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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 9/15/16

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:50 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  It's good to see you guys.  Eight years ago today, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy.  And the financial shock following Lehman’s demise has been described by students of history as possibly the worst in modern times. 

Next slide.  But when President Obama took office in 2009, Wall Street’s financial crisis was dragging Main Street into an economic crisis.  More than 750,000 Americans were losing their jobs each month.  Shortly after President Obama took office we were told that the economy had contracted nearly 4 percent in the last quarter of 2008.  That was terrible news.  But only later, when all the data came in, did we learn that it was actually twice as bad.  The economic output declined at an annual rate of 8.2 percent at the end of 2008. 

Yet, driven by the aggressive policies that President Obama put in place, our economy began growing just six months later, and has grown steadily since.  We've grown faster than every other advanced major economy.  The United States exceeded pre-crisis GDP levels per person in 2013, well ahead of countries who had experienced similar financial crises in the past and well ahead of other countries who faced the same global financial crisis that we did.

Housing prices, stock markets, retirement savings and household wealth in the United States have also rebounded -- each plummeting in 2008 and early 2009; each dramatically up since.

Next slide.  Foreclosure rates, which soared, have also come back down to pre-crisis levels.  Next slide.  We lost nearly 9 million private sector jobs during the crisis, but we got private sector job growth going again within a year of President Obama taking office.  We were told that passing Wall Street reform would kill jobs, but we've actually created more than 14 million private sector jobs since early 2010.  The unemployment rate has been cut in half, from a high of 10 percent to less than 5 percent today.  It's been holding at its lowest levels since before Lehman failed, and the U.S. economy reached 5 percent about four years ahead of when economists and some Republican candidates for President predicted just a few years ago.

Next slide.  We just learned earlier this week that the United States had the strongest wage growth on record in 2015, that typical household income was up $2,800 or 5.2 percent.  In fact, in 2015, we saw wages grow fastest for low- and middle- income families.  We saw poverty decline fastest for African Americans and Hispanic Americans whose poverty rates had been elevated relative to other groups of Americans.

So we've shown that with Wall Street reform we can create an economy that works better as a whole and works better for individual Americans.

Next slide.  2015 also saw the fastest decline in poverty rates since 1968, with 3.5 million Americans and 1 million kids being lifted out of poverty.  So the assertion that building a safer, stronger financial system is inconsistent with healthy, sustainable growth that benefits working families and the middle class has shown to be false. 

In 2009, credible sources estimated that the direct cost of our financial crisis response to taxpayers would be nearly $2 trillion.  Every day we saw headlines about a $182 billion bailout of AIG, or a $700 billion price tag on the TARP program. Yet, what wasn’t focused on was that those were loans or investments that were paid back over time with interest to the taxpayers.  The U.S. government got all of the taxpayer money back we put into the financial system and then some.  So these investment generated a positive return for taxpayers across all of our financial crisis programs.

We were told the deficits would skyrocket.  But under President Obama’s leadership, they’ve come back down by nearly three-quarters, from 10 percent of GDP to around 3 percent.  Even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that has been such a strong watchdog to protect consumers from harmful practices is under assault by Republicans, despite having returned nearly $12 billion through enforcement actions to more than 25 million consumers who’ve been harmed.

Just the other day I noted that Speaker Ryan sent a tweet critical of the CFPB right after it had shown exactly why they’re still needed, by announcing a $185 million fine against a bank for setting up 2 million credit card and bank accounts that customers didn’t ask for.  This is just another example, shown by the broader economic trends, of Republicans not letting facts get in the way of their attacks on policies like Wall Street reform that actually help build a stronger economy here in the United States and better supports the middle class and working families that President Obama is determined to fight for.

So with that long intro on this anniversary day, we can go to your questions.

Darlene, would you like to start?

Q    Thank you.  I wanted to start by asking about Syria. 


Q    The U.N. Envoy here said today that there were some problems getting humanitarian aid to affected areas because Syria hasn’t signed off on these permits that are needed for the convoys to start rolling in.  Is the U.S. doing anything to try to help get these convoys rolling?  And given that Syria has not yet granted these permits, does the White House think Syria is living up to its end of the ceasefire agreement?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Darlene, you have identified something that the United States continues to be deeply concerned about.  I mentioned yesterday that despite the progress that we've seen with regard to the security situation on the ground in Syria, we haven't seen the corresponding improvement in the flow of humanitarian assistance.  And the chief obstacle to that has been the Assad regime. 

I can't speak to the bureaucratic impediments that appear to be preventing this badly needed flow of humanitarian assistance. But what I can speak to is the responsibility that the Russians have to use their influence with the Assad regime to get the humanitarian assistance moving.  There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Syrians who are in a desperate situation.  And right now the trucks that could bring them lifesaving assistance are idling on the wrong side of the border.  And that's the direct responsibility of the Assad regime and their benefactors in Moscow.

Q    So it's up to Russia to step in?

MR. EARNEST:  The crux of this agreement has always been about Russia demonstrating the capacity and the willingness to use their influence with the Assad regime to reduce violence and allow humanitarian assistance to be provided.  Most reports indicate that the violence has been significantly reduced since this arrangement went into effect, but we have not seen the kind of humanitarian assistance deliveries that we need to see. 

Q    On another subject, Hillary Clinton is returning to the campaign trail later this afternoon.  The question was asked of you earlier this week and I don't think we got an answer, but do you know if the President has either spoken with her or otherwise communicated with her during the time that she was home recuperating?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware of any phone calls that President Obama has placed to Secretary Clinton in the last few days. 

Q    And lastly, the President is addressing the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute dinner tonight.  Can you give us a little sense of what he’s going to say there?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President is certainly going to spend some time talking about how committed he has been to fighting for the kinds of policies that benefit middle-class families all across the country and benefit Hispanic families all across the country.  And some of the statistics that I reviewed at the top are a clear indication of the success of that strategy.  And I think the President will make a reference to his view that it's incredibly important that this strategy continue to be pursued under the next President.


Q    Josh, going back briefly to Syria.  France became one of the U.S. allies today to be critical of that U.S.-Russia agreement.  They said that they’d like to see some more details of it.  Is the United States sharing details of this agreement with allies like France?  And if not, why not?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, I didn’t see the specific comments, but the United States has certainly been in touch with our other allies and partners to help them understand exactly what we are trying to achieve.  And I think countries like France that are as committed as we are to degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL understand how important it is for us to try to address the root cause of the violence and chaos that's allowed ISIL to spread in Syria.

So we'll continue to communicate with our allies and partners about the terms of this agreement and with the aims of this agreement.

Q    Do you think their criticism is legitimate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven't seen the precise details of it, so it's hard for me to evaluate exactly how credible it is.  But I can certainly assure you and assure anybody in France that's watching if they have questions about this arrangement that we can certainly have a conversation with them about what the arrangements entail and what exactly our aims are.

Q    On another topic.  A self-confessed hitman testifying in Manila today said that President Duterte, when he was the mayor of a city where activists said many extrajudicial killings have taken place that he ordered those killings to happen.  Does the White House have a reaction to that?  And will that be brought up with the Philippines foreign minister this week?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I've seen the reports of that testimony. I think what I would remind you of, Jeff, is just that the President had the opportunity to talk about this when he was traveling in Asia.  Obviously he did not meet with President Duterte in any sort of formal setting, but when asked about the degree to which human rights impacts our relationship with the Philippines, the President I think was quite clear about how important it is for those universal rights to be protected.  And the United States has worked closely with the Philippines to address the security situation inside the Philippines.  Some of that is driven by extremism and terrorists.  But the drug trade in the Philippines has also contributed to violence in that country.  And the United States has strongly supported efforts by the government in the Philippines to interdict the drug trade and to try to shut it down. 

It’s important however that as those kinds of operations and efforts are undertaken that universal human rights are protected. And engaging in that kind of law enforcement activity consistent with our commitment to human rights is important and we certainly encourage countries around the world, particularly our allies, to do exactly that.

Q    All right.  And lastly, North Korea, shortly before we came out, said today that it was ready to launch another attack against provocations from the U.S. and that was in response to overflights in South Korea.  What is the White House reaction to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, we continue to be deeply concerned about the provocations and destabilizing activities that are mounted by the North Korean regime.  The United States is strongly committed to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and standing should-to-shoulder with our allies in the Republic of Korea as they face the threat from North Korea.  And that's not going to change.

There is an opportunity for the North Korean government to escape the deep isolation that they currently face.  But it will require them to make a commitment to giving up their nuclear program and coming into compliance with the wide range of international obligations and U.N. Security Council resolutions that they currently ignore.

So we've been quite clear about what we believe the North Korean government should do.  Thus far, they have chosen the path of confrontation and provocation.  As soon as they’re ready to consider an alternate path toward reconciliation the international community will be ready to engage.


Q    Josh, the ACC announced -- quickly followed suit with the NCAA and cancelled national championship games in North Carolina as a result of the state’s law that prohibits transgender people from using the restrooms of their gender identity.  Hillary Clinton already spoke out in favor of the actions of the NCAA.  Does the President agree that the actions of these organizations were the right thing to do?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, obviously these individual organizations are making their own decisions.  Certainly the President agrees with the values that were articulated by the leaders of both the ACC and NCAA when they talked about their commitment to equality and justice for every American. 

When this issue first arose I believe it was earlier this spring, I made the observation that this kind of legislation wasn’t just contrary to the values that are held by a lot of Americans who do have a commitment to justice and equality, it's also inconsistent with a smart business strategy.  And we have seen private sector businesses and athletic organizations announce their intent to take their business elsewhere, outside the state of North Carolina. 

So, again, I think that the President has got some concerns over the law, but it's apparent that business leaders and the leaders of athletic organizations have some more concerns, particularly when it comes to the impact that it could have on discriminating against athletes, coaches, or even fans.

Q    Do you think the decisions to cancel events in that state reflect a national distaste for the law?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think when you consider sort of the wide variety of companies and organizations that have come forward, not just expressing concern with the law but actually making a choice to do business elsewhere, I think you are on solid ground in indicating that opposition to the law is quite widespread and that a wide variety of people are quite uncomfortable with the discriminatory impact that it has. 

It's not just the NCAA and the ACC, which are collegiate athletic organizations.  The NBA has moved the All-Star game.  And any number of private sector companies made announcements curtailing their footprint inside the state of North Carolina, again, concerned about the discriminatory impact that this law could have on their employees or their customers or even their fans.  So, again, I think this highlights a potential consequence that we discussed in here the very first time I was asked about it.

Q    But you haven’t spoken to the President specifically about these actions this week, about the law?

MR. EARNEST:  In terms of the -- when you say "these actions," you mean the decisions that were announced by the NCAA and the ACC?

Q    That's right.

MR. EARNEST:  I have not talked about that with him.  I don’t think we'd weigh in on the decisions that those kinds of private entities are making.  But certainly they have described the kinds of values that are leading them to make those decisions, and those values sounds a lot like the values that President Obama has been fighting for, for the last eight years in the White House. 


Q    You made some points on the economy before we started. And we heard Donald Trump today say that his plans would have the economy growing at a rate of 4 percent a year, which has been disputed by some experts already.  But is there anything that you would like to add to those kinds of promises?  Because a lot of people hear him say those things.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think -- I'll let others evaluate that proposals that are put forward by the candidates.  I think what is clear is that President Obama has put forward and implemented a strategy that's been good for the American economy, that's been good for middle-class families, that's been good for reducing poverty, that's been good for shrinking inequality, and it's been good for growing out economy, particularly when you consider that no other advanced economy in the world has performed as well as the United States has under President Obama's leadership. 

And all of that happened even though the United States was in the depths of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression on the day President Obama took office.  So in terms of having a test case for evaluating the success of the strategy that President Obama put forward, I think we have a particularly good one, and the results speak for themselves.

Q    Does the President this week plan on vetoing the 9/11 legislation?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have an update for you on timing, but the President does intend to veto that legislation.


Q    What's the level of concern that it could be overwritten?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think you don’t have to have an advanced degree in math to understand the significant support that exists in the United States Congress for this bill.  But the concerns that we have about this legislation are significant, and there are many members of Congress who are sympathetic to the argument.  And I think the argument goes something like this:  We have a system in this country for identifying, isolating, and even punishing countries that support terrorism.  This process is actually one that is established by statute.  This is a process where Congress and the administration work together to identify these countries and to isolate them. 

We believe that is a much more effective way for the United States to respond to state-sponsored terrorism and to prevent countries from giving in to the temptation to sponsor terrorism. That's more effective than a patchwork system of legal decisions that could cloud the clarity that is needed to forcefully respond to state-sponsored terrorism. 

So I think that's the nexus of -- that's the basic argument that we'd make.  And I think there's a lot of sympathy to that argument on Capitol Hill, even if there are a lot of members of Congress who are a little intimidated by the politics.  But that's not going to stop the President from taking a principled position and making a principled argument about the best way to protect the country and about the best way to protect the American people from terrorism.

Q    Well, that's what I'm getting at.  The fact that so many Democrats support this bill, but the White House feels exactly the opposite.  Those members of Congress couldn’t be swayed.  So are they just wrong?  Are they making a dangerous decision?  Well, the decision is already made.

MR. EARNEST:  Look, I would acknowledge that they haven’t been swayed.  But the President continues to believe that this is an important principle to fight for, and we're going to continue to have conversations with members of Congress and continue to urge them to consider the most effective way for the United States to confront state-sponsored terrorism.  We have a mechanism on the books that works well, that highlights effective cooperation among our national security agencies, the executive branch in the United States Congress.  That is a more effective system, we believe, than a patchwork system of judges that could in some cases arrive at different conclusions about the culpability of individual countries and their role in terrorist activities. 

Clarity is an effective tool.  Identifying these countries has the effect of isolating them in the world.  And that certainly has an impact on their ability to engage in terrorism or to harm the American people with terrorism.  It also serves as a pretty effective deterrent for other countries that might be considering engaging in that kind of activity.

Q    You've often hit out at Republicans for playing Congress -- playing politics with some of their pieces of legislation.  So, in this case -- I mean, you'll speak to the sympathy that you say that there is on the Hill.  So do you feel like in this case Democrats are being swayed or overrun by political pressures?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I think -- I mean, look, in this case there are a large number of Democrats and a large number of Republicans that have the same position.  So I think you probably have to go ask them exactly why they've taken that position.  I think I'm standing here articulating what is a principled position that the President has taken. 

And there is nobody here who is unable to understand why the politics of this are hard.  I guess you might say the President might have a little bit more standing here in the face of these tough politics to make this argument given how strong his record is in fighting for 9/11 families.  He's somebody who prioritized taking Osama bin Laden off the battlefield and bringing him to justice.  That is a promise he made good on.  President Obama has been a leading advocate of ensuring that first responders to Ground Zero get the kind of support and health care that they need for the risks that they took to try to save their fellow Americans and to rebuild at the site of this terrorist attack.  And President Obama has used the occasion of 9/11 over the last eight years to speak powerfully and emotionally about how the families of those who were lost on 9/11 are a genuine inspiration to him and a testament to the resilience of this country.

So, look, maybe that gives the President a little more latitude to take this principled stand.  But hopefully we'll succeed in persuading some members of Congress to join us.

Q    So since this has passed, has the President himself reached out to members of Congress on this?  And does he plan to?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware of any presidential-level engagement on this at this point.  But there have been extensive conversations between members of the President's national security team and leading officials on Capitol Hill.


Q    Senator Elizabeth Warren also marked the eighth anniversary of the financial collapse, but not with a PowerPoint. She did by sending a letter to FBI Director Comey, asking for the release of any documents related to the investigations into Wall Street's role in the financial collapse.  Does the White House support the release of those documents?  Is that something the American people deserve to have access to?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what the White House supports is Director Comey making the decision, independent of any sort of political influence, about the release of investigative material. So I'll leave it to him to find the most effective way to respond to that question.  I think what Senator Warren does, though, underscore in her letter is how important it is for us to learn the mistakes that were made in the past, and to build a financial system and build safeguards into our financial system that won't put taxpayers on the hook for bailing out large financial institutions that make bad bets.  That's what we've succeeded in doing in Wall Street reform. 

And there were many opponents of Wall Street reform who said they couldn’t support the legislation because it would throw a wet blanket on the economy.  They've been wrong.  And we have enjoyed significant, even a historic period of growth, since this bill went into effect and was signed into law by the President of the United States.  So it is an indication that we can put in place protections on Wall Street that will insulate middle-class families from the risky bets of Wall Street traders even as we strengthen the overall economy and contribute to strong economic growth, and contribute to growth in the stock markets and in the incomes of middle-class families. 

We have enjoyed historic gains in both since President Obama signed that bill into law.  So again, I think the strategy that President Obama has pursued is one that stands up to a lot of scrutiny when you consider the economic impact of those decisions.

Q    And another subject.  There's some disturbing details that are coming out of this investigation into a boot camp in Parris Island.  A Muslim Marine was placed in a dryer by a drill instructor who turned it on several times.  He later allegedly committed suicide during a suspected hazing incident.  Now, a local paper, Beaufort Gazette, reported that a red dot investigation was actually prompted by a letter to the White House.  How closely is the White House following this?  Has the President been briefed?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Alex, I think everybody here has seen the news reports.  I haven’t spoken to the President about this, but I'd be surprised to -- he's the Commander-in-Chief, so I'm confident that he's aware of this situation and certainly aware of these reports. 

There's no denying that the graphic details that are included in these reports are disturbing.  The United States Marine Corps has indicated a commitment to investigating exactly what's happened.  And I know that they'll take appropriate action to conduct that investigation and to hold accountable those who are responsible for any sort of misconduct.  I know the Marine Corps has already said with regard to this incident that they take all reports of misconduct seriously. 

Look, the men and women in the United States Marine Corps hold themselves to an extraordinarily high standard of personal conduct.  And the vast majority of men and women of the United States Marine Corps do exactly that.  And that's all the more reason that reports of misconduct must be carefully and thoroughly investigated, and that's exactly what the Marine Corps is doing.

Q    And so has there been any worry that this might be indicative of kind of a larger issue of the current climate with regards to Islamophobia or hostility towards the Muslim community?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I am confident that the -- well, let me say it this way.  Obviously, the Commander-in-Chief is quite concerned about making sure that those young Americans who sign up to serve in our armed forces are in many ways placed under his care, and he takes quite seriously the responsibility that he has as Commander-in-Chief in ensuring that recruits to the United States military are treated with dignity and respect, and not subject to abuse and hazing, even as they undergo the kind of rigorous training that's required to meet the high physical and mental standards of serving in the United States military.

So that is something that this Commander-in-Chief has certainly prioritized.  I'm also confident that the leadership at the United States Marine Corps has prioritized this, as well.  But for the details of their investigation or for sort of any accountability measures that they determine are appropriate, I'll let them speak to that, primarily because if there is any sort of military justice proceeding, I don’t want anything that I've said here to be perceived as interfering in that investigation or interfering in those proceedings.  So I need to be a little circumspect. 

But I can certainly say with confidence that the Commander-in-Chief wants to ensure that young Americans who sign up to serve in our military are afforded the respect and fair treatment that they deserve, particularly considering the sacrifice that they've indicated they're prepared to make for the country.

Q    And just one more question. 


Q    Do you have any more details about the First Family's visit to the Smithsonian African American History Museum yesterday?  Have you had a chance to talk to him about it?  Was there any exhibits that particularly stuck out to him?

MR. EARNEST:  I have not talked to the President about his visit to the museum last night.  What I can tell you is the President will have an opportunity to participate in some of the festivities that are scheduled for the end of next week to mark the opening of the Smithsonian -- or the African American Museum that's been organized by the Smithsonian.  So the President and the First Lady are quite enthusiastic about the opening of the museum.  And we'll have a little more of an opportunity to talk next week about how they'll participate in those activities.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  The Senate today passed the Water Resources Development Act, which includes emergency funding for Flint and other communities affected by lead contamination.  That House version of that bill doesn’t contain that funding for various reasons.  I'm wondering if the White House has taken any kind of position on this legislation that they support.  Do you guys support the passage of this bill?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t seen the details of the bill, so I don’t know that we've taken a specific position on it at this point.  What we have indicated for quite some time is we do believe that Congress should provide additional resources to the state of Michigan and to the city of Flint to address the situation with regard to the water supply there.  But how Congress chooses to do that is something that Congress is going to have to figure out.  But this administration will continue to press them to make that a priority.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  In the interview on the radio earlier today, Hillary Clinton indicated that she might not nominate Merrick Garland if she's given to name a Supreme Court justice.  And she said that she would take a look broadly and consider anyone who represents the diversity of this country.  So I'm wondering if you a have a reaction to the fact that -- or to the idea that Hillary Clinton may, if she wins office, make a different choice than what the President did.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Toluse, I guess what I would say is if Senate Republicans are willing to do their job, it's not going to come to that.  If Senate Republicans do their job, Merrick Garland is going to be serving in a lifetime appointment on the United States Supreme Court.  And I know that that's an outcome that Secretary Clinton has indicated she strongly supports. 

When President Obama announced his decision to nominate Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, she said the President made a good choice.  She described Merrick Garland as somebody who's a brilliant jurist.  Her opinion is one that's widely shared by Democrats and Republicans. 

That's why what Republicans in the United States Senate have done has drawn so much condemnation not just from Democrats all across the country, but even some Republicans who are uncomfortable with the Republican argument that somehow Presidents are not allowed to nominate judges in their last year in office.  There's no such provision that exists in the United States Constitution.  That's ironic because many of these same Republican senators describe themselves as strict constructionists when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. Apparently that's maybe part of the Constitution that they haven’t read. 

In some cases, you might actually just question the intellectual honesty of some of these senators, particularly people like Senator Cornyn and Senator Cruz that are now advocating for the confirmation of Obama-nominated justices in Texas.  You can't have it both ways.  If they're concerned about vacancies on the federal bench in Texas, how can you not be concerned about a protracted vacancy on the highest court in the land, particularly when that vacancy we know has prevented the Supreme Court from being able to reach conclusions on some pretty tough questions?

So Republicans are playing politics with this issue in a way that's intellectually dishonest and ends up making it look even worse than most people already think they look, when you consider that Congress is pulling in the teens these days. 

So I don’t think there's anything that I've said in my admittedly long answer that Secretary Clinton would disagree with at all.  And one thing we know that she agrees with is that Chief Judge Merrick Garland was a good choice by President Obama, and she believes that the United States Senate should do its job and that Republicans in the Senate should do their job, allow him to get a hearing, and that he should be confirmed to serve in a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.

Q    I want to ask you about something the President said at a fundraiser earlier this week.  He said that this race shouldn’t be close, but it is, and that weird stuff happens because Donald Trump won the primary.  He said many time previously that he doesn’t think Donald Trump will win the presidency.  Given the fact that the polls are tightening, and he said this at this fundraiser, is he now more concerned that he will not be succeeded by a Democrat?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the point of the President's remarks is that he doesn’t want people to be complacent.  And I think there is plenty of evidence that we can point to even today that give the President confidence that his earlier prediction will be correct.  But we sure can't take it for granted.  And the President himself is not taking it for granted, given how high the stakes are.  And that's why you're going to see the President so aggressively working between now and Election Day to ensure that he can, as he described it, hand the baton off to a successor that shares his values.

Q    And just one more, on Senator Rubio.  He introduced a bill on guns to basically try to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists in the wake of the Orlando shooting.  I'm wondering if the White House has seen the bill and if you've had a chance to weigh in on it yet. 

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t seen the bill, so why don’t we take a look at the details and get back to you.  But obviously this is an issue that we have been deeply concerned about for some time. So we'll take a look at the proposal that Senator Rubio has put forward, and we'll try to get you an answer on it.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to follow up on some of Michelle's questions about the 9/11 bill.  Are you waiting for Congress to adjourn before sending the veto?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Andrew, I just don’t have an update for you in terms of the timing.  Obviously, the Constitution gives the President 10 days to make a decision about whether to sign a bill or to veto it.  And the President is going to veto it.  I don’t want to leave you with the impression that somehow the decision is up on the air.  But the President will veto it within the next 10 days, and when that's been completed we'll let you know.

Q    A different subject.  Why are you not making the Syria deal public?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that we have been quite clear about the details in terms of what the arrangement requires on both sides.  Russians have made substantial commitments.  The United States have made some commitments with regard to the conduct of opposition groups that we support.  And our goal here is to reduce the violence across the country, increase the flow if humanitarian assistance, particularly in communities like Aleppo that need it really badly. 

And our goal is to not take our eye off the ball when it comes to applying significant pressure against ISIL.  And after we have seen a sustained commitment on both sides to the Cessation of Hostilities, then potentially we could start cooperating with the Russians and further escalate the tempo of strikes against ISIL and other extremist groups that are operating in Syria, including al Qaeda's presence in Syria in the form of al Nusra.

Q    You would acknowledge that sketching out those aims and sketching out the details is not the same as releasing the details?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would acknowledge that it's different than releasing paperwork.  But I think we have been quite clear about what the United States is committed to, and we've been pretty clear about what we expect the Russians to do.

Q   Is it ( inaudible.)

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know.  This is an agreement that was hammered out by Secretary Kerry.  So with regard to the details of the document, I guess I'd refer you to the State Department.  But again, I think it's quite clear exactly what it is the United States has indicated we're prepared to do.  But we're going to need to see a sustained commitment on the part of the Russians to fulfilling their responsibilities before the United States provides the kind of military cooperation that we know the Russians would like to get.


Q    Given that nothing seems to be happening on the humanitarian part in Syria and that we have a clock ticking, so to speak, is the President personally engaged in trying to work this out so that this process moves forward?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I'm not aware of any phone calls or meetings that the President has convened on this, in part because the whole point of this agreement is to apply pressure to the Russians to get them to use their leverage with the Assad regime to reduce violence and to allow the flow of humanitarian assistance.  So what's really needed now is not for the United States to live up to our end of the bargain; we're already doing that.  What's needed now is for the Russians to live up to their end of the bargain and use their influence with the Assad regime, to the extent that they're able to -- because that may be the other thing that's revealed here.  Maybe the Russians don’t have the kind of influence with the Assad regime that they claim to have.

Q    But just given the stakes now, given that there are months left in the President's time in office, given the huge humanitarian crisis there, why would the President not get invested personally to try to make this thing happen now by applying more pressure on the Russians to exert the pressure that they can put on the Assad regime to get this done?

MR. EARNEST:  Ron, we already have, because we have made clear to them that they're not going to get the kind of military cooperation that they would like -- military coordination that they would like to get until we start to see that humanitarian assistance start flowing. 

So we're applying maximum leverage.  And again, it's going to be up to the Russians to deliver.  And maybe they don’t have the kind of influence that they claim to have.  This is why you've heard me say many times that the Russians' credibility is on the line right now.  And it is, and right now we're not seeing them live up to the kinds of -- the terms of the arrangement that they've agreed to.

Q    So inasmuch as he spoke -- that the Presidents met recently, you would not expect a need for a follow-up conversation now?  And again, with the clock ticking, with this  -- I hate to use hyperbole -- but the last chance, perhaps, for something positive to happen to resolve this, what we would all agree is a terrible situation?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think -- well, there are a couple of things here.  First of all, we have seen a reduction in violence; that is a positive outcome.  There is a clearer path for the flow of humanitarian assistance as a result; that is a positive outcome.  And what we're waiting is for the next step, which is the flow of humanitarian assistance to commence.  And that just hasn’t started yet. 

But there is pressure on the Russians to get it moving.  Because we know the thing that they're most interested in, which is being able to coordinate their activities with the United States military.  That's something that they can't brag about in the international community because they don’t have it right now. And the reason they don't have it right now is because they are either unwilling or unable to use their influence with the Assad regime to guarantee the delivery of this humanitarian aid.

Q    At the Hispanic Caucus tonight, any expectation the President and Secretary will meet, talk, exchange pleasantries?

MR. EARNEST:  That's certainly a possibility.  There's nothing formal planned at all.  But there certainly is the possibility that they might see each other backstage. 

Q    But there's been no discussion trying to have a chat since the -- or beginning another moment in the campaign?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I'm not aware of any attempt to arrange a formal meeting.

Q    The House passed this bill about the -- basically blocking Gitmo transfers.  Your reaction?  The President is going to veto this, obviously, if it gets that far, if the Senate passed it.

MR. EARNEST:  Listen, I think we've made a strong case for why the President believes it's in our national security interest to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  Those individuals who are currently in the prison at Guantanamo Bay who cannot be transferred safely to other countries can be detained in the United States at a much lower cost, so we could save significant taxpayer dollars. 

Keep in mind we are already detaining hardened, dangerous criminals in the United States.  So this doesn’t require us to do anything differently than we've already been doing.  We've already been doing this kind of thing.  And that's why the President believes that this is just a matter of common sense. 

He's not the only one who believes this.  President George W. Bush advocated for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  National security officials who served in high-ranking positions in the Bush administration believe that closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay is in the best interest of our national security.  Military officials who dedicated their lives to protecting this country have indicated that they believe that the prison at Guantanamo Bay should be closed and that doing so would enhance our national security.

So the President and the bipartisan group of experts allied with him have made a powerful and persuasive case about closing the prison.  And again, I understand the politics of this are tough, but when it comes to America's national security, at some point that should rate higher on the priority list than an individual's reelection prospects.

Q    And as the process continues to try and find places to transfer those approved for transfer, it is -- you have acknowledged that there are efforts to find new countries where some of these detainees might go to in addition to the places where they've already gone to over the years.  That is a possibility?

MR. EARNEST:  I certainly wouldn't rule out that there might be countries who would be taking Gitmo detainees for the first time.

Q    But you're not acknowledging that there are currently negotiations, discussions underway with other countries to expand the possibility?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not going to talk about any of the ongoing negotiations. 

Q    And just lastly, looking ahead to the United Nations next week, can you give us any kind of a preview of what the President's priorities are?  This is arguably his last -- one of his last appearances on the world stage.  What are his thoughts going into this?  What is he trying to accomplish?  Do you have any more detail about specific meetings?  We know about the refugee summit, so on and so forth.

MR. EARNEST:  We'll have additional information tomorrow about the President's trip to New York and his visit to the United Nations next week.  A couple things that I guess I can point out -- the first is, one hallmark event that the President will convene while he is there is an international gathering of world leaders to discuss what countries around the world can do to address the refugee crisis.

There are too few countries around the world that are bearing a significant burden in the form of hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, even millions of individuals who fled their home country to try to avoid violence.  And there's more that the international community and that the world must do to help those countries bear that burden. 

And we've talked about what the United States has done.  We have ramped up the number of refugees that have been admitted to this country over the last couple of years.  We've done that without cutting corners when it comes to our national security.  Refugees who enter the United States continue to be the most vetted group of individuals that entered the United States.  The United States is also the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance to try to meet the needs of those who are fleeing violence.  So the United States has done a lot.  But we believe that there is more the international community can do to respond to this situation.  And that's something that the President will talk about with his counterparts at the United Nations. 

The President will also give a speech at the U.N. General Assembly.  I believe that's scheduled for Tuesday morning.  And the President will use that speech to talk about some of the progress that we have made in unifying the international community to take on some significant threats; that the international response that we've mobilized to address climate change, or to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, or to counter ISIL, or even to confront the refugee crisis I think serves as a model for how the world can address problems moving forward. 

And the ability of the international community to coordinate on shared challenges is going to be critical to the kind of safer, more prosperous planet that we'd all like to see.  President Obama is quite proud of the role that he has played in that process and the role that the United States has played in leading that process.  And he is hopeful that his successor will pick up the mantle and do the same thing. 

But we'll have a more detailed preview in the days ahead.

Q    Is there a phone call?

MR. EARNEST:  We'll work out the details on that.


Q    Josh, you mentioned again today that President Obama looks forward to doing more campaigning for Mrs. Clinton.  And last night, at a campaign rally in Ohio, Donald Trump was critical of the President's campaigning.  He said, why isn't he working instead of going out campaigning?  Can you respond to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mark, the President obviously has been working to balance his responsibilities.  His number-one priority is serving the American people as the President of the United States.  And he spent the last 10 days or so traveling across the Pacific Ocean and certainly has had a number of meetings with his counterparts overseas.  Just yesterday, he had a bilateral meeting with the democratically elected leader of Burma, something that we can only now recently say exists in that country.  And as I was just describing to Ron, President Obama is going to spend several days in New York, representing the interests of the United States at the United Nations.

So all of those basic responsibilities of the presidency will come first, and they will have an impact on the amount of time that he'll be able to spend advocating for Secretary Clinton's reelection.  But President Obama has been a successful President in part because of his ability to do more than one thing at a time.  And he certainly does intend to devote some of his time and attention to advocating for Secretary Clinton, because the President recognizes that the stakes in this election are as high as ever.  And he made that case in New York on Tuesday night.

Q    So you're saying it's legitimate for a sitting President not running for election to campaign for others?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the President, understandably, has quite strong feelings about the future of the country.  And he's got quite strong opinions about who is the best person to replace him.  I think it makes a lot of sense that President Obama would make those views known publically.

I think what's interesting and what is unique about the situation that President Obama is in -- most Presidents who are in their eighth year don't have the political standing to make a forceful case for their successor.  But President Obama actually is in a situation where his approval rating with the American public is in the high 50s, according to many polls, and that certainly gives him a lot of influence in making a case for politics.  And I think that might be the best explanation for the complaints of the Republican nominee.

Q    At that rally last night, Donald Trump questioned aloud what the costs of Air Force One are for when the President is campaigning.  Is that a question you can answer for him?  Or me?

MR. EARNEST:  Not for him.  (Laughter.)  But there is a formula that's calculated by the Air Force and so there are some numbers that we can produce for you on this.

Q    Can we get that formula?  

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what they can do is they can provide you with some information about costs.  The other thing that you know is that those costs are regularly reported by the Democratic National Committee as well.

Q    Will they report the reimbursements?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, that's correct.


Q    Two questions, Josh.  Coming back to the deficit.  You're correct when -- you know how I am about numbers -- when you said that the deficit has fallen sharply, that's correct, but the CBO does estimate, in fact, that in this current fiscal year, which ends in two weeks, it's actually going to go up about a third in this final year.  Why is it up so sharply this final year of the President's term?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it certainly wasn't helped by the significant tax breaks that Republicans in the Congress passed at the end of last year for wealthy corporations and wealthy individuals.  But that was the product of a compromise that President Obama signed into law at the end of last year, the budget bill. 

I don't think President Obama has ever been in a position where he has said that our efforts to promote economic growth and to improve our country's fiscal situation are done.  There's more work that we need to do.  And in fact, that's why the President is spending so much time advocating for Secretary Clinton, because she's got a good strategy for continuing to strengthen our economy, continuing to make our tax code more fair and, yes, continuing to address the fiscal health of the United States of America.

I think the point that I'm making is that when President Obama took office, we were being flooded with red ink.  Now, some of that is a testament to the weakness in the economy and the financial crisis, but critics of the President's approach said that what the administration was doing would make the problem worse.  They were dead wrong.  The situation has improved significantly.  But there is more work that we need to do, and in fact, that's exactly why the President is interested in making such a strong case for Secretary Clinton -- because he does believe that she is the right person for the job who can strengthen our economy, make our tax code more fair, and have a positive impact on the fiscal situation of the country.

Q    I want to follow up with something that Mark said.  Your point was that the President's numbers are high enough that he should be able to make a compelling case in favor of Mrs. Clinton, right?  Other Presidents have had actually higher approval numbers at this point than the President has -- Eisenhower in 1960 did not campaign enough for Nixon and he lost. Clinton had higher numbers at this point in 2000, did not campaign for Gore and he lost.  Is the President going to spend sufficient time on the trail in October to push her over?  Because he really hasn't done all that much so far.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, each of these situations is unique.  And I think the point that I'm making is that rarely in history, and certainly not in recent history, have we had a situation in which there was a President in his eighth year who was as well-regarded by the public and by his party's nominee and felt strongly enough in supporting his party's nominee to be a force on the campaign trail. 

And, again, in some cases -- there are a variety of explanations for why the stars haven't aligned in that way in recent, previous years, but because they have in this situation, the President is in a rather unique position to make a persuasive case to the electorate.  And I think my point is I think that that unique and uniquely strong political positioning is the explanation for the criticism from the Republican nominee.

Q    He’s done one or two things so far.  No trips to Florida, no trips to Ohio.  What’s on the agenda for the --

MR. EARNEST:  Stay tuned.  We'll get the opportunity to visit those fine communities before Election Day.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I want to ask you about hacking for just a minute.  We've talked previously about cyber espionage being a major issues.  The President has spoken about it with various leaders from around the world.  And yet at times it seems as if there’s this hesitancy to have a specific declaration accusing the Russians of hacking incidents.  So I'm just wondering, what’s the reason behind sort of the hesitancy to make a specific attribution?  Is it because then you’d have to do something in response to it?  Tell me about that.  What is the administration’s policy in that respect?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think hesitance is a word that our critics may use; it's certainly not one that I would use.  Some of the reports that we have seen about cyber intrusions are under the close scrutiny of the FBI.  And we've got the foremost experts in the United States government trying to get to the bottom of what exactly happened and trying to figure out what we can do to prevent it from happening again or in other places.

Q    It seems like an open secret, though, in Washington.  It's not like they’re going to blame it on Canada.  People here widely feel like it's Russia.  I know they’re studying it, but I'm sure they have enough evidence at this stage to sort of have a direction in which they’re going.  Would you agree with that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I'll let the FBI speak to what evidence they’ve been able to amass.  But I think that they’re also cognizant of the fact that as soon as they make a declaration like that most people are going to understandably be interested in seeing that evidence.  And some of that evidence may not be something that we want to show.  We don't necessarily want to reveal sources and methods that the FBI uses to conduct these kinds of investigations. 

That's part of it.  But it certainly does raise broader policy questions with regard to our response, because I think that would be the other understandable question that people would ask, that once you have made a formal announcement about an individual or an entity or a country or a criminal enterprise being responsible for a particular cyber intrusion, I think it's an entirely legitimate question to ask what’s the response going to be.

And formulating an appropriate response in this area is something that the President and other policymakers have acknowledged is rather complicated.  We're in unexplored territory here.  And the President is quite interested in trying to establish international norms, rules of the road about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and also making a determination absolutely out what is an appropriate level of a response.

The other thing about this, Kevin, that's relevant here is the United States also may be in a position where we want to respond but not announce it in advance, or maybe not announce it ever.  The President has acknowledged that the United States has substantial capabilities in this area -- more substantial than anybody else’s. 

So there are a lot of factors that go into this.  But any sort of decision to reveal information about the investigation is going to come from my colleagues at the FBI.  And any sort of decision to attribute the intrusion to an individual or an entity or an organization or a country is something that will be carefully considered by the President and his national security team in close consultation with the FBI, given the significant policy consequences that are raised by blaming someone.

So that's the situation that we face right now.  But this situation is certainly one that has certainly attracted the attention of the U.S. government’s foremost experts on cybersecurity and they certainly, as we've seen, attracted the attention of the President of the United States.

Q    I want to circle back on the Dakota pipeline.  We talked about it earlier this week, and you mentioned that the Army Corps of Engineers really was asking just -- a pause, we just want to take a closer look at effect.  The statement by DOJ, DOI and the Army Corps effectively came right after a judge essentially said go ahead and go forward with this particular project.  What was the timing reasoning behind the ask for another delay?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, they’re not asking for a delay.  They’re actually going to pause the project.

Q    Why?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, because I think they want to make sure   -- I think people across the country can understand that when the government is engaged in a significant infrastructure project near your house or near your property, I think you want the government to be rigorous about making sure that interests of people who live in the area are carefully considered.  And that's exactly what’s happening.

Q    Yes, but don't you think the judge went through all that in the suit itself?  I mean, in making that determination it's not as if they didn’t have lots of evidence that they looked at to ensure that the safety of this project could go forward.  They looked at all the different evidence along the way.  I'm just wondering why, after the judge said, yes, go ahead and go forward, the administration said maybe it's worth another look.

MR. EARNEST:  Actually I think what the judge said is that you have the approval to go forward if you’d like.  And what the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers committed to do is going above and beyond the legal requirements to make sure that the interests of people who live in the community were appropriate factored in. 

So, look, there are people in both parties who are committed to this idea of private property rights and making sure that the interests of private citizens and private landholders are factored in when the government is making decisions.  And I would expect that people in both parties would be pretty sympathetic and actually quite supportive of the government’s decision in this case to make sure that people who live in the area of this infrastructure project have had their concerns and their rights properly considered.

Q    Last one on that.  When a petroleum group in North Dakota says this is an example -- another example of executive overreach, what do they have wrong?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven't seen the argument and I'm not really sure exactly how much merit it has.  The truth is the administration is committed to a system that is focused on the interests of local communities.  And that certainly is something that the administration has made a priority.  That notwithstanding, while President Obama has served in office we've seen thousands of miles of pipelines be constructed in the United States, and the oil and gas industry has been producing at record levels.  So I think it's a little hard to say that the Obama administration has gotten in the way when you consider the productivity of this industry during President Obama’s tenure in office. 

But I think you certainly can say that the Obama administration is interested in going above and beyond legal requirements to make sure that the interests of local citizens, local property owners and people who happen to live in the community are properly taken into account when a large infrastructure project like this is being considered.

Q    On Gitmo, is it classified information the amount the United States pays other countries to take on detainees, the transfers, or is there cash exchanged?  How does that work?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are individual diplomatic negotiations that take place between the United States and other countries to find an appropriate setting where individuals can be safely transferred in a way that doesn’t pose an undue threat to U.S. national security.  Because of the interests that our partner countries may have in the confidentiality of those arrangements, I think it's entirely that when it comes to their national security that we're not advertising the details of those arrangements. 

But those arrangements are always predicated on protecting the American people.  And in fact, the transfer cannot go through until the Secretary of Defense has personally certified that sufficient arrangements have been made to ensure the safety and security of the American people after the transfer has taken place.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  On the CR, did the White House send a specific request, funding request for the Louisiana flooding and Flint, Michigan to be put on the CR?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Cheryl, as you know, the administration has been working closely with officials on the ground in Louisiana to determine what resources are going to be necessary to meet the immediate needs of the people in Louisiana who were affected by the flooding, but also to make sure that the state of Louisiana and the people of Louisiana have the resources that they need to come back stronger than ever.

And the President made a commitment when he traveled down there last month that even after the attention on this disaster had waned in the national media that the Obama administration was going to make sure that we followed through. 

So my colleagues at FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have been working very closely with officials in Louisiana to determine what kind of assistance is needed.  And the question I think really now for Congress is, are they going to be prepared to do what’s necessary to help the state of Louisiana recover?  The one thing that the people of Louisiana have going for them is that they’ve got a Democratic governor and a Democratic President who are firmly behind them and who are committed to making sure that they have the resources that they need to rebuild their communities and to rebuild their lives. 

The question now is, are the Republicans that they elected to represent them in Congress going to get the job done?  And what they have going for them is Republicans are in the majority in Congress, so, presumably, if those Republicans that they elected to represent them in Congress are effective they’re going to be able to prevail on the members of their own party to support legislation to rebuild those communities.  If they do, they can count on the support of the Democratic President to sign that bill into law, and the can count on the Democratic governor to get the job done effectively.

But it's a real open question when it comes to how effective their Republican representation in Congress is.  But I guess the one thing that -- I guess the other thing they have going for them is that there’s an election in about eight weeks, so if they have concerns about how effective their representation is in Congress then they’ll have an opportunity to do something about it. 

Q    So I guess the question is sort of the delivery method. Should disaster funding be on the CR or should it be on a later supplemental bill down the road?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, that's something Congress is going to have to figure out.  The President believes that they should get it done as soon as possible.  And if they want to wait for a CR, do it separate from a CR, add it to the CR, whatever it is that they want to do, the President believes that Congress should get this moving and get it to his desk so he can sign it into law and we can start bringing some additional relief to the people of Louisiana who have been through a pretty tough summer. 


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I've got a few items.  I wanted to ask about the situation in the House yesterday with the IRS Commissioner.  The House Republicans were willing to delay -- were going to try to vote on impeachment yesterday, and then they delayed it.  They’re going to have a hearing in the Judiciary next week.  Is the President concerned about this? Is he angry about this at all that the House Republicans are moving on Commissioner Koskinen?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Fred, for the President’s view -- he actually talked about this when he was up in New York on Tuesday. So we can get you a transcript of those remarks.

Q    And also, with regards to the Zika funding, if the GOP does not budge on the Planned Parenthood issue, spending on that, would the President be willing to sign a bill with it?  Or would he be willing to forego any additional Zika --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, right now, the bill that the House has passed that includes a variety of ideological riders, including banning funding for Planned Parenthood and confederate flags -- that didn’t pass the Senate.  So the President certainly is not going to support a Zika bill that’s freighted with a bunch of ideological riders.  But it appears that it's not going to get through the Senate either. 

Q    But if it did --

MR. EARNEST:  It will not.  We tested the proposition.

Q    If the President were willing to, then the Senate Democrats would probably go along with it.

MR. EARNEST:  I don't think that's really the way that Senator Democrats make their decisions.  I think if our experience has shown us anything in the last few years, they’ve got minds of their own. 

Q    And one more issue.  There’s been conflicting reports about whether the President is looking at doing a no first strike pledge with regards to nuclear attack.  Would there be a pause on that given the kind of aggression North Korea has shown with their test launches?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Fred, I know that there’s been a lot of public discussion and speculation about this issue.  I don’t really have a lot of insight to share on any sort public discussions that may or may not be going on inside the administration.  Suffice it to say that the President has made important progress over the last seven years in trying to realize his vision of a world without nuclear weapons.  And the President’s going to keep fighting to make progress in that direction until his last day in office.

John Bennett.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  On Tuesday, the President talked about criminal justice reform getting done in the context of the next President and the next Congress.  Has he concluded that this just isn’t going to get done before January 20th?

MR. EARNEST:  No, the President is determined to continue to press Congress to seize the common ground that exists.  There’s bipartisan support for criminal justice reform.  There are conservative Democrats -- sorry --  there are conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats, both of whom have forcefully articulated their view that we need to reform our criminal justice system to make it more fair and more just.

So, unfortunately, this is an issue that’s gotten bogged down in the kind of dysfunction that’s not served the America people very well, and the President’s been disappointed by that. But the President is going to continue to urge members of Congress and he’s going to continue to urge people in both parties that have influence over members of Congress to encourage them to make this a priority and try to get this done.  And the lives of millions of Americans can be improved if we can implement some of these reforms.

Q    That was a different way he described when it could pass.  It was all about the need to elect Democrats so that it would pass.  Why the change there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, the President strongly supports bipartisan criminal justice reform, but we haven’t seen as much progress on that as we had hoped we would see at the beginning of the year.  So I think the point is that if it doesn’t get done this year, the President is hopeful that the next Congress will be one that includes more people who are supportive of those reforms and in most cases that means electing democrats.

Yes ma’am.

Q    Thank you.  So the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- back to Guantanamo for a moment -- released its latest report today and it confirmed that at least two more Guantanamo Bay detainees released under Barack Obama’s administration have returned to the fight.  I’m wondering if you can speak any further to those conversations that the U.S. has with these nations that are accepting detainees and just speak to those two detainees released under Obama.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think what we have seen is that that report indicated that the so-called recidivism rate is below 6 percent and that’s an indication of how rigorous the process is when we are negotiating with other countries around the world to take these detainees and impose requirements that don’t put the United States or the American people at risk.

One of the things that I think is true is I do think this is a good illustration of how bankrupt the argument is on the other side.  Over the weekend, former Vice President Cheney -- not one to miss out an opportunity to make a political argument out of 9/11 -- published an op-ed in a British tabloid, appropriately enough, criticizing the President’s support for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  And in that op-ed he identified at least two individuals who he said were a good illustration of why he opposed closing the prison.  He said these were two individuals who used to be in Guantanamo Bay and had been released, and had returned to the battlefield and posed a risk to the United States. 

He left out two key facts -- at least two key facts in his op-ed.  The first is, he didn’t note that those two individuals that he named in the op-ed were individuals who were released while he was sitting in the Vice President’s office.  He also didn’t note that those two individuals were taken off the battlefield while Barack Obama was sitting in the Oval Office.

So I think that’s a pretty good illustration of the wisdom and strength of the approach that President Obama has taken when it comes to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

John, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thanks a lot, Josh.  I just wanted to get your state of the campaign midway through September, and the President up in Philadelphia, as you know, on Monday.  And you were intimately involved in the President’s campaign for President back in 2008 and also 2012.  Would you acknowledge that the level of excitement that existed for President Obama, when he was campaigning for President in 2008, is not there right now for Hillary Clinton and her run for the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  Well I think that requires a lot of polling analysis that I’m not prepared to do.

Q    What’s your feel for the campaign?  Because you’re on the ground floor, you understood what it was like 2008 -- and some of the excitement.  I’m curious as to whether you see this right now for Mrs. Clinton.

MR. EARNEST:  I regularly warn people of drawing conclusions about the feeling on the ground and assessing the state of the electorate when they’re inside the District of Columbia.  I think people who are serving on the ground in battleground states like North Carolina and Florida and Arizona and Georgia are in a much better position to evaluate just the excitement and enthusiasm and organization that exists on the ground in support of both candidates.

And I know that some of the people that I worked closely with on the President’s campaign in 2008 are also intimately involved in Secretary Clinton’s campaign, so they may be in a better position to try to assess for you what kind of excitement and enthusiasm they’re seeing out there on the campaign trail.

I can tell you that President Obama is quite personally excited about this race, and I think he conveyed that pretty persuasively in his remarks.  And I think anybody who was at his event on Tuesday in Philadelphia would note that there wasn’t just a lot of enthusiasm for him and for his speech in that crowd, but I know that a couple of times he was interrupted with chants of the name of the Democratic nominee.  So I think that's an indication that that crowd was, to borrow a phrase, pretty fired up and ready to go.  And hopefully we'll see a lot more of that over the next seven or eight weeks.

Thanks, everybody.  We'll see you tomorrow. 

2:15 P.M. EDT