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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest

August 30, 2016

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:33 A.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST: Good morning, everybody. I do not have any announcements at the top, so we can go straight to questions. Darlene, do you want to start?

Q: Sure. Thank you. Is there any reaction today to the French President saying the trade talks between the U.S. and the EU cannot be completed before the President leaves office?

MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, our position on this has not changed, which is that we are continuing to work toward a goal of completing those negotiations before the end of the year. And there are significant aspects of the deal that need to be negotiated, but that's precisely why the President is sending his Trade Ambassador, Mike Froman, to travel to Europe in a couple of weeks to go continue those negotiations. He was there in July; he'll be back in September -- and all in pursuit of the goal the President has laid out to try to complete these negotiations before the end of the year.

I know that is a sentiment that my counterpart at the EU who's involved in talking publicly about some of these trade negotiations has also echoed. And that's the ambitious goal that we're trying to meet.

Q: The French President's comments, as you know, follow comments earlier this week from a German official who said those talks were pretty much, basically dead. I mean, is it not time to sort of maybe give up on T-TIP and focus on TPP, as the President is going to be doing on the upcoming trip to Asia?

MR. EARNEST: Well, as you know, Darlene, the TPP agreement in terms of negotiating has actually been completed. And the work now on TPP that needs to get done is in the United States Congress. And we obviously will be working closely with leading Democrats and Republicans in the Congress to determine the most effective way to get that done before the end of the year. But that's a separate piece of work than continuing to negotiate with our partners overseas. So there's no reason that work on one needs to prevent work on the other.

So, look, Ambassador Froman is somebody that's got a rather ambitious view about the best way to pursue these kinds of agreements. And he's a tenacious negotiator, and I anticipate that when he travels to Europe in mid-September, that they'll be engaged in substantive discussions and hopefully will be able to make some additional progress.

Q: Secondly, is there any reaction to, or comment on, the EU forcing Apple to pay gobs of money in back taxes? Is anyone here on the phone with anyone at the EU, sort of trying to talk this through?

MR. EARNEST: If they were, apparently they'd have a lot to discuss this morning based on your interest in the economic relationship between the United States and Europe.

Let me say a couple things about this. Obviously, this ruling is something that's attracted some significant news attention. I'm not going to be in a position to comment on an individual case, however, primarily because I know that there is a process for appealing these kinds of decisions. And I know that the Irish government has signaled their intent to appeal.

So I won't comment on any specific case, but there are a couple of important principles at stake here. And so why don't I just walk through a couple of those principles.

The first is, we are concerned about a unilateral approach in state aid negotiations that threaten to undermine progress that we have made collaboratively with the Europeans to make the international taxation system fair. And when I say "fair," I mean fair primarily to taxpayers, but also fair to companies that are trying to do business around the world. That ultimately benefits the economies in countries on both sides of the Atlantic. And if there are concerns that the Europeans have about some of these international mechanisms, then we should continue to make progress by working through those issues jointly as opposed to a more unilateral approach, like a state aid investigation.

Second, it's also possible that the kinds of payments that were contemplated by the EU decision today at the end of the day are merely a transfer of revenue from U.S. taxpayers to the EU. I think that is the crux of our concerns about the fairness of this kind of approach.

Thirdly, we're going to continue to monitor this case and others that are being looked at by the Europeans. And it is our view that there's no reason that, as we monitor this case, that we shouldn't be able to continue to make progress on a shared goal, and that shared goal is to prevent the erosion of the tax base, to ensure that taxpayers in the United States and Europe are treated fairly, and to ensure that businesses are treated fairly.

So there's a lot at stake. And these are the kinds of issues that get a lot of attention behind the scenes inside the administration, and have for the last seven or eight years, particularly in an increasingly interconnected, global economy. That interconnectedness benefits the United States. It benefits our economy. It benefits workers. And it benefits U.S. businesses. But you also need a government, like the Obama administration, that's committed to fairness in fighting for the interests of U.S. taxpayers and U.S. businesses. So that's what we'll continue to do. And we're hopeful that we can continue to work through some of these issues in a collaborative, cooperative way with our European partners.


Q: Josh, your second point didn't make sense to me.

MR. EARNEST: Okay. Let me try to clarify.

Q: You said it's a transfer of money from the taxpayers back to the EU --


Q: It would be a transfer of tax money from Apple to Ireland.

MR. EARNEST: Well, the issue, Jeff, as you know, is that the consequences for that transfer would be that it could be treated in the U.S. tax system as a current tax payment that would allow, essentially, Apple to deduct that EU tax payment from their U.S. taxes. That wouldn't be fair to U.S. taxpayers. And I think that's an indication of the concern that we have about why it's important for us to work collaboratively. We share the goal that's been articulated by the Europeans of preventing the unfair erosion of the tax base. We don't have an interest in seeing European taxpayers or the European economy suffer from the erosion of their tax base, and we're certainly going to do everything we can to prevent that from happening here. And President Obama has actually put forward several legislative proposals that would further prevent the erosion of a tax base. But unfortunately, Republicans have not acted on that.

But that's a different issue, but I cite that to indicate the President's -- the priority that the President has placed on this issue. That's why, Jeff, we would prefer -- if there are legitimate concerns that are raised by the Europeans about the erosion of their tax base -- that they actually work effectively with the United States to address those concerns collaboratively as opposed to taking the kind of unilateral approach that could have a totally unfair impact on U.S. taxpayers. And that's the nature of our concern and that's the point that I was trying to make there.

Q: Does the U.S. have any sympathy for the concerns by the Europeans about an unfair playing field within Europe between a country like Ireland that has a much different tax base from others within the EU? That's also one of the things that they were trying to address here.

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think -- I'm not going to get into any internal EU business, and I'll let the administrators at the EU evaluate the tax policies that are implemented by their member states. I think what I can say in general is President Obama has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that U.S. taxpayers and U.S. businesses are treated fairly, because it's in our economic interest to see them be treated fairly around the world.

And the view that -- the approach that President Obama has taken is that the American people and the American economy benefit when the United States is deeply engaged overseas to try to protect our interests. And the inclination to withdraw from that engagement is counterproductive and undermines the position of the U.S. economy and U.S. workers in an increasingly competitive international economy. That's why the President is going to spend a lot of time on this trip in Asia advocating for the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and underscoring how the United States and the U.S. economy benefits from deeper U.S. engagement.

It's a separate issue, but a similar dynamic in play here in Europe, which is that the United States has invested a lot of time and energy and attention into trying to broker fair agreements when it comes to taxation policies between the United States and Europe. And we would welcome further coordination that could make potentially those kinds of arrangements even more fair.

Again, we don't have a built-in interest in seeing an unfair system perpetuate in a way that has negative impacts for the European economy, we just want something that's fair. And when I say fair, both to U.S. taxpayers but also to U.S. businesses. And the Obama administration is not going to hesitate to speak out when we perceive that U.S. taxpayers or U.S. businesses are being treated unfairly.

Q: What kind of interaction is the White House having with Apple specifically about this? Who's talking to who?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I can't speak to any specific conversations. What I can tell you is that Obama administration officials, not surprisingly, have heard from officials at Apple who are concerned about the way they're being treated by foreign governments. I think that -- it shouldn't be a particular surprise to anybody.

But I think what's also true is that the Obama administration has repeatedly indicated our willingness to go and fight for American taxpayers and American businesses overseas when they're being treated unfairly. And that's true when you consider actions that the United States has brought at the WTO. You'll recall that when it comes to cases that have been decided by the WTO, the Obama administration's record is undefeated. And that means that we have been tenacious advocates for American businesses and we've been effective advocates for American businesses.

That's also why we have sought to engage in the TPP. Trade negotiations involve leveling the playing field and raising the labor and environmental standards that everybody has to live up to. And the way that benefits the United States is that American businesses and American workers already live up to extraordinarily high labor and environmental standards, and when we impose those standards as part of an agreement, other countries increase their ambition. That is a tangible example of the Obama administration effectively and forcefully advocating for the U.S. economy, U.S. businesses and U.S. workers.

So this is just one example of that, but there are a variety of ways, particularly when it comes to the area of international trade, where the Obama administration has been a particularly effective advocate and enforcer of international standards because we believe that the effective observation of those standards by companies and countries around the world ultimately benefits the U.S. economy.


Q: Thanks, Josh. When you look at the latest hacks of these voter databases, is the U.S. doing a good job on cybersecurity?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Michelle, what's true is that President Obama has made cybersecurity a national security priority. And President Obama has proposed additional resources being dedicated to this. You'll recall that the President included a specific proposal in his budget that Republicans, for the first time in more than 40 years, refused to even consider. They wouldn't even hold a hearing to discuss the budget with the President's top budget official.

So I think there are significant concerns that have been raised about whether or not Republicans in Congress understand that this should be a priority. But President Obama has certainly made it a priority. And whether it comes to working effectively with the private sector to safeguard the computer networks of businesses or even media organizations, the administration has been tenacious about that. We've also taken steps to try to upgrade the cybersecurity that is used to protect critical infrastructure and government computer systems.

And so the President has made this a priority. We only wish that Republicans were willing to put the cybersecurity of the United States ahead of their own politics. Thus far, they haven't been able to do that.

Q: But overall, do you think the U.S. is doing a good job to ward off these attacks?

MR. EARNEST: I think there is no denying that the United States government is operating in a very dynamic environment; that the adversaries of the United States, whether they're criminal organizations or countries, are constantly probing the computer networks of the U.S. government and significant U.S. organizations looking for vulnerabilities. And we need to be conscientious and determined about our efforts to deter those kinds of incursions.

And, yes, as a policy matter, this administration has made that a priority. We do have effective working relationships with technology companies and with private businesses to help them deter those kinds of intrusions. We do have effective working relationships with state and local governments to offer them resources and expertise as they try to protect their systems.

But this is a serious threat and one that the administration takes quite seriously. We're aware of the evolving nature of this threat, and we have taken the kinds of appropriate steps that the American people would expect their government to take to ensure that the American people are protected.

There is, however, more that we can do and more that we would like to do if Republicans in Congress were willing to do their job. But so far, they haven't been.

Q: Okay. And we talked a lot about the Paris climate agreement yesterday and how that relates to the upcoming trip. And when you look at the latest studies that show that even if everybody gets onboard and implements this, the temperature change is still not going to be well below the two degrees, which was the goal originally. So how much is the President bothered by that, and how much will that factor into these meetings that he's going to have? Is he going to try to press for more to get it below that number? Or how does that factor in?

MR. EARNEST: Michelle, you'll recall last year when we announced the completion of the Paris negotiations, that everybody involved -- not just the United States, but other countries who are signatories to the agreement -- acknowledged that it was an important first step, but nonetheless, it was a first step.

And what was significant about this first step is that more than 198 countries, or whatever the tally is, were taking that step together; that there was a joint commitment on the part of countries around the world -- large and small, developed and developing -- working together to make progress.

Previously, even earlier in this administration, the approach had been somewhat different. You'd seen developing countries essentially looking to countries like the United States and other advanced economies to bear the weight and to bear the burden of dealing with this challenge. Instead, there's a much more collaborative approach that's being taken that has countries around the world invested in our success. And that does leave the President much more optimistic about the ability of the world to confront this challenge.

I think what's also true is that there are a variety of ways in which the United States and countries around the world have been making progress even outside the context of the Paris agreement. And whether it's ongoing negotiations about HFCs that Brian Deese referred to yesterday, or other steps that the United States is taking to invest in renewable energy, there are other things that we can do that are even outside of the commitments that we made in the Paris talks that can continue to advance progress to confront the challenge that you referred to.

Q: And speaking of climate, it looks like there's some really bad weather, maybe in the form of a hurricane, right around Hawaii. So how closely are you watching that? And what do you think are the chances that this is going to change the course of his trip?

MR. EARNEST: Michelle, we are watching the weather in the Pacific Ocean closely in advance of the President's trip. At this point, based on the projected track of the storm, we do not anticipate it having any impact on the President's itinerary. But if that changes, we'll of course keep you posted.


Q: Thanks, Josh. A couple for you. First, the Agriculture Department says it's closed offices in five states because of unspecified threats. Is this something that has risen to the President's attention? And can you elaborate a little bit on the nature of these threats?

MR. EARNEST: What I can tell you is that the Department of Agriculture is working closely with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure the safety of their offices and the personnel that work there. I don't have any additional detail about the nature of the threat, but obviously when it comes to the safety and security of U.S. personnel, military or civilian, we take that quite seriously and we place the safety of those workers at a high priority. And in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, USDA has taken some prudent steps to ensure the protection of their facilities and their personnel. But I don't have any updates on the situation, but I'm sure that my colleagues at the Department of Agriculture will keep you updated in the days ahead.

Q: Okay. And then on the trip, when you guys talk about TPP, you frequently say it's a choice between the United States sort of setting the rules and the trade framework in the region or China doing so. At this point in the President's tenure, does he view China as a regional rival, as a global rival? I mean, I don't think "enemy" is the right word, but how would you assess the relationship in those kinds of terms?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think I would do it in a couple of ways, Olivier. I think the first is I would acknowledge something that President Obama has repeated a number of times, which is that the United States welcomes the peaceful rise of China. China is a company -- is a country that has a large economy and a large and growing population. And we would expect that a country like China would see their influence rise, certainly in the Asia Pacific, but even around the world.

The United States welcomes that peaceful rise, and we welcome the kind of corresponding investment in international institutions and international norms that have presented a hospitable environment for China's rise. And I think that will be the nature of a lot of the kinds of discussions that President Obama will have not just with President Xi but with other countries in the Asia Pacific that are a little uneasy right now about the way that -- I guess I would say about the questions that have been raised about China's commitment to those kinds of international norms, international institutions.

I think the best example of that, Olivier, would be the concerns about maritime security in the South China Sea. There has been a ruling from The Hague, and the question really now is: To what extent is China prepared to recognize and abide by that international ruling? I think there are a couple of good examples. Why don't I cite those quickly?

The first would be, obviously the United States and China have been able to work effectively together to establish a framework to address climate change. And as we discussed yesterday, the progress made by the United States and China in the context of that architecture really catalyzed broader international progress on this issue. And without that kind of progress between the United States and China, it's difficult to envision the kind of international progress that we've seen on this issue just in the last year or so. That's one example.

The second example would be on cybersecurity, which I think is a little bit more of a mixed message, which is that we welcomed the statement from President Xi in the Rose Garden when he visited the White House last fall indicating his country's commitment to abiding by a set of international norms and standards when it comes to cybersecurity and cyber espionage, and avoiding cyber theft for economic gain. There are other concerns that we have about China's activities in cyberspace, but we're hopeful that we can work to strengthen the architecture that governs everybody's activities in cyberspace. And certainly making progress on that issue with China, again, wouldn't just benefit the United States -- it would benefit the world.


Q: On the hacking situation, these election databases -- what does the administration think the Russians are up to? Why would they want to do something like that?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Ron, I would -- in terms of investigating some of these matters, I'd refer you to my colleagues at the FBI who can talk to you about what sort of response they have implemented to these reports. The U.S. government has not formally declared any specific entity or country as responsible for these reported intrusions. But my colleagues at the FBI are in a better position to speak about that if they choose to do so.

Q: But in a more general sense, there was the incident involved in the DNC. Why would a foreign government want to hack into this particular type of -- is it just access for general data? Or is there some suggestion or some concern that there's some political influence that they are trying to impose at the state level or at the committee level?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, there's not a foreign government that's been assessed to be responsible for this reported activity. But if something like this is under investigation by the FBI, part of what they'll consider is the motive or the intent of the malicious actor, and there are a variety of ways that they can try to determine that. But that's obviously not something that I'll be able to speak about from here.

Q: Chicago -- August has been the worse month in violence and homicides in several decades. Obviously, we focus on these things when we hit these milestones; I'm sure the President thinks about it all the time. What is his response to this? And more specifically, what is his response to the Trump statement that, essentially, he's going to make these shootings stop, and that he's the law-and-order candidate, and that the President has not done the job in this area generally, is the criticism?

MR. EARNEST: Well, you've heard the President far too often express his profound sorrow at the incidents of gun violence that we've seen in this country.

I guess I would start by saying it's important to keep the context in mind. Overall, crime levels in this country, including the level of violent crime in this country, is at or near historic lows. That's a good thing, and the American people have benefitted from that.

There are certain communities that have experienced a spike in gun violence in particular. Chicago, unfortunately, is one of those communities. And the President does believe this is something that's worthy of our attention. All too often, there is a flurry of media attention for 24 or 48 or 72 hours around an incident of -- around a mass shooting. I'm not suggesting that the media shouldn't pay attention to those issues, but what gets much less attention are the kind of day-to-day outbursts of gun violence that we see primarily in America's inner cities, including in a place like Chicago.

And the President is deeply concerned about addressing some of the root causes of violence in those communities. The President is deeply concerned about doing a better job of preventing guns from falling into the hands of those who shouldn't have them. And too often, the kinds of guns that are used in carrying out these crimes -- these are guns that were obtained illegally. And there is more that Congress could do that wouldn't undermine the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans, but would make it harder for criminals to get their hands on guns. And the President has been frustrated that more progress hasn't been made on that.

There's been a lot of focus and reporting on the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and some communities in Chicago. The President has made a strong case that addressing the sources of that mistrust can actually make our communities safer, can make our police departments more effective at doing their job. And I know that's something that Mayor Emanuel has been quite focused on, and I think there are some indications that the situation there has improved. But I think the Mayor would be the first person to say that there's more that they need to do.

But I think those are sort of three areas where the President is hopeful that additional progress would stem the rising tide of violence that we've seen in a handful of communities, including, unfortunately, Chicago.

Q: But is there anything specific to Chicago that the President has seen and observed of these very prescriptions that he thinks specifically would deal with -- as you point out, crime is down in many places; it's spiking in a couple of places, specifically there. The police chief has talked about some of the sentences that gun offenders get or don't get, and we know about the gun control laws in Chicago versus surrounding communities. But when you look at that place, his hometown, is there something really more specific than that the President thinks should happen, like, now?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not aware of any specific prescription that the President is prepared to put forward to address the situation just in Chicago. I know Mayor Emanuel is quite focused on that. And I certainly would have a lot of confidence in his ability to work through some of these issues and see if there are some specific local solutions that can be implemented. I'm confident that there are officials at the Department of Justice that have an expertise in this area that would be eager to lend that expertise, maybe even lend some resources to the city of Chicago and other communities that are experiencing a spate of violence like this.

But look, the President is deeply concerned about this situation.

Q: And what about the more broad criticism by Donald Trump and others that he's the law-and-order candidate, that he's going to make the shootings stop, and that essentially he is saying that the administration hasn't done everything it should to rid the violence in --

MR. EARNEST: Well, President Obama has presided over an eight-year period in American history where, across the country, violent crime is at or near historic lows. And the President has been committed to investing in professional police work and providing support to police officers and police departments across the country.

But when it comes to responding to the claims of the Republican nominee for President, I will let him make the case that he chooses to make for his candidacy. I think what I would encourage the American people to do is to press the candidates for specifics about how they intend to make progress on their agenda and evaluate those promises accordingly.


Q: Thanks, Josh. The Syrian refugee story, topping 10,000 a little bit earlier than perhaps anticipated. I'm just wondering from a broad perspective, how is this more humane than some of the illegal immigrants that try to make their way here that are also fleeing devastating and desperate circumstances all over, say, Central America for example?

MR. EARNEST: Well, the situations obviously are quite different.

Q: I mean, different -- you're right. But I mean, they're both sometimes in devastating circumstances.

MR. EARNEST: True. But our approaches to trying to confront these situations have been quite different. So let's talk about Central America first.

There are some communities in places like Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador that are racked by violence, where people are under grave threat from that violence. This administration has actually worked closely with the central governments in some of those countries to try to invest in crime-fighting initiatives, to invest in the kinds of programs that could address the root causes of that violence. And there's some progress that we've made.

I guess the point is we have governments with whom we can work effectively in that region of the world to try to address these problems and try to stem the flow of people fleeing that violence. Recently, the U.S. government has been able to work effectively through the U.N. and the government of Costa Rica to establish an in-country processing system for refugees or people fleeing violence, I should say, from those countries. And we're hopeful that that will also sort of stem the tide of people who are tempted to try to make the dangerous journey from Central America up to the United States.

And I think it's also consistent with our commitment to recognize the humanity in these individuals. These often are families or women and children who are fleeing a desperate situation. And it's important for us to not lose sight of that humanity.

The situation in Syria is quite different. For even as some of the civil institutions in Central America might be fledgling, those kinds of institutions in Syria are nonexistent. And there is no government that the United States can work effectively with to try to address the root problems that are causing so much chaos inside of Syria that's prompting people to flee to other places in the region and around the world.

So our approach there has been different. And our approach has included the United States being the largest donor of bilateral assistance to the humanitarian situation there. We've been strongly supportive of countries like Jordan and others, Lebanon, that are bearing a significant burden in terms of housing people fleeing violence. There are large camps of people who have fled Syria and are desperate to get access to just basic supplies. And that's putting a significant strain on other countries in the region, and the United States is trying to do our part financially to address that strain. The other thing that we can do is to work effectively with the U.N. to consider applications of people who want to apply to be refugees in the United States. And --

Q: Including in Central America.

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm talking about the situation in Syria right now. So one of the things, for example, that we can do to relieve the burden of the country of Jordan is to process some of those people, consider their application for refugee status, and put them through the paces in terms of ensuring that we are conducting all the relevant screening measures to do background checks, collect biometric information, to do in-person background interviews, to vet them through international databases that are maintained by organizations like Interpol, but also run them through databases that are maintained by the U.S. intel community and by the United States military. And after going through that screening, giving them the opportunity to resettle in the United States. That just means a smaller group of people for Jordan to support.

So there are a variety of ways that we have used international leadership and the resources of the United States to try to address these kinds of significant challenges. But the situations are so different, it's hard to compare the two.

Q: Let me drill down a little bit on immigration, illegal immigration in particular. The President has been assailed as being the "Deporter in Chief" by some groups. Statistically, the numbers are pretty eye-opening. 2.5 million people deported. That's more than all the other Presidents combined. I'm just curious a couple things. First of all, one of the statistics I read from DHS suggests that, in 2015, 91 percent of those that were deported were criminals, or had previously had a criminal record. Is that really far afield from what Donald Trump was basically saying -- if they're a criminal, they're going to be out of here?

MR. EARNEST: I guess it depends on the day you ask. (Laughter.)

Q: Now, that's true. Good point.

MR. EARNEST: So I think what I'll say is, when it comes to the President's record on this, we've made clear -- and I should say the Secretary of Homeland Security has made clear -- exactly what our enforcement priorities are going to be. And those priorities are the individuals that have a criminal record, individuals that pose a threat to national security, or individuals that have only recently crossed the border. And the President has been quite serious about making sure that we enforce the law, and that's exactly what this administration has done. What we've also tried to do is to enforce the law in a way that's consistent with our values.

And that's why we want to focus our limited law enforcement resources on deporting felons and not breaking up families. That's the approach that the administration has taken. That is an approach that has led to significant investments in border security. There are more resources in terms of equipment and technology and personnel on the border than at any time in our system, and that's a testament to the President making that a priority. And the unfortunate fact is there would be even more resources on our border, securing our border, if Republicans in the House of Representatives hadn't blocked comprehensive immigration reform and merely perpetuated a system that even Senator Rubio described is the closest thing we have to amnesty.

Look, that's on the conscience and on the hands of Republicans who have failed to deal with this situation. But President Obama has taken on this challenge with a lot of determination, a sense of seriousness, and ensuring that the policies that we have on the books and the policies that we have implemented are both consistent with our nation's status as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

Q: Let me just get a couple more here really quickly. Secretary Kerry, in Bangladesh, made a comment about coverage as it relates to terrorism. And he said, "Remember this -- no country is immune from terrorism. It's easy to terrorize. Government and law enforcement have to be correct 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 [days] a year. But if you decide one day you're going to be a terrorist and you're willing to kill yourself, you can go out and kill some people. You can make some noise. Perhaps the media would do us all a service if they didn't cover it quite as much." What does the President think about a statement like that -- maybe the media should tone down or back off in our coverage of terrorism?

MR. EARNEST: Listen, I think the President has talked about this a little bit himself. I think what the President's point would be [is] that the challenge that is facing the United States law enforcement, national security and homeland security officials is to be perfect. And --

Q: But we should still talk about it, shouldn't we? And we should still cover it.

MR. EARNEST: Sure, the President himself talks about it a lot. And we talk about the significant resources that are invested in protecting the American people both at home and around the world. I think the President wants to make clear that it's also important for people to have some perspective. And that kind of perspective is what he is hopeful will be part of a political debate about the most effective way to keep the country safe, but the most effective way for the United States to continue to live up to our values, and for the United States to continue to be a beacon of freedom around the world.

Q: Last one, on Obamacare. Some modifications for after 2018, a series of fixes and adjustments. Can you tell me what that might look like and why the President feels like that would be important?

MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, the President and his team continue to be focused on the long-term health of Obamacare because there are millions of people all across the country who for the first time have access to quality, affordable health insurance because of the reforms that this administration passed and have effectively implemented.

And at the same time, we're always looking for ways to strengthen the implementation of these policies, and the President is determined to ensure that we're handing off to his successor an Obamacare system that continues to strengthen, that continues to provide quality, affordable health insurance options to people all across the country, and that continues to provide important consumer protections, both to people who buy their health insurance on the marketplace but also people who have gotten and continue to receive their health insurance through their employer.

Q: Does the fix imply that there's a problem?

MR. EARNEST: I think the fix implies that there is more that we can do to strengthen the Obamacare system, and that's exactly what we're doing.


Q: Josh, on the Syrian refugees, you've talked about this being sort of a proud moment for the White House to finally reach its goal of the 10,000. Is there a reason we haven't heard from the President or seen the President? I mean, our neighbors to the north have their prime minister greeting Syrian refugees at the airport and we haven't even heard from the President on this one. Why not?

MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, Margaret, I think you certainly will hear from the President when he travels to the U.N. next month, where he's going to convene an international meeting of leaders from around the world to discuss what steps countries around the world should take to address the population flows that we've seen not just in the Middle East but, frankly, around the world. And the President is determined to ensure the United States continues to play a leading role in mobilizing an international response to people who are fleeing violence who are otherwise in need of humanitarian assistance.

So I think the President has been quite visible on this, both in terms of advocating for this policy priority, and he will continue to be visible as he advocates for a more effective and better coordinated international response to dealing with this problem that plagues many regions around the world.

Q: Well, that's the worldwide refugee problem that the President is going to be addressing in September. Is there something specific to Syrian refugees? I mean, that's the moment that was being hailed a success here. It was hard-won. Congress tried to block it. You had 30 governors in this country trying to block Syrians from settling in their states. This is a different issue than the rest of the refugee crisis in the rest of the world. Is there a reason that the President chose not to speak on it? Is it because, did someone say, diplomatically, this is like, what, one-fifth of 1 percent of Syrian refugees, so other countries like Germany and Canada and Jordan and Turkey are making us, by comparison, see this as such a small sliver? Or is it just because it's toxic politically? Or was there just a choice it wasn't something you wanted to address now?

MR. EARNEST: No, I don't think it's either of those things. Again, first of all, with regard to the way that other countries see us, the President is going to convene a meeting at the United Nations with other world leaders and the largest, brightest spotlight in the international community at the United Nations.

Q: But not on Syria -- on all refugees.

MR. EARNEST: Yeah, on all refugees. I don't think anybody -- I'm confident that the situation with regard to Syria will be a topic of extensive conversation in the context of that meeting. I don't think that's going to be lost on anybody.

With regard to the politics, I think you guys have heard the President more times than I can count over the last year talking about why handling this situation appropriately is the most effective way to protect the American people. And he's certainly done that in a political context, and he's certainly done that in the face of harsh political criticism from Republican presidential candidates, a variety of them, and also from senior officials in Congress.

But I think the President feels very good about the way that we have made that argument to the American people and the way that we've been able to overcome their objections to implement a successful policy. And the President believes that that's the right thing to do because it's consistent with our values as Americans. It's also consistent with our national security, and it's also consistent with the obligations that the United States has to lead on the pressing issues that are facing the world.

Q: Will the President meet with any of the 10,000?

MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware of any meetings that the President has with individuals that have resettled to the United States.

Q: Not handing out parkas at the airport?

MR. EARNEST: No, I don't think that he'll be doing that.

Q: I want to also go back to what you were talking about with Apple and Europe there. What you point to in your response -- you said, it's also possible the kinds of payments Apple made are transferred to revenue from the U.S. to the EU. Are you signaling there some opening, some wiggle room for the resolution to be Apple to pay the U.S. rather than Europe? I believe there's a carve-out that would possibly allow for that rather than the current ruling.

MR. EARNEST: As it relates to the way a ruling like this could be implemented, I'd refer you to my colleagues at the Treasury Department. I'm certainly no expert on this particular set of complicated issues. I think the point that I'm making when I make this point is that the unilateral approach that the EU has taken in some of these state aid investigations is fundamentally unfair. It attempts to re-litigate already-established taxation agreements that could set unfair new precedents. If there are specific concerns that European officials have about the fairness of certain tax policies, then they should engage in a conversation with the United States.

We have been able to work effectively together to solve some of these problems in the past. And acting unilaterally doesn't actually address the problems. In some ways, it has the potential to make them worse, particularly when you're evaluating the fairness of them. So with regard to the specific ruling and the impact it could have, I'd refer you to my colleagues at the Treasury Department. And I just can't speak in much detail about the specific ruling because it's subject to an appeal.

What I can just say in general is that when it comes to this principle about addressing concerns the Europeans may have about the fairness of certain tax policies, a more effective approach is coordinating with the United States and working cooperatively to make progress as opposed to just acting unilaterally in a way that could set a new unfair precedent and ultimately disadvantage U.S. workers and U.S. businesses. And, frankly, that's something that the Obama administration will contest.

Q: And on the Treasury issue, a statement on this last week saying they were concerned -- before the ruling -- saying they were concerned about all this, and that it was actually going to undermine, as you said today, your seeking tax fairness. Did you not have a dialogue -- did the administration not have a dialogue with European officials? Are you saying there that you didn't have any kind of conversation at that time about those concerns, or that those concerns weren't resolve in the conversations you did have, when you say that you're disappointed in terms of it being unilateral?

MR. EARNEST: Well, look, for conversations the United States has had with Europeans about tax policy, I'd refer you to the Treasury Department. I know that they've had extensive conversations about a range of international issues. There's an ongoing dialogue about these issues.

I'll let Treasury speak to the contents of the white paper that they issued last week. But I'm confident that that white paper was issued fully aware of the context in which it would be received, which is the impending decision that was announced earlier this morning, U.S. time.

Q: So just to put a finer point on it, you're not -- the U.S. is not ready to say it's going to seek any kind of back payment of taxes as a way to resolve this?

MR. EARNEST: I'd refer you to the Treasury Department for a direct answer to that question.

Q: Okay. And I'm sorry, did you say when you were answering earlier about Apple, saying that you had heard from Apple -- what was the White House response to the Apple executives who have reached out?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I just said as a general matter is that it shouldn't be surprising that a U.S. company would contact senior government officials when they have concerns about being treated unfairly in the international community, particularly with regard to the European Union, with whom the United States works quite closely and effectively on a range of issues.

I didn't get into the nature of those conversations and I'm not going to be in a position to do that from here. But I don't think it should be particularly surprising to all of you who cover these kinds of issues closely to hear that officials at a major U.S. company contacted the U.S. government when they were concerned about being treated fairly [unfairly] in the international community.

Q: And you're not going to say which individuals reached out and to whom here at the White House, or whether it was the President?

MR. EARNEST: I won't. I'm not aware of any conversations like this that involved the President directly. And I'm not in a position to confirm any individual conversations that have been had by the White House.


Q: Thanks, Josh. The President is scheduled to meet with Secretary Burwell later this afternoon. Is there a particular focus of that meeting? And sort of related, now that summer is winding down, has there been any rethinking of how much Zika funding is still needed?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Cheryl, there's been no rethinking of the amount of money that the administration needs for Zika. Our public health professionals work closely with the President and the administration to put forward a specific, detailed package that would allow them to do everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus. Republicans in Congress have blocked action on that package. That's quite unfortunate. And it has prevented, as I said, our public health professionals from doing everything possible to protect the American people from the Zika virus.

And right now, members of Congress are enjoying a seven-week break. Some members of Congress, including Mitch McConnell, are spending that seven-week break bragging about not doing their job. That's unfortunate. I don't think that's how most Americans are spending their summer, but I guess the rules are different when you're a Republican leader in the United States Congress.

But we're hopeful that when they do return, that Republicans in Congress will have had an opportunity to rethink their priorities and will once again put the health and safety and wellbeing of the American people back at the top of the list where it belongs.

Q: And meeting with Secretary Burwell? Is there any --

MR. EARNEST: The President regularly meets with his HHS Secretary. And part of what I'm confident they'll discuss is the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act. That's something that the President does periodically, and I'm confident that will be part of the discussions again today.


Q: Thanks. I want to go back to U.S.-EU trade. Do you think it's a coincidence that France and Germany have elections soon, that these comments --

MR. EARNEST: I wouldn't speculate on the impact of upcoming elections on the public statements that we've seen from some European officials.

Q: What are the consequences if you don't get (inaudible) in place by the end of the year?

MR. EARNEST: I'm sorry, say that one more time?

Q: What are the consequences if you don't get negotiations concluded by the end of the year?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think then obviously the next President will have to determine the path forward. We've made important progress in negotiating T-TIP, and there are a number of details that remain to be worked out. And as we always say in the context of these kinds of negotiations, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. But we made important progress, and the President has directed his team to try to meet a rather ambitious goal and to try to complete those negotiations before the end of the year.

That's certainly what we're aiming to do, but if that doesn't get done, we're hopeful that enough progress will have been made that the President's successor will be able to take up these negotiations and hopefully continue that progress. But I wouldn't prejudge exactly what that's going to look like.

Q: And just a final question on Iraq. General Votel has said that he believes that Mosul can be retaken this year. Is that the view of the White House?

MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, nobody is going to be in a better position to put forward that kind of assessment than General Votel. And obviously he is both keenly aware of the kind of support that U.S. and coalition troops have provided to Iraqi security forces. He's also keenly aware of the fact that officials in Iraq will determine the pace of operations there, and they will ultimately make the decision about when to go after Mosul.

But General Votel and other senior military leaders in the United States have been in close touch with their Iraqi counterparts. So he's certainly in a good position to make that kind of assessment, and I would defer to him for those kinds of pronouncements.


Q: Thanks, Josh. Back on Apple and the EU. The fact that Apple has so much money that they could be charged in Europe, does that say anything about the U.S. tax system and why a U.S. company feels the need to have so much of its money abroad? And does this ruling sort of make the case that there should be corporate tax reform, or Treasury should take some action to encourage companies not to have so much of their money overseas?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Toluse, I'm limited in how I can answer your question because I'm not going to talk about the individual business practices of one company. And I'm obviously limited in what I can say about this specific ruling.

I think what I can say in general is we've spent a lot of time over the last several years talking about why the President believes that tax reform should be a priority. Right now, our tax code wrongly gives too many companies an incentive to ship jobs overseas. And we should close some of those loopholes. And by closing some of those loopholes, we could more effectively ensure that we can invest right here in the United States of America. That also would contribute to a more fair system of taxation. The kind of loopholes that you and I are both referring to are not the kinds of loopholes that middle-class families benefit from.

So the President is going to continue, even through his remaining four months here or so in office, making the case that the next Congress should make closing some of those loopholes a top priority.

Q: I also wanted to ask about a report that the FBI is going to be releasing publicly, the details of this recommendation for the Justice Department on the Clinton email investigation. Did the White House have any opinion about this decision? Were you consulted? And what's your general reaction to the fact that we're going to be hearing more about this investigation and its internal documents from the FBI?

MR. EARNEST: I've seen those reports. I can tell you that the White House did not consult with the FBI about that decision or any of the other decisions that they've made in terms of handling some of the investigative material that they've collected when they looked into this matter. So I'll leave it to them to describe what steps they're taking and why they're taking them. With regard to the potential impact on the election, there are any number of people that are employed by your news organizations that will speculate about the potential political impact or political fallout. I'll let them do that.

Q: All right. And just one more on the situation in Syria with Turkey. Is the President satisfied at this point with the fact that, I guess, two of our allies have seemed to have been attacking one another, but it seems like they're trying to work it out. Can you talk about where the White House is one that today?

MR. EARNEST: Yeah. I can say that the United States welcomes the overnight calm between the Turkish military and other counter-ISIL forces in Syria. The United States continues to encourage these moves as a way to prevent further hostilities and loss of life between all counter-ISIL forces operating in the area. Our priority here, Toluse, needs to be on fighting ISIL. And that's why we describe it as the counter-ISIL coalition. That's why these forces have signed up to work closely with the United States and other coalition members, because they're concerned about the impact of ISIL. And we believe that, in making decision about appropriate military actions, it's important to be focused on the shared goal of degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.


Q: Thanks, Josh. I want to go back to the hacking. So the Senate Minority Leader sent a letter to the FBI expressing concern for the Russian government tampering with the presidential election. Do you guys actually see cyber threats affecting the outcome of the election as a real possibility here?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Serena, as I mentioned in response to an earlier question, I'm not going to be in a position to confirm any individual entity or criminal enterprise or government as responsible for the reported hacking at the DNC. I think more generally what I can say is that U.S. officials, particularly at the Department of Homeland Security who have primary responsibility for protecting the American people in cyberspace, take all these kinds of reports and threats quite seriously. And that's why, just within the last couple of weeks, Secretary Johnson, over at DHS convened, a conference call with election officials all across the country to talk to them about the resources that the DHS has and can be made available to them to safeguard their systems.

I think people can have a lot of confidence in the election system, in part between it's not centralized. Elections are administered and conducted by state and local authorities, which means you essentially have a patchwork of systems across the country that maintain the records and administer these elections. Sometimes the consequences for that kind of varied system means that it's hard to implement reforms across the board. It's hard to implement reforms across the board. That also makes it harder to hack the system. It certainly wasn't designed that way, but that is one of the benefits.

So we take this threat seriously. The response from DHS, I think, is a pretty good indication of how seriously we take that. There is an active discussion going on among the President's national security team about whether or not to designate election administration systems in the United States as critical infrastructure. If so, that would qualify those systems for enhanced protection and enhanced resources from the federal government. But no decision has been on that at this point. In the meantime, we'll continue to stay in close touch with election administrators to help them safeguard their systems and continue to give people confidence in the ability of the election to take place and for us to continue to have confidence in the results.

Q: But the FBI has said that one state was successfully hacked, and there was another attempt on another state. And then if you designate it as critical infrastructure by the federal government, aren't you kind of admitting that there's big weaknesses in those states?

MR. EARNEST: Again, I think -- first of all, with regard to the FBI's communication with computer systems administrators across the country, I'd refer you to them. They can talk to you about their assessment about the way that they've talked about this threat.

Again, what I think is true is that we're vigilant about the threats that exist out there, and it's an evolving environment, and so we need to be aware of the fact that our adversaries -- whether they're criminal or state-organized -- that they're always evolving, and they're dynamic and that they're tenacious. And we need to devote significant resources and be similarly creative to deter those threats. And we certainly are committed to working state and local officials who are responsible for administering elections to help them do that.

Q: When would that decision be made by the actual security team?

MR. EARNEST: That's something they're continuing to evaluate. I don't have a timeframe for you as this point.

Q: Okay. And then turning back to Central America, the Ecuadorian mission here in D.C. delivered a letter to the State Department yesterday with nine Latin American foreign ministers expressing deep concern about the negative effects of the U.S. migration policy across their region with respect to Cuban migrants. Given that the President has opened up Cuba more -- first flights, direct commercial flights starting tomorrow -- is there any consideration of adjusting that wet-foot/dry-foot policy that is really impacting a region that you yourself said partner closely with to address their own migrant crisis coming across the southern border in the U.S.?

MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, the United States lives in a region of the world where our migration policies are complicated. And there's essentially patchwork system that's in place that administers and enforces those laws. And as I mentioned earlier, the administration has not put forward a congressional proposal seeking to change that.

Q: But these are countries who are trying to stem their own flow into our country and they're saying your policy with respect to Cuban migrants are really impacting us personally -- we can't focus on these things when we have to deal with the Cuban migrant situation because of the U.S. policy that treats Cubans different than every other nationality in the world.

MR. EARNEST: Well, we have been committed to working effectively with countries in the region to address some of the migration challenges, whether it's with regard to individuals fleeing violence in Central America or Cubans seeking to use a land route through Central America and Mexico to enter the United States.

One of the benefits of the efforts that we have made to reform our approach and relationship with Cuba has been to have a positive impact on our relationship with countries throughout the Western Hemisphere. And that certainly has made the United States more effective in trying to resolve these concerns that have been raised.

Q: And given the flights starting tomorrow, is there any announcements of new Cuban regulations coming forward? Any plans to finally nominate an ambassador?

MR. EARNEST: Nothing that I'm prepared to announce at this point.


Q: Josh, over the weekend, a Senate Republican spokesman said that the Senate could use one of its pro forma sessions this week to pass the Zika funding bill if the Democrats withdrew their objections. Is that something the White House has no interest in?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Mark, I think what the Democrats in the Senate would like to see -- it's what the Democratic and Republican governors across the country would like to see and it's certainly what this administration would like to see, is Congress act on the funding request that is supported by our public health professionals. That's the $1.9 billion funding request that the administration put forward back in February, more than six months ago, and Republicans continue to block that request even while they're enjoying their six, seven-week recess.

Q: So the smaller bill would not be of interest to the administration?

MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I think we have made clear that we need to see Congress act. And the current bill that was passed by the House includes a bunch of ideological riders, including some that involve the Confederate flag and blocking funding to Planned Parenthood, even though we're talking about a disease that could be transmitted sexually. So that doesn't make a lot of sense. Frankly, neither of those provisions makes a lot of sense. And I think that is a clear indication that Republicans in the House -- and apparently now Republicans in the Senate -- are much more interested in politics than they are in protecting the American people from the Zika virus.

Q: On another issue, you've seen the stories in recent days on the release of Secretary Clinton's schedules -- private schedules at the State Department. I was wondering if there's any chance the White House would release the President's private schedules during his time in office.

MR. EARNEST: I don't anticipate that the President will do that during his time in office, but consistent with the Presidential Records Act, at some point the President's schedules will be made public and presumably you'll have the opportunity to peruse them when you are enjoying a visit to the Barack Obama Presidential Library at some point. (Laughter.)

Q: Why wouldn't his policies on transparency apply now and not after he leaves office?

MR. EARNEST: Well, because the President is committed to complying with the Presidential Records Act and that's what we'll do. And that will ensure that the American public does have an opportunity to take a look at his schedule.

Jane, I'll give you the last one.

Q: Thank you very much, Josh. Does the President have any schedule to bilateral meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye at the G20? If he do so, what wider issues will they be discussing at the meeting?

MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware of any formal bilateral meeting that the President will have with President Park, but I can tell you that it's not uncommon for the President to have an opportunity to visit with some of his counterparts along the margins of some of these meetings. So I don't know whether or not something like that is planned at this point, but if something like that does occur, we'll certainly let you know. And if there's an opportunity, I'm confident that the President will use it to express the United States' strong support for the safety and security of our allies at the Republic of Korea.

Q: Any bilateral meeting with other contacts, China and Japan, so he can do so -- this kind of situation in Korea right now -- political situation, so they can talk about possibilities --

MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not aware of any multilateral meetings that are planned, but if there's an opportunity for the President to once again express his strong support for the safety and security of our allies in South Korea, then I'm confident he won't let that opportunity pass by.

Thanks, everybody. Take care. Hopefully we'll see some of you in Asia.

Q: Quiet afternoon --

MR. EARNEST: We'll see.

END 12:41 P.M. EDT

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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