Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/3/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. It's nice to see everybody is being so chipper. I'm sure it's because it's a Thursday that feels like a Friday, right? That's good.
Before we get started I just wanted to do a brief announcement at the top. Both yesterday and today, the President was briefed by his Homeland Security Advisor, Lisa Monaco, on the administration’s efforts to prepare for the storm and ongoing coordination with state, local and tribal partners. The storm I'm referring to, of course, is Hurricane Arthur.
The President directed his team to ensure that state and local officials in the storm’s path have all the support and resources they need to prepare for and respond to any potential impacts. He’ll continue to receive updates as necessary through the weekend.
I also wanted to point out that FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate spoke with North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and Emergency Management Director Michael Sprayberry about preparedness efforts and to ensure that that state has no unmet needs. As part of our administration’s forward-leaning approach to preparing for and responding to disasters, FEMA has deployed a special coordination team to North Carolina and prepositioned staff in North Carolina and South Carolina’s Emergency Operation Centers to work closely and ensure that we're closely integrated with state and local teams.
So that's one way in which some administration officials are preparing for the weekend.
Jim, why don't you go ahead and get us started today?
Q Thanks, Josh. I wanted to ask you about the jobs report today. The President has argued that Republicans have blocked his legislative policies; Republicans claim Democrats are blocking theirs. Given that both sides essentially acknowledge that there has been no progress legislatively, can the President truly take credit for these positive job numbers?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just start by saying that the people who deserve the most credit for the strong recovery of the American economy are the American people, including American entrepreneurs and American workers. It is through their grit and determination that we have recovered so strongly from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
But they have been aided by some of the policies that this President put in place at the very beginning of his presidency. From the Recovery Act to the politically courageous decision that the President made to rescue the auto industry, to a range of other reforms, some of which we put in place with congressional support and some of which have required independent action from the President, have laid the foundation that has been helpful to the private sector as they have led the recovery of the American economy.
Q That's over five, six years ago.
MR. EARNEST: Well, as we’ve said throughout this recovery, actually in much darker times, we talked about the fact that the kind of crisis that was created didn’t occur overnight, it wasn’t caused by conditions overnight, and our recovery was not going to happen overnight. These are longer-term trends that we’re talking about. And because of the critically important decisions that this President made over the course of his presidency, again, it put in place a foundation that has allowed the private sector to lead our economic recovery.
The President is very pleased with the progress that we’ve made. There is some history associated with today’s statistics. In the first six months of this year, 1.4 million private sector jobs were created. That is more jobs that have been created in the first six months of any year since 1999. We’ve seen in the last five consecutive months more than 200,000 jobs have been created. That’s the first that that’s happened since the end of 1999. We’ve created now 9.7 million private sector jobs over the last 52 months. And the unemployment rate has actually declined more quickly when you consider year-over-year numbers than at any point in the last three decades.
So we have made tremendous progress, and the numbers bear that out. But what’s also important is the President believes that there’s more that we can do to ensure the middle-class families all across the country are enjoying the benefits of what seems to be a strengthening recovery. And so that’s why this President is so focused on putting in place the kinds of policies that will expand economic opportunity for the middle class so that the benefits of this recovery don’t just float to the top, but actually float to families in the middle class as well -- because the President believes that if we’re going to have a sustainable growing economy that we’re going to grow this economy from the middle out.
That’s what the President is focused on. And these strong numbers that we saw in today’s report only give the President a greater sense of urgency to making sure that we’re capitalizing on this momentum and making sure that middle-class families across the country are benefitting from this recovery.
Q I wanted to ask about something the President said to Kai Ryssdal regarding the financial sector. He said that he believes there’s still room for reforms. And I’m wondering what he had in mind since he also said that he believes that taxpayers are protected under the Dodd-Frank bill, a position that not everybody even in his own party agrees with. But he was talking about risk-taking and how to control risk-taking to protect I believe other investors, and I wondered whether he’s discussed some of those potential proposals with anybody.
MR. EARNEST: Well, the Wall Street reform legislation that passed in the first year and a half or so of this President’s administration are another good example of policies that are put in place that have stabilized the financial system, ensured that taxpayers are no longer on the hook for bailing out big banks that make risky bets that go bad. And that stability has also contributed significantly to our economic recovery, has allowed the financial markets to recover. And the success of those financial markets has an important role in terms of the benefits that are enjoyed by our broader economy.
The President alluded to this in the interview -- that strong and dynamic financial markets are part of what makes the American economy the envy of the world. After all, it’s performing financial markets that ensure that there’s capital available to entrepreneurs who want to start and grow their business. Small businesses are an important contributor to job growth in this country. It’s the efficient functioning of our capital markets that ensures that middle-class families across the country will be able to go out and get a mortgage at an affordable rate that will allow them to purchase a home.
So there’s an important role for our own financial markets to play in the strength of our broader economy, but also in terms of making sure that our economy’s strength benefits middle-class families across the country.
In terms of the President’s comments, Jim, you’ve been covering the economic policymaking decisions of this administration for five and a half years now, so you’re familiar with the idea that the President and his team, since the President’s very first day in office, have been focused on the financial markets and making sure that we both are stabilizing those financial markets through a regulatory regime that prevents banks from making the kinds of risky bets that hurt our economy so badly in 2007 and 2008. He’s also concerned about making sure that middle-class families have an advocate and a voice in the policymaking process here in Washington, D.C. when it comes to these kinds of financial regulations; that too often, we’ve seen in the past that special interests, big banks, Wall Street financial firms have been able to dictate a regulatory regime that, again, led to a system that incentivized big banks and other large financial institutions to make the kinds of bets that ultimately were bad for our economy.
In terms of the President’s interview yesterday, he wasn’t referring to any specific regulation or law that he had in mind, but rather the need to continue to vigilantly monitor financial markets to assess risks that may be emerging and to ensure that the necessary regulatory protections are in place, again, to ensure the stability of the financial markets, but also to make sure that somebody is looking out for middle-class families.
Q So he’s not -- he just sort of threw these things out there? He’s not looking for legislation or any sort of executive action, regulations, nothing?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there’s -- I guess what I’m saying is there’s no specific thing that the President had in mind. He’s not referring to some specific plan. But, again, this is something that the President and senior members of his economic team are talking about every day as they monitor the financial markets and assess the risk that’s embedded there.
There obviously is an important role to play -- let me say it this way -- there is also obviously an important role for those agencies to play as they continue to implement Wall Street reform legislation. There’s also an important role to play for these independent regulatory agencies; that the Fed and others who are responsible for monitoring this risk and putting in place rules that will ensure, again, that taxpayers aren’t left holding the bag when it comes to bailing out a big business who’s placed a bunch of risky bets.
Q Back on the economy -- what do you say to the individual who can’t find a job and has stopped looking?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think I’d say a couple of things to them. The first is the President is fighting for you. What you have is you have a President who is fighting to make sure that we’re expanding economic opportunity to those who are looking hard for a job, those who are trying to get the kind of job training that will ensure that they're competitive when they go out and look for a job. After all, having those kinds of job training programs in place isn’t just good for those who are working hard to try and find a job, it’s also good for those businesses that are looking for workers to fulfill specific functions that will ensure the success of their business.
So those people should understand that there’s a President here in Washington, D.C. that, despite all of the partisan sniping that so often gets filtered down to them, that behind the scenes there is a President who is -- who wakes up every morning, at the top of his list is thinking about and implementing measures that will be in the best interests of middle-class families who are trying to succeed, who are trying to live out the American Dream.
Q We’re talking about recovery in a couple of ways. We see the first storm of the season possibly causing a lot of damage. Is the administration concerned about the effect that that could have on all these local economies up the coast, the most densely populated part of the country, as well as the pressure that it could put on the insurance industry and infrastructure?
MR. EARNEST: Our primary concern right now, Michelle, is making sure that citizens who are in the path of the storm are taking the necessary precautions to prepare for the storm before it hits. It’s very important for citizens to understand that they should be following closely the instructions that are given to them by local and state officials who are responsible for issuing evacuation orders and things of that kind; that preparing for the storm in advance and listening to weather reports and following the instructions of state and local officials is what’s most important.
In terms of the broader impact, we also want to make sure that we are -- that FEMA is doing everything that they can to support state and local efforts, that when it comes time to recover and, if necessary, rebuild from this storm, that we can do so quickly and efficiently. I think FEMA under this President has a remarkably strong track record when it comes to assisting states and local communities in rebuilding after natural disasters. And that's what we’re focused on right now.
In terms of the longer-term economic consequences of a storm like this, I’d hesitate to make any predictions -- either meteorological or financial -- about what the potential impact is of this storm. But it’s certainly something that we’ll be watching carefully. And as you’ve heard the President say many times, that when there are local communities who are affected by difficult events like this or destructive events like this, that this administration and the American people will stand with those communities as they prepare to rebuild.
Q And we’re getting ready to see this hearing down in Texas today on the immigration situation. The President’s visit to Texas -- there’s a lot of anger down there and you hear a lot of anger kind of growing among those communities as well as partially in Congress concerning a lot -- to much of the extent the expense that it’s costing the taxpayer. How would the White House address that anger that kind of sparks up when these events now are happening?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess I would address that in a couple of ways. The first is the President is committed to enforcing the law, and enforcing the law means that when there are apprehensions that are made at the border, particularly of children or adults who are traveling with children, we need to make sure that the basic humanitarian needs of those individuals are provided for. And that's why the President has asked for additional resources from Congress to open up detention facilities across the country where these individuals can be housed in humane conditions.
We’ve also, as we’ve talked about a couple of weeks ago, are considering alternatives to detention -- ankle bracelets and other things -- that would, again, in a humane way allow this administration to continue to enforce the law.
What’s also true is some of the -- one of the reasons that we are asking for additional resources is we would like to process these immigration cases more efficiently through the legal system. So certainly those who are apprehended are entitled to due process and they’ll be given that due process, but we also want to make sure that the system is functioning efficiently. And so what we’re finding right now is that there has been a spike in those individuals who have been apprehended at the border and so we’re looking for resources to bring to bear additional immigration judges, asylum officers and ICE lawyers to process these cases more quickly, and we’re asking for Congress to give the Secretary of Homeland Security additional discretion as he enforces the law. And in some cases, that’s likely to mean after this due process has run its course that those who no longer -- or who don’t have a legal basis for staying in the country will quickly be returned to their home country.
Q Does the administration agree with the fact that the law works differently depending on what country these people are coming from?
MR. EARNEST: That is the law, that there are different interpretations related to that. But what this administration is seeking to do is to make sure that we are rigorously following the law but also seeking greater authority for the Secretary of Homeland Security to use his discretion and, in some cases, more quickly and efficiently removing people who have gone through the due process of the immigration system and returning them to their home country.
Let’s move around just a little bit. Viqueira.
Q Thank you, sir. The Kurds in northern Iraq are about to change their status from semi-autonomous to autonomous. The Israelis wouldn’t mind seeing that. Vice President Biden, as has been well documented, put that idea out in 2006 and 2008. What’s wrong with letting the Kurds break away and form their own nation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Mike, we’ve seen those reports that you’re referring to of the increased interest among the Kurds for some autonomy or at least a referendum that would allow them to vote for their autonomy. The fact is that we continue to believe that Iraq is stronger if it’s united. And that’s why the United States continues to support an Iraq that is democratic, pluralistic, and unified, and we’re going to continue to urge all parties in Iraq to continue working together toward that objective.
The best way for Iraq to confront the threat that’s posed by ISIL is to unify the country in the face of that existential threat. And we think that’s in the best interest of all the citizens of Iraq. But what’s incumbent upon Iraq’s political leaders is for them to come together, to put aside sectarian divisions, and focus on the best interests of the country. And we’re hopeful that Kurdish leaders will play a similarly constructive role in making that happen in the same way that we’re appealing to the national interest of Sunni and Shia leaders to do the same thing.
Q Are the Kurds in a position, though, militarily and economically, to be far more stable now than what we're seeing from the government in Baghdad?
MR. EARNEST: Well, that's a difficult assessment for me to offer from here. I mean, suffice it to say, again, it is our position that it's in the best interests of all of the citizens of Iraq for that country to come together to confront that threat. That includes Kurds, Sunni, and Shia.
I'm not surprised to hear that there may be some speculation or some analysis from different quarters who might suggest that one group might be better off standing on its own. But it's the policy of this administration and this country that, again, Iraq will better weather the threat that's posed by ISIL if that country unifies around the goal of defending that country against the threat that's posed by ISIL.
Q Thanks, Josh. I want to follow up on that planned executive order barring LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. LGBT advocates are pushing back against a request from some faith leaders -- to include a religious exemption in the measure. When will we have more information about the content of this executive order?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Chris, as you know, the President has directed his team to prepare an executive order that would allow him to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. That's an executive order that's still be drafted, and so I wouldn't want to speculate about the contents of that order until it's been finalized.
Q Can you at least say at this point whether the Hobby Lobby decision requires the administration to include a religious exemption in that order?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I'm not in the position to indicate to you at this point what measures will be included in the executive order because it's not been finalized yet.
Q There are two executive orders now on the LGBT community. The President announced a separate executive order that would bar discrimination against transgender federal employees. Can we at least expect that both these executive orders will be on the same track for signing implementation?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know whether or not they’ll be signed at the same time. I’m not in a position to offer you any updates in terms of the timing of these executive orders that have been widely discussed now. But as soon as we do have an update we’ll let you know.
Move around a little bit. Let’s see -- Mark.
Q Tell us more about tomorrow’s naturalization ceremony.
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is something that previous Presidents have done, oftentimes on the 4th of July. The President had the opportunity to talk about this in the Rose Garden earlier this week where he talked about how appropriate it was that there would be an opportunity for the Commander-in-Chief, the President of the United States, on Independence Day, to naturalize those individuals who are in this country legally who signed up to join the military to defend this country. That is a pretty strong testament to the values that are held by those immigrants, and giving them the opportunity to be naturalized and to get their official U.S. citizenship on Independence Day I think is a pretty compelling story.
We’ll have more information about those individuals who will be naturalized tomorrow, but I can tell you that the President is genuinely looking forward to it.
Q Back on the border for a moment. Two questions. You said the President has no plans to visit the border when he’s in Texas next week. Can you tell us what went into that decision? Did he consider going? And what message does the President believe he’s sending by staying away from what he’s calling a humanitarian crisis on the border?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Julie, the first thing I would say is that senior officials in the last several weeks have spent a lot of time visiting the border to assess the conditions there. Secretary Johnson; Cecilia Muñoz, the President’s top immigration policy advisor here at the White House. The commandant of the Coast Guard and other senior officials from FEMA traveled to the border region on June 20th. They had an opportunity to visit some CBP facilities and also visited Lackland Air Force Base where some of those who have been detained -- or some of those who were apprehended are being detained.
Secretary Johnson traveled to Nogales on June 25th, where, again, he reviewed some U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities to assess the situation on the ground there and assess the ability of CBP officials to process those who had been apprehended. There was a more recent trip that, again, involved Secretary Johnson and this time Secretary Burwell, to south Texas on June 30th, where they took a guided tour of the child intake and care facilities, and participated in an interagency discussion at the Lackland shelter on lessons learned, challenges, and best practices for detaining these individuals.
The CBP commissioner earlier this week traveled to McAllen, where he participated in a news conference and delivered a pretty clear message to families in Central America that sending their children -- putting their children in the hands of some of the criminal networks that have sprouted up to transport children to the southwest border is not a good idea.
So the point of me reviewing all of that is to make clear to you and to your readers that senior administration officials have spent a lot of time on the border, because the President and other members of his senior team are concerned both about what’s happening there but also making sure that they have a very clear up-to-date assessment of what exactly is happening on a regular basis there and how the additional resources that have been devoted to that region are dealing with this surge and illegal migration that we’ve seen.
In terms of the President’s trip to Texas, the President is going to, as you know, spend some time raising money for Democrats in the campaign. The President is also looking forward to the opportunity to spending some time in Austin with a couple of folks who have written him letters. This is similar to some of the events he participated in in Minnesota last week. The President talked about how much he enjoyed having the opportunity to sit down with a working mother in Minnesota who had written him a letter about some of the challenges that her family faced, and the President is looking forward to having a similar opportunity when he’s in Texas next week.
Q And on the status of the emergency supplemental, he said the he was going to -- you said you would have more details on that next week. There’s been some pushback from refugee and immigration advocacy groups on the approach -- the new authorities that the President alerted Congress he would be asking for to expedite the removal of some of these kids. Has that caused you all to reassess the approach there? Are you still weighing exactly which authorities to ask Congress for?
MR. EARNEST: It’s my understanding that we have a good sense of what kinds of authorities that we would seek in terms of the greater discretion that could be employed by the Secretary of Homeland Security to deal with the recent surge in illegal migration that we’ve seen on the southwest border.
There are some challenges that are posed by the current law, this 2008 law, that requires that unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries be treated differently in the system than children from Canada or Mexico. What that greater authority would do is it would ensure that as these cases are being processed through the regular due process channels that exist in our immigration courts, that they can be resolved more promptly, and if it is determined through that due process legal proceeding that the individual does not have a legitimate claim to remain in the country, that the Secretary can exercise the discretion to promptly repatriate that person.
That’s important for a couple of reasons. One is it’s a fair way to deal with people in the immigration system rather than having them sort of languish in that system for a long time. The second thing is it sends a clear and unmistakable signal to parents who might be considering putting their children in the hands of a stranger -- in some cases a criminal -- to transport them to the southwest border with the expectation that if they get to the border that they’ll be allowed to remain in the country. That is simply not the case. And that is further demonstrated by the exercise of the Secretary’s discretion to promptly deal with some of these cases.
Q Despite the fact that the unaccompanied minors who are coming across and the minors who are coming across with their mothers are not eligible for DACA, there are those in the Republican Party who are calling upon the President to rescind DACA as a message. Would that work? Does the administration believe if the President said, all right, no more DACA, that the flow would stop?
MR. EARNEST: I think it’s farfetched to think that that that would be a viable solution. What we know right now, Jim, is that there are criminal networks in Central America that are engaged in a coordinated misinformation campaign and luring people who are in increasingly desperate situations to pay them large sums of money to transport them or their children to the southwest border of the United States with the expectation that they’ll be welcomed into the United States even though they’re not following the legal immigration procedures.
That is what we’re up against right now. And that is why you’ve heard the President, other senior administration officials articulate very clearly what the law is and the fact that the law will continue to be rigorously enforced. What we’ll also do is we’re going to also enforce that law in line with our values and in line with the responsibility that's also mandated by the law to treat those who are apprehended in a humanitarian way.
So we’re balancing a lot of different imperatives here. But first and foremost, this administration is committed to enforcing the law. And that's what we’re going to continue to do.
Q The governor of Texas, Governor Perry, is testifying today before a Homeland Security Committee, before Congress, which is meeting in Texas today. He has criticized the President for what he says is “bad diplomacy,” for speeches and for a general outlook to people down there in Central America that just says, “come.” Even though -- and he believes that if the President were to rescind DACA, that that would send a message that that's not the case. What does the administration think about rescinding the DREAM Act?
MR. EARNEST: That's not going to happen. The truth is it’s hard to take seriously Governor Perry’s concerns when everybody who has taken a look at this understands that if we wanted to send a clear signal about our seriousness of purpose when it comes to addressing some of the problems in our immigration system that the easiest way to do that is to pass the common-sense immigration reform proposal that already has passed through the Senate with bipartisan support.
So I guess what I would observe is that the most effective way for us to address this problem -- and I think the most effective way that Governor Perry can help if that's what he says he wants to do would be to pick up the phone and call the Republican members of the House of Representatives that represent the state of Texas and tell them to support the bipartisan proposal to reform our immigration system that passed through the Senate.
That would have a tangible impact on so many of the problems that we see in our immigration system -- not just the problems that we’re seeing at the border, although it would address them because it includes significant investments in border security, but that compromised proposal would also have enormous economic benefits for communities all across the country, probably even disproportionate benefits for some of those communities along the border like those communities in Texas that we would see significant expansion in economic opportunity. It would create jobs. It would lower the deficit. It also would ensure that companies are not punished for following the immigration laws.
Right now there are a lot of companies that are trying to do the right thing and follow the current immigration guidelines when it comes to hiring workers. They’re often undercut by unscrupulous companies that are willing to pay people under the table and not follow those immigration laws. We need to take away that incentive, and one way we could do that would be by passing comprehensive immigration reform.
So there’s a whole host of reasons that this should get done. And the only reason it hasn’t is because we’ve seen Republicans, principally in the House of Representatives, but some other Republicans who have significant stature in that party who have made -- engaged in a coordinated political effort to block it and they do that without any particularly persuasive justification.
Q But what I’m not hearing, though, Josh -- and I’m sure you have an answer for this -- is, why would -- why not send a message that -- Republicans say the DREAM Act sends a message to people in Central America, come because eventually you can become a citizen here, and that we are -- even though the law doesn’t apply to them, that it sends a message. You don’t believe that?
You disagree with that?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t buy that. I think that the -- there may be some who think that there’s a coded message in all of that, but the President of the United States, in an interview with your network just last week, sent a very clear, transparent, unmistakable message that parents should not put their children in the hands of criminals to transport them to the southwest border with the expectation that they’ll be welcomed into the country. They won’t.
Setting aside the fact that putting your children in the hands of a criminal for a dangerous journey like that can have tragic consequences, that is not something that a parent should even consider at this point. The President has been unmistakable about sending that signal. You’ve seen the Vice President and the Secretary of State travel to the region to deliver that message directly. It’s been communicated to the leaders of those countries who have also communicated that message to their citizens.
So we’ve been transparent about how the law will be applied in these cases. And it seems to me that those who might be complaining about the President’s actions are more interested in landing political blows than they are in trying to solve this problem.
Q How about having the President unequivocally -- it sounded at first ambiguous. And then you were saying that eventually -- Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is making it clear that these children will not be able to stay, they’re going to get deported. It will take time, the system will -- they’re going to be deported. The President of the United States is the loudest voice in this country. Obviously, this message needs to get to Honduras, to Guatemala, to these places. Why not have the President unequivocally sit in front of a camera and say, look, these kids are going to get deported; don’t do this; this is dangerous; they’re not going to be able to stay here; whatever anybody is telling you it’s not true and it only -- maybe only the President can send that message.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Chuck, I think the President was pretty direct when he made comments to George Stephanopoulos at ABC when he was asked specifically about this. George asked him very directly whether or not parents should send their children to the southwest border with the expectation that they’ll be welcomed here, and the President was clear in saying, do not send your children.
So the President has delivered that message unambiguously. That is part of the law. And that’s been a message that’s been echoed by the Vice President when he traveled to the region, by the Secretary of State when he traveled to the region, and by the leaders of the countries in those regions.
Q Can you say without ambiguity that most of these kids are going to get deported?
MR. EARNEST: What I can say without ambiguity is that the law will be applied and there is going to be a due process that they’ll all be subjected to. So I wouldn’t stand here and say how those claims will be processed; it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do so. But the law will be rigorously applied. And to ensure that it’s rigorously applied, we’ve asked for additional resources so that we can have more prosecutors and judges and asylum officials deployed to this region to more efficiently process these cases within the confines of the law. And they will be rigorously following the law.
And we’ve even sought additional authority that can be wielded by the Secretary of Homeland Security so that when those cases have been processed, that those who don’t have a legal claim for remaining in this country can be returned to their home country.
Q But you guys are supposedly stepping up an ad campaign. Can you tell us more about it, trying to -- explain what this campaign is down in these countries?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have those details in front of me. I know that Gil Kerlikowske, who is the Director of the CBP, was down in the region just yesterday and talking about this. So I would refer you to CBP. They will have some more details about that campaign.
Q Is the President going to appear in this campaign? Are they going to use his image, his voice, his words in this?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know what plans they have for the content of that campaign, but you should check with them and they can tell you.
Q But if they did you would know, so obviously he’s -- I would assume you would know, but you don’t --
MR. EARNEST: No, I wouldn’t read anything into that.
MR. EARNEST: There are probably a lot of important things I don’t know.
Q To quickly follow up on the economy and to Jim’s question here, which is, neither party has gotten what they’ve wanted in what they claim would sort of jumpstart the economy over the last three or four years. So his question was obviously does anybody deserve the credit. But do you -- does the President feel vindicated that his economic philosophy is contributing to this economic recovery?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there’s no doubt that the President believes that some of the economic policies that we’ve put in place over the last five and a half years have contributed to some of the economic growth that we’ve seen. There’s no doubt about that. What we have said all along is that the goal of these policies was to support the private sector as they lead our recovery.
This is not a situation where the government can go in and do it for the private sector. What we need is, we need American entrepreneurs and business owners and American workers to lead that recovery, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. It’s only because of the hard work and grit and determination of the American people that we’ve enjoyed this success and made all of the progress that we’ve made.
What the President wants to do is to capitalize on this progress and make sure that the benefits of this recovery aren’t just flowing to those at the top, but actually are flowing to those in the middle class. That’s one of the reasons that the President is strongly supportive of raising the minimum wage -- that if you’re working full-time and trying to raise a family of four, you shouldn’t have to do that in poverty. That’s one of the reasons the President wants to lower the cost of a college education to give more middle-class families the opportunity to send their kid to college and get the skills they’re going to need to succeed in the 21st century global economy.
Q So what you’re saying is the President doesn’t believe we have a -- this has been an uneven economic recovery -- does believe that?
MR. EARNEST: The President believes that there’s a lot more that we can do to make sure that all the benefits of our strengthening economy flow to the middle class. Because the President believes if we’re going to sustain this economic recovery over the long term that we need to grow this economy from the middle out, and you can’t do that if all the benefits of the recovery are flowing to those at the top.
There are middle-class families who are benefitting from this recovery. The President wants to make sure that we build on that progress and that by investing in job training, raising the minimum wage, investments in infrastructure would have a short-term economic benefit in terms of creating jobs, but also lay the foundation for our long-term economic strength. There’s a lot that we can do. The President believes that we shouldn’t miss this opportunity to capitalize on this growth and make sure that we’re expanding economic opportunity for the middle class.
Q The best six months in 15 years, and it comes at a time at the highest rate of Washington dysfunction and gridlock in perhaps that amount of time. Coincidence? Isn’t this sending the message that, you know what, the less Washington does, the better for the economy?
MR. EARNEST: I think the message --
Q Not to be that cynical, but --
MR. EARNEST: I think the message that this sends is it’s an indication that these crises aren’t created overnight and they're not solved overnight; and that there needs to be a long-term, coordinated strategy to strengthen our economy. And what you’ve seen this President do over the course of five and a half years is put in place the pillars of that strategy. From the Recovery Act, to rescuing the auto industry, to Wall Street reform, which I had the opportunity to talk about earlier -- all of these are key components of supporting the kind of foundation that the private sector in this country needs to lead our recovery.
And we have seen our economy bounce back. The President is not surprised about that. One of the reasons he has so much optimism about the America economy is because he knows that there are American entrepreneurs out there that have all kinds of great ideas that can lead to the creation of small businesses and eventually grow those businesses into large businesses; that there are a lot of American workers out there who aren’t fully utilizing the skills that they have to benefit our economy. So we want to capture that potential and double down on the progress that we’ve already made.
And that's why the President is so determined to both try and work with Congress where we can to implement other policies that will benefit the middle class, but where necessary, the President is not going to hesitate within the confines of the law to move unilaterally to get that done.
Q Josh, on that point, if you still have more than 26 million people who are in part-time jobs -- you talk to youth advocacy groups, they say that the unemployment number for young people who have given up looking and are unemployed is about 15.2 percent. If the economy is strengthening so much, and the recovery is getting stronger as you say, why are so many people still looking for full-time work?
MR. EARNEST: Because it’s due in no small part to Republicans blocking common-sense economic proposals that would expand economic opportunity for the middle class.
Look, there are some simple things that the President has put forward, common-sense ideas that have traditionally earned the support of Republicans in the past that Republicans right now are blocking. These are things like raising the minimum wage; making critical investments in our infrastructure and paying for them by closing the loopholes that benefit only the wealthy and well-connected; investing in job-training programs that lead directly to work; expanding access to a college education, making more affordable for middle-class families to send their kids to college.
These are all the kinds of things that would ensure that middle-class families are benefitting from our economic recovery. And those benefits would be magnified if we can put in place some of these common-sense policies.
Q I want to ask a couple on immigration. When you were saying a moment ago that the law will be rigorously followed -- a couple weeks ago, Jim was asking questions about what are the numbers in terms of people who show up at the border who actually are deported, and how many of them actually stay with relatives and end up staying in America. Do you have a better sense now of those numbers? My question being, how can you know for sure the law is going to be followed when some of these folks may just end up staying in America?
MR. EARNEST: Well, each of these cases is unique, and what we would like to do is to make sure that we’re surging resources in terms of immigration judges and ICE prosecutors and asylum officials to make sure that we’re processing these claims quickly and doing so efficiently, so that when they are ultimately adjudicated and if those individuals, after going through that due process, are found not to have an illegal basis for remaining in the country, that the Secretary of Homeland Security can act using his discretion to send them back. That is a principle that applies to adults, but it’s also a principle that we’re going to apply where necessary --
Q Do you need numbers to back up that that’s what’s been happening in recent months and years?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the law has been enforced under this President. What we’re seeing, though, is an increasing backlog in processing these claims; that there are individuals who are detained, who are given a notice to appear in court; in many cases, they’re subjected to things like alternative detention where they wear an ankle bracelet. But that backlog is too long. That’s not fair to those who are in that process. It’s also not a good way to enforce the law.
We want to do this quickly and efficiently and effectively, all within the confines of due process. So by adding more judges and prosecutors and asylum officials to the case, we can make sure that we are following due process but also enforcing the law.
Q Last one. I want to go back to the Texas trip, related to immigration. The President keeps saying publicly he wants to get out of the White House bubble. So here’s his chance, and as you said, he’s going to meet with some real folks and he’s going to talk to them about the economy. He’s also going to raise money for the Democratic Party and he’s going to pass up an opportunity to get an up-close look himself, get out of the bubble and look at what he’s called a humanitarian crisis. How do you defend that?
MR. EARNEST: I defend that by describing to you that there are a whole range of senior officials in this administration over the course of the last three or four weeks who have spent a lot of time in the southwest border.
Q But when there’s a hurricane you’ll send the FEMA Director, all these people, but then the President himself goes there and he meets with the families, he hold their hands, he talks to them and he tries to get a sense -- why can’t he do that this time?
MR. EARNEST: The President has a very good sense of what’s happening on the border. He’s getting regular updates from his officials who have traveled to that region. They’re focused on solving this problem. And what the President wants is he wants regular reports about what they’re seeing on the border and how resources that are being devoted to processing those who have appeared at the border are being used to effectively administrate justice. And the President is well aware of that process and how it’s going.
And the trip that he’s taking to Texas is effectively for a different purpose -- both to conduct some political activities that he does on occasion, but also spend some time talking to somebody who wrote him a letter about how the President’s economic policies can benefit middle-class families all across the country.
Q Josh, on the Kurds’ bid for autonomy, how much does that complicate your message? And what are you saying to the Kurds themselves? You said, I think, Iraq is stronger if it’s united. But I don’t think that they believe that they would be stronger there in a fragile Iraq. So what’s the message from the White House?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there’s been a lot of dialogue between senior administration officials and political leaders in Iraq, including Kurdish political leaders. Our message to them in private is the same message that I’ve been delivering up here publicly, which is that we believe it’s in the best interest of all the citizens of Iraq for that nation’s political leaders to come together, to set aside sectarian divisions, to set aside their own political ambitions, and focus on the best interest of Iraq.
And it’s the view of this administration that Iraq is best served if they have political leaders that unite, that pursue an inclusive governing agenda, and use all of that to confront a threat that’s posed by ISIL.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll get to you in just a second, Bill. April.
Q Josh, I want to go back to the border issue and the President not going and how he gets his updates. When the President is in the Situation Room, is he getting -- seeing live pictures of the border? Is he getting kind of visuals on the border? And is that some of the reason why he may not be going to the border next week?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that there have been some media outlets that have even been granted access to some of these detention facilities along the border. so we’ve been pretty transparent and I think the American public can see firsthand both the challenges that are posed by this surge and illegal migration that we’ve seen, but they can also see firsthand what the federal government is doing to try to address the challenges that are posed by this surge. So you’ve also seen frequent visits from these senior administration officials.
The President is getting regular updates and has a very good sense both of what’s happening there on the ground, and how effectively resources are being deployed to confront those challenges.
Q But beyond the updates, I’m trying to -- the reason people are asking for him to go to the border is because it's tangible for him to see, for him to feel. But is he at least getting visuals from these persons, or getting updates? Is he getting any visuals in the Sit Room, live visuals of something about the border?
MR. EARNEST: I disagree at least in part with the premise of your question. I think the reason that some people are suggesting the President should go to the border when he’s in Texas is because they’d rather play politics than actually try to address some of these challenges. But for those who have purer motives in terms of asking this question, like you --
Q Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: -- I would just tell you that the President is comfortable with the very granular information that he’s received about conditions on the border and about what the federal government is doing to meet these challenges.
He’s also very interested in finding out whether or not this surge in resources has been helpful, whether it’s worked, whether we are able to enforce the law more efficiently and at the same time meet the basic humanitarian needs of those who have appeared on the southwest border.
We are, after all, as you’ve heard me say in discussing this issue many times, we’re a nation of laws but we’re also a nation of immigrants. And there are values associated with that. And we want to make sure that as we enforce the law, that we do so in line with our values. The President is comfortable that that's happening right now.
Q And on another issue, Mrs. Biden is in Africa. Could you talk to me about the Africa visit? And is it primarily basically a lead-up to this Africa summit that's happening here next month?
MR. EARNEST: For a detailed readout of her activities I’d encourage you to check with the Vice President’s Office. But I know that Dr. Biden is -- that her trip is off to a very good start. She just left a couple of days ago. She spent some time visiting some local health clinics, talking a lot about the importance of education, particularly among women in Africa.
And this is an important part of communicating directly to the people of Africa the investment that the United States seeks to make in their countries; that there is an opportunity for us to form an important partnership with them as they build the economy and build up and improve the living conditions in many of these countries, that the United States wants to be a partner with them. That is an important message of Dr. Biden’s trip, and it will be something that we’ll discuss a whole lot more when the African leaders are here in Washington next month.
Q And just as an aside, your answer to April about the President not going to the border because it would be political
-- since when is it not political that he goes and visits with an average American to show empathy?
MR. EARNEST: What I’m suggesting is those who are criticizing the President for not going to the border, that at least many of them, if not all of them, are playing politics and not really focused on solving the problem. If they were committed to solving the problem -- for example, in the case of the Texas Governor, he could probably be pretty useful -- I hear he’s a pretty persuasive fellow, that he could call -- he could pick up the phone and call some of those Republican members of Congress from Texas who are standing foursquare against common-sense immigration reform; that if the Governor were genuinely concerned about solving so many of these problems that exist on the border, the most impactful thing that he could do right now is encourage those Republican members of the House of Representatives to stop blocking common-sense legislation from coming to the floor of the House of Representatives.
Q Which doesn't have much to do with the President’s own politics in sitting down with -- anyway, let’s go back to your answer on Iraq. (Laughter.) It’s been the policy of this administration since the ISIS offensive began that it has to be settled by the formation of a new government which is all inclusive. But that's exactly what’s not happening. The Prime Minister, as you know, has declined to form a government because everybody walked out in a huff the other day. And now he’s going after -- first of all, he’s going after the ISIS fighters he says. But what is the message of this government? What has the President said to him or others?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s the Vice President who has been in regular touch with Prime Minister Maliki and with other political leaders in Iraq. What we have encouraged them to do is to -- there is, as you point out, a process under the Iraqi constitution for the formation of a new government --
Q It's not working.
MR. EARNEST: It’s not moving as expeditiously as we would like it to, there’s no doubt about that. Time is of the essence right now because there is a serious threat to the security situation there that’s posed by ISIL. And so the President and other world leaders have been pressing Iraq’s political leadership not just to come together at a time and place of their choosing, but come together quickly, because it’s important for the future of Iraq for them to form that government in line with the process that’s laid out by their constitution.
And once that government is formed, it’s important for that government to pursue the kind of inclusive governing agenda that makes it clear to every citizen in Iraq that they have a stake in that country’s future. That’s also what’s going to be required for the security forces in Iraq to be strengthened; that the security forces need to reflect the diversity of the country, and when you have a unified political leadership, you have unified security forces.
We’re confident that Iraq can meet the threat that’s posed by ISIL, but we’re confident that they won’t be able to meet that threat if they don’t act quickly to form that government and for that government to pursue an inclusive agenda.
Q -- before the government is formed. There have been suggestions that they could work in cooperation with Iran, and that the U.S. could support that. In fact, General Dempsey today said that while we don’t intend to coordinate with them right now, it’s not impossible that in the future we would have reason to do so. Is that something that the administration supports?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what we have said is, and what’s already occurred is that there has been at least one conversation between senior American diplomats and senior Iranian diplomats on the sidelines of the P5-plus-1 talks to talk about the situation in Iraq. We have made clear that at this point we don’t contemplate any military cooperation and coordination. We also are not going to be engaged in a conversation with the Iranians about the future of Iraq over the heads of the Iraqi people. Ultimately, the future of Iraq needs to be determined by the population, by the citizens of Iraq, and by their elected leaders.
But I’ve also pointed out and been pretty ready to admit that there clearly is some overlapping interest here, that there is -- it is not in the interests of Iran for there to be -- for their neighbor to be racked by sectarian divisions; that that kind of instability is not what you want to have on your border. And it’s certainly not the kind of instability that the United States would like to see in the region.
So there is a little common interest that’s been exposed by this. But I want to be clear that our ongoing diplomatic conversations with Iran right now are focused on this nuclear issue that’s hopefully going to be resolved with the P5-plus-1.
Q But the door to cooperation does not seem to be closed.
MR. EARNEST: There are -- I wouldn’t rule out additional conversations between American diplomats and Iranian diplomats, but they would be separate from the ongoing P5-plus-1 talks that we’re focused on right now.
Q On bank bonuses -- surprise, surprise -- listening to the President’s comments on Marketplace, talking about taking more action on the bank bonuses and he believes they’re risky -- well, his Treasury Department, jointly with the Fed and other regulatory agencies, back in 2011, issued a draft proposal under the Dodd-Frank law to take action to restrict these bonuses, and since then it’s been languishing on the back burner at the SEC. Is one of the additional steps he’s considering to push the SEC to do something with this proposal? Any sense of that?
MR. EARNEST: As I think I mentioned earlier, the President didn’t have any specific regulation or law in mind when he made those comments to Kai Ryssdal. What he was referring to, though, was the need for his administration and independent regulators to continue to be vigilant about threats that may emerge in our financial system. We have a very dynamic, rapidly evolving financial system, and we need to make sure that we have a regulator regime that can meet the risks and challenges that are posed by that dynamic system. So there are a number of things --
Q He’s satisfied with what’s been done so far, right?
MR. EARNEST: Well, no, I actually think the President is proud of all the progress that we’ve made.
Q -- is dissatisfied that that’s enough -- sorry. It’s a good thing I’m not the spokesman. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Welcome to my world, Mike.
Q Is he dissatisfied with the amount of progress so far even if he feels there has been progress on this?
MR. EARNEST: Let me start by saying it’s important -- and I don’t think I undersold it -- but it’s important to recognize that I think that the passage of Wall Street reform in the first couple of years of this administration will go down as one of the legacy-defining achievements of this administration. The President is enormously proud of the Wall Street reform regulations that have been put in place because they include some of the strongest consumer protections in history.
The President ran for office because he wanted to make sure that middle-class families had a voice in Washington, D.C. And when it comes to things like financial regulations, too often the voices of Main Street investors and middle-class families were drowned out by special interests like Wall Street firms and big banks. So we’re enormously proud of the progress that we’ve made and that we do now have a financial system that continues to thrive. I’m certainly no expert on the stock market, but it has increased significantly since the President took office.
Q But it sounds like from what he was saying that he clearly thinks more should be done. I don’t think there’s any other fair reading of his remarks.
MR. EARNEST: That’s right. And what the President thinks is that we need to be vigilant as our financial system evolves in terms of guarding against risks that crop up; that there’s such a dynamic financial system out there that evolves quickly -- we need to make sure that we have a regulatory regime that gives the dynamism of our capital markets the opportunity to thrive while preventing bubbles and other risks from rapidly emerging and causing the whole system to tumble.
So let me give you a couple of examples of things that the President believes should be part of the kinds of things that should be addressed. One of those things is the role of shadow banking and the role that they play in our financial markets. The President also believes that we need to protect the integrity of our financial markets from abuses in high-frequency trading.
The President also believes that we need to have the seamless application of regulations in our international markets. Those of you who have traveled with us to G20 meetings over the years have heard countless briefings from senior administration officials who say that the President and other senior economic policymakers in this administration have been in regular communication with our counterparts in other markets about the importance of also raising standards for their financial markets.
After all, we can't just raise the financial standards in this market when you have such a globally interconnected financial system. We need to raise standards all across the globe. And that's been a focal point of some of the ongoing policymaking efforts in this administration.
So, again, we’re constantly vigilant and on guard about -- as we monitor the financial system and make sure that risks don't crop up that threaten the entire financial system. And that means hard work that's done on a daily basis by economic policymakers in the administration, but also work that's done on a daily basis at the independent financial regulators who have front-line responsibility for dealing with some of these issues.
Q Thank you, Josh. According to what purports to be minutes from the last meeting of Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Maliki, he was quoted as telling Maliki that the United States does not believe that all the fighters in Iraq belong to ISIL or are affiliated with extremist organizations. Is that the reason why the President is still hesitant about striking ISIL in Iraq, launching airstrikes?
MR. EARNEST: The President is going to make his decision about any sort of financial -- I’m sorry, I’m still focused on the last question. Any decision that the President makes about military actions in Iraq will be focused on our core national security interests. That's what’s driving that decision, and that is what will continue to drive the decision moving forward.
So what you’ve seen is in recent days the announcement of deployment of some additional troops to Iraq with the sole purpose of ensuring the safety and security of American personnel who are already in Iraq. That is the President’s top goal, and that is what he has assessed thus far in terms of deploying military assets in support of our broader national security interests.
Now, the other thing that the President has said -- and the President said this more eloquently than I will -- about three weeks ago when he was standing in front of Marine One, where he said it was incumbent upon Iraq’s political leadership to form that inclusive government because that ultimately is what’s going to be necessary to address the security situation in Iraq; that any sort of military solution is only going to temporarily address the problems that they face, that the ultimate solution will require a governing agenda by a diverse political leadership in Iraq that unites the country in the face of the threat that's posed by ISIL.
Q But does he still maintain that any direct military assistance, actual assistance -- airstrikes against the ISIL locations, for example, is still preconditioned on that inclusive government?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President again was pretty clear, so I’d refer you back to his comments. They still apply in terms of how he perceives the situation, that it is critically important for the government of Iraq to unite in the face of this threat and that any sort of military action will need to be partnered with a commitment from Iraq’s political leaders to do exactly that. Because ultimately, there’s not a military solution to this problem; there’s a diplomatic and political solution that will ultimately address so many of the significant challenges that are facing Iraq right now.
Jared. Jared, I’m going to give you the last one.
Q Josh, when it comes to Iraq, the President’s call to the King of Saudi Arabia yesterday, did the President discuss at all reports that the Kingdom might be funding ISIS?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’m not going to -- I don't have any more details on that call other than what was included in the readout. In terms of funding, one of the things that was mentioned in the readout was that there was a significant donation made by the Kingdom in support of ongoing humanitarian efforts in Iraq. That was something that the President greatly appreciated. And it demonstrates the kind of regional approach that we think is going to be important.
Again, it’s important for countries in the region that the kind of instability that started out in Syria and has spilled over into Iraq doesn't continue to spread across the region. And that's one of the reasons that -- it’s certainly why it’s important to Saudi Arabia that some stability be restored, but also underscores the generosity of the Kingdom in making this donation.
Q When it comes to -- we’re heading into the long weekend. We’ve got on the House calendar, at least, I think seven legislative weeks before Election Day. The President has been talking all this week and recently about how little he expects from Congress or how little he’s gotten from Congress. At this point, from where you’re standing, what does the President believe he’s going to get in terms of bills passed by both houses of Congress before Election Day? Anything?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are a number of important priorities that I’ve talked about in the context of the jobs numbers today. Some of the economic proposals that the President has put forward for raising the minimum wage, or improving and expanding job training, making a college education more affordable, ensuring pay equity all across the country -- that there are a number of proposals that have traditionally earned bipartisan support that the President hopes they’ll act on.
But there are two others that come to mind that will be priorities when Congress returns. The first is the supplemental funding request that Julie talked about in terms of making sure that our -- that the necessary resources are available to meet the need caused by the surge of illegal migration that we’re seeing at the border.
The second one is this issue of the Highway Trust Fund that I think Mara asked about yesterday, that this is traditionally an issue that has enjoyed bipartisan support, and we hope that will be true in this case because of the consequences of Congress failing to act for our economy.
With that, why don't I do a little week ahead here? It’s only Thursday, but I have a sneaking suspicion that many of you won’t be here tomorrow.
Q No briefing? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: There will be no briefing tomorrow in honor of the holiday. What better way to demonstrate my patriotism than to not brief, right? (Laughter.)
Q Happy Fourth.
MR. EARNEST: Same to you, Goyal.
On Monday, the President will host a group of teachers at the White House for lunch to discuss the administration’s efforts to ensure that every student is taught by an effective educator. The President will be joined at that lunch by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.
On Tuesday, the President will welcome NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to the White House, ahead of the NATO summit in Wales this September. The President looks forward to discussing with the Secretary General the crisis in Ukraine and related reassurance measures for our NATO allies; improving allied defense investment; further work on bolstering NATO’s network of partners; and NATO’s post-2014 noncombat mission in Afghanistan. The Secretary General’s visit underscores the vital importance the United States places on NATO as the cornerstone of our alliance with Europe.
In the evening, the President will depart for Denver, Colorado, where he’ll spend the night.
On Wednesday in Denver, the President will attend a DSCC fundraising event. The President will then travel to the Dallas, Texas area for a DCCC event. In the evening, the President will get back on the plane and will travel to Austin, Texas, where he’ll attend a DNC event and remain overnight.
On Thursday while in Austin, the President will attend a DNC event, and will deliver remarks on the economy alongside one of the letter writers that I mentioned earlier, before returning to the White House. We’ll have some additional details about the President’s travel to Colorado and Texas in the days ahead.
And then on Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
I should point out that tomorrow the President does have a couple of Independence Day activities. Somebody asked earlier about the naturalization event that will take place here. The President is looking forward to the opportunity to naturalizing a few immigrants to this country who have served in our armed forces.
And then tomorrow evening, the President will be hosting a barbecue and picnic for military families on the South Lawn of the White House where late in the day those families will enjoy a spectacular view of the fireworks on the National Mall.
So with that I wish you all a very happy Independence Day and a terrific weekend.
Q Any Saturday events?
MR. EARNEST: Nothing Saturday or Sunday.
Q Any press conferences coming up soon?
MR. EARNEST: Nothing that I have to announce right now. (Laughter.)
1:55 P.M. EDT
October 20, 2016
October 19, 2016
President Obama and the First Lady Attend the State Dinner with Prime Minister Renzi and Mrs. Landini
October 19, 2016
October 18, 2016
October 18, 2016
October 18, 2016
October 18, 2016
October 17, 2016