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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
December 08, 2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST:Good afternoon, everybody.Nice to see you all.I hope you had a pleasant weekend.As all of you know, we had an unexpectedly busy Saturday afternoon here with the President’s trip to Walter Reed.Unfortunately, it was after a lid had been called, so the print pooler was not able to accompany.But our friends at Bloomberg and your friends at Bloomberg stepped in to file a pool report.And, Mike, we’re very grateful for that service.That was something that was of significant assistance not just to your colleagues in the press corps but here at the White House.So thank you for that.
And as a small token of gratitude, I’d like to invite you to ask the first question today.
MR. EARNEST:I’m trying to do something nice.Trying to do something nice.Do something nice for us, we’re happy to try to repay.
Q Let me ask you, obviously the key question today — we’re expecting the CIA torture report to come out this week.How well prepared does the President think U.S. embassies and foreign installations are for the potential reaction?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Mike, we have heard from the committee that they do intend to release the report tomorrow.The timing of the release of the report is something that has always been up to the committee and this is the decision that they have made.The administration has been for months preparing for the release of this report.There are some indications that the release of the report could lead to a greater risk that is posed to U.S. facilities and individuals all around the world, so the administration has taken the prudent steps to ensure that the proper security precautions are in place at U.S. facilities around the globe.
But that said — and this is the last, key part — that said, the administration strongly supports the release of this declassified summary of the report.The President, on his first or second day in office, took the steps using executive action to put an end to the tactics that are described in the report and the President believes that, on principle, it’s important to release that report so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired.
There obviously are going to be some limits about what can be said given the classified nature of the program, but because of the scrupulous work of the committee and the administration and the intelligence community, in particular, we’ve declassified as much of that report as we can.And we want to be sure that we can release that report, be transparent about it, and be clear about what American values are, and be clear about the fact that the administration believes, in a way that’s consistent with American values, that something like this should never happen again.
Q Sort of on a tangentially related subject of human rights, Attorney General Holder, as you well know, today put out a new report on federal guidelines on racial profiling, and he discussed it this morning.Does the President feel like these guidelines on racial profiling should also be followed ultimately by state and local police agencies?And if he does feel that it’s a good idea, what steps does he want to take to forward that goal?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Mike, you’re right that the Department of Justice did put out some new rules today that will enhance the protections of — civil rights protections above and beyond what is otherwise required by the United States Constitution and by existing federal law.These standards will apply to federal law enforcement officers.And we certainly would welcome a decision that’s made by — any decision that’s made by local law enforcement to apply these policies at the state and local level as well.We would certainly welcome that kind of development.
This is a policy that the Attorney General has been working on for quite some time now.And this is something that was done in close consultation with attorneys at the Department of Justice as well as law enforcement officials all across the federal government.And it does reflect a significant enhancement of protections for all Americans in a way that will not have any impact on the ability of these federal law enforcement officers to do the important work that’s necessary to keep the American people safe.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Q Thanks, Josh.Back to the torture report.The White House put out a statement on Friday that said that Secretary Kerry had notified the White House that he would call Senator Feinstein to share information that he thought would be pertinent to the timing of the release of the report.If the President wants the report released this week, why didn’t he tell Secretary Kerry not to make that phone call?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Julie, Senator Kerry — and I will read from the readout that the State Department put out — made clear that he strongly supports — as the President does — strongly supports the release of this declassified version of the summary of the report for the same values-based reasons that the President does, which is we should be as transparent as we possibly can about what transpired to allow the American people and people around the world to examine what occurred, and to be just as clear and transparent about what American values are.The President and the Secretary share the view that the release of the report is important for that purpose.
Q So then what was the purpose of the phone call as it related to timing of the release of the report?
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, for details of the actual phone call that transpired —
Q Secretary Kerry called the President to say that he was going to make the phone call, so clearly the White House has information about what the purpose of the phone call was.
MR. EARNEST:Well, I will allow Secretary Kerry to explain exactly why he made the phone call, and that’s included in the report — or in the readout that the State Department issued over the weekend.
There are two unmistakable principles here, though, which is that the administration has taken the necessary precautions because of the potential that exists that the release of the report could have an impact on the security situation at U.S. facilities around the globe.But at the same time, we’ve taken the necessary precautions and done what is prudent to ensure that our facilities and our personnel are safe.But we also want to make sure that this very important information is communicated because of the need to be clear about our values and to be clear about the fact that what transpired should not occur again.
Q On the unsuccessful raid in Yemen this weekend, the head of an aid group that was working to secure the release of Pierre Korkie, the South African who was being held alongside of Somers, says that it kept the Yemeni government apprised of its negotiation with AQAP, and that two weeks ago, there was an exchange of information about those negotiations in which American officials were present.I know that some officials have said that the U.S. was not aware that there was an imminent release.Can you say what the U.S. was aware of as it relates to negotiations for Pierre Korkie’s release?
MR. EARNEST:What I can tell you is that the United States had no information that there were private negotiations underway for the release of Mr. Korkie.
Q You didn’t know there were any negotiations in general for his release underway?
MR. EARNEST:That is correct.That is the information that I have.That said, we obviously mourn the death of Mr. Korkie in the same way that we mourn the death of Mr. Somers.Today, the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House are with the Somers family, in particular, for the terrible loss of their son.He was an innocent individual who was ruthlessly murdered by AQAP militants.
And the President, over the course of the last several weeks, ordered two separate special operations raids to try to secure his rescue, and unfortunately, while those raids were carried out flawlessly even under very significant time constraints, Mr. Somers was not successfully rescued.But it should be a clear and unmistakable signal to the militants in Yemen and to militants around the world that the United States and President Obama will not tolerate the unjustified detention and hostage-taking of American citizens, and we will expend significant resources to secure the release of those individuals.
Q Just to go back to sort of the U.S. information about Pierre Korkie.Again, this aid group says that there was an exchange of information about the private negotiations that happened two weeks ago in Yemen; American officials were present as well as Yemeni government officials.Are you saying that that did not happen?
MR. EARNEST:Well, all I can tell you, Julie, is that the United States did not have information about the private negotiations that this aid group says were underway to secure the release of Mr. Korkie.
Q And just finally, officials said last month that the President had ordered a review of U.S. policy towards the hostages.Do you have any update on that review?
MR. EARNEST:I don’t have an update on the current status. This was part of an interagency review.There are a lot of agencies, as you would expect, who are involved in working to try to secure the release of American hostages held around the world. There obviously is a significant intelligence component; there’s a law enforcement component; there’s a military component; there’s a diplomatic component.So each of these agencies has some work that’s involved.And the President asked for a review to try to see if there were some steps that we could take to better integrate those efforts to make them more efficient and more effective, and also to ease the burden — the significant burden that is on families who are in this terrible, even unthinkable, situation of having a loved one that’s being held hostage.
So that review is underway.I don’t have an update at this point, but I would anticipate that when we’ve concluded that review, we’ll have more to say about it.
Q Josh, some family members of Luke Somers are reportedly complaining about what happened.Are there any second thoughts here about the wisdom of carrying out these sort of rescue attempts, and going forward, will you do more of these?
MR. EARNEST:The simple answer to that, Steve, is, no, the President does not at all regret ordering this mission to try to rescue Mr. Somers.There are a few reasons for that.The first is, as we saw from the video, it is apparent that these militants were planning to kill Mr. Somers on Saturday, and that’s why this raid was executed, on very short notice, on Friday night — that there was a very limited window for action.
And that is a testament, more than anything else, I think, to the bravery and skill of our men and women in uniform, who, like I said, for the second time in just a few weeks here, put their lives on the line in a very dangerous country and a very dangerous mission, to try to secure the safe rescue of Mr. Somers.
And while our hearts are filled with sorrow for the Somers family, we also are feeling a lot of gratitude toward those men and women in uniform who risked their lived to try to secure his release.And as I mentioned earlier in response to Julie’s question, this should be taken by militants around the world as a clear sign of this President’s resolve to do everything possible to rescue Americans who are being held hostage anywhere around the globe.And militants or extremist organizations that decide to take the risk of taking an American hostage are put on notice today.
Q And just one other thing.Reports about Ron Klain leaving I think next March — does this mean that you feel like you have a pretty good handle on the Ebola crisis, that he’s now able to leave?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Mr. Klain is planning to leave because he originally came on board in a status that’s described as a Special Government Employee.That’s what allows individuals to come and serve the government for 130 days.And Mr. Klain’s 130 days will be up at the beginning of March, and at that time, he has said that he’ll return to the private sector.
There is no doubt we’ve made substantial progress against Ebola since Mr. Klain came on board.We’ve made substantial progress in leveraging U.S. resources in West Africa to try to stop this Ebola outbreak in its tracks.Most of those efforts have been concentrated in Liberia, and the statistics there indicate that we’ve made substantial progress.There is still more important work that needs to be done and we still haven’t achieved our goal of stopping this outbreak in its tracks, but we’ve made substantial progress.And the statistics about the spread of this disease in that country bear that out.
We’ve also made important progress in enhancing the readiness of medical facilities here at home.And this was included in the factsheet that we put out last week in association with the President’s visit to the NIH that when Mr. Klain came on board there were only three medical facilities in the United States, I believe, that were prepped to treat an Ebola patient safely.That number is now up to 35 hospitals nationwide.And again, that is a testament to the efforts that Mr. Klain has undertaken to integrate the response from a variety of agencies to ensure that we’re focused on these goals.We’ve made substantial progress thanks to his leadership, and we’re certainly appreciative of all that he’s done.
Q And when he leaves, will there be another Ebola coordinator?
MR. EARNEST:Well, that’s something that we’ll have to evaluate next year.The reason that he was brought on board, as we mentioned, is that the President believed that it was important for us to have one person who could dedicate full-time — and believe me, Mr. Klain has worked more than full-time in the time that he’s been here — but that could dedicate 100 percent of their energy to focusing on this specific challenge.
There’s no question that we’ve made substantial progress in putting in place processes to integrate our response.There now is a more routinized process for dealing with individuals, for example, who have recently traveled in West Africa and are attempting to enter the country.We’ve now got that down to a pretty solid routine.
There is a larger footprint that’s on the ground now in West Africa both in terms of Department of Defense personnel, but also USAID and others.They’re also working together more smoothly.
So the question that we’ll have to answer is — even if we have not accomplished the goal of stopping this Ebola outbreak in its tracks in West Africa — and I do not anticipate that we will have reached that goal — the question will be, will it require one individual to dedicate 100 percent of their time to focusing on this to continue the progress towards that goal.It’s still an open question now about whether that will be required, and something I anticipate we’ll discuss in the run-up to early March next year.
Q Coming back to this Kerry — John Kerry’s phone call to Dianne Feinstein.He was clearly expressing concerns about the timing, as we heard from the State Department, of the release of this report.Did the President or does the President share Kerry’s concerns about the timing of the release of this report?
MR. EARNEST:We’ve been candid from the beginning, Jon, that we believe it’s the committee’s decision to determine the appropriate timing for the release of this report.And that’s why the administration has been at work for months now to prepare for this report’s eventual release; that there have been concerns that have been raised that have been validated by the intelligence community that indicate that the release of the report may have an impact on the security situation at U.S. facilities around the world, and that’s why this administration has been working for months to plan for this day and to ensure that the prudent steps are taken to protect American personnel and American facilities around the globe.
Q And then on the central question here, which is did these tactics, these so-called enhanced interrogation techniques produce any actionable intelligence — the committee believes they didn’t; the CIA believes they did.Where does the White House stand on that question?Does the White House believe that these tactics produced any actionable intelligence?
MR. EARNEST:Well, this is something that — the President felt it was important for us, for the American people to have a clear, unvarnished look, or at least as clear a look as possible into this classified program about what actually transpired.And that’s why the President believes that the release of this report is so important.
I haven’t read the report.It’s unclear whether or not the committee has actually taken up the question that you are raising, but certainly, they’ll have something important to say about it.
Q But I understand, obviously, that the President was very much opposed to these tactics, thought they were morally reprehensible, not something the United States should be doing.But what does the White House believe on that question?Did they produce actionable intelligence?It’s just a yes or a no.Did he believe they actually — you can think the tactics were not — shouldn’t have been done, but did they — were they effective in any way?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Jon, as you pointed out, there are a variety of views across the federal government about —
Q Yes, so what’s the President’s view?
MR. EARNEST:– the effectiveness.Well, there may be an opportunity for you ask him that question.What I will tell you is that the President believes that the use of those tactics was unwarranted, that they were inconsistent with our values and did not make us safer.That, of course, is a different question than the one that you’re asking about —
Q Right —
MR. EARNEST:Let me finish this — did they unearth useful national intelligence information.And I think the President would say — and this is clear from the President’s decision to outlaw these techniques — that even if they did, that it wasn’t worth it, and it did not enhance the national security of the United States of America.
Q But let me try just one last very specific one that you’ve certainly talked a lot about over the last few years.Osama bin Laden — were these techniques crucial to getting the intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Jon, this has been litigated quite extensively, and it —
Q You should have an answer right there at the tip of your —
MR. EARNEST:Well, these are, of course, complicated issues and they’re worthy of discussion.And this was something that was talked about quite a bit in the days immediately following the successful raid against Osama bin Laden.These were issues that were raised and discussed extensively in conjunction with the release of “Zero Dark Thirty” I believe a little over a year ago now.And there were a variety of views about whether or not information that was gleaned from enhanced interrogation techniques led to the eventual capture of Osama bin Laden.
And what we have been clear about and what the President has been clear about is that he does not believe that the use of these enhanced interrogation techniques is justified.He does not believe that that makes us safer.He does not believe that it’s in the core national security interest.
And so the point is, you’re asking a very difficult question and there are a variety of views on it, but it’s the President’s view that wherever you come down on this equation of, yes, it yielded information that was helpful, yes, it yielded information that was crucial, or no, it didn’t yield any helpful information, the President believes that regardless of what the answer to that question is, that the use of these techniques was not worth it because of the harm that was done to our national values and the sense of what it is that we believe in as Americans.
Q Is there any daylight between the President and the CIA on the question of whether or not it yielded any critical intelligence?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think it is apparent from at least some of the anonymous sources that you and others have at the CIA that there are people who have a variety of opinions on this.But with all due respect —
Q How about the CIA Director?
MR. EARNEST:– with all due respect to those, I think that the views of the Commander-in-Chief are the ones that are most important.
Q Okay.And you include the CIA Director on that?Because I’m not talking about anonymous sources.I’m saying, is there any daylight between the President and his CIA Director?
MR. EARNEST:You’d have to ask Director Brennan exactly what he believes about that.And I think he has been asked this question in the context of congressional testimony.I don’t have that directly in front of me, but I know that there was an extensive discussion of this issue even during his confirmation hearings.
Q I’m not sure if I got your answer from your response to Jon when he asked about the President having some concerns about the timing.I know that he strongly supports the release of the report, but was he or is he concerned about releasing it now?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Michelle, there have been concerns that have been expressed by members of the intelligence community and others about the risk that the release of the report may pose to U.S. facilities and personnel around the globe.That is why the administration, for months now, has been preparing for this day– the day that the report is eventually released.
Q Does the President share those concerns?
MR. EARNEST:Yes, the President — well, let me say it this way.The President wants to make sure that we’re doing what is necessary to protect our men and women who are serving this country either in the military or in the diplomatic corps.And he believes that we should take all the steps that are necessary to do exactly that.And that’s why we didn’t just start planning to figure out what was necessary to safeguard these facilities, but rather this is something that we’ve been focused on for a number of months now.
The other context I guess — the sort of the implicit question — or sort of an implicit point in your question is, well, when would be a good time to release this report?And it’s difficult to imagine one, particularly because of the painful details that will be included.But again, the President believes that it is important for us to be as transparent as we possibly can be about what exactly transpired so we can just be clear to the American public and to people around the world that something like this should not happen again.
Q Okay.And in the Yemen rescue attempt, we heard criticism, obviously, from the South African’s family.It was maybe more interesting to hear some of that criticism from the American’s family and saying that they wished that they could have been consulted on this.And we know that the review is underway of how families are involved in that process, but is some kind of coordination or family interaction ahead of a raid even possible moving forward?
MR. EARNEST:Well, part of the review that the President has ordered does involve the communication between the federal government and the families that are in this terrible situation. And as I mentioned earlier, our thoughts and prayers are with the Somers family.It’s difficult to comprehend the level of grief they must be feeling today.But what I can tell you is that, particularly this raid that occurred on Friday took place in a very short time frame, that the amount of time that elapsed between the intelligence being developed, the concept of operations being put together and approved by the Secretary of Defense, and then its approval by the President was very short.And the reason for that is that AQAP had made this public promise to carry out an execution of Mr. Somers on Saturday, which meant that the only practical time in which this raid could be carried out would have been Friday night.
And that’s why the President acted quickly.That’s why our special operators acted quickly.That’s why we worked quickly with the Yemen government to ensure that this was well-coordinated.And that’s what was necessary in order to try to save his life.
Q So I mean, I know we don’t want to talk about hypotheticals, but if there was, say, in this case a longer time frame to work with, is consultation with the families something that would be considered?
MR. EARNEST:That’s difficult to say, Michelle, because each situation is different and each situation is unique.There obviously are significant operational security concerns when you’re carrying out a raid like this, that the element of surprise is critically important not just for the success of the operation but also for the safety of the operators.So the amount of information that can be shared with anybody is very limited.I certainly — that would have an impact on what is communicated to the family, but is not necessarily determinative in terms of what is eventually communicated to them.
Q I guess what I’m getting at is, is that something that is being looked at as the review is ongoing, that there could be some kind of consultation there?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think just as a general matter, communication between the federal government and the families that are in this terrible situation is something that is being carefully considered as a part of this review.
Q Okay.And last question, on the President’s health and the visit over the weekend, how long has he been suffering with the sore throat?
MR. EARNEST:My understanding is that this is something that has been sort of a minor but persistent problem for the last couple of weeks.And the President got it checked out here at the White House on Saturday morning.And as you saw from the statement that Dr. Jackson issued on Saturday, as a matter of prudence and as a matter of convenience, not a matter of urgency, the follow-up diagnostic test was done on Saturday afternoon.
The President has a very busy schedule over the course of the next couple of weeks, including on the weekends, and the President did happen to have an open Saturday afternoon, and so that’s why the decision was made rather hastily to go to Walter Reed and to get this checked out.But as you saw from the President’s remarks here at the White House last night honoring the recipients of the Kennedy Center Award, the President is feeling pretty good.
Q Was there ever a conversation with counsel about a possible transfer of power if more tests were needed on that day?
MR. EARNEST:Well, it’s my understanding that there’s a pretty standard playbook for the way that these things work.And there are considerations that are raised if the President of the United States under any circumstances has to undergo general anesthesia.But that was not necessary in this case.
Q Josh, there are reports indicating that 2,000 Marines have been deployed in the Middle East in anticipation of publishing this report.What few embassies or your allies actually — because there are embassies in Egypt — is there any countries that you worry most about potential trouble, whether it’s in Egypt or Libya or Yemen, or a scenario like Benghazi, for example, because of this report?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I’ll say a couple of things, Nadia.The first is, I’m not going to be in a position to detail the security precautions that are taken by U.S. facilities around the world.The first is that probably wouldn’t be a wise security strategy to detail to everybody what we’re doing in advance.There are also precautions that are being taken at a substantial number of facilities around the globe, so it also would be difficult for me to stand here and describe all of them.But if you have specific questions about specific countries, I’d encourage you to check with the State Department or the Department of Defense.They may have some more information to share with you.
But again, the thing I want to stress is — there are two things I want to stress.The first is, preparations have been underway for months now to prepare for this day.And we’ve been very mindful of the fact that this report would someday be released and so that’s why preparations have been underway for some time.The second is that the concerns that have been raised are concerns related to the potential for violence or potential for an impact on security.So this is something that we’re mindful of and watching.But again, this is the range of risk and of potential, not in the range of certainty.
Q Another controversial policy that’s been carried out under the previous administration and actually been increased under this administration is using drones.Many civilians have been killed.They have not been accounted for or compensated.And many will argue that actually this policy has been used to recruit more radicals and more jihadists.So what’s the difference between the harsh interrogation techniques and drones that kill civilians?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Nadia, the President gave a pretty detailed speech on this topic about a year and a half or so ago, where he talked about the desire to try to bring more transparency to some of the counterterrorism programs that are implemented by the United States.Despite that commitment to transparency, there are still some limits about what I can say from here.But I can tell you that the President does want to be sure that as we execute the counterterrorism strategy that he has outlined that we are mindful of the impact that those strategies have on our ability to win hearts and minds.
And that’s why one of the things — one of the core components of our strategy in many of these places, including in Iraq and in Syria and even in Yemen, is close consultation and cooperation with local governments and making sure that it’s local forces that are taking the fight on the ground to these extremist elements; that the administration is working closely where possible with the central government in these areas to make sure that we have the buy-in of the elected leadership of these countries so that we can ensure that the local populations understand that the extremists that we’re going after are the same extremists that have wreaked havoc and violence in their communities.
And when you talk about an organization like ISIL, ISIL, despite their high-profile and terribly violent execution of some Americans, have killed far more Iraqis than they have Americans. The same dynamic is at play with AQAP, that the violence that they have wrought against other Yemenis and other Muslims far outnumbers the violence that they’ve carried out against American citizens.And that’s why it’s important for people to understand that we’re going to work closely with local governments and local forces to take on a fight against a common enemy.
Q But the only problem is these governments are discredited among their own people, and you’re a democracy, and there’s a difference.
MR. EARNEST:In some situations, that’s true.And again, that’s why we want to work as much as we can with local forces and with local governments.There are limits to this.But it is true that even if those governments are discredited that the local population does understand that these extremist elements are carrying out acts of violence against people in their community.
And I would acknowledge that there may be some limits in our ability to communicate that message — for that message to get through about who our target is here.But there are enormous precautions that are taken by our men and women in the military and by our intelligence community to limit — to eliminate or, at a minimum, minimize the impact on civilian populations in these areas.And that is something that we try to be very mindful of and we’re very careful about.And that is an extensive part of this planning.
And I can tell you that as these terrorist groups carry out acts of violence against Westerners they are not at all concerned about the impact of the violence on locals.When there are car bombs that are detonated or there are other acts of violence that are carried out that are targeted at Westerners, they often have a terrible impact on the local population in terms of the destruction of property or even the killing of innocent people.And that indiscriminate killing is the reason that even these extremists groups are so marginalized in many of these areas.
Q Josh, I want to ask you a couple questions on racial profiling and this interview today.Could you talk to me about why it’s so important to target young people with the President’s message on riots?
MR. EARNEST:Well, April, you’re talking about the interview that the President did with 106 & Park?It was conducted last Friday.Some excerpts were released over the weekend, and I anticipate — or I understand that the entirety of the President’s interview will actually be broadcast later today. The President conducted the interview in conjunction with that program because we certainly have seen a lot of young people — particularly young people of color — be pretty outspoken in their concerns about the lack of trust that exists between many local law enforcement communities and the local law enforcement officials in the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.And the President wanted to communicate to them a few things.
He wanted to let them know that, A, their voice had been heard.He wanted to encourage them to continue to express their views and their concerns peacefully — which the vast majority of those who have protested have done.And the President wanted them to know that these are issues that are legitimate to raise and that these are issues that the President of the United States himself takes very seriously and he wanted to have an opportunity to talk about some of the steps that he had put forward to try to address some of these issues.
The last thing is the President also wanted to make clear that he shared their assessment that these are the kinds of policies and situations that are not just going to change overnight, that it’s not one demonstration or one speech or one presidential trip that’s going to cause the relationship between local law enforcement and some of the communities they serve to be transformed.This is going to require steady, sustained work. That’s what the President is committed to.We’ve seen the Attorney General is committed to this.
And all of this was an important part of the message the President wanted to deliver, and we certainly hope that will get through when the interview is broadcast.But I’d encourage you to evaluate that for yourself when it airs.
Q I will.
Q But the dynamic has changed.It changed this week and it changed last evening.And this morning, you said young people of color have been pretty outspoken on this issue.Well, in Berkeley, California, the vast majority of those who are protesting very — some of them very agitated and violently — are white people.They’re not people of color.What do you say to those people and the white people — white young people around the nation who feel that black lives matter?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think the message that the President has for them is the same.And I think it is indicative of the progress that we’ve made in this country that the vast majority of protestors — black and white and Hispanic and Asian — were peaceful, and that there was a strong show of support about the value of black lives, as you described it, about the importance of confronting these issues that plague so many communities across the country.
I also think that there would be a strong area of agreement– certainly not unanimous, but strong agreement — about how bravely so many of our men and women in uniform and in local law enforcement serve; that these are individuals who put on a uniform and walk out the door prepared to put their life on the line to protect citizens in the community that they’re sworn to serve.And I think that there is, broadly, appreciation and high regard for individuals who are willing to take that risk for the communities that they serve.And that, too, is an assessment that is shared broadly, and again, I think is a testament to the substantial progress that’s been made on this equation in this country.
Q In the black community, there has been conversation upon conversation upon conversation when it comes to issues of race, and within the community it’s always been said that maybe it needs to permeate into the other areas of the society, meaning white America.We feel it, we’ve heard it.What about the conversation with white America, specifically when it comes to this kind of situation?
MR. EARNEST:Well, April, my assumption is that the reason that this is an issue that’s been so carefully and closely covered by newspapers and television outlets and even radio outlets is that this is something that all Americans care about. This is not just a subject of some concern to the African American community, but this is something that all Americans care about.
And the President laid down that value I think pretty clearly, where he said something along the lines of if there is one person in America whose rights are being trampled, that’s something that every American should be concerned about.And I think that reflects the values that we hold dear in this country. And I think that’s — again, I think that is an indication that while more progress remains, there is substantial progress that we’ve already made in terms of trying to bring this country together.
Q And concretely, what can we expect on this continuation of this administration on curbing racial profiling, particularly after we’ve seen all of these incidents to include the death of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Ferguson?I mean, what concretely do you think that we will see with this, with the curbing of racial profiling?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think we’ll see a couple of things.The first is, based on this policy that was just announced today by the Department of Justice, you’ll see that this is a policy that in the weeks and months ahead will be implemented in law enforcement agencies across the federal government, that will come alongside additional enhanced training for local law enforcement to make sure that they are properly enforcing this policy.You’ll continue to see the federal government encourage local law enforcement agencies to consider putting in place a policy like the one that’s in place for the federal government.
You will also see the President and this administration follow up on the actions that were initiated at the beginning of last week on this matter.So you’ll recall that Chief Ramsey from the Philadelphia Police Department, and Ms. Robinson, a former Department of Justice official, are conducting this review to evaluate the practices that are in place with local law enforcement in communities across the country, and surfacing these best practices and helping to communicate them to other law enforcement agencies across the country.
You’re also going to see the continued movement on this report related to law enforcement equipment that was conducted by OMB — that they’re supposed to come back with some more specific, tangible recommendations in 120 days about how to substantially improve the training that’s associated with the provision of this equipment.
You’re also going to see the continued application of the President’s community policing initiative, where he was clear that additional resources should be provided to local law enforcement to make sure that they had access to the training and information that they needed to better equip their officers to better serve and protect the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.
So there’s a lot of work that remains to be done, and the President is determined to not allow this one story to fade from the headlines but for the federal government to demonstrate a commitment to some follow-through.
Q So how many states are embracing the encouragement of this curbing racial profiling?
MR. EARNEST:I’d encourage you to check with the Department of Justice.They may have some more insight into what the reaction has been to this policy announcement.It was only announced a few hours ago, so I don’t know that it’s going to be a long list, but it’s something that we’re certainly —
Q — been in communication with states about this?
MR. EARNEST:I believe so, but check with the Department of Justice about that.
Q Josh, following on that, you’ve repeatedly cited progress in answers to April.Why then is there this Bloomberg poll out today saying 53 percent of Americans says interactions between the white and black communities have deteriorated since the President took office?That would seem to suggest the opposite.
MR. EARNEST:Well, Ed, I think that any sort of fair-minded look at history would indicate that the situation that is facing the American people right now is far better than it used to be; that even 40 or 50 years ago we saw a situation where local law enforcement officials were systematically applying the law in a way that trampled on the civil rights of minority members of some communities in this country.
Q They agree.But this poll is about today, and it’s saying that while the country, yes, has made progress, a majority of Americans believe the relationship has deteriorated.
MR. EARNEST:And I guess what I’m saying is that the people who are able to step back and dispassionately evaluate the current state of race relations in this country would acknowledge two things.One is that we’ve made tremendous progress, but they would also readily acknowledge that there’s more important work that needs to be done, and this is work that the President is committed to.
Q Okay, jump to a few other topics.On the President’s health, some medical experts seem surprised that he got a CT scan.And you had said in I think the statement over the weekend, said it was convenient.Was there something else the doctor saw?I mean, can you rule out completely — did they see any kind of a growth or concern about a growth, or something that — most people when they have a sore throat do not get a CT scan.
MR. EARNEST:Most people aren’t the President of the United States.
Q Most people are not.(Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST:It’s hard for me to speak to the sort of standard protocol for treating a sore throat.I’m not a medical professional.But what I can tell you is what Dr. Jackson said, which is that there was an evaluation that was conducted here at the White House by an ear, nose and throat specialist of this persistent sore throat that the President had been feeling over the last couple of weeks.And based on that examination, both Dr. Jackson and the specialist felt it would be prudent for the President to get an additional diagnostic test that included this CT scan.
And that was something that they were not able to do here at the White House — we don’t have a CT scan equipment here at the White House.So the President made the decision, because he had the opening on his schedule on Saturday afternoon, to get that done right away.And the review of that CT scan indicated that– came back normal.And that’s something that the Dr. Jackson concluded meant that the sore throat was consistent with some symptoms of acid reflux and that the President would be treated accordingly.
Q Israel.On Friday, you seemed to leave the door open to the possibility of the U.S. having sanctions against Israel.I understand Jen Psaki at the State Department is saying that door is closed.Did something change over the weekend?
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, Ed, I’m not going to be in a position to talk — to detail any sort of private conversations that did take place here at the White House or anywhere else in the administration.But I can tell you definitively the reports that the administration might be contemplating sanctions against Israel are completely unfounded and without merit.
Now, what hasn’t changed are the significant concerns that we have with the Israelis continuing to pursue settlement activity.We believe that those actions are counterproductive, that they don’t sort of facilitate the kind of trust that we believe is necessary for both sides to try to hammer out their differences in a way that is consistent with the national security concerns of the Israeli people and with the broader aspirations of the Palestinian people.
So we have made our views known very clearly about our frustration with the government of Israel continuing to pursue these kinds of settlement activities, and that’s something that we’re going to continue to criticize and be clear about, again, only because we believe it is so clearly in the interests of both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people for both sides to sit down at the negotiating table and try to resolve their differences directly, and that actions like pursuing settlement activity are counterproductive to that ultimate goal.
Q Last one.On the torture report, President — Former President Bush made some comments over the weekend to CNN expressing concern.Two-part on this, which is, one, has President Obama spoken at all in recent weeks, recent months, as this report was about to come out, to coordinate at all between the two Presidents, given the sensitivity of this — A.And B, does the President — current President share the former President’s concerns at all that some intelligence officials might — there might be an impression they’re being thrown under the bus here.
MR. EARNEST:Well, Ed, let me just say as a general matter that we don’t often — we don’t detail every conversation that the President has with former Presidents, so I can’t speak to any conversations that may or may not have occurred between President Obama and President Bush on this issue or any other.But I can say as a general matter, the President does believe — like President Bush expressed, I believe — that the vast majority of the men and women in our intelligence community are true patriots.These are individuals who in a very dedicated fashion used their skill and expertise and, on some occasions, put themselves at great risk to try to protect the United States of America.And those are individuals who have the enduring gratitude of this President and the American people because the actions that they take on a daily basis, even when nobody is paying attention, contribute significantly to the safety and security of the United States of America and her people.
Q Josh, over the weekend, Senate Democrats spent a good deal of time talking among themselves about whether this was the right time to release that report, and there are many who believe this is not the right time; that it’s a very, very close call; that there are a number of objective reasons why it’s, as you just hinted a moment ago, never a good time to release this report.From the White House’s perspective, what is the deciding factor that makes this the right time — other than the political calendar, which suggests if Senate Republicans are in charge of the Intelligence Committee, this report will never see the light of day?
MR. EARNEST:The fact is, Major, the right time will be determined by members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.That is as it should be.It’s their report and they should make the decision about the appropriate time for releasing.
Q But as you often remind us, the President is chiefly responsible for articulating and defending the security of this country, its embassies and its personnel.He has to have an opinion on this.He can’t be a simple casual bystander leaving it to the committee to decide entirely on its own without any guidance whether this is the best time.
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, we have been — I don’t want to leave you with the impression that there hasn’t been any guidance.There has been communication between the administration and the committee.
Q So why is this the right time?
MR. EARNEST:Again, that is something that they have to decide — that members of the committee have to decide for themselves.It is their report.And as you’ve reminded me on a number of occasions, despite the President’s priority that he places on the safety and security of the United States of America, the legislative branch is a separate branch of government and they have oversight responsibilities over the intelligence community and over the executive branch.And so they are free to exercise that oversight authority without inappropriate interference from the administration.
That said, this White House — the President and obviously the Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, have gone to great lengths to try to facilitate the kinds of productive conversations between the Intelligence Committee and the intelligence community about the release of this report.And that’s been painstaking work.But ultimately this administration and this President and this White House have been engaged in that effort because we believe so strongly in the value of actually following through on the release of this report, that it says something critically important about our values as a country and that even though it may pose some risk to the security situation at diplomatic facilities around the globe, we can take prudent steps to protect those facilities, and that it is critically important — again, consistent with the values of this country — for the declassified version of the summary of this report to be released.
Q There’s also a sense that one of the underlying lessons of the report will be that it’s dangerous when a bureaucracy runs amok if there’s not an elaborate chain of communication all the way to the top, to the President of the United States.Is that also something you expect to be a gain net in the release of this report, a CIA that’s chastised a bit about its interpretation of executive branch orders and how it carried them out?
MR. EARNEST:Well, we’ll see what the report eventually says.I can tell you that the President strongly endorses the work that Director Brennan has been conducting as he’s led that agency and the President has got complete confidence in his ability to lead that agency and to do that —
Q — this would have been a different era under a different set of circumstances.
MR. EARNEST:Well, we’ll see what the report has to say.But as it relates to sending a message to the Central Intelligence Agency, I can tell you that the message that the President wants to send is that he’s got complete confidence in the Director because of the excellent work that he does on a day-to-day basis, and to express his gratitude to the men and women of the CIA who, again, on a daily basis are serving their country, often without any recognition at all, but doing the kind of work that’s critical to protecting the American people.
Q It was a busy weekend on the Hill in another respect, lots of negotiations going on back and forth about several pieces of legislation heading to the finish line.I know you — I suspect you’re not going to get into great detail, but would you be willing to give us an overall sense of the trajectory of things?And are you more confident than you were, let’s say, Thursday or Friday, about the CR being resolved largely if not entirely on your terms, and the National Defense Authorization Act — all of those things — the extenders bill — getting done by the end of this week in terms that are if not perfect, acceptable?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Major, I can tell you that I have — in the grand scale of things, I’ve not worked at the White House that long, but I’ve worked here long enough to know that I shouldn’t be making predictions about the outcome of the legislative process.
Q I’m not trying to —
MR. EARNEST:I know.
Q — what sense you have because there are a lot of conversations, going back —
MR. EARNEST:Well, I guess what I would say is just that you would have a better sense of that than I would, based on the conversations that you have with members of Congress and their staffs.What I can tell you is that we’ve been really clear about how we believe those processes should be resolved, but I’m not going to predict how they’re going to be resolved.
Q Okay.One last thing.Can you tell us why Antonio Weiss is the best nominee for this position at the Department of Treasury, Undersecretary for Domestic Finance?Elizabeth Warren thinks he’s not only unqualified, doesn’t have any particular interest in the underlying issues which he would be carrying out if confirmed, and that it’s unwise and a bit rankling to see that his company, Lazard, would give him nearly $21 million in compensation for taking a government position after leaving that particular firm.
MR. EARNEST:Well, Major, I can tell you that Mr. Weiss is a highly qualified nominee.He’s got deep expertise in the financial markets and economic issues that are appropriate for somebody to take on the responsibility of being Undersecretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance.
He’s been in the field of finance for 20 years, and in that time he’s overseen numerous major financial transactions across a variety of industries that have driven significant investment inside the United States.This is somebody who has very good knowledge of the way that the financial markets work, and that is critically important when you’re asking somebody to take on a position in the federal government that has such a significant bearing on those markets.
I can tell you that the other reason that we believe strongly that Mr. Weiss should be confirmed with bipartisan support is that he is somebody who has spent some time thinking about some of the issues that the President believes are critically important.For example, in 2012, Mr. Weiss co-authored a report called “Reforming Our Tax System and Reducing our Deficit.”Mr. Weiss shares the President’s view that we would benefit significantly from reforming and simplifying our tax code and implementing policies that help boost economic growth while supporting our middle class.That includes, by the way, eliminating the inversion loophole that allows some large corporations to renounce — essentially renounce their citizenship just so that they can get away without paying their fair share of taxes.
So Mr. Weiss has a lot of experience, has knowledge that would be critically important to the successful conduct of the responsibilities of somebody who’s going to serve as the Undersecretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance.That’s why we’re counting on the Congress to take quick action and confirm him in bipartisan fashion.
Q Anything troubling for this administration about the compensation that awaits him coming into government?I mean, those compensation packages are designed to keep people in the private sector so they don’t jump from company to company.Now he’s coming into government.He will not be regulating Lazard directly, I grant you that, but within the whole scheme of things, doesn’t it seem a little, if not outrageous, odd?
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, let me — this is what I’ll say about this.Before any nominee takes a position in government, they have to go through a review by the Office of Government Ethics.This is an independent agency that considers exactly this question, and they have a lot of expertise in doing so.So if they have any concerns about the ethics of the compensation arrangement that you’ve described, I’m sure they’ll make them known.It’s in their interest to do so.But as far as I know, they haven’t.
Q Right, and the President has no trouble with it?
MR. EARNEST:And he does not.
Q Given that you said, Josh, that the President’s stand about the torture report is that we should be as transparent as we possibly can, and that people may have a different view of what could constitute transparency — some members of the Intelligence Committee may differ with members of the intelligence community, for example — what can you tell us about the redaction process toward that end of giving the American people as much information as you possibly can?
MR. EARNEST:Well, what we’re talking about are a wide range of classified activities and classified programs, and that will necessarily limit how much of this information can be disclosed publicly.
Q So is it only classified information that would be withheld?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I don’t know the answer to that question.What I do know is that the administration has been working closely with both members of the committee and the intelligence community to redact as much of that report as possible — I’m sorry, to declassify as much of that report as possible.(Laughter.)Wouldn’t make a lot of sense to redact that report.
MR. EARNEST:I can tell you that the — I’ve been up here a little while already, you can tell.(Laughter.)The administration has been working very scrupulously with members of the committee and with the intelligence community to declassify as much of that report as possible.And the reason for that is simply because that actually would further the goal that the President himself has laid out, which is he does believe it’s important for the intelligence community and for the committee and for the federal government to be as transparent as possible with the American people and with the world about what exactly transpired, specifically so that we can make sure that it never happens again.
So I don’t contest that there — as with so many of these issues, that there are a variety of opinions.But when it comes down to the administration’s view, specifically the White House’s view, our view is that as much of this report as possible should be declassified.Now, we of course need to make sure that we’re taking the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our men and women in the intelligence community, and we certainly wouldn’t want to release anything that would put them at risk.
But absent that, we believe as much of this information, as much of this story as possible, should be told so that the American people can have a clear assessment of what exactly happened, and that we can be crystal clear about what our values are as Americans and be sure that regardless of circumstance, that that never happens again.
Q So would you say that the White House wanted more of this made available to the public than is being made available?
MR. EARNEST:What I can say, Chris, is that the White House is satisfied that the concerns — or that the agreement that’s been reached between the committee and the intelligence community both take into account the need to protect our men and women in the intelligence community, but also to be as transparent as we possibly can with the American people about what exactly happened.
Q So it would not be correct to characterize this saying that the White House would like more of this made public?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think what I would say is that the White House has been, from the beginning, pushing for the release of this report and pushing for as much content as possible to be released.Now, given the classified nature of these programs, there are limits on that.But that has been the posture of the White House from the beginning for years, and that is why the White House has I think been pretty effective in trying to work with both the committee and the intelligence community to resolve their concerns and get this report released.And that’s why we’re gratified that the committee has made the decision to release this report tomorrow.
Q And on the hostage rescue mission — and we’ve talked about this before in this room, about the President’s position, the White House position on not paying ransom.And yet, when you have the combination of situations where there have been hostages who have been successfully freed, being paid either covertly by governments or by family and friends who have raised money, in the failed missions what can you say to families who look at that and say, this is my opportunity to save the life of my loved one?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Chris, the families who find themselves in this situation are facing a terrible choice.And the kind of pain and anguish that a parent must feel about their son or daughter being held against their will by terrorists as a hostage is unthinkable.And it’s difficult to imagine being in a situation like that, and that is why you have seen such significant expressions of sympathy for families that are in that position.
That is also why you’ve seen strong support from the federal government for those families.And that’s also why you’ve seen the President of the United States expend significant capital and time and energy to try to rescue those individuals; two different rescue raids ordered — clandestine rescue raids ordered in just the last couple of weeks to try to secure the safe return of Mr. Somers.
This is something that the administration and the President himself is personally invested in.And there is no question that we are — that that kind of a choice that’s facing an individual family is gut-wrenching.At the same time, as policymakers, it’s the responsibility of members of this administration to lay out policies that are in the best interest of the country and the security of every American citizen.And paying ransom to terrorist organizations, essentially financing the ability of these terrorist organizations to carry out other hostage-takings, is not in the best interest of the United States and it’s not in the best interest of our citizens.
And again, that in no way is intended to diminish the difficult choice and the anguish that so many families must feel. But as a policy matter, there’s no doubt that not paying ransom is clearly in the best interest of the safety and security of the American people.
Q Thank you.Could I take it back to racial profiling for just a moment, please?In the parlance of Washington, they call them carve-outs — I think the rest of us would call them exceptions — for border security, airport security and the Secret Service.Civil libertarians are angry about that.They say there’s a big loophole, particularly leaving vulnerable Latinos and religious minorities.What’s your response?
MR. EARNEST:Well, my understanding, Mike — and you should check with the Department of Justice on this — but it’s my understanding that this new guidance would actually be applied on top of those other what previously had been d