James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:16 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. It's been a while since we've met in this venue, so it's nice to get together again. I think this briefing is going to go a little different than we all anticipated it would 24 hours ago, but I'll certainly do my best to answer the many questions you may have in the aftermath of the election.
Let me just say a couple of things at the top — three things, I should say. The first is I think the President and the tone and the priorities that he exhibited in the Rose Garden are indicative of the approach that the White House staff is taking to ensuring a smooth transition and working to ensure the success of the President-elect in leading and uniting the country.
The second thing is the results of the election are not even 12 hours old, and I think it is far too early — at least for me — to discern exactly what message the voters were trying to send last night. There certainly is a lot of speculation about what that may have been. Most of that speculation emanates from people who predicted a very different result last night. So that's the essence of punditry — nothing wrong with that. But it is why I think it's going to require more than 12 hours of consideration and investigation to get to the bottom of what was actually motivating so many people who cast votes at the polls yesterday.
The last thing is there are a lot of question that are, of course, raised about what impact the outcome of the election will have on the policies that this administration has prioritized over the last eight years. And I think it's going to be a difficult — again, less than 12 hours after the outcome of the election is known it's difficult to offer a lot of precision in answering those questions today, but certainly in the weeks and months ahead, over the course of this transition, we may get some greater insight into that.
But so with those two cautions at the top, let me do my best to answer your questions today.
Darlene, do you want to go first?
Q In all the campaigning that we've seen the President do for Hillary Clinton over the last couple of months, he talked a lot about her being the one to carry on — to continue the progress that he achieved. And she often talked about being the one wanting to continue that progress. Despite what you said at the top, does the President feel in any way that the results of last night were some sort of a rejection of Hillary, but not only a rejection of her but also of him, since the two of them were so closely bound together during the campaign?
MR. EARNEST: I think that's an entirely fair question to ask, and I think it's an important question to answer. I don't know that anybody has the direct answer to that question now because there are some relevant facts. The first is that Secretary Clinton won the popular vote. Now, winning the popular vote is not what gets you the keys to the Oval Office. You got to win the electoral vote. And I think everybody — I know that everybody knew the rules going into the contest. But it does underscore the depth of support and enthusiasm for her message and for her campaign. And that is a testament to her leadership and her ability to build support for a national campaign.
The other thing that happens to be true is there are a lot of people — again, the math requires this — who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, who voted for his reelection in 2012, and voted for Donald Trump in 2016. And I think it's — I don't have an explanation for that, to put it bluntly. But I think certainly all of your networks and all of you are going to spend some time pondering that question, spend some time looking at the returns, looking at the exit polls, and maybe even spending some time in some of those communities across the country where Mr. Trump — President-elect Trump enjoyed such strong support — support that exceeded the expectations of everybody — apparently, even exceeded the expectations of the Trump campaign.
So that's a worthy question, but I'm not going to pretend I have a real direct answer for you. But it's one that's worthy of careful consideration.
Q Another thing that we heard him say while out on the campaign trail is that progress was on the ballot and that if Hillary wasn’t elected all of that progress would go out the window, down the drain, would be lost. What does the outcome last night do for the legacy the President wants to leave behind — from Obamacare to the Iran nuclear deal, to putting a third Supreme Court justice — a justice on the Supreme Court, and more?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, Darlene, just with the caution that we're 12 hours — less than 12 hours away from this election being decided, there are some things that we knew to be true before the results started being tallied. And one of those things was that the next President — whether it was Secretary Clinton or Mr. Trump — was going to have some difficult challenges and some difficult questions to answer with regard to a range of policies.
We know that our economy is facing some pretty intense headwinds from overseas. What's the kind of approach that the next President will take to ensuring that our economy can strengthen and navigate those headwinds in a way that benefits the American middle class and not just those at the top? That's a difficult challenge that any President would have to face, and certainly President-elect Trump will have to determine the best path for confronting that.
Either President would inherit a country that has some deep and passionate political differences. And what will President-elect Trump do to unite the country? It won't be easy. We know that's for sure. We do know that he can count on the support of President Obama and Secretary Clinton, both who in the last couple of hours have pledged their support to him as he works to do that.
Either President — either Secretary Clinton or Mr. Trump — would have faced a deeply divided Congress that appears totally dysfunctional, or at least it has appeared totally dysfunctional in the last two years. And it's difficult to know — it's difficult to see how that's going to change. And they'll have to navigate — President-elect Trump and his team will have to figure out how to navigate that situation. And it won't be easy, either.
So I guess the point is, it's too early to tell exactly what the impact will be. There will be an impact, but we knew there would be, regardless of the outcome of the race. And there certainly were some priorities where Secretary Clinton didn't agree with President Obama, and in a different scenario, she would be — you'd be asking me the same question about some of those policy priorities, too.
And what's true is that the President-elect has some difficult questions to answer and some big challenges to tackle. And it's why it's so important for there to be a smooth and effective, efficient transition from President Obama's presidency to the Trump presidency, because as Americans, we're rooting for the success of our President in leading and uniting the country.
Q Are there any more details that you can share about the phone call between the President and President-elect? Can you say how long they spoke? Did they get into any issues of any substance, or was it purely just, congratulations on your victory?
MR. EARNEST: My understanding is it was not a lengthy call. It did take place very, very late last night. And based on the fact that there was a discussion about meeting in person on Thursday, the specifics of any sort of policy discussions will be left until then.
Q Was not lengthy — less than a minute? A couple minutes?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know with a lot of precision exactly what the timing was. If there are more details about that that we can provide, we'll do so.
Q Josh, on the policy differences, is there anything that the White House or your administration will do in closing months to shore up priorities on policy areas like the Affordable Care Act, climate change, the Iran deal — all of which now-President-elect Trump called into question during his campaign?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by saying that President Obama will remain in office and will be the President of the United States until January 20th. And we will pursue policies accordingly, including the kinds of priorities that you have just enumerated.
What’s also true is that the President-elect, in the context of a smooth and effective transition, will have an opportunity to get briefed by members of President Obama’s team and actually have a conversation with President Obama himself about some of these priorities. And I’m not going to speak for him or predict exactly what sort of policy decisions he’s going to make — and he was pretty explicit on the campaign trail — but part of a smooth transition is ensuring that they have the latest available information about the status of these policies. And that’s something that our administration is committed to providing.
Q Aside from providing that information, is there anything that your administration will do to sort of put up a firewall to maintain some of these programs in place against what will probably be efforts to repeal, in Obamacare’s case, or to slow-walk on climate change, or to rip up the Iran deal?
MR. EARNEST: Jeff, our position on all those issues is well known and something that we’ve reviewed in here at some length. I’ll spare you most of that. But I think the way that I’d respond to that is there’s no specific thing that I have in mind that we’re going to do differently now. Our plan all along was to ensure the successful implementation of those and other priorities, and we’re going to be committed to doing everything we can to ensure the success of those policies between now and January 20th.
So the easiest example is the Affordable Care Act. This administration is going to continue to make a strong case that people should go to HealthCare.gov, consider the options that are available to them, and sign up for health care, and the vast majority of people who do will be able to purchase health insurance for $75 a month or less. That is a policy priority that benefits the American people enormously. Since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, 20 million Americans got access to health care. And we want to make sure that as many Americans as possible understand the opportunity that’s available to them.
The President-elect, when he enters office, will have his own opportunity to set the course of health care policy in this country in a way that he sees fit. It’s going to require some cooperation with Congress, and that won’t be easy. But there’s a lot at stake, and Republicans in the Congress have voted 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and each time they did that, they were voting to take health care away from 22 million Americans. They were voting to strip critically important consumer protections from people that prevent them from being discriminated against because they have a preexisting condition, or paying more for their health insurance just because they’re a woman.
Those are the kinds of protections that don’t just benefit the 20 million Americans who got health care since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, but the 100 million or 150 million Americans that get access to health care through their employer.
So these are the kinds of decisions that the incoming administration and the incoming Congress will be challenged to make.
Q How do you reassure foreign allies, particularly on issues like the climate change deal, the Paris agreement, or the Iran deal, that these things will continue when the person who is succeeding President Obama said they wouldn't?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jeff, there are a couple things. The first is, obviously, this administration will be committed to implementing those policies through January 20th and we will live up to the commitments that we have made in each of those areas as we do so. Second, there is a tradition, particularly with regard to executive agreements, of successive Presidents preserving some element of continuity.
I don't know whether or not that will fly in this case. But as a part of this effective, smooth transition, President Obama will have an opportunity to talk to President-elect Trump about some of these policies and about some of the benefits of some of these policies. The President-elect's team will have an opportunity to get briefed by the national security experts here in the Obama administration that have been working on implementing these policies. But, ultimately, the President-elect will be the person that is responsible for setting the path of foreign policy for the United States for the next four years.
And presumably, some of that strategy that he will pursue will involve reassuring the allies that enhance the national security of the United States. That certainly was part of President Obama's — the foreign policy path that President Obama charted, and previous Presidents have as well. But obviously President-elect Trump will have to make that decision for himself once he enters the Oval Office on the afternoon of January 20th.
Q Josh, I want to go back to the firewall and ACA, and his conversation tomorrow. Is this a tomorrow conversation? Is this a conversation that's going to continue when it comes to ACA, a legacy piece for this President? And what would that conversation look like that the President would offer to Donald Trump about ACA and its viability — tweaking but not getting rid of it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, April, the thing I can for sure tell you is the President's top priority is not his legacy but the 20 million Americans who have health insurance — or who got their health insurance since the Affordable Care Act went into effect. He is quite concerned about stripping protections from the more than 100 million Americans who benefit from protections that prevent insurance companies from discriminating against them because of a preexisting condition, or imposing lifetime caps that certainly put young people with an illness at pretty great risk. Those are the kinds of consumer protections that are part and parcel of the Affordable Care Act, and tearing them away would negatively affect a lot of people. And that's something that Republicans will have to consider moving forward.
In terms of these kinds of conversations, the way that the transition is structured is that there are transition teams that have been designated across the agencies at the federal government. And the President-elect's transition team has designated teams to work with those individual agency teams to ensure a smooth transition. So there will be a venue for staff-level conversations to take place — high-level, staff-level conversations. But I wouldn't predict at this point whether or not this will come up in the conversation between President Obama and President-elect Trump, but if this is something that President-elect Trump is interested in talking about, I'm confident that President Obama won't hesitate to spend some time doing so.
Q And last question. On the issue of unifying the nation after what this White House calls a hard-fought election cycle, many are looking at — many people, be it Democrat or Republican, black or white — they're looking at what's going to come in the next four years. A Supreme Court that's going to lean to the right. The House and Senate majority Republican and the White House a Republican President. I talked to someone this morning — a black Republican, Christopher Darden, a former O.J. Simpson prosecutor — who said this is going to create a new type of activism in this nation. How do you marry the thought of this new activism and the unification that the President has talked about at the same time?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President in some ways addressed this in his remarks in the Rose Garden about encouraging young people who were engaged in the political process in this election for the very first time. And the President made an effort to encourage young people who got engaged in the process not to be discouraged by the outcome. Everybody is discouraged when the candidate they're supporting loses an election. But the genius and brilliance of our democracy is that when the election is over, we recognize that we're Americans and patriots before we're Democrats and Republicans.
And that is certainly a principle that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have forcefully advocated in the last 90 minutes or so. And I think that's part of the reason that so many people are proud of the campaign that Secretary Clinton ran, proud of the progress that has been made in this country under President Obama's leadership. And, frankly, it's why so many young people were and have been inspired over the course of President Obama's career in public life, but also in the context of Secretary Clinton's campaign for the presidency.
So if the outcome of this election encourages more people to be engaged in the important but difficult work of governing this country, that would be a really good thing. And I say that regardless of whether or not that young person who is mobilized to act is a Democrat or Republican. The President believes that our democracy benefits from more people being engaged and more people being involved in the debate, regardless of which candidate they support. Our democracy is strengthened when more voices and more perspectives and more views are incorporated into the process of governing this country. And the risk, really, –and this is what the President was sort of warning against — is people being so discouraged that they choose to withdraw from that debate. The President is surely hopeful that that won't happen.
Q And one last piece. The President was at the microphone in the Rose Garden, he seemed hopeful, optimistic. But really, behind the scenes, what is his mood today?
MR. EARNEST: I've had an opportunity to spend a little time with him this morning, and the mood that was on display in the Rose Garden is the mood that he was showing in private as well.
Look, I'm not trying to convince you that he's not disappointed by the outcome. Everybody around here is disappointed by the outcome, but just as determined to continue their service to the American people. And that service demands that they focus on their institutional responsibility to ensure a smooth transition to the next President.
The President doesn’t get to choose his successor; the American people do. And his responsibility to the American people and his responsibility to this democracy supersedes his own personal views, even on really important issues. And that's why the President has given clear direction to his team — and these are directions that he actually gave at the beginning of this year — to ensure that regardless of the outcome, that his team, that this White House was prepared to give the next President a running start.
And President Obama is rooting for President-elect Trump's success in uniting and leading the country. It doesn’t mean that he agrees with everything that President-elect Trump has promised to pursue. In fact, as he noted in the Rose Garden, and rather colorfully across the country at campaign events over the last few weeks, he's deeply concerned about some of the priorities that Mr. Trump laid out in the context of the campaign. But the demands of our democracy apply to everybody, including the President of the United States. And our democracy's success depends on a smooth transition of power, and that's a responsibility that President Obama and everybody here at the White House takes quite seriously.
Q The President, campaigning against Donald Trump, spoke often about the existential threat that he thought that a Trump presidency would pose. Is he concerned for the future of the country and the future of the world, given that Donald Trump has been elected President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Isaac, the President had used forceful language in helping people understand exactly why he was so passionate in his support for Secretary Clinton. And those are authentic views that haven’t changed. That's not just rhetoric. Those aren’t just slogans. Those represent the President's actual views and preferences about the direction that he'd like to see the country go. But that's not what the American people voted for.
Q Does he believe that nuclear war is more of a possibility now?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I'm not going to speculate on what sort of actions President-elect Trump may choose to prioritize or pursue. Obviously, he and his team are going to spend the next 73 days or so preparing themselves to lead the greatest country in the world. And part of what makes this country so extraordinary and so exceptional is that the United States has the greatest fighting force that the world has ever known. And that's not just a testament to our technological superiority; it's a testament to the brave and selfless Americans who are prepared to put their lives on the line to fight for this country. That's what makes our military so great.
We've also got a federal workforce, people who dedicate their lives to serving the public, that ensure that our air and water is clean, that ensure that even the youngest Americans can get access to a quality education, that are working hard to make sure that the American people who don’t have access to health care can purchase it. These are talented, committed Americans who, after working to ensure the success of President Obama, will be just as passionate about ensuring the success of President Trump. They don’t do that because either President necessarily reflects their personal political views; they pursue that work because they care deeply about serving this country, and they care deeply about the success of this country.
And, in some ways, I think that's something that most people — that's difficult to appreciate until you've had the opportunity to spend some time working in the federal government, and you see the people around you who don’t get a lot of public glory, they don’t get particularly large paychecks, but they feel a calling to serve.
And President Obama often describes the U.S. government as the largest and most impactful organization in the world. And that is the organization that President-elect Trump will lead for the next four years.
Q Josh, not 48 hours ago, the President, in Philadelphia, warned of giving Donald Trump the nuclear codes. Is he concerned that Donald Trump now, as President-elect, will be getting the nuclear codes?
MR. EARNEST: Isaac, what I can tell you is that the election is over and it's been decided. The American people have decided. President Obama doesn’t get to choose his successor; the American people do that. And they’ve chosen somebody that President Obama disagrees with on a wide range of issues, and those disagreements in most cases aren't just minor disagreements, but rather profound disagreements. But that does not in any way detract from the President’s determination to execute a smooth and effective transition of power.
That's what or democracy demands. The success of our democracy depends on it. And the President is certainly determined to live up to the very high standard that was set by President Bush eight years ago.
Q One last one. Is the President still doing the foreign trip that was scheduled?
MR. EARNEST: Yes. I do not anticipate any changes to the President’s foreign travel next week.
Q Thanks, Josh. Donald Trump, during the campaign, pledged to jail Hillary Clinton, if she was elected, over the federal investigations that were underway. Some legal experts have said that President Obama could close off that opportunity if he pardons Hillary Clinton. Is that something that the President is considering doing?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jordan, as you know, the President has offered clemency to a substantial number of Americans who were previously serving time in federal prisons, and we didn’t talk in advance about the President’s plans to offer clemency to any of those individuals. And it's because we don't talk about the President’s thinking, particularly with respect to any specific cases that may apply to pardons or commutations.
What I would direct your attention to, though, is the President’s observation that he made in the Rose Garden about the tone that President-elect Trump displayed in his remarks last night. And that tone is consistent with the longstanding traditions of our democracy. And the President expressed hope that that kind of tone would continue. That's relevant because we've got a long tradition in this country of not — of people in power not using the criminal justice system to exact political revenge. In fact, we go to great lengths to insulate our criminal justice system from partisan politics. And that commitment has served our country very well for more than two centuries, and the President is hopeful that it will continue.
Q Is he confident that it will continue, or just hopeful? Did he have a chance to talk about those issues with President-elect Trump?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not going to speculate about any — about steps that President-elect Trump may choose to take. But the President expressed some optimism about the tone that President-elect Trump used when the eyes of the world were on him, when he spoke last night as the President-elect for the very first time. That was a momentous occasion, and his tone was notable. And hopefully it will continue in a way that is consistent with the kind of longstanding traditions and laws that have served a variety of Presidents in both parties very well for 240 years.
Q Thanks, Josh. So, understanding that the President would not look kindly on any kind of pursuit of prosecution against Hillary Clinton, would you expect or is it possible that he would ask for assurances from Donald Trump that that was not going to happen?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't have anything to preview in terms of their conversation. We'll try and get you a readout after that conversation occurs tomorrow, but I don't have any preview to offer at this point.
Q Other than sort of the nuts and bolts of a transition, can you give us any insights into what the President’s priorities are tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President’s priorities tomorrow are to sit down with the President-elect and make clear that this administration’s top priority for the next 73 days will be ensuring that the next President can get off to a running start.
Look, this is not new. This is actually the third time in a row that a two-term President will be succeeded by a President for the other party who ran vowing to roll back key aspects of the incumbent President’s agenda. So in 2000, you had then-Governor George W. Bush vowing to roll back the agenda of incumbent President Clinton. Fast-forward eight years, you had then-Senator Barack Obama running for President, successfully, vowing to roll back aspects of then-President Bush’s agenda.
And here we are, eight years later, facing a situation where the American people have elected a Republican — President-elect Trump — who ran on a platform of vowing to roll back key aspects of President Obama’s agenda. But in each case, despite those vigorous disagreements, there was a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power that served the American people and our democracy very well. And President Obama continues to be committed to that principle.
Q There does seem to be a commitment, though, both on Donald Trump and many of his Republican supporters’ side to get rid of the immigration reform that the President has put in the place, to get rid of the ACA, to go after the climate change agreement. So I know you said that you're going to pursue those policies accordingly, but was anything done in advance with the possibility, knowing that Donald Trump could be elected President — were people looking at what could be done at all to, from your perspective, safeguard these things, move forward on these things, try to prevent, for example, the ACA from being repealed?
MR. EARNEST: At each stage, since each of these policies was pursued, this administration has worked diligently to implement them as effectively and successfully as possible with an eye toward the long term. None of these policies that we've been pursuing were considered a stop-gap measure or somehow temporary in nature. The President pursued these policies because of the long-term benefits they have for the American people. And consistent with that view, we have worked very hard to implement them so that they'll be durable.
And look, when it comes to the ACA, the ACA has withstood some significant challenges from Republicans in the past. We've had two Supreme Court cases. We've had 50 repeal votes. And in the face of all of that, the Affordable Care Act is still limiting the growth on health care costs, expanding access to health care coverage, providing consumer protections that guarantee some peace of mind for millions of Americans.
Is it at risk again because the President-elect is vowing to repeal it? Yeah, it is again. But we've withstood some difficult challenges. That law has withstood some difficult challenges. And we'll see what the future holds. A lot of that will be up to the President-elect, but I think what we have found is that much of that will also require some kind of cooperation from Congress. And Republicans did hold onto majorities in both the House and the Senate, but they don’t have 60 votes in the Senate, so it's going to require some bipartisanship in the Senate to advance some of this legislation.
And the House of Representatives over the last couple of years has not exactly been the model of organization. That's an unruly place. And even people — even members on the Republican side of the aisle have some deeply held and divergent views about the kinds of policies they should be pursuing.
So this is not going to be easy. But the bottom line is, everybody here at the White House is rooting for the success of President-elect Trump in his effort to unite and lead the country.
Q And if I could just ask you finally on that point, that obviously there's a lot of emotion involved here. There's a lot of people who worked on Hillary Clinton's campaign who are very well-known, and worked side-by-side here in the White House with the folks here. I think they believed, as the President does, that his legacy was at stake here. Can you give us a little insight into who the President spoke to this morning? Did he talk to the staff in general? Did he talk to small groups of people? And what was his overall message besides what we heard in the Rose Garden today?
MR. EARNEST: The President has on a number of occasions now had an opportunity to address small groups of the staff. And the message that he's delivered to them in private is entirely consistent with the message that he delivered in the Rose Garden, with some special emphasis on the need for young people to remain engaged.
Christi, you spent enough time around this White House now to know that a lot of the people who have spent the last two or three years here working at this White House are pretty young, and they’ve got — if they choose to pursue it — a bright future in politics. And President Obama wanted to deliver to them a very personal message that they should not be discouraged, that it's easy to sit back and by cynical, but, as you heard him say so many times on the campaign trail, he's going to choose hope, and he's hoping they'll choose hope, as well, even in the aftermath of a disappointing outcome.
Even as I've been talking to my staff today, the other observation that I have made is that I've heard people often say that adversity builds character. I'm not sure that's true. I think adversity reveals character. And I think we've seen the kind of character that Secretary Clinton and Senator Kaine and President Obama are made of. And their example serves as an inspiration to me about the kind of character that I hope, even in this difficult time, that I can show. And I know I'm not the only staffer here at the White House who feels that way.
Q Can I ask you about Merrick Garland? Now that there won't be sort of the lame duck that I think many people predicted, what happens to his potential nomination? Has the President reached out to him at all?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know that President Obama has had an opportunity to speak with Chief Judge Garland today. The truth is our view of this situation has not changed. It's deeply discouraging how unfairly he has been treated by Republicans in the United States Senate who abdicated their basic responsibility to give him a hearing and a timely vote.
So we'll have to see what happens moving forward. But I can tell you that the intensity of the case that we will make in support of a candidate that has more experience on the federal bench than any other Supreme Court nominee in history, in support of a candidate that even Republicans acknowledge is somebody with a brilliant legal mind and somebody who represents the kind of consensus nominee that Republicans claimed they were hoping that President Obama would appoint.
So the outcome of this election certainly doesn’t change the case that we will make about the necessity of the Congress considering his nomination, even though he's been waiting more than 200 days now.
Q Let me ask you, though, about the outcome of the election. I know it's been less than 24 hours, but as a guy who lived in Missouri, went to school in Texas, worked in Florida, you've been around parts of the country — that obviously the Trump message resonated with the majority of the voters. What happened last night as best can you tell? And did you have to practice saying “President-elect Trump” — President-elect Trump? Did you practice that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, you may be able to tell it doesn’t come naturally.
Q No, it does not. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: But it's what the job requires, it's what our democracy requires, and it's what the American people expect. So I undertook the necessary preparation to try to deliver it as smoothly as I possibly could and with as much respect as I possibly could. Look, in terms of the results across the country, it's really hard to say.
Q But you've been in those places.
MR. EARNEST: Yes.
Q You kind of have a — you understand what the Missouri voter is like. You know what the Texas voter is like. You know what the Floridian is really like. And I'm just trying to figure out — and again, granted, brevity of time won’t give us sort of a full picture — but can you understand why that message seemed to resonate with them at all?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, let me give you one example of a race that I followed closely in Missouri, in my home state of Missouri — a fellow Kansas Citian by the name of Jason Kander ran for the United States Senate. He was a Democratic candidate. He had already won statewide in the state of Missouri previously when he served as Secretary of State, and he was widely praised for running a smart, tough campaign. And he was dogged, tireless in going door-to-door and making a case to people that, frankly, he anticipated and a lot of people anticipated would get the support of a lot of Missouri voters who weren’t traditionally Democratic voters.
And the thing that's hard to square about this election is — I think the easy thing to say would be that Donald Trump performed so well in Missouri because voters in Missouri were pretty unhappy with what's going on in Washington, D.C. They're dissatisfied with the dysfunction. They're not seeing the kind of results from their elected representatives in Washington, D.C. that they would like to see, and they're sending a message by choosing somebody like President Trump to enter the White House and shake things up and make some changes.
But at the same time, a majority of Missouri voters also support Senator Blunt, who is somebody who is the — spent a lot of time in Washington and spent time representing the people of Missouri in the United States House of Representatives, and has done the same thing in the United States Senate. So that would be — it would appear that there's a bit of a mixed message there. And I think part of the optimism around Mr. Kander's campaign was around the idea that he could benefit from the same kind of anti-incumbent energy that was obviously propelling Mr. Trump's campaign. But that's not the way it turned out. It turned out that people apparently — I haven’t looked carefully at the results, but it certainly looks like you had a situation where people were motivated by their party identification and the party identification of the candidates more so than they were this sort of outsider, anti-establishment energy.
So I think in some ways that is a pretty good illustration of the complexity of discerning the motivation of voters across the country. But, listen, voters sent an important message, and it's important for people who are going to serve in the next administration and people who are going to serve in the next Congress, both in the House and the Senate, to spend some time thinking about what that message was, because it was a forceful one. And the American people are going to be expecting results, and what those results are is something that representatives in both parties are going to have to spend some time thinking about.
Q Josh, the President campaigned so vigorously for Hillary Clinton on the trail, working this so hard. I know you can't read sentiment this early on, truly, and discern what the message was, but can you at least say why you think the White House's own internal predictions and readings were so wrong?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, it's not just our read of this that was wrong. Just about every public poll that we saw was wrong. You guys will check me on this because you guys follow this a little bit more closely than I did — I'm not aware that any candidate campaigned in Wisconsin. And I think that's a clear indication that everybody, including both candidates, expected Secretary Clinton to win Wisconsin. And she didn’t. And it's not close enough that anybody is calling for a recount.
So it is clear that nobody got the outcome that they expected last night. Now, does that mean that the polling industry has now been officially disrupted, or that political consultants are going to have to change the way they do business? Maybe. And that would be something interesting for them to consider over the next couple of years.
But I think it's just hard to tell exactly what the message was — what the message from voters is. As I mentioned earlier, there are a substantial number of voters that voted for Barack Obama twice and then voted for Donald Trump yesterday. And given the vigorous opposition that President-elect Trump professed to have for the Obama agenda, it raises a lot of questions about why those voters supported him. And the answer to that is not obvious to me. Maybe it is to somebody else. And I suspect that political analysts and academics and political professionals are going to spend days and weeks and months and maybe even years digging into these results and trying to get greater clarity to explain the outcome.
Q Did this in some way — I mean, the President — you talked about some of the issues, but he used very stark terms, saying the very future of the Republic in a way is hinged on this election, that it's a defense of American values, really laying the stakes in very stark terms. So does he still believe that today, that the viability of the America he believes this country is, is at stake?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, as I mentioned earlier, the argument that the President was making on the campaign trail was an authentic one. It reflected his views. It wasn’t just a slogan; it wasn’t just a bumper sticker. He was making an argument that he deeply believes about the direction that he’d like to see the country go.
Q But he doesn’t believe democracy is at risk? I mean, the future of the Republic — he said that repeatedly in North Carolina and elsewhere.
MR. EARNEST: The President made a forceful argument and he stands by that argument. But the time for making that argument is past. The American people rendered their judgment. And President Obama doesn’t get to choose his successor; the American people do. And they did. And they didn’t choose the person that President Obama supported. And so now the responsibility that President Obama has is to turn his attention to prioritizing a smooth transition of his successor and ensuring a peaceful transition of power.
But, frankly, the President’s aspirations are higher than just a peaceful transition of power. He wants to make sure that we've got an effective transition that gives the next President the opportunity to get a running start. Because now that the election is over, it's a good time to remember that we're Americans first and all of us are rooting for the success of President Trump as he assumes the awesome responsibility of trying to unite and lead this country.
Q Can you tell us any color around how this happened last night? Who informed the President, how he spent his evening?
MR. EARNEST: The President was monitoring returns from the Residence last night. I don't have a lot of details to share from there. Obviously he relied on staff to help coordinate the calls that he placed last night to Secretary Clinton and to President-elect Trump respectively. And he stayed up late in order to do that. He wasn’t able to reach President-elect Trump until after President-elect Trump had delivered his remarks last night. So it was rather late. But obviously he had to work through staff in order to make that happen.
Q If the President goes on this trip, as you said — or you said that schedule is not changing — how is he going to explain to his allies what happened? I mean, the President, on mostly all of his recent foreign trips, has basically said he’s confident that Hillary Clinton is going to win, none of what just transpired was going to happen. What is his message going to be? And it would seem to be redirecting what was going to be a farewell visit.
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, the President spent a lot of time on his foreign travels over the last 12 to 18 months offering reassurance to our partners and allies around the world about the state of the political debate in this country and the likely outcome of the election. And now that we have an outcome of the election, I think the President will continue to offer reassurance to our closest allies and partners about the steadfast commitment of the United States to the kinds of alliances and partnerships that advance our interests and keep our country safe.
Many of our strongest alliances are alliances that have been fortified by Democratic and Republican Presidents. And President Obama obviously invested a lot of his own time and attention to prioritizing investments in many of those alliances, particularly in the Asia Pacific. And President-elect Trump will chart a foreign policy path that he believes is in America’s best interest. He will do so after getting the benefit of briefings from President Obama and from the national security experts in the Obama administration that have been implementing that policy and implementing that strategy.
But I think the reassurance that President Obama can offer to a lot of our allies is that, traditionally, and for generations, in some cases, our alliances have transcended individual Presidents and individual political parties in part because some of our alliances are rooted in the deep cultural ties between our two countries. But ultimately, it's going to be up to the President-elect to decide.
Q I want to go back to the President’s rhetoric during the campaign. So you're saying that his comments about Donald Trump being unfit to be President of the United States and shouldn’t have the nuclear codes, he’s a genuine national security threat to the United States if he was elected — you're basically saying the President still agrees with all of that, but the voters have spoken, so the sun came up and everybody should move on?
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, I think what the President said in the Rose Garden is that our democracy demands — the success of our democracy demands that the President put aside his own personal political views and his own preferences as he transitions out of office. The President doesn’t choose his successor; the American people do. They have spoken.
Q A lot of people took what he said very seriously and therefore voted for Hillary Clinton based on some of these things that he said. And they’re nervous, anxious. So what does he say to them?
MR. EARNEST: He says to them that our — the institutions of our democracy have been in place for 240 years, and our democracy has been buffeted by great challenge, some of which originated inside the United States, some of those challenges originated overseas. But by relying on our institutions and democratic traditions, demonstrating a faithful commitment to the will of the American people, our democracy hasn’t just survived, it's thrived.
And the President places great faith in the American people and in our longstanding democratic traditions and institutions. He places great faith in the people who make up those institutions — whether that's the United States military, our men and women in law enforcement, the millions of American patriots that are civil servants that serve in our federal government. He also places great confidence in those Americans who don't work in government but are committed to moving this country forward.
And that was the reference that he made in the Rose Garden to teachers that are responsible for educating the next generation of Americans. They don't get a lot of glory, they don't get big paychecks, but they are critical to the success of our country and our country’s future strength. The same would apply to nurses all across the country. They don't get the glory, but they are doing the quiet work of striving to perfect our union.
Q At tomorrow’s meeting, do you know, is Melania Trump also coming to meet with the First Lady, as is tradition? And any sense of what time this meeting will happen?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not aware of Mrs. Trump’s travel plans. You’ll have to check with her team.
Q Any sense of time?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have a sense of time yet, but we'll try and pin that down before the end of the day today so you guys can plan your day tomorrow.
Q Josh, if the President puts aside the harsh criticism that he leveled against Trump during the campaign and welcomes him tomorrow, doesn’t that put the meeting under an air of insincerity, bearing in mind what was said about him — what Carol mentioned, the unfit and unqualified to be President and Commander-in-Chief?
MR. EARNEST: No — to be blunt. The President is quite sincere about fulfilling the basic responsibility that he has to the American people and our democracy to ensure a smooth transition to the next presidency. At the same time, Mark, the President has no desire or inclination to paper over the deep differences that the two of them have. The President acknowledged them in his remarks in the Rose Garden. And his expectation is that President-elect Trump is going to make the decisions that are consistent with his own policy views when he becomes President of the United States.
And there’s a strong chance that President Obama is going to disagree with at least some of those decisions, but the success of our democracy depends on everybody — every single citizen — including the President of the United States, setting aside their partisan affiliation, setting aside their political preferences, and rooting for the success of the American President as that person seeks to unite the country and move us forward.
So I'm not saying it's going to be an easy meeting, but the President is deeply sincere about fulfilling this responsibility. And look, I think it was also evident from hearing the President talk about this that President Obama entered office at a tumultuous time in our nation's history. We were in the depths of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And his ability to mobilize an effective response that has spawned a historically strong recovery depended on him getting a running start. And that running start was only possible because of the commitment of President Bush and his team to this same principle of a smooth and effective transition.
So President Obama has experienced firsthand how a President benefits from the incumbent President devoting the time and energy that's necessary to help the incoming President get off to a running start. And President Obama is genuinely rooting for President-elect Trump to succeed in uniting the country and helping this country make additional progress. And that's a sincerely held view.
Q And despite what you said at the start, might you want to respond or comment on what Speaker Ryan said — that the election was a repudiation of the liberal and progressive policies of this President?
MR. EARNEST: I think there will be plenty of time for me to respond to statements like that in the days ahead. But in the spirit of today, we'll set that aside. But we can talk tomorrow. I've got some thoughts.
Q What can you say about how much of the returns the President watched? How late was he up? Was he up all night? Who was he watching with? Was he with his family and staff? And what can you say about his reaction? I mean, during the campaign, you said that there was no comparison between these candidates, that there really wasn't a choice. But this is the choice that was made. I mean, surely he must have been stunned at some point.
MR. EARNEST: President Obama did stay up late. It was not until after Mr. Trump — President-elect Trump completed his remarks last night that President Obama was able to reach him on the telephone. So I know it was at least 3:30 a.m. or 4:00 a.m. before President Obama was able to turn in. I suspect the same is true of all of you. So he's not looking for any sympathy.
Q Was he with staff and family?
MR. EARNEST: The President was in the residence. I don't know that there was any staff that was with him in person. He obviously was in communication with a number of staff members last night. And I don't know whether or not members of his family joined him as he was watching the results.
Q Okay, and his reaction to things going the way they did?
MR. EARNEST: Listen, I think you got a good sense of the President's reaction in the Rose Garden, which is the candidate that he was supporting didn't win and that's disappointing — to him and to the 52 million other people who voted for Secretary Clinton.
Q So you're saying that at no point in the night was he surprised or had any other reaction other than an upbeat, let's move forward?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don't think anybody — and when I say I mean everybody got an outcome that we weren't expecting, that applies to the President, too.
Q Can you describe anything of his reaction along those lines, though? Because I think –
MR. EARNEST: Look, it wasn't a positive surprise in his mind. He obviously was forcefully weighing in, in support of Secretary Clinton. And he felt strongly about this race. He made clear that there was a clear choice. But the President knew going into last night that once people started casting ballots on Election Day, his responsibility shifted from advocating for his preferred successor to planning for a smooth transition with whomever won the election.
So he was mindful from the beginning of his responsibilities to the country and to our democracy, in part because of his own personal experience of benefitting from that kind of planning that President Obama — that President Bush initiated in 2008.
Q Do you know at what point he started to think, this is really going in the opposite direction than expected?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know at which point he reached that conclusion. I think that eventuality sort of dawned on everybody at some point probably relatively late in the evening last night.
Q Okay. And these comments have been brought up a couple of times now, but for both the President and other members of the administration to say during this campaign that the things that Donald Trump was saying were danger — were actually dangerous to national security, and you said just today that there are real concerns — so what are at the top of the President's concerns right now? For somebody to transition to someone that he actually called unfit and dangerous for national security?
MR. EARNEST: Michelle, that is the rhetoric that you heard from the President on the campaign trail. That rhetoric reflects the President's views. It certainly reflects his own experience of having served in this job. And it reflects his own unique perspective on who is best qualified to succeed him. But the election is over. The election has been decided. And we live in a democracy. And that democracy means that the President doesn't choose his successor — the American people do. And they did. And the President's responsibility as the outgoing President is to ensure a smooth and effective transition with the President-elect. And that is now the President's top priority. And that's one that previous Presidents have demonstrated. It's served our country and our citizens very well. And the President's expectation is that a commitment to those principles and a commitment to an effective transition will serve the country well this time, too.
Q That's exactly my question, though. I mean, you said that the time for argument is over. Well, that's right. This is now real. So if we are to believe, as you said we should, the President's concerns that this was a dangerous situation, surely the President must have some real concerns right now. And can you describe maybe the parameters of those concerns?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I want to be real clear about this. The election is over. There are going to continue to be debates in this country about the future of our country. There are going to be tough debates in Congress about the future of our country. There are going to be tough debates inside the Republican Party about the future of our country. There are going to be some tough debates inside the Democratic Party about the future of our country.
So the election is over. And you've seen Secretary Clinton and Senator Kaine offer up their gracious concession. And you heard President Obama graciously commit to a smooth transition, even with a candidate that he did not support — in fact, one that he vehemently opposed. But that's what our democracy demands, and that is evidence of the durability and strength of our democracy. And it will serve the incoming President well. It will serve the incoming Congress well. It will serve our allies and partners around the world well. It will serve our economy well. And that's why the President has made this such a priority.
Q And our democracy also demands that, at some rare times, although most recently in 2000, the winner of the popular vote is not always the President. Does that make this more painful for the administration?
MR. EARNEST: Look, I can't speak for everybody, but it doesn't to me. Everybody knows the rules — everybody knew what the rules were. And I think the outcome of the popular vote is an indication that Secretary Clinton's historic campaign succeeded in mobilizing tens of millions of Americans behind her vision and her candidacy. That is a credit to her.
President Obama I think deserves a little credit for that too, given how aggressively he campaigned for her and given the kind of agenda that he also laid out. But no, everybody was aware of the fact that the next President is determined based on a count in the Electoral College, not a count of the popular vote.
Q Okay. And quickly, also during the campaign, he said many statements to the effect of this is not who America is; this is not what we stand for; I believe in the judgment and values of the American people that they will choose the candidate I support; and that America is not as divided as people say. Does he still believe those things that he said then?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what is true is that the President had an opportunity to convey his very well-known views about the two candidates on the campaign trail many, many times over the last several weeks. But he knew all along that what he was doing is advocating to the American people, trying to convince them to support his preferred candidate. And some 52 million of them did. But not enough to win the electoral vote, and that is our system of democracy. And it's not perfect, but it's a system that has served us very well.
Q But what I'm saying is, has this changed the President's view of who we are and what America is? If that's kind of the tone that he was taking.
MR. EARNEST: No, I don't want to leave you with that impression. Obviously, the President disagrees with the outcome, and his preferred candidate didn't win. But, look, what it says about the voters and their motivation and their priorities — again, I think people are going to spend weeks, months, if not years, trying to discern what this all means. But at the most basic level, what it means is that it means Donald Trump is the President-elect of the United States, and the responsibility of the sitting President is to make sure that President-elect Trump can hit the ground running when he enters the Oval Office.
Q At one point he told I think it was a group of black lawmakers that he would take it as a personal insult if Hillary Clinton was not elected and if great numbers didn't turn out. So does he take this as a personal insult?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, the feelings that the President was conveying in that speech to the CBC were authentic and they reflect his views. But the election is over, and the time for advocating for a specific candidate has come to an end. And the time for planning for a smooth, effective transition for the President-elect is now well underway. And that's a process that President Obama is deeply committed to.
Q Josh, you've emphasized the smooth transition being important and you keep pointing back to the transition that happened between George W. Bush and Mr. Obama. But as far as I know, Mr. Bush never tried to lobby President Obama directly to maintain some of his policies. But you just told us that the President will have the opportunity to talk to the President-elect Trump about some of these policies. Are you suggesting that Mr. Obama is going to lobby Mr. Trump directly to maintain some of these policies that Mr. Trump has repeatedly excoriated on the campaign trail? And if that's not going to happen, doesn't that mean that the Iran deal, emission limits, immigration edicts, transgender bathrooms — all those things are sort of gone on January 21st?
MR. EARNEST: There’s a lot there — that's good.
MR. EARNEST: That's okay. These are important questions. I think the first thing is, I can't speak to the nature of the conversations between President Bush and then President-elect Obama. I don't know if President Bush lobbied President Obama on any issues or not.
I think what I would say in terms of trying to help you get a sense of the kinds of conversations I'm trying to describe, I wouldn't use the word “lobby.” I think what I would do is I would basically say the intent of President Obama and his team is to brief President-elect Trump and his team on these policies.
MR. EARNEST: Again, the point that I'm trying to make is this, is that — and President Obama has acknowledged this — that the view of certain policies once you're inside government gives you a new appreciation for the benefits of those policies. Am I suggesting that President Trump is going to reverse himself on a whole range of things that he's been campaigning on for more than a year and a half? No. I'm not trying to make that case, because I don't think that's true.
But what President Obama is hopeful of is — well, what President Obama is committed to is an effective transition that helps bring President-elect Trump and his team up to speed on the current status of U.S. policy, including foreign policy. And there is a long tradition of Presidents, even Presidents in different parties, seeking to preserve some measure of continuity, particularly where those interests align.
I wouldn't predict at this point how all that shakes out. The one thing that I would point out is that there are certain situations where the downside of unilaterally withdrawing from some of these international agreements is significant. So the consequences, for example, with the Iran deal, of pulling out, you do risk the Iranians trying to break out. At the same time, there's also a U.N. Security Council resolution that applies to this agreement — that means that this agreement is something that's supported by our allies, but also by Russia. That, I think, could be a pretty good indication of how united the international community is behind this agreement. And President-elect Trump will have to decide what impact a sort of unilateral withdrawal would have on our relationship with countries around the world.
But, again, the American people have trusted him with the presidency. He will determine the course of our foreign policy and our national security, and he'll have to evaluate all of those things. My point is, is based on the existence of that U.N. Security Council resolution, based on the potential consequences of unilaterally withdrawing from that agreement, it's much more complicated than saying you're just going to tear the agreement up. It doesn't mean he won't do it. It just means that when briefed on all of these consequences, he'll have to take a close look at what policy he chooses to pursue.
Q But that assumes an optimism that your briefing can actually change his mind. And this is a man, Mr. Trump, whom the President has described for months as someone who is deliberately ignorant about much of what goes on in the federal government and doesn’t seem interested, actually, in losing his ignorance about many of these issues. So you're suggesting a process here of the President educating the President-elect in a way that will get him to change his mind, but that defied the description that the President himself has given of Mr. Trump as someone who's willing to take counsel and change his mind.
MR. EARNEST: Well, look, the President acknowledged in the Rose Garden that the tone that President-elect Trump displayed last night, at a moment when the world was watching, was markedly different than the tone that he typically adopted on the campaign trail. That's one small example. Does that apply to his policy positions? Who knows? But in the context of ensuring an effective transition, this administration is going to convey as much information as possible about U.S. policy and the benefits of that policy, and the consequences, positive and negative, for our pursuit of that policy.
And ultimately it will be up to President-elect Trump to weigh all that information. Presumably, he'll rely on the advice of experts and advisors who have been supportive of his campaign, and maybe even some who haven’t been, to ultimately make some of these decisions. But your example of the Iran deal is a good one, because there are significant and wide-ranging consequences that make it clear that it's not just as simple as some of the campaign rhetoric might make it seem. Does that change his decision? I have no idea. And if he does, I guess I'll be reading about it in the newspaper.
Q So, then, earlier when you said to Chris that this is not going to be easy, you weren’t just talking about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, you were talking about the Obama legacy?
MR. EARNEST: I think when I said — at one point earlier, I did say it won't be easy, and I think I was referring to the meeting itself.
Q You were talking about trying to repeal Obamacare is not just as easy as decree –
MR. EARNEST: I see. So that's a different example. Obviously, there's a role for Congress to weigh in on all of this. There's still a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, which presumably would make that a little bit easier. But there are filibuster rules in the Senate that I know that Leader McConnell has previously expressed some significant passion for protecting. We'll see if he retains that passion moving forward. But that certainly would require some bipartisan cooperation.
The same is true — well, there's a different situation in the House, which is that you all have well chronicled the deep divisions within the Republican Party in the House that make for a rather unruly majority. And it means that Speaker Ryan I think, in some cases, is going to have to look for some Democratic cooperation at least.
And again, when you're on the campaign trail you say, well, this is a law I oppose, and I'm going to tear it up when I get in. But then you get into office and you realize, well, I'm going to need Congress's cooperation, and it turns out that we probably have to work in bipartisan fashion to get anything done in the Senate. Trying to organize the Republican conference in the House of Representatives is kind of a mess. All of a sudden it gets a lot harder. Does that change the outcome? I don’t know. We'll have to see.
My point is, is that these are the kinds of the difficult questions that President-elect Trump will inherit, particularly when you consider the consequences of that decision, which include stripping health care from 20 or 22 million Americans, significantly increasing the deficit, significantly increasing health care costs, including for small businesses. So there are real-world consequence to deal with that often, in the context of campaign rhetoric, aren’t accounted for.
Q So what I'm getting at is if people are tempted now to say the Obama legacy is toast, you would contend with that — based on your analysis of the Obamacare repeal and what you just said to Gardiner about the Iran deal?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think it is far too early to tell exactly what kind of decisions President-elect Trump will make and what impact they will have on the priorities that President Obama has so proudly achieved. It certainly is not as positive a picture that I'd be painting if Secretary Clinton had emerged victorious. I'd feel a lot more confident because of the rhetoric that she used on the campaign trail about her commitment to pursuing many of the priorities that President Obama has been focused on.
Mr. Trump ran on a different platform. And what President Trump chooses to do with regard to those policies as he makes decisions is something that you can't fully analyze in the abstract. We'll have to — as his presidency moves forward, you all will have an opportunity to evaluate what impact his decisions have had on the accomplishments that President Obama and his team are quite proud of.
Q So it's not as positive as if Hillary Clinton had been elected, but not as bleak as the President portrayed it last week?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think — the President stands by the rhetoric that he used on the campaign trail, but the President has also, himself, in describing his own campaigning and his own governing, has noted that there's a significant difference between the two things. It doesn’t mean that you fold on your principles. It doesn’t mean that you're necessarily over-promising. It just means that they are two different things. And it's why there are all these open questions that only President-elect Trump can answer. And I don’t know how many of them he'll try to answer on the first day, but you guys will just have to let me know.
Q Let me ask you this. You also said to Margaret that when the President is overseas he'll be trying to reassure allies and partners of the steadfast commitment. I mean, that's in question now, right? How can he do that, exactly?
MR. EARNEST: Well, he can do that based on the longstanding tradition in our democracy of Democratic and Republican Presidents reinforcing our relationships around the world that advance our national interest. There's a Democratic and Republican tradition to strengthening our alliance with South Korea, for example. And what we have found is that our alliance with South Korea supersedes any individual presidency, it supersedes any individual political party, because we've seen multiple Presidents in both parties seek to strengthen that alliance.
So that would be, if you're looking for a reason to be hopeful about the future of the U.S.-South Korea alliance, that's what you would draw from, is the long history in this country of Presidents in both parties seeking to reinforce that alliance. Is that something that President-elect Trump will do? I don’t know. We'll all find out.
Q So the President will be saying “I hope,” not “I assure”?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President will say that there is a long tradition — there is reason to be optimistic because we've seen Presidents in both parties pursue a strong alliance with South Korea. That's just the first example that popped into my head. I'm not singling them out for a specific reason. Are some of those leaders likely to say, well, Mr. Trump appears to be different than recent Republican Presidents? They wouldn’t be wrong about that. So the President can offer some measure of reassurance, but ultimately the American people have chosen to give President-elect Trump the responsibility for figuring that out.
Q And just one quick logistical thing. Do you expect a news conference tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: Unclear at this point whether or not President Obama will take questions, but we'll keep you posted. At a minimum, you can certainly expect that the President will spend some time taking questions from all of you over the course his trip overseas next week.
Q And maybe tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: Maybe tomorrow. But we'll try and get you some clarity about that before the end of the day.
Q Any expectation that President-elect Trump would take questions?
MR. EARNEST: You'd have to check with his team on that.
Q On the topic of reassuring world leaders, has the President actually reached out to any world leaders? Have any reached out to him since this result has been known? Since the President said earlier this year that different world leaders are rattled by Donald Trump's candidacy.
MR. EARNEST: When I walked out here, which was some time ago now, I was not aware of any conversations that President Obama had had with foreign leaders at this point. But if there are calls like that that we can read out, we'll let you know. I can't speak to who has reached out to the White House or to the U.S. government since last night. I'll let those individual governments speak for themselves.
As Christi alluded to, on the course of President Obama's travels next week, he will have an opportunity to see the leaders of many of the countries with whom the United States has an important relationship. And we'll have more details about that trip in the next couple of days.
Q One of the countries that the President will be visiting is Peru. I wanted to ask about TPP. I think there was I guess an idea that the lame duck period would be focused on the President stumping for and campaigning for TPP both publicly and I guess with Congress. Given the fact that this election has repudiated the idea of trade with many nations, with Donald Trump's victory, has that changed? Is the President still going to stump for TPP the same way?
MR. EARNEST: I guess, Toluse, the first observation I would have is that this is a question you'd be asking me regardless of the outcome of the election last night, because obviously Secretary Clinton's stated opposition to this has been well covered, as well.
I think what I can say, in general — well, the first thing I can tell you is that President Obama did have an opportunity earlier today to speak to Leader McConnell on the phone. The President is hopeful that he'll be able to connect with Speaker Ryan at some point relatively soon, and we'll let you know when that's occurred. And they did have a conversation about the outcome of the election, and President Obama did congratulate Leader McConnell on his success in retaining the title of Majority Leader in the United States Senate, and they had an opportunity to discuss some of the priorities for the lame duck session.
I don’t have a detailed readout to share, but President Obama does continue to believe that this is the best opportunity that the Congress has to take advantage of the benefits of a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that cuts taxes — 18,000 taxes that other countries impose on American products. We've got a strong case to make with regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and we're going to encourage Republican leaders to take it up and pass it because of the enormous benefits that would accrue to American workers, American businesses, and the broader U.S. economy.
Q Has the President ordered that President Trump now receive the same full President's Daily Briefing that he himself receives every day?
MR. EARNEST: Gregory, I can tell you that the Presidential Daily Briefing and other intelligence materials has been made available to President Trump — President-elect Trump, Vice President-elect Pence, and a couple of designated members of his team. This is a courtesy that President Bush extended to President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden, and a couple of designated members of their team. This is an important part of ensuring the kind of smooth transition that President Obama has prioritized.
Q And it's the same briefing that he himself receives?
MR. EARNEST: I can't speak to the nature of the information that is presented, so I'd check with the DNI. But the idea here is that the President-elect and the Vice President-elect and some of their key national security advisors — just a couple of designated officials — can begin to get access to the kind of material that they will need to make important foreign policy decisions once President Trump takes office.
Q Following up on Jordan's question about pardons for Secretary Clinton, specifically, but also generally, the President was asked about this in August, about last-minute pardons, and he said that any last-minute pardons would have to go through the Office of Pardon Attorney, through the White House Counsel, through the regular process, and that all pardons would be based on merit and not political considerations. Does that guidance still stand? And wouldn’t that preclude the President from giving a last-minute pardon to Secretary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I remember when you had an opportunity to ask President Obama about this at the Pentagon earlier this summer. And the answer that President Obama gave you in that news conference still applies. I wouldn’t speculate at this point about what impact that may have on hypothetical pardon requests that he receives. I'll just say that the guidance that President Obama shared with you is still operative.
Q And is the Cleveland Cavaliers event still on for tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: Absolutely.
Q The President said he was encouraged by some of the things that he's heard from Donald Trump over the last couple of about 24 hours. Does the President have confidence that Donald Trump will respect the rule of law?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Andrew, I think at this point what President Obama is responding to is the tone that President-elect Trump displayed at his event last night. And the significance of that is that Mr. Trump had to make a conscious decision — President-elect Trump had to make a conscious decision about the tone that he was going to use in speaking to not just to supporters in the ballroom, but also the millions of Americans watching on TV and the tens of millions of people watching around the world. It's a high-stakes moment. It was an opportunity for President-elect Trump to make an impression. And I'm confident that he was aware of that.
And at that moment, he chose to adopt a tone that seems generally familiar to people who have been watching Presidents-elect at Election Night events. That would seem to suggest that certain basic principles of our democracy are likely to be upheld. Certainly one of those principles is ensuring that criminal investigations and our criminal justice system is not infected with partisan politics.
The question is, really, whether or not that tone will persist. And I'm sure that President Obama won't be the only one watching.
Q Do the results of the election alter the President's post-presidency plans? I mean, is he likely to remain more in the public eye after this than he would have otherwise done had Hillary Clinton won?
MR. EARNEST: Look, again, the election results are barely 12 hours old. But in those 12 hours, I'm not aware of any change or reconsideration that the President has made about his post-presidency plans other than the likelihood that he probably is looking forward to his post-presidential vacation now more than ever.
Q Thank you. I'm correspondent from Afghanistan.
MR. EARNEST: Nice to see you.
Q Thank you. I would like to ask you, how does the White House transfer the Afghanistan policy to the next President? Do you think that Afghanistan people or Afghan people should have a high expectation from the new President? Do you think that any change on the policy towards Afghanistan?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I will confess that I don't recall having heard President-elect Trump speak extensively about his view of U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. Some of your colleagues in the press corps here may have covered the debates or other events with Mr. Trump more closely and they can fill you in on that. But it's not clear to me exactly what sort of preferences or views he has articulated with regard to our policy toward Afghanistan.
I would put this in the category of other important foreign policy decisions that the next President will have to make. And to ensure that he is effectively positioned to make a good, smart decision that's consistent with our national interest, President Obama and his national security team will ensure that President-elect Trump and his team have access to all of the information that's necessary to make future decisions about U.S. policy in that region of the world.
This is obviously the kind of decisions that the next President will make that will have a significant impact on our foreign policy and will have a significant impact on the thousands of U.S. servicemembers that are currently serving in Afghanistan and countering the threats that emanate from Afghanistan. So the stakes of that decision are high. The kind of decisions that have to be made in that environment are not obvious. But the next President will certainly benefit from the kind of informed, carefully considered advice from leaders in our military, leaders in our diplomatic corps, leaders in our intelligence community that have been very focused on U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
Q Thanks a lot, Josh. The President today in the Rose Garden praised the transition model that was put forward by former President George W. Bush, said that's the transition model that he'd like to follow. As it relates to not only President George W. Bush's post-presidency model, but also Bill Clinton's post-presidency model, George H.W. Bush's post-presidency model, they've refrained from criticizing their successors. Would President Obama also follow that same model — refrain from criticizing President Trump and his policies once President Obama is a former President?
MR. EARNEST: Listen, I don't think I can say anything declarative about that question. Presumably that's something that between now and January 20th you or one of your colleagues could ask him. I think what I can tell you is that I've heard him say — and I believe he said this in public — he has appreciated how, particularly early in his presidency, former President George W. Bush was not a regular, active, public presence, offering his critique of the new President.
And President Obama believes that that was not just beneficial to his ability to run the country and make difficult decisions; I think it also reveals the character of our 43rd President. Surely, I'm confident in saying that President George W. Bush did not agree with every decision that President Obama made in his first year or two in office. But he kept his disagreements to himself. And I know that President Obama has appreciated President Bush taking that step to give the incoming President the running room necessary to make decisions, to advocate them for them publicly in a way that would have been much more difficult if the recently departed President was critiquing his every move.
Q I wanted to ask about the relationship — it's an unusual relationship, in a way, that President Obama has had with the President-elect. I say that because early on in the President's tenure as President, as you may recall, the President-elect questioned the citizenship of President Obama.
MR. EARNEST: I do recall that.
Q And then a short time after that, the President famously went after, you could say, the President-elect at a Correspondents' Dinner, brought a lot of laughter. I realize that –
MR. EARNEST: From almost everybody in the room. (Laughter.)
Q — I realize that the election is so fresh, but has the President had time to be introspective in the sense that the person that he's had this unusual type of relationship — from afar, essentially — is now succeeding him as President?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s not news to observe that President-elect Trump and President Obama have deep, longstanding, and public disagreements on a wide range of issues, including with regard to some of the tactics and rhetoric that the President-elect used on the campaign trail. The President was quite outspoken about that in the context of this election.
But the election is over. The American people made a decision. President Obama didn’t get to choose his successor; the American people did. And President Obama’s responsibility now is to ensure that the incoming President, no matter how significant their disagreements, can get off to a running start. And President Obama, including in his capacity as a former President, will genuinely be rooting for President Trump’s success in uniting and leading this country.
Q Have President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump actually met fact-to-face before, or will this be their very first meeting?
MR. EARNEST: I believe that they had one other opportunity where they were at a public event together. Off the top of my head, I don’t remember where that was, but I feel like they may have had one. But I guess what I would say is this: They do not have an extensive personal relationship. (Laughter.) This is not a situation where they’ve had many conversations or played golf together or any of that business. So I guess that will be among the many, many, many reasons that tomorrow’s meeting will be rather interesting. Okay?
Chris, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thanks, Josh. I think there’s a lot of fear among LGBT people and others who’ve seen progress under the Obama administration, like Muslims and immigrants, that they’ll face persecution under President Trump. What is President Obama’s message to them?
MR. EARNEST: President Obama’s message to them is that our country has benefited from a steadfast commitment to a set of democratic institutions, and these institutions have been durable even through a civil war, through a couple of world wars, through financial calamities. And the President has enormous confidence and faith in those institutions, in part because those institutions are made up of patriotic Americans. That’s true whether we’re talking about public servants who are employees of the federal government or the brave men and women of our armed forces. Those institutions serve the American people well, and it’s important for our leaders to demonstrate faith in them and to rely on them. That faith in those institutions has served very well some of our country’s greatest Presidents.
The other observation that President Obama would make — and he did so in the Rose Garden — is that progress in our country hasn’t moved along a straight line, and progress that we make in some of these areas is characterized by two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes it’s characterized by delayed progress. The observation that President Obama would make is that the best response to that is not to lose hope or to be cynical or to withdraw from the public discourse. It actually calls for greater engagement. It calls for more people who passionately and strongly about these issues to stand up for what they believe in.
Secretary Clinton, I think, put it best: It’s worth fighting for what’s right. She’s certainly done that throughout her three-decade career in public life. And it’s something that President Obama has certainly done not just while he’s held elective office but even before he entered elective office and that’s a — I think it should be — well, let me say it this way: I think Secretary Clinton intended that as very good advice for people who may be feeling discouraged today.
And it’s understandable that people are feeling discouraged because it’s natural that you’re going to be disappointed when the candidate that you supported in the election doesn’t win. But even the losing candidate in this case does not think that that should be used as an excuse to withdraw from the public debate and public discourse. If anything, it should serve as a motivation to become even more deeply engaged and more deeply involved, and not just in a presidential election.
Q And I have a variation on the firewall question. Many of these advancements for LGBT people and others are the result of executive action undertaken by the President. Is there anything the White House can do to protect them in the next administration?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I won’t speculate at this point about what President-elect Trump may or may not do. Every time the President has initiated a decision or made a policy decision or taken an executive action, he’s done so with a long-term perspective. His approach to policy-making has been to be cognizant of the long-term implications of the decisions that he’s making, and it means that he is making these decisions with the assumption that the decisions will be durable, that they’ll be in place for some time, and that benefits that the American people will enjoy as a result of those decisions will be present for a long time.
So that’s been approach since his first day in office. But ultimately the approach that President-elect Trump takes is one that he alone will determine.
Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you tomorrow.
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