Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Detroit, MI, 1/20/2016
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Detroit, Michigan
11:20 A.M. EST
MR. SCHULTZ: Welcome aboard, everyone, en route to Detroit, where the President will have an opportunity to experience firsthand the remarkable progress made by the American auto industry, the city and its people and neighborhoods in recovering from the Great Recession.
As you all know, when the President first took office, the American auto industry was on the brink of collapse. Sales had plunged 40 percent, and the industry was shedding jobs by the hundreds of thousands. Both GM and Chrysler were only weeks away from running out of cash and collapsing. At that time, the President made the tough call in the first few months of entering the presidency to place a bet on American workers and American manufacturing.
Because the President acted so quickly and aggressively, and demanded real change as a condition of the government assistance, the American auto industry not only avoided a much deeper collapse, but bounced back and is stronger than ever.
For example, since 2009, the auto industry has posted the strongest job growth on record. American auto has doubled production with auto sales at an all-time high. We’ve seen American automotive products and exports go up 89 percent since 2009. And once again, American auto technology is the envy of the world.
The President also initiated more broadly -- more broader than just the auto manufacturing industry a broader commitment to the city of Detroit that has resulted in a sustained commitment through our federal officials that partner with the mayor, local businesses and community leaders to deliver robust yet tailored assistance.
So, alongside the progress of the auto industry, we’ve seen the city of Detroit make significant strides, as well. Unemployment in the city has been cut by more than half, and now is at its lowest levels since 2003. There is obviously much more work we can do, but the President wanted to take some time and make this trip, and really mark the remarkable progress that this city has undergone in the last few years.
With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Q Hey, Eric, two questions. Is the President disappointed that despite the success of the auto industry, that the cars and vehicles that it keeps turning out continue to be the gas guzzlers that he opposed in 2009?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Jeff, I think you’ve seen the President also do a lot of work in this issue space, and that includes new CAFE standards for our vehicles. And he thinks that American car manufacturers recognize that that is the technology of the future, have embraced that, and have adopted that as their goal.
Q So with gas prices so low, SUVs are obviously still getting produced at record numbers and getting purchased at record numbers. Is that something that the President is disappointed about?
MR. SCHULTZ: I see. Well, I do think it’s important to note that the auto industry remains on track to meet targets that double their fuel efficiency and cut emissions by half by the year 2025. So vehicle manufacturers are beating their standards for the third year in a row now. And the President believes our fuel economy standards reduce economic vulnerability to this volatile market and spur innovation. And we’ve seen results of that throughout the industry, especially in the context of the global markets.
Q Can I maybe I follow up on that? Chrysler has met its targets, but it barely met its targets for the most recent year. And it may have trouble meeting its emissions targets for next year. Is the President concerned, following up on Jeff’s question, about the mix of cars and trucks that Chrysler is selling, and particularly that his auto task force chose Fiat for the merger partner?
MR. SCHULTZ: Angela, I’m not going to have comment on every particular -- or any specific manufacturer. But what I will say is, the President is encouraged by the progress these manufacturers are making to meet their goals.
Q What is the White House’s reaction to Governor Snyder’s apology in his State of the State? And does the EPA owe an apology, as well, to the residents of Flint?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, I did not have a chance to watch or read the Governor’s remarks in their entirety, but I did see some of the press coverage of it. I don't have a direct response to that address. I will say the President is deeply engaged on this issue. He took time out of his day yesterday to meet with Mayor Weaver. He came away from that discussion determined to get to the bottom of this, determined to resolve the situation as fast as humanly possible. And that meant -- for him, that means mobilizing all possible federal resources to make sure that the federal government is doing what we can to help support state and local response efforts, because they have the primary responsibility on this.
Q If they have the primary responsibility, what is the EPA’s responsibility in the White House’s view, and did they meet that responsibility?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, if you would like a catalogue of how EPA has been engaged on this and been responding, you should probably check with them. I'm sure they will be able to get that for you. From our point of view, our focus right now is solving the problem. And that's why the President, yesterday, announced a new federal coordinator, Dr. Nicole Lurie, who’s an Assistant Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. She’s going to help coordinate all the federal resources that are being surged to Flint right now. She’s actually in Flint today meeting with all the important stakeholders on the ground.
The President, as I mentioned, met with the Mayor yesterday, and he wants to make sure that we are marshaling all the resources of the federal government to address that problem.
Q Does the White House think Governor Snyder should resign?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, our view is everyone right now should be focused on the actual problem. And that's why the President -- and I'm happy to walk you through some of what the President has directed his agencies to provide for Flint. That includes the Department of Health and Human Services providing technical assistance so they can really make sure that water is as safe as humanly possible right now for the children and people of Flint. That also includes disseminating as much public health information as possible so that the people of Flint have access to the best information they can get.
The CDC is on the ground providing technical assistance, also providing support for anyone with high lead levels in their blood. FEMA is obviously on the ground -- has been on the ground for weeks now providing water filters and tens of thousands of liters of bottled water. The EPA is obviously on the ground working to identify the sources of contamination and making sure that they can root that out. HUD has been involved, making sure that -- what they’re doing is they’re providing the data tracking to make sure that there’s a full audit and accounting of where the problem is and how it can be stemmed. And finally --
Q But you think that Governor Snyder is a trustworthy partner at the state level to help you get all these things done?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I saw that the Governor yesterday accepted responsibility for this. Clearly, the primary responsibility lies with local and state officials. But that's not stopping the administration and this President from doing what they can to help support those response efforts.
Q Eric, specifically on the question of EPA -- and I have checked with them -- obviously, part of what they’ve been saying is that Michigan officials were not as forthright in disclosing things to them as they could have been, and that impeded the effort. However, there is an issue about a memo that an EPA officer drafted in April of last year, submitted to the EPA regional coordinator in June, and it was not publicly disclosed for some time. Now, EPA says that it was circulated within the EPA regional office and that that helped inform their discussions with Michigan officials. I'm just wondering that, as the President obviously responds to the concerns of the people of Flint, is the White House and the administration looking at that issue and to what extent EPA acted as quickly as possible in conveying concerns about elevated lead levels in the water?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Juliet. I have not seen any reporting on that particular memo. I can say that clearly the notification process is part of the problem here, and the President is absolutely determined to figure out what went wrong, generally speaking. And I know that a lot of this is under investigation, so I'm a little bit hindered in what I can say. But all I can say is, broadly speaking, the President is concerned that something like this could happen in the greatest country on Earth, and that's why he’s determined to resolve it as soon as possible.
Q Can you comment on the attack against the university, the new terrorist attack which happened today?
MR. SCHULTZ: Laura, I did see that report. Obviously, we condemn in the strongest possible terms that attack. And I think we might have more of a response later today.
Q And, Eric, on the question of a potential executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose their political contributions, obviously the White House has issued some comment on this today. One of my questions is, can you discuss to what extent the White House feels constrained by existing language that Congress has passed which appears to affect contractors who would be bidding on federal contracts, and of course just elaborate a bit on this issue?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm glad you brought this up, Juliet, because this speaks to a theme that the President devoted significant time to in the State of the Union address, which is changing our politics. And the President has long advocated for campaign finance reform, and expressed his opposition to the Citizens United decision that really opened the floodgates to special interest spending in our elections.
The President took some steps when he first took the oath of office back in 2009 to limit special interest influence peddling in Washington. But the President also viewed -- the most robust action we could take on this is an action that Congress failed to take when they considered a piece of legislation called the DISCLOSE Act. That would have increased transparency and done a lot to further this goal. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans banded together to block that.
And so, for our part, we are going to continue to consider actions we can take at the administrative level to combat this problem. I don't have any specific measures to preview at this point.
Q Can you just talk about the legal landscape as it stands right now and how that would affect anything the administration could do in the same way that obviously there are limits because the Senate did not act in 2012?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, as Josh is fond of saying, he’s not a lawyer -- I'm not a lawyer. But I can tell you that any executive action that would be vetted through our system and announced by the President would be on solid legal footing.
Q Eric, the stock market has taken another tumble today. Can you issue the White House’s reaction to that? And are you concerned that this continuation of a stock fall and the oil prices staying low suggests a greater problem or a deeper problem in the world economy, and that that will affect the U.S.?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, like Josh, I’m not going to comment on the day-to-day moves in the markets. The President is regularly briefed on these developments that relate to the economy, and we obviously monitor the ongoing volatility. That's a process that's principally housed at the Department of Treasury.
But I can say more broadly, the President believes our U.S. economy continues to grow, and we have ample data to back that up. For example, U.S. businesses have added 14.1 million jobs in 70 consecutive months of private sector job growth. This, as you know, is the longest stretch of private sector job growth on record. But what remains clear is that we need to stay focused on what we can do to strengthen job growth here at home. The President has several proposals to do just that, one of which is urging Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That's a deal that's going to help America’s businesses and help America’s workers.
I should also add that there’s no better case study for the resilience of the American economy than where we're headed right now. Detroit, as we talked about, was on the precipice of collapse. And thanks to not only the President’s leadership in 2009, but mostly to the grit, determination, and ingenuity of the American worker, they're resurging.
Q Is the President going to address the Volkswagen cheating scandal today during his address?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't believe that's going to be in the President’s remarks.
Q Will we hear him talk about Flint today in either of his appearances?
MR. SCHULTZ: Angela, I, again, don't have a preview of his remarks. But the purpose of today’s visit is to really mark the remarkable comeback of Detroit.
Q Thanks, Eric.
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, guys.
11:34 A.M. EST