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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/3/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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

12:50 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Monday.  I’m glad to see that the month of August did not dissuade you from participating today.  So appreciate you making it.

I don’t have any announcements at the top, Josh, so we can go straight to your questions.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  In Texas, the attorney general, Ken Paxton, has been charged with a felony and booked into jail.  And I know that you tend not to weigh in on criminal investigations, particularly those in states, but in this instance, this attorney general has really been the driving force behind the legal challenges to the President’s immigration policies and has really been a thorn in your side on some other environmental issues, including the Clean Power Plan.  So I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about how his criminal investigation may affect the President’s agenda.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, I heard about the news reports of this particular legal matter only recently, so I wouldn’t weigh in on what appears to be an ongoing investigation.  The Department of Justice continues to be an aggressive advocate for the President’s policies, including the executive actions that the President took at the end of last year to bring some much-needed accountability to our broken immigration system.

And there has, in fact, been a concerted partisan effort to try to undermine the implementation of those rules.  But we continue to aggressively advocate in the courts to continue the implementation of those rules, and we’re going to do that regardless of any sort of legal problems that may be faced by some of the plaintiffs.

Q    And on the Clean Power Plan that you’re going to be discussing, the President will be discussing later today, already a lot of reaction from both sides of the aisle in the presidential race.  And one of the things that seems notable about what the Republicans have been saying is they’ve been making some specific criticisms about costs or other factors that they don’t like in this, but they seem to be shying away from the kind of blanket ignoring of climate change as a problem that you have discussed it being the way that they had in the past and that you pointed out they had in the past.  So I’m wondering if you see a shift there, and whether Republicans seem more willing to embrace the issue as an issue, even if they don’t like your specific plan.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, that’s an interesting observation.  I had not reached that conclusion.  It sounds like you may have studied some of these statements from the candidates more closely than I did.

But look, if acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step in trying to solve it, then we welcome the renewed interest by Republicans in confronting this issue.  The fact is, this is an issue that politicians in Washington have been putting off for too long.  And in this case, I think they have a decent excuse, which is there are some tough choices.  And one of the challenges that we have in our political system is getting our system oriented to focus on addressing problems over the longer term.  And the fact is, that is what has contributed to this becoming a more significant problem over the years.  

And in some ways, this is exactly the kind of issue that the President ran for this office to address.  In 2007 and 2008, much of the President’s rhetoric was directed toward changing business as usual in Washington and confronting the tough issues.  And this is a great example of that.  And that is why you heard the President himself describe this issue, or these rules as the most significant steps that our country has ever taken to fight the causes of climate change and to curb carbon pollution.  

One of the other reasons that we may see at least a slightly muted response from some Republicans is that in designing this rule, the administration has focused on the successful implementation of the rules.  That is why this is all geared toward setting targets that states must meet, but also giving states ample opportunity and freedom to design a plan that will allow them to meet those targets in a way that’s consistent with the needs of the people in their state.

One of the other things that you’ve seen is, since this proposed rule has been made final, the Environmental Protection Agency has considered 4 million different comments from the public about the initial proposed rule that was put forward.  And that’s why in the final rule you see that states have a full year under which they can submit their plans.  We’ve also given states a couple of additional years to begin implementing those plans, all while preserving the incentives that exist on the front end for states to continue to make investments in renewable energy that we know can be good for the planet, can be good for our economy, and can actually save consumers on their utility bills. 

So the approach that we have taken has been to maximize the likelihood of successful implementation.  And that should be an indication to you that this administration is not so much worried about the politics, but actually worried about trying to get these rules right.  Because implementing these rules accurately and successfully will allow us to achieve a significant economic benefit for us to protect public health in a way that we can reduce incidents of asthma and reduce the number of asthma attacks, and also save consumers on their utility bills.

So if successfully implemented, this could benefit the American public in a variety of ways.

Q    And a number of industry groups that are planning to sue the administration over this rule have written already to the administration today asking you to put the rule on hold while those legal challenges play out.  Will the administration grant that request?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any consideration to do that.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to ask you about President Obama’s decision to defend Syrian rebels with air power, even though it’s loyal to the Assad regime.  Is the U.S. concerned that it’s deepening its role in the Syrian conflict, or raising the risk of a direct confrontation with Assad?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me answer that question in a couple of ways.  That first is that the train-and-equip program that the President announced almost a year ago now has been focused on preparing adequately vetted Syrian opposition forces to counter ISIL.  And we’ve indicated that a critical element of our counter-ISIL campaign is finding partners who can take the fight to ISIL on the ground.  The President has said, even in the face of criticism from some Republicans, that he’s not willing to commit a significant number of U.S. military personnel on the ground in a combat role in either Iraq or in Syria.  And we’ve acknowledged for some time that we had a little bit of a head start in Iraq because we had a central government in Iraq that was willing to pursue a multi-sectarian agenda and to lead the military in a multi-sectarian and inclusive way.  And that meant that we did have a fighting force on the ground in Iraq that the United States and our coalition partners could partner with.

And we have seen significant progress in terms of rolling back ISIL gains inside of Iraq.  And the latest statistic is that up to 25 percent of the populated area that was previously controlled by ISIL is now an area -- are now locations where ISIL can no longer enjoy freedom of movement.  

The story is a little bit different in Syria because there is not a fighting force on the ground with which the United States has been -- the United States and our coalition partners has been able to partner with.  We have had some success in partnering with some Kurdish groups on the ground inside of Syria, and we’ve made progress against ISIL, particularly in northern Syria.  But building up the capacity of a force of opposition fighters is something that we’ve been focused on for quite some time.  

And the goal of training and equipping those opposition fighters has been to focus our efforts on ISIL.  And at the commencement of our campaign against ISIL, you’ll recall that the United States sent a clear signal to the Assad regime that they should not interfere with our ongoing counter-ISIL efforts, even inside of Syria.  And that same admonition applies when it comes to the activities of these new Syrian fighter -- or new Syrian forces on the ground that have been trained and equipped by our coalition. 

And there are already steps that our coalition has taken to protect these counter-ISIL fighters from attacks, and we’re prepared to take additional steps, if necessary, so that these fighters who are put on the ground to fight ISIL can succeed in that mission.

Q    Unrelated -- over the weekend, there were reports that the U.S. Olympic committee -- sorry, not U.S. -- the Olympic committee is looking at U.S. cities, three U.S. cities to take the place of Boston, since they dropped their bid.  The President did not publicly campaign for Boston to be considered.  Would he do that for another city?  Or is it now his policy, since he was not successful in getting Chicago to be considered -- is it his policy to stay out of any campaigning for American cities to host the Olympics?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think once the U.S. Olympic committee has selected an American city to bid on the -- I believe it’s the 2024 Games, I’m confident that the President will be supportive of a U.S. bid.  It sounds like there’s still some work to be done to determine exactly which city will mount that effort.  But if the President would willingly lend his support to that bid.

Q    Would he go so far as to -- actually, at that point, I guess maybe he could be out of the White House.  But when he was campaigning for Chicago, he went so far as to travel -- meet with an international body and put his public support behind that.  Is that something that he’s refraining from doing, since he wasn’t successful with Chicago?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t say that.  I don’t know where they are in the process either, and I don’t know exactly when those bids will finally be considered by the international Olympic committee.  But certainly once the U.S. OC has selected an American bid city, I’m confident that the President will be strongly supportive of that American bid.

Let’s move around a little bit.  Nadia.

Q    Just to follow up on Syria -- so basically you’re saying there is an agreement between you, the United States government, and the Syrian regime not to attack the opposition that you are training because they’re fighting ISIS?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would not describe it as an agreement.  In some ways, I would describe it as an admonition -- one that we directed to the Assad regime at the very beginning of this effort last fall, where U.S. officials made clear to the Assad regime that they should not interfere with our ongoing counter-ISIL efforts inside of Syria.  At that point, we were principally referring to any temptation that the Assad regime may have to interfere in the air campaign against ISIL inside of Syria.

What I’m suggesting is that that same admonition that the Assad regime should not interfere in our counter-ISIL activities also applies to the opposition fighters that we have trained and equipped to fight ISIL.  So far, the Assad regime has followed that admonition from the United States, and we encourage them to continue to do so.

Q    So what will happen when these Syrian groups that you are training are engaged with the Assad forces?  How can you stop that?  And it’s not a theoretical question.  I mean, it could happen.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the fact that it could happen is a hypothetical.  At this point, it has not.  And we have made clear that these fighters have been trained and equipped to participate in the counter-ISIL effort.  And our coalition has been involved in that train-and-equip effort, and our opposition will be engaged -- and our coalition will be engaged in protecting their ability to take the fight to ISIL on the ground.  And that means protecting them so that they can carry out that fight against ISIL.

Q    On Syria again, you often say that the Assad regime has no future in running the country.  And now there is talk that the Russians and the United States, and maybe Gulf countries are meeting in Doha as we speak with Secretary Kerry, that they will discuss a plan whereby Assad will be part of the coalition.  Does this contradict your stand, or this is a new development, a new strategy regarding Syria?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Nadia, what we have made clear is that because of the frequency with which the Assad regime has used the military power of that country and directed it at Syrian citizens, that President Assad has lost the legitimacy to lead that country.  That has been our policy for some time, and that continues to be our policy today.

What we have tried to do for years, and admittedly with not a lot of success, is to facilitate a sustainable, durable political process that would allow a transition, a leadership transition, to occur inside Syria.  And we’ve worked hard to try to bring the opposition together, sit them down at the negotiating table to make a determination about this political transition, and we have not made a lot of progress on that.  But we continue to believe that that actually is the way to resolve the situation inside of Syria.

The chaos -- the political chaos that has persisted inside of Syria for so long is what’s allowed extremist organizations like ISIL to gain a foothold in that country.  And to try to bring that violence to an end, we certainly need to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  But to solve this problem over the long term, we need to bring about a political transition inside Syria.

Q    Sorry to push again, but he’s an ally with you against ISIS, but he’s not an ally with you when he’s fighting his own people and killing Syrians?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I would *not describe him as an ally in our fight against ISIL.  Certainly he has indicated, and even ordered, some military action against ISIL fighters.  But we’ve made clear that the Assad regime should not interfere in the ongoing efforts of the United States and our coalition partners to execute a strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.


Q    Iran.  The President has a big speech planned this week that we already know about.  Can you fill us in beyond that on kind of how he’s going to pace himself through the month of August?  And maybe since this week is right in front of us, is he doing daily calls?  Is he talking to individual members of Congress?  Is he letting the pro-deal, lobbying interests work their way first?  What’s he doing?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President is -- I don’t have any specific telephone calls to tell you about, but the President over the course of this week will continue to be in touch with individual members of Congress on this particular issue.  House members have left Washington, as we talked about a little bit at the end of last week.  But United States Senators remain, so I certainly wouldn’t rule out additional conversations or meetings with members of the Senate.

I also would anticipate that the President would be in touch with other stakeholders who have shown an interest in this particular issue.  I can tell you that tomorrow the President will convene a meeting with the leaders of some prominent Jewish American organizations who have shown a particular interest in this issue, primarily because of their concern about its impact on the national security of the nation of Israel.  The President will come prepared to make a strong case that all of you have heard about how he believes that this historic agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon isn’t just in the best interest of the United States, it’s clearly within the national security interest of our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.  And the President will have the opportunity to talk to them about that.

But the other thing, Margaret, I think that is notable is that we’ve made some important progress and are building up some momentum on Capitol Hill, and that over the last 48 to 72 hours, we’ve seen some notable names come out in support of the agreement.  This includes Iraq war veteran, Seth Moulton, from Massachusetts, who talked about his firsthand experience fighting a war in the Middle East -- led him to conclude that this agreement makes a future war in the Middle East at least less likely.  We also saw powerful statements from Adam Schiff, who’s the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee -- somebody who initially described himself as a skeptic of the agreement, who, after hearing the administration’s case, came around to supporting the agreement.  And even Senator Warren indicated her strong support for this deal.  And that’s an indication that we’re building some momentum on Capitol Hill.

But as you’ve heard me say, we’re not taking any of these votes for granted.  And the President and other senior members of his national security team will continue to make this case not just through the remainder of this week, but over the course of this month.

Q    And the leaders tomorrow, is that the kind of usual -- is that the donor group or is that the organization’s group, or is it both in one?  And is it at the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a list of those who will be attending, but we’ll get you some more information about this.

Q    Can I just slide in one more question? 


Q    You may have heard over the weekend a flurry of speculation about whether the Vice President was going to run for President.  

MR. EARNEST:  I did hear a little bit about that.

Q    So has the President talked to him since that flurry of speculation?  And did this come up?  And can you kind of articulate for us, in light of the coverage over the weekend, how the President intends to handle either private discussions with him about it or public speculation between now and September when he decides?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what I would anticipate is that the President will keep his private discussions with the Vice President of the United States private.  And so I don’t have a lot of insight to share with you about either the Vice President’s thinking or his discussions with the President on this issue.

What the Vice President has said publicly is that a possible campaign for the presidency is something that he’s considering, and he anticipated that he would make a decision by the end of this summer.  And so obviously we’re in the first week of August and we’re getting closer to the end of the summer, but we’re not there yet.  And somebody with the extensive experience of the Vice President, and somebody who has made such a significant contribution to the safety and prosperity of his country should be afforded the opportunity to make that decision on a timeframe that he chooses.  And it sounds like that’s exactly what he’s doing.


Q    Back on Iran.  The President seems to have gotten the support that he wanted from the Gulf States -- that Secretary Kerry came out of those meetings and there’s at least tacit vocal support for the deal.  So, one is, what is the White House’s reaction to that?  And two, does that undercut the argument being made by groups such as APEC and others who are saying that this agreement is a threat to the U.S.’s Middle East allies?

MR. EARNEST:  Carol, I saw this right before I came out here, too.  And this is what I think is a rather rough translation of the comments from the Qatari Foreign Minister.  And he said, just in part, all the efforts -- referring to the effort to negotiate an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 -- that have been exerted make this region very secure and very stable.  And that’s an indication, at least on the part of the Foreign Minister of Qatar, that completing a diplomatic agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is in the security interest of at least the nation of Qatar.  

And the President is certainly aware of the impact that this agreement would have on the national security not just of our closest ally in the region, Israel, but also on our partners in the Middle East that are often subject to some of the destabilizing activities of Iran and their proxies in the region.  And that is why the President convened a meeting with some of the leaders of those countries at Camp David earlier this summer to discuss how the United States could deepen our security cooperation with the GCC countries.  And much of that discussion centered on how the GCC countries, with the support of the United States, could better coordinate their own security activities.

And one of the things that was discussed was trying to put in place anti-ballistic missile technology and capabilities that would provide for the joint security of those nations.  And obviously the United States could be supportive of that effort in terms of providing some expertise and equipment and training.  But ultimately this would be a joint capability that would be developed and maintained and operated by those GCC countries.  And that’s indicative of the President’s desire to deepen his cooperation with our GCC partners in the region.  

But as the President himself has said, he would not have pursued this agreement unless he was completely confident that it was in the best national security interest of the United States, first and foremost, but also in the interest of our allies and partners in the region.  And we’re pleased to hear that at least some representatives of those GCC countries have now clearly stated that they agree with the President’s conclusion.

Q    Does this help his case?  And can you answer the question about does it undercut that particular argument that’s --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I do think it undercuts the argument because we have seen some who have made the case that this agreement would have a negative impact on the security situation of our partners in the Middle East.  The President does not at all agree with that assessment.  In fact, he thinks it strengthens the national security considerations of our allies and partners in the Middle East.  And we welcome the statement from leaders of those countries who indicate that they agree with the President’s conclusion.


Q    So, Josh, federal agents are going to assist Baltimore police to deal with a rash of homicides.  And I was curious if the President, A, was advised, or that recommendation was brought to be signed off on it.  What does he think is going on there?  And in Kenya, and again today, the President has not hesitated to give admonishing words to young Africans in both cases about what they should do to address problems in their own countries.  Does he have any desire or willingness to go to Baltimore to speak directly to that community that’s in the grip of a historic level of violence?

MR. EARNEST:  Major, I’m not aware that this required a presidential decision.  The Department of Justice has been working with local officials and local law enforcement officials in Baltimore for some time to help them deal with a variety of challenges that they’ve been confronting, particularly in some predominantly African American neighborhoods in Baltimore. 

The commitment of additional resources and manpower to Baltimore is consistent with the kinds of consultations that have been ongoing for some time.

Certainly the President is concerned about reports about an uptick in violent crime in Baltimore.  And that’s why he has directed his Department of Justice to continue to be very focused on what steps can be taken not just to strengthen the relationship between local law enforcement and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect, but also to take some additional steps to try to provide for better law enforcement in that area.

Q    Stan Collender, who is somebody a lot of us pay attention to when it comes to budget matters, has now placed the odds in a government shutdown this fall at 60 percent from where he started a couple of weeks ago at 20 percent.  I would like to get your assessment of where you think and this administration thinks things are in terms of negotiated settlement ultimately, but the prospect of a shutdown.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Major, let me start by saying that Senator McConnell -- Leader McConnell indicated that he did not believe that another shutdown would occur.  This is something that he expressed some time ago, and he vowed to use his significant influence in the United States Senate to prevent a government shutdown, and we certainly take him at his word.  

What’s going to be required is we’re going to need to see Democrats and Republicans in Congress sit down at the negotiating table and try to resolve their differences, and they should do that sooner rather than later.

Q    In that context, I’m sure you saw Senator Shelby said over the weekend, Thanksgiving for that.  How do you react to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that certainly would not be consistent with the promise that was made by Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell to use their new majority in the United States Congress to get Congress moving again.  And the fact is, there is no reason we should wait until Thanksgiving.  We know what the issues are, and that’s precisely why Democrats and Republicans should follow a template that has resulted in important agreements in the past.  And that is for Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate to sit down and start trying to find some common ground.  There are legitimate differences between the two parties, but there should be enough common ground that can be agreed upon to prevent a government shutdown, and that’s what we’re hopeful that they’ll do.

So far, we’ve seen a willingness on the part of Democrats to actually have those negotiations, but unfortunately, Republicans have resisted those kinds of talks and it’s irresponsible for them to do so.

Q    If Thanksgiving is the landing place, would the President veto CRs to get there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we certainly would not -- we don’t believe that it is in the best interest of the country for the most powerful, successful country in the history of the world to be functioning on a budget that lasts month-to-month; that truly there should be a better way for us to run the country.

Q    Right.  I know that’s the preference.  I’m just curious if it’s a hard and fast rule.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, right now it shouldn’t come to a CR.  What should happen is Democrats and Republicans should get together and start working on a longer-term agreement.  I suppose they can wait until the end of November if -- assuming that there’s some kind of extension passed in the interim period.  But there’s nothing that’s going to change between now and Thanksgiving, so why not go ahead and sit down and have these discussions now, and get this problem out of the way?  That certainly would be in the best interest of our economy.

Q    Xi Jinping will be here in September for a state visit.  There are reports -- and they may have just popped up before you came out, so if you’re not aware of this, work on it if you could -- that Ling Wancheng, who was purged in an anti-corruption move in China, has stayed here in the United States and the Chinese government has launched a formal request to have him sent back to China.  This is regarded as a complicating -- one of many complicating factors in the U.S.-China relationship.  Can you tell us whether or not there has been any formal request from the Chinese government along these lines and if this is merited?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any specific request but let me take that question and see if we can get you a more formal response.


Q    Thanks.  Just back on Iran for a moment.  Some of the groups that are opposing the deal have announced pretty elaborate plans to go to congressional districts and air advertising there during the recess to try and advocate -- build up opposition against the deal.  What is the President planning to do once all the members have left town?  You noted senators are still here, but House members are back in their districts.  Will he be traveling to make the case for the deal?  Is the White House planning anything localized to try and counter the drumbeat of opposition in districts and states during the recess?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julie, I think it’s fair to say that the President has had a pretty high profile on these issues over the last couple of weeks, and the President is planning a significant speech later this week, where he’ll discuss this issue and elevate some of the arguments that the President believes are central to any sort of decision on this agreement.  To put it bluntly, the President believes that Congress should be supportive of an international effort to resolve -- well, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy.  And no one has put forward a legitimate workable alternative other than raising the prospect of using the military option.  

Now, the President has been clear that the military option has always been on the table and it will continue to be.  But if we have an opportunity to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon using diplomacy, the President believes that we should seize that opportunity.  And that’s why over the last two years, or nearly two years, the President and senior members of his team, have spent so much time and effort trying to reach this agreement. 

And the President is pleased that his team was able to work effectively with the international community to unite the international community, to present a united front to Iran, and get Iran to make commitments to reduce their nuclear stockpile by 98 percent, to remove 13,000 centrifuges and to render harmless their heavy-water reactor in Arak, and to submit to the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program to ensure they’re living up to the commitments that they made in the agreement.

So that’s the essence of the argument and that is what we hope that not just Americans across the country will find persuasive but what individual members of Congress will find persuasive.  And the President has given speeches, the President convened a conference call last week, where he talked with grassroots activists all across the country about this agreement to get them energized about this agreement to make sure that they understand the terms of the deal.  And we’re going to continue to make that case and we are confident that a sizeable number of members of Congress will put politics aside and focus on what they believe is in the best interest of the United States and our national security.  And if they do, a substantial number of those who follow that path will be supportive of the agreement.

Q    Have you been encouraging Democrats who are supportive or who are coming onboard, as you put it earlier, to publicize that support as quickly as possible to try to build the momentum in support of the deal?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we certainly welcome those public expressions of support but each individual member of Congress will take the time that they need to consider very carefully this agreement to receive a handful of briefings.  Whether it’s briefings in a classified setting or open testimony or even private meetings with the President of the United States, members of Congress have a variety of ways to understand exactly what’s included in the agreement and to understand what impact this agreement would have on national security and understand exactly how it will strengthen the hand of the United States and strengthen our national security.  And we’re going to continue to make that case, and it certainly is understandable that members of Congress are going to take their time in considering the agreement, considering the information that they have taken in, maybe even consult with some of their constituents before announcing their position.  But we certainly welcome the important expressions of public support that we’ve already received.

Q    You mentioned put politics aside, that’s what you’re encouraging members to do.  Do you think the Democrats who are on the fence are motivated by political concerns or are they worried about political considerations and not the substance of the deal?

MR. EARNEST:  There’s no denying that there is intense political pressure on both sides of this agreement, and what we’re hopeful that people will do is put aside that political pressure and focus on the specific terms of the agreement.  And, again, if you look squarely at the agreement that’s in place, these significant curbs on the Iranian nuclear program, the unprecedented level of inspections to which the Iranian nuclear program would be subjected, it’s clear that this is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And that’s good for the national security interest of the United States; it’s good for the national security interest of our closest ally in the region, Israel; and it’s good for our partners in the Middle East like the GCC countries.  And that’s the case that the President will make and we think that’s a case that many members of Congress will be receptive to.


Q    May I follow up?  Not long after President Kennedy’s American University commencement address, a partial nuclear test ban treaty was signed that summer by the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States in Moscow -- that was August 5th.  U.S. ratification occurred in the U.S. Senate a few weeks later on the 24th of September.  The treaty was signed by President Kennedy on October 7th, and the treaty went into effect on October 10th.  Is this the kind of rapid action that President Obama is hoping for as a result of his American University address on the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, JC, it sounds like you’ve done your homework in terms of that timeline.  What I would say is that we hope that we would be able to move forward with implementing this agreement soon.  Congress has 60 days to consider this agreement and we are going to, of course, give them those full 60 days to do their work.  The United Nations Security Council, the members of the -- including all of the members of the P5+1 who negotiated this agreement -- voted in favor of moving forward with this agreement, but there’s a 90-day period before the agreement will begin to be implemented.  But after that, we would anticipate that we would move quickly to implement it, and that starts, I’ll remind you, with Iran taking verifiable steps to curb their nuclear program before they receive any sort of sanctions relief.

So the kinds of steps that we want to see in the short term are laid out in the agreement, and they involve Iran reducing their nuclear stockpile by 98 percent, removing 13,000 centrifuges, rendering harmless their heavy-water reactor at Arak, and beginning to comply with the basic -- beginning to comply with the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.  And that also includes giving the IAEA the access to the information that they need to complete their report about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.

So we need to see Iran comply in the short term before any sort of sanctions relief is given, but we hope to see Iran begin to take those steps within the next couple of months.

Q    And the President will be making this case on Wednesday at AU?

MR. EARNEST:  This will certainly be an important part of the President’s case.  And since you mentioned President Kennedy, I think the other thing that’s relevant here are two things that come to mind.  The first is there are some who are critics of the deal who have worried that it’s somehow not wise to engage in these kinds of conversations with a country like Iran, with whom we have such significant concerns.  The fact is, we do have significant concerns with Iran.  This is an agreement that is not based on trust but rather is based on our ability to verify their compliance with the agreement.

But the fact is, as the President himself as often said, you don’t enter into these kinds of agreements with your friends.  You have to resolve these kinds of differences with your adversaries.  And given Iran’s support for terrorism, the way that they continue to menace Israel, the way that they continue to unjustly detain some Americans inside of Iran, that’s an indication of the long list of concerns we have with Iran; that’s all the more reason we need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The second thing that I’ll illustrate, or I’ll point out -- and I think this is something that you’ll hear a little bit more about over the course of this week -- the other thing that’s different about the agreement that the P5+1, the United States and our international partners, have struck with Iran, and the agreement that was struck between the United States and the Soviet Union in the Kennedy era is President Kennedy signed up the United States to make some significant concessions as a part of the agreement -- that there were significant reductions in U.S. nuclear activity that was a part of that agreement.  That ultimately was an agreement that was in the best interest of our national security.  The difference is, in the case of our negotiation with Iran, the United States doesn’t have to make any concessions.  This is about the Iranian regime significantly rolling back key aspects of their nuclear program and agreeing to a whole set of inspections that will verify their compliance with the agreement. 

The United States, after all, doesn’t have to make any concessions.  And I think, again, that should serve -- I think that’s a useful way for us to illustrate the wisdom of this approach.

Q    Did the President see any similarities between Mr. Khrushchev and the Ayatollah? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that’s a historical analogy that I would hesitate to comment on.


Q    Getting back to the climate announcement that the President is going to make, I know you talked about this a little earlier with Josh, but isn’t it possible that this will get tied up in the courts?  Isn’t it very likely that this is going to get tied up in the courts?  Opponents of the Clean Air rules on mercury and other toxins -- that went all the way to the Supreme Court.  Isn’t it possible that this is just going to get tied up until the end of the Obama administration?

MR. EARNEST:  Jim, I have no doubt that special interests and the politicians who are in their pockets will fight tooth and nail against this specific rule.  But the fact is, this is a step in the right direction when it comes to strengthening our economy, improving public health and finally confronting the carbon pollution that leads to climate change.

Q    But it could get tied up to the extent that this rule may not go into effect -- these regulations may not go into effect.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no, again, I’m confident the special interests will make that argument, but I’m also confident in the legal power of our arguments.  And as you pointed out, there is a clear track record of how the Clean Air Act has been used in the past to implement regulations that are clearly in the best interests of our country and in the best interests of our economy, I’d point out.  One of the common arguments that we’re most likely to hear from opponents is a suggestion that using the Clean Air Act in this way will have negative consequences for our economy.  But the fact is, since the Clean Air Act went into place in the mid-1970s, we’ve reduced pollution by 70 percent but the size of the U.S. economy has tripled.  So that’s why I think there’s a lot of skepticism on the part of anybody who is paying attention when confronted with arguments that these kinds of thoughtful, flexible but common-sense rules are somehow not in the best interest of the U.S. economy.

The fact is, our economy has done well when we’ve taken wise and prudent steps to protect the environment in a way that’s also good for our economy.

Q    Immigration also got stopped in its tracks.  Those executive actions have not been put into effect because of legal challenges -- another legacy item that the President just is not going to see realized.  Isn’t it possible that this climate plan may be put in that same box?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I wouldn’t -- again, I think that there is a clear legal justification for these rules.  In fact, this is authority that the President is using that was given to the administration by Congress in the Clean Air Act.  And this is authority that has been exercised by previous members of -- by previous administrations on a number of occasions.  And, again, we continue to have a lot of confidence that the effective implementation of these rules, by working closely with states and giving them the flexibility that they need to tailor an approach that’s consistent with the needs of the citizens in their states, is in the best interest of the United States, the best interest of our economy, and the best interest of our planet.

Q    And getting back to Ling Wancheng -- has he been in touch with the U.S. government?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any information on this particular matter but we’ll follow up with you on it.

Q    You have no information on this matter?  Were you aware of this report when you walked out into this briefing room?

MR. EARNEST:  I did not see this report before I walked out here.

Q    Okay, so you’re just not aware of it.  And getting back to Vice President Biden, do you have any observations on how that would affect this race and Hillary Clinton’s campaign?  There are so many former members of this administration, this White House team who went to work for Hillary Clinton.  If Vice President Biden were to get into the race, it would just undoubtedly change the dynamic of the race for the Democratic nomination.  Do you have any thoughts on that?  

MR. EARNEST:  Not really.  (Laughter.)  Look, I’ll try to be helpful here.

Q    The President selected a team of rivals, and we may have a team of rivals running for President.  Right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess it would be.

Q    Team Rivals 2, or something.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Having worked on one successful campaign for the presidency, one of the recipes for success is focusing on the race at hand and on the things that you can actually control.  And it sounds like that’s the approach that the Clinton campaign is pursuing, and it is in their best interest to not be focused on which candidates may or may not get in the race, but actually to focus on the candidate that you’re working for and articulating his or her vision for the future of the country.

And that’s the approach that the Clinton campaign has said that they’re going to take, and I think it’s a wise approach.  And again, they don’t need to take any advice from me, but that certainly is an approach that served the Obama campaign quite well in 2007 and 2008.

Q    Advice that you put into practice running against Hillary Clinton at that time.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s one relevant observation, I suppose.

Q    But getting back to the Vice President, I mean, you’re not sending any signals at all that his entry would be unwelcome in any way, shape or form.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the signal that I’m trying to send is that the Vice President has earned the right to make a decision for himself on his own timeline about whether or not to pursue a campaign for the presidency in 2016.  And the fact is, when the President chose Vice President Biden to be his Vice President, he described it at the time, and many times since, that it was the smartest decision that he had made in politics.

And that’s because the Vice President has been uniquely suited for this role.  He’s somebody that had a long career as a fighter for the middle class.  He is somebody who, as the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, developed important relationships with world leaders, and has used those relationships to advance the interests of the United States.  

And so whether it is working with leaders in Iraq or the leaders of Ukraine, or other countries in Latin America, the Vice President has been a very effective advocate for U.S. interests all around the globe.  That was true when he was in the Senate, and that’s certainly been true as Vice President.

That gives him a very unique set of skills and experience.  And it’s not surprising to me that there are people who are talking about this possibility.  But ultimately, when you have that kind of stature within the party, you’re afforded the opportunity to weigh this decision and to announce it on your own timeframe.  And that’s exactly what the Vice President is doing.

Q    I know we’ve gone around the horn on this next item quite a bit, and I just -- to ask the question, it seems that part of the reason why there’s so much talk and speculation about Vice President Biden running for President is because of this issue of the emails and Secretary Clinton; that it is just such a headache and such a concern inside the Democratic Party that that has given some life to the speculation.  Agree with that, disagree with that?  

MR. EARNEST:  I disagree with that, principally because there were a lot of people speculating about the possibility of a Biden presidency long before anybody knew what Hillary Clinton’s email address was.  


Q    Just to go back to the Syria issue -- to be clear, you said that you haven’t struck the regime in response to attacks against your allies in Syria, but you have defended your allies against attacks from al Nusra, is that right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Andrew, I think what I’m trying to make clear is that we have not detected at this point an attack, or any interference, by the Assad regime in the activities of our counter-ISIL coalition.  

So that would be the reason why it has not been necessary for the coalition to take any strikes against the Assad regime, because we’ve made clear to the Assad regime that they should not interfere with our counter-ISIL activities inside of Syria.  That was an admonition that we articulated at the beginning of our counter-ISIL campaign inside of Syria last fall, and that admonition at the time applied to airstrikes that the United States and our coalition partners were taking against extremist targets inside of Syria.

But that admonition certainly applies to the counter-ISIL ground forces that have been trained and equipped by the United States and our coalition partners and are currently operating inside of Syria against ISIL.

Q    And on a separate but related issue, an independent monitoring group has said that it believes 459 civilians have died in U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.  I was wondering if you think that -- does the White House believe that that death toll is credible?

MR. EARNEST:  Andrew, I haven’t seen that particularly analysis but I’d refer you to the Department of Defense on this.

Q    Josh, two different subjects.  When it comes to Iran, you’re tallying votes here at the White House, and it’s suspected that you -- from administration officials -- that you have enough votes to sustain a veto.  What is your tally so far?  

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a specific vote count to share with you.  As you know, there are still many members of Congress who are deciding what their final vote will be on this.  

We put -- one reason that we have projected a substantial amount of confidence in our ability to sustain a veto, at least in the House, is that back in May, there were about 150 or so House Democrats -- I don’t have the letter in front of me; it’s about 150 House Democrats -- who have indicated that they are -- that they at the time were supportive of an effort to reach a final agreement consistent with the parameters established in the political agreement that was announced the first week in April.

And what you now know, since we announced the details of the comprehensive final agreement, is that we didn’t just meet the standard that was set in Lausanne in the context of the political agreement, we actually exceeded it.  And that’s the case that we have made to members of the House Democratic Caucus, in particular, and that’s why we continue to be confident that we’d be able to sustain a presidential veto in the House of Representatives.

That being said, we clearly are not taking any of those votes for granted.  And that’s why you’ve seen senior administration officials, including the President, participate in classified hearings -- or classified briefings in -- open hearings before relevant committees, and even in private meetings with the President of the United States.

Q    So what do you do for those Senate Democrats who feel they have six weeks to carefully look through this Iran deal?  I know it’s nail-biting here and you want an answer quickly, but how do you handle those senators who may wait up until the very last minute -- the 11th hour, 59 minutes and 59 seconds -- to make their decision?  How do you handle those Democrats in the Senate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I mean, I think our approach has been characterized by a desire to provide them with as much information as they feel they need to make their decision.  Our operating assumption here has been that the more information that we can provide about the agreement, the more likely that people are to support it.  And that’s simply because we’ve got a lot of confidence in what was negotiated by Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz, Secretary Lew and others who are responsible for reaching this agreement, not just with Iran but with the broader international community.

Q    And on my second subject, I want to go back to Major’s question on Baltimore.  And primarily, when you have a police department that is accused of deliberately slowing down actively working crimes, and then you’re going to bring in federal agents, is there some kind of quandary there?  And do you think that the Justice Department should look at a possible police shakeup of that department if they are actively accused of deliberately slowing down responding and dealing with crimes in that city that has seen a number of violent crimes and homicides rise to record numbers?

MR. EARNEST:  April, what I can tell you is that the Department of Justice is, and has been for some time, interested in working closely with officials in Baltimore, both elected political leaders but also local law enforcement officers, to provide for the needs of the people of the city of Baltimore.  And we did see a pretty significant rupture in the relationship between local law enforcement in some communities inside of Baltimore, and there have been consequences for that.  

And the Department of Justice has officials at the Department of -- has officials who have a lot of experience in trying to repair those kinds of relationships, and to try to make sure that local officials and local law enforcement officials can meet the need of the people in those communities.  And that’s what they’re actively trying to do.

And that assistance takes a variety of forms.  So for some more details about what exactly they’re doing at the Department of Justice to help the people of Baltimore and to help the city of Baltimore meet the needs of the people in that city, I’d refer you to them.  But this certainly is something that they’re committed to.

Q    Does this White House find it acceptable, three months after that riot at Freddie Gray’s funeral, that the police are deliberately slowing down actively working crimes?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ve seen some reports about that, but I don’t have facts to back up that accusation.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I want to ask you about clean power.  Can you assure the American people -- I looked at a lot of the numbers and they’re pretty impressive, but can you ensure the American people that their basic energy costs won’t go up in the wake of this particular coup by the President?

MR. EARNEST:  Kevin, what we have seen and what our analysis shows is that as the Clean Power Plan is implemented, we will see individual states and individual utilities ramp up their investments in efficiency, ramp up their investments in renewable energy, which is cheaper to produce than energy that’s produced by coal.  And making those kinds of investments will lead to savings in the utility bills of customers down the line.  

And that is what we’re focused on, both in terms of saving consumers money, but also a whole set of benefits that are associated with shifting to renewable energy, or the use of less energy.  And that means fewer cases of asthma, fewer asthma attacks.  It means accelerating the already-burgeoning clean-energy industry that exists in this country.  That’s going to lead to greater economic growth and more job creation.

So there’s a really important opportunity for us to seize here, and that’s the essence of this agreement moving forward, to say nothing of how important it is for us to take tangible steps to fight carbon pollution and the causes of climate change.

Q    You might, however, see how people in West Virginia, for example, and Kentucky and other places that would be severely impacted by a major economic shift like that -- what do you say to people who live in these places who rely on those energies -- I’m sorry, those jobs, from that particular industry?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, what we have seen is that for more than a decade we’ve seen a decline in the coal industry.  And the fact is that using coal to power -- to generate power is more expensive than a number of alternatives, including natural gas.  And that has had a negative impact on the coal industry.  Just as one piece of -- one illustration here, there have actually been more jobs lost in the coal industry under Presidents Reagan and Clinton than there have been under President Obama.  

And I use that example to illustrate that this is a much broader trend that we’ve seen over the course of decades and not a phenomenon that has emerged just since Barack Obama was elected President.  

But you asked a relevant question, which is what is the administration doing about it.  And, Kevin, we can get you some more details on this, but I would point you to -- at the end of last year, the administration rolled out something called the POWER Plus plan, and this was essentially a $10 billion package of incentives that would focus directly on workers in coal country -- those communities that rely on the coal industry and have for generations, particularly in places like West Virginia and Kentucky. 

And what this $10 billion would do is invest in things like job training and job creation to try to help those workers transition away from an industry that is facing some pretty stiff economic headwinds, and in the direction of better economic opportunities.  It also would include a specific investment in the health and retirement security of those workers.  We obviously know that working in the coal industry is one that can take a toll on a worker’s health and job security and retirement security.  And so we’ve made investments in that area as well.  

And that’s an indication that the administration is serious about helping the coal industry and the workers that rely on the coal industry transition into an industry that has better long-term prospects.

Q    Couple more -- one on Syria, one on Iran.  On Iran, any update on the Americans that have been detained there unlawfully?

MR. EARNEST:  Just, Kevin, to assure you and those who have been very keenly focused on the well-being of those Americans, that our efforts to obtain their release are ongoing.  And the President himself indicated that this was a top priority, and that continues to be true even today.

Q    And in Syria, can you assure the American people that this country is not engaged in a proxy war against the Assad regime?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I mentioned to Andrew, we’ve been very clear that the United States and our coalition partners are committed to using military force where necessary to protect the coalition-trained-and-equipped Syrian opposition fighters that are operating against ISIL inside of Syria right now.

And what we have done is we have admonished the Assad regime to not interfere with our ongoing counter-ISIL efforts inside of Syria, and that doesn’t just mean not interfering with our air campaign inside of Syria that’s been going on for almost a year now, but also not to interfere in the efforts of our -- of the coalition-trained-and-equipped fighters that are operating against ISIL in Syria right now.  

And we’ve already taken some steps that make sure -- to provide for the safety and security of those opposition fighters and we’re going to continue to do so.

Q    But it’s not a proxy war?  You can say that definitively?

MR. EARNEST:  Yeah.  And primarily because we’ve taken steps to defend those fighters.  But we have, so far, seen the Assad regime abide by the admonishment that we have offered to not interfere with our activities inside of Syria.


Q    Thank you.  So back to Iran just for a moment.  You can just reiterate again -- were you saying that President Obama does feel today confident that he has enough votes to sustain his veto?

MR. EARNEST:  Linsey, we do feel confident that when -- that if faced with the choice of sustaining the President’s veto of a resolution of disapproval, that we’ve got enough support in the House of Representatives to sustain that veto. 

Now, we don’t take those votes for granted, and there certainly haven’t been a sufficient number of House Democrats who have come forward publicly to say that that’s what their position would be.  But we do put a lot of stock in the commitment that was made by enough House Democrats to sustain a veto in the form of that letter that they signed back in May that indicated their support for a comprehensive agreement that reflected the outlines of the political agreement that was reached in Lausanne in early April.

And what we have since indicated, since that letter was signed and delivered, is that we actually have a comprehensive agreement that doesn’t just meet the parameters of the Lausanne agreement; our comprehensive agreement actually exceeds those parameters in a couple of ways.

Q    And does the President believe that the Vice President would be a good President?  And does he believe that Hillary Clinton would be equally a good President?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I won’t get into rating the qualifications of any candidates or possible candidates.  But I think the President has indicated that one of the reasons that he chose Joe Biden to be his running mate and to be the Vice President of the United States is that he thinks that he would be a good President.  There’s no doubt about that.  But I would also point out that the President has spoken warmly of others who have served in his administration, including Secretary Clinton.  

So ultimately, it will be the responsibility of Democratic voters all across the country to decide who they believe would be the best Democratic nominee for President.  And the President will have the opportunity to vote in the Illinois primary, but at this point, I don’t have any public endorsement decisions that the President’s made.  But if the President has decided to endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary, we’ll let you know.


Q    Josh, what does the administration make out of the last round of negotiations in Hawaii for the Trans-Pacific Partnership?  Are you concerned that this is going to stumble after a long fight on the domestic front?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  What we are focused on, and what Ambassador Froman is focused on, is making sure that the final TPP agreement is one that sets -- that meets the criteria that the President has laid out.  And that criteria is specifically that it enhances the economic prospects of middle-class families here in the United States, but also enhances the national security interests of the United States around the globe.

And that’s the kind of agreement that the President has directed his team to try to broker.  And the President has indicated that he’s not going to sign onto an agreement that falls short of that standard.  And so it’s not particularly surprising to me that there might be some in other countries who are suggesting that the United States has not moven far enough in their direction.  Principally, you can expect Ambassador Froman and others who are negotiating this agreement to be strong advocates for the United States and for our economy and for middle-class families.

The good news is, is that there should be -- there should be some common ground where we can reach an agreement that’s in the best interest of consumers in another country, while at the same time being clearly in the best interests of the United States and our economy.  And that’s the common ground that they’ve been hard at work at trying to find for several years now.

But again, I think -- the President has, on a number of occasions, demonstrated a willingness to both walk away from the negotiating table or to bolt past deadlines to make sure that these kinds of agreements are clearly in the best interest of the United States.  And whether that’s -- the thing that comes to mind most readily is the trip that the President took to South Korea in the fall of 2010.  And the expectation of many was that would be the place where the President and his team would complete a trade agreement with the Republic of Korea, and those of you who traveled on that trip remembered that we got a lot of bad press because that agreement wasn’t done.  And the suggestion was that the President had somehow fallen short and didn’t have the international juice that he needed to have to complete that agreement.  But about a year later, we completed an agreement, and that was an indication that the President was willing to endure a little criticism, even in the media -- in the short in pursuit of a longer-term agreement that is clearly in the best interest of our economy.

Q    You fielded a question last week about how domestic politics in some of the member nations, specifically Canada, might affect something like Keystone.  Are you concerned that domestic politics in Canada, the upcoming election there, is affecting the TPP negotiations in a negative way?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I actually don’t know exactly what impact the Canadian political situation is having on the Canadian negotiators.  But I’m sure there’s somebody at the USTR that does.  I don’t know if they’ll talk to you about it publicly, but you can give it a shot.


Q    I have a quick question about immigration.  Even though this administration has broken records in the deportation of undocumented immigrants, the number of undocumented has stayed steady -- 11.3 million.  Now, the White House website says that undocumented immigrants last stopped growing in the last decade.  How can we say that if the number is still over 11 million?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Edwin, what the President announced when it came to his executive actions on immigration reform at the end of last year is that he wanted to make our immigration system more accountable and to add some much-needed accountability to our broken immigration system.  And what that means is it meant focusing our law enforcement resources on those individuals who came to this country and posed a threat to this country, or to communities inside this country.  That principally means going after those who perpetrated acts of violence, and making sure that those individuals are promptly deported; that we should be focused on felons and not on separating families that in some cases have been in the United States for a decade or longer.

And the President made an aggressive case that Congress should act decisively to bring some much-needed accountability to our broken immigration system, and allow those who have been in this country for some time, who have tried to contribute to our country in a positive way by getting a job and trying to provide for their families, that one of the things that we can do is actually bring them out of the shadows and make them undergo a background check and put them in a situation where they can pay taxes again.  And this would actually be good for our economy, it would be good for economic growth, but it also would make the immigration system more fair and a better reflection of the kinds of values that are critically important in this country.

And that’s what the President did using his executive action.  But ultimately what we’d like to see is we’d like to see Congress take that kind of common-sense action that previously won some bipartisan for it, and we’re going to need to build it again.

Jessica, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  Just to get more clarity on the Clean Power Plan with respect to how it relates to Paris and the climate talks there.  I know on the call there was this sense of this being part of building momentum.  Can you talk about how these specific targets relate to what the U.S. and other major polluting economies want to see happen in Paris?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jessica, you know that we have had a lot of success in getting other countries to make significant commitments alongside the United States when we make important domestic commitments when it comes to reducing carbon pollution.  So the President traveled to China last November, where he announced a significant commitment on the part of the United States to reduce carbon pollution in this country, and he was met with a similar commitment by President Xi to cap carbon emissions in China on or around 2030.  

And what that would require on the part of the Chinese is a historic investment in renewable energy on the scale that we’ve never seen before.  And that’s -- that means it’s a significant commitment that’s made by the Chinese government but also is the kind of commitment that opens up significant economic opportunity for U.S. businesses, particularly those U.S. businesses that are looking to do business in the renewable energy industry inside of China.  That’s an indication of how we’ve previously been able to leverage domestic commitments in the United States to broader international commitments by other countries.

We saw a similar dynamic when President Rousseff of Brazil visited the White House, where both Presidents made a commitment to reduce carbon emissions.  We’ve seen similar commitments from places like Mexico, which agreed to cap their carbon pollution in 2026.  We saw commitments from India when it comes to the deployment of renewable energy technology.  We also saw a significant commitment in just the last month or so from South Korea.  And that’s an indication that there is building momentum toward the climate talks in Paris.  And I do think you can expect that the United States will seek to use this significant domestic commitment that the President announced today to leverage a commitment from other countries and even advance the talks in December.

Q    And so how would it affect the President’s credibility and his representatives in Paris if this whole thing is undermined by industry groups and legislators who oppose it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jessica, we continue to be confident in the legal authority that the President was given by the United States Congress in the Clean Air Act to implement these rules in this way.  And it’s why the administration has gone to great lengths to try to be flexible in working with states to implement these rules.  And we’ve indicated that what the administration will do is set targets for individual states, but ultimately individual states can devise their own plan for meeting those targets.  And what we’ve said is, we’ve said that those states could spend most of the next year putting that plan together and submitting it to the federal government.

And what we have done is essentially given them a two-year extension in implementing those rules.  The proposed rule that we put forward was that the plans needed to begin being implemented in 2020, and what the final rule indicates is that states now don’t have to begin implementing those plans until 2022.  So they can use those two years to sort or refine and plan for the effective implementation of those strategies.

The other thing that’s notable is that what we have not done is taken away incentives for states to make early investments in clean energy; that our policy folks are calling this essentially a head start for renewable energy and for energy efficiency.  So if we see that states are making a commitment and implementing renewable energy technology or energy efficiency technology in their states in 2020, they’ll get the benefit of making those investments even though they’re not required to begin implementing their plans until 2022.

So again, I cite that -- it’s a little complicated -- but it’s an indication of our desire to work effectively with states and to give states alto of support and incentive to begin to seriously commit to the implementation of these rules.

Q    And just one other question on the renewables aspect, which is -- yesterday on the call, Administrator McCarthy mentioned how part of the economic argument of the opposition has been undermined by the fact that renewables prices are coming down.  And part of that is due to global competition from solar panel manufacturers around the world, including China.  And I wonder if the White House recognizes that some of the economic incentives behind what you’re trying to do have been supported by some of the advances of other countries in this regard.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are two things that come to mind on this.  The first is that part of the commitment that China made to cleaner energy production was an investment in nuclear technology -- essentially technology for nuclear power plants.  There are a variety of U.S. companies that are the industry leader in that field.  And that does open up really important business opportunities in China for American companies, and that means a good opportunity to expand economic growth and job creation right here in the United States because of opportunities that exist in China.

Q    Do you recognize the reverse?

MR. EARNEST:  I do recognize the reverse.  And it’s principally because of those competitive forces that the President has made the case that that’s why the United States needs to get serious about accelerating the kind of investment that we’ve seen thus far in renewable energy.  Obviously, because of the commitment that China has made to cap their carbon pollution in 2030, that means that they’re going to need a significant investment in renewable energy technology.  And if the United States wants to keep pace, we need to make sure that we see a sustained investment in this country and in this economy, too. 
And one of the benefits of this rule -- and I think this is sort of going back to the beginning of the briefing -- I think this is one of the things that some industry leaders actually like about this proposal is it does give them some certainty.  That right now, if you’re an investor in the energy field, that you can look at these rules and say, well, this is a serious commitment that every state across the country is going to have to make to implementing this plan and investing in renewable energy by 2030.  That means, as a private sector investor trying to determine whether or not there’s going to be a market for renewable goods in this country, that you can be confident that your kind of investment has an opportunity to succeed because you know that states all across the country are invested in implementing this technology.  That’s going to create a whole new market.

Now, the truth is, in the last several years we’ve actually seen U.S. investment in U.S. companies perform very well in this sector, but we believe that those investments can essentially be turbocharged by making a significant long-term investment to that kind of technology.

2:01 P.M. EDT