Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Los Angeles, CA, 10/24/2016
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Los Angeles, California
12:51 P.M. PDT
MR. EARNEST: How is everybody doing? I don’t have anything at the top. Obviously, the President has spent a lot of time over the last 24 hours making a strong case about why it's important for people to be engaged in this election and what the stakes are in this election. And that's obviously the principal purpose of this trip. And I anticipate he'll have the opportunity to talk about that a little bit more on the program with Mr. Kimmel later this evening.
So with that, why don’t we go to your questions, since we got a short flight here.
Q Josh, could you just talk a little bit about the President's plans over these last two weeks? And he's really focusing on talking about downstream races -- Senate, House. Could you talk a little bit about how he's going to drive that further over the next couple of weeks, how often he's going to be on the campaign trail, and maybe where besides, I guess -- is it Florida on Friday?
MR. EARNEST: That's correct. I don’t have any additional travel details to share at this point, but I would anticipate that the President will spend a significant amount of time traveling next week in support of not just Secretary Clinton's presidential campaign, but Democrats further down the ballot, as well.
The President's view is that the stakes in the election are high -- not just in terms of determining who will occupy the Oval Office for next few years, but how much success President Obama's successor will have in advancing their agenda through the Congress. So that would account for the President's passion for these issues.
And, look, his own experience bears out how just important this is. In the President's first two years in office, the President was able to work effectively with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate to make progress on a whole range of issues that he had identified as high priorities. Since Republicans took control of the House and were joined by a Republican majority in the Senate, we've essentially seen the legislative process all but grind to a halt. And that is a function of Republican majorities that aren’t interested in governing and don’t appear to have much interest in trying to advance a conservative agenda. Rather, they seem focused on obstruction. And that kind of dysfunction has not served the American people well. And I think it's left the American electorate with a rather dim view of the current Republican representation in Congress.
Q Do you think he'll be out every day next week on the trail?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have details yet, but we should have some more details before the end of this week about what the President's schedule looks like next week. And I would expect the President to be quite active on the campaign trail.
Q Josh, does the President feel comfortable living in an America where Donald Trump is President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think he alluded to this in his remarks over the last couple of days, indicating that despite the significant differences that he had with his opponents in 2008 and 2012, he had confidence that despite those vigorous disagreements, that those -- that both Senator McCain and Governor Romney would at least pursue the country's best interests as they saw it. He doesn’t have that same kind of confidence about the current Republican nominee. And I think he's spoken to that in more colorful detail than I just did.
Q But, so given that, is there a place for -- does he feel like there's a place for him in this country if Donald Trump is elected President, given the doomsday terms that he's talked about this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think you're sort of alluding to the rather poignant question of Captain Khan's father that was the tagline to that ad from the Democratic nominee. And, look, I think the kind of rhetoric that we've seen from the Republican nominee, the kinds of values that he claims to champion, I think raises questions in the minds of many Americans about whether or not he's committed to the kind of inclusive society that are consistent with long-held American values and are consistent with the kind of country that the vast majority of Americans actually want to live in.
Q So he wouldn't move to Canada or New Zealand if Donald Trump is elected?
MR. EARNEST: He's working very hard to make sure that nobody has to move -- has to leave the country as a result of an electoral outcome that the President doesn’t support.
Q Josh, do you have any response to Donald Trump saying that the battle for Mosul has been a failure?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I noticed those comments. What I can tell you is that our men and women in uniform who are serving this country in Iraq and Syria right now are putting their lives on the line to protect our national security. And the least that they should be able to expect from the American people and the people aspiring to be their Commander-in-Chief is their unconditional and unwavering support. That's certainly what they have from the current Commander-in-Chief. And those men and women on the ground in Iraq and in Syria have been executing a strategy that was formulated by President Obama and his national security team that put them in a position of offering their strong support to the Iraqi security forces that are on the frontlines of this battle.
And the performance of those Iraqi security forces has improved dramatically over the last couple of years because of the kind of equipment that they've received from the United States and our coalition partners, because of the training that they've received from the United States and our counter-ISIL coalition partners, and because of the airstrikes that the United States and our coalition partners are taking to support their operations on the ground. They also benefit from the expertise and professionalism of our servicemembers on the ground who are offering them their advice and assistance as they take the fight to ISIL.
So we've indicated that the campaign against ISIL in Mosul will be a difficult one and it's likely to take some time, because ISIL has had two years to dig into that city, and we know that ISIL prizes their Mosul presence given that this is the second largest city in Iraq. So it's going to be a tough fight, but we're pleased -- and this is an operation that's only been underway for a week or so. But we're pleased with the progress they've made so far. There's a lot of important work that remains to be done. And our servicemembers are going to do the job that it takes to support them as they dislodge ISIL from Mosul.
Q Is it wrong or too early to say it's a failure on that specific point?
MR. EARNEST: It's far too early to reach that kind of conclusion. We're pleased with the progress that we've made early on. And the President continues to be confident that because of the bravery and commitment of Iraqi security forces, with the strong support of the U.S. and our counter-ISIL coalition partners, that they will prevail.
Q Can we ask about the AT&T-Time Warner deal? Does the President or the White House have any reaction to that? And Bernie Sanders said the administration should stop it. Is that something that the White House is looking at?
MR. EARNEST: The White House is not looking at this. This is a regulatory decision. And any decision to review the deal would be made by regulatory officials at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. It's possible that there’s a role for the FCC, as well. But those federal regulators will do their job, and they’ll determine whether or not a review is necessary.
Certainly when you consider the size of this deal and its impact on the communications landscape, I don't think anybody would be surprised if they announced a review. But ultimately it would be up to them to make that determination.
The President would hope and expect that regulators would carefully consider the potential impact of this deal on consumers. But, again, all of that is something that is left to the discretion and judgment of independent regulators. So that's why the White House doesn’t take a position on the deal.
Q The President has expressed his opinion on other regulatory issues facing -- but especially before the FCC -- thinking about the net neutrality specifically. And I know this is totally different from that, but is it something where you could see the President expressing an opinion at some point?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, it's not something I foresee, again, because the President is committed to allowing these independent regulators to do their work. Look, I think the other part, the other factor here, Roberta, is that if the Department of Justice and/or the FTC were to announce a regulatory review, that’s something that would -- that's a review that would last beyond the President’s tenure in office. So I think that's the other reason the President is unlikely to weigh in on the merits of this particular arrangement.
But, again, the President -- any time these kinds of agreements are announced, the President believes it's important to be mindful of the impact that it could potentially have on consumers across the country. But, again, that's the purview of independent regulators, and the President has got confidence that they’ll do their job.
Q Did the President let you win a few holes today on the golf course? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that there might be some people who would assume that coming to the back of the plane and talking to you about global issues is a lot of pressure. (Laughter.) That is nothing compared to standing on the first tee watching the Commander-in-Chief watch you address the ball -- particularly somebody who doesn’t get the chance to hit the links as often as I would like. But it was a beautiful day, and the good people at Torrey Pines ensured that we had a nice time and were very hospitable.
They’ve also got a pretty good thing going there. The views of the Pacific Ocean from the bluffs on the course totally lives up to the hype.
Q Could you talk about when the President says that it's important for Democrats to win big and for Hillary to win big -- what exactly does he mean? I know why -- I know the rationale that he’s laying out. But, I mean, how big of a victory does she have to have in order, does he think, for the values that he’s talking about to have been vindicated and to repudiate the argument?
MR. EARNEST: I genuinely don't think the President has a specific number in mind. But I think what the President has in mind is the idea that the American people, that voters across the country would send a clear message to Republicans who have not been engaged in trying to govern the country. They’ve been engaged in waging small-minded political fights that are focused on obstruction. And that's led the party to nominate somebody that doesn’t seem particularly committed to a conservative governing philosophy and really is famous for his ability to colorfully articulate his opposition to President Obama.
So I think the President is hopeful that the American people will take the opportunity before them in the context of this election and send a clear message to both parties that there are some basic things that, despite the significant differences between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., there should be an opportunity to move forward in those areas where there is common ground. And so the President is hopeful that people will make clear that Republicans can't just pursue a political strategy that's focused on obstruction, but that they have a responsibility, particularly if they hold on to the majority in Congress, to actually pursue an agenda that they believe is in the best interest of the country and is not just focused on their own political self-interest.
Q Josh, the VP and you and others in the White House and around him have made a big point of the fact that he got over 50 percent in his elections and why that was significant. Does Hillary Clinton need to get over 50 percent? I know you say he doesn’t have a particular number in mind -- but that number to be with the majority of the country, to do what he wants her to be able to do coming off the election?
MR. EARNEST: I don't think the President has a number in mind. But I think the President, as you can tell from the passion of his case, and as you will see from the days that he intends to spend on the road leading up to the election, that he’s determined to get her as many votes as possible.
Q Is 50 percent not an important benchmark for her?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously the President was proud of the majority support that he’s gotten from the voters in both races that he’s run. And I think the President is interested in building as much support as he possibly can for Secretary Clinton.
Q Can I ask a Project Veritas question? There’s a new video out today that shows Bob Creamer talking to someone about this so-called “Donald Duck” initiative -- whatever -- where people would dress up as Donald Duck and follow Trump around because he was ducking his taxes. Anyway, Bob Creamer is on video saying that Secretary Clinton, herself, approved this idea. The question is, do you think it is appropriate for someone who has been to the White House a number of times to be engaging in this kind of conduct?
MR. EARNEST: First of all, as you report on these videos I would just caution you to consider the history of this organization. Oftentimes when these videos are released, they reflect not a true representation of that person’s views but rather distort that person’s views in a way that make it actually more difficult to understand what they’re talking about.
So that being said, I'm going to leave it to the respective campaigns and to the respective political party organizations to comment on the kinds of tactics that they’re using on the campaign trail. I think the tactic that you alluded to is something that we've seen in presidential campaigns at least as long as I've been involved in them. And the truth is, you see those in other races, too, that are not as -- that even state and local campaigns will use those kinds of tactics to highlight the weakness of one particular candidate or another.
But whether or not that's appropriate, I'll let the candidates speak to it.
Q Is it true that the President has given up and decided not to do anything on Syria before the next President takes office? There was a report today in The Washington Post on that.
MR. EARNEST: I saw the report. I think what is clear in the news story and is consistent with what I've been saying all along, which is that the President is not going to take any ideas off the table. And he certainly is going to consider a range of options as we work to deescalate the violence, increase the flow of humanitarian assistance, and try to kick-start talks for a political transition inside of Syria. And I'm not going to take any options off the table in terms of potential presidential decisions between now and January 20th.
Q Was the report right in that he’s not going to do anything in terms of beefing up some of these existing programs before handing it over to the next President?
MR. EARNEST: I don't remember exactly the way that it was phrased in the story. I think what I would say is just that the President has a range of options that he'll consider to pursue the goals that I just mentioned, and he has not ruled out using any of them at this point. He’s going to continue to consult with his national security team. Some of the activities that have been speculated about are things that obviously I can't discuss in this setting, but there are a range of options that are available to the President. And he’s obviously quite interested in seeing the violence be reduced and the flow of humanitarian assistance increased in that region of the world. There are people there who are suffering.
And I think the thing that we're certainly going to continue to do is engage diplomatically, both on a bilateral basis with some countries in the region that obviously have a vested stake in the outcome there, but there’s also some work that we can continue to do multilaterally, through the U.N. and through the ISSG, to try to reach the kind of outcome that we believe is in the best interest of the people in the region, but also the best interest of our national security as well.
So that certainly is the approach the President is going to continue to pursue. Additional decisions I wouldn't take off the table at this point.
All right. Thank you, guys. Buckle up for landing.
1:09 P.M. PDT