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Full Text Political Transcripts January 21, 2017: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer First Press Briefing
Posted by bonniekgoodman on January 21, 2017
Full Text Political Transcripts January 17, 2017: President Barack Obama & Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s Remarks at Final Press Briefing
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 1/17/17
Source: WH, 1-17-17
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:15 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. I don’t actually have any announcements at the top, but —
Q Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: But because today marks my last briefing, I hope you’ll indulge me a couple of personal thoughts before I go to your questions.
As I prepared to stand here at this podium for the last time, I thought a lot about the first time. It was 16 years ago this week. It was January, 2001. I had just moved to Washington, D.C., and I got on a West Wing tour with a friend of a friend. We walked through the halls of the West Wing on that tour. We saw tired White House staffers lugging boxes of their personal belongings out of the building, much the way that people who are on West Wing tours today see. And on the tour, I smiled for a photo that a friend took of me standing behind this very podium.
I had been in D.C. for a grand total of two weeks. I had no contacts. I had no job prospects. I had no relevant Washington experience. I was sleeping on the floor of a college buddy’s apartment that had a spare bedroom — and by spare, I don’t just mean it was an extra bedroom; it was an empty bedroom containing only the items that I had managed to load into my car when I moved here from Texas.
So it’s fair to say that there weren’t too many other people on the tour that night who thought I would stand here in front of you as something other than a tourist. So it’s been an extraordinary journey, and this has been an extraordinary chapter.
This is the 354th White House daily briefing that I have led as the Press Secretary — Mark can check me on that number. (Laughter.) Not every briefing started exactly on time. (Laughter.) There might have been a briefing or two that went a little longer than you would have preferred. But you had to admit there was a lot to discuss. We had plenty of shameless plugs for the Kansas City Royals to squeeze in. (Laughter.) There was, of course, the Freedom Caucus’s infamous Tortilla Coast gambit. There was Congressman Steve Scalise who reportedly compared himself favorably to David Duke. There was the reintroduction of the word “snafu” into the political lexicon as we were working to pass TPA.
We discussed at length the various ways you can catch Zika, the various ways you can catch Ebola, and the various reasons scientists recommend you vaccinate your kids so that you don’t catch the measles. Jon Stewart lit me up as I struggled to explain to Jon Karl why a couple of our political ambassadors for some reason had no idea what they were doing. (Laughter.) At least the Stewart segment made some of my friends laugh.
President-elect Trump, of course, took advantage of the opportunity to light me up as a “foolish guy” who makes even the good news sound bad. (Laughter.) And I have to admit that even that one made me laugh. (Laughter.)
But it wasn’t always fun and games around here. There was the time that I tangled with Senator Schumer about DHS funding for New York City, and the time that I tangled with Senator Schumer over the Iran deal — (laughter) — and the time that I tangled with Senator Schumer over the JASTA legislation, and the time I tangled with Senator Schumer over the wisdom of passing Obamacare, and the time I tangled with Senator Schumer over Trade Promotion Authority legislation. And to think, we actually spent most of the last two and a half years complaining about how unreasonable Republicans in Congress are. (Laughter.)
The daily briefing, of course, is the most high-profile part of the press secretary’s job, but it’s not the only part that matters. The more important part, in many ways, is working with all of you and ensuring the freedom of the press that keeps this democracy vital.
When I first entered this role, I worked closely with the White House Travel Office and the Department of Defense to reform the billing process for your flights on military aircraft, including Air Force One, making those bills more transparent and smaller. In the last two and a half years, we’ve cajoled governments in China, Ethiopia, and Cuba to host news conferences on their soil, allowing the leaders of those countries and their citizens to see firsthand what it means for independent journalists to hold those in power accountable.
Of course, it was the end-of-the-year news conference that the President convened in this room in 2014 that got as much attention as any other because President Obama called on eight journalists, all women.
And finally, everything about this final week makes me think of all the incredible people whom I’ve been blessed to work with these past eight years. I only have this opportunity because Robert Gibbs pulled me aside on Election Night 2008 in Chicago as the returns were coming in to tell me that he wanted me to come work with him at the White House. I’m only here because Jay Carney, Jennifer Palmieri and Dan Pfeiffer supported and encouraged me when I was the deputy, and advocated for me when Jay stepped down.
I’ve also benefitted from a kitchen cabinet of senior White House officials, who’ve got a lot of other important responsibilities that are part of their formal job description, but stepped in to help me out every time I asked for it. And that’s people like Denis McDonough and Susan Rice and Jennifer Psaki, Liz Allen, Jesse Lee, Cody Keenan, and, of course, Ben Rhodes. And I’ve only been able to do this job because I have an incredible team around me.
My assistants over the years, Jeff Tiller, Antoinette Rangel, and now Desiree Barnes all patiently supported a guy who, let’s face it, sometimes isn’t so easy to assist. The White House stenographers — Dominique Dansky Bari, Beck Dorey-Stein, Amy Sands, Mike McCormick, Caitlin Young, and their tireless leader, Peggy Suntum — they work as hard as anybody at the White House and complain about it less than anybody at the White House. (Applause.)
Applause is appropriate at that point. (Applause.) I think the only team that may contend with them might be the research department here at the White House that’s led by Alex Platkin and Kristen Bartoloni. But I hope you’ll get a chance over the course of the next week to thank the stenographers for their important work, because I know they make your lives a lot easier, too.
The same goes for Peter Velz, Brian Gabriel and Sarah Rutherford, who are stretched as thin, and who are at least as effective as any team of press wranglers we’ve ever had here at the White House. My colleagues at the NSC, including Ned Price, Emily Horne, Mark Stroh, Carl Woog, and Dew Tiantawach patiently explained to me things that I didn’t know so that I could, in turn, explain them to you.
My team in lower press — Patrick Rodenbush, Katie Hill and Brandi Hoffine — is as talented and as dedicated as any press team in this town. I begged Brandi to join this team when I first got this job, and her performance has far exceeded the sky-high recommendations I got from people all over town after I interviewed her. They are all — Katie, Brandi and Patrick — as they say, going places.
Eric Schultz is simply the best deputy that anyone in any field could ask for. He shows up early, he stays late. He’s deft — that’s an inside joke. (Laughter.) He’s always prepared. He’s unfailingly loyal. His judgment is sought after throughout the halls of the White House, not just by me, but by various members of the senior staff and I’m sure will be sought after in his bright post-White House future, too. Including by me.
When you’re President of the United States and widely regarded as among the most thoughtful and eloquent speakers on the planet, it must be hard to watch someone go on TV and speak for you. I suspect that’s why, when the President offered me this job, he said he wouldn’t watch my briefings. (Laughter.) But I know that he saw parts of them on those very rare occasions that he watched cable TV. And he never second-guessed me. Not once. He didn’t just give me the opportunity of a lifetime, he had my back every single day. And I’m grateful for it.
But there is one person who contributed to my success more than anyone else, and she doesn’t even work at the White House. My wife, Natalie, was six months pregnant with our first child when I got this job. She was home with the air-conditioning repairman when the President of the United States called me into the Oval Office to offer me the job. When I got back to my desk, I saw that I had several missed calls on my cellphone from her. I quickly called her back. I told her that I was sorry that I missed her calls, but that I had the best possible excuse for missing them.
Since then she has extended to me more support and understanding than I could ever ask for, even as she was becoming the best mom any two-year-old kid could hope for. When I missed the mark up here, she didn’t hesitate to tell me about it. And when I got it right the next day, it was usually because I followed her advice.
So, thank you, sweetheart, for your patience, your loyalty, your counsel, and your love. Without it, I would not be standing here. And I will never be able to make it up to you, but I look forward to spending some more time with you and Walker so I can give it a shot.
Serving as the White House Press Secretary under President Obama has been an incredible honor. I’ve had the opportunity to advocate for his vision of the country, the same vision that deeply resonated with me when I signed up to work for him in Iowa in March 2007.
And while those of us who have been fortunate enough to serve him here will go on to make a difference in new ways, I take heart in knowing that all of you will still be here. I draw confidence in knowing that you are driven by the same spirit that prompted those young kids that I mentioned at the top of my briefing a couple of weeks ago to move to an Iowa town that they’d never heard of to organize support for the Obama campaign.
You have the same determination as the young people who are moving to Washington, D.C. today, with no job, with no contacts and no prospects, who are hoping to work in the Trump administration. You’re motivated in the same way as the career civil servants, like the one as the Department of Education, who’s trying to stretch her agency’s budget to ensure as many Hispanic kids as possible can get a decent education. You have so much in common with these people because each of you and what you do every day is critical to the success of our democracy.
There will be days when you’ll show up to work tired. I know the same was true of those Obama organizers in Iowa. There will be days where you will feel disrespected. And I know many of the young Republican staffers who move to Washington looking for a job will feel that way at times. It’s hard to pound the pavement in this town when you don’t know anybody. There will be days where you will wonder if what you’re doing even makes a difference. And I know that our civil servants sometimes wonder the same thing.
But I assure you, if you — the most talented, experienced, effective press corps in the world — didn’t play your part in our democracy, we would all notice. Your passion for your work and its centrality to the success of our democracy is a uniquely American feature of our government. It’s made President Obama a better President and a better public servant. And it’s because you persevere and you never go easy on us.
So even though it’s my last day, you better not let up now. So in that spirit, let me say for the last time standing up here — Josh, you want to get us started with questions.
Q Sure. Thanks, Josh. Oh! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not interrupting because he was saying nice things about you guys — (laughter) — because I largely concur.
When I first met Josh Earnest, he was in Iowa. I think he was wearing jeans. He looked even younger than he was. And since my entire campaign depended on communications in Iowa, I gave him a pretty good once-over. And there are a couple things I learned about him right away. Number one, he’s just got that all-American, matinee, good-looking thing going. (Laughter.) That’s helpful. Let’s face it — a face made for television. Then the guy’s name is Josh Earnest — (laughter) — which if somebody is speaking on your behalf is a pretty good name to have. (Laughter.)
But what struck me most, in addition to his smarts and his maturity and his actual interest in the issues, was his integrity. There are people you meet who you have a pretty good inkling right off the bat are straight-shooters and were raised to be fundamentally honest and to treat people with respect. And there are times when that first impression turns out to be wrong, and you’re a little disappointed. And you see behind the curtain that there’s spin and some hype and posturing going on. But then there’s others who, the longer you know them, the better you know them, the more time you spend with them, the more you’re tested under tough situations, the more that initial impression is confirmed.
And I have now known this guy for 10 years, almost, and I’ve watched him grow and I’ve watched him advance, and I’ve watched him marry, and I’ve watched him be a father, and I’ve watched him manage younger people coming up behind him. And he’s never disappointed. He has always been the guy you wanted him to be.
And I think that if you’re the President of the United States and you find out that this is the guy who has been voted the most popular Press Secretary ever by the White House Press Corps, that may make you a little nervous, thinking well, maybe the guy’s going — being too solicitous towards the press. But the fact is, is that he was worthy of that admiration.
He was tough, and he didn’t always give you guys everything you wanted. But he was always prepared. He was always courteous. He always tried to make sure he could share with you as much of our thinking and our policy and our vision as possible, and tried to be as responsive as possible. And that’s how he trained the rest of his team to be.
So, of the folks that I’ve had the great joy and pleasure of working with over the last 10 years on this incredible journey, this guy ranks as high as just about anybody I’ve worked with. He is not only a great Press Secretary, but more importantly, he is a really, really good man. And I’m really, really proud of him.
So, Josh, congratulations. (Applause.)
And, Natalie and Walker, thanks for putting up with all of this — because they’ve made sacrifices, too.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you, sir.
Q Before you go, respond to Vladimir Putin?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m going to be here (laughter) —
Q Where are you going on Friday? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Well, that was awfully generous. So the President will be back tomorrow. He’ll be standing here and he’ll be answering your questions. Today you’re going to settle for me.
So, Josh, you want to get us started?
Q Sure. Thanks, Josh, and I want to thank you and your team for your hard work and service in your roles. We’ve all tussled aggressively with you over the last many years, but that was as it should be, and you all have continued to always engage with us and we appreciate that.
Following up on the question that was just asked, have the Obamas decided where they will be heading when they board the Presidential aircraft for the final time on Friday?
MR. EARNEST: Yes. Josh, I can tell you that the First Family is looking forward to flying to Palms Spring, California on Friday. The President vowed to take his family to a destination that is warmer than Washington, D.C. on Friday, and Palm Springs fits the bill. This is a community that the President has visited on a number of occasions as President of the United States. He and his family have enjoyed the time they have spent there in the past and they’re looking forward to traveling there on Friday.
Q And President Putin today was accusing the Obama administration of spreading false information about the President-elect in an attempt to delegitimize his presidency and said that those in this administration who did that were worse than prostitutes. Does the Obama administration have any comment on that?
MR. EARNEST: That’s an interesting metaphor that he chose there. Listen, as I’ve said on a number of occasions, the men and women of the United States intelligence community are patriots. They are experts in their field. They do their work not because of the glory associated with it — because most of the time they have to keep their names secret. They don’t do it for the big pay — because in many situations they could make a whole lot more money in the private sector. They do their important work to keep our country safe because they love this country, and they have served us incredibly well in keeping us safe.
They have served President Obama enormously well. And this is not the first time that the intelligence community has had some uncomfortable things to say about Russia. These are the kinds of the things that I’m sure the Russians would rather not hear. But ultimately — and this is something that the next administration is going to have to decide — there’s a pretty stark divide here.
On one side, you’ve got the men and women of the United States intelligence community. You’ve got Democrats in Congress — you’ve got Republicans in Congress — who are concerned, deeply, about the way that the Russian apparatus sought to call into question the legitimacy and stability of our democracy. On the other side, you’ve got Wikileaks and the Russians. And the incoming administration is going to have to decide which side they’re going to come down on. And it will be among the very interesting things that all of you will be closely watching in the next week.
Q I was wondering as you were reflecting over the last eight years whether you can identify the greatest achievement that you felt you were able to accomplish, and also the biggest regret that you have as you’re leaving this part of your life.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think there are two things that come to mind. The first is that, over the course of the eight years that I’ve worked here in the White House, the President’s communication team walked in this building at a time of dramatic change in the media environment, in the news business, thanks largely to advancements in technology, and updating and modernizing and capitalizing on those new opportunities was an important part of President Obama’s success in the White House.
I cite this example because I think it’s a good one as you all consider the relationship that you’re going to build with the incoming administration. It’s a good example because some of the things that we’ve heard from the incoming administration has raised some concerns, at least based on what I’ve read publically.
Some of the things that we tried to do — capitalizing on new technology, breaking news on Twitter, having the President film videos that we released on Facebook, having the President engage in conversations that were released to the public with people who aren’t journalists but people who have a strong following nonetheless, whether that’s somebody like Marc Maron or any of the YouTube personalities that President Obama has an opportunity to visit with. Bear Grylls would fit in this category — all of that was disconcerting to people in this room and was the source of some friction between our operations. But those changes were beneficial to the American people, and to this President, and to this White House. Because in a changing environment, we need to capitalize on every available opportunity to make sure that the President’s voice and his message is heard, and those were good opportunities to do that.
So my hope is that, as you all navigate this new relationship, that you’ll protect the things that are worth protecting — protecting this daily briefing, and the regular exchange that senior officials have at the White House with all of you to answer tough questions, to be held accountable, to respond for calls for greater transparency.
It’s uncomfortable to be in a position of authority, certainly a position of responsibility, and to be subjected to those kinds of questions. That’s true even when you’re doing the right thing for the right reasons. But it’s a necessary part of our democracy. And so my hope is that the essence of this relationship between the White House Press Corps and the White House Press Office will be preserved and it will be maintained for future generations to benefit from.
But there also was a good reason not just to — there’s also a good reason to not just raise objections because proposed changes depart from the way we’ve been doing things for a long time. The fact that we’ve been doing something the same way for a long time is not, in and of itself, a good reason to keep doing things the same way.
So this is going to require a lot of hard work, probably going to require building some trust. But I’m optimistic that the White House Press Corps and the White House Press Office can continue to adapt to the modern environment even as some of the basics and this important principle continues to be protected. And I feel like we’ve navigated that pretty well, and that certainly was an important part of my responsibilities here, both in my first five and half years as the Deputy White House Press Secretary and certainly in the last two-and-a-half as the Press Secretary.
And with regard to things that I could have done better, you can probably point to an exchange in every briefing transcript and find a place where I could have said it more cleanly or more effectively or more clearly, so I’m sure there are many of them.
The one example that always comes to mind when I’m asked about this is in early September, the first week in September of 2015, we were in the midst of negotiating — or working with Congress to protect the Iran deal. You’ll recall that there was an opportunity for Congress to vote to pass a resolution of disapproval of the agreement, and we were working hard to build a veto-proof minority in Congress to protect the President’s veto of that resolution of disapproval. And quickly, our attention turned to actually building a substantial support in the Senate to allow that agreement to survive a filibuster.
And I inadvertently announced Senator Warner’s support for the Iran deal before he has announced it. So our leg staff wasn’t too happy with me. Senator Warner wasn’t too happy with me. But when I called Senator Warner shortly after the briefing to apologize, I explained to him that it was an honest mistake, and I avoided, with one exception, doing briefings after a red-eye flight, which I suspect contributed to that error back in September of 2015.
But the one thing that I do feel good about, and the thing that I’m proud of, and this is a lot — a lot of credit goes to some of the people that I mentioned at the beginning — I always felt well-prepared when I was standing up here, and I always felt prepared to tell the truth and to give you as clear a sense as possible the President’s thinking on a particular issue. And in some ways, that’s the most important mandate of the person that’s standing up here. And I’m proud of the way that we fulfilled that.
Q Thanks, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you.
Q Josh, first of all, on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association, we want to thank you for your commitment to regular briefings with us. We haven’t always agreed on everything, and there has always been some tension, which is normal between a White House and the press corps that covers it, but we are grateful to you and your team for working with the Correspondents Association and for your commitment to dealing with us on a daily basis. So, thank you.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you.
Q That hat off, I would ask you a question today about Iran.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q The Iranian President said today that President-elect Trump cannot unilaterally cancel the nuclear deal and has said it was meaningless what the President-elect has said about that. Has the Obama administration offered any assurances to the Iranian government about that? And, logistically, is it true, or is it not true, that President-elect Trump could, in fact, nullify the deal?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are not any — you’ve heard the President say this on a number of occasions — there are not any assurances that this administration has made to foreign leaders about what the incoming administration would do. The incoming President will determine what he believes is the best course for the country, and he’ll make that decision accordingly.
With regard to the international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, this is not just an agreement between the United States and Iran. This is an agreement between Iran and some of our closest allies, and some countries with whom we don’t regularly get along on every issue but serve on the United Nations Security Council, and all of those other countries are committed to this agreement because it does prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
You’ll recall that this was one of the foremost foreign policy challenges facing this President when he took office. The world was deeply concerned about the rapid progress that Iran was making toward building a nuclear bomb. And that progress was halted and rolled back because of the tough, principled diplomacy that we initiated and implemented over years to reach this point.
And, in fact, just yesterday, the General Director of the IAEA, Mr. Amano, issued a statement, and I’m just going to read a couple sentences. “Iran has removed excess centrifuges and infrastructure from the Fordow fuel enrichment plant, in line with its nuclear-related commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” That’s the international agreement.
The JCPOA required Iran, within one year from implementation day, to complete the removal of all excess centrifuges and infrastructure from the Fordow fuel enrichment plant and to transfer them to storage at the Natanz fuel enrichment plant, under continuous Agency monitoring. That’s a remarkable step. You will recall the dramatic moment in September of 2009 when President Obama, with other world leaders, announced to the world this secret nuclear facility that Iran had constructed and was using to advance toward a nuclear weapon.
So this is an agreement that’s worked. It’s an agreement that’s going to require conscientious implementation; it’s going to require continued diplomacy. We’re going to need to work with the rest of the international community to make sure that Iran is adhering to the commitments that they’ve made. But after doing that for a year, we’ve gotten proof of concept. This has worked.
And as the incoming President considers the best path forward, we’re hopeful, and even optimistic, that he’ll consider the success of the last year as he designs a policy for the years ahead.
Q The President has made a slew of appointments this week in his last few days in office to places like the Kennedy Center Honors — the Kennedy Center Board, and others. Why is this happening now? And do you have any ethical concerns about doing this sort of on the way out?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t. I think the list of people that the President has put forward for these important positions speaks for themselves. These are outstanding members of the community, some of whom have served this President and this White House, and have done so with extraordinary distinction. And these are new and different ways for them to serve that appeal to their own personal interests. So I think this is — I know this is entirely consistent with what previous Presidents have done. This is entirely consistent with the executive authority that’s vested in the White House. And President Obama is executing that authority consistent with the best interests of the American people.
Q Lastly, do you have any reaction to British Prime Minister May’s announcement today that Britain will exit the single market when it leaves the European Union?
MR. EARNEST: Jeff, what we’ve been saying from the beginning is that the United States was going to be encouraging both the leaders of the EU and the leaders in the UK to work effectively together to design a relationship among these critically important American allies. And we’ve urged them to engage in that process in a way that is as transparent as possible to prevent any sort of economic disruptions from misunderstandings or from surprises. And both sides have worked to do that.
But ultimately, it’s going to be up to them to design a relationship that is supported by their constituents. That certainly is going to make these kinds of conversations more complicated. But this reflects the will of the people as the British people voted in a referendum last summer. And there’s a lot of hard work that their elected representatives need to do to design a relationship with the EU that serves them best. And it’s firmly in the interest of the United States for them to do that effectively, and we certainly have supported them as they’ve done that over the last several months, and I anticipate the incoming administration will do the same.
Q Thanks, Josh. Just two for you. Piggybacking on Jeff’s question, one of the posts you guys announced is an ambassadorial nominee to the Republic of Congo. I can’t imagine you think that is going to get confirmed. What’s the rationale behind that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Olivier, I think it’s a couple of things. The first is, you never know. Second is — so you’re saying there’s a chance? (Laughter.) That’s a fun movie. I probably should have spent more time quoting from “Dumb and Dumber.” (Laughter.) I guess that would have been a regret of my two-and-a-half-year tenure here.
I think the other thing, in some cases, this is also sending a clear signal to Congress about who are people who are qualified for these jobs. And so this can send a clear signal both in terms of their career trajectory, even if they’re not confirmed for these positions, but that the President has got a lot of confidence in their ability to handle significant responsibilities. And so even if they are not confirmed for the position that they’ve been nominated for, there may be future opportunities in a similar area where they could continue to serve the United States.
But we’ve obviously talked a lot about how there are many deserving, worthy, talented Americans who have been put forward by this administration and who have been treated in breathtakingly unfair ways by Republicans in Congress. And that is a source of deep disappointment that we continue to feel even in our last days in office here.
Q And the second one — on this President’s watch, North Korea has moved ahead with its missile program and its nuclear program. Does that weigh on the President’s mind? Has he discussed it with the President-elect?
MR. EARNEST: I have refrained from getting into the content of the conversations between the two men. What I can say is I know that the President’s National Security Council and his national security team has been engaged with the incoming President’s team on a range of issues, including on North Korea. So I am confident that this challenge is on the radar screen of the incoming President and his team.
With regard to President Obama’s work in this area, we have not made as much progress as we would have liked in halting North Korea’s nuclear activities that are in violation of a range of international agreements. What we have succeeded in doing, however, is building a rock-solid international consensus, including with countries like Russia and China, about the need to apply further pressure to North Korea to refrain from those kinds of destabilizing, provocative actions. And that’s an important step and will serve the incoming administration well as they work on this challenge.
What President Obama has also done is work closely with the civilian and uniformed leadership at the Department of Defense to ensure that our defense posture in the Asia Pacific is able to protect the American people from this threat. So that has involved the deployment of additional ships with anti-ballistic missile capabilities. It has involved the construction of sensitive and sophisticated radar that can be used in conjunction with those systems to protect the American people. And we’ve worked closely with allies like Japan and South Korea to construct those defenses.
So the American people, because of the decisions that have been made by the Commander-in-Chief, are safe from North Korea’s current capabilities. But we continue to be concerned about their actions, and we’re going to need to work effectively with the international community to address that situation.
Q Josh, thanks for your efforts these last few years, first of all —
MR. EARNEST: Thank you.
Q This is sort of a history question. When historians look at Presidents, they often cite, well, they did X, Y and Z. But it’s also fair to look at perhaps mistakes, quagmires that Presidents avoided getting into. What did the President sort of avoid, in your judgment, that might have done a lot of harm?
MR. EARNEST: Look, well, certainly, as you know, with regard to our efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, the President has been mindful of the recent lessons of U.S. military entanglements in the Middle East. And the President does not believe that our interests were advanced by the strategy that was employed by the previous administration, and, in fact, he ran for this job in part on his opposition to some of the strategies that had been put in place before.
And the President does believe that the strategy that we’ve put in place against ISIL is working. We’ve made important progress in rolling back more than half the territory that ISIL previously controlled in Iraq. We’ve rolled back a substantial quantity of territory that they previously controlled in Syria. And we did that without a large-scale offensive ground combat operation involving American troops on the ground.
What we have done is we have — the President has dispatched a much smaller number of U.S. forces, some of whom are in a very — working in a very dangerous situation, to offer advice and assistance to local forces and regional forces that are fighting for their own region, and fighting for their own country.
And that is a strategy that the President believes is much more likely to lead to long-term success. It’s going to build the capacity of these local forces to police their own country and secure their own country.
Those forces are, of course, augmented by U.S. forces with a range of capabilities — whether that’s U.S. military pilots who can take strikes on ISIL targets or other extremist targets in that region of the world. There are U.S. forces with remarkable capabilities that can carry out raids against high-value targets and can capitalize on troves of intelligence that they may be able to acquire. And it also involves U.S. trainers who are building up the capacity of those forces — other forces, local forces — and then supporting them, advising them, and assisting them on the battlefield.
So that’s the strategy that President Obama has put in place. He believes that has served the country well, both because of how it has been effective in taking the fight to ISIL, and because of the likely long-term success that the President believes that we are on track to enjoy. And all that was done without the kind of large-scale ground combat operation that characterized previous entanglements in the Middle East.
Q So the footnotes answer is you avoid a foreign quagmire, is what you’re saying.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I think that’s true — even as we engage in a robust defense of the American people. That’s what has to come first. And, in fact, the President believes that our national security does benefit from a strategy that avoids quagmires, but does apply intense pressure to those extremist organizations that would do us harm. That’s the crux of the strategy, and it’s worked.
Q The second question is, if you look at, say, Gallup polling for every President from Truman up to your boss, he is leaving with actually the fourth highest approval of all of them. John F. Kennedy is exempted. Clinton, then Reagan, then Eisenhower with 59 — and then your boss. And he’s ahead of everybody else. How does that — does that strike you as about — how do you react to that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, that obviously I think is — I know that President Obama is proud of that and I think it is an indication of — certainly of the success that we’ve had in just the last couple of years.
Q I mean, his critics say, well, he doesn’t deserve that. Others say — you know how it is. People say it’s —
MR. EARNEST: Look, there will be people on both sides who will do their own analysis of the polls. Look, it’s not just the Gallup Poll that indicates the uniquely high standing that’s enjoyed by the President right now. So we’re obviously proud of that. I do think it’s a testament to a lot of work that we’ve done here over the last 12 to 18 months. But it’s also a reflection of the kind of early investments that President Obama made in the first couple of years of his presidency that have taken root and are now flowering — at the risk of torturing that analogy.
There are remarkable benefits that — just one example. President Obama, in his first couple of months in office, made a politically unpopular decision to rescue the American auto industry. That was a decision — a policy decision that did not poll well in the state of Michigan, a state that had more to benefit from that rescue than any other state in the country when it comes to their economy. But since the President made that important decision, the manufacturing sector has created 800,000 jobs. And the American auto industry is manufacturing and selling as many cars as they ever have.
So that’s I think a good example of how a tough decision that the President made early on was not one that was going to show immediate benefits, butb looking back, eight years later, it was clearly the right decision. And the fact that it wasn’t politically popular at the time, I think only gives people more confidence that the President was making the right decisions for the right reasons.
Q Josh, we’ve heard one member of Congress call Donald Trump not a legitimate President. Now the number of Democrats who aren’t attending the inauguration is up over 40, and they’re sort of framing this as a boycott. What do you think of those words and actions? And is this just contributing to the division right now?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t think it’s contributing to the division, but I do think it’s a reflection of the division in the country right now.
To be clear about the President’s point of view, since the day after the election, some eight hours after the final results were called, President Obama spoke in the Rose Garden and he spoke forcefully, with conviction, about the determination that he and his team would show in trying to facilitate a smooth and effective transition with the incoming team. And we’ve lived up to that promise that the President made on November 9th. And in many ways, I think actions speak louder than words, particularly with regard to the way this administration has worked closely with the incoming administration to ensure — or at least give them the best opportunity at a running start.
But all of that was rooted in the institutional responsibilities that the President and his team have to serve the American people, is to make sure that the person that they’ve elected President of the United States has an opportunity to succeed and hit the ground running. And we have been challenged to do that in spite of our in some cases profound concerns with some of the rhetoric and policy positions that are being articulated by the other side.
So I think most of this, Michelle, is just a function of the different roles. Members of Congress have a different responsibility. They are freer to express their opinion in a way that they chose. They don’t have the same kind of institutional responsibility that the administration has. And I’m proud of the fact that we’ve fulfilled it.
Q You’re saying that the administration would say similar things and do similar things if they could?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t speculate on what people around here would say. I think I’m just pointing to what we have done. And that’s a reflection of keeping the President’s promise.
Q You’ve spoken a lot about the efforts, like the strong efforts that the administration has put out for this smooth transition. So do you think that these — do you think it’s important what these — some of these Democrats are saying and doing? Do you think it’s important for that to be said at this point? Or do you think that what they’re doing is just sort of harming the smooth transition?
MR. EARNEST: Look, I don’t think that what they’re doing is harming the smooth transition, primarily because when we’re talking about a smooth transition, we’re talking about making sure that the incoming administration is aware of what we’ve been doing over the last eight years and of the looming decisions that they’ll have to make when they enter office. We want to make sure that they can benefit from all of the lessons that we’ve learned over the last eight years about building and running an effective team that’s in charge of the federal government.
Those are the kinds of things that are critical to a smooth and effective transition, and I don’t think that there’s anything that members of Congress have said that’s going to derail that effort.
Q Okay. And there’s been plenty that has been said about certain posts that will possibly be open for a long time, certain structures just not seeming ready at all. I mean, we hear things on our end about concerns within the administration as to the next administration’s readiness. So you’ve had a unique look at that smooth transition that you mentioned. Do you think that there’s readiness there? I mean, do you feel confident that the next administration is ready to pick up the reins?
MR. EARNEST: I certainly am not in a position to be able to assess across the board what the level of readiness is of the incoming team. I’ll let them describe what efforts they have taken to ensure that they’re ready to assume this awesome responsibility. And we certainly have tried to be there at every turn as they’re making those decisions to support them and to give them the best possible information so that they can make the best possible decision. But when it comes to assessing where things stand, I’ll leave that to the incoming team.
Q And do you feel like this is the last briefing of this kind that we might see for a very long time?
MR. EARNEST: I hope not, but I don’t know. I’ll let the incoming team speak to that.
Q The President-elect said on Friday that U.S. companies can’t compete because our currency was too strong and that that was “killing us.” I’m wondering if that’s a concern that the White House shares.
MR. EARNEST: Well, we have, over the last eight years, abided by the longstanding tradition of allowing the United States Secretary of the Treasury to speak about the value of the dollar. Of course, those policy decisions when it relates to currency are made by the Federal Reserve, so that’s not something I’ve spoken on at great length here.
I did happen to see the President-elect’s comments. I believe there is one factual point that is worth referencing, which is that we have seen with regard to China’s currency that it is appreciating in value over the last 18 months. That’s just a fact. With regard to what sort of policy they’ve implemented to do that or what their aim may be, I’d refer you to the Chinese. I wouldn’t speculate on that. But just as a factual matter, the Chinese currency has appreciated over the last year to 18 months.
Q Are you concerned that an aide to the President-elect reportedly was in discussions about joint investments — (inaudible)
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven’t seen those specific reports. I think what I can say is that given the intelligence community’s conclusion about the efforts of the Russians to intervene in our democracy, questions about the ties between senior government officials and the Russian government are worthy of careful examination.
And that will obviously be the responsibility of Congress, and it may end up being the responsibility of some law enforcement officials if they choose to initiate those kinds of investigations. If they choose to do that, that would be a decision that they would make entirely on their own based on their own discretion and not something that this administration would try to influence even in our last few days here.
But there are structures in place where people have the authority that they need to conduct those kinds of investigations. And with regard to Congress, they’ll face a decision about whether or not they choose to exercise that authority. And with regard to law enforcement officials, they’ll have to decide on their own if this is worthy of an inquiry.
Q Last one. Your friend, Senator Schumer — (laughter) — suggested —
MR. EARNEST: I’m really hoping that he accepted that opening in the spirit in which it was offered. We’ll see, I guess. (Laughter.)
Q — suggested today that Representative Price might have broken the law on this stock transaction of a medical device — and he later introduced legislation that could have governed. Acknowledging what you said before that the President-elect should have some flexibility to pick his own team, do you find this report to be disqualifying for the President-elect’s choice as head of HHS?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think this report is indicative of a couple of things. The first is, given the incoming administration’s priority that is placed on draining the swamp, I think they have the unique obligation to explain exactly what happened. Because the facts of the report don’t appear to be that complicated — you have a member of Congress buying a stock in a company, and within a week sponsoring legislation that would benefit that company and its stock price, only to see the introduction of that legislation followed shortly thereafter by a political donation from that company to the campaign account of the member of Congress in question.
So this doesn’t seem like a complicated scheme. It seems like exactly the kind of financial entanglement that’s left a lot of people feeling alienated from Washington, D.C., that’s left a lot of people questioning the motives of members of Congress. Was he sponsoring that legislation because of his own personal motive — personal financial interest? Was he sponsoring that legislation because he knew it was likely to lead to a political contribution? Or was he sponsoring that bill because he thought it was good policy? It’s hard to know. It’s an open question.
So this is why Congress has a responsibility to offer advice and consent for the President’s Cabinet nominations. And I suspect this is going to be an issue that’s going to receive careful scrutiny — hopefully not just on the part of Democrats, but also on the part of Republicans who are interested in making sure that the incoming President’s Cabinet nominees are looking to do the job for the right reasons.
Q So are you suggesting he may have broken the law?
MR. EARNEST: I’m saying that I don’t know whether or not
— I certainly can’t make a statement that definitive. If law enforcement officials choose to investigate the situation, that’s something that they will do based on their own knowledge of the law and based on their own discretion. I think I’m just commenting on the fact that reports do raise a lot of questions. And again, this isn’t some sort of complicated financial scheme. We don’t need to have Michael Lewis explain it to us in a 300-page book. This one seems pretty concerning just based on a couple paragraphs of a news report from CNN.
Q Okay. I’ve got a couple questions. First, I just want to say thank you, Josh, for being accessible during your time here as Press Secretary and Deputy Press Secretary, and thank you for working as hard as you have to answer our questions, including, but not exclusively, those questions that you didn’t like. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: There were more than a few of those. (Laughter.) Thank you for your kind words, Jon. I appreciate it.
Q Back to the question Josh asked about Vladimir Putin, putting aside the intelligence community. Putin made a specific allegation, pretty explosive one, coming from another global leader. He’s accusing the Obama administration of trying to delegitimize the incoming Trump administration. What’s your response to Vladimir Putin?
MR. EARNEST: First of all, it sounds like he got his copy of the talking points. Second —
Q From whom?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t know. But it certainly sounds a lot like what the incoming administration’s team is saying. But it is not the first time that the Russian President has called into question the veracity of the United States government. Right?
This is a Russian government that recently said that they were focused entirely on ISIL inside of Syria, and raising questions about what the United States and our allies were doing to fight those extremists. That wasn’t true. In fact, what we know is that the one place that Russia can point to where they’ve made progress against ISIL is in Palmyra; ISIL has since taken it back and is now using some of the equipment that the Syrian regime, with the support of the Russians, moved to Palmyra. And that’s going to put the United States and our coalition partners who are going after ISIL at even greater risk.
So it’s not the first time that the President of Russia has said things about the U.S. government that just don’t withstand any scrutiny.
Q So it’s not true?
MR. EARNEST: Of course, it’s not true. And the suggestion — the reason that I answered Josh’s question the way that I did was that the suggestion all along — and this is a suggestion that was repeated just yesterday by the President-elect — was raising doubts about the integrity and intentions of the men and women of the intelligence community. And that is deeply misguided, as I’ve said before.
And particularly to call into question the integrity of somebody like John Brennan, somebody who has served at the CIA for three decades, somebody who served this country in dangerous locations around the world to try to keep us safe — I’m offended by it.
Q Josh, on the question of the next administration and its communication strategy, looking back, was there ever any consideration by anybody in this White House of shutting this briefing room down, of taking reporters and moving them out of the West Wing?
MR. EARNEST: No, there was not.
Q What would it say, symbolically and practically — what message would it send to the country if this briefing room, if this workspace were shut down and reporters were banished to another part of the White House grounds?
MR. EARNEST: I lead this in my long comments at the beginning about how the United States has a rather unique arrangement between our government and the independent media. The fact that all of you represent independent news organizations and have regular access to the White House, have regular access to workspace where you can do your job, have a venue where you can enter the room — the Briefing Room — at almost any hour, and can hold people in power accountable is really important.
You also have access to senior White House officials right through that door. Right up the ramp outside that door, you can come into my office at a moment’s notice to ask question and demand answers and demand transparency. And as I mentioned earlier, sometimes that’s a little inconvenient; sometimes it’s uncomfortable; sometimes it’s frustrating because you’re dissatisfied with the answer that was given, but it’s necessary for the success of our democracy.
And I think there are some people who might say, Jon, that, well, this is — it’s just symbolic that you have the White House Press Corps in the White House. And I would say it’s a really important symbol. It’s more than just symbolism. But even taking that argument at face value, there is something symbolically important about all of you gathering here every single day to hold people in power accountable, to demand answers, to demand transparency, to demand facts. And your ability to do that is going to be affected if you don’t have regular access to the White House, if you’re not able to do your job from the White House, and if there’s not a natural, readily available venue for you to hold senior officials accountable.
So this is, again, a relationship that President Obama believed was important to invest in. He made this a priority, and it doesn’t mean because he liked all your coverage.
Q He could have had more press conferences —
MR. EARNEST: He probably could have. And again, I think this is exactly a good illustration — you should be asking for more, and you should say that we appreciate President Obama’s investment, but there is more that he could have done. That’s the nature of this relationship. And it means that you’re doing your job, but it also means the President of the United States is doing his job. And I don’t know if the incoming administration is going to see it that way, but I hope they do.
Q Josh, one of your, I guess, mentees — mentors, Mike McCurry said the press had a friendly, adversarial relationship with the White House. And with that, understanding your very interesting position between the press and the President, have you taken any kind of advocacy role positives about what you just said to Sean Spicer, the incoming press secretary, or has anyone in this administration talked to the incoming administration about exactly what you just said?
MR. EARNEST: What I can tell you is, as you know, my colleague, Jen Psaki and I had an opportunity to visit with Mr. Spicer in what will soon be his new office a couple of weeks ago. And we had a nice conversation. And we talked about everything from the rather peculiar logistics of getting things done around the White House, but also the work to prepare for the briefing and to ensure that government agencies are coordinated in their messaging efforts with the White House. It was a good conversation. But one of the pieces of advice that I had for him was to engage with the White House Correspondents Association.
I remember vividly when we started here. I was the deputy press secretary during President Obama’s earliest days in office. And we worked very closely at the time with Jennifer Loven, who was an AP correspondent and then was president of the White House’s Correspondents Association. And she did an excellent job of helping to educate us about what your expectations were and she helped us avoid inadvertent conflicts. There are certainly situations where we might be tempted to do something that we didn’t think was that big of a deal that you all would view with deep suspicion as an effort to make your job harder.
And so what I encouraged Sean to do is to engage with the gentlemen that all of you have elected to represent you as the President of the White House Correspondents Association. So Jeff is somebody who knows this place well, and Jeff is somebody who can be an honest broker. And so he’s got a — Jeff and I actually had this conversation before the election about how valuable our relationship with Jennifer Loven was in 2009, and how his relationship with the incoming administration — whether it was the Clinton administration or the Trump administration — was going to be critically important.
And, look, Jeff knows his stuff and he’s got exactly the right temperament for managing these kinds of things. And I do think that if Jeff, as your elected representative, and Sean, as the person designated as the top spokesperson in the government by the President-elect, can work effectively together, that I think a lot of the concerns that have been expressed in the last couple of weeks can certainly be managed.
And it doesn’t mean that everything he does is going to be satisfying to you; it shouldn’t be that way. But I am optimistic that because of Sean’s genuine desire to represent his boss well and Jeff’s leadership in representing all of your interests, that these difficult things can get worked out.
Q Did you specifically say we should stay in this building, stay here?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not going to get into a detailed readout of our conversation. So I’m going to defer to him and let him announce what they choose to do.
Q I have a couple of other questions really fast. Being here all these years and being with the President since Iowa, meeting him since Iowa, what is the biggest takeaway as people are trying to rewrite his history now and trying to look at his legacy when you’re supposed to look, like, 10 years out? What’s the biggest takeaway that we should know about this administration, and particularly this President?
MR. EARNEST: I alluded to this at the top, too. In 2007, when I first heard President Obama speak as a candidate for President of the United States, I actually wasn’t working for him. I moved to Iowa in December of 2006 to work on Tom Vilsack’s presidential campaign. And so I joined President Obama’s team, then-Senator Obama’s team, only a month or so after Governor Vilsack dropped out of the race.
And the reason that I was drawn to Senator Obama’s campaign was simply that he was giving voice to a vision of the country that deeply resonated with me. He was articulating a vision for America that was inclusive, where everybody got a fair shot and a fair shake, and where we tried to transcend a politics that seemed too small, that it was not well-equipped to take on the difficult challenges that our country faced. And he was willing to articulate that vision and those set of values, and defend them forcefully.
There was a sense among many Democrats, particularly throughout much of the Bush administration, that Democrats were a little on the back foot in trying to make our argument. And to see this young and young-looking man, a newcomer on the scene, step up to the stage and almost defiantly articulate a vision of the country where everybody has got a shot, regardless of what you look like or where you come from, that there’s a whole lot more that unites us than drives us apart in this country because of our commitment to some of the basic founding principles of our country — that resonated with me.
And so to answer your question, my takeaway is that for all that we’ve been through, for all that we’ve seen over the last decade, President Obama is as optimistic about the country and as committed to that vision as he has ever been. And he is as resolute in advocating for and defending those values as he’s ever been. And I find that genuinely inspiring, at the risk of laying it on a little thick. I genuinely do.
On those days when I thought it was — when I was tired, knowing that I was going to have to get up early in the morning and prepare to come and speak to all of you, I drew a lot of inspiration from knowing what a unique opportunity it was for me to have the opportunity to stand up here and to give voice to those values that I deeply believe in, and to know that my boss would support me in making that argument forcefully, without reservation, with deep conviction.
It’s been an honor to do that. But mostly I admire and respect the President’s fidelity to those values even through all the twists and turns of the last 10 years.
Q And lastly, you talk about laying it on thick. I guess I want to say thank you for making sure that issues that were not necessarily the mainstream issues — urban America, LGBT community, all sorts of communities out there that were not necessarily at the top of the fold or on the A block of the news — for making sure we have answers for that. How important is that for this White House to make sure those issues were addressed as well as the overarching issues of the day from the first two rows?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is actually a principle that the incoming administration has given some voice to — that I know that Mr. Spicer has indicated a desire to be as inclusive as possible and to give as many different kinds of journalists and outlets and commentators the opportunity to participate in this session. I think that’s a really good thing. That’s exactly what we have done. There’s never been a time that we’ve turned anybody away from participating in this briefing. People who show up here on a regular basis with their hand in the air, regardless of which row they sit in — they get called on. Not every day — (laughter.) In part because it’s not unusual for me to get complaints about the length of the briefing. But it’s fair to say that people who show up here regularly get called on regularly.
That’s a good thing. And if that’s something that Mr. Spicer is committed to, and he wants to bring even more people into that process, people from the left and the right, we’ve certainly succeeded in doing that, and I hope he does, too.
Q Thank you. A couple questions about Friday. So I know a few of the — several — three former Presidents are going to be in town, and Secretary Clinton, obviously. Is there any opportunity for the President to visit with the former Presidents there or at the Capitol or at the White House, or does that not happen?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any sort of formal get-together that the President will have with the former Presidents. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an opportunity when they’re at the Capitol for the President to see them, but it would just be pretty informal. And we’ll do our best to keep you posted about how that shakes out.
Q — in my colleague’s profile of you, which came out today, that your last day is actually Thursday. Does that mean most staff — I know some people, it’s staggered that people are leaving, but does most of the staff leave on Thursday if they don’t — aren’t involved in the actual —
MR. EARNEST: Yes. The vast majority of the White House staff will have their last day here at the White House on Thursday. There is a small number of people that will continue to work through noon on Friday for the actual transition.
But it’s a pretty remarkable exercise that we’re undergoing here at the White House, and I give a lot of credit to my colleagues at the GSA and other people who are responsible for ensuring that I have an opportunity to work from my desk until 4 or 5 o’clock at night in the evening on Thursday, and they’re going to have that office up and running and prepared for Sean to sit down behind that desk at noon the next day. So that’s no small undertaking, but it certainly requires that many of us get out of the way on Thursday afternoon so they can do their important work.
Q You mentioned the President was going to California after the inauguration — or the family is going. When they return — so they fly aboard the presidential aircraft, which we don’t call Air Force One then. Does it wait for them, or are they on their own after that — they can take commercial back?
MR. EARNEST: They’re on their own after that. I don’t know what their travel plans are, but that will be the President’s final trip aboard the presidential aircraft, so it will be to —
Q Do you know how long they’re going to be there?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any details about their time in Palm Springs and I don’t anticipate that that will be released.
Q Josh, you said you didn’t think that boycotting the inauguration was really going to harm the peaceful transition, but is the President actively discouraging Democrats from boycotting, or would he discourage Democrats from boycotting the inauguration?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware that he has had a conversation discouraging people from participating in the inauguration. And I’m not sure what he would say if he was asked if he would encourage people to do that. Maybe you’ll get a chance to ask him that tomorrow.
Q On two things actually, related to Russia. Ambassador Power gave a speech today talking about U.S.-Russia. She repeatedly used the phrase, “a willingness to lie” on behalf of Russia and that it’s actually a strategic deny-and-lie strategy they have. Does President Obama feel that Vladimir Putin consistently lied to him? I mean, is that how the President would characterize his relationship?
MR. EARNEST: I think what Ambassador Power is making reference to are the public pronouncements that we’ve seen from the Russian government that routinely fly in the face of the facts on the ground. I laid out the example to John with the situation in Syrian. The example of Russian activity in Ukraine also applies. Russia has steadfastly denied the presence of Russians in Ukraine who are actively working with separatists to try to undermine the central government in Ukraine.
So this is a tactic that we have seen form the Russians with regard to their public communications. When the President has discussed his personal communications with Vladimir Putin, the President has indicated that President Putin is pretty blunt and businesslike. And I think there’s only one time that I participated in one of those meetings and that was my observation as well.
Q You agree he was blunt?
MR. EARNEST: I would. I would.
Q But you would not say that he feels that in those conversations Putin has ever lied?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I don’t think I can account for all of the conversations between President Obama and President Putin. I would just say that President Obama has often said that public perception about his behind-the-scenes interactions with President Putin aren’t usually correct, that they do have pretty businesslike interactions and President Putin is pretty blunt in those conversations.
And what Ambassador Power was obviously referring were some of the public communications that we’ve seen from the Russians to say things about their activities that just aren’t true.
Q There have been reports last week about the Israelis, this week about British intelligence, suggesting that their conversations with the CIA asking for reassurance that known assets in Russia would not be shared by the incoming administration with Moscow. In other words, asking the U.S. to keep its secrets secret. Is that something that the White House has been aware of? Are those reports in any way accurate? And is that kind of request appropriate?
MR. EARNEST: I can’t speak to any of the conversations that our intelligence community has had with some of our closest allies. I’ll let them describe those conversations.
The United States has worked hard to deepen our cooperation with the United Kingdom and the rest of our NATO allies for that matter, certainly as it relates to intelligence gathering. Our ability to collect that intelligence and share it widely among our partners does make our alliance stronger. And it makes our collective defense more effective. But I can’t speak to any specific instructions or requests that the British intelligence services may have made to American intelligence services.
Q And lastly, you said you wouldn’t characterize the readiness of the incoming administration. Secretary Kerry did publicly suggest that he was — the contact had been minimal with at least the incoming Secretary of State, should he be confirmed. Would you say that the incoming administration has taken up the Obama administration in all of its offering to fully brief and fully read in the nominees?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Margaret, I think the thing that was evident to all of you in the earliest days of the transition is that the Trump administration had a pretty steep hill to climb with regard to their learning curve. Is some of that related to the fact that they weren’t anticipating winning the election? Probably. But I think what we have seen over that time is conscientious, painstaking work on the part of the incoming administration to try to get up to speed. And there has been substantial improvement in those efforts since the days immediately following the election.
I obviously can’t speak to all of the conversations across the federal government. But it’s certainly fair for you to conclude that the capacity and capability of the incoming team has improved markedly since the first days after the election.
Q Thanks, Josh, for the final time. I wanted to ask you about a report in The Washington Post yesterday that said the President plans to make several hundred commutations before his final day. Can you confirm that’s the plan?
MR. EARNEST: I saw that report. I don’t have any news to announce from here with regard to any commutations. But if there are any clemency requests that are granted, we’ll make sure you’re among the first to hear about them.
Q Yet last week you made an interesting argument about the differences between Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Can you at this point rule out that the President will give a pardon to Edward Snowden?
MR. EARNEST: I can’t rule anything in or out. I think the one thing that the Department of Justice has said — I’m looking at Brandi, and she’s giving me the poker face. (Laughter.) I believe what the Department of Justice has said is that — there you go. What they have said and what Brandi has told me is that — (laughter) — Mr. Snowden has not filed paperwork to seek clemency from the administration. But I don’t have any specific comments about whether or not that would impact any sort of presidential-level decision.
Q Thanks, Josh. On the note of pardons, the administration has been very proud of its ethical record. And as we’ve seen in the past, some of these last-minute pardons can kind of trip some people up. And so will — the clemency initiative, there’s sort of a structure for those. But with the pardons, will the President issue all his pardons at a point where we’re still able to ask for an explanation about them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I would say is simply that we’re aware of the history that you’ve alluded to. The President has been judicious about using this authority in a way that he believes is consistent with American interests and the pursuit of justice. And if we feel it is ever necessary for us to make that case, we’ll want to make sure that we have ample opportunity to make it.
I think I’ll leave it there.
Q And can you just offer any more details about the President’s last day, his last hours in office? Will he still get the presidential daily briefing? Can you tell us who specifically is actually going to be showing up here on the 20th?
MR. EARNEST: You mean in terms of staff?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have that in front of me, but we will provide you with some contact information for the morning of the 20th should you need it.
Q I’m just mean in terms of what he’s doing. Like is Chief of Staff McDonough going to be here? NSC Advisor?
MR. EARNEST: We’ll work to see if we can compile some of those details. I don’t have a lot of detailed information about that right now, but we’ll see if can get you something in advance of Friday.
Q Thanks, Josh. And despite our differences, thank you for being fair.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate that.
Q And your staff is great, too, as well.
MR. EARNEST: I appreciate it.
Q Regardless of the clemency issue, is it fair to say that the process is still ongoing at this stage? The review, is that still happening even today?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, this is a process that largely lives at the Department of Justice, and they’ve been very focused on this important work. They’re working closely with the President’s attorneys here in the White House. And, yes, it is fair to say that that work continues.
Q I want to ask specifically about Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, in particular. As it relates to Chelsea Manning, does the White House agree that Manning is being subjected to unfair treatment by the Army amid her daily fight to have her right to be identified as a woman? Does the White House agree with that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not aware that the Commander-in-Chief has weighed in on this. This is obviously complicated by the fact that Chelsea Manning is in the military criminal justice process and, of course, the Commander-in-Chief is at the top of the chain of command, which limits our ability to discuss her case in all that much detail. But I’ll look and see if we have ever weighed on this specific question. I know that it certainly is a question and a concern that’s been raised by some of Chelsea Manning’s advocates.
Q And for the record, she was sentenced to 35 years. Does the White House believe that that was a just sentence?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t heard the President weigh in on that either, again for the same kind of chain-of-command reasons that I just cited.
Q But he may tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: Well, if he chooses to — you and Jordan will be among the first to know. (Laughter.)
Q Fair enough. Jordan, I got first dibs. (Laughter.) Let me ask you about Edward Snowden. Does his offer to turn himself in if Manning is, in fact, offered clemency weigh at all in the consideration for how the President might consider a pardon for Manning, or even for Snowden, do you think?
MR. EARNEST: It does not, primarily because we believe that under any circumstances, Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face the serious crimes with which he’s been charged. He will, of course, be afforded the kind of due process that’s available to every American citizen who’s going through the criminal justice process. But the crimes that he’s accused of committing are serious, and we believe that he should return to the United States and face them rather than seeking refuge in the arms of an adversary of the United States that has their own strategic interests in disseminating harmful — or disseminating information in a harmful way.
Q So for clarity’s sake, it seems apparent that there’s little doubt that Edward Snowden will not be offered a pardon by this President.
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s not something that — I can’t rule out any offer of clemency, or rule it in, frankly, from here.
Q Based on what you just said, though — I mean, the President has been pretty clear, he hasn’t availed himself to even a conversation about prosecution or facing the charges that he may in fact be forced to face were he even here. So based on that, it seems clear he’s not going to get a pardon, right?
MR. EARNEST: Well, you’ve heard me note that that is one of the many differences between Mr. Snowden’s case and Chelsea Manning’s case. But I can’t rule anything in or out at this point.
Q Last one. I want to ask you about Julian Assange. Did the White House ask Britain or even Ecuador, perhaps, to take action against Julian Assange and/or shut down WikiLeaks at any point? Did that come from this White House?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any specific request like that that was made. You know that the U.S. intelligence community, and even the President, have expressed some deep concerns about the ties between Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks and other organizations like it that were created to disseminate either classified information or previously private information. And we know that much of those efforts to disseminate that information was rooted in a Republican — Russian strategy to undermine confidence in American democracy.
So we have profound concerns about the way that that organization, WikiLeaks, has operated, and we have expressed profound concerns about the way that some of the things that they have done and some of the information that they have released has harmed our national security, has put our military and our intelligence officers in harm’s way and made their dangerous work even more dangerous. But I can’t speak to any specific requests that may have been made of the Brits or the Ecuadoreans.
Q Just to follow up on this — the appointments of Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice and others to these boards. Are these appointments that cannot be reversed by the President — the incoming President? And were they made for that reason or with that in mind?
MR. EARNEST: They weren’t made with that in mind. I believe that these are the — that the appointments on these kinds of boards are part of the President’s executive authority and part of his responsibility. And he chose to fill a couple of those positions with two of his most trusted aides.
Q So they’re probably — are there terms? Are there — I guess it would vary depending upon the —
MR. EARNEST: There are terms, but we can get you the details.
Q There’s also — there’s an education regulation that’s making its way — I believe it’s before the White House Budget Office. You’re looking at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think I do.
Q It’s a regulation that would essentially change the funding mechanism within school districts and apportion more money to lower-income areas as compared to higher-income areas. The question is where is that, is it going to make it, so on and so forth.
MR. EARNEST: Let me have my colleagues at the Office of Management and Budget circle back with you to give you an update on where that stands.
Q And just a last thing — can you give us any indication of what the President is really doing and focused on these last number of days? I know you were asked about staffing and all that, but —
MR. EARNEST: Other than saying really nice things about me — (laughter) — which I deeply appreciate, by the way?.
Q It’s a — I mean, I know he’s concerned about national security, I know he’s concerned about the transition. But just — I just wonder, what do you do when you have, like, a few days left after all this?
MR. EARNEST: There’s a lot to be done. Let me tell you at least one thing. This morning, the President assembled senior members of his counterterrorism and homeland security team to review ongoing security planning for the 58th inauguration. The President commended the comprehensive preparations across the law enforcement and intelligence community, and directed that all agencies maintain their high state of vigilance to ensure we are best postured to protect the homeland against individuals radicalized to violence.
The President was also briefed on counterterrorism operations in Iraq and Syria that are putting simultaneous pressure on ISIL inside Mosul and around Raqqa. Over the weekend, as you may know, Iraqi security forces made significant gains in Mosul as ISIL defenses are collapsing in key parts of the city. And in northern Syria, local partners continue to constrict ISIL’s movement in the vicinity of Raqqa.
The President noted the impact our strategy is having on the ground is the result of a deliberate effort to accelerate our campaign against ISIL, and that the coalition is well-postured to put ISIL on a path to lasting defeat.
I think the fact that the President held this meeting today is an indication that the President continues to be focused first and foremost on the safety and security of the United States and the American people. And this is consistent with the kind of briefing that he has held with his national security team and with intelligence officials before major events. The President typically does this before the holidays; he’ll often do this before the Fourth of July. And obviously, with the upcoming inauguration, we want to make sure — the President wanted to make sure that our security posture was in place to protect the American people.
Q That’s a Situation Room meeting?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know exactly where this meeting took place, but we can confirm that for you.
Q Anything else? Is he — we’ve talked about pardons and commutations, and talked about appointments. Is there anything else that we can expect over the next number of hours that are work product, if you will, that the President is trying to get done before he leaves? Even if you can identify some areas. We know he’s concerned about immigration. We know he’s concerned about social justice. We know he’s concerned about a lot of things.
MR. EARNEST: Right.
Q Can you point us to anything that he is, in the final hours, really trying to focus on and get done?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have any announcements to preview, but the President has still got a lot of work to do. And even in just the last couple of days here, he’s focused on the task at hand, even as he also does some of the other things around the White House, like bidding a fond farewell to members of his staff and other people from across the administration, and also I think spending some time thinking about his own time and his own tenure here. But stay tuned. If there’s more, we’ll let you know.
Q Thank you. I guess I’ll follow on that note. Can you give us an update on the President’s efforts to close Guantanamo? And are you prepared at this time to just — say it will remain open Friday afternoon?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I can confirm — and I think this is something that you’ve already reported — that there was a transfer of 10 detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the government of Oman. With that transfer being completed, there are now 45 detainees at Gitmo. When President Obama took office, the detainee population was at 242, so since that time, we’ve moved 193 detainees to 42 countries for repatriation, resettlement, or prosecution.
Obviously, that work was a result of the review that President Obama ordered almost exactly eight years ago today to ask the intelligence community and other national security agencies to engage in a case-by-case review of the files of the detainees, and determine if any of them could be transferred to other countries under a set of strict security requirements that would limit their ability to harm the United States. And so that’s been an effort that has greatly reduced the prison population.
At this point, I don’t anticipate that we will succeed in that goal of closing the prison, but it’s not for a lack of trying — that, I assure you. And the only reason it didn’t happen is because of the politics that members of Congress in both parties, frankly, played with this issue. And it has put the United States in a position where, because of the obstacles erected by Congress, terrorist organizations have a powerful recruiting tool, and millions in taxpayer dollars are wasted to operate this large facility for 45 people, potentially less.
That’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars, and it certainly isn’t the most effective way to protect our country. And that’s not just a conclusion that President Obama has reached, that’s a conclusion that’s been reached by people like President Bush and senior members of his national security team. So this isn’t a partisan issue, and I think the disappointment at Congress’s action in this area is also bipartisan in nature.
Q Two follow-ups on that. At what point did the President make that determination, that he would not succeed? And do you expect any additional transfers this week?
MR. EARNEST: The possibility of additional transfers remains a possibility. Look, I think once there was a — once we’d reach the 30-day deadline for notifying Congress in advance of detainee transfers, the likelihood of succeeding in closing the prison was quite remote.
Q One other quick question. Chinese President Xi today delivered a speech in Davos where he gave a defense of globalization and warned against a trade war and protectionism, and this is obviously something the President has spoken a lot about, and I’m curious if you have any reaction to the Chinese President’s speech.
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t read the text of President Xi’s remarks, but certainly based on the news coverage, I think this does surface a central question — for the American people, for policymakers, for economic leaders, and even national security leaders — about what role the United States is going to play in the global economy and what role the United States is going to play in Asia Pacific. And President Obama put forward his own strategy, one that sought to deepen our alliances with Australia, South Korea, and Japan that has resulted in a beefed-up military presence in the Asia Pacific, to protect our allies, to deepen our coordination and cooperation with them, and to ensure they’re protected from threats that emanate in the region.
The President also felt strongly that that intensified security cooperation should be partnered with greater economic integration in that region of the world. Southeast Asia in particular is home to some of the most dynamic economies in the world. These are smaller countries, but they have rapidly growing middle-class populations, and many of the countries who signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement are home to those economies. And the completion of that agreement and the ratification of that agreement by Congress would have given American businesses a better opportunity to compete in that part of the world. That would have been good for our economy and good for our businesses and, most importantly, good for our workers.
The agreement would have required other countries to slash 18,000 taxes that they impose on American products. It would have held those countries accountable for raising labor standards, raising human rights standards, raising environmental standards, the kinds of standards that we already observe here. And to shut off the U.S. from those kinds of agreements isn’t just a missed opportunity, it actually puts the United States at a greater disadvantage because we’re hearing many of those countries indicate a desire to move forward with that agreement.
So that means that other countries who have signed on are going to be at an advantage over U.S. products, to say nothing of the role of the Chinese. China would love to come and strike their own agreements with these other countries for the same reasons that we would like to — because these are some of the fastest-growing economies of the world and they have a rapidly growing middle class that could be available to buy Chinese products. And we know that if the Chinese negotiate a deal, they’re not looking to raise human rights standards; they’re not looking to raise labor standards; they’re not looking to put in place strict, tough intellectual property protections.
So the President is deeply disappointed that Congress hasn’t moved to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership because of the obvious benefits for the American people. And that’s going to have consequences not just for our economy and the success that our country has in confronting the forces of globalization and looking out for the interests of working people, it’s also going to have an impact on our national security.
So obviously the incoming administration has proposed a different strategy when it comes to countering the forces of globalization. I believe the President’s economic record speaks for itself. And all of you will have an opportunity to test just how — well, whether or not the strategy put forward by the incoming administration works and actually serves the interests of the American people, the American economy, and American workers.
Q Thank you, Josh. Have there ever been days when you’ve dreaded coming out here? (Laughter.) Or let me put it another way — have there been days when you didn’t dread coming out here? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Let me answer your question this way. There was — I did the briefing here — well, I did a briefing like this 354 times as Press Secretary —
Q My count is higher.
MR. EARNEST: Is it higher?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the stenographers separated out the times that I briefed as the Principal Deputy Press Secretary, so that may account for the difference, but we can look at the numbers.
Q I also counted gaggles.
MR. EARNEST: They did, too. I did almost the same number as both the Press Secretary and as the Deputy.
Q I trust Mark’s number. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: That’s understandable. That’s understandable. In the 354 or so times that I walked into this room, I never took for granted the blessing that was the opportunity to stand here. And most people don’t have an opportunity to influence the debate in this way. The arguments that you hear me make, these are President Obama’s arguments. This is his vision for the country that I’m advocating for. So I’m not trying to take credit for that.
But these are arguments, and this is a vision for the country, and these are values that I passionately believe in. And having the opportunity to influence the way that those arguments are made, to look for ways to deliver them in the most persuasive way that I can think of is an extraordinary intellectual challenge, but it also really gives me an opportunity to shape the debate in a way that few other people in this town have.
So there were days when I knew I was going to come out here and get some tough questions, and there were days when I was going to walk back to my office frustrated about how it went, but I never took for granted what an extraordinary opportunity it is to be a part of this process with you and to advocate for a President and a vision that I deeply believe in. And I’m going to miss it. It’ll be — at the risk of oversharing, it’ll be hard to — well, let me say it this way — (laughter) — it’ll take some getting used to, to seeing somebody else stand up here doing it.
Q Or not.
THE PRESIDENT: Or not. (Laughter.) And — but that’s —
Q Are you going to watch?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll probably watch. I’m interested in what happens in here, and I think it’s important for the country. And I’ll be paying attention.
Q Marlin Fitzwater used to say that after he left that job, he used to love putting his feet up, pouring a glass of wine, and watching someone else face all the questions. (Laughter.) Is that how you think you’ll be watching your successor?
MR. EARNEST: There may be a time or two when schadenfreude creeps in. But look — again, I’ve got enormous respect for the work that all of you do and for the conventions that we have erected to engage in this discussion, and it’s been an honor to be a part of it. And yeah, I’m interested in what happens here, and I’ll continue to follow it. But I will be relieved to not have the burden to follow it as closely as this job has required over the last two-and-a-half years.
Go ahead, JC.
Q It’s sort of a personal question and it follows up, I hope, on what Mark was saying. The President alluded earlier that you could possibly have a career on the silver screen. (Laughter.) Many of us — I believe that. Keep smiling — that’s it. Perfect. And we know that you’re not going to require your very patient wife, Natalie, and your son, Walker, to pepper you with tough questions every day between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon. But to follow up, where is your passion going? What would you like to do? And where do you want to follow your dream?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll tell you that I’ve had this conversation with the President. And one of the challenges of the job is it is all-consuming. It’s difficult to remember a day in which the first thing that pops into my head when I open my eyes in the morning — usually in the dark — was to wonder what I needed to get done in order to prepare for this briefing, or to fulfill my responsibilities at the White House.
So I’m looking forward to having a little bit more time and space, both physically and intellectually, to reflect on this experience and to consider what the future might hold. But I honestly don’t know.
Q Will you keep us posted?
MR. EARNEST: Yeah, I’ll keep you posted.
Q Yes, just to clarify two quick things.
MR. EARNEST: Sure.
Q The clemency petitions that have come in, you led us to believe last week that there would be a round, some size, of additional clemencies before the President leaves?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q That is still the case, correct? Whatever size they are.
MR. EARNEST: What I can tell you is that the work on this issue continues, and I certainly wouldn’t rule out additional announcements before noon on Friday.
Q The President considers this still an important part of his legacy.
MR. EARNEST: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Q And the President’s plans on Friday — I know you don’t want to go into detail about it — but we’re right in calling this a vacation, correct? He’s not planning to go out and do speeches right away and meetings and stuff like that.
MR. EARNEST: That is correct. The President will not be working when he arrives in Palm Springs.
Q Perhaps a fair amount of putting and other things?
MR. EARNEST: Yeah, and I’m sure that many of you will be disappointed you won’t have the opportunity to tag along. (Laughter.)
Q Is the First Family going to be staying in rental housing?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know where they’re going to be staying in Palm Springs, and I doubt we’ll announce it in advance.
Q And you’re leaving your office on Thursday afternoon or evening, but will you and your team will have control of the emails and Twitter and WhiteHouse.gov up until noontime?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, there is a plan in place to effect that transition at noon on Friday. I’m not sure exactly how they’re going to do that. But it’s part of — it’s one of the reasons I have so much admiration for my colleagues who are more technologically inclined than I am.
Q Thanks, a lot, Josh. Congratulations on your 354th briefing, or whatever that number is.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you.
Q Given all of your experience in this briefing room, can you talk a little bit from your perspective about the advantages of coming out to the James S. Brady Briefing Room to talk to us on a regular basis?
MR. EARNEST: This is a place that’s recognized immediately around the world as the place where announcements at the White House are made. And again, the symbolic value of this podium in this room in front of all of you is powerful. And it sends a strong message not just to the American people, but to people around the world about what the White House is doing, what the President is focused on, what his priorities are, and how he’s seeking to advance our interests.
So again, I think that there are a lot of common-sense logistical reasons to preserve the kind of access that all of you have to the West Wing. But I wouldn’t overlook the important, symbolic value that makes the arrangement that we have in the United States rather unique.
Q As far as statements, which are regularly put out by your office, I didn’t notice a statement in regards to the death of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. Was that an oversight? Can you talk a little bit about his contribution to our country?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I obviously read some of the news coverage about Mr. Cernan’s death. And he certainly falls in the category of American hero, somebody who risked his life in the earliest days of the American space program to do remarkable things and inspire the American people to reach for great heights — reach for great heights. And obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with his family today and those how loved him.
I can’t speak to why there wasn’t a presidential statement. But certainly the President and First Lady made note of his death and are remembering him along with some of the other Americans who were inspired by his courage.
Q Thank you, Josh. On behalf of the foreign press, I also want to thank you. You’ve been helpful but very welcoming. And all of us, we benefited from your openness so much.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you, Richard.
Q You have to know that all this has been very much appreciated.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you.
Q Knowing that there are also many auto plants in Canada, I would like your reaction to the President-elect’s comment or intention on imposing a 35 percent tax on German cars being built in Mexico and sold in the U.S.
MR. EARNEST: Richard, I think this is a pertinent question. The President, on his last trip to Canada over the summer, talked about this very issue.
The U.S. auto industry is part of an integrated global supply chain. And the presence of a lot of those suppliers for U.S. automakers is actually in Canada, and it speaks to the important ties between our two countries. And maintaining those robust ties is good for the economy in both our countries; that if you shut down the supply chain or you shut down the trade between the United States and Canada, you’re going to cut off the American auto industry from the global supply chain in a way that’s going to have direct and negative consequences for American businesses and American workers.
That’s a real problem. And I think it is an illustration of why President Obama has chosen a different strategy that actually seeks to ensure that other countries, including Canada, are living up to the kinds of high standards that are set here in the United States and were codified in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Canada, of course, was part of those negotiations and signed onto the deal.
So the President has spoken out about this at some length. He certainly does believe that the strategy that he has advocated is the right one, but the incoming President has some different ideas in mind. And we’ll have an opportunity to assess whether or not his strategy is going to work.
Q Thank you, Josh. You have worked hard as White House press secretary. I deeply appreciate you.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you, Jean, I appreciate that. That’s very kind.
Q Can I follow — ask a question. After you — whatever — you go out the White House, can I also ask on those issues?
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry, say one more time?
Q Can I follow up on the North Korean issues — continue —
MR. EARNEST: Well, there will be somebody else in the White House who will be setting policy with regard to the United States’ relationship with North Korea. And I am hopeful there will be somebody else who is here answering your questions, but I certainly have enjoyed the opportunity that you and I have had to discuss this critically important national security priority of the United States.
Q Thank you very much. On THAAD missile issues. Last week, incoming administration (inaudible) and South Korean national security agency director agreed to deploy THAAD missile in South Korea. On this regard, China continues to threaten retaliation against South Korea for THAAD issues. What can the United States do about Chinese actions?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the United States has made clear that the deployment of a THAAD battery to South Korea would be focused solely on countering the missile threat that emanates from North Korea. South Korea is an ally of the United States of America. We are duty-bound to defend them. And President Obama has made clear, and I think the tens of thousands of U.S. troops that are on the ground in Korea right now make clear, that we’re going to live up to that promise. And the deployment of a THAAD battery in South Korea would enhance our ability to do exactly that.
We’ve explained that to the Chinese at the highest levels, and we’ll continue to go to great lengths to help them understand exactly what we are trying to do. And I know that that is something that is taking place not just at the presidential level, but I know that there have been some conversations through diplomatic channels, military channels to try to ease the concerns of the Chinese that this is an effort that’s focused on North Korea and not on having any impact on China’s capabilities.
Q And one more thing. Recently, high-level diplomat — North Korean defector, Thae Yong-ho, from UK — he has testimony, and he said that North Korean Kim Jong-un will (inaudible) nuclear weapons, and that he also said that it is a waste of time for Six-Party talks to (inaudible) the North Korean nuclear weapons. Do you think we still need Six-Party talks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven’t seen the specific comments of the defector that you cited, but I can tell you it’s the United States’ policy that the United States is prepared to engage with North Korea diplomatically when they make clear a commitment to a set of principles, including denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. And we’ve made that clear, and that policy hasn’t changed.
Let’s do a couple more here. John.
Q Thank you, Josh. And despite differences on things, thanks for your graciousness to me and always helping me on answers, and especially helping some friends of mine when they wanted some things in the White House.
MR. EARNEST: You’re welcome, John. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work with you, as well.
Q Thank you. Questions are twofold. First, David Horowitz, the author, has come out with a book entitled “Big Agenda,” in which he says that Donald Trump has an agenda to repeal or roll back 90 percent of the executive orders and executive actions that President Obama took in his eight years in office. Your reaction to that? And do you think that’s possible to actually do?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t heard of the book that you’re referring to. What I can tell you is that President Obama has often made the argument that there’s a difference between campaigning and governing. And I know that the incoming President made a lot of promises about all of the executive actions that he was going to repeal, but when he’s responsible for governing the country, he will have to reconcile those promises with the impact — the negative impact that following through on those promises would have on the country. That may end up altering his decision to follow through, but ultimately those will be decisions for him to make.
And it’s why you heard me on many occasions express a preference for working with Congress to try to institute policy that would be good for the country. But we ran into a brick wall of opposition when it comes to Republicans when they took power in 2011, and so we didn’t pass as much legislatively as we would have liked to have done. But the President did use his executive authority to advance our country’s interests and to advance the agenda that he was seeking to implement. And the incoming President will have to determine how much of that he wants to roll back.
Q And I’ve been dying to ask this all day — all week, actually. Two former press secretaries to presidents have gone on to run for elective office after they left the podium up there, both unsuccessful. Would you ever consider relocating to your home state, the “Show Me” state of Missouri, where they do need some fresh Democrats — I don’t think you’ll argue about it — (laughter) — and run for office yourself?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I can tell you is that I know that there are a lot of talented young Missourians who are Democrats who should not be overlooked. And I’ve certainly been in touch with some of them, and I think there’s a bright future for Democrats in Missouri, but at this point I’m not planning to be one of them.
Q Josh, over the weekend the President-elect told the Washington Post that he is supporting insurance for everybody, health insurance for everybody. Is this a plan that the President — said he’ll support something that’s better than Obamacare? Is that enough to whet his appetite? Or does he need more information?
MR. EARNEST: Jared, the President — I can tell you that President Obama looks forward to somebody calling his bluff. The President spoke on live, national television, in primetime, looked directly into the camera and said that he will advocate for policy, even if it’s put forward by Republicans, if it will cover more people and more effectively lower costs than even Obamacare has.
So the President stands by that promise. And according to what the President-elect promised to The Washington Post, it sounds like we might get a chance to see whether or not he’s calling that bluff. The best way to cover everybody, and I think the only way that anybody thinks you can cover everybody, is through a single-payer plan.
So it’s unclear, I think, exactly at this point exactly what the incoming administration’s plans are. It does not appear that, according to some reporting that I saw, that even their nominee to be HHS secretary is clear exactly what their plans are.
But the President made that commitment, and he’ll stand by it. And I assure you that there are few things that would make him happier in his post-presidency than to have the incoming administration call his bluff, because this is an issue that he feels strongly about. And as he himself has said, there’s no pride of authorship here. If there are improvements that can be made on Obamacare, he won’t hesitate to support them.
Q And I know that you haven’t given us information about the frequency or duration or readouts of the calls between the President and the President-elect, but I want to ask, looking forward, once he’s on vacation after Inauguration Day, then-former President Obama, what’s the level of his unpluggedness, and will he be available if there’s a call from the Commander-in-Chief?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what is certainly true of former presidents is they have a unique perspective on the burden and challenges that are assumed by the incoming President. And as President Obama said the day after the election, he’s rooting for the incoming President to succeed in uniting the country. And if there’s an opportunity for former-President Obama to assist in that effort, I’m confident that wherever he is, he’ll take the call.
Q Thanks, Josh. I join in thanking you on behalf of the foreign press for working with us.
MR. EARNEST: You’re welcome.
Q And in fact, the first foreign pool was done when the President invited Indian Prime Minister in November of 2009, and since then we are having (inaudible). In the first briefing that the President — the press secretary did in 2009, the main foreign policy topic was the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Inaudible) was not. But my question is, there are still 10,000 troops left in Afghanistan. Does the President regret that he hasn’t recalled all the troops from there? And had the situation been different, had Pakistan been more helpful in eliminating terrorist safe havens from their territories?
MR. EARNEST: Well, with regard to Pakistan, obviously, the United States has an extraordinarily complicated relationship, particularly when it comes to national security, with Pakistan. There are some areas where the United States and Pakistan have been able to effectively cooperate to counter terrorism and to fight extremism, and that’s served the interests of both countries. And obviously, tragically, Pakistan is a country where many victims of terrorism have been claimed.
And the President certainly is interested and is hopeful that the next administration will be able to deepen that cooperation with Pakistan, because it wouldn’t just enhance security in Pakistan; it actually would make the United States safer, too.
With regard to Afghanistan, I think this will be the kind of issue that historians spend a lot of time looking at when evaluating President Obama’s presidency. What President Obama promised to do when taking office was to refocus our attention on the threat from al Qaeda that emanates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. And President Obama put in place a strategy, working closely with his national security team, at the State Department and the intelligence community, and, of course, the Department of Defense. And over the course of several years, in part relying on some new capabilities, succeeded in decimating core al Qaeda that previously menaced the United States from hideouts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
That is a major accomplishment, and it’s an accomplishment that has made the American people safer. But the threat in that region of the world has not been eliminated, and there continue to be a smaller number of U.S. servicemembers keeping us safe, engaging in counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.
They’re also working closely with thousands of troops from our NATO partners who are also there doing the same thing. And I know there has been a question raised about how important a role NATO has played when it comes to counterterrorism. You have to look no further than Afghanistan to assess just how valuable a contribution that they have made to that effort.
So the situation in Afghanistan continues to be one of concern, and I think the President would acknowledge that this is an area where we’ve made important progress that has made the American people safer, but there’s still important work to be done in this region of the world, and this is a responsibility that the incoming President will assume.
Q And the President visited India twice; no other President had in the past. And he has met with Prime Minister Modi both times. What kind of relationship the President would like the new administration to have with the largest democratic country in the world?
MR. EARNEST: President Obama did make strengthening our ties with India a genuine priority. The President believed that that served our economic interest and our national security interest, and that would certainly explain the frequent visits of both Indian Prime Ministers during President Obama’s tenure in office to the White House, and it would explain President Obama’s visits to India as well. And each of those visits was oriented around a discussion about how to deepen our economic ties in a way that has positive benefits for workers in both our countries, but also to look for ways that we can work more effectively together to fight extremism and to enhance the security of citizens in both our countries.
And President Obama certainly believes that we have made important progress in deepening and strengthening the relationship between two of the world’s largest democracies, and is hopeful that that progress will continue under the next administration.
Francesca, I’m going to give my Kansas City girl the last one. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you. I truthfully was going to ask first, what the heck happened with the Chiefs the other night? (Laughter.) I’d like to know the answer to that.
MR. EARNEST: Unfortunately, it’s just the latest in a long string of heartbreaking playoff defeats for the Kansas City Chiefs. So there’s always next year.
Q While endeavoring to keep it light here at the end, I apologize if you said some of this earlier, there was a little bit of a commotion at the beginning of the briefing —
MR. EARNEST: There was.
Q Did you say how long the President and First Lady will be staying in Palm Beach? Is this like a quick trip or —
MR. EARNEST: Palm Springs.
Q Sorry, sorry, Palm Springs. Gosh, not Palm Beach — that’s the other President. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I did not say how long they’re going to stay. They will arrive on Friday afternoon in Palm Springs, but I don’t anticipate having any updates on their travel schedule beyond then.
Q And you said the First Family — so the daughters will also be going on that trip as well?
MR. EARNEST: That’s my understanding. And we’ll confirm that for you on Friday.
Q Is there a possibility that perhaps, immediately after that, they’ll go back to Chicago? When they were there the other day, they didn’t stay overnight — hadn’t visited the home. Is that potential in the docket? Trying to get one last week ahead here out of you. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Yeah. I guess this is one of the benefits of ending the presidency on a Friday, is I don’t anticipate that there will be any more weeks-ahead. The President and the First Lady and their family are looking forward to getting out to Palm Springs and beginning to relax a little bit, but I don’t have any updates on their plans beyond that.
Q And then one final question. We always assumed that the book the President was writing was a memoir. Is it possible that he’s writing the next great American novel?
MR. EARNEST: If he is, he has not told me that, but I think for a variety of reasons we’re all eagerly anticipating how President Obama chooses to devote his time after leaving the White House.
So, thank you all. It’s been a genuine pleasure. (Applause.)
2:15 P.M. EST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on January 17, 2017
Full Text Political Transcripts July 5, 2016: FBI Director James B. Comey’s statement not recommending criminal charges against Hillary Clinton over private email server
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:
Statement by FBI Director James B. Comey on the Investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Use of a Personal E-Mail System
Source: FBI.gov, 7-5-16
Remarks prepared for delivery at press briefing.
Good morning. I’m here to give you an update on the FBI’s investigation of Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail system during her time as Secretary of State.
After a tremendous amount of work over the last year, the FBI is completing its investigation and referring the case to the Department of Justice for a prosecutive decision. What I would like to do today is tell you three things: what we did; what we found; and what we are recommending to the Department of Justice.
This will be an unusual statement in at least a couple ways. First, I am going to include more detail about our process than I ordinarily would, because I think the American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest. Second, I have not coordinated or reviewed this statement in any way with the Department of Justice or any other part of the government. They do not know what I am about to say.
I want to start by thanking the FBI employees who did remarkable work in this case. Once you have a better sense of how much we have done, you will understand why I am so grateful and proud of their efforts.
So, first, what we have done:
The investigation began as a referral from the Intelligence Community Inspector General in connection with Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail server during her time as Secretary of State. The referral focused on whether classified information was transmitted on that personal system.
Our investigation looked at whether there is evidence classified information was improperly stored or transmitted on that personal system, in violation of a federal statute making it a felony to mishandle classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, or a second statute making it a misdemeanor to knowingly remove classified information from appropriate systems or storage facilities.
Consistent with our counterintelligence responsibilities, we have also investigated to determine whether there is evidence of computer intrusion in connection with the personal e-mail server by any foreign power, or other hostile actors.
I have so far used the singular term, “e-mail server,” in describing the referral that began our investigation. It turns out to have been more complicated than that. Secretary Clinton used several different servers and administrators of those servers during her four years at the State Department, and used numerous mobile devices to view and send e-mail on that personal domain. As new servers and equipment were employed, older servers were taken out of service, stored, and decommissioned in various ways. Piecing all of that back together—to gain as full an understanding as possible of the ways in which personal e-mail was used for government work—has been a painstaking undertaking, requiring thousands of hours of effort.
For example, when one of Secretary Clinton’s original personal servers was decommissioned in 2013, the e-mail software was removed. Doing that didn’t remove the e-mail content, but it was like removing the frame from a huge finished jigsaw puzzle and dumping the pieces on the floor. The effect was that millions of e-mail fragments end up unsorted in the server’s unused—or “slack”—space. We searched through all of it to see what was there, and what parts of the puzzle could be put back together.
FBI investigators have also read all of the approximately 30,000 e-mails provided by Secretary Clinton to the State Department in December 2014. Where an e-mail was assessed as possibly containing classified information, the FBI referred the e-mail to any U.S. government agency that was a likely “owner” of information in the e-mail, so that agency could make a determination as to whether the e-mail contained classified information at the time it was sent or received, or whether there was reason to classify the e-mail now, even if its content was not classified at the time it was sent (that is the process sometimes referred to as “up-classifying”).
From the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 e-mails in 52 e-mail chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were “up-classified” to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the e-mails were sent.
The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related e-mails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton to State in 2014. We found those additional e-mails in a variety of ways. Some had been deleted over the years and we found traces of them on devices that supported or were connected to the private e-mail domain. Others we found by reviewing the archived government e-mail accounts of people who had been government employees at the same time as Secretary Clinton, including high-ranking officials at other agencies, people with whom a Secretary of State might naturally correspond.
This helped us recover work-related e-mails that were not among the 30,000 produced to State. Still others we recovered from the laborious review of the millions of e-mail fragments dumped into the slack space of the server decommissioned in 2013.
With respect to the thousands of e-mails we found that were not among those produced to State, agencies have concluded that three of those were classified at the time they were sent or received, one at the Secret level and two at the Confidential level. There were no additional Top Secret e-mails found. Finally, none of those we found have since been “up-classified.”
I should add here that we found no evidence that any of the additional work-related e-mails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them. Our assessment is that, like many e-mail users, Secretary Clinton periodically deleted e-mails or e-mails were purged from the system when devices were changed. Because she was not using a government account—or even a commercial account like Gmail—there was no archiving at all of her e-mails, so it is not surprising that we discovered e-mails that were not on Secretary Clinton’s system in 2014, when she produced the 30,000 e-mails to the State Department.
It could also be that some of the additional work-related e-mails we recovered were among those deleted as “personal” by Secretary Clinton’s lawyers when they reviewed and sorted her e-mails for production in 2014.
The lawyers doing the sorting for Secretary Clinton in 2014 did not individually read the content of all of her e-mails, as we did for those available to us; instead, they relied on header information and used search terms to try to find all work-related e-mails among the reportedly more than 60,000 total e-mails remaining on Secretary Clinton’s personal system in 2014. It is highly likely their search terms missed some work-related e-mails, and that we later found them, for example, in the mailboxes of other officials or in the slack space of a server.
It is also likely that there are other work-related e-mails that they did not produce to State and that we did not find elsewhere, and that are now gone because they deleted all e-mails they did not return to State, and the lawyers cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.
We have conducted interviews and done technical examination to attempt to understand how that sorting was done by her attorneys. Although we do not have complete visibility because we are not able to fully reconstruct the electronic record of that sorting, we believe our investigation has been sufficient to give us reasonable confidence there was no intentional misconduct in connection with that sorting effort.
And, of course, in addition to our technical work, we interviewed many people, from those involved in setting up and maintaining the various iterations of Secretary Clinton’s personal server, to staff members with whom she corresponded on e-mail, to those involved in the e-mail production to State, and finally, Secretary Clinton herself.
Last, we have done extensive work to understand what indications there might be of compromise by hostile actors in connection with the personal e-mail operation.
That’s what we have done. Now let me tell you what we found:
Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.
For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation. In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails).
None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail.
Separately, it is important to say something about the marking of classified information. Only a very small number of the e-mails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked “classified” in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.
While not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified e-mail systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.
With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, we did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked. But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence. We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail account.
So that’s what we found. Finally, with respect to our recommendation to the Department of Justice:
In our system, the prosecutors make the decisions about whether charges are appropriate based on evidence the FBI has helped collect. Although we don’t normally make public our recommendations to the prosecutors, we frequently make recommendations and engage in productive conversations with prosecutors about what resolution may be appropriate, given the evidence. In this case, given the importance of the matter, I think unusual transparency is in order.
Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.
In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.
To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.
As a result, although the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this, we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.
I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation, as there was throughout this investigation. What I can assure the American people is that this investigation was done competently, honestly, and independently. No outside influence of any kind was brought to bear.
I know there were many opinions expressed by people who were not part of the investigation—including people in government—but none of that mattered to us. Opinions are irrelevant, and they were all uninformed by insight into our investigation, because we did the investigation the right way. Only facts matter, and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this organization.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on July 5, 2016
Full Text Political Transcripts April 5, 2016: President Barack Obama Remarks at Press Briefing on Economy, Tax Inversion, Mocks Trump and Cruz Immigration Plans
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:
Remarks by the President on the Economy
Source: WH, 4-5-16
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:15 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. I’m horning in on Josh’s time just for a hot second. As we learned last week, America’s economy added 215,000 jobs in March. That means that our businesses extended the longest streak of private sector job creation on record — 73 straight months, 14.4 million new jobs, unemployment about half of what it was six years ago.
This progress is due directly to the grit and determination and hard work and the fundamental optimism of the American people. As I travel around the country, what always stands out is the fact that the overwhelming majority of folks work hard and they play by the rules, and they deserve to see their hard work rewarded. They also deserve to know that big corporations aren’t playing by a different set of rules; that the wealthiest among us aren’t able to game the system.
That’s why I’ve been pushing for years to eliminate some of the injustices in our tax system. So I am very pleased that the Treasury Department has taken new action to prevent more corporations from taking advantage of one of the most insidious tax loopholes out there, and fleeing the country just to get out of paying their taxes. This got some attention in the business press yesterday, but I wanted to make sure that we highlighted the importance of Treasury’s action and why it did what it did.
This directly goes at what’s called corporate inversions. They are not new. Simply put, in layman’s terms, it’s when big corporations acquire small companies, and then change their address to another country on paper in order to get out of paying their fair share of taxes here at home. As a practical matter, they keep most of their actual business here in the United States because they benefit from American infrastructure and technology and rule of law. They benefit from our research and our development and our patents. They benefit from American workers, who are the best in the world. But they effectively renounce their citizenship. They declare that they’re based somewhere else, thereby getting all the rewards of being an American company without fulfilling the responsibilities to pay their taxes the way everybody else is supposed to pay them.
When companies exploit loopholes like this, it makes it harder to invest in the things that are going to keep America’s economy going strong for future generations. It sticks the rest of us with the tab. And it makes hardworking Americans feel like the deck is stacked against them.
So this is something that I’ve been pushing for a long time. Since I became President, we’ve made our tax code fairer, and we’ve taken steps to make sure our tax laws are actually enforced, including leading efforts to crack down on offshore evasion. I will say that it gets tougher sometimes when the IRS is starved for resources and squeezed by the congressional appropriation process so that there are not enough people to actually pay attention to what all the lawyers and accountants are doing all the time. But we have continued to emphasize the importance of basic tax enforcement.
In the news over the last couple of days, we’ve had another reminder in this big dump of data coming out of Panama that tax avoidance is a big, global problem. It’s not unique to other countries because, frankly, there are folks here in America who are taking advantage of the same stuff. A lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem. It’s not that they’re breaking the laws, it’s that the laws are so poorly designed that they allow people, if they’ve got enough lawyers and enough accountants, to wiggle out of responsibilities that ordinary citizens are having to abide by.
Here in the United States, there are loopholes that only wealthy individuals and powerful corporations have access to. They have access to offshore accounts, and they are gaming the system. Middle-class families are not in the same position to do this. In fact, a lot of these loopholes come at the expense of middle-class families, because that lost revenue has to be made up somewhere. Alternatively, it means that we’re not investing as much as we should in schools, in making college more affordable, in putting people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our infrastructure, creating more opportunities for our children.
So this is important stuff. And these new actions by the Treasury Department build on steps that we’ve already taken to make the system fairer. But I want to be clear: While the Treasury Department actions will make it more difficult and less lucrative for companies to exploit this particular corporate inversions loophole, only Congress can close it for good, and only Congress can make sure that all the other loopholes that are being taken advantage of are closed.
I’ve often said the best way to end this kind of irresponsible behavior is with tax reform that lowers the corporate tax rate, closes wasteful loopholes, simplifies the tax code for everybody. And in recent years, I’ve put forward plans — repeatedly — that would make our tax system more competitive for all businesses, including small businesses. So far, Republicans in Congress have yet to act.
My hope is that they start getting serious about it. When politicians perpetuate a system that favors the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, it’s not surprising that people feel like they can’t get ahead. It’s not surprising that oftentimes it may produce a politics that is directed at that frustration. Rather than doubling down on policies that let a few big corporations or the wealthiest among us play by their own rules, we should keep building an economy where everybody has a fair shot and everybody plays by the same rules.
Rather than protect wasteful tax loopholes for the few at the top, we should be investing more in things like education and job creation and job training that we know grow the economy for everybody. And rather than lock in tax breaks for millionaires, or make it harder to actually enforce existing laws, let’s give tax breaks to help working families pay for child care or for college. And let’s stop rewarding companies that are shipping jobs overseas and profit overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here at home and are good corporate citizens.
That’s how we’re going to build America together. That’s how we battled back from this Great Recession. That’s the story of these past seven years. That can be the story for the next several decades if we make the right decisions right now. And so I hope this topic ends up being introduced into the broader political debate that we’re going to be having leading up to election season.
And with that, I turn it over to Mr. Josh Earnest.
Q A question about the Panama Papers, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Given the release of these millions of pages of financial information, are you concerned that that reflects on the ability of the Treasury Department to sort of be able to see all the financial transactions across the globe — they clearly didn’t see these — and whether that suggests that the sanctions regime that you’ve put in place in a bunch of places around the world might not be as strong as you think it is?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we know the sanctions regime is strong because Iran wouldn’t have, for example, cut a deal to end their nuclear program in the absence of strong sanctions enforcement.
But there is no doubt that the problem of global tax avoidance, generally, is a huge problem. It’s been brought up in G7 meetings. It’s been brought up in G20 meetings. There has been some progress made in coordinating between tax authorities of different countries so that we can make sure that we’re catching some of the most egregious examples.
But as I said before, one of the big problems that we have, Michael, is that a lot of this stuff is legal — not illegal. And unless the United States and other countries lead by example in closing some of these loopholes and provisions, then in many cases you can trace what’s taking place, but you can’t stop it. And there is always going to be some illicit movement of funds around the world. But we shouldn’t make it easy. We shouldn’t make it legal to engage in transactions just to avoid taxes.
And that’s why I think it is important that the Treasury acted on something that’s different from what happened in Panama. The corporate inversions issue is a financial transaction that is brokered among major Fortune 500 companies to avoid paying taxes. But the basic principle of us making sure that everybody is paying their fair share, and that we don’t just have a few people who are able to take advantage of tax provisions, that’s something that we really have to pay attention to.
Because as I said, this is all net outflows of money that could be spent on the pressing needs here in the United States. And the volume that you start seeing when you combine legal tax avoidance with illicit tax avoidance, or some of the activities that we’re seeing, this is not just billions of dollars. It’s not even just hundreds of billions of dollars. Estimates are this may be trillions of dollars worldwide, and it could make a big difference in terms of what we can do here.
I’m going to take one more question and then I’m going to turn it over to Josh. One last one, go ahead.
Q Mr. President, the Republican frontrunner today outlined his plan to —
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no. (Laughter.)
Q — pay for a wall along the border —
Q Climate change?
Q — barring undocumented immigrants in the U.S. from sending money back home. What would be the real implication of this plan? And are his foreign policy proposals already doing damage to U.S. relations abroad?
THE PRESIDENT: The answer to the latter question is yes. I think that I’ve been very clear earlier that I am getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made. I do have to emphasize that it’s not just Mr. Trump’s proposals. You’re also hearing concerns about Mr. Cruz’s proposals, which in some ways are just as draconian when it comes to immigration, for example.
The implications with respect to ending remittances — many of which, by the way, are from legal immigrants and from individuals who are sending money back to their families — are enormous. First of all, they’re impractical. We just talked about the difficulties of trying to enforce huge outflows of capital. The notion that we’re going to track every Western Union bit of money that’s being sent to Mexico, good luck with that.
Then we’ve got the issue of the implications for the Mexican economy, which in turn, if it’s collapsing, actually sends more immigrants north because they can’t find jobs back in Mexico. But this is just one more example of something that is not thought through and is primarily put forward for political consumption.
And as I’ve tried to emphasize throughout, we’ve got serious problems here. We’ve got big issues around the world. People expect the President of the United States and the elected officials in this country to treat these problems seriously, to put forward policies that have been examined, analyzed, are effective, where unintended consequences are taken into account. They don’t expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House. We can’t afford that.
All right? I’m turning it over to Josh. Thank you, guys.
12:29 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on April 5, 2016
Full Text Obama Presidency April 16, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on the Boston Bombings in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House: “The American People Refuse to be Terrorized”
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
President Obama: “The American People Refuse to be Terrorized”
Source: WH, 4-16-13
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the explosions that occurred in Boston, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, April 16, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Following a briefing from FBI Director Mueller, Attorney General Holder, Secretary Napolitano, and homeland security advisor Lisa Monaco, President Obama went to the Brady Press Briefing Room to update Americans on developments in Boston, following two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon.
“We continue to mobilize and deploy all appropriate law enforcement resources to protect our citizens, and to investigate and to respond to this attack,” the President said in a televised address. “Obviously our first thoughts this morning are with the victims, their families, and the city of Boston. We know that two explosions gravely wounded dozens of Americans, and took the lives of others, including a 8-year-old boy.
“This was a heinous and cowardly act. And given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism. Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror. What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack, or why; whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual.”
The President assured the American people that while it will take time to determine what happened, “we will find whoever harmed our citizens. And we will bring them to justice.”
In addition to highlighting the tremendous acts of heroism by the men and women of the FBI, the Boston Police Department, and other agencies and first responders yesterday, the President praised the kindness, generosity and love that was on display throughout the city of Boston in the aftermath of the bombings. “if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid.”
You can watch the President’s complete statement on YouTube
Posted by bonniekgoodman on April 16, 2013
Full Text Obama Presidency March 12, 2013: Press Secretary Jay Carney’s Statement on the House Republican Budget
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
Statement by the Press Secretary on the House Republican Budget
Source: WH, 3-12-13
The President believes that there is an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to come together around a balanced plan to grow the economy and shrink the deficit by investing to create jobs, cutting wasteful spending, and strengthening programs like Medicare and Medicaid. This approach will require both parties to compromise and make tough choices.
While the House Republican budget aims to reduce the deficit, the math just doesn’t add up. Deficit reduction that asks nothing from the wealthiest Americans has serious consequences for the middle class. By choosing to give the wealthiest Americans a new tax cut, this budget as written will either fail to achieve any meaningful deficit reduction, raise taxes on middle class families by more than $2,000 – or both. By choosing not to ask for a single dime of deficit reduction from closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected, this budget identifies deep cuts to investments like education and research – investments critical to creating jobs and growing the middle class. And to save money, this budget would turn Medicare into a voucher program–undercutting the guaranteed benefits that seniors have earned and forcing them to pay thousands more out of their own pockets. We’ve tried this top-down approach before. The President still believes it is the wrong course for America.
That’s why the President has put forward a balanced approach to deficit reduction with no sacred cows. It includes more Medicare savings over the next decade than the House Republican budget, but it does so by cracking down on waste and fraud, not by asking middle class seniors to bear the burden. It closes tax loopholes for the wealthiest and biggest corporations so we can still afford to create jobs by investing in education, manufacturing, infrastructure, and small businesses. The President’s plan puts our nation on a fiscally sustainable path and grows our economy from the middle class out.
While the President disagrees with the House Republican approach, we all agree we need to leave a better future for our children. The President will continue to work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to grow the economy and cut the deficit in a balanced way. This is the approach the American people overwhelmingly support, and that is what the President will continue to fight for each day.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on March 12, 2013
Political Headlines February 5, 2013: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: Drone Strikes on Terror Suspects ‘Legal,’ ‘Ethical,’ ‘Wise’ — Press Briefing Transcript
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
White House: Drone Strikes on Terror Suspects ‘Legal,’ ‘Ethical,’ ‘Wise’
Source: ABC News Radio, 2-5-13
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
The White House on Tuesday defended the use of targeted drone strikes against American citizens abroad suspected of high-level terrorist activity, but declined to detail the criteria for ordering such an attack.
“Sometimes we use remotely piloted aircraft to conduct targeted strikes against specific al-Qaida terrorists in order to prevent attacks on the United States and to save American lives,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters….READ MORE
Q Thank you. How can the government determine that an American citizen is an imminent threat to the U.S. or U.S. interests without having any kind of specific evidence that that person is planning an immediate — an attack in the immediate future?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the question, obviously, that you ask relates to some stories out today regarding a document prepared — an unclassified document prepared for some members of Congress — and understandable questions. And I can just say that this President takes his responsibilities very seriously, and first and foremost, that’s his responsibility, to protect the United States and American citizens. He also takes his responsibility in conducting the war against al Qaeda as authorized by Congress in a way that is fully consistent with our Constitution and all the applicable laws.
We have acknowledged, the United States, that sometimes we use remotely piloted aircraft to conduct targeted strikes against specific al Qaeda terrorists in order to prevent attacks on the United States and to save American lives. We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, prevent future attacks, and, again, save American lives. These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise. The U.S. government takes great care in deciding to pursue an al Qaeda terrorist, to ensure precision and to avoid loss of innocent life.
As you know, in spite of these stories — or prior to these stories, this administration, through numerous senior administration officials, including Deputy National Security and Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan, State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh, and former Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson — have spoken publicly and at length about the U.S. commitment to conducting counterterrorism operations in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law, including the laws of war.
In March 2012, the Attorney General gave a speech at Northwestern University Law School in which he outlined the legal framework that would apply if it was necessary to take a strike against one of the “small number of U.S. citizens who have decided to commit violent acts against their own country from abroad.” The Attorney General made clear that in taking such a strike, the government must take into account all relevant constitutional considerations, but that under generations-old legal principles and Supreme Court decisions, U.S. citizenship alone does not make a leader of an enemy force immune from being targeted.
Q But how can the government decide that there’s an imminent threat if there’s no evidence that an attack is happening in the immediate future?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, Congress authorized in an authorization of the use of military force all necessary military force to be used in our fight against al Qaeda. And certainly under that authority, the President acts in the United States’ interest to protect the United States and its citizens from al Qaeda.
The nature of the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates is certainly different from the kinds of conflicts that have involved nations against nations. But this has been discussed amply, again, in the effort that we have made through our senior administration officials to explain the process that we use, by the officials I named — by John Brennan in a speech, and he addressed this very issue about “imminent.”
I would point you to the now-released — it was not meant for public release, but it’s not classified — the now-released white paper, which goes into some detail on that very issue.
Q Should the American people be comfortable with the administration’s definition of “imminent” if it also means that there is no specific evidence to back that up?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that what you have in general with al Qaeda senior leadership is a continuing process of plotting against the United States and American citizens, plotting attacks against the United States and American citizens. I think that’s fairly irrefutable.
What you also have is the authorization for the use of military force by Congress. You also have a President who is very mindful of the very questions that you are asking and is, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, taking all the necessary steps to ensure that he fulfills his constitutional obligation to protect the United States and its citizens, and does so in a way that comports with our Constitution and with our laws.
Q Did he sign off on this memo and any classified documents to back it up?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly have no information on any classified documents. I don’t know the specific process by which this memo was generated.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on February 5, 2013
Full Text Political Headlines December 19, 2012: Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns: Briefing on the Benghazi Attacks Accountability Review Board Report
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:
Briefing on the Accountability Review Board Report
Source: State.gov, 12-19-12
William J. Burns
Accountability Review Board Chairman Ambassador Tom Pickering and Vice Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen
December 19, 2012
MS. NULAND: Welcome, everybody. Thank you for joining us. As you know, the Accountability Review Board on Benghazi that the Secretary established has now completed its work, and the classified and unclassified versions have been released to the Hill, and you’ve had a chance to see the unclassified version, as well as the Secretary’s letter to members.
Today, we have invited the Chairman of the Accountability Review Board, Ambassador Tom Pickering, and the Vice Chairman of the Accountability Review Board, Admiral Mike Mullen, to join us here to address your questions. And introducing them will be Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much, and good afternoon. As all of you know, Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen appeared today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss the findings and recommendations of the Accountability Review Board on Benghazi. Deputy Secretary Nides and I will testify tomorrow, so I’ll make just two quick points and then give the floor to Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen to discuss the report and take your questions.
First, as Secretary Clinton said in her letter to Congress, we accept each and every one of the board’s recommendations and have already begun to implement them. In accordance with the law, Secretary Clinton ordered this review to determine exactly what happened in Benghazi, because that’s how we can learn and improve. And I want to convey our appreciation to Ambassador Pickering, Admiral Mullen, and their team for doing such a thorough job. The board’s report takes a clear-eyed look at serious systemic problems, problems which are unacceptable, problems for which, as Secretary Clinton has said, we take responsibility, and problems which we have already begun to fix.
In the hours and days after the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, at the Secretary’s direction, we took immediate steps to further protect our people and our posts. We launched a worldwide review of the Department’s overall security posture. Interagency teams of diplomatic and military security experts gave particular scrutiny to high-threat posts. The Pentagon agreed to dispatch hundreds of additional Marines to posts around the world. We asked Congress for funds to hire new diplomatic security personnel and reinforce vulnerable facilities. We also named the first-ever Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for High Threat Posts within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, and we’re updating our deployment procedures to increase the number of experienced and well-trained staff serving at those posts.
Tom and I will be discussing all of this work and more with Congress tomorrow, so for now, let me just make one other point. I have been a very proud member of the Foreign Service for more than 30 years, and I’ve had the honor of serving as a chief of mission overseas. I know that diplomacy, by its very nature, must sometimes be practiced in dangerous places. Chris Stevens, my friend and colleague, understood that our diplomats cannot work in bunkers and do their jobs.
And we have a profound responsibility to ensure the best possible security and support for our diplomats and development experts in the field. It’s important to recognize that our colleagues in the Bureaus of Diplomatic Security and Near East Affairs and across the Department, at home and abroad, get it right countless times a day for years on end in some of the toughest circumstances imaginable. We cannot lose sight of that.
But we have learned some very hard and painful lessons in Benghazi. We are already acting on them. We have to do better. We have to do more to constantly improve, reduce the risks our people face, and make sure they have the resources they need. We owe that to our colleagues who lost their lives in Benghazi. We owe it to the security professionals who acted with such extraordinary heroism that awful night to protect them. And we owe it to thousands of our colleagues serving America with great dedication every day in diplomatic posts around the world.
And so with that, let me turn to Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen.
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Good afternoon, all of you. Thank you very much, Bill, for those wise and cogent words, which I believe very much reflect the spirit in which we worked and, indeed, the focus on which we put our efforts.
I would also like to thank Secretary Clinton for her steadfast support for our efforts and her ambitious approach to implementing our recommendations. And of course, we wish her speedy recovery.
In late September, Secretary Clinton asked me to serve as Chairman of the Accountability Review Board on Benghazi and asked Admiral Mullen to be the Vice Chairman. And let me say what a pleasure it was to work with Admiral Mullen and, indeed, all the other members of the board. But he in particular brought a special perspective, wisdom, and good sense to a very difficult and trying process.
There are three other members of the board who are not with us today but without whom this report would not have been possible: Catherine Bertini, a Professor of Public Administration at Syracuse University, and former Chief Executive of the United Nations World Food Program, and Under Secretary General for Management of the United Nations; Richard Shinnick, an experienced retired senior Foreign Service Officer who served most recently as Interim Director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations; and Hugh Turner, an experienced and retired senior intelligence officer who spent 22 years in the business and served last as Associate Deputy Director for Operations of the Central Intelligence Agency; and to an excellent State Department staff led by FSO Uzra Zeya, who made a major contribution to our work and without whom we wouldn’t be here with you today.
Secretary Clinton convened the Accountability Review Board, or ARB, to examine the facts and circumstances surrounding the September attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. As you all know, these attacks resulted in the tragic deaths of four brave Americans: Ambassador Chris Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods.
Against the backdrop of so many unanswered questions about what happened at Benghazi, I want first to make clear our board’s specific mandate. We were not asked to conduct an investigation into the attacks to find out who the perpetrators were or their motives. That is the statutory role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the intelligence community. We enjoyed excellent cooperation with both of them throughout the report.
Under relevant statute, Secretary Clinton asked us to examine whether the attacks were security related and whether security systems and procedures were adequate and implemented properly, the impact of the availability of information and intelligence, and whether anything else about the attacks might be relevant to appropriate security management of U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. We were also asked to look at whether any U.S. Government employee or contractor breached his or her duty. Basically, we wanted to find the lessons to be learned, better to protect Americans from future attacks.
To do all that, we interviewed more than a hundred people, reviewed thousands of documents, and watched hours of video. We spoke with people who were on the scene in Benghazi that night, who were in Tripoli, who were in Washington. We talked to military and intelligence officials, including to many State Department personnel, and to experts who do not work for the United States Government. Throughout this process, we enjoyed superb cooperation from the Department of State and its interagency partners, and the decision to brief you on the report’s findings reflects a commitment to transparency at the Department’s highest levels.
Let me just give you a very brief introduction to events that night and then ask Admiral Mullen if he will share with you the findings of the report, and then I will return briefly to talk about some of the overarching recommendations.
What happened on September 11th and 12th in Benghazi was a series of attacks in multiple locations by unknown assailants that ebbed and flowed over a period of almost eight hours. The U.S. security personnel in Benghazi were heroic in their efforts to protect their colleagues, including Ambassador Stevens. They did their best that they possibly could with what they had, but what they had was not enough, either for the general threat environment in Benghazi and most certainly against the overwhelming numbers of attackers and the weapons which they faced. Frankly, the State Department had not given Benghazi the security, both physical and personnel resources, it needed. And on that note, let me ask Ambassador – let me ask Admiral Mullen if he will please relay to you our specific findings. I keep promoting him to ambassador, and I apologize.
ADMIRAL MULLEN: Thanks, Mr. Ambassador. I appreciate that. (Laughter.) And I do appreciate your leadership throughout this process as well.
Good afternoon. The board found that the attacks in Benghazi were security related, and responsibility for the loss of life, the injuries, and damage to U.S. facilities rests completely and solely with the terrorists who conducted the attacks. That does not mean there are not lessons to be learned. The board found that the security posture at the Special Mission compound was inadequate for the threat environment in Benghazi, and in fact, grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place that night.
State Department bureaus that were supporting Benghazi had not taken on security as a shared responsibility, so the support the post needed was often lacking and left to the working level to resolve. The buildings at Special Mission Benghazi did not meet Department standards for office buildings in high-threat areas, and in a sense, fell through the cracks bureaucratically by being categorized as temporary residential facilities. While a number of physical security upgrades were done in 2012, at the time of the attacks the compound did not have all the security features and equipment it needed.
The board also found that the rotational staffing system and the inadequacy of the Diplomatic Security staffing numbers in Benghazi to be a major factor behind the weakness of the security platform. The continual rotation of DS agents inhibited the development of institutional and on-the-ground knowledge, and continuity and security decisions and implementation.
The question is not simply whether an additional number of agents would have made a difference on the night of September 11th, which is very difficult to answer, but whether a sustained and stronger staffing platform in Benghazi over the course of 2012 could have established some deterrence by giving it the continuity and experience on the ground to make it a harder target for terrorists.
Another deficit in the Benghazi security platform was the inherent weakness of the Libyan support element. Absence of a strong central government presence in Benghazi meant the Special Mission had to rely on a militia with uncertain reliability, an unarmed local contract guard force with skill deficits, to secure the compound. Neither Libyan group performed well on the night of the attacks.
Overall, the board found that security systems and procedures were implemented properly by American personnel, but those systems themselves and the Libyan response fell short on the night of the attacks. Personnel performed to the best of their ability and made every effort to protect, rescue, and recover Ambassador Stevens and Sean Smith. Their decision to depart the Special Mission without Ambassador Stevens came after repeated efforts of many U.S. security agents to find him and Sean Smith in a smoke-filled building still on fire and was precipitated by a second armed attack on the compound from the south.
On the night of the attacks, Benghazi, Tripoli, and Washington communicated and coordinated effectively with each other. They looped in the military right away, and the interagency response was timely and appropriate. But there simply was not enough time for U.S. military forces to have made a difference. Having said that, it is not reasonable, nor feasible, to tether U.S. forces at the ready to respond to protect every high-risk post in the world.
We found that there was no immediate tactical warning of the September 11th attacks, but there was a knowledge gap in the intelligence community’s understanding of extremist militias in Libya and the potential threat they posed to U.S. interests, although some threats were known. In this context, increased violence and targeting of foreign diplomats and international organizations in Benghazi failed to come into clear relief against a backdrop of ineffective local governance, widespread political violence, and inter-militia fighting, as well as the growth of extremist camps and militias in eastern Libya.
While we did not find that any individual U.S. Government employee engaged in willful misconduct or knowingly ignored his or her responsibilities, we did conclude that certain State Department bureau-level senior officials in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of leadership and management ability appropriate for senior ranks in their responses to security concerns posed by the Special Mission.
Now I’ll ask Ambassador Pickering to conclude by giving an overview of some of the board’s more overarching recommendations.
AMBASADOR PICKERING: Thank you, Admiral Mullen. With the lessons of the past and the challenges of the future in mind, we put forth recommendations in several key areas. We are recommending that the State Department undertake an urgent review to determine the proper balance between acceptable risk and mission tasks and needs in high-risk and in high-threat areas. The answer can’t be not to go into dangerous places, but there must be: one, a clear mission; two, a clear understanding of the risks; three, a commitment of enough resources to mitigate those risks; and four, an explicit acceptance of whatever costs and risks cannot be mitigated. This balance needs to be reviewed regularly and continuously because situations change.
Next, we recommend the Department develop a minimum security standard for the occupation of temporary facilities in high-risk, high-threat environments, and that posts receive the equipment and the supplies they need to counter various types of threats. We also believe the State Department must work with the Congress to expand funding to respond to emerging security threats and vulnerabilities and operational requirements in high-risk, high-threat posts. We found that a number of recommendations from past ARBs had not been implemented fully, and they relate very much to some of the recommendations we will be making or we have made to the Secretary that the Congress will have to play its role in fulfilling.
Because Benghazi did not fit the mold of the usual diplomatic post as a result of its temporary status, this meant it was unable to get some of the security upgrades and some of the security oversight which it needed. We recommended various improvements in how temporary and high-risk, high-threat posts are managed and backstopped both on the ground and from Washington so that they have the support they need. There should be changes in the way the State Department staffs posts like Benghazi to provide more continuity and stability, and so that posts have sufficient DS agents, Diplomatic Security agents, with other security personnel as needed.
We also are recommending the Department re-examine the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s organization and management to ensure that all posts get the attention they need from upper management. A special review should urgently look at the use of fire as a weapon and how to counter it. The State Department should establish an outside panel of experts with experience in high-risk, high-threat areas, a kind of red team, to watch changing events and make recommendations to the Department’s security officials.
We are delighted to see that the Secretary is committed to the expeditious and, indeed, urgent implementation of all of our recommendations. And now we would be happy to take your questions and appreciate your giving us this opportunity to brief you on our report.
MS. NULAND: (Inaudible) wait for me to call the questions. (Inaudible.) Let’s start with Matt Lee from AP, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this briefing. The report, to a layman, seems to indicate either rank incompetence or a complete lack of understanding of the situation on the ground in Benghazi. And my question is: Why is such poor performance like that from senior leaders in these two bureaus that you mention, why is not a breach of or a dereliction of duty? Why is it not grounds for disciplinary action?
And then secondly, after the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the ARB report – the ARB that was formed then came out with a series of recommendations, and many of your recommendations today, the broader ones, are very similar. Those bombings in East Africa were supposed to have been a never-again moment. What happened between then and now that this could possibly have happened?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Without accepting your characterization of the problem, it is very clear that under the law and in connection with the State Department regulatory practice, one has to find willful misconduct or similar kinds of action in order to find breach of duty. And indeed, one of our recommendations is – there is such a large gap between willful misconduct, which leads, obviously, to conclusions about discipline, letters of reprimand, separation, the removal of an individual temporarily from duty, that we believe that gap ought to be filled. But we found, perhaps, close to – as we say in the report – breach, but there were performance inadequacies. And those are the ones that we believe ought to be taken up, and we made recommendations to the Secretary in that regard.
MS. NULAND: Michael Gordon – I’m sorry –
QUESTION: I’m sorry, just the second one – what happened between – how did the lessons of Kenya and Tanzania get forgotten?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Well, I think that – let me just mention that, and then Admiral Mullen may have some things to say. We, of course, have made a recommendation that the unimplemented or only partially implemented recommendations of all previous boards be reviewed rapidly by the State Department Inspector General with the idea in mind of assuring that they are carried out. And if you will read our report, you will see in part recollections from the past leading each chapter, as well as a citation to the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam recommendations that need to be carried out. So we very much agree with the impetus of your question.
ADMIRAL MULLEN: I think it begs the question of why did that happen. I mean, obviously, a lot of time. That’s always a factor. Clearly, no specific follow-up over time. One of the major recommendations was the building plan, which fell off from 10 buildings – 10 new embassies a year to three, tied to budget constraints, et cetera. So I think it was a combination of factors, and while 1999 is certainly close to this decade, I mean, the world has changed dramatically in this decade, and the risks that are associated with that world are – I think we are in a much more difficult and challenging position with respect to meeting the needs to be out there and engage, and doing so in a way that our people are very specifically secure.
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Just picking up on that, there’s a specific recommendation for a 10 year program at a very significant level of funding specifically to meet the point that Admiral Mullen made that our building program has fallen off from 10 to three, and it needs to go back to that original target.
MS. NULAND: Let’s go to New York Times. Michael Gordon, please.
QUESTION: Ambassador Pickering, your report was extremely critical of the performance of some individuals in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the NEA, the Middle East Bureau. And – but these bureaus don’t exist in a vacuum; they’re part of an hierarchical organization known as the Department of State, and each has a chain of command. The NEA reports up the policy chain, and Diplomatic Security, I presume, reports up the management chain, their Under Secretaries, and indeed deputy secretaries, and the Secretary herself, who oversees these bureaus. What is the highest level at the Department of State where you fix responsibility for what happened in Benghazi?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: We fixed it at the Assistant Secretary level, which is in our view the appropriate place to look, where the decision-making in fact takes place, where, if you like, the rubber hits the road. And one of the interesting things about the statutory basis for the Review Board was that it clearly was biased against the idea that one could automatically hold, as one often does, the leader of a particular department or agency responsible without pinpointing the place where the failures took place and where the lessons that we derived from that ought to be important to fixing the problem. And so fixing the problem and finding the locus of the difficulties was the major task we had to undertake.
ADMIRAL MULLEN: And I would add to that, Michael, that, I mean, certainly that was a concern that we had as we initiated the review and we just found. And as someone who’s run large organizations, and the Secretary of State has been very clear about taking responsibility here, it was, from my perspective, not reasonable in terms of her having a specific level of knowledge that was very specifically resident in her staff, and over time, certainly didn’t bring that to her attention.
MS. NULAND: CNN, Elise Labott, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. I was going to ask about these personnel issues, but a couple of others. You offer – the Secretary said in her letter that there were 29 recommendations. And in the unclassified, there were only 24. I’m wondering, without getting into any classified material, if you could at least characterize what these recommendations – do they have to do with intelligence matters that you can’t discuss or at least the area of those recommendations.
And then also you said that there was – in the report that there was no protest, that there was no mob. How did you come to that conclusion?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Two very brief answers. Your suspicion the missing recommendations involved classification is correct. It would not be untoward to assume that some of those involve intelligence. We arrived in October 4th, 2012 for our first meeting. At that point, we found the intelligence community had clearly concluded and provided us that conclusion, that there was no protest.
QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up on the intelligence? Will you be doing – because it’s – this is – you’re reporting to the Secretary, and you said that perhaps she’s involved intelligence, will you also be reaching out to members of the intelligence community and briefing them and helping them implement some recommendations?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: This report is now the Secretary’s. I think, without stretching a point, we of course remain at the Secretary’s disposal for whatever use she would like to make of us.
MS. NULAND: And she has made it available to all pertinent agencies.
Let’s go to Washington Post, Anne Gearan, please.
QUESTION: Two things: Can you confirm the resignations of Department personnel today in association with this report and give us any detail on that? And secondly, Admiral Mullen, you talked about poorly understood – understanding of – or poor understanding, rather, of the nature of the militia threat. Whose responsibility should that have been to have a better matrix for that?
And if that information had been provided as it should have been provided, do you think it would have been still advisable for Ambassador Stevens to make that trip?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: On the first question, that’s obviously a Department issue and you should address that to the Department of State.
ADMIRAL MULLEN: Secondly, the – I mean, it was very clear this is a country in transition. And one of the umbrella organizations that come out with respect to lack of support that night for a security response, which was the expected response, was Feb. 17. But as we dig into – or dug into Feb. 17, it is a very loose group of local militias that float in and out of that umbrella over time. And I think that’s representative of the gaps – the intelligence gaps that existed at that time in eastern Libya broadly – not just for us but for many countries that were out there.
So I think you have to take that into consideration in terms of understanding the environment in terms of what was out there and what the potential was.
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: I think you should also take into account the fact that the Libyan Government was almost absent from the scene, in terms of its responsibilities under the Geneva or Vienna Convention, to provide support. And that in many ways, February 17th, as difficult as it was, while it had responded positively to less threatening questions in the past, was the best that anybody could find.
MS. NULAND: Let’s go to CBS, Margaret Brennan, please.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this briefing. In the report, you specifically refer to the idea that the Ambassador did not keep Washington fully informed about his movements. Why is that relevant here? I mean, what role did the Ambassador have being a lead person in Libya in terms of determining security? It’s my understanding that ambassadors don’t normally notify each and every movement. Why was that specifically referred to?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Because, in fact, it is a question that occurred to many people that we felt we should answer it, but particularly because the Ambassador is the person who has the responsibility for security at his post.
ADMIRAL MULLEN: And does not have the requirement and normally does not notify anybody outside the country of his or her movements.
QUESTION: So when you were talking about the understanding of the militias, February 17th, et cetera, is it correct to understand that Ambassador Stevens had a role in deciding their security position?
ADMIRAL MULLEN: Sure. As the chief of mission, he certainly had a responsibility in that regard, and actually he was very security conscious and increasingly concerned about security. But part of his responsibility is certainly to make that case back here, and he had not gotten to that point where you would – you might get to a point where you would be considering it’s so dangerous, we might close the mission – I’m sorry, the compound, or something like that.
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: And as you know, on the anniversary day, 9/11, he, on the advice of his security officials, spent his entire day inside the mission with appointments coming to him.
MS. NULAND: Our two principals are little bit time-constrained today, so we’ll just take one more from Fox News, Justin Fishel.
QUESTION: Thanks, Toria. Thank you both for doing this. Just a follow-up on that last question: Would you say then that Ambassador Stevens does share some of the blame here for the lack of security? Is that what you’re saying here?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: We very clearly in the report, if you read it, made our indications open and transparent about where we felt the problems were in terms of decision-making. Ambassador Stevens on several occasions was supportive of additional security in addition to watching it very carefully and to knowing what was going on. Ambassador Stevens had perhaps the best knowledge of Benghazi of any American official. And that was taken in Washington, certainly, as a very serious set of conclusions on his part about going.
QUESTION: Okay. And just two follow-ups for Admiral Mullen: Why such a passing reference to military involvement? Can you explain why they couldn’t have done more? And also —
ADMIRAL MULLEN: We looked at the force posture very specifically, and while we had a lot of forces in Europe both at sea and on land, it was not – it is not reasonable that they could have responded; they were – in any kind of timely way. This was over in a matter of about 20 or 30 minutes with respect to the Special Mission specifically. And we had no forces ready or tethered, if you will, focused on that mission so that they could respond, nor would I expect we would have.
QUESTION: And I noticed also that there was no mention of the CIA in the report despite the fact that their post was attacked and they had more personnel there than there were diplomats. Did they share some blame for the lack of security here?
AMBASSADOR PICKERING: We don’t discuss intelligence questions, unfortunately, in this briefing.
QUESTION: It’s not a classified organization.
MS. NULAND: Thank you all very much and thank you to our two, Chairman and Vice Chairman. I’ll see them out.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 19, 2012
Full Text Obama Presidency December 18, 2012: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney on Possible Fiscal Cliff Deal Between President Barack Obama & Speaker John Boehner & Gun-Control Legislation
OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/18/2012
Source: WH, 12-18-12
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Okay. Welcome to the White House. I have no announcements. I am here to answer your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. A lot to cover on the fiscal cliff. I just want to focus on the tax rates portion. During the election, repeatedly, and then after the election in his first extended comments the President underscored again his central promise to the American people that tax rates have to go up on households making over $250,000. In the East Room he said, I’m not going to ask students and seniors and middle-class families to pay down the deficit while people like me making over $200,000 aren’t asked to pay a dime more in taxes. Now the White House proposal is in fact to let people making up to $400,000 go without a tax increase. How do you justify that broken promise?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly wouldn’t put it that way. I would say that the President, demonstrating —
Q You wouldn’t call it a broken promise?
MR. CARNEY: — his desire — no, I would not. I would say that the President, demonstrating his belief that a balanced, large deficit reduction package is a worthwhile goal, has shown evident willingness to meet the Republicans halfway.
If you think about where he started, his initial proposal from his plan that he put forward to the so-called super committee was to achieve a goal of $1.6 trillion in revenue. He has now come down to $1.2 trillion, as you know. The Republicans started at $800 trillion and have moved up to $1 trillion. The President has come halfway. He hopes that the Republicans will do the same. That is the essence of compromise, coming halfway.
On revenue, the President has come more than halfway in an effort to try to reach an agreement with the Republicans in the House and broadly in Congress because it’s the right thing to do. But he will not accept a deal that, in order to protect some of the wealthiest Americans from having their taxes go up, shifts the burden unduly onto seniors and the middle class.
So the fact that he’s willing to compromise and have rates go up on those making $400,000 and above, as opposed to $250,000 and above, demonstrates his good-faith effort here to reach a compromise and still have a package that is balanced and asks the wealthiest to pay more, enacts significant spending cuts, and puts us on a fiscally sustainable path.
I mean, the alternative here, if you think about it and the so-called plan B makes no sense. There is an historic opportunity here to do something that has been set as a goal for a long time in Washington, which is reach a bipartisan compromise on significant deficit reduction on the order of $4 trillion when you take all the pieces of it and put them together.
We are very close to being able to achieve that, and the President has demonstrated an obvious willingness to compromise and to move more than halfway towards the Republicans. To leave that offer on the table, including the trillion — the $1.22 trillion in spending cuts that the President has put forward because you don’t want to ask someone making $950,000 a year to pay more in taxes would be a shame and it would be bad policy.
So the President believes that the opportunity is there, the parameters of a deal are clear, the path to a compromise is clear, and he hopes that the Republicans will meet him on that path and do something that would be very good for the American people, for the middle class, and for our economy.
Q Jay, there’s another alternative here, and we’re hearing some of the members of the President’s party say today, which is that for the entire campaign he talked about raising taxes on the top 2 percent. He said that was the central theme and it was adjudicated in the election. And you talked about it standing here yesterday, the top 2 percent. If you go to $400,000, you’re not the top 2 percent, you’re not even the top 1 percent. It’s less than that. So isn’t the alternative for him to craft a deal in which he stands by his principle and sticks by his promise?
MR. CARNEY: The President does have — did have a proposal that we have put forward that achieves that, and in an effort to meet the Republicans halfway he has put forward a proposal that still asks the wealthiest Americans, those, in this case, making over $400,000, to pay more in income taxes. His overall proposal, by the way, includes other pieces, elements to it to achieve the revenue goal of $1.2 trillion, that includes asking the wealthiest to pay more through cap deductions and other reforms.
But the point I’m making I think is consistent with your question, which is, yes, he has demonstrated a willingness to move towards the Republicans in order to achieve a deal, but do so in a way that maintains his principles. And the alternative, the fallback, so-called plan B that’s been put out there achieves nothing like what a bigger deal would do and it would — you would lose, by just cutting taxes — by just extending current law for those making under a million dollars, you would lose hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue relative to the decoupling the President has proposed.
And most of that money, or a significant portion of that money if not most, would go to millionaires, because everybody gets — when you extend tax cuts for those making under $250,000 or those making under $400,000, everybody who makes more than that benefits from those tax cuts, right? If you only extend — if you extend the tax cuts for everybody making up to a million dollars, that means everybody making more than that gets a significant tax cut on their first million dollars in earning. So millionaires, billionaires, everybody makes a lot of money out of this proposal.
So the proposal essentially is to give another big tax cut to the wealthiest Americans at a time when we cannot afford it. And that, as you saw in my statement, would not pass the Senate. You saw Leader Pelosi say that Democrats would not vote for it. It’s not a credible alternative. If we’re not going to do a grand bargain, a bigger deal, the one that the President seeks, then there’s an option to deal with the tax portion of this that has already passed the Senate that the House ought to take up. And he would certainly support that as he has said all along.
Q Last one on this and I’ll let somebody else have a run at this. You keep making it sound like the choice is between what the President proposed and plan B that Speaker did, but I keep going back to what he said before he was elected and he called the central promise, which was never $250,000 until I win, and then we’ll see what they offer and move the number up. It was $250,000 —
MR. CARNEY: But, Ben, I don’t — if you’re making the point that he has —
Q My point is, can’t — is it the President’s view that he can’t get a big deal unless he goes up?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s clear that the Republicans — that this requires compromise, and that’s why we have moved and reduced our revenue target and moved from $250,000 to $400,000.
The point that the President had always made is that it is not his preferred option, but he knew that he would have to compromise in order to reach an agreement without sacrificing the principles that are clear, and that is that we have to have balance. It has to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay more so that the burden isn’t unduly placed on seniors and students and families who have children with disabilities and others. And that’s what his current proposal maintains are those principles.
And all told, as you know, the proposal still, with its one-to-one — within this proposal, one-to-one ration of revenues to spending cuts, achieves, combined with the $1.1 trillion that he signed into law in discretionary spending cuts last year, close to $4 trillion in deficit reduction.
And if I could go back to the first point here — Republicans say their goal is to reduce the deficit and to reduce spending. There is an opportunity on the table here to achieve $1.2 trillion in additional spending cuts. It seems like folly to walk away from that opportunity because you don’t want to ask somebody making $995,000 a year to pay a dime more in income taxes. It seems like terrible folly. And I don’t think the American people would support that. Certainly the President doesn’t believe that.
Did you have something?
Q I did.
MR. CARNEY: It seemed like all your questions had been answered.
Q They haven’t.
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q My first question is, are negotiations still active?
MR. CARNEY: Lines of communication remain open. The President continues to hope that a compromise can be reached, as I said at the top. The parameters of a deal are clear. When you look at the offers, proposals and the counterproposals, a path to an agreement is clear. And he hopes that the Republicans will join him on that path and achieve this — take advantage of this opportunity and lock in a plan that would achieve significant deficit reduction, would protect the middle class, and would help our economy. So the answer is lines of communication remain open and we hope that this opportunity is not wasted.
Q You used that phrase a lot last week.
MR. CARNEY: And it was always true.
Q Right, but does that mean you’re talking and negotiations —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any specific conversations or meetings to read out to you. But as was the case in the past, it is the case today that lines of communication remain open and there is an opportunity here. And you’ve clearly seen the President put forward an offer that represents him moving halfway towards the Republicans on revenue and moving more than halfway to the Republicans on spending cuts as part of a balanced package that still adheres to his principles. And that’s very important. And we hope that the Republicans understand that it would be a terrible waste to walk away from this opportunity.
Q We’ve seen some, obviously, progress since yesterday’s briefing; I’d just like to ask the question again: Has the shooting in Connecticut affected the tone at all, and has it affected the ability for both sides to negotiate?
MR. CARNEY: These are excellent questions and there’s been some good reporting on this, but it’s obviously hard to know what the impact of an event like that is on the way that lawmakers and others in Washington approach other issues. As the President said in Newtown, a tragedy as unfathomable, unimaginable as what happened in Newtown reminds us of what really matters. And he certainly believes that it is his responsibility — and the responsibility of everyone here in Washington — to work together to try to do important things for the American people and the American economy. And that’s on issues related to gun violence and it’s on issues related to the economy and to people’s livelihoods.
So to the extent that an event like that, as tragic as it is, brings us a little closer together both in the nation and in Washington, that would be a good thing. But it’s hard to measure an impact like that.
Q Jay, as an Illinois state legislator, the President supported quite restrictive gun measures, but as President he’s only signed into law legislation that allows guns in National Parks and on Amtrak trains as checked luggage. Is he reassessing his more recent record on gun control?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President’s positions have been beyond what you cited — I’m sure that was an oversight — but including his support for reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, his support —
Q But actions versus words —
MR. CARNEY: — his support for closing the so-called gun show loophole, which allows people to buy weapons without going through the background checks that are standard when you purchase from a retail —
Q But I’m talking about what was actually done —
MR. CARNEY: Let me — could I finish?
Q — not just what he has said he supports.
MR. CARNEY: Could I finish? Could I finish, Brianna? I appreciate it. Thanks.
It’s clear that as a nation we haven’t done enough to address the scourge of gun violence in this country. It’s a complex problem that requires more than one solution. It calls for not only reexamining our gun laws and how well we enforce them, but also for engaging mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, educators, parents and communities to find those solutions.
And while, as I said, there’s no one answer to this problem, it is clear that we cannot once again retreat to our separate corners and to our stale talking points, because that inevitably leads to an impasse. That’s why, as I think you saw reported, the President yesterday afternoon had discussions with members of his Cabinet, members of his senior staff and the Vice President to begin looking for ways — or at ways that the country can move forward and respond to the tragedy in Newtown. And I think that if you look at the Cabinet members the President met with — Secretary Duncan, Attorney General Holder and Secretary Sebelius — they underscore — their participation underscores the comprehensive way in which the President views this problem.
So he will, as he said in Newtown on Sunday night, two nights ago, in coming weeks, engage with the American people; engage with lawmakers, with members of his administration, with mental health professionals, with law enforcement officials, with parents, communities, to try to find answers to this problem. And that includes his support for legislation that, like the assault weapons ban, that addresses issues of access to guns. It will include other issues that he thinks are part of the scourge of gun violence.
Q But is he right now actively considering measures, be it gun laws or mental health measures — right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he is actively supportive of, for example, Senator Feinstein’s stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the assault weapons ban. He supports, and would support, legislation that addresses the problem of the so-called gun show loophole. And there are other elements of gun law — gun legislation that he could support. People have talked about high-capacity gun — ammunition clips, for example, and that is something certainly that he would be interested in looking at. My point is that it goes beyond that.
He is heartened, I should mention, by what we have all heard from some members of Congress who have been long-time opponents of gun control measures, common-sense gun control measures like the assault weapons ban and the like. He, in fact, not long before I came out here was on the phone with Senator Manchin discussing just this issue.
Q So this sounds like very much a shift from yesterday. I mean, there were really no specifics yesterday, and today you’re talking about his support for Senator Feinstein’s reinstatement. You were —
MR. CARNEY: Brianna, I think I said yesterday that he supported —
Q Yesterday you were talking about his support for the ban, but you wouldn’t actually say whether he would support Senator Feinstein’s effort. And today it sounds like you’re saying that he will.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me be clear that, again, we are less than 48 hours from the President’s participation in the vigil.
Q But he supports her legislation initiatives?
MR. CARNEY: And the President is moving forward, as he said he would, in having discussions here at the White House with members of his team, having discussions moments ago with Senator Manchin and others who have introduced important ideas about how we can move forward and whose decision to break from past positions and — in how they look at this is heartening, and perhaps harbors an opportunity to move forward in a constructive way. But we are still early in a process.
And I just want to be clear that, in addition to his support for a renewal of the assault weapons ban, which has long been stated and if it does take form in legislation that Senator Feinstein introduces, then that would obviously be something that would win his support, but it goes beyond that. His view is that we need to address this in a way that, as I said yesterday, acknowledges that no single piece of legislation, no single restriction on access to a certain type of weapon will solve this problem and that we need to address it more broadly.
Q Sure, but why the change? Because — I mean, he hadn’t even said “gun” in his public comments. And then you have, for instance, Republicans like Steve LaTourette talking about a majority of Republicans — this is what he told us today — being open to discussing gun control. Did the President feel like he was behind on this?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re trying to turn this into, like, a political theater thing. That’s not how the President views it. He went to Newtown in his role as President and met with family members of victims. He met with first responders and with others in that community, and then he spoke to that community, and tried to convey the grief and the pain that the American people are feeling and share with those who are suffering so deeply in Connecticut.
And at that time he spoke about the fact that we cannot tolerate these kinds of tragedies and that we have to act, and it would be unforgivable not to try to take steps that address the problem, that address our fundamental responsibility to take care of our children in the first instance. And he is, as he said and true to his word, moving forward on that process. And the conversation he had — the meeting he had yesterday, the conversation I just mentioned with the Senator from West Virginia and other conversations he will have going forward will reflect the approach that he’s taking.
He does want to move. As he said on Sunday night, he wants to move in the coming weeks, which is a fairly short period of time. And while he supports, and strongly, renewal of the assault weapons ban, and strongly other measures, he wants to expand the conversation beyond those specific areas of legislation to look at other ways we can address this problem.
Let me move in the back. Sam.
Q Yes, Jay, a lot of top Democrats on the Hill, and I think President Obama, spent the campaign season saying, let’s not touch Social Security — it doesn’t add to the deficit; we can resolve this issue without going to that entitlement program. What is the President’s message to those lawmakers who promised constituents that Social Security would not be touched after the President now has put chain CPI on the table for Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear about one thing: The President didn’t put it on the table. This is something that Republicans want. And it is —
Q But the Republicans —
MR. CARNEY: — part of his — if I could please answer Sam’s question, I’d appreciate it. And the President did include it in his counterproposal, his counteroffer, as part of this process, as part of the negotiation process. I would note that this is a technical change — would be if instated — to the way that economists calculate inflation, and it would affect every program that has — that uses the CPI in its calculations. And so it’s not directed at one particular program; it would affect every program that uses CPI. There are also — as part of the President’s proposals, he would make sure that the most vulnerable were exempted out from this change.
But let’s be clear, this is something that the Republicans have asked for, and as part of an effort to find common ground with the Republicans, the President has agreed to put this in his proposal — agreed to have this as part of a broad deficit reduction package that includes asking the wealthiest to pay more so that we can achieve the kind of revenue targets that are necessary for a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
Q Right, but there’s a lot — again, my question was there’s a lot of people who voted for these lawmakers on a promise that —
MR. CARNEY: You heard the President say every time he talked about this —
Q Can I finish my question?
MR. CARNEY: Sure, yes.
Q A lot of people — I’ll let you answer — a lot of people voted for these lawmakers for reelection not too long ago on a promise that Social Security wouldn’t be touched, and if it was touched, it would be done separately from these fiscal cliff negotiations. What do those people — what are these people now supposed to believe about the promises that their lawmakers made, including the President?
MR. CARNEY: Let me again make clear two things. One, the President has always said as part of this process when we’re talking about the spending cuts side of this that it would require tough choices by both sides. And that is certainly the case if you want to reach an agreement.
Secondly, this is a technical adjustment that supporters of it and economists — outside economists say is meant to make the government’s estimates of inflation more accurate. Thirdly, as part of the President’s proposal, there is a clause that would protect vulnerable communities including the very elderly when it comes to Social Security recipients.
So there’s no question that it represents an effort to compromise, but it is also not — this is a technical adjustment that economists believe is about getting the proper measure of inflation, and it is one sought by Republicans.
So, again, we’re not going to get everything we want. We knew that the President’s proposal that he put forward to the super committee that we put forward in the beginning of these negotiations would not pass unchanged. But I think your question demonstrates the absolute fact that the President has shown enormous good faith in trying to reach a compromise here. And it would be shocking if Republicans passed up this opportunity for what they say they seek, which is significant deficit reduction, significant spending cuts, simply to protect those just shy of being millionaires from having to pay a dime extra in income taxes.
Q Do you acknowledge the Speaker’s criticism of the counterproposal yesterday that it really isn’t one to one —
MR. CARNEY: I do not.
Q — because the saved interest payment is not a spending cut?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I find that an interesting charge because every budget proposal that’s been made since we’ve been here includes interest payments as spending cuts when they’re reduced. The Bowles-Simpson proposal included it.
Q Well, nobody disputes that it’s part of deficit reduction, but this idea of one to one on tax hikes to a spending cut —
MR. CARNEY: Again, when they — in the Budget Control Act and their assertions that they wanted one to one, it was only achievable — only achievable — because they counted saved interest as spending cut. So a practice that they participated in regularly up until this moment to abandon now, to say that it doesn’t represent one-to-one spending cuts for revenue, is just — doesn’t pass the plausibility test.
The fact is that spending on interest payments is one of the big problems that we face when it comes to our budget deficits, and reducing those payments is a significant achievement when it comes to reducing spending. So including those reductions as part of the overall reductions in spending is in keeping with past practice by both Republicans and Democrats, including the Speaker of the House, including House Republican leadership, past practice as represented in the Simpson-Bowles proposal and other proposals that have been out there.
So I do reject that charge that somehow that this is a novelty that doesn’t represent actual savings, because that has always been the practice, including by the Republicans who are now complaining about it.
Q So at 10 o’clock this morning, 9 o’clock this morning, the markets open; they all see the different proposals the President has given on the CPI and Social Security, Boehner’s given on tax rates over a million dollars. And the public up on Wall Street and the business community sees — oh, look, they’re about to come to a deal. Boehner puts out his plan B, and you guys decide to publicly go after it. Why? Why antagonize the situation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what the Speaker —
Q I’m just curious. You guys — on one hand, you don’t want to negotiate through the press; this clearly is a decision to negotiate through the press.
MR. CARNEY: No. The Speaker also made clear that he has not abandoned hope for a bigger deal, and that we see as a good thing. And we certainly have not either. And I think our objections to plan B is simply to point that it is such a far cry from what’s possible here — and not only that, it wouldn’t pass the Senate, it wouldn’t get any Democratic votes in the House, might not pass the House.
Q But you seem to be intent on sending that message when that’s a way of antagonizing the situation, isn’t it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m certainly not trying to antagonize the —
Q Are you trying to disrupt talks? Make it harder?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I think that we would — we, as I said at the beginning — and let me make clear, that I’m — the President hopes that Speaker Boehner and others remain open to what is a clear path to achieve a bipartisan compromise here. And in the details that have come out about the President’s proposal, I think it is clear that he has demonstrated good faith and a willingness to meet Speaker Boehner and the Republicans halfway in an effort to achieve what would be a very significant agreement that would be of benefit both to the middle class and to the economy.
Q — move further. It was pretty clear from talking to some Democrats that that wasn’t your final offer.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that a path to a legitimate, balanced compromise is clear. But the room for movement here is not large, because the President’s principles are what they are and the President has already moved exactly halfway on revenue and more than halfway on spending cuts. So that is by definition what compromise is about — I’ll meet you halfway. The President is here. Republicans are here. The President has come halfway, maybe a little bit more. Republicans have come about this far. So we’re close.
The President has demonstrated his reasonableness. And his principles here are ones that are broadly supported by the American public. So he hopes that we can get this deal.
My point about plan B is that it’s not a great alternative. It’s not a great fallback.
Q Your plan B? Do you think your plan is a good alternative?
MR. CARNEY: We would prefer a bigger —
Q — good alternative, your plan B, the $250,000 —
MR. CARNEY: One, it’s already passed the Senate. So if we —
Q Why are you so sure the other one doesn’t pass the Senate? Has Harry Reid assured you he just won’t put it on the floor?
MR. CARNEY: I think Senator Reid has said that it wouldn’t pass the Senate. The point is —
Q Would he put the —
MR. CARNEY: Again, you should speak with Senator Reid about Senate procedure and upcoming actions. But the point is neither of these options is preferable to a balanced, broad deficit reduction package, which would be healthy, good for the economy, good for the American people, would protect the middle class as we move forward.
The President has said now for months that at the very least the House ought to follow the Senate’s action and pass tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. That bill is there. It could be passed tomorrow. We have always sought more than that. We have always sought the opportunity to achieve significant deficit reduction, because it’s good for the economy if it’s done well and right, and in a way that’s fair and balanced.
Let me move around. Yes, Leslie.
Q Jay, can you comment at all on the Pentagon? Investigators have concluded that a senior defense official has leaked restricted information to the makers of the bin Laden film. Peter King’s office is out and says they’re quite troubled by it.
MR. CARNEY: I have seen those reports, but I can only refer you to the Pentagon. I don’t have anything on it from here.
Q But the fact that it went beyond and into a criminal investigation seems to suggest that it’s a little bit worse than you had led us to believe. I think King’s office said that it’s an indication that our security was placed at risk by people who wanted to help Hollywood make a movie.
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I think that that’s not — your memory of the discussions that we had from here had to do with charges by that Congressman and others about White House — what the White House’s role in informing people who are doing stories on or other things on the bin Laden raid was. Again, on this particular matter, I would refer you to the Pentagon. I just don’t have anything for you on it.
Q If Speaker Boehner’s idea of just taxing people making a million dollars or more is so bad and unbalanced, why did the President propose that in September of 2011 — he had the millionaire’s tax, when he came out in the Rose Garden?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, that’s an entirely different proposal. The President has always supported expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000. That is a position he has held since the time he took office.
There have been other proposals including the so-called Buffett Rule that would address the problem of millionaires and billionaires not paying, for example — and this goes to other — this goes beyond issues of income tax, because one of the reasons why the Buffett Rule, for example, was something the President supports — supported and supports — is because we have the issue of carried interests, which enables billionaires to pay a lower tax rate if they’re hedge fund managers or private equity investors, to pay at a much lower rate than probably you and I pay.
Q The New York Times at the time said, “his idea” — the President’s idea — “of a millionaire’s minimum tax would be prominent in the broad plan for long-term deficit reduction that he will outline at the White House.” So the President thought that a millionaire’s tax was —
MR. CARNEY: You’re really confusing policies here. The fact that you support a minimum tax for millionaires tax rate does not alter the fact that you also support returning tax rates for those making under a million dollars to what they were prior to the Bush-era tax cuts. I think that has been established many times.
Q Senator Schumer brought that up for a vote in 2010 —
MR. CARNEY: It was actually a different — you really need to check your —
Q There’s a lot of different versions of it —
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, but —
Q It was a million-dollar threshold is the point.
MR. CARNEY: On the tax rates. Again, you’re confusing a lot of different tax proposals. And our position then is what it is now, which is that we support expiration of the tax cuts for the top 2 percent. In his proposal for a bigger package with the Republicans, he has agreed to move that threshold from $250,000 to $400,000.
What we do know, instead of talking about things that got votes two years ago in the Senate, is that two months ago the Senate passed a bill that extends tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people — tax cuts that everyone in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike say they support, and that the House, if it fails to do anything else, has the opportunity to pass that legislation to ensure that most Americans out there don’t have their taxes go up next year. The only thing preventing them from that when you look at the proposals here is their insistence thus far on the idea that people making $995,000 should not have their income tax rates go up.
Q Quick question on another subject. There’s this 27-year-old former Marine who, as you know, is in a Mexican prison. His family is urging the administration to do something about it. We don’t know all the facts of the case and what he did, what he didn’t do, but his family is asking the White House to look into it. Is there anything going on to ascertain the facts to see whether he’s innocent or not? Because again we don’t know what really happened.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll have to take the question because I don’t know the facts myself on that, so I’ll have to take the question.
Q The President’s close friend and advisor, David Axelrod, on Sunday evening, after watching the President’s speech was watching a football game, and an ad came on for a violent video game, and he tweeted, shouldn’t we quit — he tweeted an expression of support for banning certain kinds of weapons or regulating certain kinds of weapons, but then he said shouldn’t we also quit marketing murder as a game. And this touches on the cultural aspect that you seem to be alluding to also being part of the solution. And I’m wondering if the President has any views on it, because we haven’t really heard him talk that much about these cultural issues in his time as President.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was asked about this — well, I have seen reports on it, and I don’t have any proposals to tell you that the President thinks or we think should be moved on. I think that there are cultural issues — and every expert on this issue would, I think, agree with that — that there are cultural issues that contribute to the broader problem with gun violence.
One of the reasons why the President wants to expand the net beyond considerations of gun laws is because he recognizes that and agrees with it that we need to look broadly at all of the potential contributors to the scourge of gun violence in this country.
So on that particular area of inquiry, I don’t have a specific proposal to tell you about, or even that there will be one. But it’s certainly — he wants to have these conversations with people who have worked on this issue and people who are affected by it to explore all the possibilities, to move forward with a broad approach that addresses gun violence, that includes sensible legislation to deal with things like assault weapons and gun show loopholes, magazine capacity, potentially, as well as other issues — mental health issues, education issues, and perhaps cultural issues.
Q Speaking of mental health issues, the National Alliance for Mental Illness — or of Mental Illness reports that during the recession states trimming their budgets cut almost $2 billion from mental health services. This seems to be an area where the President could take immediate action, working with Congress to help fill the gap of the — for those states. Has the President — is he aware of this statistic?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure if he’s aware of this statistic. The issue of mental health is something that both the President and others in this administration who have broadly addressed health care issues, including Secretary Sibelius, believes is very important. And that is why the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, contains within it assurances that those who will gain coverage that they have not had in the past will gain medical health services, including a set of services that will be available without copays or deductibles. Because mental health issues are health issues, and the President believes that firmly.
Again, in terms of potential areas that could be addressed through action at the federal level or at the state level, he wants to hear about proposals that might help address this problem. It is, as he said, an issue that the mental health aspect of this is an important aspect.
Q According to the book by Daniel Klaidman, from Newsweek, the Daily Beast, about the Obama administration, in the first year of the Obama administration, Attorney General Holder was going to take action regulating guns, and the President’s Chief of Staff told him to shut up — he actually added a couple of words in there — about guns. The issue being the fact that there were a number of Democrats in vulnerable districts where gun rights were popular that would — politically it was not wise. Does the President know about this? Does the President regret that that took place? Has Attorney General Holder been told since Aurora or Fort Hood or Sikh Temple or Newtown or any of the other many, many shootings that have taken place while Mr. Obama has been President, has Mr. Holder been told to resume what he was planning on doing before the White House Chief of Staff told him to stop?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s an anecdote that I’m not familiar with.
Q It was reported —
MR. CARNEY: — I know the author. I confess from the podium that I didn’t read his book. But the —
Q Does that mean it didn’t happen?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know, so I certainly haven’t had a discussion with the President about it. I can tell you that the President believes, as he, I think, made very clear on Sunday night, and as I reiterated both yesterday and today, that we have not done enough as a country to address this problem and we need to do more, and that what happened in Newtown hopefully will catalyze the process of doing more. And he will use the power of his office to move that along. And that has begun already with the conversations he’s had here internally with — a conversation that he had today with one senator, I’m sure he’ll have with other lawmakers.
And as I think we’ve heard from a number of people both in Washington and elsewhere, the enormity of what happened on Friday I think has caused everyone — or many people to reassess where we are when it comes to the ways that we address this problem, and hopefully that that reassessment will lead to action.
Q But, Jay, why are these conversations not taking place on a national level? Why are —
MR. CARNEY: Jake, can I just remind you that the shooting happened four days ago.
Q This one did, Jay. But there have been a lot that have taken place over the last four years. It’s not as though gun violence became a problem on Friday.
MR. CARNEY: I completely agree with that. And I can only —
Q But it’s as though you’re completely oblivious to the fact that there have been shootings for years.
MR. CARNEY: That’s not true. I mean, the President — it is a fact that we have taken action — and the Department of Justice can fill you in on this — to enhance background checks. And background checks — when we talk about the fundamental issue of making sure that those who should not have weapons do not acquire them or cannot acquire them, enhancing our background check system is an important step that addresses specifically the problem.
So it is the case that we have taken action in this President’s first term. And he made clear on Sunday evening that he believes we need to take more action. And he looks forward to working with Congress and working with communities beyond Washington to help bring that about.
Q Jay, the President said and you’ve repeated that the nation has not done enough. It sounds like what — previous Presidents used the formulation “mistakes were made,” sort of a passive construction. Is he saying that he thinks that he has not done enough as President, personally?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he made clear on Sunday that we as a nation, and he as a member and leader of this nation need to do more; that we cannot tolerate these kinds of tragic incidents. And he committed himself in the coming weeks to taking steps that use the power of his office to help try to bring about changes that will address this problem, recognizing the complexity of the problem and the obstacles to potential solutions to the problem.
He also said — and it’s important to remember that he said this — if whatever action we take saves one child’s life, we should take it, because what would we say to ourselves if we haven’t. And then I think that recognizes, again, that this is a problem that cannot be solved by a single action or necessarily even a series of actions, but it should be and can be addressed.
Q Big part of the question is, does he regret — it’s one thing to regret that Congress hasn’t done what he thinks they ought to do. But does he regret that he hasn’t done something that he wishes now, in light of Friday, that he had done prior to that?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t heard him say it in terms other than the way he said it on Sunday night. And I think you heard from him in a very passionate way what his reaction is to Newtown, and his reaction to Newtown as part of a series of events and incidents like it that have occurred since he’s been President, and that on too many occasions he has been in the situation that he was in in Newtown of consoling family members who have lost innocent loved ones in events like this. So I think he spoke very passionately about his views on this and the fact that we need to take action.
Q And one quick question. If this compromise were to go forward that the President’s proposed, the $400,000 be the cutoff — would that be it? Or would the President still, at some point at a later date as part of some future negotiations and future legislative initiative, try again at $250,000? Is this the end of it from his perspective, or just one —
MR. CARNEY: Well, he seeks, as part of this process, to make permanent tax cuts for those making below the threshold. It is also in his proposal to fast-track processes for both corporate and individual tax reform. But the revenue achieved through a potential compromise here, at least the one that he put forward, would be locked in, and then the reform would be essentially revenue-neutral.
How that plays out in terms of tax rates would obviously be up to those who negotiate it and worked on the tax reform in that fast track process, both on the Hill and working with administration officials.
Q So he’s not closing off the possibility of raising rates at some later date —
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, he’s not — his proposal here is to achieve the revenue that would be gained from extending tax cuts permanently for those making under $400,000, allowing rates to rise to their Clinton-era levels for those making above $400,000. There are a series of other pieces of his revenue proposal that deal with some reform measures, like capping deductions and other issues, and then there would be a separate or additional tax reform process that is something that both sides have sought in a so-called two-stage deal.
But the revenue achieved — the $1.2 trillion in revenue part of this proposal would be achieved at the outset. Then the reform process could go forward.
Major, and then Roger.
Q You may accuse me of being unduly mathematical. I’m not trying to be unduly mathematical.
MR. CARNEY: I want to be wowed by your numbers.
Q No, no, it has nothing to do with numbers, but I asked you yesterday if there was any task force work. Obviously, there was a meeting yesterday on this subject post-Newtown. So if it’s possible to convey to the nation after that meeting and in the intervening days since, proportionally, does the President view this as mostly a gun-control issue, or a 50-50 gun control, mental health, personal responsibility? And can you give the nation a sense that whatever he proposes, whenever he proposes it, will be inclusive of all of those things?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that’s a good question and I appreciate it. The President believes that there are multiple elements that need to be addressed that are part of the problem of gun violence. And as any expert on this subject I think would tell you gun laws would not alone solve this problem and he recognizes that. He would, however, support and has supported some gun control legislation like the assault weapons ban, like closure of the gun show loophole.
What the proportion is, is hard to say, but I think you break it down to issues of law enforcement, issues of — and then law enforcement can mean not just gun legislation, but other issues of law enforcement, obviously, like background checks and the like. Then there’s mental health and broader health care issues. There’s education issues. I think those are three pockets; whether that’s 33, 33, 33 is hard to say.
But it is simply a fact that legislation that addresses access to certain types of weapons or magazines or how we perform background checks, while they have merit and the President supports the ones that I’ve mentioned, would not alone address this problem. What I can’t tell you — to go to the second part of your question — is what the rollout of the President’s ideas, what form that will take, whether it will be things of — pieces of legislation that exist that he supports and has made that clear, I have also, or other things that might come up that he supports.
I think at some point you’ll hear from him more broadly on this issue, but I don’t have a timeframe for you on that. So this is a process that has just begun and includes the meeting he had yesterday. But beyond that, I just don’t have more for you.
Q All right, more mathematics. Based on briefings here and reaction from the Hill, there are some differences, but the revenue differences, which heretofore have been a significant impediment, are down to $1.2 trillion versus $1 trillion. And there are a lot of other issues, I acknowledge that. My question to you is, does this bill, and does the President believe there is an intrinsic, larger value to resolving this during this week as the country mourns a larger national tragedy in providing some evidence that all the rhetoric about the future of the children and everything else has actual meaning as related to our fiscal future?
MR. CARNEY: I hesitate to make grand pronouncements about the connection that some of you have made between what happened in Connecticut and other work that is taking place here. I do think that the President —
Q But you know and I know —
MR. CARNEY: No, I understand —
Q — here that it reverberates.
MR. CARNEY: It certainly does. And I think that at its core, tragedies like that at their core bring us as Americans together in our grief, and in our resolve, and in our neighborliness. They remind us of all that we share as opposed to the differences that we have.
And out of the ashes of a tragedy like that, as the President I think spoke to in Newtown, we should take heart from that — from the spirit of the community there, the spirit of communities that have been affected elsewhere. When first responders rush into a situation like that to try to save lives, nobody is thinking about political differences. So I think that any reminder of what binds us together is helpful and useful as we try to do the country’s business here. I think the President —
Q Would you acknowledge it has catalyzed the process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I just don’t know because I can’t speak to everyone’s motivations. I think that —
Q Does the President think it’s catalyzed the process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he has been committed to this process for a long time. He has been committed to seeking a broad deficit-reduction deal, one that protects the middle class, one that achieves balance and is good for our economy.
It is certainly — I think the events in Connecticut are a reminder to him, as he spoke about in Newtown, of what’s most important in our lives, what our greatest responsibilities are. And if to the extent that that is a motivation to do more and do better for all of us, I think, then that’s worth recognizing.
Roger, I think I said I’d call on you.
Q In the Biden meeting yesterday on guns, did the President give the Vice President a specific due date for this report or recommendations?
MR. CARNEY: No. And I don’t have a further readout of the meeting that included not just the Vice President, but the secretaries — Cabinet Secretaries that I mentioned and some senior staff here at the White House. It’s the beginning of a process where they’re looking for — we will look for ways to address this problem in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown.
Q And one other quick follow-up on chained CPI. You said the most vulnerable would be exempted out. What do you mean by that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have the technical details for you. But this is something that can be and has been done before in an effort to make sure that — one example, the oldest of Social Security recipients would be potentially protected from the impact of a change like this. But I don’t have more details for you on that.
Q Jay, to be determined, in other words?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are processes that this has been done in the past and can be done.
Q I guess what threw me was when you said “exempted out.” It means they would be taken off —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question, because it gives me the opportunity to refine my language — because I think what I meant to say is that there would be protections for most vulnerable populations and perhaps “exempted out” is not the proper way to describe it.
Q Jay, does the President have concerns about the dramatic increase, the upsurge in weapons sales just obviously based on the specter of the prospect of new gun control laws?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t asked him about that. I think that’s a phenomenon we’ve seen in the past. But I haven’t got a response from him for you.
Q Would he like to see retailers — as one, at least one already has — voluntarily stop selling the type of weapon that was used in Newtown?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that discussion with him either. I know that he supports some legislation that we’ve already talked about and is certainly interested in hearing about other ideas and other possible proposals, mindful of the fact that gun control legislation alone will not sufficiently address this problem.
Thanks very much.
1:42 P.M. EST
Posted by bonniekgoodman on December 18, 2012