Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Washington, DC, 8/25/2015
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Washington, DC
**Please see below for a clarification, marked with an asterisk.
10:53 A.M. PDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Welcome aboard Air Force One, everyone, en route back to Washington, after the President used Senator Reid’s National Clean Energy Summit as a platform to announce a robust set of executive actions and private sector commitments to accelerate America’s transition to cleaner sources of energy and to cut energy waste.
I have one quick statement at the top, and then we’ll move on to your questions. I want to let you know that the United States welcomes the agreement reached between the Republic of Korea and North Korea yesterday. We support President Park’s tireless efforts to improve inter-Korean relations, which support peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. We will closely coordinate with the Republic of Korea, and remain steadfast in our commitment to our alliance.
But with that, I will take your questions.
Q Can we start with the comments last night, the “crazies” comments, and the opposition to it that’s already come out? Representative Black saying that it was incendiary rhetoric that causes problems in politics. Do you want to clarify those remarks?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven't seen Representative Black’s statement, so I don’t have a direct response. I will tell you that after spending a few weeks away from Washington, the President -- after spending a few weeks away from the hustle and bustle of Washington, the President came back from vacation and was remarking with Senator Reid at the challenges they face this fall. And he may have been a little flip in his language, but we have seen Republicans do wildly irresponsible things in the past, and that includes shutting down the government for ideological reasons. That’s a prospect that came to fruition a few years ago, and it’s something that Republican lawmakers in both the House and the Senate are floating this time as well.
Q (Inaudible) he was specifically referring to?
MR. SCHULTZ: Nancy, I can tell you that I know that there was some reporting that he was referring about Iran, but that’s not true. And if you look at the transcript, there’s nothing that would support that. But I do think he was -- again, may have been a little flip. But his bottom line is that if you take a step back, as he was during vacation, and take a look at what some Republicans float in Washington -- whether that’s shutting down the government, whether that’s continuing to fund the government at sequester levels when our economy needs more support and not headwinds -- he thinks those are reckless steps.
Q Eric, if he wasn’t talking about Iran, then what were the big problems that he was talking about, that he and Senator Reid need to work on? If Iraq is not one of them, what are they?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, that’s a fair question. And I think if you look at the jam-packed agenda that Congress has on its plate for the coming months, that includes the budget, as we’ve discussed; it also includes long-term infrastructure. And the President does think funding our highways and transportation and infrastructure in three-month increments is nonsensical and that we should pass a long-term bill, because our economy right now needs more support and more long-term confidence.
Q But does he think that that rhetoric is helpful to the debate and helpful to getting things through, calling the opposition “crazies”?
MR. SCHULTZ: Look, again, Isaac, the President may have been a little too flip, but at the end of the day, the President and Leader Reid were talking about the challenges they face this coming fall. I’ve listed a few instances of Republicans taking steps that we consider unwise.
Q Could you just clarify -- the crazies are who? The crazies are the people who are opposed to him on which things? And are they only Republicans?
MR. SCHULTZ: Look, I think if you look at some of the things being proposed by Republicans in Washington -- for example, watering down Wall Street Reform, which is something that has built in the safeguards to our capital markets at a time where we’re seeing wild gyrations in global markets, we do find that irresponsible.
Q Does the President wish he hadn’t said that?
MR. SCHULTZ: No.
Q The President has made a very logical, rational case for the Iran deal. There are number of Democrats who have opposed it. Do they count as “crazies” since they’re not going with your logical, rational case that you guys think you’re making?
MR. SCHULTZ: Isaac, I want to be clear, you all were -- most of you were fortunate enough to be with the President last night and hear his remarks in person. Others can read the transcript, which we released earlier today. There is nothing, when the President was recalling his conversation with Senator Reid, that mentioned Iran.
You have mentioned that there have been some Democrats who have come out in opposition to the Iran deal. We’ve expressed our views that we have a different opinion. We’ve also expressed that a lot of Democrats who came out in opposition to this deal have a longstanding different viewpoint than the President, and that dates back 2001 and 2002, during the debate to whether go into the Iraq war.
Q But he thinks there’s a logical, rational case for the infrastructure bill, for the budget bill, and you’ve said that those people who disagree with that case would count among the crazies. He’s made a logical, rational case, in his mind, for the Iran deal. Nobody who’s opposed to the Iran deal counts as the crazies? Can a Democrat be crazy, I guess is the question.
MR. SCHULTZ: Present company excluded? (Laughter.) The answer is, Isaac, he wasn’t talking about Iran when he made that remark.
Q On China. Scott Walker and some others have questioned the wisdom of giving the Chinese President the full bells and whistles of a state visit, given difficulties over hacking and other problems. Scott Walker has even suggested the President should cancel the visit. What’s the White House view on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw that, Nancy. I can tell you that we have high-level interactions, such as next month’s visit, precisely so that we have the opportunities for the President to resolve, or, if not possible, narrow our differences with the Chinese. It is through engagement with China that the United States has been able to make progress on issues that are important to U.S. businesses and to the American people -- from increasing access to the Chinese market for U.S. firms, to securing an ambitious climate change agreement.
The value and importance of engagement has been recognized not just by this administration, but by administrations of both parties, and I actually think by governors of both parties in a range of states who have similar engagements with their counterparts in China.
Q But there’s a lot of ways to engage short of the full of bells and whistles of a state visit, which is a pretty big deal. Any distinction there on the level of engagement?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think what we look forward to later this fall with this visit is an opportunity to expand our cooperation on a range of issues important to the American people, and to press for progress in those areas of concern which I think you’re referencing.
The President is going to speak candidly about the differences we have in this exceptionally and admittedly complex relationship. But the President in last year’s visit to China didn’t pull any punches, and I wouldn’t expect him to this fall either.
Q More on the crazies thing. So if you’re opposed to the Iran deal, you’re not crazy, in the President’s mind?
MR. SCHULTZ: I honestly think you’re just conflating two different pieces.
Q In his mind, aside from what he said last night and your explanation of it, are you crazy if you oppose the Iran deal?
MR. SCHULTZ: Let me try it another way, Isaac. President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson, said the following about the idea of opposing the Iran nuclear deal because you could get a better deal. This is a claim we hear frequently from both Democrats and Republicans who oppose this deal. He says this is somewhere between -- the idea that we can get a better deal is somewhere “between naïve and unrealistic.” So you can judge for yourself what language to use.
But the President believes that, yes, this is the best way to cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, and that those claiming they can get a better deal somehow are indeed, to paraphrase the former Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush, somewhere “between naïve and unrealistic.”
Q Hank Paulson is not crazy, but are other people? (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: We do agree with Secretary Paulson’s view on the Iran deal.
Q Can I ask about that lunch with the President and Vice President Biden yesterday? Can you give us any kind of a readout -- whether or not they discussed Vice President Biden’s consideration of a White House run? And what about these reports that the President gave the Vice President his blessing if he did decide to run?
MR. SCHULTZ: Julie, I appreciate the question and the intense interest in this. As you know, the President and Vice President have been having lunch mostly once a week for the past six and a half years now. Those are conversations that are private, and that’s not going to change today.
I can tell you that I know there’s been some -- a lot -- of speculation about what happened in that conversation, but we’re not going to be in a position to read those conversations out.
Q Does the President want him to run?
MR. SCHULTZ: Look, the President and everyone in the White House believes that this is going to be an intensely personal decision for the Vice President. And we’ve made a decision that that decision process for the Vice President needs to be protected. We're going to give him the time and space in which to do that.
Q Is it good for the Democratic Party if he runs?
MR. SCHULTZ: That's a good try to get me to weigh in on this, but this is, again, going to be an intensely personal decision for the Vice President to make.
Q Everyone knows that these political campaigns can get really nasty, and already people are questioning Biden’s politics even though he’s not even in the race. Is the President worried that if he does join the race that it will negatively impact what he’s trying to achieve in the final term?
MR. SCHULTZ: Look, our bright line here is that this is going to be a personal decision for the Vice President to make. He has indicated that he wants to make that decision by the end of the summer, so we're going to give him the time and space to do that.
Q Eric, there are reports today that the IAEA is running out of money for its monitoring capabilities in Iran. If the Iran nuclear deal does survive, the IAEA would need an injection of funds by early next year, and Congress would have to approve that. Is the administration going to ask for more funding, and is there a concern that if that is rejected, the deal might be undermined? First of all, is the President even aware of this funding issue?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m happy to look into this a little bit more closely. We do believe that the IAEA is the world’s foremost institution for cooperation in the nuclear field and employs some of the world’s most credible and experienced technical experts in this field.
I’ve learned this morning that all of their inspectors have been trained in the United States and are the best at what they do. So we clearly appreciate the role that they play, not only the role they will play in enforcing this deal, but obviously there’s deals across the globe that they play a role in enforcing and in oversight. So I don't have the exact intricacies in how they're funded, and if they need more funds and how that works. But I’m happy to look into that and get back to you.
Q Continuing with Iran -- according to Iranian media reports today, a senior Iranian official said that Israel should “be annihilated” and that thawing relations with the West would not translate into a shift on Tehran’s position. Does that validate Netanyahu’s opposition to the Iran deal?
MR. SCHULTZ: We have said, even at the very beginning of these negotiations, even before a deal was in sight, that our concerns with Iran would not fade away if a nuclear deal was reached. Those concerns include their destabilizing actions in the region and their anti-Semitism, their attitude towards Israel. So our objection and concerns about that conduct, that language, remains as strong today as it did months ago. And in fact, we believe that that sort of hostility is all the more reason why Iran shouldn’t have a nuclear weapon.
Q But doesn’t it strengthen his argument? I mean, saying that Israel should be “annihilated” -- that's pretty strong rhetoric. That's not just being anti-Semitic. That's saying that the entire state should be annihilated.
MR. SCHULTZ: It is strong and offensive rhetoric, but it’s not new rhetoric for them. This is the type of argument they’ve been making for years under the sanctions regime.
And again, the deal we struck, that the international community struck with Iran was solely about getting rid of *[their ability to acquire] nuclear weapons. We continue to express concerns and have grave concerns about their anti-Semitic activity and their destabilizing rhetoric and actions in the region that you mentioned.
Q Joe Biden, you have said, is an incredibly important member of the administration. If he runs for President, he’s going to have -- his schedule is going to change quite a bit. Is there contingency planning at all in the administration for how to handle things going forward if Joe Biden suddenly has a different day job?
MR. SCHULTZ: Are you interested, Gardiner? (Laughter.) I have not heard of any conversations along those lines.
Q On Iran -- are you guys at all concerned about the way that the international partners are viewing the way the process is going in Congress and the opposition that you guys are running into?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think it’s a fair question. Our focus right now though is on Congress, that they aren’t in the role of derailing this deal, which the President thinks is not only in the best interest of the United States but of our allies around the world. It’s not just the President who feels that way. It’s former Secretary -- Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush, Hank Paulson; it’s Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor under Gerald Ford and President H.W. Bush. It is 340 rabbis, who I believe just wrote a letter this weekend. It’s a growing chorus of national security experts and nuclear scientists who feel this way. So our focus is on making sure that Congress doesn't derail the deal.
Q Can you tell us, if the President has made any calls since he’s been in Las Vegas on Iran or in the last couple of days, what the outreach has been like?
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, I can tell you that our engagement with Congress continues both at the presidential level and at the senior staff level at the White House, and also in the Cabinet agencies that are relevant here.
I can tell you that we continue to talk to lawmakers both in the House and the Senate -- some supporters, some skeptics -- in the hopes that we can continue to build on the momentum we’ve seen over the past few weeks of lawmakers on the Democratic side of the aisle coming out in support of the deal.
Q Do you have any comment on the CBO deficit projections and the potential for the deficit to spike in coming years?
MR. SCHULTZ: Nancy, thank you for raising that. I did see that the CBO projected the U.S. will run a deficit that is 2.4 percent of GDP, which is the lowest since 2007. And I think this goes to the resilience of the American economy and the other sort of economic indicators we’ve seen over the past seven years. That includes U.S. businesses adding 13 million jobs in 65 consecutive months, which happens to be the longest stretch of private-sector job creation in our nation’s history. That includes unemployment at its lowest level in seven years -- 5.3 percent.
But what remains clear is that we need to stay focused on this growth and avoid self-inflicted wounds. That includes passing a budget that reverses the sequester and avoids a shutdown. That includes reauthorizing the Ex-Im Bank. That also includes increasing investment in infrastructure by passing a long-term bill and not governing crisis to crisis.
Q You mentioned the wild gyrations in the economy earlier. Has the President been briefed on the rebound of the stock market? Does he have any thoughts on sort of the swings that we’ve seen over the last 48 hours?
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, the President has been briefed on the recent economic situation and market developments. As you know, we don't comment on day-to-day market movements. But I will say that for a lot of the reasons -- a lot of the steps I just listed, which I’ll spare you all again, the President believes there is more we can be doing for our economy. Congress should be taking those steps.
Q Do you have any update on what the President was doing this morning before taking off? Does he have anything on his schedule that we should know about?
Q -- last night? We had any early lid.
MR. SCHULTZ: Not early East Coast time, though.
Q I want to ask about Gitmo. Is there any update on the plan that's going to be going to Congress? We heard it was going to be coming soon. Any update on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have an update for you on that. I’d encourage you to check in with my National Security Council colleagues. But as we’ve said, the President’s view is that Guantanamo Bay should be closed, not only because of the colossal waste of millions of dollars being spent there that could be otherwise used more effectively, but also because it’s a recruitment tool for our enemies.
Q Senator Tim Scott did an editorial in The Wall Street Journal yesterday about Gitmo, and he specifically said that he did not want any South Carolina prisons being used for detainees specifically because it could lead to homegrown terror acts; it could make South Carolina a target for that, lone wolves and what not. Do you have a reaction to that argument?
MR. SCHULTZ: Look, the President has been clear that there are several reasons why the detention center at Guantanamo Bay should be closed. First and foremost among them is it’s a recruitment tool for our enemies. We’ve seen those who wish to do harm to the United States and our national security interest use Guantanamo Bay as a symbol to recruit and motivate its membership.
Second, and I do not have the dollar statistics in front of me, but we know that it is by leaps and bounds the most expensive way to be detaining individuals -- a cost that can be dramatically reduced if we take prudent steps. But your point is well taken that we will need cooperation with Congress to get this done.
Q Senator Tom Cotton said today that Harry Reid and the President were trying to ram the Iran deal down people’s throats. What’s your reaction to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I would tell you that the oversight architecture put in place for Congress on this deal was legislation that passed Congress. So if Senator Cotton has an issue with what his own colleagues agreed to, then he should probably take it up with them.
Q I have a question on the IAEA. It seems like you all have been reluctant to say definitively that Iran will not be able to inspect itself when it comes to Parchin. Can you just come out and flat out say that Iran will not be able to inspect itself, as the AP report seems to indicate?
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, I will refer you to the IAEA’s own statement which made clear that the agreement between the IAEA and Iran is technically sound and consistent with the agency’s long-established practice.
According to the IAEA, they don’t compromise their own safeguard standards in any way in this instance. And as we’ve said before and we’ve briefed Congress fully in classified settings, the United States government’s nuclear experts are confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program.
Again, I know that some in Congress -- some Republican members of Congress are dissatisfied with this. These same Republicans seem to be the ones who claim complete ignorance when it comes to climate science, but now claim great gravitas when it comes to nuclear science.
Q Speaking of climate, the President seemed pretty bold yesterday in his speech, calling out the Koch brothers and calling out Republicans. Why is that? Does he believe that he’s won the climate change debate, or is winning the climate change debate?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, it’s a fair question. As you do point out, earlier this month the President took the single-biggest step any President has taken to curb the carbon pollution fueling climate change with America’s Clean Power Plan rule. Later this week, the President will travel to New Orleans, and next week the President will become the first sitting President to travel to the Alaskan Arctic and will travel to Seward, Dillingham, among other areas in Alaska.
We have made significant progress over the past six and a half years on this. The statistics that the President cited yesterday are part of a comprehensive record that he’s extremely proud of, that all of us are proud of, but there is no doubt that there’s more work to be done. You heard a little bit of that in the steps that we announced yesterday. I think you’ll hear about more of that in the coming months.
Q Is it fair to say that he’s more comfortable taking on his critics head on on this issue right now than he has been previously?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think what the President was talking about is that those opposing steps, common-sense steps to limit our reliance on carbon -- those opposing those steps are stuck in the past; that there are of course going to be special entrenched interests who spend an enormous sum of money trying to make sure that we don’t move toward a clean energy economy. And that’s what the President was talking about yesterday.
Q Are the Koch brothers the “crazies”?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think the President mentioned them yesterday because they are part of the entrenched interests spending large sums of money trying to impede the progress that we’re making as a country.
Q He also mentioned that the Kochs and others are fighting against marketplace dynamics to do that. What was he referring to? How are they trying to not let the market operate?
MR. SCHULTZ: Gardiner, I think what the President was talking about is we’ve seen that the steps that the President has been taking to grow the clean green energy economy are steps that are not only good for the environment, but are good for the economy, and that if -- we’ve seen in the private sector that there’s tremendous economic -- or potential for tremendous economic growth in this clean energy economy. We’ve seen critics of our plans entrenched in an old energy, fossil-fuel economy, spending large sums of money trying to impede our progress.
Q Yesterday, John Podesta said that Hillary Clinton was getting increasingly frustrated with how long it was taking for the Keystone Pipeline decision to be made/announced. Does the President share that frustration?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have an update for you on that. As you know, that’s a pipeline that is under review at the State Department. That process at the State Department is a process that far predates this administration. So if you have questions on that timeline, you should check with the State Department.
Q I have a question on TPP. Are we any closer to having an agreement? And since China has come back into the news for devaluing their currency, does that it more difficult to reach a final agreement?
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, I don’t have any new update for you on the TPP negotiations. Obviously, that’s a priority of this President. He’s dispatched our United States Trade Representative, Michael Froman, to take the lead on those negotiations. So I would encourage you to check in with them on the latest on their progress.
Q Sorry, just going back to Keystone Pipeline, because that didn’t really answer my question. I understand that it’s in the State Department, but is the President frustrated with how long it’s taking, is what I’m asking. I understand that the timeline is there and I should reach out to them for when it’s going to be released, but is the President frustrated with how long it’s taken?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven’t heard that discussed.
Q Are the people who oppose the TPP the “crazies”? (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: Anything else? (Laughter.)
11:19 A.M PDT