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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/27/2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016 16:49
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(Before It's News)

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  I sense quiet anticipation.  (Laughter.)  I won't delay it. Let’s go straight to questions.

Josh, do you want to go first?

Q    Sure.  Thanks, Josh.  You got us so excited in the briefing yesterday about anticipation of this readout that we didn’t know where it was going to come from, and I wanted to ask you more about the President’s conversation with Prime Minister Erdogan.  

MR. EARNEST:  Okay.

Q    I was struck by the line in the readout that said that the two leaders affirmed their strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, given that the Prime Minister of Turkey doesn’t seem to care a whole ton about the sovereignty of Iraq as it relates to the troops that they have there.  And I was wondering if we would be right to read between the lines a little bit in terms of maybe they came to some type of an agreement about what Turkey’s role should be given the fact that the operation to retake Mosul is already now well underway.

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, I think it's fair for you to describe that situation as an ongoing discussion.  And the President — President Obama underscored to President Erdogan the need for all of our counter-ISIL coalition operations to ensure that they’re effectively integrated with the operations of other members of the coalition and to ensure that they are consistent with the request that's been made by the central government of Iraq.  And the counter-ISIL coalition that is operating in Iraq in support of Iraqi security forces who are taking the fight on the ground to ISIL in their own country — those efforts are being undertaken at the invitation of the Iraqi central government.

And it's important to remember that this is actually in some ways the cornerstone of our strategy.  If you rewind back to more than two years ago, when ISIL had demonstrated the clear threat that they pose to the Iraqi people, President Obama was reluctant to make a significant commitment of U.S. military resources until there was an Iraqi central government in place that reflected the will of the Iraqi people and demonstrated a clear commitment to pursue an inclusive governing agenda.

So this has been the foundation of our approach from the very beginning.  And when it comes to the role that is played by particular countries who are part of the counter-ISIL coalition, as the situations change on the ground, as the threat that is posed by ISIL evolves, it often means that we are asking those partner countries to do more or to do something different.  And so I think that's why I would describe the role of Turkey in the counter-ISIL coalition to be part of an ongoing discussion.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also note that there are already any number of significant contributions that Turkey is already making, including allowing our coalition, particularly the United States, to use the base at Incirlik, and the steps that Turkey has taken on the ground to secure their border with Syria that has essentially shut off ISIL and their capital, Raqqa, from easy access to the outside world.

Q    And I wanted to correct myself — I meant President Erdogan, not Prime Minister — although he’s had a couple different roles.  I mean, is it a problem, though, that the operation is now underway and it's an ongoing discussion with our NATO ally about its role in an operation that's being led by the Iraqis that the Iraqis disagree openly with Turkey about what their role should be?  I mean, can that be an ongoing discussion as the operation is already happening?

MR. EARNEST:  I think it can be an ongoing discussion because there clearly is going to be a role for international forces who are supporting Iraqi security forces on the ground in the operation against Mosul.  So I don't know if we'll get to a place where there is a role that materializes for Turkish troops to support Iraqi security forces, but there already, as I detailed — as I alluded to earlier, there are a couple of ways in which Turkey is playing a substantially important role to supporting the overall counter-ISIL mission.

And, look, if there are additional requests that the Iraqi central government and the counter-ISIL coalition makes of the Turkish government, then we'll certainly include them in the ongoing dialogue.  At this point, what the Iraqi government has indicated is that they are prepared for Iraqi security forces to take the lead.  And we have seen them make steady and important progress against the goal of dislodging ISIL from Mosul.  But we expect this will be a long and difficult challenge, but it is one that our counter-ISIL coalition is committed to supporting the Iraqis as they undertake.

Q    With that operation underway, Defense Secretary Carter said yesterday that he expects the operation to take Raqqa back to start within a matter of weeks.  And there’s been a fair amount of criticism — most notably, actually, from Donald Trump — of previewing timing for a military attack publicly, given the potential for ISIL to use that information to prepare themselves to defend against such an attack.  And I was wondering if the White House shares any concerns about being so open about the timing for that kind of an operation.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me start by saying that the President is confident that he’s getting good advice from our senior leaders in the military, including the Secretary of Defense, about the most effective way to carry out our strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  And the President is confident that the advice he’s receiving from those military advisors is better advice than anything that the Republican nominee might have to say two weeks before the election. 

Q    And I just wanted to ask about this call the President is doing this afternoon on the Affordable Care Act.  Are you willing to acknowledge that the fact that he’s doing this call and trying to speak to people who are affected and stakeholders is a reflection that, despite some of what you’ve said about the increases to premiums not being across the board, that there is a lot of apprehension right now with a lot of people who are feeling like maybe this isn't cutting costs the way that it was billed as being able to do, and that the President needs to sort of level with people about where his signature law now stands as he’s leaving office?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, let me point out that the President has done calls like this each of the last two years in advance of open enrollment, so there’s nothing about recent headlines that has affected his decision to host the call.  This is, in many ways, our standard operating procedure.  And the goal of a call like this is to make clear to people across the country who are going to play an influential role in educating the American public about the law that this is a high priority of the President of the United States.  

We want to make sure that people understand the facts about the opportunities that are available to them.  And if people are discouraged about what opportunities are available to them, that might be understandable given the headlines, but it's not understandable given the opportunities that are available to the vast majority of Americans who sign up.  Because more than seven in 10 Americans who sign up for the marketplace will be able to purchase a plan for $75 a month or less, after you factor in tax credits — tax credits that exist because of the Affordable Care Act.

So that's why the President continues to be optimistic about the law and its impact on middle-class families across the country.  And it's why the President continues to be energetic in making the case that this is a top priority.  

And we want to encourage people — it doesn’t cost anything to window-shop, and people can do that now by going to healthcare.gov and taking a look at the options that are available to them in their community.  That doesn’t cost anything.  But what most people will find, particularly people who signed up last year, many people will find that there actually is a comparable plan that they can sign on to that could actually save them money, that would cost less.  So we're encouraging people to shop around, whether they have health care or not.  And that opportunity is available at healthcare.gov today.  

And finally, we know that the system, overall, benefits — everybody's costs go down — when more people sign up.  So that's why we're making such an aggressive effort to include people all across the country, particularly young people, to encourage them to avail themselves of this opportunity.  

All of this is particularly important when you consider that the penalty that is imposed for people who don’t sign up for health care is quite significant.  This year it's about $700.  And I think our argument is pretty simple, which is, why would you pay $700 to Uncle Sam when you don’t need to?  You can avoid having to make that $700 payment if you go and sign up and for health care, which, of course, also affords you a variety of benefits that protect you and your family in the event of an illness.

Q    And on that, just lastly, the plans that you pointed to this year, and others, that it costs $75 or so is affordable amount for people — while they satisfy the individual mandate, as you know, they come, generally speaking, with very high copays, limited coverage for non-catastrophic types of measures. Would the President, if he were advising a family member or a friend who was maybe considering — would he recommend one of those plans to them?

  MR. EARNEST:  There are standards that — the direct answer to your question is, yes.  There are standards that are included in the marketplace.  In order for a plan to be available for purchase on the marketplace, it has to meet a whole set of minimum standards.  That's the argument that we make about quality, affordable health insurance being available on the marketplace.  

Prior to the creation of the Affordable Care Act, when individuals were on the individual market shopping for health insurance — meaning they weren’t able to get their health insurance through their employer or through Medicaid or through Medicare — they were often subjected to the kinds of plans that cost money but provided very little, if any, benefit or protection for the people who were signing up.  Those kinds of plans are a thing of the past now because people can now go on the marketplaces and know that the plans that they're considering for purchase are plans that do, at a minimum, provide a certain level of protection.

So it's hard to engage your question in a lot of detail because there are an average of 30 different plans that are available in markets all across the country.  So if there are some plans that aren’t tailored in the right way to meet the needs of one particular family based on the unique circumstances that they're facing, the good news is that there are a variety of other plans for them to consider, all of which can be made more affordable by tax credits based on the income level of the family that's signing up.

So that's the argument that we have to make.  When you consider what was available before the Affordable Care Act, yes, the individual market was littered with expensive plans that in many cases didn’t provide many benefits.  That's a thing of the past now because the marketplace requires insurers to be transparent about both the costs and the benefits associated with their plans.  It requires the insurance companies to compete with one another.  And there are tax credits that are available now that make that health care more affordable for many middle-class families.

Ayesha.

Q    Thank you.  President Putin today, he once again batted away accusations that the Russian government or that Russia was in any way involved in the cyberattacks, or that Russia was in any way trying to influence the U.S. presidential election.  He referred — he said that, basically, U.S. politicians are trying to whip up hysteria, trying to increase U.S. government spending my making Russia into the culprit.  I was just wondering if you had any response to some of these comments.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, did you expect that he would admit it?  (Laughter.)  

Q    Well, I mean, but I was just asking –

MR. EARNEST:  I was asking, rhetorically.  Look, what I'm trying to illustrate here is I don’t think that his comments are particularly surprising.  But the analysis that's been put forward by the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security is pretty direct in terms of what conclusions they have reached based on their analysis of the situation.  And there's nothing the President Putin had to say today that I find particularly surprising or that in any way undermines the President's confidence in the analysis that's been released by the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community.

Q    And on that, I realize that some of the response to the cyberattacks may not be able to be public, but can you say anything at all about where the administration is right now as far as deciding what a response may be, if there are going to be any public responses?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any updates on those ongoing discussions.  Obviously, we've indicated that the President's expectation is that any sort of response that's deployed is one that should be proportional.  And because of some steps that the President has taken, there are a variety of responses that are available to the President not just within the cyber realm, but in other areas, too.  But I don’t have any progress to report at this point about a potential response.  

Q    And I know that this is becoming a daily question, but Philippine President Duterte once again said today that there would be no more war games with the U.S.  He said maybe they will do some naval exercises with Japan, but there would be no more war games with the U.S.  Do you have any response to that?  Has there been any formal communication from the Philippines about this?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a response to this, primarily because I've offered up responses to similar questions that he's posed.  I can confirm that we still have not received any sort of formal communication from the government of the Philippines seeking to alter the nature of our relationship or our alliance, but other than that, we’ll leave it there, knowing that the United States continues to be committed to our alliance with the Philippines that’s been on the books for seven decades.

Justin.

Q    I wanted to follow up on Josh’s questions about the Erdogan call yesterday.  The Turkish President provided a bit more colorful readout than you guys did in a speech this morning and said that he told President Obama that Turkey plans to liberate Raqqa itself.  I’m wondering if that’s accurate, and if so, if the U.S. is supportive of that plan, or if it runs kind of contrary to the collaborative effort that the U.S. is trying to I guess provide with the Iraqi government.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll let President Erdogan and his team speak to his comments during the call.  I don’t have a lot of detail to provide beyond the written readout that we have provided.  But the President reiterated in the context of that conversation something that he and President Erdogan have previously discussed, which is the need for all operations that are undertaken as a part of the counter-ISIL coalition must be coordinated and integrated with the other members of the coalition.

And given the confined nature of the battle space in Syria, it’s important that those actions are well-coordinated to prevent any sort of unintended consequence or unintended escalation among competing interests in that region of the world.

So we’re mindful of how complicated this space is, but we’ve been pleased with the kind of cooperation and coordination that the Turks have offered over the last year.  The Turks have offered access to the Incirlik Air Base that does make our counter-ISIL operations over Syria much more efficient than they were prior to U.S. aircraft getting access to that base.  

We did see, after a lot of prompting on the part of the U.S., decisive action on the part of the Turkish government to take steps to clear ISIL from their border and more effectively secure their long border with Syria.  We’ve complimented them for taking that step and they deserve it.  Their forces have operated quite effectively on the ground to accomplish that mission, and we obviously were pleased to see them make that progress, not just because of the impact it has on our counter-ISIL campaign — it’s also going to have a positive impact on the homeland security of our NATO ally — that we have seen ISIL occasionally carry out attacks on Turkish soil, and more effectively shutting down the border or securing that border will make it more difficult for ISIL extremists to carry out those attacks that claim our Turkish allies — or the citizens of our Turkish ally as victims of those kinds of attacks.

So what we intend to do is keep an open line of dialogue with the Turkish government, with our NATO allies, and we all benefit — all members of our counter-ISIL coalition benefit from ensuring that each operation that’s undertaken under the umbrella of the counter-ISIL coalition is effectively coordinated and integrated with all other aspects of the campaign.  If we do that, which we’ve been doing over the last couple of years, it will only hasten the success of our effort to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

Q    And this might just be going down the same road again, but he also said that Turkey would not allow the Kurds to establish a base at Sinjar province.  And the Kurds obviously have been an important part of U.S. efforts to go into some of these ISIL strongholds.  What’s your message to the Kurds?  Or is the message that they should glean out of the list that you just provided of Turkey’s attack of ISIL — the effective steps that Turkey has taken, including offering an airbase, that those priorities are more important than the partnership between the U.S. and –

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, Justin, this is in some ways the clearest example of the complicated nature of this region.  There are competing interests.  The one thing that unifies these interests is the need to destroy ISIL.  And so our message to everybody who shares that goal is that we should work together and take steps in pursuit of that goal.  Let’s not take our eyes off that ultimate accomplishment that will enhance everybody’s security.

And at some point, these competing interests and competing claims and even differing opinions will have to be resolved.  But we shouldn’t allow some of those differences of opinion to impede our collective effort to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  That's a goal we all share and a goal that we should all pursue together.

Q    James Clapper said Tuesday that trying to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program is “probably a lost cause.”  I'm wondering if you guys agree with that assessment and taking that that's the assessment of our intelligence community, whether the U.S. needs to prompt a change in its policy on denuclearization.

MR. EARNEST:  Justin, my understanding is that Director Clapper was making a reference to the fact that he did not anticipate that the strategy we have now would prompt the North Koreans to give up their nuclear program before the President leaves office.  

Over the longer term, we're going to continue to work with the rest of the international community to apply additional pressure to the North Korean regime to get them to come into compliance with a range of international obligations, including a variety of U.N. Security Council resolutions.  And that's the strategy that we've pursued, and if the next President chooses to alter that policy, then that will be up to them.  But we have had some success in mobilizing the international community, including some countries with whom we don't have the warmest of relations, including the Russians, to actually work with us on this goal.

And in some ways, it underscores the complicated nature of our relationship with Russia, but it also underscores the significant threat that emanates from North Korea.  And it's important for the United States to continue to play a leading role in mobilizing the international community to counter it.

Q    Finally, a Trump campaign aide said that they were engaging in multiple efforts designed to — voter suppression to go after — to keep women and African Americans and other groups from going to the polls.  It's not voter suppression I think in the historical way that we consider it, but obviously the strategy they’re describing is to try to keep people from heading to the polls on Election Day.  I'm wondering if you had a reaction to that, but also how or if that would inform the President’s strategy as he continues his campaign travel over the next few days. 

MR. EARNEST:  That strategy certainly runs contrary to the longstanding tradition of American democracy that has made our country great for more than 2 centuries.  Those candidates who are the most optimistic and enthusiastic about their campaigns typically look for ways to win people over and bring them onboard, and to engage them in the democratic process — the process of governing our country and determining who among our citizens should not just lead the United States of America but lead the free world.

And that certainly is the kind of campaign that President Obama ran in 2008.  It's certainly the kind of campaign that he ran in 2012.  And I think you’d have to ask Secretary Clinton’s campaign, but I think she would welcome the embrace of a similar philosophy of trying to win people over.  And that certainly is the approach that you’ve seen President Obama take on the campaign trail in support of Secretary Clinton in terms of encouraging young people and African Americans and Latinos — everybody — to pay attention to the debate and participate in our democracy, because the President’s view is that the more people participate the stronger our democracy is.  Our country benefits from everybody making a contribution.

And that's why his campaign philosophy was to engage and enlist and energize as many people as possible in support of his agenda.  But I guess this is not the only way in which the Republican nominee’s approach has differed from President Obama’s approach — both the politics and governing.

Mark.

Q    Josh, aside from rallies and fundraising, what other kinds of campaign activities is the President engaging in that we don't know about because they’re not done in public?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think you do know — I think most of these are things that you do know about.  In addition to the kinds of public events that you just described, the President has frequently been participating in interviews on the radio and encouraging listeners to be engaged in our democratic process and to support Secretary Clinton.

The President has also taped a number of television and radio advertisements, not just for Secretary Clinton but also for dozens of House and Senate candidates.  We can get you a pretty good list of those.  The President has also engaged in online activities, signing emails and other things, encouraging support for Secretary Clinton and Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

Q    Does that include state officeholders, governors?

MR. EARNEST:  It does.  It includes some candidates for governor and it includes some candidates for state legislature.  I think there are more than 100 or so that the President has indicated he publicly supports.  There may be — there’s one other tactic that is something that may not be readily available to you for reporting, but the President has also taped a number of robo-calls that encourage people, remind people about Election Day and encourage people to be supportive of a candidate that he’s endorsed.  And if there hasn’t been reporting on that yet I would anticipate that you’ll see some reporting about that over the course of the next couple of weeks.

Q    On another issue — is the White House aware of the GAO report yesterday on the cost of presidential travel?  It focused on a 2013 trip, Chicago and Palm City, Florida, four days, and it came up with $3.6 million for the costs — mostly Air Force One, Marine One, the Coast Guard, Secret Service and the like.  Is there any White House reaction to that report, and we're you given an opportunity to comment on it?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not aware of the report.  I hadn’t seen it.  But we can certainly take a look and see if GAO consulted with us in advance of issuing the report and if we have a response we'll let you know.  

Andrew.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  I just wanted to follow up on Justin’s question about Sinjar.  The readout yesterday talked about denying the PKK a safe haven in northern Iraq.  That sounds very much like the President agreed that the PKK need to get out of Sinjar.  Is that kind of misreading that?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the United States government has labeled the PKK a terrorist organization, and we have repeatedly indicated our strong support for Turkish efforts to defend themselves from PKK attacks.  There are a number of terrorist attacks that have been carried out by the PKK or their sympathizers over the last several years that have claimed innocent Turkish citizens as the victims.  And we also know that the Iraqi government is concerned about the presence of these extremists in their country as well.

So I'm not aware that the President has made any sort of declarations along the lines of what you asked about, but our position as a government of the United States, supporting our Turkish ally as they face down a threat from this terrorist organization is something that we have communicated on a number of occasions, and our support for the Turks as they counter the threat from PKK terrorists is unwavering.

Q    On a different subject, Ted Cruz has become the latest Republican to suggest that a Republican-controlled Senate wouldn't consider, or shouldn’t consider any Democratic nominee to be Supreme Court justice.  Does the White House agree with Harry Reid’s assessment that that would prompt a fully blown constitutional crisis?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it certainly raises questions about the credibility and integrity of Republicans who said that the next President should get to choose who will fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  Because they’re now saying — at least a couple of them are saying that if Secretary Clinton wins the election she won't get to choose who serves on the Supreme Court.  So that's the first thing.

The second thing is we hear rhetoric from a lot of Republicans — not just Senator Cruz and Senator McCain and Senator Lee, all of whom have made similar comments — but all Republicans who have indicated that they should be reelected so that they can provide a check or counter an incoming Clinton administration.  Voters who hear that message I think are hearing — and the President alluded to this on Monday — voters who hear that message are basically hearing Republicans promise more of the same kind of Republican congressional dysfunction that infected Washington for the last six years.  

And I think this is the clearest evidence of it.  Vowing to oppose any Supreme Court nominee that's put forward just because that person is put forward by a Democratic President is not consistent with the longstanding tradition of the United States Senate.  In fact, it runs contrary to the longstanding tradition of the United States Senate, which is to evaluate candidates based on the merits.  And Republicans this year have deviated from that tradition by refusing to even consider Chief Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Chief Judge Garland is somebody that Republicans have previously described as a consensus pick.  Chief Judge Garland has more experience on the federal bench than any other Supreme Court nominee in history.  Chief Judge Garland was rated by the nonpartisan American Bar Association as unanimously well-qualified to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  And Republicans have indicated that they don't oppose him because of any specific substantive concern with his candidacy, but because they oppose him because he was appointed by a Democratic President.

And the point that the President has made is that this undermines confidence in our judicial system.  It undermines confidence in our justice system.  And the reason is simply that the basic principle of our justice system is that everybody is subject to the rule of law in the same way.  And if we get down to a system where judges or justices are only considered based on the political party of the President who appointed them it raises questions of the impartiality of that judge — and raises questions about whether people will be treated differently in the justice system based on their own partisan affiliation.  And that will do a lot of damage to a well-thought-out, carefully considered architecture that was put in place by our Founding Fathers.  

So it would be a real shame if Republicans followed through on the strategy that Senator Cruz, Senator Lee and Senator McCain are advocating.

Q    It sounds like you agree with Reid when he says we need to treat it like the constitutional crisis it is.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it certainly poses a significant threat to a longstanding tradition in the United States, which is ensuring that federal judges and potential justices to the Supreme Court are considered on the merits and their record and their approach to jurisprudence, and not just on the partisan affiliation of the President who appointed them.

Jordan.

Q    Thanks, Josh.   The First Lady is going out on the trail today with Secretary Clinton.  I'm wondering how much more of the First Lady are we going to see in the final days of the campaign.  Is she going to be making many more appearances, or is this going to be it for her?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't have additional details about her schedule.  I know that her intent today is to make a speech onstage with Secretary Clinton, and her intent is to deliver what she sees as a closing argument.  She’s had an opportunity to speak several times over the course of the summer and fall in support of Secretary Clinton’s campaign, and she spoke very powerfully at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia in July. And over the course of the fall she’s had an opportunity to weigh in on those aspects of the campaign that have prompted her to take a bold stand in supporting Secretary Clinton.  And today is an opportunity for her to talk about those same values and those priorities that animated her over the course of the campaign and put them in the context of a closing argument that she’s looking forward to making for Secretary Clinton.

Q    Outside of specific scheduling updates, can you give us a general sense of how much more she’s going to be doing?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, first of all, I'd point out she’s already done a lot and there’s not a lot of mystery about where she stands in this race or how strongly she feels about the outcome.  And I think that she will — I feel confident in saying that she’ll find some additional ways between now and Election Day to reinforce those views to the American public.

Stephanie.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  So we're still seeing the slow drip-drop of the WikiLeaks release of John Podesta’s emails.  

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, the stolen emails.

Q    Yes, exactly.  A few weeks ago I asked you if there were any policy changes within the administration in terms of emails and employees that are here or folks that are in high-level positions.  And you said basically use common sense.  And would you say John Podesta did not use common sense by clicking on this email that made him change his password and a phishing scam that hacked into the emails of DNC and Colin Powell, as well? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I'm not going to be in a situation of blaming the victim here.  He is a private citizen whose personal emails were stolen.  The tactics used to disseminate that information are consistent with the tactics that we know the Russians have used to try to cast doubt on the integrity and strength of our system of democracy.

So obviously this is something that is a source of some concern, not just within the government but I think it’s a concern that’s held by American citizens in both parties.  But when it comes to the cybersecurity of the United States, we’re in uncharted territory.  And it’s important for everybody, including your news organizations, to be vigilant and be mindful of the need to practice good habits when it comes to protecting yourself in cyberspace.  

You heard the President make a reference to the fact that, when he uses email that he doesn’t include anything in email that he wouldn’t want to see in the newspaper.  Some of that is because he is subject to the Presidential Records Act and there are some transparency requirements that are built in, but he is also mindful of the inherent risk that exists in cyberspace.  So he is mindful of that in the same way that we all should be.

Q    And to go back to Putin, Vladimir Putin today dismissed the claim saying Russia is trying to interfere in the U.S. election.  What’s your reaction to that, since the intelligence community has said Russia was trying to –

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, it’s not surprising to me that he is denying it.  But it doesn’t, in any way, undermine our confidence in the analysis that’s been put forward by the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security.

Q    Okay.  And on the campaign, the President has repeatedly expressed that Donald Trump will not be the next President.  Closer to Election Day, is the President at all concerned that he may be wrong?  Is that why we’re seeing him more on the campaign trail in this final stretch?

MR. EARNEST:  The President feels good about the trajectory of this race.  The President is just as determined to make sure that no one feels complacent and particularly not supporters of Secretary Clinton.  So he going to go out there and make an important case that the only way that Secretary Clinton loses the race is if her supporters don’t do their job and don’t go to the polls and show up for her and be just as energized and active in support of her campaign as they were of President Obama’s two presidential campaigns.

So I guess the other point that I will make is that the other reason that the President is so deeply engaged and does have such an aggressive travel schedule for the 12 days between now and Election Day is that he’s determined not just to build support and enthusiasm for Secretary Clinton but also to use his standing to build support and enthusiasm for Democrats further down the ballots, particularly congressional candidates. 

Because he understands that if we’re in a situation where Senator Cruz and his party retains the Republican majority, they are promising to use that majority to perpetrate even more dysfunction on the American people from Congress.  And that’s a curious election strategy when you see just how fed up even Republicans are with Republican leadership in Congress, but that’s the strategy that they’re pursuing and ignorance is no longer an excuse.  There is no longer any doubt about the Republican vow to use every tool at their disposal to throw sand in the gears of the government.  And they’re not doing that because they think it’s in the best interests of the country, they’re doing that because they think it advances their own personal political interests.  

This is not new for Senator Cruz.  He’s somebody who shut down the government, over the objection of some people in his party, just to try to raise his own profile and advance his own political interests.  And it did.  He raised a lot of money and spent a lot of time succeeding on the campaign trail.  But there’s nobody that I can think of who thinks that the interests of the American people were advanced by Senator Cruz shutting down the government.  It didn’t help our economy.  It didn’t improve our fiscal outlook.  It certainly didn’t make the functioning of Congress more effective.  He doesn’t have anything to show for those kinds of tactics other than a selfish desire to make himself look better among his group of supporters.  

He’s not the only Republican who is promising to extend those tactics in the Congress, and the country is not well served by it.  President Obama is hopeful that the country will choose to elect Democrats who are actually interested in trying to advance the cause of democracy, who are trying to build on the progress that we've made over the last eight years, and are committed to trying to find common ground with President Clinton, if she's elected, to strengthen our economy, advance our interests around the world, fight climate change, and implement policies that ensure that our country and our criminal justice system is more fair and more just to every American.  

Those are the kinds of values that President Obama has been fighting for, for the last years.  Those are the kinds of values that Secretary Clinton has built her campaign on.  And those are the kinds of values that the President is hopeful will be represented in the majorities in Congress next year.

Q    And last question.  On a lighter note, did President Obama talk to Hillary Clinton on her birthday yesterday?  And is he sending a gift of any kind with the First Lady today when she campaigns in North Carolina?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know if they spoke yesterday, and I'm not aware of any gift.  But I know that the public event with the First Lady is not until later this afternoon, so we may all just have to tune in to find out.

Michelle.

Q    The new poll numbers that just came out this morning showing that the President's approval rating is still strong, and also that more than at any point during his presidency more Americans feel like things are going well in this country.  So does the President pay attention to those numbers?  And if so, what is his reaction to them?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the President is always gratified to get that kind of positive feedback in the form of polls or other source of public affirmation.  But the President has never made important decisions about running the country based on what the polls say.  The President has been focused on trying to do what he believes is the right thing, and he's been willing to make those decisions even if he thinks that the short-term political impact is not positive.  He's always been focused on the long term.  

And I think a lot of the difficult decisions that he made early in his presidency that weren’t politically popular — things like reforming the health care system, rescuing the auto industry, engaging Iran through diplomacy to convince them to give up their nuclear weapons, to work with the international community to fight climate change — those were all things that, when first announced didn’t poll off the charts.  But now, over the long term, that we have been able to demonstrate the wisdom of pursuing those approaches and to demonstrate the way the country has benefitted from those strategic decisions, that has had a positive impact on the public's consideration of President Obama's tenure in office.  And that's obviously gratifying.  

Q    One new poll now shows Donald Trump with a very slight lead over Hillary Clinton in Florida, and it's within the margin of error.  But as he's going to Florida tomorrow, knowing how close it is, does he change his message in any way, I guess, particularly tailored to Florida?  What is he going to try to get across there?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think the President's message changes all that much.  I think he'll make a very forceful case in support of Secretary Clinton and talk about her commitment that she's demonstrated over a three-decade career in public service to bring people together to advance our values.  She's somebody who's been focused on doing the right thing for our kids, doing the right thing for middle-class families.  And the common ground here is, President Obama has been trying to do the right thing as President, and he's looking for somebody to succeed him who shares a commitment to those values and those priorities.  And that's the message that he'll deliver.  

I also expect that he'll spend some time talking about the Democrat candidate for the Senate there, as well, who also shares a commitment to those kinds of values.  And it is a close race in Florida, and that's why the President is going back tomorrow.  I also suspect it's not the last time that President Obama will visit Florida before the election.

Q    It seems like every time we've seen him out on the trail he's either stepped up what he said, or he's been more energetic each time.  Can we expect something a little different tomorrow, especially given how close it is?  I mean, is he going to surprise us in any way?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess he definitely won't surprise you if I tell you about it now.  

Q    We could be ready.  We could be readier.  (Laughter.)    
MR. EARNEST:  Look, I think the President is feeling very enthusiastic and optimistic both about Secretary Clinton's campaign, about the campaign of Democrats up and down the ballot all across the country, and about the trajectory of the race.  But he's not taking anything for granted.  He certainly is going to do everything he can to warn against the perils of complacency.  

And the outcome of this election is obviously important to him.  He feels that so many of the things that he has poured his blood, sweat and tears into over the last eight years are at stake.  And he's hopeful that he'll be able to hand over the keys to the Oval Office to someone who will build on that progress.

Q    You mentioned the Senate race there.  That's been called close.  It's been called razor-thin margin just over the past week.  But now we're seeing Rubio pull out ahead, according to, again, the latest polls.  But right around this time, we see the DSCC move money from that race to elsewhere.  Does the President feel like the DSCC is doing everything it can to pour support into that crucial race?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, look, the DSCC is going to have to make their own decisions about their budget.  And they're obviously looking at a variety of races across the country, so I'd refer you to them to talk about their strategy.  President Obama believes strongly about how important it is for the people of Florida to elect Congressman Murphy to represent them in the Senate.  And that’s something that President Obama has expressed himself on previous visits to Florida, and it’s something that he expressed as early as back in June, I believe, when he initially announced his endorsement of Congressman Murphy.  He was one of the first Senate candidates that President Obama did announce his public support for.  And that, I think, should indicate the depth of President Obama’s feeling about the outcome of this race.

I think, having worked in Florida politics myself a decade or so ago, it’s not unusual for there to be some twists and turns in the poll numbers, even in the last couple of weeks of an election.  That is a state that is historically been the site of intense competition between Democrats and Republicans for statewide offices, and I’m not surprised to hear that that’s the case this time, too.

Q    Okay.  And just quickly on this Erdogan call.  I mean, the extradition request wasn’t mentioned in the readout.  I mean, does that mean that it wasn’t brought up in this setting?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not it came up in the context of this particular call.  If it did, I am confident in telling you it was not at all a focus of their conversation.

I think as we’ve previously disclosed, it was the focus of a conversation that President Obama had with President Erdogan last month in China.  And in the context of that conversation, President Obama reiterated the commitment of this administration and the Department of Justice to coordinate with the Turkish government as they present evidence that would support their request for extradition.  But President Obama has been just as serious about indicating that this is a process that must follow the outlines of the extradition treaty between the United States and Turkey, but also must be consistent with the laws that are on the books here in the United States.

Q    It wasn’t that long ago that we heard Erdogan using language that made it seem like almost an ultimatum, like that the U.S. could choose between extraditing Gulen or having a relationship with Turkey.  Based on this conversation yesterday and other high-level conversations about this subject that have been going on, would you say that Turkey is being as adamant about that extradition as it was in the last several weeks, or would you say that that has kind calmed down and that they are also understanding of the process?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I did not listen in to the President’s phone call with President Erdogan yesterday, but I’d refer you to the Turkish government.  What I can tell you is, I’m not aware that anybody in the U.S. government has detected a lessening of the intensity or the priority that the Turkish government places on this issue, but President Obama has been clear, time and time again, that this is an extradition request that will be processed consistent with the longstanding treaty between our two countries and consistent with the rule of law here in the United States.

Chris.

Q    Josh, LGBT groups led by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce are calling on the President to take action on behalf of LGBT-owned businesses.  The request — it seeks an executive order or a presidential memorandum with two components. One is two prohibit discrimination in government contracting based on whether or not the business owner is LGBT, not just the workers, as the President has taken action with before.  And the other component is to set goals to affirmatively include LGBT-owned small businesses and contracting.  Would the President be open to taking that action in his final days in office?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Chris, I don’t have any executive actions or executive order to preview for you. but obviously the President has taken executive action to ensure that companies that have contracts with the U.S. government are not discriminating against their employees because they’re gay, and the President doesn’t believe anybody should discriminate against business owners because they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

That’s a principle that the President has long prioritized. But I can’t tell you at this point whether or not that’s something that would be the subject of an executive order.

Q    Well, let’s assume that the President would want to act of this in his final days in office.  Is there enough time for that to happen, logistically?  Or does it have to wait until the next administration?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess what I would say is it’s not something I would rule out at this point, but I don’t know whether or not something like that is in the works.

Kevin.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  What can you tell me about the White House’s knowledge of the Syrian air strike that seems to have impacted the lives of at least more than a dozen, perhaps as many as two dozen children?

MR. EARNEST:  Kevin, this is just the latest example of the outrageous conduct of either the Assad regime or the Russian government.  We know that there was a school in Syria that was hit in an airstrike.  There is no justification for bombing a school.  The early indication is that there were a couple of dozen students who were killed in the attack.  And it is an outrage.  And it is an indication that the Assad regime, supported by the Russians, is plumbing the depths of dishonorable conduct — immoral conduct — in trying to win a civil war.  And it is — at some point, the words to describe the sense of outrage are hard to find.  

But make no mistake, we know that this school was hit in an airstrike.  We don’t know yet whether or not it was the Assad regime or the Russians that carried out the airstrike, but we know it was one of the two.  And even if it was the Assad regime that carried it out, the Assad regime is only in a position to carry out those kinds of attacks because they are supported by the Russian government.  And the failure of the Russian government to use their influence with the Assad regime to bring that kind of violence to an end is something that we have been deeply, deeply disappointed by.  

And obviously UNICEF, the U.N. agency, is taking a look at the situation, trying to investigate what exactly happened, but it is an appalling display of violence in a country that has suffered far too much in the last several years.

Q    Staying abroad and speaking of the suffering, the people in Venezuela right now are in the throes of a devastating economic downturn, to say the least.  What, if anything, can the United States do to support the people, if not the government? Because the government obviously has an adversarial relationship. Are we looking at a humanitarian crisis where they are the refugees, if you will, of this hemisphere?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, it is true that the situation on the ground in Venezuela is troubling, both because there is some concern about the political situation there that’s been pretty well-documented, but it’s also had a terrible impact on the daily lives of the Venezuelan people — that there are a shortage of basic supplies, that access to medical care has been severely constrained, and this has put pressure not just on Venezuela but on some surrounding countries.

So we continue to be concerned about the situation in Venezuela, and we continue to urge the Venezuelan government and the Venezuelan people to resolve their differences through negotiation, without resorting to violence, so that some stability can be restored to the country and the government can return to a situation where it’s functioning effectively, where the economy is strengthened, and where the needs of the Venezuelan people are being met.  And that’s not the situation right now, and it’s something the United States government is concerned about.

Q    Domestically, you and I have gone back and forth a bit about the Affordable Care Act and some of the numbers from state to state, the increases in particular.  This afternoon — I know you don’t want to get ahead of it in terms of the messaging — but can you give us sort of a preview, a readout of what we should expect from the President?  Secretary Burwell, who seems to have this sense that things are going pretty well, when in fact, at least publicly, a lot of people feel like, at least for some of them, it certainly is not.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Kevin, I do think you can expect the President to make an energetic case to the thousands of people who will be on the phone with him later today that the work that they’re doing to educate the American people about the opportunities available to them at healthcare.gov is critically important.  

Because of the Affordable Care Act, and since it went into effect, 20 million Americans have gotten access to health care.  The growth in health care costs is certainly much lower than it was before the Affordable Care Act went into effect.  We heard a lot of promises from Republicans that the Affordable Care Act would be a job killer.  But the truth is, every month since President Obama signed that bill into law six years ago, our economy has created jobs. 

So, in spite of the politically motivated attacks against the Affordable Care Act that have been launched by Republicans, the American people are benefitting from the law.  And they would benefit even more from the law if Republicans would finally decide to do something other than just score political points.  If they’re willing to work with the administration and to implement some reforms, like the ones the President has outlined, we could ensure that the Affordable Care Act was working even more effectively than it already is and enhance the benefits that the American people are already enjoying from the law.

Q    Do you acknowledge then that, at least for some middle class families — you talked a bit about tax credits, which sounds terrific in the outward months, but in the immediacy of needing health care, a tax benefit doesn’t really help you if you have to write that check immediately.  Can you understand why some families feel like tax credits are great, but in the immediate term, it’s certainly still more expensive for many of us?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what I can tell you is we can get you an update and a briefing on how the process of those payments are made, but those payments are made in a way that allow people to enjoy the saving without having to wait until the end of the year.

Q    Okay.  So just a couple more.  Gitmo — is it your understanding that within the next week or so, we’re going to have more transfers to announce?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t gotten an updated briefing in terms of what sort of transfers could be in the pipeline, but if there are any transfers that are planned, we’ll let you know as soon as — our procedure has typically been to announce those transfers once the individual has been transferred to the custody of another country.  There obviously is congressional notification process that precedes that public notification, but when that transfer has been made, we’ll be sure to let you know.

Q    We’re at 60 now.  Is that your number?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s my understanding of the last number, yes.

Q    Okay, got you.  Last — is the President planning on going to New Hampshire, perhaps, given the closeness of the race up there, at least for the Senate?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t rule it out.  But we’ll have more details on the President’s campaign travel schedule in the next couple of days.

Chip.

Q    Josh, thanks.  On the Affordable Care Act, I think the number is about 40 percent of the people who are eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act but who remain uninsured are between the ages of 18 and 34.  Why are you having so much trouble getting millennials to sign up?  And are you doing anything different this time around to try to convince them to sign up?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Chip, we certainly are going to redouble our efforts to make sure that young Americans across the country are aware of the benefits that are available to them at healthcare.gov.  And the reason for that is twofold.  The first is, those young Americans, if they are not signed up for health care, they’re cutting a check to the U.S. government for $700 at the end of the year.  They’re paying a $700 penalty for not signing up for health care.  That’s not a particularly judicious use of funds. 

Q    Should it be higher?  They’re not responding to it.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think what we’re going to do is make sure that people are educated about the circumstances — both that they’re aware of the fine that they will have to pay if they don’t sign up for health care, but also making sure that they’re aware of the quality, affordable plans that are available to them at healthcare.gov, and that many of them will be — and will qualify for economic assistance from the U.S. government in the form of tax credits that will make those health care options even more affordable than it might appear originally.

It’s fair to say that we intend to redouble our efforts, that we’re going to look for new and creative ways to try to make this case to young people, in particular, that they should sign up.  Another reason for that is we know that those young people tend to be healthier than the general population, and so the more young people that sign up through the marketplace — the risk pool will be improved.  And that actually will put downward pressure on premiums for everybody, not just those young people.

Q    So it sounds like you’re saying it’s their fault because they’re uninformed.  They don’t understand that it would be better for them not to pay this penalty and to join.  They don’t understand that they get these tax credits.  Is it just about messaging and education, or do you need to make changes?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, to be clear, I'm not blaming them.  I think the U.S. government takes responsibility for making sure that they have the tools that they need and the knowledge that they need to make smart choices.  And so we certainly are going to act consistent with that imperative to make sure that we're getting the word out.  But I think that it is not a tough case to make, I guess is what I would say, because when faced with the choice of either paying a $700 penalty at the end of the year or being able to purchase health care for 75 bucks a month, it seems like a pretty clear choice.

Ron.

Q    Do you know how many people paid the penalty?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t.  But you should check with the IRS — they may be able to give you some statistics about that.

Q    And I think Chip was saying that most people who are penalized don’t pay, or there's a significant — is there a gap? What is the rate of responsiveness?  The point is, are there lot of people who are delinquent for not paying that penalty?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think so, because it's part of the tax collection process.  When you fill out your tax form, you have to indicate whether or not you had health care the previous year.  And if you don’t check the right box, then a $700 charge is added.

Q    What about the email and leaks about Bill Clinton Inc.? What's the President's reaction to all that?  Is he aware of it?

MR. EARNEST:  I'm sure he is, because it was on the front page of a couple of newspapers today.  But I didn’t talk to him about it.

Q    Is there a concern at the White House that all this plays into this narrative that's out there by the Republicans that Secretary Clinton is in some ways — well, to use Donald Trump's words, corrupt, and that there's this blurring of lines between the foundation and the family's personal finances?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, I think for questions about the personal finances of the Clinton family and the operation of the foundation, you should go check with Secretary Clinton's team.  What President Obama can speak to, and has spoken to in the past and will speak to in the future, is the remarkable service that she devoted to the American people when she served as Secretary of State.  And I know that Republicans have often falsely tried to besmirch her service to this country as Secretary of State.  But President Obama can speak firsthand to the professionalism and expertise and dedication that she brought to that job.  The American people and our interests around the world were advanced because of her fine public service.  

Q    Is there any concern at the White House, you think, that should she become President that all this will trail her into the White House and could possibly hinder her as a future leader of this country?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think this is what Republicans are promising, even in advance of the election.  I saw comments from Congressman Chaffetz — he of the Gmail account business cards — vowing to engage in congressional investigations that actually don’t have anything to do with the Clinton White House. He's already saying they've got two years of material built up based on her tenure as Secretary of State.  

Q    What’s your reaction?

MR. EARNEST:  My reaction to that is that that's the same strategy that Darrell Issa tried to pursue when he served — when he preceded Congressman Chaffetz in that role, and it did not benefit Mr. Issa's personal political prospects.  He now has been faced with a scenario where he went from calling the President one of the most corrupt Presidents in history to now featuring President Obama prominently on a mailer in support of his campaign.  So he looks pretty ridiculous.  And Mr. Chaffetz seems to be well down the same path. 

Q    And just one last thing on the Russian — the allegation against the Russians of trying to influence the election.  Does all the Podesta alleged emails that have been leaked, does that –

MR. EARNEST:  Stolen and leaked.

Q    Does that fall under the category — as the U.S. assesses its proportional response to what they have done — in other words, we're not just talking about the Russians allegedly trying to adjust or in some way affect the balloting process in states.  This alleged dumping of information is part of the crime, if you will, that they've committed, and that will figure in the response by the administration.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security have concluded is that there has been an effort undertaken by the Russians to try to raise doubts or to cast doubt on the integrity of our political process by stealing all this information and looking for ways to make it public.  And that's a conclusion that they've reached, and it's something that is a source of serious concern here in the administration.  And the President and his national security team are considering what sort of steps should be part of a proportional response.

Q    Is it still your position that there may not be — and I think you said there won't be — any acknowledgement publicly of when this happens? 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any update in terms of a public discussion of our response.

Q    So, again, so where are we, is the point.  Are we at the point where –

MR. EARNEST:  We're at the point where the President and his team are still discussing what a proportional response would be and what would be included as part of it.

Q    And you're not — are we also still at the point where you said that this will happen and we won't know about it?  Or is it still being determined whether there will be some public revelation about what has happened?

MR. EARNEST:  I have been intentionally vague about the timeline.

Jared.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Yesterday, and then today again to Kevin, you emphasized Republican leaders around states as being an impediment to the efficient implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  But if we compare the estimate premiums for many ACA marketplace plans as CBO estimated from 2009 to what they're now estimating for 2017, we're actually on track for what those original estimates would have been.  And so I wonder — I know we're less than two weeks out from an election, but are you for political reasons emphasizing that Republicans are the main problem here?  Should we be talking about the way that private insurance companies have low-balled their initial premiums and now are coming back, and that's part of the reason for the spike? Or is this politics at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jared, you ask a good question, because there are obviously a lot of factors that have an influence on this process, particularly when you consider that there are some states where the spikes, as you've described them, have been prominent.  There have been other states where costs have gone down.  And is that a result of some of the pricing strategies that have been pursued by private insurance companies?  That could certainly be part of it. 

But there is one thing that we do know, which is that insurance premiums are higher, about 7 percent higher, in states where Republicans blocked the expansion of Medicaid.  So I used the example of Oklahoma yesterday.  And this really does raise questions:  Why would Republicans in Oklahoma prevent citizens in their state from getting access to health care that at least for the first three years is paid entirely by the federal government?

Q    But are you reluctant to criticize private insurers because they're the partners here?  Or is it better politics to criticize Republican lawmakers around the country?  I'm just — why the focus?  It seems like, again, yesterday it was just about these lawmakers.  I haven’t heard a lot from the podium about the way in which these are essentially on trend for what CBO was originally expecting.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think what I acknowledged yesterday is that the Affordable Care Act is a set of reforms that are imposed on the private health insurance system.  And that means that there are going to be many decisions, including pricing decisions, made by private insurance companies.  And they're all going to have to develop their own strategy for putting forward plans that are competitive.  Our reforms ensure that those are plans that meet a minimum level of benefits, and that those are plans that can be made more affordable by offering tax credits.  Those are reforms that benefit taxpayers and benefit customers, both because it reduces the deficit and because it makes quality health insurance available to every single American.  

Q    On a separate topic then.  While the President is in Germany and Greece, I know that you don't have all the details for this trip yet, but will he be meeting with refugees?  I know that's a part of the mission to both of these countries.  Will there be an event where the President has face time with people who are in these communities or have traveled and are either internally displaced or displaced outside of their home country?

MR. EARNEST:  At this point, Jared, I don't know whether or not the President will meet with refugees.  You may recall that when the President traveled to Malaysia at the end of last year he had an opportunity to visit a nonprofit in Kuala Lumpur that was providing for the basic needs of people who had fled to Malaysia from other countries around the world.  Many of the people that he met with were actually refugees who were in Malaysia who had been approved to move to the United States.  And as somebody who had the benefit of witnessing that event, it was a really powerful experience.  

So if there's time on the President's schedule for him to meet with refugees who have fled to Europe then I'm sure he would be pleased to have the opportunity to do so.

Lesley.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  I wanted to go back to the First Lady who is campaigning today with the Secretary of State.  A lot has been made about the remarks that she made against Donald Trump's remarks on the “Access Hollywood” tapes.  And I wanted to get your response to some who have suggested hypocrisy in that they noted that she's been a fan of various entertainers, and that the White House has had various entertainers here who have used similarly crude language in some of their lyrics.

MR. EARNEST:  I haven't heard those questions raised.  I think it's pretty clear from the First Lady's comments that she was speaking from the heart.  And, yes, she was talking about a political campaign, she was appearing at a political event, and her remarks were covered by political reporters, but I think at the end of the day, she gave a personal speech that resonated with the experience of women all across the country.  And I thought that was a powerful moment during the campaign, and I think it's the kind of speech that people will remember for a long time.

It's not surprising to me that maybe people who are seeking to criticize that speech for political reasons — they're certainly entitled to do that — but I think at the end of the day the First Lady was speaking from the heart.

Q    But has she called out, like, various lyrics from various performers?  Or has that been a concern — about the tone in some who have been here?

MR. EARNEST:  I probably don't follow all of the First Lady's public comments as carefully as I should, so you could probably check with her office to see if she's commented on these kinds of issues before.  But I don't think there's any question that the kinds of values that she was standing up for in the context of the speech that she delivered a couple of weeks ago, are the kinds of values that are deeply held and are consistent with the values that she and the President have been seeking to advance for their eight years here in the White House.

Scott.

Q    Josh, is the President and Samantha Bee — is it going to be more about ACA, or is it more November election or –

MR. EARNEST:  So, unfortunately, Scott, Samantha Bee will not be coming to the White House.  The President taped an interview with her while they were on the road — I believe it was last week, while they were in Florida.  I think most of that conversation did focus on the upcoming presidential campaign, but you can tune in Monday to find out.

Q    And what's you all’s thinking about the audience that you're trying to get there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, obviously she is somebody who has cultivated a strong and loyal following among young people.  And much of her commentary is political in nature, so this is a politically engaged audience, and the President was hoping to use this opportunity to underscore how important he thinks it is for young adults to be engaged in the political process and to participate in the upcoming campaign.

Bob.

Q    Josh, maybe I'm the only one in the room who needs a refresher course, but regarding the – 

MR. EARNEST:  Probably not.

Q    – Affordable Care Act, what reforms does the President want to see in it?  And do they hold up in light of these higher premium — the issue of the higher premiums that we're seeing this particular year?

MR. EARNEST:  Bob, what we should do is get you a copy of the speech that the President delivered in Florida a week or two ago on this topic.  But I'll outline them shortly for you.

The first is that the President does believe that there are some communities across the country where there isn't as much competition as we would like to see, and the President believes that consumers in those communities would benefit from having a public option to choose from.  That doesn't mean it should be a nationwide public option, but rather should be an option for people in those communities where there is not already a lot of built-in competition.  This tends to be rural communities, less affluent communities.  

The President has also suggested that there could be a benefit to enhancing the tax credits that are available to young adults.  The idea here would be that by giving them a greater financial incentive to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, more young adults would sign up.  And if more young adults sign up to participate in these risk pools that brings down costs for everybody.

The other proposal has actually been to expand eligibility for tax credits to give more middle-class families access to greater tax credits to make health care even more affordable.  There is something that economists will often describe as a slope — they sort of phase out tax credits as you get closer to the 400 percent threshold, and they do that because creating a cliff would be bad policy; that if you make one dollar less than the threshold, you get all the benefit and if you make one dollar more you get none of the benefit.  So the question is, do you adjust the slope so that more people can get access to more tax credits?  And that could potentially lead more people to choose to sign up.

The other thing that is important for people not to overlook is that written into the Affordable Care Act are some reform opportunities that are already available to state governments.  Written into the Affordable Care Act that was signed into law back in 2010 are provisions that allow the Department of Health and Human Services to grant waivers to states who come forward with their own ideas and their plans for holding down the growth in health care costs and expanding eligibility to people in their states.  

And we certainly would hope that there would be more states out there who would take advantage of that built-in flexibility to come to the Obama administration and say, here are some things that we can do in our state, given the unique makeup of our state, given the unique economy in our state, given the unique composition of the population in our state, these are some things that we could do that would be even smarter, that would do even more to hold down the growth and get more people to sign up.  And that's something that the Department of Health and Human Services would carefully consider, and we have an interest in working with states to do that.

But those are some of the ideas that the President has put forward, but we can get you a copy of the speech so you can see it in more detail.

JC.

Q    Are we missing the boat when it comes to youth, young people, students?  Needless to say, the Affordable Care Act would be a lot more effective if the younger people did understand their — or could comprehend their invulnerability.  In other words, at some point, we all get sick.  But when you're young, you don't think you ever will.  And also, Hillary is trying to bring the youth back from — ironically, from an older guy, Bernie Sanders.  Are we missing the ability to connect, or are they not paying attention?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, listen, I think there's a danger in generalizing.  I think what is true is that the U.S. government, particularly when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, could do a more effective job in communicating with young adults across the country about the kinds of opportunities that are available to them at healthcare.gov.  And we certainly are looking for ways that we can refine and improve our ability to make that case.

When it comes to engagement in the political system more broadly, the President believes that the country benefits when more people are engaged.  I guess that's a longer way of using the slogan that Secretary Clinton has adopted — it sounds like they may have a similar approach here.  But regardless of who you're supporting in the election and regardless of which candidate you're supporting, the President believes that the country is better off if everybody is engaged.

And part of the reason for that is that we do so see — frankly, on both sides of the aisle — more engagement, louder voices, more energy at the extremes.  And that if there were more people in the middle who spoke up and were engaged, the country would benefit from that, and would benefit from that moderating influence.  

And so we'll see if that happens in the context of this election.  Sometimes that's hard to do when the electoral environment is already so crowded and noisy, it's hard to make space for people in the middle, but the President believes that's a worthy pursuit.  And I think you've heard Secretary Clinton try to do that a little bit, too, in terms of pursuing an approach that's consistent with what the President has advocated, which is basically saying that, regardless of the outcome of this election, I'm going to be President for everybody.  That's certainly what President Obama has tried to do as President.  And that approach is one of the other reasons that he's supportive of Secretary Clinton, as he himself has said.

But, look, at the end of the day, greater civic engagement on the part of everybody, regardless of who they're voting for, is something that would be good for the country.

Victoria, I'll give you the last one.

Q    Twelve days out from the election, what level of confidence does the White House have with the cyber systems of the states, now that the Department of Homeland Security has done its review of them and has sort of scoured them?  And also, how many states ultimately did take advantage of that?

MR. EARNEST:  Victoria, the Department of Homeland Security retains a lot of expertise and offered to provide extensive assistance to elections administrators all across the country to ensure that they were protected from cyber intrusions that could interfere with their ability to conduct an election.

The response has actually been quite good.  The vast majority of states have been in touch with the Department of Homeland Security and have effectively coordinated with them to ensure the safety and security of the systems that individual states themselves administer.  That should build a lot of confidence in the ability of states and localities across the country to conduct an election that is free and fair and accurately reflects the preferences expressed by those who show up to the polls on Election Day.

Thanks, everybody.

END
1:42 P.M. EDT

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