White House: Obama wasn’t passing buck with ISIS comment

President Obama wasn’t passing the buck by saying intelligence officials underestimated the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the White House said Monday.


Press secretary Josh Earnest said officials were aware of the threat posed by ISIS, but misjudged the will of the Iraqi military to fight back and how successful the terror group would be at capturing territory. He said "everybody" — from the intelligence community to the White House — made the same mistake, but that Obama was ultimately responsible.

"The president’s commander in chief and he’s the one who takes responsibility for ensuring that we have the kinds of policies in place that are required to protect our interests around the globe," Earnest said.

Reporters grilled Earnest about Obama’s remarks Sunday on “60 Minutes,” where he at one point said Jim Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has acknowledged misreading “what had been taking place in Syria” with regards to ISIS.

The remark has created a firestorm, with Republicans and some former intelligence officials arguing the president was trying to shirk responsibility.

Earnest insisted that was "not what the president's intent was," adding that the comment was meant as a general reflection on the difficulty of assessing the security situation in the region. He also said the president remained "absolutely" confident in the intelligence community.

Put on the defensive over ISIS, Earnest tried to go on offense by highlighting comments Speaker BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWarren, Brown voice support for controversial Biden budget office pick Principles to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats MORE made in his own Sunday interview about the possible use of ground forces in Iraq.

Earnest said Obama had "ruled out" the possibility of deploying ground forces, but that "Speaker Boehner wants to leave open that possibility." He went on to link that proposition to a strategy "that was pursued by the Bush administration."

"It’s not particularly surprising to me… that Speaker Boehner does think that the president should consider sending ground troops into a combat role in Iraq," Earnest said. "That’s something that senior members of the Republican Party advocated in the previous administration. It’s something that senior members of the Republican Party advocate in this administration."

Boehener said in his interview with ABC News's "This Week" the U.S. might have "no choice" but to send American forces into the region.

“At the end of the day, I think it's gonna take more than air strikes to drive them outta there,” Boehner said. “At some point somebody's boots have to be on the ground.”

The top congressional Republican went on to say those boots may have to be American.

“We have no choice,” Boehner said. “These are barbarians. They intend to kill us. And if we don't destroy them first, we're gonna pay the price.”

A CNN/ORC poll released Monday found that less than four in 10 Americans support using ground troops to battle the terrorist group.

The survey also found improvement in the public's overall view of Obama's handling of the ISIS threat, with 45 percent approving — up eight points from earlier this month.

Still, there are signs that Republicans think that ISIS remains a political liability for Obama — and that they see questions about whether he misjudged the threat as damaging to Democrats.

Earlier Monday, North Carolina Senate hopeful Thom Tillis (R) released an ad blasting Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan10 under-the-radar races to watch in November The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic Unity Taskforce unveils party platform recommendations Democrats awash with cash in battle for Senate MORE (D-Calif.) for having "kept quiet" while Obama was waiting to address the ISIS threat.

Earnest said Monday that, "when it comes to these specific national security issues, the president believes that our national security trumps local politics."