Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 29, 2014 – 1:09 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Is there a game on tonight?
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry?
Q Is there a game on tonight?
MR. EARNEST: There is a game on tonight. I was hoping somebody would mention this today so I wouldn’t have to awkwardly bring it up myself. But I did think I would direct to your attention a document that was crafted by then-Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest back at the end of March. (Laughter.) There was, you may recall, a petition at “We the People” urging the President to create a national holiday on Opening Day, that this should be a day that people could enjoy the national pastime.
Q Good idea.
MR. EARNEST: It is a good idea. I said as much in my written response, so I will read just part of it here. (Laughter.) Stick with me, you’re going to enjoy this. This will be good, I promise.
Q It’s quite a windup.
MR. EARNEST: It is. There’s more of that to come. “While we’re sympathetic to your pitch to make Opening Day a national holiday, it’s a little outside our strike zone. Creating permanent federal holidays is traditionally the purview of Congress, so it’s up to the men and women of Capitol Hill to decide whether to swing at this pitch. To celebrate Opening Day — earlier this spring — we’ll be honoring the 2013 World Series Champions, the Boston Red Sox, here at the White House on Tuesday.” It was a great event; many of you probably attended.
“Meanwhile, I, Josh Earnest, will spend that day visualizing what it would be like to welcome my 2014 World Series Champion, Kansas City Royals, to the White House. This is, after all, the best part of Opening Day. Every team is tied for first place and poised to make a run at the fall classic.”
So while I previously believed that Opening Day was the greatest day of the baseball season, I can now revise my remarks to say that the day of game seven, when your team is in the World Series, is bar none the greatest day in the baseball season.
Q Did you just jinx the Royals?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t — I think that they are on such a roll that there is nothing I could say from here that’s going to impact their performance tonight. But I, like many people across the country, will be rooting for America’s team tonight. So it should be good. (Laughter.)
On to more serious topics, I do have a quick announcement at the top, Darlene, and then we’ll let you get us started with questions.
The President believes that expanding access to high-quality early childhood education is among the smartest and most cost-effective investments that America can make. That is why in his 2014 State of the Union Address, the President called for expanding access to high-quality early childhood education to every child in America.
Since then, the President has proposed a series of new investments in early childhood education, and more than 30 states and cities have established new programs or expanded access to preschool.
As a continued part of this effort, on December 10th the President will host a White House Summit on Early Education. This summit will bring together a broad coalition of philanthropic business, education, advocacy and elected leaders, as well as other stakeholders who are committed to expanding access to high-quality early learning.
During the summit, the President will announce the states and communities that will receive the $250 million in preschool development grants, and $500 million in Early Head Start Childcare Partnership awards to enhance and expand preschool programs to improve access to high-quality infant and toddler care in high-need communities.
In addition to these grant announcements, the President will, as you would expect, highlight new private sector commitments to expand children’s early learning opportunities. We’ll have more details on the summit in the weeks to come, but certainly it’s something to mark on your calendar. December 10th is the day; it will be here at the White House.
You’ve heard the President talk in the past about what the statistics show about children that do have access to a high-quality early childhood education; that going through these programs correlates strongly with higher literacy and graduation rates and, interestingly, with lower dropout, teen pregnancy and incarceration rates.
So this is a worthy investment that many Republicans in states across the country have strongly advocated. The President is advocating them in Washington, D.C. And I would anticipate that you’ll hear the President talk about this quite a bit in the year to come, but you can look forward to the President talking about it on December 10th of this year as well.
So with that long windup, Darlene, I’ll let you get started. That’s the last baseball reference of the whole briefing, I promise.
Q There’s also tomorrow’s briefing.
MR. EARNEST: Well, there is. (Laughter.)
Q Is it appropriate for a senior administration official to refer to the Israeli Prime Minister as “chicken…”? And does that description represent the view of the administration at-large up to and including the President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Darlene, as a general matter not related to that story, I’ll tell you that my job often involves taking the product that you just described and turning it into chicken salad. So I will do my best to answer your question in a straightforward way.
The fact is that comments like that do not reflect the administration’s view, and we do believe that they are counterproductive. The Prime Minister and the President have forged an effective partnership. They consult closely and frequently, and did so as recently as this month here at the White House in the Oval Office. There is a very close relationship between the United States and Israel, but that close relationship does not mean that we paper over our differences. The fact is, the United States has repeatedly made clear our view that settlement activity is illegitimate and only serves to complicate efforts to achieve a two-state solution in the region.
The United States and — the relationship between the United States and Israel is as strong as ever. The security bonds between our two nations are unbreakable. And there are strong links between our two countries that aren’t just historic, but are also persistent.
And I think the best illustration of that is something that will occur here in Washington, D.C. starting tomorrow. The President’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, will be hosting her counterpart, the Israeli National Security Advisor, Yossi Cohen, and a senior delegation of Israeli officials for the U.S.-Israel Consultative Group Meeting. This is a biannual meeting in which senior officials from the United States and Israel meet to engage in consultations on a broad range of regional and bilateral issues. It serves — this meeting — and the fact that it occurs every six months — serves as a testament to the unprecedented level of coordination and cooperation between the United States and Israel, and between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel.
Q Speaker Boehner just issued a pretty strong statement where he said the President is the one who sets the tone in the administration, and that an administration official who would say something like this should basically be shown the door. So does the President know who said this, and will there be any sort of consequences for that person?
MR. EARNEST: It’s an interesting observation by the Speaker of the House whom you all know has a penchant for using some pretty salty language himself. So it’s a little rich to have a lecture about profanity from the Speaker of the House.
Q Has he ever said that about a prime minister or a president?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know, you’d have to ask him. I know that he said that — or at least —
Q You’re making a direct comparison.
MR. EARNEST: He has reportedly said that about the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. And as long as we’re talking about respect, I think that’s notable. But I will say as a general matter that I am not aware of who made those comments to Mr. Goldberg. I do not know if the President knows who made those comments; I would be surprised if he did. But the fact is anonymous comments like that on a range of issues are not particularly unique. A lot of you spend a lot of time talking to administration officials and trying to discern what those individuals have to say — or what those individuals have to say and how it reflects on the United States policy.
And what I can tell you here, on the record and on camera, is that those comments do not reflect the United States position and they do not reflect the personal views of the President of the United States. Again, and I would point to the recent meeting that the President convened with the Prime Minister of Israel in his office earlier this month as an indication of the strong relationship between the two men. It’s often been observed that the President of the United States has spoken to no world leader more often than Prime Minister Netanyahu. That’s a relatively arbitrary metric — I would concede that on the front end — but I do think that it illustrates the nature of the relationship that exists between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. This is a critically important relationship.
The United States is as committed as it has ever been to the security of Israel. You’ll recall that earlier this summer the President signed legislation that had been requested by the administration to spend $225 million on an Iron Dome system to protect Israeli citizens from rockets being fired by extremists in Gaza. That is another illustration of the strong and enduring security relationship that exists between the United States and Israel, and the fact that the Obama administration specifically requested this funding I think is indicative of the President’s own personal commitment to the enduring security bond between the United States and Israel.
Q Is it true that Russia was behind the attempt to get into the White House computer system? And do you know if the hackers were going after something specific or was that intrusion sort of a phishing expedition?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I can tell you, Darlene, is that the White House has detected some activity of concern on the White House network. There is an ongoing effort to evaluate that activity and to mitigate the risk associated with that activity.
In the context of those efforts, the administration is continuing to learn all we can about where those activities originated and what sort of methods are associated with those activities.
It would be unwise, I think for rather obvious reasons, for me to discuss from here what we have learned so far. So what I can tell you as a general matter, though, is something that will not be particularly surprising to you. There are many people around the world who would love to gain greater insight into the activities of the United States government by collecting information from the White House network.
That is why our network is subject to daily cyber-attacks, or at least efforts to infiltrate it. And that means the White House and our — the government components that are responsible for cybersecurity are ever vigilant in terms of assessing and reassessing and updating the security posture around the White House network. And we take these kinds of activities very seriously.
And while we have been aware of these activities for some time, it has not affected the ability — aside from some inconveniences — it has not affected the ability of White House staffers and others who use the White House network to carry out the important work that’s done here on a daily basis.
Q About a year ago, the White House investigated the source of some other anonymous comments, a person who was tweeting anonymously and directing vitriol at White House officials, and made sure that that person was punished, was fired, lost their job. So is the White House committed to seeking out who made these comments, the “chickenshit” comment, and punishing that person?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Roberta, what I can tell you is that even your news organization can evaluate the fact that anonymous comments that are contrary to administration policy are not particularly unique. I don’t know if they’re a daily occurrence. They may not rise to the level of the comments that you’re citing today, perhaps because the comments that you’re citing today are rather colorful. But what I can tell you is that in the clearest terms possible, in the most open forum possible, that those comments, as they were reported, do not accurately reflect at all this administration’s view about the nation of Israel, the strength of the relationship between our two countries, or the leadership of that important ally.
Q But can you say whether the White House is going to attempt to find out who said it and punish that person?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know of any effort like that that’s underway right now. Again, there are anonymous comments like this that are shared with reporters like yourself on a pretty regular basis. And what we have found to be the most effective tactic is to help all of you understand the proper context for those comments. In this case, I’m not sure there is a proper context for those comments because they are so directly in opposition to the true view and policy of this administration.
Q I want to turn to Ebola for a second. What does the White House think of the state of Maine saying that it’s going to pursue Kaci Hickox over her quarantine? And has Ron Klain spoken to Maine officials about this?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know the nature of any conversations between the White House and officials in Maine. I’d refer you to the CDC for any conversations that may have occurred or may have taken place between health care experts at the CDC and public health officials in Maine.
The policy that this administration rolled out just in the last week or so, as it relates to health care workers, was to ensure that state and local officials had the information that they need to use their authority and judgment to protect the citizens of their state. That involved enhanced screening measures that took the temperature of those individuals who were entering the United States who had recently traveled in West Africa. It also involved collecting the contact information and travel plans of those individuals who fell into a certain category. And that information has been shared and will continue to be shared with state and local officials so that they can take the steps that they believe are necessary to protect the citizens in their state.
But as it relates to any specific conversations that occurred between the White House and Maine officials, I just don’t have any information for you on that.
Q And no comments on what’s happening in Maine with the public fight that’s happening between Kaci Hickox and the state?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, the CDC has laid out very clear guidelines that they believe should be in place. These are guidelines that were driven by science and by the scientific knowledge that’s been gained in the four decades that scientists have been fighting Ebola outbreaks. And we have put in place policies that reflect that guidance and collected information that will make it possible for state and local officials to take the kinds of steps that they believe are necessary to protect the citizens in their state.
Q Josh, getting back to that comment that rhymes with chicken spit, we’re just wondering, have you been able to determine whether or not that comment was even made?
MR. EARNEST: I have not, Jim. I don’t say that to question the reporting of somebody like Mr. Goldberg, who obviously is a very well-respected journalist here in Washington. He is somebody that has a lot of sources inside the administration. So I didn’t come here seeking to undermine his reporting. I came here to make sure that all of you, that all of your viewers understand what the policy is — of the United States is as it relates to Israel and the service of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The fact is the United States and Israel have an unshakeable bond, and that the security cooperation that is underway between officials in the Israeli government, up to and including Prime Minister Netanyahu, and officials in the United States government, up to and including President Obama, indicate a very close coordination when it comes to matters related to security.
There are also a range of regional matters where the United States works closely with our allies in Israel to ensure that we’re advancing the kinds of policies that will benefit our ally in Israel.
Q And Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to this by saying, “I’m not willing to make concessions that would endanger our country.” He does have the sense that that is what the United States wants him to do — to make concessions that he believes would endanger the people of Israel. Do you take issue with that?
MR. EARNEST: I think what I would say, Jim, is something that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself would agree with, which is it is the view of the United States of America that a two-state solution to the dispute between the Palestinian people and the nation of Israel is one that is best resolved through a two-state solution.
We believe that the nation of Israel, living — a secure Jewish state of Israel, living side by side in peace with a secure Palestinian state is one that is in the best interest of both sides. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has publicly indicated that he shares that view. And that is the resolution that folks like Secretary of State John Kerry have worked assiduously to achieve.
Q And should the President call Prime Minister Netanyahu and apologize on behalf of this official who made this comment?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have any calls on the President’s schedule to tell you about, but I think — I can confidently say that based on the numerous conversations that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have held, that the Prime Minister is well aware of the value that President Obama personally places on the strength of the relationship between the United States and Israel.
Q And what about their personal relationship? Because I mean, it goes without saying, and many people have made this observation so it’s not new to you that the President and the Prime Minister just have sort of an icy relationship. Is that a fair assessment?
MR. EARNEST: That’s not the way that I would describe it. I think that the — again, the President has spoken to president — I’m sorry, the President — President Obama has spoken to President — I’ll get it right. President Obama has spoken to Prime Minister Netanyahu more times than any other world leader. That is an indication of the very close coordination that is underway and enduring between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. This is the kind of relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. Those deep bonds that I have referred to are enduring. They transcend individual presidencies. And the fact of the matter is President Obama has worked hard to strengthen that relationship. And I know that my predecessor, Mr. Carney, used to tell the story of Prime Minister Netanyahu standing aside — standing side by side with Vice President Biden observing that no American administration had ever done as much as the Obama administration to invest in the safety and security of the Israeli people. And, again, that is a testament to the long-term relationship that exists between the United States and Israel, and it’s a testament to the priority that this President places on the security of our ally, the nation of Israel.
Q And on the computer-network intrusion, are you saying that the White House does not know who is behind it?
MR. EARNEST: I’m saying that it would be unwise for me to discuss right now what exactly that we know. And the reason for that is simply that we have taken steps to evaluate this activity of concern and to mitigate the risk associated with that activity. Our efforts are ongoing, and by publicly revealing what we know it might affect our ability to learn more.
Q It’s pretty widely known, though, that the Russians have been pretty prolific in terms of hacking in recent months. It’s a major concern up on Capitol Hill among members of the Intelligence Committee. They’ve talked about it. Does the White House share that view about Russian hackers? I’m not specifically talking about this case, but that they have been wreaking a lot of havoc in networks — in government networks in the United States and among U.S. allies.
MR. EARNEST: Jim, what I would say about that is there are a number of nations and organizations around the globe that are engaged in efforts to collect information about U.S. government activity. And it’s not a surprise — we’re certainly aware of the fact that those individuals or organizations, or even countries, might view the White House computer network as a valuable source of information. And that is why we remain vigilant about ensuring that that network is protected. We’re constantly evaluating the security posture, updating it and tweaking it where necessary to ensure the —
Q And the system wasn’t shut down here? People were able to use — I know that the White House said last night that there was no damage done to the network. But did it harm the ability of people in this administration to do critical, important work of the U.S. government for a period of time?
MR. EARNEST: There were some steps that were taken to — that did have an impact on day-to-day activities at the White House. But I would describe those impacts more as an inconvenience than anything else.
And those steps were taken specifically to respond to this activity of concern and to further our efforts to evaluate that activity and to mitigate the risk associated with that activity. The inconvenience that I described was not the result of this activity of concern, but rather was a response to it.
Let’s move around just a little bit. Richard.
Q Thank you, Josh. I would just like to know about more than what we witnessed last week in Ottawa. Information, intelligence reached the administration to ask for an increase of security around public buildings.
MR. EARNEST: Richard, it won’t surprise you to hear that I’m not in a position to talk about intelligence information that may have been shared by our partners in Canada. There is a very close security and counterterrorism relationship between U.S. and Canadian officials. U.S. officials, particularly in recent days, have been in very frequent touch with their counterparts in Canada to respond to the tragic incidents of last week, and to try to address any ongoing threats that may exist either to Canadian people or to the Canadian people.
So those conversations continue on a regular basis, but I’m not in a position to detail them. For the decision that the Secretary of Homeland Security made to change the security posture at some government facilities in the U.S., I’d refer you to the Department of Homeland Security who may be able to provide you some additional information about why those prudent steps were taken.
Q If I understand you well, even not getting into details, information came from Canada, like informing the U.S. to be careful? General information, even if you don’t get into detail.
MR. EARNEST: I just don’t think that I would be in a position to characterize the conversations between counterterrorism officials in the U.S. and counterterrorism officials in Canada, even at that level. It’s a sensitive communication, and it speaks to the depth of trust and coordination that exists between U.S. and Canadian counterterrorism officials. Those conversations are going on all the time. They certainly have ramped up in recent days in light of the events that you cite. But even when — for lack of a better description — no one else is paying attention, our officials here in the U.S. work closely with Canadian officials to protect the populations of both of our countries.
Q Just to conclude — so you would consider this, this strong mutual trust in the fight against terrorist threats?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, it is our view that the close coordination that exists between Canadian counterterrorism officials and American counterterrorism officials strongly benefits the safety and security of the people of Canada and the people of the United States of America.
Q Ebola. The President is going to highlight the role of people who he describes as heroes — the eight workers on the front lines there. And you and others have said repeatedly that the key to stopping this epidemic is to at the source put soldiers on the ground, if you will. Is there anything specific that the administration is doing to encourage or to facilitate more medical personnel going to the hot zone to deal with the Ebola crisis besides highlighting their role? Because clearly this is, as you would no doubt agree, the key to stopping this epidemic.
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say two things about that. First, let me agree with what you’ve said, which is that what the scientists tell us is that the only way that we can entirely eliminate the risk posed by the Ebola virus to the American people is to stop this outbreak at the source. There are previous Ebola outbreaks in West Africa that have been stopped. Those previous efforts required significant international commitments, and this one will too.
So let me first say that the United States has made the greatest commitment to stopping this outbreak. The most important investment that anyone has made to stopping this outbreak is the investment that was made by the President of the United States of Department of Defense resources to add some logistical expertise to West Africa to speed the flow of supplies, equipment and personnel to the region.
So much of what we see in West Africa is a logistical challenge — that we know how to stop an Ebola outbreak, but it requires the significant mobilization of health care workers and the equipment that they need to do their job safely.
So the Department of Defense, while not being responsible for treating Ebola patients directly, can be of significant assistance to those health care workers who are already on the ground moving around the region, having facilities where they can work, and having access to the equipment that they need to do their job safely and successfully.
At the same time, let me say — the other thing that I think is also important here is, it is important for us to understand the valuable contribution, sacrifice even, that is made by health care workers who volunteer their time to travel to West Africa to work in very difficult conditions to try to stop the Ebola outbreak. And that is a reflection of the kind of generosity that is worthy of our praise and respect. And that is part of what is motivating the President’s activities today.
One point of interest: The President will be introduced today by Dr. Kent Brantly, who, as you probably remember, contracted Ebola while working on the front lines against the disease in West Africa. Dr. Brantly was the first person with Ebola to be treated in the United States, when he was evacuated from Liberia to Emory University Hospital. Since beating the disease, Dr. Brantly has also generously donated blood plasma to other Ebola patients, all of whom have recovered.
Q I recently spoke with Dr. Rick Sacra, who is another survivor, and he and others have said that all this logistical support is certainly important but of little value if there are not enough medical professionals to utilize it, to deal directly with patients and to treat them. Is there any reconsideration of this line that keeps American doctors, DOD doctors or others, from dealing with patients directly? We know the science, this 40 years of science. We know there’s obviously some risk of doing this. We know that all of the Americans who have contracted the disease and been treated here have survived. Is there any reconsideration of that line? And why is it there?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, that is not a policy that is under consideration, and let me explain to you why. We have seen that the significant commitment of the Department of Defense’s logistical expertise has galvanized the international community. By committing Department of Defense resources and giving the international community a clear indication that the Department of Defense will be there to support ongoing response efforts, it has bolstered confidence in the overall response effort — that previously we had seen organizations and countries sitting back, being unwilling to invest in the broader Ebola response because they were uncertain of how successful that response effort would be.
But after the President made this significant commitment of logistical resources to make sure that supplies and equipment and personnel could get to the region and that that transportation could be executed efficiently, it inspired confidence in the response. And it made other countries and other organizations more willing to commit resources and personnel to this broader effort.
It is going to require, as I mentioned at the beginning, an international commitment to get this done and to achieve this significant challenge. It will be done because of the leadership of the President of the United States. It will be successful because of the expertise and service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. But we know that after fighting this disease for 40 years, that we can stop this outbreak in its tracks.
Q Isn’t it fair to argue that more doctors that go, the quicker this epidemic would be eliminated?
MR. EARNEST: I’m certainly not an expert in the field, but I think you’re making a logical inference here.
Q So still there’s no reconsideration of this idea, or of this — of having doctors, American doctors go to deal with this? They’re mostly volunteers. You know all the considerations they have to deal with.
MR. EARNEST: Right. Well, we’ve been very —
Q Why? Again, why is that line there?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we believe and we’ve made very clear that the kinds of policies that are put in place to protect the American people when health care workers return from West Africa should place protecting the American people at the top of the list of priorities. That is the fundamental reason that active monitoring policies are in place for those who return from West Africa.
At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re not placing an undue burden on health care workers who are returning from West Africa because, again, it’s going to require their expertise and service to stop this outbreak at the source. And that’s why it is — we have worked hard to make sure that the policies that are put in place by this government reflect the kind of scientific advice that we’re getting from experts who have been fighting this disease for 40 years now.
Q One quick question on another topic. Ferguson, Missouri — there’s a lot of anticipation about a grand jury decision whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson in that case. The President has spoken out about this on a number of occasions. He’s obviously concerned. Today the Attorney General said that he was exasperated and mad about leaks compromising the judicial process there — one of the issues that the President was concerned about, the process generally. As we get closer to this imminent decision, is the President still monitoring the situation? Is he mindful of it? Is he concerned about what he’s seen over the past months as it has played out?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ron, let me start by saying that I don’t want to make the mistake that the Attorney General warned against, which is I don’t want to say anything that might be construed as compromising an ongoing investigation, particularly the ongoing deliberations of a grand jury that’s reportedly been convened.
That said, the President is aware of what’s happening in Ferguson. He obviously is not involved directly in the legal process, but you’ve heard him speak about his interest in this matter. And it’s one that he’ll continue to follow.
Q Josh, on that question, Ron raised a good point about the leaks in the grand jury. The administration has spoken out on them. The administration also has a long track record over the many months about complaining about leaks involving national security. We’ve seen threats to reporters like James Risen, to potentially be thrown in jail over leaks to him. James Rosen’s phone records gone through because of leaks to him. My question going back to the Israel story is why then are you kind of sloughing off this idea, but you kind of don’t care who leaked that story that might have — that not might have, that insulted the Prime Minister of Israel? You’ve gone after reporters again and again in this administration to find out who leaked information to them. And then when it comes to insulting the Prime Minister, you don’t seem to care who leaked it.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ed, again, I don’t think that is an accurate reflection of the administration’s policy, and it certainly isn’t an accurate reflection of our views of the Prime Minister of Israel.
Q Hasn’t the Justice Department gone after a whole series of reporters?
MR. EARNEST: No, they haven’t. And, in fact, they’ve actually put in place measures under the leadership of the Attorney General to ensure that journalists in this country are able to do their jobs, and that — the Attorney General has made a pretty clear statement about what I think we would all agree is a pretty common-sense principle, which is that —
Q So James Risen is now in the clear? He is not going to go to jail?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just finish stating the principle, which is that we’ve made really clear — and the Attorney General has made clear — what I think is a pretty common-sense principle, which is that journalists should not face jail time for just doing their jobs. And so I guess the point is, my view — maybe I’m just even speaking about my own personal view here — my view about the most effective way for us to deal with a situation like the one Darlene first raised is to make sure that all of you, and that your readers and viewers understand precisely what this administration’s policy is when it comes to Israel and the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu. And the fact of the matter is the United States continues to have to this day an unbreakable commitment to the security of the nation of Israel.
That’s why you see the ongoing, close coordination when it comes to matters related to Israel’s security. And that’s why — that’s one reason that the President’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, is hosting a high-level Israeli delegation to talk about these matters. These are discussions that are convened every six months, and they just happen to be starting up tomorrow.
Q Last one on this, not to belabor it, but I’m trying to make the point that as a reporter I certainly don’t believe in leak investigations. But for you to suggest that this administration has not launched more leak investigations to get at information who leaked what, gone after reporters — and now in this case, it doesn’t seem to matter.
MR. EARNEST: Well, it seems like you’re in a position where you’re advocating a leak investigation be conducted here.
Q I’m curious as to why you don’t want to know who leaked this.
MR. EARNEST: I think the fact of the matter is, Ed, what I’m mostly concerned about is two things. One is making sure that everybody understands the administration’s commitment to a principle about legitimate journalism and this administration’s commitment to the ongoing security relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. From this vantage point that is the most that I can do, but I think that’s a really important thing. It’s important for the people of Israel. It certainly is important for Prime Minister Netanyahu, although I don’t think he has any ambiguity about this situation. He’s somebody who speaks to the President on a regular basis — as recently as earlier this month in the Oval Office.
Q A couple others on a different topic. I think Richard asked about the terror alert that Secretary Johnson put out yesterday. First of all, just can you clarify exactly what happened yesterday? I understand he raised the threat level at federal buildings, personnel? Is that actually the administration raising the terror threat level in this country? Can you explain to the American people? And I know DHS is handling the details of it, but from the White House, are you telling the American people that the terror threat level in this country has been raised?
MR. EARNEST: That’s not what we’re saying, Ed. Again, that’s the responsibility of the Secretary of Homeland Security to make decisions about the terror threat level. My understanding is that in this case what the Secretary was doing was he was doing something that we do relatively frequently, which is evaluate and, where necessary, upgrade the security posture around government facilities around the country. And the announcement that he made was specifically related to the need to change the security posture at some government facilities. But for details about that, I’d refer you to his office.
Q But when I asked you last week, in the immediate aftermath of the Canadian terror attacks, about the FBI saying people need to be more vigilant, in terms of ISIS, you said, “For quite some time there’s been this threat from ISIS” and that there was no active terror plot. And you said just a week ago that there was no raised concern. You were watching what was happening in Canada but you didn’t want people to think that there was anything new, because for some time we had dealt with ISIS as a threat to potentially the homeland. So what changed since you said that last week?
MR. EARNEST: I think, Ed, what I said last week is entirely consistent with the way that we have responded to this situation, and that’s a couple of things. The first is, the ties between this individual and Canada and other extremists are still under investigation. So I would caution the assumption that this individual, despite his claims, had close ties to ISIL.
At the same time, we have frequently talked about our concern related to foreign fighters — these are individuals that do have close ties to ISIL. In some cases, there are individuals who have traveled to the region in Syria or Iraq to take up arms alongside ISIL. They’ve gotten equipment and training, they’re battle-hardened. These individuals have demonstrated a willingness to die for their cause and there is concern that those individuals could return to the West, return to their home countries and carry out acts of violence.
We also harbor a concern about a related but separate category of individuals, and these are individuals who are vulnerable to self-radicalization. And there has been a lot of focus on the part of this administration to countering violent extremism and making sure that we’re working closely with leaders who are widely known as prominent voices in the mainstream Muslim community to counter the efforts by radicals and extremists like ISIL to radicalize individuals using social media.
Q Last one on this. But in August, way back in August, Defense Secretary Hagel said, this is like nothing we’ve ever seen, we have to prepare for anything. That was in August. So why was there not any sort of raised level at federal buildings or anywhere in this country back in August when he said that? What changed?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what we are always doing — I think what changed is that we’re always reviewing the security posture. This is true of our transportation system.
Q So there’s no intelligence? There’s something.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m not going to discuss intelligence from here, but there’s always an effort underway by the administration — whether it is our transportation system or government facilities or even here at the White House — about whether there is the need to adjust our security posture to meet evident or existing threats. And that means the security posture is constantly under review. There are changes that are made to that posture on a pretty frequent basis. Sometimes those changes are readily apparent to the general public, sometimes they’re announced. Sometimes they’re not apparent to the general public and not announced. But this is something that we are well aware requires the vigilance of the United States of America.
Q Josh, I want to go back to Ron’s question about Ferguson and somewhat of what happens around here at the White House, as it relates to Ferguson. When there is conversation about possibilities or what’s going on in Ferguson, has there ever been any thought of President Obama actually going down there to kind of settle the situation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t know of any specific conversations around that. There may have been at the time that this issue first flared up, but I wasn’t a part of them. So the President has spoken I think a couple of times on this matter and made his views known pretty clearly. He also has been cautious, as we all have, about what Ron said about the Attorney General’s comments today, which is that we don’t want to be in a position where we are inappropriately compromising or even having an impact on ongoing legal activities there in Ferguson.
Q So we should not expect him to come out and say anything about Ferguson as there is still conversation about — or there are reports about the police chief possibly stepping down? We shouldn’t hear anything from him at least until after there is some news on the police —
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess I’ll just say as a general matter that there is nothing like that currently planned, but if the plans change and you do hear from the President, he will be speaking very mindful of the admonition of the Attorney General, that we don’t want to say anything that might compromise the ongoing grand jury investigation there.
Q And on the computer-hacking issue, how did it impact on the day to day? You talked about the day to day. How did it impact on the day-to-day activities here at the White House, the hacking?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is something that has been going on for some time. There were some inconveniences associated with the efforts that we undertook to evaluate the activity of concern and to mitigate the risk that that activity posed to the broader network. But I would characterize those changes merely as inconveniences.
Q What kind of inconveniences?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’m not going to get into the details about the — I think for obvious reasons, it’s hard for me to stand here and detail exactly what steps we took to mitigate some activity that we’re still evaluating. So I don’t mean to be obtuse here, but I also want to protect the ability of our experts to take the steps that they believe are necessary to evaluate and mitigate this activity.
Q And, lastly, as we talk about the possibilities of Russia, the reports are that Russia could be behind this hacking. It brings to mind Snowden, Edward Snowden. And what’s going on with that situation? And is there still efforts — what are the efforts to bring him back here to have him tried or whatever for treason?
MR. EARNEST: I have to admit, April, that I think that’s a legitimate question, but Edward Snowden did not occur to me at any point earlier today so I can’t give you an update on his — I can understand why somebody might think that way, I just didn’t this morning. That might show a lack of intellectual curiosity that maybe I should do a better job of maintaining, but I’d refer you to my colleagues at the State Department for more information about his current status.
Q Josh, on the cyber-attack, the statement last night said that there are daily threats against the White House computer system. Can you just speak generally about what kind of threats and how you get tipped off to these attempts to attack the system?
MR. EARNEST: I can’t get into measures that are related to protecting the system, but I think as a general matter the kinds of tactics that are used by groups and organizations seeking to collect information about the U.S. government are focused on the White House network. I think they make a common-sense assumption that there’s information —
Q And these are daily —
MR. EARNEST: That’s what I’m told by the experts — that essentially on a daily basis that there are outside organizations who are seeking to collect information about the U.S. government by infiltrating the White House network. That happens on a daily basis. That’s why we take our security posture — or I guess that’s why we take these threats very seriously and why we’re constantly reviewing and updating and, where necessary, adjusting our security posture to ensure that we can meet those threats.
Q And on this latest attack, the Washington Post reported that you were tipped off to identified activity of concern by an ally; that an ally tipped the White House off that this was going on. Is that correct?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to talk in any detail about how the nature of this threat was detected. I’m not in a position to talk about sort of the methods that were — or what we know about the methods that were used by the individual who was conducting this activity of concern.
Q And a few weeks ago, there was some reporting that the NSC was having regular briefings on the cyber-attack on J.P. Morgan, and that the President at that point had expressed a desire to find out what was going on, if this was Putin retaliating against the sanctions that had been imposed because of the situation in Ukraine. Is that right? Did the President, seeing this earlier attack on JP Morgan, express a desire to find out whether or not Vladimir Putin and the Russians were behind it?
MR. EARNEST: I have to admit, Jon, I have not seen that report, but I can look into that for you and get back to you on it.
Q Okay. And then one other subject. The ISIS video that I’m sure you saw was put out yesterday featuring the British hostage. This video was apparently shot right in Kobani, quite an elaborate production, apparently done just in recent days. It even included drone video footage. What does this say about how much we’ve done to disrupt ISIS if they’re able to put out a communications product like this, as elaborate as it was, and apparently done right in the middle of Kobani, the city that we’ve spent so much time trying to drive them back from?
MR. EARNEST: Jon, there’s not a whole lot that I can say about that video other than to say that it’s being evaluated by our intelligence agencies here in this country. It did, as you point out, feature a British citizen who is currently being held against his will by ISIL. We would renew our call for his release. And I guess the other thing I would do is refer you to my colleagues at the Department of Defense who can better characterize the impact that the military airstrike campaign has had on ISIL and their ability to operate in this area. I could concede at the front end that there are limitations associated with relying at this point only on military airstrikes; that a core component of our strategy is ensuring that we have local ground forces that can take the fight to ISIL on the ground.
And there is an active effort underway by the United States military to ramp up the assistance that we provide to elements of the Syrian opposition that our partners and allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have committed to hosting for these training-and-equipping operations. And we do anticipate that as these local forces are trained and equipped, that their capacity on the battlefield will be significantly enhanced when they’re backed up by the airstrikes launched by the United States and the members of our coalition.
Q Back on Ebola for a moment. You’ve talked at length about the White House’s view that these health care workers who go to treat Ebola patients in West Africa should feed appreciated and they shouldn’t have undue burdens placed on them. But it’s clear from what Ms. Hickox is saying, that she doesn’t feel that way, and in fact, is alleging that her rights may be violated. So I’m just wondering, is the White House doing anything to intervene in Maine?
And given that this obviously arose in New Jersey and New York, are you going to be in a situation where the White House is kind of state by state having to lean on governors and local officials and state officials not to go too far in quarantining folks who have been over there and treating —
MR. EARNEST: Julie, we talked about this a little bit on Monday, that state and local officials do have significant authority when it comes to putting in place procedures that they believe are necessary to protect the populations in their jurisdiction. I’m not aware of the specifics of the policies that have been put in place by the state of Maine, and I’m not in a position to characterize the conversations that have taken place by officials in Maine and officials at the CDC or HHS or even here at the White House. I can look to see if we can collect some more information on that that can be shared with you.
But as a general matter, we have made very clear what we believe science indicates should be the policy governing the active monitoring of individuals who have returned — or I should say, related to monitoring the health of individuals who have returned to the United States after having recently traveled in West Africa. And there’s a very specific protocol that CDC has laid out that are dependent on an individualized assessment of risk associated with individuals who are returning to this country from West Africa.
So I don’t know which category Ms. Hickox falls into, and I’m not aware of which — what sort of policies and protocols the state of Maine has adopted for monitoring her health. So it’s hard for me to answer specifically your question, other than to say we’ve been very clear as an administration what policies we believe are appropriate for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of local populations in this country. And we’ve been clear about that, because we also believe it’s important not to place an undue burden on health care workers who are returning from West Africa because we don’t want to hinder our efforts to stop this outbreak at the source in West Africa.
Q Right, but it’s pretty clear that some states at least are not being guided by those principles themselves.
MR. EARNEST: It is.
Q And the question is what the White House can do to intervene there, and whether — I mean, has the President reached out to Kaci Hickox? Has the White House reached out to her in any way to express your view that she shouldn’t be subject to these kinds of restrictions?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’ll say a couple things about that. The first is that the — we have — the Obama administration has been in touch throughout Ms. Hickox’s stay in New Jersey with New Jersey officials. And based on those conversations — and this what Governor Christie himself said — based on those conversations because New Jersey officials and officials at the CDC, Ms. Hickox was released from the quarantine that she’d been placed under by local officials in New Jersey.
So I think that is evidence of the ongoing coordination that exists between the United States — I’m sorry, between the U.S. government and that state officials in New Jersey. It resulted in Ms. Hickox being released from that hospital. But again, as it relates to the situation in Maine, I just don’t have the details related to either the policy that is guiding state officials who are monitoring her health, and I don’t have any information about conversations that may or may not have taken place between U.S. officials and officials in Maine.
But we’ll try to get you some more information and see if we can help you with your story.
Q Thanks, Josh. The President has been spending a lot of time — office time and public time — talking about Ebola. Not to tie everything to the coming election, but we are just a few days out here. Does the President feel like it’s helpful to Democrats for him to be showing on a daily basis that the administration is on top of things?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m sure, Christie, that there are plenty of people who would say that it will help Democrats. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will say that it doesn’t matter, because Democrats are the ones with their names on the ballot and not the President. So there’s a wide variety of opinions on this.
What I would say is that the President is going to allow political analysts to draw their own conclusions, and he’s just going to focus on the task at hand, which is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the American public. And he’s ordered his government to pursue a whole-of-government approach to doing exactly that.
Q He seemed to be saying yesterday that folks shouldn’t overreact, like pointing out only two people have contracted the disease in the U.S. Is he worried at all that there’s a point where he could be seen as overdoing it, giving too much — spending too much presidential time, too much face time talking about this subject?
MR. EARNEST: At this point that’s not a concern that we have. I do think the American people would anticipate that the President of the United States would be very focused on this matter and ensuring that his administration is implementing at a very high standard the kind of whole-of-government approach that’s necessary to protect the American people.
And I think any evaluation of this policy would indicate that the American people have been extraordinarily well served by it. I would point out that we — that currently in the United States there is one person in the United States that currently is undergoing treatment for Ebola. That is the doctor in New York who recently returned from West Africa. He is receiving expert medical care under the supervision of highly trained professionals at Bellevue Hospital, but also under the supervision of experts from the CDC that have extensive experience in dealing with infectious disease and even Ebola outbreaks.
So our thoughts and prayers are with him at this hour. And we continue to be vigilant about both making sure that we are taking the needed precautions to protect the American public, but at the same time making sure that Americans understand that the risk of a widespread outbreak of Ebola in the United States remains and continues to be extraordinarily low.
Q Setting aside the profanity in Jeff Goldberg’s piece, let’s go to the substance. How far apart is the administration and the Israeli government on the Netanyahu policy dealing with settlements, authorizing the construction of new ones? And how damaging is that to the administration’s approach to a two-state solution?
MR. EARNEST: Major, I think what we view — the view of the United States is that the Israeli approach to expanding settlements is damaging to efforts to reach a two-state solution.
Both the United States, the leaders of the Palestinian people, and Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, have observed that a two-state solution is in the clear security interest of everybody that’s involved here. And it has long been the view of the United States — and again, this is one that we have shared repeatedly — that settlement activity is illegitimate and only serves to complicate efforts to reach a two-state solution.
Q Then are you farther apart on that issue than you ever have been before in your dealings with the Prime Minister?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that’s hard to evaluate. The position that I just articulated is one that we have articulated for quite some time. I don’t know — quite frankly, I think you’d have to ask the Israelis themselves about what their posture is as it relates to this.
There has been in recent days announcements about efforts to expand settlements and — in other locations.
Q — those who are observing from the outside, who are not part of these conversations, that this is getting worse, that the distance between this government and the Israeli government on this question is widening, and that’s hurting everything you’re trying to achieve in terms of what has been described as a “moribund peace process”?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just say as a factual matter, we have seen announcements from the Israeli government related to expanded settlements and other construction of housing —
Q Would you describe those as a new irritant and unhelpful?
MR. EARNEST: Well, they are, what we have long described, consistent with the kinds of policies that are counterproductive and only serve to make efforts to reach a two-state solution more complicated. So that is a view that has been long held by the United States. It is one that we have repeated many times.
So I guess what I would say is if there is any more distance between the United States and Israel, it would be because the Israeli government is moving away from the long-held position that the United States has articulated here.
But again, you’d have to ask them about what their policy is as it relates to these specific things. The announcements that we have seen in recent days are announcements that we have labeled counterproductive, and policies that will only make the efforts to reach a two-state solution that everybody acknowledges is in the best interest of Israel more complicated.
Q The piece also suggested the administration has concluded that Israel is no longer in a position to launch a preemptive strike against Iran, if it fears it is close to obtaining a nuclear weapon. Is that something you agree with?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have — I’m not in a position to offer any updated assessment about Israeli — about the Israeli military capability at this point.
Q How about its intentions?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to talk about that either.
Q You said you didn’t want to undermine Jeff Goldberg’s reporting on this. He says that — in this article — that administration officials have also described the Prime Minister in these words, and I want to see if you agree with any of these characterizations.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q Is Netanyahu recalcitrant?
MR. EARNEST: Well, why don’t you just do them all, and then we’ll — (laughter) —
Q Recalcitrant —
MR. EARNEST: Well, I had the —
Q — myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous?
MR. EARNEST: I did have the opportunity to read the story that you’re referring to, and I did see all of those colorful descriptions. And I would say that they all fall into the same category of not accurately reflecting this administration’s view about our relationship with Israel or the President’s view of his personal relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Q So these are just frustrated officials blowing off smoke?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t know who those officials are, so it’s hard for me to —
Q Or steam or whatever.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know who those officials are, so it’s hard for me to ascribe a motive to those comments.
Q But none of this comports in any way, shape or form with what the administration thinks about either the person or the policies?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think what I would do is evaluate the concrete actions that this administration has taken at the direction of the President of the United States to demonstrate our clear, unshakeable bond with the nation of Israel — whether it is standing with Israel in political disputes at the United Nations, or increasing funding for the Iron Dome program that has saved many innocent Israeli lives, or working aggressively side by side with both the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli leadership to try to bring both sides together to reach a two-state solution.
Again, it is our view, it’s the view of the Netanyahu government that a two-state solution is clearly in the security interest of that nation, that nation that is our ally. And that is why you have seen this administration from the President to the Secretary of State on down expend significant time and energy and resources to trying to broker that agreement.
We have long said that brokering that agreement is difficult work. It requires both sides to make difficult decisions. And that ultimately, those decisions are not ones that can be made by the United States on behalf of either party. Ultimately, we will need to see leaders on both sides come forward to make the kinds of difficult, courageous decisions that will be necessary but will also be clearly in the best interest of the people that they represent.
Q General Allen today said — told Al-Arabiya that the Kurdish town of Kobani will never fall to ISIS. Is that now coalition policy?
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry, can you say that one more time?
Q General Allen, he had an interview with Al-Arabiya and he discussed a wide range of issues dealing with the operation Inherent Resolve. And he said the Kurdish town of Kobani will never fall to ISIS, or ISIL. Is that now coalition policy, that at no — at all costs, Kobani must be defended, protected and not fall to ISIL?
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t see the entirety of General Allen’s remarks so it’s hard for me to comment on them, but he certainly is somebody who is intimately involved in the crafting of this coalition, and he does that with the needs of the coalition in mind; that he is somebody who is working very diligently to assess what is needed to support the military campaign that’s led by General Austin at CENTCOM. And he is working closely with our coalition partners to make sure that their capabilities are matched up with those needs.
So my point is, he would better — he would be in a better position than I would at this point to make an assessment like that.
Q Does that surprise you — what I just read?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I haven’t seen the full context of his remarks so I wouldn’t pass judgment on them. But at the same time, he is in a very good position to understand the situation on the ground.
Q Do you disagree with him?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it would be hard for me to disagree with him based on the fact that he is in a much better position to make an assessment like that.
Q Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: Olivier.
Q Josh, a couple for you. First, Attorney General Holder sketched out a calendar for his successor today, talked — expect the nomination shortly after the election; confirmation process, January, February. Does that comport roughly with your understanding? And has the President settled on a candidate or some final candidates?
MR. EARNEST: Olivier, what we have said about this is that the President does not anticipate nominating someone prior to the election, but that we would expect that whoever that nominee is will be someone who will deserve prompt consideration by the United States Senate and prompt bipartisan confirmation by the United States Senate. And we have not been any more clear about that process than that.
I guess, to anticipate your next question, the door does continue to be open to the possibility that this individual could be nominated shortly after the election, and that we would seek the Senate to — or we would call on the Senate to consider that nominee promptly, and we will do so knowing that we believe firmly that that individual is worthy of the kind of bipartisan support that’s necessary to confirm an Attorney General nominee.
I’ll just point out — and I don’t have the documentation in front of me — but this would be consistent with the policy — or with the strategy that was pursued by the previous administration who appointed — or nominated Mr. Gates to succeed the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, shortly after the midterm elections in 2006, I believe. That individual, Mr. Gates, was confirmed promptly by the United States Senate during that lame-duck period.
Q And then following up on Major’s commendable dive into the policy ramifications of the story we’ve all been talking about, one of the really concerning aspects of it is it sounds like the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government aren’t just wide apart on the settlements, but there’s a real chasm on the Iran nuclear deal. Now, that’s not totally surprising; we know that the two countries come at this with different perspectives. But can you at least try to reassure us that the two countries are working together better on the Iran nuclear deal than they are on the settlement issue?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I see that’s — that is not the way I was expecting you to ask that question. I think it is hard to compare the two, so I think I’d prefer to just separate them out.
I think we’ve been quite candid about what our differences are as it relates to settlements. The backdrop, however, of that disagreement about settlement policy is the view that is shared by the United States and Israel that a two-state solution is clearly in the best interests of the national security of the nation of Israel. So that’s the first thing.
As it relates to Iran, I think what I would say there — again, allowing the Israelis to describe their own position themselves — is that it is the view of the United States that the best way to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is through the ongoing P5-plus-1 talks. The reason for that is simple: A diplomatic solution that extracts a commitment from Iran that can be verified, that will be transparent and can be verified, is the best way to ensure that Iran is — won’t be in possession of a nuclear weapon. And that ultimately, it is the view of the United States, again, that Iran having a nuclear weapon would pose a significant threat not just to our allies in Israel, but also to countries throughout the region.
So it is our view — and I guess you’d have to ask the Israelis if they disagree with this — that the best way to resolve those broader concerns that are held not just by the United States and not just by our P5-plus-1 partners, but by countries around the world about Iran’s nuclear program are best resolved in this current diplomatic context.
Q The President once famously said that the odds of getting an Iran nuclear deal were no better than 50/50. Has that changed?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t heard anybody offer a different assessment.
Q On the auto-safety regulator, at NHTSA the administrator position has been vacant for about eight months, and obviously the agency is in the spotlight again. Is there a sense of urgency on the part of the President to nominate someone to that position?
MR. EARNEST: Angela, as is so often the case, I did not come to the briefing bearing any personnel announcements today. But I can tell you that the administration is well aware of how important it is to have a permanent administrator of NHTSA in place; that this is an agency that does a lot of important work to ensure the safety of the American public. And I can tell you that the administration is working hard to nominate a permanent administrator.
Q Can you give us a sense of timing on that? Secretary Foxx had said very soon, implying within a couple weeks, last week.
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an update for you on timing, but there is a sense of urgency that we feel around this, and as soon as we have more information on this we’ll let you know.
Q Is Ron Klain going to be at the event this afternoon with the health workers in the East Room?
MR. EARNEST: I know that he’s got a number of meetings on his schedule today. So there will be press access to the event in the East Room, so you can look for his smiling face when you see him there, if he’s —
Q If he’s there.
MR. EARNEST: You can look for his smiling face if it’s there.
Q If it’s there. And the President is doing this event in part to promote the science narrative and the health-care-workers-need-our-support narrative. The Department of Defense is doing sort of a non — a less — not in line with the science that the CDC put out. Maine seems to be doing something that is not in line with the science that the CDC — or with policies based on CDC science. Does this point to the challenge of coordinating that whole-of-government response that Klain is now in charge of?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say a couple things about that. The principal goal of the President’s event today is to welcome health care workers to the White House who have selflessly and heroically served in West Africa to try to stop that outbreak at the source. These individuals have done this very difficult work under very austere conditions in West Africa. They did so not because it was glamorous, not because they were expecting some kind of financial reward, but because they were committed to using their medical skills to serve their common man, particularly those who are less fortunate.
The President believes that that is worthy of praise and respect, and the President is looking forward to paying them that respect and sharing with them that praise in the East Room later today.
There is no doubt that the kind of whole-of-government approach that this administration has pursued is challenging to coordinate. But I do think that the results have been — indicate that the American people have been well-served by that approach and there are a variety of ways to evaluate that. The first is that there is currently in the United States only one patient who is being treated for Ebola right now. As I mentioned earlier, our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Spencer.
Second, there have been two health care workers here in the United States who have contracted the disease on American soil. You’ve heard from the CDC Director that that transmission is something that is unacceptable. And in light of that transmission, the CDC put out a variety of stronger guidelines to ensure the safety of health care workers, even as they treat Ebola patients.
You’ve also seen a regime put in place, or at least a strategy put in place by the CDC, to quickly deploy experts to hospitals when they know that they are treating an Ebola patient or an Ebola — or a patient that’s in their care tests positive for Ebola. So there have been some steps that have been taken to strengthen those guidelines and to strengthen that response. And the early indications are that those policies have been successfully implemented. At the same time, we continue to be vigilant about this. These policies are difficult, they’re complicated, and I assure you that there is no one here who is resting on their laurels.
All of that said, and again, in part because of the steps that have been taken by the administration, the likelihood of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States remains vanishingly low. And that continues to be true today.
As it relates to the question of Maine, I frankly am unaware of the details of the policy that they have put in place for monitoring the health of Ms. Hickox.
As it relates to the Department of Defense policy, we did have a pretty robust discussion yesterday about the differences between a policy that’s implemented in a military context and a policy that’s implemented in a civilian context. What I would merely say is this policy that was announced by Secretary Hagel this morning I believe reflects the need for or at least — the policy that was announced by Secretary Hagel today indicates the kind of efficiency gains that the military is seeking by taking troops who have spent time in West Africa and keeping them together and actively monitoring their health in one place. And that reflects the kind of scientific guidance that we’ve gotten from the CDC about the need to monitor their health, but it also reflects the differences between applying this policy in a civilian context and applying this policy in a military context.
Let me end by saying that by having their health monitored in this way means that our servicemen and women, who are already making a sacrifice to travel to West Africa in the first place, are further sacrificing their own personal time by spending three weeks having their health monitored on a regular basis. This also places a significant burden not just on these military members themselves but also on their families who are eager for them to return home. And we certainly are appreciative of and respectful of the kinds of sacrifices like that, that our men and women in uniform and their families make on a daily basis, even on those days that it’s not publicly acknowledged.
Q Do you agree that having policies coming from the state level and coming from the CDC and coming from the DOD that are all not exactly the same sends a mixed message to people?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don’t think it sends a mixed message to people at all. It means that the policies are implemented in different ways based on the authority that in the — at least in one instance is wielded by an individual governor. And the fact of the matter is those differences in application of the policy have not interfered with the ability of the federal government to coordinate with them as those policies are implemented.
And, again, the best example I can point to is the policy that was implemented by Governor Christie did differentiate from the recommendations that were offered by the CDC but based on the ongoing coordination between New Jersey officials and CDC officials, Ms. Hickox was released from that New Jersey hospital, consistent with the advice of the CDC.
Mark, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thanks. Josh, based on the many questions you’ve gotten in this room over the last week about Ron Klain and his profile, low-profile, not-sufficient profile, do you get the feeling that we don’t understand what his real role is? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I will not try to speculate on which aspects of the things that I try to describe here are clearly understood by you or not understood by you. And on those occasions in which the policy that I’m trying to explain is not well understood, I would be happy to take more — a healthy share of the responsibility for that.
What I will point out is that even before Ron started in this job, we were clear — at least I was clear — about describing his role as one that was principally behind the scenes, one that would be focused on coordinating the activities of the wide variety of federal government agencies that are involved in this response, and that the need for him to play that coordinating role would limit his ability to make a large number of public appearances.
That all said, I certainly wouldn’t rule out future opportunities for Mr. Klain to speak with all of you or with other journalists. Right now, the most important thing for him to be focused on is ensuring that this whole-of-government approach that the President has pursued to respond to this Ebola situation is one that meets the very high standard that the President has set for his team and for the American people.
Thanks a lot, everybody. Have a good afternoon.
2:26 P.M. EDT