Fw: travel pool report 2

From: John Stanton
Sent: Friday, March 11, 2016 2:08 PM
To: Velz, Peter T. EOP/WHO; Allen, Jessica L. EOP/WHO
Subject: travel pool report 2

Air Force One touched down just after 1 pm local time in Austin, Texas

Josh Earnest held a gaggle about Air Force One whilst en route to Texas — while Creed, which your pooler has yet to see because he’s a failure at living, cruelly played on the TV behind him.

Full transcript will follow from the press shop, and he didn’t make a ton of news, though he did make it clear that a Supreme Court nominee won’t be announced this weekend and that the review process continues.  Here’s some rushed highlights and quotes to wet your appetite for the full 30+ minute transcript of scintillating press sec speak. (big ups to AFP's Andrtew Beatty for the assist with the foreign policy end of the gaggle.

On today’s event:

Obama sees the South By Southwest event as an “opportunity for the president to talk about innovation in the tech sector and the potential that has to bring about some significant changes in our government.” Expect a Q&A format with a heavy emphasis on how tech can help reshape government.

On Supreme court:

Josh pointed to Sen. Cornyn saying the nominee will be treated like a “piñata” at the top, using it to launching point for attacks on Senate Republicans.

“The president hasn’t even decided on a nominee yet. It sounds like republicans are prepared to follow through on their threat … [and] attempt to tear that person down.”

“Its clear that republicans vow to treat the president’s nominee like a piñata is not motivated by some sort of principle, but rather is motivated by party politics. That’s unfortunate,” Josh added.

“Republicans are vowing to rough up the president’s nominee without considering his or her credential or character. Republicans are acknowledging that they’re only doing this because president Obama is a Democrat and that they would not be doing this if the president of the United States was a Republican. And they’re acknowledging that there is no precedent … The case against Senate Republicans is closed.”

Q: Are you prepared to handle this differently, like putting the nominee out there talking openly, etc?

“It’s too early to say exactly how this will play out.”

Q:When will there be a nominee announcement?
“At a time of the president’s choosing”

Q:Before he leaves for Cuba?
“Not necessarily.”

Pressed again on the nominee timing, Josh said he had nothing for us “Other than confirming for you that the president will not be announcing his decision at the south by southwest event … The process of reviewing information about potential nominees continues” and will work on it this weekend, “most likely when the president is home on Sunday.”

Q:Is golfing a ruse to meet with nominees?
“Not that I know of” Josh said, laughing.

Also, Josh says there hasn’t been any further withdrawals from consideration since Attorney General Lynch pulled her name.

On Reagan funeral, Josh was asked whether or not Obama should be there instead of going to Texas.

“Obviously this visit to Austin has been on the books for several weeks now”

“We’re obviously pleased that Mrs. Obama will be representing the administration at the funeral and offering her condolences not just on behalf of the family but of the entire country. Mrs. Reagan was a remarkable woman. And will have an important place in American history.”

Also said it was “consistent with past practice” to send FLOTUS.

On Encryption legislation, Josh threw mad shade on Congress. “I continue to be personally skeptical, more broadly … of Congress’ ability to handle such a complicated policy area, given congress recent inability to handle simple things.”

On Trump aide getting violent with reporter Michelle Fields:

“There is no excuse or justification for acts of violence against reporters who are covering a political event. The White House, like many other people including other republicans, has been concerned by the invective and taunting that’s been directed at journalists covering a political event. It’s totally inappropriate, its not consistent with the standards of political discourse that should be observed by anybody seeking the highest elected office in the greatest country in the world.”

On the general ugly tenor of the GOP primary fight: “People around the world are watching, and the tone and tenor of that debate does have an impact on the way people around the world see the United States. What is said by leading candidates for president on the campaign trail matters. It’s not just idle chatter it has an impact.”


Earnest was asked about the president's comments about the British PM made to Jeff Goldberg.

He said the direct quotes did not include a criticism of Cameron, who has been a "particularly effective interlocutor" with President Obama and a "partner and ally when it comes to confronting core national security priorities for both our countries."

"President Obama values deeply the special relationship between the United States and our allies in the UK. In particular President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have established a particularly effective working relationship that has allowed the United States to work closely with our British allies on a whole range of significant challenges."

He cited the campaign against ISIL, increasing European defense capabilities and Iran nuclear talks.

Earnest also referenced POTUS' address to the last General Assembly about the lack of "follow-through" after military intervention in Libya, with the United States at some fault too.

Earnest summed up what he said was the president's point -- "The United States cannot and should not put ourselves in a position to be the world's policeman, we need to be able to count on partners and allies around the world to help us confront significant challenges."


Asked if the United States and its allies had now picked up the ball in Libya, Earnest said "we've made a lot of important progress in Libya over the last two or three years," but there was more to do to roll back the Islamic State group and forming a unity government.

"We will not be successful in Libya without the continued engagement of our European allies who have a lot of experience in Libya."

Regarding spluttering efforts to form that unity government, Earnest said  "we would have liked to have seen this process move more quickly, but there are a whole host of very special challenges to Libya."


Earnest was asked about the representation of Turkish PM Erdogan as authoritarian and unhelpful on Syria.

"We did spend some period of time urging the Turks to engage more effectively with our counter-ISIL coalition and over the last nine months or so, that's what they have done" -- he cited access to military bases in southern Turkey, steps to seal the border, handling the burden of migrants.

"What is also true is that, even though we have been able to effectively cooperate with the Turks on Syria in a whole host of areas, we also have expressed our concern with some aspects of the political climate inside of Turkey."

"There are some ways in which we feel the Turkish government has not been sufficiently supportive of universal human rights."

"Let me give you one example, the Turkish government recently announced essentially the takeover of the Zaman newspaper in Turkey, this is one of the largest media outlets inside of Turkey and has essentially been taken over by the government."

"We are concerned when we see those kinds of values be so obviously trampled upon."


Earnest was asked the WH response to Kim Jong-Un ordering further nuclear tests, he linked recent North Korean behavior to joint South Korea-US military drills.

"There is a long history of provocative acts and destabilizing actions on the part of the North Korean government. That's particularly true this time of year as the United States is engaged in series of military exercises with our South Korean allies and with other allies and partners of the United States in the region. Those exercises are often an excuse cited by the North Korean government to say and do provocative things, but we obviously take the threat from North Korea quite seriously, after all that's why we conduct these international military exercises, to ensure our forces are ready to protect our allies in South Korea and our other allies like Japan who could also be at risk."

In his week ahead wrap up, Josh also put all yall bamas trying to be the pool for the Hamilton event next week. “I anticipate a lot of jockeying to be in the White House pool that day.” While your pooler has no idea why Hamilton is such a big damned deal, be warned that getting into the event won’t easy.

And finally, your pool was impressed with Josh’s ability to pronounce the word “Taoiseach,” as in Taoiseach Kenny, the leader of the Republic of Ireland.

John Stanton
DC Bureau Chief

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