Karl Grills Earnest Over Obama Comment That Climate Change Is Greater Threat Than Terrorism

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ABC's Jonathan Karl asks White House press secretary Josh Earnest for clarification about an answer President Obama gave in his interview with Vox. Obama was asked if he believes the threat of terrorism is overstated as opposed to the "longer-term problem" of climate change. Obama said "absolutely."

"Because of actions that have been taken by the previous administration and by this administration, terrorist organizations no longer have that same capacity and that means that the risk that is facing the American people is different," Earnest said at Tuesday's White House press briefing.

"The point that president is making is that there are many more people on an annual basis who have to confront the impact, the direct impact on their lives of climate change or on the spread of a disease than on terrorism," Earnest also said.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: Back to the president's interview with Vox, he was asked directly if he believes the media overstates the level of alarm that people should have about terrorism and he answered, absolutely. In this interview, I guess was done a couple weeks ago, clearly before the latest news about Kayla Mueller. Does the president still believe that the threat of terrorism is overstated?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: Jon, I think what's true is the threat from terror that is faced by the American people in the United States is much different than it has been before. That the kind of terror act that we saw that was carried out on September 1, 2001 [sic], was carried out by an organization that operated for quite sometime with impunity in the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that they had the time and space and plan to carry out this terribly tragic conspiracy to wreak havoc in the lives of thousands, if not millions of Americans. Because of actions that have been taken by the previous administration and by this administration, terrorist organizations no longer have that same capacity and that means that the risk that is facing the American people is different.

Now, the president and his team continue to be vigilant because there are dangerous organizations that continue to exist and to operate. We were talking just earlier about Yemen, that the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is an organization that operates in Yemen and is a dangerous organization. This is probably the most dangerous of the al Qaeda affiliates and we take very seriously the threat that they pose and there are any number of steps that this administration takes on a daily basis to protect the American people. But what people should be mindful is that terror risk that faces the American people is much different than it used to be.

KARL: So he said -- and let me read the second part of the question. He is asked if the media overstates the alarm people should have about terrorism as opposed to longer term problems of climate change and epidemic disease, he said absolutely. Let me clarify. Is the president saying, as he seems to be implying here, that the threat of climate change is greater than the threat of terrorism?

EARNEST: I think, Jon, the point that president is making is that there are many more people on an annual basis who have to confront the impact, the direct impact on their lives of climate change or on the spread of a disease than on terrorism.

KARL: So the answer is, yes, the president thinks that climate change is a greater threat than terrorism?

EARNEST: I think the point that president is making, when you're talking about the direct daily impact of these kinds of challenges on the daily lives of Americans, particularly Americans living in this country, that that direct impact is more -- that more people are directly affected by those things than by terrorism.

KARL: So climate change is more of a clear and present danger to the United States than terrorism?

EARNEST: Well, I think even the Department of Defense has spoken to the significant threat that climate change poses to our national security interests. Principally because of the impact it can have on countries with less well-developed infrastructure than we have.

KARL: I'm not asking if it's a significant threat, I'm asking if it's a greater threat.

EARNEST: Well, again, I wouldn't have a whole lot more to say than what the president said in that interview.

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