The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
June 02, 2015
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:56 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. I appreciate you venturing out to the White House on a rainy Tuesday. It’s nice to see you all. I don’t have anything at the top, so we’ll go straight to your questions.
Josh, welcome back. It’s nice to see you.
Q Thanks, Josh. It’s great to be here with everyone. I wanted to ask about the NSA bill. I know you were pretty clear yesterday that the White House does not want to see the Senate start playing a lot of games with this bill that would slow it down and require another House approval. But it looks like that’s kind of what’s going to happen anyway. So I’m wondering if the White House has had a chance to review any of the specific amendments that Senator McConnell plans to have votes on today to see whether they are changes that would be amenable to the President.
MR. EARNEST: Josh, what’s clear is we’ve seen Republicans in the United States Senate already play far too many games with a piece of legislation that’s critical to the national security of the United States and the civil liberties protections of the American people. It’s time for the game-playing to come to an end.
And we continue to believe that the best course of action, now that the Senate has blown through the deadline that they have been aware of for more than a year and a half, that they should vote to pass the bill in its current form, in the form that already passed the United States House of Representatives with the support of 338 Democrats and Republicans. If they will pass that piece of legislation, the President will quickly sign it into law and give our law enforcement professionals once again tools that they say are critical to their efforts to keep the country safe.
Q So if the Senate does pass this bill but they make some changes — for instance, a provision dealing with the declassification of FISA Court decisions — and they’re able to get the House to sign off on that, will the President accept an amended piece of legislation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just be clear that the administration and certainly the President would view efforts to water down the civil liberties reforms that are included in the House version as contrary to the kinds of values that he’s advocated. It certainly is not consistent with his view that reforms should be incorporated into these programs to better protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.
So what we believe the Senate should do is pass a piece of legislation that appropriately balances the need to protect the country with the need to protect the privacy of the American people. That’s what the House bill does — 338 Democrats and Republicans agree. Our national security professionals agree. That bipartisan ground was reached by the House. And the Senate has already done enough to try to spoil that common-sense bipartisan compromise. They should just do the bare minimum — pass this bipartisan piece of legislation so the President can sign it into law, and our national security professionals can avail themselves of all of the necessary tools to protect the country.
Q There was this counter-ISIL meeting this morning that Secretary Kerry took part in by phone prior to his surgery. Tony Blinken was there and said something kind of interesting — he said, “We will redouble our efforts.” And considering that the U.S. has committed publicly to the same strategy that it’s been pursuing against ISIL, I’m wondering if you can elaborate on what does that mean, we’re going to redouble our efforts? Does that mean we’re going to increase training, weapons that we’re sending? What exactly did he mean by that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it means that the U.S. government, in partnership with the members of the coalition, are always in consideration of ways that we can offer additional support and assistance to the Iraqi central government and to the Iraqi people as they face down the ISIL threat in their country.
This could take a variety of forms. This could include the provision of additional equipment to Iraqi security forces. I would note that in the last week, the United States did provide 1,000 AT4 weapons to Iraqi security forces. These are weapons that could be used to counter some of the car bombs that we have seen ISIL deploy in advance of some of their offensive military operations.
There has been an interest in trying to ramp up the training capacity of the Iraqi security forces, and the United States, our coalition partners have played an important role in this. There are some of our coalition partners that do have a special expertise in terms of training security forces, police officers, intelligence — or special operations forces. And we certainly want to boost the capacity of those forces that are under the command-and-control of the Iraqi central government.
So there may be several things that we can do. The President has been very clear about something that we won’t do — and I know that Deputy Secretary Blinken agrees with this sentiment — that the President does not believe it’s in the best interest of our country to deploy a large-scale ground operation that is manned by U.S. military personnel, principally because the President believes that the security situation in Iraq is the responsibility of the Iraqi government, the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi people. And the President will not put the U.S. military in a situation where we are doing something for the Iraqis that they should be doing for themselves.
Q Because the Iraqis are saying that they’re not really seeing it on the ground from there. Just this morning, Prime Minister Abadi said as far as ammunition and armament, they’re seeing basically nothing and they’re relying only on themselves. So is he exaggerating — or perhaps under-exaggerating — the degree of U.S. support that they’re currently receiving?
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t see the precise comments from Prime Minister Abadi, but there is no doubt about the substantial assistance that has already been provided by the United States and our coalition partners. That assistance has been in the form of efforts to coordinate airstrikes at the Joint Operation Centers in Baghdad and Erbil. That assistance has taken the form of training Iraqi security forces. That assistance has taken the form of providing important military equipment, including AT4s that have been valuable and will be valuable as Iraqi security forces take the fight on the ground to ISIL fighters in their country. That will also take the form of some advice that U.S. and other coalition military officers have provided to Iraqi security forces as they’ve carried out operations against ISIL on the ground. But the other thing that is true — and I know this is something that Prime Minister Abadi has indicated he would like to see more of — is that there’s also been important intelligence support that’s been provided by the United States and our coalition partners.
And so, again, in all of these areas, the United States and our coalition partners are considering additional steps that we can take to ramp up the extensive support that has already been provided to Iraqi security forces.
Q And the President lost his distinction yesterday as the fastest person to hit 1 million Twitter followers to Caitlyn Jenner.
MR. EARNEST: It was good while it lasted there, Josh. (Laughter.)
Q It was a short period, but it was a good. And I saw that there was a tweet from one of the accounts associated with the President regarding this very public transition that the country is witnessing. But I’m wondering if he had any other thoughts that he shared with you either about that, or about losing this honor of — related to Twitter. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I don’t think the President is particularly concerned. Again, while he enjoyed holding that distinction while it lasted, I would say that the sentiments that were expressed by OFA that tweeted about this are consistent with the President’s views, which is that the President does believe that Caitlyn Jenner has shown tremendous courage as she has undergone this transition in a very public way. And that’s worthy of our respect.
Q The House is going to be moving to consideration of the TPA sometime soon here. And I’m wondering how the White House —
MR. EARNEST: That would be great.
Q I’m wondering how the White House feels about the labor-sponsored campaign against Democratic Representative Bera over his support for the President’s trade agenda.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven’t seen a lot of the details of those campaign tactics. The President has made clea, and he believes that he has a pretty compelling case to make about why Democrats and progressives can be strongly supportive of the most progressive trade promotion authority bill that the Congress has ever considered and has ever been passed by the United States Senate.
It includes built-in protections related to raising labor standards and raising environmental standards. It includes important human rights protections. And all of this is consistent with the President’s view about the way that we can implement trade agreements that will level the playing field, put upward pressure — particularly in those areas of the world that are growing so quickly right now economically — in a way that will open up opportunity for American workers and American businesses around the world, and that ultimately will have a positive impact on the U.S. economy and on job creation right here in the United States.
So the President believes that he’s got a strong case to make. And if it becomes necessary for the President to make that case in the context of a Democratic primary contest, the President is committed to those members of the House of Representatives that face that kind of pressure that the President will stand with them.
Q So what does that mean — he’ll stand with them? What sort of support is he going to give them?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we haven’t seen that that kind of support is necessary at this point. But if it does, those members of Congress, I think, having received personal assurance from the President, know that they can go out and vote their conscience; that they can put the best interest of their constituents ahead of the claims and criticisms from those who are focused on the next election.
Q I wanted to also ask about a report today. A detainee at Guantanamo Bay has said that the CIA used a broader, wider array of sexual abuse and torture than had been disclosed in the Senate torture report last year. And I’m wondering if the White House is aware of this new report and what the response is, if any.
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t seen those claims, but if we do have a response, we can get it to you.
Q Thanks, Josh. New topic. This afternoon, the House Oversight Committee is beginning two days of hearings into agency compliance with FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act. And they’re claiming that agencies are falling way behind and not complying with the timelines in the bill — in the law. Does the administration have any plans to improve that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Cheryl, I can tell you that the administration continues to be justifiably proud of our ongoing efforts to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. In the last fiscal year, the administration processed 647,000 FOIA requests that we received from the public. I would note that that is 647,000 more FOIA requests than were processed by the United States Congress. And those who are interested in advocating for genuine transparency in government should advocate for Congress being subject to those kinds of transparency measures. So this has been the administration approach to this and we’re proud of our record.
Q Also, there are a couple bills pending that would reform the FOIA law. Does the administration —
MR. EARNEST: Will they reform the FOIA law in such a way that Congress would be subject to it?
Q It would not.
MR. EARNEST: They wouldn’t, huh? Well, hopefully the transparency advocates who are testifying before Congress today will urge them to do that. I guess we’ll wait and see if they do.
Annie. Nice to see you.
Q Thank you. It’s nice to be here. I’m here to ask about a letter that Senator Elizabeth Warren sent to the SEC this morning.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I heard a little bit about that.
Q She said in her letter that she is disappointment Chairwoman White. And I’m curious if the President shares any of her disappointment, or if he believes that White has been aggressive enough in prosecuting Wall Street banks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Annie, as you know, Mary Jo White is the Chair of an independent regulatory agency. And for me to spend a lot of time talking about the performance of her in that role or her agency under her leadership could be construed by some as undermining that independence.
But let me just say as a general matter that the reason that the President appointed her to this very important position is because she has a strong track record both as a lawyer in the private sector but also as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York early in her career; that she earned her reputation as somebody who was tough but fair, and maintained a sophisticated understanding of a complex set of issues related to the financial markets.
And the President also is confident that she shares his values and the priority that he has placed on promptly implementing Wall Street reform. And there are a variety of rules that are related to this. She has to make her own independent judgment about how those rules should be implemented and on what time frame. And I won’t comment on that from here today, but the President does continue to believe that the reasons that he chose her, based on her experience and her values, continue to be important today. And the President does continue to believe that she is the right person for the job.
Q Josh, I want to ask you about the IAEA says that the nuclear fuel in Iran now has stockpiles 20 percent more than it was at the start of these negotiations 18 months ago. You repeatedly said, I believe, that their program is frozen in place. How do you square that with the IAEA now saying that they have a 20 percent increase in their nuclear fuel?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a good question. The metrics by which we determine Iran’s compliance with the Joint Plan of Action are pretty straightforward. Iran is not enriching uranium above the 5 percent level. Iran is not installing new centrifuges at their nuclear facilities. Iran is not making progress at the heavy-water plutonium reactor in Arak. And Iran is cooperating with the IAEA inspections that have allowed us to verify their compliance with the agreement.
Now, as it relates to the uranium stockpile that you’re talking about, the IAEA report that was published at the end of last week is merely a snapshot in time. And the Joint Plan of Action requires Iran by the end of that Joint Plan of Action period — in this case, by June 30th — to be at the appropriate cap on their stockpile.
Now, we know that Iran is enriching at this low level. And that means that there are going to be ebbs and flows in terms of the amount of uranium — low-enriched uranium in their stockpile. The requirement is for them to be at the cap by June 30th. And our nuclear experts continue to have confidence that they will meet that requirement. They have in the past. We’ve seen this similar ebb and flow in their uranium stockpile in advance of previous deadlines, and each time they have met the deadline. We’re confident that they’ll do so this time.
The last thing I’ll say about this is that the size of Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile is something that is specifically addressed in the longer-term agreement that we’re hoping to reach by June 30th. And you’ll recall that in the context of the political negotiations that completed the first week in April, the agreement was that Iran would reduce that low enriched uranium stockpile by 98 percent down to a cap of 300 kilograms. That significant, even dramatic reduction in their low-enriched uranium stockpile combine