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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest

January 13, 2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:55 A.M. EST

MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you today. Before we get started, the President -- you obviously all had an opportunity to hear from the President as he convened the meeting with congressional leaders here at the White House.

As I conveyed yesterday, I do anticipate that the bulk of the meeting will be used to discuss opportunities where Democrats and Republicans can put aside the differences they may have over a range of issues and focus on areas where there should be common ground where we agree we can move the country forward.

I just want to highlight two examples of that. The first is the President today will be submitting legislation to Congress with specific language that would strengthen our cybersecurity protections. This is a bill that would strengthen cybersecurity, would strengthen law enforcement tools that can be used to go after hackers, and would put in place protections that would actually protect consumers who may have had their data obtained through illicit cyber attacks.

So this is an important piece of legislation. There's no real reason that it should be subjected to the typical partisan squabbling that we see so often on Capitol Hill. I'm confident there will be people with different views on this issue. But I think we can all agree that this something that's important, should be a priority, and hopefully Democrats and Republicans in Congress can work constructively together and with the administration to advance this important piece of legislation.

The second is -- and this is an announcement that was issued by the Treasury Department just a little bit earlier this morning -- the administration is ready to commit to additional loan guarantees to the people of Ukraine. We've talked about the challenges facing the Ukrainian economy, and the President believes that now is an appropriate time for us to show some support for the people of Ukraine as they confront these difficult challenges. Obviously, offering up an additional loan guarantee to the people of Ukraine would require an act of Congress. And we have heard very vocal public expressions from Democrats and Republicans in Congress about the importance of the United States standing with the Ukrainian people as they confront the threat from their neighbors in Russia. And this would be a very good opportunity for us to meaningfully support the Ukrainian people as they confront this challenge.

So with that, Nedra, why don't we go to your questions?

Q: The President in his remarks outlined several areas where he thought that Democrats and Republicans can work together. What's his goal for this meeting? Does he hope to emerge with any sort of agreements or breakthroughs? Or is this more of a listening session?

MR. EARNEST: I would not describe this as a meeting in which we anticipate a significant legislative breakthrough. I do think this is an opportunity for, like I said, Democrats and Republicans who are in leadership positions on Capitol Hill to sit down with the President and talk about what their priorities are. And I do think that if they spend a decent amount of time talking about their priorities, they will identify some areas of common ground. And whether that is some of the things the President talked about in the form of simplifying our tax code and making it more fair in a way that's good for the economy, or investing in infrastructure that we know will create jobs, or even the cybersecurity or Ukraine legislation that I mentioned, that I think we'll be able to find some common ground.

And again, that doesn't paper over the differences that clearly exist between Democrats and Republicans and certainly between the Democratic President and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. But we're not here to talk about differences; we're here to try to identify some areas of common ground. And that's what we hope we'll be able to do. But I would not expect any sort of legislative -- the announcement of any sort of legislative breakthrough at the conclusion of today's meeting.

Q: Speaker Boehner's office is saying that the President's recent veto threats show that he's not listening to the American people when they say they want Democrats and Republicans to work together. What's your response to that? Is that a valid point?

MR. EARNEST: It's not. Again, the first observation -- I've said this a couple of times. The first observation that I would have is that right out of the gate we see that the new Republican majority in Congress is actually recycling old legislation that they know that the President strongly opposes. So it doesn't send a very clear signal that this new Republican Congress is ready to pursue a different political strategy than the one that they've pursued for the last four years in which they have time and again at every turn tried to block the President from doing anything, certainly doing anything legislatively.

And based on the legislative strategy that they've pursued over the first 10 days or so, there's not an indication that they're willing to change their tactics. But we continue to hope that they will and continue to hope that they're actually serious now about not just being the opposition, but actually assuming the responsibility of governing the country, which is a responsibility that they have now they're in the majority in both the House and the Senate.

And if they are willing to bring that spirit of cooperation and search for common ground, they will find a very willing partner on this end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Q: There's a report that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula helped finance the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Can you confirm that or comment on that?

MR. EARNEST: I'm not in a position to offer additional information about that report. What I can tell you is that the United States has been in a position to share some information with French investigators who are trying to get to the bottom of what exactly happened and who may have been involved in the attack.

The information that U.S. intelligence officials shared with our French counterparts was information related to travel history. But that's really all that I can say about this specific matter. We certainly are interested in continuing to work closely with the French as they conduct this investigation and as they ensure that they are taking the necessary steps to round up others who may have been involved, and to ensure the safety and security of the French people. The French will continue to find very willing partners and strong allies here in the United States and here at the White House.

Q: Considering the Yemen link, a year and a half ago the President lifted the ban on transfers of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, but there have been some transfers of Yemeni detainees lately that have gone to third countries. Is that ban back on, considering the current threat from there? What is the policy on that?

MR. EARNEST: You're talking about Yemenis who have been transferred from Gitmo to other countries?

Q: Right.

MR. EARNEST: Well, each of those transfers is executed with a specific set of requirements that ensure that those individuals don't pose an ongoing, continuing threat to the United States or our interests. Each of those is individually tailored to the individual that's being transferred. It involves extensive negotiation with the governments that have agreed to take on these individuals and to implement the measures that have been discussed.

So for more details on that as it relates to specific individuals who have been transferred, I'd refer you to the Department of Defense.

Q: Well, not just specific individuals, but has his policy on transfers to Yemen, has that changed? Would he still be willing to transfer detainees to Yemen?

MR. EARNEST: But I think you're talking about Yemenis that have been transferred to other countries, right?

Q: Right. But there was a ban -- he had a self-imposed ban on transfers to Yemen which he lifted in his National Defense University speech, and I just wondered if that was still in effect or if he re-imposed that ban.

MR. EARNEST: I see. I don't believe that we've made any change in policy at this point, but I'm not in a position to talk about any Gitmo detainee transfers that are currently being discussed at this point.


Q: Josh, does the White House have an update on its analysis of what happened yesterday with the CENTCOM hacking?

MR. EARNEST: I don't have much additional information on this. I can tell you that the FBI continues to take a careful look at it. They're obviously working closely with the Department of Defense on this. The networks that were penetrated were commercial networks that were operated by a couple of social media outlets that are used by communications professionals at CENTCOM.

At this point, early indications are that Department of Defense servers were not compromised, but that's still something that they're looking at. But that really is all the information that I have at this point. This is an ongoing investigation, but if there's more information that's available, you can probably get it from either the FBI or the Department of Defense.

Q: There are a lot of government Twitter accounts. What else is the administration doing, or have you started doing, after what happened yesterday to make sure that this doesn't happen to other accounts?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, you're right that this is something that we see with some frequency not just against government accounts, but also media accounts are not -- it's not uncommon for those to be hacked as well. And so we certainly want to implement the kinds of practices that ensure that passwords are changed and secure in a way that will deter those who are trying to hack those accounts and score a propaganda victory of some kind or another. And we certainly are mindful of the kinds of practices that should be in place to protect passwords to make sure that they're strong enough to withstand the efforts of those who we know would certainly enjoy the opportunity to have access to those accounts even for a short period of time.

Q: On another topic, you said yesterday that the White House believes it should have sent a higher-profile representative to the Paris march. And I know you didn't yesterday want to unpack the decision-making process.

MR. EARNEST: That's still true today. (Laughter.)

Q: I wanted to give you a second try at -- can you give any detail about what discussions were had at all at the White House about that march?

MR. EARNEST: That's a worthy effort, Jeff, but I don't have any additional information on that particular matter that we didn't already talk about yesterday.

Q: Same if I asked you was the Paris embassy involved? Was it even brought up, the possibility of sending somebody else?

MR. EARNEST: Yes, I'm just not going to get into all of those discussions, okay? Thank you.


Q: Josh, as the President works to close the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, is the White House in a position to rule out the possibility that 40 to 50 -- just to a put a number on it -- hardcore cases, but people against whom the United States cannot bring a legal case, can you rule out that those people will simply spend the rest of their lives detained without ever facing trial?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Olivier, what you know is currently underway as it relates to the prison at Guantanamo Bay is that based on a review that was conducted -- that was ordered by this President, and conducted at the beginning of the administration, a substantial number of the inmates at the prison at Guantanamo Bay were cleared for transfer. That essentially national security professionals had reviewed their cases, looked carefully at them and determined that under the right circumstances and in the right -- based on agreements that we've reached with other countries, that these individuals could be transferred to other countries without posing a significant threat to U.S. interests.

And as a determination that, again, that was reached based on a thorough and intensive individual review of cases at Guantanamo Bay, that does mean that there are a number of other individuals whose cases were reviewed who were not cleared for transfer. And there continues to be an open question about how those cases will be resolved given that the President himself has indicated, as have national security leaders who have served both Democratic and Republican administrations, that it's in the clear national security interest of the United States to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

That continues to be the goal that this administration has because we believe it's clearly in the best interest of our national security. But there are difficult policy questions that need to be answered between today --

Q: That's what I'm trying to do.

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'd refer you to the Department of Defense who's working through all of this. There is a process that's underway, some of which I'm sure they won't be able to talk about. But for an update on that process and sort of what their longer-term planning is, I'd encourage you to check with them.


Q: I have one on the leaders meeting. But, first, Representative Randy Webber, who's a Texas Republican, tweeted last night that even Adolf Hitler thought it was more important than Obama to get to Paris, which obviously caused some controversy. I'm wondering if you guys have a response to that, please.

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

Q: All right. On the leaders meeting, the President has talked a lot about the idea of a patent and tax reform and infrastructure, and this is obviously something that you guys have talked about for a long time. I'm wondering, since your guys' proposal hasn't seemed to gain any steam and that seems especially true in the Republican Congress, what sort of timeline or schedule that you're hoping to see? Do you want a proposal to come from Republican leaders, from Democrats, hoping to see it after the State of the Union? What's the President going to ask leaders to do on this issue?

MR. EARNEST: Well that's a good question. I do think that in some ways the ball is in the court of members of Congress on this for a couple of reasons. The first is, there are a variety of proposals that have already been publicly floated about how to increase the investment that we're making on our infrastructure, both because of the jobs it would create in the short term but also because of the longer-term economic benefits of a modern infrastructure.

There have been Democrats and Republicans that have floated a variety of proposals, including even something that we haven't proposed, which is increasing the gas tax to provide additional funding for infrastructure projects. So it's the responsibility of congressional leaders to determine what path forward they want to take. Certainly we would welcome them taking up the path that the administration has put forward in the GROW AMERICA Act.

And again, this proposal is actually -- it's elegant because it's simple. We essentially would close loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations, and take the revenue from closing those loopholes and invest it in the kind of infrastructure that we all benefit from. So that's the proposal that we put forward, it's the proposal that we believe is the best way for us to make this important investment.

I don't think that every Republican is instinctively against this idea, and the reason I say that is that there are Republicans that have agreed in principle to the idea of closing some loopholes that only benefit some corporations, and lowering the overall tax rate that's paid by all corporations. So there is an interest at least in that sort of legislative mechanism for raising some revenue. The devil is in the details in these kinds of things, so I'm not irrationally exuberant about the prospects here of Congress -- a Republican Congress in particular moving forward on the proposal that we've put forward.

But there is -- it does reflect some common ground that does exist. But ultimately the path forward here will have to be determined by congressional leaders who will have to put forward what they think is a legislative plan that can pass both Houses of Congress, and hopefully it's the kind of plan that the President feels like he could sign.

Q: And then House Republicans were offering legislation today that would prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a utility. That's obviously what the President suggested in his net neutrality plan that he announced back in I think December or November. So I'm wondering if that's legislation that you guys would kind of veto flat out or if it's something that you would consider.

MR. EARNEST: I'm not familiar with that specific piece of legislation. I do know that the view point that the President articulated on this policy issue is ultimately one that he has got a strong opinion on but will be determined by the independent Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Q: But would it be a process thing, like with Keystone, where you would want to kind of maintain that process and would veto --

MR. EARNEST: I haven't reviewed the details of their proposal so I'll have to follow up with you on that.


Q: A couple of things. Yesterday, it was reported that Cuba had released all 53 of the political prisoners, and I just want to get a couple things --

MR. EARNEST: I thought I might get asked about it yesterday.

Q: Yes, well -- other topic. First of all, from the podium, can you confirm that? In what way was the administration given a full roster of the 53? There was reporting yesterday that that will be not released publicly but through congressional committees. Can you just walk us through what you know, how the public will be informed of these individuals, and how the United States will monitor their future in Cuba now that they've been released?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Major, I can confirm that the Cuban government has notified the Obama administration that they have completed the release of the 53 political prisoners that they had committed to free. We welcome this positive development and are pleased that the Cuban government followed through on this commitment that they made not just to the United States but also to the Vatican.

These political prisoners were individuals who had been cited by various human rights organizations as being imprisoned by the Cuban government for exercising internationally protected freedoms or for their promotion of political and social reforms in Cuba.

As it relates to the roster, the list of the names of these 53 individuals was actually a list that the Obama administration compiled and produced to the Castro regime. Ultimately, it was an independent decision by the Cuban government to release them, one that we obviously support and one they committed to make in the context of the broader conversations that we've been having with them. So we certainly -- that's why we welcome this announcement, and it is an indication that they are, at least so far, living up to the terms of the agreement that was announced by the President about a month or so ago.

Now, many people have asked for the specific list of individuals who have been released. The White House at this point does not contemplate a formal public unveiling of that list of names, and there are two reasons for that. The first is that we don't want anybody to be left with the impression -- and we certainly don't want the Castro regime to be left with the impression -- that these are the only 53 political prisoners that we care about. There are other individuals who are being unjustly detained in Cuban prisons, and we're going to continue to advocate and push for the Castro regime to make the basic decision that reflects basic human rights to release those individuals as well.

So I wouldn't want to release a list of 53 names with a green checkmark by them and have everybody assume that all this business is taken care of, because it's not. The second thing is we have conversations with foreign governments on a frequent basis about the unjust attention of civilians in their prisons, and sometimes it can be counterproductive to make public those names as they're being discussed. And so I wouldn't want to, at this point, establish a precedent by releasing this list and every time we raise concerns with other governments that we have to release that list. That said, we did produce a list of these individuals to a large number of members of Congress who have expressed an interest in this.

Q: Ed Royce and Eliot Engel wrote to the White House about this last week.

MR. EARNEST: Yes, and today too. Those two offices have received this list and there are a number of other members of Congress who have not formally written a letter -- at least to my knowledge -- but have expressed some interest in this issue. And they also received a response that we sent to Mr. Royce and Mr. Engel.

So as is usually the case, I suspect that some members of Congress won't feel the same sort of obligation to withhold that list that we do. But if you obtain that list and want to work through the list of names with us, we're happy to talk to you about it.

Q: -- put it out last week.

MR. EARNEST: Oh, did he?

Q: Yes. So on cybersecurity, as you know, during the lame duck session there was a bill in the House and Senate; it got stalled in part because there weren't enough votes because NSA reform had not reached a legislative conclusion. How closely does the White House believe those two issues must be aligned in order to get cybersecurity, which is now a new priority of the President's, through this year?

MR. EARNEST: Well, both of those are legislative endeavors that we believe are worthy of pursuit. The administration has been very clear about the kinds of reforms that we believe should be put in place to strengthen privacy protections while also protecting the need that our national security agencies have to try to protect the country.

So these are all complicated issues, and they are not entirely distinct from one another, of course. But we do believe that it's possible to move forward on these tracks in a way that is in the best interest of the country, and we shouldn't allow a disagreement over NSA reforms to impact the necessity of advancing on cybersecurity legislation as well. So we've been pretty clear about what our views on both those topics are, and we hope Congress will move on both.

Q: Yesterday, Chris Van Hollen introduced an idea of a middle-class transfer tax, fees on financial transactions and the top 1 percent, and up to $2,000 for middle-class Americans. Part of this is a Democratic sense that the current income inequality is pronounced and the administration is not producing enough ideas to address it. First of all, do you agree with -- or do you have any opinion on that Van Hollen legislation? And secondly, what do you think it says about where the White House has been on this issue generally?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'll say a couple things about that. The legislation that's put forward by House Democrats is -- we've not had an opportunity to review the details of their proposal, but I can say as a general matter that this administration and this President will be strongly supportive of efforts to concentrate our attention on middle-class families in this country; that middle-class families --

Q: That could mean any.

MR. EARNEST: Well, but in the context of our economic policymaking, that's something that Republicans in the House at least, as they've wielded the majority in that body of Congress, have strongly opposed. So maybe they will continue to do that. But --

Q: I'm just talking about this Van Hollen thing.

MR. EARNEST: Yes. And what I'm saying is that generally speaking, because they are focused on, generally speaking, making sure that the economic benefits of our recovery are being enjoyed by middle-class families, we believe that's a worthy pursuit. What I'm not in a position to render a final judgment on is the actual policy that's included in their legislation. And we haven't had an opportunity to review all of the details.

But I think when you take a look at what the President has proposed and what the President has done using his own executive authority, that there are a variety of examples to indicate that the President is very focused on this issue. And one of the most difficult policy challenges that we face is this persistent problem related to the growth in wages; that we have seen strong improvement in economic growth, we've seen even historic improvement in the job market, but we haven't seen the corresponding increase in wage growth that we would like to see. Wages did increase in 2014 -- not as much as we would like. So that is a persistent policy problem and one that this administration continues to be focused on, and we welcome the attention that's shared by others on this, too.


Q: Josh, back on France. Secretary Johnson from Homeland Security yesterday announced some new steps to protect federal buildings all around the country, also TSA measures on carry-on baggage. He specified in that statement that obviously there are certain details you can't get into, so as not to tell the enemy which buildings, which cities you're enhancing the security. But broadly, can you be a little more direct with the American people -- after Paris, is there an enhanced threat here in the United States that people need to be more vigilant about?

MR. EARNEST: Well, the first thing that the Secretary of Homeland Security has said is that based on the intelligence that he has reviewed, there is not right now a direct link between the attacks that were carried out in Paris last week and a threat here in the United States.

That said, the Department of Homeland Security is always reviewing prudent measures that can be taken to bolster the security of the United States and to ensure that we're doing everything that we can to protect the American people. That means on occasion that there will be measures adopted that are readily visible to the public, that they may recognize a new fence or a new security booth or more personnel out in front of particular installations.

Q: It sounds like more abundance of caution right now, not a fear here at the White House that there's credible information out there of a threat to the American homeland.

MR. EARNEST: Well, there are always threats to the American homeland and we're vigilant about them. But what I'm trying to be as specific as I can about, though, is that there is not, based on the review of intelligence that has been done so far by the Department of Homeland Security -- so this is their assessment, not mine -- but what they have assessed is that there is not a direct threat that is linked to the attacks that were carried out last week.

That said, there are any number of threats that are emanating from across the globe that implicate the United States, and that is why so much time and attention and energy is devoted to ensuring we have a security posture that's adequate to keep the American people safe.

Q: Along these lines, there was an incident here yesterday in Washington where one woman died, many others were injured because of some strange smoke in a Metro car. First, can you rule out that terror was involved -- to reassure people? But secondly, a lot of people are concerned that it took some 40, 45 minutes to evacuate people from this Metro car here in the Nation's Capital. And it raises questions about evacuation procedures all around the country -- God forbid -- there were some sort of incident. So I wonder, has the President been briefed on what happened? Did it reach his level? What do you know about whether there's any terror threat or -- what do you know about it?

MR. EARNEST: This is an incident that is currently being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. The early indications are that this did not involve terrorism, but rather involved a mechanical failure that occurred. But again, that's the very preliminary assessment, and they're going to continue to look carefully at this.

For the emergency response that was executed to rescue those individuals who were trapped, obviously that was the responsibility of first responders here in Washington. I'm not steeped in all the details of what plan they executed or what may have made that evacuation more complicated than usual. But they may have better answers for you on that.

But the other thing that you were pointing out, though, Ed, which is an important point, is it is important for us to all be vigilant. And certainly this is a good reminder for people to remember what the safety evacuation procedures are for situations like that. But obviously, there was a tragic loss of life in yesterday's incident and that's something that we are sad about. And our condolences are with the family of the woman who died in that incident.

Q: A couple other quick ones. Yesterday, you said you had not spoken to the President about why he or another top official did not go to Paris. Another 24 hours have passed. Did you get a chance to have a conversation with the President?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I was -- there were conversations here at the White House about that. But I don't have anything to share about that.

Q: Well, so is the President upset that this decision that involved all these other world leaders, that it just never reached his desk? Has he expressed any anger about that?

MR. EARNEST: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: He's not upset about it?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think as I said yesterday -- and this does accurately describe the President's view of this -- that under different circumstances, the President certainly would have liked to have had the opportunity to participate in the march. That continues to be true today. That does reflect his view. But there were a variety of complications, everything from the fact that this was an event that was organized in the span of about 36 hours. It took place in a foreign country. It took place outdoors, and it was attended by more than a million people. And the fact is, trying to add the President to that situation under a very short timeframe would have had a significant impact on those who were participating in the march because of the security requirements that are in place any time the President goes anywhere.

Q: So who made the decision that it shouldn't go to the President -- that he should not go? Was it Denis McDonough? Was it someone else?

MR. EARNEST: Like Jeff, you're making a worthy attempt to go down this path.

Q: Well, you've talked about transparency at that podium many, many times. This is a pretty basic -- who decided it?

MR. EARNEST: Ed, it was a decision that was made here at the White House. The White House takes clear responsibility for it.

Q: Okay, last one. Yesterday, you were also talking about this summit on violent extremism, and you said it's not called a summit on Islamic extremism because there are other forms of violent extremism. Can you detail two or three of those other examples of violent extremism that are non-Islamic so that the American people will know what they should be looking for?

MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say a couple of things about that. Well, let me answer your question first.

James von Brunn is somebody who in 2009, June of 2009, less than a mile from where we stand right now, went to the Holocaust Museum and shot a security guard in pursuit of some radical, violent ideology.

Back in 2012, an individual -- Wade Michael Page -- carried out an assault against a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. It's unclear to me exactly what ideology motivated him, but that is a pretty good example of somebody who has a violent, extreme ideology and an ideology and extremist practices that are worth countering.

Let me just give you one other example that's actually close to my heart. There's an individual who shot up the Jewish community center in suburban Kansas City. This is an individual who, again, subscribed to a warped ideology that he tried to use to justify this violent attack. And those are a couple of examples of the kinds of -- the kind of violent extremism that our summit is motivated to counter.

And what we hope to do is to work with state and local officials to talk about best practices, about some of the things that they can do in their community to make sure that individuals like this don't succeed in carrying out these acts of violence in the name of a warped ideology.

Now, let me say one other thing, which is also true, which is, as the President and national security officials have said countless times: This administration is concerned and has expended significant resources, energy and time to counter violent extremists who carry out acts of terror based on their own warped view of Islam. And that is why we have seen this administration put in place a counterterrorism strategy in far-flung countries around the globe because those violent extremists seek to justify their actions based on their warped view of Islam, to carry out attacks against the West.

But the reason that I describe it as a warped view of Islam is because these kinds of attacks have been roundly condemned in very forceful terms by Muslim leaders across the country. What we have also seen is that al Qaeda and its adherents and its affiliates have carried out terror acts all across the globe, and the majority of the victims of those attacks have been Muslims. Just yesterday, the Secretary of State, John Kerry, traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he visited a school where violent extremists gunned down, slaughtered innocent children who were at their school. The vast majority of those children, they were Muslim.

And one last thing I'll say about this is that that is why -- many of you asked very pointed questions when we talked about the President's effort to build an international coalition against ISIL -- about what role Arab countries were going to play in that coalition. Right now, over the skies of Syria, there are military pilots representing Muslim-majority countries flying alongside American military pilots as they drop bombs on ISIL targets. And that is an indication that these violent extremists who have sought to incite a religious war against Islam have utterly failed.


Q: Just a quick follow-up. First, on Olivier's questions about Guantanamo. I understand the President set a goal of closing Guantanamo even before he was President, and he hasn't wavered at all from that goal since then. But don't you acknowledge that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay will still be open when this President leaves office?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not willing to concede that at this point. What I will concede, however, is that members of Congress -- and this is actually true of both parties, not just Republicans -- have put in place obstacles that have made it very difficult for the President to succeed in the goal that he has laid out to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And again, the reason that the President has established that goal is because he believes it's clearly in the national security interest of the United States to do so.

But this is something that we're going to continue to work on, and so I'm not ready to concede that yet. But I would acknowledge that because of the obstacles that Congress has thrown up, this has become much more difficult than the President thought it would be when he first started talking about this issue, and those obstacles remain in place today.

Q: Would you concede that if you cannot convince Congress, as you point out both Democrats and Republicans, to change its stand, its view on Guantanamo Bay, the detention facility there, that that facility will remain open after this President leaves office? There's nothing that he can do unilaterally without Congress to close that facility?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not willing to jump that far ahead. What I am willing to say is --

Q: You can't concede that? You think that there's a -- you don't rule out that the President could unilaterally, without Congress, close the --

MR. EARNEST: Well, or that the President may be able to prevail upon enough members of Congress to work with him to achieve, again, a goal that is shared by Democrats and Republicans.

Q: Well, that's why I ask. Unless you can convince Congress to change its approach on this -- which seems far-fetched to say the least -- but putting that aside, unless you can convince Congress to go along with the administration on this, that that detention facility will remain open.

MR. EARNEST: Well, I will admit that I am not aware of all of the tools that are at the disposal of the President. And presumably if we had a lot of options for overcoming those obstacles that Congress has thrown up, then we probably would have used at least some of them already. And so, again, I'm not willing to sort of render a final judgment on this, but I will concede to the premise of your question that it will be very, very difficult for us to achieve that goal before the President leaves office as long as Congress continues to block that path.

Q: You had the congressional leaders here today meeting with the President. By my count, just in the week or so since we've seen Congress in session, we've seen veto threats on the homeland security bill, the Keystone pipeline bill, the 40-hour work week bill for Obamacare, also the Regulatory Accountability Act, the promoting job security act. Five veto threats already in this young Congress. What does that say about this President's approach to the new Congress?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what it says about the Republican approach is that in the first five days that they've been in session, they've advanced five pieces of legislation all the way to the Rules Committee that they already know that this President strongly opposes. So it certainly raises questions in my mind about whether or not Republicans, who have the majority in Congress and can determine which pieces of legislation advance their way through the process, about how serious they are about trying to work with the President.

Now, the President's approach to these things is there are plenty of areas where we're going to disagree, but we can't allow those disagreements to become a deal-breaker over all the areas where we might agree. So the President's approach is to acknowledge that those differences exist and to remain firm in his position of opposing these proposals that, for a variety of reasons, are bad for the country, are bad for the middle class, but to still try to find opportunities to find common ground with Republicans. I hope that's the approach that's pursued by Republicans. It's perfectly legitimate for Republicans to advance pieces of legislation that they know the President opposes. It's also perfectly appropriate for the President to veto them if he disagrees with them.

The real way in which the performance of this Congress should be measured is, are they willing to try to identify areas where we can work together to make progress.

Q: Let me identify one of those areas, which is trade -- trade promotion authority, to name one. This is an area often mentioned where you can work with the Republicans.

MR. EARNEST: But don't forget cybersecurity and Ukraine loan guarantee.

Q: But let's talk about trade.

MR. EARNEST: I'm just citing two other examples. But point is that there are a lot of examples. But we'll take yours.

Q: Okay, but trade -- let's talk about trade. How hard is this White House, is this President willing to push Democrats to keep them from blocking an agreement on trade?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that we have readily acknowledged that this is one of those issues that doesn't break down along party lines; that we're hopeful that we will be able to reach a legislative bipartisan agreement on this issue. And we'll do that because the President himself has said that he will only reach a trade -- sign a trade agreement that he knows is in the best interest of American businesses, American workers and American farmers.

That said, that even if we are able to reach a legislative agreement here, it's likely there will be Democrats and Republicans who oppose it, and Democrats and Republicans who support it. And the President will make a forceful case to both Democrats and Republicans that what he is doing is clearly in the best interest of the American economy.

Q: Okay, and just one last quick one. Mitt Romney is somebody the President is familiar with -- ran against him.

MR. EARNEST: They had lunch just a couple years ago. (Laughter.)

Q: So he's apparently telling people that he is leaning strongly in favor of running for President again. I'm just wondering, he's uniquely -- the President is uniquely positioned to comment on that.

MR. EARNEST: I have seen those reports that Governor Romney is considering getting the band back together again. At this point, I do -- I anticipate that over the course of the next two years, that we'll have a lot of opportunity to discuss the positions and actions of presidential candidates in both parties.

Q: So here's an opportunity to discuss Romney.

MR. EARNEST: It is. But what I was going to say is I'm not going to start today. But we'll have that opportunity moving forward.


Q: Josh, you said earlier that the FBI is looking at whether or not the Defense Department's computer systems were violated in this hacking on the Twitter account for CENTCOM. We know that last October, White House computer systems were breached in a cyber intrusion, I think is how the administration described it at that time. Do we know any more about what happened last October? And are you confident -- is the President confident that the computer systems, databases of the federal government are secure when it comes to hackers? And is this legislation he's proposing this week, is that going to make any of these systems any safer?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Jim, what I can tell you is that when it comes to cybersecurity, this is a threat that this administration takes very seriously. And there are a variety of forms that this kind of activity takes, but we remain vigilant about the safety and integrity of government systems. We're always reviewing the security posture not just of our infrastructure across the country, but also of our cyber infrastructure. And there is significant time and energy and resources dedicated to making sure that the latest upgrades are in place and that the latest technology is deployed to protect government systems, particularly classified systems where sensitive information is maintained.

But that is a work in progress. And the adversaries that we have in this realm are very persistent, and these are individuals that have significant capabilities. It doesn't require much, in many cases, to carry out the kind of attack that could penetrate a pretty well-defended system. Included in the legislation are a series of proposals that would actually modernize the law in this area, that essentially would make it illegal, for example, to sell malware internationally -- that malware is software that's used to launch these attacks on many occasions. That efforts to coordinate so-called botnets, essentially to take over other computers and use them to attack secure systems, that's something that would -- the punishments for these kinds of actions are bolstered in this legislation. And that, I do think, would have an impact on our cybersecurity. So that's one thing.

The other thing that we're doing that's included in this bill that would have an impact both on the cybersecurity in the private sector but also in the government sector is to improve information sharing; that when individual companies are the target of a cyber attack, even if that cyber attack is repelled, the information related to that attack can be very useful in informing other computer system operators, whether in the private sector or in the public sector, about the kinds of attacks they should be on the lookout for. And improving and making that kind of information sharing more efficient is, again, one of the goals of this legislation.

So there are no easy answers to these kinds of questions. And --

Q: The White House hacking, did you ever figure out who was behind that?

MR. EARNEST: Well, this has been the subject of a lot of work here at the White House, but I don't have an update at this point in terms of attribution.

Q: And you said earlier that you're pleased that Cuba has released these 53 political prisoners. How do you know? Did you verify that they were released?

MR. EARNEST: Well, what we have done is we've actually worked with human rights groups on the ground in Cuba who have been able to verify that these individuals have been freed. But we're going to continue to monitor their status and continue to work with the human rights organizations that are operating in Cuba to continue to press the Castro regime to release the other political prisoners that they're holding and to make sure that other activists, whether they've been previously detained or not, are not harassed by government officials or subjected to the kinds of things that violate their freedom to express their views, even if their political views are somewhat in opposition to the current leadership of that country.

Q: And the Cuban blogger, Yoani Sanchez, who I think has met with the President before, if I'm not mistaken --

MR. EARNEST: I believe he's been to the White House. I don't know if he's met with the President, but we can look that up.

Q: Well, she --

MR. EARNEST: She, I apologize.

Q: That's okay. But she tweeted that some of the people who were in that list of 53 people were released prior to December 17th. So some of the people who were in that list I guess were already free before this deal was cut.

MR. EARNEST: Well, this was a specific commitment that the Cuban government had made, it was just announced in December. And there were a series of talks that went into all of this. The list -- you can imagine that the list of 53 political prisoners that we produced to the Castro regime was not a list that we gave them the day before we made this announcement. This is a list that was extensively reviewed and negotiated and discussed.

So we have indicated all along that this would be an ongoing process, and we're pleased that at least the process, as it relates to these 53, has been completed. But our efforts to secure the release of other political prisoners that are unjustly detained in Cuba is ongoing.

Q: And I know you don't want to go back over the march --

MR. EARNEST: That's true. (Laughter.)

Q: -- and rehash that, but as a member of the White House Press Corps --

MR. EARNEST: You have certain obligations.

Q: I feel I have certain obligations --


Q: And that is to not let it lie after two of my colleagues have tried valiantly.

MR. EARNEST: And I respect that. I respect it.

Q: Should Ambassador Hartley have notified the White House about the potential optics on Sunday? Should she have warned the White House that, hey, all of these world leaders are going to be here, where are you guys? Did she make that call?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I'm not going to get into any conversations that may have been -- that may have taken place between Ambassador Hartley and other members of the administration. I will say that she did what she was supposed to do; she participated in the rally. And as the most senior American representative to the nation of France, it was appropriate that she was there and she participated. And we saw comments from senior French officials that they appreciated the American representation at that march and have appreciated the kind of support the people of France have received from this administration since the first minutes after that -- the first terror act in Paris was conducted.

But again, I'm not going to get into any additional conversations that may have taken place behind the scenes.

Q: No morning quarterbacking when it comes to Ambassador Hartley's performance in all of this?

MR. EARNEST: Well, like I said, she was -- she attended the rally and that's what she was supposed to do.

Q: And it has been reported by some that she was a campaigner, a bundler, a fundraiser for the President before being dispatched to this position over in Paris. She's the best the country has got when it comes to representation in Paris?

MR. EARNEST: I think there is no question that she's doing an excellent job representing the interests of the United States of America in France.


Q: I just want to go back to your statement about the extremists want to incite a religious war against Islam and they failed. There have been a lot of questions raised about why you have chosen not to associate yourself with the language that was used by the French President when he said we're at war with radical Islam, and instead you have chosen a formulation where you say you want to capture individuals who commit violence based on their warped view of Islam. Is the reason you don't want to call it "radical Islam" or use the word "war" because you're afraid of playing into the extremists' desires to incite a religious war on Islam? Is that the reason you've gone to great lengths to come up with this different formulation?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Mara, there certainly -- it does seem clear that these terrorists -- let's call them what they are -- these terrorists are individuals who would like to cloak themselves in the veil of a particular religion. But based on the fact that the religious leaders of that religion have roundly condemned their actions, those religious leaders have indicated that their actions are entirely inconsistent with Islam. I think the fact that the majority of victims of terror attacks that are carried out by al Qaeda and adherents to their particular brand of violence, that the majority of them are Muslim I think is a pretty clear indication that this is not a matter of the world being at war with Islam. The world and the United States -- as we've discussed before in the context of ISIL -- is at war with these individuals, these violent extremists who carry out these acts of terror and try to justify it by invoking this religion.

Q: Right. But the leader of France, your ally in this effort, has put a name on this ideology, which he calls "radical Islam." You have bent over backwards to not ever say that. There must be a reason.

MR. EARNEST: I think the reason is twofold. One is I certainly wouldn't want to be in a position where I'm repeating the justification that they have cited that I think is completely illegitimate, right? That they have invoked Islam to try to justify their attacks.

Q: But to call it radical Islam you feel would be playing into their hands.

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to describe to you what happened and what they did. These are individuals who are terrorists. And what they did was they tried to invoke their own distorted deviant view of Islam to try to justify them. And I think that is completely illegitimate. And what we should do is we should call it what it is. And it's an act of terror, and it's one that we roundly condemn. It's an act of terror that was roundly condemned by Muslim leaders across the globe.

There are reports that at least one of the victims of the attack in Paris was actually a Muslim. We know that at least one of the hostages in the kosher grocery store was a Muslim. And one of the things I think that has been particularly inspiring about the march that we spent a lot of time talking about yesterday is the kind of solidarity that we saw among the French population. This is a diverse country. But we saw French Jews marching with French Christians and French Muslims in a sign of solidarity to condemn these terror acts and to demonstrate that that country will not retreat in the face of that kind of violence.

Q: But other of your allies have described the ideology that you call a warped view of Islam by calling it radical Islam. They're not saying we're at war with Islam. They agree with you totally in every word you've just said. But they are calling the ideology, the warped view that these people adhere to by a name. And it seems that the White House has gone to great lengths to avoid ever calling it anything other than a warped view, and I'm wondering is there a reason for that.

MR. EARNEST: Yes, and I guess I'm trying -- I'm doing my best to try to explain to you what that is.

The first is accuracy. We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism, and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it.

The second is this is an act that was roundly condemned by Muslim leaders. Again, I'm describing to you the reasons why we have not chosen to use that label because it doesn't seem to accurately describe what had happened. We also don't want to be in a situation where we are legitimizing what we consider to be a completely illegitimate justification for this violence, this act of terrorism.

Q: Radical Islam kind of makes it almost legitimate.

MR. EARNEST: Again, I'm not going to criticize anybody who chooses to use that label. I'm talking about the way that we're talking about this. And what we're trying to do is be as specific and as accurate as possible in describing what exactly occurred.


Q: Economic question for you. The oil markets today are acting as if they expect you will loosen restrictions on crude oil exports. For the first time in a long time, domestically produced West Texas Intermediate crude is trading at more than foreign-produced Brent crude. I was wondering -- just so everyone is on an even footing -- can you just tell us, are you going to loosen those exports?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm going to be careful here because I don't want to send Bloomberg terminals across the globe into a state of hyperactivity.

What I can tell you in no uncertain terms, Mike, is that there has been no change in regulations regarding crude oil exports. These kinds of regulations related to crude oil exports are administered by the Department of Commerce. So if there's any sort of formal announcement about a change, it will come from the Department of Commerce.

And I think for reasons that I alluded to at the beginning, I'm not going to speculate about any sort of policy change that may or may not be contemplated at this point.

Q: But you are reviewing them and now people are -- people with more money than us are betting for some reason, presumably, that you're going to loosen them. Why not just tell everyone so everyone is --

MR. EARNEST: Because I'm just not going to speculate about any policy changes that may or may not be being considered right now by the administration.


Q: Thanks, Josh. Last month, the President said he'd be putting forward some specific proposals on tax reform. Is he going to do that in his State of the Union address?

MR. EARNEST: Stay tuned. (Laughter.) I know, the State of the Union is still a week away.

Q: But you've been previewing so many things.

MR. EARNEST: We have. (Laughter.) It's true. Stay tuned, Cheryl, stay tuned.


Q: Josh, I've got three questions for you.

MR. EARNEST: Yes, ma'am.

Q: As it relates to security concerns, the President going to Paris, are those same concerns some of the reason why the Vice President did not travel to Paris for that picture and for that march?

MR. EARNEST: At the risk of sort of going down this path again, I'm not in a position to talk about sort of the logistical considerations that went into --

Q: But you did with the President, and that's the reason why I'm asking.

MR. EARNEST: I did with the President?

Q: Yes, you did. You said it was 36 hours. You said there were a million people. You talked about the security concerns. And that's why I'm bringing this question to you about the Vice President.

MR. EARNEST: Okay. And you're asking why did the Vice President not go?

Q: Are those same security concerns the reason why the Vice President stayed in Delaware and did not go to Paris?

MR. EARNEST: Well, certainly the fact that this is a rally that was organized on 36 hours' notice, the fact that it was taking place in a foreign country, the fact that it was held outdoors, the fact that there were more than a million people who participated, that had the Vice President gone there also would have been onerous security requirements in place that would have affected the ability of people who participated in the march to participate in the way that they actually did.

And so I'm not saying that's the reason he didn't go. I'm just explaining that that's what would have happened had he gone.

Q: Well, what was the reason why he didn't go then, if that's not the reason why?

MR. EARNEST: And again, that's what I'm not going to get into is sort of the explaining.

Q: Okay, all right. Another question on another topic -- Haiti. Five years since the earthquake in Haiti. Can you update us on what the U.S. efforts have been as it relates to Haiti and what they continue to be and will be in the near future and the rebuild there?

MR. EARNEST: Well, April, I can tell you that as we mark the five-year anniversary of that earthquake, we remember those who tragically lost their lives in the devastating earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010. On this occasion, the United States reaffirms its long-term commitment to support the Haitian people as they build a more prosperous and democratic future.

With the help of the international community, including the United States, Haiti has made significant progress since 2010, including positive economic growth, improved basic health indicators, job creation, increased access to primary education, shelter for those who were displaced by the earthquake, and improved overall security. More remains to be done and further progress depends on good governance by Haiti's leaders, in particular the holding of overdue legislative and local elections that we believe are badly needed. We also want Haiti's leaders to pursue a sustained focus with the international community to assist in economic development.

This has obviously been a pretty significant undertaking, not just helping the Haiti people recover from the immediate tragedy of the earthquake, but to try to put in place a longer-term strategy for helping that country build the kind of infrastructure, both literally but also an infrastructure related to their civil society that will ensure the success and prosperity of the people of Haiti moving forward.

Q: So when you talk about Haiti and the positive economic growth, are you still considering them, even in this rebuild, still the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'd refer you to the State Department for that specific statistic. I believe that's still the case, but they could render a final judgment on that.

Q: All right. And lastly, the Justice Department continues these police department listening sessions and there's one today. Could you tell us how the White House is marrying the idea of supporting law enforcement in this nation but at the same time allowing there to be conversations and a push to fix the mistrust between the black community and law enforcement?

MR. EARNEST: Well, April, the thing that we have tried to do in the context of these conversations is not to leave people with the impression that those two worthy goals are in competition with one another, that, in fact, if we can succeed in building greater trust between law enforcement and the communities that they serve, that that actually is a really important way that we can support our local law enforcement officials.

These are officers, men and women, who put on their uniform every day and walk out the door prepared to put their life on the line to protect people who live in that community. That is something that is worthy of our praise and respect. It certainly is an honorable profession, even a calling. And we can make it easier and safer for them to do that important work if we can succeed in bridging some of the gaps of mistrust that do exist in some communities across this country between local law enforcement and the communities that they're supposed to serve.

The other thing that we know is that this could be a virtuous cycle, that these become reinforcing things that as we start to bridge that mistrust, we can help law enforcement officers succeed in their effort to protect those communities, and as those officers do a better job of protecting those communities and are more successful in protecting those communities, that's only going to build more trust. So there is an opportunity for us to build a reinforcing virtuous cycle here that would be clearly in the best interest of law enforcement and of citizens.

But that's difficult work. It sounds easy when I'm talking about it, but the work of actually sitting down and getting individuals to talk to one another and to be blunt and direct about what their concerns are is hard work. And this is something that the task force is going to be engaged in.

Now, what the task force is doing is they're not actually doing that work directly themselves. What they're doing is they're trying to work with community leaders from across the country, law enforcement officials from across the country, with academics, to try to tease out what sort of strategies have been successfully employed in some communities so that we can share that recipe for success with communities all across the country.

And it's hard work, and it's not the kind of work that's going to show benefits right away. But I do think, and the President certainly believes, that if we give this issue the proper amount of attention and we put in the hard work, that we can really make a difference. The President is committed to this effort, and I know the members of the task force are very committed to this effort, and we look forward to the report that we will get from this task force sometime in early March.


Q: Josh, along with France, who the President stands shoulder to shoulder with, a very strong ally that the President is proud to engage with is an individual who is coming here Thursday and Friday, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, David Cameron, who, as you know, attended the rally on Sunday. Can you tell us if the President has had any conversations with the PM since then and in advance of the dinner and the bilat? Has the President been in touch with him to discuss some of the issues that you put out that would be discussed when they meet Thursday and Friday?

MR. EARNEST: Candidly, JC, I'm not aware of any presidential-level conversations that have occurred. But, typically, in advance of an important visit like this, the preparatory work for the working dinner and for the formal meetings here at the White House are done at the staff level. And I do know that senior officials at the NSC have been in touch with their counterparts and Number 10 to discuss the upcoming visit. I know the President is very much looking forward to seeing Prime Minister Cameron and talking about some of the important issues that have such a significant impact on the citizens of the United Kingdom and the citizens of the United States as well.


Q: Josh, do you know if the issue of the Paris march came up in the meeting yesterday between Lisa Monaco and the French ambassador?

MR. EARNEST: I know that we put out a readout of that meeting --

Q: It wasn't in there. It didn't mention that.

MR. EARNEST: It wasn't in there? I don't know, then, that it necessarily came up. I don't have a more detailed readout to share beyond what was included there. I do know -- and I think this was included in the readout -- that the French ambassador did use the occasion of the meeting to express the gratitude of the Hollande government and of the French people for the support that they've received from the American people and from President Obama himself.

Q: And on the withdrawal of Antonio Weiss, is the President feeling resentment towards Senator Warren and other Democrats that were against that nomination?

MR. EARNEST: No, we just frankly disagree with the position that they have held about Mr. Weiss. Fortunately, I do believe we've resolved this, though, in a way that will certainly allow the Treasury Department to benefit from his years of expertise and certainly his skills to monitor the financial markets and to put in place the kind of policies that we believe are in the best interests of the country, and certainly, as it relates to his experience on Wall Street and in the financial markets, will be very useful to Treasury Secretary Lew as we talk about the kinds of reforms that are needed and will be implemented in the context of Wall Street reform.

Q: Did the President reach out to Senator Warren on this issue?

MR. EARNEST: I don't believe so, no.

Q: And lastly, at the summit at Stanford next month, will the President be physically in attendance there?

MR. EARNEST: Yes, the President will attend.

Q: He will?



Q: Just a couple things really quickly, Josh. Given your indications, if I'm reading you correctly, that you don't want to unpack the way the decision was made, is there sort of a standard operating procedure for how these things work their way up the chain? And given the fact that you've acknowledged that you wish things were done differently or things could have gone differently, is there a review of how that will happen in the future?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Chris, I think one of the distinguishing features of this particular incident -- and I think this is something we would all acknowledge -- is it's not routine, that, again, this is a march that was planned on 36 hours' notice, it took place in a foreign country. It's not common that the President would attend an event with 1.5 million other people, again, let alone in another country.

Q: But did you know at the time it was going to be a million and a half people?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, because I'm not going to unpack the decision, I don't have a lot more to say on this. But that's -- I think that is one thing that you can sort of interpret about my remarks is to sort of -- an acknowledgement that this is not just a routine matter, that when the President receives invitations to attend an event, we do of course have a formal process for evaluating those invitations and getting back in a timely fashion to those who have offered or extended the invitation. But, obviously, this situation was a little different than that.

Q: So no review of how that all happened?

MR. EARNEST: I don't think so.

Q: And let me ask you just really quickly about the cybersecurity proposal. The President indicated at the spray that we need to be much more effective -- or can be much more effective. You just said that cybersecurity is a work in progress. DHS puts out figures on breaches and I think going back five or six years -- you see the last couple of years, the statistics have shown exponential growth in the number of breaches at least that are recorded and a suggestion by DHS that these numbers may actually be low, that obviously not all of them are reported. Given all of these things, is the message from the administration that the hackers are winning?

MR. EARNEST: No. The message is that we need to do more to make sure that we're prepared, and specifically, Congress needs to do more. Congress needs to pass legislation that will allow us to take what we know are steps that would make the country more cyber-secure. And we know that there are some simple things that can be done as they relate to information-sharing.

You cited a good example that there are probably a whole bunch of other attacks that have occurred and were successfully repelled that we don't know about because there weren't in place procedures for sharing that information as widely or as efficiently as we should. But by sharing that information more effectively we can help other computer systems and networks both in the private sector and in the public sector better protect themselves and better repel these kinds of cyber attacks.

So this is a top priority here because of the consequences that cybersecurity has both for our economy and for national security. This is, as I mentioned, not the kind of thing that we should allow ourselves to be divided along party lines. This is an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to come together in pursuit of something that we know is good for the country, good for our economy and good for our national security.

Q: The Speaker put out a readout of the meeting that just happened and mentioned the cybersecurity and his intention to try to pursue something. But he also said --

MR. EARNEST: That's a welcome development.

Q: -- that the House has passed a number of measures to help stop cyber attacks by arming private sector companies with government intelligence on cyber threats while protecting American people's privacy; unfortunately, some of those measures never went anywhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate. That's the statement from the Speaker's office. Has the problem been the Democratic-controlled Senate? And do you feel more hopeful, I guess maybe is the word, that some kind of legislation can pass now?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not aware of the specific pieces of legislation that he's referencing. I'm not calling him a liar, I'm just saying that he knows more about them than I do. But, again, it is our view -- it's the view of everybody here at the White House that this isn't the kind of thing that should be a Democrat or a Republican issue.

I'm not sure that it necessarily matters that there is now a Republican majority in the Senate. I think what matters is that we've had a couple of displays recently that vividly illustrate how important it is for the Congress to take action on cybersecurity legislation, and we're hopeful that Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill will be able to get together and do exactly that.

Q: Thanks, Josh.

MR. EARNEST: All right, Leslie, I'll give you the last one.

Q: Thanks, Josh. With Haiti, going back, you mentioned good governance. How worried is the administration that there has not been a resolution to sort of the political battle there and that the President may be governing by decree at this point?

MR. EARNEST: Well, there is a concern about some of the delays that we have observed in the holding of local elections. And as a country like Haiti recovers from a devastating earthquake like the one that they sustained, it is important for political leaders there to adhere to the rule of law and to rebuild what I described earlier, the governing infrastructure of that country.

And we certainly have made those views known very clearly to the leadership of the Haitian government. We've done that through the regular channels. And we're going to continue to do that. At the same time, the United States continues to stand with the Haitian people. And we want to make sure that they are continuing to make the progress that they have enjoyed over the last five years, and we're going to continue to invest in Haiti through USAID in pursuit of that effort.

Q: And what's the -- I'm sort of curious if there's a White House position on prosecution -- possible potential prosecution of General Petraeus or his paramour in that --

MR. EARNEST: There is not. This is something that -- the Department of Justice has acknowledged that there is an ongoing investigation here, and I'm going to refrain from commenting on that ongoing investigation. Any time I say anything about these ongoing investigations there's the concern that they could -- that there would be the perception that there be some sort of political interference. And given the fact that the individual that you mentioned actually served the President of the United States in a senior position in this administration, I want to be extra cautious to not weigh in in any way in this matter.

Thanks, everybody.

END 1:05 P.M. EST

Barack Obama, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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