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Questions about Nina Pham on Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/24/14


Oct 24, 2014

SOURCE: U.S. State Department

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 24, 2014
Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 10/24/14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:08 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. I don’t have any announcements at the top, so, Mr. Lederman, would you like to get us started?

Q Thanks, Josh. Let’s talk about Nurse Nina Pham’s visit to the White House this afternoon.


Q It seems like a pretty powerful image having her in the Oval Office really just hours after being discharged. I assume this is designed to reassure people of the President’s confidence that there’s no danger to the public from people who are not symptomatic with Ebola.

MR. EARNEST: That certainly is a medical fact. That’s what our experts tell us. I think this also should be a pretty apt reminder that we do have the best medical infrastructure in the world, and certainly a medical infrastructure that’s in place to protect the American public. And the track record of treating Ebola patients in this country is very strong, particularly for those who are quickly diagnosed and admitted through the system.

So this is a testament today to a young woman who, over the course of doing her job and treating an Ebola patient, got sick. And she was doing the work that many nurses do on a daily basis, and she did so even though it did put her at some personal risk. And what she did, she didn’t do it because she was promised a raise; she didn’t do it because it was glamorous. She did it because she’s committed to her profession and she was committed to treating an individual who was sick, and she was prepared to use her training to try to meet that person’s needs.

So the fact that she has been treated and released I think is terrific news and I think answers the prayers of many people across the country today.


Q Josh, one question and one housekeeping item. The question is, when someone who has beaten Ebola comes to see the President in the Oval Office, are there additional layers of precautions taken? Do they undergo — is there a White House overseeing medical checkup to double — just to make sure that they’re, in fact, clear of this?

MR. EARNEST: No. As Dr. Fauci noted in his news conference that I caught part of earlier today, Ms. Pham was tested five different times to confirm that she no longer had the virus. So all the necessary testing that allows her to safely return home with a clean bill of health is the same guidance that she has gotten in terms of meeting the President.

Q And then the housekeeping item — I would like to ask the White House, through you, to open the 1:30 event — obviously, I think we’re very, very close now — open this event to the full complement of print, television and radio reporters who would typically cover an event like this.

MR. EARNEST: In this case, we’re just going to do the still photographers.

Q Could you explain why? I mean, is it out of concern for her? To me, it seems like it reduces the magnitude of this event a little bit. Nothing against our stills brethren, obviously.

MR. EARNEST: Right. I think in this case we determined that the still photographers would provide the access that was necessary to ensure that you and the American people were informed about this event.



Q Can you tell us a little bit about how this visit came together? Did the President invite her? Or how it came to fruition and sort of what was the impetus for that? And then also, separately, I’m sure you’re aware there’s a hearing on the Hill today where the administration’s response to Ebola has come under some fair degree of criticism. So can you tell us what Ron Klain has been doing and will be doing in the days to come to sort of get that into a better place and respond to some of the criticism that you’ve been getting that the response has been inadequate?

MR. EARNEST: Well, let’s first talk about the visit of Nina Pham today. The White House learned early today that she was going to be released from the National Institutes of Health medical facility that had been treating her for the last week or so. Of course, the NIH is just a few miles from the White House. And White House officials contacted the NIH to let her know that the President was interested in meeting her if she felt up to it. We were certainly pleased to see that she accepted the invitation and all look forward to her arrival here at the White House shortly.

As it relates to the hearing today, I didn’t see much of it. It does seem that most of the criticism was registered by somebody who struggled to pronounce the name of the virus at the hearing, so I think we might not be too concerned about some of the partisan criticism that was on display I think in the hearing. But there was representation from the administration at the hearing. It does reflect our commitment to working with Congress to ensure that the country is working together and pulling in the same direction to respond to this situation, and we’ll continue to do that in the days ahead.

Q And can you just, just one more time — this is quite an extraordinary event that Nina Pham has just been released, just been cleared of Ebola, and then she’s coming right here to the Oval Office. What is the significance, the symbolic significance of the President’s meeting today with Nina Pham?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it is an opportunity for the President to, first of all, to thank her for her service. Again, this is an individual — this is a nurse who used her training to treat somebody who was really sick with Ebola. And she dove into treating this individual without regard for her own health. This is somebody who — she didn’t get a raise because she did it. She certainly didn’t do it for the glory. There are a lot of individuals who treated that first Ebola patient in Dallas who we don’t know about. So this is somebody who displayed the kind of selfless service to her fellow man that I think is worthy of some praise. At the same time, we’re also certainly relieved that she has been successfully treated and has recovered from Ebola. I think that reflects, as I mentioned earlier, that the prayers of countless of Americans have been answered today.

So we’re certainly celebrating alongside her. And the President is looking forward to meeting her.

Q And then just to follow up lastly on what Olivier was asking about. I mean, this is an important meeting. Why ban reporters from this meeting? Why ban video cameras? I mean, countless other events in the Oval Office under this President and other Presidents, there are reporters present, there are television cameras present. Why does this White House decide on a meeting this important to say, no, reporters are not allowed at this event? Why?

MR. EARNEST: The good news is that reporters will be allowed at the event. The photo — your colleagues, the photojournalists will be in there to take a photograph of the President greeting her.

Q You know what I’m saying. There are no print reporters allowed. There are no television reporters allowed. There’s no editorial presence. You’re only allowing still photographers. Why?

MR. EARNEST: Many of you did have the opportunity to see her deliver remarks at the NIH upon her departure from the hospital.

Q That’s not an answer to my question. Why was this decision made?

MR. EARNEST: Because reporters did have the opportunity to see her speak already. And this is an opportunity for the President to greet her at the White House. And we did want to make sure that photographers could see her do so, but the President, nor Ms. Pham plans to make any comments today.


Q Now, just to follow up on what Olivier and this gentleman is saying, if you had a foreign camera, this is a worldwide story. This is a huge symbol for all of us. I mean, American press or foreign press, to see the President welcoming here this nurse. Yes, why, is the first question.

MR. EARNEST: It’s certainly good news, and I do understand that there will be wire photographers that will be in the Oval Office taking this picture and that image will be beamed around the world.

Q But it’s not a video thing. I mean, for people in Africa at this moment, it would be quite important to see this footage of the President welcoming this woman.

MR. EARNEST: And the good news is that they will see a photograph of the President greeting this woman in the Oval Office. So it will be a really nice event I think.

Mr. Plante.

Q You said a moment ago that the reason the President wanted to see Nurse Pham was to thank her for her service. That being the case, wouldn’t you want to have him do that in front of a television camera so that the rest of the country could see it?

MR. EARNEST: I think in this case, in order to offer his gratitude the President wanted to do that in person with Ms. Pham, and that’s what he’ll do in the Oval Office.

Q Let me ask you this. Was there a White House TV camera in that meeting?

MR. EARNEST: I don’t know. The meeting has taken place since I walked out here, so I don’t know.

Q If there was, would you then put that on the net?

MR. EARNEST: If you’re interested in it, we can work with you to get that.

Q No, we’re interested in knowing why, if you do, you’d make it available, bypassing us.

MR. EARNEST: We can engage in this hypothetical discussion after the briefing and after I’ve determined whether or not there was a television camera in there.


Q If I can just be a contrarian for one moment about the President’s meeting with Nurse Pham. Is it a good idea for the President to meet with Nurse Pham given the fact that she just got out of a specialized hospital being treated for Ebola?

MR. EARNEST: She is somebody who has tested negative five times for the Ebola virus. Her doctors, who are some of the foremost experts in the field, have confirmed that she is virus free.

Q No risk to the President whatsoever?

MR. EARNEST: No. And, in fact, I think the only question that people had was whether or not she would be up for making the trip down here to the White House. And we were pleased to see on television that she looked very healthy when she was delivering her statement, and pleased that she accepted the invitation of the President.

Q And according to the print photographers who went inside the President’s meeting with Nurse Pham, the President did hug Nurse Pham. And is that — should he maybe just hold off on that a little bit just to be cautious? He is the President.

MR. EARNEST: Yes, he is the President, and he was not at all concerned about any risk that would be associated with him showing his gratitude to her by hugging her.

Q And getting back to Dr. Spencer, his case, does it not present a sort of an interesting discussion about personal responsibility? Because he came back, he was taking his temperature, he was monitoring his own health conditions and so forth. But I mean, I think it could be argued that not every doctor would be as diligent coming back from West Africa, and perhaps some doctors might take more risks than others. Aren’t you sort of leaving it up to the personal responsibility of each and every health care worker who comes back from West Africa to do the right thing, to make sure that you don’t have exposures like what could have happened in New York and may potentially still happen?

MR. EARNEST: Well, I would just posit, Jim, that individuals who have spent time in West Africa certainly understand the seriousness of this disease. And I think that they would take seriously their responsibility to ensure that they weren’t responsible for transmitting it to others intentionally. And so I think it’s not at all surprising that somebody like Dr. Spencer, who was so dedicated to stopping the spread of this disease, that he’d be monitoring his own health very closely, which apparently he was.

It’s also not at all surprising that somebody was so steeped in the details of the treatment of this disease, that he would respond the appropriate way once it became clear that he was experiencing an elevated body temperature and he did contact the medical professionals in New York who were trained and ready to deal with this particular situation. And we were pleased that he was transported so quickly to the hospital and isolated and began receiving treatment quite early.

So let’s do the week ahead.

On Monday, the President will meet with the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee at the White House.

On Tuesday, the President will travel to —

Q What committee is that?

MR. EARNEST: This is the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee.

Q What’s that? (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST: We’ll have some more details — this is a steering committee that’s interested in partnering on issues related to advanced manufacturing. (Laughter.)

Q Thanks for the guidance. (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST: Please tip your waitresses on the way out. (Laughter.)

On Tuesday, the President will travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to attend a DNC roundtable and a campaign event for Mary Burke and other Wisconsin Democrats. As you may know, Ms. Burke is running for governor in the state of Wisconsin. Further details about the President’s trip to Wisconsin will be made available over the weekend.

On Wednesday, the President will be here at the White House and will attend some meetings.

On Thursday, the President will travel to beautiful Portland, Maine to attend a DNC roundtable and a campaign event for Mike Michaud and other Maine Democrats. Mr. Michaud, as you guys all know, is a Democratic congressman from Maine who is running for governor there. Additional details about the trip to Maine will be available soon. After those activities in Maine, the President will travel to Providence, Rhode Island, where he will remain overnight.

On Friday, the President will wake up in Providence, Rhode Island, and deliver remarks at Rhode Island College. His remarks will focus on the economy and the importance of pursuing policies that help women succeed. Additional details about the Rhode Island trip will be available in the coming days as well.

The President will return to the White House on Friday after that event. And then in the evening, the President and the First Lady will welcome local children and children of military families to a trick-or-treat on the South Portico of the White House. I know that’s something that a lot of people are looking forward to.

On Saturday — we’ve got some additional details about the President’s activities next weekend. So this is next Saturday, the President will travel to Detroit, Michigan — or the Detroit, Michigan area to attend a campaign event for Gary Peters and Mark Schuauer. Additional details on the President’s travel to Michigan will be available soon. Obviously Mr. Peters is a candidate for the Senate and Mr. Schauer a candidate for governor in Michigan.

On Sunday, the President will travel to Bridgeport, Connecticut for an event with Dan Malloy and other Connecticut Democrats. Mr. Malloy is the sitting governor of Connecticut and he is running for reelection. You’ll recall that this was a trip that was originally scheduled for last week, but was rescheduled for next weekend.

After that event in Connecticut, the President will travel to Philadelphia to attend a campaign event for Tom Wolf and other Pennsylvania Democrats. Mr. Wolf is, of course, the Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania. We’ll have additional details about next Sunday’s travel to Connecticut and Pennsylvania available soon.

Q Rhode Island then is also a make-up?

MR. EARNEST: Yes, this is — that’s a good point, Scott. The President’s event in Rhode Island on Friday is rescheduled from the event that had to be canceled last week.

Q This is the most he has been campaigning since the reelect, I guess. That’s probably a fair assessment.

MR. EARNEST: Yes, that’s probably a pretty good one.

Q Is he pretty psyched up about it? (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST: Psyched I think is actually the word the President used. So we’re looking forward to it next week and hopefully you’ll all be able to join us as we travel.

Have a good weekend, everybody.

2:05 P.M. EDT


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