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Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 9/22/16

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:06 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  There’s a lot going on in the world today, so I anticipate a wide variety of questions today.  So let’s just get right to it.

Kevin, do you want the start?

Q    Sure, Josh.  Can you speak to the President’s thoughts about the unrest taking place in Charlotte?  And is this an indication that, despite a lot of focus on this issue, a lot of meetings by the President, a lot of comments, that really tensions have only gotten worse between law enforcement and many in the black community over the summer instead of gotten better?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, the President has, unfortunately, had numerous opportunities to address this topic, not just over the last couple of years, but as you mentioned, over the summer. What’s clear is that there’s important work to be done in local communities all across the country to build trust and strengthen the relationship between individual local law enforcement agencies and the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.

And the President has played a leading role in trying to discuss publicly some of these issues and to raise this policy -- or these policy questions as a legitimate priority, something that is worthy of careful consideration by policymakers all across the country.

This is a particularly complex set of issues, in part because we know that the vast majority of men and women who work in law enforcement are genuine public servants who keep their communities safe and who put their lives on the line to do so.  There are countless examples that the President has cited of individuals performing that work heroically, and saving lives and saving communities.

What’s also true, what the President has also addressed is there are legitimate concerns that have been raised about inequities in our criminal justice system.  These are inequities that break down, in many cases, along racial lines.  And those are difficult questions that must be confronted; they cannot be ignored.  And the President has certainly played his own role in making sure that these issues are not ignored. 

The President has talked about them publicly on a number of occasions.  The President has also convened a 21st century -- a Task Force on 21st Century Policing that brought together civil rights leaders, academics, leading law enforcement officials to talk about steps that communities can take to build this trust.  And the President continues to believe it's in the interest of everybody for the relationship between local law enforcement and individual communities to improve and to strengthen.  That certainly increases the safety of local law enforcement officials and law enforcement officers; it makes them more effective at doing their jobs; and it also makes our communities safer, which is ultimately everybody’s goal.

Q    I suspect there will be quite a few questions on that topic. 


Q    I wanted to ask about Bashar al-Assad accusing the U.S. of intentionally attacking the Syrian military, saying that multiple planes were involved in what he described as a lengthy attack.  I just wanted to get the White House reaction to his comments.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that we've already addressed publicly that over the weekend there was an incident that is under investigation by the Department of Defense because it may have resulted in a strike not against an intended ISIL target but against some Syrian government forces.  This is something that the Department of Defense is still investigating.  But we've acknowledged that an error likely occurred and we've owned up to that.

President Assad, however, has not owned up to the fact that his military has targeted hospitals and refugee camps, carried out barrel bomb attacks against innocent civilians.  In some cases, those barrel bombs included using chlorine as a weapon.  President Assad is somebody who has contributed greatly to violence, chaos and bloodshed in his country.  And the consequences of his failed leadership and his willingness to resort to violence against innocent civilians has caused mayhem not just across his country but across his country and around the world. 

That's something that he needs to own up to, and it's certainly the reason that he has lost the legitimacy to lead that country, and it's why even the Russians acknowledge -- his biggest defender in the international community -- even they acknowledge that a politics transition inside of Syria is necessary. 

Q    There appears to be quite a divide between the State Department and the military over a proposal to ground all warplanes in Syria.  Have they not been consulting each other?  Generals were on the Hill today saying they were against such a proposal.  Does that mean the proposal is out the window now.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, what I can tell you is that there is a continued effort to test the proposition that Russia can succeed in living up to the terms of the Cessation of Hostilities and persuade the Assad regime to do the same.  There is an open question about whether Russia is willing or able to do so, and the last 10 days or so have raised significant doubts about Russia’s credibility.  That creaking sound you hear is Russia’s international credibility taking an additional hit as the Assad regime fails to live up to the commitments that they made in the context of the Cessation of Hostilities, and as additional evidence indicates that the Russians themselves have not abided by the terms of the Cessation of Hostilities.

So that’s the fundamental question that we’re facing.  And there is unanimity of opinion across the United States government that there won’t be any cooperation militarily with the Russians unless and until the Russians live up to the commitments that they’ve made.  There’s no disagreement about that.


Q    You mentioned the 21st Century Policing Task Force.  I’m wondering, given that experience and work that the White House has done on that issue, what the White House makes of the suggestion by Republican candidate Donald Trump that stop-and-frisk be used more broadly by police departments in America.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not going to respond to comments from the Republican nominee on the campaign trail.  I think people can consult the Task Force on 21st Century Policing that was formed under the auspices of this administration to lay out suggestions for local law enforcement agencies across the country about what they can do to enhance trust with the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.  And strengthening those bonds of trust keeps law enforcement officers safer, makes them more effective at doing their job; it also ends up making communities safer as well.

Expanding and doubling down on stop-and-frisk policies is not among the suggestions, I think for rather obvious reasons.

Q    I wanted also to ask about this latest hacking situation that seems to have come to light this morning and that has revealed Mrs. Obama’s passport and some other information.  I’m wondering whether the White House has any response, any idea how it happened, any attribution.  Was it Russia?

MR. EARNEST:  Obviously, I’ve seen the reports about this.  I can tell you that administration officials are taking a look at the information that’s been disclosed.  Obviously we take any reports about a cyber breach seriously, particularly if it may include some sensitive information.

At this point, I cannot speak to the authenticity of the information that’s been released, but certainly this is something that we’re taking a close look at, as we do with any report of a cyber intrusion.  And, no, at this point I cannot announce any sort of conclusion that’s been reached about the individual or individuals that may have been responsible for the cyber breach that resulted in this information being leaked. 


Q    Josh, I want to go back to Charlotte, and also, yesterday on another topic.  But on Charlotte, on the issue of Charlotte -- has President Obama talked to Secretary Foxx about his hometown of Charlotte and what can be done and what his thoughts are?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t believe the President has had a chance to talk to Secretary Foxx.  I know the President yesterday had the opportunity to talk to both the mayor of Charlotte and the mayor of Tulsa, two communities that are confronting these issues in a real and tangible way right now.  I can tell you that the President this afternoon spoke to Governor McCrory from North Carolina to get an additional update about the response to the situation in Charlotte as well. 

So the President is certainly aware of what’s happening and has been in close touch with local officials.  And in those conversations, the President has offered his condolences to communities that are mourning the loss of loved ones.  The President has also articulated his administration’s support for communities that are grappling with these difficult questions.

The President also hopes that the rights of peaceful protestors will be protected, but he also believes that it should be made clear that the protests must remain peaceful, and that they should not be used as an excuse to engage in vandalism or violence.  That only serves to distract from the issues that should be the subject of careful public scrutiny.

Q    So as you call for peaceful protest, which happens to be their right, there are people there in Charlotte who say, yes, they have a right to protest, but the question is how far will they go and when will the line be crossed when there is the possibility of militarization.  When the President talked to the governor and other officials in Charlotte, did he bring up the issue of the militarization issue, of talking about anything about tear gas, and what the -- because people are afraid in Charlotte and Baltimore because of -- the police and how they’re interacting with the crowd -- think they have a fighting chance?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a more detailed readout of the President’s conversation to share with you.  I can tell you that the President certainly -- well, look, you all have heard the President talk about this issue.  I’m not saying anything new.  The President believes strongly in the right of individuals to publicly protest, to voice their concerns in public.  Those rights are protected in the United States Constitution.  And the President believes strongly in not just allowing individuals to exercise those rights, but in the responsibility that government officials at every level have in protecting the ability of private citizens to exercise those rights.

That’s important.  It’s also important that people don’t use a peaceful, public protest as an excuse to engage in violence, or to engage in vandalism.  There’s no excuse for that.

Q    When you talk about these protests, many people try to come up with solutions and reasons why -- reasons as to why it’s happened.  And some of those who are analyzing these types of situations -- be it Baltimore, be it Ferguson, be it Charlotte right now, be it wherever -- they’re saying there’s been a lack of community policing, that people like Congressman John Lewis, who said community policing is a major issue.  Also, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has said community policing --  

is there anything that this administration can do to change dynamics in some communities to prevent this, and try to implement in this last few months the issue of community policing that has been cut in many communities, like Baltimore, because budgetary constraints?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, even the phrase that you’re using, “community policing,” suggests that these kinds of law enforcement decisions should be made at the community level.  It shouldn’t be imposed by the federal government.  So the President believes that the most effective role for the federal government to play is, first of all, to share information, particularly with regard to best practices.  And that’s exactly what his Task Force on 21st Century Policing was formed to do. 

So if there are law enforcement agencies who are interested in adapting and adopting these best practices, we would certainly welcome them doing so.  Many of them already have.  And there are a number of communities that have made progress and have made strides in improving the relationship with the communities that they police based on their commitment to these best practices.

So we’ve made important progress at the community level, based on the leadership that’s shown by mayors and sheriffs and police chiefs all across the country.

The other thing that federal government can do is look for ways to provide additional resources to local law enforcement agencies that are trying to do the right thing.  And there are grants and other expertise that the Department of Justice can provide.  There is an office at the Department of Justice that’s dedicated to community-oriented policing.  And, in fact, there are some resources from the Department of Justice that are being sent to Charlotte to help that community deal with the situation that they’re facing right now.  And we certainly would welcome Congress appropriating additional resources that could be deployed to assist communities that are taking on this tough challenge.

Q    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says this breach between the community and law enforcement is a national security issue.  And if it is deemed as such by your head of Homeland Security, why not mandate or executive order it that there should be community policing in these urban areas -- in these areas where these types of things are happening?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, April, you’re using the word “community-oriented policing,” and I think that connotes the idea that it’s not a solution that’s going to be imposed by the federal government.

Q    But your head, your Secretary of Homeland Security says it’s a national security issue, so it’s gone beyond community, if he’s saying it’s a national security issue.  That’s just my humble opinion.


Q    But now, wait a minute, one more question.  Thank you. I’m sorry.  Yesterday, on the road, there was a word used by Don King at a rally for Donald Trump, and it’s a word that you had to deal with a couple of months ago -- the “N” word.  Did the President say anything about it?  And what do you say about the fact that Don King is essentially saying any African American, no matter what level that they have achieved, is that word?

MR. EARNEST:  Listen, I’m not going to -- I don’t have anything to say in response to his rhetoric. 


Q    I wanted to ask about the stop-gap spending bill the Republicans -- at least the text of their proposal.  It has not been warmly received by House and Senate Democrats, with Senator Reid suggesting the White House would veto it.  Is that true?  What is your interpretation?  And are we -- what is your assessment of whether or not a shutdown is an increasing reality?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Justin, when I walked out here, I hadn’t heard about any text that’s been made public.  I know that over the last several weeks, there were a variety of proposals that have been floated on Capitol Hill.

What I can tell you is that our principle has not changed.  And that is, the President believes that the United States Congress should fulfill its basic duty to pass a budget.  And Republicans have failed to do that.  Republicans have a strong majority in the House of Representatives.  They've got a majority in the United States Senate.  And they've had nine months to work on spending bills and send them to the President’s desk.  And a grand total of zero of them have been passed through the House and the Senate.  That's a failure of House Republicans to fulfill their -- among their more basic responsibilities.

And so that's why Congress right now is faced with this question about passing a short-term budget measure.  The President does not believe that a short-term budget measure that only exists because Congress hasn’t done their job in the first place should be used to pass ideological riders in the law.  And the President is not going to be a part of any effort to sign those kinds of ideological riders into law when they're attached to a short-term spending bill.

The real question that's facing Congress right now, and the real question that's facing Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan right now is whether or not they're going to go along with a Ted Cruz-engineered effort, backed by Donald Trump, to shut down the government under false pretenses. 

Senator Cruz has certainly done that before.  Leader McConnell went along with that before.  He’s going to have to make a decision, Speaker Ryan is going to have to make a decision about whether or not that's in the best interests of the country, and whether or not, frankly, that's in the best interests of their party’s candidates who are on the ballot in seven weeks.

Q    Just to drill down on that, I assume you're referring to the ICANN provision that's been offered by Senator Cruz. 

MR. EARNEST:  That's correct. 

Q    So that's a red line for you guys?  You’d be unwilling to sign a budget that includes that?  And secondly, a non-ideological point of tension on this bill has been funding for Ex-Im.  I was wondering if you could provide clarity on whether or not you guys would need to see that for the President to accept -- or advocate for Democrats, who despite being a minority do hold some power in the Senate? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Justin, again, as you've heard me say many times, if you and I were trying to negotiate this out, we can probably figure it out in relatively short order.

Q    I’m not trying to negotiate.  I just want your position on -- (laughter). 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I understand.  I haven’t seen the -- like I said, I haven’t seen the specific proposal that's been put forward today.  But, look, I think with regard to the proposal that’s being moved forward by Senator Cruz, with the strong support of Donald Trump, we see a proposal that doesn't withstand any scrutiny.  It’s also a proposal that business leaders, leaders in the technology sector, leading entrepreneurs and innovators all oppose and say would be bad policy.

It also strikes me as a curious position for a self-described small government conservative to shut down the government to ensure that the federal government can continue to control the Internet.  That doesn’t make any sense. 

With regard to the Ex-Im Bank, I think our position on this is actually pretty clear, which is in some ways this is exhibit A of Republican congressional dysfunction.  You have Senator Shelby, who -- maybe never, actually, the Chair of the Senate Banking Committee -- that is his title.  I don’t think he actually sits in that chair, because that committee doesn’t seem to do much work.  You have a Republican nominee to the Ex-Im Bank that is being blocked by Senator Shelby right now.  So this is not somebody that President Obama has strongly advocated for.  This is somebody that Leader McConnell vouches for.  So this isn’t a partisan fight.  This is just run-of-the-mill Republican dysfunction that, again, I think contributes to the remarkably low standing -- or I guess I should say low regard -- that the American people hold Congress in right now. 

The fact of the matter is, the Ex-Im Bank does important work that contributes to economic growth and job creation.  And right now they’re handcuffed because they don’t have a quorum on their board.  And the reason they don’t have a quorum on their board is because the Republican chair of the Senate Banking Committee is blocking the Republican nominee to the board.  I mean, it almost is difficult to describe what poor judgment that shows. 

And we obviously feel quite strongly about it.  And, quite frankly, we believe that’s something that should have been rectified months ago.  But, again, maybe it’s because Republicans are so dysfunctional.  Maybe it’s because Republicans are unwilling to do their job in the United States Senate.  Maybe it’s because Republicans have worked the fewest days of any Congress since the 1950s.  There are a variety of explanations. But none of them legitimizes the failure of Republicans in Congress to do something so basic, so nonpartisan, that would improve our economy even further.  And we believe they should.

Q    Can I ask a couple quick ones on the 9/11 Saudi bill?


Q    The first one is just a logistical one.  I know you’ve said that he’s going to veto it.  Can we expect that to be late Friday night?  Is this a news dump situation, or is that going to happen --

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think it’s a news dump situation.  I think you all are aware of the fact that it’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when.  And as soon as it does, we’ll let you know.

Q    But no actual guidance on when the President is planning to do that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, certainly before the -- he will do it within the 10-day window that’s described in the Constitution.  And as you point out, the end of that 10-day window is tomorrow evening.

Q    Has the administration at all reached out to the Saudis to work on some sort of voluntary move that could provide assistance to 9/11 families and head this off at the pass?  Has that been any -- have there been any diplomatic kind of negotiations or discussions around this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll let the Saudis speak for themselves, but I think the reports that we have seen and their public statements indicate that they’re concerned about the passage of this legislation, and they’ve certainly contacted the United States government about that concern.

But I think the important point here, Justin, is it’s not just the Saudis who are deeply concerned.  Our partners in the EU sent a letter to the State Department indicating their significant concern about the potential passage of this legislation.  Just to read briefly from that letter -- “State immunity is a central pillar of the international legal order.  Any derogation from the principle of immunity bears the inherent danger of causing reciprocal action by other states, and erosion of the principle as such.”

That’s some legalistic language that indicates that if this bill were to enter into force, if the President’s veto were overridden, the United States government, U.S. servicemembers, U.S. diplomats, and even, potentially, U.S. companies are at risk of being hauled into court in countries all around the world.  And that’s something that this principle -- the erosion of this principle is something that the EU is concerned about as well.  But the truth is, there is no country in the world that has more at stake in that debate than the United States, because we are engaged in countries around the world. 

So we certainly have heard from some of our closest partners in the EU expressing their concern about this legislation.  I would also note the letter from a bipartisan group of national security experts indicating what they describe as their deep concerns about this bill.  And this includes President George W. Bush’s Attorney General, President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor, and other officials who have served Presidents in both parties.

So this is one of those moments in which people who are unencumbered by politics and are allowed to evaluate a particular piece of legislation based on their expertise have a very strong view that mirrors the President’s.  And we’re going to continue to make that case to members of Congress. 

And I think, Justin, what I’m trying to illustrate here is that so much of the coverage of this particular piece of legislation evaluates its impact on the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia.  The concern that the administration has is about the impact that this legislation would have on the United States’ relationship with every other country in the world, including Saudi Arabia.  And that’s why we believe this is a bad bill.  It’s why the President is going to veto it.  I also think, Justin, it’s why we hear in private from some members of Congress that they’re uneasy about this bill, too. 

Q    You’ve mentioned that a couple times.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’m going to let individual members of Congress express their own position.  And there are plenty of people who have been hired on Capitol Hill to be a spokesperson for a member of Congress.  I’m a spokesperson for the President of the United States, and I’ve done my best to articulate his views in public as clearly as I can.  But you'll have to ask my counterparts on Capitol Hill for the views of individual members of Congress.


Q    You said a couple of times during this briefing what the President thinks about the issue surrounding the Charlotte protests, what he would say.  Well, on this occasion, in the wake of two shootings -- and this one that has necessitated bringing in the National Guard -- why doesn’t he say something to the American public?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I don’t have any additional details from the President's schedule to disclose at this point. The President is doing an interview later today, and I guess there certainly is potential that he could get asked about it in that context.  We'll let you know. 


But I also -- I think people would be hard-pressed to make the case that somehow the President has not been particularly visible on these issues.  I think the President has spoken more about these issues all across the country over the last couple of years than any other public official that comes to my mind.  Part of that is because he has got a responsibility as the President of the United States.  Part of that is because of the President's strongly held personal views about this topic.  Part of that is because the President's commitment to trying to do something about it.  And so you've heard frequently from the President on these issues, and I'm confident that you've not heard him talk about this for the last time.

Q    And the kind of protest that we've seen in Charlotte -- and we've seen that a number of times now where there is some violence, where things do get out of hand.  You mentioned that -- yeah, I mean, nobody is disputing the fact that everybody has the right to protest.  But how does the President feel about whether protests like this are productive?  Does he see a value in this kind of demonstration?  Or does he feel like this adds to division?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what is true, Michelle, is that it's easy -- and I'm not accusing you of this -- but I think it is easy for people to generalize in describing the conduct of people who are protesting.  What is typically the case -- and I think this is true in communities across the country -- is that the vast majority of people who are exercising their constitutionally protected right to protest are doing so peacefully.  Unfortunately, we've seen situations in which a small number of people take advantage of that peaceful public protest to engage in criminal activity, to engage in vandalism and, in some cases, violence. 

We've often heard from the families of those who were killed, urging people with concerns to express those concerns peacefully and to not perpetuate the cycle of violence.  Those have often been quite powerful calls.  And those are calls that the President has strongly supported. 

The President, on a number of occasions, has talked about how the constitutional right of citizens to protest is an integral part of our democracy, and the ability of citizens to exercise that right has made our country better, and more fair, and more just.  But protests that are peaceful have more power and are more likely to arouse the conscience of the public and of elected leaders to implement reforms and bring about the kind of change that the protesters would ultimately like to see. 

So the President certainly does not believe that there's an excuse for somebody to engage in violence in the context of these protests.  But the President also, just as a practical matter, believes that these protests are much more effective and much more likely to have an impact when they're peaceful.

Q    This is also not the first time that we've seen a police department have a video of the incident that they haven’t released immediately.  I mean, eventually, we all know that video is going to come out, or it's going to be in the public record at some point.

MR. EARNEST:  It does seem likely.

Q    So does the President support just releasing videos like this soon after the existence becomes clear because that's going to possibly quell the unrest?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, as I was mentioning to April, individual law enforcement agencies and local elected officials are going to have to make those kinds of decisions consistent with the law that's on the books in their individual jurisdictions.  That's the way that it should work.  But the President is certainly interested in trying to foster a stronger relationship between local law enforcement and the communities they're sworn to serve and protect.  And being as transparent as possible is much more likely to foster that spirit of trust. 

Q    Okay, sorry, I thought you were going to say something. And just quickly, on the subject of stop-and-frisk, I think it's easy to simplify that, as well.  It's easy to take a side on that.  Today, we heard Donald Trump call for I think what he'd describe as a tailored, localized version of stop-and-frisk.  I'm not really sure what that means. 

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not sure, either.

Q    Well, maybe this will shed some light on that.  Because speaking to, for example, a D.C. lawmaker, who's a Democrat, talking about ending stop-and-frisk here leading to a disturbing uptick in gun crime, and talking about the numbers of guns that they got off the streets through stop-and-frisk.  So, obviously, the administration has an interest, and one we've heard so many times, in getting illegal guns off the streets and stopping violent crime, especially gun crime.  Don’t you think that there is some kind of more balanced or more tailored version of stop-and-frisk that could be productive?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, actually, what occurs to me in you asking your question is I think it does raise questions that a politician would be so dogmatic about protecting Second Amendment rights, yet rather cavalier about protecting the constitutional prohibition against an illegal search and seizure.  It might lead one person to conclude that the politician is more interested in playing politics than finding a solution.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  I have a follow-up on the CR situation.

MR. EARNEST:  I thought you might.  (Laughter.)

Q    You know me well.  We're eight days away from a shutdown now, and leaders have been saying for a long time they don't think one is going to happen, but it could.  So what --

MR. EARNEST:  I think they were saying that in 2013, too.  Weren’t they? 

Q    So my question is what is the administration doing to prepare for that situation?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there is a standard procedure that's followed by the Office of Management and Budget to ensure that if funding for the federal government lapses, that the appropriate steps are taken to remain in compliance with the law.  And that means an orderly shutdown of the federal government based on the lack of congressional action.

So what you see on the part of the administration is continued commitment to effective governance and taking responsibility for serving the American people.  Unfortunately, that is not at all what we see from Republicans in Congress.  Republicans in Congress have failed to pass a single spending bill through both houses of Congress.  That's among the more basic responsibilities of the United States Congress. 

And the American people elected a Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate.  You would think that would make it easier for Congress to pass a budget.  But it hasn’t because it does require Republicans in Congress to do their job.  And whether it’s considering the nominees to the Supreme Court, or considering Republican nominees to the Ex-Im Bank, or passing spending bills, too often over the course of this year we've seen a failure on the part of Republicans in Congress to do their job.  That's something they’ll have to answer for in a few weeks.


Q    Thank you.  I have a few questions about Charlotte.  First, I know that the Department of Justice is sending some folks down there today, if they haven’t already gone.  And I thought you mentioned resources.  Were you referring to them? 


Q    Or is the White House sending additional people?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of anybody from the White House that's headed down there, but there are a couple of different offices from the Department of Justice that are headed down there.  Let me see if I can get you some --

Q    So these resources are just personnel.


Q    Okay.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  These are -- personnel from the Community Relations Service, which is a branch of the Department of Justice, are heading to Charlotte.  I know that there are FBI resources, FBI personnel that are based in Charlotte that are available if requested by local law enforcement officials.  So there are resources that can be provided in the form of personnel and experts who have helped other communities deal with difficult situations like this one.

Q    And then can I ask a couple questions about the 21st Century Task Force you mentioned?  So a couple things.  One, they made recommendations, I think in 2015, about 50 recommendations. But then I have a vague recollection that President Obama stopped in at a meeting that they had earlier this year.  Are they still meeting post-recommendations?  Or is the task force done?

MR. EARNEST:  I can get you an update on their activities.  I know that there has been some follow-up work that they’ve done since the initial release of that initial report in March of 2015.  But let me see if we can get you some additional information about other activities that they’ve been working on.

Q    I had a couple other questions about that.  Do you know what has happened with the recommendations that they made?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the recommendations that they made were recommendations that they made public.  And just to -- you probably know this, but just so others are aware, this was a task force that included senior law enforcement leaders, civil rights activists, young people who protested in Ferguson, academics who have spent years studying this challenge.  So this was a genuine cross-section of people with a variety of perspectives and experiences who came together around a set of best practices.  They held hearings all across the country. 

But ultimately, as I was explaining to April, we’ve got a tradition in this country of local law enforcement decisions being made at the local level.  And so these are not practices that the federal government can impose on local law enforcement agencies.  Rather, what we can do is put forward these recommendations that are drawn from practices that have been implemented in other communities, and make suggestions to local law enforcement agencies that they consider these best practices. There are experts at the Department of Justice that have traveled to some cities to help them in the implementation of some of these best practices.  But ultimately, it’s the responsibility of local law enforcement leaders and local elected officials to determine how and whether to pursue the implementation of these best practices, and it’s not something that can be imposed by the federal government.

Q    None of the recommendations, which I don’t have in front of me, would be from the federal government level, they would all be at the local level?  None would be implemented by the federal government, is what you’re saying?

MR. EARNEST:  I think that there were some suggestions about what the federal government could do.  Some of this related to providing equipment to local law enforcement agencies, for example.  So there were a handful of things that did relate to the federal government.  But when it relates to the policies that are implemented by local law enforcement, that’s not something that can be imposed by the federal government.  These are best practices that local law enforcement agencies need to determine how -- whether and how to implement in their individual communities.

Q    One I wanted to ask you about.  So I don’t want to -- maybe this isn’t on a federal level, but one of the recommendations was for more data to be collected on police-involved shootings, and I would assume that would be country-wide.  So do you happen to know if there is such a thing happening at this point? 

MR. EARNEST:  I know there has been an effort to collect more data on this, but we’ll see if we can get you some more details.  Maybe there’s some more specific questions --

Q    Yeah, if you could put me in the right -- talk to the right person on this --

Q    Can you give me some of the stuff that she’s asking for as well?


Q    Thank you.

Q    Thanks.


Q    Josh, on the 9/11 lawsuit bill, can you say why President Obama is waiting until the end of the 10-day window to cast his veto?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mark, we’ve made clear that we want to have an opportunity to make our case to members of Congress, and that’s what we’ve been doing over the last several days.  But as soon as the President has vetoed the bill, we’ll let you know.

Q    There’s no anguishing going on?  You said umpteen times he’ll veto it and he will veto it. 

MR. EARNEST:  He will veto it.

Q    And he has until midnight tomorrow to do it.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s my understanding, yes.  And by midnight tomorrow, I mean the end of the day tomorrow.

Q    Understand.  And the reason he’s delaying it is because you’re reaching out to members of Congress in the hope of avoiding an override?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ve certainly been making a case to members of Congress, rooted in the principle at stake here, consistent with the argument that’s made by these Democratic and Republican national security experts, who today said they had deep concerns with the bill.

So we have spent the last eight days making that case, and we’re going to continue to do so, to Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress.  And many of those conversations include their staff members as well.  And more than one member of Congress has indicated that they are uneasy about the impact of this legislation, too.  And so those that are uneasy about this are going to have to make their own decision about whether or not they’re prepared to vote in public the same way that they have talked in private.

Q    Can you be more specific than “more than one member of Congress”?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  I mean, primarily because it’s -- because I don’t have a number in mind.  I know that based on my communications with people who are having these conversations, I know that to be true.

Q    Are you working the phones yourself?

MR. EARNEST:  I am not.

Q    Okay.  One other subject --

MR. EARNEST:  Fortunately, we’ve got other people that do that.

Q    Has President Obama -- did he weigh in on the decision to allow Airbus and Boeing to sell airplanes to Iran?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any congressional -- I’m sorry -- presidential involvement with that specific decision.  We’ll follow up with you if there was.  This obviously was a decision that was made by experts at --

Q    -- (inaudible.)

MR. EARNEST:  No, at the Treasury Department.  This is OFAC, the Office of Foreign Assets Control.  And they made the decision to issue two licenses for the export of commercial passenger aircraft to Iran.  The licenses themselves are quite limited in that they relate solely to commercial passenger aviation, and there are specific provisions in here that prevent these aircraft from being transferred or conveyed to sanctioned entities in Iran or anywhere else.  So there are limitations on this license.  But for a more detailed accounting of that, I’d referred you to the Treasury Department. 


Q    In North Carolina, there’s a law -- October 1st -- that will require a court order to release body cam video from police officers.  Does the White House oppose that law, or did you, when it was in the process of --

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware that we’ve taken a position on that one.

Q    Why wouldn’t you?  I think there are other North Carolina laws you’ve taken a positions on and --

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, there are.

Q    -- this seems to be -- I’m not sure if body cameras -- I believe they were part of the task force recommendations, were they not?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, there was some language in there about studying the impact of the more widespread use of body cameras, and so what that included was, trying to provide those resources to additional law enforcement agencies and then studying the impact that it had.

Ron, there are 50 states across the country with active state legislators who are sponsoring and passing bills, some of which we strongly support, and some of which we strongly oppose, and some of which are entirely irrelevant to the federal government.  We don’t evaluate each one.

Q    No, I understand.  But this one about body cameras and transparency and, particularly in this day and age that we live in where this video has become such an important factor in how the public and participants view these incidents, why not take a position on that, to try and stop that in a place like North Carolina?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, Ron, just because we’re not going to take a position on every bill.

Q    Trying to clarify, White House staffers are not allowed to work for Clinton campaign, is that correct?

MR. EARNEST:  There are strict limitations about what individual White House staffers can do with regard to political activity.  There are some things that they’re able to do on their personal time.  We can certainly provide you a detailed briefing on that if you’re interested.

Q    This issue of using private Gmail and email again in the campaign -- imagine that -- but I would think that a White House staffers are not supposed to use Gmail, their own private accounts in doing White House business, correct?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you’ve heard me on a number of occasions restate our policy, which is that our recommendation to White House staffers and to employees of the federal government that they should use their official government email for official government business.

Q    And obviously this relates to the hack thing -- the alleged one -- you said you were concerned about.  Are those issues that you’re looking at, given the allegations that have been made?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ron, there’s one premise, however, that -- certainly this is a serious situation, we’re going to take a close look at it.  But the individual whose names -- whose name has been floated in the context of all this is not a White House staffer. 

Those of you who have traveled with the President know the significant number of people that are involved in planning the logistics of his travel.  The same is true of other senior U.S. government officials when they travel.  In order to plan the logistics for those trips, it’s not uncommon for the United States government to enter into, essentially, short-term contracts with private citizens, who do get paid, but they don’t have a desk at the White House.  These are individuals who are working with the White House or working with another government agency to plan travel logistics. 

So this is things like making sure there are enough chairs in the room, or making sure that all the logistical requirements for all of you who are covering the President are taken care of, making sure that the flags are arranged behind the President, making sure there’s a glass of water under his podium.  Those are the responsibility of advance staffers, and these are individuals, again, who -- they’re basically -- they’re akin to contractors in that they work on a short-term, periodic basis to assist in travel logistics.

Q    And this is what this individual was doing?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that’s what that individual and hundreds of other people have done over the course of last eight years, yes.

Q    On the Syria situation, General Dunford said something about how, given the attack on the convoy which he blamed on the Russians, as you have -- that that should eliminate the possibility of sharing intelligence and I would presume moving to this next military phase of sharing information that was going to happen if there was a seven-day period and humanitarian aid delivered, so on and so forth.  So essentially, is that the end of the possibility of that ever happening now?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ron, what we have indicated is that conversations between U.S. diplomats and Russian diplomats continue.  I think you got a window into that conversation if you had an opportunity to see Secretary Kerry’s remarks at the United Nations Security Council yesterday.  He expressed his deep concern about Russian culpability for the attack on the United Nations aid convoy.

These were humanitarian workers who were traveling in a very dangerous place -- not because they are seeking a profit or glory, but because they're trying to meet the basic humanitarian needs of people who have been suffering for years, people who don't have access to food or clean water or medicine -- and they risk their lives to travel to some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world to try to bring relief.  And the fact that they came under attack from military aircraft is an outrage.

And the Russians are culpable because we know this was an airstrike.  There were no coalition aircraft in the region.  There certainly were no U.S. aircraft in the region.  That means it was either the Russians, or the Iranian Syrian regime that carried out this attack.

Q    Syrian. 

MR. EARNEST:  Syrian regime, sorry.  The Iranian -- the Russians or the Syrian regime that carried out this attack.  And the Russians, in the context of the Cessation of Hostilities, have taken responsibility for the conduct of the Syrian regime.  We're counting on them to ensure that the Syrians live up to the commitments that are made in the context of the Cessation of Hostilities.  That's why the Russians need to account for this.

And so that, however, means that we're going to continue to talk to the Russians and see of this is something that can be salvaged.

Q    And just one more on this hack thing.  What it sounds like you're saying, essentially, is that this apparently involves a contractor on a short-term assignment for the White House.  Do these individuals have security clearances?  Do they -- again, I’m trying to -- are you saying this is not a breach of White House cyber security? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, this is something that was just leaked on the Internet a few hours ago, so we're still taking a look at exactly what happened.  And at this point I cannot account for the veracity or accuracy of the information that has been posted online.

What I can tell you is that there are individuals who are -- who essentially have a contract with the federal government on a short-term basis to help with travel planning.  So these are not individuals who show up at desk at the White House every day, but rather individuals who assist the White House in planning travel of senior U.S. officials.  And this is not just true at the White House.  This is true at other federal agencies, as well.  And these are individuals who are responsible for basic travel logistics, lining up hotel rooms, making sure there are enough chairs in the room, making sure that the press logistics are in place.  It requires a lot of people.  And those are people that assist in that planning and execution of a trip of a senior government official.


Q    Thanks.  Just to follow up on that.  It appears that the hackers went for this individual’s Gmail account.  I’m wondering if that's any kind of wakeup call for White House staffers that hackers at this point -- that we're seeing these leaks happen with more frequency, might be especially inclined to go to staffers’ personal accounts.  And is the White House taking any additional precautions or asking its staff to take additional precautions for their personal emails now that we're seeing this happening with regularity, especially in this election season?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julianna, I guess the point I would make is consistent with what you said there at the end of your question, which is I think it should be a wakeup call for all of us.  All of you have prominent names.  And it’s important for all of us to be conscious of protecting our information and practicing good cyber hygiene.  And that certainly is something that we've seen from --

Q    Cyber hygiene. 

MR. EARNEST:  That's certainly something that we were reminded of in the context of reports about former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the cyber breach that he was a victim of that was reported on last week.  So it’s something we all need to be mindful of.

Q    Any additional precautions or recommendations going out to staff? 

Q    I’m not aware of anything like that right now.  But certainly this -- like I said, this should be a reminder to everybody about how it’s important to be quite careful with that kind of information.


Q    If I could follow up just a minute on Ron’s comments about Russia.  I’m going to run down the list for you.  Minsk, support for the Assad regime, obstruction of the U.N., of the attack on the convoy, hacking.  At what point does this administration say, enough is enough -- what's the point in dealing with Moscow?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, we also -- there are other things that you could cite, which is that the Russians have been supportive of our efforts to try to apply additional pressure and further isolate the North Koreans.  Russia did play an important role in bringing about the international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Russia did play an important role in working with the United States to round up and destroy the declared chemical weapons stockpile of the Assad regime.  And that had a positive impact on not just U.S. national security, but it prevented those chemical weapons from falling into the hands of extremists.  We know that Russia shares our deep concerns about extremists that are operating in Syria and other places.

So our differences with the Russians are not things we've tried to hide.  Even in the context of this briefing I've spoken quite bluntly about Russian behavior, about Russian activities, and the devastating toll that that's taking on Russia's credibility in the international community. 

But what the United States is trying to do is trying to use the most effective lever we have on the Syrians by engaging the Russians.  And what Russia has agreed to do in the context of a Cessation of Hostilities is to compel the Assad regime to abide by the terms of the Cessation of Hostilities and to allow the flow of humanitarian assistance to reach those communities that desperately need it.

And I don’t know if it's because Russia is incapable of doing that or if Russia is unwilling to do that, or Russia has not devoted the effort and energy required to succeed in doing that.  Whatever the explanation, Russia has fallen short of their commitments, and they have to account for that with regard to the impact it has on their credibility.  It also means that Russia has not yet received the thing that they want.  What they would like to have -- they would like the ability to say in the international community that they're working with the United States to confront extremists inside of Syria.  They haven’t gotten that cooperation from the United States because we've insisted that they live up to their terms of the arrangement first.  And they failed.  It does beg questions about what exactly Russia's aims are.  They're taking this big hit to their international credibility and haven’t gotten anything for it.  And if anything, the situation inside of Syria is worsening in a way that risks drawing Russia even deeper into a quagmire.

So these are all I think legitimate questions to raise about Russia's strategy and their intentions.  And these are questions that can only be answered by President Putin himself.  But at some point, they're going to have to make a basic decision, and I think the only question is how much credibility are they willing to spend or lose.  Look, spend is the wrong word, because they're not getting anything in exchange.  So Russia is essentially in a situation where they're pouring their credibility down the drain while they repeatedly fail to live up to the terms of the arrangement.

Q    I want to draw your attention to something we talked about -- I think it may have been back in March -- and that was the release of some of the bin Laden documents, the declassification thereof.  I'm just wondering why the administration seems to be a little bit slow in releasing more of them, and is there a reason for that.

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have -- I haven’t recently received an update on the pace of releasing those documents.  I know that there are a substantial number of those documents and materials that have already been released.  But there are additional materials that continue to be reviewed by the intelligence community to see what we can learn about the al Qaeda network and to see what we can learn about the tactics and strategies that are employed by our adversaries.  But I'd refer you to the Director of National Intelligence and his office for an update in terms of where the declassification effort stands.

Q    And I ask because I just wonder if the release of more might sort of run counter to maybe the administration’s perspective on al Qaeda, for example, or jihadism in general.  Is that a fair criticism?

MR. EARNEST:  No, because that’s not the criteria that’s being used to evaluate the release of this information.  But again, I guess you just have to ask the ODNI for an update on the status of that declassification effort.

Q    Would the White House be open to officially ending the availability of cash payments being made to Iran?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that there’s been a lot of rhetoric and a lot of accusations that have gone along with that rhetoric in Congress, but I haven’t seen any serious proposals that would garner the support of the administration.  I also haven’t seen any serious proposals that would actually enhance our national security.

Q    Well, let me just follow up for just a second then, I guess, because people would say, well, cash payments are tougher to trace -- you’ve heard people make that suggestion; cash can end up in the hands of terrorist groups in a way that perhaps wired money might not.

MR. EARNEST:  Yeah, I have to admit, I’ve never really understood how people could say that.  That doesn’t really make any sense to me.  We all get paid with wire transfers.  We’re not paid in cash every two weeks, and it doesn’t inhibit our ability to spend that money however we choose.  So again, it’s a pretty tough case to make.  I’ve also heard people raise the prospect of, “oh, these were unmarked bills.”  Well what if they were marked?  What would that have done? 

So this whole argument is a factually challenged attempt to re-litigate a fight that Republicans have already lost.  The fact is this administration succeeded in safely recovering U.S. citizens who were being held against their will in Iran.  This administration succeeded in resolving a decades-long financial dispute with the Iranians in a way that potentially saved the American people billions of dollars.  And this administration succeeded in completing an international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that required Iran to eliminate 98 percent of their nuclear stockpile, to disconnect thousands of centrifuges, to render harmless their plutonium reactor, and to submit to and cooperate with the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program. 

None of those results, none of those benefits are in dispute.  All of that has been confirmed independently.  And no one argues that all of that benefits the American people and benefits our national security.  So that’s why you see Republicans and other critics pick these other arguments to try to distract from those facts, but ultimately those arguments don’t hold up to any scrutiny.  Somehow it’s easier to move cash around if the payments are made in cash as opposed to if there’s a wire transfer.

Q    But there were --

MR. EARNEST:  I’m no expert on that, but I actually think that’s not true. 

Q    Right, right.

MR. EARNEST:  I think it would be easier to transfer the money if you didn’t have to cart it around on crates, but if you could just press a button on a computer.  It seems easier that way.

Q    They were made both ways, though, right?  Some were made by wire?

MR. EARNEST:  You can talk to the Treasury Department about all that. 

Q    Okay.  But so -- I mean, they were both -- right?  Wire and cash?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think that’s true.  I think what the Treasury Department would tell you is that they were cash payments.

Q    Last one.  Driverless vehicles.  The President is -- the administration, I should say, is fairly aggressively promoting that development.  I’m wondering if there are concerns, however, as we move into that direction, about the labor impact on those who work in industries that are related to driving, whether it’s vans, buses and what have you.  And I read a statistic that said some 600,000 Californians alone would be negatively impacted in this sort of headlong move in that direction.  Is the administration sensitive to that, and what are you doing to combat those concerns?

MR. EARNEST:  Look, Kevin, there’s no doubt that our economy is significantly affected by technology.  And in many ways, technology has the potential to strengthen our economy and to make our roads safer. 

So there’s great potential associated with these kind of technological developments.  But advanced technology also has an impact on our workforce, and that’s all the more reason we should be doing much more to invest in early childhood education, to invest in job training, to make the doors to a college education open to every American student that’s willing to work hard to get it.  Preparing our citizens and our workforce for that kind of advanced economy needs to be a top priority.  It certainly has been a top priority of this President.

But unfortunately, those kinds of investments that are critical to the long-term success of the United States had been gutted by Republicans in Congress who, for some reason, don’t seem to share that priority.

So the President does feel quite passionate about this, and I think you’ll have an opportunity to hear the President talk about this a little bit more when he travels to Pittsburgh here in the next week or two.

Thanks for the question.  Andrew.

Q    Let’s go back to Syria.  You said again that you’re trying to test a proposition that whether the Russians are -- whether the Russians are willing or not to implement the ceasefire that they previously agreed.  But by your account, they’ve bombed an aid convoy, which is a war crime.  The day after, they targeted a clinic, which is a war crime.  How is this still an open question?  Haven’t the Russians made their decision?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, to be clear Andrew, what we have indicated is that the two outrageous incidents that you have cited are the responsibility of Russia, whether or not they’ve carried them out personally.  Because we know they were either carried out by Russian forces or by Syrian forces.  And given the influence that Russia has committed to use with the Assad regime to get them to stop carrying out those actions, either way Russia is responsible.

And it has taken an impact on their credibility.  And as skeptical as this administration was on the front end of this agreement, I’ll put it mildly and say, there is nothing that Russia has done to reduce that skepticism.  And it does raise questions for the Russians about what they’re prepared to do.  And those are the questions that we’re asking the Russians right now.

Q    The President, in the interview that was published last night, said that, Syria haunts him but he says that, basically his decisions on Syria -- he thinks that his decisions on Syria were correct and in the national interest.  Should we infer from that that, if the status quo broadly continues, if Russia keeps on bombing, if tens of thousands more people die, that he’s not going to change course?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I wouldn’t interpret it that way, Andrew.  I think it’s important to -- the President’s Syria policy has been second-guessed by many, many people.  I think the President acknowledged in the interview that he himself has reviewed the decisions that he has had to make with regard to U.S. policy in Syria.  And as he has reviewed those decisions, he’s concluded that, each time, he made a decision that was squarely within the national security interests of the United States, and even advanced our national security interests.

None of those decisions has brought an end to the violence.  None of those decisions has brought about the kind of political transition that we know is needed inside of Syria.  None of those decisions have eliminated entirely the extremist organizations that are operating in Syria.  But each of those decisions has mitigated the negative impact on our national security.  And the President is going to continue to make decisions, and is, in the four months that he remains in office, focused on our national security, and focused on what he can do to better protect the American people.

The consequences of those decisions include building a coalition with 67 members that have gone to great lengths to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  Iraqi security forces have made progress on the ground in taking back about 50 percent of the territory that ISIL previously controlled.  The percentage is somewhat smaller in Syria, but there have been important gains that have been made in Syria, including in key areas along the Turkey-Syria border.

The United States and our coalition partners have made important progress in taking out leading ISIL figures.  In just the last couple of weeks, two senior ISIL officials responsible for external plotting operations have been taken off the battlefield.

So we’ve made important progress, and that progress was a result of decisions and leadership that President Obama exercised.  But the President would be the first on to tell that there’s a whole lot more that remains undone, and that our goals there have still not been accomplished; that the humanitarian toll that this chaos has taken is far too great.  Too many innocent people continue to be killed.  Too many innocent people have been forced to flee their homes.  Too many countries around the region and in Europe have been strained by the burden of caring for innocent people fleeing violence in Syria. 

So I think that's the point that the President is making.  And moving forward, the President is going to continue to make decisions with the national security of the United States highest on the priority list.

Q    Okay, and just a final question.  As you know, Congress is considering additional sanctions on the Syrian regime.  Is the White House reviewing its position on those sanctions in light of what’s happened in the last week?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't have an update for you in terms of that process.  As the U.S. government considers applying sanctions to individuals or entities, we don't talk about that in much detail in advance primarily because we don't want to give those individuals or entities an opportunity to take steps that would evade those sanctions.

So this is just not a process that I can talk about much in advance.  Once we've made an announcement, the experts at the Treasury Department who are responsible for administering those sanctions can certainly give you some information and some insight into why specific decisions were made.  But ultimately, it’s just not something we're going to be able to talk about in advance. 


Q    Given what you're saying about this contractor and the work that she did in arranging travel for the White House, is it conceivable that she would have a scan of the First Lady’s passport?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I just can't talk about the contents of the information that's been leaked.  This is still something that is just a few hours old and something that officials in the U.S. government have taken a look at.

Q    Does the White House care to comment on the testimony of the CEO, Heather Bresch, from Mylan Pharmaceuticals, and the rising cost of EpiPen?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I didn't get a chance to see much of the testimony firsthand.  I was traveling in New York with the President yesterday.  I think what I can say in general is that the administration welcomes close congressional scrutiny of steps that we can take to reduce the cost of prescription drugs.  And ironically, those same Republicans that were eager to be caught on TV asking tough questions of a pharmaceutical company CEO are also preventing the U.S. government from negotiating a better price for the taxpayers.  Is it because they're also taking significant campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies and their CEOs?  You might have to ask them.

But it certainly is not a good look for Republicans in the United States Congress.  And if they were really committed to reducing prescription drug prices, they’d get behind the administration proposal to do exactly that.  Because the President feels strongly about this.  The President has put forward specific proposals to reduce prescription drug costs in a way that would be good for taxpayers and good for patients.  But Republicans have shown no interest in it because they're much more worried about protecting the interests of pharmaceutical companies.

Q    One more question.  President Obama, just a little bit ago, said that arts and humanities are reflective of our national soul in selecting Spanish-American chef José Andres, who has had a very public feud with the Republican nominee.  Is the President making a point about inclusiveness as part of the American soul?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that's a point that the President has made on a number of occasions even long before anybody considered the political career of the current Republican nominee.  And you don't have to spend too much time reading Mr. Andres’s biography to determine that he is a very worthy recipient of the recognition that he received today.


Q    And food.

MR. EARNEST:  That too.  (Laughter.)  That too. 

Jane, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  On North Korea, North Korea Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong said that the war already started between South Korea and North Korea, and North Korea might be using their nuclear weapons.  Any comment on it?

MR. EARNEST:  I didn’t see that specific comment, but it certainly sounds like the kind of inflammatory rhetoric and provocative statement that’s counterproductive.  What the international community seeks is deescalation on the Korean Peninsula.  We’re seeking stability on the Korean Peninsula, and we’re seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Those are principles that the South Koreans, that the United States, our allies in Japan, and other places are all committed to -- countries like China and Russia who aren’t allies of the United States and, as Kevin pointed out earlier, are in many cases competitors, at best, of the United States -- adversaries, even.  But they agree with greater stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  And that’s the message that the international community is unified around.

Q    Does the President have any particular plans for the North Korea, such as preemptive strikes?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t have any -- well, let me just say it this way.  Just in general -- not specifically to North Korea -- as an operational matter, we’re not going to discuss any preemptive military actions in advance.  And I think that’s for a simple and obvious reason.

More generally, what President Obama has said with regard to North Korea is that the international community needs to consider what additional steps we can take to further isolate the North Koreans, particularly in the aftermath of their latest nuclear test, which is in violation of a wide variety of U.N. resolutions and other international obligations that just about every other country in the world complies with.

So the international community takes this quite seriously.  The United States takes this quite seriously.  This is something that has been discussed in the context of the United Nations Security Council.  And I know that there’s work that’s being done at the United Nations to consider what additional steps should be taken in response to the latest North Korean nuclear test.

Thanks everybody, we’ll see you tomorrow.

Q    Hey, Josh, you mentioned a Pittsburgh trip.  When is that?

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll get you some more details on that.

END 2:27 P.M. EDT