Press Briefing

July 21, 2014 | 01:09:38 | Public Domain

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

Download mp4 (337MB) | mp3 (67MB)

Read the Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/21/2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:28 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I apologize for the delay today.  We’re going to try to do better on the timing, but there are always going to be those days that a delay can’t be avoided, and unfortunately today was one of those days, so I apologize.

I do have a quick announcement at the top of the briefing before we get started.  This afternoon, the President will convene a meeting of his Homeland Security Council.  That includes the Vice President, Secretaries Johnson, Burwell and Hagel, among others, to discuss the situation at the border and the comprehensive whole-of-government response that the President has directed be put in place.

This meeting is taking place in an important context that I wanted to make sure that you are aware of.  In June, Customs and Border Patrol apprehended an average of around 355 unaccompanied children per day in the Rio Grande Valley.  According to preliminary data tracking the first two weeks of this month, CBP apprehensions have dropped to an average of around 150 unaccompanied children per day in the Rio Grande Valley, and some of those days have been as low as around 110 to 115 children per day.

Now, while the reasons for the reduction in the number of unaccompanied children and adults traveling with children apprehended by CBP cannot be attributed to any one factor, we do believe that the administration’s response and efforts to work with Central American leaders to publicize the dangers of the journey and reinforce that apprehended migrants are ultimately returned to their home countries in keeping with the law, as well as seasonal flows, have all played a part. 

That all being said, that support for the administration’s strategy and supplemental appropriations request, including efforts to support deterrence, address the root causes of migration, and build our capacity to provide the appropriate care for unaccompanied children and adults traveling with children, all remains critical to managing the situation this year and making longer-term progress in stemming the flow of Central American migrants across the border.  We want to make sure that we do not find ourselves in a similar situation in the years to come.

So I wanted to make sure that you’re aware of that addition to the President’s schedule today.

So, Julie, do you want to get us started?

Q    Thanks, Josh.  The Malaysian Prime Minister says that he’s reached a deal with the rebels in Ukraine to allow safe access to the crash site and to hand over the plane’s black boxes.  Is the U.S. aware of the circumstances around this deal?  Do you believe it’s legitimate?  And does it meet the conditions that the President outlined in his statement this morning?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ve seen those reports about the custody of the black boxes.  I’m not in a position to comment on them from here.  These are relatively late-breaking reports. 

What I will say is that what the President is calling for is unfettered access for professional international investigators to get access to the scene.  And this is important because there should be a professional, transparent investigation conducted into what exactly happened.  And that will not be able to occur if we continue to see what we’ve seen in recent days, which is Russian-backed separatists preventing those investigators from getting access to the site.  There were reports that some of these separatists were wielding weapons, even firing them into the air. 

So this is a situation that we’re pretty concerned about.  You heard the President talk about this directly a couple of hours ago.  There is an opportunity for President Putin to use the significant influence that he has with these Russian-backed separatists to comply with the request of investigators for access to the scene.  As the President described, that’s the least they could do. 

Q    Can you say what specifically the U.S. is hoping the Europeans do this week in terms of additional costs against Russia?  There’s a meeting tomorrow in Brussels.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you know, Julie, the United States has been in regular consultation with our partners in Europe about isolating Russia and putting pressure on Russia to use their influence to try to find a diplomatic resolution to the instability we see in Ukraine right now.

In the last several months, Russia has not used that influence to encourage the separatists to abide by a cease-fire.  In fact, we have actually seen Russia take steps that could be considered proactive steps that are actually contributing to the instability in that area.

So what we have sought is to work in coordination with our partners in Europe to put pressure on President Putin to change course, to change his strategy.  And those talks among European leaders will continue.  And in the context of those talks, senior administration officials will be in touch with their European counterparts about steps they could take.

Now, I’m not going to lay out those steps in advance, as we’ve discussed a few times.  It would be counterproductive for us to talk in detail about what those steps would be.

Q    But it seems like you could at least -- I mean, do you want the Europeans to at least get to the point where their sanctions match the sanctions that the President outlined last week?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President did outline some steps last week that we were going to take unilaterally to impose some costs on Russia.  In coordination with those announcements, the Europeans made clear that they’re putting in place the kind of legal framework that’s necessary to put in place additional sanctions for their own part as well.

So we certainly want to continue to mobilize the international community, as we’ve already done, to put pressure on Russia and on Putin to contribute to a solution in Ukraine.  And those efforts continue.  I think in light of this terribly tragic situation, the stakes for resolving the situation quickly have been laid bare.  There are consequences, and in this case dire consequences, for the failure of the Russian leader to use his influence in the region to deal with this situation. 

And now that, as the President described, the international community’s collective head has snapped to attention in terms of focusing on this situation, we anticipate that the increased pressure will be something that President Putin finds more persuasive.  But time will tell.

Q    Is the President willing to act unilaterally to impose U.S. sanctions against broad sectors of the Russian economy that go beyond what he did yesterday?  Or does he feel like those measures have to happen in coordination with the Europeans?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julie, as you pointed out in your previous question, the sanctions regime that was announced last week was put in place one day before the downing of this jetliner.

Q    But obviously that has changed the circumstances there.

MR. EARNEST:  It has certainly changed the circumstances there.  That previous sanctions regime was put in place based on actions that Russia had already taken to destabilize the situation. 

It is clear that Russia has not changed course, and that is why additional sanctions or additional costs remain on the table and will continue to be considered by this administration to focus pressure on the Russians.

Q    Does that include unilateral sector sanctions, broad sector sanctions?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not going to telegraph any specific strategy that we have, but it is accurate to say that additional steps are being contemplated by this administration as necessary to put additional pressure on President Putin to use his influence to contribute positively to resolving the situation in Ukraine.  So far, their contributions have been almost entirely negative, and we would like to see the Russians pursue a different course, to change their strategy, and pursue the kind of diplomatic solution that we know is capable of resolving the conflict there.


Q    Josh, would the United States like to see President Putin excluded from the G20 meeting that will be held in Australia at the end of this year?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any steps like that to announce at this point.

Q    Is that something that the President has discussed with Prime Minister Abbott during their couple different conversations over the last week?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any more details in terms of their conversations to read out at this point.

Q    On a different subject, the President and Secretary Kerry both appear to be fed up with Israel, or the number of civilian casualties in Gaza.  Accepting what the President said about Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks, is that a fair characterization to say that the President is losing patience over this?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the way that I would characterize it is simply that the President is concerned about the violence that we’ve seen experienced by civilians on both sides of the border.  There are reports of Israeli casualties and many more reports of Palestinian casualties.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have been killed.  Our condolences are with the Palestinian people and the Israeli people for the losses that they have suffered.

What is unacceptable, though, is for Hamas to continue firing rockets aimed squarely at Israeli civilians.  That is not a situation that any country could tolerate, and it is why the Israeli political leadership has the right to use their military might to defend their people.  At the same time, the Israelis say that they uphold high standards in terms of ensuring that those operations take into account the safety and well-being of innocent civilians.  What this escalation in violence makes clear is that Israel must take greater steps to meet its own standards for protecting civilians from being killed.  And we’ll continue to send that message directly to the Israelis.

Q    So does that mean that the United States does not feel it is maintaining those standards and being as careful as it should be in those attacks?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what we would like to do is we would like the Israelis to take even greater steps to ensure the protection of innocent civilians, including Palestinians. 

As I pointed out, and as the President alluded to in his statement this morning, Israel does face a significant threat from Hamas.  That is apparent from the barrage of rocket attacks that have been fired off by Hamas.  That’s apparent from the infrastructure of tunnels that Hamas has used to carry out acts of violence. 

What’s also clear is that this Israeli offensive has made progress in dismantling this infrastructure.  And again, it is within Israel’s right to take those kinds of steps.  At the same time, we also want to make sure that Israel is doing everything that they can to live up to their own standards related to protecting the welfare and well-being of innocent civilian bystanders.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  It seems just judging by the last statement that the U.S. would like to see the Israelis take greater steps, that the U.S. believes that the Israelis have gone a little overboard in this tunnel operation.  Is that a fair assessment?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s not the way that I would describe it, Jim.  What I would say is that the Israelis have the right to defend themselves, and they have taken steps to do exactly that.  We’ve seen their population subjected to repeated volleys of rocket fire.  What distinguishes the Hamas actions from the Israeli actions is that Hamas is squarely targeting their rocket fire at innocent Israeli civilians.  The Israeli military, on the other hand, does have standards for trying to protect the life of innocent civilians, even innocent Palestinian civilians.

What we would like to see, however, is we would like Israel to take greater steps to ensure that they’re living up to those standards.  So that is the clearest enunciation that I can provide of our view of the situation.

Q    And getting back to Flight 17, the Russians appear to have their own version of events.  There’s a Russian News Service report that officials there believe that a Ukrainian warplane was flying near Flight 17 before it crashed.  What’s the White House take when you hear those kinds of statements being made by the Russians?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I’m not in a position to offer a specific intelligence assessment.  That’s certainly possible that we may be in a position to do that in the days ahead.  But there are some facts that have been widely reported and that are well known.  The first is that, for months now, the Russian government has been actively supporting the separatists in eastern Ukraine.  In fact, some of those separatist leaders are Russian citizens.

We also know -- and we actually announced in the context of the sanctions regime that we were putting in place on Wednesday -- that Russia continues to provide heavy weapons to these separatists by moving heavy weapons from Russia across the border into Ukraine.  We also know that the Russians are actively engaged in training separatists to use those weapons, including some anti-aircraft weapons.  In fact, the separatists have claimed some success on this front.  They have boasted in the last several weeks of shooting down three different Ukrainian aircraft.  So there’s a track record here.

We also know, according to social media reports, that separatists last week had access to an SA-11 system, the kind of system that is capable to reaching aircraft at high altitudes.  We also know that the missile that downed Malaysia Flight 17 was fired from a separatist-controlled area.  We know that the Ukrainian military was not operating anti-aircraft weapons in that area at that time.  We’ve seen social media accounts of that SA-11 system moving from Ukraine back across the border into Russia.  And we’ve seen social media accounts of the separatists talking about the shoot-down of the plane.

So what’s clear is that there is a picture that’s coming into focus.  And Russian claims, to the contrary, are getting both more desperate and much harder to believe.

Q    Later this week -- or actually, tomorrow, the President is going to be heading out West for a series of fundraisers -- Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles.  Are you concerned about the image that the President is going to be sending later this week that he’s on fundraising trips while these two crises are going on at the same time?  Have you given any consideration to perhaps curtailing that fundraising travel schedule for later this week?

MR. EARNEST:  The President’s top priority and the top priority of the staff here at the White House is making sure that the President is able to do his job in terms of managing the United States’ involvement in these crises.  As was demonstrated last week when the President was on the road and two of these crises flared up, the President was able to fulfill his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief and as the leader of this country from the road. 

When the President travels, he travels with an array of staff and advisors and communications equipment that allows him to do his job from wherever he happens to be.  And that will be the case this week when he’s traveling later this week.  We want to make sure that the President has everything that he needs to fulfill his responsibilities as the Commander-in-Chief.  And if it becomes clear that there’s a need for him to come back to the White House in order to fulfill those functions, then we’ll make a change in his schedule.  Right now it’s not apparent that that’s the case.

Q    At this point, you’re not changing the schedule.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct. 

Let’s move around the room a little bit.  Olivier.

Q    Josh, the President today in his statement talked about evidence-tampering by Russian-backed separatists.  Could you give us a couple of examples and tell us what that allegation rests on?  Are we talking about open source comments, or does the United States have intelligence into the activities on the ground?

MR. EARNEST:  What I can comment on is specifically the open press reports that we’ve seen.  And most of this is driven by the refusal of Russian-backed separatists to allow international investigators, professional investigators to get unfettered access to the scene.  And there are widespread reports through social media and through more formal media outlets that indicate that parts of the plane are being moved around.  There are reports that Russian-backed separatists are handling the bodies in a way that is not in line with generally accepted standards.

Not only is that an added insult and source of pain to the families of those who have already lost so much, it also is tampering with evidence of this terrible tragedy.

So there are a number of published reports and social media reports that give us concern about the way that that scene is being handled right now.

Q    I understand that.  But the President is putting his credibility behind the social -- effectively putting his credibility behind the social media reports and media reports.  What I’m trying to get at is, when you talk about moving parts of the plane around, that could refer to a whole lot of different activities.  And I’m trying to figure out whether this is tampering with evidence, or if they’re moving wreckage to get bodies.  I can’t tell from these public comments what’s going on.

MR. EARNEST:  The President’s priority is that this investigation should be conducted by an international set of investigators that don’t have an agenda beyond getting to the truth.  We want to make sure that those who are conducting this investigation aren’t just neutral arbiters, but are also trained; that these are professionals who are conducting these investigations, people that have experience in dealing with these kinds of matters.

That is the focus of the President’s immediate concern right now.  And that is why we believe that President Putin should take the steps that are necessary to use his influence to ensure that those international investigators can have access to the scene so we can get to the bottom of what exactly happened.  That should be, frankly, in everybody’s interest.  And as I pointed out, and as the President mentioned earlier, it seems like the least that the separatists could do.


Q    Josh, can I follow up on what Olivier was asking?  The President today asked the question -- what are they trying to hide?  And I guess to follow on what Olivier was asking, is the President confident that even without the evidence on the ground or with the tampering or the movement of material in the region, that intelligence sources and the information already obtained in the United States and by allies will be enough to make the transparent case that he is urging?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple of things about that.  The first is that I’m not going to be in a position to deliver an intelligence assessment on this matter from here today.  There is a pretty good case that I walked through before, based on public reports and based on some intelligence assessments that had previously been released, that paint a pretty clear picture about what’s happened and who is culpable.  It also paints a pretty clear picture of how the Russians have contributed to this tragedy.  And it is why we are hopeful that the pressure of the international community can be brought to bear in a way that will force Russia and President Putin to contribute to a solution to the situation in Ukraine.

And the investigation that we would like to see on the ground would only add to the body of evidence that’s already been assembled and reported about what exactly happened last Thursday morning in eastern Ukraine.  So everybody that is interested in the truth and getting to the bottom of what actually happened will be strongly supportive of ensuring that these international, impartial, professional investigators have unfettered access to the scene so that they can determine exactly what happened and why it happened.  That would only lay on top of what is already a pretty compelling body of evidence.

Q    One other question on a different subject.  The Washington Post report this weekend about the information available to the administration about the border and expectations of a surge at the border.  Can you comment on whether the administration was advised, and then overlooked or disregarded the information that was available to DHS and the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Alexis, I’d first point out that you’re asking about a story that’s based entirely on anonymous sources.  So that should be reflected in the record.  The second is, if you do take a look at what this administration’s response has been not just in the last couple of months, but over the last few years, you’ve seen that this administration has repeatedly sought additional resources to deal with this specific problem at the border.  That if you look at the trajectory of the budget from Fiscal Year 2011 to the 2012 to 2013 to 2014, that there has been a steady increase in the amount of resources requested to deal with this precise problem.  That is a pretty good indication that this is something that we’ve been watching carefully and preparing for.

What also happens to be true is that there are a number of steps that were taken by this administration in the months before, or at least in the weeks before this became the media sensation that it has been over the last several weeks, that there were repeated visits by the Secretary of Homeland Security to the border and to facilities that were used and have been used to detain unaccompanied minors. 

There were steps taken by the President to direct the FEMA Administrator to coordinate the activities of DHS and the Department of Defense, and Health and Human Services, to coordinate the response for detaining these children and these families in a humanitarian way.

So this is something that the administration has been focused on for quite some time.  And we have seen, as I mentioned at the top of the briefing, the tide at least start to turn over the last couple of weeks.  But we’re not going to turn our attention away from that; in fact, the President is having a meeting on this today, because he believes that this is the kind of significant problem that merits sustained attention.


Q    Can I follow up on that?

MR. EARNEST:  Go ahead, Peter.

Q    As you may have heard, Texas Governor Perry is expected to deploy 1,000 Texas National Guard troops the border; he obviously has the authority to do that.  The President has declined to do that on the federal level so far.  What do you think the impact of this state action will be?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not sure exactly what the long-term impact of that will be.  I know that Governor Perry is hopeful that it will have a -- send an important symbol.  What we’re focused on is making sure that we have the necessary resources at the border to deal with this problem on a sustained basis; that by nature, a National Guard deployment is temporary.

Now, I will say that we haven’t received the formal communication that you typically get from a state official when they make a request like this.  So we’ll see if Governor Perry follows through on his public announcement with the communication that’s necessary to begin this kind of deployment.  What I would say is that if this deployment does move forward, it is the kind of step that we would like to see be coordinated and integrated with the ongoing response there.

And the President, after meeting with Governor Perry a couple of weeks ago in Texas, signaled his openness to this kind of proposal.  The President and this administration does not see it in any way as a substitute for the kind of more enduring response that this administration has sought both through the supplemental appropriations request, but also through comprehensive immigration reform.

Again, Governor Perry has referred repeatedly to his desire to make a symbolic statement to the people of Central America that the border is closed.  And he thinks that the best way to do that is to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border.  It seems to me that a much more powerful symbol would be the bipartisan passage of legislation that would actually make a historic investment in border security and send an additional 20,000 personnel to the border.  So by a factor of 20, we could, according to Governor Perry’s analysis, significantly multiply the symbol that we’re sending about the security to the border.

So what we’re hopeful is that Governor Perry will not just take these kinds of steps that are generating the kind of headlines I suspect he intended, but will actually take the kinds of steps that will be constructive to solving the problem over the long term.  And to be specific, that means that we hope that Governor Perry will support the supplemental appropriations request that this administration put forward a few weeks ago, and that Governor Perry will use his influence with congressional Republicans in Congress and urge them to stop blocking comprehensive bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives that would make an historic commitment to border security and address so many of the problems that are plaguing our broken immigration system. 

Q    Are you saying you’re concerned about the militarization of the border with this move?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what I’m saying is that we haven’t seen the kinds of communication that you’d ordinarily see from a governor when they want to make a deployment like this.  And we would hope that any additional resources that are added to the border would be integrated and coordinated with the significant ongoing efforts that are already in place.


Q    Can I follow up on that?


Q    You’ve been asked several times, like, why would this situation not have happened if the comprehensive bill had been law.  And you’ve referred -- and again, you did today -- to the fact that there would be 20,000 more agents on the border; that border security would be beefed up.  My understanding is that these kids are not sneaking past border agents, they are giving themselves up to border agents.  So why would having more border agents stop them from coming?  I’m confused. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think this would be a great question for Governor Perry.  So hopefully your interview request of Governor Perry is forthcoming, because I think that’s the question that he’s laying out, right?

Q    You keep on saying border security, but isn’t it because families would be reunified, and the mothers would be legalized so they wouldn’t have to be separated from their kids?

MR. EARNEST:  The context in which I raised it, Mara, was with Governor Perry’s assertion that the way to solve this problem is through symbolism; that symbolic actions placing additional security assets to the border is a way to solve this problem.  And what I’m saying is that if Governor Perry actually feels this way, that we would expect him to be an enthusiastic supporter of not adding 1,000 boots on the ground on the border, but rather of 20,000 boots to the border; that if that’s the case that Governor Perry wants to make, we would expect him to be strongly supportive of comprehensive immigration reform.

We have described this legislation as a compromise piece of legislation all along.  The President is supportive of adding additional resources to the border to further augment our efforts to secure the border.  But there are a number of other things that are included in that legislation that would be beneficial to the economy, that would reduce the deficit, that would actually make it easier for businesses who are trying to hire workers.  Right now, there’s this perverse set of incentives in place for businesses to hire undocumented workers because they can do so more cheaply.  What this legislation would do is it would level the playing field and enforce the law in a way that would require all businesses to abide by the rules, to do the right thing, and do that in a way that makes the most business sense.

So there are a whole host of reasons why anyone, Democrats and Republicans, and why we’ve seen so many Democrats and Republicans all across the country come out and strongly support comprehensive immigration reform.

Q    But I want to ask the question again:  What in the bill that was passed by the Senate would specifically have prevented these kids from flowing over the border?

MR. EARNEST:  There are a number of things in this piece of legislation that would contribute to alleviating this problem.  The first is, we would have a -- part of the investment that’s included in this immigration reform proposal is a streamlined legal immigration process.  And having a legal immigration process that functions more effectively would stem the tide of illegal migration.  Those who are desperate to enter this country would understand that there is actually a legitimate path for them to do so legally.

The other thing that would -- again, if you listen to Republican arguments about the causes of this situation that we see along the border, they say that there’s a lot of -- a lack of clarity about the immigration system.  There’s no doubt that there are a lot of consequences of our broken immigration system that are difficult to explain.  And making sure that people understand the facts is complicated.  Putting in place this common-sense proposal that was passed in bipartisan fashion by the Senate would make it much clearer to everybody, both people in this country and people in other countries, what exactly the rules are for immigrating to this country.  That would have an impact on stemming the tide of illegal migration. 

I’m not suggesting that if -- well, let me just say it this way:  This problem at the border is something that has existed for quite some time, and would likely exist in the future.  The question is, are we going to make sure that the federal government has the kinds of resources and has a reformed law in place that effectively governs our immigration system so that we can deal with these difficult challenges. 


Q    The President obviously feels that there’s so much now at stake that he has asked John Kerry once again to get on another plane, and this one to Cairo, to meet with Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Abbas and other leaders in the region.  Specifically, what has the President charged the Secretary to do, and what deliverables is he willing to offer to bring back the cessation of the hostilities back to November ‘12?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, specifically, that was what the Secretary of State was charged with doing -- is going to the region and putting back in place the agreement that was reached around the cease-fire in November of 2012.  And that is going to require some difficult diplomacy, but he’ll be, as you pointed out, meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.  He’ll also be talking to his Egyptian counterpart as well as the President of Egypt, Mr. el-Sisi.  He’ll also be talking to other interested leaders in the region who can play a constructive role in trying to resolve this crisis.

So that is his specific charge, which is to go back and get this cease-fire in place as soon as possible.  As long as this fighting continues, we continue to see innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.  And our hearts go out to those who have lost so much in this violence, and that’s why we want to see this violence end as soon as possible.

Q    Can I follow up on that?

MR. EARNEST:  Go ahead, J.C.

Q    May I just finish?  Has the President -- will the President, through Mr. Kerry, offer anything in a sense of deliverables to assure that this will happen?  In other words, everything is on the table.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t want to read out any of the Secretary’s meetings before he arrives in Cairo, or before he begins his meetings in Cairo.  But this is an important priority, and there are lives at stake.  And we are hopeful that all sides will engage in a constructive conversation and try to find the diplomatic resolution that’s necessary to put an end to the violence, and bring -- and take a lot more civilians out of direct harm’s way.


Q    Josh, you mentioned the homeland security meeting for later in the afternoon.  Is the Texas governor’s proposal included or excluded on the table for that meeting?  Will they be discussing state efforts to boost the National Guard?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know exactly what they will discuss in the context of that meeting.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it came up, though.

Q    And on the Israel topic, what was the inciting incident that the President deemed it necessary to go from strongly urging Israel and Palestinians to avoid civilian casualties to demanding an immediate cease-fire?  What was that line for the President?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not sure I entirely understand the formulation of your question.  I don’t -- we didn’t want the cease-fire that was established in 2012 to break in the first place, and that cease-fire was broken when Hamas continued -- stepped up its barrage of rocket fire that was, again, targeted squarely at innocent Israeli civilians.

We have seen the Israeli political leadership make a decision to respond militarily to try to provide for the safety and well-being of their citizens.  That is entirely within their rights; some would even make the case it’s within their responsibilities to do so.  What we would like to see them do is to live up to their own standards for trying to safeguard the Palestinian population while they are conducting those counterterrorism efforts to disrupt the infrastructure that Hamas has put in place.


Q    Just to follow up, the Egyptians are saying that they are willing to alter the plan for the cease-fire to include opening the border crossing left in the siege on Gaza.  Is that something that the White House or Secretary Kerry will be endorsing?  And are you willing to accept the Security Council resolution 1860, which is going back to 2009 basically, which is basically enforcing -- applying the same thing, which is lifting the siege of Gaza and opening the border crossing, which is a demand by Hamas?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we have said about the situation, Nadia, is we certainly welcome the constructive engagement of the Egyptians to try to broker a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas.  I’m not in a position to negotiate the terms of that cease-fire from here.  Secretary Kerry will be doing that directly with the Israelis and Palestinians and the Egyptians in the region. 

But we certainly welcome the constructive suggestions of interested observers.  The U.N. has, as you point out, traditionally played an important role in trying to broker these kinds of agreements.  I’m not in a position to say right now what’s acceptable or what’s not, what’s on the table or what’s not.  But I am in a position to say that Secretary Kerry has traveled to the region at the direction of the President with one specific goal in mind, which is to end the violence that right now is putting so many lives -- innocent lives -- at risk. 

Q    The U.N. was describing the humanitarian situation in Gaza as dire -- 100,000 Palestinians have been made homeless and they have no place to go except U.N. schools.  Is the White House helping in any kind of humanitarian aid, whether directly to the U.N. agency, UNRWA, that works there, or through USAID?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have that information in front of me.  I’d encourage you to check with the State Department.  But the United States is very concerned about the urgent humanitarian situation that does exist in Gaza right now.  Again, that humanitarian situation, at least in the short term, can be most importantly addressed by putting in place a cease-fire so that we don’t see these innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. 


Q    Is the White House comfortable with the idea that the Malaysian Prime Minister negotiated this deal with separatists that the administration regards as illegitimate and criminal occupiers of a certain part of Ukraine, a sovereign nation?  I mean, separate from the details, are you comfortable with that entire approach, instead of going through some other means?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not in a position to comment specifically on this announcement.  It broke right before I walked out.  But let me just say this:  I can certainly understand the sense of urgency that the Malaysian Prime Minister is feeling about this situation.  So one of his -- this government-owned airline was shot down.  There were a number of Malaysian citizens that were on board.  So his active engagement and sense of urgency on this issue is entirely understandable.

We’ve been very clear about what it is we would like to see, and we’d like to see a coordinated international effort to investigate what exactly happened.

Q    And does this in any way go toward legitimizing these separatists who control this territory in an extra-governmental way?

MR. EARNEST:  Not one bit.

Q    I asked this question last week and you answered it, so I hope you’ll do it again today, because there’s been a lot more that’s happened since then.  Does the administration believe anything the Israeli government has done in relationship to its military operations in Gaza have been disproportionate or a violation of international law, or a war crime?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what this administration believes is that we are -- what this administration believes is that the Israeli government has the right to defend their citizens.  And they have chosen to take some military action to try to provide for the protection of their citizens, and that military action is being conducted against a network of tunnels that Hamas has constructed to try to give them access to Israeli civilians.  It’s also being conducted against a range of rocket-firing sites that are used to aim rockets at innocent Israeli civilians.

So there is a clear case for the right that Israel is exercising the right to defend their citizens.  In terms of the consequences of those steps, we do want Israel to live up to their stated standards of ensuring as much as possible the safety and welfare of innocent civilians, including innocent Palestinian civilians.

It’s clear that a number -- a large number of innocent Palestinian civilians have died.  Our condolences are with the Palestinian people because of those deaths.  They are a tragedy.  The way to resolve this situation, however, is for both sides to agree to a cease-fire and, most importantly, for Hamas to stop firing rockets that are aimed squarely at civilians.

What’s important to understand is that the Israeli military has protocol in place to try to protect innocent bystanders, even as they’re conducting their operations.  On the other hand, Hamas is directly targeting innocent bystanders through their operations.

So we’re very concerned about this violence, and we are hopeful that Secretary Kerry will have some success in working with both sides and with the international community to try to bring about a cease-fire.

Q    When I asked you that question last week, your one-word answer was “no.”  So that was a much longer formulation today.  So it sounds to me as if the administration believes the Israeli government has been -- or is either closer to being disproportionate or has already been disproportionate in its military response.

MR. EARNEST:  I was just attempting to give you a as-detailed-as-possible understanding of our thinking about this situation.

Q    Well, can you give it a “yes” or “no” now?

Q    I offered you the opportunity to give me the same “no” that you gave me last week.  If you want to take it, don’t, but I’m offering you the exact same question, and last week your answer in one word was “no.”

MR. EARNEST:  Well, our position on this hasn’t changed, but it’s important for people to understand exactly what our thinking is and the way that we see this situation.  And it’s longer than just a one-word answer.

Q    Understood.  British Prime Minister David Cameron has said he opposes, and he thinks the French government ought to reconsider immediately its scheduled sale of two large front-line first-class amphibious launch vehicles -- vessels to the Russian government.  Does the United States government agree?

MR. EARNEST:  Major, I have not -- I know that this has been the subject of some discussion between the President and the French leader, but I’m not in a position to convey our current views on that military transaction at this point.

Q    Why not?

MR. EARNEST:  Just because I don’t have that answer in front of me.

Q    Well, the context --

MR. EARNEST:  I’m happy to have somebody on my staff follow up with you.

Q    The Prime Minister said this changes many, many things -- the downing of Malaysia Air Flight 17 -- and that it would be unconscionable for any European country concerned about this to press on with a military transaction of this magnitude.  The United States doesn’t have an opinion on that?

MR. EARNEST:  We probably do, I just don’t have it in front of me.  So I’ll have to follow up with you on that.


Q    Thank you.  You mentioned earlier that there are additional sanctions that are on the table under consideration.  Senator Toomey this morning said that the U.S. should do additional sanctions, but one of them ought to be a financial sanction that personally affects Putin.  Is there such a thing on the table, among others?  And what is the administration’s feeling about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we have, Roger, as you pointed out last week, put in place sanctions against some entities that operate in the defense, financial and energy sectors of the Russian economy.  We do anticipate that those sanctions will serve to impose some economic costs on Russia for the actions that they have taken in Ukraine so far.  And as Julie pointed out, that actually predates the downing of Malaysia flight -- Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by Russian-backed separatists. 

So the point is, there are significant steps that we’ve already taken as it relates to a sanctions regime to impose costs on Russia.  Those sanctions were put in place even before this recent tragic turn of events.

There are additional sanctions that are on the table, and the President will continue to be in touch with his European counterparts as we contemplate additional steps.

Q    Do they include ones that personally affect Putin?

MR. EARNEST:  It would be unwise for me, strategically, to talk about specific contemplated actions.  Again, to talk in detail about a specific sanctions regime before we put it in place would only allow the target of that sanctions regime to try to evade those sanctions that are put in place.

So I don’t want to send a signal one way or the other about what we’re contemplating.  But it is accurate to say that additional sanctions remain on the table, and imposing additional costs on Russia are an option.

Q    And a separate subject.  Ed Miliband, the Labor Party leader in the UK, is he at the White House today?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of his precise schedule, but we can check on that for you.


Q    Back to Malaysian flight -- Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 -- the President’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said, “We must stop at nothing to bring those responsible to justice.”  Does the President agree, I assume, with his U.N. Ambassador?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President certainly agrees that those who are responsible for this should be brought to justice.  There’s no doubt about that.  And that’s part of why it’s so important for us to have a thorough, transparent investigation to what exactly happened.

Q    So what does that mean, bringing those responsible to justice?  I assume you’re not simply talking about additional sanctions, you’re talking about bringing the perpetrators to justice.  How?  In what way?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, this is a terrible tragedy that the international community is involved in and is involved in addressing.  So that’s why the first step here will be an international investigation into what exactly occurred.  And ultimately, there will be an opportunity for the international community to make a determination about who exactly was responsible and how they should be held accountable.

Q    But I’m asking the “what.”  So what happens?  Are we talking about bringing the perpetrators before a tribunal?  Are we talking about a -- what kind of a response are you talking about?  “Bringing to justice,” it’s a very powerful statement.  I just wonder, what does it mean?

MR. EARNEST:  It is a powerful statement.  The first step, though, needs to be conducting an investigation into what exactly happened, then we can start to get down to who exactly is individually responsible and what sort of justice they deserve.

Q    But am I right in assuming that when you talk about bringing somebody to justice -- that sounds like something beyond sanctions.  Is that a correct interpretation?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t want to foreshadow what that might be.  Your interest in this I think is understandable, but it’s a couple of steps ahead of where we are right now.  What we’re focused on right now is making sure that those who are responsible for investigating this situation can get the access that they need to the crash site so they can conduct that investigation, determine what exactly happened, why it happened, and then we can get down the path of figuring out who is responsible.

Q    And why is it that the President’s Ambassador to the U.N. has seemed to be much more forceful on this than the President himself?  I mean, even today, the President’s line which was, “We have to make sure the truth is out and accountability exists,” as opposed to “the perpetrators must be brought to justice” --why is there a difference, at least in the tone, between the President and his ambassador?

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, I’ll leave it to you to analyze to communication styles of different members of the President’s team.  I think the President and his U.N. Ambassador have delivered a very forceful and direct message to the Russians that it’s time for them to play a constructive role in ending this crisis.

Q    On the warnings that were not given to civilian aircraft flying over there, I’m just wondering, has there been any look-back?  The United States government had clear indication that anti-missile systems were being moved into rebel areas; that Russian systems were being moved in a month before this happened.  Why wasn’t there a general aviation warning given out to say civilian commercial aircraft should not fly over this region?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s my understanding that the FAA did actually issue a notice to airmen about the conflict in that region as early as April, I believe.  Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of individual carriers to make decisions about these flight plans, and to make the decision to fly along these routes.

Q    Was the FAA warning for the area of Crimea or the area of where this happened?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have the specific language in front of me.  I believe it applied to this broader region, but we can check on that for you, or you can check with the FAA.

Q    And just one other thing.  You’ve had a few days to look back.  Was it a mistake to have the President continue on his schedule, even going in -- before making his first statement about this, go in ordering cheeseburgers at the Charcoal Pit up in Delaware and continue on a campaign schedule -- what looked like a campaign schedule, including fundraisers in New York?  Was that a mistake in hindsight?

MR. EARNEST:  It was not.  Again, what the President is looking at and what his team is looking at is, does he have what he needs to do his job.  And over the course of that day, you saw the President make calls to the Ukrainian President.  He made calls to the Malaysian Prime Minister --

Q    But only after he first went to the Charcoal Pit, right?  I mean, he went on his -- I mean --

MR. EARNEST:  Again, what the President is focused on is his ability to do his job.  And what we saw is the President make calls to the Ukrainian President, to the Malaysian Prime Minister, to the Dutch Prime Minister.  He called his Secretary of State.  And he convened a secure call with his national security team to talk about both the situation in Gaza and the situation in Ukraine. 

So the President had all the tools at his disposal that were necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the Commander-in-Chief, and that is what we were focused on.  And if there were a requirement for the President to change his schedule so that he could attend to this urgent priority and fulfill his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief, we would have not hesitated to make that change.  But in this case, the President was able to continue his schedule and ably fulfill his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief.  And I would anticipate that that’s what the President will do over the course of this week as well.


Q    Josh, on Jon’s question about bringing folks to justice -- is there any evidence that the sanctions so far have deterred Vladimir Putin?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there have been a number of signals that President Putin has sent about his involvement in this region.  We’ve talked about them over the course of the last several weeks -- that there have been situation where we’ve seen one or two steps forward and then one or two steps back.

So it is clear that President Putin, at a minimum, is sensitive to the isolation that he’s feeling from the international community, but we have not seen President Putin take the kinds of steps that we would like him to see in terms of using his influence in this region to encourage Russian-backed separatists to put an immediate halt to the violence in that area.

Q    You remember in 2012 the President was overheard talking to President Medvedev about, after the election -- tell Vladimir after the election I’ll have more flexibility.  Why didn’t that pan out?  That was specifically about missile defense.  But there was a suggestion that after the election he’d be able to work with President Putin.  Why didn’t that pan out?

MR. EARNEST:  I think you’d probably have to ask President Putin about that.  What we have seen is -- you’ve seen this President work with leaders throughout Europe and the international community to focus pressure and attention on President Putin’s actions in a way that I think has not served President Putin very well. 

We have -- if you’ll just sort of think back to how we got into this situation in Ukraine in the first place, there was essentially a puppet of the Putin regime that was ruling Ukraine six months ago.  And over the course of that six months we’ve seen a Ukrainian leader that actually reflects the will of the Ukrainian people elected.  We’ve seen that Ukrainian leader actually sign a cooperation agreement with Europe which was part of the uprising that was prompted in the first place. 

So if President Putin’s goal was to exercise greater influence and control over the nation of Ukraine as a whole, not only has he failed to accomplish that mission, I think he’s actually seen Ukraine sort of gravitate back into a way that he says that he’s not uncomfortable with.  Now, it’s the view of this administration and I think of the broader international community that there’s no reason that the nation of Ukraine can’t have a solid working relationship with their partner in Russia while at the same time having strong economic ties to Europe.  Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

But if Vladimir Putin was determined to try to bring Ukraine into his orbit on that aspect, at least over the course of the last six months, he’s failed miserably.

Q    Two other quick ones.  You mentioned the new Ukrainian President.  I believe he did an interview today and told Christiane Amanpour that he wants the U.S. to put these separatists on a U.S. terror list.  Is that something being considered?  Do you think that could be an effective tool to put more pressure on these separatists short of some sort of military action against them or something?  Could you put them on a list?  Could you target them?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know a number of them have already been targeted for sanctions, and some of them are subject to serious sanctions already.  In terms of a terrorist list, I’d encourage you to check with our national security apparatus for the criteria for adding someone to a list like that.

Q    Last one.  Secretary Kerry’s trip -- did he go there in part at the invitation of Prime Minister Netanyahu?  Did the Prime Minister express support for this in his phone call with President Obama?  There were some suggestions on the ground in Israel that Israel wants the U.S. to stay out of the way right now.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the Secretary and President Obama have been on the phone and in regular communication with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the last couple of weeks because of the urgent situation there.

Q    Communication.  But did he support the Secretary going -- Secretary Kerry going now and intervening, or does he want more time?

MR. EARNEST:  You’d have to check with Prime Minister Netanyahu specifically about that.

Q    But he was on the phone with the President, right?

MR. EARNEST:  He was, and they spoke about this quite a bit.  I think the President, for reasons I think that are entirely understandable to everybody in this room and even to the international community, sent Secretary Kerry to try to broker a cease-fire because the continued violence that we’re seeing there is not in the best interest of people on either side of that conflict.

Michelle from the Wall Street Journal.

Q    I want to go back to the language that Ambassador Power used earlier this week, where she said that the U.S. will “stop at nothing” to bring these rebels to justice.  What does “stop at nothing” mean?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, I mean, in terms of what the Ambassador had in mind, I’d encourage you to check with her.  I think what she was articulating, though, is a commitment on the part of the United States to do a couple of things.

The first is ensure that there is a thorough international investigation conducted into this incident.  The second is to ensure that the international community is in a position to hold responsible those who perpetrated this terrible act.  The third thing is to focus international attention on President Putin to get him to finally act in a constructive way to try to deescalate the conflict in that region.

It’s clear now that the impact of that instability has not just had negative consequences for the people of Ukraine, it’s not just had negative consequences for people in Eastern Europe, it’s had negative consequences for countries around the globe that lost citizens in the downing of that jetliner.  So we’re hopeful that this renewed international pressure will prod President Putin to actually act in a constructive fashion and try to destabilize the conflict in Ukraine and bring about a diplomatic resolution to resolve the differences.

Q    But is this administration considering taking any further diplomatic or military action to force an international investigation to go ahead?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we do believe that it is an important priority that an international investigation be conducted, and that international investigators who have professional training at reviewing crash sites like this get the kind of unfettered access that they need to determine what exactly happened.  That’s something that we consider to be a top priority.

Q    And one more question for you about the border crisis.  President Obama plans to meet with Central American leaders on Friday, I believe.  What action does he hope will come out of that meeting?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are a couple of things.  As you know, this is part of a long series of engagements between senior administration officials and Central American leaders.  The Vice President was traveling in the region in the last few weeks.  The Secretary of State was just there a couple of weeks ago.  I know that there are some phone conversations between the Secretary of Homeland Security and the leaders of these countries.

We’re encouraging them to do a couple of things.  The first is, we want to make sure that they understand and communicate to their citizenry that parents in their country should not entrust their children in the hands of criminals to make the dangerous journey to the border with the United States.  The reason for that is quite simple, is that even if those children survive that long, dangerous journey, they will not be welcomed into this country with open arms; that this administration is committed to enforcing the law. 

We'll certainly evaluate the asylum claims of those children if they have them, and they will be subject to due process.  But it is our expectation that after going through that due process that the majority of those children will be returned to their home country.  That is -- so there are any number of reasons to ensure that kids shouldn’t make that journey and we want the Presidents, the leaders of those countries to make that clear to their population. 

At the same time, the United States is interested in partnering with these countries to try to address some of the root causes of the desperation that so many of these people are feeling.  And there are a whole range of security cooperation agreements through the Department of Justice and development activities through USAID and the State Department that can be used to try to meet some of the needs of these populations.  We obviously want to administer these programs in close coordination with the Central American leaders and that will be part of those discussions.  I do anticipate we'll have a readout of those meetings when they’re concluded on Friday.


Q    Just a couple more things on Flight 17, because the President said at the top of his remarks today that it's been four days; clearly Vladimir Putin has not taken the action that either the President or the international community wants him, and I assume that with every passing day, maybe every passing hour, the anguish of these families increases, the usefulness of the physical evidence which is being mishandled decreases.  How much patience is there for diplomacy to work?  Is the clock ticking, and how loudly?

MR. EARNEST:  Patience is running out with the Russian separatists who are blocking access to the site.  We're talking about neutral, international, professional investigators who can look at the wreckage, who can examine the bodies, ensure that they’re treated well, and draw some conclusions about what exactly happened.  Everybody who has any interest in getting to the truth, in getting to the bottom of what exactly happened should be supportive of these international investigators getting the kind of access that they need. 

I understand that the Ukrainian government has actually put in place for their part a cease-fire for that region of the conflict to ensure that international investigators can do their work safely.  We’d like to see a corresponding step from the separatists be announced that would allow those investigators to have the safe, unfettered access they need to determine what exactly happened.

Q    But given the sensitivity both on the side of the families and on the side of the evidence, are we talking days?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we're hoping that this access will be granted immediately. 

Q    But in terms of the patience of -- before some sort of action is announced?

MR. EARNEST:  Patience is wearing thin.  And again, I think for obvious reasons -- and I think that was evident from the President’s statement earlier --

Q    Well, the President did speak on Friday, preceded by Samantha Power, followed by Secretary Kerry multiple times, and then again today.  Was there a new message?  If so, what was it and targeted to whom?

MR. EARNEST:  Right now, the message that the President delivered today was targeted to those Russian-backed separatists who are preventing access to the site.  It's very clear what they should do -- the President even described it as the least that they could do -- which is to allow those international investigators unfettered access to the site. 

Q    But no different than the message from Friday or Sunday?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we have not seen the kinds of -- in fact, I'm not even sure investigators were on the scene on Friday, at least in the numbers that they are now.  What is true now is that there are international investigators from around the world in the region, including investigators from the United States, by the way, who are eager to play a cooperative role in ensuring that there’s an impartial investigation conducted into what exactly happened.  And anybody that has any interest in the truth should be supportive of the effort to ensure that those investigators get the access that they need.  And we hope that that access will begin immediately.

Q    So the additional comments today were prompted by the frustration that now that there are people on the ground, that they’re being denied access?

MR. EARNEST:  They are being denied access -- that we've seen situations where Russian-backed separatists have fired weapons in the air to try to intimidate these investigators.  And there are a whole range of investigators with a lot of different capabilities -- some of them have forensic experience; some of them have experience in evaluating wreckage; others have experience in ensuring the proper handling of the bodies of those who lost their lives.  So we're talking about a wide range of investigators and experts who are on the scene.  And we need the thugs who are toting guns, who are backed by the Russians, to give them the access they need to do their job.

Anita, I'll give you the last one.

Q    I just wanted to get back to the meeting on Friday, since we won't actually see you here for briefings before then. The message you said that the President was going to convey to the leaders in Central America, isn't that the same message that the Vice President conveyed whenever that was -- a few weeks ago? Or has something changed?  Clearly, things have changed in this country politically.  People are talking more about the border crisis.  But the message is still the same, correct?  And if so, why is it so important that they’re coming here?  The Vice President was just there.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it's important because it demonstrates the continued engagement in solving this problem.  It also demonstrates our willingness to coordinate with these local countries to try to address some of the root causes of this illegal migration that we're seeing.  A lot of families out there are responding to an increased feeling of desperation, to try to find some respite or some oasis from the violence that is pervasive in their communities.  So having a meeting with the President of the United States and having the President inform the leaders of those countries that the United States is committed to putting in place these programs that would address these challenges, and work with them cooperatively to implement these programs I think is an important statement, and I think it demonstrates the willingness of this administration to try to resolve this problem.

There are some things that have changed.  I mentioned the numbers at the top.  We have seen a reduction, at least for now, in the flow of individuals from the Central American countries to the border.  We have seen a stepped-up campaign from Customs and Border Patrol in Spanish-language media in Central America to try to make clear why parents should not put their kids on this dangerous journey.  So there are a number of things that we have implemented even since the Vice President was last there.  But I think this kind of follow-up at the presidential level sends a pretty important signal about how serious we are.

Q    It’s stronger when it comes from the President?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it's a stronger message and I think it's also part of our commitment to sort of sustained engagement. 

As I alluded to in a previous answer, this is the kind of situation that we were closely following before it was so prominently covered in the media.  And I anticipate that we are going to remain engaged in addressing this problem even when there are other things that are grabbing headlines.

Q    Okay, you’re starting to say the same thing.  So there will be a readout?  There’s no public event on Friday?  We won't hear statements from the leaders?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I think that you’ll at least hear from the President as he meets with them.  We're still working through the details, but I would anticipate that you’ll hear from him.

Q    Okay.  And finally, just because this matters to us -- you mentioned The Washington Post story before.  They’re not here right now. 

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, they’re not.

Q    That story did not just --

MR. EARNEST:  I noticed that, too.

Q    -- have anonymous sources.  It had both in it.  And I'm not --

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not sure that that's true.  I'm happy to


Q    That is true.  People have been tweeting it.  Okay, beyond The Washington Post story, I just want to point out --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, hold on a second.  I'm not saying that there aren't people quoted on the record in the story.  There are people quoted on the record in the story.  Cecilia Muñoz from the White House is quoted in the story.  But the lead of that story is hooked entirely to anonymous sources.  That's a fact.

Q    Okay.  Well, I'll let the folks deal with whatever --

MR. EARNEST:  If they choose to show up they can defend themselves.

Q    Okay, forget that story and I'll just say more broadly something that you know that we always say, which is you criticize anonymous sources, but we have anonymous sources from you all every day.  I think we have a call today.  I mean, how can you criticize that when that's what you basically give us every day, except for the briefing?

MR. EARNEST:  Except for the briefing.  Except for the fact I've been standing here for an hour answering all of your questions --

Q    We have anonymous sources every single day.

MR. EARNEST:  -- which is an important practice.  And this is a symbol that we're committed to.  The President is traveling tomorrow; I'm going to do a briefing tomorrow.  We are committed to this process.  And that's why we do this briefing on the record. 

Q    You’re also committed to anonymous sources.  I'm just saying. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we've had this discussion a couple of times in this forum and we can have that conversation. 

Q    Yes, and I just wanted to point it out.

MR. EARNEST:  I did point it out.  Here’s what -- again, here is what I will point out and this is what I think is important.  I'm not suggesting that they shouldn’t run their story.  It's not my place to suggest that.  The people who represent that empty seat right there can make their own decisions about what stories to run.  They’re entirely entitled to doing that.  What I think is important is that greater weight should be granted to those who are willing to put a face and a name with specific claims. 

Cecilia Muñoz, who is the President’s top immigration advisor, is in that story conveying exactly the White House position.  And I spent the last hour in here talking to all of you because I'm putting my face and my name with this administration’s positions.  And in the course of reporting, I think it's important -- based on my own personal view -- for those kinds of quotes and those kinds of stories to be given greater weight than just anonymous sources. 

So what that means is if you have anonymous sources at the White House who are telling you something and you're going to say to them, that anonymous source, look, I'm going to give your side of the story a little less weight right now because you're telling me this anonymously -- that would be an entirely credible thing for you to do.  To suggest that somebody who is willing to put their name and their face and their title and their position along with a story that they want to tell -- that deserves some added weight as people are reporting on individual stories.

And I think this is the case that I hear from journalists as they’re evaluating whether or not to report based on anonymous sources here at the White House.  I think that is a credible claim.  The problem and the frustration that I might be showing just a little bit right now is that there are times when there are anonymous outside voices, as is the case with The Washington Post story, that are given greater weight than on-the-record sources from the White House when it pertains to information about what’s happening at the White House.  And that is the source of frustration that is occasionally expressed, even occasionally expressed from this podium. 

Q    So, Josh, would you guys commit then when we have situations like today’s call, which is people specifically picked by the White House to roll out a policy of the White House, would you commit to have those people speak on the record if there doesn’t seem to be a reason to put them on background and have it be anonymous?

MR. EARNEST:  What I will commit to is a case-by-case evaluation of the background -- or the ground rules of each of these kinds of calls and a commitment to an open dialogue with you about the ground rules that will serve your interests and the White House interest the best.

Q    And consistency in the weighting that you just described?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the weighting decisions that I have described are actually decisions that are made by reporters -- as they should be. 

Q    And you can make them as well.

MR. EARNEST:  What do you mean?

Q    You can make a weighting decision consistent with the benefit of having people with names, titles and positions on background calls to articulate White House policy.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no, I think what I'm saying is that if you participate in a background call that's hosted by the White House and you say, well, we're going to give that a little less weight because it's anonymous sources, I think that is a much easier position for you to defend than it is for other stories when you're reporting information from the White House where a greater weight --

Q    We're not interested in -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that is the position that Anita was defending, because The Washington Post wasn’t here to defend themselves.  They didn’t show up today, so --

Q    Separate issue.  White House calls --

Q    I'm not to blame --

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not blaming you.  I'm just -- I'm not blaming you.

Q    Separate issue -- White House calls on White House policy should be on the record.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, we'll evaluate that on a --

Q    -- based on the weighting as you just described --

MR. EARNEST:  The weighting as described was a journalistic decision that is, as it should be, made by independent journalists. 

So, with that, I hope you all have a wonderful afternoon.  And enjoy the afternoon call today.

Q    Well, we know how it started, that's for sure.  (Laughter.) 

MR. EARNEST:  Absolutely.

2:39 P.M. EDT

Close Transcript