Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route San Francisco, CA, 6/19/2015
Aboard Air Force One
En Route San Francisco, California
12:14 P.M. PDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome aboard Air Force One en route to San Francisco, where the President will deliver remarks on his commitment to moving forward on priorities that help the middle class, despite inaction in Congress.
As you know, we have worked in coordination with mayors across the country on issues ranging from the minimum wage, expanding paid leave, and improving workforce development by reducing veterans homelessness, addressing climate change, and embracing the My Brothers’ Keeper initiative.
The good news is, these efforts are paying off. Nineteen cities have enacted paid sick days and five states have enacted paid sick days or paid family leave. Seventeen states and 14 cities have raised their minimum wage. Thirty-four states have increased funding for preschool. More than 230 mayors have joined the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. And over 600 county and city officials have signed to the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness.
So the President looks forward to continuing work with these mayors, and I think you’ll hear a lot more about that this afternoon on the ground in San Francisco.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Eric, there’s been a lot of conversation in the aftermath of the shooting in South Carolina about taking down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House. I'm wondering if the President has an opinion on that.
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, the President has said before that he believes the Confederate flag belongs in a museum. And that’s still his position.
Q The Department of Justice is investigating -- now investigating the shooting as an act of terror, as well as an act of -- a hate crime. And I'm wondering whether the White House or the President has a position on that.
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Roberta. When the President gave his remarks yesterday, he talked about the constraints he is under to talk about the specific investigation of the shooting in Charleston. I am under similar constraints as his spokesman. So we’re going to defer to the Department of Justice as they pursue this investigation.
Q Eric, does the President plan to talk about this subject at all with the mayors today, either privately or publicly?
MR. SCHULTZ: Christi, I don’t expect this to be a focus of his remarks.
Q Can you tell us anything about the conversation the President had just now in the interview that took place in Highland Park?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can’t tell you too much because it’s embargoed until Monday. But I can tell you it was a very candid, extended conversation -- about an hour. The President had the opportunity to talk about -- to reflect on not only the issues of the day, but much more his approach, his perspective, how his upbringing informs his decision-making. So I encourage you all to tune in Monday morning at 3:00 a.m.
Q Can you say a little bit about how the White House decided to do this particular interview? It’s somewhat usual -- the format.
MR. SCHULTZ: I think it’s highly unusual. I'm fairly certain this is the first time a President of the United States has been interviewed in a garage. But we thought it was a very unique opportunity for the President to take some time, again, away from the sort of daily back-and-forth of what’s in the news on any particular day, but really offer listeners the opportunity to have more insight into how he makes decisions, what his day-to-day lifestyle is like, what he’s thinking about in terms of his family, his past, his future -- a lot of those sort of personal reflections.
Q The State Department put out a report today saying that Iran’s support for international terrorist groups has remained undiminished and even increased in some areas. Does that have any implications for the nuclear talks?
MR. SCHULTZ: Nedra, as you know, our very serious and grave concerns about Iran’s support for terrorism remains unabated. And the negotiations that Iran has agreed to with the P5+1, our international community, is solely focused on making sure that they don’t obtain a nuclear weapon.
So our view is, because of their support for terrorism, that is all the more reason that we need to make sure that they don’t obtain a nuclear weapon. And so that’s where our focus is right now.
Q Eric, there’s been reports this morning that the President had dinner last night with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg. Can you confirm that that was true? And was there anybody else involved? And what was the circumstances of why they were having dinner? And what did they talk about?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, I was not at the dinner. I can confirm that the President did have dinner with two of his friends last night in Los Angeles. But I don’t have any more details.
Q I mean, did they donate money to any -- to come to this dinner, or anything like that? Or was it just having dinner with friends, is what you’re saying?
MR. SCHULTZ: Just dinner with friends. I believe they have been supporters of the President in the past. But this was dinner with friends.
Q But you are confirming the friends were Katzenberg and Spielberg?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes.
Q Can you explain why that was not on the schedule in advance?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, Nedra -- or Christi. Christi, as you know -- as I said, this was a private dinner with friends last night at the hotel. Our obligation to the pool is one we take very seriously, and that’s our obligation to inform you of any public events by the President, or any movements. This was at the hotel. This was in the President’s private time -- a social occasion -- and unrelated to his official obligations as President.
Q Can you tell us if we’ll have an opportunity to hear Speaker -- or, sorry, Leader Pelosi in her remarks this evening, and see her interacting with the President?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can tell you the President does indeed hope that Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker again. I can also tell you that it’s my understanding the program this afternoon in San Francisco, that our host, Tom Steyer, will be introducing the President. And I believe Leader Pelosi is going to be introducing Tom Steyer. So I think it’d be unusual for access for that part of the pre-program, but I feel confident that, given the circumstances, we’re going to be able to let you guys in for that portion of the program.
Q Thank you. And is that going to be the full pool or the print pool?
MR. SCHULTZ: The print pool.
Q Eric, this morning, you announced the visit to Ethiopia. The White House announced the visit to Ethiopia. There are some groups that are quite concerned that this confers legitimacy on an election that took place in May, which was widely seen as, well, problematic, to say the least.
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, Andrew, in late July the President will travel to Ethiopia for bilateral meetings with the government and with the leadership of the African Union. This visit will follow the President’s travel to Kenya, which will build on the success of the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit by strengthening ties with our African partners and highlighting America’s longstanding commitment to investing in Ethiopia.
The President will actually be the first United States President to travel to Ethiopia and to the African Union headquarters, underscoring our effort to work with countries and citizens of Sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security.
As you know, we regularly -- both in public and in private -- communicate our concerns about some of the issues you've raised. I don't think that's going to stop because of this visit.
Q Eric, it’s a pivotal weekend for Greece, obviously. I’m wondering if -- do you have any additional outreach that the U.S. has undertaken, aside from the call between Secretary Lew and the Greek Prime Minister earlier this week?
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, you're right. We do believe there is an urgent need for both Greece and its international partners to take steps towards compromise. Both sides do, indeed, need to work expeditiously to finalize a credible reform program that can lay the foundation for long-term growth within the eurozone.
I don't have any new calls or communications to read out, but I would encourage you to check with the Department of Treasury, since Secretary Lew, as you point out, has been the interlocutor with our counterparts there.
Q And there was a report from I think the Pentagon today that there’s concern that Russian jets have been crossing paths with commercial air traffic in the Baltics. So I’m wondering if that's something that the President has been briefed on, and anything that we might see the President reach out to the Kremlin or might see communication between the administration and the Russians on.
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, I will admit to you I did not see that report, so I don't have a direct comment on it. As you know, we’ve voiced our concerns fairly regularly about Russia’s escalation in the region, and that's why the United States has led the international community to impose the toughest sanctions regime Russia has seen. But I don't have anything new to add.
Q Eric, I couldn’t hear all the questions. But has the President made any calls today to anybody in Charleston? Has the Vice President done so? And is there any plans yet, just as for the record, for either of them to go to Charleston?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, I don't have any new calls to read out. As you know, yesterday, the President spoke with Mayor Riley, the South Carolina House Minority Leader, and Representative Clyburn. He also spoke with Governor Haley, Senator Scott and Senator Graham. I would encourage you to check with the Vice President’s Office. I did not have a chance to check with them before this flight. They might have additional calls.
But I can tell you the President, in his calls yesterday to the lawmakers, made clear that any federal resources that would be helpful to them in the aftermath of the shooting would be made available to them. And he also urged them to please stay in touch with him personally and his staff if they needed anything in addition.
Q And any plans yet for him to visit the area, or to make a point of going down there?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have any travel plans or scheduling to announce right now.
Q Last night the President mentioned looking at the SNAP program in his remarks at the fundraiser. Is he planning some sort of new proposal on that? Or was he talking about just in general about the dispute with Republicans over funding for that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't know. I think he was just using that as an example, Nedra. But I’d encourage you to check with our Office of Management and Budget if they have anything new on that.
Q Eric, since we're going to Tom Steyer’s house, I’d be remiss if I didn't ask you whether you have any update on the review of the Keystone pipeline and whether this is something that the President is going to talk with Tom Steyer about when he sees him.
MR. SCHULTZ: Roberta, I think as you pointed out, Mr. Steyer’s views on this are well known. So I’m not sure they’ll have -- you’ll have to ask Mr. Steyer if he intends to bring it up with the President. But again, I think we're all acutely aware of Mr. Steyer’s views on this issue.
Unfortunately, I don't have an update for you on the review process that that project is undergoing at the State Department. As you know, that's a process that's housed at the State Department. It’s also a process that predates this administration.
Q Eric, I know one of your favorite events every year is the Faith and Family Coalition meeting in Washington. There was actually a bomb threat today that led to an evacuation that seemed very similar to the ones that we had last week that forced an evacuation at the White House and on Capitol Hill. I’m wondering if you’ve heard about whether those threats were related. And separate from that, if you guys have made any progress on determining who made the threat that ended up disrupting the briefing last week?
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, I saw press reports on that, but I don't have any information about it. I’d encourage you to check with law enforcement in Washington. And for questions about protection protocol at the White House, I’d urge you to check in with my counterparts at the United States Secret Service.
Q I have one on trade. Some Democratic senators have said that, ahead of this vote next week, that they want to see assurances on the Ex-Im Bank before voting for TPA. These are supporters of the Ex-Im Bank. And I guess I’m just wondering whether the White House thinks that those issues should be kind of paired up or matched up, or sort of dealt with simultaneously. I know the White House supports the Ex-Im Bank. But is there a path forward here that sees the issues being tied together?
MR. SCHULTZ: You're right, Roberta. The White House does support reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank and for good reason. Over the past six years, the Bank has supported 1.3 million private sector jobs in the United States across a range of business sectors, including 164,000 jobs in the fiscal year 2014 alone. Our view is that Congress needs to get both done. These are both priorities of the President.
Q But no particular view on tying them together?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have a specific view on how they sequence those.
Thanks, guys. Oh, I have a week ahead, but it’s like really bare bones. I mean, really bare bones.
On Monday, the President will host an Iftar Dinner celebrating Ramadan at the White House.
On Tuesday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
On Wednesday, the President will host a reception at the White House in recognition of LGBT Pride Month.
And on Thursday and Friday, he’ll be in Washington, as well. We’ll have more details on the President’s schedule early next week.
12:28 P.M. PDT