President Obama was referring only "to military options for striking" Islamist militants in Syria when he said the White House did not "have a strategy yet,” press secretary Josh Earnest insisted Thursday.
The White House launched a full-court media press to clarify the president’s comments after the media and Republicans seized on the admission.
In an interview with CNN, Earnest said Obama was only referring to potential military strikes within Syria.
"Those options are still being developed by the Pentagon," Earnest said.
He added that Obama "was asked a specific question about what approach he was going to pursue about possible military action in Syria."
The White House spokesman said Obama had for months described a "comprehensive strategy" to deal with the threat posed by terrorists from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who have established a foothold in both countries.
"Our strategy is much broader than just the use of military force," Earnest said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki appeared shortly after Earnest on the network, also looking to clean up the president's remarks.
"I think it's important to note here that the president has already begun implementing his strategy to defeat [ISIS]," Psaki said, noting that the administration was working toward "building international coalitions" to combat the terror group.
Separately, Earnest took to social media to argue in a series of tweets that the president "was explicit — as he has been in the past — about the comprehensive strategy that we'll use to confront" the threat posed by ISIS.
White House aides began contacting reporters just minutes after the press conference looking to explain the president's comments.
One White House official said Obama was "candid" in describing the strategy during his press conference. The official noted that the president said he had directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a range of options and that he planned to meet later Thursday with his National Security Council staff to "continue to develop that strategy."
Republicans quickly seized on Obama’s remark to criticize the president. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Obama "needs to develop a regional strategy" to defeat ISIS in a statement Thursday.
"The President needs to present this plan to the Congress, and the American people, and where the President believes he lacks authority to execute such a strategy, he needs to explain to the Congress how additional authority for the use of force will protect America," McConnell said.
Don Stewart, McConnell's press secretary, also needled the White House press team online.
"Unsurprisingly, #WeDontHaveAStrategyYet is trending," Stewart remarked.
When Earnest began tweeting his clarification, Stewart added, "been there buddy, been there."