Daily Briefing by the Press Secretary, 07/08/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:04 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. It's good to see you all. I don't have any announcements at the top, Josh, so why don't you go ahead and get started with questions.
Q Thanks, Josh. This morning on a conference call, a White House official said that in working with Congress, the White House is basically asking for the same authority to send people from Central America back at the border that the administration has for people from Mexico. Can you give that authority to Border Patrol agents as opposed to immigration judges and still guarantee that these children have due process?
MR. EARNEST: What we are seeking, Josh, is we are seeking greater authority for the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise greater discretion that will allow him to more efficiently and effectively remove and repatriate immigrants to this country that don't have a legal basis for remaining here.
As you know, there are -- the law requires some additional steps as it relates particularly to children and it also requires some additional steps for children who have traveled from what are described as non-contiguous countries. What this law did not contemplate is what we are seeing now along the southwest border. What we're seeing along the southwest border is a spike in illegal migration from a handful of Central American countries. And what we would like is for the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise some greater discretion after the due process rights of those individuals have been acknowledged and respected.
So there is a due process system. What we are seeking, in addition to additional authority, are additional resources where immigration judges, ICE, prosecutors and asylum officials can be made available to expand the capacity of that system so that we can reduce the backlog that currently exists.
But, again, the bottom line here is this additional authority that we would like Congress to give the Secretary of Homeland Security would allow him to exercise his discretion to more efficiently remove those individuals that do not have a legal basis for remaining in this country.
Q But do those due process rights that you say are first respected, does that include appearing, for instance, before a judge, or appearing before someone other than just a Border Patrol agent during initial screening?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, it does. It does. There is due process in place that those individuals are entitled to. Those are basic due process rights that will be respected. There are also certain humanitarian requirements that are in place. Those aren't just part of the law; those are also consistent with the values of this country. We will meet both of those standards. We're committed to doing that.
We're also just as committed to enforcing the law, and that means when it is found that an individual does not have the legal basis for remaining in this country, does not have the legal basis for being granted humanitarian relief, then those individuals will be removed and repatriated in collaboration with their home countries.
Q Secretary General Rasmussen was here this morning, talked a little bit with us about his concerns about the Afghanistan election process dragging out. Can you flesh out a little bit about what he spoke with the President about, both on Afghanistan and Ukraine?
MR. EARNEST: Why don't I first start with a readout of the President’s meeting and then we can go into additional detail if you like.
Earlier this morning, as you all know, the President met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in what was Secretary General Rasmussen’s final visit to the White House before he departs his post later this year. The Secretary General’s visit underscores the vital importance the United States places on NATO as the cornerstone of our alliance with Europe and the importance of Rasmussen’s leadership at this critical time.
You will recall, Josh, that the President had the opportunity to talk about the strength and importance of this alliance during the President’s recent visit to Europe just last month.
As you know, we have a NATO summit in September in Wales. That was an opportunity for them, the two leaders, to review a number of issues heading into that meeting.
They also discussed Ukraine, including implications of Russia’s aggression for European security and the efforts the United States and other allies have been making over the past several months to reassure all allies of the Alliance’s ironclad commitment to Article 5 collective defense. They also spoke about the need to improve allied defense investment and to bolster the defense capacity of NATO’s vast network of partners. And finally, they spoke about Afghanistan and planning for NATO’s non-combat, post-2014 mission.
Now, in terms of Afghanistan, you may be aware that building upon Secretary Kerry’s outreach to both of the presidential candidates in Afghanistan, the President spoke last night to Dr. Abdullah as part of our ongoing effort to engage the candidates and call for calm and dialogue. The President made clear, as we’ve been saying publicly, that we expect a thorough review of all reasonable allegations of fraud, and that there is no justification for resorting to violent or extra-constitutional measures. We’ve been clear that any such move would cost Afghanistan the financial and security assistance of the United States of America.
Serious allegations of fraud have been raised, but they have yet to be adequately investigated. So we reiterate that the preliminary results that were announced yesterday are neither final, nor authoritative, and may not even predict the final outcome, which could still change based on the findings of Afghan’s electoral bodies. We continue to urge the candidates to maintain calm among their supporters.
There is a process in place for adjudicating the concerns that have been raised about fraud in that election, and we’re encouraged -- or we’re encouraging both candidates and their supporters to allow that process to work its way through so that all of these claims or concerns that have been raised about fraud can be examined and adjudicated so that both sides can respect the outcome of this process.
Q Josh, the situation in Israel seems to be escalating rather quickly, with air raid sirens going off this morning in Tel Aviv and up to 40,000 reservists called for a possible ground invasion in Gaza. What is the U.S. doing to calm the situation? And is there any effort to negotiate a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by saying that we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza. No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.
At the same time, we appreciate the call that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has made publicly to act responsibly. We’re concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides. This means both the residents of southern Israel who are forced to live under rocket fire in their homes and the civilians in Gaza who are subjected to the conflict because of Hamas’s violence.
As you know, Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu a couple times over the weekend and reiterated the United States’ concern about escalating tensions and our willingness to engage robustly in helping to stop the rocket fire and restore the 2012 ceasefire as soon as possible.
So these kinds of consultations are ongoing. It is not in the interest of either side for this violence to continue and even to escalate. So we are hopeful that even as Israel exercises their right to self-defense that they’ll leave open a channel for diplomacy to prevail and for a ceasefire or at least a de-escalation in the violence to commence.
Q Josh, back on the supplemental request. Is the White House willing to offer any budget cuts elsewhere to offset this additional money?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, this falls in the category of emergency appropriations, and I think that even both Democrats and Republicans would acknowledge that what we’re seeing is an emergent situation down there. There are serious implications as it relates to a pretty dire humanitarian situation throughout Central America, and the consequences for that are being manifested along the southwest border. So there is an urgent situation to respond to and we hope that Congress will act quickly on this emergency request for additional funding so that we can use these resources to address the problem.
Q So the answer is no, right?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the answer is that this is an emergency supplemental funding request and with an emergency request like this, traditionally, Congress has not sought to bog down that process in the search for offsets.
Q Speaker Boehner also made a point of saying he had wanted to see the National Guard to be sent to the border and that was not included in the request. Is there a reason for that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are a couple of reasons for that. The first is there already has been made an historic investment in border security and we’re seeing the benefits of that investment of resources along the border. To put it bluntly, the concern right now is that what we’re seeing is that a lot of these immigrants who are seeking to enter the country without authorization aren’t seeking to evade detection by Border Patrol agents; rather, these individuals are seeking out these Border Patrol agents with the expectation they’ll be detained and in the hope that they’ll be allowed to remain in the country.
What we have made clear is that those individuals who enter this country without authorization will be put through the immigration court proceeding and there are due process rights that they will -- that they are entitled to. But at the conclusion of those proceedings, if it is found that those individuals do not have a legal basis for remaining in the country, they’ll be removed. And what we have sought in addition to this supplemental appropriations request is authorization from Congress for the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise greater discretion in ensuring the prompt removal of those individuals.
Q Hi. Yesterday we talked a little bit about this and you mentioned that there was no piece in the request for border security. But it appears that there is some of that now, right? Has that changed since yesterday? And if so, why?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t remember ruling out any additional resources that could be deployed to the border. I think, in fact, the suggestion that I made was that we needed additional resources at the border to process these claims more rapidly. And that is what a large chunk of this funding would be devoted toward -- that’s hiring judges, ICE prosecutors and asylum officials who could address the backlog that has cropped up in recent months.
By addressing that backlog, we can ensure that those individuals have prompt access to the due process to which they’re entitled. It also means that as those cases are resolved -- and as we expect in the majority of those cases there will not be a basis for those individuals to remain in the country and be granted humanitarian relief -- that we expect that the Homeland Security Secretary will be able to exercise some additional discretion that would allow him to repatriate those individuals efficiently.
Q And so things like surveillance flights and more resources for interdiction, that’s not something that was added late? That was always going to be part of this?
MR. EARNEST: That was always going to be part of the package. I mean, I would point out that those who are particularly concerned about these kinds of resources being deployed to the border and the suggestion that these kinds of resources are badly needed at the border should be strong advocates of comprehensive immigration reform; that even the important steps that are included in this emergency funding request are not as significant as the investment in border security resources that's included in the common-sense immigration reform proposal that was passed by both parties in the Senate.
Q And this meeting that the President is going to have with the Governor, can you talk a little bit about this? I know there’s been this kind of harsh back-and-forth at times. What does the President expect to gain from this meeting?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ve been working on it for a couple of days to set up a meeting between the President and local officials in the Dallas area to discuss the situation on the border.
There are a number of non-governmental organizations, including nonprofits and even some faith leaders in Dallas, who have been trying to mobilize some resources to assist in the effort to meet the basic humanitarian needs of those who have arrived in the southwest border and are attempting to enter the country without authorization. The President certainly welcomes the efforts of those who are trying to contribute constructively to addressing this problem. And we’re seeing local officials and even some members of the faith community in Dallas try to do exactly that. The President is supportive of those efforts. And that’s why we were seeking to set up a meeting with those individuals.
When Governor Perry sent a letter to the White House yesterday indicating the desire to meet with the President, we thought it made sense here to extend an invitation to Governor Perry to allow him to participate in that meeting with other Texans who are seeking to address this situation in a constructive manner. So we’re looking forward to Governor Perry participating in that manner. Apparently, he has just in the last hour or so agreed to participate, and we certainly are pleased about that.
Q I just want to get clear -- you’re asking that the HHS Secretary has greater discretion --
MR. EARNEST: The DHS Secretary.
Q I mean DHS -- but you’re not asking Congress to change the law to make Central American children treated the same as Mexican children? You’re not asking for a change in the law to correct the discrepancy between the way these children are handled?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what we are trying to do is to try to restore some greater consistency in that in terms of the way immigrants from Central America -- whether it’s Mexico or other countries -- the way that that law is implemented.
Now, there’s some natural barriers to that. If somebody is detained along the Mexican border who’s from Mexico, it's easy to just sort of turn them around and they’re back in their home country. If someone -- if an immigrant from Honduras, for example, is detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, getting them back to Honduras requires additional resources and requires some additional steps. So there are some logistical impediments to enforcing the law as efficiently when it comes to those who originated in Honduras compared to those who originated in Mexico.
Q They’re not just logistical impediments, they’re legislative impediments. The 2008 law says these children have to be treated differently.
MR. EARNEST: That’s correct.
Q And I just want to get clear -- you’re not asking Congress to make changes to the 2008 law.
MR. EARNEST: Right now what we are seeking is we’re seeking the congressional authorization for the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise greater discretion as he implements that law.
So I don’t want to suggest to you that we’re fine with the law the way that it is, because we’re seeking some greater discretion so that we can enforce that law a little bit differently. So I’m not trying to be obtuse in answering your question; I’m just trying to be as specific as I can that what we are seeking is an end result that allows for the more efficient application and enforcement of that law that essentially means those individuals that don’t have a legal basis for remaining in this country are returned to their home country. That make sense? Okay.
Q I’ve got a couple for you. You talked about -- in the readout of the phone call last night, you talked about the risk of Afghanistan losing the financial and security assistance from the United States. Is that money and materiel? Or does that also extend to the presence of American forces on the ground?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, there is this issue of the pending bilateral security agreement. This is an agreement that was struck between the United States and Afghanistan many months ago now. What we have said is that we would seek for that agreement to be signed by the new president of Afghanistan. The good news is that both candidates -- both of the remaining candidates in this runoff have indicated not just an openness but a desire to sign that agreement. We certainly would welcome that. We believe that this bilateral security agreement is in the best interests of American national security, but that it’s also in the best interests of the people of Afghanistan.
So we’re certainly pleased that both of them have indicated a desire to do that. Of course, for them to sign this agreement, the election needs to be concluded. And because of the concerns that have been raised about fraud, the conclusion of that election is being drawn out a little bit.
Fortunately, there is in place a series of procedures to adjudicate concerns about fraud, and we have sought through diplomatic channels to encourage both sides to allow that process to work. And we’re hopeful that both candidates and their supporters will continue to support that process as it moves forward.
Q And there are administration officials briefing lawmakers on Capitol Hill today about Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’m wondering whether the timing reflects the conflict in either place shifting into a new phase, particularly as it relates to Iraq.
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of the specific briefings that you’re talking about, but because the consultation between the administration and our partners on Capitol Hill on these issues is frequent, I’m not surprised to hear that there are some meetings to discuss these issues. As you point out, Olivier, these are pretty dynamic situations that we’re dealing with, so it makes sense that the consultations between senior administration officials and our counterparts on Capitol Hill are pretty frequent.
So I don’t know that there’s any specific hook to today’s meetings, but rather that they are an indication that these conversations happen pretty regularly.
Q Thanks. Your comments yesterday (inaudible) a German anger about this latest spying row. Could you give any more details about how the U.S. plans to go about resolving this, as you said yesterday?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to shed any more light either on those reports or on our efforts to try to resolve the situation other than to say what I said yesterday, which is that the United States highly values the strong partnership that we have with the Germans, particularly when it comes to security cooperation and intelligence-sharing activities. That strong partnership benefits American national security and we believe that it benefits the national security of Germany as well. That’s why we are committed to resolving this situation appropriately.
There have been some communications in both law enforcement and diplomatic channels to begin to resolve this issue. But in terms of the substance of the reports, as I was yesterday, I’m not in a position to comment on them.
Q General terms, does the United States expect that foreign nations, including perhaps some allies, conduct the kind of operations -- intelligent operations that have been reported on the other side in the German media in the last few days?
MR. EARNEST: I’m sure there are some intelligence experts in our government who might be able to give you some greater insight into the intelligence activities of other countries, but I’m not in a position to do that from here.
Q Josh, can you clarify -- in terms of the Homeland Security Secretary getting more authority, you say you need Congress’s help. Does Congress have to pass a standalone bill to clarify this or -- what’s the holdup? What are you waiting for legally?
MR. EARNEST: It’s my understanding that for the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise the kind of discretion that we would like him to be able to exercise in terms of more efficiently removing those individuals that don’t have a claim to remain in this country, that that requires congressional authorization to give him that discretion.
Q With a bill, a piece of legislation?
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q Okay. And have you heard from Boehner, anyone? Are they going to do this?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we originally made this request last week in a letter to Congress. Since then, there have been a number of conversations between senior administration officials here and senior officials on Capitol Hill. So the discussions about trying to work this out have been underway for several days now.
Q And in terms of the changes in the President’s schedule, you kind of hooked it to Governor Perry writing this letter yesterday.
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t mean to do that.
Q So what changed? Because for days, you’ve been saying not only is he not going to the border but he’s just fundraising and he’s going to talk about the economy.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I was pretty declarative about is the fact that the President would not travel to the border, and he is not going to do that. What the President will do, though, is he is going to spend some time -- in addition to those other activities that you mentioned -- visiting with some Texans who -- both local government officials as well as the leaders in the faith community down there who are seeking to mobilize resources in support of an effort to effectively deal with the situation at the southwest border. The President welcomes their involvement, is certainly pleased to see their interest in playing a constructive role in meeting the humanitarian needs of these individuals.
Governor Perry indicated a desire to speak to the President about this, and the President extended an invitation for Governor Perry to join this meeting with other Texans who are working on this.
Q But wasn’t it also political pressure? Because in addition to Governor Perry you had Democrat Henry Cuellar saying yesterday that he believes this could be the President’s Katrina. How do you react to that, that there is sort of government just being paralyzed right now and not being able to fix this?
MR. EARNEST: I think the steps that this government has announced not just today but over the last week or so are indicative of our proactive approach to dealing with this situation. The President has already directed that resources be moved from the interior to the border region to address both this backlog that we’re seeing but also this influx of illegal migration from Central America.
We’re seeking greater resources from Congress that could be used to deal with this situation to whittle down the backlog, that we prioritize more recent border crossers. We’re also seeking, as we’ve been discussing now, the greater authority that the Secretary of Homeland Security could use to more efficiently remove those individuals that don’t have a legal basis for remaining in the country. I think that is indicative of the aggressive approach that this administration has taken to confronting this problem.
Q Two other quick ones. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is pushing for the administration to consider the Central American adults and kids to be refugees, at least many of them. That could potentially give them political asylum. Is that even being considered here? Is that on the table, that these adults and children would be considered refugees, not illegal immigrants?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ed, these individuals from Central America are entitled to due process and there is an immigration court system in this country to consider their claims on a case-by-case basis. What we’re seeking are additional resources so that we can have more judges and more prosecutors and more asylum officials on hand to consider these cases carefully to ensure that they are subject to this due process.
But what’s also clear is our determination to make sure that once a ruling is issued in these immigration proceedings, that if they are found to not warrant special humanitarian relief that these individuals can be efficiently repatriated in collaboration with their home countries back to those home countries.
Q Valerie Jarrett, in her letter to Governor Perry, repeatedly referred to this as a “humanitarian situation.” You yourself were calling this an emergency a moment ago. The President’s budget request is an emergency. You’ve called it a “humanitarian crisis.” Why now is it being called a “humanitarian situation”? Is that an attempt to sort of dial this back and put a little pressure on --
MR. EARNEST: I think we’ve been pretty candid about the urgency with which we are approaching this situation. And I think that is reflective of the efforts that we have undertaken to try to address it.
Q Is that a --
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ve certainly called it a crisis, as you’ve pointed out. It’s also an emergent situation. It also is something that requires the focus of the federal government to making sure that we are ensuring the continued security of our border, but also making sure that we are enforcing the law and fulfilling the obligation that we have to meet the basic humanitarian needs of those individuals who are showing up along the southwest border. None of those priorities is mutually exclusive.
So we intend to meet the due process rights and ensure that they are given a due process opportunity to appear before a judge and to have that judge make a ruling on their claim to remain in this country. In the meantime, we’ll meet the basic humanitarian needs of these individuals. That’s consistent with the values of this country. And at the same time, we’re committed to enforcing the law. And in fact, we are seeking greater authority that can be wielded by the Secretary of Homeland Security that, where necessary, he can repatriate individuals that don’t have a legal basis for remaining in this country.
Q Hey, Josh. I tried to read that 2008 law and make sense of it. The law was, as we’ve heard a number of times, basically designed to prevent childhood trafficking and return the children to their rightful families, et cetera. I looked for nuances about whether or not there could be room for children whose families have deliberately sent them to the United States. Does the White House not see the nuance possibilities here? And has the Counsel’s Office weighed in on this? You believe you need some new legislation, but could the President take some executive action, in a sense?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not steeped in the legalistic details of this law either. I do understand that there is some flexibility in the law and we’re certainly going to try to use that flexibility to implement this law in a way that reflects the situation that we currently face on the southwest border. As you know, Bob, the President has already directed that resources within the Homeland Security Department that currently are focused on the interior be directed to the border to try to reduce the backlog and meet the increasingly difficult situation along the border.
So there are some steps that the President can take unilaterally, and he’s done that already. But in terms of enforcing the law and ensuring the efficient enforcement of the law, it does require some authorization from Congress so that the Secretary of Homeland Security can exercise some additional discretion.
Q Josh, I want to ask you two quick questions. In light of the current political climate and your request for the supplemental, as well as for this greater discretion for the Homeland Secretary, what realistically are you expecting to happen with your request to Congress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, April, you’ve seen comments from both Democrats and Republicans urging the administration to take steps to deal with this urgent humanitarian situation -- in some cases, people have called it a crisis. And so what I would expect is I would expect those individuals who are talking about this issue to back up that talk with action. And what we’d like Congress to do is to act promptly, maybe even with some -- maybe even expeditiously, to consider this proposal and hopefully move on it in bipartisan fashion. Again, members of both parties have acknowledged that this is an urgent situation, and we hope that members of both parties will act promptly to address it.
Q So is there a plan B, C, in case something does not -- in case they don’t act expeditiously on this matter?
MR. EARNEST: Considering that it’s just today that we’ve rolled out plan A and presented it to Congress, we hope that -- we’re going to give Congress a fair chance, like I said, to back up their words with action and consider this proposal, and to move quickly in bipartisan fashion to ensure that this administration has the resources we need to deal with this urgent humanitarian situation.
Q And Ed asked a question that piqued my curiosity. Strategically, it seems like you’re not saying the word “refugee” -- yes, I gave him a little credit --
MR. EARNEST: He deserves it.
Q Strategically, you are not saying the word “refugee.” Is there a reason why you’re not saying refugee, as it may mean that they are allowed to stay because they’re fleeing with refugee status?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as I mentioned to Bob, I’m not steeped in the legalistic details, but it is my understanding that describing someone as a refugee ascribes them a specific legal status. And what I was -- what I’ve been describing is that the legal status of each of these individuals who is apprehended along the southwest border will be determined by an immigration judge.
And what we would like is we would like there to be more immigration judges on the case, so to speak, working to determine the legal status of each of these individuals who is apprehended. That is part of their due process rights, and we’re committed to making sure that we respect those due process rights.
Our anticipation, though, is that the majority of folks who go through that process will not be found by those judges to have -- to qualify for humanitarian relief. And that’s why we want the greater authority that can be exercised by the Secretary of Homeland Security to efficiently return them to their home country.
Q According to a U.N. 1951 convention, it says a refugee is someone who has fled his or her country owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Do some of these persons that are coming into the United States fall into this U.N. category?
MR. EARNEST: I think the point of my answer, April, is to say that it’s not for me to decide that. It’s for an immigration judge to make those kinds of rulings. And what we want to ensure is we want to ensure that each individual who is apprehended along the border who is from one of those Central American countries has access to an immigration judge so that that determination can be reached by that judge, not by somebody who is standing here in the White House.
Q Josh, first a quick clarification on Afghanistan. Did the President call both presidential candidates? Was Ashraf Ghani called as well as Abdullah Abdullah?
MR. EARNEST: No. The President telephoned Dr. Abdullah. But I know that there have been senior administration officials who have been in touch over the last several weeks with both candidates and with supporters of the candidates.
Q Why would he call just one of the candidates?
MR. EARNEST: Dr. Abdullah is the one who is expressing the most significant concern about reports of fraud. And what we have done is all along in this process encouraged both candidates to remain engaged in the process of adjudicating the election. And so the President telephoned Dr. Abdullah last night to more forcefully keep up that case that he should remain engaged in the process.
Q Okay. And on the supplemental request, I want to be sure I’m reading this properly. It looks like there is significantly more money in this request for providing and caring for these children that have crossed the border -- providing health care, shelter -- than there is for added border security or for deportations. Is that correct, that the bulk of this money, by far, is to provide money to care for the children that have crossed the border illegally?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t know if I would say bulk, by far, but I think that it is --
Q It is $1.8 billion, so that’s about half. So it’s by far the biggest line item on this.
MR. EARNEST: Sure, but $1.1 billion would be dedicated to Homeland Security resources to ensure that we’re enforcing the law and securing the border and efficiently repatriating those individuals that don’t have a legal basis for remaining in the country.
So I think the point is, is that there are significant resources that are required to deal with the situation, both in terms of meeting the various needs that I was describing to Ed -- the need to meet the basic humanitarian needs of those who show up along the southwest border -- I think that is not just in line with the law, it’s also in line with some basic American values.
At the same time, this administration remains committed to enforcing the law. And what we would like are some additional resources to make sure that we’re enforcing that law efficiently, both in terms of processing them through the immigration system, but also in terms of repatriating them if it’s found that they don’t have a legal basis for remaining in the country.
Q Okay. And then on the meeting with Governor Perry, Valerie Jarrett in her letter to -- and by the way, just curious, why was this letter, this invitation coming from Valerie Jarrett?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, Valerie spends a lot of time maintaining our relationships here in the White House with governors across the country, so she was the one who responded to Governor Perry’s letter.
Q Because the very first line, she says, “Thank you for your concern about the urgent humanitarian situation in the Rio Grande Valley.” Obviously, the concern that Governor Perry has been expressing has been some very harsh criticism of this President and even suggesting last week that there could even be a conspiracy, that somehow the President and this administration was in on the flow of children over the border, and it’s either ineptitude or something else. And he said that -- so I’m just wondering what exactly do you -- I mean, what’s the President’s message going to be to Governor Perry? Governor Perry has blamed this problem directly on the President and even suggested that the President wanted to see this.
MR. EARNEST: I think that despite all of the differences that exist when it comes to policy between Governor Perry and this administration, that there should be a level at which we can agree that it’s important for this humanitarian situation to be addressed, both for the well-being of the United States but also for the well-being of these human beings who have been apprehended along the southwest border.
You can ask Governor Perry -- I certainly won’t speak for him. I know that it’s a priority of the President’s. I assume it’s a priority of Governor Perry’s. But I assume we’ll find that out in the context of the meeting.
Q Governor Perry said he doesn’t think the President cares about border security.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t think that any fair appraisal of the President’s record when it comes to border security would allow that criticism to withstand any scrutiny at all. The fact of the matter is this President has made an historic investment in border security and this President has worked with Republicans in Congress to try to increase our investment and increase the number of resources that are being dedicated to securing our border. Unfortunately, it’s Republicans -- many of them from Texas -- who are even blocking the House from considering that common-sense, bipartisan proposal that would make an additional historic investment in our border.
Q Thank you. There is an all-members briefing on the Hill this afternoon, 5:00 p.m., on Iraq and Afghanistan. Can you shed some light on that?
MR. EARNEST: That may be the meeting that Olivier was asking about just a little bit earlier today. I don’t have any details specifically about that meeting. I think, however, it reflects the robust nature of coordination -- or the robust coordination that exists between this administration and Congress when it comes to confronting some of the national security challenges that we’re facing right now. These kinds of meetings happen with some frequency because it’s such a dynamic situation over there and we want to make sure that our congressional partners are briefed with the latest details.
Q Are they telling them anything new or anything?
MR. EARNEST: Presumably. Again, it’s a dynamic situation so the conditions on the ground have been changing rather rapidly and they probably changed since the last time they had to have a -- they had the opportunity to meet like this.
Q And back to the supplemental. On the conference call, it states that all the money is for Fiscal ’14. In order for that to happen, Congress has got to appropriate the money by September 30. What’s the thinking that that would happen?
MR. EARNEST: Well, given the urgent nature of this humanitarian situation, we hope that Congress will act pretty quickly to ensure the administration has the resources necessary to deal with this situation.
Q So it’s more of a hope than anything else?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, if you take Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill at face value, then you would expect that their actions would back up their rhetoric. Their rhetoric indicates that this is a pressing situation that needs to be dealt with immediately, and we’re hopeful that Republicans will follow up those words with action and ensure that this administration has the resources to deal with this situation immediately. But, again, it will be up to Congress to do that.
Q Josh, did President Obama tell Abdullah that he is sending Secretary Kerry to Afghanistan later in the week?
MR. EARNEST: Mark, as you know, when senior administration officials travel to Afghanistan, we don’t often put out the details of that travel in advance. Secretary Kerry has been in regular touch with the two leading candidates in the Afghan presidential election and we expect that he’ll continue to be in close touch with him in the days ahead.
Q Nice to see you, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: Nice to see you, too.
Q Given your discussion of the President’s schedule -- you’re calling it an urgent situation, the scope of what you’re asking for today -- why wouldn’t the President see value in visiting the border, if not this trip, then sometime soon?
MR. EARNEST: The President has been to the border on a couple of previous occasions, both as a candidate and as President of the United States. I’d also point out that in the last several weeks, his Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of HHS, the FEMA Director, senior White House officials have all made separate visits to the border to assess the situation there and to assess the strength of the federal government’s response to that situation.
The President is well aware of exactly what’s happening on the border. And what we are focused on right now are not political statements that would be made with an appearance, but rather with specific concrete action, steps that can be taken to mitigate this problem.
Q So if he were to go it would be a photo op? Is that what you’re suggesting is the downside to him going personally?
MR. EARNEST: No. What I’m suggesting is that the focus of the President’s attention is on making sure that we are taking all of the necessary steps to deal with this urgent humanitarian situation. We hope that Congress will also take the steps that are necessary to deal with this urgent humanitarian situation to give the administration the resources that are necessary to deal with it.
Q Even though members of Congress in both parties are asking the President to visit those who reside in the border area? And clearly, Governor Perry I’m sure will extend an invitation for him to go again. Is there a downside for the President being there personally?
MR. EARNEST: A downside for being where personally?
Q Along the border to see these current situations?
MR. EARNEST: No. I think what is important is it’s important for the President to be keenly aware of what exactly is happening on the southwest border and to have a thorough understanding of the impact that the government response to that situation is having. The President has been clear that it’s important for us to meet the basic humanitarian needs of these individuals to ensure that they are given access to the immigration courts in a way that complies with their rights to due process, but also ensuring that we’re enforcing the law.
The President is regularly briefed on these efforts. And those briefings often are the result of trips made by the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of HHS and the FEMA Director and other senior administration officials, including some from the White House, who have traveled frequently to the border in recent weeks. I understand that a senior Department of Justice official is scheduled to travel there later this week to also assess the law enforcement situation.
Q Does the President want to go himself?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are lots of administration eyes that are focused on this situation, and the reason for that is that there is an urgent humanitarian situation that needs to be dealt with. And you’ve seen a very proactive response from the federal government. And what we’d like Congress to do is to act with the same sense of urgency and make sure that this administration has all of the necessary resources to deal with the situation.
Q Josh, on Afghanistan, as you know -- as you said, there’s a process. But there is no history of a process like that resolving a dispute like this. This would be the first transition, democratically, of power in Afghanistan. As candidly as you can, what is at stake? And what was the “forceful message,” to use your words, the President delivered to Dr. Abdullah?
MR. EARNEST: The forceful message that the President delivered was to ask Dr. Abdullah to remain engaged in the process; that as you point out these processes are relatively new -- they’re certainly relatively new to the Afghan people.
Q And untested?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that they’ve been tested because there’s been an election that’s been carried out. There was a general election; there’s a runoff. So there is an infrastructure that exists for conducting these kinds of elections, and even for considering reports of fraud. So there is an infrastructure, there’s a process that’s laid out in the Afghan constitution for this.
But you’re right that there is a question about whether or not these processes will hold up under the pressure of choosing the next president in Afghanistan. The important principle that’s at play here is that the Afghan people should have a say; in fact, they should be able to determine the leadership of their country. And in order to do that, we need to have agreed upon processes in place to conduct those elections and also to dispense with concerns that have been raised about the conduct of these elections.
So there’s a process in place. The United States is fully supportive of the process and of the Afghan people as they go through this process, and that ensuring that we have a leader of Afghanistan with the stature necessary to lead the country, it’s important for people to have confidence in the conduct of the election and in the outcome. And so that’s why we’re seeking both candidates to remain engaged in that process.
Q So if I understand you correctly, the President called Dr. Abdullah to say, if you pull out of this process, if you denounce it, if you reject it, the fate of U.S. financial support, security support, hangs in the balance?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that there were even some reports overnight indicating that some of Dr. Abdullah’s supporters were encouraging him to unilaterally declare himself the president; that there were a wide range of concerning reports coming out of Afghanistan. What we’re focused on is making sure that this process that’s in place is followed.
And the reason for that is simply that if the process is followed and if the process is used to determine the outcome of the election, to address concerns that have been raised about fraud, then we can ensure that the outcome of that process will have some legitimacy associated with it, that we will be able to legitimately conclude that the Afghan people have selected their next leader.
The way to determine that definitively is for these prewritten rules that guide this process to be followed by both sides. So that’s what we’re encouraging both sides to do.
Q You mentioned earlier that there were diplomatic and law enforcement conversations between the United States and Germany about this allegation. What is the nature of those conversations?
MR. EARNEST: I can’t really comment on the nature of those conversations except --
Q Were they --
MR. EARNEST: -- well, let me just say this. Those conversations were designed to try to resolve this situation appropriately.
Q What does that mean, resolve the situation appropriately?
MR. EARNEST: I think it means exactly what it sounds like it means, which is that --
Q It sounds like nothing to me. (Laughter.) What does it actually mean?
MR. EARNEST: Well, no, I think it means that there have been reports in the German media -- reports on which I am not able to comment -- but there have been German officials who have raised concerns about those reports.
Q At the highest levels.
MR. EARNEST: It sounds like you’ve read the same reports that I have. So it is our desire to resolve those concerns that have risen from those reports that I’m not in a position to talk about. And that’s the nature of those conversations.
Q Forgive me for being dense, but how to do you resolve something without even saying to the Germans, we will investigate?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not in a position to talk publicly about the nature of the private conversations that are currently ongoing between U.S. officials and German officials.
Q How successful are they going?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to comment on those conversations.
Q Very well. Your use of the words “prompt,” “efficient,” and “effective” ring in the ears of some advocates on behalf of these unaccompanied children in a completely different context. They feel there is something potentially inhumane, cruel and indifferent about efficiency, promptness and effectiveness in the deportation process. How does this administration respond?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would respond by saying that it’s important for everyone who considers the remarks that I’ve delivered today and the remarks that the President has delivered, more importantly, that they be viewed in the context in which we confront this situation. The context is simply this: We are focused on meeting the basic humanitarian needs of those individuals who are apprehended along the southwest border. That’s what the law requires, first of all. In the view of the President, it’s also what the values of this country require. And that is why, as Jon pointed out, we have sought additional resources from Congress to make sure we have the bandwidth necessary to meet these basic humanitarian needs of these individuals.
Now, on top of that, it’s also important for people to understand that those who are apprehended along the southwest border are entitled to a certain process, and they’ll be put through the immigration system if they are detained at the border and found not to have the authorization to enter the country.
Over the course of that immigration proceeding, there will be an impartial judge who will evaluate on a case-by-case basis the legal standing that an individual may have to remain in the country. If it is found by that judge that a particular individual does not have a legal basis for remaining in this country, what we would like to see happen efficiently and effectively and promptly is for that individual to be removed from this country and returned to their home country.
Now, we will also undertake that repatriation effort in close collaboration with that home country. Some of the resources that we’re seeking from Congress are also dedicated to working with Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala to --
Q To achieve what once they get home?
MR. EARNEST: Well, to, first of all, make sure that there is, in some cases, a repatriation center so that we’re not in a position of just returning a child who is fleeing a crime-ridden neighborhood back into that crime-ridden neighborhood. One thing that we could do and one thing that we have done is establish a repatriation center so that there is a place for this child to go and for this child to ensure that it’s returning somewhere safe.
But, again, this is primarily the responsibility of these home countries to ensure the security of their citizens. But if they need the support and even the contribution of some resources from the U.S. government to ensure their security, that’s an investment worth making because it will contribute to stemming the flow of these individuals from this country.
Q To get to the bottom line of the supplemental -- is your message to Congress, any member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, if you want these things to happen, you have to provide this funding; absent this funding, this new supplemental emergency funding, the hands of this administration are tied? Or can you do some of the things you’ve outlined and wait for a continuing resolution sometime late September?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there are some things that we can do immediately that we have already undertaken to try to address this surge in the illegal migration that we’ve seen. So there have already been some resources that have already been funded by Congress that were already operating in the interior of this country that have been sent to the border to try to deal with this situation.
In order to have the necessary bandwidth to deal with this emergent humanitarian situation we need additional resources, and the only way that this administration can get access to additional resources is for Congress to appropriate them. And so what we’re seeking is Congress to take action, promptly, to ensure that this administration has the additional resources to meet all of the goals that we’ve been talking about here today.
Q Just to follow on that, so you want, in this language at the end of the transmittal letter here, additional authority to exercise discretion and you're going to work with Congress. Why don’t you put that in bill language? You’re very specific about what you want in terms of money. Why don’t you send them a bill with the extra authority that you want?
MR. EARNEST: Well, first of all, we’re talking about two different processes. One is the appropriations --
Q That's a separate bill.
MR. EARNEST: You understand the --
Q Yes, I do understand.
MR. EARNEST: You’re a veteran of Capitol Hill so you understand this better than I, but just for the benefit of everybody else who is watching and the thousands of people who I’m sure are watching at home -- (laughter) --
Q And listeners.
Q How about radio listeners?
MR. EARNEST: -- and are just absolutely enjoying this conversation. So we’re talking about two different processes. And so what we have laid out is very specific -- a very specific funding request for additional resources. There’s a separate process for the legislature giving the executive branch the authorization to use discretion like this.
Q Let me rephrase it. You need a bill -- you need the House to pass something and the Senate to pass something. Are you going to get that done by the time -- I mean, how quickly do you need that?
MR. EARNEST: We would like that to happen quickly.
Q Then why don't you send them a bill? You sent them a bill for the Highway Trust Fund. You sent them a bill for supplementals.
MR. EARNEST: More often than not, what we have done when we are seeking legislation from Congress is to basically tell them what generally the goal that we would like to achieve -- in this case, allowing the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise greater discretion -- and then allow Congress to do their constitutionally appointed duty, which is to write legislation that would grant the executive branch this authority.
So we’re certainly willing to work with them. I wouldn’t rule out that we may give them some suggested legislative language or work with them in a collaborative process to design legislation that would accomplish this goal. But, ultimately, this is Congress’s responsibility to ensure that the executive branch has both the resources and the authority necessary to deal with this challenge. And based on the rhetoric that we’ve seen from members of Congress, we hope that they’ll act quickly.
Q Okay. We’re not going to see you for a couple of days, and the Secretary General was here so I want to ask you a question on a different subject -- Ukraine. In Brussels, more than a month ago, the President says, “We’ll have a chance to see what Mr. Putin does over the next two, three, four weeks” -- we’ve discussed this in the past -- “and if he remains on the current course, then we’ve already indicated the kinds of actions we’re prepared to take” -- meaning more broad, sectoral, hard-hitting sanctions. That timeframe is gone. Mr. Putin has not changed course. What is the President going to do?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the one thing that he has done is he’s had a number of conversations with our allies in Western Europe. You saw from a readout that we issued yesterday that the President telephoned President Hollande of France to discuss this issue. At the end of last week, the President had a conversation with the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, to discuss possible next steps.
As we have said all along, the economic costs that can be imposed on Russia for their failure to respect the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine is most effective when we can work in close collaboration with our partners; that when we can implement a sanctions regime that has the buy-in of not just the United States, but also of nations in Europe, that that sanctions regime is more effective. It’s also in the best interest of American businesses, that they’re not put at a disadvantage as it relates to their competitors in Western Europe.
So the President has been working very closely with our allies to ensure that we are working in close coordination to further isolate Russia, if necessary. So what we are doing is we are watching very closely whether or not President Putin is heeding the urgings of the international community to stop the transfer of heavy weaponry and materiel from the Russian side of the border to separatists on the Ukrainian side of the border. We’ve been urging President Putin to play a constructive role in encouraging those separatists to lay down their arms. And we will be continuing to evaluate his performance when it comes to those metrics.
And we will always leave on the table the option of the United States acting alone, or preferably, in concert with our allies, to impose additional economic costs that would further isolate Russia and make it more likely that President Putin might adopt and abide by generally accepted international standards.
David Jackson, I’ll give you the last one.
Q But just to be clear, there won’t be a private meeting between President Obama and Governor Perry? They’ll just meet together at the roundtable?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the scheduling is still coming together, so if something like that occurs, we’ll try to let you know.
Q That’s what we’re looking forward to.
MR. EARNEST: It should be good.
Q There will be coverage of the meeting with the activists, the President and the Governor -- correct?
MR. EARNEST: We’re working through those logistics.
Q You're aiming to do that?
MR. EARNEST: That’s what we’re aiming to do.
Q Thank you, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: Thanks, everybody. Have a good day.
1:57 P.M. EDT
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