Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/13/2016
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:46 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Wednesday. I do not have any comments at the top, so we can go straight to questions.
Josh, do you want to go first?
Q Thanks, Josh. I want to start with Theresa May, who, literally, as we speak, is being confirmed as Britain’s new Prime Minister. I know you said that the President feels he can work with whoever Britain selects as their new leader. But now that we're all getting to know a little more about her, I was wondering if there’s anything specific where he sees an opportunity and sees eye-to-eye with her, and planning to really try and work with her.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, as it relates to this question about Brexit, that obviously is in many ways the most significant domestic policy issue that the new Prime Minister will have to confront. And the President has been quite clear about what he hopes and expects that process will entail, which is an orderly process and a good-faith negotiation between the UK and the EU, which, even after that negotiation has been completed, we'll still have an important economic relationship.
There are obviously broader consequences for the global economy in terms of the way that negotiation is handled. And based on the public comments we've seen from the incoming Prime Minister, she intends to pursue a course that's consistent with the prescription that President Obama has offered.
Given the nature of her previous position as the Home Secretary, she engaged with U.S. officials on a variety of national security issues. So there are U.S. officials -- like Secretary Johnson, even Lisa Monaco here at the White House -- who have worked with her on issues that are important to the national security of both of our countries. But that's the kind of working relationship you’d expect somebody to have with the United States, given the special relationship between our two countries. But those U.S. officials that have worked with her found her to be quite effective. And basically we congratulate her on her new position and on the important responsibility that she will assume.
Q And I wanted to ask you about this firestorm that's erupted over some comments that Justice Ginsburg made to the Associated Press and to some other news organizations about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Does the White House have any concerns about that kind of language from a Supreme Court justice, or feel that it's appropriate for her to be making those kinds of -- opining in that way about the presidential election?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, she didn’t earn the nickname, “the notorious RBG” for nothing. But what I will say is that in the past I've been asked about controversial comments from other Supreme Court justices. I don't know whether it was earlier this year or at the end of last year when Justice Scalia made some comments in an open Supreme Court hearing that many found to be quite controversial, possibly even racist. At that point, I declined to wade into that criticism. And I think I'll pursue a similar approach in this instance.
Q And lastly, I wanted to ask about this meeting that the President is having today with law enforcement officials and civil rights activists and others. Given the amount of time that's left in the administration, what does the President hope or believe he may be able to achieve in terms of bridging this divide that he spoke about yesterday and that we've all been discussing before he leaves office?
MR. EARNEST: Josh, I think it's the President’s desire to try to move the ball forward and make some progress in helping communities identify steps that they can take to address this problem. That will certainly be an important part of the conversation that he has later today.
We'll have more details about that meeting after it's taken place, and you’ll have an opportunity to hear from the President at the conclusion of that meeting. But this meeting will include political leaders, law enforcement officials, representatives of rank-and-file police officers, academics, civil rights activists, other thought leaders from all across the country. And every community is unique and every community needs to confront these challenges in a way that reflects the reality of the situation in their own community.
It's the President’s view, though, that communities across the country can learn from the effective strategies that have been tried in other places. And that was certainly the goal of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing that was organized by the White House. This is a task force that included representatives from a similarly broad set of perspectives that canvassed the country and worked with local community leaders to surface ideas. And the goal was to put forward a set of best practices that communities all across the country could draw upon as they try to confront this challenge in their own communities.
And so there certainly will be a discussion about what steps we can take to try to encourage other communities to capitalize on these best practices. And part of this conversation, Josh, is about making sure that these issues remain a priority and that we reenergize the effort around these issues. Too often there’s the sense that a tragedy happens and there’s intense focus on this issue for a couple of weeks, and then it subsides. And what’s unique about this situation -- what’s unique about this challenge is it's not something that can be solved in a couple of weeks. It's going to require the determined and sustained effort of leaders from all sides in order to effectively implement some of these solutions.
And so the President is hopeful that this convening can be useful in focusing attention on these issues over the long term and making sure that the institutional energy and attention that must be devoted on them to succeed is something that people follow through on.
Q How do you square that strategy of saying we really want more communities to implement these recommendations that were created by this task force that you mentioned, but the fact that this latest tragedy took place in a community that the White House actually touted for having done a good job of implementing them? I mean, doesn't that suggest that they're either ineffective or insufficient to prevent these kinds of things from happening?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess when you say -- it depends on what you mean by "to prevent these kinds of things from happening." I don't think that, unfortunately, there's any set of best practices that will ensure that -- well, let me say it this way. Police officers have a dangerous job. And there's no single law that we can pass that will effectively protect every police officer all across the country. I think that's why the President talked at great length yesterday about how important it is for us to respect the vast majority of the men and women in uniform who do an outstanding job. Their work is worthy of our respect and not our scorn, as the President described it. So that's the first thing.
I think the second thing is the reforms that have been put in place in Dallas have made a difference. We have seen a significant reduction in complaints that have been filed against police officers in the Dallas Police Department for the use of excessive force, for example. Incidents of police shootings where police officers have to use their firearms are down significantly. Those are tragedies that are being prevented. That is a reflection of why it's important for other communities to make this issue a priority in the same way that Dallas has. It's making a difference in the lives of the people in Dallas, because it's not just those incidents of concern about police conduct that have declined; the violent crime rates declined, too.
So it's not too often these issues are viewed as, well, we have to choose between protecting civil liberties and protecting the rights of minorities and effective crime-fighting. That's not true. That's a false choice. The truth is, those communities -- like Dallas -- that are particularly effective at building trust, even in minority communities, does coincide with a reduction in crime. It does make it possible for police officers to do their job more safely and even more effectively. And that's the case that the President will certainly make in the context of today's discussion, and it certainly is the case that he's hopeful that policymakers and political leaders and law enforcement officials and activists all across the country will hear.
Q Thank you. Following up on the response to the Dallas shooting and the other high-profile police shootings, yesterday the President said that he had seen how his words were inadequate to respond to all of these shootings that the country has dealt with. But at this point, is there really anything that the White House can do that -- beyond words, beyond having meetings, beyond the town hall, beyond just urging jurisdictions to take on these practices? I mean, is there anything that the White House can do that's really beyond words at this point?
MR. EARNEST: Well, first of all, as the President acknowledged in his speech yesterday -- and he said it more eloquently than I will from here -- but he talked about how powerful words can be in rejecting despair and ensuring that we, for all our differences, that we try to open our hearts to demonstrating some empathy to people that don't look like us or may not share our perspective. That it's through that path we can find concrete solutions.
So the President did acknowledge that his words have been inadequate in completely solving this problem. But the other observation I have about yesterday's remarks -- there are some things that the President said in his speech were, admittedly, provocative. They were challenging to all of us; he included himself in that category. But the response that we have seen from his speech has been quite positive. And, again, that's based on news coverage, that's based on anecdotal responses and comments that we've seen from people across the country. And the President is pleased about that.
And that, I think, is an indication that our country is making at least some progress; that at this time where there is so much tension and anxiety and frustration and sadness and anger and tragedy, that having the President of the United States both appropriately pay his respects to the courage and patriotism and sacrifice of five police officers in Dallas, but also challenge the country and have the response be positive, is a good thing. And again, I think it says something important about the President, but also says something really important about the country.
So it was a little bit different than the question that you asked, but I felt it was important to acknowledge that, yes, the President was blunt about the inadequacy of his words. But it doesn’t mean that words aren’t important. And I think yesterday was a good illustration of that.
Beyond that, the question that you're asking is essentially the subject of the discussion today. That's why the President has essentially cleared his calendar for the afternoon so he can spend a lot of time with these leaders in communities across the country that represent a wide variety of perspectives to dig into this question about what else can be done. Certainly the work that was done by the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing was important. Certainly the work that the White House has done on the Police Data Initiative -- that was something that Josh referenced that Dallas has been a leading advocate of and participant in -- is something that is important and will make a difference over the long term. Greater transparency is something that can have a tangible impact on repairing and building trust between law enforcement officials and community leaders.
But there certainly is a conversation about what else can be done. In Dallas, one of the other things that people have pointed to in terms of the kind of success that they've seen in their city has been rooted in their training regimen. And this was a leading initiative of Chief Brown in terms of not just increasing training requirements in terms of the number of hours that officer have to undergo periodically, but they also changed the training regimen to make it more realistic -- more "reality-based" I think are the words that they've used to describe it. But they have also made de-escalation a focus of their training efforts. And the fact is, that de-escalation training over time does appear to be correlated with fewer conflicts between police officers and citizens.
So I think the other thing that is true is that there certainly is a role that the federal government can play in terms of offering expertise about this training. In some cases, there's a role that the federal government can play in providing resources to the departments that are committed to this kind of training.
So I'm certainly not going to rule out that there may be an opportunity for the federal government to do more. And that will certainly be part of the conversation today. But what will also be part of the conversation today is what can local political leaders do more of, what can law enforcement officials do more, what can civil rights leaders do more, what can community leaders do more to repair this trust that in too many communities has been frayed.
Q Just to follow up on that, you said there's a wide variety of participants. Who are some of the participants?
MR. EARNEST: So we'll get you a list later this afternoon as the meeting gets started.
Q But in terms of what kinds of backgrounds they represent, you said it was a variety. Are we talking about --
MR. EARNEST: Well, in some cases we're talking about elected officials, we're talking about law enforcement officials, police chiefs, and other -- they're also representatives of rank-and-file police officers. There are academics. There are civil rights leaders.
Q Are some of these people -- are some of these groups that the President has been at odds with, for lack of a better characterization -- are there critics who were specifically invited?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that there are people who are participating in this meeting who have uttered public comments that have not been 100 percent supportive of what the President has had to say.
Q What areas and what --
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, you'll have an opportunity to evaluate once you see the list of people who are attending.
Q I'm trying to get to the substance of this meeting. So much of this discussion is about notions of best practices. Just one metric -- does advancing the 21st policing initiative -- that was the year afterwards -- I saw some that suggested that there were only a handful -- 15 departments that have signed up for this initiative. Is there some other metric that indicates how successful this initiative has been in terms of getting departments to actually engage, commit, sign on to it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, we'll see if we can provide some additional data on this. But there are obviously a variety of ways that -- it certainly is possible for local law enforcement organizations and local communities to decide that they're going to start to implement some of these best practices, even if they don’t sign up for the entire initiative. And that's why the goal of the task force was to actually generate something tangible, and that's what they've done. And we've talked in here on a number of occasions how the leverage that the federal government has in terms of forcing local law enforcement agencies to consider these kinds of best practices is limited. And there are a whole host of good reasons for that. But what we can do is certainly make sure that people understand this is something they should be paying attention to.
Q In terms of what the President has not been able to get departments to do that he would like to see them do, is there some -- can you break it down into some more granular form of exactly what -- training, for example, is one big area, and transparency. These are big concepts. Is there some -- are there things, for example, in this meeting that the President is going to push, to say, you should do A, B, C and D specifically, which I think at this remarks the other day, or somewhere along the line in the last few days he talked about how we need more urgency and more -- a sense of urgency about these things. What specific things is the President going to try and push? I know this is a conversation, but clearly he has very strong ideas about --
MR. EARNEST: He does.
Q -- about what he would like departments across the country to do tomorrow.
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I think the first thing that the President will acknowledge is that there's no cookie-cutter solution that can be applied. Every community is different, and every community has their own unique dynamics. Every community has their own traditions. Every community has their own history. So, again, that is why it is incumbent on governors and mayors and community leaders and leaders in law enforcement to focus on these kinds of solutions. And it's going to require a collaborative effort.
And, look, if only it were as easy as saying do this one thing and all these problems would be solved. It's not that simple. And that's part -- that's what adds to the complexity. But let's talk through a couple of the things that would work. We know, for example, that enhanced training works.
Q Enhanced training around --
MR. EARNEST: For police officers.
Q Around --
MR. EARNEST: In terms of training them in de-escalation tactics. That certainly is something that -- again, that's something that worked well in Dallas and there are other communities that have seen a similar benefit. The other thing that this administration and this White House has pioneered is something called the Police Data Initiative, where we've been encouraging law enforcement agencies to release a whole lot more information about interaction between their law enforcement officers and the community. That actually serves a variety of purposes. The first is, it allows that data to be carefully analyzed and could yield helpful information that could point us in a direction of tangible solutions in a particular community.
The other thing that it does is it certainly enhances trust between the law enforcement and the community when the community can evaluate for themselves how that law enforcement agency is getting along with the community. And to be able to demonstrate, as they have in Dallas, a reduction in complaints against the excessive use of force, for example, is the kind of thing that starts to change hearts and minds in the community. That certainly is something that is important, and the White House has provided a vehicle for doing that.
And, again, this is data that can be used by analysts to offer up new ideas for solving some of these problems. But even just submitting and publicizing the data in the first place is something that will have a tangible impact on the relationship between law enforcement and the community.
Q But in terms of the President's -- the meeting that he participated in the other day with Vice President Biden and the police officials, there was one thing that was reported about how he said that he would go over the list of military surplus equipment that he saw police departments getting. Were there any other specific things that he said that he would do, that law enforcement wants him to do to sort of compromise on policies, initiatives that he has put forth that they are not happy with to try and bridge this gap? Is that one of the things that was specific and tangible that came out of the meeting?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ron, I was out here talking to all of you while the President was doing that meeting in the Roosevelt Room on Monday, but police organizations certainly did raise this question about their ability to procure some equipment from the federal government that can be useful in law enforcement operations in communities across the country. And this was a subject of some controversy a couple of summers ago when there were questions raised about the way in which the Ferguson Police Department was using some of the equipment that they had obtained from the federal government. There was a concern -- I think a legitimate one -- that was raised that their use of that equipment was overly militarizing the situation.
So there has been an effort on the part of the administration to try to reform that procurement process -- not to deny police and law enforcement organizations the equipment that they need to do their jobs, but rather to govern that process a little bit more effectively and make sure, for example, that if high-powered equipment or if a high-powered weapon, for example, is being provided to a local law enforcement organization, that they also are training their officers to properly and effectively use that equipment. That seems like a common-sense thing -- to make sure that as this equipment is provided, that training is provided too.
So what the President committed to do is to go back and take a look at these reforms and make sure that our effort to reform the process and make it work more effectively wasn't preventing law enforcement officers from being able to purchase equipment that they actually need and that they are trained to use.
Q Are there any other areas, issues that you would argue that the President took a step and said, okay, I'll rethink something I've said or done -- like altering that program -- as not a concession -- that's perhaps a harsh word -- as a way of trying to work with police departments to try and deal with some of the things that they want? Are there any other specifics where you can say, here, this is what the President is doing to bridge this divide and to see things more your way?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ron, I think it is fair for you to assume that the President is going to try to practice what he preaches. And he certainly did talk at length yesterday about trying to remain open to every point of view and to apply some intellectual honesty and some sincerity to understanding someone else's point of view.
Now, I do think that I can quite effectively document the way in which the President has both symbolically and tangibly shown his strong support for our men and women in law enforcement. The President has talked in his State of the Union address, arguably the biggest platform that he has, about how law enforcement officers have a right to come home at the end of their shift, and that even people that do have some concerns with law enforcement have to respect that right. The President was unequivocal about that.
But, yes, the President is interested. The reason that the President had the meeting on Monday -- or the reason -- I guess I should say the reason that the President attended the meeting that was organized by the Vice President on Monday, to be more precise, is that he wanted to hear from leaders in law enforcement. He wanted to understand their perspective. That at a time when their officers are under so much scrutiny, he wanted to understand how they saw this situation. And I think the President found that valuable.
Q Does the President -- why did he think it was appropriate to mention the recent cases in Minnesota and the Sterling and Castile cases in that forum yesterday? They're under investigation. There is a DOJ investigation of one of them. They're unresolved. Why did he feel that, at a service focusing on the deaths of law enforcement, that he needed to bring up those cases?
MR. EARNEST: The President's decision to do that was rooted in the idea that none of these tragedies -- the shooting at Baton Rouge, the shooting in Minnesota, or obviously the hateful attack on police officers in Dallas -- took place in a vacuum. And that understanding that context is to understand the way that the country is reacting to all of this.
And the point that the President was making is that, yes, the situations in Baton Rouge and Minnesota are under investigation -- and they should be. And we're all going to have to limit our comments on them while that investigation is ongoing. But the two men who lost their lives in those two incidents are people that have loved ones. They have people who cared about them. They have people in communities that are grieving their loss. And the President felt it was important to acknowledge that, and he feels it's important for everyone to acknowledge that.
That, of course, does not -- as the President -- that doesn’t condone in any way an act of violence against a police officer. It's not possible to justify an act of violence against a police officer -- even people who have deep concerns about what happened in Baton Rouge and Minnesota. But what all of us need to do is open our hearts to understanding the perspective of people who may look different than us, or who may have a different perspective -- that that will be critical to our ability to solve this problem as a country.
Q Josh, on this convening -- this convening and any other convening the President may have when it comes to dealing with the conversation -- his leading the conversation on race -- he talked yesterday of the heart issue. When Bill Clinton talked about it when he was President, he said -- he had the conversation on race -- he looked at it from a legislative standpoint as well as the heart issue. And I want to focus in on the heart. What does the President expect when it comes to the heart issue of him leaving these conversations at the end of the day, at the end of his term, on January 20th, 2017 at noon? What does the heart say?
MR. EARNEST: Listen, I don’t think these problems are going to be solved in January. This will be a challenge that the next President and the President after that, and then the President after that is going to have to deal with. The President made the point that the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow wasn’t completely washed away just by the signing of the Civil Rights Act. So these are going to be challenges that future generations will have to confront. But previous generations can tell us in vivid terms how much progress we've made.
And the President had the opportunity to contribute to that earlier in his presidency when he traveled to Selma in the spring of 2015 to commemorate the progress that was made in that community. And the President was blunt yesterday about denying that progress is to fail to appreciate the sacrifices that were made by Americans of all races in pursuit of civil rights, in pursuit of the ideals and values of this country.
So the President is hopeful that we can make some progress. And as I noted in my answer to Ayesha, I think the response from the country to the President's speech yesterday is an indication that we are making some progress.
Q So when you look at the issue with community and police, that's one component of a larger issue. Will the President begin to break it down? Because when you look at stats, the facts from any department within your administration, there are a high number of negatives in almost every category when it comes to African Americans and our Latino brothers and sisters in this country. Will he also move into other aspects? Is this just one component of a broader focus on race? Or is this the piece that he feels that he needs to deal with right now and that's going throughout the rest of the term?
MR. EARNEST: Well, April, the President certainly did talk about a phenomenon that he's discussed in previous settings, as well, that in too many communities across the country, there are not sufficient resources dedicated to things like expanding economic opportunity and giving kids access to a quality education, and making sure that good health care and good mental health care is available, ensuring that there are healthy foods available for purchase.
These are the kinds of things that are critical to the success of the community. And too many communities and the people who live in them are deprived of those basics. And the consequences for law enforcement are that those problems get thrust on them. And that's not fair. The jobs that are performed by our men and women in law enforcement are hard enough already. As the President described it yesterday -- to make them not just a law enforcement officer, but to make them a teacher and a parent and a drug counselor is unfair. And the President, frankly, is tired of people feigning surprise when the tensions boil over.
So that's why he's going to continue to fight for things like raising the minimum wage and increasing funding for schools, and trying to expand job training, and fighting for equal pay for equal work, continuing to encourage states to expand Medicaid. These are all things that are going to have a tangible impact on the health and wellbeing and success of communities across the country. And if effectively implemented, and if we can make some progress on those things, that won't just improve the lives of the people in those communities; that will at least a little bit lighten the significant burden that is borne by our men and women in law enforcement.
Q I want to rewind the clock a bit. Back to early in this President's presidency when his friend, Henry "Skip" Gates, had a confrontation in his home -- as he was trying to go into his home -- with Sergeant James Crowley. What did the President learn from that beer summit that he had right outside the Oval Office? And what is he going to bring from that into today's session?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if I have a good answer to that question. Look, I think the President I think wanted to use that moment, as he described it, as a teachable moment. And he was hopeful that it would -- that that situation and the ability of those two men to come together in the Rose Garden of the White House would serve as a useful illustration, again, that our country is not quite as divided as it might seem. But that may be the kind of question -- in terms of the President's own personal lesson from that situation, that may be one you have to direct to him.
Q And lastly, since I brought up the beer summit, and that was such a pivotal movement -- that kind of led to a thread with issues of community and policing throughout this presidency, throughout his at least eight years -- I want to go back to the convening and as it relates to t beer summit. So would Skip Gates be one of those in the meeting, as well as Sergeant James Crowley? And also, is Sylvia Burwell in that meeting, since she was head of President Clinton’s conversation on race in America?
MR. EARNEST: We'll get you the full list later today. So I don't think any of those people are on the list.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q Since about 2004, the President has espoused this idea that there is no black America, there’s no white America, there’s just the United States of America. Given recent racial tensions that we've seen, and given the rise of Donald Trump, is the President reassessing that measure?
MR. EARNEST: Not at all. Andrew, it would be easy to conclude, if you just looked at the tone and tenor of the political debate in Washington, D.C., that our country is quite divided. And the President does not believe that our country is nearly as divided as it might seem. And I think there are any number of examples of that. I think anybody who had the chance to attend the service yesterday observed rather vividly the diversity in the room. It wasn’t just that there was a white mayor and a black police chief who were standing on the same stage, grieving the loss of five police officers. The room was filled with police officers in uniform. And it wasn’t just the white officers who were grieving the loss of their colleagues. There were men and women -- black, white, brown, Asian -- all in uniform, all grieving that loss.
And they heard expressions of sympathy from the white Republican President, and they heard condolences from the current black Democratic President. Those are all -- particularly when you consider the legacy of race in Dallas, Texas, the President’s expression of unity I think was on full display.
Q But you would accept the President, given who is he is, is not able to convince the people who need to be convinced in order to bring change about? I mean, there’s this constituency that he’s just never going to be able to reach.
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I don't think the President is ready to give up on anybody. And I think the President took this pretty directly, Andrew. So, again, I'm not going to be able to summon the eloquence that he demonstrated yesterday, but the President is not going to give into despair. He’s not going to give up hope.
In fact, he talked movingly about what gives him so much hope. And the story that he told about the woman in Dallas who took her four sons to the protest, an African American woman who had genuine concerns about police conduct in law enforcement agencies across the country, particularly as it relates to treatment of black men -- her powerful retelling of that story of taking her sons to participate in that peaceful march only to come under gunfire, and to have her be hit, and for her to be terrified about the safety of her kids, and to put her life on the line, to lay on top of her son to shield him from the hail of bullets, only to find a police officer come and do the same thing for her, and to have white police officers come to her rescue, to protect her, and then for her to say that that is just the latest reason that her youngest son says he wants to be a cop when he grows up -- that’s powerful. That's going to give you a lot of confidence and a lot of hope and a lot of optimism about the future of this country.
We've had ample reasons in the last couple of weeks, Andrew, to try to consult those examples of reassurance. But every time the President does, he’s filled once again with the kind of hope and optimism that animated his campaign and that has animated his presidency.
Q Josh, you talked about the list of attendees coming out later, but we've heard from the President a number of times talking about the importance of getting everyone to hear and listen to each other. Can you say at a minimum if anyone from Black Lives Matter is going to be in the room to be listened to and heard?
MR. EARNEST: There will be individuals who I think would describe themselves as part of the Black Lives Matter movement who will be participating in the meeting today.
Q And can you explain why that's important? Because there are a lot of people who have a problem with the movement and --
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think this is the President’s desire to bring people into one room that have a variety of perspectives to represent. I'm confident that there will be law enforcement officials in the room who are deeply troubled by the actions and comments of some people who associate themselves with the Black Lives Matter movement. And the President has cautioned about applying the controversial comments and actions of some -- he didn’t call them controversial, he called them stupid -- actions and comments of some and applying them to an entire movement is just as unfair and just as wrong as attributing the illegal actions of a couple of law enforcement officers to every cop in the country. That's wrong, too. That's not fair. It's not accurate. And resisting that impulse and keeping open our hearts will be necessary to making progress on this challenge.
Q Can you say whether the President has decided how he’s going to continue to talk, communicate, maybe take on this issue after the end of his term? I know you said everything is not going to be fixed by January. I can imagine he wants to continue working on it.
MR. EARNEST: I would anticipate that the President will continue to work on this and talk about these issues and maybe even write about them in his post-presidency. We've talked a little bit about the President's My Brother's Keeper initiative. This is an initiative that is focused on trying to mentor young men of color. That certainly is something I would anticipate that both the President and the First Lady will devote time to once they've left the White House. Certainly the focus on mentoring young men of color has an important intersection with building trust with law enforcement. So I think that's just one example, but I'm confident in saying there will be others.
Q And an element to that when it comes to law enforcement, or not necessarily?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think that in some of those conversations -- well, look, the focus of that initiative is on young men of color and making sure that they get the time and attention that they need to overcome some of the obstacles that are erected in their path. So that obviously is going to have consequences for the way they interact with law enforcement. But, look, other than describing the President and First Lady's involvement in that initiative, it's hard for me to say with a lot of specificity what else they have planned.
Q Can I ask you quickly -- I know you said you don't want to comment on whether it was appropriate for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to make the comments she did. But that aside, can you say if the President has confidence in her right now? Donald Trump has attacked her mental state and said her mind is shot. Do you have a comment on that? I mean, is there confidence that the Supreme Court justice is with her wits about her fully?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I wouldn't call -- I would not call her competence into question and I think anybody who has observed her, she's done her work. Whether you agree with her or not, and whether you agree with every ruling that she has issued, I think over the course of her career she has demonstrated a keen intellect and an understanding of the law, and a commitment to ensuring that it's applied fairly to every American citizen.
Q Thanks, Josh. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association announced on Friday that they may request to the White House that it be illuminated in blue in honor of the fallen officers in Dallas. Knowing that the White House has previously been illuminated, both in 2013 in pink for breast cancer awareness and again in 2015 in the wake of the same-sex marriage ruling by the Supreme Court, has there been any consideration or any thought given to lighting the White House in blue in honor of law enforcement?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have much to say about the potential consideration. I can tell you that's not something that we plan to do at this point. The President certainly has, in a variety of ways, acknowledged the tragedy and honored the life of the five Dallas police officers who were killed last week. The President, while he was overseas, ordered flags across the country lowered to half-staff as the nation mourns the loss of those police officers. And, of course, the President traveled to Dallas just yesterday to speak at the memorial service that was organized to honor their service and honor their sacrifice.
And after that service concluded, the President spent more than an hour with the families of those who were lost and spent time visiting with some of those who were injured, including police officers who were injured in that shooting. So there are a variety of ways that the President and this administration have chosen to conspicuously demonstrate our deep gratitude and our solemn condolences in the aftermath of the shooting that claimed the lives of five police officers in Dallas last week.
Q So you're not opposed to it, it's just not something that the President has made a move on yet?
MR. EARNEST: Kevin, I think it's appropriate for people to conclude that the President has chosen to acknowledge this loss and to pay tribute to these heroes in a variety of other ways, including ordering the flags lowered to half-staff, traveling to Dallas to speak at the memorial service, and spending a substantial amount of time after the service visiting with the families of those who were lost.
Q On Zika, time is running out, for lack of a better description. Apparently, the Republicans have made an offer. Is the White House in contact with Democrats to try to get something done before the seven-week break?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware of the Republican offer. I think it's the Democrats that have made an offer that was rejected by Republicans. And the Majority Leader's response has been to essentially take it or leave it -- and by "it" he means a politically motivated piece of legislation that seems much more focused on trying to tear down the Affordable Care Act and prevent women from being able to get access to Planned Parenthood services, and deals with confederate flags much more than it is on trying to address a genuine public health emergency.
And I say that because the amount of funding that's included in the bill is woefully short of what our public health professionals say is needed to do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus. So I think the irony is the Senate Majority Leader has observed something like the Senate is running out of time. He says that as the Senate is prepared to leave a day early for their seven-week vacation in the middle of a public health crisis. So I'm not exactly sure how he squares that, but instead of trying to confront a public health crisis, maybe we'll just tune in and listen to him speak at the Republican Convention because I guess that's where he'll be instead.
Q Speaking of the Republican Convention, Donald Trump is --
MR. EARNEST: Kevin is not one to miss a segue, guys. (Laughter.) Well done, my man.
Q Thank you. Donald Trump is going to be on Fox tonight and -- on Special Report with Bret Baier -- and knowing how much --
MR. EARNEST: That's a good plug for Mr. Baier right there. (Laughter.)
Q -- how much you love to talk about this subject, if there were one question that you might have for Donald Trump, who will be on the air tonight, six o'clock Eastern -- (laughter) --
MR. EARNEST: That's provocative right there. (Laughter.) Well, listen, your colleague Mr. Baier has an excellent reputation for asking very tough questions. The President can certainly speak firsthand about that. And I think that's one of the reasons we'll be tuning in at 6 p.m. Eastern to see how that conversation goes. (Laughter.)
Q I appreciate that. Last one -- if you'll indulge me -- South China Sea, a very interesting ruling by the international community, saying once again, listen, you've got to stop with this nonsense in the South China Sea. What's the administration's response not just to, again, the legal pushback against Beijing, but also some of the concerns that others might have that as they watch the administration's perspective and how you all react to what China is apparently trying to do there that could have implications on, say, what Russia does in the Arctic, for example, or other actors might have similar designs on the Middle East?
MR. EARNEST: You're raising an excellent point, Kevin, so let me get to that. A couple things I'll just make clear. The ruling that was issued by this tribunal was quite extensive. And I know that it was now more than 24 hours ago, but I can tell you that administration lawyers continue to review the ruling.
So I can't offer a definitive reaction to it, but there are a couple things I can say. The first is, to remind all of you, and to remind anybody who may be reading this transcript, that the United States is not a claimant to any land features in the South China Sea. And, in fact, we don't support or oppose any specific claims that any of the sides have made. Rather, the United States has strongly urged those with competing claims to resolve them peacefully and to resolve those disputes through diplomacy, including through arbitration.
Now, the Law of the Sea Convention, to which both China and the Philippines are signatories, has followed the process that's specified in the convention. They've issued this ruling, and that's why it's the United States' view that this tribunal finding is binding and final. More generally, to go to the point that you're raising that I think is a good one, in an increasingly interconnected world, respecting international laws and rules is critically important. There are norms that must be observed to ensure the success of our interconnected world if we want to be able to trade effectively, if we want to be able to travel internationally, if we want to ensure that our integrated global supply chain continues to function in a way that's as efficient as possible. We know that enhances the economic prospects for everybody. We know that our ability to travel anywhere around the world is something that we value.
So this interconnectedness is something that has to be protected. And if there's a willingness on the part of bigger countries to violate those norms and to throw their weight around, that can be disruptive. And the irony is, is that the biggest countries with the biggest economies are the ones that have the greatest incentive to protecting the stability of the world order. And that certainly is why you've seen the United States make such a strong statement about the need to resolve these disputes through diplomacy and through arbitration. We want to protect the billions of dollars of commerce that flows through the South China Sea. We want to protect the transit lanes and the shipping lanes in that region of the world. And we want to make sure that those competing claims don't devolve into some sort of military confrontation.
So that's why we've taken the position that we have. We're not claimants, but we are certainly hopeful that those with competing claims will work to resolve them peacefully.
Q Thanks, Josh. Speaking of the Senate -- I'm trying to segue. (Laughter.)
Q Traditionally, the Senate passes maybe a larger package of nominations before they go on longer recesses. I'm wondering if you are expecting any nominations to move through. And especially, I was just reading about Carla Hayden, who is the Librarian of Congress, who hasn't been able to move, along with a bunch of others.
MR. EARNEST: I don't know what the Republicans in the Senate plan to do before they adjourn a day early for their seven-week recess. They've got a convention to get to. One thing I do hope that they'll do, though, is they'll give the consideration to Dr. Carla Hayden's nomination that she deserves. This is somebody that the President nominated early this year to be the Librarian of Congress. She is somebody who is eminently qualified. She has served in leadership positions at library systems across the country, most recently in Baltimore. She is somebody who has got a PhD in Library Sciences from the University of Chicago and she has taught in her field both at the University of Maryland and at the University of Pittsburgh. Her academic credentials are unimpeachable.
She's also the first woman nominated for the job. And I don't know what the Republican explanation is for continuing to block her nomination, but it sure doesn't seem fair. There certainly should be no reason for controversy, except that this eminently qualified woman with unimpeachable credentials is being blocked from the job by Republicans. And I'll leave it to them to explain why that exactly is the case.
Q So no other -- Adam Szubin, Merrick Garland?
MR. EARNEST: She's got a particularly strong case, but she's not the only person with a strong case. And when I say a strong case, I mean people who are eminently qualified, who are devout public servants, who have unimpeachable credentials, who are eminently qualified for the job, but they're not being considered because Republicans in the Senate are going to leave a day early for their seven-week vacation recess and, again, I don't really know why they think that's appropriate. I don't think most Americans do. I'm not even sure most Republicans across the country would think that's appropriate, but I guess we'll have to check.
Gentleman in the back.
Q Republicans have in their political platform included the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. What kind of signal sends something like that to the Mexican Americans who have roots in Mexico and family members when the President is calling for unity in the country?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, this is a claim that has been propounded by the Republican nominee for President. I'll let him make whatever case he would like to make. The President’s approach to the situation has been quite a bit different. The President has supported strong border security. That's why, under the President’s leadership, there are more resources devoted to border security right now than at any time in American history. The President also supported a common-sense immigration reform package that would have made an even larger investment in border security and would have become law if it weren’t blocked by Republicans in the House of Representatives.
So the President’s view has been to try to use his executive authority to try to fix as much of our broken immigration system as possible. And the Supreme Court wasn’t able to rule -- wasn’t able to reach a final conclusion on some elements of those executive actions. But on other elements we have been successful in making sure that we're effectively using our limited law enforcement resources to implement our -- to protect our communities and to try to fix as much of our broken immigration system as possible.
All of that is a reflection of how the United States has benefitted from a strong relationship with Mexico. The United States government and the Mexican government have been able to coordinate effectively on a range of public safety issues. And we certainly have our differences, but we are able to coordinate effectively. And the President discussed this when he was in Canada and had an opportunity to meet with his Mexican counterpart a couple of weeks ago.
So it's clear that there have been different approaches, but ultimately the American people will have to decide which approach they like best.
Q Thanks, Josh. Back to Dallas. Can you give us any additional details or color as to the President’s meetings with the victims’ families, with the wounded officers? Did he have any one-on-one time with the President George W. Bush?
MR. EARNEST: The President and the First Lady did have an opportunity to spend some time backstage with President Bush and Mrs. Bush. Their paths don't cross often, but the President certainly did enjoy the opportunity that he had to catch up with President Bush a little bit. Despite their well-chronicled political differences, there’s a genuine affection that the two men have for one another. I think that was apparent for those of you were reading body language onstage yesterday. I think that's been apparent in reading body language in other public settings where they’ve appeared, including at the dedication of President Bush’s library. And when President Obama and the First Lady traveled to Selma, President and Mrs. Bush were there as well. They got to spend some time together. They marched over the bridge together.
All of that is an indication of the genuine affection and appreciation that President Obama has for President Bush. And by all accounts, that affection has been reciprocated by President Bush.
As it relates to their interaction with the families, I was not in the room while the President and the First Lady were meeting with the families of those who lost loved ones last Thursday night in Dallas. So I don't have much of their interaction to read out.
Q Can you say, from those conversations, including with the former President, were there any policy takeaways that the President is going to be bringing with him today? Any requests, any recommendations to move the ball forward?
MR. EARNEST: Not that I'm aware of. There were not any heated policy discussions backstage. I think most of it -- again, most of their discussions were personal or social in nature, and I also think it reflected the somber mood.
Q And what is the President hoping to get out of or accomplish with tomorrow night’s town hall?
MR. EARNEST: Well, tomorrow, certainly on ABC, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. (Laughter.) If Kevin is going to do it, you certainly can, too, Megan. (Laughter.) But, listen, the President is really looking forward to the event tomorrow evening, and I know that ABC is working hard to also organize a diverse audience that represents a variety of points of view. And the President is quite interested in hearing from the people who will attend and interacting with them.
I think the President is hopeful that those kinds of interactions will both illuminate a variety of perspectives for the American people to see. I also think he’s hopeful that it will illustrate what can happen when people open up their hearts to a different perspective. He’s certainly going to try to do that when he’s talking to people in the audience, and I'm confident that people in the audience will do that as he speaks, as well. And I think that will be not just an opportunity that could be illuminating in terms of different ideals or perspectives or potential solutions, I also think it's a pretty effective way to model the kind of conversations that the President believes should be happening all across the country.
Q And lastly, moving to Congress. Any reaction to House Republicans -- specifically the Judiciary Chairman and House Oversight Chairman -- requesting that the Justice Department now investigate Hillary Clinton for perjury to Congress?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any comment on that. I'll let the Justice Department decide what they believe is the most effective way to respond to that.
Q What about a reaction to the way the Attorney General and the FBI Director were treated before Congress in the questioning regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, let me just say that I think those who had an opportunity to watch either of those hearings -- probably it was not a large number of people -- but those who did I think had an opportunity to see two genuine, well-qualified professionals who are committed to public service. And I'm referring to the witnesses, not to those who were asking questions.
So I'm not going to comment on -- at least for now, I'm going to withhold judgment about the way I believe that Republicans conducted themselves in those settings, and rather express to you the pride and appreciation that the White House has for those two individuals and the way they conducted themselves in public under a pretty hot spotlight.
Q We saw yesterday Bernie Sanders endorsing Hillary Clinton. And I'm sure the President can appreciate that moment that he had with Hillary Clinton, as well. Did he watch? And did he have a sense of relief that this had finally happened? And did he think that Sanders perhaps squandered some of the impact that he might have had because he had waited for about a month after she had the delegates to become the nominee?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t believe the President was able to watch the event. Obviously, the event was ongoing as we were traveling to Dallas. And the President, I believe, was pretty focused on his remarks. So I don’t believe that he watched the event.
But you all have heard previously from the President as he discussed how important it is for the Democratic Party to come together in support of a presidential candidate that's committed to the same kinds of values that the President has been fighting for the last eight years.
The President believes that the Affordable Care Act and the potential it has to continue to hold down the growth in health care costs while expanding quality coverage to people all across the country is something worth protecting and preserving and improving and continuing. The President believes that continuing the fight against climate change is something that the next President should do. We've made a lot of progress in digging our economy out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. And the question now is really, what are we going to do to try to put even more upward pressure on wages and make sure that the next generation of Americans has the skills and training that they need to succeed in a 21st century global economy.
These are the kinds of values that President Obama has dedicated his presidency to. These are his priorities. And he's interested in seeing the party that he leads come together in support of a candidate who shares those values and shares the same kind of passionate commitment to advancing them. And that certainly would explain the political activity that the President has engaged in over the last month or so. And I think it will explain why the President expects to be so busy this fall.
Q Did he hope that Sanders would have endorsed earlier?
MR. EARNEST: Listen, the President obviously had at least one occasion to discuss that decision with Senator Sanders. At every turn, we made clear that Senator Sanders had more than earned the right to make his own decision about the end of his campaign, and when to end it and how to end it. And I'm not going to second-guess him from here.
Q And CNN had its own town hall -- I wanted to -- on my colleagues -- (laughter) -- yesterday with Speaker Ryan. And he was asked by a fellow Republican whether or not he could morally justify supporting Donald Trump because, in his words, he called him "openly racist." Ryan did not push back on that characterization, but said that he would not support in any way Hillary Clinton being President. What do you think of that response? And what do you think the President thinks of that response in light of the fact that he seems to be at a point where he's trying to establish some racial reconciliation? Does he perhaps thinks that maybe there needs to be some sort of coming together with members of Congress as well to talk about race relations?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I think Speaker Ryan has been rightly credited and complimented for the comments that he delivered in the House of Representatives last week after the shooting of police officers in Dallas. And his commentary about the attention of the country on a range of criminal justice and law enforcement issues was well handled and I think did reflect something that the President himself has said on many occasions -- that our country is not nearly as divided as it seems. And Speaker Ryan's comments I think were a good illustration of that.
As it relates to his decision about which candidate to vote for in the presidential election, I'll let him answer questions about that choice in the way that he believes best reflects his views. And I'll let him do his best to justify it.
Q Is there a conversation that the President feels would be useful to have regarding the election and the tones, or the overtones -- or the racial overtones -- in light of the fact that he's trying to establish a dialogue with police officers and civil rights leaders and activists? Does he think that he needs to kind of take a look at the administration itself and maybe have a similar dialogue or conversations?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess what I would say is that, again, words are important, and it certainly matters when we're expressing our perspective to one another that we remain open to the views of people who might see things differently or might look differently than we do. The President believes that there's real value in that.
The President also believes that when you're in a leadership position, like President of the United States, or mayor of a large city ,or police chief of a large police department, that your responsibility extends beyond just talk. There's a responsibility that you have to look for concrete proposals and solutions and to try to advance them. So that will be the nature of the conversation that the President has today, and I think that will be the nature of a number of conversations that take place within the administration, too. Think about what other additional things the federal government can do to support state and local law enforcement and political leaders as they make their own decisions about confronting these challenges in their communities. And that certainly is something that's worth addressing; it's also something that's worth acting on.
Q Josh, a lot of transition going on in the world right now. You spent some time, I'm sure, with the President -- maybe some reflective time on Air Force One coming back from Spain. There's a whole new look, basically, to the world and to NATO. We have a first female prime minister in many years. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is a woman. The President's choice for President, Secretary of State, may ascend the Oval Office in January. And there's even a possibility of France having a leader, Marine Le Pen, at some point in the new election. Has the President given you his thoughts or his reflections on the fact that four, possibly three, for sure, and possibly four women will be part of the NATO operation? I know you don’t want to step into anything here, but it's a new world.
MR. EARNEST: I think that's fair to say that's true when I'm answering every question.
Q I understand.
MR. EARNEST: But, listen --
Q It's a whole new dynamic.
MR. EARNEST: Yeah. Well, I think it is hard to generalize too much about this situation. Obviously, Chancellor Merkel is somebody who has led Germany for quite some time now and has done so in a way that the President has deeply appreciated. And, look, I know that she is somebody that President Bush respected deeply as well. She was able to work effectively with both leaders of our countries. I think that's a pretty good illustration of something that you've heard me say on a number of other occasions as it relates to our relationship with other countries, which is that the importance of the U.S. relationship with our allies is one that transcends the personal relationship between two leaders.
And even though, for example, the President had genuine personal regard for Prime Minister Cameron, there's no doubt that he'll be able to work effectively in the six months that he has remaining in office with incoming Prime Minister Theresa May. And I'm confident that the next President will be able to work effectively with her as well.
But at this point, I'm going to resist the temptation to generalize too much about the women that are, in some cases, poised to play a more prominent role among our NATO allies.
Q Thanks, Josh. First, to follow up on the South China Sea. China has indicated that it is going to establish air defense zone in the South China Sea to a certain sovereignty in t region. What do you say about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, basically the reports that I've seen -- and you may have seen something different or more recent than I have -- but I think there was a comment from a Chinese official indicating that that was something that they were considering doing. And I'd just go back to what I said earlier, which is that the United States doesn't have any particular claims here. Our view is simply that the countries should resolve the claims through diplomacy and including through an arbitration process like the one that's just concluded -- the one that this Law of the Sea Tribunal has issued a ruling that all the signatories acknowledged is final and binding. And we believe that it should be treated accordingly by all of the parties.
We also believe that this should not be a time for provocation or inflammatory comments or actions. I think that's why you see me being careful with my word choice as well. And our hope is, is that this is not an inflection point toward a more -- to a deeper conflict, but rather is an inflection point toward the peaceful and diplomatic resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea. There certainly is the potential for that, and we are hopeful that that potential is realized because it's a potential that is clearly within the interest of the United States based on the strategic and economic significance of the shipping lanes and the transit lanes in the South China Sea.
Q And secondly, last week, a commander of a banned terrorist organization, Hizbul Mujahideen -- which I know was banned by U.S. and the European Union -- was killed by Indian security forces. And now the Pakistani leadership and Pakistani army has come out in support of this outfit and this terrorist leader. What does it reflect about Pakistan's commitment to fight against terrorism?
MR. EARNEST: Lalit, I have to admit that I'm not aware of those reports, but I'll have somebody follow up with you on them.
Lauren, I'll give you the last one.
Q There was a proposal in Congress, I think in May, to make a national standard for police so that when they're using their firearm, there's a national standard of how you use it. And there was also a proposal to make this de-escalation training nationwide, mandatory among police officers. Is that something that today will be discussed, and is that something that the President backs?
MR. EARNEST: I have not been briefed on that specific legislative proposal, but the President certainly would welcome ideas from a variety of quarters, particularly as it relates to enhanced training and increased training for police officers across the country.
That's just based on the experience that many communities have had -- that as they increased training requirements, as they improved the training curriculum, as they focused on de-escalation, there’s been a material benefit that the community and the police department has enjoyed.
Q And why not make it national standard?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I wouldn't rule it out from here, but I think what’s also true is that communities across the country are quite unique. The training requirements for big cities I think in some cases are different than they are for small towns. The training for a highway patrol officer, for example, might be different than the training that a police officer that more frequently works in a county jail, for example, might receive.
So, again, I'm not ruling out that idea, but I think there also is a strong case to be made about the need to tailor some of these training requirements to reflect the environment in which these officers are working. But, look, there is evidence to indicate that training can make a genuine difference, and how exactly that's implemented in a variety of communities is something that I'm confident will be a subject of discussion today.
Q The President’s biggest critics have said that his speech yesterday, the first 10 minutes, were one of the most eloquent that they have seen, and then said that the speech devolved when he brought up gun control and policy. Why did he decide to do that? Why, at that moment, did he decide to bring in policy at an interfaith memorial service of five slain officers?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't know that I'm quite willing to accept the premise that it was a policy speech. I think what I will acknowledge, I think what the President did acknowledge, is that there are at least questions about policy priorities that must be asked when we're considering the performance of police officers across the country. And when the President talked about how there are communities in this country that have inadequate economic opportunity, inadequate schools, inadequate health care, inadequate access to healthy foods, inadequate access to job training, inadequate access to mental health care, that has the effect of making the work of our police officers even more difficult.
Because even as the rest of the community, the rest of the city would rather forget about those deeply entrenched problems that are plaguing one specific community, the expectation of the city and its citizens and its leaders is that police officers are the ones that are going to go and keep things quiet and make sure that the problems that are plaguing that community don't intrude on the rest of us. And you put police officers in a position where they are the after-school counselor, and the drug counselor, and the parent. Those are tough jobs. And asking a police officer to do those in addition to being a police officer is unfair.
And the President has expressed his own -- I don't think he expressed exasperation yesterday, but I think there are plenty of us who are exasperated by the fact that when that dynamic leads to a situation where tensions blow over, that people act surprised.
So, again, I don't know if that's a policy discussion, but I guess this is the point I'm trying to make -- when the President said that, I didn’t see a lot of police officers in that room shaking their head. I think I saw a lot of police officers nodding their head, if not clapping -- in part because I know that that is a point that Chief Brown made just a day earlier.
So to compliment your journalistic precision in noting that that observation was made by critics of the President, I just would observe that the police officers who were in the room, mourning the loss of their colleagues, when they heard the President say that didn’t appear to be inclined to criticize him for doing so. In fact, they appeared to be inclined to agree with him.
Q I know everybody wants to go, but one last question. You put out very little information about this meeting in an hour. What you have put out does not include faith leaders. Will they be there?
MR. EARNEST: We'll get you the list as soon as we have it. Off the top of my head, I don't know. But I'm confident that people of faith will be in the room. I don't know if any of them could be described as clergy. But I guess if you dedicated your life to working on these issues, you need to appeal to a higher power for a little strength. I know the President does.
Thanks, everybody. We'll see you tomorrow.
Q And can you try to give out the list -- just to make sure who’s coming, that they come --
MR. EARNEST: We will make sure we get you an accurate list, and we'll have it hopefully in the next hour or so.
2:09 P.M. EDT