Press Briefing

July 11, 2014 | 01:10:02 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

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Daily Briefing by the Press Secretary, 07/11/2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:04 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Glad to see you all on this Friday.  I'll do a couple of quick announcements at the top before we get to questions.

I want to begin first with a quick note about an action that was just taken that is an important step toward fulfilling the President’s ConnectED goal of transforming teaching and learning through expanded access to broadband wireless and digital learning tools in America’s classrooms.

When the President first unveiled his ConnectED initiative a little over a year ago less than 30 percent of our schools reported having the high-speed broadband that they needed, and even fewer had access to wireless in the classrooms to make it truly valuable to the learning environment.  Just a few minutes ago, the FCC voted to modernize the E-Rate program, a step that will expand access to these tools for schools and students across the country. 

Today’s action by the FCC answers the President’s 2014 State of the Union call for a down payment on his ConnectED vision by updating this program and using some of the savings generated to provide a $2 billion investment that will connect an additional 20 million students to high-speed WiFi over the next two years.  We commend the FCC on this important vote and for their continued commitment to increasing vital school and library Internet connectivity, which we believe will help more students get a great education, train them for the jobs of the future, and continue to build a more competitive U.S. economy. 

While more work will be needed to meet the President’s goal of connecting 99 percent of students and their classrooms and libraries over the next four years and ensure that connectivity is put to immediate use enriching classrooms and empowering teachers, today’s step is a major -- or today’s vote is a major step along that path.

And secondly, I want to offer my congratulations to your own Jeff Mason, who I think earlier this week was announced as -- was elected to the Correspondents Association Board and he'll be serving as president in a couple years.  Is that right?

MR. MASON:  Thank you very much. 

MR. EARNEST:  So congratulations.  I know -- (applause.)  Yes, applause I think is in order, which is great. 

Your colleague, Todd Gillman, from the Dallas Morning News, was also elected, and I understand that Doug Mills was also reelected to the board.  So I look forward to working with all of you. 

I think as with all arrivals, there are some departures as well, so I want to also acknowledge the outstanding service of outgoing president Steve Thomma and April Ryan who are departing the board this week.  (Applause.)  Let the record reflect that their contributions should be acknowledged.  There she is.  Better late than never. 

Q    I thought you were going to congratulate LeBron.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  We may get to that.  We'll see. 


Q    Thank you.  Congressman Rogers is saying that the House will not pass the President’s border spending request and that it's too large.  Are you looking at making any adjustments or trying to work out some compromise with Republicans on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you heard from the President when he spoke on Wednesday indicate an openness to working with Republicans to ensure that the administration has the necessary resources to deal with this urgent humanitarian situation. 

If you look at the funding request that this administration has put forward, it includes many of the priorities that Republicans themselves have identified.  First of all, it includes a significant investment in border security, assets that can be used to continue the efforts to secure the border.  It also includes some resources to ensure that those adults who are detained with children at the border -- or apprehended at the border can be detained in a way that is in line with some basic humanitarian standards.  It also includes some money through HHS to ensure that the detention of some of the children who are apprehended does not pose a threat to public health, ensuring that there are immunizations and other basic medical care can be rendered where necessary to, again, ensure the protection of public health.

So all of these things are included -- along with some other things -- are included in the appropriations request that we've put forward.  Republicans have indicated that they share the administration’s assessment about the priorities that need to be addressed, and we're open to working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to get this done.  The thing that I would point out, though, is that the President has moved quickly to be very clear about what specifically needs to be funded and we would like to see Republicans back up their rhetoric with the kind of urgent action that this situation merits.

Q    Could a lower amount be sufficient, even if not ideal, to deal with this problem?  And can you give us a sense if the President personally is getting involved in any negotiations at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I'm not in a position to negotiate line-item figures or the propriety of specific funding levels.  I'll leave that to the experts.  We have put forward what we think is a pretty common-sense proposal to address the needs that are evident, but we're open to a conversation with Republicans if they have some other suggestions.

But again, I think the question really here is the time frame -- are Republicans going to act with a sense of urgency.  Their rhetoric certainly indicates they’re feeling a sense of urgency.  I think the question is if they’re willing to back up that rhetoric with some action.

Q    And the President -- is he making calls or scheduled any meetings at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't know of any specific conversations that the President has personally had on this issue, but I know that there have been a number of conversations between White House officials and congressional officials about the details of this funding request that we've put forward.

Mr. President-elect. 

Q    Thank you, Josh.  A question about Israel.  This is the fourth day of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, killing 11 more Palestinians, which has brought the death toll up to 96.  Is there anything more the United States can do to stop this violence?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, as you’ll note, the President telephoned Prime Minister Netanyahu from Air Force One yesterday afternoon and reiterated the United States’ strong condemnation of continuing rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.  The President, in that telephone call, also did something that we have done several times publicly, which is reaffirm Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks.  That said, we also condemn the attacks this morning that were launched from Lebanon.

In the course of that telephone call, the President also expressed his concern about the risk associated with further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides in this dispute to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm.

It is evident that civilians have been killed, including children.  That's tragic, and we offer our condolences to the families.

Q    Anything more that the United States can do to make it stop?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you noted -- I assume you noted in the readout, the other thing the President communicated to Prime Minister Netanyahu was a willingness on the part of the United States to try to play a role in facilitating de-escalation of the violence there.  So there are a number of relationships the United States has that we are willing to leverage in the region to try to bring about an end to the rocket fire that's originating in Gaza and, as we saw this morning, in Lebanon.  And we're interested in taking the kinds of steps that we did about a year and a half ago, in November of 2012, to facilitate a ceasefire and to try to get the situation back on the path of de-escalation. 

Q    Okay.  On a separate issue, is the White House concerned about financial stability in Portugal after the sort of eruption of problems with their largest bank there?

MR. EARNEST:  I've seen the reports about some of the instability that was reported in this one particular financial institution in Portugal.  I don't have any specifics to share with you from here, but I'd refer you to the experts over at Treasury who may be able to give you an assessment about any risk that may pose to Portugal’s economy or even to the global financial system.  But I can tell you that we're aware of the reports and monitoring the situation.

Q    And lastly, does the President have a favorite in the World Cup game on Sunday?  (Laughter.)  And might it be wise for Germany to be that favorite -- (laughter) -- considering what’s going on -- 

MR. EARNEST:  That is a very clever way to ask that question.  (Laughter.)  I appreciate that.  I have not had a chance to speak to the President about the World Cup final.  I know that he watched with some interest the semi-final games earlier this week while we were on the airplane.  Both of them were conveniently timed so that at least part of the game was broadcast while we were in the air.  I don't yet know whether or not the President is going to watch the World Cup final on Sunday, but if he does we'll try to let you know.

Move around a little bit.  Justin. 

Q    I'll ask you a sports one.  Since you mentioned it, the President is a big NBA fan.  I wonder if he has any reaction to LeBron deciding to go back to Cleveland.

MR. EARNEST:  I didn’t speak to him personally about it.  I know that the President is a big fan of LeBron’s.  I think that he, like many of us, even those of us who are not quite as avid NBA fans -- that the President is a fan of somebody that has demonstrated such tremendous skill and athleticism on the court and the President enjoys watching him play.

The President also has had an opportunity to meet him personally a few times and the President does consider him to be a fine young man who carries himself with the kind of professionalism that is really pretty impressive to see.  The fact that he’s made this decision I think is a testament to the kinds of values that he has incorporated into his life and that he says that he’s interested in instilling in his children.  So I think it's a pretty powerful statement about the value of a place that you consider home.

Q    And then a little more seriously, I guess, Darrell Issa has subpoenaed Dave Simas to appear --

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I'm not sure that's very serious.

Q    But I'm wondering if you guys are planning to both respond to the subpoena and if you guys have taken any steps -- he’s been really kind of -- for a few months on reopening the political office and the possibility of Hatch Act violations that happened during the Bush administration -- so if you guys have taken any steps since reopening the political office to prevent those sorts of things from happening?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Justin, I can tell you that, as you know, based on the frequency of conversations that we've had about this topic here and in other places, that we've been pretty forthcoming in describing the role of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach. 

In responding to questions from reporters and from Congress, we've explained that the office operates in full compliance with the Hatch Act, and to date, there’s not even any suggestion let alone evidence that we've deviated from the requirements of the Hatch Act.  In fact, the Office of Special Counsel recognized in its 2011 report the propriety of having an office in the White House to provide the President with information about the current political environment and political issues nationwide.  So I'd encourage you to check out that report if you're as interested in this topic as Darrell Issa apparently is. 

We have provided substantial information to Congress and we're going to continue to cooperate with Congress to demonstrate our continued compliance with the Hatch Act.  And the fact is that there’s not really any evidence to indicate that there’s a reason for Mr. Simas to appear before Congress.  But for years there have been efforts between members of Congress and the White House to resolve these kinds of differences and to allow the legislative branch to perform the necessary function of oversight.  So we're going to continue our dialogue with Congress and do our best to make sure that they’re getting the kind of information and answers that they need when it comes to this matter.

But again, I just want to remind you and everyone else who’s covering this that there’s not even a shred of evidence to indicate any cause for concern. 

Q    -- right now, or --

MR. EARNEST:  As you point out, while the news release was probably issued a few hours ago, we only recently received the subpoena, so we're still reviewing it.

Q    How confident is the President now after his call with Prime Minister Netanyahu that Israel will not resort to a ground incursion in Gaza?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the United States has indicated on many occasions that Israel has a right to self-defense.  And right now, many of the citizens of Israel are subject to a barrage of rockets that are being launched from Gaza and reports of a rocket being launched this morning from Lebanon.  So we are going to continue to encourage both sides to pay maximum attention to the well-being of civilians and to do everything possible to try to restore calm.  But at the same time, the Israelis have a right to defend themselves against these atrocious rocket attacks that we're seeing with increasing frequency.

Q    What steps has the President taken so far to initiate that proposal for a ceasefire with Hamas?  Has he talked to any other countries in the region?  Because the United States really doesn’t have direct contact with Hamas.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't have a lot of conversations to read you in on at this point.  The White House is engaged in this effort, though -- the administration is engaged in this effort, I should say.  In addition to the President’s call with the Prime Minister just yesterday, there have been a number of calls over the last several days between the Secretary of State and the Israeli Prime Minister.  The White House Coordinator for the Middle East Region at the National Security Council, Phil Gordon, has been in the region for a few days and he’s been hosting meetings with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. 

So there has been a robust engagement on the part of the administration on this issue.  And we’re going to continue to do what we can to try to facilitate a de-escalation in the conflict and violence that seems to be moving in the wrong direction right now.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  And I know last night you called the Republican lawsuit against the President a “stunt.”  But have your lawyers looked over the papers and is there any legal merit to what they’re charging?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know what documentation has been forwarded by House Republicans. 

Q    There is a draft by the committee. 

MR. EARNEST:  Is there a draft?  Well, I will say that we’ve been pretty clear about what our stance is, and that was the case with the statement that we issued last night, as well.  It is our view that this is nothing more than a taxpayer-funded political stunt.  And it certainly doesn’t reflect the priorities that so many Americans across the country would like to see their elected leaders in Washington focused on. 

This President is determined to do everything within his power, within the confines of the law, to expand economic opportunity for the middle class.  That is the focal point of his domestic policy agenda, and it will continue to be the focal point of his efforts moving forward. 

If there’s an opportunity for us to work with Congress to further that goal, we will not hesitate to work in collaborative fashion to get that done.  But so far, we’ve seen Congress -- and in particular, congressional Republicans -- do very little to advance that agenda.  In fact, they seem to be engaged in an effort to block all progress that would benefit middle-class families.  That’s unfortunate.  But the President is not going to allow that to block him from doing everything within his power to expand economic opportunity for middle-class families all across the country.


Q    On Iraq, what has been the White House response to the Kurdish exodus from the Iraqi government yesterday, in particular because it doesn’t necessarily support what you’re trying to encourage them to do, which is a unity government?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you know, Jessica, the Vice President has been engaged in a pretty rigorous stint of telephone diplomacy over the last several weeks.  There have been a number of calls to Kurdish leaders, including Mr. Barzani, that we have read out to you.  So the Vice President is engaged in a variety of conversations on this topic.

It continues to be the view of the United States that Iraq’s political leaders should come together and unify that country in the face of the threat that is posed by ISIS.  And that will continue to be the message that we send not just publicly, but also privately in the ongoing conversations. 

Q    -- had any contacts since the walkout yesterday?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of, but we can check on that for you. 

Q    And has there been any contact between the White House and Ahmed Chalabi?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, not that I’m aware of, but it’s hard for me to be -- you asked that question in a very broad way.  So I certainly don’t have a conversation that I’m in a position to read out from here. 

Let’s move around a little bit.  Michelle.

Q    I’m not sure if I really heard the answer to Cheryl’s question about -- is the White House making any statement at all on the possible legal merits of that lawsuit or --

MR. EARNEST:  That’s assuming there are some. 

Q    Okay.  Was that the statement?  (Laughter.)  Or the likelihood of it going forward?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the likelihood of it going forward will depend in large part on the strategy that’s conceived of by the taxpayer-funded lawyers who are working for House Republicans as they pursue this matter. 

The fact of the matter is this President is determined to do everything within his power to make progress for middle-class families.  That includes implementing the Affordable Care Act in a way that maximizes the benefit to businesses and employees and middle-class families all across the country.

So we feel very confident about the decision that’s been made along those lines, and we continue to be very disappointed by the fact that Republicans seem more interested in a taxpayer-funded lawsuit than they do in the success of the Affordable Care Act.

Q    There have been some complaints out there that the White House has backed away from -- on the supplemental request
-- backed away from wanting more discretion for DHS.  Is that true in any way?


Q    Okay, got it.  And on German spying, it was in May when Chancellor Merkel was here in the Rose Garden.  And the President really kind of presented it in a personal way, talking about their close friendship, saying that it pained him personally that there had been a rift.  And now, this has happened.  Can you give us a sense of the President’s thoughts on what has happened now and what could repair this relationship?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, let me start by saying that allies with sophisticated intelligence agencies like the United States and Germany understand with some degree of detail exactly what those intelligence relationships and activities entail.  Any differences that we have are most effectively resolved through established private channels, not through the media.  These private channels include regular discussions between intelligence officials, diplomatic officials, and national security officials from those two countries.  So pursuing that dialogue through those channels is exactly what we’re doing. 

And it’s why I’m not in a position to speak with all of you about reports of our purported intelligence activities.  As I’ve said for the last couple of days, this administration and this President strongly values the national security relationship between the United States and Germany.  That relationship -- that includes extensive sharing of intelligence -- is critical to the national security of the United States, and it’s critical to the national security of Germany that that relationship and that intelligence-sharing is ongoing. 

But as for reports of disagreements about some of those activities, those disagreements, as they have been in the past, will be resolved through established private channels. 

Q    And those discussions that are ongoing, can you say whether they have helped over the last few days in any way?  Has there been progress over the last few days?

MR. EARNEST:  It would be difficult for me to describe those conversations as private if I were talking about them with you, so I’m going to keep them private.

Q    I think it was the Foreign Minister or someone in Germany said that the President is in contact with Chancellor Merkel.  We don’t know of any phone call, but can you say that that is true, that there is contact between them?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that it’s fair for you to understand that there is regular contact between senior American national security officials and senior German national security officials.  The President spoke to the German Chancellor as recently as a week ago, or maybe it was eight days ago. 

Q    This didn’t come up, did it?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  As I think I’ve mentioned a couple of times, this phone call occurred the day before these reports surfaced.  So they have not spoken since then, but the communication between this administration and our German counterparts is ongoing.


Q    Yes, Josh, back to the Mideast.  Prime Minister Netanyahu just a little while ago said -- rejected outside pressure.  He said, Israel is not going to -- that this operation is going to continue until its goals are reached.  It doesn’t sound like he’s very interested in any outside help reaching a ceasefire right now.

MR. EARNEST:   Well, again, his level of interest I would -- questions about his level of interest I’d direct to his office.  The fact is Israel is an ally of the United States and we have an unshakeable bond with that country and we are committed to their security.  And that’s only one reason that we freely recognize their right to defend themselves.  Citizens in that country are currently subject to intermittent rocket launches, so it’s understandable that the political leadership of that country would want to do everything that they could to protect their citizens.  That’s certainly within their rights. 

What we are urging is we’re urging some restraint.  We’re urging a strong consideration of the well-being of innocent civilians on both sides.  And we’re offering the assistance of the United States to try to facilitate a ceasefire that we believe is in the best interests of both sides.

Q    But you’re offering that -- you want it to happen now, or are you just willing to wait until whenever the Israelis think they’re ready for it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, our concern is that as violence continues it only puts at risk the lives of many innocent civilians, again, on both sides of this issue.  So the sooner we can get a ceasefire in place, the better it will be for both sides.  But again, ultimately, it is the responsibility of Israel’s elected leaders to act in support of the defense of that country and it’s up to them to make the decisions that they believe are in the best interests of Israel’s national security.


Q    Just a follow-up on all of that, on Israel.  Can you be a little bit more specific about what “facilitate” means in the context of the United States being willing to facilitate a ceasefire?  And, specifically, does the President intend to send Secretary Kerry as early as next week to the Middle East to try to do it at his level, as opposed to some of the folks you mentioned before?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mike, we’ve encountered a similar situation as recently as a year and a half ago.  Back in November of 2012, there was a similar dynamic at play where there were terrorist elements in Gaza launching rockets into Israel and the United States used our relationship with countries in the region -- including Egypt and Turkey and others -- to bring both sides to the table and create an environment where a ceasefire could be declared and enforced.  So we’re looking to do something similar.

Again, each situation is unique.  I’m not in a position to sort of list out all of the countries that would be involved.  But there are countries that have been historically involved in this effort.  And we believe that it continues to be in the interest of the United States, it continues to be in the interest of the Israelis and Palestinians, and it continues to be in the interest of countries throughout the region for us to de-escalate this conflict and put in place a ceasefire.

Q    And Secretary Kerry?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any update in terms of his travel.  I know that right now he is in Afghanistan and headed to Vienna in the next day or two.  But anything beyond that I’m not aware of.


Q    Thank you.  Staying with Israel, you made a couple of references to November of 2012, the ceasefire and stuff like that.  The actions today, how does that compare with a year and a half ago?  Is today more serious than -- as viewed by the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  I think it’s difficult for me to make that assessment.  I think what I would conclude is that our concerns are going to be serious anytime you see so many innocent civilians who are in harm’s way.  And, frankly, right now that’s what we’re seeing on both sides. 

So the key here is for both sides to do what they can to take maximum concern for the safety of those innocent civilians. We certainly condemn the rocket fire that we’ve seen from Gaza, and that would be a good start to putting in place the kind of ceasefire that would de-escalate the situation and pull some civilians out of harm’s way.

Q    Neither side seems to be listening.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’re certainly concerned that, as I think I mentioned earlier, the violence that we hope will be de-escalated soon doesn’t seem to be moving in the right direction right now.  We’re concerned about that, and we’re concerned principally because there are so many civilians who are in harm’s way in this situation.  And we’re hopeful that both sides will do what they can to ensure for the safety of those civilians. 

But, again, we condemn this rocket fire that we’re seeing.  That is a danger to so many Israeli civilians.  And that would be an important step in trying to de-escalate this conflict. 


Q    Josh, would you acknowledge that this situation with Germany has gotten worse during the week?  Even though you have tried with as inoffensive language and opaque language as possible to keep it at a low level, it has gotten progressively worse all week? 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think --

Q    The station chief being asked to leave and rearrangements of scheduled meetings and, as you indicated before, public discussion of things you’d rather keep in private channels -- I mean, it’s gotten off the rails this week, has it not?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there is a strong and enduring relationship between the United States and Germany when it comes to our national security and intelligence sharing.  That relationship continues.  It’s an important part of ensuring for the stability and security of this country and our interests and allies around the globe.  It’s an important part of the German national security and their interest and allies around the globe as well.  So that relationship is continuing, despite any reported differences.

Q    It's stressed.

MR. EARNEST:  I’m sorry?

Q    It’s stressed.  It’s been subjected to some strain this week, would you not at least acknowledge that?

MR. EARNEST:  I would acknowledge that I’ve read many of the reports you may be referring to.  And that is the reason that there have been conversations between -- through our established private channels -- between intel officials and diplomatic officials from both countries.  And it’s our desire to see this situation resolved appropriately and in a way that is consistent with both countries’ commitment to that relationship.

Q    Is there any sense within the administration the Germans are overreacting?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think I would just sort of just point to what I said at the beginning, which is that --

Q    -- all countries spy on each other.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think to be slightly more precise, I think I said that countries with sophisticated intelligence agencies, like both the United States and Germany, understand what intelligence relationships and activities entail.  And when differences of opinion --

Q    -- should translate that as --

MR. EARNEST:  -- or when concerns arise, that there is a benefit to establishing -- not establishing, but resolving those differences through private, secure channels and not by trying to resolve them through the media.

Q    While the President was in Texas, Governor Perry again made his pitch for a thousand National Guard forces on the border.  I talked to him afterwards.  He said not only would that increase security -- he acknowledged the fact that these unaccompanied minors are being apprehended.  He doesn’t dispute what the President says about that, but says as a symbol and as a means of telling Central American leaders and parents there if the National Guard, augmented by Border Patrol and state troopers in Texas, are all there it would send a visual message throughout Central: America don’t even get near the border, because you’re not going to get across in the first place.  He’s not arguing that in a sort of hostile way, he thinks.  He thinks that’s actually a genuine solution that ought to be seriously considered.  What’s your reaction?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, he’s entitled to his view.  He’s the longest-serving governor of the state of Texas in Texas history. He is the governor of a state that has the longest border with Mexico.  I think the simple question that I would ask -- he’s entitled to that point of view.  I guess the question I would ask is what would be better, a thousand National Guard troops, or 20,000 Border Patrol agents? 

For the symbolic reasons that he says are paramount in this circumstance, it seems to me that the 20,000 Border Patrol agents would be a better option -- which is why, if this is his genuine view, I would expect him to be an enthusiastic advocate for common-sense immigration reform.  Passing common-sense immigration reform along the lines of what passed the Senate with bipartisan support would add 20,000 officers to the border.  So even if it’s only for purely symbolic reasons, as Governor Perry says, that seems like a pretty good path. 

And so we would like to see Governor Perry join the fight.  You saw some pretty persuasive advocacy from Bill Gates and Sheldon Adelson today in The New York Times, in the op-ed -- I think Warren Buffett signed it as well -- indicating the common-sense benefits of comprehensive immigration reform.  They didn’t highlight the symbolic value of deploying additional resources to the border, but they chronicled what I think are a lot of the economic benefits to this country.  Presumably, a lot of those economic benefits would be enjoyed by communities in Texas that aren't far from the border.

So there are a whole host of reasons to support common-sense immigration reform.  If Governor Perry has settled on a new one, we welcome his support.

Q    But you know and would acknowledge, Josh, that those 20,000 wouldn't be there anytime soon.  They would be legislated, authorized, appropriated and trained and deployed over a substantial period of time.  I believe there window in the legislation was 10 years.  His point is something needs to be done visually now and also a way that secures the border to reduce the incentive, real or unreal, imagined or -- in Central America that if you cross you have a good chance of being able to stay.  Can you address that?  His contention is something needs to be done immediately, and you would acknowledge the bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate would not do that immediately.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no, but what it would do is it would be an enduring solution.  Sending a thousand National Guardsmen to the border is not an enduring solution.  That is almost, by definition, temporary.  So, again, if we're into symbols here and if symbolism is what we're looking for, then the best symbol that we could send is to authorize the deployment of 20,000 additional law enforcement officials to the border.

Keep in mind this is on top of the historic investment that has already been made under this President’s watch on the border. There are more resources and boots on the ground along the border than at any other time in our nation’s history.  So, again, a permanent solution is one that would have extraordinary economic benefits, as highlighted by Warren Buffett and Sheldon Adelson and Bill Gates this morning.  If there is symbolic value that Governor Perry sees, then we certainly would welcome him getting on board and making that case.

Q    Can I follow that, Josh?


Q    On the border -- in congressional testimony yesterday, Secretary Jeh Johnson said that the number of unaccompanied minors crossing could reach 90,000 by the end of the fiscal year. That would suggest absolutely no slowing of the flow.  The President has been out now for over a week urging families in Central America not to send their kids; other officials have.  You’ve had an effort on this, a vocal effort on this.  Have you seen any indication that any of it is working to slow the flow of unaccompanied minors crossing the border illegally?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, I'm not in a position to talk about sort of the day-to-day numbers that we're seeing, but --

Q    You must know the daily numbers, though, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I've gotten some briefings about some of the metrics of these things.  Obviously this is a complicated thing to tabulate, right?  We're talking about a large sector of our border with Mexico.  And there are efforts obviously on a 24-hour basis to apprehend people as they come across the border. 

What we're focused on right now is making sure that people understand the risk that they are subjecting their children to if they decide to send them on this journey.  They are often transported by criminal networks.  That's one of the things the President sought in his supplemental -- or in conjunction with or at the same time as the supplemental request is additional authority to crack down on some of these criminal networks.  The facts are clear about the risk that these children are facing when they try to make this trip.

Q    I understand, but I asked very specifically, are you seeing -- you don't need to give me specific numbers -- are you seeing any indication that anything that you are doing right now has had any impact in bringing [down] this flow of illegal immigration across the border?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I would say is to assess that impact we shouldn’t just be looking at the day-to-day numbers, we should be looking at the longer-term trend.  And the fact is, as you point out --

Q    Which is bad, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think right now what we're seeing is a situation where there has been a spike.  What are we going to see in the weeks ahead?  I don't know.  We're certainly doing everything that we can right now to try to stem that flow.  What we would like to see are additional resources from Congress so we can maximize the effort that's necessary to stem this flow and to try to both apprehend those who are at the border, detain those who are apprehended in a humanitarian fashion, but also to address some of the root causes of this illegal migration.

Q    And on the German spy matter, I understand clearly there’s very little you're able to say about this -- can you at least confirm for me that Germany has said that they are expelling the CIA station chief -- the U.S. CIA station chief in Germany?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I've seen those reports so --

Q    I mean, I've seen the reports, too.  I'm just asking can you confirm that Germany is expelling the CIA station chief?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, when you're asking me specific questions about a specific CIA official, it's going to be difficult for me to talk about that in any environment, let alone here on live television.  But I will say this.  I will say this.  The United States understands the importance of this issue and, as a matter of course, respects the German government’s wishes regarding the accreditation and presence of U.S. diplomats in Germany.

Q    Okay, so --

MR. EARNEST:  The point is this is obviously --

Q    That was interesting, but no mention of intelligence.  Let’s take CIA out of it.  Can you acknowledge, given your respect for the German government’s ability to accredit diplomats, will you acknowledge that Germany has expelled the top intelligence official at the embassy in Berlin?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not going to be in a position to comment on --

Q    They’ve done this publicly.  They’ve announced it publicly.

MR. EARNEST:  Again, it's their responsibility to provide for the accreditation and presence of U.S. diplomats in Germany. But in terms of the whereabouts or activities of individual diplomats or intelligence officials, I'm just not in a position to comment from here.

Q    Can you acknowledge that there is a CIA station chief in Germany?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not going to be in a position to talk about our intelligence activities.  And I think that's for good reason.


Q    Just one more on Israel. 

MR. EARNEST:  I just want to give somebody else a chance.

Q    Okay.  On the issue of a potential ground invasion of Gaza, has the administration said pointblank to the Israelis that that would be a bad idea?

MR. EARNEST:  What this administration has done is we have delivered essentially a two-pronged message -- the first is, acknowledging the right of Israel’s political leaders to provide for the defense of that country and its citizens.  That's their right.  At the same time, we are urging leaders on both sides to account for the safety and security of innocent civilians on both sides and to leave open a channel, leave open an opportunity for a ceasefire to be negotiated. 


Q    Josh, I have one domestic subject that has been in the news recently -- gun violence, the rash of gun violence in Chicago and other cities.  Could you talk to me about the President’s thoughts about what’s been happening in Chicago, particularly, and around the nation as -- we're not hearing much as it relates to gun control reform or something going on trying to get a handle on what’s happening.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, you’re right that we do see with all too tragic frequency the continued gun violence in communities all across the country.  We were in Texas earlier this week where there was a high-profile incident outside Houston, where an individual killed six or seven people in a home using a firearm.  That’s just an incident of gun violence that got a lot of attention.  As you point out, there are communities across the country that are wracked by gun violence on a daily basis.  In fact, those kinds of episodes of violence are so frequent that they don’t make the news very often.

This kind of gun violence is tragic, and the President has said on many occasions that he believes that there are some common-sense steps that we can take to reduce gun violence.  I don’t think there’s any single law that could be passed that would reduce every single element of it.  But there are some common-sense things that we can do to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, while fully respecting the Second Amendment rights that the President of the United States believes in and that so many Americans across the country hold dear. 

So there are some common-sense things that we can do.  The President is going to continue to make the case that we should do them.  But ultimately, I think the only way we’re going to get over this hump and convince Congress to, again, take the kinds of steps that are supported by the vast majority of Americans, even the kinds of steps that are supported by a majority of gun owners and a majority of Republicans, is going to be for people to make their voices heard to make it clear to members of Congress that how they vote on some of these issues will have an impact on the voting decisions that are made by average citizens when it comes to hire a member of Congress to represent them.

Q    People have been making their voices heard, but there seems to be a stumbling block when it comes to the gun lobby and the situation about the right to bear arms.  What do you say to that other side who says I have a right to feel that I can walk in a community or be able to just not have a fear of being shot?  There are two sides to this equation.  What do you say to those people who are fearful as the gun lobby, the powerful gun lobby has prevented any kind of changes to the gun laws from happening?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what I would say is that there are some common-sense steps that we have identified and that others have identified that could be taken to reduce incidents of gun violence.  Those steps are common sense because they would do the kinds of things that everybody agrees, which is that -- or just about everybody agrees -- that there are sort of established guidelines for people that we believe shouldn’t have access to firearms.  Criminals would be one good example of that.  At the same time, we could implement those rules in a way that respects the right of law-abiding Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights. 

So there are some common-sense steps that we can take.  And, again, the obstacle here is Congress, because there is a President who is a strong advocate for these kinds of policies. 

The President has made this case to members of Congress, but what will ultimately be required will be members of the general public contacting their individual members of Congress and making a statement to them about what their views are and making it clear to these members of Congress that their job is going to be dependent on how they vote on these issues.


Q    You say the President has been making a case, but he hasn’t been speaking about gun control openly.  I mean, it hasn’t been part of his speeches that he has made.  Will he be talking about it more?  Will that be added into the things that he talks about over the coming weeks and months as he is traveling the country?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think that there is any doubt about what the President’s views are on this topic, and I think that when the President has the opportunity to talk about this issue, he does so I think with a lot of conviction and with a lot of clarity. 

Q    But he had the opportunity -- I mean, he had the opportunity yesterday to talk about it in Texas if he wanted to, and he’s chosen not to.  Can you explain the logic for not having it be something that he’s talked about publicly except when asked?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment of the President’s public statements.  But the President yesterday was speaking at an event on the economy where he was highlighting his commitment to acting on his own where necessary and with Congress where possible to make progress in support of middle-class families.  There are a lot of common-sense economic policies that the President has put forward that Congress is also blocking.  Yesterday the President chose in his remarks to highlight those.  But the President feels strongly about some of the common-sense measures that Republicans have blocked related to gun safety as well.


Q    Let me ask you a little bit more to clarify about the 2008 law -- because you have said, going back to the border issue, that the White House is open to finding ways -- more efficient ways to enforcing the law.  And Nancy Pelosi has said that it’s not a deal-breaker, some of the Republican proposals that would change the law.  Is the White House open to that?  And can you talk specifically to the kinds of things the White House would be willing to look at that you think would improve the situation on the border?

MR. EARNEST:  As it relates to that specific law?

Q    Yes.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we have said is -- I think Mara asked about this a little bit earlier this week, and the thing that I was trying to explain to her is that what we’re focused on here are the results.  And the end result that we would like to see is for those individuals who have gone through the immigration system and after going through those immigration proceedings have been found to not have a legitimate claim to remain in this country, we would like to see those individuals removed and repatriated efficiently.  Right now, the law presents some obstacles to that. 

And what we have said in terms of the easiest way to solve this problem is that Congress should give greater authority and discretion to the Secretary of Homeland Security as he implements the law.  That is to say that he can more efficiently and more quickly remove and repatriate those individuals that the immigration courts have found to not have a legal basis for remaining here.

Q    So if that’s what you’re focused on, let me just ask you about what Senator Pat Leahy said.  He says he’s opposed to amending the law if it’s part of this negotiation for the emergency spending.  In fact, he says if we follow the law, we’re going to get due process -- he doesn’t see any reason for those two things to be tied.  Can you give us the White House position on that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are a couple of things that we know that are preventing the efficient application of the law.  The first is the bottleneck that has been created in the immigration court system -- that we’ve seen such a large influx of cases that the current system is bogged down.  So one of the things that we’ve asked for are additional resources that could be used by -- I think it’s through the Department of Justice -- that additional judges and ICE prosecutors through DHS and asylum officials could be deployed to expand the bandwidth of the immigration system so that we can more quickly and efficiently process the legitimate claims where they exist, but also consider the claims of those who ultimately are found to not have a legal basis for remaining in this country; that making that system work more quickly is an important part of dealing with this difficult humanitarian situation. 

From there, what we would like to see is greater discretion be given to the Secretary of Homeland Security so that he could exercise it and more efficiently remove those individuals that weren’t found to have a legal basis for humanitarian relief in this country.

So there are a number of causes that we’re trying to address here.  One of these is related to resources in the immigration court system; the other is related to the ability of the Secretary of Homeland Security to remove those individuals who are found to not have a legal basis for remaining in the country.

Go ahead, Chris.

Q    I’m just not sure of the answer to the question to what Pat Leahy said, a response specifically about Pat Leahy.  He says he opposes amending the law through this emergency spending bill.

MR. EARNEST:  Right.  And what I’m saying is that there are a couple of legal legislative mechanisms that could be used.  What we’re focused on is the ultimate goal, and that ultimate goal would be the efficient removal of those individuals who are found, after going through due process, are found to not have a legitimate legal basis to remaining in the country.  And if that means changing the 2008 law, if it means giving greater authority to the Secretary of Homeland Security, if it requires passing some other law, we’re focused on the end results.  And if the end result reflects the principles that I have laid out, then I would anticipate we’d be in a position to support it. 

But that’s the nature of the kinds of conversations that are ongoing between the administration and Capitol Hill as we work through getting the resources and authority that are necessary to deal with this problem.

Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is we’ve seen Republicans spouting a lot of rhetoric on television saying that this is an urgent problem that needs to get solved right away, but leaders in -- and the House Republicans saying that they hope to get to it later this month.  That’s certainly not consistent with the spirit of urgency that this administration is acting with to deal with this problem.


Q    You’ve said that the 2008 law makes it difficult to deal with this problem, but is it not also true that the 2012 DACA executive order contributed greatly to this problem since the child migration doubled that year, that fiscal year, doubled the following fiscal year, and is on track to double in the current one?  Either misrepresentation or a misunderstanding of the DACA executive order, but certainly it seems to have played a part.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think Governor Perry would disagree with that assessment.  What Governor Perry said was that we saw this problem before the President even moved on the deferred action that you’re referring to.  So I think what’s evident is that this is a problem with a lot of different causes, and that’s why you’re seeing a whole-of-government approach to dealing with these challenges.  That includes everything from trying to deal with this problem at the source through conversations with the leaders of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, to providing additional resources to law enforcement so that they can better handle the influx of individuals who are being apprehended on the border.  And that includes adding to the resources available to the immigration court system to consider and process these claims.
We have asked for additional authority to crack down on the criminal networks and human trafficking organizations that are obviously playing an important role to making this problem such a dangerous one.  So there is a lot that this government -- that this administration is focused on to address this situation.  Again, what we’d really like to see is a similar sense of urgency from Congress.  Right now, all they’re saying is that they hope to get to this later this month.  I guess they’re more focused on lawsuits than on actually trying to solve problems.

Q    I’d also characterize this as parents in Central America essentially trying to get their kids out of a high-crime situation.  But how much is this caused by people in this country, perhaps illegally, sending for their children since they’d be more likely to afford the costs than those parents in Central America?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what we’ve made clear to parents in this country and parents in Central America is that they should not send their kids on that journey.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  One is that that journey, even if they’re not making that journey in the company of a criminal, is very dangerous.  We’re talking about -- I’ve seen reports that a lot of kids are stowing away in trucks or on the tops of trains.  Ultimately, that also includes a trip that is a long walk through the desert.  And there are tragic consequences for making these kinds of dangerous decisions and dangerous trips.

Q    The danger is obvious.  But do you know how much it’s parents calling for their kids versus parents pushing them?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s hard for me to make that assessment from here.  Suffice it to say that’s why we’re trying to send a message to parents in both locations to be very clear about the fact that they should not send their kids on this dangerous journey, and that even if they were to not take the advice of the U.S. government and to send their kids on this journey, and they’re apprehended at the border, that if those kids are not found to have a legal basis for remaining in the country, that they’re going to be sent back.

Q    And on the situation in Germany, the Foreign Minister says he wants to reinvigorate the U.S.-German relationship “on an honest basis.”  Those are his words.  Does the U.S. have a role in that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the U.S. is committed to the strong partnership that exists between our two countries.  And I said a couple of times now that it is our view that a strong, cooperative partnership with Germany, when it comes to national security and intelligence matters, is critical to our own national security.

Q    So is that a yes?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s an expression of commitment on the part of this administration and on the part of this country to protecting and strengthening the ongoing relationship with Germany as it relates to wide range of national security and intelligence matters.

Q    I’ll take it as a yes.


Q    Josh, on the Middle East, is it not something of a contradictory statement to defend Israel’s right to defend itself and at the same time call for restraint?

MR. EARNEST:  No, that’s not a contradiction.  I think it’s a reflection of how complicated the situation is.  But this is a situation that we’ve been dealing with for some time and, frankly, that a couple of generations of U.S. leaders have been dealing with.  These are complicated times.  And there is no doubt that the United States stands with Israel as they confront these threats, but at the same time we also have a concern for the well-being of innocent civilians on both sides.  That’s why we believe it’s in the interest of both sides to seek a cease-fire that would de-escalate the conflict and take so many innocent civilians out of harm’s way.

Q    Is there a point at which the U.S. might deem the Israeli self-defense as going too far?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not going to -- I wouldn’t speculate about sort of future activities on the part of the United States or on the part of Israel.  Suffice it to say we’re going to continue to urge both sides to take maximum restraint when it comes to the well-being of innocent civilians.  And the easiest way to do that would be to broker a cease-fire from both sides.

Let me just say that it’s important for us to recognize that there are innocent Israeli civilians who are subject to a barrage of rocket fire, almost around the clock according to news reports and to some of your colleagues who are in that region and reporting from there.

So our concern for civilians is urgent at this point, and that reflects the kinds of conversations that senior U.S. officials have had with leaders on both sides of this issue.

Q    And one question on photo ops.  Did President Obama really mean it when he said, I have no interest in photo ops?

MR. EARNEST:  His view is that solving problems is most important, and solving problems is what somebody who’s exhibiting leadership is focused on.  And that’s what the President was doing when he was in Dallas on Wednesday.  It’s also what the President has been doing over the last several weeks.  He has made the decision to shift resources from the interior to the border.  He has put forward this specific line-item request for resources from Congress that could address this urgent problem.  He sought greater authority for the Secretary of Homeland Security to repatriate those individuals that don’t have a legal basis for remaining in the country.  He sought greater authority from Congress to crack down on the human trafficking networks that are fomenting so much of this problem.

These are concrete steps that the President has taken.  They may not make for attractive pictures, but they are concrete steps that are critical to addressing this issue.  I think this stands in pretty stark contrast to the approach that’s taken by some folks on the other side of this debate.  What we see on the other side are individuals that are so concerned about photo ops that they’re not really paying attention to any solutions; they’re certainly not contributing to them.  How many Republicans have we seen go on cable television and profess their commitment to increasing border security?  I would humbly suggest to them that being photographed talking about strengthening border security is a lot less important than actually placing a vote on a piece of legislation that would do exactly that.  And I think that’s the point the President was making. 

Q    But he’s not pained about every photo op that he does, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think if he did it would disappoint a lot of people in this room who are pretty interested in capturing the President.

Q    Well, aren’t photo ops the lifeblood of presidential public relations?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there’s no doubt that a presidential appearance somewhere sends a very important message about the President’s priorities.  In some cases, it sends a very important message about the country’s priorities. 

The best example -- I was thinking about this a little earlier today.  The best example I could think of was, it was about a month ago that the President traveled to Warsaw, Poland. And he got off the plane, and the first thing he did was he walked over to an adjacent airplane hangar where there were two American F-16s parked in front of television cameras.  And the President stood in front of those two airplanes alongside some military and Polish military personnel, and alongside the leader of Poland, and articulated this administration’s and this country’s commitment to the Article 5 mutual defense aspect of the NATO treaty. 

That is clearly a photo op, but it is part of solving a problem.  It sends a very clear message to the people of Poland, to our NATO allies, and to Russia about what our intentions actually are.

So, again, the point that the President was making on Wednesday is that this is about priorities.  And when you prioritize photo ops ahead of solutions to actual problems, you’re not really accomplishing very much.  But when you are focused on problems and occasionally using photo ops to confront these problems, that’s what real leadership is all about. 


Q    Over the last year, Chancellor Merkel has had to deal with the strain of anti-Americanism in German politics.  Surely, the White House must be concerned that the latest tension makes it more difficult for her to do things the United States would like to do.  For example, she had to stick her neck out to get tougher sanctions -- to win support for tougher sanctions on Russia over Ukraine.  So how concerned is the White House that this incident will kind of have a broader effect in U.S.-German relations?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m sure that Chancellor Merkel has a very effective spokesperson who can make the case for why she makes the kinds of decisions that she does.  That won’t prevent me, however, from speculating that she didn’t join the international effort to impose economic costs on Russia as a favor to anyone in this country.  She made the decision to join that effort because she believed that it’s in the best interest of Germany and its citizens and its interests in Europe and around the world.

The reason that there is a strong, ongoing national security and intelligence-sharing relationship between the United States and Germany is not because Chancellor Merkel is doing a favor for anybody in this country.  She is doing that and she is committed to that relationship as strongly as President Obama is because it’s in the best interest of the country that she was elected to lead. 

The President has found Chancellor Merkel to be a very effective partner, precisely because she is somebody who is able to identify the interests of her country and place them first, but can act in a collective, cooperative spirit to advance the kind of agenda that’s in the best interest of her country as well.  So she’s proven to be a very effective leader, and the President is fond of her not just personally, but because of the professionalism that she deploys in the conduct of her job.

Q    Based on what you said earlier, would it be fair to interpret your words as saying the U.S. believes that Germany has perhaps done too much -- or spent too much time trying to resolve this issue through the media and not private channels?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll leave the interpretation up to you.  But I will just repeat that it is our view that allies with sophisticated intelligence agencies are aware of the activities and relationships that are included.  And when differences arise we’re committed to resolving those differences through the established private channels.  We don’t believe that trying to resolve them through the media is appropriate.

Q    Could you just -- I’m going back to the health care lawsuit for a minute.  Could you just tell us a little bit about the President’s response?  When did he find out and what was his initial sort of a personal response?  Because it’s sort of a little bit of a personal thing here?  And also, you indicated you weren’t sure if some of the paperwork had been filed.  As a lawyer, I would assume the President would want to read it or has read it.  Do you have any answer to that?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not he has read it.  Again, I’m still unclear exactly what paperwork has been presented.  Again, I think the President was pretty clear of his -- well, let me say it this way.  If, in fact, some of the paperwork related to the lawsuit has been made public, his view on this has not changed from when he talked about it yesterday in Austin.

Q    Can you just tell us when he found out about it -- last night or yesterday afternoon?

MR. EARNEST:  He found out about it yesterday afternoon, soon after Republicans made it public. 

Q    Any particular response, besides --

MR. EARNEST:  From him personally, no, I haven’t seen one.

All right, who else here?  Chris.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Questions on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  A number of LGBT groups withdrew support from the bill this week because of this religious exemption.  In fact, the National Gay [and Lesbian] Task Force now opposes the bill.  The President has stated support for ENDA numerous times, but is he aware of the concerns expressed by these groups?  And would he consider vetoing it if it came to his desk with the current religious exemption?

MR. EARNEST:  Chris, the President has long supported an inclusive ENDA, and we continue to believe that Congress needs to pass federal legislation that protects LGBT Americans from employment discrimination.  The President has talked often about his opposition to any sorts of policies or views that discriminate against individuals because of who they are or the color of their skin, their name or who they love.  And that is a principle that the President believes should be enshrined into federal law, in this case through an inclusive ENDA.
We’re certainly aware of the ongoing conversations about ENDA and look forward to working with lawmakers and advocates to achieve this important goal. 

Q    Is he concerned about the religious exemption of ENDA, and would that prompt him to veto legislation?

MR. EARNEST:  No, we continue to support ENDA legislation. 

Q    But would the President welcome a narrowing of the exemption in the bill?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think I’ve been pretty clear about what our position is.  I know that advocates have changed their position on this, and we’re certainly aware of their change in position, but this administration has not changed ours.

Q    Following the withdrawal of support of the bill from these groups, does the White House realistically see any chance of ENDA passing this year, or is the legislation dead?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, when we talked about the fact that the President was considering an ENDA EO a few weeks ago, we noted that it had passed through the Senate with bipartisan support but was stuck in the House.  We noted that there was the prospects in the House, like so many other pieces of common-sense, worthwhile legislation have hit a dead end there, unfortunately, because of the obstruction of congressional Republicans.

So I would acknowledge, as I did a few weeks ago, that the prospects for passing it through the House are not very good.  And that’s unfortunate.  That’s why the President -- that’s one of the reasons the President is considering doing something using his executive authority. 

Q    Amid this controversy, a number of groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, have endorsed the idea of a more comprehensive bill that in addition to employment would cover public accommodations, housing and credit.  Would the President support such legislation? 

MR. EARNEST:  We’d consider it, Chris.  But I’m not personally familiar with it.

Q    And, finally, one last question?


Q    With the objections to the religious exemption in ENDA on the table, are you in a position now to rule out the possibility of a similar religious exemption appearing in the planned executive order barring anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not prepared at this point to talk about any of the contents of any executive order that the President may sign.

Victoria, I’ll give you the last one.  Then, we’ll do a week ahead.

Q    About three-quarters of members of the House of Representatives wrote to the President yesterday, saying that they want to be involved in and have input into any lifting of sanctions on Iran because they were involved in putting the sanctions on Iran.  What is the President’s position on that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as of right now, I think that’s putting the cart before the horse.  What we are currently engaged in is working through the P5-plus-1 process in pursuit of ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.  The international community has significant concerns about Iran’s development of certain nuclear capabilities.  And we’ve made some progress in the form of constructive conversations with the Iranians and other members of the international community to try to resolve those differences. 

There is, as you point out, a looming deadline later this month for resolving some of those differences and there continues to be substantial differences, but we’re working through them.  As I think I mentioned earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to Vienna in the next day or two to try and move that process along.  But this is an important priority. 

As I mentioned earlier -- or maybe I didn’t mention earlier, but I should have mentioned earlier -- is that this administration does believe that Congress has been an important partner in this effort; that it’s because of the unprecedented sanctions regime that’s been implemented, in close consultation with our partners, that’s what ultimately brought Iran to the table.  And we have had some constructive discussions with them about this, but substantial differences remain.  And we’re working through those differences and are going to do our best to work through those differences in advance of the July 20th deadline.

Q    My understanding is he is partly going because there’s a real logjam in the talks in Vienna.  He is going with the other foreign ministers to try and break through on that, and they’ve got the deadline looming on the 20th.  If they don’t reach that deadline, what’s the next step?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the goal of the Secretary of State’s trip is go gauge the extent of Iran’s willingness to commit to credible and verifiable steps that would back up its public statements about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.  As we have said consistently, if Iran’s intentions are entirely peaceful as they claim they are, it shouldn’t be a hard proposition to prove. 

So the Secretary of State will see if progress can be made on the issues where significant gaps remain, and assess Iran’s willingness to make a set of critical choices at the negotiating table. 

Q    And if progress can’t be made?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the reason he is going there is to try to make some progress.

Q    And if it can’t be made?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let’s not prejudge the outcome here.  We’re focused on making some substantial progress here.  And there’s a lot of work to do, and the Secretary of State is headed there to try to make some progress. 

Let’s do the week ahead.

Q    Press conference?

MR. EARNEST:  There’s no press conference on the week ahead.

On Monday, the President will participate in an ambassador credentialing ceremony in the Oval Office.  Many of you have heard about this event before.  The President will receive the credentials from foreign ambassadors recently posted in Washington.  The presentation of credentials is a traditional ceremony that marks the formal beginning of an ambassador’s service in Washington.  That evening, the President will host an Iftar dinner, celebrating Ramadan at the White House. 

On Tuesday, the President will visit the Northern Virginia area to deliver remarks on the economy.  We’ll have additional details about that trip either over the weekend or at the very beginning of next week. 

On Wednesday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.

On Thursday, the President will travel to New York City to attend a DNC roundtable.  We’ll have more details about the President’s trip to New York next week. 

Q    Any other activities on that Thursday?

MR. EARNEST:  That trip is still coming together, so we may have some additional activities to tell you about. 

And then, on Friday, the President will be back here at the White House participating in meetings.

Q    He returns to Washington Thursday?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, Thursday night. 

I hope you all have a terrific summer weekend.

2:12 P.M. EDT

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