Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/7/16
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
*Please see below for a clarification marked with an asterisk.
1:02 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you. I do not have any announcements at the top, so we can go straight to questions. Kevin, would you like to start?
Q Thanks, Josh. I wanted to ask about the timing of the fundraisers in New York City tomorrow. Were they planned so the President could hit the trail running for Hillary Clinton on the heels of today’s primary?
MR. EARNEST: These fundraisers have been on the books for quite some time. And I don't believe that most people expected that the Democratic nomination would continue to be contested into the first week in June. So I can tell you that the President does not expect to see or meet or appear with Secretary Clinton when he’s in New York tomorrow. He'll be focused on a schedule that involves two fundraisers and the taping of the Tonight Show.
Q As the President indicated this morning, the leaders of the world’s two largest democracies are meeting today. And yet the decision was made not to take questions from the reporters. Can you go into why? And is the administration disappointed that eight years after the reaching of a civil nuclear accord with India that U.S. companies have yet to finalize a contract to build a reactor there?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I will say that the schedule that was laid out for the President and the Prime Minister was to give them the opportunity to meet privately in the Oval Office and then to spend some time talking with all of you about their meeting. And they left -- after doing so, they have begun a private lunch that's taking place in the Cabinet Room even as we speak. So there wasn’t an opportunity to take questions today. Typically, when the President does meet with world leaders, they will often have a formal news conference. In fact, I believe they may have done that the last time that Prime Minister Modi was here. But we didn’t do that today.
As it relates to the announcements -- the discussion with the Prime Minister, there was extensive discussion about the leading role that India played in achieving an international agreement to fight climate change and fight carbon pollution. We've said on many occasions that India’s role in that process was significant, and it's unlikely that we would have actually reached an agreement in Paris last December had the Indians not stepped up in terms of leadership in making some substantial commitments.
And that really is a testament to Prime Minister Modi and his willingness to take a political risk to do what he thinks is right, not just for his country but for the planet. And he deserves a lot of credit for that.
What I'll also say is that Prime Minister Modi recognizes that there’s an important economic opportunity here. President Obama certainly recognizes that. And we've made the case, and as more countries around the world consider the move to a low-carbon economy that creates important opportunities in the alternative energy sector. And there certainly are important opportunities for American businesses, even in India, in the solar sector and in the wind energy sector. There also is an opportunity for the United States to work with countries around the world to develop further nuclear energy technology.
And there was a discussion between the two leaders about the investment in infrastructure in India. And we were pleased to see India announce that it intends to build six Westinghouse nuclear reactors in India. This is a project that would create and sustain tens of thousands of good-paying jobs in the United States and in India. So this is a good example of how smart decisions about renewable energy and fighting climate change can have an important and positive economic impact in the United States and in countries around the world.
Q Are they near or still far away on finalizing a contract for those reactors?
MR. EARNEST: My understanding is that they have made important progress. I don't know the exact status of that, but we'll see if we can get you a better update on that before the end of the day.
Q Did the President get a firm commitment from Prime Minister Modi to ratify the Paris agreement this year?
MR. EARNEST: I believe what Prime Minister Modi has said about this is that India shares the objective that the United States has laid out, which is to see the agreement come into force this year. And India has committed to doing their part to working toward the goal, a shared goal, of entering the agreement this year.
Obviously each country has their own unique process for signing onto the deal, and I'd refer you my Indian counterpart for an explanation of how that process works in India. I did get a brief explanation of how it works, so I’m not sure that I could explain it accurately here, so I’ll let them do that. But it’s more than just the Prime Minister himself signing on the dotted line.
So they’ll work through their process, but they are working through that process with an aim to complete it before the end of the year. And that would represent substantial progress in meeting the bar for what is required for the agreement to go into effect. What is required is for 55 countries, representing 55 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, signing onto the deal for it to go into effect. And India I believe represents about 4 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. So getting them to sign onto the agreement this year would represent substantial progress toward that goal. And if we’re able to achieve that goal and if the agreement were to go into effect this year, that would be several years ahead of schedule, and I think would be a clear sign that leaders around the world have a sense of urgency about fighting climate change and fighting carbon pollution. And it would be a welcome step in a positive direction for the health of the planet and the health of the people who live here.
Q So without getting into the details of the Indian process, it sounds like there is some development or some advancement in terms of what the Prime Minister is able to tell the President, in terms of -- is that -- am I reading it correctly?
MR. EARNEST: It’s my understanding that that represents a more ambitious goal than India had previously laid out in terms of their timing of signing onto the agreement. And so we obviously welcome that announcement from the Indian government.
Q Secondly, is the President ready to endorse Secretary Clinton now that she seems to have enough delegates to secure the nomination?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that there were a number of calculations that were conducted by media organizations throughout the day yesterday. Those calculations included an updated survey of superdelegates across the country, and some media organizations have concluded that Secretary Clinton now has achieved a majority of delegates who will be voting at the Democratic Convention.
However, at this point, there is at least one superdelegate -- the one who works in the Oval Office -- who’s not prepared to make a public declaration about his endorsement at this point. But stay tuned and we’ll keep you updated.
Okay. Move around.
Q Thanks, Josh. A couple questions for you. So Congressman Lee Zeldin, who is a surrogate for Donald Trump, was on television earlier. In his interview that he essentially accused the President of being racist. And I’m wondering -- this seems to be some kind of coordinated attack from the Trump campaign, and I’m wondering if you have any kind of --
MR. EARNEST: “Coordinated” is a generous description. (Laughter.)
Q Loosely coordinated. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Most of the charges and countercharges of racism were lobbed by Republicans at Republicans, as far as I could tell this morning. Look, I think in the discussion about the Democratic nomination process yesterday, I was sort of asked about whether or not the President was concerned about how the Democratic primary had lasted longer than expected. The fact is that it did last longer than most people expected, as I acknowledged to Kevin. But I think what’s true is that you’ve got two Democratic candidates for President who have campaigned across the country on a platform that’s quite similar.
You’ve had candidates both out there aggressively talking about the need to expand access to quality health care to more Americans; that health care is a right, not a privilege. You’ve got Democratic candidates out there campaigning in favor of comprehensive, common-sense immigration reform that would have a positive impact on national security and on our economy.
You’ve got Democrats out there campaigning to fight climate change, to implement the Iran deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. You’ve got both Democratic candidates articulating a strategy for growing our economy from the middle out, making the case that that’s the most sustainable way to grow the American economy. Both candidates are out there on the campaign trail, advocating for a higher minimum wage for more support for education and job training to ensure that American workers are prepared to compete in a 21st century global economy.
You've got both candidates out there making a strong case for equal pay for equal work.
So this has been a vigorous Democratic primary. But there’s a strong case to be made that the Democratic Party is united around a core set of principles that I think will energize voters in the fall.
Republicans, on the other hand, wrapped up their nomination process early -- apparently it was early enough to allow the Republican Speaker of the House to basically call the Republican presidential nominee a racist and have the Republican governor of New Jersey try to defend him. So I’m not really sure if that's the way they drew it up, but I do think it is a clear illustration of the cleavages within the Republican Party.
I’ll leave it to those who are expressing concerns about their nominee’s comments to explain why they continue to support him and vow to vote for him in the fall. I think that's a position I would struggle to defend, but I suspect they’ll go ahead and try to do it.
Q Have you seen Congressman Zeldin’s comments?
MR. EARNEST: I heard a little bit about them, but I’m not sure they're worthy of a response from here.
Q On another issue, the 9/11 Families wrote of letter to President Obama urging him to release these 28 classified pages, and DNI Clapper said that it’s possible that those pages could come out in June. It’s now June. Do you have any update on the process there?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have an update on the process. I have not heard that the time frame has changed, so I’d encourage you to check with Director Clapper’s office for an update on the timing. Obviously, there are another three weeks or so left in June. So I don't know if that timing has changed. I just haven’t gotten an update on that recently.
Q Lastly, Congressman Hensarling put out a plan this morning that would dismantle some key parts of the President’s --well, the Dodd-Frank law, including stripping some power from financial regulators. And I’m wondering if you have a response to that proposal.
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, there’s no -- there should be no more confusion about which party is on the side of big banks and large financial interests on Wall Street, and the Democratic Party that's fighting for middle-class families. The President made this argument pretty directly in his Elkhart speech last week, which is that there are a variety of reasons that people could be casting a vote.
But if you're focused on the economy and focused on which party is actually fighting for the middle class, it’s a pretty open-and-shut case. It’s Democrats who are out there fighting for a higher minimum wage. It’s Democrats who are out there fighting for Wall Street reform that did succeed in creating an independent watchdog for consumers that recovered $11 billion for 25 million families across the country who were cheated. So these are reforms that essentially guarantee that taxpayers will not be on the hook for bailing out big banks if their risky bets go south.
But if you tear it down like House Republicans say that they want to do, that will allow big banks to go back to making risky bets and put taxpayers on the hook once again for bailing out those banks to prevent a second Great Depression. That doesn't make any sense.
Particularly when you consider that Republican warnings about the impact that Wall Street reform would have on the economy were wrong. Republicans suggested that regulations associated with Wall Street reform would choke off innovation in the economy. They were wrong about that. Our economy is the most durable in the world. And we've seen important and sustained job growth and economic growth. We've also see sustained and rapid growth in the stock market itself. So it’s really hard for Republicans to make a case that it is at all in our economic interest to tear down the reforms that have already done a lot to make our economy stronger and most stable.
Q Thank you, Josh. Can you give us a sense on the thoughts between the Prime Minister and the President on the different positions between India and the U.S.? And in that context, how did that decision see India and the U.S. can collaborate further in the region of the Indian Ocean?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you that this question about coordinating our activities when it comes to national security and counterterrorism was an important part of the agenda today. The President was certainly interested in looking for ways that the United States could deepen our coordination with India.
Obviously the United States, under the leadership of President Obama, has placed a renewed focus on our strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific and in the Indian Ocean. And I can tell you that there was important progress on finalizing agreements related to defense logistics, sharing of maritime information, and even the movement of U.S. aircraft carriers in the region. We welcome that improved cooperation and coordination, and we believe it will have a material and positive impact on the national security of the United States and India. And the two leaders agreed to have their staffs continue to work on efforts to deepen that cooperation even further.
Q Did the President support India’s membership to Nuclear Supply Group? China is the only country which is publicly against India. How does U.S. plan to overcome this challenge?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I have to admit that I don’t know the details related to India’s possible participation in that group. What I can tell you is that the United States has sought to extend and deepen our relationship when it comes to India’s work in diversifying its sources of energy, and that includes building nuclear power plants by Westinghouse, a good American company. We believe that would have positive impacts on the climate and a positive impact on the economy, both in the United States and in India.
For overcoming any obstacles to completing and implementing that agreement, I’d refer you to my colleagues at the National Security Council. And I’ll see if I can get one of them to follow up with you for a more detailed answer.
Q And finally, do you have what they had at lunch?
MR. EARNEST: I did not -- well, as you guys may know, they actually -- when the President has a formal lunch in the Cabinet Room, the White House chefs, demonstrating their versatility and their ability to work under difficult circumstances, actually set up the table right outside my office by the stairwell. (Laughter.) So I was able to smell lunch as it was being prepared, but I did not actually see what was on the menu. As I was walking out, they appeared to be preparing dessert. It appeared to be some variation on a strawberry shortcake. But we’ll see if we can get you some more details about what the salad and entrée course may have been. (Laughter.)
Q Did you ask for a taste? And were you refused?
MR. EARNEST: I was tempted to. (Laughter.) But it would have been a little awkward if I had walked out here and had a little, like, whipped cream on the side of my mouth.
Q Is the U.S. process part of the climate change deal done? Whatever the Indian process is -- is the U.S., whatever that -- what is that process and is it done?
MR. EARNEST: What I can tell you about the United States’ process is we have committed to completing it and implementing -- signing onto the deal before the end of this year. That’s a commitment that we’ve already made.
The State Department is managing this process, as you’ll recall. It’s Secretary Kerry who essentially will be running that process, so I’d refer you to the State Department for an update on where that process stands. But we have committed to completing that process before the end of this year.
Q So it’s a series of executive orders? There’s no congressional action required?
MR. EARNEST: There is no congressional action that’s required.
Q So essentially it’s a series of executive orders that move this process along?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if it requires any executive orders. There may be some executive action required, but I’d refer you to the State Department for implementation questions.
Q On the New York trip tomorrow, the President is going to tape the Fallon show. And when does the show air?
MR. EARNEST: The show will actually air on Thursday evening. So they’re taping it one day in advance.
Q That’s a long period of time, like 20-some-odd hours. Is there some reason for that?
MR. EARNEST: It is. Well, I know this is something that your colleagues at NBC were interested in, but I don’t know all the details.
Q And given that, is there more -- is there some likelihood that the President will comment on the election -- the primary results tomorrow morning before he leaves?
MR. EARNEST: That’s certainly possible. If there’s an update to the President’s schedule, we’ll let you know.
Q Because again, he had signaled some time ago that, in fact, things would be clearer, or better -- whatever the words were. It just would seem unlikely that he would let this taping of this national show sit somewhere for that long a period of time having not commented on -- kept up with the news cycles.
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ll keep you posted on the President’s schedule.
Q And just lastly, has he backed a superdelegate really? Or was he using a -- he is a superdelegate?
MR. EARNEST: My understanding is the President actually is a superdelegate and will have a vote that he can cast at the --
Q And the Vice President, too, or --
MR. EARNEST: That’s my understanding, yes. So I think it’s -- I was actually just looking at this right before I walked out here. My understanding is that it’s sitting Presidents and Vice Presidents and former Presidents and Vice Presidents who are Democrats are superdelegates to the Democratic Convention.
Q Josh, thank you. Three subjects as quickly as possible. On the visit of Prime Minister Modi, you stated earlier in this briefing that the commitment that the President secured from the Prime Minister was that the Prime Minister and the members of his team would do their part to try to achieve the goal of ratification through the Indian system by the end of the year. Why did the President not secure from the Prime Minister a commitment that, in fact, the Prime Minister would get it done?
MR. EARNEST: James, this goes to the thing that I was trying to describe to Roberta, which is there is a complicated procedure that the Indians have already begun to go about signing onto this agreement. And I think the question is simply whether or not that procedure can be completed before the end of the year. Prime Minister Modi made a commitment that he was going to try to complete that procedure before the end of the year --
Q -- in his ability to deliver that?
MR. EARNEST: That’s my understanding, yes.
Q We saw the announcement earlier about Westinghouse proceeding with the construction of six nuclear reactors in India. Presumably, the White House, in disclosing that fact, regarded it as good news. Why does the White House not encourage Westinghouse to build six nuclear reactors in the United States?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that there are one or two that are under construction here in the United States that are important to job creation here. And I don’t think there’s anything that would dissuade us or anything that we would say that would discourage Westinghouse from considering similar, additional investments here in the United States.
Q On the campaign, you described in yesterday’s briefing how “good” the President is -- your word -- at campaigning in general. Is it the view of the President that his participation in the campaign, on the campaign trail is essential to a positive outcome for the Democratic Party in the fall?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t heard him describe it that way. I think the President’s thinking is that when considering who should sit in the Oval Office for the next four years, the American people might be interested in the opinion of people who have previously sat at that desk. And as I made reference to yesterday, at least those who are still living, none of them has indicated their support for the Republican presidential nominee at this point. And I think the President does feel confident that whoever does emerge as the Democratic nominee, that he’ll have confidence in being able to advocate for that person’s judgment, their values, their priorities, their approach to the job as something that is in the best interest of the country. And I think that as somebody who has done the job for the last 7.5 years, the American people will be interested in his opinion.
Q Lastly, I want to return, with some regret, to the subject of the controversy over the official White House transcript of the press briefing for May 9. Just by way of recapping, the controversy relates the fact that my Fox News colleague, Kevin Corke, asked you whether you could say categorically that no senior administration official had ever lied publically about the Iran nuclear deal. ABC News, Bloomberg News, Jason Chaffetz, many others, this reporter included, state, categorically, that the video shows, unmistakably, that you answered, “No, Kevin.” And, in fact, Mr. Corke gave you a second chance during that briefing to answer that question because the answer was so striking he thought you’d misunderstood him. You said yesterday that there was a little cross-talk that made this exchange inaudible. The very transcript of yesterday’s briefing is studded with the word “inaudible” where it’s appropriate. Why did the May 9 transcript not contain the word “inaudible?”
MR. EARNEST: James, I don’t write the transcripts. Obviously, we have the staff --
Q You clear them for quality, though, I assume.
MR. EARNEST: Of course I do, James. Of course I do. Here’s the point. I’ve been quite clear about exactly what our position on this has been. The administration has worked very hard to present a forceful, fact-based, truthful case about the way that the United States and the rest of the international community benefits from Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon. And the truth is there are a lot of Republicans who opposed the deal who said a whole bunch of things about the Iran deal that were wrong. And I don’t know if they were mistaken; I don’t know if they were naïve; I don’t know if they were poorly briefed; I don’t know if they were lying. They were wrong.
I leave it to them to defend exactly the position that they have taken, and I think I have presented factually, repeatedly, exactly the case that we have made.
Q My question was limited to the matter of the transcript and why, if you’re asserting there was cross-talk that made something inaudible, the word “inaudible” didn’t appear at the appropriate place?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know.
Q Final question on this. Essentially, Josh, what you’re doing is you’re standing there at the podium and you’re maintaining that you did not say that which it is plainly discernable you said, actually.
MR. EARNEST: James, I think what I’m saying is that there have been three follow-ups now to this question and I’ve answered it quite directly exactly what our position is. So if you’d like me to do it again, I can do it again.
Q I guess the final question is, are you willing to review that video one more time, Josh, with an eye toward possibly amending it as it should be amended?
MR. EARNEST: No.
Q Slightly more technical questions. Today, Prime Minister Modi announced not a deal for the Westinghouse reactors, but a pledge to get a deal. Are you disappointed, is the administration disappointed that when the Prime Minister comes he can't announce an actual contract on these things?
MR. EARNEST: No, Mike. I think that the visit from the Prime Minister of India is one that we looked forward to, and we certainly were pleased with the opportunity that the two leaders had to sit down and discuss some important issues.
Q On this particular issue, though, are you disappointed that they weren’t able to announce a contract today?
MR. EARNEST: No.
Q As my colleague from India mentioned, it now looks likely that India will not be admitted to the Nuclear Supply Group because of some countries’ objections. Is the administration disappointed that India won’t be admitted to the Nuclear Supply Group?
MR. EARNEST: Mike, I have to tell you that, as I had mentioned to Lalit, I’m not familiar with the details of this particular dispute, so we’ll have somebody follow up with you on that.
Q The fiduciary rule legislation --
MR. EARNEST: The conflict of interest rule?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, that one.
Q -- has been passed by the Senate. You guys have indicated in the past you're opposed to it. Will you veto it? When will you veto it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, to be clear, what Congress did was they actually voted to overturn an executive action that would prevent investment advisors from acting in a way inconsistent with the best interests of their customers. That kind of behavior has actually cost, on average, $17 billion a year in retirement savings for hardworking Americans.
The President just believes it’s common sense that if you sign up with an investment advisor to help you plan for your retirement that that individual should have your own best financial interests at heart.
The good news is, is that most of them do. Most of the retirement -- people out there who are offering retirement advice do keep their customers’ best interests at heart. And this rule basically doesn't have any impact on the way that they do business. The only people who are affected by this rule are people who sign up clients but don't make a commitment to acting in that client’s best interest.
Now, again, I’ll leave it to Republicans to explain who they claim to be on the side of middle-class families, except when it comes to their planning for retirement, in which case they're with the large financial corporations who are already making billions of dollars a year.
That's why the President is going to veto the bill, because he believes that this executive action is important to providing more middle-class families access to a dignified and secure retirement. I don't know exactly when the President will sign that bill, but I’ll be sure and let you know exactly when he’ll veto the bill. And we’ll be sure and let you know exactly when he does it.
Q Lastly, the Speaker of the House today described Donald Trump’s comments about the judge in his civil case as a “textbook definition of a racist comment.” Does the President agree with that characterization?
MR. EARNEST: As I mentioned yesterday, I don't anticipate at this point that we'll weigh in on all the controversial comments that are uttered by the Republican nominee for president.
Q Josh, can you tell us a little bit about this phone call that the President had with Senator Sanders this weekend, and whether or not the discussion of an endorsement came up?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any private conversations to discuss at this point. The lines of communication between the White House and the campaigns have been open throughout the campaigns -- throughout the nomination process. And I think that should be evident by the fact that both candidates have been to the White House for a private meeting with the President of the United States. But I don't have any details about any private conversations that have occurred lately.
Q Was there a pairing with that phone call? I mean, did Secretary Clinton also receive one?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't have any details of private conversations with either Democratic presidential candidates to share at this point.
Q Or even just the fact that one happened, not details of it?
MR. EARNEST: Correct.
Q So when you look at some of the comments that were made this morning by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker was saying that time is of the essence here for getting the Democratic Party to rally and coalesce. Does the White House agree, does the President agree that time is ticking here, that there needs to be unity soon?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, I think the President’s view is that we are nearing the end of the nomination process and that Democrats all across the country had an opportunity to weigh in on the decision about who should represent the Democratic Party in the general election. And this is a process that has been energizing to millions of Democratic voters across the country. That's been a really good thing.
And as the process winds down it will be important for the Democratic Party to come together in support of the party’s nominee. The President certainly intends to make his voice heard in encouraging Democrats to come together behind whoever wins.
Q Does the President see himself as a unifier? I mean, is that the role that you're kind of describing here?
MR. EARNEST: Well, when you take a look at some of the public opinion data about the President’s standing in the Democratic Party, he certainly would be well positioned to play that role. And given how important he thinks this election is, and given how important Democratic unity will be in the general election, yes, I think you could expect the President to play that kind of role.
Q And you’ve said that the superdelegate who lives here isn't ready to endorse just yet. But as you said, many news organizations, mine included, have done the homework, done the math and see that Hillary Clinton has enough delegates. At least on the question of the symbolism, as someone who’s gotten enough votes here be the first woman to lead a major party, that's historic. Do you have a reaction or a comment to that?
MR. EARNEST: Not at this point. And the reason for that primarily is that even as we speak right now there are Democrats in six different states that are out there casting a ballot, making their voice heard on this process. And just out of respect for their role in this process, we’re going to withhold comment until they’ve had an opportunity to participate. And we'll try again tomorrow.
Q Is that a promise, tomorrow? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: No. (Laughter.) But try again tomorrow -- at least as it relates to me expressing the President’s point of view.
Q Will we be hearing from you tomorrow, if not the President, on this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President is traveling to New York, and I do expect to gaggle with the traveling press pool on the plane.
Q Thanks, Josh. This morning, Assad addressed parliament and again said that he has absolutely no intention of leaving office. I was wondering where you think that leaves the negotiations.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't think it represents a change in his position, and I don't think it represents a change in mine. President Assad has lost the legitimacy to lead that country. He continues to carry out heinous acts of violence against his own people. He continues to order the military to do things like drop barrel bombs against innocent civilians. There are reports that the Assad regime is engaged in repeated efforts to obstruct the delivery of humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands of Syrians that are suffering.
That's why it's impossible for him to fulfill his rhetoric about uniting that country under his leadership. It's not going to happen. In fact, his continued presence in that office and in that job only exacerbates the chaos and turmoil and violence in that country. So it's time for him to leave so that the rest of the international community can support the Syrian people as they choose the political direction of that country from here. That's been our position for quite some time, and there’s nothing about Mr. Assad’s speech that's changed it.
Q And you’ve been pressing Russia for the better part of five years to use their influence with Assad to get him to step down. Is it your assessment the Vladimir Putin is unwilling or unable to influence Assad?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think you probably have to ask him exactly what his view of President Assad is. I think what is true is that -- and I think this is relevant -- what President Putin himself has said is that a political transition in Syria is necessary to bring the turmoil and violence inside that country to an end. So it's clearly in Russia’s interest to try to bring about this transition. President Putin has said as much. So the question is, what is he prepared to do to use that influence to bring about that outcome that he believes is in the best interest of his country. We're going to continue to urge him to urge him to take those necessary steps, but ultimately it's up to President Putin.
I would note that particularly when it comes to the Cessation of Hostilities, that President Putin didn’t just state as an affirmative fact -- let me say it this way -- it's not just an affirmative fact that Russia has influence with the Assad regime in Syria, it's in the context of the cessation of hostilities, President Putin made a commitment to use that influence to get the Assad regime to abide by the cessation of hostilities. And in the last few weeks we have seen a concerning pattern of violations of that cessation of hostilities. And that's why we continue to urge the Russian government to live up to the commitment that they made to use that influence to get the Assad regime to abide by the cessation of hostilities.
Q While this diplomatic stalemate continues the humanitarian situation in Syria goes from bad to worse. The U.N. has kind of u-turned on the need for aircrafts for aid. Do you think that U.S. airdrops are -- unilaterally? Are they something that you’d consider?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, I don't have details about what other options the United States might be considering. Obviously we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation. In the last week we have seen some aid organizations, including the United Nations, the Syrian Red Crescent, and the ICRC, succeed in delivering some humanitarian assistance to a couple of communities that were in critical need of support. But there are other deliveries that were blocked and prevented.
Our concern is that there are hundreds of thousands at least that are suffering. The most effective way to bring them relief is essentially delivering these supplies on the ground. And in too many instances, we're seeing the Assad regime prevent that from happening. In other cases, it's just violence on the ground that's preventing that from happening.
So we continue to be deeply concerned about it. I know that members of the United Nations Security Council had an opportunity last week to meet to discuss what could be done to try to address this situation. Obviously the United States is an active participant in those discussions. It continues to be true, as has been the case over the last several years, that the United States is the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance to try to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Syrian population. And the United States will continue to offer that support.
Q If I could just -- if you could indulge me with just one more question. Going back to the issue of the fact there was no press conference between Prime Minister Modi and the President, it just seems a little odd that two of the world’s largest democracies -- the leaders of two of the world’s largest democracies wouldn't be able to find time to come out and answer questions about their meeting. Was that a problem of -- did you actually ask the Indian delegation if they would be willing to hold a press conference and it wasn’t possible because of them? Or what was the issue?
MR. EARNEST: No, I think the issue was just a matter of scheduling. And between the private engagements that the President and the Prime Minister had both in the Oval Office and over lunch, that there was time for the two leaders to speak to the professional, independent journalists that cover the White House and that cover the Indian Prime Minister. But there was not time on the schedule for the two leaders to take questions.
Q Now that Hillary Clinton does have that magic number of delegates and she’s being called the presumptive nominee, is that how the White House is viewing the situation now?
MR. EARNEST: Right now the White House views the situation as ongoing. Democratic voters in six states are at the polls even as we speak casting a ballot and making their voice heard about who should represent the Democratic Party in the general election. And out of respect for that ongoing process, I’m not going to declare a winner from here. We’ll let these votes be counted; we’ll let these voices be heard. And then I suspect we’ll know a little bit more about the outcomes of the race at that point.
Q Well, with that number of delegates already in her pocket, what is really going to change? And since she’s being called the presumptive nominee at this point, are you not -- you're not calling her that, is that right?
MR. EARNEST: No. No one at the White House has labeled either candidate the presumptive nominee at this point. But obviously we're interested in the results tonight. We are interested in making sure that voters across the country can make their voices heard. The President said as much last week. And it certainly is possible that we’ll know quite a bit more about what the likely outcome is going to be after the voters are tallied tonight.
But out of respect for those who are casting ballots right now, we’ll continue to hold the position that we've held for several months now, which is to be fair and neutral and give the Democratic voters across the country the opportunity to make this decision.
Q So it’s safe to say that's the only thing the President is waiting for before he officially endorses Hillary Clinton is to let the votes be cast?
MR. EARNEST: I think that’s the essence of the process.
Q Is it possible then that he will make a statement on this in some form as early as tonight?
MR. EARNEST: I can just -- as you're all trying to plan your evenings, I I can tell you that I do not anticipate the President making a public appearance to discuss politics tonight. But if there are any updates, we’ll keep you posted. But you don't have to worry about the President making an appearance. None is planned at this point.
Q And virtually every time the President speaks publicly now he’s criticizing Donald Trump, sometimes without mentioning his name, but he’s gotten general, he’s gotten very specific about certain things that Donald Trump has said. So based on the things that Donald Trump has said most recently, is the White House considering those words to be racist? Or since the President tends to speak more generally, given I guess the body of statements that are out there by the candidate, does the President consider Donald Trump to be a racist?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t believe the President has used that specific word, but -- look, I think what is true is that, first of all, the President -- it’s not unusual for the President to make comments that have nothing to do with the presidential race and don’t have anything to do with either of the presidential nominees. In fact, the President did just that a couple of hours ago in the Oval Office. And so that’s the first thing.
The second thing is, there is a tendency on the part of some observers to assume that every time the President makes a comment affirming a core Democratic or even American value, that that is perceived somehow as a shot at the presumptive Republican nominee. And I think that says much more about the language that is used by the presumptive Republican nominee than it does about the values that are championed by the President of the United States.
Let me also say that -- and this is part of the case I was making to James about the role that the President will have in the general election -- regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, the President is an important validator. The President is somebody who has been doing this job for the last seven and a half years. And I think it will be relevant to the decision-making of many Americans -- not just Democrats, by the way, but some independents and some Republicans -- who will be interested to hear what the President thinks about which candidate has the judgment, the temperament, the maturity, the decision-making skills to advance U.S. interests around the world.
When the American people see footage of the President, for example, as he did today, meeting with the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, the American people want to make sure that our interests and our country are being well represented. It matters who is sitting in that chair across from the Indian Prime Minister. That has significant consequences for our economy, for our planet, for our national security, for our alliances in that region and around the world.
And I would anticipate that over the course of the general election, the President will be making the case about how important that leadership and that symbolism is, and why he believes that the Democratic nominee is best suited to fill that job.
Q But both the President and you yourself have used a lot of adjectives to describe Donald Trump’s words in the past, including things like “dangerous” and “divisive.” Now that you have top Republicans using the word “racist” to describe some very specific things that were said, is there a reason why you don’t want to say that -- unless you don’t believe that those words are racist?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess I would -- one might observe that maybe -- well, I’ll just say that I’m not going to take the bait every time that the presumptive Republican nominee says something controversial. In this case, there are plenty of voices that are being heard. And I guess what I would say is that I suspect the President’s concerns aren’t altogether different than some of the concerns that may be raised by Republicans. A rare moment of bipartisan unity maybe.
Q Okay. It’s been interesting over the past couple of days to hear the First Lady get into a little bit of politics in her commencement speech, or -- even though that wasn’t really the first time she’s been critical of what is assumed to be things Donald Trump has said. Do you expect to see the First Lady on the campaign trail and getting involved, just as you described the President as a very popular unifier?
MR. EARNEST: Look, I don’t know that -- the First Lady at this point does not have any campaign events on the books, but she certainly is somebody who is passionate about the future of this country. She is somebody who is passionate about progressive values. She certainly is somebody who is passionate about making sure that our veterans and our military families are taken care of, and that the commitments that our country makes to them are kept.
The First Lady is certainly passionate about health care issues and ensuring the health of the next generation of Americans. She’s also somebody who’s passionate about civil rights and equality and fairness and justice. And her commitment to those values and her commitment to those priorities have contributed to her large following across the country. There are Democrats and some independents and some Republicans who deeply respect the First Lady. And I certainly wouldn’t rule out that at some point she may express a preference in the election, as well.
Q Thanks, Josh. Given what you said about the President wanting to let the process play out, let Democrats' voices be heard, D.C.'s primary is on June 14th. Does he feel that the Democrats of the District of Columbia need to have the opportunity to weigh in before he does?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President would certainly expect and encourage Democrats in the District of Columbia to participate in that election and to make their voices heard, as well. But what I also said yesterday is that once somebody has definitively demonstrated that they've got a majority of delegates who will be voting in the convention, that person will have a strong case to make as the presumptive Republican nominee -- the Democratic nominee.
So, at this point, out of respect for people who are casting ballots right now, we don’t have a winner to declare. But the President is going to continue to watch this process moving forward, and we'll keep you updated if he's got some comments.
Q So what's the difference? As we've been saying, there's sort of a mathematical case to be made that the Democrats have a presumptive nominee at this point. There might be a stronger mathematical case. But if we're kind of just talking about the idea that people need to get to weigh in before the President does, what's the difference between the votes happening today and the votes happening next week?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think part of the difference is that the votes are taking place right now, as we speak. And certainly the President has got deep respect for the process and for the people who are taking their lunch break or otherwise making time in their day to participate in the Democratic primary in their state. That's a good thing and that is certainly something that the President respects and encourages people to do to get engaged.
But look, we'll take a look at the tallies and we'll keep you posted.
Q Josh, I wanted to ask you about this case at Stanford, where the young male student was sentenced to six months in the county lockup for a sexual assault on some young woman. I wonder is the President -- obviously the President has been very involved in violence issues on campus, sexual assaults on campus. Obviously, he's the father of two daughters. I was just wondering if he's expressed an opinion about the propriety of the sentence.
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t heard the -- I'm confident that the President is aware of this particular issue, given the widespread media coverage of it. I have not heard him weigh in with an opinion one way or the other, so I can't speak to his views on this particular case. But the President certainly has spoken many times, powerfully, about his views on this particular issue. The President believes strongly that sexual assault is wrong, that there's no place for it in our military, there's no place for it on college campuses, there's no place for it in our society.
And the President and the Vice President have played a leading role in the "It's On Us" campaign to not just speak out against the scourge of sexual assault, but also to encourage men and women across the country to *[not] shirk from their responsibility, to intervene when the risk of sexual assault is heightened; that it's on us, as Americans, as active members of our community, to protect one another and to look out for one another, and, where necessary, to intervene to stop a sexual assault.
The President feels quite strongly about this. This is a priority of his. I'm sure that this is at least partially informed by the fact that he has two daughters, but I'm confident that the President would feel strongly about this issue even if he didn’t. This is a case of right and wrong. And it's one that the President feels strongly about. And given the media attention that this issue has gotten, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point the President does weigh in.
Q Does the White House have a view on whether the judge should be removed from office?
MR. EARNEST: There is no position that the White House has taken on that particular matter. Obviously there are people who have been quite outspoken in raising their concerns about the particular judge’s decision, but I’m not going to weigh in on the details of an individual case.
Q Thanks, Josh. Can I ask you about this argument from Senator Sanders and his campaign that the superdelegates do not vote until the convention, and therefore it is premature to declare a winner? Does the President agree with that? And it sounds like you're saying that he may have something to say on this race in the coming days or tomorrow. If that’s the case, it sounds like he’s rejecting that argument.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Byron, I mean, in some ways, the President does have an established track record here. Many of you will recall in 2008 that then-Senator Obama’s campaign went to great lengths to highlight the support of superdelegates for his campaign. And one of the reasons for that is that we saw that a number of superdelegates were switching affiliation between one candidate to support the Obama campaign, and that was important to building support and momentum behind President Obama’s campaign.
We haven’t seen that dynamic really at play in this most recent election; that there have been superdelegates that have weighed in on both sides, but there hasn’t been a lot of changing of affiliation.
So, look, Senator Sanders and his campaign are certainly entitled to make whatever argument that they would like. Again, I would note that this is a pretty stark contrast to the Republican nomination contest, in which there’s a lot of dispute about the rules. I think Senator Sanders understands the role that superdelegates play; Secretary Clinton understands the role that superdelegates play in choosing the Democratic nominee. They understood the rules when they signed up, and they’re playing by them now.
And to the credit of both candidates, they’ve understood the rules and they have worked hard, and both of them have succeeded in building a substantial following and winning a lot of support at the convention. And that’s a testament to the aggressive campaigns that have been waged, and the success that both Democrats have experienced in building strong, energetic support for their candidacies.
Q Looking beyond this current race, it seems like Senator Sanders and many of his supporters are going to push for sort of long-term reforms to the nominating process. It sounds like they’re pushing for more open primaries, a kind of reduced or perhaps eliminated role for superdelegates. Does the President have a position on either of those reforms? Would he like to see more open primaries or the end of superdelegates?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, I think every four or eight years there is a discussion within the party about what I think everyone would acknowledge is a rather complicated process for choosing a party nominee. And sometimes that devolves into a discussion about the benefits and consequences of superdelegates. Sometimes the discussion will veer into territory of the wisdom of allowing states like Iowa, New Hampshire to enjoy their traditional special status.
I speak with some personal experience on this. Back in 2004, when I worked at the DNC, there was a -- this was at the end of 2003 and early 2004 -- there was a careful review of the process for appointing or selecting a Democratic nominee at that point. And there was a vigorous discussion about how the process -- the primary process could be changed to ensure that more Democratic voters and more states had an opportunity to weigh in, in the process of choosing a Democratic nominee.
That was something that was important in 2004, but that was less of a concern in 2016 because we saw this primary campaign extend to so many different states. And we saw in 2008 that that actually ended up benefitting the Democratic candidate in the general election.
So these kinds of discussions are part of the process just about every four or eight years. And I’m confident that the DNC, which has a responsibility to administer that process, will listen to the ideas and suggestions of Democrats all across the country and make a decision about whether or not the process needs to be reformed.
Q One more. You’ve been saying that it’s been good for the country and for the party to have two Democratic nominees who have been having a vigorous debate. You’ve described this as a positive thing. But would it be good for the party and the country to have a contested convention scenario, or does the President feel as if the party should have a firm nominee who is not being contested heading into the convention?
MR. EARNEST: Look, I’ll just say as a general matter -- I don't have any update on timing -- but I will just say as general matter that the President believes it’s important for Democrats to come together at the close of the nomination process to strongly support the Democratic nominee, because the stakes in the general election are very high, and because Democratic voters, despite their differences, in some cases, over which candidate would better represent the Democratic Party in the general election, the truth is both candidates are fighting for the same kinds of things.
Both candidates are fighting for expanded access to health care. Both candidates are fighting for immigration reform. Both candidates are fighting to address climate change. Both candidates are fighting in support of implementing the Iran deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Both candidates are fighting for strategies that expand economic opportunity for the middle class. Both candidates are fighting for equal pay for equal work. Both candidates are fighting to enhance education and job training in this country because they understand that we need to train the next generation of American workers to compete and win in a 21st century global economy.
So it shouldn’t be hard for Democratic voters across the country to support a candidate that's been running on the same kind of platform, even if the candidate they voted for in the primary didn't win.
Q When you said the close of the nominating process, you mean the end of the primaries and the end of the voting?
MR. EARNEST: I’m being intentionally vague. (Laughter.)
Q That happens.
MR. EARNEST: It does happen. It does happen.
Q Josh, a follow-up on the Stanford case. Given how high profile the White House has been on this -- as you said, and you went through all of that -- without getting into the specifics of this case, is there a concern, though, when there are light sentences like this -- because that's sparking the outrage -- that that sends a message to perpetrators of sexual assaults and victims of sexual assaults?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I don't want my comments to be interpreted as weighing in on this particular case. There are plenty of people on the outside who are weighing in on the case. I’m not going to do that from here.
What I will just tell you is that the President -- and in this case, I feel confident in speaking for the Vice President -- that both of them view sexual assault as a scourge. Sexual assault has no place on our college campuses. It has no place in our military. It has no place in our society.
The Vice President, in particular, has been a leading advocate of combatting violence against women. The Vice President authored a bill called the Violence Against Women Act that would ramp up funding and resources for law enforcement organizations to combat that kind of violence and sexual assault in our communities.
So the President and the Vice President certainly think this is a high priority, and that a very clear, unambiguous message should be sent that sexual assault and sexual harassment and violence against women will not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form in this country. And they feel strongly about that -- both as a moral issue, but also as a law enforcement issue, as well.
And again, I suspect that given the amount of media attention that this particular case has generated that the President may choose to weigh in one way or another at some point -- likely in response to a question. But I’m not going to talk about the individual case. But when it comes to this question about whether or not sexual assault is a serious problem, I think our country needs to unequivocally make it clear that sexual assault is not something that will be tolerated in our society.
Q Does he have something planned where he might comment in response to a question?
MR. EARNEST: No, I’m not suggesting that he does. And so I don't want to send any mixed signals here. There’s no plan for the President to weigh in on this. But I suspect that at the next opportunity where the President does take questions, that I wouldn’t be surprised if one of you asks and the President has a thoughtful answer to share.
Q Just on a local issue. The D.C. City Council approved an increase to the minimum wage to $15 an hour today. You mentioned earlier how the Democratic candidates have been pushing for that. Paul Ryan was asked about it, and he said it would “do more harm than good.” Is there a White House reaction to the D.C. vote today?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t seen the details on the D.C. bill. The President has long been advocating for national legislation that would increase the minimum wage. The minimum wage hasn’t been increased I believe in coming up on nine years now. That's too long for hardworking Americans to go without getting a raise. And the fact is right now if you are an individual working full-time making minimum wage and you're trying to raise a family of four, you’re raising that family of four below the poverty line.
So for somebody who -- for Republicans who claim that they believe that there should be a strong linkage between hard work and the ability to raise a family, you would think that if Republicans were actually committed to that principle, that they would support raising the minimum wage. But for some reason, they keep blocking it.
And again, I will leave it to them to try to come up with a rational, legitimate, intuitive explanation for why that is. Right now, it just looks like, to anybody who’s paying attention, that they’re doing the bidding of big business and they’re not concerned about the impact on working people. That’s just the way it looks. If that’s not the way it is, I’m happy for them to clarify. But to anybody who’s paying attention that sure is the way that it looks.
Goyal. Seems like a good day to call on you.
Q Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: I know the President was eagerly engaged on an issue that you’re quite interested in, so let’s discuss it.
Q Thank you, Josh. Two questions quickly. Prime Minister Modi and President Obama met several times in Prime Minister Modi’s two-year term, and they call each other friends. They got so close and deep relations, I believe in these two years, and also making trips -- the Prime Minister was here in the U.S. four times, and the President went twice in India.
My question is that -- how does President compares Prime Minister Modi with other global leaders that he meets hundreds of times in this White House? And if Prime Minister Modi has invited him to the Taj Mahal?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just say that I think what makes the relationship between Prime Minister Modi and President Obama so strong is the shared commitment that they have to warm relations between our two countries. Both leaders recognize that a strong relationship between the United States and India benefits the economy, the national security and the people of the United States and India. And I think that is what animates their relationship.
The President obviously has had an opportunity to spend time socially with Prime Minister Modi. Prime Minister Modi, as I recall, hosted a very nice state dinner for President Obama in India on Republic Day, when the President was there last year. Unfortunately, the President was not able to visit the Taj Mahal on that trip, but the President is certainly looking forward to having an opportunity to visit the Taj Mahal at some point after leaving the White House.
Q And second, India and U.S. made history yesterday -- for the first time, that -- over 200 -- after thousands of years of old items stolen or smuggled out of India, and they were presented or given under the leadership of President Obama and Attorney General yesterday to the Prime Minister. What you would call artifacts. So what do you think -- how the President thinks about this, that those items being stolen every day from India?
And also, at the same time, before coming to the U.S., the Prime Minister was in Switzerland and he was talking there with the Swiss President about stolen money from India by corrupt politicians or -- called black market money. If the President of U.S. is going to help India, just like they helped to bring these artifacts out -- so that black market money sitting -- millions of dollars out of India.
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I can’t speak to any details. I’m not aware of the conversations that you referenced there with the Swiss. What I can tell you is that I think what is evident in the conversations and the readout of the conversations that you’ve heard today is that the President is committed to strengthening the relationship between the United States and India. And we want to look for every opportunity we can to remove impediments in that important relationship, because the world and surely the citizens of our two countries benefit from a stronger relationship.
And so we’re seeking to deepen our cooperation on economic issues, on national security issues, on fighting terrorism, on fighting climate change. There are a whole host of ways in which the United States and India can work together to improve the world for the citizens in our two countries. And President Obama has made this relationship a priority. In fact, President Obama was interested in strengthening U.S. ties with India even before Prime Minister Modi took office. You’ll recall that the very first state dinner that Prime Minister -- I’m sorry, that President Obama and the First Lady hosted here at the White House was to host Prime Minister Modi’s predecessor here at the White House. And that was an important event, and I think it was an important symbol about the priority that the President places on the U.S. relationship with India. And the President is pleased that he has found a partner in Prime Minister Modi to extend and strengthen that relationship.
Q I want to just clarify one thing quickly. Prime Minister thanked Attorney General about the over 200 artifacts presented to India. And he said that more relations -- strengthening relations on this because Indians -- 1 billion Indians in India -- also they put on Facebook that this is a great relationship between two countries that items are being returned by the United States. And the U.S. helped India to get those items. And also, at the same time, those Panama Papers, among others.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, Goyal, I mean, just as it relates to the specific artifacts, I’m not aware of that particular issue. But obviously President Obama believes in the importance of a strong relationship between the United States and India, and if there’s an opportunity for us to remove impediments or irritants in that relationship, then we certainly want to take advantage of the opportunity to do so.
John, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thank you, Josh. You have some experience working for an historic candidate for President. You know the feeling that supporters had back in 2008 when President Obama became the presumptive nominee, when he became ultimately the nominee for the Democratic Party, becoming the first African-American major-party candidate to run and be the nominee for the parties of the presidency. Can you get a sense about what supporters of Hillary Clinton are feeling right now, with some news organizations saying that she is now the presumptive nominee for her party?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, Secretary Clinton's candidacy was historic back in 2008. And the President deeply respected the challenges that she encountered and overcame in running that campaign. It was a campaign in which she got 18 million votes to be the Democratic nominee for President -- a remarkable achievement in 2008. And she set out to pick up where she left off, and that process is coming to an end.
I think what I can say at this point is that one of the things that was important to President Obama was that the country could be quite proud of the symbolic progress that we have made by nominating and then electing and then reelecting an African-American to serve as President of the United States. That represents tremendous progress in our country. And the President has observed many times that he owes a deep debt of gratitude to civil rights activists of all faiths and all races who fought hard for the progress that our country has made, and he's a beneficiary of that hard work and of the sacrifices that they made.
There's a similar story to tell about the progress that our country has made when it comes to the rights of women. And there's a similar story to tell about how even Secretary Clinton's candidacy for the Democratic nomination is a reflection of how much progress our country has made and how she has benefitted from the commitment and sacrifice made by previous generations of Americans -- men and women, black, white, Hispanic. And I think she will at some point speak much more powerfully and cogently than I can about how she is a beneficiary of that work and inheritor of that legacy. But that's something that she'll, I'm sure, discuss more once this nomination process has come to a conclusion.
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