Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Newark, New Jersey, 11/2/2015
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Newark, New Jersey
12:51 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to Newark, New Jersey, where the President will visit with leaders in this community who are working to rehabilitate and reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals.
The potential benefits of their work is important. First, it gives those who have paid their debt to society the kind of second chance that they deserve. Second, it's good for the local economy. We're talking about more workers with better skills who could be more effective in providing for their families and being more productive members of society. Third, this is critical to lowering recidivism rates and crime rates over all. Someone with a fair shot and decent prospects is much better positioned to succeed than someone who is simply being turned out onto the street.
The Newark community is a leader in these efforts. Mayor Baraka and Senator Booker deserve a lot of credit for that. And the experience of the community in Newark should inform our efforts in Washington as we seek to reform our criminal justice system to make our system more fair and our communities safe.
So that will be the topic of the President’s activities there today. He’s going to visit a couple of different sites where he'll be seeing firsthand these efforts at work.
So with that, we'll go to your questions.
Q Josh, New Jersey’s governor has spent the morning on television railing against the President for taking credit for things he didn’t do and repeating his claim that the President is insufficiently supportive of law enforcement. Do you have any reactions to his comments?
MR. EARNEST: Josh, I've noted before that Governor Christie’s comments in this regard have been particularly irresponsible, but not surprising for somebody whose poll numbers are closer to an asterisk than they are double digits. So clearly this is part of the strategy for turning that around. We'll see if it works.
Q I feel like just a few years ago, the President came up with Governor Christie to sort of join forces after Hurricane Sandy. It seemed like you guys were on the same page. You seemed to have a sharp tone, too. Was that just responding to him, or do you think his leadership has declined in the last few years?
MR. EARNEST: I think this is a response to his comments of late, which I'm not sure are aimed at actually solving the problem other than the problem that exists with his poll numbers. But -- go ahead.
Q You were mentioning before that Senator Booker and Mayor Baraka deserve some credit for some of what’s gone successfully in Newark. Does Governor Christie deserve any credit for his policies on law enforcement and criminal justice reform?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'll be honest, I'm not aware of the details of his record in terms of whether or not he’s taken steps to support the kinds of programs that we're going to visit today. But if he were interested in talking about that record and investments that he had made in these kinds of community projects that are clearly making a difference in communities like Newark then he can certainly make that case for himself. That's not what he’s chosen to focus his attention on, which leads me to believe that his record in this regard may not be sterling. But again, you guys can go check that out and he can go make the case for himself.
Q Do you have any comments on the Turkish election and particularly what that may mean for the relationship between the Turks and the Kurds going forward?
MR. EARNEST: John, I do have a statement on this: The United States congratulates the people of Turkey on their participation in yesterday’s elections. We look forward to working with the newly elected parliament and with the future government. As a friend and NATO ally, the United States is committed to continuing our close coordination with Turkey to advance our shared political, security and prosperity agendas.
We are, however, deeply concerned that media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition. We note that the OSCE released a statement today highlighting that parliamentary elections in Turkey offered voters a variety of choices but that the campaign was affected by violence and restrictions on media freedom. We have both publicly and privately raised our concerns about freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Turkey, and we continue to urge Turkish authorities to uphold the universal democratic values that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.
Q What about in terms of what this may mean for relations between the Kurds and the Turks going forward?
MR. EARNEST: Well, at this point, the Turkish government is in the process of forming, and the impact of this election is one that is still being assessed -- obviously it's only been a day. But moving forward, we will be able to assess the government’s commitment to the kind of democratic principles that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.
Q Is that something the President is likely to raise on his upcoming trip to Turkey?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President is going to Turkey for the G20. Obviously the Turkish government, President Erdogan, will be hosting leaders around the world who will be in attendance. I would anticipate that the President will see President Erdogan at that meeting, but the President’s schedule there is still being put together. So we'll have more details on the President’s trip soon.
Q Josh, on another international incident, has the White House been watching this plane crash over Egypt and do you have any intelligence or comment on the cause of it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, let me start by offering our condolences to the Russian people, particularly those who lost loved ones in the crash of the airliner over the weekend. This was obviously a tragic incident and the lives of hundreds of people were lost.
Russian and Egyptian authorities are investigating the crash to try to determine the cause, and at this point, I don't want to get ahead of an ongoing investigation. Just anticipating your next question, we are also aware of claims of responsibility by extremists in the Sinai Peninsula. But rather than speculating on what may have led to this terribly tragic incident, we're going to allow the investigation to move forward to try to get to the bottom of what happened.
Q Is the U.S. offering support for those investigations? And has that been requested by either the Russians or the Egyptians?
MR. EARNEST: The United States has offered support for the investigation. But at this point, I'm not aware of any resources that have been dedicated thus far. But that obviously is an open offer. And while not aware of any American lives that were lost, we obviously have an interest in helping Egyptian and Russian authorities get to the bottom of what exactly occurred there.
Q On that topic, number of European airlines have put a moratorium on flying in that airspace over the Sinai until this gets figured out. Does the U.S. have any plans to make recommendations that American pilots not traverse that airspace?
MR. EARNEST: This is a decision that's made by the FAA, based on their own analysis of the situation. I’m not aware of any announcements that the FAA has made in this regard today, but you can follow up with them and see if they have anything planned.
Q I think Wednesday will mark the one month since the TPP partnership was announced with the 12 countries. The text has not been released yet. Do you anticipate USTR and this administration releasing that text publicly this week or next week before the President goes to Asia?
MR. EARNEST: David, I haven’t gotten a timing update on when they expect to complete the finalized text. I know that in the 29 days or so that they’ve been working on it that a lot of sweat equity has gone into correctly translating the document and making sure that all those I’s are dotted and T’s were crossed. This is a rather extensive document and so --
Q Is there any particular holdup, or do you -- and are you concerned about the timetable slipping?
MR. EARNEST: I’ve not been briefed about any concerns about finalizing the document. I think it’s just been an arduous task. So they're still working on it. We're hoping to be able to release it as soon as possible. And we're going to stick to the President’s commitment that he made to giving the American people and the Congress appropriate time -- I believe it's 60 days -- to review that document before the President himself will even sign it. And that will initiate an even longer process for public review of the agreement prior to Congress taking action.
So there will be ample time for the public to consider this document before individual political leaders have to weigh in on it. But all the more important reason that we should make sure that we get the text accurately translated and all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed before it’s released.
Q Speaker Ryan said over the weekend he’s not going to take up immigration reform because the President has proved that he can't be trusted on the issue. Given that you have this new chance now with this new Speaker coming in, does the President plan to do anything to try and restore trust with Speaker Ryan?
MR. EARNEST: I noted the Speaker’s comments over the weekend with a healthy sense of irony that apparently is not shared on the other side of the aisle. Then-Congressman Ryan was instrumental in working in a bipartisan fashion on Capitol Hill to produce bipartisan legislation. That bipartisan legislation passed the United States Senate with bipartisan support, and bipartisan legislation would have passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support if Republican leaders in Congress, including Congressman Ryan, hadn’t blocked it coming to the floor.
So it’s particularly ironic for Speaker Ryan to make that claim when Speaker Ryan himself was instrumental in putting together the agreement and blocked its consideration even though he knew it would pass. So that's why it’s particularly ironic to suggest that somehow he now doesn't trust the President on this issue. It’s preposterous.
Q -- executive action that he’s taken the Republicans feel like exceeded the President’s authority.
MR. EARNEST: He’s welcome to disagree with that, but it’s a little hard for him to say that -- it’s a little hard for him to make the claim that somehow the President hasn’t acted in good faith on immigration when Speaker Ryan actively thwarted a compromise that he himself helped to broker. And then for him to come back and claim that it’s somebody else’s fault -- it's preposterous.
So I understand that he’s got some complicated politics to take care of in the House when it comes to the significant fractures inside of his own conference, and he knows best how to handle that, as is evidenced by the strong support that he got from his conference in the Speaker election. But pandering to the extreme right wing of the Republican conference, including comments -- preposterous comments like that has not served the party or the country very well and it certainly is not indicative of the new era of Republican leadership that Speaker Ryan has promised.
Q Do you see anything at all that you guys can do with Congress between now and the end of the President’s term? Or are we at a point now where that's pretty much done?
MR. EARNEST: I think there are some things. And the disappointing comments from Speaker Ryan notwithstanding when it comes to immigration, there are some areas where we may be able to work together. And the first one is this criminal justice reform issue that the President is going to be talking about today. There has been interest from Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill who recognize the opportunity that exists both to make our criminal justice system more fair and our communities more safe by reforming our criminal justice system. That would be a good thing and I am optimistic that we may be able to work together in bipartisan fashion to get that done.
To his credit, Congressman Ryan -- and now Speaker Ryan -- was instrumental in building a bipartisan majority for trade promotion authority legislation, and we're hopeful that he can play a similar role when it comes to the consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. So those are certainly two things off the top of my head where Democrats and Republicans can work together.
I know that Speaker Ryan is interested in tax reform. We’ve put forward our own proposal for how we could do tax reform in a way that would lower rates, close loopholes, yield some money for important infrastructure investments, while not adding to the deficit. I think that's what many people describe as a common-sense proposal. So if Speaker Ryan is interested in putting forward his own common-sense proposal to try to find some common ground there, that could be another area where we could work together. But that remains to be seen.
Q About a third of the people being released today are undocumented immigrants. Will the administration be helping to provide legal counsel to them for their ability to stay in the U.S., or as some people have called for, will you be watching that they get deported swiftly?
MR. EARNEST: Jeff, for the process of handling those formerly incarcerated individuals who are not citizens of the United States, I’d refer you to ICE. I think the way that this typically works is that these individuals are remanded to the custody of ICE who has a formal process for handling these individuals. So I’d refer you to them. I’m not aware of the ins and outs of the process.
Q It’s been about two weeks since the Canadian elections, and both advocates and opponents of the Keystone pipeline are expecting some type of decision at some point, maybe soon. Is it feasible that there won’t be a decision during this administration?
MR. EARNEST: Our expectation at this point, Brian, is that the President will make a decision before the end of his administration on the Keystone pipeline, but when exactly that will be I don't know at this point.
Q Do you think it might happen this year?
MR. EARNEST: It’s possible. It’s also possible it could happen next year. The State Department may be able to give you some more details about the possible timing.
Anybody else? Okay, thanks, guys.
1:06 P.M. EST