1/6/17: White House Press Briefing

Mr. Earnest: Happy
Friday, everybody. Nice to see you all. Before we get started, as
you might judge from the monitors behind, we got a
couple things we want to do at the top before
we get started. As all of you saw this
morning, today the final monthly jobs report of the
Obama administration was released, and I want to
go over a couple of the highlights here. Like many of you, I’ve spent
the first Friday morning of each month of the last eight
years anticipating the monthly jobs data. At the beginning of the
administration, the earliest days of this presidency, the
day that was in the minds of many people down right
terrifying, our economy was losing hundreds of thousands
of jobs a month and the unemployment rate was
climbing sharply. Eight years later, driven
by the policies this administration put in place
and the resilience of the American workforce, the data
looks quite different and the numbers tell a very
different story about the health of our economy. In December, the U.S. economy added a 156,000
jobs, extending the longest streak of total job growth
in our nation’s history. U.S. businesses have now added
15.8 million jobs over the course of the
economic recovery. Wages are continuing to
rise, and the unemployment rate continues to be less
than half of what it was during the peak
of the recession. Over the eight years that
President Obama has been in office, you all have held us
to an extraordinarily high standard when it comes to
the economic recovery, and we’re proud of the progress
that America has made. This progress shows
that policy matters. Without the policies the
President fought for, it would not have
been possible. And so I recount the facts
today, because acknowledging how far we have come as a
country is an important part of understanding what’s
needed to create an economy that provides good job
opportunities and generates higher wages for all
Americans who are willing to work for them. The President-elect, of
course, has promised a different approach. His approach includes
rolling back regulations that have protected
middle-class families from having to foot the bill
for Wall Street’s risky behavior. His approach includes
leveling high tariffs on foreign goods that drive up
costs for consumers in the United States and put at
risk higher-paying U.S. jobs that are
tied to exports. And, of course, he’s
also vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act which
would add trillions to the deficit. As you evaluate the impact
of the President-elect’s policies over the coming
years, here are some metrics that should be used to
evaluate the approach that we have taken and compare it
to the approach that’s been pursued by the other side. Since job growth turned
positive in October of 2012, the U.S. economy has added jobs
for 75 straight months. This is, as I referred to
earlier, the longest streak of job growth on record, and
it’s actually more than two years longer than
the previous record. So this is quite a streak,
and we’ll see if it continues. In 2016, hourly wages
increased 2.9 percent. That’s the fastest 12-month
pace since the start of the recovery. Real hourly wages have grown
faster over the current business cycle than in any
business cycle since the early 1970s. Wages are obviously a metric
that this administration has watched closely, and we’re
pleased to see that wage growth is accelerating and
has accelerated over the President’s
tenure in office. The third metric — the
unemployment rate has been cut by more than half since
its peak of 10 percent in 2009 to 4.7 percent in
December of this year. As recently as 2014, just a
couple of years ago, many economists expected the
unemployment rate to remain above 5 percent
until at least 2020. So we’ve repeatedly beaten
the predictions about driving down the
unemployment rate. Fourth, since 2010, the
United States has put more people back to work than
all the other G7 economies combined. That is a strong validation
of the economic strategy that President
Obama pursued. It does stand in contrast to
the economic strategy that was pursued by some of our
closest allies, but the results speak for themselves
and it’s why we regularly describe the U.S. economy as the
envy of the world. Finally — and I don’t have
a chart for this — we can also cite a metric that
we know is one that is certainly closely watched
by the incoming President’s economic team. That’s the stock market. And the S&P has more than
tripled since the lows that it reached in March of 2009
within President Obama’s first couple of
months in office. So we certainly
set a high bar. It’s a bar that we are proud
of, and it’s one that the incoming administration
will be challenged to meet. One other piece of news I
want to share briefly this morning before we get
started is, today is the last day for Pete Boogaard
in the White House Press Office. So Pete has served in the
White House for a little over a year now, and has
served with distinction. But, notably, Pete spent a
lot of time working in other critically important
agencies of the Obama administration, including at
the Department of Homeland Security. And he is somebody who has
time and again showed a lot of cool under fire. Those of you who have worked
closely with Pete understand that — we were reminiscing
shortly before the briefing that he’s had some of the
more challenging issues to discuss in his portfolio,
everything certainly from questions about immigration
policy, which includes a wide bucket of issues both
that are related to homeland security and national
security, but also issues like Zika. And so we’re obviously very
proud of Pete’s service. He showed himself to be a
dedicated professional. And wherever he ends up
next is going to be a place that’s extraordinarily
lucky to have him. So, thank you, Pete,
for your service. I appreciate it. So, with that, Josh, do you
want to get started with questions? The Press: Sure. Thank you, Josh. And thank you, Pete, for
your help and hard work over the last several years. When we met here yesterday,
the President was still being briefed on the
Russia hacking report. Now that that’s concluded,
is there anything you can tell us about his
impressions of that or what he might have learned that
moved the ball from what he had previously known about
the extent of Russian hacking, or any preview
that you can give us of the unclassified version that
Speaker Pelosi — Minority Leader Pelosi says will be
coming out this afternoon? Mr. Earnest: Josh, I don’t
have a specific presidential reaction to share with
you about the report. As leaders of the
intelligence community testified yesterday, they
are even more certain now of the assessment that they
released back in October about the role that Russia
played in destabilizing the U.S. elections and trying to cast
doubt on the durability of our political system. I am aware that there are
reports that this review will be released later
today, but for the precise timing of that I’d refer
you to the intelligence community. I’ll tell you that I have
not seen the report, so when the unclassified report is
released, I’ll be reading it along with all of you. The Press: President-elect
Trump is saying that he’s asking the House and Senate
intelligence panels to investigate NBC News for
what he says was top-secret information shared to them
prior to his briefing that’s taking place as we speak. Can you say whether or not
that information put in that report was top secret, and
whether it was leaked by the Obama administration to
a news outlet prior to President-elect Trump
receiving his briefing? Mr. Earnest: Josh, what I
can tell you is that I’m not in a position to confirm
the information that was included in that report. I’d refer you to the
intelligence community for that. I certainly feel confident
in saying that that is not material that was leaked
to the public by the White House, but I’d refer you to
the intelligence community to speak to it beyond that. The other observation I
have, though, is I don’t frequently respond to tweets
from the President-elect, but I certainly
do read them. And I did read two days
ago that he was tweeting a steadfast defense of the
integrity of the foreigner who runs the leading
purveyor of the improper release of classified
information retained by the United States government. Two days later — two
days after defending that person’s integrity, the
President-elect is now expressing some concern
about the possible release of this classified
information. The original tweet leads
me to conclude that his concerns are about something
other than protecting classified information. What those concerns are is
something that I’ll let him articulate, and presumably
all of you will have an opportunity to
ask about them. But given his track record
and certainly given some of the rhetoric that he used in
praising WikiLeaks on the campaign trail, I think it
would call into question whether or not that’s the
actual source of concern that he is expressing today. The Press: Just to button
that up, you’re ruling out that the White House leaked
that information to NBC, but you’re not ruling out that
another — that an agency that’s part of the
intelligence community or another federal agency
might have done so? Mr. Earnest: I can’t speak
to the inner workings of the intelligence community,
particularly as it relates to the compiling of
the specific report. The intelligence community
was charged by the President of the United States
with compiling a report. And as we’ve discussed at
some length over the last couple of months here, the
men and women of the United States intelligence
community are patriots. And these are people who
serve their country. They set aside their own
personal political views to do the right thing
for the country. So the President has got
enormous confidence in them, believes that he’s been
extraordinarily well served by them over the last eight
years in providing to him timely, accurate, specific
information that was not shaded to advance a
political or ideological agenda, but rather was
oriented toward providing him the best possible
information so he could make the best possible national
security decisions. But for questions about how
the intelligence community has handled specific pieces
of information, you should go talk to them about that. The Press: And lastly,
since you follow the President-elect’s tweets,
you’ll have seen his comments about the IOU from
Mexico that will pay us back for building a wall. And I wanted to ask you
about what is being discussed in Congress about
using existing authorities to authorize building the
wall, and then really just have new appropriations to
pay for it until we get paid back. Does the outgoing President
feel that if a border wall is going to be built, that
there should be a new affirmative vote in Congress
to say, yes, this is what we want to do, and this is
the direction we’re going? Mr. Earnest: I have to
admit, Josh, I haven’t seen all the proposals. I know there are a couple
versions of the tweets that were sent, so it’s hard to
decipher exactly what the plan is. What I can tell you about
President Obama’s views is that President Obama
strongly supported the largest ever investment
in border security in our nation’s history that was
a part of the common-sense immigration bill that this
administration negotiated with Democrats and
Republicans in the United States Senate. There were billions included
in that bill that would have increased security along our
border — investments in technology, investments
in physical barriers, and investments in personnel to
ensure that our border was secure. Of course, that was coupled
with a whole range of other proposals that would be good
for our economy, that would be good for reducing the
deficit, that would be good for ensuring that the United
States of America is living up to our values as a nation
of laws and a nation of immigrants. It would have ensured that
we are not ripping apart families. It certainly would have
ensured that we are not seeking to deport young
people who are in the United States through no fault of
their own, and young people who are American in every
way but their papers. That’s the kind of proposal
that President Obama put forward. And it gave the millions of
people who are in the United States without proper
documentation an opportunity to get right with the law,
and it would have required them to face some
accountability measures — background checks, paying
taxes and other things — but also would have brought
them out of the shadows in a way that would be good for
our economy, and in a way that would ultimately have
strengthened Social Security and reduced the deficit. But, as I said, the
President-elect supports a different approach. The only reason that the
President’s approach didn’t pass is not because it
didn’t have sufficient bipartisan support on
Capitol Hill, but rather because it was a victim of
the Republican leadership strategy to say no to
everything that President Obama was inclined to
support, even if it included policies that they
themselves supported. That strategy was cynical,
but it did have some political benefits. And it does go down — the
failure of that legislation to pass the House of
Representatives, even though it had majority support,
even though it would have passed if it had come up for
a vote — does remain one of the most disappointing and
frustrating episodes in this administration’s
relationship with the Republican leadership
in Congress. Jeff. The Press: Josh, a couple
other questions related to the President-elect. First, on the
intelligence briefing. President-elect Trump called
the probe a “witch hunt.” What’s the White House’s
feeling about that? Mr. Earnest: I saw
the news report. Apparently, he had a
conversation with one of your colleagues at The
New York Times today. I guess I would leave it to
his team to characterize exactly what that means. What I can tell you the
President directed the intelligence community to
do is to learn as much as possible about the kind of
malicious cyber activity that we’ve seen in this
country in the context of the 2016 election and in
the previous — recent presidential elections. And the goal was not just to
look at one country, but to look at all malicious actors
in cyberspace to get to the bottom of what has recently
occurred, to understand the trend which appears to
be getting worse, and to develop a strategy
to counter it. There also was a desire to
make sure that we’re holding accountable those who were
engaged in some of those nefarious acts. And you’ve already heard
some announcements from the administration detailing
some aspects of our response. But that is the charge that
the intelligence community was supposed to fulfill, and
the President is pleased with the work
that they’ve done. We’ve talked a lot about the
service and sacrifice of our men and women in the
intelligence community. They worked through the
holidays in order to put this report together. And I think it’s an
indication of their deep commitment to the national
security of this country, to fulfilling the directives of
the President of the United States. And they have fulfilled the
President’s expectations of producing a conscientious
report that was briefed to him, that will be briefed
to Congress, that will be briefed to the
President-elect later today — all at the
President’s direction. And the intelligence
community is also prepared to follow through on the
President’s final direction, which is to make as much
of that report public as possible. And again, you will have
to check with them for the precise timing of that, but
some reports indicate that that’s coming later today. But that’s something
that they can confirm. The Press: On another topic,
following up on Josh’s question, does this White
House think it’s realistic or probable that Mexico will
reimburse the United States government for a wall
built on its border? Mr. Earnest: All I would
point out, Jeff, is that the Mexican government and the
President of Mexico has indicated that that’s
not going to happen. But I’ll leave it to the
Mexican government to respond to this, and I’ll
let the President-elect try to describe how his
strategy would work. The Press: And lastly, the
issue of cars and tariffs has come up quite a bit
in the last few days. One of the ways that
President Trump has discussed via Twitter
is related to a foreign company, Toyota, making
Mexican-built cars and importing them to the United
States, that there would be a tariff on that. Is that realistic? And what is the Obama
administration’s response to that issue? Mr. Earnest: Jeff, I’m not
going to talk about one specific company. I think what I can do is
talk about what President Obama’s approach to
this issue has been. He has actually — President
Obama of course is somebody who has, over his eight
years in office, learned quite a lot about
the way that the U.S. auto industry works,
primarily because it was poised to fail when
he entered office. And his administration had
to implement a strategy to give them an
opportunity to succeed. The President made a big
bet on the American auto industry, and he won because
he placed his confidence in American autoworkers and
giving them a chance to rebuild their companies, to
retool their companies, that they would come back better
and stronger than ever — and that’s exactly
what’s happened. So the President has some
credentials when it comes to understanding exactly what
kinds of policies are going to benefit U.S. autoworkers and more than a
million Americans whose jobs depends on that
auto industry. And the fact is that the
American auto industry actually depends on an
integrated global supply chain. That’s just the way that our
economy works, particularly when you’re talking about
the production of a modern vehicle. And to try to erect walls
that keep out some aspects of that global supply chain
or the products that are produced by that global
supply chain is only going to have a detrimental impact
on the industry and on the workers who rely on that
industry for a job. So the President does not
believe that that’s a smart approach. In fact, what the President
believes is that the American auto industry
produces the very best automobiles and vehicles
in the world, and what we should be looking to do is
implementing a strategy that will allow the U.S. auto industry to compete
on a level playing field. And that’s exactly the
strategy that President Obama implemented with
regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership — to go to
countries like Japan and Vietnam that have large
economies and a growing middle class, exactly the
kinds of places where the U.S. auto industry could
compete very well. And looking for
opportunities for U.S.-produced goods to be
sold around the world is going to be good for our
economy, it’s going to be good for American companies,
but, most importantly, it’s going to be good
for American jobs. I made a reference earlier
to the fact that we already know that jobs inside the
United States that are tied to exports pay, on average,
somewhat higher than jobs in the United States that
aren’t tied to exports. So looking for more
opportunities for U.S. businesses to export their
goods around the world, it’s going to be good for our
economy and good for American workers. But like I said,
President-elect Trump wants to try it a different way
and we’ll see if it works. Justin. The Press: Is the President,
as the leader of the Democratic Party,
disappointed or upset that the DNC refused requests
from the FBI to turn over their server in the
hack investigation? Mr. Earnest: It’s not the
responsibility of the President of the United
States to make those kinds of decisions. He is of course the nominal
head of the Democratic Party, but the Democratic
National Committee has an elected leadership that’s
elected by the members of the Party, and I’ll let them
speak to the way in which they cooperated with the
investigation into this matter. The Press: Well, is the
President, as the nominal head of the Department
of Justice for the Obama administration, disappointed
that the DNC didn’t seem to cooperate with FBI requests? Mr. Earnest: Well, again,
I’ll let the Department of Justice speak to the level
of cooperation that they received from the DNC and
other people who were a part of this investigation. Obviously, this
investigation was conducted separate from any sort of
White House influence. So it would be inappropriate
for me to — even if the President did have concerns
— for me to express them from here. The Press: Did you guys know
that Theresa May was sending top staffers to meet with
the Trump administration last month? And have you or the State
Department — has Theresa May’s staff sought advice
from you or the State Department on her
interactions with the President-elect? Mr Earnest: I can’t
speak to what staff-level conversations may
have occurred between representatives of the
United States government and representatives of Prime
Minister May’s office. I can tell you that what the
Obama administration has sought to do is to work
effectively with our allies and with the
President-elect’s team to ensure a smooth handoff
in the context of the transition, and that
includes a smooth handoff of the relationship between the
United States and some of our closest allies
around the world. But I can’t speak with
much precision about conversations that may have
occurred in advance of those kinds of conversations. The Press: Lastly, yesterday
you promised some preview of the President’s speech
next week in Chicago. So I’m wondering if you
could maybe talk either about some color about how
that’s developing or what’s — Mr. Earnest: What I
can tell you is that I anticipate that the
President is going to be devoting a significant
portion of his weekend to working on the address. I’ve had an opportunity to
review a very early draft, and what I can tell you
is that the President is interested in delivering
a farewell address that’s forward-looking. We’ve had ample opportunity,
certainly over the last year and over the last couple of
months, to review the many significant accomplishments
of the Obama administration, and I’m confident there will
be a reference or two to that progress in the speech
that he’ll deliver Tuesday night. But primarily the President
is hopeful about the future of the country, particularly
if our citizens are engaged in our democracy and if
our leaders draw upon the longstanding, deeply-held
views of this country to confront the
challenges ahead. If that happens, if both
those things happen, then the President believes that
the prospects for the United States being even more safe,
and more prosperous, and more fair are bright. And the President is
obviously proud of the progress that we have
made and continues to be optimistic about our future,
and he’s looking forward to an opportunity to
talk about why. Lana. The Press: So the President
has obviously been spending a lot of time talking about
Obamacare and trying to fight back against
Republican efforts to repeal without a replacement in
plan — in place, rather. After January 20th, is he
going to continue that same effort at that same level,
or will he, as he was saying before, become a private
citizen and just a regular citizen of the United
States, and will that then sort of fade away, or will
there be a break from that? Mr. Earnest: The President
will be a private citizen on January 20th. He will be a private citizen
with deeply held views about the most effective way to
reform the health care system in the United States. Many of those views and
ideas have been put into action in a way that’s been
extraordinarily beneficial for the American people
and for our economy. And the President is
proud of that progress. And you could certainly
expect the President to follow these developments
closely and to continue to be thinking about how these
kinds of reforms should work. But there is a long
tradition in our country — and President Obama
benefited from it in the early days of his presidency
— of the outgoing President giving the incoming
President the opportunity to succeed. So I would not expect
President Obama to be regularly holding
conversations with Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff
at some other house in Washington, D.C. He did
that at Blair House today as the sitting President
of the United States. But the President believes
that other people, including congressional Democrats,
but not only congressional Democrats, are going to have
to step forward and take up the mantle and wage this
fight on behalf of the American people. The prospect of Republicans
repealing the Affordable Care Act without a
replacement would inject unprecedented chaos into our
health care system, which constitutes about
a fifth of the U.S. economy. It also is going to prompt
up to 30 million Americans to lose their health
insurance and put at risk many of the gains that we’ve
made in protecting the 130 million Americans that have
preexisting conditions. If you repeal the Affordable
Care Act, you take away those protections. And those are protections
that extend not just to people who are purchasing
health insurance through Obamacare marketplaces, but
it also includes all those Americans that get their
health insurance through their employer. So the stakes
are significant. And President Obama will
remain engaged to the extent that he’ll be following
exactly what kind of developments occur, he’ll
continue thinking about these issues. But when it comes to making
the public case with this approach, it’s time for
other people to step up. And the President is
confident that there are plenty of Democrats with the
right values and the right passion and the right skills
to make a persuasive case that will ultimately benefit
the American public. The Press: Just to be clear,
with all of his passion that he feels about Obamacare
and how he feels about that issue, come January 20th we
should not expect to see the President making public
speeches about it, writing more op-eds, those
sorts of things? Mr. Earnest: The President
has had ample opportunity over the last eight years to
regularly make speeches and regularly write op-eds on
topics that are near and dear to his heart, including
the effective implementation of health care reform. So the time for him to do
that on a regular basis has passed, and so I would not
expect him to do that with much frequency at all
as a former President. The Press: Can the White
House confirm that Obama-appointed diplomats
have been asked to leave their post by January 20th? Mr. Earnest: I saw the —
I’ve seen this news report. For all of the details,
I’d refer you to the State Department. What I can tell you is that
it is, of course, customary for politically appointed
chiefs of mission to return back to the United States on
Inauguration Day and afford the incoming administration
and the incoming President the opportunity to select
his own representatives to advance our country’s
interests in countries around the world. What I will say is
this administration is extraordinarily proud of the
service of the politically appointed ambassadors of the
United States government who have advanced our interests
in countries large and small around the world. In many cases, these are men
and who are professionals in a separate career. But they have chosen to
dedicate a number of years of their life to public
service in a really important way. In many of these countries
where President Obama has traveled, the U.S. ambassador is a prominent
public face of the United States of America. And the way that that
person chooses to conduct themselves and their
personal lives, the way that that person speaks publicly
and advances our interests and articulates our
values in that country is extraordinarily important. And many of these
professionals have taken advantage of this
opportunity, and America is better for it. And we certainly owe them a
debt of gratitude for their public service. And we certainly will be
hoping that the incoming administration will choose
people as effective and as talented and as patriotic as
have served in these kinds of positions under
President Obama. Kevin. The Press: Thanks, Josh. I want to ask
you about race. The President made some
comments about the state of race relations
in the country. It has been a difficult
time, to say the least, in the city of Chicago in the
wake of that Facebook post. I’m curious — two
parts to this question. The first part is, is
it fair to describe the President’s optimism about
the future of race relations in this country based solely
on his experience, the trajectory of him growing up
and having seen the country in a very different
way as President? And does he also understand
the negative perception many have about the state of race
relations in the country today? Mr. Earnest: Well, Kevin, I
think that the President’s optimism about the progress
that our country has made on the issue of race is rooted
primarily in our experience as a country, in our
experience as a society. There are a lot of
examples of this. And I think the most
pertinent one could be around the issue of the
relationship between some local law enforcement
agencies and the African American community that
they’re sworn to serve and protect. There are some communities
that have been — where a significant gap
has been exposed. And the President often will
cite that it was not that long ago, 20 or 25 years
ago, that you had the city of Los Angeles that after a
high-profile incident where there were deep concerns
about police brutality against a black motorist,
that that city was in flames, and that you saw a
stark racial divide emerge immediately that was
distressing to many people in the country. And while that gap and that
gulf in some communities still exists, the response
has been much different; that there are certainly
places where there have been public demonstrations and
some civil unrest, but nothing on the scale of
what we saw in Los Angeles. And I think what’s also
notable is that there are a number of prominent voices
of all races who are speaking out trying to
bridge that divide. So I think that’s an
apt illustration of the situation that we find
ourselves in, which is that we’ve made important
progress in a way that actually makes a difference
in the lives of Americans in communities all
across the country. But we still got a lot of
work to do if we’re going to solve that problem. And the President also feels
optimistic because he has seen the commitment that’s
been shown by young people — many of them African
American, but not all African American — who are
seeking to organize in their communities, who are seeking
to protest the government and make their voice heard,
and bring about the kind of change that they would like
to see in their community. And the President is
optimistic that they’re going to have an impact
— a positive impact — in addressing those concerns
and in healing some of those divisions. And it’s this younger
generation of activists and younger generation of
leaders who the President continues to be optimistic
will be able to continue the kind of progress that we’ve
made in healing the racial divide in this country. The Press: I know you’re
not being (inaudible) and I respect what you said, but I
think there are a number of people that feel very
pessimistic when they see incidents like what happened
in that Facebook post, when they see shootings —
motorist in South Carolina, the devastating
attacks in Dallas. Is the President
sensitive to that? Mr. Earnest: Of
course, he is. And I think the President
himself has expressed his own profound concerns and
disappointment and, in some cases, outrage about many of
the incidents that you’ve described, including the
Facebook video that drew so much outrage and attention
in the last couple of days. So the President certainly
understands that we’ve got a lot of work to do, and there
are reasons for people to feel pessimistic that
we haven’t made as much progress as we would like. But in the President’s mind,
it’s impossible to deny that we have, in fact,
made progress. And the fact that you see
people of a variety of races speaking out on these issues
with one voice, appealing to the same kinds of values,
gives the President a lot of optimism that these are
problems that can be resolved, where we
can make progress. And there certainly
is work to be done. Look, to go back to
something you raised in your first question, there’s no
denying that the President’s personal journey and the
personal progress that he’s made is one indication of
the progress that we’ve made as a country. The President I think spoke
very eloquently about this at Selma a year and a half
ago, where you essentially had African Americans who
were being beaten and abused by local law enforcement
with water cannons and dogs, trying to get — just so
they could have the right to cast a ballot. And 50 years later, you
have an African American President of the
United States. That’s remarkable progress. Doesn’t mean that all our
work is done, because in too many communities across the
country we are seeing people from the minority community
being disadvantaged and being denied the right to
vote, or at least having had their ability to vote
obstructed because of cynical partisan policies
that have been put in place. So there’s a whole lot more
work to be done on that, but certainly the President’s
story is one powerful indication of the progress
that we’ve made, but it’s far from the only one. The Press: I want to ask you
about detainee transfers. We talked a bit about
the dwindling number of detainees that are still
housed at the facility at Guantanamo. Can you give an update on
that and whether or not that will continue to be the
trajectory as we wind down the last 14 days? Mr. Earnest: Kevin, I know
you’ve been following this closely, so I know that you
saw the announcement from the Department of Defense
yesterday about the transfer of four Yemeni nationals
from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay
to Saudi Arabia. That transfer was
effectuated after the 30-day notification was provided
to Congress, and after a comprehensive review was
conducted by the U.S. — by the President’s
national security team, including a number of
agencies, including the intelligence community,
about these individuals being safe to transfer to
Saudi Arabia under a set of security restrictions that
would limit their ability to threaten the United States. This does bring the prison
population — or the population at
Guantanamo Bay to 55. And when President Obama
took office, the detainee population at Gitmo was 242. And in that time, we’ve
move 183 detainees to 42 countries. And that certainly is an
indication of the progress that we have made in
reducing the prison population. But the President does
continue to be concerned principally
about two things. One is, as the Gitmo
facility continues to remain in operation, it continues
to serve as a recruiting tool for extremists who hold
that up as an example of the United States not living up
to the kinds of values that we claim to be fighting for. And to continue to operate
that facility is to continue to give terrorist
recruiters a valuable tool. Secondly, the President is
also concerned about the highly inefficient waste
of taxpayer dollars. The cost of operating
the facility at Gitmo is significantly higher than
the cost of operating a similar facility that would
effectively safeguard our national security by housing
them here in the United States. And there has been no good
reasonable explanation put forward about why Congress
is intent on preventing that from happening. The Press: Can I get a
cost-per-detainee sort of analysis maybe? Mr. Earnest: We’ll see if we
can get you some metrics to put some numbers around
that cost-benefit analysis. Ron. The Press: On the economy,
the President is also going to leave office I believe
with the distinction of being the first President
since Herbert Hoover not to experience a year of
growth at 3 percent GDP. That’s correct, right? Mr. Earnest: I hadn’t heard
that statistic, but we can certainly look into it
to confirm it for you. The Press: That’s what I’ve
read, that — Mr. Earnest: Okay. We’ll look into it. The Press: Assuming that
is the truth, does the President accept
responsibility for that, as well? And how do you explain that
— you know sluggish growth has been a problem
throughout the eight years. How do you explain that —
how do you square that with this historic job growth
and so on and so forth? And I think — the other
thing is that some would argue that slow growth is in
part what’s contributed to this feeling of anxiety in
the country that things aren’t getting better, and
that, in fact, may be one of the crucial variables that
just won the election, if you want to keep on
going down this road. The question is, how much
responsibility does the President accept for the
sluggish growth thing? Because I think you’re going
to say, well, look where we started and look at what
Congress did and didn’t do, so on and so forth. Mr. Earnest: Well, I’ll say
a couple things about that. The first is, the President
of the United States is somebody who takes
responsibility for what happens in this country
while he’s President, and President Obama has
certainly done that in a variety of settings. Many observers have
indicated the important role that the private sector
plays in driving our economy, and President
Obama has been the first to acknowledge that. He himself gives credit to
the private sector driving our recovery. And that recovery
has been historic. The President himself has
also frequently made the observation that the
financial crisis that the United States encountered
was not just significant, it was historic — the largest
recession in our nation’s history since the
Great Depression. And all that occurred right
as President Obama was taking office. And so we were digging out
of a historically large hole, certainly the largest
hole that any President faced dating back to the
early stages of the 20th century. The Press: Just on this
— so how long does the argument last of “look at
the hole we started in”? For example, how long is
that a valid argument into the next administration? You’re seven
years into it now. You see the point? How long is that a valid
explanation for why growth has been so slow? Mr. Earnest: Well, let me
say one other thing and then I’ll get to that question,
which is — and you alluded to this, but it’s relevant
— during the President’s first two years in office,
he was able to work effectively with Democratic
majorities in the House and Senate to put in place the
economic policies that did lay the groundwork for our
recovery, everything from the Recovery Act, including
the Affordable Care Act. These are policies that were
beneficial to the economy, and they led to the kind of
growth and progress that is the envy of the world. Since then, even the kinds
of proposals that have typically enjoyed bipartisan
support, that the President has put forward, have
not gotten them — infrastructure investments,
immigration reform, even the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All of those are things that
would have had a tangible, positive impact on the
economy and on job creation. So the President is proud of
his economic record, and the progress that we’ve
made is historic. And there is no other
President that can cite the kind of job creation streak
that President Obama can cite based on what’s
happened in the economy while he’s been President. But there certainly is more
that the President believes that we could have done
and should have done. But that was not possible
because of the obstruction that we ran in to once
Republicans took control of the United States Congress. With regard to this question
about how do Presidents put into context what they did
with their time in office, the President makes
what I think is a pretty common-sense illustration of
this, which is that he’s a better runner in a relay
race, and he took the baton from President George W. Bush. And when he took the baton,
our economy was at the bottom of a deep hole — was
plunging to the bottom of a deep hole. And he had a lot of uphill
running to do while he was holding that baton. That’s not a situation that
President Trump will face. President Trump, not for the
first time in his life, will inherit a much more
financially beneficial situation. And he’ll have an
opportunity to build on that momentum. So I think you can make
a strong case that the standard that he should be
held to is even higher. He’s got many
more advantages. He’s got the
wind at his back. He’s got a stable
financial system. He’s got an economy that’s
built up momentum, when you evaluate economic growth,
when you evaluate job creation, when you
evaluate wage growth. And what he does with all of
those advantages that he’s inherited is up to him, and
he’ll face — we’ll have an opportunity to evaluate
his performance. The Press: To follow up on
this intelligence briefing matter, back-and-forth, and
given that the President and the President-elect have
some rapport and have this handful of exchanges by
phone and then otherwise, would you expect that there
might be a conversation between the two of them
about this briefing and what it means, and this
particular issue because it’s so prominent and
because I would imagine the President feels so
passionately about it? Mr. Earnest: There is not
plan for the President to call the President-elect. That’s not on his
schedule today. So I suppose if the
President-elect were to call him, he’d return the call. He’s been doing that — done
that a number of times since the election. But, look, as our
intelligence leaders testified yesterday, there’s
not a lot of ambiguity in this situation. They’re not expressing a lot
of ambiguity in their public statements. Certainly, their October
statement was not ambiguous. Their testimony yesterday
before Congress was not ambiguous. I’ll let them speak to
what’s included in the report, and we’ll have an
opportunity to take a look at the unclassified report
when it’s released. I’d be surprised if there’s
anything in there that’s particularly ambiguous. If there is, it may be
because of the need to protect sources and methods. But — The Press: And
because of the lack of ambiguity, as you point out
and others have, and because this is a matter of national
security, is it reasonable to expect that the President
of the United States might call up the President-elect
and say, look, you need to think about this
differently? I mean, it would just seem
like a natural thing to do if, in fact, the President
is so concerned about this, as he rightfully perhaps
should be and has said that he is. Mr. Earnest: Listen, I think
what I can tell you is I certainly wouldn’t rule out
that this is an issue that they’ve discussed
previously. Now, I’m going to protect
their ability to have private conversations, so I
can’t sort of catalogue the conversations
that they’ve had. But I think common sense
would lead you to conclude that this an issue that
they’ve talked about before. And given the significance
of this incident and given the unambiguous nature of
the intelligence community’s work, I suspect that this is
an issue that will continue to be discussed both
publicly and privately. Certainly, we’ve seen
leaders on Capitol Hill, including Republicans,
indicate their commitment to continuing to investigate
this matter and learn as much as they can about it,
and begin to take steps to prevent the kind of negative
impact we saw from happening again. So I guess I wouldn’t rule
out future conversations, but I do not anticipate a
telephone call between the President and the
President-elect on this specific topic today. But of course, if the
President-elect calls the President of the United
States, he’ll call him back. The Press: There could
be other communications methods. Mr. Earnest: There could be. So that’s part of our
commitment to the transition. The Press: Just using my
common sense, as you’ve suggested, it would seem
logical, then, that the President has talked to him
about this, and yet the President-elect has still
expressed publicly so much skepticism about the
intelligence findings. Mr. Earnest: Well, they
obviously disagree on a lot of things. The Press: And just on this
whole matter of tweeting — Mr. Earnest: Maybe that’s
the understatement of the day, huh? (Laughter.) The Press: O
this matter on — you made a reference to tweeting
earlier, that you read all of them but you don’t —
Mr. Earnest: I try to. It’s hard to keep
up sometimes. The Press: What does the
President think about that? The fact that he does this
— not necessarily the content, but the fact that
the President-elect is communicating
in this manner. Mr. Earnest: I think you can
tell from the President’s communication style that he
believes that communicating in a different way plays to
his strengths, and I think in some ways that
contrast was quite stark. Even just this morning, the
President was engaged in a serious, detailed,
long discussion of the intricacies of
health care policy. Those are the kinds of
arguments and facts and presentations that don’t
lend themselves to 140-character limits. But obviously, the
President-elect has a different communication
style and it certainly contributed to some of his
success in building support for his campaign. Whether that’s a style that
he believes will benefit him once he has assumed all of
the awesome responsibilities of the President of the
United States is something that I think we’ll all just
have to wait to find out. The Press: And given
all these awesome responsibilities, does the
President think, as others have said, that this
method of communication is dangerous? Mr. Earnest: Well, I guess
I should also clarify, President Obama has
a Twitter feed too. He’s got tens of millions of
supporters and followers on Twitter — or presumably
they aren’t all supporters. I’m sure they’re not. But he’s got a lot of
followers on Twitter. It can be an effective
method of communication, but when every word and the
meaning of every utterance is so closely scrutinized to
try to detect its precise impact on global events,
sometimes the 140- character limit has some downsides. Sometimes it requires some
more explanation to make sure people understand
exactly what you mean. And when you’re President
of the United States, it’s important for people in this
country and around the world to understand exactly
what you mean. The Press: And lastly, in
other news, you said you might have some details
about the party tonight. Mr. Earnest: I don’t have
additional details about the party tonight. The Press: Or any details. Mr. Earnest: As I mentioned
earlier, the President and First Lady are hosting a
party here at the White House tonight. It will be an opportunity
for them to spend some time with their friends, and I
suspect it will be the last opportunity for them to be
able to host such an event before they leave
the White House. The Press: Any names
on the guest list? Mr. Earnest: No names that I
have to release from here. The Press:
Hundreds of people? Millions of people? Mr. Earnest: It will not
be millions of people. (Laughter.) It will
be smaller than that. But the President and First
Lady are looking forward to it, and this is something
that they’ve done before, and it’s one of the things
that they will miss about the White House in terms
of their personal life and being able to share some of
the — how special that is with their friends in
the way that millions of Americans have gotten a
glimpse of the specialness of the White House through
White House tours. The Press: Are you going? Mr. Earnest: I’ll keep you
posted on my Friday night plans. Mark. The Press: By any chance
did you ask President Obama about what Vice President
Biden said yesterday — that Donald Trump ought to grow
up when it comes to some of his tweets and name-calling? Mr. Earnest: I did not speak
to President Obama about it. I can give you my reaction,
if you care, which is just simply that Vice President
Biden is somebody who, through his four-decade
career here in Washington, has developed a reputation
for an avuncular communication style. The Press: Avuncular? (Laughter.) Mr.
Earnest: Yeah. It seems to generate
headlines sometimes, but I think what many people have
found is that they have benefitted from following
the advice of Vice President Biden. The Press: Would a comment
like that be in the spirit of the smooth and seamless
transition that President Obama wanted? Mr. Earnest: Well, listen,
I think the Vice President, just like everybody else in
this administration, has in words and deeds demonstrated
a clear commitment and extended courtesies to the
incoming President’s team. And I know that that is
certainly true of the Vice President’s staff, but I
also know that that’s true of the Vice
President himself. Earlier this week, he
happened to be walking the halls at the same time that
somebody on our team was showing my successor around
the West Wing, and the Vice President graciously invited
Mr. Spicer into this office and spent some time talking
to him about how special it is to work at
the White House. And I think that’s a pretty
clear indication of the Vice President’s commitment to
ensuring that all of us — including the Vice President
— are committed to the kind of smooth and effective
transition that President Obama directed. The Press: And earlier in an
answer to Ron, you said the President is proud of
his economic record. How does that statement
relate to the national debt, an issue that we rarely hear
on in this room or from the President, a national
debt that is nearing $20 trillion, an 87 percent
increase over what it was when he took office? Certainly — well, would you
regard that as a blot on his economic record? Mr. Earnest: Well, Mark,
I think certainly the President’s record
when it comes to fiscal responsibility
is quite strong. The deficit has been
reduced by two-thirds since President Obama took office. And the reason that that’s
important is if we can get the deficit-to-GDP ratio
down around 3 percent, that’s going to allow us
to stabilize the debt as a percentage of GDP. And that’s the metric
that economists look at. And there has been a lot of
progress made in terms of asking those at the top of
the income scale to pay a little bit more, in terms of
strengthening the economy and raising the amount of
tax revenue that’s coming into the U.S. government. There have also been some
cuts to government spending, some of which were fashioned
in a different way than President Obama would have
preferred, but yet resulted in the kind of deficit
reduction that’s been good for the country and
good for our economy. But there is more work that
needs to be done to address the medium- and long-term
consequences of the nation’s fiscal picture. And that will certainly be
something that the incoming President and the Republican
leadership in Congress will have to address. We certainly have heard
a lot from congressional Republicans about their
desire to reduce the deficit. And we’ll see if they have
the same success that President Obama has had in
reducing the deficit by two-thirds over the
next eight years. Dave. The Press: Thanks, Josh. We’re talking a lot about
domestic policy today. Will the President in his
speech in Chicago discuss foreign policy at all? Mr. Earnest: I would
anticipate that the President will talk a little
bit about the work that is necessary to advance our
interests and to keep America safe. But I would not anticipate
that that will be the focus of his farewell address. The Press: What do you say
to people who argue that given the continued problems
in the Middle East and Syria and in Iraq, the inability
to defeat ISIS completely, the growing tensions and
years-long problems with Russia that seem to be
increasing, even the problems in Europe that
seem to be growing with democracies, people losing
power, and allies facing new challenges — what do you
say to people who would argue that the President has
not left the country in a stronger position in
foreign affairs for Trump? Mr. Earnest: Well, I’d say
a couple things about that, and I appreciate you giving
me the opportunity to do that. The first is that when
President Obama took office, there were 180,000 U.S. servicemembers in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and today that number is down below
15,000, I believe. And I think that is an
indication of the important progress that President
Obama has made. Each President is going to
face unique challenges and a unique set of circumstances
in the international community. And what President Obama
has sought to do is to strengthen our relationships
with our closest allies. And the President feels good
about the progress that we’ve made in strengthening
our relationship with countries who are part
of our NATO Alliance. The incoming President
indicated that he might try to do something a
little bit different. This President certainly
hopes that he won’t, but we’ll have to see how he
chooses to manage those relationships. President Obama is proud
of the way that we have overhauled and strengthened
the relationship that the United States has with
countries throughout the Western Hemisphere, and some
of that is because of the policy change that we
made with regard to Cuba. That certainly has created
ample opportunities for the United States to strengthen
our relationship with countries throughout
Latin America. Obviously, the President had
the opportunity to visit Argentina in 2016. That was a good example of
some of the improvements that we’ve made. I will say that the
President is disappointed that Congress didn’t act to
ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That certainly had the
potential to strengthen our security and economic
relationships throughout the Asia Pacific. That was a missed
opportunity, but I don’t think that’s one that you
can pin on the President of the United States, because
he did the hard work of negotiating the kind of an
agreement that would have advanced our interests,
and it didn’t move forward because of Congress’s
failure to act. The last thing I’ll say is
when President Obama took office, the number-one
threat that was identified by the United States and our
allies around the world was the risk that Iran would
develop a nuclear weapon. That would be
extraordinarily destabilizing to not just
the Middle East, but to the world. It would be extraordinarily
concerning to our closest ally, Israel. And it would pose a threat
to our allies in Europe that are within range of some of
Iran’s missile capabilities. But because of the
principled, hardnosed diplomacy of this
administration, the United States succeeded in reaching
an international agreement to prevent Iran from
obtaining a nuclear weapon. And the international
community can now verify that Iran does not have a
nuclear weapon, and is now farther away from being able
to get a nuclear weapon than they have been in some time,
and there are restrictions in place to make sure that
that timeframe is not shortened. And if it is, the
international community will know about it and
will be able to react. But all of that was
accomplished without deploying a single soldier
or firing a single shot. And that certainly is a
testament to the President’s success in addressing some
of the most significant threats facing
the United States. And then I’ll end just by
mentioning the fact that President Obama took office
with Osama bin Laden continuing to try to
menace the United States. He no longer is in a
position to do that. Michelle. The Press: While we’ve been
sitting here, there’s been a shooting at Fort Lauderdale
Airport in a baggage claim area, and it seems like
multiple people have been shot and multiple people
have been killed. Given that we don’t know
what the motive is, do you know at this point, or do
any of you know if the President has been notified? Mr. Earnest: I don’t know
if the President’s has been notified but we can
certainly look into that for you. Obviously these are the
kinds of events that we see all too often here
in the United States. And our thoughts and prayers
right now are with those who are potentially affected,
and certainly with the first responders in south Florida
who right now are surely putting themselves in harm’s
way to try to protect innocent people. And so we’re thinking about
them right now, and we’ll President getting updated
on this situation. And we’ll let you know
as soon as we can. The Press: Okay, and
what do you think of the President-elect asking
Congress now — and he says he’s going to ask
congressional committees — to investigate the leaking
of information to — NBC News is the only
one he named. What’s your reaction to
that, especially given that this administration
prosecuted leakers multiple times? Mr. Earnest: Well, listen,
as I mentioned to Josh, just two days ago on his Twitter
feed the President-elect was defending the integrity of
the foreigner who is the leading purveyor of
government secrets maintained by the United
States that we’d prefer not be released. These are secrets that have
made the United States — by virtue of their release, has
made the United States less safe and has put our men and
women in uniform and our men and women in the
intelligence community at greater risk. Why he’s defending his
integrity, I do not know. But it would lead me to
conclude that the tweet that he sent today about NBC was
prompted by something other than his concern about the
inappropriate release of classified information. The Press: So would you
disagree with calling for an investigation on this
particular leak? Mr. Earnest: Listen,
obviously he called on Congress to take a look
at it, and I’ll defer to members of Congress about
how they want to use their investigative authorities. The one thing I think I
would point out is that the Department of Justice with
regard to the way that they interact, the way that they
conduct leak investigations, and the way that they
interact with reporters and protect the First Amendment
rights of reporters, they have made clear and codified
that journalists should not face punishment just
for doing their job. And that is a principle that
has been established and strengthened and codified by
the Obama administration. And hopefully that’s
something that Mr. Sessions will continue, if and when
he is confirmed to be the next leader of the
Department of Justice. The Press: Okay, and the
President said something interesting today during
that Vox interview. He said that he would
support a repeal of Obamacare if the replacement
was something better. And that’s a lot different
than what we’ve been talking about in here that you said
Democrats shouldn’t even work with Republicans if
repeal is a method they choose. So do you think the
President was saying something different here? Or was that just his way of
saying in his view there’s no way that anything
is going to be better? Mr. Earnest: I think what
he was — he was actually giving voice to the same
argument that I was making, which is simply that if
Republicans are willing to sit down and look for ways
to improve the health care system, improve upon
Obamacare, and are willing to work with Democrats to
do that, then the President believes that Democrats
should work with them. And it sounded to me like
today he volunteered to be one of them. The Press: But even if
they want to repeal it? It sounds like he’s saying
something different than — Mr. Earnest: The President
is simply saying that if Republicans have ideas that
will be better for the American people, better for
our economy — and we’ve got a way to judge, right, based
on the people that — based on the way that access to
health care has dramatically expanded under the
Affordable Care Act, based on the consumer protections
that are in place, based on the way that the deficit has
been reduced, based on the way that the Medicare trust
fund has been strengthened. If Republicans have a plan
to meet all of that criteria and they can do it, and it
cover even more people or do it for even less money, then
President Obama — I guess the point the President is
making is there’s no pride of authorship here. And I think that should
have been evident from the beginning as the President
invited Republicans to take the pen and to put
forward their own ideas. And in fact, the President
has willingly shared credit with the Heritage
Foundation, who originally conceived of some of the
key aspects of this plan. He has readily shared credit
with people like Mitt Romney, whose health care
plan in Massachusetts served as a template for the
Affordable Care Act. He didn’t do that because
he’s good buddies with Mitt Romney — he’s not. Mitt Romney ran against him
in 2012, but yet President Obama was willing to use the
template that he developed because it was a good
idea, and it worked in Massachusetts and it’s
worked for the United States of America. So the President is
basically making the point there’s no pride of
authorship here. If Republicans have ideas
that are actually going to make the health care system
better, the President will help them and encourage them
and support them as they try to implement it. The problem has been that
for seven years, Republicans have insisted on simply
voting to repeal the law without ever putting forward
any sort of realistic plan to replace it. And some of the ideas that
they have floated would not make the health care system
in this country better or cheaper or cover more
people; it would make many of those problems worse. And that’s the tension. As long as Republicans are
only focused on throwing our health care system into
chaos, I don’t think they’re going to find much support
at all from Democrats. And I think they’re going
to have trouble maintaining support among a lot of
Republicans who are concerned about the impact
that chaos would have on families and businesses
in their home states. Let’s see — Olivier. The Press: Thanks, Josh. Over the last eight years
we’ve seen a series of spectacular cyber
intrusions, whether by the United States or against
the United States. I’m wondering under what
circumstances the President thinks either an act of
hacking or an act of cyber sabotage becomes
an act of war. Mr. Earnest: I haven’t asked
this policy question of the President or our experts. With regard to the Russian
involvement in malicious cyber activity that
was aimed at trying to destabilize our election,
the President believed that that was a very
serious incident. That’s what led to the
extraordinary statement from the intelligence community. That’s what led to the
serious response that was publicized by the
administration last week. That’s what led the
President of the United States to raise these issues
directly with President Putin when they saw one
another in Asia this past fall. And I think that’s why
— I know that’s why the President also directed the
intelligence community to produce a comprehensive
report that could be shared not just with this
administration but with the incoming administration,
with members of Congress in both parties, and with the
public about what exactly happened. Getting to the bottom of
this is important because what happened is so serious. But I will say that I’d want
you to talk to somebody with a little bit more expertise
in this policy area before I took on the hypothetical
question about what kind of malicious cyber activity
would genuinely constitute an act of war. The Press: I ask because
this morning at a breakfast with reporters, Senator Bob
Corker, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, suggested that the question of intent here
was paramount, saying that the collection of
information is not an act of war, but perhaps the use of
that information might be. And that’s why I’m asking
sort of what the President’s criteria are — not so much
hypothetical — what are they. Mr. Earnest: Without having
thought through a lot of that, I think that certainly
is a reasonable statement from Senator Corker that
intent of the malicious actor is not irrelevant. And I know that the
intelligence community, as we previously stated, has
done a lot of work to try to understand not just what
Russia did and how they did it, but also to try to get
some insight into what their motivation may have been and
what their goal may have been. We know at least one of
their goals was to raise some doubts about the
integrity of our system of democracy and the ability of
the United States government to execute an election. But if there were additional
motivations, we’ll have to see what the intelligence
community has been able to learn. John, I’ll give you the last
one, then we’ll do the week ahead. The Press: Thank
you very much, Josh. You’ve said repeatedly,
including just a few minutes ago, that the Republicans in
Congress have no alternative to the Affordable Health
Care Act if it’s repealed, and yet in 2015, when the
Supreme Court looked again at its constitutionality,
Senator Cassidy of Louisiana, himself a doctor,
unveiled a detailed plan with — keeping some aspects
of the previous plan, but offering new ones. Today, Republicans on
Capitol Hill say they have seven plans that are on the
table, including Senator Cassidy’s. Why is there sort of a
difference in your view and what they’re saying on the
Hill, and in particular in the case of one senator
who did put forth a plan? Mr. Earnest: Well, I think,
John, right now it’s a pretty simple situation
that we have, which is if Republicans had a plan that
they had confidence in, that they believed measured up
to the Affordable Care Act, that they believed would
garner sufficient political support among Republicans
on Capitol Hill, then why wouldn’t they
put it forward? But even the Speaker of the
House himself is saying they’ll get around
to putting forward a replacement at some point,
hopefully later this year. If there are so many plans
that they’ve been talking about for so long, why
aren’t they prepared to put them forward and use them
as the replacement for the Affordable Care Act? So they’ll have — because
the truth is, John — this is the other part of it
that I think is relevant. It is new that Republicans
for the first time are in charge of the White House,
but it’s not new that Republicans are in charge of
the Congress for the first time. They had congressional
majorities last year and the year before that. And I’m not aware of those
Republicans using their majority to pass an
Obamacare alternative. They didn’t. So that’s why I doubt that
there actually is a plan that they’re willing to
put forward, that they’re willing to stand behind,
that they’re willing to evaluate in comparison to
all of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act that the
American people have been enjoying for years now. The Press: The other
question that I had was, there was a number, 1,030
— 1,030 — that I’m sure you’ve seen that’s been
in numerous articles from Christmas to January. Mr. Earnest: You’re laying
it on thick here, John. The Press: All right. I’m just telling you. Mr. Earnest: Okay. The Press: That is the
number of Democratic senators, governors, U.S. representatives, and state
legislators who have lost their seats to Republicans
in the last eight years under President Obama. As the leader of the
Democratic Party, a position you mentioned earlier,
has he ever expressed any thoughts about these losses,
which I believe are the biggest for an incumbent
President since Herbert Hoover was President
during the Depression? Mr. Earnest: Well, John, I
think it’s always important to evaluate the context
of those numbers. And one important piece of
context is simply that there was an historic wave that
entered office at the end of 2008 and the beginning of
2009 of Democratic elected officials who benefitted
from President Obama being at the top of the
ballot in 2008. So when we’re talking about
those kinds of numbers, it’s important to recognize that
those numbers got built up in the first place because
of President Obama’s political success in winning
the White House the first time. That said, the President is
the leader of the Democratic Party. And he has been
disappointed, particularly with regard to this most
recent election, that a lot of good Democratic elected
officials, public servants didn’t succeed at
the ballot box. And the President has
expressed his view about why that is. It includes the need for
Democratic activists and Democratic voters to express
their view persuasively in communities all across the
country, and that certainly is part of the challenge
that President Obama is going to spend some time
thinking about as a former President. And this will certainly
be the challenge that the incoming Democratic Party
chairman will take on in taking office and making
sure that Democrats are showing up and competing in
communities all across the country. We’ve got the values right,
we’ve got the policy prescriptions right, but we
just need to go and make the argument. And the President is
confident that if and when Democrats do that, there
are important gains for the party and for the
country that lie ahead. Let me just run through
the week ahead real quick. On Saturday, the President
will travel to Jacksonville, Florida to attend the
wedding ceremony of a White House staffer. There will be no media
coverage of the event. This is just a private event
and the President is looking forward to it. On Monday, the President
will attend meetings at the White House. On Tuesday, the President
will travel to Chicago, Illinois, as we’ve
discussed, to deliver his farewell address to
the American people. In the address, he will
thank his supporters, celebrate the ways the
country has changed these past eight years, and offer
some thoughts on where the country will go from here. The First Lady, the Vice
President, and Dr. Biden will also attend. Through the rest of the
week, the President intends to attend meetings at the
White House and it should be an interesting week. Thanks, everybody,
have a great weekend. The Press: Can you tell us
the staffer’s name or — Mr. Earnest: We’ll follow up
with you on that tomorrow. Thanks, everybody

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