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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 1/8/2016

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

 **Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.

1:05 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Friday.  Before we get started, we’ve spent a lot of time over the course of this week talking about the global economy and the impact on the U.S. economy, if any.  And we got another important data point today that bears mentioning. 

We did learn from the Department of Labor that the United States economy, in December of 2015, created 292,000 jobs.  Now, that’s obviously a good report.  The revisions from the two previous months were good.  You’ve heard me say on many occasions that we don’t get too disappointed if there’s one jobs report that doesn’t meet expectations, and we don’t get too excited when there’s one jobs report that exceeds expectations.  What we’re looking at are the broader trends, and that is what I think the American people can be justifiably excited about.

The last two years have been the strongest two-year period of job creation since the last two years of the Clinton administration.  That was 15 years ago now -- 16 years ago now.  The decline in the unemployment rate over the last two years is the fastest two-year decline in the unemployment rate in 30 years.  And included in this data was some additional information about wage growth -- something that has been drawing the intense focus of the President, of course. 

And what we have seen is that over the last 12 months, wages have grown by 2.5 percent, which is not quite as fast as we would like, but is the fastest rate of wage growth that we have seen since the end of the Great Recession.  And that represents an important improvement in a key metric that we’re going to continue to watch closely.

So with all that, Kevin, I’m happy to talk about that or other topics you would be interested in today.  So why don’t you fire away.

Q    Well, I wanted to ask -- two Iraqi-born men who came to the U.S. as refugees have been arrested on terrorist-related charges by federal authorities in Texas and California.  And some are arguing that perhaps this is an indication that the screening process for refugees is not stringent enough, that something maybe you missed with the screening process.  Could you address that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, I have seen the announcements from the Department of Justice.  Because they have ongoing investigations into these two individuals, I’m not going to be able to discuss specific cases from here.  But there are a few things I can say generally that are relevant to that news.

The first is that you have heard me on a number of occasions describe how our law enforcement and our national security professionals work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to keep us safe.  And they are incredibly skilled, they’re patriotic Americans, and they have access to incredible resources.  And they use all of that to keep us safe.  And these cases in particular are good examples of how the Department of Homeland Security, the intelligence community, our law enforcement, and other national security agencies work effectively together to keep us safe.

When it comes to refugees specifically -- this is something that we talked about quite a bit at the end of last year -- but there are some relevant facts that do bear mentioning.  The first is that no one is allowed to short-circuit the system.  The fact is that individuals who are admitted to the United States through the refugee process undergo the most rigorous screening of any individual that enters the United States.  That includes careful review of biographic and biometric information that is both reviewed and collected.  There are in-person interviews that are conducted.  And in the context of that screening process, the burden of proof is on the applicant to demonstrate that he or she is credible, that he or she qualifies for refugee status, and is otherwise eligible to enter the United States.

There are a number of reforms that have been added to this screening system over the years that have made this system tighter and better.  That includes adding additional databases that are used in the screening process.  That means that there are databases that are maintained by the Department of Defense, the National Counterterrorism Center, a variety of other intelligence agencies.  There are international law enforcement databases that are also maintained where this information is run through. 

And all of this is an indication of just how thorough that process is.  I think the other thing that is relevant here is that means that there are substantial amounts of information about these individuals that is collected.  That is information that, if warranted, based on information that’s been obtained by law enforcement that can be then used to investigate individuals.  Again, that’s not something that you do willy-nilly, or based on a person’s identity or their religion, but is something that can be -- it is information that can be used to investigate individuals if their behavior warrants it.

And again, as we see in these two cases, we’ve got law enforcement officials working closely with national security officials to take steps to keep us safe. 

One last thing.  I know that these kinds of situations are likely to prompt calls from the other side that are now familiar, that suggest that the United States should somehow impose some sort of religious test or a test based on an individual’s ethnicity to limit their ability to enter the United States.  It doesn’t represent who we are as a country.  And most importantly, it’s not going to keep us safe.  That is our top priority.  That is the top priority of our law enforcement officials.  That’s the top priority of our national security officials.  And that’s the top priority of the officials who manage the refugee system. 

So all of this is consistent with our national security interests and consistent with the kinds of values that the United States has long stood for. 

Q    White House officials are meeting with the tech industry about how to disrupt the Islamic State group and other organizations.  What exactly should the tech industry be doing better?  Can you provide some specifics about what you're seeking from them?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, it is true that there are some senior White House officials, including the White House Chief of Staff; the President’s top counterterrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco; the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith are participating in a meeting with a number of other senior national security officials in the U.S. government, including the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security. 

This is a meeting that the President alluded to in his address to the nation last month that talked about the need for the government and counterterrorism officials and law enforcement officials, in particular, to work more closely with the technology community to fight terrorism.  And this kind of meeting and this level of engagement is consistent with what the President called for.

And the goal here is to find additional ways to work together to make it even harder for terrorists or criminals to find refuge in cyberspace.  We’ve talked a little before that there is a precedent to this that law enforcement officials in the U.S. government have been able to work effectively with technology companies to combat child pornography.  And there obviously is -- technology leaders are patriotic Americans.  They don't have any desire for child pornographers or would-be terrorists to be using their tools and their technology to harm innocent people.

Q    Any specific proposals from the White House to the tech industry that you are making?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the meeting hasn’t started yet, so I certainly don't want to get out ahead of the meeting.  But I do think there is an opportunity for there to be a robust discussion about ways we can make it harder for terrorists to leverage the Internet to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize supporters to carry out acts of violence.

Surely we can have a discussion about ways to create, publish, and amplify content from credible sources that counteracts the radicalizing messaging from ISIL and other extremists.  Given the way that technology works these days, there surely are ways that we can disrupt paths to radicalization, to identify recruitment patterns, and to provide metrics that allow us to measure the success of our counter-radicalization efforts. 

So certainly the U.S. government and our national security and law enforcement officials have some ideas of things that they would like to discuss with the technology community.  I’m also confident that leaders in the technology community are going to come with their own ideas about -- ideas about topics that should be on the agenda, and ideas for accomplishing the kinds of goals that I just enumerated.  Clearly, there should be some common ground that we can find here between law enforcement, the United States, and these technology companies.  And that will be the kind of conversation we're hoping to have later today out in California.


Q    So, shortly before we came in here, there were reports that a suspect in a shooting of a police officer in Philadelphia is saying that he did it in the name of Islam.  Has the President been briefed on this matter?  And are there concerns that this is another terrorist attack?

MR. EARNEST:  Ayesha, I’ll tell you this is actually the first him hearing of it.  I don't know whether or not the President has been briefed on it.  But we can certainly check on it for you.

Q    On another topic, some Democratic leaders in Congress are denouncing Homeland Security raids on recent undocumented people from Central America.  They’ve asked the President to stop these raids.  Is the President hearing these concerns?  Are there plans to change strategy regarding these raids?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ayesha, we're of course aware of these concerns.  But the enforcement strategy and priorities that the administration has articulated are not going to change.  And here’s why.  We have focused those enforcement efforts on high-priority areas that we have identified.  That is specifically criminals, as you would expect.  That's important in keeping our communities safe.  That means individuals that have criminal convictions or a criminal history will certainly be prioritized for removal.  This is consistent with the way we’ve described our priorities, that we are seeking to deport felons -- not break apart families. 

The other area of priority that is important is to ensure that we’re maintaining security at the border, and that means individuals who have only recently crossed the border are also priorities for removal.  Now, the other thing to keep in mind is that these enforcement strategies and actions are consistent with the need to follow due process.  And each of these individuals is considered on a case-by-case basis for any sort of humanitarian or asylum claims they may have to make.  And their legal remedies are exhausted before they are deported.  And, again, that is an indication that we are committed to working through due process on a case-by-case basis.  That’s relevant because you actually have a President of the United States who has worked hard to use his own executive authority to try to make that process more fair.  After all, there are 700,000 people that have benefitted from DACA, from the -- these are DREAMers.  The President has also sought to use his executive authority -- and this is an issue that’s being litigated in the courts, potentially in front of the Supreme Court later this year -- to further expand the group of people who could be given the opportunity to remain in the United States.

So certainly the President is aware of this issue, is focused on making sure that we can have a more fair and just immigration system that I think just about everybody who looks at it agrees is broken.  And the one way that we could solve this is for Congress to finally take overdue action to reform our broken immigration system.  And we know exactly how to get that done.  We’ve got a bipartisan agreement about how to get that done through the United States Senate but, unfortunately, House Republicans blocked that common-sense proposal despite the fact that it was supported by Democrats and Republicans all across the country, including leaders in the business community, leaders in the labor community, and leaders in the law enforcement community.

Q    Finally, just a quick question.  Going back to the arrest of the refugees, where are things at in the review of the fiancé visa program?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have an update for you on that process.  I can tell you that it’s ongoing.  This is something that both the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security are working on together, but I don’t have an update for you at this point.


Q    Josh, where is the tech meeting taking place?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s taking place in San Jose, California.  So these are senior White House officials and top law enforcement officials based here in Washington, D.C. that are traveling out to California to --

Q    All of them?

MR. EARNEST:  I believe that there are -- we can get you some greater detail about who is actually participating in the meeting.  But I believe that --

Q    Are they talking part by way of video hookup?

MR. EARNEST:  There may be some.  I can tell you that the White House officials that I described before are all going to be there in person.

Q    How big a problem is it that a terrorist is using the Internet for radicalizing and recruiting?

MR. EARNEST:  We have seen that this is a tactic that more extremist organizations are attempting to use.  And whether it is somebody who -- we have seen that ISIL, in particular, is using some sophisticated strategies to try to radicalize individuals around the globe.  They’re particularly effective at it but they’re by no means the only extremists who have resorted to using these tools.  We know that there are organizations like AQAP and other more closely linked al Qaeda affiliates that also use technology to try to recruit supporters and to inspire them to carry out acts of violence.  So this is something that we're mindful of.

There are obviously a lot of complicated First Amendment issues and other things.  But our sense here is that there is some common ground that we should be able to find with technology companies.  As I mentioned before, many of these technology companies that are participating in the meeting today are run by patriotic Americans.  And they certainly don't have any interest or desire in seeing their tools and their technology being used to aid and abet terrorists, or certainly make it easier for terrorist organizations to recruit followers and incite them to carry out acts of violence against innocent Americans.  So we're committed to trying to find that common ground.

Q    Can we expect a readout after the meeting?

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll try to get you some more information about what exactly is discussed.  I wouldn’t expect any sort of breakthrough announcements or agreements to emerge from this discussion.  But it certainly is only the latest in a series of discussions that the Obama administration has convened with technology leaders.

When the President traveled out West to the Cybersecurity Summit on the campus of Stanford University last February, some of these issues were on the agenda.  You’ll recall that these were some of the issues that were discussed at the United Nations Security Council meeting that was convened at the most recent U.N. General Assembly back in September, where efforts to counter violent extremism were discussed.  And some of the countering -- some of the strategies that are used by extremists online were part of that discussion.

Q    It must be seen as a very urgent problem in order to dispatch officials at that level to a meeting out on the West Coast.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it is an indication that it is a priority of the President and of our national security team to counter the strategy that ISIL is so clearly pursuing online.

Q    And are you referring to websites by ISIL and AQAP?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are a variety of tools that we know that these extremist organizations use to try to disseminate their message, to try to recruit followers, and to try to inspire them to carry out acts of violence.  So I think it’s -- certainly some of it is social media, but some of it also the broadcasting of information.  And as I mentioned in response to Kevin’s question, there is a precedent for us to try to confront this kind of problem.  We know that there are some people who try to make money based on the selling and trafficking of child pornography.  And they're using websites to do that.  And we’ve been able to work effectively with the tech community to counter those efforts.  We, of course, haven’t eliminated that practice, but we have enjoyed some success in countering it by working effectively with the technology community.  And we're hopeful that we can do the same thing when it comes to countering the actions of extremists online.

Q    Is encryption part of the agenda?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t come up.  And this is a particularly thorny element of that discussion, but it’s an important one nonetheless.

The President, as he’s said on many occasions, believes in robust encryption.  He believes that that is important to the success of this technology.  But also he believes that's important to protecting the civil liberties and privacy of law-abiding Americans.

But at the same time, we can't allow terrorist organizations or extremists to be able to use communications online as some sort of safe haven that is beyond the reach of law enforcement and national security organizations.  And so that certainly means that there are some complicated issues to work through.  And the solutions aren’t necessarily obvious.  But what is obvious is that there should be some common ground between technology companies who certainly do not want to see their tools used to carry out acts of violence.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  On the State of Union.  And I did hear what you said yesterday about opportunities and challenges, but for those of us who love laundry lists, I’m wondering if you could give us any clues on policy directions or priorities that the President will be bringing up.

MR. EARNEST:  Not at this point.  But let’s talk again on Monday; maybe there’s more I can do to help you.


Q    Quickly, just back on the tech meeting.  Is there any hope that even -- I know you said that you're not expecting an announcement here -- but of an eventual program that would help you guys more aggressively monitor and take down social media posts from terrorists or terrorist sympathizers?  Is that the kind of goal of this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the goal -- I don't know that there’s a specific program that we would envision as a goal.  I think the hope is that we would be able to find ways to work effectively with the technology community that would make it harder for terrorists to use the Internet to recruit followers and incite them to carry out acts of violence.  So I don't know what form that will take.  I’m confident that will be part of the discussion.

Q    You still aren’t interested in pursuing legislation on encryption specifically?  And I’m kind of wondering if that continues to be the case.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, our policy on that has not changed.

Q    Yes, why not?  If this is such a kind of big issue, why kind of leave it up to tech companies to do it voluntarily?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, let me address that in two ways.  The first is, as you point out, this is a complicated and big issue.  And Congress has not demonstrated a lot of success in handling complicated big issues recently.  So I wouldn’t hold up sort of Congress as the ideal way to handle these kinds of things.

That said, as I pointed out, the reason that we want to work with the technology industry to try to address some of these problems is precisely because it’s in their interest to do so.  It is not part of their business model.  It does not make them look good.  It does not help them win more customers to be associated with these kinds of efforts.

Q    Well, that's why they push back to some extent, right?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't know.

Q    On encryption, the idea of being that if they can provide a private platform so the government can't snoop in your emails, that that's a selling point.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, certainly being able demonstrate their ability to protect somebody’s privacy I think is certainly good for their business model.  Having that technology be used by terrorists, I’m not sure is.  They would know better than I.  I’m certainly not involved in running their business, and I’m not able to look at their numbers.  But I do, however, speak with a lot of confidence in saying that the vast majority of these technology companies are run by patriotic Americans.  And I do believe -- and you can go ask them -- they're more likely to have this conversation with you than they are with me, but I do have a lot of confidence that those companies that are run by patriotic Americans are not interested in seeing their tools or their technology used by terrorists to harm innocent Americans.  That certainly is not what they were designed for.

And we're hopeful that there would be a willingness on their part to work with us to try to find some solutions.

Q    Can I ask about the President’s campaign pledge in his New York Times editorial?

MR. EARNEST:  Please do.  (Laughter.) 

Q    Yes.  I’m just kind of wondering if you can put some parameters on that -- what a candidate would have to do or not do for the President -- or I guess what a candidate would have to do or not for the President to say I’m not going to vote for you, I’m not going to campaign for you, I’m not going to fundraise for you.  And also how he would kind of extricate his actions with the DNC or the DSCC or whoever else in that.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't know that I have like a comprehensive list of outlines.  But I think based on the discussion that we’ve been having over the last several days, you have a pretty good sense of what the President is talking about when he talks about common-sense gun safety measures.  So these are things like closing the gun show loophole, or closing the no-fly, no-buy loophole.  This is the loophole that -- at this point, there’s no law that prevents somebody who is on the no-fly list from being able to walk into a gun store and purchasing a firearm.  Surely, if the government has determined that it’s too dangerous for you to board an airplane, then it should be too dangerous for you to buy a gun.  This is another common-sense proposal that the President has in mind. 

In the op-ed that you just cited, the President talked at some length about the responsibility that gun manufacturers have in gun safety, and there are some common-sense things that we believe that gun manufacturers could do.  And there are certainly some common-sense things that -- well, there are certainly some things that Congress has done that don’t fit common sense that have absolved gun manufacturers from assuming some of that responsibility.  So those are some of the things that the President has in mind.

Q    Bernie Sanders, for instance, voted against legislation that would have given liability to gun manufacturers -- or shielded them from liability.  So if Bernie Sanders was the Democratic presidential nominee, the President wouldn’t campaign for him?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly noticed that Senator Sanders told one of your colleagues/competitors here when asked this very question he was eager to point out that Senator Sanders had made clear that he was willing to revisit that position.  That’s exactly the goal here, right?  We want people to change their minds.  We want members of Congress to start taking different positions.

So, again, I am not familiar with Senator Sanders’s record, so maybe this is something that he said on many previous occasions.  But if not, I’m ready to start taking some credit for changing some minds on Capitol Hill.  Right?  I mean, this is -- ultimately the goal here is to get a different outcome that better reflects the views of the American people.

Q    What about somebody like Heidi Heitkamp, who was a big vote for you guys on TPA, and the President made a big point of saying, I’m going to go out and campaign and raise money for these people who put their neck out?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, there is no denying the fact that I think that when it comes to most issues, the President agrees with Senator Heitkamp on them, particularly when it comes to a whole range of economic issues and national security issues -- that there are a lot of reasons for them to be on the same page.  But what the President made clear in that op-ed is that when it comes to this issue, he’s prepared to be a single-issue voter.  And he hopes that other people will, too. 

And he’s hopeful that that will have an impact on the kinds of decisions that Democrats and Republicans make on this issue in the future when they’re serving in the United States Congress and when they’re called to vote on them.

Q    Last one.  Sorry for James Rosen-ing for a second, but -- (laughter) -- El Chapo apparently was just captured, and so I’m wondering if you’ve heard reports about that or have any update on that.

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t seen the -- I did not see that report before we walked out here, but we’ll check on it for you.

Kevin, it seems only fair that I’m going to -- (laughter) -- it seems only fair.

Q    Thanks.

Q    Keep it short.

Q    I will.  (Laughter.)  Short and pithy, right?  I’m sure you saw the report in the Journal about the Hellfire that was sent to Europe and then somehow inadvertently was sent over to Cuba.  Can you tell us what the President is aware of in that circumstance and how on Earth something like that could happen?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, Kevin, unfortunately, I cannot comment on specific defense trade licensing cases and compliance matters.  Under the Arms Export Control Act, the Department of State licenses both permanent and temporary exports by U.S. companies of regulated defense articles.  And U.S. companies are responsible for documenting their proposed shipping logistics in their export license application as well as reporting any shipping deviations to the department as appropriate.  So obviously this is something that both the Department of Defense and the State Department are quite keenly aware of, I think as you would expect.  And so for additional questions about this, I’d refer you to those two agencies.  And just because of the ongoing casework here, I’m just very limited in what I can say about it.

Q    If I could use a “Josh-ism” -- (laughter) -- as a general matter, how concerned is the White House about this report?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think you can tell, based on what I have read, that this is an issue that the administration takes very, very seriously, I think for quite obvious reasons.  And because both the Department of Defense and State Department are, again, I think for obvious reasons, quite interested in getting to the bottom of what exactly happened, I’m pretty constrained in what I can say, but there may be more information that the Department of State or Department of Defense can share with you.

Q    Let me ask you about the tech meeting, and I just want to kind of maybe take a slightly different look at it.  If, on the one hand, the suggestion is maybe the White House and tech companies can partner to eliminate, if not curtail, the ability for some of these terrorism groups to recruit online, would the White House then be interested in doing the same thing as it relates to domestic terrorist groups, or groups that might also -- white supremacists or other groups that might domestically be recruiting others to potentially do harm to other Americans?  In other words, are you going to take the same tack in both cases, or is this specific to overseas audiences?  I’m just trying to understand. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me try to describe it to you this way.  I think our goal here is to prevent any sort of extremist, any sort of terrorist -- whether foreign or domestic -- from using technology to carry out an act of violence against innocent Americans.  And we’re very interested in countering that from whatever source it emanates.  I think the reason that we spend so much time talking about ISIL and their activities online is that they have shown a particular ability to use these tools to maximum effect.  So that is certainly the threat that we are quite mindful of.  But as you point out, taking the right steps and pursuing the right approach would allow us to make it harder for anybody to use these kinds of tools to encourage someone to carry out an act of violence.

Q    But doesn’t that get to the fundamental American ideal of free speech?

MR. EARNEST:  Yeah.  There are certainly First Amendment issues here, but there are a variety of ways in which our First Amendment rights are curtailed.  You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater because that would potentially harm the people in the crowded theater.  So I’m certainly not a First Amendment attorney, and I’m not denying that there are complicated issues here, but surely we can find some common ground when it comes to finding ways to prevent terrorists from using technology to harm innocent patriotic Americans.

Q    Last one, on guns.  It’s sort of a full-court press.  We saw the President make his announcement, and then of course the town hall, and now the op-ed today in the Times.  I’m just curious, what’s next?  Why this approach, this sort of all-in approach?  And how does the White House respond to criticism that even if everything that the President has proposed had been in place previously, it would not have impacted the circumstances that affected the country so dramatically last year?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, there are a couple other things that are coming.  The President is convening a call later this afternoon with activists who share the President’s passion for this issue, and having an opportunity to speak to all of them is an important moment.  So I think all of you will have the opportunity to hear about that call. 

I also wouldn’t rule out that this is the kind of issue that comes up in the President’s State of the Union address.  So we talked earlier this week about how the State of the Union is a large platform where the President is commanding the attention of both houses of Congress and any number of Supreme Court justices and members of the Cabinet.  And I would expect that this is an issue that he’ll bring to their attention, because he’s surely focused on it.


Q    And on the issue of guns, I wanted to ask you about the President’s town hall meeting last night during which the NRA did not participate.  And the President seemed pretty frustrated about that and said that the NRA had been invited on multiple occasions to talk about this issue, discuss the issue.  Would the President debate a high-level official from the NRA, engage in a public discussion with an official from the NRA if the opportunity were to present itself?  Or do you think that was the opportunity last night, and the NRA missed its chance?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the NRA did miss their chance yesterday.  And based on the response that they have offered up after the meeting, it doesn’t seem like they’re feeling very good about the way they looked by dodging the opportunity yesterday.  Demonstrating their unwillingness to participate in a rational, measured, fact-based discussion of these issues that was taking place just a couple of miles from their national headquarters I think might be an indication that they don’t have a lot of confidence in their case. 

So they have had multiple opportunities to participate in events here at the White House and then to accept an invitation from CNN to attend yesterday’s event, and they turned it down.

Q    And has the President ever spoken with anybody from the NRA before, personally?  Phone?  I mean, it’s just never happened?

MR. EARNEST:  Off the top of my head, I’m not aware of any specific conversations.  I know that there is at least one instance where a representative of the NRA attended a meeting that was convened by the Vice President.  That was a number of years ago.  I’ll note that the NRA walked out of that meeting trashing the Vice President in the efforts that the administration was pursuing at that time to take common-sense steps that would make our communities safer.  So there certainly is ample reason to question the good faith of people at the NRA to engage in these kinds of discussions.  But yet, that has not prevented us from inviting them to participate.  And even then, those invitations have been rebuffed.

Q    I wanted to find out what the administration is doing about these Syrian children.  There have been images of starving Syrian children that have been in news reports over the last several days.  I assume the President is aware of this, or the whole security team is aware of this or wherever -- the State Department.  Is there anything the administration can do about these kids?  Because the pictures are just horrible to look at.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, it’s gut-wrenching.  The situation inside of Syria and the impact that it is having on millions of innocent people is terrible.  And that’s the kind of violence and chaos that we’re seeing millions of Syrians flee when they seek to enter any of the neighboring countries or to travel all the way to Europe.  There’s a reason that they’re running away from their homes.  And it is -- it’s terrible.  And it certainly is something that the President is mindful of, and I think that’s why the United States you’ve seen once again step forward to play a leading role here.  The United States is the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance to try to meet the needs of those who are fleeing violence inside of Syria.

Q    Is that assistance getting to these -- it seems like that assistance it not getting to these folks.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s difficult, obviously, to get humanitarian assistance into a war-torn country like Syria.

Q    You could be the top donor of humanitarian assistance, but if you don’t have the wherewithal, the ability to get that assistance to those people, it seems like sort of --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there is some assistance that is getting into Syria.  But, look, in a war-torn chaotic country like this where you’ve seen that the central government has utterly failed and extremists like ISIL have stepped in, there are consequences and they’re grave. 

But, look, the assistance that is provided by the United States is reaching some Syrians inside of Syria.  We also know that there are millions of Syrian migrants that have fled to neighboring countries in the region.  Countries like Jordan, even Turkey, are bearing a significant burden when it comes to trying to meet the basic humanitarian needs of those fleeing violence in Syria.  And the United States has provided substantial financial resources to those countries as they try to meet the basic humanitarian needs of the Syrian people.

Q    And getting back to Cheryl’s question about the State of the Union, she asked about the laundry list.  And I guess it was my understanding from listening to you folks over the last couple of weeks that this is going to be a nontraditional, unconventional State of the Union speech.  There isn’t a whole lot of time left to get a big laundry list done.  So is the White House telling various agencies and departments, hey, hold off on these laundry lists, the President is going to go big picture on this one?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  There is a lot that we have been able to accomplish over the last seven years.  And typically, states of the union -- a State of the Union address will cover the important progress that’s been made and there’s a lot to talk about in that regard.  The President also has a year remaining in office, and he is quite focused on making sure that we maximize the opportunity that exists during his final year in office to get a lot of important business done.  Some of that is business that we’d like to get done with Congress.  Some of it is business that we’ll get done using the President’s executive authority.  And some of it is business that we’ll get done by deepening our engagement with countries around the world and continuing to play the kind of leading role in the international community that has made the country safer and advanced our interests around the globe.  So there’s a lot to talk about in that regard. 

But what the President will focus on in the context of the State of the Union speech are the kinds of challenges that are facing America over the long term.  We’re at a critical juncture in our history.  We have made tremendous progress digging out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Recession.  The jobs numbers that were released today are just the latest piece of evidence that testify to that progress.  And now the question is, what are the kinds of decisions that we’re going to make right now that are going to ensure that we’re going to pass onto our kids and their kids the most prosperous, the most secure, the most fair United States that’s ever existed.  And those are the kinds of challenges that the President is looking forward to focusing on in the State of the Union.


Q    Two questions.  First of all, is it significant that Congress was able to get the repeal of the Obamacare bill to the President’s desk, as the critics are saying?  They’re saying that this is the first time that has happened, and therefore this is significant.

MR. EARNEST:  No, it’s not significant.  It got them nothing.  And with the stroke of a pen, the President dispensed with it.

Q    And secondly, the Little Sisters of the Poor filed a Supreme Court brief against the federal contraceptive mandate, saying that the administration wants the petitioners to do precisely what sincere religious beliefs forbid, and ultimately that the brief claims that the government is violating federal law by speaking for the sisters in saying that the accommodation is compatible with their religious beliefs.  Does the White House have any thoughts on that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ll obviously have our own strong case to present to the Supreme Court about the steps that we have taken to ensure that we are balancing the religious liberties of Americans with the rights of other Americans to make their own decisions about their health care.  And fortunately, there are a wide variety of federal judges all across the country that have agreed that this policy has been implemented appropriately, and that gives us a lot of confidence in the argument that we’ll make before the Supreme Court.


Q    Sorry, I just want to come back to the Sanders issue for a second.  You’re pleased with the movement that he seems to have made about changing his mind?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I will acknowledge that I am not intimately familiar with the ins and outs of his record, and so it may be that this is a position that he has previously described -- a willingness to sort of revisit his previous support for liability legislation that benefits gun manufacturers.  So I was being a little flip in talking to Justin.  But look, if that represents a genuine change in his position as a result of the President’s announcement, then that’s great.  But look, if he’s --

Q    And that’s enough for the President to be comfortable to campaign for him if that’s what it comes to?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I just acknowledged, I’m not familiar with the ins and outs of his record.  But if Democratic voters across the country confirm that he is the Democratic nominee, then I’m confident that we’re going to spend some time here learning about his record and learning about what is on his agenda to make that decision.

Q    But it was unintentional, the mention of the gun manufacturer liability issue in the op-ed as a -- since that’s been an issue in the primary race, that wasn’t something that was an intention from the White House to put in there as a factor in the primary race?

MR. EARNEST:  Correct.  The President was quite intentional about raising this issue as it relates to gun manufacturers and how they have essentially abdicated their responsibility to ensure that their business practices and that their products are safe.  But that was not any sort of secret or subtle signal to demonstrate a preference in the presidential primary. 

But the President takes this seriously.  And any candidate running for any office is going to have to demonstrate their commitment to these common-sense measures before they can expect to get the support of the President of the United States.

Q    And I asked you the other day about whether he would campaign for Republicans who were pro-gun control -- a Pat Toomey or a Mark Kirk.  You said then that you hadn’t talked to the President about it.  It seems like he’s made up his mind about single-issue voting in sort of the positive -- or the negative sense.  Like, he won’t vote for people who are not with him on gun control.  Have you discussed with him the prospect of supporting Republicans who are where he wants them to be on gun control?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, I wouldn’t rule it out.  But these kinds of elections are a test.  And certainly the President will be considering the kinds of policies that are put forward by the Democratic candidate in those races.  And look, if both candidates support the kind of common-sense gun safety measures that the President does, then that’s great.  That means the President’s decision about who to support will then involve a consideration of a range of other issues.  A consideration of those other issues probably doesn’t stack up very well for a lot of congressional Republicans, including Senator Kirk and Senator Toomey.

But, look, the President is serious about this.  And this certainly applies to presidential candidates, and it applies to candidates for both houses of Congress, but also to candidates further down the ballot, as well.

Q    Earlier this week, Debbie Wasserman Schultz had an interview that was published, and she said that she wasn’t as progressive on criminal justice reform issues as some people in the Democratic Party might want her to be.  She is the DNC chair.  Criminal justice reform is a priority for this White House and this year.  Have you guys had any discussions with her about making sure that she’s where you want people to be on this issue?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any detailed conversations that have taken place between the White House and Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz on this issue.  And to be honest with you, I’m not quite familiar with the particulars of her position.  But I think the thing that we are gratified by is that there is an emerging bipartisan consensus around a lot of the issues that are being discussed in Congress.  And we certainly have tried to nurture that bipartisan agreement, and we’ll be doing that in the weeks and months ahead.

Q    As you push forward with this, do you want the chair of the DNC to be with the President, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we certainly will be making a strong case to everybody, including Democrats who are close to the President, that criminal justice reform, like the type that’s being discussed by many members of the House and Senate, is consistent with the priority that the President has placed on making our country more fair, but also making our communities more safe.

Mr. Viqueira.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  Back on guns.  And with an eye towards writing those curtain-raiser scripts and pieces for the State of the Union -- and a couple other issues, but first on guns -- is the President maxed out now on what he can do with the executive actions on gun control --

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I would say is, based on the most recent analysis that has been done, the answer to that question is, yes, the President has done as much as he can.  That said, I wouldn’t rule out that at some point over the next 12 months, that the President’s team goes back to take another look to see if there’s more that can be done.  But I’ll tell you that there’s nothing that we’re keeping in reserve in terms of additional actions that the President could take.

Q    One other thing that’s really outstanding on the President’s agenda, and has been since the day after he took office, is Guantanamo Bay.  What is the status of consideration there when it comes to the constitutionality of the President taking unilateral action or executive orders?  Are those under consideration?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, first, let me just note, since you brought it up, that the Department of Defense has announced the transfer of an additional Guantanamo detainee to Kuwait.  This individual was approved for transfer by the Periodic Review Board just last fall.  And that actually brings now the number of Guantanamo detainees to 104.  And it’s a good illustration of our effort to chip away at the population there and to try to resolve these individual cases in a way that’s consistent with our national security interests.  That, ultimately, is what the President is focused on, which is keeping the country safe.  And closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay would make us safer, and that’s why it’s a priority. 

As it relates to the President’s executive authority in accomplishing that goal, the President talked about this at his news conference that he convened three weeks or so ago today, in fact, to say that his focus right now is getting Congress to remove the obstacles that they have put in place of closing the prison.  And I certainly wouldn’t take any executive options that may or may not be available off the table.


Q    In Kuwait, the Saudi coalition has apparently used cluster bombs, which U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has suggested may amount to a war crime.  The Yemeni government has also ejected the U.N. human rights representative.  Do you have any reaction to either one of those things going on there?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of the U.N. announcement that you just referred to.  I will just say that the -- as we’ve said for some time, the Saudis are justifiably concerned about the security situation in Yemen.  They obviously share a border with Yemen.  And they have legitimate concerns about that chaos having an impact on the security situation in their own country.

At the same time, the United States believes that diplomacy is what will lead to a satisfactory resolution of that situation.  The U.N. has obviously been leading that effort.  There were conversations in Switzerland back in December to try to advance a diplomatic initiative.  And the parties to those talks are planning to reconvene next week, I believe.  And we certainly are going to continue to encourage all sides to participate constructively in that process and try to bring the chaos and bloodshed in that country to an end.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I just want to go back to an earlier question on the incident in Philly.  You said the President hasn’t been briefed on this.  But really, from seeing reports of it, it was just a terrible, scary incident caught on tape with the police officer ambushed; 13 shots point blank.  And right before you came out, you didn't see it, but the chief said that this guy did it in the name of Islam.  Can you just clarify, have the circumstances of this incident in any way reached the White House or the NSC?  Is it on the radar?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Devin, I’ll just say that I had not seen this before I walked out here.  So as usually is the case, there are other people at the White House who are aware of this.  It’s just, given the tight turnaround here, it did not make its way to me.

I can tell you that based solely on what you’ve described, it sounds like it is a good reminder of the debt of gratitude that we owe our men and women who serve in police departments all across the country.  These are men and women who put on the blue uniform and put their lives on the line to try to keep our community safe.  And the vast majority of them take that job very seriously.  They do so with professionalism and courage.  And we certainly owe them a debt of gratitude.

Q    And thankfully, in this case, he survived.  So some good news.

MR. EARNEST:  Excellent.

Q    To follow on that, yesterday you referred to sort of a similar at the Paris police station as an “attempted terror attack.”  You've just laid out you don't know the circumstances here, but how do you make that determination in an incident of this nature?  And what goes into that?  Can you just refresh what goes into how you would say that this is a terror -- attempted terror act?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, my understanding about the situation in France yesterday is that no one was harmed in that incident other than the assailant.  And it was French law enforcement authorities that had said that based on what they knew about the situation, that it was a terrorist attack.  And so that's what led me to say what I said yesterday.  But obviously, once we have an opportunity to take a close look at these details, we’ll let you know.

Q    And if I could, on Hillary Clinton’s emails, which has been an ongoing story -- as you know, overnight, the State Department released 3,000 pages at about 1:00 a.m.  And one is getting some attention today; it’s an email between Mrs. Clinton and her top aide, Jake Sullivan.  And she’s trying to receive some sensitive talking points via “secure fax.”  And she writes, “If they can't [fax them], turn into nonpaper [with] no identifying heading and send nonsecure.”  It’s getting a lot of chatter from Mrs. Clinton’s critics on this.  But does the White House think it’s appropriate to remove markings and send information in a non-secure format?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m just not aware of all the circumstances of what exactly transpired.  But my guess is that the Clinton campaign has done some digging on this to try to understand the circumstances of this particular communication.  So I’d refer you to them to get a better understanding of exactly what it says about the way that Secretary Clinton handled sensitive information.

Q    But surely you’d say that removing markings that would -- on any document from anybody in the administration that was to be transmitted, to remove the marking of the classification of some kind would not be appropriate.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Devin, it is not uncommon for the administration, in pursuit of transparency, to release redacted information that if un-redacted were to otherwise be subject to some classification.  So again, without knowing the details of what exactly was being discussed there, it’s hard for me to comment on it.

Q    Real quickly, the last thing.  The organizers of the next Democratic debate have released their qualifying criteria today.  And there has been some speculation that perhaps Martin O’Malley is sort of on the bubble.  Mrs. Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and others have come out and said all three candidates should be on the debate stage.  Does the President have a view?  Should everyone be included in this next debate forum?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t talked to the President about this particular issue.  Obviously, the President believes that a robust discussion among the Democratic candidates for President is good for the process, it’s good for the party, and it’s good for the country. 

Obviously, the organizers of the debate, the DNC, and the media organization that's sponsoring the -- I don't know if it’s an ABC debate or not -- but ultimately somebody -- ultimately those will be the parties that are involved in determining who should participate in the debate.


Q    It’s an NBC debate.

MR. EARNEST:  Oh, okay.  There you go.  Tune in, everybody.

Q    Just lastly, and I know it’s late, but to follow up Jim’s question about Syria and these terrible images of hunger --  the point of the reporting there, as I understand it, was that it’s become identifiable how starvation is being used as a weapon in that war by both sides, a conscious military strategy, if you will.  Given that, and given that the United States is a huge donor humanitarian aid and all that, yet this still happens, is there any -- does the President feel comfortable with this in the sense that there’s no contemplation of a humanitarian mission to try and do more on a humanitarian if not military front to affect what’s happening on the ground there?  Because I know you’ve said repeatedly that you can’t do safe zones, it’s too many resources, so on and so forth.  But clearly things are getting worse, not better.

MR. EARNEST:  That is true.  Things have been -- the conditions inside of Syria for innocent civilians have been terrible for a long time and they’re not getting better.  And this is all -- the root of this failure goes back to the failed leadership of Bashar al-Assad.  His willingness to carry out terrible acts of violence against his own people by dropping barrel bombs on innocent civilians has led this country to be torn apart at the seams.  And we have seen extremist organizations like ISIL capitalize on that chaos to further the violence. 

And as is usually the case, innocent civilians are feeling the impact the most.  And that is why you’ve seen such a robust response from the United States to be the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to put our credibility on the line to try to bring the international community together to try to find a -- to effectuate a political transition inside of Syria.  Ultimately, Assad leaving power and a new credible government that reflects the will and ambitions of the Syrian people taking power -- that’s an important way for us to start to end the chaos.

The President has also built an international coalition of 65 countries to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  And that kind of robust response is commensurate with the terrible humanitarian situation that we see inside of Syria.


Q    Josh, you spent some time this week talking about the auto sales in 2015.  Yesterday, the University of Michigan told us that the average fuel economy of those cars were down from 2014, and in December it fell below 25 miles to the gallon.  Is the White House concerned that your goal of doubling fuel economy by 2025 is moving in the wrong direction?

MR. EARNEST:  We still are confident that that is a goal that the U.S. fleet can achieve.  I think what economists have observed is that seeing the prices at the pump, that more Americans are considering purchasing less fuel-efficient vehicles, like trucks and SUVs.  I think what warrants mentioning is that those trucks and SUVs are much more fuel-efficient today than they were six or seven or eight years ago.  And that is a response to the kinds of high standards that the President put in place. 

So we do continue to see improvement, and there’s more work to be done to meet the goal that the President set out.  I think when the President is talking about this issue, he regularly encourages people to be mindful of the fact that the low gas prices that we’re all enjoying and benefitting from now are not going to be there forever.  And purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle is -- when that’s a legitimate option, is a good bet over the long term. 

But ultimately we are making important progress when it comes to fuel efficiency, and a lot of that is due to the capacity for the American auto industry to innovate and put in place cutting-edge ideas that are bringing new technology that benefits the American people.  And none of that would have been possible had the President not placed a really big bet on American auto workers and the American auto industry.  And that big bet is paying off for those workers, for those companies, and most importantly, it’s paying off for the country.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to get back to the Hellfire missile that was found in Cuba.  Senator Marco Rubio has sent a letter to the State Department calling it, “astounding and inexcusable,” that people are just finding -- members of Congress are finding out about it now, reading the newspaper.  And he’s asking a number of questions.  And I’m wondering whether or not it came up --

MR. EARNEST:  My guess is he gets most of his information about what’s happening in Congress through the newspaper, based on his attendance record.

Q    Nevertheless --

MR. EARNEST:  Nevertheless.

Q    I was wondering, he raises a number of questions and among them are whether or not -- I’m phrasing it a different way than he asks it, but whether or not the existence of the missile in Cuban hands was talked about during the negotiations in reestablishing diplomatic ties, and why it wasn’t if it was not.

MR. EARNEST:  I actually don’t have a lot of insight into that, so we can take a look at that for you.  Right now, this is subject to an ongoing investigation by the State Department and the Department of Defense, so I’m very limited in what I can say about it. 

Q    Because it looks like it’s something we wanted back.  So would we have not brought it up when we were talking to them when we reestablished embassies?

MR. EARNEST:  All of that is unclear to me at this point.  So I’m sorry I can’t help you on that.


Q    Josh, I’m sorry if you’ve already said this before, but on closing Gitmo, you’ve said that a certain number of prisoners could not be released.  What does the administration envision for them?  Would they go to, like, supermax?  Would they go to a domestic military base?  What would happen to them?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is a question that is being considered by the Department of Defense.  What we know right now is that continuing to house those individuals at the prison at Guantanamo Bay is prohibitively expensive and does significant damage to our national security.  That’s why the President is not the only national security expert to conclude that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed.  That’s why people like President George W. Bush and other senior officials in the Bush administration who often don’t agree with leaders in this administration about foreign policy issues, but in this case, they do agree that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay is the right move because it makes us safer and it saves taxpayers money.

So what that means is it means that we should transfer those individuals that have been approved for transfer.  So right now, the detainee population is 104.  Let me try to put some figures on this.  Forty-five of those individuals have gone through the process of having their case file carefully considered by the Periodic Review Board.  And that Periodic Review Board has essentially ruled that, under the right circumstances, these individuals can be safely transferred to another country.  Those circumstances often involve limitations on their travel, limitations on their communications, and other limitations that frankly are part of a range of security requirements.  And so essentially you could almost cut the prison population in half by transferring those individuals.  Obviously those kinds of transfers are the subject of protracted diplomatic engagements.

Beyond that, there are 22 other individuals who have been referred for prosecution.  So these are individuals in whom the -- either the Department of Justice or the United States military has concluded that they could build a strong legal case in one venue or another -- whether that’s a military commission or an Article 3 Court.  There are 27 individuals who are essentially in the category of continued detention, which means that they have not yet been cleared for transfer but their case is periodically reviewed by the Periodic Review Board.  There are 10 other individuals who are facing criminal charges. 

So at some point, these individuals -- most likely in the category of continued detention -- are likely to make up what some have described as an irreducible minimum at the prison there.  And we’re going to have to do something with them.  And it is the view of the President’s national security team that bringing them to the United States to a prison where they can be properly secured should not be an option that’s automatically taken off the table.  Because if not, it’s not obvious where else they would go in a way that would satisfy the concerns that we have about our national security interests.

So this is part of what the Department of Defense has been working on for years, and this certainly is part of the plan that the Department of Defense is preparing at the request of the President and prepared to present to members of Congress.

Q    But practically speaking, they would have to remain in the custody of the U.S. military at some place?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, there are a number of proposals that have been considered.  I guess the other way I can talk about this is there have been public reports about visits that have been conducted -- site surveys that have been conducted by the Department of Defense personnel to detention facilities across the country.  I know that they visited the Charleston Brig in South Carolina.  They visited Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.  And I know they visited at least one facility out in Colorado, as well.

So there are a number of potential facilities that could be used for this purpose.  But ultimately, right now, Congress prevents that even being a realistic option.

Q    Just now that we’re in 2016 and a few days away from the State of the Union, how would you assess your ability to work with Congress on the issues that you think you might be able to get done, given the fact that you started off with an issue that’s sort of angered some Republicans -- the gun measures -- and they’ve started off with the gutting of the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood, resulting in a veto?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  Last year, around this time, there were a lot of Republicans who -- Republican leaders in Congress who had suggested that the President had poisoned the well in being able to work with Congress by taking executive action to try to reform some elements of our broken immigration system.  And this is something that Republicans vehemently disagreed with.  But what the President’s case was, was they said -- was he essentially said, we shouldn’t allow a difference of opinion on one issue become a deal-breaker for all of the others.  And that ultimately served as a useful way for us to work through a lot of these issues.  There’s no denying there’s a lot more that we wish Congress had done last year.  And there surely are a lot of things that we would like them to do this year that they’re not going to do.

But the question is, are there things -- are there priorities that we share?  Can we work together and build another bipartisan majority to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement?  I hope so.  There surely were bipartisan majorities in the Congress last year.  Months after poisoning the well, Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate came together and passed Trade Promotion Authority.  We’re hopeful that they’ll do that again this year.

I mentioned earlier that there has been a discussion about criminal justice reform.  This is a priority of both Democrats and Republicans in the Congress, and the President is very interested in nurturing the bipartisan agreement that could lead to legislation that would make our communities safer and our criminal justice system more fair.

So if last year is any model, then we’re hopeful that this will be a year where those areas where we agree, we’ll be able to make some progress. 


Q    Hey, Josh.  Yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry indicated that Iran may be several days away from complying with the nuclear deal from last summer.  Let me get the White House take on that by asking, is this the first moment of certification that they are complying with?  I’m assuming there are, of course, long-range checks in this whole agreement.  But are they complying?  Is this the time to start removing the sanctions?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Bob, what we have said is that Iran has to comply with all of the sanctions *it’s JCPOA commitments, and the IAEA has to verify that they have completed and complied with the sanctions *the commitments before Iran receives any sanctions relief.  So the onus here, including on timing, is on the Iranians.

Q    Are they days away? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I don't actually have a detailed assessment of sort of where things stand.  We know that there are additional steps they need to take. 

They did a couple weeks ago do something important.  One key element of the agreement was seeing the Iranians reduce their stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent, and the Iranians did announce a week or two ago that they had completed the loading of 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium aboard a ship that was then sent to Russia.  That was an important part of the progress that they need to make to comply with the agreement. 

But there is more work to be done.  And the agreement can only be implemented when the Iranians have finished their work and given the IAEA sufficient access to verify that that work has been completed.  Then, and only then, will we begin implementing the agreement and giving the Iranians the kind of sanctions relief from the tough international sanctions that we know they deeply desire.

Q    Any delay or stalling on their part, do you think?

MR. EARNEST:  I think, if anything, the Iranians have been working quite aggressively to take these steps so that they can get the benefits of the agreement.  But it means that they’ve had to do some serious things.  They had to slash their stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent.  Right now Iran does not have enough nuclear material in Iran to make even one nuclear weapon.

But in addition to that, there are a range of steps that they needed to take to essentially gut the core of their heavy water reactor, plutonium reactor.  There are a number of steps that pertain to unplugging centrifuges, and a number of steps that they need to take to ensure that the IAEA can do the kind of rigorous monitoring that is part and parcel of this agreement that gives us confidence that this agreement will succeed in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. 

So those are all steps that need to be taken before Iran starts to get any of the benefits that are associated with the deal.  Okay?

Q    Thank you, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  Tara, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    I wanted to ask about the irreducible minimum, because you talked about, with Guantanamo, about these prisoners that are going to be transferred maybe to the United States.  You mentioned Fort Leavenworth.  So I’m sure you know that people in Kansas have been complaining about this.  They’ve been writing letters, some of the elected officials.  So I’m wondering if you’ve tried to reach out to any of these places where the prisoners -- where the detainees might get transferred to.

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any sort of community-level outreach that's been done.  Right now, Congress has in place significant obstacles that prevent the transfer from moving forward.

What I can say is that at Fort Leavenworth there are already a number of very dangerous people who are being detained in that prison there, people who have been convicted of a variety of violent crimes.  So the reason that is -- that Department of Defense officials even visited that community is because of the expertise that they have demonstrated in housing individuals in conditions that protect the country and even protect the community.  So that's the reason that I mentioned it. 

Let’s do a week ahead here.  We should start first with the important event that will take place on Saturday.  The Kansas City Chiefs, winners of 10 in a row -- (laughter) -- will take the field against the Houston Texans down in Houston.  I will be rooting for the Chiefs to enjoy the first playoff victory in the NFL playoffs in I believe it’s 22 years.  Little-known fact -- I actually attended that playoff game.  I was a freshman in college at the time.  That's how long ago it was.  But anyway, I don't know what the President is doing on Saturday; I’ll be rooting for the Chiefs on Saturday.  (Laughter.)

On Monday, the President will attend meetings at the White House. 

On Tuesday, as you all know by now, the President will deliver his final State of Union Address at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.  Of course, as usual, the Vice President, the First Lady, and Dr. Biden will all attend.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the President will travel to Omaha, Nebraska and then Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  While he’s visiting those two fine communities, the President will highlight the progress that's been made in each state since he took office and talk about how we can continue to take action in the next year to move the country forward.  I know the President is looking forward to those visits.

As a part of both of those visits, the President will spend some time in smaller settings visiting with members of the community, in addition to addressing larger crowds in both of those communities.  So like I said, we’ll have more to say about that next week.

And then on Friday, the President will be back here at the White House and attending meetings here. 

Q    Josh, are there any other stops on Wednesday and Thursday?

MR. EARNEST:  No, just those two communities before the President returns to the White House on late Thursday afternoon, I believe. 

All right?  With that, I wish you guys all a good weekend.  And go Chiefs.  (Laughter.)

2:22 P.M. EST