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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
December 01, 2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:26 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST:Good afternoon, everybody.I trust you all had a peaceful and relaxing Thanksgiving holiday.
Q We did.
MR. EARNEST:Glad to hear it.
Q And yours?
MR. EARNEST:It was very nice.Thank you for asking.We did not, at the end of last week, put out a week ahead, so why don’t I just start the briefing today by hitting some highlights. There’s actually more on the President’s schedule, but I’ve got a whole page full of things that I’ll spare you here.So we’ll keep it short, but there are a couple of things that are important that I want to make sure are something that you’re paying attention to.
Tomorrow afternoon, the President will travel to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and visit with wounded warriors who are being treated at the hospital and their families.This is something that the President does four or five times a year and this will be the latest installment of that visit.
Following the visit, the President will deliver remarks at the National Institutes of Health to congratulate Doctors Collins and Fauci and their teams on the first published results from phase one clinical trials of a promising Ebola vaccine candidate and to discuss other fronts on the fight against Ebola.Additionally, the President will use the visit to make the case for prompt congressional action on his emergency funding request to combat Ebola here at home and abroad.
So a newsy visit to the National Institutes of Health tomorrow.Those of you who may recall — the results of this phase one clinical study were actually published on Wednesday evening, I believe, which is a pretty inopportune time to make significant news like that available when it’s the day before Thanksgiving.But we’ll have an opportunity to talk about that a little bit more tomorrow.
On Wednesday, the President will deliver remarks and answer questions from a group of business leaders at the quarterly meeting of the Business Roundtable.This is something that the President has done a couple of times in the past.What will be different about this visit is not only will you have the opportunity to hear the President deliver his opening remarks, you’ll also have the opportunity to hear from him as he takes questions from those in the audience.So should be an interesting opportunity.
On Thursday — this is something you’ve heard us talk about before — the President will host the Summit on College Opportunity at the Ronald Reagan Building.The summit will build on the work from the first College Opportunity Summit last January while launching initiatives in new areas.This year’s summit will focus on building sustainable collaborations in communities with strong K-12 and higher education partnerships to encourage college-going.We’ll have a little bit more on that.And then that evening, the First Family will attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse.
Q The summit is here, right?
MR. EARNEST:It’s at the Ronald Reagan Building just across the street there.
And then on Friday, the President will host His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House to consult on regional issues, including efforts to counter ISIL and find a political solution in Syria, provide humanitarian assistance to refugees from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria and take steps to calm tensions in Jerusalem.They obviously have a pretty full agenda when the King will visit here on Friday.We’ll do a pool spray in the Oval Office in conjunction with the King’s visit, where both leaders will deliver statements.So we have a busy week ahead after the long weekend.
Jim, why don’t you get us started with the briefing today.
Q Josh, I wanted to talk a little bit about today’s focus on Ferguson.Does the President have any plans to go to the community to address it any time in the near future?
MR. EARNEST:I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make from here, beyond the ones I began the briefing with.The President was asked this direct question by your colleague, Jim Acosta, from CNN, on Monday evening when he spoke about the grand jury’s findings.At the time, the President indicated an openness to traveling to Ferguson but no specific plans, and that continues to be the case today.
Q Is part of that because there’s no commitment and because the situation is still fluid there?Or is that you don’t want to highlight one particular case where the facts might still be in dispute?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think what is evident from some of the announcements you’ve already seen from us today and from the comments that you’ll hear the President make at the stakeholder meeting later this afternoon is that the President and his administration are very focused on the underlying issues that have been uncovered in a pretty raw way in Ferguson.These kinds of issues, the nature of the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect, is something that a lot of communities across the country are dealing with, cities large and small.And the President thinks that it’s important for us to have a broader discussion on these issues.
And certainly some of the announcements that we’ve made today in terms of the community policing initiative that this administration has now rolled out, and the task force on policing that will be led by the Philadelphia chief of police and a former DOJ official with a civil rights background — that some of these initiatives are meant to try to address those underlying concerns that are evident not just in Ferguson, but in communities all across the country.
Q Regarding the issue of militarization of police departments through these Pentagon programs, in August, when the President first addressed this, he said that there had to be a distinction between the military and domestic law enforcement.He said, “We don’t want those lines blurred.”Today’s announcements don’t deal with the issue of pulling back those federal programs.Why not?
MR. EARNEST:Well, for a couple of reasons.The first is that we found that in many cases, these programs actually serve a very useful purpose.And what is needed, however, is much greater consistency in oversight of these programs — primarily in how these programs are structured, how they’re implemented, and then how the programs themselves are audited.
The concern that’s been expressed about these programs in the past has principally been focused on the equipment and the way that it’s used.And that’s why a lot of the focus that you’ll see in this report is on training that’s offered to law enforcement agencies, and on transparency, the way in which these acquisitions are communicated to the public, or at least made clear to the public.
There are certain situations in which these kinds of programs have been useful and contributed significantly to public safety.The best, I think, and probably the most high profile example that comes to mind is the use by the Boston Police Department of some military equipment in their response to the Boston bombing.That was equipment that was properly used and was done in a way that would both protect the community but also protect the law enforcement officers that were responding to the situation.
But it is not clear that there is a consistency with regard to the way that these programs are implemented, structured and audited.And that’s something that needs to be addressed.What the President has asked is — after the completion of this law enforcement equipment review, the President has asked for the team to come back within 120 days with very specific recommendations about how greater oversight can be implemented to ensure that there’s greater consistency in these programs.
Q On another topic, given the President’s veto threat last week on the tax extenders package, does that suggest that the President doesn’t have confidence in Senate Democrats cutting a proper deal that he could sign?
MR. EARNEST:I think the veto threat that was issued by White House officials last week was predicated on the idea that the emerging agreement was one that did a whole lot more for well-connected corporations than it did for working people back home.The President has been very clear that he believes that our economic policies need to be focused on what we can do to benefit middle-class families and those who are trying to get into the middle class, because our economy grows best when it’s growing from the middle out.And that should be the focal point of our efforts, and that wasn’t reflected in the outlines of the deal that was being reported on Capitol Hill.
That said, we stand ready to work with Democrats and Republicans to make progress on this and other economic policies that would grow the economy in the right way.And by the right way, I mean the way that benefits middle-class families and those who are trying to get into the middle class.I think in some ways it’s a reflection of the kinds of values that have been on display by Democrats for quite some time now, that Democrats have worked hard — even just going back — just looking at recent history and going back to the efforts led by this administration to help this country recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, that the priority in the Recovery Act was making sure that working people were getting the kind of help that they needed to recover from the economic downturn.
Now, it didn’t mean that there wasn’t also assistance provided to big companies.Obviously, the efforts to assist the American auto industry meant that significant sums of money were committed to the auto industry.But that was in a way that led directly to job creation.And we’ve since seen the auto industry — or those individual auto companies repay substantial sums to the American taxpayer for those efforts.
Q But the threat was rather unusual.I mean, usually those messages are conveyed in the ongoing talks between the participants.And it seemed to suggest that somehow the White House was out of those talks and needed to convey this message publicly through a veto threat.
MR. EARNEST:Well, I can confirm for you that — and I think this was evident from the reports — that these were conversations that were taking place among people who work on Capitol Hill.But certainly the White House is eager to participate in discussions about economic policies, including the so-called tax extenders, and putting those policies in place in a way that would not just help well-connected corporations, but actually offer substantial assistance to working people, too.
Q And any timing on the Secretary of Defense nomination? Before the end of the year?Sometime in the next two weeks?
MR. EARNEST:I don’t have any updates in terms of the timing of that personnel announcement.
Q I want to ask about tomorrow’s event at NIH a little bit.Why does the President feel he needs to make the case for prompt congressional action on the emergency funding request?I mean, is the White House concerned that that’s not going to happen, that there is some resistance to that request?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I’ll leave it to members of Congress to express their own view and position on what we consider to be a pretty urgent national priority, there is a need for us to focus the government’s response — or to continue to focus the government’s response not just on domestic preparedness and ability of domestic agencies to respond to Ebola and other disease outbreaks like this, but also to make sure that we’re mobilizing the necessary resources overseas to stop this Ebola outbreak in its tracks in West Africa.
And the President believes that that’s important, and the President believes that it’s necessary for Congress to take prompt action on this.I think that any fair-minded look at the recent track record of even top national security priorities through Congress indicates that occasionally these priorities need a little pushing and prodding to get through the process in a timely fashion.And we hope that tomorrow’s announcement, or tomorrow’s events and activities will serve as an effective catalyst for the completion of that very important work.
We already have seen expressions of bipartisan support for this proposal, and I would expect that that bipartisan support would endure.
Q So there’s no sort of signal that this needs a little bit of extra pushing and prodding, as you put it?
MR. EARNEST:Well, not any more than other national security priorities need when they’re going through Congress — correct.
Q I want to ask about Turkey.Can you confirm that the U.S. and Turkey are closing in on a deal to allow the U.S. and allied forces to use Turkish air bases for the fight against ISIL, and that there would be a no-fly zone along the Turkey-Syria border?
MR. EARNEST:Well, for specific operational questions about the use of air bases in the region, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense.The United States obviously has a very close working relationship with Turkey.They’re a NATO ally.Turkey, as we’ve discussed on a number of occasions, has a significant vested interest in the resolution of the situation and in the turmoil along their border.They do have this long border with Syria.That border has been the site of skirmishes already.That border is also an area where there’s a significant humanitarian need; that there are hundreds of thousands, I think maybe even more than a million people now that have been fleeing violence in Syria that have fled to the border with Turkey to try to avoid violence.And that’s created a pretty terrible humanitarian situation there.
The Turkish government deserves to be recognized for the significant resources and effort that they’ve made to try to meet those basic humanitarian needs.They’ve done that with the full support for the international community, including the United States of America.That continues to be the largest source of bilateral assistance to try to meet the humanitarian situation that’s been caused by the violence in Syria.
As it relates to the specific no-fly zone proposal, we’ve made pretty clear on a number of occasions that while we’re open to discussing a range of options with the Turks and we certainly value their opinion on matters like that, we do not believe that a specific no-fly zone proposal at this point would best serve the interest that we’ve all identified in terms of trying to resolve the situation in Syria.
So these talks are ongoing, and we’re going to continue to be open to proposals from our allies in Turkey.But at this point, we don’t believe that a no-fly zone fits the bill here.
Q During the Vice President’s recent visit, were the U.S. and Turkey able to narrow in the range of options that you just alluded to when it comes to sort of doing something about that border zone short of a no-fly zone?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I do understand, based on the readout that I got of the Vice President’s trip, that he did spend a lot of time discussing this and a whole range of other matters with the Prime Minister and the President, both in some small one-on-one settings but also in some broader meetings as well.So I know they had an intensive discussion over all these issues, but I don’t know — I can’t characterize for you in any detail really what kind of progress they were able to make in those talks at this point.
Q Josh, I want to go back to Ferguson for a minute.Reverend Jesse Jackson is sending a letter to President Obama, asking that he — on Ferguson.He says, “At times, a single incident throws a powerful light on reality.Ferguson is one of those times.And to ensure that this reality is not simply discussed in passing, but dealt with, elevated to the top of the national agenda, President Obama should come to Ferguson.”What are the considerations in going to Ferguson for a presidential visit, particularly after the grand jury has made this decision and there’s no fear of any kind of influence into that decision?
MR. EARNEST:Well, April, I think it’s evident that, now seven days after the grand jury issued their findings, that this is the first question that I’m asked at the briefing and this continues to be a story that is prominently in place in newspapers all across the country.I think there’s no doubt that the issues that are raised in Ferguson continue to be at the top of the agenda for public discussions in communities across the country.That is evident.
I think the other evidence you have that this is something that the President takes seriously is to look at the announcements that were made by the administration today.Certainly the community policing initiative that was announced, a commitment of $263 million in investments over three years to offer assistance to law enforcement agencies who are purchasing body-worn cameras, to expand training for law enforcement agencies, to add more resources to police departments that want to pursue reform efforts — these resources would also be used to facilitate the expansion of programs that encourage community leaders and law enforcement agencies to engage in a dialogue that would strengthen the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies and build trust with the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.
After all, I think the President observed on Monday evening that in some of those communities where the lack of trust is most evident are exactly the same communities where an intensive law enforcement presence is needed because the crime rates are really high.So it is an unfortunate irony that in those communities where the crime rate is the highest, that sometimes the trust is lowest between members of the community and the police force.
So the President believes that those issues are worthy of a close examination not just by federal officials, not just by officials at the state and local level, but by the broader public; that we should have a debate about some of these issues and we should have a conversation about what kinds of changes we can make to our government and to our society to better address some of these concerns that have been laid bare pretty dramatically in Ferguson over the last several months.
Q When you talk about irony — and I want to go to the militarization issue and this debate situation — there are people on the Hill that are concerned about militarization.And you say in one breath, it’s a good thing when there are situations in this country that need those types of forces and equipment to come in, but then, on the other hand, there could be over-extending of the use of these types of equipment in situations like Ferguson.How would you fine-tune — what would you tell the congressional leaders on the Hill, how would you fine-tune that legislation to be able to deal with — to have the good side and try to correct what has gone wrong with the militarization?
MR. EARNEST:Let me say a couple of things about that.The first is that it is important — the reason that we do these reviews sometimes is to dig into the facts and have a clear understanding of what is actually contributing to the problem that’s been identified.And the first thing that’s important for the people to understand is that the majority of the funds that were used for some of these programs that have raised the concern of members of Congress has not been to purchase law enforcement-specific equipment, but rather to purchase office equipment and other surplus materials that can be useful in the administration of a law enforcement agency.So that’s the first thing that’s important for people to understand.
Separately from that, the key to the success of these kinds of programs is to ensure that local law enforcement officials who are using the equipment are doing so properly, that they’re using this equipment consistent with widely accepted guidelines.And that’s why some of these proposals relate to expanding training. These proposals also relate to changing the way that these programs are structured and implemented and audited so we can make sure that those individuals who are using the equipment have been properly trained to use it in a way that both protects their own safety but also protects the safety of people in the community.
The last thing I’ll say about this is that the law enforcement equipment review that was conducted by OMB is just the first step.What we anticipate and what the review itself suggests is that more specific recommendations, and indeed, maybe even some best practices be put forward in an additional report that would be provided in the next 120 days.
So in terms of what specifically should be done to deal with some of the problems that you and members of Congress have raised, we’ll have some more specific recommendations on that in the next four months or so.
Q On the police department, there is a lot of conversation in this federal — about the spotlight.Everyone has a microscope on the police department because “they’re not able to provide competent law enforcement, and two, that the force is not reflective of the community that is 67 percent black.”I’m hearing from various persons within this administration and on the Hill that there’s a chance of, at the very least, reorganization or dissembling of that police department.What can you say about this?
MR. EARNEST:I don’t know anything about those specific proposals.You might check with the Department of Justice.They may have some more information on it.I can tell you just as a general matter that many of the programs that we’re talking about here in terms of the community policing initiative that has been announced today and some of the other proposed reforms, in addition is a relationship between the federal government and local law enforcement agencies that would help those agencies that feel like they’re in need of reform carry out those reforms, to make sure that they have the training and the resources that are necessary to enhance crime prevention while at the same time that they’re strengthening the bond they have with the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.
Q One last question.President Obama came out here that Friday when we did not expect him after the verdict for George Zimmerman and Trayvon.He said that he would not be the one leading the discussion, talking about the race discussion.Has he changed his mind now?Because this has reached the level of the White House in ways that many did not expect.And Bill Clinton had a conversation on race and it’s not unheard of that a President could lead that type of conversation.
MR. EARNEST:Well, I’ll say a couple things about that.I think the first thing is — and I think this is evident from the series of announcements that have been made here today — the underlying issues here are broader than just race, that this goes to sort of the foundational relationship, again, between law enforcement agencies and the communities that they’re sworn to serve and to protect.Surely, discussions of race are an important part of that relationship.There’s no doubt about that.But it’s more than just that.
And that means that there’s more that we can do to try to address some of these underlying problems.And that’s what’s part and parcel of the specific recommendations that have been rolled out today.It’s also part of the task force review that Chief Ramsey and Ms. Robinson are conducting.And it’s also part of the review that will be released by OMB in terms of specific recommendations about the use of equipment by law enforcement agencies that was obtained from the military.
Q Josh, in terms of the recommendations that are made about the militarization of the police departments around the country, is there any feeling in the White House that those recommendations, if implemented, would have made a difference in Ferguson?I mean, was the militarization of the police force there part of the problem?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think that’s something that’s difficult for me to pass judgment on from here, at least in any conclusive way.I suspect that even people in — well, let me just say it this way.I think in general, I think many law enforcement agencies will welcome the sign from the federal government that they’re prepared to offer additional training to their men and women in uniform as they use this equipment — as they get trained on this equipment and as they learn how to properly use it, again, in a way that both protects the safety of the officers who are using the equipment, but also those in the community that are being protected by this equipment.
So I think that’s the biggest part of this.I think it’s hard to tell, frankly, at least it’s hard for me to tell, or at least hard for me to communicate publicly, about any conclusions that have been reached about whether or not additional training would have substantially affected the way that local law enforcement responded to some of the protests we saw in Ferguson over the summer.
Q Because, clearly, this whole effort comes out of what happened in Ferguson.So is the view that that whole militarization issue was part of the problem — so put aside whether or not better training would have — but was this question of militarization of the Ferguson police department part of the problem in Ferguson?
MR. EARNEST:Well, it’s certainly is an issue that’s been raised, and I know that there are some who have been critics of the police department’s response and have raised this specific issue.This is an issue I think that is relevant to other law enforcement agencies.There are other local police departments who are obtaining equipment from the federal government from the military to supplement their existing equipment.
Now, again, what this review found is that the majority of that equipment was not actually military combat equipment, but was actually surplus office supplies and other things that would be helpful in administering a law enforcement agency.
That said, I think that there are — it stands to reason that additional law enforcement agencies would benefit from additional training about the use of this equipment.And I think more importantly, the federal government — and the report reflects this — bears some responsibility to ensure that this variety of programs are administered in a way that makes consistent the need for oversight in terms of the way the program is implemented and structured and ultimately audited.
Q In terms of the stakeholders that the President is meeting with today, I assume some of those are from Ferguson.
MR. EARNEST:Some of the people who have been involved in the situation in Ferguson will be at the White House and participating in the discussion today.We’ll have a full list of those who are attending the meeting this afternoon when the meeting starts.
Q And the money that the White House is proposing for use to local law enforcement, just to clarify — this would be — you’re asking Congress to appropriate this money?This is not money that —
MR. EARNEST:That’s correct.This will be money that will be including in the President’s budget proposal next year.
Q Okay.And I have a question going back to this question of the immigration executive actions and what the Republicans are talking about doing on the Hill.Just to clarify, if the Republicans passed a funding bill — if Congress passed a funding bill that tied the President’s hands on the immigration executive order, basically — made it impossible to carry out, would the President veto such a bill?
Q So the President is willing to see the government shut down if Congress does not — tries to tie his hands on immigration?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Jon, you’ll be surprised to hear that I see it slightly differently.I actually don’t believe that members of Congress, or at least a majority of members of Congress, are going to be willing to go along with an effort to shut down the government in protest over the President’s executive actions on immigration.What the President announced about 10 days ago is entirely consistent with the precedent that was established by previous Presidents and is well within the legal confines of the law as it relates to prosecutorial discretion.
And again, Senator McConnell, the incoming Senate majority leader, said himself just a week or so after the election, we will not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt.I think that’s a pretty clear statement from among the most influential Republicans in Congress that a government shutdown is not in the offing here.
Q But is the President willing to go along with this idea that Republicans are now talking about basically funding all of the government through October of next year except for the Department of Homeland Security, which would be implementing, of course, the immigration changes, making that funding temporary?
MR. EARNEST:Well, there are a variety of proposals that we’ve seen be floated on Capitol Hill.As a general matter, it is the view of this administration that Congress should fulfill their responsibility and pass a yearlong extension of — pass a yearlong budget because that is, A, it’s Congress’s responsibility to do that.So we’re not asking them to do anything heroic; we’re asking them to do their job.
But it also has significant and positive benefits for the economy — that we’re locking in some certainty for businesses.And particularly when we’re talking about an economy — a global economy that in some countries if faltering a little bit — doing all that we can to sort of boost our domestic economy seems to be pretty important and certainly is a top priority of the President’s.And Congress can contribute to this in a substantial way by passing an omnibus.
Q But would the President have a problem with a carve-out, in other words, basically funding everything except for Homeland Security, making Homeland Security the one part of the budget that would be funded on a temporary basis?Would he have a problem with that?
MR. EARNEST:I recognize that there are a lot of — a lot of ideas have been —
Q That’s one they’ve been really —
MR. EARNEST:Some of them more creative than others.But, again, what we would like to see is something that would sort of eliminate any uncertainty and pass an omnibus.
Q Just to continue on immigration.You made it really clear that people who are eligible for deferred deportation and work permits will not get Obamacare subsidies, they won’t get food stamps.But a White House spokesman said they would be eligible for Medicare and Social Security benefits.Is that correct?
MR. EARNEST:My understanding is that they would be eligible for those programs that they pay into.So essentially, when it comes to Social Security benefits, if you qualify — I believe if you pay into it for 40 quarters, you can begin to collect benefits based on what you paid into the program.
So, in that case, yes, it would make sense.But that’s what differentiates a program like Social Security from other programs like Medicare, for example, the tax credits related to the Affordable Care Act, those kinds of things.
Q But a lot of illegal immigrants are paying in currently, but they’re paying it probably under fake Social Security numbers.Does that count as their 40 quarters, or does this clock start ticking when they get their DACA letter, or whatever it is, card?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think as it relates to the way that this is specifically implemented, I’d refer you to DHS on this.My understanding, though, is that once they’ve paid into the Social Security system for 40 quarters, which is what is the threshold for anybody who is part of that system, that that’s when they would qualify for receiving Social Security benefits, again, because this is a program that they’ve paid into.
Q Paid in as legal workers.
MR. EARNEST:Yes.I mean, I guess the question — again, it’s not exactly clear to me how, on such a detailed level, this program is implemented.It does seem to me that it would be difficult to verify if you’ve actually paid into the program if you’re using a fake Social Security number.Now, if there is a way through the implementation of that program that you could do it, then maybe there is a way to do it.But that’s why I’d encourage you to check with DHS.They’ll know.
Q And just one last question about Ferguson.Obviously the President has been spending a tremendous amount of time and effort on these issues.But you didn’t really answer April’s question about why you have decided that a trip to Ferguson is not the right thing for him to do now.
MR. EARNEST:Because that’s not what we’ve decided.
Q No, but I’m asking why you decided that.
MR. EARNEST:I’m saying we haven’t decided that.
Q You haven’t decided that he shouldn’t go to Ferguson now?
MR. EARNEST:That is correct.
Q Oh.Well, wait a second.
MR. EARNEST:So, the President was asked —
Q — you have no plans to go to Ferguson?
MR. EARNEST:That is correct.If that changes, we’ll let you know.
Q Right, but there must be a — you must have considered whether going now is a good idea or not.You’re certainly leaving open the possibility he might go in the future.
MR. EARNEST:That’s right.
Q But could you explain the reasons why going now is not a good idea?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I guess I wouldn’t characterize it that way.I think what I would say is that the President wants to have a discussion about some of these issues that have been laid bare in Ferguson but that directly apply in communities all across the country; that there is a need in so many communities to strengthen the trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities that they were sworn to serve and protect.
That’s a national conversation.It’s certainly one that is particularly relevant in Ferguson, but it’s relevant in communities large and small all across the country.That’s evident from the kind of conversation that the President will convene today.There will be state and local officials and law enforcement officials from communities large and small all across the country.There will be civil rights leaders from communities all across the country.And that’s reflective of the kind of conversation the President believes is warranted at this point.
Q Is the President worried that going there would make things more explosive or cause a greater reaction?
MR. EARNEST:Not particularly.Again, I think the President is interested in having a — in making sure that we are focusing on these issues that are resonant not just in Ferguson but in communities large and small all across the country.
Q Okay.And we’ve seen the White House and administration officials working on this issue for a long time now — the Attorney General going down there; there have been meetings and a number of phone calls.Where is the prevention in the response that there’s been so far?I mean, have all of these meetings and getting together not identified much that could prevent the kind of continued response that we’ve seen?In other words, I mean, there are a lot of meetings with local leaders — even today, there are meetings with local leaders.Well, those leaders don’t seem to be able to do much within their communities to stop the kind of violence that continues to go on in response.
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, I do think, Michelle, it’s important to acknowledge a couple of things.The first is that the vast majority of individuals in Ferguson who were protesting were doing so in a peaceful, responsible way.And I think that– I know that your colleagues at CNN — that there were a number of your colleagues that were on the ground there in Ferguson.They would know better than I because they were there, but I think that they would agree with that sentiment.I think that is certainly true of protests all across the country.There have been a number of public protests that have been organized in communities all across the country, including here in Washington, D.C.
The second thing I’ll say is that these are the kinds of issues that — I don’t think anybody expects that these issues are going to be resolved overnight.These are pretty deep-seated issues that go to years, if not decades, of concern and mistrust that has existed, again, between some law enforcement agencies and law enforcement officials and some members of the community that they’re sworn to serve and protect.
So that means that these are problems that are not going to get solved overnight.That, frankly, is why we need to see the kind of sustained commitment to addressing these challenges that the President is proposing, because he recognizes that not just one presidential trip to Ferguson is going to solve the problem here, but rather a sustained commitment that looks at some of the underlying issues is the way that we’re going to get to the bottom of this and to try to create the kind of environment where, again, particularly in those communities where law enforcement resources are most needed, those are the places where we need to redouble our efforts to try to bring about some greater understanding and trust between law enforcement agencies, between police officers who are walking the beat and the people who live in these communities.
Q I find it interesting that the federal government gives some of these communities that need the resources this excess military equipment and other stuff, but then they can’t really use it because now we’re seeing that that could escalate the situation.And in none of the report do I see where — I mean, there’s an emphasis on training, but there’s not an emphasis, necessarily, at least not yet, on looking at what was given and then taking it back.Is it a possibility that some of these communities will need to give back some of the equipment?
MR. EARNEST:I didn’t see that raised in the report either. I would encourage you to check with the Office of Management and Budget that put the report together.What we think is the overwhelming — or the conclusion of the report indicates that the overwhelming need is to address two things.One is the way in which these programs are structured and implemented and audited to make sure that appropriate equipment is being sent to the appropriate law enforcement agency.The second thing is — you alluded to it — is making sure that those law enforcement officials at the local level who will be responsible for using this equipment have the proper training to use this equipment in a way that’s consistent with protecting their safety and also protecting the safety of people in these communities.And that is what we think will address the vast majority of the problems or concerns that have already been raised about this issue.
Q I mean, a lot of these same issues came up during the Trayvon Martin shooting, and that was different because it didn’t involve law enforcement, at least not at first.What do you think was learned during that — there was a federal investigation of that.What was the outcome of that and what was learned from that that could be then put on this situation?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I believe there actually is still an ongoing Department of Justice investigation into that situation as well.
Q Right, it is still going on.
MR. EARNEST:That’s my understanding, yes.So I’d refer you to the Department of Justice about the status of that ongoing investigation.I’m hesitant to say too much about it just because there is an ongoing investigation.
Q Thank you, Josh.There is a group of Iraqi Sunni tribe leaders who are in town and will be meeting high-level U.S. officials.Is the President one of them?And can you confirm the reports that says that there is a plan that the United States is training 100,000 Iraqis to fight ISIS in what they call the national guard?
MR. EARNEST:Can you repeat the first part of your first question again?You said there are a group of people in town.
Q Sunni tribe leaders are visiting today.
MR. EARNEST:In Washington, D.C.?
Q Correct.Are they meeting with the President tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST:I’m not aware of any meeting like that.There’s not one on the President’s schedule.But I’d encourage you to check with my colleagues at the National Security Council who may have more information about any meetings that are planned with those individuals who are in town.
There has been a concerted effort by the United States and our coalition partners to work intensively in Iraq on the ground there to train the Iraqi security forces.And there has been a proposal from some of Iraq’s political leaders for the creation of these national guard elements that essentially would be based in the communities where these individuals live.
And the United States and our coalition partners have been supportive of that kind of creative thinking in terms of supporting the Iraqi central government as they take greater responsibility for the security of their country.Again, that’s the only way that we’re going to address the situation in Iraq, is if we can support an inclusive central government that will actually successfully take responsibility for the security situation in the entire country.That, too, is difficult work and the kind of work that will only be achieved with a sustained commitment by the United States and our international partners.
The United States is committed to that effort, and we will be involved in ongoing training efforts there on the ground.For the details about the status of that training program, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense who’s actually responsible for administering that program.
Q So you’re saying that any forces that you’re going to train is going to be in coordination with the central government and is not going to be separate, like you did with the Peshmerga, for example?
MR. EARNEST:Well, what I was trying to say earlier is that the national guard proposal is one that has actually been promoted by Prime Minister Abadi and other members of Iraq’s central government.And we are supportive generally of the Iraq central government’s efforts to build up the security capacity of forces in Iraq.And what they envision, based on the way that I have seen it described, are national guard units that are based in communities all across the country that would essentially be staffed by individuals who are from that region of the country but supported by the Iraqi central government.
Now, this is an idea that we have spoken favorably of in the past, and it reflects the central government’s commitment to ensuring that the Iraqi people are taking responsibility for their own security, but also ensuring that Iraqi security forces reflect the diversity of Iraq’s population, and that that kind of inclusive governing strategy will be critical to their ongoing success.That’s why the United States and our coalition partners have been so supportive of that strategy.
As it relates to the specific programs that are targeted to what role U.S. officials would play in training national guard units, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense for how all that fits together.
Q I know the President came up with this himself, but the idea of body cameras, is it his personal view that most police officers, when they see the public, should be wearing a body camera when they’re doing — when they interact with the public? Should most officers in most instances with the public be wearing a body camera?
MR. EARNEST:Perry, it’s the view of the administration that there are some benefits to police officers wearing body cameras.And this is a position that the administration actually originally took in a “We the People” petition; that there was a grassroots movement on our website where people signed a petition about expanding funding for law enforcement officials so they could afford to purchase body cameras for their officers.
As you know, the way that this “We the People” program works, if you go to WhiteHouse.gov/WethePeople you can examine all of the petitions that have been put forward by people from across the country.Once the number of signatures to that petition reaches a certain threshold, an official response by the administration is given to that petition.So it’s a way that people can get direct feedback from the administration on an issue that they care about.
There was a group of individuals who organized a petition drive around this very issue, about whether or not federal funds should be used to make it easier for law enforcement agencies to purchase body cameras and have their officers wear them on a regular basis.And in the context on answering that petition, the administration made clear that we believe that there are some benefits associated with having officers wear body cameras.
I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks that that’s going to solve every single problem or that that’s going to address every issue related to mistrust that might exist between some communities and their local law enforcement officials.But there is a — it stands to reason that something like that could have a positive impact on strengthening those kinds of relationships.
And that’s why you’re seeing a specific commitment from the federal government to partner with local law enforcement agencies who are interested in purchasing those cameras.
Q In today’s meetings, are there any members of the Ferguson police department or city government attending?
MR. EARNEST:I haven’t actually seen the final list, Wendell.The reason that we have waited until the meeting actually starts to put out the list is we wanted to make sure that we had an accurate up-to-date list.This obviously was a complicated piece of business that we were working on over the holiday weekend.But we’ll get you that list, and you’ll get a chance to take a close look at it when we release it.
Q Is it possible there will be none?
MR. EARNEST:What I do know is I know there are individuals who were involved with the situation in Ferguson.I don’t know if it’s government officials, to be frank with you.But we’ll find that out when we get the list finalized.
Q As the nation’s first African American President, does Mr. Obama feel a greater responsibility to resolve issues of trust between police and minority communities?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Wendell, I can tell you that this is an issue that the President has worked on throughout his career in public service.If you go back to probably 20 years ago now, when the President was a state senator in Illinois, one of the principal legislative achievements that he discussed in that legislative body was finding bipartisan ground around legislation that would address concerns of racial profiling; that there had been concerns expressed by some civil rights leaders in Illinois and law enforcement organizations.And then-state Senator Obama worked in bipartisan fashion to broker an agreement between law enforcement and civil rights organizations to try to address those concerns.
So this is an issue that the President has been focused on for a long time.He talked on a number of occasions — he’s talked about his own personal experience with some of these matters.And the President certainly believes that this is a conversation that is important not just — again, not just in Ferguson, but it’s important that this type of conversation take place in communities all across the country.
Q Does he feel better able to persuade minorities — African Americans, Latinos — to do what they need to do?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think it’s — I think the President does believe that there is work that we can all do to try to address these issues.And I think the President certainly will be using the strong relationships that he has with civil rights organizations in this country to try to make progress on some of these issues.
The President also has strong relationships with local law enforcement officers across the country, and that there are some situations in which the administration has worked very closely and effectively with local law enforcement to combat — or to carry out counterterrorism efforts.Certainly local law enforcement officials across the country have been strongly supportive of the kind of bipartisan immigration reform the President has long championed.
So there are a number of issues where this administration has worked closely with law enforcement in a way that really benefited the country.And this, I think, would be another example where we feel like we can use those relationships to make important progress that will benefit law enforcement officers as they do their work, but also they’ll benefit the communities that they serve.
Q And I’ll ask once again, as has been asked before — has the President consciously held his tongue after this issue more than he did so, for example, after the Henry Louis Gates arrest or Trayvon Martin shooting?
MR. EARNEST:I think people have seen the President on a couple of occasions now speak in pretty personal terms, or at least in very thoughtful terms about his reaction to this issue both here in the briefing room on Monday evening, but also at the beginning of his event in Chicago on Tuesday evening as well.
But if you go back and look at those remarks, I think the President was speaking in a way that really reflected his own personal thoughts on this issue.As I mentioned, these are issues that he’s worked on for a long time, so he’s obviously spent a lot of time thinking about these issues and the way that the law enforcement officials — again, men and women who put their lives on the line every single day to protect the communities in which they work.They obviously have a significant stake in the outcome of these kinds of discussions.
But the President is also mindful of the impact that these kinds of discussions have on civil rights organizations.The President is very mindful of the impact that these discussions have on individuals who live in these communities, on individuals who operate businesses in some of these communities.There has been some coverage about the way that small business owners have been affected by some of the violence in Ferguson.So there are a lot of people that have a stake in this outcome, and I think the President is very mindful of that as he talks about these issues in public.
Q He has not been judgmental, however.
MR. EARNEST:Well, “judgmental” is a pejorative term —
Q Well —
MR. EARNEST:– so I’m pleased to hear you say that the President hasn’t been judgmental.(Laughter.)
Q Judgmental in the sense that if I had a son, he’d be like Trayvon Martin; judgmental in the sense of calling the police in Boston stupid.
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think the President has — there obviously are similarities in each of these cases, but there are important differences in each of these cases.And I think that’s how the President considers them.And I think the President has been very thoughtful as he has talked publicly about his reaction to this case.
Q Josh, a couple things.The tax extender negotiations, according to some reports, suggest that part of the problem is that there was a perception among Republicans that those who would qualify under the President’s DACA procedures for adults would have qualified for some of the tax credits that would be extended.Now, you said a moment ago that it’s your understanding that if you pay into the system — meaning Social Security or Medicare — you qualify.Would you also qualify for these tax credits under the extender’s package, under the President’s executive action?
MR. EARNEST:Well, the extender’s package is not quite together yet, but you’re talking about the childcare tax credit, for example?
Q Yes — the EITC and other things like that.
MR. EARNEST:The goal of the executive — one of the goals of the executive action program or executive action that the President announced, as it relates to immigration, about 10 days ago, was related to bringing those individuals who have been in this country for some time out of the shadows, giving them a work permit —
Q And under the books.
MR. EARNEST:– and under the books, and giving them a Social Security number and making them taxpayers.And that does mean that they’re going to be filing their taxes on a regular basis and that does mean that if they qualify for the child tax credit, for example, as a taxpayer that would be something that they would benefit from.But we released this study from the Council of Economic Advisers who talked about the significant economic benefits for the country associated with bringing these individuals out of the shadows so they’re not getting paid in cash under the table but actually sort of part of the broader economy.
Q So even though you would under the President’s action have a legal status that is temporary — by definition, three years — for those three years, if you’re out of the shadows you would qualify for some of the benefits — some of the tax credits and earned-income tax credit in the extender’s package, correct?
MR. EARNEST:That’s my understanding.Let me see if we can get you a more specific briefing by somebody who is a little more steeped in the details.That’s my understanding.That’s my understanding of the way the program works, but if I’m wrong then I will make sure that we get you the right answer.
Q Because it was an issue last week, as things came up.
MR. EARNEST:It was, it was.
Q Now, it’s been also related by White House officials that part of the President’s and the administration’s problem is that the tax credits would be in some cases extended permanently. Is that the biggest sticking point?Or does he want others that he prefers that are not yet extended permanently to be put in the permanent category regardless of the long-term cost?Because budget hawks have said if you do that you have a package of $500 billion over 10 years added to the national debt.
MR. EARNEST:Well, I’d say a couple of things.The first is, I do feel confident that if it were just you and I sitting here trying to negotiate this agreement, that we’d probably get something pretty good hammered out before the end of the day.Unfortunately, that’s not —
Q Well —
MR. EARNEST:Don’t you think?
Q Well, you’re giving me a lot more credit on tax policy than I probably deserve.
MR. EARNEST:I think you’ve earned it.I think you’ve earned it.But my point is that this is a complicated process and there are a lot of people with a lot of different views on it.So this will work its way through that process and so I don’t want to get ahead of it too much.But I will say as a general matter a couple of things.
The first is, there have been individual proposals from Republicans to make permanent some of the tax credits or tax breaks that benefit well-connected corporations.The President has previously indicated a willingness to veto those pieces of legislation because they — because of their substantial cost and because of the — that if they went alone, they would be tax provision that would only benefit well-connected corporations and not working people.
So it wasn’t a surprise to those who were watching this closely that we would have a pretty dim view of a tax extender package that would make permanent a whole host of those corporate proposals, because, again, we have in the past indicated a strong opposition to those individual proposals, so a whole package of them doesn’t necessarily make them better.
But there were a couple of reasons that we objected to them.The first is because they were benefits that were extended to well-connected corporations and not the working people.They also would have a pretty hazardous impact on the deficit.So there are a number of reasons to be concerned about it.
Q I’m just asking if those concerns drop if you get more of what you want.
MR. EARNEST:Well, we certainly are going to be engaged in conversations with members of Congress about how to move forward.There are strongly held views on a variety of these topics, so we’ll be engaged in those conversations and we’ll see what we can figure out.
Q On the on-body cameras, a couple of police departments have already done a pilot program of this without federal funds, done it themselves, and found a couple of things.One, it does provide greater public confidence, provided that members of law enforcement used the equipment properly — remember to turn it on, activate it — in a way that is not — they just forget, they’re doing other things.Is part of this money from the federal government also going to be devoted to not just getting the equipment, but taking this information from pilot programs and training those who take the equipment to use it properly so you don’t have a sense where, oh, there was a camera, but they didn’t turn it on and the public reasonably thinks it’s a cover-up?
MR. EARNEST:Right.Well, that is certainly a part of what’s envisioned here, is expanding training for reforms and — I’m sorry, expanding funding for training and reforms, including as it relates to body-worn cameras by police officers.I’m sure this is also something that will be considered by the taskforce that will report back in 90 days to the President with some best practices about the kinds of things that will better strengthen the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
Q Thanks.I just want to follow up on the question that Wendell had, which is about the President and the role that he plays in this.And he has talked personally about his own experiences, but has that raised the expectations here or has there been an increased amount of pressure to get things done?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think the President always feels a sense of urgency to get things done, particularly when we’re talking about important national priorities like this one.Again, this situation and sort of addressing this challenge of strengthening trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve has been laid bare in Ferguson in a pretty dramatic way.But this kind of underlying tension exists in lots of other communities.There are some law enforcement agencies that go to great lengths, and with some significant success have ameliorated some of those concerns and restored or strengthened the bond of trust that exists between law enforcement and community leaders.
I think what they would tell you is that that is a daily effort; that they spend time every day making sure that they are communicating clearly and being as transparent as possible with the community that they’re serving to try to preserve and protect that trust.After all, that kind of relationship that exists between a community and its law enforcement is important to the success of that law enforcement; that if we’re going to have law enforcement officials that are committed to preventing crime or investigating crime and having them resolved in a conviction, we need to make sure that there is trust that exists between law-enforcement officials and the community that’s being — where those investigations are taking place or where those crime prevention efforts are underway.
So there is — that’s the — that might be the one piece of good news is all of this, right, that we don’t have to choose between strong, effective law enforcement and a strong bond of trust between law enforcement and that community.In fact, the more trust that we can build between law enforcement and the community, the better that law enforcement agency is likely to perform.And that is going to have benefits not just for the law enforcement agency, but it’s going to have benefits for the community that they’re serving.
So there is a virtuous cycle that can get started here, but it’s going to take a lot of work and it’s going to require a long-term commitment — again, not just a single presidential visit to one community but rather a sustained commitment by the federal government, by people of goodwill on all sides of this issue to try to address some of these problems that are all too common in communities large and small all across the country.
Q And given that that — all those things that you just said — these are all too common and they are in communities large and small, and certainly Ferguson is not the first example of that — why did it take a Ferguson to take the kinds of steps that we’re seeing today?
MR. EARNEST:Well, the Department of Justice has had a program that has been working to facilitate stronger relationships between civil rights organizations and law enforcement and individual community leaders across the country.
But I think it is human nature for a prominent example like the situation in Ferguson to flare up and to prompt a significant reaction from people all across the country.
The situation in Ferguson has gotten our attention.And when I say “our attention,” I don’t just mean the administration, I mean people all across the country.There’s a reason that it’s still on the nightly network newscasts that you guys are doing every day.There’s a reason it’s on the front page of just about every newspaper across the country today.These continue to be important issues that because of the tragic circumstances of this one community has caused communities all across the country to take another look at this issue.
I think that is a natural human reaction.The question is, are we’re going to allow our attention to wane, or are we going to sort of use this opportunity and seize this opportunity to make a sustained commitment to dealing with some of these issues.
Q Back to the review when you stated — as it stated that in many cases these programs serve a very useful purpose and you mentioned the Boston Marathon bombing — can you be more specific about that example in particular, or any other examples in general?
MR. EARNEST:Well, what I recall is that there were some very hardened armored equipment that was used in the response to the Boston bombing.For more details on that I’m sure the Boston Police Department would be happy to tell you about how effectively they used their equipment to keep the people of Boston safe.But they’ll have a little more detailed knowledge of that incident than I will.
Q And on a different topic, can I get any reaction to the resignation of Elizabeth Lauten, who is the communications director for Congressman Fincher, who made comments about the first daughters?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I’ll say a couple things about that.I don’t have a specific reaction to her resignati