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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 1/12/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room


1:30 P.M. EST
 
MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  We’ve got a full house today.  Let me just do a quick statement at the top and then we’ll move to your questions.
 
Obviously, a lot has happened since we all convened in this room six days ago, most importantly the terrible terror attacks that we saw in Paris last week.  And I expect that we’ll have ample opportunity to talk about that over the course of this briefing today.
 
However, before we do, let me also note something else important that happened, which is that House Republicans put forward Department of Homeland Security funding legislation through the end of fiscal year 2015.  Unfortunately, Republicans have also unveiled plans to muck around with that legislation.  This is legislation that funds our efforts to protect our ports and our borders.  It provides aviation security.  It bolsters our cybersecurity.  It coordinates with state and local authorities to improve our counterterrorism resilience in communities across the country.  And, yes, it enforces our immigration laws.
 
There’s never a good time for Republicans to do something like this, but right now it seems like a particularly bad time for them to do so.  Republicans have said they’re doing this because they have a political or ideological objection to the President’s executive action on immigration.  So let me repeat what you’ve heard me say before:  The President’s plan would bring some badly needed accountability to our immigration system by requiring undocumented workers -- I’m sorry, undocumented immigrants who have been in this country for more than five years to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, submit to a background check, and pay taxes.
 
The Republican plan would undo all of that and send the country back in the direction of doing nothing, which is something that no less an authority than Marco Rubio has said is amnesty.  So I guess that means there’s probably a lot of reasons to think that what Republicans are planning on the DHS funding bill is a bad idea.
 
So with that, Jim, do you want to get us started with questions today?
 
Q    Thanks, Josh.  Just to follow up on that -- so the President would veto this legislation that the House has assembled?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ve made clear, dating back to last fall, that the President would oppose any legislative effort to undermine the executive actions that he took to add greater accountability to our immigration system.
 
Q    Can you tell us anything about this hacking of CENTCOM, how disruptive was it?  Do you have any information on it?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Jim, I don’t have a lot of information on this.  It just occurred within the last hour or so.  I can tell you this is something that we’re obviously looking into and something that we take seriously.  However, just a note of caution to folks as they’re covering this story, there’s a pretty significant difference between what is a large data breach and the hacking of a Twitter account.  So we’re still examining and investigating the extent of this incident, but I don’t have any information beyond that for you.
 
Q    On the topic du jour, why did neither President Obama or Vice President Biden or Eric Holder attend the Paris solidarity march this Sunday?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I can tell you that what was on the television screens of people across this country and I think even across the globe was a remarkable display of unity by the French people in the face of these terrible terror attacks.  And the way that that country has come together I do think struck a chord and inspired people all across the world and throughout this country.  It was a remarkable display.
 
 
There were also a number of other world leaders who were there to participate and show their support as well.  And some have asked whether or not the United States should have sent someone with a higher profile than the ambassador to France, and I think it’s fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there. 
 
That said, there is no doubt that the American people and this administration stand foursquare behind our allies in France as they face down this threat.  And that was evident throughout last week, when you saw that the President’s top counterterrorism advisor here at the White House was in touch with her French counterpart minutes after the reports of this terror attack first emerged.  You saw later in the day that the President of the United States telephoned President Hollande to not just express his condolences on behalf of the American people to the people of France but also to pledge any needed cooperation and assistance to conduct the investigation and to bring to justice those who are responsible for those terror attacks.
 
I can tell you that that kind of coordination that is the backbone of the strong relationship between the United States and France continues.  It continued throughout the weekend, and it continues today.  In fact, I can tell you that the French ambassador to the United States will be here at the White House later today to meet with Lisa Monaco, who is, as I mentioned earlier, is the President’s top counterterrorism advisor.
 
Q    How much higher a profile do you think should have -- or does the President think should have been there?  Eric Holder was in the city and did television talk show shows that morning.  Should he have been the person representing the U.S.?  Or at what level would the President have been satisfied with that presence?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can tell you, Jim, that had the circumstances been a little bit different, I think the President himself would have liked to have had the opportunity to be there.
 
Q    Why not --
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the fact is, that is this is obviously a march that the planning for which only began on Friday night and 36 hours later it had begun.  What’s also clear is that the security requirements around a presidential-level visit or even a vice presidential-level visit are onerous and significant.  And in a situation like this, they typically have a pretty significant impact on the other citizens who are trying to participate in a large public event like this.  We talk about this a lot when it comes to the President attending a basketball game, but the fact of the matter is there were not just thousands of people at the event -- there were millions.  It wasn’t just an arena that needed to be secured, but a large outdoor area that poses significant security challenges.
 
I’m confident that the professionals at the Secret Service could overcome those challenges, but it would have been very difficult to do so without significantly impacting the ability of common citizens to participate in this march.  And after all, what I think was so impressive about this display is it demonstrated the unity of the French people.  And that is something that we are always mindful of in situations like this, of interfering with those who are trying to attend an event, particularly when the purpose of the event is to demonstrate the unity of spirit and purpose of the people who are coming together.
 
Q    This consideration of perhaps having had a more prominent presence there, is that something that just has been considered at the White House today, or was it something you considered doing on Friday when you first knew that this was going to happen?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I’m not going to sort of unpack all of the planning and discussions that went into this.  But I think suffice it to say there should not be, and there is not any doubt in the minds of the people in France or people around the world, and certainly not among our enemies, about how committed to a strong relationship that the United States is with France, and committed to the same kinds of values that they are. 
 
I think in some ways, most importantly, the people who understand this best of all are the French people themselves.  And I did note that the French ambassador was on television earlier today in which he described the French people as overwhelmed by the expression of solidarity and grief from all corners of the American people, including from the highest levels of the administration.
 
Steve.
 
Q    Josh, just to follow up on this, did you consider having the President go, or was it something that was just developing too late to actually pull together in time?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Steve, as I mentioned to Jim, I’m just not going to be in a position to sort of unpack the scheduling planning discussions that we have here.  But what I can tell you is that there are some who have suggested that the U.S. presence at the march should have been represented by somebody with a higher profile than the ambassador to France.  And I guess what I’m saying is that we here at the White House agree that somebody with a higher profile should have also included --
 
Q    And did the French ask you to come?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Steve, I’m not aware of all the conversations that may have occurred between French officials and American officials here.
 
Q    There’s been plenty of criticism about this.  Is this criticism fair?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, criticism from whom?
 
Q    A wide variety of -- everybody from --
 
MR. EARNEST:  But nobody that comes to mind?
 
Q    I can give you --
 
MR. EARNEST:  Go ahead, Steve.  It’s your turn to ask the question, so you can --
 
Q    Ted Cruz --
 
MR. EARNEST:  Ted Cruz.
 
Q    Jake Tapper.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Jake Tapper did have some criticism.  I saw that too.
 
Q    Marco Rubio.
 
Q    -- throw out some names.
 
Q    There are other Republicans too. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  So, Steve, you're asking?
 
Q    Is this criticism fair?
 
MR. EARNEST:  It is certainly a free country, and people have the opportunity to subject their elected officials to criticism and make it clear when they disagree with a decision or an action that's been taken by the administration, and I certainly wouldn’t quibble with their right to do so.  And to the extent that there are those who are out there saying that the administration should have sent someone with a higher profile to participate in the march, I guess what I’m saying is that we agree that we should have sent someone with a higher profile -- again, in addition to the ambassador to France.
 
Q    Let me just ask one last thing, sort of related to this.  President Hollande has called the Paris attacks an “act of war.”  How does this change your strategy toward going after Islamic State?  Are the French now going to be stronger partners?  Or how do you interpret this?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, there’s an important leap that's made in the construct of the question there, which is there still is an investigation that's ongoing to determine exactly what the links were between these individuals who were responsible for these terror attacks in France and their communications and support from extremists in other locations around the globe. 
 
There’s some reporting -- public reporting -- that I’m referring to that indicates that these individuals may have had links to or even traveled to Yemen.  I know that there is a video that's emerged today that we're still reviewing here in which one of the terrorists indicate some sympathy and support from ISIL. 
 
So we're reviewing all of this and trying to assist the French as they take the lead on the investigation, as they should, about who is responsible, what kind of support they had, and what links that has to other extremist groups around the world.
 
Move around just a little bit.  Laura.
 
Q    Thank you.  Merci.  How did the President follow the demonstration yesterday?  And what was his personal feeling when he was looking at all those American channels airing the demonstration for hours?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Laura, I don't know how much of the march the President watched on television, but I can tell you that the comments that I have reiterated today about the rather impressive display of unity and solidarity from the French people is something that the President made note of as well.  And these are messages that were most importantly sent by the citizens of France, but they were echoed by people all across the globe.  And there were many ways people could demonstrate those expressions of support -- everything from an op-ed to a tweet to a speech at the Golden Globes Awards last night. 
 
And I think that is indicative of the kind of solidarity that the American people feel with our allies in France -- not just because of the terrible tragedy that they’ve endured, but also because of the kinds of values that they fight for.  These are the same kinds of values that we hold dear in this country.  And I think that's why the bond between the United States and France is so strong today.
 
Q    When the demonstration began at one o’clock in the afternoon in Paris, the White House sent a message at seven o’clock in the morning here, by email, the U.S. saying that there will be a summit to fight violent extremism.  What is your point there?  What do you expect from this summit?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me say a couple of things about that.  This effort to counter violent extremism is something that we've talked about quite a bit over the years.  This has long been a focal point of our planning when it comes to our counterterrorism strategy. 
 
The other thing that I would anticipate that we would expect to discuss in the context of the summit is to invite leaders from the private sector and technology community to discuss how extremists are using social media platforms to try to inspire acts of violence and inspire extremism -- expressions of extremism by other people.  And we want to talk about strategies that we can employ to better promote pluralism, inclusion and resilience in communities all across the country.
 
One of the other things that we would expect that we would talk about in a summit like this would be to highlight the experience of some pilot programs that have operating in cities like Boston, Los Angeles, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where local officials have really employed some pioneering techniques to try to work very closely in their communities to, again, root out efforts to inspire and recruit extremists, or to propagate extremist ideology in a way that's not good for the country and certainly not good for the communities where that may be occurring. 
 
So there are some very interesting, innovative techniques that are being employed, and we want to share those best practices with other local officials who’d participate in this summit.
 
Q    And will you speak about the battle against Islamist extremism?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, all forms of violent extremism would certainly be discussed in the context of this summit.  But obviously the threat that we see from violent extremism in which individuals invoke the name of Islam, an otherwise peaceful religion, as they carry out these attacks would certainly be obviously a priority in the discussion here.
 
Ed.
 
Q    Josh, why wouldn’t you use the phrase right there, that we are going to take on Islamist extremism?  You said all forms of violent extremism. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  She asked me what the summit would discuss, and all forms of violent extremism would be discussed, and obviously the most potent and certainly the most graphic display that we’ve seen in recent days is, again, motivated by those individuals that seek to invoke the name of Islam to carry out these violent attacks.  And that’s certainly something that we want to work very hard to counter and mitigate, and we’ve got a strategy that we’ve been discussing for some time to exactly do that.
 
Q    So if it’s the most potent form, according to you, of extremism, why isn’t the summit on countering Islamic extremism?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Because violent extremism is something that we want to be focused on, and it’s not just Islamic violent extremism that we want to counter; there are other forms of --
 
Q    The recent cases in Paris, Australia, Canada -- isn’t the thread through them that it’s Islamic extremism?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, certainly the examples that you cite are examples of individuals who have cited Islam as they’ve carried out acts of violence.  There’s no arguing that.
 
Q    You said several times we should have sent someone higher than the ambassador.
 
MR. EARNEST:  With a higher profile than the ambassador, that’s correct.
 
Q    Question:  Why didn’t you?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ed, I’ve sort of tried to describe to you exactly the situation here, that we’re talking about a march that came together with essentially 36 hours’ notice and a march that occurred outdoors with an obviously very large number of people that participated.  We are mindful any time the President goes to a public place, or the Vice President for that matter, that we don’t want -- or at least we want to try to mitigate the impact that the security precautions would have on those who are participating in this public event.  And there’s no doubt that had the President or Vice President on this very short timeframe gone to participate in this event that took place outdoors with more than a million people in attendance, that it would have significantly impacted the ability of those who were attending the march to participate in the way that they did yesterday.
 
Q    Everyone acknowledges the President’s safety is of utmost.  It’s not an issue at all.  Of course his security is important and you don’t want to detract from the event.  How do you explain then that the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he made it there?  He’s a huge target obviously, unfortunately.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I will allow the Israelis to discuss what security precautions they had in place.
 
Q    There were dozens of leaders -- dozens of leaders from countries that are very important.  They’re not America, but very important.  How did they make it there?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I’m not suggesting that they aren’t at all.
 
Q    How did they make it there?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Ed, you should talk to them about the security precautions they have in place.  You’ve been to enough -- look, you have been to enough events where the President is attending a conference or a summit with other world leaders, and I think that you have seen firsthand that the security precautions that are in place for the President of the United States -- this has been true of previous Presidents, too -- are sometimes more onerous than the precautions that are put in place for other world leaders.
 
Q    Sure.  In the Mandela funeral there were dozens of dozens of leaders.  The American security might be more, but it comes up in short notice.  Unfortunately, Mandela dies, and you wanted to be there.  You made it.  How did that come together then?
 
MR. EARNEST:  The difference with President Mandela is that there had been discussions that had been ongoing for, frankly, a number of years about the ceremony that would take place in the event of his death.  And so there was a much clearer --
 
Q    But you guys didn’t know what day.
 
MR. EARNEST:  That’s right.  But there was a much clearer plan that was already in place that could be followed for executing that event on a short timeframe.  There obviously was nothing in place because I don’t think anybody contemplated the kind of attack that we saw in Paris.
 
Q    You said the President personally wishes -- he would have liked to have gone.  Why didn’t he?  What was he doing on Sunday?  We haven’t gotten an accounting of what the President did Sunday.
 
MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t spoken to the President about what he did yesterday.
 
Q    Why not?  I mean, you obviously prepared for this and you’ve said many times -- the most transparent administration -- what was the President doing?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Ed, I guess I prepared for a lot of questions today, but I did not prepare for a question based on what the President was actually doing yesterday.
 
Q    You didn’t -- okay.  Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris, and they put out a statement -- his office -- saying that he had very important meetings.  No one would counter that the counterterror meetings were very important.  One would assume that the French officials who attended those meetings -- some of them, anyway -- probably went to this rally.  And the Attorney General’s office says that he had to get back to Washington on Sunday afternoon; that was one reason why he couldn’t make the rally.  Why couldn’t the Attorney General?  He was in that city.  So there’s no issue of -- security was already in place.  How could he not attend?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Ed, I am not aware of the details of the Attorney General’s schedule for yesterday.  But if you are asking whether or not somebody like the Attorney General should have attended or should have been asked by the White House to attend, what I am telling you is that, yes, we believe somebody with a higher profile should have been asked to attend.
 
Q    What about this rally in D.C.?  There was a rally, I believe it was a march from the Newseum to the French Embassy.  We should note the President did go to the French Embassy last week, obviously.  He signed a condolence book, he expressed his solidarity with the French people.  But I understand the President is probably not going to go marching through the streets of D.C., but the White House Chief of Staff, the Vice President, a Cabinet secretary somewhere -- how come you didn’t have someone in D.C. at a rally?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ed, I know that there were a number of administration officials that did participate in that rally.  I think a lot of them -- or in that march -- and I think a lot of them participated -- would have done so even if they weren’t members of the administration.
 
But I can tell you, Ed, that for all of this talk, there is no doubt, and there should be no doubt, about this commitment of the administration and the commitment of the American people to standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies in France as they deal with the aftermath of these terrible terrorist attacks and as they continue the fight for the kinds of values that we hold so dear on both sides of the Atlantic.
 
Justin.
 
Q    I want to talk about cyber, but I had a question on the anti-extremism summit.  It had been originally scheduled for October, or it was supposed to be in October and then it seemed like it was delayed a couple times.  Could you just talk about why that was delayed, why it didn’t happen back in October?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, there have been a number of discussions about how exactly -- about how this was going to come together.  And trying to schedule among state and local leaders, leaders in the private sector, community leaders from other places across the country is difficult.  But I guess I can say that -- what I would say is that this is something that we’ve been focused on for quite some time; that this notion of countering violent extremism has been a central focal point of our counterterrorism strategy for a long time, dating back to February of 2010, when then-Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and current CIA Director John Brennan gave a speech at NYU’s Islamic Center and the Islamic Law Students Association at NYU where they discussed the need to counter efforts to recruit people in the name of violent extremism, and the efforts -- and the need to work closely with local law enforcement and with community leaders to try to counter that message.
 
Q    So was the scheduling incidental, like you were just able to corral everybody?  Or was Paris kind of an impetus that enabled you to bring people in for this meeting next month?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess what I would say is that this -- certainly, that the tragic events that we saw in Paris last week are a reminder of how important it is for us to be vigilant about this specific issue. 
 
And this summit, as I have described earlier, will be an important opportunity for us to talk about some of the strategies that we have in place, to mitigate the messages that are emanating in social media to try recruit people in the name of violent extremism.  And we certainly also look forward to the opportunity to hearing from local officials and leaders of communities all across the country about how they’ve worked together in a way to mitigate those messages and to counter them.  And it should be an opportunity for those kinds of best practices to be shared with local officials from all across the country that will participate in this event.
 
Q    All right.  And then on cyber, the President said today that he’s going to announce legislation tomorrow to encourage collaboration between companies and the government on cybersecurity practices and information.  But it sounds a lot like CISPA, which is the legislation that's been kind of languishing on Capitol Hill for a couple of years, you guys had voiced concerns about that before.  So I’m wondering, has that changed?  Or are we going to hear a different version of that legislation tomorrow?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ll save tomorrow’s news for tomorrow.  But you have heard me say on a number of occasions that we’ve been pretty disappointed that Congress has not fulfilled their responsibility that they have to deal with this critically important issue.  And that's why you heard the President talk a little bit today about some legislative proposals that he’s going to send up in the name of strengthening consumer protections and making sure that consumers and students get the kind of protection and assurances that they deserve when it comes to their privacy. 
 
We would hope that that would not be something that would get bogged down in partisan debates.  This is something we should all be able to agree on.  We’ll see.  I think the same thing -- same description could apply to the kinds of cybersecurity legislation that the President looks forward to talking about tomorrow.  But for the details of that, we’ll have more on that for you.
 
Q    Well, Senator Thune issued a statement today saying that the President had gone kind of absent on the cybersecurity measures.  I think I asked you a couple of weeks ago if you guys were bringing people in for briefings or pushing this type of thing.  One of the proposals the President unveiled today actually is kind of a recast of this 2011 proposal; now it’s 30 days instead of 60 days to trigger a data breach notification.  So why is it going to be different?  And what are you guys going to do differently this time to kind of encourage it to move on the Hill?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I do think that certainly in the aftermath of some of the more recent cyber-attacks that we’ve seen that have been carried out against a number of private companies -- including most recently Sony -- hopefully that got the attention of people on Capitol Hill, that they actually need to fulfill their responsibilities to actually make progress on this issue.  And the proposal that we have sent up, or will send up, is one that does have the strong support of consumer groups because they recognize how important it is for companies to fulfill their obligations to communicate clearly with their consumers and their customers to make sure those customers can take appropriate steps to protect their privacy and protect against identity theft.
 
At the same time, this is also welcome news to industry, because this clarity associated with one specific national standard would make it clear to them what sort of obligations they need to fulfill to their customers. 
 
Right now there’s a little bit of a hodge-podge of requirements that vary by state.  And by putting in place a tough national standard, it will add some clarity to businesses and make them more effective in their response and more effective in communicating with their customers in a timeline that's appropriate and will ensure that customers can keep their privacy safe.
 
Jon.
 
Q    Josh, will the United States take part in any retaliation once it’s established who was responsible behind?  If AQAP was determined to have been behind this attack in Paris, or ISIS proves to have been behind it, will there be a response that will include the United States?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Jon, a possible response is not something that I’m in a position to talk about at this point.  The two organizations that you cite are obviously under intense pressure from the United States and our allies already.  And I would anticipate that that pressure will continue.  But that would have been the case even if we had not seen these terrible terror attacks carried out last week.
 
But we're going to work closely with the French as they investigate exactly what happened.  I know that there is some information about two of the individuals that the United States has been aware of and shared with our French counterparts, including some information about their travel history.  But at this point I’m not in a position to speculate about what sort of response the French may decide is appropriate and what sort of role the United States would play in that response.
 
Q    Are we losing ground in the war on terror?  We obviously have this terrible attack in Paris.  I asked you last week about what has happened with Boko Haram in Nigeria; they’ve gained incredible territory, they’ve taken over a military base.  Obviously, we have the ongoing efforts in Syria and in Iraq.  It looks a lot messier out there than it did when the President was talking just a year ago about decimating core al Qaeda and just the JV team being out there.  Are we -- give me like a status report on the war on terror.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, there certainly are experts who are better positioned to do that than I.  But let me give you --
 
Q    But what’s the White House view on this?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Let me take a run at this.  Our counterterrorism officials say that the biggest challenge, one of the most difficult things to detect and disrupt are attacks that are carried out by lone offenders or by foreign fighters.  There are certainly a wide range of steps that we can take and are taking.  I talked about some of them earlier in terms of trying to counter the extremist ideology that's propagated on social media.  There certainly are steps that this administration takes to monitor the movements of individuals that have recently traveled to areas like Syria where it's possible they may have sought training with militants in that region of the world.
 
The President, as you will recall, last fall convened a United Nations Security Council meeting where he discussed with other world leaders the need to coordinate activities as we counter the threat from foreign fighters.  These are individuals with Western passports that travel to Syria or Iraq.  They do pose a threat when they return from that region that they may carry out acts of violence in their home countries, and that's something that we're very aware of.  And it requires a very high level of coordination to monitor the movements of those individuals.  And we're going to continue to be engaged in a very high level of coordination with the French not just as they investigate this specific attack, but also as we assess the threat from other individuals and other entities that may be operating and may aspire to carry out acts of violence against Westerners or against American interests.
 
Q    But I’m asking if you look at developments over the past year, you look at the lone wolf attacks in Ottawa and in Australia, you look at this attack in Paris by terrorists that may well be tied to both al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, you have what Boko Haram has done in Nigeria, and you have our inability to push ISIS out of Iraq -- I mean, isn't it a fair assessment to say it looks like we are losing ground or the terrorists are beginning to get an upper hand?  Not to mention the latest development today with a terrorist group apparently, or at least they’re sympathizers with a terrorist group, taking over CENTCOM’s Twitter account, its YouTube channel.  I mean, it seems like some lost momentum, doesn’t it?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No, I don't share that assessment at all, Jon.  On the military side, we can run through some statistics here.  Over the skies of Iraq there are now seven countries that are flying combat missions alongside U.S. forces.  In Syria --
 
Q    ISIS still controls Mosul.
 
MR. EARNEST:  In Syria, there are four nations that are flying with the United States.  And to date, that coalition has conducted over 1,700 airstrikes against ISIL terrorists, more than 960 of them in Iraq and close to 790 of them in Syria.  That means that regularly our coalition is taking out ISIL fighters, their commanders, hundreds of vehicles and tanks, nearly 260 oil and gas facilities.  This is the infrastructure that affects -- that funds their acts of terror.
 
They’ve also taken out more than 1,000 fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings, barracks in and around -- in Iraq and in Syria.  That's the reason that ISIL’s momentum has been blunted in Iraq, and it is why their leaders are feeling more pressure than they ever have before.  And all of that is a testament to the success that this President has had in building an international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
 
What’s also true is that the threat that we face now is very dispersed, and that does pose a set of unique challenges.  But there is, as tragic as the events were in France last week, a difference between the ability of core al Qaeda to spend years on a conspiracy involving dozens of individuals in the United States to carry out horrific attacks, like they did on September 11th, 2001, and the terribly violent actions of one or two or three individuals.  It’s a different kind of threat and it is one that poses its own unique set of challenges.  And it is why we can talk about the success that we have had in truly decimating core al Qaeda that used to exist and operate with impunity in the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the kind of threat that we face now from individuals who in many cases are being radicalized through social media and carrying out either lone wolf attacks or are individuals who have traveled to the region and gotten some expertise and returned to the fight.

This is all something that we’re very mindful of, and I’m not in a position to downplay the risk associated with all this, but it is important to understand the kind of pressure that these leading extremists -- or the individuals who are leading these extremist groups are under right now.  And they’re under that pressure because of the counterterrorism strategy that this administration has put in place.

Q    So if I can just do a couple quick ones on the march.  You said you should have sent somebody with a higher profile.  Why?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess for a couple of reasons.  One is we want to send a clear message, even in a symbolic context like this one, that the American people stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in France.  And sending a high-level, highly visible senior administration officials with a high profile to that march would have done that.  That said, in reality there is no doubting the strong degree of support and allegiance that we share with the French people to the kinds of values that were under attack last week in Paris.  And that is evidenced by the President’s call with President Hollande; the President’s visit to the French Embassy here in Washington last week; the close level of coordination that exists between counterterrorism officials in the United States and counterterrorism officials in France in the ongoing meetings, including the one that’s probably taking place right now between the French Ambassador and the President’s top counterterrorism advisor.

Q    So you acknowledge it was a mistake not to send somebody higher profile to that march in Paris.  Whose mistake was it?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, I’m not going to be in a position to sort of unpack the logistical and scheduling conversations that have taken place here at the White House over the last several days.  But what I can do is acknowledge to you that we should have sent somebody with a higher profile.

Richard.

Q    I just want to go back to the summit in February.  I just want to make clear -- are foreign leaders invited to this summit?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have an exact invite list to present at this point, but we certainly would welcome the participation of people from other countries, if they chose to do so.  I think the focal point, however, will be on the efforts that local communities all across the country have undertaken to try to counter this threat in their individual communities and to talk about some of the strategies that the United States would employ to protect American citizens.  But I wouldn’t rule out necessarily that there may be an opportunity for non-Americans to participate as well.
 
Q    And I just want to go a little further, Josh.  Is it a show -- are we going to try to make it a show of solidarity in front of violent extremism, or is it going to be like a technical summit where people are going to come up, foreigners or local -- or Americans with their ideas and their -- the thing to build up to face this?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I would anticipate that you can describe this as a working event.  This is an opportunity for us to take a very close look at policies that are in place to protect the American people and to review, again, in very detailed fashion some of the best practices that have been used by other communities to build strong connections between local enforcement officials and community leaders to protect those communities and to try to counter the kind of extremist messaging that we see on social media that’s targeted at disaffected individuals.  And we want to make sure that we’re working with community leaders and law enforcement to counter that messaging and to protect our communities.
 
Alexis.
 
Q    Josh, two quick questions.  What does the President believe is the right approach to take to an English-language propaganda magazine like “Inspire”?  Because that’s come up so much this weekend as enjoining and encouraging violent extremism. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the focal point of our countering violent extremism efforts has been on countering the extremist messaging that’s propagated so broadly out there in the Internet.  And this is a unique challenge that counterterrorism officials have to deal with.  As recently as 15 or 20 years ago, this is obviously not much that they had to contemplate because the Internet wasn’t so well developed.  And so this does pose a pretty unique challenge, and it’s one that we spend a lot of time working on.
 
Let me tell you a couple of ways in which we have tried to counter this.  The first is by encouraging moderate voices, particularly in the Muslim community, to speak up and speak out against this.  That as Muslim leaders would tell you -- those who have studied and practiced this religion would tell you -- Islam is a peaceful religion.  And the kinds of violent acts that are advocated in the outlet that you have described is entirely inconsistent with the basic principles of that peaceful religion.
 
And what’s important is not just for me to stand up here and say that, but for respected leaders in the Muslim community to come forward and say that, not just in the United States but around the world.  And there have been religious leaders in other countries that have issued religious edicts outlawing this kind of extremism and violence.  And that is helpful in this effort.
 
The second thing that I think is worth noting -- and this goes a little bit to Jon’s question, I guess -- is that the original author of this publication has been wiped off the battlefield.  And, again, that is a testament to the kind of pressure that these terrorist leaders are under -- that they are being watched, that they’re being monitored, and they are at risk whenever they are out operating publicly, even when they’re operating publicly in a place like Yemen; it seems really far away.  But we recognize the threat that these individuals face, and because of the counterterrorism strategy that this President has put in place, those extremist leaders are under intense pressure and many of them have been wiped off the battlefield.
 
Q    Just to follow up, because the creator of “Inspire” is dead, is the President concerned just that the statement that you just made, that the messengers will be killed, has itself been an inspiration to violent extremists?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Alexis, I guess the alternative is should we have not taken the strike to take out those extremist leaders.  That is certainly not a decision that the President arrived at, but if there are people who want to second-guess that strategy, they’re welcome to do so.  But the President certainly believes that keeping -- applying military pressure on terrorist leaders and killing them when we have the opportunity is a good counterterrorism strategy.
 
Q    My other question is about tomorrow’s meeting with leaders, the congressional leaders.  Is the President’s goal to talk to them about the areas in which they differ because of the discussion in the past few days about the number of veto threats, or is his goal to talk to them about what they have in common?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I certainly think that there’s been adequate attention given to those areas where we disagree.  The President is looking forward to a robust, constructive discussion on those areas where we do agree.  They do exist and the President is looking forward to talking about them.  That said, there continues to be some areas where we disagree on things that actually are priorities.  And one of those areas is legislation that would ensure that the Department of Homeland Security is adequately funded through the end of this fiscal year.  I don’t know yet whether or not that would come up in the meeting, but we’ll try to give you a readout of the meeting after it’s taken place.
 
Major.
 
Q    Josh, AQAP asserted that it was behind the original attack in Paris.  Does the administration, based on what it knows, have any reason to doubt that?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Major, I can tell you that there is information about this investigation and about these individuals that we have shared with French investigators.  They are, after all, in the lead in this investigation.  This terrible act took place on their soil and they should take responsibility for investigating and determining who was responsible and what kind of support they had. 
 
So we have shared information with our French counterparts on this matter, but it’s not information that I’m prepared to discuss from here.
 
Q    Does the administration have any verification of the reports that started to come out of Nigeria on Friday about a potential massacre of up to 2,000 carried out by Boko Haram?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, we certainly are aware of those reports and there are some other, frankly, disturbing reports of violence out of Nigeria over the weekend as well.  We do continue to be concerned about that situation and we’re going to continue to work with the Nigerian government on our counterterrorism efforts.
 
At the same time, we’re also going to continue to urge the Nigerian government to live up to some basic human rights and some basic principles of human rights that sometimes get overlooked out of an effort to try to fight this terrible terrorist scourge that they’re dealing with in their country right now.  But the United States is going to continue to monitor these events and continue to work with Nigeria on this.
 
Q    Does it believe that the numbers could be as high as so far reported, and that this could be a massacre of significant dimension?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any assessment on this outside of the public reporting on this that I’ve seen.
 
Q    Is it fair to assume that what you’re telling us without saying it directly, which I’ll try to get you to do, is that the Attorney General is the one who missed the opportunity because he was there and could have come to a different conclusion about his whereabouts when the march occurred?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No, I’m not saying that.  I’m not suggesting that anybody bears responsibility of this outside the White House.  The White House has to make a decision about who is going to represent the administration and the American people at a march like this, and that’s where that decision lies and the White House should have made a different decision.  We here at the White House should have made a different decision.
 
Q    Did that decision rise to the level of the President himself?

MR. EARNEST:  It did not.
 
Q    Whose level did it rise to?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I’m not going to get into -- as I mentioned to Steve --
 
Q    But the President was not presented with this decision?
 
MR. EARNEST:  This is not a decision that was made by the President.
 
Q    Your predecessor from this podium in 2012 was asked about one of the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo.  And he said, representing the President and this administration, that the White House questioned the judgment of the publication of that particular cartoon -- not that it was an illegitimate act of satire, but the judgment involved behind it.  Does the White House stand by that questioning of the judgment of the publication of that cartoon in light of recent events?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Let me say a couple of things about that.  The first is -- and this is something that I don’t want to be overlooked -- what my predecessor also said in the context of those very same comments was that the publication of that material did not in any way justify an act of violence.  That was true then, it was true last week, and it’s true today.  There is nothing that the individuals at that satirical magazine did that justified in any way the kind of violence that we saw in Paris last week.  None.  That is, I think, the most important principle that's at stake here.
 
At the same time, it would not be the first time that there has been a discussion in this country about the kinds of responsibilities that go along with exercising the right to freedom of speech.  And in the scenario -- or in the circumstances in which my predecessor was talking about this issue, there was a genuine concern that the publication of some of those materials could put Americans abroad at risk, including American soldiers at risk.  And that is something that the Commander-in-Chief takes very seriously.  And the President and his spokesman was not then and will not now be shy about expressing a view or taking the steps that are necessary to try to advocate for the safety and security of our men and women in uniform.
 
Q    But advocating and taking steps to protect American service personnel is different than criticizing or raising questions about the judgment underlying any satirical expression, be it to mock Islam or Christianity or Judaism, or anything else.  Where do you draw the line?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it depends on the scenario.  I think --
 
Q    There is not an absolute support of satirical mockery of any institution on this planet. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  I think there are a couple of absolutes.  The first is, is that the publication of any kind of material in no way justifies any act of violence, let alone an act of violence that we saw on the scale in Paris.  And there is -- this President, as the Commander-in-Chief, believes strongly in the responsibility that he has to advocate for our men and women in uniform, particularly if it's going to make them safer.  And the President takes very seriously his responsibility as Commander-in-Chief to do that.  And that's something that we're going to continue to do in the future.  Those are the absolutes -- or at least two of them. 
 
But when we are confronted with these kinds of scenarios where we're balancing basic rights alongside very important responsibilities that must also be exercised, it's going to always depend on the scenario.  But what won't change is our view that that freedom of expression in no way justifies an act of violence against the person who expressed a view.  And the President considers the safety and security of our men and women in uniform to be something worth fighting for.
 
Q    And lastly, do you believe the French in any way feel slighted or insulted by the lack of a higher-profile U.S. presence yesterday?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I don't.  And if you believe the public words of the French ambassador to the United States who described himself and the French people as overwhelmed by the expression of solidarity from the American people, including the President of the United States, the French people certainly don't feel that way.
 
Q    So you're apologizing because you're being criticized?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what I'm acknowledging is that we should have done something differently, and this is an opinion that's been expressed by a lot of other people, and I'm acknowledging that there’s a sense here that the White House should have sent somebody with a higher profile to the march.
 
Jim.
 
Q    So what you're saying is that the White House made a mistake?  I just want to make that clear.  You haven't used that word.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, if we should have -- essentially I’m suggesting that we should have done something differently, so I think it’s fair for you to assess that.
 
Q    Does the President believe that the White House made a mistake?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I have not spoken to the President about this specific matter.
 
Q    And you said that this decision did not reach his level.  Doesn’t the buck stop with the President?
 
MR. EARNEST:  It always does.  He’d be the first to tell you that. 
 
Q    Yes.  So why wasn’t this decision brought to him?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I’m not going to sort of unpack the planning and logistics that go into these kinds of decisions.
 
Q    Why not?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, just because that would be pretty complicated. 
 
Q    Is it an interagency failure?  Perhaps the White House was not talking about this --
 
MR. EARNEST:  No, I mentioned in response to Major’s question that the responsibility lays here at the White House for finding appropriate representation at the march.  We certainly were pleased that the U.S. ambassador to France could participate in that march.  That sends an important signal too.
 
The President’s travel to the French Embassy here in the United States sends a pretty important symbol.  The President telephoning his French counterpart on the day of the attacks and offering up his condolences on behalf of the American people and pledging his -- any needed assistance in cooperation I think makes it pretty clear to everybody who is paying attention that the United States and this administration stands shoulder to shoulder with our allies in France at this time.
 
Q    And the Secretary of State earlier today said this was a bit of quibbling.  So I suppose what you're saying is that he’s wrong in that assessment.
 
MR. EARNEST:  It sounds like you're getting me to quibble with his remarks.
 
Q    Quibbling with his quibbling.
 
MR. EARNEST:  I’m not going to do that.  What I can tell you is that certainly the Secretary of State is somebody who has very important responsibilities himself.  He was in India this past weekend doing some important work representing U.S. interests there.
 
I’ll also note that at the conclusion to his trip to India he made an unannounced visit to Pakistan, where he is right now.  And while in Pakistan, he actually visited the school in Peshawar that was the site of the terrible terrorist attack just a couple of weeks ago.  And I think in the same way that high-profile representation at the march and the President’s decision to go to the French Embassy in Washington shows U.S. solidarity with the French people as they confront terrorism, I think the Secretary of State’s visit to this school demonstrates the American people’s solidarity with the people of Pakistan as they face down extremism and violence and terrorism in their own country.
 
Q    And not to belabor this, because it’s been belabored, but the Vice President was sitting at home all weekend.  Presumably he could have gone.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Yes, so was the President.
 
Q    What was pressing in Wilmington, Delaware this weekend?
 
Q    And just to follow up on Major’s question about images of Prophet Muhammad, should Americans be fearful of how they depict the Prophet Muhammad?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No, the American people should --
 
Q    Should they be able to depict however they see fit?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No question.  There is no -- again, there is no expression of public opinion or viewpoint or perspective that in any way justifies a terrible act of violence like this.  There is none.  There is no justification for it.  This is a terrible act of violence.  It’s an act of terrorism.  And it’s an assault on the kinds of values that we hold dear in this country and the kinds of values that they hold dear in France.
 
And I think for some people it serves to be a cliché that when our men and women in uniform are fighting alongside our allies in far-flung lands, that they're not just fighting for our security, they're fighting for our values.  This is a pretty good illustration of that.  And that's why we certainly value the kind of contribution that the French people have made to taking on ISIL.
 
We have not had a chance to talk yet about the leading role that France has played in taking on AQIM in North Africa, that there is French expertise and a legacy there where French military forces have been very effective in applying pressure to terrorist leaders in North Africa that have ambition for attacking France and other Western interests. 
 
So, again, we value the kind of strong relationship that the United States has with France, and there is no doubt in the mind of this President, there certainly is no doubt in the mind of the French ambassador to the United States, that the American people will continue to be stalwart allies with France as we face down those terrorists that try to use violence to attack our basic values.
 
Q    And in dealing with this oversight, does the President have any plans to call President Hollande?  Have any communications been made from the White House to the French to say we screwed up on this one?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, based on the public expression and public comments from the French ambassador, I'm not sure that's necessary.  But if it is, the French ambassador will be sitting down with the President’s top Homeland Security Advisor here at the White House today -- it may be taking place right now -- and if that's necessary I'm confident that will be conveyed.
 
Q    And maybe can be communicated.  Okay.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Julie.
 
Q    Couple things.  First, just back on Paris for a second.  I'm told the Secret Service was not asked about the potential security concerns around a vice presidential or a presidential visit to Paris around the march.  So are you saying that's inaccurate?  Or what should we conclude from that?  Was this about security, or was it about something else?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to clarify here.  I'm not going to get into the planning or logistics that went into the decision related to the march.  What I have merely reiterated is something that we have talked about on many occasions and applies to every time the President wants to attend an event alongside thousands or hundreds of thousands or even millions of other people, which is that that requires significant onerous security precautions that necessarily have an impact on the ability of those who are attending that event to fully participate.  And there is no doubt that had the President attended that march on short notice yesterday, it would have had -- the security precautions around his attendance and participation would have had an impact on those who attended the march.
 
Q    You said this was not a decision that was made by the President himself, but he is the President of the United States.  If he had decided that this was a priority for him to be there in Paris for this march, he could have -- ostensibly, he could have come forward and said that.  Does he personally regret not saying, you know, I really want to be there for this, it's the reason I called the French President immediately after these attacks and I should be there?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Julie, I didn’t talk to him about his personal regret.  What I can tell you is that here at the White House we do believe that we should have sent somebody with a higher profile to the march beyond just the U.S. ambassador to France.
 
Q    Just quickly on the meeting tomorrow with congressional leaders.  It's week two of the Congress; you guys have already issued I guess it's three veto threats, the most recent of which -- just at the top here.  What is the President’s message going to be to congressional leaders at this meeting tomorrow, who, the Republicans at least, seem to feel like he’s not starting off on a great foot with them given his veto threats?  And how is he going to explain that in the meeting?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me say a couple things about that, Julie.  The first is none of the veto threats that you’ve heard from us in the last week or so has it at all been a surprise, particularly because the pieces of legislation that we're talking about are pieces of legislation in which the administration already had well-known views.  So while it may raise questions in the minds of some Republicans about the President’s willingness to work with Republicans in Congress to advance priorities, it might also raise questions in the mind of some others that Republicans have chosen, as their first few pieces of legislation, bills they know the President opposes.  So that's the first thing. 
 
The second thing is, despite those disagreements there is another important principle here, and this is something that the President has articulated on several occasions, particularly since the midterm elections.  We can't allow a disagreement over a handful of issues to become a deal-breaker over all the others. 
 
There’s a lot of important work that needs to get done.  And whether that's reforming our tax code to make it more fair and more simple, or investing in the kinds of infrastructure projects that we know are going to create jobs over the long term and lay the foundation for a modern infrastructure that will benefit everybody, including our economy.  It could be working together to open up overseas markets for American businesses.  There are a whole host of things that we could do by working with Republicans.  It doesn’t mean we're going to agree on everything.  Certainly we're not.  But the question is, are we going to allow a disagreement over a few things to become a deal-breaker for all the others.  The President certainly hopes that it won't.  And that will be something they’ll discuss at the meeting quite a bit tomorrow.
 
Scott.
 
Q    Back in his 2010 State of the Union, the President said he would have meetings like this on a monthly basis.  I know you don't read out every time the President meets with legislative leaders, but it seems like he’s fallen short of that total.
 
MR. EARNEST:  We're in the first month of the year and they’re going to have their first meeting tomorrow.  So it depends on where you draw the line, right?  Admittedly, I would say that I don't think that the meetings, the formal meetings certainly haven't been that frequent.  I was asked about this last week I think in which I declined to suggest that we would set up a similar sort of artificial standard.  But I do think that you can expect the President to be in regular touch with leaders on Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans, in pursuit of the kind of common ground that we believe is necessary to move the country forward.
 
And, again, it doesn’t mean we're going to agree over everything.  I don't want to paper over the differences because the differences are significant, but the President is determined to try to work with Republicans where he can to try to find common ground.  And where they can’t, the President is going to be prepared to use all of the elements of his executive authority to move us forward on his own.  And the President made that pretty evident in the last few days of -- or last few weeks of 2014, and I think even here in the early stages of 2015 he’s been pretty clear about that too.
 
Q    Is the size of the group a little unwieldy?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Not necessarily.  I think this can be an appropriate forum for discussion where we can have a sizeable number of congressional leaders all in one room sitting down, putting their heads together to try to find and identify some areas of common ground.  And I think those kinds of discussions are constructive. 
 
I think what you're pointing out is that often it's hard to reach a final agreement on something when you have a large number of people in the room.  I wouldn't anticipate that any final agreements will be reached on any momentous pieces of legislation in this meeting, but after all, we're seven days into the new Congress.  But I do anticipate that there will be a very useful discussion, and the President is certainly hopeful that Democrats and Republicans from Capitol Hill will participate in the same meeting -- or participate in the meeting in the same spirit that the President will bring to the meeting, which is a spirit of cooperation and optimism about the country, certainly about the progress that we have made on the economy, and optimistic about our ability to try to put aside political differences and focus on those areas where common ground exists and we can make progress for everybody here in the country.
 
Chris.
 
Q    Obviously if the White House had made a different decision -- schedules can be changed whether it's Eric Holder or John Kerry.  Did the White House underestimate the symbolic importance of this march?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, to the extent that anybody had an opportunity to estimate it in 36 hours, I think what you can say is that this kind of symbolism is important.  That, after all, is why we sent the U.S. ambassador to France and why we believe that we should have sent somebody with an even higher profile, that those kinds of expressions of symbolic solidarity are meaningful in the same way that it was meaningful for the President to go to the French Embassy here in Washington last week and write a thoughtful note in a book at the embassy expressing his profound sorrow at those who were lost and his resolve to working with the people of France to protect our values and to protect our livelihood.  And those expressions of -- those symbolic expressions are important, and they certainly were important yesterday, too.
 
Q    And is that why John Kerry is going on Thursday and Friday?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, you’d have to talk to him about his schedule.  I think that they had been talking about him doing that on the end of his India and Pakistan trip anyway.  But again, you’d have to check with them to confirm whether or not that's the case.  I don't -- I’m not sure.
 
Q    Let me ask about the CENTCOM breach just a little bit.  You mentioned that there is obviously a difference between a data breach and hacking Twitter.  But when you talk to intelligence officials, one of the things they’ll tell you is that the power of some of these radical groups have been their PR successes.  And the idea that CENTCOM is being hacked at the same time that the President is talking about cybersecurity at the FTC, was this a PR coup for them?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No.
 
Cheryl.
 
Q    Thanks, Josh.  (Laughter.)
 
Q    Can I follow up on that?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Sure.  Cheryl, if you don't mind. 
 
Q    Go ahead.
 
Q    And also in sort of saying that this was less significant, there have been some reports that there was personal information that was divulged -- names, phone numbers, those kinds of things, obviously not classified information on a Twitter feed.  But does that make it significant?
 
MR. EARNEST:  It certainly makes it something that we would take seriously.  But again, the scope of this particular incident is something that's still under investigation, or at least it was when I walked out here an hour or so ago.  So maybe they’ve made some more progress to determine what exactly has happened.
 
But we’ll certainly keep you up to date on this, and this is something that will attract prominent attention in the administration because it’s something that we take seriously.
 
Cheryl, back to you.
 
Q    Thanks.  On Friday, the White House received reauthorization for the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act.  Will the President sign that bill?
 
MR. EARNEST:  The President will sign that bill.  We have made clear our disappointment that on this critically important piece of legislation, legislation that's good for our economy and good for national security, it included a rider that would try to water down one element of Wall Street reform.  And that's certainly something that we are not happy about. 
 
But again, in this era of trying to compromise, the President on occasion is going to have to sign important pieces of legislation that aren’t 100 percent to his liking.  And I think the signing of this piece of legislation is one example of that.  We’ll let you know when that bill has gotten signed.
 
Mike.
 
Q    Thanks, Josh.  Jim had an interesting question, even though he left, and I was struck by your exchange.  He asked you, should American media organizations be fearful of reprinting these cartoons or depicting Muhammad in some way that violent extremists don't like.  And there has -- and you answered about -- the talk about American values.  There has been some discussion that American media organizations haven’t reprinted some of these things deliberately because they're afraid some terrorist could come in and shoot them up. 
 
Are you saying that based on your knowledge, the White House -- you guys know a thing or two about security -- that American media organizations shouldn’t be afraid of writing something or showing a cartoon that would offend jihadis because, hey, you, as the White House say, America is the place where you don't have to be afraid of that because we have sufficient security here?  I just wanted to understand because there’s been this big debate, and the media sort of talks about this.  And it sounded like you were starting to address, hey, your fears may be overblown; we're assuring you we have this under control. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, there’s a lot there.  Let me try to go through this carefully.  The first thing is I think that there are any number of reasons that media organizations have made a decision not to reprint the cartoons.  In some cases, maybe they were concerned about their physical safety.  In other cases, they were exercising some judgment in a different way.  So we certainly would leave it to media organizations to make a decision like this. 
 
I think this goes to something I was saying earlier that there is a responsibility associated with the exercise of some of these First Amendment rights.  But that is a decision that should be made by those news organizations.
 
Q    But it’s a separate decision from being fearful.  That's a taste, judgment --
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think that's probably in their minds -- and I hesitate to speak for them, but since we're going down this road, I’ll try to entertain this dialogue here -- they're trying to assess some risk, right?  They're trying to understand at what risk is it going to put this organization or our employees by publishing this cartoon.
 
Now, I’m confident in saying that for the vast majority of media organizations, that's not the only factor.  But I would readily concede that it is one in the minds of many of those news executives.  But again, that is a decision for all of them to make.  The responsibility that this President feels is on a couple of fronts.  The first is to reiterate, as I have here a few times but I’m going to do it again because it’s important, a basic principle here, which is that no public expression or exercise of free speech justifies violence -- certainly not the violence on the scale that we saw in Paris last week.  And that is a principle that the President believes is really important and one worth fighting for.
 
And I think you could make the case, as I mentioned earlier, that a lot of men and women in uniform -- not just from American soldiers, but French soldiers and British soldiers and others are fighting for that principle in a very real way.  And that is a testament to the close alliance that we have with the French and with others.
 
Q    Josh, but when you said no to Jim, you weren’t making a risk assessment that there shouldn’t be fear, that if The New York Times or Bloomberg printed this cartoon that we would all be killed.  You’re not making a risk assessment when you’re saying you shouldn’t fear that?
 
MR. EARNEST:  What I’m saying is that individual news organizations have to assess that risk for themselves.  I mean, look, I might add that there are also journalists who assume great personal risk to tell these stories.  And we’ve seen that some of these journalists have been captured by violent extremists who have carried out terrible acts of violence against them.  So there is a risk assessment made in lots of decisions that journalists make.  And, again, I think the point in the mind of the President and certainly everybody here at the White House is that that is a question that should be answered by journalists.  They should use their independent professional judgment to make those kinds of decisions.  And, again, those decisions aren’t just driven by safety; they’re also driven by certain ethics and journalistic standards.  And these are complicated issues but ultimately ones that journalists should make.
 
I will say that there have been occasions -- and somebody mentioned it earlier, I guess it was Major -- where the administration will make clear our point of view on some of those assessments based on the need to protect the American people and to protect our men and women in uniform.  And so I wouldn’t rule out making those kinds of expressions again.  But, again, these are the kinds of difficult questions that journalists have to wrestle with.  There may be an occasion where U.S. government officials can be helpful in providing them advice or information that can help them make that decision, but ultimately the decision rests with them.  And regardless of what decision is made, it does not in any way justify an act of violence.
 
Jared, I’m going to give you the last one.
 
Q    Then a fun one then, Josh, for you.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Okay.  That would be the first one.  (Laughter.)
 
Q    I’m sorry to hear that.
 
MR. EARNEST:  That’s okay.
 
Q    After the 2012 reelection, the President said he was going to reach out to Governor Romney.  The Wall Street Journal reporting that Governor Romney is putting out some 2016 trial balloon.  Has the President in any conversation or meeting had any interaction with the Governor since their lunch in November 2012?
 
MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  I don’t -- off the top of my head, I don’t recall any conversation that they’ve had since that lunch.
 
Thanks, everybody.  We’ll see you tomorrow.
 
Q    Was it that fun?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Not really -- not really.  He oversold that one pretty badly, didn’t he?  (Laughter.)
 
END 
2:39 P.M. EST