tv Politics and Public Policy Today CSPAN September 30, 2015 1:00pm-2:01pm EDT
training necessary to keep the guanes that have been made over the last 13 years. when it comes do policy decisions, i don't have a lot of news to make in this regard. but there are two observations i have. the first is that the president when announcing these decisions in the past when it comes to our military commitment to afghanistan has routinely noted that the conditions on the ground influence that policy process and so i would expect that that would be the case in this circumstance as well. at the same time we have always warned against the inclination to make snap decisions on policy almost literally overnight. and so that's why we'll continue
to monitor the efforts by the afghan government and afghan security forces to retake kunduz and that will factor into a longer term assessment of the conditions on the ground which will influence longer term policy decisions the president will have to make. >> reporter: has the president received those recommendations from commanders in any kind of a formal way as of this time? >> i don't have any update in terms of the kind of communication of the commander in chief and the commanders on the ground. but the president receives regular briefings and updates from his military commanders through the chain of command and that certainly will continue. >> reporter: at the united nations today, palestinian president abbas said he's no longer bound by agreements with israel, they're going to start pursuing legal means to pursue palestinian statehood and are basically abandoning the direct negotiations approach that has been your position for a very
long time now. what is the u.s. response to the palestinians' dismissing that approach? >> i believe mr. president abbas was speaking as i walked out here so i don't have any direct response to what he has said. i will say as a general matter that the united states has long been and continues today to be committed to achieving niece the palestinians and israelis deserve and we have described the resolution of this conflict as a two-state solution. that results in two states for two peoples with a sovereign, viable and independent palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with a jewish and democratic israel. that's been our position for quite some time and that continues to be our position today. julia? >> reporter: thanks, josh. going back to russia's involvement in syria, you just told josh that the department is reviewing those actions. the deputy defense secretary told lawmakers on the hill today
that russia's move was alarming and aggressive and had come before discussions that they were promised to have on deconflicting. is that same level of surprise being shared by the white house? >> i didn't see those particular comments. i think what is clear is that we have known for quite some time -- and i say "we" i'm including all of you -- because we've had active public discussions in here about the significant deployment of military assets and personnel by the russians into syria. and so i don't think it's particularly surprising that russia is using those new military capabilities. particularly in light of their long-standing efforts to prop up the assad regime and in light of the continuing weakness of the
assad regime in terms of their ability to control territory inside that country, the russians felt that they need to ramp up their efforts and the reason that i think the second data point that i would remind you of is that there's also a reason that both president putin and president obama have prioritized and agreed on the need for operational tactical-level conversations to deconflict military operations inside of syria. you would need to have conversations to deconflict military operations inside of syria if you didn't have mans for military operations inside of syria. so the point is that u.s. military officials have been in touch with their russian counterparts to set up those
conversations and i would expect those conversations wouldñvwñ t place in short order. >> reporter: so yes, president obama and president putin discussed the need for conversations to deconflict but during that hour and a half conversation they had at the united nations did anything -- did president obama get any kind of indication from president putin about the timing of the strikes or the targets or was this something left completely off the table? >> i think what i would say is there was not a -- there was not an operational level conversation in the meeting between the two presidents. those operational conversations were the kinds of conversations that both presidents expect their military officials to engage in and, like i said, the united states has been in touch with russian military officials to begin those tactical practical level conversations to ensure that our military activities and russian military activities are properly
deconflicted. >> reporter: on the hill yesterday lawmakers reached a compromise on the annual defense authorization bill and they would use $90 billion from special war funds to avoid sequestration. would the white house oppose this bill on the grounds that it would end sequestration for defense but not other programs? >> well, i think that we would oppose the bill for the reasons that you have described. because that's an irresponsible way to fund our national defense priorities. even republicans in congress have referred to this as a slush fund so this is not a partisan response. in fact, we knows that view that is shared by the -- by some republicans on capitol hill. i'd also point to you -- direct you to a statement that was released by the ranking member of the senate armed services committee jack reed, a west point graduate from rhode
island. and according to his news release he said "there are many needed reforms in the committee conference report but the use of emergency war funds does not realistically provide for the long-term support of our forces." he continued saying "i cannot sign this conference report because it fails to responsibly if i can the sequester and provide our troops with the support they deserve." the position that's articulated by senator reid is the position that president obama has advocated as well. that's why the president got this bill he have teed. let's move around. >> reporter: a quick one on russia. based on your language, is it fair to say that the u.s. wasn't given -- didn't have any of these deconflicting conversations or conversations about coordination before the air strikes began? >> it's fierts that u.s. officials had already been in touch with their russian counterparts to set up those
meetings but it's accurate to say that that those deconfliction conversations have not yet occurred. i would expect that they will begin in short order. >> and when those conversations start is it merely going to be russia or the u.s. saying "we plan to act in this area so keep your military interests out and safe"? or will there be any coordination of efforts? >> i think it's hard to pre-judge at this point what those conversations look like other than that they will abide by the description i have that used here for a couple of weeks now, that these will be tactical practical level conversations and we have long said that we would welcome constructive russian contributions to our count counter isil campaign. so we would welcome russian coordination but the purpose of the conversations is to ensure
our military activities and the military activities of our coalition partners are safely deconflicted from any military operations the russians may be planning. >> reporter: i wanted to shift over to the budget. there was some reports on cliel yesterday that the president had spoken to leaders from both parties about the possibility of a longer term budget deal that will happen over the next month before speaker boehner leaves. i wonder if you can detail what the goals for the talks are, what the parameters for the deals that you guys and the congressional leaders were on. >> well, the kinds of conversations that we are interested in having have conversations that prevent a government shutdown and conversations that ensure that our national security and economic priorities are adequately funded which means that congress needs to arrive at the kind of bipartisan budget agreement that was reached by
senator murray and chairman paul ryan from the house that essentially raised the quester caps to ensure that those priorities were adequately funded. is what the president has made clear at every turn and something i've made clear, what the president has made clear at every turn in his private conversations is something you've heard me say many times in public which is that republicans have not succeeded and will not succeed in passing budget legislation strictly along party lines. they've tried that countless times now. it doesn't work. they don't have enough unity within the republican caucus to advance legislation like that. and i think that's even evident when you take a look at the vote we expect to see in the house of representatives for a clean cr to prevent a government shutdown. hopefully that will happen today. so what that means is it means that republicans are going to need to work with democrats in
congress to pass compromise legislation and that's why we have insisted at every turn that if republicans in congress are interested in negotiations then they should walk over to senator reid's office and to leader pelosi's office and accept their invitation to engage in bipartisan negotiations. any effort to circumvent senator reid and leader pelosi will ultimately fail because they're going to -- republicans are going to need the support of democrats in the house and senate in order to pass this legislation. >> reporter: well, i mean on that point specifically, it doesn't seem that republicans don't want to negotiate with democrats, they want to negotiate with the president directly. >> the president is not the leader of the house of representatives and the president is certainly not the leader of the senate, either. there are elected representatives of the house democratic caucus and the senate democratic caucus and of course the administration has influence in those two caucuses.
and the kind of highly functioning working relationship we've had with those caucuses have been able to advance critical pieces of the president's agenda. but ultimately while the administration will certainly be involved in these budget discussions, leader reid and leader pelosi and their support is going to be necessary to get this done. >> reporter: why do you think senator mcconnell only wants to work with the white house? have you guys indicated that you're willing to consider something that house democrats or senate democrats haven't? >> i don't quite know exactly is what their thinking is on this. senator mcconnell frequently does news conferences on capitol hill so it might be a good question to ask him. i will say that the president is also mindful of the fact that democrats in the house and democrats in the senate will need to support in legislation
for it to pass. so in the same way that it would be foolish for leader reid and speaker boehner to try to circumvent democrats in congress, the president wouldn't support that effort, either. it seems unlikely the president would support the kind of budget agreement that wouldn't also get strong support from democrats on capitol hill. so maybe that's just a hypothetical exercise but the fact the president understands quite directly that a budget deal won't be possible without the support of democrats in congress which is why it would be foolish to leave democrats in congress out of those negotiations. >> reporter: last one. >> that's okay. i don't want to talk about that at all. >>. >> reporter: if republicans think the most effective way is to negotiate is directly with the president, the president certainly has done that in the past. why not have direct one on one negotiations between leader mcconnell and president obama come up with a plan that you
guys think can sell and present it and the president can protect the interest of democrats as you just set and carry sway in both those houses and republicans will be responsible for taking care of their budget? >> there are a variety of reasons for that. there is a basic constitutional responsibility that congress has, which is to pass a budget. that's what members of congress were elected to do. that's their basic responsibility and the american people are counting on them to get it done. the second thing is the last time we were faced with this dilemma, the last time congress was challenged to pass bipartisan legislation to keep the government functioning at a level that appropriately invested in our economic and national security priorities, that was an agreement that was reached in bipartisan discussions that took place on capitol hill. senator patti murray and house republican paul ryan sat down across the negotiating table and hammered out a good agreement. it's not an agreement anybody
thought was perfect but it was an agreement that represented a genuine compromise and it succeeded in passing a two-year budget agreement which is why it's been two years since we last had this standoff but the unfortunate thing about last time is that the country had to go through a 17-day shutdown before republicans would agree to those kinds of conversations. we're hopeful that republicans will agree to those conversations before a government shutdown this time. but i guess the shorter answer to your question, justin, is we know that is a strategy that works and we know that that is a strategy that's consistent with the constitution jon? >> reporter: josh, back to syria. what is the president's strategy regarding syria right now? >> well, john, first and foremost the president's top priority when it comes to syria
is making sure the national security interests of the united states are protected and that has involved the use of military force by the united states against extremists operating inside of syria. so you've seen recent announcements from the pentagon about haji mutazz who's a leading isil operational figure who was killed in a u.s. military air strike inside of syria last month. the department of defense reported earlier this month that a u.s. air strike in syria over the summer led to the death of david dujon, an extremist not affiliated with isil but actively engaged in leading efforts to strike the united states and the west and we've talked quite a bit about the u.s. military operation the president ordered inside of syria against abu siayyaf.
there are a list of other extremists we can go through but that's the top priority. the sect priority has been the effort made by the united states and our coalition partners to back the efforts of opposition fighters on the ground inside of syria. so these are fighters like syrian kurds, syrian arabs, even turk member fighters inside of syria that have had some success in pushing back isil. so the president you will recall earlier this year made a decision to reply kurdish fighters in kobani who were under siege from isil fighters sr. because they were resupplied the kurdish fighters mounted an offensive against isil fighters and drove them out of kobani and drove them out of a large swath of northern and northeastern syria. so there have been elements of that strategy that have been successful against isil but
ultimately, despite that important military activity that is critical to protecting the basic fundamental national security interest of the united states, the president is keenly aware of the fact that there's no military solution that can be imposed by russia or anybody else on to syria and this the root of this problem can only be solved with the kind of political transition that results in president assad leaving power. >> so you're listed some priorities and you've listed some operations that have taken place but can you give me in short what is our strategy in syria? >> well, our strategy first and foremost is to protect the basic core national security interests of the united states and that means preventing extremists like isil but other groups who may be trying to capitalize on the chaos inside of syria to establish a safe tae venn that can be used to plot and carry out strikes against the united states and our allies. that's the overriding priority.
what the president has also made clear is that we won't commit u.s. military personnel to a drawn out offensive ground operation against isil or anybody else inside of syria that said we are going to need ground fighters and there have been a couple ways we've tried to build that effort. one way has been the department of defense train and equip operation. we've been blunt that that hasn't worked out very well. the department of defense is considering changes that could improve the results. what has been more successful, significantly more successful than that, is the support of the united states and our coalition partners for those kurdish, arab, and turk men fighters inside of syria that have had some success in driving isil out of some parts of syria. we've also been able to enlist the support of other u.s. allies including turkey in an effort to
try to close the border between turkey and syria. this is the boarder that stretches five or six miles. there's a very narrow corridor that's only about 60 miles wide so we have work to do but we're enlisting our allies in that effort. but ultimately the root collusion here to this problem is a political transition that results in president assad leaving power. >> reporter: given the failure of our efforts to train and equipped a modern opposition in syria and given the significant change of the facts on the ground that you have russians conducting air strikes and moving in significant military personnel and equipment is there an everyday to rethink the entire approach? a comprehensive review of our strategy? >> i would not describe it that way. as it comes -- when it comes to
opposition fighters i've routinely conceded and i would do once again that our training and equip operation has not performed well. >> reporter: it's been a fail e failure -- >> well, there's a dramatic way to say it which is what you described but i think we can agree is that it hasn't performed well. the point i want to make is those are not the only opposition fighters on which we can rely. there are other reliable opposition fighters who we have backed both by providing them assistance and also by carrying out military air strikes in support of their operations on the ground so there is a fighting force on the ground inside of syria with whom we are able to mike progress against isil but the reason we have considered this training and equip operation is because we'd like to see more of these fighters and that's why the department of defense is considering changes to that
program that would improve its performance. >> reporter: one last quick totally different topic. we learned today the vatican confirmed that the pope met with kim davis while he was here in washington. what's the white house reaction to that? >> i don't have a specific reaction to the meeting. the president did note in his comments over the week end that it's important for americans across the country to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn't grant us the freedom to deny our fellow americans their constitutional rights so the president talked about the importance of religious freedom when the pope was at the white house on the south lawn last week. but the president has been just as clear that our religious freedom doesn't grant us the freedom to deny our fellow americans their basic constitutional rights. >> so the president would disagree with pope francis that kim davis acted courageously as
her lawyer characterized it? >> well, second hand, i think what i would say is our position about ms. davis is quite clear. the president believes strongly in the rule of law and that's a principle that applies to those engaged in public service starting at the level of the president of the united states but going down to the level of the rowan county clerk in kentucky. alexis? >> reporter: following up on some of the comments on television about the benghazi team. a spokesman today is say ing that they believe the benghazi committee has nothing do with politics. >> oh! [ laughter ] that's an interesting spin, huh? >> i was wondering what the white house reaction to congressman mccarthy's remarks might be and whether there is a difference of opinion about whether the committee is interested in politics and specifically secretary clinton. >> i think everybody here at the
white house takes mr. mccarthy at his word, congressman mccarthy at his word. i think the thing that's happener here is that leader mccarthy has committed the classic washington gaffe of saying something that everybody already knows is true. and i think that's quite apparent what happened on fox news last night. >> reporter: can i follow up with a question on syria? >> sure. unless you want to talk more about mr. mccarthy. i'll be happy to do that as well. >> reporter: you've covered that completely. on syria you said that it isn't particular lly surprising what s occurred with russian-led air strikes. russia is saying today that western air strikes in syria are illegal and that russian strikes are legal because they were requested by president assad. so my question to you is as the white house is trying to wrestle with the idea of what the
definition of "constructive" offensive action might be by the russians, how is the administration going to assess what russia's intentions are? how the strikes are being called in, what the results are and what the implications might be for the western coalition trajectory. >> there are -- it comes to mind that there are three ways for us to do that. the first would be that one of the things that both president putin and president obama have asked their teams to do is to continue to con soult i would anticipate that secretary kerry and foreign minister lavrov will have additional conversations about russia's activities inside of syria. they've been consulting regularly about this and i know they've met probably up to four or five times now just this week
in new york to discuss these issues so that ongoing consultation will be one channel. the second would be that there will be these practical operational level discussions between u.s. military officials and russian military officials geared toward deconflicting our activities inside of syria. those conversations will give us a sense of what exactly russia's operations are. the third is that we have a variety of ways, particularly given our presence in the region, to evaluate exactly what russia's military operations are resulting in. and that's something that our department of defense will continue to look at. there's one other aspect of your question i wanted to remind you
about. we've talked about this before but it had been a while. i thought i would remind you the legal justification that we have cited for the actions of the united states and our coalition partners inside of syria so i want to get this back on the record again which is that the united states provided by public notification to the united nations security council, that the united states is using force against isil in syria in the collective self-defense of iraq and in u.s. national self-defense consistent with article 51 of the u.n. charter. it may have been a year since we talked about this but the concern that we have long had -- and i think it was -- this was a concern that was justified, is that isil would use the chaos inside of syria to establish a safe haven and use that safe haven inside of syria to expand their operations into iraq and that's what we saw they did in the summer of 2014 and that is what has precipitated the kind
of action that the united states military and our coalition partners have taken inside of syria and this's entirely consistent with article 51 of the united nations charter. >> would the coalition, the u.s.-led coalition, if it differs dramatically with the russians over a choice of targeting, what the aims are, the strategy, is the u.n. then the body that the united states and russia would disagree together? would appeal to the u.n. based on what you were just reminding us? >> well, i think the kinds of practical operational discussions that would take place between u.s. military officials and russian military officials would be geared toward preventing the circumstances you just presented and that's why both president putin and president obama have acknowledged that those kinds of deconfliction conversations are a priority and that's why i would expect those conversations
to take place in short order. i don't think there's any indication that either side believes that conflict would be in the interest of either country. >> remind us, because of the comments about this in the last few days, is nato involved in those deconflicting discussions? >> not that i'm aware of but you might check with the department of defense. my understanding based on the conversation between president putin and president obama is that those deconfliction talks would take place between u.s. military officials and russian -- u.s. and russian military officials bilaterally at an operational tactical level. michelle? >> reporter: thanks. a senior administration official told cnn today that what russia is doing seems to have no strategic purpose against isis. and it looks like they're hitting just groups that are opposed to assad and this is proof that their focus is not isis. is that not consistent with what you're saying?
and if so somehow that going to affect what the coalition is trying to do there? >> that's not something i'm prepared to say because russian military activity inside of russia is what the department will be looking at. so it's possible that source was inside the department of defense. these operations have been taking place for a few hours now. that analysis is under way at the department of defense. the priority we have right now is trying to get those tactical level conversations to deconflict russia's military activities with the u.s. russia stharz priority and we've -- u.s. military officials have been in touch with their counterparts to arrange those talks and i would anticipate those talks take place in short order. >> but if that were true wouldn't that mean they would have the conversations before they start air strikes? isn't that an indication they're not as committed to that kind of
communication being a priority? >> well, again, i think the way that we'll eventually be able to tell this is how serious russia is in participating in these discussions. based on a conversation between the president presidents and the conversations that have taken place between u.s. and russian military officials to arrange those talks and based on the obvious observation that it's hard to see how russia would benefit from their activities coming into direct conflict with u.s. and coalition military activities i think we can have confidence they'll engage in that seriously. >> reporter: but the fact that they haven't started that process which was agreed to in this rare high-level meeting, doesn't this indicate that they're not that serious if they didn't have that contact before they began? >> well, there was contact between u.s. and russian officials to set up those conversations but the conversations haven't begun but i will anticipate they will take place in short order. if the russians don't
participate in those talks or russia is less than couldn'tive in ports patrioting then i think we would have grounds to raise some questions about how serious they take this matter but at this point i think it's too early to reach that assessment. based on what president putin has said publicly and privately and based on the obvious strategic kohl collation that i think is evidence from the facts on the ground it's in everybody's interesting if for the deconfliction talks to occur. >> we know that u.s. air strikes are continuing as planned. >> that is correct. >> so even without this communication we know there's no risk of these two operations getting in the way of each other. we know the russians don't see the u.s. prioritized targets as their targets and after the bilateral meeting we heard ben
rhodes say that it seems that the russians are focused on isis but knowing what another administration official said just today and knowing what they're doing is in no way related or at risk with what the coalition is doing, does that change your view that they are focused on isis or raise serious questions? >> reporter: well, again, i think at this point it's -- well, let me say a couple things. the other thing that the two presidents agreed upon in their discussions at the u.n. on monday was the risk that isil poses to u.s. interests, to russian interests, not just around n the region but around the world. both countries shared that priority and so the question show what what can we discern about russia's military strategy? and i think i would just -- i'm no military expert but it does
seem unwise to start drawing those firm conclusions bush administrationed on military strikes that have just taken place over the last few hours. so we'll have a variety of ways to get greater insight into their strategy. that will include conversations between secretary kerry and foreign minister lavrov that will include the operational level deconfliction talks and include the department of defense's analysis about exactly what targets russia has hit and what the result of those strikes has been. >> reporter: but the fact that no one is saying they seem to be hitting anything to do with isis, does that not bother you? >> i'm just saying that our experts are taking a close look at this. it's too early for me to share conclusions at this point. the department of defense if they have greater analysis they'll share it with you. mark? >> reporter: putting aside the question of exactly what was targeted today, did the president or has anyone on the u.s. side say to president putin or others in the russian
government "we are arming, we are backing some groups in syria, do not target them"? have you issued that warning? >> well, i think that is -- that would be part of the kind of -- let me say a couple things. i can't account for all of the conversations and i certainly would refer you to the state department for a little more texture about the conversations between secretary kerry and foreign minister lavrov. president putin and the russians are keenly aware of the strategy that i described to john earlier in this briefing which is that the united states recognizes that boots on the ground will be required to stabilize the situation inside of syria and root out isil. the president has made clear those will not be u.s. boots on the ground and i think we've seen some indications from the russians that they're reluctant to put russian boots on the
ground. they are aware of the fact that the united states has made some progress against isil but relying upon other opposition forces inside of syria. i think the other thing that bears mentioning is that president putin in the context of his meeting with president obama noted the importanceover a political transition inside of syria. now, he's not willing to make the same commitment that we are, the same observation, frankly, that we have that president assad has lost legitimacy to lead but implicit? president putin's discussion of the need for transition is the need for some kind of functioning opposition. that you haven't have a political transition in which politics don't change. so i think president putin understands that at some level there will have to be more of a political contribution from the
opposition inside of syria and that's why the united states has worked hard to build is up the capacity of -- the military capacity of the modern syrian opposition inside of syria but also worked to support the u.n.-led talks to facilitate conversations between assad regime -- representatives of the assad regime and moderate syrian opposition. >> reporter: you're not able to say with any certainty that there was a warning issued to the russians "do not touch this opposition that we are supplying and backing and training"? >> what i'm willing to say is that there was not this kind of operational level discussion between president obama and president putin. it was as you would expect from two commanders in chief it was a relatively high level conversation but when it comes to deconflicting our efforts that would include making sure that russia is not taking military strikes against u.s. military forces or other forces
that are at vancing the same goals that we are in coordination with our coalition. >> reporter: so the u.s. would take a dim view if something targeted groups that u.s. equipment is being used by and training used by, whether or not they're operating against isil because some of them are also on riting against the syrians? >> well, let me try to say it this way. we have sought a russian contribution to our counter isil campaign that's constructive. there are 65 nations that have worked with the united states to advance our strategy inside of syria that includes backing opposition forces on the ground. there are a variety of ways those forces can be helped, in some cases that is providing military air support. in other cases that is providing them some military assistant. in some cases it's providing
assistance like mres and medical equipment that can be useful to fighters on the battlefield. the united states has provided by -- i believe the last tally is about $400 million in that assistance to syrian opposition fighters. we certainly wouldn't want russian military operations to come into conflict with that ongoing effort which is why both president obama and president putin have placed a priority on deconfliction talks. bob? >> reporter: a followup to that. in his newfound zeal to fight islamic state, did putin suggest to the president that maybe the u.s. and its coalition partners should -- maybe there's a better word -- but stand down on the air strikes in syria, kind of let us handle this attitude in the meeting? >> the focus of their conversations with regard to our -- with our ongoing military operations and their planned military operations was the need
for ensuring those operations were properly deconflicted and both president obama and president putin placed a priority on those talks taking place at an operational level and after that meeting concluded u.s. officials were in touch with the russian counterparts to arrange that meeting. those talks haven't occurred but i would expect they will occur in the short order. >> reporter: there was no suggestion "let us handle this"? >> well, no, there's no specific request like that. >> reporter: can you confirm that the russian commander said the strike would take place within an hour and do you think this is appropriate considering that both secretary kerry and minister lavrov are in the same city, most likely in the same building and do you think that's a slap in the face? and why don't you take it seriously? >> well, first let me say i believe the state department has confirmed some version of that notification so i'd refer you to
them for details. the second is i don't know that -- i don't know what time that took place but based on the way i learned about this i suspect it took place overnight so i don't think it would be accurate to say that both secretary kerry and foreign minister lavrov were inside the same building at the same time. presumably they were both asleep. but i take your point and so that gets know the point i want to make which is simply that beginning these military-to-military conversations about deconflicting our activities is important and the kind of notification that you just described is obviously not the most efficient way to ensure our military activities are deconflicted and that's why both presidents have ordered military officials in their countries to coordinate at an operational level to more formally ensure those operations are
deconflicted. >> senator john mccain had this attack on the administration this morning. he said that you invited president putin to the middle east first time to come back in full force since the '70s after sadat kicked him out of egypt. does this alarm you? does this cause you to look back at the strategy once again from your answer to john of revisiting what exactly you want to do in syria? >> the short answer to your question is no. the longer answer to your question is to observe that russia has treated syria as a client state for some time now. five years ago the client state was pretty stable and right now it's a client state that's in utter chaos where the leader that they have propped up for years is losing his grip on power and i think that's a pretty clear inication that
russia is not flexing its muscles when it comes to syria. right now they are trying to prop up an investment that's about to go south and we've made clear that any sort of effort to double down on their support for the assad regime is a losing bet. so so that's the first observation. the second thing that i would say that we would welcome a constructive russian contribution to the counter isil campaign. there are clearly priorities that we share. both the leaders of both nations recognize the threat posed by isil. both nations, the leaders of both nations recognize there is a fundamental political problem inside of syria that has led to this chaos that has taken the form not just of isil but other extremists hoping to use the kay
gloss syria to carry out attacks against countries around the world. it also has precipitated a terrible humanitarian crisis and a flood of refugees fleeing violence inside of syria. that kind of refugee movement is not in anybody's interest. so there is plenty when it comes to our interest that russia and the united states should be able to frund such thind such that r be a part nant our counterisil campaign. so far that's not the strategy they have chose on the pursue and if they're not going to be integrated into our broder counter isil effort that includes 65 nations then we want to make sure that any russian military activitys at this are taking place inside of syria
that are unilateral are activities that are at least formally deconflicted with our ongoing operations inside of syria and president putin agreed that should be done. >> reporter: and do you believe this strike will shift the dynamics to the degree that it might speed up or delay the political process? >> again, after one day i think it's hard to tell. what we have said is that if russia uses its military assets inside of syria to prop up the assad regime, that will make a political transition more difficult. and the reason far is it will ensure the assad regime angel ma -- alienates more of the population and could run counter to the goals that both president obama and president putin say they share, which is the defeat of isil, by further alienating
the population inside of syria, you serve as a recruitment tool for the extreme that are operating inside of syria so we believe doubling down on aside is a bad bet for the russians and why we have encouraged them to contribute constructively to our effort there. cheryl? >> thanks, josh. >> reporter: two domestic questions. one, you're recall last february the president was pushing the department of labor to adopt a fiduciary duty rule, a conflict of interest rule. today a house committee is marking up a bill to delay that. would the president veto such legislation? >> well, as you point out, they're still marking up this legislation but it clearly -- i'm not prepare to issue a veto threat but what you've described runs counter to the priority this administration and this president has placed on making sure that we're protecting the environment savings of
middle-class families. some studies indicate that because this rule is not in place that american families lose $17 billion in retirement savings every year. $17 billion. that's a substantial risk that isn't worth taking. the fact is -- and this is the case we have made, responsible financial managers would haven't to do anything differently. is this is a rule that would ensure there is no conflict of interest and the retirement savings of middle-class families is effectively managed and failing to implement this rule puts at risk $17 billion in retirement savings and that doesn't seem like a good idea. that's why the president and miz administration have moved forward with this particular rule and we would take a dim view of efforts by republicans acting at the behest of wall street interests to block it.
>> reporter: is the white house far more concerned now with speaker boehner stepping down about increasing the debt limit in -- end of november, december? >> well, to be direct about it, this is a -- an important responsibility of the united states congress. and when you're talking about something this important and dealing with a congress that has been this unreliable there's always going to be a source of concern and i think that's a concern that i would articulate to you whether the speaker of the house is john boehner or kevin mccarthy or anybody else. so it's something we're mindful of but this is the responsibility of congress and we are -- we're hopeful they deal the responsible thing. that to their credit they've done two or three times since 2007 which is ensure that the debt limit was raised without a
bunch of drama that would unnecessarily inject additional volatility into the financial markets. that wouldn't be good for the economy or middle-class families and if republicans in congress focus on those priorities we won't have anything to worry about so hopefully they will. chris? >> reporter: thanks, josh. so given that the confirmation was given by the pentagon about what was essentially a knock on the door of the u.s. embassy in baghdad and that as we've well established both presidents have agreed they looked at each other in the eye presumably and agreed it was a priority to deconflict. was an hour's notice what president obama in mind when he spoke with putin? >> well, let me start by saying this, chris, which is that there was no persuasion that was needed on either side to make deconfliction a priority. both presidents readily acknowledged that and so it wasn't a matter of trying to
persuade one side or the other that this should be a priority. both presidents readily agreed because it so clearly is in the interests of both our countries to make sure that our operations don't come into conflict. >> reporter: did president obama take that agreement to >> did president obama take that agreement to mean one hour's notice? >> i think the president took that agreement to mean that u.s. military officials would be in touch with russian military officials to set up talks to engage in a formal process of deconflicting those operations at a formal level. the outreach has occurred to begin setting up that meeting. but those actual talks have not yet taken praislace. but i'm confident they will in short order. >> does one hour's notice violate spirit of the conversation? >> the spirit of conversation is the construction of a more formal process where u.s. political taker offici military officials and russian military officials are engage in a dialogue. that's the spirit of that
agreement. that's what we expect to be set up. >> so in the meantime does the u.s. in the interim i guess trust that russia is not going to conflict with u.s. military operations? >> well, i think the russians have made clear that they're not interested in provoking a conflict. that's something that they have said and their actions thus far indicate that that is what -- that that's what they believe. but ultimately the more effective way and more efficient way for these activities to be properly deconflicted is for these talks to take place between military officials at a tactical operational level and we think that will take place soon. april. >> i want to ask you a couple questions on a couple of different subjects.
the relationship with the u.s. and russia is complicated at the very best. and i want to find out -- you're taking the high ground and talking about the situation that happened with russia and syria. but i want to go to reality. what's the level of tension here at the white house with rush that s russia's actions especially as you try to deconflict and prepare for talks? >> i was asked earlier whether this would prompt a comprehensive evaluation of the situation and it won't. the fact is president putin and the russians have beensad for a and the fact that they are now having to ramp up that support is an indication that previous attempts weren't successful.
they're eager to try to preserve that toehold in the region. so that's why we're seeing there. at the same time, the president believes that it's important for russia's military activities to not come into conflict with our efforts there. and in fact if russia is willing, we would welcome their constructive contribution to this effort. the fact this they have not decided to make a constructive contribution to our counter isil means russia is not doing what we would like them to coko do i syria and that's not unusual in the relationship two the two countries. but i think i've pointed out that there are areas that are common, the priority that is
placed on destroying isil. that is a goal of our coalition and a goal president putin i'm confident would say that he shares. there was also an acknowledgement on the part of the russians that our view of the menecessity of a political transition inside of syria is correct. is th this is a political problem and the problems isil has caused will not be solved over the long term until a political solution is reached. what that means is it means that russia won't be successful in imposing a military solution inside of syria a. and there will be no successful in that regard than the krund was nim posing military solution in iraq in the last decade. certainly no more successful than russia efforts to impose military solution on an afghanistan. >> what was the level of surprise and upset after the meeting two days ago and finding out what is happening today?
>> quite low. again, the reasons we've been having conversations about russia's military commitment is because all of you were a waiver the fact that they moved equipment into syria. that wasn't a secret. so difficult to be taken by surprise. and it's entirely consistent with the kind of efforts that they have yuundertaken in the lt five years to prop up the assad regime. so certainly represents an escalation of the efforts, but the take jrajectory is the same. obviously we would like to see russia do something different. i'm not trying to suggest this is what we would like to see russia do. but i'm surprised if anybody would say it had taken them by surpri surprise. >> another question on kim davis. how much time did the white house have to look at the pope's itinerary prior to his arrival
in the states? >> how much time -- >> did youitinerary prior to his arrival? >> i think there was a broad -- i think that all of us had the opportunity, all of you had his public schedule and so were aware of his itinerary. i think you're getting to whether or not we were aware of this meet somethiinmeeting? i wasn't a wafrt mewear of meeting. >> were you surprised by that? >> by nin anythianything. >> wait until you see what happens tomorrow. i guess i hadn't had sufficient time to consider really the consequences of this particular meeting. i did not know in a it othat it. i don't know if anyone else did. but i guess i would -- in terms
of the reason for the meeting and what the objective was of the hope in havi pope having the meeting, i'd refer you to the vatican. >> sense ince he follows the me did he say anything to you about this kim davis meeting and what the pope said, keep doing what you're doing to kim davis? >> that's secondhand account. >> her account. she was there with the pope. >> i don't know that her lawyer because there and i think that was his comment. but that's what makes it a second happened account. >> but she was the person giving the information. >> the point is i don't have a specific reaction to that actual meeting. our position on this issue has been quite clear from the very day. kevin. >> i want to touch base on afghanistan before i double back on syria. you mentioned earlier there had
baby a numb been a number of air strikes to assist afghan forces as they attempt to reclaim the sixth largest city in that country. is the white house aware of 100 special forces on the ground american personnel as well as engaged in firefighting there? >> kevin, for these kinds of question, i refer you department of defense. my uniderstanding is that there were three air strikes carried out as a part of this effort. and they were carried out to protect u.s. and coalition forces that were providing advisory support to the ongoing afghanistan effort to retake the city. so that is to say clearly u.s. and coalition forces that are operating in that advisory role in afghanistan are operating in a very dangerous place and it's
important for us -- it's important for the military to carry out the president's mission. but i think the military would say that it's not accurate to describe them as being engaged in that firefight. the role that they have is to provide advisory support to the afghans that are participating in that effort. and as i said once before and i'll repeat again, that is not in any way to downplay the risk that these brave soldiers are taking on. it's just an effort to try to describe to you their role. >> i want to get a big picture view on syria. there have been people over the last couple days that have suggested that putin is running circles around the president, strategically he is always one step ahead. in response to that, what would you say to people who deal like the president is being outwitted,
o outsmarted by you vladimir putin? >> they're seeing the client state this they have maintained inside of syria progress over the course of five years from being a relatively stable state where they could exercise significant influence to a country that is torn apart would i chaos. that is what has prompted russia to ramp up their involvement. and russia continues to suffer from the kind of international isolation and economic costs imposed on them as a result of their destabilizing activities inside of ukraine. russia again as a result of broader economic forces and the sanctions that the united states and our european partners have imposed on