the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 2/5/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

*Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.
 
**Please see below for the list of American Muslim leaders that the President met with on Wednesday, marked with asterisks.
 
12:56 P.M. EST
 
MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It's nice to see you all.  I do not have any announcements at the top, Josh, so let’s go straight to your questions.
 
Q    Thanks, Josh.  Speaker Boehner has announced that Pope Francis will deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress in September, becoming the first Pope to do that.  I was wondering, does the White House have any reaction to that, and was that visit coordinated with the White House in advance?  (Laughter.)
 
MR. EARNEST:  Didn’t used to have to ask those questions, did we?  I can tell you that the President and his team here at the White House have been anticipating a visit from Pope Francis here to the United States for quite some time, and even as far back as the President’s visit to the Vatican, where he first met Pope Francis, talked about how eager he was to welcome the Pope to the United States.  So the President is certainly looking forward to his visit.
 
Q    There’s some talk on the Hill about this new authorization for use of military force that the administration is seeking.  Speaker Pelosi is talking about negotiations around a three-year agreement that would focus on Islamic State militants.  I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on how that AUMF is shaping up and specifically on that three-year time frame.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, Josh, anytime you see details starting to leak off the Hill it's an indication that there have been an increasing number of conversations between administration officials and officials on Capitol Hill.  That is follow-up from some of the work that grew from the bipartisan leadership meeting that the President convened here at the White House two or three weeks ago where they discussed essentially the idea that the administration would work with Democrats and Republicans on the Hill on a piece of language that the White House could submit to Capitol Hill.  And that work is ongoing. 
 
They’ve made important progress in that regard and, as I mentioned yesterday at the briefing, I would anticipate that we'll have specific language that we'll send up to Capitol Hill relatively soon.  I believe at that point, we would be in a position to make that language public, and then I'll be in a better position to actually discuss what’s included and why it's included.
 
Q    Do you have a position about whether the original AUMF that was used for Iraq from 2002, whether that should be repealed as part of having a new AUMF?
 
THE PRESIDENT:  I think the President has made the case previously that he does support the repeal of the 2002 AUMF.  And this was in the context of a speech that he gave a year or two ago talking about the need to review some of these policies that have I think the unintended effect of keeping the United States on sort of this permanent war footing.  And the President has talked about how he wants to place a priority on trying to reform some of those policies in a way that acknowledges that we don't have to be on this sort of permanent war footing.
 
Some of these are steps the President obviously can take on his own, such as winding down the troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And we obviously have made substantial progress in that regard.  When the President took office there were 180,000 military boots on the ground -- American military boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that number now is less than 15,000.
 
So there are some steps the Commander-in-Chief can take on his own.  There are other policies that require some legislative action, and you’ve noted one of them.
 
Q    And the leaders of France and Germany are headed to Kyiv, if they’re not already there, with a new peace proposal that seems to be getting some positive initial reaction from Russia.  They also seem to be not too keen on the U.S. considering sending lethal assistance to Ukraine.  So I'm wondering what the U.S. feels about this new peace proposal from France and Germany, particularly in the context of Merkel coming here next week and these discussions about whether to send lethal aid. 
 
And I'm also interested, if you have anything on that magical piece of paper that you would like to share with us, feel free to do that.  (Laughter.) 
 
MR. EARNEST:  It's purely administrative.  It's nothing that -- (laughter.)
 
Q    Did you just resign?  (Laughter.) 
 
MR. EARNEST:  That better not be the case. 
 
Let me say a couple things about this.  The first is that the United States has been saying for some time that it's a diplomatic negotiation that is required to bring this conflict in Ukraine to an end, that this is not something that's going to be solved or resolved militarily, but rather through diplomatic negotiations.  So we certainly are encouraging and supportive of ongoing efforts to try to find a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Ukraine.
 
One concern that we have, however, is that previous diplomatic efforts have resulted in agreements that the Russians and the separatists that they back in eastern Ukraine didn’t live up to.  There were commitments made in the context of the Minsk Agreement that was signed, I believe, back in September.  Those commitments included things like withdrawing all troops and weapons from eastern Ukraine; and establishing effective international monitoring of the international border between Ukraine and Russia; returning control of Ukraine’s side of the border to the central government in Kyiv; freeing all of the hostages and working toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict. 
 
That is -- let me do the math here -- I think that is five or six different specific provisions of the Minsk Agreement, and the separatists haven't lived up to one of them -- hasn’t lived up to a single one of them.  And that is an indication that we need serious engagement from the Russians and the separatists, the likes of which we've not seen before.  So we're going to continue to be supportive of ongoing efforts to try to find a diplomatic resolution to this situation while, at the same time, we're going to continue to urge the Russians and the separatists that they back to live up to the diplomatic agreements that they make.  And that ultimately is the way that the situation can and should be resolved. 
 
To that end, there is -- I think just sort of looking at the public schedule of members of the President’s national security team, you can tell that there is deepened engagement on this issue right now. 
 
Secretary Kerry is in Kyiv right now as we speak.  He had a news conference a little earlier this morning Eastern Time with I believe it was with the Ukrainian President while he was over there.  I know that he’s meeting with a number of senior officials.  Over the weekend -- you know that the Vice President is currently on his way to Europe.  He'll be participating in the Munich Security Conference, as he’s done in years past.  And while he’s there he’s going to meet with the Ukrainian President Poroshenko, as well as other European leaders.  And then, of course, on Monday, as we've previously announced, the President is planning to convene a meeting with German Chancellor Merkel while she’s here in the United States.  Their entire meeting will not be devoted to just the situation in Ukraine, but that certainly will be a substantial part of the discussion.
 
Q    Sure.  So focusing on that meeting then with Chancellor Merkel, you’ve talked frequently about the importance of staying in lockstep with our European partners on this issue, especially when it comes to the pace at which we move forward with sanctions.  But the Europeans really seem like they really don't think that's a good idea for us to be putting more weapons in this conflict.  So if Chancellor Merkel comes here next week and says to the President what she said publicly, which is that Germany is not going to be sending lethal assistance and they don't think that it's a good idea, will the President still have that option on the table and consider sending it regardless?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President is going to make a decision that he believes is in the broader national security interests of the United States.  And part of that is understanding what sort of impact the decisions that we make have on our allies.  And so the President is, of course, going to reserve the right to make the decision about our broader strategy from the standpoint of the United States vis-à-vis Ukraine. 
 
The President, though, has indicated the desire to work closely with our allies, and certainly the success that we've enjoyed so far in instituting an economic sanctions regime against Russia has depended on very close coordination with our allies in Europe.  There’s no doubt about that.  The sanctions regime that we put in place, working in lockstep with our European allies, has required close consultation and cooperation with Europe.
 
The reason for that is the economic ties between Russia and Europe are much deeper than the bilateral economic ties between the United States and Russia.  So being able to act in coordinated fashion has been the key to the success of that sanctions regime.  But certainly the President takes very seriously the views of our allies and is going to consult very closely as we evaluate any needed strategic changes ahead.
 
Julia.  Welcome to the White House beat.  I understand that you’ll be joining us more regularly.
 
Q    Yes.  Thank you.  Among the many departure announcements yesterday, we learned that FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is stepping down.  What can you tell us about how you anticipate a confirmation of someone to take her place, especially considering Republicans would have to confirm someone who has been somewhat critical of the FDA if it wanted the whittle down on its regulatory authority?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julia, I can tell you that the President certainly appreciates Dr. Hamburg’s tireless service over the last six years.  There are a number of issues that she’s grappled with over at the FDA, and the professionalism that she’s brought to that job has made her very effective as the leader of that agency.  She’s leaving a legacy of advancements that include biomedical innovation, modernizing the food safety system, and reducing death and disease caused by tobacco.  So she’s got quite a legacy that she’s leaving.
 
As it relates to her successor, I don't have any announcements on that at this point.  Certainly the President will be focusing on somebody that has the kind of impeccable medical and scientific credentials that they can bring to the job.  And when we have more to announce on this we’ll let you know.  I mean, I guess I’ll just say one other thing -- that when the President does make an announcement, we’re confident that that individual will -- that he will appoint the kind of individual that will merit strong bipartisan support in the Senate. 
 
Q    And there’s been a major hack into insurer Anthem.  There were about 80 million accounts that had their information stolen.  How big of a deal is this?  Has the President been briefed?  And, also, since Anthem has a large federal employer population, I was wondering if anyone at the White House happened to be affected.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julie, I can tell you that we’re certainly aware of these reports.  The FBI is leading an investigation to determine what exactly happened and to try to determine the scope of the impact.  So for specific questions about this incident, I’d refer you to the FBI. 
 
I don’t have any information to share in terms of the individual impact or the individuals who may have been affected by this incident.  It does serve as a useful opportunity, though, for me to remind you of two things.  The first is we did spend some time a couple of weeks ago talking about the specific legislative proposals that have been put forward by this administration to try to address cybersecurity.  And there are some important steps that are included in that legislation that would improve the federal government’s response to situations like this and would improve coordination between law enforcement authorities, private industry, and consumer advocates to ensure that all the necessary steps are taken to both harden the defenses of organizations that are directly affected; to communicate information about the intrusion to make sure that similar tactics that may prove damaging in one scenario can’t be used against other companies; and then we also want to make sure that we have a codified system for making sure that consumers are properly informed and educated about what steps they can take to safeguard their data.
 
So there’s a lot of important work that needs to be done around this in the United States Congress.  The good news is this is not an ideological kind of issue and that there are Republicans who have indicated that they also understand just how serious this is.  So we are hopeful that by working with Congress we can make some important progress and take some steps that would actually safeguard the American people and their data.
 
The last thing is just a reminder that there will be quite an extensive discussion of these kinds of issues at the cyber summit that the administration is hosting out at Stanford University next week.  And so we’re looking forward to the opportunity to convene meetings with leaders in private industry, leaders in the tech sector who have some expertise around some of these issues, government officials not just at the federal level but also at the state and local who all have equities in dealing with this rather complicated policy issue.  But the consequences for us dealing with this policy issue are significant, and certainly the President and his administration take it very seriously and are hopeful that we’ll see others on the other side of the aisle also take it seriously as well.
 
Margaret.
 
Q    Thanks.  The President met with a group of Muslim leaders yesterday, but the White House hasn’t released a sort of listing of them and I’m just wondering if you can talk us through why.  Was it considered a private meeting or are there concerns of -- I don’t know. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a list of those who attended, but let me see if I can try to extract some more information from them for you.
 
Q    That would be great, thanks.  I just wanted to clean up on a couple of things.  On AUMF, you were saying that you could expect the language reasonably soon -- do you think --
 
MR. EARNEST:  Relatively soon, I think is what I said.
 
Q    Would you rule out like the end of this week?
 
MR. EARNEST:  You mean as in tomorrow?
 
Q    Right.
 
MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out.  I don’t think it's going to be tomorrow, but these kinds of plans often have a way of changing, so, I think relatively soon is probably the best guidance I can offer at this point.
 
Q    Okay.  And if I can do “Bibigate” or “speechgate,” or whatever you want to call it.  It's a two-parter.  Nancy Pelosi is still talking about whether she may boycott that speech.  And I'm just wondering if you could give us some more clarity about the White House and the President’s thinking on whether this is an appropriate individual decision for Democrats, whether you’re offering any guidance when people call to ask.  And also what does he think about the fact that this has caused so much controversy?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I mentioned yesterday, the President does believe it is up to individual members of Congress to make their own decision about whether or not to attend.  The concern that we have exhibited here is not just about the departure from protocol in terms of extending the invitation, but also the President believes very firmly in continuing an important tradition, which is to ensure that the strong relationship between the  United States and Israel is protected from partisan politics, that we shouldn’t allow the relationship between our two countries to be reduced to a relationship between two political parties. 
 
And that is something that the President is concerned about. And, frankly, the seriousness with which the President considers this principle is what’s driving the decision to not meet with the Prime Minster when he’s here.  As you know, when the Prime Minster is in the United States during the first week in March, he’ll be up for an election that’s scheduled for just two weeks later back in Israel.  And the President is conscious of ensuring that we don’t leave anybody with the appearance, or even with the appearance, of somehow interfering in that election by weighing in on one side or the other.
 
So the President takes these issues very seriously, but ultimately, those kinds of decisions about whether or not to attend and what sort of impact that might have on an ongoing election in another country or what kind of signal that might send is a decision that every individual member of Congress needs to make for themselves. 
 
Q    But has he gone as far as to say that he really doesn’t think that the Prime Minster should go through with the speech?  Or have you guys drawn a line before saying --
 
MR. EARNEST:  We have not said that.
 
Q    And you’re not saying that now?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I'm not saying that now.
 
Q    You could say that now if you want.
 
MR. EARNEST:  I could say that now.
 
Q    Just to clean up on Josh’s question.  He knows the Pope is coming and so he probably is not shocked that the Pope is addressing Congress and he’s probably fine with it.  But was there any coordination this time around?  Is there any effort by the Speaker’s office to make that sort of good-faith gesture to say, look, no hard feelings, let’s coordinate stuff?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can’t speak to all of the conversations that may or may not have occurred in advance of that specific invitation, but certainly the President and the team here was aware of the Pope’s intent to travel to the United States and intent to spend some time in Washington D.C.  I know that there’s still some details of that schedule that are getting locked down so I don’t want to get ahead of any announcements that may be planned by the Vatican.
 
All right.  Justin.  I understand you announced a new job today.
 
Q    Moving up a couple rows. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Oh, congratulations.
 
Q    Thank you, appreciate it.  I wanted to ask about Jordan first.  Nancy Pelosi today backed the Senate Armed Service Committee who -- the entire committee sent a letter to the White House yesterday urging more aid for Jordan.  I know you were asked about this yesterday, and you said it would depend on a specific request from Jordan.  And so I'm wondering if you might have any more details on if that sort of request has been made and, if so, if the administration is working to fulfill it?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, what I know, Justin, is that the United States has a very deep security relationship with Jordan, and that involves providing hundreds of millions of dollars a year in security assistance to the Jordanians.  And much of that security assistance is in the form of military equipment, and some of which has been used to contribute to the broader international campaign against ISIL. 
 
I know that there had been some interest expressed by the Jordanians and others to try to expedite assistance that was already in the pipeline.  This is not an uncommon request from other countries with whom we have security relationships, and so that’s something that we’re always working on. 
 
But I can tell you that we’re always looking for ways that we can deepen our relationship with Jordan.  And I can tell you that while the King was here on Tuesday, there was the signing of a memorandum -- a memorandum of understanding between the United States and Jordan that would extend our security situation -- or our security relationship into 2017, and would guarantee the provision of security assistance on the order of about $400 *billion million a year. 
 
So it’s a substantial commitment of military assistance and it’s one that is not just a short-term relationship but one that is a long-running one and one that we acted to extend while the King was visiting earlier this week.
 
Q    And I just wanted to ask about the status of DHS funding.  Obviously the Senate has been voting and blocking the House bill.  Mitch McConnell said that he expects to kind of work out a deal in the next couple weeks.  And so I’m wondering, has it gotten to the point where you guys are having conversations with Republicans about possible sweeteners to add to that deal that might make it more palatable to Republicans to get it through both the House and the Senate?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any specific conversations like that.  The Congress has a responsibility to pass funding for the Department of Homeland Security.  And as you’ve heard me say before, it’s not really -- it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which there’s a good time for us to muck around with funding for the Department of Homeland Security, but now seems like a particularly bad time to do so. 
 
And so we’re hopeful that Republicans will embrace the responsibility that they have, now that they’re in control of the United States Congress, to use the power of the purse that our founders gave to them to make sure that our Department of Homeland Security is fully and properly funded.  And we certainly don’t want to have a scenario where we have men and women in uniform, our federal law enforcement officers, people who are responsible for protecting our ports, people who are responsible for protecting our transportation system and particularly our air transportation system -- those individuals shouldn’t have to go without a paycheck.  And I can’t imagine why anybody would think that would be anything but bad for our national security. 
 
So we’re hopeful -- Republicans have a couple of weeks to figure this out, and we’re hopeful that they will.  I mean, I’ll just remind you -- I don’t really like to stand up here and say I told you so -- but we did spend some time last fall where I noted that I felt like it was going to put Republicans in a really difficult situation to threaten funding for the Department of Homeland Security merely over a political disagreement.  But, unfortunately, that seems to be the situation in which Republicans find themselves.  And I think they’re finding that certainly the vast majority of Americans don’t find this to be a particularly persuasive argument that they’re making. 
 
So we’re hopeful that they’re just going to put politics aside, focus on their core responsibility to actually fund the United States government, particularly critically important functions like Homeland Security.
 
Jon.
 
Q    Josh, a quick question on the meeting with the Muslim leaders.  Why was the decision made not to allow any press coverage of that meeting?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, the President has many meetings at the White House and certainly not all of them include some press coverage.  So we did, however, want to make sure that we were as transparent as we could be about the fact that the meeting was taking place.  And I understand that there was a blog post put up to sort of characterize the discussion that occurred.  But there was no pool spray plan.  There was a pool spray earlier in the day that all of you had with the President when he was meeting with some -- I believe it was DREAM Act folks.
 
Q    And a question on Saudi Arabia in light of these allegations that have been made by Zacarias Moussaoui that the Saudis helped finance and had contact with the 9/11 hijackers.  What is the White House position on that section of the 9/11 report that has been classified that may or may not shed some light on this issue?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Look, Jon, I can tell you that the administration, in response to a specific congressional request, last year asked the intelligence community to conduct a classification review of that material.  And we did so in keeping with the standard procedure for determining whether or not it’s appropriate to release classified material.  And all I can tell you is that that process is ongoing.
 
Q    Do you have a sense of when that process will be finished?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a timeline for when that classification process will be completed.
 
Q    And what do you make of these allegations?  Obviously they come from a convicted terrorist, but does the White House believe there’s anything to this suggestion that the Saudis may have been more involved?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, I’m not going to comment on those assertions from somebody who, as you point out, has been convicted of very serious terrorism charges.  I’m just going to reiterate something that we have said many times and I think that was on display when the President stopped in Riyadh on his way back from India last week, and specifically, that is that the United States and Saudi Arabia maintain a strong counterterrorism relationship as a key element of our broad and strategic partnership.
 
Q    And then a question on the departures.  Obviously Pfeiffer, Palmieri, Podesta -- a lot of people whose names begin with “P” I guess.  (Laughter.)
 
MR. EARNEST:  They’re readily identifiable by one name.  (Laughter.)  Which makes them rock stars.
 
Q    You're doing it alphabetically.   
 
Q    But that’s a lot of -- that’s a significant percentage of the President’s senior advisory team here at the White House leaving at roughly the same time.  Is there a sense that people are kind of running for the exits for the rest of this presidency?  And what’s the President going to do about replacing them?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, I can tell you that the three individuals that you named are people who have made substantial contribution to the President’s success here in his presidency.  And they have made contributions that are difficult to measure on a whole range of issues.  So there’s no denying the fact that these are people who have served the President and the American people exceedingly well while they’ve been here.
 
One of their principal accomplishments was to build a team here at the White House that has been very successful in ensuring the President’s success in executing on the kinds of strategic decisions that have been really good for the country.  And even just in the last several months, we’ve seen the President take the kinds of steps -- whether it’s securing an historic agreement with China, to announcing executive actions on bringing greater accountability to our immigration system -- there are a whole host of things, particularly in the last few months, where the President has demonstrated and built up some momentum. 
 
And the team that those individuals have built are largely responsible for that success.  And I think when you get a chance to speak to all of them, each of them will tell you that this team is poised to continue that success and to build on that momentum.  And I think they would also say -- and from covering White Houses in the past, I think you have a good sense of this, too -- is that particularly near the end of the last couple of years of a presidency, that an infusion of fresh legs and different perspective can be a really useful thing.  So I think the President, and Denis will take very seriously the responsibility that they have to replenish the leadership, to work with a team that’s already in place to continue the President’s success.
 
Q    Specifically on Pfeiffer and Podesta, will those two jobs be -- I mean, obviously you’ll have a new communications director coming in.  But will those two jobs be replaced with similar job responsibilities? 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Mr. Podesta will be replaced by Brian Deese, who has been the Deputy Director at OMB.  I think I’d be the first to admit that it's impossible to replace John Podesta, but certainly Brian will be stepping in to fill his shoes and take on many of the responsibilities that John filled while he was here. And I think the President has spoken to the fact that he’s really excited about Brian taking on these kinds of responsibilities.
 
As it relates to replacing Pfeiffer, and the impossibility of doing precisely that, there is still an on-going discussion about how exactly to do so much of the work that Dan did around here.
 
Michelle.
 
Q    Several people now, family members of 9/11 victims have said that President Obama told them personally that he wanted to release these classified pages, that he would do that soon.  So we know that it's going through this lengthy process, but does he still, in principle, agree with declassifying those pages?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, I'm not going to read out any private conversations that the President may have had, but I will tell you that in response to these kinds of requests, the administration has moved forward with asking the intelligence community to conduct a classification review of this material.  And that is standard operating procedure when the government is considering releasing classified material. 
 
We certainly want to make sure that by releasing material that we’re not going to create additional problems or vulnerabilities to our national security system.  We don’t want to reveal sources and methods, for example.  So that review is ongoing and that is part of, like I said, the standard operating procedure for when the administration is considering a request to release classified information.  And that review is ongoing.
 
Q    But by saying that, you’re not saying that moving forward is an indication of his support of declassifying it -- or are you?
 
MR. EARNEST:  What I'm saying is that there is a process in place for evaluating whether or not it is possible to release this information without harming national security.  And I'm confident that the President would -- while being a stalwart advocate for transparency, would not be in support of releasing information that could harm our national security.
 
Q    But since several people have said sort of the same thing about what the President told them, you can’t say whether he did, indeed, at the time, say those things to those family members? 
 
MR. EARNEST:  I'm not going to read out any private conversations the President may have had.
 
Q    Okay.  And on Ukraine, several months ago whenever lethal aid was asked about, the administration would always say, well, there’s a serious concern about not fighting a proxy war or escalating the situation.  Obviously that’s a serious concern, to the point that at the time lethal aid would not be considered.  Well, now that it is being considered, has something trumped the risk that is still the same of either escalation or the proxy war?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, that’s a good question, Michelle, and I think what I can say is that it's indicative of the kind of commitment that this administration has to regularly reevaluate and reassess our strategy for accomplishing something.  And we do that in a variety of areas, and this is something that we’re constantly focusing on -- is making sure at every turn that we have a strategy that optimizes our likelihood of success.
 
And what we have seen over the last several months when it comes to Ukraine is the success of a strategy of putting intense pressure on the Putin regime by putting in place sanctions.  And we’ve seen that those sanctions have had a pretty devastating impact on the Russian economy. 
 
That, of course, has been coupled with falling energy prices and other things, and that success would not have been possible without the close cooperation and coordination with our allies and friends in Europe.  But it has not resulted in the kind of decision-making that we would like to see from the Putin regime that would cause them to actually live up to the kind of commitments they made in the context of the Minsk negotiations. 
 
So that’s part of why we’re considering a wide range of things as it relates to our strategy.  And certainly one of the things that we believe is necessary based on this constant reassessment is that there is additional economic assistance that can be provided.  And that’s why the administration early this year put forward a specific request to the Congress to pass legislation that would offer up an additional $1 billion in loan guarantees to the Ukrainians, to offer up that financial assistance.
 
The Ukrainian economy has also been destabilized by the activities of the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. So this is a multifaceted strategy that we’re considering very carefully here.
 
Q    So the risk of things escalating because of lethal aid still exists, in the administration’s opinion?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the concern that we have is two things. One is the President -- and the President mentioned this is the news conference that he hosted with Prime Minister Modi in India -- where the President noted that we were going to -- that this conflict was not going to rise to the level of a military confrontation between the United States and Russia.  The President has been very clear about that.  So there are things that we are going to continue to avoid. 
 
But one of the concerns that we have about providing military assistance is it does contain the possibility of actually expanding bloodshed, and that’s actually what we’re trying to avoid.  The whole reason that we are trying to encourage both sides to sit down and hammer out a diplomatic agreement is to end the bloodshed and end the escalating conflict in that country.
 
And the fact is, we have seen the Ukrainian government live up to a lot of those agreements and at least try to implement them.  But those efforts have been entirely undermined by Russian-backed separatists with the full support of Russia, completely ignoring those commitments that they made just a few months earlier.
 
April.
 
Q    Josh, I want to ask you a question about Boko Haram.  What is the relationship between the United States government and the Nigerian government at this time, particularly as it relates to the fighting against terror in Nigeria with Boko Haram?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, I can tell you that there continues to be an interdisciplinary team in Abuja right now.  These are government officials with a wide variety of skills and expertise, some of them in the military, who are offering counterterrorism assistance to the Nigerian government.  And we certainly are supportive of the efforts taken by the Nigerian government to try to combat this terror threat that they face in their country.
 
Now, we have in the past, and I’ll do it again, expressed concerns about some of the things that the Nigerian government has done in the name of counterterrorism that has trampled some of the basic universal human rights that we’re very protective of in this country.  And we have urged them, as they take these steps to address terrorism in their own country, to be respectful of the human rights of their people.
 
But certainly we have an ongoing security and counterterrorism cooperation relationship with the Nigerian government, and that relationship continues.
 
Q    So with that said, that statement that you just made, what is the level of expectation from this White House as it relates to the upcoming elections in Nigeria, as well as finding any of the missing girls?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, certainly we want to assist the Nigerian government in carrying out -- or supporting them as they carry out an election that is free, and fair, and transparent, and ends with a result that reflects the genuine will of the Nigerian people.
 
Q    Does that mean a change in government, a change in leadership?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No.  That’s a decision for the Nigerian people to make, and we certainly want to support the Nigerian government as they hold an election that is open, and transparent, and actually has a result that reflects the will of the Nigerian people.  Our efforts to support the Nigerian-led operation to try to safely recover the Chibok girls continues.  This is very difficult work, and our concern about this continues.
 
Q    I want to ask one last question on this.  There’s a lot of concern and a lot of conversation about ISIS, a lot of new stories about ISIS.  But how does this White House look at ISIS versus Boko Haram?  ISIS is more of a threat than Boko Haram?  Or are they both, kind of, on the same equal footing as terror items affecting the world?  How are they viewed?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, I can send you to somebody at the National Security Council that may be will be able to give you a more thoughtful answer, but I’ll take a crack at it.  The way that the President views these kinds of things is through the prism of what’s best for American national security and our security interests around the globe.  And that is how the President determines the appropriate level of U.S. involvement in these efforts, and it is how we evaluate the kinds of steps that we need to take -- whether it’s direct military intervention or otherwise -- to try to help these countries counter these extremists that are operating in their country. 
 
So I guess the point is, it’s difficult to compare them because we consider each of them individually on a case-by-case basis and evaluate them by looking at what impact they have on American national security.  But I could put you in touch with somebody in the National Security Council who may be able to give you a more detailed assessment than that.
 
Bill.
 
Q    Regarding the Anthem data breach, the federal government spent $26 billion to help the health industry convert to electronic records, and the deadline was last month.  And yet the FBI says that the cybersecurity there is -- the standards are very lax -- their words.  So after all that investment, why isn’t the health care system’s security more robust?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Bill, I can tell you that that conversion to electronic health records has saved money and saved lives, and that’s the principal reason for doing that.  And so this issue of cybersecurity is something that industries all across the country and around the world are grappling with right now.  This is a persistent problem in the financial industry.  We know that the entertainment industry, late last year, had a rather high-profile issue that they were dealing with, and it is one that affects the health care industry as well. 
 
And that’s why it’s so important for us to take a comprehensive approach to dealing with this challenge, and that’s part of the goals of the legislation that we’ve put forward and hope that Congress will pass.  And it’s certainly the kind of thing that will be under discussion at the cybersecurity summit that the President is convening next week.
 
Q    But those goals are not anywhere near translation to legislation.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, we have put forward specific legislative language and sent it to Congress.  Now, I recognize that Republicans in Congress may have their own ideas about how they want to change that legislation, but certainly the President has been very forward-leaning and aggressive in making exactly clear exactly what he believes this country can do to strengthen our cybersecurity defenses and better react when a cyber breach has been detected.
 
Q    Does the administration believe that President Putin has Asperger’s syndrome?  (Laughter.)
 
MR. EARNEST:  I saw that report today.  I don’t have any comment on that Pentagon report.
 
Q    Well, this was a study done by an outside consultant for the Pentagon, which had some credibility, apparently.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not saying it’s un-credible, necessarily, I’m just saying that I don’t have a personal reaction to it.
 
Q    And then finally, Kerry said in Kyiv that the President would decide soon on lethal assistance for Ukraine.  What’s “soon”?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any update in terms of timing for any sort of decision.  There’s no decision that’s been made at this point that I’m aware of.  But like I was telling Michelle, we do have a posture of continually reevaluating and reassessing the success and progress that we’ve made based on the strategies that are currently implemented.  And part of that evaluation process includes raising the question about whether or not we need to make some changes to our strategy to make it more effective.  And that’s something that we’re doing on a continual basis.  But if there are any high-profile announcements to make around that strategy, then we’ll let you know.
 
Ed.
 
Q    Josh, on Pope Francis’s speech to Congress, will Vice President Biden attend or will he be out of the country?  (Laughter.)
 
MR. EARNEST:  The speech from the Pope I know is slated for September, and the Vice President’s schedule for that period of time has not been set.
 
Q    But you’d anticipate he’d be there.
 
MR. EARNEST:  I would anticipate that he would be there.
 
Q    So why can’t you say the same about Prime Minister Netanyahu?
 
 
MR. EARNEST:  The Vice President’s schedule for the first week of March is also not yet set.  But as I mentioned earlier -- I guess it was yesterday -- I noted that the Vice President takes very seriously the ceremonial responsibilities that he has before the United States Senate.  That’s everything from participating in swearing-in ceremonies to participating in the convening of joint sessions of Congress.
 
Now, there has been at least one previous occasion during his tenure as the Vice President where he’s been unable to attend a joint session of Congress because he was traveling overseas.  So when we have more details about the Vice President’s schedule for the first week of March, we’ll certainly let you know.
 
Q    A follow-up on the two questions you got about the meeting with Muslim leaders yesterday.  We were specifically told that you would not release it yesterday because there were private citizens who came in.  Now, as you yourself noted, the President met with private citizens who were DREAMers.  They're pretty young.  And you brought in TV cameras.  We didn't get all their names, but they're private citizens, as well.  And I’m sort of curious, is that under -- you suggested at the beginning that you might get the names.  So --
 
MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I’ll see if I can do that for you.  One thing we do know is that the names will be included in the WAVES records that are released.  They’re are on that regular process.
 
Q    Maybe months down the road, but --
 
MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  So they will, at least at some point, be released.  Let me see if I can get them released sooner.  I know that at least a couple of the individuals who participated in that meeting have spoken publicly about their participation in the meeting.  So you know at least --
 
Q    But doesn't that make it -- just put the list out there, right?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, that's what I had told you I’d do.
 
Q    Okay.  Well, just last night the White House told us they wouldn’t put it out.  I just want to put that on the record.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Okay.
 
Q    Okay, two quick things.  Jordan.  When Justin asked you, I still didn't hear a direct answer, like yesterday.  So will the President help approve more weapons to Jordan?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Ed, we have this continuing security relationship with Jordan.
 
Q    But there’s a crisis right now.  Bombs are being dropped in Syria, right?  I understand the long term.  But the King went back there and said, there’s a crisis, we're going in.  So will the President approve it?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ed, the United States remains committed to ensuring that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our partners in Jordan at this very serious time.  And it is clear that because of the terrible violence that was released via video yesterday, that that nation is going through a very difficult time.  And they can count on their partners in the United States to stand with them at that very difficult time.  And if that means ensuring that they are getting the security assistance that they were promised, they can count on the President of the United States being a strong advocate for making sure that they get that assistance that they need.
 
Q    And to put a finer point on what Justin said about Nancy Pelosi, she said, “I believe the administration should move quickly to give more capacity to Jordanians.”  This is not the President’s critics on the Hill saying, you're slow of foot.  You have the top Democratic leader saying, let’s go.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ed, what I can tell you is that the President will continue -- as he has in the past -- to be a strong advocate for making sure that the United States is doing all that we can and all that we should, and all that we promised we would do, to show our support for the Jordanian people, including providing needed security assistance.
 
Q    Last one.  Susan Rice tomorrow giving this speech about laying out the sort of official national security strategy.  Last time this was done was in 2010.  And the news reports at the time and the actual speech we’ve looked at said that the point of it was the administration’s strategy basically was that the U.S. needed to focus on a broader agenda and not just organize national security policy around counterterrorism, and that you had to focus on managing threats, use less American power, and not just focus on counterterror.  In retrospect, was that naïve five years later?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No, I think that -- not at all.  In fact, I think one clear piece of evidence to indicate that that strategy has enjoyed some success is the success that the administration has had and that the President has had in building and leading a coalition of more than 60 nations to take the fight to ISIL and degrade and ultimately destroy them.  That it’s not exclusively American planes that are dropping bombs on Syria and Iraq; that we welcome the participation of our allies in Europe, but also some of our allies actually in the region who are working side by side with American military pilots to strike targets on the ground.  That we are working closely with Saudi Arabia, for example, to get to work on a program that would train and equip moderate Syrian opposition fighters so that they can take the fight on the ground to ISIL.  And I think that is an indication of how we can use American influence to protect American national security interests.
 
Now, of course -- and I had this conversation with Michelle a little bit yesterday -- of course, the United States military is taking a leadership role, and they are shouldering most of this burden.  But by making sure that we’re including our partners that also have significant military capabilities, we can reduce the strain and burden on the American military and on the American taxpayers, by the way, but also do that in a way that gets them more bought-in on this fight so the United States is not standing alone countering this threat, but that we actually have countries all around the world that are contributing to this effort to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
 
Chris.
 
Q    Thanks, Josh.  On the AUMF -- did you want to --
 
MR. EARNEST:  Schultz is prolific today.  (Laughter.)  Go ahead, Chris.
 
Q    On the AUMF, you said you wouldn’t roll it out tomorrow; at least, you said it would be relatively soon.  John Boehner told us this morning that he thought that they would get it within a couple of days.  Is the language done?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I can tell you that the language is still the subject of ongoing discussions between administration officials and Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.  You’ll recall that the goal here was to ensure that we submitted legislation that could attract bipartisan support.  And to that end, what we have done is tried to consult with Democrats and Republicans in advance of submitting that language so that we could have some reasonable degree of confidence that the legislation would get exactly that kind of support, both from Democrats and Republicans.
 
Q    So it’s not settled?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I think it’s fair to say that we have made substantial progress since the President convened that meeting a couple of weeks ago where this was discussed.
 
Q    The other thing that John Boehner said today was that it was going to be incumbent upon the President to make the case about why we have to fight this fight.  And he suggested that actually passing the authorization -- I’m going to quote him -- “This is not going to be an easy lift.”  Does the White House anticipate that this is going to be tough to pass?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would anticipate that when we’re talking about an issue as weighty as an authorization for the Commander-in-Chief to use military force, that these are very serious issues and that people have some very strongly held views about it.  And so I would anticipate that there will be a very robust debate. 
 
And, let’s face it, Chris, things that aren’t that serious have a hard time getting through the United States Congress these days.  So when we’re talking about something as weighty as an authorization to use military force, I would anticipate that it will require substantial effort from certainly the leaders in both parties in both chambers of Congress, but I think as is evident from the robust consultation that has taken place between the administration and Capitol Hill, that the administration is also committed to dedicating some resources to the passage of this new AUMF.
 
And the reason for that -- and it’s important that people don’t lose sight of this -- the President believes it sends a very powerful signal to the American people, to our allies, and even to our enemies, that the United States of America is united behind this strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL; that across branches of government and even across political parties, even in this divided time in our nation’s political history at least, that Democrats and Republicans are committed to this very important task.
 
Q    Do you expect, even though there will be some robust debate, it will get done?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not going to make a prediction like that.  What I will make a prediction is that we are going to work very closely with Democrats and Republicans to try to move this through both Houses of Congress.  But I’ll let people who are much more astute analysts of congressional action give you an approximation of the likelihood of the passage of a new AUMF.
 
Q    And I just want to ask you about the visit by Benjamin Netanyahu and the fact that the President is not going to be meeting with him.  It certainly looks like he’s likely to win reelection, even before this happens, so we’re sort of anticipating.  How problematic is this for the President’s, shall we say, less than cozy relationship with Mr. Netanyahu?  And has this been damaging overall to U.S.-Israeli relations?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me just state at the beginning that I’m not going to speculate about the outcome of the election because, again, I wouldn’t want even my uninformed speculation about Israeli politics to be construed as interfering in that election in any way. 
 
But what I can talk about is the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.  And I think what is clear from the public statements of both men is that the counterterrorism and security relationship between our two countries has never been stronger.  In fact, it’s the Prime Minister himself who said that the level of security cooperation between the United States and Israel is unprecedented.  And that reflects a commitment from people on both sides of this relationship working together to pursue the national security interests of both their countries.  It’s in the interest of the United States of America for the United States to have a strong security relationship and security partnership with Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East.
 
It’s also important to the people of Israel that they have a strong and functioning security relationship with the United States.  Just last year, when innocent Israeli citizens were in the line of fire from extremists in Gaza who were firing rockets across the border, the United States acted to ramp up our assistance to the Israelis and provide additional funding for the Iron Dome program so that that program could be resupplied.  And the Iron Dome program is essentially the program that’s used to shoot down rockets that are destined for Israeli population centers. 
 
So there is an important relationship between our two countries, and both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama have succeeded in ensuring that that strong relationship continues to serve very well the populations of both our countries.
 
So what Mr. Schultz has passed me is that apparently, Justin, in answering your question, I misspoke.  And I don’t actually remember even misspeaking, but apparently I did.  (Laughter.)  So I noted that the United States and Jordan earlier this week, just two days ago, had signed a memorandum of understanding between our two countries.  Apparently, I said “billion” when I meant to say “million.”  That the memorandum of understanding relates to $300 to $400 million a year in security assistance through 2017.  Apparently I said “billion” and I regret the error.
 
J.C.
 
Q    What’s the difference, really?  (Laughter.)  Back to the Arabian Peninsula.  Does the situation in Yemen, which we haven’t really discussed in about a week, raise the threat level to the United States, and does it raise the threat level in the region?  And can you update us on the situation there, vis-à-vis the U.S. presence?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I assume you’re asking this question because of some of the reports overnight about an operation that may have taken out a senior AQAP leader and some other fighters there.
 
Q    Among other things.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Right.  I know that the reporting speculated on U.S. involvement.  And I’m just -- as in previous cases where these kinds of things have been reported, I’m just not going to be in a position to comment on them.  But what I can say is that the President has been very clear about the need to continue our counterterrorism operations in Yemen.  Those counterterrorism operations continue. 
 
I know there’s also been some reporting that speculated that the coordination between the United States and Yemen had been stopped in light of the political instability there.  Those reports were inaccurate.  The United States and Yemeni national security officials continue to coordinate on these efforts.  And they do reflect that AQAP continues to be one of the, if not the most, dangerous al Qaeda affiliate out there; that they have substantial capabilities when it comes to bomb-making and they have carried out dangerous attempts to try to strike the U.S. homeland. 
 
And so we continue to be very cognizant of that threat, and we continue to work vigilantly with the Yemeni national security officials to counter that threat.  But as it relates to specific reports on specific operations, I’m not in a position to comment on them.
 
Q    Do you have any more information on the possibility that they could be, the Houthi, in fact, could be taking direction from Tehran?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, what I’ve said about this in the past, J.C., I believe still applies, which is that we are concerned about some of the ties between that movement and the Iranian regime, but we have not -- we don’t have any clear evidence -- at least the last time that I talked about this with our national security team -- that Iran is exercising any sort of command-and-control authority at this point.
 
Alexis.
 
Q    Just to follow up on that lethal aid to Ukraine.  Is President Obama expected to be influenced by Chancellor Merkel’s stated position on this, since he will be seeing her next week and the Vice President will be seeing her?  Is the position of the German Chancellor on this question of major influence to the President’s own decision about whether the U.S. should be helpful?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Alexis, I don't want to read out any sort of private conversations between the President and Chancellor Merkel.  You’ll recall that on our flight back from Saudi Arabia, I believe, that the President did have the opportunity to speak on the telephone with Chancellor Merkel.  I don't know if that was on the flight from India to Saudi Arabia, or from Saudi Arabia on the way back.  But last week, the President, on Air Force One, did have the opportunity to visit with her. 
 
And the President speaks with the Chancellor quite frequently on a wide range of issues, not just the conflict in Ukraine, but on the economic situation of the EU, particularly as it relates to Greece.  There are a whole host of other areas where the United States and Germany cooperate very closely. 
 
And I think that is an indication to you that the personal opinion of the German Chancellor matters a great deal to the President and he values her advice and her insight.  He certainly wants to understand her perspective when it comes to the impact that U.S. decisions could have on Germany and on the people of Germany.  And that is why it's so critical that they have the kind of relationship where they can speak frankly with one another and where they can faithfully represent the views of their people and advocate for the best interests of their two countries.
 
And so often what they find when they talk is that the national security interests of the people of Germany are very clearly aligned with the national security interests of the United States and the people of this country.  And that's what makes us such close allies, and that's why the President is looking forward to her visiting the White House next week.
 
Q    Can you say whether the President’s assessment of this question might conclude in time for him to join the Chancellor in talking about this in Washington next week?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't have any previews to offer of their discussions.
 
Q    Can you say what kind of access the media will have to the two of them?
 
MR. EARNEST:  We're working through it.  I believe that we are looking at doing a news conference that day.  So maybe you’ll have the opportunity to ask her about the discussion.
 
Q    And one other question about the President’s meeting with the Muslim leaders -- I don't know what you want to call them.  Can you describe how the President wants to use that conversation, the discussion that he had, in the context of a summit on violent extremism?  How will it help him in his thinking and to use practical mechanisms, either through that summit or follow-ons to the summit, to accomplish some of the goals he’s already stated?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you probably saw from the readout that we did from the meeting, the conversation was rather broad. It didn’t just focus on our ongoing counterterrorism efforts or our efforts to try to counter radicalization attempts by extremist groups.  There was an opportunity for the President to have a pretty wide-ranging discussion with them about middle-class economics, about the importance of signing up for health care if you don't have it before the February 15th deadline, at healthcare.gov.  There were a whole range of topics that they discussed, but certainly this was one of them. 
 
And one of the benefits of convening this summit on countering violent extremism is that we can bring together leaders in law enforcement and leaders in communities across the country, including leaders in the Muslim-American community, to talk about what we can do to try to counter the radicalizing messaging from extremist organizations.  These kinds of extremist organizations, because of technology, have more opportunities than they previously did to try to get inside the minds of vulnerable young people in this country.  That's true in the Muslim community, but it's true of all young people all across this country. 
 
And so one of the things that we're going to do in the context of that summit is spend some time talking to law enforcement leaders and leaders in communities across the country, including the Muslim-American community, about some of the best practices that they have implemented to try to safeguard their communities.  And we want to create a scenario where we can identify these best practices and communicate them to communities all across the country.  And certainly we're going to value the kind of input that we get both from law enforcement but also from community leaders, both of whom have a really clear interest in protecting the people in their community.
 
Jared.
 
Q    Josh, in addition to being a spiritual leader, the Pope is also a head of state.  Was there any departure from protocol in the invitation in September? 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Not that I'm aware of.
 
Q    On the authorization for the use of military force, you’ve said “reasonably soon” and “relatively soon” -- a semantic difference of which I was not aware.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Neither am I.  It was not intended.
 
Q    Okay.  What is the package that the President will be delivering reasonably or relatively soon?  Because we've talked about -- you’ve talked about a dissatisfaction with the 2001-2002 AUMFs.  You’ve also talked about the need, the expressed need for a new document governing the Iraq and Syria actions.  And there’s also been a repeal.  Will this be three separate documents?  I guess the thrust of the question is, will there be repeal language also submitted?  And will there be another umbrella document, another umbrella authorization to replace the 2001-2002, which the President has thus far relied on for the actions in Syria?
 
MR. EARNEST:  You asked a series of questions there, none of which seemed illegitimate to me, but the vast majority of them will be --
 
Q    Thanks.  (Laughter.)
 
MR. EARNEST:  Not a compliment, just an observation.  Many of those questions will be much easier to answer after we've made an announcement.
 
What you can expect is specific legislative language that Democrats and Republicans have worked with the administration to produce.  And we're hopeful that that language will earn majority support in both the House and the Senate and will attract the support of both Democrats and Republicans in building that majority.  What exactly is in the content of that language is something that I'll be in a position to discuss with you after that language has been released.
 
There’s one element of your question, though, that I did want to clarify, which is that at one point you described the President needing some additional authorization.  And the fact is the President does believe that the military force that he has already ordered was already authorized by the United States Congress under the 2001 AUMF.  So this is not a matter of legal necessity.  It is a matter, however, of the President’s desire to send a very clear signal to the people of this country, to our allies and to our enemies that the United States of America and our political system is united behind the strategy to degrade and destroy ISIL that the President has laid out.
 
Q    Despite the fact that the President, in something that wasn’t in the prepared remarks but was in his statement in the State of the Union, saying we need that authorization.
 
MR. EARNEST:  And I think that was an attempt to make the case to members of Congress -- it did not reflect a change in our legal analysis, but rather him urging that the broader operation would significantly benefit from this kind of bipartisan show of unity.
 
Q    Let me just ask one other way, which is should the document that we’ll get soon be something that's specifically just for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, or will it more largely address the authorizations that have governed the President’s actions so far?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Stay tuned. 
 
Q    Okay.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Mark.
 
Q    Josh, over at the prayer breakfast today, President Obama offered a public welcome, public greeting and even public words of praise for the Dalai Lama.  What should Chinese leaders take from that?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has on previous occasions had the opportunity to meet with the Dalai Lama here at the White House.  The two leaders did not meet on His Holiness’s visit to the White House this time.
 
But I think the President’s respect for and appreciation of the Dalai Lama were pretty clearly articulated in the remarks that he delivered today.  It’s not different from the sentiment that the President has previously expressed in the context of meetings that he’s hosted with the Dalia Lama on previous visits to Washington.
 
As longstanding as the President’s appreciation for the Dalai Lama is, so is the Chinese government’s objections to those kinds of interactions.  But we're certainly cognizant of that impact, but it hasn’t changed the President’s view.
 
Q    Was the Dalai Lama here this week at the White House -- is that what you were saying?  But didn't meet with the President?
 
MR. EARNEST:  No.  I was saying he did not.
 
Q    He wasn’t at the White House, in other words?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of, no.
 
Q    You said the White House. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  I’m sorry?
 
Q    You said White House but you meant Washington.  You said White House. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Okay, sorry if I was unclear.  The President did not meet with the Dalai Lama on this visit to Washington.
 
Q    And will not?
 
MR. EARNEST:  And will not.
 
Q    Okay. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Sorry about that, Mark.
 
Byron, I’ll give you the last one.
 
Q    Thanks, Josh.  Can I follow on the AUMF?  What is the President going to do to get this across the finish line?  Do you have a legislative strategy mapped out?  And how much will the President personally be involved?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Byron, I would say that the key part of our legislative strategy is one that's being executed right now, which is to work very closely with Democrats and Republicans -- both the House and the Senate -- to put together language that we believe and that they believe can attract bipartisan support in the Congress.
 
And what the President is interested in is not just passing this AUMF, but being able to demonstrate some bipartisan support for it.  And that is a critical part of our efforts because again, the goal here is to demonstrate clearly to the American people, to our allies, and to our enemies that there is strong bipartisan support for this commitment to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
 
And so the core of this strategy is coordinating on the front end to make sure that we have the kind of language that Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill feel like they can support.  And after this legislation is submitted, then we will  -- we're going to work closely with Democrats and Republicans to try to move this across the finish line.
 
Q    Is there a staffer at the White House who is taking responsibility for this, the negotiations with Congress?  Is there a point person?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't think there is a point person that I would describe to you.  But certainly you could imagine that there are officials in the Counsel’s Office; obviously our legislative affairs department is keenly interested in this, as are members of the national security team.  So we’ve got a large number of people who are working on this effort.
 
And I think what you could also expect, Bryon, is that those members -- both the lawyers, the leg affairs team, and the members of the national security team -- will remain engaged in this effort.  So if there are specific questions that members of Congress have about the language, and they want to talk to somebody in the national security team about it, they’ll get those phone calls returned.
 
If they have a more legalistic question that they would like to ask, we can certainly put them in touch with a lawyer who understands the legal argument that the administration supports.  But we're going to continue to stay engaged even across the wide variety of people who are involved in this ongoing effort.
 
Q    One last question.  When the President and Chancellor Merkel spoke last week, did they discuss her diplomatic efforts with Russia in that call?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I don't have anything to add to the readout of that call that we put out.  So I can pull that readout for you and give you a chance to take a look. 
 
Thanks, a lot, everybody.  Have a good day.
 
    END2:04 P.M. EST
 
**American Muslim leaders that the President met with Wednesday:
 
Bilqis “Qisi” Abdul-Qaadir, Director of Women’s Basketball Operations, Indiana State University
Arshia Wajid, Founder, American Muslim Health Professionals
Dean Obeidallah, Comedian, Dean of Comedy
Kameelah Rashad, Founder of Muslim Wellness Foundation and Muslim Chaplain of University of Pennsylvania
Diego Arancibia, Board Member and Associate Director, Ta’leef Collective
Farhan Latif, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Policy Impact, Institute of Policy and Understanding
Sherman Jackson, Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California
Azhar Azeez, President, Islamic Society of North America
Farhana Khera, President, Muslim Advocates
Rahat Hussain, President, Universal Muslim Association of America
Hoda Hawa, National Policy Advisor, Muslim Public Affairs Council
Maya Berry, Executive Director, Arab American Institute
Imam Mohamed Magid, ADAMS Center
Haroon Mokhtarzada, CEO, Webs