TAPPER: The president ran a lot of commercials in 2008 about gas prices. It was a big part of his election campaign. So I don’t understand — there seems to be a tone of indignance from the White House about the fact that people are talking about gas prices. This is one of the reasons why you guys have your jobs.
EARNEST: If I’m showing a sign of indignance, it may be because I’m a little nervous on my first time. I’m not trying to demonstrate that there’s an indignance up here. I think –
TAPPER: I actually meant the president. (Laughter.)
EARNEST: (Chuckles.) I appreciate that. But — it’s very generous of you. (Laughter.) Certainly the future of energy production in this country, certainly the challenges that’s posed by a volatile oil — global oil market — those are legitimately — those are — how to confront those challenges is worthy of a policy debate. There is a legitimate debate we can have about how to address those challenges.
It is not legitimate to suggest that you can wave a magic wand and solve those problems right away. What is legitimate is for us to have a debate about what kind of policy we should pursue.
There are some who say we should have a three — as the president alluded to yesterday, a three-step approach to dealing with oil prices in this country, which is, step one is we should drill, the second step is that we should drill some more, and the third step is that we should keep drilling. It’s the president’s view that we can’t drill our way out of this problem, that we need to — we need to avail ourselves of a wide range of options, all of which the president is pursuing. And that is something that the president campaigned on extensively as a candidate for president in 2008 and is an example of the president making good on those promises.
TAPPER: How is he making good if gas prices are going to be higher this year, potentially, than ever before?
EARNEST: Well, because the promise that he was talking about was making America independent of foreign oil. And certainly the historic agreement on fuel efficiency standards that the president reached with a range of stakeholders and the — and the auto industry will do more to accomplish that goal than any other recent policy announcement. In some ways, by many other measures, it’s one of the most important accomplishments of this administration, which is that we can significantly reduce our reliance on foreign oil because of those increased standards.
It will also — it will reduce our reliance on foreign oil by 12 billion barrels of oil, and it will actually lower fuel costs for families and businesses in this country by $1.7 trillion – trillion with a T.
So there — that is one example of a substantive difference that the president’s policies have made and will make into the future. Many of the benefits of that policy are yet to be enjoyed, but we’re on track to get that done.
TAPPER: OK, also, I wanted to follow up on a question from Ben about the apology that President Obama — the apology letter to President Karzai. That’s also emerged as an issue that Republicans have criticized the president on. Without getting into their charges, can you walk us through the process and decision-making when it comes to issuing an apology? What concerns are taken into account? When is it thought that something rises to the level of needing an apology, and when is something not? When is it — when is there a concern that that’s probably too much — the United States doesn’t need to be too apologetic about such-and-such? I mean, how is a decision made to do such a thing? Is it only the lives of people protesting in the street or the U.S. service members that are taken into account?
EARNEST: This is a difficult thing to talk about in a hypothetical context, but I can talk about this specific context. And it was the president’s view that an apology was appropriate because he’s putting the best interest and safety and welfare of our service members and our civilians who are currently serving in Afghanistan right now, that we have seen a spike in violence around this – around this mistake. And the president believed it was in the best interest of their safety to make — to make it clear that an apology was appropriate and that the American people and the American military in particular does have respect for the religious views and the religious practices of the Afghan people.
So in this case, the president believed it was in the best interests and in the — of safety for American servicemen and -women in Afghanistan and for the civilians that are serving in Afghanistan.
TAPPER: Because there have been other incidents in the – in recent months involving U.S. service members doing things that the U.S. military, the Pentagon, expressed regret over or — when does it — who advises the president that something rises to the level of needing an apology from him as opposed to General Allen or Leon Panetta or whomever?
EARNEST: Well, it’s hard for me to speak to those range of issues. I can tell you that the president obviously consults with his national security team and with the military. Certainly, General Allen is prominent in those kind of discussions. But I would tell you that I can’t imagine — it’s my — I, obviously, wasn’t here in 2008 when President Bush issued a similar apology after there was an incident where an American serviceman had damaged a religious document of some kind.
TAPPER: A sniper?
EARNEST: I believe that — I believe that’s correct. So my guess is that those kinds of discussions are not altogether different. And I think President Bush was making — reaching the same calculation, which is that it would be in the best interests of the safety and welfare of our American servicemen and -women to issue an apology and make it clear that those actions were unintentional. And that’s clear in this case, too.