Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 3/14/2016
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you all. Welcome to Daylight Savings Time. Glad you all made it. I do not have any opening comments, so we can go straight to your questions.
Josh, do you want to start?
Q Sure. Thanks, Josh. I just wanted to ask about the President’s meeting just a little bit ago with Jason Rezaian. Any more information about what they talked about, what the President’s reaction was to Jason’s condition?
MR. EARNEST: I did not have a chance to talk to the President about his meeting with Jason before coming out here. Obviously, the President and a number of members of his team dedicated a lot of time and energy to securing Jason’s release. We obviously are pleased that he’s back in the United States, and the President was pleased to have had an opportunity to welcome him home in person.
Q And I wanted to ask about an Iraqi Kurdish general’s claim that they have a Palestinian American member of the Islamic State group that is now in their custody. I know there’s been some question about whether he actually is an American citizen. Are you able to confirm that at this point?
MR. EARNEST: Josh, there’s actually not a whole lot that I'm in a position to say about this. We've obviously seen the reports that a U.S. citizen that was allegedly fighting for ISIL has been captured by Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq. Obviously, United States officials have been in touch with both Iraqi and Kurdish officials about this individual and about this situation. We want to learn more about it.
But at this point, I just don't have any additional information. Given the potential situation involving a U.S. citizen, I'd actually refer you to the State Department who may have more information for you on this.
Q Somewhat related, there was a really deadly attack in Turkey over the weekend. I saw that the NSC has condemned that attack but didn’t attribute it to Kurdish militants and the PKK the way that Turkey has. Do you have any more information about that? And considering our reliance on Kurdish forces both in Iraq and in Syria, are there any concerns about the retaliatory actions that Turkey is taking now potentially being an overreaction?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just take this opportunity to once again condemn this outrageous terrorist attack that occurred in Turkey over the weekend. Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, and we stand squarely with the Turkish government and the Turkish people as they mourn the loss of innocent lives. And we obviously are thinking about those who were injured as well.
We also stand with Turkey in defending their right to defend themselves. And we have been warning for years now of the way that the political chaos inside of Syria could have a potentially destabilizing impact on the broader region, and this is just one example of how that could be the case.
So we continue to support Turkey as they defend their country and try to protect their people, and we value the kind of cooperation that we've gotten from the Turks thus far in terms of our counter-ISIL campaign. And we have long made the case -- even before Turkey was as invested as they are now in our counter-ISIL campaign -- in making the case that the kind of instability that they see along their border with Syria is not good for the country. And that's why we've worked with the Turks to help them secure their border. There’s additional work along those lines that needs to be done. And we're going to continue to stand with them even through this difficult time.
Q Was the PKK behind that attack?
MR. EARNEST: Well, at this point, we do not have -- we have not reached a definitive conclusion about who may have been responsible for this particular incident. But obviously, the Turks are taking a close look at this, and we support their efforts to investigate it and to take the necessary steps to further protect the country from these kinds of terrorist attacks happening in the future.
Q And on another topic, we saw on Friday an escalation in the type of violence and unpleasant activities that we've seen on the presidential campaign trail. And I wanted to get a sense from you -- we've obviously seen a lot of American voices coming out saying that for the first time they’re feeling scared of their fellow citizens, and a flavor that we haven't seen in this country in a long time. How much responsibility for the violence that we're seeing does the White House attribute to Donald Trump?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, the President had the opportunity to talk about this a little bit on Saturday morning at the fundraiser that he did for the Democratic Party in Dallas. And the President observed that we've seen a number of candidates for president on the Republican side of the aisle making inflammatory, divisive comments to try to advance their campaign. And that's something that you’ve heard me on a number of occasions speak out against. It's not just one candidate who has suggested -- on the Republican side -- that somehow there should be a religious test imposed on refugees seeking to enter the United States.
Q I'm not really asking about the policy position, though. It's more now that some of the comments from the GOP frontrunner that seem to be egging on people to attack protestors. It's more about the violent nature of what’s going on out there.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, I think a lot of this is about some political candidates engaging in a strategy to sow political divisions for their own benefit. And some of that does have policy implications, and some of that does relate to some of the ill-advised and divisive policy prescriptions that we've seen from some of the candidates.
Vowing to round up 11 million or 13 million undocumented immigrants in this country and “send them back where they came from” I think is what passes for policy on the Republican side of the aisle these days, but there’s no denying how divisive that rhetoric is, and it does only further deepen and sow divisions and inflame anxieties and tensions that some Americans have.
And the President, when he was talking about this on Saturday, talked about how important it is for the leaders of this country and for those who aspire to lead this country to remind us all that in the United States, we value our diversity -- it’s the source of our strength -- and that what’s different about the citizens of our country is not nearly as significant as what unites us. And what unites us are our values and our commitment to the kinds of principles that are enshrined in the United States Constitution.
That’s what our country is about. And, frankly, Josh, one of the things that’s interesting about this is how different it is than the kind of rhetoric that you saw when Senator Obama was running for president -- even before he was running for president. In 2004, the first time that Mr. Obama sort of burst into public consciousness was giving a speech highlighting how the diversity of America was our strength, but yet how much we had in common. And his ability -- even at a time that was pretty divisive in our country, he took it upon himself to try to unite the country and to try to inspire people to reach across party lines, to disagree without being disagreeable. And that has been the President’s message dating all the way back to 2004.
And the President made the observation in Dallas that when he was running for president, he had big rallies, tens of thousands of people. In a couple places, we had more than 100,000 people. And the President didn’t -- those weren’t energetic crowds because the President was seeking to divide or marginalize or incite people. Those were energetic crowds because the President had an aspirational vision for the country that people from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of ages and a variety of points of view felt like they could rally behind. And I think it is why we will see a pretty clear choice on the ballot in November.
Q Josh, the President has a pretty big decision to make about the Supreme Court. Did he come any closer to making that decision over the weekend?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have a lot in the way of a procedural update for you. I can tell you this is something that the President did work on over the weekend. Those of you who were traveling over the weekend noted that the President did have some time on the golf course on Saturday. I don’t think he spent a lot of time thinking about the Supreme Court then.
Q I was referring more to Sunday. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: But the President did stay home on Sunday and did have some business to attend to, including doing some more work on this decision.
Q Can you give us any color about that? Did he --
MR. EARNEST: Not really. (Laughter.)
Q -- spend a lot of time reading those binders?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any additional telephone calls to talk about or any additional consultations, other than just to tell you that the President’s team has been providing him with a lot of material and trying to be responsive to his requests for additional information. And the President has been conscientious about thinking through this decision.
Look, we have made the case that there’s ample time for the President to make the right decision and for Congress to act. Over the last 40 years or so, the average time that a Supreme Court nominee has been considered by the Senate is 67 days -- 67 days from their nomination being announced to them being confirmed. And based on that time frame, there’s ample time for the President to make a decision, and for the Senate to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to offer its advice and consent and still have the President’s nominee seated on the Supreme Court before the next term starts.
That’s significant because for at least the last 45 years or so, we’ve never had a Supreme Court vacancy that has stretched beyond one term on the Supreme Court. So that’s what the President is focused on avoiding. And we’ve heard the quote from President Reagan who observed that every day that goes by with a vacancy on the Supreme Court is not a good thing.
Q What was he asking more information about?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as he considers the background of the candidates and considers potential nominees’ qualifications and public record, the President wants to do a thorough review and understand as much as he can about these individuals, one of whom could be put forward.
Q Do you have a sense about the timing of an announcement, Josh?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any additional guidance to share. I can tell you that there’s no intent to make any major Supreme Court news today. But beyond that I don’t have much guidance for you.
Q You said on Friday that it would -- that having it done before Cuba was not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Are you sticking by that, or do you think we can expect it this week?
MR. EARNEST: I’m still sticking by that. Obviously, we’ve been working diligently on this, but I just don’t have an update in terms of specific timing.
Q And one other topic I’d like to ask you about. There were big elections in Germany over the weekend in which Chancellor Merkel’s party did not do well. Are you concerned that this will affect her policy on migration and Europe’s overall tackling of that issue?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, I’m certainly no expert in German politics. I read some of the news coverage of the elections that you cited. We’ve talked about how countries in Europe have been under increasing strain based on the surge in migrants that they’ve had to take in over the last nine months or so, and that has posed a significant challenge to countries based on the financial impact of that large population influx. It also has had an impact on the culture of some of these countries.
And this will be a challenge that Europe will be dealing with for at least a generation here as they determine how to strengthen the unity of the European Union, how to manage border controls, but also how to manage the large number of people who have now appeared in their country.
There are some who have said that the potential economic benefit is positive. Some of these European economies were facing a pretty significant challenge in the form of an aging population. Many of these countries have pretty generous benefits for retirees, and there was concern about whether or not the economies would have enough young workers to pay the bill. So that’s one potential economic upside. But there’s an immediate impact on budgets in terms of trying to provide for the basic humanitarian needs of people who have fled their homeland and arrive in Europe with nothing -- or at least little more than the clothes on their back.
So these are some difficult policy questions. And the United States is certainly going to stand with our European allies as they confront this challenge. And that’s certainly true in Germany. And the President does have a trip planned to Europe later this spring. Germany is a stop on that trip. And I’m confident this will be at least part of a discussion that he’ll have with Chancellor Merkel while he’s there.
Q You mentioned the European Union over the weekend. British newspapers reported that on that trip the President would also be visiting London, and while there, expected to sort of lobby directly for the UK to stay in the European Union. I’m wondering if you can confirm part of that.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any additional stops on the President’s trip to confirm at this point. I would anticipate that the President will make some additional stops. And once we’ve gotten the details of those stops locked down, we’ll let you know.
Q Has Prime Minister Cameron or his government asked for help on this issue? And does the President, whether in England or not, intend to weigh in more directly than you guys have so far, now that he’s said we think the UK is the strongest when they’re with the European Union?
MR. EARNEST: Well, our position has been that the United States deeply values a strong ally in the United Kingdom as a part of the European Union. And we’ve made that case on a number of occasions, and we’ll continue to make clear that that’s our point of view. At the same time, we recognize that the British people are going to decide. And Prime Minister Cameron has indicated that he would put this to a referendum, and that’s a referendum they’re holding at the end of June, I believe. So we’re certainly entirely respectful of the process that the British people have established to consider this question. And when asked, we haven't hesitated to make our views known as well. But I don’t have any additional presidential-level comments to preview for you at this point.
Q The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the U.S. is considering an aid package to the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq to help pay some of the Peshmerga fighters for helping in our fight against ISIS. I’m wondering if you can talk at all about that, or how far along that is in the process.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have anything new to say about those specific reports. Obviously, we have talked about how Iraqi authorities have faced a pretty significant financial burden based on the destabilization that ISIL forces have brought with them. It has had an impact on the broader economy inside of Iraq to be plagued with all this chaos and what for a time was a very unstable security situation, but one that has improved over the last year or so.
That’s why the United States and some of our coalition partners have provided some financial and economic assistance to Iraqis authorities. We’ve done that in the past. But I don’t have any information right now about additional assistance that may be provided.
Q And then, a House panel last week approved legislation that would essentially privatize air traffic controllers by moving them to a non-profit corporation, away from the FAA. And I noticed while we were in Texas over the weekend, the President mentioned air-traffic controllers as one of the things that the government does but isn’t always celebrated. Was that intended to signal his view on this legislation, or do you have a view on this legislation to share?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know that we have a position on this specific bill yet, but let me check with our staff on that, and we can back to you if we do.
Q Back to the violence that we’ve seen on the campaign trail. It seems to go beyond this divisive rhetoric that you mention. I mean, Donald Trump, in his rallies, has encouraged his supporters to go after protesters, to punch them. He’s even offered to pay their legal fees. Does the President feel that Trump is encouraging violence? And is he responsible?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there’s no denying that one of the reasons there is so much energy at these events is that you have an aspiring political leader inflaming tensions and appealing to people’s darker impulses, and trying to capitalize on their anxieties to provide energy to his campaign.
And that is certainly not the approach that President Obama has taken throughout his campaigns. And the President certainly does not believe that that is a tactic that political leaders in this country should support. Unfortunately, we do still continue to see prominent Republican after prominent Republican line up in pledge to support Mr. Trump if he’s the party nominee. And for the life of me, I just don’t understand how they do that. It makes it a little hard to take seriously their hand-wringing about his divisive rhetoric and the kinds of messages that he’s delivering in the context of his political rallies.
So it’s pretty clear I think to most people, to most observers, exactly what Mr. Trump is up to. But it’s not clear at all what the rest of the Republican Party is up to. Because on one hand, they wring their hands about Mr. Trump’s behavior, but then when asked, they pledge fealty to his campaign in the hopes that he will be elected to lead the greatest country on the planet. And at some point, somebody in the Republican Party is going to have to step up and show some leadership, but we’ve been waiting a while.
Q And the President has said in the past that he thinks the American people are, as he put it, “too sensible” to elect Donald Trump. But what about making him the Republican nominee?
MR. EARNEST: Look, you guys have analysts who have more insight into the thinking of the Republican electorate than anybody in this White House does. So I haven’t heard the President sort of opine on the likelihood that Mr. Trump will emerge as the Republican nominee, but the President has and continues to have confidence that Mr. Trump will not succeed in being elected president of the United States.
Q And just one quick thing on the Supreme Court. After the President announces his pick, can you discuss a bit the steps that the White House will be taking to try and ramp up pressure on the Senate? Is that something that will be happening more behind closed doors, or will we see the President doing more public events to try and ramp up pressure or lobby?
MR. EARNEST: Obviously, we’ll have a lot more to say about this once the President has made a decision. I think I would just observe that when the President put forward both Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan as Supreme Court nominees, he was a leading advocate for their confirmation and he made a strong case with respect to both nominees, testifying to their credentials and their experience and their judgment.
And again, based on the results, I think members of the Senate in both parties found him to be pretty persuasive, because even though there was a strong Democratic majority in the United States Senate when the President put forward those two candidates, both of them received bipartisan support. I think that is, first and foremost, a testament to the quality of those candidates -- that without a doubt, they had and demonstrated the experience and the credentials and the judgment to do that job and to serve with distinction on the Supreme Court.
And even though they are both in the early portion of their career on the Supreme Court, I think that regardless of your political affiliation, you would observe that both of them have performed well on the Supreme Court in terms of serving with honor and distinction there. And I’m confident that the President will be able to put forward a nominee this time that also meets that criteria.
Q Josh, three subjects. On the Supreme Court, there was a lid called earlier in the morning Sunday. So that means the President was going to work next door, versus in the West Wing?
MR. EARNEST: No, not necessarily. Sometimes we’ll call a travel/photo lid even if the President is in the West Wing.
Q So, okay, since there was a travel/photo lid early, did the President have any meetings with people -- did people come on campus -- onto campus to meet with him yesterday?
MR. EARNEST: I just don’t have any more details about the process at this point. So the President spent some time working on this yesterday, but that’s about all I have to say about it.
Q Okay. The next topic -- Donald Trump. Divisive words, hurtful (inaudible.) For many people in America, it’s a reminder of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Who is the adult in the room that can stop this, or should there be someone to tell him to stop?
MR. EARNEST: Well, April, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Trump reaching a different conclusion as long as everybody in the Republican Party, particularly the leaders in the Republican Party, continue to stand up and say they’ll support him if he’s the Republican nominee. Why would he change course?
Q Should there be someone to tell him to stop?
MR. EARNEST: Look, I think in some ways this is a significant if not existential question for leaders in the Republican Party to answer. It’s hard for them, on one hand, to criticize rhetoric and tactics and -- well, on one hand, it’s hard for Republican leaders to criticize the rhetoric and tactics of a candidate, but then, on the other hand, say that they’ll vote for him. I think it does raise some significant questions for leaders in the Republican Party. And they’ll have to decide for themselves whether or not they’re going to choose to answer.
Q Just in the last couple of days, Debbie Wasserman Schultz came out with a statement, talking about the person who is responsible for what happened in Chicago last night is Donald Trump. Then, now, Donald Trump is saying that the fault lies with Bernie Sanders, and he’s planning on sending people to Bernie Sander’s rallies. And then you have -- just today, or recently, someone in support of Donald Trump, an African American minister, saying that Bernie Sanders does not believe in God -- and then he said Jesus. Has it gone too far?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not going to respond to every --
Q Well, let me ask you this then. When there is such division -- and you’ve seen politics from the ground level to here -- when there’s such division in the country, can someone actually bring it back to unify it in a matter of weeks, months?
MR. EARNEST: I think the President believes that the leaders of this country have a responsibility to do that. And again, I think the President has made clear on a couple of occasions that -- this is something that the President talked about in the State of the Union address. The President talked about how he had hoped over the course of his presidency that he would have the opportunity to try to bridge some of the political and partisan divides in our country. And the President acknowledged in his State of the Union address that he did not make nearly as much progress in that regard as he had hoped. And in some ways, you could make a relevant observation that the climate has gotten worse.
But what’s also true is you’ve had Republican leaders in the United States Congress who have, time and time again, refused to embrace their responsibility to govern the country, even when they’ve had a majority in the United States House and in the United States Senate. And the fact that the Republican Party has stood for nothing other than saying no to President Obama, it makes it not all that surprising that a candidate who has a platform that’s based on little more than aggressively opposing President Obama has emerged as the leader of the party.
And, look, this goes back to what we were saying before, and what I’ve said on a couple of occasions here -- that if you’re a Republican leader and you don’t stand for something, then your voters are going to fall for anything. And that’s exactly what’s happened with respect to Mr. Trump. And it certainly exposes the risks and even the political dangers associated with not articulating any sort of agenda. And Republican leaders in Washington haven’t. And now they are presented with a situation that appears at least in their eyes to be escaping their control, and they continue to try to deny the existence of that situation by suggesting that they can occasionally speak out against the rhetoric but still vow to support that candidate. That’s not a sustainable position. And I think it highlights the lack of any sort of coherent approach to governing the country that’s been on display for seven years now.
Q And on the last subject -- much, much, much lighter subject -- Broadway is dark today; Hamilton is here. This White House is helping to create the frenzy, more so, with them being here. Can you explain why Hamilton, why today?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Lin-Manuel Miranda had an opportunity to perform here at the White House early in the Obama presidency. He, himself, has discussed how that opportunity was a real breakthrough for him. And at that performance, he displayed some of the skills and even some of the songwriting and creativity that now has served as the basis for a record-breaking, award-winning show on Broadway. And so it's a special day to invite him to come back to the White House and have him spend some time, and his cast spend some time with youngsters here at the White House to talk to them about the creative process, about artistic expression.
And the First Family is very pleased to have the opportunity to host him here today. And I think it will be a lot of fun.
Q -- fans of the show?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, they are fans of the show. Well, the President at least has had an opportunity to see it. He did that when he was in New York last year. And the President certainly is looking forward to welcoming him back. And I think probably the luckiest people in the room today are the people who have pool duty today. (Laughter.) It should be fun.
Q Thanks, Josh. I just want to follow up on the Trump thing. You're not exonerating the protestors en masse. You're also saying that they’re partially responsible for some of the actions that we witnessed over the weekend, right?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it is not possible at this point to render judgment about the individual actions of the thousands of people who were inside that auditorium in Chicago. I think what we can do, however, is assess the impact of the person whose name was on the podium at that event. And it's clear what that person stands for. It's clear the rhetoric and tactics that that person has been using. And it's clear that that's not good for the country. But this individual has found that it might be pretty good for their political prospects. And that's a rather cynical take, but that seems to be what he’s pursuing.
Q Let me ask you about Iran, if I could. Interesting statement, talking about this idea of getting the Security Council to look into the fact that they’ve been firing missiles they say for domestic purposes. A statement saying, “Security Council resolution 2231 does not prohibit legitimate and conventional military activities, nor does international law disallow them.” And they went on to say, “Brazen threats against Iran’s sovereignty and territorial integrity multiplied in the past several years have made it all the more imperative for Iran to build a legitimate deterrent capability.” Your reaction to that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'd refer you to what Ambassador Power said a the U.N. just today where she said, “I just read you the text of 2231, which calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons. These were designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons and this merits a Council response.”
So our view of this is quite clear. And it is incumbent upon the international community at the United Nations Security Council to hold Iran to account for falling short of these requirements. And we're going to continue to work with the international community to make clear that this is a shared responsibility.
But this is also a good time to remind everybody that it sure is a good thing that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, because as they continue to develop this missile capability it would make their nuclear weapons all the more dangerous. And that's why our success in securing an international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon looms even larger today than it did last month.
Q Does it seem to you that they continue to sort of flaunt international law? Is it time to investigate more sanctions against the regime because actions like these, which you acknowledge certainly warrant a closer look -- it seems like this is a repeated path.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I certainly wouldn't rule out additional sanctions being imposed on Iran either by the international community or by the United States. As we've discussed before, we don't talk a whole lot about those sanctions prior to them being put in place because we wouldn't want to undermine the effectiveness of those sanctions. But that certainly could be part of a response.
The other thing that we will continue to do is to deepen our security cooperation with other countries in the region; that we can be more effective in interdicting the supply of illicit materials that may be headed for Iran that allows them to continue to advance their missile program. There’s more that we can do to partner with countries in the region to prevent that from happening.
What we can also do is we can also enhance the ability of our partners in the region to counter Iran’s other destabilizing activities. So there is a -- this was the subject of intense discussion when the President invited the GCC countries here to the United States last summer. They hosted a summit at Camp David where this was an important topic of discussion. And I would anticipate that we’ll continue to try to coordinate with those partners to help them counter this threat.
Q And last, a broad-brushed question. At least from your perspective, at what point do you simply say the United States doesn’t want to do too much because they don’t want to risk the nuclear deal, they don’t want to have egg on their face because they’ve worked with the Iranians, and so the Americans will sort of do a little but not a lot? When you hear criticism like that, what do you say?
MR. EARNEST: What I say to them is that that nuclear agreement was critically important because it, in a verifiable way, prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And given their ongoing efforts to develop a ballistic missile program -- an advanced ballistic missile program, it’s all the more important that we prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We have made clear from the beginning that that nuclear agreement was focused solely on limiting their nuclear capability.
And we are going to continue to hold Iran to account for the variety of nefarious actions that they engage in. That’s everything from menacing our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel; it includes Iran’s continued and ongoing support for terrorism; it includes Iran’s other destabilizing activities in the region, like propping up the Assad regime.
Q Destabilizing sea passage and --
MR. EARNEST: Sure. Some of the other ways that they interfere with the navigation in international waters. And we’re going to continue to mobilize the international community, as we did in pursuit of that international nuclear agreement, to counter Iran.
And Iran did demonstrate at least some desire to try to shake off international isolation. That, after all, is why they made such significant concessions in the context of the nuclear agreement. They agreed to reduce their nuclear stockpile by 98 percent. They dismantled thousands of centrifuges, and a whole host of other steps, including agreeing to the most intrusive inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program, in order to get those sanctions removed so that they could be better integrated into the international community.
So we know that international isolation is a pressure point, and we’re going to continue to apply that pressure as long as we see Iran engage in this kind of destabilizing activity.
Q Josh, we’re seeing headlines now that Vladimir Putin has publicly said he’s going to withdraw a large part of his military from Syria because they’ve reached their objectives, starting tomorrow. Is this a surprise to you?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't seen those specific reports. But obviously we have talked about how Russia’s continued military intervention to prop up the Assad regime made the efforts to reach a political transition -- or to make a political transition even more difficult. That as long as Russia was aggressively weighing in militarily, they were making it -- they were removing at least part of the incentive for the regime to even engage in those kinds of conversations.
So I haven't seen the reports, so it’s hard for me to assess at this point what sort of impact this will have on the talks, or what kind of change this will bring about to that dynamic. So we’ll have to see exactly what Russia’s intentions are.
Q But given that the President was just at the State Department, meeting with John Kerry, who was in the Middle East this weekend working on this issue, is this something that you’re having some coordination on? Is this -- I know you haven't seen the news reports, but in terms of expectations, is this something that was negotiated?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously Secretary Kerry has been in frequent contact with his counterpart, Mr. Lavrov, as we have tried to implement and enforce a cessation of hostilities, and we’ve tried to bring all the parties together as a part of this political track to try to address the political chaos inside of Syria. So there have been frequent and in-depth conversations on a variety of these topics. But I don’t have details of those conversations to read out from here.
Q Should we expect that the President will be speaking with Vladimir Putin?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. So we’ll keep you posted on that.
Q Can I ask you on another topic -- with Donald Trump, when you look at some Chinese papers, specifically the China Global Times today, which I believe has some relationship to the Chinese state, there’s a big piece on Donald Trump, specifically talking about him being a racist candidate, and using very strong language to describe him; also making references to Mussolini and Hitler, saying they came to power through elections. When you see something like that overseas in a major publication, what’s your reaction? Is this something you hear privately from other countries and other leaders?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, I’ve made the observation from here that countries around the world closely follow American politics. They understand that the President of the United States isn't just the leader of the United States, that person is also the leader of the free world. And that the reason that the elections in this country are so closely watched. That means that those who are campaigning for this job, those who aspire to be president of the United States, even while they’re campaigning have a responsibility to live up to the principles and norms and values that our country has long cherished.
And I think by any measure, Mr. Trump’s tactics have all too often fallen short. The truth is the tactics of a number of candidates on the Republican side have often fallen short. And the ongoing refusal on the part of Republicans to withdraw support from his candidacy I think is certainly something that I don't think the American people are going to look too kindly upon.
Q Those descriptions are pretty strong -- Mussolini, Hitler -- I mean, is that overheated rhetoric?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven't seen the report, so I'm not going to comment directly on whatever reporting is included there. But I think we've made clear that --
Q Do you think that concern is justified?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't think I'd be willing to go that far. I think what I'd be willing to say is that we've observed that campaigning for president is not just something that the American people watch, it's something that the world watches. And there are global consequences for the kinds of messages that political candidates for president basically assume when they’re making arguments on the trail. And it's important for people to be mindful of that.
Q Could I follow up on that, please? You mentioned a moment ago the President is also the world leader, but he’s also Commander-in-Chief. Given the kind of inflammatory, what many consider, insightful, shoot-from-the-hip rhetoric we hear from Donald Trump, what concerns does the President have about the possibility that Donald Trump could someday be the United States commander-in-chief?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, the President has said on a couple of occasions in public that he does not believe that Mr. Trump will be elected president or commander-in-chief, so I don't think he loses a lot of sleep over that prospect.
I think the American people understand that when they’re electing a president that they need to elect somebody with discipline and with judgment and with wisdom, and a willingness to understand that their public comments will have significant consequences. And understanding how closely watched one’s words and actions are when you're the commander-in-chief is something I think most voters understand. And I think that is certainly an important part of why the President has confidence that if Mr. Trump is the Republican nominee he will not win the general election.
Q Over history, recent history, in particular, any U.S. military victory of any consequence depends heavily on allies, coalitions. What is the President hearing from U.S. allies and those who participate in U.S. military operations alongside Americans? What concerns do those leaders have?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not going to be able to share any secret details of conversations that the President has had with other world leaders, but there are global consequences for arguments that are made by domestic politicians. And I think in the same way that the President has sought to reassure the American public that he does not believe Mr. Trump will be elected president, I think some of our partners and allies around the world take some solace in that, too.
Q So is it safe to say that Putin’s order to pull troops out of Syria came as a surprise?
MR. EARNEST: Well, all I can say is I haven't seen those reports so I'm not in a position to comment on them at this point. But as I mentioned to Margaret, the Secretary of State, John Kerry, has been in close and regular touch with his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister. And I don't have any readout of those conversations, but obviously they have been talking -- many of their conversations focus on Russia’s military intervention in Syria and how counterproductive we believe that has been in our international efforts to try to bring about a political transition inside of Syria.
Q So it's -- I mean, it's possible, are you saying, that there was some coordination on this?
MR. EARNEST: I'm just saying that I haven't seen the specific reports and I don't have an additional readout of the Secretary of State’s conversations.
Q Okay. When you mentioned some of the work that the President had done over the weekend on choosing a Supreme Court nominee, did he do any more outreach? Is the period of him personally reaching out to members of Congress passed now? Is there a sense that he’s done all that he can in that department, or is that still happening?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, a lot of outreach has already taken place. The President has already had more than one conversation with the Senate Majority Leader and with the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. After the President names a nominee, I'm confident that there will be a number of additional conversations with leaders in the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, that the President will have.
The White House has been in touch with the office of every member of the United States Senate. In some cases, that has involved presidential phone calls to individual United States senators. In other cases, that has been senior White House officials connecting with senior staffers in the Senate offices. So there’s been extensive outreach that's taken place. I don't have additional phone calls from over the weekend to tell you about.
Q So none of that outreach happened over the weekend? Or are you saying --
MR. EARNEST: I'm saying I don't have additional phone calls to tell you about.
Q Okay, got it. Can we say that he’s now arrived at a short list?
MR. EARNEST: There’s just not more about the process I can tell about at this point. Obviously the President has made progress over the last several weeks in working closely with his team, but I don't have a detailed assessment of the current status.
Q Why are you reluctant to say that he’s narrowed down the list? Because, I mean, in the past you would say he has this list or this amount of people in that famous binder, the number could grow. So has that changed? I mean, could the number still grow at this point? Or have you reached a point where he is where he is with a small number of people?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, I just don't have any details about the process to share.
Q Okay. And in the past couple of days, we've seen a few people take themselves out of the running. What kind of effect has that had on the process? Has it had any effect, or a significant effect? How would you describe that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it certainly is not -- let me say it this way. The President has considered a substantial number of people, oftentimes based on recommendations from people outside the White House. And part of the President’s instructions to his team was to cast a wide net to ensure that a wide variety of potential candidates was carefully considered.
I, at this point, do not anticipate that any of the public statements that have been made thus far will have an impact on the President choosing the person that he believes is the best person to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Q What do you think about the RNC now putting together this task force where they’re going to gather all of this opposition research on whomever the President chooses? Do you think that that will have an effect? Since the President himself has mentioned using the public to get a sort of groundswell behind his nominee, and obviously Republicans are going to do the same thing. So this is going to be kind of a -- will it turn into a war for the public’s point of view?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think this may be among the more ironic things that I've read about today, because you’ve seen the United States Senate refuse to even consider a nominee but yet you have the chairman of the RNC running around telling people that the political party is going to vet the President’s nominee of the Supreme Court. This is exactly what I've been saying for weeks now about how this process on the Republican side is all tangled up in politics.
This is exhibit A of Republicans putting political considerations at the RNC ahead of their constitutional duties. You have the Senate Judiciary Chairman saying that he won't consider the credentials of the nominee, but yet you have the head of the Republican Party saying that they’re going to look deeply at the credentials of the President’s nominee that he puts forward. That is clear evidence that Republicans are much more focused on politics than they are their constitutional responsibilities.
Q And just quickly on the Brexit. We saw -- Boris Johnson has been pretty outspoken about his views on it, and now we see an op-ed from him really slamming the possibility of President Obama going there and sort of putting his two cents in. I mean, he talked about the U.S. defending its own sovereignty with “hysterical vigilance,” and saying that the U.S. would never, itself, put up with the restrictions that it has encountered being part of the EU. So do you see that point of view? I mean, does he make a point that you can understand when he sort of puts the U.S. in Britain’s shoes?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, the situations are quite different. Mayor Johnson has a well-established reputation for rhetorical flourishes. And I think that's one of the reasons that many people in the United States have such a positive impression of him.
But we've been really clear about what our position is. Essentially, our position is twofold. The first is we do believe that the United States, because of our special relationship with the United Kingdom, benefits from a strong UK being part of the European Union. And that's an entirely reasonable observation for any U.S. official to make about our own national security interests. And I feel confident that any British official, if they were in an analogous position, would make the same observation.
I would hasten to add, as we always do, that while U.S. interests in the situation are clear, we are entirely respectful of the sovereignty of the British people and the responsibility that they have to make these kinds of decisions for their country. Prime Minister Cameron, following through on a promise that he made in the context of his campaign, has set a date for a referendum for the British people to consider this decision, and we're entirely respectful of that process.
Q Josh, over the weekend, Hillary Clinton stirred controversy by saying President Reagan and Nancy Reagan started a national conversation on HIV and AIDS -- a recollection deemed untrue and offensive by those who noted the height of the epidemic. She apologized shortly thereafter in an op-ed, said she made a mistake, and outlined a path to achieve an AIDS-free generation. Does the President have a reaction to any of this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not sure that he had any sort of specific reaction. Obviously, Secretary Clinton quickly realized the error that she had made and she put out a statement clarifying what she meant. And it did present her, it sounds like, an opportunity to make a forceful case about what sort of policy decisions she would make to ramp up the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Obviously, the President has spent a lot of time trying to put in policies to accelerate that effort during his, thus far, seven years in office. And there certainly will be more work for the next president to do. And I think it may be another example of Secretary Clinton recognizing that we've made important progress in fighting HIV and AIDS, but that what we need to do is we need to build on that progress. And it sounds like that's what she is proposing to do.
Q Why do you think she would have made that mistake in the first place?
MR. EARNEST: I really don't know, Chris. I guess you’d have to ask her or her campaign. The President has obviously talked appreciatively about how Mrs. Reagan was an outspoken advocate of stem cell research and additional medical research that could lead to fighting Alzheimer’s. And Mrs. Reagan did that based on her own personal experience inside her family with that terrible disease. And the fact that she was willing to stand up and speak out to try to prevent other families from going through what they did I think is an admirable thing.
And the President, in his weekly address, talked about this. But I don't know if that led Secretary Clinton to inadvertently mix up those two afflictions or not. But you probably have to ask her team to find out.
Q Okay. In the aftermath of those comments, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have come out against HIV criminalization laws in more than 30 states that penalize the perceived transfer of HIV. Will the President also come out against those laws?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a good question, Chris. I don’t know if we have taken a policy position on that, but let me check on that, and we’ll get back to you on that.
Q Thank you very much.
MR. EARNEST: Go ahead, Gardiner. We’ll do a couple more.
Q So last week, Josh, you walked back the President’s criticism of Cameron in The Atlantic interview. Over the weekend, there has been further criticism of his comments from Saudi Arabia and from France. Prince Turki al-Faisal said that, “We are not free riders.” He cited Saudi Arabia’s support for Syrian rebels, for its humanitarian aid, and all that. It was a fairly angry rebuttal to those comments from Mr. Obama. I’m wondering is there a walk-back in your future about the criticism of Saudi Arabia and some of the other GCC countries, or not?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Gardner, I think if you look at the exchange that I had on Friday about this, I encouraged people to actually look at the portions of the interview that included direct quotes of the President of the United States. And I think that will give you the clearest insight into the President’s views on this topic.
Let me just say more generally that the President has talked on a number of occasions of how important the security relationship is between the United States and Saudi Arabia; that our ability to share intelligence, and our ability to coordinate our activities enhances the national security of the United States and enhances the national security of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has also been an important partner of our counter-ISIL coalition and we value the contributions that they’ve made there.
At the same time, we’ve made no bones about the fact that there is more that we would like to see all of our partners in the counter-ISIL coalition do to advance our efforts, and that includes Saudi Arabia. And that’s a message that has been delivered in a variety of settings.
And what’s also true is that the United States under President Obama’s leadership has laid out our strategy for enhancing the ability of our partners around the world to counter violent extremism in their own countries and in the regions where they exist. And a big portion of the summit that the President convened for the GCC countries at Camp David was focused on bolstering the capacity of these individual countries to enhance their national security capabilities.
They also spent a lot of time talking about how these countries in the GCC could work more effectively together, that they could have equipment that would be interoperable that would allow them to more efficiently and effectively coordinate their activities, thereby enhancing the national security posture of all of those countries.
The United States can certainly play a role in facilitating those efforts, providing equipment that can make that kind of cooperation more effective. But ultimately, what that does is it places more responsibility on those individual countries to provide for their own security. And the President believes that that’s a good thing. And that means that those countries will have to step up and make more of a concerted investment to achieve that goal.
I cite the GCC countries just as one example because this is a message that we regularly deliver to our allies and partners all around the world.
As relates to France, we’ve made a forceful case that all of our NATO allies need to sufficiently invest in their defense capabilities so that they can contribute to their obligation to defend any NATO ally that comes under attack. In order to live up to the obligations that they’ve signed on to in the context of the treaty, we’ve suggested that every member of NATO should devote 2 percent of their GDP to defense spending.
The U.K., to their credit, has met that goal. Many others have not. So it gives you -- the point is this is the approach that the President has taken to strengthening our relationships around the world and enhancing our national security around the world. The United States can’t be the world’s policeman. We can’t be cruising around the globe looking for opportunities for us to weigh in with our military to try to solve problems. Our interests will be advanced if we can bolster the capacity of our allies and partners around the world so that they can handle situations in their region of the world.
Q Josh, I just want to clarify. Does President Obama see Saudi Arabia, UAE, and other GCC countries as “free riders”? And also Jeff Goldberg quoted the President as likening countries in the Middle East to characters in the Batman movie with the Joker, which suggested that the countries in the Middle East were thug -- Mafioso thugs who suddenly saw their cities set afire by ISIS, this crazy Joker-like character. But the insult there was about likening Saudi Arabia to a Mafioso thug. So I just want to get specifically from you, are you -- is Saudi Arabia a free rider in this White House’s view? Is Saudi Arabia a Mafioso thug in this White House’s view?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me answer this as directly as I can. The United States views Saudi Arabia and our GCC partners as effective national security partners who can and should do more. And we value that relationship that we have with Saudi Arabia and our GCC partners. We benefit from that relationship. We go to great lengths to try to strengthen that relationship. But in each of those conversations, we’re encouraging them to do more to contribute to the security situation in their region of the world.
That’s a good segue to the rather colorful analogy that you’ve raised here. And the point of that analogy -- I’ve heard the President draw this connection a couple of times -- the point is that -- I haven’t seen the movie, but I understand the reference, so hopefully it holds up here -- the point is this, Gardner, that what ISIS has -- ISIL has done is to capitalize on the chaos, right? That you have -- that the geopolitical order in that region of the world, particularly as it relates to Syria, has broken down. And that’s had an impact on the security situation in Iraq. It’s had an impact on the security situation in Lebanon. It’s had an impact on the security situation in Turkey. Frankly, it’s had an impact on the security situation in Europe. And we’ve warned of this destabilizing situation.
And that’s the analogy that the President is trying to draw, is that ISIL, like the Joker, has stepped into a chaotic situation and tried to advance their own vision. And when they’re entering into such a chaotic situation, it’s difficult for the other relevant parties to work together to stop them. And that’s what makes them so dangerous.
And it’s why the United States has prioritized the effort to reach a political solution inside of Syria. That’s the root cause. That the best way for us to try to end the chaos there, and that’s the best way for us to snuff out the threat that is posed by ISIL.
But that’s also why we’re cognizant of other countries in the world that are experiencing a similar level of chaos. That’s why we’ve been so focused on the situation in Libya, for example. And we did have some encouraging news in Libya that that political transition is making some important progress there; that you essentially have a government that is prepared to take power in Libya that reflects the outcome of an extensive set of negotiations among the varying parties. But certainly that is a credible government that can, with credibility, talk about reflecting the will and ambition of the Libyan people.
It’s also why we’ve been cognizant of the situation even inside of Yemen. I know that your newspaper had a significant story looking at the situation there, and the story rightly noted that while we continue to be concerned about the security situation inside of Yemen, the only real way that we’re going to be able to definitively solve the problems there is to try to -- is to bring about a political solution inside of Yemen. And I’d be the first to admit that, unfortunately, that political solution seems rather far away.
Q I just want to follow up on the ISIS fighter that Josh asked about. I mean, are you going to give us any details about his name, about whether he was actually born in Virginia? Did you first learn of his presence on the battlefield once he’d surrendered? When did he specifically go abroad? And had he been identified on watch lists? All these sort of various -- very specific questions about this guy. Do we have any information about this, or can you give us any information?
MR. EARNEST: I can’t at this point provide any additional information. Some of the information that you’re asking about is related to our intelligence activities, and so that’s something I won’t be able to offer an assessment of at this point. At some point maybe I will.
As it relates to this specific individual, once we’re able to talk in more specificity about this individual’s identity, that’s something that the State Department will be in a position to do first. So stay in close touch with them.
Q Thank you, Josh. As optimistic as you and other officials here at the White House are about the President’s ultimate nominee being confirmed, there’s a very real possibility that he or she -- the nomination might last into the next administration. As the President has been taking input from or consulting with others about his potential pick, has that list included the two Democratic candidates for President, considering that they might, if they were to be success, ultimately have a nomination on their hands, as well?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Mike, the answer to that is no, but let me explain why that’s the case. The President is not making this decision based on any sort of political consideration. He’s making this decision specifically on who he believes would be the best justice on the Supreme Court to fill that vacancy. Now, the corollary to that is that Senator Sanders isn’t just a presidential candidate, he’s also a member of the United States Senate. So there has been consultation with his office in the context of his capacity as a United States Senator.
But the President does intend to fill this vacancy. And if Republicans in the Senate prevent him from doing so, it would be a rather remarkable, unprecedented step in variety of ways. It would be the first time since 1975 that a presidential nominee to the Supreme Court hasn’t gotten a hearing and/or a vote. It would be the first time in more than 40 or 45 years that a vacancy on the Supreme Court has had an impact on two different Supreme Court terms.
And that’s something that President Reagan has previously said was problematic. I’m just looking for the direct quote from him because I want to make sure I get this right, if I have it in here somewhere. We’ll just send it around. I’m sure that you have it somewhere. (Laughter.)
And I think what this all illustrates is that Republicans are running a play here, but it’s pretty clear exactly what they’re doing. You saw Senator Cornyn last week come out and say that the President’s nominee was going to be treated like a piñata. He made that statement before he even knew who the President’s nominee was. He made that statement before he had an opportunity to even consider the nominee’s credentials or experience or record or judgment.
And Senator Johnson from Wisconsin -- another Republican senator -- made clear that if President Obama were Republican, they wouldn’t treat the nominee this way; that this treatment of the nominee like a piñata is entirely a result of the fact that Republicans in Congress are in a different -- or Republicans in the Senate are in a different party than the President of the United States.
And you’ve heard me say on a number of occasions that these kinds of tactics and this strategy that’s being put forward by Republicans is unprecedented. And some Republicans have said, well, that’s not true, and they went on to cite other quotes. It turns out that Senator Lindsey Graham, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, testified in the open committee that it was unprecedented; that Republicans would be establishing a new precedent if they pursued this path.
And so we’re not in a situation where you have to take my word for it. It’s clear what Republicans are planning to do. They’re planning to tear down the President’s nominee without regard to who that person is. They’re only doing this because of their partisan differences with the President of the United States. And even Republicans themselves acknowledge that this treatment of a Supreme Court nominee is totally unprecedented.
And that’s why it’s rather unfortunate that this is the latest example of Republicans refusing to embrace their responsibility to govern. But it’s not going to have any impact on the President’s commitment to fulfill his constitutional duty to choose the very best person for the job after extensively consulting with the United States Senate, including many of the Republican senators who have said that they won’t consider whomever the President puts forward.
Q Presumably, after the President has made his choice public, he would welcome the support of the two Democratic candidates in terms of bringing public pressure to bear on Republicans. Is it important for him, for the White House, to have some sort of consultation to make sure that they’re comfortable with who he picks? I mean, we’ve seen litmus tests put forward by Secretary Clinton and by Senator Sanders in terms of what they would expect if the nomination were to come to them.
MR. EARNEST: No, I would not anticipate any consultation like that. And I am confident that whomever the President chooses will be somebody who the President can say has unquestioned legal credentials and somebody who he is confident would serve with honor and distinction on the Supreme Court.
And that is the responsibility of -- that’s what the Senate is responsible for considering. And I made this observation before -- members of the Senate are not supposed to judge the President’s nominee based on whether or not that is the same person they had at the top of their list. They’re supposed to judge the President’s nominee based on whether or not that’s an individual that has the judgment, that has the credentials, and that can serve with distinction on the Supreme Court. If these individual senators want their top pick to be chosen to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, then they should run for President. That’s what Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders have done.
So they have a little more latitude than others to apply their own judgment here, but even Senator Sanders, when he’s acting in his capacity as a member of the United States Senate, has clear criteria that he should use to evaluate the nominee. And although we have not talked to him about it, I’m confident that’s what he’ll do.
Q And quickly, Senator Schumer, when he was here with other members of the Judiciary Committee on the Democratic side last week, gave voice publicly to what we’ve heard privately as well, which is some impatience maybe. They want the pick sooner rather than later. In the past, you’ve pointed to the past two processes that the White House has gone through in terms of timing. We’re just about at that timeline. Is there a self-imposed deadline for the President to meet here before he leaves of Cuba, or by the end of this week? Or is there some process in terms of the vetting that may have slowed things down a little bit?
MR. EARNEST: No. As we’ve observed before, the process of choosing the two previous vacancies that have occurred during President Obama’s tenure in the White House have taken about four to five weeks. We’re still in that four-to-five-week window. And I don’t have any sort of internal deadlines to share with you.
I think the thing that I would say to you and say to them if I were in front of them is that over the last three or four decades, the average amount of time that it has taken for the Senate to act on a nomination once that nomination has been put forward is 67 days. So that’s why we make the case that there is ample time for the United States Senate, even if they go a week or two beyond that, to consider that person, give them a fair hearing, give them a timely yes or no vote, and have that person confirmed before the next term of the United States Supreme Court gavels into session in early October.
Q Josh, I don’t know if you saw over the weekend, but a group has already launched ads attacking Judge Jane Kelly.
MR. EARNEST: I did see that.
Q Do they know something we don’t? And if not, why -- do you have any theory on why they would select her to go after, even before a nominee is announced?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Pam, I think this is just page one in Senator Cornyn’s piñata playbook here. They are attacking this woman who hasn’t even been named as the President’s Supreme Court nominee.
But the truth is, this is more complicated for Senator Grassley than it is for anybody else. Senator Grassley championed her nomination to the federal bench. She was appointed to this job three years ago, and Senator Grassley spoke glowingly of her credentials and of her nomination. He championed her nomination, and it was in part because of his strong support that she was confirmed 98 to nothing to the federal bench.
And so I think the question for Senator Grassley is, will he stand up for Judge Kelly, a fellow Iowan, who he vouched for on the floor of the United States Senate just three years ago? Has something about his assessment of her character changed? If so, I guess he should explain why it has. And if it hasn’t, then I guess the question really is whether or not he’s going to stand up for one of his fellow Iowans who has come under unjustified attack by this organization.
Q Does the fact that the attack ads have started even before a nomination has been announced signal what kind of a bruising fight there is ahead?
MR. EARNEST: Well, these kinds of nomination contests have already been spirited. There has always been a vigorous debate in the country. And certainly part of that is hearing directly from the nominee himself or herself. And that means the Senate fulfilling its responsibility to hold hearings and give the nominee the opportunity to answer questions on live television under oath. They’re not just going to answer questions from the Democrats. They’ll answer questions from the Republicans, too. They’ll spend ample time answering those questions.
And individual senators and the American people can then decide whether or not this is an individual who is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. That’s how the process is supposed to work. So we’ll have to see if Republicans will embrace that responsibility this time.
Q Just one more real quick question -- at that Chicago rally, a CBS reporter, Sopan Deb, was roughly thrown to the ground and arrested, and charged with resisting arrest. Does the White House have any concern about reporters being treated that way at these rallies?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, the kind of situation that erupted at this rally was rather chaotic. I don’t have any specific information about the actions of local law enforcement and steps that they took to try to restore order, but obviously
-- and I did have an opportunity to speak about this on Friday, as well -- we condemn any violence that’s perpetrated against a professional journalist who’s just trying to cover a political event. And that’s why the willingness of Mr. Trump to direct so much antagonism and invective at independent journalists is totally inappropriate and totally worthy of condemnation on the part of Democrats and Republicans. And for Mr. Trump just to use independent journalists who are just trying to do their job as a ploy to further incite the crowd is deeply disturbing.
Byron, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thanks, Josh. On Super Tuesday, you said the President would cast an absentee ballot in Illinois. I assume that’s the Democratic primary. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: You assume correctly.
Q I don’t know. Can you confirm a ballot has been cast? And do you have any other information about the President voting?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know whether or not the ballot has been cast, but we’ll check on that and I’ll come tomorrow with a clear answer on that. I do not anticipate at this point that I will be able to come with information about who the President voted for.
Q Even if the White House or the President doesn’t have an endorsement to announce today or tomorrow, does the President have a message to the voters of Illinois in both parties as they vote tomorrow? I mean, you’ve been pretty critical of Donald Trump here today. Would the President encourage Republicans voters in that state to back another candidate? Or anything to say to voters in his home state as they vote?
MR. EARNEST: I think the message that the President would deliver to the voters in Illinois is that they should be engaged in the process. They should learn about the candidates. They should understand exactly what they’re including on their agenda, and they should take the time to show up and vote.
And that certainly is the message that we have to Democrats and Republicans not just in Illinois, but in the other states that will be hosting a primary on Tuesday.
Q Last question -- back to the Chicago rally. Did the White House and the President also call on protestors who might be protesting Donald Trump -- would you call on them to be respectful of his right to hold a political rally without it being disrupted by violence? I mean, is it equally harmful to our civic culture that a major-party candidate can’t hold a political rally without fear of violence or chaos?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think, first of all, Byron, the first question that you have to ask is what responsibility does that candidate have for inciting that violence? That is not an irrelevant question. Of course, we would stand for everyone’s First Amendment rights, including the rights of those who we disagree with. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump all too often doesn’t extend that same courtesy or respect those rights of people who disagree with him.
Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you tomorrow.
2:30 P.M. EDT