This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Search form

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/10/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:58 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  I do not have any announcements at the top, so, Kevin, we can go straight to your questions.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  Can you say why the President wants to see yesterday’s 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on immigration taken to the Supreme Court?  And what does this really mean for the nearly 5 million people targeted for protection?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, we obviously continue to believe strongly in the legal power of the arguments that we’ve been making for nearly a year now about the importance of giving our law enforcement officials the discretion to implement our immigration laws in a way that focuses on those who pose a genuine threat to our national security or to our communities.  And the impact of Republican opposition, both to these executive actions and to broader, comprehensive immigration reform legislation is to only perpetuate a system in which our law enforcement resources are diffused, and it results in more families being torn apart.

And that is clearly not in the best interest of our national security.  It’s not in the best interest of public safety.  It’s also not consistent with the values of this country.  That’s why the President chose to act using executive authority consistent with the way that every President dating back to the ‘50s has used that authority.  And we’re confident in the power of the legal arguments, and that’s I think why you’ve seen the Department of Justice make such a quick decision to move this on up the line to the Supreme Court.

Q    Does the President plan any further expansion of efforts that focus federal law enforcement resources on serious criminals and public safety threats?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, that is part of the aspects of the President’s executive action that have already moved forward.  We’ve talked a lot about the Priority Enforcement Program in here; this is the program that the Department of Homeland Security has used to better coordinate with local law enforcement organizations so that we can make sure that we’re devoting all of the necessary efforts to removing individuals that do pose a genuine threat to our national security or have been convicted of dangerous crimes.  These are individuals who have been convicted of aggravated felonies like murder and armed robbery and rape; individuals who are engaged in or suspected of terrorism; individuals who have been convicted of gang activity; or on individuals who have only recently crossed the border.

Those are the areas where our enforcement priorities should be targeted.  And frankly, the broken immigration system perpetuated by Republicans who have opposed reform would actually reduce the attention on these individuals.  And it’s because the President feels so strongly about this that he has put in place his own -- using his executive authority, given our law enforcement officials the opportunity to exercise their discretion and to focus on these high-priority cases.

Q    Will the President reject the revised defense bill that still includes restrictions on Guantanamo Bay transfers?  And will he issue a signing statement regarding that bill?

MR. EARNEST:  Kevin, we have long expressed our disappointment at the repeated effort by Congress to impede the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  The President believes closing that prison is a national security priority.  The President is not the only person who shares that view.  There are a range of Republican senators, including Senators McCain and Graham, who have indicated their support for closing the prison because it would advance our national security interests.

There are a range of former Secretaries of State who have served both Democratic and Republican presidents who have said that it would be clearly in the best interest of our country to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  Even General Petraeus, when he was serving as the Commander of Central Command, indicated that it would serve the interest of the United States to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

There is widespread bipartisan support among those who have spent the most time and -- have spent the most time thinking about and implementing plans to advance our national security interests.

Q    So veto wouldn’t work?

MR. EARNEST:  So our view is that our view of those specific provisions have not changed.  And what the President does believe, though, is that there are a number of provisions in the NDAA that are important to running and protecting the country.  So that’s why I would expect that you would see the President sign the NDAA when it comes to his desk, whenever it comes to his desk.  But that certainly does not reflect a change in our position or the intensity of our position about the need to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and the need for Congress to actually cooperate with us in doing so.

Q    And just finally, with Veterans Day tomorrow, I wanted to ask about the efforts to improve access to health care.  The VA Secretary said last week that improved access is leading to more demand, and that the number of appointment visits not completed within 30 days has grown to 500,000 from 300,000.  What can be done to stem those growing numbers?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, because so many of the reforms that Secretary McDonald has put into place, we have seen important progress made at the VA when it comes to ensuring that our veterans have access to the health care and benefits that they deserve.  

So just a couple of statistics I think that illustrate the progress that they’ve made.  Over the past 12 months, the VA says that the agency and its partners have completed approximately 7 million more appointments for veterans than they did in the previous year.  That is an indication of the surge in requests made on behalf of our veterans in terms of the care that they’re looking for -- appointments that they’re seeking.  But it also reflects an increased capacity at the VA to try to meet those needs.  And so that’s a good statistic.

There also is progress that’s being made in terms of working through the disability claims backlog that has long-plagued that agency.  That backlog has now been reduced 85 percent from its peak.  So there still is a backlog there that we need to work through, but a lot of important progress has been made in reducing that backlog.  So those are just a couple of illustrative examples that show how seriously the President and this administration take our commitment to providing the benefits to our veterans that they have so richly deserved.


Q    Josh, if the immigration executive order makes its way through the courts and goes in your way, because it’s not a given, the timeline would probably be roughly next summer, at which point the administration could start implementing the order.  Would that be enough time to process the roughly 5 million applications for people before the end of the Obama -- the President’s term?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, I think the question has always been about take-up.  I don’t think anybody’s expectation would be that -- even in light of a favorable outcome for the administration and for the country, I don’t think the expectation would be that we get 5 million applications on the very first day.

But we certainly will have to sort of see where things stand, but I think the President’s commitment to this issue in implementing these reforms is well known.  I think that’s why you’ve seen us fight this so aggressively in the courts and so aggressively make our case.  And that’s why you’ve seen us work so hard to implement those aspects of the President’s executive orders -- executive actions that haven't been successfully challenged in the courts.

So this is something that we take seriously.  For how and under what terms the Department of Homeland Security would move forward with implementing this, I would refer you to them for those details.  But I think the expectation that we have here is that we would move forward on as aggressive a timeframe as we could.

Q    Okay.  You just said that the President will not veto the NDAA despite the provisions on Guantanamo.  Does that effectively mean that once the plan that you and the Pentagon are preparing and will send to Congress will be essentially dead on arrival?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I wouldn’t expect that all.  I mean, the fact is, the inclusion of these provisions in the NDAA is an unfortunate perpetuation of the status quo.  For years, Congress has sought to put this troublesome language in the NDAA.  And that’s something that we’ve been quite outspoken about.  So I don’t think this has any material impact on our ability to put together and send to Congress a thoughtful, carefully considered plan for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and a plan that we believe merits the strong support of both Democrats and Republicans in the Congress.  That will, however, require Democrats and Republicans in the Congress to put the national interest ahead of their much more narrow and, in comparison, trivial political interest.

Q    So that plan relies on the ability to transfer prisoners out of Guantanamo --

MR. EARNEST:  Sure does.

Q    -- and because of this, which the President is not going to veto, that is prohibited by law?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, Jeff, we’ve had these obstacles -- legislative obstacles to our efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay in place for some time.  And what we have sought is congressional cooperation to remove those obstacles so we could move forward in a reasonable way consistent with our national security interests.

Q    But we’re not getting that support.

MR. EARNEST:  We haven't gotten it for years.

Q    And you’re not choosing this opportunity to it throw back at Congress when they send it to you.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, there’s also just the practical reality of what the votes look like.  So I think we’ve been quite clear about what our priority is, and it has been suggested to the administration that one possible way forward in the Congress is for us to put together a plan for their review.  And that’s what we’re doing now, and we’re hoping that it will be as carefully considered as it was by the administration when we were putting it together.  And if so, we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to build some bipartisan support to get this done.  And that’s obviously a top priority.

Q    And finally, on one issue that came up yesterday as well, with regard to Russia and the report about its doping allegations.  The Kremlin has dismissed those allegations and called it a political hit job.  Does the White House have confidence in the work of the World Anti-Doping Agency?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is obviously an independent organization.  I haven't -- I’m not aware of any sort of independent review that’s been done of their work.  But based on the news reports that we’ve seen so far, and the previous efforts of the anti-doping agency to enforce the rules and regulations of a variety of sports, I don’t think there’s any reason to plausibly call into question their intent to fairly enforce the rules.


Q    Let’s talk about, if we could for a moment, people -- the families and undocumented workers who are in the United States now and are no longer protected by the President’s order.  That’s about 5 million people.  Many of them are in states like Texas and California, and Texas of course brought the lawsuit.  What do you think is going to happen to those people?  They’re obviously not going to self-deport.  Do you expect now that ICE will go after them and that the order that the President issued in 2014 that ICE spent its time going after criminals will be voided, and that now they’ll go after legal people who are living crime-free lives?

MR. EARNEST:  Jim, the President’s commitment to this policy is unchanged.  And our expectation is that the enforcement priorities will remain in place primarily because it’s just common sense.  We’ve got limited law enforcement resources that would be bigger if Republicans in Congress had acted.  That was part of the comprehensive immigration reform proposal, was to actually better resource border security and our enforcement efforts.

So given those limits that Congress has -- Republicans in Congress have put in place on our law enforcement officials, they’re going to focus their activities on those who pose a genuine threat to the community or to our national security.  And so these are individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes like murder and aggravated robbery, or individuals that have recently crossed the border; individuals that are complicit in gang activity.  Those are the areas that should be our focus.  And those are the areas that will be our focus moving forward.  

Now, what the court has prevented is the implementation of executive actions that would actually bring another group of immigrants out of the shadows.  And the most significant of these groups I think are the parents of American citizens.  And these are parents, in many cases, who have been in the United States for more than a decade.  And the failed result of a failed policy that has been perpetuated by Republicans in Congress has too often resulted in those families being torn apart.  That’s not consistent with our values.

The other thing is it’s also not consistent with the economic interest of this country; that by bringing these individuals out of the shadows and giving them the opportunity to register and to pay taxes has a whole host of important economic benefits associated with it.  In 2024, sort of -- because, as I was mentioning to Jeff, it’s hard to sort of calculate what the take-up rate would be -- the CEA has basically said that if this were implemented now, that 10 years from now what you would see is you’d see an economy that was $100 billion larger, and you would see workers that were getting paid -- all workers -- getting paid about a half percent more.

What we know right now is that when employers hire undocumented workers under the table, that puts downward pressure on wages.  So by bringing these workers out of the shadows, making them register and giving them the opportunity to get a job and pay taxes, that’s actually going to put upward pressure on wages, to say nothing of the impact that it would have in terms of reducing our deficit.  The calculation made by the White House is that this would actually reduce the deficit by $30 billion in 2024.

So there are a whole host of good economic reasons to allow these executive actions to move forward.  And I’ll just say something that the President himself has said many times over the last year, which is if Congress is ready to get to work and actually do the right thing for the country, and pass comprehensive immigration reform along the lines of what passed the Senate in bipartisan fashion a couple of years ago, the President would happily rescind his executive order so that the congressionally passed legislation would be the law of the land.

Again, I think that highlights how unwise Republicans in Congress have been in trying to set a policy that I think from a common-sense standpoint would be good for the country, would be good for our economy and good for our national security.

Q    But let me dig into this just a little bit.  You made all these arguments -- or the administration made all these arguments before the courts.  They didn’t buy it.  But you’re saying that -- so what’s going to change in the immediate future?  Because the administration, you just told me, is not going to move to deport these people who are not breaking the law and who are -- who have citizens who are relatives, they’re not going to move to do it, ICE is not going do it.  So what’s the difference if they’re not processed?  That’s the only thing that’s been changed, is that they won’t be processed into being allowed -- they won’t have an official protection.  But in reality, nothing has changed.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think this highlights the argument that you’ve also heard us make before that is consistent with the argument that Senator Rubio has made before that the broken immigration system that we have in place right now is the closest thing we have to amnesty.  

And the fact is, by putting in place some reforms that include at least a path to legalization, as contemplated in the executive orders -- executive actions, and a path to citizenship as was discussed in the context of the legislation, then you’d have a situation where people would be brought out of the shadows, and you would have much more accountability in the system because these individuals would be registering with the government, they’d be coming out of the shadows.  They’d have to undergo a background check.  They’d also have to pay taxes.  And so there are a whole host of benefits associated with public safety and for a stronger economy.

And so that’s what we’re missing out on right now because of the rulings from these judges, and also from the continued Republican opposition to immigration reform.

Q    But to be clear, what the administration is saying is that these people will continue to live relatively protected, in the shadows, because the administration is not going to go after them.

MR. EARNEST:  I think, unfortunately, Jim, these individuals don’t feel protected.  And the fact is, what we want is we want a much more accountable system where we can focus our law enforcement efforts on those individuals that do pose a genuine threat to public safety -- individuals who have been involved in gangs, individuals who have been involved in violent crimes.  That’s where the focus of our efforts should be.

And when it comes to those individuals who are, for example, just trying to raise their American kids, we should try to find a way out of the shadows for them, to allow them to get right with the law, to submit to a background check and to pay taxes.  That’s going to have a whole host of benefits for our economy and for our country.  And to deny the country and those families those benefits is not in the best interest of our economy and it only puts those kinds of families at greater risk of being torn apart.  

Q    And those 900,000 or so who are now protected by DACA and were not affected by this court ruling, should they feel any more in danger of being not protected anymore?  Or is the administration going to continue to protect them?

MR. EARNEST:  Despite our disappointment with a couple recent court rulings, the legal underpinnings of the DACA law have not been called into question.


Q    First, I wanted to ask if there was at all a silver lining to this -- to the timing of this immigration appeal.  Obviously, you guys would have preferred the court to side with you, but if the Supreme Court takes this up it’s going to be in the middle of the election season.  And so I’m wondering -- you’ve repeatedly hit Republicans already in this briefing -- whether you guys see any advantage for you, for Democrats in general, or a disadvantage for Republicans and their presidential candidates and the sort of timing of this process.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Justin, I think it’s fair to say that Republicans have already maximized the political problem that they have here when they blocked the passage of common-sense bipartisan immigration reform legislation two or three years ago.  And their continued insistence in refusing to bring it up I think is -- does create a real problem for them.

As it relates to what the political dynamics will be next year in the midst of a presidential election and in the midst of Supreme Court hearings, I’d be reluctant to speculate on that, primarily because the interest that we have is in trying to do the right thing for the country, to do the right thing by these families, to do the right thing by our economy, and to do the right thing by public safety and national security.

And implementing these executive actions by each of those measures is in the best interest of the country.  And that’s why we are working so aggressively to press our case in the courts.

Q    Hillary Clinton said over the weekend that she believed marijuana should be rescheduled as a -- or reclassified as a Schedule II drug.  I know that you’ve said in the past that that’s a job for Congress, but it is something that the administration could take a look at.  Schedule II would just allow additional sort of medical research into marijuana as a prescription drug.  I mean, we’ve spent the entire briefing talking about examples of the administration acting where Congress is not, so I’m wondering why this wouldn’t fall into it and why Hillary Clinton is wrong to say that that’s a bigger priority.

MR. EARNEST:  Justin, I haven’t looked carefully at the position that she’s taken, so I can’t comment on that.  All I can say is that our policy, when it comes to marijuana, hasn’t changed, and I’m not aware of any policy process that’s underway to change it right now.

Q    Last one.  You talked yesterday a lot about the protests that have been going on at University of Missouri.  There was a high-profile incident yesterday between a photographer and some of the protesters, and I’m wondering what your reaction to that was.

MR. EARNEST:  I read a little bit about it; I didn’t see the video, but there apparently was a dispute about a photographer being able to shoot photographs of the protest.  And I’m certainly not aware of all the logistics so it’s hard for me to sort of weigh in one side or the other.  But I do think, just as a general principle, the reason that you have public protests and public demonstrations is so the public can be aware of your concerns.  And it seems to me that you’re going to have a hard time getting that message out if you’re going to limit the ability of the media to cover you in a public place.


Q    Back when the first ruling came down on immigration, the administration expressed a lot of confidence in the 5th Circuit going to rule on the merits.  So was this decision something of a big surprise then?  Because there was quite a lot of confidence expressed in that.  And now, moving this up hoping that the Supreme Court will take it up, do you feel the same kind of confidence moving it up a level there?

MR. EARNEST:  Michelle, I think you can tell from the tone of my comments today that we’re quite disappointed in the decision that was rendered by the 5th Circuit.  But it does not in any way diminish the confidence that we have in the power of our legal argument.  And we’re looking forward to having an opportunity to making that argument again before the Supreme Court.

Q    Okay.  And on the Gitmo -- the bill that includes the blockage of closing Gitmo -- do you feel like -- you still want to present this plan, but don’t you feel like now it’s more unlikely than ever with the passage of this that there would be any support for that?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t understand this line of argument.  Congress has included this language in the NDAA for four or five or six years now, so I don’t understand why including it for a 7th year is going to impact our ability.

I readily acknowledge that that this is difficult to do, primarily because Congress has been so obstinate here.  But the fact that they’re doing something for the 6th or 7th consecutive year I don’t think reflects the intensifying of their position, I think it merely reflects the fact that they are keeping their position in place.  And our goal all along has been to try to get them to change that position.

And what some in Congress have suggested is that by presenting a carefully considered plan for their review, that they may be able to persuade a sufficient number of their members to change their position.  That remains to be seen.  But I don’t think there’s anything about this latest version of the NDAA that changes any of that.

Q    Okay, so knowing that it’s sort of down to the wire in the President’s time in office, knowing that this plan or executive action was coming up -- I mean, isn’t it disappointing that more Democrats weren’t causing more of a stir to either keep that language out or to do something more about it?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ve acknowledged for years now, Michelle, and I think everybody -- even my predecessors have too -- that our problem when it comes to this issue of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay is with Democrats too.  And the fact is both Democrats and Republicans in the United States Congress that support the ongoing effort to block the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay are on a different side of that issue than Democratic and Republican presidents, than secretaries of state who have served under Democratic and Republican presidents.  They’re on the opposite side of a large contingent of senior military officials who have recently written a letter expressing their point of view on this.

So the position of the administration is strongly backed by the national security establishment in Washington, and these are people who have spent a lot of time thinking about what’s the best way to protect the country.  And I think it’s up to Democrats and Republicans who are blocking our efforts to explain why they think what they’re doing is somehow in the best interest of national security when a lot of our foremost leading foreign policy thinkers don’t agree.

Q    So if anything is going to happen on this moving forward with a closure or anything even close to closure, it’s going to have to be an executive action, don’t you think?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, our focus right now is on trying to get Congress to consider the proposal that we put forward.  What we’ll put forward will be something that will be carefully considered and thoughtful, and it will require Congress to set aside their own political interests and actually focus on the national security of the country.  And we’re going to continue to make that case.  

Q    But you’re still not ruling out that the President will, if legally feasible, take executive action.

MR. EARNEST:  I certainly -- on a range of issues, I’m going to protect the ability of the President to use his authority to move the country in the direction that he believes it should be headed.  And particularly when it comes to an issue like the prison at -- closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the President feels strongly about that and has made that a priority for some time.  But right now, the focus of our efforts is on trying to get some congressional cooperation for a change on this issue.

Q    Okay.  And quickly on the Netanyahu bilat yesterday, why was there no readout of it?  And for his part, Netanyahu said that it was one of the best meetings with the President that he’s ever had; that for once it wasn’t like a debate, it was very honest.  He used those words.  I don’t know if that’s a comparison to past meetings or not.

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know either.

Q    But why no readout?  And what is your take on that meeting?  Would you agree that it was one of the best meetings between the two of them ever?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I have not spoken to the President about his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but I did speak to other members of our staff who participated in that meeting.  And I think as I alluded to yesterday, there was a constructive conversation between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and it was an opportunity for the two leaders to focus on our shared interests -- and there are many of them.  

And I don’t think anybody was brushing aside the differences of opinion that we’ve had on a couple of issues in the past, most notably the international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But that has never prevented this President from wanting to engage with his Israeli counterpart to deepen our security cooperation, to deepen our intelligence cooperation, and to intensify our support for Israel’s national security.  And I think that was the substance of most of their conversations yesterday.

Q    So was it one of the best ever?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s hard for me to judge, but I’ll just say that I think the White House came away with the impression that there's a genuine desire on the part of our Israeli allies to continue to work together to pursue our national interests.

And we have many shared interests.  And our ability to work effectively with the Israelis to advance them only makes the American people safer, and it also happens to make the citizens of Israel safer too.  And as our closest ally in the Middle East, we care a lot about that.  

And I would anticipate that there will be work in the months ahead there.  One notable outcome of the meeting is there was an agreement to get back to work on the extension of the memorandum of understanding that would extend the military support that the United States offers to Israel.  And I can tell you that there will be a working-level team from the United States that will travel to Israel next month to begin to conduct the analysis that I referred to yesterday of the threats that Israel faces in the region, and to do an assessment of the capacity that Israel has to meet, or at least mitigate, those threats, and then to consider what sort of assistance the United States could provide to ensure that those needs are met.  So that analysis will make progress when this working-level U.S. team heads to Israel next month.


Q    Josh, about wanting to defeat the ballot last week of the LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination ordinance in Houston, you told us, as a general matter the administration believes in preventing discrimination.  But will the President take this opportunity to enforce a federal anti-discrimination bill against anti-LGBT discrimination known as the Equality Act?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Chris, I can tell you that this is something the administration has been reviewing for several weeks now.  And upon that review it is now clear that the administration strongly supports the Equality Act.  That bill is historic legislation that would advance the cause of equality for millions of Americans.  And we certainly are pleased with the many legislators in Congress that have stepped forward to try to advance a bill that would deliver comprehensive equal rights for LGBT Americans.  And we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that the legislative process produces a result that balances both the bedrock principles of civil rights, like those I’ve just described, with the religious liberty that we hold dear in this country.

Q    As you mentioned, the bill was under review before at the White House.  What issue, what legislation has now been resolved enabling you to announce support at this time?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I noted, Chris, I think the last time that we discussed this, the Equality Act would have an impact on a substantial number of government policies.  So there was a review that was conducted to evaluate exactly what impact the law would have on a wide range of government policies and programs.  And after concluding that review and determining that this kind of legislation would achieve the desired effect, we believe that we can support it, and we can do so knowing that at the same time we can protect the religious liberty that’s also enshrined in our Constitution.

Q    To what extent will the bill be a legislative priority in the final years of the administration?  And do you anticipate Obama himself will speak out about it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, if asked about it, I anticipate the President would certainly be willing to have a conversation with all of you about it.  But I would anticipate that -- well, the administration does look forward to working with Congress to try to advance this legislation consistent with the values that we have articulated about the importance of equal rights and making sure that people can’t be discriminated against because of who they love, while at the same time making sure that we can protect religious liberty at the same time.  And the President is confident that as this bill works its way through the legislative process, that that’s something that can certainly be achieved.


Q    There are reports that Iran has stopped dismantling a number of centrifuges at uranium-enrichment plants.  And this happened while President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu were meeting.  What did the President say to the Prime Minister to reassure him about the nuclear deal?  Do you think he left reassured about the enforcement of this?  Because you said implementation was one of the key issues that they were going to talk about.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, Ron, just as a factual matter, the important thing for people to understand is that Iran will not receive any sanctions relief until they have fulfilled the commitments that they have made under the agreement.  And dismantling some of the centrifuges -- almost all of the centrifuges that you’ve just referred to -- is required before Iran will obtain any sanctions relief.  And we’ve seen from public statements, but also from the actions that are taken by the Iranians, that they are quite eager to benefit from that sanctions relief.  

So I think the other thing that this illustrates is that the international community is closely monitoring how Iran is implementing the agreement.  And if there’s a delay in implementing the agreement -- and I don’t know that there’s been one thus far -- but if there is a delay, the only real impact of that is going to be that it’s going to delay the sanctions relief that we know that the Iranians are looking forward to.  

Q    Is it fair to say that they’re violating the spirit of the agreement right here from the start?  Can you call it a delay?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s not fair at all.  I wouldn’t call it a delay.  We have said that Iran has to take a long series of steps to implement the agreement before any sanctions relief will be offered.  And this -- they’ve only been at work on this for a couple of weeks, and there’s a lot of work they have to do.  So I do think it’s too early to even call this a delay.  It’s certainly not a violation.  But the only real impact of this news is the possibility that it could delay that sanctions relief that we know the Iranians are after.

Q    Do you think the Prime Minister left reassured that the United States has this under control, if you will, this agreement?  Do you think he left feeling better about the agreement, or was the President able to reassure him in any way about this?

MR. EARNEST:  You’d have to ask him that.

Q    On the immigration issue, a number of the arguments you made about the administration’s position based on economics -- you said there are limited resources for enforcement, there’s economic benefits of all that.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s right.

Q    And the court said that its objection was the cost of the burden it would put on the states, like the state of Texas, to provide driver’s licenses and other kinds of benefits.  So do you accept the argument that it would create some financial burden on the states?  And what’s your reaction to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven't carefully considered exactly what the impact is on the states or even what the argument is that the Attorney General was making about what impact that would have on the states.  So for the veracity of those claims, you’d have to check with the Department of Justice, who I’m confident has looked at these claims.

I will say a couple of things about it.  The first is that there are actually 15 states and the District of Columbia that went before the courts and actually urged the courts to allow these executive actions to be implemented, including some large states.  So they obviously disagreed with the Texas assessment that this executive action imposed any burden on their states, or at least a burden that isn’t outweighed by all the benefits.  I think that’s the second point that I want to make here.

A state like Texas, that presumably would have a number of individuals that would qualify for a program where they would be brought out of the shadows, where they would pay taxes, where they would go through a background check -- that the benefits associated with this kind of executive action are concentrated in those areas where a large number of these individuals exists.  Presumably that’s in Texas.

So by fighting the implementation of these executive actions, the state of Texas is giving up a whole host of economic benefits that would accrue not just to the federal government, but also to state and local governments -- the state government in Texas and local governments in Texas as well.  And I think that’s precisely the argument that’s being made by the 15 states who are urging the courts to allow this executive action to move forward.

Q    It was 15 to 26, or something like that.

MR. EARNEST:  Something like that.

Q    On the other side.  And just on one more issue.  The President is traveling to Turkey for another G20 later in the week.  And I know that Syria is not the issue necessarily, but he will be hundreds of miles from the border.  What does the President hope to accomplish on that issue while he is there?  And certainly, how high would you say that is on his agenda given the proximity that he’ll be there, given that there are talks that will be happening in Vienna -- again, another round on Saturday, and given the changes of -- the refinements he’s made recently to the U.S. approach there with the Special Forces operations and so on and so forth?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ll have a little bit more to say about the actual trip on Thursday.  I can say as a general matter, though, that the focus of the G20 is typically on the international economy, and that’s why 20 of the world’s -- the leaders of 20 of the world’s largest economies will gather together in Turkey.  And there will be a robust discussion of some of the economic priorities that you’ve heard the President advocate on the international scene for seven years now.

At the same time, given the serious pressure that our Turkish allies are under, from the large number of Syrian refugees that they’re carrying for and from the terrible violence that’s going on just on the other side of their border, it would be impossible to travel all the way over there and not spend some time thinking about and talking about our ongoing effort to degrade and ultimate destroy ISIL.

So I would anticipate that that will be part of the President’s visit as well.  And a number of the countries who are participating in the G20 are also prominent participants in the counter-ISIL coalition that the President has formed and that the United States has been leading.  So there will be an opportunity for the President to meet with some of our close allies who are making important contributions to that effort and to discuss with them the progress that we’ve made.

Q    Even at -- this conflict is one of the most awful things happening on the planet, arguably, and the President being there, doesn’t he see this as a moment where he can perhaps make a difference?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would anticipate that this is something that we’ll spend some time talking about.


Q    Thank you, Josh.  Two different questions.  First one on Burundi.  I don’t know if you can tell us how closely does the President follow the situation?  Tom Perriello, the special envoy, this morning again came out saying something has to be done.  Do we fear the genocide?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Richard, I can have somebody follow up with you with some more details.  I do know that this is something that the President and his national security team are following closely.  This is a situation that’s tenuous, and there is some concern about the security situation in that country and the risk that some vulnerable populations could be facing.  So this is something that we continue to closely monitor, not just at the State Department but also here at the White House.

Q    Could we eventually consider some sort of preemptive intervention, considering what happened 11 years ago in Rwanda?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll have to have somebody follow up with you in terms of what sort of is being contemplated right now.  But what I can do is I can confirm for you that this is something that is getting the attention of the President’s team at the highest levels.

Q    Thank you.  And the other question, a local one actually.  So the movement of $15 an hour for the fast-food employees is having a big day today.  The President has been fighting for $10.10.  Is this $15 a threat to the economy, which is still -- which is strong but still not having this strong growth that we would expect?

MR. EARNEST:  Richard, what the President has been advocating for is an increase in the minimum wage.  And there are a number of proposals that we’ve supported -- there is the $10.10 proposal that we had advocated.  I know that there’s a proposal that’s been put forward by Senator Durbin and others to raise the minimum wage to around $12 an hour by 2020.  That’s legislation that we’ve spoken approvingly of in the past as well.

So our -- the President often talks about his domestic policymaking agenda, and figuring out ways that we can put upward pressure on wages continues to be an important priority, particularly when it comes to middle-class families and those who are trying to fight to get into the middle class.  And when we grow our economy from the middle out, we know that we are giving not just our citizens but our country the best opportunity to succeed.

And so those policies that would increase wages for the middle-class and those who are trying to get into the middle-class are policies that the President strongly supports.


Q    Josh, thanks.  I want to ask you about NDAA.  And upon the President’s signature, does that in any way impact those detainees who have already been approved for transfer?
MR. EARNEST:  No, it doesn’t.  My understanding is that the legislation -- or the Gitmo legislation that is included in this version of the NDAA is quite similar to the language that’s been included in previous NDAAs.  And so while it would make certain parts of that process a little more cumbersome than they otherwise would need to be, it shouldn’t affect our ability to continue to transfer those individuals that have been approved for transfer.  And those approvals are given once a diplomatic agreement has been reached with another country in which they’ve agreed to accept one of those transfers.

It also requires the Secretary of Defense to certify that sufficient steps have been taken to mitigate the risk that that individual would face to -- would pose to U.S. national security down the line.

But my understanding is that the language that’s included in this NDAA would not have an impact on those policy proceedings.

Q    And is it your understanding that still a number north of 50, if I’m not mistaken -- might those transfers still be taking place in 2015?

MR. EARNEST:  I certainly wouldn’t rule out that there could be additional transfers before the end of the year.  Right now, the number that’s approved for transfer is 53.  And then there are 22 others that have been referred for prosecution; 10 others that are facing prosecution, and another 27 that continue to be detained because their continued detention is viewed to be in the best interest of the country.

Q    Okay.  On immigration, the President said something back in 2011 -- I’m sure you’ve heard this quote before -- “We’re not going to use signing statements as a way of doing an end-run around Congress.”  There are critics who would suggest that attempting to use executive action to continue to push immigration reform is in fact doing that.  Would you argue against that point?  And how so?

MR. EARNEST:  I would argue against that point merely by citing a decision that was made by President George H.W. Bush, Bush 41, who, while he was in office, expanded an immigration program to cover 1.5 million unauthorized children and spouses.  That’s about 40 percent of the undocumented -- at the time, it was representative of about 40 percent of the undocumented population in the United States.  And he did that using his executive action.

President Obama is proposing to use his executive action to have an impact on a similar percentage of the undocumented population.  I think that’s a pretty clear indication of the precedent that’s in place here.  

The other example of this is actually President Reagan.  President Reagan advanced something called the Family Fairness program that deferred the deportation of children whose parents were applying for legal status.  He implemented that program even though Congress had excluded those children from the 1986 immigration reform law.

So I think you could actually make a stronger case that President Reagan was the one that was running -- doing an end-run around Congress, but I didn’t hear any Republicans complaining about it then or now.  They only seem to be complaining about it when President Obama does it.

Q    It’s funny though, you mentioned President Bush earlier.  In that very same quote, President Obama said, “This is part of the theory of George W. Bush, that he can make laws as he is going along.  I disagree with that.  I taught the Constitution for 10 years.  I believe in the Constitution.  And I will obey the Constitution of the United States.”  That’s what he said in that very same exchange.  And he seemed to be critical of President Bush for, as he put it, making up laws as he went along.  Can you understand then how some people might say, well isn’t that a pot calling the kettle?

MR. EARNEST:  I would vigorously disagree with that principally because what President Obama is doing is consistent with the long-established precedent that was carried out rather forcefully by both President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush.  And that is consistent with the case that we have made before the courts, and it’s hopefully a case that we’ll have an opportunity to press before the Supreme Court early next year.

Q    Lastly, I want to ask you about some of the possible destinations, if you will, for potential detainee transfers, including Supermax in Colorado and other places.  Is the evaluation still ongoing for some of these facilities, domestically speaking?  And do you have an update on that?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't have an update on that.  This is something that the Department of Defense has been considering.  And they have, in the process of putting together this plan that they hope to send to Congress soon, they conducted site visits to places -- to some facilities in Colorado, a facility in South Carolina, and at least one facility in Kansas, as well.  So this is part of their ongoing planning effort.  And once we have a plan that Congress can consider and all of you can review, we can have a more robust discussion about what may be contemplated by the Department of Defense. 

Q    Last one.  I want to also ask you about executive action, broadly speaking.  Does the President believe that's -- I guess a better way to put it is:  How valuable is that tool, from the President’s perspective, to make progress on his agenda on behalf of the American people? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, when it comes to the use of executive power, the President believes that it’s important to follow the strictures of the Constitution.  But the Constitution affords significant power to the President.  That's why we spend so much time talking about who the next President is going to be.  And that's a debate that we should be having.

This exercise of executive authority I think becomes all the more important when you see the kind of dysfunction that has been wreaked in Congress by the Republican leadership there.  The fact is the only reason we're having this conversation about executive actions on immigration reform is because we saw House Republicans block a bipartisan, common-sense immigration reform proposal that if it were allowed to come up for a vote in the House would have passed.  It would have been signed into law by the President, and utterly eliminated the need for him to even consider executive action.

So executive action is not a substitute for congressional action because often what Congress can do is more lasting and in some ways more influential.  But when you see Congress do next to nothing, it means that executive actions need to be considered, even if they would not advance the country as far as common-sense congressional action would. 


Q    Josh, as this administration is hopeful to close Guantanamo Bay, was there ever -- and I’m trying to get the mindset or the thought process for this administration when it comes to Gitmo -- was there ever a time in the midst of a controversy from years’ past and even now that there was a thought that Gitmo may have been a necessity at some point?  Or was it something that should have never happened? 

MR. EARNEST:  The President talked about this quite a bit on the campaign trail.  And the President does not believe that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should have been opened.  These are complicated issues, and the President and his national security lawyers have spent a lot of time working through the kinds of policies that can be put in place to both protect the country, but also act consistent with the kinds of values that we aren’t just proud of here in the United States, but that we seek to advance all the way -- all around the world.

This is everything from reforming our intelligence programs, to ending torture.  And so there is a whole new area of study for legal scholars to consider in the years, if not decades ahead, about the best way to make sure that these interests are being properly balanced.  And the President came into office vowing to initiate some reforms.  And when you consider ending enhanced interrogation techniques, ending rendition, significant reforms of our surveillance programs, greater transparency when it comes to counterterrorism operations, including the use of drones, and closing the prison in Guantanamo Bay, the President’s record of reform and the kind of change that he has brought to Washington when it comes to this area that better reflects core American values and the need to protect the civil liberties of human beings, the President’s record on this in this regard is quite strong.

Q    So I want to ask you this:  With those statements that you just made, let’s say torture was off the table.  Let’s say there wasn’t waterboarding and other torturous tactics that we’ve heard about and beyond.  Let’s say that intelligence issues were correct.  Would there have needed to be a Guantanamo Bay or something close to it that lived up to the standards -- the global standards of how to treat prisoners, and also the standards here in the United States?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, that's a hypothetical I’m not sure that I’m ready to venture into from here.

Q    It’s a real hypothetical when we had 9/11, when we had other terrorist issues, and trying to find out what was going on.  It’s a real issue.  So, I mean, you talked about those issues being some of the concern.  What if they were off the table?  What if everything were 100 percent perfect?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't think any President assumes office assuming that things are going to be 100 percent perfect.

Q    I understand that.

MR. EARNEST:  But I think I have readily acknowledged, and even in the context of this answer, that the legal questions and moral questions in some cases surrounding these issues are thorny, to put it mildly.  But the commitment of this President to making sure that we are implementing national security policies that are both in the interest of protecting the American people, but also in the interest of upholding our values is something that can't be shortchanged.  And that has forced the President to make some difficult decisions and to implement some challenging policies in his own right.

But this is important work.  And to fail to give proper weight to the importance of American values is to let down the American people and to fail to understand how critical those values are to the country and to our national security. 

And that doesn't mean that these aren’t -- that these lines are easily drawn.  I don't mean to offer up that suggestion.  These are difficult questions that very smart people wrestle with and can legitimately disagree over.  And that's appropriate.  We should have a debate about these issues.  And in some ways that's another aspect of this debate that was of significant concern to the President, is that so much of this was done in secret that there was not an opportunity for there to be a broad public debate that might have led to a different policy decision being made.  

So that's why this administration has gone to great lengths to try to be more transparent about these kinds of programs and about these kinds of policies.  And the work on that effort continues, and I’m confident that's something that the next President will grapple with, as well.


Q    I want to go back to Michelle’s 5th Circuit question.  It’s a pretty conservative court.

MR. EARNEST:  It is.

Q    The administration could have gone back for a re-hearing there, but they chose the Supreme Court instead.  A lot of people believe that sometime judges, especially on hot button issues like immigration, allow their personal opinions to get involved in steering their legal decisions.  Does the White House believe that that's just too conservative a court politically to go back down there and try again given that all of the judges who have ruled in this case against the administration were Republican appointees and the one judge who dissented was a Democrat?  So was it a decision based partly on that?  Does the administration believe that this is just politically impossible down there, and even this Supreme Court, fairly conservative, is a better bet?  And could you please -- don't say just go to the Justice Department because I know there are lawyers here who are involved in these decisions and the President is a former law professor himself.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Chip, I’m certainly not going to deny that there are opinions that are held by the President and his legal advisors here at the White House.  But ultimately these legal strategy decisions are decisions that are made by the Department of Justice.  And the White House is in the loop on those decisions, and those are discussions in which we partake.  I will just say as a general matter that I’m, at least from here, I’m not going to be in a position to impugn the motives of the judges who wrote their opinion.  

We obviously vigorously disagree with the conclusion of the majority in this case.  But I’m not going to stand here and impugn their motives.  I think one benefit of going to the Supreme Court is that they're going to have the last say on this one way or the other.  I’m certainly no legal expert.  I didn't even do that well on the LSAT.  But presumably under the strategy that you've asked if we’ve considered, having a rehearing at the 5th Circuit would still be something that would be subject to appeal at the Supreme Court.  And presumably, our -- the plaintiffs in this case, if you will, would -- even if we were able to win sort of that rehearing at the 5th Circuit level, it does seem quite obvious to me at least that the plaintiffs would appeal to the Supreme Court anyway, so we might as well get to the end of this and get this resolved.

Q    Also, is the President going to be watching the debate tonight?  If so, would it be in the family movie theater?  Will there be popcorn involved?  (Laughter.)  And for whom will he be rooting?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m surprised you didn’t ask me whether or not it would be a comedy, but we’ll have to see.  The President has not taken the opportunity to watch the previous Republican debates live, but he has certainly followed the news coverage of those debates.  So I haven’t talked to him about whether or not his viewing plans tonight include the Republican debate.  I highly doubt it, though.

Q    Why doesn’t he watch them?  Gets him too upset or doesn’t have the time?  Why?  Why wouldn’t he watch them when just about everybody who follows politics watches them?

MR. EARNEST:  And he will certainly follow the debates and he’ll read the news coverage of it, and then he’ll be interested to understand the cases that the individual candidates have made.  But I don’t think he has much desire to do it in real time.


Q    Thanks.  A couple more questions on Gitmo.  If the President signs the defense bill, doesn’t that essentially close off the legislative path?  People on the Hill say that, absent a change in the NDAA, there’s really not an option to pursue this legislatively and close the facility before 2017.  Does the White House disagree with that assessment?

MR. EARNEST:  We do disagree with that assessment.  As I mentioned, this legislation has been included in the NDAA or in legislation quite similar -- language quite similar to it has been included in the NDAA for a number of years now.  So the passage and the President’s signing of this language in the NDAA doesn’t really change things.  The only thing that’s going to change things is careful congressional consideration of a plan that we put forward and a willingness that is shown for the first time in years by Congress to work cooperatively with the administration in pursuit of a national security objective that Democrats and Republicans agree should be a top priority.

Q    So will the President’s plan show how this could be done legislatively without a change to the NDAA, or will it be a roadmap for how he could do this on his own?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I think the plan that you can expect without getting too far ahead of it I think is just a common-sense proposal about what exactly the administration believes should be done to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay consistent with our national security concerns.  And that means -- so we’re mindful of the significant national security risks.  Unfortunately, Congress is not mindful of the national security risks of leaving the prison open.  And this is a national security risk that Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State and military leaders have said is one that’s not worth taking.  And that’s why what we need to do is we need to implement a responsible, carefully considered plan that will protect our national security interests, close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  And this is a common-sense position that unfortunately Congress hasn’t come around to yet.

Q    And if Congress doesn’t come around even after seeing your common-sense plan, what would the White House’s next steps be with -- is there a possibility that we’d see a signing statement, giving the President latitude to act?  Or what would the next step be?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not going to prejudge what our congressional efforts will yield.  We’re going to go forward and make a good-faith, carefully considered, thoughtful, strategic case to Congress about how we can effectively close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  And we do so knowing that this is an objective that is strongly supported by both George W. Bush, the former President, but also a whole raft of Secretaries of State that have served Democratic and Republican administrations.  Even General Petraeus has spoken out about the importance of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  So this is a case that has strong support among foreign policy thinkers and national security experts and military leaders.  Now we just need to get Congress to support it.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to take one more whack at the immigration ruling, because there’s a part in that decision where the judges take issue with -- they kind of throw the President’s own words back at him from an event where he spoke in 2014 and he was responding to a heckler and he said, “You’re not paying attention to the fact that I just took an action to change the law.”  And then the judges went on to say, despite being given several opportunities, the attorney for the United States was unable to reconcile that remark from the President with the position the government now takes.  So does the President wish he had never said that, or does the White House think that the judges are zeroing in on giving too much importance to one off-the-cuff remark a year ago?  Or what’s your view on that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think most importantly, Dave, the dissenting judge believes that his or her fellow judges were putting too much stock in an off-the-cuff remark made by the President of the United States in response to the shouted words of a protester.  I don’t think -- the President certainly didn’t intend for that to be a carefully considered legal argument.  He was trying to communicate in words that he hoped the protester would understand.  And fortunately, the words that the President used are entirely consistent with both the executive action that he undertook, but also consistent with the precedent that he used to justify that action.  And that’s why we continue to have a lot of confidence in the strength of the legal argument that we have to make here, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to make it before the Supreme Court.


Q    Just to follow up on my colleague Chip’s question, but a little more personal point of view.  And now there are eight, tonight, at the GOP debate.  A quick and dirty debate prep from you, unsolicited and free, one-minute, thumbnail version to the candidates -- what would you suggest?  You’re a political guy; what would you suggest?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly have a lot of thoughts, but they’re getting lots of opinions from their highly paid political advisors and I’m confident that that advice that they’re paying a lot of money for will be more influential than the free advice they’d receive from me.  And I’m not at all offended by that.


Q    Josh, earlier in the briefing you said the Congress is obstinate on the issue of keeping Gitmo open.  Isn’t President Obama just as obstinate on the issue of closing it?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, so is General David Petraeus.

Q    So obstinate is not necessarily bad?

MR. EARNEST:  So are a series of Secretaries of State who served both Democratic and Republican Presidents.  So are the 24 military leaders who signed a letter to the President of the United States, urging him to work with Congress to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  There’s a reason that the President has made this a priority.  The President doesn’t divine any sort of political advantage in this.  The President has determined after careful consideration that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay is clearly in the national security interests of the United States.  If we do it right, we’re also probably going to save a little money, too.  Members of Congress I don’t think have a similarly principled argument that they can leverage in explaining their position.  I think, unfortunately, they’re in a position where they’re a little more focused on their narrow political concerns than they are the broad national security interests of the United States of America.

Q    But there are members of Congress who argue that allowing the transfer of detainees to the United States would put Americans in jeopardy.  I mean, that’s a national security breakdown, isn’t it?

MR. EARNEST:  But how so?  No, it’s not a legitimate one, considering that there are any number of convicted terrorists that are serving time in American prisons on American soil right now, including in some of the places that we visited.

Q    They’re saying there shouldn’t be any more.    

MR. EARNEST:  But they haven’t made a strong case for why those individuals that are currently incarcerated in American prisons on American soil for terrorism charges are somehow posing a national security risk.  

Q    But they won the vote in Congress.  

MR. EARNEST:  They sure did.  They sure did. 

Q    And you're saying the President is not bound by it.

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don't think I said that.  

Q    You're not saying that?  You're saying he is bound by it?  

MR. EARNEST:  I think I’m saying that the President is making a forceful case to the United States Congress about having to put the national security interests of the United States ahead of their own personal politics.  And I don't think there’s a legitimate argument that's been made by members of Congress that is consistent with our national security interest.  We’ll see if one materializes.

But thus far the only clear motivation on the part of members of Congress right now when it comes to this issue is their own personal politics.  And it doesn't withstand scrutiny.  The best argument they can come up with is, well, we don't want to put any more terrorists in American prisons.  We’ve got plenty of terrorists in American prisons right now that are there because it is in the best interests of our national security to keep them there.  And we make the same case about the terrorists that are currently being detained in Guantanamo Bay.

Q    But you are impugning their political motives, right? 

MR. EARNEST:  Until I can hear a better argument, I don't think -- again, maybe there is a better argument.  I haven’t heard it.  The only argument that we’ve heard from them is that they don't want to face their constituents, and they don't want to be on the receiving end of a disingenuous, politically motivated attack ad.  And that's fine.  That is -- they're certainly entitled to make decisions based on their political interests.  But it’s not what they were elected to do.

Q    They're not elected to represent their constituents?  

MR. EARNEST:  I think most constituents elected their representatives to put the national security of the United States first on their agenda, even ahead of their own narrow political interests.  I think most voters would agree with that statement. 

Q    But they say that's what they're doing.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I don't think there’s anything that they have mobilized or marshaled to substantiate that claim.  II haven’t seen it.  I haven’t seen it.

John Gizzi, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thank you, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  You bet.

Q    Recently, Peter Hoekstra, former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has come out with a book saying that Colonel Qaddafi, whose death occurred four years on October 28th, as loathsome a person as he was, was an ally of the U.S. in the war on terror and provided key intelligence on ISIS in its embryonic stages.  He now said that the fall of Qaddafi and the lawlessness in Libya is a worse situation than when the Colonel was in power.  It’s a pretty strong attack on the administration’s policy, as well, regarding Libya.

My question is this:  After four years, what’s your reaction to former Congressman Hoekstra’s book?  And was it a good move to overthrow Qaddafi? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, when talking about Colonel Qaddafi I think it’s impossible to deny the complicity that he had in a variety of terrorist acts that were carried out around the world, including against Westerners and American allies, to say nothing of the terrible acts of atrocity that he carried out against his own people and was vowing to extend, and when the United States led an international coalition to intervene.

Ultimately, the decisions about who is going to lead a country like Libya cannot be dictated by outsiders.  And certainly, the leaders can't be imposed on local populations by the outside world.  But ultimately what the United States can do is to protect our interests around the world.  And we certainly don't advance our interests by trying to impose a military solution on problems in the Middle East.  

Q    Does the administration feel Qaddafi was an ally in the war on terror at that point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think he clearly had a very mixed record.  And I think a careful consideration of his long record would probably not conclude that Colonel Qaddafi was a friend and ally of the United States.  

There is no denying that there were times where he may have been helpful.  But I certainly don't think that outweighs his complicity in previous acts of terrorism, including those that targeted Westerners.  And it certainly doesn't outweigh the acts of atrocity that were carried out under his rule inside of Libya against the Libyan people.  And a desire of the Libyan people to have different leadership I think is quite understandable in that light.

And the challenge for the United States is to try to build relationships with the new government of Libya to facilitate those kinds of -- the success of those kinds of democratic institutions, because we know they are -- because they reflect the will of the Libyan people, but also because those kinds of relationships can be helpful to the United States as we seek to protect our interests and to protect the American people even in dangerous places in the world like Libya remains today.

Q    Final question.  Mikhail Lesin, a former press aide to President Putin and a founder of a major Russian television network, died in a Washington, D.C. hotel November 5th.  There’s all kinds of speculation about the nature of his death pending an autopsy.  Does the administration have any comment?  And were they aware of Mr. Lesin and his passing? 

MR. EARNEST:  I’ve seen some of these news reports, John, but I don't have any comment on them.  Okay?  Thanks, everybody. 

2:10 P.M. EST