Earnest: 'We Should Have Sent Someone with a Higher Profile' to Paris
White House press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged in today's press briefing that the administration should have sent someone higher than the U.S. ambassador to Sunday's anti-terrorism march.
But when asked what President Obama was doing on Sunday, Earnest said he wasn't prepared to answer that question. Yet at another point in the briefing the spokesman confirmed "the president watched on television" the march.
"I think it's fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there," Earnest said. "That said, there is no doubt that the American people and this administration stand foursquare behind our allies in France as they face down this threat and that was evident throughout last week when you saw that the president's top counterterrorism adviser here at the White House was in touch with her French counterpart minutes after this -- the reports of this terror attack first emerged."
"...Had the circumstances been a little bit different, I think the president himself would have liked to have had the opportunity to be there."
"We at the White House should have made a different decision," he said later in the briefing. "This was not a decision made by the president."
"I'm not going to unpack the sort of planning and logistics that go into this decision," Earnest replied when pressed on why Obama couldn't make that decision if the buck stops with him. He later said Obama's security precautions "would have had an impact on those who attended the march," though the world leaders were separated from the rest of the marchers.
"I didn't talk to [Obama] about his personal regret."
Earnest at one point demanded that reporters name people who have criticized the administration's decision. He then talked about how difficult it would be to arrange security for Obama with a few days' notice.
It was pointed out to the press secretary that he made Nelson Mandela's funeral on short notice. Earnest countered that they'd been planning that for "a number of years."
He also said that the February summit on violent extremism announced over the weekend will not just focus on Islamic extremism.
Earnest did delve into terrorism, answering a question about Boko Haram with a monologue about lone wolves.
"The original author of this publication has been wiped off the battlefield," he declared of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire magazine -- which is still going strong with better production values than when it was first launched.
He also defended the administration's terrorism strategy, declaring that they're "truly decimating" the "core al-Qaeda." Though not mentioned by Earnest, AQAP's leader is the No. 2 ranking official in "core al-Qaeda."
Earnest began the daily briefing trying to steer the questions toward the Republican legislation to block Obama's immigration executive orders. "Let me also note something else important that happened, which is that House Republicans put forward Department of Homeland Security funding legislation through the end of fiscal year 2015," he said. "Unfortunately, Republicans have also unveiled plans to muck around with that legislation."
He insisted that the French people "certainly" were not offended by the U.S. absence.
"Suffice it to say there should not be and there is not any doubt in the minds of the people in France or people around the world, and certainly not among our enemies, about how committed to a strong relationship that the United States is with France, and committed to the same kinds of values that they are. I think in some ways, most importantly, the people who understand this best of all are the French people themselves," Earnest said.
"And I did note that the French ambassador was on television earlier today in which he described the French people as overwhelmed by the expression of solidarity and grief from all corners of the American people, including from the highest levels of the administration."