Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 3, 2014 – 12:16 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. It’s nice to see you all. I don’t have any announcements at the top, so we’ll go straight to questions. I think we will do a little departure from the standard protocol today and we will allow the first question today to be asked by the most recently married person in the room. (Laughter.) So I don’t know who that might be. Oh, it’s Julie. (Laughter.) Congratulations, Julie.
Q Thank you. Great to be back. Just in time for the election.
MR. EARNEST: Indeed.
Q The President has nothing on his public schedule today. It doesn’t appear as though he has anything on his public schedule tomorrow for Election Day at this point. Is he going to do anything more in public? Will we see from him, hear from him? Is he going to be doing robocalls to try to reach out to voters between now and when the polls close tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Julie, you’ve covered enough campaigns to know that we are entering a different phase of the election cycle, which is this is when successful campaigns, at least, turn their attention from some of the broader arguments that are carried over the television waves and are focused on a ground campaign to make sure that their voters are turning out on Election Day.
And some of my Democratic colleagues who are following this election a little bit more closely than I am tell me that they have a lot of confidence heading into Election Day in the ground campaigns that Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in states across the country are running. That makes a big difference in close races, and there are any number of close races that all of you have been closely covering.
As long as we’re talking about the President, I think it is relevant to note that many of those ground campaigns are actually based on a strategy that was successfully implemented by this President in the context of his reelection campaign in 2012. So that is one important way that this President and his campaign apparatus are benefiting campaigns even here, up to the very last day of the campaign.
Q He has previously been involved in get-out-the-vote efforts through radio call-ins, through robocalls, local television interviews. Will he be doing any of those things today or tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: I would anticipate that you’ll see more of — that you will see the President engaged in those kinds of activities. I’m not trying to be obtuse here. In some cases, there are situations where the President has taped robocalls in the last couple of weeks that will, of course, be timed to run over the course of the final week and in the final days before Election Day.
Q Is it possible to get a list of states or cities, towns?
MR. EARNEST: I can get you some information along those lines for you, yes.
Q Okay. The Vice President said in an interview that aired this morning — he predicted that Democrats will keep control of the Senate. Does the President agree with his prediction?
MR. EARNEST: He does. And again, it is rooted in this idea that if — as voters hone in on the central question in this campaign, which is are you going to be supportive of a candidate who is fighting for policies that benefit middle-class families, that is a very strong argument for Democrats to effectively make in the context of this campaign. They’re also backed by a tried and true ground campaign strategy that in the context of a very close race can provide a 2 to 3 point margin that could eventually make up the difference.
Those strategies are rooted in strategies that were successfully implemented by the President’s team in the context of his reelection campaign. So that certainly is a way that the President has made an important, tangible contribution to benefit Democrats on the ballot tomorrow.
Q I just want to switch to a different topic. On August 14th, the President said that police in Ferguson, Missouri shouldn’t be arresting or bullying journalists, and that the police there needed to be more transparent about their actions. But I’m sure you’ve seen this report that some of my colleagues at AP have from new FAA tapes that show that the administration was working with local police to keep media helicopters grounded from having aerial coverage over the protest in Missouri. Didn’t the President’s instructions about transparency apply to his own administration?
MR. EARNEST: Julie, I’ve seen those reports — I didn’t read them all the way through. What I can tell you are a couple of things about the policies that were put in place by the FAA. And again, this is based on what the FAA has said, and so for follow-up questions, I’d encourage you to contact them. I know your colleagues have already been in touch with them.
The FAA did make a decision — consistent with the priority they place on the safety and security of the traveling public, the FAA made a decision to implement a temporary flight restriction in the vicinity of Ferguson after there were reports that shots had been fired at a police helicopter. Within 12 to 14 hours of that initial temporary flight restriction, the FAA updated that flight restriction that removed any restrictions for media who were seeking to operate in the area. And that is — again, that is the consequence of the policies that were put in place here by the FAA.
I know that there were a number of conversations via email and other places that were cited in the report. I can’t account for those conversations. What I can account for are what the FAA says about the policies that were put in place. And in this case, what the FAA says is that they took the prudent step of implementing this temporary flight restriction in the immediate aftermath of reports of shots fired at a police helicopter, but within 12 to 14 hours, that flight restriction was updated in a way to remove restrictions for reporters who were seeking to operate in the area.
Q But what the conversations show is that a lot of the focus was not on police helicopters and safety of law enforcement; it was specifically on keeping media helicopters out of the area. So I’m wondering if the administration feels like that was an appropriate decision to keep media helicopters out of the area for however amount of time.
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s the FAA’s responsibility to make decisions about the safety and security of the traveling public. So, in this case, they took what they would describe as —
Q But they were having conversations that did not necessarily focus on that. They focused on media access to the area.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess we can focus on the conversations, or we can focus on the policies that they put in place, and —
Q But if the policies were put in place because of specific conversations about the media access —
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think you’re getting to the right question, which is this question about the fact that the discussions were about media access, but the flight restrictions that were put in place didn’t have any impact on media access. So, again, I can’t account — the updated flight restriction didn’t have any impact on media access.
So I can’t account for the conversations, but I can account for what the FAA says about the practical impact of the policies that they put in place related to this temporary flight restriction. And the fact is that the policies that were put in place by the FAA were focused on safety and only had an impact on media coverage for 12 to 14 hours until the temporary flight restriction was updated in a way that allowed media to essentially operate freely in that vicinity.
Q Why did the President want to meet with Janet Yellen today? And what should we take away from this about the timing, anything about the timing, in terms of the election tomorrow or the Fed just finishing QE?
MR. EARNEST: The President has, over the course of his almost six years in office now, met periodically with the Chair of the Federal Reserve. He met on a number of occasions with Chairman Bernanke. This is the first opportunity that the President has had to meet one-on-one with Janet Yellen. She did, however, participate in a meeting of financial regulators that the President convened at the White House last month. But in terms of a one-on-one meeting, this was the first opportunity that they’ve had to do that since she was confirmed into the position as the Chair of the Federal Reserve.
Their discussion will focus on the long-term outlook for the American economy. As we’ve discussed on a number of occasions in this room, the resilience of the American economy has been on full display recently as we’ve looked at numbers related to job creation and numbers even as recently as last week indicating that economic growth continues to be strong in the United States and continues to be, in fact, the envy of the developed world. That is thanks in part to the policies that this President put in place early on in his administration when he took office in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
But the bulk of the credit goes to the hard work and determination of America’s workers and the ingenuity and innovation of America’s entrepreneurs to really kick-start American growth, to demonstrate its resiliency and help us make such a substantial recovery since that economic downturn.
Now, what the President is focused on is putting in place policies that will benefit the middle class to ensure that they are enjoying the benefits of the kind of resilience the American economy is showing.
But obviously the Fed is an independent body, they make their own policies. But there is an opportunity for the President and the Chair of the Fed to have conversations. That doesn’t — but those conversations, at least in the context of today, are focused on the long-term outlook for the American economy and even the longer-term impact of the global economy as well.
I will say one other thing, which is that it’s an appropriate conversation for the President to have prior to his departure for Asia, which he’ll do this coming weekend. Over the course of his trip to Asia, he’ll have the opportunity to talk about the importance and the benefits of opening up markets overseas to American products. And they’ll convene at the — world leaders will convene in Australia at the G20 meeting, which is sort of the largest international economic body of the world’s 20 largest economies, to have some discussions about the global economy. And so the President having this conversation with the Chair of the Fed makes sense in advance of that meeting.
Q And does he plan to raise with her the two vacancies on the Fed board?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any readout of the meeting beyond what I’ve just said. But I would anticipate we’ll have a readout of the meeting after it concludes, and so you can ask again then.
Q When should we expect names to be put forward for those two vacancies? Jeff Zients was talking about that back in June; he said it would be soon. Do you anticipate that’s something that’s going to come soon and perhaps in the lame duck session?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any update on timing at this point.
Q Hi. We’re seeing so many candidates be put on the defensive because of the President’s policies. How would you describe what the President has done during this election cycle that has been most effective, and how, in the White House’s opinion?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think one thing I would do is I would encourage you to check with the candidates themselves. And I think those candidates that appeared with the President on stage over the weekend were pretty spirited —
Q In your — in the White House’s opinion.
MR. EARNEST: The reason I — I’m not trying to dodge the question. What I’m trying to do is to indicate to you that the way that we make decisions about the way the President can most benefit these campaigns is to ask the campaigns themselves what the President can do to help out those candidates who share the President’s view that policies that benefit middle-class families should be at the top of the domestic policymaking agenda. So that’s the reason I suggest you check with the campaigns.
I did happen to notice that the Executive Director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had the opportunity last week to note that the President of the United States had done everything the DSCC had asked him to do. And that is an indication of the President’s commitment, again, to boosting those candidates for office or those candidates for reelection that are strong advocates for the middle class.
Q Anything you think has been most effective? Whether it’s fundraising, or — I mean, what do you think the President has done that has been most effective during this cycle?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think it’s going to vary by state. In some cases, making sure that the DSCC and the DNC and the DCCC have access to financial resources to promote, or, in some cases, defend Democratic candidates is a way that the President can contribute to the success of Democrats that is more significant than anybody else can do, frankly. The President retains a significant capacity to enlist his supporters to offer their financial support to Democratic campaign committees.
The President, as I mentioned in response to Julie’s question, has also lent his campaign apparatus to these Democratic campaign committees and to individual Democratic candidates to help them identify volunteers and supporters, and to turn out Democratic voters on Election Day. The President had tremendous success in 2012 — which all of you wrote about — in engaging young people and African Americans and Hispanics and Asians in the electoral process in the last campaign, and presumably, those efforts can be replicated to some degree by Democratic candidates who are on the ballot this time.
Q And we also heard the Vice President today say that even if the Republicans do take the Senate, that it won’t make that much of a difference, it won’t be that big of a deal. Do you agree with that?
MR. EARNEST: I think that every time that you have a midterm or presidential election, the consequences are significant. And that is why, even outside of the context of express advocacy for individual candidates, you’ve heard the President talk about the importance of voting and the importance of people being engaged in their democracy; that it’s an important part of citizenship for people to follow the issues and to make their voices heard on Election Day. And that’s true regardless of which candidate you’re supporting and regardless of which party you have joined. And I think that’s the kind of sentiment that even the Vice President would agree with.
Q You think that Republicans will gain seats in the Senate but just fall short? Is that a sense of your prediction?
MR. EARNEST: You guys are following this more closely than I am, so I wouldn’t —
Q But, I mean, you say that you think they’re going to — Democrats are going to hold on — you wouldn’t dispute that Republicans are likely to pick up a few seats?
MR. EARNEST: I would refrain from hazarding a guess.
Q But you have hazarded a guess. You said Democrats are going to hold.
MR. EARNEST: I do think that Democrats will retain the majority. But in terms of the counting of seats, you guys are following this more closely than I am. I’m not going to get — I’m not going to do that two days before the election — or one day before the election.
Q Okay. One before. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Whatever it is.
Q One day. One day.
MR. EARNEST: Those who are listening to my impassioned plea to participate in the elections, please note that the elections are actually tomorrow and not on Wednesday.
Q The Vice President also said, if — and I know you don’t concede this — but if Republicans were to take control of the Senate, the White House would not have to change its method of dealing with the Senate Republican majority or change any of its legislative tactics. Why not?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I —
Q First of all, do you agree with that? And if you do, why wouldn’t there need to be a change or a shift in how to try to get things accomplished when you have Republicans in the Senate and Republicans in the House running things?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not going to — the other thing that I have refrained from doing is sort of speculating about what sort of posture the White House is going to take in light of different outcomes. What I can tell you without any wariness is that regardless of who is in the majority in the Senate — I continue to think it’s going to be Democrats, but we’ll see — regardless of who’s in the control of the Senate, this administration is going to continue to strongly advocate for policies that benefit middle-class families all across the country, and the administration is going to retain a willingness to work with anybody in either party who shares that commitment, even if it is on one specific issue; that we should be able to put aside our partisan affiliation to, for example, focus on policies that would allow us to invest in infrastructure.
This is an issue that has not traditionally been subject to intense partisan wrangling. There’s no such thing as a Democratic bridge or a Republican bridge, but rather, Democrats and Republicans should be able to work together to modernize bridges in communities all across the country. That would create jobs in the short term, but also lay a longer-term foundation for our economic strength. And that will continue to be the priority that this President places as it relates to his domestic agenda, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in the majority.
Now, I guess the one thing I will say is that we’re also always going to be willing to — signaling an open — let me say it this way — signaling an openness to working with anybody, either a Democrat or Republican, to advance your agenda means an openness to changing your tactics. If we can succeed in moving a piece of legislation that ultimately benefits middle-class families without compromising a principle but that may envision a change in some kind of tactic, of course the President is going to be open to doing exactly that.
Ultimately, the President believes that there is more that can and should be done by Washington, D.C. to support our economy as it continues to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. And we’ve seen tremendous resilience in the American economy. What we need to see is greater evidence that the benefits of that recovery are accruing to middle-class families across the country.
Q Did you just say that you haven’t done any planning here at the White House or —
MR. EARNEST: No, I didn’t say that.
Q — had conversations about how to adapt to legislative strategy if Republicans take control of the Senate? Because that’s not the impression I get.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think I said anything related to our internal planning, and that’s not something I’m prepared to talk about from here.
Q Okay. You mentioned infrastructure. I’d like you to talk to us about trade, because you have trade negotiations that are nearing, possibly at completion. The last time we were in Asia, the President was vexed that people said the deal didn’t get done and he thought that was premature. Clearly, there’s a great expectation that these negotiations are going to come to fruition sometime soon. When you’re in Asia, you talk about the export markets a lot. Democratic leaders in the Senate had no interest in bringing that issue to the floor, even if it had been negotiated or not. Republicans do. Is that an area where, A, you think you can get a deal soon, and, B, you might find a more hospitable legislative climate if Republicans take control of the Senate?
MR. EARNEST: Major, I do not anticipate that there will be a significant breakthrough in trade talks while the President is traveling in Asia. This is an opinion that has been shared by Ambassador Froman over at the United States Office of the Trade Representative. He can give you a better update about where those conversations stand. But I would not anticipate any sort of breakthrough in those broader negotiations while the President is traveling next week.
That being said, we do — I would anticipate that any sort of agreement that the President reaches with other countries as it goes through the process of moving through Congress, we’re going to rely on a bipartisan majority to get that done. We’re going to need to work with Democrats and Republicans to strike — to validate any agreement like that.
But I don’t want to get ahead of the process. What we’re counting on is continued negotiations led by — very ably, I might add — by Ambassador Froman. And from there, we’re going to be looking for — well, let me back up and say one other thing, which is that I’m confident that Ambassador Froman is carefully following the President’s direction, that any sort of agreement that’s reached is going to be clearly in the best interests of American workers and American businesses, American farmers, in some instances. And that will be the criteria by which these kinds of agreements are reached. And that is the — I assume that will be the criteria by which Democrats and Republicans on the Hill will evaluate this agreement. And so when we get to that stage in this, we’re going to be ready to work with Democrats and Republicans to make progress.
Q One last question on the politics tomorrow. What is the White House listening for? What message do you think you hope to hear? Are you prepared, if that is a message rendered through the elections themselves tell you something different about what you think the country wants to hear and in fact what it actually wants to send as far as a signal to the White House?
MR. EARNEST: I’ll say two things about that. The first is, it is important to understand, as important as this election is, as I described to Michelle, a midterm election is different than a presidential election, particularly this year. The Senate contests that are, understandably, so closely followed, the vast majority of them are actually taking place in states that the President did not win in the last presidential election. So the electorate is different this time than it is in a traditional presidential election. And that is what is — that will be part of the calculation that’s made as we consider what sort of conclusion should be appropriately drawn from the election.
I guess, in other words, it would not be wise to draw as broad a conclusion about the outcome of this election as you would from a national presidential election simply by virtue of the map and the fact of the states where this contest is taking place. That said, this election is extraordinarily important. And that’s why you’ve seen the President make a concerted effort to benefit Democrats up and down the ballot.
The second thing I’ll say is I think this is true even in nonelection years, particularly the last couple of years that there is intense frustration on the part of the electorate with the failure of Washington, D.C. to put in place policies that are helpful to middle-class families, and that, time and again, we have seen Republicans repeatedly block common-sense proposals that would benefit middle-class families. And that’s everything from some of the infrastructure proposals that we were talking about before to even something as simple and common sense as immigration reform that’s already passed through the Senate in bipartisan fashion.
So I am confident that in the day or two after the election, we’ll be talking about how voters continue to want to see their elected representatives in Washington, D.C. putting aside their partisan labels and focusing on what those elected representatives can do for middle-class families back home.
Q Since you opened the door to this, would you say that the map is less meaningful in states like North Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, where the President was successful and there are very close races involving Democrats? I know the point you’re making about Montana, Arkansas, Alaska. But there are other states up for grabs where the President did well, and we remember well Iowa. Are those results resonant in a way that you can’t discount as a way of sending a signal to the President and this White House about what it’s done or what it’s failed to accomplish?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the other thing that we’ve seen — and this has been true in a lot of the polling data that’s been conducted recently, as well, about what’s motivating the votes of individuals who are considering casting a ballot on Election Day. And the vast majority of people say that their vote is determined by something other than sending a message to the President of the United States. So I would take those voters at their word.
And the last thing I’ll say is, I hope I didn’t overstate — and we can — I’m not suggesting that we’re in a position where there should be no conclusion that’s drawn from the outcome of this election. Of course, there should be. But that conclusion and any analysis that you do is different than the analysis that you would do on a true national election.
Q Josh, I want to talk about an election, not tomorrow’s, but 2016 and Joe Biden’s comment to Gloria Borger. Is there any talk around the White House about is Biden the best person to fill the job? Because he told Gloria Borger, part of his answer to her, he said, “Am I convinced I’m in best positioned of anyone else to lead the country next four years?” Is there any conversation around this White House about that? And has he posed that question to the President?
MR. EARNEST: I think the point that the Vice President was making, April, is that this is a question that the Vice President needs to resolve for himself, and that will determine whether or not he chooses to pursue his candidacy in 2016. So that’s a decision that he’ll make for himself, and he’s the one who’s in the best position to explain to you how he’s going to make that decision. But the only conversations that I’m aware of about the Vice President here in the White House center on the important role that he’s playing right now as the Vice President of the United States to advance a whole range of administration priorities.
Q Well, since he is in the position — he’s the only one in the position to make the determination if he is that person — he happens to be right now the person if this President of the United States if unable to fulfill his duties, he would step into that role. So does this President feel that he is the person for the next four years?
MR. EARNEST: The President is not focused on the 2016 elections. The President has on a number of occasions talked about the variety of reasons that he chose Vice President Biden to be his running mate all the way back in 2008. And part of that criteria was the ability of Vice President Biden to play such an important leading role in the country. But again, I wouldn’t read anything into any sort of decisions that are a long way out from being made.
Q Are you gently side-stepping the answer to that because you have Hillary Clinton, your former strong Secretary of State, and you have your Vice President who could possibly be in this President’s shoes if anything were to happen? Is that the reason why you’re navigating so well through that question?
MR. EARNEST: I have to say that there are a variety of reasons why I’m side-stepping that question. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks, Josh. The Free Syrian Army this weekend suffered some serious setbacks in northern Syria, if not a total collapse. How does the White House read that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not in a position to confirm. I’ve seen a couple of those reports. I’m not in a position to confirm those specific reports; we’re still assessing them. And we certainly are aware that moderate forces in Syria are engaged in a multi-front conflict, and that multi-front conflict is taking a toll on them, there’s no doubt about that. That is in part why you’ve seen the administration discuss the need to ramp up the training and assistance that the United States is offering to Syrian opposition fighters — moderate Syrian opposition fighters.
Again, even though that assessment is still ongoing, I would also remind you of something that the President said just a few weeks ago back out at Joint Base Andrews when he was meeting with the chiefs of defense from countries who are participating in our international coalition against ISIL. The President indicated that, “This is going to be a long-term campaign. There are not quick fixes involved. We’re still at the early stages. And as with any military effort, there will be days of progress and there are going to be periods of setback.”
So this is not a short-term proposition. And the United States and members of our coalition understand that this is going to be — this is going to require a sustained effort and a sustained commitment.
Q Where do you go — (inaudible) — for these moderate partners in Syria? I mean, they seem to just be up against so very much, and there was defections, people running for the border. I mean, are your hopes barely dashed at this point that you’ll at the near term have any chance of building up a strong replacement?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Christi, we have indicated that the train-and-equipping efforts that will be run out of the Department of Defense in close coordination with nations like Turkey and Saudi Arabia that have agreed to host these training operations are longer-term propositions, that these are not the kinds of things that you stand up and that individuals complete overnight. Rather, this will require a sustained commitment.
And the United States and our coalition partners are mindful of two things. We’re mindful, A, of the important role that local ground forces will have to play in taking the fight to ISIL on the ground in Syria. We’re also mindful of the fact that those kinds of forces, with that significant capacity to take on hardened fighters like those in ISIL, take some time to train and equip and stand up and organize.
So those efforts are underway. I’d refer you to the Department of Defense who may be able to offer you an up-to-date assessment about where those training-and-equipping missions currently stand. But we understand that at the very front end here, that this is not a short-term proposition.
Q Josh, the Vice President may be right in one way, in that without 60 votes any major piece of legislation is not likely to pass in the Senate. But the Democrats did change the rules regarding nominations, federal nominations, judicial nominations, and they could very well gum up the works in terms of bureaucratic positions, as well as the judiciary. Is the White House prepared for that? And do you have a significant number of appointments that still need to be made?
MR. EARNEST: There are still some appointments that are languishing on the floor. I would say that even when they’ve served in the minority, that Republicans have been very pretty effective in gumming up the works on a whole variety of things, including relatively non-controversial appointments to positions in the administration.
So while there is a substantial import associated with this election, with significant consequences, I’m not sure you’ve identified one of them in this question at least.
Q Thanks. So Congress is coming back November 12th, for a few weeks at least, for a lame-duck session. What are your priorities in this small window, your legislative priorities?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Cheryl, we’ll have more to say about that in the days and weeks ahead. I don’t have a pronouncement to make from here. I think that there are a couple of things we know are going to happen before the end of the year, or at least likely to happen before the end of the year. The one thing we know that’s going to happen before the end of the year is the President is going to take action to use his executive authority to fix those aspects of our broken immigration system that can be fixed using executive authority.
The President, as we’ve said on many occasions, has been disappointed that House Republicans have blocked common-sense bipartisan legislation that passed through the Senate to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives. That’s certainly something they could consider in the lame duck, and we’d welcome in doing so, but that will have to be a decision that’s made by House Republicans in that instance.
So as it relates to our legislative priorities, I anticipate we’ll have more to say about this in the days and weeks ahead.
Q When the President — and we talked about this in this room before — when he said he’s not on the ballot but his policies are, did he nationalize this election to the detriment of Democratic candidates?
MR. EARNEST: Chris, the point that the President was making, and has made on a number of occasions, is that his name, in fact, is not on the ballot. And again, I think, as I mentioned to Major, I believe, the polls indicate that most voters are making up their minds about which candidates to support for reasons that don’t involve the President of the United States. That’s not particularly surprising, because, again, is not on the ballot.
The reason that the President said that he was aggressively advocating in support of candidates up and down the ballot all across the country is that those candidates are committed to fighting for policies that benefit middle-class families. The President also is committed to policies that benefit middle-class families. And the President is eager to have partners in Congress who share that priority. And that has animated the President’s support for House candidates, for Senate candidates, and even candidates for governor.
The President spent a lot of time talking about that on the road over the last few days. And we’re hopeful that the voters will make a decision to send representatives from their home state or their home district with marching orders to back the kinds of policies that we know will benefit middle-class families.
Q Anticipating that you will say that decisions are not made based on polling, our recent poll shows 44 percent say they like the President; that’s down from 60 percent in 2012. Two-thirds say they want to see him change either a “great deal” or “quite a bit.” What do those kinds of numbers mean for a post-election strategy?
MR. EARNEST: Well, before we spend a lot of time talking about the post-election strategy, we should convene the election. What I can tell you is that —
Q But doesn’t that impact whether the Democrats or the Republicans — doesn’t the President’s own standing with the American public affect, no matter who controls the Senate?
MR. EARNEST: Of course the President’s standing will have some impact. But what I would encourage you to do is to consult polling that even NBC has done, that concludes that the vast majority of voters are not making their decision in this election based on their appraisal of the President. They’re basing that on a variety of other things, including, I think understandably, their appraisal of the two candidates who are standing for office.
So we’ll have the option to evaluate the results of the election. And I can tell you that regardless of the outcome, one thing the President will continue to do is to use — is to fight for the policies that he believes should be at the top of the agenda, which is policies that will expand the economic opportunity for middle-class families.
And the things that won’t change about his tactic is he’s going to continue to be open to working with anybody — a Democrat, Republican or even independent — who shares that priority.
Q And anything on where exactly he’ll be watching the returns and with whom?
MR. EARNEST: He’ll be here at the White House tomorrow night. I don’t know who will be watching with him.
Q Will we get that read before?
MR. EARNEST: Probably not in advance, but we’ll see what we can do to keep you updated on his activities tomorrow night.
Q Is there an election party?
MR. EARNEST: Not that I know of.
Q Is there a menu —
Q Is there a wine list? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Q Josh, I want to go back to Chris’s — the substance of her question, though, about the poll number, because there were a bunch of things you were talking about. But the specific thing she asked, which is 67 percent of the public, regardless of how they vote or whatever, but 67 percent of the public says in this NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that they want to see the President make substantial change in the direction of his leadership. Agree? Disagree?
MR. EARNEST: I guess —
Q Sixty-percent of registered voters would like to see either a “great deal” of change or “quite a bit” of change to Mr. Obama’s direction. So your point is valid, that we don’t know what the results are yet, it’s a smaller number of states in the entire country in terms of the key Senate battles, for example. But this is just a snapshot. But when 67 percent of the public is saying we want to see a substantial change to how the President is approaching this — his job, his leadership — how does the White House address that? Will he make substantial changes, regardless if he wins or loses?
MR. EARNEST: Ed, my sense is — and again, I’m not a pollster, so there are probably others who have conducted a more thorough analysis of this data. But my initial reaction is to say that voters are understandably frustrated with Washington, D.C., and they hold the President, the most powerful person in Washington, accountable for that.
Q So what’s he going to do about it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what they should also do is they should also examine the priorities that the President has been fighting for. My guess is — again, there are others who have done more analysis on this than I have. My guess is that there are some people who say the President should do more to work with Republicans on some of these issues. There are just as many people in that poll who will probably say the President spent too much time working with a bunch of Republicans that aren’t interested in middle-class families or policies that benefit middle-class families, and the President needs to fight harder on his own.
So I don’t think that that one particular poll number is indicative of a unified point of view by the electorate, other than their general frustration with Washington, D.C.; the President on a number of occasions has said that he shares that frustration. The President has indicated on a number of occasions that he understands why he is part of the target of that frustration. And it’s why you’re going to see the President continue to demonstrate a willingness to work with anybody — Democrat or Republican — who’s willing to fight for the kinds of priorities that the President has identified.
Q Again, so this is not — it’s a snapshot; it’s not what everybody in the country thinks. But let me drill down on one other part. Among Mr. Obama’s own party, it says 47 percent — 47 percent of Democrats said they want substantial change in the way he leads the country. So talk to those Democrats then. Forget about the Republicans. Is the President going to change the way he leads the country?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ed, again, in light of the elections, I’m confident that at some point you’ll have the opportunity to hear from the President when he’ll discuss the outcome here. So I don’t want to get into sort of the post-election analysis before the election has been held. But —
Q And I’m not asking for that. I’m asking for the President’s approach. There’s been a whole series of stories in the last few days, administration officials speculating to bring in new people; is he going to have a different agenda. I get you can’t give us all the details now — you’re still weighing that. But I’m not hearing you say the President is prepared to change at all.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I haven’t looked at the poll, but my guess is those who have done the analytics here aren’t going to suggest that the way that the President can sort of change his leadership is by hiring and firing a couple of staff members at the White House. I think what the people in that poll are saying is consistent with our broader understanding about where the electorate is right now — are saying they want to see more from Washington, D.C. in the way of policies that will benefit middle-class families. That’s something that the President has been fighting for for quite some time.
We have not gotten much, if any, cooperation from Republicans in Congress on this. So we’ll have to see what the outcome of the election is. Just as importantly, we’ll have to see what lessons individual members of Congress derive from the outcome of those elections. And we’ll see if it causes some Republicans to look for more opportunities to work with the President to advance the kind of middle-class agenda that traditionally hasn’t gotten bogged down in partisan wrangling.
So again, that would be an optimistic, hopeful outcome, but we’ll see what the outcome is.
Q Two other quick things. One on Iran and an opportunity for the President to work with Congress. Republicans and Democrats, like Bob Menendez, have been saying they want him to come to Congress with any sort of deal, if there’s a nuclear deal with Iran. And since we last had a briefing here, there was an audio tape that emerged in which Ben Rhodes was privately saying that you’re looking at ways to get around Congress, basically, to push this deal through. What can you say about that? And on the tape there’s sort of laughter about the idea of going around Congress. So for all this talk about working with Congress, can you tell us how that applies in this field?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t heard the tape, but what I have heard are the readouts of any number of conversations that have taken place between senior administration officials and Democrats and Republicans in Congress who are regularly being updated by this administration on the status of our conversations with Iran. The fact is — and I’ve said this many times — we wouldn’t have succeeded in bringing Iran to the negotiating table had the administration and Congress been unable to work so closely on this matter.
I think this is actually one of the instances where we can point to successful cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the administration in putting in place a sanctions regime that has exacted a significant toll on the Iranian economy. That sanctions regime would not have been successful without the skilled implementation of that regime by this administration, by working so closely with our partners to do the diplomacy that’s necessary to really tighten the crank on the Iranians. And that’s why the administration has continued to work closely with Congress to update them on the status of our ongoing negotiations.
The other thing that I’ll say about this is that listening to the public comments of members of Congress it’s pretty clear that views on this particular situation and the best way to resolve it don’t really break down along partisan lines; that there are people with different views and different philosophies in terms of how the executive branch should protect and defend the interests of the United States of America in dealing with nations like Iran.
Let me just say one last thing, which is that there continues to be ongoing discussions between technical experts — or among technical experts, both in Iran and members of the P5-plus-1, and it’s all geared toward resolving not just the United States’ concern about the Iran nuclear program, but about the international community’s concerns about the Iran nuclear program. The best way to resolve that is not through military action, but we can get an enduring diplomatic solution where the Iranians themselves in the context of that agreement would agree in a verifiable, transparent way to confirm for the international community that their nuclear program is only geared toward peaceful civilian purposes.
Q Last one. You referenced this in a previous answer about hiring and firing around here. There’s been a whole series of leaks in the last few days, administration officials speculating about who’s coming and going, officials mocking the Secretary of State that he’s off message. Is this White House fracturing?
MR. EARNEST: No, Ed. There is a complete unity of opinion that the President’s view and that the President’s commitment to both expanding economic opportunity for the middle class and doing everything we can to protect the American people around the globe continues to be at the top of our agenda here. And I can tell you that the President’s team is wholly unified in pursuit of those goals.
Q Josh, when you said a few minutes ago that the public should examine the President’s priorities, are you saying that after six years the public is unaware of his priorities?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t mean to suggest that. I think the President has tried to be very clear about what he believes in, what he stands for and what he’s fighting for, and what he’s fighting for are policies on the domestic side that benefit middle-class families; that expand economic opportunity for middle-class families. And when it comes to our foreign policy, the President is committed to ensuring that American influence around the globe is a force for good and used in a way that strengthens the security and stability of the United States of America.
Q When you look at the election landscape and you make a comment like you did about the — that the public should examine the President’s priorities, do you anywhere in your gut feel that there was a failure to communicate those priorities the right way?
MR. EARNEST: Not at all. The President continues to believe, and I continue to believe, that the argument shapes up well for Democrats in this election. And some of that is because the President has played an important role in making that argument. But ultimately, it’s up to these individual candidates to make the case for themselves. And if they — many of those candidates I think will make a case about their commitment to fighting for policies that benefit middle-class families.
And the President is eager to boost that argument, to boost those candidates, and to do what he can to help them. And whether that’s doing interviews with radio hosts or taping robocall messages, or lending his campaign apparatus expertise to individual candidates, the President is all in and doing everything that he can to support Democratic candidates.
Q Thanks. Back to the Fed. Does the President think the Fed could be doing more things to help the middle class?
MR. EARNEST: Roger, as you know, the Federal Reserve has maintained a long tradition of independence in terms of their policymaking. And it’s perceived by some as an infringement on that independence for me to make comments about the substantive policy decisions that are made by the Fed. So, in deference to that point of view, I’m not going to be in a position to answer your question.
Q Okay, understood. Is the President happy with the Fed’s performance since Yellen took over? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Again, only out of an abundance of caution, I’m going to refrain from answering that question just for the same reason.
Q Okay, one more stab. He’s going to Asia next week.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q Chinese currency has been a major trade issue for years.
MR. EARNEST: It has.
Q Is he going to raise that issue with the Chinese President?
MR. EARNEST: As you know, Roger, there are a number of issues that are regularly raised by the President in the context of his conversations with —
Q This has usually been one of them. I just want an affirmation that it’s going to come again.
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is typically the domain not of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, usually, but in this case, the Secretary of the Treasury. And so I’d refer you to the Treasury Department for any possible conversations that could be taking place between the United States and China.
Q Would you rule that out?
MR. EARNEST: I would not.
Q Josh, there was a mechanical problem on Air Force One last night during the President’s campaign trip. Do you have any information about whether — how that problem was detected?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of the details of that problem that was reported and that necessitated a change in aircraft last night. I’d refer you to the United States Air Force, who flies and maintains those planes, for a more detailed assessment. Again, I think a lot of the details about the President’s aircraft are not something that they spend a lot of time talking about publicly. I don’t know if they’ll be in a position to answer your question, but if anybody can it will be them.
Q You’re suggesting in your answer to Ed’s question that the American people probably wouldn’t be interested in hiring or firing of staff. And so I’m wondering if that’s an indication that we shouldn’t expect what we’ve seen from other Presidents, which is kind of a significant turnover or the departure of a key figure of the administration kind of in the aftermath of tomorrow’s election.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Justin, as was the case in previous presidencies, traditionally, after a midterm election it’s not uncommon for members of the President’s staff to use the opportunity of that election or its aftermath to leave the White House and sort of engage in a transition. So I would anticipate that there will be members — colleagues of mine here at the White House who will do exactly that. I don’t know who those people are. I don’t know of anybody who’s leaving. I just suspect that that’s likely to be the case.
I think what will be different is that there have been some Presidents who have felt compelled in the aftermath of midterm elections to publicly fire high-profile members of the administration. At this point, I don’t anticipate that that will happen later this week.
Q And I just wanted to ask about — yesterday in Connecticut, the President got interrupted I think five different times during his speech by immigration protestors. This is something that’s happened on nearly every one of his campaign stops. And so when we’re talking about communications and how effective you guys have been in communicating, why do you think the President hasn’t been effective in communicating to obviously passionate advocates of immigration reform that he continues to be an ally to them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the first thing, Justin, I’d say about that is I think it is an exaggeration to say that it’s happened at nearly every one of the President’s campaign stops. I mean, the President did three events over the weekend and it happened in one of them. I attended an event with the President on Thursday night in Maine and it didn’t occur there either.
So, that being said, I will stipulate, however, that there are advocates at some of the campaign events that the President has hosted who have expressed some frustration with the stalled progress of comprehensive immigration reform. The President, as he’s said on many occasions, shares that frustration. And I do think that those sorts of protests are evidence of the growing frustration by people who care most about this issue that Congress — in this case, House Republicans — have been unable to do something that seems so simple, so nonpartisan, and so common sense, which is to pass common-sense immigration reform legislation that’s already passed in bipartisan fashion by the Senate.
And the fact is we know that if it were put up for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives that this bill would pass; that there is bipartisan support, in fact, majority support, for common-sense immigration reform legislation in the House of Representatives. The only reason that vote hasn’t occurred is because there are members of the House Republican leadership that are preventing that bill from coming up for a vote.
What the President has said is that I strongly disagree with your opposition to this bill, but at least allow it to come up for a vote, at least allow the elected representatives of the American people to consider this piece of legislation that’s already passed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate — if for no other reason that it would have strong and significant consequences for our broader economy, for our budget deficit, and certainly for people who are seeking to immigrate to this country.
Q The reason that I ask is one of the polls that’s been cited already — the ABC poll today — showed that since the beginning of the year, the President’s favorability has fallen nearly 20 percent with Hispanic voters. Obviously that’s, as the head of the party, an issue for Democrats headed into tomorrow’s election. I mean, I know that you guys said when you decided to delay the action you were willing to take the political hit for it. Do you think that this political hit is hurting Democrats headed into tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, we’ll have to see what the polls say about that. And my guess, though, is no, that what you are seeing is that you’re going to see voters make up their minds for a whole variety of reasons, most of them having to do with the candidates who are actually on the ballot.
The other thing I think that this highlights — and this is something that we have talked about previously — that the decision by the President to delay the announcement about executive actions to solve or at least address some of the problems associated with our broken immigration system had less to do with trying to dictate the outcome of specific elections and more with trying to deflect the political heat that would be focused on this specific issue.
Q Last week, on the Secret Service, it became known that the CDC worker did not have a criminal — felony criminal record. I am wondering if the White House, if the President knew that information before last week and if that changes — or if there is any second-guessing in the White House about the decision to dismiss the Secret Service Director. Because that incident was sort of was widely believed to sort of be the last straw for Julia Pierson, so I’m just looking for some reaction to the news that that incident was seemingly not as severe as it seemed at the time and whether there is any second-guessing on dismissing Julia Pierson.
MR. EARNEST: I’ll say a couple things about that. The President was briefed on this incident shortly before it was reported publicly. I don’t know of any subsequent briefings that the President has received. The President does continue to believe that new leadership has been needed at the Secret Service, and that’s related to the number of incidents that had cropped up around the United States Secret Service in the last several weeks.
So I can tell you that, consistent with the views of the President, the Department of Homeland Security, under the direction of the Deputy Secretary, has completed their review of the fence-jumping incident that occurred six or so weeks ago. That review, you’ll recall, was a careful examination of what exactly transpired that evening and considered carefully whether sort of any updated or any updates were needed to the security posture here at the White House. That report has been conveyed to the Secretary of Homeland Security, who will forward it to this independent panel of experts that he’s appointed to consider that review and also to consider the criteria for who the next director of the United States Secret Service should be. And I would anticipate that at an appropriate time, that there will be more that the Department of Homeland Security will be able to say about this review and about the recommendations from this independent panel.
J.C., I’ll give you the last one.
Q Josh, in light of the two recent crashes of private-sector spacecraft, including Sir Richard Branson’s failed attempted — tragic failed attempt, and the U.S. strained relationship with Russia, is this administration reconsidering its funding of NASA?
MR. EARNEST: Well, J.C., I can tell you that we’ve often talked about the complicated relationship that the United States has with Russia; that for all of our strenuous disagreements about Russia’s conduct in Ukraine and along their border with Ukraine, we’ve also demonstrated an ability to cooperate with them on other issues in our clear mutual interest. The first of those was the successful eradication of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile.
We have continued to see cooperation with the Russians in the context of the P5-plus-1 talks with Iran. And we have continued to see cooperation between the United States and Russia as it relates to the International Space Station; that there — as recently as a few weeks ago, I believe, an American astronaut was transported to the International Space Station aboard a Russia-launched rocket. That is indicative of the kind of ongoing cooperation that exists between the United States and Russia, as it relates to our space program.
So in terms of the more recent news related to the space program, I would say that we continue to believe and are proud of the fact that the United States is on an ambitious and sustainable path of space exploration, and that the development of a commercial space industry in this country has had significant economic benefits for communities all across the country. It also is something that has led to important innovation — that this kind of competition has yielded innovative results and advancements for the space industry. It also builds in redundancies into the system. So the President continues to believe overall in the value of investments in our space program and in space exploration.
And despite some of the more setbacks — in some cases, tragic setbacks — the President continues to be optimistic about the future of the U.S. space program. Even as we sit here today, there is a rover — or there are multiple rovers on the surface of Mars. There are Americans who are living and working every day aboard the International Space Station that is in orbit around the globe. There is spacecraft right now that have extended beyond — they’ve traveled beyond our solar system and are conducting important research that’s being beamed back to Planet Earth.
And we continue to see NASA technology and instruments in space that are used to collect data and offer advice to scientists who are looking to mitigate the impact of climate change on Planet Earth. So this is an indication that NASA continues to make a substantial contribution to science, to the welfare not just of this country but of our planet.
Q There’s no regret from this administration that they couldn’t be more robust in funding or working with Congress to fund NASA?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ve been clear about what our priorities are and we are clear about the fact that we are pleased that the United States, under the leadership of NASA, continues to be on an ambitious, sustainable path of space exploration.
Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you tomorrow.
1:13 P.M. EST