KC native Josh Earnest dishes on his time as press secretary in Obama administration

Kansas City's Morning News
Friday, November 3rd

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Josh Earnest was a long time Press Secretary for President Obama and he is kind enough to join us in studio at this hour to talk about. Life in the White House Josh it's always good to talk to you and we're thrilled to have. A successful native son home for a few days good morning guys it is nice to see in person yeah usually weren't a sudden voters thought. That's nice to see you smiling faces the the big deal around here is the airport they vote on Tuesday it is what you you you've seen airports around the world I have you grew up here you know this airport right for decades it makes no sense to me. Why you can the city wouldn't embrace this opportunity. To improve the airport to modernize the airport it seems to me and I have been followed it's only a little bit but as he should fact check me with the fact that god had a but it seems that the biggest winner here is that we go to the airport now. It's very hard achievements you've gone through security. To get a meal to buy a magazine it's his spirit is very limited space but redeveloping the airport you're gonna create all of this commercial space. And as you point out it's people who don't living in this week were coming through an aggregate of eight and pay taxes on the meal that they pick up at the airport are gonna pay taxes on the beer they pick up. That is revenue that right now. It is lost but it would be you reported this city. So that seems like one outside in addition to all of the obvious. Efficiency gains convenience. I'm potential security benefits so. I'm all and particularly because it paid for by per user fees and not by. That is. Thank you overthrow to have you back no matter which airports you can tell. And tells you which airports oh yeah it does she your background I mean did you think that I will end up as the Press Secretary for the president of the United States. Mine no yeah I would never imagine something like that would happen IA. You might for seven politics was not actually until I graduated from college and you know I know there are green light. With a degree in political science but I didn't aspire necessarily to a career in politics I. I took you know I majored in political science is the professors and classes. And I you know what to rights which then Houston got a great education and the you know there are people who you know their their their parents were involved in politics or you know their their their their dad was award cat and their mom with an elected. Official my parents voted and they still do vote regularly and I've group vividly remembers the kid go into the voting Booth with my parents. But that was the sum of my political experience. So this was this is always eaten what appealed to me was the sense of competition through since that night. But still in have a debate about our ideas with the compete in who gets more votes went. And that's what attracted me to it and and and I never imagined it would. Team into the places that it take sort of hagee how did you end up I mean long before you became Press Secretary you were in the press office and before that you were working on the campaign that's right. What what. Preceded working with then Senator Obama and his campaign you know I I worked in politics in Texas shortly after I graduate the very first job I've worked on was the Houston mayor's race twenty years ago. And city politics is fascinating including but that's what it's discussion the airport and advocates have interest in even though I don't even live here anymore. But yes I added to work in Texas politics and then decided after a couple of years have still you know young at the time. I decided that I was gonna try to pursue a career in politics than I might as well move to the city where everybody's careers in politics so moved to Washington in January 2001. Turned out to be a terrible time to move to Washington DC and if you're aspiring democratic aide. Because I George W. Bush had just won the White House and a contested election you had Republicans were ascendant in both the house and senate. And what that meant was it meant that Democrats who previously stepped up the Clinton administration. Were now flooding the job market. And there weren't that many job openings for somebody like me who didn't have any Washington experience didn't have any Washington connections. And I moved here moved to DC without any real. Prospects so I you know literally spent the first couple months as in Washington. Sleeping in the empty bedroom of a friend of mine who had a two bedroom apartment that is get rated that eliminate. Or get you know get ready to that and weeks. And I kind of the pavement and and led to some incredible. Josh. Ernest is it was a longtime presser there for President Obama he's a Kansas City native he is with us in studio this hour if you got questions for Josh wanna know how things work behind the scenes at the White House Texas. 22980. As the K and easy text mining is 809. Ethic and weather together every ten minutes on the nines started off with general ins. Are you gonna give decide we're doing very well right now nothing in the way going to be problems we do have a police car on the right children who make somebody get a ticket westbound I port 35. Admit cap the operate they're still the left lane Gunter there issue are approaching from all over commit gap that they should be the last few days we see that over the weekend. Acting ticketed to describe being in could be. Back to all lanes open westbound four to privately campers part in next week John Rollins now here's major miles. Looking pretty good on the Missouri side south of the river we pretty much popped open here in down I seventy yellow still slow northbound I 49 past main street with the road were taken at the right lane there Scott has a look at the north land. Still taking up the left lane southbound when 69 highway and I 29 for that crash were packed up almost Erie road at 1015 minute delay. On south bout went 169 that you look up north. Nature brought about positive coaching alliance if you have questions by you through high school sports positive coaching alliance can help PCA's national nonprofit organization developing better athletes in better people through youth and high school sports in fell. At positive coach dot org major miles KM BZ traffic. Showers possible later on today but at clouds will increase throughout today high 53 right now 38. At your official weather station. It is a 10 on Kansas city's morning news and on FaceBook alive Josh Earnest was president Obama's Press Secretary he is with us in studio. He has been a long time guest on the show he it was always very gracious and very generous with his time both before he was Press Secretary and when he was Press Secretary. He comes home for just a couple of days and carves out an hour with us and Josh we appreciate it more than you'll ever well thank you for having me it's it's I've always enjoyed gotten together over the years and it's fun to do in persecuted. We often talk off the air and on the air about. The press secretary's job and how it's so incredibly difficult how in the world she do it I still wonder when you were offered the job did you ever think. This is too much. I I didn't. You know IE I still remember the day when the presence assistant showed up in the dory at my office as the deputy Press Secretary at the time. And ABC news's own Jon Karl was actually sitting in my office talking to me when the presence assistant appeared in my door and John is get ready for his news report that he is doing for the evening news and presents this instead. Just need to see you. And as it is important that you Johns guys news broadcasts or make sure that we get our chance to audience with Stanford is on the network held a hair so can you get imminent. And Brian news presents its instead actually the president wants to seize the publishing comments yet probably should. As I got my door looked in the Oval Office the president sat me down and and you looked at me and he said you know I and that we been having this discussion and interviewed with the cheapest after a couple of people make my case for the job. And the presence at the you're going to be my many Press Secretary and I was excited and humbled and but I thought the wake of that responsibility. And the present to me two things that meaning the first is you said. I'm not gonna watcher briefing every day which is a departure from what the current president. But he did that because he wanted to make sure that. I understood that he wasn't going to be second guessing every single where that was coming out of my mouth he understood the back and forth and I made a joke at my last press briefing. About how hard it must be. Or somebody who. It is widely recognized. Even by people who don't agree with them politically. If he is one of the most gifted effective communicators in it in the world for at least in his generation. To have somebody else out there speaking for you every day must be really hard thing there must have been times where he was talking about a television and saw me on their thinking. I want to say that what he's like we're picked up the newspaper is that where's he could think that. But the second thing he told me that was really important as he said I'm not there what to briefing every day but if there's ever anything you need to know from knee. Before you walk out there. Incumbent my office and I will I will I will carve out a minute in my day on short notice talks due to make sure you have what you need to nature you can. Peacefully represent my point of view and perspective. To the press corps into the public he was invested in my success. And he knew that by that making that short investment it was gonna take some of the week opposite him. In terms trying to threaten. That the administration Elena and I have said for a long time that it takes a special kind of talent. To do that job you have to know what to say you have to know what not to say you have to be able to answer questions and not answer questions. Is that something you get in practice is that eight talent that certain people just have and people in an administration recognize that how. How do you get that ability. To be able to stand up and do it and do with the right coaches we've seen people god bless you show on spicier agree on Saturday Night Live but we seem people who don't do it as effectively as others yet. Well look one advantage I had and there's no doubt this is a huge advantage is I'd been the deputy for five and a half years almost by the yours before I got the Press Secretary job. Which meant that I spent five years watching that you've been taken briefing room every single day and so I hold from the strengths. Of my predecessors and look I learned some lessons from predecessors to watching them through that briefing every day and I incorporated that those who watch them carefully there are some. White House reporters who obviously watch them carefully who could pick out elements of my eight style in my presentation who would say that was that was very. That was a lot like what Robert it's easier that was a lot like what Jay Carney is that was a real. Advantage the other thing that I benefited from and this is something that there's just sort of my natural temperament. Is that I am a pretty calm guy. And under that kind of pressure trying to maintain some clarity of thinking require somebody who's not gonna get too angry or too frustrated. On the spot and being able to it. And maintains an element of being cool. Was and port. I think that's what we talked about this earlier you used the word unflappable and who. Josh Earnest is the longtime Press Secretary for President Obama ready to anyone on Kansas city's morning news EJ Becker Ellen shake and Josh Earnest who was president Obama's Press Secretary for many years. He is from Kansas City and he is kind enough to take an hour out of his out of his time here at home with family. To join us and and and talk about his life in the White House your life today's very different. Not in the White House beautiful wife two beautiful children. They probably didn't keep you up at night as much as the job dead on the job. Up what was a day like. That. Policy about that trash guys like Erica the one thing about the about the job is that IA. I actually did sleep great at night. Mostly because I was decisions. So I didn't have trouble sleeping if it's me to wake me up people would wake me up in that fortunately that did not happen very often. But in the piece of it was the most challenging part and you know there were there you the day's always serve early we usually in the late. The point and the thing was hard with that there's some days word and really late and even if the day and it really late there's never situation or it's a you know discuss. Right it just had that you were up and adamant and ready to go again we asked to. The weekends were different the weekends were just that we kids were hard for being unpredictable. There are played time's right to work the weekend are going to go enemies in the office but as. In general. You could be home and it's more the only time and be at home and not have to on a suit not have to shave that day. But that the challenge at the weekends is just that even on the weekends have had checked my. I email and our eyes constantly wondering this may trying to reach me. As something terrible happened in the world and need to know about is there were a reporter who's working on a story it's going to be terrible for us is just emailed me and says he's gotten our NAFTA in on the story. So that kind of constant. Either demeanor and or worrying about a lingering problem. It wears on and it. It is why even if there hadn't any change in. And in the presidency in January of Tony seventeen. My expiration date was right it's I'm Bermuda. Have me change it doesn't just Wear and you went to your spam and yet it it it makes our fortunately my wife. I had her own rather accomplished career in in politics and government. So she knew firsthand. How demanding my job was and so it meant that she was extraordinarily understanding. But I you also say that both the president and the chief of staff. Understood the demands of the job on him and we it's a one of the things that a result to do with my wife. Had our our son our oldest. Which she had about two months after I was after I got the Press Secretary so now there are a lot of changes are can be the same time. IE out results to make it home at least one day a week. Before he went to sleep and if I didn't what would happen is I would see him when he went to bed on Sunday night. And I wouldn't see him again until he woke up again on Saturday morning that would leave the house before he woke up. And I would get home till after he was started back in bed for the night so. There were times where I would you know I'd I'd leave the office at 5 o'clock psyche get home and spend an hour with him before he went to bed. In a minute pick up the computer in and finish working and there are times in that you Wear that UNICEF and comic by thirty and it just can you talk. And it's a you know Dennis. I'm with my son is it's a that I can quite back on he would say absolutely coming back in his sleep. And having that kind of support in in a demanding work environment where you the president chief of staff for saying this is important. And if it's if we don't really need you now always an hour and we'll get you when your available you know that may be a good answer. We had a text or text in and say you know it wasn't a fan of Obama politics the what was the president like personally and I think that may give us a good insight into that right there Josh Earnest he was president Obama's Press Secretary he's a Kansas City native. He's kind enough to take some time thus while he's in town for a couple of days. To talk about life in the White House and politics and and what. What it's like behind the scenes and is a rare opportunity to really find out what it's like to work in the White House. President has a certain style as Press Secretary did you have to reflect his style. And she did you read his moods as to know how to approach human maybe how to handle the press that day. Yet look there are two kinds integrity that any presidential spokesperson has to happen first is to be able to accurately. A state what's happening in the world yet have knowledge you have to have some integrity to mention the stating that accurately but the other kind of integrity at the press corps looks to you to have. Is to be able to accurately reflect the president's view and perspective on. And so of the benefit that I had was that I worked on that on the presence can presidential campaign and his deputy Press Secretary in the White House. I worked for the president for seven years. More than seven years actually before I was named white house Press Secretary so I knew him well I had traveled around the world. We'd had long car rides early in the morning late at night when he's in a bad mood when he's in a good mood. And so that gave me a real advantage it it yet having that kind of rapport with him made it easy to elicit information I could read him pretty well. It also meant that when people would ask and it out of left field questions. You know about the presence view of something I would always say I haven't talked about this lately but. And I can reflect on a conversation I had with him 345 years earlier this sort of get people listened to his approach to something. And so that was just a real advantage and you know. It is clear that that debt that two people that have served as president trumps Press Secretary. Just don't have that history with them and that does put that put them that it's you know it's interesting this is a good question for the text like to follow that up. How hard is it to coordinated message to the American people it seems like the trump administration. Is hurting cats at times. And I guess can you can you compare and contrast because I'm guessing. Your White House probably had a much more coordinated here's the message everybody's on message and it seems like from an outsider's perspective. That the trump White House may be trying to do that but the president himself spoils that you know it's that's exactly every White House is spit everywhere else is herding cats items truth they would hit it out if that was true hours and it certainly is true of of this one. I think the difference is is that this seems are showing a little bit more with this White House and in part it is because of the lack of discipline of the of the current president. That you know what. That certainly in the Obama White House the president who has bought in on a strategy and was responsible for. Leading pretty routine for communications strategy would be that. Obviously the most Harrell full card that we had to play. And and driving our message and in and making their case. And so we would make should be used by in on that strategy for retail and execute. President trump it doesn't seem to have that their discipline and and some of that is because. And this is a real challenge for a president and is one of the things that contribute to present Obama's successes the success and it certainly is one of the things I think that it undermines president trumps. Strategy or or or efforts is that president trumpet so singularly focused on what is happening right now. What is being reported on cable television what are they talking that I'm on talk radio what is on the front page of the Fox News website or the CNN web site. And it means that he is so responsive to that pressure and in a news environment where things are changing based on the latest tweet. It is. Basically impossible for them to sustain. A communications strategy over time. President Obama and he took some criticism for this but it ultimately was really important as success was able to take the long view and he came by naturally he was willing to win do war. Two were three or four days. Or weeks or in some cases months. Of bad coverage. In pursuit of an eventual goal. And that that that that played well for him that that. That that approach. Is what allowed him to enjoy some success that he realized at the end of his presidency. And that required to take its lumps at the beginning but it it it left him in the strongest standing of any modern day president at the end of his presidency. And that left him with a lot of successes that he can point to at the end of this presidency that weren't obvious that the begin. Quick question from attacks like yeah I've always wondered about this to what some of the out of left field type questions you received and how did you handle the bookish ever know what people are gonna ask. You never to have people are gonna ask I've had and I know the best example this is actually something that I was asked at the White House podium when I was still a deputy white house press and mrs. This was a three or four years ago you knew you were called that there's a bunch of news coverage. About an asteroid that is making it close path with planner. And get a lot of news coverage like oh you know if there at the calculations are just off by you know 110 of 1% and make it really pose that. A risk and we had a pretty good you know I've been any good that trajectories and a lot of the coverage that was lighthearted. To somebody in the White House briefing at the into the White House briefing that. Andy said. It just confirmed it via. It we're going to be this week and yet there's this thing and pop pop pop up and so I had been two reactions that I always had in. Getting an analyst bill actions the first is now taking myself too seriously and so I sort of allowed my inner monologue and made public. And I said. I keep we've been saying this very many laughed. But. Scientists have assured us that with aspirin does not pose a threat planner I felt like it was like myself that movie. But I also felt like I had to say that because. It would have been huge news if the White House was joking about an asteroid could and I and Clinton at that we know it it it it so understanding the gravity no pun intended of the position that. While also keeping a little bit of a sense of humor about it was important. But yes I did get this pronounces from the White House podium that. The planet earth and life on it was not threatened by it. And maybe the most important thing you've ever done that in some way that probably runs. Give and take. Between the press corps and the Press Secretary on Kansas city's morning news' Josh Earnest is with us in studio he's a Kansas City native. And he was president Obama's secretary and what is on the news line. Is ABC's chief White House correspondent could have Jonathan Karl back Willis. On the program to to talk a little bit about the relationship between the Press Secretary. And the press that Jonathan when you go into a press briefing knowing that it can be contentious knowing that you want real answers but knowing that if if you asked some just the wrong way Europe target as well what's the most important thing you keeping your mind about the relationship. With the press staff in any given White House. The key thing is he can go the you've got your job to do your job is is the pertinent relevant questions. And 22. You know try to get here in terms of the White House's position in an actual or potential acts that the that the Press Secretary what. If you're here you're not there to get into ray it into a fight with the Press Secretary responsible beat arsenal. It you know about me asking the questions it's it's it's you know about trying to get information. So. It does get a little oval you know it's a little and there. And you'd have to be careful not not to take it personal. Look at the risk of a brewing me rooting John's reputation give my compliment which kids. I. Which is that this is one of John strength. Is that he is somebody who is a very collegial guy fun to sit around and talk to. But when he's in front of the camera and you're seeing behind that podium you know that John is gonna ask this probably tops questioned the Mahatma many times and there are. There it there are there any number of clips on YouTube of John ask me tough questions right outlooks a good answer those questions. But that's his responsibility and he was never in a position where he is seeking to intentionally embarrass me I never got that impression he was there ask me tough questions. And that is that that's what our. That's frankly what. We as American citizens deserve we deserve an independent press corps. People who were professionals people who are take their job seriously who do their homework who were informed who work experienced observers of our democracy. Are holding people to account demanding accountability demanding transparency and but what you also needs he needs somebody on the other side of the podium who. Take that. He takes it seriously and is willing to engage in is willing to engage in that process and being held to a high standard. For accountability and transparency but that Jon Karl when you when you hear Josh say this in the salt makes sense to us. Haven't you felt like a big old target during this administration sometimes can sometimes the president little world what a crowd into a frenzy. And your suddenly at the center of that target. Well it started very early. Ministry would. We prop John we've got a problem with your with your connection hero quick will give back to Josh Earnest policy might get a better connection with Jon Karl just. Joseph shear to manage to reject the other day there. What frustrates you about the press corps will do what have I do feel like there was a there was a question early on in this presidencies met through whether or not the press corps was the Libyan position. Where they were going to be allowed to do their jobs are there there'll be swirling questions about whether or not there's immediately briefing in the trump when asked whether or not the trump White House was gonna allow. Reporters to work from inside the White House grounds to some that they've done for more than a generation. And I think what we have seen is actually the new rules strong validation of the good work that independent journalist do every day. So that has been good to see. And it's been good to see that circulation is up. That was viewership is up viewership is people are interested in understanding. And getting some more insight into what's happening their political system that is a really really really. Good thing. You know from my own experience there were occasions where I can intensely frustrating to questions from reporters. Coup were basing their question on something it just wasn't for. And it put me in a position of having to fact check their question in addition to answering. And the reason that I found it frustrating is I knew that when I was walking to that I was gonna be held to a very high standard. For accuracy and honesty and I welcomed being held that standard but I also the people. We're gonna hold meet that standard in responsible for doing so. Hold themselves to some kind of standard to and that that to the only times that really came close to lose my corporate and really around this idea of journalists ask me questions. We had a fax from an it was a Josh Earnest and Jonathan Karl from ABC news with us on things like John John we got a little cut off their real quick can you sum up what we were who were seen here before we lost. Sure. So I thought I'd attribute it started happening really in the administration went Steve Berry and Dugard interview where he called crush the opposition are. I mean imagine that call. Called them repressed the opposition party united. Out there and about it not long after Saturday that how you don't we got all that bad but. The bottom line is you're you're essentially your argument was your more can you. Our party for costs because you know we want repeal law certain parts the democratic constituency like no organized labor. You don't meet meet meet got. You know week week you worked better at a meat processor actually in the Democrats are. And I did not the role that want to should weigh. And when the president himself escalated that. By declaring. It beat craft would be enemy of the people. All of and then it Richard that the rallies. Really stirring up this crowd sometimes and a way to be rather. I dignity when you're when you're out one of these rallies and and he's talking about the horrible despicable people pack air points in the direction of the process area are surrounded by eight while supporters. I mean that it very uncomfortable positions and mine. Do you want it is that it. We have to still remains focused on doing our job or not to play goal appease the opposition parties and not take cannot take it personally. And our belt yet if somebody. In the front entrance and declaring your enemy of the people very art. Not just sit there and get into it get engaged in the fight with them about that. I'd like to try to put that aside the the issue is what are they doing one of the questions that. About what the White House the president actually do. Jonathan Karl ABC's chief White House correspondent where this is part of our discussion this morning with Josh Earnest. John we know you're busy when no you're on the road and we appreciate take a couple of minutes with us this morning thank you. Eight MB easy Josh Earnest this president Obama's white house Press Secretary he is a Kansas City native and he is with us in studio to talk. Well about life. About the job and his time of the White House this job turned you on or off to politics because somebody and FaceBook asked are you considering a career and it. Yeah I'm not considering ticker right now I you know politics has been great it's taken me places that I never measure net ago but. But you know I'm I'm I'm ready for the different with my career to always going to be involved in politics the most to me look at that helped my friends were still involved but that. Now I'm ready for a for the next it okay. You were with NBC. And how often they call you Al offered you on TV talking about politics now almond there out in two or three times a week generally and it's you know it's it's a fun opportunity it's much less stress is you'd expect not nearly as oh sweetie. And a team for the White House anymore to speak for myself. And it allows the note that was a little bit and I it's I really enjoy the opportunities that. Serbia on the other end of that effort change and it's a lot of fun at the folks in receiving great to me about that opportunities. I was on a late night with Seth Meyers. A month or two ago so it's which is also really fun discussion that we're in the White House I had eight. In BC thing is that biggest eye roll moment. On the podium. At the White House biggest arrow when there's when they when I was doing the briefing. Win a Secret Service agent walk in the tour in Europe or the briefing and said we received a bomb threat. So everyone needs to evacuate. And this was a that the Secret Service is a group of total pros. And I had a great working relationship with them they were looking out for me time and time again. This is somebody was relatively junior did recognize the people involved that's what I'd like nothing there's a journalist in the back of the room we said he screamed should we shelter in place. And I plan that is and I think we'll be right back on this Josh you've always been very generous with your time when you're in the White House after the White House we certainly appreciate taken power out of your time with your family here to come and talk to listen and give us behind the scenes look at. The career the senior White House staff. Thank you so much for being here and thank you for your service to our country thanks for having me and you guys facilitate exactly the kind of discussion leave behind a tree a close look at the issues so stated by facts are respectful discussion with people on different sides of the issue. It's so important Cuba the good work and thanks to a department usually on the phone but it's going to be here are welcome home thanks for joining us you Josh Earnest president Obama's longtime secretary Press Secretary.