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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 9/14/2016

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 

**Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.

1:26 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I do not have any announcements at the top, so, Kevin, we can go straight to your questions.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  So with the easing of sanctions on Burma, is the administration taking away its leverage to improve conditions for the Rohingya Muslim community and to force changes to that nation’s constitution?

MR. EARNEST:  Kevin, I think, if anything, we're enhancing it.  The more deeply that the United States engages in a country like Burma, the more success we can have in encouraging them to pursue reforms.  I think that's been documented in the President’s engagement with Burma over the last seven and a half years of his presidency.

You’ll recall when President Obama took office, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the leader of the country, and was in the Oval Office of the President of the United States earlier today, was a prisoner in her own house.  So I think the progress that's been made in that country has been remarkable.  

And as the United States has pursued a policy of deepening our engagement in Burma, critics all along have suggested that there’s a risk associated with that kind of engagement, and in some ways, that it was too soon for the United States to be pursuing that kind of engagement.  So this was the criticism that we heard from some when the Obama administration decided to appoint an ambassador to Burma.  People suggested that that was rewarding bad behavior.  This is also criticism that we heard in advance of the President’s first trip to Burma, the suggestion that it was too soon for the President to be visiting Burma.

But I think what we found at each stage is that by more deeply engaging with Burma, we have been able to influence and encourage greater reforms that are consistent with our national interest and consistent with our own values.  And of course, there’s more work that needs to be done.  The President and Aung San Suu Kyi both acknowledged that in the Oval Office.  

We certainly have been heartened by the increased commitment that we have seen from her government to addressing the human rights concerns in Rakhine State.  We certainly welcomed her inclusion of Kofi Annan in those efforts.  Providing that kind of international input on the process I think can give the international community greater confidence that Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in Burma is taking those reforms seriously.  And that's a good thing.

Q    Domestic policy.  The California congressional delegation is calling on the administration to approve a waiver that would allow undocumented immigrants to purchase unsubsidized health insurance through Covered California, that state’s Medicaid program.  Is that a concept that the administration is supportive of?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, I have to acknowledge I've not seen the letter that you're referring to, so I'm not sure I can respond to their specific request.  As you know -- and I guess this is evident from their letter -- that the way that the Affordable Care Act is currently written, individuals who are undocumented immigrants are not eligible to collect benefits associated with the Affordable Care Act.  I know that’s been the subject of some fearmongering, or even outright lying on the part of Republicans.

Q    And they are stressing the word “unsubsidized.”  

MR. EARNEST:  So, I haven’t seen that proposal, so I’m just not in a position to react to it.  But we’ll take a look at the letter and see if we can get you a response.


Q    More on the visit today.  Senator Corker released a statement after the meeting with Suu Kyi saying that he was somewhat appalled by her reaction to his concerns about human rights violations in that country.  I was wondering, during the President’s conversations with Suu Kyi, what was his -- did he have any response to the way -- or what were the discussions about human rights, and did he come away with a similar feeling about her reactions to his concerns or to the U.S. concerns about human rights?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President made clear in the meeting that it’s important for the Burmese government to uphold the human rights of all religious and ethnic groups inside of Burma.  And we have seen, since Aung San Suu Kyi assumed office, a greater commitment to the pursuit of reforms that will protect human rights.  There’s been a greater effort to recognize the citizenship of the -- or the rights of the citizens of Burma in Rakhine State.  And there has been the inclusion of Kofi Annan in that process, which is something that we welcome. 

And there certainly is more work that needs to be done, and there needs to be a sustained commitment to these kinds of reforms.  That reflects the priority that the United States places on universal human rights and ensuring that they’re protected by governments all around the world.  

I think all of you had a chance to hear directly from her in the Oval Office indicate that she intended to make that a priority.  And we certainly would welcome those kinds of comments, because there’s a lot of important work that remains to be done.

Q    On the Dakota pipeline, there was a protest outside the White House yesterday -- I believe Senator Sanders spoke at that -- and there were protests around the country.  So is the President following these protests at all?  And does the administration have any response to -- I think Senator Sanders has introduced an amendment that would stop the Corps from issuing any permits for that pipeline until an environmental impact statement has been completed.  Does the administration support that move?

MR. EARNEST:  I do not know that the President was aware of the protest yesterday.  Obviously, the President was on the road for most of the day, so I don’t even know if he was here when that protest was organized.

I think I can just say in general that the administration’s policy speaks for itself, which is that despite winning an order from a judge who indicated that the process had been properly followed, and that the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers could move forward with the project, the Army Corps voluntarily stated that they would pause the project to ensure that the consideration of everyone’s views and perspective, particularly those who are most directly affected by the project, are carefully and properly considered.  

And so that will be the next step in the process.  The President certainly believes that’s an appropriate course of action.  In this case, we’re talking about individuals who are Native Americans.  And there is a rather sad chapter in our history with regard to the federal government not effectively looking out for the concerns of Native populations in this country.  And that’s left a legacy, and it’s one that this administration is certainly determined to address.  In this instance, it means ensuring that the process that is in place for the construction of this pipeline has adequately considered the impact it will have on everybody who lives in the area, including tribal populations who live in the area.

Q    Does the administration think it’s time to overhaul the way these type of projects are permitted in general?  I mean, obviously this isn’t the first pipeline that has run into protest, and there have been a lot of these issues that are ongoing.

MR. EARNEST:  Yeah, I think that might be a little bit of an oversimplification of the situation.  The Keystone Pipeline, which obviously was a subject of intense debate and public demonstration for a number of years -- the issues related to the construction of that pipeline are somewhat different than the issues that have arisen in the context of this one.

So in this case, the Army Corps has voluntarily indicated that they’ll pause this project to ensure that in the context of this project, the concerns of everybody who could potentially be affected were adequately taken into account.

They’ve also indicated a willingness to go back and make sure that all infrastructure projects that they’re involved in adequately consider the views and rights of affected populations, including tribal populations.  And that’s an appropriate step for them to take.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  In the past 24 hours, we’ve seen the release of information hacked from the DNC, Colin Powell, even American Olympians -- hacks coming from groups with suspected ties to Russia.  Is this another example of Russia attempting to meddle in the U.S. election?  And what is the President considering?  Or what recourse does the U.S. have to try and stem this flow of embarrassing leaks?  Are new sanctions, for instance, on the table?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mary, I think -- obviously I've seen the reports of the variety of cyber intrusions and leaks that have emerged in the last 24 hours or so.  The United States has not made a formal determination in public about who may or may not be responsible for these kinds of -- for these incidents.  The motivation for each of them I think is likely different.  I know that you asked about it in the context of the election.  I'm not sure that the reprehensible release of the personal health information of U.S. Olympians has anything to do with the election.  It may have to do with some other things that have been well documented.  

But what I can just say in general is that all this does serve as an illustration of how it's important for our policymakers to make cybersecurity a top priority.  And unfortunately, the United States Congress has failed to do that.  
There is more that Congress should do.  The President included in his fiscal year 2017 budget a significant increase in funding for cybersecurity that would not just enhance our cyber capabilities but also improve our ability to work more effectively to investigate cyber intrusions when they occur and to work with the private sector to deter potential incursions.  As we've discussed in here many times, the Congress refused to even have a hearing on that budget.  And Republicans have essentially said that they're refusing to talk about that proposal to enhance our cybersecurity.  

That's unfortunate.  That's an indication that Republicans are failing to even discuss what should be a top national security priority, particularly given the widespread reports and the conclusion reached by some professionals outside the government that Russia is likely responsible.  That certainly seems like something that should get the attention of Republicans in Congress.  

Unfortunately, it hasn't.  And the good news, however, is that this administration has not just relied on Congress to take steps to try to protect the American people from cybersecurity.  Over the last couple of years, we've seen the President convene a summit, bringing together technology experts, leaders in the private sector and national security figures to discuss what can be done to enhance our nation's national security.  

The President signed an executive order designating new authority to the Secretary of Treasury that would allow him to impose financial sanctions on countries or individuals that are suspected of involvement with cyber intrusions.  That is new authority that gives the United States government additional options when it comes to responding to these kinds of situations. The President has prioritized in his multilateral meetings, including most recently at the G20, the effort to establish internationally accepted norms when it comes to conduct in cyberspace.  And we've gotten additional commitments from the Chinese with regard to some of those international norms.  That enhances the security of the United States. 

And look, the time has come for Republicans in Congress to do their part, and we certainly would like to see them do more.  I think the last thing that I will note here is that over the weekend, the CIA Director, John Brennan, was asked about this.  And he noted that Russia -- and this is a quote here -- "has exceptionally capable and sophisticated cyber capabilities in terms of collection, as well as whatever else it might want to do in that cyber sphere."  So we have known this for quite a while. So I think this is an indication that the President and his national security team are not just keenly aware of the situation but have taken aggressive steps to try to counter it.  And we would welcome Republicans in Congress doing their part for a change.

Q    And on Syria, there reportedly is a significant difference of opinion, shall we say, between the Secretary of Defense and Secretary Kerry about partnering with Russia.  If the ceasefire holds, is the President concerned about implementing or developing this next phase, whatever that may be, because of this disagreement?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let's start by acknowledging that the "if" that is included in your question is a sizeable one.  There remains significant doubt inside the administration and around the world about the capacity and willingness of the Russians to fulfill the responsibilities that they've accepted in this arrangement.  And that skepticism is not just well-documented, but I think entirely reasonable given the way that we have seen the Russians and the Assad regime behave over the course of the last year or two.  So that's a big "if."  And I feel like that's an appropriate place to start.

From there, the President and his Secretary of State have both spoken publicly about how deeply concerned the United States is about the humanitarian situation inside of Syria.  And our efforts to engage diplomatically with the Russians is rooted in the knowledge that the Russians have more influence over the Assad regime than anybody else.  And the Assad regime has been the chief impediment to the delivery of humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent civilians that have been caught in the crossfire in Syria, including in places like Aleppo.

So this has been the best opportunity that the United States has to try to reduce the violence and allow for the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance.  And that's what we have been trying to -- that's the result that we have been trying to bring about.  

When the President discusses complicated issues, like Syria, with members of his national security team, he's not looking for a bunch of people that have exactly the same opinion.  The President is not looking for a group of people to sit around the table with him in the Situation Room, who all nod their head every time that he speaks.  What the President is looking for are informed experts who do their homework and who can make an argument, and assist him in crafting a policy that advances the best interests of the United States.

That's why the President is enormously proud of the people who serve on his national security team.  At the same time, the President is entirely confident that once he's made a decision, that he can count on the members of his team to execute that strategy with excellence.  And he's confident that every member of his national security team is committed to that goal.


Q    Many times when we've heard you talk about the President's goal on the trail, and in the instances where he's talking about the election, his goal is to support Hillary Clinton as the most qualified candidate.  But what we heard a lot of yesterday in his speech was as if he was trying to prove that Donald Trump is not qualified.  So would you say that that is now a big part of the President's goal when he's out there?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President's goal is to ensure that he's succeeded in the Oval Office by somebody who is committed to building on the progress that we've made over the last eight years.  And Secretary Clinton is the only candidate who has indicated that she's committed to building on that progress.  I'd put her in the category -- as I was just answering Mary's question -- of somebody who obviously doesn’t agree with the President on every single policy issue.  

But when it comes to their values and their priorities, and their vision for the country that's rooted in expanding economic opportunity for the middle class, equality for all, advancing U.S. interests around the world, their visions are quite similar. And the President has got enormous confidence in her ability to lead this country in a direction that will continue to strengthen it and make progress in a direction that he's been fighting for, for the last eight years.  

Q    In the last couple of months, though, sometimes when he would be asked about the election, he would decline to weigh in, or he didn’t want to go into a lot of detail.  And that seems to have completely changed, especially given what we heard him say yesterday -- I mean, going into a great deal of detail.  So what has changed to make him much more willing to -- is it just the way --

MR. EARNEST:  I think that's the second the campaign event that the President has done for Secretary Clinton, and so I wouldn’t be surprised, in the context of those campaign events, he's talking more about the campaign.  I think that's what's changed.

Q    Literally, every time he's questioned by reporters, a question about the campaign comes up, and a question about Donald Trump comes up almost every single time.  So he just seems much more willing now to go into detail, to attack Donald Trump, to hit out against the Republican Party with much more specificity, too, than he did before.  So is it just the way that the campaigns have evolved?  Does he feel that now is the time to do more of that?  I'm just trying to get a sense of what he's thinking.

MR. EARNEST:  Yeah, I guess we're less than eight weeks before an election, and so the President has engaged some more on that argument.

Q    Okay.  And so does he feel that that -- I mean, are we going to hear more from him on that?  Does he feel like this is --

MR. EARNEST:  The President certainly does intend to campaign extensively for Secretary Clinton.  He's obviously got a day job that he's very focused on, serving as President of the United States.  So, for example, next week he'll be devoting the majority of his week to participating in the meeting at the United Nation, of the General Assembly.  The President did devote a lot of his time in the last couple of weeks to traveling overseas.  So the President has got a busy schedule, but he certainly is going to look for every opportunity that he can to go out and advocate for Secretary Clinton's election for all the reasons that he detailed yesterday.

Q    That's what I'm saying.  I mean, often when we would ask, you would really highlight Hillary Clinton's qualifications, and that that's what he wanted to focus on.  And you even would say that he doesn’t really see his role as trying to win voters away from the Republican side necessarily, but to motivate the base and to highlight Hillary Clinton's accomplishments.  That's what we heard again and again.  So, at this point, does the President feel like focusing on those positive attributes is not enough, and now he wants to pinpoint things about the Republican campaign that he feels are wrong?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, no -- I think the President chiefly is determined to go and make an affirmative case in support of Secretary Clinton’s campaign because he feels quite strongly that she is the most qualified and most effective person in America to succeed him.  Fortunately, she is the person that’s also been nominated by the Democratic Party to succeed him.

So the President is going to make an ardent, passionate case in support of her election.  What’s also true is there’s a choice, and there’s a clear contrast.  And the President hasn’t shied away from pointing out the contrast in their approaches or their experience, or their values either.

Q    Yesterday we heard pretty strongly from Mitch McConnell that Republicans would not take up the Garland nomination even in a lame duck session, no matter how the election turns out.  Did they make that clear in the meeting that leadership had with the President the other day?  And are you willing to concede that this now is just not going to happen?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m certainly not going to concede that.  It’s a curious election strategy that Republicans are going to down to the wire insisting that they won’t do their job.  It’s a curious way to make the case that you should be rehired for a job.  But I’ll let them struggle with that challenge.

The President continues to insist that Merrick Garland is the right person to represent the American people on the Supreme Court, to serve the American people on the Supreme Court.  He’s got more experience in the federal judiciary than any Supreme Court nominee in American history.  He’s somebody that Republicans have repeatedly described as a good man, a bright legal mind, and as a consensus pick.

So there’s no excuse that Republicans have for not doing their job other than they’re hoping that a Republican will get an opportunity to choose the next person on the Supreme Court.  And that is an unprecedented injection of partisan politics into this process.  Senator Graham said the same thing -- “unprecedented” is his word, not mine.  And that’s unfortunate, and I think it does risk further erosion in public confidence in our judicial system.  But that’s a result of Republican actions.

Q    Did they talk about this in the meeting the other day?

MR. EARNEST:  I know this came up in the meeting, but I’ll let the members of Congress characterize what comments they made to the President.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Senator Durbin said today that he wants Secretary Clinton to stick with Merrick Garland’s nomination if she’s elected, but she herself hasn’t committed to doing that.  Do you agree with Senator Durbin that if Garland isn’t confirmed by the time the President leaves office, that the Secretary should stick with him?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, the President believes that the Congress should confirm his nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.  And as I pointed out to Michelle, I’m not willing to concede that the United States Senate will continue to not do their job.  At some point -- well, look, we’re going to continue to press the case that they should.  

If that doesn’t happen, then the responsibility will fall to the next President.  And the President I think has made quite clear in unambiguous terms why he believes that Chief Judge Garland is the right person for the job.  And hopefully that will get done before January 20th.

Q    On another topic -- the Obama administration’s proposal to take in 110,000 refugees next year.  Senator Sessions, perhaps not surprisingly, was quite critical of this, and he proposed creating safe zones in Syria for refugees.  I know this is something that the President has rejected before, but was there any internal discussions about revisiting that idea before you put out your revised number for next year?



Q    On Burma, the President said in the Oval Office that sanctions would be lifted soon.  Can you give us more specific timing, and whether that includes all sanctions or what might remain?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any update on timing.  You can consult with my colleagues at the Treasury Department.  Obviously they’re responsible for administering these sanctions.  And they’ll have an announcement, I believe the President said, in coming days.  And so we’ll leave it to them.

Q    Will all sanctions be lifted?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, we’ll let the Treasury Department make the announcement about the change that the President has ordered.

Q    On the -- something else.  Senator Cruz has said he wants to attach to the CR his proposal to prevent the government from transferring control of the Internet domain names.  Would that provoke a veto from the President if that were attached to the CR?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, first of all, we should point out the ironic position of the small-government advocate suggesting that the federal government should continue to be in control of Internet domain names.  This is a -- the position that he has taken is, frankly, not really supported by anybody.  

Obviously, the industry technology experts, business community, and the largest Internet companies -- like Facebook, Google and Twitter -- have described it as imperative that the transition move forward.  And so it would be quite unwise for the United States Congress to block the transition.

We’ve made clear that the administration believes that Congress should pass a short-term CR that doesn't include any ideological riders.  And the reason that Congress needs to do that is because Republicans have failed to fulfill their responsibility to fund the government, and they need, apparently, more time to try to work out budget bills for next year.  So the President believes that they should pass a short-term CR, buy themselves enough time to do that work, and come back after the elections, and get it done.  And the President doesn't believe that either of those -- that that process of extending the time that Congress has to do their work should be encumbered by a set of ideological riders.

Q    Are you willing to say whether this ideological rider would provoke a veto?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, at this point, I think it is too early to get into the mode of saying which cockamamie proposals that are floated by Republicans would draw a veto threat from the President of the United States.  So at this point, I think we'll just leave it at it should be free of ideological riders.  

I think that there are real questions that are raised by whether or not a continuing resolution that included a provision like the one that Senator Cruz has described is one that would pass either the Senate or the House, given the uniform opposition to what he is advocating.  

Q    And lastly, parallel to Michelle's question, did the congressional leaders and the President discuss their willingness to consider TPP ratification in a lame duck session?  And what did they tell you?

MR. EARNEST:  I know this is an issue that came up, but I don't have additional details about the meeting to share at this point.  And for what members of Congress told the President, I'd refer you to their offices.


Q    Josh, on hacking, you told Mary that there's been no determination in public of who is responsible.  

MR. EARNEST:  That is correct. 

Q    Has there been one in private?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, decisions about making public any conclusions that have been reached about the investigation is something that the FBI will decide.

Q    Is it your understanding it's still under investigation?

MR. EARNEST:  I think my colleagues at the FBI have indicated that it continues to be under investigation.  So any details that are released about the investigation will be released at their discretion, based on what they believe enhances our national security interests and what advances the investigation.

Q    On the meeting in the Oval Office today, I noticed your joint statement referred to the "Republic of Myanmar."  Is that now a new policy?  Do you now refer to Burma as Myanmar?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think on a previous visit, we indicated that the government -- that the U.S. government was also willing to refer to the country as Burma.  So I believe that the two names are, at this point, basically used interchangeably.

Q    Interchangeable?


Q    And any guidance on timing of the veto of the 9/11 lawsuit bill?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't have an update for you in terms of timing, but the President -- as you know, we received the bill on Monday evening, and the President does intend to veto it.


Q    On the hacking thing, is this just a matter of the FBI not being able to complete its work, or the administration not being able to determine who is behind all this stuff?  Because there seems to be a disconnect between what we hear in public from, as you put it, so many professionals, and other administration officials -- the CIA Director almost insinuating that it's the Russians.  But the administration, on the record, just can't seem to figure it out.  What’s the problem here? 

MR. EARNEST:  Ron, I think for questions about the FBI investigation, you should go talk to the FBI.  

Q    So that's it?  This is a legality?  You have a sense of -- what more specifically did the President say to President Putin about the hacking problem?  When he came out he talked about how we can't escalate this into an arms race and we need norms, so on and so forth.  How pointed were their discussions about hacking specifically in recent months?

MR. EARNEST:  I think in talking about the conversation that he had with President Putin, President Obama acknowledged that he spoke rather directly to President Putin about a range of issues, including how seriously the United States takes cybersecurity.  So their conversation was direct about that, but I don't have a whole lot of details to share.

Q    Do you think that President Putin was left with the impression that the United States firmly believes that the Russians are behind some of these incidences?

MR. EARNEST:  I guess you have to ask President Putin’s spokesperson what impression he was left with after the meeting.

Q    And on Syria, you talked about how there is so much skepticism and doubt about the ceasefire, and we're in day two, so on and so forth.  So are there active discussions underway?  Is there an engagement between the United States and Russia about the military plan that would happen, even though there is this skepticism?  Or is this skepticism and doubt blocking that?  Because, again, you would think that this has to be carried out quickly, expeditiously.  There should be some planning going on. You can't just start coordinating airstrikes out of the blue -- pardon the pun.  But I'm trying to reconcile the skepticism with the actual need for a real solution on the ground.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the need for a real solution on the ground is one that addresses our most urgent concern, which is about the humanitarian situation inside of Syria.  Right now, the United States is obviously working very effectively with our counter-ISIL coalition to take the fight to ISIL.  And we've enjoyed important progress on the ground in Iraq and in Syria in taking back ground from ISIL, in taking senior ISIL leaders off the battlefield.  The Department of Defense recently confirmed that the strike against Adnani succeeded.  This was one of the leading ISIL figures that was responsible for organizing a lot of their external plots.  

So our top priority overall is protecting the American people and protecting our national security.  And that means going after urgent threats to our national security, like ISIL.

Q    Is there, in fact, planning going on right now between the Russians and the United States military about how to execute airstrikes into Syria?

MR. EARNEST:  There’s not.  Right now, the United States and our 65 or 66 coalition partners are prosecuting our campaign against ISIL.  

Q    So if there's no planning, how could this actually begin in four or five days?

MR. EARNEST:  Ron, it's important for you to consider exactly the structure of this agreement.  The structure of this agreement is that the Cessation of Hostilities is something that will be observed by all of the parties to the agreement, including the Russians and including the Assad regime, for seven days.  And in that seven days, we will see the unimpeded flow of humanitarian assistance to those communities that need it the most, including in Aleppo.  After we have seen that sustained commitment to the Cessation of Hostilities arrangement, then the United States would begin discussions about military coordination with the Russians, and not before then.  

And the reason for that is the United States is already making progress in targeting ISIL and in targeting other extremists, including al Nusra, which is the al Qaeda presence inside of Syria.  That's been our top priority since the very first day that the President ordered military action inside of Syria a couple years ago.

Q    It seems there are no military -- there are no humanitarian convoys moving yet.

MR. EARNEST:  We haven't seen the kind of -- the unimpeded flow of humanitarian relief that we’d like to see at this point. I know that Mr. de Mistura, the U.N. envoy, expressed his own significant concerns about this just yesterday.  And we haven't seen the kind of movement that we’d like to see yet.  But we're obviously monitoring the situation closely, and we continue to call on the Russians and the Assad regime to live up to the commitments that were made in the context of this arrangement.

Q    On Suu Kyi meeting, one thing.  Did the issue of her not being able to become president come up in their discussions and in the context of the discussions about lifting the sanctions or not?

MR. EARNEST:  I know there was a discussion about sanctions. The President referred to that in the pool spray.  As it relates to this question about her eligibility for the presidency in Burma, I don't frankly know if that came up in their conversation, but we can check on it.

Q    And if I could have one more.  Do you ever watch the Dr. Oz Show?  (Laughter.)  

MR. EARNEST:   I can tell you that I've never seen the Dr. Oz Show.

Q    Do you plan to watch the Dr. Oz Show at all?

MR. EARNEST:  Not today.  (Laughter.)

Q    No, it’s tomorrow.

MR. EARNEST:  Not tomorrow either.  (Laughter.)  


Q    Josh, the Obama administration is about to give nearly a $40-billion military aid package to Israel, which the State Department is calling the largest ever given to any country in American history.  Why aren't you talking about it here at the White House, given what a tough relationship, well-documented in the public space, President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu have had?  And what do you make of some of the complaints that it's not enough?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I've only seen one person make that complaint.  I think most people, including the Israeli government, including AIPAC -- which has not been shy about offering up their criticism of the Obama administration -- welcomed the completion of this agreement.  Obviously the President made this a priority and identified the completion of a new memorandum of understanding as a national security priority three years ago now.  So this agreement represents the culmination of a lot of work and a whole series of difficult negotiations, but negotiations that ultimately reflected the shared priorities between the United States and our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.

The United States has, under Democratic and Republican presidents, made the safety and security of our Israeli allies a top national security priority.  And I think this new memorandum of understanding is an indication that it's a priority that President Obama also shares.  When it comes to the details of the memorandum of understanding, it's my understanding that it's being signed at the State Department right now.  So I'll let the people who are involved in that event discuss the details of the memorandum of understanding, but I can certainly tell you from here that it reflects the high priority that President Obama has placed on the national security of our closest allies in the Middle East.

Q    But given that it is the largest ever given to any country in the history of America, why isn't that happening here?  And given what you know has been a very politically heated issue, and this President has been attacked because of the Iran deal, his support that you just said, unquestioned, towards Israel has been questioned by Republicans, by Israelis, and this has been a very heated issue.  It would seem that you would want to broadcast this a bit more.  Is there a reason it's being downplayed?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would contest the notion that this is being downplayed.  The President announced the fact that we were going to pursue this memorandum of understanding at a news conference in Israel, standing next to the Israeli Prime Minister.  And that was back in 2013.  

Q    But that was before it was $38 billion dollars.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think what we have made clear all along is that this is a priority.  The details are important, the details will be discussed by the President's national security advisor over at the State Department, and I think that's an indication of just how important this policy is and the priority that the President has made the completion of this memorandum of understanding.

Q    On Russia, did any U.S. agency give any assistance to the World Anti-Doping Agency to come to their conclusion about who was responsible for hacking the information of American athletes?  And are any U.S. agencies helping now?

MR. EARNEST:  As I learned today, the World Anti-Doping Agency is actually located in Montreal, Canada, and I know that they have indicated that Canadian authorities were investigating this cyber intrusion.  And I would expect that at some point soon that U.S. authorities would be in touch with their Canadian counterparts about this.  But I can't speak to any specific conversations that have taken place at this point.

Q    So you don't question their conclusion that it was a group of Russian hackers?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm sorry -- can you say that again?

Q    They have very publically said that they were Russian hackers who were responsible for this.  Does the U.S. have any reason to question that conclusion?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, this is based on an investigation that was conducted by Canadian authorities.  And look, I would expect that U.S. authorities would be in touch with the Canadians about it, but I don't have any of our own conclusion to share at this point.

Q    On Russia, when the President was speaking yesterday at that political rally, he spent a lot of time talking about -- the comparison, Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin.  Is there a reason he spent an amount of time doing that, given how delicate the diplomacy is with Russia right now on this Syria deal; given that the U.S. is now agreeing to share military intelligence with Russia?  I know they're not there yet, but they came to that agreement and the President signed off on it.  Doesn't he worry that that would damage the very fragile agreement?

MR. EARNEST:  No, the President is not worried about that.  I think the President's comments yesterday say a lot more about the Republican nominee than they do about the Russian President.

Q    But is there a reason he spent so much time talking about Putin?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think the President's -- the comments speak for themselves.  I think he thought that was a rather illuminating declaration from the Republican nominee, to compare himself to somebody who Republicans -- or at least the type of leader that Republicans have historically expressed deep concerns about.  So, again, I think this is -- the President was at a rally, talking about the campaign for President; took most of his time talking about the Democratic nominee that he's endorsed, but did also spend some time discussing the concerns that he had with the comments and conduct of the Republican nominee, as well.

Q    One more question on the Democratic nominee that the President has endorsed.  I'm sure you've seen the very public emails from former Secretary of State and General Colin Powell in regard to the President and Hillary Clinton.  In one of those exchanges with a Democratic mega-donor, there was the quote, "I don’t think the President would weep if she found herself in real legal trouble.  She'll pummel his legacy if she gets a change, and he knows it."  Does the President disagree with that assumption?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I know that there's been a lot of reporting on this.  I think at this point, I'm not going to comment on the leaked emails of -- the leaked personal emails of a private citizen.  So I know there's been some coverage on this.  I'll let news rooms across the country make their own coverage decisions about what they feel is appropriate for the American public to consider.  But I'm not going to have any comments on the contents of the private email of a private citizen.


Q    Josh, within that higher target for refugees in fiscal year '17, is there a new target for just Syrian refugees?

MR. EARNEST:  My understanding is that the State Department at this point has not put together a country-specific breakdown in terms of the goals that they expect to meet next year.  The State Department has set a goal of admitting 110,000 refugees to the United States during the next fiscal year.  And I know that there are some regional targets that they have set and communicated to Congress.  But at this point, no country-specific targets have been set.

Q    What's the regional target for whatever region --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it's slightly more complicated than that, but I do have the regional breakdown here.  It includes -- the regional target for FY2017 is 40,000 for the Near East and South Asia region.  

Q    And is that up from what it was the last --  

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not sure what it was the last fiscal year.  But the thing that I'd caution you on is that there's unallocated reserve in this breakdown of about 14,000.  So there's a little flexibility in this process.  I think the thing that I will just reiterate is that it's important for people to remember that individuals who are admitted to the United States under this program have to undergo more rigorous screening and vetting than any other individual that enters the United States.  The President places our national security at the top of his priority list.  And that certainly is true with regard to considering the admission of refugees to the United States.  At the same time, the President believes that the United States has a responsibility, as a leader on so many issues around the world, to play an important role in bringing refugees to the United States.  

And this is something that the President expects to discuss at the U.N. next week.  He's going to convene a meeting with leaders from around the world to talk about what more countries around the world can do to address the refugee problem that's been so prominent over the last couple of years.

Q    At UNGA, will he talk specifically about the U.S. upping its own target and setting an example?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the President would -- the President is quite proud of the commitments that you've seen from the United States in addressing this issue.  With regard to the situation inside of Syria, the United States is the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance to assist those countries that are trying to meet the needs of innocent civilians that are fleeing violence.

And with regard to the increased commitment for fiscal year 2017, that represents a 57-percent increase over, I believe, that's fiscal year 2015.  So the United States has ramped up our commitment in recent years in a way that reflects the responsibility that the United States has to lead on these difficult issues.

Josh.  Nice to see you here.

Q    A couple questions on the President's comments in Philadelphia yesterday about Trump's taxes.  Is it fair to take from the fact that he brought this up I believe twice in the speech, that the President believes that it's important or valuable for votes to have information on Trump's taxes, or to see those returns before they go to the polls in November?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President believes that there's an important tradition in American politics.  For decades, candidates in both parties, in the spirit of transparency, have released their tax returns.  I know Secretary Clinton has done that, and the President believes that's important.

Q    So, in that vein -- you probably don’t have a copy of the Internal Revenue Code up there at the podium right now.

MR. EARNEST:  I do not.

Q    But under Section 6103G, the President --

MR. EARNEST:  You brought it with you, though.

Q    I just cut out that -- (laughter.)  “Upon written request by the President, signed by him personally, the Treasury Secretary can furnish to the President or to employees of the White House Office the President may designate a return or return information with respect to any taxpayer named in such a request.”  And the section goes on to say that as long as you or others have the personal written direction of the President, you’re free to go ahead and release that.  

So would the President feel this is so important that he’d be willing to get those returns from the Treasury and make them public if voters really should have this information by November?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ve not heard of this potential option.  I think it is rather unlikely that the President would order something like that.  And so if there’s more on this with regard to our position about the interpretation of the statute, we’ll consult the lawyers and let you know.

Q    But you’d say it’s rather unlikely because that would raise other concerns, or because of the history of the White House in release of tax information under prior Presidents?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think there are a couple of principles here.  Certainly one thing that is important and certainly something that’s been prioritized in this administration is making sure that the work of the IRS is not affected with even the appearance of political influence.  And in this regard, obviously the President has made clear that he’s a strong supporter of Secretary Clinton in the presidential race.

I think the second thing, though, Josh, is this -- no other presidential nominee in either party has ever been compelled to release their tax returns.  They’ve all done so voluntarily.  There’s been no reason to resort to obscure sections of the tax code to try to find a reason to force them to release these tax returns.  Candidates for at least a generation now -- again, in both parties -- have voluntarily released these tax returns and made them public.

And the President feels -- I think made the point yesterday that the fact that there is one nominee who won’t voluntarily make them public I think is something the American people should consider as they evaluate their choices for President of the United States.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Back on refugees for a second, then I have a couple on Burma.  When the President announced this summit that he’s hosting at the U.N. on refugees, the goal was to double the amount of refugees resettled around the world, if I’m not mistaken.  The 110,000 that you all are proposing for the next fiscal year is not even close to doubling what the U.S. is doing right now.  So I’m wondering, why the limitation?  I mean, what’s the reason that -- given the scope of the crisis, particularly Syrians, but the refugee crisis around the world -- why such a small number?  Some of the groups that follow this issue say that this is far too few, and there are a number of critics on Capitol Hill who agree with that.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, Julie, I think the context here is important.  This does represent a 57 percent increase in the commitment that the United States made just over the last couple of years.  So I think that does represent a substantial increase in our commitment to addressing the refugee problem around the world.

Secondly, the United States does play this important role as the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian relief to countries that are caring for Syrian refugees.  Third, the United States, when it comes to working through the U.N. refugee program, admits more refugees through that program than the rest of the countries in the world combined admit through that program.  That I think is an additional indication of just how committed the United States is to fulfilling our responsibility here.

But I think what we need to see is a greater commitment around the world to not just shunting this burden off to a handful of countries.  And I think the other reality here is that the President’s commitment to ensuring that the United States plays a leading role on this issue is not shared by a lot of people in Congress, including by a lot of people in the Republican majority in Congress.  And that has an impact in terms of the resources that are dedicated to this effort.  All of the vetting requirements that I was talking about earlier are not cheap.  

And so I’m sure the President would be willing to consider increasing this commitment further if Congress were prepared to provide the resources necessary to get it done.

Q    So is he conceding then that the doubling of resettlement numbers around the world is not likely to happen during this conference?  I mean, if the United States won’t do it, and we play a leadership role, as you said, can other countries really be expected to do it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think we can certainly -- given the ramped-up commitment that the United States has shown both in terms of the financial assistance that’s been provided and in terms of the increase in refugees admitted to the United States, I do think we can ask countries around the world to scale up their commitments in the same way the United States has.  

Q    Okay.  And on Burma, on the sanctions, can you talk about the timing of at least the President’s pledge to lift this national state of emergency?  I mean, how much of this has to do with him wanting to do it before he leaves office and at a time when Aung San Suu Kyi is visiting?  I mean, how much of it is really a substantive response to events on the ground in Burma?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think at this point, the decision has essentially been made and this is a decision that Aung San Suu Kyi indicated that she agreed with.  She supported the decision to lift the national emergency, and now it's just a matter of making the regulatory changes necessary to put those changes into effect.  So that will take some time, but as the President indicated, it's something that should be completed in the coming days.

Q    Right, but my question is, why now?  Why make the decision to do it now?  I know you said you can't afford to wait forever, but what is it that's happened to date that has convinced the President -- you obviously did a round of this in May.  You didn't take all the sanctions off and he didn't say he was going to take all the sanctions off.  So what substantively has changed?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what substantively has changed is that the reason that this national emergency was placed into effect in the first place was concern about the undemocratic conduct of the military government that previously ruled Burma.  And much of the concern in the United States was rooted in the way that that military government was treating Aung San Suu Kyi.  She was imprisoned in her own house.  That's an important reason why the national emergency was put into place.

Now we've seen significant democratic reforms inside of Burma.  No longer is Aung San Suu Kyi a prisoner in her own house; she's now the head of the government.  So I think that does reflect important progress inside of Burma.  And I think given that progress, I think it makes sense that the national emergency would be withdrawn and the sanctions lifted.

That said, we continue to want to encourage the pursuit of additional democratic reforms.  As many have noted, there still is an undue role that the military plays in the government there.  They're afforded about 25 percent of the legislative seats.  And so I think that's an indication that there are additional democratic reforms that we'd like to see them pursue.  There's additional work that needs to be done when it comes to protecting the human rights of every citizen of Burma.  And Aung San Suu Kyi has made clear that that's a priority of her government, and she made that clear in private to the President of the United States and she made that clear in public when she spoke to reporters in the Oval Office, sitting next to the President of the United States.

So at this point, we want to continue to encourage those reforms.  I think the last thing is -- and I think this is an indication of the influence that the United States has around the world -- while those sanctions are in place in Burma, they've had a significant chilling effect on the Burmese economy.  Other countries -- other companies around the world have been reluctant to do business in Burma because they know of the presence of certain U.S. sanctions.  Even if the business that they're seeking to conduct is consistent with, complies with U.S. sanctions, the fact that those sanctions exist has a chilling effect on the economy.  And President Obama is convinced and recent history strongly suggests that greater economic ties between Burma and the United States will only serve to further incentivize additional reforms.  

So that's the case that we've made, and I think that is the case that is most directly rooted in the experience that we've had over the last seven years in supporting the profound changes that have taken place in Burma to the enormous benefit of the Burmese people and in a way that advances the interest of the United States and the region.  

Previously, this was essentially a closed government that just did business with China.  Now this is a much more open government that does a much better job of prioritizing democratic principles, has improved its pursuit of universal human rights, and is interested in engaging with the United States of America.  And that's something that benefits the American people not just economically but strategically when we're talking about our interests in the Asia Pacific.

Q    Does the President see this as something he wanted to get done before he left office, given his engagement with Myanmar and his relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President was quite interested in making as much progress as we can to support the Burmese people and the Burmese government in pursuing democratic reforms.  But the decision to lift the national emergency was driven by the progress they made in Burma, not by the election calendar in the United States.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to circle back just a bit on the agreement, on the seven-day reduction of violence, and the increased humanitarian aid deliveries.  And I want to drill down just a bit on the language, because previously we've heard the expression "Cessation of Hostilities," but this specific agreement calls for a reduction in violence.  And I'm wondering, what's the difference?  And why is there this sort of softer, if you will, language?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't think it's softer.  I think it is an effort to try to describe the situation inside of Syria as clearly as we can, primarily because even though there's a Cessation of Hostilities among the parties involved in the agreement -- this is the Assad regime, the United States, Russia, a variety of opposition groups that have ties to the United States -- the Cessation of Hostilities does not in any way apply to ISIL and it doesn't apply to other extremists that are operating inside of Syria.  The United States and our counter-ISIL coalition partners are going to continue to take airstrikes against ISIL targets.  Opposition figures that are supported -- or opposition groups that are supported by the United States and our coalition partners are going to continue to seek to make progress on the ground against ISIL.  They're not affected by the Cessation of Hostilities.

Q    So it's semantics.

MR. EARNEST:  Largely.  That's largely the difference, yes.

Q    Would you acknowledge that there has been a rift between the Departments of Defense and maybe State because of some of the differences in language, meaning there are those at the Pentagon who feel like the goalposts have been moved just a bit by this agreement?  Would you acknowledge that?

MR. EARNEST:  No, primarily because I'm not going to talk about private conversations of the President with his national security team.  But as I mentioned in response to Mary's question, I believe, the President has indicated that on every issue -- not just national security issues but even some of the thorny domestic issues that we deal with -- that he wants his advisors to engage in a debate about the best path forward.  He wants to hear the point of view of every member of his team.  He wants to make sure that those individuals that are expressing a point of view are doing so based on having done their homework, based on their knowledge of the situation, based on a forceful, cogent argument about what path should be pursued.

The President has found that that kind of debate among his advisors leads to better decisions and enhances his ability as the Commander-in-Chief to make good decisions that advances the interests of the United States.  So the President welcomes a vigorous discussion with his national security team, but the President also expects that once that he's made a decision, his team will move out on that decision and execute the strategy that he's laid out with excellence.  And the President is entirely confident that that will happen in this case, too.  

But, look, I'll just do what I did with Margaret, which is indicate that there's a big "if" involved.  Before any sort of U.S.-Russia military cooperation is initiated, we need to see a sustained reduction of violence on the ground inside of Syria, and we need to see the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands if not millions of Syrians that desperately need it.

Q    Let me ask you about Edward Snowden.  I know you and I talked about it on Monday, and I just want to maybe take a different tack at it for just a second.  He apparently told The Guardian newspaper that "it will become pretty clear this war on whistleblowers doesn't serve the interests of the U.S.; rather it harms them."  And I wonder if you would acknowledge that there's any logic to that argument and if you think that makes sense, would the President reconsider perhaps a pardon.

MR. EARNEST:  I don't think it makes sense because Edward Snowden is not a whistleblower.  There actually is a specific process that is well-established and well-protected that allows whistleblowers to raise concerns that they have, particularly when it relates to confidential or classified information, to do so in a way that protects the national security secrets of the United States.  That is not what Mr. Snowden did.  And his conduct put American lives at risk, and it risked American national security.  

And that's why the policy of the Obama administration is that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face the very serious charges that he's facing.  He will, of course, be afforded the rights that are due to every American citizen in our criminal justice system, but we believe that he should return to the United States and face those charges.

Q    Has he or any of his representatives made a reach-out of any sort to the President?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware of any conversations or any communications between Mr. Snowden and the President of the United States.  

Q    And lastly, on Gitmo, my weekly ask.  Where are we numerically?  And is there any pending announcement for movement of detainees?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware of any changes that have been made since the last time you asked.  We can certainly confirm those numbers for you -- I don't have them in front of me here.  But the President and his team are continuing to do the important diplomatic work that's necessary to find suitable arrangements for those individuals that have been cleared for transfer, and that means finding other countries that are willing to cooperate with the United States to impose required security restrictions to mitigate any sort of risk that those individuals would pose to the United States.  So that diplomatic work continues.  I don't have any transfers to preview for you at this point, but I don't believe that we've made any announcements about a transfer since you and I last discussed it.

Let's move around.  Lalit.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  I wanted to ask you about a meeting the President had with the India Prime Minister last week in Laos.  Can you tell us what they discussed?  If they had any progress on India relationship and also on climate change?

MR. EARNEST:  Lalit, we'll see if we can get you some additional details about the meeting.  I know that the President enjoyed the opportunity that he had to sit down with Prime Minister Modi.  The two leaders have cooperated extensively on a range of shared priorities, particularly with regard to the climate agreement that was reached in Paris at the end of last year.  The President is obviously engaged in an effort to encourage other countries around the world to join that agreement before the end of this year.  And certainly Prime Minister Modi is well aware of the significance of this international agreement, and I know that he is supportive of the contents of the agreement because of the positive impact it would have on the future of his nation.

Typically, when the President has the opportunity to sit down with Prime Minister Modi, they also -- they don't just talk about climate.  They also talk about the other extensive ties between the United States and India, particularly with regard to the economy and with regard to national security.  I know that was part -- I know both of those issues were a part of the discussion.  But we'll see if we can get you a more detailed readout beyond that.

Q    And secondly, it's not quite usual for the President to have eight meetings with the foreign leaders in two years' time frame.  What kind of relations do the two leaders have?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think that's indicative of the important and valuable, even productive working relationship that President Obama has established with Prime Minister Modi.  The President certainly enjoyed the opportunity to visit India a year and a half ago for the National Day, and he was honored to be the official guest.  

And the United States and India have been able to work together on a number of shared priorities.  And there was a lot of skepticism, internationally, about whether or not the Paris climate agreement would be reached if India wasn’t prepared to engage constructively in pursuit of a solution.  But to his credit, that's exactly what Prime Minister Modi did, and he did that, frequently consulting with President Obama and other world leaders.  But I think it's a testament to the fact that the world's two largest democracies, when we cooperate, can do incredibly important things not just for our two countries, but for the planet.  And the President is proud of the legacy of the U.S.-India relationship that's been established under Prime Minister Modi and President Obama's leadership.

Q    And if I may, when China had joined the U.N. Security Council on sanctions against North Korea, the Chinese foreign ministry is blaming the U.S. -- it said U.S. behavior for pushing North Korea towards nuclear program.  Do you agree with the viewpoint?

MR. EARNEST:  I didn’t quite understand the very end of your question.

Q    The Chinese foreign ministry it’s the U.S. behavior who did pushing North Korea towards nuclear weapons program.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I didn’t see that statement from that Chinese MFA.  I know that they released a statement shortly after the most recent nuclear test in North Korea indicating that they were supportive of additional steps by the international community to apply additional pressure to the North Koreans.  

Obviously the United States is committed to working with our allies and partners in Northeast Asia to address the situation there.  And our commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and stabilizing the situation on the Korean Peninsula is one that is shared not just with our allies in Japan and South Korea, but also the Chinese.  And you can certainly anticipate additional engagement between the United States and China as we consider an appropriate international response to this latest nuclear test

Q    Thank you, Josh.  On nuclear test in North Korea, North Korea is ready to conduct additional nuclear tests anytime soon.  Is there any communication with China and the United States before they seek nuclear test?  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ve seen some news reports indicating the kind of intelligence assessment that you just relayed.  What I can tell you is that the United States and China continue to consult closely about the situation in North Korea.  We have a shared goal of denuclearizing and stabilizing the Korean Peninsula. 

The United States also continues to keep an open line of communication with our allies in Japan and South Korea.  And you probably noted that shortly after the nuclear test was conducted, the President was on the phone from Air Force One with Prime Minister Abe and with President Park to talk about the situation.  I think that’s an indication of how seriously the President takes the U.S. commitment to the safety and security of our allies in the Asia Pacific, including in South Korea and Japan.

Q    If North Korea does a new nuclear test again, does the United States take military action to North Korea before --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we have said is we have said we strongly believe that it’s important for the North Korean regime to abide by their international obligations and to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.  And their repeated provocations with regard to both testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear tests are flagrant violations of those U.N. Security Council resolutions and their international obligations.  And the international community is united in insisting that they should not engage in those kinds of provocations. 

Q    There won't be strategic bombers in Korea to date.  Is this just one-time showcase?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, considering that’s happened before, I guess it’s not a one-time showcase.

John, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  Two brief questions.  I’m sure you’re aware and the President is aware that Congressmen Fleming and Huelskamp filed an unusual motion of impeachment of IRS Commissioner Koskinen that the full House will take up tomorrow in a direct up or down vote.  Your reaction to that.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that’s an indication that they’re focused on entirely the wrong priorities.  I think to a certain extent, the people of Kansas have spoken on this, because, as I recall, Mr. Huelskamp lost his most recent primary.  So I think he’s engaging in exactly the kind of behavior that got him voted out of office.

With regard to Congressman Fleming, you would think that after his state had sustained such significant flooding damage, that his priorities might be focused on not irresponsible political games, but actually trying to represent the interests of the people of Louisiana, particularly after they’ve gone through such a terrible crisis.  He apparently appears to be focused on some different things.  And the people of Louisiana will also have an opportunity to weigh in on that at the ballot box in a couple of months here, too.

Q    So the President has full confidence in Commissioner Koskinen?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President spoke to this yesterday, so with regard to the President's views, I'd refer you to his comments.

Q    The other thing is that Congressman Babin of Texas said that in wanting to admit 110,000 refugees, he felt that the President disregarded advice from security experts that this could lead to terrorism in the United States and incidents that would be very, very bad in this country.  Is that accurate at all?  Did any of his advisors say that?

MR. EARNEST:  I have no idea what Congressman Babin is talking about.  I suspect the national security experts that he's referring to may have given themselves that title -- I'm not sure it's one that they’ve earned.

Connie, I'll go ahead and give you the last one.

Q    Who signed the MOU?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm sorry.

Q    Who signed the memorandum of understanding?

MR. EARNEST:  It's being signed at the State Department right now.  There's a senior official at the State Department -- I believe it is Tom Shannon who is signing the memorandum for the United States.  But you can check with them and they'll -- 

Q    Do we have a similar --

MR. EARNEST:  Excuse me?

Q    Do we have a similar (inaudible) with other Arab countries?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware of any new negotiations about a memorandum of understanding with regard to military assistance to other countries in the Middle East.  But obviously the United States values the kind of national security cooperation that we have with partners throughout the Middle East.  And certainly when the President met with some of our *Gulf Coast GCC partners at Camp David a little over a year ago, there was an opportunity for him to discuss additional cooperation between the United States and our partners in the region.

Thanks, everybody.

2:40 P.M. EDT