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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/5/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 

12:53 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Monday.  Welcome back from your weekends.  I do not have any announcements at the top, so we can go straight to your questions.  

Kathleen, I hope you're enjoying the view from the front row.  It's nice to see you there.  We'll also let you start today.

Q    All right.  I've been saving up some questions from the third row.  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:  Well played.

Q    I guess we'll go straight to the TPP.  You’ve got 90 days at least until this comes up for a vote, and then there are obviously a lot of critics jumping out right ahead, some of them your allies from labor to environmentalists.  What’s your strategy for keeping this thing from getting hounded and just beat up for the next few months here?

MR. EARNEST:  Our goal here is going to be to talk about the benefits of the agreement and how an agreement like the one the President set out to achieve is one that expands access to overseas markets for products that are stamped “Made in America.” So we're going to spend a lot of time talking about these details.  Included in this agreement are essentially an agreement to cut 18,000 taxes.  These are essentially import taxes that are placed on American goods that are shipped to some of these fastest-growing economic markets in the world.  And this enhances opportunity for American businesses and American workers.

Just to give you some examples -- American poultry in some of these countries is taxed at up to 40 percent; American soybeans are taxed at 35 percent.  These are all tariffs that will be slashed, if not eliminated.  In some of these countries, there’s a 59 percent tax on American machinery that's exported into these countries.  And some countries actually maintain an import tax of 70 percent on American auto products.  And again, these are tariffs that are cut or eliminated over a period of time that will open up access to overseas markets for American goods and services.

And the President continues to be confident that if we can do more to level the playing field for American goods and services that American businesses and American workers are going to win.  And that's a competition that the President welcomes, but it's also a competition that's going to be good for economic growth and job creation here in the United States.

You’ll hear from the President on this issue tomorrow.  The President is planning to travel to the Department of Agriculture. It's no coincidence that the President is traveling to that department because the agriculture economy in the United States benefits significantly from the terms of this agreement.  And while he’s there, the President, alongside Secretary Vilsack, will be meeting with business leaders to talk about the benefits of the proposal.  So we'll have some more details on this tomorrow.

Q    Have you started any briefings on the Hill or other --

MR. EARNEST:  There have been a number of conversations that have already occurred between senior administration officials and leading legislators, and I would anticipate that a significant number of those conversations are planned but have not yet taken place.  

The commitment that the President has made throughout the long debate that we had over this over the summer is that the American public and the United States Congress would have ample opportunity to review the details of this agreement prior to the President signing the agreement, but also prior to Congress having to take a vote on it.  

And I think that is an indication of a couple of things.  The first is the priority that the President places on transparency.  The second is it should give you a sense of the confidence that the administration has about the benefits of this agreement.  The fact that we welcome intense scrutiny of the agreement gives us confidence that it will only prompt more people to come onboard.

There are well-known differences of opinion on this, and I don't anticipate that we're going to persuade every single member of Congress or every single interest group that has already had the opportunity to make their views known.  But that does not in any way diminish the confidence that we have in how an agreement like this would be good for our economy and good for middle-class families here in America.

Q    And when exactly do you think you’ll see a vote?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm sorry?

Q    When do you think you’ll see a vote?

MR. EARNEST:  Not anytime soon.  This is a process where those who were involved in negotiating the agreement will have to spend time dealing with certain technical aspects of the agreement and even some basic things like ensuring that the agreement is properly translated into a variety of different languages properly.  So it will take a while before we will have the actual text of that agreement.  But once that text of the agreement has been essentially completed it will be made public even before the President himself signs it.  And then once the President signs it, it will be forwarded to Congress and it will go through a process of being carefully considered by Congress before they vote on it.

So I don't have a timeframe at this point, but I would not anticipate that the vote would take place anytime soon.

Q    And on Afghanistan, the hospital that was struck over the weekend.  General Campbell clarified this morning that the strike was requested by Afghan forces.  Can you verify at all whether or not there are any U.S. forces on the ground that were taken fire, or add at all to how that happened?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kathleen, let me start by saying that the events in Afghanistan are a profound tragedy.  We're talking about doctors who have left the safety and comfort of their homes to travel to a remote region of the world that everybody knows is dangerous.  And they are risking their lives to use the skills that they have developed to try to provide for the basic medical needs of people who live in this community.  In some cases, they are treating innocent civilians who have been merely caught up in the cross-fire, or have been victimized by extremists.  And these are brave individuals who are using their skills to try to improve the lives of people that they would otherwise never come into contact with.  And the fact that some of those individuals lost their lives over the weekend is a profound tragedy, and nothing less.

I know that General Campbell has had the opportunity to convey his condolences to President Ghani and I know that there are senior administration officials that have had the opportunity to speak with the leadership of Doctors Without Borders to convey their condolences there as well.  The scale of this tragedy is significant enough that it demands a full investigation, and you saw from the President’s statement that he issued over the weekend that he expects a full accounting of what exactly has happened.  

So there are actually three different investigations that are ongoing.  The first is that there is a formal Department of Defense investigative process that is already underway, being led by Brigadier General Rich Kim, who I understand is the leading investigative officer at the Department of Defense.  So he’ll be leading a Department of Defense investigation into this.  There also will be an investigation that is conducted by NATO, and there will be a third investigation that will essentially be a joint investigation that is carried out by U.S. military personnel alongside Afghan security officials.  And each of these investigations will be aimed at trying to get as much accuracy as possible around the details of what transpired in the lead up to this tragedy.  

So you asked a specific question about the details of what exactly happened, and I don’t, from here, want to get ahead of what this investigation may uncover other than to assure you and certainly the American people that the President expects a full accounting of what transpired.


Q    Doctors Without Borders has raised concerns that the investigation -- that there be an independent investigation.  And the three investigations that you described are not exactly independent -- one is the Department of Defense, the other is NATO, the other U.S. plus Afghan forces together.  Is there a need for another body, an independent body, to take a look at this and to make sure that there’s a true accounting of what happened?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Roberta, the President obviously has confidence in these three investigations to provide that full accounting that he seeks.  And his expectation is that details won’t be whitewashed, that there will be a full accounting of what exactly transpired so that if it’s necessary to take steps to prevent something like this from ever happening again, that those reforms are implemented promptly and effectively. 

Q    Doctors Without Borders has referred to this incident as a war crime.  Is there anything that you can say about that?  Is that an accurate way to describe what has happened?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I wouldn’t use a label like that because this is something that continues to be under investigation.  The thing I do think warrants mentioning is that there is no country in the world and no military in the world that goes to greater lengths and places a higher premium on avoiding civilian casualties than the United States Department of Defense.  And these are professionals who take that responsibility quite seriously.  

So, again, because this is an incident that continues to be under investigation, I would hesitate to say much beyond that.  But that is a responsibility that Department of Defense takes quite seriously.  It is a responsibility that the President believes is extremely important and should be prioritized, and it is.  And that certainly stands in stark contrast to the kinds of tactics that we see from other fighting forces around the world, including even the Taliban that, in some cases, doesn’t just disregard the existence of civilians, but actually considers the presence of civilians an appealing target.  And that is an indication of the security challenges that are faced by Afghanistan, but also what our men and women in uniform are up against.  But that does not in any way diminish the expectation of the Commander-in-Chief that the Department of Defense will continue to prioritize preventing civilians casualties.

Q    Lastly, The Washington Post is reporting that the President is considering a plan to keep as many as 5,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2016 and maintaining a few bases.  And I mean, you’ve talked in general -- you’ve noted before that conditions on the ground influence policy decisions in Afghanistan, so I’m wondering if you can shed any light at all on what is being considered and any timelines for that consideration.

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, I don’t have a consideration to -- or a timeline for consideration to provide to you.  As the President makes these kinds of policy decisions, he certainly takes into account the conditions on the ground and the advice that he receives from our military personnel that are serving on the front lines.  

But the President also has a responsibility to broaden his perspective and to make sure that he’s considering the full range of impacts of a decision like this.  So the President wants to look at the long-term trajectory -- the longer-term trajectory of our presence in Afghanistan, and factor in both what our experience has been in recent years, but also how best to account for the United States’ national security interests inside of Afghanistan.

As you know, the reason that the United States has been involved in Afghanistan -- and this has been at the center of the President’s strategy for Afghanistan -- is making sure that Afghanistan cannot be used as a safe haven for terrorists to plot and carry out attacks against the United States or our interests around the world.  And obviously, an important part of accomplishing that mission is improving the security situation inside of Afghanistan.  

And the United States continues to work closely with Afghan security forces as they try to provide for their own security.  There are U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan that are conducting counterterrorism operations to protect the American people, but also continuing to offer some training and advice to Afghan security forces that are trying to secure their country.

So all of that will be factored in to the President’s decision.  But I don’t have a timeline for you at this point exactly when that decision will be announced.


Q    Can you confirm, first of all, that Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader in the Magreb has been killed?

MR. EARNEST:  Nadia, that is not something I can confirm at this point.  There have been a number of reports in the last few months speculating about this possibility.  I previously confirmed I believe it was earlier this summer that the United States had essentially carried out a strike in which he was the target, but I’m not in a position at this point to confirm the results of that action.  

Q    On Syria, the President said on Friday that he’s willing to work with Russia and Iran.  Your position is very clear, which is Assad is not part of the process.  You’re supporting the moderate Syrian opposition.  The Russians and the Iranians’ position is also clear -- Assad is the legitimate leader; if it’s not him, it’s an Alawite, and all rebels are terrorists.  So what exactly -- where is the common ground between you and the Russians and the Iranians that the President want to talk about?

MR. EARNEST:  There are a couple places of common ground.  The first is that both the United States and Russia understand the significant threat that is posed by ISIL.  We understand that this is not just a destabilizing threat in the region, but also places -- poses a threat of varying degrees to our interests around the world.  And so that is one area of common ground.

You’ve heard me -- the President did the same thing -- raise significant concerns about the strategy that Russia has carried out in pursuit of that particular priority, and I think there are reasons to be skeptical that what they’re doing is going to be effective in pursuit of that specific goal.  But it is a goal that they have indicated, nonetheless, and I don’t think there’s any reason to call into question that they -- about their true views on that.

I think the second thing I would point out is that there is some common ground about the need for a political transition.  There’s an acknowledgement I think on the part of -- that is an acknowledgement I think on the part of the Russians that there’s no military solution that can be imposed on Syria.  That certainly is something that you’ve heard the President say on a number of occasions, and we welcomed that observation and essentially a declaration from President Putin last week.

So the fact that there needs to be a political transition is a starting point for conversations, but we’ve also made no bones about the fact that there’s a difference of opinion about what that political transition looks like.  And the President can make what I think is a persuasive case -- President Assad is somebody who has lost legitimacy to lead that country, not just because of the moral authority he’s ceded by carrying out terrible acts of violence against citizens of Syria, but also because of the way that he has completely lost the confidence of the people of Syria.

The vast majority of the people of Syria -- two-thirds, three-quarters, or more of them essentially live in communities that have been targeted by the Assad regime.  So you can understand why it’s simply not practical, not feasible for President Assad to continue to lead that country, at least in the current form.  And I think that is something that should be pretty evident.  So we’re going to continue to make the case that a political transition is necessary, and make I think what is a pretty obvious observation that President Assad is not fit to lead that country.

Q    Josh, with due respect, we have heard this message almost for four years now.  I mean, how willing are you to back these words with action?  Because all that we have is rhetoric from the White House.  I mean, there are talks now about the Russians entering the Turkish airspace, challenging NATO as well, so there’s an escalation and the Russians are showing in full force militarily that they can change things on the ground.  But what we hear from the White House is nothing really but words, as we heard also from the President again on Friday.

MR. EARNEST:  Nadia, I’d urge you to consider the actions that the United States has carried out.  We have built a coalition of 65 nations who are implementing a comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  You’ve seen the United States take aggressive military action to carry out strikes against or even take out ISIL leaders that are operating inside of Syria.  This has placed enormous strain on the leadership of that organization.  And the United States has worked effectively to partner with Syrian Kurds and Syrian Arabs on the ground inside of Syria to drive ISIL out of significant portions of that country.  

There’s no denying that there is important progress that needs to be -- that remains to be done, but there’s also no denying the fact that we’ve made important progress against our principal goal, which is degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.

Q    Can you, finally, confirm that the White House actually reviewed the Syrian policy and now you are in the process of supporting more Kurdish and Turkmen rebel forces in the east part of the country?

MR. EARNEST:  I know there’s been some additional reporting speculating about this.  I’m not in a position to confirm any of those reports about operational plans that may or may not be in the works.  What I will say is those plans cite continued support for Syrian Kurdish and Syrian Arab fighters.

I’ll just observe that over the last six or seven months, there has been a variety of support provided by the United States to Syrian Kurdish and Syrian Arab fighters, principally in northern and northeastern Syria.  One example of that is the President made a decision to resupply Syrian Kurdish fighter in the town of Kobani.  By resupplying those Syrian Kurdish fighters, Syrian Kurdish fighters didn’t just succeed in defending that town from an ISIL advance, they actually succeeded in counterattacking against ISIL, driving ISIL out of the immediate vicinity of Kobani, but actually driving further east and clearing ISIL of a large swath of territory along the Turkish border.  

That’s an indication that -- I would note that those efforts by Syrian Kurdish fighters had been backed by U.S. and coalition military airstrikes that have improved their performance on the battlefield.  So that is one element of our counter-ISIL strategy that has yielded important progress.  But as for any speculation about what we may do in the future, I won’t speculate on it from here.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  On TPP, I’m going to make one more try at a timeline.  Do you think -- does the White House think it will be able to ratify the agreement in 2016?  Can you say that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would -- I don’t want to make any predictions, but let me lay it out for you this way -- is that the 12 nations that were responsible for negotiating this agreement are working hard to finalize the text so that it can be made public here in the United States and we can, as soon as possible, begin the process of both public review and congressional consideration of the agreement. 

So the administration will certainly be making the case to Congress that this is something that they should consider not just carefully but promptly, because the sooner that this agreement is ratified the sooner we can start cutting 18,000 taxes on American goods and services that can be exported around the globe, particularly into these 11 other countries in the Asia Pacific.  So we’ll be making the case that Congress should act quickly, and there’s certainly no reason that they shouldn’t be able to complete it in 2016.

Q    And just to sort of follow that, though, do you have a sense of when the earliest possible date that this could go into effect, that you could actually start --

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know the answer to that at this point. Once we have the finalized text that can be made public I think  -- hopefully -- and I say this both for your sake and for mine -- we’ll be able to provide some additional detail about the timeline.

Go ahead, Mara.

Q    He has to tell Congress -- he has to give them a 90-day clock -- that’s my understanding, that he intends to sign it.  How does that figure in to make the text public?  Can he make it public and then later give him the 90 days?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this timeline is something that we’re still working through, but the President has made clear that there would be ample time for the public to review the document before he would sign it.  And that, of course, would give Congress ample time to consider the agreement before a congressional action.

Q    Is it your intention to make it public and start the clock at that time, start the 90-day clock at the same time?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we have an intent to get this process moving as quickly as possible.  And as soon as we have a locked-down text that we can make public, we can start talking about the full range of timelines that are triggered here.  But our sense is that we want to get this moving quickly.


Q    So I don’t know if you’ve seen, but Bernie Sanders is already out with a statement on the --

MR. EARNEST:  I think he was out before the announcement was made.  (Laughter.)  Those guys are getting up early on Monday morning to get to work.  (Laughter.)

Q    So Bernie Sanders says that this deal is disastrous, Wall Street and the other big corporations have won again.  I’m wondering your reaction to the Democratic frontrunner in New Hampshire.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, in addition to the statistics that I cited about cutting 18,000 different taxes on American goods and services, this is an agreement that also includes the strongest worker protections in history.  These are the strongest labor protections that have been factored into any trade agreement in history that the United States has been a party to. This includes living up to the President’s campaign promise to renegotiate and raise standards in NAFTA, because both Mexico and Canada are part of the TPP agreement.  So that means that the agreement includes protections to allow workers to form unions; it includes protections related to workplace conditions, outlawing child labor, and even has an impact on countries to set the minimum wage.

In addition, this agreement also includes the strongest environmental protections and does more to raise environmental standards than any trade agreement in history.  And this includes everything from protection of sensitive fisheries to outlawing wildlife traffic.

So the point is, is that there are -- even if Senator Sanders has reached his conclusion, there is ample reason for those who may be participating in a Democratic presidential primary to believe that the Trans-Pacific Partnership isn’t just good for middle-class families in the United States -- that of course is the President’s priority -- but it’s also good for advancing the kinds of priorities that the President has championed since he’s been in office, including protecting workers in the United States and around the world, and tightening environmental standards, as well.

Q    So you disagree with him when he says it’s disastrous and a big victory for Wall Street and big corporations?

MR. EARNEST:  To say that I disagree with that conclusion is putting it mildly.

Q    Okay.  So what about the other major Democratic candidate-- Hillary Clinton?  I mean, I imagine that it would severely complicate your efforts to get this thing passed Congress if you have both the top two Democratic candidates adamantly opposed to it.  Has there been any discussions with Hillary Clinton or with Hillary Clinton’s team about this agreement?

MR. EARNEST:  We certainly would welcome the support of every Democratic candidate.  I suppose that we can cease our lobbying efforts of Senator Sanders’ campaign, but we’ll certainly make the case to other Democrats in the presidential field about why we believe they should support the agreement, whether it’s for economic reasons, or because they believe strongly in higher labor standards, or because they care about the environment.  There are plenty of reasons for them to strongly support this agreement.

I will just point out, Jon, that there were many Democratic candidates for President who expressed significant skepticism about Trade Promotion Authority legislation, and despite that skepticism, that was something that did pass the United States Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by the President of the United States.

Q    So are your efforts complicated, then, by the departure of John Boehner?  I mean, he was a big part of how you got TPA passed.

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t done all the -- sort of the vote-counting on this.  I do believe that -- well, I don’t know where all of the candidates -- or now the declared candidates for the speakership currently were on Trade Promotion Authority or what they’ve said about Trans-Pacific Partnership.  But I certainly have heard a lot of Republican leaders in Congress talk about the importance of cutting taxes.  So if they could cut 18,000 taxes by voting for one trade agreement, then I think we’re going to have a pretty persuasive message to deliver to Republicans in Congress, as well.

Q    Mitch McConnell is out with a pretty tough statement on this, maybe a little surprisingly.  He says “serious concerns have been raised on a number of key issues.  This deal demands intense scrutiny by Congress.”  Has the President spoken to Mitch McConnell?  He’s probably the -- maybe the single-most important person on this.

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know if the President has had a chance to speak to him about this particular issue, but the thing that I would say is that the administration welcomes scrutiny of this agreement.  Again, even if you just want to scrutinize the tax cuts that are included in here, there are 18,000 of them, so it might take you a while to work your way through all of those tax cuts for American goods and services.  

So the bottom line for the President is this is an agreement that makes it easier for American goods stamped “Made in America” to be shipped to markets overseas.  That’s good for economic growth in the United States.  It’s good for job creation in the United States.  And it’s good for middle-class families in the United States.


Q    Thank you.  If you would just sort of help me understand the opponents of TPP.  Are they confused?  Are they just not getting it?  Unpack for them where they’re wrong on this.  What are they missing?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the thing that they’re missing right now, Kevin, is that there will be an opportunity for everybody to take a look at the agreement before they have to announce a position.  And again, based on what I’ve been briefed that’s included in the agreement, there are lots of reasons for both Democrats and Republicans to support this agreement.

But I understand why there might be members of Congress who say, I don’t want to just rely on a briefing, I actually want to see the text of the agreement.  And that is certainly a reasonable position for them to take.  And that’s why we’re working as expeditiously as possible to finalize that agreement and to send it up not just to Capitol Hill, but also post on the Internet so that people all across the country can take a look at the agreement and understand exactly how an agreement like this creates so much economic opportunity for American businesses and American workers.

Q    Can you assure the American people that this is not NAFTA 2.0?

MR. EARNEST:  Kevin, I actually would say that this is -- let me say it this way.  The President made a promise in 2008 that he would renegotiate NAFTA and raise standards, and address the concerns that have been expressed by many about the true impact of that trade agreement.  And it took seven years, but the President kept that promise.  And the text of the trade agreement that will be rolled out later this year is an agreement that raises labor standards, raises environmental standards, and makes sure that those standards are enforceable as a part of the agreement and that addresses many of the concerns that people had previously raised about NAFTA.  And the President is pleased and continues to be confident that an agreement like the one that has been reached is clearly in the best interests of American businesses and American workers.

Q    A couple more, one on Afghanistan.  I wasn’t sure if I understood you correctly.  The Afghans call in an airstrike -- is that your understanding?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there’s a lot of mixed reporting about this, Kevin, and that’s why there’s an investigation that is being led -- there is one investigation that is being led by the chief investigator at the Department of Defense to determine exactly what occurred and get to ground truth about what those facts are.  And so I don't want to speculate at this point about what I know about this.  We've got the chief investigator at the Department of Defense who’s looking into this and we'll look to see what he learns.  

Q    Lastly, on Oregon, is it possible that the President will be making a trip to the community that was so devastated by the shooting last week?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't have any presidential trips to tell you about at this point.  But if anything materializes, we'll be sure to let you know.  


Q    A couple also on Oregon.  Today -- or actually, a few times now, we've heard President Obama say that he’s exhausted what he can do by executive action on guns.  And today, Secretary Clinton said that she would go further and she outlined a four-point plan -- I don't know if you saw that or not.  But I'm just wondering what your overall reaction is.  This is at least the second time she said -- another issue was immigration -- that she would take more executive action to go further than the President has said he’s able to.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Anita, I do want to quibble just a little bit with your question.  The President said even in his news conference on Friday, he said, “In terms of what I can do, I've asked my team, as I have in the past, to scrub what kinds of authorities do we have to enforce the laws that we have in place more effectively to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.  Are there additional actions that we can take that might prevent even a handful of these tragic deaths from taking place.”

So the President has, frequently, pushed his team to consider a range of executive actions that could more effectively keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who shouldn’t have access to them.  So that is something that is ongoing here.

That said, when it comes to proposals like those that are put forward by Secretary Clinton, we obviously welcome this kind of debate.  We want Democratic candidates and Republican candidates to put forward their ideas about how we can keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.  That is a pretty simple proposition.  And the fact is there are a lot of things that can be done that don't undermine the basic constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.  

We know that there are a couple of obvious things that members of Congress can do; they’ve resisted doing them, unfortunately.  And the President has made clear that he’s going to continue to use the bully pulpit here at the White House to make the case to Congress and to the American public that those are the kinds of actions that need to take place.

Q    To clarify that, he hasn’t done anything by executive action since three to six months after Newtown, though.  I mean, we haven't seen anything, and I feel like he has said before that -- he took 30-some actions and that's where we are.  I mean, should we be expecting another announcement soon?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't have any announcements to preview.  But I think the President has made clear that this is a priority and something that he feels quite passionately about.  I think anybody who had the opportunity to see him standing here on Thursday evening saw that that passion was evident.  But I don't have anything to announce at this point, but we certainly welcome the kind of debate that Secretary Clinton is continuing when she rolls out the proposals that she announced today.

Q    Okay.  And then a second question on that issue, or on the shooting.  I don't know if you’ve seen this, but several groups today are calling for the resignation of the sheriff in Douglas County, Oregon -- this is his jurisdiction -- because he wrote a letter to the Vice President during his task force looking at gun control about how he wouldn't enforce certain things he thought were unconstitutional.  Are you aware of this? What do you think of this controversy?  They’re also saying that he shouldn’t be in charge of the investigation.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I'm certainly aware of this letter and the views that the sheriff has announced.  I think the case that we have regularly made and will continue to make is that there are some common-sense things that Congress can do to advance gun safety, to make gun violence at least a little less likely, and do something important to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who shouldn’t have them.  The details of those proposals indicate that those things can be achieved without undermining the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.  

So I think the point is that this is an issue that so often becomes part of an emotionally charged debate, and I think for understandable reasons.  But the case that this administration and the President have made is that there are noncontroversial things that we can do to address this controversial topic.  

That's why you see such strong support all across the country for proposals like closing the gun show loophole.  This is a loophole that allows individuals to purchase firearms without going through a background check.  Closing that loophole is something that has strong bipartisan support across the country, and there’s ample public data to indicate that even a majority of gun owners support something like this.  So the point is that this is a controversial debate, but there are some very non-controversial things that the Congress can do to address this problem.  

And I’ll just stipulate one last time, there’s no piece of legislation that Congress can pass that will prevent every single incident of gun violence.  But if there are some common-sense things that Congress can do that would prevent even a handful of acts of gun violence without undermining the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans, why wouldn’t they do it?  And the fact that they haven’t is the source of a lot of frustration not just on the part of the President of the United States, but on the part of Democrats and Republican voters all across the country.

Q    On the sheriff, though, it doesn’t sound like you’re weighing in on that at all.  No opinion on -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Not really.  

Q    Just on the gun show loophole, background checks, that’s one area that Secretary Clinton mentions specifically, saying that she thought that that could be closed somehow by executive action.  Is that something that the administration has looked at and agrees with, disagrees with?  Because, again, it would seem like something that’s -- if it could be done, it would have been done by now.

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t looked closely at the proposals that Secretary Clinton has put forward, but I have seen this discussion in press reports this morning.  I don’t have a lot of details to provide you in terms of the work that’s being done by the President’s team to do this scrub of the available authorities that the President may have to address gun violence, but that is ongoing work.  And if there are any conclusions that are arrived at that the President agrees with, then we’ll announce them publicly.

Q    So it’s ongoing.  Have they reached a conclusion that there’s nothing more that can be done?  Is there some technical impediment to this?  Because, again, this is something that’s been going on for many years, something the President clearly feels passionate about, and I just don’t quite understand where they are if there’s -- are they stumped?  What moves them forward?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, it’s hard to answer this question while also protecting their ability to do their work.  And so I can tell you that they’re not stumped.  They’re continuing to review the law that’s on the books and continuing to consult with legal authorities but also with others who may have ideas about what steps could be taken that would keep guns out of the hands of criminals.  

Q    On Syria, is there any evidence now, a week later, that the Russians are doing anything that is degrading ISIS?

MR. EARNEST:  I have seen some published reports that indicate that there have been at least a couple of strikes that Russia has carried out over the last several days that were aimed at ISIL-controlled areas.  You’ll recall the last time we talked about this, on Thursday, this was after essentially the first day of Russian bombing runs in Syria, that they hadn’t taken any strikes where there were essentially confirmed ISIL forces.  But there is no indication at this point that the Russians have changed their strategy to more effectively concentrate their efforts on ISIL-held territory.  In fact, what we see is that they’re actually concentrating their efforts on territory that is held by opponents of the regime, which may include some extremists, but don’t, according to our analysts, include many, if any, ISIL forces.

Q    So what do you do about that?  There are also reports about the intercept by the Turkish warplanes.  There was also reports of -- there are also reports of artillery and troops moving into I believe it’s Hama Province, is it?  What’s the -- I know you can’t -- there isn't a line, but what can the Russians do before the United States does something else to counter this? Or is all this foreseeable and allowable and okay, and the list goes on?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me answer that in a couple of ways. First, as it relates to the Turkish airspace incursion, the United States, alongside both the Turkish government and our NATO allies, have been in active discussion on this issue.  And I don’t want to get ahead of what those discussions might result in, but it’s fair to say that the United States and our NATO allies are quite concerned by that provocation.

More generally, when it comes to the Russians, the real risk that’s being taken here is the risk that’s being taken by the Russians.  They are involving themselves much more deeply in a sectarian civil war inside of Syria.  And again, you don’t just have to take my word for it.  This is consistent with the public statements of the leaders of many of our 65 nations who are part of our counter-ISIL coalition.  And just looking at the facts on the ground, the fact that Russia is ramping their support for Assad, that they are carrying out strikes against opponents of the regime, and that they appear to be, based on some reports, essentially colluding with the Iranians to carry out this military activity.

And what that does is it more deeply involves Russia in a sectarian civil war that isolates them from the international community even further than they already are.  It also poses a significant risk to Russia as moderate Sunnis inside of Syria see that they are aiding and abetting if not outright carrying out strikes against other Sunnis inside of Syria.  Russia becomes the target of that anger, and that certainly poses risks to Russia not just inside of Syria but also inside of Russia where there’s a significant Muslim population.

Q    And lastly -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me just say one last thing, which is it also puts further off into the distance the kind of political transition that the Russians themselves acknowledge is necessary to accomplish their goals.  They’re not going to be able to succeed in hastening a political transition inside of Syria if they’re taking aggressive efforts to prop up the political leadership that’s still in the country.

Q    But if their goal is to prop up the regime and to have a transition that may involve Assad still, and colluding, as you put it, but perhaps aligning themselves with Iran, isn’t there a point where the United States sees all this and -- yes, this is putting pressure on the Russians but it’s also undermining America’s objectives in that particular conflict, is it not?  And isn’t there a line that the Russians can’t cross before this becomes really problematic?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I mentioned in response to Nadia’s question earlier, the United States would like to see a political transition inside of Syria as well.  And there is no denying that Russia’s active military involvement to prop up the Assad regime puts that political transition farther into the distance.  But, again, that is going to be a significant problem for Russia.  And it’s going to isolate them, it’s going to put them knee-deep in the middle of a sectarian conflict, and it’s going to give them the task of something that they know, based on their own previous experience inside of Afghanistan four decades ago, is impossible, which is trying to impose a military solution on this problem.

There is no military solution, Russian or otherwise, inside of Syria.  What’s necessary is a political transition.  And Russia will not succeed in solving their problems by trying to impose a military solution.  If anything, they’re going to make their problems worse.


Q    Josh, I want to go back to the issue of guns and the gun show loophole first.  What’s different now with this gun show loophole debate versus when Bill Clinton, then-President Bill Clinton was dealing with it?  What is it now and how can it gain traction and momentum?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, I think that we’ve seen that there is broad support across the country for closing the gun show loophole.  The gun show loophole is a loophole that exists that makes it easier for criminals, those with mental problems, and others who shouldn’t be able to get access to guns to be able to buy them.  And that is why the vast majority of Americans -- according to some polls, the majority of Republicans -- certainly the majority of Democrats, and even a majority of gun owners supports closing that loophole.

What we have not yet seen, however, is sufficient intensity among proponents of closing the loophole to overcome the concentrated forceful advocacy of a minority of others who have been successful in making their voices known to Congress.  And this isn’t a partisan issue.  This vocal minority has also successfully pressured Democrats in Congress to prevent action on closing this loophole.  And that’s why you heard the President observe in his public statements last week that it may be time for some voters to decide that they’re single-issue voters; that they’re ready to prioritize this issue over all the others.  And if they’re -- so that will ultimately have to be the decision that’s made by voters across the country, for them to demonstrate the same kind of passion that opponents to closing the loophole have also showed.

Q    So tell me this.  What about the issue of -- you said the same thing within the last three years there’s been broad support from both sides when it comes to background checks.  So we’re hearing this broad support, but when it comes to finally getting it done, it doesn’t happen.  What do you say to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think the President spoke here on Thursday pretty powerfully about that and indicated that what we'll need to see is we'll need to see voters all across the country stand up and speak out with the kind of passion that we see on the other side.

Q    And then, last week on the day of the shootings in Oregon, I asked an expert at the Brookings Institute -- I said, did the Brady lobby and the Giffords lobby and the Mark Kelly lobby make a difference in the past few years when it came to getting the public to step up and say this needs to be done, and he said, no. What do you say to that when these people -- this White House is working with these groups to try to help pass new gun laws, gun reform.

MR. EARNEST:  We certainly welcome the efforts of a variety of groups to mobilize support for closing the gun show loophole. And the more effectively that we can mobilize support for efforts to keep guns out of the hands of criminals the more likely we are to see the kind of congressional action that is strongly supported by people all across the country.  

Q    And lastly, the President was clearly frustrated when he came to the briefing room, very upset.  How much of a priority is this for him?  This could be a legacy -- I know he’s not thinking about legacy, but he comes in constantly frustrated.  How much of a priority is this for him?

MR. EARNEST:  It's a high priority and will continue to be until we start to see some more progress in this town.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Where do you come down on whether the media should or should not name the perpetrators of mass shootings?

MR. EARNEST:  I've been given the opportunity over the course of the last year or two to offer my own advice to the media and I have pretty consistently declined to do so.  So all of you certainly are well-positioned to factor in the range of considerations in deciding whether or not to name the individual who carried out this terrible attack in Oregon last week.  So I would allow all of you to make that decision in a way that you believe best suits the interests of your news organization and your readers or viewers.

Q    And I just want to make sure I understand on the Afghanistan bombing -- you were asked about Doctors Without Borders’ request for an independent investigation.  You said there are three ongoing investigations.  That was a no, we don't need an independent investigation, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it was an expression of support for the three ongoing investigations and an expression of confidence that those investigations will have the access to the information that's necessary to arrive at the full accounting of what occurred that the President asked for.

Q    Okay, I'm going to have to try to pin you down on this. But you are saying -- they’re asking for an independent investigation.  You don't favor that.  You favor letting these three run their course -- is that correct?

MR. EARNEST:  What I'm indicating is that the President said over the weekend that he wanted a full accounting of what transpired in this incident in Afghanistan, and we have confidence that in the context of conducting these three different investigations that full accounting will be reached.


Q    You’ve already lost a senator who voted for TPA and says he's going to lead the fight to kill TPP on the floor -- Thom Tillis of North Carolina -- over tobacco.  He says it would “set a dangerous precedent to allow the discrimination against an agricultural product.”  And Mitch McConnell previously was very upset about the potential for tobacco provisions.  I'm wondering what you have to say about that and whether you think you can still pass that with tobacco state senators and representatives potentially peeling off.  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Steve, our position on this has been, first of all, an acknowledgement that tobacco poses a unique challenge to public health, and that's why we worked to include in the final TPP agreement an explicit recognition that individual countries’ health authorities have the right to adopt tobacco control measures in order to protect the public health.  

That certainly is the approach that we've taken in this country.  And the ability of individual countries to put in place policies that prioritize the public health of their citizens I think is a common-sense step, and that's what we fought to include in this agreement.

Q    So if that ends up costing you the votes you need to get a deal, and then you end up with no deal --

MR. EARNEST:  Signing a bad deal just so it would get passed through Congress was never going to be part of our equation here. 

Q    All right.  And on Guantanamo, last week you threatened to veto the NDAA -- the defense authorization bill -- over the spending levels.  Does your previous veto threat over Guantanamo still stand on that bill and any future NDAAs -- that no matter what, if they keep sending you an NDAA with the Guantanamo provisions in it, you’ll veto it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think we'll consider one NDAA at a time.  And as it relates to the one NDAA proposal that's been put forward by Congress so far, and has, as you point out, passed the House of Representatives, that is a piece of legislation that the President would veto, quite simply because it includes an irresponsible way for funding our core national defense priorities.  

Other representatives have referred to this gimmick as a slush fund.  And it's irresponsible and it’s certainly not the most effective way to provide for the national defense of the United States.  It certainly is also not the most effective way for us to show our support to our men and women in uniform.  They’re all doing their jobs, and it’s time for Congress to do theirs.  And that is to pass a budget that properly reflects the economic and national security priorities of the country.

The NDAA doesn’t do that.  That’s why the President would veto it.  And our position on proposals included in the NDAA that would make it harder to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay is something that we continue to strongly oppose.

Q    All right, but you’re not reissuing the veto threat from a couple months ago.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the veto threat was based on a previous version of the NDAA, so it still stands in case that one is resuscitated.  The current version that was passed through the House of Representatives is something that the President would veto, principally because of this -- of the irresponsible way that it funds our national defense priorities, but also because of the efforts to prevent the closure -- the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

So our position on this hasn’t changed.  We continue to feel strongly about it.  The good news -- and frankly, some have observed that this is what distinguishes this situation from previous years -- is that based on the vote that we saw in the House of Representatives, there actually are enough Democrats in the House to sustain the President’s veto.  So this is an indication that Republicans are going to need to find a way to work with Democrats to put forward a National Defense Authorization Act that will earn not just the support of Congress, but also the support of the Commander-in-Chief.

Q    You may have noticed -- on a slightly different subject -- Jason Chaffetz applied for Speaker today -- 

MR. EARNEST:  I did notice that.

Q    -- and he talked about the debt limit and shutting down the government over other issues, on appropriations -- two issues coming to a head in the next couple of months, and, in the case of the debt ceiling, November the 5th.  He says the White House shouldn’t get that for free.  And the President has said, I’m not giving you anything for it.  So how worried are you, given that this is now a selling point for the speakership at least of Jason Chaffetz, that we’re going to have more brinksmanship in the next few weeks?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that would be unfortunate.  It certainly is not what I think the vast majority of the American public is looking for.  I think most Americans are ready for members of Congress to do their jobs.  And part of the job of a member of Congress is to vote to pass a budget for the federal government. And the American people are counting on them to take that action because failing to pass that budget would result in a government shutdown, and we know that that’s not good for the economy.  There’s also ample data out there to indicate that shutting down the government actually costs more money than keeping the government open.  So if the true aim here of Republicans is to save money, then the best way they can save money is to just do the jobs that they’re getting paid to do.

When it comes to the debt limit, our views on this are quite well known as well.  I guess if anything, the stakes are even higher, though, for the U.S. and the global economy, that there is significant risk associated with monkeying around with the debt limit.  And using it as essentially a political football in the midst of a contested leadership race I think would satisfy the requirements of describing something as “monkeying around.”

So it’s not responsible, and it’s not what the American people expect of their elected representatives in Congress.  This is the kind of rhetoric we actually hear from Republicans a lot, which is that Washington should just get out of the way so that the American people and the private sector can succeed.  Well, here’s a good example and a good way that Republicans in Congress can just get the heck out of the way, and that’s do the responsible thing, pass a budget on time that adequately funds our economic and national defense priorities, and makes sure that the debt limit doesn’t inject the kind of volatility into the U.S. financial markets that we surely don’t need right now.

Q    The President is not prepared to enter any deficit reduction talks with Republicans.  If the economy really is (inaudible) on the debt ceiling, is there anything the President would be willing to accompany a debt limit increase to get it done?

MR. EARNEST:  The President said this many times, and I’m happy to repeat it here -- there will be no negotiating over the debt limit.  That is the responsibility of the United States Congress, and that’s what we expect them to do.

When it comes to trying to reach a bipartisan budget agreement, Democrats on Capitol Hill have, for months, been asking Republicans to negotiate with them to reach a budget agreement, and that’s something that Republicans resisted for quite some time.  But ultimately we know that that’s the only way that this will get solved.  Republicans will not be able to succeed in passing a budget strictly along party lines.  They’re going to have to find a way to work with Democrats to put forward a proposal that will get bipartisan support and that will be signed by law -- or signed by the President into law.  So there’s a lot of work for members of Congress to get going on.


Q    Speaking of Congressman Chaffetz, last week, on Friday, the Secret Service Director Joe Clancy acknowledged that he was changing his story, his recollection of when he first learned of people inside the agency looking into Congressman Chaffetz’s personal information.  And is that acceptable to the President?  
The fact that the Director is now changing his story on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I think what Directory Clancy indicated is that after reviewing the report, he remembered that he had better information to provide them.  And so to his credit, he proactively reached out to both the inspector general and to Congressman Chaffetz to let them know, and that’s what he did. 

I will say that the President certainly takes this issue very seriously.  This is sensitive information that we’re talking about, and the thought that something like this would be politicized is wrong.  And the President does have confidence that following up on the information that’s included in the inspector general report that Secretary Johnson and Directory Clancy will ensure that steps are taken both to prevent the disclosure of this kind of information in the future but also to hold accountable those who engaged in that kind of wrongdoing.

Q    And Congressman Chaffetz, I guess in that same interview where he was talking to CNN this morning, said that he would like to see a criminal investigation opened into this.  He says he feels violated.  Is the White House open to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I think I said quite clearly that this kind of conduct that takes sensitive information like this and makes it public for political purpose is wrong.  But decisions about investigating criminal conduct are decisions that are made by prosecutors over at the Department of Justice.  And so I certainly wouldn’t want to say anything that might influence a decision like that, so I’ll reserve judgment on whether or not a criminal prosecution like that is appropriate.  That, ultimately, will be a decision for someone else.

Q    And I know you talked about Hillary Clinton and the Benghazi committee and Kevin McCarthy -- Majority Leader McCarthy’s comments last week about the purpose of the Benghazi committee.  And I was just curious if I could ask in a slightly different way -- I think Hillary Clinton was asked about this this morning and she indicated that she will appear before the committee later this month.  Does the White House have an opinion as to whether or not she should continue to appear before this committee later on this month?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that obviously is a decision for she and her campaign to make.  I think the only reason we’re having this conversation is because one of the leading House Republicans acknowledged that the goal here was to try to drive down her poll numbers.  I think the fact that the administration more broadly has worked in good faith to cooperate with that investigation I think is an indication of how far we are willing to go to cooperate with congressional oversight, even when legitimate concerns are raised about the true intent of that committee -- concerns that are raised based on the public statements of the likely next Speaker of the House the administration continues to cooperate with that committee.

Q    So that cooperation will continue, putting aside whether Secretary Clinton should appear, the White House plans to continue to cooperate with the committee, providing any information that it needs and so forth?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, my observation last week that Leader McCarthy had committed a classic Washington gaffe of saying in public the thing that everybody knows is true -- I think the point I’m trying to make here is we’ve known for a long time that the motives of the Benghazi committee were not pure.  And despite that knowledge, we’ve continued to cooperate with them.  And we’ll do that in the future, even though Leader McCarthy has made that pretty embarrassing, I think, for many of the Republicans on the committee.

Q    And just lastly, getting back to guns.  It sounds pretty clear that legislation really is just not going to go anywhere because of the political climate in Washington as it stands right now.  But the President talked about using the bully pulpit for his remaining months in office.  I would imagine that that opens up the possibility of summits, meeting with families, perhaps traveling to places where these mass shooting incidents have occurred.  Are any of these possibilities for the President on his radar screen in the coming months?  Or is it just when a shooting happens, he’s going to come out to the podium and talk about it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly wouldn’t rule out any of the things that you’ve described.  But the fact that whenever the President has something to say in public, that all of you are there to cover it and to make sure that your readers and viewers understand it is a pretty significant authority that’s vested in the presidency.  

And the President is going to use that authority to make clear that he believes Congress needs to take some common-sense steps to make gun violence less frequent in this country.  The President is under no illusions that there’s a law that can be passed that would prevent every incident of gun violence, but there surely is something that Congress can do to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who shouldn’t have them.  And that will have a corresponding impact on the frequency of these kinds of incidents.  It certainly will have an impact on those shooting incidents that don’t get nearly as much attention.  
What happened in Oregon was a genuine tragedy, and has touched hundreds if not thousands of lives.  But we see this kind of gun violence in communities all across the country every single day.  And the thought that Congress can do something to at least partially address that without threatening and undermining the basic constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans is a profound disappointment to the President.  And he’s not alone. There are millions of Americans -- Democrats and Republicans -- who are disappointed by congressional inaction in this regard.

Q    Do you guys expect to have any further conversations with congressional leaders about any possibility of a legislative package, compromise package, anything?  There’s just nothing on the radar?

MR. EARNEST:  Look, I wouldn’t rule out something like that. But ultimately -- the reason I wouldn’t rule out something like that is because the President is willing to work with Democrats and Republicans to try to get this done.  There’s no reason this has to be a political or partisan issue.  And I think the President has made clear that his concerns on this matter extend to some Democrats as well.  So the President certainly doesn’t view this as a political or partisan issue.  This is -- would certainly be in the category of things that is far too important for partisan political considerations.


Q    Josh, one of my colleagues at CBS is reporting that the Vice President could make a decision within the next week to 10 days on whether or not he’s going to run for the presidency.  Can you give us any indication of whether the President himself will be meeting with the Vice President about this?  And what does that timeline sound like to you?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we have studiously avoided weighing in on the Vice President’s deliberations.  Many have speculated that this is something that the President and the Vice President have periodically had the opportunity to talk about.  I’m not privy to those conversations, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the person who’s won the last two national presidential elections was consulted before the Vice President made a decision about whether or not to participate in the next one.

But ultimately, the timeline for making that decision is something that Vice President Biden will decide.  And given his storied career and given the influence that he has in the Democrat Party, he certainly is entitled to all the time that he believes is necessary to make that decision.

Q    Do the two have plans to meet this week?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of.  You’ll recall that the President and the Vice President typically have lunch on a weekly basis when both of them are in town, so if that’s something that occurs, we’ll be sure you all are at least aware of it.  But I don’t anticipate that we’ll have much of a readout of those private conversations.

Q    Can I quickly come back to something you said on Syria in regard to that incursion into Turkish airspace by a Russian warplane?  You said “quite concerned” about this.  Any sense of this -- is this anything other than a provocative -- intentionally provocative action?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, at this point, given the stakes and the sensitivity around the Russian military action in that region of the world, I think our concerns are well-founded, and these are concerns that we’ll continue to discuss with Turkey and our other NATO allies.

Q    But no sense this is just an accident on the part of Russia?

MR. EARNEST:  This is something we’ll continue to discuss.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Back to TPP.  Steve alluded to the concern or opposition from tobacco state lawmakers and there’s a similar outcry of opposition from auto state lawmakers.  You said earlier that you understand you’re not going to get every vote and that’s just the way it is, but with those two large blocks of Congress members, are there -- is there a part of your strategy to get any of them onboard?  Or are those votes that you’re willing to concede that you won’t get?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, when it comes to the auto industry and expanding U.S. auto exports, we have quite a strong case to make when it comes to the TPP.  According to the agreement, we will -- this agreement will cut the 30 percent car tariff in Malaysia and the 70 percent car tariff in Vietnam.  Those are two countries where you have a large and growing middle class.  That makes them good markets for selling automobiles.  

The United States and the negotiators who represented our interests at the table are keenly aware of that, and that’s why there was a priority that was placed on trying to cut those tariffs so that U.S. automakers would have better access to those markets.  And if you’re going to be able to cut the 30 percent car tariff in Malaysia and the 70 percent car tariff in Vietnam, you’re going to be able to sell some more cars.  And that ultimately is the goal here.  It’s going to expand economic opportunity for American businesses and create significant opportunity for American workers who are making those cars.  That’s been the goal of this particular agreement and that’s the case that we’ll make to senators and members of Congress that are representing states with significant manufacturing presences.  And that’s the case that we’ll make, but ultimately individual members of Congress will have to make up their own minds.

Q    And looking forward on trade, I think while you were up here talking the European Union Trade Minister came out and talked optimistically about how a TPP deal will hopefully turn U.S. attention to a T-TIP deal. 

MR. EARNEST:  They want to get in on the action, too, huh?

Q    Is that something that the President thinks he can actually get done during his time in office?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I wouldn’t make that prediction.  Obviously it took us more than five years to negotiate this TPP agreement, but it was worth the effort and worth the investment because it does ultimately allow U.S. goods and services to be sold in one of the most dynamic regions -- economically dynamic regions of the world.  And that’s a good thing.  That’s a good thing for American businesses, it’s a good thing for American middle-class families.

The negotiations around T-TIP are not quite as advanced, but if there is an opportunity for us, based on our consultations with our friends in Europe, to reach an agreement that would have the same kind of economic potential for American businesses and American workers, then we wouldn’t hesitate to pursue it.  But there’s some more work to be done on that before we’ll reach completion.

Alexis, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Josh, I wanted to follow up on the Vice President.  Because he has a day job as sitting Vice President, in what way would the President reevaluate the assignments and tasks the advantages that his Vice President would have if he seeks on his own to run for the presidency?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, obviously, the Vice President if he were to make the decision to enter the race would have to -- would be confronted with the challenge of balancing the responsibilities that come with running a national campaign with the responsibilities that come with serving as Vice President of the United States.  So I wouldn’t speculate at this point about how he would do that or if any changes would be necessary.  Vice President Biden is certainly somebody who has demonstrated throughout his career a willingness to work overtime.  And that likely would be something that would be required in the circumstance that you just described.  But I wouldn’t speculate at this point what that would look like until the Vice President has had an opportunity to make a decision.

Q    And one quick follow-up on guns.  When the President and the Vice President were pursuing were gun legislation, one of the complications about background checks was the number of entities, whether state or federal, who were allowed to do information-sharing if there was something that came across their radar as of concerning mental health, et cetera.  Has the administration made any great strides, thinking through whether, let’s say, our U.S. Armed Services, who they have come in contact with, if someone in a state entity that may have come across some mental health information are allowed or could be allowed to share that information so the background check is more stringent?

MR. EARNEST:  We can follow up with you on some of these details.  I know many of the executive actions that the President announced in the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown were actually geared toward more effective information-sharing.  And so I can have somebody follow up with you on the details of those proposals.

Thanks, everybody.  We’ll see you tomorrow.

2:08 P.M. EDT