THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST, September 2, 2014

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THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                                     September 2, 2014

 

PRESS BRIEFING

BY PRESS SECRETARY JOSH EARNEST

 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

 

12:53 P.M. EDT

 

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  I know some of you spent a decent amount of time traveling and covering the President, who was working this weekend.  But for those of you who weren’t, I hope you got a little bit of quiet time over the three-day holiday weekend.

 

Before I get to your questions, I did want to extend my condolences both personally, but also on behalf of everybody here at the White House, including the First Family, to the family of Mike Majchrowitz.

 

As many of you know, Mike was a reporter for Fox News Radio, covering the White House, and he passed away over the weekend after a long and courageous battle with cancer.  I got to know Mike a little bit when he was covering — started covering the White House here in 2010.  He was a tough reporter, but he was also somebody who showed a lot of respect for the journalistic process, certainly for his listeners, but also for those of us that he covered.  And that is something that is very admirable and a quality that I certainly admire in a professional journalist.

 

So our thoughts and prayers are with Mike and his family.  And, Wendell, I hope that you’ll convey to Mike’s colleagues at Fox News our condolences as well.

 

Q    Thank you.

 

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, do you want to get started?

 

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Keeping with the theme of the rest of this week, I have some foreign policy questions for you.  Let’s start with the U.S. military action in Somalia.  Do you have any additional details that you can share about that attack and whether it was successful?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, I don’t have any additional details.  I can confirm, however, what the Department of Defense has already reported, which is that the U.S. military conducted an operation in Somalia yesterday against the al-Shabaab network.  U.S. officials are continuing to assess the results of that operation and will provide some additional information as appropriate.

 

I do want to say that the Department of — the U.S. Department of State named al-Shabaab as a foreign terrorist organization more than six years ago.  Under the leadership of Ahmed Godane, al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for many bombings, including suicide attacks in Mogadishu and in northern and central Somalia.  Many of the targets of those attacks were officials and perceived allies of the Federal Government of Somalia.

 

Famously — or infamously, in September of 2013, Godane publicly claimed al-Shabaab was responsible for the Westgate Mall attack, which killed and injured dozens in Nairobi, Kenya.  Al-Shabaab has also continued to plan plots targeting Westerners, including U.S. persons in East Africa.  In recent months, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in Djibouti that killed a Turkish national and wounded several Western soldiers, as well as a car bomb at the Mogadishu Airport that targeted and killed members of a UN convoy.  Al-Shabaab was also responsible for the twin suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda on July 11th, 2010, which killed more than 70 people, including one American.

 

So this is a threat that we have been aware of and countering for quite some time.  And the United States stands with our international partners, particularly the African Union Mission in Somalia that are working to support the Federal Government of Somalia and build a secure and stable future for the Somali people.

 

Q    I know you don’t have specific details about this operation, but can you tell us if the Somali government has asked for U.S. help, or asked for U.S. airstrikes to take on al-Shabaab targets in the country?

 

MR. EARNEST:  The United States values the counterterrorism relationship that we do maintain with the Somali government.  In terms of the details of those conversations, I’m not in a position to describe those to you at this point, but we have in the past worked closely with the Somali government to counter this threat.  But as it relates to this specific mission or more generally what sort of requests for operational action the Somali government has placed, I can’t comment on that at this point.

 

Q    You were discussing some of the deplorable actions that are attributed to this group.  Does the U.S. consider al-Shabaab to be a direct threat to the U.S.?  And how would you evaluate its potency as compared to some of the other threats that we’re combatting, such as the Islamic State?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, what I would point out is that in some of the attacks that I listed there, there were Americans or Westerners who were the victims of those attacks.  Al-Shabaab, certainly under the leadership of Ahmed Godane, has carried out some rather brazen attacks against soft targets, in many cases hoping to injure or kill Westerners.  That is an indication this is a violent terrorist organization that has the both desire and capability to hit targets outside of Somalia.

 

I can’t provide an assessment at this point about the capability that al-Shabaab maintains or what sort of designs they have on the United States, but as a general matter, and as evidenced by some of the high-profile operations that this organization has carried out in the past, it’s evident that American interests, at least, are threatened by this organization.  And that is why the United States has worked closely with our international partners — the African Union, other Western governments, but also the government of Somalia — to counter this threat in Somalia and other places where they may be aiming to carry out attacks.

 

Q    And turning to NATO and the situation in Ukraine, can you tell us what the U.S. role or involvement will be in this new rapid response force that the NATO Secretary General has discussed wanting to create ahead of the summit in Wales later this week?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, this is the subject of the discussions that the President will be engaged in, in Wales.  The President, along with other members of his national security team that will be traveling this week, will be discussing a whole range of issues.  They’ll look at the needs of NATO member states, including what we can do to deal with hybrid warfare and other asymmetric threats.  The United States, in cooperation with our allies, plans to significantly increase the readiness of NATO response force to ensure that the Alliance is prepared to respond to threats in a timely fashion.  This will involve training exercises and discussions about what kinds of infrastructure will be required in the Baltics and Poland and Romania, and other states in the eastern frontier, to deal with the world in which they face new concerns about Russian intentions.

 

Q    But the Secretary General has already spoken about a troop force, the number of thousands rotating from the various states that comprise NATO.  So can you say whether U.S. troops and equipment will be part of that force?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any announcements about American troops to make at this point.  But this is the subject of discussions that are planned for later in the week, and if we have additional details to share at that point then we’ll do so.

 

 

Q    Josh, why did the President announce a deadline for taking executive action on immigration when he made his announcement in the Rose Garden?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the announcement that the President made in the Rose Garden back in June, as it relates to immigration reform, was the direct result of communication from the Speaker of the House.  Earlier that week, the President had been informed by Speaker Boehner that House Republicans intended to continue to block common-sense, bipartisan immigration reform legislation that had already passed through the Senate.

 

The President was disappointed to hear this news, because the President is confident — like many other congressional analysts — that if this piece of legislation were put up for a vote in the House of Representatives, it would pass the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.  So in effect, what you have is a small, but very vocal and influential group of House Republicans blocking a piece of legislation that has strong support all across the country among the labor community, the business community, law enforcement, even the faith community.

 

This is a piece of legislation that got the support of 13 or 14 Republican senators as well.  And this is legislation that the CBO and others have determined would be good for the economy.

 

Q    My question isn’t about the legislation.

 

MR. EARNEST:  Right, but I’m explaining to you what the President’s announcement was.  And the President made this announcement in light of the fact that there was common-sense legislation that had strong support across the country and in Congress to address a problem that everyone acknowledges exists.

 

And the President is determined, within the scope of his authority as laid out in the Constitution, to take whatever steps he can unilaterally to try to mitigate some of the problems that are caused by our broken immigration system.  The President is determined to act to do that.  But the President is also happy to allow whatever he eventually decides to implement on his own to be superseded by congressional action that would provide a more enduring and robust solution to these problems.

 

Q    But what about the timing?  At the time, he said he would get the recommendation —

 

Q    Yes, that’s my question.  Why did he say he would do it by the end of the summer, especially if that’s not what you’re going to do?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t have any updates in terms of the timing for presidential action.  But the President is determined to act.  The President has asked his Secretary of Homeland Security and his Attorney General to conduct a review of the existing law to determine what authorities the President can wield to make these changes.

 

Q    Yes, we know that.  I guess the question is, why couldn’t he have just come out in June and said, we’re going to take an executive action?  Did he box himself in by giving himself a deadline, which, even without an update today, appears to be something you’re reconsidering?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t have an update on the timing.  The President is determined to act.  That has not changed and it will not change.  The President is happy for Congress if they — to entertain a change of heart by Congress, if House Republicans want to change their mind and allow this piece of legislation for a vote.  That’s the irony of the situation.

 

At this point, we’re not even asking House Republicans to change their mind about the legislation.  It’s fine for them to go ahead and vote no.  There are plenty of votes that can be provided by Democrats to pass this piece of legislation, but ultimately it’s up to Congress to make decisions about what sort of congressional action they will authorize.

 

The President is in the midst of — well, I should say that the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General are in the midst of a review to determine what sort of action the President himself can take unilaterally to address these challenges.  In terms of the timing, we’ll have to wait and see what the timing ultimately ends up being here.  But the President’s determination to act and his commitment to acting has not changed in any way.

 

Q    Can you answer the question, though, Josh, as to why he set a deadline in the first place?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s hard for me to, at least at this point, draw any clear conclusions about what the President’s timing will be.  There is the chance that it could be before the end of the summer, there is the chance that it could be after the summer.  But the fact that the President will act is something that he is doing as a result of Congress’s failure to act and, to be more precise about it, House Republicans’ insistence to prevent common-sense bipartisan action that would actually be in the best interest of the country.

 

Q    Are you concerned about fallout with Hispanics if there is a delay?

 

MR. EARNEST:  What the President is concerned about is doing the best that he can to address as many problems as he can.  He had hoped when he took office that he would find willing partners in Congress; instead, he’s been met by pretty consistent objection and obstruction from congressional Republicans.

 

So the President has on many occasions on a whole range of issues — this is particularly true when it comes to the economy — has looked to his own executive authority to try to implement the kinds of solutions that are clearly in the best interest of the United States.

 

I mean, in terms of the politics, there are a lot of political analysts in this town — there are a lot of political analysts in this room — who will judge what impact a decision like this will have on the elections, who the winners are, who the losers are, what this does for turnout among certain segments of different communities.

 

All of that is a worthy endeavor, but that’s not what the President is focused on.  What the President is focused on is trying to solve problems.  The President is also interested in fulfilling what he believes is an important element of presidential leadership.  That is convening a debate with the American people about the most important issues facing the country.  And the President does want to have a fact-based debate with the American people about the status of our immigration system, what the consequences are for failing to take action to solve so many of the problems that are created by our broken immigration system.

 

It’s also worthy of a review of who has played a constructive role in trying to address these challenges.  We’ve seen the business community and the law enforcement community and the labor community all contribute in a positive way to try to reach a common-sense bipartisan solution to so many of these problems, but there is a segment of the United States Congress that hasn’t, and they’re all within the Republican Party.  It doesn’t apply to all Republicans.  There are a number of Republicans who have said that they do support comprehensive immigration reform, but it’s this group among the congressional leadership in the Republican Party that have blocked this common-sense piece of legislation from passing.

 

Q    Last question.  Did the White House analyze the politics of a deadline before the President made that then?  And if not, why not?  Because it doesn’t look like it — it looks like the analysis has changed, if it was ever made at all.

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, what’s driving this decision is, as I mentioned, the President’s desire to solve problems and the President’s desire to have a constructive, fact-based debate with the American public about the status of our immigration system and what the consequences are for failing to fix it.  And the President wants to — when the President is ready to announce a decision about administrative action, he will do that in the context of that broader debate.

 

Let’s move around a little bit.

 

Q    Thanks, Josh.  There are reports right now that ISIS/ISIL has beheaded a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff.  I was wondering if the administration has seen those reports.  It happened just a few minutes ago.  And if you have any initial reactions to that.

 

MR. EARNEST:  I have not seen those reports today, Zeke.  That may have just happened in the last few minutes while I’ve been standing up here.  This is something that the administration has obviously been watching very carefully since this threat against Mr. Sotloff’s life was originally made a few weeks ago.

 

Our thoughts and prayers, first and foremost, are with Mr. Sotloff and Mr. Sotloff’s family, and those who worked with him.  The United States, as you know, has dedicated significant time and resources to try and rescue Mr. Sotloff.  I am not in a position to confirm the authenticity of that video or the reports at this point, obviously, since I just walked out here. But this is — if there is a video that has been released, it is something that will be analyzed very carefully by the U.S. government and our intelligence officials to determine its authenticity.

 

Q    And changing gears a little bit — yesterday, when the President, in the Labor Day speech, he mentioned at the end immigration rights.  I was wondering if that was a reference to something that will be forthcoming in his executive actions that you’ve been previewing for the past few weeks now.  Was the President referring to a specific — could you clarify a little bit — it was sort of a new addition to his speech in terms of whether it be civil rights or voting rights, and then he added on immigration rights, and that’s not something that we’ve heard from him before.  If you can sort of maybe provide a little bit of insight into what he was talking about.

 

MR. EARNEST:  I suspect that he — while I haven’t talked to him about that element of his remarks, I’d suspect that he is alluding to what Jeff was just mentioning, which is the President’s determination to act unilaterally within the confines of the law to try to address so many of the problems that are created by our broken immigration system.  That is an element of presidential decision-making that the President feels strongly about, the exercise of his authority to address some of these problems.  And it is a priority.  It’s been a priority for him since he took office, and continues to be a priority now.

 

 

Q    Thanks, Josh.  On corporate inversions, is the President also determined to act on those?  It was a couple weeks ago that he asked Treasury to look into that.  And is there any timeline for that?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a timeline to announce, as it relates to possible executive actions on inversions.  As you know, the President’s team over at the Treasury Department is hard at work in examining what sort of administrative options may be available to the administration for removing the economic incentive for businesses to essentially renounce their American citizenship to try to get out of paying taxes, or at least out of paying their fair share of taxes.

 

Again, there’s no timeline that I can lay out for you from here.  But as is true also of immigration, the administrative steps that can be taken by the Treasury Department to address this problem are not as significant or impactful as legislative steps would be.  That is why we have called on Congress to act with dispatch to close this loophole that benefits well-connected companies and allows them to essentially, as I mentioned earlier, renounce their citizenship and avoid paying their fair share in taxes.

 

We’d be happy if this measure were — or if this step were taken consistent with corporate tax reform legislation.  But the difficulty of passing a complicated piece of legislation like corporate tax reform should not be an excuse for Congress passing a simple piece of legislation that could close this tax loophole.

 

One last thing I’ll say about this — and this is something I’ve said before, so I’ll just do it quickly — the last time that Congress took action to close an inversions-related loophole was in the fall of 2004.  It was passed with bipartisan support through the House and Senate; both Democrats and Republicans voted for it.  It was signed into law by a Republican President, and he did so a month or so before Election Day.

So there is no reason we shouldn’t see bipartisan support and bipartisan action in the Congress here in 2014.  And a Democratic President would certainly sign it into law a month or two before Election Day.

 

Q    But has the President decided to go ahead and take these administrative steps if Congress doesn’t act?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what the Treasury Department is determining right now is what steps could be taken unilaterally within the confines of the law to remove the financial incentive, or at least reduce the financial incentives that some companies have to renounce their corporate citizenship — or to renounce their U.S. citizenship.

 

So I don’t want to lay out a timeline until the Treasury Department has made a determination about what’s possible.

 

Q    Josh, the U.S. military strike against ISIS around Mosul is forcing them to change their tactics.  Is the ultimate strategy to drive them out of Mosul itself?  Would you consider that the ultimate aim of the U.S. airstrike with the help of the Iraqi forces?

 

MR. EARNEST:    Nadia, the President has laid out pretty clearly what the goal of our policy is in Iraq right now when it comes to confronting ISIL.

 

The first priority is the protection of American citizens.  There are American citizens in Baghdad and Erbil, and that is why the President has placed a priority on assisting Iraqi and Kurdish security forces as they protect those two cities.

 

The President has also authorized the use of American military force to prevent humanitarian disasters in Iraq.  That was something the President ordered earlier in August to try to protect the Yezidi people, a religious minority that had taken shelter at Mount Sinjar.  They were under threat of persecution from ISIL.

 

You noticed over the weekend that the Department of Defense announced an additional military action that they had carried out to try to bring some humanitarian relief to a different religious minority in the community of Amirli.  The United States carried out that mission.  That’s a testament to the skill and bravery of our men and women in uniform that they carried out this mission in a way that will provide some additional security to the Shia Turkmen who are in Amirli right now and face the threat of persecution.  All this is done in support of Iraqi and Kurdish security forces who are taking the fight to ISIL on the ground.

 

Q    So basically you’re saying there is no plan to go to Mosul itself, citing these two reasons?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what I’m saying is that those are the two priorities as it relates to American military action in Iraq.  There also is this other underlying element of counterterrorism that the United States has been very focused on, the administration has been very focused on.

 

So those are the priorities that the President has laid out for American military action.  And could we be in a situation where there is a relevant military action pursuant to those goals that would include a strike against ISIL forces in the Mosul area, I wouldn’t prejudge that one way or the other.  But you asked about the American priorities in Iraq as it relates to the conduct of military airstrikes, and that’s what they are.

 

Q    One more question?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Sure.

 

Q    There are some reports indicating that ISIS is forcing capture of Syrian pilots to train them to fly planes after the fall of Tabqa military air force.  How worried are you if these reports are true, actually accurate?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can’t confirm the veracity of those reports from here.  But we obviously take very seriously the threat that’s posed by ISIL.  And we’re going to be working with our partners both in the region and around the globe to counter this threat.  It obviously starts with the formation of a unified Iraqi government that can unite the country of Iraq to face this threat.  And the President has talked about working closely with his team to develop a strategy that may include the use of military force in Syria to counter this threat as well.

 

 

Q    Thank you.  Can you talk, Josh, about what the administration is doing to obtain the release of the three Americans from North Korea?  And will you name a special envoy?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I do have some language on that, Roger.  I can tell you, Roger, that we have of course seen the reports that you’re referring to, of three American citizens who were detained in North Korea and interviewed over the weekend — or at least their interviews were published over the weekend, or broadcast over the weekend.

Securing the release of U.S. citizens is a top priority, and we have followed these cases closely here in the White House.  We continue to do all we can to secure their earliest possible release.  I’d refer you to the State Department for anything further, including information on consular visits, as well as the travel warning which recommends against all travel to the DPRK for U.S. citizens.

 

Q    Anything you can say on that envoy?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I can’t.  I’d refer you to the State Department.

 

Q    Can I follow, Josh?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Sure, go ahead.

 

Q    It is reported that recently, about last month, the White House and the National Security Council officers secretly visited North Korea.  Do you have any information on that?  Can you confirm these — why they visit secretly?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I’ve heard those reports but I’m not in a position to confirm them from here.

 

Q    Because they have some kind of negotiation in the release of these detainees, or other issues you have, like a direct talk with North Korea?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you know, we have a couple of private — a couple of channels that we use to negotiate with the DPRK.  The Swedish government will occasionally represent American interests before the North Korean government.  There also is a liaison at the DPRK mission in New York where we will occasionally communicate.  But I’m not in a position at this point to confirm the reports of the meetings that you’re describing.

 

Q    There was a report that they’re using military, private airplane for a visit to North Korea, that they didn’t report to any South Korean airlines, other countries.

 

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I’m not — I’ve heard of those reports but I’m not in a position to confirm them.

 

Move around a little bit — Athena.

 

Q    The President’s first stop on this trip is Estonia.  What is the message he wants to deliver to the people of Estonia, the government of Estonia?  Is this, like, “Russia, back off; Estonia, we’ve got your back?”  Some combination of the two?

MR. EARNEST:  In colloquial terms, maybe?  The President is going to give a speech tomorrow where he’ll talk about some of these themes, and so I want to certainly command that to your attention.

The President is looking forward to using this visit to underscore the steadfast commitment of the United States to the security of Estonia and the other Baltic states.  While he’s visiting this Baltic republic, he’ll have an opportunity to meet with all three Baltic presidents.  These sessions will emphasize the importance we place on the transatlantic relationship, and how our collective security is inextricably linked with that of Europe as whole, free and at peace.  This is a theme that will be continued as the President moves on to Wales to participate in the NATO Summit.

 

The President will have more to say about this tomorrow.  He’s doing both a news conference earlier in the day and then, as I mentioned, later in the day a speech.

 

Q    And just one more.  We’ve heard this President described as a cautious President, very deliberative, and most recently by Senator Feinstein in talking about the development of the strategy to deal with ISIS in Syria.  Do you agree with that assessment, that President Obama is a cautious decision maker?  And is that what’s happening here, the President is being cautious and therefore we don’t — the strategy hasn’t been fully developed and presented to the American people?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me take that on in a couple of different ways.  I think the first is, I think the President is deliberate.  And the President takes very seriously his responsibility as the Commander-in-Chief to make wise and judicious decisions about the use of American military force.  He’s often talked about the most serious decision that any Commander-in-Chief has to make is the decision to put American servicemen and women in harm’s way to carry out military actions that are in the best interest of the United States of America.  The President doesn’t take that responsibility lightly at all.

At the same time, the President has not shown any reticence about using his authority as Commander-in-Chief to deploy American military forces to robustly defend American national security interests.  Many of you have talked about the President’s decision to order the use of military force to go and bring Osama bin Laden to justice.  That was certainly not a strategy or a decision that people would describe as cautious.  I think that was a rather risky decision.  And again, it’s only because of the skill and bravery of our men and women in uniform that that mission was successful.  But that I think — that’s just one high-profile example of the President being judicious but also bold about using American military authority to protect the national security interest of the United States of America.

 

I think this decision-making actually applies to other areas of the President’s agenda as well.  Many people talked about the President’s strategy for rescuing the American auto industry, for example, at the very beginning of his presidency.  That was a risky maneuver.  There were many people who counseled against him taking the kinds of actions that while politically risky on the front end, ultimately contributed significantly to the revival that we now see in the American auto industry.  Again, that is a testament to the hard work and grit of American autoworkers.  But it would not have been possible without this President — who sometimes is described as cautious — making a bold decision that really paid off in spades for the American public.

 

Q    But given this possible new beheading by ISIS — we know the threat that is being talked about — there are several members of Congress, a growing number of members of Congress who believe that the President is being too cautious when it comes to ISIS, if it’s really an urgent threat.

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are certainly people who will take advantage of the opportunity to do some Monday morning quarterbacking here.  That’s well within their rights.  That’s one reason that we have separate but equal branches of government, is to give people the opportunity to weigh in on these decisions.  But ultimately, when you’re the Commander-in-Chief, the decision resides with you to make best use of American military force to protect American interests.

 

It’s also the responsibility of the President of the United States to make sure that we’re using all of the elements of American authority to protect the American people and our national security interests around the globe.  That means deploying our intelligence apparatus and personnel in a way that can supplement the use of American military force.  It also includes using our influence around the globe in the realm of diplomacy to protect American interests.  That will be on display when the President travels to Europe this week.

 

The President is looking forward to the NATO Summit, where some of these issues will be discussed.   As many of you I’m sure have observed, Iraq is a neighbor of our NATO ally, Turkey.  And so I do anticipate that these discussions will include — the discussions at NATO will include countering the threat that’s posed by ISIL.  But the President is bound and determined, even in the face of criticism, to make the kinds of decisions that he believes are in the best interest of American national security and the American people.

 

 

Q    Thank you, Josh.  In light of the latest threat posed by ISIL sleeper cells, is the President considering requesting changes to policies, like eliminating the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to enter the U.S. and stay for 90 days without a visa?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, I don’t have any specific policy proposals or changes to announce from here.  As we’ve talked about for some time, the United States government is always reviewing our national security posture and evaluating the kinds of policies that will facilitate the kind of international trade and commerce that we want to see across international boundaries, but also ensuring that we have in place measures that will protect the American public, both Americans overseas but also Americans here at home.

 

So as it relates to travel in particular, the Department of Homeland Security is always reviewing our policies and procedures.  They are occasionally even tweaking those policies and procedures in ways that sometimes aren’t visible to the traveling public.  But there are professionals on the frontlines making these kinds of decisions on a regular basis to make sure that the policies and procedures that are in place will do everything possible to protect the American public in a way that minimizes any sort of inconvenience to the traveling public.

 

Q    This obviously comes after the very strong, hard and fast requests that Prime Minister Cameron suggested yesterday at the House of Commons.  I was wondering, will the President be speaking to the Prime Minister about a coordinated effort in terms of those kinds of requirements in some sort of coordinated effort?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can say a couple of things about that.  The first is, I would anticipate that these kinds of discussions will be on the agenda at the NATO Summit in Wales.  About three weeks from now, the United Nations General Assembly will convene in New York City.  World leaders from around the globe will attend.  And in the context of that General Assembly meeting, the President will convene a National Security Council meeting where the President will lead a discussion with other members of the National Security Council about the threat that’s posed by foreign fighters.  And this is an indication of the high priority that the President and other world leaders place on this specific issue.

 

I also want to point out that over the last several months — this is an issue that the White House has been very focused on; it’s something that’s been in the media for the last few weeks — but for the last several months administration officials have been focused on countering the threat that’s posed by so-called foreign fighters.  Again, these are individuals who have Western passports, but have decided to travel to the region and taken up arms to fight alongside ISIL.

 

And the President’s chief counterterrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, has traveled throughout the region and discussed with her counterparts efforts to try to mitigate this threat.  The Department of State in March appointed Ambassador Robert Bradtke as senior advisor for partner engagement on Syria foreign fighters.  So there’s been an intensive diplomatic effort to coordinate our efforts to confront and mitigate this threat.  There’s been significant operational collaboration between DHS, FBI and all of their foreign counterparts, including Interpol on this effort.

 

The State Department also hosts the Interagency Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications.  They’re engaged in the effort to counter-recruitment and radicalization online through counter-messaging.  And the intelligence community has also worked very closely in sharing information with our partners around the globe, again, to try to monitor these individuals who may be at risk of returning to the West to carry out acts of violence, but also doing everything that they can to try to mitigate this broader threat.  So this is something that the President and the administration have been focused on for a number of months now.

 

Q    Josh, can you clarify something you said?  You said, National Security Council.  Did you mean U.N. Security Council?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I did.  I meant the United Nations Security Council.  I apologize for misspeaking there.

 

 

Q    Back to Ukraine, Josh.  The government in Kyiv said today that they’ve seen Russian troops now in Donetsk, Luhansk. And in addition to the military columns we’ve been speaking about in southeastern Ukraine, they’re convinced that what they have is the Russian military, that that’s who they’re fighting there.  Why is the United States government still not calling this an invasion?

 

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mark, what we have described — the way that we have described this is that it’s consistent with the kinds of destabilizing activities we’ve seen from Russia for a number of months now — that we have seen Russia provide weapons and materiel from the Russian side of the border into Ukraine; that they’ve been working intensively and closely with Russian-backed separatists to train them to use some of the equipment that’s been provided.  And there’s ample evidence to indicate that Russian soldiers have been on the ground in Ukraine, engaged in an effort to support the separatists — and, in some cases, even to attack Ukrainian military positions.

 

This has all been a significant disappointment to the international community and to the President of the United States.  We have routinely and consistently called on President Putin to use his influence with the Russian-backed separatists to deescalate this conflict.  As a result of Russia’s failure to deescalate the conflict, significant economic costs have been imposed on Russia and it’s taken a toll on the Russian economy.

Q    But you won’t use the word “invasion.”  Why is that?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we have done is we have described their actions.  We’ve been watching them very closely.  We have been getting regular reports from the Ukrainians and others who are watching this situation.  Obviously, NATO has played a leading role and produced ample evidence to indicate that Russia has intervened in ways that grossly violate the territorial integrity of the independent nation of Ukraine.  And that is something that the United States, along with all of our international partners, stands foursquare against.  We want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to hold up and protect these international norms, that it’s not okay for large countries to flagrantly violate the territorial integrity of their smaller neighbors.

 

Q    You don’t think that by failing to call it an “invasion,” calling it what many of your NATO partners, frankly, think it is, that that doesn’t embolden the Russians and Vladimir Putin specifically to just continue taking more and more — less and less covert action?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think it emboldens them at all, because this is something that we’ve been talking about and raised publicly on many, many different occasions here over the last several months.  I would say that the other thing that I took note of is that even when produced with photographic evidence of Russia’s interference in Ukraine, that Russian officials have offered up denials that fly in the face of pretty clear evidence in the facts.  That may be the best indication of how vulnerable Russia feels about this situation right now, that they can’t even admit the truth about what’s happening when produced — when confronted with clear evidence about what exactly is happening.  I think that’s a pretty good indication of how confident they’re feeling about the situation right now.

 

 

Q    Has the President actually received the recommendation on immigration, the recommendations from the AG or Johnson?

 

MR. EARNEST:  He has not.  That review is still underway, and the President has not been presented with final recommendations at this point.

 

Q    Are we to presume that there won’t be any presentation of recommendations for the rest of the week?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I would not anticipate that the President will get the final recommendations this week.  That could change.  That doesn’t mean the President isn’t in regular consultation with members of his team both here at the White House and at these agencies about their ongoing review.  But the final recommendations at this point have not been presented.

 

Q    And what about just his staff?  Or is this something that will go directly from DHS to the President, but not up through the staff?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Ultimately, in terms of how the final recommendations will be presented, I’m not sure who will be on the “to” line of the email.  But I would anticipate that the President’s senior group of advisors will be in the loop on these discussions as well.

 

Q    There’s no recommendations floating around the West Wing that haven’t been delivered to him?

 

MR. EARNEST:  It’s not a situation that the final recommendations have been presented to some members of the team but not to the President.  But it is accurate to say that there have been — there’s been an open line of dialogue and communication between the White House and the individuals who are working on this review.  There certainly has been a lot of discussion and meetings on this topic.  That would include — and the President has some visibility on those discussions and has participated in some of them.

 

But in terms of the final recommendations that the President is awaiting from the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General, he has not received them yet.  Make sense?

 

Q    Can I follow up on that?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Mara, go ahead.

 

Q    When Jeff asked his questions earlier, you did not question the premise of his questions, which is that the President had put out a deadline in June for himself.  And I think his exact words was that he has asked for the recommendations by the end of summer, and he intends to act on them after that “without delay.”  And he never gave a date.  What I’m wondering is, it fair for us to have interpreted that phrase “without delay” to mean that he would issue the orders before Election Day?  Or is that an unfair interpretation of those remarks?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t think that the President was trying to be ambiguous about those remarks.  What the President indicated in June was that he expected that he — he asked — and I think when the President of the United States makes a request like this he can count on his team to meet that request.  But he asked for the final recommendations from the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security before the end of the summer.  And the President indicated that he intended at that point to act on them quickly after receiving them.

 

At this point, I don’t have any update for you on the timing, but I would anticipate that when the end of summer does roll around, the President will have — by the time the end of summer rolls around, the President will have received those final recommendations.  But in terms of when he will act on those final recommendations I don’t have any guidance for you at this point.

 

Q    But at the time he said that, “without delay,” what was that supposed to mean, the words “without delay”?  I mean, it could mean a lot of things.  You just — it was interesting that you didn’t question the premise of his –

 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t question the premise of Jeff’s astute and incisive line of questioning.  (Laughter.)

 

Q    So he meant before the election.  So that was a fair interpretation for us to make, that he meant he would act on them before the election?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I think it was fair for you to take away from this that the President would act without delay after receiving the recommendations, and to use the conventional, widespread understanding of what “without delay” means.

 

Bill, go ahead.

 

Q    Why don’t you just put it down where the goats can get it?  (Laughter.)

 

MR. EARNEST:  I’ve never heard that phrase before in my entire life.  I’m not really even sure what it means.  It’s a good one, mind if I use it?

 

Q    Please.

 

Q    Because you’ve got a lot of goats here.

 

Q    So isn’t this just about avoiding laying down the immigration principles before the election?  There’s been a lot of reporting on the subject.  Why didn’t you just come out and say it?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, there are a lot of political analysts who are sort of measuring what sort of impact a decision or an announcement along these lines would have on the elections.  That, frankly, is not what the administration is focused on.  We’re focused most clearly on our desire to address some of the problems that have been created by our broken immigration system.

 

The President feels strongly about having a debate about the status of our immigration system in the context of this announcement.

 

Q    So does that suggest that you’re not focused on the fate of five or six vulnerable Democrats?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I was just going to say that the White House, as evidenced by the President’s schedule, does indicate some desire to support Senate Democrats, House Democrats, and Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in the elections in the fall.  So there’s no doubt that the White House has demonstrated our desire to try to help those candidates — again, within the confines of the law — and the President has done that by, principally, to this point, by raising money in support of Democratic campaign committees.

 

Q    But might it not helped him if he didn’t mention immigration?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think it depends on who you ask.  I think there are some people who think it would help, there are some people who think it would hurt, there are some people who think it would help some and hurt some others.  There are some who suggest that maybe it would provoke such an aggressive reaction from some Republicans that it would hurt Republicans.  I’ll leave that to the –

 

Q    What do you think, Josh?  (Laughter.)

 

MR. EARNEST:  Not my responsibility to be a political analyst.  There are many people in this room who are better equipped to make that determination.  Fortunately, the President is basing this decision much more on our commitment to solving problems and doing so in the context of a fact-based debate so the American people actually understand what the consequences are for acting within the confines of the law to repair our broken immigration system, and try to reduce the impact of the consequences for failing to do so.

 

Q    One quick question.  Any reaction to President Putin’s statement that he could take Kyiv in two weeks?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I didn’t see that particular comment, but it is consistent with the kind of rhetoric that we’ve seen from President Putin in the past.  Again, we have asked President Putin to use his influence and his ability to colorfully turn a phrase to actually get the Russian-backed separatists to deescalate this conflict.  There’s an opportunity for these separatists to sit down at the negotiating table with the Russian — with the Ukrainian government, facilitated by the international community, to try to resolve their differences diplomatically.  There’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to do that, and in a way that would ease if not satisfy all of the concerns by people on both sides of this conflict.

 

As we’ve mentioned many times before, it would be perfectly appropriate for the two sides to work out their agreements in a way that would allow the nation of Ukraine to have a strong relationship with their neighbor in Russia while at the same time being able to pursue the kinds of links to the West that would benefit the entire country.  There’s no reason this should be a zero-sum game.

 

I recognize that President Putin, in some of his public utterances, doesn’t often see the situation in this way.  But we are hopeful that those who are involved in the situation and that President Putin, if for no other reason than for the humanitarian concern for those who are caught in the crossfire or who have been displaced from their homes in Ukraine, will advocate for this peaceful resolution of their differences.

 

 

Q    We have asked in every way I can think of whether or not the President’s words — that he intends to adopt the recommendations of the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General “without delay” — would be consistent with acting after the November elections.  Can you see that?  Would it be?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Wendell, I admire your creativity in terms of trying to ask this question again.

 

Q    Well, I just ask it every other way.

 

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, and I think it’s a worthwhile line of questioning.  But what I have to tell you is that I’m not in a position to give additional guidance to you in terms of timing.  The President is determined to act where House Republicans have prevented action, and the reason for that is simply that it would be good for the country, it would be good for our economy, it’s strongly supported by Democrats and Republicans in Congress and across the country.

 

Q    We know this.  We’re trying to pin a timeframe on it.

 

MR. EARNEST:  Right.  And I welcome your interest in the timeframe.  Humbly, let me suggest to you that the substance of the action is more important than the timing, and that’s why I keep going back to it.

 

Q    I’ll grant you that, but what the President’s comments were — that he intended to act “without delay” — suggests some substance there, too.  And is that consistent with now waiting until after the first of November?

 

MR. EARNEST:  The President hasn’t made a decision about the timing, so when he has we’ll have some more information for you about that.  But at this point, the lack of clarity around timing should not in any way lead people to believe that there is any lack of clarity about the President’s commitment to acting on this priority.

Q    Let me ask a different question, another subject — ISIS.  One of my colleagues is being told by a source that the President was being briefed on ISIS in his presidential daily briefings a year or more ago.  Can you confirm this?  It would indicate that it’s been — the group has been on his radar screen perhaps a little longer than he suggested.

 

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure when the President would have suggested that.  I’m not in a position to give out details of the President’s Daily Briefing. This is a closely held intelligence document.  But I can tell you that for years the President and other members of his national security team have expressed our concern about extremist elements in Syria and the impact — the destabilizing impact they could have on the broader region.  That’s why you’ve seen the United States work very closely with countries throughout the region to counter this threat.  It’s why you’ve seen the American government, at the direction of the President, work to support the moderate elements of the Syrian opposition both to counter President Assad but also to counter the extremist elements in that country.

 

The President has traveled to the region.  The President traveled to Jordan in the spring of 2013 where this specific question was raised about the role that extremist elements in Syria could have in destabilizing other countries in the region.  And the President spoke directly about the United States working with the international community and working with our partners in the region to counter that threat.

 

That is work that is ongoing, and that is consistent with the strategy that the President has laid out for countering ISIL, even in the face of some of the gains that they have made in Iraq.

 

 

Q    Josh, as it relates to the rapid response force from NATO — as you have indicated to be discussed during the NATO Summit to take place in Wales this week — even if the President hasn’t made any formal determinations, can you rule out that the U.S. would provide forces to join in that effort, which ultimately could mean boots on the ground in places where they’re required to respond rapidly?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Peter, I don’t have any update in terms of the rapid response force.  Certainly, the United States will be supportive of any sort of Alliance decisions that are made.

 

Q    So we could contribute troops?  That option remains available that the U.S. will consider?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are already troops in some cases operating under the NATO banner; in some cases, just operating on American military bases throughout Europe.  And they do so in support of American national security goals and in support of our broader NATO Alliance.

 

Q    But this was indicated as it relates to the Russian-Ukrainian border, so is that — so in that respect, is that an option that the President would be comfortable with at best?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President was asked in his news conference last week here on Thursday about whether or not a military option was available to him in terms of dealing with the situation in Ukraine, and he said — you should check the transcript — but the President was pretty definitive about suggesting that he wasn’t interested in further militarizing the situation.  And at that point, the President did draw a distinction between the commitments that the United States has to Ukraine and the people of Ukraine as a friend of the United States of America, and the commitment the United States has to the other 27 or 28 members of NATO, with whom we have an alliance and with whom we have sworn an oath to defend if necessary.

 

Q    Last week, the President said that we didn’t yet have a strategy as it related to ISIS in Syria.  I’m curious if the U.S. now has a strategy.  First of all, yes or no — does the U.S. have a strategy as it relates to dealing with ISIS in Syria presently, even if it’s not one you’re comfortable announcing?

 

MR. EARNEST:  The President has been at work over the last several weeks, working closely with his national security team, to develop military options for taking the fight to ISIL in Syria.  The President is only going to do this consistent with our broader strategy for dealing with ISIL, and that includes supporting the Iraqi government, engaging regional governments in this effort, ramping up our assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, marshaling the support of the international community in this effort.

 

And so in the context of that broader strategy, the President has been working closely with his team to review military options for taking the fight to ISIL in Syria.  But at this point, I’m not in a position to talk about the status of those consultations, but the President has a lot of confidence in the planners over at the Department of Defense as they’re working on these issues.

 

But in terms of the status of those conversations, I’m not going to disclose them from here.

 

Q    Help people better understand how the U.S. today could launch a strike in Somalia, presumably to take out some leaders of al-Shabaab there, but wouldn’t — or at this point, is not yet comfortable to do the same in Syria.  How are the circumstances different?  And I suggest — you’d probably say that Somalia has given us a green light in some ways, but there are other countries where they haven’t, like Pakistan, where we’ve gone in without the government’s approval.  So how is that different?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Each of these — you could probably write a book on this topic, and I suspect that many people may.

 

Q    Why can’t — I guess people are asking that:  So we can do it in Somalia; why not do it in Syria yesterday?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I think you answered your own question, appropriately so, that the kinds of relationships we have with each of these different countries is different.  And the United States has a longstanding, closely coordinated relationship with the government of Somalia to combat terror elements inside Somalia.

 

It remains to be seen what sort of — what the results of this latest military action are, but our track record of acting in Somalia in support of a broader international coalition to counter the terror threat in Somalia is good.  We’ve had a lot of success in doing so.  There’s more work that needs to be done there.

 

The situation in Syria is altogether different, and the President is working — but some of the strategies that we’ll implement to counter the threat are similar.  In Somalia, for example, we’re working closely not just with the Somali government but with international partners in the African Union to counter that threat.  The United States is working diplomatically to marshal international support, including the involvement of regional governments to counter this threat.

 

So we have, generally speaking, a plan for dealing with these kinds of situations.  And as it relates to ISIL, the President has laid out a comprehensive strategy.  And how the military action in Syria fits into that strategy is something that the President and his team are still working on.

 

Q    And finally, there’s been some reporting coming out of Zumar, Iraq right now that suggests that there are already U.S. troops fighting in Iraq at this time.  Are U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq presently fighting against ISIS?

 

MR. EARNEST:  The President has been very clear that for all of the options that he’s considering, he is not considering an option that would include sending U.S. combat troops on the ground into Iraq to be on the frontlines of this fight.  I know that is different than what some of the President’s critics have said.  Some of the President’s critics suggest that the American — that the U.S. President — that President Obama should send ground combat troops into Iraq.  That is an option the President is not willing to consider at this point.

 

Q    So to be clear, none of the troops that are there, none of the U.S. security forces, or however we choose to describe them, that are presently serving either as advisors or in what other role in Iraq right now, are participating in fighting?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are a lot of different ways to slice this, and I’m trying to — I want to be as definitive as the President has been about his insistence that the United States of America will not send combat troops on the ground back into Iraq.  There are, as you point out, American personnel that are serving in an advisory capacity to assess both the capability of the Iraq and Kurdish security forces, but also to continue to assess the capability of the ISIL forces that they’re countering.

 

Q    Does that mean they’re not shooting?

 

MR. EARNEST:  There are American military and security personnel that are in place to protect the embassy in Erbil, our diplomatic outpost — I’m sorry, our embassy in Baghdad, our diplomatic outpost in Erbil.  You have American personnel who are serving in joint operation centers so that we can closely integrate our efforts with Iraqi and Kurdish security forces.

 

There are also, obviously, as we’ve also talked about, American military personnel who are carrying out airstrikes in Iraq.  That, ostensibly, is a combat role.  But the President has drawn a distinction between the combat role that’s played by American military pilots, and the role that is played by ground combat troops.

 

So again, I’m trying to be as definitive as the President has been on this.  And our commitment to this principle has not changed.

 

Q    The President put out a statement today on Ebola that was directed specifically to the people of some of the Western African nations today.  We just learned now that there is a third American missionary, I believe a doctor, who has been diagnosed with Ebola, who is presently in Liberia.  Is the White House aware of that?  Do they have any comment on that?  And what was the intent of the President’s message today as it coincides with that?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me say I’m not aware of the reports about the third American who’s been affected by — or infected by Ebola.

 

The President earlier today did receive a briefing from CDC Director Tom Frieden who recently declared the Ebola situation in West Africa an epidemic.  Dr. Frieden, as you know, had recently traveled to West Africa.  He visited each of the affected West African countries, and he’s been providing regular updates on what the CDC is doing to deal with the epidemic.

 

As you know, there’s already a lot that’s been done on this. The CDC ramped up its Ebola response in early July.  More than 500 CDC staff members have provided logistics, staffing communication, analytics management and other support functions.  And as of September 2nd, as of today, roughly 100 U.S. government personnel have been deployed and are working in the affected countries, responding to the outbreak, including more than 70 CDC staff deployed in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone to assist with various response efforts including surveillance, contact tracing, database management and health education.

 

So there’s a lot of work that the U.S. government has already done to try to assist the West African governments that are dealing with this outbreak.  And some of that effort involves just public education and making sure that people, even in some of these remote communities, understand what they need to do to avoid contracting Ebola.

 

And so we’re using a wide range of elements at our disposal to try to educate people about what they can do.  Dr. Frieden himself has talked about how, with the right knowledge, this outbreak can be contained.  But it’s going to require an education campaign and it’s going to require health care professionals in these countries adopting rigorously the recommendations of the international community to prevent the spread of this terrible disease.

 

Let’s move around a little bit.  Alexis.

 

Q    Josh, two quick questions.  On the situation with immigration, I wanted to just follow up on the political part of it.  Because the President’s goal ultimately is to get legislation to fix the immigration system, and the Speaker has said that the House Republicans are unlikely if not impossible to vote this year, why are you downplaying the idea that, as President and chief of his party, the President would be politically very interested in the outcome, whether it’s the Senate or the House races, looking ahead to the disposition towards legislation next year?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Let me quibble with one premise of your question.  It’s not impossible for the House to vote on this piece of legislation.  It’s entirely possible.  It’s at the will of the Speaker of the House and other members of his leadership to allow it to come to the floor.  We know that if they were to allow this common-sense piece of legislation that has already passed through the Senate to come to the floor in the House, it would almost certainly pass and the President would happily sign it into law.

 

So it’s not impossible, it’s just that House Republicans are refusing to do it.  And that is having a — that has a detrimental impact on our economy and it’s not good for the country, particularly when their objections don’t appear to be substantive.  After all, there are more than a dozen congressional — I mean, Senate Republicans that have already backed this compromise proposal.  Republicans in the House are being animated by a much more narrow, parochial political concern.  And when those kinds of important decisions are made by important people under such — for such a narrow interest, it’s just not good for the process and it’s not good for the country.  So we’re hopeful that they’ll eventually reconsider.  So it’s not a matter of it being impossible.

 

The second thing is, because it’s not impossible, the President is holding open the hope — and maybe even the opportunity — for Congress to pass legislation to address this problem in a bipartisan way.  That means that when the President does move forward with an executive action or a series of executive actions to try to counter some of the problems that are created by our broken immigration system, he won’t stop calling on Congress to take action.  There still will be an opportunity and an important reason for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to try to repair our broken immigration system.

 

 

So the President will keep up that call even after he takes steps within his own authority.

 

Q    You didn’t answer my question.

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I tried to.  Do you want to ask it again?

 

Q    So the question is, why would the President, as head of his party — why would you downplay the political importance of the dynamics to hold the Senate next year, if the opportunity is there next year, to pursue legislation again?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t mean to downplay the importance of the outcome of the elections.  The President just talked yesterday about how important it is for people, regardless of their political persuasion, to get engaged in the political process, that that’s good for the country.

 

You’ve seen the President traveling — he just did on Friday — travel to Rhode Island and New York in support of raising money for Democratic campaign committees to support Democratic candidates.  The President does care about the outcome of these elections.

 

What I’m trying to convey to you is the priority that the President places on this specific action.  And as the President makes a decision about how to address this challenge and how to wield his own executive authority to address it, the top priority is not the politics.  The top priority is solving the problem.  The second priority is solving this problem in the context of a debate with the American public about our broken immigration system and what can be done to solve it.

 

As the President of the United States, the President feels strongly and personally about his responsibility to engage in a dialogue with the American public to make sure that they understand the stakes of these debates.  And there are others who, as I pointed out earlier, who put politics ahead of all of that.  And the President doesn’t believe that’s the right ordering of priorities.

 

Q    To follow up on that, because the President at a variety of fundraisers and political events has talked extensively and repeatedly about the desire to see Democrats motivated to turn out to vote — and he’s had some vivid descriptions of this challenge at a mid-term year to get them to turn out to vote — what does he assess the impact on turnout would be if he did not go ahead with his executive action before the November elections?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Alexis, I don’t know what his assessment of that situation is.  There are a lot of people in this town and even in this room who have made their own assessment of what impact they think that addressing some of these problems with our immigration system would have on the elections broadly, but also even on individual races and as it relates to the success of individual candidates.  So that is certainly an understandable interest.

 

The elections are really important.  In some cases, the outcome of elections can actually be really interesting, and trying to divine all of the varying motivations of individual voters is also something that people have spent a lot of time and money and energy studying and analyzing.  And I happen to think it’s pretty interesting, too.

 

But ultimately, that’s not what should drive these decisions.  What should drive these decisions are solving problems and fulfilling the responsibility to have a debate with the American public about what the policies of our country should be.  So that’s why — that explains the situation here, which is the President does care deeply about having partners in Congress who are willing to work with him.  The vast majority of congressional Republicans have demonstrated time and time again that they’re unwilling to work with the President even on some very common-sense measures.  That is an important reason why the President is advocating for Democrats as — in his role as the head of the party ahead of the midterm elections.

 

But that is different from the responsibility that the President has to solve problems and to engage in a debate with the American public about these problems and their potential solutions.  This reminds me of one other charge that’s been leveled against the President by Republicans on many occasions.  Republicans have, ironically — even though they’re blocking the passage of this reform proposal — have suggested that the President somehow wasn’t really interested in actually passing comprehensive immigration reform just because he wanted to have a debate in the run-up to the elections and that the President somehow divined some sort of political advantage from continuing to have this debate.

 

And what we have said for some time — and I’m happy to repeat now — is if there are Republicans who actually feel this way, then they should call our bluff.  They should pass the law in the House of Representatives, put it on the President’s desk, and dare the President to sign it.  But I’ll take the mystery out of it — the President will sign it that day.  The President is interested in solving problems.  And would that have an impact on turnout in the midterm elections?  I’m sure there would be some people who say that would be terrible for Democrats.  I’m sure there would be some people who would say it would be terrible for Republicans.  But the President is most interested in solving these problems.

 

And that’s why the political analysis, while interesting, is not actually what’s driving the President’s decision-making at this point.

 

Q    I want to follow on ISIL.  Because you brought up the UNGA meeting later on this month, can I just follow up and ask you, to what extent do the meetings that the President hopes to have in New York are going to impact his decision-making on potential airstrikes on Syria related to ISIL?

 

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t necessarily draw a link between the two at this point.  The President is concerned about this issue related to foreign fighters.  There are other countries around the world that are concerned about this issue.  We saw some pretty powerful remarks from the British Prime Minister about this issue in the last several days.  So this will be a topic of discussion at the U.N. Security Council.

 

That is different than — or that’s not necessarily connected to the set of decisions that the President has to make about how military action in Syria might fit into our broader strategy for confronting ISIL.

 

Jared, I’ll give you the last one.

 

Q    Thanks, Josh, two quick ones.  One, when you’re following up on a line of questioning that Athena and Mark were talking about earlier, you’ve belabored the virtues of the President’s response when it comes to ISIS, that his deliberate strategy allows him to avoid making the wrong decision that would commit American armed forces in a place where maybe the American people don’t want them to be.  But doesn’t that — and this goes to what Mark was saying — enable or embolden opponents, whether we’re talking about ISIS, I think Mark was talking about Russia?  Doesn’t this give an opportunity to the opponents of the United States’ interests to prepare to anticipate our moves?

 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t think that it does.  Again, the top priority here is making sure that American national security interests are safeguarded and protected, and where possible advanced.  And I think that you’ve seen the President’s approach to foreign policy do exactly that.  And that’s what the President is going to continue to do.  Of course, there will be calculations and decisions that are made by adversaries of the United States attempting to try to anticipate or plan for any potential decisions that the President may order down the road.

 

But the fact of the matter is the President is going to be deliberate about making the kinds of decisions that he believes are in the best interests of the United States.  It doesn’t mean the President is going to be shy about ordering the use of military force if he thinks it can be impactful.  And the President has demonstrated time and time again a willingness to do that.  And whether that is bringing Osama bin Laden to justice in a pretty bold nighttime raid in Pakistan that was successful thanks to the courage and skill of our men and women in uniform, or whether it’s ordering up a military strike in Somalia to counter a terror threat in that country, that is evidence of a President and an administration who is willing to use American military force to protect America and our interests.

 

And it’s only because of, again, the service and sacrifice and bravery and skill of our American servicemen and women that that weapon is so powerful and so often is so effective in protecting our interests.  And the President is not reluctant to use that element of American military might if he believes it can be effective in advancing American interests.

 

Q    Since this is the last time we get to talk to you before the President heads out this afternoon for Europe, he will be — you, your predecessor and the President have all decried the referendum in Crimea a few months ago, saying that that was an illegitimate measure of that country’s desires.  Just after the President leaves the UK, Scottish independence will have a referendum; that’s September 18th.  Does the President look forward to this as a measure of a positive referendum, something that shows what democracies can do?  And does he have an opinion about Scottish independence?  I guess this is in preparation for questions I’m sure he’ll get from UK press.

 

MR. EARNEST:  He may get some questions about it over there.  I’m a little reluctant to weigh in even on the U.S. midterm elections, so I’m not going to be eager to dive into the pool as it relates to Scottish elections.  I’m sure they’re just as interesting as American elections, but I haven’t been following them as closely.

 

So thanks, everybody.  Have a good week.

 

END                 2:03 P.M. EDT

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