Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Los Angeles, CA, 6/18/2015
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Los Angeles, California
*Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.
1:43 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Welcome aboard Air Force One en route to Los Angeles. I don’t have any announcements at the top, so I am happy to take your questions.
Q In the remarks the President made at the White House, he seemed to be advocating for gun control while saying that it’s politically impossible right now. Is that an accurate interpretation? And is there any talk at the White House about trying to revive gun control legislation, or do you guys just consider that the advocates for gun rights are too powerful to overcome right now?
MR. SCHULTZ: Nedra, as you pointed out, before we left the White House, the President did have a chance to speak about the tragic shooting in South Carolina last evening. The President gave a very powerful presentation. I’m not going to have much to add to that.
I will say the President is very clear -- has been very clear on his position on this issue. And if you go back to 2013, when the President worked very hard to exhaust every possible avenue to tackle this issue -- in fact, we completed 23 executive actions. We didn’t leave anything in the cupboard on steps that we could take to address this.
The President was also very clear that the biggest, boldest action would have to be taken by Congress. That is an effort that we devoted significant resources to. The President himself spoke on it. We commenced a significant lobbying campaign to Congress, and we fell short. Congress fell short. Congress was not able to take this on. And the President was clear today in his remarks about the political realities that we do face in Congress and in Washington right now.
So I do think -- I don’t think the President is anticipating Congress moving on this anytime soon. We’re very realistic about the political realities. But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a moment for Americans to realize the urgency of this issue and acknowledge it.
Q I think there’s been some reports that the President had made some phone calls to the community members. Can you give us a list of who those might be and what kind of message he sent, and if there’s any plans yet for the President to visit Charleston?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, the President, this morning, did have a chance to telephone Charleston Mayor Riley. He also spoke with South Carolina House Minority Leader J. Todd Rutherford, who I also believe is very close with the church, and Representative Clyburn.
The Vice President, this morning, had a chance to call Mayor Riley as well. He also spoke with Reverend Joe Darby and Bishop Richard Franklin Norris.
I don’t have any travel plans to announce, but obviously the President will be following the situation closely. As I think you also heard, the Attorney General this morning announced that she will be opening a federal hate crimes investigation. So as those details unfold, we’ll be paying close attention.
Q When was the President made aware of the shooting yesterday? And he talked about having a relationship with some of the members of the church. Can you tell us who those are, and specifically what his relationship was with the pastor?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kristen, can you repeat the first question?
Q When was he briefed?
MR. SCHULTZ: He was made aware of this last night. And in terms of his relationship with some of the folks that he mentioned, I know that the Reverend there was an early supporter of the President. Their relationship with the First Lady -- his relationship with the First Lady and the President date back to 2007. They were early supporters of the President. They met and formed a bond back in 2007 when they were campaigning early on in the President’s effort to get to the White House. And that bond was strong enough to endure all the way until today.
Q Eric, a number of presidential candidates, and also Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have cancelled fundraisers and political events today. Is there any discussion at the White House of doing the same out of respect for the tragedy?
MR. SCHULTZ: No, Justin, I hadn't heard of any conversations about that. I will say, as we’ve talked about, the President took some time to make calls earlier today. He did speak to you all about his reaction to the tragic shooting. He spoke powerfully. He spoke from the heart. But I don't know of any scheduling changes for the next few days. If we have any, I’ll let you know.
Q Can I ask you about a couple of votes in Congress today?
MR. SCHULTZ: You can ask me about anything you’d like, Nedra.
Q So, first of all, we had another TPA vote, and Nancy Pelosi said that -- is saying that she sees no path for TAA. So I wanted to get an update. Yesterday, when we asked Josh whether the President would veto TPA without TAA, he said that it wouldn’t come to that. But it sounds like that's a distinct possibility. So would the President veto trade promotion authority alone?
MR. SCHULTZ: The President has been clear that he wants both TPA and TAA at his desk for his signature as soon as possible. The only strategy that we support moving through Congress is one that includes both of those pieces getting to his desk for his signature.
The President had good, constructive conversations last night in his session with House Democrats and with Senate Democrats. He was clear that the only way that this garners his support is if both of those pieces move to his desk.
Q Did the President urge those Senate Democrats to vote for the TPA bill that passed the House today?
MR. SCHULTZ: He urged the Senate Democrats to continue their support for TPA, like they showed a few weeks ago in their votes.
Q Sorry, can you just be more specific about that? I mean, does the President support the legislative strategy that's currently being pursued by the House?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think, as you saw, Leader McConnell, Leader Boehner have both talked about the strategy. The President feels very strongly that any strategy that he supports would require both TAA and TPA to get to his desk. I know conversations are still going on about the sequencing of that. I know that the President remains engaged; so do senior White House officials and officials from the relevant agencies. And of course, senators and House members are going to have to talk amongst themselves.
Q So this sounds like the strategy then isn’t quite set out, like what the next step is from here to get to the end goal that you’ve expressed where they both end up on his desk.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Roberta, as we’ve said, we now have -- TPA *and TAA both passed the House and the Senate. TPA has passed the House a second time, now that we’ve -- before we lifted off. So we feel confident that the procedural snafus that we’ve all experienced over the past few weeks are in the process of getting untangled. And we have confidence that the House and Senate leadership are working through that in real time.
Q It’s been reported that the President spoke or interacted with Leader Pelosi at the picnic yesterday and possibly with her granddaughter, as well. But I wondered if you could tell us any more about that interaction, whether they talked about this issue, whether they came to some sort of resolution between the two of them, or whether it was just more like informal chatter about other issues.
MR. SCHULTZ: David, I don't know that a substantive conversation about trade occurred with Leader Pelosi at the picnic last night. I believe the more substantive conversations on trade happened in those sessions with the House Democrats who supported trade and the Senate Democrats who supported trade.
Q She was not involved in those meetings?
MR. SCHULTZ: She was not.
Q Eric, what would you say about the state of the President’s relationship with congressional Democrats? How frustrated is he with them about how this has been played?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think you're going to see over the next 48 hours data that will answer that question as the President goes out and makes sure that congressional Democrats have the resources they need for the upcoming elections to wage effective campaigns.
I think it’s important to note, as Josh has, that his relationship with Leader Pelosi goes back many, many years. There’s no one he has worked more closely with on Capitol Hill on his priorities. That dates back to the Recovery Act, the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform. And so the relationship there is strong enough to withstand a policy difference on any single issue, even one as important as this.
I also think it’s important to note that the President’s position on trade is one that's shared by Democrats across the country; that if you look at where Democrats stand on this issue, they understand that globalization is at our door. And we have two options. We can either put our head in the sand and let others, like China, write the rules. Or we can advantage American workers and American businesses and make sure that we're setting the rules.
That's why the President has instructed his negotiators to come up with the most progressive trade package that this country has ever seen. And that's why he’s working to make sure we get it done.
Q Do you expect it to be a little bit awkward as he’s visiting Leader Pelosi on her turf?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think, again, the relationship that Leader Pelosi and the President have dates back many years. It is strong enough to withstand a difference on any particular issue. And I think that it’ll be noteworthy that the President’s position on trade is one that is enjoyed by Democrats across the country.
Q And let me just make sure I understand what you said earlier. Do TPA and TAA both have to be sitting on his desk when he signs TPA?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I know there’s conversations about the sequencing and what passes and what -- all of that stuff. So I'm going to let those conversations continue. But if your question is, does the President want both at his desk, the answer to that is yes.
Q So are you saying that there hasn’t been a decision made if only TPA passes whether he will veto it or not?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm telling you the President’s preference and bright line here is to get both to his desk.
Q So could the President sign TPA before TAA passes?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I would defer to our friends and colleagues in both the House and the Senate for how they’re going to sequence this.
Q Are there lawmakers traveling with the President on this trip at all?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t believe so. I think they’re voting.
Q There are votes on defense spending that are supposed to happen about right now, I think. And we’re expecting the Senate to pass the authorization bill and then Senate Democrats to block the appropriations bill. So does the President support that strategy? Or is it risky for Democrats to block defense spending appropriations at a time when Republicans are saying the world is on fire and the troops need the funding?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Nedra. I think we’ve been clear about our views on this bill. I don’t have any updates for that. And for the back-and-forth between the House and the Senate, I'm going to leave that to them.
Q Senator Corker said yesterday that he didn’t want you guys to rush to the deadline at the end of the month on the Iran negotiations, and said he would not support additional sanctions if fruitful talks were ongoing. I'm wondering -- that’s a sign from the top Republican in the Senate on defense issues. Is that something that you guys would agree to, that you would think about extending those deadlines if you feel like talks are being productive but you’re not quite there at the deadline?
MR. SCHULTZ: We do think talks are being productive. There’s been a lot of progress made but there’s still some work to be done. So we believe in that deadline and we’re working towards it.
Q Can you talk a little bit about -- we now officially have the Pope’s encyclical talking about climate change. Has the President seen that? And what is his reaction to the Pope taking such a strong stance?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kristen, I can tell you the President has been made aware of it, and I think we’re going to have a statement from the President for you shortly. But let me just give you quickly that the President does welcome the Pope’s encyclical and admires the Pope’s decision to make the case with the full moral authority of his position for action on global climate change.
The President does look forward to discussing climate change with the Pope when he visits the White House later this year. And as we prepare for global climate negotiations in Paris this December, we hope that all world leaders will reflect on Pope Francis’s call to come together to care for our planet.
Q Can you talk a little bit about the Conference of Mayors tomorrow -- what the President plans to highlight there and what are some of the key issues he plans to talk to them about?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can, Justin. I don’t have formal remarks to preview for you at this time. But I can tell you that, as you all have noted, a lot of the administration’s strategy over the past few years, given that Congress isn’t always the most willing partner to advance the President’s policy priorities, we’ve taken our efforts to the state and local level, and a lot of those efforts have borne fruit.
So I think you can expect the President to talk about not only our efforts but a lot of the good work that mayors are doing on the local level on issues ranging from minimum wage, paid sick leave, childcare, pre-K, things like that.
Q The President did visit Gap when he was talking about raising the minimum wage, and Gap did announce that they independently were doing so a year or two ago. Gap has now announced they’re closing a number of their stores among some financial difficulties. Does the White House have a reaction to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think most of the science -- most of the data shows that raising the minimum wage increases productivity and increases a company’s bottom line, in addition to supporting its workers.
Q One of the big topics of the conference is going to be this sort of water crisis, especially in California. I'm wondering if you could talk first about if the President supports Governor Brown’s approach to handling the water crisis there. And then I have a follow-up to that, too.
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, I can tell you that this administration is committed to doing everything we can to help the farmers, ranchers, small businesses and communities facing the severe impacts of the historic drought. As I think you all noted, just last week the administration announced new actions and investments of more than $110 million to support these communities suffering from drought and combat wildfires.
This new funding announced last week builds on the more than $190 million that federal agencies across the government has invested to support drought-stricken communities so far this year.
Q One of the big themes of this -- of the drought -- has been sort of the targeting of celebrities and golf courses that have used large amounts of water. What’s the message of the President spending the weekend potentially at the exclusive private golf course of a billionaire that requires lots of water to maintain?
MR. SCHULTZ: You know this administration’s commitment to helping those affected by the drought is second to none, and I listed our most recent announcement, but I’m happy to go over chapter and verse what more we’ve done.
In terms of any courses that the President may visit over the next few days, I know that many courses have taken water mitigation steps aimed at water conservation. So I’d refer you to them for those details.
Q What does the President hope to accomplish by doing the interview with the podcast guy tomorrow?
MR. SCHULTZ: The podcast guy?
Q Is he going to do stand-up after he leaves the White House? (Laughter.)
Q Is it on his bucket list?
MR. SCHULTZ: Bucket. (Laughter.)
Roberta, it’s a good question. WTF with Marc Maron is a twice a week -- and I’ve always wanted to say that on the record -- is a twice-a-week podcast hosted by Marc Maron from a recording studio in his garage. Yes, the President will be in his garage. And yes, we think this an opportunity to have an extended candid conversation, not necessarily about news of the day items, but I think this is going to be much more about areas of the President’s life that don’t always get reported in the news.
Q Like what? We report on everything, though.
MR. SCHULTZ: I guess we know who will be the first downloader on Monday.
Q Today the President is visiting two fundraisers. Will the press -- will this traveling press pool right here be allowed into each fundraiser? And if not, why not?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, we are going to abide by the press access coverage rules that have governed these for years now, including, by the way, being the first administration to allow print poolers into the private homes of fundraisers.
Q And so what -- but are we allowed in then, or not allowed in to both of the events today?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, one of them -- the first one is a roundtable, so there is no prepared remarks so there won’t be any press coverage.
Q Hillary Clinton will be doing fundraisers both in L.A. and San Francisco alongside the President, and also speaking at the Mayors Conference. Is there going to be any opportunity for the President and Secretary Clinton to catch up as they’re one to do?
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, I don’t know that their travel plans will overlap, but I certainly am not aware of any occasion where they’re going to have a chance to catch up.
Q Will she be the President’s nomination for the ten-dollar bill? Or does he have a favorite right now?
MR. SCHULTZ: I have not spoken to the President about his -- who he thinks is a frontrunner, but I encourage you all to go to “the new 10” -- #thenew10 -- and you guys can weigh in.
Q Is he going to make a recommendation to Secretary Lew about who he thinks should be on it?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kristen, as you know, this will ultimately be Secretary Lew’s decision, but we do expect a lot of public engagement on this over the next while. We encourage folks to look at the website. And again, they can weigh in with #thenew10.
Q What has been the President’s reaction to all the reports of his political demise in the wake of the trade vote? I mean, it looks like now there’s a chance for it still to be alive. And is the Iran deal possibly coming? What’s been his reaction to those?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven’t spoken to the President about this. But I think -- he’s acutely familiar with the ebbs and flows of Washington D.C. press coverage, but that’s not where his focus is. His focus is on actually getting trade done and building an agreement with Iran that would rid itself of nuclear weapons.
Q Is the President following the situation in the Palestinian territory, as it looks like the government is on the brink of collapse? Abbas has told Fatah that he is going to pull out.
MR. SCHULTZ: Andrew, I saw those reports, but I’d refer you to my friends at the National Security Council.
Thank you, guys.
2:02 P.M. EDT