Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 12/2/15
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:36 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you all. I apologize for the late start today. I appreciate you bearing with me. I do want to do one thing at the top before I go to your questions.
I'm disappointed to report to all of you that congressional Republicans are whistling past the political graveyard of a government shutdown. They do this as they continue to submit proposals to Democrats that are filled with ideological riders. We know there is a concerted Republican strategy that some Republicans talk about rather openly about seeking to use this must-pass piece of budget legislation to compensate for their pretty sorry legislative record thus far this year. And the effort that they’re engaged in now is to lard the bill up with ideological riders.
Let’s be specific about what riders actually are. Riders are specific provisions that are inserted into larger pieces of legislation to provide a specific benefit to a specific special interest. This is essentially an earmark. And the earmarks that Republicans are contemplating right now are earmarks that would undermine Wall Street reform to benefit large financial institutions, or undermine the President’s implementation of the Clean Power Plan to benefit those companies and corporations that pollute our air and water. In some cases, Republicans are supporting -- or proposing riders that would actually limit access that people have to health care. None of this is part of how the budget process is supposed to work.
We've acknowledged on many previous occasions, and I'm sure we'll spend a lot of this month acknowledging, that the legislation that will be produced in this process will be a compromise. So I don't expect that every single provision that is included in this bill is going to be something that has the enthusiastic support of either Democrats on Capitol Hill or the Democrat here in the White House. But what I can assure you is that if Republicans go back to the strategy of trying to pass budget legislation along party lines they’ll see that that process doesn’t work. They can go ask former Speaker John Boehner how well that process works. Doesn’t work very well for the party, it doesn’t work very well for the country, and it risks the government shutdown that we know would not be good for the economy.
So we are hopeful that in the nine days that remain for members of Congress to do their job that Republicans will abandon this effort to lard up the bill with ideological riders and actually work with Democrats in a genuinely bipartisan fashion to reach the kind of budget compromise that is clearly within the best interests of the country and the best interests of our economy.
So, Josh, with that, let’s go to your questions.
Q Thanks, Josh. I'll kick it off with a little bit of foreign policy. Does the U.S. have any evidence or intelligence to back up the Russian military’s claim that Prime Minister Erdogan and his family are personally profiteering from the Islamic State oil trade?
MR. EARNEST: Josh, I read a little bit about these claims. To substantiate them I'd encourage you to check with the Russian government and see what kind of evidence they’re citing.
Q They’ve got some photos and satellite information --
MR. EARNEST: Well, you can certainly take a look at whether or not those satisfy your questions. What I can tell you is that the President had the opportunity to meet with President Erdogan yesterday in Paris where they discussed the issue of securing Turkey’s long border with Syria. There are some parts of that border where the Turks have worked effectively to shut down the border, to secure the border in a way that has obvious national security benefits for the people of Turkey, but also in a way that shuts down the flow of foreign fighters and shuts down illicit finance that we know that ISIL is engaged in to try to fund their ongoing operations.
The concern that President Obama raised directly with President Erdogan -- and the President talked about this in his news conference a little bit yesterday -- is that there continues to be a gap along the Turkey-Syria border that is not secured to our satisfaction, and we do have concerns that ISIL is exploiting that gap to move foreign fighters and to move black market products that can be used to finance their operations.
Now, the irony of the Russians raising this concern is that there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that the largest consumer of ISIL oil is actually Bashar al-Assad and his regime -- a regime that only remains in place because it is being propped up by the Russians. So if the Russians are really concerned about this -- ISIL’s illicit finance efforts -- they should take it up with Bashar al-Assad, the person that is relying on the Russians for his continued ability to remain in power.
The other thing that I’ll point out about this, Josh -- and this goes to something that we discussed in the briefing in Paris on Monday -- is that if Republicans in Congress were half as concerned about ISIL’s illicit finances as Vladimir Putin, then they would stop blocking the nomination of Adam Szubin to the position in the Treasury Department that’s responsible for shutting down ISIL’s illicit finance efforts.
Adam Szubin is a financial expert who has served Presidents in both parties. Even the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee acknowledges that he is eminently qualified for the position. But for some reason, Republicans on Capitol Hill won’t even take a vote on it. It’s astounding that we see all this criticism from members of Congress about the lack of progress against ISIL when there is this obvious thing that Republicans could do that would actually ensure that we could be more effective in fighting ISIL. So it’s time for Republicans to get to work on that.
Q Following Secretary Carter’s announcement about sending some more Special Ops forces to Iraq, Prime Minister Abadi essentially said thanks, but no thanks. Was the U.S. surprised by the public expression of opposition from the Iraqi government? And do we plan to subject any deployment of Special Ops forces to Iraq to specific approval from Baghdad?
MR. EARNEST: Josh, I encourage you to go back to the Iraqi government on this. The comments that we saw from Prime Minister Abadi were actually specifically directed at the kind of ground combat force that the President has long said the United States would not deploy to Iraq, principally because we do not envision a military solution to this ongoing problem. The United States and the administration has been consulting with the Abadi government for quite some time now -- for at least weeks, if not months -- talking about the creation of this Expeditionary Targeting Force.
So I actually think if you go back to the Abadi government to get greater clarification, if you believe that that’s what’s needed, that this is the kind of announcement that is made consistent with our ongoing, effective coordination with the Abadi government and with Iraqi forces.
Q So it was a miscommunication, essentially? The Abadi government was responding to an announcement that Carter had not made?
MR. EARNEST: No, no, no. Well, I think there are a couple of things going on here. I know that Prime Minister Abadi did raise significant concerns with statements that were made by Senators McCain and Graham, who did say that the Abadi government would somehow be interested in hosting 10,000 U.S. ground combat operations inside of Iraq. That’s not something that the President supports; that also, it turns out, is not something that Prime Minister Abadi supports.
Prime Minister Abadi was consulted, and has been consulted over the last several weeks, about this Expeditionary Targeting Force that would be located in Iraq. The number of troops that we’re talking about is about 200. And Prime Minister Abadi is supportive of that effort. What he opposes is what Senator McCain and Senator Graham have said about the large-scale, prolonged deployment of ground combat forces from the United States. The President doesn’t believe that that would be in our best interests and the President has long and consistently opposed that.
Q Turning to the situation in Chicago, how closely, if at all, has the President been following what’s going on there? And there have been calls now for his former Chief of Staff, the Mayor, to step down. Does the President have any feelings about whether that would be appropriate at this point?
MR. EARNEST: Josh, the President is obviously aware of the quite intense national coverage of the events in his hometown over the last week or so, and the President has been following it. I don’t know that he’s had the opportunity to speak to Mayor Emanuel in the last week. Obviously, the President has spent a fair amount of time overseas the last few weeks. But I can tell you that what we did see from Mayor Emanuel in the news conference that he held yesterday was a personal commitment to following through on reforms that he believes are needed within the Chicago Police Department.
The Mayor also acknowledged that those reforms are not the kinds of reforms that can be implemented overnight, can’t be implemented with the flip of a switch, but rather will require the sustained commitment to implementing those reforms by the leadership of that city over the long term. And Mayor Emanuel offered up his own personal commitment to follow through on implementing those reforms.
Obviously the citizens of the city of Chicago will have to determine who should be running the city, including evaluating his commitment over the long term to implementing reforms. And that’s why we have elections -- so that city officials are held accountable, as they should be.
Q And just one last one. Does the President intend to sign the No Child Left Behind re-write that’s supposed to pass the House today?
MR. EARNEST: This is a piece of legislation that the administration has worked with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill to write and pass. It is something that the administration strongly supports. It, in a variety of ways, finally implements the kinds of changes to the No Child Left Behind legislation that the President has long been calling for. The President has been advocating for changes to that bill for nearly six years now.
And the things that are included in the Every Student Succeeds Act are reforms that will eliminate the one-size-fits-all federal mandates that characterize the previous legislation. It also will -- and in some ways, this is the priority for the administration -- it will reduce the reliance on over-testing that has plagued far too many classrooms all across the country.
So we’ll have more to say on this in the weeks ahead. But, Josh, I can tell you that this bill reflects a lot of good, bipartisan work that’s gotten done on Capitol Hill and has included important contributions from the administration, and we’re enthusiastic about this bill. Like every bipartisan piece of legislation, it is a compromise, and there are some aspects of the bill that are not priorities of the administration. But all in all, when you take a look at the priorities that we have laid out, this legislation certainly addresses the priorities that we’ve set.
Q Josh, what’s the White House’s reaction or feelings about the House’s latest work on the Visa Waiver Program?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, there has been some work underway between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, both in the House and the Senate, in close coordination with the administration. Obviously these programs are quite technical in nature, and it’s important for our national security professionals, particularly at the Department of Homeland Security, to be directly involved in those conversations.
I know that there have been some legislative proposals that have been put forward both in the House and the Senate. Each of those proposals in something that is still being reviewed by the administration, so I don’t have a specific position on the legislation to share with you. But given the changes that the administration has been able to make to this program, using the authority that we have, it should be clear I think to you and to members of Congress that we believe this is an area worthy of some bipartisan cooperation; that putting in place the properly calibrated reforms would effectively strengthen the national security of the country.
The reason that the reforms need to be effectively calibrated is that there are some elements of this program that were originally put in place that facilitate the free flow of commerce and travel from other countries to the United States in a way that’s really important for our economy. So we want to make sure that these reforms are not so onerous that they inhibit our participation in the international economy. But, of course, our national security interests come first, and so we’re focused on our national security interests.
We’re going to work with Congress in bipartisan fashion on some reforms. But we do want to be careful that we don’t undermine the economic benefits -- or at least entirely undermine the economic benefits that are part and parcel of the Visa Waiver Program.
Q Okay. Speaking of national security, can you give us an update on the status of the plan to close to Guantanamo, and whether or not the cost that the Pentagon assigned or proposed for bringing prisoners to the United States was too onerous or too high for the White House?
MR. EARNEST: Jeff, I know there’s been some reporting on this. I don’t have new information to share with you about the details of the conversations between the President and his national security team about this national security priority.
I can tell you that part of the criteria that we have laid out -- well, let me say it this way. The President’s motivation for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay essentially is twofold. The first is that we know that terrorists around the world use the continued operation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a recruiting tool, and it has proven to be a particularly persuasive one, unfortunately. And it is our view -- it’s the President’s view that that recruiting tool should be taken away, and closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay would serve that goal.
The second reason that the President is enthusiastic about closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay is that it’s not an effective or efficient use of taxpayer dollars; that the cost of operating the prison there I believe is on the order of $400 million a year. And it certainly is far more expensive to continue to operate the prison the way that it is now than it would be to pursue the approach the administration has laid out for closing the prison.
By transferring those individuals who are eligible to transfer, by prosecuting those individuals that we believe can be effectively prosecuted, and then detaining in the United States those individuals that cannot be safely transferred or effectively prosecuted would be far cheaper and would be a much better use of taxpayer dollars considering that it would also take away a recruiting tool that is used by terrorists.
So we’ve got a pretty common-sense case to make. I know that there have been some national security concerns that have been raised -- by Democrats and Republicans, frankly -- on Capitol Hill. But those concerns don’t account for the fact that there are already dozens of convicted terrorists in U.S. prisons, on U.S. soil right now, and that doesn’t pose an undue threat to our national security.
So we haven’t heard a particularly persuasive justification for why the strategy that we’re trying to pursue isn’t a good idea. And the other thing that warrants mentioning -- and I’ll keep this short -- is that there are a whole host of Republicans that actually agree with the President’s position, including George W. Bush, the President’s predecessor; including Senator John McCain; Senator Lindsey Graham; Senator Susan Collins; including former Secretary of State Colin Powell; and even national security officials like Brent Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice. So among those who have devoted most of their lives to keeping the country safe, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, you agree that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be a priority. And the only reason that it hasn’t gotten done so far is that members of Congress have blocked it.
Q But my question, in response to the reporting by the Journal, is whether or not the Pentagon’s proposal is too expensive and that that’s something -- for that reason the White House has sent it back.
MR. EARNEST: And what I’m saying is I’m just not going to get into the private consultations between the President and his national security team. What I will tell you is something that we’ve said before, which is relevant to your question, which is that the President does believe that one of the reasons to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay is that we can more effectively deal with the threats posed by these individuals by closing the prison and transferring those that can be transferred, prosecuting those that can be prosecuted, and housing in the United States those that can be dispensed with in the two previous categories.
Q But doesn’t it hurt your argument about cost if the cost of a prison on U.S. soil is ridiculously high?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, what you’ll -- everyone will have an opportunity to evaluate that once a specific plan has been put forward. We have said that we’ll present that plan to Congress, and when we do, we’ll also make it public and people will have an opportunity to crunch the numbers of themselves.
Q Do you have any sense of when that plan is going to be ready?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an update for you on timing.
Thanks. Let’s move around a little bit. Cheryl.
Q Thanks, Josh. Yesterday, House and Senate conferees unveiled a five-year highway funding bill. Has the White House seen it? And what do you think of it?
MR. EARNEST: We have seen it, and we certainly applaud Congress’s bipartisan efforts to develop a long-term surface transportation bill. If passed, this legislation would be a real step forward for our transportation infrastructure after years of short-term patches. We’ve talked a lot about the need that state and local authorities have for some certainty. Infrastructure projects often -- at least the most impactful ones -- often will take years to build. And if the federal government is providing funding at increments of a few months at a time, it’s going to undermine their ability to effectively plan for the long term.
So putting forward something like a five-year proposal is obviously an important step in the right direction. The thing that you’ll note, Cheryl, is that the administration has put forward a transportation funding bill that actually is substantially larger. And so we would actually view this legislation as a step in the right direction, but only a first step, because we believe that there are more infrastructure projects that are worthy of funding that would create jobs in the short term and lay a long-term foundation for our ongoing economic strength over the long term. So we’ll see what Congress chooses to do from here.
Q He'll sign it, right?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m certainly applauding Congress’s bipartisan efforts to pass the bill because if it's passed the President would sign it.
Q Okay. And just real quick, to follow up on your opening comments about appropriations. And I know you were asked this a couple days ago, but do you still stand that the President will not sign any more short-term CRs?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the way that we described this before is the President would not sign a CR, another CR like the one that he signed earlier this fall. And that is to say the President signed that previous continuing resolution to give Congress additional time to negotiate a bipartisan budget agreement; Congress has had ample time to negotiate that agreement, and I do not envision a scenario where the President signs another CR to give Congress more time to negotiate.
What I allowed for in a briefing that we did earlier this week in Paris is the possibility the President may need to sign a one- or two-day CR that would merely give Congress the congressional machinery time to pass a completed negotiation -- or a bill that's been effectively negotiated. So I would leave space for that. But I would not envision a scenario where the President signs another continuing resolution the way that he did earlier this fall.
Q Josh, I have a couple of questions on a couple different subjects -- starting off with Rahm Emanuel in Chicago. Does this administration believe that the Justice Department should be investigating the McDonald case?
MR. EARNEST: As you know, April, this is a decision for federal career prosecutors in the Department of Justice to make. And so any comment on the White House’s preference or the President’s preference could be viewed by some as interfering with what should be an independent criminal investigation.
Q It's not necessarily a preference in the way, I guess, I'm looking at it. What I'm asking is, with the facts that are on the ground -- the facts, not what will -- and the President, as you said, he’s been watching this intensely -- with the facts that we know, does this rise to the occasion of a Justice Department probe into this matter?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it's the Justice Department that will make that determination. They’re looking at the same facts that all of us are, and that will be their responsibility to determine.
Q Now, I want to ask you about Rahm Emanuel himself. He’s had the privilege to work in two administrations, the Clinton administration and this administration. During his time in the Clinton administration, his portfolio included criminal justice. During his time here, was there ever any time that he gave input on issues of criminal justice, particularly when this administration was focusing on different issues when Eric Holder was here -- on issues of criminal justice?
MR. EARNEST: April, it's hard for me to account for all of the conversations that the former Chief of Staff would have had with members of the administration or with the President, or even members of the Cabinet. I can tell you that when Mayor Emanuel was serving as White House Chief of Staff we were in the midst of digging out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. I know that most of his time was spent focused on the economic policy development process that has yielded important results for the American people and for the American economy. I think that was a pretty good endorsement of his service and his tenure here at the White House.
But like I said, I can't account for all the conversations that he may have had, but criminal justice was certainly not the focus of his efforts while he was the Chief of Staff to President Obama.
Q Well, as you know, Rahm Emanuel is a very vocal person and he makes his feelings known easily.
MR. EARNEST: He’s not shy.
Q He’s not shy. I'm glad we agree on that. So, with that, there was a poignant moment in this administration, the beer summit, when President Obama, at the beginning of this administration, talked about Skip Gates and the issue of profiling and policing. Did Rahm Emanuel step in -- with the history that he’s had, with his portfolio from the Clinton administration, with his efforts of zero tolerance and he didn’t want to get into profiling -- did he talk about that with the President when there was this controversy within the White House of how to handle the aftermath of the President’s statements on the Skip Gates situation?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know. And I'm certainly not going to get into any private conversations between the President and his Chief of Staff.
Q At this point, it is an issue. It is part of the scope, the landscape of who Rahm Emanuel is and what he thinks about policing as it relates to what’s happening in Chicago.
MR. EARNEST: But I think the way that people will judge his handling of these issues -- I think rightly so -- is the way that he continues to handle this very difficult situation in Chicago. He’s the mayor of the city, and he’s got the responsibility for instituting the kinds of reforms that he himself has acknowledged are badly needed here. And I think people will rightly judge him and his handling of these issues based on his response to this incident and on his ability to keep his commitment to be focused on implementing these reforms over the long term.
Q Should he step down?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a decision for Mayor Emanuel and the voters of Chicago to make. He has obviously confronted this situation over the course of the last week quite directly and already taken some steps to indicate his own commitment to addressing some of the problems that he has seen. But, again, it’s up to the people of Chicago and the Mayor himself to evaluate his performance in responding to this situation.
Q And one last subject -- Harvard. There’s a lot of news about what’s going on at Harvard, with the crest and then also with the issue of some African American faculty members having their faces blacked out. And we understand that the President is still very close to many people at Harvard and with that -- and he spoke out very strongly about diversity issues in 1991 at Harvard. So what’s his thought process right now about his alma mater and what’s happening there when it comes to racial issues there?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t spoken to him about the situation on the campus at Harvard.
Q Can you ask him please? Because it’s a big issue. Harvard University, the school that the President was the head of the law review, the school that the President attended -- this is a big deal. Can you get some information for us?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll see what I can do.
Q Thanks, Josh. Republicans are considering including a provision on Syrian refugees in the spending bill. The White House has said it would threaten to veto a similar proposal. As a standalone bill, would the White House veto a spending bill that included a Syrian refugees provision?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Byron, obviously the -- let me say a couple things about that. The concern that we -- well, I think the President spoke in rather colorful terms and I think with some passion about the concerns that he had with the efforts of some in the Republican Party to suggest that refugees, for example, should be subjected to a religious test of one kind or another. And I think the President talked about how that is not just contrary to our values as Americans but also raised concerns about the impact that that would have on our ability to protect the country and to fight ISIL.
So we’ve also talked about the specific proposal -- the one specific proposal that the House has voted on this issue would not actually substantially contribute to our national security. Refugees continue to be the most thoroughly vetted individuals that enter the United States. They are subjected to background checks; biographical and biometric information is collected; it is vetted through databases that are maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Defense, international law enforcement agencies, the FBI.
And we continue to see -- the President certainly continues to see the United States of America as a place where we respond to the needs of those who are most vulnerable. But that certainly doesn’t come after our need to protect our national security, and that’s why individuals who apply through this program are subjected to more screening and more vetting than anybody else who tries to enter the country.
So we’ll take a look at the specific proposals. We believe that much more fruitful work can be done in the area of reforming some aspects of the Visa Waiver Program. And there have been some Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill that have signaled a willingness to work with the administration on that. We believe that actually would make the country safer. That’s why we’ve already taken some steps to implement some changes to that program. There are some additional steps that Congress could take, and we would be supportive of them doing that. We’ve cautioned them to be careful about not undermining entirely the economic benefits associated with this program.
So this continues to be an open dialogue with members of Congress. And hopefully, Republicans will be interested in actually strengthening our national security and not just trying to score cheap political points by targeting some of the most vulnerable human beings on the planet.
Q One more. The Washington Post is reporting that the Chinese government has arrested hackers suspected of breaching the OPM database. Is the administration aware of those reports, and do you have any reaction?
MR. EARNEST: I have seen those reports. I don’t have a specific reaction to share with you. I would point out a couple of things, though, Byron. The first is, the President did have the opportunity to meet with President Xi in Paris two days ago. The issue of cybersecurity was raised in their conversations. This continues to be a top priority of the President -- of President Obama in terms of our relationship with China. And we believe there’s an opportunity for us to build on the commitment that President Xi made when he visited the White House earlier this fall that the Chinese government will not conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled economic espionage for commercial gain.
This is a commitment that the U.S. government has made for some time and one that we abide by. And we certainly welcome the Chinese commitment to this principle as well. The question is can we continue to build on that commitment in a way that enhances the national security and the economy of the United States.
The one thing that certainly can be pointed to as at least incremental progress is that Chinese officials did follow through on our joint commitment to pursue a cybersecurity dialogue. And actually right now, one of the senior Chinese officials that’s responsible for cybersecurity is in the United States and, over the course of the day yesterday and today, has been engaged in conversations with the Secretary of Homeland Security and with the Attorney General about some of these issues. We do believe that that enhanced dialogue can be used to advance our interests with regard to this specific priority.
Q Back to Chicago. What was the President’s reaction when he saw the video of the young man being shot and killed?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ron, the President has seen the video. The President had the kind of human reaction that I think lots of other people across the country have had to that specific video. The President, of course, is limited in talking about that reaction, and I’m limited in the degree to which I can talk about his reaction to it. Because of his unique role as President of the United States, by commenting on this at great length I think would be viewed by some as improperly interfering with an ongoing, independent criminal investigation. So I can confirm for you that I have seen the video, but I don’t have a lot of details to share about his reaction.
Q And just to be clear, is there a DOJ investigation going on now of the police department, or not?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I believe -- you can check this with the Department of Justice -- well, let me say it this way. It’s at least been publicly reported that the Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into the death of this individual. And you can confirm that with the Department of Justice.
There has been a separate request that has been made by the Attorney General of Illinois, the State Attorney General of Illinois, for a broader investigation of the entire police department by the Department of Justice -- something that’s called a “patterns in practice” investigation. And the decision to pursue an investigation like that would be one that’s made by the Department of Justice. I don’t believe that they have announced that that’s something that they are already doing, but you can check with them to see if the request from the state attorney general is one that they’re willing to entertain.
Q The administration has I think opened or has about 20 of these “pattern in practices” investigations going on. I believe it’s an unprecedented number. Does the President feel that this is a situation -- in his hometown, towards the end of his tenure here, on an issue that he has spoken out about a lot, policing in America, that he has made a priority -- why not speak out about this? Why not make a point of what’s happened here, if he is so moved by what he saw and what he’s witnessing, within the limits of the ongoing investigation? I think a lot of people just are saying, come on, step up.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, and I think it’s an entirely legitimate question. And what you point out, Ron, is that there are limits on the President about what he can say publicly based on his desire to avoid the perception that he is somehow interfering with an independent, ongoing investigation. Some of that’s because the President is determined -- is committed to the idea of these kinds of independent investigations, and the fact is, even if he had significant concerns to express, it could be viewed then by some that the only reason the Department of Justice is looking into it is that the President himself expressed concerns.
And the President believes that these kinds of situations should be evaluated and investigated based on the facts and based on the merits of the arguments that are presented by either side. And so it is a difficult constraint. And it is the kind of thing that I think the President intends to speak about more freely once he is the former President of the United States. But until then, his ability to communicate about this at great length is limited.
Q Given his concern about this issue, I would think -- and this has been going on for a year -- I would think that he sees this as a setback in his efforts to improve policing generally around the country.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ron, I think the President -- as you point out -- has talked about this in general, this issue in general quite a bit over the last year and a half or so. The President did convene a Taskforce on 21st Century Policing that has yielded a set of recommendations and best practices that have been lauded by law enforcement officials across the country. There are a lot of good ideas that were put forward by local law enforcement and by civil rights activists and by academics and lawyers, who all came together to put forward these recommendations. There are a number of cities that have chosen to try to implement these best practices. And you have to talk to the city of Chicago about whether or not -- or to what degree they have implemented these kinds of best practices.
The thing that is true, though, is that these law enforcement organizations are, as they should be, controlled at the local level. And the federal government can’t impose these best practices on local law enforcement organizations across the country. What we can do is put forward these recommendations that are based on informed consultation with law enforcement leaders and civil rights activists and community activists and lawyers from all across the country. But it’s going to be up to individual jurisdictions to decide how these best practices can be applied in their communities.
Q Just one ISIS question. These 120 Special Forces troops who are going in -- is this part of train, advise, and equip?
MR. EARNEST: Well, that’s a good question. Let me say a couple of things about that. I mean, the first is I think the easiest way to describe it to you is, when we have talked about the kinds of changes that we’re making to our counter-ISIL strategy, we’ve described those changes as the intensification of those aspects of our strategy that have shown some progress or yielded some progress, and taking away investments from those aspects of the strategy that didn’t work very well.
One thing that has proven to be effective in a limited number of cases, admittedly, is the use of special operators. So, for example, there’s been at least one operation that’s been conducted to free hostages that were taken by ISIL. There’s another situation where special operators conducted a raid against an ISIL leader and the result of that operation was the death of that ISIL leader and the collection of a significant amount of intelligence. I know that some of our intelligence officials have described it as a treasure chest of intelligence information that to this day -- this is an operation that was carried out months ago, back in May, I believe -- to this day, it continues to be a valuable source of information for operations and targets that are being hit by coalition military and are advancing other elements of our strategy, like shutting down the flow of foreign fighters and shutting down their illicit financing.
So this is an intensification of one element of our strategy that has yielded some fruit. It is being done in close coordination and consultation with the Iraqi government. And we’re optimistic that it can advance our train, advise and assist mission.
Q It just sounds like it’s a more independent mission by U.S. forces than training, advising, and equipping and working with the Iraqis and the Peshmerga on the ground. So why can’t the administration say this is a changed strategy and something different? The criticism has always been, as it’s now, is that you’re just reacting to events, and this is not a proactive and aggressive way to solve this problem now.
MR. EARNEST: I assure you that the people who are on the receiving end of more than 8,000 strikes from our counter-ISIL coalition believe that this is a pretty aggressive, proactive strategy. And I’m sure that ISIL leaders who are concerned for their own safety and have taken significant steps to try to protect themselves from these strikes or these kinds of raids view our strategy as quite aggressive and quite proactive.
I think the reason, Ron, that we’re not describing it as a change in our strategy is that it’s consistent with what we’ve been doing for quite some time. There are situations where the United States or United States special operators have conducted raids in other places, as well, to take out those high-value targets that could pose a threat to the United States. There have been operations that we publicly discussed in places like Yemen and in Libya where this has proved to be an effective strategy of taking off the battlefield those who could pose a threat to the United States and our interests. And so I don’t think it should be particularly surprising to people that this is a strategy that we are seeking to intensify in our counter-ISIL effort.
Peter. Nice to see you.
Q Thank you. Is the President still friendly with Rahm Emanuel?
MR. EARNEST: Mayor Emanuel does have an opportunity to come to Washington periodically in his role as the mayor, and it would not be unusual for him to come by the White House when he does. I know when the President was in Chicago a month or so ago, the President had the opportunity to visit with the Mayor then, too. So, sure, they worked closely together for a couple of years while Mr. Emanuel served as the President’s Chief of Staff.
Q So is the President just keeping quiet about what’s happening in Chicago because the Mayor there is his friend? Because you mentioned that he doesn’t want to interfere with an ongoing investigation, but he spoke out very early on with the Ferguson case, and that officer wasn’t even charged with anything. And all that I can think of that’s different is that he wasn’t friends with the mayor of Ferguson.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Peter, what we’ve seen is we’ve seen these kinds of situations in a lot of cities across the country -- places like Baltimore and Minneapolis. And the President, in each of those situations, has been cognizant of the limits that are placed on the President of the United States, that his public expressions either of support or criticism could be perceived by some as interfering with an independent law enforcement investigation. And the President believes strongly that law enforcement investigations should be conducted based solely on the facts and free from even the appearance of political influence. So that explains entirely the decision that the President has made with regard to this specific case.
Q And you mentioned that the President has seen the video. Does he think that there is anything to the theory that Rahm Emanuel waited to release it so that he could get reelected?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t heard the President opine on potential motivations there.
Q And then, to that end, is the President worried that if Rahm Emanuel is not the mayor, some of his post-presidential projects, like his library in Chicago, are going to be more difficult to get going?
MR. EARNEST: Not at all.
Q To that end, one separate question. In Paris, the President said that he’s anticipating a Democrat succeeding him so that the things that he’s been working on will continue, that a Democratic President would continue with the themes that the President has been following. Does that signal -- should that signal to us that the President is more concerned with his legacy than with laws that are going to last a long time no matter who the President is?
MR. EARNEST: No, I think it should be a clear signal to you that the President is quite committed to the kinds of priorities that he has sought to advance in office. And everything from reforming Wall Street to make sure that taxpayers are no longer on the hook for bailing out big banks that make risky bets that go bad, to making sure that we continue to implement the Affordable Care Act in a way that will expand health care coverage to 17 million Americans -- those are values and priorities that this President has fought for in office, and he’s hopeful that the next President of the United States will be somebody who shares those values and will continue to fight for them.
Unfortunately, we have not seen a commitment from Republicans to holding Wall Street accountable, or expanding access to health care or cutting health care costs for middle-class families. But those are values that have been championed by the Democratic candidates for President, and it’s why the President hopes that one of them is going to succeed him.
Q Thanks. Just to ask the Rahm question another way. The criticism is that he spoke out more and seemed to feel less constrained in Baltimore and Ferguson than he does now, even though the situations were pretty similar. So that’s the criticism. Do you reject that, that he somehow spoke more freely or felt less constrained, even though there were investigations of those incidents, too?
MR. EARNEST: I do reject that. I don’t think that’s a fair comparison. And I think I’ve tried to describe at length exactly why the President is limited in what he can say publicly about this specific case.
Q One more on Chicago. Has the President spoken with the McDonald family? Does he have any plans to meet with them?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any calls that the President has placed to the family. So, no, I don’t know that that’s occurred yet. I’m not aware of any specific plan to call them, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.
Q And on Iraq, The Washington Post is reporting that it’s widely viewed there that the U.S. is actually helping ISIS. How concerned is the administration about that level of suspicion of the U.S. there? And what can you do to change this perception?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, those sorts of suggestions are completely absurd and fly in the face of at least one fact, which is that the United States has built and is leading a coalition of 65 nations to degrade and ultimately destroy that organization. So this is the result of a coordinated and intense Iranian-backed propaganda campaign. But it certainly bears no reference to the reality of the situation.
Q But how can the United States gain influence there if people on the ground think that the U.S. is supporting the terrorists?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think our goal here, Mary, is to not impose a U.S. solution or even a military solution, but rather to build up the capacity of Iraqi forces, to build up the capacity and strength of the Iraqi central government, to unite that country to face the threat that is posed by ISIL. That is ultimately our goal. And I'm not going to suggest to you that somehow this propaganda campaign doesn’t matter, but countering it is certainly not the focal point of our efforts. Our goal is to help the Iraqis do for themselves what they can only do for themselves, which is to unite their country across sectarian lines and face down this ISIL threat.
It's in the interest of the United States for the Iraqi people and Iraqi government and Iraqi forces to succeed in that effort. That's why we're helping them. But ultimately it's going to be their responsibility to achieve this goal.
Q Continuing with ISIL. In an all-out effort to basically reverse a vote taken two years ago, today Prime Minister David Cameron has told the members of Parliament that bombing ISIL in Syria will keep the British people safe. It's a many-hour debate in the House of Commons today. They’ll end with a vote on whether the UK joins France, the U.S., Russia in bombing Syria. If authorized, this bombing mission would begin within days, if they, in fact, deliver the vote that Mr. Cameron would like, and that seems very likely. Is this good news? And what are the comments of this administration on this possibility?
MR. EARNEST: Well, JC, obviously the United States and the United Kingdom have for a long time had a special relationship, and that special relationship extends to the operations that we've undertaken together over the years to provide for the national security of the citizens of both of our countries. And the UK has already made a substantial contribution to our counter-ISIL effort.
There are a variety of ways where the influence and capabilities of the British military and the British government are used to great effect to advance our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. But we obviously would welcome greater contributions from any of our allies, including our British allies. And we would welcome a vote and a commitment from the British people and the British government to an even greater British military commitment to our counter-ISIL campaign.
Joe, nice to see you.
Q Josh, on the specialized Expeditionary Targeting Force, they are supposed to be tasked with killing or capturing ISIS leaders. In the event some are captured, where are they going to be held? Are they going to be held in theater? I assume that you would rule out Gitmo.
MR. EARNEST: Absolutely.
Q So where are they going to be kept?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me do one other thing. There’s one other part of their mission that you didn’t mention in your short question -- you were just trying to keep your question short, I'm sure -- but it's important that it not be overlooked. There’s an important intelligence component to their missions, and their ability to go and scoop up paperwork and hard drives and other information that can be critical to our ongoing efforts is a central part of this strategy. And as I mentioned, it was a central part of -- one of the main benefits of the Abu Sayyaf raid that was carried out earlier this year.
As it relates to individuals that are detained in the course of these operations, the Department of Defense will have to make a determination. We'll obviously be working closely with the Iraqi government on these raids that are conducted in Iraq. The situation in Syria is obviously more complicated. There is at least one precedent for this, which is that in the course of the Abu Sayyaf raid, against that ISIL leader, his wife was detained in the context of that raid, and his wife was turned over to Kurdish authorities because there was some evidence to indicate that she had at least been complicit, if not actively involved, in some of the hostage-taking that ISIL has engaged in. And that's why she was turned over to Kurdish authorities.
I, frankly, haven't been briefed on the latest on her case, so I don't have an update for you on that. But that's an example of one way that this process could work. But I would certainly rule out for you sending any additional prisoners to the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Q Not even temporarily?
MR. EARNEST: Not even temporarily.
Q Senator McCain -- and you got a question along these lines a minute ago -- called the Expeditionary Force “reactive and incremental” and specifically “in response to the Paris attacks.” So what does the White House say to the notion that perhaps this was a good time to roll out this new idea just in order to switch gears after a bad week on the ISIS front?
MR. EARNEST: Joe, I can tell you that this is actually something that has been contemplated for a number of weeks now, and back earlier this fall, when we rolled out a package of new intensifications of our counter-ISIL strategy, this is something that was contemplated in the context of that rollout.
And if you go and look carefully at some of the language that we used at the time, we described our desire to enhance or increase our capability to carry out raids. This is exactly what we had in mind. This is something that we’ve been talking to the Iraqi government about since before even that announcement was made back in October. So the notion that this is somehow a response to Paris is wrong. And I think what it does, it reflects, again, what our strategy has been all along, which is to seek to intensify those aspects of our strategy that are yielding some progress. And this happens to be one of those areas.
Q And you haven’t gotten the mission creep question today -- sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Yes, you're right. It’s a legitimate one. I welcome the opportunity to answer it.
Q Especially because the Defense Secretary said that he would not rule out making recommendations that would increase the force size, especially with this new announcement -- what are you going to do about the notion of this opening the door to further involvement?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, first of all, I would start by saying that this is consistent with what we’ve been doing in Iraq and in Syria in the past. It is also an intensification that only involves, but that involves about 200 United States military personnel. That certainly stands in contrast to the more than 100,000 U.S. troops that were on the ground in Iraq and sent there by the previous administration.
So we're quite cognizant of our ongoing commitment to making sure that the kind of offensive, enduring ground combat operation that was in place under the orders of President George W. Bush are not in place this time because we do not believe that that served the interest of the United States particularly well.
And I will say, Joe, though, that if there are members of Congress who are concerned about this, there is something they can do about it. For more than a year, the President of the United States has been calling on the United States Congress to pass an Authorization to Use Military Force, where they could be more specific about what they view as an appropriate response to the ISIL campaign. For more than nine months, Congress has had the opportunity to consider a specific written legislative proposal that is put forward by this administration. The President directed his Secretary of Defense and his Secretary of State to go testify on the record, under oath, before Congress on this exact issue. And what’s Congress done? Nothing. They haven’t done anything.
And the concern that we have expressed is, too often in Congress it’s easy to suggest that, well, something so hard, that that ultimately is a good excuse for not doing anything. And we’ve seen Congress doing that for a year. And that's unfortunate. And it certainly is not the kind of leadership that the American people expect from their elected representatives to Congress.
Q And last question. On CNN, the former Director of the DIA said the White House ignored the rise of ISIS because it didn't fit into the President’s reelection plans. What are your thoughts on that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, he’s wrong. And the reason I’ll tell you that is I don't think it will come as a surprise to you that the intelligence chief at the Pentagon is not included in discussions about the President’s reelection strategy. So he doesn't know what he’s talking about.
Let’s move around. Molly.
Q Can I follow up with the detention question? I was at the Pentagon, and they said that this is a policy question that hasn’t been determined yet, the “what then.” You pointed to Sayyaf, but she was an Iraqi citizen, and it’s likely the case if they’re going to be doing unilateral raids into Syria and taking them back to Iraq that they won’t be Iraqi citizens. So I know that you said that that hasn’t quite been determined yet but that the Pentagon should determine it. They said it hasn’t been answered. It hasn’t been resolved, what will happen with them.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, this will be something that will be determined on a case-by-case basis moving forward. And the situation that you cited, the wife of Abu Sayyaf, she was an Iraqi citizen; she was also somebody that was accused of being complicit in -- at least complicit in the hostage-taking of some Yazidi ethnic minorities. And so that’s why she was turned over to Kurdish officials to allow the criminal justice process to move forward. She was also interrogated for intelligence value as well.
But, again, I think that’s sort of a good example of how this situation was resolved in at least one previous case. And it’s hard to sort of answer hypotheticals about it now. But ultimately we’re cognizant of the need that at some point, these kinds of questions will have to be answered.
Q Is it not problematic that Special Forces are on their way whose mission is to capture and it hasn’t yet been determined what will be done?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think, on a case-by-case basis, it will be determined how to resolve the cases of individuals who are detained in these raids.
Q And just one last thing. With Sayyaf, the Department of Justice had been building a case -- potentially a federal terrorism case against Sayyaf. Is the intention with this new Expeditionary Force, the capturing that they’ll be doing, that those detainees -- that the U.S. would be potentially building federal terrorism cases for them to be charged in the U.S.?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t rule that out. In some cases, these expeditionary operations will be carried out against individuals that do pose a specific threat to the United States or our allies or our interests, and that could open them up to being part of the criminal justice system here. So I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.
But, again, it’s hard to talk about these sort of the in abstract here. Each of these cases will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Q Yesterday a bipartisan group of senators released a report finding that the drug-maker Gilead had charged astronomical prices for a Hepatitis C drug. Obviously the President has staked part of his legacy on expanding health care. Is this particular issue of drug apparent overpricing something that he is likely to weigh in on at any point, in any way?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Angela, the President has been quite concerned about the high cost of drug prices. This is one of the many overlooked benefits of the Affordable Care Act -- that there are millions of Americans that have received billions of dollars in assistance in affording their prescription drugs. And if you take a look at the President’s budget, one of the proposals that’s been included in the budget for years now has been to give -- is to give HHS greater authority in negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies under Medicare.
So this is something that the President has been focused on for quite some time, and we’ve made important progress -- billions of dollars in savings for millions of Americans across the country.
But, yes, this is an ongoing concern and this is not a problem that has been completely resolved yet and there’s more important work to be done. And the President certainly is interested in trying to address it in a way that’s good for middle-class families and certainly is good for keeping health care costs down for businesses.
Q And apparently there’s early reports out of local news stations in the Los Angeles area that there has been a mass shooting, apparently involving at least 20 people shot in San Bernardino. Has the President been briefed about the situation yet?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of those specific reports. That sounds like that may have been something that’s happened since I got out here. But we’ll see if we can get you some more information on it.
Q Josh, the British involvement in Syria, isn’t that going to be largely more symbolic than anything else? John McCain said this morning, “We’ll have some token British aircraft, they’ll drop a few bombs, and we’ll say thank you very much. But to say that it’s going to make a significant difference -- no, I’ve got to be a little more candid than that.”
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m disappointed that Senator McCain would speak so cavalierly, to diminish the important contribution of one of the United States’ closest allies. The fact is, we’ve asked every member of our 65-nation coalition to ramp up their contributions to this effort. And if the British Parliament were to vote in favor of this decision, and the British government were to follow through on this commitment of additional resources to the effort, that’s obviously something that we would warmly welcome. The British military has extraordinary capabilities, and we certainly would look forward to the opportunity to putting those capabilities to work to advance our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
Q Are you hopeful that the Germans will be similarly forthcoming?
MR. EARNEST: We have seen a renewed commitment from the Germans. I understand that it also requires some parliamentary approval on their part. But we would welcome a stepped-up contribution from the Germans, as well. They also have some important capabilities that could be used to advance our strategy.
Q Josh, you opened up the briefing by talking about the risk of a shutdown. And it just prompted me to think to ask, how is President Obama beginning to do business with Speaker Ryan? Have they spoken on the phone? Are they beginning to do work together? Are they speaking personally? Or how is that beginning to operate?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Alexis, I don’t have a lot of details of their communications to share with you. They have spoken on the phone more than once since Speaker Ryan assumed the job. As I think we described right around the time that Speaker Ryan got his promotion, we talked about the fact that he is somebody that the President believes is serious about his convictions, even if their approach to addressing these issues, in many cases, is quite different.
So that’s going to require a commitment on the part of both men to find compromise and to seek out common ground and to exploit it when it exists. The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act is one example of bipartisan progress. I don’t think any Republican is going to say it’s a perfect piece of legislation. I don’t know that there are any Democrats on Capitol Hill who would consider it to be the perfect piece of legislation. But it does advance a number of priorities that Democrats and Republicans agree on.
I would readily concede that there aren’t a whole lot of areas of agreement between Democrats and Republicans on some of the most important issues facing the country. But in some ways, I think that makes it all the more important that when there is agreement, that Republicans actually engage in a good-faith effort to try to find it and to seize it, and advance on it with Democrats.
There has been a steady willingness on the part of this President to do so. And we’re hopeful that as Speaker Ryan gets his sea legs that he’ll develop the confidence and the capacity to find that common ground.
Q Was it easy to find common ground on the State of the Union date?
MR. EARNEST: It was, actually. It was. So again, we’re establishing a track record here.
Q Thanks, Josh. I wanted to ask a couple of questions on the Pentagon. I know you didn’t want to talk about personal conversations between the President and the military and the Pentagon, but I was wondering if you can give us some idea of how much the administration was looking to save on stateside relocation --
MR. EARNEST: You mean in terms of dollar figures?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have those figures. I think the case that we have made is that there is money that can be saved. And when we’re talking about taxpayer dollars, we have a responsibility to save as much money as we possibly can. We have a responsibility in the government to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and if there’s an opportunity for us to spend less of that money and do it in a way that will actually enhance the safety and security of the United States, then it should be a no-brainer.
Q But you don’t have a target number that you had hoped to reach? I think it’s now, it’s like $3.4 million a year.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have a target number to share with you at this point. What I can assure you of, though, is once we have a specific proposal to present to Congress, we’ll make it public and we’ll be able to take a look at the figures and make a determination about just how many taxpayer dollars can be saved by pursuing the strategy that the President has laid out.
It will, however, I can assure you, be a strategy that saves money and that makes us safer, and is consistent with the view that has been advocated by President George W. Bush, by Secretaries of State that have served both Democratic and Republican Presidents, and even by some Republican members of Congress about the benefits of pursuing the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Q Now that the President is signing the NDAA, I understand there’s a congressional reporting mechanism -- that means that nobody could be transferred from Guantanamo until Christmas Eve. Do you know how soon transfers could happen after that?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of that specific -- that provision. We’ll have to follow up with you on that.
Q And the President said he wants to get the population below a hundred by the New Year. Can you give us any indications as to how he plans to do that given the NDAA restrictions?
MR. EARNEST: There are more than 50 individuals who are currently at the prison at Guantanamo Bay that have been cleared for transfer. And what that means is it means their case has been thoroughly reviewed by national security professionals and they have concluded that under the right set of circumstances, these individuals could be housed in other countries.
And so what the State Department has done is taken these case files and begun -- entered into negotiations with countries around the world to get them to agree to take in these individuals based on the security precautions that we believe are necessary. So that’s the way that the process works, and that is certainly what we’ll be pursuing to reduce the prison population at the prison.
Q And a Wall Street Journal article also suggested that you are considering abandoning military commissions. Is that something you can talk about? Do you think you get justice faster in a federal court?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, we have previously said that both Article III courts and military commissions are options for subjecting these individuals to justice. And I don’t have a policy change to announce at this point about whether or not one of those options is taken off the table.
Q To follow on the conversation earlier about cyber, we actually reported that, as well, that the conversation about OPM came up and that China has come forward with evidence. I guess I wonder, on the broader context, these dialogues are really about building trust between the two countries. What does it do for U.S. trust if, in fact, China has brought evidence about the OPM hackers specifically? This is a case that the Americans have gone to them and it’s been very high profile and very important to the United States.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jessica, I don’t have a detailed readout of the conversations to share at this point. The fact that the dialogue, however, is taking place is an important step. Being able to communicate clearly with our Chinese counterparts -- whether they’re national security officials or law enforcement officials -- is important, and can strengthen the relationship between our two countries, and can advance goals that both of our countries share, and can certainly address the substantial concerns that we have raised, including concerns that President Obama raised directly with President Xi just two days ago.
So this is important work. But it’s just -- I would acknowledge it represents modest progress that we can even begin talking about these issues. But those conversations are important, nonetheless, and hopefully can serve as a forum for more and continued information-sharing between our two countries on this issue that is a top priority to President Obama and to the United States.
Q The Chinese delegation has said, in fact, that there was a consensus and agreement that both parties signed on to yesterday. Is that the case?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an update on their ongoing talks, but if we can get you more on this, we’ll try to do that.
Q One more, if I could. The Chinese officials have also said that attacks from the U.S. have actually increased after the September visit by the Chinese President, and they’ve also said that there have been no arrests made on the U.S. side, even after China provided information to them about cyber-hacking. I just want to see if you can comment on any of those.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have a comment on that.
Toshi, nice to see you.
Q Thank you, Josh. I’d like to ask about the U.S.-China relation again. And with the joint statement with President Xi on climate change on Monday, the United States and China have been showing, in a sense, joint leadership on climate change. And also there are many differences in many areas, such as cybersecurity and even tensions in South China Sea. Is it fair to say that the United States is moving toward the direction of the group of two? As it is difficult to solve any global issue without agreements by the two countries.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Toshi, the United States continues to see the G20 as the most relevant and effective body for confronting many of the economic challenges around the globe. And we have found that to be a useful mechanism for addressing some of these issues.
What’s also true, though, Toshi, is that when -- on the issue of climate change, when you have the world’s two largest emitters stepping forward one year in advance of climate negotiations to make substantial commitments about cutting carbon pollution and fighting climate change, there’s no denying that that catalyzed commitments from countries all around the world. It catalyzed the process and that was a really good thing.
And coming into the Paris talks, we’ve seen commitments from more than 180 countries now to fighting climate change. And that does represent what impact the United States and China can have when we’re able to work together in pursuit of a shared goal -- in this case, cutting carbon pollution, fighting climate change, and saving the planet.
And we’re hopeful that there will be additional opportunities for the United States and China to work together. As you know, President Obama has said this both in public settings and in private settings with President Xi that the United States welcomes a rising China, and a rising China that is committed to assuming the international responsibilities that come along with a growing economic power. And the commitments that China has made in the context of climate change I think are a great example of how that influence can be used to advance the interests of China, but also to advance the interests of the global community.
Goyal, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thank you very much. Two questions. This week in Paris, U.S. and India made history. Ever since Prime Minister Modi was elected 18 months ago, he met President Obama seven times. Are they enough close that they can pick up the phone and call each other? And how are relations now between the two leaders and two countries?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Goyal, the President certainly does respect Prime Minister Modi and has appreciation for his skills and abilities as a politician. He also is somebody who is given the very difficult challenge of sitting atop the world’s largest democracy -- that’s not easy work, and the President of the United States has special insight into how difficult it is.
President Obama has found President Modi to be somebody who is honest and direct; somebody who has good command of the facts; somebody who has a clear understanding of the issues that confront his country and our relationship. He is also somebody that has a clear vision for where he wants to take his country. And that makes him not just an effective politician but an effective Prime Minister. And the President has had the opportunity to consult with Prime Minister Modi on a number of occasions, and I think that isn’t just a testament to their good working relationship -- it actually is a testament to the important issues that are at stake between our two countries. And the ability of the leaders of our two countries to work through those issues and to advance our shared interests is a good thing -- it’s a good thing for the world, it’s also a good thing for the citizens of our two countries.
Q The President has invited Prime Minister Modi for the eighth time early next year at the White House?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any meetings that are on the agenda at this point, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out another visit by Prime Minister Modi before the end of next year.
Q Second question. As part of the freedom of the press concerning Pakistan is concerned -- because recently the Syrian government and the American government, they have put the ban on the press not to show any more images of audio, video or movies of terrorists in Pakistan, including many of them wanted by the U.S. and India. So what do you think the President thinks about this, that they will not show any more of those terrorists freely speaking against democracy or --
MR. EARNEST: Goyal, I have to be honest with you, I’m not aware of this specific issue that’s been raised, but I’m happy to take a look into it and get back to you if we have a response.
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