Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Palm Springs, CA, 2/12/2016
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Palm Springs, California
11:06 A.M. PST
MR. SCHULTZ: Good morning, everyone. Welcome aboard Air Force One. As you probably have seen, today President Obama designated three new national monuments in the California desert, protecting nearly 1.8 million acres of America’s public lands. Building on the administration’s commitment to protect our land and water for future generations, today’s designations will nearly double the number of acres of public lands previously protected as national monuments by President Obama.
With these new designations, the administration will have protected 265 million acres of public lands and waters. In fact, that’s more than any administration in history. And just wanted to let you know that we are minutes away from flying over some of these designated lands. We actually are deviating from our normal, most direct route so that you all can get a glimpse of this. That’s going to happen at about 11:14. So we might still be engaged in the gaggle at that point.
Q Deviating for us?
MR. SCHULTZ: We’re deviating for the President and for you all. So this is a view that will feature Joshua Tree National Park and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail -- one of the most well-known and iconic long-distance hiking trails in the United States.
And I have one more scheduling announcement for all of you. On March 28th, the President will speak at the Toner Prize dinner in Washington, D.C., which, as you all know, honors excellence in political reporting. The Toner journalism program at Syracuse University, and the awards given out at the dinner, honor the late Robin Toner, who, as we all know, was the first woman to be the national political correspondent for the New York Times.
The President is deeply looking forward to this event at which he will underscore -- well, he will not only pay tribute to Robin’s work, but also underscore his commitment -- underscore her commitment to journalistic excellence. Obviously, as you know, Robin covered political campaigns, covered policy issues, and really represented the best of journalism. And the President is looking forward to that event.
Q Can I follow up on that? The President has talked in just recent days about all the misinformation that’s put online, and said even on news broadcasts. He seems to have, in other times in the past, has sort of called the reporting that’s going on this day and age into question. Will he make those points? And is that sort of one of the reasons he wants to talk at this, to sort of maybe raise the quality of coverage?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t think the remarks for the President have been written yet for that event. But I do expect the President to engage in a conversation about where our media is and the importance of making sure that we have thoughtful, reflective public discussions on a lot of the pressing issues facing our country.
Q Eric, can I just ask on the national monuments -- there’s another major several-million-acre site called Bears Ears, which I believe is in Utah, that Native Americans and others are pushing the President to consider designating as a national monument before he leaves office. Can you give me any update on his thinking on that? Is that something that’s actively under consideration?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Mark, beyond the 1.8 million acres that were designated today, I don’t have any updates for you on future determinations. I do know that this is something that the President has appreciated and obviously has utilized his authority under the Antiquities Act. We can check to see if there’s any updates on any pending determinations.
Q Senator Menendez’s North Korea sanctions bill cleared Congress today. Will the President sign that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, like many members of Congress, the administration is deeply concerned about North Korea’s recent actions and the serious setback that this test represents. As I think my colleague, Ben Rhodes, said over the past day, that we’re philosophically and intellectually in the same place as the Congress on this. So that will not be a bill that we oppose.
Q Will he sign it while he’s -- before ASEAN? Will he sign it via autopen?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t think the bill has been sent to us yet.
Q There is a deal in Munich with regard to Syria yesterday that will lead to a temporary ceasefire, but not for a good -- apparently not for a week. Is the administration concerned that having that week will just allow Assad and his Russian backers to make progress in areas that will push back the rebels and the people, or the side that the U.S. is trying to support?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Jeff, as you referenced, Secretary Kerry announced in Munich last night that we have agreed to accelerate and expand the delivery of humanitarian aid. And that begins immediately. We have also announced agreement to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one week.
To enforce this, we’ve established a taskforce under the auspices of the United Nations that will develop the mechanisms for enforcement. And I think what you’re getting at is that this was an important step, but the work is far from over. Clearly, this is complicated. And in the coming days, we’re going to be looking for actions, not words, that demonstrate that all parties are prepared to honor their commitments and use their influence to see that these commitments are implemented on the ground in Syria.
As you’ve seen -- I think as you mentioned, Russia played a role in these talks, but we’ve also seen Russia play a destructive role on the ground and from the air in Syria. They’ve contributed to the humanitarian crisis that we see, and they’ve also been targeting areas where there’s very little or almost no ISIL presence at all. So it is time for them to stop using the cover of going after ISIL to become more involved in a Syrian sectarian civil war.
Q What I was specifically getting at is the fact that this is not officially going to start for a week. Essentially, a gift to Assad and Russia to make critical progress, which they appear about to do in their military campaign.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Jeff, obviously we have called for an immediate ceasefire before, and those calls were not heeded by the players involved. So you are right that -- well, the agreement in Munich that was reached last night is an important step, but you are right that there’s a lot more work to be done. So, over the coming days, we’re going to be making sure that we’re working with our partners in the region, and we call on Russia to do the same to make sure that we can cease hostilities as soon as possible.
Q Last June, the President stayed overnight in Los Angeles and met with two Hollywood bigwigs, Jeff Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg. It was not on his schedule. Can you tell us if the President met last night, once he got to the hotel, with any donors or Hollywood producers, or anybody else?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, David. I think you all were with the President for a pretty extended day yesterday -- four different events. And as the protected pool, you accompany the President when he is out in public. And I can tell you that I am going to protect the President’s ability to have private conversations, whether that’s with lawmakers, whether that’s with candidates for President, or whether that’s with Hollywood artists.
Q So he did?
MR. SCHULTZ: So I don’t have any private conversations to read out.
Q It’s possible, though?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have any private conversations to read out.
Q On another topic. I think the Democratic National Committee, it’s been reported today, has rolled back some restrictions on donations to the party from PACs and so on. And I wondered if the White House has a reaction. I think there’s been some commentary already that this sort of flies in the face of some of the reforms the President has talked about and campaigned on, even if it might help someone like Hillary Clinton.
MR. SCHULTZ: David, where was that reported? (Laughter.) Yes, happy to discuss this a little bit. But the guidelines that had previously been in place at the DNC were guidelines that were instituted when the President -- when Barack Obama, then-Senator Obama, became the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Those were guidelines that were modeled after his campaign for the presidency. And again, those were steps that no previous nominee or candidate had taken before him.
When Barack Obama became President, those guidelines stayed in place. We’re now at a point where the fundraising for the DNC is going towards candidates who are on the ballot in 2016. As the President has remarked several times, he will not be on the ballot in 2016. So those candidates will have to make choices about the resources that they’ll be raising.
Q Does he support this move?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I will say that even under the new guidelines, there will be no lobbyists or people representing PACs at events attended by the administration. So that includes the President or Vice President or other administration officials. So the events you all attended -- accompanied the President to over these past two days, the makeup of those did not change.
Q Eric, in the last couple of days, an Iranian official has been quoted in some media overseas as asserting that an unnamed Republican from the United States spoke with Iranian officials and requested that they delay the release of Americans until after the election. Is the White House aware of these reports? Is the White House aware that there’s any validity to the reports?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw a report on that, but we have no reason to believe that’s true.
Q Eric, I want to ask you about Russia. Apparently, the Deputy Secretary of Energy said that Russia was behind the cyber-attack on Ukraine that took out their power grid in December. I was wondering if the White House has a reaction to that report, and if you can confirm that Russia was, in fact, involved in that.
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, I can’t confirm that. I did see a report on that. But the folks who look into this for us are the FBI and Department of State, so I’d refer you to those agencies. They have much more insight into where this stands.
Q And one question on ISIL. Apparently, Speaker Ryan said that, by Monday, under the NDAA, the administration has to put forward a plan to defeat ISIL. Is that something that you all are planning to put out?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw the Speaker tweeted about that. And I can tell you that -- I know that that’s a product that’s produced from the State Department and the Department of Defense. So in terms of when that is transmitted to the Hill, you should check in with those agencies. But I do think it’s rich for the Speaker to be calling for an instrument to describe our approach to taking out the threat posed by ISIL, when, after a year and a day, they have failed to come up with an ISIL-specific AUMF.
Q Do you know if the President was briefed or updated on -- there was a shooting at a Phoenix-area school, where two 15-year-old girls were killed? And there was also another shooting in Ohio, at a restaurant, overnight.
Q I think it was a machete attack. Columbus?
Q Machete attack, right.
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t know if the President has been briefed on those. I do know that the President is regularly updated as warranted. Obviously, both of those situations are tragic, and we send our condolences to the families of the victims.
Q How engaged is the President on this Syria agreement?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m sorry?
Q How engaged is the President on the Syria agreement?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I can tell you the President is deeply engaged. The President has been briefed as the agreement was reached. I can also tell you that he has directed Secretary Kerry to be the primary negotiator on this. So I know that our team at the White House has been in touch with our counterparts at the State Department.
Q Week ahead?
MR. SCHULTZ: Week ahead, yes. Darlene, as you know, on Monday and Tuesday of this week, the President will host a summit with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at Sunnylands. This will be a continuation of important conversations about the Asia Pacific region. Following the conclusion of that summit, the President will, A, have a press conference, and B, return to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
And on Thursday, the President will welcome the Chicago Blackhawks to the White House to honor the team on their 2015 Stanley Cup victory. Afterward, the President and First Lady will host a reception celebrating Black History Month in the East Room.
On Friday, the President will meet with the Democratic governors at the White House.
And on Sunday, the President will deliver remarks at the National Governors Association dinner and reception at the White House. The First Lady will also attend that event on Sunday.
11:20 A.M. PST