Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Andrews Air Force Base from Oklahoma, 7/16/2015
Aboard Air Force One
En Route From Oklahoma to Andrews Air Force Base
*Please see below for corrections to the transcript, marked with an asterisk.
2:28 P.M. CDT
MR. SCHULTZ: I have one quick announcement at the top, and then we can go ahead and take your questions. I wanted to let you know that on Tuesday, July 21st, the President will travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to address the 116th Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention. Further details regarding the President’s travel to Pennsylvania will be released in the coming days.
But with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Do you have anything to add, any additional information on the shootings in Chattanooga?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't, Darlene. Obviously this is a breaking news situation. I can tell you that the President was briefed by his national security staff in Oklahoma City prior to departure, and he’s going to continue to receive updates. I know that our White House officials continue to monitor the situation and also work closely with officials in the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.
Q Prime Minister Cameron has said that he hopes to open a British embassy in Tehran. What’s Obama’s reaction to that? Do you think that's premature?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven't seen those remarks so I don't have any direct response for that. I can tell you that the President spoke yesterday at length about what he thinks this deal means for future U.S.-Iran relations. As he said, he is certainly hopeful that down the road Iran takes a new path towards more acceptance within the international community, but that this deal was specifically about Iran’s nuclear program, and that is exclusively what this deal was about. And whether or not Iran decides to make changes in how they conduct themselves in the international community, the President believes this deal was in the best interests of the United States of America.
Q Continuing on Iran. Today Senator Corker said in an interview that the fact that the administration was going to the U.N. Security Council before Congress had done its review on Tuesday was an affront to both Congress and the American people. What is the reaction to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm not sure I understand that criticism. We have committed to engaging with Congress in their 60-day review period. That is why even before the President spoke with all of you Tuesday morning he spoke with the four leaders of Congress both in the House and the Senate and to both parties. That is why the Vice President went up to Capitol Hill yesterday to brief members of Congress. That's why White House officials like Denis McDonough, Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes have all been briefing members of Congress. And that’s why I believe three key Cabinet Secretaries -- Secretary Moniz, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Lew -- will be up in front of Congress testifying *this next week.
Q Can you give us a little bit more about the outreach they are doing today? And you talked about the outreach you’ve already done, but clearly there’s more work to be done because there are Democrats and Republicans who have raised additional concerns about this deal. Can you talk about any meetings that are happening today? We heard Ben Rhodes might be meeting with Democrats. Can you confirm that?
MR. SCHULTZ: You're right, there’s more work to be done. And that's principally because the administration believes the more you learn about this deal and the more you judge it based on the merits, the more likely you are to support it. And that's why the President has been -- well, let me start again. That's why our outreach to Congress starts at the top. That's why the President himself has been having a number of conversations. That's why the Vice President has been engaged in briefings. And that's, again, why other White House officials and key officials from the relevant agencies have been speaking with members of Congress.
Our outreach to Congress has not been limited to just Democrats or Republicans. It also has not been limited to just supporters or skeptics of the bill. The President has instructed his team to make sure that we engage anyone with an interest on this, anyone with questions on this, so we can make sure their questions are answered fully.
Q Anybody coming to the White House tonight to discuss the deal?
MR. SCHULTZ: I suspect, as has been going on for the past few days, there’s been a number of briefings both at Capitol Hill and at the White House. I don't have specific sessions to read out to you, but I would not be surprised if members are receiving briefings either on their turf or ours.
Q -- talk to the other foreign leaders today on the Iran deal, and if there are calls to the Iranian President under consideration?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven't heard any conversation about that.
Q -- reports that Prime Minister Cameron spoke with Rouhani today.
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I saw a press report on that, but I don't have any future foreign leader calls to read out to you from the President. As you suggested, he’s been making a number of calls. I would expect those to continue, but I don't have any specific ones to preview at this time.
Q Would the President be willing to move back the U.N. Security Council review if Senator Corker and other senators say they need more time for the review? Would he be willing to move back the U.N. version of this?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think we should be clear about the sequencing here. We are sending the draft resolution to the Security Council immediately for its review and we hope for a quick adoption to both endorse the deal and to lay the groundwork for its successful implementation. But again, we should be clear that the Security Council resolution does not lessen the importance of Congress or its review of this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
We'll remain in close consultation with Congress throughout the review period. And as we made clear, we will not begin implementation of the plan until after the congressional review period is over.
Q If the U.N. Security Council does pass the resolution, doesn’t that lock us into international law? I mean, are we essentially locked in?
MR. SCHULTZ: It does not. There is nothing in the Security Council resolution that requires the United States to take any actions to implement the agreement.
Q Did Iran kind of steal the focus from the criminal justice effort that the President has been trying to make this week?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't think so. I think that the efforts that the President has been making on criminal justice have had a couple of high-profile moments this week: I think like you're referencing, the President’s decision on Monday to commute the sentences of 46 prisoners who were convicted many years or decades ago for nonviolent offenses. As you also saw earlier this week, we released a report on the Economic Cost of Youth Disadvantage and High Return, Opportunities for Change, examining the various disparities in education, exposure to the criminal justice system, unemployment that persists between young men of color and other Americans. And obviously yesterday -- or two days ago now, the President spoke at the NAACP Convention in Philadelphia on these issues.
You're right that this has been a week of where we've been trying to lift up that conversation. But these are issues the President has been working on for years and he’s going to continue. As I think many of you have noticed, we are encouraged by the bipartisan movement in Congress both in the House and in the Senate, that there’s been a collaborative effort by senators and members of the House of both parties who have been rolling up their sleeves working on this. And we hope that effort continues.
Q Can we expect anything else from the President on this?
MR. SCHULTZ: Indefinitely? Yes. I think, again, this is an important issue to the President. He’s spent years working on this and I don't think you’ve heard the last of it.
Q -- his speech to the NAACP, he mentioned employers -- calling on employers to ban the box. And there have been some civil rights groups that have been urging the White House to issue an executive order covering federal agencies and federal contractors and asking them to ban the box. Is that under consideration, or where is that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, as you point out, the President did briefly mention this in his remarks in Philadelphia earlier this week. I have not heard of any executive action under consideration.
Q Are there any other executive actions under consideration on criminal justice? Some have also said that he should act on the review after it's completed by Loretta Lynch of solitary confinement, perhaps ask prisons to use that practice less. Are there any executive actions under consideration, or is he merely calling on Congress to act on criminal justice reform?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think you have heard the President speak directly about solitary confinement and his concerns about it. So I don't have any executive actions on that front to preview for you. But I do think it's worth probably taking a moment to review what this administration has done thus far in these areas. That includes our Department of Justice instituting a series of reforms to make the federal criminal justice system more fair and more efficient, and to place a greater focus on the most serious cases and dangerous offenders.
The Department of Justice has also instituted a series of measures to preserve the credibility and accountability of the criminal justice system so that it continues to maintain the trust of communities it protects.
Back in 2011, then Attorney General Holder launched a Federal Interagency Reentry Council in 2011. This worked to align and advance reentry efforts across the federal government with an overarching aim to not only reduce recidivism and high correctional costs, but also improve public health, child welfare, employment, education, housing, and other key integration outcomes.
The President also talked today about the need to catch these youth before they enter the criminal justice program. I think you see a lot of work being done in My Brother’s Keeper, and our efforts to establish pre-K programs around the country on that. So I think that in the President’s view, this is going to take a whole-of-government approach, and that's why he’s so focused on this.
Q -- about his visit today to the prison? Was there anything that we didn’t see that we can report on?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have too much to read out to you. He mentioned his roundtable with the inmates before speaking with all of you. That was about 45 minutes. There were six inmates, all nonviolent drug offenders, and they shared their personal stories. I think that on a topic that's driven so much by data and statistics and social science that it was moving to put a name and a face to a lot of the stories that we hear.
You heard the President speak about a rehabilitated offender in Philadelphia earlier this week. And I think that these are the stories that move him, in addition to sort of the macro-political science that suggests the need for reform.
Q -- his remarks to us about these six? Can you describe their backgrounds in some way?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have the demographic information to read out to you, but I do know it was diverse.
Q Did you see them? We're they wearing uniforms? Were they sitting at a table?
MR. SCHULTZ: It was at a round table.
MR. SCHULTZ: I think so, yes. They were sitting in a circle, Peter.
Q What was the age range?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have the demographic information. I can tell you the reason why the President chose El Reno facility is because -- I think we said this -- the population is very illustrative of the prison population at large.
MR. SCHULTZ: No.
Q -- any other units while he was there?
MR. SCHULTZ: No. The only cells he saw were the ones you saw him see.
Q What happened to the inmates in cell block B -- where were they moved to?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't know where they went, but they were moved specifically for this visit.
Q Were any other done differently as far as you're aware because of this visit? We didn’t see anybody out in the yard. We didn’t see anybody anywhere.
MR. SCHULTZ: I think the facility took a lot of precautions to permit this visit. Obviously, as we said, it's the first visit by a sitting President to a federal prison, so I think there were a unique set of circumstances -- security and otherwise -- that were taken into account.
Q -- yesterday in the President’s remarks he referenced Bill Cosby and revoking the Medal of Freedom and saying there was no precedent for doing so. Immediately afterwards, the group that started the petition issued another statement saying, we understand that there’s no precedent, but we're asking you to make one. What’s the reaction to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have much to add to the President’s remarks from yesterday on this. As he mentioned, there is no -- we couldn't find another instance of a President revoking a former President’s Medal of *Honor Freedom. As you know, the Medal of *Honor Freedom was started under President Kennedy in 1963. We can't find precedent for revoking it.
But the President’s point, I think, yesterday was a little bit larger than one particular episode, which is he’s been working very hard, and this administration has worked very hard over the last few years to not only take action against this problem, but also speak out and raise awareness. You’ve seen us stand up a “It's On Us” campaign, which is focused on college campuses. You’ve heard the President speak out about this in regards to it happening all too common in our military. So I don't think this issue is going away, and that's why the President is so focused on it.
Q Anything to add to the President’s schedule for tomorrow? The guidance from last weekend just said meetings at the White House tomorrow.
MR. SCHULTZ: I think we will have more information on tomorrow’s schedule later today, but he will be in Washington tomorrow.
Q -- was asked about the crude oil export ban and didn’t really have an answer. I was wondering if that was something -- now that Iran is going to have some sanctions lifted, the U.S. will be the only nation -- industrialized nation that is not able to export its oil. Is that something the President is looking at? Is that something he'll consider changing?
MR. SCHULTZ: I know of no changes under consideration.
Q Is there any reaction -- the Greek parliament passed a series of austerity measures yesterday. There have also been some rioting in the streets and reports about a potential shakeup in the cabinet there. Is the President watching that? Has he been briefed, and does he have any reaction?
MR. SCHULTZ: We are closely watching the steps taken by Greece and its creditors to implement the agreement reached earlier this week. We welcome those steps. We support this path forward for Greece within the Eurozone. I think you're probably aware that Secretary Lew is in Europe today, meeting with his French and German counterparts. And folks back here at the White House are in touch with our Treasury officials to stay on the latest on that.
Q I was going to ask about the Confederate flag as well. Yesterday there was a group waving the flag next to the President’s motorcade. Seeing these groups, does he have a reaction? Does he think it’s racist?
MR. SCHULTZ: I have not spoken to the President about this. I don’t know if he saw them. I don’t have much to add to the President’s prior comments on this issue. As he’s said before, he believes it belongs in a museum. He believes the leaders of South Carolina acted with courage and integrity in order to get that done. He was proud to see that happen. He has also been disappointed that Republicans in Congress aren’t acting consistent with that. But I don’t have anything to add beyond that.
2:44 P.M. CDT