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1/3/17: White House Press Briefing


Mr. Earnest: Good
afternoon, everybody. Happy New Year. Hope you all got some
quality time with your families over the
last couple of weeks. I know the President did
while he was in Hawaii, and I hope you were able
to do the same thing. Before we get started, I
actually wanted to mark a little — a memory
with all of you. Today actually reflects
the 9th anniversary of the President’s victory
in the Iowa caucuses. And I was fortunate enough
to have worked on his Iowa caucus campaign, and so
this is a day that I know that many of my colleagues
at the time will mark in their own way. I thought I would actually
do it by reading just a couple of short excerpts
from the speech that he delivered that night. This was the President
speaking to a group of very excited supporters. There are some famous
lines in this speech, but my attention, as I was
reading this last night actually was attracted
to a couple of different paragraphs — and let me
read them to you now. “Years from now, you’ll
look back and you’ll say that this was the moment,
this was the place where America remembered
what it means to hope. For months, we’ve been
teased, even derided for talking about hope. We always knew that hope
is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the
enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks
that stand in our path. It’s not sitting on the sidelines, or shrinking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside
us that insists, despite all the evidence to the
contrary, that something better awaits us if we
have the courage to reach for it and to work for
it and to fight for it.” He went on to say that
“Hope is the bedrock of this nation; the belief
that our destiny will not be written for us but by
us, by all those men and women who are not content
to settle for the world as it is, but who have the
courage to remake the world as it should be.” I didn’t deliver that
speech nearly as well as he did that night. And I certainly — The Press: It was a dramatic read. Mr. Earnest: I tried. I tried. (Laughter.) I gave it the old college try. And I certainly can’t take
credit for having written this powerful speech. But I think it is an
apt illustration of how remarkably committed
President Obama has been over the course of his
presidential career to a core set of principles
that aspire to something great; that put their hope
in the American people to build the kind of country
that we all believe in, where we all have an
opportunity to succeed regardless of what we look like or where we come from. And there’s a reference
in this to “those men and women who are not content
to settle for the world as it is, but who have the
courage to remake the world as it should be.” The President was talking
about all Americans who are committed to investing
in this country. But I have very vivid
memories of the young men and women who signed up to
work on President Obama’s campaign back in 2007
for the 2008 caucuses. And I say young men and
women because even back at the time, nine years ago,
when I was at the ripe old age of 32, I was the old
guy, and that our campaign was populated by young
people — not young people in their 20s and 30s, but
young people in their 20s. And I have a vivid memory
of one fall afternoon — it was in the
middle of the week. The Winneshiek County
Democrats in Northeastern Iowa were hosting their
fall dinner, and there were two Obama campaign
organizers who were eager to have somebody from the
campaign come and speak at the fall gathering
for all the Democrats. This was a prime
opportunity to recruit supporters and other
influential people in the community, particularly Democrats, to win over their support. And the campaign,
unfortunately, was not able to find anyone for
them, so I went up there. (Laughter.) And so I made the more than four-hour drive from Des Moines,
Iowa, to Decorah, Iowa — Winneshiek County is in
the northeastern part of the state. And what I found there
were two Obama campaign organizers, two young
people who were utterly committed to the task. It was this young woman
from Tennessee and a young African American man. And I point that out
because I don’t think there are too many other
people in Winneshiek County that either had a
southern accent like that young lady did, or were
African American like that young man. But what I found in the
few hours that I was in town with them is
they knew everybody. When I got there, I pulled
into their office and they said, well, you must be thirsty after your long drive. They said, let’s go down
to the grocery store and we’ll get you
something to drink. And they were walking
through the grocery store aisles greeting people by
name, and greeting the clerk who was checking
us out by name. And we went to the county
dinner, and it was a small affair at an outdoor
shelter at a park in Winneshiek County, and
they were greeting everybody by name. And I remember that night
after the dinner I took them out for a couple of
drinks at a local bar, and they’re greeting the
bartender and other people at the bar by name. It was an indication of
how these two people were so committed to the cause
and so passionate that they mustered the courage
to go to some place that they had never been, to a
community where they were very obviously outsiders,
because of the passion that they felt for
President Obama and his vision for the future
of the country. So I appreciate you
indulging me on the anniversary of the victory
to talk about the warm memories that I have of
this important event, not just in the history of the
people who have supported President Obama over his
career, but in the history of the country. And to all of my
colleagues and friends who worked on that campaign
and are marking that day today, I continue to feel
the sense of solidarity and comradery with them
that was so critical to our victory
nine years ago. So with that long wind-up,
Darlene, welcome back. Happy New Year. The Press: Same to you. Mr. Earnest: And let’s
go to some questions. The Press: Great. So tomorrow, the President
is going to the Capitol to talk to Democrats there
about health care. Mr. Earnest: That’s right. The Press: What
is the message? What is the goal? What does he hope to
accomplish by going up there and meeting
with them? Mr. Earnest: Well, this
will be an opportunity for the President to meet with
the Democrats in the House and the Senate for the incoming United States Congress. And they’ll be there to
principally discuss how to counter the stated
Republican objective of repealing the
Affordable Care Act. The stakes are high. And I know that,
particularly at this time, when we’re thinking about
— when there’s a lot of discussion about the
President’s legacy, that some people might think
that, well, the President is very concerned about
the political capital that he’s invested in this and
he doesn’t want to see it all go away. That’s certainly true. But the President’s
priority and the President’s motivation is
rooted in looking out for the interests of the 22
*30 million Americans whose health care would be
taken away if Republicans repeal the
Affordable Care Act. He’s interested in looking
out for the millions of Americans who get health
care through their employer who have seen
that the growth in their health care costs has been
sharply limited — just 3.4 percent in 2016. Overall, the growth in
health care costs is the lowest it’s
been on record. And if Republicans repeal
the Affordable Care Act, they will reverse
that progress. Millions of Americans
across the country are protected from being
discriminated against because they have a
preexisting condition. They’re allowed to keep
their kids on their insurance plan until
their kids turn 26. Women are not allowed to
be charged more by their insurance company just
because they’re women. All of that would be
undone if Republicans repeal the
Affordable Care Act. Obviously, we’re deeply
concerned about the impact this would have on
Medicaid and Medicare. The Affordable Care Act
extended the lifespan of the Medicare trust
fund by 11 years. So if Republicans repeal
the Affordable Care Act, they’ll be hastening the
demise of Medicare that millions of seniors rely
upon for their basic health care needs. So the President is deeply
concerned about the impact that this Republican
action could have. He’s also concerned about
this Republican tactic of repeal-and-delay that
ultimately is nothing more than just bait-and-switch. The prospect of, oh, don’t
worry, the 22 *20 million Americans who have health
insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, we’ll
get around to offering up a replacement at
some later date. That’s not a responsible
way to govern, and it certainly is not an
indication that you’re looking out for working
people in this country. Democrats are, however,
interested in looking out for working people in this
country, no one more so than the Democratic
President of the United States, Barack Obama. So that’s what they’ll be
there to talk about, and the President’s message
will be to encourage them in that fight and to offer
his own insight about the most effective way to
engage in that fight. The Press: Is he going to
be looking in some way to exploit Republicans
appearing to be divided over what to replace
Obamacare with? Is that part of the
discussion tomorrow? Sort of take advantage of
their inability to agree on a replacement? Mr. Earnest: There does
appear to be some division in the Republican Party. That’s understandable. Many of you have told the
stories of people who are represented in Congress by
Republicans, who voted for those Republicans, who
are pleading with those Republicans not to take
away their Obamacare. So it’s not surprising to
me that there are some Republicans who are now a
little queasy about the prospect of — the impact
that repealing Obamacare would have on their own
supporters, on people in their congressional
districts. Because we know there are
people all across the country who benefit
from this law, who are protected by this law,
whose lives have been saved by this law. And the prospect of taking
it away is a question of life or death
for some people. And so it’s not surprising
to me that that does leave some Republicans queasy. What the President has
long said — and I’m sure that this is true of other
Republicans on Capitol Hill — I don’t speak for
them — but the President has long been open to the
idea that if there are Republicans who are
genuinely interested in reforming the Affordable
Care Act in a way that would strengthen the
program the President would be strongly
supportive of that effort. And he’s put forward his
own ideas for how we could do that, but he certainly
would be open to ideas from Republicans
to do that. But that’s not what
Republicans have offered. What they’ve offered more
than 50 times is just a proposal for tearing the
program down in a way that would leave millions of
Americans vulnerable. So there is this division
in the Republican Party that does leave them
vulnerable because they haven’t actually indicated
any desire to work with Democrats to strengthen
the program, which means that there is a premium
placed on Republican unity, and if they’re not
able to preserve that unity, it will pose a
challenge to their efforts to accomplish this goal. But there are a lot of
steps to this process that Republicans have laid out
that they’re prepared to undertake, and we’ll see if they are able to do them. The country would be much
better served by them looking to work in a
genuinely bipartisan fashion to strengthen the
Affordable Care Act and not just extend, but
actually strengthen the many protections that
benefit millions of Americans across
the country. The Press: Last
one on this. The President has said on
a few occasions that his administration has been
good on policy, but where it had fallen down has
been in communicating policy to the public. And I’m wondering — Mr. Earnest: I try not to take that personally
when he says that. (Laughter.) The Press: S I’m wondering if the trip up to Capitol Hill
tomorrow and then this health care-related
interview that he’s doing later in the week on
Friday — is this some sort of attempt to kind of
do the sales job on ACA over or better? Mr. Earnest: Well, look, I
don’t think — I think as you all have seen in
covering the President over the last eight
years, there aren’t many do-overs. I can’t think of any. So, no, this is
not a do-over. But I think this is an
opportunity for the President once again to
make what he finds to be a particularly persuasive
argument about the benefits of the proposal. And the one thing that we
have long said that has proved to be true is that
the more that people understand what’s included
in the Affordable Care Act, the more that people
see firsthand how they benefit from the
Affordable Care Act, the more popular it’s
likely to be. And there’s no denying
that Obamacare has been subjected to hundreds of
millions of dollars of political attacks — many
of them, if not most of them, false — about
the impact of the law. So there is stiff
headwinds that we have encountered in trying to
make the argument in favor of the Affordable
Care Act. But the one thing that has
proved to be true is that the more that people
understand what’s included in the Affordable Care Act
and how they benefit from it, the more popular the
program is and the harder it is for Republicans to
build political support for tearing it down. Jeff. The Press: Josh, North
Korea has said it is close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile. As the Obama
administration comes close to its end, what more can
you do on North Korea in the remaining three weeks
of the President’s term, and what kind of advice do
you have for the incoming administration? Mr. Earnest: Well, Jeff,
the most important thing that any
Commander-in-Chief has to do is protect the
American people. And for years, the United
States has — at the direction of the
Commander-in-Chief, President Obama — has
increased the defenses that are deployed in the
Pacific region to protect the American people
from this threat. So there are radar
facilities and antiballistic missile
facilities that have been installed in places like Japan and Guam and in Alaska. There are naval vessels,
ballistic missile defense ships that are patrolling
the Pacific Ocean. The number of them has
been increased as a result of a decision made
early on by the Commander-in-Chief to make
sure that we could protect the American people
from this threat. And I can confirm once
again that the United States military does
believe it has the capacity to protect the
American people from the threat that’s emanating
from North Korea. But these defenses are not
the only steps that the Commander-in-Chief
has ordered. The United States is also
engaged in a rigorous, intensive diplomatic
effort to build international support for
tough sanctions against the North Korean regime. And the United Nations
Security Council last fall passed the toughest
resolution yet, imposing the toughest sanctions yet
against the North Korean regime, putting a hard cap
on the amount of coal that can be exported — because
we know that they use the revenue from those coal
exports to try to fund some of these programs, so
putting that hard cap in place is going to have an
impact on their ability to continue to develop
their programs. And we’re only able to
succeed in implementing those measures with the
cooperation of China. And given the differences
that we have with China on a number of other issues,
it’s no small diplomatic undertaking to get them to
work effectively with us — which they have, to
their credit — to impose some of these measures and
to increase pressure on the North Korean regime. The problem has not been
solved, but we certainly have defenses in place to
protect against the threat that emanates from there. And we certainly have
made progress in building important diplomatic
support to apply pressure to the North Korean regime
to limit their ability to continue to develop this
program, but also to give them an incentive to
change their strategy. They haven’t yet, but
we’re going to continue to apply that pressure. Our advice to the next
administration I think will largely be to listen
to the advice of our military commanders about
what’s necessary to protect the American
people with regard to our deployments in the
Pacific, and to look for opportunities to work
effectively with countries like China and Russia and
our allies — South Korea and Japan — to apply
pressure to North Korea to make clear that they
should renounce their nuclear ambitions and put
an end to the kind of destabilizing rhetoric
that we’ve seen all too often emanate from the
North Korean capital. The Press: Thank you. And on a separate issue. The White House’s reaction
to the congressional Republicans’ decision
to curtail and then not curtail the Office of
Congressional Ethics today — is this one of those
perhaps rare instances where you agree with
President-elect Trump? Mr. Earnest: Well, first
of all, I think that it is rather revealing that
the first step taken by congressional Republicans
in the new Congress was to vote in secret to gut
ethics regulations. These are ethics
regulations, by the way, put in place by Democrats
in response to ethical scandals plaguing
congressional Republicans. So I note that there’s a
lot of talk about ethics and revolving doors, but
the revolving door that we see right now is the
continual challenge on the part of congressional
Republicans to skirt responsibility for their
ethical violations. With regard to the —
well, let me also say, I suspect this is not going
to be the first time that we see congressional
Republicans in this Congress seeking to help
people in positions of power and influence escape
accountability when it comes to the interests
of the American people. I’m confident we’re going
to see congressional Republicans do the work
of their donors on Wall Street to try to gut Wall
Street reform that would allow them to escape
accountability for a bunch of financial transactions
that we know are not in the public interest and
actually do put taxpayers at risk and potentially
put taxpayers on the hook for bailing out those big
banks if those risky bets go bad. One other thing we know
congressional Republicans are likely to do is to go
to their donors in the oil industry and say, hey,
we can help you escape accountability for
polluting the air and water and land that the
American people treasure and in some cases depend
on for our sustenance. I think the real question
for the President-elect is will he stand
up to them then. The Press: Would you agree
then with my, I guess, question that this is a
rare instance where you agree with the President-elect’s criticism? Mr. Earnest: Well, first
of all, I’ll let the President-elect’s team
explain exactly what he was intending to
communicate in this tweet. It was not immediately
obvious to me that he was indicating opposition to
the gutting of ethical requirements. Some people at least
interpreted his tweet as indicating that the optics of doing it first were bad. But again, I’ll leave it
to the incoming team to explain it. Because the position of
this administration is that people who are
entrusted with positions of authority in the United
States government do have certain ethical
obligations and they should be held
independently accountable for adhering to those
ethical requirements. Certainly the executive
branch does in a variety of ways. And I do recall that when
President Obama served in the United States Senate,
he was one of a small number of members of the
United States Senate who championed legislation to
create and independent ethical oversight
structure on the Senate side, too. Unfortunately, that
effort did not succeed. But the President’s views
on the importance of these kinds of ethical oversight
structures are well known. And the President has
long placed a priority on ensuring that they are strong. Michelle. The Press: You didn’t
paint a very hopeful picture at one
point there. But the fact that this did
die, that leadership took it out, do you see that
as promising at all? Mr. Earnest: Well, again,
I started out reading a speech about hope, so I try to be an optimistic guy. But what I also — just to
go back to that speech — “We know that hope is
not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the
enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks
that stand in our path.” So when you have a bunch
of Republicans who campaigned for their
office saying that they want to gut regulations
that prevent Wall Street bankers from taking
advantage of middle-class families, when you have a
bunch of Republicans who run for Congress saying
that they’re going to make it easier for their
largest contributors in the oil industry to
pollute our water and our air, it’s hard to feel
particularly optimistic about their willingness to look out for the American people. But like I said, if the
President-elect is willing to stand up to them in
those instances that would be welcome news. So we’ll just have to see exactly how that plays out. I will say that it is —
even in the face of all that optimism, it is
disheartening that the very first thing that
Republicans in Congress chose to do was to vote
in secret to gut ethical accountability. That’s not
draining the swamp. But that’s day one. We’ll see what the days
in the future lead to. The Press: Okay. So you talked about the
President on the Hill tomorrow talking to
Democrats to encourage them and how best to
counter gutting Obamacare. So what specifically
does he want them to do? I’m confused on what there
is that can be done. Mr. Earnest: Well, you’ll
have an opportunity, as Darlene referenced, to
hear from the President at greater length about
this later this week. But I think you can
certainly anticipate that the President will
encourage Democrats to focus on those aspects of
the Affordable Care Act that are strongly
supported in bipartisan fashion all across
the country. The best example for this
is the consumer protection that prevents insurance
companies from discriminating against
people that have preexisting conditions. There’s nothing
ideological or partisan about that notion. It’s actually just a
matter of basic fairness. And what we have found is
now that that law — or that rule has been in
effect for the last few years, we’ve actually seen
Democrats and Republicans both come together and
acknowledge that that’s a good idea, that
actually is fair. And so the question,
really, for Republicans is how do you construct a
policy that protects that fairness? Right now what Republicans
are suggesting is that they would basically take
away the requirement that everybody has health
insurance, and that ultimately is going to
interfere with the ability to ensure that insurance companies sign everybody up. So that’s ultimately
something that Republicans are going to have
to reconcile. And I think this is
something the President has talked about at some
length, which is that there is a difference
between campaigning and governing. There’s a difference
between going out there on a campaign trail and using
all kinds of rhetoric saying you’re going to
repeal the Affordable Care Act because of the impact it’s having on our economy. So you have to ignore a
lot of facts in order to make that kind of
rhetorical statement. But once you are faced
with actually implementing it, the questions
get a lot harder. And your ability to follow
through on that promise that sounded really good
on the campaign trail is called into question. The Press: So he wants
Democrats to pressure their Republican
colleagues? When you say, focus on
that, what does he expect them to be
doing right now? Mr. Earnest: I think the
President’s message to them is that they should
be out there telling the stories of their
constituents who are benefitting from this law. I think that’s certainly
the most important thing they can do. There are a number of
Democrats on Capitol Hill who do have ideas of
things that could be done that would strengthen
the Affordable Care Act. So some of them may
choose to use this as an opportunity to offer
up some additional suggestions and try
to seek to Republican cooperation to
strengthen the law. The President certainly would encourage them to do that. I think you can also
expect to hear the President make the case
that it’s not just about protecting the Affordable
Care Act, it’s also about making sure that we’re protecting Medicaid and Medicare. And if we tear down the
Affordable Care Act, we’re having a terribly negative
impact on Medicare and Medicaid, as well. So I think there are a
lot of strong, persuasive arguments to be made that
would I think persuade many Americans that the
idea of tearing down the Affordable Care
Act is a bad idea. The Press: Okay. And just quickly, does the
administration believe that North Korea is
that close to that ICBM capability? And what does the
President think of Donald Trump’s response to North
Korea via his tweets? Mr. Earnest: Well, what I
can — the intelligence community has previously
said that the United States has not seen North
Korea test or demonstrate the ability to miniaturize
a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM. I’m not aware that that
assessment has changed. And some of the
administration — the intelligence community
officials that I have spoken to today were not
aware that that assessment has changed. If it has changed, it’s
something that will come from the intelligence
community. With regard to the
President-elect’s tweets, I’ll let his team explain
exactly what he means. Thanks, Josh. Mr. Earnest: Margaret. The Press:
Thank you, Josh. I appreciate it. Happy New Year. Mr. Earnest: Happy
New Year to you. The Press: Thanks. So I’m just wondering
whether you’ve spoken with President Obama about the
possibility of slapping a tariff on cars made in Mexico and imported into the U.S. and what you think the
impact of that would be on foreign policy
or the economy. Mr. Earnest: I have not spoken to President Obama about that. I know that that is
contrary to the approach that President Obama has
taken when it comes to trying to manage our trade relationships around the world. In fact, the President was
strongly supportive of a Trans-Pacific Partnership
agreement that his administration negotiated
that included Mexico that would have raised labor
standards, raised environmental standards,
would have protected intellectual property, and
would have made it easier and fairer for U.S. businesses that are
competing against Mexican businesses. That would have been good for the U.S. economy. That would have been good for U.S. workers. It would have been good for U.S. businesses. The incoming President
does not seem to share that view and he believes
in a different approach. And many economists have
expressed concerns about how the imposition of
tariffs like some have suggested would actually
have a starkly negative impact on the economy
because it would not just result in higher prices
being paid by American customers, it means that
American goods that are shipped overseas face a similar retaliatory tariff. And since we’re not
starting out on a level playing field, even if the
tariff is equal in stature to the tariff that’s
imposed by the United States, it will have a
disproportionate, negative impact on those
American products. And many economists have
made the argument that imposing a tariff like
that is actually the worst of both worlds when it
comes to the interests of the United States, our
consumers, our workers, and our economy. So that’s why the
President has tried a much different approach. But ultimately, the next
administration will have to pursue the strategy
that they believe is the best, and we’ll have an
opportunity to evaluate what works best. The President has a very
strong track record when you consider the
performance of the U.S. economy under his
leadership, under the economic strategy that
he has put together. But the incoming President
was elected on a promise to try things different —
to try different things, and to do things
differently. And we’ll have an
opportunity to evaluate how well it works. The Press: I just wanted
to go quickly — do you know whether President
Obama has spoken with the President of Mexico? Today, perhaps? Mr. Earnest: No, I’m not aware that they’ve spoken today. The Press: And the
kind of flipside to the President-elect’s
Twitter-related actions on car policy, the Ford Motor
Company has announced that they’ve canceled this
major expansion into Mexico and are going to preserve some jobs in the U.S. Would you say that
that’s good news? And would you applaud
President-elect Trump for his actions on that? Or do you know enough
about it to comment on it? Mr. Earnest: Well, I’ve
read some of the news coverage of this. I’ve not been in touch
with either the transition team or the auto — Ford
about their announcement, but I read in published
reports about their announcement that it was
not tied to any political considerations. And I noted that over the
last five years or so that Ford has actually
increased the number of workers at their company
by about 28,000. So this is only the latest
step in a long-running, significant and positive
trend for the U.S. economy that those jobs
are being protected. So that’s obviously good news. Jon. The Press: Josh — The
Press: 28,000 domestic? Mr. Earnest: We can look
up the numbers for you. We’ll follow up. The Press: Josh, on the
measures taken against Russia, why was Vladimir
Putin not mentioned as one of those sanctions? Is that an indication you
didn’t have evidence that the Russian leader was
responsible for this, or directed this,
approved it? Mr. Earnest: Not
necessarily, Jon. The intelligence community
has indicated their view that given the
significance of the actions that Russia
carried out against the United States, their
conclusion is that this is something that had to
have been directed at the highest levels of the
Russian government. The Press: So why not
hit the President? I mean, he’s the
guy responsible. Mr. Earnest: Well, as you
know, typically, with regard to sanctions
policy, that there are only certain circumstances
in which the leader of the country is
personally named. I can’t get into all the
— there’s no denying that this is a
significant action. So what I would say is
just that it would be rather extraordinary if
Mr. Putin himself were among the people
who were listed. But I can’t speak to the
decisions that were made by the experts at the
Treasury Department about who was named
and who was not. The Press: So when the
Chinese hacked OPM in 2015, 21-plus million
current and former government employees and
contractors had their personal records
stolen by the Chinese. Why did the White House
do nothing publicly in reaction to that hack,
which, in some ways, was even more widespread than
what we saw here from the Russians, allegedly? Mr. Earnest: Well, I think
that what we’ve seen is that these are two cyber
incidents that are malicious in nature, but
materially different. The Press: Twenty-one
million people had their personal data taken. Fingerprints, social
security numbers, background checks —
I mean, this was a far-reaching hack. Mr. Earnest: I’m
not downplaying the significance of it, I’m
just saying that it’s different than seeking to
interfere in the conduct of a U.S. national election. I can’t speak to the steps
that have been taken by the United States in
response to that Chinese malicious cyber activity. The Press: But
nothing was announced. There was not a single
step announced by the White House in
response to that. Mr. Earnest: That is true
that there was no public announcement about our
response, but I can’t speak to what response may have been initiated in private. The Press: But no
diplomats expelled, no compounds shut down,
no sanctions imposed, correct? Mr. Earnest: Well, again,
I can’t speak to — The Press: You don’t do
that stuff secretly. I mean, that’s —
Mr. Earnest: Well, certainly when it comes
to the diplomats, that’s right, there were
no diplomats PNGed. That’s something that we
would announce publicly. But, look, I can’t speak
to the response because, as you pointed out, that’s
not something that we have announced. It certainly is something
that we take seriously. It certainly — the
President has raised directly with his
Chinese counterpart. And we certainly have
seen commitments from the Chinese with regard to
some norms in cyberspace that we would like to
see them observe — for example, we did see the
Chinese President commit in the Rose Garden in the
fall of 2015 that Russia — or that China would not
be engaged in the kind of cyber-enabled theft for
commercial gain that’s sponsored by national
governments. So that represents some
progress, and that does represent the
protection of U.S. commercial interests here
in the United States. And that certainly is
an important step, an important part of
establishing some of these rules of the road
that will allow the international community to
resolve how to limit the malicious behavior of some
actors in cyberspace. The Press: But do you see
how — that there’s just this wildly
different response? With the Russians, which,
of course, is very politically charged, the
White House takes this action, makes it public. With the Chinese, which
was not so political charged but was absolutely
as far-reaching a hack as we had ever seen in this country, nothing was done publicly. Mr. Earnest: At least
of the government. At least of the
government, right? There are ample examples
of other malicious cyber actors in the private
sector — The Press: But in response to that OPM
hack — Mr. Earnest: — exploiting personal
identifiable information and engaging in other
wide-reaching malicious cyber activity. But, look, I’m not
suggesting that somehow that’s not important. What I’m just saying is
that it’s materially different than the kind
of hack-and-leak strategy that we saw the Russians
engage in to try to influence our democracy. That is significant. That’s serious. And that explains the
serious steps that President Obama has
imposed against the Russians in response. But with regard to the
Chinese, we have made some progress with them in
trying to limit the kind of malicious cyber
activity that could threaten U.S. interests either in the
United States or around the world, in our
government or in the private sector. And we’re pleased with
some of the progress that we’ve made. But there is no
denying that the next administration will assume
a significant burden in trying to craft a policy
in cyberspace that effectively stands up to
our adversaries and looks out for the interests
of the American people. The Press: Okay. And then just one other
quick — Sean Spicer. I think this is your first
briefing since he was announced as the incoming
press secretary for President Trump. Mr. Earnest: It is. The Press: Any advice to Sean on how to conduct this job? Mr. Earnest: Well, listen,
I had an opportunity to congratulate Sean via
email shortly after the announcement was made. As you all have heard
me say on a number of occasions, the opportunity
and the honor to stand before this podium and
advocate for a set of values and a President
that I deeply believe in is extraordinary, and it’s
the kind of opportunity that I wouldn’t
trade for anything. I sincerely hope that he
finds the same kind of challenge and satisfaction
in the job that I have. And I don’t know Sean
personally, but I expect to get the chance to meet
him soon and to talk to him about this job a little bit. Isaac. The Press: Iwant to bring
it back to North Korea for a second. Does the President feel
confident in Donald Trump’s ability to protect
the United States if a nuclear missile is
launched by North Korea? Mr. Earnest: Well, Isaac,
that hearkens back to some of the rhetoric that was
used by both sides in the campaign leading up to
the election, and the President expressed some
rather profound concerns about the incoming
President. But the election is over. And I’ve done my best to avoid re-litigating those fights. I think what I can tell
you is that the President has strong confidence in
the men and women of the United States military,
the men and women of the United States intelligence
community, the men and women in the United States
State Department who ultimately are responsible
for implementing policies that protect the American
people, including from the threats that emanate
in North Korea. So we’re going to be
counting on our men and women in the intelligence
community to continue to provide decision-makers
with the best available intelligence about
North Korea’s actions. We’re going to rely on the
Department of Defense and the men and women of the
United States military to make more strategic
decisions about stationing equipment and
antiballistic missile technology to protect
the American people. And we’re going to be
relying on the men and women of the State
Department to go and build an international coalition
to increase the pressure on the North Korean regime
to compel them to pursue a different path. And those are all
institutions and patriots who, every day, set aside
politics, set aside their own political leanings,
set aside their own preferences about who
should be President of the United States, and just
focus on the task at hand. And the people in those
three communities — at the State Department, the
Defense Department and intelligence community
— all have substantial responsibilities when it
comes to protecting the American people. And the President has
confidence that those men and women, those American
patriots, will continue to do their important work
with enormous skill and expertise and patriotism
to protect the country. The Press: But going back
to — as you said, there was a lot of talk about
this during the campaign. It’s been about two months
since he delivered his last campaign speech. In those two months, does
he feel more confident in Donald Trump’s ability
to handle the nuclear situation, both in having
the nuclear codes and protecting from
a nuclear attack? Less confident? Or is he in the same place
that he was the day of the election? Mr. Earnest: I haven’t
spoken to the President about this, but my
assessment would be that his opinions
have not changed. But the time and place for
presenting those opinions has come and gone, and
we’re focused now on a transition. The Press: And just on
the WikiLeaks — Julian Assange did an interview
in which he — with Fox News in which he says that
the administration — first of all, he says that
WikiLeaks did not receive its information from a
state actor, and, second of all, says that there
are essentially holes in the case that the
administration has laid out about the role that
WikiLeaks had, that WikiLeaks wasn’t mentioned
in anything that the President or anybody has
said about this, and that this means that you guys
must not be sure that there is a
connection there. What’s your
response to that? Mr. Earnest: My response
is that the President has complete confidence in the
assessment that’s been put forward by the
intelligence community, and there’s no
reason to doubt it. The Press: And that
WikiLeaks received — that there’s no lack of
mentioning WikiLeaks for any purpose, or — what
Assange is talking about is that you guys didn’t
say — you’ve connected it to the Russians, but you
haven’t said, well, then it went to WikiLeaks from
the Russians, that that’s just semantics,
essentially, from Assange? Mr. Earnest: Well, again,
I didn’t see the entirety of his — I didn’t see
much of any of his interview, so it’s hard for me to respond directly in kind. I think what I can tell
you is the President has complete confidence in the
assessment that’s been put forward by the
intelligence community. And there’s still work that they’re doing on this. And the President has
tasked the intelligence community with putting
forward more information before January 20th not
just about what Russia did in the 2016 election,
but about some of the malicious cyber activity
that we saw in the context of the 2008 and 2012
elections, as well. And there certainly is
the possibility that more evidence that’s pertinent
to some of those claims could be included. We’ll have to
wait and see. The Press: Just last
question — do you have any update on when
we should expect the intelligence report that
the President has asked for? Mr. Earnest: I don’t have
an update on timing at this point, just before January 20th. Julianna. The Press: Thanks, Josh. David Axelrod tweeted —
going back to the House Ethics Office — David
Axelrod tweeted “This House Ethics drama was an
absolute gift to Donald Trump, a big fat zeppelin
for him to shoot down, which he did.” Do you think that this
was teed up for the President-elect, who
himself has had some issues regarding conflicts
of interests and some of his own ethical questions
swirling around him leading into his
inauguration? Mr. Earnest: Well, I haven’t spoken to David today. My guess is he wasn’t
expressing admiration for a clever strategic move on
the part of Republicans to make the President look —
the President-elect look good. I actually think he was
making the opposite point, that Republicans in
Congress have revealed a lot about their priorities
when the first action that they took was to vote in
secret to gut some of the ethical requirements
that they’re subject to. So I think the point that
David was making is simply that it’s pretty obvious
to everybody that that’s a really bad idea. Kevin. The Press: Thanks, Josh. I just want to circle back
on Jon’s question about Russia versus China,
and the reaction. Lisa Monaco has previously
cited diplomatic inroads with China as part
of the reason why the administration has had
some success in limiting and reducing cyber
activity — negative cyber activity from the Chinese. And I’m curious why, then,
would the administration continue that same process
with the Russians to get a similar response,
rather than the sort of heavy-handed expelling
operatives and shuttering — Mr. Earnest: Well,
Kevin, I think the response to the Chinese
action has been different than the response to the
Russian action because their actions that both
those countries undertook were different. What we saw on the part of
the Chinese was concerning with regard to some of the
malicious cyber activity that had an impact on the U.S. government. The Russian cyber activity
was actually a more specifically directed
threat to undermine U.S. democracy. So their tactics
were different. Their ultimate
goal was different. And that would explain
why our response was different. In both cases, we’ve taken
that malicious cyber activity and those
breaches quite seriously, but our responses have, as
I acknowledge to Jon, have been different. The Press: Also, on the
Ford Motor announcement — and you may or may not
have had a chance to see it, the one where they’re
saying essentially they’re going to not develop this
plant over in Mexico. Donald Trump had
previously threatened to levy some sort of a tax
or, if you will, some sort of tariff on cars that
were made there that would come back to the U.S. You were asked earlier if
you thought this was a victory for I think maybe
Donald Trump, but I’d be curious if you think this
is a victory for the American people and
American workers in particular, who may now
benefit from the fact that there will be more jobs
related to this decision than might have been. Mr. Earnest: Well, Kevin,
it won’t surprise you to hear that the President
who has presided over an economy that’s created
nearly 900,000 manufacturing jobs is
pleased to hear when another 700 manufacturing
jobs have been saved. The Press: I also want
to ask you something the President sort of hinted
at — or maybe not hinted at, maybe he just came
right out and said it. (Laughter.) He said,
“Listen, if I were able to run again, I would have
beaten Donald Trump.” Why do you think the
President made that point? What was behind his
decision to make a comment like that? Mr. Earnest: Because his
point was — if you go back and look at the
interview, he was making the point that the message
that he delivered in his 2008 campaign and in his
2012 campaign is one that deeply resonated with the
American people and got him — allowed him to
build a strong coalition all across the country,
that allowed him to be elected in 2008 and
reelected in 2012 with strong majorities not just
of the electoral college, but actually a majority
of the voting population. And President Obama is
the first President to be elected and reelected with
more than 51 percent of the vote since Eisenhower. And that’s an indication
of how much strong support there is all across
the country for the President’s message. And the President
believes, after eight years, that he’s stayed
true to that message, that he’s campaigning on the
same set of values and on the same set of — message
that appeals to the idea that everybody in America
should have an opportunity to succeed and that people
shouldn’t be — The Press: — that message in North
Carolina; he was out very forcefully. They saw that message in
Michigan; he was out very forcefully. And neither state went
for the Democrat in that particular circumstance. Mr. Earnest: That’s true. But I think what we’ve
found — and this was true in 2010 and to a lesser
extent in 2014, but still in 2014 — that when the
President wasn’t on the ballot that he didn’t have
as much success as he would have liked in making
that same argument in support of other
candidates. And I think there are a
lot of theories as to why that is, but that’s
undeniably true. The Press: Would the
President like to debate Donald Trump? (Laughter.) Mr. Earnest: No, he would not. April. The Press: Josh, the
President is going to be — when it comes to ACA
and the contributions it’s given to millions of
people — and you’ve already cited some of
the positive points. But because this is
so important for the President in the waning
days to lean in like this, can you get into the
conversations that President Obama has had
with Donald Trump in the lead-up to tomorrow? Can you talk to us about
what he said about ACA on the phone? Mr. Earnest: I can’t. I’ve worked hard to try to
protect the ability of the President of the United
States to have private conversations with
the President-elect. And when some of the fact
of those calls has spilled into the public, we’ve
done our best to try to confirm and explain to
you the context of those conversations. But for the substance of
the calls, I’m going to protect their ability
to have those calls in private. The Press: The President
here, the last day before he went on vacation, did
say when he talks to Donald Trump, he explains
the benefits of some issues. Was he talking about
ACA as one of those conversations and the
benefits that he was talking about? Mr. Earnest: I wouldn’t
be surprised if the Affordable Care Act
was among those. The Press: So when he says
“benefits,” does he tout the things that
we already know? Or does he go into the
weeds about things and talk about more that we —
things that the average person doesn’t know
and how it works? What makes it work? What would be a problem
if it’s taken away? What does he say when he
talks about the benefits to Donald Trump
about that? Mr. Earnest: Well, again,
I’m just not going to get into the context of their
— to the substance of the conversations that
they’re having. The Press: The President
did allude to that, so he didn’t — he didn’t allude
to it, he did tell us that from this podium. Mr. Earnest: Okay. The Press: Okay. So lastly, with everything
going on now, the back-and-forth between the
President-elect and the sitting President of the
United States in the waning days of this
President’s presidency, is there a possibility, a
strong possibility that there will be a final
press conference from President Obama before
he leaves office? Mr. Earnest: I don’t
have any scheduling announcements at this
point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if something
like that happened. We’ll keep you posted. The Press: Is it to
protect — would it be to protect his legacy more
so, or to put a final note to America? Mr. Earnest: We’ll wait
until we have something to announce before we describe why we announced it. (Laughter.) Jordan. The Press: Thanks, Josh. While the President was in
Hawaii, it was reported that the Obama
administration is — well, it informed Congress that
it could transfer up to 19 prisoners from Guantanamo
Bay before the President leaves office. Are you able to
confirm those reports? Mr. Earnest: I’m not in
a position to confirm individual notifications
to Congress. As you know, Jordan, the
statute does require that when the administration
is prepared to transfer a detainee from the prison
at Guantanamo Bay to another country in the
context of security requirements that would
limit their ability to pose a threat to the
United States, the administration is required
to give Congress 30 days’ notice before completing
that transfer. So this is part of our
routine effort that we’ve undertaken over the last
several years to reduce the population of the
prison at Guantanamo Bay. But I can’t speak to any
individual notifications that have been made to
Congress or give you a specific preview about potential upcoming transfers. But I think I would expect
at this point additional transfers to be announced
before January 20th. The Press: On that note,
Donald Trump tweeted today that there should be no further releases from Guantanamo. Is his attitude on that
issue going to factor into the administration’s
decisions at all on transfers in
the final day? Mr. Earnest:
No, it will not. He’ll have an opportunity
to implement the policy that he believes is most
effective when he takes office on January 20th. Ron. The Press: On the Russia
hacking, you’ve heard some of the statements from the
President-elect that are skeptical of the
intelligence assessments. Has there been any
conversation between members of this
administration and the incoming administration
about the skepticism, about the intelligence
about Russia being behind this hack? Mr. Earnest: I can’t
speak to any specific conversations, but I’m
confident in the context of the transition
and getting the President-elect’s team up
to speed on a range of important national
security issues that we’re currently dealing
with here. I’m confident that
officials in the administration, including
at the White House, have represented to the
transition team full confidence in the
assessment in conclusions that have been announced by the intelligence community. The Press: So what
do you think of the President-elect’s
statements that he knows things that others don’t
know and that he still is not convinced that the
Russians are behind this? Mr. Earnest: I’m glad that
it’s somebody else’s job to explain exactly
what he meant. (Laughter.) The Press: Because you — Mr. Earnest: Because
I don’t know. So presumably, somebody
who has an opportunity to speak to him directly can
try to explain to those of us in the public who
weren’t quite sure what he’s referring to. The Press: But this is a
serious thing, though, because this was a matter
of national security that — Mr. Earnest: Yes,
I — The Press: — the sanctions were levied
and these diplomats were expelled. This was a big, big deal. How concerned is the
President or the administration about the
President-elect’s attitude that he knows more or
something different and that he’s still
not convinced? Mr. Earnest: Well, in the
context of the campaign we had ample opportunity to
— The Press: This is the real thing — this
is not the campaign. Mr. Earnest: The campaign
is over, that’s right. The campaign is over. And now we are in a
position where our responsibility is, as
public servants in the Obama administration, to
do as much as we possibly can to help the
President-elect’s team get up to speed and understand
the complexity and depth of the range of issues,
both domestic and national security, that they’re
going to be tasked with managing, starting
just 16 days from now. The Press: Bottom line,
you can’t explain why there’s this difference of
opinion here in terms of — Mr. Earnest: The bottom
line, there’s a reason that the President-elect
has his own spokesperson, and there will be somebody
else standing behind this podium when he
takes office. The Press: When you were
talking about the review that’s underway on cyber
issues, I think you said that in terms of proof or
evidence that there may or may not be a public
release of what we would consider proof or
evidence of the claims. Is that true? Mr. Earnest: There are a
couple of things on this. Isaac was asking me about
some of the claims that were apparently made in
an interview about how or whether or to what extent
WikiLeaks may have been involved in this effort. And I was trying to answer
his question by saying that it’s possible, though
I don’t know, but it’s possible that additional
information that would be helpful in understanding
what WikiLeaks’s role in all of this could be
included in that report. I don’t know whether
it will be or not. The Press: But as to the
role that the Russians played in the — the
intelligence agencies in Russia and so forth. Mr. Earnest: That’s a
definitive conclusion that’s been reached —
that was announced, actually, before
the election. Some of the information
that was included in the Joint Analysis Report that
was released by the FBI and DHS last week included
technical information about the tactics and
technology and software that was used by the
Russians to carry out these actions and other
actions like them. I think that’s — its
technical, but I think it’s pretty solid evidence
of Russian involvement in this matter. The Press: So you don’t —
the administration doesn’t feel a need to
present more proof? Mr. Earnest: No. The administration feels
a responsibility to communicate as directly
and as clearly as possible with the American public
to help them understand what the U.S. government knows about
Russian efforts to undermine our system
of government. And we’ve already
done that. We did that before the
election, and I would anticipate that that
report that the intelligence community
is working on would also further that goal. The Press: And on meetings
on Hill about the Affordable Care Act, is
that the only issue on the agenda? Or is there anything else
that the President wants to communicate to these
incoming members of Congress about his
concerns, his priorities, his hopes and fears? Mr. Earnest: Protecting
the Affordable Care Act is the primary topic
on the agenda. I wouldn’t rule out that
other things may come up. And if they do, we’ll do
our best to give you a readout. The Press: What
else is there? I guess I’m just trying to
get a sense of — 17 and a half days or whatever is
left — what else is there that the President is
really trying to — Mr. Earnest: Well, we
obviously touched on a couple of them. We talked about the
Affordable Care Act, and there isn’t just the need
to try to protect the Affordable Care Act
from being destroyed by Republicans; there’s also
a need to make sure that we’re doing everything we
can to make it possible for people to sign up for
the Affordable Care Act. And we’ve actually seen
people signing people up at a record clip. Despite all this negative
publicity and despite some of the uncertainty that
Republicans are injecting into this process, we’re
actually seeing a record number of people signing
up for the Affordable Care Act that are at
a record rate. So that’s a positive step. And we certainly — that
didn’t happen by accident. And we certainly want to
make sure we’re doing what’s necessary to
facilitate those signups. Obviously following
through on the business with Russia in terms of
implementing the steps that were announced last
week ad also putting forward this report before
January 20th are steps that we’re focused on. You can certainly always
expect the President to be very focused on the
counter-ISIL campaign. And the President will
continue to meet with his national security team. I wouldn’t be surprised
if that’s something that members of Congress
may be interested in. And of course, we’re
focused on a smooth and effective transition. And that means trying to
pay attention to all the little details that may
not rise to the level of an interaction like this,
but are still critical to a seamless handoff of
governing responsibility from one administration
to the next. And that requires the time
and attention of a lot of people inside the
administration, including the President of
the United States. The Press: How is
all that going? Mr. Earnest: So far
it’s going well. The Press: We’ve heard
mixed messages about it. Mr. Earnest: Well, I’ve
heard mixed messages about this from the other side. But this administration
has remained focused on the effective —
facilitating the effective transition that President
Obama promised at the beginning of last year. And we’ve made good on that promise so far. Mark. The Press: Josh, now that
the new Congress has been convened, does President
Obama have any intention of making any nominations
or resubmitting any old nominations to
the new Congress? Mr. Earnest: Nothing that
I have to preview here. But if we have — if we’re
going to re-nominate some people, we’ll make sure
and let you know publicly that we’ve done such. The Press: Should we
assume the Garland nomination has now lapsed? Mr. Earnest: Well, I think
the President acknowledged at a Hanukkah event that
Chief Judge Garland attended last year that
President Obama expects Chief Judge Garland to
continue to serve the American people with
distinction on the United States Circuit
Court of Appeals. The fact that he was not
given the opportunity to explain to the Senate and
to the American people why he would have served the
country honorably and with distinction on the United
States Supreme Court is a scar on the reputation of
the United States Senate. It is a part of the legacy
of Republican leadership in Congress from the
last several years. And I don’t mean
that as a compliment. And I think that for years
the United States Senate will be dealing with the
fallout of the decision that they made to so
egregiously subject Chief Judge Garland to such
unfair treatment. Republicans themselves
have praised Chief Judge Garland. Republicans have described
him a consensus nominee. Republicans have praised
his service to this country — both as a judge
but also as a federal prosecutor, and a senior
official at the Department of Justice who led
the investigation and prosecution of one of
the worst terrorists in American history. Merrick Garland
is a patriot. And he deserved far better
treatment than he received from Republicans in the
United States Senate. But because he’s the
bigger man, he’s going to continue to serve this
country with honor and distinction at the United
States Circuit Court of Appeals. And the President is quite
proud that he’ll do that. The Press: What do
you mean by fallout? Mr. Earnest: Well, I
mean that there will be difficulty in the Senate
not just in the Trump presidency, but for
future Presidents as they navigate the process of
nominating judges to the federal bench. What sort of credibility
do Republicans have in making the case to
Democrats that they should fairly consider the
nominations of a Republican judge — of
a Republican President? Republican senators
blocked an eminently qualified Supreme
Court nominee whose qualifications were not in
question simply because he was nominated by a
Democratic President. How then can Republicans
go to Democratic senators and say that they should
support nominees put forward by a
Republican President? They have no standing
in which to do that. Now, will Democrats do the
right thing and fulfill their constitutional
obligations? I think they
probably will. But they won’t be doing it
because Republicans have any semblance of moral
high ground or any sort of moral leverage or any
moral weight to their claim that that’s what Democratic senators should do. And I think that that
breakdown of comity in the United States Senate, that
abdication of the basic responsibility of members
of the United States by subjecting it to such
intense partisanship and actually allowing
partisanship to supersede constitutional obligation,
it’s discouraging. And it’s a precedent that
I think Republicans will regret setting. The Press: Also, can you
tell us what President Obama’s thinking is in
going to Chicago next week for the farewell address? I went back and checked. All the farewell addresses
back to Eisenhower were delivered here at
the White House. Why does President Obama
want to go out of town? Mr. Earnest: Well,
President Obama is going to go back to his
hometown, go back to the place where he began his
career in public service — a community, a city
that was so supportive of him throughout his career
in public service. And there is a unique
story to President Obama’s public service having
started out as a community organizer and somebody
whose first job in public service wasn’t in
politics, per Senate — at least it didn’t involve
running for office — but was actually focused on
trying to help people in the economically
disadvantaged communities advocate for themselves. And that commitment to
fighting for working people is something that
has motivated President Obama from his earliest
days as a community organizer to his last days as President of the United States. And so it’s a fitting
bookend that he would go back to that city where he
got his start to make a speech like this. The Press: Will that be
his last out-of-town trip? Mr. Earnest: Yes, I would
anticipate that it will be his last out-of-town trip as President of the United States. The Press: Thank you. Mr. Earnest: Alexis. The Press: Josh, to follow
up on the list that you were giving to Ron, is the
President going to — how would he describe to
Democrats that he speaks to this week and also to
the beneficiaries of DACA what to expect, what they
should plan on, what they should anticipate
after the 20th? Because some Democrats
have urged the President to act in a unique kind of
way before he leaves to extend the benefits or to
maintain the benefits of DACA? Mr. Earnest: Well, I’m
not aware of any specific announcements that you
should expect from the President on this
particular issue. Of course, there is a
longstanding precedent in the U.S. government for the way
that information like this is maintained. There’s a commitment that
was made to people who came forward to apply
for deferred action — DREAMers. These are individuals who
came to the United States as children, were brought
to the United States as children and are here
through no fault of their own. And the United States is
the only country they’ve ever known. And many of these are
young people who have graduated from high
school, gone on to college, served on our
military, have otherwise shown themselves to be
quality additions to the country and to communities
across the country. And so the President’s
view is that these individuals are American
in every way but their papers, and that the
limited enforcement resources of the United
States’ government are better focused on people
who are in the United States illegally and have
criminal records, or only recently crossed
the border. Those are the kinds of
people that are worthy of aggressive
enforcement action. And that is exactly the
kind of policy that this administration
has pursued. It’s made our
country safer. It’s made our
country fairer. And I know at least at one
point, the President-elect indicated that he thought that was a pretty smart approach. But when it comes to what
he will do after January 20th, even the current
President of the United States is not sure
exactly what the incoming President may
decide to do. The Press: The other thing
I wanted to ask you is a small detail for
January 20th. So is there any change to
the normal protocol or customary protocol
where we expect the President-elect, the Vice
President-elect to come for coffee at the White
House and to ride together with the outgoing President to the swearing-in? Mr. Earnest: I haven’t
seen the schedule for January 20th. But obviously as that date
gets closer, we’ll be able to walk you through all
the minute details of that day that symbolize
the kind of peaceful transition, the peaceful
transfer of power that is a hallmark of American
democracy and it critical to the strength and
success of our country. The Press: But you can’t
confirm today that President Obama and
Mrs. Obama extend an invitation to the Trumps
to come for coffee before they go up to
the swearing-in? Mr. Earnest: At this
point, I would expect that as we have over the last
couple of months, we will observe the kinds of
traditions and steps that have ensured a smooth and
effective transition. That’s what we’ve been
doing for the last two months. I would expect that
continue on the last day. But when it comes to the
actual details of the schedule, we’ll have more
to say about that as the day gets closer. Francesca. The Press:
Thank you, Josh. On Ford, you had said that
it didn’t seem like there were any political
considerations for the decision that was made
today, or at least that you hadn’t seen anything
— Mr. Earnest: I think what I said is that Ford
had indicated that their decision was not
affected by politics. The Press: Okay, sure. But the CEO of Ford did
say that he was encouraged by the pro-growth policies
of President-elect Trump and the new Congress. And that certainly sounds
like it’s a political consideration or at least
a calculation that it would be better to build
more cars in the United States under the incoming
President than under the current President. Mr. Earnest: My guess
is you should ask that question to the Ford CEO. But I don’t think that he
would want his comments to be interpreted that way. But you should ask somebody who has spoken to him. The Press: A couple more
on a different subject. Mr. Earnest: Sure. The Press: You seemed a
little bit feistier today in response to some
of the things that the President-elect has said,
or else you’re just happy to see us — Mr. Earnest:
Maybe it’s because I shaved that holiday beard
this morning, so I’m feeling a little — The
Press: That’s possibly could be it. (Laughter.) And again, perhaps it’s just you’re happy to be back here. But it does seem like
during the two-week break between when we were last
here and now, that the détente between the old
administration and the new administration has
somehow been broken. You had President-elect
Trump talking about roadblocks that this
administration was putting out, and you directly
challenging him today when it comes to ethics, when
it comes to Ford with trade, that sort of thing. Is there a
reason for that? Is it that the clock
is ticking down on the administration? Do you not see
it that way? Mr. Earnest: I don’t
see it that way. I think that — what I
have done since the day after the election when I
stood at this podium for almost two hours answering
your questions is I’ve made clear that the
vigorous, deeply held, passionate differences of
opinion that we have on a range of issues from
policy to basic American values, there
are differences. And they’re profound. But there’s also a
profound responsibility that all of us who serve
in this administration, including the President,
has to ensure a smooth and effective transition. That doesn’t mean that
we’re prepared to go along with everything that the
incoming administration says, but it certainly
does mean that we have a responsibility to give the
incoming President every opportunity to get a
running start on the job. And that’s something that
President Obama has taken to heart in his Oval
Office meeting and the handful of conversations
that they’ve had on the telephone since then. And there have been a
number of meetings all across the federal
government that demonstrate our ongoing
commitment to ensuring a smooth and effective
transition. It doesn’t mean those
differences went away. And the fact that those
differences exist don’t mean that the transition
has hit a rough spot. It means that these are
deeply held views of the Obama administration, and
they differ sharply with the President-elect. But the President-elect campaigned on doing things differently. He campaigned on taking a
different approach, and he won an election against a
candidate who was pursuing a strategy that was more
similar to what President Obama has pursued. Now, the President-elect
didn’t get more votes, but he did win the election. And since day one, this
administration has been focused on ensuring a smooth and effective transition. And we’ve made good
on that promise. And the fact that we have
differences of opinion is not evidence that the transition is breaking down. It’s evidence that
we’ve got well-known differences, but we’re not
letting them get in the way of a smooth and
effective transition. The Press: And on that
note, could you tell us a little bit more about the
tone that the President will take in that speech
next week, what some of the themes maybe he’d hit
upon would be, and whether or not his family will go
with him on that trip? Mr. Earnest: We’ll have
more on the speech before the end of this week. I know that the speech is still going through some drafts. Rather than preview it
now, let me get it a little bit farther down the process of being written. But I’ll come back to you
with something before the end of the week. The Press: How
many drafts? Mr. Earnest: We’ll keep you posted. George. The Press: I’ve got to ask
you a quick follow on your nostalgic journey
back to Decorah. Mr. Earnest: Yes. The Press: What happened to those two young organizers? Did they end up in the Cabinet? Ambassadors? How did you reward them? (Laughter.) Mr. Earnest: know one of them worked at the White House. And I’m not sure what
happened to the other one. The Press: You didn’t
reward the other one. (Laughter.) Mr. Earnest: Both of them have gone on to do quite
well, I’m sure. But there are at least a
couple of other people that I first met in that
Iowa, Des Moines — at Des Moines, Iowa campaign
headquarters that are still working at the
White House today. So I’m not the only one
who is still around. Chris, I’ll give
you the last one. The Press: Great. Over the weekend, Judge
Reed O’Connor issued a nationwide injunction
against the Obama administration
interpretation of the Affordable Care Act to
prohibit discrimination against transgender people
and women who have had abortions. Does it make sense for the
administration to fight that decision in the 17
days that remain before Trump takes office? Mr. Earnest: Well,
I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for
the legal strategy that we’ll pursue. But obviously the
administration believes deeply that all Americans
regardless of their sex, gender identity, or sexual
orientation should have access to quality
affordable health care free from any sort
of discrimination. That’s not just a
principle and a value that the administration
believes strongly in. I’m confident that the
vast majority of Americans believe strongly in that
principle, as well. Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you tomorrow

Stephen Childs

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