Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route New London, CT
Aboard Air Force One
En Route New London, Connecticut
9:57 A.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Welcome aboard Air Force One today, en route to Connecticut where the President will speak on the importance of acting on climate change and the risks this global threat poses to our national security in his commencement address to the United States Coast Guard Academy.
The President, in his remarks, will highlight the immediate risks climate change poses to our national security, which includes contributing to increased national disasters resulting in humanitarian crises, and potentially increasing refugee flows and exacerbating conflicts over basic resources like food and water.
One other risk that we look at is that how climate change can aggravate issues at home and abroad, including poverty, political instability and social tensions -- conditions that can fuel instability and enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.
As I think most of you saw today, the White House also released a report on national security implications of climate change and how the federal government is rising to meet that challenge. I encourage you all to look at that report if you haven’t done so already. And with that, I will take your questions.
Q All right. I’ll go first. There was a record number of vehicle recalls yesterday for Takata airbags. Given that this is the latest in a series of similarly large vehicle recalls, is the President confident in the auto safety regulators and the auto industry to assure the public that our cars that we drive are safe?
MR. SCHULTZ: Angela, the safety of the traveling of public is the Department of Transportation’s number-one priority. And as you mentioned, that department is taking a crucial step of making sure that every American car and truck owner has safe airbags in their vehicle. Takata has agreed to declare that airbag inflators -- believed to be responsible for five deaths in the U.S. -- are defective, which I believe until now the company had refused to do so.
It is recalling those inflators and the recalls are nationwide. We strongly encourage all vehicle owners to check safercar.gov for updates. And if they receive a recall notice from their manufacturer, they should immediately call their dealer to make arrangements for free repairs.
Q And what about the President’s thoughts on the auto industry, given the series of recalls?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, we think the Department of Transportation is taking the extraordinary step of -- the extraordinary yet critical step of making sure that cars and trucks are safe with these airbags. And that’s why they’re taking the step.
Q Eric, do you expect the President to talk at all today about the fight against ISIS at the Coast Guard Academy? And can you tell us, based on his meeting with the National Security Council yesterday, whether he had concerns, or anyone in the administration is concerned, about the use of Shiite militias to try to retake Ramadi, given that many of them are backed by Iran?
MR. SCHULTZ: Julie, I don’t have any more of a preview of the President’s remarks to give you at this time. I encourage you to listen and watch closely up in Connecticut.
As you pointed out, the President did meet yesterday with his National Security Council to discuss the situation in Iraq and our strategy to counter the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The President was briefed on the latest developments in Iraq and our support of the Iraqi security forces and local tribal forces responding to the situation at Anbar Province. The President reaffirmed the strong U.S. support for Prime Minister al-Abadi’s efforts, and welcomed the decision to accelerate training and equipping of local tribes in coordination with Anbar Province. The President reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the government of Iraq and the Iraqi people in the fight against ISIL.
With regards to your specific question -- and Josh addressed this a little bit yesterday -- but the decision by Prime Minister Abadi to call on the Shia militia was one that was done in consultation with Anbari leaders and through a unanimous vote on Sunday by the Anbar Provincial Council.
We have been clear that the decision to use these forces is one of the government of Iraq to make in conjunction with Anbari leaders. But we’ve also been very clear that all forces there should be under the command and control of the Iraqi security forces.
Q It may be their decision, but are there concerns in the administration that this could lead to sectarian violence, whether or not it was Abadi’s decision to make? We know that some of these militias have been involved in clashes like that before.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I do think, in response to your question, it’s important to note that the Council, in making this decision, strongly supported Prime Minister Abadi’s actions. And we always are concerned about sectarian violence. And that's why it’s going to be important for these forces to be under the command and control of the Iraqi security forces.
Q Can you tell us anything more about the reports that Abu Sayyaf was one of Kayla Mueller’s captors, and that his wife, who was captured when he was killed, is telling American officials about her captivity and giving them information about that? What do you expect to learn from her?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have any readouts of that process that is underway right now to offer for you. But again, as we’ve said, Abu Sayyaf was a senior ISIL leader who, among other things, had a senior role in overseeing ISIL’s oil and gas operations, a key source of revenue that enabled the terrorist organization to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians.
He was also involved in the group’s military operations. He also may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young Yazidi woman we rescued. As you know, the HIG was deployed to debrief Umm Sayyaf. And so I don't have any readouts of that process to give you right now. But as more information becomes available to release I’m sure we’ll be in a position to do so.
Q Could you just say whether she’s being cooperative?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m not sure.
Q Today federal authorities indicted six Chinese citizens on charges that they sold trade secrets. This comes just a few days after Secretary Kerry was in Beijing to talk about maritime tensions between China and its neighbors and at a time when the administration is pitching a trade deal that does not include China and, in fact, has been viewed in China as something of a containment strategy to some degree. I’m wondering, ahead of -- we're just a few months out before the President of China comes for a visit -- does the administration feel like the trajectory of relations with China, the second biggest economy, or biggest, depending on how you measure it -- is headed in the wrong direction?
MR. SCHULTZ: You packed a lot into that question, so let me just take the first part out which is I believe what you're talking about is the law enforcement action announced by the Department of Justice. Those are independent decisions made by career prosecutors there, so I’m not going to be in a position to comment on that.
Generally speaking, as you point out, we are looking forward to that visit later this year. And we have a complicated but good relationship with China. We continue to work closely with them on a number of issues and we look forward to robust discussions on that visit later this year.
Q After the President met with his national security advisors, did he decide to make any tweaks to his strategy for fighting Islamic State militants?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I do want to be clear, Roberta, that there was no formal strategy review that is underway. The President’s national security team meets frequently to review developments and determine how to best refine and carry out the strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.
This includes a systematic campaign of coalition airstrikes, while enabling local forces fighting ISIL on the ground, as well as supporting the Iraqi central government that governs in an inclusive and multi-sectarian manner.
So I don't have any changes to announce.
Q Does the President have any response to the oil spill in California last night?
MR. SCHULTZ: I have not seen that, John.
Q Leon Panetta had an editorial in The Wall Street Journal this morning suggesting that the President is risking U.S. national security by not opening oil to exports. Is that an opinion that the President will weigh as he decides whether to change that policy?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven't seen that report. I don't have any new policies to announce on that.
Q Iran’s Supreme Leader today ruled out any interviews from inspectors with Iranian nuclear scientists. And I'm just wondering what the significance is of that and whether that will harm the efforts to reach a final agreement.
MR. SCHULTZ: I couldn't hear you --
Q Will it harm the efforts -- letting inspectors talk to Iranian nuclear scientists, like interview them as part of their reviews?
MR. SCHULTZ: I hadn't seen that specific piece. I can tell you that as part of the framework that was announced I believe two months ago now, Iran has agreed to the most robust, intrusive and stringent inspections and transparency regimes ever negotiated for any nuclear program. So the political framework which was announced a month or two now is now in the technical phases to get down to a final deal at the end of June. So I'm going to let those negotiators continue to do their work. But we feel certain about the transparency and inspection regimes that Iran will have to agree to as part of the final deal.
Q Does the President have any position on the legislation in the House that would cut back benefits for former Presidents?
MR. SCHULTZ: Nancy, I saw that that passed the House Oversight Committee. I have not talked to the President about it and I don't know if we've been briefed on the details of that.
Q Paul Ryan is a key partner for the President on trade, I would say. In an interview with Politico today he said it's important for the country and the Republican Party to get behind this trade deal because otherwise if it doesn’t pass that would be “the punctuation mark on the declining narrative of America.” How would the President respond to that framed in that matter, to say that without this trade deal it’s the punctuation mark on the declining narrative of the country?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think the President has been clear about, first of all, the trajectory of our economy over the past six years that the President has been in office. As I think you know, we've seen the longest stretch of private sector job growth in our nation’s history. That is 62 months that happens to coincide with the signing of the Affordable Care Act, for those keeping track.
In terms of what this trade deal means, though, the President has been very clear that he thinks this is an opportunity for tremendous increased growth, continued growth for American companies. As you know, U.S. goods and services exports supported an estimated 11.7 million jobs in 2014, 1.8 million more than in 2009, and that 95 percent of the world’s consumers are outside U.S. borders.
Q So Paul Ryan framing it in that way, is that sort of a poor way to go about it, do you think?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, we've been clear on the President’s reasons for this. Due to the grit and ingenuity and determination of the American workforce, our economy has come back from one of the worst economic eras since the Great Depression. And this particular trade deal presents an opportunity to take that economic growth even further.
Q -- of time the President is personally spending with House Democrats in an effort to pass the trade deal?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have a quantity to read out to you, Christi, but I can tell you the President has been engaged with House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans -- because he believes it's in the best interest of not only American companies but the American worker. And I'll also make clear that the President is not only speaking with supporters of the trade deal but also skeptics to make sure that they understand how solid our arguments are.
And the last point I’ll make is, the effort on the Hill is not limited to the President but you’ve got senior administration officials both inside the White House and at the agencies all making the case.
Q -- in terms of senior administration officials? I'll ask you this. Would you compare -- I mean, you don’t want to quantify how much time the President has spent on it, but would you compare it to the effort to pass the health care legislation?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm hesitant to sort of parse that out. I think that when the President has a priority pending before Congress -- take the Affordable Care Act, take raising minimum wage, take immigration reform, or take the trade deal -- there is no question that we do everything we can to make sure members have all the arguments -- all the information they need to make solid decisions on the merits.
Q Following up on that. In the past, when members of Congress have raised concerns about labor and environmental provisions, the President’s response -- and your response -- has been that there are enforceable, labor and environmental rules, in the text of the TPP. Yesterday he issued a statement specifically saying that he backed certain provisions in the Trade Promotion Authority bill that would apply to labor and environmental and other rules. Is this a shift on the part of the President? Is he acknowledging that some of those issues are going to have to be in the fast track bill in order for it to pass Congress?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t think so, Julie. I think the President has always been clear that the landmark labor provisions, the environmental safeguards, and the human rights protections are both historic in the nature of how robust they are, but also that they’re enforceable and that they should indeed be included in the body of the text.
This is something that we have looked at in terms of past trade deals -- noted that they are on side agreements or side notes, and that because of that, they’re not as enforceable as if they were in the body of the text. So that’s why the President has insisted they be included.
Q But if that’s sufficient, then why is there any necessity to include any of this, including currency, in the fast track bill? Why would you have to include that if the provisions of the trade agreement itself are so binding?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think that’s a fair question. I might refer you to our technical folks at the USTR. I believe -- the President has been clear that these pieces should be included in the body of the text because, again, that is the only way to ensure that they can be fully enforceable.
Q A question kind of related to today’s event. Since the President is going to be talking about carbon emissions and carbon pollution, can you give us an update on where the administration is at in determining whether the Keystone pipeline significantly contributes to carbon emissions?
MR. SCHULTZ: Roberta, that is a policy review that’s underway at the State Department. I don’t have any updates for you on that.
Q So the President has gone pretty much as far as he can go with executive orders on climate change. He’s tried the health arguments, environmental arguments, national security arguments. How does he push his agenda forward?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, thank you, Nancy, for giving me an opportunity to review how much we’ve done over the past six years on this. We’ve made unprecedented investments to cut energy waste in our homes and our buildings. We’ve doubled the fuel efficiency of our vehicles so we’re putting less carbon in the air. We’re using more clean energy than ever before -- 20 times more solar, three times more wind. We’ve reduced carbon emissions more than any other advanced nation and today, our carbon pollution is near its lowest levels in almost two decades.
Again, I believe the report that we issued earlier talks about not only the progress we’ve made over the past six years but also efforts happening in real time to continue and build on that progress.
Q But, I mean, there’s not much more he can do.
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm not sure that’s the case, Nancy. I know that this is a priority for the President. We’re constantly looking at the tools in our toolbox, given that this is such an important priority for the President.
Okay. Thank you.
10:16 A.M. EDT