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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 5/18/2016

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  I do have a quick statement at the top before we get to questions.  As I'm sure you are aware, today Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are doing their jobs and fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities by reviewing Chief Judge Garland’s questionnaire and holding a public meeting to learn more about this highly qualified nominee.

One of the individuals they have invited to the Senate today to speak in support of Chief Judge Garland’s character and credentials is a man named Timothy Lewis.  Mr. Lewis is a retired former judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.  In his written remarks, Judge Lewis noted, “For anyone who questions, as most Americans do, the Senate’s treatment of Judge Garland’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court, I am living proof that it doesn’t have to be this way.”  As Judge Lewis notes, he was nominated in the fall of 1992, weeks before a presidential election.  He was nominated by a Republican President to serve on the Court of Appeals.  He had a hearing before a Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee and was unanimously confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Senate on October 8th, just three weeks before the election.

That's one way in which his testimony today is interesting.  And there’s a second.  Later in his career, Judge Lewis returned to Congress to testify on behalf of his 3rd Circuit colleague, Sam Alito.  At the time, Judge Lewis noted that he did not share Justice Alito’s “conservative ideology,” but that he “found him to be a good person and a fine judge, intellectually honest, highly principled, and well qualified to serve on the Court.” 

Following Judge Lewis’s testimony that day, Senator Grassley noted that he found Judge Lewis’s testimony on behalf of then-Judge Alito “particularly compelling.”  So today, we hope that Senator Grassley will be similarly compelled by Judge Lewis’s remarks.  Otherwise, Senator Grassley’s continued obstruction amounts to what former Judge Lewis today called “dangerous political gamesmanship rooted in an unfortunate ideological fervor that ultimately harms each branch of government and dilutes the effectiveness and capacity of the judiciary.”

So before today I had not had the pleasure of ever having heard of Judge Lewis, but presumably all of you have.  But obviously he has some interesting things to say and he comes to this issue from a unique perspective.  So I commend his testimony to your attention.

So with all that, we'll go straight to the birthday boy.  Josh, you can begin.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  It seems like you were having fun with that last windup.

MR. EARNEST:  I enjoyed reading about Judge Lewis’s testimony today.

Q    I wanted to start with Senator Pat Roberts’s comments about the confirmation of Eric Fanning --

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  We last discussed him when he was crumbling the Gitmo paper in his hands and filming himself throwing it into a wastebasket. 

Q    Well, he essentially suggested that there was a quid pro quo between him and the Defense Department that he agreed to lift this hold because he was told by Deputy Defense Secretary Work that the clock had run out on transferring people to Leavenworth or really to the mainland.  I know that the Deputy Defense Secretary has put out his own statement despite this, but one thing he doesn’t address in that statement is the specific language that Senator Roberts brought up about the clock has run out on being able to do this in the time that's left in this administration.  So I'm wondering if you can -- is the White House disputing Senator Roberts’s account of what he was told by the Defense Department about that?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not going to get into any -- I don't have any insight to share about private conversations between Senator Roberts and the Department of Justice.  The good news is -- I'm sorry -- the Department of Defense.  The good news is that the Department of Defense has explained exactly what was communicated to Senator Roberts.  They were involved in those discussions, and they can make clear exactly what was communicated to him.

The thing that I can just confirm for you is that nothing about the administration's position, with regard to the need to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, has changed.  We continue to believe that the most effective way to close the prison is to transfer all those individuals that can be safely transferred.  We continue to work with our partners all around the world to do that in a way that is consistent with our national security. 

But we also believe that it's possible to transfer the remaining detainees at the prison at Guantanamo Bay to the United States to secure facilities where those detainees can be held without posing a threat to our national security.  After all -- and Senator Roberts knows this quite well -- that there are dangerous, convicted, hardened terrorists serving time on American soil, in American prisons, right now.  That does not pose a threat to our national security.  In fact, detaining them, having brought them to justice through our Article III courts, actually makes our country safer.

So our argument on this is quite clear.  This is an argument that has strong bipartisan support among national security experts.  President Bush agreed with this position.  Both Colin Powell, General David Petraeus have also articulated their strong support for the priority that should be placed on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay explicitly for national security reasons.

Q    I think the elephant in the room here is that even if Congress were to see the light, in your view, and embrace what you've described as the most effective, direct way to close the prison by lifting these restrictions, that would be effective at the start of the new fiscal year.  So you basically have October, November, December and part of January to select a location, prepare a location, transfer dozens of detainees from Gitmo to the United States, and then close the prison.  So are you able to acknowledge at this point that even if President Obama is able to order the closure of Guantanamo Bay, that he won't be able to actually, because of these logistical constraints, close it by the time he leaves office?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t been presented with that conclusion.  So we continue to believe that it is possible and, in fact, should be a priority of the United States government to succeed in closing that prison.  And President Obama vowed to do it as soon as possible.  He did that on I believe it was his second or third full day in office.  And the President continues to strongly believe that that should be a priority and that that would be possible if our efforts to achieve this goal were not being thwarted by obstructionists in the United States Congress.

Q    And I wanted to ask you about this dispute within the Democratic Party primary and some of the comments from Senator Sanders just in the last day, saying, in light of what happened in Nevada, the Democratic Party basically has a choice.  It can open its doors, bring people in, or it can choose to be -- its status-quo structure remain dependent on big-money contributions and be a party with limited energy.  And I'm wondering if you feel that, after seven and a half years of the Democratic Party being under the leadership of President Obama, if that's an accurate description of the way the party stands.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me make a couple of observations.  The first is that I do feel confident -- though I did not specifically do this myself -- that if you were to Google news coverage from May 18th, 2008, the tenor of the coverage would be quite similar to the tenor of the coverage today.  There would be all kinds of hand-wringing among party activists about whether or not the party would come together after a divisive primary between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton.  There would be pundits with decades of electoral experience posing difficult questions about whether or not it is even possible given the passion of Clinton supporters for even somebody with all the skills of Senator Obama to unite the Democratic Party.  There would be Republicans salivating at the prospect of a divided Democratic Party limping into a general election, giving an advantage to the Republican nominee. 

I guess the point is that we've seen a lot of this before.  And that's not to diminish anybody's candidacy.  It's not to diminish the passion and commitment of supporters for either candidate.  But it is an indication that the Democratic Party in a general election will be focused on a different question.  Americans across the country will be focused on a very clear choice that they'll have in a general election, and there will be ample time over the next six or seven months for candidates on either side to make their case.  And President Obama will certainly be weighing in to make his case.  And I think all of that will serve to motivate the American people to engage in this debate and to participate in the election.

And President Obama and others will certainly be making that case.  And I don’t have too many doubts about the intensity of the debate that is likely to ensue or the degree to which voters on both sides and both parties will be highly motivated to participate.  It's a good thing for our democracy.  And President Obama had an opportunity to speak about this at the commencement ceremony at Rutgers University over the weekend.  And the idea that our electorate gets more engaged in these kinds of political debates is good for the country.

Q    The primaries are always hard-fought, I think we acknowledge.  But this seems to be a different flavor here.  I mean, we've got allegations of violence, of disenfranchisement; the DNC Chairwoman saying one of the candidate's campaigns is doing insufficient to address that.  Does the President feel no obligation at this point to mediate or to try and resolve some of this?  He's basically just going to wait until the candidates do that amongst themselves to get involved?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, Josh, that we have seen that the party primaries typically are, particularly ones that are contested as passionately as this one has been.  There are going to be strong feelings on both sides.

But I think one of the lessons of the election in 2008 is not to confuse the passion in the primary for disinterest in the general election.  I think, if anything, the reason that people are so passionate about the current primary process is they understand the stakes in the general election.  So that certainly was true in 2008.  We’ll see if it’s true in 2016.  But I’m confident that the President’s engagement in the general election will be useful in sharpening up that case and he certainly looks forward to the opportunity to do it.

But I also think that President Obama benefits from his own personal involvement in the last hotly contested Democratic presidential primary; that yes, the issues are a little different and the debates are always a little bit different but no less intense.  They certainly were intense, particularly in this period, in May of 2008.  So there’s probably an interesting story to be written there about sort of where things were at this stage eight years ago.


Q    Josh, Donald Trump said yesterday in an interview with Reuters that he would be willing to talk to North Korea’s leader, and that if he were successful in winning the White House, that he would renegotiate the Paris climate deal.  What’s your reaction to the first?  And on the second, should U.S. allies be concerned that the Paris deal is not as strong or as bulletproof as the President did say when he helped to create it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, on the question related to North Korea, the President has been -- has had a number of opportunities recently to make clear exactly what our position is there.  The United States has worked effectively with the international community, including countries like Russia and China, to isolate North Korea because of their failure to abide by their international obligations when it comes to their nuclear program.  And we have succeeded in ramping up that pressure and ramping up that isolation.  It has not yet had the desired effect on the North Korean regime, but there’s ample evidence to indicate that they are feeling that pressure.

And what we have said is that that pressure can be relieved and the international community is prepared to engage with North Korea as soon as they make clear their commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and ending the kind of provocative rhetoric and acts that are so destabilizing to the broader region.  So we’ve been pretty clear about what the path out of this isolation is for the North Korean government.  Thus far, they have declined to pursue it, but that’s the strategy that we have laid out and it is a strategy that is consistent with the joint pursuit of our interests in that region of the world, where the United States stands by our allies in South Korea and stands by our allies in Japan and coordinates with China and Russia in pursuit of this goal.

As it relates to the Paris climate agreement, I would just note that it’s more than 190 countries who signed on to this agreement, and each of them made specific commitments with regard to how they would reduce carbon pollution in their countries.  This is an agreement that took years to negotiate.  It is an agreement that was only possible because of the leadership of the United States -- this is something that Prime Minister Cameron mentioned at the news conference that he did with President Obama in London a couple of weeks ago.

This agreement was catalyzed when President Obama announced alongside President Xi in China that both China and the United States were prepared to make commitments to cut carbon pollution.  The Republican talking point for years had been that it was folly for the United States to pursue an international climate agreement and to cut carbon pollution in the United States knowing that China was going to only pollute more.  The truth is because of principled, effective diplomacy and the leadership of President Obama, we did reach an agreement where China agreed to cap their emissions and begin to bring them down.

What’s significant about that is not just the positive impact we anticipate that that will have on the climate and the positive impact it had on diplomacy in terms of bringing other countries to the table, it’s also going to have a positive impact on the U.S. economy.  We already know that Westinghouse, a fine American business, has committed to building four nuclear plants in China.  I think that’s a pretty good indication of -- a pretty clear example of how the world’s commitment to a low-carbon future has a positive economic impact in the United States.  The same is true of other countries -- I mean of other U.S. companies like General Electric that now have essentially a global market for renewable energy. 

As other countries have made a commitment to cutting their carbon pollution, they have to look to renewable energy to power their economy.  And the United States -- in part because of some of the historic investments that were made in this sector of the economy under President Obama’s leadership, the United States is the leading edge of that industry.  And a global commitment on the part of nations around the world to considering sources of renewable energy only creates good economic opportunities for American businesses and American workers.

So the completion of the Paris agreement is a testament to President Obama’s leadership, the effectiveness of diplomacy, the positive impact it will have on the climate and the positive impact it will have on the U.S. economy.

Q    But just to circle back to my questions, is the White House concerned that U.S. allies may view comments like this as a sign that this agreement is not as robust as the President said when he signed it?  And on the North Korea topic --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me just do that one first.  I don’t know that there’s anybody that’s losing sleep here at the White House about that.  So, no, that’s not a source of concern.

Q    And on North Korea, the President, when he was a candidate in 2008, also suggested that he would talk to U.S. enemies.  Does he consider it responsible or irresponsible for Donald Trump to be suggesting that about Kim Jong-un?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think I’m going to weigh in at this point on the pronouncements or rhetoric of any of the candidates, particularly with regard to an issue like North Korea.  But we certainly have made clear what our approach to that situation is, and it is rooted in the President’s commitment to working closely with our allies and partners around the world to ramp up pressure on countries like North Korea.

I should also note that President Obama, over the last several years, has also deployed additional military assets to the Asia Pacific region, some of them oriented specifically to counter North Korea’s missile program.  And because of those investments and because of those strategic decisions that the President made in close consultation with our military leaders, believes that we’ve got sufficient protections in place.  But that certainly has not dampened our desire to work effectively with the international community to ramp up pressure on the North Koreans to get them to change course.

Q    Briefly, on one other topic.  The Vice President was unveiling the overtime -- details of the overtime rules that we’ve been expecting for some time.  Is the White House confident that these will stand up to legal challenges from Republicans in the business community?  And are you confident that they will stay in place if a Republican -- Donald Trump, in this case -- wins the White House in November?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the short answer to your question is yes.  I will elaborate on it briefly.  As it relates to sort of the legal questions, this is actually not the creation of a new rule.  This is a rule that has been on the books governing overtime pay for decades now.  So this is merely an update of an already-existing rule that will ensure that the hardest-working Americans are paid fairly for their overtime.  So the principle is quite simple.  The impact is quite significant.  We would anticipate that this executive action that would extend overtime protections to more than 4 million American workers -- again, by definition, these are 4 million of the hardest-working Americans.  These are individuals who are already working overtime.  And the President believes that they should be paid fairly for their work.  And the economic impact is also significant.  The economic impact, according to our estimates, is that Americans’ wages would increase by $12 billion over the next 10 years as a result of this rule.  So this an impactful way for us to ensure that American workers are paid fairly, and to do something that many people have identified as an important goal, which is to put upward pressure on wages. 

We've seen strong economic growth in this country.  We've seen strong trends related to job creation.  But we haven't seen as much progress made on increasing wages in this country.  And this is a tangible example of how we can do that.  And by the way, by definition, this is increasing wages for people who make $47,000 or less.  So this is consistent with the President’s strategy that our economy is going to be strongest when we're growing from the middle out and we're looking for opportunities to expand economic opportunity for middle-class families and those families that are working hard to get to the middle class.

Q    The question is, can they withstand legal challenges?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, they can withstand legal challenges.  Again, it's not a new rule.  This is a rule that's been on the books for a long time.  It's just merely updated with new standards.  And the next President will have to make their own choices with regard to the way that they choose to use executive action.  That's true on a whole range of things.  But the legal foundation for making this argument is solid.


Q    I want to start with Zika.  Yesterday, the Senate did not pass the President’s $1.9 billion request but did pass the $1.1 billion package.  Stipulating everything that you've said many times before about public health experts wanting the full $1.9 billion, is the package that passed the Senate something that you guys would be willing to accept?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we are going to continue to advocate for the $1.9 billion package.  And we were pleased to see that that proposal, while it did not pass, did garner some important bipartisan support.  So Republicans like Marco Rubio and even Bill Cassidy from Louisiana -- two states that are on the Gulf Coast that I think are legitimately concerned about the potential impact of the Zika virus on the populations in those two states -- supported the $1.9 billion package. 

And Senator Rubio, I think, said it in a way that I would strongly agree with for a change.  He said, yes, the proposal came from the White House.  But “it's really the scientists’ request, the doctors’ request, the public health sector’s request for how to address this issue.”  And he’s right.  The President put forward this proposal, but he did so based on the specific advice that he has received from our public health professionals. And we're going to continue to urge Congress to consider fully funding the request that our public health professionals have made.

I'm no expert in math, but obviously the Senate proposal that was passed yesterday is larger than the House Republican proposal that's under consideration.  So obviously we've seen just in the last couple of weeks important progress in the right direction.  For a while we saw Republicans on Capitol Hill basically rejecting the need for this kind of funding, but now we've seen bipartisan legislation move through the Senate that would fund our efforts for more than a billion dollars. 

So obviously that's good progress, but it falls short of what our public health professionals believe is necessary.  And we're going to continue to advocate for what our public health professionals believe is necessary.

Q    You said that you would veto the House bill, and so I'm wondering, I guess, does that veto threat stand for anything less than the $1.9 billion?  Or is the $1.1 billion something that -- not exactly everything you want, but you're willing to take it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we're going to continue to advocate for the $1.9 billion.  And I don't have a veto threat to issue on the $1.1 billion.  Our concerns about the Republican proposal in the House are many.  It's not just that they are about $1.3 billion short of what our experts say is necessary.  It also demands that that emergency funding be paid for by gutting investments in protecting the American people from the Ebola virus.  So the approach that Republicans have advocated for in the House is wrong, it's unwise, and it is inconsistent with prioritizing the public health and wellbeing of the American people.

Q    On Libya, I'm wondering if you have a timeline to share for the U.S. and its allies to secure the U.N. Security Council resolution that they want that would enable us to ship arms to the unity government there.  And also, I know that you talked a little bit about how it would be designed to keep arms out of the hands of people that we don’t want to have them in the region, but I'm wondering if you could just maybe talk more broadly about if there's any risk that an infusion of arms is going to heighten tension or kind of fuel additional conflict just by their mere presence there.

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware of a timeline that has been set out for the passage of a resolution.  You can check with my colleagues in Ambassador Power's office.  They would have a better sense of the mechanics of all of this.  But the broader question is, what can the international community do to support the government of national accord in Libya in their efforts to secure the country and combat the ISIL presence that we know is there.  And how can we do all of that in a way that prevents the arms from falling into the wrong hands.  Libya is a dangerous place, and there are a variety of factions that aren’t shy about resorting to violence to try to get their way inside of Libya.  So the prospect of further militarizing the situation is a prospect that must be carefully considered. 

But what's also clear is that the government of national accord needs sufficient resources and equipment to get that situation under control.  And so that's what our experts will be examining.  And I recognize that they have to walk a fine line here, so it will be carefully considered.  I don’t know if there is a timeline.  I don’t think there will be any desire to rush it.  But at the same time, further delays are only going to create more space for some of those armed factions that aren’t shy about resorting to violence.

So this is a difficult situation.  We've made tremendous progress, though, when you sort of consider where we were even three or four months ago.  There was a lot of doubt about whether or not we were going to be able to bring about the kind of political consensus among a variety of opposition groups to even form a government.  But the U.N. did a lot of important work.  The United States played a leading role in facilitating these conversations and bringing the international community together behind them.  And we do now have a government of national accord, and that government of national accord now is in Tripoli.

So we've made a lot of important progress that, frankly, a couple of months I don’t think I even would have believed was possible.  And so we need to look for ways to keep that momentum going.  And one way to do that is to consider international support for their security efforts there.

Q    And last one.  House Republicans are saying today that classified administration reports provided to Congress over the last three years show that the administration knowingly approved for the transfer of Gitmo detainees to countries that were incapable of preventing them from returning to terrorism, and argue that administration officials have given misleading testimony about that.  So I was wondering how you respond to that sort of request from Republicans to correct the record on this issue.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, I think the record is quite clear about what President Obama has worked to do.  When he took office in 2009, he instituted a new procedure for considering specific cases of individual Gitmo detainees.  And that process included a review of individual case files to determine the best way to dispose of those cases.  And what the idea has been is that, by carefully reviewing the individual cases, we can design the most effective way to prevent them from posing a threat to the United States or our allies. 

And this has been a rigorous process and it's been meticulous, and you'll recall that early in 2009 and 2010, it took a while to stand this process up and to move through all of the applications.  But that process has paid significant dividends for our national security because it has allowed us to succeed in transferring 144 individuals since January of 2009.  And what we know is that less than 5 percent of them, of those individuals, have been confirmed as reengaging in the fight; 95 percent of them aren’t.  And that's an indication of the ability that the United States has to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay in a way that mitigates the risk that is posed to the American people. 

So this is a process that is rigorous, that sometimes is not just exhaustive, but exhausting, but it has demonstrated a track record of success.  And the President believes that we would be even more successful if Congress weren’t time and time again trying to throw sand in the gears of the process in a way that has only slowed down our efforts and made our efforts more difficult.  And that's unfortunate.  But our track record here is solid and it is one that the President is proud of.  It's one that has bipartisan support in terms of pursuing a goal that Democrats and Republicans share, and that is the need to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  This is often shaped up as a fight between Democrats and Republicans, or Republicans on Capitol Hill in a Democratic administration.  The truth is, the Republican administration supported closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. 

So I did have a chance to take a look at the statement from the Speaker's office today, and there was a suggestion somehow that the Obama administration was prioritizing politics in this situation.  Well, that's pretty rich.  I don’t think that General David Petraeus is prioritizing politics when he says we should close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  I don’t think that General Colin Powell is prioritizing politics when he suggests that we should close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  I don’t think Senator McCain is playing politics when he suggests that we should close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  I don’t think that Senator Graham of South Carolina is playing politics when suggests that we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  I don’t think that Senator Collins is playing politics when she says that it would be a good idea to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. 

You know who is playing politics with this?  The RNC, who says that they actually want to run ads against Democrats all across the country for wanting to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

So we know what's going on here.  And you have congressional Republicans that are cynically playing politics and playing on the fears of the American people in order to score some cheap political points.  The truth is, the American people would be safer if we succeeded in closing the prison.  And that's not just my assessment.  That's the assessment of the United States Department of Defense.  That's the assessment of the United States intelligence community.  And that's the assessment of Democratic and Republican national security experts that for years have disagree with the approach of this Congress to prevent the closure of the prison. 


Q    Thanks, Josh.  What’s the White House’s reaction to Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz filing a censure resolution against the IRS Commissioner today?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t know that I saw that specific news.  Obviously our views of the work of the IRS Commissioner are quite different than the views of congressional Republicans.  The fact is that John Koskinen has assumed a very difficult task.  And that task has been made only more difficult by the false accusations of Republicans and by the continued insistence of Republicans to cut the budget for the IRS.  So we know that over the last five years or so -- yes, over the last five years that Congress has cut the IRS budget by a billion dollars.  And as a result, we’ve seen wait times for customer service increase.  It’s had a not positive impact on enforcement.  And then to have Republicans come back and say that he’s not doing a very good job, it’s not on the level.  And if they spent half as much time trying to make sure that the IRS got the money that they needed to do their job as they do undermining the commissioner of the IRS, the American people would be better served.

Q    And to follow up on the President’s lunch yesterday with Jack Ma, can you give us any more details on what the two men talked about over lunch?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a readout of the lunch.  As I mentioned yesterday, the President appeared at a forum in Malaysia with Mr. Ma around the APEC Summit, and after the forum, the President had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Ma and invited him to come to lunch at the White House next time he was in the area.  So this is just a follow-up on that public discussion that they had had.

Obviously they’ve got -- as they discussed in the public forum, there are a number of common interests that they have, particularly as they relate to climate change and the international economy.  So this is something that is of interest to President Obama and that’s why he was interested to have lunch with him.

Q    He’s the richest man in Asia, and so I think a lot of us were wondering why that meeting wasn’t put on the President’s public schedule.

MR. EARNEST:  Because it was a private lunch.  It’s not uncommon for the President to have a private lunch with people that you might find notable.  But obviously those are disclosed on the WAVES lists that are released regularly.  That is a transparency step that no previous President has agreed to, and, in fact, the previous administration went to the Supreme Court to try to prevent the release of those lists.  So I think our approach to transparency here is well-documented.


Q    I wanted to just ask you about the raids that we’re hearing are going to be coming in the next few weeks and months on the Central American migrants who have crossed the southern border.  Quite a few immigration advocates as well as some Democratic members of Congress have expressed very deep concerns that some of the people affected here are women and children, many of them who are not afforded due process in these immigration proceedings when they cross the border but are being sent back to very dangerous conditions.  One of them said today that the President’s decision to conduct these raids and use this approach to these people was nothing more than a callous political calculation with real and grave humanitarian consequences.  So what’s your response, first of all, to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to correct so many misconceptions.  The first is what the Department of Homeland Security has indicated is that the current operations are a continuation of operations that were announced back in January and in March.  And these operations are being conducted consistent with the enforcement priorities that President Obama and Secretary Johnson laid out back in the fall of 2014.  That is these operations are focused on convicted criminals and others who could pose a risk to local communities.  The other enforcement priority are individuals that we’ve previously described as recent border-crossers -- individuals who have been apprehended crossing the border illegally since January 1st of 2014.  Those are our enforcement priorities and these operations are being conducted consistent with them.

Now, in addition to that, that’s not the only criteria.  Operations are only being conducted to enforce orders from immigration courts.  So only individuals who have been given an order of removal are subject to these operations, and we’ll make sure that these operations are only conducted after all pending claims for asylum or humanitarian relief have been exhausted.  There is a firm commitment to due process and that’s just an important principle of living in the United States of America, and it’s certainly one that this government is committed to.

The last thing -- I guess the other one that I -- the other piece of information that I feel is important to share with you is that there is existing guidance that the DHS officers follow that avoids carrying out these operations in sensitive locations like schools or hospitals or places of worship.  What’s also true, though, is this is a nation of laws and we have to enforce the laws.  We can do all of that consistent with due process, but I would also readily acknowledge that this whole process would be far more effective if Congress had followed through on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.  There is no argument there.  And that’s why we continue to make that case that that’s something Congress should do and it’s why it is congressional Republicans who are ultimately responsible, because they were the ones who prevented House consideration of bipartisan legislation that had already passed the Senate that we know would have passed the House if a vote had been held.  But it wasn’t.

So the administration is committed to enforcing the law.  The side benefit here is also this should send a pretty clear signal to everyone, particularly individuals who are considering having their children smuggled into the country, that that’s

a really bad idea.  It's a dangerous journey.  There’s all kinds of evidence to indicate that these human traffickers have bad intentions and subject people who have paid them to horrible dangers, that those who are trafficked end up often being victimized themselves.  So this should send a very clear signal to everybody who might be contemplating this that the pitch being peddled by human traffickers that they can get their child into the United States and their child would be allowed to stay is false.  That is not an available option.  And given the dangers in making that journey, it is not something that parents should even consider for their kids.

And that is a principle that is rooted in a desire to try to protect people in other countries who are in a pretty desperate situation.  And there are a host of other investments that our country is committed to making in places like Honduras and El Salvador to try to address the root causes of this migration that we've seen over the last couple of years.

Q    Does the President regard these people primarily as economic migrants, or as refugees?  Because if the President regards them as refugees, the deterrence message that you just recited that is clearly the intent of some of the enforcement actions doesn’t seem to apply.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the intent is to enforce the law.  That is the primary intent.  But, again, for those who may be considering entrusting themselves or the care of their children to human traffickers, this should be a very clear signal that the sales pitch from the human traffickers is a false one and it gives false hope to people who are in a desperate situation.

What the administration has sought to do is to address some of the root causes of migration.  There’s been a $700 million investment that was appropriated by Congress a year or two ago that is being used to invest in the security situation in those countries.  It's also being used to invest in economic development efforts in those countries to try to address some of those root causes. 

There’s also been a discussion that has been initiated by the State Department, working with the U.N., to try to establish a process where people with legitimate refugee claims can make them not in the United States or at the U.S. border, but rather in their home countries.  That is another way that we can give people access to refugee protection without having to embark on a dangerous journey.

So we're thinking about this creatively in a lot of ways.  But there is a principle that's at play here about enforcing the law, and it's one that the administration takes quite seriously.

Q    Doesn’t this undermine the President’s call for European countries to take in the flood of Syrian refugees that they’re facing at their borders?  I mean, you're talking about refugees staying in their countries and going through the proceedings there instead of coming here.  And we've seen the President speak pretty strongly about how it's the obligation of countries who are facing inflows like this to accept people who need to resettle.  So how is that consistent?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think it's difficult to compare these situations.  But I think the situation that I've just described in terms of trying to give people with legitimate refugee claims a method of applying for that status without having to embark on a dangerous journey.  So I think we've tried to address these root causes in Central America in a way that's just not possible in a place like Syria.  So I think that's why it's so difficult to compare these two situations.

I think what is true in both instances is that we do have to consider that the people that we're talking about are human beings and they should be afforded that kind of common decency, and afforded due process rights.  And that's something that the Department of Homeland Security has indicated they’re committed to, and that is an important part of this equation, that individuals who are targeted in these operations are only subject to them once they have been ordered removed from the country by an Immigration court.  And they are only subject to these operations once they have exhausted all of their humanitarian claims.  So there is a commitment to due process, but there’s also a commitment to enforcing the law.


Q    On the Zika standoff, the administration still says it's a $1.9 billion request.  That was from like January 25th or so that you got the document that you often show us.

MR. EARNEST:  It was technically February 22nd.

Q    Oh, I'm sorry.  The question is, now that the Senate has taken some action, is there someplace where the administration is willing to compromise on that position you’ve held to for so long, given the public health urgency of this matter, as you clearly outlined it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, when we talk about compromise, at least the way that you have set it up, it contemplates not giving our public health professionals everything that they say that they need so that they can do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus.  So it shouldn’t have to come to that, I guess is my point.  If our goal here is to protect the public health and well-being of the American people, if that is our top priority, then why wouldn’t we just do what our public health professionals suggest and pass the kind of proposal that they have said encapsulates the need?

Q    But the reality is that the country is mired in political gridlock and things don't get done, and here’s an example where apparently the public health is at risk because there’s little compromise on both sides.  So, yes, the same question for the other side, but is this --

MR. EARNEST:  I just reject that, Ron.  This is not about the administration not being willing to compromise.  This is the specific request that was put forward by public health experts.  They’ve been very clear about what is necessary.  And the only thing that Republicans in the House have come forward on is funding at like a third of the level that our public health experts recommend but taking every single penny of that money away from efforts to protect the American people from Ebola.  So that doesn’t make sense at all.  That is a dumb approach.  And I don't really understand why one would even consider an approach like that.   

Q    A compromise that protects the interests of public health --

MR. EARNEST:  Like gutting our funding to protect the American people from the Ebola virus?

Q    “Gutting” is not the word I'd use.  I'm saying --

MR. EARNEST:  That's the word that our public health professionals would use.  I just went through this yesterday.  There are 100 staff at the CDC -- 100 CDC staffers, government employees, that right now, as we speak, are in West Africa, processing 10,000 samples a month to try to fight the Ebola virus.  And Republicans are saying we should just gut funding for that.  I don't think there’s any reason -- I don't think there would be any justification for gutting funding for that just to -- as somebody who stood up here in the fall of 2014 and explained what our government was doing to try to protect people from a deadly virus.  But to say that we're going to gut funding for that because that's the only way that we can pay to protect the American people from anther dangerous virus that could potentially infect pregnant women and their babies -- that doesn’t make sense.

So this doesn’t have anything to do -- there are lots of things where Democrats and Republicans need to just try to sit down and compromise, and maybe they relate to things like taxes or the appropriate size of government, or maybe even our approach to dealing with education reform or job training, or something.  That is something that should be subject to the political process where there is debate, where there’s advocacy, where there’s bargaining and then ultimately common ground where we can advance something that represents a compromise.  When it comes to the public health and safety of the American people, there should be no compromising. 

Q    On the issue of the TSA lines that we talked about yesterday, there have been a number of senators, Democrats, who have asked for the airlines to suspend or compromise -- or change, or compromise, again -- (laughter) -- to suspend their baggage fees to move the process along.  Is that something that the administration supports?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, I think the individual business decisions of the airlines is up to them.  Frankly, the airlines and industry experts can speak to what impact that would have on lines at the airports.  There are a number of steps that TSA has taken to try to address this serious problem, and it does relate directly to the need to ensure that we are protecting our aviation system, but also trying to minimize inconvenience for travelers.  And that's something that the TSA takes quite seriously and they’re working through some creative solutions to try to reduce those lines without compromising safety.

Q    Does the President still have confidence in the Administrator, Peter Neffenger?

MR. EARNEST:  Absolutely.  And we've seen, like I said, some creative steps that TSA has taken.  They have sought additional authority to use more resources to pay overtime so that TSA officers can work longer hours and work more, spend more time process passengers.  There’s this other solution they have floated, which is getting more airport personnel that don't have security functions to help expedite the process through security so that those security screeners that typically remind people to take off their belts or to fill the bin can actually be used to do screening, and it can be airport staffers that can help people navigate the security line. 

So there are a number of things that we can do to expand our capacity and try to shorten those lines.  But, look, this is a tough problem and the President absolutely has confidence that Mr. Neffenger can solve this problem.

Q    So obviously the summer travel season is coming.  Given there’s a problem, given there are staffing shortages, given there’s this 10-point plan, can travelers reasonably expect that the situation is going to get better in the next couple of months?  And if not, who is going to be held accountable?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, I think the TSA has indicated they expect the situation will improve as some of the staffing increases that they have authorized start to have an impact on individual airports.  The other thing that TSA is encouraging people to do is to apply for pre-check.  If you're a frequent traveler, you can get a background check in advance so that the security screening that you have to go through is different.  That presumably would make it possible for you to go through a shorter line.  But that's also going to have the effect of shortening the line for everybody else.  So we certainly want people to be aware of that. 

And we do anticipate, again, based on the solutions that TSA has been working to implement, I know that TSA has said that they expect that the situation should improve in the weeks and months ahead.

Q    Two last housekeeping things.  Before the President’s upcoming trip, is there going to be a more detailed briefing or backgrounder about what exactly -- the goals, objective, timetables?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, we will have some more details about the President’s trip before he departs on Saturday.  We're still working on putting together a plan for doing that, but we'll be in touch with you on that.  But that's something you can certainly look for before the trip.

Q    You will obviously do it before that.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  Okay.  But we can coordinate later and see if we can sync up our schedules.


Q    Josh, I want to go back to the conversation about Gitmo and Senator Roberts. 


Q    Were you saying it's simply a false claim by him that the administration struck a deal to not transfer prisoners?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm saying I can't account for the substance of private conversations that Senator Roberts had with the Department of Defense.  And I recognize that that might be somewhat unsatisfying.  The good news is, is that the Department of Defense official who had that conversation with Senator Roberts has put out a statement making very clear exactly what was communicated to Senator Roberts.  So I'd refer you to that statement so he can walk you through it.

Q    The Deputy Secretary of Defense -- I have that statement -- but it basically says all options are on the table, but we're running out of time to make a decision.  So it's not really a conclusive statement there.  I mean, what you're saying is that you don't stand by -- if there was a promise in private conversation, that's not the administration’s position to promise and close off Kansas as a possible site.

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not going to get into the private conversations that Senator Roberts had.  I'm not privy to them.  I wasn’t on the phone.  I haven't been briefed on those private conversations.  What I can explain to you is the position that the administration has taken with regard to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  Our position hasn’t changed.  And it's the same position that is strongly supported by a large bipartisan group of national security experts, including people who’ve dedicated their lives to protecting this country, like General Powell and General Petraeus. 

Q    Right, but no decisions have been made on where these prisoners would be transferred beyond the proposal as it was sent and approved by the White House to the Hill.

MR. EARNEST:  That's correct.  We can't make that decision as long as Congress is preventing the transfer of any Gitmo detainees anywhere to American soil.  And that is a ridiculous policy because the truth of the matter is there are already hardened convicted terrorists serving time in American prisons on American soil right now.  People like Richard Reid, the infamous shoe bomber.  You’ve got Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square.  You’ve got Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit.  All of these are individuals who went through the court system in the United States; they were convicted of their crimes and they are currently serving time in American prisons on American soil. 

We know how to protect the country using our Article III courts and using the American prison system.

Q    Then anyone on the Hill who has a belief that sites have been ruled out is simply misunderstanding the administration’s position?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I don’t understand much of what Republicans say when they advocate on this issue, so all I can do is try to explain as clearly as I possibly can exactly what our approach is.  And the good news is that the approach that we have been pursuing for the last several years is the same approach that we are pursuing today.

Q    And we're no closer?

MR. EARNEST:  Unfortunately, not.  Unfortunately, we continue to see obstacles that members of Congress have put in place. 

Q    Can I ask you on Nigeria, first?  There were reports today the Nigerian military was claiming that they did find one of the so-called Chibok girls, one of the schoolgirls that was taken by Boko Haram.  Hundreds of them disappeared.  The admin at the time had been very vocal in calling for their return.  Do you have any comment on this, or confirmation?  Have you seen these reports?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t seen those reports, but let me see if we can get you some more information on that.

Q    And can you clarify whether the administration has made a decision on whether it is willing to sell certain weapons to the current President Buhari of Nigeria?

MR. EARNEST:  I've seen some reporting speculating about this.  I'm not aware of any decision that's been made, but we can follow up with you on that as well.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  You made some comparisons to this campaign season and 2008.  And, yeah, there are some similarities, absolutely, but there are also enormous differences.  And in this case, you have a socialist running against a former Secretary of State.  You have debate over what the party should stand for, what being a progressive even means.  And we just heard Senator Feinstein say that she's worried that if Sanders stays in the race past June, you could see something like what happened in the 1968 convention.  So that's kind of the comparison she's using.  Do you think that's off the mark to be worried about a risk like that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can tell you that right now that's not something that we're concerned about.  Again, this has been a vigorous primary contest, and that ultimately has had the effect of mobilizing millions of Americans across the country who have gotten engaged in democratic politics and gotten engaged in the process of choosing the Democratic nominee.  That's good for America.  That's good for our democracy.  I also happen to think that's probably pretty good for the Democratic Party.  And in 2008, that process and that engagement across the country ended up being a harbinger of Democratic success in the future, in the general election.  Hopefully, that will be true this time, too.

Q    But she's worried about the party being harmed if he stays in much longer.  And the President himself not too long ago, at a private event, expressed concerns about party unity and it being about time for people to be behind one candidate.  So do you not share her views that this could be detrimental to the Democratic Party much longer?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think at this point, no, I don’t share those concerns.  Obviously, there will be a need for Democrats to come together in the general election, and the President will be making that case.  But right now we're still probably not in the middle of -- I think probably nearing the end of a nationwide, competitive Democratic primary process that has engaged the American people from coast to coast.  That's a good thing, and that kind of competition makes the candidates and makes the parties and makes our democracy stronger.  That's a good thing.

Q    And maybe it's just about this one incident that happened most recently.  But now there's a lot of talk about the threat of violence, and what Dianne Feinstein just said fits in with that, as well.  But you're not concerned about violence moving forward?

MR. EARNEST:  Look, I don’t think -- no, because --

Q    Of riots, like in 1968 or something?

MR. EARNEST:  No, that's not something that we're concerned about.

Q    Okay, great.  And you mentioned yesterday, on the 9/11 legislation, that there was going to be some outreach now with the House.  Can you describe a little bit what that will look like?  And will the President himself get involved in that outreach?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware of any presidential conversations that have occurred at least in the last couple of days on this.  I think what that outreach will look like is the White House seeking to engage Democrats and Republicans who have expressed public concern about this legislation.  So there are a number of people that have indicated that they share our concerns with this bill, and we'll work closely with them to try to prevent a legislative outcome that puts the United States at greater risk around the world.  We don’t need to put our interests or our assets or our diplomats or our servicemembers at greater risk.  And that is a potential unintended consequence of the legislation as currently drafted and passed by the Senate.

Q    So are those conversations going to start soon, or now?

MR. EARNEST:  I can tell you generally that the White House has already been in touch with members of the House of the Representatives about this.  I don’t know that those conversations have occurred at the presidential level at this point, but I wouldn’t rule that out. 

Karen, nice to see you.

Q    Thank you.  Nice to see you.  There's a report out from MapLight.  It's an organization that tracks money in politics.  And it found that 15 of the 39 main donors to the Obama Foundation have been invited to meetings here at the White House with the President, and one of those meetings was in January of 2015, and there were two couples who had donated six figures, as well as the actress Julia Roberts was at that meeting.  The report also found that three-quarters of the contributors to the foundation that have been disclosed have been invited to the White House, including every donor that's kicked in more than $100,000.  Can you comment on this report?  And are these meetings here at the White House, especially the ones with the President, are they specifically meant to raise money for the foundation?

MR. EARNEST:  They are not.  The President has made a commitment that he will not be raising money for the foundation while he's still in office.  What we have said about donors to the campaign also applies to donors at the foundation, and it's simply this:  Donating in support of the President's foundation does not guarantee you a meeting with the President of the United States.  It also doesn’t prevent you from getting a meeting with the President of the United States, and that's the approach that we've taken, again, with regard to supporters of the President's campaign, and it's the approach that we've taken with regard to supporters of the President's foundation.

Q    And one more.  The Director of National Intelligence this morning, James Clapper, said that there's been indication of attempted hacks on campaign websites and campaign organizations.  Can you expand on what those indications are and how severe they might have been?

MR. EARNEST:  Unfortunately, Director Clapper was talking about intelligence information.  And as the Director of National Intelligence, he's got greater latitude to discuss that information -- well, at least greater latitude than I do.  So I don’t have anything I can say about that.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  You mentioned earlier the need to apply upward pressure on wages.  I'm curious, as it relates to the overtime rule, how concerned is the White House on the economic pressure on small business in particular as they have to take on obviously more salaries and make shifts -- sometimes major structural shifts -- to accommodate the new, or as you put it, revised, regulations?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, the approach that we have taken is one that is consistent with the need to focus on fairness.  Again, we're talking about people who are the hardest-working Americans.  These are individuals who, by definition, they're working overtime, and they should be treated fairly.  And that should be good for business.  And our view is that employers have had ample time to consider these changes.  This is something that has been in the works for more than two years.  There were extensive comments that were put forward.  I believe it's more than 270,000 comments were received on the rule -- some people advocating for a higher threshold, some people advocating for a lower threshold.  And we've taken into account those comments in designing this rule.  And we expect that this will have a positive impact on the economy.  We anticipate this will have a positive impact on wages.  And we believe that ultimately this will be good for business as well.

Q    Good for business in what way?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, good for business in that they can ensure that their workers are being paid fairly.  And it also, again, is going to put upward pressure on wages.  Henry Ford, who at one point made a decision to raise the pay of his workers so he could make sure that the people who are working to build the cars could afford to buy them.  So, ultimately, if you’re looking to strengthen the economy, putting more money in the pocket of middle-class workers and those workers that are trying to get into the middle class is a good thing.  And here’s the thing, in this situation it’s not charity.  In this situation, it’s about fairness.  In this situation, it’s about making sure that people are being fairly compensated for their overtime.  These are the hardest -- these are by definition the hardest-working Americans.  That’s what we’d like to see.  We believe that will be good for the economy overall, and a good economy is good for business.

Q    Interesting bit in Politico.  Would you acknowledge that there is a bit of a race against the clock to try to beat the 23rd so that Donald Trump doesn’t have a chance, were he to be elected, to sort of undo some of these regulations that the President is sort of trying to push through? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, this is a rule that’s been --

Q    This is a revision, I understand.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s a revision but it’s also a rule that’s been in the works for more than two years.  So if we were rushing this rule through, we didn’t do a very good job of rushing because it took more than two years to get it right.  What is true -- and this is something I guess I acknowledged in response to an earlier question -- obviously the next President will also have executive authority that they can wield and presumably they can make changes to this threshold as well.  We obviously hope that they won’t, but this is an executive action and is consistent with what the President believes is a smart strategy to try to grow our economy from the middle out and focus on expanding economic opportunity for middle-class workers and those workers that are trying to get into the middle class.

Q    Why Ohio?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, obviously it is a place where these kinds of issues related to middle-class workers really resonates.  Senator Brown, who is hosting both the Vice President and Secretary Perez, has been a leading advocate for this change.  And they are going to an Ohio business where many workers, many employees of that business will benefit from it and the people who run that business think that’s going to end up being good for the overall economy and good for their business prospects.

Q    You see what I’m getting at.  It could have been Wyoming, but it’s Ohio.

MR. EARNEST:  It could have been.  I don’t believe the two senators from Wyoming have been particularly aggressive advocates of the overtime rule.

Q    The old politics is what I’m getting at.  There’s no real sort of, hey, listen, November -- Ohio is such a keystone state as it relates to -- with respect to my friends in Pennsylvania -- it’s a major state, obviously, politically speaking.  There’s got to be a little bit of that.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, Senator Brown is not on the ballot this time, at least not yet.  It was a joke.  I have no idea.  Come on.  I’m just trying to get a little -- boost his prospects here.  But, look, Senator Brown is not on the ballot but he is somebody who has aggressively advocated for this rule.  He is somebody who has urged the administration to raise this threshold and it’s because he is somebody who has rightly earned the reputation as somebody who is committed to fighting for American workers and he is as interested as the administration is in making sure that people are paid fairly, particularly middle-class families.

Q    A couple more.  Westinghouse.  You mentioned -- I just -- it sort of piqued my interest.  They’re building I guess new nuclear facilities over in China, correct?

MR. EARNEST:  Mm-hmm.

Q    Are they building any here?  Is the President getting them to do sort of that clean energy work here that might employ Americans?  It’s been decades since we’ve had a major reactor built in the States. 

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, there is one that is going through the permitting process that began early in the President’s administration.  I’m not sure what the -- I haven’t gotten a briefing on the latest status of what that is.  But what we certainly have seen here though is a dramatic growth in renewable energy because of some of the policy decisions that President Obama has made.  Since President Obama took office, we’ve seen that wind energy has tripled and the amount of energy that is produced from solar has increased thirtyfold since President Obama took office.  That is a result of investments that were made early on. 

The Recovery Act included the largest-ever investment in renewable energy, and it’s already starting to pay dividends, both in terms of reducing our carbon footprint, but also in terms of business opportunities that are good for our broader economic growth but also good for job creation.  And so you’ve got Westinghouse that’s building nuclear plants in China because China is looking for ways that they can reduce their carbon footprint.  That’s good for economic growth back here in the United States because that’s a good American company.  But we have also seen a wide variety of American companies building wind turbines and installing solar panels, which has the same positive economic impact on this country too.

Q    Last one.  I want to give you another run at the comparison between people who are coming over our borders -- often illegally, unfortunately -- and refugees in Europe.  They both -- it would appear, at least from the outside -- are attempting to escape devastating circumstances, and I’m trying to understand or square the difference from a policy perspective from the White House’s viewpoint, because they both would seem to be in desperate need of our help -- whether they’re in Europe and you’re calling on other European countries to reach out and help them. 

I know that you talked about -- I think you said 10,000 was originally the number in terms of refugees, and I just sort of look at that number and I say, good, that we should probably, from a policy perspective, if the President wants to make that argument, good, make that argument.  But you can’t make that argument I think (inaudible) and at the same time say, yeah, but we don’t want to help these people.  Does that make sense?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can understand why people might be confused and here’s the -- the commitment that we’ve made with regard to refugees is actually, for this fiscal year, I believe it is around 80,000.  We can get you the precise number.  It’s just 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year but about 80,000 overall. 

Now, that could potentially include refugees from Central America but that would require them to go through the rigorous process that has been established.  And this is a process that includes intense background checks.  It’s also a process that includes a careful vetting of their background to determine whether or not they qualify for refugee status.  And what we have sought to do is to make it easier for individuals in a handful of Central American countries to apply for that status without even leaving their country.  And the idea is that that would give them the opportunity to be considered for some form of humanitarian relief or refugee status that would allow them to travel legally into the United States after having their background carefully vetted without having to risk the dangerous journey through Mexico, sometimes in the hands of a human smuggler to try to get here.

A process like that doesn’t exist in Syria because nobody -- or hardly anybody in the international community is able to work with the central government there, and the central government has demonstrated that they have no ability to control a security situation in that country.  The situation in a place like El Salvador or Honduras is also difficult and there are people who face terrible life circumstances in that country, too.  But at least we have a central government there with whom the United States can work to try to address that situation.  So we have provided them substantial resources to try to deal with the security situation there, to try to deal with economic development in those countries that is lacking.

So at least there’s something to work with, something to build on when you’re considering a place like El Salvador or Honduras.  That kind of platform doesn’t currently exist in Syria right now, and that’s one of the reasons -- this is sort of a creative way to make an argument that we’ve been making for a couple of years now, which is that the only way that we are really going to solve the problem of Syria is with a political solution where we see a political transition that has President Assad leaving power and somebody else coming into power in Syria that bears the legitimacy of the Syrian people.  And then the rest of the international community can work with that person and that person’s government to try to bring in the foundation that will start to rebuild that country and give people who have been threatened there a reason to feel like they can remain home and not be the victim of violence.


Q    Josh, can I just clarify something?  You said recently that no federal funds would be cut off to North Carolina while the legal process was ongoing over their transgender bill.  Is the agency review still going on?  And if so, is it possible that they could come out with at least a finding?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess I can’t speak to the work that’s going on at individual agencies.  Presumably, there might be some consideration of the impact of HB2 on the policies of the federal government.  So that consideration may be ongoing.  I think you’d probably have to check with each individual agency on this.  But what I can tell you is that no action will be taken to block funding as long as the Department of Justice litigation is moving through the courts. 

Q    So what were the agencies?  Education and --

MR. EARNEST:  So I think there were a number of agencies that have undertaken these kinds of reviews, but the most prominent ones have been Education, Transportation.  I believe HHS and the Department of Labor have also considered whether or not this law would have an impact on federally funded programs in North Carolina.  I think those are the most prominent ones, but we can take a look at this and see if we can get you some other suggestions of agencies to contact.

Q    Okay.  And just briefly, have you gotten any complaints or concerns or protests from veterans’ groups over the President’s stop in Hiroshima?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m always trepidacious about giving you this answer, because presumably, somebody in this country of 300 million people doesn’t support this decision.

But what I can tell you is that the overwhelming response that the administration has gotten has been either positive or at least sympathetic to what the President is trying to do.  And I think that’s true of even those who fought in World War II.  Again, this is the “Greatest Generation” of Americans.  That generation will go down in history for saving the United States and the world from tyranny.  They sacrificed greatly.  But I think even many of those veterans would acknowledge that the relationship between the United States and Japan has, before their eyes, been radically transformed.  And the United States and Japan are now able to cooperate on a wide range of issues, some of which have direct implications for U.S. national security.

And the ability of our nations to cooperate and to coordinate, and to strengthen our alliance, is good for the United States and bodes well for the future.  And I think there’s a large portion of even World War II veterans who may have risked their lives fighting Japanese soldiers in World War II who understand the potential that exists, and understands the argument that the President has made.

I will acknowledge I’m not sure if I’d feel the same way if I were them.  I think in their -- as they think about their service to the country, I think that demonstrates a profound depth of selflessness.  But I think that’s the kind of courage and patriotism that many of those Americans showed on the battlefield, and many of them are showing it now -- here we are, seven decades later -- even as they inhabit their role as citizen.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  You said earlier there’s a lot of passion in any primary process, but it seems to me that we’re a little bit beyond that.  A lot of Sanders supporters seem to believe that the primary process is rigged against him, and the integrity of the entire nominating process is being questioned.  The Nevada situation aside, broadly speaking, does the President believe the rules the Democratic Party has laid out from the beginning are being followed and have been fair?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t closely examined the rules.  I can say that the White House believes in the integrity of the Democratic National Committee and their commitment to the fair implementation of the rules. 

And I know that they’re working with state parties all across the country to implement their delegate selection plans to ensure that there is a fair and transparent process for choosing state delegates to the Democratic National Convention. 

The other thing, though, as you were asking, that occurs to me that I think sort of helps to put in rather stark relief the intensity of the campaign in 2008 and the impact that that could have had on the general election in 2008 -- there were not an insignificant number of Democrats in May of 2008 who were saying publicly that they were prepared to organize and raise money in support of the Republican presidential candidate.  There was a lot of questions about whether or not there would be an aggressive “Democrats for McCain” movement that would tip the balance of the election.

For all of the passion and ferocity and competitiveness of the Democratic primary in 2016, I haven’t read too many public accounts of that happening in this general election.

Q    Switching topics, a House committee passed a bill yesterday that would stop the District of Columbia from spending its own tax dollars without congressional approval.  If this were to pass the full House and the Senate, would the President veto it?

MR. EARNEST:  I have seen some of the reporting about this.  I know that there is a -- not coincidentally, I assume -- a prominent story in The Washington Post about this.  I don’t yet know that our team has had a chance to consider carefully the impact of the legislation.  It’s still working its way through the legislative process; obviously it’s just passed through the committee.  So we’ll take a look at that proposal and get back to you in terms of a position.


Q    Just to follow up on Pam Coulter’s question.  Will there be both United States and Japanese veterans attending the service at Hiroshima?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know if there will be U.S. veterans there, but as we get closer to locking down the details of the trip, we’ll keep you posted.


Q    I just have a follow-up on the D.C. question.  In 2003, the measure that the House Republicans were trying to block with the support of Speaker Ryan was endorsed by President Obama.  So that’s why it’s -- I’m wondering if the White House would have a reaction.

MR. EARNEST:  Let me dig into this and I’ll make sure that we follow up with you on this as well.  I’m just not familiar with the details of this particular bill.  There’s still an opportunity, obviously, to have an impact on what it would do as it works its way through the legislative process.  But let me see if I can get you a specific position on it.

Dave, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Since you came out to the podium, about a half hour ago, AP is reporting that Donald Trump has released his list of 11 potential Supreme Court nominees that he plans to vet.  I’m sorry you haven’t seen the list, but it includes Steven Colloton of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Allison Eid of the Colorado Supreme Court; Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd Circuit; and William Pryor of the 11th Circuit.  Obviously that’s not the whole list, but do any of those names sound familiar to you from your previous vettings?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t think that we’ve ever gotten into people that the --

Q    There’s always a first time.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, exactly, there is always a first time.  Let me make this observation.  I would be surprised if there are any Democrats who would describe any of those 11 individuals as a consensus nominee.  But the individual that President Obama has put forward is somebody that Republicans have described as a consensus nominee.  And I think that speaks to the wisdom of the Senate acting on the President’s nomination, and I think it speaks to the President’s commitment to fulfilling his constitutional responsibilities to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court in a way that is consistent with his desire to protect the Supreme Court from the kind of partisan wars that it’s been subjected to of late.

Q    I know the President -- you’ve said the President feels very strongly that Trump will not be the next President, but he is about to become the major party nominee.  Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of what you think a Supreme Court that’s populated by Trump nominees, what direction that would take the country?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll leave that to others to speculate what Mr. Trump would do as President of the United States.  My responsibility here is to forcefully advocate for what the President has done and what he is going to do over the eight months that he has remaining in office.  And there’s a lot we’ve got to get done.

Thanks, everybody.  We’ll see you tomorrow.

2:34 P.M. EDT