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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 5/13/2016

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:24 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Friday.  Glad it's finally here.  I do not have any announcements to begin, so we can go straight to your questions. 

Kathleen, would you like to start?

Q    Sure.  Thank you.  I'm going to start with the administration's letter on transgender bathroom guidance for schools.

MR. EARNEST:  I thought you might.

Q    I thought I'd give you a chance to respond to Texas's – the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who said that the letter -- he called the letter "blackmail," and said that the administration is doing everything it can to -- or he said it's going to divide the country and it has everything to do with keeping the federal government out of local issues.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think this does underscore the risk of electing a right-wing radio host to a statewide elected office.  So let's just walk through the facts here.  The first is, this was guidance that was issued by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice in response to requests for information and guidance from school administrators across the country. 

Just last week, for example, the National Association of Secondary School Principals put forward a specific formal request to the Department of Education about how to create the kind of respectful, inclusive environment that school administrators across the country are seeking to maintain.  These principals also are interested in making sure that they're acting consistent with the law.  And they sought guidance because they're not interested in a political argument, they're actually interested in practical suggestions about how they confront this challenge that they face every day.

So let's just be clear about what's included in the guidance.  The guidance does not add additional requirements to the applicable law.  The guidance does not require any student to use shared facilities when schools make alternate arrangements.  But what the framework does provide is advice for how school administrators can protect the dignity and safety of every student under their charge.  And that advice includes practical, tangible, real-world suggestions to school administrators who have to deal with this issue.  They can't rely on political arguments that are framed as a solution to a problem that nobody can prove exists.  They actually have to deal with the responsibility that they have to promote an inclusive, respectful environment for all of their students. 

And what the Department of Education has issued today is specific, tangible, real-world advice and suggestions to school administrators across the country about exactly they can do that.

Q    But you wouldn’t argue -- or it seems as though the administration is also trying to paint this as a major civil rights issue, right?  This isn’t just a pragmatic sort of everyday guidance to schools.  Attorney General Lynch has compared this to racial segregation.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think Attorney General Lynch was talking about a very specific enforcement action that the Department of Education announced -- or the Department of Justice announced with regard to a specific law that was passed by the state of North Carolina.  In this instance, this is not an enforcement action.  As I pointed out, this does not add any additional requirements to any school district or state under the applicable law.  This is in response to extensive requests for guidance and for information and advice that have been put forward by school administrators and teachers and, in some cases, even parents who are seeking practical solutions to this challenge.

And the challenge here is not to isolate anybody, it's not to discriminate against anybody, it's not to make anybody unsafe -- it's actually to ensure that our schools are as inclusive and respectful and safe as they can possibly be.  And that's why the guidance that we've put forward includes tangible, specific suggestions for how that can be achieved. 

So let me just give you one example.  There are some school districts across the country that have sought to enhance the privacy of their students by making relatively minor changes to shared-use facilities.  In some cases, that means just putting up curtains so that people have more privacy when they're changing their clothes or taking showers in what had previously been shared-use facilities.  So that is something that benefits all students, and that's what we're looking for -- solutions that protect the safety and dignity of every single student in the school.

Q    And if schools individually decide not to follow this guidance, there isn’t a threat that they could lose federal funding --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, if there are schools -- first of all, let me just state that it is my strongly held belief -- and I'm pretty sure I'm going to be right about this -- that the vast majority of schools and school districts and school administrators across the country will welcome this guidance and will implement it.  For those that don’t, there's an established process for them to raise any concerns that they may have.  And there's an established process for that, and we'll go through it.  But the vast majority of schools and school administrators will incorporate this advice as they confront the challenge of ensuring that they're promoting the kind of respectful, safe learning environment that can ensure the success of all of their students.

Q    Okay, and I'm going to just switch topics.  Chairman Rogers is saying he's put together a Zika measure -- and he didn’t put a dollar figure amount, but it's safe to say it's going to be well under what you all have asked, even under the Senate, of $1.1 trillion [sic].  So are you willing to accept $1.1 trillion?  Is that enough money to fight Zika?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess I haven’t seen the details related to Chairman Rogers's proposal.  I think what I would encourage him to do before he puts it forward -- I don’t know if he has yet -- but if he hasn’t, if there's still time, he should consult with the public health professionals that the administration talked to in putting forward our funding request for what is necessary to do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus.  Time's a-wastin'.  And you saw that from the graphic that we presented in the briefing earlier this week.  As the weather warms up, as the mosquito population grows, the risk to pregnant women and their babies all across the country grows. 

And so it's long past time for people like Chairman Rogers, who's got a substantial responsibility here -- he's the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee -- when our public health professionals say that they need resources to protect the American people, they're looking exactly at Chairman Rogers to see exactly what he's doing.  And here we are, three months after the administration has put forward our proposal, that he comes forward with a much smaller one that is inconsistent with the recommendations of our public health professionals.  It's also inconsistent of the request that was put forward by Democratic and Republican governors from across the country who said that they needed urgent congressional action to provide the necessary resources to keep the American people safe.

So before that proposal is put forward, I would encourage the Chairman to consult with governors who are responsible for the safety of the citizens of their state and the public health professionals who have taken a look at this, and understand exactly what can be done and what should be done to ensure the safety and security of the American people, and particularly pregnant women and their babies.


Q    Hezbollah’s top military commander has been killed, and I'm wondering, does the administration have any understanding of who was responsible for that, and any comment on what impact this may have on the group?

MR. EARNEST:  I've certainly seen reports that Mustafa Badreddine was killed this week in Syria.  And we noted the fact that preparations are underway for his funeral.  Badreddine was Hezbollah’s top military commander.  In June of 2011, a special tribunal for Lebanon charged him with the 2005 attack that killed former Prime Minister Hariri.  In September of 2012, the United States imposed sanctions against Hezbollah leaders, including Bedreddine, in part to expose Hezbollah’s support for the Assad regime and its role in conducting indiscriminate terrorist attacks in Syria and Lebanon.

We've noted that the Syrian regime and Hezbollah have a long military alliance, and Hezbollah leaders have previously sought safe haven in Syria and have even routed weapons from Iran into Lebanon.  So the interplay between the Assad regime and Hezbollah has been well chronicled. 

So we've seen the reports of his death.  I can't independently confirm them.  And I guess the thing that I can confirm is that there were no U.S. or coalition aircraft in the area where he was reported to be killed.  But I can't further confirm the reports.

Q    Can you speak to what impact the U.S. feels this will have on the group and its activities?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we know that the Assad regime relied heavily on Hezbollah for military support in the ongoing chaos inside of Syria.  The Assad regime, and President Assad himself, has personally benefitted from the activities that Hezbollah has carried out, so it's hard for me to draw any firm conclusions about what operational impact this would have.  But obviously the concerns that we've previously expressed about Hezbollah I think are consistent with our ongoing efforts to reduce the violence inside of Syria and get all of the parties, including the Assad regime, to abide by the ceasefire.  Those are our priorities because we want to try to bring about a political solution to the chaos inside of Syria.

Q    On the school bathroom issue, how concerned is the administration about the legal challenges?  The Texas attorney general is saying that this oversteps the administration’s constitutional authority.  And can you speak to -- I mean, you said very clearly to Kathleen that you expect the vast majority of schools will implement the guidance.  But for those that don't, what happens with them?  Is the administration actively going to follow up with them and punish them in some way?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there’s an established process for schools and the Department of Education to discuss guidance that they’ve been provided.  I just want to reiterate -- and this is important for people who are interested in the legal aspect of this -- there’s no additional requirement under the applicable law that’s being imposed on schools.  There’s just not, despite the claims of political opponents of the administration. 

There is a strong desire on the part of some politicians to try and score some cheap political points by presenting a solution to a problem that they can't prove exists.  And what the administration has tried to do is to provide, at the request of school administrators, practical, real-world advice they can use in their school communities to address this challenge.  That's the practical offering that we have put forward here.

It's a lot different than the argument that others are making.  For example, is the Texas attorney general suggesting somehow that it would be practical to station a law enforcement officer outside of every public bathroom in an educational facility and check people’s birth certificates on the way in?  That doesn’t sound like a practical application to me.  It also doesn’t sound like small government to me.  It certainly sounds like a government intrusion to me.  But, again, that’s what’s hard to sift through in all of this.  What exactly is the practical argument or suggestion that they’re making?

I recognize that they’ve got some sharp political arguments that were honed over years of morning drive-time radio in Houston, but school administrators don’t have the benefit of just talking.  They actually have a functional responsibility to protect the safety and dignity of every student at their school.  And the vast majority of school administrators take that responsibility quite seriously.  And I think we’ll welcome and implement the guidance that’s been issued by the Department of Education today.

We’ll move around.  Gregory.

Q    A lot of times when a guidance or regulation or directive comes from a federal agency, it’s portrayed as a White House action.  Could you address what this transgender bathroom issue -- did this come from the White House?  Was the White House consulted?  How unitary is the unitary executive on things like this?  I guess what I’m asking is, is the White House and the Obama administration synonymous, for all intents and purposes, to --

MR. EARNEST:  Putting forward guidance like this is the responsibility of the Department of Education.  And they have to consider a broad range of policy implications for schools all across the country.  So this is the responsibility of the Department of Education, but you would expect the White House to be responsible for coordinating policy decisions that are made by agencies. 

So of course the White House was aware of the policy deliberations that have been underway at the Department of Education for quite some time, but ultimately this is the responsibility and the function of the Department of Education, and they are the ones who received requests from schools all across the country, and they are the ones who are putting forward guidance for how schools can deal with this particular situation.


Q    What is the rationale that the administration has come to, to base this guidance on Title IX, just to be clear about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m happy to be overruled by an attorney at the Department of Justice or the Department of Education that you can consult after this hearing -- or after this briefing, but let me try. 

My understanding is that Title IX applies specifically to preventing sex discrimination in educational institutions.  And the idea that individuals are discriminated against because of their gender identity is the basis for the guidance that we’re putting forward.  Nobody should be discriminated against because of who they are.  And our suggestion is that the rules should apply to everybody equally, and that’s the basis of this guidance -- that every student should have access to facilities that every other student has access to.  No one should be discriminated against because of who they are.  And that’s the basis for this guidance.

That’s also why we say no student is forced to use shared facilities.  And if there are alternate facilities available, that are made available by administrators, then every student should have access to those as well.

Q    But why shouldn’t local communities be making these very intimate decisions?  How does the federal government know what’s best in so many different communities where there are different cultural sensitivities?  Why is this not a local matter?

MR. EARNEST:  It is a local matter.  That is exactly the position of the Obama administration.

Q    But why is the federal government involved?

MR. EARNEST:  The federal government is providing specific suggestions based on examples that we’ve collected from across the country.  And the guidance is presented -- it is not an additional requirement under the applicable law.  It doesn’t provide any obligation to a student, for example, to use a shared facility.  Rather, what it does is we have consulted with schools all across the country and surfaced good suggestions, good examples -- in some cases, even best practices -- for addressing this situation.  That’s the essence of guidance that’s at the essence of the coordinating role that the Department of Education plays.  At the same time, Ron, there’s a long history in our country of the federal government playing a very important role in ensuring that people aren’t discriminated against.

Q    With regard to the health care law and the new rule, what’s different?  How does this apply to the transgender community specifically now?  What’s different?

MR. EARNEST:  So this is a good example of what I was just talking about.  There is a new rule that is part of the Affordable Care Act, or the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity, age or disability, and it ensures that individuals with limited English proficiency can access language assistance when they’re seeking health care.

Again, a basic responsibility of the federal government -- and this has been true throughout our nation’s history -- is ensuring that people aren’t discriminated against.  And that’s particularly true when it comes to health care as well.  And that’s true of any potential sex discrimination, but that also is relevant to discrimination that could be targeted at people because of their race, because of a perceived disability, because somebody is pregnant, because somebody doesn’t speak English very well.  We believe people should be treated the same and afforded the same kind of opportunities, regardless of these specific individual characteristics.

Q    Isn’t the mention of transgender patients -- isn’t that specific?  Isn’t that new?  Isn’t that different?

MR. EARNEST:  All of what I’ve laid out is a new part of the rule that’s been issued today.

Q    What was the harm, in terms of the transgender community?  Was there some identifiable problem out there that required this clarification or this augmentation to the rule?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, Ron, this is much broader than just applying to the transgender community.  But the transgender community is included.  In the same way that we want to prevent discrimination against pregnant women, we want to make sure that we’re preventing discrimination against transgendered women.  In the same way that we’re preventing discrimination against people who don’t speak English very well or people who have a specific disability, we want to make sure that transgendered men are not discriminated against either.

Q    Specifically because there’s some concern in that community about access to transition drugs and medications and services, was that something that the administration was concerned about in terms of trying to, I guess you could say, refine this rule?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess in terms of the way that it has an impact on individual health care decisions, I’d refer you to Health and Human Services for answering that question.  But, look, the idea behind this specific rule is to prevent discrimination against a wide range of groups.

Q    One other area.  There are these reports about immigration raids that are supposedly happening during May.  You’ve heard even Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders comment on this.  There’s the belief that the administration is going to conduct huge raids during May and June, rallying up significant numbers of women and children, recent people who have crossed the country in significant numbers.  Is that true?  Is there something different happening now?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is an excellent question.  We’re talking about a DHS enforcement action, so there are some limitations about what I can say, but let me help you understand exactly the policy that DHS is implementing.  And I think I can largely answer your question. 

The first is -- and this is something that Secretary Johnson himself has said -- that the operations that are underway are merely the continuation of operations that were announced in January and in March.  And those operations are conducted under the rubric of the guidance that President Obama and Secretary Johnson put in place in November of 2014.  And that is guidance that made a priority of individuals who are convicted criminals or otherwise a threat to public safety, or individuals who were apprehended after crossing the border after January 1st of 2014. 

So we’ve made clear that our priorities are people who pose a threat to the community, people who are convicted criminals, or people who have only recently crossed the border.  So those priorities remain in place, and those priorities are followed even as these operations continue.

Let me say two more things.  The first is, no one is removed if they have an ongoing, pending claim or appeal for asylum or some other form of humanitarian relief.  People are given access to due process.  And that is a foundational principle for all of this.  So the only people who are the targets of these operations are people who are subject to an order by an immigration court for removal and people who have also, in addition to being subject to that order, have exhausted any potential claims that they have for humanitarian relief.

The last thing is DHS enforcement agents also follow what I understand is to be longstanding guidance that ensures that these operations are not conducted in sensitive places.  These operations are not conducted in schools or hospitals or places of worship, for example.

Q    So is there no reason to fear that the numbers of deportations aren't going to increase or spike -- whatever words you want to use now -- because there’s something, a specific operation underway that’s different from what’s normally happening there along the border?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, what Secretary Johnson has described is that the operations that are underway now are a continuation of operations that were previously announced.

But look, I think we would anticipate that the deportation numbers would continue to go up.  This administration is serious about enforcing the law.  And I recognize that our political opponents don't like to acknowledge that fact.  But we've made clear how we're going to use law enforcement resources to enhance or border security and to enhance the security of communities across the country.  Most importantly, we're going to enforce our laws. 

And this is something that President Obama is committed to.  And the truth is, we would have a whole lot more resources to do exactly that if Republicans in the House of Representatives had not blocked comprehensive immigration reform legislation that did include an historic investment in our border security.  But we do not enjoy the benefits of that border security today because House Republicans blocked the passage of that legislation.

Q    And just lastly, it’s not your political opponents -- well, some of the people who are objecting to this or raising concerns about this are Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, who I wouldn’t think you’d consider political opponents.

MR. EARNEST:  No, but it’s our political opponents who suggest that President Obama is not interested in enforcing the law.  And I think that is demonstrably false.  That's that point that I’m making.  That's the reason that we're having this conversation right now.

Anita.  Oh, Leslie, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.

Q    That's okay.  She was here yesterday.

MR. EARNEST:  She was.  It’s nice to see you, Leslie.

Q    That's fine, thanks.  I had a couple questions on the gender guidelines you sent out last night.  Given that North Carolina’s House Bill 2, that's sort of part of this, is headed to the courts, why did the White House feel the need to put out this directive to the law?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is a directive that is responsive to requests that we've received all across the country from school administrators and teachers and parents and others.  So this is not a response to the ongoing legal dispute related to HB2.  This is a response to requests that the Department of Education has received from teachers and administrators all across the country.

Q    But you’ve cautioned before about being careful of not putting your finger on the scale.  Doesn't this sort of suggest that you're putting the White House’s finger on the scale?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we've been quite clear about the need to keep enforcement actions separate from any sort of political interference.  This is not an enforcement action.  This is a policy decision that was made by the Department of Education.  And, yes, the White House was appropriately involved in coordinating that policy decision.  But ultimately it’s the responsibility of the Department of Education to make this policy decision and to communicate it to the schools and administrators all across the country.

Notably, it’s not an enforcement action.  It does not add a requirement to the applicable law.  And it doesn't pose any requirements on students for the use of shared facilities.

Q    One of the other questions I had for you.  You mentioned -- you were asked about the lieutenant governor’s comments on it, and you said that it runs the risk -- or it underscores the risk of electing a right-wing radio host.

MR. EARNEST:  To statewide office, yes.

Q    Yes, to statewide office.  Yes. 

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  (Laughter.)

Q    Given that the White House last year when the Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage, the White House put the lights out on the fountain, how much of this was a political consideration in doing these guidelines?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think as I pointed out before, the guidelines contain practical advice and suggestions for school administrators across the country that have to deal with this challenge inside their communities.  They don’t have the luxury of relying on political arguments that are an attempt to try to score some political points that propose to address a solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist.  These are school administrators who are trying to do the right thing.  They're trying to promote an atmosphere of dignity and security for the students and their schools.  And so what the Department of Education has put forward are practical suggestions for how exactly they can do that consistent with civil rights law.

Q    And the White House is not looking to score any political points on it, even though it's been hailed by a number of organizations as a new frontier in same-sex law?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I'm not surprised to hear that there are people who agree that we shouldn’t discriminate against people because of who they are.  I think most Americans agree with that notion.  So that's part of why I anticipate that school administrators across the country would welcome this guidance.

Look, I'll also say, I think school administrators across the country who don’t agree with the politics of this administration will also welcome these suggestions, because they recognize that they have a challenge that they have to deal with and that, frankly, they don’t have the luxury of engaging in a partisan political argument with a right-wing radio host.  In fact, what they have to do is they have to provide for the safety and dignity of the students who are under their care.  And that's exactly what this guidance does, is it gives them some useful tools for considering a range of options that they can use to do exactly that.

So this has very little to do with politics, except for our critics who want to make this entirely about politics.  This administration is interested in providing workable, practical solutions to school administrators who are trying to provide for the safety and dignity of the students under their care.

Thanks, Leslie.  Mark.

Q    Josh, is it the intention of the administration that the guidance letter be seen as a threat to deny federal funds to school districts that don’t comply with the policy decisions as interpreted by DOE and DOJ?

MR. EARNEST:  No, they should not view it that way.  They should view this as guidance, as specific suggestions and a framework for dealing with a very straightforward challenge:  How do school administrators, all across the country, ensure that they're protecting both the safety and dignity of every single student at the school.  It's as simple as that.  And what the Department of Education has done is they've drawn on their own internal expertise, and they've drawn on the creative solutions that have been implemented by school administrators all across the country to put all that good information in one place and provide some practical advice to school administrators who are trying to solve this problem.  And that's a good thing.

I think what is true, what is undeniably true is the foundation of this guidance is the principle that people shouldn’t be discriminated against just because of who they are.  And school administrators don’t have a glamorous job.  These are individuals who, I think in most cases, feel quite passionate about their work.  They view their work as a calling.  They're looking to prepare the next generation of Americans to succeed.  And they want to create a learning environment where every student can feel safe, where every student can feel included, where every student can feel respected.  That's what the vast majority of school administrators are interested in, and that's why I think the vast majority of school administrators are going to use this guidance, they're going to carefully consider the suggestions that have been put forward by the Department of Education, and they're going to put forward a solution that works in their community.  That's the way this should work.

Q    Could you see how some might see the guidance letter as an implied threat of loss of federal funds, being that you mentioned that under the provisions of Title IX, schools that receive federal funds are obligated to comply with the provisions that are stated forth in the guidance letter?

MR. EARNEST:  Look, there is a desire in the guidance to be as clear as possible about why this guidance is being issued.  But look, it's quite clear what we're interested in here.  The Department of Education is interested in providing guidance and suggestions to school administrators who are trying to do the right thing.  And that right thing is to prevent people from being discriminated against, but also make sure that every single student in their school has their safety and their dignity protected.

Q    On another issue -- do you have any further guidance on the WASPs legislation?

MR. EARNEST:  I do not.  This is the bill about the --

Q    Women Airforce Service Pilots.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, the World War II women Airforce veterans -- pilots.  I do not believe that we have received that from Congress yet.  I don’t know if we've got an update on that.  But we'll be tracking that, and we'll keep you posted on that status.  But the President does intend to sign it.

Q    Right.  And you said yesterday.  Do you know why the President could not have, as Commander-in-Chief, directed the Army to allow a burial for these women at Arlington without legislation?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know exactly how the law works.  I don’t know if his authority as Commander-in-Chief could have been used for that purpose.  But we certainly welcomed the bipartisan legislation from Congress that would make the use of that -- or the exercise of that authority unnecessary, because Congress has passed a law making it possible.


Q    Thanks.  Everyone is in my business today. 

MR. EARNEST:  I'm sorry?

Q    Everyone is in my business today.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  I know, man.  (Laughter.)  You got to elbow those people out. 

Q    Yesterday, you said that there was a determination, as a result of multiagency review, that there would be no loss of federal funds at this time to North Carolina as a result of possible suit.  But at the same time, this guidance on transgender students is issued.  Isn’t that sending a mixed message?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no, I don’t think it's a mixed message.  I think it's important for people to understand what's happening here.  This guidance that was put forward by the Department of Education does not impose any new requirements under the applicable law.  It's guidance that's issued to school administrators in school districts all across the country.

The conversation that we've been having over the course of this week has largely been centered on the state of North Carolina and what impact their law could have on their compliance with the Civil Rights Act.  So it was related to a specific piece of legislation that was passed almost literally in the dark of night by the legislation that convened a one-day special session to pass this bill.  It was signed the same day by the governor.  And the rebuke from business leaders in North Carolina and business leaders who are contemplating doing business in North Carolina has been forceful.  And I think it's an indication that the legislation that was passed by the state legislature was much more -- was much broader than just something that would apply in an educational setting.

So the situations are quite different.  I think they do illustrate how consistent and forceful this administration has been about fighting against the idea that people could be discriminated against because of who they are.  That's a principle the President does feel strongly about.  It's obviously a principle that Attorney General Lynch spoke movingly about.  And preventing discrimination and treating people fairly is a core principle that does guide a lot of the policy that's made by the Obama administration.  But the enforcement action that was announced by the Attorney General this week was enforcement action that was the decision of attorneys at the Department of Justice.  That decision was not influenced by White House officials.  The notification that was distributed by the Department of Education today is not an enforcement action; it was a policy decision that did include some White House involvement, but was the realm and responsibility of the Department of Education.

Q    But nonetheless, given that the major component of House Bill 2 is that transgender students in North Carolina are prohibited from using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, doesn’t that necessarily mean that even if schools not to follow this guidance that the Department of Education has put out, that they will not suffer a loss of federal funds?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what this says is -- well, the way this works is that if there are schools -- and I think they will be in the minority -- but if there are schools across the country that do come forward and indicate that they do not intend to be in compliance with this guidance, then there is an established process for litigating those differences with the Department of Education.  So there's an established process for this.  We don’t have to invent one.

Q    And was it planned to make the announcement that there would be no loss of federal funds for North Carolina at this time, in conjunction with the announcement from the Department of Education and Justice for this guidance for transgender students?  Was that coincidental?

MR. EARNEST:  No, these were separate actions.  So, again, as it relates to North Carolina in consideration of HB2, the policy decision that was made, even as agencies were considering whether or not the passage and implementation of HB2 would put a range of federally funded programs at risk in the state of North Carolina, the decision that was made was to not withhold any funding until the enforcement action that was announced by the Department of Justice had made its way through the courts.  So that was a very specific thing, and that was a response to developments that occurred this week with regard to the situation in North Carolina.

This guidance is guidance that has been in the works for years, but it is guidance that is broadly consistent with the kinds of principles that this President and this administration has long fought for.

Q    One last question.  Even after you said yesterday, with regard to HB2, that there would be no loss of federal funds to the state as the enforcement action is ongoing in the courts, a Department of Education spokesperson said the review there is ongoing.  Do you know why the spokesperson would have said that?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t.  But this is a little complicated, so it may have just been a bit of a miscommunication.  But as it relates specifically to HB2, no federal agencies will be making a decision to withhold funding as a result of HB2 until the DOJ enforcement process has worked its way through the courts.


Q    Josh, is this the extent of guidance like this?  Or do you foresee similar directives to come from the administration?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I'm not aware of any other -- I mean, when you say "like this," you mean guidance that could have an impact on --

Q    Well, you said that you had received inquiries from the educational community, that you're responding to it.  Have you received inquiries from other industries, companies, elsewhere, also demanding this kind of clarity on how they should be treating transgender people?

MR. EARNEST:  It's certainly possible.  I'm not aware of any guidance that's likely to attract the amount of interest that this one has.

Q    I'm going to go back to an idea you were talking about here with Kathleen.  Can you just clarify:  Does the President see this as a clear-cut civil rights issue?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think there obviously is a question of civil rights here.  And there is a question of how can we ensure that the civil rights of every student is protected.  There's also a question of how do we ensure that the dignity and safety of every student is protected.  And the guidance that we have put forward would do both.  And again, I think that's why we're going to see a lot of school administrators come forward and announce their intent to implement this guidance, or they're going just going to implement the guidance without announcing it.  Or, like many school administrators, they're already doing this kind of work to ensure the safety and dignity of every student at the school. 

And this is the thing that I was mentioning before.  This is something that over the last week or two has been a pretty loud part of the political debate.  But this is something that school administrators all across the country have been dealing with for quite some time.  So they don’t have the luxury of falling back on talking points.  They've got to implement practical, real-world solutions that make a difference when it comes to the safety and dignity of students at their school.  Posting a law enforcement officer outside of every bathroom, and checking the birth certificate of people who are walking through the door -- that's not a practical solution.  That's not going to enhance anybody’s safety.  It's not going to enhance anybody’s dignity.  That's impractical.  It's rooted in a political argument that has very little grounding in actual facts.

So I recognize that that is sort of something that politicians frequently do, which is make arguments that may sound good politically just to score some political points.  But to do that at the expense of students all across the country is something I don't think that they should do.

Q    And the question of civil rights, I mean, are you parsing here that it's not a civil rights issue?  I mean, is this because the courts still haven't ruled on whether there is protection under the law of transgender persons as a protected class, as an extension of sex discrimination?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what’s undeniable is this is an issue where case law is still being built up.  But, look, I think the reading of this guidance I think is pretty common-sense.  You can't discriminate against people because of their gender identity.  You can't force people with a specific gender identity to use a different facility.  That's discriminating against them.

What we should do is we should treat every student the same.  We should protect every student’s safety.  We should protect every student’s dignity.  We should give every student access to individual-use facilities if that's what they prefer and they’re available.  That's the cornerstone here of our argument.

Q    You're saying the case law is still being built up, but you're not going so far as to say that this is on shaky legal ground because we still haven't seen the federal protection?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't mean to telegraph any lack of confidence in the legal conclusion that's been reached here.  The law is clear.  And I think it should be notable that it's not just the Department of Education that signed on to this, but the Department of Justice has too. 

The point that I'm trying to make, Margaret, is that this is something that is relatively new.  This is a relatively new policy consideration that school administrators are having to make.  This is a relatively new element of our political debate.

I was thinking about Chris earlier today because there was some discussion about whether or not the word “transgender” had ever been uttered from the White House podium before.  And I think that's a pretty apt illustration of how this debate is changing and has emerged.  So it's new to our political debate, but this is not new when you consider what school administrators have had to do to ensure the safety and security of every student at their school.  This is something that they have to deal with every day.  And that's why most of them don't have a lot of tolerance for a bunch of cheap political rhetoric.  They’re looking for solutions.  And solutions are exactly what were provided by the Department of Education in their letter today.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  You're saying that this is a problem that school administrators are dealing with, but then it was also a problem that didn’t exist until it entered this political realm.  How long has the administration been getting questions about this?  And did the North Carolina law prompt this guidance or speed its timeline?

MR. EARNEST:  It did not.  This is guidance that had been in the works for years.  This is relatively new to our political debate, but again, this is something that has been the source of questions that the Department of Education has received for a number of years now.  And again, those questions to the Department of Education were not rooted in the desire of a high school principal to make a political argument.  It was rooted in the desire of a high school principal to get some advice and to rely on the experts at the Department of Education to help him or her ensure the safety and dignity of every single student at their school.  That's what these principals are looking for.

Look, in most cases, principals aren't making a whole lot of money.  It's not a glamorous job.  But they do it because they care deeply about our children.  They care deeply about providing a good, quality education to our kids.  They care deeply about the future of this country.  They care deeply about ensuring that a learning environment that they are responsible for managing is one that's respectful, that's inclusive, and that is safe.  And that's the kind of guidance that they were seeking from the Department of Education about how best to accomplish those goals.

Q    Doesn’t the administration think, though, or acknowledge at least, that there still is a very difficult process here?  For example, the guidance says that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from their previous representations, the school will begin treating that student consistent with the gender identity.  And then it goes on to say the gender transition can happen swiftly or over a long duration of time.  If a principal is sitting in front of a student, there could be questions of clarity, sincerity.  These are all things that are still not answered and out there, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think this goes to Ron’s question.  We acknowledge -- and, in fact, this is what should happen:  School administrators do have to make decisions about the best way to protect the dignity and safety of the students at their school.  And, yes, these are complicated issues, and that's setting aside even the kinds of arrangements that might be available to a school administrator.  And so many of our schools are so wildly underfunded, right?  So you face this question about are we going to build a new bathroom, or are we going to provide up-to-date textbooks in our science classrooms.  These are practical questions that administrators are going to have to answer for themselves. 

That's why it would not be wise for the federal government to be imposing a solution or adding an additional requirement under the law.  That's, in fact, why we have not done that, because we believe in the value and the importance of local control of schools.  So we want schools and we want school administrators to be reaching the kinds of conclusions and the kinds of solutions that are in the best interests of that community and that are in the best interests of the students who attend that school.

So that's also why you’ve seen the U.S. Department of Education draw upon solutions that have been implemented by schools all across the country and surfacing those good ideas and sharing them with other school administrators that are trying to solve the same problem.  That's a pretty high-functioning U.S. Department of Education providing a valuable service to school administrators all across the country that are simply just trying to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for their kids.

Q    Lastly, the administration has come out very strongly on these issues, with the action against North Carolina, with its guidance today.  And those are domestic issues.  Internationally, the United States still has relationships with and gives aid to countries that puts LGBT people behind bars, charges them and executes them.  Is the U.S. going to exert its influence internationally on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Rich, I would tell you that we do.  The President strongly advocates for the rights of all people when he travels around the world.  And we certainly have made direct statements -- let me say it this way.  The President has been crystal-clear both in public settings, but also in private settings, in his conversations with world leaders about our expectation and the priority that we place in this country on human rights.

Q    So we threaten funding?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that that has been a question that has been discussed in a number of other settings about whether or not significant human rights violations undermine the relationship that the United States has with other countries, or in some cases, could even interrupt funding that is provided by the United States to other countries.

There was an amusing situation a couple of years ago where there were questions about whether or not the United States was going to interrupt the federal aid that we provide to Egypt in the aftermath of a crackdown on political dissidents there.  Now, that situation is not funny, but it did provoke an amusing response here as I tried to describe the way that funding is provided to individual countries and tranches, and so some people had some fun with that.

But it underscores that this is a policy priority of the President when he travels around the world.  I’ve sat in rooms where the President is talking to world leaders, and the President of the United States respectfully but directly raises concerns about the treatment of minorities in their countries, including the rights of gays and lesbians, and the rights of political dissidents, the rights of women, the rights of journalists.  And, look, as a country, these are values that we are deeply invested in and we use our influence around the world to try to advance those values.  And the President makes that case rather forcefully, both in public and in private, on American soil and when he’s abroad.

Q    Quickly on the guidance.  Do you expect lawsuits?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, what I expect is that the vast majority of school administrators are going to take a look at this guidance and figure out a way to implement it in their schools.


Q    Josh, thank you.  To follow up to the follow-up to the follow-up on the question of transgender guidance.

MR. EARNEST:  I’m summoning a lot of patience today.

Q    Does the administration in its final months expect to issue any more guidance on topics, issues that the Education Department is dealing with?  For instance, there’s a hearing that happened this morning where mothers said that football slowly killed her son because of concussions.  So I’m curious, are there any other directives or issues or guidance that the administration plans to give out that impacts the nation’s children, like guidance on CTE?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t have any announcements about additional Department of Education guidance that’s likely to be issued in the months ahead.  You can certainly check with the Department of Education to see if they can give you a preview of what other policies they may have in store.

Q    On Zika, back to that for a second here.  You mentioned yesterday a list of things that the Republican-led Congress has not done, such as Zika, Puerto Rico, opioid addiction.  Well, the House passed --

MR. EARNEST:  Passing a budget.

Q    Passing a budget.  The House passed 18 bills on opioid addiction yesterday.  And on Zika, I know you mentioned that the funding is not on the current legislation that’s making its way through right now.  Does the President expect to pass these pieces of legislation if they reach his desk?  And are you championing the bipartisan effort by the Florida senators, Rubio and Nelson, to give fully funded $1.9 billion?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we certainly welcome the bipartisan support that our Zika proposal has received, including from Senator Rubio.  I think this reflects the degree to which, for all of our policy differences with Senator Rubio, when it comes to looking out for the public health and wellbeing of the American people, there shouldn’t be a partisan difference.  And I think Senator Rubio and Senator Nelson both understand the consequences for mothers and babies in Florida of not doing everything possible to fight Zika.  So we certainly welcome that show of bipartisan support from Senator Rubio and Senator Nelson, and hope that the United States Senate and the United States House will listen to the advice of our public health experts. 

The $1.9 billion number was not chosen at random -- it actually reflects the sum total of efforts that our public health professionals say they can and should take over the long term to protect the American people from Zika.  So if there are some public health professionals in the United States Congress that have looked at this carefully enough to offer up their own alternative, they can do that.  But $1.9 billion is what our public health professionals say that we need.  $1.9 billion is what our bipartisan governors from all across the country believe that Congress should provide so that they can fight Zika in their communities. 

So there’s strong bipartisan support for our proposal because it’s rooted in the facts, because it’s rooted based on the advice of the top scientists in the country.  That’s why we welcome the support of Republican senators like Senator Rubio.   That’s why we welcome the support of Democratic and Republican governors.  And we would welcome bipartisan congressional passage of some legislation that’s long overdue.

Q    But would the President sign anything less than the $1.9 billion request?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is a process that, unfortunately, is still working its way through the United States Congress.  We would have liked to have seen Congress begin this effort many months ago.  The President convened a meeting with his national security team and his public health experts in January to discuss this issue.  Just a couple of weeks later, he signaled his intent to request resources from Congress.  Just a couple of weeks after that, we put forward a specific proposal that detailed how that $1.9 billion would be spent.

So we worked at a very rapid pace over the winter to put forward this request.  Three months now have gone by, almost three months, and we’ve seen very little movement from Congress, and that’s been quite disappointing.  But maybe as people like Senator Rubio weigh in and demonstrate bipartisan support for this recommendation from our public health professionals, maybe we’ll build up some momentum here.


Q    Josh, on another issue.  On the day that the President is hosting several world leaders -- the refugee crisis, it was back in September that he pledged he wanted to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country by the end of fiscal 2016, October.  So you have some time, but the latest State Department statistic is showing just a little more than 2,000.  Is the administration confident that you’ll reach your goal of 10,000 by October?  And can you also explain some of the delays and the slower-than-expected process that they've gone through?  What’s been some of the issues?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Suzanne, the challenge here is simply this -- that individuals who enter the United States through the refugee program are subjected to more screening, more background checks than any other individual who tries to enter the United States.  These individuals have to undergo a background check, they’re interviewed in person, biometric data about them is collected, and then all of that information is then run through databases that are maintained by the United States military, U.S. intelligence agencies, other national security organizations in the United States, but also law enforcement organizations in the United States and law enforcement organizations overseas.

So all of that work takes time.  And the President was clear that we’re not going to cut corners when it comes to security, even as we meet this ambitious goal.  So I don’t think anybody was under the expectation that there would be a linear increase in the number of refugees that would be admitted to the United States.  I think we always contemplated that this is a program that would ramp up over time as we added capacity and as we added our capacity to conduct these background checks.

So there’s no denying that there’s a lot of work to do to meet this goal.  It is an ambitious goal and it will be challenging to get it done.  But last year around this time, there were questions raised about whether or not we would meet our previous refugee goal because we’d fallen behind pace.  But yet, based on the good work of our professionals at the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security, we did succeed in meeting that goal last year.  And the President has made clear that meeting the more ambitious goal this year is a top priority.  And I’m confident that all the people who are working on this problem understands the priority that the President has placed on this issue.

Q    How has the political rhetoric, the harsh language, and some of the fear that’s been drummed up around immigration and around the refugee crisis impacted the administration’s ability to get them through the pipeline?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think it’s had an impact.  The people who are working on this inside the U.S. government are professionals, and they understand exactly what needs to be done when it comes to implementing these vigorous background checks.  They understand why it’s important that a thorough vetting be conducted before refugees are admitted to this country.  And that’s what they’re doing.  And the political noise has not impacted their ability to do their jobs.

Q    And just to be clear, the administration is confident it will be able to reach its goal of 10,000?

MR. EARNEST:  I am confident that the people who are operating this program understand that the President of the United States thinks this is a top priority, and they have work to do to meet this challenging goal.  So we certainly intend to reach this goal.


Q    Hi, Josh.  Thank you.  Going back to immigration, many of the critics -- immigration critics have called for refugee status for the Central American families.  Will there be any action on that?  And would you say that this is in correlation to the spike of Central American families crossing the border, that have been apprehended at the border in the last few months?

MR. EARNEST:  No, it’s not.  As Secretary Johnson has indicated, the operations that are underway are a continuation of operations that were previously announced.  At the same time, I do think it is important for people who are in Central America and contemplating making the dangerous journey through Mexico to try to get to the United States, these operations should make clear that that’s not an option -- that’s not a viable option.

It should also make clear to parents in particular that child smugglers who say they can sneak their kids into the United States are not telling the truth.  And, in fact, entrusting your children to those smugglers is dangerous and we strongly encourage people not to do it.

So that’s an important thing.  It’s important for people to understand what the policy is in the United States.  It’s also important for people to understand what we have tried to do.  And what we have tried to do is to enhance the assistance that the United States provides to countries like Guatemala and Honduras.  Last year, in the omnibus budget proposal, about $700 million was provided by Congress to improve the security situation in some of those countries or make contributions to try to improve the security situation there and try to address some of the root causes that would prompt people to undertake this dangerous journey.

So if this serves to discourage people from considering to make this journey, that would be a good thing.  But our motivation for carrying out these operations is rooted in President Obama and Secretary Johnson's commitment to enforcing the law.  We’re going to do that in a way that is humane.  We’re going to make sure that people have access to due process.  The only people who would be subject to operations like this are people who are subject to an order of removal by an immigration court.

The only people who could be part of an operation like this and removed from the country would be people who have exhausted any sort of claims for asylum or humanitarian relief.  So there are rules that govern this, but at the end of the day, the President is serious about enforcing the law.  The President does continue to believe that there is a better way, and that comprehensive immigration reform legislation through Congress would improve the way that we manage our immigration system in this country.

Q    But there is no viable way for refugee status for these Central American families?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there has been a discussion about working with the United Nations to allow people in Central America to apply for asylum and be considered, be carefully vetted for inclusion in some sort of refugee process.  And we have worked diligently with the United Nations to try to get that process up and running.  There’s still a lot of work to do with regard to establishing that program, but there has been some consideration that’s been given to that idea.

What’s notable about that is that is an application process that doesn’t begin in the United States, it actually begins in Central America.  And, again, that should serve as an encouragement for people who are interested and think that they may be eligible for that kind of humanitarian relief that they can apply for it in their home country.  They don't have to undertake the dangerous journey to try to get to the United States.  They don't have to trust a smuggler.  They can apply for that status in their home country.


Q    Josh, as you know, data out today show pretty sharp increases in murder rates in the last few months in about 20 different cities.  Is that a reason for concern?  And do you have any more to say on Comey’s interpretation of that data?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't have anything to say beyond what I said yesterday.  I will say that when Director Comey was talking about this he acknowledged that there’s a lot of ambiguity about the broader trends, because in some parts of the country we haven't seen an increase in violent crime and, overall, crime across the country is at or near historic lows.  The example that he raised that I think is an illustrative one is that we have seen a spike in violent crime in Dallas, but not in Houston.  So the question is what accounts for that differing environment? 

And so we've got experts at the Department of Justice who are taking a look at these situations.  What President Obama did last year was actually direct his Attorney General to ramp up the assistance that we can provide to local law enforcement that is trying to fight these violent crime spikes in some communities in the country.  And that additional assistance has taken a variety of forms.  It has included widespread sting operations that were carried out by U.S. marshals to round up individuals who were wanted for violent crimes.  There’s also additional assistance that's been provided to individual law enforcement organizations to improve training of their law enforcement officers to make them more effective.

So there is some assistance that the federal government can provide to law enforcement agencies that are dealing with these kinds of spikes.  But it is unclear what’s contributing to those spikes, because we do know that as a general matter, all across the country crime rates remain at or near historic lows. 

Q    You dismissed his notion that there is some sort of Ferguson effect and I think you talked about there’s no evidence to back that up.  I guess what I'm trying to understand is do you think that he is wrong, or do you think that he just doesn’t have the evidence to substantiate what he said?  There’s sort of a difference -- either you're not sure, or you're sure he’s wrong. Can you help me untangle that?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the point that I was making yesterday is -- and this is based on a conversation I had with the President -- this administration makes policy decisions that are rooted in evidence, that are rooted in science.  We can't make broad, sweeping policy decisions or draw policy conclusions based on anecdotal evidence.  That's irresponsible and ultimately counterproductive. 

The President actually has a lot of confidence in the vast majority of law enforcement officers all across the country to do their jobs and to do them well and to do them selflessly and to do them in a way that is effective in fighting crime and protecting civil rights at the same time.  The President does not believe -- at least he has not seen evidence to substantiate the suggestion that there are a significant number of police officers out there who are unwilling to do their job because they fear being filmed by somebody’s cellphone. 

But, look, if there’s evidence that materializes to substantiate that claim, then we should figure out something to do about it.  So I guess the point is there isn't evidence out there to draw any firm conclusions about what’s happening.  The President does have a lot of confidence in the vast majority of law enforcement officers that are selflessly protecting our communities and doing it in the right way.  But we should look at this problem and get to the bottom of what exactly is going on. 

And Director Comey did indicate that it's unclear what’s going on.  He acknowledged that it's a complicated situation.  That's where he used the Dallas-Houston comparison to illustrate that there is no clear answer to what’s going on here, and what Director Comey said is we need to spend more time trying to figure out what’s happening.  And he’s right about that.  And we should use the evidence that is uncovered to formulate an appropriate politics response.  And that's what the President believes the priority should be.

Q    Josh, I mean, there’s a lot of uncertainty about everything.  You guys are swimming in uncertainty.  We all are.  I mean, one has to act in the face of uncertainty anyway.  You're suggesting, it seems to me, that you're not acting because you don't have evidence, when, in fact, in nearly every case, you have to act in the face of uncertainty anyway.  Can you help me sort of, again, untangle that?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I would say is we do often -- the President often talks about this, about how often uncertainty impacts the decisions that he’s required to make as the President of the United States.  That uncertainty typically applies to situations in which there are no guarantees that what the President is prepared to choose will work. 

So, for example, if we determine that the so-called Ferguson effect is potentially contributing to an increase in crime, then we need to sit down and figure out what can we do to address it. And there will be some uncertainty about whether or not that will work.  But there won't be uncertainty about the fact that we're trying to solve the right problem, that we're trying to solve a problem that actually exists, and so collecting evidence to verify what is possible to know even if, once we get to the stage of considering solutions, there will naturally be some uncertainty about what the future holds.  But even in that case, there will be some evidence to inform the choices that the President has to make.

Q    You’ve got more dead bodies.  I mean, that's clearly a problem.  Whether --

MR. EARNEST:  No, no, I'm not denying that there is a problem as it relates to the spike in violent crime in some communities across the country.  That's why the President, last year, ordered the Attorney General to provide some additional assistance to law enforcement agencies.  We saw the Marshals Service carry out a widespread sweep that resulted in about 8,000 fugitives being captured.  So there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that there are some communities -- again, this is not a widespread phenomenon, at least based on what we know now -- but there is evidence to indicate that there are some communities, including the President’s hometown of Chicago, that are experiencing a troubling surge in violent crime.  And the President has ordered action, specific action to try to address it. 

But there’s not evidence at this point to link that surge in violent crime to the so-called viral video effect, or the Ferguson effect.  There’s just no evidence to substantiate that. And there’s some anecdotal evidence to indicate that that may be having some impact, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that the vast majority of law enforcement officers, men and women across the country, are doing their job as well as ever; that they’re fighting crime, that they’re protecting people’s civil rights, that they’re acting selflessly and bravely to communicate -- or to protect the communities that they are sworn to serve and protect. 

So that's the ambiguity that exists.  And that's what we need to get to the bottom of before we start offering up specific solutions. 

Q    On the transgender question, can you help us untangle the President’s role himself?  Like did he play a direct role in the guidance?  Did he meet with his Attorney General in the last week or recent weeks to discuss this?  Did he meet with his Education Secretary in the last week or the week before to discuss this?  Did he encourage the issue himself of this guidance?  And what in particular might have persuaded him that this was the right thing to do?  So can you -- a little bit more about what President Obama himself, what role he played in this?

MR. EARNEST:  What I can tell you about the President is he was he was regularly updated as this policy process moved forward.  So he was certainly aware of the policy that was under deliberation by the Department of Education.  And I can tell you that the outcome does reflect his view that the Department of Education should be responsive to requests that they’ve received from school administrators and that the Department of Education has an obligation to put forward tangible, real-world suggestions for how this problem can be addressed in communities all across the country.

The President also agrees that imposing an additional requirement under the existing law is not something the Department of Education needs to be doing right now.  So it's possible, and in fact, important for the U.S. Department of Education to play an appropriate role in offering this guidance to school administrators that are trying to enhance the safety and protect the dignity of every student in their community.

Q    The suggestion is that he’s sort of a bystander to this guidance coming out -- that it was part of a process, that it came out of the departments, and he didn’t really do much to encourage or discourage, it just sort of happened.  Is that an appropriate interpretation?  Or did he play a more active role?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, obviously the President sets a longer-term vision for the priorities that his administration is going to pursue.  I can't speak to all of the conversations that President Obama has had with the Education Secretary about this or other matters.  But I think it is fair to say -- and I think it's important -- that this kind of announcement reflects the President’s strongly held view about the need to prevent discrimination, but also the need to protect the safety and dignity of every student in America.

So this does reflect the President’s view.  But, at the same time, there’s an established policy process for considering these kinds of questions and ensuring that the outcome reflects the priorities that were set by the President of the United States. In this case, they were.

Q    In an interview with the Rutgers student newspaper, President Obama defended his administration’s crackdown on leaks and press freedom by saying the prosecutions were a small sampling.  But the truth is the administration has targeted more whistleblowers and prosecuted more leak investigations -- including of my colleagues -- than all previous administrations combined.  Can you explain the President’s remarks?  Does he -- is he aware of just how many more leak investigations this administration has conducted versus all of his predecessors?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't think we're going to get deep into this today.  But let me say a couple of things about this.  The first is, what the President said is true, that a number of those investigations were initiated by the previous administration.  What is also true is questions of criminal investigations and criminal prosecutions are not influenced by the President or any other political operatives in the White House.  These are decisions that are made by Department of Justice prosecutors.

That's the way the process should work.  And it would be inappropriate for the President to intervene either way.  It would be inappropriate for the President of the United States to intervene with the federal prosecutor and say, you should go investigate this individual.  It would be just as inappropriate for the President to intervene and say, you should lay off that guy from The New York Times.  That would be inappropriate too. 

We've got a Department of Justice that is insulated from politics for a very good reason.  And you should check with them for insight into the prosecutorial decisions that attorneys at the Department of Justice were making.

Q    -- that these prosecutions took place during his administration?  I mean, he then went on to sort of talk about how his notion himself is that there should be as much freedom as possible.  As you say, these prosecutions took place during his administration, and your suggestion is that it took place essentially without any input from him or any of his direct -- in the White House.

MR. EARNEST:  And I'm suggesting it would be a genuine scandal if that were not the case. 

Q    I think that's right.  So is he sorry that this number of prosecutions took place during his administration, given the fact that he can do nothing about it?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  I think the President does believe that people who swore an oath to protect sensitive information should follow it.  And the President does believe that the Department of Justice and other agencies have a role in enforcing that oath.  And that enforcement should take place without regard to political considerations.  And there’s just such an inquiry that's going on right now that I'm not going to comment on, but I think is an indication that this is something, at least when it comes to the handling of these kinds of matters by the Department of Justice, that should be firmly insulated from politics, and therefore, insulated from influence by the President of the United States. 

Q    Do you know of any previous state dinner that celebrated five countries at once, Josh?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't.  That would make tonight’s event all the more special. 

All right.  Jonathan, I'll give you the last one.  And then we'll do the week ahead.

Q    Okay, thank you.  The President is going to Rutgers on Sunday.  Why did he decide to go to Rutgers?  Were any loud voices urging him to go?  And can you give us an advance preview of what he’s going to say there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, for years, students and other leaders at Rutgers have been encouraging President Obama to consider delivering the commencement address this year because it’s the 250th anniversary of the first commencement address -- the first commencement ceremonies that were hosted at Rutgers.  So the President is looking forward to participating in this historic occasion.  It certainly is the mark of a remarkable institution of higher learning.  I know that Rutgers, in particular, is quite proud of the class of 2016, and the President is looking forward to congratulating that class on all that they have achieved. 

I think he’ll have some observations about the world that they’re prepared to enter.  They’re prepared to enter a country and a planet that’s rapidly changing.  And these students are as well-prepared as any students have ever been to confront those challenges and use this changing environment to create a better world.  And that’s what makes the President so fundamentally optimistic about the future of our country, and that optimism is manifested quite well in this year’s graduating class at Rutgers.

So with that, why don’t I do a week ahead?

Q    Will he visit the (inaudible) at all while he’s at Rutgers?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any notes about any unplanned, any unscheduled movements for the President, but we’ll see if he is able to make the most of his visit to Rutgers.

So on Sunday -- this is not written down here, but obviously on Sunday, the President will travel to New Jersey and deliver the commencement address at the 250th commencement at Rutgers University.

On Monday, the President will host a Medal of Valor ceremony at the White House.  The Medal of Valor is awarded to public safety officers who have exhibited exceptional courage, regardless of personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect others from harm.

On Tuesday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House.

On Wednesday, the President will participate in a DNC roundtable.

On Thursday, the President will award the National Medals of Science and Technology and Innovation to 17 scientists, engineers, mathematicians and innovators.  The Medal of Science recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science, engineering and mathematics.  The National Medal of Technology and Innovation recognizes those who have made lasting contributions to America’s competitiveness and quality of life and helped the nation’s technological workforce.

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

And then on Saturday, the President will depart Washington, D.C. en route Hanoi, Vietnam.  This trip will highlight the President’s ongoing commitment to the U.S. rebalance to Asia and the Pacific, designed to increase U.S. diplomatic, economic, and security engagement with the country and peoples of the region.  So this is obviously next Saturday, a week from tomorrow, and we’ll have a lot more to say about the President’s trip to the Asia Pacific during next week’s briefings.

So with all that, I hope you guys all have a great weekend.  See you on Monday.

Q    Starting now?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  I resisted making that joke out of deference, but we’ll pick it back up next week.

2:45 P.M. EDT