Gaggle with the Principal Deputy Press Secretary en route Andrews Air Force Base
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base
11:46 A.M. MDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon. Welcome aboard Air Force One on our flight back from Hill Air Force Base, where the President did announce a goal of training 75,000 people to enter the solar workforce by 2020, some of whom will be veterans.
As you know, the President also announced a new Solar Ready Vets program led by the Department of Energy, in partnership with the Department of Defense. This program will train military personnel to enter the solar industry at 10 military bases across the country, including Hill Air Force Base.
Lastly, the Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to working with the Department of Energy and state approving agencies to achieve approval for GI Bill funding for DOE Solar Ready Vets initiative. Over time, we believe this approval will enable more veterans across the country to use their GI benefits to participate in this job-driven training program through local community colleges.
And it’s important to us that programs like DOE Solar Ready Vets helps achieve our climate goals, creating jobs, bolstering energy security, cutting carbon pollution, and combatting climate change.
With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Q On Iran, I saw yesterday where the President spoke with Speaker Boehner. Has he spoken with other members of Congress since the framework agreement was announced?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, Darlene, the President is speaking with all four leaders of Congress.
Q Is speaking or has spoken to?
MR. SCHULTZ: Nice catch. We are in touch with all four members. I will do my best to check to see if all four have been completed. But it is the President’s aim to speak with all four.
But I should also make clear that our outreach to Congress on this is not restricted to just the President. The Vice President has been making calls. Denis McDonough has been making calls. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken has been making calls. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and a whole host of other White House and senior administration officials.
Q And on the calls, are they making a certain ask of the members and the leadership of just examine it more, come in for more briefings, or hold off on any more sanctions legislation or any other action?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think the most important thing we can do in the sort of immediate aftermath of the deal being reached is make sure they feel like they’re getting the information they need. Obviously this was just sort of set 24 hours ago. So the contours of those calls are an initial reach-out to make sure they’re getting their questions answered, and then also to set out more detailed briefings down the road to the extent that that’s something that members are looking for.
Q Is the President hoping to talk to all four congressional leaders today?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes.
Q Eric, President Rouhani of Iran is casting this deal as a new relationship with the world. Does the White House see it that way?
MR. SCHULTZ: I understand that the Iranians are in a spot where they need to sell this deal to the population there. For us, this was a deal about Iran’s nuclear program -- full stop. That’s what the negotiations were about. That’s what the international community came together, along with the United States, to reach. And for us, that was the parameters of this deal.
Q Do you see it, though, as an opening for a new relationship between Iran and the rest of the world?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think the concerns we have with Iran outside of the nuclear program remain just as vibrant as they were yesterday as they are today.
Q And separately, Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for a “right to exist” clause for Israel in the final agreement. Is that something that the United States would support?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, I haven’t seen that request. I do know that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s concerns about this deal have been raised many times for the past year and a half, I believe. Similar concerns raised when the initial Joint Plan of Action was announced. So we understand his position, and the President believes -- the President would never sign on to a deal that he felt was a threat to the state of Israel. That was one of his guiding posts on this, and so that’s our position.
Q In the course of these talks, the White House and others have said that the Americans were on the sidelines discussing with the Iranians about the missing American in Iran. To what extent has this new framework deal affected that? And is there any progress on that particular individual?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes. As we’ve said, Jeff, those concerns were raised on the sidelines of these negotiations. Again, these negotiations were principally about Iran’s nuclear program. But like your earlier question, we continue to have serious concerns about Iran, including possible support of terrorism, including destabilizing the region, but also Americans detained there.
And, as we do every time we meet, we will continue to call on Iran to immediately release detained U.S. citizens so that all can be returned to their families as soon as possible. We have raised these cases repeatedly with Iranian officials and will continue to do so until they are all home.
Q But that is not -- that wasn’t and isn’t now a prerequisite for this deal going through?
MR. SCHULTZ: That’s right, Jeff. We have been very clear that our discussions with Iran are about their nuclear program. But our concern about getting these folks home remains in place.
Q There’s been some already obviously negative reaction from Republican lawmakers to the Iranian deal. I think one senator was even quoted as saying it was akin to a deal Neville Chamberlain might have made -- or not even Neville Chamberlain would have made this. Do you have any reaction to that? And does it give the White House any more pause that it will be harder to bring Republicans on board for this?
MR. SCHULTZ: Dave, I did see some ratcheted up rhetoric on the fringes, but I actually think that most of the response here we found reassuring. We have found that both Republicans and Democrats alike have shown a thoughtful response. They want to take a look at the details. That’s something that we appreciate.
I’d also -- we have found heartening the response from both scientists and a lot of the experts, that if you speak to analysts and objective folks who have studied these issues, studied the technical details, the science, the energy, I think that they feel very comfortable with this deal.
And I should also tell you that that was one of the directives that the President cast upon these negotiations, which is he would not accept a deal unless he was reassured by the scientists that this would end Iran’s pathway to a nuclear weapon. And that’s what we were able to accomplish.
Q Eric, Senator Corker says he’s going to go ahead and continue markup of his bill. Has the President spoken to Senator Corker? Does he plan to? And what’s his response to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I know that Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke with Chairman Corker within the past 24 hours -- I think it was yesterday -- and I can tell you they had a good conversation. We remain in very close touch with Chairman Corker. He said he wanted to take a good, long look at the details here. And we’re going to make sure that he and all of his congressional colleagues have a chance to do so.
Q I know the President has talked about bringing Gulf leaders to Camp David. Would he consider either separately bringing congressional leaders there for some sort of special detente? And also would he invite them as part of the meeting with the other world leaders?
MR. SCHULTZ: That’s a good question, David. I know that our consultations with Congress remain frequent and robust. I don’t have any events to announce to you at this time. And I'm not quite sure the interplay between what that event at Camp David will look like and the engagement of Congress.
Q Can you talk about why the President called Prime Minister Netanyahu last after so many other world leaders, and talk about sort of the way the calls were organized?
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, I would not read too much into the ordering of the calls. Sometimes that has to do with who we can get ahold of and when and how. So the President is continuing to make calls on this flight as well, and I'm going to try and do my best to read those out to you as soon as we can.
Q And can you say if the call with Prime Minster Netanyahu -- was it only about the Iran deal? Did he also talk about some of the things that he talked about last month, about the comments about the two-state solution, the U.N. Security Council? Did any of that come up?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have a detailed readout of the call beyond what we were able to release yesterday. I believe the call primarily focused on the deal with Iran.
Q Can you characterize the call? Was it contentious at all?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think I would tell you that the arguments that the Prime Minister makes in public are mirrored in what he makes in private. The good news is, the same arguments that the President made at the Rose Garden yesterday and has been making for a while now are also what he makes in private on these foreign leader calls.
Q Was it a longer call than the other calls to the other world leaders in terms of how much detail they went into?
MR. SCHULTZ: I know -- I don’t have the clock in and clock out of that call.
Q Can I ask about another big foreign policy initiative of this administration? The President met with -- or certainly talked with Senator Hatch today and mentioned in his brief remarks the push for TPA and TPP, the fast-tracking on trade. And I’m wondering if you all are confident that Senator Wyden and Senator Hatch will come to an agreement on the fast track legislation shortly after Congress gets back and will start that process with an actual bill. And did the President talk about that directly with Senator Hatch, and does he -- will the President be speaking more about that later this month?
MR. SCHULTZ: You’re right, David, that is a priority for this administration. And you’re also right that Senator Hatch has been a key player in this. We appreciate the earnest efforts that he’s put forth. I don’t have a specific timeline for you on this, but as you said, the President does believe that high-standards trade agreements that put American workers first can level the playing field for our businesses and help raise standards when it comes to environmental and labor protections.
The only way we’re going to get that deal done is if Republicans work with Democrats to get trade promotion legislation across the finish line. We do call on Congress to do that.
Q Right, but you’re not saying that -- you don’t have any guarantee it’s going to happen this month in terms of that fast track bill getting started?
MR. SCHULTZ: The last thing I would do is ever guarantee Congress is going to do anything.
Q When the President speaks with Leader McConnell, might he use that conversation to raise Loretta Lynch’s stalled nomination?
MR. SCHULTZ: It’s hard for me to read out the President’s private calls after they take place. It’s even harder for me to do that before they take place.
Q Any reaction to -- I think Senator Ron Kirk came out in favor of Loretta Lynch recently. Is there any reaction to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Senator Mark Kirk. You’re right, I did see that. I think Senator Kirk joins a growing list of Democrats and Republicans who support Loretta Lynch. She has been a -- we still haven’t found any substantive objection to her nomination, and so that’s why we redouble our call for the Senate to confirm her shortly.
Q Eric, the Governor of Utah said he spoke to the President about several matters last night in the motorcade. One of them was a public lands initiative in Utah where essentially they’re trying to take away some of the control of the federal government in that process of setting aside wilderness areas and national monuments. And so what was the President’s reaction to that? Does he have any feedback on that and where that stands?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, I’m going to admit I did not speak to the President about his conversation with the Governor. I know they did speak for about half an hour in the motorcade ride from the airport to the hotel. But I don’t have any details of that to read out. If I can, I’m happy to circle back with you.
Q Eric, do you have a sense of the dates yet for the Camp David summit with the Arab leaders?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t. I think we are still working with all of those heads of states to nail down a time that works for everyone.
Q And more --
Q Any update -- I’m sorry, go ahead.
Q I was going to say, more broadly on Iran, what’s the mood like right now in the White House? What is the President feeling overall about how this has worked out?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think, Jeff, the President feels good. The President feels that, thanks to the tireless effort of our negotiators in Switzerland, of course, led by Secretary Kerry, but joined by a robust team of the best negotiators in the world, that we were able to strike a historic deal, one that will eliminate Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, and one that is an issue that has been -- the President has been focused on.
Back I think -- if you’ll remember, this was something that was talked about back in 2007 in the campaign, how to do this. And we feel good, but make no mistake about it, there’s a lot more work to do. Nailing down those details between now and June will take a lot of work. And the President wants to make sure that the team over in Switzerland gets back home, gets some rest, but then gets back to work in short order.
Q You’ve said all along that the best scenario was a 50/50 chance of a deal getting done. Has that changed now that we’ve actually gotten the political agreement on a framework? The President said yesterday that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, so could this still sort of break apart over the next few months?
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, we defied the odds. The 50/50 odds I believe were described to -- getting to the point of the end of March, which was our self-imposed deadline for establishing the political framework. So I am not going to be in a position to ascribe the odds to get to June. But I do think there’s a lot of work to be done, but we are confident that we can get those details in place.
Q On another topic, there have been some calls for Senator Menendez to resign. Is the President going to weigh in on that? Does he have an opinion on whether he should stick around or resign?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm going to refer you to the Department of Justice on any ongoing cases.
Q I was wondering about Yemen. There have been some developments there in the past couple of days since the last time there was a briefing. Does the U.S. still consider Hadi the legitimate ruler there? Or who is running the country now?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Darlene. And as you noted, there have been some developments -- one very unfortunate one, which includes the assault yesterday, I believe, reportedly by AQAP, which led to a prison break, as well as a bank robbery. We do remain highly concerned about the terrorist threat that AQAP poses to Yemen, the region, and potentially the homeland. And we're going to continue to monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen and have the capabilities postured in the area to address them.
Q Is the al Shabaab massacre in Kenya this week give the President any pause about going to Kenya this year?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, I hope you saw our statement yesterday on that. We extend -- we condemn in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack, and we extend our deep condolences to the families and all the loved ones killed in this heinous attack, which reportedly included the targeted of Christian students.
But, no, we don't believe that this will impact the President’s travel there later this year. We feel very confident in the security precautions that will be in place when the President travels.
Q There were some protesters at the White House yesterday. They were calling for some -- there are normally -- but they were calling for the President to sign an executive order on campaign finance that would require federal contractors to display and say who they're donating to in terms of political contributions. What does the President think about that? Would he move forward on that type of an executive order?
Q Toluse, I don't have any new executive orders to announce for you today or to preview for you. I can tell you that this is an issue that's important to the President. As you may recall, I believe it was two or three years ago now, there was a legislative proposal called the DISCLOSE Act, which would have increased the transparency for a lot of the groups you're talking about. Unfortunately, it was blocked by congressional Republicans. But the President would absolutely like to see that bill signed into law.
I have a week ahead, yes. On Monday, the President and the First Family will participate in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll -- one of our favorites. The event will feature live music, sports courts, cooking stations, storytelling, and Easter egg rolling.
On Tuesday, the President will host an Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House. The Vice President will also attend.
On Wednesday, the President will depart the White House en route to Jamaica.
On Thursday, the President will hold a bilateral meeting with the Jamaican Prime Minister and participate in a meeting with the Caribbean Community leaders. The President will also participate in a town hall with young leaders. That evening the President will depart Jamaica en route to Panama.
On Friday, the President will hold a bilateral meeting with the Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and participate in the Summit of the Americas CEO Forum. I believe that evening the President will attend the Summit of the Americas Opening Ceremonies.
And on Saturday, the President will attend the official Summit of the Americas events. The President will participate in a press conference before departing Panama en route Washington, D.C.
Q Is the bilat with the Panamanian President the only one that’s locked in right now?
MR. SCHULTZ: We’ll let you know if we have updates to that schedule on that trip.
Q You mentioned earlier (inaudible) can you tell us who those are going to be to?
MR. SCHULTZ: As soon as they're completed.
12:04 P.M. MDT