Gaggle en route Boston, MA by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, 03/30/15
Aboard Air Force One
En Boston, Massachusetts
9:53 A.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Welcome aboard, everyone, on Air Force One. And we are en route to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, where we'll celebrate the life and legacy of Senator Ted Kennedy and highlight the importance of the United States Senate in the lives of all Americans.
I actually have a few scheduling announcements to lead us off here. This Thursday, the President will travel to Louisville, Kentucky, for an event on the economy. On Friday, the President will visit Hill Air Force Base in Utah for an event on the economy as well. Further details about the President’s travel to Kentucky and Utah will be available in the coming days.
Now we'll switch to the coming year. As you might have seen I think right before we took off, the government of Kenya has agreed to cohost the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, otherwise known as the GES, in July. Organized annually since 2009, this event has emerged as a global platform connecting emerging entrepreneurs with leaders from business, international organizations and governments looking to support them. This will be the first time the GES will take place in sub-Sahara Africa.
President Obama will travel to Kenya in July, where he will hold bilateral meetings and participate in the Summit. His trip will build on the success of the August 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, and continue our efforts to work with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security.
This will be President Obama’s fourth trip to sub-Saharan Africa during his presidency.
With all of that news said, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Do you think that the President will see family members or anybody else in Kenya?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have any updates to the President’s schedule since we just announced the trip. But as soon as we can flesh that out for you I will have that for you.
Q Do you know when it is?
MR. SCHULTZ: When in July?
Q When, yes.
MR. SCHULTZ: I think it's end of the month.
Q The Nation reported July 23rd. Is that accurate?
MR. SCHULTZ: Stand by.
Q And if you can say how many days the trip will be that would be great.
MR. SCHULTZ: I will try and nail down the exact dates. I believe it's in the end of July, and I don't know if the exact parameters of the travel have been booked yet.
Q Eric, can you tell us whether the President had been briefed on the latest in the Iran talks and what he thinks about this issue that has been discussed over the weekend of whether Iran should have to send its fuel elsewhere as part of the deal?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thanks, Julie. I can tell you that our team has been engaged in constant around-the-clock meetings and negotiations over in Switzerland. I can also tell you the President has been briefed regularly and frequently, and also has provided guidance as necessary.
In terms of the story that you are referencing, I would say that, unfortunately, some of the details in that story were not correct. The idea that there had been an agreement that Iran backed away from in the last 24 hours is not true. In terms of what’s going to happen with that stockpile that is something that our negotiators are working through, but it's not accurate to say there had been an agreement that was then backtracked.
As we've said all along now, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. So I don't want to get ahead of what our negotiators are working on in the room, so beyond that we're not going to have much to say.
Q Which of the two halves of that sentence aren't true? Was there an agreement, or not? And if there was, did they back away from it?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think both of those are not true. There was never an agreement on this issue yet. That’s still something being worked out. And we expect that to be part of the negotiations.
Q Eric, tomorrow is the deadline. Is the President prepared to walk away if there’s not a deal by tomorrow?
MR. SCHULTZ: Isaac, the President has made clear that he’s not going to take a bad deal, that the best way to eliminate Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is to both shut off its path to a nuclear weapon and impose the most intrusive, stringent inspections ever. And so the President is not prepared to take a bad deal.
Q My question is does he see tomorrow night as the deadline?
Q Or is there any possibility of extending --
MR. SCHULTZ: I can tell you we've been negotiating for over a year now, and it's going to be up to the Iranians in order to make some tough decisions as the deadline nears in order to show the international community that it wants to get rid of its pathway to a nuclear weapon. I'm not going to presuppose failure. Those negotiations are going to go down to the wire. We've always said that when the extension was announced in November through June that we wanted a framework by the end of March, and that remains our position.
Q So is there any flexibility at all about later this week? And how should we imagine it for tomorrow? Is it an Eastern Time deadline? Is it European time? What’s the specifics on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: As you know, right now the negotiations are unfolding in Switzerland. So in terms of any announcements that come out of Switzerland, I would refer you to the State Department. But I'm not going to speculate -- I'm not going to presuppose failure on their part. Our folks are working around the clock in earnest to try and get this done. And so I'm going to leave the negotiating to them.
Q -- on the U.S. side, there’s been reports that the President has been very engaged in trying to get congressional support and that there may be some leeway in allowing for congressional review of an agreement. Can you bring us up to date on those?
MR. SCHULTZ: Angela, as you know, we've been working very hard to keep Congress briefed and up to date on this. I believe if you count up our engagements with Congress on this issue they total in the hundreds. And that includes one-on-one meetings, phone calls, briefing sessions, both classified and unclassified, with a range of officials, including the President, the Vice President of the United States, staff at the White House and Cabinet secretaries. So we are proud of our record of robust consultation with Congress.
We will still work through how we envision Congress’s oversight role here. We believe there is a role. But in terms of -- I know there’s been some -- like the Corker-Menendez bill, we said we’d veto that and we stand by that.
Q Are there any circumstances under which he would allow Congress to disapprove of any agreement?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, what we said is that we are very open to working with Congress on this, that we want a robust consultative role. And I think we’ve put our money where our mouth is, because I think, again, there’s been several hundred different conversations, briefings, meetings, hearings, sessions that we’ve participated in. But I don’t have any specific mechanisms to announce to you today.
Q Just to clarify, though. When you say you envision a role for Congress, does that just mean a role for them to be briefed? I mean, if you guys see that Congress has a chance to have some input here but not through Corker-Menendez -- I mean, is there any legislative framework the President could envision giving to Congress to be able to have a say in this beyond just sitting in a briefing listening to what the details of the negotiations are?
MR. SCHULTZ: Julie, the first half of this gaggle was about a deal that hasn’t come into place yet. So I'm not going to go ahead and hypothetically engage that if and when that deal comes into play how we’re going to consult with Congress. But I can assure you that if you look at our record hereto for of robustly consulting with Congress, I feel fairly confident that they’ll be involved.
Q And, Eric, can you provide any more details on how the President has been regularly briefed and provided guidance? How often that’s been? Anything at all that would illuminate his role in this?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can tell you -- I don’t have a lot of internal details to read out to you at this time, but I can tell you that the President has been briefed regularly, frequently, and as I said, as the situation warrants, provided guidance to his team that is used by the negotiators in Switzerland.
Q I can’t quite tell. Are there any circumstances under which he would sign a bill that allows Congress to block an agreement?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, I don’t know what legislative proposal you’re referencing. If it’s Corker-Menendez, we said we’d veto it. If there’s another proposal out there --
Q Let me ask, why would he veto it?
MR. SCHULTZ: Because, as you know, David, this is a purview that’s been part of the executive branch for decades and the President retains the authority to conduct foreign policy. As we’ve seen, there’s been a partisan effort by Republicans in the Senate to undermine that ability, but the President believes that the best way to rid Iran of a nuclear weapon is to solve that diplomatically.
Q So does any bill that gives Congress a vote to veto a deal usurp executive authority?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, again, you’re asking about a legislative process -- a legislative proposal that I'm not familiar with. I can tell you the one that has been widely reported and is on the books, Corker-Menendez, is one that we’d veto.
Q -- agreement, who would sign it for the United States?
MR. SCHULTZ: That’s a good technical question that I don’t know the answer to, so I’d refer you to the State Department.
Q How do you guys feel about Mitch McConnell and John Boehner being in Israel these couple of days as the deadline for Iran comes, talking with Netanyahu and talking about how they don’t want this to go forward, the Iran deal? Is that appropriate?
MR. SCHULTZ: Isaac, I will admit I knew that trip was happening. I didn’t know -- I haven’t seen any comments they’ve issued since they’ve been on the ground in Israel. I will say, we’ve said that lawmakers from both parties visit the state of Israel all the time and we think that’s entirely appropriate.
Q Eric, can you give us an update on the White House’s thinking about the evolving crisis in Yemen?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. Jeff, as you know, the Houthis’ continued actions, despite the repeated condemnations of the international community, have caused widespread instability and chaos that threaten the safety and well-being of the Yemeni citizens. And in support of the GGC actions to defend against Houthi violence, President Obama has authorized the provision of logistical and intelligence support to GCC-led military operations.
Above all else, we strongly urge the Houthis the stop their destabilizing military actions and return to negotiations as part of the political dialogue.
Q That sounds like basically what you guys said last week. Are you concerned about the latest role that Iran continues to play in this crisis?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, as we have said, we do have concerns about Iran’s activities in Yemen, which are contributing to destabilizing the situation and contributing to the threat posed to the legitimate government there.
Q Do you see any irony in the fact that you’re expressing this concern about Iran at the same time as these talks are going on? And does it -- is it possible for us to assume that that is not being brought up in the Switzerland context?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, I believe the State Department has said that on the sidelines of those talks, Secretary Kerry has brought this up -- has brought up Yemen with counterparts on the ground in Switzerland. But largely, we view the negotiations with Iran about ending their pathway to a nuclear weapon. That is what the international community has been united on and that’s what we’re working towards.
Q On one domestic issue, Eric. Senator Lee, as you're announcing this trip to Utah, has announce that he plans to investigate whether there was a White House roll to push the FTC to ends its investigation in 2013 into Google. Can you comment on whether there was a White House role and what you think about the possibility of Senator Lee looking into this?
MR. SCHULTZ: Angela, I saw a quick news report on that before we took off, and I can tell you that the FTC is an independent organization which makes decisions independently. So if you have questions about their process you should speak with the FTC. I know that there was a news report about meetings with Google executives at the White House, and I would tell you that we meet with business leaders all the time.
Q On Utah, that is the second to last state that the President has not visited, correct, while in office? And did that play a role in choosing his itinerary? And how soon will he be headed to South Dakota?
MR. SCHULTZ: Juliette, I opened with so many scheduling announcements -- (laughter) -- I have none additional at this time. But I can tell you that we are going to have more information about the President’s trip to Utah in the coming days.
Q Does the President support the human trafficking bill that’s pending in the Senate?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, this is something that’s been discouraging to this White House, that the United States Senate, only days after approaching a shutdown for the Department of Homeland Security, could not pass a human sex-trafficking bill. That’s been a sign of Senate dysfunction and that is something we hope is resolved quickly.
Q But as you know, it’s the Democrats who are blocking it. So is he troubled by that?
MR. SCHULTZ: We’re troubled that Congress, in this day and age -- especially as we head to the Edward Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate -- both struggles to fund the Department of Homeland Security and now cannot pass a bill discouraging human sex trafficking.
Q Do you think the Democrats should stop blocking this bill?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think that, as you’ve seen, we believe that this is an issue that should normally -- under normal circumstances, under Senate leadership that vowed when they took office this past January to get the Senate moving, that this should be one that’s not controversial.
Q Does the President think Ted Kennedy would be upset by what’s going on in the Senate today?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Isaac, I can tell you the President and First Lady both look forward to today’s events. I do think that it is worth noting that Senator Kennedy was a fierce fighter and a champion for those in our country who needed help the most. And whether that was advancing civil rights, whether that was extending health care to the nation’s most vulnerable populations, or securing the economic well-being of everyday Americans, Senator Ted Kennedy was driven by those not with connections and power, but by helping those precisely without the fame and fortune.
At the same time, though, I think what the President admires most about Senator Kennedy was his ability to find common ground with Republicans, and work on issues across the aisle with Republicans in pursuit of a larger goal -- whether that was working with Senator Orrin Hatch on children’s health insurance, Senator Grassley on their historic work to cover kids with disabilities, or with Senator Domenici to end injustice in treatment for the mentally ill.
Nobody fought harder for his ideals than Senator Kennedy. But he was a master at finding common ground and working with political adversaries if it meant fixing something that was broken.
Q So you said that what’s going on with the trafficking bill is ironic given that we’re going to the Kennedy Institute today. So does the President think that Kennedy’s legacy is not being upheld by the modern Senate?
MR. SCHULTZ: Isaac, I’d encourage you to stay tuned for the President’s remarks.
Q Before we go, I wanted to ask you -- the reports in Australia that personal details of the world leaders was leaked from the Brisbane summit. Can you confirm that the President’s details weren’t leaked? And what more can you tell us?
MR. SCHULTZ: I have seen those reports. I can’t confirm that at this time. I can tell you that we’re looking into them and we’ll take all appropriate steps necessary to ensure the privacy and security of the President’s personal information.
Q What kind of recourse does the United States government have if the President’s passport details and other personal information has been sent to a football club?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, you’re presupposing facts that I’m unable to confirm at this time. So, as I said, we’re going to look into this and make sure the President’s privacy and security are maintained.
Q Small follow-up question. Does the President actually use a passport when he travels? Is that information given to a foreign government for visas and so forth, or not?
MR. SCHULTZ: Julia, you’re asking a good technical question that I don’t know the answer to, but I’m happy to look into it.
Q Thank you.
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you.
10:09 A.M. EDT