Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Las Vegas, Nevada
**Please see below for a correction marked with an asterisk.
11:33 A.M. EST
MR. SCHULTZ: Good morning.
Q We have a special guest.
MR. SCHULTZ: We do have a special guest -- our Domestic Policy Council Director, Cecilia Muñoz, I’ve asked to come back to help answer any nuts-and-bolts questions on immigration.
Before we turn to Cecilia, who has spent I believe over two decades working to achieve immigration reform in Washington -- and we’re very proud and lucky that she was part of this, she helped lead this effort that the President announced last night -- before we do that, I just want to do two quick things.
One is, I hope you’ve seen that we have a letter that was written by 10 legal scholars from across the ideological spectrum supporting what the President did last night as legally sound, and writing that it is within the power of the executive branch. I actually have copies of that letter for you on this three-hour flight. That’ll be some nice reading material.
I also want to draw your attention to the analysis released by the Council of Economic Advisers earlier this morning, which found that the President’s executive actions would boost economic output by an estimated .4 to .9 percent over 10 years, or increases in GDP of about $90 to $210 billion in 2014. There’s a lot of other good economic analysis in that report that I would draw your attention to, but for now, we’ll take your questions.
Q So why didn’t the President include the parents of DREAMers for deferred action?
MS. MUÑOZ: So you’ll find in the Office of Legal Counsel analysis that that question was asked and answered. The basis for the legal analysis was that Congress determined that some people in the United States -- U.S. citizens as adults -- can petition for visas to bring in their parents as immigrants. And so Congress has spoken to the issue of family reunification for people who are U.S. citizen adults.
And so on that basis, there is a legal rationale for providing relief, because, ultimately, these people are going to be immigrants as determined by Congress. That’s not true, categorically, with respect to people who are parents of DACA recipients. DACA recipients don’t -- as DACA recipients, don’t have the capacity to bring in their parents as immigrants, and that’s why they ended up on the other side of the legal line.
But we asked that question and OLC answered it.
Q What do you make of Speaker Boehner’s reaction in which he said that the President has damaged the presidency by doing what he did yesterday?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, I would draw you to a wealth of precedent dating back to President Eisenhower, and the legal underpinnings of our argument, which show this is well within the bounds of the executive authority of the President, again, very similar to plans implemented by presidents before him, including President Reagan, President H.W. Bush, who expanded a program to account for about 40 percent of the undocumented population at the time, which is very similar to what the President announced last night.
Q House Republicans have followed through on their suit on ACA. What is the response on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw that. We find that unfortunate. At a time where we -- I think the American people want Washington focused on jobs and the economy, the House Republicans choose to sue us, sue the President for doing his job -- and using taxpayer resources at the same time -- for a lawsuit that their own congressional research service could not identify any merit for.
Q Cecilia, can I just ask, a lot of people that are allies of the President are hailing what he did as a real victory. But how disappointed are you that folks that feel like that essentially gave up too early on the idea of legislation? And do you think that this is sort of a half measure that makes it a lot harder, ultimately, down the road to get where you all really wanted to get?
MS. MUÑOZ: The President made clear last night that this is a step. We see it -- he sees it as only a step, and there has to be a next step. There is a lot of unfinished business on the immigration reform agenda. While this accomplishes a great deal, it does not fix everything that’s broken -- he doesn’t have the legal authority to fix everything that’s broken. That’s Congress’ job, and that’s why he’s going to continue to make his best effort to work with the Congress to pass an immigration reform. The country still needs that to be done.
There’s a lot of unfinished business that needs to be done, and that continues to be very high on his agenda.
Q The likelihood of that -- is it more likely or less likely today than it would have been before?
MS. MUÑOZ: On some level, that’s up to the Congress. The need for immigration reform is, today, the same as it was yesterday. The economic benefits of immigration reform, which are enormous, are the same today as they were yesterday. And there’s no reason the sense of urgency should be any different today than it was yesterday.
There’s a lot of work still to be done, and that’s for Congress to do. And the President is eager to work with them to do it.
MR. SCHULTZ: I think I’d just add that nobody is more interested in getting a comprehensive immigration reform bill out of the United States Congress than the President. And I would note, when Speaker Boehner was asked a few days after the election if he would commit to bringing up such a bill, he wouldn’t do so.
Q In terms of a top-line number for the number of people eligible under the plan, there have been pretty big disparities in the news reporting. What would you consider the top-line number?
MS. MUÑOZ: These are all estimates, but it’s roughly -- when you look at all of the various pieces, including the deferred action components as well as the pieces affecting the legal immigration system, it’s roughly in the neighborhood of 5 million, or just south of 5 million.
Q And is that including the previous DACA folks? Is that added in?
MUÑOZ: Not in that particular estimate that I just gave. But again, these are all estimates. It is a difficult business to calculate numbers for a population which by definition has been living in hiding. So everybody’s figures are rough figures.
Q Speaker Boehner’s office has pointed out that the call to pass a bill might not -- might be kind of limiting. I mean, President Obama is not going to sign a bill that goes against everything he believes in, and so it seems like maybe there’s some truth to that; that saying “pass a bill,” there’s some boundary on what kind of bill he would sign. So I’m just curious, what is that boundary of what he would sign? And what’s kind of the guidance beyond addressing these big problems? Where’s the limit? If House Republicans and Senate Republicans pass a bill that he doesn’t like at all, where does he draw the line?
MS. MUÑOZ: Every immigration reform bill since at least the 1965 act has been a strongly bipartisan bill. In order to get immigration reform done, you need collaboration between both parties, just like we saw in the U.S. Senate a year and a half ago.
So it is entirely possible to have a bipartisan conversation that produces a bill that the President of the United States can sign. The Senate of the United States did that in June of 2013. There’s no reason that this Congress or the next Congress can’t do the same.
MR. SCHULTZ: I think one good starting point would be that the Senate passed a bill where Democrats, Republicans and independents all came together. As the President said, the bill is not perfect. It’s not the one he would draft. But it is one that brings together a lot of common-sense reforms that got bipartisan support.
Q Does that need to be the guideline? The Senate passed a bill -- does that need to be the guideline for anything the Republican Congress takes?
MR. SCHULTZ: We said we are willing to roll up our sleeves, work with the House of Representatives. If they have other ideas, they should bring them to the table. Again, we are very eager to work with them.
Q Is he still going to do piece by piece?
MS. MUÑOZ: He’s willing to have a bipartisan conversation that results in fixing the immigration reform system. So nothing has changed about where he has been and where he wants to go on this issue.
Q -- to Las Vegas. Talk a little bit about -- I mean, this seems like a real political trip that highlights the fact that this is a state with a lot of voters that are Hispanics, et cetera, et cetera. Was that the thinking in coming here?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think -- I don’t know if you were on the trip two years ago. I was not. But that was --
MS. MUÑOZ: I was. That’s the last time I gaggled, actually.
MR. SCHULTZ: That was the first trip of the President’s second term, and he went to Del Sol High School to lay out his principles for common-sense immigration reform. Again, he didn’t -- he laid out those principles and started to work with the Senate on bringing together some bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform.
After months of hard work, rolling up their sleeves, Democrats, independents, Republicans came together. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives did not act and could not get that done. So the President, after waiting 500 days for Congress to do it, decided to take action last night. And he’s returning to that high school this afternoon to talk about the actions that he’s taken.
Q But I mean, other than the symmetry of coming back to the same place, is there a reason why Las Vegas and this area in particular would have been the choice then and is the choice now?
MS. MUÑOZ: I think -- first of all, symmetry is a pretty nice idea. A lot of people remember that moment -- that’s the moment that launched the Senate debate which succeeded in producing a bipartisan bill.
But ultimately, look, this is an issue which affects all kinds of parts of the country and all kinds of different kinds of communities. But part of the point here is that this is an effort that’s been going on for years. The President has been working very hard to try to get Congress to come forward and do its job.
Two years ago, we were in this same place, launching an effort that succeeded in producing bipartisan legislation -- he’s trying to highlight that. That is still possible.
Q What’s the timeline for implementation?
MS. MUÑOZ: So there are lots of different pieces to this. You’re probably thinking specifically of the new deferred action program, but if you --
Q I would take some other things, too.
MS. MUÑOZ: If you look at the DACA program that we announced in June of 2012, DHS started accepting applications a couple months later. That was for a program that had roughly in the neighborhood of a million potential eligible applicants. This is obviously a lot bigger than that, so you can expect DHS to take a few months to stand up the implementation, but we expect them to be ready to accept applications by spring.
And for the extension of the existing DACA program, it will probably be sooner than that.
Q Given that the program is by definition temporary, is there any concern about whether people will be hesitant to participate, given that they’re effectively creating a registry of illegal immigrants?
MS. MUÑOZ: That’s the same question we were asked about DACA, and 700,000 people later, I think that question, at least for that program, has an answer.
A lot depends on the quality of the outreach, the quality of the information that the government is able to provide to people. We learned a lot from the DACA experience, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent of the people eligible for DACA have come forward, and we would hope that that would be true the next time.
Q Is there some paperwork that he’s going to be signing today? And what exactly is that?
MS. MUÑOZ: So there are a couple of pieces, but understand that most of these actions do not involve a thing for him to sign.
But there are two presidential memoranda. The first creates a task force on new -- a White House task force on new Americans, which is an interagency task force that will look at the integration of immigrants and make sure that the whole federal apparatus is engaged in making sure that we’re effectively integrating new Americans, people who have just become citizens. The second is a presidential memorandum setting up an interagency group on visa modernization.
So there are number of ways, still, that we think can be dug into to look at the way the visa allocation process happens. We learned, for example, that we don’t always allocate the right number of visas for processing that are actually available under the law. There may be ways to streamline that process so that we effectively use every visa made available under the law. So that’s one example of the kinds of issues that this group that’s going to work on visa modernization will look at.
The task force on new Americans will be reporting back to the President I think in *90 120 days, and the visa modernization group in 120.
MR. SCHULTZ: But I do think -- the President announced last night can be done by just redirecting the bureaucracy at the administrative level.
Q And he’ll sign those at the school?
MR. SCHULTZ: He’ll sign those today. We’ll let you know when. We’ll let you know when we have an update on the timing.
MS. MUÑOZ: And just to refer you back to DACA, there was nothing to sign when we did that process, and this is similar to that.
Q How healthy of a debate was there among the President’s senior advisors and in communication with OLC over what you could do? Did some people want to go farther? Did some people say, maybe we shouldn’t do this?
MS. MUÑOZ: What the President asked his team -- as to how far he could go under the law, and that’s what the process has produced.
MR. SCHULTZ: And I will say that we’ve actually be fairly forthcoming in laying out a few areas that were considered that weren’t supported, ultimately, by the law, based on the legal advice we got from the Office of Legal Counsel. So I actually think it buttresses the argument that we were staying within the bounds of the law.
Q Can you read out the members that are on this plane right now?
MR. SCHULTZ: Today, we’re joined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Bob Menendez, Representative Becerra, Representative Gutierrez, Representative Horsford, Representative Lujan, and Representative Titus. We’re also joined by a few folks who have spent years working on immigration reform -- Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers; Marc Muriel, President of the National Urban League, and a few other folks we will get you -- I’ll get you the full list.
I also have a week ahead if that’s of any interest.
Q Are you able to say -- the trip to India. Is he adding any more countries to that trip?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have anything -- any announcements that will bookend that travel yet. I think that’s all still being worked out.
Q What was the question?
Q On India.
Q India, any more countries.
MR. SCHULTZ: So next week. On Monday, the President will present 19 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As you know, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor. The First Lady will join the President at this event.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Chicago, Illinois to meet with community leaders and discuss the executive actions he’s taken to fix our broken immigration system. There, the President looks forward to speaking to a diverse group of leaders in his hometown on Tuesday, and to continue discussing the actions he took with communities and Americans across the country. Following those events, the President will return to Washington, D.C., and remain overnight at the White House.
On Wednesday -- my favorite event of the year -- we will pardon the presidential turkey. On Thursday, the President will celebrate Thanksgiving at the White House with his family. There’s no public events scheduled. And on Friday, there’s no public events scheduled.
Q Where’s the turkey from?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t know. We will have to find that out.
Q Eric, do you have any sort of update on Iran and the negotiations there? And are you -- is it heading toward another extension?
MR. SCHULTZ: We are pressing hard. Secretary Kerry, as you know, was in Vienna meeting with Iranian and international counterparts to determine if he can close the remaining gaps. We are running against the clock; obviously, the deadline is Monday, and people are -- our folks there are working furiously to meet it.
But I’m going to be frank, though, some gaps do remain.
Q Did you say he’s returning to Vienna?
MR. SCHULTZ: No, no, he was in Vienna. I believe he’s now in Paris.
Q You were on a roll.
Q Yes, you really were on a roll. Can you go back?
Q You were being frank.
MR. SCHULTZ: That’s always good, right, and candid. Serious gaps do remain, and throughout the negotiations, the P5-plus-1 have put forth proposals that are consistent with our core objectives and consistent with Tehran’s expressed desire for a viable civilian nuclear program.
We’ve been clear that we won’t -- the President has been clear we won’t take a bad deal. So we’re going to work against the clock. We’re only going to approve a deal that effectively cuts off all pathways to a nuclear weapon.
Q So it’s -- extension then.
MR. SCHULTZ: We’re going to race against the clock to get this done.
Q I think it was the same thing -- but if it got to a point where you’re close, would you extend it?
MR. SCHULTZ: We’re racing against the clock to get this done.
11:51 A.M. EST