James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
**Please see below for corrections, marked with an asterisk.
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy New Year. Hope you all got some quality time with your families over the last couple of weeks. I know the President did while he was in Hawaii, and I hope you were able to do the same thing.
Before we get started, I actually wanted to mark a little -- a memory with all of you. Today actually reflects the 9th anniversary of the President's victory in the Iowa caucuses. And I was fortunate enough to have worked on his Iowa caucus campaign, and so this is a day that I know that many of my colleagues at the time will mark in their own way. I thought I would actually do it by reading just a couple of short excerpts from the speech that he delivered that night.
This was the President speaking to a group of very excited supporters. There are some famous lines in this speech, but my attention, as I was reading this last night actually was attracted to a couple of different paragraphs -- and let me read them to you now.
"Years from now, you'll look back and you'll say that this was the moment, this was the place where America remembered what it means to hope. For months, we've been teased, even derided for talking about hope. We always knew that hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It's not sitting on the sidelines, or shrinking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it."
He went on to say that "Hope is the bedrock of this nation; the belief that our destiny will not be written for us but by us, by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, but who have the courage to remake the world as it should be."
I didn't deliver that speech nearly as well as he did that night. And I certainly --
Q: It was a dramatic read.
MR. EARNEST: I tried. I tried. (Laughter.) I gave it the old college try. And I certainly can't take credit for having written this powerful speech. But I think it is an apt illustration of how remarkably committed President Obama has been over the course of his presidential career to a core set of principles that aspire to something great; that put their hope in the American people to build the kind of country that we all believe in, where we all have an opportunity to succeed regardless of what we look like or where we come from.
And there's a reference in this to "those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, but who have the courage to remake the world as it should be." The President was talking about all Americans who are committed to investing in this country. But I have very vivid memories of the young men and women who signed up to work on President Obama's campaign back in 2007 for the 2008 caucuses. And I say young men and women because even back at the time, nine years ago, when I was at the ripe old age of 32, I was the old guy, and that our campaign was populated by young people -- not young people in their 20s and 30s, but young people in their 20s.
And I have a vivid memory of one fall afternoon -- it was in the middle of the week. The Winneshiek County Democrats in Northeastern Iowa were hosting their fall dinner, and there were two Obama campaign organizers who were eager to have somebody from the campaign come and speak at the fall gathering for all the Democrats. This was a prime opportunity to recruit supporters and other influential people in the community, particularly Democrats, to win over their support.
And the campaign, unfortunately, was not able to find anyone for them, so I went up there. (Laughter.) And so I made the more than four-hour drive from Des Moines, Iowa, to Decorah, Iowa -- Winneshiek County is in the northeastern part of the state. And what I found there were two Obama campaign organizers, two young people who were utterly committed to the task. It was this young woman from Tennessee and a young African American man. And I point that out because I don't think there are too many other people in Winneshiek County that either had a southern accent like that young lady did, or were African American like that young man.
But what I found in the few hours that I was in town with them is they knew everybody. When I got there, I pulled into their office and they said, well, you must be thirsty after your long drive. They said, let's go down to the grocery store and we'll get you something to drink. And they were walking through the grocery store aisles greeting people by name, and greeting the clerk who was checking us out by name. And we went to the county dinner, and it was a small affair at an outdoor shelter at a park in Winneshiek County, and they were greeting everybody by name. And I remember that night after the dinner I took them out for a couple of drinks at a local bar, and they're greeting the bartender and other people at the bar by name.
It was an indication of how these two people were so committed to the cause and so passionate that they mustered the courage to go to some place that they had never been, to a community where they were very obviously outsiders, because of the passion that they felt for President Obama and his vision for the future of the country.
So I appreciate you indulging me on the anniversary of the victory to talk about the warm memories that I have of this important event, not just in the history of the people who have supported President Obama over his career, but in the history of the country. And to all of my colleagues and friends who worked on that campaign and are marking that day today, I continue to feel the sense of solidarity and comradery with them that was so critical to our victory nine years ago.
So with that long wind-up, Darlene, welcome back. Happy New Year.
Q: Same to you.
MR. EARNEST: And let's go to some questions.
Q: Great. So tomorrow, the President is going to the Capitol to talk to Democrats there about health care.
MR. EARNEST: That's right.
Q: What is the message? What is the goal? What does he hope to accomplish by going up there and meeting with them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this will be an opportunity for the President to meet with the Democrats in the House and the Senate for the incoming United States Congress. And they'll be there to principally discuss how to counter the stated Republican objective of repealing the Affordable Care Act.
The stakes are high. And I know that, particularly at this time, when we're thinking about -- when there's a lot of discussion about the President's legacy, that some people might think that, well, the President is very concerned about the political capital that he's invested in this and he doesn't want to see it all go away. That's certainly true. But the President's priority and the President's motivation is rooted in looking out for the interests of the 22 *30 million Americans whose health care would be taken away if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act. He's interested in looking out for the millions of Americans who get health care through their employer who have seen that the growth in their health care costs has been sharply limited -- just 3.4 percent in 2016.
Overall, the growth in health care costs is the lowest it's been on record. And if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act, they will reverse that progress. Millions of Americans across the country are protected from being discriminated against because they have a preexisting condition. They're allowed to keep their kids on their insurance plan until their kids turn 26. Women are not allowed to be charged more by their insurance company just because they're women. All of that would be undone if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Obviously, we're deeply concerned about the impact this would have on Medicaid and Medicare. The Affordable Care Act extended the lifespan of the Medicare trust fund by 11 years. So if Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act, they'll be hastening the demise of Medicare that millions of seniors rely upon for their basic health care needs.
So the President is deeply concerned about the impact that this Republican action could have. He's also concerned about this Republican tactic of repeal-and-delay that ultimately is nothing more than just bait-and-switch. The prospect of, oh, don't worry, the 22 *20 million Americans who have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act, we'll get around to offering up a replacement at some later date. That's not a responsible way to govern, and it certainly is not an indication that you're looking out for working people in this country.
Democrats are, however, interested in looking out for working people in this country, no one more so than the Democratic President of the United States, Barack Obama. So that's what they'll be there to talk about, and the President's message will be to encourage them in that fight and to offer his own insight about the most effective way to engage in that fight.
Q: Is he going to be looking in some way to exploit Republicans appearing to be divided over what to replace Obamacare with? Is that part of the discussion tomorrow? Sort of take advantage of their inability to agree on a replacement?
MR. EARNEST: There does appear to be some division in the Republican Party. That's understandable. Many of you have told the stories of people who are represented in Congress by Republicans, who voted for those Republicans, who are pleading with those Republicans not to take away their Obamacare. So it's not surprising to me that there are some Republicans who are now a little queasy about the prospect of -- the impact that repealing Obamacare would have on their own supporters, on people in their congressional districts. Because we know there are people all across the country who benefit from this law, who are protected by this law, whose lives have been saved by this law.
And the prospect of taking it away is a question of life or death for some people. And so it's not surprising to me that that does leave some Republicans queasy.
What the President has long said -- and I'm sure that this is true of other Republicans on Capitol Hill -- I don't speak for them -- but the President has long been open to the idea that if there are Republicans who are genuinely interested in reforming the Affordable Care Act in a way that would strengthen the program the President would be strongly supportive of that effort. And he's put forward his own ideas for how we could do that, but he certainly would be open to ideas from Republicans to do that.
But that's not what Republicans have offered. What they've offered more than 50 times is just a proposal for tearing the program down in a way that would leave millions of Americans vulnerable. So there is this division in the Republican Party that does leave them vulnerable because they haven't actually indicated any desire to work with Democrats to strengthen the program, which means that there is a premium placed on Republican unity, and if they're not able to preserve that unity, it will pose a challenge to their efforts to accomplish this goal.
But there are a lot of steps to this process that Republicans have laid out that they're prepared to undertake, and we'll see if they are able to do them. The country would be much better served by them looking to work in a genuinely bipartisan fashion to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and not just extend, but actually strengthen the many protections that benefit millions of Americans across the country.
Q: Last one on this. The President has said on a few occasions that his administration has been good on policy, but where it had fallen down has been in communicating policy to the public. And I'm wondering --
MR. EARNEST: I try not to take that personally when he says that. (Laughter.)
Q: So I'm wondering if the trip up to Capitol Hill tomorrow and then this health care-related interview that he's doing later in the week on Friday -- is this some sort of attempt to kind of do the sales job on ACA over or better?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, I don't think -- I think as you all have seen in covering the President over the last eight years, there aren't many do-overs. I can't think of any. So, no, this is not a do-over. But I think this is an opportunity for the President once again to make what he finds to be a particularly persuasive argument about the benefits of the proposal.
And the one thing that we have long said that has proved to be true is that the more that people understand what's included in the Affordable Care Act, the more that people see firsthand how they benefit from the Affordable Care Act, the more popular it's likely to be.
And there's no denying that Obamacare has been subjected to hundreds of millions of dollars of political attacks -- many of them, if not most of them, false -- about the impact of the law. So there is stiff headwinds that we have encountered in trying to make the argument in favor of the Affordable Care Act. But the one thing that has proved to be true is that the more that people understand what's included in the Affordable Care Act and how they benefit from it, the more popular the program is and the harder it is for Republicans to build political support for tearing it down.
Q: Josh, North Korea has said it is close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile. As the Obama administration comes close to its end, what more can you do on North Korea in the remaining three weeks of the President's term, and what kind of advice do you have for the incoming administration?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, the most important thing that any Commander-in-Chief has to do is protect the American people. And for years, the United States has -- at the direction of the Commander-in-Chief, President Obama -- has increased the defenses that are deployed in the Pacific region to protect the American people from this threat.
So there are radar facilities and antiballistic missile facilities that have been installed in places like Japan and Guam and in Alaska. There are naval vessels, ballistic missile defense ships that are patrolling the Pacific Ocean. The number of them has been increased as a result of a decision made early on by the Commander-in-Chief to make sure that we could protect the American people from this threat. And I can confirm once again that the United States military does believe it has the capacity to protect the American people from the threat that's emanating from North Korea.
But these defenses are not the only steps that the Commander-in-Chief has ordered. The United States is also engaged in a rigorous, intensive diplomatic effort to build international support for tough sanctions against the North Korean regime. And the United Nations Security Council last fall passed the toughest resolution yet, imposing the toughest sanctions yet against the North Korean regime, putting a hard cap on the amount of coal that can be exported -- because we know that they use the revenue from those coal exports to try to fund some of these programs, so putting that hard cap in place is going to have an impact on their ability to continue to develop their programs.
And we're only able to succeed in implementing those measures with the cooperation of China. And given the differences that we have with China on a number of other issues, it's no small diplomatic undertaking to get them to work effectively with us -- which they have, to their credit -- to impose some of these measures and to increase pressure on the North Korean regime.
The problem has not been solved, but we certainly have defenses in place to protect against the threat that emanates from there. And we certainly have made progress in building important diplomatic support to apply pressure to the North Korean regime to limit their ability to continue to develop this program, but also to give them an incentive to change their strategy. They haven't yet, but we're going to continue to apply that pressure.
Our advice to the next administration I think will largely be to listen to the advice of our military commanders about what's necessary to protect the American people with regard to our deployments in the Pacific, and to look for opportunities to work effectively with countries like China and Russia and our allies -- South Korea and Japan -- to apply pressure to North Korea to make clear that they should renounce their nuclear ambitions and put an end to the kind of destabilizing rhetoric that we've seen all too often emanate from the North Korean capital.
Q: Thank you. And on a separate issue. The White House's reaction to the congressional Republicans' decision to curtail and then not curtail the Office of Congressional Ethics today -- is this one of those perhaps rare instances where you agree with President-elect Trump?
MR. EARNEST: Well, first of all, I think that it is rather revealing that the first step taken by congressional Republicans in the new Congress was to vote in secret to gut ethics regulations. These are ethics regulations, by the way, put in place by Democrats in response to ethical scandals plaguing congressional Republicans. So I note that there's a lot of talk about ethics and revolving doors, but the revolving door that we see right now is the continual challenge on the part of congressional Republicans to skirt responsibility for their ethical violations.
With regard to the -- well, let me also say, I suspect this is not going to be the first time that we see congressional Republicans in this Congress seeking to help people in positions of power and influence escape accountability when it comes to the interests of the American people. I'm confident we're going to see congressional Republicans do the work of their donors on Wall Street to try to gut Wall Street reform that would allow them to escape accountability for a bunch of financial transactions that we know are not in the public interest and actually do put taxpayers at risk and potentially put taxpayers on the hook for bailing out those big banks if those risky bets go bad.
One other thing we know congressional Republicans are likely to do is to go to their donors in the oil industry and say, hey, we can help you escape accountability for polluting the air and water and land that the American people treasure and in some cases depend on for our sustenance.
I think the real question for the President-elect is will he stand up to them then.
Q: Would you agree then with my, I guess, question that this is a rare instance where you agree with the President-elect's criticism?
MR. EARNEST: Well, first of all, I'll let the President-elect's team explain exactly what he was intending to communicate in this tweet. It was not immediately obvious to me that he was indicating opposition to the gutting of ethical requirements. Some people at least interpreted his tweet as indicating that the optics of doing it first were bad. But again, I'll leave it to the incoming team to explain it.
Because the position of this administration is that people who are entrusted with positions of authority in the United States government do have certain ethical obligations and they should be held independently accountable for adhering to those ethical requirements. Certainly the executive branch does in a variety of ways.
And I do recall that when President Obama served in the United States Senate, he was one of a small number of members of the United States Senate who championed legislation to create and independent ethical oversight structure on the Senate side, too. Unfortunately, that effort did not succeed. But the President's views on the importance of these kinds of ethical oversight structures are well known. And the President has long placed a priority on ensuring that they are strong.
Q: You didn't paint a very hopeful picture at one point there. But the fact that this did die, that leadership took it out, do you see that as promising at all?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I started out reading a speech about hope, so I try to be an optimistic guy. But what I also -- just to go back to that speech -- "We know that hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path."
So when you have a bunch of Republicans who campaigned for their office saying that they want to gut regulations that prevent Wall Street bankers from taking advantage of middle-class families, when you have a bunch of Republicans who run for Congress saying that they're going to make it easier for their largest contributors in the oil industry to pollute our water and our air, it's hard to feel particularly optimistic about their willingness to look out for the American people.
But like I said, if the President-elect is willing to stand up to them in those instances that would be welcome news. So we'll just have to see exactly how that plays out. I will say that it is -- even in the face of all that optimism, it is disheartening that the very first thing that Republicans in Congress chose to do was to vote in secret to gut ethical accountability. That's not draining the swamp. But that's day one. We'll see what the days in the future lead to.
Q: Okay. So you talked about the President on the Hill tomorrow talking to Democrats to encourage them and how best to counter gutting Obamacare. So what specifically does he want them to do? I'm confused on what there is that can be done.
MR. EARNEST: Well, you'll have an opportunity, as Darlene referenced, to hear from the President at greater length about this later this week. But I think you can certainly anticipate that the President will encourage Democrats to focus on those aspects of the Affordable Care Act that are strongly supported in bipartisan fashion all across the country.
The best example for this is the consumer protection that prevents insurance companies from discriminating against people that have preexisting conditions. There's nothing ideological or partisan about that notion. It's actually just a matter of basic fairness. And what we have found is now that that law -- or that rule has been in effect for the last few years, we've actually seen Democrats and Republicans both come together and acknowledge that that's a good idea, that actually is fair.
And so the question, really, for Republicans is how do you construct a policy that protects that fairness? Right now what Republicans are suggesting is that they would basically take away the requirement that everybody has health insurance, and that ultimately is going to interfere with the ability to ensure that insurance companies sign everybody up. So that's ultimately something that Republicans are going to have to reconcile.
And I think this is something the President has talked about at some length, which is that there is a difference between campaigning and governing. There's a difference between going out there on a campaign trail and using all kinds of rhetoric saying you're going to repeal the Affordable Care Act because of the impact it's having on our economy. So you have to ignore a lot of facts in order to make that kind of rhetorical statement. But once you are faced with actually implementing it, the questions get a lot harder. And your ability to follow through on that promise that sounded really good on the campaign trail is called into question.
Q: So he wants Democrats to pressure their Republican colleagues? When you say, focus on that, what does he expect them to be doing right now?
MR. EARNEST: I think the President's message to them is that they should be out there telling the stories of their constituents who are benefitting from this law. I think that's certainly the most important thing they can do.
There are a number of Democrats on Capitol Hill who do have ideas of things that could be done that would strengthen the Affordable Care Act. So some of them may choose to use this as an opportunity to offer up some additional suggestions and try to seek to Republican cooperation to strengthen the law. The President certainly would encourage them to do that.
I think you can also expect to hear the President make the case that it's not just about protecting the Affordable Care Act, it's also about making sure that we're protecting Medicaid and Medicare. And if we tear down the Affordable Care Act, we're having a terribly negative impact on Medicare and Medicaid, as well. So I think there are a lot of strong, persuasive arguments to be made that would I think persuade many Americans that the idea of tearing down the Affordable Care Act is a bad idea.
Q: Okay. And just quickly, does the administration believe that North Korea is that close to that ICBM capability? And what does the President think of Donald Trump's response to North Korea via his tweets?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I can -- the intelligence community has previously said that the United States has not seen North Korea test or demonstrate the ability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM. I'm not aware that that assessment has changed. And some of the administration -- the intelligence community officials that I have spoken to today were not aware that that assessment has changed. If it has changed, it's something that will come from the intelligence community.
With regard to the President-elect's tweets, I'll let his team explain exactly what he means.
MR. EARNEST: Margaret.
Q: Thank you, Josh. I appreciate it. Happy New Year.
MR. EARNEST: Happy New Year to you.
Q: Thanks. So I'm just wondering whether you've spoken with President Obama about the possibility of slapping a tariff on cars made in Mexico and imported into the U.S. and what you think the impact of that would be on foreign policy or the economy.
MR. EARNEST: I have not spoken to President Obama about that. I know that that is contrary to the approach that President Obama has taken when it comes to trying to manage our trade relationships around the world. In fact, the President was strongly supportive of a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that his administration negotiated that included Mexico that would have raised labor standards, raised environmental standards, would have protected intellectual property, and would have made it easier and fairer for U.S. businesses that are competing against Mexican businesses. That would have been good for the U.S. economy. That would have been good for U.S. workers. It would have been good for U.S. businesses.
The incoming President does not seem to share that view and he believes in a different approach. And many economists have expressed concerns about how the imposition of tariffs like some have suggested would actually have a starkly negative impact on the economy because it would not just result in higher prices being paid by American customers, it means that American goods that are shipped overseas face a similar retaliatory tariff.
And since we're not starting out on a level playing field, even if the tariff is equal in stature to the tariff that's imposed by the United States, it will have a disproportionate, negative impact on those American products. And many economists have made the argument that imposing a tariff like that is actually the worst of both worlds when it comes to the interests of the United States, our consumers, our workers, and our economy.
So that's why the President has tried a much different approach. But ultimately, the next administration will have to pursue the strategy that they believe is the best, and we'll have an opportunity to evaluate what works best.
The President has a very strong track record when you consider the performance of the U.S. economy under his leadership, under the economic strategy that he has put together. But the incoming President was elected on a promise to try things different -- to try different things, and to do things differently. And we'll have an opportunity to evaluate how well it works.
Q: I just wanted to go quickly -- do you know whether President Obama has spoken with the President of Mexico? Today, perhaps?
MR. EARNEST: No, I'm not aware that they've spoken today.
Q: And the kind of flipside to the President-elect's Twitter-related actions on car policy, the Ford Motor Company has announced that they've canceled this major expansion into Mexico and are going to preserve some jobs in the U.S. Would you say that that's good news? And would you applaud President-elect Trump for his actions on that? Or do you know enough about it to comment on it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I've read some of the news coverage of this. I've not been in touch with either the transition team or the auto -- Ford about their announcement, but I read in published reports about their announcement that it was not tied to any political considerations. And I noted that over the last five years or so that Ford has actually increased the number of workers at their company by about 28,000.
So this is only the latest step in a long-running, significant and positive trend for the U.S. economy that those jobs are being protected. So that's obviously good news.
Q: Josh --
Q: 28,000 domestic?
MR. EARNEST: We can look up the numbers for you. We'll follow up.
Q: Josh, on the measures taken against Russia, why was Vladimir Putin not mentioned as one of those sanctions? Is that an indication you didn't have evidence that the Russian leader was responsible for this, or directed this, approved it?
MR. EARNEST: Not necessarily, Jon. The intelligence community has indicated their view that given the significance of the actions that Russia carried out against the United States, their conclusion is that this is something that had to have been directed at the highest levels of the Russian government.
Q: So why not hit the President? I mean, he's the guy responsible.
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, typically, with regard to sanctions policy, that there are only certain circumstances in which the leader of the country is personally named. I can't get into all the -- there's no denying that this is a significant action. So what I would say is just that it would be rather extraordinary if Mr. Putin himself were among the people who were listed. But I can't speak to the decisions that were made by the experts at the Treasury Department about who was named and who was not.
Q: So when the Chinese hacked OPM in 2015, 21-plus million current and former government employees and contractors had their personal records stolen by the Chinese. Why did the White House do nothing publicly in reaction to that hack, which, in some ways, was even more widespread than what we saw here from the Russians, allegedly?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that what we've seen is that these are two cyber incidents that are malicious in nature, but materially different.
Q: Twenty-one million people had their personal data taken. Fingerprints, social security numbers, background checks -- I mean, this was a far-reaching hack.
MR. EARNEST: I'm not downplaying the significance of it, I'm just saying that it's different than seeking to interfere in the conduct of a U.S. national election. I can't speak to the steps that have been taken by the United States in response to that Chinese malicious cyber activity.
Q: But nothing was announced. There was not a single step announced by the White House in response to that.
MR. EARNEST: That is true that there was no public announcement about our response, but I can't speak to what response may have been initiated in private.
Q: But no diplomats expelled, no compounds shut down, no sanctions imposed, correct?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I can't speak to --
Q: You don't do that stuff secretly. I mean, that's --
MR. EARNEST: Well, certainly when it comes to the diplomats, that's right, there were no diplomats PNGed. That's something that we would announce publicly.
But, look, I can't speak to the response because, as you pointed out, that's not something that we have announced. It certainly is something that we take seriously. It certainly -- the President has raised directly with his Chinese counterpart. And we certainly have seen commitments from the Chinese with regard to some norms in cyberspace that we would like to see them observe -- for example, we did see the Chinese President commit in the Rose Garden in the fall of 2015 that Russia -- or that China would not be engaged in the kind of cyber-enabled theft for commercial gain that's sponsored by national governments.
So that represents some progress, and that does represent the protection of U.S. commercial interests here in the United States. And that certainly is an important step, an important part of establishing some of these rules of the road that will allow the international community to resolve how to limit the malicious behavior of some actors in cyberspace.
Q: But do you see how -- that there's just this wildly different response? With the Russians, which, of course, is very politically charged, the White House takes this action, makes it public. With the Chinese, which was not so political charged but was absolutely as far-reaching a hack as we had ever seen in this country, nothing was done publicly.
MR. EARNEST: At least of the government. At least of the government, right? There are ample examples of other malicious cyber actors in the private sector --
Q: But in response to that OPM hack --
MR. EARNEST: -- exploiting personal identifiable information and engaging in other wide-reaching malicious cyber activity.
But, look, I'm not suggesting that somehow that's not important. What I'm just saying is that it's materially different than the kind of hack-and-leak strategy that we saw the Russians engage in to try to influence our democracy. That is significant. That's serious. And that explains the serious steps that President Obama has imposed against the Russians in response.
But with regard to the Chinese, we have made some progress with them in trying to limit the kind of malicious cyber activity that could threaten U.S. interests either in the United States or around the world, in our government or in the private sector. And we're pleased with some of the progress that we've made. But there is no denying that the next administration will assume a significant burden in trying to craft a policy in cyberspace that effectively stands up to our adversaries and looks out for the interests of the American people.
Q: Okay. And then just one other quick -- Sean Spicer. I think this is your first briefing since he was announced as the incoming press secretary for President Trump.
MR. EARNEST: It is.
Q: Any advice to Sean on how to conduct this job?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I had an opportunity to congratulate Sean via email shortly after the announcement was made. As you all have heard me say on a number of occasions, the opportunity and the honor to stand before this podium and advocate for a set of values and a President that I deeply believe in is extraordinary, and it's the kind of opportunity that I wouldn't trade for anything. I sincerely hope that he finds the same kind of challenge and satisfaction in the job that I have.
And I don't know Sean personally, but I expect to get the chance to meet him soon and to talk to him about this job a little bit.
Q: Iwant to bring it back to North Korea for a second. Does the President feel confident in Donald Trump's ability to protect the United States if a nuclear missile is launched by North Korea?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Isaac, that hearkens back to some of the rhetoric that was used by both sides in the campaign leading up to the election, and the President expressed some rather profound concerns about the incoming President. But the election is over. And I've done my best to avoid re-litigating those fights.
I think what I can tell you is that the President has strong confidence in the men and women of the United States military, the men and women of the United States intelligence community, the men and women in the United States State Department who ultimately are responsible for implementing policies that protect the American people, including from the threats that emanate in North Korea.
So we're going to be counting on our men and women in the intelligence community to continue to provide decision-makers with the best available intelligence about North Korea's actions. We're going to rely on the Department of Defense and the men and women of the United States military to make more strategic decisions about stationing equipment and antiballistic missile technology to protect the American people. And we're going to be relying on the men and women of the State Department to go and build an international coalition to increase the pressure on the North Korean regime to compel them to pursue a different path.
And those are all institutions and patriots who, every day, set aside politics, set aside their own political leanings, set aside their own preferences about who should be President of the United States, and just focus on the task at hand. And the people in those three communities -- at the State Department, the Defense Department and intelligence community -- all have substantial responsibilities when it comes to protecting the American people. And the President has confidence that those men and women, those American patriots, will continue to do their important work with enormous skill and expertise and patriotism to protect the country.
Q: But going back to -- as you said, there was a lot of talk about this during the campaign. It's been about two months since he delivered his last campaign speech. In those two months, does he feel more confident in Donald Trump's ability to handle the nuclear situation, both in having the nuclear codes and protecting from a nuclear attack? Less confident? Or is he in the same place that he was the day of the election?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't spoken to the President about this, but my assessment would be that his opinions have not changed. But the time and place for presenting those opinions has come and gone, and we're focused now on a transition.
Q: And just on the WikiLeaks -- Julian Assange did an interview in which he -- with Fox News in which he says that the administration -- first of all, he says that WikiLeaks did not receive its information from a state actor, and, second of all, says that there are essentially holes in the case that the administration has laid out about the role that WikiLeaks had, that WikiLeaks wasn't mentioned in anything that the President or anybody has said about this, and that this means that you guys must not be sure that there is a connection there. What's your response to that?
MR. EARNEST: My response is that the President has complete confidence in the assessment that's been put forward by the intelligence community, and there's no reason to doubt it.
Q: And that WikiLeaks received -- that there's no lack of mentioning WikiLeaks for any purpose, or -- what Assange is talking about is that you guys didn't say -- you've connected it to the Russians, but you haven't said, well, then it went to WikiLeaks from the Russians, that that's just semantics, essentially, from Assange?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I didn't see the entirety of his -- I didn't see much of any of his interview, so it's hard for me to respond directly in kind. I think what I can tell you is the President has complete confidence in the assessment that's been put forward by the intelligence community. And there's still work that they're doing on this. And the President has tasked the intelligence community with putting forward more information before January 20th not just about what Russia did in the 2016 election, but about some of the malicious cyber activity that we saw in the context of the 2008 and 2012 elections, as well. And there certainly is the possibility that more evidence that's pertinent to some of those claims could be included. We'll have to wait and see.
Q: Just last question -- do you have any update on when we should expect the intelligence report that the President has asked for?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have an update on timing at this point, just before January 20th.
Q: Thanks, Josh. David Axelrod tweeted -- going back to the House Ethics Office -- David Axelrod tweeted "This House Ethics drama was an absolute gift to Donald Trump, a big fat zeppelin for him to shoot down, which he did." Do you think that this was teed up for the President-elect, who himself has had some issues regarding conflicts of interests and some of his own ethical questions swirling around him leading into his inauguration?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven't spoken to David today. My guess is he wasn't expressing admiration for a clever strategic move on the part of Republicans to make the President look -- the President-elect look good. I actually think he was making the opposite point, that Republicans in Congress have revealed a lot about their priorities when the first action that they took was to vote in secret to gut some of the ethical requirements that they're subject to. So I think the point that David was making is simply that it's pretty obvious to everybody that that's a really bad idea.
Q: Thanks, Josh. I just want to circle back on Jon's question about Russia versus China, and the reaction. Lisa Monaco has previously cited diplomatic inroads with China as part of the reason why the administration has had some success in limiting and reducing cyber activity -- negative cyber activity from the Chinese. And I'm curious why, then, would the administration continue that same process with the Russians to get a similar response, rather than the sort of heavy-handed expelling operatives and shuttering --
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, I think the response to the Chinese action has been different than the response to the Russian action because their actions that both those countries undertook were different. What we saw on the part of the Chinese was concerning with regard to some of the malicious cyber activity that had an impact on the U.S. government. The Russian cyber activity was actually a more specifically directed threat to undermine U.S. democracy.
So their tactics were different. Their ultimate goal was different. And that would explain why our response was different. In both cases, we've taken that malicious cyber activity and those breaches quite seriously, but our responses have, as I acknowledge to Jon, have been different.
Q: Also, on the Ford Motor announcement -- and you may or may not have had a chance to see it, the one where they're saying essentially they're going to not develop this plant over in Mexico. Donald Trump had previously threatened to levy some sort of a tax or, if you will, some sort of tariff on cars that were made there that would come back to the U.S. You were asked earlier if you thought this was a victory for I think maybe Donald Trump, but I'd be curious if you think this is a victory for the American people and American workers in particular, who may now benefit from the fact that there will be more jobs related to this decision than might have been.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, it won't surprise you to hear that the President who has presided over an economy that's created nearly 900,000 manufacturing jobs is pleased to hear when another 700 manufacturing jobs have been saved.
Q: I also want to ask you something the President sort of hinted at -- or maybe not hinted at, maybe he just came right out and said it. (Laughter.) He said, "Listen, if I were able to run again, I would have beaten Donald Trump." Why do you think the President made that point? What was behind his decision to make a comment like that?
MR. EARNEST: Because his point was -- if you go back and look at the interview, he was making the point that the message that he delivered in his 2008 campaign and in his 2012 campaign is one that deeply resonated with the American people and got him -- allowed him to build a strong coalition all across the country, that allowed him to be elected in 2008 and reelected in 2012 with strong majorities not just of the electoral college, but actually a majority of the voting population.
And President Obama is the first President to be elected and reelected with more than 51 percent of the vote since Eisenhower. And that's an indication of how much strong support there is all across the country for the President's message. And the President believes, after eight years, that he's stayed true to that message, that he's campaigning on the same set of values and on the same set of -- message that appeals to the idea that everybody in America should have an opportunity to succeed and that people shouldn't be --
Q: -- that message in North Carolina; he was out very forcefully. They saw that message in Michigan; he was out very forcefully. And neither state went for the Democrat in that particular circumstance.
MR. EARNEST: That's true. But I think what we've found -- and this was true in 2010 and to a lesser extent in 2014, but still in 2014 -- that when the President wasn't on the ballot that he didn't have as much success as he would have liked in making that same argument in support of other candidates. And I think there are a lot of theories as to why that is, but that's undeniably true.
Q: Would the President like to debate Donald Trump? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: No, he would not.
Q: Josh, the President is going to be -- when it comes to ACA and the contributions it's given to millions of people -- and you've already cited some of the positive points. But because this is so important for the President in the waning days to lean in like this, can you get into the conversations that President Obama has had with Donald Trump in the lead-up to tomorrow? Can you talk to us about what he said about ACA on the phone?
MR. EARNEST: I can't. I've worked hard to try to protect the ability of the President of the United States to have private conversations with the President-elect. And when some of the fact of those calls has spilled into the public, we've done our best to try to confirm and explain to you the context of those conversations. But for the substance of the calls, I'm going to protect their ability to have those calls in private.
Q: The President here, the last day before he went on vacation, did say when he talks to Donald Trump, he explains the benefits of some issues. Was he talking about ACA as one of those conversations and the benefits that he was talking about?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn't be surprised if the Affordable Care Act was among those.
Q: So when he says "benefits," does he tout the things that we already know? Or does he go into the weeds about things and talk about more that we -- things that the average person doesn't know and how it works? What makes it work? What would be a problem if it's taken away? What does he say when he talks about the benefits to Donald Trump about that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I'm just not going to get into the context of their -- to the substance of the conversations that they're having.
Q: The President did allude to that, so he didn't -- he didn't allude to it, he did tell us that from this podium.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q: Okay. So lastly, with everything going on now, the back-and-forth between the President-elect and the sitting President of the United States in the waning days of this President's presidency, is there a possibility, a strong possibility that there will be a final press conference from President Obama before he leaves office?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any scheduling announcements at this point, but I wouldn't be surprised if something like that happened. We'll keep you posted.
Q: Is it to protect -- would it be to protect his legacy more so, or to put a final note to America?
MR. EARNEST: We'll wait until we have something to announce before we describe why we announced it. (Laughter.)
Q: Thanks, Josh. While the President was in Hawaii, it was reported that the Obama administration is -- well, it informed Congress that it could transfer up to 19 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay before the President leaves office. Are you able to confirm those reports?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not in a position to confirm individual notifications to Congress. As you know, Jordan, the statute does require that when the administration is prepared to transfer a detainee from the prison at Guantanamo Bay to another country in the context of security requirements that would limit their ability to pose a threat to the United States, the administration is required to give Congress 30 days' notice before completing that transfer.
So this is part of our routine effort that we've undertaken over the last several years to reduce the population of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But I can't speak to any individual notifications that have been made to Congress or give you a specific preview about potential upcoming transfers. But I think I would expect at this point additional transfers to be announced before January 20th.
Q: On that note, Donald Trump tweeted today that there should be no further releases from Guantanamo. Is his attitude on that issue going to factor into the administration's decisions at all on transfers in the final day?
MR. EARNEST: No, it will not. He'll have an opportunity to implement the policy that he believes is most effective when he takes office on January 20th.
Q: On the Russia hacking, you've heard some of the statements from the President-elect that are skeptical of the intelligence assessments. Has there been any conversation between members of this administration and the incoming administration about the skepticism, about the intelligence about Russia being behind this hack?
MR. EARNEST: I can't speak to any specific conversations, but I'm confident in the context of the transition and getting the President-elect's team up to speed on a range of important national security issues that we're currently dealing with here. I'm confident that officials in the administration, including at the White House, have represented to the transition team full confidence in the assessment in conclusions that have been announced by the intelligence community.
Q: So what do you think of the President-elect's statements that he knows things that others don't know and that he still is not convinced that the Russians are behind this?
MR. EARNEST: I'm glad that it's somebody else's job to explain exactly what he meant. (Laughter.)
Q: Because you --
MR. EARNEST: Because I don't know. So presumably, somebody who has an opportunity to speak to him directly can try to explain to those of us in the public who weren't quite sure what he's referring to.
Q: But this is a serious thing, though, because this was a matter of national security that --
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I --
Q: -- the sanctions were levied and these diplomats were expelled. This was a big, big deal. How concerned is the President or the administration about the President-elect's attitude that he knows more or something different and that he's still not convinced?
MR. EARNEST: Well, in the context of the campaign we had ample opportunity to --
Q: This is the real thing -- this is not the campaign.
MR. EARNEST: The campaign is over, that's right. The campaign is over. And now we are in a position where our responsibility is, as public servants in the Obama administration, to do as much as we possibly can to help the President-elect's team get up to speed and understand the complexity and depth of the range of issues, both domestic and national security, that they're going to be tasked with managing, starting just 16 days from now.
Q: Bottom line, you can't explain why there's this difference of opinion here in terms of --
MR. EARNEST: The bottom line, there's a reason that the President-elect has his own spokesperson, and there will be somebody else standing behind this podium when he takes office.
Q: When you were talking about the review that's underway on cyber issues, I think you said that in terms of proof or evidence that there may or may not be a public release of what we would consider proof or evidence of the claims. Is that true?
MR. EARNEST: There are a couple of things on this. Isaac was asking me about some of the claims that were apparently made in an interview about how or whether or to what extent WikiLeaks may have been involved in this effort. And I was trying to answer his question by saying that it's possible, though I don't know, but it's possible that additional information that would be helpful in understanding what WikiLeaks's role in all of this could be included in that report. I don't know whether it will be or not.
Q: But as to the role that the Russians played in the -- the intelligence agencies in Russia and so forth.
MR. EARNEST: That's a definitive conclusion that's been reached -- that was announced, actually, before the election. Some of the information that was included in the Joint Analysis Report that was released by the FBI and DHS last week included technical information about the tactics and technology and software that was used by the Russians to carry out these actions and other actions like them. I think that's -- its technical, but I think it's pretty solid evidence of Russian involvement in this matter.
Q: So you don't -- the administration doesn't feel a need to present more proof?
MR. EARNEST: No. The administration feels a responsibility to communicate as directly and as clearly as possible with the American public to help them understand what the U.S. government knows about Russian efforts to undermine our system of government. And we've already done that. We did that before the election, and I would anticipate that that report that the intelligence community is working on would also further that goal.
Q: And on meetings on Hill about the Affordable Care Act, is that the only issue on the agenda? Or is there anything else that the President wants to communicate to these incoming members of Congress about his concerns, his priorities, his hopes and fears?
MR. EARNEST: Protecting the Affordable Care Act is the primary topic on the agenda. I wouldn't rule out that other things may come up. And if they do, we'll do our best to give you a readout.
Q: What else is there? I guess I'm just trying to get a sense of -- 17 and a half days or whatever is left -- what else is there that the President is really trying to --
MR. EARNEST: Well, we obviously touched on a couple of them. We talked about the Affordable Care Act, and there isn't just the need to try to protect the Affordable Care Act from being destroyed by Republicans; there's also a need to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make it possible for people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. And we've actually seen people signing people up at a record clip. Despite all this negative publicity and despite some of the uncertainty that Republicans are injecting into this process, we're actually seeing a record number of people signing up for the Affordable Care Act that are at a record rate. So that's a positive step. And we certainly -- that didn't happen by accident. And we certainly want to make sure we're doing what's necessary to facilitate those signups.
Obviously following through on the business with Russia in terms of implementing the steps that were announced last week ad also putting forward this report before January 20th are steps that we're focused on.
You can certainly always expect the President to be very focused on the counter-ISIL campaign. And the President will continue to meet with his national security team. I wouldn't be surprised if that's something that members of Congress may be interested in.
And of course, we're focused on a smooth and effective transition. And that means trying to pay attention to all the little details that may not rise to the level of an interaction like this, but are still critical to a seamless handoff of governing responsibility from one administration to the next. And that requires the time and attention of a lot of people inside the administration, including the President of the United States.
Q: How is all that going?
MR. EARNEST: So far it's going well.
Q: We've heard mixed messages about it.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I've heard mixed messages about this from the other side. But this administration has remained focused on the effective -- facilitating the effective transition that President Obama promised at the beginning of last year. And we've made good on that promise so far.
Q: Josh, now that the new Congress has been convened, does President Obama have any intention of making any nominations or resubmitting any old nominations to the new Congress?
MR. EARNEST: Nothing that I have to preview here. But if we have -- if we're going to re-nominate some people, we'll make sure and let you know publicly that we've done such.
Q: Should we assume the Garland nomination has now lapsed?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President acknowledged at a Hanukkah event that Chief Judge Garland attended last year that President Obama expects Chief Judge Garland to continue to serve the American people with distinction on the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
The fact that he was not given the opportunity to explain to the Senate and to the American people why he would have served the country honorably and with distinction on the United States Supreme Court is a scar on the reputation of the United States Senate.
It is a part of the legacy of Republican leadership in Congress from the last several years. And I don't mean that as a compliment. And I think that for years the United States Senate will be dealing with the fallout of the decision that they made to so egregiously subject Chief Judge Garland to such unfair treatment.
Republicans themselves have praised Chief Judge Garland. Republicans have described him a consensus nominee. Republicans have praised his service to this country -- both as a judge but also as a federal prosecutor, and a senior official at the Department of Justice who led the investigation and prosecution of one of the worst terrorists in American history.
Merrick Garland is a patriot. And he deserved far better treatment than he received from Republicans in the United States Senate. But because he's the bigger man, he's going to continue to serve this country with honor and distinction at the United States Circuit Court of Appeals. And the President is quite proud that he'll do that.
Q: What do you mean by fallout?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I mean that there will be difficulty in the Senate not just in the Trump presidency, but for future Presidents as they navigate the process of nominating judges to the federal bench.
What sort of credibility do Republicans have in making the case to Democrats that they should fairly consider the nominations of a Republican judge -- of a Republican President? Republican senators blocked an eminently qualified Supreme Court nominee whose qualifications were not in question simply because he was nominated by a Democratic President. How then can Republicans go to Democratic senators and say that they should support nominees put forward by a Republican President? They have no standing in which to do that.
Now, will Democrats do the right thing and fulfill their constitutional obligations? I think they probably will. But they won't be doing it because Republicans have any semblance of moral high ground or any sort of moral leverage or any moral weight to their claim that that's what Democratic senators should do.
And I think that that breakdown of comity in the United States Senate, that abdication of the basic responsibility of members of the United States by subjecting it to such intense partisanship and actually allowing partisanship to supersede constitutional obligation, it's discouraging. And it's a precedent that I think Republicans will regret setting.
Q: Also, can you tell us what President Obama's thinking is in going to Chicago next week for the farewell address? I went back and checked. All the farewell addresses back to Eisenhower were delivered here at the White House. Why does President Obama want to go out of town?
MR. EARNEST: Well, President Obama is going to go back to his hometown, go back to the place where he began his career in public service -- a community, a city that was so supportive of him throughout his career in public service.
And there is a unique story to President Obama's public service having started out as a community organizer and somebody whose first job in public service wasn't in politics, per Senate -- at least it didn't involve running for office -- but was actually focused on trying to help people in the economically disadvantaged communities advocate for themselves.
And that commitment to fighting for working people is something that has motivated President Obama from his earliest days as a community organizer to his last days as President of the United States. And so it's a fitting bookend that he would go back to that city where he got his start to make a speech like this.
Q: Will that be his last out-of-town trip?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I would anticipate that it will be his last out-of-town trip as President of the United States.
Q: Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: Alexis.
Q: Josh, to follow up on the list that you were giving to Ron, is the President going to -- how would he describe to Democrats that he speaks to this week and also to the beneficiaries of DACA what to expect, what they should plan on, what they should anticipate after the 20th? Because some Democrats have urged the President to act in a unique kind of way before he leaves to extend the benefits or to maintain the benefits of DACA?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not aware of any specific announcements that you should expect from the President on this particular issue. Of course, there is a longstanding precedent in the U.S. government for the way that information like this is maintained.
There's a commitment that was made to people who came forward to apply for deferred action -- DREAMers. These are individuals who came to the United States as children, were brought to the United States as children and are here through no fault of their own. And the United States is the only country they've ever known. And many of these are young people who have graduated from high school, gone on to college, served on our military, have otherwise shown themselves to be quality additions to the country and to communities across the country.
And so the President's view is that these individuals are American in every way but their papers, and that the limited enforcement resources of the United States' government are better focused on people who are in the United States illegally and have criminal records, or only recently crossed the border. Those are the kinds of people that are worthy of aggressive enforcement action.
And that is exactly the kind of policy that this administration has pursued. It's made our country safer. It's made our country fairer. And I know at least at one point, the President-elect indicated that he thought that was a pretty smart approach.
But when it comes to what he will do after January 20th, even the current President of the United States is not sure exactly what the incoming President may decide to do.
Q: The other thing I wanted to ask you is a small detail for January 20th. So is there any change to the normal protocol or customary protocol where we expect the President-elect, the Vice President-elect to come for coffee at the White House and to ride together with the outgoing President to the swearing-in?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't seen the schedule for January 20th. But obviously as that date gets closer, we'll be able to walk you through all the minute details of that day that symbolize the kind of peaceful transition, the peaceful transfer of power that is a hallmark of American democracy and it critical to the strength and success of our country.
Q: But you can't confirm today that President Obama and Mrs. Obama extend an invitation to the Trumps to come for coffee before they go up to the swearing-in?
MR. EARNEST: At this point, I would expect that as we have over the last couple of months, we will observe the kinds of traditions and steps that have ensured a smooth and effective transition. That's what we've been doing for the last two months. I would expect that continue on the last day.
But when it comes to the actual details of the schedule, we'll have more to say about that as the day gets closer.
Q: Thank you, Josh. On Ford, you had said that it didn't seem like there were any political considerations for the decision that was made today, or at least that you hadn't seen anything --
MR. EARNEST: I think what I said is that Ford had indicated that their decision was not affected by politics.
Q: Okay, sure. But the CEO of Ford did say that he was encouraged by the pro-growth policies of President-elect Trump and the new Congress. And that certainly sounds like it's a political consideration or at least a calculation that it would be better to build more cars in the United States under the incoming President than under the current President.
MR. EARNEST: My guess is you should ask that question to the Ford CEO. But I don't think that he would want his comments to be interpreted that way. But you should ask somebody who has spoken to him.
Q: A couple more on a different subject.
MR. EARNEST: Sure.
Q: You seemed a little bit feistier today in response to some of the things that the President-elect has said, or else you're just happy to see us --
MR. EARNEST: Maybe it's because I shaved that holiday beard this morning, so I'm feeling a little --
Q: That's possibly could be it. (Laughter.) And again, perhaps it's just you're happy to be back here. But it does seem like during the two-week break between when we were last here and now, that the détente between the old administration and the new administration has somehow been broken. You had President-elect Trump talking about roadblocks that this administration was putting out, and you directly challenging him today when it comes to ethics, when it comes to Ford with trade, that sort of thing. Is there a reason for that? Is it that the clock is ticking down on the administration? Do you not see it that way?
MR. EARNEST: I don't see it that way. I think that -- what I have done since the day after the election when I stood at this podium for almost two hours answering your questions is I've made clear that the vigorous, deeply held, passionate differences of opinion that we have on a range of issues from policy to basic American values, there are differences. And they're profound. But there's also a profound responsibility that all of us who serve in this administration, including the President, has to ensure a smooth and effective transition.
That doesn't mean that we're prepared to go along with everything that the incoming administration says, but it certainly does mean that we have a responsibility to give the incoming President every opportunity to get a running start on the job.
And that's something that President Obama has taken to heart in his Oval Office meeting and the handful of conversations that they've had on the telephone since then. And there have been a number of meetings all across the federal government that demonstrate our ongoing commitment to ensuring a smooth and effective transition.
It doesn't mean those differences went away. And the fact that those differences exist don't mean that the transition has hit a rough spot. It means that these are deeply held views of the Obama administration, and they differ sharply with the President-elect.
But the President-elect campaigned on doing things differently. He campaigned on taking a different approach, and he won an election against a candidate who was pursuing a strategy that was more similar to what President Obama has pursued. Now, the President-elect didn't get more votes, but he did win the election. And since day one, this administration has been focused on ensuring a smooth and effective transition. And we've made good on that promise.
And the fact that we have differences of opinion is not evidence that the transition is breaking down. It's evidence that we've got well-known differences, but we're not letting them get in the way of a smooth and effective transition.
Q: And on that note, could you tell us a little bit more about the tone that the President will take in that speech next week, what some of the themes maybe he'd hit upon would be, and whether or not his family will go with him on that trip?
MR. EARNEST: We'll have more on the speech before the end of this week. I know that the speech is still going through some drafts. Rather than preview it now, let me get it a little bit farther down the process of being written. But I'll come back to you with something before the end of the week.
Q: How many drafts?
MR. EARNEST: We'll keep you posted.
Q: I've got to ask you a quick follow on your nostalgic journey back to Decorah.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q: What happened to those two young organizers? Did they end up in the Cabinet? Ambassadors? How did you reward them? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I know one of them worked at the White House. And I'm not sure what happened to the other one.
Q: You didn't reward the other one. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Both of them have gone on to do quite well, I'm sure. But there are at least a couple of other people that I first met in that Iowa, Des Moines -- at Des Moines, Iowa campaign headquarters that are still working at the White House today. So I'm not the only one who is still around.
Chris, I'll give you the last one.
Q: Great. Over the weekend, Judge Reed O'Connor issued a nationwide injunction against the Obama administration interpretation of the Affordable Care Act to prohibit discrimination against transgender people and women who have had abortions. Does it make sense for the administration to fight that decision in the 17 days that remain before Trump takes office?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'd refer you to the Department of Justice for the legal strategy that we'll pursue. But obviously the administration believes deeply that all Americans regardless of their sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation should have access to quality affordable health care free from any sort of discrimination. That's not just a principle and a value that the administration believes strongly in. I'm confident that the vast majority of Americans believe strongly in that principle, as well.
Thanks, everybody. We'll see you tomorrow.
END 2:35 P.M. EST