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Remarks by the President in Immigration Town Hall -- Miami, FL

Florida International University
Miami, Florida

4:00 P.M. EST

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.  (Applause.) 

It's good to see you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  It's good to be with you, José.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Thanks for being here at FIU.  Really appreciate you being here with us.

THE PRESIDENT:  It is wonderful to be with the Golden Panthers.  (Applause.) 

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  There you go!

Mr. President, let’s begin.  It's going to be bilingual at times, but you and I are used to that.

THE PRESIDENT:  I can handle that. 

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Senator McConnell, on Tuesday, made an offer to break the Department of Homeland Security impasse.  He wants to vote to fund DHS through September and then separately vote to strip funding for your executive actions on immigration. As you know, it seems as if the Democrats are onboard in the Senate.  We're 48 hours from the deadline.  Republicans have a plan.  Democrats seem to be onboard.  You're waiting on a judge. Is that enough?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, José, let me start by just talking generally about why immigration is so important and why we've got to fix a broken system.

We've had a system for a very long time that nobody is happy with.  We know that businesses are being deprived of outstanding workers.  We know that our agricultural sector that's so dependent on immigrants is hurting because of uncertainty.  We know that we should be deploying our resources and focusing it more on dealing with felons and national security issues with respect to our borders, and not focusing on the mom who’s working someplace, looking after her kids and doing the right thing. 

And for over six years, now, I've been calling on the Republicans to work with us to pass a comprehensive fix that would strengthen our borders, that would make sure that businesses have the workforce that they needed, aboveboard, not paying them under the table, not depriving them of things like overtime or workers’ rights, and that we provided a pathway for people to earn their way into a legal status and ultimately citizenship.

And to their credit, members of the Senate passed a bipartisan bill, overwhelmingly.  But the House Republicans blocked it.  They refused to even allow it to get on the floor for a vote.  What I did, then, was to say I'm going to use all of the authority that I have as the chief executive of the United States, as well as Commander-in-Chief, to try to make sure that we are prioritizing our immigration system a lot smarter than we've been doing.  And what that means is, is that instead of focusing on families, we're going to focus on felons.  We're going to strengthen our borders, which is what people are concerned about.

We're going to build on what we did in 2012 with DACA, which allowed young people who had come here and were Americans in all respects except they didn’t have the proper papers to get legal so that they could continue in their higher education, they’re serving in the military --

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  They know no other country.

THE PRESIDENT:  They know no other country.  And this approach of executive actions has been used by previous Republican and Democratic Presidents throughout modern times.

Now, what we did most recently was to expand that so more people would qualify for DACA, and we also said if you are the parent of a U.S. citizen or a legal resident, if you’ve been here for a while, if you're part of our community, then you should be able to come forward, get registered, go through a background check, and if you generally have been contributing to our community, you should be able to stay here legally and not be in fear of deportation.

It did not provide citizenship because only Congress can do that, but it was going to help.  And I think we saw the reaction in the community and, the truth is, across the country, people recognized this was the right thing and the smart thing to do. 

Now, unfortunately, a number of Republican governors chose to sue.  They found a district court judge who has enjoined -- meaning stopped -- us going forward with this program.  But that’s just the first part of the process.  This is just one federal judge.  We have appealed it very aggressively.  We’re going to be as aggressive as we can because not only do we know that the law is on our side, but history is also on our side.

And in the meantime, what we said to Republicans is, instead of trying to hold hostage funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which is so important for our national security, fund that, and let’s get on with actually passing comprehensive immigration reform.

So in the short term, if Mr. McConnell, the leader of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, want to have a vote on whether what I’m doing is legal or not, they can have that vote.  I will veto that vote, because I’m absolutely confident that what we’re doing is the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  And in the meantime, we’re going to continue to pursue all legal avenues to make sure that we have a country in which we are respecting not only the law, because we’re a nation of laws, but we’re also respecting the fact that we’re a nation of immigrants. 

And I’m confident that, ultimately, people who have been living here for a long time, who have roots here, oftentimes have U.S. citizen children here or legal resident children here, that they deserve to have an opportunity.  And that’s what we want to provide them.

Q    (As interpreted.)  Mr. President, independently of what can happen with all the appeals and judges, it would take months. Mr. President, we’re facing very real consequences and our community is in fear -- has fear that’s due to your actions, because that fear is that uncertainty.  Millions of people are in the balance here against a rock and a hard place.  What is the responsibility you feel regarding this uncertainty, this pain that a lot of the community, the Hispanic community are feeling?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, one of the most important things that I think everybody needs to know -- and this didn’t get enough attention when I made my announcement last year -- in addition to expanding DACA, in addition to creating the DAPA program for the parents of DREAMers, what we also did was we said we’re going to change how ICE and our Border Patrol system operates.  Because we recognize we’re not going to deport 11 million people.  And so why we would want to allocate resources in a wasteful way -- that doesn’t make sense. 

What we said was let’s prioritize who it is that we’re really focused on.  We’re focused on criminals and gang members who are a threat to our community.  And we’re focused on the border and making sure the people who’ve just come, that we are making sure that they are in a position where they understand that they’ve got to come through legal pathways.  But for people who’ve been living here for a long time, they are no longer prioritized for enforcement and deportation.

And so, even as people should be preparing their paperwork so that when the time comes that they can apply, in the meantime, understand that ICE and the border security mechanisms that we have in place, they are instructed to focus on criminals and people who have just crossed the border.  If you’ve been here for a long time and if you qualify, generally, then during this period, even with legal uncertainty, they should be in a good place.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  And the problem is, Mr. President, that that may be the fact, but where the rubber meets the road, that’s not happening many times.  Many times, people are being deported that have been here, that have kids, that have a process to even become legal, and they’re being deported.  So one thing is what you’re saying; another thing, a lot of times, is what happens where the rubber meets the road.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think what you’re going to be finding, José, is that every time that you have a big bureaucracy and you’ve changed policy, there’s going to be one or two, three instances where people apparently haven’t gotten the message.  But if you talk to the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, he is absolutely committed to this new prioritization.  More importantly, I, the President of the United States, am absolutely committed to this new prioritization.

And so families out there need to understand that we are going to be focusing on criminals.  We’re going to be focusing on potential felons.  We are reorganizing how we work with state and local governments to make sure that we are not prioritizing families.  And you are going to see I think a substantial change, even as the case works its way through the courts.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Mr. President, I want to go to the audience.  Eric is a war veteran.  He was wounded in Afghanistan. He is with us this afternoon. 

Eric.

Q    Good afternoon, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, Eric.

Q    First and foremost, I want to thank you for coming here.  There’s so many things going on in the world right now, and I just want to thank you for taking your time to come and talk to us, because I know you have to deal with so many things. I can only imagine what you have to deal with every day. 

But a little bit about myself.  When I was 17, I joined the U.S. Army.  Actually, my mom had to sign because I was so young. My 18th birthday I spent in basic training, and my 21st birthday was spent in Afghanistan, and I was actually shot at on my birthday.  I came back.  I’m a wounded warrior.  I was medically discharged from the military in 2011.  And I come back home, and only to find out that I’m fighting another war with my mother -- trying to keep her here. 

So I just want to ask you, Mr. President, there has to be some kind of gray area for a situation like this.  Because I put in a lot of time and I love this country, and I just feel like if it wasn’t for her signing those papers I would never have been able to join this great American army.  So I want to ask you if there’s any way that situation could be handled a little better.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, let me just say thank you for your incredible service to our country.  (Applause.)  You’re a great example of why this issue is so important.  Our country is strong because of generation after generation of immigrants who embraced the ideals of America and then fought for those ideals, and fought in wars to defend our country, and built companies that employed people, and helped to build the railroads and the highways.  And all the things that we take for granted in this country, those were built by immigrants.  We’re all immigrants.  That’s who we are.  Unless you’re one of the first Americans -- Native Americans.  And so we have to recognize that.

And I’m confident that your mother qualifies under the executive action program that I’ve put forward.  Right now, the judge has blocked us initiating the program where she can come and sign up and get registered.  But in the meantime, part of the message that I’m sending is, if you qualified for the executive action that I put forward, then we’re still going to make sure that your mom is not prioritized in terms of enforcement.  And she should feel confident about that.  So I just want to assure her, short term.

Long term, we need a situation where she has a pathway to become a legal citizen.  And that’s why we still have to make sure that we get a bill passed through Congress, and we have to keep the pressure on those who are blocking that bill.

One last point that I think is important.  The judge in this case did not reverse DACA that I put forward in 2012.  So hundreds of thousands of young people all across the country who’ve signed up, registered, and are going to school, making something of their lives -- you have to understand that hasn’t been affected whatsoever.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Expand on that a little bit, because it’s important. 

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s important that in 2012, when I made my first announcement about executive actions, that applied to the DREAMers.  Basically, if you were -- if you had come here before 2007, you’re between the ages of 16 and 30, you could register, sign up, you now had a legal status.  It was temporary because we hadn’t passed a bill yet, but it meant that you could get a work permit, you could go to school -- you could do the things that American kids do as they’re entering into adulthood.

That has not changed.  And so those who’ve already signed up, you need to understand that has not been challenged in court. And what’s also important is we still have several hundred thousand young people who qualify for that original executive action back in 2012 who have not yet taken advantage of it.  And now is the time for all of you to take advantage of it.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Eric, thank you for that question.  (Applause.) 
And, Mr. President, we’ve been just flooded with questions using our social media hashtags, and this one comes from #ObamaResponde.  It says:  How do you guarantee that an immigrant who is in the middle of legalizing his status that eh or she is not going to be deported by ICE?  Mr. President, my husband was deported during the process, and this, she says, happened just last week.

THE PRESIDENT:  I would have to know the details of what exactly happened.  But what I can tell you is that until we pass a law through Congress, the executive actions that we’ve taken are not going to be permanent; they’re temporary.

We are now implementing a new prioritization.  There are going to be some jurisdictions, and there may be individual ICE officials or Border Patrol who aren’t paying attention to our new directives.  But they’re going to be answerable to the head of the Department of Homeland Security, because he’s been very clear about what our priorities should be.  And I’ve been very clear about what our priorities should be. 

And I don’t know what the particular circumstances here are, but what I can tell you is people who have signed up, for example, under my executive action in DACA -- there are 700,000, 800,000 people who signed up -- they haven’t had problems.  It’s worked.  So we know how to make this work. 

Right now we’ve got to judge who’s blocking it from working.
And in the interim, until we can actually process all these applications, then what we’re going to do is do what we can in terms of making sure that we’re prioritizing it properly.  But the challenge is still going to be that not only do we have to win this legal fight, which we are appealing very aggressively, but ultimately we’re still going to have to pass a law through Congress.

The bottom line is, José, that I’m using all of the legal power vested in me in order to solve this problem.  And one of the things about living in a democracy is that we have separation of powers -- we have Congress, we have the judicial branch -- and right now, we’ve got some disagreements with some members of Congress and some members of the judiciary in terms of what should be done.

But what I’m confident about is, ultimately, this is going to get done.  And the reason it’s going to get done is it’s the right thing to do and it is who we are as a people.  (Applause.)

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  But what are the consequences?  Because how do you ensure that ICE agents or Border Patrol won’t be deporting people like this?  I mean, what are the consequences?

THE PRESIDENT:  José, look, the bottom line is, is that if somebody is working for ICE and there is a policy and they don’t follow the policy, there are going to be consequences to it.  So I can’t speak to a specific problem.  What I can talk about is what’s true in the government, generally. 

In the U.S. military, when you get an order, you’re expected to follow it.  It doesn’t mean that everybody follows the order. If they don’t, they’ve got a problem.  And the same is going to be true with respect to the policies that we’re putting forward.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Mr. President, people in your own administration, legal experts, predicted for weeks really that the Texas judge could probably rule against you.  And this could happen again.  I mean, you just mentioned there are more than 25 people who have joined in states, who have joined in this legal process.  Any and all of these other cases or judges could also act the same way that this judge in Texas did.  So what was the contingency plan?  I mean, did you have a contingency plan?  Specifically, what are you going to do going forward as this process continues?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, José, we’ve got one judge who made this decision.  We appeal it to a higher court.  We believe that the law is clearly on our side.  This is true in everything that we do.

Look at the Affordable Care Act.  We’ve signed up 11 million people to get coverage through the Affordable Care Act.  Over 2.5 million of them are Latino.  (Applause.)  Because of what we’ve done, we’ve seen the percentage of uninsured Latinos drop by almost 7 percent.  It’s unprecedented.  So we know it can work. 

Now, that hasn’t stopped the Republican Party from suing us constantly, to try to find a judge who may think that what we’re doing is in appropriate, despite the fact that it passed through Congress.  We’ve got a Supreme Court that is still ruling on these cases.  But that hasn’t stopped us from moving forward.

And that’s been true historically on every movement of social progress.  It’s not always a straight line.  Sometimes we’re going to get legal challenges, but as long as we’re confident -- and I am very confident in this circumstance that this is within my power -- that ultimately then it’s going to get done. 

But the one thing I do want to emphasize is that in order for us to get absolute certainty that it’s going to be permanent and not just temporary, that it doesn’t just last during my administration and then get reversed by the next President, is we’ve got to pass a bill -- which means the pressure has to continue to stay on Congress.  (Applause.)  The pressure has to continue to stay on the Republican Party that is currently blocking the passage of comprehensive immigration reform. 

It means that for the next set of presidential candidates -- because I’m term-limited; Michelle is happy about that -- (laughter) -- when they start asking for votes, the first question should be, do you really intend to deport 11 million people?  And if not, what is your plan to make sure that they have the ability to have a legal status, stay with their families, and ultimately contribute to the United States of America?

So we’re going to have to keep on with the political process on a separate track.  But in the meantime, we’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that we implement executive actions as we’ve discussed.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  How long will it take?  Because a lot of people are asking.  They said, we were 24 hours away from registering for the expanded DACA and just months from DAPA.  This happens 12 hours before.  What’s going to happen now? How long is it going to take?  And, again, a lot of the questions are, was the President caught by surprise?  And why is it taking so long?  This is what we’re getting, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  What I’m saying is, is that of course we weren’t surprised.  I’ve got a bunch of lawyers, we saw the judge who was rendering the opinion.  The fact that we weren’t surprised doesn’t mean we can stop the judge from rendering an opinion.  It means that we then go forward in the appeal process. That’s how the legal system works. 

And we have asked –- first and foremost, we have asked for a stay.  What a stay means, by the way, for the non-lawyers, is simply that whatever the judge thinks, it shouldn’t stop us from going ahead and implementing.  The first step is to go before that same judge and say, judge, what you said is wrong, rethink it.  He may not agree with that. 

The next step is to go to a higher court, the Fifth Circuit. That will take a couple of months for us to file that and argue that before the Fifth Circuit.  We expect to win in the Fifth Circuit, and if we don’t, then we’ll take it up from there.
 
So at each stage, we are confident that we’ve got the better argument.  As I said before, what I’ve done is no different than what previous Presidents have done.  In the meantime, what I can do is make sure –-

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  The numbers are unprecedented.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the numbers are unprecedented only relatively speaking.  I mean, if you look at what George H.W. Bush did, he, proportionally to what was then the immigrant population, was very aggressive in expanding.  The difference is, is that Democrats didn’t challenge what he did for largely political reasons.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  And there was a bill already underway.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, there was a bill underway, but in some ways, you could make an argument that since a bill had passed that didn’t solve that problem, Congress had been very direct in saying we don’t want to solve that problem.  And he went ahead and did it anyway, because it’s in his authority to implement, using prosecutorial discretion, the limited resources of Department of Homeland Security.

So we’re going to be in a position I think of going through the legal process over the next several months.  In the meantime, what people who would qualify for executive action should be doing is gathering up your papers, making sure that you can show that you are a longstanding resident in the United States.  You should be making sure that you’ve got the documents so that when we have cleared out all the legal problems and the application process is ready to go, that you’re ready to go. 

And we’ve got wonderful advocates who are working with us all across the country, in communities, the churches, civil groups and organizations, civil rights groups, lawyers, advocates.  So the community right now, what they can do is prepare so that as soon as the legal process has worked themselves through, we can go forward.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Mr. President, I want to introduce you to Boris Gills (ph).  He is a student here at Florida International University.  Born in Haiti. 

Good afternoon.

Q    Hello, Mr. President.  My name is Boris Gills(ph), and I’m an international student.  I came from Haiti.  And I’m a survivor of the earthquake that badly ravaged my country in 2010. In 2011, I came here in the U.S. on a student visa.  Now, I’m a senior at FIU.  I’m graduating next semester with a double major in finance and international business.  Like so many of us international students, we don’t know what to do.  Our back against the wall.  We’re doing everything by the book, but yet it feels like we’re left out of every single reference, of everything going on.  So now my question is, what is it that you can do to help us international students?  How can you include us in your executive orders, maybe?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me just say this.  It’s wonderful to see people, young people, talented, from all across the globe coming to stay in the United States.  And I want to congratulate Florida International for the diversity of its class and the great work that it’s doing.  And we would love more really well-educated, ambitious young people to want to stay here and contribute to this country.

If you look at the history of the founders of Intel and Google and so many of our iconic companies, people like Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, they were immigrants.  And one of the mistakes that we’re making right now is we’re training a lot of incredibly talented young people, they’re going to our universities, getting advanced degrees, and then we’re sending them back right away, even though they may want to stay and start businesses here and contribute to our community.

So one of the things that we talked about in the comprehensive immigration bill was how can we provide greater incentives and opportunities for young people with great talent and higher degrees to be able to stay here -- particularly in areas like math and science and technology, where we know that right now we don’t have enough engineers, we don’t have enough computer scientists. 

But that is not something that we can do aggressively through executive actions.  That’s something that’s going to require legislation for us to do.  And, frankly, there’s going to be a -– I want to be very clear, there are a lot of foreign students who come here to study.  The fact that they come here to study doesn’t automatically qualify them for legal residence or U.S. citizenship.  And I don’t foresee a circumstance where suddenly anybody who is going to college here automatically is qualified for legal residence.  There will be criteria in terms of who it is that is able to apply, get legal residence, get a work permit, and maybe ultimately go through citizenship.  But that’s going to be through a legal process of legal immigration. That’s not going to be one that is resolved with respect to somebody who has been undocumented.  Those are two different circumstances.

And part of what we can do through the comprehensive immigration bill is speed up our legal immigration system.  A lot of people end up being forced through the undocumented pool because the legal process is so bogged down, so bureaucratic, so slow, oftentimes the allocations of quotas from different countries don’t reflect the modern world.  And so one of the things that the Senate bill originally did was really change that in a smart way and it would have speeded things up.  That’s why we still have to get this bill passed and we’re still going to have to put pressure on it.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  On a bigger question that kind of Boris brings up, to extrapolate his case, is some people wonder, well, are you focusing mostly on the undocumented population?  And through executive orders, could you not also include those that are here, that are participating already?  Folks that came from Haiti, this horrible earthquake that hit five years, are you focused at all on that?  I think Boris’s question is, can’t you include them as well to streamline in some way?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Here’s the thing.  I was always very clear about this, even when I made the first announcement about the executive actions.  The reason I’m confident about our legal position in what we did with DACA, which was already in place since 2012, what we’re now proposing in terms of expanding DACA, and also for the parents of those who qualified for DACA -- the reason I’m confident is that we could take those steps under my powers of prosecutorial discretion. 

If, in fact, we were completely just rewriting the immigration laws, then actually the other side would have a case, because we can’t violate statutes.  We can’t violate laws that are already in place.  What we can do is make choices to implement those laws.  That’s what we’ve done with DACA and that’s what we’ve proposed with the expansion of DACA and DAPA.

In order for us to do most of the work that Boris refers to in terms of expanding opportunities, for example, to say to any young person who has got an advanced degree in math and science and engineering, which we know we’re going to need, even as we try to get more and more young Americans to go into those fields –- in order for us to do that, we’re going to need a congressional law to be passed.  I don’t have all the authorities that are necessary in order to get some of those things done.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Mr. President, I can’t tell you the amount of questions that we’ve received, both on Telemundo and MSNBC, has really been extraordinary.  And one I get a lot, over and over and over again, is a question, Mr. President, when you had absolute control of Congress, you really didn’t fight for immigration.  And then when you had the situation where you lost majorities, then you take action.  Is there political implications behind something that affects so many people so close to their hearts?

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t know if anybody remembers, José, that when I took office and I had a majority, we had the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  (Applause.)  The global economy was collapsing.  The unemployment rate in the Latino community and the immigrant community had soared.  People were losing homes and entire communities were being devastated.  So it wasn’t as if I was just sitting back, not doing anything. 

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  No one says you were sitting back not doing anything --but you did do the ACA, for example.

THE PRESIDENT:  We were moving very aggressively on a whole host of issues.  And we moved as fast as we could and we wanted immigration done.  We pushed for immigration to be done.  But, ultimately, we could not get the votes to get it all done.

Now, this is one of the challenges of being President, is there are crying needs everywhere.  Even within the Latino communities, even within the immigrant communities, there are crying needs.  I don’t regret having done the ACA.  I just described for you there are millions of people who are not going to go bankrupt because they got sick because we got that done.  So if the question is, would I have loved to have gotten everything done in the first two years -- absolutely, because then, for the next six, I could have relaxed.  (Laughter.)

But what we do is we choose to push as hard as we can on all fronts.  Some things are politically easier.  Some things are politically more difficult.  Some things we’re able to get done given the schedule in the Senate or in the House. 

One of the biggest challenges that we had on a lot of these issues was what’s called the filibuster in the Senate.  Even when we had a majority in the Senate, in order to get things passed, we had to get some Republican votes.  And if it were not for that filibuster process where -- by the way, it’s not in the Constitution, but the habits in the Senate have gotten so bad where you’ve got to get 60 votes for everything.  As a consequence of that, things like immigration reform, that if I had just needed a simple majority of Democrats we could have gotten done, we could not get done in those circumstances.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  And here’s another social media question. Benson Owen from Houston says:  Why did Democrats and the GOP play political Ping Pong with immigration when millions of American families suffer as a result?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  José, wait, wait, wait.  I appreciate the applause.  Let me just say, that’s just not true -- the notion that Democrats and Republicans played political Ping Pong.  (Applause.) 

Democrats have consistently stood on the side of comprehensive immigration reform.  (Applause.)  Democrats have provided strong majorities across the board for comprehensive immigration reform.  And you do a disservice when you suggest that, ah, nobody was focused on this, because then you don’t know who’s fighting for you and who’s fighting against you. 

And the fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party consistently has, in its platforms, in its conventions, has taken a strong stand that we need to fix a broken immigration system.  And the blockage has been very specific on one side.

Now, to their credit, there are Republicans, a handful, who have agreed with us.  That’s how we got it passed through the Senate.  But let’s not be confused about why we don’t have comprehensive immigration reform right now.  It’s very simple:  The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, refused to call the bill.  Had he called the bill, the overwhelming majority of Democrats and a handful of Republicans would have provided a majority in order to get that done.  (Applause.)

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Mr. President, I want to kind of -- as I look out to the many folks that are here, there are so many DREAMers here.  Astrid Silva is here.  She has a family member in the process of deportation.  You actually highlighted her case when you mentioned your executive action.  Erika Andiola is here, and she has a question that many DREAMers have, as well.

Q    Hi, Mr. President.  I’m a DREAMer from Arizona, the state where Sheriff Arpaio and ICE usually criminalize our communities.  And my sister is here who actually qualifies for DACA extended, or would have qualified if it was implemented.  And my mom is also here.  She was, unfortunately, left out of your executive actions and she doesn’t have any citizen children; she only has DREAMers as children.  And she is also in deportation proceedings.  And because of a previous deportation that she did have and came back for us, she’s actually a priority in your deportation directive. 

And so my question to you is, what’s going to happen to my family?  Given the fact that immigration reform, it’s not going to happen any time soon, and we know that because of the politics in Congress -- what’s going to happen in the meantime with my mom and my family if immigration comes to my house once again?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me just say, I don’t know, obviously, the details of every specific case, and I’m happy to have somebody look at the case that you just referred to and what’s going on with your mom and your sister.  What we’ve done is we’ve expanded my authorities under executive action and prosecutorial discretion as far as we can legally under the existing statute, the existing law.  And so now the question is, how can we get a law passed.

Now, that’s heartbreaking, because it means that not everybody is immediately helped.  But the fact of the matter is that until that law is changed, what we have to do is to prioritize under the existing law.  And what we then have to do is try to get this legal case resolved.

But, look, this is something that I wrestle with every single day, and that is that there are laws on the books that I think are counterproductive.  I think there are laws on the books that I don’t think are right in terms of making sure that America is strong.  But I have to deal with a Congress that -- a big part of which disagrees with me.  I’ve got to deal with judges who may not have been appointed by me and have a different reading of the law.  And so what we have to do is just keep on working. 

But the one thing that I have to just say to everybody here -- every major social movement, every bit of progress in this country -- whether it’s been the Workers’ Rights Movement, or the Civil Rights Movement, or the Women’s Rights Movement -- every single bit of that progress has required us to fight and to push. And you make progress, and then you don’t get everything right away, and then you push some more.  And that’s how the country continually gets better.  Precisely because the stories of people like you -- that, then, hopefully, softens the hearts of people who right now are blocking us from solving some of these problems. 

And that is going to be something that we just have to continue to work on.  That’s the nature of it.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  (As interpreted.)  Mr. President, a lot of people ask themselves -- and this is Astrid’s case, and Erika’s as well -- a lot of DREAMers think the same way -- if you have executive actions and judges have to determine at the end if they are legal or not, how come you don’t include the parents, the parents of the DREAMers?  If the judge says, well, that’s not legal, I find it not constitutional, so then you deal with it.  But please include them.

THE PRESIDENT:  Because the theory of prosecutorial discretion is that you have limited resources, and because of that, you can’t apply the law of enforcement to everybody.  But if I include everybody, then it’s no longer prosecutorial discretion, then I’m just ignoring the law.  And as I said before, then there really would be a strong basis to overturn everything that we've done. 

So that’s why, ultimately, the law itself is going to have to be changed.  In the meantime, what we have to do is make sure that we're continually fighting to uphold what we've already done.  I mean, we've got 800,000 people who are currently taking advantage of DACA, including the young woman who just spoke, from what I understand.  And now we've got to get more.  But ultimately, in order to make sure that we don't have any heartbreaking stories with respect to immigration, then we have to fix the law. 

There are only so many shortcuts.  Ultimately, we have to change the law.  And people have to remain focused on that.  And the way that happens is, by the way, by voting.  (Applause.)  I mean, I just have to say, in the last election -- and I want to speak particularly the young people here -- in the last election, a little over one-third of eligible voters voted.  One-third! 

Two-thirds of the people who have the right to vote -- because of the struggles of previous generations, had the right to vote -- stayed home.  I'm willing to bet that there are young people who have family members who are at risk of the existing immigration system who still didn’t vote.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Mixed-status families.  There are millions of them.

THE PRESIDENT:  Who still did not vote.  And so my question, I think, to everybody -- not just to the immigrant community, but the country as a whole -- why are you staying at home?  (Applause.)  Why are you not participating?  There are war-torn countries, people full of poverty, who still voted, 60, 70 percent.  If here in the United States of America, we voted at 60 percent, 70 percent, it would transform our politics.  Our Congress would be completely different.  We would have already passed comprehensive immigration reform.  (Applause.)  It would have already been done.

So I, as President, have the responsibility to set out a vision in terms of where we need to go.  I have the responsibility to execute the laws faithfully, and that includes making sure that what’s within my power I am doing everything I can to make the immigration system smarter.  But everybody here and everybody watching also has responsibilities.  And one of those responsibilities is voting for people who advocate on behalf of the things that you care about. 

And staying home is not an option.  And being cynical is not an option.  And just waiting for somebody else -- whether it's the President, or Congress, or somebody -- José -- to get it done, that's not enough.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  (As interpreted.)  What happens, Mr. President, is some people see what’s going on in Washington and they see that one party says something and the other party says something else, and they don't do what they say that they’re going to be doing.  Why am I -- this is just a game. 

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s not a game.  Wait, wait, wait --

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  And that happens while people are being deported.  Every day.  More than 2 million people.

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me tell you something.  This is not a game. 

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  No, I agree with you.  But I'm telling you why people feel cynical.

THE PRESIDENT:  They shouldn’t feel that way, because all kinds of changes happen when people vote.  There are people who have health insurance right now because somebody went out there and voted.  There are people right now who had their homes saved -- otherwise they would have lost them -- because people voted.  There are people right now who are going to college because we were able to expand student aid and Pell Grant programs.  That happened because people voted.  All kinds of changes have taken place over the last six years that have made this country better because people voted. 

Now, the fact that we didn’t get 100 percent of what we want -- you never get 100 percent of what you want.  You have to go out there and fight for the rest.  (Applause.) 

And we've made enormous progress, but we have more to do.  And that's what I intend on doing in the remaining two years that I’ve got as President.  (Applause.) 

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  (As interpreted.)  I am very happy that we are discussing this political topic, Mr. President, because one of the main contenders for the 2016 elections is a former governor from this particular state, Jeb Bush.  He said last week that you overstepped your authority, and as a consequence you hurt the effort to find a solution to the immigration problem, and all the affected families deserve something better.

No matter who wins the White House after the next elections in 2016, what’s your main concern?  Knowing that you won’t be able to fix before you leave in regards to immigration, when you leave office, what would be the message for the next President that will be living in the White House after the 2016 elections?

(In English.)  I can do this in English now.

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, no, I got the translation.  (Laughter.) 

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  We’re bilingual here.  I’m bilingual.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me make a couple of points.  Number one, I haven't given up on passing it while I’m President. (Applause.)  We’re going to keep on pushing.  And although, so far, the Republican Party has been pretty stubborn about this issue, if they start feeling enough pressure, that can make a difference.  And so we just have to keep the pressure.  Don’t suddenly just let up, say, well, we just got to wait for the next two years, or we got to wait for a judge.  We got to keep on putting pressure on members of Congress -- Republican and Democrat.

If there are Democrats out there who aren’t on board on comprehensive immigration reform -- although the vast majority of Democrats are on board -- but if there are some who aren’t, go talk to them.  Push them.  I’m not going to just stand still over the next two years.  We’re going to keep on trying to get something done.  So that’s point number one.

Point number two:  I appreciate Mr. Bush being concerned about immigration reform.  I would suggest that what he do is talk to the Speaker of the House and the members of his party. (Applause.)  Because the fact of the matter is that even after we passed bipartisan legislation in the Senate, I gave the Republicans a year and a half -- a year and a half -- to just call the bill.  We had the votes.  They wouldn’t do it.  And then the notion that, well, if you just hadn’t taken these executive actions, if you hadn’t done DACA, maybe we would have voted for it -- well, that doesn’t make any sense.  That’s an excuse.

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Yeah, but they’re saying --

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s an excuse.  (Applause.)  Now, let me get to the broader question that you asked, which is, what would I ask for the next President of the United States.  One of the things I’ve learned in this position is that as the only office in which you’re the President of all the people, not just some, you have to be thinking not just in terms of short-term politics, you have to be thinking about what’s good for the country over the long term. 

Now, over the long term, this is going to get solved, because at some point there’s going to be a President Rodriguez, or there’s going to be a President Chin, or there’s going to be a -- (applause) -- the country is a nation of immigrants, and ultimately, it will reflect who we are, and its politics will reflect who we are.  And that’s not something to be afraid of. That’s something to welcome.  Because that’s always been how we stay dynamic and stay cutting-edge, and have energy and we’re youthful. 

So what I would say to the next President is:  Think ahead. Don’t say something short term because you think it’s politically convenient, and then box yourself in where you can’t do what’s right for the country.  Think long term. 

And what we know is, long term, if you pass a broad-based, thoughtful, comprehensive immigration reform that makes the legal system smoother, that invites talented young people to stay here and work and invest and start businesses; if we provide a pathway to citizenship for those who have been here a long time; if we strengthen our borders; if we make sure that we’re saying to companies, don’t take advantage of undocumented workers by not paying them overtime, not paying them minimum wage -- if we do all those things, we know the deficit will go down, economic growth will go up.  We know that we can then really concentrate our resources effectively on our national security. 

Every economist who’s looked at this says it’s the right thing to do.  The vast majority of businesses recognize it’s the right thing to do.  So think ahead.  That’s what I’d say to the next President of the United States. 

And if you hear people during the course of the future campaigns, over the next several months and into next year, if all they’re doing is demagoging -- if all they’re saying is, “we have to do something about these illegal immigrants,” but then when you ask them, okay, what is it that you want to do, then they don’t have a good answer, or they pretend that we’re going to somehow deport 11 million people, even though everybody knows that the economies of Miami, New York, Chicago, the entire Central Valley in California would collapse -- (applause) -- so they’re not being serious about it -- if you hear people not being serious and not being honest about these issues, then you got to call them on it. 

But they’ll ignore you if they don’t think you’re voting. 
And so it doesn’t do any good to push candidates but not then back it up with action.  And the action, ultimately, is going to be getting engaged and involved in the political process.  The people who are least likely to vote are young people.  So, young people, you need to think ahead, too.  (Applause.)  When we work on these issues, most of us -- I’m going to include José in the category of being old. 

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  We're the same age --

THE PRESIDENT: He looks a little better because I don’t dye my hair.  (Laughter and applause.)

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  I know.  It’s called the “Obama.”

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, man, that’s not true.  (Laughter.) 

But the fact is, is that we’re going to be okay.  The question is what’s happening for the next generation.  You have to vote.  You have to get involved now.  Even if everything seems like it’s okay for you now, you got to be thinking about the future. 

And that’s part of what has always been the great strength of America -- we dream about the future.  That’s what brings immigrants here, is we’re future-oriented, we’re not past-oriented.  The people who are interested in looking backwards, they stay where they are.  They’re comfortable.  They don’t want change.  Even if there’s an earthquake in Haiti, they still stay where they are.  Even if there’s poverty where they live, they stay where they are.  Even if their religious faith is being discriminated again, they stay where they are.

But if you come to America, it’s because you believe in the future, and that has to be reflected in our politics. 

MR. DIAZ-BALART:  Señor Presidente, gracias.

THE PRESIDENT:  Muchas gracias.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

END
4:43 P.M. EST

2015-02-25


Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on Recent ISIL Attacks

The United States strongly condemns ISIL’s recent attacks on Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria, including the burning of homes and churches, the displacement of thousands, and the abduction of a large number of Syrian Christian civilians, among them women, children, and the elderly. 

This is but the latest round of atrocities perpetrated by ISIL against the innocent people of the region.  Along with the targeting of minority and religious groups, in recent days ISIL reportedly took captive over 100 Iraqi Sunni tribespeople, including children, near the city of Tikrit.  ISIL has also caged and paraded Kurdish Iraqi prisoners, displaying its trademark brutality and disregard for human dignity.

The international community stands united and undeterred in its resolve to bring an end to ISIL’s depravity.  ISIL seeks to control people through fear and oppression, but ultimately ISIL and all that it represents will fail due to the collective strength, determination, and unity of all those who stand against it.  Along with our coalition partners, and on behalf of all those persecuted by this terrorist organization, the United States will continue to lead the fight to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.   

2015-02-25


Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice’s Meeting with State Councilor Yang Jiechi of China

National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice met today with State Councilor Yang Jiechi of China in New York City.  Ambassador Rice and State Councilor Yang agreed to strengthen coordination on regional and global challenges, including North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, global health security, and counterterrorism.  They reaffirmed their commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and agreed that North Korea would not succeed in its twin pursuit of nuclear weapons and economic development.  They also agreed that Iran should seize the historic opportunity presented by the ongoing P5+1 negotiations to address the international community’s concerns regarding its nuclear program. In discussing preparations for President Xi’s state visit to the United States in 2015, Ambassador Rice underscored the importance of expanding tangible cooperation on shared interests—noting the historic joint climate announcement made last year—while addressing areas of disagreement, including cyber issues.

2015-02-25


Message -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Cuba

TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:

Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. In accordance with this provision, I have sent the enclosed notice to the Federal Register for publication, stating that the national emergency declared on March 1, 1996, with respect to the Government of Cuba's destruction of two unarmed U.S.-registered civilian aircraft in international airspace north of Cuba on February 24, 1996, as amended and expanded on February 26, 2004, is to continue in effect beyond March 1, 2015.

BARACK OBAMA

2015-02-25


Notice -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Cuba

NOTICE

- - - - - - -

CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO CUBA AND OF THE EMERGENCY AUTHORITY RELATING TO THE REGULATION OF THE ANCHORAGE AND MOVEMENT OF VESSELS

On March 1, 1996, by Proclamation 6867, a national emergency was declared to address the disturbance or threatened disturbance of international relations caused by the February 24, 1996, destruction by the Cuban government of two unarmed U.S.-registered civilian aircraft in international airspace north of Cuba. On February 26, 2004, by Proclamation 7757, the national emergency was extended and its scope was expanded to deny monetary and material support to the Cuban government. The Cuban government has not demonstrated that it will refrain from the use of excessive force against U.S. vessels or aircraft that may engage in memorial activities or peaceful protest north of Cuba. In addition, the unauthorized entry of any U.S.-registered vessel into Cuban territorial waters continues to be detrimental to the foreign policy of the United States. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing the national emergency with respect to

Cuba and the emergency authority relating to the regulation of the anchorage and movement of vessels set out in Proclamation 6867 as amended by Proclamation 7757.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.

BARACK OBAMA

2015-02-25


Gaggle aboard Air Force One en route Miami

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Miami, Florida 

1:19 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  I've got a quick topper, and then we'll get to your questions, okay?  The President is looking forward to this trip to south Florida, not just because of the weather forecast, but because of the opportunity it presents to engage members of the south Florida Latino community and Telemundo viewers across the country about immigration reform.

You will recall that just a week or two after the President took the oath of office in January 2013, the President once again laid out his core principles for common-sense immigration reform. These ideas were eventually incorporated into a compromise Senate proposal that earned the support of more than a dozen Republican senators, including one from the state of Florida.

They backed that bill not because it was perfect, but because it strengthens the U.S. economy, shrinks the deficit, ramped up security at our borders, and would ensure that we better lived up to our values as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. 

House Republicans blocked this compromise proposal for a year and a half.  So the President, drawing on well-established precedent, acted on his own to address some of the problems, using his executive authority.  His actions would, among other things, allow individuals who have been in the United States for a number of years to get a work permit after submitting to a background check and paying taxes. 

As you know, at least one district judge has sided with the administration about the legality of this action.  Another district judge has ruled against us, and the Department of Justice has filed an appeal. 

This town hall meeting today will give the President the opportunity to answer questions about the situation and signal his determination to continue to lead the fight for common-sense reforms that are good for our security and good for our economy.

So that's what we have to look forward to today.

Q    Josh, what’s the President’s thinking of what the status is of the DHS funding bill in Congress?  Is he confident that DHS will be funded given the position that Senator McConnell has taken?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, we're confident that the right thing to do is for Congress to fulfill their responsibility to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security has a budget that allows them to be funded through the end of the year.  That's seems like a pretty basic responsibility.  I think it does to most Americans and it certainly does to the President. 

We haven’t seen the Republicans thus far act with that level of common sense.  So, no, I don't think it is at all clear how this ends up.  But we are hopeful that common sense will prevail and that Republicans will put aside politics and vote to fund the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the year.

Q    On Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit -- the Prime Minister today said that world powers have “given up on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”  What is the White House reaction to that comment?

MR. EARNEST:  The whole point of the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the United States and our international partners is to resolve the international community’s concerns with the Iranian nuclear program and to secure an agreement that would ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.  That is the goal of those negotiations.  It is consistent with the President’s view about the best interests of American national security.  It's also consistent with the President’s view about the best interests of our closest ally in the region, Israel. 

I believe that our international partners have reached a similar conclusion, that it's in their interest that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.  The Middle East is a rather volatile region of the world.  If Iran were to obtain a nuclear weapon, it would, in all likelihood, set off a nuclear arms race that would add even further instability to that region.

So the United States has worked closely with the international community to try to strike a diplomatic agreement to resolve these concerns so that Iran can prove to the international community that they are not developing a nuclear weapon.  And in return, Iran would allow to, step by step, rejoin the international community.  Right now, the Iranian economy has suffered pretty significantly from a sanctions regime that the United States has put in place, in careful coordination with our international partners. 

So that is the goal of these ongoing talks.  And the Prime Minister has articulated his concern and, in some cases, even opposition to those negotiations.  But the President continues to believe that those negotiations are the best way for us to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.  If we can get Iran to not just state affirmatively that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, but also to agree to steps that would allow the international community to verify that they’re living up to the agreement, that is the best outcome.  And that is the best way to ease the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

And if the Prime Minister has an alternative about how those concerns can be more effectively resolved, then we’d certainly be interested in hearing his ideas for that.  But thus far, what we have pursued is what the President and our international partners believe is the best way to resolve these concerns.

Q    Is Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress destructive to Israeli-U.S. relations, as Susan Rice said?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, to be precise, I believe what Susan was referring to is how reducing the U.S.-Israeli relationship to just a relationship between two political parties is destructive to a relationship between our two countries that for generations had been strengthened through bipartisan cooperation, not just in this country but in Israel.  The President himself has raised this concern.  The President has said that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel can't just be reduced to a relationship between the Republican Party and the Likud Party. 

The fact of the matter is, while we've had a Democratic President in the White House for the last six years, we have, by the admission of the Prime Minister from the Likud Party in Israel, had unprecedented security cooperation between our two countries.  That's consistent with the generations-long precedent of bipartisan support for our closest ally in the Middle East.

So what we hope is that we'll continue to see leadership in this country and in Israel that will not allow the relationship between our two countries to be dragged down by party politics. Party politics is fundamental to the political system in both of our countries, but for generations, both countries have succeeded in not allowing this critically important international relationship to get buffeted by those kinds of political arguments.  And the President believes that U.S. national security has been enhanced by protecting this relationship, and he believes that the interests of Israel are best served if we can protect this relationship from being subject to partisan politics.

Q    The President agrees with the National Security Advisor that by accepting the invitation Prime Minister Netanyahu has done something that has been destructive to the fabric of the U.S.-Israeli relationship?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I think it is entirely consistent with what the President has already said, that the U.S.-Israel relationship has been strengthened because you have seen leaders in both parties in both countries signal their strong support for that relationship.  And allowing this relationship to be subjected to party politics does weaken the relationship.  It's not good for that relationship. 

And again, this is the reason that the President has said that he’s not going to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he travels to Washington next week, is that it has the potential of leaving some voters in Israel even with the impression that the President might be interfering in that election.  And the President believes that we need to be rock-solid in our commitment to Israel’s security -- as we have been -- and that means not allowing it to be injected with party politics.

Q    If he does believe that, why not ask Prime Minister Netanyahu to call off his speech?  I mean, if he believes that his presence, his very presence here to give a speech two weeks before his election is destructive to the relationship, why not ask him to postpone it?

MR. EARNEST:  Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to make these decisions for himself.  He’s the Prime Minister of Israel.  He’s the person who should be setting his own schedule.  And he’s the one that has to make the decisions about what will be in his country’s best interest -- in the same way that the President of the United States has to make those kinds of decisions for his country.

So ultimately, the Prime Minister will set his own schedule. The President is also going to set his schedule.  The President believes that setting his schedule and not including a meeting with the Prime Minister on this trip is consistent with the best interests of American national security. 

Now, I'll also point out that when setting the President’s schedule, he’s concluded that spending time with the Israeli Prime Minister to make sure that we are closely coordinating and cooperating our efforts is in our best interests.  That's why the President has actually spent more time with Prime Minister Netanyahu than any other world leader. 

Again, but ultimately, this is a decision that Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to make for himself.  But I think what the National Security Advisor said about that decision is consistent with what the President has said about that decision.

Q    Do you know whether the President spoke with Ambassador Susan Rice before she made those comments in a broadcast interview and whether they talked -- whether she was authorized to say that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, what she said was entirely consistent with what the President said publicly before.  I don't know whether or not the President had the opportunity to speak with her specifically about her Charlie Rose interview that she did yesterday.  I do know that she participated in at least some portion of the Amir of Qatar’s visit to the White House yesterday, so I know that she did see the President yesterday.  I don't know whether or not they talked about her interview.

Other questions?

Q    On the 529 college savings plan, the House is going to vote on those today.  We haven't seen a statement of administration policy on that, but the plan basically would expand the 529 program when the President originally wanted to restrict the program earlier.  If it does get to the President’s desk, is he going to sign it?  Does he have a policy position on that yet?

MR. EARNEST:  When it comes to education tax benefits, our highest priority should be to expand, improve and simplify tax benefits for the middle class.  The President’s nearly $50-billion investment in the middle class, which builds on bipartisan legislation and is fully offset, would cut taxes for 8.5 million students and families, and simplify taxes for every single student who relies on education tax credits to help pay for college.  The proposal before Congress would not achieve these goals, and instead focuses exclusively on education savings plans that are used by less than 3 percent of American families. 
So while we do not oppose the House bill going forward, we do look forward to working with Congress on more ambitious, fiscally responsible education policies that would actually do more to improve college access and affordability, and promote opportunity for middle-class families.

Q    So it’s not a veto threat, but you -- you oppose parts of the bill, but not the actual bill moving forward?

MR. EARNEST:  Frankly, what we believe is -- we don’t oppose the House bill, but we believe that there is a whole lot more that we can do that would be a whole lot more effective and more fiscally responsible to ensure that we’re opening up a college education to even more middle-class families. 

Q    A question on the trip to Miami.  There were reports today that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell haven’t spoken in two weeks.  The President is here in Miami -- going to be here in Miami today and not in Washington.  Is there enough coordination and talking going on between the different parties and the party leaders to bring this to a resolution before the deadline?

MR. EARNEST:  The fact is the dispute -- the principle dispute right now appears to be between Republicans in Congress. There is a Republican majority in the House; there’s a Republican majority in the Senate.  There seems to be a majority in both houses for funding the Department of Homeland Security, so ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader to get together and figure it out.  So even if they haven’t spoken in the last couple of weeks, hopefully they’re going to speak today, because the deadline is on Friday.

Q    Any chance the President will -- when he gets back to Washington, will hold meetings with Republican leaders on this?

MR. EARNEST:  If we determine that it’s necessary for the President to do so, I’m confident that the President can make himself available to lead a meeting like that.  But like we’ve said, there is ample opportunity to use common sense, show some leadership, and actually fund the Department of Homeland Security.  There’s rarely a good time to be messing around with the funding for that department, but now seems like a particularly bad time to allow a political disagreement to prevent the men and women who are protecting our borders from getting paid.

Q    Josh, a couple of questions about Cuba.  Over the weekend, a couple hundred dissidents were arrested as part of public demonstrations.  How concerned is the administration about this, and what has your response been to it?

MR. EARNEST:  We continue to be concerned about the Cuban government’s treatment of their own people.  For generations, we’ve seen the Cuban government not just neglect but, in some cases, even trample the basic human rights of their people, and that includes a tendency to round up political protestors, or at least people who have different political views than their government.

So we have made clear our concerns about this on a number of previous occasions.  Ultimately, our strategy for engaging the Cuban people is to move to reestablish diplomatic ties between our two countries, to try to open up some more commerce between our two countries in a way that would essentially further empower the Cuban people.  And we also believe it will be effective in removing what has been an obstacle to our efforts to try to build greater international consensus around the need to pressure the Cuban government.  And too often, the U.S. policy of trying to isolate Cuba has interfered with our ability to get people to focus on Cuban policies that trample the basic human rights of their people.

So we’re confident that we’ve taken the right steps to try to bring about the kind of change that we’d like to see in Cuba. And that change is something that should be driven by the Cuban people, and they should have a government that reflects their will and their ambitions. 

Q    How much of a political problem is this for the President as he’s trying to sell his Cuba policy?  Back when he announced it, 50 political prisoners were released; now, 200 have been rounded up.  I mean, how much does that undercut the President’s argument that -- his attempts to sell this policy to audiences like the Cuban Americans who will be listening to him in Miami today?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what’s important here is some historical context -- that for 50 years there had been a firm embargo and a refusal to establish diplomatic ties with Cuba.  That policy allowed the Cuban government to essentially, with impunity, continue to trample on the basic human rights of their people.  The President believed that it’s time for a new strategy. 

And that’s why, at the end of last year, he announced some policy changes that reflects that new strategy.  And the President was clear in his very first statement on this that we did not anticipate that this would solve every problem overnight, but what we do anticipate is that over time, by redoubling our efforts to engage the Cuban government and the Cuban people, that we can empower the Cuban people to speak with a greater voice and to ultimately have the kind of political leadership that reflects their will and their ambition.

Q    Josh, on the immigration executive action, I believe a court yesterday rejected the administration’s request to rule on the stay request by the end of this week.  So is the Justice Department going to do more?  Are they going to appeal to a higher court?  Or what’s the next step to try to get this stay so that you can actually move forward with the parts of the directive that are affected by the ruling?

MR. EARNEST:  You’re right, we did see a ruling -- or at least an order from Judge Hanen that asked the plaintiffs in the case -- essentially the consortium of states that have come together in protest over these executive actions -- to file their response to our stay by early next week.  The administration had previously said that we wanted the judge to rule on our application for a stay by today. 

So I think this is an indication the judge doesn’t intend to meet that deadline, but does want to hear from the plaintiffs by early next week.  And we continue to be confident in the legal arguments that we’re making in this case. 

There is a clear, established precedent for the President taking these executive actions.  And again, the executive actions that the President has put in place are actions that would actually bring accountability to our broken immigration system.  It would bring millions of people who have been in the United States for a number of years out of the shadows.  It would submit them to a background check.  It would make them pay taxes.  And it would ensure that we can focus our limited law enforcement resources on those who’ve only recently crossed the border and on those who may pose a threat to national security or to the communities that they’re living in.

So this is a pretty common-sense decision.  It’s one that’s rooted in well-established legal precedent.  And that’s why we’re going to continue to aggressively make our case in the courts.

Q    Given that, is there any thought to moving forward with the part of the directive that’s not affected by the ruling with the new -- with parents of U.S. citizens?  Given that that wasn’t supposed to start -- that the applications weren’t supposed to start until May, couldn’t you start moving forward with that sooner?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are two elements of this.  One aspect of the ruling is something I alluded to in my previous answer, which is the judge’s ruling that went against the administration does not affect the ability of homeland security officials to use prosecutorial discretion, which means that they can focus their law enforcement resources on felons and not on families; that they can make sure that they’re focusing on people who have only recently entered the country and on people who may pose a threat to public safety. 

Those efforts are ongoing.  Those efforts continue.  So those efforts are not affected by the judge’s ruling.  What is affected by the judge’s ruling are the administrative steps that would allow us to essentially issue work permits to those individuals that have agreed to come out of the shadows, that have agreed to submit to a background check, and that have agreed to pay taxes.  And that is, in the President’s view, establishing some accountability.

Now, it’s also, in the view of some law enforcement officials across the country, including some law enforcement officials from Texas, consistent with the kinds of steps that would protect public safety.  Because if people are coming out of the shadows and submitting themselves to a background check, if they don’t pass the background check then they can be detained and deported.

So there is an opportunity for us to step up our enforcement as well in the context of these basic executive actions.  So there are any number of reasons why we believe that we should be able to move forward with these administrative actions.  And that does mean that those actions that we can implement, we’re going to.  But the Department of Homeland Security has said that they will not implement the work permit process until some of these legal questions have been resolved.

Q    Has any infrastructure been put in place to process all of these cases?  I mean, there are complaints that there aren’t enough judges to handle backlogged cases, people who have been applying for citizenship and green cards for a long time.  Is there enough, or is there a move to -- I don't know -- bolster the system?

MR. EARNEST:  For the specific process, I’d refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.  The process that people would go through, to be clear, would not be getting a green card.  It would be a separate process.  So a green card would confer them with some legality, and this is actually deferred enforcement.  So they’re separate processes. 

I know that the Department of Homeland Security, since the President announced these executive actions back in November, has been taking the necessary administrative steps to be prepared to begin accepting those applications.  They have not started accepting those applications because of this recent legal ruling. But we’re hopeful that we can resolve these legal questions and, again, move forward with implementing the President’s executive actions.

Anybody else? 

Q    Back to Julie’s question.  Does this mean because the district court judge, in essence, delayed and asked for plaintiffs to respond -- will you be kicking it to the Fifth Circuit then for an emergency stay right away, or do you wait for this district court process to unfold?

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, we’re going to continue to see it through at the district court level.  Now, I don’t want people to be confused.  That’s under the question of a stay.  There is a question about our appeal of the merits of the case, and that is something that we have appealed to the Fifth Circuit, and that is a process that’s moving forward. 

Q    There are going to be some young immigration advocates at this town hall that are going to want the President to do more executive actions.  Does the lawsuit and the DHS standoff, does that sort of stand in the way of the President doing more on immigration?  Is he deterred from wanting to do any other executive actions?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President, when he made this announcement in November, did indicate that he was using every tool at his disposal, all of the authority that he has to try to address some of the problems of our broken immigration system.  So I think the President will make the case that he has acted using all of his authority to try to solve as many of these problems as he can. 

He’s also going to reiterate his commitment to try to work with Congress to advance legislation.  The truth is there’s a lot more that could be done with legislation that would be good for the country.  And the President stands ready to work with Democrats and Republicans to try to make that legislation a reality.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there were fruitful talks that were convened between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill with the support of the administration to reach a bipartisan, common-sense proposal, a proposal that passed the Senate with the bipartisan support of both senators from Florida.  Unfortunately it was blocked by House Republicans.  So because we’re now in a new Congress we have to start that process over.  The President stands ready to do that.  We just haven’t seen a lot of interest from Republicans, unfortunately.

Q    Josh, there was a report out of Miami that the White House invited Congressman Curbelo to attend the town hall meeting and that he asked for a ride on Air Force One to get up there and was denied.  Can you talk about that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as a standard practice when we travel to -- when the President travels outside of Washington, it's not uncommon at all for us to invite a member of Congress from the congressional district where the President is appearing.  And we do that, whether or not it's a Democrat or a Republican who’s participating -- or who represents that district in Congress. 

What’s also true is that over the course of the last several months, we have made more of an effort to try to invite members of Congress from both parties to ride on Air Force One.  And there have been some high-profile members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, who’ve joined the White House for trips.  In this case, we were unable to accommodate the Congressman’s request, but we typically try to do so when we can.

Q    When you say “unable to accommodate,” was it a space issue?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not sure exactly of the issue. 

Anybody else?  Okay.  Thanks, everybody.

END
1:44 P.M. EST

2015-02-25


Presidential Nominations Sent to the Senate

NOMINATIONS SENT TO THE SENATE:

Mickey D. Barnett, of New Mexico, to be a Governor of the United States Postal Service for a term expiring December 8, 2020.   (Reappointment)

Katherine Simonds Dhanani, of Florida, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Somalia.

Amias Moore Gerety, of Connecticut, to be an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, vice Cyrus Amir-Mokri, resigned.

Sheila Gwaltney, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kyrgyz Republic.

Willie E. May, of Maryland, to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, vice Patrick Gallagher, resigned.

Cono R. Namorato, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Attorney General, vice Kathryn Keneally, resigned.

Monica C. Regalbuto, of Illinois, to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (Environmental Management), vice Ines R. Triay, resigned.

Anne Elizabeth Wall, of Illinois, to be a Deputy Under Secretary of the Treasury, vice Alastair M. Fitzpayne, resigned.

2015-02-25


Readout of the President's Meeting with Immigration Advocacy Leaders

Today, President Obama met with Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI), labor and immigration advocacy leaders to provide an update on the Administration’s immigration accountability executive actions. The meeting was also an opportunity to have a dialogue with the immigrant advocacy community on the Administration’s continued efforts to push Congress to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  The President also highlighted that despite the Texas district court’s ruling, the Administration will continue to make progress on many components of the executive actions and is confident we will ultimately be able to implement the deferred action policies. Many of the participants have been involved in outreach efforts to inform and educate the immigrant community on the executive actions.  The advocates in attendance agreed to continue their outreach to the community, work with the Administration on its efforts to fully implement the executive actions that were not blocked by the district court, and to push for commonsense immigration reform as the only lasting and permanent solution to fixing our broken immigration system.

Participants included:

  • Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change
  • Gregory Cendana, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
  • Marielena Hincapie, National Immigration Law Center
  • Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino
  • Eliseo Medina, Fast for Families
  • Benjamin Monterroso, Mi Familia Vota
  • Janet Murguía, NCLR
  • Ali Noorani, National Immigration Forum
  • Erin Oshiro, Immigration and Immigrant Rights Program for Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC)
  • Lorella Praeli, United We Dream
  • Arturo Rodriguez, United Farm Workers of America
  • Simon Rosenberg, New Democrat Network
  • Rocio Sáenz, SEIU
  • Todd Schulte, FWD.us
  • Hector Sanchez, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the Chair of National Hispanic Leadership Agenda
  • Frank Sharry, America’s Voice
  • Neera Tanden, Center for American Progress

2015-02-25


FACT SHEET: Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center

Today, the President directed the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to establish the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC).  The CTIIC will be a national intelligence center focused on “connecting the dots” regarding malicious foreign cyber threats to the nation and cyber incidents affecting U.S. national interests, and on providing all-source analysis of threats to U.S. policymakers.  The CTIIC will also assist relevant departments and agencies in their efforts to identify, investigate, and mitigate those threats.

Purpose

Cyber threats are among the gravest national security dangers to the United States.  Our citizens, our private sector, and our government are increasingly confronted by a range of actors attempting to do us harm through identity theft, cyber-enabled economic espionage, politically motivated cyber attacks, and other malicious activity.  As with our counterterrorism efforts, the United States Government is taking a “whole-of-government” approach to defend against and respond to these threats.  In creating the CTIIC, the Administration is applying some of the hard-won lessons from our counterterrorism efforts to augment that “whole-of-government” approach by providing policymakers with a cross-agency view of foreign cyber threats, their severity, and potential attribution.

The CTIIC will provide integrated all-source intelligence analysis related to foreign cyber threats and cyber incidents affecting U.S. national interests; support the U.S. government centers responsible for cybersecurity and network defense; and facilitate and support efforts by the government to counter foreign cyber threats.  Once established, the CTIIC will join the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF), and U.S. Cyber Command as integral parts of the United States Government’s capability to protect our citizens, our companies, and our Nation from cyber threats.

Authority

The CTIIC is being established under authority granted to the DNI by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to create intelligence centers.  The creation of the CTIIC does not grant the Intelligence Community any additional authority to collect intelligence or conduct intelligence operations.  Nor will the CTIIC directly engage U.S. private sector entities to provide, receive, or obtain any information about cyber threats.

Relationship to Other Cybersecurity Centers

The CTIIC will not be an operational center.  It will not collect intelligence, manage incident response efforts, direct investigations, or replace other functions currently performed by existing departments, agencies, or government cyber centers.  Instead, the CTIIC will support the NCCIC in its network defense and incident response mission; the NCIJTF in its mission to coordinate, integrate, and share information related to domestic cyber threat investigations; and U.S. Cyber Command in its mission to defend the nation from significant attacks in cyberspace.  The CTIIC will provide these entities, as well as other departments and agencies, with intelligence needed to carry out their cybersecurity missions.   

Organizational Structure

The President has directed the DNI, in cooperation with other government agencies, to refine the CTIIC’s mission, roles, and responsibilities, ensuring that those roles and responsibilities are appropriately aligned with other presidential policies as well as existing policy coordination mechanisms.  For example, it is anticipated that the CTIIC will be a critical participant in the interagency Cyber Response Group, support the National Security Council in carrying out its cybersecurity responsibilities, and have a close partnership with all departments and agencies that perform cybersecurity functions in the government.

No decisions have been made regarding the CTIIC’s specific location, but the current plan is to locate the CTIIC in the Washington, DC metro area in an existing Intelligence Community facility.  The DNI is in the process of developing the CTIIC’s organizational structure; we expect that it will be small, consisting of approximately 50 government personnel drawn from relevant departments and agencies.

Privacy and Civil Liberties

The CTIIC will perform its functions consistent with applicable policy and legal frameworks and in a manner that protects privacy and civil liberties.  The CTIIC shall access, retain, use, and disseminate such information, in a manner that protects privacy and civil liberties and is consistent with applicable law, Executive Orders, Presidential directives, and guidelines, such as guidelines established under section 102A(b) of National Security Act of 1947, as amended, Executive Order 12333 of December 8, 1981 (United States Intelligence Activities), as amended, and Presidential Policy Directive-28; and that is consistent with the need to protect sources and methods.  Agencies providing information to the CTIIC shall ensure that privacy and civil liberties protections are provided in the course of implementing the memorandum that the President issued today.   Such protections shall be based upon the Fair Information Practice Principles or other privacy and civil liberties policies, principles, and frameworks as they apply to each agency’s activities.

2015-02-25


Presidential Memorandum -- Establishment of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center

 MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE
                                      THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
                                      THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY
                                      THE SECRETARY OF COMMERCE
                                      THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
                                      THE SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY
                                      THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE
                                      THE CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
                                      THE DIRECTOR OF THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
                                      THE DIRECTOR OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF
                                           INVESTIGATION
                                      THE DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY
 
 SUBJECT:  Establishment of the Cyber Threat Intelligence
                     Integration Center
 
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct as follows:
 
Section 1.  Establishment of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center.  The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) shall establish a Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC).  Executive departments and agencies (agencies) shall support the DNI's efforts to establish the CTIIC, including by providing, as appropriate, personnel and resources needed for the CTIIC to reach full operating capability by the end of fiscal year 2016.
 
Sec. 2.  Responsibilities of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center.  The CTIIC shall:
 
(a) provide integrated all-source analysis of intelligence related to foreign cyber threats or related to cyber incidents affecting U.S. national interests;
 
(b) support the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center, the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task
Force, U.S. Cyber Command, and other relevant United States Government entities by providing access to intelligence necessary to carry out their respective missions;
 
(c) oversee the development and implementation of intelligence sharing capabilities (including systems, programs, policies, and standards) to enhance shared situational awareness of intelligence related to foreign cyber threats or related to cyber incidents affecting U.S. national interests among the organizations referenced in subsection (b) of this section;
  
(d) ensure that indicators of malicious cyber activity and, as appropriate, related threat reporting contained in intelligence channels are downgraded to the lowest classification possible for distribution to both United States Government and U.S. private sector entities through the mechanism described in section 4 of Executive Order 13636 of
February 12, 2013 (Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity); and
 
(e) facilitate and support interagency efforts to develop and implement coordinated plans to counter foreign cyber threats to U.S. national interests using all instruments of national power, including diplomatic, economic, military, intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement activities.
 
Sec. 3.  Implementation.  (a)  Agencies shall provide the CTIIC with all intelligence related to foreign cyber threats or related to cyber incidents affecting U.S. national interests, subject to applicable law and policy.  The CTIIC shall access, assess, use, retain, and disseminate such information, in a manner that protects privacy and civil liberties and is consistent with applicable law, Executive Orders, Presidential directives, and guidelines, such as guidelines established under section 102A(b) of the National Security Act of 1947, as amended, Executive Order 12333 of December 4, 1981 (United States Intelligence Activities), as amended, and Presidential Policy Directive-28; and that is consistent with the need to protect sources and methods.
 
(b)  Within 90 days of the date of this memorandum, the DNI, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Director of the National Security Agency shall provide a status report to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism on the establishment of the CTIIC.  This report shall further refine the CTIIC's mission, roles, and responsibilities, consistent with this memorandum, ensuring that those roles and responsibilities are appropriately aligned with other Presidential policies as well as existing policy coordination mechanisms.
 
Sec. 4.  Privacy and Civil Liberties Protections.  Agencies providing information to the CTIIC shall ensure that privacy and civil liberties protections are provided in the course of implementing this memorandum.  Such protections shall be based upon the Fair Information Practice Principles or other privacy and civil liberties policies, principles, and frameworks as they apply to each agency's activities.
 
Sec. 5.  General Provisions.  (a)  Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
 
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department, agency, or the head thereof; or
 
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
  
(b) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
 
(c) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
 
(d) The DNI is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA
 

2015-02-25


Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 2/24/15

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:13 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s nice to see you all.  You just got the readout of the President’s meeting with the Amir of Qatar.  They had an opportunity to speak for themselves to readout that meeting.

Other than noting that, I don’t have anything at the top here so we can go straight to questions.  Jim, do you want to get us started?

Q    Sure.  Thank you.  First of all, the Keystone bill is arriving at the White House today, or already has.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s what I hear.

Q    Can you tell us when the President intends to veto it, as he promised?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I mentioned yesterday, the President does intend to veto this piece of legislation and we intend to do it without any drama or fanfare or delay.  So I would anticipate that we’ll have an update on this later on today.

Q    So you expect it today?  We can expect it today?

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, you can count on that today.

Q    Coverage or paper statement?

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll have a statement through the usual channels.

Q    No photo spray or anything?

MR. EARNEST:  No.

Q    It’s in the pipeline.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Wouldn’t want that news to leak out some other way.  (Laughter.)

Q    You physically have the bill now?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s my understanding that Congress did send the text of the bill to the White House this morning.

Q    On DHS funding, as you know, the Senate Majority Leader has offered to split the bill so that there’s a separate vote on the immigration policies of the President and another one on the funding itself.  Senator Reid has objected to the sequencing of that.  He wants to vote on the clean funding bill first before you go on to immigration.  Does the President have a preference on that?  Does the President want to at least just get this issue off the table and it doesn’t matter on sequencing?  What’s the White House’s position?

MR. EARNEST:  The official White House position is that the President served in the United States Senate for a period between 2004 and 2008, in which he readily weighed in on legislative maneuvers and strategies related to the complicated procedures that essentially guide the legislative process.  At this point, it’s the responsibility of Congress to figure out how to perform among their most basic functions, which is to ensure that the budget for the Department of Homeland Security gets passed in a timely fashion.

Q    But, Josh, this is his party and it could essentially end up closing one of his executive agencies.

MR. EARNEST:  The President has -- well, Republicans spent a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of effort going around the country about making the case why they should be put in charge of the United States Congress.  They succeeded in that effort, and they persuaded the American people to hand them the responsibility of the majority of both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate.  And the question now facing Republicans is how they’re going to use that authority and whether or not they’re going to do it responsibly, in a way that’s in the best interest of the country and whether or not it’s in the best interest of our national security. 

And the fact of the matter is I can’t find anybody who thinks it’s a good idea to shut down the Department of Homeland Security, which means that congressional Republicans should simply do their job.  And they should pass legislation that would fully fund the Department of Homeland Security for the remainder of this year.

Q    And Senator McConnell is offering a clean bill like you demanded, so why not get behind this bill?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t seen the particulars in terms of exactly what he’s put forward, but ultimately it will be up to the individual members of Congress to make their own decision.  But, again, congressional Republicans are in charge.  They’re in the majority.  And this is something that they sought, and these are exactly the kinds of problems that they hoped to have the opportunity to solve, and we look forward to them doing it.

Q    Next question on Iran.  The contours of the deal that are being discussed would allow Iran to potentially consider moving toward a nuclear device after 10 years.  And I’m wondering if that’s a period of time -- I know that parts of the discussion have been about a 20-year period before -- that seems to be the compromise number.  Is that a number that we can trust the Iranians to stick by and not to begin producing a nuclear device after that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jim, I'm loathe to get into the negotiating details of the position that is adopted by the United States and our international partners when they are sitting across the table from the Iranians.  However, I will say that there was a report today indicating that we were negotiating for essentially a 10-year deal.  Those reports are not correct.  That does not reflect the accurate negotiating position of the United States and our international partners. 

But the second part of your question is important as well.  It goes to whether or not the United States and the international community is prepared to start trusting the Iranians.  I think the point, Jim, of these negotiations is to not just reach an agreement with the Iranians, but reach an agreement with the Iranians that we can verify on a continuing, ongoing basis; that there is ample reason for the international community to not put a lot of faith in the claims of the Iranians when it comes to their nuclear program.  It was just a few years ago that there was this covert nuclear facility in Iran that had previously been undeclared that did yield some evidence indicating that Iran was trying to secretly develop a nuclear weapon. 

So what we need is a clear agreement from the international community and the Iranians and an agreement that is verifiable.  And any part of an agreement will include ready access by the international community to ensure that Iran is living up to their end of the bargain.

Q    But you're saying that reports that the deal would clamp down on Tehran’s nuclear activities for at least 10 years and then slowly ease those restrictions, that isn't correct?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I'm not willing to get into the specific details of our negotiating position.  But there are some who are making the case publicly that we are in favor of a deal that would just be 10 years in duration, and that is not accurate.

Roberta.

Q    On Keystone, the veto is one thing, but I'm wondering, how long is it going to take the administration to finish its review of whether the project is in the national interest?  Is that something that’s going to happen today as well?

MR. EARNEST:  This is a review that is being conducted by the State Department, and so you can contact the State Department for an update on the timing of that review.

Q    The President isn't going to announce something on that as well today?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the review is being conducted by the State Department, so you can get an update from them about their timing.

Q    Secondly, there are reports that the DOJ is not going to press charges against George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  Can you confirm that?

MR. EARNEST:  I can't confirm that.  So you should check with the Department of Justice about any announcement they may or may not be planning to make at this point.

Q    Okay.  Lastly, on Ukraine, Prime Minister David Cameron said he would deploy military personnel in the next month to Ukraine to help with training, and I'm wondering if that's something that the U.S. is considering -- any measures to help Ukraine with military training?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me say a couple things about this.  The first is that the United States continues to be concerned by ongoing violations of the Minsk Implementation Plan by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.  We have seen repeatedly that these Russian-backed separatists have continued to violate the terms of the agreement despite the fact that they made firm commitments in the context of an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire.

In addition to that, we have seen Russian military vehicles -- I'm sorry -- we have seen Russian military personnel have participated in the recent attacks on Vuhlehirsk and Debaltseve. And the Russian military has put in place a robust command structure in eastern Ukraine.  We know this because separatist fighters have also previously acknowledged that they are operating under instructions from Moscow.

Russia and the separatists it backs have acted in direct contravention of the Minsk Implementation Plan that they agreed to.  And we continue to call on all signatories to carry out the commitments undertaken in the plan in the September Minsk Agreements fully and without delay.

The other thing that we're concerned about is that there are reports that Russian-backed separatists have prevented members of the OSCE special monitoring mission from getting full access to the conflict areas.  There are even some reports that indicate that those separatists have made grave threats against members of the OSCE monitoring team.  So we have seen continued behavior that is in direct violation of the agreement that Russia and the other parties signed just a couple of weeks ago. 

So we continue to be concerned about the situation in Ukraine.  I don't have any updates in terms of assistance that we will provide to the Ukrainians at this point other than to remind you that we have already provided substantial assistance to the Ukrainian military and we have already provided substantial economic assistance to the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people.  And there was additional assistance the administration believes we should provide and that is why we have called on the United States Congress to pass legislation that would offer additional loan guarantees to the Ukrainians to strengthen their economy while they try to deal with this continuing instability in the eastern part of the nation.

Cheryl.

Q    Thanks.  Back on DHS, if I may.  Senator McConnell is apparently shopping a compromise on the Hill right now to try to move forward on that.  Is the White House looking to find a compromise, or are you still certain you’ve got to have a clean bill?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Cheryl, the administration has been clear that we stand ready to compromise with members of Congress, including Republicans, when it comes to trying to address the many problems caused by our broken immigration system.  In fact, we spent a lot of time over the last couple of years trying to reach that compromise, and in the United States Senate, we succeeded in doing so, that we got more than a dozen Republican senators to sign on to a compromise bipartisan immigration reform proposal.  That was a proposal that was blocked by House Republicans, even though we knew that had the House Republican leadership allowed it to come to the floor, it would have passed with bipartisan support.

So we do stand ready to have those kinds of conversations with members of Congress.  But we shouldn’t compromise our homeland security just because Republicans want to pick a political fight.  That certainly is not responsible.  It’s not consistent with the Senate Majority Leader’s aspirations to send a signal to the American people that Republican leadership shouldn’t be “scary -- that’s his word, not mine. 

So we’re hopeful that Republicans will do the responsible thing, that they’ll join with Democrats to support a full-year extension of funding for the Department of Homeland Security prior to the deadline.  And then if there are Republicans that want to have a legitimate conversation with the administration about how to solve the problems that are created by our broken immigration system, then we stand ready to do that.  We’d even host those meetings right here at the White House if they would like.

Fred.

Q    Thanks.  As far as the meeting today with the leader of Qatar, there are reports that Qatar has lent support to Hamas in the past.  Do you think there’s an issue with the President meeting with the leader of Qatar while not meeting with the leader of Israel?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Fred, I can tell you that -- let me say a couple things about that.  As it relates to Prime Minister Netanyahu, as we’ve said this many times, there is no foreign leader with whom the President has spent more time than Prime Minister Netanyahu.  And that is a testament to the deep and ongoing security relationship that exists between the United States and Israel.  Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has said that the level of security coordination between the United States and Israel under the leadership of President Obama is unprecedented, and we certainly would share that assessment.

As it relates to the leader of Qatar, I can tell you that there are a number of important interests that we share with Qatar.  Like all partnerships, especially in this region of the world, the United States does not necessarily agree with the Qatari government on every issue, but we have the kind of relationship that allows us to be frank and open about where we disagree and why.  But the bottom line is that our interests with Qatar converge somewhat more often than they actually diverge; that Qatar has been a significant help on a range of regional issues, including Afghanistan, Iran.  As you know, the Qataris have even agreed to host a regional training site for the moderate Syrian opposition.  So we certainly welcome the efforts of the Qataris to participate in this broad international coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. 

We also know that the Qataris have indicated a willingness to work closely with us in other aspects of our strategy against ISIL, too, particularly as it relates to terror financing.  And this is a focal point of the administration’s efforts to shut down terrorism across the globe, but it certainly is an important part of our strategy for degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL -- that if we can shut off the financing of their operations, we’re going to add even further strain to their ability to carry out the terrible things that we’ve seen them do.  So we’re working closely with the Qataris on that aspect of our strategy, too.  And I think that is precisely why the President convened the meeting with him in the Oval Office today.

Michelle.

Q    On the same subject, do you acknowledge that Qatar has been a significant source of especially private donations to ISIS and other terrorist groups?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, what we acknowledge is that there are areas where we disagree with the Qataris, but more often we find that our interests overlap, that our interests with the Qataris are consistent.  And whether it’s our work with the international community to try to ease the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, to dealing with the situation in Afghanistan, or even the ongoing campaign against ISIL, that there are a variety of ways in which the United States has been able to work effectively with the Qataris to protect and advance our national security interests in the region and around the globe.

Q    And for a long time, the Qataris have been accused of trying to play it both ways -- of welcoming hate preachers, as we might call them, to their biggest mosque, of continuing the financing, and only really trying to stop it when pressure is put on.  So can you say whether pressure is on them now to stop that financing and whether there has been any progress either in that area or with supporting these people that come in and preach against Jews and other faiths?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, I can tell you that the administration does continue to work closely with the Qataris to try to improve our efforts to shut down the financing for terror operations.  And the Qataris have been an effective partner in that endeavor so far, but we do believe that there is more that they can do and more that we can do together to shut down the financing of terror operations around the globe.

Q    And was that made clear today to them, that they can do more?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t have a detailed readout of the meeting.  It just ended.  But you can check with my NSC colleagues to see if you can get a better sense of how this issue was discussed in the meeting.

Q    And shortly after the video came out of the burning of the Jordanian pilot, it was said that this could be a way to bring in more of the Arab participation.  Do you anticipate that happening?  Because really it’s only been about 3 percent of the airstrikes have come from Arab partners and other countries.  Do you see that growing?  It just seems like it hasn’t changed for the duration of this.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, I think there are a lot of different ways to evaluate this, and certainly the easiest way to evaluate this is to take a close look at the way in which Arab countries have participated in our military operations against ISIL.  And as we pointed out on a number of occasions, there are important Arab partners who are taking action alongside American military pilots to strike ISIL targets in Syria.  And we certainly welcome that contribution and it is making a tangible contribution to our ongoing effort and to our broader strategy. 

There also was an important role for them, for our partners in the region, to play when it comes to shutting down ISIL financing; that there is a lot of money that’s moving through that region -- whether it’s the black market for oil to other sources of illicit financing for their operations.

We’re also working with the Qataris and other regional partners to combat ISIL’s efforts to move foreign fighters into that region.  You’ll recall that the President convened a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss this important issue last fall.  We continue to work with our partners around the globe and in the region on those efforts.  And we also work with Muslim leaders in the region to try to counter the extremist ideology that ISIL propagated on social media; that there is an important role for more moderate voices in the Muslim world to stand up and to use their influence to try to counter that messaging.  And we certainly welcome the influence of political leaders in that effort as well.

Q    And really quickly, on Bob McDonald misstating his past service -- does that bother the President or the administration?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, I can tell you that, obviously, as you know, Secretary McDonald went to West Point.  He served in the 82nd Airborne.  He is somebody who, when he was in the military, completed jungle, arctic, and desert warfare training.  So he is somebody who understands firsthand the sacrifice that our men and women in uniform make on a regular basis. 

He is also somebody who understands firsthand about why what he said about his service was wrong, and that certainly is why it was appropriate for him to apologize.  But there is no reason to think that the mistake that he made should interfere with his ability to continue to lead the fight for our veterans and to continue to implement the kinds of reforms at the VA that are so critical to making sure that our veterans are getting the benefits that they deserve.

Jon.

Q    A couple of quick follow-ups.  First, yesterday I asked you about whether or not the President would be calling congressional leaders to the White House to try to work out some agreement to prevent the Homeland Security shutdown from happening.  Is that going to happen?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't know of any meeting like that that's planned at this point.  But like I said, I believe that members of Congress are still returning from their week-long recess last week and once they’re all back in town, if it's necessary for the President to bring some of them down to the White House and have a conversation about this, then we'll do that.

Q    Do you think it would be productive given what you just said about how the President has been out of the Senate for a number of years, doesn’t want to get engaged in these questions of procedural --

MR. EARNEST:  I think the point is that it's their responsibility to work this through.  And again, Republicans spent a lot of time trying to persuade the American people that they should be entrusted with the reins of the United States Congress and be entrusted with the power of the purse.  And we need to see if they’re going to step up and assume responsibility.

Again, there are probably going to be some times over the course of this year where Republicans in Congress are going to have to make some really tough decisions and take some really difficult votes.  I'm not really sure why funding the Department of Homeland Security and making sure that that funding doesn’t lapse is considered a difficult task.   But again, this is a challenge for Republican leaders to decide if they can demonstrate to the American public that they’re going to continue to act in the country’s best interests.

Q    On the Iran nuclear talks, you said that the White House is not negotiating for a 10-year sunset, basically, a 10-year -- a point where Iran would be able to become effectively a nuclear power.  Is the administration, is the White House, the President opposed to a timeline that is so short?  You said you're not pushing for it, you're not arguing for it, you're not negotiating for it.  But is that a non-starter?  Is that something you would not agree to?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, Jon, I've used this analogy on other occasions, or on other topics.  It's not something that you and I can negotiate from here, that ultimately we're going to have a conversation with the Iranians about the way that they can resolve the international community’s concerns with their nuclear program.

At this point, there’s not more detail that I can share about the negotiating position of the United States other than to say that those reports from earlier today were not accurate and did not accurately reflect our negotiating.

Q    I understand why you wouldn’t want to negotiate it here, obviously, but this seems to be a pretty fundamental question.  The report that you now said was inaccurate, but I'm trying to get how much of -- I don't want to use the word red line, but how much of an absolute non-starter that is.  The report suggested a deal taking place with the Iranians after a period of just 10 years, where it would basically have no restrictions on their ability to enrich uranium.  And I'm just asking if that’s -- I know that's not the position you're trying to get, but is that simply unacceptable?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what is unacceptable is the idea that Iran would obtain a nuclear weapon.  And that has been our policy for quite some time.  And the whole purpose of these negotiations is to make sure that Iran doesn’t obtain a nuclear weapon.  And the reason for that is that it would be terribly destabilizing for the region.  It could precipitate, and I think we could even say is likely to precipitate a nuclear arms race in what is already a very volatile region of the world.  That would not be in the best interests of American national security, and it certainly would not be in the best interest of our closest ally in the region, Israel. 

So that's why we're engaged in these negotiations.  And once we have -- the President has indicated that the time for conducting these kinds of negotiations is running short, and so once we've sort of reached the other end of these things, we can have a more detailed conversation about what that deal is.

Q    And can you confirm --there was some confusion about the deadline.  Is the deadline for these talks March 24th, as White House officials have suggested in the past, or is it March 31st?

MR. EARNEST:  You mean March 24th or 31st?  I know that it’s  -- I've always heard people say it's the end of the month.  So let me see if I can get back to you with a specific -- if there’s a date certain.

Q    And just one quick thing.  The Republican leaders have said that the President vetoing Keystone would be a political move to please environmental extremists.  What is your response to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the reason the President will veto this legislation that has passed the Congress is that it circumvents a longstanding administrative process for evaluating whether or not infrastructure projects like this are in the best interest of the country.  And it does not represent a specific position on the pipeline itself.  It just merely says that the benefits, the consequences of building that pipeline should be thoroughly evaluated by experts and through this administrative process that has existed for decades and has been used by previous Presidents of both parties to evaluate similar infrastructure projects.  And that's the proper path moving forward, but does not represent a final disposition of the Keystone project.

John.

Q    I know the Vice President and the Secretary of State will be out of town next week during the start of -- actually during the whole AIPAC conference.  Will an administration official be addressing the AIPAC conference at all?

MR. EARNEST:  We'll have more information on that soon.  Obviously we've received an invitation from AIPAC and we'll get back to them.

Q    So we should expect just a name -- it's not whether you're going to have an administration official attend the conference.  It's just a matter of figuring out which administration official actually addresses AIPAC?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think -- we have received the invitation from AIPAC.  We're considering the invitation.  And once we've made a decision we'll get back to AIPAC about who the speakers will be, and then we'll be in a position to talk about it.

Alexis.

Q    The President has expressed more optimism about bipartisan -- (inaudible.)  Can you explain whether it's just Democrats coming?  Who’s been invited and what the President’s hopes are for that legislation?

MR. EARNEST:  Alexis, I would anticipate that we'll have a list of lawmakers who participate in that meeting.  Both Democrats and Republicans were invited, and I would anticipate that there will be a bipartisan group of members at the meeting. The President, as you point out, does view this as an opportunity for us to find some common ground to move the country forward; that there are some Republicans who have raised similar concerns that the President himself has discussed about our criminal justice system, about reforms that could make our system more consistent with our values of fairness and justice and equality that certainly the President believes are really important, and I know that many of the members -- that all the members who are participating in the meeting also believe are important.

So this is an area that's worthy of careful consideration and consultation because there might be an opportunity for Congress to act in bipartisan fashion with the strong support of the President to put in place reforms to our system that would make our nation more just.  So the President is looking forward to that discussion.  I would anticipate that we'll have, like I said, a list of the members who participate and at least a general overview of that meeting once it concludes.

Q    Josh, yesterday, Governor Fallin, after she met with the National Governors Association, with the President, reported that the President said he was “open to crude exports from the U.S.”  Is that an accurate characterization of what the President told the governors?  And is that sort of a shift in position from what he has previously said?

MR. EARNEST:  I was not in the room when that exchange occurred, so it's hard for me to accurately reflect the way the question was asked and the way it was answered.  What I can do, though, is assure you that the policy of the administration has not changed, that crude oil export regulations are administered by the Department of Commerce.  That’s where these kinds of regulations are considered.  And I don’t have sort of change to announce at this point.

Major.

Q    Following up on Iran, is it the administration’s position that you would want a permanent agreement, one that has no timeline whatsoever, to meet the goal that you said repeatedly, which is to ensure there’s never a development of a nuclear weapon?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what we want is we want an agreement that’s verifiable and we certainly want one that all parties live up to.  And again, in terms of what kind of time constraints are placed in the context of the negotiations and how long people would be signing up, that’s not something I’m going to prejudge or be in a position to talk about from here.  Obviously, this is the subject of ongoing --

Q    -- answer suggests that the administration is open to a timeline of some kind.  It has to be one or the other.

MR. EARNEST:  I recognize that.  I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m just not going to be in a position to talk about the details of our negotiating position with the Iranians.  And the reason for that is simply that we have agreed on the front end with our international partners who are joining us at the table and with the Iranians that we can have an open, candid dialogue in the context of these negotiations with the goal of trying to reach an agreement.  And attempts to try to influence those negotiations by talking about them outside of the context of the negotiations are not going to be helpful to that process.

But my point is, we will have an opportunity at some point, -- on or around the end of March, we’ll have an opportunity to discuss either the framework for an agreement that’s been reached, or we’ll be able to discuss why we were not able to reach an agreement despite the common-sense, reasonable proposal that’s been put forward by the international community.  And your interest in understanding exactly what was put forward is a reasonable one, but one that I can’t discuss right now.

Q    Well, let me just ask you this:  Have you reconciled in your own mind how you could describe to the country an agreement that had a timeline that also met the standard of Iran never obtaining a nuclear weapon?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, once --

Q    They’re almost irreconcilable.  Can both be true?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, the most important thing is to figure out what exactly Iran will agree to, and understand whether or not --

Q    -- whether or not Iran can obtain a nuclear weapon.

MR. EARNEST:  -- and whether or not it will resolve the international community’s concerns about their efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon.

So that is the focal point of these negotiations.  And again, once we are in a position to evaluate either an agreement that has been reached, or an offer that was made an then rejected by the Iranians, we can talk in more detail about the negotiating position that was assumed by the United States and our international partners, and how it was possible to reconcile that with the policy goals that we have stated, the most important of which you’ve reiterated here, which is to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.

Q    On Secretary McDonald -- a couple of veterans groups have said they accept his apology, but said it raises questions in their minds about his trustworthiness.  And they don’t talk just about this, but they’ve also made mention of misstatements that the Secretary may have intentionally or unintentionally made about how many people have been fired and held accountable in some of the implementation of reforms.  Is the President satisfied that Secretary McDonald is trustworthy and is, in fact, implementing all of the reforms and legislation he recently signed?

MR. EARNEST:  The President believes that Secretary McDonald has a very difficult task in front of him to try to bring much-needed reforms to the VA.  And this is a task that generations of VA secretaries have tried to accomplish.  Many of them have made progress, and the President is pleased with the progress that Secretary McDonald has made so far.

But again, this is a very difficult challenge.  And the reason that Secretary McDonald has been successful so far is that not only does he bring with him some private sector management experience that I do think is useful when trying to get his arms around a large government agency like this and manage it efficiently, or at least as efficiently as possible, this task also reflects his own personal commitment to these issues that starts with his own military service to our country.  But even after he left military service, Secretary McDonald was committed, even using his free time, to try to support military families, our veterans and their families.  And that’s a testament to his character.  It’s a testament to what drives him, and it’s why he’s well suited for this job.

But I don’t think there’s anybody who sits around -- who wakes up in the morning thinking, boy, my job is really hard today, I wish I could just go walk in Bob McDonald’s shoes because that sure would be a weight off my shoulders.  I think everybody recognizes that he’s a got a very difficult task in front of him.  And that’s why his skill and personal commitment to these issues are so important to his success.

Q    When the VA was in a lot of trouble, the President tasked Rob Nabors to go over and assist.  Is he still there?  Is he still working in carrying out essentially a conduit role from the White House to the VA, and serving as that sort of presidential intermediary or liaison with this new Secretary?

MR. EARNEST:  Rob is still working at the VA and is still providing the Secretary and other members of the senior leadership at the VA the kind of advice and expertise that they continue to benefit from.  So we certainly are pleased to have Rob still serving his country and our veterans over at the VA.

Q    Last question.  Senator McCain raised his concerns about the Choice Card, which is part of the legislation the President signed.  We had a couple of questions at the budget briefing, but it doesn’t appear that every member of Congress is satisfied that this Choice Card is going to be implemented in the budget and the financial flexibility is going to be there for veterans to obtain care outside of the system if they meet the criteria.  Can you assure veterans, from this podium, that, in fact, financing will be there and the Choice Card will be implemented fully as written by Congress?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not intimately familiar with this issue, so let me take this question for the VA and see if we can provide you some data to help you understand our position on this. 

Q    Josh, thanks.  I want to take you back to Keystone for a moment.  Is there any way in your mind, if the process plays out -- you’ve made the point that this has sort of circumvented longstanding processes -- if they were to play out, in your mind, is there any way the President signs off on the Keystone XL?

MR. EARNEST:  That possibility still does exist.  This is an ongoing review that’s being conducted by the State Department.  They’re going to evaluate the impact that this project would have on the country.  They’re going to have the opportunity to evaluate the impact that this project would have on contributing to climate change.  And it certainly is possible; the President will keep an open mind as the State Department considers the wide range of impacts that this pipeline could have on the country, both positive and negative.  And so we’ll see what happens once the State Department has completed their - what’s called the national interest determination - what essentially is a report evaluating whether or not the completion of this infrastructure project would be in the best interest of the United States of America.

Q    You said as far as Israel was concerned there’s a deep, longstanding security relationship between our country and theirs.  I’m curious, as it relates to the Iranian talks, is it fair to characterize a level of frustration on behalf of the administration to this notion that some people are cherry-picking bits and pieces and maybe as an outside actor attempting to influence the negotiations?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, I think you asked about this last week, I believe, where I did express some frustration that we have seen some people take information that they had obtained about the U.S. negotiating position and cherry-pick information to try to distort the public impression of exactly what that negotiating position was.  So that is why, at least, even in the context of the questions that I’ve taken today, that I’ve been loathe to get into the details of the U.S. negotiating position. Everybody will have an opportunity to evaluate that soon enough.

Q    But as the details come out, albeit you’re saying they’re not accurate, you can understand why many perhaps in Israel might say, you see, this is exactly what we were talking about to begin with.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what people around the globe can be confident of is that the United States is negotiating with one clear goal in mind, which is to make sure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.  And we are working closely with the international community to achieve that goal.  That was the goal of the sanctions regime that Congress passed and this administration implemented in close coordination with our allies around the globe, to compel the Iranians to come to the negotiating table and try to resolve the international community’s concerns with their nuclear program. 

And those talks are underway, and we certainly wouldn’t want anything that I say from here or any other efforts to try to distort our negotiating position to negatively impact our ability to try to bring those negotiations to conclusion in a way that yields a strong and verifiable agreement that’s clearly in the best interest of not just the United States and not just Israel and not just our international negotiating partners, but is clearly in the best interest of the whole country -- or of the whole globe.

Q    Quick housekeeping.  As far as AIPAC is concerned, there is zero chance that someone won’t be going to AIPAC, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, they have extended an invitation to the administration; once we have decided how we’re going to respond to the invitation, we will let them know.  And then once we let them know, we’ll let all of you know.

Q    But you will accept it, someone is going, right?

Q    Somebody is going, right?

MR. EARNEST:  I hear you.  It does seem just as a matter of common courtesy, it seems like we should respond to their invitation first and then we can talk about it publicly.

Chris.

Q    So you’re not suggesting that no one is going?

MR. EARNEST:  I certainly didn’t come close to saying that.

Q    Yes, you did.  (Laughter.)

Q    I want to ask a question a different way.  Given the President is going to make obviously the final call on XL, is there no communication between the White House and State Department about when you might expect their report?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t know -- I can’t account for every single conversation that occurs between the White House and the State Department.  I think it’s certainly possible that somebody in the White House has gotten an update in terms of how much longer it would take the State Department to compete their review, but I’m not aware of those conversations.  But even if I were, I’m not sure I’d be in a position to announce for the State Department what their timeline is going to be.  If they’re prepared to announce a timeline then they’ll announce it.

Q    As you know, there are a lot of people anxious about this.  They waited six years and there are others who are concerned about a political implication for 2016 depending on when the President does make his decision.  Is the expectation that once the State Department report comes out, the President will make a decision fairly quickly?  Does he feel like he needs to do that quickly?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I wouldn’t want to prejudge the outcome here, but I would anticipate that once the review has been completed that there would not be a significant delay in announcing the results of that review and ultimately making a decision on this project.

Q    But on DHS, as you know, there are critics who have suggested that the White House has overstated the potential impact if there’s a delay in funding, saying that because everyone who is essential will still be working that it won’t make a significant difference to national security.  The White House’s -- you and others have said that obviously an impact would occur.  And we heard from some people, including the FEMA Director yesterday, about what that would be.  So given that, what kind of preparations are underway for a possible shutdown? And is the White House confident that DHS is ready, should that occur?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Chris, I can tell you that it’s not just the administration who is making the case that shutting down the Department of Homeland Security would have a bad impact on national security.  I know that Congressman Peter King was on television today making exactly that case.  So he doesn’t often agree with the administration, but at least in this case he’s making the same case that we are.  He’s not the only one who’s making that case.

I do know that the Department of Homeland Security has been engaged in a planning process to ensure they are prepared and can take the steps necessary to try to mitigate the impact of a shutdown of that department.  But as I’ve mentioned before, the impact of that shutdown will include tens of thousands of Homeland Security personnel being furloughed.  It will include many Homeland Security officers showing up for work to protect their country but not getting a paycheck on time.  And that doesn’t seem particularly fair, and I’m not sure why anybody thinks that would be a good outcome for the country.

So we’ve been clear that this is not a good thing.  But DHS is doing the responsible thing, which is, even as they try to talk to members of Congress and encourage them to fulfill their responsibility and pass a budget, they’re also engaged in the planning to try to mitigate the potential impact of shutting down their agency.

Q    Can you give us a sense of what’s involved in that planning?

MR. EARNEST:  I can’t, but they probably can.

Yes, sir.

Q    A couple questions, Josh.  A few days ago, a Mexican citizen was killed by two police officers in Pasco, Washington.  Is the President aware of the incident?  Or the White House?  What’s his reaction to that?

MR. EARNEST:  Can you say it one more time?

Q    A Mexican citizen was killed in Pasco, Washington, the state of Washington.  My question was, was the President aware of the incident, or the White House, and what is the reaction to that?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ve certainly seen the news reports.  I haven’t talked to the President about it.  I don’t know if he is aware, although knowing he’s an avid consumer of news, I assume that he is.  But I don’t know a lot of the details of the case beyond what I’ve read in news reports.  So for questions about sort of where that investigation stands, I’d refer you to the local authorities there.

Mara.

Q    I have a question about Ukraine.  You said earlier that you continue to be concerned by these violations.  And the President said when Merkel was visiting that if Russia continued to do this he would seriously consider sending arms to the Ukrainian government and also possibly increasing the sanctions. So you’re seeing these violations.  Now what are you going to do?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we’re doing right now is we’re continuing to support the ongoing efforts to try to implement this agreement.  And I know that there was a call that was scheduled among the foreign ministerial level of the four groups that have been involved in these negotiations -- the Russians, the Ukrainians, the French and the Germans --

Q    Today?

MR. EARNEST:  I believe that was yesterday -- I don’t know if it was yesterday or today, but I know that those efforts are ongoing and we continue to support them.  And the consequences that you cited of failing to live up to those kinds of commitments continue to be on the table.  So we’re going to continue to closely watch the situation with the President, the Vice President, and other senior members of the team, continue to be in close touch with our partners who are working this situation and we’re going to monitor it closely.  But certainly there is the potential of offering additional assistance to the Ukrainian military or ramping up our sanctions regime against the Russians.

Q    Look, right now they’re violating it.  How long will they go on violating it until you do something?  I’m just wondering, how long do you give this process?  I mean, they’re not living up to it now.  You’re monitoring it.  How long are you going to monitor the violations before you do something?

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll we’re going to continue to try to work diplomatically to resolve this situation.  And that has been our approach from the beginning, which is that it is our view that the only way we’re going to resolve this is not with a military solution but with a diplomatic solution.  And that is why we’re continuing to press that option.

But, you’re right, at some point you have to start considering some other alternatives, which is why the United States has already provided substantial military assistance to the Ukrainian military.  It’s why we’ve already worked with our partners in Europe to put in place a sanctions regime and isolate President Putin and -- or Russian political leadership.  And that was a response to their earlier violations of generally accepted international norms.

But, yes, the potential of increasing our assistance to Ukraine and increasing the costs that are sustained by Russia has the potential to be implemented.  But we’re going to continue to watch this and make decisions accordingly.

Q    Well, is it also possible that these violations could continue and you decide to do nothing else?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think our level of pessimism is not quite that high, but we’ll --

Q    You say there’s the potential that you might do something else. 

MR. EARNEST:  That’s right.

Q    I’m just wondering, if the violations continue, might you also decide that it’s not worth doing anything else on sanctions?

MR. EARNEST:  Based on our past response to Russia’s provocations and failure to live up to generally accepted international principles, I think you could rightly conclude that it’s unlikely that that is the outcome.  But as we see Russia continue to destabilize eastern Ukraine and continue to take steps that are clearly in violation of agreements that they’ve signed, that the risk of further sanctions only increases.

Mark.

Q    Josh, I want to come back to Iran one more time.  I just want to be clear about what you’re denying.  You’re denying that the United States has proposed a 10-year agreement, is that right?

MR. EARNEST:  My understanding of the reports -- that I will confess that I have not seen firsthand -- but my understanding of the reports indicate that -- they wrongly indicate that the agreement that’s being negotiated right now will be 10 years in length, and that’s not our negotiating position at all.

Q    But you’re not denying that there is some substantially longer agreement of which there is a 10-year opening phase to it, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what I’m reluctant to do is to sort of wade in on a detailed assessment of where the negotiations currently stand.

Q    I’m not asking for details.  Just are you denying something longer?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s certainly more detail than we’ve talked about so far.  But again, we will have an opportunity in the coming weeks to consider either to evaluate an agreement that’s been reached, or to evaluate an agreement that the Iranians walked away from.  But suffice it to say the United States continues to negotiate from the position that there should be an opportunity for the Iranians to ease the international community’s concerns about their nuclear program to, in a verifiable way, make clear to the international community that they will not acquire a nuclear weapon. 

The Iranians have said many times that that is consistent with their view and with their national policy.  It’s the view of the international community that they just need to be able to verify that for the international community.  And ultimately, if we can come to an agreement around those outlines that would be a good outcome for not just the United States and Israel, but it would be good for the world.

Q    Can we follow on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Go ahead, Connie.

Q    At this point, would you still call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to cancel the speech before the Congress?  And if so, would the President meet with Netanyahu?

MR. EARNEST:  Connie, we have not called on Prime Minister Netanyahu to cancel his speech.  And we’ve indicated the reason that the President will not meet with him during this visit to the United States is that it comes just two weeks before his election.  And in order to avoid even the appearance of interfering with a democratic election in another country, the President will not meet with the Prime Minister.  But I would anticipate that at some point after the elections, regardless of who wins, that the President will convene a meeting with the leader of Israel and will continue the very close coordination on security issues that has characterized his relationship thus far with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

JC.

Q    As the United States and her allies try to come to an agreement with Iran about its nuclear ambitions, what is this administration doing -- how is it engaged to reduce nuclear weapons in nations that actually do have these weapons, like China and North Korea, Russia, Pakistan, et cetera?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, JC, the President -- I think each of those situations is a little bit different.  But we certainly have even worked closely with Russia to reduce our nuclear stockpile, and this is something that the President did early in his tenure.  And that, he believes, is in the best interest of not just U.S. national security, but also the safety of citizens and people around the globe.  But, certainly, we continue to be focused on these issues.

Q    Last Friday, a federal judge appointed by President Obama issued an injunction on a separate immigration executive action, specifically stopping the detention of migrants coming across the border in Texas.  Is the Department of Justice going to seek a stay of this injunction in the same way they are seeking a stay --

MR. EARNEST:  I’d encourage you to check with DOJ about sort of the next step in that legal process.  I do know that the issue in question in that legal proceeding was related to our efforts to address what at the time was a rather urgent situation that we saw a substantial number of unaccompanied minors at the southern border attempting to illegally enter the United States of America.  And one of our efforts to try to respond to that situation was to detain recent border-crossers near the border, and to try to find an environment in which families could be detained together, and to try to make sure that we’re doing that in the most humane way possible.

So I know that there are some who raised concerns about that policy, but that is what the administration believed was an appropriate way to respond to that urgent situation.

Since that time, we have seen the numbers of undocumented immigrants, particularly unaccompanied minors, in that sector of the border decline substantially.  And that’s thanks to the comprehensive strategy that this administration has put in place, working with Central American countries, working with our partners in Mexico, and stepping up some of our law enforcement capabilities on the border to try to address the situation.  And that situation has -- or at least the urgency of the situation down there has subsided dramatically.

Q    -- your administration argued that this detention served as a deterrent to make sure that wasn’t another ongoing flood of migrants.  That’s part of the comprehensive strategy you just mentioned.  Is the administration at all concerned now that this deterrent is gone, that you’ll see another wave of migrants?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it certainly wasn’t the only deterrent. I think the most effective deterrent that we have is to have the President of the United States making very clear that people in Central America should not send their kids on this very dangerous journey; that too often, we saw reports of kids who didn’t complete the journey safely, that they were killed.  This is a very dangerous trek.  In some cases, we saw the kids were actually funneled into human trafficking rings. 

So we’ve continued to make the case very clearly and very publicly that parents should not even contemplate to putting their kids in the hands of human traffickers in trying to move them into the United States illegally.  So we’ve been really clear about that, and that is probably the most effective deterrent that we have.  But to the extent that other things can also deter and reinforce that message, we obviously want to support them.

Q    The Congressional Budget Office sent a letter to Thad Cochran, scoring the President’s executive actions for DACA and DAPA, and it found that his executive actions would actually increase budget deficits by $8.8 billion over the next 10 years. I was wondering if you could square that CBO finding with the President’s budget, which claims immigration reform and executive actions would reduce the budget.

MR. EARNEST:  We may have to follow up with you on this,  because my reading of that report was actually that removing the executive actions would actually add $8 billion to the deficit.

Q    Off-budget, you're right.  That's if we don't consider -- that's if the payroll taxes from the DAPA and DACA recipients didn't go to the Social Security trust fund.  But if the Social Security trust fund exists, if those payroll taxes are going to the Social Security trust fund, then that CBO letter found that the immigration actions do add to the deficit by $8.8 billion over the next 10 years.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I may have somebody who is more steeped in the budgetary details.  My understanding is that this would have a positive impact on our deficit precisely because for the first time what we’d be doing is we’d be bringing people out of the shadows and actually making them pay taxes.  That would be a good thing for the life of Social Security.  It would be a good thing for our economy.  And ultimately, it would be a good thing for the deficit.  But we can have somebody follow up with you on your -- on what may be a more detailed question.

Q    Thank you very much.

MR. EARNEST:  Mark.

Q    Josh, back on Keystone, does President Obama believe that 2,300 days is a reasonable length of time for the State Department to conduct an evaluation?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it’s certainly fair to suggest that the State Department is conducting an in-depth review.  (Laughter.)  The other thing that is also true is that there have been some legal proceedings that have interfered with the completion of this review.  There was this long-running court case in Nebraska about the proper route of the pipeline.  And that certainly did impact the State Department’s ability to evaluate the route of the pipeline since it wasn’t finalized and was subject to this ultimate court ruling.

But within just the last few weeks the Nebraska court has issued a decision that has finalized the proposal, and now that final proposal can be evaluated by the State Department.  That's what they're doing right now.

Q    Can you imagine what he would say if he gave you an assignment and you said, I’ll get back to you in 2,300 days?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  I can't.  (Laughter.)  I can't.

Goyal.

Q    Thank you.

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll give you the last one, Goyal.

Q    Two questions here.  One, when last year Prime Minister Modi came to the United States, late last year -- and including at the United Nations and at the White House, at the U.N. he announced that India should be a member of the U.N. Security Council, and which President in India also announced and endorsed.  What is happening with that membership?

And also Prime Minister Modi addressed in Washington the U.S.-India Business Council and calling on the Fortune 500 companies make in India, which will create thousands of jobs in the U.S. and thousands of jobs in India.  So what’s happening with that issue?  And the two leaders also set up a hotline.  The two have spoken ever since his visit to the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  Goyal, I can tell you as it relates to India’s membership on the Security Council, I know the President endorsed them acceding to the Security Council in the context of a variety of other important reforms to the operations of the United Nations.  I don't have an update for you on the status of those ongoing reforms, or at least efforts to try to bring about some of those reforms.  But I’m sure my colleagues in Ambassador Power’s office can give you some additional information on this.

Goyal, the President often discusses his view that we need to have more products that are stamped with Made in America and that that would be good for the U.S. economy.  It would be good for job creation.  The President also does believe that, as Indian consumers have the opportunity to buy American goods, that it could be good for the Indian economy, as well. 

So the President did have the opportunity to discuss some of these economic issues and our trade relationship with India.  In the context of his visit to India just last month, the President spent a lot of time with Prime Minister Modi and they spent a lot of time talking about some of these economic issues.

You’ll recall that there was a CEO summit in the context of those meeting, and that there were American and Indian business leaders that spent some time talking through some of these issues.  And the President himself had the opportunity to sit down at a roundtable with a couple dozen of them and talk about some of the challenges that they face as they try to do more business together in a way that benefits the economies and job creation in both countries.

So there is an opportunity for us to try to advance the interests of both our countries by working together and by coordinating our efforts.  And the President is certainly committed to that, again, in part, because the substantial economic benefits that could be enjoyed by the American people.  And that ultimately is his goal.

I know that Prime Minister Modi has a similar interest.  And I don't know of any recent conversations that they have had, but that continues to be a priority of both the President and his administration.

Q    Second, Josh, as far as the immigration is concerned, when President issued executive order millions of people were happy in that they will come out of the shadow.  Now they're confused.  What message you think President has for them?  They are waiting to come out of the shadow and apply for their status.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Goyal, this is something that we are concerned about.  The President does believe and we have said on many occasions that we believe that there is a very clear precedent for the executive actions the President announced at the end of last year; that taking executive action to try to address some elements of our broken immigration system is consistent with the way that Presidents of both parties for several decades have used their executive authority.

And there is no doubt that these kinds of changes would be good for our economy, would be good for job creation, and would be good for bringing about greater accountability to our immigration system.  And that ultimately is what the President believes is the benefit here -- that we can bring millions of people out of the shadows, that we can make them submit to a background check, that they will pay taxes, and that they can also get a work permit and they can start contributing to this country in a way that doesn't require them to live in fear of being deported at a moment’s notice and separated from their families.

Now, this, of course, does not apply to people who have recently crossed the border.  In fact, we want to focus our enforcement efforts on people who have recently crossed the border and on others who may pose a threat to community safety or national security.  But that is the crux of this debate, and we're going to continue to move this through the legal process because we're confident that the strongest legal arguments around on our side.

Thanks, everybody.

END
2:13 P.M. EST

2015-02-24


President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts:

  • Katherine Simonds Dhanani – Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Somalia, Department of State
  • Amias Gerety – Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions, Department of the Treasury
  • Cono R. Namorato – Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division, Department of Justice
  • Anne Elizabeth Wall – Deputy Under Secretary for Legislative Affairs, Department of the Treasury, upon appointment to be designated Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs

President Obama also announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key Administration posts:

  • Laura DeBonis – Member, Public Interest Declassification Board
  • Solomon B. Watson IV – Member, Public Interest Declassification Board
  • John W. Keker – Member, Board of Directors of the Presidio Trust
  • Joan Ellyn Silber – Member, Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad

President Obama said, “I am honored that these talented individuals have decided to serve our country.  They bring their years of experience and expertise to this Administration, and I look forward to working with them.”

President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key Administration posts:

Katherine Simonds Dhanani, Nominee for Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Somalia, Department of State
Katherine Simonds Dhanani, a career member of the Foreign Service, class of Counselor, currently serves as Director of the Office of Regional and Security Affairs in the Bureau of African Affairs in the Department of State, a position she has held since 2013.  Previously, Ms. Dhanani served as Consul General at the U.S. Consulate in Hyderabad, India from 2010 to 2013 and was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe from 2007 to 2010 as well as at the U.S. Embassy in Libreville, Gabon from 2005 to 2007.  Additionally, she was the Political and Economic Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka, Zambia from 2002 to 2005 and Economic Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1999 to 2002.  She was an Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Mexico from 1998 to 1999 as well as in the Office of Mexican Affairs at the Department of State from 1996 to 1998.  Prior to this, she served as Staff Assistant in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs at the Department of State, as Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo and as Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana.  She was also Assistant Planner for the City of Sacramento in California and a Lecturer at Grinnell College in Iowa.  Ms. Dhanani received a B.A. from Kenyon College and an M.A. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Amias Gerety, Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions, Department of the Treasury
Amias Gerety serves as Counselor in the Office of Domestic Finance at the Department of the Treasury, a position he has held since June 2014.  He also served as the Acting Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions at Treasury from April 2014 to November 2014.  From 2011 to 2014, he was the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Financial Stability Oversight Council at Treasury.  Prior to this, he served as Senior Advisor in the Office of Financial Institutions at Treasury from 2009 to 2010.  From 2005 to 2009, Mr. Gerety was an Associate at Oliver Wyman.  Additionally, he worked with Gene Sperling as a researcher for The Pro-Growth Progressive from 2004 to 2005.  Mr. Gerety received an A.B. from Harvard University.

Cono R. Namorato, Nominee for Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division, Department of Justice
Cono R. Namorato is currently a Member of the law firm Caplin & Drysdale, a position he has held since 2006 and previously from 1978 to 2004.  From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Namorato served as Acting Deputy Commissioner for certain designated matters and as Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the Department of the Treasury.  Before beginning his career at Caplin & Drysdale, Mr. Namorato held various positions within the Tax Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), including Deputy Assistant Attorney General from 1977 to 1978, Assistant Chief and then Chief of the Criminal Section from 1973 to 1977, and Supervisory Trial Attorney and Trial Attorney from 1968 to 1973.  Mr. Namorato began his career in 1963 as a Special Agent for the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS in the Brooklyn District.  He is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and a fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel.  Mr. Namorato has headed various tax-related committees and subcommittees for the American Bar Association, serving as Chair of the Tax Section’s Subcommittee on Criminal Tax Policy, Chair of the Committee on Tax Litigation, and Co-Chair of the Committee on Complex Criminal Litigation of the Litigation Section.  Mr. Namorato received a B.B.A. from Iona College and a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School.

Anne Elizabeth Wall, Nominee for Deputy Under Secretary for Legislative Affairs, Department of the Treasury, upon appointment to be designated Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs
Anne Elizabeth Wall is currently a Counselor to Secretary Lew at the Department of the Treasury, a position she has held since January 2015.  From 2011 through 2014, Ms. Wall served in the White House, most recently as the Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs and Senate Liaison from 2013 to 2014 and previously as Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs from 2011 to 2013.  Prior to joining the White House, Ms. Wall served in the office of United States Senator and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) from 2006 to 2011 holding various positions, including Floor Director and Office Counsel.  From 2004 to 2006, she was a litigation associate at Pretzel & Stouffer in Chicago.  She also served as a Law Clerk for Cook County Circuit Court Judges Allen Goldberg and Lynn Egan.  Ms. Wall received a B.A. from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and a J.D. from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, where she was a member of the Law Review.

President Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key Administration posts:

Laura DeBonis, Appointee for Member, Public Interest Declassification Board
Laura DeBonis has been a consultant to EF Education First since 2013.  Previously, she was Co-Chair of the Steering Committee for the Juliette Kayyem Campaign for Massachusetts Governor from 2013 to 2014.  Ms. DeBonis was a Team Member with the Internet Safety Technical Task Force at the Berkman Center, Harvard University, from 2008 to 2009.  Ms. DeBonis served in various roles at Google from 2002 to 2008, including Director for Book Search Library Partnerships from 2004 to 2008 and Director of AdSense Online in 2004.  She worked for Alter Ego Networks from 2000 to 2001, Organic Online from 1999 to 2000, and Chedd-Angier Production Company from 1993 to 1997.  Ms. DeBonis is a Founding Board Member of the Digital Public Library of America, and a member of the Board of Trustees of WGBH Boston and the Boston Public Library.  She received a B.A. from Harvard College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Solomon B. Watson IV, Appointee for  Member, Public Interest Declassification Board
Solomon B. Watson IV was Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of The New York Times Company, positions he held from 2005 to 2006.  He began his career at The New York Times Company in 1974 and held various positions including Senior Vice President and General Counsel from 1996 to 2005, Vice President and General Counsel from 1990 to 1996, General Counsel from 1989 to 1990, Corporate Secretary from 1979 to 1989 and 2000 to 2002, and Corporate Counsel from 1974 to 1979.  Mr. Watson has been a Special Master in the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, and is a member of the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York.  From 1966 to 1968 he served in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant in the Military Police Corps.  Mr. Watson received a B.A. from Howard University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

John W. Keker, Appointee for Member, Board of Directors of the Presidio Trust
John W. Keker is a co-founder and partner at Keker & Van Nest LLP, a firm he co-founded in 1978.  Before entering private practice, he worked as an Assistant Federal Public Defender in San Francisco from 1971 to 1973.  He served as a law clerk to Retired Chief Justice Earl Warren from 1970 to 1971.  Mr. Keker was an infantry platoon leader in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam from 1965 until his retirement for wounds in 1967.  He was President of the San Francisco Police Commission from 1996 to 1997 and 1991 to 1992, and past Chairman of the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Control Board from 1981 to 1983.  Mr. Keker received a B.A. from Princeton University and a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Dr. Joan Ellyn Silber, Appointee for Member, Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad
Dr. Joan Ellyn Silber is a philanthropist and active member of several educational and cultural foundations.  She was first appointed to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad in 2011.  Dr. Silber serves on the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, the Scholarship Foundation, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis.  She serves on the Advisory Board of Directors of the Webster University College of Arts and Sciences and the Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council.  Previously, Dr. Silber served on the Board of Directors of Aish HaTorah St. Louis, the Epstein Hebrew Academy, Ayecha, and HateBrakers.  Additionally, she has been an office manager and consultant for Dr. Sherman Silber’s medical practice since 1976.  She received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2012.  Dr. Silber received a B.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

2015-02-24


Readout of Vice President Biden's Meeting with Amir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani of Qatar

The Vice President held a breakfast meeting with Amir Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues. The Vice President and Amir spoke about the significant cooperation between the United States and Qatar against ISIL, including Doha’s role in hosting coalition forces at Al Udeid Air Force Base. They discussed how best to work to bring about a political transition in Syria in a way that also marginalizes extremists. They spoke about ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran and agreed on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Amid unprecedented and ongoing upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, the Vice President and Amir both underscored the importance of continued dialogue and cooperation between the United States and Qatar.

2015-02-24


Presidential Proclamation -- Establishment of the Honouliuli National Monument

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE HONOULIULI NATIONAL MONUMENT
 
- - - - - - -
 
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
 
A PROCLAMATION

The Honouliuli Internment Camp (Honouliuli) serves as a powerful reminder of the need to protect civil liberties in times of conflict, and the effects of martial law on civil society.  Honouliuli is nationally significant for its central role during World War II as an internment site for a population that included American citizens, resident immigrants, other civilians, enemy soldiers, and labor conscripts co-located by the U.S. military for internment or detention.  While the treatment of Japanese Americans in Hawai'i differed from the treatment of Japanese Americans on the U.S. mainland in ways that are detailed below, the legacy of racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and failure of political leadership during this period is common to the history of both Hawai'i and the mainland United States.

Early on December 7, 1941, Japanese air and naval forces attacked Pearl Harbor and other military installations on O'ahu.  Before martial law was invoked, government officials began selectively rounding up Hawai'i residents on suspicion of disloyalty.  They were confined at local jails, courthouses, and other facilities on six of the main Hawaiian Islands before being transported to the U.S. Immigration Station and Sand Island Detention Camp on O'ahu.  Nearly all of the internees were of Japanese descent, including leaders in the Japanese American community who were educated, were teachers or priests, or were distinguished by virtue of their access to means of communication with Japan or to transportation from Hawai'i.  Most would be sent to the mainland to be held for the duration of the war in Department of Justice and War Relocation Authority camps.  Despite the government's allegations of disloyalty, none of the Japanese American internees from Hawai'i was ever found guilty of sabotage, espionage, or overt acts against the United States, and all later received formal apologies and many received redress compensation from the United States.
 
On the Island of O'ahu, the U.S. War Department sought a place removed from the active combat areas of Pearl Harbor for internment of individuals.  The War Department chose Honouliuli Gulch, the bottom of which was hidden from view by the gulch's steep walls.  The Honouliuli Internment Camp opened on March 2, 1943, with the transfer of internees from Sand Island and rapidly swelled in population with the influx of prisoners of war.  Managed by the U.S. Army, it was the largest and longest used confinement site in Hawai'i.
  
Honouliuli is significant for having been used as both a civilian internment camp and a prisoner of war camp, with a population of approximately 400 civilian internees and 4,000 prisoners of war over the course of its use.  Honouliuli was divided into seven compounds:  one compound for administration and guards, one for civilian internees, and eventually five compounds for prisoners of war.  The civilian compound was further divided into sections for male civilian internees of Japanese ancestry, female civilian internees of Japanese ancestry, and civilian internees of European ancestry.  Historic documents indicate there were 175 buildings, 14 guard towers, and over 400 tents among the 7 compounds on 160 acres.  Many internees referred to Honouliuli as Jigoku-Dani (Hell Valley) because its secluded location at the bottom of a deep gulch trapped heat and moisture and reinforced the internees' sense of isolation and unjust confinement.
 
The majority of Honouliuli's civilian internees were American citizens or permanent resident aliens -- predominantly Japanese Americans who were citizens by birth -- interned on suspicion of disloyalty.  The remaining group comprised predominantly German Americans, though there were also Americans and aliens of Italian, Irish, Russian, and Scandinavian descent.  Honouliuli also held women and children who were Japanese civilians displaced from the Pacific.
 
The 4,000 prisoners of war in Honouliuli included enemy soldiers and labor conscripts from Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Taiwan, and Italy.  The prisoner of war compounds were guarded by an African American infantry unit as well as units of Japanese Americans from the mainland.

Honouliuli closed in 1945 for civilian internees and in 1946 for prisoners of war.  With the closing of the camp, fast-growing vegetation quickly took over the site.  Honouliuli was forgotten as Americans celebrated the victories of World War II and focused attention on the valor displayed by Americans at Pearl Harbor and abroad.
 
While both mainland and Hawaiian internment camps are sobering examples of wartime prejudice and injustice, Honouliuli reminds us of the differences in the way that forced removal was approached in Hawai'i and on the mainland.
 
The primary difference between the Japanese American experience on the mainland and on Hawai'i is that the internment in Hawai'i targeted a relatively small percentage of the ethnic Japanese population on the islands.  Less than one percent of Hawai'i's ethnic Japanese population was interned in Hawai'i.  This contrasts with the mass exclusion of all 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast of the mainland.  In Hawai'i, the Japanese American citizenry and immigrant population were over one third of the territory's total population.  Without their participation in the labor force, the economy of the territory could not have been sustained and the war effort in the islands would have been crippled.  Both the policies in Hawai'i and those on the mainland devastated Japanese Americans and their families and created a social stigma that was borne by Japanese Americans during and after the war.  The selective nature of the internment in Hawai'i also sowed division within the Japanese American community in Hawai'i, leading to ostracism and other  backlash against the targeted individuals and their families that would last their lifetimes.
 
The declaration of martial law served as the basis to authorize internment in Hawai'i, as opposed to the mainland where mass exclusion was authorized by Executive Order 9066.  During the period of martial law from December 7, 1941, to October 24, 1944, the U.S. Army issued hundreds of military orders, some of which were applicable only to persons of Japanese ancestry and enemy aliens.  For example, people of Japanese ancestry were restricted from residing in certain areas of O'ahu and were forcibly removed from their properties.  These types of discriminatory policies created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.
 
Finally, Honouliuli is significant because of the comparatively lower level of public understanding and awareness of the history of internment of civilians in Hawai'i during World War II.  On the mainland during World War II, mass exclusion was well known.  In contrast, the internment in Hawai'i was largely kept secret during World War II, and has only recently become the subject of scholarship and awareness campaigns.  It was not until 1998 that information about Honouliuli resurfaced.  After 4 years of research and exploration, the site was uncovered in 2002.  In 2008, an archeological research survey was conducted at the site. Honouliuli remains an object of archeological interest.
 
Honouliuli serves to remind every American about the critical importance of safeguarding civil liberties and maintaining our values during times of crisis.  It is important to recognize Honouliuli as a part of our shared national heritage and national consciousness.  It is a place to reflect on wartime experiences and recommit ourselves to the pursuit of freedom and justice.
 
WHEREAS section 320301 of title 54, United States Code (known as the "Antiquities Act"), authorizes the President, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments, and to reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected;
 
WHEREAS Honouliuli's objects of historic interest were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012 as nationally significant for their association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history;
 
WHEREAS, for the purpose of establishing a national monument to be administered by the National Park Service, the Monsanto Company has donated certain lands at Honouliuli to the United States, and the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu has agreed to provide access across its property to those lands;

WHEREAS it is in the public interest to preserve and protect the historic objects at Honouliuli;  NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 320301 of title 54, United States Code, hereby proclaim the objects identified above that are situated upon lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be the Honouliuli National Monument (monument) and, for the purpose of protecting those objects, reserve as a part thereof all lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map entitled, "Honouliuli National Monument," which is attached to and forms a part of this proclamation.  The reserved Federal lands and interests in lands encompass approximately 123.0 acres, together with appurtenant easements for all necessary purposes.  The boundaries described on the accompanying map are confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.
 
All Federal lands and interests in lands within the boundaries described on the accompanying map are hereby appropriated and withdrawn from all forms of entry, location, selection, sale, leasing or other disposition under the public land laws, from location, entry, and patent under the mining laws, and from disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing.
 
The establishment of the monument is subject to valid existing rights.  Lands and interests in lands not owned or controlled by the Federal Government within the boundaries described on the accompanying map shall be reserved as a part of the monument, and objects identified above that are situated upon those lands and interests in lands shall be part of the monument, upon acquisition of ownership or control by the
Federal Government.
 
The Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) shall manage the monument through the National Park Service, pursuant to applicable legal authorities, consistent with the purposes and provisions of this proclamation.  The Secretary shall prepare a management plan for the monument, with full public involvement, within 3 years of the date of this proclamation.  The management plan shall ensure that the monument fulfills the following purposes for the benefit of present and future generations:  (1) to preserve and protect the objects of historic interest associated with Honouliuli Internment Camp, and (2) to study and interpret the history of World War II internment and detention in Hawai'i.  The management plan shall set forth the desired relationship of the monument to other related resources, programs, and organizations associated with World War II internment, detention, and exclusion.
 
The National Park Service shall use available authorities, as appropriate, to enter into agreements to provide for access to the monument.  The National Park Service shall also use available authorities, as appropriate, to enter into agreements with governmental and nongovernmental organizations to provide for research, preservation, interpretation, and education at Honouliuli and additional sites associated with World War II internment in Hawai'i and exclusion elsewhere.  The National Park Service shall also coordinate management with World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which commemorates the  broader story of the war in the Pacific and its impacts on
Hawai'i.
 
Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to revoke any existing withdrawal, reservation, or appropriation; however, the monument shall be the dominant reservation.
 
Warning is hereby given to all unauthorized persons not to appropriate, injure, destroy, or remove any feature of this monument and not to locate or settle upon any of the lands thereof.
 
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fourth day of February, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.

BARACK OBAMA

2015-02-24


Veto Message to the Senate: S. 1, Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act

TO THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES:

I am returning herewith without my approval S. 1, the "Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act."  Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.

The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously.  But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people.  And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment -- it has earned my veto.

BARACK OBAMA

2015-02-24


Remarks by President Obama and the Amir of Qatar After Bilateral Meeting

Oval Office

12:45 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I want to welcome His Highness, the Amir of Qatar, for his first visit to the Oval Office in his current position. 

The United States and Qatar have a very strong security relationship.  They are hosts to our men and women in uniform.  They are partners with us on a whole range of security initiatives.  And we also have an extraordinary set of ties that are commercial, educational, scientific, technological.  And those benefit Qatar, they benefit the United States.  They create jobs in both countries.  And Qatar is a major investor here in the United States, as well.

We’ve had a wide-ranging conversation on a host of regional issues.  Qatar is a strong partner in our coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.  And I expressed my appreciation to His Highness for the work that they’ve done in coordinating with other members of this coalition.

We are both committed to making sure that ISIL is defeated.  We’re both committed to making sure that in Iraq there is an opportunity for all people in that country -- Sunni, Shia and Kurd -- to live together in peace. 

We both are deeply concerned about the situation in Syria.  We’ll continue to support the moderate opposition there, and continue to believe that it will not be possible to fully stabilize that country until Mr. Assad, who has lost legitimacy in the country, is transitioned out.  How we get there obviously is a source of extraordinary challenge, and we shared ideas in terms of how that can be accomplished.

We also had an opportunity to discuss a wide range of other areas where there’s significant turmoil -- Libya, Yemen.  And I think had a significant meeting of the minds in our shared belief that the more that we can work with all the countries in the region to try to find political solutions to problems, the more that we can reduce sectarian tensions in the regions and isolate violent extremists, the more effective we can be.

And we also had a very useful discussion around Iran and the negotiations that are currently taking place to try to reduce the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Those negotiations are ongoing.  I gave the Amir an update and assured him that our goal here is to be able to verify that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, and that we will continue to press Iran on some of its other actions in the region that often have a destabilizing effect, recognizing, however, that we would greatly prefer to be able resolve many of these issues diplomatically.  And I know that Doha shares the same view.

So, overall, I want to say that this was an excellent conversation, and I think His Highness has a deeper understanding of the United States’ concerns around these issues and our interests.  I emphasized to him that ultimately what the United States wants to see for all of the Middle East and all of North Africa is circumstances in which peace and security prevail, and that people -- particularly young people -- have the opportunity to learn, to get educated, and to succeed in this modern economy.

Qatar is an extraordinary example of that, partly because it’s been blessed by natural resources, but also because it’s made good decisions about how to develop its economy.  And hopefully that kind of prosperity can be spread more widely in the years to come, and I look forward to being a partner with Qatar in making that happen.

So, Your Highness, thank you very much.  Welcome.

AMIR TAMIM:  In Arabic or English?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Whatever you prefer. 

AMIR TAMIM:  Mr. President, thank you very much for having me at the White House.  I’m very happy to be here.  I’m not going to repeat what you said, Mr. President, but things that I really want to say is how important the relationship between Qatar and the United States of America, and how to develop the strategic relations that we have.  You mentioned that we have a strong relation in military and security, and also we have an excellent relation in education, as well, and other things as well.

As we mentioned before, we are investing in this country.  We believe in the economy of this country and the future of this country.  So this is something very important, as well, for us. 

We are all concerned on what’s going on in our region.  You mentioned the countries that we spoke about.  Yes, we are concerned about it -- we are concerned, as well, about the terrorist groups in our region.  I think we all share the same view, the reason why those terrorist groups are growing in our region.  And we have to make sure that to solve this problem we are all fighting terrorism -- and it’s a must -- is to make sure that the reason why this happened doesn’t happen again, because it happened years ago and it’s happening again now. 

We mentioned about the situation in Palestine, and about the peace process and what is the best for Palestine.  And it is the important subject in the Middle East, and we have to find a solution for Palestine.  And I’m happy to learn and to hear from you, President, that you are committed to find this peace process in Palestine. 

I don’t want to take -- you mentioned everything, Mr. President, so thank you very much.  I’m very happy to be here, sir. 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you so much.

END
12:52 P.M. EST

2015-02-24


Daily Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 02/23/15

**Please see below for a correction to the transcript, marked with an asterisk.

12:44 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Appreciate you being patient through some of the technical difficulties we've had today, but hopefully we'll make it through here. 

I do want to do one thing at the top before I go to your questions.  This afternoon, as you know, the President is traveling over to the headquarters of the AARP where he’s going to be talking about the fact that middle-class economics means that Americans should be able to retire with dignity after a lifetime of hard work, but the rules of the road often as they are currently written do not ensure that financial advisors act in the best interest of their clients when they give retirement investment advice, and it's hurting millions of working and middle-class families.

A system where Wall Street benefits -- where Wall Street firms benefit from backdoor payments and hidden fees, if they talk responsible Americans into buying bad retirement investments instead of recommending quality investments is a conflict of interest, and it isn’t fair.  And this administration is going to take some steps, using the President’s executive authority, to try to correct it and make sure that Americans can count on the kinds of advice -- or on the kind of advice that they're getting from their financial advisors. 

We should stipulate, as the President will later today, that there are thousands of financial advisors all across the country who are doing the right thing.  And we need to take steps to make sure that all of them are. 

So with that, Julie, let’s go to the questions. 

Q    Thanks, Josh.  The President mentioned in his remarks to the governors the impending deadline for funding DHS.  And I have a couple questions on this.  One, are you working under the assumption at this point that there will be a shutdown of DHS at the end of this week?  And can you give us a sense of any conversations the White House is having with Democrats in particular?  Are you looking for some type of wiggle room on the Democratic position?  Or is that strategy just to hold the line and hope that either Republicans move toward your position or take the blame for a shutdown?

MR. EARNEST:  Our position right now is that Congress should do their job.  And we continue to be hopeful that members of Congress -- Republicans in particular -- will live up to their promise to do their job, which is -- our Founding Fathers gave the power of the purse to the United States Congress.  And Republicans in Congress aggressively campaigned so that they could be in charge of that legislative body.  That means they have a substantial responsibility for funding the kinds of operations that protect our homeland.

And you're right that one week from today, if Congress does not act, there will be more than 100,000 U.S. Homeland Security personnel who will show up and do their job to protect the homeland, but they won’t be getting a paycheck unless Congress shows up to do theirs.  And we are hopeful that they will take the simple, common-sense step.  Funding for Homeland Security shouldn’t be controversial; neither should members of Congress actually doing their job. 

Q    Well, obviously, it hasn’t proven to be quite as simple as you may hope.  So I’m wondering --

MR. EARNEST:  Unfortunately.

Q    -- if you see anything that the White House would be willing to -- any concessions the White House would be willing to make, anything you're encouraging Democrats to do to maybe get a deal by the end of this week.  Or is your position where you are today, where it’s going to be through the end of this week?

MR. EARNEST:  Our position is a very common-sense one, which is that Congress should do their job and that the Department of Homeland Security should get funding for the full year.  Everybody would acknowledge that that is the right thing for our homeland security.  It’s the right thing for the country.

I recognize that there are some Republicans who do want to continue to have a debate about immigration policy.  I have good news for them.  The President is ready to have a debate and a discussion, and even a negotiation about reforms that we can put in place to bring greater accountability to our broken immigration system.  The President and this administration engaged in those conversations two years ago.  We got a bipartisan-compromise piece of legislation through the Senate, but it got blocked, ironically enough, by House Republicans. 

So we’re ready to have that debate and discussion and negotiation, and even work toward a solution to trying to address our broken immigration system.  But we shouldn’t allow politics to get in the way of ensuring that our Homeland Security operations are properly and fully funded.

Q    If Congress were to try to avoid a DHS shutdown at the end of this week by passing a short-term CR, would the President sign it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we will continue to be engaged in this process and we’ll be working with congressional leaders in both parties as they figure out how to avoid a government shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.  It is our view that the best policy outcome is a policy outcome that fully funds the Department of Homeland Security for a full year.  And the reason for that -- and based on some conversations that I’ve even had with the Secretary -- the analogy that he uses is that continuing to just pass continuing resolutions doesn’t allow the Department of Homeland Security to effectively plan.  The analogy that he draws is that it’s akin to trying to drive across the country but only filling up the car with five gallons of gas at a time.  So you can do it, but it doesn’t allow you to effectively plan. 

And when we’re talking about something as important as our homeland security, Congress should have a vested role in working with the Department to make sure that all of the priorities that exist in that agency that ensure the protection of our homeland are properly and fully funded, and that they do that in a way that the personnel who are working there can plan effectively and maximize their efforts.

Q    But even if you see it as not an ideal scenario, it sounds like you can’t realistically come up with a situation where the President would not sign a short-term CR at current funding levels.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, at this point, I’m not going to commit to signing or not signing anything other than a fully funded, full-year appropriation for the Department of Homeland Security. That’s not just the best outcome in the mind of the President, it’s also clearly the best outcome when we’re talking about the interest of the American public.  So it’s not a coincidence that that’s why the President thinks it’s the best outcome.

It also is fully within the scope of responsibilities of members of Congress.  So this is not about asking Congress to take an unprecedented or special step; this is actually holding Congress responsible for doing the absolute bare minimum.

Q    And just one other topic.  It sounds like the Keystone bill is going to land over here tomorrow.  Can you give us any sense of how quickly the President plans to veto this bill, whether he plans to do this in public or in private?

MR. EARNEST:  I have been a little perplexed by the process and the way that it’s unfolded.  I understand that Congress passed this bill like 10 days ago, but yet it’s just going to come to the White House apparently as early as tomorrow.  But I would anticipate that, as we’ve been saying for years the President would veto that legislation -- and he will -- so I would not anticipate a lot of drama or fanfare around it.  But we’ll certainly let you know when it’s taken place.

Q    So nothing in public?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t count on that, no.

Julia.

Q    Just this morning, the Justice Department formally filed its request for a stay in the Texas immigration case.  One alternative that they gave was for the judge to actually reverse the stay in all states but Texas.  What was the thinking behind that alternative?  And has the White House thought about the ramifications of allowing the executive action to play out in 49 states?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let’s start at the beginning, Julia.  You are correct, the Department of Justice has asked the federal district court in Texas for an emergency stay of the preliminary injunction that currently prevents the Department of Homeland Security from implementing the deferred action policies the President announced back in December [November]*.  The administration believes that a stay should be granted because the judge’s ruling in this case only makes it harder for the Department of Homeland Security to protect the American people and bring much-needed accountability to our nation’s immigration system.  And that is why the documents that have been filed with the court today first seek a stay of his injunction so that we can move forward while the case is being appealed at the Fifth Circuit.  So these two things are essentially operating on parallel tracks.

So the other alternative here that has been put forward in the filing is consistent with the judge’s finding that Texas -- the state of Texas claimed some harm that he said he was sympathetic to.  Now, he did not find that other states necessarily would be harmed by this ruling.  So that’s why we suggest -- and this is consistent with the way that the law has been explained to me, which is that when an injunction is issued by a judge, that it should be narrowly tailored.  So in the view of the federal government, the question that we’re asking is, if you won’t grant a stay for the full injunction, then you should just grant a stay so that we can move forward with these executive actions in other states.

Now, there are two other relevant facts here.  The first is, there are actually a dozen states and the District of Columbia that have affirmatively come forward and said that implementing these executive actions would actually be good for our states.  We believe -- and this is consistent with the other findings here that the economic impact of these executive actions are positive. That's everything from job creation, to economic growth, to reducing the deficit, to even strengthening Social Security.  All of those things would be enhanced if these executive actions were implemented.

And that is why we are seeking to move in this direction.  If a full stay is not granted, then let us at least move forward in those states where the judge himself has even acknowledged that -- or at least has not found that there is harm. 

Q    Okay.  It’s just that they’ve also said that if he doesn't rule by Wednesday, then they're going to appeal -- or they're going to go try to get a stay from the Fifth Circuit.  So why even give him the wiggle room to say not Texas, especially since that's home to so many undocumented immigrants who could potentially be eligible?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think this reflects our commitment to trying to work this through the legal process as quickly as possible.

One aspect of this that I have found somewhat curious is that the judge’s ruling was one that was celebrated by a lot of conservative Republicans.  And the reason I find that curious is that the specific measures that the judge has prevented the administration from implementing are actually the same measures that would bring greater accountability to our broken immigration system; that the judge basically said that you can't move forward with policies that are going to bring millions of people out of the shadows, you can't move forward with these policies that are going to force people to pay taxes or submit to a background check.  These are exactly the kinds of policies that would bring greater accountability to our immigration system, that would bring a positive economic benefit to communities across the country and actually make our communities safer.

And again, this is consistent with filings in the case that have been put forward by local sheriffs and other local law enforcement leaders who have said that implementing these executive actions would make it easier for local law enforcement to safeguard communities.  So there are even some local law enforcement officials in the state of Texas that have indicated that implementing these executive actions would make communities in Texas safer.  So there is not just a strong legal basis for the action that we're pursuing, there’s actually a strong basis for those who are interested in doing the right thing for our economy and for public safety.

Q    Okay, and Iran’s foreign minister said that negotiators are still a long way from reaching a deal on the nuclear program. Do you have any updates on the White House’s assessment on the chances of reaching a deal?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't have any update.  The President and I have, on a number of occasions when asked this question, noted that our odds of reaching an agreement with Iran are 50-50 at best.  I think that continues to be a fair assessment of where things stand. 

A lot of this, again, rests on the commitment of Iranian hardliners to move forward with an agreement that would resolve the international community’s concerns with their nuclear program; that what the international community alongside the United States is seeking is a verifiable commitment from Iran not to develop and obtain and nuclear weapon.  And there should be an opportunity for us to reach an agreement about this.  But there are some in the Iranian regime who are reluctant to make that kind of commitment.

And that is the principal barrier.  And that is why that even as the negotiators make some progress that we continue to be realistic about the likelihood of success, that it’s less about actually trying to reach an agreement around the negotiating table, but about eliciting sufficient commitment from Iran’s leadership to move forward with an agreement.

But our negotiators are still hard at work on this, and they will continue to be in the days and weeks ahead.

Michelle.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  In the appeal that we were just talking about, the language in there says that without a stay, the Department of Homeland Security would suffer irreparable harm and that that harm wouldn’t be cured even if the defendants ultimately prevail.   What harm would DHS suffer without a stay?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think to put it bluntly, the Department of Homeland Security was ready last week to begin taking the steps that would bring millions of people out of the shadows.  These are individuals who have been in this country for a substantial period of time and have family connections inside the country.  These are individuals who would being paying taxes. These are individuals who would submit to a background check. 
So every day that goes by, we have individuals who will continue to be in the shadows, who will continue to not pay taxes, and who will continue to not have undergone a background check, which means that they could pose a threat to public safety. 

So that is why you have seen so many states and their top-level leadership, and local law enforcement leaders from across the country come forward and say, we want to implement these accountability measures.  But instead, based on the judge’s ruling, we're actually moving farther in the direction of amnesty, which, again, is why it’s curious that we’ve seen so many conservative Republicans come out in celebration of a court ruling that essentially does move us closer to amnesty.

Q    It said that the DHS could suffer irreparable harm even if the defendants ultimately prevail.

MR. EARNEST:  Because there would be a delay in collecting these taxes.  There would be a delay in conducting these background checks.  And those are two examples of things that would benefit our economy and benefit public safety.  So every day that goes by is a day that we won’t be collecting background checks -- or collecting taxes, or executing the kinds of background checks that would ensure that we're doing everything we can to keep our community safe.

Q    Okay.  And on DHS funding, a few times when you were asked about the impact on national security, you would always refer reporters to DHS itself.  But today we heard the President very clearly state that this would have a direct impact on your national security.  Can you explain what exactly he meant by that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are a couple of things.  The first is I don't think that there is anybody who would say that it is going to have a positive impact on national security for us to send people to work without a paycheck.  And I think that is a large part of what the President was referring to.  He also noted the negative economic impact this would have on communities across the country, as well. 

You've also heard the Secretary of Homeland Security talk a little bit about how difficult it is for his agency to plan when they are facing looming deadlines like this, that that would have a direct impact on the operations of their agency.  There are -- while the vast majority of personnel at the Department of Homeland Security are considered essential personnel, which means they will show up to work even if they don't get a paycheck, there are still tens of thousands of DHS employees that aren’t and, therefore, will be furloughed and won’t be showing up at the office.  And again, that's going to have an impact on the day-to-day functioning of the Department of Homeland Security. 

And again, you've heard me say that it’s hard to imagine a good time for Congress to be mucking around with the funding of the Department of Homeland Security, but now seems like a particularly bad one.

Q    And do you think that the Secretary overstated the threat to America’s malls over the weekend?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  I think the Secretary was noting how important it is for the American people to continue to be vigilant.  That said, the intelligence community has said that they are not aware of any specific, credible plot against the Mall of America or any other domestic commercial shopping center here in the United States. 

But we certainly are mindful of the threat that exists.  And that's why DHS has their “See Something, Say Something” campaign.  And we encourage people to be vigilant about that.  But the fact of the matter is the intelligence community has indicated that there is no specific, credible plot against the mall and that -- essentially this is a reaction to a propaganda video that was put out by a terrorist group in Africa.  And I recognize that may be why the issue of mall security has come to the attention of the people in this room.  But the fact of the matter is the administration has been mindful of this risk for years now.  And that's why Secretary Johnson, yesterday when he was asked about this, was able to indicate that we’d already been in touch with local law enforcement, that we’d already been in touch with individuals who were responsible for security at shopping centers, and even at this specific shopping center. 

But I want to reiterate something that the intelligence community has said about there not being any specific credible threat that they're aware of at this point. 

Chris.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  During a military town hall event yesterday in Kandahar, Secretary Carter expressed an openness to the idea of openly transgender service, saying only suitability for service should bar an American from enlistment.  Does the President share Secretary Carter’s views on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Chris, I’ve seen the reports of Secretary Carter’s comments.  I can tell you that the President agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve.  And for that reason we here at the White House welcome the comments from the Secretary of Defense.

But in terms of additional steps the Department of Defense will take to address this matter, I’d refer you to the Secretary’s office.

Q    Is there any coordination going on between the White House and the Pentagon right now to coordinate those steps?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, to talk about what those next steps might be, I’d refer you to the Department of Defense.

Q    In other news, in Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson, has just hours remaining to act on legislation, SB 202, which would prohibit localities from passing LGBT non-discrimination ordinances.  Does the President think a veto of that state bill is the right decision?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of that specific piece of legislation, Chris.  Ultimately, governors have to make these kinds of decisions for themselves, so I wouldn’t weigh in at this point. 

Laura.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  What’s the White House reaction to yesterday night at the Oscars, the documentary rewarded about Snowden?  The Oscar going to this documentary about Edward Snowden?

MR. EARNEST:  I was not able to stay up until the very end of the Oscars.  They started rather late.  I’m not sure why -- I guess it’s a West Coast thing.  But I obviously did see the news of that documentary receiving the award, and I don't have a specific reaction to it.  Our views on this matter are well known and they aren’t affected by the decision of the academy.

Francesca.

Q    Yes, I wanted to refer to you some reports over the weekend that the White House might not send any Cabinet-level members to AIPAC and I wanted to know if you could confirm that.

MR. EARNEST:  The answer to that is that we are still in discussions with AIPAC about what sort of administration representation they’ll have at the meeting.  You’ll recall that there are previous -- in previous years there have been administration representatives, including the President on at least one occasion I can think of off the top of my head.  But we're still evaluating the invitation.  And as soon as we have some more information about who will be available to speak to the group, we’ll let you all know.

Q    Is the President considering going?

MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of.

Q    And one other follow-up question.  And I’m sorry to keep hounding on this Department of Homeland Security thing, but today, the President said -- going back to what he said -- it will have a direct impact on the economy, it will have a direct impact on America’s national security.  And I just wanted to take one more opportunity I guess to try to understand how it would have a direct impact on national security.  The potential I suppose of people being here that don't have background checks, I guess -- that doesn't to me say it would have a direct impact.  And I just wanted to clarify that.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the direct impact is that people who will be showing up to protect our borders, to protect our ports of entry, including our airports, individuals who are responsible for keeping the machinery moving in terms of responding to natural disasters and responding to requests for assistance from states when they put forward those kinds of requests for financial assistance, that those kinds of basic day-to-day operations are affected.  In some cases, it just means that there is personnel who are not receiving paychecks.  In some cases we're talking about personnel who are working on these important matters who are being furloughed.  It certainly would have an impact on the ability of the Department of Homeland Security to plan for the future and to implement new procedures and programs. 

There’s always an effort to innovate when it comes to homeland security to take steps that would keep us safer.  This also applies to cybersecurity.  The Department of Homeland Security is the agency that's principally responsible for trying to keep Americans and their data safe in cyberspace.  So again, I think it’s very hard for anybody to make the case -- and I don't think anybody really has -- that stopping funding for the Department of Homeland Security somehow enhances our national security.  And I think everybody would acknowledge that it’s going to have an impact, and it’s not going to be a positive one. And that's the point that the President was making.  And that's why we believe that despite the differences between the parties, we should all be able to come together around the idea that Congress should fulfill their responsibility to fund the Department of Homeland Security, and to do it on-time and to do it for the full year.

Mara.

Q    Are you saying that people who don't collect a paycheck will not do their jobs as well, protecting the border or doing anti-terrorist activities, than if they were being paid?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I’m not saying that at all.  I think the irony of this whole situation, Mara, is that you do have more than 100,000 patriotic Americans who show up to work every single day to keep our airports and the skies safe for the traveling public.  They protect our borders.  They work in cyberspace to try to protect our cybersecurity.  These are patriotic Americans. They're also middle-class families.  And the thought that Congress, because they're not willing to do their job, is going to put these patriotic Americans in a position of not being able to collect a paycheck even though they're doing theirs -- even though they're doing the important work of keeping the country safe. 

Q    Well, that's contradicting your other argument.  You're saying the country will be less safe if these people are not paid because it will have a direct effect on national security.  But you're saying these people are going to show up and do their jobs even under the onerous condition of not being paid.

MR. EARNEST:  I think I made pretty clear in answering Francesca’s question and in answering Julia’s question that there are a variety of impacts from shutting down the Department of Homeland Security.  I think one of them -- and it’s principally an issue of fairness -- is the fact that you've got more than 100,000 Americans who work at the Department of Homeland Security, who work to keep us safe, who are not going to get a paycheck just because Congress isn’t doing their job.

And I would certainly not question the professionalism and performance of these individuals.  But I don't understand how anybody could make the case that their professionalism and performance is enhanced by withholding a paycheck for a job that they're willing to do and that they’ve done.

Q    But we're asking about the direct effect on national security -- direct effect.  Not the economic impact or the unfairness to them, just the direct effect on national security.

MR. EARNEST:  And I don't think there’s anybody that can make the case that there is a positive impact on national security by withholding their paychecks.  If somebody wants to make that case, I’m happy to have them try to persuade me, persuade all of you.

Q    But what about people who say it won’t have any effect at all since these people are essential?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mara, I guess, again, in answering Julia’s question I was pretty clear about the fact that there is a lot of operational planning that goes on, that there are tens of thousands of DHS employees that are furloughed as a result of shutting down the Department of Homeland Security.  And if we actually want the Department of Homeland Security to do everything they possibly can to keep us safe, then what we're going to do is we're going to give them the resources to plan and to innovate and to take all the necessary steps -- whether it’s cybersecurity, border security, or airport security -- to do their best to keep the American people safe.

And again, it’s beyond me how anybody would try to make the case that withholding funding from the department somehow makes it easier for all those people to do their jobs.  I don't think it does.

Jon.

Q    So, Josh, on this question.  I understand Republicans are now fully in charge of the House, they’ve got a majority in the Senate, and, ultimately, it’s their responsibility to send a bill down here for the President’s signature.  But given what the President has said about how this can impact the national security -- have a negative impact on national security, what is he doing to try to get movement up there?  Is he bringing the congressional leaders to the White House for an emergency meeting on this?  What is he doing to try to prod them?  I understand again it’s ultimately their responsibility, but he’s ultimately the President.  If there’s something hurting national security, it’s on his watch.  So what is his responsibility and his action plan on trying to get something done this week?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jon, when they -- when members of Congress actually do make it back to Washington, D.C. after their week-long recess, maybe there is an opportunity for them to come to the White House and meet with the President to discuss this.  I wouldn’t rule out that option necessarily.

But the fact of the matter is there’s not that much to discuss.  The fact is everybody acknowledges that it’s the responsibility of Congress to use the power of the purse to fund the government.  Everybody understands that funding the Department of Homeland Security is critical to maximizing our efforts to keep the homeland safe.  And everybody acknowledges that failing to do so is not going to be good for the country, and it’s not going to be good for homeland security and it’s not going to be good for the economy.

So the President stands ready to have that discussion if it’s necessary, but, frankly, other than those issues, I’m not really sure what there is to discuss. 

Q    So if there’s a discussion for the President to have, you're saying the only discussion is for him to tell them to act and to do it without strings, just fund the department.  Forget this immigration dispute they have.  Just fund the department, and there’s just no other path here.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, there is no path beyond Congress actually doing their job to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security.  That is true. 

Now, what I recognize has affected the ability of some members of Congress to actually do their job is that they want to try to send some signal of dispute or objection to the President’s executive actions on immigration.  And I’ve been very clear, and the President has been very clear, that we welcome the opportunity to have a discussion with Republicans about what we can do to fix our broken immigration system.  In fact, the President and the administration engaged in a whole series of discussions two years ago that resulted in a bipartisan compromise piece of legislation emerging from the Senate.  Ironically, that bipartisan proposal was blocked by House Republicans. 

There is sort of a common theme in all of this, and I don't think that's lost on anybody who is paying attention.  The truth is it’s not really lost on that many Republicans.  You saw Senator Graham going out there on the Sunday shows when he’s been talking about this over the weekend, indicating that he understood that the Republican Party was going to get blamed if there were a negative impact, or if the -- not if there was a negative impact, but if Republicans fail to follow their -- fulfill their responsibility to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

Q    But do you see an avenue of potential compromise where you give them something on this issue?  They believe the President’s action were illegal.  Actually, there appears to be a judge in Texas that agrees with that.  They want it stopped.  Obviously, immigration is done through the Department of Homeland Security.  That's why this impasse is there.  Do you see a path for the President stepping in and being willing to put off this immigration executive order or engage in any kind of compromise whatsoever on that issue to resolve this impasse?

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, we have indicated for years that the President stands ready to have conversations with Democrats and Republicans on immigration reform.  We are ready to have that discussion.  We had a number of discussions in the last Congress. We're ready to have discussions with this Congress -- not just with Democrats, but with Republicans too, if they're willing to participate. 

But right now, the question before the United States Congress is, are they going to continue to accept their paychecks and not do their jobs while members of the Department of Homeland Security, officials in the Department of Homeland Security, and front-line law enforcement officers in the Department of Homeland Security are going to be faced with the prospect of stepping up and doing their job even if they're not getting a paycheck?

Q    And can I get back to Secretary Jeh Johnson’s comments on the Mall of America?

MR. EARNEST:  Sure.

Q    What he said specifically was, “If anybody is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they have got to be particularly careful.”  Does the White House agree with that specific statement -- “If somebody is going to the Mall of America today, they have got to be particularly careful”?  That would suggest a specific threat or a heightened threat level right now at a specific place.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, and what I have said and, more importantly, what the intelligence community has assessed and what they have said is that we're not aware of any specific, credible plot against the Mall of America or any other domestic, commercial shopping center. 

And I think what the Secretary was trying to say and what he -- what’s his responsibility to say is that the American people should remain vigilant.  And if they see something, they should say something.  But that is --

Q    So in this particular sentence he was misspeaking? Because he was saying be particularly careful today -- again, clearly implying a threat now. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the Secretary was very cognizant of the fact that it’s his responsibility to remind the American people that if they see something, they should say something.  It’s important for them to be vigilant.  But at the same time, in terms of understanding the facts about the threat that we fact, the intelligence community is not aware of any specific credible plot against the Mall of the America.

Q    Last question.  With the governors, did the President have a chance to talk to Governor Scott Walker at all, and did the question of his faith come up at all?  As I’m sure you saw, he had a tough time answering whether or not he was a Christian.

MR. EARNEST:  I don't know if the President had the opportunity to speak to Governor Walker either last night or today.

Ed.

Q    I want to go back to Secretary Johnson’s comments.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, sir.

Q    Don't they conflict a little bit with what the President told Vox.com a couple weeks ago, that these terror threats are really kind of a media-hype situation and that if it bleeds, it leads?  Isn’t there a serious threat out there that the Secretary was trying to alert people to?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ed, I’d just go back to the facts.  The intelligence community has indicated that they are not aware of any specific, credible plot against the Mall of America or any other shopping center inside the United States. 

And the reason that we're having this discussion is because of a propaganda video that Al Shabaab did put out.  But the fact that we’re having this discussion in public is not different than the fact that for years, this administration has been working with local law enforcement and, in some cases, even individuals who are responsible for mall security, to make sure that Americans can be protected and that we are aware of the aspirations that groups like this have to strike against soft targets.

But the fact is, again, the intelligence community has been very clear about the fact that they are not aware of any specific credible threat against the Mall of America.

Q    So if there’s not a specific threat, why was the Secretary suggesting that people be extra careful if you go to that mall?  Did it have anything to do with this DHS funding fight, to sort of scare Congress more to get that money to say, hey, there’s threats out there?

MR. EARNEST:  No, it did not.

Q    Secretary Carter -- you asked about him earlier.  He’s also having a meeting with military commanders in Kuwait.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct.

Q    I wonder, is this mostly about him -- we’re being told it’s about strategy, dealing with ISIS -- this is mostly, as the new Defense Secretary, getting up to speed, sitting down with the military commanders?  Or is it also kind of the administration taking a fresh look, fresh set of eyes with the situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ed, this is mostly about -- and this is something that Secretary Carter I think will have the opportunity to discuss himself over in Kuwait -- I understand that he’s got a press availability scheduled for later today.  This is principally an opportunity for him, within his first week here now as the Secretary of Defense, to travel overseas to meet with our military personnel and some of our diplomats in the Middle East, to talk about the status of the campaign.  And a lot of this is for him to get up to speed, to hear their firsthand assessment of how things are going. 

At the same time, the President has challenged his team to constantly be reassessing our strategy and to constantly be in a posture of evaluating whether or not there are things that we can do even better than we’re already doing.  So I would anticipate  -- and again, the Secretary can speak for himself -- I would anticipate that he’s thinking about that as he’s hearing from these military leaders and from our diplomats, and from our intel officials that are participating in this meeting.  But principally, this is an opportunity for the Secretary to hear firsthand from those who report to him about how things are going.

Q    Last one.  The various family members of Kayla Mueller did an interview with NBC News.  And at one point they say that when the President swapped five Taliban commanders for Bowe Bergdahl, that ISIS’s demands to release Kayla started increasing, and they feel like there was an impact.  Does the President have any regrets that the Bergdahl swap backfired and made it harder to get Kayla and other American hostages released?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ed, I’m not even sure that that’s the case that Mueller family was making.  The fact is, our hearts go out to the Mueller family --

Q    But hang on.  They directly said -- I think it was her brother who was speaking -- that once the Bergdahl swap happened, the demands from ISIS got much stronger.  So how can you deny that they’re making that case?  That’s what they said.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that’s what they said, but you tacked on something there at the end that said that would make it harder to get Kayla Mueller back.

Q    If the demands go higher, it’s harder to get --

MR. EARNEST:  Assuming that the individuals who are making the demands have any credibility at all, Ed.  So the fact is the Mueller family is going through a very difficult time, and I think in the minds of all of us, it’s difficult to even imagine the pain that they’re going through as a result of this tragedy. 
And even though -- it is still true that the Mueller family continues to be in the thoughts and prayers of people here at the White House.  And these families are in a particularly difficult position because the United States does have a policy that is clearly in our best interest and clearly in the best interest of the American people and our national security to not make concessions and to not negotiate with terrorists, and in this case, with Kayla Mueller’s hostage-takers.

And that puts -- that did put Kayla and her family in a very difficult position.  And it’s one -- again, that is an important reason why what they’re dealing with is so tragic.  But the President is confident that his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy, using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller.  In fact, the President has talked about the fact that he ordered a military raid, a daring military raid that involved dozens of U.S. military personnel to try to rescue her. Unfortunately, while that mission was executed successfully, it did not result in her rescue.

And as the President confronts this challenge in the future -- and we’re going to have to; there continue to be Americans who are being held against their will around the world -- we’re going to continue to use every element at our disposal to try to secure the safe return of those Americans.

Chris.

Q    Just a couple of follow-ups on DHS.  And a little bit of beating a dead horse maybe here, but I just want to make sure I understand -- when Jeh Johnson says you would have to be indulging in a fantasy to believe that shutting down DHS will have no impact on homeland security itself -- and I understand what you’re saying, that it certainly isn’t going to make things better, but in terms of real, tangible concerns that the White House has, can you detail what you think the impact would be in a negative way that would hurt homeland security that the average American should worry about?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, for a detailed assessment, I’d refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.  But what I can tell you is that there are at least a couple of things that I can cite for you.  The first is that there are tens of thousands of DHS employees who do have an important function in that agency who will be furloughed.  They will not be -- they will no longer be coming into the office. 

Q    But if they were considered to be that important, they wouldn’t be furloughed, right?  Isn’t that -- the front-line people are the ones who have to work without pay, which is a couple hundred thousand, and then 30,000 more who are considered, for lack of a better term, non-essential.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Chris, let me draw maybe an analogy that might resonate a little bit in this room -- that the news could go on if your producer -- you could do the nightly news tonight even if your producer were not able to come into work today --

Q    No.  (Laughter.) 

MR. EARNEST:  Impossible to imagine, right?  I guess that’s my point.  Even though people at home may not know who your very talented producer is, it would have an impact on the broadcast that night.  And so to the people at home, it may seem as if that producer is not essential to the broadcast -- you, because you’re so focused on the broadcast, understand just how important the work that that person does really is.  And I think a similar analogy could be drawn with the Department of Homeland Security  -- that, yes, these may not be people who are instantly recognizable to the American public, but they do play an important role in protecting our homeland security.

And so there will be tens of thousands of those people who will be furloughed.  In addition to that, there are, as the Secretary has said, impacts on basic operations when it comes to planning -- trying to set out budgets, trying to make plans to implement new -- deploy or implement new technology or new policies that only funding the Department of Homeland Security for 30 days at a time, or shutting it down altogether, is going to have an impact on their ability to carry out those kinds of operations to implement new technology, to implement new policies.

And again, this shouldn’t be that complicated.  Congress has a basic responsibility, which is to pass a budget.  And there’s no agency that I can think of at least that would be more important than funding the Department of Homeland Security.  And it’s certainly not going to have a positive impact on our homeland security, and it’s certainly not going to be fair to the more than 100,000 Americans who will continue to show up and will continue to do a good job of protecting this country, but they’re going to do it without a paycheck.

And it’s kind of ironic that members of Congress are going to show up and not do their jobs, but their paycheck is still going to come on time.

Q    Will there be a shift if some of those employees to do administrative tasks -- will some of those jobs essentially continue to be done but by fewer people?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, for the operational adjustments that they’ll have to make as a result of -- if this eventuality does materialize, I’d refer you to the Department of Homeland Security, who can give you some more details about the steps that they’ll need to take to try to mitigate the impact.

Q    And just one more question, because there does seem to be on the Hill, even from people who support your position, a shift from what we’ve seen maybe a couple of weeks ago, where the feeling was that there was no way that this was likely to happen, to now, as we get closer to the weekend, a growing concern.  What is the White House assessment of the likelihood that this happens?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, trying to predict what Congress is actually going to get done is not something I think I’m willing to do in public, probably not even in private.  It’s hard to really tell.  I will say that at the end of last year -- I guess it’s worth taking one second to remember exactly how we ended up in this place.  At the end of last year, Republicans conceived of this scheme that they were going to put together something called a crominbus, something nobody had ever heard of before, which essentially was a proposal to fund the rest of the government but hold back funding for the Department of Homeland Security with the thought that it would allow Republicans to sort of demonstrate that they were protesting the President’s executive actions because of their political differences with the President of the United States.

And I observed at the time that it would not be a winning proposition for Republicans to fight a political fight over the Department of Homeland Security and to essentially hold hostage the funding for the Department of Homeland Security because of a political dispute.  And I don’t think that it’s benefitted them politically.  Again, Senator Graham, if you listen to his comments -- I think he is somebody who does have a good sense of the way that these politics affect his party -- said that he was confident that his party was going to get blamed.  And that does seem to be where we’re headed, and that’s disappointing.

But hopefully, maybe after spending a week at home or wherever it is that Congress has been for the last 10 days, that they’ll have had a chance to clear their heads and maybe come to their senses even.  And as long as they’re collecting a paycheck, they might as well do their job. 

Q    You just said “that does seem to be where we’re headed.” 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I mean, right now, it does seem to be where we’re headed.  But we’ll have to see.  Again, this would be the responsibility of members of Congress to step forward and do their job.

Q    Afghan President Ghani is going to be coming here pretty soon, over the weekend.  Defense Secretary Carter was in Afghanistan.  They both basically indicated that a slowdown in the drawdown of troops is warranted based on the situation on the ground.  How firm, given those assessments, how firm is the 2017 deadline for pulling out of Afghanistan?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you’ll recall that the President has been very clear about what he believes our strategy in Afghanistan should be, which is the President, for a number of years now, has sought the responsible drawdown of U.S. military personnel from Afghanistan.  And this strategy has been done in careful consultation with our military leaders, including our generals on the ground.  It’s been done in careful consultation with other senior members of the President’s national security team, including National Security Council staff here at the White House, as well as our diplomats and our intelligence officers.

We’ve also worked carefully with the Afghan government.  Because ultimately, there has been a partnership, useful partnership between the United States and the broader international community and the Afghan government as that government and their security forces have taken on more responsibility for securing their own country.  So the strategy that the President has laid out is one that he continues to have confidence in. 

Now, there continue to be around 10,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan fulfilling two important functions.  The first is carrying out counterterrorism operations where necessary, but also continuing to partner with Afghan security forces to train, advise, and equip them.  And those efforts are ongoing, and Afghan government officials indicate that they believe that that operation has been useful and beneficial to their ongoing efforts to try to secure their country.

So the President remains committed to those two tasks and believes that the strategy that he’s laid out so far is one that can accomplish those tasks.  But the President continues to be open to taking advice from his military leadership, from the senior members of his national security team, to tailor that strategy to reflect the situation on the ground.  And that’s -- I’m confident this will be part of some of the discussions that we’ll have with President Ghani when he’s in Washington.

Q    So if it turns out that the Afghan security forces are not prepared to take over completely by that original deadline, is the White House open to pushing that back beyond 2017?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, just as a reminder, that deadline has already passed.  Afghan security forces are now responsible for the security situation in their country.  We’ve handed over that responsibility to them I believe at the end of last year.

And so what now is in place is an effort to continue to bolster their capacity to safeguard their country.  And again, the President continues to be mindful of the security situation on the ground, of the contributions that are being made by our NATO allies to this broader effort, and we're going to continue to tailor the strategy to reflect the situation on the ground with, of course, a careful focus on the implications for American national security.

Q    And a quick question on Cuba.

MR. EARNEST:  Sure.

Q    There’s going to be some bilateral meetings later this week between the Cuban government and the U.S. government.  The President is also going to Miami, where there’s a large and vocal Cuban American community.  The President -- I know he’s going to there to talk about immigration, but does he plan to give a message that's tailored specifically to the Cuban American community, especially those who are opposed to ending the embargo specifically because they have strong personal relations with the country?  Some have pretty strong stories when it comes to how they left Cuba.  Does he plan to have a message that's tailored specifically to that community?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the goal of the town hall that the President will convene in Miami later this week that will be broadcast on Telemundo will be principally to discuss immigration and the President’s ongoing efforts to bring some accountability to our immigration system and try to finally fix as many of the broken -- many problems of the broken immigration system as he possibly can.  That will be the focus of his remarks, but it’s a town hall meeting.  So that means that people will have an opportunity to ask questions of the President.

And given the sizeable Cuban American population in South Florida I wouldn’t be surprised if someone does choose to ask the President about this.  And I would not anticipate that the President will have any new announcements, but I do think that you can expect to hear the President persuasively restate his case for why he believes moving to normalized relations with Cuba is clearly in the best interests of the United States, and is the best way for us to elicit the kind of social and political change that we’d like to see in Cuba.

And it’s precisely because of the President’s commitment to universal human rights and applying pressure on the Cuban regime to respect and even protect those basic human rights that the President wants to change this policy.  For 50 years, we tried a policy of essentially an embargo that had no discernable impact on the policies that were put in place by the Castro regime.  So after 50 years, it’s the view of the President that we needed to try something different.

And by moving to normalize our relations what we hope will happen, in part, is to expose the Cuban people to more of the kind of liberty that we enjoy in this country, that that could further pressure the Castro regime to make some changes in the way that they treat their citizens.  I also would anticipate that it will remove a barrier to our efforts to try to focus international attention on the Cuban regime’s treatment of its citizens; that for too long, any time we wanted to go and raise concerns about Cuba’s policy toward their own people, other countries wanted to raise questions about our policy toward Cuba. And now that that distraction has been removed, international attention will focus on the way that the Cuban regime all too often violates the basic human and political rights of their people -- and whether that's trying to squelch free speech, or trying to trample on the rights of independent journalists, or to prevent groups of people from gathering to have political discussions in Cuba, that there are a variety of instances on a regular basis where we see the Castro government try to squelch the basic human rights of their people.  And we do believe that we will now be more successful in focusing international attention and ratcheting up the pressure on the Castro regime to change their ways.

Christi.

Q    Thank you, Josh.  Just back on Keystone for a minute.  It’s been a few days since the EPA assessment about the CO2 emissions that it would generate.  Has the White House or anybody on the White House staff started to move toward the conclusion that this would significantly worsen carbon emissions?

MR. EARNEST:  That is an evaluation that's being carefully considered by the State Department, and that's where this study currently resides.  And I’m confident that they will consider the EPA analysis as they formulate a final opinion on whether or not the Keystone project is in the national interest of the United States.

Q    So when the veto comes tomorrow, it will still be about the President’s concern about circumventing the process not about the actual project?

MR. EARNEST:  That is correct.  The process to evaluate that project is still ongoing.

Q    And also can you say how quickly you would turn that veto around after you get the bill?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t anticipate a lengthy delay.  Everybody is acutely aware of the administration’s position on this, so I wouldn’t anticipate a lot of fanfare or drama.

Julie.

Q    Just a couple on DHS, on homeland security.  The President mentioned this to the governors earlier today.  Was the point of that partly to get some of the Republican governors in the room to help to persuade members of Congress that they should resolve this dispute before the end of the week, or before the funding expires?  Or was that part of his calculus in raising it with that group?  They obviously don't have a say in this current disagreement about funding the government or reauthorizing the department.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess I would just say that the President would certainly welcome the expressions of support from governors across the country that Congress should fulfill their responsibility to pass a budget for the Department of Homeland Security.  And the President pointed out that the impact of a shutdown would be felt not just in our homeland security, but also in the economy of communities all across the country, including economies in every one of our 50 states.

So again, I think it’s ultimately up to governors to decide what sort of comments they want to make when it comes to federal decision-making.  Certainly, some governors have not shown any sort of reticence about weighing in on those kinds of decisions. But we certainly would welcome the advocacy of the nation’s governors in making case that Congress and members of Congress should fulfill their responsibility to pass a budget for the Department of Homeland Security.

Q    And on the town hall meeting in Miami, what was the thinking on the timing of that?  This is coming right a few days before this funding expires for the Homeland Security Department. Obviously, you've acknowledged that at the root of that dispute is Republican opposition to the President’s executive action on immigration.  That's what the subject of the town hall meeting is going to be you've said.  So is there any thought, any concern about sort of raising those points in the middle of trying to resolve this dispute?  Or does the President feel like this is an appropriate forum for him to basically make his case while Congress is deciding what they should do with the funding?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple of things about that. The first is the President has for years now talked about how reforming our broken immigration system continues to be a top priority of his.  He continues to have an interest in working with members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, to try to pass legislation to that end.

The President has already demonstrated his willingness to use his executive authority to fix as many of the problems with our broken immigration system as he possibly can.  We certainly were not pleased with the Texas district court ruling last week on this matter that did limit the ability of the President to carry out some of those executive actions -- not all of them.  The ability of the administration to use prosecutorial discretion in deciding who will be targeted for deportation still stands and is something that will still be implemented.  That means the administration can still move forward with ensuring that our enforcement efforts are focused on felons and not on families.

But there is this element of accountability, about bringing people out of the shadows, making them submit to a background check and start paying taxes that we can't move forward on because of the judge’s ruling.  And so I would anticipate that the President will spend some time answering questions about the significance of the ruling and about the next steps in the legal process.

But ultimately, this is about the President doing what Presidents are supposed to do, which is traveling across the country and talking about their priorities for the country.  And there is no question that one of the President’s priorities is reforming our broken immigration system because of the positive benefits it would have for reducing our deficit, for expanding economic growth, for creating jobs, and for actually making our borders and our country more secure.

Q    Do you think this will ratchet up pressure on Republicans to approve funding for the Department of Homeland Security by making his case on the immigration issue?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julie, I actually think that congressional Republicans are already under intense pressure to get this done.  And that would be true whether the President was planning a town hall meeting in Miami or not.

Q    Thanks, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  Victoria, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    You've made some fairly tough comments today questioning Iran’s hard-liners’ willingness to give up their nuclear aspirations.  And we know that any deal that's made will have to go back Ayatollah Khamenei, and that President Obama is not willing to extend the March deadline, and also that the pace of talks is pretty glacial and they don't have any talks scheduled till next week.  Is there a sense of urgency in the administration about these talks?

MR. EARNEST:  There is a sense of urgency.  These talks have been going on for a substantial number of months, more than a year.  And as the President himself has said, he does believe that we're getting close to a time where we're going to find out whether or not a deal can be reached or not. 

And there is a sense of urgency because the President believes it is clearly in the national interest of the United States for us to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. This is already a very volatile region of the world.  And we do know the impact that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would have no a host of other countries in the region, to say nothing of Iran’s support for terrorism around the world, to say nothing of Iran’s condemnation and ill will toward our strongest ally in the region, Israel.  The President believes that the best way for us to resolve the situation is to do so around the negotiating table; that if we can reach an agreement in which Iran will commit to resolving the international community’s concerns about their nuclear program in a verifiable way, that we can deescalate the tension around that issue.  

Now, there continue to be issues that exist with Iran -- or tension that exists with Iran in other areas.  But this would be an important accomplishment and a good thing for U.S. national security.  It also would be good for the national security of our strongest ally in the region, Israel.

So the President is pursuing this, and we do feel a sense of urgency about trying to get this done.  But again, we're also realistic about the chances of success here.  And we're realistic because of some of the political impediments that I described earlier.  But trying to reach an agreement around the negotiating table, even if it is an uphill climb, is vastly preferable to the other options that are available to the international community for resolving these concerns.

Q    So you put the likelihood of a deal at less than 50-50. So if you don't get to a deal by March the 31st, what is plan B for April the 1st?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we're focused right now on plan A, and that's why we feel a sense of urgency around it.

Q    Is there a plan B?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ll have an opportunity to discuss that -- well, hopefully we won’t have an opportunity to discuss that.  But we’ll see in the weeks ahead.

Thanks, everybody.

END  
1:41 P.M. EST

2015-02-23


Remarks by the President at the AARP

AARP
Washington, D.C.

**Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.

2:05 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  It is great to be back here -- not just to pick up my AARP card.  (Laughter.)  I want to thank Jo Ann and everybody at AARP for the work you do every single day on behalf of seniors.  I am especially grateful to all of you for the work you're doing to help us prepare for the White House Conference on Aging, which will be coming up later this year and will cover a whole host of issues, including protecting one of the most critical components of middle-class life, and that's a secure and dignified retirement.  And that’s what we're here to talk about today. 

I want to thank some other people who care passionately about this issue:  My energetic, tireless Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez.  (Applause.)  A couple of outstanding Senators, Cory Booker from New Jersey -- (applause) -- and Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts.  (Applause.)  And Congressmen John Delaney is here -- proud of the work he is doing.  (Applause.)  

So six years after the financial crisis that shook a lot of people’s faith in a secure retirement, the good news is our economy is steadily growing and creating new jobs.  Last year was the best year for job growth since the 1990s.  And all told, over the past five years, the private sector has created nearly *2 12 million new jobs.  And since I took office, the stock market has more than doubled, which means that 401ks for millions of families have been replenished.

America is poised -- as long as Washington doesn’t screw it up, as long as we keep the progress going with policies that help and don't hinder the middle class, no stalemates, no standoffs, no self-inflicted wounds or manufactured crisis -- if we stay away from those things, then the projections are that the economy can do very well again this year.

But we're going to have to choose whether we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well, or whether we build an economy where everybody who works hard can get ahead, and have some semblance of security in this ever-changing world?

Because while we’ve come a long way, we’ve got a lot more work to do to make sure that the recovery reaches every single American out there and not just those at the top.  That’s what I've been calling middle-class economics -- the idea that this country does best when everybody does their fair share, and everybody gets a fair shot and everybody is playing by the same set of rules. 

And that last part -- everybody playing by the same set of rules -- is why we passed historic Wall Street reform that put in place smarter, tougher, common-sense rules of the road to protect consumers and to end taxpayer-funded bailouts.  And by the way, I know that there have been times where folks questioned whether or not Wall Street reform works.  If you look at how the banking system has responded, if you look at what’s happened on Wall Street, when you look at how the markets gauge what we've done, reform has been meaningful.  It has been effective. 

That's why we passed a Credit Card Bill of Rights that gives consumers a simpler credit card bill -- no more hidden fees, no more shifting deadlines, no more sudden changes of terms, or “any time, any reason” rate hikes.  It’s why we created a new consumer watchdog agency that protects hardworking Americans from everything from predatory mortgage practices to payday loans that can destroy people’s finances.  And I want to thank our outstanding CFPB Director Rich Cordray and his team -- (applause) -- they are working day in, day out to protect working families, and when families are taken advantage of, they’ve been working hard to get them their hard-earned money back.

Today, we’re going to build on these consumer protections for the middle class by taking a new action to protect hardworking families’ retirement security.  Because, in America, after a lifetime of hard work, you should be able to retire with dignity and a sense of security.

And in today’s economy, that's gotten tougher.  Most workers don’t have a traditional pension.  A Social Security check often isn't enough on its own.  And while the stock market is doing well right now, that doesn't help folks who don't have retirement accounts.  As a consequence, too few Americans at or near retirement have saved enough to have peace of mind. 

So, in addition to keeping Social Security strong -- and we will keep it strong as long as I am President.  That is going to be a priority for me.  (Applause.)  In addition to keeping Social Security strong, I’ve proposed ways to make it easy and automatic for workers to save for retirement through their employer, including offering tax incentives to small businesses that offer retirement plans.  And these proposals, it's estimated, would expand workplace savings opportunities to 30 million more workers.  We’ve also proposed paying for them by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy.

At the same time, we’ve got to make sure that Americans who are doing the responsible thing by preparing for retirement are getting a fair share of the returns on those savings.  That's what I want to focus on today.  If you are working hard, if you're putting away money, if you're sacrificing that new car or that vacation so that you can build a nest egg for later, you should have the peace of mind of knowing that the advice you’re getting for investing those dollars is sound, that your investments are protected, that you're not being taken advantage of. 

And the challenge we've got is right now, there are no uniform rules of the road that require retirement advisors to act in the best interests of their clients -- and that’s hurting millions of working and middle-class families.  There are a lot of very fine financial advisors out there, but there are also financial advisors who receive backdoor payments or hidden fees for steering people into bad retirement investments that have high fees and low returns.  So what happens is these payments, these inducements incentivize the broker to make recommendations that generate the best returns for them, but not necessarily the best returns for you.

They might persuade investors, individuals with savings, to roll over their existing savings out of a low-fee plan and into a high-cost plan.  They might even recommend investments with worse returns simply because they get paid to recommend those products. And one study by professors at Harvard and MIT had researchers send people to pose as middle-class investors seeking investment advice from advisors.  In 284 client visits, advisors recommended higher-fee funds about half the time.  The lowest-fee funds were recommended only 21 times. 

So think about what that means.  You’ve done the right thing.  You’ve worked hard.  You’ve saved what you could.  You're responsibly trying to prepare for retirement, but because of bad advice, because of skewed incentives, because of lack of protection, you could end up in a situation where you lose some of your hard-earned money simply because your advisor isn’t required to put your interests first.  And the truth is most people don’t even realize that’s happening.
  
We read a story in the paper about Merlin and Elaine Toffel, a retired couple from near my hometown of Chicago -- Lindenhurst, Illinois.  They had worked their whole lives so they could rest easy in their golden years.  They got bad advice to invest in expensive annuities that made it hard for them to access their money.  Suddenly, they were short on cash -- which is exactly what they had tried to avoid by saving and acting responsibly all those years.  They were taken advantage of by an advisor of an institution where they had been longtime clients and it was an institution they trusted.  And Merlin now lives in a nursing home and he and Elaine aren’t here today.  As they get older, their children are trying to help them get all this sorted out.  And that's just one family.  They’re not alone. 

On average, conflicts of interest in retirement advice results in annual losses of 1 percentage point for affected persons.  I know 1 percent may not sound like a lot, but the whole concept of compounding interest -- it adds up.  It can cut your savings by more than a quarter over the course of 35 years  -- cut your savings by more than 25 percent.  So, instead of $10,000 in savings growing to more than $38,000, it will grow to just over $27,500.  That's a big spread.  And all told, bad advice that results from conflicts of interest costs middle-class and working families about $17 billion a year -- $17 billion every year.

So you can put a number on how this affects us.  But it affects something else.  It offends our basic values of honesty and fair play.  The values that say, in America, responsibility is rewarded and not exploited. 

I want to emphasize once again, there are a whole lot of financial advisors out there who do put their clients’ interests first.  There are a lot of hardworking men and women in this field and got into this field to help people.  They’re folks like financial advisor Sheryl Garrett, from Arkansas, who says, “The role” -- is Sheryl here?  There she is.  Sheryl, stand up just so we know where you are.  (Applause.)  We're proud of Sheryl.  So I'm quoting you, Sheryl.  Sheryl says, “The role of a financial advisor is one of the most important jobs.  But there is a segment of the industry today that operates like the gunslingers of the Wild West.  We don’t have the rules and regulations to protect those who we’re supposed to be serving.”

Couldn't have said it better myself, which is why I quoted you.  (Laughter.)  Sheryl is right.  The rules governing retirement investments were written 40 years ago, at a time when most workers with a retirement plan had traditional pensions, and IRAs were brand new, and 401ks didn’t even exist.  So it's not surprising that the rules that existed 40 years ago haven't caught up to the realities of most families today.  Now, outdated regulations, legal loopholes, fine print -- all that stuff today makes it harder for savers to know who they can trust.  Financial advisors absolutely deserve fair compensation for helping people save for retirement and helping people figure out how to manage their investments.  But they shouldn’t be able to take advantage of their clients.  The system makes it harder, in fact, for those financial advisors like Sheryl who are trying to do the right thing, because if she’s making really good advice but somebody who is competing with her is selling snake oil, she’s losing business.  And ultimately, those clients are going to lose money.  
So, today, I’m calling on the Department of Labor to update the rules and requirements that retirement advisors put the best interests of their clients above their own financial interests.  It's a very simple principle:  You want to give financial advice, you’ve got to put your client’s interests first.  You can't have a conflict of interest. 

And this is especially important for middle-class families, who can't afford to lose even a penny of the hard-earned savings that they’ve put away.  These folks aren’t asking for any special help or special consideration.  They just want to be treated with fairness and respect.  And that’s what this new rule would do.  And for outstanding advisors out there, it levels the playing field so that they can do what they know is the right thing to do -- putting their clients first. 

Now, here’s one last element of it I've got to emphasize.  Just because we put forward a new rule doesn’t mean that it becomes law.  There are a lot of financial advisors who support these basic safeguards to prevent abuse, but there are also some special interests that are going to fight it with everything they’ve got, saying that these costs will skyrocket or services are going to be lost. 

But it turns out that we can actually look at the evidence.  These industry doomsday predictions have not come true in other countries that have taken even more aggressive action on this issue than we're proposing.  And if your business model rests on taking advantage, bilking hardworking Americans out of their retirement money, then you shouldn’t be in business. (Applause.) That's pretty straightforward. 

So we welcome different perspectives and ideas on how to move forward.  That's what the comment period for the rule is all about.  What I won’t accept is the notion that there’s nothing we can do to make sure that hardworking, responsible Americans who scrimp and save somehow end up losing some of those savings to less than scrupulous practices.  We should be able to make sure that folks are treated fairly, and give every possible assistance we can so that they can retire with security and dignity. 

So we’re going to keep on pushing for this rule.  It’s the right thing to do for our workers.  It’s the right thing to do for our country.  We are thrilled that AARP is supporting this, but AARP is not alone.  We've got all kinds of organizations that are stepping up -- consumer advocates, civil rights organizations, labor organizations.  We've got a great coalition of people who understand that the strength of our economy rests on whether hardworking families can feel more secure, knowing that if they do the right thing, they can get ahead.  And that’s what I’m going to keep fighting for -- an economy where not only everybody is sharing in America’s success, but they’re also contributing to America’s success.  This is a important component in that basic promise that makes America the greatest country on Earth.

So thank you so much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.) 

END
2:28 P.M. EST

2015-02-23


Remarks by the President to the National Governors Association | February 23, 2015

**Please see below for a correction to the transcript, marked with an asterisk.

State Dining Room

11:27 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  Everybody, have a seat.  Welcome to the White House once again.  The only thing more glamorous than a black-tie dinner with Hall and Oates is a Q&A with Obama and Biden.  (Laughter.)  So we save the best for last.  I know you guys are excited. 

I want to thank everybody for being here.  I’m going to be very brief.  As Joe said, last year was a breakthrough year for the United States.  Last year, the economy created more than three million new jobs -- and that’s the best job growth in any single year since the 1990s.  The same was true for manufacturing growth.  In fact, manufacturing jobs grew even faster than the overall economy.  The deficit cut by two-thirds.  Energy production at an all-time high.  All told, businesses have now created over 12 million jobs over the last five years.  And the best news of all -- wages have started to go up. 

So America is as well-positioned as we’ve been in a very long time.  And the question is, what kind of choices do we now make together to make sure that that momentum is sustained.  I have talked about it before, and I want to emphasize again during our conversations, the belief that middle-class economics is what works -- the idea that not only do we want the country as a whole to prosper, but we want to make sure that every single person in this country has opportunity; that if they work hard, they can get ahead.  That prosperity is broadly shared.  And not only is everybody sharing in that prosperity, but everybody is contributing to that prosperity.  And in order to do that, we got to make sure that everybody has got a fair shot, that everybody does their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same set of rules.  We’ve got to make sure that anybody out there who is scrimping and saving, and trying to figure out how to send their kids to college, and worrying about retirement, that they’ve got some sense of security and some sense that they can make it.

As Joe indicated, I think every one of the governors here in every one the states of this great union of ours cares about these same things, and is doing a lot of creative work to enhance the opportunities for advancement for their citizens.  You’ve got states like Oklahoma that are leading the way in making sure that we’re educating our children at the earliest age with high-quality early childhood and pre-K education. 

Since 2013, 17 states have joined companies like The Gap and now Walmart to raise their minimum wage, and make sure that some of the hardest-working people in America are able to support their families if they’re working full-time.  States are leading the way in removing unnecessary licensing requirements so workers can start filling up some of the jobs that they already have the skills for.  You got states like California that are leading the way in providing paid leave so that mom or dad can take a day off to care for a sick child or an aging parent without having to give up a paycheck.   

And states are leading the way in making sure more people have the security of health insurance.  Today, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more than 10 million Americans now have the peace of mind that comes with being covered.  I want to thank all the governors, Democrats and Republicans, supporters and some opponents of the ACA who have expanded Medicaid to millions of people over the past two years.  I think there’s a recognition that it makes sense, and it’s bigger than politics.  As Governor Kasich said for Ohio, “It saves lives.  No question about it.”   And if your state isn’t one of the 28 that has already expanded Medicaid, I’d urge you to consider it, because our team is prepared to work with you to make it happen. 

Because some of you may not always agree with my approach or policies, I think that we can all agree that it’s a good thing when a family doesn’t lose a home just because a member of that family gets sick.  And surely we can agree that it’s a good thing when businesses have roads and bridges and ports and the kind of Internet connections that allow all of us to thrive.

Surely we can all agree that when workers and management come together around helping families getting ahead, that’s a good thing.  And it’s a good thing when workers and businesses can compete on a level playing field, with new agreements for fair and free trade in some of the world’s fastest-growing markets. 

So that’s going to be my agenda for the next two years.  Congress may pass parts of that agenda, not others, but I’m going to keep on pushing for these ideas because I believe it’s the right thing to do.  I think it’s right for America. 

And I will keep urging Congress to move past some of the habits of manufactured crises and self-inflicted wounds that have so often bogged us down over the last five years.  We’ve got one example of that right now.  Unless Congress acts, one week from now, more than 100,000 DHS employees, Border Patrol, port inspectors, TSA agents, will show up to work without getting paid.  They all work in your states.  These are folks who, if they don’t have a paycheck, are not going to be able to spend that money in your states.  It will have a direct impact on your economy, and it will have a direct impact on America’s national security, because their hard work helps to keep us safe.  And as governors, you know that we can’t afford to play politics with our national security.   

So instead, let’s try to focus on some of things that we have in common and deliver real results.  I want to thank Governor Inslee and his fellow West Coast governors who have helped workers and management reach an agreement that reopened 29 ports and kept business flowing.  I got to add a plug for Tom Perez, who went out there and I think really made an extraordinary contribution to that effort.  That’s going to make a big difference for the country’s economy as a whole.  That’s the kind of thing that we can accomplish when we put aside divisions and focus on some common-sense steps to improve the economy for everybody.  And it’s an example that I hope Congress follows in the months ahead. 

Keep in mind, though, even when Congress does not act, or does not act fast enough, I think we can still work together to make a difference.  And whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, what I found is that the more specific we are on focusing on problems, the less concerned we are about politics, the more we get accomplished.

Now, I’ll give you one specific example, and that’s in the criminal justice area.  Last year was the first time in 40 years that the federal incarceration rate and the crime rate went down at the same time.  First time in 40 years.  Let’s keep that progress going, and reform our criminal justice system in ways that protect our citizens and serves us all.  In Georgia, Governor Deal has given judges new alternatives to harsh mandatory minimum sentencing.  In Connecticut, Governor O’Malley [Malloy]* announced his “Second Chance Society” plan to help former prisoners rejoin their communities.  We want to be a partner in those efforts. 

And that’s what the American people expect.  One of the great privileges of being President is you get to travel everywhere, and you get to meet people from just about every walk of life.  And what I have found is the assumption that I made, that I think Joe made when we first ran for office, still holds true:  The American people are good and decent, and they have a lot more in common than our politics would indicate.  And if we can just focus on that, there’s a lot of good stuff that we can get done.

So I’m in the fourth quarter of my presidency, or as some of you might call it -- the kickoff for your campaign season.  (Laughter.)  But I think there’s still a lot that we can get done together.  I think we can build an America that is creating more opportunities for hardworking folks.  I think we can make sure that the future for the next generation is even brighter than the one that we enjoyed.  And I look forward to making progress together at the federal and state levels.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

END
11:36 A.M. EST

2015-02-23


White House Announces 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll

 

WATCH: Mrs. Obama announces this year’s Easter Egg Roll theme and more! LINK

WASHINGTON - As part of their ongoing effort to open the People’s House to as many people as possible, the President and First Lady announced today that this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll will be held on Monday, April 6.  The event will open the White House South Lawn for children ages 13 years and younger and their families. 

LOTTERY

The ticket lottery opens today, Monday, February 23, at 12:00 PM EST and will close on Thursday, February 26, at 12:00 PM EST.  To enter the lottery, please go to www.recreation.gov.  Tickets are free of charge and cannot be sold. 

THEME

The theme for the 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll is “#GimmeFive.”

As part of the fifth anniversary of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, Mrs. Obama is challenging Americans across the country to #GimmeFive things they are doing to eat better, be more active, and lead a healthier life. Individuals and families can get involved by sharing on social media five things they’re doing to be healthy and passing on the challenge to others with #GimmeFive.  The #GimmeFive challenge has already begun, and it will be a fun and central part of this year’s Easter Egg Roll.

In support of Let’s Move!, the event will feature sports and fitness zones, cooking demonstrations, and Easter classics such as the egg roll and egg hunt, in addition to live music and storytelling. 

SOUVENIR EGGS

This year’s White House Easter Egg Roll features five souvenir eggs.  Four of the eggs are painted in festive colors – sea breeze blue, sunburst orange, petunia purple, and spring green.  These eggs feature the stamped signatures of the President and First Lady on the back. The fifth egg, the “Bo and Sunny” egg, is a natural American Birchwood egg that is included only in the 2015 5-pack Collector’s Egg Set.  This egg has the stamped “signatures” and “paw prints” of Bo and Sunny on the back.

To place your keepsake egg order, please visit easter.nationalparks.org.

National Park Foundation (NPF), the official charity of America’s national parks, produces and sells the White House Easter egg.  An egg is given as a souvenir to all children 13 years and younger who attend the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House, which is part of the National Park System.

2015 SOUVENIR POSTER AND PROGRAM COVER DESIGN CONTEST

The White House invites all elementary and middle school students to submit original artwork related to this year’s theme for the 2015 Easter Egg Roll Design Contest.  The First Lady will select two winning designs, which will be used as part of the White House 2015 Easter Egg Roll program and souvenir poster.  In honor of the 5th anniversary of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, this year’s Easter Egg Roll theme is “#GimmeFive,” challenging families across the nation to show the First Lady five ways they’re leading healthier lives.

The deadline for submissions is March 6, 2015 at 12:00 PM EST.  Designs should be uploaded to www.whitehouse.gov/eastereggroll/2015designcontest.  Artwork should reflect this year’s theme, “#GimmeFive.”  Please note submissions may be made public during the selection process.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

For full details on souvenir eggs, submitting artwork, and the event, please visit www.whitehouse.gov/eastereggroll.

 

2015-02-23


Letter -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Libya

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)
 
Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date.  In accordance with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register for publication the enclosed notice stating that the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13566 of February 25, 2011, with respect to Libya is to continue in effect beyond February 25, 2015.
 
Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, his government, and close associates took extreme measures against the people of Libya, including by using weapons of war, mercenaries, and wanton violence against unarmed civilians.  In addition, there was a serious risk that Libyan state assets would be misappropriated by Qadhafi, members of his government, members of his family, or his close associates if those assets were not protected. The foregoing circumstances, the prolonged attacks, and the increased numbers of Libyans seeking refuge in other countries caused a deterioration in the security of Libya, posed a serious risk to its stability, and led me to declare a national emergency to deal with this threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.
 
The violence that has spread throughout the country, resulting in the evacuation and temporary relocation of U.S. Embassy personnel, demonstrates the continued insecurity and threat to regional stability caused by the ongoing conflict in Libya.  Much of the current conflict is over power and access to Libya's resources, and we run the risk of further destabilization if sanctions do not remain in effect.  We continue to encourage Libyans to engage in dialogue and cease violence.  Those that reject dialogue and obstruct and undermine Libya's democratic transition must be held accountable, which is why we worked with the U.N. Security Council to pass U.N. Security Council Resolution 2174 in August 2014 to address threats to Libya's peace, security, and stability.  While we work with the international community to identify those individuals who pose a threat to Libya's democratic transition, we must also continue to ensure that the appropriate sanctions remain in place.
 
The situation in Libya continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and we need to protect against the diversion of assets or other abuse by certain members of Qadhafi's family and other former regime officials.  Therefore, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to Libya.

Sincerely,
 
BARACK OBAMA
 

2015-02-23


Notice to Congress -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Libya

NOTICE
- - - - - - -
CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO LIBYA

On February 25, 2011, by Executive Order 13566, I declared a national emergency pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706) to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, his government, and close associates, who took extreme measures against the people of Libya, including by using weapons of war, mercenaries, and wanton violence against unarmed civilians. In addition, there was a serious risk that Libyan state assets would be misappropriated by Qadhafi, members of his government, members of his family, or his close associates if those assets were not protected.  The foregoing circumstances, the prolonged attacks, and the increased numbers of Libyans seeking refuge in other countries caused a deterioration in the security of Libya and posed a serious risk to its stability.
 
The situation in Libya continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and we need to protect against the diversion of assets or other abuse by certain members of Qadhafi's family and other former regime officials.
 
For this reason, the national emergency declared on February 25, 2011, and the measures adopted on that date to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond February 25, 2015.  Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13566.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.

BARACK OBAMA

2015-02-23


FACT SHEET: Middle Class Economics: Strengthening Retirement Security by Cracking Down on Backdoor Payments and Hidden Fees

“That’s what middle-class economics is—the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, January 20, 2015

Middle class economics means that Americans should be able to retire with dignity after a lifetime of hard work. But today, the rules of the road do not ensure that financial advisers act in the best interest of their clients when they give retirement investment advice, and it’s hurting millions of working and middle class families.

A system where Wall Street firms benefit from backdoor payments and hidden fees if they talk responsible Americans into buying bad retirement investments—with high costs and low returns—instead of recommending quality investments isn’t fair. These conflicts of interest are costing middle class families and individuals billions of dollars every year. On average, they result in annual losses of 1 percentage point for affected investors. To demonstrate how small differences can add up: A 1 percentage point lower return could reduce your savings by more than a quarter over 35 years. In other words, instead of a $10,000 retirement investment growing to more than $38,000 over that period after adjusting for inflation, it would be just over $27,500. Today, President Obama is taking a step to crack down on those Wall Street brokers who benefit from backdoor payments or hidden fees and don’t put the best interest of working and middle class families first.

Many advisers do not accept backdoor payments or hidden fees and work on a different business model that puts their customers’ best interest first. They are hardworking men and women who got into this work to help families achieve their dreams and want a system that provides a level playing field for offering quality advice. But outdated regulations, loopholes, and fine print make it hard for working and middle class families to know who they can trust.

During the financial crisis, we saw the devastation caused on Main Street when outdated policies let lenders steer their customers into bad mortgage products. That’s why in the wake of the crisis, the President fought to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Since then, the CFPB has cracked down on many of the abusive lending practices that led borrowers to lose their homes.

Because of outdated rules protecting retirement savings, we’re seeing similar types of bad incentives and bad advice lead to billions of dollars of losses for American families saving for retirement every year—with some families losing tens of thousands of dollars of their retirement savings. That’s why today, the President directed the Department of Labor to move forward with a proposed rulemaking to protect families from bad retirement advice by requiring retirement advisers to abide by a “fiduciary” standard—putting their clients’ best interest before their own profits.

  • Backdoor Payments & Hidden Fees Are Hurting the Middle Class: Today’s report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) shows conflicts of interest cost middle-class families who receive conflicted advice huge amounts of their hard-earned savings. It finds conflicts likely lead, on average, to:
    • 1 percentage point lower annual returns on retirement savings.
    • $17 billion of losses every year for working and middle class families.
  • A Wide Array of Research Shows Why Conflicts Hurt Working and Middle Class Families: A strong set of independent research shows that these losses result from brokers getting backdoor payments or hidden fees for:
    • Steering clients’ savings into funds with higher fees and lower returns even before fees.
    • Inappropriate rollovers out of lower-cost retirement plans into higher-cost vehicles.
  • President Obama is Cracking Down on Conflicts of Interest: Today, the President called on the Department of Labor to crack down on Wall Street and protect families from conflicted and bad retirement advice. DOL will move forward with a proposed rulemaking that would require retirement advisers to abide by a “fiduciary” standard—putting their clients’ best interest before their own profits.
  • Proposed Rule Coming Soon: In the coming months, the Department of Labor will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking, beginning a process in which it will seek extensive public feedback on the best approach to modernize the rules on retirement advice and set new standards, while minimizing any potential disruption to good practices in the marketplace.

Our Retirement Rules Have Not Kept Up with Seismic Shifts in How People Save

Over the past several decades, the share of Americans’ employer-based retirement savings that takes the form of traditional pensions—where investment decisions are generally made by professionals—has fallen sharply. Today, Americans are largely responsible for making their own choices about how much to save and how to invest their retirement savings.

To help make informed choices, families often look for trusted advice on how to manage their hard-earned nest egg. However, despite the significant changes in the retirement landscape, the regulations that set the basic rules of the road on giving investment advice to retirement savers have not been updated in almost forty years. Under these outdated rules, savers cannot count on receiving the unbiased advice that they need and expect. In other words, today’s rules allow brokers to put their bottom line ahead of their clients’ retirement security. A system where middle class families shoulder 100% of the risk for their investments, but brokers receive incentives for directing them into investments that aren’t in their best interest isn’t fair.

If more retirement advisers were fiduciaries, they would have to put the customer’s best interest before their own.

Report Released Today Finds Huge Losses to the Middle-Class from Conflicts of Interest

A new report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers shows that that the current, broken regulatory environment creates misaligned incentives that cost working and middle class families billions of dollars a year—with some individual families losing tens of thousands of dollars of their retirement savings. These incentives cause some Wall Street brokers to encourage working and middle class families to move from low-cost employer plans to IRA accounts that typically entail higher fees—and to steer working and middle class families into higher-cost products within the IRA market. Many advisers currently act as fiduciaries and provide advice in their clients’ best interest, but many others do not. CEA’s analysis of the latest academic research finds that:

  • Conflicted advice leads to lower investment returns for working and middle class families. Working and middle class families receiving conflicted advice earn returns roughly 1 percentage point lower each year (for example, conflicted advice reduces what would be a 6 percent return to a 5 percent return).
  • An estimated $1.7 trillion of IRA assets are invested in products that generally provide payments that generate conflicts of interest. Thus, CEA estimates the aggregate annual cost of conflicted advice is about $17 billion each year.
  • A typical worker who receives conflicted advice when rolling over a 401(k) balance to an IRA at age 45 will lose an estimated 17 percent from her account by age 65. In other words, if a worker has $100,000 in retirement savings at age 45, without conflicted advice it would grow to an estimated $216,000 by age 65 adjusted for inflation, but if she receives conflicted advice it would only grow to $179,000—a loss of $37,000 or about 17 percent.
  • A retiree who receives conflicted advice on how to invest his IRA at retirement will lose an estimated 12 percent of the value of his savings if drawn down over 30 years compared to a retiree who receives unconflicted advice.

A marketplace where some advisers are encouraged to steer their clients into inferior products based on these payments creates bad incentives and an unfair playing field for the many firms who choose instead to put their clients’ interests first.

Updating our Outdated Retirement Protections

Since 1974, the Department of Labor has protected America’s tax-preferred retirement savings under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), working closely with the Treasury Department and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. ERISA provided the Department of Labor with this authority, recognizing the special importance of consumer protections for a basic retirement nest egg and the large tax subsidies provided for them. In the coming months, the Department of Labor will propose a new rule that will seek to:

  • Require retirement advisers to put their client’s best interest first, by expanding the types of retirement investment advice subject to ERISA: The definition of retirement investment advice has not been meaningfully changed since 1975, despite the dramatic shift in our private retirement system away from defined benefit plans and into self-directed IRAs and 401(k)s. The Department’s proposal will update the definition to better match the needs of today’s working and middle class families. Whether you are an employer trying to design a quality plan for your workers, a worker starting to save, or a retiree trying to avoid spending down your nest egg too quickly, you deserve access to quality advice, without fear that financial bias is clouding your broker’s judgment.
  • Preserve the ability of working and middle class families to choose different types of advice: The Department’s proposal will continue to allow private firms to set their own compensation practices by proposing a new type of exemption from limits on payments creating conflicts of interest that is more principles-based. This exemption will provide businesses with the flexibility to adopt practices that work for them and adapt those practices to changes we may not anticipate, while ensuring that they put their client’s best interest first and disclose any conflicts that may prevent them from doing so. This fulfills the Department’s public commitment to ensure that all common forms of compensation, such as commissions and revenue sharing, are still permitted, whether paid by the client or the investment firm.
  • Preserve access to retirement education:  The Department’s proposal will allow advisers to continue to provide general education on retirement saving across employer-sponsored plans and IRAs without triggering fiduciary duties.

The Department’s proposal will seek to crack down on irresponsible behavior in today’s market for financial advice by better aligning the rules between employer-based retirement savings plans and IRAs. To balance increased protection for working and middle class families while minimizing disruptions to their access to advice, the Administration is committed to a robust and transparent process for receiving input on the proposal. When the Department of Labor issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the coming months, there will be opportunities to submit comments in writing and in a public hearing. The Administration welcomes and invites stakeholders from all perspectives to submit comments as the proposal moves forward. Only after reviewing all the comments will the Administration decide what to include in a final rule—and even once the Department of Labor ultimately issues a final rule, it will not go into effect immediately.

To learn more, visit DOL.gov/ProtectYourSavings.

2015-02-23


Remarks by the President at National Governors Association Dinner

7:17 P.M. EST

     THE PRESIDENT:  It’s wonderful to see you all here tonight. Harry Truman once called the presidency an “enlarged governorship.”  (Laughter.)  Of course, a few of you are hoping that he was right.  (Laughter.)  But Michelle and I are thrilled to host our nation’s governors and your loved ones here tonight. If it’s your first visit, then welcome to the White House.  We promise a good time.  The only thing we can’t conjure up from the past is Governor Schwarzenegger on the dance floor.  (Laughter.) And he was something.

We are grateful that the weather held up after yesterday's storm.  And we've been thinking about you governors from New England, and everything that your citizens have been through this winter.  I want to make sure we're working with each other to get what you need.  It is a good thing that you are not coming on a snowstorm like there was during the dinner of 1987.  Hours into the dinner, the food was gone.  Everybody was standing around. The snow seemed to keep falling harder and harder.  And President Reagan looked out the window and turned to the First Lady and said, “Honey, do we have enough cots?”  (Laughter.)  To which Nancy replied, “We have a few spare bedrooms.” 

But it looks like the weather has cleared up enough that there will not be a pajama party here in the Blue Room tonight.  (Laughter.)  We are looking forward, though, to spending time with one another in fellowship and good food and good entertainment, and, undoubtedly, we'll find that we have more in common than sometimes is assumed.  And hopefully, that will inform the business that we do together tomorrow.

Our economy keeps improving.  And I hope that we can seize on that momentum to keep improving the circumstances for every one of our citizens -- keep building a country where every citizen can look around and see cause for optimism about the future, not only for themselves but also for their children and their grandchildren; feel good about their own prospects and the country’s prospects.

Within this room, we're not going to agree on everything, but I am committed to working with each and every one of you over the next two years to keep making progress.  And we’ll talk more about that tomorrow.  Tonight, I just want to express my appreciation to all of you, all of the hard work that you bring to bear.  And I want to say thank you to the spouses as well, because I know that's a particularly difficult job, trying to keep us in line.

So let me propose a toast -- to our citizens, to our spouses, to our families, and to what Thomas Jefferson once described as our country’s precious blessings, “its soil, its climate, its equality, liberty, laws, people and manners…which no other people on Earth enjoy.”

Cheers.

AUDIENCE:  Cheers. 

                      END                  7:20 P.M. EST     

2015-02-22


Weekly Address: We Should Make Sure the Future Is Written by Us

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President underscored the importance of continuing to grow our economy and support good-paying jobs for our workers by opening up new markets for American goods and services. While America’s businesses, ranchers, and farmers are already exporting goods at record levels, there’s more room for growth with 95 percent of the world’s customers living outside our borders. In order to pursue new trade agreements, the President called on Congress to pass trade promotion authority so that the U.S. – not China – can play a leading role in negotiating 21st century trade deals that protect our workers, support good wages, and help grow the middle class.

The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, February 21, 2015.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
February 21, 2015

Hi, everybody.  At a moment when our businesses are creating jobs at the fastest pace since the 1990s, we’ve still got to do everything we can to help workers and businesses succeed in the new economy – one that’s competitive, connected, and changing every day.

One thing we know for certain about businesses in the 21st century is that they’ll need to sell more goods and services Made in America to the rest of the world. 

Now, our businesses already sell goods and services in other countries at record levels.  Our farmers, our factory workers, and our small businesses are exporting more than ever before – and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. 

More small businesses are using the internet to grow their business by reaching new customers they couldn’t reach before, too.  As an example, nine in ten American small businesses that use eBay as a platform to sell their products are exporters – with customers in more than 30 different countries on average.

But there’s a lot of room for growth.  After all, 95% of the world’s potential customers live outside our borders.  Many of them live in the Asia-Pacific – the world’s fastest-growing region.  And as we speak, China is trying to write the rules for trade in the 21st century. 

That would put our workers and our businesses at a massive disadvantage.  We can’t let that happen.  We should write those rules. 

That’s why Congress should act on something called “trade promotion authority.” This is bipartisan legislation that would protect American workers, and promote American businesses, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but are fair.  It would level the playing field for American workers.  It would hold all countries to the same high labor and environmental standards to which we hold ourselves.

Now, I’m the first to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype.  And that’s why we’ve successfully gone after countries that break the rules at our workers’ expense.  But that doesn’t mean we should close ourselves off from new opportunities, and sit on the sidelines while other countries write our future for us.  We should seize those opportunities.  We should make sure the future is written by us.  And if we do, we won’t just keep creating good new jobs for decades to come – we’ll make sure that this century is another all-American century.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

2015-02-21


Weekly Address: We Should Make Sure the Future Is Written by Us

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President underscored the importance of continuing to grow our economy and support good-paying jobs for our workers by opening up new markets for American goods and services. While America’s businesses, ranchers, and farmers are already exporting goods at record levels, there’s more room for growth with 95 percent of the world’s customers living outside our borders. In order to pursue new trade agreements, the President called on Congress to pass trade promotion authority so that the U.S. – not China – can play a leading role in negotiating 21st century trade deals that protect our workers, support good wages, and help grow the middle class.

The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, February 21, 2015.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
February 21, 2015

Hi, everybody.  At a moment when our businesses are creating jobs at the fastest pace since the 1990s, we’ve still got to do everything we can to help workers and businesses succeed in the new economy – one that’s competitive, connected, and changing every day.

One thing we know for certain about businesses in the 21st century is that they’ll need to sell more goods and services Made in America to the rest of the world. 

Now, our businesses already sell goods and services in other countries at record levels.  Our farmers, our factory workers, and our small businesses are exporting more than ever before – and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. 

More small businesses are using the internet to grow their business by reaching new customers they couldn’t reach before, too.  As an example, nine in ten American small businesses that use eBay as a platform to sell their products are exporters – with customers in more than 30 different countries on average.

But there’s a lot of room for growth.  After all, 95% of the world’s potential customers live outside our borders.  Many of them live in the Asia-Pacific – the world’s fastest-growing region.  And as we speak, China is trying to write the rules for trade in the 21st century. 

That would put our workers and our businesses at a massive disadvantage.  We can’t let that happen.  We should write those rules. 

That’s why Congress should act on something called “trade promotion authority.” This is bipartisan legislation that would protect American workers, and promote American businesses, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but are fair.  It would level the playing field for American workers.  It would hold all countries to the same high labor and environmental standards to which we hold ourselves.

Now, I’m the first to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype.  And that’s why we’ve successfully gone after countries that break the rules at our workers’ expense.  But that doesn’t mean we should close ourselves off from new opportunities, and sit on the sidelines while other countries write our future for us.  We should seize those opportunities.  We should make sure the future is written by us.  And if we do, we won’t just keep creating good new jobs for decades to come – we’ll make sure that this century is another all-American century.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

2015-02-21


Statement by the Press Secretary on the West Coast Ports Agreement

This is great news for the parties involved in the negotiation and a huge relief for our economy – particularly the countless American workers, farmers, and businesses that have been affected by the dispute and those facing even greater disruption and costs with further delays. Helping resolve this dispute has been a top priority, and last weekend the President directed Labor Secretary Tom Perez to travel to California to meet with the parties to help them reach a resolution because further delays would have been harmful to these workers and the economy. The President was kept updated on the negotiations over the past several weeks, including receiving an update last night from Secretary Perez. The President is grateful to Secretary Perez for his hard work bringing about a successful resolution to this dispute, and for the help of federal mediator Scot Beckenbaugh.  And he calls on the parties to work together to clear out the backlogs and congestion in the West Coast Ports as they finalize their agreement. 

2015-02-20


Remarks by the First Lady at the Black History Month "Celebrating Women of the Civil Rights Movement" Panel

4:00 P.M. EST

     MRS. OBAMA:  Good afternoon.

     AUDIENCE:  Good afternoon.

     MRS. OBAMA:  It is so good to be here with you all.  This is good stuff, right? 

     AUDIENCE:  Yes!

     MRS. OBAMA:  Well, let me begin by thanking Allyson for that very kind introduction.  (Applause.)  It is young women like Allyson and so many in this room -- that’s what keeps us going, right?  Because we are all here because of you.  And you are going to do some great things -- you’re already doing some great things.  She’s 18, doesn’t she make you feel old?  (Applause.)  Like you’re slacking?  (Laughter.)  No matter what -- I wasn’t doing what you were doing at 18, so you are way ahead of the game, okay?   

     I also want to thank Vanessa De Luca and everyone from Essence for co-hosting this event with us today.  And of course, I want to recognize our incredible panel.  This is a good-looking panel, too.  (Laughter.)  Thank you all for joining us as we celebrate Black History Month and the women of the Civil Rights Movement.  (Phone rings.)  Is that for me?  (Laughter.)  I know.  See, I’m going to talk about you so you have a story to tell.  (Laughter.)  Now who’s calling?  Let’s find out!  (Laughter.) 

     AUDIENCE MEMBER:  You’ve got to pass --

     MRS. OBAMA:  There you go, there you go.  (Laughter.)  But we have an impressive group on stage with us today -- women whose impact spans multiple generations.  Folks who have played such an important role in our progress toward the mountaintop, even though their stories aren’t always in the spotlight. 

     We’ve got Janaye Ingram, the National Executive Director of the National Action Network.  (Applause.)  We have Chanelle Hardy, the Senior Vice President for Policy at the Urban League.  (Applause.)  We have Sherrilyn Ifill, the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.  (Applause.)  We also have the legendary reporter and trailblazer, my dance partner, Charlayne Hunter-Gault.  (Applause.)  See, this is Charlayne -- the first thing she said to me is, “I want that skirt!”  (Laughter.)  I said, “Okay, after I finish.”  (Laughter.)  And finally, we have Carlotta Walls Lanier, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine.  (Applause.) And Carlotta is still looking good.  See, that’s another thing, young ladies -- you take care of yourself, you look like this panel up here.  (Laughter.) 

     So once again, let’s give these extraordinary ladies a round of applause.  (Applause.)  These women represent many different facets and eras of the movement.  They come from many different professional backgrounds –- media, law, activism, so much more.  But there is something that connects each of their stories, a common thread that animates their lives, and that is their hunger for and belief in the power of education.  Because at some point in their journeys, these women understood that if they were going to reach their potential, if they were going to make a difference not just for themselves but for this country, they would have to get a good education. 

     Every woman on this stage graduated from college, and some of them did it at tremendous risk to themselves and to their families.  Take Carlotta.  Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the Jim Crow laws mandating segregated schools and buses and water fountains were being overturned throughout the South.  And in 1957, Carlotta and eight other students enrolled in an all-white high school.  They were known as the Little Rock Nine -- and Carlotta was just 14.  Fourteen years old. 

     When they showed up for their first day of class, they were met with an angry mob of people who shouted at them and wouldn’t let them in the building.  The Governor of Arkansas even sent in the National Guard to stop them from integrating that school.  It became a national story, and eventually President Eisenhower had to call in the military to protect the Little Rock Nine on their way to school.  And once these young people made it inside the building, they were bullied, spat on, physically abused by their classmates.

     But Carlotta and the other students kept showing up.  They kept studying, kept working hard.  And three years later, Carlotta earned her high school diploma.  And she stayed hungry for her education and went on to graduate from college, start her own company.  And today she serves as President of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, which gives scholarships to young people to help them reach their goals.  (Applause.)  

     And Carlotta is not the only woman on this stage who had to risk her safety just to get an education.  Charlayne has a similar story.  She was the first African American woman to attend the University of Georgia.  Her first night on campus, she heard a chant:  “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.”  Clever.  (Laughter.)  Another night, more than a thousand students and community members gathered outside her dorm shouting racial slurs, throwing bottles and bricks at her window.  Charlayne was suspended by the school and sent home because of concerns for her safety. 

     But two weeks later, Charlayne went back to campus.  She withstood everyday bigotry and slurs from classmates and even professors.  But Charlayne dreamed of being a journalist, and she refused to let anything get in the way of earning her degree.  And that degree propelled her on to an incredible career at NPR, PBS, at CNN, at the New York Times -- yeah.  (Applause.) 

     I could go on and on because these are just two of countless stories about how folks who came before us stayed hungry for their education and paved the way for those who came after them, including me and so in this room.  And today, thanks to their sacrifice, there are no angry mobs gathering outside our schools.  Nobody needs a military escort to get to class.  But that doesn’t mean that our children don’t still face struggles when it comes to education. 

     Too many of our young people attend crumbling schools that don’t have the technology, or the college-prep classes, or the college counseling they need to complete their education past high school.  And too many of our young people can’t even envision a better future for themselves, or if they do, they aren’t connecting their dreams to the education they’ll need. 

     So today, too many of the opportunities that these women fought for are going unrealized -- today.  And while we should be proud that the high school graduation rate for black students is improving, it is still lower than just about any other group in this country.  And while college graduation rates have risen for nearly every group -– including African American women –- the rate for African American men has flatlined.  And we all know that when students fall behind in school, they fall behind in life.  They are more likely to fall into unemployment and poverty and incarceration.

     So like many of you, I believe that education is the single-most important civil rights issue that we face today.  Because in the end, if we really want to solve issues like mass incarceration, poverty, racial profiling, voting rights, and the kinds of challenges that shocked so many of us over the past year, then we simply cannot afford to lose out on the potential of even one young person.  We cannot allow even one more young person to fall through the cracks. 

     Because who knows where the next great leader is going to come from, right?  Who knows what mind will produce the next bold idea that will change the world?  And I know the promise is out there, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. 

     I’ve seen it in the mentees from the White House Leadership and Mentoring Initiative, some of whom are here today, my girls -- hi.  (Applause.)  I’ve seen it in the young people who come to the White House for events like this.  I’ve seen it in a student like Darius Wesley, who told me his story last year. 

     When Darius was a freshman in high school on the South Side of Chicago, his mother suffered a debilitating stroke, and he had to move in with a relative all the way across town.  And as a result, every morning, Darius had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to get on two buses and an L just to get to school.  His commute was almost three hours; obviously, it wore him out.  His grades started to slip.  Eventually, he had to transfer schools and move in with a friend. 

     But this young man kept his eye on the prize.  He took AP classes, made the honor roll, graduated from high school, and today this young man is majoring in business as the first person in his family to attend college.  (Applause.) 

     There are stories like that all over the country.  There are millions of Darius’ all over the country.  That’s the hunger that I’m talking about.  That’s what drove the women on this stage.  That’s the kind of determination that we have to reignite all across the country. 

     And that’s all on us.  It’s on us to lift up our young people as parents and preachers, as neighbors, as teachers.  It’s on us as advocates and policymakers to do everything we can to give our kids the resources they need.  But here’s the thing -- it is also on the young people themselves to summon that hunger every single day. 

     So to all the young people here today who are listening, I just want you to take these stories to heart.  Listen to them.  And I want you to translate the victories that these women won into habits in your own lives.  That means going to class every day -- every day.  No matter what obstacles life may throw your way, go to school.  Go to the bad school that you have.  Go to school.  (Laughter.)  It means reaching higher and understanding that completing your education past high school is an absolute necessity today to achieve your dreams.  You have to graduate and go beyond. 

     And when you’re old enough, it means voting -– not just for President, not just for the guy you like, but for mayor and school board and dogcatcher -- I don’t care.  You all have to vote.  (Applause.)  And then, when you’re struggling –- that’s all we talk about, is struggling, right -- when you are struggling -- because you will; all of us do -- we still do -- if you’re worried that you’re not going to make it on to college or you don’t know how you’re going to afford it, then just don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Ask for help. 

     You are not alone.  Talk to somebody -- your teachers, your parents, school counselors, anyone.  Because there are so many folks all around who want to help you reach your potential.  And you can be that person for somebody else, too.  You’re not too young.  If you’ve got a friend who’s not coming to school, who isn’t trying their best, talk to them.  Urge them to reach higher for themselves so that they can join you on a college campus one day.  Then all of you can fulfill your potential and help carry forward the dreams of all those who have come before you.

     That’s my hope for all of you, all our young people -- not just during Black History Month -- (laughter) -- but every moment of every single day that you are breathing on this Earth.  Because I have seen your boundless promise.  I’ve seen it.  And I believe in you.  Everyone in this room believes in our young people.  And we love you all.  You have the power to create a better future for yourselves and for our country. 

     So just do the work, you got it?  (Applause.)  So I want to thank our panel, once again, for being here.  It is truly an honor and a gift to have you in this house.

     And with that, I’m going to turn it over to Vanessa, who’s going to kick things off.  I’m going to leave you all to behave yourselves.  (Laughter.)  And I want all the young people to ask questions -- you know my crew.  This is my crew.  They’re supposed to be asking a lot of questions.  Don’t be shy.  When you’re in a room like this, you take advantage.  You raise your hand.  You use your voice.  Everyone here loves you. 

     And with that, Vanessa, it is all yours.  (Applause.)  

                             END                  4:15 P.M. EST

2015-02-20


Remarks by the First Lady at the Black History Month "Celebrating Women of the Civil Rights Movement" Panel

4:00 P.M. EST

     MRS. OBAMA:  Good afternoon.

     AUDIENCE:  Good afternoon.

     MRS. OBAMA:  It is so good to be here with you all.  This is good stuff, right? 

     AUDIENCE:  Yes!

     MRS. OBAMA:  Well, let me begin by thanking Allyson for that very kind introduction.  (Applause.)  It is young women like Allyson and so many in this room -- that’s what keeps us going, right?  Because we are all here because of you.  And you are going to do some great things -- you’re already doing some great things.  She’s 18, doesn’t she make you feel old?  (Applause.)  Like you’re slacking?  (Laughter.)  No matter what -- I wasn’t doing what you were doing at 18, so you are way ahead of the game, okay?   

     I also want to thank Vanessa De Luca and everyone from Essence for co-hosting this event with us today.  And of course, I want to recognize our incredible panel.  This is a good-looking panel, too.  (Laughter.)  Thank you all for joining us as we celebrate Black History Month and the women of the Civil Rights Movement.  (Phone rings.)  Is that for me?  (Laughter.)  I know.  See, I’m going to talk about you so you have a story to tell.  (Laughter.)  Now who’s calling?  Let’s find out!  (Laughter.) 

     AUDIENCE MEMBER:  You’ve got to pass --

     MRS. OBAMA:  There you go, there you go.  (Laughter.)  But we have an impressive group on stage with us today -- women whose impact spans multiple generations.  Folks who have played such an important role in our progress toward the mountaintop, even though their stories aren’t always in the spotlight. 

     We’ve got Janaye Ingram, the National Executive Director of the National Action Network.  (Applause.)  We have Chanelle Hardy, the Senior Vice President for Policy at the Urban League.  (Applause.)  We have Sherrilyn Ifill, the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.  (Applause.)  We also have the legendary reporter and trailblazer, my dance partner, Charlayne Hunter-Gault.  (Applause.)  See, this is Charlayne -- the first thing she said to me is, “I want that skirt!”  (Laughter.)  I said, “Okay, after I finish.”  (Laughter.)  And finally, we have Carlotta Walls Lanier, the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine.  (Applause.) And Carlotta is still looking good.  See, that’s another thing, young ladies -- you take care of yourself, you look like this panel up here.  (Laughter.) 

     So once again, let’s give these extraordinary ladies a round of applause.  (Applause.)  These women represent many different facets and eras of the movement.  They come from many different professional backgrounds –- media, law, activism, so much more.  But there is something that connects each of their stories, a common thread that animates their lives, and that is their hunger for and belief in the power of education.  Because at some point in their journeys, these women understood that if they were going to reach their potential, if they were going to make a difference not just for themselves but for this country, they would have to get a good education. 

     Every woman on this stage graduated from college, and some of them did it at tremendous risk to themselves and to their families.  Take Carlotta.  Back in the ’50s and ’60s, the Jim Crow laws mandating segregated schools and buses and water fountains were being overturned throughout the South.  And in 1957, Carlotta and eight other students enrolled in an all-white high school.  They were known as the Little Rock Nine -- and Carlotta was just 14.  Fourteen years old. 

     When they showed up for their first day of class, they were met with an angry mob of people who shouted at them and wouldn’t let them in the building.  The Governor of Arkansas even sent in the National Guard to stop them from integrating that school.  It became a national story, and eventually President Eisenhower had to call in the military to protect the Little Rock Nine on their way to school.  And once these young people made it inside the building, they were bullied, spat on, physically abused by their classmates.

     But Carlotta and the other students kept showing up.  They kept studying, kept working hard.  And three years later, Carlotta earned her high school diploma.  And she stayed hungry for her education and went on to graduate from college, start her own company.  And today she serves as President of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, which gives scholarships to young people to help them reach their goals.  (Applause.)  

     And Carlotta is not the only woman on this stage who had to risk her safety just to get an education.  Charlayne has a similar story.  She was the first African American woman to attend the University of Georgia.  Her first night on campus, she heard a chant:  “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.”  Clever.  (Laughter.)  Another night, more than a thousand students and community members gathered outside her dorm shouting racial slurs, throwing bottles and bricks at her window.  Charlayne was suspended by the school and sent home because of concerns for her safety. 

     But two weeks later, Charlayne went back to campus.  She withstood everyday bigotry and slurs from classmates and even professors.  But Charlayne dreamed of being a journalist, and she refused to let anything get in the way of earning her degree.  And that degree propelled her on to an incredible career at NPR, PBS, at CNN, at the New York Times -- yeah.  (Applause.) 

     I could go on and on because these are just two of countless stories about how folks who came before us stayed hungry for their education and paved the way for those who came after them, including me and so in this room.  And today, thanks to their sacrifice, there are no angry mobs gathering outside our schools.  Nobody needs a military escort to get to class.  But that doesn’t mean that our children don’t still face struggles when it comes to education. 

     Too many of our young people attend crumbling schools that don’t have the technology, or the college-prep classes, or the college counseling they need to complete their education past high school.  And too many of our young people can’t even envision a better future for themselves, or if they do, they aren’t connecting their dreams to the education they’ll need. 

     So today, too many of the opportunities that these women fought for are going unrealized -- today.  And while we should be proud that the high school graduation rate for black students is improving, it is still lower than just about any other group in this country.  And while college graduation rates have risen for nearly every group -– including African American women –- the rate for African American men has flatlined.  And we all know that when students fall behind in school, they fall behind in life.  They are more likely to fall into unemployment and poverty and incarceration.

     So like many of you, I believe that education is the single-most important civil rights issue that we face today.  Because in the end, if we really want to solve issues like mass incarceration, poverty, racial profiling, voting rights, and the kinds of challenges that shocked so many of us over the past year, then we simply cannot afford to lose out on the potential of even one young person.  We cannot allow even one more young person to fall through the cracks. 

     Because who knows where the next great leader is going to come from, right?  Who knows what mind will produce the next bold idea that will change the world?  And I know the promise is out there, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. 

     I’ve seen it in the mentees from the White House Leadership and Mentoring Initiative, some of whom are here today, my girls -- hi.  (Applause.)  I’ve seen it in the young people who come to the White House for events like this.  I’ve seen it in a student like Darius Wesley, who told me his story last year. 

     When Darius was a freshman in high school on the South Side of Chicago, his mother suffered a debilitating stroke, and he had to move in with a relative all the way across town.  And as a result, every morning, Darius had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to get on two buses and an L just to get to school.  His commute was almost three hours; obviously, it wore him out.  His grades started to slip.  Eventually, he had to transfer schools and move in with a friend. 

     But this young man kept his eye on the prize.  He took AP classes, made the honor roll, graduated from high school, and today this young man is majoring in business as the first person in his family to attend college.  (Applause.) 

     There are stories like that all over the country.  There are millions of Darius’ all over the country.  That’s the hunger that I’m talking about.  That’s what drove the women on this stage.  That’s the kind of determination that we have to reignite all across the country. 

     And that’s all on us.  It’s on us to lift up our young people as parents and preachers, as neighbors, as teachers.  It’s on us as advocates and policymakers to do everything we can to give our kids the resources they need.  But here’s the thing -- it is also on the young people themselves to summon that hunger every single day. 

     So to all the young people here today who are listening, I just want you to take these stories to heart.  Listen to them.  And I want you to translate the victories that these women won into habits in your own lives.  That means going to class every day -- every day.  No matter what obstacles life may throw your way, go to school.  Go to the bad school that you have.  Go to school.  (Laughter.)  It means reaching higher and understanding that completing your education past high school is an absolute necessity today to achieve your dreams.  You have to graduate and go beyond. 

     And when you’re old enough, it means voting -– not just for President, not just for the guy you like, but for mayor and school board and dogcatcher -- I don’t care.  You all have to vote.  (Applause.)  And then, when you’re struggling –- that’s all we talk about, is struggling, right -- when you are struggling -- because you will; all of us do -- we still do -- if you’re worried that you’re not going to make it on to college or you don’t know how you’re going to afford it, then just don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Ask for help. 

     You are not alone.  Talk to somebody -- your teachers, your parents, school counselors, anyone.  Because there are so many folks all around who want to help you reach your potential.  And you can be that person for somebody else, too.  You’re not too young.  If you’ve got a friend who’s not coming to school, who isn’t trying their best, talk to them.  Urge them to reach higher for themselves so that they can join you on a college campus one day.  Then all of you can fulfill your potential and help carry forward the dreams of all those who have come before you.

     That’s my hope for all of you, all our young people -- not just during Black History Month -- (laughter) -- but every moment of every single day that you are breathing on this Earth.  Because I have seen your boundless promise.  I’ve seen it.  And I believe in you.  Everyone in this room believes in our young people.  And we love you all.  You have the power to create a better future for yourselves and for our country. 

     So just do the work, you got it?  (Applause.)  So I want to thank our panel, once again, for being here.  It is truly an honor and a gift to have you in this house.

     And with that, I’m going to turn it over to Vanessa, who’s going to kick things off.  I’m going to leave you all to behave yourselves.  (Laughter.)  And I want all the young people to ask questions -- you know my crew.  This is my crew.  They’re supposed to be asking a lot of questions.  Don’t be shy.  When you’re in a room like this, you take advantage.  You raise your hand.  You use your voice.  Everyone here loves you. 

     And with that, Vanessa, it is all yours.  (Applause.)  

                             END                  4:15 P.M. EST

2015-02-20


Statement by NSC Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan on National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice’s Meeting with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura

National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice met today with the United Nations’ Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.  Mr. de Mistura updated Ambassador Rice on his efforts to achieve a freeze in Aleppo and expanded on his February 17 briefing to the UN Security Council.  Ambassador Rice emphasized the United States’ support for a political solution to Syria’s civil war and for measures that would reduce the suffering of the Syrian people.

 

Ambassador Rice thanked Mr. de Mistura for the renewed energy he has brought to international efforts to bring an end to the war in Syria and discussed measures that the United States and other partners could take to support his efforts. 

2015-02-20