Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/19/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:16 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. It’s nice to see you all. I see only a couple of familiar faces from last week. But it’s nice to be back in Washington and to be here with all of you.
I don’t have any announcements at the top, but in the spirit of the Vineyard, Josh, I’ll let you go first off the tee here.
Q Thanks, Josh. To start with -- Egypt. Hosni Mubarak may be released from jail later this week while the last democratically elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, remains detained. Considering that Mubarak’s ouster was one of the major things that brought secularists and Islamists together in Egypt, how alarming is that to the President? And has he spoken, or has the White House spoken with Egypt’s military leaders about Mubarak’s possible release?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any specific conversations to read out to you in terms of conversations between senior Obama administration officials and leaders of the interim government in Egypt. But I do want to draw a line between a couple of things that you referred to.
The legal proceedings against former President Mubarak are something that’s ongoing inside of Egypt. That is an Egyptian legal matter and something that I’ll leave for them to determine, and it’s not something that I’m going to weigh on from here. But something that we have weighed in on, something that I’ve said previously but other senior administration officials have also said -- that politically motivated detentions inside Egypt should end, and that certainly would include the politically motivated detention of former President Morsi.
Q And the U.N. and others here have been for weeks calling for that type of non-politicized end to violence, reconciliation and such ever since the military ousted Morsi with pretty poor results and a death toll that’s reaching about a thousand. So is the U.S. changing either its tactics or its strategy in response to the approach not working up until now? Or are we continuing with the same approach and hoping that somehow things will work better?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are a couple of different things that we’re doing. The first is -- and this is something that we’ve made reference to on several occasions -- there are ongoing conversations between senior administration officials here in this country and senior administration officials in Egypt, that there is a dialogue that’s open. And in the context of those conversations, this administration and senior leaders in this administration have made clear that it is incumbent upon the interim government in Egypt to follow through on their promise to transition back to a democratically elected, civilian government in Egypt. It’s also important for that interim government in Egypt to respect basic human rights. That includes everything from the right to peaceful protest, and it means the end of politically motivated detentions.
But we have made our position on these issues, on these very important issues crystal clear. In the context of this, we have also -- the President has also directed all of the relevant agencies and departments in this administration to review the assistance that’s provided to the Egyptian government. That review is ongoing and that review is being made in light of actions that are taken by the interim Egyptian government.
So there certainly are consequences for the actions that are taken by the interim government. There are a couple of good recent examples that I can point to on that. The first is the delayed delivery of the F-16s that were in the pipeline and scheduled for delivery to Egypt; that delivery was delayed. And also, last week, the President delivered a statement from Martha’s Vineyard, where he announced the cancellation of the joint military exercise known as Bright Star.
So there have been some consequences for the actions that have been taken by the interim government. And we are hopeful that -- well, I guess I’d also say this: There have also been consequences for other nations, that there are other nations that have raised concerns in the region and in Europe and other places about the actions taken by the interim Egyptian government. So this is not something that is only in the interest of the United States. It's in the interest of our partners in the region and our allies around the world.
Q And on the President’s meeting today on Dodd-Frank, it comes about a little over three years since he signed that law. One count says that about 60 percent of the rule-making deadlines have been missed. And even the former FDIC chair says it's been disappointing and she'd give it about a C-plus. So what is the President's view of the progress on the law and the reason for those delays? Does the banking industry have too much influence over the regulators? And what's going to be his message to regulators today?
MR. EARNEST: Well, part of his message to these independent regulators who have a job description that's codified under the law -- but the President will have a message to these regulators, which is he is going to convey to them the sense of urgency that he feels about getting these regulations under Wall Street reform implemented promptly and, most importantly, implemented in a way that protects the long-term stability of our financial system and the financial interests of middle-class families all across the country.
A recent good example of this was the confirmation of Richard Cordray as the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For the first time, consumers in America will have a watchdog in Washington, D.C. that will be looking out for their interests. There's no question that large financial institutions, including investment firms and banks on Wall Street, wield significant influence over the political process in Washington, D.C. That's the benefit of having independent regulators who can make their own determinations about the rules and regulations that should be put in place to protect the financial system, but also to protect the interests of middle-class families.
And the President is pleased with the progress that they have made. There are some important rules that have been put in place. More work needs to be done. And as we approach the fifth anniversary of the financial meltdown, today seems as an appropriate day as any to start having that conversation.
Q British authorities detained David Miranda, who, as you know, is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who wrote about the secrets that Edward Snowden revealed. Human rights groups have called this detention -- which was for nine hours -- harassment. The Brazilian government has said there was no justification for it. Was the United States government at all involved in this? And what is the justification for it, if so?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Mark, what you're referring to is a law enforcement action that was taken by the British government. The United States was not involved in that decision or in that action. So if you have questions about it, then I would refer you to the British government.
Q Does the U.S. feel that Miranda could have revealed information that's useful in terms of finding Edward Snowden or pursuing its case against Snowden in any way?
MR. EARNEST: Like I said, I'm not aware of any of the conversations that Mr. Miranda may have had with British law enforcement officials while he was detained. But that detention was a decision that was made by the British government and is something that if you have questions about you should ask them.
Q Going back to Josh's question about Dodd-Frank, numerous important rules have been delayed -- the Volcker Rule, the naming of some systemic important institutions, risk retention. Are there any particular rules that the President is going to push regulators to get done quickly? And if so, which ones?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have anything that detailed to read out to you in terms of the conversations that the President plans to have with these independent regulators. There are some important decisions that remain to be made by these regulators as they implement Wall Street reform. And the President is going to urge them to put those rules in place in a way that protects the interests of middle class families. That's what the President believes. As you know, and as you've heard us talk about quite a bit and as you've heard the President talk about quite a bit, the economic interests of middle-class families is his top domestic priority. And there certainly is an important stake for middle-class families in the implementation of some of these financial regulations.
But, again, these are independent regulators, so they're going to make their own decisions about what those rules should be and how this regulatory regime is put in place. We're certainly pleased with the level of cooperation and coordination that's taken place among these independent regulators. And the President wants to encourage them to capitalize on the momentum they've already built up to put this regulatory regime in place.
Q Some of the financial institutions that are being regulated under these new rules are saying that the sheer volume of these rules has placed a burden not only on them but on regulators, making it really difficult to implement them. Is the President going to try to simplify these rules, streamline them in any way to make them easier to put in place and actually enforce?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the regulatory regime is the responsibility of these regulators to put in place. So they have a significant mandate -- there's no doubt about that -- that what we saw was a lack of regulation contributed to the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. And we're coming up on the fifth anniversary of that financial crisis.
And the reason that Wall Street reform was put in place was to make sure that Wall Street banks weren't exercising too much influence over that process and that middle-class families could be confident that there was an independent watchdog that would be looking out for their interests. That's certainly something that Richard Cordray has an important role in. And there is a responsibility of all of these different regulatory agencies to work in coordinated fashion to put in place a regime that will protect our financial system and protect the interests of middle-class families.
There is no doubt that they have a tall order, but we're pleased with the progress that they’ve made, and we believe that it’s important for them to exercise that responsibility outside of the influence of some Wall Street firms and other large financial institutions that are seeking to water this down.
Q Lastly, is there any area of the financial system where the President feels there’s a risk of risky practices that are going unregulated, that should be reined in?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have an analysis like that to share with you at this point. But he certainly believes that the mandate of these independent regulators is really important and it’s important to the broader stability of our financial system. And they have an important job to do, and the President is going to encourage them to keep doing it.
I'm going to stick to the front row, but I'm going to start jumping around here, so if you're in the back and you have a question, don't be shy.
Q Your repetition of what the President said about the review of assistance to Egypt being ongoing seems to suggest that there’s a possibility that it could be reduced or eliminated. But what difference would it make, given the fact that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are supporting Egypt at a much greater rate than we are, given the fact that most of what we give them gets spent on U.S. military products, and given the concern that any less in aid could result in less protection for American facilities and pave the way for another Benghazi?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess there’s a question in there somewhere.
Q There are three of them.
MR. EARNEST: I'll try to divine it.
Let me start here by saying there are two criteria that the President and other senior administration officials are using to evaluate the ongoing provision of assistance to the Egyptian government. The first is evaluating what’s in the best interest of the national security of the United States of America. That's how the President makes all national security and foreign policy decisions and that's how this one will be made, too.
The second one is considering our obligations under the law, and in this case, that is Section 7008 of the Annual Department of State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. And this administration, of course, will make these decisions to ensure that whatever assistance is being provided is being provided in the context and within the confines of Section 7008.
Q What about the bigger picture here? I mean, is there no concern that a diminution of U.S. aid would prompt the Egyptian generals to lower their level of protection on U.S. facilities?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would characterize the relationship between the United States and Egypt as a really important one beyond just the financial cooperation -- I should say the military cooperation that we have with the Egyptian military.
There is a relationship that extends to economic support and economic assistance that's provided by the United States government to the Egyptian government. Certainly there are issues related to International Monetary Fund assistance that the Egyptian government is seeking. Certainly, the United States would have some influence on that process as well. There are also issues related to tourism, that there are -- that has a significant impact on the Egyptian economy.
So this is a multifaceted relationship that we have with Egypt. We certainly value that relationship. I think that it’s fair to say that the Egyptian government does as well. But the question that you’re asking is: What impact would changing our posture toward providing assistance to the Egyptians have on the situation?
And I can tell you that that is something that we’re evaluating on an ongoing basis. That's the purpose of these reviews, is to determine what impact it would have on our national security, whether it’s in compliance with the law, and is it going to get us closer to seeing the kind of outcome in Egypt that we would like to see, which is the prompt return to a democratically elected, civilian government in Egypt.
Q So when are you going to figure it out?
MR. EARNEST: That's something that is being conducted on an ongoing basis, and it certainly is influenced by the day-to-day decisions that are being made by the current leaders in Egypt, okay?
Let’s go to the back. Olivier.
Q Josh, you’ve talked about the Mubarak detention as being a Egyptian legal matter. You’ve talked about Morsi’s politically motivated detention. And then with regard to Mr. Greenwald’s partner, you called it a “mere law enforcement action.” Given that the White House has never been shy about criticizing detention policies overseas, do you have any concerns at all about the U.K.’s law enforcement actions in this case?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I can say is I don't have a specific reaction other than to observe to you that this is a decision that was made by the British government and not one that was made at the request or with the involvement of the United States government.
Q But you're not going to go as far as to say it’s wrong or it’s cause for concern? You're just separating yourself entirely from it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m separating -- what I’m suggesting is that this is a decision that was made by the British government without the involvement and not at the request of the United States government. I think it’s simple as that.
Q Just to follow then, does the U.S. government expect to be briefed on those -- the questioning that took place in London, or the information that was taken away from Mr. Greenwald’s partner?
MR. EARNEST: To be honest with you, Steve, I don't have a way to characterize for you any of the conversations between the British government and the U.S. government on this matter other than to say that this is a decision that they made on their own and not at the request of the United States.
But in terms of the kinds of classified, confidential conversations that are ongoing between the U.S. and our allies in Britain, I’m not able to characterize that for you.
Q But there are consultations on this matter taking place?
MR. EARNEST: I’m telling you I’m not able to provide any insight into those conversations at all.
Q A thought on Egypt. I’m wondering, the Egyptian -- the interim government in Egypt says that what they're doing is controlling terrorism -- that’s their line. In fact, they’ve been very forceful about that line. The United States has said that -- it has come out against attacks on peaceful protests. Does the United States believe that the people who have been killed in Egypt, for the most part, are terrorists? And that those people who are protesting peacefully in the squares of Egypt have been terrorists?
MR. EARNEST: What you’re asking is a pretty broad question, because we’re talking about a large number of people in a large country under a lot of different circumstances. What I can tell you that we’ve concluded is that there are a -- that it is evident that a large number of people who were peaceful protestors were the victims of violence that was perpetrated by the interim government in Egypt. That is something that we have strongly condemned. It’s something that the President himself has personally condemned, which he did in his statement on Thursday. And it is not in line with the commitment that was made by the interim government in Egypt to transition back to a democratically elected, civilian government. It does not reflect their commitment to begin an inclusive process to transition back to that democratically elected, civilian government.
So there are a number of actions that have been taken by the interim government that have aroused the concern of people in the United States and people all around the world because of their refusal -- or at this case, failure, at least, to respect the basic human rights of their people.
Q But among those who have been killed and attacked, when you’re saying it’s a complicated issue, do you believe it’s a --
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not saying it’s a complicated issue. You’re asking me to characterize thousands of people who have been the victim of violence, and I’m just not in a position to do that.
Q I’m asking you to comment on what the Egyptian government is saying now, that what they’re doing is carrying out violent acts against terrorists. Do you agree with that?
MR. EARNEST: What we have commented on and what we’re concerned about are those instances in which the basic human rights of some Egyptian people have been so obviously and grievously violated -- in some cases, costing these civilians their lives. That does not live up to the promise that was made by the interim government to transition back to a democratically elected, civilian government through an inclusive process. The imposition of a state of emergency is certainly not in line with a commitment to upholding and protecting those basic human rights, and that’s something that has drawn the strong condemnation of the President of the United States, the Secretary of State of the United States, and leaders all around the globe.
Q And then, finally, besides the military aid, there’s also economic aid. What can you tell us about what kind of economic aid the United States is now withholding from Egypt?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there’s been -- no decision has been made to withhold any aid outside of the F-16 example that I cited for you earlier, as well the joint military exercise example that the President announced on Thursday. No decisions about economic aid have been made, but they’re subject to evaluation through the same criteria, which is Section 7008 and a determination about the national security interest of the United States of America. So that aid is being similarly evaluated through similar criteria, but no decisions about that have been made at this point.
Q Thanks, Josh. Can you state with authority that the U.S. government has not obtained material from the laptop the British authorities confiscated from Glenn Greenwald’s partner or from any of his personal devices they also confiscated?
MR. EARNEST: I’m just not in a position to talk to you about the conversations between British law enforcement officials and American law enforcement officials.
Q So you can’t rule out that the U.S. has obtained this material?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to do that right now, no.
Q You also didn’t condemn -- the White House didn’t condemn the detention. Is the President pleased that he was condemned -- I’m sorry, is the President pleased that he was detained?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, this is a law enforcement action that was taken by the British government, and this is something that that they did independent of our direction, as you would expect -- that the British government is going to make law enforcement decisions that they determine are in the best interest of their country.
Q Was the White House consulted or given a heads-up in advance?
MR. EARNEST: There was a heads-up that was provided by the British government. So, again, this is something that we had an indication was likely to occur, but it’s not something that we requested, and it’s something that was done specifically by the British law enforcement officials there.
Q Is it at all concerning to the President, this sort of a nine-hour detention?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, this is an independent British law enforcement decision that was made. I know the suggestion has been raised by some that this is an effort to intimidate journalists. And with all of you, we’ve been undergoing a pretty rigorous debate on a range of issues related to an independent media -- an independent journalist covering the application of national security rules, questions about national security leaks and other classified or confidential information and policy.
The President, I think, in the course of the debate, has made pretty clear his support for independent journalists, the important role that independent journalists have to play in a vibrant, democratic society like ours. He’s also talked about the responsibility of the government to protect the right of independent journalists to do their job.
So that’s something that the President feels strongly about and has spoken candidly about in the past. But, again, if you have specific questions about this law enforcement decision that was made by the British government, you should direct your questions to my friends over there.
Q One on Egypt, quickly. How angry is the President with the Saudis for their quick assurance that Arab and Muslim countries will make up any aid the U.S. might pull from Egypt?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t actually seen that announcement from the Saudis. All I can say is -- I would refer you back to the question, or the exchange that Bill and I had, which is that there is an important longstanding relationship between the United States and the Egyptians, and not just the two governments but also the people of those two countries.
And that is a relationship that we take very seriously, and it’s why we’re carefully -- part of that relationship involves aid to that country. And that aid that we have provided in the past -- or the aid that's in the pipeline for us to provide moving forward is something that is under review and will be evaluated in the context of additional decisions that are made by the Egyptian government.
Q Why was the United States given a heads-up by the British government on this detention?
MR. EARNEST: Again, that heads-up was provided by the British government, so you can direct that question to them.
Q Right. But was this heads-up given before he was detained or before it went public that he was detained?
MR. EARNEST: Probably wouldn’t be a heads-up if they would have told us about it after they detained him.
Q So it’s fair to say they told you they were going to do this when they saw that he was on a manifest?
MR. EARNEST: I think that is an accurate interpretation of what a heads-up is.
Q Is this gentleman on some sort of watch list for the United States? Can you look that up?
MR. EARNEST: You’d have to check with the TSA because they maintain the watch list. And I don't know if they’d tell you or not, but you can ask them.
Q If he’s on a watch list for the U.K., would it be safe to assume then that he’s been put on a watch list in the United States?
MR. EARNEST: The level of coordination between counterterrorism and law enforcement officials in the U.K. and counterterrorism and law enforcement officials in the United States is very good. But in terms of who is on different watch lists and how our actions and their actions are coordinated is not something I’m in a position to talk about from here.
Q Did the United States government -- when given the heads-up, did the United States government express any hesitancy about the U.K. doing it -- about the U.K. government doing this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, this is the British government making a decision based on British law, on British soil, about a British law enforcement action.
Q Did the United States, when given the heads-up, just said okay?
MR. EARNEST: They gave us a heads-up, and this is something that they did not do at our direction and it’s not something that we were involved with. This is a decision that they made on their own.
Q Did the United States discourage the action?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not going to characterize the conversations between law enforcement officials in this country and law enforcement officials there other than to say that those conversations occurred and to point out the fact that this is a decision that they made on their own.
Q But if the -- is it fair to say if the United States had discouraged it, you’d tell us?
MR. EARNEST: No, because I think it’s fair for you to determine that those kinds of law enforcement conversations are not ones that we’re going to talk about in public.
Q On Egypt, since everything is -- is it fair to characterize that the President is still considering officially calling this a coup as part of the aid review process?
MR. EARNEST: No. We have said --
Q You ruled that out completely?
MR. EARNEST: We’ve said for some time now that we have --
Q You’ll never refer to it as a coup?
MR. EARNEST: We’ve concluded that it is not in the best interest of the United States to reach a determination on a coup. That is a decision that will be set aside and that we will evaluate our assistance to the Egyptians based on the two criteria that I laid out before: the law, as described in Section 7008, and the President’s assessment about the national security interests of the United States of America.
Q Is there anything you -- that the administration needs Congress to legislate in order to get the President more tools to determine what to do with Egyptian aid?
MR. EARNEST: that's a question that I would encourage you to direct to some of our national security professionals who may be able to explain that to you here.
Q You don't have anything --
MR. EARNEST: I don't have anything in front of me to indicate that.
Q And is there a certain amount of time that President Morsi is in custody that changes the equation? I mean, you talked about strongly condemning. Why not connect an action, saying to the Egyptians, you have 10 days to release him or this happens? Why not the decision to do something like that? He’s been -- it’s now a month and a half.
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ve spoken out in pretty clear terms about these politically motivated detentions and our concerns about them.
Q In strongly worded letters and press releases. But is there --
MR. EARNEST: And in conversations and the declaration --
Q And the declaration that will come with --
MR. EARNEST: And the declaration that we’re going to review our assistance to the Egypt -- to the Egyptian government in light of their conduct. And that's something that's ongoing, and I don't have any -- there’s no new announcements about that to make other than the decision by the President that was announced on Thursday to cancel the joint military operation and the decision of a few weeks prior to that about the deliver of F-16s. So there have been some consequences and some decisions that have been made, but there’s nothing new to report out at this time.
But it’s fair for you to understand and for your viewers to understand that these conversations between senior Obama administration officials and senior officials in Egypt are ongoing. And they recognize the unambiguous position that the President and this administration -- and his administration has taken to condemn violence that's been perpetrated against civilians, the failure of the interim government to respect basic human rights, and the failure of the interim government to live up to their promise to transition back to a democratically elected, civilian government.
Q Has the United States offered security to President Morsi if some of sort of -- if the Egyptians will release him to the United States or help give him security if there’s fear that his life is in danger, or something like that?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of anything like that.
Let’s go back to the back. Jared.
Q Josh, I don't want to standardize a term of “heads-up,” but to what degree was a heads-up given to the Egyptian government, the interim Egyptian government prior to the administration’s decision last week to cancel the Bright Star games next month?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I have conveyed to you a couple of times from this podium and the podium up in Martha’s Vineyard last week that there are -- there’s an open line of communication between senior administration officials here in the United States and their counterparts in the Egyptian government.
And certainly, if we’re going to make a decision like canceling a joint military exercise, then it would make sense that the formal notification of that cancellation would be provided to the other half of the joint, if you will.
Q To what degree was the interim Egyptian government prepared and enthusiastic to participate in the Bright Star games before the President made the decision to cancel them?
MR. EARNEST: Questions about the degree of enthusiasm of the interim Egyptian government should be directed to the interim Egyptian government.
Q What about preparedness?
MR. EARNEST: Again, you’d have to ask them about their military preparedness.
Q And on a second question then -- with aid to now Egypt under question, and we’ve had so many questions over the last few months about aid to Syria, is there a guiding principle -- is there any guiding principle or underlying philosophies that you can reveal to us about aid to countries in that region or countries with certain backgrounds that the administration is taking that is guiding the administration in any way that we can understand? Because it doesn't seem like -- it seems like these are being done on an ad hoc basis. And if that's true, then maybe that can be clarified?
MR. EARNEST: Well, no, I actually think that I’ve laid out -- or at least I’ve tried to lay out two very clear criteria that we are using to evaluate continued assistance to Egypt. The first is a determination about the national security interests of the United States of America. That is the foremost criteria that the President uses in making any national security decision. What impact is it going to have on our national security -- that's the first thing.
The second thing is there are some aspects of American law that apply to these determinations about providing aid and assistance. In this case, it’s Section 7008 of the Annual Department of State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act. So we're obviously going to make decisions about providing aid and assistance to ensure that it complies with relevant law. And those are the two principal criteria that we'll use to make decisions about aid and assistance.
Now, that will also be affected by, of course, the future actions of the Egyptian government. We've been pretty clear about that. And there are a couple actions that we have taken as a result of our strong disappointment in actions that were taken by the interim Egyptian government.
Q Josh, can I follow?
MR. EARNEST: Hold on just a minute, we'll get around to you.
Q I want to ask about the aid debate that's going on over Egypt. I mean, you see a number of members of Congress are weighing in and you guys have consistently said that this aid is under review. Bits and pieces are dripping out in terms of steps you're taking. Is there a point in which the President feels that it’s necessary for him to come out and explain the process here to the American people in terms of why this is not an easy decision, why he has not made a decision on certain things, what his thinking is on this? Because essentially what’s happening is that people are watching this debate unfold and he hasn’t said all that much about where his thinking is and why he’s doing this.
MR. EARNEST: Well, he did have a news conference 10 days ago where he talked about this a little bit.
Q Things have moved pretty far along since then.
MR. EARNEST: They have. They have. And I think that's one other aspect of this that probably makes it difficult to cover this, which is that this is unfolding on a daily basis here. And because of this ongoing review, these decisions about aid and assistance are the kinds of things that are being evaluated on a daily basis, and so that evaluation may or may not change. No specific decisions have been made as a result of that at this point.
But this is something that we're carefully looking at. And we have tried to be clear about what are the factors that influence this decision, and this determination about our national security, about the best interests of our national security, and the specific section of the law that applies to foreign assistance.
So we've tried to explain to you and to your readers what kind of -- the criteria that we're using to make these decisions. And you're right, the conditions on the ground are changing on a pretty regular basis and that has an influence on the calculation about our national security interests at play here and how the law applies.
So I'm not going to try to deny the notion that this is something that’s evolving, and I think even that is evident from the fact that we have taken a couple of steps in terms of suspending the delivery of the F-16s and canceling the joint military exercise. But this is something that is being evaluated on an ongoing basis.
Q Just quickly on the British detainment. When was the U.S. given a heads-up? How much -- how far in advance?
MR. EARNEST: I actually don't have that information. I'm not sure how much of a heads-up they got. But in advance of his detention, American officials were informed.
Q Do you know what American officials were informed? Or which department -- was it the White House?
MR. EARNEST: I don't.
Q Josh, since the President’s statement, more violence has continued and more deaths. What options are on the table? I mean, you’ve got Bright Star. It seems like Bright Star hasn’t really made a dent; you cancelled that. So what’s next? What other options are on the table?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think there are a couple of things at play here. There is some additional assistance in the pipeline, and that is -- the decision to move forward with providing that assistance is something that’s being evaluated on an ongoing basis. There are ongoing conversations between senior administration officials in this country and their counterparts in Egypt.
In the context of those conversations, unambiguous perspectives from the United States are being shared with the Egyptian government, urging them to follow through on their commitment to transition back to a democratically elected, civilian government. On a regular basis, we're urging them to respect the basic human rights of their people. On an ongoing basis, we're urging them to initiate an inclusive political process so that we can have a democratic government in Egypt that reflects the will of the Egyptian people. So there are a number of conversations like that that are ongoing.
There also is a role to be played by our allies and other partners in the region that also have an important relationship with the government of Egypt and the people of Egypt. So this is a multidimensional policy challenge and it’s something that we're evaluating on a daily basis. And the President has spoken out on a couple of different occasions about how he views that situation and will continue to do that in the days ahead.
Q I asked that question because last week the President laid out that there are consequences, and Bright Star was the one consequence. And he used words like “condemn” and “deplore” and other strong words. So, therefore, I mean -- you just have Bright Star lingering right now and that's in September. What’s next? What other options, tangible options or consequences that would hurt, that would make them take notice? Because Bright Star apparently hasn’t done much.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it’s difficult to draw that conclusion right now. But what I would say is that there is a -- I mean, there is a publicly disclosed menu of assistance that's in the pipeline to be provided to Egypt. And I can ask somebody to follow up with you on that if you’d like to take a look at that, and you can evaluate for yourself the significance of those programs.
But, again, I'm not suggesting that a decision has been made on those programs, just that those are in the pipeline and on an ongoing basis that assistance is being reviewed.
Q Hey, Josh, I want to go back to something that Olivier I think alluded to on Egypt before where you were saying when it comes to Morsi, at least a couple of times you’ve said this is politically motivated detention and he needs to be released, but when it comes to Mubarak you're saying that's an internal legal matter that you're not going to get involved in. Why are you not speaking out about the possibility of Mubarak being released when people are saying if he is released the Muslim Brotherhood may be inflamed even more and may target and kill more people?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the reason for that, simply, Ed, is just that President Mubarak is part of an ongoing Egyptian legal process right now. He was charged with crimes. He’s in the midst of that legal process. And because that is a process that is internal to Egypt, it’s not something that I'm in a position to comment on from here.
Q But the interim government could say, look, what’s happening with Morsi, it’s internal legal business for them and stay out of it. So what leverage do we have to tell them to release Morsi when we're not saying anything about what’s happening with Mubarak?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the reason that -- no one is suggesting, at least that I'm aware of, no one is suggesting that the detention of Mubarak is politically motivated. I think that there are crimes that he was charged with in the Egyptian criminal process. So I'm not going to comment on that. You often hear me stand up here and say that I'm not going to comment on an ongoing legal matter here in this country, and so I certainly wouldn't do that on Egypt.
However, in the case of Mr. Morsi, what we see there is a pretty clearly politically motivated detention that is not in line with the human rights standards that we expect other governments to uphold.
Q Adam Gadahn, the American-born al Qaeda militant, has spoken out again and it's getting some notice around the world. He praised the Benghazi attack. He urged more violence against Americans, unfortunately. What reaction do you have when Republican Senator Graham today put out some statement saying that he should be targeted by the U.S. military as an enemy combatant, even though he is a U.S. citizen? What reaction do you have to that? What reaction do you have to the statements that he is making?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I did not see Senator Graham's statement, so it's hard for me to comment on that. In terms of the statements made by this one individual, it's a reminder that the global threat alert that this administration put out at the beginning of August remains in effect. And our national security professionals are vigilant as ever in trying to protect the national security of the United States of America, our interests and our allies and our citizens all around the globe. And that's something that they remain hard at work on.
We have made tremendous progress in decimating core al Qaeda in the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But there is an ongoing violent and dangerous threat that's emanating out of the Arabian Peninsula. And that’s something that we're focused on, because the President believes and understands that his chief responsibility as President of the United States is the national security of the United States of America and her citizens.
Q The last thing on the NSA. You mentioned the President's news conference where he talked about a debate on the NSA issue and more transparency. And then a few days after that news conference, we learned there were actually many violations of privacy. The government says they were inadvertent, et cetera. That debate continues. But Congressman Amash was on one of the Sunday shows yesterday; he has been involved in this debate. And he says that weeks, months ago when he approached the intelligence community, they told him no such violations had happened. And then we learned last week that some of them did. So my question is, is there a credibility gap here where the President is in a news conference saying we want more transparency, we’re going to -- there's no privacy violations and yet it turns out there were?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not sure that's exactly the way that I would characterize the position that we've maintained. Let me start here. When the President took office, he took office with what he described as an inherently skeptical perspective on some of these programs, and the success that these programs had had in striking the appropriate balance between the privacy rights that are enjoyed by American citizens and our national security.
Upon taking office, the President ordered a review of these programs. As a result of that review, there are some additional protections that were put in place -- some additional oversight measures that were put in place and some additional measures to ensure transparency into these programs were put into place.
Now, the President is not opposed -- as he indicated during his news conference -- to additional measures that members of Congress may think would be helpful in inspiring greater public confidence in these programs. So we're happy to have that kind of conversation with members of Congress who feel strongly about this issue. There are members of Congress in both parties who feel strongly about this issue.
But the thing that's important for people to understand -- and the President thinks this is important, too -- we're talking about national security programs that are critical to the protection of our national security. You've heard national security professionals testify before Congress that these programs have been instrumental in disrupting terror plots all around the world. They also are an important element of our cooperation with other countries in protecting the national security and the national security interests of the United States of America.
So there is an important balance for us to strike here, and part of the success of these programs depends on public confidence in them. So if there are steps that we can take to provide greater transparency or additional oversight in a way that it will inspire greater public confidence in them, then the President is eager to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to effectuate those changes.
Q Josh, on the unauthorized NSA surveillance, does the President stand by his statement of a few weeks ago that there is no spying on Americans?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, the President does stand by that statement.
Q But there were 2,700 incidents of unauthorized surveillance.
MR. EARNEST: The facts here are really, really important. We saw -- and I actually read an op-ed from Mike Hayden, who served in the previous administration, where he pointed out that almost 70 percent of those violations that were included in that report were violations related to surveillance of foreign individuals who happened to temporarily be in the United States of America. So understanding the facts of this complicated policy is important.
I also want to produce two other things to remind you of -- point out two other things to you. The first is I want to quote from Senator Diane Feinstein of California. She’s the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and she pointed out, “The committee has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes.” But it’s probably not a surprise because Senator --
Q When was that statement?
MR. EARNEST: That was last week. I think she issued the statement on Thursday [Friday] of last week.
Now, there is one other person I want to point out here, too, and that’s Pete King, who is not in the President’s party and not as inclined to agree with the President, and what he points out I think is something that’s also important, which is that that The Washington Post report that got a lot of attention last week that you’re referring to was based on NSA compliance reports. So the fact that this Washington Post story could be written in the first place is evidence there is rigorous oversight ongoing at the NSA.
These are compliance problems that were identified by the NSA, that were tabulated by the NSA, that were reported by the NSA to Congress in the appropriate fashion, and they are compliance issues that were -- where action was taken to rectify them. So what this Post story illustrates is that there is in place at the NSA a very strict oversight regime.
Last thing, I want to just quote from Pete King who was asked about The Washington Post report, and he says -- he was asked whether or not there was a problem with the compliance system at the NSA, and he said, “No, there’s not a problem. The fact is it worked. If you have 99.99 percent compliance and you have self-reporting errors -- this came from an internal report, which then becomes part of an overall IG report.” He went on to say that it was all available and "there's nothing there that bothers me. Quite frankly, that shows that the system works. And it works. We should be proud of it."
So this is a conclusion that was reached by a Republican member of Congress who has quite a bit of experience with some of these issues, indicating his confidence in the oversight of these NSA programs.
I recognize that there are members of Congress who have said there should be additional oversight or there should be greater transparency measures. And the President is willing to work with those members of Congress to do that.
Q How concerned is the President and this administration that the present military government in Egypt may use access to the Suez Canal as a bargaining chip?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't seen those reports and I haven’t seen that prospect raised. Suffice it to say, we value the working relationship that we have with the Egyptians. And that is a relationship that goes back decades. But we have been concerned about some of the steps that have been taken by the interim government to violate the civil rights of their people, to not follow through on their commitment to transition back to a democratically elected civilian government.
So we've made those concerns pretty clear not just to them in private conversations, but to all of you in the public pronouncements of the President and other senior administration officials.
Q May I just quickly follow up? How much support does the President intend to be receiving from his NATO allies like Great Britain, France and Germany, and the regional allies like Qatar as he moves to perhaps other initiatives?
MR. EARNEST: Related to Egypt?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I would say is that obviously these other countries will be making a determination on their own about their own national security interests. But because you're talking about allies, it's reasonable to assume that those interests are largely going to overlap. So we'll certainly be, and have been, consulting with our allies as they confront this policy challenge as well.
Q Josh, you just quoted from Senator Feinstein's comment. But as I recall in The Washington Post article, to follow up on Mark's question, she commented to The Washington Post that she was not aware -- she and her staff were not aware of the compliance audits until The Washington Post asked her about them. So my question to you is, are you misinformed about what she saw? Was she telling The Washington Post something different? Are we talking about two different reports?
MR. EARNEST: I don't think it has anything to do with me being misinformed. But if you have questions about her comments, then you should check with her. I read to you her on-the-record statement on this issue. I think what she may have been referring to in that report --
Q What did you understand her to mean when she was quoted in the Post?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have the story in front of me, so it's hard for me to see exactly what you're referring to. I know that at least some members of Congress -- and I don't know whether or not it was Senator Feinstein -- have suggested that they didn't see these NSA reports that were reported on by The Washington Post. But what they did see and what many of them were briefed on were the regular reports that are due to Congress from the NSA as part of their oversight function, that there are reports on a regular basis that are made to members of Congress oftentimes to the intelligence committees about some of these issues and some of the broader issues that allow Congress to fulfill their responsibility to conduct oversight over the NSA.
That is cooperation that we're committed to. But if there are members of Congress who have ideas about how we can strengthen that oversight and improve that oversight in a way that yields greater public confidence, then we're willing to work with them to make those changes.
Q So included in that would be the President would consider making those audits public?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't have any specific proposals, and I don't know that anybody has proposed that either, because we're talking about classified confidential programs that are critical to our national security. So I wouldn't make any broad promises like that.
But if there are people who have looked at this issue that come to this from a perspective of conviction that have the best interest of American national security and the privacy rights of Americans at heart, then we're eager to sit down at the table and work with them to put in place measures that will inspire greater public confidence in these programs.
These programs work better in protecting our national security when the American public has confidence in them. And so if there are steps that we can take that will inspire great public confidence, then we’re going to work with Congress to get that done.
Q Yes, on a lighter note, I had a couple of questions I wanted to ask you about the President’s appearance tomorrow with the ’72 Miami Dolphin NFL team.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q The first question being where did the idea come up with -- to honor a team four decades after the fact?
MR. EARNEST: To be honest with you, I don't know whose idea it was. But marking the 40th anniversary of their Super Bowl victory seems appropriate considering they won that Super Bowl at a time before NFL Super Bowl champions regularly visit the White House. So this an opportunity for them to get the kind of White House visit that contemporary Super Bowl winning teams get to enjoy. I can tell you the President is certainly looking forward to it.
Q Several members of that team, though --
Q Can you take that question on whose idea it was?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll look into it.
Go ahead, Mike.
Q Several members of that team said that they won’t appear because of political differences with the President. Is the White House disappointed about that?
MR. EARNEST: No, people are certainly allowed to make whatever decision they’d like to make on that.
Q Josh, do you have any more on the bus tour at the end of the week in terms of whether the President will actually be proposing anything new on college funding or education more broadly?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the bus tour is three days away.
Q I understand.
MR. EARNEST: But I welcome your interest in this bus tour because I think it’s going to be -- (laughter) --
Q I figured you would.
MR. EARNEST: Because I think it is going to be hopefully both fun and informative. I can tell you that the President does plan to have some new proposals that he’s going to be talking about.
Q You want to share those just between us? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Maybe later. (Laughter.) Not at this point, but in the next couple of days, we’ll have some more information on this.
Q On what subject will the President --
MR. EARNEST: The President is going to be talking about his view that we need to rein in the skyrocketing costs of a college education, that never has a college education been more critical to the economic success of middle-class families in this country and if we’re going to make sure that middle-class families continue to have access to economic opportunity, that means that more students are going to need to have access to a high quality college education. So we need to make sure that more middle-class families can get access to that college education, and that, frankly, families that are trying to get into the middle class also have the chance to afford a college education. So that's generally what will be --
Q So the whole thing is college, not more broadly pre-K and some of other proposals that the President --
MR. EARNEST: The focus of the proposals that the President will be talking about will be higher education.
Q What’s the fun part? (Laughter.) Beer pong and frats? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Unfortunately, we’re not going to Miami. Maybe that would be on the agenda if we were doing that.
Q What is the fun? Why --
MR. EARNEST: Getting on a bus for a couple of days and seeing America. Sounds pretty good to me. I’m looking forward to it. Maybe you don't think it’s fun. I think it’s going to be fun.
Q I didn’t say it wasn’t fun, it was just an interesting way to describe it.
MR. EARNEST: It should be good. It should be good.
Q Is the Vice President going to join him at all on the bus tour?
MR. EARNEST: I think the plan is for the Vice President currently -- the current plan is for the Vice President to join the President in his hometown of Scranton. So that should be fun.
Q That's fun. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Right? See. It will be lots of fun.
Q Clashes between Turkey and Egypt are increasing. On Sunday, Prime Minister Erdogan accused Egyptian authorities of committing a state of terrorism after nearly 600 people killed -- were killed on Wednesday. Turkish government recalled Turkish ambassador from Egypt and cancelled joint military exercises. And my colleague from TRT, a reporter was captured by Egyptian forces, is still in custody, which is straining ties now further. Does the White House share (inaudible) Prime Minister with Egyptian officials actions, and President is going to take some serious steps to stop this violence rather than just symbolic steps?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would say to you a couple of things. One is the President did deliver a statement on Thursday where he strongly condemned the violence that was perpetrated by the interim Egyptian government against peaceful protesters. That was a violation of human rights that the President strongly condemned.
We have indicated that we're going to continue to review the assistance that’s provided to the interim Egyptian government, and we're going to continue to call on the interim Egyptian government to follow through on their promises to transition back to a democratically elected civilian government. And this is -- these are conversations that are ongoing between senior administration officials in this country and senior administration officials in Egypt. And the review of that assistance is ongoing.
So our position on the violence that we saw last week in Egypt is very clear.
Q Can I follow up on Egypt --
MR. EARNEST: We'll do one more. Steve, the last one.
Q Yes. We're sort of almost six months into the sequester now, and we're facing another deadline. And so far, the White House strategy has not worked. There's nothing moving through Congress that would roll it back. Is there going to be any change in strategy? Is the President going to be demanding a sequester fix before he'll sign a new spending bill for the next year? Are there other things that the White House is considering doing to try and get Congress to act?
MR. EARNEST: Sure. I understand that we're at the White House briefing and so you're justifiably reviewing the strategy of the White House when it comes to the budget. I'd just point out that House Republicans who have a similarly strong view on the sequester have tried to advance some of their proposals through their own conference that would factor in the sequester into a basic budgeting exercise, and they have been unable to advance that agenda as well. We saw the recent failure of the transportation HUD bill in the appropriations committee in the House, and that is among House Republicans themselves.
So again, your interest in our strategy is justified, but their strategy is relevant, too. And it is clear that even on their own terms, Republicans are struggling to cobble together a strategy that members of their own party support.
You're asking me how we're going to get members of the other party to support our strategy, so the terms here are a little bit different. What I will say is there was an interesting story in The Washington Post again today about the impact of -- you guys are just killing it, Phil. It's good stuff. (Laughter.)
Q Put it in a PR. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: There was a story about the impact of the sequester on the Head Start program and how there are thousands of kids who will not be able to benefit from the Head Start program because of the sequester, that there are more than a million hours of Head Start instruction that was eliminated because of the sequester. So the impact of the sequester on basic education programs is something that the President is seriously concerned about.
He's seriously concerned about the impact that the sequester has had and could have moving forward on our national security. The President has already articulated his concern about the impact that the sequester will have on economic growth and job creation moving forward. We've seen some pretty concerning studies from the CBO that’s conducted an analysis indicating that job creation will not be as strong and economic growth will not be as robust because of the sequester.
So this is a problem that needs to get fixed. But at the end of the day, the framers of the Constitution delegated budgetary authority to the United States Congress, so members of Congress in both parties are going to have to come together and figure out a way that they can pass a budget that will protect these critical investments in the middle class.
The President has put forward his own proposal -- this is the -- I would remind you -- this seems like ancient history, but the President put forward his own proposal that would protect these critical investments in education; make important, long-overdue investments in infrastructure; and actually do more to reduce the deficit than the sequester does.
So we've got our proposal out there. Republicans have put forward a proposal that Republicans themselves don’t even support. But ultimately, at the end of the day, Congress is the one that’s going to have to come together and figure this out.
One last thing. For years, we saw House Republicans suggesting that the best way for us to resolve some of these budgetary issues was through the regular order. And so what they did was they insisted that the Senate pass a budget -- the Democratic-led Senate passed a budget. The Democratic-led Senate passed a budget. So the next step in that process is the appointment of conferees. Speaker Boehner has refused to appoint conferees to that process. So the person who was the leading advocate for the regular order budget process is now doing more than anyone to gum up the regular order budget process.
Q Well, Speaker Boehner has, right before the break, put out his own marker and said that the sequester is going to stay until the President comes forward with a plan for alternative, smarter cuts. And up until now, the White House has said we need tax increases, we need revenue in addition to other spending cuts. Is the President going to continue to insist on tax increases to get rid of the sequester?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I want to go back to this because this is important. The most important thing for you to understand is that marker that Speaker Boehner laid out is not even supported by members of his own party, members of his own conference. The people who voted to make him Speaker of the House don’t support that when you get down into the budget-making process.
So, again, I welcome your interest in our strategy about how we’re going to put forward a budget, but ultimately, it’s Congress’s responsibility to do it and so far, we’ve seen congressional leaders on the Republican side unable to build support in their own party for their own strategy.
So this is -- it’s pretty clear where the -- who is responsible right now for where we stand in this budget process. What the President has said is that he is willing to work with Republicans in Congress to try to find common ground, but at the end of the day, the President is not going to sign a budget agreement that undermines important investments, that doesn’t act in the best interest of middle-class families in this country. That’s the criteria the President is going to use to evaluate a budget deal, but ultimately it’s up to Congress to get to work to solve this problem.
Q So the sequester has to go. Something has to be done. I mean, it’s sounding like --
MR. EARNEST: Again, I’m pointing out to you that there are House Republicans who are unable to pass what I think what is among the least politically risky appropriations budgets because the sequester was too onerous and they were unable to budget under that criteria. So for the Speaker of the House to stand there and insist that he’s going to stick to that seems, at best, unreasonable, considering he doesn’t have the support of his own party to do it.
Q Right, but you just said the President wouldn’t sign something that undermines --
MR. EARNEST: Yes, that’s something that the President has said a couple of times already here, too.
Q But yet he has also said the sequester does undermine a whole bunch of things --
MR. EARNEST: It does, including the Head Start program that was reported by The Washington Post today.
Q Is he going to come back in September insist the sequester --
MR. EARNEST: Again, I welcome your interest in our budget strategy because we’re at the White House briefing, but I think there are some elements of this that will play out down the road.
So, thanks, everybody. We’ll see you tomorrow.
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