Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz 10/20/14
3:20 P.M. CDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon. Welcome to Chicago. I’ll just give you one brief announcement up top and then I will take your questions.
As the President has in recent days, (audio drop) -- the President has held discussions with eight of his counterparts in recent days, and those eight countries have pledged at least $300 million in financial contributions to date.
(Inaudible) why this administration has been so focused on marshaling the global resources needed to tackle this virus at its source in West Africa (inaudible) from around the world the past few weeks.
Q I'm sorry -- today or to date?
MR. SCHULTZ: To date.
Q At least how much?
MR. SCHULTZ: $300 million in financial contributions to date while also committing to significant contributions in personnel, aircraft and resources on the ground. We believe this is American leadership at its finest, and we’ll continue to lead the charge to muster additional international support just as we contribute significant resources of our own.
With that, I’m happy to take questions.
Q Can you just clarify on that -- the briefing will be a telephone briefing -- because she’s back in Washington -- with Monaco? And then, did he talk to any leaders today or any other readouts? Or we’ve just had the ones that you’ve already read out?
MR. SCHULTZ: He’ll be speaking to Lisa this afternoon via phone. And I don’t have any additional foreign leader calls to read out to you that occurred on this trip.
Q Eric, can you talk a little bit about Ron Klain -- when he starts and exactly what his role will be, who he’s going to be facilitating with? And exactly how you see him playing out at least in his is first week and going forward?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, thank you, Katie. Mr. Klain will start on Wednesday. He will be our -- coordinating the administration’s whole-of-government Ebola response. He will report directly to the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, Lisa Monaco, and the President’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice. He’s going to ensure that efforts to protect the American people by detecting, isolating and treating Ebola patients in this country are properly integrated but don’t distract from the aggressive commitment to stopping Ebola at its source in West Africa.
Q Are you able to say why the Wednesday start date? He was -- the announcement was Friday, it’s not that long of a period, but some people are wondering why he didn’t take part in some of the meetings that have already happened. What’s the reasoning behind that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thanks, Jeff. As you point out, it is not that long of a lapse. And as a student of the federal government, you’ll know that the onboarding process usually takes much longer -- weeks or months. Fortunately, in this case, we were able to expedite that process because Mr. Klain has already been a member of the administration, so we were able to sort of get that done very fast, and we look forward to his arrival in his official capacity on Wednesday.
I can also tell you he’s already been meeting with our Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, and some other folks to get read up so that he can start on Wednesday.
Q Was he part at all of the President’s meeting on Saturday? Or has he talked to the President at all about -- other than the job offer that came on Friday?
MR. SCHULTZ: He was not in the meeting that you’re mentioning on Saturday. Again, he doesn’t officially start until Wednesday, and I’m not going to read out sort of other private conversations.
Q Can you tell us whether he’s going to get paid?
MR. SCHULTZ: He will be paid. And as you know, that as part of our annual release reports, those will be on the website. I don’t have his salary in front of me.
Q Can we talk about Turkey, Eric?
Q Just to get confirmation on this that he is not going to testify before Chairman Issa’s committee on Friday, is that correct?
MR. SCHULTZ: That is correct. But the administration will have representatives there.
Q Can you tell us when they’ll be at?
MR. SCHULTZ: That would be day three of his tenure.
I’m happy to talk about Turkey.
Q Great. Can you clarify one thing? Did Turkey agree or consent to the U.S. airdrops of supplies to the Kurds?
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, as you know, we actually read out a conversation between President Obama and President Erdogan earlier this weekend. I’m not going to get into the Turkish response, but I can tell you that the President made clear, as have other members of the administration, we are interested in doing this, and the urgency by which we see it.
Q So they did not talk about Turkey’s response, but instead what the U.S. said. Did the United States offer Turkey anything to get them to agree to allow this to happen?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I can tell you that the President made clear why we consider it urgent and essential to resupply the fighters in Kobani who are in a desperate situation in their struggle to counter ISIL’s assaults on the city.
I’d also tell you that the United States and Turkey have a shared interest in defeating ISIL, seeing a political transition in Syria, and bringing stability to Iraq. I’d also, lastly, draw your attention to statements from the Turkish Foreign Ministry today that Turkey intends to facilitate the crossing of Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga into Kobani. We continue to work closely with Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government Authorities on a suitable way forward to support opposition groups in Kobani and over the long term degrade and defeat ISIL.
The President and Secretary Kerry have had productive conversations with Turkish leaders on this issue during the past several days and conveyed the urgency of supporting the opposition fighters in Kobani who are standing against ISIL, again, as recently as that Saturday night conversation.
Q We now know that those -- the arms shipments that we dropped to them basically consisted of small arms. What kind of a difference does the U.S. anticipate that basically rifles will do for the Kurds in fighting the well-armed Islamic State militia groups?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thanks, Josh. As you point out, the aircraft delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies that were provided by the Kurdish authorities in Iraq. I think I’m going to leave it to the experts to describe this, but I think there’s been very specific needs articulated by the Kurds in order to take the fight to ISIL. And I think that given the United States’ unique capabilities, that's what -- the role we were able to play is transport those.
Q We're two weeks out basically from the election. So far this trip, obviously two fairly blue states -- Democratic governor races, not the Senate races. Is there any anticipation that in these final two weeks the President will get his voice back and will go to some tougher places where Democratic Senate candidates are facing -- maybe right on the edge, Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, some of those places?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thanks, Mike. As I think you’ve seen, we put out a rundown of places the President is going to be campaigning over the next few weeks on behalf of Democratic -- there was one senator in Michigan, and so if I don't have any updates to you -- for you on that rundown at this point, I can say clearly the President articulated better than I could what’s at stake both -- twice yesterday. So as you point out, there’s a variety of members of folks in cycle that he’s appeared with and will be appearing with in the next few weeks.
Q What’s the big thing this afternoon at his house?
MR. SCHULTZ: As I mentioned, he is doing a little bit of work from home. He’ll be receiving the briefing from Lisa Monaco. He’s also going to be doing a couple of interviews with African American radio stations, like he’s been doing in the past week or so.
Q Is he glad to be home?
MR. SCHULTZ: He is. I think Chicago is always a great place for him to recharge his batteries.
Q Just to clarify, the interviews, the African American radio interviews are campaign-related, or otherwise?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, they’ll be -- they’ll cover the waterfront I assume. I’m not the host.
Q They're not specifically targeted in places to turn out the vote or what --
Q What are the stations?
MR. SCHULTZ: I will see what I can do to get those for you. I don't think any of them are airing today.
Q Eric, can you flesh out the President’s schedule for the rest of the week at all for us?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have too much to add. I do -- as I said, we’ll be headed back to Washington tonight, and I think we’ll be in Washington for most of the week.
Q No additional travel at this point --
MR. SCHULTZ: At this point, I don't have anything to add on that.
Q Does President the President have a response to the news out of Nigeria that Ebola has been basically eliminated there, as well as the news in Dallas that the contacts of Mr. Duncan are free of Ebola, and in Spain where the nurse no longer has Ebola?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, the President is going to get briefed on this this afternoon, so I don't have a readout of that briefing. But I can tell you that, as we’ve said, the best way to protect the American public from Ebola is to stop the disease at its source in West Africa. And there is no country better prepared to confront the challenge Ebola poses than the United States. And that's why we are leading the international coalition to stamp it out at its source, and we have been doing that since March when the first cases appeared, and we’ve stepped up that effort since.
Q He’s got a follow-up.
Q On the $300 million, are there any details yet on which countries have stepped up, which countries are not on that list yet? Is the President pushing for more money out of other countries, as well?
MR. SCHULTZ: The President is always pushing for more. Obviously, this is an issue that's going to require significant resources across the board, and that's why I think you’ll continue to see him push international partners for this.
In terms of the details on what other countries have announced, I’m going to let those countries speak for themselves. I do know that some countries like Sweden and the U.K. have put out in detail what they’ve contributed.
Q Over Friday and the weekend, there have been more and more people calling for an Ebola-based travel ban. Is the administration still against that? And also, there have been a number of reports showing just the climate of fear in the United States -- people keeping their kids away from school, and that sort of thing. What does the President and the administration say to those types of stories of people who are keeping children out of school and canceling events because someone may have been in a place where Ebola may have been?
MR. SCHULTZ: On the travel ban, I think you all heard the President discuss this I believe on Thursday in the Oval Office -- last week, late last week in the Oval Office. Our position hasn’t changed, and that is that our focus is on reducing the risk to the American people, and a travel ban would not do that.
Our top priority is the health and safety of the American people, and that’s why, right now, travelers from those countries are subjected to screening prior to departure from West Africa and they’re also subject to additional enhanced screening upon arrival in the United States.
We’re going to let the science and the doctors guide our policymaking here, and it seems that without question there is agreement that a travel ban would impose -- would make it harder for critically needed personnel and supplies to surge into West Africa where the problem exists.
Q Eric, I wanted to ask about suspected Nazi war criminals and SS guards receiving millions of dollars in Social Security payments from the government after being forced out of the U.S. as leverage to get them to leave. Both the Justice Department and the Social Security Administration have refused the AP’s request to provide a total number of who received the payments and how much they received. And considering your administration’s commitment to being the most transparent administration in history, I was wondering why the administration believes it’s in the public interest to keep information private about suspected Nazi war criminals.
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, I did see that story from your Associated Press colleague, and I would tell you that the Justice Department did say that they have aggressively pursued Nazi criminals and brought over 100 of them to justice. The Social Security Administration and the Department of Justice also worked together within the confines of current law to cut off benefits for criminals that shouldn’t be receiving them.
Q Okay. So you’re comfortable with the federal agencies citing U.S. privacy laws to guard information about individuals who have been kicked out of the United States because of their Nazi past?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m not sure I said that. What I do think we are -- our position is we don’t believe these individuals should be getting these benefits. As the Justice Department has said, they have worked aggressively to pursue Nazi criminals with the aim of ensuring they’re brought to justice. The Social Security Administration and the Department of Justice have to work together within the confines of the law to cut off these benefits for these criminals.
Q Eric, reports over the weekend that concern amongst some growing on the Hill about the possibility of the administration trying to unilaterally at least ease or roll back sanctions on Iran as a part of an upcoming nuclear deal. What’s the administration reaction to those who have concerns that you’re trying to go about it alone?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, I saw that story, too, and it’s wrong. The administration believes that Congress has a very important role to play on Iran’s nuclear issue -- on the Iran nuclear issue. As I think -- if you read it, our take was that the story conflated two separate issues: When and how congressional action will be needed to suspend and/or lift the sanctions, and whether we believe they should take up and up-or-down vote on the deal.
The notion that we are trying to avoid congressional input and consultation on this is preposterous. This is an issue where we’ve talked to Congress intensively, will continue to consult with Congress heavily.
And on sanctions, we have made absolutely clear publicly in testimony and in private discussions on the Hill that in the first instance we would look to suspend sanctions, and then only if after Iran has upheld its end of the arrangement would we look to terminate that sanctions. But this is for a good reason -- suspension makes it easier to snap the sanctions back into place if the deal isn’t upheld.
Q -- as a representative of that -- of the news organization with that story -- so you’re saying that you want consultation and input from Congress, but what are you saying specifically about an up-or-down vote?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m saying -- so I’m not going to preview anything from here while those negotiations are still ongoing.
What we take issue is with the suggestion that we’re not in heavy consultation with Congress on this, and we’re not working very, very closely with them. And we’re not looking to go around them.
Q But just to clarify, that suspension of sanctions that you discussed is something that the administration believes it has the authority to do without a vote from Congress, is that correct?
MR. SCHULTZ: Our position has not changed. And whether we believe Congress should take an up-or-down vote on the entire arrangement, if we get one --
Q What is the position that hasn’t changed?
MR. SCHULTZ: First, the notion that we’re trying to go around Congress on this is preposterous. Second, on the sanctions that we would look to suspend, if Iran has upheld its end of the arrangement, we would look to lift or terminate sanctions, and this is for a good reason. Suspension makes it easier to snap sanctions back into place if the deal isn’t upheld.
But it’s way too early to speculate on which sanctions will require legislative versus executive actions to suspend or lift. So I’m not going to get ahead of that from here today while the negotiations are ongoing. That wouldn’t be prudent. But suffice to say, if we do get a comprehensive arrangement, it is absolutely true that the sanctions regime we have in place cannot be undone without congressional action.
Q As opposed to the -- you’re drawing the distinction between the suspension and a permanent kind of revoking of it.
MR. SCHULTZ: What I said is, up top, how we thought the story unfortunately conflated two issues.
Q Last question on Ebola. Will the administration be seeking additional funds from Congress? And if so, can you give us a sense of how much and when?
MR. SCHULTZ: (Inaudible.) I’d also say that we’ve heard a lot -- we’ve heard a lot of interest from Congress in terms of dedicating resources to solving this problem and the urgency of it. So if we were to send up a request, I assume that there would be widespread support. So we welcome that, but at this point there’s nothing to announce.
Q Eric, there were reports this morning, since Josh’s last briefing, that members of Congress have been in discussion with the White House about potential options for additional funding. Can you confirm at least that those discussions are underway?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have any sort of private meetings or conversations to read out. It wouldn’t surprise me that we’re always in touch with members of Congress, especially on an issue like that. But I don’t have specifics in terms of any specific meetings or consultations.
Q Is it a little weird or a little out of the ordinary that the President won’t be doing campaign events, or that there aren’t any campaign events on the schedule for this week, just two weeks before an election?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t think it’s weird given everything that we are trying to manage. As I think we’ve said now for some time, there’s a lot of significant, complex situations going on both around the world and here at home. And I think a lot of those issues have dominated the President’s time.
Given that the elections are a few weeks away, obviously that is a priority as well. So I think you’ll see the President, as you did yesterday, campaign when he can. But obviously given that Lisa Monaco is briefing him this afternoon on a briefing on the Ebola response, we’re focused on managing those problems as well.
3:40 P.M. CDT