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Boehner Aide Calls Earnest's ISIS Remarks 'Stupid'

Steel called Earnest's comments "stupid." (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Speaker John A. Boehner's spokesman ripped White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest's remarks today tying Boehner's position on defeating ISIS to President George W. Bush's Iraq policy.  

"Trying, for political purposes, to link Speaker Boehner's position on destroying ISIL with former President Bush's Iraq policy and splitting hairs where they don't exist is, frankly, stupid," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. "That's no way to build bipartisan support for a real strategy to keep America safe. Everyone understands that ruling out options in advance shows weakness to our enemies."  

Steel was reacting to Earnest's comments in today's daily briefing about Boehner's comments on ABC's "This Week" over the weekend. The Ohio Republican said there might be "no choice" but to deploy American ground forces against ISIS  and criticized Obama for ruling out ground forces at the start. He did not call for an Iraq-style invasion, but was asked if U.S. ground forces would be needed if others did not step up. Earnest said President Barack Obama and Boehner agree ground troops will be needed to defeat ISIS — also known as ISIL or the Islamic State — but the president has resolved that they will not be American troops.  

"It wasn't surprising to me when I watched it on television last night, that Speaker Boehner does think that the president should consider sending ground troops into a combat role in Iraq," Earnest told reporters at the Monday briefing. "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. It's something that they advocated prior to ISIL's significant advance across the desert in Iraq. So, it's not surprising to me that they continue to advocate that position."  

Earnest also sought to distance Boehner's statements from those of Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified to Congress that he might recommend using some U.S. ground forces if necessary.  

Asked about Dempsey's openness to recommending ground forces if needed, Earnest said, "No, no, no. No, no, no. ... He did contemplate a possible situation in the future where American ground troops could be deployed into a forward position with the Iraqi security forces, but they would not be deployed into that position in a combat role. They would not be engaging personally or directly with the enemy in combat. They certainly are in harm's way, and would be in harm's way. But that is very different than the kind of ground combat operation that ... people like Speaker Boehner had advocated in the past."  

Earnest continued.  

"What Chairman Dempsey has indicated — a willingness to leave the door open on — is something that the president has said he would be willing to consider on a case-by-case basis," Earnest said. "Which is, you could imagine a scenario where it might be necessary in the future for some American ground forces — or personnel, I should say — could be forward deployed to provide some tactical advice to Iraq security forces, to maybe even call in airstrikes, but not to engage in combat directly with the enemy. And that's very different than the strategy that was pursued by the previous administration."  

Earnest has been parsing the word "combat" now for the last few weeks, acknowledging that there could be some instances of U.S. boots on the ground but not columns of tanks or a ground invasion.  

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