White House Press Briefing by Josh Earnest, April 14, 2016

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 14, 2016 – 1:05 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Before we get started, I’ve got a couple of pieces of news I wanted to go through just to bring to your attention.

The first is — and this may be something that you’ve already seen — earlier today, there was an announcement from Ambassador Froman over at the Office of the United States Trade Representative.  He was joined by a handful of members of Congress from across the country.  And they announced that the United States has won an agreement on a WTO complaint that we filed against China for a wide-ranging subsidy program that they had created to unfairly pump up their exports into the world market, including into the United States.

This unfair subsidy program was designed to prop up industries in China that are in direct competition with American workers and American businesses.  It’s a pretty wide range of industries that were affected — everything from textiles to clothing to advanced materials, metals, as well as some other industrial categories like medical products and specialty chemicals.  So the victory that the United States secured will help level the playing field for everyone — for medical device makers in California to textile workers in North Carolina to those in the shrimp industry along the Gulf Coast.

This is just another example of the administration holding our trading partners’ feet to the fire.  In fact, since 2009, the Obama administration has brought 20 enforcement cases at the World Trade Organization.  That’s more than any other member country.  And that includes 11 against China.  That is significantly more than the prior administration.  And of the cases that have been decided by the WTO, we’ve won them all.  We’re undefeated.  And it is an example of how committed this administration is to ensuring that we’re fighting in the international community for American businesses and American workers.

And so I wanted to bring that announcement to your attention.  There’s one other short presentation that I wanted to do before I got to your questions, and it includes a couple of visual aids.  For those of you who are planning at home — Monday is Tax Day.  It’s the deadline for filing your taxes.  And it is a convenient time to review this administration’s record when it comes to tax policy.

Many of you will recall that back in 2007, when then-Senator Obama was running for President, he talked extensively about how our country’s tax policy was skewed toward the top 1 percent.  He was concerned that it was skewed in a direction that was not favorable to the middle class.  And those of you who have been covering us for the last seven years are familiar with the President’s strategy that our economy is strongest when we’re growing it from the middle out.  And that is the case that the President made to making some reforms to our tax system.

So let’s go to the first slide.  When the President took office, obviously our country was facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  And as a part of the Recovery Act, the average middle-class family, the typical middle-class family enjoyed tax cuts totaling $3,600 over the first four years.  That included the expansion of some tax credits, things like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit that makes college education a little bit more affordable.

Last year, in the budget agreement, we succeeded in making many of those tax credits permanent, and that’s why we can say that about 24 million middle-class families and those families that are working to get into the middle class enjoy an average of a thousand dollars tax break as a result of this administration‘s policies.

So we do that because we believe that’s fair.  These are a set of incentives that we believe are good for the economy and good for middle-class families, and they are entirely consistent with our strategy to grow the economy from the middle class out.
The second slide is one that may serve as a source of disappointment to many of our critics.  This slide illustrates the median tax rate that is paid — or the tax rate that is paid by the median taxpaying family in the United States.  So, essentially, this is the average tax rate that’s paid by middle-class families in the United States.  You’ll see that this tax rate is lower under President Obama’s leadership than any President dating back to President Eisenhower.  Again, this is consistent with the strategy that the President laid out as a candidate for President.  We’re focused on keeping taxes for the middle class low and looking for opportunities to lower them when they present themselves.  That’s exactly what we’ve done.  And part of the budget agreement from 2012 actually did succeed in locking in on a permanent basis for the middle class.  And the President is proud of that record, and that’s had an impact on the tax rate that is paid by the median family here in the United States.

Many of you will note, if you’re looking closely at the numbers — and we can pass these out, for those of you who are, unfortunately, on the wrong side of the podium here — that the average tax rate, or the tax rate that is paid by the median family in the United States today is paying about half the tax rate that the median family paid under President Reagan.  So that I think is an indication of the President’s priorities of focusing on the middle class really showing through here.

The last slide is another part of the President’s promise.  This is an illustration of how tax rates have gone up for those at the top of income scale.  The President often has talked about how important it is for those at the top to pay their fair share. And part of the budget agreement that I referenced that was enacted over the course of the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 — many of you will recall that holiday season — we permanently increased taxes on those at the top.  And this is an illustration of the impact that that has had over the course of President Obama tenure in office.

So this is indicative of the strategy that the President has laid out for not just for our tax policy, for our economy.  I think the results speak for themselves, both in terms of the impact that they have on taxes but also for the impact that they have had on our economy.

To date, as we have talked about many times here, the U.S. economy has created jobs for 73 consecutive months.  That’s about 14.4 million private sector jobs.  This, of course, IS the longest consecutive streak on record.  And just today we got an interesting piece of news as well.  We typically refrain from talking about any specific weekly report related to job claims.  These are individuals who have filed for unemployment.  This week that number is lower than it has been at any time since 1973.  These are weekly numbers, so there’s some volatility to it.  But I think it is a good illustration of the continuing and enduring strength of the U.S. economy and the U.S. job market.  And all of that was — has taken place at the same time that the President has reformed our tax system in a way that has benefitted middle-class families and asked those at the top to pay more of their fair share.

So with Tax Day right around the corner, it seemed like a convenient time to bring all that information to your attention.  We can get you these slides electronically for your use as you’re working on stories over the weekend preparing for Tax Day.

So with all of that, we can now go to your questions.  Kevin, do you want to start?

Q    Thank you, Josh.  So some of the swing-state Republican senators that Judge Garland met with today and yesterday say they are unmoved after their meeting.  So you appear to have met with your target audience or most of your target audience, And those folks haven’t changed their position at all.  I wanted to ask, so where does that leave this nomination?  Are you at a dead end now after these meetings?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, some of them did change their position in agreeing to meet with Judge Garland in the first place.  So that is an indication that the kind of pressure that Republicans are facing for not doing their job is forcing them in the direction of doing more of their job, at least.  But ultimately, I do think we are in a place where Republicans have to decide how they’re going to answer the question about why their constituents can’t hear from Judge Garland.

Many of these Republicans have suggested that they believe that their constituents should have a voice in the process.  Frankly, we agree.  So let’s — don’t just meet with Chief Judge Garland in private.  You’ve had the opportunity to visit with him in private.  You’ve had an opportunity to ask him tough questions.  Why not do it in public?  Chief Judge Garland certainly isn’t scared of that prospect.  I don’t understand why Republican senators would be either.

And the thing that we have seen from Republicans that I do think is a reflection of the increasing pressure that they’re facing isn’t just true of Republicans who are in so-called swing states; it’s also true of Republicans who are in conservative red states.

Just yesterday, we saw Idaho Senator Jim Risch come out and say that “The Supreme Court is very, very political, just like Congress.”  Well, the truth is, our Founding Fathers intended a justice system that insulated the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary from day-to-day politics.  That’s part of why they envisioned lifetime appointments for judges, so that they wouldn’t have to run for reelection and that they wouldn’t face political pressure so intensely.  That would allow them to focus on their job of interpreting the law.

Now, the truth is that even though they’re shorthanded, the United States Supreme Court has tried to move forward and do their job, even in the aftermath of the untimely death of Justice Scalia.  But I guess that’s where the Supreme Court is not just like the Congress — because we have seen the Supreme Court try to move forward and do their job; the Congress hasn’t.  And, frankly, I think that is where those two institutions diverge pretty dramatically.

And President Reagan made a pretty forceful case about how important it was for the Supreme Court to operate with the full complement of justices.  Given the significant issues before the Court over the course of the next year, we believe that that’s something that the justices of the Supreme Court should have this time, too.

Q    With these senators saying that we need to wait until the voters have had their say, it would appear we’re not going to have a confirmation vote.  Would you acknowledge that at this s

MR. EARNEST:  I would not acknowledge that at this stage.  Look, Senator McConnell issued a statement shortly after Justice Scalia’s death saying that the President should not put forward a nominee because the United States Senate wouldn’t consider that person at all.  And President Obama, however, has insisted upon fulfilling his constitutional duty.

So even though many Republicans didn’t want to have conversations with him, the President moved forward and insisted on seeking the advice and consent of members of Congress as he tried to decide who he should put forward for his Supreme Court nominee to fill this vacancy.

The President ended up choosing someone that even Republicans described as a consensus nominee.  And the President is serious about holding the Senate accountable.  And we’ve seen a number of Democrats come forward — they’ve held meetings with Chief Judge Garland.  They’ve come to the same kind of assessment that he is somebody who is prepared to serve his country with honor and distinction on the Supreme Court.  He is, after all, somebody who has more federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in history.  And we believe that that’s part of why he should be confirmed.

And we’re going to continue to make that strong case.  And Republicans are in a tough spot.  Many Republicans started out saying that they wouldn’t meet with him in private; they’ve since had to reverse position and meet with him.  And when asked, the best that they can come up with is that the reason that they’re not doing their job is because Senator McConnell told them not to.

And I just don’t think that’s a justification that’s going to fly with many voters across the country.  And I think that’s even true in ruby-red states like Idaho.  The people of Idaho I think, when they elected their senator, they expected him to do their job.  When they see that their senator is collecting a six-figure annual paycheck, they expect their senator to do their job.  And right now, Senator Risch and his colleagues in the Senate Republican Conference aren’t.

Q    Okay.  Turning quickly to Russia, the Defense Ministry rejected complaints from the U.S. about planes flying so close to a Navy destroyer in the Baltic.  Is this a case where the U.S. and Russia will just agree to disagree?  Or can the U.S. actually effect change in Russia’s behavior?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me answer that question two ways.  The first is that, obviously, the incident is inconsistent with the professional norms of militaries that are operating in proximity to each other in international waters and air space.  In fact, there is a bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia that dates back to the Cold War that governs incidents exactly like this.  This is what’s often referred to as the INCSEA Treaty.  It’s the bilateral agreement on the prevention of incidents on and over the high seas.

This was agreed to back in 1972.  There are annual meetings to review the terms of the agreement and each country’s compliance with the agreement.  But there is one specific passage that refers to incidents just like this.  I’ll just read part of it:  “Commanders of aircraft of the parties shall use the greatest caution and prudence in approaching aircraft and ships of the other party operating on and over the high seas, in particular ships engaged in launching or landing aircraft, and, in the interest of mutual safety, shall not permit simulated attacks by the simulated use of weapons against aircraft and ships, or performance of various aerobatics over ships, or dropping various objects near them in such a manner as to be hazardous to ships or to constitute a hazard to navigation.”

So this specific incident is pretty specifically contemplated by this agreement.  The United States has raised our concerns with the Russians.  Fortunately, there’s a well-established process for doing so.  It’s not at all uncommon for Russian military aircraft to engage in acts like this.  So we typically would raise concerns about this through the military defense attaché at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

I can tell you that that communication has occurred.  And we’ll seek to resolve our differences through a well-established military channel.

Jeff.

Q    Josh, the China trade announcement that you mentioned at the top of the briefing, do you expect that to change or aid your efforts to get support for TPP in Congress?  And do you expect it more broadly to affect the conversation about trade on Capitol Hill and on the campaign trail?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can’t speak to those who are still making up their mind about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  I think for both supporters and those who may be skeptical of the agreement, this should serve as a useful illustration of the priority that the administration places on enforcing trade agreements and enforcing trade rules in a way that benefits U.S. businesses, U.S. workers, and the U.S. economy.

Our record on this, as I alluded to, is quite strong, both in terms of the U.S. being aggressive about pursuing cases.  We have raised these cases frequently, more than any other country. And so far, we’re undefeated when it comes to cases that have actually been decided by the WTO.  There are several that are still pending.  So that’s an indication that this administration’s track record on looking out for U.S. businesses and U.S. workers is pretty good.  It’s quite good, in fact.  And I think that should give confidence to those who are considering how the TPP was negotiated, and can have confidence that it was negotiated by individuals who know how to protect U.S. interests in the international economy.

Q    Aside from your, no doubt, position that the U.S. was just right on this, can you offer any insight as to why China changed its mind and decided not to fight this?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I would do is I’d refer you to USTR to talk a little bit more about this particular agreement.  As you point out, this is actually China agreeing to settle this case that we had brought to the WTO.  But I don’t have any details about what may have motivated China.  Presumably, it had something to do with the strength of our case.

Q    And on one other topic, the Ukrainian parliament has approved a new prime minister.  What are the prospects now, do you think, for fighting corruption there with this leader?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that they’re working to form the full government.  And obviously the United States is committed to supporting our partners in Ukraine as they endure a difficult situation.  Right now, they’re facing some significant economic and fiscal challenges, some of which are being exacerbated by the security challenges that they’re facing from Russia, who has repeatedly violated their territorial integrity.  So they’re going through a difficult time, and they have relied on the United States and other international institutions to support them.

And what we have said is that there are critically important reforms that include reforms related to fighting corruption that are going to be critical to Ukraine’s longer-term success.  And we’re going to continue to encourage Ukraine to implement those reforms and to stay — to remain conscientious in doing so and following through on them, because it will be critical to their longer-term ability to stabilize and strengthen their economy and prepare them to better weather the kind of interference that they’re receiving from the Russians.

Q    And what’s your take on the new prime minister?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I wouldn’t want to render judgment on this individual until the entire cabinet has been appointed here.
But obviously we’re going to stay in touch with the Ukrainian government, and we’re still committed to supporting them through these challenging times.

Mary.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Two years ago today, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 Nigerian school girls; only 57 of them managed to escape.  Are we any closer to finding those remaining girls?  And how hopeful are you that they can be recovered at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Mary, it is a sad anniversary.  And this is an incident — a tragedy — that captured that attention of the world.  Unfortunately, it’s not the only kidnapping incident that we’ve seen Boko Haram perpetrate in Nigeria.  The United States continues to strongly support Nigerian efforts to bring about the safe recovery of all of those who have been kidnapped.  We have provided a range of assistance to Nigerian authorities as they’ve sought to rescue those who have been kidnapped.  That assistance includes significant intelligence resources and capabilities that we can offer them.  The United States also has provided training and strategic advice to the Nigerian authorities who are conducting the search.

We’ve also played an important role in offering support to victims.  One of the challenges that Nigeria has faced is once individuals are actually rescued after having been kidnapped from Boko Haram, how do you treat their psychological needs — obviously, they’ve been through an unthinkable situation — and how do you help them reenter everyday society and begin to get back on their feet again?  That would be a daunting challenge even in the United States, let alone a country like Nigeria that is under significant threat from extremists inside their borders.

So there are a variety of ways that we have offered assistance, both to the Nigerian government and to the Nigerian people.  And we will stand with them as they counter this extremist threat.

Q    And are you seeing any signs that all of this assistance is making any real dent in the fight against this group?  I mean, they’re one of the deadliest terror groups in the world.  Are you confident that all of this assistance is really helping to tackle this?

MR. EARNEST:  We do feel as if the Nigerian authorities have made progress, both in terms of countering Boko Haram — there are kidnap victims that have been rescued — but the threat still remains.  And it is quite serious.  And it’s why the United States continues to be committed to supporting them as they counter that threat.

Q    And one question on Zika funding.  Hal Rogers and other appropriators still feel they want more specifics on the administration’s Zika funding request.  You’ve made clear that you feel that Congress has a responsibility to act here, but does the administration also have a responsibility to answer some of their remaining questions, to meet them halfway?

MR. EARNEST:  Absolutely.  Look — exactly — the administration has put forward legislative language.  So it’s not as if it’s just some vague proposal.  There’s actually legislative text here that Congress can act on.  If they have their own suggestions for things that they would like to do differently, in some cases, they may be contradicting the advice of the foremost public health professionals in the United States, but we’re willing to entertain that conversation.  We’re willing to engage with Congress to see some sort of commitment to actually acting.

But look, this was presented to them almost exactly two months ago, and we still haven’t seen any legislative activity that includes the kind of funding that our public health experts say that we need.  You heard directly from leaders at both the CDC and the NIH stand at this podium earlier this week saying that they don’t have what they need right now in order to properly prepare and fully prepare for what could be a pretty serious situation later this summer.

And I think, look, at some point this summer, it’s going to happen.  This is going to be — this story, the Zika virus and its spread through mosquitoes and the risk that it poses to pregnant women, is going to be dominating the news.  This is going to be leading all your news broadcasts.  This is going to be on the front page of newspapers across the country.  And I don’t know what Republicans are going to say that they did to prepare for it.

We did have an opportunity to prepare for it.  We did have an opportunity to take steps in advance to protect the American people.  Typically, we don’t have that kind of opportunity.  Typically, it’s difficult to prepare for a coming tornado, or a terrorist attack, or a global pandemic of some kind.  In this situation — which is different than those, just to be clear — but it’s still a serious situation, and one for which it is possible for us to make preparation in advance to try to blunt the impact.

But Republicans have frittered away that opportunity for reasons I don’t think they can fully explain.

Q    But despite the legislative language, even with that legislative language that you’ve been holding up, they say they still have concerns.  Representatives Cole and Granger have sent letters to HHS and State Department that they say they still have not received responses to.  You will go ahead and answer their remaining questions, is what you’re saying?

MR. EARNEST:  The administration is certainly committed to engaging in a conversation with members of Congress — a good-faith conversation — to make sure that our public health professionals get the funding that they say that they need to protect the American people.

So I can’t speak to any individual letters that they may have sent, but look, there are pages and pages of legislative language that’s been presented in detail to members of Congress months ago to get them to act on Zika funding.  And we would welcome their constructive engagement to try to move this forward.  The clock is ticking.

Michelle.

Q    On the same subject — I mean, we heard the strong statements coming from the White House repeatedly, we heard some of the pushback from Appropriations and their response to it, with these questions.  So I mean, at the risk of this continuing to be an impasse, what is the White House’s plan for trying to lower that space that lies between?  Are you reaching out to members of Congress that are on the committee?  What’s your plan for trying to move this forward then?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, at this point, Michelle, I think the ball is in Congress’s court.  The administration has put together a carefully thought-out proposal.  We’ve consulted the foremost public health experts not just in the country, but in the world, to consider the kinds of steps that we need.  We’ve repeatedly consulted with state and local officials about what kind of assistance the federal government can and should provide to local communities who will be on the front lines of fighting this fight.

One critical part of our strategy must be trying to control the mosquito population.  It is local communities — typically local governments — who are responsible for spraying for mosquitos.  And if we want to enhance their ability to cover a broader geographic area, or to intensify their efforts around certain communities, and to be able to do so on short notice, then we need to provide them additional resources.  And that’s exactly what we’re suggesting that we should do.

I don’t understand how Republicans could quibble with that.  There’s nothing ideological about that.  And this is the other irony of this situation — we know that the situation is likely to be worse in states like Georgia and Florida and Mississippi and Alabama and Louisiana and Texas because they have a climate that’s more conducive to the spread of mosquitos.  Many of those states are represented in Congress by more Republicans than Democrats.  So there’s no reason this should be partisan.  There’s not even a reason that we should have a regional difference here.  This is just a matter of doing your job.  And this is another very good example of Republicans refusing to do so without a legitimate explanation.  And it’s one that people are not paying as much attention to right now, but I guarantee you that’s going to change.

Q    That’s exactly what I’m saying, though.  I mean, you stood up here and said it’s been months.  You seem to have zero confidence that anything will move on it.  So at this point, is the White House planning to do some reach-out?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there have been conversations, including at the presidential level, on this topic.  And I am actually hopeful that Congress will take seriously the need to act here.  Again, there’s no good explanation for them not to.  There’s not a political difference about a Zika diagnosis.  We have a pretty significant political difference over the Supreme Court, for example.

Now, it’s unfortunate that Republicans have reduced themselves to letting politics interfere so badly in the Supreme Court process.  Republicans have acknowledged that the reason that they’re not acting is because the Republican leader of the Senate told them not to, and because they don’t want to, as Senator Cornyn described, confirm another “Obama judge.”  That’s not what the Supreme Court has in mind.  I mean, that’s not what the Constitution has in mind for the Supreme Court.  And we can have that argument we have, and I don’t think Republicans are winning it.

But when it comes to Zika, there should be no reason for a political partisan difference here.  This is just a matter of governing.  And I do think Republicans are struggling to demonstrate to the American public that they can handle the responsibility of governing the country.

Q    And on the Nigerian girls, is the President aware of that video that came out this week showing them being interviewed by what appears to be a member of Boko Haram?

MR. EARNEST:  Obviously there’s been extensive news coverage of the video.  I don’t know that the President has been briefed on it specifically, but I would imagine that he is aware of it.

Q    And in some of the reporting that’s been done, it seems evident that there are conversations going on, negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram over the girls.  To what extent is the U.S. involved in that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is obviously — the effort to recover those who have been kidnapped in Nigeria is an effort that’s being led by the Nigerian government.  The role of the United States has been to support that effort, and there are a variety of ways that we can support it, including by sharing intelligence, offering military advice, and even offering some assistance to those who are recovering from the trauma of being kidnapped.  So there’s an important role for the United States to play, but this is an effort that is led by Nigerian authorities, as it should be.

Q    But what was the U.S.’s involvement from the beginning? What can you say about those negotiations?  Can you confirm that they are going on?  And at what state would you say they are right now?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a sense of where those negotiations stand right now.  I’d encourage you to consult with the Nigerian government about that.

Q    And speaking of partisan differences they were just talking about on Garland, because these meetings have been going on, and because it seems like no minds have been changed from where they originally were, can you really call that progress?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think minds have been changed as it relates to the notion of having private meetings.  Senator Toomey is a classic example.  He’s somebody who, at first, ruled out a private meeting with Chief Judge Garland and —

Q    But why does that matter?  Because if the ultimate end is that no minds are changed on the original stance —

MR. EARNEST:  I guess what I’m trying to illustrate is, his original stance was that he’s not going to do a meeting with Chief Judge Garland, and then he agreed to have a private meeting with Chief Judge Garland.  So if his mind changed on having a private meeting then the potential exists that his mind might change on other aspects of this argument that he and his Republican colleagues are struggling to make.

Again, they’re in a tough position.  Senator Toomey, in particular.  I just don’t think there are that many Pennsylvanians who are sympathetic to the argument that Senator Toomey shouldn’t do his job just because the Republican leader in the Senate said he shouldn’t.  I think the people of Pennsylvania expect that as long as their senator is cashing his paychecks that he should be doing his job and fulfilling his constitutional responsibilities.

And I think the other question that the people of Pennsylvania have for Senator Toomey is one that relates directly to why he felt the need to meet with Chief Judge Garland in private.  He walked out of that private meeting saying that he’s got concerns.  Well, why wouldn’t he give — if he’s got concerns, then it surely seems to me that the way he can get out of this political box that he’s in is to say, well, let’s have public hearings.  I’m going to raise my concerns in public with Chief Judge Garland, and if he’s so confident that people will agree with his concerns then why wouldn’t he want all that to be made public?

I would actually posit that’s precisely the reason that Republicans oppose having meetings, because Republicans don’t want to give Chief Judge Garland an opportunity to make his case in public about why he deserves a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.  The reason for that is I think that they know that he’ll make a good presentation and that he will be effective in making the case to the American public that he deserves this opportunity, or at least that he can fulfill the vacancy on the Supreme Court with honor and distinction.  And that’s what Republicans are up to.  And it’s unfortunate that they’ve allowed politics to intrude as much as they have.

Q    A couple of weeks ago, we heard from Denis McDonough saying that he is confident that he actually will be confirmed.  But with the time that has passed and what has been said on the subject, do you still feel that way?

MR. EARNEST:  I feel that way.  I absolutely feel that way.  And again —

Q    — that this is going to go through the process and that he will make it to the Supreme Court?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s exactly why we’re going through this exercise.  This is what the Founding Fathers envisioned.  This is the way the process has worked for every Supreme Court nominee, dating back to 1875.  Every time a President has put forward a nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court since 1875 that individual has received a hearing and/or a vote.  That’s what we would expect to occur this time.

And, look, Republicans are making a political argument for why that shouldn’t happen.  But the problem is the politics are not on their side.  The politics for them are tough, even among Republicans.  There’s ample polling data out there to indicate that Republican voters across the country don’t agree with the position that the Republican senators are taking.

And I think a lot of those voters view this in the same way that President Obama does, which is — you heard him make this case to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday over the weekend, where the President said that if Republicans follow through on this threat to refuse to do their job, to refuse to consider Chief Judge Garland’s nomination even though they describe him as a consensus nominee, what’s to stop Democrats who are in charge of the Senate when a Republican is in office from saying, well, we’re just going to wait four years to fill the vacancy.  There’s no material difference in that argument.  That would represent a breakdown of the process.

Q    Would they do that?  I mean, you’re saying that it seems like — that they would do that.

MR. EARNEST:  They would be justified in doing it based on what Republicans have done so far.  Hopefully, it won’t come to that.  Hopefully, Republicans will do what every Senate has done since 1875, which is give a hearing and/or a vote to every Supreme Court nominee that’s been put forward to fill a vacancy.

Q    So if you believe that this is going to happen and no minds have changed even after the private meeting with Garland, what do you think is going to happen between now and the time that he is confirmed?  Is it going to be public pressure?  I mean, what’s going to end up changing those minds, if you think that this will go through?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m loath to predict exactly what’s going to change Republican minds.  I think it’s hard to — because, frankly, it’s hard to know what they’re thinking.  They’re not making an argument that is getting them a lot of traction politically.  They’re not really enhancing anybody’s confidence in their ability to handle the basic function of governing the greatest country in the world.  And they’re setting up a scenario that could hamstring Republican Presidents in the future.

So it’s hard to know exactly what they’re thinking.  Right now, I think what we will do is we’re going to continue to make our case, and we’re going to continue to act as the Constitution has outlined.  And we’re going to continue to make the case that Chief Judge Garland should get what every Supreme Court nominee since 1875 has gotten, which is both a hearing and a vote.

I’ll say that the next step in this process would be following through on a questionnaire.  And I know this is something that came up at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today.  And I know this is something that Senator Grassley’s office has previously confirmed that they would expect to happen. So I would anticipate that that will likely be sort of the next milestone in this process.

Mark.

Q    Josh, can you offer any details of the contents of the defense attaché’s message to Russia?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know the details of that message.  I don’t know exactly how that information is transmitted.  What I do know, though, is that that is a routine channel of communication; that the defense attaché in Moscow is responsible for communicating with his counterparts there on a regular basis on a wide range of issues.

And it is not uncommon at all to use this channel to raise our concerns about this kind of conduct from the Russian military.  We’ve seen this kind of — these kinds of acts from Russian military pilots, for example, in the past.  This is the channel that we have used to convey our concerns.  So it is not at all extraordinary that we would be conveying our concerns about this incident through that particular channel.

Q    But the incidents themselves on Monday and Tuesday were not routine.  I notice in the video or photos like that of Russian aircraft buzzing a United States warship — by using the defense attaché channel, is it an effort to lower the heat of the incident, not going through a defense minister or foreign minister or head of state?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I do think that there’s little value in further escalating the situation.  What I understand to be true is that the incident that we saw is not routine, but certainly not unprecedented.  There have been a number of other reports that we’ve even discussed in here where Russian military pilots have operated in a manner that’s inconsistent with the generally accepted norms of international airspace and international waters.

So this is the most effective channel and the most commonly used channel for raising those concerns.

Q    Does the United States believe that Russia violated the Incidents at Sea agreement?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what is clear, based on the information that I read to you, is that the conduct of the Russian military pilots in this particular incident is inconsistent with that agreement.  And that’s why we would raise those concerns through our defense attaché.

Q    So no plans for the President to call President Putin?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly wouldn’t rule out presidential conversations, but at this point, if a phone call were to take place, it would not be a direct response to this particular incident.  The President consults with President Putin on a range of issues, including the ongoing situation in Ukraine. But we’ll obviously keep you posted if there are any presidential phone calls that are scheduled.

Q    Do you have any reaction from President Obama on the incident itself?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t spoken to him about it directly.

Q    On your list?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I’ll add it to my list.  (Laughter.)

Q    Follow on Mark with that?

MR. EARNEST:  Sure, Bill, go ahead.

Q    What would be the U.S. reaction if the Russians were to undertake a similar exercise in international waters but, say, near Alaska?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess it’s hard to contemplate exactly that hypothetical scenario.

Q    They’re right there.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, they’re right there, but —

Q    You can see them from backyards.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  I think I’ve heard that before.  Look, at this point, I wouldn’t get into the hypotheticals here.  I think that what occurred is inconsistent with our international agreements with Russia.  It is, unfortunately, not unprecedented, and — however, we do have an established channel for raising our concerns about this incident, and those concerns have been raised.  And I’m sure the message has been faithfully received by our Russian counterparts.

Ron.

Q    How unprecedented is it not?  In other parts of the world, in the Baltic, or —

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense for more incidents like this.  But it’s not uncommon for me to discuss even these kinds of incidents here at the podium.

So it certainly is inconsistent with our expectations about the way pilots should conduct themselves in international airspace and over international waters.  But it’s not unprecedented.

Q    And when objections have been raised, what’s the response been?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it varies by the situation.  And obviously, we’ve got an opportunity to raise it through this channel.  And there are annual meetings to discuss the INCSEA, this international agreement, and that would also be a venue for us to raise these kinds of concerns as well.

Q    One thing struck me about watching the video — the U.S. sailors don’t appear to take a defensive position of any sort.  They don’t seem to be moving towards weapons — did you notice that, and did that strike you as a — this is obviously — this is a serious incident, but it didn’t appear that they were trying to defend themselves in any way.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I wouldn’t speak to the standard procedure for responding to these kinds of incidents.  The Department of Defense may be able to give you a better sense of the reaction and — by the sailors that were onboard the ship.  And they can also give you a sense of what would be the routine, standard reaction in a situation like that.

Q    It just didn’t seem consistent with the level of alarm or alert or concern that’s being raised.  I mean, not to —

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t know.  We certainly are concerned about the incident, but I don’t think that I’ve suggested any sort of alarm.  I think civilians watching the video may have been alarmed, but I think we’ve acknowledged that this is the kind of behavior that we see from the Russians periodically.  And we have our well-established channels to raise our concerns about it and try to get it resolved.

Q    On your list, as it were, the 28-page 9/11 report — you’ve said in the past couple days that you never asked the President about whether he has read or requested to read those pages.  Have you since gotten around to that?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t spoken to him about it.

Q    Do you intend to, or is there some reason you haven’t?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll see if I can get some more information about it.  It just hasn’t been on the list of things that I’ve talked to him about.

Q    So at this point, we don’t know that he’s read these — or requested this or not?  We don’t know?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we do know that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is conducting a process to consider those 28 pages for declassification.  That is part of their standard procedure.  They’ve also indicated their desire to try to resolve that process before the end of the year.  But that’s something that they’re still working on and they can give you an update.  And I guess in some ways that’s why — well, they can give you more details on that process.

Q    And on the Boko Haram tape and the situation two years later now, is there any information that the United States government, military, has developed about the situation?  You said that it’s a Nigerian issue, as obviously — is there any information that the United States has about the condition of any of these girls?  Is there any indication of what their conditions are?  Have they been freed?  Anything more other than essentially it’s something that the Nigerians are dealing with?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, obviously there are significant intelligence capabilities that the United States has and has devoted to the effort to counter Boko Haram and to try to rescue Nigerians who have been kidnapped by them.  Unfortunately, Boko Haram’s tactic of kidnapping innocent civilians extends far beyond just the hundreds of girls who were kidnapped from Chibok. And that’s a tragedy.

And we have devoted our intelligence resources to assisting the Nigerian authorities who are trying to rescue those people.  And those intelligence capabilities have been helpful.  They have been useful in the rescue and recovery of innocent Nigerian civilians that have been kidnapped.  But beyond that, I don’t have a whole lot more to say about our intelligence activities right now.

Q    You’ve helped plead their case?  There are others — maybe not the details, but you’re saying there are other situations where American intelligence has led to the release or freedom of —

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.  I mean, unfortunately, there have been thousands of people in Nigeria that have been kidnapped.  And it’s a tragic situation.  And this is a inhumane, immoral tactic that we’ve seen Boko Haram use.  Government authorities have succeeded in some cases in driving out Boko Haram, in some cases rescuing civilians or making it possible for civilians to escape from captivity.  All this is good news, and the United States has played a helpful, constructive role in all of that.  But ultimately, this is a Nigerian-led effort.  They are the ones who deserve credit for those successes.  But they are also the individuals who are chiefly responsible for continuing the fight.

Q    Just one thing on the Russian plane — did this latest incident, was this an escalation?  Was this the most serious?  Or have there been incidents like this that have been more serious that we haven’t seen on videotape or that we’ve not been aware of?  Can you just kind of put this into some context?

MR. EARNEST:  I think it is fair to say that this particular incident has gotten more attention than it otherwise would primarily because of how that video of the incident has become public.  Again, my understanding is that while incidents like this are not routine and don’t commonly occur, they do periodically happen when it comes to the Russians.  And fortunately, we have a channel for expressing our concerns about these kinds of incidents.  We have an agreement that covers these kinds of engagements.  And the next time that there’s a meeting to discuss that treaty, I’m confident that incidents like this will be discussed as well.

Q    And the Russians said essentially — I don’t have the quote in front of me — that they don’t understand the American response.  They don’t — this incident happened near a Russian base, and what’s the big problem?  What’s your response to the Russian response?

MR. EARNEST:  These were international waters.  Our forces were operating in international waters.  Those Russian military aircraft were operating in international airspace.  And the way that they operated those aircraft is inconsistent with the international agreement we have with the Russians about how to operate aircraft in international airspace.

So, in some cases, this is a pretty cut-and-dried situation. We’ve raised our concerns, and I’m confident that the Russians are well aware of them.

Kevin.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Just to follow up for just a second on the fly-by, because of the distance from the aircraft to the vessel, would you acknowledge that it would be possible to essentially dive-bomb that vessel with an aircraft?  So once shot down — they’re flying at a high rate of speed.  Would the Americans be justified in taking down that aircraft?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I’m not able to discuss or describe to you the rules of engagement in a situation like that.  But the Department of the Navy I’m sure would be happy to give you a better sense of what our expectations are for the actions that our sailors need to take in international waters in order to protect themselves.

Q    Specifically to the video, which you’ve seen and I imagine the President has as well, would it be his position that if they chose to engage that aircraft they would have been justified?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think in this case, the President wouldn’t — even in the hypothetical — wouldn’t second-guess their actions.  There is a procedure in place.  It’s not one that I can describe, but there are obviously rules that we would expect our sailors to follow.  Unfortunately, in this case it appears that it’s the Russian military pilots that are operating inconsistent with the agreed-upon rules between Russia and the United States.  And that’s why we raised concerns with Russian authorities.

Q    Russian President Putin had his annual call-in show, some three-plus hours of Q&A with the Russian people.  During the conversation, he mentioned the President’s remarks to Chris Wallace of Fox News in an acknowledgement that his biggest mistake or regret during his presidency was not having a plan post Qaddafi in Libya — about which Vladimir Putin said that they were very nearly going to have a similar situation in Syria if they were to have deposed the Assad regime.  But fortunately, he felt like, Russia and the U.S. have been able to work together, collaboratively, to deescalate events on the ground there.  Do you support what the Russian President is saying about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, one part that’s unclear — I didn’t see as much of it as you’ve described — I’m not aware that the United States came particularly close to a scenario in which the United States was prepared to remove President Assad from power using military force.  That’s certainly not something the President has ever advocated.  And so when he says we came close, I think that part is just factually wrong.

More broadly, I think the President, in the midst of dealing with a very difficult situation in Syria, has been very conscious of considering carefully the long-term consequences of every decision that is made with regard to Syria.  In some ways, that is what led the President to ordering military action against Syria.  The President was mindful of the fact — against ISIL in Syria.  The President was mindful of the risk of allowing an extremist organization to establish a safe haven somewhere.  The President was mindful of the long-term consequences of allowing an extremist organization to carry out an act of genocide.  For both of those reasons, the President ordered military action against ISIL targets both in Syria and Iraq.  So he was mindful of those long-term consequences when ordering military action.

At the same time, the President has also been mindful of the long-term consequences of a large-scale ground combat deployment of U.S. military resources in Syria.  He recognizes that that would not be in the interest of the United States either.  And so what the President has sought to do is to ensure that we are taking the necessary steps to protect the American people from ISIL, without trying to impose a military solution on the chaos in Syria that would draw the United States back into a Middle Eastern ground war.  That’s the kind of quagmire that the President has sought to avoid.  And so far, we have been successful in doing that.

Q    Then it would be a respectful disagreement with former Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno, who yesterday said he thought it might take about 50,000 ground troops to really eradicate ISIS, maybe led by the U.S. but not involving solely American forces.  Is that something that the administration would disagree with?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I didn’t see his comments.  I think what we have long acknowledged is that a ground force of some kind would be required to completely root out ISIL.  And that is why the United States has invested significantly in building the capacity of Iraqi forces to take the fight to ISIL in Iraq.  And we’ve worked hard to build a Syrian-Arab coalition inside of Syria that has made progress in taking back territory from ISIL fighters.  And we’re going to continue to support that fighting force and continue to encourage them to take the fight to ISIL.  They’ve made some important progress, but there’s a lot of work left to be done.

Q    Last one — on Zika.  You mentioned earlier that the — I imagine you know this — the administration has received letters from Congress asking for more information about the threat posed by Zika — to OMB, to the State Department, also to HHS.  Are you aware of these letters?  And has the administration responded back to Congress?

MR. EARNEST:  I can’t speak to the individual letters.  But on February 22nd, we sent them legislative language that Congress has not acted on.
Q    I have the letters here.  I could forward them to you.  And they’re specifically to the Director of HHS, specifically to Secretary Kerry, specifically to the Director of OMB.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, maybe we can engage in a little information exchange.  I’m happy to give you a copy of our legislation.  If you want to pass that on to members of Congress and get them to act on it, then maybe we’ll see if —

Q    They came on March 7th.  March 7th they’re asking for specific information about how the money would be spent.  Now, the Speaker’s office has helpfully mailed them to us during the briefing.

Q    He said he wrote the letter, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, that’s great.  (Laughter.)  Somebody on my staff maybe should send them — maybe they missed the memo.  Maybe they were sick on February 22nd —

Q    — asking for specific information about how the money would be spent.

MR. EARNEST:  I guess I find it hard to believe.  We will provide this letter to all of you, just so that you all can consider it.  Maybe you could answer the questions for them.  I don’t know if it means that they haven’t looked at the specific proposal.  But this is not like a factsheet.  This isn’t just like a specific chart with some numbers.  This actually includes a detailed analysis of exactly how the money would be spent.  And again, this includes legislative language that, for two months now, Congress has refused to act on.  And you heard from our public health professionals who stood up here and said that this is what they need to fight Zika.  This is what they need to fight Zika.

So we’re happy to answer their questions.  But I think the American people would certainly appreciate Republicans in Congress demonstrating that they’re prepared to govern the country and demonstrating that they’re prepared to do what is necessary to protect the American people from Zika.  And they can hide behind a bunch of bureaucratic letters, or they can actually do the job that’s necessary to protect the American people.  I hope they’ll choose the responsible path.

Mark.

Q    Josh, back to the Supreme Court and Garland.  You said a little while ago that Democrats would be justified in refusing to act on a future Republican President’s nominee for four years. Aren’t you escalating things here?  Is that an actual threat to escalate if Republicans win?

MR. EARNEST:  I have no standing to make that threat.  I do not intend at any point to work in the United States Senate.  So there will be future Democrats who will have to make that decision.

Q    You said they’d be justified in doing so.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what Republicans have done is they’ve made an argument saying, we’re not going to do our job, we’re not going to do what the Constitution says; we’re going to wait until the next President gets in office to make a decision, and we’re basing that argument on the fact that the President who’s currently in office is not in our party.

That is exactly the same case that Democrats would be making, and that’s why I think they’d be justified in making it. I wouldn’t recommend that they do.  I’m confident in telling you that if Senator Obama were still in office, that he wouldn’t support that approach.  But Democrats would be making the same argument that Republicans are making right now, and that’s why I think it would be hard for Republicans to rebut it, because Democrats would be making the same argument.  It’s not one that I support.  It’s certainly not one that President Obama supports.  But it’s one that is consistent with what Republicans have said.

I think what is true, Mark, is that Republicans are the ones that have escalated.  Republicans are the ones who are prepared to deny a Supreme Court nominee a hearing and a vote for the first time since 1875.  That’s an escalation.  It’s Republicans who have indicated that they don’t actually have any substantive concerns with somebody that they’ve previously described as a consensus nominee.  They’re just concerned that it happens to be a Democratic President who’s appointed him.

So that’s the nature of our case.

Toluse.

Q    Thanks.  I wanted to ask about the President’s upcoming trip to London.  It’s coming just a couple of months before this important vote on the Brexit.  Do you expect the President to meet with London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, who is in —

Q    Former.

Q    Well, former mayor — thank you — who is a vocal opponent for remaining in the EU for the UK?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I’m not aware of any former mayors who are on the President’s itinerary for this trip.  But if he does, we’ll let you know.

Q    And given the fact that the vote is just a couple of months away, can you say if Prime Minister Cameron specifically asked the President to come, or why the President is deciding to sort of step into such a contentious issue so close to a vote?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President is going to go because the United States and the United Kingdom have a special relationship, and the President has traveled frequently to the U.K. to cement that relationship and to further deepen our cooperation on a wide range of issues.

And so I would anticipate that while in London, the President will have an opportunity to talk to Prime Minister Cameron about issues like our counter-ISIL campaign, our ongoing efforts to protect both British and American citizens from terrorism.  I’m confident there will be a discussion of the global economy and a range of other issues.

So at the same time, I wouldn’t be surprised if this ongoing political debate in the UK comes up.  But the President, when he travels to the UK, will have a pretty long agenda.

Q    I wanted to circle back to the $10 bill issue from yesterday.  I know you said that this is something that’s housed in Treasury, but I’m wondering if the President is specifically engaged on this, especially since there’s been sort of this uproar about Hamilton and the backlash against the idea of taking him — or changing the way he’s depicted on the $10 bill.  Is the President specifically engaged, and does he want to have a say on how this plays out?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, I think the President understands that this is a responsibility of the Secretary of the Treasury to make decisions about the currency like this.  I don’t have any confidential conversations between the President and his Treasury Secretary to tell you about, but the President certainly does have confidence in Secretary Lew to make a decision that reflects the President’s views.

Q    And then one more on encryption.  The White House announced the members of the Commission on Enhancing National Security yesterday.  Part of their role is to —

Q    Cybersecurity.

Q    Thank you — Cybersecurity — yesterday.  And part of their role is to make sure that cybersecurity is enhanced both in the public and private sector.  So I’m wondering if their role — include divulging how the FBI got into the San Bernardino iPhone, showing Apple what that flaw was so that Apple could close that gap for the future.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the mission of the CNAP — this is the Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity.  This is a commission that will be focused on cybersecurity issues, and they are responsible for drafting a series of recommendations about steps that the United States should take over the course of the next 10 years to bolster our cybersecurity.  They’re prepared to present that report before the end of this year.  The President certainly is looking forward to reviewing that report and is hopeful that we’ll be able to hand off this strategy to the next administration for them to implement in a way that would enhance our national security and our cybersecurity.

Issues related to encryption will not be considered by the commission.

Q    But specifically on that broader question, on whether the government or the FBI has decided whether or not to tell Apple how it ended up getting into the phone so that — apparently there is a flaw in the system — so that if Apple wants to close that flaw, is that something the government is prepared to do?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Toluse, there is a well-established process for considering questions like this.  This was laid out in 2014, that there would essentially be an interagency process led by the White House for considering these questions.

But I would point out that that process for considering those questions only applies when the U.S. government is in possession of a particular vulnerability.  And the Department of Justice and the FBI have not indicated that they’re in possession of that vulnerability.  They’ve indicated that they are in possession of a tool that allowed them to exploit a particular vulnerability and get access to the material that they were looking for on the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone.

But, again, this process applies to situations in which the government is in possession of a vulnerability.  And neither the Department of Justice, nor the FBI has said affirmatively that they are in possession of the vulnerability.  For more questions about that, you should go check with them.

Q    Okay.  And then just one more.  Has the President specifically been briefed on the Senate bill to deal with encryption?  And does the White House have a position on that bill, any concerns about it?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not the President has been briefed on it.  We’ve indicated previously that the administration is willing to work with Congress on these issues and was prepared, and actually did work with the members of the United States Senate who were drafting this particular legislation.

As you’ve heard me say on a number of occasions, the prospects for a constructive bill actually passing the Congress are rather dim.  And that is not a judgment of the good-faith efforts of members of — individual members of Congress who understand that this should be a priority.  It, rather, is a reflection of the extreme dysfunction that the Republican leadership has brought to both houses of Congress.

Lesley.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Carnival Cruise Lines down in Miami is being sued by some folks for allegedly denying Cuban-born Americans the ability to go to Cuba when it resumes cruises there, voyages there, May 1st.  Cuban law prohibits Cuban nationals from returning by sea.  They can fly there, but not by sea.  Is that something that the White House was aware of when it began negotiations with the government about making some changes?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not this came up in our conversations with the Cuban government.  Obviously we have tried to work effectively with the Cuban government to begin to normalize relations between our two countries, including removing some of the obstacles that have limited travel by citizens of our two countries.  But I can’t speak to this particular issue.  Let me see if I can get some more information about this particular issue and see if we can help you understand our position a little bit better.

Q    Treasury, a year ago, in an unrelated, but they’re saying it’s a similar situation, told Kuwaiti Airlines that it was going to have to end some discriminatory practices involved with the country it was heading to, not the actual carrier itself.  Is that idea of discriminatory practices something that the concerns the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’m not sure whether or not that would apply in this particular case.  But let me see if I can get some more information about this particular case and see if we can better answer that specific question.

John, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  Two quick housekeeping matters.  I had an interview yesterday with Mr. Newton Minow of Chicago, who formerly was in the same law firm with the President and the First Lady.  It was his understanding that the President will remain in the Washington, D.C. area after he leaves office, presumably while his daughters finish school, but he hoped in a few years he’d move back to Chicago.  Has the President made any short-term or long-term residency plans for after he leaves office next year?

MR. EARNEST:  The President has indicated in the last couple of months that he and the First Lady do intend to remain in Washington while their youngest daughter completes high school.  But beyond that, I don’t know that any specific decisions have been made.

Q    Chicago on the list?

MR. EARNEST:  I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.  I think the President’s affection for his hometown is well-known.

Q    The other thing is last week, you cited to me some quotes from world leaders about their concerns about some of the comments by Donald Trump in the campaign.  You quoted the President and former President of Mexico, and other world leaders.  Tell me something.  The talk about a wall that Mr. Trump continues — could you say that this has led to a deterioration of U.S. relations with Mexico, Central and Latin America?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it does not — again, based solely on those public comments, it does not appear that the Mexican government thinks very highly of that policy.  But in terms of our ability to continue to coordinate effectively to advance the economic and security interests of the United States, it has not been affected.  We still have important relationships there.

I’ll tell you one thing that has been affected is that the Senate has been rather slow in confirming the President’s eminently well-qualified ambassador to Mexico.  And we’ve certainly been disappointed to see that process be bogged down by Republicans in the Senate.  But as it relates to those specific comments, I guess it’s fair to say that they haven’t helped.

So, John Bennett, I promised to call on you and I failed to do that earlier.  So I’ll let you do that.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Speaker Ryan’s office says that the Zika proposal you guys sent over was merely an outline, that it lacked the usual budget justification documents.  And yesterday, Chairman Rogers said he’s ordered his staff to begin writing the Zika funding bill.  So even if you question their motives, they’re asking for information.  Chairman Rogers is writing a bill.  Has the President reached out to Chairman Rogers?  Has anyone reached out to Chairman Rogers from here, given your urgency and what you said about the threat?

MR. EARNEST:  The answer to that question is, yes.  I don’t have any specific conversations to tell you about.  But we’ll pass out this document and I think that the detail that’s included in here will make clear exactly the serious nature of the proposal.

I will tell you that I am recently informed that the letters that the Speaker’s office has apparently distributed to all of you was responded to by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan, on April 6th.  This was a detailed, four-page response.  And since you guys have seen the letters written by members of Congress, I don’t really know how constructive it will be, but we’ll send you the letter that was written by the administration in response.

Q    Why don’t we have it now — in an email or —

MR. EARNEST:  That’s what I’m suggesting that we’ll do,is we’ll provide you the letter.  I don’t think any of that, however, is going to change the basic fact of the case.  The President made clear the first week in February that additional funding was going to be necessary.  In a couple of weeks, his administration, his Office of Management and Budget, put together a detailed proposal that was sent to Capitol Hill, that was sent to the Speaker of the House and others, laying out precisely what was needed.

Since that time, we have not seen any funding appropriated by Congress, and we’ve had public health experts in the United States say that they don’t have everything that they need to protect the American people from a significant public health situation.  And rather than writing letters, we would appreciate Republicans actually doing their job and passing legislation that has nothing to do with politics, but has everything to do with looking out for those in the United States that could be vulnerable to the Zika virus.

John, anything else?

Q    One about the President’s trip.  Democratic Senator Murphy has raised concerns about Saudi Arabia’s military operations in Yemen.  He believes too many civilians are dying as a result.  They’re not doing enough to limit civilian casualties.  That’s something that President talks a lot about with regard to U.S. military operations.  Is that something he plans to bring up during his visit?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can tell you that the United States has on a number of occasions expressed our own concerns about innocent civilians who have been killed in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

One ray of good news is that the Saudi-led coalition has indicated that they’re prepared to observe a ceasefire that would take place in the coming days.  We’ll obviously have to see whether or not that ceasefire takes hold.  Obviously the chief goal of implementing a ceasefire like that would be to expedite the provision of humanitarian assistance that’s badly needed in a place like Yemen.  So we obviously would be monitoring that situation as well, monitoring how quickly those relief supplies could reach those civilian populations that are in pretty desperate need of that.

But what I will say is that the Saudis are justifiably concerned by the instability in Yemen.  This is a country with whom they share a long border.  And I know that the Saudis and some of their allies in the region have been — let me say it this way — some of Saudi Arabia’s allies in the region have been responsive to Saudi Arabia’s concerns and supported them in the effort to try to address those security concerns.

It is the view of the United States that the most effective way to address those security concerns is to resolve the political conflict that’s at the center of all of this.  There’s a U.N.-led process that’s trying to bring about a political resolution.  The United States is strongly supportive of that process.  And I do understand that there are additional meetings that will move that process along and that are scheduled for as early as next week, I believe.  But we can get you a more detailed update on that.

Thanks a lot, everybody.  We’ll see you tomorrow.  And we’ll get you that letter shortly.

END
2:17 P.M. EDT

Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov