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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 9/12/2016

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:37 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s been a little while since we’ve been in this setting.  I was feeling nostalgic for it.  I assume all of you were, too.  (Laughter.)

Q    Nice tie.

MR. EARNEST:  Thank you.  Before we get started, I do have one piece of scheduling news here.  On October 18th, President Obama will host Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy at the White House for an official visit.  Prime Minister Renzi’s visit will be an opportunity to recognize the depth and breadth of our relationship with Italy and exchange views on the future of Europe.  Italy is one of our closets and strongest allies, and we cooperate across a range of shared interests, from addressing climate change and the global refugee crisis, to promoting global security and inclusive economic growth.

The President and Mrs. Obama will host Prime Minister Renzi and his wife, Mrs. Agnese Landini, for a state dinner on the evening of October 18th.  So that’s something to look forward to.  But with that, we can go to your questions.

Kevin, do you want to start?

Q    Sure, Josh.  Thank you.  I want to start out -- Senators McCain and Biden put out reams of medical records when they ran for President.  Does the President think it’s essential for voters to have more information about both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s health, given their age?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President believes that it’s the responsibility of the two candidates to make their own decisions about their campaign.  And what is true is that as President, President Obama every couple of years has asked his physician to put together a memo that we release to the public, detailing the President’s health.  We did something similar when then-Senator Obama ran for President, as well.  And obviously the requirement that the American people have some understanding of the health of their President is I think a pretty common-sense proposition.

But for individual candidates, they ultimately have to make a decision on their own about what kind of information and what kind of detail about their health they’re prepared to disclose.

Q    So the President sees this as entirely the responsibility of the candidate?  He doesn’t view this as something that the American people should have, are entitled to have before they make a decision at the ballot box?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the President’s opinion on this I think can be judged based on the way that he has handled this question when he’s been President.  And he’s arranged for his physician to communicate information to the American public about his health.  So I think those are entirely legitimate questions, but how they’re answered is something that the individual candidates have to decide for themselves.

So there’s a reason that we’ve had a longstanding tradition in this country of individual candidates disclosing information about their health to the American public before the election.  But I don’t have any advice to dispense to the individual candidates about how they should handle this question.  What I can do is point you to what Senator Obama did when he was running for this office and what President Obama has done while serving in this office.

Q    Thank you.  With the movie about Edward Snowden coming out, can you speak to whether the President would ever consider a pardon for Snowden before he leaves office?  And earlier in his administration, the President said Snowden’s leaks were damaging to the United States and damaging to our intelligence capabilities.  Has his thinking about Snowden evolved over the last couple of years?  Is it possible that he did perform a public service?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has been asked this several times over the last couple of years, and I think the President has been pretty consistent in answering this question.  The first is that Mr. Snowden has been charged with serious crimes, and it’s the policy of the administration that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face those charges.  He, of course, will be afforded due process, and there are mechanisms in our criminal justice system to ensure that he’s treated fairly and consistent with the law.  And that’s what the President believes.

With regard to the impact that he has had on the broader debate, the fact is the manner in which Mr. Snowden chose to disclose this information damaged the United States, harmed our national security, and put the American people at greater risk.  There are mechanisms that Mr. Snowden could have availed himself of, if he had concerns about information that he had access to, to communicate this information more responsibly and address some of the policy concerns that he purports to have.

But the impact of his actions, because of the way he chose to disclose this information, did harm our national security.  The President said that on a number of occasions, and his assessment of that situation has not changed.

Q    No pardon before he leaves office for Snowden?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not going to get into the President’s thinking about anybody being considered for a pardon.  Obviously there’s a process that people can go through in requesting a pardon.  But right now, Mr. Snowden has not been convicted of crimes with regard to this particular situation, but he’s charged with various crimes.  And it's the view of the administration and certainly the view of the President that he should return to the United States and face those charges, even as he enjoys the protection of due process and other rights that are afforded to American citizens who are charged with serious crimes.

Q    And finally, could you just review the meeting with congressional leaders this afternoon?  And in particular, the governor of Louisiana is asking for $2.8 billion in federal spending to help deal with the flooding in that state.  Will that be part of any request that the President makes to the leaders?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, the meeting that the President has arranged for today is an opportunity for the President to sit down with the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate to discuss the rather long list of priorities that Congress needs to address.  It's hard to rank them in priority order because so many of them are important.  And the failure of Congress to act on some of these priorities would have significant negative consequences for the American people.

Some of the items I'm referring to are the need for the United States Congress to pass a continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown.  It continues to be our view that the continuing resolution should be short and not freighted with the kind of ideological riders that have led to a government shutdown in the past, to put it bluntly.

So we're hopeful that Congress will act on that before the end of the month; that's the deadline they're facing.  We've spent a lot of time talking in this room since February about the need for Congress to pass funding to fight the Zika virus.  Our public health professionals continue to say that they need additional resources to do everything possible to protect the American people, and I just saw an op-ed in The Hill newspaper earlier today on behalf of governors all across the country, Democrats and Republicans, urging Congress to act to provide funding to fight the Zika virus.

There are other priorities, like the approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, criminal justice reform, given the consideration and confirmation of the President's nominee to the Supreme Court that are also top priorities.  And these are priorities, each of them, where Congress has not fulfilled their responsibility to the American people.  Each of these are areas where there should be some -- there is bipartisan common ground, but the Republicans who are in charge of running the Congress have refused to capitalize on it.

With regard to the situation in Louisiana, it's quite serious.  Last month, there was a conversation about whether or not the President should interrupt his vacation to go and visit the people in Louisiana.  And at the time, what I assured all of you was that the President was focused on doing his job and focusing on the fundamentals of the situation in Louisiana.  And what we have seen there is an extraordinarily effective partnership between state and local officials and the federal government to ensure a professional response.

Significant federal resources have already been expended to try to meet the emergent, immediate needs of people affected by the flooding.  More than 63,000 Louisiana families have received federal assistance through one or more of the housing options available to them, including rental assistance or paying for hotel or motel stays; $260 million in total payments to flood-insurance policy holders who have sustained damage or filed a claim.  And the President recently -- just last week -- announced that the federal share of these expenses would increase to provide additional support to the state government, who is trying to meet the needs of all the people who have been affected by the flood.

So we've been focused on an effective federal response to this situation.  The President also traveled to Louisiana a couple of weeks ago; had an opportunity to tour the damage, to visit one of the communities, one of the neighborhoods that had been so negatively affected by the flooding -- devastated, in fact.  And the President had the opportunity to comfort some of the people who had lost so much.

So there's been a lot of attention on whether or not the administration is going to fulfill its responsibilities to the people of Louisiana who were affected by the flooding.  We've done it.  The President believes that there are additional resources -- he agrees with the assessment of the governor that additional resources are likely to be needed to help the people of Louisiana recover.  And so I recognize there's a lot of moralizing about how the President should do his job.  Well, he's done it.  And so the question now is, are Republicans in Congress going to do their job?  They just got back from an uninterrupted, seven-week vacation.  Are they going to do right by the people of Louisiana?  I think we're going to find out.


Q    Thank you.  Following up on the meeting that's supposed to happen this afternoon, there's been some talk that Republican lawmakers might put forward a CR that would include funding for Zika -- $1.1 billion in funding for Zika, and it wouldn't have the Planned Parenthood riders that had caused some concerns, but it would pay for the funding with cuts to other programs.  Is that something that the administration could get behind?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ayesha, this falls in the category of the kinds of things that if it were just a couple of reasonable people like you and me sitting down across the table to figure out what we could do to meet the country's priorities, including fighting the Zika virus, it's something we could probably figure out in a couple of hours.  That's not the situation that we have here.

Instead, we've got Republicans in Congress who have capitalized on this opportunity to play politics.  And it wasn't just riders related to funding for Planned Parenthood that we objected to; the irony, of course, is associated with the fact that the Zika virus is actually a sexually transmitted disease.  So the fact that Republicans want to blunt funding for contraception is not just ironic, it's dumb.  But we also saw that there were riders associated with limiting or constraining the EPA's regulatory authority, and even a rider associated with Confederate flags being displayed at certain federally run cemeteries across the country.

So Republicans have been playing politics with the Zika virus since before, frankly, most Americans had even heard of the Zika virus.  The President put forward a specific funding proposal almost seven months ago now.  This is a funding proposal that was developed by the nation's public health experts who itemized exactly what they believed was necessary to do everything possible to prevent the Zika virus from harming the American people.  Congress has not acted on that funding request, and it's quite unfortunate.

So the President is, once again, going to make the case that that's exactly what Republicans in Congress should do.  And again, I think it's an open question about whether or not they'll fulfill their responsibilities.  Hopefully they will.

Q    But would the White House be willing to support -- if you didn’t have those additional riders, would the White House be willing to support $1.1 billion -- which is less than what you asked for -- and cuts to other programs to pay for that?  Would the White House be willing to support that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, Ayesha, the American people would be fortunate to just have you and me negotiate this out, but unfortunately they're stuck with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan being responsible for this.  So hopefully they'll step up to the plate and do their job.

Q    Also, the House passed a bill last week that would allow victims' families of 9/11 to sue countries over that.  And this could be aimed at Saudi Arabia.  I wondered, in the past the White House has said that they would veto this bill.  Is that still a plan?  Is the plan to veto this?

MR. EARNEST:  That is still the plan.  The President does intend to veto this legislation.  Let's talk about why.  Currently, there is a process inside the executive branch of the United States government for designating certain countries as state sponsors of terrorism.  There are a couple of countries that fit that category.  And that's a very serious designation.  It submits those countries to a whole set of -- list of limitations and restrictions that isolate them not just from the United States, but in many cases, the rest of the world.

There is an evidentiary threshold that has to be met before reaching that kind of legislation, but that designation, when it's reached, is something that's made public.  The impact of this legislation could set up a situation where you have judges at a variety of levels, in a variety of courtrooms across the country, making a similar designation.  You could have judges at different levels in different courtrooms, reaching different conclusions about the same country.  That's not an effective, forceful way for us to respond to terrorism.  A forceful way for us to respond to terrorism is to thoroughly investigate what role individual countries may have in supporting terrorism, and if we find compelling evidence that they are, to label them accordingly and to act accordingly.  And that is what the President believes is the most forceful way for us to confront state sponsors of terrorism.

The other concern that we have also articulated is that this law actually opens up the United States to risk being hauled into court in countries around the world.  The concept of sovereign immunity is one that protects the United States as much as any other country in the world, given the way the United States is engaged in the world.  So it's not hard to imagine other countries using this law as an excuse to haul U.S. diplomats or U.S. servicemembers, or even U.S. companies into courts all around the world.

So the President feels quite strongly about this.  And our concern is not limited to the impact it could have on a relationship with one country, but rather it could have an impact on our relationship with every country around the world in a way that has negative consequences for the United States, for our national security, and for our men and women in uniform.

So the President feels strongly about this, and I do anticipate that the President will veto the legislation when it's presented to him.  It hasn’t been presented to him yet.


Q    Thanks.  Back to concerns about Hillary Clinton's health, does the President think that she should have disclosed her pneumonia diagnosis sooner?  As he gets ready to go out and campaign for he tomorrow, does he have any concerns that her campaign's handling of this issue may turn some voters off?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I'm not sure that the -- I haven’t heard the President weigh in with an opinion on this.  I think it certainly does not impact his assessment that she is the best person in the country to succeed him in the Oval Office.  And he has had an opportunity to work closely with her when she was Secretary of State.  They traveled around the world.  She pulled long hours.  She bore a significant burden, both mentally and physically.  And she didn’t just succeed in that role, she thrived.  And the interests of the United States were well represented as a result of it.

And the President, as you've heard him say on many occasions, is confident that she'll bring those same skills and that same endurance to the job as President.

Q    But when it comes to transparency, this administration prides itself on a certain level of transparency.  Is there any concern about a lack of transparency that we may be seeing from the Clinton campaign?  Does the President agree with his formal advisor, David Axelrod, who said that the Clinton campaign has an unhealthy penchant for privacy?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has certainly not described that phenomenon to me.  And you're right that this administration has prided itself and made transparency in government a genuine priority.  And he believes the American people were well-served by that.  He believes that our government is more effective because of the way that he has made that principle a genuine priority in this administration.

Other candidates are going to have to make their own case about what they believe is the best way to run the country.  And the President has taken a close look at the agenda and philosophy that's been put forward by Secretary Clinton.  And he has enthusiastically endorsed it.

So I think the President's belief that she'd be an excellent President of the United States is something that you've heard him say many times.  And I can tell you there's nothing that happened yesterday that has changed that assessment at all.


Q    Josh, a couple of questions.  One, did the President call Hillary Clinton at all or call someone in her campaign after he found out that she was not well?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any calls the President has placed to Secretary Clinton.  So, no, I’m not aware of any calls.

Q    Is he planning on possibly -- would you be surprised, would it be something out of the blue, something unexpected, if he were to call her?  Do you think he could call her?

MR. EARNEST:  If we have any telephone calls to read out to you, I’ll make sure you’re among the first to know.

Q    Oh, thank you.  So, also, I want to talk about health on the road.  When President Obama and Hillary Clinton were running against one another, everyone kept talking about stamina.  What does it take on the road?  How grueling is the road?  And is her tour schedule just as hectic as his was the first term and even the second -- well, the first run and the second run?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think I’d answer that question a couple of ways.  Many of you have spent time on the road with these presidential candidates, and I think you can observe for yourself what kind of pace they’re keeping.  And based on the fact that you have to do these trips as well, and you’re responsible for filing stories based on these events, you can assess just how demanding that pace is.

It’s hard for me to draw a comparison between the schedule that the candidates are keeping now and the schedule that then-Senator Obama kept in 2008, primarily because I’m just not following the minute-by-minute of the schedule of the candidates in 2016 in the same way that I was in 2008.

Q    Donald Trump is speaking in Baltimore right now, and he said something very interesting, saying something about the tolerance -- or values of tolerance when it comes to other communities, when he was talking about the Muslim communities.  Is there something in this nation called the "value of tolerance"?  Do we tolerate one another?  Does the President see that from his unique perch?  Does he see this nation -- different cultures, different communities -- tolerating one another?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, religious tolerance is a principle that was discussed quite extensively by our Founding Fathers.

Q    But is that the right word now in 2016?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think there are a lot of ways to talk about this, about the way that we embrace diversity in this country and the way that the United States benefits from the variety of people and faiths and races and ethnicities that make up our country.  The President has certainly given voice to the idea that that diversity makes our country stronger.  The President genuinely believes that.

I’ll let the Republican candidate for President describe his own views of the impact that diversity has on the country.

Q    And last question.  You talked about priorities, the list of priorities that the President would go down today with leaders from the Hill.  Is the funding, more funding for Flint, on the list of priorities?  Because a couple weeks ago in Detroit, Jesse Jackson and a couple of Congressional Black Caucus members were saying not enough money was appropriated; they need billions of dollars, not just a --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, you’ll recall that when this issue first emerged in the late winter and early spring, the administration mobilized resources to try to address the emergency situation inside of Flint.  Some of that assistance took the form of expertise, putting scientists and public health professionals on the ground to try to assess the situation and offer advice to local leaders about how to ensure the safety of the water supply.

The administration expedited funding for infrastructure projects for the state of Michigan that could be deployed to address the situation in Flint.  The administration put forward funding to expand medical care for young people in Flint who were at risk of lead poisoning.

So there are a lot of resources that have already been mobilized by the administration to try to address the situation in Flint.  And the administration has indicated that we would support congressional action to offer additional assistance.  It’s clear that the problems in Flint are deeply entrenched.  And the administration would certainly be supportive of an effort in Congress to offer additional assistance to the state of Michigan and to the community of Flint.  But we’ll just add it to the long list of things that Republicans in Congress have failed to make progress on.

Q    And lastly, they say that Flint is not alone; there are more communities who have lead levels in their piping that’s just as bad.  So is there going to be any kind of conversation in the next couple weeks about this?  Is there anything planned?  Or even today -- I mean, you’ve said your hope is that Congress would assist with this, but what about the other cities that are having issues -- lead-level issues?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it’s -- I don’t want to oversimplify the situation.  I think each situation is unique.  And the EPA, I think, has been quite conscientious in redoubling their effort to make sure that the water that Americans are drinking is safe.  And that involves effective coordination with state and local officials who are responsible for providing water to their citizens, but the EPA has done a lot of work to try to clarify those relationships and to clarify the regulatory role that they’ll play to ensure the safety of the water supply.

So there’s a lot of important work that’s been done over the course of this year because of some of the concerns that were initially raised around Flint.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Now that we’ve seen a new memorable campaign phrase emerge, “a basket of deplorables,” and Republicans are now fundraising like crazy off of this, do you feel that that was a mistake on the part of Hillary Clinton, or a gaffe?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I’ll let all of you armchair quarterback the campaign, to use a phrase.  I guess it seems appropriate after week one of the NFL season.

I think what is true more generally is that we have seen a disturbing tendency on the part of Republicans in Washington, D.C., to try to appeal to extremists for political support.  And those appeals take a variety of forms.  We’ve talked extensively about the cynical tactics around the Confederate flag, including attaching a Confederate flag rider to the Zika bill.  As we’ve discussed in here many times, House Republicans elected a guy who described himself as “David Duke without the baggage” to be one of their leaders in Congress.

We’ve heard from Republicans, both a variety of presidential candidates -- not just one -- and some members of Congress talk about the benefits of imposing a religious test on people seeking to enter the United States to try to keep Muslims out.

So I think it’s pretty well-documented that there has been a consistent willingness on the part of Republicans in Washington, D.C. to appeal to extremists to build political support.  And it’s distressing, but not new.

Q    So it sounds like you don’t disagree with her using that phrase.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’m not going to -- again, I’m not going to armchair quarterback.  I’ll leave that to Jon Gruden and others.

Q    But it’s important in the sense that the President is heading out on the trail for her tomorrow.  Does he feel like he needs to do some damage control for the way that the other side is jumping all over this?

MR. EARNEST:  No, he doesn’t.  I think you can look forward to the President making a strong, affirmative case about why he believes she would be an excellent President of the United States and why he is forcefully supporting her campaign.

Q    But her campaign has already, and pretty soon after, expressed regret over that.  Doesn’t that necessitate some kind of -- I don’t know if damage control is the right phrase to use.

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I’ll leave it to them to make decisions about the most effective way to run their campaign.  The President is going to be in a mode tomorrow where he’s enthusiastically advocating for her election.

Q    But if they’re expressing regret for her using either the phrase or quantifying it, does the President share that regret?  Does he not have to --

MR. EARNEST:  It’s not the President’s phrase.  So, again, she can describe the situation however she would like.  I think I’ve just given my own explanation and offered my own observation about the cynical tactics that we’ve seen Republicans employ.  And again, these are -- it’s not just limited to one candidate for President.  This is true of a variety of candidates for Congress.  It’s true of sitting members of Congress.  And again, it’s a distressing temptation that Republicans have given into.  And it’s not good for the country.

And, look, I’m not -- I guess this is the other thing I would say about this.  There are plenty of Republicans who have expressed their own deep concern about this.  There are a lot of -- you guys have made a living chronicling the disgust that some Republicans have offered about the state of their party.  And that's just the state of play.

Q    So in the last couple of days, we've seen her quantify her description of a portion of Donald Trump's supporters.  Her campaign then expressed some kind of regret over it but defended it at the same time.  And then we've seen her have an issue medically, and then her campaign says that she has pneumonia.  Do you think that this is sloppy handling?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  Again, I'll leave the armchair quarterbacking to all of you and to the variety of pundits that make a pretty good living this time of year, every four years.  And I don’t begrudge them on that, but that's their job and my job is different than that.

Q    But the concern is, with it being such a close race and now we're seeing the polls tighten up in swing states, are you worried that this could hurt her?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, we're still a couple months from Election Day, and I know that the President is determined over the course of the next eight weeks or so here to make a forceful case in support of her campaign.  He certainly believes that the stakes are high.  He certainly believes that it's important that the next President of the United States be somebody who is committed to building on the progress that we've made over the last eight years.  But you all have heard him make this case before, and you'll have an opportunity to hear him make it again tomorrow.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Going back to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, obviously this debate has been going on for a long time and the President has expressed his opposition to the bill.  And there was some discussion earlier this year that the White House was going to try to look for ways to address these issues short of what the post-legislation would have done.  Did that ever happen?  Or can you characterize any of the negotiations that went on in the run-up to this vote?  Did the White House try to get Congress to back off of this and do something different?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think we've not made it a secret that we have significant concerns with this legislation.  And there were a number of conversations that originated at the White House with members of Congress in both parties to try to persuade them to pursue a more constructive approach.  But that's not what they chose to do.

Q    Can you characterize what a more constructive approach would look like?  I mean, short of just accepting the State Department's designation as it stands now and that whole process, was there alternative legislation that could have addressed the President's concerns and still addressed some of the sponsors' concerns?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, there were a variety of conversations.  I'm not going to get into the details of those kinds of conversations, but I think there are -- the concerns that we've expressed are significant.  And the concern that we have is that the way that this bill is currently written exposes the United States, U.S. diplomats, U.S. servicemembers, and in some situations, even U.S. companies to significant risk in courts all across the world.  And that is a concern that we have expressed to members of Congress in both parties.  In many cases, we had members of Congress who were sympathetic to our concerns, but I think those same members of Congress were concerned about the impact that this would have on their political standing, to oppose this bill.

There's no denying the political potency of this issue.  But the President believes that it's important to look out for our country and to look out for our servicemembers, and look out for our diplomats.  And allowing this bill to come into law would increase the risk that they face.

Q    So obviously communicating those concerns didn't have the desired effect.  And looking at the margins that this legislation passed by, it looks almost certain that they'll have the votes to override the President's veto.  So is the White House doing anything to prepare for that -- I mean, given what you've talked about in terms of the great consequences of this legislation for foreign policy here?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would anticipate that the President will continue to explain his opposition to this legislation, and we'll do that up until Congress ultimately makes a decision about whether or not to override his veto.

Q    Do you think he thinks there's still a chance to change minds on the Hill?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we'll see.  I think I've got a pretty persuasive case to make in terms of the forceful nature of a state sponsor of terror designation and the significant policy consequences that go along with that, and the restrictions that countries around the world face as a result of that designation.  I think it makes a lot of sense that that's a more forceful way for us to confront state sponsors of terrorism as opposed to delegating that decision to judges in different courtrooms all across the country.  And I think it's persuasive that we would want to protect the concept of sovereign immunity in a way that doesn't increase risk for our servicemembers or our diplomats, or even U.S. companies.

So we've got a forceful case to make -- and, yes, we'll continue to make it.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Did the President, by chance, see the video of Secretary Clinton getting into that van?  And was he alarmed?  And I ask that, that way, because if that were the President and he were sort of being helped into a van in that manner, I think the American people would rightly be alarmed.

MR. EARNEST:  I don't know whether or not he saw the video.

Q    He's a pretty heavy consumer of media.  I think it would be pretty shocking if he hadn't at least seen or heard it.

MR. EARNEST:  I certainly would not be surprised if he did, but I didn't talk to him about it.

Q    Okay.  Let me ask you about President Duterte's comments about removing American forces from the southern part of his country -- Special Forces.  What's the White House reaction to that?  Is that a surprise to you or the President?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, "surprise" is not the word I would choose, primarily because of the tendency of this individual to make some rather colorful comments.  What is true about the U.S. military presence in the Philippines is that this presence has been in the Philippines for a number of years at the request of leaders of that country.  It is an indication of the alliance between the United States and the Philippines.  We've got a wide range of shared concerns and shared interests, and the United States and the Philippines have been able to work effectively together in a variety of areas to advance our mutual interests.  And the President is certainly committed to continuing to do that over the four months that are remaining in his second term.

Q    It seems odd, though, doesn't it?  I mean, we were just there in November and everything seemed like it was moving along swimmingly and then --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, they had an election.  And I think it's an indication of how important elections are.  The Filipino people made a decision.  And the Filipino people have enormous affection for the United States.  There are deep cultural ties between our two countries, there are a lot of Filipino Americans here in the United States.  When the Philippines was hit by a devastating cyclone, it was the United States who led an international response, mobilized millions of dollars -- tens of millions of dollars in resources to try to meet the basic humanitarian needs of the Filipino people.

When the President was in the Philippines back in November, one of the things that he did while he was there was he went to a pier and visited a ship that had been provided by the United States to the Philippine coast guard to assist them in their maritime security efforts.  That's indicative of the strong relationship between our two countries and the effective cooperation between our two countries.

I think it explains why the Filipino people hold the United States and President Obama in such high regard.  But yes, elections have consequences.  And elections do say a lot about what kind of person is going to represent your country on the international stage.  And it's why you're going to prize qualities like decorum and temperament and judgment in casting votes in elections, because you know that that person is going to represent you on the international stage.  And I think that certainly is something that the Filipino people are well aware of right now.

Q    Cautionary tale for the American voters -- is that what you're getting at?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess some people could draw that analogy if they chose to do so.  (Laughter.)

Q    Pretty much everybody in the room.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  You guys are a little in that mode right now.  We're eight weeks before an election.  So it's natural that you might interpret many of the things that I say through the prism of a national election.

Q    Inescapably.  Let me ask you about the Dakota pipeline project.  I think it surprised some people that the administration would weigh in after a judicial review had taken place.  And this is a pause, from what I understand.  Can you explain why the President, and through the other agencies, decided that this was the right decision?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this was a decision that was made by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior.  And you're right that a federal judge did rule and uphold the approach that they have taken to the decision to move forward with this specific project.  So it really was based on their own judgment at the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Q    No request from here?  No influence from --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is a decision that they made.  I can't speak to the discussions that they may have had with the White House, but this is ultimately their decision.  And they made this decision to ensure that the interest and concerns of everybody who was affected by the construction of this project were properly taken into account.  And I'll let them speak to any concerns that they may have had that that may not have taken place before this construction went forward.

Look, I think they're trying to do the right thing here in terms of making sure that everybody's interests are taken into consideration.  And particularly when it's an infrastructure project this significant, you want to make sure that everybody's voice is heard.  And that's what they're going to go to great lengths to do.

Q    And last one, Syria.  Can you give us an update on the negotiations and the apparent ceasefire?  Have you gotten any word?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know this is something that Secretary Kerry is likely to discuss a little bit later today.  The arrangement that was announced at the end of last week is one that places a lot of pressure on Russia to deliver.  The way that the arrangement is structured is that we'll need to see seven continuous days of reduced violence and unimpeded access for badly needed humanitarian relief, particularly in Aleppo, but not just in Aleppo, but in a number of besieged communities inside of Syria.  And only after we have seen a sustained and continuous faithful implementation of those arrangements will the United States move forward on the element of this arrangement that we know Russia is quite interested in, and that is enhanced military cooperation with the United States, focused on al Qaeda and ISIL targets in Syria.

But, look, we've been talking for months, if not years, about how Russian credibility is on the line.  And based on our collective experience here in observing the situation inside of Syria over the last year or two, I think we'd have some reasons to be skeptical that the Russians are able or are willing to implement the arrangement consistent with the way it's been described.  But we'll see.

The reason that we have reached this arrangement in the first place is that we've prioritized going after ISIL, al Qaeda, and other extremists inside of Syria that could pose a threat to the United States.  So if there's more that we can do to be more effective in that fight, then we'll pursue it.  We've prioritized trying to bring an end to the violence and trying to bring humanitarian relief to innocent civilians inside of Syria that desperately need it.  And we've said from the beginning that reducing the violence inside of Syria, at least between Assad regime forces and the opposition, is the only way we'll be able to create space for the kind of political transition that even the Russians acknowledge is necessary to address the root causes of the chaos inside of Syria.

So the arrangement as it's currently structured advances all of our goals, but I think Secretary Kerry would be the first to acknowledge that this arrangement is only going to succeed if the Russians live up to their end of the bargain, and that is at best an open question right now.


Q    Are you concerned at all by President Assad's comments this morning that his goal was to recover all of Syria?  Or was that just talk?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it is true that we are much more focused on actions than talk.  It is also true that the Russian government exercises at least some leverage over the Assad regime.  And in the context of this arrangement, they have made a commitment to exercise that influence in a way that's consistent with the arrangement, which is essentially to say we're going to reduce the violence inside of Syria, we need the regime to stop attacking innocent civilians.  And once we have gotten to a position where we are providing humanitarian relief for a sustained, consistent period of time, and once the United States and Russia have been able to effectively coordinate our military efforts against al Qaeda and ISIL and other extremists inside of Syria, then that also is going to involve the grounding of the Syrian government's air assets.

Q    What about American influence over the opposition groups that the United States has been backing?  Are you satisfied with the commitments that they have given?  Because there were some public statements that all these groups have not agreed to the cessation either.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what we have seen is we have a seen a willingness on the part of most opposition groups to abide by a Cessation of Hostilities when they're not provoked by the regime.  And the reason for that is these opposition groups represent the people who are being slaughtered by the government.  These opposition groups are the ones that are clamoring for a political transition inside of Syria.

So a ceasefire, as we've described, is consistent with the interests of the opposition groups that we work with.  So that's why we can have some confidence that they'll abide by the terms of the arrangement.  The real open question is whether or not the Russian government is able to or is willing to exercise their influence over the Assad regime to get them to do the same thing.

Q    On the Secretary Clinton matter, you said that the President hadn’t seen this video and that he hadn’t communicated with her directly by phone or reached out to her.  But he’s aware of this health issue?

MR. EARNEST:  The President has read the news in the last 24 hours.  And I didn’t say that he hadn’t seen the video, I just don’t know whether or not he’s seen the video.  But as I guess I said to Michelle, there’s nothing that’s happened in the last 24 hours that’s caused him to reassess in any way his enthusiastic support and his confidence that she’d be an excellent President.

Q    Just so I understand the relationship, though, has the White House reached out to Secretary Clinton in any way -- to anyone -- to offer support, to offer concern, to offer best wishes?

MR. EARNEST:  I guess I’d say I think you’re sort of putting your finger on the difficulty that I’m going to have in answering your question.  I’m not really sure -- I mean, I can’t rule out all conversations, but it’s not clear to me what they would say vis-à-vis yesterday’s news.

Q    But wishes -- “feel better soon,” “get back to work soon.”

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m sure that those warm feelings are extended all the time.

Q    Vice President Biden in Charlotte said something about she’s recovering well and her health is great.  He hasn’t talked to her.  He was just, I guess, speculating about that?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not Vice President Biden has spoken to Secretary Clinton or spoken to somebody else on her team, but you can check with his team on that.

Q    And just lastly, on this event tomorrow, is it safe to say that there’s some concern that the President has about his voters, voters who helped put him over the top in the two previous elections, really turning out enthusiastically for Secretary Clinton?  I mean, that’s in part why he’s going to Philadelphia.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what is clear is that the President does have a lot of influence over a large number of voters that haven’t previously been regularly engaged in politics; that the key to President Obama’s success from the very first contest, the Iowa caucuses in January 3rd, 2008, was to motivate and turn out people who hadn’t regularly participated in the past.

And you did see the surge in participation in the caucuses, and that was a hallmark of President Obama’s victories throughout the primary process in 2008, but that also was critical to his success in the general election in 2008 and in his reelection in 2012, that in particular young people have been genuinely inspired by his candidacy and by his presidency.  And the President will make a forceful case to those voters in the same way that he will to all voters about how important it is for him to be succeeded by somebody who’s committed to the same kind of vision for the country that he’s been fighting for, for the last eight years.

Q    So was it correct that he’s targeting places where voter registration is wrapping up and early voting is about to start?  Is that a conscious part of the strategy?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think when it comes to the strategy you can talk to the campaign, but I know that they have indicated that they expect to use the President in that way.  They’ve said that they’re hoping that the President will be helpful in making the case on their behalf to motivate voters to register -- to get registered and to participate on Election Day.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  While we’re discussing transparency concerning health, in 2002 and in again in 2007, George W. Bush handed power briefly to the Vice President while under sedation for routine tests.  Has the President in his seven years in office ever had a medical procedure of any kind where he was sedated?  And even if the answer is no, would it be the White House’s policy to invoke the 25th Amendment in that situation?

MR. EARNEST:  Byron, I’ll check on this answer for you, but my understanding is that there’s never been a situation in which the President has undergone a medical procedure that required him to delegate any authority to the Vice President, or anybody else for that matter.

Q    I know you said you didn’t want to tell other candidates what they should or should not disclose, but you also said there was a longstanding tradition in this country to be transparent about health information.  Have the two current candidates lived up to that tradition?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, you guys are the ones that are offering the assessments of the candidates and critiquing their campaigns and offering your advice, and doing the armchair quarterbacking thing, and there are plenty of people out there who are willing to do that.  I’m going to focus on my day job.

Q    One more.  Another issue yesterday was the lack of a protective pool around Secretary Clinton, and I know from experience that the White House works very closely making sure that journalists have access to the President whenever he leaves a secure location.  Is it time for the candidates who aim to replace the President to do the same, especially given the sort of health scare yesterday that was recorded not by the press but by a bystander?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think this falls in the same category, that I’m going to let the individual campaigns manage their own relationships with the press corps who covers them.  But speaking for the President, I can indicate that the President does believe that the protective pool is something that’s important for reporters who are covering the President of the United States.  And it’s not always convenient for him.  Yesterday was actually a pretty good example.  The President decided to go on a hike with his daughter in Great Falls yesterday.  Most Americans, when they see the weather is nice, they can just decide to head out the front door and go spend some time with their kids, but the President has to make different arrangements -- not just for security, but also to make sure that all of you can travel with him.

So the President is committed to this process, even when it’s not particularly convenient for him.  And that’s certainly something that previous Presidents have done, and we’ll see what the next President chooses to do.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  A couple on the 9/11 bill.  You’re talking about a straight veto?  You’re not talking about some clever variation on a pocket veto, right?  You’re going to send it back to Congress.  He’s not just going to sit on it until January 20th?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure that’s an available option.  I’m not a -- I guess if it were an available option we might take it.  (Laughter.)  But I’m not sure that it is.  The President intends to veto this legislation and for reasons that I’ve walked through.  And we’ll see what Congress chooses to do from there.

Q    I don’t expect you to volunteer many names here, but how many members of Congress told you they didn’t like this bill and voted for it anyway?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll let individual members of Congress --

Q    Disclose what -- he’s leading the constituents?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll let them search their conscience and describe their own position on this bill.

Q    Last one.  The guidance for today’s congressional meeting includes a reference to reading out his trip to Asia.  Apart from the obvious, which is TPP, are there action items, are there things he wants Congress to do related to Asia policy -- whether it’s new North Korea sanctions or something else?  Is there an ask today?  Does he want Congress to take some steps that are directly related to this trip?

MR. EARNEST:  I think that reference was essentially an allusion to two things.  The first is the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  And the President did hear quite extensively from leaders across Asia about how important it is for U.S. credibility for the United States Congress to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  There are important questions about how the United States will continue to compete in an international economy if we aren’t engaged in the region that’s home to some of the most dynamic economies in the world.

There are also some strategic questions that are raised.  We know that China is looking to expand their influence in this region of the world.  The United States of course welcomes a rising China, but it seems unwise, to put it mildly, for our strategic interests for the United States not to compete there too, particularly given the significant interests that we’ve already established there.  So the President discussed that a lot with leaders over the course of his trip.

The second thing that the President -- that we were referring to in that phrase is that the President had an opportunity to consult with a number of our allies and partners on the trip, some of them from Asia and some of them not.  The President had bilateral meetings with President Erdogan, Prime Minister May, and then obviously President Xi and President Putin and President Park.  I'm sure I'm forgetting some.  Prime Minister Modi.

Anyway, the President had a number of conversations with world leaders, and he's interested in making sure that leaders in Congress understand the kinds of issues that were discussed in those settings.


Q    Josh, on the 9/11 lawsuit bill, is there any White House outreach to 9/11 families, explaining why the President is going to veto this bill that they place so much importance on?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t had the opportunity yet I think to reflect on something that the President discussed in his remarks yesterday.  The President has found the families of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 to be a source of inspiration.  They're an inspiration to him and to people all across the country for the kind of resilience that they have shown in the face of this unimaginable loss.

So there's no effort to diminish the sacrifice that they have made or the pain that they have endured, or the heroism that they've displayed over the last 15 years.  And I think there are a variety of ways to illustrate that, particularly when it comes to the President's own activities.

The President made clear that bringing Osama bin Laden to justice was going to be a top foreign policy and national security priority.  And he made good on it.  He was willing to assume significant risk -- certainly not as much risk as our men and women in uniform who carried out that mission.  But he was willing to stake the future of this presidency on it.  That is how strongly the President felt about looking out for America's national security interests and getting justice for the thousands of Americans who were killed on that dark day 15 years ago.

The President also has been an aggressive advocate of the 9/11 First Responders Bill that would guarantee that individuals who worked at Ground Zero were going to get their health care needs taken care of.  These were individuals who worked around the clock and performed heroically to help our nation recover.  They deserve leaders in Congress and in the U.S. government who have their back.  And President Obama has every single time.

This administration requested the declassification and the release of the so-called 28 pages.  That goes back to the President's commitment to transparency and also trying to provide the American people greater insight into what happened on 9/11 and what may have contributed to it.  So the President's commitment to fighting for the kinds of values that the 9/11 families represent I think has been well documented.

As it relates to specific conversations, I'm sure there are some conversations that have been had.  I don’t know of any meetings or any presidential-level conversations.  But I think it's fair for you to assume that the administration has certainly made our case to individuals who see the impact of this legislation differently.

Q    But President Obama must realize that he is going to disappoint, if not anger, a lot of 9/11 families with his veto.

MR. EARNEST:  I think that's possible.  But again, I think the President's words and deeds when it comes to standing up for the interests of 9/11 families speak for themselves, including prioritizing bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, fighting for the 9/11 First Responders Bill, fighting for the declassification of the 28 pages, and using the opportunity on the anniversary of 9/11 every year to talk about the 9/11 families and the source of inspiration that they continue to be for him and for people all across the country.

Q    And one related issue.  Can you say why the President's moment of silence yesterday was private in the Oval Office and not on the South Lawn like it usually is?

MR. EARNEST:  The reason for that is that yesterday was a Sunday, and my colleagues and I here at the White House are extraordinarily hardworking, but there aren’t too many of us here before 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday.  So rather than have the President stand either by himself or with a small number of people on the South Lawn, he just observed that moment of silence in private, and then spoke publicly about the day.


Q    Thank you, Josh.  I wanted to ask you about the Ex-Im Bank.  Right now there's no quorum.  There's a bit of a logjam there on larger loans being sent out.  And I know the White House wants language to be put in the CR that would sort of allow you to get around the logjam.  I'm wondering how much are you going to push that in the meeting -- or you are going to push that in the meeting this afternoon, and how much are you going to push for that to get into the CR so that these loans that are larger than $10 billion will be able to go through the Ex-Im?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t know that there's going to be a lot of detailed negotiating that goes on in the Oval Office.  Maybe there will be.  But we're still at the relatively early stage here of ensuring that the government doesn’t shut down.

I think the principle that you’re singling out is an important one.  And again, as a result of Republican dysfunction, even Republican nominees to the Ex-Im Bank are being bollixed up in Congress for no good reason.  And it's impairing the ability of the federal government to do important work that would have a positive economic benefit for the country.

So it's a rather obscure example, but a relevant one in terms of Leader McConnell not making good on his promise to get Congress moving again.

Q    I just want to ask you about Syria.  You all are working with the Russians at this point, or planning to work on the Russians, to target -- and that's something that the Russians called for when they first started sort of flying into Syria a year ago.  And the White House, as Lavrov said in his statement, the White House was cool to that idea.  What has changed?  And sort of do you regret not being more open to working with the Russians a year ago, considering there's been so much carnage over the last 12 months?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Toluse, a couple of things.  The first is that the United States has not begun coordinating with the Russians on military actions against ISIL and Nusra.  Before any of that cooperation begins, we need to see Russia make good on the commitments they've made in the context of this arrangement to prevail upon the Assad regime to observe the Cessation of Hostilities.  And by reinvigorating the Cessation of Hostilities, we can reduce the violence, increase the flow of humanitarian assistance, and provide space for political negotiations.

Russia has been unwilling to do that thus far.  There was a brief period in February and March where there was a Cessation of Hostilities that did, largely, prevent violence in some of the most hotly contested areas of that country.  But that Cessation of Hostilities was short-lived.  After several weeks, it began to fray.  And it's only worsened over that period of time.

But we should just be clear about why that happened.  That happened because the Assad regime didn't live up to the commitments that they made in the context of that Cessation of Hostilities.  They continued to provoke and attack opposition forces and, in some cases, innocent civilians.  And that wasn't some kind of secret strategy that was employed by the Assad regime; they were pretty bold about announcing that they were going to go and bomb hospitals, targeting civilians, until they could get some of these groups to surrender.

Setting the immorality of that approach aside, it's an indication that the Russians were either unable or unwilling to use their influence with the Assad regime to get them to live up to the Cessation of Hostilities.  For reasons that I guess you'd have to ask the Russians, they now are making a renewed commitment to doing so.  I suspect that part of it stems from their concern about getting sucked into this conflict over the long term -- something that the United States warned of since we saw this military intervention by Russia last year.  I suspect that some of this stems from ramped-up concerns about extremist activity in Syria on the part of al Qaeda in Syria.  I think some of it stems from a Russian desire to enhance their international reputation by being able to say that they're working with the Americans.

So the dynamics in this relationship I think are quite clear.  But being able to move forward here is entirely contingent on Russian credibility, and we'll need to see them deliver before they get the kind of cooperation that they'd like to see.


Q    Josh, the President has suggested that there could be new sanctions on North Korea, following their latest nuclear test.  What new sanctions could be possible?  And would they have any impact, given that North Korea has continued to test nuclear tests and ballistic missile tests and seems to be now scoffing at the idea of more sanctions?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is actually something, Pam, that the United Nations Security Council is considering, even as we speak.  I know that there was a statement from the Security Council over the weekend that indicated that they were going to consider additional economic sanctions that could be imposed against North Korea for their continued and flagrant violations of a variety of Security Council resolutions.

For a statement like that to come forward, it has to have unanimous agreement of the Security Council.  And I think that's an indication of how unified the international community is in prioritizing the situation in North Korea, in being alarmed about the situation in North Korea, and in considering additional steps to isolate the North Korean government even further.  So there's some important work to be done at the United Nations, and the United States will be supportive of that process.

The other thing I'd point out is that, on Thursday, the President did a news conference in Laos prior to this most recent nuclear test in North Korea, and the President talked about how, while we have been pleased with the constructive contribution that the Chinese have made to applying pressure on the North Koreans, the President believes there's more that they could do.  And there have been a number of conversations, including between President Obama and President Xi, about the need to continue to make dealing with this situation a priority.

Q    So there are no, like, separate U.S. sanctions that might be considered?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly wouldn't rule out an announcement like that, but those kinds of sanctions are not the kind of sanctions that we talk about publically because doing so would only tip our hand and allow those who were the target of the sanctions to make arrangements to try to avoid them before we were even able to implement them in the first place.

So if there are more sanctions like that that are put forward, then we’ll certainly announce them publicly and explain to you the rationale for why they were imposed.  But we won’t do that until a final policy decision has been made about them.

Q    And just one more.  What is the level of concern about North Korea developing ballistic missiles that could have a nuclear weapon on it reaching the United States?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you’ve heard experts in the U.S. government indicate their continuing concern with the way that North Korea’s missile program and their nuclear program has advanced.  In part, that is why the United States has taken steps at the direction of the Commander-in-Chief to enhance our anti-ballistic-missile capabilities in the Asia Pacific.

The United States has deployed additional naval assets in the Pacific, including Aegis systems that can be used to defend the United States against ballistic missiles.  There’s technology that’s been deployed to Japan to better track those missiles and enhance our ability to defend the United States and our allies against them.  There are THAAD -- there’s a THAAD battery that’s been deployed to Guam.  And, as you know, the United States and South Korea recently agreed to deploy an additional THAAD battery in South Korea -- all of which is oriented against the threat from North Korea.

And I think it’s an indication that President Obama takes the threat seriously and is committed to taking the prudent steps that are required to protect the American people and our allies.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Shortly before the briefing, the White House made the decision to let the pool have access to the President’s meeting with Congress today.  Can you give us a little insight into the thinking behind that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think primarily the idea was the President was interested in having a meeting with the congressional leaders, and there was a discussion about the most effective way to convey to all of you exactly what had happened in the context of that meeting.  And so the original plan had been to do a written readout, and we decided to let at least a small subset of you hear directly from the President himself about the discussion that he had with congressional leaders.

Q    And so not to -- Toluse was very earnest today -- but not to channel cynical --

MR. EARNEST:  I always appreciate that.  (Laughter.)

Q    -- it didn’t have anything to do with the likelihood of questions about protecting pools and transparency and that sort of thing?

MR. EARNEST:  No, it did not.

Q    And one more on these lines.  You wrote an op-ed to the New York Times, a letter to the editor, not too long ago where you said, “President Obama’s government transparency effort is not even noted by The Times media columnist, then why would future presidential candidates make it a priority?"  Is there any evidence that transparency has practical or political benefits beyond getting cheers from the press corps?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that’s the point of the letter that I tried to write.  In a different point, I made clear that the only real constituency for transparency in government is all of you.  And that’s a good thing.  That’s an important role that all of you play in our democracy.  American voters, I think, largely -- almost all of them -- are considering a range of other factors when they walk into the ballot -- when they walk into the voting booth.

So that’s why it’s important for all of you to play the role that you do.  And it is why our approach to transparency is one in which we would never expect for anybody who’s sitting in those chairs to say that we’ve done enough.  It’s your responsibility to constantly push for more.  And all of you have lived up faithfully to that responsibility.  So, thank you.  (Laughter.)

The point of the letter, though, was that I expressed my opinion that that kind of advocacy is more effective and more credible when you give us credit in those instances when we do it right.  And Mr. Rutenberg, whom I respect greatly -- I think that he’s an excellent journalist and obviously somebody who brings a wide range of experience to the job that he has now -- overlooked that fact in the column that he wrote a couple of weeks ago.  And that’s what prompted me sending that letter.

And the truth is, I expressed that concern to him privately after reading his column, and he acknowledged that that was a fair point and encouraged me to make it publicly.  So I give him credit for a willingness to engage on that.  I don’t want to leave you with the impression that he agreed entirely with the point that I was making, but I think that he believed it to be a credible one.  And that was the -- anyway, that’s the backstory on how the letter to the editor appeared.

Q    I guess I’m saying, is the incident with Secretary Clinton over the weekend, is that maybe evidence of a political benefit to being more transparent?

MR. EARNEST:  I see.  Well, look, I think that’s hard to assess.  Part of the argument that President Obama was making in 2008, when he was making the case for greater transparency in government, is that there were instances where the Bush administration had not been.  And President Obama was very interested in making a forceful and clear case about the different approach to governing the country that he would pursue than his predecessor did.

So I think from that standpoint, his ability to talk about transparency was an effective way for him to illustrate some of the differences with the Bush administration.  But I think my point is that transparency in its own right is not something that a lot of voters are going to consider.  And that’s okay.  There are a lot of other things for them to consider that are entirely legitimate -- for example, the economic plans that are put forward by the individual candidates, the competence that the candidates bring to the job, the values that the candidates bring to the job, the ability of the candidates to represent the United States on the international stage, the experience that the candidates bring to the job.  Those are all entirely reasonable criteria for voters to consider.  Not a lot of them are prioritizing this question of transparency.  And I know this is something that all of you, both professionally and personally, believe is important.  And that means that you play an important role in our democracy in holding whoever is in the Oval Office accountable to the American people and for being transparent with the American people.

But again, I guess the point that I’m trying to make here -- that’s a little meandering, I acknowledge -- (laughter) -- I chalk that up to, it’s still like 3:00 a.m. in Laos right now.  But the point that I’m trying to make here is there are a variety of ways to evaluate transparency.  And again, I think this is a point that all of you make with some persuasive power on a regular basis -- that it doesn’t just apply to the every-other-year report that you get from the President’s physician, for example.  It also applies to access to the President when he’s meeting with congressional leaders.  It also applies to the records related to the individuals who visit the President at the White House.

So it applies to tax returns, something that just about every presidential candidate in both parties has provided in the context of running for this office.  It certainly applies to the financial disclosures that sitting Presidents file.

So there are a variety of ways to draw that assessment, and it’s not just whether or not a candidate included the press corps in their motorcade on one movement.

Let’s just do a couple more.  


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Quick policy one.  Back on the CR.  Senator Cruz is looking to add a rider.

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t heard his name in here in a while.  (Laughter.)

Q    Looking to add a rider to the CR.  I know that’s rare.  It would prohibit the Commerce Department from giving up some of its oversight on Internet domain names.  And I’m wondering if that would be a big problem for this White House.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it may be a bigger problem for Republicans if Senator Cruz considers a maneuver like the one that he employed back in 2013. So again, I haven’t seen the specific proposal from Senator Cruz, and knowing him, he’s not particularly concerned with the details.  But the fact of the matter is that there is a long-established transition that’s scheduled to take place that would essentially transfer responsibility of establishing Internet domain names outside of the hands of government and into the hands of a non-governmental organization. Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You might think that somebody who is an ardent champion of smaller government and getting the government out of the hands -- or out of the business of the American people would praise such an effort.  So it might lead you to conclude that Senator Cruz is interested in something other than the merits of this specific proposal. But Internet experts, scientists, business leaders, technology experts all agree that this is the most effective approach and the right thing for the long-term security and wellbeing of the Internet. So that’s the approach that we’re intending to pursue.  We’ll see what kind of tricks Senator Cruz has up his sleeve. Gregory, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Has the President been examined by a physician for any reason since the last report we got in February?

MR. EARNEST:  Well -- for any reason?  I think that’s --

Q    I’m excluding meetings with physicians to talk about health care policy.  (Laughter.)  Has he been examined by a physician?

MR. EARNEST:  Right.  Look, I don’t think that we’re going to set a standard where we going to read out every conversation the President has with his doctor.  And I don’t think that’s --

Q    The standard you articulated earlier in this briefing was that the American people have a right to know the health status of the person who occupies this office.


Q    Has there been any material change to his health?  Any complaints, any ailments that we should know about?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look -- I mean, all of you have been in situations where you’ve seen him coughing at a news conference or having a cold.  But, no, I’m certainly not aware of any material change in the President’s overall health.  And I don’t think the standard that people expect is that every time the President talks to his doctor that we’re going to read out the conversation to all of you.

Q    Fair enough.  But apparently the standard is that we have to ask whether the (inaudible) has pneumonia before we find out.

MR. EARNEST:  No, I’m not suggesting that that’s the standard.  I think the standard is that you’d get a memo like this from the President’s doctor that I think is pretty detailed in terms of listing his body mass index, his resting heart rate, his blood pressure -- you know, a whole bunch of other things that give you an indication of the health of the President of the United States. And I think it’s fair to assume that if there were a significant change in any of this, that we would either tell you of you’d be able to tell.  But I don’t we’re going to set a standard where every time the President talks to his doctor that we’re going to read out the conversation.

Q    There’s no material change in the President’s health since that report in February?

MR. EARNEST:  Certainly not one that I’m aware of.  I’m not a doctor and I’m not prepared to play one on TV either.  But no, I’m not aware of any material change to the President’s health since the last update you received from his physician, which was just back in March, so not that long ago. All right?  Thanks everybody.    

3:00 P.M. EDT