Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes, and Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin in Warsaw, Poland
BY PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST,
DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR
STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION, BEN RHODES;
ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS, ELISSA SLOTKIN;
7:54 P.M. CEST
MR. EARNEST:Good afternoon, everybody.Good evening.Obviously there’s a lot of news today for us to cover.But we're going to start with the news of the President’s trip to Warsaw and some of the activities that he’s been engaged in here with our NATO allies.
I'm joined by the President’s Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes.And to his right is the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs Slotkin.And so both of them can provide you some additional insight about the meetings that the President has done today.Then what we'll do is we'll open it up to questions for Elissa -- any questions you may have for her about the President’s activities here at the NATO Summit.Then we'll let her go, and I can take questions -- Ben and I can take questions on other things that may be on your mind, including some of the significant news back home.But we'll reserve that to the end, and give you a chance to hear from Ben and Elissa first.
So, Ben, do you want to take it from here?
MR. RHODES:So I'll just start briefly with a little bit more detail on a couple of the President’s meetings today.
First of all, he had an important opportunity to meet with the leaders of the EU -- Presidents Tusk and Juncker.They, as the President said in his remarks, discussed the aftermath of the British referendum and discussed the need for an orderly and constructive process between the EU and the United Kingdom with respect to how they formulate their future relationship.They also discussed a range of other issues on which we're cooperating closely, including the situation with respect to refugees here in Europe, also looking ahead to the summit that the President will be hosting at the U.N. General Assembly on refugees in September.
They discussed the steps we've taken to enhance our counter-terrorism cooperation, given the threats that we're facing from ISIL.And we've made good progress in addressing gaps in information-sharing and ways that we can work more closely together in our intelligence and law enforcement communities.
They discussed the situation with respect to Russia, and in particular, focused on the situation in Ukraine. They reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining the sanctions that are on Russia so long as there continues to be infringement on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and also affirmed their support for the Minsk process and the need for Russia to follow through on its commitments, as well as all the parties involved.
They, again, addressed T-TIP and committed themselves to making progress in finalizing the key issues over the course of the next several months.They reviewed the progress in implementing the Iran nuclear deal.The EU, of course, played a critical role in achieving the Iran nuclear deal.
And then, lastly, they had a broad conversation about the need for all of us in the United States and Europe and the transatlantic community to affirm the importance of our shared values, at a time of much turmoil and challenges to globalization, they underscored, as they did in their public remarks, the need to lift up the values of democracy, pluralism, inclusivity, and the success of the European Project, which has delivered such an enormous benefit to the people of this continent in preserving peace, security, and delivering very high standards of living.
Then, briefly, the President met with President Ghani and CEO Abdullah of Afghanistan before the NATO Summit.The Afghans expressed great appreciation for the President’s recent announcement to maintain a force of roughly 8,400 troops through the end of 2016.They discussed how that continued commitment from the United States, coupled with the commitment from NATO allies, would ensure that we are doing what we can to support the Afghan security forces and the strategic plan that the Afghans have put in place to better secure their country and continue the fight against the Taliban, just as we'll be continuing the fight against extremist groups in Afghanistan.
They discussed the need for a continued focus on the unity government and the need to have all of the different parties inside of Afghanistan work together on behalf of a stable future. And they also discussed their commitment to remaining open to an Afghan-led reconciliation process, which could potentially, if the Taliban shifts course, bring greater peace and stability to Afghanistan.
So it was a very constructive conversation with the Afghans, and very timely in the aftermath of the President’s announcement the other day and in advance of the session tomorrow morning, which will focus on Afghanistan.
Elissa can read out the first session of the NAC.
ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:Thanks, Ben.Hi, everyone.All 28 heads of state/heads of government met this afternoon for three hours in our first NAC session.Montenegro was also there since they received a formal invite to join NATO.
I think the session really focused on two major themes.The first one is affirming the transition from reassurance to deterrence.And I think in order to understand that and contextualize it, it's useful to just review the bidding and go back to where we were two years ago, the Wales summit, and what we were talking about then.At the time, Russia had just attempted to annex Crimea.They were pursuing aggressive activities in eastern Ukraine.And the summit, which had been previously scheduled to talk about Afghanistan and talk about partnership, now focused on the importance of our Article 5 commitments, on showing a strong message to the world of living up to those commitments and deterring threats.
The heads of state met and reacted swiftly, and came up with a number of concepts -- the Readiness Action Plan is the bucket of things that they came up with.But they were just concepts.
Two years later, we have fulfilled those concepts and made them real.And I think a number of things that heads of state talked about today in the session really affirmed that we've lived up to those commitments -- the Very High Readiness Task Force, putting NATO forces further out in the Baltic States and on the eastern flank of NATO, a number of things that we've done to speed up decision-making at NATO.
On top of that, you have the announcement that the President made earlier today, and the Secretary General is talking about now, which is the enhanced forward presence, putting four battalions in three Baltic States and in Poland, with the United States going to Poland.Four battalions -- that represents the largest movement of NATO personnel since the end of the Cold War. So in combination with fulfilling the Readiness Action Plan, it really sort of signaled, and leaders talked about the important of showing the world that we have really provided this strong deterrent message.
That is on top of what the United States has done bilaterally. So if you think about it in two buckets -- NATO has done a number of things; the United States did a number of things.I think you've seen particularly that we surged forces into the Baltic States, in particular, these companies.We quadrupled -- the President quadrupled our ERI monies that go to training and exercises.We announced a third Armored Brigade Combat Team back in March.It's hard to follow all the details, but I think the important piece here is that, by the end of next year, the United States will have a division's worth of personnel and equipment on the continent of Europe, on top of what NATO has done.So the two, in combination, I think send a very strong message.
Of course, the message of deterrence is one side of the coin.The other side is dialogue.And I think the President and a number of other leaders noted the importance of keeping the dialogue open, particularly with Russia -- that you need to come to the table with a strong, deterrent message in order to have a fruitful dialogue, but that the door remains very open, we remain in contact and in strong dialogue with the Russians on a number of issues.So that was theme number one.
Theme number two I would really say was NATO unity.And we talk about NATO unity a lot every time there's a summit or a foreign or defense ministerial.But I think it was a particularly poignant message today, a few weeks after Brexit, and particularly because it's both President Obama's and Prime Minister Cameron's final summit.And so they spoke very early on in the session and really set the tone.
The President spoke eloquently about the importance of European unity, and that despite the forces of disintegration that we know are out there, NATO remains an extremely strong pillar of our own security; the Euro-Atlantic Alliance is extremely strong; and that it's not just about military forces,that NATO and the stability that is preserved -- is about preserving our values, it's about pushing specific democratic ideals in the world, and that we shouldn’t be timid about representing and pushing for those things, despite forces of disintegration.So he spoke eloquently about that.
Prime Minister Cameron -- very similarly passed that message on, and, particularly from his seat, made that strong point.
So those two themes were really what we discussed today.I'm happy to get into more when we go into questions.
MR. EARNEST:Elissa, don't go too far.Are there questions for Elissa?
Q Can you talk maybe a little more about President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron's interactions -- how they talked together, whether they kind of discussed Brexit amongst themselves, in addition to the broader plenary?
ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:So I can't speak to any details of their conversations.I was sitting in the cheap seats, so I don’t know the content of their personal dialogue up at the table.
MR. EARNEST:So I will just say -- well, the thing that I was able to see from the cheap seats is that prior to the formal beginning of the conference, the two leaders did have an opportunity to visit for several minutes before the actual meeting started.Again, I don’t have details of their private conversation to read out, but they did have an opportunity, even as they were sitting next to each other, to have a conversation today.
Q What is NATO's response specifically to ISIS and the carnage that's happened over the past few weeks?Are there specific steps, announcements that are going to be made that are different than the (inaudible) strategy in any way?Or is the feeling that intensifying the strategy that's been in place is sufficient despite what appears to be a significant amount -- a significant increase in the level of violence?
ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:So that's a significant focus of conversation tomorrow at some of the NAC sessions scheduled for tomorrow.I think you do see NATO performing a training mission, and there's talk of enhancing that mission.There's a series of military requirements that we have as part of the counter-ISIL coalition writ large, And the United States is very supportive of NATO playing a role and filling some of those requirements.But it's an active topic of conversation right now, and I don’t want to get ahead of what might be decided tomorrow.
MR. RHODES:Just to put a finer point on it -- you have essentially two streams.There are a number of NATO member states who are part of the coalition who are engaged in airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria, and then NATO as an alliance has certain missions and tasks that they're fulfilling, such as some of the training that we're doing for Iraqi security forces, for instance.And we'll be discussing tomorrow what can be done as an alliance, in addition to what the individual member states are doing.
It will also be an opportunity for leaders to discuss issues on the sidelines, given some of the critical coalition members who are here -- the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, and others.
Q For either of you:What do you expect Russia's response to these NATO moves to be?And you mentioned some of this posture of being leveraged when it comes to dialogue, but they've really shown no movement since they took over Crimea two years ago.
ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:So I'll leave the Russian response to them.I think what's important and interesting -- again, if you review the bidding and go back to Wales, we were prepared for a very different type of summit thaN we had two years ago.And that all changed when Russia attempted to annex Crimea.So the conversations that we're having today about deterrence and putting more NATO forces or more U.S. forces forward into the eastern flank of NATO are a direct response to some of the activities that Russia has chosen to embark upon.
I do think we have dialogue on a number of issues with the Russians, and I do think it's important that they see us responding in particular to our Article 5 commitments to defend the nations on the eastern flank.
So I won't suppose what their response is going to be, but I think any response that we're somehow provoking them I think can be pushed back upon, based on how we got to this place in the first place.
MR. RHODES:I'd just say also, first of all, Russia has in the past expressed concern and complained about steps that we're taking in this area.But I think what we're demonstrating is, if Russia continues this pattern of aggressive behavior, there will be a response and there will be a greater presence in Eastern Europe.So essentially, we will not be in any way deterred from fulfilling our commitments by anything that Russia says or does. We are going to do what is necessary to defend the Alliance and to defend the Eastern members of our Alliance.
The second thing I'd say is that, in the long run, we are very confident in the strength of NATO, in our capabilities, in our economies.And Russia is incurring a significant cost for its own actions.Their economy continues to be in very difficult circumstances.They are isolated politically because of what they're doing in Ukraine.They continue to be under sanctions.So in the long run, that cost-benefit analysis has to sink in that, unless Russia shifts course, there is going to be the response that you're seeing through sanctions, the response that you're seeing through these deployments.And there's going to be solidarity among NATO, and we're not going to allow Russia in any way to undermine that solidarity.
Q I imagine that during that phone conversation that the President had with Vladimir Putin the other day, some of this was foreshadowed, discussed during that conversation.Do you expect this movement, this effort to send a message to Putin to give it other efforts to get the Russians to rein in their client in Syria?I mean, the U.S. has been emphasizing how they can work together in some ways on the diplomatic front.
And then, secondly, can you flesh out a little bit about what you were talking about there, Ben, in terms of refugees?There's been some speculation that, for lack of a better term, that refugee movement is weaponizing refugees.Is there the idea or perception here that those refugee flows are intentionally meant to destabilize Europe?
MR. RHODES:So, on your first question, they actually didn’t really discuss these issues.There were three topics of discussion:the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, the situation in Syria, and Ukraine.
I think Russia has been fully aware that we're planning to undertake the types of steps that we announced today.They've expressed their opposition to those steps.I think the important point to make here is that we have always made very clear that we are not going to draw linkages.In other words, we're not going to say that we're going to scale back our commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine or our actions in Europe in exchange for some degree of Russian cooperation in Syria.We're dealing with these issues in isolation.
And again, if we could have constructive Russian cooperation on these issues, that would be preferable.And so much of their conversation focused on whether or not we can arrive at some understanding in Syria to reinforce the Cessation of Hostilities, to focus on ISIL and al Nusra and not the moderate elements of the opposition, and to get back onto a political process that leads to a new government in Syria.We remain very open to that type of cooperation.But, again, we’re not drawing linkages between these different issues.
On the issue of refugees, it didn’t come up in that particular context.I will say a couple things.First of all, NATO has been working -- in addition to the political agreement that the EU reached with Turkey, NATO has also been working in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean to help address the refugee flows and to help provide greater security along NATO’s southern flank.At the same time, we are working with our European allies as they deal with these inflows of refugees in part by demonstrating that we’re going to lead on this as well.And that’s why the President is hosting this summit at the U.N. General Assembly in addition to taking our own complement of refugees.
I do think that one of the things that comes up in conversations in addition to the refugee issue is that there have been some efforts from Russia to essentially try to sow some discord or dissension within Europe.They have a very loud megaphone in this part of the world, and you see efforts that seek to pull apart the threads of European and transatlantic unity and there is some concern about that.And I think that in part fuels the types of statements you saw from President Obama and President Tusk today in reaffirming the importance of transatlantic unity and European solidarity, pushing back against the forces of disintegration -- whether those come from globalization and some of the backlash against globalization, whether that comes from Russia and some of the things that they say and do to try to create a sense of disunity, or whether that comes from security threats like terrorism.
Q Picking up I think, Ben, on what you just said, I’m wondering why the President has confidence that the Europeans will remain united in preserving sanctions.I mean, just in the last few weeks here, the Prime Minister of Italy going to the St. Petersburg forum, something European leaders have been shunning. You had President Hollande of France saying we need to engage with the Russians.You had the German foreign minister referring to a military exercise in Poland as “saber-rattling.”And so I’m wondering what accounts for the optimism or confidence that Europe won’t splinter in its approach to Russia, particularly as domestic politics begin to enter the equation in places like Germany?
MR. RHODES:So, first of all, we had a very strong message from the EU leadership that they remain committed to rolling over sanctions as Russia is not fulfilling its commitments under Minsk.
Second, I think in the President’s own conversations with European leaders, they’ve reaffirmed that commitment.Tomorrow they’ll be meeting as a Quint -- the United States, Germany, France, United Kingdom and Italy -- with President Poroshenko of Ukraine to expressly send a message of support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.I think that meeting itself will demonstrate the united front here between the United States and Europe on the issue.
Look, it has been the case throughout the sanctions regime that it is difficult for some countries.Some countries are incurring more strains because of the enforcement of sanctions.So that is not a new dynamic.It’s something that we’ve managed over the course of the last couple of years.
The point we’ve made repeatedly is our preference is to not have to maintain sanctions.But in order to see a relaxation of those sanctions, Russia has to follow through on its own commitments.And we have a framework under Minsk, and we can measure what Russia is doing in terms of support they’re providing for separatists in eastern Ukraine, in terms of fulfilling the commitments around the political framework that Minsk envisions.
And so we can say very clearly to our European allies that we share their interest in having more constructive relations with Russia, but the pathway to that future has to be Russia respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And the risk of not taking that stand is European security and an international order that shows that there are consequences for that type of behavior.And at the end of the day, given all the different forces of disintegration that we see in parts of the world, it’s even more important that that solidarity sustains itself.
Q Maybe I missed it -- did you say -- did the President tell President Putin that these announcements were coming?
MR. RHODES:No, they did not -- again, they didn’t discuss these issues.They discussed Ukraine.That was the issue that they discussed related to Europe.
Q Can you say where the U.S. troops will be located in Poland, and when that’s going to start?
ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:So there’s two separate announcements that the President made today -- one, on the U.S. contribution to the NATO enhanced forward presence.That battalion will be in Poland.The location, the actual specific locations -- it’s between a couple of different places.We will need to finalize that with the Polish government, so it’s to be determined.
Same thing with the headquarters of our Armored Brigade Combat team.It’s also between a couple of different places; those details are being worked right now with the Poles.
Q And do you have timing?
ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:A timeline?So I believe that the battalion that -- under the NATO hat for the enhanced forward presence will be there by mid-2017, so before summer of next year.And the headquarters of our brigade combat team I think in 2017, potentially early in 2017, but I don’t have the exact date for you.
Q You talk a lot about the discussion -- about the situation that’s ongoing in Ukraine.However how much discussion was there regarding the continued buildup of military hardware on the (inaudible) border, which is obviously bordering with Poland? And this is one of the reasons why the regional NATO partners have lobbied so hard for NATO support here.
ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:The focus of our meeting today was really about what we as NATO are going to be doing, and putting forward the commitments that we followed up on.We didn’t get into specifics of other forces outside of NATO.It was really an in-house conversation among the allies.
Q Are you able to explain or give us more detail about the meetings with the European Presidents?I’m thinking here Jean-Claude Juncker expressed when he came out of the meeting -- he didn’t have a lot of time, but he reiterated that he wasn’t in a position to discuss, and Europe isn’t in a position to discuss Britain’s exit from the European Union until Britain triggers Article 50.Can you give us a little more detail on how that meeting went and a little more content?
MR. RHODES:On just Brexit, specifically?
Q Yes.I mean, his position is a relatively firm position and he was reiterating what he’d said last week.
MR. RHODES:Well, look, again, I don’t want to speak for the EU, but they did discuss the process.What was clear from President Juncker is that it’s their view that Article 50 has to be invoked before the negotiation can begin.So, essentially, they’re currently preparing for that to take place.And then there was a discussion about how that negotiation should go forward.
The President made clear that this is something to be done between the EU and the United Kingdom.We, of course, do encourage them to continue to have a close relationship.The EU leaders expressed their commitment to having a close relationship.Even as President Juncker said -- as he said publicly -- that if you leave the Union you don’t have all the benefits of the Union, particularly given the four freedoms that the Union underscores and is founded upon.
So, again, they did discuss somewhat what their approach would be towards trying to maintain a close relationship with the UK, even as they recognize that the relationship will change.They discussed the timeline associated with those discussions, the 24 months that are allowed for those discussions to go forward.The President’s view as a friend of both the EU and the United Kingdom was that we want it to be an orderly and constructive process, transparent process, so people understand the decisions that are being made, and that we would like to see, on the back end of that process, the EU and the UK maintaining a very close relationship, but also the EU strengthened internally and pushing back against further forces of disunity.
Q My point is, did you come out of that meeting as encouraged as you hoped you might have been that there could be a smooth, relatively easy transition, which was clearly the point of that meeting?The economic consequences for the world are stark.
MR. RHODES:Yeah, I think we did.I think it was clear that people recognize just how important it is that this be done in a way that not upset financial markets, that not upset global economic stability.I think it was clear from the meeting that this is not going to be done in a way that is punitive towards the United Kingdom, but rather is about defining a new relationship.
So we were assured that they’re taking a very sober, constructive approach to this, that they recognize that the relationship would have to change after Article 50 is invoked, but that they want to proceed in a manner that does address those global economic concerns and that preserves the partnership and relationship between the United States, Europe, the United Kingdom, even as the specific relationship between the Union and the UK will change.
Q Can I just follow on -- you mentioned the four freedoms, and one thing we heard from the EU leaders was the importance of preserving the freedom of movement for workers if they were to preserve the access to the free market -- or to the European markets.I’m wondering, does the President agree with that kind of specific -- even though the negotiations haven’tbegun, it seems like they set out the red line right there.
MR. RHODES:Look, we really don't take specific positions on the substance of the negotiation.I think the EU leaders are just making a simple point that there are certain benefits that accrue to EU members.The relationship with the UK will change in some ways.We will leave it to the EU and the UK to sort that out in terms of the specifics.And again, what he said publicly -- President Junker -- that's the same message he said privately with respect to the four freedoms.
But again, it’s not our position to get into the negotiating substance, but rather to try to encourage a process that can lead to an end result that is orderly, does not disrupt the global economy, that can maintain both transatlantic solidarity and European unity.
MR. EARNEST:Anything else for Elissa? Thank you for your time.
Okay, before we move on to other topics, I know that there is great interest in an update on the President’s schedule for the remainder of this trip.I don't have any additional details about any potential changes to the President’s schedule.So we will certainly keep you apprised if any changes are made.But at this point, I don't have any changes to announce.
So with that out of the way, are there other questions you’d like to discuss?
Q Thanks, Josh.Can you explain to the American people what the 1,000 American troops rotating in and out of Poland really means to them?And as far as Brexit is concerned, the impact on NATO -- is there an actual impact?Or is this something that is, broadly speaking, more semantics than anything else?
MR. RHODES:So on the second question, there’s absolutely no impact on NATO from Brexit.The leaders actually made a point of stressing that.The UK is in NATO.They're a critical member of NATO.They're going to remain a critical member of NATO.
The EU, even as they have their foreign and defense policies in certain areas, also stressed to us their continued commitment to NATO.So we don't see any change in the solidarity in the Alliance from Brexit.
Q -- stays the same roughly still --
MR. RHODES:The 2 percent commitment remains an Alliance commitment.And the UK is one of the few countries that has actually already met that commitment.Other countries are moving towards it over the next several years.
On your first question, I think for the American people, the important point is that NATO has been a cornerstone of our own security, that having a space for Europe to be at peace with itself, to be prosperous, to be democratic has benefitted us greatly.Europe is our closest partner in the world.Europe is one of the biggest markets for our goods.So European security is fundamental to our own security and prosperity.And having this troop presence in Poland, having this additional NATO presence along the eastern borders and the Baltics, I think reaffirms that we are going to fulfill our Alliance commitments under Article 5 to defend every ally, and that the American people benefit greatly from being able to count on the security of Europe.
And I would also say, in Poland, in particular, we're very proud of what we've done to support the emergency of democracy and the emergency of a more stable and dynamic economy since the end of the Cold War.And so it’s also a signal not just of our NATO commitment but of our commitment here to Poland.
Q If I could follow, and then just one last one for you, Josh.If I could ask you, Ben, about Finland and Ukraine and perhaps Georgia.Are those all nations that -- among the conversation anyway -- that are still possible signatories to NATO in the near future?And if so, what can the United States do, if anything, to facilitate that?
MR. RHODES:Well, NATO has an open-door policy.And so we do have an openness to additional members, additional countries joining NATO.Montenegro is joining NATO at the summit, which indicates that NATO continues to grow.In order to join NATO, countries have to meet a very clear criteria in terms of their capabilities, in terms of their public support for joining NATO. And NATO itself has to have a consensus to invite member states in.
So while we have an open-door policy, I couldn’t tell you today that there is any one country after Montenegro that is ready to become a member of NATO.What I will say on Ukraine is, precisely because of the situation that Ukraine finds itself in, we have a NATO-Ukraine Council.And that will meet tomorrow with President Poroshenko and the Alliance.And part of what we've been able to do through that is have NATO member states provide security assistance to Ukraine to help strengthen their security forces so that they're better able to provide for their own defense in the very difficult circumstances that they find themselves in.
So that is the manner in which NATO is expressing its support for Ukraine.It’s, of course, not the same as being a member of the Alliance, where there is an Article 5 commitment that if there is any infringement on the territory of a NATO member state we will come to their defense.But it is an expression for our support for Ukraine, our desire to strengthen their security forces, our commitment, frankly, separate from NATO to have sanctions on Russia so long as they're violating Ukrainian sovereignty.
And Ukraine has expressed some interest in NATO, but, again, they would have to meet a set of criteria and the Alliance itself would have to choose to extend that invitation.And that has not yet happened.
MR. RHODES:Yes.Finland also cooperates closely with NATO and NATO member states in terms of their security policies.
The only other thing I’d say is that before coming here, Secretary Kerry visited both Tbilisi, Georgia and Kiev, Ukraine, in part to continue the discussions with them about how those countries are working with NATO.Georgia, for instance, has deployed to Afghanistan in the past and worked with NATO under that umbrella.So Secretary Kerry’s visit I think expressed our continued close coordination with those two countries.
Q And if I could ask you, Josh, just about the President and his reaction to what’s transpired in Dallas?How much did this take out of him, personally?And if you could also answer the question that some are asking, which is whenever he brings up guns or the use of weapons in circumstances like these, some people are concerned that it politicizes a tragedy perhaps too soon while their feelings or the emotions are still very raw.If you could talk about those things.
MR. EARNEST:Well, Kevin, you had the opportunity to hear directly from the President early this morning.And he did discuss how the entire country is grieving alongside the people in Dallas.
There are five Dallas-area police officers who didn't come home last night.And that's a tragedy.And as the President himself said there is no justification for violence against law enforcement officers.These are men and women who put on a uniform every day prepared to put their lives on the line to protect all of us.That's exactly what happened last night in Dallas.You had a large number of police officers who put on their uniform and were on duty last night to ensure the safety of innocent citizens who were making their voices heard and expressing their concerns about inequities in the criminal justice system.And yet those police officers still fulfilled their responsibility to protect their fellow citizens.That's what makes the loss of those police officers all the more tragic.
And the President had an opportunity to convey his condolences on behalf of the country directly to the Mayor when he spoke to him earlier today.And if there are additional conversations that the President has with officials in Dallas, we’ll certainly let you know.I know that White House officials have been in touch with officials in Dallas not just through the night, but also over the course of the day today.
The Attorney General spoke earlier today and she discussed how there are a range of federal law enforcement agencies that are offering their support to law enforcement in Dallas.This includes the FBI, the ATF, and the Marshals Service.I know that the Department of Homeland Security has resources that they can lend to this effort.
So I think the kind of federal response that you're seeing operationally, as well as the emotional response you're seeing across the country reflects the depth of the tragedy in Dallas that took place last night.And obviously, the President is feeling that, even though we are seven time zones away.
As it relates to the gun issue, I think the President was quite direct in his comments today, indicating that our thoughts, first and foremost, are with the families of those who lost loved ones.And there is never a justification for carrying out acts of violence against law enforcement officers.But the President’s views about the impact that the easy availability of guns has on our community is a significant source of concern to him.Too many innocent lives have been claimed because of the easy access that people have to guns, in some cases, guns that were never intended to be on city streets.
So the President’s policy position is clear.But the President was just as clear about the fact that our foremost concern right now is consoling and supporting the families of those police officers who were killed and the broader community in Dallas that is feeling quite acutely the tragedy from last night.
Q Can you confirm that there -- is there some consideration for the President returning to the United States, breaking off his trip?Is there some consideration of that?
MR. EARNEST:Listen, at this point, if we have a change in the schedule to announce we'll let you know.Obviously this is an incident that took place only about 18 hours ago, and while the President has been engaged in some critically important work here in Warsaw, interacting with our NATO allies that Ben and Elissa have been describing, the President has been getting regular updates about what’s happening back home as well.And one of the challenges of the presidency is the person who is entrusted with the responsibility of leading the country has to be able to focus on and devote significant attention to more than one priority at a time.
So I just don't have any changes to the schedule to announce, particularly given that this is something that just transpired in the last 18 hours, but it's something that will follow closely, and if it merits or requires a change in the President’s schedule, then we'll certainly let you know.
Q What kind of development could merit a change in schedule?
MR. EARNEST:Well, obviously there are more facts and details that need to be learned about the investigation.And obviously this is something that the entire country is reacting to, and something that the federal government is supporting the response to.But, look, if there’s a change in the President’s schedule, then we'll be sure to let you know.
Q Kevin asked about the gun issue.What about the more broad criticism and comments by some of the President’s critics who suggest that his support for protesters, his support -- his focusing on what he sees as racial -- racism in the criminal justice system and policing around the country in some way -- I don't want to say encouraged or causes, but creates the conditions whereby attacks on police officers might be carried out.In particular, there’s one representative in Texas who said that the spread of disinformation and constant instigation by our leaders, including our President, has contributed to this, what he calls, this modern-day hostility between the communities -- certain communities and the police force.
MR. EARNEST:Well, let me answer that in a couple of ways. The first is, the President was quite direct today -- and not for the first time -- that there is never justification for carrying out an act of violence against a law enforcement officer.And the second thing is, the President confronted this question quite directly yesterday upon arrival in Warsaw, before the tragedy in Dallas -- just a couple of hours before the tragedy in Dallas.
Again, the President was quite direct in saying that acknowledging the reality of some of the persistent racial disparities in our criminal justice system and vowing to confront them is not at all an expression of criticism or a lack of support for the vast majority of men and women in law enforcement who do an outstanding job.There are men and women in law enforcement agencies all across the country who put on their uniform every day, prepared to put their life on the line for the community that they’ve sworn to serve and protect.
And the President said in his State of the Union address not this year, but last year, that those men and women have a right to come home.And the President has, time and again, articulated his strong support for our men and women in uniform, and has been in the position of grieving with the families of those that have been lost.
So as it relates to some of the comments that you're referencing, I don't think there’s anybody who thinks that that kind of divisive rhetoric is either going to address some of the needed reforms in our criminal justice system or do anything to protect our men and women in uniform.
Q The President is confident that he has struck the right balance in this very sensitive issue?
MR. EARNEST:Look, I think people can judge for themselves, but I think that the President confronted this quite directly in the remarks that he delivered last night in Warsaw, just hours before this tragic shooting in Dallas.
Q You said that the President did call the Mayor.Has he been -- are there any other specific conversations he has had with people there in Dallas, or in Texas, or in the States*?
MR. EARNEST:That's the only -- the President did place a call to Mayor Rawlings this morning, Warsaw time -- still the middle of the night back in Dallas.I'm not aware of any additional calls that the President has made.But if he has, then we will let all of you know.
Q How did the President find out about this?Was he awakened?Was he -- I think it was about 6:00 a.m. local time or so.Any detail about that?
MR. EARNEST:Well, what I can tell you is that the President did wake up to this news this morning in Warsaw.The President was updated on the situation by his national security team back in Washington.
Q Does that mean he was awakened to be told the news?
MR. EARNEST:I'm not going to get into the details of how exactly that information was communicated to him, but he woke up to that news early this morning in Warsaw.
Q And lastly, the people in America who -- I understand some of the arguments, but just feel that this is a time when the President should be there, hands on.Obviously he’s in meetings here, hours on end, on some very sensitive and critical issues.What do you say to them who feel that the President should be more directly hands on, engaged.
MR. EARNEST:Well, I would start by acknowledging that the President has spoken to this issue just twice in the less than 18 hours that the President has been in Poland now.So this is obviously something that the President is quite focused on.The President and his team have been interacting with a lot of frequency with officials in Dallas.There are federal resources that are being committed to the investigation and to the recovery effort, both from the FBI and the ATF.There are U.S. Marshals that are involved in that effort as well.I know the Department of Homeland Security also has resources that they’re devoting to this effort.White House staff have been in touch with senior officials in Dallas as well to make sure that they have the kind of support that they need from the federal government.
The President is getting regular updates on the situation. And I do think this is an apt illustration of how challenging the modern presidency is.We have the expectation that the President of the United States must be someone with the capacity to focus on and be attentive to very high priorities, more than one at the same time.And that's exactly what the President of the United States is doing right now.He didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.I don't know how much sleep he’s going to get tonight.But this is something that -- this is something that requires intense and round-the-clock attention, and that's exactly what the President has devoted to it.
Q Today, Speaker Ryan said that everyone in Congress, Republican and Democrat, would like to see less gun violence.And he also at the end mentioned that there needs to be action.But we haven't seen any movement at all, at least on guns or preventing certain people from getting guns, in Congress.So what is your take on what he said?Do you buy that?
MR. EARNEST:I certainly take Speaker Ryan at his word.I think that he was conscious of the need to live up to some of the rhetoric that he used in his statement.He noted specifically that it's important for the country not to lose sight of the values that unite us.Speaker Ryan acknowledged in his statement that there are differences, we do have some differences about the best way to achieve these goals that we share.
But I think particularly at this time in our country, in the aftermath of a tragedy as terrible as the one that was sustained in Dallas last night, I think Speaker Ryan struck the right tone, and I certainly take him at his word.
Q Does the President consider this to be an act of terrorism?
MR. EARNEST:Well, it is my understanding that investigators have now publicly ruled out the possibility that the individual who carried out this terrible act of violence had any sort of connections to terrorist organizations either in the United States or around the world.So if that’s the question that you’re asking, I don’t think that there’s a link to any sort of terrorist conspiracy.I think that investigators have ruled that out.
Q No, I mean does the President consider this domestic terrorism?
MR. EARNEST:Well, listen, I think that there are a lot of questions that are being asked right now about this person’s motive and this person’s intent.I know that investigators have indicated they’re interested in trying to learn more about that. So I would let them conduct their investigation and render their own judgment about this person’s motivation, but I don’t think that in any way lessens the significance of this event or in any way downplays the significance of this tragedy.
Q This was a case of a sniper targeting police.It ended with this robot that was capable of detonating an explosive.And I know part of the White House’s stance on looking at community policing is reassessing military-style equipment that they have. But the fact that there are so many high-powered weapons out there, does this indicate that there’s a need for police to be better equipped to deal with things like this that can happen virtually any time?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think it’s too early to sort of second-guess or to provide a detailed analysis or an after-action report about the response of Dallas law enforcement officials to this incident.I think the President’s expectation -- and the President made a reference to this in his statement today, as well -- it is important for us to make sure that law enforcement officials and law enforcement agencies have the tools that they need to do their job.That certainly is an important way for us to show support for their important work.We can make sure that these law enforcement officials have the equipment and training that they need to do their job as safely and as effectively as possible.
We can make sure that local law enforcement organizations are getting the financial support that they need from the federal government to maintain appropriate staffing levels.We can make sure that we are fighting for the collective bargaining rights of law enforcement officers all across the country.Those are all important ways that we can demonstrate our support to our men and women in blue, and the President has certainly done that time and time and time again.
But at this point, I don’t have an after-action assessment other than to say the President certainly does believe that law enforcement agencies should have the firepower necessary to protect the community.
Q In Dallas, unusual, perhaps the first time the police have used the tactic of a robot armed with an explosive as a method for employing deadly force.Is there anything you can tell us about what the President makes of that, what he thinks of that tactic?And also, the President campaigning on bringing the country together, including on race, what can you tell us about these thoughts on whether or not he’s failed to deliver on that goal?
MR. EARNEST:Well, again as it relates to come of the tactics that were employed by law enforcement officials in Dallas to bring an end to this situation, I’ll let them speak to that, and I’ll let them conduct their own after-action assessment, which I’m sure they will do, to evaluate the effectiveness of some of the tactics that they employed.
As it relates to the President and the priority that he’s placed on uniting the country -- this is something that the President has talked about on many, many occasions, and I’ll try to summarize it, but he certainly has said it many times much more eloquently than I will be able to do from here.
I would summarize it, though, in the following way.The President, I think most eloquently in his speech at Selma, noted that our country has made remarkable progress over the last several decades in living up to our founding principles, and ensuring that people are treated fairly, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of what their last name is or where they came from.And to deny that progress is to deny the significant sacrifice that so many Americans of all races made to make that progress.
So at the same time, I don’t think there’s anybody that thinks that that work is done.And that is what makes our country special -- is that we are doggedly, daily seeking to form a more perfect union.And that means -- or that certainly includes living up to the kinds of values that we cherish, and ensuring that individuals are judged by their content of their character, not by the color of their skin, as Dr. King said.And we certainly have much more work to do as a country to realize that vision and to fulfill that promise that our founding fathers first identified.
Q Just want to follow up -- Dallas did all the right things -- community policing, police training and de-escalation, and they even supported the peaceful protest yesterday by taking selfies.And those were exactly the kinds of things the President and other Democrats, including black leaders, have pushed for.What remedies does he believe will work?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think this goes to the question that Michelle was asking about the potential motive of this individual.So it’s hard for me to weigh on that too directly at this point.
I have read a little bit about the important reforms that Dallas, under the leadership of Mayor Rawlings and the police chief, have implemented to strengthen the bonds between law enforcement officials and the communities that they serve.And that’s important work.And the statistics indicate just how much progress they have made.Those efforts do make that community safer.They do make law enforcement officials safer.They do ensure that law enforcement officials are more effective in fighting crime.
That’s one of the interesting things that -- again, some of the statistics that I’ve seen -- I’ll let Dallas officials speak to this more directly -- but they were able to both succeed in driving down complaints about excessive force and other violent confrontations between law enforcement officers and citizens, and drive down the crime rate.That’s an indication that the Dallas Police Department has figured out some critical reforms that benefit their community in a variety of ways.
So I think that does beg questions about the motive of this individual, and it’s just something that’s hard for me to speak to while -- both because this is an incident that only occurred in the last 18 hours, but also because law enforcement officials are seeking to learn as much information as they possibly can about what may have led to this incident.
Q Can I just ask you a broader kind of question?You have the attacks in Orlando, this threat of lone wolf terrorism. Overseas you have attacks that -- such as the one that happened in Istanbul.You have the CIA Director saying ISIS could attack in the U.S. in a similar way.You know, these shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana and -- in response to the racial disparities that the President talked about.And then you have what appears to be a retaliatory shooting of police officers.And these are obviously all very different and the motivations are different, but they’re all happening at the same time, and they’re creating a real sense of anxiety across the country, people who essentially don’t feel safe in their communities anymore, and really don’t feel that anywhere is safe.So how does the President think about that?How does he talk about that?How does he soothe the country at a time like this?And why should people feel that they are safe when things are so different now than they were even a year ago?
MR. EARNEST:Well, listen, I think the situation that you described would provoke some level of anxiety in anyone, so I think the feelings that you are attributing to many Americans are understandable.
What’s clearly true is that the advances in social media and technology that brings so many of these images onto our smartphone or onto our television screen also has an impact on the way that many people react to these incidents.I think there is -- I'm certainly not a psychologist, but it seems reasonable to me to conclude that there is a material difference in the emotional response that is provoked when you read about something in the newspaper as opposed to seeing a violent image on your smartphone, something that you carry around every day in your pocket.That’s going to leave a more personal and lasting emotional impact.
I think what people should have confidence in are the kinds of things that we’ve long leaned on in difficult times.A significant portion of the community -- of the country, a large number of Americans, were quite concerned in the aftermath of the reports about shootings in Baton Rouge and in Minnesota earlier this week.And the response that we saw in Dallas -- peaceful Americans registering their concerns publicly, and having those rights be protected by police officers, having police officers literally put their lives on the line to protect innocent citizens and to protect their right to make their voices heard -- should give us a lot of confidence in the character of our men and women in law enforcement and in the character of the people of this country.
The President has that confidence.The President talked in his statement last night about how people of goodwill and people who are willing to act in good faith have a responsibility to come together to address some of these persistent problems in our criminal justice system.That's what Americans have been doing for generations.And this generation of Americans is absolutely as well prepared as any other to confront these challenges, to do so in a way that unites us.
I think the fact that the Republican Speaker of the House and the Democratic President of the United States both calling for unity, even in the face of a remarkably divisive election year, I think is further evidence of that fact that the vast majority of Americans have their values in the right place.And those are the kinds of values that get us through tough times.And the President is incredibly confident that those values will serve us quite well as we confront these challenges, too.
MR. RHODES:Just because you touched on the national security component, we've actually spent a fair amount of time obviously thinking about this issue in the context of terrorism, but it applies broadly, as you said, Carol.
One additional point I'd make is that being here in Poland reminds you that each generation has different, unique security challenges.If we had been having this discussion 30, 40 years ago, I think the thing that gave people a lot of anxiety was the risk of a nuclear war.And that was the context within which NATO was established, and that was its purpose for many decades.
We've seen since then different threats.We've seen war in the middle of Europe in the ‘90s.We saw a catastrophic terrorist attack on 9/11 that took thousands of lives.And then we saw the protracted conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, which obviously carried an enormous cost for Americans, as well as many other people.
I think what we see today is a security environment where even as we must maintain our commitment to NATO security, as we discussed, even as we're vigilant and wary for any potential state-on-state violence between major powers, that the threats have changed, and you see less of a concern about a nuclear conflict or a great-power conflict, but you do see individuals, for different reasons, seeking to draw attention to themselves, seeking to draw attention to their ideologies, by carrying out attacks, shootings in many different places and, again, with many different motivations.
In some ways, that is a new asymmetric security reality that we are addressing.And it's not something that is easily defeated with armies.But the one thing I would say, to echo a bit of what Josh said, is that what is striking is that the values of inclusivity, of working through a democratic process, of being able to air differences peacefully -- those are the same values that are needed in the European continent.Those are same values that would make it much easier to resolve conflicts in parts of the world that are being torn apart right now.
And that is also what distinguishes the United States, is that in the aftermath of Orlando, you had very different communities speaking out against that type of action, from our Muslim-American community to our LGBT community to many other Americans.
And so I do think that at this particular moment, this core question of whether or not we're going to respond to either heinous attacks, twisted individuals, or forces of disintegration by giving in to fear, and giving in to the forces of tribalism that want to pull people apart -- whether we're going to go that path, or whether we're going to stick to the values of democracy, inclusivity, pluralism that have gotten us this far, that's the fundamental question confronting not just the United States at home, but our transatlantic alliance and our global community.
And so that is the threat I think that you cite in terms of the pattern of actions that obviously are very troubling.But at the same time, I think we also know what ultimately can defeat the intentions of those individuals.
Q Do you expect that the President will at some point address the American people in a broader way, or talk about this in -- like, how does he address this?Because, I mean, all those instances that you mention, Ben -- people turn to -- have historically looked to the President for guidance and leadership, and it's not clear to me what he sees his role as right now.
MR. EARNEST:I've had limited access to television today, but I certainly do think that the powerful remarks that the President delivered last night and again this morning I think are certainly part of the way that the President communicates with the American public about his views on this topic.
Look, even as we were flying to -- even as we were somewhere over the Atlantic yesterday, the President's Facebook page was updated with a specific message on these issues.So I think the President does feel not just a need but a desire to communicate with the American public about his perspective on these issues.And I think a lot of that is infused with his confidence in the ability of the American public to focus on what unites us and to use the strength that we gain from unity to confront these challenges.
That said, I'm confident that the President will have additional opportunities in the days ahead to discuss this again. My expectation is that the next opportunity he'll have to do so will be at the news conference that he plans to convene tomorrow. And I expect that the kinds of questions that all of you are asking me today are the kinds of questions that you'll ask him tomorrow.
Q Josh, or to Ben, quickly, this morning obviously there were -- when the President spoke out about the incident in Dallas, we also heard from some of the other leaders here, offering their thoughts on it.Can you talk a little bit about, throughout the course of the day, any other interactions the President has had with leaders specifically on this issue?
And I also wanted to ask, last night in his statement, which he seemed to be speaking often without notes, the President spoke more expansively about the heroism and the courage of the law enforcement community, and he seemed to want to underline this morning that he had spoken about that last night.I’m wondering what was driving that.Was there any sensitivity on his part to this view that some people have that he has perhaps put a thumb on the scale too much in speaking out so forcefully about disparities in the justice system against law enforcement?
MR. RHODES:So I’ll let Josh take the second.Just very quickly on the first.Every leader interaction that I was present for began with leaders expressing their condolences for what took place in Dallas.I would note it was particularly poignant that that was the very first thing that President Ghani of Afghanistan said, a country that, of course, has suffered enormous amounts of violence and loss of life.So, consistently throughout the day, clearly other world leaders were very struck by what happened in Dallas, and every one of them that I witnessed began their interactions with the President by extending their condolences.
MR. EARNEST:Mike, I think the reason that the President -- well, let me start here.The comments that you heard from the President last night about his appreciation for law enforcement were not new to those of you who have covered the President for the last several years.The President often has an opportunity to talk about his profound admiration and his deep gratitude to the vast majority of men and women in law enforcement who do their job courageously and consistent with the values and expectations that we have for people who are responsible for justice.So those were certainly not new comments from the President.
I think the second thing is that the President was interested in making clear that to acknowledge the reality of the persistent racial disparities in our criminal justice system doesn't diminish the service and sacrifice of the vast majority of law enforcement officers that do an outstanding job.And the President felt it was important to make that point precisely because there is a tendency in the aftermath of these high-profile incidents for people to engage in the kind of political rhetoric that ends up dividing people.
Those kinds of divisions that are the result of some of that rhetoric are basic obstacles to our ability as a country to solve the problem.So that's why you hear the President express some hope that the response this time might be a little bit different than what it usually is.The usual retreating to our partisan corners is a significant obstacle to our ability to solve this problem.And the President acknowledged this, too, that there has been an effort underway on Capitol Hill for many months now to try to move bipartisan criminal justice reform that would address some of the disparities that the President touched on last night.We haven’t been able to get over the hump yet.
But if we can resist the urge to resort to that political rhetoric, and focus, as Speaker Ryan did today, on the values that unite us, we're going to be much more likely to succeed in developing policy solutions that will have a tangible impact on these challenges.
The President is also realistic about this -- and, again, he acknowledged this last night, too.These are not the kinds of problems that are likely to be entirely solved in his lifetime or even in his children’s lifetime, but there surely is progress that we can make.And I think when we see these kinds of incidents -- and I’m referring to Dallas, to Baton Rouge, and to Minnesota -- people of good faith have their conscience aroused and they recognize that these kinds of problems that are difficult to solve and, in some cases, easy to ignore are worth prioritizing.We need to make them a priority in our country.
And the President is certainly determined to try to find -- to continue to try to find common ground, and to try to build the kinds of bridges that will make a solution to some of these challenges more likely.
Q Can I follow on that?I mean you were just talking about divisive rhetoric as an obstacle.And earlier, in response to Ron’s question, you noted that some of -- you used that same phrase “divisive rhetoric” to describe some of the responses that we've seen out of Republican members of Congress.Is the President, or are you frustrated by those statements, and can you see even an implied linkage between what the President has had to say on these issues and what we saw in Dallas as an obstacle to our ability to solve the problem, or even worsening the problem?
MR. EARNEST:I think, Justin, I was sort of intentionally making an effort to not spend a lot of time in responding to some of those comments.It’s certainly entirely reasonable that you and Ron would ask about them.But the focus of our attention, as the President pointed out earlier today, should be on the families who are grieving.And we can also have a discussion about what values we have in common and how that might inform our efforts to try to address some of these problems.But I’ll let those who are using that kind of rhetoric and casting those kinds of aspersions explain their rationale.
Q I wanted to ask about one specifically that you might give me the same answer to, but Joe Walsh, the former Republican from Illinois, tweeted and then deleted for the President to “watch out” after the shooting.Did you have any response to that specifically?
MR. EARNEST:Not even an oblique one.
Q The President talked about his concern about easy access to powerful weapons.Can you say, did he mean to -- was he saying semiautomatic weapons shouldn’t be on the market, period?Or was he meaning to suggest that this shooter, an Army vet who doesn't appear a criminal record, legally should not have been able to purchase the weapon that he used?
MR. EARNEST:Well, the President was not able to speak in a lot of detail because obviously there is an ongoing investigation.And I think there’s still more that we need to learn about what exactly transpired, what motivated this individual to take these actions, what kind of weapons this person used to carry out these tragic shootings, and how this person was able to obtain these weapons.
I think the President was just making a very broad point about his ongoing concern about the fact that many -- far too many innocent lives have been lost to gun violence.And the President is profoundly concerned about that because the President believes that there are at least some common-sense steps that could be taken to prevent at least some of those deaths.And the President has described the inability of Congress to make progress on those common-sense measures as the most frustrating thing that he has encountered as President of the United States.There are many frustrating things that any President confronts, but the President has found this issue to be the most frustrating.That's what the President was alluding to.
But as the President mentioned in his remarks, and as I’ve gone to great lengths to try to echo, our top priority right now and the focus of our attention right now should be on families who are grieving tonight.
Q As you know, people are going to criticize the President for that statement, given that so far it doesn't appear that should have been a reason that the shooter was prevented from obtaining weapons, right?He’s an Army vet.
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, I’m unable to speak to the details about what exact weapon he was using.But we certainly know that there have been other incidents in which individuals were able to purchase an assault weapon and multiply the impact of the violence as a result.
I don't know whether or not that applied in this case because I don't know what weapon this killer was using last night.But I think the President is just making the observation that there are some common-sense things that we could do that would make our communities safer, and there are far too many acts of gun violence that have taken far too many innocent lives.
And the President has always gone to great lengths to point out that there is no single bill that could be passed that would prevent every single act of gun violence as a practical matter, but there are some common-sense things that we could do that would make our communities at least a little safer.And we can implement those policies without undermining the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.The President believes that we should do it.
Q Can you say whether the President is viewing this -- I know you can't speak to motivations, but is he viewing this -- it seems to be from the language he was using framed in a racial context.Is this a hate crime?
MR. EARNEST:I know that there are some people, again, who have raised that prospect.And there are some reports about what this individual might have said to police officers last night, and there are some who are speculating that that might provide some insight into this individual’s motivation.I just think it’s too early to jump to that conclusion at this point.
What is clear is that this individual targeted police officers.This individual, this killer targeted police officers who had put on their uniform and were putting their life on the line to protect people who are exercising their constitutional right to free speech and freedom of assembly.And I think that is a powerful, maybe even chilling illustration of what our men and women in law enforcement do every single day.And unfortunately, five of those officers lost their lives doing it last night, and that's a genuine tragedy.
Q Can you say whether the President intends to -- or he has viewed the videos of the incidents he spoke about last night in Minnesota and in Louisiana?
MR. EARNEST:I know the President has seen some of those images.I don't know if he’s watched the entirety of the videos that have been posted online.But the President is certainly -- has seen those images, and he found them, as I mentioned yesterday, he found them deeply disturbing.
Q Which was it?Can you pinpoint for us what prompted the President last night, while he was on that flight across the Atlantic, having already watched news reports, to say this is something that I have to get out there and speak about?
MR. EARNEST:Listen, I think that is -- the fact that the President spoke last night about these issues I think is an indication of just how deeply and personally the President feels about these issues.The President is pained that our country’s divisions have prevented as much progress as he would like to see on these persistent racial disparities in our criminal justice system.
These issues are not new to the President.Before anybody ever heard of Barack Obama, when he was a state senator in Illinois, his landmark legislative achievement was negotiating with Democrats and Republicans, with civil rights leaders and law enforcement organizations, to pass legislation to try to address the problem of racial profiling in Illinois.And then-State Senator Barack Obama did succeed in working effectively with law enforcement and civil rights leaders to pass legislation that addressed that issue.So this is something the President has spent a lot of time thinking about.It’s not new to him.
And again, I think that's also what informed his comments last night.He’s seen directly -- based on his own personal experience in talking to police officers across the country, including in Illinois, about how addressing the ruptured trust between law enforcement officials and some of the communities that they serve can make those law enforcement officials themselves safer as they do their job and more effective in fighting crime.
So this isn’t -- clearly our values are critically important and making sure that we have a criminal justice system that treats people fairly regardless of the color of their skin should be a priority for all of us.But those who are unmoved by that values argument should be able to accept the reality of the very practical argument about how building some bridges makes the ability of police officers to do their job more safe and more effective.
Any other questions?Okay.All right, Michelle, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Just a quick one.We’re just wondering what President Obama said to President Duda about the constitutional issues going on.I mean, the Polish government seems to have its stance on that and the U.S. is facing its own issue with the Supreme Court, so I’m curious about that conversation.
MR. EARNEST:They did have an opportunity to talk about it today, but I’ll let Ben --
MR. RHODES:They were able to discuss that issue.I think the President just underscored -- Poland has set an important democratic example for many other countries through the transition that it undertook to a democratic system, and I think the President simply encouraged President Duda to address these issues in a manner that fully preserves all of the democratic gains that have been made here in Poland, and protects the rights that so many Poles have struggled for over the years.
So again, I think -- we know there’s an ongoing process here inside of Poland that’s for the Polish people to undertake.Our belief and our commitment is that they continue to act in a way, and they choose to act in a way that upholds the democracy that has been built over the last two decades.
MR. EARNEST:Thanks, everybody.You’ll have an opportunity to hear from the President tomorrow evening at his news conference at the end of the NATO Summit.Have a good evening.
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