Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/20/15
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:55 P.M. EDT
Q What happened to Cueto?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, it was a tough night last night. Fortunately, we’ve got a day game again today -- so we’ll try and get this moving along so that we can -- (laughter) -- I know how interested all of you are in game four. (Laughter.) I think first pitch is at 4:00 p.m. -- not that anybody is keeping track. (Laughter.)
Q We will if you will. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I actually do not have anything at the top, Darlene, so we can go straight to your questions.
Q Great, thanks. Will you give us the White House view on the Canadian election results?
MR. EARNEST: Well, speaking of things happening in Canada, I guess. The United States and certainly President Obama congratulates Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau on the Liberal Party’s victory in yesterday’s elections. I would expect the President will have the opportunity later today to call Mr. Trudeau to congratulate him on that election victory.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that both the President and the country is deeply appreciative of Prime Minister Harper’s efforts to build a strong U.S.-Canada relationship. And as you know, President Obama had a number of occasions to meet firsthand -- to meet personally with Prime Minister Harper over the course of his tenure, and I’m confident that President Obama will speak with Prime Minister Harper at some point in the not too distant future as well.
Q Do you know if the President will invite Justin Trudeau to come to the White House?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, I don’t know that, but if an invitation is extended we’ll be sure to let you know.
Q Does the White House think relations with Canada will get a little easier under Prime Minister-designate Trudeau? I know that Harper was a little annoyed over the length of time that it was taking to approve the Keystone pipeline.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it would be short-sighted to reduce the relationship between our two countries to just one issue. The fact is, there are a whole range of issues where the United States and Canada work effectively together to advance the interests of both of our countries.
Obviously Canada made a substantial and important contribution to our counter-ISIL coalition. We know that Canada has been an important part of making the Trans-Pacific Partnership a reality. Canadian negotiators engaged in that process in an important way and made an important contribution in bringing those talks to a conclusion. And we believe that completing that agreement and implementing it would be in the best interests of certainly the U.S. economy and U.S. middle-class families, but we believe that it would have a positive impact on economies across the partnership, including in Canada.
Canada has also made a substantial and important commitment in advance of the Paris climate talks. We believe it’s possible that there’s more that Canada could do in this regard, but the fact that they are stepping up and indicating -- or making a commitment is an indication of the important role that Canada plays not just in their relationship with the United States but in terms of their leadership around the world. And the United States is fortunate to have such a strong and close partnership with a country like Canada that does have this global influence.
And our bilateral relationship has enhanced the security and prosperity of the American people, and we certainly are appreciative of Prime Minister Harper’s efforts to strengthen that relationship. And we look forward to building on that kind of progress when Mr. Trudeau takes over the Prime Minister’s office.
Q I have a daily Biden question.
Q Only one?
Q Only one. He said earlier today that he spends between four and seven hours with the President. Seven hours seems like a long time to spend with one person. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Is that a comment on your colleagues in the AP booth by any chance? (Laughter.)
Q You don’t really want to go there. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I’m just teasing, Darlene.
Q Outside of the presidential daily brief, the lunch they’re having this afternoon, meetings with Cabinet Secretaries and some of their public appearances, their joint public appearances, how would you account for the rest of the time that he says that they spend together?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it certainly is not unusual for the President to convene broader national security meetings or other domestic policy meetings. I mean, I think the meetings that you just ran through would account for just about three hours every day. So it’s not unusual for the President to have another hour or two of meetings on his schedule that would also include the Vice President.
Now, this is also subject to the President’s travel schedule and the Vice President’s travel schedule, so this is not a daily occurrence. But the timing window that he laid out seems generally accurate to me, based on my reading of the public schedule.
Q Josh, a follow-up on the Canadian election. Now that it’s over, does this clear the last remaining hurdle for a decision on the Keystone pipeline?
MR. EARNEST: Jeff, my understanding is that Secretary Kerry addressed this earlier today. That's appropriate because the Secretary of State leads the agency that is conducting the review of this project. And my understanding is that Secretary Kerry indicated that the completion of this election would have no impact on either the timing or the final determination of the project. This is a review that is still underway at the State Department, and again, based on what Secretary Kerry says, it doesn't sound as if the Canadian election will have an impact on the timing.
Q Does the White House have an expectation as to when you’d like to see that recommendation delivered over here?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, no. I think the President has already said that he is expecting that he’ll be able to complete this policy process prior to his departure from office. But that's still 15 months away or so. So hopefully we’ll get it done well before that. If for no other reason than we can stop talking about it. (Laughter.)
Q And us, too. You mentioned that the United States would like to see Canada do more on climate change. The Prime Minister-designate said during his campaign that he wanted to set up a national standard for carbon pricing and would like to have a North American agreement on clean energy and the environment. Do you see this new leader as -- and this election and the results of this election as an opportunity to engage on some of those ideas and perhaps get further commitments from Canada on climate change?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it’s too early to judge exactly how Mr. Trudeau will follow through on some of the policy debates that occurred in the context of the campaign. I’ll confess that I didn't follow those policy debates particularly closely. But the United States and certainly the President has played a role in the conversations -- let me say it this way. In each of the conversations that the President has been having with world leaders of late he has been making clear that he considers commitments in advance of the Paris conference a high priority. And he’s been encouraging the leaders of those countries to make an important contribution to success in Paris.
And obviously that was part of the discussions with President Park when she was here. This was part of the discussion that the President had with President Xi when he was at the White House just a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, this is something that was a part of the Pope’s visit to the White House. And the President spent a lot of time talking about this in the context of the United Nations General Assembly. So just off the top of my head, it seems that in each of the significant engagements that he’s had with world leaders over the last several weeks this has been high on his agenda. And I’m confident that will be the case when he speaks with Mr. Trudeau, as well.
Q And lastly, from that campaign, Mr. Trudeau said he would withdraw Canada’s air force from the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. How does the White House feel about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, the Obama administration and the United States will be in talks with our Canadian partners about their contribution to our counter-ISIL effort. They have made an important contribution thus far, and we're obviously deeply appreciative of them lending their talent and skill and expertise to that effort. And we hope that we can continue to count on their ongoing support for this very important mission.
Q Would you like them to stay in it?
MR. EARNEST: We certainly value the contributions that we’ve received from the Canadians thus far in terms of our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and we certainly are hoping that they’ll continue to play that important role that they’ve played thus far.
Q Josh, as winter now begins to bear down on Eastern Europe and the immigrant -- the migration refugee crisis there, has the President had any updates, any new conversations with the leaders, including Angela Merkel, et cetera, in terms of additional support? We know that the U.S. is number one in providing that kind of monetary support; we’ve discussed that. But is there any new initiatives that this White House is beginning to prepare for?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have anything new to announce at this point, J.C. The United States continues to be the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to this effort. And the President continues to be concerned about the significance of this humanitarian crisis. The scale of this crisis is historic, even, and it certainly should stir the conscience of people around the world in responding to it.
The United States has stepped up. The U.S. government has stepped up to make a substantial contribution. The White House recently did organize this online portal so that if there are private U.S. citizens who are interested in making a financial contribution to ongoing humanitarian relief efforts, that there’s information about that on the White House website, essentially it will steer you toward charitable organizations that are involved in responding to this crisis.
Q Some of the past hatreds in that part of the country since the ‘30s are coming out again, resurfacing. I know the President is aware of it. Has this caused him any moral pain when he thinks of this kind of thing coming back again to face Europe, and, in fact, could face this country?
MR. EARNEST: Well, J.C., I think part of this -- there is a natural human reaction that I think does not reflect in any way the majority, the prevailing opinion either across the United States or across Europe about the fact that these individuals who are fleeing violence in Syria are human beings. They have the same worries and concerns and dreams and ambitions that other human beings do. And our humanity calls on us to recognize that humanity inside of them. And that certainly is reflected in the policy approach that the United States has pursued. And I think it’s reflected in the kind of reception that most Europeans have offered when these individuals have arrived in Europe.
That’s not to diminish the significance of the challenge in providing for the needs of these individuals and making sure that it doesn’t -- or at least minimally disrupts the good order in those countries and the day-to-day life of the citizens. But to diminish or ignore the humanity of these individuals fleeing a desperate situation and fleeing terrible violence in their home country is something that I’m glad that only a small minority of people have done.
Q In his debate with Mitt Romney in 2012, the President said that Vice President Biden had advised him against going after bin Laden. The Vice President has now changed his story on that. Is the President similarly changing his recollection?
MR. EARNEST: George, I was not in the room when these decisions were being made or when the President was consulting his advisors about this very difficult foreign policy call that he made. And there have already been books that have been written about this; I’m confident that there will be more, or at least there will be more books in which we’ll be able to read out this momentous time in American history. So I'm going to leave the dissection and the oral history, if you will, of those days to those who were actually there. And to the extent that there’s some greater clarity you’d like to seek, maybe you’ll have an opportunity at some point to ask those who were in the room.
Q But as far as you know, the President is still sticking with what he said in the debate with Romney?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any new insight to share with you about the President’s recollection of those days.
Q This is a simple question on the same subject. Vice President Biden says that he advised the President to go forward with that raid. Is that true?
MR. EARNEST: Jon, on many occasions, I've declined to provide insight into the private conversations between the President of the United States and the Vice President of the United States, other than to tell you that the President deeply values that advice. But I'm not going to get into the substance of their conversations.
Q So you can't tell me whether or not the Vice President today was telling the truth when he said he advised to go forward with the bin Laden raid?
MR. EARNEST: I'm telling you that I don't have any insight to share with you about the private conversations between the President and the Vice President.
Q Because what are we to make of the fact that his -- Leon Panetta said, point-blank, in his book that Biden came out firmly in favor of waiting for more information; Robert Gates said Biden was against the operation; Hillary Clinton said Biden remained skeptical? Biden himself has said that he was against the decision. He said, point-blank, that, “Mr. President, my suggestion is don't go.” I mean, what are we to make of the fact that all of these people said exactly the opposite, including Biden himself?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I'm not going to be able to provide a lot of insight into private communications between the President and the Vice President.
Q Let me ask you about something else that wasn’t private communications that the Vice President said today. He said that the President said, you have veto power over anybody in my Cabinet. Is that true? Did the President give Vice President Biden veto power over all Cabinet nominations?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I am not aware of the kinds of conversations that then Senator Obama had with then Senator Biden about him coming onboard as the running mate. So I don't have any information about that.
Q Well, let me ask -- I mean, you worked on the campaign, you’ve been working in this building for six years. Have you ever heard any suggestion that the Vice President has veto power over Cabinet nominations?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I'm not privy --
Q Have you ever heard it suggested by anyone?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not privy to all of the conversations between the President and the Vice President, so you’ll have to take it up with one of the two of them if they’re willing to talk about it publicly.
Q What do you think we should make of the fact that today, as we're all waiting for Biden’s decision, he’s talking about spending up to seven hours a day with the President, he’s talking about having veto power, that he’s talking about being in favor of a raid that he previously said he was against? I mean, what is going on?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, you guys are the ones who can read the political tea leaves, and to a certain extent, that's part of your job. What I'll say from my perspective is that the fact that we're spending a lot of time discussing the presidential prospects of a candidate who is essentially saying that he would get in the race to try to advance the President’s agenda that the President himself has been fighting for for the last seven years, frankly, that's a luxury for me, not a burden. And if we spent this much time talking about people who were vowing to block the President’s agenda, that would be a lot more difficult for me than having an opportunity to discuss how viable and possibly influential a candidate could be by running, saying that he wants to advance the kind of agenda that we've been fighting for here for seven years.
Q By the way, you just called him a candidate. Do you know something we don't?
MR. EARNEST: No. I guess I meant potential candidate. I misspoke.
Q And just one last. We're you surprised when you heard the Vice President today say that he advised the President to go forward with the bin Laden raid?
MR. EARNEST: I wasn’t following it closely. I was following it on Twitter, actually, so --
Q Were you surprised when you saw it on Twitter?
MR. EARNEST: Not particularly.
MR. EARNEST: April.
Q Josh, I want to follow up on Jon, and then I have one along the same lines. How much influence does the Vice President have on this President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President himself, when talking about the relationship, has talked about Vice President Biden being one of the most consequential Vice Presidents in the history of the country. And I think if you take a look at the contribution that he’s made on a range of domestic policy issues, including the implementation of the Recovery Act, and his influence on a range of foreign policy issues, particularly in managing hot spots like Ukraine, that clearly Vice President Biden plays a really important role in conceiving of and advancing the agenda of the Obama administration and of the Obama White House. So there’s no denying his significant influence in this building.
Q Is it true now here at the White House that many are waiting for his decision as well as the American public?
MR. EARNEST: That's been true for months.
Q So has anyone urged him? Because I’m understanding that you're waiting to hear what he says, whether you can move one way or the other, whether you support him that way in his run or his bid, or just move on just normal here.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I feel confident that we are -- well, I think the President himself has acknowledged that he has no immediate plans to offer an endorsement of any candidate for President. That could change down the line, but that's what he’s said. And he’s made clear that that's going to be his position regardless of the decision that Vice President Biden makes. So I’m not sure that -- yes, there is an element of -- like all of you -- waiting for the Vice President to make what is an intensely personal decision about whether or not to run for President, but it’s not as if that has a day-to-day impact on the important work that goes on around here.
Q Now, on another subject, on the Benghazi hearing. Today, I understand that David Kendall, the attorney for Hillary Clinton, as well as Trey Gowdy and Elijah Cummings will be meeting to set the ground rules for Thursday.
MR. EARNEST: I had not heard that.
Q Well, it was an exclusive.
MR. EARNEST: Well, there you go. (Laughter.) Breaking news, everybody.
Q All right. So, anyway, Trey Gowdy is proposing to all of the persons in this meeting that he wants each member of the committee to have four questions, which would leave up to eight hours. What do you -- what does this White House want to see when it comes to this very sensitive hearing, particularly as it relates to Benghazi -- not the emails necessarily, but Benghazi, as the family of those who died want answers still in the midst of all of this controversy?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what we have seen from a lot of the families is not just a desire for answers, but a desire to not see this terrible tragedy used for partisan political gain. And, unfortunately, that's exactly what we’ve seen from the committee. And you don't have to take my word for it. There are two different Republican members of Congress who have arrived at the same conclusion, including the Majority Leader.
So I do think -- as I mentioned yesterday -- that Republicans on the committee are going to be under intense pressure to justify their very existence, to justify the existence of this committee, and to prove to the American people that this committee is not just another arm of the Republican National Committee. You would hope that something this serious and this important would not be so freely subjected to partisan politics. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what’s occurred.
And given that pressure that I’m sure that Republicans on the committee are feeling, they’re going to come loaded for bear. And they are going to come out with aggressive, hostile questioning of the Secretary of State, trying to further the goal that Leader McCarthy laid out, which is driving down her poll numbers. So that will be -- well, I expect it will be something that will be closely watched by at least people in this room. And, again, I think Republicans on the committee will be engaged in a very vigorous, aggressive effort to try to justify the continuing existence of the committee.
Q Does the President believe that his administration -- at least the State Department -- is under a microscope and I guess part of his job as well when this hearing takes place Thursday? That she was his Secretary of State.
MR. EARNEST: No, not any more than he is every other day.
Q Thank you so much, Josh. Can you hear me?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I can hear you.
Q On Israel and the Palestinians, has the administration ever considered reducing aid or military aid to pressure the parties into some sort of agreement?
MR. EARNEST: Connie, I’m not aware of anything like that being contemplated at this point. What the U.S. position has been is that a two-state solution is the best way to resolve the conflict between the two parties, and the only way to arrive at the kind of negotiated settlement that results in a two-state solution is for the two parties to sit down face-to-face and negotiate directly.
And as you know, Secretary Kerry and many Secretaries of State before him have expended significant effort and energy to try to bring both sides of the table and to try to bring them conclusion around those conversations. Unfortunately, that’s not occurred -- and I say “unfortunately” because we believe it is both clearly in the interests of our closest ally in the Middle East for the situation to be resolved in this way; we also believe that it would be in the interest of the Palestinian people to resolve this conflict in that way, and resolving the conflict would advance the national security interests of the United States.
Q Can the United States --
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’m confident that both sides, the leaders of the Palestinian people and the leaders of the nation of Israel, are under pressure from the citizens, from their people, from their constituents, to end this conflict. Neither side is well-served by it. It has taken a toll on the economy. It certainly has taken a toll on the security in both Palestinian and Israeli neighborhoods. And the significant loss of innocent life is just tragic. And hopefully, both sides will be able to summon the political courage at some point relatively soon to come to the table and finally make the kinds of tough political decisions that will be required to resolve their differences.
Q There’s a UNESCO amendment floating around which essentially strips Israel of any rights (inaudible) including the Western Wall. Does the administration have any (inaudible) UNESCO?
MR. EARNEST: I’d refer you to the U.N. Ambassador’s office for a comment on that.
Q Thanks, Josh. You said that you would consider it a luxury and not a burden to have someone running for President who would uphold the policies of this administration.
MR. EARNEST: I mean, I guess I should say another one. But, yes, another one.
Q So you don’t see any circumstances under which if Joe Biden gets into the race it could make it more difficult for Democrats to win the White House?
MR. EARNEST: I think there’s lots of political analysis that has been done and probably will be done around that specific question.
Q No concern around the White House that that could happen?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think the view around the White House is that the Democratic voters across the country will choose the person that is best positioned to represent the Democratic Party in the next presidential election. And there’s a lot of confidence here in the White House in the ability of Democratic voters to do exactly that.
And you can be sure that whoever the Democratic nominee is, is both someone who will understand the importance of building on the important progress that we’ve made over the last seven years, but it’s also a candidate that can count on the strong support of the incumbent President of the United States. And I’m confident that we’ll spend a lot of time this time of year, next year, advocating for that Democratic presidential candidate.
Q You have not wanted to consistently -- and have said you aren’t necessarily privy to any conversations that the Vice President and the President are having about this topic. But is the President staying out of this, essentially?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President is staying out of it in that he understands that the Vice President has to make his own personal decision about this, and the President is staying out of it with regard to his understanding that this is only a decision that Vice President Biden can make for himself and for his family. I think the President is sympathetic to how difficult a decision like this is to make. But ultimately, the President understands that this is a decision that can be made by Vice President Biden and by Vice President Biden alone.
Q Which is not to say he’s not offering advice.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’m not going to get into their conversations. Obviously, they’re having lunch today, maybe even right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if questions of politics came up. But I’m not privy to the details of those conversations.
Q Let me ask you quickly about another topic, which is guns. The Gallup Poll out yesterday says 55 percent of adults want stricter regulations. That’s 8 percentage points up from where it was last year. And only 33 percent of those polled said they felt the current gun sale regulations should remain the same. I’m wondering, the President stood right where you’re standing after the horrific Oregon shooting and basically said they should -- this will not stand, this cannot stand. What is the White House doing actively to see that something changes?
MR. EARNEST: Chris, you heard the President, in a news conference that he did about a week later, acknowledge that his team was going back and scrubbing through the law to determine if there were additional authorities that could be used by the President of the United States to try to have an impact on some of these rules. And the President has made clear that he’ll do as much as he possibly can within his power to try to prevent those who shouldn’t have guns from getting them in the first place.
And the President believe strongly that we can do that without undermining the fundamental constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. And the most important impact that we can have in this area would be for Congress to pass a common-sense law that would close the gun show loophole and ensure that everybody who tries to purchase a firearm even at a gun show would be subjected to a background check.
Q So is there actively work going on with influential members of Congress in this regard?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as it relates to Congress, I think the President has been quite clear about what will be required before we see significant change in Congress. We're going to need to see the American people step up and to make their voices heard. And you mentioned this latest polling data, but there’s ample data out there, and has been for quite some time, to indicate that a vast majority of the American public holds this common-sense view. And it won’t be until that that common-sense view is strongly conveyed to members of Congress, and until members of Congress understand that the votes that they expect from their constituents will be contingent on them holding that same common-sense view, and until that political effort has been mobilized, we're unlikely to see Congress take the kind of action that the President certainly believes is long overdue.
Q And knowing that you love to comment on what some Republicans are saying, I’ll just make this final question. Donald Trump said last night that President Obama is working on an executive order to take Americans’ guns away, something that's getting a lot of pickup, particularly in conservative media. Do you want to respond to that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President has made no bones about the fact that he’s prepared to use every element of his administrative authority to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. But I think the President’s track record makes clear that he doesn't just respect, but actually is willing to protect the basic Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. Those are just the facts about the President’s record. Those are the facts about the President’s priority. And we certainly would welcome others who share that common-sense view for making their voices heard.
Q So Trump is lying or misinformed?
MR. EARNEST: I have no idea what Donald Trump is doing. (Laughter.)
Q I have a couple things, but first wanted to quickly look back on the Biden thing and ask if possibly you could talk to the President or Vice President about this, because there is a precedent actually of White House spokesmen commenting on this very issue. Jay Carney, your predecessor, is among the chorus of people who say that the Vice President did advise the President not to go after bin Laden in the raid. So I’m wondering if -- since it was said from your podium if you could clarify that for me.
MR. EARNEST: I think what I’ll probably do is, at the next opportunity that you guys have to ask a question either of the President or the Vice President, you can decide whether or you you’d like to ask them directly, and if so, you won’t have to rely on me.
Q All right. I wanted to ask about CIA Director John Brennan. Obviously there are reports that his email was hacked but also that the hackers were able to obtain sensitive data that was forwarded from his White House email address, including the names of people who were visiting the White House and possibly substantive information about intelligence assets. I’m wondering if that has led to any investigation here at the White House about his use of his White House email and transferring sensitive data from his White House email to an obviously less secure personal email.
MR. EARNEST: Justin, I haven’t seen those specific reports and I’m certainly not aware of any ongoing investigation. I feel confident in saying that Director Brennan understands as well as anybody in the federal government the need to handle sensitive data with the appropriate level of caution.
So I think what is clear is that this underscores the importance of government officials -- as it sounds like Director Brennan did -- using their official government email address for official government work. But it does highlight the risk that all of us face when it comes to the security of even our private email. And certainly this is the kind of environment -- this cybersecurity environment that we’re currently operating in is one that requires vigilance not just on the part of those of us, all of us that have private email addresses, but also on the part of the companies that are responsible for administering the security around those private email systems.
And many of the best practices that this administration has advocated are the kinds of things that would bolster cybersecurity, and not just in the government space but also in the private sector as well.
Q And then I just wanted to ask if you could maybe preview the meeting with the leader of Pakistan later this week. I know that the President kind of vaguely referenced the need to end sanctuaries for terrorists -- or for the Taliban and other terrorists, presumably within Pakistan. So I’m wondering if there’s a specific ask that he’ll have on that, and if there are other kind of agenda items that the President hopes to raise during this meeting.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have a comprehensive preview of their discussions at this point. Obviously, as I mentioned yesterday, the United States has an important security relationship with Pakistan, that our security forces have in a variety of ways been able to effectively coordinate our efforts in a way that enhances the national security of both the United States and Pakistan.
Obviously there are extremist elements inside of Pakistan that have committed terrible acts of violence and terrible acts of terrorism inside of Pakistan. And I have on previous occasions read condolence statements on behalf of the American people to the Pakistani people because of those extremist elements. I cite that only to note that this is a shared priority of our two countries; that this risk that we sense emanates from this broader region is a risk that -- or is a threat that Pakistan has had to deal with firsthand, and it underscores the importance of our security relationship with the Pakistanis.
Q The only other thing that the President mentioned was the need to push the Taliban back into peace negotiations in Afghanistan. I’m wondering both if that’s a topic that you expect to come up, but also if you put into that context Treasury -- they have sanctioned a top Taliban official, and whether that’s a carrot or a stick, how does that fit into that strategy?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I’ve observed before, one of the early rounds of reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban was actually hosted by the Pakistani government inside of Pakistan. So it’s clear that the Pakistan government recognizes how important those reconciliation efforts are and we’re pleased that they’ve stepped up in trying to facilitate constructive conversations.
As it relates to the Treasury announcement, I’d refer you to the Treasury Department about the individual that was sanctioned and what activities earned that individual this special designation.
Q Take us to a couple of other things that the Vice President said today. He said, “every Vice President’s job in relationship to their President is defined by the President himself.” Would you agree with that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, based on what I saw on Twitter -- which can be a little dangerous --
Q He just said that that’s the way it works. The President defines your job when you’re the Vice President. Would you agree with that?
MR. EARNEST: I would agree with what the Vice President said, which is that a lot of the authority and influence that’s derived from the office of Vice President is based on the relationship between the President and the Vice President. And I think all of you have observed the closeness and respect that’s included in that relationship between this President and this Vice President.
Q So this Vice President’s role was defined by the President.
MR. EARNEST: Again, it sounds like that’s exactly what he said, so he would know better than I.
Q You would agree with that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s hard for me to disagree with that.
Q The reason I bring that up is because, if, in fact, the Vice President runs, and he’s already beginning to differentiate or, in a very robust way, describe his role, and there’s no other person that we can ask directly other than the President than you about what he did and what he didn’t do. And this is going to put you potentially in the position of litigating what his role was here vis-à-vis the Secretary of State, former Secretary of State Clinton, or anybody else. So what I want to sort of lay before you is, are you going to take up that role? You’re trying to dance around it today because he’s not a candidate. But if he becomes a candidate, are you going to take these questions and answer them as directly and fully as you possibly can?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I will do is this -- and this may be getting ahead of ourselves, but this is what I would do, maybe is what I should say. Each of these candidates, particularly Secretary Clinton, and if he chooses to become a candidate, Vice President Biden, will be responsible for going out there in public and making their own affirmative case. And if there is an instance in which the President’s interests are at stake, then it’s my responsibility to go out there and make sure that his interests are properly and well-represented. But in a debate like this one that has emerged based on the Vice President’s public comments today, it’s raised questions among all of you about the Vice President’s role, what his views were at the time -- those are all questions you can ask the Vice President or his spokesperson.
I certainly have had lots of positive things to say about the Vice President because of his important contributions to our nation’s and our administration’s success. But if he chooses to become a candidate for Vice President, he will have ample opportunity to make his own public case about why the American people should promote him to the top job.
Q So when he said, as he did today, that when he traveled around the world, “world leaders know that I am speaking for the President,” is that true?
MR. EARNEST: I think that is true. And I think that those world leaders know when they're receiving the Vice President of the United States, they're receiving him because they know that the President has asked him to go.
Q And that should be interpreted, yes or no, as him being a more significant voice than the present Secretary of State or Defense Secretary, somebody like that?
MR. EARNEST: I think the same thing could be said about the Secretary of State or any other senior U.S. official that's representing the interest of the U.S. government before another government. They're there to represent the interests of the American people, and they're there to represent -- to try to advance our priorities. And I think that's true --
Q -- interpret that as the Vice President suggesting he was speaking more powerfully on behalf of the President than anybody else in the Cabinet?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think when people are receiving the Vice President, they understand that they're receiving somebody who has a very close personal relationship with the President and somebody that has a very detailed understanding of the President’s views and priorities. So I understand why other countries are eager to have the opportunity to receive the Vice President. So I guess to that extent, that's the significance of a vice presidential visit to another country.
Q When Jon was asking you about what to make of all this, you said you’ll let us read the political tea leaves. And what he was asking about was operational debates or advice or things that were said within the confines of this White House. It wasn’t a political question. And I wonder why your answer went to politics. Do you think that this has become a political debate even when it goes to what the Vice President either said to the President, or what his role was in regards to Cabinet or veto power? Those are operational questions. They're not innately political questions.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t remember exactly Jon’s question in which I gave that answer. I do believe that it was a question about sort of the political consequences of it all. But look, when we’re talking -- I think there are a couple of important things to separate out. Yes, these conversations are operational, and that’s the reason that we’ve talked about them even in the immediate aftermath of the successful completion of the mission. What’s also true is the reason that we’re talking about it now is because of politics. And so separating that out in some cases may be a little bit in the eye of the beholder.
But what I will do moving forward is what I’ve done in the past, which is to do the best that I can to try to help you understand the President’s view on things and to represent the President’s interests when they come into question. But if it’s a question purely of politics that only has tangential interest or tangential impact on the President, then I’ll at least be less likely to weigh in. But we’ll see how this works going forward.
Q Someone the President knows and respects, Jim Clyburn, said today that it was his opinion and point of view that the Vice President should not announce that he was going to run for President, that he should say he is available if necessary. What do you think of that?
MR. EARNEST: That’s creative. Look, everybody is entitled to their opinion and certainly somebody like Mr. Clyburn, who has been a close observer of presidential politics for decades now, based on the prominence that his home state has in the process of choosing a Democratic nominee, so Mr. Clyburn certainly knows what he is talking about. But with all due respect to somebody as significant and as sophisticated as Mr. Clyburn, there is only one person’s view whose matters, and in this case it’s the Vice President of the United States.
Q Josh, is there a feeling -- back on Pakistan -- from the administration that they’re not doing enough to tamp down the extremist interest in that country? And how would you describe U.S.-Pakistani relationship now? Are we frenemies? (Laughter.) Is there still any lingering friction --
MR. EARNEST: Technical term?
Q Hard to translate. (Laughter.)
Q Is there any lingering friction over the bin Laden raid or anything?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that it’s been well documented that there have been some peaks and troughs in the relationship between the United States and Pakistan when it comes to the relationship between our two countries. I think something similar could be said about the United States and our relationship with a variety of countries around the world over the last couple of decades.
What the President hopes to do is to strengthen the relationship between our two countries based on our shared interest. And as I mentioned either to Major or to Chris, there is a shared interest that the United States and Pakistan have in countering extremist forces in that region of the world. This is something that Pakistan has to deal with on their doorstep. And to the extent that the United States can be helpful in that regard, we would like to be, principally because we believe that it’s in our interest for Pakistan to succeed in their fight against those extremist elements, and to make their country safer. And we’ve been supportive of their efforts to do that.
Q But there’s not a feeling that they haven’t done enough on their own?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I’m confident that there are -- this is true with even our closest allies -- that we’re always encouraging them to do more. Even our NATO allies. We regularly get into this debate about how much more of a financial contribution we would like to see our NATO allies make to their defense budgets because we believe there is more that they could do to advance our shared interest and to strengthen our alliance.
And I’m confident that the President will come to his meeting with Prime Minister Sharif with some ideas about what more the Pakistanis could do to strengthen the relationship between our two countries and to advance the security interests of our two countries.
Q Thanks, Josh. Has the President met Justin Trudeau?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a good question. I’m not aware -- off the top of my head, I’m not aware of any individual meeting that they’ve had, but we can look into that for you.
Q Thanks, appreciate that. Now that Trudeau is leading Canada, and Australia and France also have progressives leading the way, as does this country, what does that say about the job left among some of the major economies in the world, do you think?
MR. EARNEST: I think it’s hard to compare those broader trends. I think ultimately these are citizens that are casting votes based on the political climate in each of their individual countries. I think it’s hard to -- maybe there’s somebody that knows a little bit more about current international politics than I do that might be able to draw a line between all of those elections, but my sense of politics is that each of these electorates is responding to dynamics inside their own country.
Q Keystone, we’ve talked a great deal about it. Does this tamp down that division or that divisiveness between this administration and the Canadian administration now that Trudeau will be moving into power?
MR. EARNEST: My sense is that the strength of the U.S.-Canada relationship is based on all those areas where we’ve been able to effectively work together to advance our shared interests. And whether that’s making commitments to the climate process in Paris, to fighting ISIL in Iraq and in Syria, or working cooperatively with 10 other nations in the Asia Pacific to advance our economic interests in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, each of those represents substantial areas where the United States and Canada have been able to pursue our joint interests.
Q So Keystone is not a big deal, is that kind of what you’re saying?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I’m saying is that all three of those other things that I just named are a much bigger deal. And ultimately, a decision will be rendered on the Keystone project, but I’m confident that regardless of what that final decision is, I have confidence and will continue to have confidence in the strength of the U.S.-Canada relationship.
Q Jim Webb steps out of the race on the Democratic side. Do you feel like his is a voice that has a place in Democratic politics? And why do you feel like he didn’t resonate for whatever reason?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I’ll let you all speculate on what Senator Webb may have been able to do differently to try to get a little bit more traction inside the Democratic presidential primary race. Obviously, Senator Webb is somebody who’s made a substantial contribution to our nation’s national security -- both his service in our military in Vietnam to his service in the Reagan administration, but also his service in the United States Senate. And he’s had quite an interesting career, and I think like many people I’m quite interested to see what he’s going to do next.
Q NDAA making its way here perhaps as soon as this evening -- is that your understanding?
MR. EARNEST: That's my understanding that it could come in the next day or two. I’m not sure exactly to what to attribute the delay in delivering the legislation to the White House, but maybe some of our Republican friends on Capitol Hill could explain that. But I think we all know the outcome here.
Q You talked about this Biden question and the things he said today as maybe having some tangential importance. But the reason it’s so interesting is because it’s different than what we’ve heard from other people before, and it goes directly to, A, what happened that night, exactly, who felt what about it, and what kind of pressure the President was under. And the President himself talked about it in that context when he said even the Vice President wasn’t for this. So is there any reason to doubt that what the President said when he said those words wasn’t accurate?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don't think I’m trying to indicate a change in the President’s view. I think what I’m suggesting is that the people who were in the room at the time are the ones that should be consulted. But ultimately, the decision that mattered was the decision that was made by the President of the United States to carry out a mission against Osama bin Laden. And thanks to the courage and professionalism and effectiveness of our men and women in the intelligence community and our men and women in uniform, that mission -- that daring mission was successful.
Q And that is, again, why it’s interesting, because the people who were in that room are saying all kinds of different things. And today, the Vice President said that there were only two people who were definitive in their views -- Panetta and Gates. But that's different than what we’ve heard from Hillary Clinton. So when the Vice President said that today, is there any reason -- he was in that room -- is there any reason to doubt what he said?
MR. EARNEST: I think historians would probably tell you that this is not the first time that a significant political event has prompted differing recollections from people who participated in it. And that is not to call into question the integrity or veracity or honesty of anybody who participated. I think it is an acknowledgement that, particularly when the stakes are really high and the pressure is on, that in hindsight the situation looks different. And so for sussing all that out, you’ll have to talk to people who were actually in the room.
Q Right. But this being one of the most important moments in the President’s term and something that he’s talked extensively about, is there a concern that there might be some mis-remembering going on here on the part of the Vice President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, for an accurate accounting of what happened, you're going to have to talk with people who were in the room.
Q And in general, let’s just say generally speaking here, if somebody was going to jump into a presidential race at this point -- (laughter) --
MR. EARNEST: Just anybody, huh?
Q Yes, we can look at anything, generally, right? And numbers were showing that about a third of all Democrats didn't think it was a great idea, and another third didn't care, would you ever think that it was a good idea for that person to get in? And would you not possibly think that it might be bad for the party for somebody to --
MR. EARNEST: I don't think that it’s bad for the party for somebody who has spent a career fighting for and even advancing the priorities of that party and of the country from making a decision to get into the race. But ultimately, the Vice President will have to decide for himself if that's the right call for him personally and for his family.
Q Thanks, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: Jordan.
Q Thanks, Josh. Follow up on the NDAA, Speaker Boehner indicated that he’s going to sign that bill today. So does the White House have a sense of when President Obama will actually veto the bill?
MR. EARNEST: I don't. But we’ll let you know when it’s done.
Q Any sense whether it would be a pocket veto or him actually vetoing it?
MR. EARNEST: I would not anticipate that we're going to wait around 10 days even if Republicans waited at least 10 days to send it up here.
Q Josh, are Republicans in Congress friends the way the Vice President said yesterday, or enemies the way Hillary Clinton said last week in Las Vegas?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess they have their own individual views on this.
Q What’s the White House’s view?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, you've heard me talk quite a bit about how disappointing it has been to see Republicans in Congress engage in a strategy to reflexively oppose -- strictly for partisan reasons -- everything the President has tried to advance. In some cases that has led Republicans down a path of actually opposing ideas that they’ve previously supported. And I think what Republicans found is that in the short term that ended up being a particularly effective political strategy -- after all, they won some significant congressional elections as a result of it. It did not, however, succeed in accomplishing Leader McConnell’s stated goal at the time, which was to ensure that President Obama was a one-term President. So, in that regard, that strategy failed. And I think when you look at the longer term national prospects for the Republican Party, this strategy has been quite corrosive -- to say nothing of the impact that it’s had on the broader country.
So, that all said, there have been some areas where the administration has been able to work with Republicans. The most recent example of this would be I suppose the Trade Promotion Authority legislation that passed over the summer that paved the way for us reaching an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership that we hope will be approved in bipartisan fashion in the Congress.
I think the fact that the President is championing an agreement that we expect will get strong support from Republicans in both the House and the Senate indicates the President’s willingness to actually work across the aisle to get something done. This is a priority that is held by more Republicans in Congress than Democrats, but yet the Democratic President is aggressively pursuing it. And I think that is a quite clear illustration of the President’s willingness to work with Republicans to advance shared objectives even if the Republicans are not willing, in general, to extend him the same courtesy.
Q What do you think the Vice President meant yesterday when he was talking about Darrell Issa -- in the context of clean energy -- and he said -- he seemed to make a note of it that Republicans are friends, that Republicans can be useful in these kinds of situations?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that what Vice President -- I didn't see his actual comments, so let me just -- I can speak to the President’s view of this, and that simply is this is -- we're in an era of divided government, and the American people, in their wisdom, elected a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate. And that means that if we're going to advance the nation’s priorities, we're going to have to find a way to do it in bipartisan fashion; that we're going to choose policies that can get the support of at least some Republicans on Capitol Hill and earn the support of the Democratic President. And that means that Democrats and Republicans have to work together to advance our shared interests.
And the President has long been committed to that principle. And, unfortunately, we have seen too many Republicans on Capitol Hill long resist that principle. That's been a disappointment to the President. It’s not been good for the country, and I think over the long term, it’s not one that has advanced the political interests of the Republican Party. But that's just my opinion.
Q So if it’s friends, is it friends without too many benefits? (Laughter.) Or saying earlier “frenemies”? (Laughter.) I don't know.
MR. EARNEST: I don't think I’m going to go there. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you, Josh. Just back to Justin Trudeau, and I wonder if you can clear something up. While he is a progressive, his position in the campaign was he was for going ahead with the Keystone XL pipeline -- no different from Prime Minister Harper, save for the fact he wanted new environmental standards that he thought would bring President Obama and the administration along. But do you say that that will have no effect on the report from the State Department or the administration’s position?
MR. EARNEST: Secretary Kerry has indicated that the timing of the election and the outcome of the election would have no impact on the timing or the outcome of the ongoing review of the Keystone pipeline at the State Department. So I take him at his word on that.
Q The other thing is, a few weeks ago, I know you made very clear the administration’s opposition to politically based riders that would try to defund Planned Parenthood. Congressman Mike Kelly has taken a different course, calling on the IRS to audit Planned Parenthood -- different from the defunding effort. What’s the administration’s position on that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the IRS is an independent enforcement agency, and this administration has worked hard to ensure that the IRS’s activities are not influenced by the political debate. And that is a principle that we have worked aggressively to uphold and it’s certainly one that I believe that every member of Congress should respect.
Chris, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Great. At a recent town hall in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton acknowledged her evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage, saying personal relationships (inaudible) for marriage equality. The Secretary didn’t declare her support for same-sex marriage until 2013, after she left the administration. Are you aware of any reason why Secretary Clinton couldn’t have endorsed marriage equality during her time as Secretary of State?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not, but I didn’t work at the State Department so I wouldn’t have sort of the most keen sensitivity to what pressures she may have been under in that role. But you can certainly check with her campaign and they can give you their sense of that.
Q Do you think it’s fair to glean that because she did not say anything about the issue that she did not support same-sex marriage throughout her tenure in the administration, even after President Obama came out for it in 2012?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know what her views on this topic are, so you should just check with her campaign.
Q I do have one follow-up question, and that is, do you think given the President’s own evolution on this issue, do you think her changing views on marriage should be seen differently than her other positions that have changed, such as Keystone XL or the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
MR. EARNEST: I think there is an understandable tendency to want to try to make all those things the same or to try to divine some element of her personality by looking at her views on a range of topics. But when it comes to her views on same-sex marriage, I take her at her word that her views on this topic underwent the kind of change that a lot of people’s views have other the last several years. And I think many people have noted the significance of this changing debate in our country and this changing debate in our political system. And the President certainly believes that it reflects important progress that our country has made.
Thanks a lot, everybody.
1:55 P.M. EDT