Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Portland, OR, 5/7/2015
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Portland, Oregon
3:56 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Welcome aboard Air Force One this afternoon en route to Beaverton. I just have one announcement at the top that’s personnel related.
This trip is the last trip for Hannah Hankins, a wrangler who you all know has moved on to be the Communications Director for the Domestic Policy Council. She’s doing an exemplary job. She’s come back around for this trip. But I just wanted to point that out on the record.
The second personnel announcement I have is this is also the last trip for Assistant Press Secretary Jessica Santillo, who handles the health care and education and veterans affairs portfolio for us. She, too, has done extraordinary work on behalf of the President and the administration for many years now. So she’s joining us on this trip, and we appreciate her and wish her good luck in the private sector where she goes next.
With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Q What’s the White House’s next move on NSA?
MR. SCHULTZ: Steve, we are in the process of evaluating the decision handed down earlier today by the courts. Without commenting specifically on that ruling today, I will say the President has been clear that he believes we should end the 215 bulk telephony metadata program as it currently exists by creating an alternative mechanism to preserve the program’s essential capabilities without the government holding the bulk data.
We continue to work closely with members of Congress from both parties to do just that. And we’ve been encouraged by the good progress on the bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would implement these important reforms known as the USA Freedom Act.
Q Do you think that the reforms that you’re looking at will address the issues that the court raised?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, that’s a good question. I know that the leaders of that bill put out a statement to that effect. Our team is still reviewing the details of the ruling. But we believe that regardless of the fine print of that ruling, that legislation is the way to go.
Q Is the ruling a setback? Is that something you guys were expecting? Or you’re expecting to prevail?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I guess I would say, Jim, that our views on this -- the President’s view on this far predates today’s ruling. The President believes that because of privacy concerns, that the way this program is run right now should no longer be continued. That’s why we support the USA Freedom Act, which, as you know, is supported by Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress.
Q So the ruling buttresses the President’s position in a way?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I think our lawyers are reviewing the fine print in the ruling and the legal rationale that’s included in there by the judge. But our view is the privacy concerns that the President stated, I believe last year now, are ones that should prompt the United States Congress to take action.
Q We’re flying to Oregon. The President has got this event tomorrow at Nike. Does he have any regrets about choosing Nike as the place to make this statement about TPP and fast-track, given the fact that he’s going to land at a fundraiser, be thronged by protestors? And he’s now sort of on the defense when you want to be on the offense. Or is he going to pull a rabbit out of a hat with some spectacular announcement of the environment and labor tomorrow that will change all the critics’ minds?
MR. SCHULTZ: Margaret, we’re either on defense or we’re spectacular. (Laughter.) Let me try and characterize it the way we see it, which is the President is looking forward to this visit for an important reason. We believe that securing a trade deal will be good for American workers and good for the American workforce.
I will let Nike share with you the impact they anticipate a trade deal having on their company. But I do think that it is safe for you all to assume that the President would not be going to one of America’s top companies if they weren’t a testament to how this trade deal would positively impact America’s workforce.
Q Can we assume, Eric, that Nike is going to be making some kind of announcement about manufacturing to be timed with this visit?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m going to let Nike share their news when they’re available to do so. I will say it’s going to be also important to note that while the President is in Beaverton, at Nike, he’s also going to be joined by representatives from a multitude of small businesses in the area who also would benefit from a trade deal because of their heavy reliance on exports that helps them grow jobs here at home.
So I think tomorrow’s event is going to be -- it’s obviously as Nike. That will be a focus. But we're also going to look at the broader impact across the United States workforce.
Q But Nike does have news to share?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m going to -- if they do, I’m sure you will be on their list to be told.
Q Just to follow up on that, how much has the White House told Nike about what’s in the trade deal with Asia, in TPP? I mean, presumably, whether they make an announcement tomorrow, it will be based on whether this deal passes. So how much do they know about the deal ahead of time? Have you shared any details with them that we might not have heard already?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, that's a good question. I don't have private conversations to read out to you. I think that obviously we’ve been in touch with Nike to set up this event. I also know that Nike is not alone in recognizing the economic benefits of what a trade deal would mean to American workers and American jobs.
As you know, 95 percent of the world’s customers are outside our borders, so it’s important for U.S. companies to be able to sell to those markets.
Q Nike has about a million workers working in contract factories overseas, and the country that has the most is Vietnam. Vietnam, even by the U.S. acknowledgement, has not met international standards on labor in many respects. What is the President’s message then going in? And is Nike going to accept having to pay, perhaps, or meet higher labor standards in one of its main contract factories -- locations?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think the President’s message going in will be very similar to what you've heard for the preceding weeks, which is the trade deal that the President hopes to sign is one that is not only good for American workers, good for the American economy, but is one that includes the strongest, oldest human rights protections, labor protections, and environmental protections we’ve seen in a trade deal. We are fully aware that past trade deals have not always lived up to the hype.
And that is why the President doubled down on his efforts and instructed his negotiating team to really make sure that the labor, environmental, and human rights protections were not just included in maybe a side letter or a side deal that was associated with the trade deal, but written into the text of the deal in a fully enforceable way.
Q On this Nike choice, there are a lot of small businesses in Oregon that do export and would love to export more. Why not just pick -- why not have picked one of those and avoid all these questions about Nike?
MR. SCHULTZ: First, I’m not here to avoid any questions about Nike. We appreciate the high anticipation for this event. But your second -- your larger point is a good one, and I would expect a lot of participation tomorrow from those small businesses that do rely on exports.
Q Can you talk a little bit about -- not to get super in the weeds -- but your whip count, Democrats on the Hill? I mean, many of the Democrats who you need to win over in the House have been leaning in the opposite direction in the walkup to this Nike event. What are you doing to change hearts and minds?
MR. SCHULTZ: That's a fair question, Margaret. I’m not going to be in a position to offer you a whip count, as much fun as that would be right now.
I would tell you that the President has been deeply engaged in this, as have members from across the administration. That includes senior folks at the White House; that includes several Cabinet secretaries. And that outreach includes both private briefings and conversations, meetings. But the pitch we make in those private sessions is very similar to the one that the President makes publicly, which is globalization is at our door, and we have two options as the United States: We can put our head in the sand and pretend it’s non-existent, or we can make sure that we are the ones leveling the playing field for America’s workers.
The President believes if we’re not out there setting the terrain, that the Chinese will. And the President believes that if the Chinese set the rules, they will do so in a way that advantages their companies. The United States believes that’s the wrong direction to go.
Q Eric, on a separate issue, do you have any information about this drone strike that apparently killed an AQAP member?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, as you know, I’m not in a position to comment on these reports. But when it comes to our counterterrorism strategy, I’ll reiterate what we’ve said previously, which is we continue to actively monitor terrorist threats emanating from Yemen, and as we’ve said, we have capabilities postured in the area to address them.
As we have in the past, we will continue to take action to disrupt continuing imminent threats to the United States and our citizens. That remains the policy of this administration.
Q The woman who sponsored the Mohammed cartoon thing in Texas made an issue last night that neither the FBI nor the U.S. government is doing anything to protect her or talking to her. What’s your response to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Steve, I haven’t seen that report, so I don’t have a direct response. I would say that I think this incident at-large does underscore how closely coordinated our law enforcement agencies have been, both at the local level, the state level, and the national level. So I’d refer you to them if you have questions about their level of engagement.
Q On the decision in Canada this morning, a judge said that Omar Khadr, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee, could be released on bail. I know that you were asked about the potential for that earlier this week, but now that it’s happened, do you have any response to that decision?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, I’ll admit I did not see that before getting on this flight. I think, as Josh stated at that time, our general view is that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is counter to America’s values. It is a recruiting tool for those -- for our enemies, and it should be closed.
Part of that closure is going to mean -- when these prisoners are sent to other countries -- making sure that that is done, A, with the unanimous consent of our national security team, and, B, in close coordination with those other countries. And I know that every time that that happens there are mitigation steps taking place.
So I don’t have the details of those for this particular instance for you, but I know that that was true in this case, as well.
Q Prime Minister Netanyahu has formed a government. Do you have any scheduling updates about a possible meeting with the President going forward or any other comments about that formation?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t, Jeff. I would tell you that the United States does congratulate the Israeli people, the Prime Minister, and the new governing coalition on the formation of Israel’s new government. The President does look forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his new government. And as the President has emphasized, the United States places great importance on our close military, intelligence and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries.
But I don’t have any events or scheduling updates for you at this time.
Q Reaction to the Senate vote on Iran, the Iran nuclear?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jim, I saw the Senate did approve that bill that had been previously approved in a bipartisan way through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That’s a bill, as you know, the President said he would sign. It’s a bill that we thought represented a compromise when it came together. Now it has to pass the House of Representatives. But the President said he would sign it in its current form.
The President has also made clear that if amendments were added to that bill that would endanger a deal coming together that prevented Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, that we’d oppose it.
Q On the elections in Britain -- exit polls are due out in 50 minutes or so. Will the President be keeping an eye on those from the plane? Will he be briefed on that on the road? Or is he waiting until a government can be formed before he really gets involved?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, I know that we are monitoring those elections clearly. We have a special relationship with the people of Great Britain and their government. But I don’t have the details of how the President is being kept up to date.
Q Is the President rooting for Jim Messina or David Axelrod?
MR. SCHULTZ: My boss, Josh Earnest, has gone to great lengths to avoid being seen as weighing in on the scales of that election, so I’m going to do the same.
Q I’m asking about his two friends.
MR. SCHULTZ: I understand what you’re asking. (Laughter.)
Q Do you guys have a special BBC feed on the plane in front today?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m not in a position to share what’s on the television up front.
Q The exit polls will appear on CNN. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you for the plug, Kevin.
Q While we’re talking about what’s on the plane or who’s on the plane, do you have any update you can give us now about who’s traveling with the President?
MR. SCHULTZ: Margaret, there are no current members of Congress on the plane with us, but Congresswoman Bonamici will be meeting us at the tarmac and Congressman Blumenauer will be meeting us at the tarmac; so will the governor and the mayor of Portland.
Q Just the --
MR. SCHULTZ: The governor and the mayor of Portland.
Q Will there be any members at the event tomorrow?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, both of those members will be there.
Q And why did Senator Wyden not participate? I assume he was invited.
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, he was invited. You’ll have to check with his office for his schedule.
Q Depending on how tomorrow’s timing works we might as well ask you today: Tomorrow, the President is going to be visiting his 50th state as President, and I’m just wondering if you can tell us any more today about how he’s feeling about that -- whether he said anything about that as he was getting ready to come here today, and how he feels about the state of Democratic politics in South Dakota.
MR. SCHULTZ: Margaret, I don't have an electoral analysis of that state to provide for you right now. But I do think the President is very much looking forward to both our stop tonight and tomorrow morning, and then his stop in South Dakota.
As you point out, it is the 50th state that the President has visited while President. He was there in 2008, as I think you recall. I was not. I was helping elect Al Franken into the United States Senate.
So I think tomorrow’s visit will be momentous for a couple of different reasons. And first amongst those is that at Lake Area Technical College, the President is going to underscore the importance of making community college available to all responsible students as part of his America’s College Promise campaign, one of several major proposals that builds on the historic investment the President has made in college affordability and quality.
I think we’ll have more to say on this tomorrow. But LATC is a flagship community college which has done extraordinary work making sure young people are prepared for the 21st century economy, making sure they have the skills they need. And the President is proud to support their work by showing up there in person tomorrow.
Q Eric, can I ask -- as far as I can tell, the President only landed in Nebraska to immediately drive to Iowa. Is this really the 50th state he’s visited? And will he give Nebraska a little bit more attention in the last -- for this fourth quarter?
MR. SCHULTZ: Mike, I don't have any further travel to read out to you at this time.
Q Nebraska is not getting shortchanged here?
MR. SCHULTZ: That would not be my read.
Q And Alaska have been -- those have just been landings, right, and refueling stops?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, but I think he’s spoken to the troops. I would urge you -- if this is on your mind -- Pete Souza just did a remarkable post on Medium that shares 49 photos from 49 different states, including Nebraska. And it’s really remarkable to take a look. And he also wrote personally how difficult it was to choose one picture from each state. And tomorrow I think he’s going to update the post to be 50.
Q Back to the British elections. We know what the President’s relationship is, of course, with David Cameron. Can you talk a little bit about what, if any, relationship -- does he know Ed Miliband? What’s been their knowledge of each other?
MR. SCHULTZ: That is a good question. I don't have the details on that. I’m happy to look into it for you.
Q One last thing. On the trade bill, what are his plans for next week in terms of -- because I believe the Senate is supposed to have at least one vote on it. What will he do, and what is he planning to do to try to get the dozen Democrats or so that he’s going to need?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I think you can expect the President to continue the engagement we’ve seen for the past couple of weeks and maybe even months now, and that is both publicly making the case why this makes sense for America’s workforce and American jobs, but also working directly and privately with members of Congress to answer their questions and make sure they have all the information they need to make a decision on the merits.
Q Do you know how many he has spoken with privately, just generally?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have a tally to read out to you at this time, but I can tell you the President has had a robust number of conversations.
4:15 P.M. EDT