Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 8/20/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:12 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: I actually have a little announcement at the top to review with you. I wanted to talk to you a little bit more this afternoon about the President’s upcoming bus tour through New York and Pennsylvania where he is going to talk about his vision for ensuring a better bargain for the middle class.
He’s given some speeches already to talk about creating jobs, about improving the housing market. He’s going to talk a little bit this week about college affordability. As I mentioned yesterday never before has getting a college education been more important to ensuring that middle-class families have access to economic opportunity.
So there are some pretty compelling statistics that you can see behind me about what a problem this is. Average tuition at a public, four-year college has more than tripled -- tripled -- over the last three decades, while family incomes have barely increased. The average student today graduates with more than $26,000 in student debt.
Now what we do know is that Americans who are able to get a college education, those who graduate from college, have the power and capacity to earn more, and they have a lower unemployment rate. So the kind of investment that you make in a college education pays off in real economic terms.
Now, there was also a study that was published today that shows that the federal government is doing more than ever to open up the door to a college education to middle-class families, that the federal government is providing more assistance than ever before. But government assistance can't keep up with skyrocketing costs. So what the President believes that we need to do is we need to fundamentally rethink and reshape the college -- the higher education system, and we need to find a way to build on innovation.
So the President on this bus tour will lay out some fundamental reforms that would bring real change to the way that we pay for college education in this country.
Now, the proposals that the President is going to lay out are not going to be popular with everybody, but they are going to be in the best interest of middle-class families. And the President is looking forward to having that discussion over the course of Thursday and Friday in addition riding on a bus.
So with that --
Q So can you tell us what the reforms are?
MR. EARNEST: I -- you’ll have to wait to Thursday. I don't want to give away the secret now. (Laughter.)
Q Please. (Laughter.)
Q Josh, are you going to have a backgrounder sometime before Thursday?
MR. EARNEST: There’s a possibility we may do that. So we’ll keep you posted.
Q Can you give a sense if they are things Congress will have to do, or if they're executive decisions?
MR. EARNEST: We’ll have more on that this week. Stay tuned. All right.
Julie, I’ll give you the first one.
Q Thank you. Turning to Egypt.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q Senator Leahy’s office told the AP earlier today that the administration informed the subcommittee on foreign operations that the U.S. has stopped military aid to Egypt. The Daily Beast had a similar report. Is this what the administration has told lawmakers?
MR. EARNEST: Julie, what I said to you yesterday and what I -- let me start over, what I said yesterday is true today, which is that in early July, the President of the United States directed his national security team to conduct a review of the assistance and aid that we provide to Egypt. This is part of the complex and broad relationship that we have the Egyptians -- with the Egyptians.
That review that the President ordered in early July has not concluded, and reports to the contrary that -- published reports to the contrary that suggest that assistance to Egypt has been cut off are not accurate.
Q But while you’re conducting this review, has the aid that’s in the pipeline stopped?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let’s back up and do two things here. The first is there are some things that we have announced that affect the aid and assistance relationship that we have with Egypt. For example, the administration about a month ago announced that the scheduled delivery of F-16s had been delayed. The President announced in a statement last week that the joint military operation known as Bright Star had been canceled. So there have been some steps that this administration has taken.
But it’s important for you and your readers to understand that providing foreign assistance is not like a spigot. You don't turn it off and on, or turn it up or down like a faucet. Assistance is provided episodically, that it’s provided in specific tranches.
Q Yes, I get that. I get that. But --
MR. EARNEST: And so those tranches are under an ongoing review.
Q But while you’re undergoing this review, we do know that there is about a half a billion dollars in military aid that's scheduled to go to the Egyptians by September 30th that hasn’t gone to them yet. Is the policy of the administration that while the aid is under review, you're going to be holding that back, stopping it and waiting until this review finishes before deciding to send it?
MR. EARNEST: There is an ongoing review of our aid and assistance relationship with Egypt.
Q So you're not saying what Senator Leahy is saying is wrong? He is saying that the aid has stopped. And he also said -- one of his aides told us that this is current practice. This is not necessarily official policy. I'm just trying to understand, is what Senator Leahy said correct?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven't seen the entirety of Senator Leahy's remarks.
Q It's what I’m sitting here and telling you, that he said that U.S. military aid to Egypt has stopped. It's current practice, not necessarily official policy. And there is no indication of how long it will last.
MR. EARNEST: The aid -- our aid and assistance relationship with Egypt is under a review, but it has not been cut off. A decision to cut off aid --
Q Yes --
MR. EARNEST: A decision to cut off aid would be announced, if it were to be announced, after that review had been completed. And that review is being --
Q But he's not saying it's been cut off. He's just saying that it's currently stopped.
MR. EARNEST: Right. Well, I think if I were trying to make the same case people are making here, you would be suggesting that I was engaged in a game of semantics here. I’m trying to be --
Q It feels like we are kind of engaged in a game of semantics though.
MR. EARNEST: And I'm trying to be as candid as possible with you about what exactly our policy has been. We have been pretty forthcoming about what our policy is here. We announced publicly the delay in the F-16s. We -- the President himself announced publicly the cancelation of the joint military exercises. The President himself publicly directed his administration to conduct a broader review of our aid and assistance to Egypt. And that aid and assistance is ongoing, and no determination or conclusion of that review has been reached at this point.
Q So the aid and assistance is ongoing. It's being sent. It has not stopped.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, it’s not like -- this is not a faucet in which you just turn the spigot and assistance continues to flow. Assistance is provided episodically. Assistance is provided in tranches. And that is the way that this works. So this is not a matter of turning the dial one way or the other. This is a matter of taking a close and careful look at the assistance that the United States provides to our partners in Egypt.
And that evaluation is based on a few things. It's based on ensuring that we're in compliance with the law. It's based on an analysis of the national security interests of the United States of America. That's the focal point of every foreign policy decision that the President makes. It's certainly an important part of his calculation.
But it's also affected by the actions taken by the interim Egyptian government. This interim Egyptian government has made promises to transition back to a democratically elected civilian government. The violence that they perpetrated last week, and has continued at least into the weekend and the early parts of this week, are contrary to that promise. And that factors into our review of this aid and assistance relationship. But to suggest that a decision has been made about that aid and assistance is just not accurate.
Q Well, that's not what Leahy is suggesting.
MR. EARNEST: Maybe it's not. I haven't seen the statements. But if you're asking me what our policy is, I think I've just tried to explain it to you.
Q Just quickly then, speaking of the Egyptian military and their actions, they've detained the Supreme Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Is there any U.S. reaction to that development?
MR. EARNEST: We've spoken out a couple of times pretty forcefully and directly about politically motivated detentions. That is not in line with the standard that we expect other governments to uphold in terms of respecting human rights. It's certainly not the standard that the Egyptian people expect of their government in terms of upholding basic human rights. So this is just the latest in a series of actions the Egyptian government has taken that doesn't reflect their commitment to an inclusive political process, to a respect for basic human rights like the right to protest peacefully. And it certainly is an act that's contrary to a legal system that's insulated from politics.
Thank you, Julie. Roberta.
Q In Mali, a place where the United States was able to make the determination to turn off the spigot of aid, the President made a statement today about the elections and the outcome.
MR. EARNEST: He did.
Q I'm wondering I guess how close the United States is to resuming aid there, to making the decisions/determinations to go forward, to resume aid?
MR. EARNEST: I know this is something that's currently being evaluated by the State Department, and I think at the Department of Defense. So in terms of the logistics that are required there, I'd encourage you to check with them.
Q So the White House has no comment on whether the President or the White House would like to see aid resume?
MR. EARNEST: Just that this is something that's being reviewed by the State Department and the Department of Defense. So if you have questions about the details, I'd encourage you to check with them.
Q And the other question I have is, as you know, this fall the President faces the challenge of finding a way to work with Congress to keep the government running and make sure the United States can continue to repay its debt. So I'm just curious about why he’s using his time leading up to that debate to focus on issues like higher education and jobs and infrastructure, rather than using it to find a way to move forward on those immediate fiscal issues, those immediate economic issues.
MR. EARNEST: When I say that I genuinely appreciate the question, I genuinely do appreciate this question, because I do think that it will provide some insight into you about how the President -- provide some insight for you about the President considers these broader issues that will be the subject of some debate in the fall about how are we going to make sure that Congress takes the kinds of steps they should take and put in place the kinds of policies they should put in place to support our economic recovery that's gaining traction.
Too often we see Congress put in place policies that actually undermine that economic recovery. And threatening a government shutdown or threatening to default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America would undermine the economic recovery that's starting to gain some traction.
The way that the President considers these policy questions is through the prism of what's in the best interests of middle-class families all across the country. And he believes that we need to offer up a better bargain for middle-class families. And that means expanding economic opportunity for middle-class families, by looking for policies that will create jobs -- but also making sure that we put in place policies that will open up the doors to a high-quality college education for more middle-class families. That should be a domestic priority. That is a domestic priority of the President's.
And our ability to make progress on expanding economic opportunity for the middle class is the President's top domestic priority. And so when we're dealing with these larger budget and economic issues that are related to the fiscal year 2014 budget and the debt ceiling, the President is going to evaluate agreements that we can reach with Congress on those things by what impact they have on the middle class. So I think it is entirely appropriate that in the lead-up to those debates that the President make clear to the American public, and make the case to the American public, about why the priorities that he has identified for the middle-class are also going to be the priorities that he uses to evaluate policy decisions that are contemplated by Congress.
Q Josh, in an effort to clarify the state of U.S. assistance to Egypt, would you --
MR. EARNEST: That's why I'm here.
Q Great. (Laughter.) Would you dispute the following statement: Aid is not currently flowing to Egypt, so there is no aid to turn off?
MR. EARNEST: I would dispute that statement. It's my understanding -- I'm not steeped in all the details here, but it is my understanding that there are --
Q Military aid.
MR. EARNEST: -- that there are tranches of assistance that have gone to Egypt. So again this is not part of -- there are also some that have been stopped. The biggest ones have been stopped. This is the delay in the delivery of the F-16s and the cancelation of the joint military exercise known as Bright Star.
I think the Department of Defense talked about this a little bit today that there have been some --
Q Military aid.
MR. EARNEST: -- in comparison relatively small packages of assistance that have gone to Egypt.
Q Military aid?
MR. EARNEST: You'd have to talk to the Department of Defense about the nature of that assistance. But we're talking about assistance to Egypt and whether or not it stopped. And while you're right it's not like a faucet -- you can't just twist the dial off and on, or turn it up or down, or hotter or warmer or colder -- but it is evaluated in tranches. And while that broader package of assistance is under review, there are some smaller packages that have moved forward.
Q And would you dispute the assertion that aid has been reprogrammed while this review is underway so that it's in a position to be turned off officially if the -- if administration officials decide that's where the U.S. should be?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not sure I understand every word of your question, but let me take a couple of pieces of this. It's my understanding that the use of the word "reprogram" is not accurate. I know that's been some of the reporting, but I don't think that's accurate.
I think there are others who have suggested that one of the things the administration is doing is trying to preserve some flexibility, so that the outcome of that review can present the President with a range of options. I think that would probably be maybe a more accurate way of describing this than what you have posed in your question.
Q So it would be accurate to say that the U.S., as we speak, continues to flow military aid to Egypt?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again you use the word "flow," and I've said that several times now that that's not appropriate.
Q Okay, the U.S. continues to provide military aid to Egypt as we speak?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that's the same thing of saying that we haven't cut off -- it's inaccurate to suggest that we've cut off aid to Egypt. We can go around and around on this. I'm trying to be as clear and candid as I can.
Q But there's a reason you're not confirming that we are currently providing military aid to Egypt.
MR. EARNEST: Again, because it's not like the faucet is turned on. Right?
Q But we understand that.
MR. EARNEST: It's not. The faucet is not turned on, because it's not a faucet. What we are doing on a regular basis is we are considering individual tranches of assistance.
Q And I just asked if it's currently going there, if there's currently aid being provided and you said yes.
MR. EARNEST: No, no, no.
Q And now you’re clarifying.
MR. EARNEST: I think what I said -- well, we can go to the transcript a little later.
What I’m trying to suggest to you is that there is a broader review that's underway of our assistance and aid relationship with Egypt. And that aid and assistance is not a faucet that's turned on or turned off.
What it is, is a package of tranches, a series of tranches. And each of those things -- each of those things is evaluated on a case-by-case basis based on the criteria that I laid out -- for our national interest, our compliance with the law, and the actions of the Egyptian government. So this is a review that is ongoing, and it is done on a case-by-case basis as we need to evaluate each of these tranches. So it’s hard for me to say whether or not --
Q But bottom line, you’re not disputing that aid is -- you’re not stating that aid is currently going to Egypt. You won’t -- you will not affirmatively state that?
MR. EARNEST: What -- the reason -- the reason I will -- the reason I think that is the wrong way to describe our position is because it’s not a situation, it’s a not a question of whether or not it’s happening right now, right? The question is --
Q It’s not happening now? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Well, maybe that's the question for Wolf Blitzer. It’s not the question for me. The question for me is: Is the United States reviewing our aid to Egypt? We are. Is that assistance -- does that mean that you are no longer going to provide assistance to the Egyptians? It does not mean that.
MR. EARNEST: Officially? What do you mean?
MR. EARNEST: I don't understand your question.
Q You’re saying that there will be an ultimate determination made.
MR. EARNEST: There will.
Q Right. We’re asking what’s happening in the interim period.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. And I think that's a legitimate question. The fact that we are in an interim period should make -- that you’re acknowledging that we’re in an interim period should make you skeptical of reports that we’ve cut off aid to Egypt. That's what the reports indicate right now, and I would encourage you to be skeptical about it.
Q But that's a straw man, Josh. Nobody --
MR. EARNEST: No, it’s not.
Q Nobody has asked you --
MR. EARNEST: That's exactly what the reports say. They say that they’ve been cut off to Egypt.
Q Well, okay, but nobody in this --
MR. EARNEST: And that's not -- and that's not an accurate representation of our -- the posture is.
Q Understood. But nobody in this room has posed the question that way. I think the question that most people are trying to ask is: Have there been instances in this interim period, during the period of review, have there been instances and will there be instances in which tranches of aid that would have gone out without a review are now not going to go out or being held back or delayed --
Q -- or put on pause or whatever phrase you want to put so that it doesn't rob the President of whatever flexibility he may want? I mean is that kind of thing happening?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me see if I can take a run at saying this more precisely.
Q Sorry, guys. I didn't mean to jump in.
Q No, no, please.
MR. EARNEST: That's all right. I think you’re being a helpful contributor to the conversation here. (Laughter.) So we welcome it.
Q -- speaking in tranches again. (Laughter.)
Q Turn the spigot on.
MR. EARNEST: The comment box will be available after the briefing. (Laughter.) You can deposit them there.
What I would say to you is this, as I mentioned in the answer to Jessica’s question, whether tranches of aid have gone out since the announcement of this review, the Department of Defense announced earlier today that the answer to that question is yes. I don't know the nature of that assistance. You should ask them about that.
So if you want to know what’s happening in this interim period while there’s an ongoing review, at least some assistance has gone out. The other thing I can confirm for you is that because we have not made a decision to cut off aid to Egypt, it is possible that additional tranches of aid could go out. But that's something that's being evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
And again, it’s hard for me to say that we’re switching it on and switching it off because again, it’s not like a faucet. But it is an ongoing review of specific tranches of aid. And that’s where we -- that's where we stand.
Is that clarifying? At least a little.
Q But can you answer -- Josh, can you answer Senator Leahy though -- to try it this way. Senator Leahy’s aid says, “the transfer of military aid was stopped.” True?
MR. EARNEST: And I’ve said that that's not true.
Q That's not true.
MR. EARNEST: That we’ve not --
Q So Senator Leahy is wrong?
MR. EARNEST: It’s under -- it’s under our review. Well, again, I haven’t seen his whole statement, so I’m not going to make a declaration like that.
What I’ll tell you is that our aid is -- continues to be under review and to suggest that that aid has been cut off is inaccurate because that review has not concluded.
Q And why -- why won’t the administration say that it was a coup? Since there was a democratically elected person, he was running it, people were not happy with what he’s doing, but he had been elected. The military came in. It knocked him out of office and put him in prison. Why is that not a coup?
MR. EARNEST: What we have said, Ed, is that we -- it is the view of this administration that a determination about a coup, about whether it occurred or not, is not a determination that is in the best interests of the United States; that what we are going to do is we’re going to set aside this decision about whether or not a coup occurred and evaluate our ongoing relationship with Egypt in a way that maximizes the national security interests of the United States of America.
Q And since this is an administration that prides itself on transparency, why not be --
MR. EARNEST: I’m being transparent with you, Ed.
Q You are now perhaps. But --
MR. EARNEST: And I have been for a week. I answered this question six days ago.
Q But I’m not suggesting that you have not.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q But why won’t the administration writ large be transparent with the American people and the world when the entire world can see, the military came in, took out a democratically elected President. So --
MR. EARNEST: And what I’m saying to you is available to anybody who seeks answers to this question which is that we have made the determination that making a decision about whether or not a coup occurred is not in the best interests of the United States. We’ve been very candid about that. We’ve been candid about our posture related to aid and assistance. We delayed the delivery of F-16s. That is a decision that was announced publicly. We canceled a joint military exercise known as Bright Star. That is an announcement that the President himself made in Martha’s Vineyard last week.
At the beginning of July, the President announced publicly that our review and that our aid and assistance relationship with Egypt was under review. We have made these announcements and these decisions public. And we’ve explained to them -- explained to you and to your viewers why these decisions were made and why these actions were taken.
Q A couple of other quick ones. What do you say to our allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia that are saying that they're backing the military government, and that the U.S. should be backing the military government in Egypt because they're going to bring stability? Not today but in the long run, they're bringing stability. What do you say to our allies?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I would say to anybody who asks is that we have expressed our strong concerns -- in fact, our condemnation -- about the failure of the interim government in Egypt, the one that you were referring to, to respect basic human rights. In fact, they went beyond just disrespecting those rights and actually perpetrating terrible violence against many peaceful protestors. That is something that this administration is -- and the President himself is deeply concerned by.
There are a range of reasons why we're deeply concerned about that. One of them is this is a government that took power promising a prompt transition back to a democratically elected civilian government through an inclusive political process. The killing of peaceful protestors is not in line with a promise to transition back to a democratically elected civilian government. So our concerns are that this interim government is not living up to the promises that they made just six or eight weeks ago.
Q A last one on the NSA -- The Guardian newspaper, following on everything that was discussed yesterday -- The Guardian is saying that British authorities destroyed several hard drives, because they wanted to keep secrets that Edward Snowden had leaked from actually getting out. They were stored in The Guardian's -- they had some hard drives there at their offices. British authorities went in there and destroyed these hard drives. Did the American government get a heads up about that the way you did about the person being detained?
MR. EARNEST: I've seen the published reports of those accusations, but I don't have any information for you on that.
Q And does the U.S. government think it's appropriate for a government, especially one of our allies, to go in and destroy hard drives? Is that something this administration would do?
MR. EARNEST: The only thing I know about this are the public reports about this, so it's hard for me to evaluate the propriety of what they did based on incomplete knowledge of what happened.
Q But this administration would not do that, would not go into an American media company and destroy hard drives, even if it meant trying to protect national security, you don't think?
MR. EARNEST: It's very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate.
Major. I am going to get back to the back row there, so stay on your toes back there.
Q We're nearing the end of a fiscal year. Is the administration also reviewing, because this is a longstanding relationship with Egypt --
MR. EARNEST: It is.
Q -- which has a dollar amount that's been relatively stable for many, many years -- about $1.5 billion. As it puts together and looks toward any foreign operations appropriations bill for the next fiscal year, do you want less money to go to Egypt? And is that something that's also under review, not just what's in existing law, but what may come to the President for his signature in the next three to four months?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can tell you that part of this review involves careful and close consultation with leaders in Congress. We've heard a variety of opinions expressed by members of Congress about how best to manage the ongoing situation in Egypt. And we certainly -- some of those opinions have been communicated pretty forcefully. But certainly it's appropriate for them to do so given the role that Congress has to play here. So part of this review --
Q Isn't that the bigger question really going forward, because there's a lot more money in the out-months as opposed to what little remains in this fiscal year?
MR. EARNEST: Well, our ongoing aid and assistance relationship with Egypt is absolutely a question. And it's something that is under careful review. And that review, as you rightly point out, it includes consultation with leaders in Congress.
Q On future assistance?
MR. EARNEST: Yes. Well, also on future assistance.
Q The President can also exert some influence on International Monetary Fund lending. And the general question of financial investment in Egypt, on those points what is the President's current posture? Is this a good investment climate? Is this a place that ought to receive IMF loans -- which the United States is a significant player?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the United States is the largest donor to the IMF. And I believe that we actually exercise some veto authority over some decisions that are made at the IMF, because of that status. I know that -- you'd have to talk to the IMF about their evaluation of the political climate there and what impact that would have on assistance they may provide to Egypt. But even a novice like me I think would observe that what's happening there right now is probably not good for that evaluation that's ongoing.
I think the same would be true of foreign investment. That is a critical part of the strength of the Egypt economy. And they depend on foreign companies making a decision to invest in that country. I'm the last person to give investment advice. But again, companies are going to evaluate the political climate of a country when they're making these investment decisions. And the impact that those investment decisions could have on the Egyptian economy are significant.
Q Because I'm going to take the bait on the student loan thing --
MR. EARNEST: Thank you.
Q -- the President made some references to that in the State of the Union. Will he go beyond the statements he made in the State of the Union? And will this require additional spending?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t want to get too far ahead of his announcements. And we will have, at some point, some of our policy experts who can brief you on the detailed proposals.
Q That's why I asked you to compare and contrast with the State of the Union.
MR. EARNEST: So what I will tell you is that there will be proposals beyond what the President rolled out in the State of the Union that will be included in the President's remarks this week.
Q Does the President believe that one of the reasons college tuition is going up is because there is a sort of arms race in federal assistance? That is to say there is more federal assistance, therefore, tuition goes up? There's more federal assistance to compensate for that and for parents who are trying to keep up -- they continuously fall behind?
MR. EARNEST: You are identifying something that the President has talked about a little bit before publicly, which is this idea that we need to rearrange the incentives a little bit, that maybe there's a way for us to align the incentives with colleges focusing on reducing costs for students or at least limiting the rapid growth in those costs.
So the President has some ideas about how we can better align federal assistance with a commitment on behalf of colleges to keep costs low for students. And that will be part of something that the President will talk about this this week.
Q Will this also address some recent audit evaluations that the federal government has now replaced the banks as a collector of a lot of interest and profits, if you will, from student loan operations?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know one of the chief accomplishments of the President's first term was finally eliminating subsidies that were paid to big banks so that they would provide student loans. And what that did was that freed up a lot additional money to expand educational assistance to students all across the country. That is a significant accomplishment of this President, and something that he campaigned on and delivered in his first term. I don't know if -- well, I'll encourage you to stay tuned about whether or not the President has more to say about that later this week.
I'm going to move around just a little bit. Let's see here, Steve.
Q Before going to Martha's Vineyard, Sanjay Gupta had an interesting column in CNN about marijuana -- changed his mind. He had been at one point considered by the President to be the surgeon general pick a number of years ago. I'm wondering if the White House has any reaction to that column and also if the President has been personally looking at that issue, given that the country -- the polls on marijuana have changed quite a bit since he took office in favor of legalization. Is there any change in his sort of outlook on it?
MR. EARNEST: Steve, when I called on you I don't think I could ever have predicted that this was the question you were going to ask me. (Laughter.) So I really was into the potpourri category of questions for this one. I have to confess I did not see the Sanjay Gupta column that you're referring to, so it's hard for me to comment on it at this point. So I'll have to take the question.
Q Josh, if I can quickly, the Egyptian Prime Minister today, Josh, says that he doesn’t fear civil war in Egypt. Does the President fear civil war in Egypt?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President is very concerned about the violence that we've seen in Egypt; and it seems to be particularly the violence that is emanating from government sources, from government soldiers and government security officials. That is something that the President is very concerned about. And he talked about in his statement on Thursday about the responsibility that the government has to protect its citizens and to protect the basic human rights of the citizens that they are there to govern.
So that is the violence that the President is concerned about. And he certainly -- he and other senior administration officials here are concerned about that violence spreading and the destabilizing impact it could have not just within Egypt, but within the region.
Q I hope this will conclude the conversation about tranches, but one final thought about that topic, which is that we know we've discussed Bright Star. We know we've discussed the F-16s, and the cancelation or the delay in terms of the F-16s and that delivery. Are there any tranches -- had nothing like what's presently taking place in Egypt taken place, would anything have happened differently? Is anything absent those examples you've given us happen differently in terms of the tranches either being delayed or held for some period of time beyond what would otherwise occur?
MR. EARNEST: I hesitate to evaluate the counterfactual that you've set up there, only because my detailed knowledge of these tranches is limited. So I guess I would encourage you to check with the State Department and the Defense Department on that, because they'll have a little bit more detailed knowledge of what kinds of tranches are under consideration right now.
Q Fine. In Syria, 30,000 refugees have flooded into Iraq -- described by humanitarian aid workers on the ground there it's one of the biggest waves. This is all over the course of the last five days. They joined about I think it's like approaching 2 million Syrians who have fled. Is the U.S. getting any closer to its goal of removing Assad from power there?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say a couple of things about this. The first is the President himself has talked about his concern about the refugee situation in countries that neighbor Syria. So he has talked about the humanitarian conditions. Some of these refugees are living in very difficult conditions there. These are often women and children that we're talking about. We have provided -- the United States government has provided to other countries in the region significant financial assistance to try to meet some of those humanitarian medical needs that those refugees may need. The President talked about this when he was standing next to the King of Jordan earlier in the spring when we were in Amman. So that's something that the President has spoken out about.
He has also talked about the destabilizing impact that these refugee populations could have on these other countries. This is and has been in recent years a pretty volatile region. And adding this broader shift in refugee populations to that mix only makes the situation more complicated and maybe even more volatile. So we're certainly concerned about the impact of these refugee populations. And it is a direct result of the violence that the Assad regime has perpetrated against the Syrian people.
Q Are we closer to the goal of getting Assad out of power?
MR. EARNEST: That is a goal -- first and foremost, that is the goal of the Syrian people to have a government that reflects their will.
Q But we're assisting?
MR. EARNEST: We are providing assistance. That is also the goal of our allies around the world and other countries within the region. And that is -- that remains the goal. And we continue to provide assistance trying to reach it. In terms of evaluating sort of where we are on that scale --
Q Have we made progress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that there is no doubt that there is pretty broad international consensus about Mr. Assad and his regime and his need to leave power, and the way in which he’s -- and how the way in which he has conducted himself has delegitimized his authority. So I think on that front, yes, some progress has been made. But there's no doubt that what's ongoing there continues to be a terrible situation.
Q Let me ask you on other topic domestically, if I can. In the eighth largest city in the United States, San Diego, the mayor there is facing a recall effort. There's mediation that we have heard through a series of reports right now. Even Bob Filner himself, the mayor of the city, has conceded that what he did was "inappropriate and wrong." Does the President have any opinion about whether Bob Filner should remain mayor of San Diego?
MR. EARNEST: The President hasn't weighed in on this issue and I haven't talked to him about it.
Q As the leader of the Democratic Party though, why wouldn't the President choose to weigh in on this issue as many other leading Democrats have, as he is a leading Democrat in a major American city, committing acts that he concedes to that the President has spoken out against in a series of other forums?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't spoken to the President about it, Peter.
Q Josh, I want to go back to the Prime Minister's remarks on Egypt. Erdogan claims that Turkish government has proof that Israel was behind military coup in Egypt. Do you have any --
MR. EARNEST: We strongly condemn the statements that were made by Prime Minister Erdogan today. Suggesting that Israel is somehow responsible for recent events in Egypt is offensive, unsubstantiated and wrong.
Statements like these only distract from the urgent need for all countries in the region, and frankly many leading countries around the world to work together through constructive dialogue to address the fluid and dangerous situation in Egypt.
Q Also on Egypt, in an interview with the Prime Minister, he said that the goal of the authorities in Egypt remained to return Egypt to a true democratic government, that they’re keen to end this transitional period. And they're putting a timetable between six and nine months when they will have elections. Is that a timetable the United States supports -- six and nine months?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not -- I haven’t see the full text of the interview, so it’s hard for me to weigh in other than to observe that the actions that we saw from the interim government at the end of last week and over the weekend are entirely inconsistent with any democratically elected government. You would expect a democratically elected government to be -- to respect the basic human rights of the people that they're elected to govern. And this interim government egregiously and grievously violated the human rights of innocent protesters, peaceful protesters in Egypt. And that's something that the President himself has personally condemned and is something that continues to be a subject of concern here at the White House and across the administration.
Q Understanding that that is your position in the violence, is there any encouragement in these words -- again, the Egyptian government saying that they intend to hold elections within six to nine months? Is that an encouraging sign for the administration?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think at this point we’re going to evaluate the position of the interim government when it comes to democracy based on their actions, not on their words. And that would include as a very first preliminary step beginning to respect the basic human rights of the Egyptian people and to at least signal a transition to an inclusive political process.
Q Does that mean releasing prisoners?
MR. EARNEST: And that would include ending the politically motivated detention of individuals in Egypt.
Q And then --
MR. EARNEST: Go ahead, Jim.
Q Another statement that he made which seemed to be on the other end of encouraging is that he said that the Egyptian army would survive without United States support and reminded the world that at one point, the Egyptian people went with the Russian military. What is the response of the American government on that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I did see part of that interview -- that section of the interview. I think he made reference to the impact of canceling U.S. aid being bad for the military. I’d say a couple of things about this, our relationship -- the United States -- the relationship between the United States and Egypt is a deep and multifaceted one. They have been allies with the United States for quite some time. And there are deep ties between the American people and the Egyptian people; that there are Egyptian Americans in this country today who are concerned about the safety and wellbeing of their family members in Egypt. So there is a lot at stake that the United States has in this situation, particularly because we are genuinely interested in the success of Egypt.
That's one of the reasons that we have this deep aid and assistance relationship that we’ve talked about so much today. The United States seeks a thriving, growing, stable Egypt. And some of the actions that we’ve seen from the interim government do not contribute to that stability and to a nation that's thriving.
So I think the other point that I would want to make here is that the relationship between the U.S. and Egypt goes beyond just the aid and assistance that we’re providing, that our actions here in the U.S. will have an impact on the foreign investment decisions that are made by countries around the globe that are looking to -- at least that are considering an investment in Egypt.
The relationship between the United States and Egypt is going to have some bearing on those investment decisions. The same can be said of the IMF decision and the decision of the IMF to support the Egyptian economy. The relationship between the United States and Egypt is going to have some bearing on the outcome of that decision.
Tourism is a key component of the Egypt economy. The relationship between the United States and Egypt is going to have some bearing on the decision of thousands of people who are considering whether or not to travel to Egypt to view the antiquities there.
So there are a whole range of ways in which the relationship between the United States and Egypt will have an impact on the success of Egypt, and what we are oriented toward is a set of policies and a relationship that will solidify the relationship between the United States and Egypt and the broader success of the nation and the people of Egypt.
Q Just one final thing on Beau Biden. The White House put out kind of a rare statement on Beau Biden yesterday I presume because the Vice President had traveled to Houston.
MR. EARNEST: That's right.
Q Is the Vice President -- has the Vice President had to change any schedule? Do you expect him back in Washington today? What is -- what can you give us about that now?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any updates about the Vice President’s schedule. I know that the -- that his staff is committed to keeping all of you updated on his travel arrangements and on his schedule for the remainder of the week. For example, I know that the Vice President is currently scheduled to join the President in Scranton, Pennsylvania for an event on the college tour.
There’s one other thing that I can tell you about this which is that the President had the opportunity to speak on the telephone with the Vice President over the weekend on this topic. In that telephone call, the President offered his good wishes to Beau and told the Vice President that Beau and the rest of the Biden family would be in his thoughts and prayers.
I can also tell you that a lot of people all across the country woke up with Beau Biden on their mind and in their prayers, and I can tell you that that's true of just about everybody that I spoke to at the White House today too.
Q Yes, thanks. Switch to the Miami Dolphins. You took a question yesterday about how this came about, whose idea was it. What did you find out?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I have to admit, Roger, that I’m not the only person who is not exactly sure how this event came to be. I talked to a couple of other folks and didn't get an answer on this, but I’ll do some more digging and see what I can come up with for you.
Q Did it come -- did the request come from the Dolphins? The NFL?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I don't know exactly how this -- how this exactly started, but we’re certainly excited about the event this afternoon.
Q Josh, since you’re talking about the President and the college tour, well, the tour that he’s having and college is one of the issues, and how college makes many persons middle class, within the middle-class status, there is an issue right now where HBCUs are very concerned and have petitioned the President for a meeting and petitioned the Department of Education about something called the Parent PLUS Loan. It’s a federal loan that has -- now has strict requirements where parents are now being rejected. And many schools are losing money. Apparently if you have a blemish on your credit report over the last five years, you are not getting that loan. What is the President saying about this? Is he planning on meeting with these university presidents? And what is the Education Department going to do about this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not aware of the specific meeting request, but I can certainly take a look into it.
The President and this administration have been strong supporters of historically black colleges and universities all across the country. Funding for those colleges and universities has increased under President Obama. And the President was pleased to have the opportunity earlier this spring to speak at the commencement at Moorehouse College down in Atlanta. So the record -- the President’s record on these issues -- he has a bias in favor of historically black colleges and universities because of the service they provide and because of the quality education that they provide to their students.
In terms of this issue with the Parent PLUS Loan, I’m not familiar with this specific policy issue. But we can try to find somebody here at the White House who is a little more conversant in the issue who can talk to you about it.
Q Let me clarify something. It’s not just HBCUs as well. We understand a million students from mainstream colleges are not able to go back to school because their parents have blemishes on their credit report, and they're not getting this loan. And it’s a couple hundred thousand kids from HBCUs. So this is an across-the-board issue. HBCUs are really being hurt by it.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. Well, let’s -- let me have somebody in DPC get in touch with you, and we can walk through where we are on that issue.
Q Josh, the AP is crossing that there’s going to be a Cabinet-level meeting this afternoon here at the White House to discuss this Egyptian aid issue. Is that true?
MR. EARNEST: The President will convene a National Security Council meeting with principals on his national security team to talk about this issue. So the President convenes these kinds of meetings on a regular basis, but that will be the topic of --
Q So how pivotal -- in the range so as not to overplay or underplay it, you said this has been under review for some time, for the President to be involved with Cabinet-level officials suggests that we’re getting closer to a decision. Where would you categorize this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I would say is that these kinds of national security meetings are not uncommon. The President does chair them on a pretty regular basis, and I’m sure that it’s not even the first one that they’ve had on this topic. At this point I wouldn’t anticipate any major announcements related our aid and assistance in the immediate aftermath of this meeting.
Q What time is the NSC meeting?
MR. EARNEST: I believe it’s at 2:30 p.m. We can double check on that for you.
Q Just switching topics a little to the looming fiscal issues of next month. Before Congress left, they were some meetings between the Chief of Staff, a series of behind-the-scenes meetings with some Republican senators. The President I think Jay had told us spoke briefly to the Speaker before he left. But where are we? Has there been progress? Are those meetings still ongoing? And sort of where are we when they come back in three weeks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't know that there are any meetings I have to read out to you. Members of Congress are scattered across the country in their home districts. So I don't have any specific meetings to read out to you.
I know that our position on this is something that we’ve articulated to you in a variety of forums. I think I would -- it would suffice it to say that threatening to shut down the government would have a terrible impact on our economy. And the President is focused in putting in place policies that would be good for the middle class and be good for our economy.
And like I said threats to under -- threats to shut down the government would only undermine the economic recovery that's starting to gain some traction.
Q Thanks, Josh.
Q Has the Chief of Staff though continued talking to those senators that he was speaking to or talking to --
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any specific calls to read out to you, but the lines of communication remain open.
Zeke, I’m going to give you the last one.
Q Thanks, Josh. You said before that the biggest tranches of aid have been stopped, including the aircraft sales, as well as the military exercise. Is it safe to say that any other large tranches of aid will be stopped going forward as they have been over the past five, six weeks?
MR. EARNEST: I think what’s safe to say is that we’re evaluating these tranches based on -- on a case-by-case basis. So we’ll evaluate each one.
I know that it’s been publicly reported that there is at some point a scheduled delivery of Apache helicopters coming up. That's something that the Department of Defense knows more about than I do, but that is an example of the kind of aid that is currently under the review. A decision about the delivery of those helicopters has not been made at this point. But when it is, we’ll make an announcement about that in the same that we announced the decision on the delay and the delivery of F-16s.
Q What would have to change on the ground for those helicopters to be sold?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is something that we’re like I said evaluating on a case-by-case basis, and there’s an ongoing review.
Q What’s the criteria?
MR. EARNEST: And the context of that review includes actions taken by the Egyptian government. It’s hard for me to lay out like specific criteria: if this, then this. But I can observe for you generally that continued violations of basic human rights don't make the transfer of that aid more likely.
Q Josh, one quick question.
MR. EARNEST: All right, Alexis. Last one.
Q Could you please, just to follow up to Martha -- has the President made any calls since he got back from vacation to either lawmakers or other heads of state to discuss Egypt and aid?
MR. EARNEST: Not that I’m prepared to read out at this time.
Q But that's possible.
MR. EARNEST: Of course, it’s possible. But nothing that I’m prepared to announce at this time.
Thanks, everybody. Have a good afternoon. Enjoy the Dolphins.
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President Obama Signs S. 337 FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act
June 30, 2016