On-The-Record Press Call by Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications on the First Lady's Upcoming Trip to the United Kingdom and Italy
Via Conference Call
3:37 P.M. EDT
MS. ADLER: Hey, everyone. Thank you for joining this on-the-record conference call to discuss the First Lady’s upcoming trip to the United Kingdom and Italy. We’re joined today by Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Tina Tchen; and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes.
So now, I’ll hand it over to our speakers, and then we’ll have some time for Q&A.
MS. TCHEN: Hi, this is Tina Tchen. Thank you, Caroline. And thank you all for joining the call. We’re delighted to be here to talk about the upcoming trip to the United Kingdom and Italy. This trip is a wonderful way for the First Lady to highlight three of our four core policy initiatives -- namely Let Girls Learn, Let’s Move! and Joining Forces.
For Let Girls Learn, in March, the President and the First Lady launched Let Girls Learn, a U.S. whole-of-government effort to address the barriers that keep over 62 million girls around the world out of school, especially adolescent girls. As the President and the First Lady said that day, we know that adolescent girls face particular challenges of culture and attitude, as well as access to completing their education to the detriment of themselves, their families, and, ultimately, their countries.
That day, the U.S. committed to expanding our work in diplomacy, development and outreach in support of adolescent girls’ education. And in particular, the First Lady has been championing an effort by the Peace Corps to support community-based and community-led projects through the Peace Corps and Let Girls Learn fund to really address local projects that will reduce barriers to keeping adolescent girls from completing their education.
Like the First Lady’s trip to Japan in March, the trip to the United Kingdom is a good example of a developed country that shares our concerns and can lead the way in promoting adolescent girls’ education around the globe.
In London, as part of Let Girls Learn, the First Lady will visit the Mulberry School for Girls. At the school, the First Lady will host a roundtable on how the UK and the U.S. are working together to expand access for adolescent girls completing their education. Joining the First Lady at the roundtable will be the UK Secretary of State for International Development, the Director of Research for Equitable Access and Learning Center at Cambridge University, the co-founder of Camfed’s alumnae association, and returned Peace Corps volunteers. Similar to our visit in Japan in March, I expect that we will talk about ways our two countries can work together to support adolescent girls’ education.
The First Lady will then move to a session with students from the Mulberry School and take questions from the students, along with Julia Gillard, the former Prime Minister of Australia and the current board chair of the Global Partnership for Education, and a strong advocate on international adolescent girls’ education.
In addition to the roundtable discussion and her Q&A session with students and Ms. Gillard, the First Lady will also meet with Prime Minister Cameron and Mrs. Cameron, and Prince Harry while she’s in London.
From London, the First Lady will travel to Milan to lead the presidential delegation to the Milan Expo 2015. With the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” the Expo Milan is promoting a global dialogue about the future of our food system, and the First Lady is looking forward to joining that dialogue, particularly as it relates to nutrition and the health of our youngest generation. There are 140 countries participating in Milan Expo 2015, and they expect over 20 million visitors around the world over the next six months, from May to October, in addition to millions more online visitors.
The USA pavilion is titled “American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet,” and it showcases American leadership on global food and development issues, science and technology, climate change, nutrition and health. “American Food 2.0” aligns perfectly with what the First Lady has been saying around the fifth anniversary of our Let’s Move! initiative -- that there's a shift in our country toward a new norm when it comes to making decisions around our health and nutrition.
Through interactive exhibits with state-of-the-art digital media, the USA pavilion is an exceptional platform for the U.S -- be it government, business, NGOs or academia -- to highlight sustainable solutions for energy, transportation, clean water, and underscore innovation and entrepreneurship.
Through Let’s Move!, the First Lady is proud to start a conversation here in the United States about how we eat and live, and our results are positive. For example, we’ve got 1.6 million kids now attending healthier daycare centers where fruits and vegetables have replaced cookies and juice. And more than 30 million kids are eating healthier school breakfasts and lunch.
There are 2 million kids who now have a Let’s Move! Salad Bar in their schools. Nearly 9 million kids attend Let’s Move! Active Schools, where they get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. We have thousands of chain restaurants that have created healthier kids menus, and food and beverage companies have cut 6.4 trillion calories from their products.
Seventy million people now live in a Let’s Move! City, Town or County, where kids can walk to school on new sidewalks, participate in a summer meal program or join a local athletic league. And religious leaders are teaching their congregations about healthy eating through Let’s Move! Faith and Communities. Families are getting active in our national parks through Let’s Move! Outside. And kids are enjoying healthy eating exhibits at one of the nearly 700 Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens.
We know that together, these changes are starting to have an impact, and yet, while in the U.S. childhood obesity rates have finally stopped rising and obesity rates are beginning to level off for our -- are beginning to fall, actually, for our youngest children, globally, the prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. Diabetes has increased by -- worldwide by 45 percent in the last two decades, and 42 million children are overweight before they even finish preschool. And to date, not a single country has reversed these obesity trends in a lasting way.
So the First Lady knows that raising healthy families isn’t just a challenge in the United States, it’s a challenge all over the world. And no matter where in the world you live, we all want healthy, nutritious food for our families. That’s why Mrs. Obama couldn’t be more excited for this expo -- to listen, to learn, to join others around the world to tackle this problem.
We’ve also sent out additional information about the presidential delegation. The leaders who were chosen to join the First Lady in order to visit the pavilion and meet with other country representatives to share best practices and challenge --challenges and practices in the following areas: farming and gardening, nutrition performance and school nutrition, cooking, and food marketing.
In addition to visiting the U.S. pavilion while we’re in Milan, the First Lady will join the presidential delegation for a cooking activity with children. She will meet with Prime Minister Renzi and tour the Italian pavilion with Mrs. Landini, the Prime Minister’s wife.
And finally, as part of Joining Forces, the First Lady will visit the military servicemembers and their families stationed at U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza in Italy. Vicenza is home to the U.S. Army Africa HQ, and elements of the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. There are thousands of military servicemembers and their families stationed there. They were among the first boots on the ground that we had in the response to the Ebola crisis.
Knowing that children of military families face unique challenges when their parents are absent during periods of deployment, the First Lady will begin her visit by meeting with the children of servicemembers. Next, she’ll deliver remarks to Vicenza soldiers and their families. She looks forward to personally thanking the servicemembers and their families, sharing in an uplifting conversation and reminding them that their sacrifices have not gone unnoticed by the American people.
Finally, the First Lady will join nearly 30 soon-to-be-new moms from several dozen that are there at the base in a roundtable to hear about the opportunities and challenges of raising military families while stationed overseas. She’ll also visit cultural sites in Venice before returning to the U.S. at the end of the week.
And with that, let me turn the call over the Ben Rhodes. Ben.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, Tina. I’ll just make a few brief comments about these two stops from the perspective of how they fit into our broader foreign policy.
First, the United Kingdom is among our closest allies in the world. There’s no nation that we cooperate with more closely around the world on a range of different issues. That includes very high-profile initiatives like our current counter-ISIL campaign, the Iran nuclear negotiations, and the climate negotiations leading up to Paris, for instance. But also, they’re a very important partner on development issues, including lifting up areas of focus for other developing and developed countries around the world. And in that vein, I think it sends a very powerful message for both the United States and the United Kingdom to be working together on initiatives like Let Girls Learn that promote girls’ education around the world.
I would say that there have been few issues that have generated so much interest and enthusiasm around the world as our focus on girls’ education and efforts to increase access and quality for adolescent girls’ education around the globe.
Often, our conversations are dominated by national security issues that rightly concern the American people and others around the world. At the same time, American leadership must be dedicated to the types of issues that improve the quality of life for people here in the United States and people in countries around the world. That is a part of building a safer, more prosperous and more inclusive globe going forward. And clearly, Let Girls Learn has struck a chord in the extraordinary interest in different countries to improve their girls’ education.
So the U.S. and the UK working together in this space I think will help catalyze other countries to join with us because we can do much more if we’re working in partnership with other governments and the private sector in promoting girls’ education than anything we could do just on our own. So this builds on I think the First Lady’s successful efforts to promote and raise awareness around girls’ education in Cambodia and Japan, and I think will add momentum to the global effort to increase access and quality for adolescent girls’ education.
I would also just note that we’ve had an ongoing partnership with the United Kingdom on issues related to military families and veterans. Obviously, over the last decade, the United Kingdom has fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And we’ve been able to share lessons learned in terms of caring for wounded warriors and supporting veterans as they leave military service and seek to achieve their dreams. And we also have worked with them in terms of policies that support our military families.
This is something that President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have discussed at length. They’ve had events dedicated to support for military families. So this opportunity to lift up Joining Forces in partnership with the United Kingdom builds on that work and I think sends a powerful message to the veterans and servicemembers in both of our countries about our shared commitment to their future.
Then, with respect to Italy, I’d just note that the expo is an event that generates extraordinary international attention and focus. So it’s a real opportunity for the United States to lift up our own businesses and approaches, but also to raise awareness for our efforts.
Tina mentioned the Let’s Move! initiative, of course. One of the themes of the expo is how are we going to feed 9 billion people by 2050 sustainably and nutritiously, and one of the President’s primary development priorities since he came into office is food security. And the expo highlights our efforts through Feed the Future, in particular, to help promote food security in part by empowering local farmers, using new technologies so people can get more yield in their crops, get those crops to market, and ultimately move off of development assistance through strong and growing agricultural sectors in different parts of the world.
So food security has been a key priority in the expo. It allows us to lift up those efforts. And all of this I think is in service of our broader development goals, including our efforts to eradicate extreme poverty around the world. And this will be a continued area of focus for the President as we lead into the Summit on Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations later this year.
Obviously, Italy, like the United Kingdom, is one of our closest allies. And the President recently saw Prime Minister Renzi here in Washington, just as he saw him at the G7 summit earlier this month in Germany. And so the opportunity for the First Lady to see both Prime Minister Cameron and Prime Minister Renzi I think reinforces the strength of those relations between our governments and those personal relationships with two of the key leaders that we work with every day on our global agenda.
So I’ll stop there and we’ll take your questions.
Q Hi. Quick question -- while in the UK while she meets with Prime Minister Cameron, his wife, and Prince Harry, what is the topic that they’ll be discussing there? Will it also be the Let Girls Learn initiative?
MS. TCHEN: Yes, I expect it will be focused on Let Girls Learn. The UK has been a leader on adolescent girls’ education and supporting those efforts, so that’s my expectation. When she sees Prince Harry -- the First Lady and Prince Harry share an interest in supporting our military families. As Ben noted, that’s something that’s going to -- a source for cooperation between the U.S. and the UK for some time. Prince Harry was here two years ago and attended our military moms Mother’s Day tea, and he was wonderful and it was wonderful to have him here. And we hear from his staff that he is happy to return the favor and welcome the First Lady on her visit, and that shared interest that they have on military families.
Q Hi, thanks for taking my question. I’ve always heard that First Ladies in the second term, much like Presidents in the second term, sort of shift a little bit and work more outside the U.S. and do a little more international travel. I believe this is the first year that Mrs. Obama has done two international trips on her own, following the one trip that she did to China last year. And I was wondering if you would say that she is now sort of stepping up the pace of her foreign travel with the administration now in its fourth quarter? And will we see her do more international travel like this before the end of this year?
MS. TCHEN: Thanks, Darlene. I guess I’d answer the question differently, which is not so much in relation to the fourth quarter. But as I noted in my remarks, what we did do earlier this year was to launch our fourth initiative for the First Lady, which is her first international one, focusing on supporting adolescent girls’ education around the globe. And certainly that has been the emphasis for the trips that we -- the trip that we took to Japan and Cambodia and now the trip to the UK. And then the Milan expo, as Ben explained, was a unique opportunity to represent the United States on those issues.
MR. RHODES: The only thing I’d add, Darlene, is that the First Lady has an enormous profile around the world. She is very well respected and well liked in different countries around the world. She I think captures the imagination of publics in different parts of the globe in ways that are, frankly, a huge asset to our efforts to advance programs like Let Girls Learn.
So having the First Lady as a supporter and driver of our efforts on girls’ education has already led to a raised awareness of the Let Girls Learn initiative specifically, and the issues around adolescent girls’ education more generally. Because when the First Lady of the United States, and Michelle Obama specifically, is raising these issues, it gets attention.
So again, I can’t speak to her travel schedule and decisions. What I can say from the perspective of working at the NSC is that it's been a huge asset to have the First Lady champion adolescent girls’ education. It’s raised awareness in ways that we could not otherwise have done. That awareness can lead to increased cooperation from other governments. It can lead to increased investments from the private sector. And, frankly, it can get at some of the cultural barriers to adolescent girls’ education in certain parts of the developing world where there is not a long tradition of providing girls with the same educational opportunities as boys.
So we are very grateful for her interest in the issue and look forward to her continuing to be a champion on girls’ education.
Q Hi. Thank you. I know a lot of times when the First Lady does these trips a lot of media outlets try to estimate the cost of the trip, and I know that the White House is usually reluctant to give a price. But a lot of times those estimates can be very high, and I think a lot of times they get that from just estimating the costs of staying in some of these places. Is there anything you can do to talk about cost and maybe whether or not those estimates are on base? I mean, is the First Lady and her mother and daughters, and everyone who goes along with her, are they paying the full price to stay at all of these hotels? Or is there anything you can give us on what a cost of a trip like this may be?
MS. TCHEN: Actually, Julie, I don’t have anything I can give you on that.
Q Okay. Well then can I also ask just -- what will the participation levels be of Sasha and Malia and Mrs. Robinson? Will they be attending all of these events? And what will their role be in the trip?
MS. TCHEN: They will attend some of the events. I don’t have a schedule for you or a readout on what they’ll participate in or not, but they will be involved in some aspects of the trip. But I don’t have any information right now on exactly what those will be.
Q Hi. Thanks so much for doing this call. Can you give a little more details please about the First Lady’s visit to the U.S. pavilion? Will the cooking demo be done by which chefs -- will it be Carla Hall and Mario Batali, or other chefs? And who are the children who will be joining her?
MS. TCHEN: So the cooking expo that we’re doing will actually take place not at the pavilion. It’s going to happen the day before and will involve some of the -- Mario Batali will be involved, there may be some other chefs involved as well. And there will -- it will be -- there will be children from a school in Italy I believe. I don’t have the specific name.
Q Thank you. The First Lady Michelle Obama been a champion for girls, and she have a display of good work in terms of -- I wonder if the First Lady will be on the trip to Kenya with the President, where she can emphasize the issue concerning girls in Africa -- will she be on that trip? Because it seems that would be a good trip for the people of Africa to have the First Lady. Can you give us some insight whether she will be on that trip?
MS. TCHEN: I think we have previously said before that she will not be on the trip due to a scheduling conflict during that time period.
MR. RHODES: I’d just add -- I’d just say on that very, very quickly that the First Lady in the past has been able to travel independently to Africa and I think lift up a number of these themes. President Obama himself I think will certainly be speaking about a range of issues during that trip to Kenya. I think that will include, as a part of that, our efforts on food security and girls’ education. So he himself I think will be in a position to speak to it.
Q Hi, guys. Thanks for doing the call. Just on Mrs. Robinson and the girls -- Ben, you talked a little bit about how, obviously, the First Lady’s popularity abroad is a huge asset to the administration. Do you see -- is including Mrs. Robinson and the girls on this trip part of that? Or are they basically just there kind of for a visit and to accompany the First Lady?
MR. RHODES: Well, look, what I’ll say on that is, obviously, in making these types of determinations, these are family decisions. The only thing I would say is -- and this relates to the point about the First Lady as well -- I have helped plan and contribute to all the President’s travel overseas. I can tell you that one question we get every single time is whether the First Lady is going to come, whether the girls are going to come, as we were just asked in relation to the Africa trip. I think it demonstrates an enormous interest in not just the President but in the entire First Family. I think we’re very grateful for the fact that everywhere they have gone, they’ve been extraordinarily warmly received, both from the governments they’ve visited and crowds in different countries.
So again, I don’t think -- as it relates -- the First Lady has a role in advocating for Let Girls Learn and being a spokesperson on issues; obviously, Malia and Sasha Obama do not play that type of role in the administration. But what I can say is I think we have seen consistently that countries appreciate it when the Obama family visits, and that I think is something that the President and the First Lady are very grateful for.
MS. TCHEN: And I will just add on that I have seen that firsthand in the trips that we have taken. For example, when we did the Africa trip from a few years ago with Mrs. Robinson and the girls, and with the trip to China with the girls last year, that, as Ben points out, when we are received, I think the countries that we are visiting take it as a tremendous sign of respect and appreciation for the country for the First Lady to bring her family, to bring her children to visit.
And we’ve been -- certainly that has been expressed to us directly, how much they have appreciated the significance of bringing their children to the country to pay respect to the countries that we are visiting, and to see and learn from those countries.
MS. ADLER: Thank you. And thank you for everybody who joined the call. If there are any other further questions, please feel free to email them us firstname.lastname@example.org. And we can also put you on our list for further information about the trip.
So thanks, everyone. Have a good rest of the afternoon and a good weekend.
END 4:02 P.M. EDT