Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/6/2016
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:22 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday. Before I get to your questions, let me just -- I wanted to start today by acknowledging the death of NPR journalist, David Gilkey, and his colleague, Zabihullah Tamanna. Both of them were killed while reporting on the conflict in Afghanistan over the weekend.
I know there are a number of people in this room who worked with Mr. Gilkey and deeply respected his professionalism and his commitment to going anywhere, even dangerous places like Afghanistan, repeatedly, to get the story and to tell the story in photos and on video. His work is a testament to the courage and passion that is displayed by professional journalists around the world every day who put their lives at risk to tell the story of people whose voices would otherwise go unheard.
In short, we owe these professionals a debt of gratitude for the risks they take and the service that they provide. Mr. Gilkey was honored on many occasions by his colleagues for his work, including by the White House News Photographers Association as the best photographer of the year in 2010. The President had an opportunity to meet Mr. Gilkey when he greeted that year’s award-winning journalists in the Oval Office, like he does every year.
I know there are a lot of broken hearts in this room and over at NPR headquarters over the loss of your beloved colleagues. Please know that the thoughts and prayers of everyone here at the White House, including the President and the First Lady, are with those who are mourning the death of Mr. Gilkey and Mr. Tamanna today.
So after that sad news, Darlene, we can go to questions.
Q Thank you. A question about Congress -- lawmakers are coming back to town this week. They’ll be here for about six weeks or so before they go off to the political conventions and then the August recess. Besides money for Zika and the bill to help Puerto Rico with its debt crisis, what other legislation would the White House like to see Congress send over here before they break?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Darlene, obviously you noted two priorities. Puerto Rico and Zika are priorities because they are, at this point, emergency situations. The situation facing the 3.5 million Americans who live in Puerto Rico is increasingly dire. We talked about the impact of the government’s financial challenges on the school system and on the health care system in Puerto Rico, and those challenges become even greater and have more severe consequences as they worsen. And so it’s time for Congress to get that done.
I think the situation with Zika is similar. There was an opportunity that Congress had to provide funding, consistent with the request that our public health professionals have made, starting back to February. But Republicans in Congress have dragged their feet and have still not come forward with a funding plan consistent with what our public health professionals say is necessary to do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus.
So those are certainly two priorities, and so I’m glad that you noted them. Other priorities that come to mind that we believe are worthy of Congress’s attention in this period -- the first would be dealing with the opioids epidemic in this country. The President put forward a specific budget proposal -- again, back in February -- to dedicate an additional $1 billion in funding to expand treatment options for people in communities all across the country who are dealing with opioid addiction. Too many innocent lives have been lost as a result of this significant problem. And for years this has been treated as a law enforcement problem and it certainly has to do with our criminal justice system, but there are public health questions that are raised here, too, and we could certainly have an impact on this epidemic if more treatment options were available to people who are dealing with this addiction. That would certainly start by congressional funding for treatment centers that would expand the number of personnel and the number of beds that are available to treat people with significant addiction challenges.
Obviously we continue to be concerned about the Republicans in the Senate refusing to give a hearing and a vote to the President’s Supreme Court nominee. We’d obviously like to see Republicans get that done. If we were following along the timeline for previous Supreme Court nominees to be considered and confirmed by the Senate, Chief Judge Garland would have been confirmed months ago. But the fact is, here we are in June, and the President’s nominee has not even gotten a hearing. And, again, this is evidence of Republicans failing to do their job. It has consequences for our justice system. It certainly has consequences for the Supreme Court. And there’s ample time for the Senate to give him a hearing and a vote before they go on their six or seven-week-long summer vacation. The American people and our justice system would certainly benefit from that.
There are a whole host of other things that could certainly fall in this category. Things like making progress on criminal justice reform is something that we would like to see before the Congress leaves for the summer. That certainly is not an exhaustive list, but I think that gives you a good idea of what our priorities are.
Q With the Democratic primaries about to wrap up, what guidance do you have for us on when we can expect the President to make an endorsement?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have any news to make on the timing of a presidential endorsement at this point. Those of you who traveled with the President to Florida over the weekend heard him discuss at fundraisers in South Florida on Friday night his approach to this issue. And his view continues to be that the Democratic Party and the Democratic candidates are in broad agreement about what priorities are worth fighting for. And the commitment to a set of values -- particularly around fairness and justice and equality and expanding economic opportunity for everybody -- those are things that Democrats all across the country agree on. And those are the values and priorities that the two Democratic candidates for President have been campaigning on.
And a campaign platform that is built on those priorities has won both candidates strong support all across the country. It’s a really good thing for our party, and I think it augers well for Democratic prospects in the general election. But we’re not there yet. There are still votes that have to be cast in both New Jersey and California, and the President has made a decision that he wants to give those voters an opportunity to make their voice heard before he weighs in.
Q Finally, will the President attend the funeral on Friday for Muhammad Ali? And if he does not go, who will the White House send to represent him?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’re still taking a look at the plans that are being made for Muhammad Ali’s funeral. Many of you saw the statement that was issued by the White House on Friday -- or on Saturday, and obviously the President has strong feelings about Muhammad Ali and what is so unique about him and the unique message that he delivers about what our country is all about. So obviously the President and the First Family are mourning his loss, but I don’t have any updates for you on the President’s schedule. But we’ll keep you posted on that.
Q Just briefly on Judge Garland again, are there any meetings scheduled with Republicans this week or in coming weeks?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an update on Chief Judge Garland’s meeting schedule. I know that he does have a meeting with Senator Cantwell on the books for later this week. But we can get you some more details about that.
Obviously the case that we have made to individual senators is that, traditionally, private meetings have just been the prelude to public hearings that are convened by the Judiciary Committee. And there are 16 Republican senators who have already met with Chief Judge Garland. Many of those Republicans walked away from that meeting saying quite good things about Chief Judge Garland. Senator Portman called him “an impressive guy.” Senator Toomey called him “very, very smart, very, very knowledgeable.” Senator Graham called him “well qualified.”
So our view is that it’s pretty hard for Republican senators to justify having a private conversation with Chief Judge Garland -- by all accounts having those conversations go well -- but yet refuse to convene a public hearing. After all, it is those Republican senators who have said that American voters should have a role in the process. Well, what better way could the American people have a role in the process than to give the American people the opportunity to hear directly from Chief Judge Garland himself, let him make the case for why he has the judgment and the experience to serve with distinction on the Supreme Court.
We certainly believe that he would do that if given the opportunity, to participate in a public hearing. And I suspect that’s precisely why Republicans won’t give it to him. And that’s rather unfortunate. It is certainly inconsistent with, I think, widespread notions of fairness, and it certainly is inconsistent with the constitutional responsibilities that are vested in the United States Senate.
Q There were 19 Republicans that were saying they would want to meet with him, and he’s met with 16. Do you see the three coming together?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have the updates on the schedule, but we certainly have been in touch with their offices to try to schedule something.
Q And just moving to Fallujah. Since Friday, some of the leaders of the Iran-backed militias have bickered with the Iraq military. They want to see the Fallujah fight go faster, and they don’t like the fact that the Iraq military is moving up equipment to Mosul, the next fight. Does the White House have any concern about this bickering?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Tim, we’ve made clear from the beginning that the United States and our coalition partners are prepared to be supportive of those Iraqi forces that are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government. And those are forces that are committed to minimizing civilian casualties and protecting the people of Fallujah who have suffered so much under ISIL’s occupation.
These are basic humanitarian principles that they are committed to observe. And we certainly noted the statements from Iraqi political and religious leaders demonstrating their commitment to those principles.
So, look, there’s not much that I have to say about the Shia militias and their preferences. Obviously, the organization that we’re cooperating with and advising and assisting is the Iraqi central government and the forces that are operating under their command and control.
Q One more on Fallujah. If the Islamic State is pushed out, to what extent is the White House concerned about the aftermath and sectarian violence ensuing after that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we obviously are concerned about the current humanitarian situation inside of Fallujah. There are all kinds of heinous reports about the way that ISIL is treating the citizens of that city. There are reports that some of the citizens are being used as human shields, and in some cases, even worse.
So that's the point of this operation in the first place, is to try to drive ISIL out of the city. We do believe it is very important that once Fallujah is liberated, that the forces that succeeded in liberating the city abide by basic humanitarian standards. We certainly would not tolerate using this conflict against ISIL as an opportunity to exacerbate sectarian tensions in that region of the world. And we certainly would not condone using this conflict as cover to inflame sectarian conflict. That's why it's important that these security forces are operating under the command and control of the Iraqi central government because the Iraqi central government has demonstrated a commitment to pursuing an inclusive agenda that represents the diversity of Iraq’s population.
So this is certainly something that we're mindful of. But as I noted in my answer to your previous question, we welcome the statements from Iraqi political and religious leaders about the need to conduct this operation in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and protects the people of Fallujah. And that certainly is what we would expect those forces to do.
Q Thanks, Josh. A couple on the announcement on the President’s travel to Poland and Spain. There’s a reference in the part about Poland about NATO providing stability in regions other than the North Atlantic region. Obviously NATO invoked Article 5 for Afghanistan. Are there other parts of the world that you think NATO can play a bigger role?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the statement was referencing NATO’s role in Afghanistan, and that's the reason it was worded the way that it was. We obviously welcome the substantial contributions that our NATO partners have made to supporting the Afghan government in Afghanistan. And that kind of ongoing support will be critical to Afghanistan and the international community of achieving our objectives in that country.
Q And on a considerably lighter note, the Spanish leg of the visit, the President’s timetable there overlaps with part of the San Fermin Festival, which includes the running of the bulls. (Laughter.) Guess where I'm going with this.
MR. EARNEST: Someone did their homework today. (Laughter.)
Q He’s going to miss the big one, but there are other runnings. Any interest in watching the spectacle? Would he go to Pamplona? Would he be interested in any of that?
MR. EARNEST: I suspect he probably is interested in that. I've not spoken to him about it. But I don't know whether or not the President’s itinerary will allow for witnessing that rather interesting event.
MR. EARNEST: All right, Justin -- birthday boy. Happy birthday.
Q Thank you, Josh. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: That seemed somewhat less than genuine, Justin. (Laughter.)
Q At least, like, now when I know nothing it's not because of my age. (Laughter.) It's just on me. (Laughter.) I wanted to go back and ask you about it last week, but Donald Trump has intensified some of his comments about federal judges, and I'm wondering if you think those comments are racist.
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, I know that there’s been plenty of commentary on the presumptive Republican nominee’s comments. And the presumptive Republican nominee certainly does not seem to strain in prompting people to offer an opinion about his comments. But I'm going to resist the urge to do that, but let me make one observation about that.
Some who have weighed in with their opinion are Republicans who serve in the United States Senate, and they’ve had some rather pointed things to say about the impact that his comments could have on our justice system in this country. I guess I would just point out that it's a little ironic for Republicans in the Senate who say they have concerns about the Republican presidential nominee’s views as it relates to judges to also say that they’re not going to confirm any judges to preserve the ability of the Republican presidential nominee to potentially make those appointments.
That certainly is true at the Supreme Court level, and it is additional evidence of the uncomfortable position that Republicans have tried to adopt here when it comes to not doing their job on the Supreme Court -- on considering the President’s Supreme Court nominee. But, look, this applies to other federal judges as well. There are a variety of very well-qualified Obama nominees to judges in both at the appellate level and at the district level who would fill vacancies on courts that have declared judicial emergencies. So this is not just the President deciding willy-nilly that he wants to fill judicial vacancies. In some cases, you have judges in these districts and in these circuits basically saying, we need help in order to manage the caseload and in order to prevent the kind of backlog that would potentially delay justice. But yet, Republicans, even when faced with well-qualified nominees, some of whom have earned the support of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, blocking the nominees is indefensible.
Now, the truth is I think that position would be indefensible even if they hadn't already stated their own concerns about the ability of the Republican presidential nominee to discuss maturely our system of justice.
Q I think part of the reason I ask is I remember a few months ago during some of the heat of the Republican nomination contest, you guys went out of your way to say that the comments by some of the Republican nominees, if not denounced by Republican lawmakers, should kind of be a strike against them in their campaigns. And so at a point where there have been some sort of high-profile endorsements but then criticism from Republican senators, like you mentioned, do you guys think that, one, this is an issue that voters should be paying attention to, what Donald Trump has said about judges? And two, do you think Republican leaders should maybe withdraw their endorsements of Donald Trump over this issue?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say it this way. I'm not surprised that there are many Republicans, in Congress at least who have chosen to overlook these controversial comments and continue to support the presumptive Republican nominee. Those are the same Republicans who elected a man who describes himself as “David Duke without the baggage” to a leadership position in the House of Representatives. These are the same Republicans, both in Congress and in legislative bodies across the country, who have, in some cases, admitted openly that they support voting restrictions in a way that would disadvantage minority voters and enhance the prospects of Republican candidates.
So that's why I guess I find the reluctance of current Republican officeholders disavowing their endorsement totally unsurprising. This is not an exception, this is the rule. And it's an unfortunate one. And, yes, I do suspect that it's one that people across the country will notice.
Q An American sailor was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and causing a crash in Okinawa over the weekend. This is obviously on the heels of the charges that were brought against an American contractor and a real intense meeting between Prime Minister Abe and President Obama. I'm wondering if the President or anybody at the White House has been in contact with the Japanese government about this, and secondly, what it says to the President’s pledge to sort of reevaluate how the base in Okinawa has been operating.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Justin, we are aware that on June 4th, a vehicle driven by a U.S. Navy sailor stationed in Okinawa was involved in a three-car accident in which some people sustained injuries. The United States deeply regrets this accident took place, and our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and their families.
The United States is fully cooperating with Japanese officials on this investigation, and the United States will continue to do all we can to ensure that DOD personnel serving in Japan conduct themselves with the highest standards.
I'd refer you to the Department of Defense for more recent conversations that may have taken place between military officials and their Japanese counterparts. I did make note of the announcement by Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, who is the highest-ranking U.S. military official in Okinawa, in which he noted American solidarity with the Okinawan people. And I know that there were some changes to the rules and regulations in Okinawa to try to address this situation. These are referred to in the military as modified liberty regulations for 30 days that would essentially outlaw the consumption of alcohol by servicemembers for the next 30 days.
Again, that is a decision that is made by military leaders in Okinawa who are seeking to address what is understandably a very sensitive situation in the eyes of the Japanese people.
Q Just to follow up on the Trump question, when you were asked about the comments he’s made about the judge, you referred to what Republicans have been saying about it. What is the White House, the President’s attitude about these? Why wouldn’t you answer that directly?
MR. EARNEST: There are, as I struggle to try to convey here -- the presumptive Republican nominee often says things that are viewed as controversial or prompt a public response. And, look, I’m just not going to respond to every potentially controversial thing that he may have to say.
But what I think is relevant is to note the reaction of other Republicans. And I think that the people will take a measure of that party and that party’s office holders based on how they respond to the situation.
Q Is there some line that he has to cross before you -- how do you determine that --
MR. EARNEST: I will cop to the fact that it’s relatively arbitrary.
Q Speaking of lines, what is the line that the President endorses?
MR. EARNEST: I think that this is rooted largely in his own judgment. And he discussed at the town hall that he participated in in Elkhart his view that Democratic voters across the country should have an opportunity to decide, and that after the Democratic voters in New Jersey and California weigh in tomorrow, we may have a better sense of where the race is headed. But until then, the President himself made a decision to withhold judgment.
Now, the other thing I would point out is we’ve also seen Senator Sanders and his campaign indicate that they appreciate the President going to great lengths to try to be fair; that they’ve acknowledged that Secretary Clinton is somebody that is a friend of President Obama, somebody that served for four years with distinction in the Obama administration. And we’ve seen from Sanders officials that they appreciate the President’s commitment to fairness and to allowing Democratic voters to determine the outcome here.
Q Is getting the majority of superdelegates and pledged delegates clinching the nomination?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think, again, Democratic officials and the candidates themselves will have to make their own decision about which metric they’re going to follow. I think many of your news organizations are considering this same question.
Q What is the White House considering?
MR. EARNEST: And I think we’ll continue to watch the situation. We’re going to give Democratic voters the opportunity to weigh in. But certainly, somebody who claims a majority of the pledged and superdelegates has a strong case to make.
Q How concerned is the President about the possibility of a contested convention, or if this going on for weeks to come? How damaging could that be? Or perhaps as you view the previous months, as a robust process. Is that a positive or a negative?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think it depends on how this process plays out, so it’s hard to reach a conclusion in the abstract. What I can say is --
Q Well, it’s pretty -- this is not abstract. I mean, this is pretty clear in terms of what --
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s not really clear because we don’t know whether or not this is going to happen or not. And what kind of support each candidate has taken to the convention and how they conduct themselves in the weeks leading up to the convention and then once they arrive in Philadelphia -- I think all of that is hard to determine. Those kinds of details matter.
But let me just say, the President made clear at that fundraiser in South Florida on Friday that the stakes in this election are really high. And the Democratic Party cannot afford to take lightly the risk that is posed by the potential of electing the presumptive Republican nominee.
So the President intends, certainly through the fall, if not earlier, to engage in this campaign and to engage in this debate about the future of our country. And that’s an opportunity that the President relishes.
I would also point out that this actually puts the President in a relatively unique place in our history. It’s been at least a generation, if not longer, since you had a two-term President in his final year in office in demand by party leaders, including by the party nominee, on the campaign trail.
And President Obama does have a strong track record and a deep reservoir of support all across the country -- and not just among Democrats -- to make a strong case that would benefit Democrats, up and down the ballot. And I would anticipate that the President will spend a lot of time in the fall making a strong case, not just on behalf of the Democratic presidential candidate, but also on behalf of Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
Q All of which leads to the obvious question of, why wait? Why, as he said the other day, something about -- it just seems like political niceties that may, in fact, some would think, jeopardize the Democrats’ chance in November. Given his popularity, given his obvious determination and zeal to get out there and do it, I mean, why are we -- why are you just kind of -- why is he dancing around this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, because the President does believe that, I would acknowledge. And I think the Sanders campaign would agree that the President has worked hard and gone to great lengths to try to be fair. And he certainly has a lot of respect for both candidates. He’s met privately with both candidates in the middle of this campaign. But, look, the President does have a long, personal relationship with Secretary Clinton. She served as his Secretary of State for more than four years, for goodness sake.
So the President has gone to great lengths to try to be hands off to give Democratic voters the opportunity to make a decision about who should represent our party in the general election. Now, I think the thing that’s also true, Ron, is that the President has, on a couple of occasions, made a pretty forceful argument in support of Democratic candidates, even though we don’t know who the Democratic nominee is going to be. And he did that most recently in his speech in Elkhart, where he made a compelling case about the wisdom of pursuing the priorities that both Democratic presidential candidates are advocating on the campaign trail.
So it’s not as if the President has not weighed in forcefully in support of Democrats. It’s true he has not weighed in forcefully in support of one Democrat in the presidential race, but he certainly has been an ardent and effective advocate for Democratic values and Democratic priorities, even in the context of a contested nomination fight.
Q On the issue of fairness to Senator Sanders, would President Obama be inclined to endorse Hillary Clinton if Bernie Sanders did not drop out between tomorrow’s primaries and the convention?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, at this point, we’ll hold on the hypotheticals. And the President was clear -- again, in answering this question to a voter in Elkhart, or a citizen in Elkhart -- I don’t know if that person was voting or not -- but the President was pretty clear that once the voters in New Jersey and California have an opportunity to express their preference about who should represent the Democratic Party in the general election, then we may be in a position where we have a much greater sense of what the outcome is likely to be. But until then, we’ll wait another 48 hours here and see how this plays out before we get too deep into the hypotheticals.
Q Has the White House been in touch with the Clinton campaign about an announcement or campaigning?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the White House has been in touch with both campaigns throughout this nomination fight. And, look, the President has had individual conversations with both candidates throughout this nomination fight. Both candidates have been here at the White House, meeting privately with President Obama over the course of the last nine months or so. So we’ve maintained an open line of communication with both campaigns and with both candidates, and I would expect that to continue.
Q Lastly, why does President Obama believe that running scared in the fall campaign is a good strategy?
MR. EARNEST: Because the context here is the President believes that it’s important not to take the Republican Party’s decision to nominate a controversial figure lightly. Many of your news organizations have conducted polls -- some of which, certainly not all of which, but some of which indicate that either Democratic candidate would be a very heavy favorite in the general election. And the President, as he’s said on a number of occasions, is feeling quite good about Democratic prospects in the fall, but he thinks it’s really important for Democrats to be motivated and to not take lightly the prospect of a general election contest between the Democratic nominee and the Republican nominee.
Q Despite what the polls say, this is something that’s worth fighting for. And the President certainly intends to devote a lot of time and energy to this debate, and he expects that people across the country will do the same thing, even if some polls indicate that the race is not likely to be particularly close.
Q Listening to the Democratic fundraiser speech on Friday evening, I got the feeling -- or reading the notes on it -- the transcript -- I got the feeling that if it weren’t for the Constitution and it weren’t for Michelle Obama, he would love to be running. (Laughter.) Do you get that feeling talking to him as well?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me acknowledge that both of those sayings are significant obstacles. (Laughter.)
Q He said Michelle was even more important.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, he did. He did. But, look, there is no denying that the President relishes the opportunity that he has to spend time traveling across the country making a forceful case for the values that he’s dedicated his career to fighting for. And I think that will be evident -- all of you will have an opportunity to cover the President when he’s out making this argument in the fall.
And there’s a reason that many Democrats are hopeful that President Obama will be quite visible in this campaign. They’re hopeful because he’s good at making a case. He’s good at making the case for the kinds of values that Democrats care about. He’s good at making the case for a foreign policy that is smart about deploying our force and our influence around the world to advance our interests. The President is good at making a case about an economic strategy that’s focused on expanding economic opportunity for everybody in America, particularly the middle class. He’s good at making a forceful case for why it’s so critically important for us to educate and upskill the next generation of American workers to compete in a 21st century economy. He’s good at making a case for an America that’s more just, that fights for equality and fairness. And he’s good at making the case for an America that’s inclusive.
Q He made it sound like he’d really like to be running.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I make it sound like the President is really looking forward to being actively engaged in this campaign. And, look, he’s good at it. This is a strength of his. And the President is looking forward to working closely with, again, not just the Democratic nominee for President, but for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
And look, the stakes in this election are high. And I think that’s the other thing that motivates the President, Mark, is that it’s not -- this isn’t just a hobby, this is his life’s work. This is his passion. And it’s something that he feels strongly about. He’s got a deep conviction about how important these issues are. He’s dedicated his life to fighting for them. And he understands that who the next President is will have a significant impact on the trajectory of that fight.
And so the President isn’t just looking forward to having some fun on the campaign trail, he’s also looking forward to making an argument and making a case, because he understands the stakes are quite high.
Q He’s spoiling for a fight.
MR. EARNEST: He certainly is not going to shrink from it, I’ll tell you that.
Q So we heard the President say that he has plenty of time to throw his support behind the nominee, but he also talked about running scared. And you cited these poll numbers that show a wider lead, but they were much, much tighter a short time ago. And when you look at the President’s campaign, in May, showed Romney beating him. So how much store are you putting into poll numbers like that? And does the “plenty of time” have something to do with the fact that he thinks it’s not going to be close?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t put much stock in the poll numbers; I don’t think the President does, either. And that’s why he intends to be strongly supportive of what he expects will be a vigorous debate and a vigorous campaign.
But look, the reason that the President says that he’s got plenty of time is informed by his own experience with this process. You’ll recall back in 2008,when he was competing against then-Senator Clinton, that there was a much-longer-than-expected Democratic nomination contest, and there were concerns that were understandably expressed by people inside the Democratic Party and out about the impact that that longer-than-expected nomination contest would have on the prospects of the eventual party nominee.
The truth is -- and Senator Obama may not have said this at the time, but President Obama would tell you that that longer-than-expected campaign made him a better candidate, and it made him better on the stump. It made him better on the debate stage. And it gave his campaign the opportunity to build an organizational infrastructure coast to coast. And it put states in play in that presidential election that previously hadn’t been -- states like Indiana and North Carolina and even Virginia at the time. People forget that that was not a state that was regularly referred to as a battleground state. It was sort of viewed as on the margins, but yet that’s a state that President Obama won twice.
So the fact that the nomination process has gone on a little longer than expected is not necessarily a bad thing for the Democratic Party, but the point that the President is making is that once that primary contest comes to an end, once there is a nominee, it’s important for all Democrats to be all in in this election, because the stakes are quite high.
Q So if he feels that there is enough risk there -- and there have been indications that this could be close, even recently -- for him to say a phrase like “running scared,” isn’t there a sense that, had he thrown his support behind someone earlier that maybe those numbers could have been wider earlier, maybe there could have been more momentum earlier on the other side? What do you think?
MR. EARNEST: I think it’s certainly easy to armchair-quarterback all of this. But, look, I think the President is quite proud of the way this nomination process has played out on the Democratic side. It’s been a vigorous campaign. There’s been a robust debate. There’s been an opportunity for Democrats all across the country to understand exactly what our party’s candidates are fighting for.
And, look, I don’t think there are many Republicans who would agree with me. Well, let me say it this way: I don’t think many Republicans would say the same thing about the contest on their side of the aisle. What I would say about Democrats is that this contest has motivated and engaged Democrats all across the country around a core set of values that just about every Democrat can strongly support. And it will be -- as you allude to, it will be important for our party to be united around those values in a general election, but the fact that those are values that Democratic voters have in common I think will greatly enhance the President’s ability and the eventual Democratic nominee’s ability to unite the party around those values, and wage a vigorous general election campaign in states all across the country.
Q So these votes that you say the President is waiting for are going to happen on Tuesday. Is there any reason why he would not endorse Hillary Clinton on Wednesday?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, without knowing the outcome of those contests, I wouldn’t hazard a guess.
Q But if the outcome is the opposite, then are you saying he would not endorse Hillary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: What I'm saying is mostly that I don’t have any news to make about the timing of a presidential endorsement. But I guess what I would say is the same thing that the President said last week, which is that we are likely to know a whole lot more about how this contest concludes once those votes are cast. But until then, we'll wait and see.
Q At the risk of being annoying, maybe I could ask it this way then: Why would he not endorse somebody on Wednesday?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know. Maybe he will. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks so much. You're not putting yourself out of misery here. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: It's all right. It's what I signed up for.
Q So given the Tuesday primaries, can you at least say if it is too early and people are getting ahead of themselves in anticipating an endorsement this week?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, again, I think the President I think probably said this best last week when he said we're likely to know more about how this nomination process ends this week, based on the fact that you have two states with a whole lot of Democrats in them who are casting votes this week. So I don’t have any news to make in terms of the timing of an endorsement, but we're going to learn more and we'll let those voters make their voice heard before we make any additional decisions about whether or not the President should weigh in.
Q That sounds like you're leaving the door open then.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President opened the door when he said last week that we would know more about the potential outcome here.
Q It's the start of Ramadan. In the statement that the White House put out there was comment in there that did seem very political given that there really is no one talking about a ban on Muslims other than the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump -- or at least there's no traction behind that kind of policy. Why did the White House feel that was necessary to put that political statement in something that's the start of a religious holiday?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I actually would describe it as a value statement because I think it is an American value that we do not impose a religious test on people who are seeking to enter the United States. And I would also point out that there's more than one Republican -- high-profile Republican who has indicated support for this very unwise, ill-advised policy. So I think a clear articulation of American values when it comes to freedom of religion is an entirely appropriate statement to make at the beginning of a religious holiday that is observed by millions of American Muslims.
Q Do you fear you're giving what some might dismiss as rhetoric, albeit damaging and perhaps dangerous rhetoric, some would say credence as a potential policy shift in the United States by putting it in a statement like that? I mean, it's one thing for a few Republicans to voice support. But in terms of actual traction as a change in a policy, we haven’t seen that.
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, this has been a policy proposal that has been hotly debated for months now, dating back to at least November. So I don’t think there is much risk of this issue getting further attention because of its inclusion in this presidential statement. In fact, I think the White House and the President felt it was important to make an affirmative declaration about core American values, and not discriminating against people because of the way that they worship God. That's an important value and one that's worth giving voice to, and I think it's entirely appropriate to talk about the importance of freedom of religion and protecting religious liberty when you're marking the beginning of a religious holiday that's observed by millions of American Muslims.
Q Is this kind of value statement, as you've described it, this sort of thing we're going to hear from the President when he doe hit the campaign trail? I mean, is that how you and the President is viewing the necessity of his involvement -- that this is about not only his own legacy, but the legacy of U.S. values and policy here? It's not so much about the candidates as it is about the fate of those values as he's seeing himself defending?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, let me also hasten to add here that there are many, many well-known, prominent Republicans and national security experts of undeclared political persuasion who would strongly agree with the value statement that was included in the Ramadan statement. So I think that merits mentioning as well.
Look, I think the stakes in this election are quite high because there are a number of important issues that hang in the balance. The President went to Elkhart last week and talked about the economic choices that the next President will have to make. The President has certainly made the economic decision-making and a question of those economic priorities a top priority since he's been in office. And the next President will have some important decisions to make about our economy. But look, there are a whole host of other issues that are important, too. Some of them relate to foreign policy and even relate to protecting core American values, like freedom of the press and an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and yes, religious liberty.
Q Is the White House getting a sense that the candidates are as enthusiastic as the President is about the campaign trail? I mean, do you have a full dance card requesting things and appearances so far? Or is this just an anticipation of what you think --
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think you'd have to go ask them.
Q You have not gotten those requests so far?
MR. EARNEST: I'm saying that I haven’t personally talked to many candidates for office, but --
Q But you said that you have spoken with the campaigns -- the White House has.
MR. EARNEST: The White House has certainly been in touch with both presidential candidates and certainly campaigns beyond that. And yes, I would say as a general matter that there is interest on the part of Democratic candidates for the President being out on the campaign trail, aggressively making a case in support of the kinds of priorities that Democratic candidates across the country have been fighting for.
Q A quick question on the schedule. It sounded like you weren’t ruling out an attendance at some level at the Muhammad Ali funeral or eulogy on Friday. I'm pretty sure there's also a significant date in the Obama household on Friday. Do you see those two things conflicting?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we've got some work to do on the schedule. But as we get the schedule locked down, we'll let you know.
Q But it is possible.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know exactly timeframe for both events, but as we get updates on the schedule we'll be sure to let you know.
Q There is a new book coming out on Mrs. Clinton by a former Secret Service officer who was on protective detail during her time as First Lady here at the White House. It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be flattering. Is there a feeling within the administration about agents writing about their time in protective detail of the First Family, flattering or unflattering?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I haven’t read much of the publicity about this particular book. And I think that the Secret Service obviously has some standards that they maintain, particularly as it relates to protecting details about their policies and procedures. But, look, I think I’d reserve judgment about the wisdom of writing a book from such a perspective until I know more about the book.
Q Is it appropriate, do you think?
MR. EARNEST: Look, again, from here, I can’t -- I wouldn’t weigh in on whether -- on the propriety of doing something like that.
Q I want to ask you as well about something you referred to earlier about judicial appointments. I think you said the President doesn’t willy-nilly decide where he’s going to fill these gaps. You mentioned the judicial emergencies, which exist still across the country, dozens of them. They did years ago as well when the President decided to fill three positions on the D.C. Circuit. At that time, there were bipartisan lawmakers, there were judges on the court who had said their workload was such that they didn’t need additional judges. That, of course, led to the nuclear option being issued by --
MR. EARNEST: Deployed.
Q -- yeah, deployed by then-Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. So how does that square with your statement about choosing judicial priorities?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, I think filling vacancies on the second-highest court in the land I think is a priority that everybody would acknowledge is important. But, look, what is true is that there are highly qualified judicial nominees with strong bipartisan support that have been put forward by this President that are being blocked by Republicans in the Senate solely because these individuals were nominated by a Democratic President. That is entirely inconsistent with the basic responsibility of the United States Senate. It’s entirely inconsistent with generally accepted notions of fairness. And it is entirely inconsistent with ensuring that we protect our independent judiciary from overt partisan influence; that if we start describing judges as Democratic judges or Republican judges, that undermines the notion that the outcome is determined solely by an impartial consideration of the law.
And, look, the President has also acknowledged that there’s no one party that bears exclusive responsibility for politicizing this process. But what is also beyond dispute is that Republicans have escalated this dispute when it comes to the Supreme Court and when it comes to the nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland. Even Senator Lindsey Graham has acknowledged that what Republicans are doing right now is unprecedented. And I don’t think he meant it in a positive way.
Q Why not focus where there are these dozens of judicial emergencies? If you’re going to say that is the crisis, that’s the issue that has to be handled, then why focus, as you did on the D.C. Circuit or other courts, where that obviously has shifted the balance, many would argue, of that court and certainly the way that it has decided things with regard to this administration?
MR. EARNEST: Listen, I think Republicans would be hard-pressed to make the case that somehow filling vacancies on the second-highest court in the land is not important. And the fact is, the President did put forward highly qualified nominees for that job, and those were individuals who, to this day, serve this country with distinction on the second-highest court in the land. What is also true is that there are courts that have judicial emergencies in place -- places where a vacancy in a judge’s chambers is having an impact on the ability of the American people to get justice. And the President is deeply concerned about that, and the President has appointed well-qualified individuals with bipartisan support to fill those vacancies. But Mitch McConnell and Republicans in the United States Senate have blocked those appointees unfairly. And that’s wrong, and it is inconsistent with the constitutional responsibility of the United States Senate. And the President is going to continue to make a strong case that the Senate should act on those nominees, including his nominee in the Supreme Court.
Q Is it accurate to say there was no judicial emergency in the D.C. Circuit at that time?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll be honest with you -- I don’t know the answer to that. We could go and take a look at it. You said there wasn’t, and I guess what I’m saying is that whether there is a judicial emergency on the D.C. Circuit or not, I think you’d be hard-pressed to make the case that filling a vacancy on the second-highest court in the land is somehow something that shouldn’t be a priority. The President certainly thinks that it should be.
Q Just a quick question on tomorrow’s visit -- the Indian Prime Minister visit. Is it fair to say that the President’s sort of -- the main deliverable the President is hoping for is a request to get India to quickly ratify the climate change agreement? Is that sort of the main thing that he’d like, policy-wise, to come away from? And if not, what are the other things that the President is hoping for out of the visit tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have anything to say about potential deliverables yet. We may have more on this tomorrow, obviously. I can tell you that there are a couple of things that the President is interested in discussing with Prime Minister Modi tomorrow. The first is, obviously, the important role that India played in completing an international climate change agreement. We discussed back in December, in Paris, that India was going to play an important role in making important commitments to this agreement that would ensure that the world came together to confront this challenge. And President Obama had an opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Modi and the rest of the Indian delegation to those negotiations to talk over what role India could play and what commitments India could make.
Obviously, this is a situation where Prime Minister Modi demonstrated a lot of leadership, even in the face of a difficult political climate back home. He committed his country to standards that will be good for the Indian population, will be good for the Indian people, but more importantly will be -- or just as importantly will be good for the rest of the world, too.
So obviously the President has a lot of respect for the way that Prime Minister Modi has handled this issue, and I would anticipate that they’ll have a discussion about what more the United States and India can do to advance the climate agenda. I would expect the United States and India to discuss the economic ties between our two countries. The economic relationship between the United States and India is an important one, and it is a relationship that benefits both our citizens. And so I would anticipate a discussion of some economic issues.
There are obviously some important national security issues as well. And we have seen, in recent years, greater and closer coordination between U.S. national security officials and Indian national security officials. And the President is certainly interested in trying to deepen and strengthen those ties because it would enhance the national security of both our countries.
So they’ve got a pretty full agenda. I recognize that I didn’t discuss it in very much detail, but we’ll have an opportunity to do that tomorrow.
Q Just on the first thing, on the climate thing. Is it fair to say that the President is pushing the Prime Minister to have his country ratify the climate change agreement by the end of the year? Because that’s the next step, right? I mean, you can talk about the leadership that India provided in getting the agreement into place, but the next step is getting all these countries to ratify it so that then it goes into force. And there's, I think, 55 percent of the country or something have to do that. So is that one of the things that he’s going to try to convince -- work hard during this visit to get India to do it?
MR. EARNEST: What I don't know is I don't know the process that India has to go through in order to ratify the agreement. So I don't know whether or not the President will be making that specific request. We can discuss that tomorrow. But the role that India has played thus far in helping the international community come to an agreement has been significant, and we obviously would expect India, moving forward, to continue to play an important role in the international community in making progress even beyond the agreement that was signed -- that was reached back in December.
Q And I should probably say Donald Trump’s name just in the question -- (laughter) -- because that's one of the required --
MR. EARNEST: Don't give into the peer pressure. (Laughter.)
All right, let’s move around a little bit.
Q You were talking about how good the President is at campaigning. And last week he had a moment when he was trying to take on Donald Trump, and he sort of paused or lost his train of thought. I don't know if you remember the moment, but --
MR. EARNEST: I don't. Can you be more specific?
Q At one point, he appeared to go off-script, and there were a lot of news outlets that suggested that Donald Trump was making the President speechless.
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t see any of those accounts.
Q You didn’t --
MR. EARNEST: No.
Q Thank you, Josh. Two very brief questions on different areas. First, when the President was at the G7 Summit, he said that the agreement on Greece that was made at the time resolved the Greek debt issue for a reasonable amount of time. Given the fact that that country has debt-to-GDP of 180 percent, what is the timeframe he was referring to? And what needs to be done to have a permanent solution to the Greek crisis?
MR. EARNEST: Well, John, I think what the President was alluding to is just the fact that Greece and the other members of the EU have made important progress in both offering up needed support to the Greek government and to the Greek people as they confront some significant fiscal and economic challenges in their country. And what we've seen also from the Greek government is a genuine commitment to implementing some key economic and fiscal reforms that would put Greece back on a path to sustainable debt load.
So this is not a problem that's going to get solved overnight, and there have been various points along the way over the last six years or so where it has looked as if the relationship between Greece and the EU might go down the wrong path. I think the President was simply observing that as the Greek government continues to successfully implement these reforms, and as the EU continues to keep its commitment to supporting the Greek government, that things seem to be moving in the right direction. And, look, the President I think also was offering some credit to leaders across the EU and in Greece for making some decisions that weren’t terribly popular politically, but were critical to addressing this significant challenge that would have consequences for the global economy.
So there’s been a lot of important progress that's been made, and the President is certainly pleased with the current trajectory. But there are important decisions that lie ahead, and the United States will be there to strongly support our allies and partners in Europe as they confront these significant challenges.
Q Here on the domestic front, tomorrow California is going to have a primary, and California Democrats are poised for an unprecedented situation. All polls indicate that under California’s unique system, the two top vote-getters who will square off in November will both be Democrats, both of whom the President knows very well -- Attorney General Harris and Congresswoman Sanchez. How does he make a decision who to support and campaign for in the fall when there’s two members of his own party competing?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think we'll wait and see what the results are before we contemplate how the President will confront that rather unique situation.
Q Can I ask you Wednesday morning?
MR. EARNEST: You can certainly try. (Laughter.)
Q Josh, ABC reported over the weekend that the White House scratched a line from a briefing transcript because reportedly you said it was inaudible. I was in that briefing, and I recall the question and it seemed pretty audible to me. The video also makes it pretty clear. I hear what was being said. Is the White House going to restore that line?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Byron, I think what was true at the time is that there was a little cross-talk. And fortunately, your conscientious colleagues at ABC News, recognizing the discrepancy, asked me about it the next day, and I had the opportunity to explain exactly what had occurred, and that's what I did.
Q You had two instances, both the White House and the State Department scratching things from the public record. I understand you're acknowledging that there was some cross-talk in the White House situation. But both have been about the Iran deal.
MR. EARNEST: Byron, I don't think it's fair for you to say that they were scratched. I don't think that's an accurate --
Q Wasn’t transcribed. In the State Department case, it was removed. Here it was not transcribed.
MR. EARNEST: So I think it's important to note the distinction between what was apparently an effort at the State Department to make a specific decision to remove a portion of the video, and that's obviously something that I've said is inconsistent with what you’d expect from the whole goal of engaging in a public briefing. The situation that you're citing is related to a specific issue with a transcript that relates to two words. So I don't -- I think you’d be hard-pressed to make the case that there’s a link between the two.
Q Can I re-ask you that question just for clarity? The question was, “Can you categorically state that no senior administration official in this administration has ever lied publicly about any aspect of the Iran nuclear deal?”
MR. EARNEST: Byron, let me just state in the affirmative, which is that the administration has made a forceful and fact-based, accurate, truthful case about how the American people and the international community benefit from an international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
And what I think is a much more worthy endeavor is to scrutinize the claims of those individuals who criticized the Iran deal falsely. There are individuals who suggested that somehow Iran would never agree to this agreement. They were wrong. There are individuals who said that we would not be able to verify that this agreement was being accurately implemented. They were wrong. There were individuals who suggested that somehow Iran would never follow through with the commitments that they had made in the context of the Iran deal. They were wrong. There are individuals who suggested that immediately Iran would get hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief if this deal went through. They were wrong.
I think it's worthy of spending some time considering exactly whether or not those individuals were just misinformed or lying.
Q But you're unwilling to categorically state that no public officials ever willfully misled on the Iran deal?
MR. EARNEST: Byron, I can categorically say -- I'm going to say it in the affirmative. Unless you want -- you want to present some evidence, or just make a claim?
Q No. I mean, just there was some confusion over this on the question.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. Well, let me say one more time, in the affirmative, declaratively, categorically, the administration made a strong, fact-based, truthful case about the benefits of the international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. What we said about the Iran deal and its benefits for the American people have come to pass. And that's something that this administration is quite proud of, and I think it will be an important part of this President’s legacy.
Q Shifting focus a little bit, Speaker Ryan started unveiling his plan -- the Republican plan that he’s calling “A Better Way.” Tomorrow, he’s unveiling his plans -- his specific plans on poverty. Is this a potential area for collaboration with the White House? Or do things like Zika, Puerto Rico need to be cleared from the desk first before this becomes really part of --
MR. EARNEST: Well, no. The President had an opportunity to talk about this a little bit in his State of the Union address -- that there is some common ground that could be found when it comes to addressing poverty. One of the things that Speaker Ryan has previously indicated his strong support for is expanding eligibility for the earned income tax credit. President Obama actually thinks that this is a pretty good idea.
So there could be an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to work together to make progress on an objective like that, something that would have a positive, broader economic benefit, but also would do something to fight poverty and, frankly, expand a little economic opportunity for those who are working really hard to get into the middle class.
So there is an opportunity for some overlap. I’ll just say, Lana, the thing that -- I just have to, like, characterize myself as bemused by this process -- is that the way that individuals who worked for Mr. Ryan, for Speaker Ryan and other observers of this process sort of treat these policy papers as if they’re, like, written by an academic or something; that somebody is sitting around at a think tank -- somebody who is not involved in government -- as generating all these great ideas that should be -- that merit careful consideration by the United States Congress.
He’s the Speaker of the House. He doesn’t just have to make policy proposals, he runs the House of Representatives. Put it in a bill. Put it on the floor. Run it through a committee. Have a debate. That’s the whole reason you presumably ran for the job in the first place. Let’s have that debate.
And this is part of what I think the President has noted in the past too. He’s eager to have some Republican members of Congress on the other side of the aisle who are actually interested in doing something, who actually want to put forward a proactive agenda. And look, I think many of the things that are included in the policy proposal that Speaker Ryan is going to put forward are things that are inconsistent with Democratic priorities.
And that’s fine. We can have that debate. Here’s the good news for Speaker Ryan: There is a huge majority of Republicans in the -- Speaker of the House -- or the House of Representatives -- they’ve won a whole bunch of elections all across the country. So if his agenda is so good and his party is in charge, then let’s put those ideas into a bill. Let’s have a debate. Let’s pass them through the House of Representatives. Let’s engage in something here.
Because I think the benefit of that is, A, first of all, you’re going to actually stand for something. But second of all, maybe we’ll be able to find some common ground. Put forward a bill that’s got a whole bunch of ideas, including expanding access to the earned income tax credit. And maybe we won’t be able to pass the big bill, and maybe Speaker Ryan will be disappointed by that, but at least he can get one thing done. At least he can have one thing that he can point to that Democrats and Republicans would agree on, that the Democratic President would encourage Democrats in the House to support. Because I know there’s some concern that Speaker Ryan must have about protecting his right flank and not angering conservative Republicans.
But if you actually want to get something done, why not work with the Democratic President to build strong support in the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis? That will send a pretty strong message to the United States Senate that they should act on this too. That’s the essence of governing, particularly in an era of divided government. But that’s not what we’ve seen from Republicans.
We’ve seen from Republicans, basically, silence when it comes to an agenda. And the Speaker of the House, after serving in the job for eight months, finally puts forward some ideas and everybody acts like, oh, well, you know, it’s -- like he works at a think tank or something. He’s the Speaker of the House. It’s his job to put forward ideas. But it’s also his job to put those ideas on the floor of the House of Representatives and debate them. Maybe we can actually turn one or two of them into a law.
Q What do you think of the title, “A Better Way?” (Inaudible) on that too?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think on that front we would take a look at the individual proposals, and then we can all evaluate whether or not that’s actually true.
Q Malia’s graduation -- any special plans to celebrate that you can share with us?
MR. EARNEST: None that I can share. But the President I think has spoken publicly about how this is an important moment for him. And the President and the First Lady are both quite proud of their daughter, as you’d expect.
Connie, go ahead.
Q This is the anniversary of -- the anniversary of the shooting of Robert F. Kennedy after he won the California primary. Do you have any thoughts on the safety of the political candidates?
MR. EARNEST: Any thoughts on what?
Q The safety of the political candidates.
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, in light of that tragedy, there were a number of reforms that were implemented to extend Secret Service protection to presidential candidates as well. And obviously the men and women of the Secret Service take very seriously the responsibility that they have to offer protection to those -- to obviously the President and the First Family, but also to some presidential candidates that are under their protection as well. So we obviously owe a debt of gratitude to the men and women of the Secret Service who go to great lengths to protect our candidates, to protect our President, and ultimately to protect our democracy.
Q (Inaudible) the country with the floods and fires, can you assure the American people that they'll get their compensation in a timely manner -- those that have been affected by floods and fires?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t know if you're referring to a specific incident.
Q Texas --
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that there's been some high-profile flooding in Texas, and I'm not aware of any specific requests that have been made by the Texas governor, but we can certainly check to see if there's any federal assistance that's been requested in that instance. But that does remind me that there is the potential for Tropical Storm Colin to make landfall in Florida later today. I can tell you that the President was briefed on preparations in advance of Tropical Storm Colin early this morning by Lisa Monaco, the President's top Homeland Security advisor. You can get some more details from FEMA, but they've already deployed a liaison to the State Emergency Operation Center in Florida to ensure a well-integrated, seamless response to this storm.
As usual, we strongly encourage people who are potentially in affected areas to monitor weather reports and to listen closely to the instructions that are given by state and local officials. Those are instructions that will be given with the safety of these individuals in mind. And we encourage people to follow those instructions.
This particular storm does have the potential to lead to some pretty significant flooding. And we want everybody to be conscientious about listening to instructions and directions that they've received that are necessary to keep them safe.
Dave, I'll give you the last one.
Q Thanks, Josh. This is kind of a long windup, so bear with me. When you were talking about the President being so good at explaining what's at stake in the campaign and how much he enjoys it, it brought to mind that four years ago he used to refer to Bill Clinton as the "Secretary of Explaining Stuff" on the campaign trail. And you also made the comment earlier about the fact that President Obama is, for the last generation, the only President at the end of his second term who is in demand on a campaign trail. Of course, that makes me think about the Lewinski affair and why President Clinton wasn’t quite so popular at the end of his second term.
And the difference between four years ago, when Bill Clinton was "Secretary of Explaining Stuff," and this year seems to be that Donald Trump is eager -- willing, if not eager to go after the Clintons' past marital difficulties in the context of who's better for women, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. So my question after all this is, is the White House or the President at all concerned that Trump's line of attack against the Clintons' marriage might make Bill Clinton less effective at explaining stuff is here on the campaign trail?
MR. EARNEST: No. What continues to be true is that President Clinton, I would expect, will be a very powerful and effective advocate for his wife on the campaign trail. President Clinton certainly made a forceful case for President Obama's reelection four years ago. And I would expect that he will play a similarly persuasive and important role for his wife in this campaign, too. After all, there are -- I guess this is why it's important: Sitting in the Oval Office and being the Commander-in-Chief of the United States is a weighty responsibility. And there are only a handful of individuals who are still alive who have been charged with that responsibility. And I'm not aware that any of them, even the Republicans, have indicated that they're prepared to support the Republican nominee. And I think that's an indication of how seriously those men -- it's only men that have held the job so far -- believe that temperament and judgement are when choosing the next President of the United States. But I'm confident that President Clinton will be out on the campaign trail, strongly supporting his wife. And his own personal experience in the job will be part of what makes him such a persuasive advocate for her.
Thanks, everybody. We'll see you tomorrow.
Q Did you say Secretary Clinton will be the nominee?
MR. EARNEST: I'm sorry?
Q Did you say Secretary Clinton is going to be the nominee?
MR. EARNEST: No.
2:38 P.M. EDT