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THE SITUATION ROOM
President Obama Holds News Conference
Aired August 6, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Ebola emergency. The CDC raises its response to the highest level. We're going to take you inside the Ebola war room as we stand by for remarks from President Obama. We expect him to talk about this deadly epidemic.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news. Tonight the equivalent of a red alert in the Ebola crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, now ratcheting up its emergency operation center to level one. That is the highest level in response to the biggest outbreak of the deadly disease in history.
We're standing by for a news conference by President Obama. We expect him to talk about the Ebola crisis. Among other things, he will be talking about the fears of the disease spreading from Africa too the United States, to Europe and elsewhere.
Our correspondents are standing by. They are covering all the breaking news here in the United States and indeed around the world.
As we await the president of the United States, let's go to our chief medical responsibility, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay, you were there at the CDC today in Atlanta in what is now being called the Ebola war room when the alert level was raised to the highest level of concern, and tell us what it was like.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is something that doesn't happen very often. The last time that the emergency operations center, sort of nerve center, if you will, for the Centers for Disease Control, raised their level to a level one was during the H1N1 epidemic back in 2009.
So this is something that they give careful thought to. You can sort of thinking as flooding the zone, if you will, Wolf, adding more staff and also adding more high-level staff to the resources for trying to address this particular problem.
We had heard from the CDC director last week that they were going to send at least 50 more people to West Africa from the Centers for Disease to try to help stem this epidemic. Those numbers may increase as a result of this level one alert, but certainly the number of people who are now focused on this particular problem at the CDC is going to increase. They are just bringing a lot more of the resources together, Wolf.
BLITZER: Sanjay, we also just learned that the patient at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City has now tested negative for Ebola. That determination -- explain how that determination was made because a couple days ago, this patient had symptoms, high fever, gastrointestinal problems, just came back from West Africa. There were some serious concern that the patient may have come down with Ebola. But now fortunately that test has shown it's negative.
GUPTA: Yes. This was a blood test that was done. It was after some consideration because you're not going to obviously test everybody who has a fever that comes back from West Africa.
But they decided to go ahead and send this to the Centers for Disease Control, the same place we were just talking about that's raised their level one. And it came back negative, as you mentioned. Took just a couple days for that result to come back. A quick recap, Wolf.
This was a person who was in West Africa, flew back to the United States, had a fever and abdominal pain and went to the hospital as a result of that and was quickly isolated, in fact, within minutes, was isolated and the determination was made to go ahead and test for Ebola.
Let me just add a couple of details though. When the Department Of Health started to look into this particular story, they had already realized this gentleman was probably very low risk for having Ebola. Why? He was in West Africa, but he didn't come in contact with patients who had Ebola, who were sick with Ebola. Again simply being in West Africa is not a risk factor.
But I think out of an abundance of cautious and because of the heightened level of concern, the Ebola test was performed. It came back negative. I will also share with you, Wolf. We heard a lot about this particular story, but this has happened several times over the last couple weeks. We know at least a half dozen situations around the country where people -- there was concern that the person might have Ebola and blood tests were done and they have all come back negative.
BLITZER: About half a dozen, you say. Fortunately that's the case. But the test takes, what, 24, 48 hours to get the results, is that right?
GUPTA: Right. Yes, they are sending the blood now to the Centers for Disease Control. They are doing the tests. So part of the time it's simply getting the specimen to where it needs to be and then getting the test results back.
BLITZER: Those two patients at Emory University Hospital who were flown back to the United States from West Africa, how are they doing? GUPTA: Well, Ms. Writebol was the patient who arrived more recently,
and we understand from her son who released a statement today that she is awake. She was able to talk to him. Quite tired, he had written, but recovering. Being assessed by the doctors to get an idea of just what the impact of this Ebola viral disease has been on her body.
She was scheduled, and I believe, received the third dose of this experimental serum or experimental treatment today. She received two doses prior in Liberia and got the third dose today. It sounds like she responded very well to the second dose. We will have to see how she responds to the third dose as well.
Dr. Brantly was the first patient to arrive here. The first patient to have Ebola ever in the United States ever in this part of the world. He walked off that ambulance. So obviously his prognosis pretty good at that time. But he's in the same isolation ward with Ms. Writebol.
You remember, Wolf, he had a pretty dramatic response, according to close inside sources. He had a dramatic response to that experimental medication. Really seemed to help him. We will get more, obviously hope to hear more from him and what that medication did for him in the days to come, Wolf.
BLITZER: Seemed to have worked wonders for him. Normally to use a medication like that, the FDA, you have to spend a few years testing it out before you give it to a patient, right?
GUPTA: Yes, this was a very unusual situation. We started hearing about this just from a reporting standpoint on Sunday and started really digging into this, talking to other sources.
It's unusual to have a medication, as you might guess, that's never been used in human beings before. Only in nonhuman primates, specifically monkeys. It had good results in monkey, but had never been used in humans before, to be used in this fashion -- it was sent in at subzero temperatures to Liberia. Instructions were to let it thaw for eight to 10 hours. Don't administer any heat to it. Just to let it thaw naturally and then to administer it through an I.V.
Originally, Ms. Writebol was going to be the first patient to receive it. Dr. Brantly had suggested that she receive the first dose. But during the time it was thawing, Wolf, he started to have a significant decline. His breathing became quite labored, his vital signs started to fluctuate. The rash over his body got increasingly bad. And eventually he asked the medication be given to him. It was.
And again this dramatic result -- by the next morning he went from thinking he was going to die, having a phone call with his wife telling her he thought he was going to die, the health care team around him very concerned obviously. By the next morning, he was able to get up, shower by himself and get on that prearranged medevac jet out of Africa to Atlanta. So you don't want to read too much into a single patient's story, but it seemed to be quite dramatic as it was described, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly was.
All right, Sanjay.
We will hear what the president has to say about this Ebola crisis. We're standing by for his news conference at the end of this unprecedented summit of African leaders who have come here to Washington.
Let's go to the State Department. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is standing by.
It was supposed to start, what, about an hour or so ago. He's obviously running late. The African leaders obviously running late as well.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, Wolf.
But we may be getting a little bit closer. We just saw an aide put a new notebook up on the podium behind me. That may be an indication that that notebook came out, the remarks were revised and then the notebook came back out again just a few moments ago, so we may be getting a little bit closer.
You were talking with Sanjay there about this Ebola scare. That's had an exact on this summit as well. A couple of leaders who were supposed to attend this summit, presidents from Sierra Leone and Liberia, were not able to attend because of that. The president was asked about this last week whether or not this was going to cause, a health scare here in Washington. The president said, no, those leaders coming from Africa were going to be screened at the airports in Africa and then screened again potentially here in Washington as they arrived here in the nation's capital for this summit.
And I talked to some officials here. They feel pretty good about the fact that did not develop during the course of this summit. At the same time, the president has had a challenging time trying to get the good news out of the summit. The billions of dollars being committed by government and business in African development and part of that is because of the Ebola scare, but also because of these foreign crises that are exploding around the world, not only in the Middle East and in Ukraine, but as Jim Sciutto has been mentioning, in Iraq as well.
And you have been talking about how all of this is weighing on the president's poll numbers. He may get asked about that during this news conference. Wolf, it's probably a good thing he's not being polled on his punctuality. We're now into hour two of waiting for the president to start this news conference -- Wolf.
BLITZER: He is the president of the United States. He can do that if he has important issues on the agenda with these African leaders.
Stand by, we will have live coverage of the president once he shows up at the microphone there at the State Department.
One of the top issues, I assume, will come up at the news conference what's going on in Gaza right now. This war that's unfolded in Israel and Hamas, it's nearing the end of day two of this cease-fire.
Let's check in with CNN's Jake Tapper, the anchor of "THE LEAD." he's joining us from Jerusalem right now.
Jake, how does it look right now? What's going on as far as the cease-fire is concerned and trying to keep it going?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right now, the Palestinian factions that had been trying to get a cease-fire for quite some time, namely the PLO and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, they are trying to push the other organizations participating in these cease-fire negotiations in Cairo, Egypt, to agree to extend them.
As you know Wolf, the Israeli government has already said they are willing to extend the cease-fire indefinitely, but right now, Hamas said they have not agreed to anything. This evening a small delegation from the U.S. State Department did arrive in Cairo. They will not be mediating. They will be taking a very small observatory and advisory role when it comes to these negotiations.
But right now, frankly, the clock is ticking. Friday morning at 8:00 a.m., the cease-fire expires and the immediate order of business, Wolf, is to get it extended so that this whole area does not dissolve back into the war footing we saw just a few days ago -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You have heard and I have heard, as you say, the Israelis are ready to extend it. The Egyptians certainly want to extend it. The Palestinian Authority want to extend it. But there's some question mark whether Hamas is on board yet, is that right?
TAPPER: That's right.
They have not agreed to go on board. I'm not sure about Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is the other organization that both the U.S. and Israel classify as terrorists, which is part of these indirect negotiations. As you know, Egypt serving as an intermediator between Israel and the Palestinian groups, since Israel will not sit down at a table directly with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
There's some pressure right now on the other organizations, Hamas and others, to agree to extend the cease-fire. I mean, one of the big things going on right now is there's a lot of jockeying behind the scenes, because before the negotiators, those negotiating, even get to the big, thorny issues of sitting down and trying to create some sort of path to a peace process, there are other questions, such as Israel's demand that Hamas demilitarize, the Palestinians' demand that Israel lift what they call the siege of Gaza, lift up the blockade so commercial goods can come in, there's an easier in and out of the border crossings in Egypt and Israel, the ports are open, fishermen are allowed to fish farther away from shore, all of those issues.
There's also questions about whether or not the Palestinian Authority will be able to take over some of the security at these border crossings if they are opened. Hamas is not trusted by Egypt or the Israelis to take that role. Some of the groups that are negotiating in Cairo want the Palestinian Authority to play more of a leadership role there. Hamas does not want that. They were the elected representatives in Gaza.
So there's so many thorny issues going on now, Wolf, and the cease- fire is the first one, of course.
BLITZER: Jake, stand by, because right after the president speaks, I assume the crisis in Gaza will come up. We're going to go right back to you.
Another crisis on the agenda, what's going on in Ukraine right now as thousands of Russian troops mass on the border.
Let's check in with Nick Paton Walsh. He's in Donetsk for us in Eastern Ukraine.
Nick, I may have to cut you off if the president comes to the microphone, but give us the very latest.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have been -- in the last few hours, Wolf, we have heard explosions, already to the north of Donetsk.
That seems to be potentially where the Ukrainian army is making one advance today. We have also heard anti-aircraft fire very close behind me as well. It's still very tense as you went around the city today. We saw the destruction wrought by the explosions we heard last night, and airstrikes it seems tore holes in some of the streets here and heavy gunfight a few blocks from where I'm sitting now seemed to be over one particular local government building.
Not quite sure who was fighting who there, but a real sense of tension here. Separatist militants thinning out in number preparing for a fast Ukrainian advance and the big unknown question, where does Moscow really lie in all of this? Yes, they have 20,000 troops just across the border, double the number they had a week ago.
Russia today dismissive of those NATO claims of bolstering troop numbers, saying the West was trying to "auction soap bubbles," suggesting they were trying to sell nothing to global opinion of the increased Russian presence here.
But the real question, too, is exactly what the separatist militants expect from Moscow. We spoke to a rare appearance here of one of the separatist leaders and he really wouldn't address the question, do you explicitly want Russian military help, offering instead excuses as to why it would be hard for Moscow to intervene, saying they would face complex economic sanctions were that the case, but also saying they think the separatist militants they are holding out pretty well against the Ukrainian military here.
So a tense city, certainly, quiet as I speak to you, intermittent small-arms fire around here, but a real sense the Ukrainian army is moving very fast toward the city center here and potentially without Russian help this could be a bad moment for the separatist militants -- Wolf. BLITZER: Nick, the president of the United States is now coming to
the microphone. He will open with a statement.
(BEGIN LIVE PRESSER COVERAGE)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon, everyone. Please be seated.
As I think everyone knows by now, this first U.S./Africa Leaders Summit has been the largest gathering we have ever hosted with African heads of state and government, and that includes about 50 motorcades.
I will begin by thanking the people of Washington, D.C., for helping us host this historic event and especially for their patience with the traffic.
As I have said, this summit reflects the reality that even as Africa continues to face great challenges, we're also seeing the emergence of a new, more prosperous Africa. Africa's progress is being led by Africans, including leaders here today.
I want to take this opportunity again to thank my fellow leaders for being here. Rather than a lot of prepared speeches, our sessions today were genuine discussions, a chance to truly listen and to try to come together around some pragmatic steps that we can take together.
And that's what we have done this week. First, we made important progress in expanding our trade. And the $33 billion in new trades and investments that I announced yesterday will help spur African development and support tens of thousands of American jobs.
With major new commitments to our power Africa initiative, we have tripled our goal and now aim to bring electricity to 60 million African homes and businesses.
And, today, I reiterated that we will continue to work with Congress to achieve a seamless and long-term renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act. We agreed that Africa's growth depends, first and foremost, on continued reforms in Africa by Africans. The leaders here pledged to step up efforts to pursue reforms that attract investment, produce barriers that stifle trade, especially between African countries, and to promote regional integration.
And, as I announced yesterday, the United States will increase our support to help build Africa's capacity to trade with itself and with the world. And, ultimately, Africa's prosperity depends on Africa's greatest resource, its people.
And I have been very encouraged by the desire of leaders here to partner with us in supporting young entrepreneurs, including through our Young African Leaders Initiative. And I think there's an increasing recognition that if countries are going to reach their full economic potential, then they have to invest in women, their education, their skills, and protect them from gender-based violence.
And that was a topic of conversation this afternoon. And this week, the United States announced a range of initiatives to help empower women across Africa. Our New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition continues to grow, aiming to lift 50 million Africans from poverty. In our fight against HIV/AIDS, we will work with 10 African countries to help them double the number of their children on life-saving antiretroviral drugs.
And even as the United States is deploying our medical first- responders to West Africa to help control the Ebola outbreak, we're also working to strengthen public health systems, including joining with the African Union to pursue the creation of an African Centers for Disease Control.
I also want to note that the American people are renewing their commitment to Africa. Today, InterAction, the leading alliance of American NGOs, is announcing that over the next three years its members will invest $4 billion to promote maternal health, children's health and the delivery of vaccines and drugs.
So this is not just a government effort. It is also an effort that is spurred on by the private sector. Combined with the investments we announced yesterday and the commitments made today at the symposium hosted by our spouses, that means this summit has helped to mobilize some $37 billion for Africa's progress on top of, obviously, the substantial efforts that have been made in the past.
Second, we addressed good governance, which is a foundation of economic growth in free societies. Some African nations are making impressive progress, but we see troubling restrictions on universal rights. So today was an opportunity to highlight the importance of rule of law, open and accountable institutions, strong civil societies and protection of human rights for all citizens and all communities.
And I made the point during our discussion that nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful. In particular, we agreed to step up our collective efforts against the corruption that cost African economies tens of billions of dollars every year, money that ought to be invested in the people of Africa.
Several leaders raised the idea of a new partnership to combat illicit finance, and there was widespread agreement, so we decided to convene our experts and develop an action plan to promote the transparency that's essential to economic growth.
Third, we're deepening our security cooperation to meet common threats from terrorism to human trafficking. We're launching a new security governance initiative to help our African countries continue to build strong professional security forces to provide for their own security and we're starting with Kenya, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana, and Tunisia.
During our discussions, our West African partners made it clear that they want to increase their capacity to respond to crises. So the United States will launch a new bolster to bolster the region's early warning and response network and increase their ability to share information about emerging crises. We also agreed to make significant new investments in African
peacekeeping. The United States will provide additional equipment to African peacekeepers in Somalia and the Central African Republic. We will support the African Union's efforts to strengthen its peacekeeping institutions.
And, most importantly, we're launching a new peacekeeping rapid response partnership, with the goal of quickly deploying African peacekeepers in support of U.N. or A.U. missions. And we will join with six countries that in recent years have demonstrated a track record as peacekeepers, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Uganda.
And we are going to invite countries beyond Africa to join us in supporting this effort, because the entire world has a stake in the success of peacekeeping in Africa.
In closing, I just want to say that this has been an extraordinary event, an extraordinary summit. Given the success that we have had this week, we agreed that summits like this can be a critical part of our work together going forward, a forcing mechanism for decisions and action.
So we agreed that the U.S./Africa Leaders Summit will be a recurring event to hold ourselves accountable for our commitments and to sustain our momentum. And I will strongly encourage my successor to carry on this work, because Africa must know that they will always have a strong and reliable partner in the United States of America.
So, with that, I'm going to take a couple questions.
I'm going to start with Julie Pace of Associated Press.
Where's Julie? There she is.
QUESTION: thank you, Mr. President.
There's been a lot of discussion surrounding this summit about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And there's an untested and unapproved drug in the U.S. that appears to be helping some of the Americans who are infected.
Is your administration considering at all sending supplies of this drug if it becomes available to some of these countries in West Africa? And could you discuss a bit the ethics of either providing an untested drug to a foreign country or providing it only to Americans and not to other countries that are harder hit, if it could possibly save lives?
OBAMA: Well, I think we got to let the science guide us.
And I don't think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful. What we do know is that the Ebola virus, both currently and in the past, is controllable if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place. And the countries that have been affected are the first to admit that what's happened here is that their public health systems have been overwhelmed.
They weren't able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough. You did not have a strong trust relationship between some of the communities that were affected and public health workers. As a consequence, it spread more rapidly than has been typical with the periodic Ebola outbreaks that have occurred previously.
But, despite, obviously, the extraordinary pain and hardship of the families and persons who have been affected, and despite the fact that we have to take this very seriously, it's important for us to remind ourselves this is not an airborne disease. This is one that can be controlled and contained very effectively if we use the right protocols.
So what we have done is to make sure that we're surging. It's not just U.S. resources, but we have reached out to European partners and partners from other countries, working with the WHO. Let's get all the health workers that we need on the ground. Let's help to bolster the systems that they already have in place. Let's nip as early as possible any additional outbreaks of the disease.
And then during the course of that process, I think it's entirely appropriate for us to see if there are additional drugs or medical treatments that can improve the survivability of what is a very deadly and obviously brutal disease.
So, we're going to -- we're focusing on the public health approach right now because we know how to do that. But I will continue to seek information about what we're learning with respect to these drugs going forward.
QUESTION: If this drug proves to be effective, would you support fast-tracking its approval in the United States?
OBAMA: I think it's premature for me to say that, because I don't have enough information. I don't have enough data right now to offer an opinion on that.
Jon Karl, ABC News.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
When you were running for president, you said -- quote -- "The biggest problems we're facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not going through Congress at all, and that's what I intend to reverse."
So my question to you, has Congress' inability to do anything significant giving you a green light to push the limits of executive power, even a duty to do so? Or put another way, does it bother you more to be accused of being an imperial president pushing those limits or to be accused of being a do-nothing president who couldn't get anything done because you faced a dysfunctional Congress?
OBAMA: Well, I think that I never have a green light. I'm bound by the Constitution. I'm bound by separation of powers. There's some things we can't do. Congress has the power of the purse,
for example. I would love to fund a large infrastructure proposal right now that would put millions of people to work and boost our GDP. We know we have got roads and bridges and airports and, you know, electrical grids that need to be rebuilt.
But without the cooperation of Congress, what I can do is speed up the permitting process, for example. I can make sure that we're working with the private sector to see if we can channel investment into much needed projects. But, ultimately, Congress has to pass a budget and authorize spending.
So, I don't have a green light. What I am consistently going to do is, wherever I have the legal authorities to make progress on behalf of middle-class Americans and folks working to get in the middle class, whether it's by making sure the federal contractors are paying a fair wage to their workers, making sure that women have the opportunity to make sure that they are getting paid the same as men for doing the same job, where I have the capacity to, you know, expand some of the student loan programs that we have already put in place so that repayments are a little bit more affordable for college graduates, I'm going to take -- I'm going to seize those opportunities.
And that's what I think the American people expect me to do. My preference in all these instances is to work with Congress, because not only can Congress do more, but it's going to be longer-lasting. And, you know, when you look at, for example, congressional inaction, and in particular the inaction on the part of House Republicans, when it comes to immigration reform, here's an area where, as I have said before, not only the American people want to see action.
Not only is there 80 percent overlap between what Republicans say they want and what Democrats say they want. We actually passed a bill out of Senate that was bipartisan. And in those circumstances, what the American people expect is that, despite the differences between the parties, there should at least be the capacity to move forward on things we agree on.
And that's not what we're seeing right now. So, in the face of that kind of dysfunction, what I can do is, you know, scour our authorities to try to make progress. And we're going to make sure that every time we take one of these steps, that we are working within the confines of my executive power.
But I promise you, the American people don't want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done. Even as we take these executive actions, I'm going to continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans, to the speaker, to the leadership on both sides and in both chambers to try to come up with formulas where we can make progress even if it's incremental.
QUESTION: Do you believe you have the power to grant work permits to those who are here illegally, as some of your supporters suggested?
OBAMA: What I certainly recognize with respect to immigration reform -- and I have said this in the past -- is that we have a broken system.
It's under-resourced. And we have got to make choices in terms of how we allocate personnel and resources. So, if I'm going to, for example, send more immigration judges down to the border to process some of these unaccompanied children that have arrived at the border, then that's coming from someplace else.
And we're going to have to prioritize. That's well within our authorities and prosecutorial discretion. My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law. And we already have a bipartisan law that would solve a whole bunch of these problems.
Until that happens, I'm going to have to make choices. That's what I was elected to do.
Margaret Talev, Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Along the lines of executive authority, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has previously said that the executive branch of government doesn't have the authority to slow or stop corporate inversions, the practice that you have called distasteful, unpatriotic, et cetera.
But now he is reviewing options to do so, and this is an issue that a lot of businesses, probably including some of the ones who were paying a lot of attention to this summit, were interested in.
So what I wanted to ask you was, what prompted this apparent reversal? What actions are now under consideration? Will you consider an executive order that would limit or ban such companies from getting federal contracts? And how soon would you like to see Treasury act given Congress's schedule?
OBAMA: Just to review why we're concerned here. You have accountants going to some big corporations, multinational corporations, but that are clearly U.S.-based, and have the bulk of their operations in the United States, and these accountants are saying, you know what, we found a great loophole.
If you just flip your citizenship to another country, even though it's just a paper transaction, we think we can get you out of paying a whole bunch of taxes.
Well, it's not fair. It's not right. The lost revenue to Treasury means it has got to be made up somewhere, and that typically is going to be a bunch of hard-working Americans who either pay through higher taxes themselves or through reduced services.
And in the meantime, the company is still using all the services and all the benefits of effectively being a U.S. corporation. They just decided that they would go through this paper exercise.
So there is legislation working its way through Congress that would eliminate some of these tax loopholes entirely. And it's true what Treasury Secretary Lew previously said, that we
can't solve the entire problem administratively, but what we are doing is examining, are there elements to how existing statutes are interpreted by rule or by regulation or tradition or practice that can at least discourage some of the folks who may be trying to take advantage of this loophole?
And I think it's something that would really bother the average American, the idea that somebody renounces their citizenship but continues to entirely benefit from operating in the United States of America just to avoid paying a whole bunch of taxes.
We're reviewing all of our options, as usual, and related to the answer I gave Jonathan about executive actions, my preference would always be for us to go ahead and get something done in Congress.
And keep in mind, it's still a small number of companies that are resorting to this, because I think most American companies are proud to be American, recognize the benefits of being American, and are responsible actors and willing to pay their fair share of taxes to support all the benefits that they receive from being here.
But, you know, we don't want to see this trend grow. We don't want companies who have up until now been playing by the rules suddenly looking over their shoulder and saying, you know what, some of our competitors are gaming the system and we need to do it too.
That kind of herd mentality I think is something we want to avoid. So we want to move quickly, as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, the federal contracting seems like an area that you have liked to -- it has worked well for you on issues like promoting gay rights or contraception policy. Is it fair to assume that that would -- attaching this to federal contractors would be the first thing you would think of?
OBAMA: Margaret, I'm not going to announce specifics in dribs and drabs. When we have done a thorough e evaluation and we understand what our authorities are, I'll let you know.
Chris Jansing, NBC News.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Russia said today that it's going to ban food and agricultural product imports. That was about $1.3 billion last year. At the same time Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the massing of troops along the border of Ukraine increases the likelihood of an invasion.
Are sanctions not working?
OBAMA: Well, we don't know yet whether sanctions are working. Sanctions are working as intended in putting enormous pressure and strain on the Russian economy. That's not my estimation. If you look at the markets and you look at estimates in terms of capital flight, if you look at projections for Russian growth, what you're seeing is that the economy has ground to a halt somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion in capital flights takes place. You're not seeing a lot of investors coming in new to start businesses inside of Russia. And it has presented the choice to President Putin as to whether he is going to try to resolve the issues in Eastern Ukraine through diplomacy and peaceful means, recognizing that Ukraine is a sovereign country, and that it is up ultimately to the Ukrainian people to make decisions about their own lives. Or alternatively continue on the course he's on, in which case he's going to be hurting his economy, and hurting his own people over the long-term.
And in that sense, we are doing exactly what we should be doing, and we're very pleased that our European allies and partners joined us in this process as well as a number of countries around the world.
Having said all that, the issue is not e resolved yet. You still have fighting in Eastern Ukraine. Civilians are still dying. We have already seen some of the consequences of this conflict in the loss of the Malaysian Airlines airline, or jetliner, and the sooner that we can get back on a track in which there are serious discussions taking place to assure that all Ukrainians are heard, that they can work through the political process, that they are represented, that the reforms that have already been offered by the government in Kiev are implemented to protect Russian speakers to assure decentralization of power, the sooner that we move on those and the sooner that President Putin recognizes that Ukraine is an independent country, it's only at that point where we can say save that the problems have truly been solved.
But in the meantime, the sanctions are working the way they are supposed to.
QUESTION: The troops that are massing on the border are more highly trained. They seem to have more sophisticated weaponry, according to intelligence. Does that make you reconsider, as a few Democrats have suggested, providing lethal aid to Ukraine given those troop movements?
OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that the Russian army is a lot bigger than the Ukrainian army. So the issue here is not whether the Ukrainian army has some additional weaponry. At least up until this point, they've been fighting a group of separatists who have engaged in some terrible violence, but who can't match the Ukrainian army.
Now if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that's obviously a different set of questions. We're not there yet. What we have been doing is providing a whole host of assistance packages to the Ukrainian government and to their military, and we will continue to work with them to evaluate on a day by day, week by week basis what exactly they need in order to be able to defend their country and to deal with the separatist elements that currently are being armed by Russia.
But the best thing we can do for Ukraine is to try to get back on a political track.
David Ohito (ph), the Standard (ph). QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
You've been hosting African kings, prime ministers and presidents for the last three days. But back home in Africa, (inaudible) is under threat. The walk of (inaudible) is becoming increasingly difficult. In Egypt, the (inaudible). In Ethiopia, dozens of journalists are in prison. In Kenya, they have passed very bad laws targeting the media.
OBAMA: What can the international community do to ensure that we have a strong media in Africa and more importantly to secure the release of the journalists who are behind bars?
And two, so many countries in Africa are facing threats of terror. I'm glad you've mentioned a few measures you're going to take. But what can the international community do to neutralize terror threats in Mali, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya? Could that be the reason you have skipped Kenya in your visits to Africa?
OBAMA: I'm sorry, what was the last part of the question?
QUESTION: Could the terror threats be the reason you have skipped Kenya in your visits to Africa?
OBAMA: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. The -- well, first of all, with respect to journalists and the media, the last session that we had on good governance emphasized that good governance means everybody has a voice. That government is transparent and thereby accountable.
And even though leaders don't always like it, the media plays a crucial role in assuring people that they have the proper information to evaluate the policies that their leaders are pursuing.
And so we have been very consistent in pushing governance not just in Africa, but around the world, to respect the right of journalists to practice their trade as a critical part of civil society and a critical part of any democratic norm.
You know, the specific issue of the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, we've been clear both publicly and privately that they should be released. And we have been troubled by some of the laws that have been passed around the world that seem to restrict the ability of journalists to pursue stories or write stories.
We have also been disturbed by efforts to control the Internet. Part of what has happened over the last decade or two is that the new media, new technology allow people to get information that previously would have never been accessible or only to a few specialists.
And now people can punch something up on the Internet and pull up information that's relevant to their own lives and their own societies and communities. So we're going to continue to push back against these efforts, as is true on a whole range of issues. And I have said this in the past, you know, many times we will work with countries even though they are not perfect on every issue. And we find that in some cases engaging a country that generally is a
good partner, but is not performing optimally when it comes to all various categories of human rights, you know, that we can be effective by working with them on certain areas and criticizing them and trying to elicit improvements in other areas.
And even among countries that generally have strong human rights records, there are areas where there are problems. That's true of the United States, by the way.
And so the good news, and we heard this in the summit, is that more and more countries are recognizing that in the absence of good governance, in the absence of accountability and transparency, that's not only going to have an effect domestically on the legitimacy of a government, it's going to have an effect on economic development and growth.
Because, you know, ultimately, in an information age open societies have the capacity to innovate and educate and move faster and be part of the global marketplace more than closed societies do over the long term. I believe that.
Now with respect to terrorism, I think there's uniform concern of terrorist infiltration in many countries throughout Africa. Obviously, this is a concern that we have globally.
OBAMA: A lot of the initiatives that we put forward were designed to partner so that countries first and foremost can deal with these problems within their own borders or regionally.
And the United States doesn't have a desire to expand and create a big footprint inside of Africa.
What we want to make sure we can do is partner with the African Union, with ECOWAS, with individual countries, to build up their capacity. And one of the encouraging things in the sessions was a recognition that fighting terrorism also requires security forces that are professional, that are disciplined, that themselves are not engaging in human rights violations, that part of the lesson that we have all learned about terrorism is that it is possible in reaction to terrorism to actually accelerate the disease, if the response is one that alienates populations or particular ethnic groups or particular religions.
And so the work that we're doing, including the security initiatives that I announced today, can make a big difference in that direction.
It's not just a matter of us providing better equipment or better training. That's a part of it. But part of it is also making sure that these security forces and the intelligence operations are coordinated and professional and are not alienating populations. The more we do that, the more effective we can be.
Last point I'll make is on good governance, one of the best inoculators against terrorist infiltration is a society in which everybody feels that they have a stake in the existing order and they feel that their grievances can be resolved through political means rather than through violence, and so that's just one more reason why good governance has to be part of the recipe that we use for a strong, stable and prosperous Africa.
Last question, Jerome Kartilde (ph) -- Kartilla (ph).
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier today the Israeli prime minister described the Gaza operation as justified and proportionate. Do you agree with these two words? And Israel and Hamas seem to be at odds over prolonging the cease-fire. Are you hopeful a cease-fire -- a true cease-fire can be achieved, and what exact role can the U.S. play in the current talks going on in Cairo?
OBAMA: I have said from the beginning that no country would tolerate rockets being launched into their cities. And as a consequence, I have consistently supported Israeli's right to defend itself, and that includes doing what it needs to do to prevent rockets from landing on population centers and more recently as we learned, preventing tunnels from being dug under their territory that can be used to launch terrorist attacks.
I also think it is important to remember that Hamas acts extraordinarily irresponsibly when it is deliberately citing rocket launchers in population centers. Putting populations at risk because of that particular military strategy.
Now, having said all that, I've also expressed my distress at what's happened to innocent civilians, including women and children, during the course of this process, and I'm very glad that we have at least temporarily achieved a cease-fire.
The question now is, how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way? We intend to support the process that's taking place in Egypt. I think the short- term goal has to be to make sure that rocket launches do not resume, that the work that the Israeli government did in closing off these tunnels has been completed, and that we are now in the process of helping to rebuild a Gaza that's been really badly damaged as a consequence of this conflict.
OBAMA: Long term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently, closed off from the world, and incapable of providing some opportunity -- jobs, economic growth -- for the population that lives there, particularly given how dense that population is, how young that population is.
We're going to have to see a shift in opportunity for the people of Gaza. I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza.
And the question then becomes, can we find a formula in which Israel has greater assurance that Gaza will not be a launching pad for further attacks, perhaps more dangerous attacks as technology develops, into their country, but at the same time ordinary Palestinians have some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off and incapable of pursuing basic prosperity? I think there are formulas that are available, but they're going to require risks on the part of political leaders. They're going to require a slow rebuilding of trust, which is obviously very difficult in the aftermath of the kind of violence that we've seen.
So I don't think we get there right away. But the U.S. goal right now would be to make sure that the cease-fire holds, that Gaza can be -- can begin the process of rebuilding, and that some measures are taken so that the people of Gaza feel some sense of hope, and to the people of Israel, feel confident that they're not going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we've seen over the last several weeks.
And Secretary Kerry has been in consistent contact with all the parties involved. We expect we will continue to be trying to work as diligently as we can to move the process forward.
It is also going to need to involve the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for some of the work that has been done in cooperation with Israel, in the international community, by the Palestinian Authority.
And they've shown themselves to be responsible. They have recognized Israel. They are prepared to move forward to arrive at a two-state solution. I think Abu Mazen is sincere in his desire for peace.
But they have also been weakened, I think, during this process. The populations in the West Bank may have also lost confidence or lost a sense of hope in terms of how to move forward. We have to rebuild that as well.
And they are -- the delegation that's leading the Palestinian negotiators, and my hope is that we'll be engaging with them to try to move what has been a very tragic situation over the last several weeks into a more constructive path.
All right? Thank you very much, everybody. And thank you all who participated in the Africa Summit. It was an outstanding piece of work.
And I want to remind folks in case they've forgotten of the incredible young people who participated in our fellows program. We're very proud of you. And we're looking forward to seeing all the great things that you do when you go back home.
All right? Thank you.
(END LIVE PRESSER COVERAGE)
BLITZER: The president wraps up a nearly 45-minute news conference. He opened up with this statement on this African summit and the first question was on the Ebola crisis right now.
Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been reporting on what's been going on. This deadly virus is clearly spreading. Sanjay, you've done some amazing work. The president said to let the
science guide us right now. He wasn't ready to fast-track this experimental serum that was provided these two Americans who came down with Ebola.
Give us your analysis on what we just heard.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the first question posed to him. The question basically was, should this experimental therapy which has shown some promise in just these two patients, should it be fast tracked in some way? He was careful, controlled and measured in his response, said he wanted to wait for more data and more science before answering that question.
He talked quite a bit about what he thought was happening, though, in West Africa, pointing to the fact that he believed public health systems were overwhelmed, that there's been a lack of trust of the medical establishment and that has really led to the worst outbreak in the history of Ebola, the worst one we've seen. He was sort, the reporter came back and asked him the same question again, said what if this medication was effective, could it be fast-tracked, given the tremendous need in Africa? And again, the president sort of -- he was very careful. He said, look, I'm just not going to answer that. I'm going to wait for the data and the science.
Just a quick reminder, Wolf, this medication that we're talking about, ZMapp which seems to have shown some promise in Dr. Brantly as well as Ms. Writebol, the two American missionary workers who are now in the United States, it had never been used in a human before, it's not gone through a clinical trial process, there isn't the science and the data that people would normally have, he's right about that.
The question is, you know, given again the tremendous need and the possible benefit, how do you weigh these things? And I think it's a question and a discussion that's going to come up again and again.
BLITZER: Sanjay, stand by. I want to go to Jerusalem.
Jake Tapper, I was listening carefully, that last Q&A, the last question on Gaza, what's going on? A very measured statement from the president defending Israel's right to protect itself from rockets and missiles and terror tunnels, as he called them, but at the same time urging everyone to extend the cease-fire and work on some of the bigger problems.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, "THE LEAD": That's right. He also expressed -- "distress" was I think the word he used -- at watching women and children in Gaza be killed during the military operations by the Israel Defense Forces. He didn't go so far as to lay all the blame on Hamas as many other American politicians and certainly Israeli politicians have done, but he did chastise Hamas for imbedding itself and firing upon the Israeli population from population centers, thus putting the Palestinian people, innocent civilians, women, children, at risk. He didn't lay all the blame on Hamas, but he did blame them and criticize Hamas severely. But there, of course, was the pivot towards his answer after laying
out the case as to why he supports and has consistently said that Israel has every right to defend itself, he did pivot towards his desires for what would come from cease-fire negotiations. We should point out, Wolf, that right now we are a little bit more than 24 hours away from the end of the 72-hour cease-fire, which will come Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. local time Jerusalem, Gaza and Egypt. We've still not heard whether or not Hamas, among the Palestinian factions, is willing to extend that cease-fire.
The Israeli government has said they are willing to extend the cease- fire indefinitely, but so far we have not heard from Hamas representatives. In fact, we've heard through intermediaries that Hamas is not willing as of right now to extend that cease-fire while Palestinian Authority and other representatives in that Palestinian contingent also want Hamas to go along with extending the cease-fire. So far, no word from them. That's going to be very tricky and very nerve-racking over the next 24 or so hours to watch, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, let's hope it lasts and it can be extended.
Jake, we'll get back to you.
The president was very firm in standing by his use of executive powers. He said, "People don't want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs to do something."
John King, he didn't back down on this sensitive issue at all.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He didn't back down, and yet, if listen to what he had to say, Wolf, he said he's studying immigration issues, do some things, but he won't be able to do everything he wants to do, he would need congressional approval to do that. On this complicated tax inversion issue, U.S. companies that essentially plant their flag overseas, he said he's looking at authority to do some things. He wishes he could get Congress to do more.
Again, he's very limited in his authority to do right now, from the executive standpoint, and very limited in his ability to go outside of that and get anything done -- a frustrated president.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, on Ukraine, he issued another strong warning to the Russians, don't move in.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He did. He was asked very directly, is this policy working? Are the sanctions working? He said, yes, they're imposing costs on Russia, enormous costs on Russia, but he admits the situation is not resolved yet.
If the goal of this policy was to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine, that is not working. In fact, when you speak to military officials, intelligence officials, they say it is escalating. They look at that Russian military presence on the border, they said it's very capable and very ready for an invasion. They're not sure it's going to happen but they're very concerned about it. BLITZER: As far as the issue of Africa is concerned the president was
very pleased by this summit and said, you know what, let's do it every year.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: He's very pleased, let's do it every year. But when you talk to African leaders and businessmen, they said they think it's a little bit little, a little too late. They want to see more African officials, U.S. officials, business leaders together and making those deals, thinking of Africa as the next great game, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, of course, we're going to continue our coverage of everything the president said, all of the news, the breaking news will continue. Thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next right here on CNN.