Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/9/2016
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
**Please see correction below marked by an asterisk.
2:24 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. I appreciate your patience on the schedule today. Obviously both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton had announcements they wanted to make today, and so I was doing my best to get out of their way and give them the opportunity to go first. And now I am here to answer any questions you may have about their announcements or any other topics that may be on your mind today.
So, Kevin, do you want to start?
Q Sure, Josh. Thank you. So I guess let’s just start with the obvious. Could you give us a little bit of the readout of what the President and Senator Sanders talked about during that hour-long meeting? Did they make any requests of each other?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, the President was pleased to have an opportunity to welcome Senator Sanders to the White House and congratulate him on the remarkable success that he enjoyed in the context of his Democratic -- his campaign for the Democratic nomination for President. Senator Sanders competed in every state across the country and earned more than 10 million votes for his campaign. That's a remarkable accomplishment, and the President complimented him and congratulated him on his success.
I think you could describe the conversation as a friendly conversation that was focused on the future. Part of that future conversation was about the importance of the upcoming general election. You've heard the President say on a number of occasions how important it is to him personally that he be succeeded in office by a President who is committed to building on the remarkable progress that our country has made over the last seven and a half years. So that certainly was an important part of the conversation.
But it went beyond that. There also was a conversation about the long-term future of the Democratic Party. And Senator Sanders’s campaign enjoyed so much success because he was able to inspire a lot of young people -- both Democrats and independents -- to support his campaign and to be engaged in the political process. That's a good thing.
And President Obama and Senator Sanders had an opportunity to talk about what work they could potentially do together in the future to ensure that the Democratic Party of the 21st century is diverse and vibrant and inclusive. That's been a long-stated goal of President Obama. And obviously President Obama had his own success in building a coalition that involved a lot of young Americans -- and not all Democrats.
Senator Sanders built on that progress, and they're hopeful that they’ll be able to work together in the future, not just at the national level but also at the state and local levels, as well.
Q Did they make any requests of each other?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m going to do my best to protect their ability to have a private conversation. But I think what is clear is that there’s a lot of agreement about the way forward. Obviously, there is a lot of agreement when it comes to the future of the Democratic Party that I just described. There’s also a lot of agreement about the highest priorities that the next President will have to grapple with. And so these priorities range from issues like addressing economic inequality and countering the influence of special interests in our politics, these are obviously issues that Senator Sanders discussed quite extensively on the campaign trail. But these are also issues that President Obama has had an opportunity to address.
And as you heard from Senator Sanders in the driveway a couple of hours ago, there also was a discussion about other issues like expanding economic opportunity for the middle class; making sure that we keep our commitment to our veterans; making sure that we give college graduates in this country the opportunity to succeed and not just be weighted down with extraordinary debt. So again, these are all issues that President Obama has spent the last seven years fighting for. And Senator Sanders has spent a significant amount of time talking about these issues, too -- not just in the context of his presidential campaign, but in the context of his decades in public service.
Q And I’m sure the President gave the Senator the courtesy of letting him know that he would be endorsing Secretary Clinton in the coming moments or hours. Could you just provide a little bit of how the President broke that to him -- I’m sure it was probably expected -- and what was the response? And is the President disappointed that Senator Sanders did not go outside of the White House, and in talking to reporters did not endorse Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by saying that, no. Senator Sanders I think has been quite clear that he intended to compete for votes in the upcoming District of Columbia primary that's scheduled for Tuesday. So I don't think anybody had the expectation that Senator Sanders was going to deviate from that plan.
At the same time, to go back to your first question, the President has had the opportunity to speak to Senator Sanders now three times in the last week. And as a result of those conversations I think it’s fair to say that Senator Sanders was not at all surprised by today’s announcement.
Q Did the President show Senator Sanders the video? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of their interactions, but I assure you that Senator Sanders was not surprised.
And, look, Senator Sanders began his statement in the driveway in front of the White House today by saying that President Obama and Vice President Biden had made a commitment to him early in the process that they would not put their thumb on the scale. And Senator Sanders himself said how much he appreciated that President Obama and Vice President Biden kept that promise.
Q When was the video recorded? And why was it decided that the endorsement would be done through video rather than having an event or some kind of other alternative?
MR. EARNEST: The video was recorded on Tuesday. And I think Secretary Clinton’s campaign has already announced that there will be an event, and the President is very much looking forward to traveling to Green Bay, Wisconsin, Titletown, with Secretary Clinton to appear with her in person at a campaign event and build support for her campaign in the state of Wisconsin, a state that President Obama won twice.
Q And does he have other plans next week to do campaign-related events for Secretary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: That's the only campaign event that's on the schedule at this point, but I would anticipate that it’s only the first of many campaign events between now and November.
Q You mentioned in the meeting things that the President would like to see, working together on those issues. Did Sanders also have things that he wanted to see from the White House? Or did he have any particular asks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll let Senator Sanders characterize the points that he raised in their meeting. And I think he did that, again, when he spoke to you a couple of hours ago. He was quite direct about his appreciation to the President for keeping his promise not to weigh in in the primary process and give Democratic voters across the country the opportunity to make a decision about who should represent our party in the general election.
And Senator Sanders, I think -- again, when I spoke to the President briefly about his conversation with Senator Sanders, I think both men are pretty enthusiastic about the opportunity that lies ahead, not just in advance of the general election, but over the course of a generation to ensure that the future of the Democratic looks as diverse and vibrant and inclusive as our country is.
Q Did the President ask Sanders to step out of the race sooner rather than later? And did he want him to step out before the D.C. primaries?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I mentioned yesterday when I spoke to a group of you, Senator Sanders has more than earned the right to make his own decision on his own timeframe about the future of his campaign. And the President certainly respects the important work that Senator Sanders has done on the campaign trail. He certainly respects the strong support that he's built in all 50 states. And that means that Senator Sanders gets to decide what the future of his campaign looks like.
I'll just point out -- again, when Senator Sanders spoke to all of you after meeting with the President, Senator Sanders reiterated how critically important it is for President Obama to be succeeded by a President who shares our values and is committed to building on the progress that this country has made under President Obama's leadership. That certainly was part of the conversation in the Oval Office. And Senator Sanders, when he spoke to all of you, made clear that that was a priority.
Q I mean, what was the point and the outcome of this meeting? What was decided between the two of them?
MR. EARNEST: Look, I think the point was for President Obama and Senator Sanders to continue the conversation that they've been having over the course of this week. And, look, in some ways, this is a conversation that dates all the way back to January when -- or February, whenever it was that Senator Sanders was here at the White House much earlier in the campaign.
So again, I don’t think there was any expectation either on the part of Senator Sanders or President Obama that Senator Sanders was going to make some abrupt change to his campaign strategy, which at this point has included competing in the D.C. primary that's scheduled for Tuesday.
Q So why release it on Twitter? And why have it come from Clinton instead of the President?
MR. EARNEST: I think obviously it makes -- there's some intuitive decisions about why it's important to give Secretary Clinton the opportunity to make this news. Obviously, I saw some of the early comments from her campaign that she was deeply appreciative of the President's endorsement. And the President was pleased to have the opportunity to share it. But it certainly is the decision for Secretary Clinton and her team to make about how best to use this material to advance her campaign.
Q And speaking of Twitter, you see a lot of Sanders supporters now putting out their continued support for Sanders, many of them saying, well, it's Bernie or nobody -- it won't be Clinton. What do you think is going to be the President's best approach, now that he is going to be out on the trail in a matter of days, to winning over those people?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, first of all, it's going to be Secretary Clinton's responsibility to win over those people. And I'm confident that she will have a very forceful case to make about the values that she represents. And so I think she'll have a strong case to make, but that's ultimately a case that she will make.
But President Obama certainly has a lot of credibility with those voters, I think that is true. President Obama, over the course of the last seven years, has fought very hard for many of the principles and priorities that Senator Sanders has been talking about over the course of this campaign. Senator Sanders has devoted an extraordinary amount of time to making sure that Wall Street doesn’t run amuck and trample on middle-class families.
And I can recite you -- I'll probably spare you at least right now -- a long recitation of all of the things that President Obama has done by implementing Wall Street reform to make sure that taxpayers are not on the hook for bailing out big banks that make risky bets, and also making sure that we're focused on expanding economic opportunity for the middle class. That is entirely consistent with a message that was spread by Senator Sanders in his campaign that clearly deeply resonated with voters -- young and old, Democrat and independent -- all across the country. So President Obama has a lot of credibility with those voters.
And look, here's the last thing: Senator Sanders obviously has a lot of credibility with those voters. And you heard Senator Sanders say to all of you just a couple of hours ago how critically important it is that President Obama be succeeded by somebody who shares our values and is dedicated to those progressive priorities.
So there are any number of people -- Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, and President Obama -- who can make a very forceful case to those who were enthusiastic supports of Senator Sanders in the primary.
Q Josh, you mentioned that the President we obviously know will be out next week with Secretary Clinton, and intends to be out many other times. How eager is he to get out there on the campaign trail again? I mean, is this like one more campaign for him?
MR. EARNEST: The President is very enthusiastic about the opportunity that he will have over the course of the next several months to make a strong case in support of Secretary Clinton. I think that is evident from the comments that President Obama made in Elkhart, Indiana last week. The stakes in this election are high, particularly if you take a look at the U.S. economy. We've made enormous progress over the last seven years, digging out of the ditch created by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The private sector is what led that recovery, but the private sector would not have succeeded without the important policy decisions that were made in the first couple of months of President Obama's presidency.
So for those voters who are focused on the economy, we've got a pretty strong case to make about the wisdom of the decisions made by President Obama and the commitment by Secretary Clinton to those principles. But I also think it was pretty evident from that video and from his appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jimmy Fallon that will air tonight at 11:30 -- that's a free plug there, Peter, for your network -- but I think anybody who has an opportunity to watch that interview will see that the President is quite enthusiastic about this election and about the prospect of being succeeded in office by Secretary Clinton.
Q I noticed in that video he seems to give Secretary Clinton some credit for the bin Laden decision. It’s mentioned in the video. But that was really his decision alone, he said in the past. What role did she have in that critical decision?
MR. EARNEST: I think the point of that video, where the President talks about her courage and her compassion and her heart, and how her service to the country are critically important to -- were critically important to his decision to endorse her in this campaign. And I think the point that he’s making in the video is that he chose to have Secretary Clinton by his side for the first four years of his presidency as he was making difficult decisions that had enormous consequences for the United States and our citizens.
Q Was she part of that decision?
MR. EARNEST: Well, she’s certainly in that picture where that decision is be executed. And she certainly was an important architect of the kinds of foreign policy decisions and strategic decisions that President Obama had to make over the first four years of his presidency.
Q And I don’t know if you’ve been tracking her Twitter feed up there --
MR. EARNEST: I have not.
Q -- but it may not surprise you that Donald Trump has tweeted.
MR. EARNEST: I’m not surprised.
Q “Obama just endorsed crooked Hillary. He wants four more years of Obama, but nobody else does.” (Laughter.) Is that what he wants? Four more years of Obama?
MR. EARNEST: Well, no. I think there have been a number of occasions over the last several months where you all have pointed out to me some differences between Secretary Clinton and President Obama. So they do not have the same opinion on every issue. But I think, again, just to go back to this video that was released today, the President said unequivocally that he does not believe -- at least he can’t remember somebody who has been more qualified -- a candidate that’s been more qualified to hold this office.
And after getting to know her personally, working closely with her in the first four years of this administration, and spending more than a year on the campaign trail competing against her in the 2008 presidential election, the President has had to opportunity to watch Secretary Clinton perform up close. And he’s seen her tenacity, her dedication, her commitment to a set of principles that they share. And that’s why the President is quite enthusiastic about her campaign.
Let’s move around. Toluse.
Q Thanks, Josh. Can you at this point confirm that the President did vote for Secretary Clinton during the Illinois primary a few months back?
MR. EARNEST: I did not ask the President about which box he checked on his ballot, but I’m not aware that he changed his mind at any point over the course of the primary.
Q And now that the endorsement is officially out, I want to sort of revisit a question that you were asked a couple of days ago about the First Lady. She’s going to be doing an event, the "[United] State of Women," I believe next week. Can we expect to see her, now that we have our first woman nominee, sort of make the case for Secretary Clinton on the campaign trail as well?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, that event that you’re referring to is one that has been in the works for months now here at the White House. So it is not a campaign event. It’s an official event to talk about a series of issues that are critically important to America’s women and American families. And there are a wide range of issues that they’ll discuss. Part of that event includes a conversation that the First Lady will have with Oprah Winfrey. So I don’t know if it will come up in the context of that conversation, but this is an event that was planned independent of any consideration of Secretary Clinton’s campaign.
That said, I think it is entirely fair for you to interpret President Obama’s remarks in the video that was released today as consistent with the First Lady’s views of the campaign. The First Lady is enthusiastic about Secretary Clinton’s campaign, and you can certainly interpret that video as a joint endorsement.
And at some point -- I don’t know exactly when that will be -- but at some point, I’m confident that the First Lady will have an opportunity to share her own views in her own words about why she believes it’s important for Secretary Clinton to succeed President Obama.
I’ll end by reminding you that there are a number of occasions where Mrs. Obama has discussed her deep admiration for Secretary Clinton’s public service, her career. She’s been a trailblazer, and Mrs. Obama deeply respects what Secretary Clinton has done and the issues that she’s fought for over the course of her long career.
Q One more. Yesterday, the President at the fundraiser said that he was concerned about the ability of the Democrats to do sort of the hard work of the ground game of turning out young voters, low-income voters, like he did in 2008 and 2012. Is that sort of a tacit criticism of the Clinton campaign, that she hasn’t been able to reach those voters so far?
MR. EARNEST: No, it’s not. The President was making a point similar to the point that he made in South Florida at the end of last week, where he talked about how important it is for Democrats to run scared, to not be complacent about what the polls say.
The stakes in this election are high, and the Republican nominee has certainly defied conventional wisdom in the past. And his campaign is one that Democrats should take seriously. And the President certainly intends to devote a lot of time and energy to making sure that voters all across the country -- Democrats, independents and Republicans -- understand the high stakes. And the President will certainly make a strong and clear case for the candidate that he believe is at least as qualified as any other candidate to seek the office of the presidency in our nation’s history.
Q Josh, a couple of questions. The Sanders campaign, or Bernie Sanders has been looking at history when it comes to this unification process. They have looked at 2008, when Hillary Clinton conceded and Barack Obama reached out his hand for unification with Hillary Clinton. For this President, what does the unification process with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders look like, particularly when it comes to his supporters?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I think you're making an important point, which is that there’s some relevant history here; that Secretary Clinton was not in such a different situation than the one facing Senator Sanders today.
What Secretary Clinton did -- and this is well-known history now -- is she was justifiably proud of the historic nature of her campaign in 2007 and 2008. She was proud of the strong support that she got from voters all across the country. But she also made clear that then-Senator Obama was the best opportunity that our country had to advance the priorities that she’d been campaigning on. And again, I think there’s a relevant analogy to be drawn between what happened eight years ago and what’s happening right now.
Q Since you're saying this relevant analogy, can you bring us back to how beyond paying for her campaign debt, bring us back to how President Obama worked with Hillary Clinton to get her supporters, who were very angry at the time, like now, to follow him? What was that piece that people had --
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think -- look, I think what’s important is to be respectful of those voters. And certainly in 2008, President Obama -- then-Senator Obama was deeply of the investment and commitment that had been shown by then-Senator Clinton’s supporters. And over the course of that summer and fall, President Obama and his campaign -- with the strong support and endorsement of then-Senator Clinton -- made a powerful case.
And I don't think there were too many of those supporters that were converted in a day. But over the course of the campaign, I think the President made a strong case. And I think Secretary Clinton is certainly well-positioned to do the same thing with regard to Senator Sanders’s supporters.
Q What is the concern in this administration about the independents that could go to Trump, particularly when it comes to issues of trade? They didn't like Hillary Clinton’s trade issues or trade stand, and they were for Bernie Sanders, and they’d vote for Donald Trump?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, as you all have pointed out to me a number of times in this room, all three of the candidates that you just named have the same position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And it’s a different one than President Obama has.
Q Okay, then lastly, one last piece to Tuesday and the video. What time was that video made? Was it after New Jersey? Or was it during the day? Or was it after California? What time was that video made?
MR. EARNEST: I believe it was during the day, but it certainly was after a number of your news organizations had declared Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee for President.
Q Thanks, Josh. That was the Map Room, right?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know exactly which room it was. It was a room in the White House residence. This is --
Q There are a lot of rooms.
MR. EARNEST: There are. I don't know which one it was. But this is certainly consistent with the practice that previous Presidents have followed when engaged in taping videos for political purposes. This is what President Reagan did. This is what both President Bushes did. This is what President Clinton did. And it’s what President Obama has done before.
Q Costs borne by the Hillary campaign?
MR. EARNEST: Either the Hillary campaign or the DNC. What I can confirm for you is it was not filmed at government expense.
Q Who wrote the script?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know who was involved in writing the script. But again --
Q Both camps at the White House, and the Hillary campaign, or the DNC?
MR. EARNEST: Some combination I think is the best way to describe it.
Q And you have always said in the past that when it comes to the President’s endorsements, it’s the candidate who makes the decision about the timing. Your hesitation about confirming that the President may have given a head’s up to Senator Sanders in their meeting, I kind of want to nail that down. Did the Hillary Clinton campaign decide when that went up? Or did you guys decide when that went up?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't recall having said that the candidates themselves determine that. Obviously, President Obama made a very purposeful decision over the course of this campaign to not weigh in and to give Democratic voters across the country the opportunity to determine who should represent our party in the general election. So the timing of this decision was one that was driven by the President. But obviously, as I noted yesterday, the White House had an open line of communication with each campaign. And so in order to make sure that Senator Sanders wasn’t surprised, it required President Obama to communicate with Senator Sanders. And in order to make sure that Secretary Clinton’s campaign was in a position to release the video, we obviously had to communicate with them, as well.
Q And lastly, poor D.C. voters, right? (Laughter.) Should they just stay home? Is that part of the message here, that the decision has been made now, the race is over? Their votes don't matter as much a California, New Jersey, or other states?
MR. EARNEST: Well, no, that's not how I would describe it. I think the President is somebody who has on a number of occasions articulated his view that people should be engaged in the political process. People should be engaged in the public debate. And certainly an important way to do that is to participate in elections. There are delegates that are up for election to the Democratic Convention, and that is something that's worth voting on.
Look, I think what other people have suggested is that there are potentially reforms to the nomination process that could be made that could potentially put District voters in a position to have more influence on the process than they do now.
Q Josh, thank you. A few quick different subjects.
MR. EARNEST: Sure.
Q Does the President have confidence in Debbie Wasserman Schultz to retain her position through the end of this cycle?
MR. EARNEST: James, the President was in South Florida at the end of last week, and he talked about her service as the chair of the Democratic National Committee. The President appointed her to be the chair of the DNC during his first term, which means that part of her legacy at the DNC is having built a Democratic campaign apparatus that succeeded in reelecting the first African American President of the United States.
President Obama is, of course, the first President since Eisenhower to be elected and reelected with more than 50 percent of the vote. And certainly the DNC and the structure that was built and financed through Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s efforts can take some credit for that. She should.
So the President made clear that Debbie Wasserman Schultz has always had his back, and he’s going to have hers. And the President announced his support for her reelection campaign. And he certainly is appreciative of all the important work that she has done at the DNC.
Q Was there ever any point where the President ever considered endorsing anyone other than Hillary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: As I alluded to Toluse, I’m not aware that the President ever changed his mind in the course of the Democratic primary.
Q You mentioned earlier that President Obama carried Wisconsin twice in a row. Why shouldn’t we interpret the President’s decision to campaign there with Hillary Clinton as his first outing as a sign of weakness on the part of the Democratic ticket since they’re going to be campaigning in a state where, by all accounts, they should easily be able to retain that state?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President had to compete for Wisconsin both in 2008 and 2012. Those were hard-fought elections, but both times he came out on top. So I would anticipate a similar outcome in 2016.
Q Two more things really quickly. You just stated at the podium just now that you believe that there’s a very strong case to be made for the President’s economic stewardship over the course of the last seven and a half years. Senator Sanders, in his statement in the White House driveway today, painted a very different picture. Senator Sanders said that the “United States right now is drifting toward oligarchy.” Does the President agree with that?
MR. EARNEST: I think the President certainly agrees that there is more work to be done to address increasing economic inequality in this country.
Q Are we drifting toward oligarchy?
MR. EARNEST: Those are Senator Sanders’s words.
Q I’m asking if you agree.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what the President agrees with is the notion that there is more that can be done to fight economic inequality in this country. And the President has put forward some very specific ideas for how to do that. Unfortunately, many of those ideas have been blocked by Republicans in Congress. We can certainly start by raising the minimum wage.
But, look, I think the President is proud -- and justifiably so -- of the remarkable progress that our country has made over the last seven years. But he’s certainly not satisfied. There is a lot more important work that needs to be done, which is why he believes it’s so important that he’s succeeded by somebody who wants to build on the progress that we’ve made and not tear it down.
Q Presumably, if you or the President agreed that we are presently drifting toward oligarchy you would have said so in response to my question.
MR. EARNEST: Those are Senator Sanders’s words, and I’m using my own to convey our view.
Q Last subject matter. Previously, the President has used one public forum or another to comment on the FBI investigation into Mrs. Clinton and her email conduct. At one point, he stated that as far as he could see, there was no real damage done to national security. You yourself from this podium have suggested that the investigation wasn’t trending toward any focus on Mrs. Clinton herself. I wonder if you could address for us the potential conflict of interest that might exist when the President of the United States, the head of the executive branch, is openly saying, I want this woman to succeed me in the Oval Office, and you have other employees of the executive branch -- career prosecutors, FBI agents -- working this case who now have just heard how the President wants to see this case resolved, in essence. Isn’t there some conflict there?
MR. EARNEST: James, there is not. And you noted a couple of instances in which the President had been asked about the FBI investigation, and in each of those answers the President made clear that that investigation is one that is being conducted independent of any sort of political interference. That is a principle to which the President is resolutely committed.
You mentioned my comments. My comments were actually also in response to a question and were a reference to published reports of comments from FBI officials about the direction of the investigation.
But, look, the reason that the President feels confident that he can go out and make this endorsement and record a video in which he describes his strong support for Secretary Clinton’s campaign is that he knows the people who are conducting the investigation aren’t going to be swayed by any sort of political interference. They aren’t going to be swayed by political forces. That they know that the investigation should be guided by the facts and that they should follow the evidence where it leads. And the President has complete confidence that that’s exactly what they’ll do.
Q So when a career prosecutor or an FBI agent who’s working on the Clinton investigation hears this President speak openly of how he wants Hillary Clinton to succeed him, you don’t think that that career prosecutor or that FBI agent takes that as some indication of how the President wants to see this case resolved?
MR. EARNEST: No. I think that those career prosecutors understand that they have a job to do, and that that job that they’re supposed to -- which is to follow the facts, to pursue the evidence to a logical conclusion -- that that is a job that they are responsible for doing without any sort of political interference. And the President expects them to do that job.
And, look, this is the reason that we actually ask career federal prosecutors to take the lead on these kinds of matters. They’re the ones who conduct this investigation. They don’t have political jobs. They have career jobs as law enforcement officers and as prosecutors and as investigators. And that’s what their responsibility is. And that’s why the President, when discussing this issue, in each stage has reiterated his commitment to this principle -- that any criminal investigation should be conducted independent of any sort of political interference and that people should be treated the same way before the law, regardless of their political influence, regardless of their political party, regardless of their political stature, and regardless of what political figure has endorsed them.
Q To your knowledge, has President Obama ever discussed the Department of Justice investigation with Mrs. Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: He has not. He has not.
Q Josh, to what extent would you say today’s meeting with Bernie Sanders was -- in front of the cameras, here at the White House -- a formality in some ways to soften the blow not only to him but to so many of his young supporters who are so badly needed on the campaign trail backed by Hillary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I would not describe the meeting as a formality because I think the President is deeply respectful of Senator Sanders and the campaign that he has run over the last year or so.
So again, they had a serious conversation about the stakes of the upcoming general election and about the future of the Democratic Party, something that both candidates are quite interested in. So this was an important meeting. This was an important part of the President’s day, and certainly was an important part of Senator Sanders’s day too.
Q But was there a request to get his grassroots supporters on board with Hillary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: Look -- no, I’m not aware of any sort of specific requests like that. I think this was an opportunity for the President and Senator Sanders to sit down and discuss the future. They did it in friendly terms -- I think you guys saw them walking on the colonnade -- that Senator Sanders I think is evidently and justifiably proud of all that he’s accomplished. And I think he appreciate the President showing him respect by inviting him to the White House and sitting down for an hour-long conversation with him, and giving him the time and space that’s necessary for Senator Sanders to make some important decisions about the future of his campaign and the future of the movement that he’s built.
Q Time and space? I mean, it was not much later that the actual endorsement came out. I mean, that’s not much time and space.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Senator Sanders is going to make his own decisions. When I’m referring to time and space, I’m referring to Senator Sanders making his own decisions about the future of his campaign based on his own preferences and based on his own schedule. President Obama did the same thing. And the good news is, is that both men have a strong commitment to a core set of values and principles, particularly as it relates to the importance of investing in the middle class. Both men have a commitment to the principle of grassroots movements and grassroots coalitions, and how our party and our country are stronger when citizens at the grassroots level are engaged in the process of self-government.
And both men have shared the view that the upcoming general election is really important, and that it’s important that President Obama be succeeded by somebody who has the same kind of commitment to those values that Senator Sanders and President Obama do.
Q In the clip, the President used the term “fired up” -- “I’m fired up,” which is reminiscent, of course, of his own campaign. Does the President see hitting the campaign trail now for Hillary as, in some ways, an extension of his own campaign because in so many ways it will help preserve his legacy? I mean, how mindful of that is he?
MR. EARNEST: Look, this is Secretary Clinton’s campaign, and President Obama is enthusiastic about doing all that he can to support it. And that’s exactly what he said in the video.
Q That language was deliberate, no?
MR. EARNEST: It was deliberate. And I think the President is actually making clear that he’s enthusiastic about Secretary Clinton’s campaign -- again, not just because she’s got as much -- she’s as qualified as any presidential candidate in American history has been, but because she also has demonstrated, in a variety of circumstances -- difficult circumstances -- the heart, the compassion and the courage to get the job done. And the President feels strongly that she’s the right person to succeed him in office.
Q Can you tell us anything about this Biden meeting with Sanders today and the speech he’s going to be giving?
MR. EARNEST: What I do know is that Vice President Biden has invited Senator Sanders to come to the Naval Observatory, the vice presidential residence, for a meeting around four o'clock this afternoon where Vice President Biden and Senator Sanders will have an opportunity to have a conversation about Senator Sanders’s campaign, about the upcoming general election, and many of the issues that Senator Sanders has been discussing on the campaign trail.
Vice President Biden is somebody with a political following in his own right. He certainly is somebody who would be a valuable surrogate on the campaign trail. But once that meeting is concluded, I’ll give Senator Sanders and the Vice President’s office the opportunity to discuss any outcome of that meeting.
Q Is it a strategy session? Would you describe it as that?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll let them describe it once they’ve had an opportunity to talk.
Q Does the President support getting rid of superdelegates?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ve not heard the President weigh in with that view. Obviously, the Democratic National Committee is responsible for laying out the process of choosing the Democratic presidential nominee. I made a reference to this in the briefing the other day -- that every four years or so, there is intense consideration within the Democratic Party about the best way to choose the Democratic nominee.
I happened to work at the DNC in 2004. And in 2003, there was an established process with public hearings and reports and Blue Ribbon panels all dedicated to taking a close look at the process of choosing the Democratic nominee for President. And there were a number of things that were considered -- everything from the role of superdelegates to the first-in-the-nation status of both Iowa and New Hampshire. There was a discussion about whether or not primaries should be organized on a regional basis. So there are lots of ideas for ways to change the process of choosing the Democratic nominee. I think we would all acknowledge that it's rather peculiar process that both parties are engaged in.
But I think what's important, what both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton acknowledged, is that they knew what the rules were when they signed up. They knew exactly what role superdelegates would play in this process. But look, if the process wants to engage in another process to consider making changes, that's something that party officials should do.
Q Can you say a little bit about why the first joint campaign will take place in Green Bay? Where does that fit within in your strategy going forward?
MR. EARNEST: Well, to be clear, that's Secretary Clinton's strategy, so I think I'd mostly let her campaign talk about it. But I would just observe that President Obama has won two presidential campaigns over the last eight years, and he won the state of Wisconsin both times. So he's certainly got some influence and a following in Wisconsin.
Q Thanks, Josh. So the President has said he appreciates Senator Sanders bringing up the special interest influence in politics. Can President Obama do anything about campaign finance reform in his remaining months in office?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I don’t have any executive orders or policy announcements or anything to put forward today. The President has put forward a couple of ideas for what would bring greater transparency to our political process. The President is obviously an enthusiastic supporter of the DISCLOSE Act. This is a proposal that was put forward by Democrats in Congress that would bring much-needed transparency to the financing of political campaigns in the United States. For some reason, Republicans don’t seem to support that principle. The President has in the State of the Union address expressed his concern about the impact of the Citizens United decision on the financing of American elections. And it's why the President has speculated that what may be necessary is actually a rather painstaking process of amending our Constitution to make clear certain principles about the importance of transparency in our elections and how the American people and our political process would benefit from greater transparency.
Q When did President Obama first communicate to Secretary Clinton that he would be endorsing her campaign? Did it take place in that phone conversation on Tuesday?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have details of their conversations to go into. Obviously, the President did have an opportunity to make a congratulatory call to Secretary Clinton. What's also true is that the President's political director, David Simas, is somebody who is principally responsible for managing the lines of communication between the White House and the individual campaigns. So he certainly played the core role. That's the role that's ascribed for him. And he played that role of communicating with both campaigns to ensure that nobody was surprised and that this was reasonably well-organized.
Q To be clear, he would have taped it that day? So by the time they spoke, the tape would already be in the can, right?
MR. EARNEST: The President did tape the video prior to placing his phone call to President Clinton on Tuesday evening.
Q For Bernie Sanders supporters who say, hey, all he wanted was to be able to give Americans the choice without President Obama tipping the scales until every American had had a chance to vote, they'll say, why couldn’t the guy have just waited until after Tuesday in Washington, D.C? What do you say to the Sanders folks who say, why didn’t he just give us a few more days?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I think I'd say a couple of things. The first is, I think this is an indication of President Obama's enthusiasm to get engaged in the general election and be supportive of the Democratic nominee. The stakes are high. We do have a presumptive Democratic nominee based on calculations that have been conducted by your news organization and many others. And the President is enthusiastic about Secretary Clinton, based on this own personal relationship with her, but also watching on her in action on the campaign trail and in serving as Secretary of State.
But, look, Senator Sanders said it more authoritatively than I can about how deeply he respected President Obama and Vice President Biden not weighing in and keeping their commitment to allow Democratic voters across the country to make a decision about who should represent our party in the general election. And we now know that Secretary Clinton has gotten a majority of delegates that will be voting on the party nominee in Philadelphia.
Q Is the First Lady traveling with him on Wednesday?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t believe that she is, no.
Q And I guess beyond that -- there was one other thing I was going to tell you, but I think I forgot it.
MR. EARNEST: (Laughter.) Well, I'll come back to you if it occurs to you.
Q I think it'll be a good one.
MR. EARNEST: Okay, sounds good. Carol.
Q He yields the balance. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: We'll go to the gentlelady from Pennsylvania, Ms. Lee.
Q You should feel free to interrupt. (Laughter.) Did the President come away from the Sanders meeting with a commitment or at least the belief that there will not be any confrontation or contested convention?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President came away from his conversation feeling quite good about it. Again, I think this was evident from what all of you were able to see from their interaction on the Colonnade. And I think, again, I think Senator Sanders said it best out in the driveway here. He's enormously appreciative of the way that President Obama and Vice President Biden conducted themselves in the context of the primary. And Senator Sanders made clear that there are a set of principles and priorities that he's going to continue to fight for, including in the context of the general election. And I think based on Senator Sanders's comments about the Republican nominee, it's clear that he understands the stakes in this election. President Obama certainly understands the stakes in this election. You've heard him talk about that in a number of places, including in Elkhart.
So Senator Sanders has earned the right to make his own decisions about his campaign on a timeframe of his choosing. But the President came away from the conversation feeling quite good about it.
Q On a different topic. The other day, your statement of administration policy on the NDAA, the language on the Gitmo provisions was a little stronger than usual, and it said that the President -- that the White House would treat those provisions as consistent with the President's constitutional authority. Should we interpret that to mean that he will just ignore them?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t had a detailed conversation with our lawyers about that language, so why don’t we take a look at that and we'll follow up with you. I just want to I just want to make sure I give you a good steer.
I suspect that the language was chosen quite carefully for a reason. I just want to make sure I can help you understand that correctly.
John, nice to see you.
Q Thank you. Following up on Carol’s question about the Sanders fight on, he also talks about those issues and principles of fighting for them in Philadelphia, at the convention. What’s your understanding of what that means?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I’ll let Senator Sanders explain it. But I think Secretary Clinton has indicated that she believes that those are priorities worth fighting for, as well. And I’m not sure the Republican nominee has indicated as much.
So again, I think the case that I have been making for quite some time now, and President Obama has been making for quite some time now, is that the Democratic Party is united around a core set of principles. And despite some admittedly significant stylistic differences between the two candidates, their platforms and their priorities are drawn from the same values. I don't think the same is true of the Republican candidates. And I don't think the debate that we see on the Republican side of the aisle reflects that, right?
There are even vigorous disputes among Republicans who are currently serving in Congress about the wisdom of a variety of approaches. They've indicated some discomfort with some of the policies advocated by the Republican nominee.
So the President has pointed out that there is a pretty stark difference here between our two parties. And I think what’s important -- and the real, most important indicator is an acknowledgement of the huge stakes in this general election. And we've heard President Obama talk about that at some length, and we heard Senator Sanders talk about that on the driveway just a couple hours ago.
Q And also on the driveway he talked about looking forward to meeting with Secretary Clinton, seeing how they could work together to defeat Donald Trump. And also on these issues on Philadelphia, about what’s going to happen in Philadelphia, is it possible that the President could get involved to try to facilitate these discussions and facilitate some sort of agreements using his auspices and good offices?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, obviously the President knows both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton well. The President has got deep respect for both of them, and I think that respect has been reciprocated in those relationships. So the President certainly would be able to play a facilitating role if one is necessary, but we’ll find out if it’s necessary.
Alexis, nice to see you.
Q Nice to see you, too. Josh, I have three related questions.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q Because we've had presidential cycles where the sitting President has not always been welcomed by the nominee on the campaign trail, I just wanted to ask you: The President’s enthusiasm, how will he be using his time, say, between now and the convention, in addition to Wisconsin? Are we going to see him coordinating constantly with the campaign to develop a schedule both separate and apart from the nominee? What does he envision in terms of a commitment of time to help?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by saying that the President’s most important job is Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States. And over the course of the last year and a half, you've all heard me say on many occasions that the President is determined to squeeze every last drop of opportunity that he can out of the days that are remaining while he’s in office. So that will be his number one priority. It always has been, and it will be -- even though he’s quite enthusiastic about the Democratic nominee.
That being said, when it comes to strategic decisions about the President’s campaign schedule, a lot of it is going to be driven by Secretary Clinton and her campaign. This is her campaign. And President Obama has indicated that he wants to help. I’m confident that he’ll have some advice for Secretary Clinton and potentially maybe even members of her team. But they're the ones that are making these decisions. And the President is quite enthusiastic about what he can do to try to help.
Q My second question is related to that. Because the teams are so woven together in terms of having served at the White House, having served in previous administrations, and the President joked about, I have advice, maybe they don't want to hear it, but I have advice, right -- how is he going to give that advice? In other words, has he talked to Secretary Clinton along the way? Has he talked to her? You said he talked to Sanders three times. How often has he been talking to her? Is he just going -- does he consider himself an advisor?
MR. EARNEST: No, he does not consider himself an advisor. But he certainly is somebody who has got a lot of relevant experience, and he’s somebody with a track record of success. So presumably, Secretary Clinton and even Senator Sanders, as he completes his campaign, would be interested in President Obama’s advice.
But both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders have plenty of advisors and plenty of other people who aren’t advisors eager to give them advice. So the truth is the President is eager to be helpful, and he’ll be helpful in whatever way he can.
Q How often has he spoken to the former Secretary this week?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know of at least one conversation. This is the election night conversation when the President congratulated her for getting a sufficient number of delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination. I don't have any conversations to read out. You know that they've had an opportunity to meet here at the White House two or three times over the course of the campaign. And in part that's because they're friends, but in part that's because they both have a pretty keen interest in the general election.
Q Do you know whether they will be together? She’s supposed to be in town tomorrow. I just wondered if they're going to get together before Wisconsin.
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any meetings that are planned for tomorrow, so I don't believe they will. So I suspect that the next opportunity that the President will have to see Secretary Clinton in person will be in Titletown on Wednesday.
Q And the last question is, some members of the Cabinet have already endorsed Secretary Clinton for nominee, obviously before she became the nominee. What’s the President’s direction to members of the Cabinet who may want to continue to be helpful or may want to join now to be helpful in terms of their use of their time, how they see fit politically? What is his direction to them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, he’s got a couple of directives. The first is that each of those individuals has a day job that's more important than the campaign. Each of those Cabinet secretaries is invested with significant responsibilities that has a significant impact on the American people. And I’ve got total confidence that all those Cabinet secretaries understand that that is their first priority.
The second thing is that there are rules in place that govern the way that government employees can engage in political activities. And the President expects that all of the employees in the federal government, from Cabinet secretaries on down, will be conscientious about following those laws, both the letter and the spirit. So that would be his second directive.
But consistent with the rather significant requirements of their day job, and consistent with the laws that govern political activity, the President would leave it to individual Cabinet members to make a decision about how involved they would like to be in the upcoming election.
Q Josh, in your statement on Tuesday night, you specifically said that Sanders had requested today’s meeting, and then just earlier you indicated that his decision to announce the endorsement today might not have been a surprise to Senator Sanders, given the fact that they had spoken earlier this week. Would it be right to assume maybe that Senator Sanders may have requested the meeting -- that you hold off on the endorsement until that meeting took place? Can you talk a little bit more how that meeting came together?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t think I’m going to get into all the details of their conversation, but the President certainly was interested in a conversation with Senator Sanders. Senator Sanders did suggest and did request that President Obama make time in his schedule for the two men to get together. The President was happy to do that and invited Senator Sanders to come to the White House to have that discussion. And the President felt that it was appropriate and respectful to withhold any formal announcement of an endorsement until he’d had an opportunity to sit down with Senator Sanders.
Obviously, late on Tuesday night, Senator Sanders was on the West Coast, and President Obama had his own busy travel schedule yesterday, so this morning was the first opportunity that the two men could get together. And the President was pleased to have that conversation. And Senator Sanders, as he said out in front of the West Wing a couple hours ago, was appreciative of the way that President Obama handled his business.
Q To be clear, you’re not saying that Senator Sanders requested that he hold off on an endorsement until they had a chance to meet?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any sort of request like that. I think Senator Sanders’s request was merely for an opportunity to sit down with President, and the President was happy to oblige and to arrange a meeting at the White House today.
Q And then the Vice President has been a bit freer in commenting about the race, but does this endorsement extend to him as well? Or will he make his own separate announcement?
MR. EARNEST: I’d refer you to the Vice President’s office for any sort of formal endorsement that the Vice President would choose to make.
Q And the last question is: In the video he talks about I think he’s not sure that anybody has been more qualified to be President. Is he included himself eight years ago when he said that? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Well, I mean, when you just take a raw look at qualifications, I think that’s pretty obvious. She served as Secretary of State for four years. She is somebody who has been in the public eye for a couple of decades, including *four eight years as United States senator and eight years as First Lady.
So she is somebody who brings a wide range of experience. And I cite her experience as First Lady because she traveled the world, and was, particularly at the end of her tenure, essentially a diplomat for the United States.
So I think you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a presidential candidate -- with the possible exception of people who had served as Vice President before they ran for President. So somebody like --
Q Richard Nixon.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Richard Nixon or George H.W. Bush, somebody who had served for eight years as Vice President.
Q Al Gore?
MR. EARNEST: Al Gore. So you could think of some other candidates who would fill that role. But with the exception of sitting Vice Presidents, I think you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a candidate throughout American history who’s got more experience and is more qualified than Secretary Clinton to do this job.
Q Not to belabor the tick-tock, but just so I’m clear, you mentioned that the President talked with Bernie Sanders three times this week. When was the first time that he broached the possibility and prospect that he was going to endorse Secretary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not going to get into the details of the conversations, but obviously he had a conversation on Sunday, a conversation on Tuesday, and then the conversation in the Oval Office today. Those were the three conversations that I was referring to. But I don’t think I’m going to get into the details of exactly the nature of those conversations in each day.
Q Okay. And for today’s meeting, what was -- I mean, you mentioned the President has some relevant experience here, given the campaign eight years ago. What was his advice to Senator Sanders, if he had any, about how to take the coalition that he’s built throughout the campaign that the President talked about in the video, was impressive and he congratulated him on, and do something with it that would help boost Secretary Clinton’s candidacy? I mean, were there specific things -- are there specific things that the President thinks he needs to do now?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think this is the best way that I can describe it to you while also trying to protect their ability to have a private conversation. The relevant experience that President Obama has is from 2008, in which he had also run in a competitive Democratic primary contest. President Obama came out the winner, but he benefitted enormously from the runner-up -- then-Senator Clinton -- enthusiastically supporting his general election campaign. And President Obama was able to speak firsthand how meaningful that was to him personally and to his campaign to have the strong support of then-Senator Clinton for his general election presidential race.
And so that’s the perspective that President Obama could share with Senator Sanders. Each situation is different, but I think there are some clear parallels here. And I think it was beneficial. I’ll let Senator Sanders speak for himself, but I suspect it was beneficial for Senator Sanders to hear President Obama’s perspective about how meaningful that endorsement was.
And you’ll recall that that endorsement from then-Senator Clinton came after she celebrated the accomplishments of her campaign. She gave a big speech here in Washington, D.C. -- I believe it was at the National Building Museum -- where she talked about the 18 million new cracks in the glass ceiling. And that was a genuine celebration of the movement and campaign that she had built. And the success of that campaign was worthy of enormous respect.
But shortly after that, she traveled with President Obama to New Hampshire and they had an event together where her presence on the stage alongside then-Senator Obama was really important. It didn’t change everybody’s mind that day, but it initiated a process where, over the course of the summer and fall, President Obama and Senator Clinton made a persuasive case to her supporters that President Obama was the right choice to succeed President George W. Bush in office.
I think what’s also true is that then-Senator Clinton announcing her support for Senator Obama’s general election campaign didn’t diminish her status at all. I think, if anything, her status as a singular political figure in the Democratic Party and in the country was enhanced. And her performance on the campaign trail, both in the primary election where they competed against one another, but also in the general election, where she was giving voice to many of the priorities that were animating President Obama’s campaign, were part of the reason that he chose her to be Secretary of State.
So again, these situations are different. The candidates are different. The dynamics of the race are different. But I think there’s some relevant parallels to be drawn, and hopefully President Obama’s perspective was useful to Senator Sanders as he makes some important decisions about the future of his campaign.
Q So did he request that Senator Sanders think about -- actually think about endorsing her and doing it quickly?
MR. EARNEST: Look, President Obama was deeply respectful of Senator Sanders. And because of the enormous success of his campaign, Senator Sanders is entitled to the time and space that he needs to make that decision on his own.
Q And the timing of the campaign appearance with Senator Clinton -- or Secretary Clinton next week, is it a coincidence that it’s the day after the D.C. primary is over, and it’s important for Senator Sanders to compete in that? Or is that something that the President did consciously, knowing that Senator Sanders wants to be able to be a factor in that contest?
MR. EARNEST: For the decision about the timing, I’d refer you to the Clinton campaign.
Q You mentioned a couple times that the President and Senator Sanders seemed to have a fun time when they were walking down the colonnade. We saw them laughing, the President even patted him on the back. What were they talking about?
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t talk to him about that aspect of their conversation.
Q You don’t know what the joke was?
MR. EARNEST: It was a funny one, apparently. But, look, I think -- I suspect that based on my observation and President Obama’s own experience in having run a vigorous, longer-than-expected Democratic primary campaign, that there’s a little bit of a weight that’s lifted off Senator Sanders’s shoulders. He’s got some critically important decisions to make. But I think he can be profoundly proud of the movement that he’s built and the results that he has to show for it. And I think that would put anybody in a good mood.
Q Donald Trump has been trying to appeal to Sanders supporters by asking them to “get even with Clinton” by supporting him. How important is Sanders --
MR. EARNEST: That’s quite a campaign slogan, huh?
MR. EARNEST: “Get even.” (Laughter.)
Q Lots of slogans coming out of this campaign.
MR. EARNEST: That will be really inspiring. (Laughter.)
Q How important is Sanders’s concession and the timing of that to trying to keep those Sanders supporters enthusiastic about the Democratic nominee? Is Tuesday better than July?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I'm not going to backseat drive as Senator Sanders makes these decisions. So the unity of the Democratic Party will be important and important to Secretary Clinton's success in the general election. And in talking about how Secretary Clinton can succeed in winning the support of the 10 million Democrats and independents that supported Senator Sanders in the race, Senator Sanders is going to be an enormously influential voice and advocate to his supporters. But ultimately his decision about all this will be up to him.
Q Since it's being reported on Tuesday, was the plan always to release the video a couple of hours after the two men met at the Oval Office? Or did that meeting have an influence on the timing?
MR. EARNEST: The rough timing -- as you could tell by a couple of changes to today's briefing schedule, the timing did shift a little bit over the course of the day today. So, once again, I appreciate your patience with that. But the general timeframe here is something that was well-established.
Q And my last question is about the attacks in Tel Aviv. What does the White House make of Israel's decision to suspend entry permits to Palestinians? Does the White House find that an appropriate response? Is it too similar in some ways to the presumptive Republican nominee's proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the United States because of terrorism?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by saying that we offer our condolences to the families of those who are mourning the loss of loved ones in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv yesterday. This is violence against innocent civilians, and it's an outrage and something that's worthy of widespread condemnation.
The United States continues to stand strongly with our allies in Israel as they confront a very difficult security situation inside their own country. So we're going to support them and we're going to stand by them as they deal with the challenge of securing their country and protecting their citizens. But I don’t have any comment on the steps that they have taken to try to do that.
Q In terms of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I know you reiterated the President's support for her. Bernie Sanders has been a sharp critic of her leadership of the DNC, and I'm wondering if you could provide any insights for us as to whether her leadership came up in the context of their conversation or whether there's anything you can say to the extent that the President and Bernie Sanders talked about structural changes within the DNC, beyond the platform that could help reflect his efforts to change the way the Democratic Party operates.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have additional details of their conversation to share. As I mentioned to James, the President is deeply appreciative of Debbie Wasserman Schultz's service as the chair of the DNC. And I think her track record, particularly as it relates to the last presidential election, speaks for itself.
Over the last several months, Senator Sanders has expressed some frustration and concern about the process of choosing a Democratic presidential nominee. And he'll have to make his decisions about how best to pursue reforms of that process. But look, everybody knew the rules when they signed up, and Senator Sanders has indicated that a desire to change those rules in a way that he believes would make the process more fair. And that's something that will have to be considered by Democrats across the country.
Mark, I'll give you the last one.
Q Thanks. Josh, can you tell us why Senator Sanders arrived at the residence rather than the West Wing? Was it just for the photo-opportunity?
MR. EARNEST: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q Awfully short. (Laughter.) The Green Bay event on Wednesday, is that a Hillary Clinton campaign event?
MR. EARNEST: Yes. It is a campaign event in support of Secretary Clinton's campaign.
Q Do any White House staffers have to go off payroll in setting up the President's participation?
MR. EARNEST: No. Not that I'm aware of, at least. I'm going to have to jog my memory from the 2010 campaign. But there are regulations that govern political activities. So there are members of the President's staff who can support him as he does his job, and one of those jobs is to be the leader of a political party. So there are narrow circumstances in which members of the President's staff can assist him and advise him as he undertakes those activities. The best example of that is the President's political director, David Simas, who has been the principal point of coordination -- again, within the balance of the law -- between the White House and the relevant presidential campaigns.
Q Have you got any White House reaction to the Chinese intercept of the American aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft? Is this another one of those incidents where you're just going to lodge a complaint through normal military channels?
MR. EARNEST: We certainly will raise our concerns through usual military channels. But the Department of Defense has mentioned this directly that, back on June 7th, earlier this week, there were two Chinese jets that intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that was operating in international airspace. The concern is that the Chinese jets conducted that intercept at an unsafe, excessive rate of closure.
The initial assessment from the Department of Defense is that this intercept and its unsafe nature appears to be a case of what the Department of Defense has described as improper airmanship. And they arrived at that conclusion because, based on their analysis, there was no other provocative or unsafe maneuvers that were executed. So that's the analysis of the Department of Defense.
So even though it was a case of improper airmanship and not otherwise provocative, we still do raise these concerns with Chinese officials, because again, U.S. aircraft was operating in international waters, consistent with international law and consistent with the principle that the President and Secretary of Defense have articulated on a number of occasions, which is that the United States will operate, fly and sail anywhere that international law allows. That's just what our aircraft was doing on June 7th.
Q Doesn’t that mean the administration does not believe China was trying to send any message to the U.S. with this intercept?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think in this case the assessment from the Department of Defense is that this was a case of improper airmanship and that there were no other provocative maneuvers that occurred.
Q And one last issue. Besides that of a proud parent, will President Obama be playing any role at his daughter's commencement, graduation tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: You have adequately summarized the President's entire role in tomorrow's ceremony. So he will be there to see his first-born cross the stage and receive her diploma. And he and the First Lady are enormously proud of their daughter's accomplishments.
Q Do you know if he was asked to speak?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if he was asked to speak. But if he were, he would decline.
Q Because he's going to be too overwrought with emotion to him hear it say it again and again?
MR. EARNEST: The President has had an opportunity to give three commencement addresses this year, and this is an opportunity for him to not play the role of commencement speaker but rather to play the role of proud parent, as you described it.
Q Is it bittersweet? Can you address what he asked?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President talked about this a little bit with Mr. Fallon on "The Tonight Show" that will air tonight as well. And I think for every parent there's a sense that they're enormously proud of their child, pleased to see that they've grown up healthy and successful, but also -- yeah, it's a little bittersweet to see your child grow up. My son is only two and there are sometimes when I feel myself a little bittersweet about his growth.
Q Would you turn down Walker's high school? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: (Laughter.) Yes. Before I go, I also want to acknowledge that today is actually the last day of Frank Benenati in my office. So many of you have worked with Frank for quite some time now. Frank has been a loyal member of the President's team for quite a while in a variety of different roles, including on the President's reelection campaign, including at the Office of Management and Budget.
Fortunately, Frank is not going far. He's going to go and take a senior position over at the EPA. So, many of you may have an opportunity to be in touch with him over there. But just at the end of the briefing I wanted to take a minute to acknowledge Frank and his professionalism and his service to the President, to the country. And we're deeply appreciative for it, and we're going to miss you. (Applause.) So with that, thank you, guys.
I assume the applause -- let the transcript reflect that the applause was for Frank, not for me. (Laughter.)
Q The applause was completely inaudible.
MR. EARNEST: Maybe. (Laughter.) In spite of that, I'll be back tomorrow. I'll see you then.
3:40 P.M. EDT