Barack Obama photo

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest

August 31, 2015

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Anchorage, Alaska

12:03 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST: Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to Alaska, a much anticipated trip I think by all of you, but most importantly, by the President. Obviously, the President will spend three days in Alaska, seeing the sights and sounds of some of the most beautiful parts not just of our country, but of the world. And the President is eagerly anticipating it.

The President is beginning his trip, as he should, by meeting with a group of Alaskan Native leaders to discuss some of the priorities in their communities. The President has spent time on tribal land in the past on at least two previous occasions, and the President is looking forward to meeting with these Alaskan Native leaders. You all will have an opportunity to hear from the President after he conducts that meeting.

Then the President will go and deliver a speech at the Glacier Conference. This is an international conference hosted by the United States -- we've got high-level diplomats from other countries that are concerned about Arctic policy and have largely cooperated effectively with the United States and other countries with significant interests in the Arctic.

And there, the President will have the opportunity to talk about a range of issues, including climate change. And I would anticipate that over the next three days you'll hear the President talk about that extensively. Our scientists tell us that there is no region of the world that is more directly affected right now by climate change than the Arctic. And there are many people who live in this region of the world that are dealing with the effects of climate change firsthand and on a daily basis. And so it's a good opportunity for us to highlight the significance of pursuing many of the policy changes that the President has advocated to fight carbon pollution and fight climate change.

So it should be an exciting couple of days here. I'm certainly looking forward to it. I hope all of you are as well. So, with that, we can go to your questions.

Q: Is anyone traveling on this leg of the flight with the President related to the trip? Is the Governor on the plane, the Governor of Alaska? I think I read somewhere that he was going to be --

MR. EARNEST: Let me check on that for you. I'll get back to you on that. I don't have a tally of who all is on the plane, but I'll get back to you on that.

Q: The Mt. McKinley announcement -- obviously some Republicans, especially from Ohio, have expressed disappointment in the announcement. I'm wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit about -- obviously you guys laid out your case for why you thought it was an appropriate change, but what this says about President McKinley's legacy and whether you'll be taking any steps to recognize him to kind of offset the change.

MR. EARNEST: Well, first of all, we refer to it as the Denali announcement today. But as you point out, we did make clear the reason behind this change. It's not an arbitrary change. In fact, this is an effort to align the policies of the federal government with what Alaskan Natives have referred to that way for thousands of years. And so this seems to be a common-sense way for us to acknowledge that name.

The Department of Interior, I understand, has said that they will work with leaders in Ohio, especially, who are especially interested in this to find an appropriate way to acknowledge President McKinley's contribution to our country. That's an appropriate thing to do and that's what the Department of Interior is looking at.

I brought a visual aid that Frank will track down for us. We can go on to other questions.

Q: Josh, the President is going to be speaking about climate change in a state where a lot of residents are still reeling from declines in oil revenues, lower oil prices, and really want to see expanded energy development in the Arctic -- sorry in Alaska, which seems to conflict in certain ways with his message. What does the President plan to say to Alaskans who ask him to expand opportunities for energy development?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, for years we have been talking about the President's approach to energy as an all-of-the-above approach. And I think Alaska is a place where that approach is on display. There are some areas of Alaska where significant resources, including oil and gas, are being produced. There has been much discussion about this Shell operation that is in the Arctic. Each of those operations is subjected to very strict safety standards that this administration has only strengthened.

And this is indicative of the President's view that our economy does begin to -- needs to start taking the steps to transition to a low-carbon, clean energy economy. That's in the best interests of the U.S. economy. That's also in the best interests of our planet and the health of our communities and our kids.

But we know that transition is not going to occur overnight. And knowing that, the President believes that it is better for us to take advantage of the opportunities that exist when it comes to producing American oil and natural gas as opposed to relying on foreign imports -- for a couple of reasons.

One of those is that many of those imports come from some of the most dangerous, volatile regions of the world. But the other reason is that the United States has the strictest safety and environmental standards of any country in the world. And that means that this is the responsible way for us to pursue this transition -- both when it comes to factoring in our environmental priorities, but also when it comes to factoring in our economic priorities.

Q: How does the President simultaneously press China and other countries whose contributions to the climate treaty you're awaiting to cut down their own emissions and phase out fossil fuels if he's simultaneously encouraging Alaska to have additional energy development that could increase emissions?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, Josh, what we envision -- well, let me start by saying this: One of the reasons that President Xi made a commitment when he was standing alongside President Obama to cap their carbon emissions is because the United States has made similar commitments. In fact, we've obviously made even more serious commitments to not just capping our carbon pollution, but actually starting to reduce it. And the President is committed to that.

But again, we've acknowledged that those reductions are not going to occur overnight. And that means that our economy is still going to be reliant in part on oil and gas. And the President has reached the conclusion that it is better for us to rely on American-produced oil and gas than it is to rely on importing oil and gas -- not just because of the geopolitical considerations, but also because American oil and gas is produced under the strictest safety and environmental standards on the planet.

And that's how we can make a strong case to you that it's in the best interests of our planet and of our economy to pursue this all-of-the-above approach as we transition to low-carbon, clean energy.

Q: The nations at the conference today have all done work to collaborate on strategic work in the Arctic. Are there concerns here in the U.S. about Russian incidents in the Arctic? They've been very aggressive, establishing military bases. They planted a flag on the Arctic Ocean floor. There seems to be some concern that they're pursuing the Arctic in a more vigorous and potentially belligerent way, and I wonder what the U.S. response is to that, if the President is going to talk about that at all.

MR. EARNEST: Well, let me say a couple of things about that. The first is, Julie, I think I read the very interesting story that ran on the front page of your paper yesterday on this topic. And I think just at a high level, I think it's worth pointing out that these issues as it relates to the Arctic are not the kinds of things that frequently make their way to the front page of The New York Times.

That's not at all a criticism of the editorial decisions of The New York Times; it actually serves to illustrate the significance of presidential trips like this -- that the President traveling to Alaska has the effect of servicing these important policy issues, whether they're related to our relationship with Russia, or questions about energy policy, or questions about climate change.

And that is the reason for this trip because it does give the American people and even people all around the world the opportunity to debate these very complicated issues, very significant issues, that otherwise wouldn't capture the attention of policymakers or the American public. So let me make that observation first.

The second thing I will say is that over the years, Russia has been an effective interlocutor with the United States and other countries that have significant claims in the Arctic. And we have seen a pretty cooperative effort on the parts of these nations to ensure that resources in the Arctic are effectively managed. And we continue to urge not just Russia but other countries with interest in the Arctic to continue to pursue that effective cooperation.

One of the things I think that is clear is that there is more attention and more resources that the United States can devote on this, and that's something that the President will be talking about not just at the Glacier Conference today, but over the course of our three-day trip to Alaska.

Q: To follow up on one thing you said about servicing this issue. Obviously, this is -- climate change has been on the President's agenda, and he has wanted to call attention to it. But can you talk a little bit about the other reasons he's looking forward to this trip? He's only got a little more than a year left in office. I just wonder if you can talk about how much he's looking forward to the more tourist elements in what he's going to do.

MR. EARNEST: I think all of us are going to have an opportunity to over the course of this trip to see things that we've never seen before. And the President, I think on a personal level, is looking forward to the hike that is planned. The President often laments how -- that one of the challenges of the presidency is that he spends a lot of time inside, and he's going to have the opportunity to spend an extended period of time outside in one of the most beautiful parts not just of the country, but of the world. He's really looking forward to that.

But the principal reason that he's doing that is that all of you are coming, too, and the President is looking forward to making a persuasive case about how what he will see is worth protecting. And one way to do that is to not just give him the opportunity to see this region of the world firsthand, but to give all of you the opportunity to see this region of the world firsthand, and for you to share your own impressions and your own pictures with the American people, and to help people understand firsthand why this is a priority -- not just protecting land in Alaska, but also making sure that we are confronting head on the challenges posed by climate change.

And some of the communities that we'll visit and some of the people that we'll meet are dealing with the impacts of climate change on a daily basis in their day-to-day lives. And that's a good reminder to all of us who don't have that sort of daily, tangible firsthand interaction with the effects of climate change yet that this is a challenge that's worth confronting.

Q: Some critics have said that the President is just using the dramatic backdrop to make a political argument, that the glaciers are kind of a prop, that he's not really going to do anything to help the people in Alaska. Are there more tangible policy announcements that he's going to make to address some of the issues in Alaska? And he talked in his Weekly Address about the villages that need to be relocated -- will there be more tangible announcements on issues like that?

MR. EARNEST: I don't have any announcements to preview at this point, but I will say that the Denali announcement is not the only announcement on this trip.

The other thing that I'll say is that scientists can document that the impact of climate change on glaciers in the Arctic is real and able to be measured. And that is part of what is driving the President to make fighting climate change a policy priority. And I think this actually -- I would argue this is a pretty direct way for us to make the case that the kinds of policy arguments that the President is leading in Washington do have a consequential impact on the daily lives of Alaska Natives and people in Alaska all across that state.

Q: The Washington Post is reporting that the administration is thinking about sanctions against China because of recent cyber activity. Is that something under consideration?

MR. EARNEST: I saw that story, as well. When talking about economic sanctions, I've often noted that it would be strategically unwise for us to discuss potential sanctions targets because that would only give the potential targets of sanctions the opportunity to take steps that would allow them to evade those sanctions.

So it's not uncommon for me to observe that I don't have a lot to say about the decision-making process that goes into applying economic sanctions. One observation that I will make is that the only reason that the President's policy team could potentially consider sanctions against those who have committed acts of cyber theft against the United States or U.S. institutions, or benefitted from cyber theft, is because the President signed an executive order earlier this year giving the Secretary of the Treasury the authority to use sanctions in that way. This means that the United States government has an additional tool in the toolbox to confront this particular challenge.

So I don't have any sort of announcements or updates to share with you in terms of the policymaking process, but the reason that this is an option is because of a decision that the President made earlier this year.

Q: Josh, is the administration concerned -- or do you think it's likely that if you were to slap new economic sanctions on China now, that President Xi would possibly cancel his upcoming state visit to the U.S.?

MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I wouldn't want to speculate on any potential actions or any potential deliberations. As it comes to our relationship with China, I was visiting with some of our folks earlier today in anticipation of this line of questioning, and I remembered that there was a lot of discussion as we traveled to a starkly different climate -- to Palm Springs, California -- where the President convened his first meeting with President Xi after President Xi had assumed the presidency in China to discuss the U.S.-China relationship. And there was extensive discussion about whether or not President Obama would raise our concerns about China's activity in cyberspace in the context of that very first presidential-level conversation. And President Obama told the press pool in the first interaction with the press after his first conversation with President Xi at Sunnylands that this was a topic that he did raise and a topic that continued to be of significant concern.

So the point is that it is no secret to leaders in China that President Obama and other leaders in the U.S. government have significant concerns with Chinese behavior in cyberspace. We've made that clear in high-level conversations with Chinese officials. I think it was pretty crystal clear in the Department of Justice announcement of the indictment of five Chinese military officials for their actions in cyberspace.

So this is not -- our concerns in this area are not a surprise to anyone, and certainly are not a surprise to anyone in the Chinese government.

Q: Just kind of following on that, well, I'm wondering if -- first I'm going to ask about I guess the Los Angeles Times story today that said that China was using the data they gathered in the OPM hack and other hacks to identify U.S. intelligence officials. I'm wondering if you can comment on the report at all, and if this is a concern that the intelligence community is in any way kind of addressing kind of proactively at this point.

MR. EARNEST: I have seen that report, Justin, but I don't have a particular comment on it for a couple of reasons. One is we have not formally indicated our conclusions about who may or may not have been responsible for that particular intrusion. The second as it relates to steps that need to be taken to safeguard certain officials in the intelligence community, I'd actually direct those questions to the intelligence community. They will be best equipped to describe to you as best they can any steps that they are taking to ensure that our intelligence professionals, as they're doing the important work of protecting the American people -- are as safe as possible as they do that work.

Q: President Xi this week is hosting a sort of military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of World War II, and a lot of U.S. allies -- Prime Minister Modi, Prime Minister Abe -- have declined their invitations to go to that ceremony. I'm wondering if you think that it's appropriate, considering some of the regional tensions, for him to be hosting this, and if this is something that came up with Susan Rice.

MR. EARNEST: Justin, I don't know if this came up in the context of the National Security Advisor's trip to China. I can check on that for you. Actually, I will acknowledge I was actually not aware of the Chinese President's plans to mark the end of the second world war, but you might check with the State Department to see if they have an official response to this. And I'll see if I can get my colleagues at the NSC to respond to your question in terms of whether or not this came up in Dr. Rice's visit to China this week.

Q: Just to follow up on Justin's first question, you said you haven't formally indicated your conclusions about who was responsible. Has the U.S. government made conclusions about who is responsible that you're just not making public? Or are you still investigating?

MR. EARNEST: This is an -- these kinds of cyber intrusions are extraordinarily complex. And this is something that our intelligence community and law enforcement officials are continuing to take a look at. Obviously, in the context of carrying out this investigation, a lot of evidence has been collected, but I don't have any updates in terms of what that evidence points to or any conclusions that may have been reached by the investigators themselves.

Q: But you're not disputing characterizations by DNI Clapper or others that have said that it was China behind it?

MR. EARNEST: I have refrained from commenting on those comments and declining to characterize any conclusions that may or may not have been reached based on the intelligence that's been -- or the evidence that's been collected so far.

Q: Josh, the President, in an interview on the Iran deal with The Forward, said that he was particularly offended by allegations of anti-Semitism directed at members of his administration. I was wondering if you could identify which members he was referring to.

MR. EARNEST: Well, you mean which claims he was referring to, or --

Q: Were there certain people that -- in the administration that have been accused of anti-Semitism in the course of this Iran debate that have particularly irked the President?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the comment that most immediately comes to mind is the suggestion by Governor Huckabee that the Obama administration was essentially leading the nation of Israel to "the ovens." This was a comment that President Obama has previously commented on himself. He did that in the context of his news conference in Ethiopia. That's the comment that first comes to mind, but it's certainly not the only example of the kind of political rhetoric that certainly the President and others find objectionable.

Q: Senator Coons is expected to announce tomorrow whether or not he'll support the Iran deal. Obviously, he's a pretty pivotal member, especially in your guys' effort to hold -- to prevent kind of a vote from happening in the Senate. I'm wondering if you have any indication of which way he's leaning at this point, if you guys have been in conversations with him, and also if you have any kind of update on where your whip count is, how you're feeling about where the vote is.

MR. EARNEST: My understanding is that there are now 31 senators who have indicated that they intend to support the deal in Congress. Senator Merkley of Oregon announced his support for the Iran deal over the weekend, and I think that brings the number up to 31 in the Senate.

As it relates to Senator Coons, there have been extensive briefings that have been organized at Senator Coons' request. He's had conversations with a range of senior administration officials. I don't have any specific conversations to tell you about, but I think I would put Senator Coons in the category of those senators who have shown a genuine interest in trying to understand exactly what's included in the agreement, what sort of limitations will be imposed on Iran's nuclear program, and what sort of rigorous inspections they have agreed to.

And Senator Coons has spent a lot of time studying the deal, and we've made what we believe is a very aggressive case for why we believe that he should support the agreement. But I am not aware of what conclusion he has reached or his timeline for announcing a decision. But, yes, Senator Coons is among those senators that has had what I think could be fairly described as a large number of conversations with members of the President's national security team about the deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Q: Josh, the State Department today is releasing another batch of Hillary Clinton emails. Just wondering, sort of logistically, is that something the White House gets ahead of time, the emails? Do you see them ahead of time, or is it -- you'll read them when the public does later this evening?

MR. EARNEST: I am aware that the State Department is planning to release another batch of emails. These are emails that Secretary Clinton has asked the State Department to release voluntarily. There is a process, however, of reviewing these emails prior to their release to make sure that sensitive information is not inadvertently released to the public.

As is true of any process where extensive documentation is about to be made public, the White House is in the loop on that process. But those decisions ultimately are made by the State Department. And so I know that there are some State Department -- some White House officials that have some insight into what is being released, but I don't believe that all of the documents that will be released are necessarily documents that have been reviewed by White House officials. Does that make sense? I think typically the way the process works is that State Department officials review the documents; where there are documents with White House equities that are prepared for release, White House officials will have an opportunity to see them before they are released.

And that is standard operating procedure, and I'm confident that was the process that was carried out by previous administrations, as well.

Q: One more foreign policy question. Yesterday, Governor Walker was asked about whether he thought building a wall on the border of Canada was a good idea, and I was just wondering if the White House sees border security with Canada as a major issue and whether it's something that this White House has ever looked at.

MR. EARNEST: Well, Roberta, I can tell you that the United States has a very strong national security relationship with Canada. We cooperate on a wide variety of issues. And as I recall, there are actually even Canadian military personnel that are involved in our ongoing effort inside of Iraq to train and equip Iraqi security forces to take the fight to ISIL. That represents a significant contribution on the part of Canada, and I think it's a testament to the strength of our alliance with Canada.

That cooperation also extends to border security. And there have been occasions that have been previously announced where U.S. and Canadian law enforcement and national security officials have succeeded in apprehending individuals that we were concerned about. And certainly in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of the Canadian soldier -- I guess that was last year -- the coordination efforts and information intelligence sharing between the United States and Canada was further ramped up. And we certainly value that relationship, and that relationship extends to the security of our long-undefended border.

Q: So no wall needed?

MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware of anybody in this administration who believes that that should be a top priority.

Q: Josh, we learned over the weekend from a readout of Ambassador Rice's trip to Pakistan that the President had extended a specific invitation to Prime Minister Sharif to visit the White House. To your knowledge, has the Prime Minister accepted that invitation?

MR. EARNEST: I assume that he has. I have not seen a formal statement of his accepting it, but I'm not sure that was necessary. But it is true that Ambassador Rice did invite the Prime Minister to visit the White House in late October. And we certainly are looking forward to that visit. There are obviously a lot of important issues to discuss.

Q: Following on that, in the Pakistani press, there was a lot of attention paid to whether the U.S. would provide the next tranche of what has been $300 million in security aid. Kind of time and again, the Pentagon has not yet certified that the Pakistani government has disrupted the terrorism network that the aid is sort of reliant on, and so I'm wondering if that was part of the conversation with Ambassador Rice and if there were any assurances made to the Pakistanis that that additional aid would be coming.

MR. EARNEST: Let me just say as a general matter that the first item on the National Security Advisor's agenda, as you'd expect, was the security relationship between the United States and Pakistan. The United States and Pakistan have been able to effectively cooperate on a range of security and counterterrorism priorities, and we certainly are appreciative of that kind of relationship.

We have indicated on a number of occasions that there is more work we believe that the Pakistani government can do to confront extremist groups and others that pose a security threat to the interest of the Pakistani people as well as the national security interests of the United States. And that certainly was part of the discussion that Ambassador Rice had with the Pakistani officials, and I'm confident that will be on the agenda when Prime Minister Sharif visits the United States later this fall.

Q: In The Forward interview, the President said that he expected the U.S.-Israel security cooperation talks to proceed, and he said the same thing in his webcast on Friday that he thought they would go quickly and smoothly. Does he have specific plans yet to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to the U.S. or to meet with him somewhere to talk about that personally?

MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware of any meetings that are in the works at this point. As you know, the President does speak rather frequently with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

I would also point out that Adam Szubin, who is the Treasury official responsible for implementing the sanctions by the Treasury Department, about a range of officials -- on a range of issues, including against some Iranian officials, is actually in Israel right now to talk about our coordinated efforts to counter Iran's destabilizing activities in the region.

I'll just point out again that Mr. Szubin is traveling in Israel, conducting those high-level negotiations with the Israelis, even though the Senate Banking Committee won't even give him a hearing to consider his nomination. So I think this is a pretty open-and-shut case when it comes to Republicans in the United States Senate once again placing their own political interests ahead of the national security interests of the United States.

Q: -- big kind of push when Walmart announced that it was raising the wages for workers, saying that it tied in with the administration's effort on the minimum wage. Some Walmart stores are saying now that they're cutting hours for workers in order to offset the costs. I'm wondering what your guys' reaction to that is, and if it at all strikes a blow for your messaging on the minimum wage.

MR. EARNEST: We've long acknowledged that individual decisions -- individual companies are going to make business decisions that they believe are in the best interest of their business. And the reason that we cited that Walmart's announcement is that it was -- they were just the latest company to indicate that they believed that raising the wages of their workers was in the best interest of their business.

And so it has long been our view -- and this is a view that the President has frequently articulated -- that businesses benefit from ensuring that their workers are properly compensated. And that's consistent with the decision that Walmart has made. I can't speak to any individual decisions that they've made about changing the work hours, but we continue to believe that Walmart's decision to raise compensation for their workers is consistent with the President's view that fairly compensating workers is a good business decision.

Q: Josh, with Congress soon to be returning from their recess, should we anticipate that the White House will submit its Guantanamo plan to Congress relatively soon?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, this is something that the administration has been hard at work on over the month of August. I don't have any updates for you in terms of timing. I think you are aware that there are a couple of site visits that administration personnel have made to a couple of potential sites here in the United States that could be a place to house Gitmo detainees after that facility is -- after the prison there is closed, but I don't have any updates in terms of the development of that plan or timing on which it might be presented to members of Congress.

Q: There's been a sense I think from some members of Congress that you guys are making this legislative push to sort of give yourselves -- to shield yourselves for taking executive action if Congress fails to do something themselves. Is it fair -- would it be fair to describe this as Congress's last chance before the White House would act unilaterally on Guantanamo?

MR. EARNEST: I think what I would -- the way that I would describe this, Justin, is that I think we've been pretty blunt about the fact that Congress -- members of Congress in both parties, to be fair, have put in place significant obstacles that have prevented the administration from making nearly as much progress as we would like to make in closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And Congress has been effective in thwarting that effort.

And that's why we're seeking to engage with Congress once again to try to get them to work cooperatively with the administration to pursue the kind of national security goal that isn't just advocated by President Obama, it actually was advocated by former President Bush, who opened the prison in the first place.

So there's no reason this has to break down along party lines. What we're hopeful is that Congress will acknowledge that what two Presidents of different parties have now confronted, which is that continuing to operate the prison at Guantanamo Bay is not just an unwise use of taxpayer dollars, it actually poses an unnecessary risk to the national security of the United States. The President is eager to confront that by closing the prison, and finding a way that is consistent with our national security objectives of closing that prison.

Q: Just to follow on that, is this a case, as it was -- as the President said about immigration, where "if Congress won't act, I will?"

MR. EARNEST: I think it is fair to say that we have taken a number of steps to try to reduce the prison population there so we can get closer to closing the prison. The President and his team are always considering a wide array of options.

But the fact is the best way for us to do this is for members of Congress in both parties to work effectively with the administration to achieve an objective that is advocated by Presidents of both parties, which is to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And again, the reason that the President has made that a priority is because he believes that continuing to operate the prison at Guantanamo Bay is an unwise use of taxpayer dollars -- it certainly is an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars -- but also poses an unnecessary risk to our national security.

Q: Governor Christie made some headlines over the weekend by suggesting that immigrants to the U.S. should be tracked like FedEx packages. I'm wondering if you have a response to that, but also on the -- I know the kind of headlines -- but on the more substantive point, if the U.S. is doing enough -- if somebody has got a visa, to sort of track and follow them after they've entered the country and sort of gotten to the end of their visas here.

MR. EARNEST: Well, I did notice that Governor Christie himself took what I think we would all agree is an uncharacteristic step of signaling some discomfort with his comments. And I think that was probably appropriate. Let me just say that the -- again, Congress had a really good opportunity to confront the myriad problems that are posed by our broken immigration system, and one of them was to reform the legal immigration system, particularly as it relates to visas.

So that was a reform -- or those were a set of reforms that were blocked by Republicans in the House of Representatives. We've talked at length about our disappointment with the decision of House Republicans to block common-sense immigration reform. And that's why many of the problems that have been caused by our broken immigration system persist.

And this will certainly have to be something that the next President confronts, and it's why the debate about immigration reform in the current presidential election is an important one. Because the American people should have a clear understanding of how the people running for President will confront this issue once they get in the Oval Office, because it's going to be a problem that -- because of congressional obstruction, that will still exist when the next President takes office.

Q: It seems we baited you into talking about the 2016 presidential election. Wanted to ask about the 2020 presidential election. Somebody who President Obama has had conversations with in the last year, Kanye West, said last night that he was planning a bid for the White House. I'm wondering if that's something that the President talked to him about at all, and if -- I know you'll be looking for a job in a little bit -- maybe being press secretary of Kanye's campaign might be open.

MR. EARNEST: I heard a little bit about Mr. West's announcement. Let me just say I look forward to seeing what slogan he chooses to embroider on his campaign hat.

Q: -- see a poster?

MR. EARNEST: Why don't we move to the visual aid portion of the program. So what I have brought with me -- and we'll have more of these on the ground when we arrive in Alaska -- this is actually a National Parks Service map of Denali National Park with the renamed centerpiece of the national park on the map. So this is the mountain -- the peak formerly known at Mt. McKinley that is now Denali.

So a little --

Q: And these things all said Denali previously except for the mountain itself?

MR. EARNEST: That's correct. So, previously, Mt. McKinley was located in Denali National Park, but now the center attraction of the National Park has been renamed Denali.

Q: So just to clarify for our friends listening on the ground, the administration has now formally changed the name of Mt. McKinley to Denali on the official National Parks Service maps.

MR. EARNEST: Yes. So the National Parks Service has started producing maps with the highest peak in North America now labeled Denali.

Q: So, Josh, did the administration take a look at how much it's going to cost to do all this map-renaming and whatnot? Is there any cost estimate of the impact of this renaming decision?

MR. EARNEST: I'd check with the Department of Interior about that. My guess is they're not going to throw away any perfectly good maps, but you've got a sample here of the next run.

Q: One more last one. We heard right before we got off the ground that the President was going to be doing the interview, TV segment with Bear Grylls. I'm wondering if you could both shed any light on what exactly they're going to be doing, and then maybe talk about how this is part of your guys' media strategy to -- the President and you have both talked about it in the past -- reach out to --

MR. EARNEST: Well, as I think NBC announced earlier today, the President will be spending some time on his hike tomorrow with Bear Grylls for his "Running Wild" series. And so I don't want to -- this is a special that will run later this fall, so I don't want to give away a lot of details about what the President will be doing with Mr. Grylls, but he's certainly looking forward to it. And it does provide an appropriate platform for the President to talk about conservation.

Throughout his series, Bear Grylls has traveled to unique places all around the world -- including many places inside the United States -- to showcase the beauty of our land. And talking about these issues and talking about the impact on climate change on some of these lands is something that the President will do in the context of this interview. But discussions about climate change will not be the only thing that they do, and so we'll --

Q: Was the President a Boy Scout or anything? Does he know how to make fire?

MR. EARNEST: I don't know if the President was a Boy Scout. That is a really good question.

Q: Can you find out?

Q: -- head of the Boy Scouts.

MR. EARNEST: Exactly, he is the head of the Boy Scouts. I don't -- I'll find out if he was as a kid.

Q: Do you know whether he is a fan of the show? Or has he ever seen the show?

MR. EARNEST: The President has seen the show before. And again, I think it's just sort of an admittedly unorthodox but legitimately interesting way for the President to reach an audience that obviously cares about this conversation. And this administration has taken some historic steps to provide -- to protect large swaths of land and water in this country -- that a total of 9.8 million acres of water in both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas have been protected by the administration from offshore energy production, and another 32.5 million acres of water in Bristol Bay have been similarly protected. And as you all know, the President -- the administration did make a recommendation to make significant parts of the coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve permanently off limits to oil and gas exploration.

So there are a number of steps that this administration has taken to protect this precious land, and the President will have the opportunity to spend some time on this precious land with Bear Grylls for his television special.

So it's just a -- again, an interesting way for us to reach an audience that cares about it.

Q: Did the Secret Service have any concerns about him doing the show and pushing him to his limit?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I would say that there -- I will not deny your suspicion that there may have been some suggestions put forward by the Bear Grylls team that were not approved by the Secret Service. (Laughter.)

Q: Can't tell us what he's not going to do; we'll find out what he is going to do.

MR. EARNEST: Yes, that's no fun. We have been able to work with the Secret Service to find a couple of interesting things for the President to do with Bear Grylls. It should be fun.

END 12:50 P.M. EDT

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

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