Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:54 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you all. I do not have any opening remarks, so we can go straight to questions.
Mark, would you like to get us started today?
Q: Thanks. If I may, can we start with the debate, and can I ask if the President is planning to watch any part of the debate tonight and whether he is rooting for Donald Trump or against Donald Trump? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I don't think the President will have a rooting interest in the debate tonight. I think he'll be -- to the extent that he watches it, and I'm not sure that he will -- I do think, though, that he will be interested in the coverage of the debate, and I'm confident that he will be interested in the arguments that are presented in the context of the first debate on the Republican side.
And I expect that he, like many Americans, will find the values and priorities that are articulated in that debate to be rather illuminating, particularly when you contrast them with the values and priorities that this administration has been advocating for, for coming on seven years now, and certainly when you compare them to the values and priorities that will be championed by Democrats when those candidates get together for their own debates.
Q: Is he prepared to hear his Iran deal take a beating tonight? And is he prepared for some umbrage that, frankly, even some Democrats who have doubts about the Iran deal have expressed that the President was, in effect, calling them warmongers yesterday with his argument that there really is no alternative to this deal but a march to war?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Mark, I think the President was pointing out a simple fact, and I think the President went on at some length to explain how he arrived at that conclusion. And the fact is, if Congress were to take the unthinkable step of killing this deal, it would end up being a good deal for Iran. What would happen is Iran would get billions in sanctions relief, but they would not be required to remove 13,000 centrifuges; they would not be required to reduce their stockpile by 98 percent; they would not be required to gut their plutonium heavy-water reactor in Arak; and they would not be required to submit to the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country's nuclear program.
And what would happen is Iran would go back to doing what they did before when the international community was previously fractured, and that is pursuing a nuclear weapon. And it's not a significant leap at all -- in fact, I think it follows rather logically -- that there will be members of Congress who will then be calling on the Commander-in-Chief to take action to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
And the fact of the matter is -- and this is even a fact that is acknowledged by the people who would be comfortable being described as proponents of military action against Iran -- they acknowledge that military action would only have the effect of setting back Iran's nuclear program for two or three or maybe four years, when the fact is this diplomatic agreement is going to set back Iran's nuclear program by more than 10.
So it's not just that the President wants to try to avoid another war in the Middle East -- he does; it's that diplomacy is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q: Does he think those Democrats who have looked at the deal and said, you know, I think there's still a better deal to be had out there, that they're also pursuing a fantasy, as he put it yesterday?
MR. EARNEST: The suggestion that there is a better deal is a fantasy. The President stands by those remarks entirely.
Q: Let me just ask generally about the state of play. Frankly, the speech yesterday sounded like a summing up to the jury. And here we have Congress now, all of it out on vacation; the President is about to go on vacation. Does the President think there's any way of avoiding him having to use his veto? Does he think he has the votes to sustain a veto?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Mark, I have previously expressed some confidence -- a lot of confidence in the ability to sustain a veto in the House of Representatives. The reason for that is we saw back in the first week of May, a group of about 150 House Democrats -- that's enough to sustain a presidential veto -- indicate that they would be supportive of a comprehensive final agreement that was consistent with the parameters that had been agreed to in the Lausanne political discussions. And the fact is the final agreement that has been produced doesn't just fit the parameters of the previous agreement, it actually exceeds them in a few key areas.
And I think the best way that I can document that to you is that we've actually seen a couple of Democrats in the House of Representatives who didn't sign the letter the first week in May who have come out indicating their support for the final agreement and indicating that they would join an effort to sustain the President's veto if it became necessary. So we do have a lot of confidence that, at a minimum, that a veto could be sustained in the House.
Q: Do you really still harbor any hopes that you can avoid having to exercise that veto?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it's too soon to tell at this point.
Q: Let me ask you just real briefly about a report based on satellite imagery that the Iranians have been doing some work in recent weeks in Parchin that indicates -- that involve crates, trucks, construction, et cetera -- that might indicate yet another attempt to cover up whatever has been going on there. Have you guys seen that? Can you confirm that you're -- are you troubled by it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I can't talk about any specific intelligence matters. What I can tell you is that we know that more than a decade ago we had significant concerns about some of the activities that the Iranians were conducting at Parchin. And for more than a decade, the Iranians have gone to great lengths to try to cover it up. And we're not particularly concerned that over the course of the next couple of weeks that they're going to succeed in covering up something that they haven't been able to cover up over the last decade.
Q: Josh, the President is going on vacation tomorrow. Does he -- will he be engaged with lawmakers during that time about Iran? Do you have any particular --
MR. EARNEST: I doubt it. I doubt it.
Q: Are there any other plans generally for the administration to lobby or engage with people over the next couple weeks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I certainly wouldn't be surprised if other senior administration officials -- either on the President's national security team or officials here at the White House -- that they may be engaged in conversations with members of Congress. And there has been a robust dialogue back and forth. And there have been a number of members of Congress that have sought one-on-one briefings with senior national security officials, that have sought classified briefings, that have participated in all-member classified briefings that our negotiators have hosted on Capitol Hill. I know a number of members participated in or closely watched open hearings in which our negotiators testified under oath about the facts of the deal.
So the administration has gone to great lengths to provide a lot of information about the substance of the agreement. And I'm confident that those kinds of conversations and that kind of exchange of information will continue throughout the month of August.
Q: A couple weeks ago we talked in this room about a plan on Guantanamo coming shortly. Can you give us an update on the status of that and the timing of it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, I don't have much of an update on the timing. The President has made clear that he is firmly committed to reducing the detainee population at the prison at Guantanamo Bay so that we can succeed in eventually closing it. And this administration is working diligently to finish a plan to safely and responsibly close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and we've made a commitment to share that plan with Congress.
I would point out that Congress has left for the August recess, as you point out, and it's unlikely that we'd be in a position to provide that plan to them when they're not in session and in Washington D.C.
But certainly the work on this plan continues here inside the administration. And I'd remind you that the work on a plan like this involves consultation with the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, certainly the State Department, and other agencies that have to work in a coordinated fashion to put together and then eventually, hopefully, implement the plan. But the work on that is ongoing, and I don't have a specific timeline for you at this point.
Q: And lastly, a migrant ship carrying as many as 600 Syrian refuges sunk yesterday. About at least 200 people appear to have died. Is the White House following that? Does it believe Europe is doing enough to make sure these types of tragedies don't happen, and is there more the U.S. can do as well?
MR. EARNEST: Jeff, I haven't seen much more about this incident other than the reports that you're citing. I will say that it is just the latest example of the terrible humanitarian situation that's been caused by the ongoing violence in Syria.
And the United States has offered significant financial support to other countries that are bearing the brunt of a broader humanitarian and refugee crisis. And it's why the administration is redoubling our efforts to try to broker some kind of political situation -- or political resolution in Syria, that even if it doesn't bring the violence all the way to an end, to try to find a way to reduce that violence and try to reduce the terrible humanitarian tool that this conflict has already taken on the people of Syria.
MR. EARNEST: Jim.
Q: Josh, yesterday the President said that the hardliners chanting "Death to America" are making common cause with the Republicans. Was that a little over the top?
MR. EARNEST: Jim, I think it was a statement of fact. That you have in Iran a group of hardliners who are strongly opposed to the deal and advocating for its defeat. And here in the United States you have Republicans in Congress who are advocating against the deal and urging its defeat. And in fact, you saw some of those same Republicans in Congress actually write a letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran advocating for the defeat of the deal, or at least promising to do so. So the fact is they've taken the same position.
Q: But they're not working with the hardliners chanting "Death to America."
MR. EARNEST: Certainly not.
Q: They don't share that same spirit --
MR. EARNEST: No, but they share the same position on the deal. And there's an element of it that's a little ironic because one of the arguments that's made by Republicans is that the deal will only strengthen the hand -- will strengthen the hand and benefit hardliners in Iran. The fact is, we see hardliners in Iran making the same argument that Republicans are that the deal should be defeated.
Q: So no regret whatsoever about that?
MR. EARNEST: And so I guess it is -- somebody asked me about irony earlier. This actually would be a pretty good definition of irony. And the fact is, Republicans in Congress have the same position on the Iran deal as the hardliners in Iran, despite the fact that Republicans say they have that position claiming that they actually disagree with those hardliners in Iran. But the fact of the matter is they have the same position on this.
Q: And Senator McConnell has asked that the President retract that comment. I guess that's not coming? He's not going to retract that comment.
MR. EARNEST: That's correct.
Q: And how is rhetoric like that supposed to get Republicans who may be undecided on this off the fence? Senator Jeff Flake, who accompanied the President to Africa, on that recent trip to Africa, he has said publicly that he's undecided on this. How is that kind of rhetoric supposed to bring him to your side?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, Senator Flake is going to make his own decision. I know that there were some previously undecided Democrats that after the --
Q: You don't think he's in common cause with the hardliners, I suppose.
MR. EARNEST: Well, he is not advocated aggressively for the defeat of the deal, as hardliners in Iran have and as some Republicans in Congress have.
But, Jim, as it relates to the impact of the speech, I leave it to Senator Flake to make a decision based on his own thinking about the agreement, and I'm confident that that's what he'll do. I think Democrats who are on the fence will do the same. And I know of at least five Democrats who were on the fence before the President gave the speech and within 24 hours have announced their support for the deal. So, apparently, at least a handful of Democrats found the President's speech to be remarkably persuasive.
Q: And Senator Cardin said earlier this morning that he does not see a comparison between this vote on the Iran deal and the vote to authorize war in Iraq. Might that have been a comparison that was just a bit overwrought?
MR. EARNEST: Again, we're hearing the same kinds of arguments from the same people. So back in --
Q: Senator Cardin is not one of those people.
MR. EARNEST: Again, Senator Cardin is not actively advocating the defeat of the -- he's not actively advocating the defeat of the Iran agreement. But those who are are suggesting things like, well, we can't trust Iran and we shouldn't do any kind of -- engage in any kind of diplomacy with Iran. Some of them are promising that military action against Iran would be really easy and almost painless. There are others who suggest that we shouldn't really worry about the fact that 99 percent of the international community is supportive of the agreement. We should sort of neglect the concerns or opinions that are expressed by some of our closest allies in the world.
Those are the same arguments that led us to war in 2003 in Iraq -- the same arguments. And the irony is, it's the same people. And that's the argument that the President is making. And it's a fact.
Q: And so what was he after then in that speech yesterday? Was he trying to convince anybody? Or does he just think that people are in their camps, they're not going to be moved, and that's that?
MR. EARNEST: Jim, as I mentioned, there were five Democrats in the House of Representatives after the President's speech who, within 24 hours since the President gave his speech, have announced their support for the agreement. So, again, I do think that there are at least some Democrats and one independent senator that announced their support for the deal after the President's speech.
Q: The message to Democrats being that we don't want to go down the road with the Iraq war, that some Democrats made the wrong choice. The President was saying yesterday, look at the people who made the wrong choice in Iraq in 2003. He didn't mention the fact that his Vice President, Secretary of State, former Secretary of State, all cast votes in favor of the Iraq war.
MR. EARNEST: Jim, I think this was a message to the country that we shouldn't go down this path again, that we need to learn from mistakes that were made in 2003. And when people say it's not worth it to waste our time with diplomacy, and that military action is easy and painless, and that we should neglect and even ignore the opinions of our closest allies in the world, that's the same argument that was made in 2003, and that's the argument that we're hearing from many Republicans who are advocating against the deal here in 2015.
Q: Lastly, totally different subject. The Democratic National Committee announced that there will be six debates. Is that enough? The President, when he was running for President back in 2008, was involved in something like 26 or 27 debates. It was a wild and wooly race. This sounds like the party really doesn't want much of a debate here -- six debates and then that's it.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I leave it to the DNC to decide the appropriate number of debates. But I'm confident that six debates would give the candidates ample opportunity to make a direct presentation to the country and to Democratic voters across the country about what they're values and priorities would be if they were elected President of the United States.
Q: Josh, I want to ask you some questions on two different subjects -- one, on the debate. They're expecting a very, very large crowd to tune in tonight -- in the millions, could be 15 million, give or take a few million -- but around that number.
MR. EARNEST: The phrase that comes to mind is, be careful what you wish for.
Q: I didn't say I was wishing for it, I'm saying --
MR. EARNEST: I'm not suggesting that you were wishing for it. I think there might be some Republican candidates who are wishing for it.
Q: Well, even with that, they are going to be trying to vie for attention and there are expected to be attacks on this President. How is this White House expected to react and come back to correct what I'm sure this administration would be considering misspeak, misinterpretation of the Iran deal or ACA or anything else? How is this administration planning on coming back to fight back after tonight's debate?
MR. EARNEST: April, there's no war room or rapid-response team that's been assembled by the White House.
Q: DNC has one.
MR. EARNEST: Well, then you can talk to them about what they may be planning. I suspect that they may be spending some time trying to pull the truth out of the thicket of overheated rhetoric that we can expect to see tonight. But I'm not aware of any plan here at the White House to respond to the Republican debate tonight.
Q: And also, today, on this big day for the GOP, it's also a huge day in this country -- 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act into law. Why is it still needed today? Because originally, it was for Southern states who had obstacles in helping blacks vote. They were trying to get the -- make sure that -- clearing the obstacles for blacks to vote. Why today are we still saying, 50 years later, in 2015, that we need a Voting Rights Act?
MR. EARNEST: Well, April, because I think for a couple of reasons. The first is there are documented instances where Republicans have acknowledged that they could seek a political advantage based on the way that elections are administered. And that certainly is not in keeping with the values that are enshrined in our Constitution or the kinds of values that make our country great.
And I would point out that even just yesterday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that's based in New Orleans issued a ruling raising concerns about the discriminatory impact of a Texas voting law. That occurred just yesterday. So that's a case that is still going through the legal process, so I can't talk about it too extensively other than acknowledging that this decision was handed down, and I think it's an indication that there continues to be a need for laws that protect the right of every eligible American to vote.
And the President -- I think, as you'll hear him say a little bit later today, but as he certainly said in the past -- has been quite disappointed at the amount of energy and effort that's been expended by Republicans to make it harder for eligible Americans to cast a vote. And that's why -- that's in part why you've seen the Department of Justice go to such great lengths to try to protect the voting rights of veterans and Spanish speakers and elderly Americans who may not have driver's licenses -- and, yes, even African Americans. And this principle of ensuring that eligible Americans have the opportunity to vote is one that this administration has gone to great lengths to aggressively defend.
Q: So what is the President going to do and what is he going to say about restoration? We've heard him talk before -- is he going to say something new today about restoring the Voting Rights Act? Because there's a different, I guess, problem when it comes to voting issues in this country versus 50 years ago. What is he going to say today that's new as it relates to voting rights?
MR. EARNEST: Well, April, I think you heard the President speak quite powerfully about this issue in Selma, Alabama, earlier this year. And the President at that time used that rather significant platform to urge Democrats and Republicans -- everybody who says they're concerned about voting rights -- to act together and to find common ground and advance and renew the Voting Rights Act. And the President will repeat that call today.
Q: Thank you. Following up on Jim's line of questioning, do the Democrats who oppose the Iranian nuclear deal also have common cause with the Iranian hardliners?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Pam, the thing that I would say is that we have seen Republicans, even before the deal was announced, proclaim it a bad deal. I'd point you back to Sunday, July 12 -- not a particularly notable day in American political history, but it is a day when several members of the Republican congressional leadership took to the airwaves -- including the airwaves on your network -- to proclaim the Iran agreement a bad deal, even though the Iran agreement hadn't been agreed to yet. It wasn't rolled out until two days later. And that is consistent with the views that are even more colorfully expressed on the streets of Iran by hardliners in Iran who are strongly opposed to the deal.
Q: But the difference is a rush to judgment -- the Democrats took longer to decide they didn't think it was a good deal?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that there are a number of Democrats who at least considered the deal and at least listened to the President and his national security team make the case. Now, I certainly disagree with the conclusion that they've reached, but at least they took their responsibilities seriously and didn't just respond out of an ideological or political or partisan opportunity to the leader of the country.
Q: The President has said that he wants members of Congress to judge the deal on its merits, on the facts. Is that kind of rhetoric, putting Republicans in with Iranian hardliners, keeping the debate on the facts?
MR. EARNEST: I think, Pam, the other observation I would have for you is that we haven't had a lot -- an extensive debate about the facts, that there's been a desire on the part of opponents of this deal to not really hone in on the details of the agreement, but to make broader rhetorical arguments, in some cases, even critiquing the tone of the President's speech about the deal -- not actually raising any legitimate concerns about the substance of the deal. I think that adds some weight to the President's argument that there is no legitimate alternative that's being put forward by the other side. What's being put forward by the other side is advocating killing a deal that would leave military action as the only alternative to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q: One more. In Selma and in his op-ed this morning, the President talked both about efforts to make it harder for some people to vote, and the fact that so many Americans choose not to vote. Which would he say is a bigger threat to the exercise of democracy, the efforts to restrict voter rights, or the fact that people are just apathetic?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Pam, the President has made the observation that people do have a choice when they walk into the voting booth of voting for one candidate or another, and it is a choice to say that you're not going to cast a ballot. It certainly is not a choice that the President agrees with. But I think that is materially different than people who expend significant time and energy, and in some cases, significant sums of money, to actually deprive eligible Americans of the right to vote. So I would describe that as worse.
But people who choose not to engage in their democracy, that's a problem, too.
Q: Let me start with Iran, if I could. It does seem as if the public still, beyond the Congress, the public seems to be divided, at least according to polls -- very closely divided. And one of the key questions that seems to be out there is the administration has said that war there or an attack on Iran is not simple and, in fact, would be more difficult, and you relate it to what happened in Iraq. But isn't it different, and won't people see it as different -- isn't it simple to -- how different is it to, instead of -- you're not trying to overthrow a government in this case. You would be trying to just knock out their nuclear sites, which Israel has done on occasion, and why can't the United States do that?
MR. EARNEST: You think that's how they'd see it, Jim?
MR. EARNEST: You think that's how they would see it? I think the point is I don't think that the Iranians would see it that way. And I think it is entirely logical and even constructive, responsible, to assume that a military action against what the Iranian regime has called a national priority would provoke a significant reaction from the Iranian regime.
The President talked about this a little bit in the conversation he had with some columnists in the Roosevelt Room yesterday, that given the significant military advantage that the United States has, it might be a little unlikely that the Iranians would respond directly by attacking the United States. But we know that Iran and their proxies have a significant number of missiles that are aimed at Israel. We know right now that Iran is providing at least some support to Shia militia that are operating inside of Iraq -- in some cases in rather close proximity to U.S. military trainers. So there is some vulnerability.
And you can only imagine -- the other example, we saw reports just earlier today that the Iranian military had undertaken some provocative action against U.S. military personnel that were operating in international waters around the Strait of Hormuz. You can only imagine what the reaction in the United States will be if Iran did any one of those things or their proxies did one of those things.
And that's where the march to war begins. And so there are some, including Tom Cotton, Senator Cotton, who suggests that -- again, as I alluded to earlier -- that military action would be easy. But that's exactly the kind of thinking that got us in trouble in Iraq in 2003 -- that the first month or so of that war did live up to the hype; that there was shock and awe, and that there was a rapid advance of U.S. forces across the desert in Iraq. But 12 years later, we're still dealing with the consequences of that seemingly simply military operation. And again, I think the parallels of these two situations are undeniable.
Q: Changing the subject to the Voting Rights Act, a couple quick questions on this. Just if you could -- you've said that the voter I.D. laws discriminate against older people who don't have licenses; you mentioned Spanish speakers. What protection -- if, in fact, voter I.D. laws were to be eliminated, what protections would we have that only those who were supposed to vote would vote? And does the President support making it easier to vote on the other end by having -- by moving the election from Tuesday during the work day to days when people are not at work, or evenings, where people could vote, as is done in some other places?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, as you know, the election rules are written by states and administered by local officials. And the goal of the Voting Rights Act was to try to provide some uniformity of access to the ballot box for many Americans. And so in terms of the protections, we obviously are going to rely on state and local officials to put those protections in place and to enforce them.
There are a variety of ideas that people have come up with to make it easier or to somehow encourage more people to participate in the electoral process. And I know that some who have taken a close look at this issue, for example, have found that there might be some downsides to moving Election Day to a weekend instead of a weekday.
But the President did announce a blue-ribbon commission that included political operatives and attorneys from both parties to take a look at this and to put forward some recommendations about how the process of registering to vote and casting a ballot could be made more convenient for voters. And we certainly would encourage states to take a look at the results of that blue-ribbon commission and even implement some of those ideas.
Q: If I could just turn to immigration for a moment -- does the administration believe -- continue to believe that these private prisons for families, including children, are a good idea, even though a judge has said that you need to move on this? Does the administration believe it's a good idea to be on the same side as Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who has urged you to continue to -- urged the DHS to continue to fight to keep detaining women and children? Is that a good idea?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, I'm limited in what I can say about this because of the court case that you referenced. We have acknowledged from the very beginning that this is a very complicated and even difficult policy problem to confront. And the best way to confront this policy is to try to prevent this occurrence from happening in the first place. And that's why you've seen the administration do a variety of things with our partners in Mexico and in Central America to try to stem the flow of women and children who are seeking to illegally enter this country.
So that's sort of where this starts. There are some investments that we've made in these individual countries; there are steps that we've encouraged our Mexican partners to take, and to their credit, they've followed through on some of those commitments to try to stem the flow of undocumented workers northward. But what's also true is we need to enforce the laws that are on the books, and we do need to have a process for --
Q: But, Josh, the law that's on the books says that women and children should be put in places not like prisons and, in fact, places that are certified to care for children, or with relatives. And that's not what the administration is doing. That is against the law. Does the administration feel as though -- that it should change? Wouldn't it be better to put that money you're spending on private prisons -- millions and millions of dollars -- into the court system to process these people faster and get them where they belong?
MR. EARNEST: Well, some of these specific proposals, I'd refer you to the Department of Homeland Security for the feasibility of implementing them. But all I can tell you is that this is a difficult policy problem that we have worked very hard to address. But in terms of weighing the pros and cons here, it's hard for me to do that because that's something that's being done in a court of law right now.
Q: How closely do you think the American people are really paying attention to this Iran nuclear debate?
MR. EARNEST: I think it's hard to tell -- particularly at this time of year. But that's certainly not going to stop the administration or the President himself from making the case publicly. And it's not going to stop the opponents of this deal from making their case to the public, as well. And I would expect that this debate -- even in a month when many Americans are not paying close attention to public policy issues like this, where I think this is a debate that will continue.
Q: Speaking about an opponent to the debate, how concerned is this administration that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be making additional overtures to defeat this bill to Congress, in fact, maybe even in person?
MR. EARNEST: Well, JC, I'm not aware of any plans that the Prime Minister has, but it's difficult for me to imagine that he would have a more significant platform than he ascended back in March when he spoke to a joint session of Congress. So he certainly has had ample opportunity to make his views of this deal known.
Q: Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: David.
Q: Just a follow-up. Do you feel that -- the President had Jewish American groups over to the White House the other night, and he spoke publicly on the deal, and I think he's giving an interview today for a Sunday show for Fareed Zakaria. Does he believe that -- you said he's not going to engage with lawmakers during this two-week vacation. Does he believe he's gotten his arguments out now, that they're out there, he himself has ticked off the criticisms and kind of rebutted them already -- does he feel confident that he's okay to go off on the vacation and not have to speak publicly and sell this deal for two weeks, and that he's done all he can?
MR. EARNEST: I think the President has had ample opportunity -- both in the context of the speech that he gave the morning after the deal was announced, and the news conference that he did with all of you where he spent more than an hour answering questions and taking on directly many of the criticisms of the deal, and of course, he had a sizeable platform yesterday where he delivered the speech at American University. So the President will do an interview with Fareed Zakaria from CNN today, and I think this will be the focus of most of the interview.
Q: His opponents tonight are going to be on national television talking about their criticisms potentially of this deal, and the next two weeks maybe making other statements, and lawmakers back home hearing from their constituents. The President doesn't feel he has to be out there during his vacation time to weigh in on this?
MR. EARNEST: He does not. But I wouldn't rule out that other senior administration officials, however, over the course of the next couple of weeks might be publicly making the case.
Q: One other thing. This is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Has the President ever considered going to Hiroshima? If so, why has he not? If not, does he not believe that such a visit would be appropriate? I believe there was a WikiLeaks cable a few years ago that had some discussions about U.S. diplomat John Roos talking about the Japanese feelings about such a visit. Has the President considered it? Is it a nonstarter at this point? And what is his thinking about whether it's appropriate for a sitting President to visit?
MR. EARNEST: Well, David, I think it's first important to reflect on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and the enduring bilateral partnership that's been built between the United States and Japan. And today, August 6th and August 9th, remain days for somber reflection and a renewed commitment to building a more peaceful world. The United States looks forward to continued work with Japan to advance the goal that the President himself has articulated of a world without nuclear weapons.
You mentioned the ceremony that took place at Hiroshima today. The United States Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, as well as the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Rose Gottemoeller, attended that ceremony and they're planning to attend the Nagasaki Peace memorial service that's scheduled for later this week.
Q: But that didn't answer -- does the President believe it's not appropriate for him to visit as a sitting President because it would look like some sort of apology, or sort of a contrite sort of position for -- obviously a decision that killed a lot of Japanese but maybe ended the war more quickly for U.S. military? I mean, does he think that at some point we have to get past that and maybe a visit would be appropriate at some point, whether him or a future President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I certainly wouldn't rule out that kind of possibility into the future. But there has been a robust debate particularly surrounding the President's previous visits to Japan. He's been there three or four times now, and I think in the context of each trip there has been sort of this public debate and discussion about the propriety of a presidential visit. And I don't have a lot of internal thinking to share with you.
Q: Can you say whether the President or his advisors came down basically against it? I mean, in Burma he's done a lot of things to make -- get past the sticking points; Cuba, and so on. Does he just come down on the other side on this one?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the fact that he didn't go to either Hiroshima or Nagasaki on his three or four previous visits to Japan I think does give you an indication of where the President and his team ultimately came down on this. But I think the other thing that warrants mentioning is what Prime Minister Abe said when he visited the United States earlier this year -- and I think you covered this news conference in the Rose Garden, David, where Prime Minister Abe relayed a constructive message in Washington about reconciliation and U.S.-Japan relations including his tribute to Americans who lost their lives in the war.
And we certainly take note of Prime Minister Abe's expression of deep remorse over the war and his reference to Japanese actions that brought suffering to people in countries throughout Asia. And it is in the interest of all parties in that old conflict to address and transcend the lingering historical issues of that war era.
Q: Thanks, Josh. The President in his speech yesterday saved some of his harshest criticism for people who had not -- or who came out against the deal before actually reading it. You've done the same thing today. I want to ask you about Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has been a constant opponent of the deal before the initial agreement, before the final agreement. Do you put him in that same category as -- do you believe he's done enough to actually read the deal and make a decision based on the merits?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Toluse, I think the President -- you were referring to his remarks yesterday to the fact that he respects Prime Minister Netanyahu and that he comes by his views on this topic honestly, but the President does think that he's wrong.
And I think one illustration I would remind you of is that when an interim agreement was announced, I believe sort of at the end of November of 2013 -- this was essentially the agreement that predicated Iran rolling back key aspects of their nuclear program in exchange for a limited amount of sanctions relief while broader negotiations took place to reach a final agreement. When that agreement was announced, Prime Minster Netanyahu called it a historic mistake. And yet in the run-up to the completion to the final agreement, Prime Minister Netanyahu was actually advocating that we just leave that interim agreement in place permanently rather than trying to reach a final deal. So something that Prime Minister Netanyahu had previously called a historic mistake 18 months later he was advocating remain in place permanently.
So, again, I think that is why there's been some frustration that you've seen from the White House and even from the President about some of the Prime Minister's comments. But at the same time, the President I think readily acknowledged the serious responsibility that Prime Minster Netanyahu has to provide for the national security of the nation that he leads and for the people of that country. And that's what he should do.
And the commitment that this President and this administration and this country feel to cooperating and even strengthening the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger. And Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has described the security cooperation between United States and Israel under President Obama's leadership as unprecedented. And the President has made clear that his commitment to Israel's security is as strong as ever, and that's why he sought to engage in conversations with Prime Minster Netanyahu directly about how to even further deepen our security relationship. And I think that's an indication of the amount of respect that President Obama has for Prime Minister Netanyahu and for the nation of Israel despite our legitimate and vigorous disagreement about this one issue.
Q: Sort of following up on the security relationship. The President mentioned the idea of an additional 10-year security pact. Do you have any information about when we might hear more about that, what it might entail, and what the conversations have been so far between the U.S. and Israel on it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, mostly they've been pretty one-sided because the United States has indicated our desire to try to deepen that security relationship and there's been a reluctance on the part of many of our national security team's counterparts to engage in that discussion at this point.
But the fact is, there is a memorandum of understanding that is in place and will remain in place through, I believe, 2018. But the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated a desire to begin conversations about extending that memorandum of understanding when the President traveled to Israel back in 2013.
So the desire and commitment to strengthen that relationship exists on the U.S. side. And we look forward to -- and I'm confident that we'll have at some point -- constructive conversations with the Israelis to complete that agreement.
Q: One more. The Senate went on its vacation without addressing the cybersecurity bill. I'm wondering if you have any reaction to that. And also sort of the idea that -- for things that don't have a deadline -- cybersecurity, AUMF, different nominations -- that when there's not a hard deadline some of these things may get kicked so far down the road that we may get to a point where the President is almost out of office before those things get addressed.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think our concern is less about the President and more about the impact of Congress not taking care of business before leaving on vacation. And I think what is true is I think we can count on that even if Congress has delayed consideration of the cyber bill that our adversaries in cyberspace aren't going to take August off. And even though Congress has delayed consideration of the AUMF almost indefinitely, I don't think, unfortunately, that ISIL is going to take August off.
That being said, the administration is encouraged that the Senate has agreed to a path forward to consider important cybersecurity legislation. And while there are still some areas of concern that we hope to address, the bill's sponsors have made a good-faith effort to address some of our biggest concerns and have demonstrated their intent to make further important changes.
And there is no reason that cyber legislation, particularly when it comes to something as critical as information-sharing, should be a partisan issue. We should have an opportunity to work together in bipartisan fashion. And at least when it comes to the bill's sponsors, there have been some constructive conversations. And hopefully when Congress does return in September, they'll be able to take some steps down that path forward that now has been created.
Q: Thanks. On Syria, the Pentagon said today that it has lost track of the 50-odd rebels it trained. They've scattered since coming under attack. Has the President been briefed? And is he disappointed at the outcome of the mission?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Margaret, the thing that I would tell you is that the Department of Defense is responsible for this train-and-equip mission. And we've acknowledged that it has been an effort that's been quite challenging for a variety of reasons, including the need to conduct thorough background investigations on those individuals before they enter the program. We certainly -- we don't want to be in the business of training and equipping someone who could end up on the other side of the fight.
The United States and our coalition partners has already taken military action to actively defend those individuals who have gone through the training program from aggression perpetrated by extremists inside of Syria.
And we continue to be pleased with the important progress that's been made in northern Syria since May -- so just three months -- over the course of the last three months, we've seen anti-ISIL forces, whose efforts have been supported by more than 2,200 coalition airstrikes, and backed by those airstrikes, they've made significant progress across northern Syria. They've regained more than 5,300 square kilometers from ISIL. And these are essentially forces that liberated Kobani from ISIL. They have connected with other forces that liberated Tal Abyad from ISIL. And just in the last month, they've actually cleared ISIL from the major city of Hasakah.
So we know that scores of ISIL fighters have been killed in these airstrikes, and we know that this anti-ISIL fighting coalition has made important progress, including advancing to within 30 miles of the self-proclaimed ISIL capital of Raqqa. We know that those significant gains have also prompted some defections from ISIL. So that's an indication that there is some progress that's being made in northern Syria, despite the significant challenges that our train-and-equip operation has encountered.
Q: But when it comes to that specific train-and-equip program that the President authorized a year ago, is he getting briefed on specifically what's happening with those rebels who were vetted, who have gone through training -- millions of dollars' worth of training -- and have been in theater, now lost?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President has been regularly updated on the efforts to stand up and implement this train-and-equip mission. And we've been pretty forthright -- particularly the Department of Defense has been pretty forthright about the significant challenges that that operation has faced. But it has not significantly encumbered the other aspects of our strategy that are yielding important results in northern Syria.
Q: But is there anything specific to this train-and-equip mission that's informative for the other efforts in Jordan, in Turkey, and Qatar? I mean, how is the White House viewing this specific instance of what happened to those who've gone through that American program? I mean, how is it going to change things going forward?
MR. EARNEST: I would encourage you to ask that question to DOD because they're the ones that are responsible for implementing the deal -- or implementing this mission. But the President certainly does have the expectation that the United States and our coalition partners learn from the significant challenges that we have encountered in trying to train, equip and empower these Syrian opposition fighters on the ground in Syria.
Q: But you wouldn't say at this point that the White House is disappointed, that the President is disappointed with the mission thus far?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think we've been pretty forthright about the significant challenges that they've encountered and I know that the Department of Defense is working to improve our performance here.
Q: Is there a decision at this point from this building at least whether there's a responsibility to go in and rescue or account for those who have been scattered and lost, and have been through that training program?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware of any policy decision that's been made on that kind of question. I'd encourage you to check with the Department of Defense on that. The policy decision that we have announced and that was announced I believe earlier this week is that the United States and our coalition partners would not hesitate to use military airpower to defend those anti-ISIL fighters if they come under attack from extremists that are operating in Syria. And that is a step that the United States and our coalition partners has already taken at least once, and we're prepared to do it again.
Q: One more on Syria, a different matter, though. Secretary Kerry said today that the U.S. and Russia have come to an agreement on how to establish accountability for the continued use of chemicals as weapons in Syria. And that's going to the U.N. tomorrow. Would the White House like to see a consequence for the use of those weapons if the U.N. does find what the United States already believes, which is that Assad is continuing to use chemical weapons?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President, on a variety of occasions, has made clear his concern about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. And the administration did work effectively with the Russians to remove Assad's declared chemical weapons stockpile. But there are ongoing concerns based on reports that you've cited that are now being closely examined by the United Nations, and we certainly are supportive of that process. And I think I can say in general that the United States, using some of our own resources and capabilities, is also monitoring those reports, as well.
Q: Thanks, Josh. It's housekeeping. I got to do it. Give me a percent chance that the President is not going to be watching tonight. He's got to watch, right? I mean a couple days ago there was a letter sent to supporters that said, "The other side is counting on folks like you sitting this one out, so I need you to say that you'll be watching on Thursday." So unless this is a "do as I say and not as I do," he's got to be watching, right? (Laughter.) Can we just say he's going to be watching?
MR. EARNEST: I think it's fair to say that the Democratic National Committee has got a lot of political junkies on their email list, and I think there will be, as a result, a lot of Democrats that are tuning into the Republican debate, even if they're not planning to cast a vote in the Republican primary.
Again, I'd be surprised if the President spent a lot of his evening devoted to watching the debate. But I'm confident that the highlights -- or the lowlights, as you might describe them -- (laughter) --
Q: You might.
Q: As you might describe them.
MR. EARNEST: Or as I might describe them -- that the President will get a chance to take a look at those, too.
Q: All right. I appreciate that.
Wendy Sherman told the Senate banking folks yesterday that she didn't see the final documents on the -- and I know you've pushed back on this example of using the phrase "side agreements" or "side deals" -- how much of a concern is it to you if she didn't even see the final documents?
MR. EARNEST: We're not concerned about this because the United States and our negotiating team is aware of what's included in those agreements, and our negotiating team has taken the extraordinary step of actually convening classified sessions with the entire membership of the House and the entire membership of the United States Senate in separate sessions to describe to them the contents of those agreements.
And that's why members of Congress can be confident that they know what's in those agreements. And to the extent that that factors into their ultimate decision about whether or not to approve the deal, they have the information that they need to make that decision.
Q: But that's information not based on the final documents, is that correct?
MR. EARNEST: That information is based on an accurate accounting on what's included in the agreement between the IAEA and Iran.
Q: Speaking of the IAEA and Iran, there are some reports out there that suggest that the Iranians will be able to submit their own soil samples for testing. Doesn't that again lend the argument -- lend to the argument that perhaps we should have others on the ground to actually observe this because if they're cleaning up past facilities, if they're sort of cherry-picking their own soil samples and providing them to the IAEA, can you see how that would be a major concern to many on Capitol Hill?
MR. EARNEST: Not really, principally because the IAEA is an international, impartial association of nuclear experts --
Q: They may be impartial, but if the Iranians are giving cherry-picked samples, how can they be assured of their authenticity?
MR. EARNEST: The point is these nuclear experts know exactly what information and access they need in order to write a report about the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program. And what the United States and our international partners have done is actually made clear to the Iranians that they need to follow through on the requests made by the IAEA for all of the information and access that they need. And if Iran fails to do that, they will not get any sanctions relief. And that's why, as you point out, I've quibbled with the description that others have had in labeling these agreements side agreements. The fact is no aspect of this agreement moves forward unless Iran complies with the request for information and access that the IAEA has submitted.
The other thing that the United States has done is we've actually -- with our coalition partners -- we've actually put a timeline on it. We have said that this information and access has to be provided by October 15th. And that's what our expectation is, and if it's not provided, all of that access and information is not provided by the deadline, Iran won't get any sanctions relief.
Q: I want to ask you again on D.C. statehood. I know we talked a bit about it the other day. When you're talking about a city with more people than two states at least, and probably a third, given the growth in this area, and yet they don't have representation -- and the President has the opportunity to really be someone who can use the platform to really not only defend but also support the idea that hundreds of thousands of American citizens don't have the opportunity to be properly represented, and yet he hasn't done so forcefully -- and I'm just curious why.
MR. EARNEST: I think the President has. The President does support statehood. The President supports home rule in D.C. And we can pull you the examples where the President has done that. I think you're right, I don't think that he's done that recently. But certainly the President's views on this topic have not changed.
MR. EARNEST: Chris.
Q: If I can follow up on that, the Iran stuff. You talked about the robust briefings, and there's no doubt -- John Kerry has been out there, the Vice President, Wendy Sherman was on Capitol Hill yesterday. Secretary Moniz, who is well-respected on the Hill, was involved in those classified briefings. And yet there does seem to be an indication that this is very close. And even though you've expressed confidence that you'll hold the third -- maybe uncomfortably close -- it would seem to me that the options for why this is, is that either something in these extensive amount of briefings, including the President's own speeches, is lacking; that Bibi Netanyahu and AIPAC are out-lobbying you; that the clarity that the President says he has on this deal is not so clear to a lot of other smart people, including Democrats. Why is it at this stage that a number of Democrats who are undecided have said that it's because they need more information?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think there's a lot there. Let me start by saying I don't know if the administration has been out-lobbied. We certainly have been outspent. And we expected that that will be true over the course of August. That's just a fact. And there are a lot of details in this agreement to consider. And I'm not surprised that there are a lot of members of Congress that are taking a thoughtful approach to this, that are taking their time to consider all of the details of the agreement, to benefit from extensive briefings from senior administration officials, including those who negotiated the agreement. I would expect that there are even some members of Congress that are taking some time to talk to some outside sources, maybe even some of their constituents about this. That's perfectly appropriate.
As you'll recall, Congress has given themselves 60 days with which to consider this agreement, and I'm not surprised to hear that it looks like some of them may take almost all of those 60 days. That seems like an understandable approach. We certainly welcome those who have already decided and come forward with their public view of this. But if there are other members of Congress who say, I want to take my time and I want to look carefully at this and benefit from all the briefings and talk to my constituents, that's perfectly appropriate as well. And I don't think it indicates any sort of weakness on either the President's pitch or the substance of the deal.
Q: So how important is that final number? If it's breathtakingly close -- for lack of a better adjective -- if it's really razor thin, what kind of message does that send? And how much do the numbers matter to the President and to the White House?
MR. EARNEST: Not at all. And let me tell you why. The fact is we don't need Congress to approve this deal; we just need Congress not to screw it up. So Congress has an opportunity to play spoiler here, and if they fail on that effort, this deal will move forward. It will be implemented. And we will have taken the most important step we can -- the best step we can -- to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q: Let me go to the debate and the questions about whether or not you will react in any way. I know you don't have a rapid-response team, but I wonder how the White House sees its role. Because whoever the nominee may be -- and let's assume that it is either Secretary Clinton or Vice President Biden, both of whom have, obviously, a close association with this White House, and the status of this White House and this President could play a role in how voters view them and consider their vote. What do you see the White House role -- how does the President view his role as this campaign goes on in terms of responding to attacks that are inevitable from the Republicans?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there have been a couple of occasions where you all have had the opportunity to ask questions of the President about comments that have been made by Republicans, and there are a couple of times where the President has responded quite directly and forcefully. And there have been other times where the President has gotten those kinds of questions and waved them off.
So I think we'll do this on a case-by-case basis. And I think the fact is -- here's the thing that I think will -- this is the other -- to the extent that I have commentary in the Republican debate -- this is the other thing that I think is illuminating. I think it is -- while I hesitate to speculate or predict --
Q: Come on, come on.
MR. EARNEST: -- what the debate is likely to include, I will say this. I feel confident in saying that the Republicans candidates are going to spend more time talking about the President's plans than they are about their own. And that's an indication of the political capital and influence that the President still wields not just in Washington D.C. but across the country; that there are going to be extensive discussions in the debate certainly about the Iran deal, certainly about our efforts to counter ISIL, but also about the President's executive action to do the most significant thing we've ever done to try to fight the causes of climate change, or the President's executive actions to address our broken immigration system.
There's going to be a lot of discussion tonight -- I think the debate is going to go on two hours. But I think most of the debate is going to be about the President and the influence that he wields.
Q: -- in relation to the Iran deal, just yesterday, the President gave a major speech, but in the afternoon, so most people will have only seen clips. In the meantime, you may get 13 million or however many people they think might watch this debate tonight hearing all of it, and hearing the other side in a more extensive way. Is that a problem, especially as members of Congress go back to their constituents?
MR. EARNEST: If it is a problem, it's not one that we're worried about, primarily because I do think the American people will consider the source.
Q: And I have to ask you, finally, so if -- it's unclear exactly how much time the President might be spending watching the debate tonight. Any interest in the happy hour debate?
MR. EARNEST: Oh, right, the "undercard" I think as some people have described it. (Laughter.)
Q: We won't be back in there watching the undercard at 5 o'clock --
MR. EARNEST: I doubt it. I doubt it.
Q: More importantly, is Jon Stewart -- is he going to stay up and watch that?
MR. EARNEST: That might get the President's attention.
Q: Thanks. The President alluded in his speech yesterday to the millions of dollars of advertising you just mentioned -- you expect to be outspent. Is it a secret that AIPAC is the group that has formed the outlet that's going to be running most of these ads that members will see when they're home for August? Was he specifically talking about AIPAC? And does he think that what they're doing is somehow inappropriate, or that the approach they've taken is out of line in advocating against the deal?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Julie, I think there are some other organizations that have pledged to spend money criticizing the deal. I don't think AIPAC is the only one. But I haven't taken a close look at this -- I wouldn't be surprised if they are the organization that's committed to spending the most amount of money on this.
I do think the President is disappointed that too often critically important policy issues like this get reduced to whoever can spend the most amount of money advocating for or against it. That's probably not the healthiest way for us to engage in this political debate. But given the rules of our system, that's what people are allowed to do, and I certainly wouldn't raise questions about the right of anyone to express their views, whether they're an office holder or merely an interested observer. And I think the President was direct in his speech yesterday, and the President was pretty direct in the meeting that he had with Jewish American leaders here at the White House a couple of days ago.
The concerns that some of the strongest supporters of Israel have about Iran are entirely justified. The President has those concerns. The President is concerned about the offensive -- to put it mildly -- anti-Semitic rhetoric that's propagated by the Iranian government. He's got deep concerns about the frequency with which Iran threatens Israel. He's got significant concerns about the way that Iran supports proxies in the region that threaten Israel -- I'm referring to Hezbollah. That's why the President makes the case that preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is so important and so clearly in the national security interest of Israel.
I guess that's how it's possible for people to have such starkly different views of the deal, but to do so respectfully -- because the concerns that are expressed by many of those who are supporters of Israel are concerns that the President shares, but the fact is that leads them to different conclusions. The degree to which Iran is able to threaten Israel is precisely why the President is pursuing what he believes is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Not the only reason. The main reason is that he believes it's in the national security interest of the United States. But there is no denying that Israel's national security is a priority for the President as well. And that's one of the important reasons that he's pursuing this diplomatic agreement from preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q: But he seemed to suggest in his speech and, to some extent, in that meeting that you referenced, that he believes that the claims that are being spread by some of these groups are inaccurate -- and willfully inaccurate. Does he think that they're lying about the deal? Does he think that they are making charges that simply aren't true? Not to say whether their concept of what the deal will or will not do isn't right, but just that they're making false claims?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven't done a specific fact check of any television ads that have run, so let me just say in general -- and I don't have anything specific in mind when I say this -- but I think, in general, there have been a significant number of criticisms lodged against the deal that don't stand up to scrutiny, and that's been the source of some frustration on the part of the President, there's no doubt about that.
Q: Thanks, Josh. Another question on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A lot of the coverage is focused on the fact that the victims -- the average age is 80 years old -- they are the only generation of people who have been the victims of a nuclear attack. And this is an issue that has long been important to the President since even before he became President. And I'm just curious if you happen to know if their stories have had any particular impact on his own conviction that nonproliferation is a very important goal?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Sarah, I would say that there are a number of American officials, including Ambassador Kennedy, that have had the opportunity to hear the experiences and testimony of survivors. And I think to a person, each of those officials, has found those survivors' stories to be quite moving and poignant.
And I don't know if the President has engaged in any of those conversations. Presumably the possibility that he would have had to have those kinds of conversations would have come up during his trip to -- one of his trips to Japan, and I don't know if that occurred or not.
But certainly the President is a student of history, as you all know, and there has been extensive historic discussion and review about the consequences of President Truman's fateful decision that brought the Second World War to an end. And these are, to put it mildly, weighty issues to scrutinize and to discuss and to, in some cases, even debate, and people have been doing it for 70 years. I suspect that people will be doing it for at least another 70.
And there's no doubt that at least some of this has influenced the view, not just of President Obama but of many previous Presidents, to set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons. And it certainly is a goal that this administration and this President is committed to pursuing. The President has convened a couple of national security summits. The first one was here in Washington D.C. and I believe there's slated to be another one next year, and we'll have some more details on that soon.
Q: Thank you, Josh.
Q: So do you foresee any -- what's the next step? He laid out a very ambitious agenda in his Prague speech in 2009. Do you see us being able to check anything else off of that? And I have one more question also. His peace prize -- his Nobel Peace Prize was based sort of prospectively in part on that speech and other things. And in light of securing this Iran deal, do you know if the President has gotten a chance to reflect a little more on that prize and if he feels that it's now vindicated or anything like that?
MR. EARNEST: In terms of our ongoing nonproliferation efforts, let me see if I can have somebody follow up with you -- if you're working on a specific story, there may be some additional facts about our record and our plans that we can share with you for that story.
As it relates to the President's Nobel Peace Prize, I think what I can say about that is I know that the speech that the President gave when he received the prize back in December of 2009 was on his mind as he was writing the speech that he delivered yesterday, and I do think that there are some rather distinctive parallels between those two speeches.
Rebecca, I'll give you the last one.
Q: Thanks, Josh. In his speech yesterday, the President chided opponents of the Iran deal, saying it's easy to play on people's fears. But isn't that what he's doing in warning of war with Iran as the only realistic alternative to this deal?
MR. EARNEST: No. I think what the President is actually doing is the President delivered a powerful argument to give diplomacy a chance to work, because the President believes that diplomacy is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That is, after all, why the President is pursuing this path.
And it is merely a fact that if Congress kills this diplomatic opening that a military conflict becomes much more likely and is, in fact, the only alternative to this diplomatic agreement. And I say that because we're now 18 days or so into this debate and we've yet to hear the alternative that many of our opponents swear exists but it hasn't actually materialized.
So I don't think it's a stretch for the President to point out the consequences of Congress acting to kill the deal.
Okay. Thanks, everybody. We'll see you tomorrow. Enjoy the debate.
Q: As you.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
END 2:07 P.M. EDT
Barack Obama, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/310816