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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/23/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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

12:52 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  I do not have announcements at the top, so we can go straight to questions.  Josh, do you want to start?

Q    Sure.  Thanks, Josh.  Secretaries Kerry and Moniz are on the Hill today where they’re working to allay some concerns about these two bilateral deals between Iran and the IAEA over Parchin, and also past military activity.  And they’re making basically the same argument that Ambassador Rice made here yesterday, which is we’re not holding back anything from you because we actually haven't seen the text of these agreements.  So my question to you is, if the U.S. hasn’t even seen these agreements and really has gotten only what Secretary Moniz described as kind of general briefings about them, how can you be so confident that these are good deals and that they adequately address concerns that the U.S. and its partners have about Iran?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, to be clear -- and I think this is consistent with what Secretary Kerry and Moniz and Lew said on Capitol Hill today, is that this does not represent some sort of side deal.  In fact, you’ll recall that prior to Iran getting any kind of sanctions relief, they have to provide the IAEA with the information and access that they need in order to complete their report about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

So I know there has been a suggestion by some Republicans that there is some agreement that was cut off to the side.  The fact is, this is a critical part of the agreement, and in fact, this deal cannot go forward until that information and that access has been provided to the nuclear experts at the IAEA.

Now, separately, this is the international institution that is responsible for carrying out these kinds of inspections.  They’re a neutral party, but yet they have the kind of expertise that’s required in order to conduct these kinds of inspections, evaluate this information, and generate reports.  And that’s exactly what they’re going to do.

And our negotiating team is aware of the agreements that have been made between the IAEA and the Iranians.  You’ll recall that even in the final days of the negotiations, that there was some travel by senior IAEA officials to Tehran, to start talking through these issues.  And what I believe Secretary Moniz made clear today in the context of the hearing is that there are members of Congress that would like to get greater understanding into the kind of access and information that the IAEA is seeking that our negotiators will, in a classified setting, have a conversation with those members of Congress about what exactly the IAEA is seeking.

Q    The point right there -- can you tell us when that will take place?  Because apparently this came up in some of the classified briefings that took place yesterday, and there was not information that was given to Congress about those separate agreements that the IAEA has with Iran.  So is there a time when you plan to brief Congress in a classified setting about those?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’d refer you to the Department of Energy on this, but we can see if we can get you some more specific things.  I don’t know that there will necessarily be a formal hearing on this, although I suppose that there could be.  But again, it would be in a classified setting.

What we’re talking about is, is we’re talking about information that is sensitive information that we obviously don’t want to have a discussion about publicly because it poses a proliferation risk.  But there is a desire and a willingness to share information, and that’s exactly what our negotiators have committed to doing.

The last thing I’ll say about this, Josh -- and this is an important part of this that should also not be overlooked.  The eventual IAEA report about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program will be published and made public.  So people will have an opportunity to see the conclusions that were reached by the experts at the IAEA about the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

Q    Has the President been following the situation with Sandra Bland in Texas, and the incident there?  And does he have any thoughts or reaction to what’s taking place there?

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, I know that he is aware of this incident that has received significant media attention over the last week or so.  This is a situation that is currently under investigation by local law enforcement and the local prosecutor down in Texas.  And so I’m reluctant to wade in with the President’s specific thoughts here until the local prosecutors have had an opportunity to conclude the inquiry that they said that they have opened into this matter.

Q    On another topic that came up with Ambassador Rice yesterday in talking about the President’s trip that he leaves on this evening, and some of the calls from Kenyan politicians and other leaders for the President not to bring up gay rights while he’s there.  She said basically, if it’s appropriate, I’m sure the President will feel comfortable bringing up the issue if he wants to.  But that seems like it’s a far cry from some of these other trips that the President has taken where you’ve actually made a point.  For instance, in China, to say we’re going to proactively bring up the issue of human rights because we realize this is an issue here and we want that out there.

So I’m wondering why the distinction there.  And will the President, if he’s not prompted on it, proactively bring up that issue?

MR. EARNEST:  Whenever the President travels anywhere around the world, Josh -- and you’ve covered numerous overseas trips that this President has taken -- the President routinely makes a strong case about the importance of governments protecting the basic universal human rights of their people.  That’s true when the President has previously traveled to the Middle East.  That’s been true when the President has traveled to Asia.  That’s been true when the President traveled to Latin America.  And it’ll be true when the President travels to Africa later this week.

The President understands -- well, I’d actually say it this way.  In the mind of the President, he can be a forceful advocate in traveling around the world in making the case for the protection of basic universal human rights.  He does that everywhere he goes, and I’m confident that he’ll do that in Africa too.


Q    The President of the UAW said that he met with Obama and Labor Secretary Perez last Friday, and he wants Obama to prevent auto-worker jobs from going to -- from leaving the U.S.  Can you confirm that?  And did the President -- can you confirm that meeting?  And did the President make any promises?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can confirm the meeting.  I don’t have a lot of details from that meeting to read out to you.  The President did have, as he often does, had a conversation with some leaders in the labor community about the President’s continuing focus on expanding economic opportunity for middle-class families in this country.  And there was an extensive discussion on a wide range of issues primarily focused around how to expand economic opportunity for everybody.

Q    I also wanted to see if you had anything more to say on the highway bill and the pay-fors now that that bill yesterday cleared a procedural vote in the Senate.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can tell you that our team is still reviewing the legislation.  It’s more than 1,000 pages long.  So the things that they’re paying particular close attention to are the pay-fors -- the offsets, if you will.  Whenever we’re talking about funding bills, Democrats and Republicans will often have the most heated disagreements when it comes to ensuring that these programs are properly funded.  So that is getting some careful attention.

There are concerns that have been raised about some of the safety provisions that are included in the bill.  The Department of Transportation makes the safety of the American traveling public their top priority.  So we’re going to obviously take a close look at the safety provisions that are in here.  And we’re going to continue to have conversations with members of Congress about this.

The other thing that I mentioned yesterday that continues to be true today is that service transportation legislation is the most likely legislative vehicle -- no pun intended -- to move before the end of this month.  And that’s why we’ve insisted that the provisions related to reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank should be added to any transportation bill that passes Congress before the end of this month.

Q    Okay.  But any more considerations on using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a pay-for, or that’s still under consideration?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any additional details to share about our current evaluation of the specific offsets that have been included in this legislation other than to tell you that we’re continuing to review them.

Q    One more.  A local newspaper in Turkey reported that President Obama and President Erdogan spoke last night and finalized an agreement on using the -- I might say this wrong -- Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.  Can you confirm that?  And would this base be used for launching U.S. airstrikes?  Because I believe it’s already used in some capacity.

MR. EARNEST:  There are a few things I can say about this.  The President did obviously convene the telephone call that you just described.  In that call, the two leaders discussed efforts to deepen our cooperation in the fight against ISIL.  And when I say “our cooperation,” I mean the cooperation that exists between Turkey and the United States and the other 60 or so countries that are part of our counter-ISIL coalition. 

Obviously anybody who’s looked at a map of the region understands the significant interest that Turkey has in this situation.  They share a border that’s some 560 miles long with Syria.  There have been reports, including as recently as, I believe, earlier this week of a bombing that occurred on the Turkish-Syrian border.  Now, we’re still trying to gather more information about what exactly occurred, but it’s an indication that the instability along Turkey’s southern border is a source of significant concern, and I think that concern is understandable.

And in the context of the conversation that the President had with President Erdogan last night, they talked about efforts to enhance and deepen our cooperation.  What they will be focused on is promoting security and stability in Iraq, and they will be focused on trying to bring about a political settlement inside of Syria.

Now, it’s notable that Turkey is already doing a number of things to support the counter-ISIL coalition.  Turkey, as you know, is hosting one of the training facilities for the train-and-equip program for the moderate Syrian opposition.  Turkey has taken important steps to curb the flow of foreign fighters.  We do know from reports that this 560-mile-long border between Turkey and Syria is traveled by some foreign fighters who are seeking to join up arms alongside ISIL.  And Turkey has taken some important steps to try to close that border, and there may be more things that we can do together to help them stem that flow.  Obviously it’s not just Turkey’s responsibility to try to stem that flow, but obviously it’s the responsibility of countries around the world to be engaged in that effort.

The last thing I’ll say -- two things, actually.  The first is that Turkey has been a leader in the humanitarian effort.  Obviously there are a significant number of refugees that have been created by the crisis in Syria; many of them have fled Syria into Turkey.  And Turkey is bearing a significant burden in trying to provide for nearly 2 million refugees who have fled from Syria into Turkey.  That’s an enormous burden on the nation of Turkey, and we’re mindful of the amount of responsibility that they’ve assumed in that regard.

You asked specifically about Incirlik, the military base in Turkey.  I’m not able to talk about some of those issues because of specific operational security concerns.  So what we have acknowledged is that our coalition has access to a variety of bases throughout Europe and the Middle East for a variety of missions.  That includes ISR -- intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance -- personnel recovery, refueling, and the carrying out of military airstrikes.

But for operational security reasons, I can’t get into which bases are used for which purpose.

Q    Or whether or not there was any kind of new agreement reached last night on this phone call?

MR. EARNEST:  As it relates specifically to Incirlik, I don’t have any details for you on that.  But what I can confirm for you [is] that in the context of that conversation, the two leaders did agree that we would deepen our cooperation as we take on this ISIL threat.


Q    Josh, thank you.  FBI Director James Comey said yesterday that ISIS now poses a greater threat to the U.S. than al Qaeda.  Is that consistent with the President’s understanding of the situation right now?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kristen, obviously we’ve spent a lot of time talking about -- and we just did -- talking about the significant resources and time and energy that’s been devoted to countering ISIL; to executing a strategy that will degrade and ultimately destroy that organization.  And whether it’s military steps or steps to cut off their financing operations, trying to stem the flow of foreign fighters, countering their efforts to radicalize individuals using social media, we have a multi-pronged strategy that we’re using to counter ISIL.

What’s also true is that this administration has been successful in decimating core al Qaeda.  And the progress against al Qaeda affiliates around the globe continues.  You’ll note -- we did not have an opportunity to talk about it yesterday -- but the Department of Defense announced earlier this week that Al Fadhli, the al Qaeda leader in Syria, was taken off the battlefield as the result of a Department of Defense airstrike earlier this month.  This is an individual who was responsible for plotting and operationalizing external plots by al Qaeda against the United States.  

So we continue to be very mindful of the threat that’s posed by al Qaeda.  And that announcement is an indication -- should be an indication to you that we’re not just focused on the threat, but that we’re actually having success against that threat.

Q    Understood.  But what FBI Director James Comey said was very specific -- that ISIS now poses a greater threat to the U.S. than al Qaeda.  Is that the case?  Does the President agree with that statement?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’d refer you to Director Comey for any comments -- for any explanation of his comments.  What I’m telling you is that the President is very mindful of both threats, and the discussion of those threats in this briefing room should be a pretty clear indication of that.  But the other clear indication is the significant progress that we’re making in countering both of those threats to the United States.

Q    And to that point, to your efforts to counter ISIS, Secretary Jeh Johnson said today, in terms of the effort to counter online social media messaging from ISIS, he said, “I believe that message is being developed, but it needs a broader platform.”  The question is, Josh, how come this message is still being developed?  Why isn’t there a clear counter message in place at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Kristen, as you know, this is an effort that we have been engaged in for quite some time.  Earlier this year, almost six months ago now, the White House convened a summit to focus on countering violent extremism where we talked quite a bit about trying to counter the efforts of extremists using social media to radicalize vulnerable populations.  

And what we have found, and what continues to be true, is that when trying to counter the message of an organization like ISIL, the most effective way to do that is to build up the platform of moderate Muslim leaders; that they are the most persuasive voice.  And we have worked with other countries -- the UAE, for example, has played an important role in helping us to develop and implement those messaging strategies.  But the work on that certainly does continue, as the Secretary said.

Q    Well, I guess my question is, though, he seemed to suggest that the U.S. is behind.  He said, “The counter message exists, but it needs a larger microphone.”  Why haven’t we gotten further than that at this point, given the deep level of concern, given the report that came out last month by the State Department saying essentially that ISIS was trumping the U.S. when it came to its social media messaging?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kristen, we continue to be engaged on recruiting moderate voices, particularly in the Muslim community, who can be most effective and have the most credibility in countering the radical, hateful ideology of ISIL.

Q    Let me just ask you this:  Is ISIS winning the social media war at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s certainly not the way that I would describe it.

Q    How would you describe it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think I would describe it as -- the United States and this administration has, for a long time now, been focused on the need to counter the radical ideology that ISIL is spreading on social media.  And there are a variety of ways for us to succeed in doing that, and one of them is to build up the capacity and prominence of moderate Muslim leaders to counter that ideology.

Q    And can you give us any details about the specific message?  What should those moderate Muslim leaders be saying?

MR. EARNEST:  I’d refer you to the State Department for this.  They are the ones who are principally responsible for working around the world to implement these strategies.  So I’d refer you to them.  

Q    Can you give us a sense?

MR. EARNEST:  I’d refer you to the State Department for that.


Q    Josh, so the White House has full confidence in the IAEA and its capabilities?  Is that a reasonable view?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what’s a reasonable view, Paul, is that the international community has turned to the IAEA, which is an independent, international organization of nuclear experts who are responsible for conducting these kinds of inspections.  They’ve done that in a variety of countries, and obviously they’ve got an important role here to play in examining the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.  

We have made contingent on this deal moving forward that Iran grant access and information to the IAEA that they need to complete their report.  Now, the other thing that is true is that we actually have a lot of information about Iran’s nuclear program that we have developed.  So this is a lot of information that we already know.

But what’s important is to make sure that Iran, from the get-go, from the beginning, even before they receive any kind of sanctions relief, that they are ready to comply with the requirements that the IAEA has for access and information.

Q    One of the raps against the IAEA, though, is that in years past, it missed nuclear activity in Syria -- Israel went in and bombed -- and missed activity in Libya.  It’s missed activity in other countries.  So how -- are you really, completely confident in their capabilities now?

MR. EARNEST:  I would say, Paul, I’m not aware of each of those specific instances; presumably the IAEA is.  But I think you’re illustrating precisely why the President insisted on the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.  It means that IAEA inspectors will have access to the Iran nuclear program.  That’s unprecedented.  It’s unlike any kind of access that the IAEA has ever had to any other country’s nuclear program.

IAEA inspectors will have access to Iran’s uranium mines.  They’ll have access to Iran’s uranium mills.  They’ll have access to Iran’s declared nuclear sites.  They’ll have access to Iran’s facilities where they manufacture centrifuges.  They’ll have the ability to monitor those sites.  They’ll have the ability to confirm that the centrifuges that need to be taken out of operation are done so and are effectively locked up.

This is the kind of access that the IAEA has never had to a country’s nuclear program.  And it’s why we continue to be confident that this deal will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- because it shuts down every pathway that Iran has to developing a nuclear weapon.  

Q    Speaking of access, it was revealed in the hearing today that I think the IAEA will have to rely on Iran to provide samples from certain facilities -- one, Parchin, was named.  Is that correct?  The IAEA will have to rely on Iran to provide access to samples at Parchin and other sites for its investigation?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, for a detail like that, I’d refer you to the IAEA about this.  I’ll see if I can follow up.  I mean, it’s not as if the IAEA can enter Parchin through force.  But contingent on this agreement -- and this is why this is important -- there was a lot of time spent in here about whether or not the international community would insist that Iran address the potential military dimensions of their nuclear program in the context of this deal.

And there was a lot of suspicion -- a lot of Republicans stood up and said that this had to be part of any agreement.  

That's exactly what we’ve delivered in this instance.  We have delivered Iran’s commitment that they will provide the IAEA with the needed access and information that those nuclear experts need to be able to finalize their report on the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, and that access and information needs to be provided in advance of October 15th.

If I would have stood here in late June and said we're going to have all of the -- the IAEA is going to have all of the information and access they need to resolve questions about -- or to write their report about Iran’s nuclear program by October 15th, you would have looked at me skeptically.  That's the charitable way to say it.  Not that you aren’t now.  (Laughter.) 

Q    So just to circle back --  

MR. EARNEST:  But that's part of your job description.  The point is -- (laughter) -- I don't take it personally.  The point is that this is a situation in which our critics, prior to the deal being written, criticized the deal before it was revealed because they were skeptical that it was ever going to reach this bar.  But yet that's exactly what we’ve done.  We’ve delivered even ahead of the expectations of our most ardent critics in this regard.

Q    So just to circle back, the fact that the IAEA -- and I encourage you to look at these other instances which you say you're not familiar with -- if they missed Syria, if they missed Libya, if they missed Iraq, going years back, you're still confident that this time it’s going to be different?

MR. EARNEST:  What I’m confident of is that in those instances that you've described, the IAEA investigators didn't have the kind of access to those countries’ nuclear programs that they will to Iran’s.  And that's why we can be confident that because of this tough inspections regime, that we can shut down every pathway that Iran has to nuclear weapon, including the covert path. 


Q    Secretary Moniz told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that the U.S. does not have a copy of the agreement between the IAEA and Iran on the chain of custody for the fissile material that will be moved out of their program under the agreement.  Without that, and without knowing that, how can we trust what is going to happen?

MR. EARNEST:  Bill, we do know what the agreement is between Iran and the IAEA.  It’s not something that I can discuss in this setting, but it is something that can be discussed in classified setting between senior members of the administration and members of Congress. 

Q    The Secretary said he didn't have a copy of it, he doesn't know.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, there are two different -- you're actually conflating two different things that are important.  There’s one thing between having a copy of the document and knowing exactly what’s in it. 

The United States and our negotiating partners -- all the P5+1 -- are aware of those agreements.  And U.S. officials are prepared to brief members of Congress in a classified setting about the details about those arrangements.  

Q    Members of Congress are also upset that the U.N. vote was allowed to proceed before they had a chance to fully review the document.  They refer back to Secretary Kerry’s testimony yesterday which suggests that once the U.N. has acted, for all practical purposes international sanctions are off no matter what the U.S. Congress does.  And in fact, that would make it very difficult to further sanction Iran if there were ever any falling away from the agreement.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the first thing that we have to recognize is that the sanctions are not off until Iran has reduced their stockpile by 98 percent, until they have disconnected 13,000 centrifuges, until they have rendered harmless their heavy-water reactor at Arak, and until they have complied with the IAEA’s request for access and information to determine the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.  So that is what’s going to be required for this deal to move forward.  And again -- 

Q    All of which they're expected to do in six months?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, actually, the information and access about the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program is actually something that has to be provide in 90 days, in even less than six months.  But that's why we continue to be confident that -- and we’ll have verification measures in place to ensure that they are complying with the terms of this agreement.  

If they don't, this deal won’t move forward.  But it’s not going to move forward in any instance until all of those steps and many more have been taken by Iran.


Q    Another subject.  The House is poised to pass the Enforce the Law for Sanctuary Cities Act.  I saw you put out a statement of administration policy that the President would veto this bill. 

MR. EARNEST:  That's correct.

Q    Can I understand, on the underlying issues, does the White House have a concern about so-called sanctuary cities and the notion that a locality can decide on its own to basically not enforce the law? 

MR. EARNEST:  One of the characteristic elements of our broken immigration system is the significant challenges that the federal government and federal law enforcement officials have had in enforcing the law by working closely with local law enforcement officials.

And this is something that the United States Congress had the opportunity to fix in the context of comprehensive immigration reform legislation.  But this fix was blocked by Republicans in the House of Representatives.  That's why the President acted on his own; and in acting on his own, the President actually scrapped the Secure Communities Program.  This was the program that previously codified the relationship between the federal government and local law enforcement that actually caused a number of cities to declare themselves sanctuary cities.  

What the President directed his team to move forward on is the implementation of something called the Priority Enforcement Program that would allow state and -- state, local, and federal law enforcement officials to better coordinate and better cooperate.  And we're starting to see cities sign up for and engage in conversations about establishing that program.  And it will -- we believe that it will allow us to make better progress in achieving what the President believes should be our top priority when it comes to immigration reform, which is making sure that we're concentrating our limited law enforcement resources on those individuals who pose a threat to public safety.

Q    And do you believe that even with the fix -- what you call a fix that you've been able to do through executive action -- is it still a significant problem?  You see certainly -- I mean, this is why the House is acting on it today. There’s a belief that you have basically cities that have just declared we're not going to abide by the law.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, we do know what would make it better is if we had the opportunity to further ramp up interior enforcement of dangerous individuals; if we could provide law enforcement officials with additional tools, including enhanced penalties for repeat immigration violators; if we could increase the penalties on those who engage in human trafficking and document fraud; and if we could make sure that those individuals who are convicted of repeated gang-related offenses or repeated drunk driving offenses, that those individuals would be deportable.  All of those were things that were included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill that Republicans blocked.

So Marco Rubio made this expression famous.  But he was right about this, that the closest thing we have to amnesty in this country is the current broken immigration system.  And that's the current broken immigration system that Republicans refuse to fix and that Republicans, by refusing to fix, have perpetuated. 

So when it comes to law enforcement and making sure that we are cracking down and focusing on those individuals who pose a threat to public safety, it’s the President who has done far more than anything Congress has done to try to protect our communities. But there is more that should be done and more that Congress needs to do to put forward a comprehensive proposal to address many of these challenges.

Q    And then quickly, one other subject.  Can you just bring me up to speed -- what is the President’s position on the issue of transgender people serving in the military?

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, as you know, the military last week announced a review to examine this exact question.  And I know that Secretary Carter and others have indicated that individuals who are capable of serving their country, that they fit all of the requirements, shouldn’t be prevented from doing so based on these sort of gender-related questions.

Now, the key here is implementing them, and implementing them in a way that the military can move forward with their critically important mission.  That's exactly what the military is studying right now.

Q    But I think you -- I think there’s an answer in there.  But does the President believe that transgender people have a right to serve in the military?  That the military’s effective ban on transgender people serving should be lifted?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we certainly welcome the decision that was announced by the Secretary of Defense to review how they could implement a change to that policy.

Q    I’m not asking about the review.  But he believes that ultimately -- it’s a question of how to make it -- how to lift it.  I mean, right now you have effectively the military defines transgender as a mental disorder.  So that should end, that the effective ban should be lifted?  It isn’t a question of how that ban will be implemented?   

MR. EARNEST:  That's not a -- I guess my point is that's not an irrelevant question when you're the Commander-in-Chief; that the practicality of implementing this policy makes a difference.  And so that's exactly what the Department of Defense is looking at.  I noted in their statement that they have said that they would conduct this review with a bias in favor of changing this policy.  The President certainly supports that approach.

Q    And that people who are transgender should be able to serve?  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is exactly what the Department of Defense is looking into, and the President is supportive of them conducting that review. 

Q    But the question is, should they have a right to serve?  It sounds like you're giving me an answer, but I just want to -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m doing my best.  And what is relevant here is the way in which the policy can be successfully implemented.  And that's exactly what the Department of Defense is reviewing.  But they're reviewing the implementation of this policy with an eye toward, with a bias in favor of, lifting the ban.  And the President certainly does believe that that's the right approach. 

Q    How soon should that be done?

MR. EARNEST:  I think they’ve set a timeline for conducting this review.  I don't remember what it is off the top of my head, but you can check with them.  But I know that they have -- it’s a 60 -- I think it’s a 90- or 120-day review.  But they can get you that detail.


Q    I want to go back to ISIS.  So the FBI Director, James Comey, said not only that ISIS is a greater threat to the United States than al Qaeda, but he said specifically because they use encrypted communications that the FBI doesn't have access to.  They just cannot access this.  And he describes it as not only trying to find needles in a haystack but invisible needles that they just -- because of the way that they're communicating.

Can you talk about that specific challenge and how is it that the United States is dealing with that in light of that problem?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Suzanne, this is a thorny political issue -- or a thorny policy issue, I should say.  And here’s the reason it’s complicated.  The President is a strong advocate of robust encryption, that robust encryption does protect the privacy and security of typical Americans.  And they should have access to -- when they're using technology, they should have access to technology that protects their privacy.

At the same time, there’s a legitimate public interest -- an interest that's even shared by many tech executives -- in ensuring that that encryption technology can't essentially aid and abet somebody who wants to carry out a terrible act of violence.

So that is essentially the question that's before policymakers.  And it’s a question that law enforcement officials, like Director Comey, have to confront in a very real way.  And so this will be a policy that we’ll have to work through.

The President has discussed this issue quite a bit.  I think in terms of understanding the President’s position on this, I would encourage you to take a look at the interview that he conducted with Re/code.  The President was in California for a cybersecurity summit that his administration convened at Stanford University.  And after that summit, he had a conversation with Re/code, in which they discussed this policy issue.

Q    So is Comey’s hands tied essentially?  The FBI’s hands tied in terms of trying to figure out where the ISIS militants are because of the encrypted communications?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what Director Comey would hasten to add to that declaration is that our law enforcement officials here in this country that are responsible for keeping us safe work closely with our intelligence community, with our homeland security community to deploy a range of measures to protect the American people.  

And it requires a lot of work.  It requires a lot of expertise.  It requires a lot of dedication.  But our men and women in law enforcement and the intel community and in homeland security are up to the task.  And we're proud of the work that they do.


Q    Josh, two questions.  First, I want to go back to Sandra Bland.  Is the Justice Department -- is the White House aware of anything by the Justice Department -- if the Justice Department is looking at the issue of Sandra Bland right now?  Because when there are cases similar to this, we hear that they are watching before they step in.  Have you heard anything from the Justice Department that they are looking at the activities -- specifically last night, hearing that there’s now going to be a new autopsy of Sandra Bland?

MR. EARNEST:  April, I’d refer to the Department of Justice for exactly what they're doing in this specific matter.

Q    All right.  But you don't know anything about them just at least just watching the case?

MR. EARNEST:  I understand that they are monitoring the situation, but it’s the local prosecutor right now that is conducting the investigation.  The Department of Justice is aware that that local investigation is ongoing.  And I’m not aware that the Department of Justice has opened their own investigation, but that's obviously something that they would announce.

Q    So just monitoring -- okay, great.  Now, on the issue of intelligence, and in listening to the briefing, understanding what happened, with Comey talking about the needle in the haystack -- on issues of intelligence, as the years have progressed and passed, there are different phases and layers of how we have to deal with how this nation and how this government is dealing with threats here in the United States and abroad.  

How would you rank the intelligence when it comes to, here in the United States, trying to find that needle in the haystack, and then also trying to find out about other countries, like Iran?  During the Bush years, there was faulty intelligence.  Have things changed?  Has the intelligence gotten better when it comes to the global fight against terror on the intelligence front, specifically when you had to bring in -- other countries had to ask for an Iran deal?  And then, when you hear Comey saying, it’s like a needle in a haystack, how would you rank our intelligence both here at home and abroad?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess I’d say a couple of things about this.  The first is, there are tremendous capabilities that our intelligence community use to keep us safe and to protect our interests around the globe.

We live in a world in which our adversaries and, in some cases, our enemies are very inventive and creative and persistent in trying to develop new ways to evade detection and carry out acts of violence.  And that's why it’s critically important that our intelligence community remain vigilant about the threat.  They do.  And these are seasoned experts.  And they are themselves creative in taking the steps that they believe are necessary to try to keep us safe.

The other thing that is critically important to our security is the effective relationship that our intelligence community has with intelligence services around the world, and that by sharing information and coordinating our efforts with other countries’ intelligence capabilities, we can significantly enhance our own security.  And this is true -- we talk a lot about the important security relationship that exists between the United States and Israel.  Intelligence-sharing between the United States and Israel is significant.  And that is certainly something that contributes to our national security.

In terms of -- I think the other thing I would do, April, for this question, I’d refer you to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  This is a position that was created near the end of the Bush administration that sought to make the communication of intelligence to the President more effective.

There are a variety of government agencies that have an intelligence mission.  And it’s the responsibility of the Director of National Intelligence to try to coordinate that mission to make sure that each agency that's engaged in some of this work is leveraging their particular expertise to maximize the benefits to the country and to our country’s decision-makers.  But obviously the Director of National Intelligence can tell you a little bit more about that.

Q    And lastly, how should the average American take the information from Comey saying, looking for the lone wolf, or possible threats like a needle in the haystack?  That leaves some people uneasy.  How is the average American supposed to digest that information?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, April, we’ve long acknowledged that one of the most difficult threats to prevent is a lone wolf attack, and that's because typically somebody who is a lone wolf is by definition not conspiring with a large group of individuals, but rather is acting on their own to take certain steps.  And trying to stop that person before he or she acts is very challenging, and it’s something that our law enforcement and homeland security officials are very mindful of.  But they have a variety of measures and steps and strategies that they can employ to prevent a lone wolf from acting.

So for some more information about that, I’d refer you to the FBI.  They have announced just in the last several weeks arrests of people who could have been -- had they been able to follow through with their actions -- individuals who were acting on their own to carry out terrible acts of violence.  So they can certainly fill you in on their activities.


Q    Josh, thank you.  Returning to Iran, if we might.  Earlier in this briefing, you were asked about the prospect of the IAEA being forced to rely on Iran to provide samples from sensitive sites, a prospect that seems to be enshrined in the agreement between Iran and the IAEA.  And you didn't seem to want to address this very directly.  Rather, you touted the fact that the administration has, in exceeding the expectations of its critics, as you put it, delivered Iran’s commitment.  I don't think you want to be in the position of delivering commitments from Iran.  You want to be in the position of delivering compliance from Iran.  And so I wondered what you can say to us to assure us that there is not going to be some gaping hole in the chain of custody where the IAEA’s sample evidence is concerned.

MR. EARNEST:  James, I do feel confident in telling you that this administration, working closely with the international community, did deliver Iran’s commitment.  And if Iran doesn't follow through on that commitment, we have a range of steps that we can take to hold them to account.  That is the essence of this agreement, and that takes a couple of forms.  The first form is this agreement includes snapback provisions.  So if we detect that Iran is now following through on their commitment, we can put the sanctions regime back in place.  This is the sanctions regime that our most ardent critics believe and agree has been critically successful.  

The other option -- the other fact of the matter is we continue to have all the options on the table that the President previously had.  And that includes a military option.

Q    Can you address the chain of custody issue?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know the details of the chain of custody issue.  What I can tell you is -- I can tell you that before Iran receives any sanctions relief under this joint agreement, they must provide to the IAEA all of the information and access that the IAEA says they need to complete their report about the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

So again, I know that our critics are suggesting that there is some kind of side deal going on.  What I’m suggesting to you is that this is actually a critically important part of the agreement.

Q    What it sounds to me, though, is that the administration wouldn’t have a problem with it if the IAEA is itself content to receive evidence or soil samples, or what have you, that doesn’t have a proper chain of custody.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the IAEA is an international body of independent nuclear experts that can determine what access they feel like they need in order to complete their report.  And what we will all have the opportunity to do is to read that report after it’s been written.  And I’m confident that part of that report will at least be a description of the kind of access that they needed and received in order to write the report.

Q    When Ambassador Rice briefed us yesterday, we had a colloquy in which she basically stated that the Congress has received copies of everything that the United States is in a position to deliver in terms of documentation relating to this deal.  I think the way she put it was words to the effect of, we’re not in possession of anything we could give to the Congress that we haven't, with respect to documentation associated with this deal.

Is it contemplated that, going forward, by virtue of the mechanisms that have been put in place as part of the final agreement, there could be new documentation generated?  And if that’s true, does the administration commit here, now, to continuing to provide Congress with all available documentation related to the implementation of this deal?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any lingering documentation that’s out there.  So that’s why it’s hard to confirm what’s essentially a hypothetical.  But what I do know is what Secretary -- I’m sorry, what Ambassador Rice said yesterday, which is that all of the documents that the United States has in our possession from this agreement have been forwarded to Congress.  What I will acknowledge is that some of those documents are documents that have not been released publicly because they do contain sensitive information.  But they are all documents that are available for the review of every member of the United States Congress.

There’s additional information that the United States and our negotiators are aware of that we can, in a classified setting, share with members of Congress.  So there aren’t actual documents that we can provide, but there’s information that’s relevant to the negotiations.  And we have committed to sharing as much of that information as is deemed necessary by members of Congress.  

So that’s the position that we’re in.  What I’ll say is, that is an ongoing commitment, which is that we will continue to provide information and answer questions.  But what we do believe is that Congress is now in possession of all of the information that they need to evaluate this particular agreement.  And that’s exactly what we expect that they’ll do over the course of the next 60 days.  

Q    Final question.  I want to return to the subjects that Kristen raised.  In your answer to Kristen, you spoke about the problem of what you call violent extremism.  And we know that a lot of attention has been paid to that formulation, and why it isn’t a different formulation.  But in your answer, when you yourself were talking about the problem of violent extremism, twice you went on to talk about the need for building a platform for moderate Muslim leaders, and finding moderate voices, particularly in the Muslim community.  

So I just wonder, Josh -- if we could return to this question -- why is it that you see the answers to this problem in the Muslim community, but you don’t see fit to identify the problem itself as occurring in the Muslim community?  You want to talk about the violent extremism.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, James, I think Kristen was asking me directly about ISIL, and we do know that ISIL extremists wrap a lot of their ideology -- their hateful, nihilistic ideology -- in the trappings of the religion of Islam.  And it makes sense that we would engage leaders in the Muslim community to assist us as we counter, and even rebut, that messaging.  But that’s certainly not our only strategy.  There are a variety of ways that we can both degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, but also counter their efforts in communities both in the United States but around the world.

Q    Is there some other religion, besides Islam today, that you say is fomenting violent extremism?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are people of all religions who certainly are carrying out acts of violence.  But there is no doubt that this very dangerous terrorist organization in ISIL has sought to wrap themselves in the religion of Islam to try to I guess sugarcoat their hateful ideology.


Q    Hi, two questions.  One, I wondered if the administration had a view on a bill that the House -- I think they’re voting on it now, about genetically modified food.  It would block mandatory labeling of genetically modified food by state and local governments, and establish a voluntary labeling standard through the USDA.  Are you familiar with it?  Do you have a thought?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m sorry, Anita, I’m actually not familiar with that bill, but we’ll get you some information and follow up with you.  

Q    Sponsored by someone from your hometown.  

MR. EARNEST:  Oh, is that right?  We’ll go and collect some information about it and get back to you.

Q    Secondly, I wondered if you were aware that, just before the briefing, Senator Cruz was across the street at Lafayette Park.  It was a protest against the nuclear deal.  Among other things, he was very vocal about how, because of the sanctions being lifted eventually, that there would be so much money flowing into the country that the country would use the money to “kill Americans.”  Do you have any thoughts about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Anita, I was aware that Senator Cruz was planning to hold a pro-war rally in front the White House today.  I didn’t see actually how many people turned out for the rally, but it doesn’t sound like he said anything there that he hasn’t said anywhere else.

Q    Pro-war rally?  Is that what you just called it?

MR. EARNEST:  I did.

Q    You have no other thoughts about it?

MR. EARNEST:  I think that pretty much says it all.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  So even though the administration is familiar with the contents of these bilateral agreements between Iran and the IAEA, will there be any effort to obtain the documents themselves so that administration officials can view the actual documents?

MR. EARNEST:  Jordan, as I mentioned earlier -- well, let me say one thing about this.  The other thing that I think is a relevant fact here is that the IAEA has these kinds of agreements with more than a hundred countries around the world.  And these are agreements between the IAEA and individual countries.  The IAEA is an independent, international body of nuclear experts that is responsible for a variety of things, including carrying out inspections like this.

What’s true is that the United States and our negotiating partners are aware of the details of those agreements, of those conversations, and is prepared to share them with members of Congress.  We obviously can’t do it in a setting like this, but it is a conversation that can occur in a classified setting, and it’s a conversation that senior administration officials have committed to having.

Q    Yeah, but is there a reason why you haven't seen the actual document?  Is there some sort of rule preventing that?  Some sort of protocol, diplomatic protocol that’s preventing administration officials from viewing the actual document?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the protocol, in this case, is that this is an agreement between Iran and IAEA.  But this is an agreement that Iran agreed to because of the pressure applied by the United States and our negotiating partners in which we said, unless you provide the IAEA the necessary access and information so that the IAEA can complete their report, then we’re not going to give you any sanctions relief.  And that’s -- I guess I should say, unless and until they provide that access and information to the IAEA, no sanctions relief will be provided.

Q    And on a different subject.  There was a bill introduced in the House this week -- the House and the Senate -- sponsored by David Cicilline and Senator Merkley that would have a lot of anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals.  And I’m wondering if the White House has a position on that bill.

MR. EARNEST:  Jordan, I can tell you that we applaud the efforts of members of the House and Senate to put forth comprehensive legislation to fight discrimination.  And while we -- we’re going to review the language that they’ve put forward.  But while we do, let me just say that the administration shares the goal of ensuring that all Americans are treated equally under federal law.  And we believe that legislation is a good next step in the right direction.


Q    Josh, going back to the highway bill, you told Julia that the White House is still reviewing the paperwork.  But as a matter of general principle, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a target of one of the pay-fors.  And does the White House agree with Republicans in Congress that it’s a good target to use as a piggybank when needed?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are two reasons why I’m not going to answer your question.  The first is that it’s hard to talk about -- 

Q    That’s honest.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I’m trying to be.  The first is that I’m not aware that this is a pay-for that’s been previously offered.  So therefore, it’s hard to talk about it in principle because this is the only sort of example of it, at least that I’ve seen -- and I could be wrong about it.

Q    I believe there is one other example --

MR. EARNEST:  Okay, so it’s hard for me to speculate on the actual -- or opine on the principle at stake here.  

The second is that the market sensitivity of this particular policy is high.  And so even just sort of speculating about it, or opining on it on principle could have an unintended impact on the financial markets.  And I surely don't need that today.  (Laughter.) 

Q    Secondly, on the highway bill, you mentioned again today that's it’s the preferred vehicle for moving the Export-Import Bank reauthorization.  However, the highway bill does not look like a sure thing at all, given what members on both sides of the aisle have said in the last couple days.  Do you have a plan B for moving Ex-Im?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think you heard from the President yesterday that this is an important priority.  And there are some members of Congress who agree, and even a majority in Congress who agree that the Ex-Im Bank is a priority -- a minority who do not agree.  But I think just about everybody in Congress agrees that it’s a priority to make sure that we fund our transportation system in a timely fashion.  

And so I don't have a plan B to tell you about.  We're going to continue to urge members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- to focus on making sure that they fund the service transportation system in this country appropriately, and that they do it on time.  And when they do, they should include a provision to ensure the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank.

Q    And then, lastly, you said yesterday there would be a list today of lawmakers traveling to Africa with the President, with the delegation.  Do you have that list today?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  I saw the list.  They are going through it to make sure that it’s final, and so it’s something that we’ll provide before we're wheels up tonight.  It’s a delegation of about -- yesterday I said it was more than a dozen.  I think the last time I looked at the list, it was about 20 members of Congress.  But we will have that before we're wheels up today. 

Q    If we say some of the names, will you say yes?  (Laughter.) 

MR. EARNEST:  No, because it’s not finalized yet.  But we’ll get that to you before the end of the day.


Q    I’m looking at the IAEA statement from July 14th when the deal was announced, and they're calling this a roadmap.  They're not calling this the ideal.  I’m getting a little confused, though, because after listening to Susan Rice yesterday she said she acknowledged that there was an agreement that did not fall within the documents you could present to Congress.  So you're saying today it’s not a side deal.  So I’m a little confused about whether this is just a game of semantics?  Or why -- if it’s not a side deal, then why can't you give the documents to Congress?  It’s saying here in the statement that they will have -- it’s a roadmap.  And they said they will have something more definitive, concrete -- a document by December 15th.  Does that mean that we're going to have to wait -- Congress is going to have to wait to get that document by December 15th?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what they will know by October 15th is whether or not Iran followed through with their commitment to provide the IAEA with the necessary information and access to complete the report.  I believe that December 15th is the target date for writing the report, at which point the report will be made public and people will have the opportunity to review it. 

But again, the reason that I do think some of our critics -- sort of in their desperation to try to kill this thing -- are playing semantics games is that -- again, the critical component of this agreement, is Iran limiting their nuclear program and cutting off every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon in exchange for sanctions relief?  

And what we have said is that you have to take all those steps to cut off every pathway you have to a nuclear weapon, and you have to reduce your uranium stockpile by 98 percent.  You have to disconnect 13,000 centrifuges.  You have to render harmless your heavy-water reactor.

But the other thing that you have to do is you have to provide this information and access to the IAEA.  And that's why I would describe this as an important component of the agreement and not be dismissed by some as some sort of side deal.

Q    Yes, but if it’s an important component of the agreement, you might want to have some documents to provide Congress.  It just seems like a game of semantics.  But let’s move on.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me just say that what this is, though, is that this is the United States and the international community using our leverage to benefit the IAEA and their investigation of the potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.  So that's why it makes sense that the documents and agreement is between Iran and the IAEA.  But I don't want to -- 

Q    -- write that.  I’m writing a story right now, but trying to describe exactly if this is a side deal or not.  I used side deal yesterday.  I’m not using side deal.  I’m saying it falls without -- it’s just getting really ridiculous and confusing.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would acknowledge that it’s complicated.  But I think we're -- I think our position on this, though, is crystal clear, which is that unless Iran cooperates with the IAEA in providing them the access and information that they need to write their report about the potential military dimensions of their nuclear program, then Iran is not going to get any sanctions relief.  And the deal won’t go forward because they’ve been clear -- 

Q    I think we understand.  


Q    We're just trying to write a story, and it’s getting very -- almost like cumbersome to write it when you're saying you don't have the documents, but it’s not a side deal.  It just -- it doesn't seem right.  

But anyway, let me move on to the issue of countering violent extremism.  Michael McCaul, the Homeland Security Chairman in the House, has a bill that passed out last week that would create a center for countering violent extremism in the Homeland Security Department.  You're probably aware of this.  But I’m wondering -- I haven’t seen whether you support that creation of that center, or whether you fear -- as the ACLU does -- that it could unfairly target the Muslim communities and also to create more fear within the Muslim communities that they might be intelligence-gathering on them, instead of actually helping them prevent extremism within their own communities? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Susan, what we’ve made clear on principle is that our efforts to counter violent extremism are going to be more effective if we can actually work with individual communities and work with the leaders of individual communities all across the country to counter this effort -- to counter this effort to radicalize some vulnerable citizens.  

And it’s the leaders in these communities that have their own -- they have their own vested interests in trying to counter those radicalization efforts, and that we're going to be more effective in countering those efforts if we're actually able to partner with leaders and partner with these communities to try to prevent radical ideology and hateful ideology from inspiring people to carry out acts of violence.

And so that's a principle that has been in place here for quite some time.  And we found -- we know how effective that is.

Q    Congressman McCaul says there’s not enough resources being devoted to it, and it’s not -- there’s not any kind of agency governing it.  What do you think of his legislation about this center for -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess I would observe.  It sounds to me like maybe we have our first Republican in the House of Representatives who is ready to come out against sequester-level funding for non-discretionary defense programs because this is a program that would be affected by the sequester on the non-defense side, but yet is -- even Chairman McCaul would agree -- that it’s critically important to our national security.

Q    But that's a sidestepping of the -- do you support that center?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I actually think -- he’s saying that there aren’t enough resources for the program, but yet he supports legislation that would gut funding for the program.  I think I’m taking on his concerns directly.  

Q    No, but do you support the center that he --

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t looked at the details of his specific proposal, but we're happy to.


Q    Thank you.  Hey, funding.  So, this morning, House Speaker Boehner suggested that given the few legislative days left until the end of the fiscal year, there would likely have to be a short-term CR or funding resolution.  

MR. EARNEST:  Few legislative days, right?  (Laughter.)  I’m no math expert.  I think there are like 70 days between now and the end of the fiscal year.

Q    He said legislative days.  

MR. EARNEST:  All right.  At least he was honest.

Q    Is the White House -- is the President prepared to support a short-term -- or concede that the short-term deal will be necessary? 

MR. EARNEST:  What we believe is necessary is that in the 70 days that remain -- whether Congress is in session or not -- Republicans have a responsibility to take Democrats in the Congress up on their offer to trying to negotiate a budget agreement that would prevent a government shutdown.  

And we have seen these kinds of talks between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill be effective in trying to identify common ground.  And we believe that that would occur again if Republicans, like I said, would take up Democrats on their offer to have those conversations.  We believe that is the best way for us to resolve this problem, and even -- again, even if Congress may not be in session, there still is no reason that those kinds of conversations can't occur.  

We certainly should not wait until the government has already been shut down before Republicans start to engage in those conversations.  That's unfortunately what happened last time.  We can't repeat that mistake.

Q    So are you saying you would oppose a short-term CR? 

MR. EARNEST:  What I’m suggesting is that the -- in the 70 days between now and the end of the fiscal year, that Republicans should sit down with Democrats and broker the kind of bipartisan agreement that’s been good for the country and good for our economy in the past.

Q    Thanks, Josh.


Q    Josh, on your pro-war remark, does the White House regard any and all opponents of Iran nuclear deal as pro-war? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, they can explain for themselves.  Obviously, there is at least one Republican *member of Congress [candidate for president] who said that he would be prepared if he wins the presidency in the next election, he would be prepared to carry out a military strike against Iran on Inauguration Day.  So I haven’t heard Senator Cruz’s position on this.  Maybe he disagrees with that.  But he’s welcome to say so.

Q    But you don't agree that's the case for all opponents of the deal, do you?  

Q    Well, I think that all opponents will have the opportunity to explain why they would oppose the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and that is through diplomacy.  They can all make their own individual case.  But I think that Senator Cruz -- again, he can speak for himself.  But my understanding is that he’s been sympathetic to this view that the next President should be prepared to carry out a military strike against Iran on Inauguration Day.

Q    Also, what’s the President been doing all day?  His public schedule is fairly barren.  (Laughter.)  He’s got a presidential daily brief, and then his departure.  What’s he doing? 

MR. EARNEST:  There are a couple meetings that the President is doing today -- some of them related to his Africa trip.  One thing I can -- I might as well go ahead and tell you about, I don't know if I’m making news here. 

Q    BBC.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, exactly.  So I guess I’m not -- unless Bill has got the scoop here.  The President is doing an interview this afternoon with BBC.  And I would expect that that would be an opportunity for the President to discuss both his upcoming trip to Africa, but also the historic agreement with Iran.  So obviously there’s significant international interest in both of those stories.

Those interviews will be broadcast for the first time at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time tonight.  So you can set your DVRs.  

Q    Is it going to be broadcast?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m sorry?

Q    Is it going to be broadcast somewhere earlier?  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:  That sounds like a pre-broadcast, not a re-broadcast.  (Laughter.)  So -- 11:00 p.m.

Jared, I’ll give you the last one. 

Q    Thanks, Josh.  I also have a question about the President’s schedule today.  Will he be dropping by the Community Oriented Policing Initiative at the EEOB today? 

MR. EARNEST:  I don't believe so, actually.  I know that the Attorney General was planning to be there.  But I don't believe that's on the President’s schedule today.

Q    In that context, just to follow up on April’s questions about Sandra Bland.  The White House has put out these initiatives, and they’ve been going for some time now.  I just want to ask in terms of process, when these news stories come up and we start to learn about yet another video or yet another incident of these things happening, how do these initiatives, which have originated at the White House, adapt or take this new information in?  Is this something where they have a mission?  The President has given them a purpose, and they essentially go forward along those guidelines?  Or do they say, with each new incident, well, let’s try to figure out how this fits into the overall narrative?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, my first instinct is to tell you that -- and I think this is obviously from somebody who has following this closely like you have been, which is that each of these individuals -- or each of these incidents occur in unique circumstances.  And it underscores the need that was discussed in the President’s 21st Century Policing Task Force to work with individual communities to tailor a solution to their communities.

And the thing that we know is that when we build stronger relationships between local law enforcement agencies and the communities they're sworn to serve and protect, that they can operate more effectively.

And that's the principle that we're seeking to apply all across the country.  And, yes, this means that it applies in a lot of different ways in different communities.  But the underlying principle is essentially that one.

There is one other thing, and you alluded -- one other common thread in a lot of this that you alluded to, which is the prominent role that video has played in telling some of these stories.  And that's why the Department of Justice has advanced this pilot program for body-worn cameras.  There are a number of local law enforcement agencies that have acted on their own to ensure that their law enforcement officers are wearing cameras. 

There is more that we need to understand in terms of the impact of this particular technology on policing.  But it certainly does indicate that there’s some potential associated with body-worn cameras.  And that's something that the Justice Department is obviously working on.

Q    I don't want to read too much into the cause and effect, but the thrust for body-worn cameras came after several incidents where video was utilized -- civilian video was utilized.  And that was something that spurred a legislative proposal and the White House’s proposal.

What I’m asking is, is there a need for the Community Oriented Policing and the 21st Century Policing Task Force -- is there a need for them to ingest each new incident and react to it?  And a separate question, and this may be better able to get a specific answer out of you because that one is kind of vague.  When we see -- when we hear from the Attorney General today, should there be some kind of broad message to police departments, something stronger than we’ve seen in the past to say, this is happening too often?  That's not a language we’ve necessarily heard from the President or the Attorney General that -- I’m seeing April saying, yes, he has -- but that this needs to stop, and that the police methods need to be criticized more directly.

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President has been pretty outspoken on a lot of this, so I’d encourage you to check his previous comments.

But the President has also been just as clear about the respect that he has for our men and women in law enforcement that put on the uniform every day.  They walk out the front door of their house prepared to put their life on the line for people in the community they're sworn to serve and protect.  That's an honorable profession.

All the more reason that efforts to improve their ability to do their job and to keep their community safe is something that we should spend some time working on, and that's exactly what the President’s task force was focused on.  That's what the Department of Justice has been focused, and this will continue to be a priority moving forward.

Q    Are any of them invited to the community policing event? 

MR. EARNEST:  We can get you a list of people who are involved in that event.

Q    Josh, quickly before you go, any reaction to Donald Trump visiting the border --


Q    -- and saying that the border -- (laughter).  

Q    It was a nice try. 

Q    Nice try. 

2:00 P.M. EDT