James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:18 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Nice to see you all, including some familiar faces. (Laughter.) I do not have any announcements at the top so we can go straight to your questions.
Josh, do you want to start?
Q Sure. Thanks, Josh. The President described — I should clarify, President Obama described his meeting with President-elect Donald Trump as “excellent.” I was wondering if you could tell us if there was anything specific that President-elect Trump told the President about how he plans to govern this country that led to President Obama’s characterization of it that way.
Q Well, Josh, I had an opportunity shortly before coming out here to visit briefly with President Obama about the meeting — and there are many details of their discussions that they’ll keep between the two of them. A couple of things that I can share with you — obviously, the President indicated during the pool spray that they had an opportunity to discuss some foreign policy and some domestic issues.
Some of those foreign policy issues came up in the context of the President’s upcoming trip overseas. The President described to the President-elect some of the issues that he expects to come up with some of our allies and partners and other world leaders that he’ll meet with on the trip, and so it was an opportunity for them to talk about some of those issues in advance of the President’s trip and in advance of some of the conversations that he expects to have with world leaders on the trip.
There also was an opportunity for the two leaders to talk about staffing and organizing a White House. That’s complicated business. And any White House is expected to be structured in a way to deal with multiple challenges, or even multiple crises at the same time. And the President-elect indicated a lot of interest in understanding the strategy of staffing and organizing a White House. And obviously that’s something that President Obama has thought about extensively during his eight years in office, and they spent a large portion of the meeting discussing the importance of properly staffing up and organizing a White House operation.
But, look, other than that, what the President heard from the President-elect is a clear commitment to the kind of effective, smooth transition that President Obama has been vowing to preside over for the better part of a year. And the President intends to make good on that promise in the 70 days ahead.
Q Did the President leave the meeting any more reassured that President-elect Trump will not try to dismantle all of the work that you and your colleagues have done over the last eight years? And did President Obama make any pitch to Trump, for instance, not to get rid of Obamacare or other significant policies?
MR. EARNEST: Listen, I’m not going to get into all the details of their meeting. I think that President Obama came away from the meeting with renewed confidence in the commitment of the President-elect to engage in an effective, smooth transition. That obviously is what President Obama believes serves the American people the best. We are committed to doing what is required on our part to make sure that that happens. And the President was pleased to hear a similar commitment expressed by the President-elect.
Q Do you know if the President got any reassurances from Trump about whether he plans to pursue what he discussed during the campaign about trying to incarcerate Hillary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I’ll let the President-elect sort of read out his end of the conversation. But as I mentioned yesterday, the President found reassuring the kind of tone that the President-elect conveyed in his election night remarks.
As I mentioned yesterday, these were remarks that the President-elect delivered not just to his supporters in the ballroom, but to the citizens of the country that were tuned into this historic election, but also to people around the world. And given the intensity of scrutiny of his remarks, it’s notable that he chose that kind of tone. I think we saw a similar tone just in the Oval Office 30 minutes ago, where he was indicating his commitment to working closely with the outgoing administration to ensure a smooth, effective transition.
That doesn’t mean they don’t agree on all the issues. They obviously have deep disagreements. But what they do agree on is a commitment to a smooth and effective transition, and that’s a good thing for the country.
Q President-elect Trump talked about looking forward to receiving President Obama’s counsel in the future and meeting more times. Did they agree to meet again? Were there — something put in place where they’re expected to continue the conversation they had in an additional format?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not aware of any additional meeting that’s been scheduled, but I wouldn’t rule out future consultations. Obviously, when President Obama served — over the last eight years, President Obama has benefitted from the kinds of conversations that he’s been able to have with previous Presidents. And I wasn’t surprised to hear that President-elect Trump indicated that he feels like he would benefit from those conversations over the course of his presidency as well.
Q Was it awkward at all? Given all the rancor that the two men exchanged versus each other on the campaign trail and even before that, was the meeting awkward at all in terms of getting past that? Was there a moment where they had to sort of break the ice and get past that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, to be as specific as possible about this, Roberta, there was no staff in the room when President Obama and President-elect Trump sat down in the Oval Office for 90 minutes. So I think that’s probably a question you’d have to ask the two of them.
I feel confident in telling you that they did not resolve all their differences. I also feel confident in telling you that they didn’t try to resolve all their differences. What they sought to do was to lay the foundation for an effective transition from the Obama presidency to the Trump presidency. And this administration, at the direction of President Obama, has been preparing for this moment and this meeting for the better part of a year.
And this obviously was an important early step, having the President sit down with the President-elect to discuss that transition. And based on the kind of agreement that was evident about the priority that they both place on a smooth transition, it sounds like the meeting might have been at least a little less awkward than some might have expected.
Q And you said that it was just the two of them alone, there was no staff in there?
MR. EARNEST: That's correct.
Q For the entire time?
MR. EARNEST: That's correct.
Q And the pool waiting to go into the Oval had seen some other officials, Denis McDonough among them, on the South Lawn. I'm just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what other officials from the White House may have met with — who was in those sort of discussions going on at the same time.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I know that the President’s-elect spokeswoman, Ms. Hicks, was here. I had an opportunity to meet with her — to meet her, I guess I should say — while the President-elect was meeting with President Obama. You noted that — she also had longer meetings with some other members of — some of my colleagues in the communications team. You noted that Mr. Kushner was here and had an opportunity to visit with the Chief of Staff.
Those are the only staffers from the President’s-elect team that I had an opportunity to meet today. There may have been some others that were with him, but I can't speak to all of the meetings that took place.
I will just clarify that there is a more formal process that we would expect would guide the interactions between the President’s team and the President’s-elect team for the two months between now and the inauguration. There will be a formal process for that kind of consultation to ensure a smooth transition. The kinds of conversations today were much more informal in nature.
Q President-elect Trump mentioned that he learned about some high-flying assets, and I'm just wondering if you know what he was referring to when he talked of that.
MR. EARNEST: I'm not sure what he was referring to, but you can check with his team on that.
Q So you're saying as far as “excellent” goes, he’s talking about a smooth transition and having a good tone — I mean, that's all that “excellent” means?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think when you consider the profound differences between the two gentlemen, when you consider the fact that they have never met before in person, and when you consider the high priority that the President places on a smooth and effective transition, I think that qualifies as excellent.
Q I mean, Donald Trump mentioned that this was originally supposed to only last 10 to 15 minutes. Is that true? And why would it go on so much longer than that?
MR. EARNEST: The President had allotted more time on his schedule for that meeting than just 10 to 15 minutes. But they did end up spending about 90 minutes, talking about a range of issues, including what I described to Josh earlier, and I think that would be an indication of a pretty robust, valuable meeting.
Q So yesterday you talked about the President still having deep concerns, obviously, and that everything he said on the campaign trail about Donald Trump was true. This meeting — I mean, considering all of that, it was a brief meeting — did it do anything to assuage any of those deep concerns?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, as I mentioned yesterday, the President campaigned vigorously across the country making a forceful case in favor of the candidate that he supported. And he did that right up to the night before Election Day. But on Election Day, the ballots were counted and the American people decided. The President was never in a position to choose a successor; the American people chose the successor. The President vowed to work with whomever the American people chose.
So, no, they did not recreate some sort of presidential debate in the Oval Office today. They were focused on doing the work of the American people, fulfilling their institutional responsibilities. And on President Obama’s part, that means laying the groundwork so that the incoming President-elect can hit the ground running. After all, as President Obama said in the Rose Garden yesterday, we're all rooting for his success when it comes to uniting and leading this country.
Q So the President still has his deep concerns, then, is what you're saying?
MR. EARNEST: What I'm saying is that the forceful case that the President made on the campaign trail leading up to Election Day reflected his authentic views about the stakes of the election and about the candidate that he went all in to support.
Q Obviously there was nothing in this meeting that would change any of that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I guess what I'm saying is that the meeting was not convened to try to resolve the variety of concerns that President Obama had raised on the campaign trail. The meeting was focused on the transition, and it went well.
Q Okay. And given that some of Trump's advisors have, just prior to this meeting, talked about looking for all of the ways — or wanting a list of all of the ways that they could roll President Obama's policies back, starting on day one, does the President fully expect that to happen?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I'm not going to prejudge what their transition process is. Obviously, our goal is to make sure that the incoming President-elect can hit the ground running and can enjoy success when it comes to uniting and leading the country. That's what the President promised yesterday. Convening a meeting in the Oval Office today is part of making good on that promise. How they choose to use the time and what priorities they choose to set for the earliest days of the Trump presidency is something that you'll have to ask them.
Q What does the President expect to happen now?
MR. EARNEST: I think the President's expectation is that the incoming President will set his own priorities and pursue them accordingly. And again, our goal is to provide him the kind of advice that would give the President-elect and his team the opportunity to succeed in uniting and leading the country. That's what he has indicated that he has made his priority, and we certainly are prepared to do everything we can over the next 71 days to support him in that effort.
Q Well, does the President now have any reason to believe that Donald Trump is fit to be President of the United States?
MR. EARNEST: Again, the two men did not re-litigate their differences in the Oval Office. And we talked about them quite a bit in here leading up to the election, and we're on to the next phase now.
Q You mentioned a formal process, so I guess I wanted to ask if there are meetings that have either occurred or are being set up with senior staff here at the White House since Donald Trump won the presidency, especially national security or economic teams going forward?
MR. EARNEST: My understanding, Justin, is that the broader formal process has not yet commenced with meetings. There were a number of meetings between White House personnel and members of both candidates' transition teams in the months leading up to the election. And I know there have been a number of consultations with the President’s-elect team and the White House team. But the formal meetings I don’t believe have started just yet.
Q I wanted to ask about, I guess, press access today. The meeting with the Vice President and Vice President-elect Pence was closed press, which is a break from past precedent. And Carol reported that the Obamas cancelled a photo op.
MR. EARNEST: That's not true.
Q Okay. Can you talk about, then, why we didn’t have a photo op in the way that we had them in previous administrations, and why there's no press access, and particularly if this is –
MR. EARNEST: Well, first of all, Justin, you just were in the Oval Office with the President of the United States and the President-elect, so it's not accurate to say that there was no press access. But let's just be clear about what's happened.
Over the last eight years, I've enjoyed the opportunity to have many of you in my office over the years advocating for greater access to the President and the work that he's doing in the Oval Office. And what that typically means is you coming in and advocating for the opportunity to see the President of the United States sitting in the Oval Office, photograph him sitting next to the person that he's meeting with, and then hear from both people about the meeting. That's the priority that has been conveyed to me in countless meetings with all of you over the last eight years.
That is exactly what was provided today. That was not provided in 2008. I wasn’t part of designing the press access for 2008, so I can't account for all of the reasons for that. But the press access that we put together today was based on the guidance that we've received from all of you over the last eight years about what the priority is. And we were pleased to be in a position to provide that today.
It is an indication of the commitment that we have to transparency, and it is an indication that the President has to building public confidence in the shared commitment to a smooth and effective transition. What better way for the American public to understand that the President and the outgoing President of the United States share a priority of a smooth and effective transition than to allow you all into the Oval Office to hear them talk about their commitment to that effort.
Q And one way to demonstrate that you guys are committed to the, I guess, effective transfer of power would be to show the Vice President or show the First Lady welcoming their successors into the White House.
MR. EARNEST: But I think we would all just agree that that would be lower in priority than what was provided today. And what was provided today is unprecedented in terms of the kind of access that was granted to previous White House press corps.
So, look, there's always going to be this back-and-forth. As I've stated before –
Q Josh, the reason that this is relevant, and the reason that I'm asking the question is, while the President has come out and sort of put on a cheery face, we know obviously many here are disappointed. The First Lady spoke passionately about how she found Donald Trump to be an unacceptable choice. So are we to read anything — or even putting aside whether we should read anything, is the reason that there wasn’t press access to either of those events because the First Lady or Vice President didn’t want to be photographed or appear alongside –
MR. EARNEST: Absolutely not. In fact, I am not aware that the First Lady's office was consulted about the press arrangements for today. I certainly didn’t consult with them.
What we can do is we can go back to the White House photographer and see if there are any photos from the greet so that you all can get some insight into how that went. So we'll follow up with you on that.
Q Last one. A number of foreign governments from top allies of the United States — Turkey, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico — have all said that their leaders have been in communication with President-elect Trump over the last 24, 48 hours. Beyond sort of congratulatory calls, is there a concern among you guys, as you're trying to pursue your foreign policy agenda over the next two months — that allies could be getting mixed messages on the U.S. — the United States' foreign policy goals?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware of any concern about that. It is not uncommon for countries that have important relationships with the United States for them to call and offer their congratulations to the President-elect. Some of those conversations are facilitated by the State Department. In other cases, you've got foreign governments that are going directly to the President-elect's office. And that's consistent with past practice, and I'm confident that that happened in 2008 after President Obama's election as well.
Q Thanks, Josh. First, I'm kind of curious about the President as HR professional. Does he say, you need to get a great Chief of Staff? Does he say, there's this one job you never, ever heard of, but it's vital? Or is it just — obviously, Donald Trump knows he's got to staff the White House. So how much precision is the President offering in his recommendations?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'll be honest, I didn’t have a detailed conversation with President Obama about this. But knowing how he has approached these issues himself, I think that he has built an organization at the White House with an eye toward surrounding himself with capable people and putting them in positions where they are given the authority that they need to make decisions. Also he's ensured that they are given the authority that they need to elevate decisions to him if they need to be. So structuring the organizational chart effectively is not an insignificant matter when you're talking about life and death decisions that have to be made on a regular basis in this building.
The President will be taking some questions over the course of the next week, and maybe somebody can seek greater insight from him on that.
Q And looking overseas to the operations against the Islamic State, the President recently sent 1,700 more American troops there. You've long insisted that they don’t have a combat mission. These are combat troops. Why did they go? I mean, are you saying that they needed 1,700 more American troops' worth of advice and assistance? I mean, we're starting to see some social media of Americans who look like they are in front-line operations, not in supportive ones.
MR. EARNEST: Olivier, what we've made clear is that our servicemembers, when they go to Iraq, they are trained for combat, they are equipped for combat because they need to defend themselves in a dangerous country, but they are not given a combat mission. And that is an important distinction, because the President does not believe that American troops should be in a situation in which they are expected to be at the tip of the spear to go and take and hold ground. The idea of the U.S. military being an occupying force in Iraq is not one that has yielded success for our country. It's not made our country safer.
So what the President envisioned and the mission that they have been given is a dangerous one. It's one in which American servicemembers are asked to assume great risk so that they can be in a position to, in some cases, train Iraqi security forces; in other cases, so that they can offer advice and assistance as Iraqi security forces undertake important military objectives. There are even some situations where if some of those trainers or advisors end up in a dangerous position, then there are additional U.S. forces that are mobilized to get them out. This is dangerous work. And this does put them in harm's way. And it does put them in a situation where, occasionally, they have to use their combat training and their combat equipment to defend themselves.
But that is much different than being in a situation in which they are asked to take and hold territory. That's a different strategy and it's a different mission. Both of them are dangerous. Both of them require courage and professionalism and skill and sacrifice. And that's what we have seen from our men and women in uniform.
Q I get your point about occupying, but the kinds of troops you're sending now are actually the kinds of troops that take ground and hold it, at least briefly.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I recognize that the servicemembers that President Obama has sent to Iraq do have extraordinary combat capabilities. They've got extensive training. They've got the kind of combat equipment that you would see in a theater of war that you would expect our servicemembers to have when they're operating in a dangerous place. But the mission that they have been given is different than the mission that they were given by President Bush that involved occupying a foreign country. That didn't work out well. And President Obama believes that we need to try a different strategy, and that different strategy is yielding important success.
In Iraq alone we've already taken back more than 50 percent of the occupied populated territory that ISIL previously held. Now, with the support of these advisors and trainers and other U.S. forces that are offering assistance, Iraqi security forces have isolated Mosul and are beginning the important, painstaking work of ejecting ISIL from Mosul. So we're making progress, based on the strategy that the President has put forward. This is a strategy that requires our servicemembers to assume great personal risk. But it is a strategy that is yielding progress and making America safer.
Q Josh, what is the President's message to the thousands and thousands of people across the country protesting this election? Some of them carrying signs saying “Not my President.”
MR. EARNEST: Jon, I think the first thing the President would say is that we've got a carefully, constitutionally protected right to free speech, and the President believes that that is a right that should be protected. It is a right that should be exercised without violence. And there are people who are disappointed in the outcome. And the President's message in the Rose Garden was it's not surprising that people are disappointed in the outcome, but it's important for us to remember, a day or two after the election, that we're Democrats and Republicans, but we're Americans and patriots first.
And that's the message that the President hopes that most people will hear. But are there some people who are going to be disappointed, and are they going to express those views in public? I think we've seen that that's the case. They have constitutional rights to do that, and those rights should be protected. But the President would obviously want them to hear his message as well.
Q Given that all that's been said, were you surprised to see Donald Trump or hear Donald Trump say that the President is a “very good man” who he respects?
MR. EARNEST: Listen, I think the kind of tone that we heard from the President-elect in the Oval Office today is consistent with the kind of tone that he used in his remarks on Election Night. And that's the kind of tone that you heard President Obama welcome in the Rose Garden. And it certainly is something that the President was pleased to hear.
Q He did say he would seek the President's counsel and there would be many, many more meetings. Is President Obama open to meeting again with President Trump, including after he — when he becomes President Trump?
MR. EARNEST: Of course. Look, the President has benefitted from the kind of consultation that he's had with former Presidents. And President Obama is determined, as he mentioned yesterday, to do as much as possible to ensure that President Trump can have some success in uniting and leading this country. As President Obama himself said, he's rooting for his success as he takes on the important work of uniting the country after a divisive election, and leading our country forward in a way that's consistent with the best interests of many generations of Americans.
Q And I know you said they didn't re-litigate the campaign, but I just want to ask you what the President's thoughts are. he said just on Monday that Donald Trump is “temperamentally” — he said on Monday, “Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be Commander-in-Chief,” “uniquely unqualified.” Does he still believe that?
MR. EARNEST: Look, the President’s views haven’t changed. He stands by what he said on the campaign trail. He had an opportunity to make his argument. He made that argument vigorously. He made that argument in states all across the country. But the American people decided. The election is over. The President didn’t get to choose his successor; the American people did. And they’ve chosen President-elect Trump. And President Obama is determined to preside over a transition that gives the incoming President the opportunity to get a running start.
Q Pick up on Justin’s line of questioning — the President assured President-elect Trump that he would do everything he can to make a swift and sure transition. Did he ask of President-elect Trump to have his backing for anything he may do on foreign policy while he’s still President? Get assurances from him that there would be no criticism either through back channels or publicly of what he’s still trying to accomplish while he retains the power of the presidency?
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t ask the President if he sought that kind of assurance from the President-elect so I can’t say for sure what was discussed in the Oval Office.
The thing that I am sure of is that everybody understands that we’ve got one President at a time. And President Obama is President of the United States until January 20th, and he will exercise the authorities of the office consistent with his view about what’s in the best interest of the country. On January 20th, it will be the President’s-elect turn to assume that awesome responsibility.
Q And there’s no anxiety on the part of the President that the President-elect doesn’t understand or appreciate that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I think you’d have to talk to the President’s-elect team about whether or not he would object to the principle that I’ve just laid out.
Q Okay. The Russian government said today that there were contacts between it and the Trump campaign and the Clinton campaign during the course of the campaign. Does the White House find any reason at all to be concerned about that, or would that fall under the category of normal embassy communications with two campaigns of which — one of which may become the next President of the United States?
MR. EARNEST: I can’t speak to the nature of those conversations, obviously, so it’s hard to judge them in the abstract.
Q – the conversation that went on during the campaign, does this raise any higher level of anxiety or alarm?
MR. EARNEST: Listen, what I know based on my own personal experience is I know that there were — when President Obama was running for President that there were occasions where members of his team did consult with representatives of other governments. I don’t think there’s anything inherently nefarious about that. But, again, I can’t speak to the content of the conversations that may have occurred, so I don’t think I can pass judgment one way or the other. But I don’t think there’s anything inherently nefarious about it.
Q The President-elect mentioned that some difficulties on the foreign policy stage were discussed. Did the President go into that meeting wanting to convey anything in particular about what’s going on in Mosul, what’s going on in Iraq, and perhaps convey some information that the President-elect might either not be aware of or not sufficiently appreciate? Because I don’t need to tell you, Josh, in the last two weeks or longer, the President-elect was describing what was going on in Mosul as something approaching an abject disaster, which I know is not your interpretation or the Pentagon’s interpretation.
MR. EARNEST: Right.
Q Did the President feel obligated or go into this, wanting to say, well, here’s some stuff you might want to know because you’re going to inherit where this is come January 20th?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President did feel obligated to touch on some important foreign policy priorities, and I know that the ongoing campaign against ISIL in Iraq, and in Syria, for that matter, are important foreign policy priorities. I don’t know to what extent that was discussed, but this is obviously something that President Obama is following closely.
Q Thanks, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: Ron.
Q You said that the President stands by everything that he said on the campaign trail about Donald Trump, the President-elect.
MR. EARNEST: That’s right.
Q Then he must — the President must be very concerned about the future of the country.
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, the President, right now, is concerned on the most important institutional priority that he has right now, which is presiding over a smooth and effective transition.
Q But again, if he still feels this way about the President-elect, he must be concerned about the future of the country beyond this transition.
MR. EARNEST: Look, Ron, the President had an opportunity to make a very forceful case in public in states all across the country in support of the candidate that he endorsed. The American people chose someone else. And he’s committed to working with that person, the person that he did not support, to ensure a smooth and effective transition.
There is a long tradition in our democracy of Presidents effectively doing that because they have a responsibility to put their own political views aside and perform the functions of the presidency. And one of those functions is to ensure a peaceful, smooth and effective transition, because America is going to do its best when its Presidents are performing at its best. And President Obama is determined to do everything that he can to allow the President-elect and his team to hit the ground running.
Q I think I understand that. But the question is, after this transition, what does the President intend to do to — is he going to become something of an opposition figure? Is he — he's got to be concerned about the direction the President-elect has said he's going to take the country.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think as all of you have heard, the President’s plans to take a long vacation after he leaves office have not changed. And I assure you that he's looking forward to that as much as ever. But over the longer term, I don’t have any commitments to make on the part of the President.
One thing that I can share with you is something that I've heard him say I know in private — I assume that he said this in public, too — which is just the idea that he deeply appreciated how President George W. Bush, after leaving office, gave the new President some running room, gave him a little space, wasn’t backseat-driving in public, offering up all kinds of critiques with every single decision that President Obama was making in the earliest days of his presidency. I'm confident that President George W. Bush didn’t agree with every single decision that President Obama was making, but he was extraordinarily respectful of the democratic process. President Obama admired that.
But, look, I can't make any promises now for what exactly President Obama will do once he leaves office.
Q During the next seventy-some-odd days, is there a strategy that the White House has, that the President has, to try and preserve and protect certain aspects of what he has accomplished here? What are the priorities?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the first priority is ensuring the smooth and effective transition. But there's also the priority that the President places on making sure, as the Chief of Staff likes to say, that we run through the tape; that the President and his team use every moment that's remaining to do the work of the American people and to effectively implement the kinds of policies that President Obama has prioritized over the course of his presidency.
Q What are some of those priorities now? Given the change in administration, given the fact that Donald Trump has won the presidency, what specifically is the focus? What are the priorities?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t know that I can give a comprehensive list, but some of the priorities that come to mind are the kinds of priorities that actually would be in place regardless of the outcome of the election. Whether or not Mr. Trump had emerged victorious from the election, we would be focused on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and maximizing the opportunity that currently is available to millions of Americans to go to HealthCare.gov during the open enrollment period and sign up for health care. For those individuals that already have health care, they have an opportunity to go to HealthCare.gov and shop around. Many of them will find that there actually is a comparable health care plan available that will cost them less money.
So making that a priority is something that we would do regardless of who had won the election. But that certainly is a very high priority right now.
Obviously, when it comes to counterterrorism and homeland security, that's always a priority. That was true before the election and that certainly is true after the election. And we certainly wouldn’t want any of our adversaries to be confused about the fact that America might somehow be uniquely vulnerable in the midst of this transition. That’s not true. This administration is strong, and our homeland security efforts are as vigorous as they've ever been. And we're going to continue that effort.
You made reference — or someone made reference to — or Major made reference to the ongoing work against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. The United States is leading a coalition with 67 partners to degrade and ultimately destroy that terrorist organization. There are some consequential decisions that have been made recently by leaders on the ground both in Iraq and in Syria to focus on the significance of the strategic objective of defeating ISIL in their two declared capitals in Iraq and in Syria. And that effort is underway. That's dangerous business. But it's a high priority, and it stands — if successful, stands to advance our objectives and make the American people safer.
So those are three priorities. Those are at the top of everybody's mind around here. And the truth is that would be the case regardless of the outcome of the election.
Q And just lastly, this was the first time these two men met.
MR. EARNEST: That's correct.
Q There's that old cliché, first impressions are a lot. What was his first impression of Donald Trump?
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t ask him that question before I came out here. So, again, maybe when the President takes questions you guys will have an opportunity to ask him about that. But we'll keep you posted on that.
But, look, the overriding impression — I don’t know if it was the first one — but the overriding impression is his positive assessment about the commitment of the President-elect to a smooth and effective transition by our teams working together. That's going to maximize the likelihood that we'll achieve that objective.
Q Donald Trump's advisor on Israel said today that the President-elect doesn’t view settlements as an obstacle to peace, which is obviously a different position than the President has. And the President had been looking at perhaps doing something on this issue before he leaves office, just to put it in a different place than it is now, on a trajectory to — so eventually the next President can be able to have talks. Is he considering doing something like that still? Or is he of the view that at this point, when you have a President-elect taking steps like that when you have such big, wide disagreements it's not the proper thing to do?
MR. EARNEST: Well, my first reaction is that the concern that you've heard President Obama express about the expansion of settlements is not just the policy of this administration, it was actually the policy of previous Democratic and Republican administrations who expressed concerns about that. The view is that trying to change facts on the ground only puts a negotiated settlement, a resolution of differences between the two parties farther away. So the President views that kind of continued settlement expansion as counterproductive. And again, that's consistent with the policy that Democratic and Republican Presidents have expressed.
More generally, I don’t have anything to preview with regard to any additional steps that President Obama may consider before leaving office. The principle that we have articulated is that it is really important for the Israelis and Palestinians to sit down in the context of face-to-face negotiations and resolve their differences. And President Obama has expended enormous effort — Secretary Kerry has probably expended more effort than anybody else — to try to bring those sides together. And thus far, those efforts have not yielded the kind of progress that we'd like to see. But our belief that that's the only way that those differences will be resolved continues to be true.
Q What about the broader — does the President have a philosophy on just that issue? When you have a President and a President-elect who differ so much on significant foreign policy issues, does he believe that now is the time to not take steps that would be at odds with what the next President might want to do for Guantanamo Bay, for instance, or other things? What's his general view on that?
MR. EARNEST: His general view, Carol, is — again, and I think this is the view of outgoing Presidents in both parties — which is that there is one President at a time. And President Obama has the authority of the office of President until January 20th, and he will make decisions consistent with his view about the best way to advance the interests of the country.
In the afternoon of January 20th, that awesome responsibility will be transferred to the President-elect, and then he will be given that awesome responsibility. And in this interim transition period, what President Obama has committed to is doing our best to coordinate and communicate with the President-elect's team. But when it comes to exercising that authority, that authority rests solely with President Obama, until January 20th.
Q Josh, a couple of questions. One, did you get any kind of readout from the First Lady's office about her meeting with soon-to-be First Lady Melania Trump?
MR. EARNEST: I did hear from them. The First Lady hosted Mrs. Trump in the private residence of the White House for some tea and a tour of the private residence. Part of that tour included stepping out onto the Truman Balcony. I think all of you have heard both the President and First Lady talked about the quality of time that they've spent on the Truman Balcony, and Mrs. Obama took the opportunity to show it off to Mrs. Trump.
There also was an opportunity for the two women to walk through the State Floor of the White House with the White House Curator, Bill Allman. And some of you have had an opportunity to visit with Mr. Allman. He is essentially a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about everything at the White House. And so Mrs. Trump had an opportunity to hear from him. They also had a discussion about raising kids at the White House. And obviously the First Lady's two daughters spent the formative years of their childhood here at the White House, and Mrs. Trump's son will also spend some important years of his childhood here at the White House. And that's a rather unique childhood. And the two of them had an opportunity to talk about that experience and being a good parent from that experience.
And then after their tour concluded, the First Lady and Mrs. Trump walked over to the Oval Office, and the two couples visited again before they departed.
Q So the First Lady and Mrs. Trump walked over there after the press left?
MR. EARNEST: That's correct, yes.
Q And then the next thing — going back to Justin and the historic pictures of the transition, I recall when George W. Bush was President-elect, and then-President Bill Clinton walked him down the Colonnade to the Oval Office, and press were there. I remember years ago, when George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush — Laura Bush — then-First Lady Laura Bush greeted the then-President-elect, Barack Obama, at the Diplomatic Room door. And they also did the walk.
What happened? I mean, I understand you said you wanted us to see them more — you wanted to give us more access. But the precedent has already been set for those kind of walks and pictures to happen. What happened this –
MR. EARNEST: Well, we went over and above the precedent by providing access to the Oval Office. You and I have talked about this many times over the last eight years, that the priority that you place is getting access to the Oval Office and hearing directly from the President and the person that he's meeting with about the meeting that just occurred.
That didn't happen in 2000, when President Clinton welcomed President-elect George W. Bush to the White House. That didn't happen in 2008, when President Bush welcomed President-elect Obama to the White House. I'm not criticizing the two previous administrations or the two previous White Houses; I'm merely stating that the access that was provided by this White House is entirely consistent with the kind of requests that we've been fielding from all of you over the last eight years.
Q And just — I hate to beat this to death, but just understanding that initial picture of the initial meeting, on the arrival, to see the body language — a picture speaks a thousand words. The first glances, the first moments speak a thousand words. And that's what we missed. And I guess that's what we're talking — I guess that's what we're talking about.
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I understand that. We'll consult with the White House photographer and see if there are any photos that he was able to capture of that moment and share them with all of you. And it certainly is not just your right, but your responsibility to advocate for more access, and I respect that.
Q Lastly, can you give us the construct of what it looks like when a former President counsels a current President? I know that Bill Clinton counseled George W. Bush and, as you said, that this President has taken the counsel of other Presidents. What are some of the issues that he's received counsel on? And what does that look like, if you can tell us that?
MR. EARNEST: We've gone to great lengths to keep that kind of consultation private. That consultation between Presidents and former Presidents is private. And there's a special bond that people who have assumed this awesome responsibility of leading the greatest country in the world have. And so they have unique and sensitive conversations that we just can't provide much insight into other than to tell you that they have occurred not just with Presidents in the same parties — President Obama didn't just consult with President Clinton, but has had useful, warm, supportive conversations on a variety of topics with Presidents in both parties.
And I guess the best example I could give you would be of President George H.W. Bush. You've heard the President I believe speak in the past about how much he's valued those kinds of interactions. And I don't want to leave you with the impression that they've had dozens of phone conversations in the last eight years, but on those opportunities that President Obama has had to visit with President George H.W. Bush, Bush 41, the President has come away with enormous respect for his service to the country and for his wisdom about what's required to lead the country.
So that's just one example. And obviously, the relationship between President Obama and President Clinton is one that benefitted President Obama enormously. And over the last several years, you all have seen firsthand the kind of relationship that exists between President George W. Bush and Laura Bush and the President and First Lady.
So these kinds of relationships are important. And if that extends into the next presidency, President Obama is committed to doing his part to trying to provide the kind of counsel that he's benefitted from over the course of his presidency.
Q Okay, you say a variety — he's talked to Presidents — former Presidents on a variety of topics. Is it domestic policy, or foreign policy, or just the history of it all when it comes to certain issues?
MR. EARNEST: It's both. Some of it's dealing with the demands of the office. These are the kinds of things that are part and parcel of a conversation between somebody who is bearing an enormous burden and somebody who has dedicated a significant portion of their previous life to fulfilling the same task.
Q And he would be open to doing — when he is President, when is number 45, he would be open to do it at any moment? Donald Trump?
MR. EARNEST: As I mentioned — and I guess I would say this principle applies not just during the transition, but even after — that President Obama believes that — well, President Obama will be rooting for the President-elect to succeed in uniting the country and in moving our country forward.
Q Thanks, Josh. First you said that you met with Hope Hicks, and then you said you met her. Did you –
MR. EARNEST: So Ms. Hicks had an opportunity to actually have a meeting with my colleagues, Jennifer Psaki and Liz Allen, the Communications Director and Deputy Communications Director here at the White House. While she was in that meeting, I had an opportunity to go and introduce myself and visit with her just briefly.
Q So did you guys have a chance to talk about what it’s like to do your job, or –
MR. EARNEST: No, I did not have that conversation with her. But I will certainly have that conversation with the person that the President-elect selects to succeed me once he’s made that decision. But I didn’t have that conversation with Ms. Hicks and I don’t have a sense of who the President-elect may have in mind.
Q And also, I asked you this yesterday, but maybe you know a little bit more today, about what the President’s message will be to foreign leaders when he goes overseas.
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t have a detailed conversation with him about that. The President was interested in making sure that the President-elect was aware of the kinds of conversations that are scheduled over the course of the next week. But foreign leaders understand the same principle that I described earlier, which is that President Obama will be President of the United States through January 20th and he will exercise all of the authorities of that office until then.
But in this transition period, the President is interested in making sure that the incoming President has insight into the kinds of conversations and issues that he will inherit on the afternoon of January 20th.
Q So will he be reflecting to those foreign leaders any of his impressions of his — of the President-elect based on today’s conversations?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I wouldn’t preview the conversations at this point. But after those conversations have occurred, we’ll do our best to read those out to you and give you a sense of how those kinds of conversations — I will just affirm that I’m confident that this will be a subject of the discussion that he has with every world leader when he travels next week.
Q Yesterday you said that the President would reassure allies and partners of the steadfast U.S. commitment. Does he still plan to do that?
MR. EARNEST: The President will offer his reassurance to our allies that the — historically, the United States of America, even across political parties, has been committed to not just upholding but also seeking to strengthen the alliances that we have with countries around the world. The view of Democratic and Republican Presidents has been that the robust health of those alliances makes America safer. And Presidents in both parties have been committed to investing in those alliances, and that certainly is what’s happened in the past.
I’ll let the President-elect and his team discuss what their plans are for some of those alliances, but certainly our allies should understand President Obama’s view and should understand the history — the longstanding history in this country about the way that we not just maintain but actually advance our alliances around the world.
Q Thanks, Josh. Just following up on that, first of all, is that a case that he made to — the President made to Donald Trump during their Oval Office meeting when he talked about how the trip would unfold? Did he talk about the importance of valuing these alliances, and not withdrawing from them, and honoring what the tradition has been on that front?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know how detailed a conversation they had about the priority that President Obama places on our alliances. I know that the President was interested in ensuring that the President-elect was aware of the conversations that were scheduled, and the President wanted to give him some insight into the kinds of issues that he expected would come up in those conversations. But more than that, I don’t have much more insight into their conversation I can share.
Q Just more broadly — during the campaign, the President spoke often about how serious of a job the presidency is, what it’s like to sit in the Oval Office and make decisions, and criticized Mr. Trump for, in his view, not having that kind of approach that was needed to be President. Did he give him any advice during this meeting? Did he talk to him about that issue and how he needed to step up, or anything he needed to do differently in order to succeed in the job that he has now?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the fact that they spent so much time discussing the organization of the White House I think should be an indication that the President-elect takes seriously the important responsibility that he's been given. And I think that's also — I think that's something that we can also conclude based on the kind of tone that we've heard from the President-elect in the two statements that he's delivered since the outcome of the election was announced. But I think more generally you'd have to talk to the President-elect for his view on this topic.
Q There’s organization and human resources and personnel, and then there's how you comport yourself, and whether you take seriously the office of the presidency, which is something that the President has said in the past he doesn't believe that Mr. Trump is capable of. Did he give him any advice or pointers on how he might –
MR. EARNEST: I'm not sure if they discussed this specific topic or not.
Q Thanks, Josh. Can you just — you may have touched on this — is it true that the President-elect is now receiving the two daily intelligence briefings over the transition?
MR. EARNEST: What I can tell you is that the intelligence community has made those briefings available. I don't know whether the President-elect, the Vice President-elect, and their national security designees have actually received the briefing. You can check with them about that, though.
Q Let me ask you about Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Is it the President's position that Americans who currently take advantage of the Affordable Care Act needn't be worried about its demise upon the ascension into the office by President-elect Trump?
MR. EARNEST: Well, first of all, we've got some good news on the Affordable Care Act today. Yesterday was the highest — or I guess I should say the best day of the open enrollment period thus far. Yesterday, more than 100,000 people selected plans at healthcare.gov. That's an indication of the intense demand for the kinds of insurance offerings that are available to people at healthcare.gov. So that's an indication of the success of the program when you consider the intense demand that people have for these services and for these opportunities that aren't available other places, and are only available because of the Affordable Care Act.
That said, the President himself has acknowledged that there are some things that we could do to strengthen the program further. Things like expanding access to tax credits that would reduce health care costs for more Americans. In some cases, if we got more states to expand Medicaid — again, this is providing health insurance to low-income Americans, paid for almost entirely by the federal government — doing so would put downward pressure on the premiums paid by everybody. That would be a good outcome. And certainly finding ways to overcome the politically motivated objections of Republicans who have blocked Medicaid expansion in their states would be good for the law.
Q Absolutely. But I guess what I'm getting is, are those who are using Obamacare whistling past the graveyard, knowing that the President-elect will have the Congress and the power to essentially repeal it?
MR. EARNEST: No, they're not, because these are benefits that are available to them today. And we certainly would encourage people to sign up and capitalize on the good opportunity that's there. For the vast majority of people who do sign up, more than 7 in 10 of them will be able to sign up for a health care plan for $75 a month or less.
Q So you're saying, I'm not concerned in any way, and you're telling the American people, you shouldn't be concerned in any way that Obamacare, the benefits that you receive under Obamacare will be going away anytime soon?
MR. EARNEST: What I'm saying is that the President-elect is going to make his own decisions. And worries about those future decisions should not have any impact on anybody capitalizing on the opportunities that are available to them today at healthcare.gov.
Q Let me ask about the Electoral College. There's been some sort of conversation — we certainly heard this said in 2000 — some have said, well, one person received the majority of the votes, maybe it's time to do away with it. Usually you get that from the side that lost. What's the President's view of the Electoral College? Is it time to give it a fresh look?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I am not aware of any constitutional reform proposal that the President has put forward. But, look, this is our system and this is a system that has been in place for a long time. Everybody knew the rules before the race started, and everybody campaigned accordingly. There's a reason that the candidates and their surrogates spent so much time in states like Florida and North Carolina, where those were states that have a lot of electoral votes and where the polls indicated that the race was going to be very close. So everybody executed a strategy consistent with their knowledge of the rules. Nobody changed the rules at the end.
As has often been discussed, a reform proposal like the one that you're hinting at would have a pretty significant impact on the strategy that people put forward. It would encourage candidates to actually spend more time — or, at least, it would provide an incentive for some candidates to spend more time in those communities where they know they have the most supporters. So you can imagine Democratic candidates spending more time doing rallies in places like Northern California and New York City, where Republicans, on the other hand, might spend more time in places like New Orleans and Dallas to try to drive up the turnout and maximize the kind of turnout from their supporters.
So there are consequences for putting forward those kinds of reforms and there are some pros and cons. But, look, the fact that Secretary Clinton won the popular vote on Tuesday is indicative of the strong support across the country for her candidacy, for the agenda that she put forward. And the President is hopeful that 58, 59 million Americans who got involved and were engaged in support of her campaign don't linger too long on the disappointment about the loss of their candidate and will actually seize the opportunity to remain engaged in our political debate our country will benefit from.
Q I know you don't have any scheduling updates at the moment about the President may be talking about TPP on the Hill. Is it time that he continued to get over there and maybe rally the troops and see if something can get done here in the lame duck?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, the President did have a conversation with Leader McConnell yesterday, and I know that he's been working to schedule a conversation with Speaker Ryan. I don't know that that's occurred yet, but we'll keep you posted on that. But certainly the President and his team are in touch with leaders in both parties on Capitol Hill about the important work that needs to get done before the end of this year.
Q Do you have a count?
MR. EARNEST: I'm sorry?
Q Do you have a count?
MR. EARNEST: Not one that I've seen publicly, but you can check with the vote counters on Capitol Hill about that.
Q Last one — Gitmo. I ask you pretty much weekly. I think the number is less than 60 now, according to my last update. Any readout on the possibility that that number will be dropping below, say, 50 in the next week or two?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't have any predictions at this point. But obviously we're continuing to do the important diplomatic work of transferring those individuals that had been determined by a review board that they can be safely transferred under a set of restrictions to other countries. I don't have any upcoming transfers to preview, but I can confirm for you that if any transfers are made, we will announce them publicly.
Q Josh, the First Lady took a little bit of an unprecedented role on the campaign trail this last cycle. Does she see herself in having a role in sort of projecting this sort of smooth transition of power attitude?
MR. EARNEST: She doesn't have any sort of vested constitutional responsibility that relate to a transition. I think what you saw today was a gesture of hospitality to the incoming First Lady. Mrs. Obama has talked before publicly about the stresses and anxieties of moving to a new place, living inside a fishbowl, living inside a museum, and raising your family there. And I'm sure that Mrs. Trump is feeling many of those same anxieties as she prepares to move herself and her family into the White House. And so the courtesy that Mrs. Obama extended is rooted in her own experience of going through this difficult transition.
Q And I'm just a little confused — when you and the President say that you hope Donald Trump is successful, given that the President has said that he sees Trump as having the potential to undermine democracy, undermine American ideals, wouldn't it be fair to say that you don't want him to be successful?
MR. EARNEST: That's a good question, Sarah. The point that I made — and I tried to be precise about this — is that the President's view is that our country benefits when we have a President who succeeds in helping the American people understand our collective interests. And that's why the President has talked about his hope that President Trump will succeed in uniting the country.
There are some profound political differences that were revealed by this election, and our country will be better served if we can try to bridge that gap. It doesn't mean we're going to agree on everything. And it doesn't mean that President Obama is now endorsing every policy proposal that the President-elect vows to pursue. Their differences remain. Their differences are profound. But our country succeeds and our country does best when we have a President who is succeeding in uniting and leading the country. And that's what the President is hopeful for. And the President — the current President is going to do his part to try to give the incoming President every advantage as he seeks to do that. And that is, after all, the message that we heard from President-elect Trump on Election Night.
Q Did the birther issue come up at all during their meeting? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware that it did. I'm not aware that it did.
Q Thanks. Speaking of the fishbowl, as the new team looks to name its press secretary and communications director, what advice would you give them generally on press relations and, specifically, on pools?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just stipulate that I'm not sure they're going to be that interested in all that much advice from me. And that's okay. I stand ready to provide whatever advice is sought. The first thing I'd tell them is that you guys are a bunch of softies. (Laughter.) I wouldn't say that. Unfortunately, that's not true.
What I would tell them is that they have a responsibility to communicate with the White House Press Corps. The White House Press Corps has a critically important, constitutionally protected function to hold people in power accountable. And that’s something that you and your news organizations devote significant time and resources to.
There’s also a lot of expertise in this room. There are a lot of people in here who have covered many different White Houses, and that historical perspective is something that benefits your ability to describe to the American people just what’s happening here.
And I guess the last thing — there are a lot of other things I would say to them. The last thing I’ll say to you about what I would say to them is that it’s hard to read things in the media that are critical of you. It’s hard to read things in the press that are critical of things that you deeply believe in and that you’ve been working day and night to advance. And so there’s a natural tendency I think to recoil and to write off people who disagree with you as people who are not worth talking to. And that is a natural human tendency and temptation.
And my advice to the incoming team would be to not give into that temptation; that the kinds of conversations that I’ve had with all of you — everybody who is sitting in this room has, on many occasions, written things or broadcast things about the White House that I didn’t agree with, that I didn’t think were fair, that I didn’t reflect — thought reflect the kinds of priorities that we’ve established or accurately reflect what we’re trying to do. But those stories never got better by ignoring your emails or ignoring your phone calls, or telling you that you’re not allowed to come in my office anymore.
That’s never happened. The way to try to change your view or to try to influence your reporting is to make a case to you on the merits. And you can’t do that if you won’t pick up the phone, and you can’t do that if you won’t return an email.
And so that’s the philosophy that we have pursued here. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who will say that — on your side who will say that we didn’t do that enough, or maybe that we did it too much, and we’re open to that kind of second-guessing. But that’s the strategy that we have pursued. I think that strategy has served President Obama well, but, most importantly, I think that strategy has served the American people well for helping them understand what we’re doing here.
After all, if you believe as deeply and as strongly as I do about what we’re doing, then you should be interested in having an opportunity to make that case to the American public, because it’s likely to persuade people. And that’s the approach that we’ve taken, and I think the President and the American people have been well served by it.
Q And on the pools?
MR. EARNEST: On the pools, look, having a pool of reporters follow you around everywhere you go is inconvenient, occasionally annoying, and takes a long time to get used to. But it serves an important purpose. And this White House has gone to great lengths to coordinate with all of you as you organize that effort, and I would recommend that the incoming administration do the same.
Q Josh, can I just ask two quick follow-ups and one question? In response to your answer to Major’s question, you may remember that in the transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the Commander-in-Chief briefing — or talking to the incoming Commander-in-Chief had three things on his mind, classified things that he wanted to personally brief incoming President Obama on. Did President Obama today use this opportunity to do something similar with President-elect Trump, to talk about classified things related to being Commander-in-Chief, or international policy, and use today as that venue for that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, President Obama did use this occasion to talk about some important foreign policy priorities. I don’t know the extent to which those conversations would be classified, in part because I didn’t hear them. So there was important information that was discussed, but I don’t know where they would rate on the classification scale.
Q Following up on Julie’s question, did the — because there was this reference to “high-flying assets,” which might have been Air Force One or some reference to the perks that come with the White House. Did the President take a moment to even make reference to the value of an encrypted smartphone?
MR. EARNEST: Oh, I don’t know to what extent they talked about personal communications devices, but presumably they will.
Q Third question is, the President is still the titular head of the Democratic Party. To what extent will he weigh in on the leadership questions that the DNC is facing?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, having moved to Washington D.C. in 2001 for the first time, the Democratic Party was facing a similar question — because when there’s one party that’s in the White House and that same party controls Congress, it elevates the position of the chair of the DNC. So it’s an important decision.
I don’t know to what extent President Obama will weigh in on it. As I recall from 2001, that was a race that was hotly contested and closely covered by the news media, and I would anticipate that candidates for that position will covet the endorsement of the outgoing President. I don’t know to what extent he’ll have one to offer, but we’ll keep you posted on all of it.
Q Thanks, Josh. My question goes back to the issue of press access and pools and so on. I mean, you spoke about — glowingly about press access and all that the White House has done to encourage that. Why, then, did the President tell the President-elect not to answer shouted questions?
MR. EARNEST: I think he was making clear that he’s not obligated to do so. But obviously, the President-elect, if he wanted to answer those shouted questions, he could.
President Obama on many occasions has chosen to answer those questions. On many more occasions, he’s chosen not to. And I think that tradition is something that he was communicating to the President-elect.
Q The President-elect, at the beginning of the — the bottom of the meeting when we saw him, he was fidgeting a little bit and the tenor of his voice was a little nervous for him. He seemed, frankly, awed after 90 minutes with the President. Can you characterize how he seemed? Because he seemed gobsmacked. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I was standing behind the pool in the Oval Office while they both spoke, so you all had a better view of him than I did. And I was — frankly, at the beginning of their comments, I was focused on what President Obama was saying. I wasn’t reading any body language.
Q You don’t have any sense of his affect?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t. I don’t.
Q Speaking about the smooth transition in terms of cooperation, coordination, and maybe intelligence and insight, might you envision the President and Mr. Trump as they build their relationship that started today — that there will actually be a conversation in terms of the President’s insight on some of the world leaders that Mr. Trump is going to have to deal with in the next two months.
MR. EARNEST: Listen, they don’t have any additional meetings that are on the books right now, but I wouldn’t rule out future meetings. And again, if President-elect Trump were interested in President Obama’s counsel about his communications or his relationship with some foreign leader, I’m confident that President Obama would not hesitate to share it.
Q Thanks. A CR expires December 9th. Does the election change any of the strategy on finishing the spending bills for this year, or are you just going to do a CR –
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me answer your question first by saying, no, that we have consistently advocated for Congress fulfilling its responsibility to pass budgets that give agencies in the federal government certainty about the budget picture. That’s particularly true when you’re talking about the kinds of commitments that are made by the Department of Defense and our intelligence communities that expend significant sums of money to keep us safe. And just funding them two or three or four months at a time is not a smart way to do it.
So we’ll engage in conversations with Capitol Hill, and President Obama has already done that with the Republican leader, to talk to them and to urge them to fulfill their basic responsibility to pass the kind of budget that would provide some certainty to military, national security and other federal government officials that have important responsibilities. The President believes it’s important to give them certainty so that they can make longer-term decisions with confidence.
Q So just the reverse of that real quick, have you heard from Capitol Hill on whether they agree with that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’ll let members on Capitol Hill express their own view, but there have been a number of conversations, mostly at the staff level, about this and other topics that relate to the work that Congress must get done before the end of the year.
Q Josh, given the statement of Trump, et al, that they want to revoke Obama executive orders as soon as they can, has that in any way put the brakes of any anticipated executive orders? And do you still have a stream of them that’s expected between now and January 20th?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have anything to say about upcoming executive orders other than to tell you that I’m not aware that any of our plans in that area has been affected by the outcome of the election.
Q Do you expect a lot more commutations between now and the end? Because there seems to have been a very concentrated effort to deal with people in prison for long drug-related terms. What was the forecast on that? And is this a part of Obama’s legacy that can’t be taken away, as you see it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President has made this a priority and the President does believe that there are some injustices that can be corrected using his clemency authorities. And he’s done that with respect to a certain classification of convictions more than the last 10 or 11 Presidents combined.
So I do think that’s an important part of his legacy. He would much prefer that his legacy include the passage of criminal justice reform legislation that would be much more effective in addressing some of the widespread inequities that leaders in both parties have identified.
Unfortunately, that has not happened. I don’t know if Congress will get that done before the end of the year. The President will certainly encourage them to try to do that. And there is bipartisan agreement around this. I can’t speak to the President’s-elect view of this priority, but obviously it’s one that President Obama and his team have invested deeply in.
I would expect additional commutations before the President leaves office. But those are the kind of commutation decisions that have been in the pipeline even before the outcome of the election, and I’m not aware that the outcome of the election would have any impact on those clemency decisions.
Q Is there any piece of legacy legislation that you think you can get passed before he leaves office?
MR. EARNEST: Well, that’s what — we’ll be having some conversations about that. So we’ll see.
Francesca, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thank you, Josh. Let me start by saying I appreciate you pointing out that in 2000 and in 2008, that reporters didn’t have access to the Oval Office meeting, because some of us were not there at that time to remember that. I appreciate you pointing that out about the Oval Office access meeting. I think what we’re trying to understand is what the thinking behind not allowing reporters to be on the South Lawn today was, what the thinking was behind that and why that happened?
MR. EARNEST: The idea was just that we wanted to provide you the best access that we could. And the best access that all of you have consistently advocated for, for the last eight years, is access to the President and the person that he’s meeting with in the Oval Office with statements in front of the full pool. And that’s exactly what was provided today.
Q And what then, if anything, should we draw from the fact that we have neither heard from, nor seen the First Lady today?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, as I mentioned earlier, we’ll consult with the White House photographer — presumably you guys have been able to do that already. So we’ll try to expedite the release of a photo so that you can see that interaction.
But I can tell you that the First Lady enjoyed the opportunity that she had to welcome Mrs. Trump to the White House and to give her the tour that I described earlier, and to discuss the unique demands of raising a family in the White House. And the First Lady was pleased to extend that courtesy to Mrs. Trump and enjoyed the opportunity that she had to visit with her today.
Q And as far as the photos go, may we also possibly put in a request for some of the ones you described on the Truman Balcony? I don’t know if a photographer was following them around then as well. If there’s any photos like that you could possibly release that would be helpful, too.
MR. EARNEST: We’ll see what we have. I don’t know how closely the White House photographer was covering them while they were walking through the private residence, but we’ll see what we can do.
2:32 P.M. EST