation relationship that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has already described as unprecedented in its scope and depth.

Q    One more.   

MR. EARNEST:  Sure. 

Q    As part of the deal, Iran can appeal to the Security Council if it feels that any members of the P5+1 are not abiding by the agreement.  If Congress votes this down, the U.S. of course will not be able to abide by the agreement through sanctions.  If the U.S. does not lift its sanctions, Iran could potentially appeal to the U.N. Security Council about the failure to lift those sanctions.  Would the Security Council vote then, trump that of the United States Congress?  Is that a concern in this?  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Gardiner, I'm not going to speculate at this point about what would happen if Congress were to devastate the standing of the United States in the international community, and essentially give Iran the opportunity to get all the benefits of sanctions relief without having to take any steps to submit to international verification or any of the steps that are required to curtail their nuclear program.


Q    Josh, can we follow up on a couple of those lines of questioning.  Take the question about a potential Israeli military strike a step backward.  Will the President argue -- even maybe in the conversation with the Prime Minister -- that with the deal it is now less necessary and Iran is less threatening to Israel in terms of a nuclear question than it was before the deal?  That any reasons Israel might entertain are less menacing than they were before?

MR. EARNEST:  And the reason -- 

Q    Is that what the President would say? 

MR. EARNEST:  That is certainly part of the argument.  And that is because the foundation of this argument is that as it -- what our intelligence analysts assess right now is that the breakout period for Iran is only two to three months.  Once this agreement is implemented, the breakout period for Iran would be lengthened significantly to a year, and we would also be in a position to verify Iran’s compliance with the agreement.  That means that we’re going to have much greater insight into the details of Iran’s nuclear program.  And we do believe that when you sort of compare a nuclear-armed Iran versus a non-nuclear armed Iran, that we would much rather have the latter because it is not as dangerous as a nuclear-armed Iran would be.  

When it comes to Israel’s national security, that doesn’t downplay the concerns that we have with a number of their other activities in the region. 

Q    That’s the President’s perspective.  Clearly you would expect the Defense Secretary to carry that very same message to Israel based on this topline assessment, right? 

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct. 

Q    Is it fair and logical, therefore, to assume that everything that corresponds between these two nations in terms of security cooperation would be informed by that judgment?  Meaning, if there were requests for some of the material that you were just asked about, those requests would be viewed within this new context.  Iran is less threatening, the danger is diminished; therefore, that’s the context in which all those requests will be judged -- not the one that existed before the deal.  Fair to assume that? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it is fair to assume that.  However, what I would also commend to your attention is just the reminder that, for some period of time now, the United States has been having conversations with Israel about how we can further strengthen and deepen our security cooperation.  These are conversations that have even been had between the two leaders of our countries.

Q    But the fundamental question is, every discussion about whether it’s within Israel’s rights to strike the materials they might have to carry that out are in a different context because you have this deal now?  And the threat is diminished, and therefore all the conversations that might come under the umbrella are in a completely different context?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what is true is that the breakout period has been lengthened, and that means that -- and we have assurance, or we will have assurance that Iran is complying with the agreement.  If, at some point, we determine that they are not complying with the agreement, we will continue to have the wide range of options in front of us that we do today, and whether that means snapping back sanctions or even deploying a military option.

The other thing I would point out about the military option is that if the agreement has been implemented, and Iran has started to take the steps to -- and it will be implemented once Iran has taken the steps to limit their nuclear program.  That’s one other thing that I didn’t mention earlier, which is sanctions relief will not start until Iran has taken all of these substantial steps to begin to curtail their nuclear program.  That’s an important thing for us to keep in mind here.

But the point is, is that if over the course of this 10-year agreement, at some point Iran’s leaders change course and they decide that either they want to cheat or they just want to publicly indicate that they’re going to break out and try to obtain a nuclear weapon, it would take a year for them acquire enough fissile material to build a bomb.  

But here’s the key thing.  The military option would remain on the table, but the fact is, that military option would be enhanced because we’d been spending the intervening number of years gathering significantly more detail about Iran’s nuclear program.  So when it comes to the targeting decisions that would be made by military officials either in Israel or the United States, those targeting decisions would be significantly informed, and our capabilities improved, based on the knowledge that has been gained in the intervening years through this inspections regime.

Q    So if Israel wants to contemplate it, it should wait?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, what we believe --

Q    That’s what you just said.

MR. EARNEST:  What we believe is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is through diplomacy, and that’s what’s been achieved here.  But if at some point down the line, after the agreement has been implemented, if Iran does indicate a willingness to cheat, or they just announce that they’re going to go and sprint toward a nuclear weapon, that distance would be much longer than it is today, and the ability of the international community to respond would be strengthened because our political hand would be strengthened and the capabilities of our military planners would be enhanced because of our significantly increased knowledge of Iran’s nuclear program.

Q    I just want to ask about the Pollard situation, because your predecessors have never hesitated on that question.  And I don’t know if you didn’t expect it or you were trying to convey something, but previously, when Pollard’s name has been brought up, the answer is very swift and resolute.  It’s not on the table, it’s not being discussed.  The crime is a crime, the conviction is a conviction.  It stands -- despite the fact there has been annual lobbying of varying intensity, but every year from the Israelis, whoever the government is, about Jonathan Pollard’s release.  Did you hesitate because that is now, at some level or another, being discussed?  Or were you just not anticipating the question?

MR. EARNEST:  I was not anticipating the question.  But what I can tell you is that there -- I’m certainly not aware of any sort of renewed discussion about what had been previously discussed about releasing him outside of the normal Department of Justice procedures that are in place.  There has been some discussion about releasing him primarily -- that has been reported on, about releasing him prior to his next parole hearing.

And so I don’t want to leave you with the impression that that position has changed.  

Q    So it hasn’t become a new topic within the conversations in the aftermath of the Iran deal or any other things that might sweeten Israel’s assessment of it?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of.  But for the details of his current incarceration, I’d encourage you to check with the Department of Justice.  They may have more information for you.

Q    A question about the trip to Oklahoma.  The President said, in a question from the pool, after meeting with some of the inmates, that they were there after doing stupid things, making mistakes, he said -- there but for the grace of God, suggesting that -- and I want to ask you this.  Did he mean to suggest that the people in there that he met with were arbitrarily arrested, prosecuted in there because it was sort of an accident?  Or such a low-level mistake that they shouldn’t have been there in the first place?  Or that their sentences should be dramatically reduced?  

And if the latter is the case, my reading of the Durbin and Lee legislation, which this White House has endorsed, doesn’t take away mandatory minimums.  It provides a little bit more discretion for federal judges; but in the main, it keeps most of the sentencing guidelines and the prosecution of the past in place.  Does the President want to go farther than that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are a number of factors that influence the sentences that are given to the individuals who are charged and convicted of serious crimes -- well, I should say, certainly of serious crimes, but also of crimes that relate to non-violent drug offenses.  And they’re influenced by a number of things -- things like mandatory minimums, but also things like the policy that is in place for prosecutors who are trying to make charging decisions; that there are significant decisions that need to be made by prosecutors when it comes to how serious a crime that individuals should be charged with based on their conduct.  

So the point that I’m making is that there are a variety of things that influence the kind of sentence that is handed down, and it is those variety of things that will be considered in the discussions with Congress as we sort of work toward some criminal justice reform.

But as it relates to the President’s comments, I do -- let me give you a -- the President wasn’t trying to make either of the points that you suggested.  The point that the President was trying to make is that for him, in some ways, this is -- the point that he was trying to make is even outside the context of the criminal justice system, that these individuals did things that landed them in prison.  And it also set them on a path that made prison more likely because they didn’t benefit from the influence of good parents or good schools or caring teachers or people in their community that could provide some structure to their lives; that even if they did make a mistake, that they didn’t allow one mistake to put them on a path that had them end up in prison.

And the point the President was making is that he has acknowledged and has, as he wrote about in his book, made some mistakes in his own life, but he benefitted from having grandparents in Hawaii, teachers at his school, obviously a very devoted mother who worked hard to keep him on the right path despite his mistakes.  And the point that he was making is that if he didn’t have that kind of support structure in his life, it is not hard to imagine that he would have ended up on the same path that led these men to that prison.

Q    So this is a comment about the structure, not necessarily the underlying crime itself, the adequacy, or the fairness of the prosecution, or the sentences meted out?

MR. EARNEST:  Right.  Clearly all those things are related, but the point that the President was making is this very specific one about the kind of support structure that is particularly needed for young men of color.  And this is part of My Brother’s Keeper initiative that the President has spent a lot of time talking about; that trying to put in place these support structures for young men of color that may be coming from a single-parent home and may not be coming from the highest-rated school in their community, that they will benefit from additional support structures that, even if they make one mistake, could prevent them from going down a path that ends in a prison cell.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to follow up on something you said earlier, give you another run at it.  I was trying to understand -- Secretary Kerry was saying during the conversations with the Iranians that he repeatedly would bring up the American captives that are being held there, and yet the President made it very clear that it was not part of the deal because it would give the Iranians more leverage in some ways and would make the deal more difficult.  And I’m just trying to make sense of the two.  Can you help me unpack that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, actually, the point the President was making, Kevin, is that if we included the wellbeing of these Americans as bargaining chips in the nuclear deal, it would only make it harder to secure the release of these American citizens.  And the reason for that is simply that the successful completion of a final nuclear agreement was not a foregone conclusion.  And if we had gotten the case of these Americans wrapped up in a nuclear discussion that ultimately didn’t come to an agreement, the ability of the United States to secure their release would have been significantly set back. 

So what the President and Secretary Kerry did was they worked assiduously to keep them separate, to not allow these American citizens to be used as bargaining chips in a nuclear discussion with Iran.  But what Secretary Kerry did in the context of these meetings is insist on the release of these Americans who had been unjustly detained in Iran.  We’re not going to make concessions to Iran in the context of an agreement to secure their release; we just think they should be released right now and they should be given the opportunity to come home and be reunited with their families.  And that shouldn’t be contingent on anything.

Q    I want to ask you about the tragedy in Chattanooga.  There’s been some discussion about the fact that perhaps if military personnel were able to be armed, they could have better protected themselves.  If that were deemed appropriate by DOD, would the White House support that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, obviously, these decisions about how best to ensure the safety of our men and women in uniform are decisions that are made by the Department of Defense.  And as you alluded to, there is a Department of Defense policy that’s been in place for quite some time, in sort of at a workplace like a recruiting station here in the United States, that would prevent military personnel from carrying weapons.  But those are security decisions that will be made by the Department of Defense, and they will be made not with politics in mind but with the safety and security of our men and women in uniform in mind.  And obviously those are the kinds of policy decisions that the Commander-in-Chief would support.

Q    A couple more.  One on the meeting today with the Saudi Foreign Minister.  Can you understand that the main concern that they would have, especially given the proxy wars that have been happening with the Iranians, and what can the President do to assuage their concerns that anything you do to either elevate Iran economically or even politically makes them a bigger player in the region and therefore a bigger threat to the Saudis and other GCC partners?

MR. EARNEST:  There’s no scenario where Iran is a bigger threat than when they have a nuclear weapon.  And that is why the President has gone to great lengths and supported nearly two years of negotiations to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And that is the case that the President made not just to members of Congress but to our partners all around the globe.  

That in no way is intended to diminish the significant concerns that our partners and our allies in the Middle East have with Iran’s support for terrorism, their support for proxies that destabilize a political situation in countries throughout the Middle East.  And we’re going to be responsive to those concerns, and we’re going to continue to work closely with those countries to deepen our security cooperation and more effectively counter Israel’s*[Iran’s] efforts to support, for example, Hezbollah rebels that are operating in Lebanon or Houthi rebels that are operating and destabilizing the political situation in Yemen.

Q    Last, I want to ask you about Glass-Steagall.  There’s been some talk about bringing that back.  Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, among others, think that would be a good idea.  Does the President agree with that?

MR. EARNEST:  Kevin, what we believe is that Wall Street reform has been incredibly effective in reforming our financial system in a way that looks out for the interests of middle-class families and taxpayers.  You’ll recall the Wall Street reform created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  For the first time, middle-class families have an independent watchdog in Washington, D.C. that’s not beholden to corporate interests but is actually focused on standing up for the interests of middle-class families.  And this has led to important reforms in both the mortgage-banking system but also to the student-loans system, and a variety of other reforms that have protected the interests of middle-class families against the interests of larger financial institutions.

What Wall Street reform also included were restrictions on big banks that prevent them from making risky bets that would result in taxpayers having to bail them out if those bets go south.  And that’s why the President is pleased with the important progress that’s been made when it came to implementing Wall Street reform.  The implementation of a lot of these rules was aggressively fought by some of the highest-paid special interests in Washington, D.C.  And it’s because of the tenacity of the President and his administration that these rules were put in place in a way that maximizes the benefits not just for middle-class families and not just for taxpayers, but for our broader economy.

Q    But Glass-Steagall?  Thumbs up, thumbs down?

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, we believe that the kind of ongoing implementation of Wall Street reform is the most effective way for us to protect our economy and for us to protect both middle-class families and taxpayers.

Let’s see.  Who have we got in the back here?  Jared.

Q    Thanks.  I wanted to ask about Cuba.  Is the President, the administration making any headway at all on getting Congress to at least consider lifting the embargo?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’ve heard of.  

Q    I ask only because Monday we were told the opening of the embassies.  Is that going to usher in any new push from the administration to try and get particularly opponents in Congress to reevaluate their position?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, there already exists bipartisan support for advancing the policy that the President announced to normalize our relations with Cuba.  But there have been some entrenched partisan interests that have tried to block this in Congress so far.  Fortunately, there are a number of steps that the President can take using his executive authority to begin to make these changes.  

The President is implementing these changes because he believes it’s in the broader strategic interest of the United States.  We have removed a chief sticking point in our ties with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere.  And by removing that sticking point, we have now effectively isolated Cuba and the international -- or at least the concerns of countries in the Western Hemisphere, and focused them on the Cuban government’s treatment of the Cuban people, and the failure of the Cuban government to respect the basic human rights of the Cuban people.

So that’s one way in which this policy change has been important.  The second thing that we know is that this is a policy that is overwhelmingly supported by the Cuban people themselves; that they recognize that this is a tremendous opportunity for them to have a government that treats them with the respect for basic human rights and allows them to -- or at least makes it more likely that they can achieve the ambition that they have laid out for themselves.

So that’s the reason that I think many people are pretty unpersuaded by the objections that have been raised by some in Congress.  They claim to have the best interests of the Cuban people at heart, but when you look at some of the public data, more than 90 percent of the Cuban people actually support the policy that the President is trying to implement.

So this is why we’re going to move forward using all of the authority that we can to try to implement this policy change.  But I don’t anticipate that this is going to cause a significant change in the mind of that small but vocal minority in Congress that opposes this policy.

Q    But if it were a vocal minority, it would be easy to lift the embargo.

MR. EARNEST:  If only the United States Senate worked that way.  But as we’ve seen, it doesn’t.  I think that there continues to be some confidence that this vocal minority in Congress -- or in the Senate could filibuster this legislation.  But the fact is that there are a number of Republicans who have come out and spoken forcefully in favor of this policy change.

Q    And any travel announcement as far as the President potentially making a trip to Havana?

MR. EARNEST:  No updates at this point.


Q    Just following on that -- obviously, the President has talked about the questionable human rights record in Cuba.  Can you talk about what, for example, the administration would need to see from Cuba in order for you to even consider having the President go?  What kind of would be the bottom line or benchmark that this administration would apply to key countries like that when deciding whether it deserves a presidential visit?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me say, for a detailed answer to this question, I’d refer you to the State Department.  But I can tell you in general that some of the things that we would like to see is, we would like to see the rights of political opponents of the Cuban government inside of Cuba not be thrown in jail just because of their political views.  That would be one step.

The second would be the respecting of the basic rights of independent journalists in Cuba; that there is evidence to indicate that there is not free speech in Cuba, and that even independent journalists who want to say things that could be perceived as critical of the government have their views muzzled by the government.  So a respect for a free and independent media would be another step that we would like to see them take.

So those are a couple of examples.  But for more specific benchmarks, to the extent that they exist, I’d refer you to the State Department.


Q    Josh, thank you.  I think Mitch McConnell said it would be unlikely that they would approve an ambassador to Cuba.  Is there a way around that?  And do you have someone who you want to -- whose name you want to -- 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any personnel announcements at this point.  I think there are probably some good candidates in mind.  I’m not aware of any intent to nominate anybody any time soon.

But, look, we’ve seen Republicans in Congress use all kinds of excuses to not act on nominees that are put forward by the Obama administration even when they have important and noncontroversial roles in the government.  So you’ll recall that a couple of weeks ago, I came here and talked about the plight of Adam Szubin -- this is the individual who is responsible for putting in place sanctions and targeting the financing activities of ISIL.  This is a career civil servant who’s served in Democratic and Republican administrations.  He’s somebody who is unquestionably an excellent lawyer, and very skilled at the technical job that he has.  

But yet, we’ve seen Congress -- Republicans in Congress block him from even having a hearing.  There’s no legitimate explanation for that, and it does reflect a -- 
a dereliction of duty when it comes to Republicans in Congress when you consider that we've got thousands of U.S. military personnel helping counter ISIL in Iraq right now.  And all we're asking Congress to do is to hold a simple hearing, a basic responsibility of the United States Congress.  But yet that’s something that Republicans are unwilling to do.

The point is, based on the kind of inexplicable obstruction that we've seen for even noncontroversial nominees like Mr. Szubin, I would not expect any rapid progress in the Republican-dominated Senate when it comes to the consideration of a nominee to be the ambassador of Cuba.

Q    So we could have an embassy but no ambassador for a while?

MR. EARNEST:  It certainly seems possible.  But for that rather unique scenario to exist, that's something that would require the continued partisan obstruction of Republicans in Congress.  So I guess you’d have another exhibit that probably numbers in the tens of thousands at this point.

Q    You could put a nominee forward.

MR. EARNEST:  It's certainly possible.  I wouldn't rule that out.  I just don't have any details for you on the time.

Victoria, I'll give you the last one.

Q    Ayatollah Khamenei is giving a speech tomorrow in which it's expected that he’ll respond to the Iran deal, which does cross several of his red lines, including inspection of military sites.  What are your concerns that he’s going to come out strongly against the deal, or come out against the results?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn't predict at this point what the Ayatollah may have to say tomorrow.

Q    Do you have concerns?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not particularly concerned about it, no.

All right, let’s go to the week ahead.  Well, this is weird.  Let’s see if I have a week ahead.  (Laughter.)  This is the week ahead for this week, actually.  Maybe it's back here in the back pocket.  It’s going to be a lot less interesting to you -- I was about to tell you about the White House Conference on Aging -- (laughter) -- which I know that you all covered with a lot of attention this week.

So let’s get to the week of July 20th.  There are some interesting things on here.  On Monday, the President will host Nigerian President Buhari at the White House.  The visit will underscore the United States’ longstanding friendship with Nigeria, our commitment to strengthening and expanding our partnership with Nigeria’s new government, and our support for the Nigerian people on their historic democratic elections and peaceful transfer of power.

That afternoon, the President will deliver remarks at a reception for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

On Tuesday, the President will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to address the 116th Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention.  So we'll have a little preview of those remarks early next week.  Obviously, we'll have something interesting to say there.

Following the convention, the President will travel to New York City and will tape an appearance for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  So that should be entertaining.  

On Wednesday, the President will meet with small business owners to discuss the importance of the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank.

On Thursday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.  And later that evening, the President will travel to Nairobi, Kenya.  The President will spend most of the day on Friday en route to Kenya.  

With that, I wish you all a good weekend.  

1:28 P.M. EDT