During Friday's White House press briefing, CNN's Jim Acosta asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest three times if the President regretted making his universally-panned statement that he had no strategy for fighting ISIS in Syria. Rather than answer the query, each time Earnest danced around the question as adeptly as a ballet dancer. It started with a simple yes or no question about the President's statement, "Would he have liked to have that one back?"
Earnest's first response tried to clarify what the President said the day before:
Earnest: Well, Jim, I want to clarify one thing ... what you described. The President was talking specifically about military options for countering ISIS in Syria, there are a number of things that we've already done to -- as it relates to the broader situation in Syria to confront some of the challenges there. The United States, as we've discussed many times in this room, is the largest single donor of humanitarian aid to Syria in terms of dealing with the terrible humanitarian situation that has been caused by the violence in Syria. We've seen significant number, millions of people who have been displaced by the violence there. The United States has been engaged in an effort to support the moderate Syrian opposition. There are a range of ways in which that support is provided. There's also some diplomatic support that's been provided to them. So there already has been some work under way in Syria to try to address some of the challenges there. But the President was candid about the fact that the Pentagon and -- is still reviewing options that may be available to him, military options that may be available to him to counter ISIL militarily in Syria.
Acosta tried to rephrase the question: "When you're the President, words matter. Just getting back to that first question, does he wish he had articulated that sentiment differently?"
This time Earnest tried to clarify the question President Obama was responding to when he made the strategy statement:
Earnest: Well, Jim, he was asked a very specific question. He was asked a question about -- well, let me finish this. This is important. He was asked a very specific question about whether or not the President would seek a Congressional authorization before ordering any sort of military action in Syria. And the point the President made was that's putting the cart before the horse. The President hasn't yet laid out his specific plan for military action in Syria. And the reason for that is simply the Pentagon is still developing that plan. He's still reviewing them. It would be putting the cart before the horse to talk about what sort of congressional authorization would be required for a plan that hasn't even been put in place yet.
The third time was not the charm as Acosta tried and failed one more time:
Acosta: I don't mean to belabor it but the fact that you came out so quickly and tried to explain what the President had to say suggests that what he said was not what he intended to say. Or are you saying the rest of us took it the wrong way?
Earnest: Well, I think -- I think what --
Acosta: Do you know what I mean?
Earnest: Yes, I do know what you mean. The reaction we had at the White House yesterday was not in response to the President's comments; it's in response to the way it was being reported. I don't mean that to sound as a criticism of you all doing your jobs. You all have an important job to do. But we do believe that it's important for people, both you and your readers and viewers, to understand what message the President was trying to communicate and what strategy he has already laid out for confronting ISIS, and what decisions remain to be made as it relates to military options available to him in Syria. That is not a critique of the media, that is just an observation that we didn't listen to the President's news conference and go formulate a strategy for responding. We listened to the President's news conference, watched your reporting and recognized that if we wanted people to have a very clear understanding of what the President was trying to communicate, that we needed to engage you directly to do that, and that’s what we tried to do.
Finally Acosta gave up and asked a different question.