Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Chicago, IL, 10/27/2015
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Chicago, Illinois
12:38 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome aboard Air Force One en route to Chicago where the President is looking forward to addressing the International Association of Chiefs of Police at their 122nd Annual Conference in Chicago. The IACP has played a prominent role in furthering many of the administration’s criminal justice efforts. And the President will join 75 administration officials who are participating in their conference this year.
The President’s address this afternoon will build on his efforts to meet with Americans who are working to improve the criminal justice system, from law enforcement officials working to lower the crime and incarceration rates, to former prisoners who are earning their second chance.
And one bit of news for you. As part of the President’s commitment to criminal justice reform, on Monday, November 2nd, the President will travel to Newark, New Jersey to highlight the re-entry process of formerly incarcerated individuals who are working to put their lives back on track and earn their second chance. He will be joined by Senator Booker and Mayor Baraka. Further information about that travel will be available in the coming days. But with that, I’m happy to answer your questions.
Q On the budget agreement, can you talk a little bit about what is in the agreement that led the White House to say that you would accept it? Like a specific element?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I’m happy to, Darlene. As you know, for months now, the President laid out several principles that were important to him for this process, and I’m happy to walk you through those.
First, he wanted to make sure that any budget deal was fiscally responsible but that it funded our domestic and national defense priorities; that we would avoid a government shutdown like we’ve seen in the past; that we would provide sequester relief, and not in a lopsided way, but dollar-for-dollar, matching domestic spending with our defense priorities; that this would be a framework that builds on the Murray-Ryan example. Also, that a budget that passed would reflect our values; that includes in investments education, in job training and research, and that protects Social Security and Medicare benefits and other programs that middle-class families depend on.
We feel like in each of these places this is a budget deal that meets those tests. I do want to add, though, that obviously this is a compromise. And as the President and Josh and all of us have been very clear on, that not everyone in this situation is going to get everything they want; that part and parcel for this process is the art of compromise. But we do feel like this is a deal that meets each of those tests.
Q Picking up on your last point then, what did the White House want that you didn’t get in the deal?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Darlene, if you are looking for the budget that the President would have written from soup to nuts, you should look at the -- you’re in luck, because we released one in February that walks through exactly what we would have liked. But when we did so, we also called it a starting point, and we believe that this is a budget framework that meets the President’s vision.
Q Now, the President vetoed the defense bill last week because it used money from the overseas contingency account -- I know I don’t have the name right. But the agreement that was reached last night includes money from that account. So how do you explain rejecting it in one instance and accepting it in this other one?
MR. SCHULTZ: You’re right, the President did veto that bill, and I think it’s worth reviewing why.
In the NDAA bill, the Overseas Contingency Operations funds was used to artificially get around the sequester caps. This violated two principles. One, it didn't lift the sequester caps in a way that we felt was legitimate. And two, it would have violated the parity principle that we wanted to see, which is both defense and domestic spending should no longer be subjected to those caps.
If you look at what was agreed to in this agreement, we lock in sequester relief for two years while also making critical investments all across government. So unlike the NDAA, this bill provides the Department of Defense with a stable, multiyear budget off which they can plan.
Q So is it no longer a slush fund, as you described it previously? And if it’s not, why is it not? You explained it, but it seems like they would still be using a contingency fund maybe for reasons that it wasn’t originally designed for.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, as we’ve expressed, what we opposed to were Republican plans that failed to provide sufficient funding for our military priorities through regular means while inappropriately increasing the OCO funding by tens of billions of dollars. The proposals that you're referencing, the past ones, used OCO as a way to avoid addressing the harmful sequestration cuts that we wanted to see lifted.
Q Can you talk a little bit about what you get politically out of this deal? Does it clear the decks for the President in terms of kind of allowing him to focus on other legacy items instead of kind of budget hassles for the balance of his term? And how do you see -- as a result of this, do you see more opportunity for agreement on other issues with Speaker Ryan, if we expect that to be -- him to be Speaker?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, Mike. I do want to be clear that we have a long ways to go, that what was introduced last night was the product of many, many weeks of rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on this -- Democrats and Republicans working with each other and with members of the administration. But there’s still a long way to go. So it’s not over until it’s over.
But yes, we do consider this a very good example of Democrats and Republicans coming together to do what’s in the country’s best interest. You are right that there is a long to-do list for Congress in the coming months. I would note that one of the President’s priorities of cybersecurity legislation seems to be moving through the Senate today, so that's another piece of legislation that we're encouraged by their progress on.
Q On criminal justice reform and policing -- could you talk a little about -- obviously there’s been a lot of discussion about FBI Director Comey’s interpretation of the so-called Ferguson effect. Will the President speak to this issue which clearly has sparked a debate over to what extent violent crime is rising in certain areas and what connection that has to curbs on excessive force?
MR. SCHULTZ: Juliet, I do think in his remarks the President is going to do a couple of things today. One, he’s going to thank the law enforcement leaders for the sacrifices they make and the work they do on a daily basis to keep us safe. So many of us take our safety and security for granted, but that's because we have law enforcement officers, police officers who risk their lives every day in order to provide us that safety.
Number two, he’s going to continue to push for criminal justice reform. He’s going to talk about IACP’s advocacy in that space, but he’s going to continue today to make the case of why we need a system that’s smarter and more effective and more fair.
Third, he is going to address the problem of gun violence. And there’s probably no more appropriate place to do that than in Chicago, which has been plagued by this issue for some time.
But lastly, he will talk about the need to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. So I do expect that to be a part of the President’s remarks today. Some of you joined us for a trip to Camden, New Jersey, where the President highlighted a lot of good work that happened up there. That was an area where I would say relations hit rock bottom between law enforcement and some of the communities up there. But what they did was they sat down together, they worked to build a program to rebuild that trust. That included law enforcement officials, that included advocates, that included church leaders, that included other community leaders in order to build a program that started to rebuild trust.
So I think you will hear some of that today.
Q You didn’t answer her question, right? I mean the question is, does he disagree with his FBI director, and is going to call out his FBI director, or make the opposite point? We believe he does disagree with his FBI director on that point? And so will he highlight the disagreement, or will he skirt past it?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think it’s fair to say that the available body of evidence does not support the notion that law enforcement officers around the country are shying away from doing their jobs. On the contrary, as numerous law enforcement leaders have said, our police officers and sheriffs are dedicated public servants who continue both their lines -- on the line to keep us safe.
As Juliet alluded to, there has been a healthy discussion about the need to enhance trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, so I would expect the President to address that head-on this afternoon.
Q Eric, will the President specifically address Comey’s remarks today?
MR. SCHULTZ: I believe that the President will directly address the problem of urban violence and making sure that we work hard to rebuild the trust that’s been lacking in some communities between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
Q Has he talked to Mayor Emanuel about the crime problem in Chicago and some of the concerns that Mayor Emanuel brought up as recently as last week about police and their reluctance there?
MR. SCHULTZ: Julia, I don’t have any private conversations between the President and Mayor Emanuel to read out. As you know, he was his former chief of staff, but they remain very close friends. So it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve been touch. The Mayor is someone who the President relies on for counsel every so often. Obviously this is an issue that the Mayor is dealing with head-on every day. And that’s why I think you can expect to hear the President take on this issue directly in this remarks this afternoon.
Q And did the President see the video of the Spring Valley police officer brutally pulling that student out of the classroom? And is this something that he might touch on today?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t know if the President has seen that video, and I don’t expect it to be in the President’s remarks.
Q When you talk about the available body of evidence, which I believe is you’re citing DOJ’s statistics, can you just provide any more context for us -- in other words, how the White House reaches the conclusion it does? Is it because 2014 was a very low year, so it’s understandable these statistics are higher? That there are certain crimes that have increased but not others? It just would be helpful to get a little more context to how you come to that conclusion.
MR. SCHULTZ: I think that’s fair. And what we’d say is there are indeed some cities reporting increases in murders or violent crime compared to last year, but we’re also seeing many other communities in which violent crime is flat or declined from the historic lows reported in 2014.
So our takeaway from that is that the available data does not suggest we're seeing on a national level a change in long-term -- downward trend in violent crime. But the Department of Justice is focused on doing what it can to assist state and local law enforcement.
What I’d also say, since you closely follow the President, you hear him talk about -- almost every time where he talks about these issues -- the importance of data. And the President wants to make sure we're making these decisions as having this conversation not by anecdote by anecdote, but by the available data. And I think that that's why he’s called on the Department of Justice to really make sure that we are putting out the -- we are collecting and then also identifying and releasing the best available information we have.
Q Along with the issue of rebuilding trust between police and communities, do you think he’ll get into police brutality issues or racial profiling issues?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, we're a few hours away from the President taking the stage, so I don't want to preempt him. But I think he will take some time to pay tribute to how selflessly and how courageously police officers serve our communities and keep us safe.
Q Eric, what message is the administration trying to send to China in passing within 12 nautical miles of the Spratlys? And why should China not see this as a provocation?
MR. SCHULTZ: Andrew, I would tell you that freedom of navigation operations serve to protect the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law. Our freedom of navigation operations do not assert any special U.S.-specific rights. I’m not going to comment or confirm any specific military activity, but I will tell you that the United States conducts routine operations in the South China Sea in accordance with international law, as we do around the globe.
Q Did the President sign off on this specific operation? I know you don't want to confirm it, but there have been public reports and public sightings of this ship. So did the President actually sign off on what could be seen as a provocative action?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I’m not going to be in a position to talk about any specific military activity from here.
Q Eric, just for planning purposes, at the top of his remarks is he likely to make some comments about the budget?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think the focus of his remarks will be about the topics you and I have had the wonderful occasion to discuss here. It would not surprise me if he does talk about the agreement that was reached last night.
Q Chairman Ryan said that the budget process stinks. He says it was done behind closed doors, and he seems to have some negative comments about how the process played out. I’m wondering if you can talk about how involved he was, how much the White House spoke to his office about the budget negotiations, and what your reaction is to his reaction to the deal.
MR. SCHULTZ: If you have questions about Chairman Ryan’s engagement in this process, it won’t surprise you to hear that I’m going to refer you to Chairman Ryan’s office.
In terms of the President and the White House, I can tell you that unlike in previous budget agreements, this was a process that the President and the White House was heavily engaged in. The President made a number of calls throughout this process to leaders of both parties in the House and in the Senate. Those calls started in earnest around early to mid-September. And White House staffers designated as the lead negotiators were in touch with their counterparts in the leadership offices in both the House and the Senate.
My colleagues -- our White House staff members worked with our Hill counterparts in a constructive, cordial, and professional manner throughout September and October. We all agreed to honor a commitment to keep those conversations private in order to protect the integrity of the discussions.
I’m also happy to tell you that no principal meetings were required -- were deemed required during this process. But I can tell you that the President made a number of calls to both -- to all of the leaders to both, A, make sure that the process was on track; and, B, to coordinate with our Democratic partners, Leaders Pelosi and Reid.
Q Speaking of those Democratic leaders, can you -- is there a concern that especially Nancy Pelosi is maybe not on board with as much of this as everybody else? And is she concerned that her caucus won’t support some of the cuts in mandatory spending?
MR. SCHULTZ: Mike, I haven’t seen a lot of worry about that.
Q Did the President have any misgivings about lumbering his predecessor with the need to pass a budget so quickly the next administration? Because as I understand it, it’s within 100 days, right?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think for us, again, one of the principles that the President laid out very early on was to move away from the quick fixes and harmful budget cuts that has often been the last resort of Washington in terms of governing crisis by crisis. So we actually think this two-year agreement is an important step away from that bad practice.
Q Eric, can you comment at all on why Attorney General Lynch is not coming today? We understand that she was under the weather. She’s also due to speak on the Hill tomorrow. Is this a temporary thing? Has the President reached out to her? And was there any considerations that maybe she shouldn’t come given Director Comey’s remarks yesterday? Was there any reluctance on her part or the White House’s part for her to come?
MR. SCHULTZ: As you point out, Julia, Attorney General Lynch was scheduled to come. I do believe she is feeling under the weather, which is unfortunate. But you’ll have to talk to her office about her schedule for the rest of the week.
Q Eric, how seriously is the President considering putting Special Operations Forces on the ground in Syria?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, I know there’s been a lot of reporting on this, largely speculative. And I can tell you that, as the President has made clear, we have no intention to pursue long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation has conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But we do, however, retain the ability to conduct limited operations with partners as opportunities allow. You've seen some examples of this in the past few weeks, including the most recent U.S. Special Operations Forces last week accompanying Peshmerga forces to rescue prisoners in imminent danger of mass execution. So we're going to continue to robustly train, advise and assist Iraqi forces in their campaign.
And we’ve also been clear that we're going to continue to evaluate and look at our own strategy, look at the progress that's been made, look at events on the ground, and make sure that we're continually refining -- that we're continuing intensifying our support for partners on the ground fighting ISIL.
Q If you're continually refining what you're doing in Syria, does that not leave open the risk of mission creep?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, that's why I think the President has been very clear from the get-go that we have no intention to pursue long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation has conducted previously in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But at the same time, you've heard us talk about this a few weeks ago when we announced changes to the Syria train-and-equip program. Those are the types of pressure testing our own strategy to really intensify what’s working.
Q If I can go back to the South China Sea quickly. President Xi said --
MR. SCHULTZ: That would be a long trip.
Q Ba-dum-bum. (Laughter.) President Xi said during the joint press conference that he did not plan to militarize the area. Did the President not believe that statement?
MR. SCHULTZ: So I think President Obama takes President Xi at his word. And again, any operations that the U.S. military conducts are operated in accordance with international law and applied even-handedly around the globe.
But as President Obama stated, I believe at the Rose Garden press conference you are referencing, the United States will fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.
Q Have you all heard anything back from the Chinese in recent days about any potential U.S. ships that might be in that area?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have any private conversations to release to you with our counterparts in Beijing.
Q Can you tell us, is the President going to the Chicago Bulls-Cavaliers game tonight?
MR. SCHULTZ: Arlett, I don't have any additions to the public schedule for you at this time. But if that changes, we’ll let you know.
Q Okay, I have one more. In the budget deal, there’s a sale of about 58 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. It’s a pretty large sale, and considering the history of that institution I’m wondering if that's something the President was hesitant to do, and why that was used to raise funds to close the budget gap.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, Toluse, like every deal, this one involves compromise from both sides, and it is paid for with a mix of targeted spending cuts and revenue increases. I’d actually draw your attention to some of the tax compliance measures because we believe those are significant, including reforms that are focused on ensuring that large partnerships like hedge funds and private equity firms cannot avoid paying taxes they owe.
Q But no comment on the petroleum reserve?
MR. SCHULTZ: If you have additional questions about additional pay-fors, we can see if we can get guidance for you on that.
Q Would you put that in the area of a compromise which is something the White House wouldn’t have done unless it was necessary for the deal?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m not going to go ahead and nitpick every piece that's in this budget. I believe it’s a few hundred pages that was released late last night.
Q Thanks, Eric.
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you.
1:00 P.M. EDT