MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for braving the rain to join us today. So I apologize for the late start. I wanted to give you a chance to consider the President’s remarks after the pool spray -- or during the pool spray today -- before we went to your questions. But now that you’ve had an opportunity to do that, let’s go straight to your questions.
Julie, do you want to start?
Q Thanks, Josh. I wanted to start with the Iran compromise on the Hill. Has the White House seen the language, and would the President still veto this compromise that's emerging?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Julie, there is a markup that is scheduled for later today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So in the context of this briefing, I won’t be in a position to be ultimately definitive about whether or not we’ll be able to support the product that emerges. But there is some greater clarity I can offer you in terms of our position.
The first is, we’ve had I think what I could describe as four specific concerns with the way the Corker legislation was introduced. The one that I have talked the most frequently about in public is the requirement for the administration to certify that Iran has not backed terrorism against Americans. And this idea that we could essentially get Iran to renounce terrorism is unrealistic.
We’ve acknowledged on the front end that this nuclear agreement -- if we can reach one -- will not in any way resolve all of the concerns that we have with Iran’s behavior and, in fact, one of the reasons we’re trying to reach an agreement that would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is because we know they are a backer of terror activities around the globe. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that the legislation, as introduced, had a rather long review period of 60 days that would essentially delay implementation of the bill until this rather slow-moving Congress had an opportunity to consider it. By carving out such a long window for them to review the agreement, it could delay over a long period of time the implementation of the agreement. After all, it's difficult to expect that our partners in this process, and even the Iranians, would begin to take important concrete steps before the United States had definitively indicated a willingness to keep up our end of the bargain. So a long delay like this in the implementation of the agreement could threaten the very agreement itself.
The third thing is that the legislation, as introduced, did not adequately clarify that a future congressional vote would be focused on the sanctions that had been passed by Congress. This goes back to a principle that we’ve articulated on a number of occasions, which is that the President of the United States is the one who is given the authority under the Constitution to conduct foreign policy; therefore, it is his decision to make about whether or not to enter into an agreement. But we have acknowledged that Congress does have an important and legitimate role when it comes to voting on the sanctions that Congress passed.
The fourth thing, and what we have seen over the course of time is that there are other extraneous elements that are not related to the substance of the agreement that sometimes float in and out of the conversations about what’s going to be included in the text of the bill. And obviously we would vigorously oppose any sort of extraneous element not at all related to the agreement that could undermine our ability to implement the agreement.
So that’s a long answer, but I did want to try to be specific with you -- as specific as we could -- about the concerns that we have raised about the legislation that Senator Corker introduced.
Q Well, it seems like at least some of your concerns are addressed as part of this compromise. The review process would be shortened; the language as it relates to Iran ending its support for terrorism has been tweaked. So based on what you’ve seen, do you feel like your concerns have been adequately addressed to the point where the President could potentially sign this legislation?
MR. EARNEST: Well, based on the way that they’re talking about this -- again, there is a committee markup process that I both want to be respectful of -- this is ultimately a legislative vehicle. At the same time, I also acknowledge that nothing is final until the committee has had an opportunity to conduct the markup and cast votes.
But there are some steps that we have communicated to Capitol Hill that they could take to resolve many of the concerns that we have about this process and about this bill. I guess if you’ll indulge me again, I can go through some of those as well.
Q I just want to know if the concerns that you have with the Hill are being addressed by this new compromise.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, based on the published reports that are coming out, there is some reason to think that. But again, it's not -- I can’t say anything definitive about it until the process has been completed. But let me go through --
Q You’re sounding more optimistic about this potential legislation than obviously the original Corker legislation it sounds like.
MR. EARNEST: Well, let’s walk through these changes or the kinds of changes that we’ve asked for, and then we can have a conversation about what our posture would be, which would simply be that if we arrived at a place where the bill that has passed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support essentially is a vote to vote later on congressional sanctions and not the decision about whether or not to enter into the agreement, that would certainly resolve some of the concerns we’ve expressed about the authority that is exercised by the President of the United States to conduct foreign policy.
The second thing is, as you pointed out, the reports indicate that the link to this terrorism certification measure has been removed. That certainly would be consistent with the objections that we raised earlier. Shortening the review period is obviously an important part of this. We wouldn’t want an unnecessarily -- or at least an unreasonable delay when it comes to implementing the agreement.
The other thing that we would want members of the committee in bipartisan fashion to confirm is that this piece of legislation would be the one and only mechanism for codifying precisely what the appropriate congressional oversight is into this matter, and to be specific about the way that Congress would vote on the sanctions that Congress put into place.
And that bipartisan agreement is critical to making sure, frankly, that there isn’t an untoward effort to insert a different provision into some sort of must-pass piece of legislation that could really gum up the works here. So getting bipartisan agreement on that is important.
And then, finally, if we could clarify Congress’s role by taking all of these steps -- shortening the review period, being clear about what it is that they're voting on, making clear that this is a vote to vote later on congressional sanctions -- that that would actually achieve, at least in part, what the President has established as the priority here, which is to ensure that our negotiators have the time and space that's necessary to reach an agreement -- if one can be reached -- by the end of June. And if presented with a compromise along the lines that I just laid out here, that would be the kind of compromise the President would be willing to sign.
Q And is that the kind of compromise that you believe is being worked on the Hill right now?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, based on public reports, based on what you would expect to be the substantial number of conversations that have been taking place between senior administration officials and Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, that is what we anticipate they're going to discuss. But again, I can't say anything definitive about this until there has been an actual markup and a debate within the committee and a vote, in part because what we would like to see out of this process is a bipartisan vote that reflects these concerns that we’ve raised in these efforts to try to find some common ground.
Q I just want to move on quickly to two other foreign policy --
MR. EARNEST: Thank you for indulging me on my long answers.
Q No problem. Do you have any update on the timing of taking Cuba off the State Sponsor of Terror List?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have an update in terms of timing, but stay tuned.
Q Okay. And also on the meeting on Iraq today. Abadi came here seeming to want more military support from the United States. The President offered $200 million in humanitarian aid. Can you be more specific about what Abadi was asking for? And did the President offer anything in terms of military aid in the private conversations that they had?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I do want to be clear about one thing. My understanding, based on the readout that I’ve received of the meeting -- I obviously was not in the Oval Office when they had a rather extensive conversation -- there was not specific request that Prime Minister Abadi presented in terms of additional military assistance. Prime Minister Abadi is obviously interested in affirming the commitments that the United States and our coalition partners have made to offering up equipment, training, advice and assistance, and even military strikes that back Iraqi security forces on the battlefield. The President obviously, both in private and in public, reaffirmed the commitment of the United States and our coalition partners to this effort.
We understand that the strategy that we’ve been pursuing to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL is one that has an important role for Iraqi security forces to play. We also understand that the coalition -- that the United States and our coalition partners are invested in the success of those Iraqi security forces. The success will also depend on the willingness and commitment of the Iraqi government to unite that country and to govern in an inclusive, multi-sectarian fashion. And we’ve been gratified that Prime Minister Abadi, on many occasions, has reaffirmed his commitment to those principles.
But we understand that obviously the Iraqi security forces are an important part of the strategy, and the United States and our coalition partners remain committed to offering them the assistance and support and backup that they need to continue doing their important work.
Q So were there specific requests or offers made in terms of that backup, or for Iraqi security forces?
MR. EARNEST: Again, Robert, there were no specific requests that were made by the Iraqi Prime Minister.
Q As you know, low oil prices have hurt Iraq, and other oil producers for that matter. But did the Prime Minister ask for any financial help for his country, or financial help in terms of paying for any kind of military aid?
MR. EARNEST: In terms of any requests for financial assistance, I can look into a more detailed readout of the meeting. There may be some -- there may be a way for us to help you out on that a little bit more.
Q How concerned is the U.S. government about Iran stepping in? And to what extent did the President and Prime Minister discuss those kinds of concerns?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think as the President indicated in the Oval Office just moments ago, that there was an extensive discussion about this. And as the President indicated, the expectation would be that two neighboring countries would have an important relationship. And obviously we understand that that relationship is important because of the large Shia population inside of Iraq. Obviously their security is dependent on good relations with their neighbors.
But what we would also want to make sure is that the concern for that relationship doesn’t obscure the responsibility that the central government in Iraq has to lead a diverse country and to pull that country together to counter the threat that is posed by ISIL. And again, this is what the President said in the Oval Office. That is the accurate characterization of the private conversation that they had. And we have been gratified by the sustained public support for those principles that Prime Minister Abadi has articulated.
Q You said that the Iraqi Prime Minister made no specific request, but did he make any general request? Did he say to the President, we need more military assistance, just in general terms?
MR. EARNEST: Again, there was no -- I know that there were some published reports leading up to this meeting that indicated that he was going to come walking in with a stack of papers with a checklist of ammunition and body armor and other military equipment that they need. And what I'm telling you is that there is no sort of request like that that was proffered.
Q From the Iraqis in general -- the Iraqi government has not --
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, as I mentioned I think in response to Julie’s question, the whole reason for having a meeting like this is so that the two leaders can sit down once again and talk about the important aspects of the relationship between our two countries. Obviously part of that relationship, and an important part of that relationship right now, is the security assistance that the United States is providing to Iraqi security forces as they take the fight on the ground to ISIL in their own country.
The President remains committed to that effort and supporting that effort. There’s also a role for our coalition partners to play, by the way, as well. So I guess the point is there was no specific request that was offered in terms of stepped-up military assistance. But obviously there is interest in both sides in making sure that we protect the strong cooperation that exists between the United States military and Iraqi security forces.
Q And is there anything in those published reports about the specific request that the White House is saying at this point, you know, that's not happening?
MR. EARNEST: Well, my understanding is that the published reports indicated a prediction that Prime Minister Abadi was going to show up at the White House with an invoice, if you will. And that --
Q And that part didn’t --
MR. EARNEST: And that's not true. That did not occur.
Q And on the Corker compromise, to follow up on Julie’s question, I thought it was interesting that you said that you would like to see some assurances from Congress that you don't have sort of one piece of legislation after another and that this continues on an indefinite fashion. But I suppose just one piece of legislation could become a precarious situation in terms of everybody has put every possible hope and prayer on this piece of legislation passing, or else there’s no nuclear deal. Are you concerned that this could set up sort of an Iran nuclear cliff of some sort if this gets bogged down up on Capitol Hill?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don’t have that concern, again, based on the terms that we’ve been talking about and based on the efforts that we have made to ensure that our negotiators have the time and space that they need to reach this agreement.
First of all, what’s important for people to understand about this legislation is that it essentially is a vote to vote later on congressional sanctions, not a specific vote about the decision to enter into an agreement. And that’s an important clarification, and it's important for everybody to understand that.
The other thing that would be included in this legislation is it would also clearly codify the appropriate oversight that Congress can and should play in terms of this agreement. And what we would seek, and what we’re seeking a bipartisan commitment on, is a commitment that this will be the vehicle for doing those two things -- for laying out the terms of a vote, and for codifying the appropriate congressional oversight.
Q And what about the earlier concerns that you had, you expressed, other people in this administration expressed that these nuclear negotiations that are ongoing right now that have to be completed by June 30th are sort of the purview of the executive branch, and that this is not a proper place for the Congress to be asserting itself? Are you sort of backing off of that --
MR. EARNEST: Not backing off that at all. What we have sought is clarification --
Q It sounds like you are cracking that door open to some sort of involvement.
MR. EARNEST: No, we’re not. What we have said all along is that the proper role for Congress in this effort -- and there is one -- the proper role for Congress in this effort is the consideration of the sanctions that Congress put in place themselves. And again, if we’re able to reach a compromise -- which seems to be emerging through the committee -- the compromise would set up a vote to vote later on those specific congressional sanctions.
Q So then you could check a box, essentially, to say that -- it's not an up or down vote anymore on the deal?
MR. EARNEST: That’s correct. It would not be an up or down vote on the deal. And that is something that we have opposed for some time for exactly the reason that you’re stating. But that, however, as we’ve also long insisted, does not mean that there is not an important role for Congress to play. In fact, there is. There’s been an important role for Congress to play from the beginning.
You’ll recall that several years ago when Congress put in place these tough sanctions against Iran, they did their part to put these sanctions in place. The administration did our part in terms of working very closely with the international community to coordinate those sanctions so that they didn’t apply just to the U.S. but to countries around the world.
This had a very negative effect on the Iranian economy, and in such a way that it caused the Iranian currency to be significantly devalued. We saw oil exports from Iran plummet. We saw economic projections about the Iranian economy dramatically reduced. And that ultimately is what compelled Iran to the negotiating table.
So there has been a role for Congress to play. And that’s also why the administration has worked hard to stay in close touch with Congress about these ongoing diplomatic efforts. And just in the last 12 days, there have been more than 130 calls that have been placed to members of Congress by the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and other senior administration officials. Just in the last two days, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz, Secretary Lew conducted classified briefings to which every member of Congress was invited. So this commitment to robust congressional engagement is one that we take very seriously.
Q And just very quickly and finally -- the reports that ISIL has seized an oil refinery in Baiji, 25 miles from Tikrit, is that a worrying sign? There’s been a lot of discussion in the last week or so that you feel like gains have been made, territory has been retaken. But I would assume that that is an area of concern if that has indeed happened.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven’t seen those reports. The thing that I am aware of is that this oil refinery site near Baiji -- I'm not sure how it's pronounced -- but is one that has been the source of a lot of fighting for a number of months now. But I don’t know the current status of it. I’d encourage you to check with the Department of Defense about it.
Q Thanks. Are you guys asking your counterparts in Congress to let you know exactly which members are attending, have attended, or will attend these briefings? Are you keeping tabs on who’s there and who’s not? And is that something you’d share with us?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if we’re keeping a list like that. I suspect that we’re not. I think the way that this usually works is a room fills with people and then it’s people in Congress or legislative officials who are responsible for manning the door, if you will -- moving the velvet rope. I assume that there’s one at the opening of the room. And then our guys just file into the front and offer up their presentation. So I don’t know that we have any sort of list like that. But it certainly is a provocative question you’re asking. (Laughter.)
Q That's shocking. I never try to ask provocative questions. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Mission accomplished.
Q You had said to us yesterday that there were some people who were never going to vote in favor of this compromise, and basically, it's for partisan reasons. And I'm wondering if you’re trying to keep tabs on that, or if it really matters, or not really?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it matters insofar as we think this is a very serious national security issue and that it deserves the appropriate attention from members of Congress. And it certainly is not something that should be placed below partisanship when it comes to the rank order of priorities.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many Republicans who’ve been interested in trying to capitalize on this situation to score some partisan political points, and that’s rather unfortunate. I think that there would be plenty of people all across the country, in both parties, who would not be supportive of that kind of approach to this issue, given the consequences it has for our national security. But ultimately, every member of Congress is going to have to decide for himself or herself about how they’re going to handle this responsibility.
Q Can I do one politics question also? I guess we could ask the President next time we had a chance, but I'm wondering how he’s keeping tabs on 2016 now that it’s really kind of up and running. I mean, did he watch the Burrito Bowl video? Is he getting a little politics briefing every day where he’s trying to stay caught up on this kind of stuff? Or is he trying to ignore all of it?
And he said -- you told us yesterday that one reason that he was not likely to endorse a Democrat before the nomination is that some of his friends may still jump in -- besides Hillary Clinton, some of his other friends may yet get into the race. And then we read that Joe Biden told regional reporters whatever he told them -- (laughter) -- and I'm just wondering, is it Joe Biden that you’re talking about? Are President Obama and Martin O’Malley dear friends and we just didn’t know that? (Laughter.) Or who were you talking about?
Q Lincoln Chafee.
MR. EARNEST: I think the point that I was trying to make -- obviously Governor Chafee was a very strong supporter of then Senator Obama’s presidential campaign.
The point that I was trying to make -- maybe it was a little flip -- I have a tendency to do that in the same way you have a tendency to ask provocative questions -- sometimes to my detriment. The point that I was trying to make is that the outcome of the Democratic primary process is one that will be determined by Democratic voters. And they should be the ones to play a role in choosing the next Democratic nominee, and that’s what’s most important.
That doesn’t mean that the President won’t make an endorsement in the primary. Obviously he does that in lots of other situations. But the point is that at this early stage in that process, the President has an interest in being respectful to the voters and allowing the voters to evaluate the candidates, and give the candidates or would-be candidates the opportunity to make a decision about getting in.
And there are a variety of other people who have indicated the possibility that they may participate in the race. And the President wants to be respectful of the decision-making process that those people have to make.
Go ahead, Mara.
Q I just want to follow up on the Corker question. You said earlier that it's really important to make sure that there’s not another untoward effort to insert language in some must-pass piece of legislation. So are you asking Mitch McConnell to give you some assurance that this is it? In other words, that there won’t be any other Iran deal language inserted anywhere else? I guess I'm a little unclear on what exactly you’re asking for.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what we would like is we would like a bipartisan commitment -- we would like Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to commit to making investment in this compromised proposal, if it emerges from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the form that I described.
And that investment would mean that we would allow this piece of legislation to do two things. One is, to set up the vote to vote later on congressional sanctions and to codify the proper role of congressional oversight into this matter. And that’s what people should be invested in. We’re asking for a commitment that people will pursue the process that’s contemplated in this bill.
Q But that commitment -- I mean, that’s a big ask. You’re saying that you don’t want the people who are opposed to this to try to amend something else. Or you’re saying that -- I guess I’m not too sure what the commitment --
MR. EARNEST: Well, when you say “opposed to this,” you mean -- I think that most Republicans have indicated support for the proposal that Chairman Corker has put forward. Is that not -- I mean, you follow it more closely than I do. I could be wrong about that. But I think the point is, is that Chairman Corker has undertaken what is a serious effort to clarify exactly what a congressional vote would look like. He’s obviously asserted in sometimes colorful terms about the need for Congress to vote. And he is also codifying in this proposed compromise here the appropriate congressional oversight. And it’s our view that if this is the path that Congress wants to go down that this is a path that’s worth investing in, and it shouldn’t be subjected -- particularly given the stakes of these conversations -- shouldn’t be subjected to any sort of untoward effort to insert other provisions into other pieces of must-pass legislation.
Q You gave a long answer to Julie’s question. I’d like if you’d simplify it for my understanding. And I invite you to use --
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t give a long answer to try to obfuscate. I tried to be specific.
Q Probably the only time in my career I’m going to ask you to fall back on some of the clichés that press secretaries always fall back on. (Laughter.) So is this a step in the right direction? Is it substantial progress? (Laughter.) Does this emerging legislation that will go for a mark-up represent a qualitative improvement, from the White House’s perspective, from where it was, and relieve most, if not all, of the anxieties you had that would have provoked a presidential veto?
MR. EARNEST: I see. Well, let me observe a couple of things. The first is that -- I mean, we started this briefing by me observing that the Corker bill, as it was introduced, is one that the President continues to strongly oppose and would veto. So the fact that I’ve got a rather long list here of changes that we would like to see in the legislation, and if we can succeed in effecting those changes and build bipartisan support for those changes, then that would be the kind of compromise that the President would be willing to sign. So that is what it is.
The second thing that I want to reiterate --
Q -- the legislation that’s now before would fall in that continuum?
MR. EARNEST: Let me say one other thing about that, which is that I’ve described a number of times as a compromise, and I don’t want people to gloss over that. Because there continue to be -- if the President were writing this piece of legislation, it would look substantially different. And one of the elements of compromise here is that they’re taking this vote prior to June 30th, and we’ve raised serious concerns about these kinds of votes occurring while negotiations are taking place. So that’s one element of this proposal on which the administration is willing to compromise.
So I don’t want to leave you with the impression that even if Chairman Corker and other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in both parties were willing to agree to this substantial number of changes that I’ve laid out here that we’re going to be particularly thrilled about the legislation that emerges. I think rather what we would find ourselves with is the kind of compromise that the President would be willing to sign. Does that make sense?
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q But where are we right now?
MR. EARNEST: Well, right now, there is a mark-up that’s taking place or scheduled to take place.
Q And what you’ve seen, does that represent substantial progress? Is it something that you believe is moving in the right direction? All the clichés that are a part of this process, please use them. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I think that all of my colleagues --
Q Is it a frank discussion? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I think that all of my colleagues and I will be monitoring the Senate Foreign Relations Committee mark-up process because we’ve obviously been engaged in extensive discussions with both Democrats and Republicans there. I’m not trying to be --
Q You know as well as I do mark-ups are not designed to fail.
MR. EARNEST: No, they’re not.
Q Mark-ups are designed to pass and move things forward, based on a consensus carefully nurtured within the committee and with the administration. Is that we’re looking at?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not going to predict how things turn out when it comes to congressional action. But I think it is appropriate for you to observe that we have moved from a place where the President was looking at a piece of legislation that he was committed to vetoing, and after the Republican Chairman, working closely with the Democratic Ranking Member, Ben Cardin, have agreed to address a large number of the concerns that we’ve raised and to put in place a substantial number of changes that would address those concerns and provide the kind of clarity we need to give our negotiators the time and space to try to reach an agreement -- that that that would be the kind of compromise that the President would be willing to sign.
And I think that certainly indicates an improvement when you consider -- I guess it’s not a particularly controversial notion -- the notion that we’ve gone from a piece of legislation that the President would veto to a piece of legislation that's undergone substantial revision such that it is now in a form of a compromise that the President would be willing to sign. That would certainly be an improvement.
But the reason I’m hesitant here is that I don't want to get ahead of the committee markup process. There is important work that they need to do and frankly, we need to see that they're prepared to commit to it, and we need to be prepared to see that Democrats and Republicans are going to be prepared to commit to this because --
Q Then you get into process and all the other things.
MR. EARNEST: Right. But the bipartisan aspect of this is also important to us, and I don't want people to gloss over that, as well.
Q Right. Another topic. Russia has announced it’s going to sell S-300s to Iran. The Israeli Prime Minister was in a conversation with Vladimir Putin about this. He’s very much concerned about it. Obviously, on Capitol Hill there are concerns being raised about this -- that this is a bad thing generally; it raises questions about whether or not this deal should go through. Where does the administration come down on the propriety of the sales themselves, and its relevance -- if you see any at all -- to consideration of the framework?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously, we have expressed our concerns directly to the Russians about the possible sale of this anti-ballistic missile system to the Iranians. That was conveyed in a conversation between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The concerns that we have, though, are, while significant, separate and apart from the ongoing negotiations that are aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Again, while it’s a substantial concern, it’s not a concern that’s directly tied to the ongoing nuclear negotiations.
Q Why not?
MR. EARNEST: Because we have been clear about the fact --
Q The argument is why are they buying this defense system if they don't intend to create armed ballistic missiles with which to fire?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think as I’ve observed on a number of occasions, these kinds of decisions -- this decision-making process inside of Iran is rather opaque. And so trying to divine the intent of the decisions that they're making is difficult work.
But what is clear is that even if we're able to reach an agreement at the end of June that would prevent Iran from being able to obtain a nuclear weapon, we're still going to have a long list of concerns about their behavior. And it will include everything from their threats against Israel to their support for destabilizing groups in the region, to their support for terrorism, to their unjust detention of some Americans inside of Iran.
We will continue to have some concerns about the weapons technology that they have, about their lack of respect for human rights, other issues on which we’ve already been engaged in robust international action to try to address as well. But all of that is separate from the nuclear agreement. In fact, because of this long list of concerns, that’s precisely why we’re trying to reach a diplomatic agreement to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon; that all these other concerns are enhanced and made even more dangerous if we’re talking about a nuclear-armed Iran. That’s why we’re going to such great lengths to pursue what we believed is the best possible way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q Very quickly. When the decision is made on taking Cuba off the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, is that a paper statement or is the President feel the need to inform us and inform the country about that?
MR. EARNEST: If there’s an announcement about that then I would anticipate that that would come in the form of a paper statement.
Q Thank you.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. Jon.
Q So picking up from the discussion with Major. You were talking about how Iranian decision-making is opaque, it's hard to discern what’s going on. What is the administration’s read then on the big question: Have the Iranians made a strategic decision by engaging in this agreement -- the preliminary agreement -- have they made a strategic decision not to pursue nuclear weapons?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I wouldn’t feel qualified to draw that assessment from here. But let me try to answer that question by saying this, which is that they have made a serious commitment on a whole range of metrics that would prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon. What remains to be seen, and this is an open question, is whether or not they’re willing to live up to those commitments.
And that’s why, for all of the effort that we’re putting into ensuring that we can find common ground with the Iranians on an agreement that they would agree to that would prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon, it's just as important that we have in place the most stringent, intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program, because, frankly, that opacity is a cause for some concern. And it is why, as the National Security Advisor put it, our approach to these negotiations is to distrust and verify. And that is a critically important part of this agreement as well, and securing Iran’s cooperation with that sort of inspections program will also be a critical element of any deal, if one is able to be reached by the end of June.
Q But I'm trying to understand. You said you don’t want Congress -- you’re adamantly opposed to Congress voting up or down or in any way on the agreement itself, that that is the administration’s job, that’s the President’s job.
MR. EARNEST: And that’s been the job of every President back to George Washington. This is the way that this has been laid out.
Q So that’s your position. But you don’t object if Congress is going to vote whether or not to pull down sanctions?
MR. EARNEST: That’s true. And that’s been our -- that’s actually not a -- I’ve said a number of new things today. That’s not something that’s new. We’ve acknowledged that Congress would have a vote when it comes to the sanctions that they put in place.
Q But if Congress were to assess this deal and vote to leave the sanctions in place -- not simply not to take them down but to leave them in place and, in fact, tie your hand -- I mean, some of the discussions that have been whether or not to take away the President’s authority to do a temporary taking down of the sanctions. What’s the administration’s position on that? All you’re negotiating from your side is sanctions.
MR. EARNEST: Well, the conversations that we’re having with members of Congress right now is about a piece of legislation that Senator Corker has put forward that essentially is a vote to vote later. And that does set up the possibility down the line, Jon, where after an agreement is reached, after June 30th, if the international community has come together and secured a solid commitment from Iran about steps they’re willing to take to limit and, in some cases, roll back critical elements of their nuclear program, and they’ve signed on to cooperate with the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program, and the international community is willing to go along with it -- then Congress will have to make a decision.
And if there are members of Congress who are willing to step forward and say, we acknowledge -- we’ve reviewed the details -- because they’ll have the opportunity to review the details of the agreement -- if they review the details of the agreement, they hear from our scientists that this definitively prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, they hear that our P5+1 partners -- that includes some our closest allies including the United Kingdom, Germany and France, that includes some of the world’s other powers in Russia and China, who aren’t friends of ours on every issue -- that if all those people are signed on to it, then members of the United States Senate will have to make a decision about whether or not they’re prepared to walk away from that and disengage.
And if they do, the question that they will then have to ask themselves is, what are they going to do to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon? If they’re willing to flush down the toilet the best bet that we have for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, then what is the option that they’re willing to consider?
I suspect that what many of them are going to say is the same thing that John Bolton said, which is that we should carry out a military strike. And that’s a very dangerous proposition. It's certainly not consistent with the President’s approach to these issues.
But the point is, what the legislation that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is considering now is a vote to vote later on congressional sanctions. And I don’t want to leave you with the impression that that vote that they would take later is inconsequential. It's an important one, but it's one that would not take place until after an agreement is reached, if an agreement is reached.
Q And even if the President agrees to this compromise deal that’s coming through the Foreign Relations Committee, you’d still, under the circumstances you just outlined, I imagine see a very strong veto threat from the President on any provision that would force those sanctions to remain in place.
MR. EARNEST: There is no doubt -- again, there’s a lot of ifs here and I would acknowledge that. But sort of if you go through all the ifs -- if Iran agrees to take the steps, if they agree to submit to the inspections, if the international community agrees, if it can be certified by our top scientists -- if all of those things are in place and there is strong international agreement about that, then, yes, the President would be very vocal in encouraging Congress to be supportive of that international effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q Okay. One other question on Iraq. As you know, there have been allegations of war crimes by certain Iraqi units that have been fighting ISIS, some of the same units that have been very strongly supported by Iran. Did this issue come up? What’s the administration’s level of concern about that question -- Iraqi military units that are accused of basically the same kind of war crimes that ISIS is?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don’t have a readout of that part of the conversation. We can look and see if there’s additional information that we can provide about that.
As a general matter, what we have been clear about is the need for Iraqi security forces to both be accountable to the Iraqi central government, that they need to be under the command of the Iraqi military, and that they need to conduct their operations with a healthy respect for human rights, and consistent with the kind of multi-sectarian vision that Prime Minster Abadi has laid out for the country.
Q And are there any safeguards in place to assure that U.S. aid going to the Iraqi government, to the Iraqi military, doesn’t end up in some of these units that have been accused of this activity?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the support that we provide to the Iraqi security forces and to the Iraqi military is obviously intended for those units that are under the direct command of the Iraqi military, and that’s the intent of that assistance.
Q Josh, I wonder if I can just clarify a little further -- I'm sorry -- on this question of the legislation. I must have written these notes down wrong, but what I heard you say was that it would be okay to observe that we've gone from a piece of legislation the President would veto to a piece of legislation that's undergone substantial revisions such that it's now in the form of a compromise that the President is willing to sign.
MR. EARNEST: Again, assuming that it makes its way through the committee process consistent with the substantial changes that I have discussed here.
Q So I guess the question is, if there are no further amendments, is the legislation as it’s now being presented meet that test?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't think -- the legislation hasn’t been presented yet because it’s still going through the committee process.
Q Right. Okay, let’s just say for the sake of argument that Senator Earnest, a Democrat from the American heartland -- (laughter) -- calls up Denis McDonough and says, I got to vote on this thing one way or the other, there are going to be no more amendments. Do I vote yes or no?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what we’ll do is we’ll wait for the -- well, let’s separate that out. It depends on whether or not Senator Earnest serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Q Yes, yes.
MR. EARNEST: He does serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Laughter.)
Q A regarded member of the committee, and he’s looking for guidance from his President.
MR. EARNEST: I can tell you that that fictional members of Congress would have heard frequently from the White House about the committee’s consideration of this piece of legislation, and that if he were presented with essentially a compromise proposal that has addressed the concerns that we have laid out with the bill that was originally introduced by Chairman Corker, and accommodated some of these other things that would make it a legitimate compromise, then we would be in a position of asking both Democrats and Republicans to support it. They’ll ultimately have to decide for themselves.
But again, it’s going to make its way through that process, and we’ve been in regular consultation with senators who are participating in that process. But they’ll have to decide for themselves.
Q Well, let me ask this -- are you asking for further changes beyond what Senator Cardin and Senator Corker have agreed to?
MR. EARNEST: What we have sought is -- well, what we have indicated is that if the legislative proposal goes through the committee process and emerges, again, with the changes that we’ve sought to make it a better compromise, then we’ve indicated the President would be willing to sign it. So again, there are -- it doesn't mean that we would --
Q That's not -- I hate to say, but it’s not really the answer to the question.
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry.
Q The question is, is the legislation that the two senators have agreed to, are you asking for further changes to it, or are you not at this point asking for further changes to it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't want to say that we're not asking for further changes to it because there are lots of concerns that continue to have about it, right? That's what makes it a compromise. So that's why I’m unwilling to say that.
But what I am willing to say is that despite the things about it that we don't like, enough substantial changes have been made that the President would be willing to sign it because it would reflect the kind of compromise that he’d be willing to sign.
Q Okay, so as it stands now, absent further changes, the President is willing to sign it? Even though he doesn't like all it, he’s willing to sign it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I don't mean to keep going back to this, but this is really important. As it stands now, it’s still going through the committee, and that's why I’m unwilling to weigh in too definitively about this is because we have to see what goes through the committee.
And so I don't want to stand up here and say, oh, yes, we support the thing, and then I come out of here and I turn on C-SPAN and it seems that somebody has added another provision to it, and you ask me why we’ve changed our position.
Q Well, that's understandable if someone changes it, but that’s why we’re asking you is the current version of it -- Senator Earnest gets a yes or no.
MR. EARNEST: (Laughter.) He does. And the current version is one that’s still being debated in the committee. But, again, what we have made clear to Senator Earnest and the Senate Democrats that actually exist --
Q I can’t quote that. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: What we have made clear to Democrats and Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is that the President would be willing to sign the proposed compromise that is working its way through the committee today. Hopefully, that’s a little more quotable.
Q Thank you.
Q That took a long time. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I’m trying. It’s not for a lack of effort, I assure you.
April, go ahead.
Q Josh, on two other subjects. Going back to a question that I asked yesterday and you gave the answer where you said it was flippant, it was a flippant answer. When you’re talking about the President’s friends, the possibilities of them running for President, with this friendship do these people come to him and say, look, I’m thinking about this, what kind of advice would you give me for a rollout, what have you?
MR. EARNEST: If they do, that’s not something that I would talk about from here.
Q Why not?
MR. EARNEST: Well, because the President is entitled to be able to have some private conversations. And if there are individuals who come seeking his advice, they often but not always will seek to do that confidentially, and that’s an entirely appropriate thing for them to ask and to --
Q But you were very forthcoming when we asked if the President gives Hillary Clinton automatic support. You said no, and you talked about the friends. Could you at least say that some of them have come to him and said, you know, I’m thinking about it. You don’t have to give names. We will assume. (Laughter.) But I mean, could you at least say that some of them have come to him, if they have?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t say that because I just don’t want to be in a position of reading out any private conversations the President may have had about this. The President obviously has conversations with a large number of people about a wide range of issues, including occasionally politics. But beyond that, I’m not going to be more specific.
Q Okay. On another subject, today marks the year that the Nigerian girls went missing. Is there thought or is there proof in this administration that the case is cold? Because we’ve heard that many are concerned that the girls have been sold off or other things have happened to them. What is the thought here in this White House?
MR. EARNEST: Well, April, for a year now, the people around the world have been concerned about the safety and wellbeing of those girls that were kidnapped. The United States has taken steps to try to augment the capabilities of the Nigerian security forces to counter the threat that’s posed by Boko Haram but also to try to find the girls who were kidnapped.
Unfortunately, this kind of kidnapping story is one that is becoming all too familiar in Nigeria. There’s a recent report from Amnesty International out that indicates that there are a large number of girls in Nigeria who have been victimized and, in some cases, kidnapped by Boko Haram. We continue to be very concerned about that and we continue to be supportive of the efforts of the Nigerians to counter the depraved tactics that are employed by Boko Haram.
Q Do you think the Nigerian government is really as serious about finding the girls and going up against Boko Haram as they want to present to the world community? And I ask that because last August when the President held his Africa summit here in Washington, the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, talked to a crowd of people and he was not as serious -- and I’m going to use that term -- as serious about the possibilities of finding them as some would have thought here in Washington. Is there that concern that the Nigerian government -- from this White House -- that the Nigerian government is not as serious in finding the girls and in combatting the other issues that you just spoke about at the podium?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the first thing I’d point out is there actually is a government transition that’s underway in Nigeria right now; that there was a presidential election that was held just a couple of weeks ago and there is a democratic transfer of power that’s preparing to occur in Nigeria. So at this point, I probably wouldn’t offer up a --
Q I’m speaking before this transition. I’m speaking of Goodluck Jonathan last year, here in Washington, when he was indeed the President, not transitioning, hoping to remain President. I’m speaking of that time.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I didn’t see his comments. We certainly -- I will tell you that everybody here in the United States and I think people all around the globe understand the serious threat that Boko Haram faces poses*. And I would think that the political leadership in Nigeria, based on the total devastation that Boko Haram has left in its wake, understands that this is a threat to the safety and security of that country and its people.
Q And lastly, and I’m going back to this conversation with Goodluck Jonathan last August -- he was talking about countries that are helping to find the girls, and he really put on a pedestal Israel and its efforts. Has the United States worked with Israel and other countries collectively or more kind of independently, each group doing -- each country doing something different to find the girls? Is the United States working collectively with Israel and other countries to help find the girls?
MR. EARNEST: The United States has taken efforts to both augment the capabilities of the Nigerian security forces while also ensuring that those efforts are integrated with the international community that’s responded to this situation. There is obviously a significant humanitarian need. There’s a significant security need in terms of providing security to communities inside that country. There’s obviously an effort underway to try to prevent acts of terror, so there’s a counterterrorism effort that’s underway. And then there is this effort to try to find the girls that have been kidnapped.
So there are a substantial number of operations to try to address the many needs of the Nigerian people, particularly as they try to counter the threat that’s posed by Boko Haram. And the United States is engaged in that effort. There’s military personnel and other personnel with specialized capabilities who are working closely with the Nigerians as they confront this very difficult challenge.
Q On this year anniversary, is there hope?
MR. EARNEST: April, there’s always hope that the forces of good will be able to overcome some of the destructive, violent forces that get a lot of attention in this world.
Q First, I have a question on Mr. Abadi’s visit and then, not shockingly, I also have a question on Iran. First, can you explain why there wasn’t a joint presser today? I mean, the pool spray was quite lengthy, and so I just wondered what the thinking was on that.
MR. EARNEST: I mean, as you know, Francesca, the President took a question with the Jamaican Prime Minister last Friday when he was in Jamaica. The President did conduct a news conference on Saturday in Panama, where he took five or six questions from White House reporters. And so just for the sake of time on the President’s schedule, we did not have a formal news conference but the President did take two or three questions in the Oval Office during the pool spray with Prime Minister Abadi.
Q Thank you. And then on the Corker bill, I know you’re hesitant to talk about the future so I’d actually like to go back. We’ve had lengthy discussions in the briefing room on the Corker bill before today. And every time when you’ve talked about it before and reporters have asked you about the bill and what it would take for the administration to support it, if there was any way that the President would not veto it, we have been -- you really hadn’t been saying anything, just saying that you would veto it before today.
MR. EARNEST: That's right.
Q And so what I’d like to understand is what happened in between he’ll absolutely veto it, which you had just said yesterday, and now today suddenly there’s compromises that can be made and maybe he’ll support it.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, and what has happened in that intervening period is that there have been a substantial number of conversations between senior White House officials, other senior members of the President’s national security team, and Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
I noted that the President had telephoned Prime Minister -- Prime Minister? -- Senator Corker last week. (Laughter.) You can tell this briefing has gone on for a little while. I’m starting to get tired. So I gave him a nice promotion, I guess. The President had the opportunity to telephone Senator Corker last week and have a conversation with him about the Iran agreement that had been reached the week before. I made clear in reading out that conversation that they did not engage in negotiations around the legislation that Senator Corker had put forward. But there have been a number of conversations with Senator Corker at the staff level, and there have been an even larger number of conversations with Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin and other Democrats who serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to try to broker this bipartisan compromise.
And again, this is an effort that's not yet been completed because there’s a committee process that we need to respect. But what seems to be emerging is a substantially different piece of legislation that clearly codifies the congressional oversight role in this process, and clarifies exactly what the congressional vote on sanctions would be on.
So essentially, this bill to -- or this vote to vote later is a way for us to find that common ground where we acknowledge that Congress has a legitimate role to play when it comes to congressional sanctions, while at the same time protecting the President’s authority to make a decision about this deal that is in his mind clearly our best bet for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
And the other thing that I would acknowledge is something I think I’ve also acknowledged over the last couple of weeks, which is that those negotiations have taken place in private. And I think that is part of what makes them more likely to succeed if both parties feel like -- and when I say both parties, I mean people on either end of the phone that are not always members of different political parties; sometimes they’re the same political party. But when those conversations are taking place that people can float different ideas and offer up different proposals.
And again, we're going to have to see how this works its way through the process. But it certainly -- what we could be seeing here is the kind of compromise emerge that the President would be willing to sign.
Q And then quickly just to clarify on that point, because the conversations did take place in private. I mean, this is the first we're really hearing about this. And so what you're saying is that even in the last 24 hours, conversations have taken place -- including one presumably with Senator Corker and Senator Cardin in which they said that they would introduce the bill the way that you're suggesting, with the compromises that you're suggesting, or at least that they would support those changes?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't want to read out any specific conversations. But there have been frequent conversations, yes -- even in the last 24 hours -- in which the information that I described at the beginning of the briefing was extensively discussed as you would expect.
Q Well, can you give us a sense of when you heard about what we now see as this version of the bill that we believe is going to go to markup I guess now at 2:45 p.m.?
MR. EARNEST: Well, we’ve started to hear some elements of this start to emerge yesterday -- at least I did. There may be some people who are more directly involved in these negotiations who were aware of this sooner. But I was certainly aware that there were frequent conversations that were ongoing between White House officials principally. But this obviously, as you would expect, included input from Secretary Kerry and officials in the State Department and others. Obviously, the Treasury Department has an important role to play here. They are the ones who are responsible for enforcing the sanctions.
So there are a large number of people involved here, and that's part of why you've seen such a large number of conversations that I’ve described between administration officials and members of Congress, even in just the last 10 or 12 days here -- more than 130 phone calls. And that's indicative of the robust consultation that's been ongoing.
Many of those conversations have not been focused on the legislation, but actually focused on the terms of the deal that was brokered in Switzerland between the international community and Iran. But some of those conversations certainly did relate directly to trying to find some bipartisan common ground, some compromise proposal that the President would be willing to sign. And that's a painstaking effort, and there’s still some work to do in the committee, but that's where we stand right now.
Q One of the many concerns that you've expressed about the Corker bill was that it could obstruct the nuclear deal. Does this remove an impediment to a deal?
MR. EARNEST: Well, it certainly addresses a lot of the concerns that we had that would have undermined our ability to reach an agreement. The first is the long review period. What had been a 60-day review period appears to have been reduced to a 30-day review period. That's important because, as I mentioned, if the world has to wait two months before they implement an agreement that's been reached, that is going to undermine our ability to successfully implement the deal. Thirty days is I guess probably -- I would characterize as longer than we would like, but not entirely unreasonable. That's one example.
The terrorism certification thing is something we’ve talked about a couple of times in here. It’s unrealistic for anybody to expect that the administration would be able to certify that Iran has essentially renounced terrorism. And to make the agreement contingent on that kind of certification is little more than a poison pill designed to ensure that the agreement could not be implemented. So that's why it was such a priority for us to ensure that that provision was removed from the bill.
The other thing that we wanted to do -- and this is something that the President also spent a lot of time talking about just over the weekend in Panama -- was ensuring that our negotiators had the time and space that they need to try to reach an agreement by June 30th. And by clarifying exactly what the congressional vote would be, and by codifying what the congressional oversight is going to look like, we can give a lot of assurances to our allies and partners in these negotiations to make sure that they understand exactly what Congress’s role in this is going to be.
It also allows us to have a conversation with the Iranians, who may be -- who I know are sort of looking warily as us across the negotiating table because we're driving a really hard bargain. They also want to make sure that if they make all of these commitments to limit their program, to roll back key aspects of it, if they agree to these kinds of intrusive inspections, they want to make sure that the party on the other side of the table is going to be willing to implement the agreement that -- to implement the agreement.
And by offering up some greater clarity about the congressional role, we can ease any concerns that they may have about our ability to do that.
Q So are you essentially saying that this could have the opposite effect of what you would have thought going into it, in that it actually maybe helps by sending a unified message?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't think I would go that far, to be honest with you. (Laughter.) I don't think I would go that far. I think what I would describe this as is a compromise. And Congress has articulated very clearly and strenuously their desire to vote. And the proposal that's been put forward to vote to vote later is a reasonable one and does reflect -- along with all the other changes that we have called for -- does reflect the kind of compromise that the President would sign.
Q I want to take you back to the Iraq question. Is the administration’s position that the strategy as it’s currently undergoing in Iraq vis-à-vis fighting ISIS, it is working?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, there’s no doubt that by working closely with our coalition partners in supporting the Iraqi security forces, that we’ve made important progress. The latest estimate from -- I believe this is from the Department of Defense -- is that 30 percent of the populated areas that ISIL previously control, or close to 30 percent of the populated areas that ISIS previously controlled are no longer areas where ISIL has freedom of movement, and that's an indication that important progress has been made.
Now, obviously you have Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, that is still under the control of ISIL, so there is nobody who assumes that this effort is done. But I think that we can already see that this effort is having tangible benefits both for the Iraqi people but also for the national security of the United States.
Q Is it your sense that there’s frustration then on behalf of the administration that the so-called good news is not getting out?
MR. EARNEST: No. I think what we're focused on is making sure that the strategy that the President laid out is one that we are implementing to maximum effect. And that means working closely with the more than 60 countries that are part of this international coalition. It means taking as many steps as we can to deepen our cooperation with the Iraqi security forces and all of the forces that are under the command of the Iraqi military, to make sure that they have the support they need to take the fight to ISIL on the ground in their country. We're seeing that when they're backed up by coalition military airpower that their effectiveness on the battlefield is significantly enhanced. That’s not a surprise to anybody, but it does reflect the successful and effective implementation of the strategy the President has designed.
Q You are aware then of the circumstance in Tikrit today?
MR. EARNEST: Maybe you could be a little more specific?
Q Sure. Very serious death toll there. Once again, the battle is raging on once again in that city. It just sort of underscores this notion that whenever -- it seems whenever the administration says things are moving in the right direction -- we’ve heard the Vice President sort of allude to that -- then there’s this sort of slap-back. Are you not careful, then, to sort of proclaim progress?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, Kevin, there’s no doubt that important progress has already been made in terms of there’s 30 percent of the territory that ISIL previously held in populated areas, or at least close to it, is now areas where ISIL cannot freely travel. And on previous occasions when we’ve talked about Tikrit, I’ve been clear about the fact that we anticipate that these kinds of military operations are not going to move in a straight line, that there’s always going to be an ebb and flow to the conflict. So we’re very mindful of that. But there’s no denying the progress that has been made and there is certainly no denying that it has been important progress.
Q I want to ask you about a report that I read about -- a possible ISIS training camp about eight miles away from the U.S.-Mexican border. Have you heard anything about that at all? And can you confirm that?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t. I can’t confirm that. I’m pretty skeptical of that report, to be honest with you, but let me check on it for you.
Q Does the White House believe that the Iraqi government has the capability to take back Anbar Province, something that took the U.S. -- much better armed and equipped and trained U.S. troops years to do?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously those kinds of decisions about the pace of military operations are going to be decisions that are driven by Iraqi military commanders and the Iraqi government. And I’m confident that they’re going to be interested in consulting with the United States and our coalition partners as they consider these decisions. The Iraqi security forces can certainly count on the support of our coalition partners, both in terms of providing them equipment and training, and military airpower being in place to back them up. But ultimately, these kinds of broader strategic decisions are decisions that are going to be driven by the Iraqi military and the Iraqi political leadership.
Q The President today didn’t make any new commitments in terms of military aid to Iraq. Should we understand from that that he believes they have all the tools they need to carry that out?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think as I mentioned earlier, the Iraqis didn’t make a specific request for additional military assistance. What the Iraqis sought to do and what the President sought to do is to renew and deepen our commitment to the strategy that the President has put in place. And this is a strategy that’s focused on making sure that Iraqi security forces have the training, equipment and advice that they need to take the fight to ISIL on the ground in their own country. The United States has made the commitment to engage in those training efforts and to provide a lot of that equipment.
What we’ve also committed to do is working with our coalition partners to back up their ground operations with military airpower. And that is a strategy that has yielded important progress so far. But there is significantly -- there continues to be significant, important work that remains to be done.
Cheryl, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thanks, Josh. A domestic budget question, if I could. This morning, the House Appropriations Committee started releasing some of this year's spending bills. And they appear to be adhering to the spending cap. Is the President still determined not to accept bills that don’t lift the sequester?
MR. EARNEST: Putting the sequester back in place would have a terrible impact on our economy. That is a proposal that is a nonstarter in the mind of the President. And we have succeeded in the past, in the last couple of years, in being able to work -- Democrats and Republicans -- work together to find a bipartisan way for us to ensure that we’re protecting critically important investments for this country. And the President is hopeful that Republicans will abandon the partisan approach they’ve adopted so far and consider the kind of bipartisan approach that will make their legislation more likely to be signed into law, but also the kind of legislation that we know will actually have a beneficial impact on the U.S. economy and not one that will undermine the economic progress that we’ve made so far.