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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Birmingham, AL

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Birmingham, Alabama 

1:59 P.M. EDT

MR. SCHULTZ:   Welcome aboard, everyone, to Air Force One en route to Birmingham, where the President will continue to draw the contrast between his vision for middle-class economics and efforts by Republicans in Congress to roll back the progress we've made in creating a safer financial system and a stronger economy that supports the middle class.

He’s going to highlight a number of consumer protection efforts that this administration has undertaken, including actions in just the last three months, like cracking down on backdoor payments and hidden fees that incentivize bad retirement investment advice, and sets to help student borrowers afford their loan payments.

As I think some of you saw, today the CFPB announced its latest consumer protection effort.  They’re taking an important step toward writing rules to help prevent abuses and payday lending, and protect consumers from getting trapped in expensive cycles of debt and fees.

This is particularly relevant today, because just last night House Republicans passed a budget that would weaken the CFPB, roll back consumer protections, and risk returning the country to the days of “too big to fail.” 

And speaking of our vision of middle-class economics, I wanted to make sure you saw that earlier today, Microsoft announced a new policy requiring many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to provide their employees who perform work for Microsoft with 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation time.  In his State of the Union address, as you all know, the President shined a spotlight on the need for sick pay and family leave policies, noting that at least 43 million private sector workers lack such benefits and that the United States stands alone among advanced countries in not requiring paid sick and family leave to our workers.

And with that, I will take your questions.

Q    Can you tell us what the President’s reaction was for the charges against Bowe Bergdahl and whether he still, if he could do it all over again, would exchange him for the Taliban five?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Nedra, as you know, the United States does not leave any American soldier behind.  That’s an oath that is very solemn to the President.  And as Americans, we have an unwavering commitment and patriotic duty to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.

Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of that commitment, and our solemn obligation to recover our captured servicemen and women has no qualifications.

As for the circumstances surrounding this particular case, given that it's an ongoing case in the military justice system, it's important to protect the integrity of that process.  So for that reason, I'm not going to be able to be in a position to comment much further. 

Q    Let me ask you then about the Taliban five.  There’s been some concerns about whether they could return to the battlefield.  Is the United States going to ask Qatar to keep them beyond the year agreement that they have?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Sure, Nedra.  We do remain in continuous communication with the Qatari government, but I'm not going to be able to comment on the specifics of those conversations.  But we do have tremendous confidence that, working closely with our partners, we are going to be -- we will be able to continue to be in a strong position to substantially mitigate the potential risk that these individuals may pose.

Q    But you are asking them to stay at Doha at this point?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I'm not going to be in a position to read out details of those conversations.  But I can tell you that our team is working with the Qatari government to make sure those threats remain mitigated.

Q    Any reaction to the news that the Germanwings flight seems to have been brought down as a deliberate act?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Mary, I will just tell you, as the President said two days ago now, our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims of the crash and their loved ones.  As we've noted previously, the President spoke on Tuesday with Chancellor Merkel and President Rajoy to offer his condolences and any assistance that the United States can provide.  We do remain in touch with French authorities as they’re the lead in this investigation, offering to provide any assistance we can.

Q    And given what appears to have happened with the locked cockpit on that flight, are any agencies being instructed to review current protocol? 

MR. SCHULTZ:  Mary, all I would do is refer you to the French authorities for the latest on their investigation.

Q    Wait, wait, wait -- why would you refer us to the French authorities on whether or not an American agency or American regulators would be reviewing any safety procedures?  That doesn't make any sense.

MR. SCHULTZ:  Fair enough, Mike.  I’d refer you to the FAA -- (laughter) -- if they're taking any action.

Q    Exactly the answer I wanted.

Q    Eric, can I ask you about Yemen?  Can you tell me whether or not -- does the U.S. see this operation as aimed to defeat the Houthis, or merely drive them back to the negotiating table?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Can you repeat that one more time?

Q    Yes.  Do you see this operation as aimed to defeat the Houthis, or to drive them back to the negotiating table?  And can they be pressured into moving without some sort of ground invasion, ground troops?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Thank you, Lesley.  I’ll just say that in response to the deteriorating security situation, Saudi Arabia, Gulf Cooperation Council members and others will undertake military action to defend Saudi Arabia’s border and to protect Yemen’s legitimate government.  As announced by these GCC members yesterday, they're taking this action as the request of President Hadi. 

The United States does coordinate closely with Saudi Arabia and our GCC partners on issues related to their security and our shared interests.  In support of GCC actions to defend against -- I’m sorry -- in support of these actions, President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to this military operation.

While the U.S. are not taking direct military action in Yemen in support of this effort, we are establishing a joint planning cell with Saudi Arabia to coordinate U.S. military and intelligence support.  More specifically to your question I think, we are fully aware and supportive of the GCC members’ decision to respond to President Hadi’s request and take this action to defend Saudi Arabia’s border and to protect Yemen’s legitimate government.

Q    But would the U.S. consider taking direct military action in the future if the situation doesn't improve?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Colleen, I can read out to you what’s been decided thus far and explain what we're doing now.  But I don't have any future actions to rule in or rule out.

Q    Can you talk about any coordination that the U.S. might have done with the Saudis ahead of the strikes?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Yes.  Nedra, I will tell you that we do consult closely with our Saudi and other GCC partners on the situation in Yemen and share their serious concerns regarding the Houthis’ ongoing military actions.  I’m not going to be in a position to read out to you specific conversations, but I can tell you that folks at our relevant agencies are in touch with our counterparts abroad.

Q    Following on that, can you tell us when President Obama was made aware of the Saudi operation in Yemen?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I don't have the internal details on that to unpack.

Q    Okay.  And can you say, is it a concern at all that our involvement here could somehow have a negative impact on conversations with Iran over the nuclear deal?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Julia, we don't see it that way.  We believe the international community is united behind the goal of making sure Iran does not have a pathway to a nuclear weapon.  Those conversations are ongoing in earnest as we approach the deadline, as you all have covered closely. 

Q    Was President Obama -- what was his reaction to news that Hillary Clinton broke a promise she made to him in 2008 that she would disclose all donations -- foreign and within the U.S. -- made to her foundation?  It was reported this week that since 2010 she did not disclose all of them.

MR. SCHULTZ:  I actually haven’t seen those reports, so I don't know the details.  All I can tell you is that I do know there is a memo of understanding, as you all have reported, back in 2008 I believe, that was signed before Secretary Clinton was conformed in order to avoid appearance of any conflict of interest and in keeping with the high standards we set for our nominees.  Those standards, you should know, went above and beyond historical precedent in terms of Cabinet secretaries. 

But for details on how that was implemented or operationalized, I’d refer you to the State Department because they were in charge of implementing it.

Thank you, guys.

2:07 P.M. EDT