Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Tennessee, 1/9/15
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Knoxville, Tennessee
11:22 A.M. EST
MR. SCHULTZ: Welcome aboard. Thank you for joining us as we wrap up a rather newsy week, previewing some of the President’s proposals that he'll describe in the State of the Union address later this month. As you know, we're headed to Knoxville, Tennessee, right now where we'll be joined by the Vice President and Dr. Biden to unveil the President’s plan to make two years of community college free for all responsible students no matter their age.
The President believes now is the time to make two years of college as universal as high school. This proposal is part of the President’s vision for how we can continue to lead the world economically in the 21st century and to help grow the middle class.
Specifically, we're headed to Tennessee right now because Governor Haslam launched a program to provide free community college to all Tennessee students over a year ago. In its first year, almost 90 percent of graduating high school seniors applied. The Tennessee Promise program served as an inspiration for the President’s proposal. It demonstrates that this proposal that we're talking about today is both ambitious and achievable.
In addition, today the President is also going to announce the American Technical Training Fund. This fund is designed to help high-potential, low-wage workers gain the skills they need to work in fields with significant numbers of middle-class jobs such as IT, energy, and advanced manufacturing.
Lastly, later today we're going to travel to Clinton, Tennessee, to announce the latest manufacturing hub, a series of public-private partnerships aimed at boosting advanced manufacturing, fostering innovation, and attracting well-paying jobs that will strengthen the middle class. This is also going to be an occasion for the cynics amongst us to memorialize it -- at the end of last year, Congress came together in a bipartisan bill to pass support for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. As you know, the legislation proves that strengthening American manufacturing is something that we can all agree on.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q The Nebraska court has thrown out the Keystone case. How quickly might we see a decision to the President?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Nedra. I saw the court ruling. But our posture and our position hasn’t changed. This is a process that is still underway at the State Department. I don't have any updates for you on that process. As you know, it's undergoing rigorous review, and we're going to wait for that review to be concluded before the President makes any decisions.
Q What are issues that are still outstanding at this point, though?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I'm going to refer you to the State Department for sort of the rigorous criteria that they are looking at when evaluating this project. That process is one that predates this administration -- it goes back decades. It's part of a precedent of administrations of both parties. So we're going to let that process unfold in regular order.
Q What Josh had stressed over the last week or so was the court case in Nebraska was holding up being able to know what the route was, like that was the thing that he said was holding everything up. So now that that's gone, shouldn’t things move quickly?
MR. SCHULTZ: You're right, Josh did stress that. He also stressed that this process is still housed at the State Department. So I don't have an update on the timeline for you, but you are right that now that the route has been more determined, the State Department can continue their process to evaluate it.
Q Does this change the President’s threat to veto the legislation in the Senate?
MR. SCHULTZ: It does not, sir. The President believes that the process should unfold at the State Department and that any legislative end-run around that process is misguided, and he will veto that bill.
Q Is the President telling the State Department they should go ahead and accelerate this review to get this behind us?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, the process at the State Department is unfolding in regular order, and that’s still ongoing.
Q You called it an end-run around Congress. Doesn’t Congress have the power to do exactly what they’re trying to do in conjunction with the President?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean an end-run around Congress. This would have been an end-run around the approval process.
Q That’s what I’m saying. Doesn’t Congress have that power to pass laws?
MR. SCHULTZ: Congress definitely has the power to pass laws. What we believe is this is a process that predates this administration, that this is a process that is housed at the State Department, that has gone on for decades. And we believe that’s the regular course of business that this project should be evaluated under.
Q Can I ask you about what’s going on in Paris right now and the extent to which the President has been updated on that, how recently, and what the United States is doing specifically to assist the French?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. The President was updated this morning. As you know, before we left the White House, he had his Presidential Daily Briefing. I can assure you that this was a topic of expansive conversation in that session. The President has been kept up to date as the situation warrants. I can also tell you that White House officials and administration officials from the agencies have been in touch with their French counterparts almost minute by minute as this situation unfolds.
Q -- hear what’s happening on the plane? During this flight there seems to have been some significant developments.
MR. SCHULTZ: I can tell you the President continues to get updates as the situation warrants.
Q Are we getting any more information about the Paris attackers themselves and whether there’s a Yemen connection?
MR. SCHULTZ: Obviously, Steve, the situation there is very fluid, so I’m not going to get ahead of either the situation or the French government. I’ll refer you to the French authorities for any information on that.
Q But just to -- is he watching the news coverage here on the plane, can you say?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t know.
Q Can you find out?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m happy to try.
Q Senators Alexander and Corker are on board today. Does this imply some level of support for the program the President is announcing today?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, thank you for asking. Senators Corker, Alexander and Congressman Duncan are all on the flight with us today. You’ll have to ask them for their position on this. We do appreciate the bipartisan interest in this. Obviously, this is something that was spearheaded by a Republican governor in Tennessee. There’s a similar program under Mayor Emanuel in Chicago. So we believe -- we take Republicans at their word when they say that there’s interest in education, and so we look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans on this.
Q Has the White House team been talking to members of Congress about this at all? Is the President talking to these two senators about it today?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. We’re in constant touch with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill on this. Obviously, the national conversation on this starts today, so I don’t have a very detailed legislative strategy to read out to you at this moment, but this is something we’re going to be working hard on.
Q Let me just ask you this other question. This morning in a statement, Senator Alexander said that he didn’t think a new federal program was necessary to support federalization of the Tennessee Promise but that he did think he would -- it sounded like he would be supportive of expanding the Pell Grant program. I don’t know exactly what you guys have in mind, but does that seem to dovetail with what the President is thinking?
MR. SCHULTZ: The President believes that it is time to make college education the norm, and that about 100 years ago this country decided that high school would be the norm and that now is the time to make sure that all Americans, regardless of age, have access to higher education. So that’s what he’s focused on, in particular because we need to make sure America’s young people have the skills they need to succeed in a 21st century economy.
Q But I do think -- I think there was a Tennessee congresswoman maybe who issued a statement yesterday who said, look, good idea, I like what happened in Tennessee, but we don’t want a one-size-fits-all, federal, top-down program, that, like, the reason it worked is because it works for Tennessee. Is there -- I mean, this does seem like it opens the administration up to that same kind of criticism, that what they want to do is impose top-down solutions.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, the President believes the success we’ve seen in Tennessee is something that should be available to all 50 states. And so that’s why the President wants to make this a national program, to make sure that young people, no matter if they’re in Tennessee or any other state, have access to a higher education.
Q In the Tennessee program, students can apply for aid beyond what they would get through grants. Is that the President’s intention as well, or does he intend to have this program just cover the tuition without applying for grants?
MR. SCHULTZ: So for details on this I’m going to refer you to the Department of Education, but, yes -- largely, the full two years of their college education will be paid for. And again, that’s 75 percent by the federal government and the rest remaining from the states.
Q And how would you pay for this program?
MR. SCHULTZ: We are going to release those details in the President’s budget, which will be released on time in a few weeks. I do know that there’s intensive interest in this since we announced it last night, which I’m gratified by. I can tell you that over 5.7 million people viewed the video that we released last night at six o’clock. As of 10:00 a.m. this morning, 5.7 million people viewed it; 21.1 million people had been reached with that Facebook post. So we are very gratified by the interest. I can also tell you that this was the most successful White House Facebook post ever that we’ve done. Given the interest in the cost, I wanted to let you know that it is going to be roughly $60 billion over 10 years.
Q Sixty? 6-0?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes. That is a significant investment. But again, it’s one the President believes is worthwhile, because we need to make sure that America’s young people are getting the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century economy. And there’s no better ticket to the middle class than a college education.
Q That $60 billion is the federal piece -- the 75 percent?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes.
Q To follow on that, would that be done as a mandatory program? Meaning anybody who’s eligible for it would get funding on the mandatory side of the budget? Or is this is a discretionary program of Congress annually appropriating funds, possible fewer funds?
MR. SCHULTZ: I will have to check on that.
Q So you guys describe this as sort of the beginning of a conversation. Do you see this as a fully baked program, or something that you want to discuss and could change significantly in the coming weeks and months?
MR. SCHULTZ: I will say that President has a pretty clear vision of what he wants to do, which is inspire -- we’ve been forthcoming that this has been inspired by the Tennessee program. That said, we are starting a national conversation today in just a few hours about how we can expand college access for all Americans.
Q Putting a fine point on it, that would leave states responsible for $20 billion over 10 years?
MR. SCHULTZ: I want to say the federal share of this will be $60 billion over 10 years. I also want to say that just a day ago Republicans seemed to shrug off their own congressional budget, finding that $53 billion would be added onto the deficit if their work week bill were to pass. They shrugged that off; they said it didn’t bother them. It bothers us.
And what I would like to say is that Republicans are now spending tens of billions of dollars to take health care away from a million Americans. We’re spending tens of billions of dollars to make sure America’s young people get an education. We feel like that distinction is worthwhile.
Q Do you think that the Republican Congress would support the President’s request for that appropriation?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, we take Republicans at their word. I know several of them in leadership and some of the new freshmen have said that education is a priority. So we take them at their word on that. Obviously, this is a program that has had bipartisan support at the state and local level. We look forward to building on that.
Q Do you have anything about the report that the two brothers suspected in the Hebdo attack are dead?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, obviously the situation is very fluid. I’d refer you to the French authorities.
Q Cuba has released 36 political prisoners. Have they provided assurances that they will release the rest of them?
MR. SCHULTZ: Steve, thank you for asking the question. We actually welcome the significant and ongoing releases of the political prisoners by the Cuban government. These releases are consistent with the cases that we raise with the Cuban government. We’re pleased with the progress. We think it’s a tangible sign that they’re keeping their word, and we look forward to that continuing.
Q But what about -- you asked for 53.
MR. SCHULTZ: We’re confident that they’re going to keep their word, just as they have over the past day.
Q Can I ask you one thing more about the 60 over 10? Does that index -- does it start at a lower number and become higher over time, expecting more participation and higher costs?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’ll have to double-check on this.
Q That is to say, does it start at, like, $5 billion and become $7 billion to be 60 over 10?
MR. SCHULTZ: I will double-check on that, but I don’t believe so. I believe that’s fixed.
Q On jobs numbers today -- obviously good news on the one hand. But on the other hand, wages have actually fallen, which is still sort of a sign of weakness. What can the President do about increasing wages in addition to adding jobs to the economy?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I appreciate the question. As you know, we tend to focus not on any particular stat from any particular month, but we look at long-term trends. We believe the report release today caps off a year of strong economic growth, strong job numbers. As you know, this is the highest-performing job growth year since the late 1990s.
And as you point out, there’s still more work to be done. That’s why the President hit the road this week, talking about ways that we can continue to make sure this economic progress is enjoyed by as many people as possible. I think there’s a direct connection to the announcement we’re making today to make community college more accessible for all Americans. Because there is no better ticket to the middle class than a college education.
Q Do you have a week ahead?
MR. SCHULTZ: I do, sir.
On Monday, the President will welcome the 2014 NBA champions, San Antonio Spurs, to the White House to honor the team on winning their championship title. The visit will continue the tradition begun by President Obama of honoring sports teams for their efforts to give back to their communities.
On Tuesday, the President will host bipartisan, bicameral congressional leadership, where he will host -- where he will discuss a wide range of issues, including where he hopes he can work together to grow the economy and protect our national security. Vice President Biden will also attend.
On Wednesday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
On Thursday, the President will travel to Baltimore, Maryland, to attend a Senate Democratic Issues Conference.
And on Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
Q So he’s done all his pre-State of the Union travel after today?
MR. SCHULTZ: I just read you the week ahead. If we have any more announcements on what the President is up to between now and then, we will let you know.
Q And how’s the prep going on the speech?
MR. SCHULTZ: We are making great progress.
11:38 A.M. EST