Barack Obama photo

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest

October 07, 2014

Aboard Air Force One
En Route New York, New York

1:15 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST: Just two things before I take your questions. As you probably know, the President will be traveling to the Los Angeles area on Thursday. While he's there, he'll hold an event to continue talking about the progress our economy is making and his plans to keep expanding opportunity for all Americans. We'll have some more details about the location and timing of that event on Thursday a little later this week.

The second thing is, prior to departing the White House, the President today had the opportunity to meet briefly with Joe Clancy, the acting Director of the United States Secret Service. In the context of that meeting, the President thanked Mr. Clancy for taking on this important responsibility at a challenging time for the Agency. Mr. Clancy took a leave from his private-sector job in order to continue his service to the United States government and to the United States Secret Service, and the President is appreciative of the sacrifice that he is making to assume this responsibility.

So with that, we'll go to some questions.

Q: Thanks, Josh. Could you give us any more details about the increased passenger screening that the President discussed at the Ebola meeting yesterday?

MR. EARNEST: I don't have any additional details on those measures at this point. The President, as you noted, at the meeting said that they're working on additional protocols for additional screening. We retain confidence in the screening measures that are currently in place. As we've discussed a few times now, there is screening that takes place on the ground in Africa prior to -- in the countries where the Ebola outbreak is present so that individuals who are boarding those planes don't exhibit signs or symptoms of Ebola.

There are dozens of people who have been prevented from boarding planes in those countries because they were showing signs of Ebola. So there is a reason to have some confidence in those screening measures.

Secondly, there has been some training that's been put into place to ensure that flight crews have the information that they need to observe their passengers and enact certain medical protocols if they are concerned that one of their passengers is exhibiting signs of Ebola. There was this widely reported incident about the international flight that landed in Newark over the weekend. There was some concern that one of the passengers may have been exhibiting symptoms of Ebola. The flight crew contacted officials on the ground in advance of the plane's arrival to ensure that the appropriate medical precautions were taken. It turned out that individual did not have Ebola but it did indicate that the system for recognizing these symptoms and alerting the proper authorities is functioning.

And then separately, there is also a screening mechanism for when individuals are getting off the plane and entering the country that there are Customs and Border Patrol officials who are monitoring them and being on the lookout for individuals that may be displaying outward symptoms of Ebola. This is important because you're only -- Ebola is only contagious if you're exhibiting the symptoms. And the only way you can catch Ebola is by coming into close contact with the bodily fluids of an individual who is showing symptoms of Ebola.

So we have some confidence in the screening system that is currently in place to protect the traveling public and to protect the American people. But at the same time, the President's team is hard at work on developing additional protocols for additional screening measures. And I would anticipate that we'll have more to say about that in the next couple of days.

Q: What's the timeline for the decision?

MR. EARNEST: The next couple of days -- I would anticipate that we'll have some more details about what those screening measures are.

Q: On Ebola. Obviously the care is complicated and expensive. Was there talk in the meeting yesterday or in other formats about who will bear the costs for the care of the gentleman in Dallas or any other subsequent patients in the U.S.?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't have a lot of information in terms of what financial implications there are for individuals who need to be treated in American hospitals. But the thing that people should know is that the treatment is straightforward; that there are specific protocols that do require a modern medical infrastructure to implement those protocols effectively. That's why we continue to be confident that we have the necessary resources to prevent -- or at least significantly minimize -- the risk of an Ebola outbreak in this country.

It's also why the situation in West Africa is so tragic; that there isn't a model medical infrastructure there and an otherwise preventable but deadly disease is raging there. It's taking its toll on communities.

The way that we can stop this disease and stop this outbreak is to attack the source. And that's why the commitment of Department of Defense resources to improve the flow of personnel and equipment to the region is so important. And it has had a galvanizing impact on the broader international community. We're seeing other nonprofit groups, companies, and other governments commit additional resources to this response effort. We are certainly gratified by those commitments and there's a lot of work to be done. And that is the focal point of a lot of effort in the Department of Defense. I know that General Rodriguez from AFRICOM will be discussing this matter further today with reporters over at the Pentagon.

Q: Josh, this situation on the Syrian-Turkish border has become increasingly dire, as I'm sure you're aware, with this town of Kobani close to or in danger of falling to ISIS. What is the administration's latest take on the events there? And secondly, the Turkish prime minister -- or the Turkish President, rather, Erdogan has suggested that Turkey will not take part in -- or send in ground troops unless the coalition and the United States agree to take the fight to Assad as well as to ISIS. Are you concerned that this episode is sort of showing divisions in the agendas of the various members of this coalition?

MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by talking to you about the situation in Kobani. The United States is very concerned about the safety of individuals -- of citizens, of innocent civilians in the town of Kobani. Once again, we are seeing this extremist organization in the name of an otherwise peaceful religion, Islam, perpetrating terrible acts of violence against religious and ethnic minorities. This is something that we remain concerned about.

For several days now, the United States and our coalition partners have been conducting airstrikes in this region of the country. I can tell you that just last night there were several airstrikes that took place in that area. There's a strike just south of Kobani in which three ISIL vehicles were destroyed. There's a separate airstrike southeast of Kobani where one antiaircraft artillery -- piece of antiaircraft artillery equipment was destroyed. And then there are two other airstrikes in another area where an ISIL tank was destroyed. So there are ongoing military operations in that region of the country and we're going to continue to monitor that situation closely.

The thing that I would remind everyone is that the President has laid out a clear strategy for what we can do militarily in coordination with our international partners to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. This starts by denying them a safe haven in Syria -- that is something that is dangerous because it is a place where they could use that area to plot and plan more significant attacks either in neighboring countries like Iraq or even threaten Western targets, including the U.S. homeland. So that's something the President is determined to deny.

At the same time, this strategy involves destroying command-and-control structures that are operated by ISIL. There also is an active effort to attack critical infrastructure that's maintained by ISIL that is important to their logistical efforts. There also is a concerted effort to attack sources of fuel and financing -- this is something else that ISIL is relying upon as they try to expand their footprint in the region.

So there is a very coordinated strategy that the President has put in place. And our military planners have been working in close concert with our broader coalition partners to capitalize on those objectives. And we've made important progress on them. There obviously still continues to be significant work to be done -- there still continues to be significant work that needs to be done. But this is -- the President has been clear this is not a short-term proposition here; that airstrikes in support of Iraqi and Kurdish security forces in Iraq and airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria are an important part of this equation, but they're not the only part. And we're going to continue this effort.

Q: Are you concerned about diverging agendas? I mean, the Turks clearly have much more of an interest in going after Assad. Do you worry that that could become an impediment to the unity of the coalition?

MR. EARNEST: Well, we certainly were gratified that there was this vote from the Turkish parliament to indicate that ISIL was a significant threat to the people of Turkey, and as a part of that vote there was a commitment or at least an authorization to deploy military force against that ISIL threat. So we certainly were pleased and we warmly received that vote from the Turkish parliament.

We have made the case for some time that Muslim governments in the region are threatened by ISIL; that having this violence on their doorstep, particularly a nation like Turkey that shares a long border with Syria, is not in the best interests of these countries. It's certainly not in the best interest of Turkey.

General Allen, as you may know, is en route to Turkey right now. He's going to have some high-level meetings in Ankara where they're going to talk about how Turkey can use their unique capabilities to benefit this broader coalition against ISIL. I'm confident that some of the basic logistical questions will be considered in terms of what Turkey can do to benefit this broader coalition. But, yes, there will also be a discussion about what Turkey's political leadership perceives to be their interest in this region. And it is our view that there is a clear interest that Turkey has in working with the international coalition -- or international community to deal with the threat that's posed by ISIL, notwithstanding whatever other political interests they may have there.

Q: Can I switch gears a little bit? Today you're doing three fundraisers -- the President is doing three fundraisers. Generally you have, on a fundraising trip you still have an official event. I see you just added one for L.A. Is there any concern about just leaving and going and not having an official event, a speech or something else?

MR. EARNEST: No, not in this case. It's not -- you're right, typically there would be -- the President will do some official business when he's on the road. In this case, travel only includes political events. We're in that season of the American political calendar where the President and others are spending more time than they otherwise would on the campaign trail. One of the key ways that the President can benefit Democratic candidates up and down the ballot is just to be supportive of campaign committees, and that's what today's efforts are about.

Q: And can I clarify something from yesterday? You mentioned that the President has been in public, or maybe on stage, as you said, with candidates running for office. But just to clear up, he has not done a campaign event with an individual candidate except for Governor Quinn last week, right? Is that correct?

MR. EARNEST: Well, he certainly hasn't done one in secret, so if there's not one that you've been able to find in the public record, then I wouldn't contradict you.

Q: Okay. And just to clear up, was the Governor at the event last week, the fundraiser, which was closed?

MR. EARNEST: I'm almost -- I was not on the trip. I'm almost certain that he was because I believe that he traveled with the President to Northwestern with the President where the President gave his speech at the Kellogg School of Management. So we can double-check that for you, but I'm almost certain that he was.

Q: All right. I think I saw somewhere that he wasn't, but I thought he was. So I just wanted to double-check.

MR. EARNEST: We can look that up for you.

Q: Okay, thank you.

Q: Josh, following on what you said at the top about the President's meeting with Joe Clancy, did they discuss any specific things that the President would like to see changed, any traits he's looking for in his next Secret Service director, or other things he would like to see Clancy do during his tenure to set things up?

MR. EARNEST: I don't have a much more detailed readout of the meeting than the one that I gave. I know that today is Mr. Clancy's second day on the job. The reason that the President had asked Mr. Clancy to assume this responsibility is that he is somebody that is very well respected by his colleagues in the Secret Service. He is somebody that has a thorough knowledge of all the variety of responsibilities that the Secret Service has. So he's somebody who can use his own experience and expertise to make some assessments about the functioning of the Secret Service.

In the short term, there is this ongoing review that's being conducted by the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security into the fence-jumping incident of September 19th. That's the focal point of that ongoing review. I would anticipate that in the next few days we'll have some more information -- or maybe even sooner -- more information about the members of the independent panel that will be stood up by the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate that specific report and make some recommendations to the Secretary of Homeland Security and to the President about how those recommendations should be implemented.

That independent panel will also weigh in on the question of who should assume more permanent leadership of the United States Secret Service, and those are recommendations that we anticipate by mid-December. So on those questions, we'll running on a little bit of a longer timeline.

Q: Josh, Walmart announced today that they are not going to offer health insurance anymore to employees that work less than 30 hours a week. Is it fair to consider that an unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act, which, of course, was supposed to expand care?

MR. EARNEST: I think people who reach that assessment are demonstrating a little bit of amnesia about what the health care market looked like prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act. It was not at all uncommon to read news reports of large companies making a decision to either reduce or eliminate health care benefits for their workers. This was a common occurrence prior to the Affordable Care Act. The biggest difference now is that those 30,000 employees from Walmart that no longer have health insurance from their employer now do have a legitimate alternative where they can acquire high-quality, affordable health care, and that is through the marketplaces that were constructed by the Affordable Care Act.

So thanks to the Affordable Care Act, those employees now have somewhere to turn to ensure that they and their families can have access to quality health care.

Q: Does the President have any reaction to Walmart's decision on that?

MR. EARNEST: Angela, neither he nor I would comment on specific decisions that are made by private companies. But as a general matter, the President is pleased by some of the good news that we've received from the Affordable Care Act about how even the [growth in]* cost to employers that provided health care to their employees has gone down since the Affordable Care Act has taken effect. That is another benefit of the Affordable Care Act, aside from ensuring that these individuals now have somewhere to turn in terms of getting health care for themselves and their families now that their companies made a decision to no longer provide them health care benefits.

Q: Has the Vice President reached out to or spoken with Saudi leaders regarding his comments last week?

MR. EARNEST: I don't have any news on that matter right now, but we may have more news on that later on today.

Q: On Ebola, do you anticipate that the additional measures will require additional funding? Is it something that the White House is already working with the Hill on?

MR. EARNEST: If additional funding measures are required, then we'll certainly have a conversation about that with Congress. We value the partnership that we've had with Congress so far in making sure that we have the resources necessary to respond to this national security priority. But I'm going to hold off on making predictions about what sort of additional funding will be required until the measures themselves have been announced.

Okay?

Q: Thank you.

MR. EARNEST: All right, guys, we'll see you on the ground.

END 1:32 P.M. EDT

* Correction

Barack Obama, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/307740

Simple Search of Our Archives