Tuesday, 21/1/2020 | 7:57 UTC+0
Libyan Newswire

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 11/6/2014

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

November 06, 2014

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:57 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  I don’t have any announcements at the top.  We’ll go straight to questions.

Julie.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the President sent a letter last month to Iran’s Supreme Leader talking about the shared interests that the U.S. and Iran has in the fight against the Islamic State.  Can you confirm that that letter was sent?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not in a position to discuss private correspondence between the President and any world leader.  I can tell you that the policy that the President and his administration have articulated about Iran remains unchanged.  The United States is engaged in conversations with Iran in the context of the P5-plus-1 talks to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and we have also discussed on the sidelines of those talks on at least a couple of occasions the ongoing campaign that is being conducted against ISIL by the United States and 60 members of — or now more than 60 members who are part of this broader coalition.

The United States will not cooperate militarily with Iran in that effort; we won’t share intelligence with them.  But their interests in this outcome is something that’s been widely commented upon and something on a couple of occasions has been discussed on the sidelines of other conversations.

Q    But since we know that there has been communication between the U.S. and Iran, why can’t you say if that communication happened at the level of the President and the Supreme Leader?

MR. EARNEST:  Just because I’m not in a position to talk about private correspondence that may or —

Q    Is it wrong that there was a letter sent?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not going to be in a position to talk about private correspondence between the President and another world leader.

Q    Okay.  I want to follow up on something the President said in his press conference yesterday about the AUMF that he is going to try to work on with Congress.  Does he actually think that it’s legally necessary to get a new authorization because of what he foresees about either the length or what this mission will entail going forward?

MR. EARNEST:  The President believes that Congress has already given him all of the authority that he needs to conduct this campaign against ISIL.  That authority was conferred by Congress on the President when they passed the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force.  According to a wide variety of administration lawyers, the President has the authority that he needs, based on that piece of legislation that Congress has already passed.

But what the President has said is that he believes that it is beneficial to the broader effort if we send a very clear signal to the international community, both to our allies and to our enemies, that the executive branch and the legislative branch are on the same page when it comes to the strategy.  And that’s why the President believes that it would be very helpful for Congress to pass an authorization to use military force to essentially right-size and modernize the authority that Congress gives to the President to reflect the conflict that we’re currently waging.  And the President thinks that would be good for the country and would be beneficial to our broader effort.

Q    But even if lawmakers can’t come to an agreement with the President about a new AUMF, he’s still going to press forward with this mission?  That doesn’t change any plans?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct, because Congress has already given him this authority in 2001 when they passed the Authorization to Use Military Force that year.

Q    And to follow up on one other thing, he talked, on Keystone, about letting the process play out, waiting for the  Nebraska supreme court decision before completing the administration review.  Does that mean that if Congress sends him a bill authorizing construction of the pipeline before that internal administration review is complete that he would veto that legislation?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we haven’t seen sort of what Congress is prepared to do specifically on this.

Q    But we know lawmakers have said — McConnell and Boehner have said that is a top priority.

MR. EARNEST:  And the President has been very clear that there is an established — a firmly established precedent for dealing with these kinds of issues, and that’s a process that we’re committed to.  That’s a process that currently is winding its ways through the State Department and one that, right now, is at least going to be influenced by the decision from a Nebraska judge about the proper route for that pipeline through that state.

So we’ll consider any sort of proposals that are passed by Congress, including a rider like this, that — you’re right — does seem to pretty directly contradict the position that’s been adopted by this administration, but also the position that’s been taken by previous administrations as they’ve considered pipelines of this sort.

Jeff.

Q    Josh, just to follow up on that, what do you mean by “we’ll consider”?  I mean, the question was, will he veto something that would force his hand on Keystone?

MR. EARNEST:  Right, and I guess my point is they haven’t put forward something like that that has gotten a majority of both houses of Congress.

Q    But they probably will.  I mean, they have signaled so.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ll see.  And at that point we’ll be able to give you a more specific reaction to it.

Q    Okay.  Following up on a few other things that the President talked about yesterday — he mentioned trade as something that he’d like to get done with a Republican-controlled Congress.  What specifically would he like to do?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, you’ve heard the President talk on a number of occasions, in fact, in a variety of countries, about his view that the American economy would benefit from efforts to open up foreign markets — additional foreign markets to American products; that American businesses and American workers are churning out high-quality products that are very competitive, and the more opportunities that we can open up for those products and for those goods and services overseas, the greater potential exists for those countries to grow and thrive and even create jobs.  The bottom line is, agreements to open up additional markets that include protections for American workers and American businesses, American farmers, can be beneficial to our economy.  And the President has —

Q    — specific, though, about what he’d like?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’re obviously in a midst of negotiations with a range of countries both in Asia and in Latin America about a potential transpacific partnership agreement.  The United States trade representative, Mike Froman, has indicated that those talks on ongoing, that they have made tremendous progress in trying to hammer out an agreement like that.  There are a few important issues that remain, and in the context of these negotiations, they have kicked all of the most difficult sticking points to the very end.

So they’ve made important progress, but there are still some important sticking points that remain.  I don’t anticipate that we’ll have any announcement along these lines in the context of the President’s trip to Asia.

The President and his team are obviously engaged in conversations with some of our partners in Europe about a potential trade agreement between the United States and some European countries.  Those are in addition to some trade agreements that were completed in the President’s first term with Panama and South Korea, as well.

So the President has demonstrated a pretty firm commitment to this principle that it is possible for us to reach agreements with other countries that open up overseas markets in a way that benefits American businesses.  And we can reach those agreements without disadvantaging American workers, American entrepreneurs, American farmers, or other interests that are critical to the success of our domestic economy.

Q    In the President’s meeting with lawmakers tomorrow, will he seek any assurances that he can stick in his pocket for his Asia trip on this?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t anticipate anything like that.  I’m confident that this, among other opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to work together on issues of — where they have common ground, but I don’t know that the President necessarily would be seeking any sort of handshake agreement on anything.

Q    And just lastly on that, can you give us any more details about tomorrow’s meeting, where it’s going to happen, when, what will be served?

MR. EARNEST:  You alluded to the fact that they will be having lunch.  I don’t know what’s on the menu.  I’m sure there’s a good joke about what’s on the menu there, but I’m going to resist the urge to make that joke.

Q    Bourbon?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  For example.  That’s one of them.  We can probably do a top-ten list I guess of things that could be on the agenda.  But we’ll see what we can do in terms of giving you some more details about that lunch.  It will take place in the afternoon, as that’s the hour that lunch is traditionally served. And we’re still working on how we’ll set up press access to that meeting, as well.  So we’ll have some more details on that soon.

Go ahead, Jon.

Q    I wanted to ask — the President said that he heard the message of the election, but he also said, “I also heard the two-thirds who didn’t vote.”  What did he mean by that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I was asked this in a television interview that I did earlier today.  The point that the President was making is that citizens typically, when they step into the voting booth, will choose among candidates for office, but those citizens who don’t show up to vote are also making a decision — they’re also making a decision to say — to not participate.  And it’s the view of the President, and I think most other people here at the White House, that those individuals are sending a similar message, which is that they feel that Washington has not been sufficiently attuned to the concerns that they have, that we’ve not seen the kind of results out of Washington, D.C. over the last two years that reflect the priorities and concerns that Americans all across the country have.

And the President, as he did in the news conference yesterday, certainly has indicated that as the President of the United States, the most powerful person in Washington, that he has greater responsibility and is held to a higher standard of accountability for the failures of this town.  And that’s why you’re going to see the President redouble his efforts to make progress and to actually show some results to the American people, and that the voices of those who participated in the election were heard just as loud and clearly here at the White House as those who chose not to participate in the election at all.

Q    So there seems to be a suggestion there that the mandate that Republicans would have from this win would be something less.  I mean, just to drill down on your math, on the President’s math, he says about a third voted, two-thirds didn’t vote — numbers are still coming in, but let’s take that.  That would mean that because Republicans got a little bit more than half, that ultimately about a sixth of the population voted for Republicans.  Does that mean that five-sixths of the population out there, in the White House view, somehow was not with the Republicans on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, that’s not the point that the President was trying to make.  There may be some who are making that point. I don’t think that’s the point the President was making.  I think the point the President was making is that people who choose not to participate in the election were also making a choice, and they were also sending a very clear signal to Washington, D.C. that Washington, D.C. feels far removed from their concerns and from their priorities and that they want their leaders to start producing some results; to start churning out the kinds of policies that will be beneficial to middle-class families; that they want Democrats and Republicans to figure out a way to identify common ground.

It doesn’t mean that they want their elected representatives to fold on their principles.  Certainly not at all.  But I do think they expect their elected representatives to try to find common ground and move on common ground that is clearly in the best interests of the country.

Q    I’m sure you remember back during the days when the government shutdown was dominating the news.  The President said, “If you don’t like a particular policy, go out and win an election.”  So apparently those who didn’t like a lot of particular policies went out and they won a bunch of elections.  So doesn’t that suggest that there should be some course correction here in terms of policy?  I know the President talked about spending some more time with the Republican leaders, but I didn’t hear any suggestion of any change in any actual policy direction.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I do think that there is ample data to indicate that a lot of the policies that the President himself has advocated are strongly supported by those who participated in the election; that from support for a path to citizenship for immigrants who have been in this country for an extended period of time, to the President’s handling of things like Ebola or ISIL, that there’s strong support for what the President has pursued.  Even when it comes to an issue like the economy, the electorate — again, those who actually participated in the election were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans in terms of appraising their handling of that particular policy area.

Now, these results are notable for a couple of reasons.  One is, as you pointed out, that the electorate skewed Republican, that more Republicans showed up.  But yet according to the findings of these exit polls, there is strong support for some of the priorities and policies that the President has carried out.

Q    So you’re not suggesting the results of this election are a reaffirmation of the President’s policies, are you?

MR. EARNEST:  No.

Q    You just did.  You just went through —

MR. EARNEST:  That’s what you suggested as a question.  And certainly you’re entitled to raise that question.  What I’m saying is that I think that the clear message that is sent by voters across the country is they want to see results in Washington, D.C.  And I think that Democrats and Republicans — anybody who has been paying any attention to Washington, D.C. has seen that Congress hasn’t gotten that much done in the last two years.  And that’s something that the President has evinced some frustration about.  There are members of Congress who have expressed some frustration about that.  Clearly the voters are frustrated about that.

And as the President of the United States, the most powerful person in Washington, D.C., the President bears greater accountability and responsibility for that than anybody else.  And he understands that.  And part of the reason that he has asked the 16 most powerful members of Congress to come to the White House for a meeting is he wants to start right away, looking for opportunities to cooperate and to find common ground and help move the country forward.

Again, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to agree on everything.  I’m sure there will be plenty of things for us to disagree about.  But if there’s an opportunity for us to find some common ground, let’s make sure that our differences don’t get in the way of us being able to make some progress for the American people.

Q    And just lastly, is there a date for the Bourbon Summit with Mitch McConnell?

MR. EARNEST:  Not yet, but stay tuned.

Mara.

Q    Just to follow up on that.  After the 2010 elections, there was a policy correction, and the President did start emphasizing deficit reduction, and worked very, very hard — many go-rounds with the Republican leadership on that; didn’t come to anything.  I’m wondering if that experience —

MR. EARNEST:  I do think that it came to a couple of important things, Mara.  One thing is that we actually have exceeded the targets that were set for deficit reduction.  The deficit has been more than cut in half since the President took office, and the deficit is now below 3 percent of GDP, which was the original goal of those conversations, which was to bring the deficit down below that level.  So there was no broad or grand bargain that was struck, but there was important progress made in terms of reducing the deficit.

Q    Well, I guess my question was you did try a change after the last time you lost a house of Congress.  And I’m wondering if there were some lessons you drew from that experience that makes you not want to do the same — take the same kind of strategy this time.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that’s an interesting question.  I guess the reason that’s a hard question to answer is that there has been a national election in the intervening period, where there was an opportunity for us to have a debate across the country about what sort of issues should take priority and what kind of steps Washington should take to advance those priorities.  So I think it’s hard to draw a straight line between this midterm election and the last midterm election just because there was a national election between them.

But I think, as a general matter, what you heard from the President at the news conference yesterday is a genuine openness to changing the way that he does business if it makes it more likely that Republicans will be willing to seize common ground with him.

Q    And just one last thing.  The President joked about this yesterday, but how much — he said stuff isn’t getting done, people are frustrated.  But how much of what happened on Tuesday do you think was because of just the sheer screw-ups — I mean, he made the joke about the website yesterday — and the VA and examples of just incompetence that people see?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mara, I’m going to leave sort of a lot of that punditry and analysis to those of you who are actually pundits and analysts.  I think we’ve been pretty clear about the message that the President heard from the electorate.  I think the reason that you see a pretty optimistic posture from people at the White House here is that I think that we see a similar read from the electorate being shared by Senator McConnell.

One of the things — I had the opportunity to read the transcript of Senator McConnell’s news conference from yesterday. I did not get a chance to see it live.  But one thing that he said stuck out to me, and I think it stuck out to those of you who were covering it.  What Senator McConnell said is, “I think there are a lot of people who believe that just because you have divided government it doesn’t mean you don’t accomplish anything.”  I think the vast majority of us here at the White House, and certainly the President himself, agrees wholeheartedly.

Senator McConnell didn’t suggest that he’s going to fold on his principles.  The President is not going to do that either.  But it doesn’t mean we should use that as an excuse not to get something done where we do agree.  And that’s the spirit that we were pleased to see Senator McConnell express yesterday, and it’s the spirit with which the leaders of Congress will be sitting down with the President tomorrow to discuss their priorities.

Justin.

Q    Yeah, I was wondering what the White House thought of the comments made by Harry Reid’s chief of staff to The Washington Post.

MR. EARNEST:  I did see the Post story about this.  I don’t think they actually reflect the true nature of the relationship that exists between President Obama and Senator Reid, then Senator Obama, when he served in the United States Senate, and Senator Reid struck up a genuine friendship when the two men served together in the United States Senate, and that relationship has only been strengthened during the President’s time in the White House — from issues like Wall Street reform to the Affordable Care Act, to ensuring that the American economy didn’t go over the abyss into a second Great Depression — that the success that we’ve had on those fronts would not have been possible without the leadership of Senator Reid.

And that very constructive, productive relationship even continued into the first couple of years of the President’s second term as the Senate made progress in confirming judicial nominees that were offered up by the President, that we have seen 280 federal judges that have been confirmed over the last five and a half years or so, including a couple of Supreme Court justices.  And that will be part of Senator Reid’s legacy and continues to be an indication of the kind of important partnership that exists between President Obama and Senator Reid. I’m confident that that’s going to continue.

Q    Well, I mean, not to quibble with you, but I mean, this is a story that —

MR. EARNEST:  It’s okay, it’s part of your job.

Q    Yes.  This is a story that obviously they have worked with the Post with for weeks; it said so in the story.  It was retweeted by a Reid spokesman multiple times.  Obviously, David Krone is married to a former top official here in the White House.  I mean, it was not a subtle sort of jab at the White House.  And so I’m wondering, how could you not take this as representing a serious frustration with the White House from Leader Reid about what happened?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, you can go ask some staffers in Senator Reid’s office about their opinion.  What I’m going to point to are actually the results of what has I think been fairly observed by others as a genuinely historic relationship between the President of the United States and the Senate Majority Leader — in this case, President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — that again, from Wall Street reform to the Affordable Care Act, to saving the economy from a second Great Depression, that involves passing important pieces of legislation.

Again, some of these pieces of legislation were vigorously opposed by Republicans in the United States Senate, and it required Senator Reid demonstrating the kind of leadership you’d expect from somebody who has the title of Senate Majority Leader to get these things done.  And that relationship between Senator Reid and the President isn’t just good for the two men, it’s been good for the country.

Q    I guess I’ll just ask it one other way.  The President has spoken about needing to change his attitude or approach towards John Boehner, Mitch McConnell.  With Harry Reid’s top aides blasting him in major newspapers, does he need to change his approach towards Harry Reid?  Is there going to be any type of new approach or outreach, especially on issues like access to donors and things like that that were raised in the story?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I mean, I’ll tell you that the — I guess I’ll just say I guess what I said to Julie’s question, which is it does apply to Democrats, too — that if the President, based on the conversations that he has with members of Congress in both parties will be at the meeting tomorrow, finds that there are some things that he can change to make that relationship with Congress more productive, the President won’t hesitate to make those changes.

Now, he’s not going to make those changes just for the sake of changing things up for his last two years in office.  He’s willing to make changes if it will lead to more progress for the American people.  If it will allow us to have greater success in passing common-sense pieces of legislation that will benefit middle-class families, then, yes, the President is willing to do some things differently.  Those might be the kinds of things that aren’t readily available to the public, that they aren’t easily identifiable, but if they are the kinds of changes that will actually result in progress, the President is more than open to making them.

Cheryl.

Q    Thanks.  Back to Republicans, though.  So after all this outreach and kind words yesterday, there’s a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning that says the first thing — among the first things that Republicans want to do, McConnell and Boehner, is repeal Obamacare, pass Keystone pipeline approval, take up a bunch of bills that the Senate — passed in the House and the Senate won’t pass.  How do you really see moving forward if these are their priorities?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Cheryl, those aren’t their only priorities.  Senator McConnell, again, in his news conference that I spent a little time reading about very early this morning, pointed out a couple of issues that he considers to be priorities that he’s hopeful that he can work with the White House on.  He identified expanding exports through trade and tax reform.  Those are issues that the White House has talked about.  These are issues that the President has talked about as priorities.

So again, the important thing is the President is not going to change his view — his very dim view of legislation that would be motivated to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  Republicans have voted for that legislation 50 or 60 times now.  Now that Senator McConnell is the Majority Leader, he’s going to have more influence about what pieces of legislation come to the floor of the United States Senate, and if he chooses to bring legislation like that to the floor, he’s certainly entitled to make those decisions.  What the President is determined to do, and what he’s hopeful Republicans will do, is not allow our very clear, well-established differences get in the way of our ability to identify, seize and advance common ground.

That ultimately is the message that the voters were sending, at least in the mind of the President.  And I think, reading Senator McConnell’s news conference yesterday, that that’s what he’s thinking, too.

So we’re going to continue to have disagreements.  I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we’re trying to minimize or paper those over.  But what the President is eager to do in his last two years in office is to ensure that those differences of opinion don’t crowd out the ability to cooperate when we have a shared point of view.

Kristen.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Just following up, actually, on the question.  You have the op-ed that was just referenced of President Obama saying that he still plans to take executive action, something that a lot of Republicans have said is basically a declaration of war.  If you’re an American voter, why should you have confidence that anything is going to be different now?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that time will tell.  And I think American voters can have confidence that the President is going to continue to look for common ground, as he has over the last six years.

And for some reason — and I guess not without some justification, given the outcome of the elections — Republicans have concluded, or at least had concluded, that it was in their own personal political interest to oppose every single thing that the President wanted to do.  And we’ve sort of gone through the litany of examples where that’s been the case.  And over that six years, Republicans have gained seats in the legislature.  So maybe that means they feel pretty validated in terms of their political strategy, but that’s not a strategy that’s been good for the country.  It hasn’t been a good strategy in terms of the standing of the Republican brand.

But now that the deck has been reshuffled here and you have Republicans who are leading not just the House of Representatives but now the United States Senate, maybe it will prompt Republicans to reevaluate their strategy.  Maybe now they will conclude that it’s in their political interest to try to find areas of common ground with the President.  And if so, I think that could make for a productive relationship.

Again, there are going to be areas of strong disagreement, and I’m not trying to minimize them.  I don’t think anybody else is either.  But maybe Republicans will change their tune.  Maybe they will decide that they should, based on their own political interest, based on their interest for the country or some other interest, will decide that they actually want to try to find common ground with the President.  And if they do, they will find a very willing partner sitting in the Oval Office.

Q    When the President reads that op-ed, is there not concern that this process is just going to get bogged down, though, in fighting, defending the health care act?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the point is it doesn’t have to.  That differences over health care are well worn, and I think that the President is pretty confident the way that history will evaluate those differences.  But that, frankly, is not really something we’re concerned about or focused on right now.

What we’re focused on right now is trying to find some common ground.  And we can have our differences of opinion over the Affordable Care Act; maybe there will be colorful debates on the floor of the Senate or on the floor of the House.  The President’s position on that is not just well known to everybody here at the White House, the President’s position on these issues is well known to everybody in Congress, too.

So again, it’s their decision, however, if they decide that they want to bring up these pieces of legislation.  They’re certainly entitled to that opportunity.  They have earned that right based on the outcome of the elections.  What I’m saying, and I think what the President — the message that the President delivered in the news conference and that he’ll deliver privately at the lunch tomorrow, is let’s not let these differences crowd out our ability to cooperate.

Q    And next week he goes to Asia, obviously, just as Congress is coming back.  How does he — obviously he’s having lunch with them tomorrow, but is there any concern that that takes away from this effort to find common ground?  Will he be reaching out to lawmakers while he’s overseas, for example?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know of any conference calls or any emails or anything else that the President will send or receive to communicate with members of Congress during his important trip to Asia.  But the President is looking forward to the opportunity that he has tomorrow to really get started — of trying to forge this common ground with Republicans over the course of the next couple of months, but also leading into the next couple of years.

Q    And, Josh, let me just get one not having to do with Washington.  Former Illinois Representative Lane Evans passed away.  He was obviously influential in President Obama’s career. Does he have a reaction?  Has he reached out to any of his family members, for example?

MR. EARNEST:  I would anticipate that you’ll see a statement from the President on this issue later today.  But there are many of us here at the White House who had the opportunity to meet Congressman Evans, and I had the opportunity to meet him on the campaign trail very early on — I believe in 2007 — and he is somebody who was a longtime supporter and friend of the President, and he was one of the President’s earliest supporters not just in the presidential campaign but actually when then-state senator Obama decided to run for the United States Senate.

Congressman Evans is somebody who served his country proudly in the United States Marines.  And he’s somebody who was very conscious of his commitment to serving his country throughout his career in public service.  And those are the kinds of values that we’re going to miss, and certainly we’re going to miss Congressman Evans.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today.

Ed.

Q    Josh, were you surprised that in the op-ed that Kristen mentioned, where the Republican leaders lay out their agenda?  It doesn’t appear to me they mention immigration reform at all.

MR. EARNEST:  I wasn’t — I guess I didn’t read the op-ed expecting a surprise.

Q    This is something the President has been highlighting for a long time.  The Republican leaders say they want to work with him; McConnell had that news conference saying we’re going to find common ground and they lay out all these economic plans, and something the President is saying is front and center is not highlighted.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’m not surprised that there may be things that the President considers to be top priorities that Republicans don’t share.  Again, I’m not trying to paper over those differences.  What we have to do is we need to compare those two lists.  Let’s put down the President’s agenda, let’s place down right next to it the Republican agenda, and let’s look for areas of common ground.

I mean, the truth is people have sort of been saying, well, the two sides need to do more to compromise.  I think that’s true.  But we can actually even start in an easier place.  Let’s just start by trying to find some common ground.  There are some things where we don’t have to compromise because we both agree that they’re good for the country.

One example of this would be infrastructure.  There are plenty of Republican members of Congress who believe that there are worthwhile infrastructure projects in their districts.  The President agrees, by and large, that a lot of those projects actually are worthy of investment, that that would be good for the local economy in those communities, that it would be — both in the short term and the long term.

So that’s just sort of one example where there probably is more — Washington would probably benefit from a greater spirit of compromise in this town.  But we can even start in an easier place, which is let’s go find some common ground.  There are things we agree on, and let’s move on them.

Q    One reason you held back on an executive order on immigration was that there was a fear Democrats had that they’d lose the Senate if, with a big issue like that, the President took unilateral action shortly before the midterms.  Democrats — well, at least that was expressed by —

MR. EARNEST:  By some senators, yes.  That wasn’t the view of the White House, but —

Q    That’s not why you did it, you said.

MR. EARNEST:  Correct.

Q    But Senate Democrats were concerned about it happening before the election.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct.

Q    The President did not do it.  He held it till after the midterms.  Democrats lost the Senate anyway.  And now you have some on the left — Congressman Guterriez had a news conference the day after the election blasting the President, saying that Hispanics had been sold out, he should have acted much sooner.  And my question being, is there any regret here that it was held back after the election?  Democrats who complained it might hurt them in the election, they lost anyway.  And now you have Republicans with an even bigger majority in the Senate than you or they expected.  And as Kristen said, they’re warning you, you go ahead now, after the election, and it’s a declaration of war.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me unpack a couple of things, Ed.  You’ve raised an important question.  The thing that’s — as the President was considering this decision earlier this summer, the thing that the President was most focused on was protecting the issue of immigration reform, and making sure that it was an issue that continued to be a viable one in Washington, D.C., one that’s viable in the United States Congress, one that has bipartisan support.  And the fact is had the President made this decision in the months before the election, that had the election turned out the same way, we would be sitting here discussing how the issue of immigration would be dead for a long time because Republicans would be running around saying, because of the President’s executive action, I was successful in my election and I will never support immigration reform again.

But we don’t have people saying that.  Instead what we have is we have the President, who still has the capacity to act on his own using this executive authority to solve many of the problems associated with our broken immigration system, and the President is determined to move forward on that before the end of the year.

Q    Now, on another issue — to go back to Julie’s questions about Iran.  When you talk about Congress, you’ve been saying you want to find common ground with them and let’s do the easy things we can work on together.  Why then send a secret letter to the Ayatollah when Congress is saying we want a voice in these nuclear talks, for example, that we don’t want to be cut out?  If you’re sending a secret letter, it sounds like you’re not being transparent and you’re cutting Congress out.

MR. EARNEST:  I recognize that it may sound that way, but the fact of the matter is there are also secret conversations between the administration and Congress about our negotiating strategy with Iran.

Q    And they’ve been read in on this?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not going to detail those secret conversations either.  But I am in a position to tell you that senior administration officials have been and continue to be in very close touch with relevant members of Congress about the progress that we’re making on these P5-plus-1 talks.  They are critical to American national security.

And I’ll do a short version of this, but it’s important.  We wouldn’t have made as much progress as we have so far in forcing Iran to the negotiating table and considering some very serious decisions had the President and the Congress not been able to work together in imposing a sanctions regime on Iran.  Congress passed a set of very tough sanctions against Iran with bipartisan support, and this administration and our skilled diplomats implemented those sanctions in a way to maximize the impact on the Iranian economy in a way that forces the Iranian negotiators to the table.

So the administration and Congress — in some ways, this would actually be one of those rare spots where the administration and Congress, members in both parties, have succeeded in working well together to represent the interest of the United States of America, in fact, to advance our interests.  And that kind of consultation continues, and it will as we approach this deadline.

Q    That kind of working together would go much smoother if you also said up front that Congress is going to be able to vote and approve this, rather than you might read them in after you cut a deal.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’m not saying that we’re going to read them in after we cut a deal.  I’m saying that we’ve been reading them in as we’ve been trying to negotiate this deal.  Again, we welcome the contribution that members of Congress have played in this effort so far, and it is important for members of Congress to be consulted regularly as we make progress, certainly as we get close to the deadline.

Q    Last thing.  This letter was allegedly written in part to bring Iran in to help fight ISIS, beyond the nuclear deal.  President Rouhani told CNN in an interview last month that he thinks the airstrikes so far against ISIS have been a form of theater and it’s not a serious campaign against terrorists.  So my question is, how can the President believe that Iran is a credible partner here when they’re attacking his campaign against ISIS and saying it’s not serious?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, just as a factual matter, the fact is that we have seen the airstrikes that have been conducted by the United States and many of our coalition partners actually have an impact on their ability to operate in this area of the world.  We’ve seen them change their tactics.  There’s a story in The New York Times today about how the success that ISIL — the momentum that ISIL had built up had waned in recent months in part due to the military campaign that the United States and our military partners is waging against them.  So as a factual matter, what you say he said is not true.

What is true, though, is that there’s a pretty clear interest that Iran has in this fight against ISIL.  It’s not in the interest of Iran or, frankly, anybody else in this region of the world to have this extremist group rampaging across the countryside carrying out terrible acts of violence.

So, that said, because of Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world, for a variety of reasons, it’s difficult for the United States to work very closely with Iran in this endeavor.  That’s why we’re not cooperating with them militarily; we’re not sharing intelligence with them.  But we do seek to — at least we have on a couple of occasions sought to engage them on the sidelines of other talks to make sure that they understand what we’re trying to do here and to get a sense about their perspective on things.

Major.

Q    I want to ask you about something that CNN first reported yesterday that we’ve been checking with the Army and the Office of Management and Budget about.  It talks about this Army command policy regulation, published October 22nd, that says that the term “Negro” can be used to describe a black or African American member of the Army.  It says that this is something that dates back to OMB regulations from the mid-‘90s.  I’ve checked with OMB; they’re circling back and trying to find out the origin of this.  Since CNN reported this, the Army has now taken that designation out of this command policy.  I wonder if the President believes that it should be stricken from all federal documents and the Office of Management and Budget — which hasn’t gotten back to me on this — is working on that very task right now.

MR. EARNEST:  I know that OMB is looking into this matter.  So they’ll get back to you.  And I do want to underscore something you said, which is that the military has updated the policy as of today and that language that’s in question is no longer being used.  Obviously we believe that’s an appropriate step.  But as it relates to its application in other areas of the government, that’s something that OMB is still reviewing.

Q    Was this entirely a Pentagon decision, or did the White House or the President himself get involved in this particular topic?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know the answer to that.  I’d check with the Pentagon on that.

Q    Tomorrow, is the conversation principally about what to accomplish in the lame duck, or in the next Congress?

MR. EARNEST:  Both.

Q    Who will set the agenda for the second part of that conversation, the Republicans or the President?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what you can expect, Major, is you can anticipate that the President has on his mind a few things that he believes should be priorities.  And he discussed some of them in the news conference yesterday — from additional funding for our efforts to fight Ebola, and AUMF —

Q    But that’s in the lame duck, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President indicated that the AUMF discussion could extend beyond the lame duck period.  The President has also been clear about some of the economic priorities that he has.  So the President is eager to talk about some of the things that are on his agenda.  He’s just as eager to hear from Republicans and to hear what’s on their agenda, to hear them lay out the priorities that they have both for the lame duck as well as for the next two years.  So this will be an opportunity for the President to hear from Republicans about where their priorities are.

Q    To follow up on Justin’s questions, let me just ask you this.  Do you or the Chief of Staff of this White House or the President believe there is anything that needs to be done to repair the relationship with Harry Reid?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, if there is, I’m confident that’s something that the President and Senator Reid, given their strong track record, will be able to take care of.  If they do that, I doubt it will be published in The Washington Post, frankly.  But I’m confident that based on their long history that these two men, who have a very important role to play not just here in Washington, but in the country, are going to continue to have that strong kind of working relationship that’s been so beneficial to the American people.

Q    Let me tie these last two questions together.  Does the President believe it is any way an obligation of his, next year or the year after, as the political leader of the Democratic Party, to assist Harry Reid in re-winning the majority in 2016, when a far greater number of Republicans will be facing reelection, many of them in states that the President carried if not once, twice, and the map, as the President referred to, will be far more beneficial, at least in theory, to Democrats than the one just concluded?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you’re right, Major, that unlike the midterm election that has just been completed, in 2016 there will be Senate contests hosted in a substantial number of states where the President has a strong electoral track record — in many contests, they will be taking place in states the President has won twice.  And I would anticipate that in 2016, you’ll see an engaged President of the United States who is working hard to elect Democrats.

Q    Does the White House believe it is necessary to name an attorney general before the President leaves for Asia in order that that candidate, whoever it is, be confirmed before the new Congress takes up its position?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any updates in terms of timing.

Q    I’m not asking about who.  I’m just asking do you believe in a timing sequence, you need to do this in order to get it done before the next Congress takes —

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any updates in terms of timing about when sort of an announcement of this sort would be made.  But we have discussed in here the precedent that exists for Congress acting quickly in bipartisan fashion on nominees that have particularly significant national security or law enforcement responsibilities for the country.  So I am confident, as is the President, that whoever he nominates will be an individual with impeccable credentials, somebody who deserves close examination by the Senate, but also prompt confirmation in bipartisan fashion by the Senate.

And the President certainly believes that that could occur in the lame duck or in the early months of next year.  But again, we’ll have obviously a lot more to say about that once the President has made a decision about whom to nominate.

Angela.

Q    Following up on Major’s question, there are a lot of other vacancies in the administration at high levels beyond the AG.  There’s a new one today with the federal railroad administrator resigning.  Is that going to be a problem for the President to fill — those positions during the lame duck?  And will that be part of the discussion tomorrow with the lawmakers?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I’m confident that the need to ensure that public servants who have been nominated to important positions in the federal government should be confirmed promptly by the United States Senate, that the nominees that this President has put forward are nominees that we believe deserve bipartisan support, and we hope that the Senate will act quickly to confirm them into those positions and that some of those confirmations should occur during the lame duck session.

Q    What about nominees that haven’t yet been put forward?  Will that be a priority for the President to get those out?

MR. EARNEST:  Frankly, I don’t know of any pending nominations that haven’t been announced yet beyond a couple that we’ve talked about here.  So it’s hard to sort of speculate about what that ends up looking like.  But as announcements get made, it will be easier to discuss the appropriate timing.

April.

Q    Josh, following up on Major’s question, is there any explanation from the Army or from any other federal agency, as to why the word “Negro” is still being used on federal documentation?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s my understanding that the military has updated their policy to remove that word from their policy.

But there is this OMB regulation that exists.  I don’t know the source of that or the reason that that’s still in place.  But you can check with them.

Q    Was it ever explained the reason why it was used is because many Americans are older, from that era and still consider themselves — was that ever explained to this White House?  Or were you told anything of that nature as to why it was still on the Army documentation?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t know why a regulation that includes that language is still on the books.  But you can check with OMB because it’s their regulation.

Q    Also dealing with race, could you give us a little bit more information —

MR. EARNEST:  I should just clarify one other thing, which I understand this is a regulation that dates back 15 or 20 years, so this is not something that’s new.  This is something that has been uncovered only recently after being on the books for a long time.

Q    Now, as we’re still dealing with race, could you talk to us about this preplanned meeting yesterday with civil rights leaders and President Obama the day after the midterm election?  And we understand Ferguson was some of the topic.  Could you talk about that?

MR. EARNEST:  I did see that we put out a readout of that meeting late yesterday afternoon.  This was a meeting that was convened by Valerie Jarrett and a couple of other senior staffers here at the White House.  The President did have the opportunity to drop by that meeting.  But I’d refer you to the readout that we put out for discussion of — or at least a sense of what was discussed in the meeting.

Q    Some of the leaders, when they were seen walking out of the front gate, were saying some of the things that were discussed in the meeting, and that’s why I’m asking you, was Ferguson discussed?

MR. EARNEST:  April, I didn’t attend the meeting and I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t see the readout.  But I know that we did put one out, and you can check out that to get an accurate sense of what was actually discussed in the meeting.

Q    And lastly, there seems to be a positive spin from this White House as it relates to the midterm election and the results from the election.  Can you give me a negative?  What negatively happened Tuesday night, as you’ve seen, versus — (laughter) — I mean —

Q    Come on, here’s your chance.  (Laughter.)   

MR. EARNEST:  I know, what happened?  (Laughter.)  We’ve got this sunny disposition even on a cloudy day — both literally and figuratively.  (Laughter.)  

April, the — well —

Q    Try to — go against your brain.  Do it.  (Laughter.)

Q    Channel Joe Manchin.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is a family program, so we’ll use a little better language than that I think.  (Laughter.)

April, the President himself said last night that it was — that the election was good for Republicans.  And there are a lot of public servants from the Democratic Party who had served their states in Washington, D.C. very well, very capably, who didn’t win, and some of these are individuals who the President got to know when he served in the United States Senate.  These are individuals that the President saw up close and personally how they handled their business and how they represented their constituents, and the President is disappointed that those individuals were not reelected to another term.

That said, I think what the American people expect their leaders to do is to be resilient.  Certainly the American people are resilient.  And so I think we could take a lesson from them to understand that we got to get to work.

And the truth is, if I were standing here bragging about how great the elections had gone, I’d also be standing here telling you that we’ve got a lot of really important work to do, that now is when the hard work begins.  And that’s true even if the elections didn’t turn out the way that we’d hoped.

Q    One last take.  You tried, you’re getting there.  Would you say that Tuesday night was a big loss for Democrats?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, in terms of the sort of punditry and analysis —

Q    It’s not — no, it’s not punditry, it’s a real question.  Because you guys spin it, and I mean, I understand why you’re spinning it.  You acknowledged the win for —

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not — there are lots of people who get paid a lot more money than I do who are responsible for offering up analysis and spinning the elections, and I’m not going to do that.  What I’m focused on here, and what everybody here is focused on, is figuring out what we can do to work with Republicans and move the country forward.  And those are the lessons from the election, and that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Q    You said it was good for Republicans, so it’s bad for Democrats — no?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that is the mentality of Washington, D.C.  I also think that’s the kind of mentality that voters aren’t very happy about.

Q    But you’re saying it could be good for Democrats.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no — (laughter) — that’s not what I’m saying.  (Laughter.)  I’m saying I’m not going to pass judgment on the —

Q    You can say whether it’s good — you can say it’s good for Republicans, but you can’t say whether it’s good or bad for Democrats?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s fine.  It is, it is.  I’m certainly disappointed in the outcome of the elections.  The President is, too.  I think I said that earlier in response to your earlier question.

Q    While were talking about how voters view all of this, well, now they’re hearing about these grand efforts to reach out and sit down and let’s now find that common ground, and the President is open to doing things differently.  So isn’t the voter going to say, that’s great but why wasn’t this done years ago?  And it sounds like you’re blaming Republicans for that, but couldn’t more of this have been done on the part of the President, as well?

MR. EARNEST:  Probably.  But I think that if you are — anybody who’s taken a fair look at the last six years would acknowledge that the President has gone to great lengths to try to compromise with Republicans, and Republicans themselves have acknowledged publicly on a variety of occasions, in sometimes very news-making ways, that their chief political goal was to defeat the President of the United States politically.  So this is not like a secret strategy that I’m commenting on at some point.  This actually was the overt strategy of the Republicans, to try to block everything that the President did in the hopes that it would benefit them politically.

And, look, they got a lot of seats out of it, right?  Over the course of the last six years, Republicans in both the House and the Senate went from being in the minority to being in the majority.  So they may be able to say with some credibility that they did benefit politically from obstructing the President’s agenda at every turn.  I don’t think the country benefitted from that, though.  And I don’t just say that because Republicans are now in the majority.  I just think that there was a lot of very important things that didn’t get done that could have, had the President found more willing partners among Republicans.

The good news is — that was a lot of darkness for you there, April.  (Laughter.)

Q    Okay.

MR. EARNEST:  The good news, though, is that the deck has been reshuffled.  There is now a Republican majority in the Senate; there is a Republican majority in the House.  And you could understand how this might change the political calculation that Republicans make.  Maybe they now see that it would be in their own personal, political interest to try to find some common ground with the President.  And if so, they will have a very willing partner in the Oval Office.  And it will be good for the country.  It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything.  But if there is an opportunity for us to find common ground, we are pleased that there might now actually be Republicans on the other side of the table who are willing to seize it.

Q    One of the criticisms that you hear from both Democrats and Republicans of the President, though, is that he has not reached out enough, that he hasn’t engaged enough.  Are you guys acknowledging that now?

MR. EARNEST:  I think I’m acknowledging that there probably is more that could have been done.  But I don’t think that — we’ve sort of been through this, right? — that an extra cocktail party or another round of golf would have substantially changed the outcome.  But what will substantially change the outcome is a rededication on the part of this administration to try to find common ground with the Republicans, and a different political calculation that’s made by Republicans to try to find common ground with the administration.

And again, we’re still going to have our differences.  And I’m sure that sometimes those differences will be on full display in very colorful ways.

Q    Well, wasn’t it on display in this op-ed?  I mean almost the first line was “repeal Obamacare,” and then in the same breath, “our focus,” they said, was going to be on helping the middle class.  Do you think that all of that language negates now this spirit of finding common ground?

MR. EARNEST:  No, because, again, I take Senator McConnell at his word, and he is somebody who said that just because you have divided government it doesn’t mean you don’t accomplish anything.

So again, this is not — the differing views of Republicans and the President on an issue like the Affordable Care Act is not news.  In fact, Republicans have had an opportunity to vote on the difference 50 or more times now.  The question is are we going to allow those differences to crowd out our ability to cooperate where there is a clear common interest?

Again, when it comes to an issue like trade — I guess the better example I think is infrastructure.  When it comes to an issue like infrastructure, we’re talking less about compromising and more about just cooperating.  So hopefully we’ll be able to do that.

Mark.

Q    Yes, Josh, the week ahead had the Cabinet meeting on the boards for tomorrow.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.

Q    Is that still happening?  Or are we just going to convene the group from the congressional delegation?

MR. EARNEST:  A lot of meeting at the White House tomorrow. So we will have a Cabinet meeting in the morning, and then that will precede the congressional consultations.

Q    Subject of the Cabinet meeting?

MR. EARNEST:  It will be an opportunity to talk through some of the priorities that the President laid out in the news conference yesterday?  They’ll talk a little bit about the Ebola request for additional Ebola-related resources.  They’ll talk a little bit about the AUMF and some other things.  We’ll have a more detailed readout of the Cabinet meeting tomorrow.

Q    Maybe the AG announcement will be between those?

MR. EARNEST:  That would make for a very busy day, wouldn’t it?

Jared.

Q    Josh, while you’re taking congressional leaders at their word, both Senator McConnell yesterday in Louisville and Speaker Boehner in a briefing that overlapped with this one said that executive action on immigration reform would poison the well.  I’m not going to ask you for a water quality report, but is the President — is that a risk the

-->

POST YOUR COMMENTS