Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Milwaukee, WI, 3/3/2016
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Milwaukee, Wisconsin
**Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.
11:54 A.M. EST
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon, and welcome aboard Air Force One, en route to Milwaukee, where the President will celebrate the city’s win in the Healthy Communities Challenge. As you all know, this was a competition between 20 cities launched last November to increase the number of Americans with health insurance during open enrollment.
Ahead of the upcoming sixth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, the President will discuss how Americans in communities across the country are benefitting from the law. As you’ve seen on our itinerary today, the President will sit down for a conversation with a few local residents who have written him about the impact of the law on themselves and their families. And after that, he'll give remarks on the campus of the United Community Center, which is a facility that hosted ACA outreach efforts over the last enrollment period.
I think you can expect him to discuss today the progress we we've made in the nearly six years since he signed the Affordable Care Act. For example, during the recent enrollment period, nearly 13 million Americans signed up for health care. In Milwaukee alone, nearly 90,000 people signed up this year. And that's about 38,000 of them were new customers this year.
This is the law that’s driven down the insurance rate below 10 percent for the first time since we started keeping records. And it's thanks in part to this law’s focus on reducing costs and inefficiencies that health care prices have risen at the slowest rate in 50 years since the law was passed. This is something that will obviously benefit Americans today, but also something that we're particularly proud of -- a trend that will continue for years to come.
The Affordable Care Act has succeeded, despite congressional Republicans voting nearly 60 times to repeal it. Republicans have been bent over the past six years on tearing it down, but thankfully they have been unsuccessful in their efforts to do so. They’ve also been unsuccessful to conjure up any alternatives to Affordable Care Act. And so, despite all that, this year, with our partners on the ground, the administration undertook an unprecedented local and regional effort to sign up the remaining 10.5 million uninsured people who are eligible for marketplace coverage. And that’s what the President is going to be highlighting this afternoon in Milwaukee.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q What does the President think of his former campaign rival giving campaign advice?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw that Governor Romney was giving a speech. I did not get a chance to see the speech before we took off. And I have to be honest with you, I don't think I'll be watching it when we get back.
Q Will the President be watching --
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't think so.
Q Eric, the Affordable Care Act, I know you want to highlight -- it's nearing its six-year anniversary. Why do you think tracking polls still indicate that more voters disapprove of the law than approve of it?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, I think it's a fair question, and it's one that -- there’s that old phrase, follow the money. And I think Republicans and our critics have spent hundreds of millions of dollars distorting the truth about this law, fueling conspiracy theories about this law, and there’s no question that that’s going to have an impact.
But if you look at the actual impact of what this has done, which has, again, slowed the rate of *rate price increases to unprecedented lows, brought the uninsured rate down to unprecedented lows, saved hospitals billions of dollars, and generally made our population healthier, those are all good things. And the President is going to make that case today.
Q Donald Trump is also talking about health care today. He released his health care plan with his campaign last night. Is that a plan that the President has had a chance to take a look at? And does he have any thoughts on Mr. Trump’s ideas?
MR. SCHULTZ: Angela, I did not have a chance to review that plan, either, before we took off, which is surprising because I understand that it’s seven bullet points. But my understanding is that it is the same pieces we've seen before by Republicans, which are repeal the Affordable Care Act, but have no ideas with what to replace it with.
Q Eric, can you give us an update on the Supreme Court process? How many candidates is the White House currently looking at and how many are being vetted?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, I don't have too much of an update for you. I can tell you that the President’s work on this remains dogged. This is something he’s spending a lot of time on. As you know, this process began a few weeks ago, and he’s been spending time reviewing potential candidates, meeting with his team on potential candidates, and really looking for the best person for the job.
In the President’s mind, that boils down to a few principles. One is, we have to make sure that that nominee is unquestionably qualified, they have impeccable credentials -- that's a threshold question for the President. The second is to make sure they’ve demonstrated loyalty to the rule of law; that their fidelity to the judicial process is unquestioned. And thirdly, in those rare instances when the law is unclear, which is, admittedly, an episode that comes up frequently on the High Court, that the President wants to have an understanding of how that nominee will bring his or her own moral bearings to a particular case.
So those are the questions he’s working through as he researches potential nominees. And I know that that work continues in earnest.
Q Has the Republican opposition to having any hearings concerning a nominee whatsoever made it harder for the President to find the right nominee? Have potential nominees pulled out of the running because they don’t want to put themselves through that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, I haven’t heard that. What I have heard is, you’re right, Republicans have offered a reflexive opposition to considering the President’s nominee, even though we haven’t even named one. As we’ve said, we find that unfortunate. I did note that Chairman Grassley I think over the past day or so has broken with Leader McConnell in saying that he would consider meeting with a nominee. We think that’s a good first step.
Q Looking beyond Mitt Romney’s speech today, how does the President see these anti-Trump initiatives in some corners of the Republican Party?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think you all have access to a lot smarter Republican strategists than the one you’re speaking to now. What I would say is that, for years, the Republican Party has created a vacuum in Washington by neglecting their own responsibilities to govern. And I’m happy to walk through a couple of examples of that.
If you look at the timely, today issue of the Affordable Care Act and health care in this country, that’s an issue that matters to hundreds of millions of Americans. The President went ahead and worked with members of Congress to put forward a plan. That plan passed the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. It was a complicated and hard process, but the President didn’t give up. And Republicans have spent the past seven years just trying to tear it up and offer no alternatives of their own.
If you look at the issue of gun safety, again, the President supports some common-sense measures we can take to reduce gun violence in this country. Republicans have thrown up their hands and opted to do nothing. If you look at the issue of immigration reform, the President worked with members of his party and Republicans in the United States Senate, worked to come up with a bipartisan plan. Republicans in the House rejected it, wouldn’t even bring it up for a vote.
So I know that Republicans are reckoning with their political prognosis today, but it also shouldn’t be a surprise to those who have observed this for the past few years that their lack of leadership in Washington has created the exact vacuum that outsiders have looked to fill.
Q How soon will we see a nominee? As soon as tomorrow maybe? And how do you plan to roll it out?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have an updated timetable for you. As you know, we’ve pointed to past precedent on this, and that has generally been four to five weeks. So I don’t have an updated timetable for you. I can tell you that the President continues to work on this. This is a very significant priority for him. So he’s spending a lot of time on this, as is his team.
Q -- sources said yesterday that an Iowa judge is one of the people being vetted. Is that a calculated move, given the importance of Senator Grassley to this process?
MR. SCHULTZ: Angela, if that’s an attempt to get me to speculate on potential nominees, I’m going to exercise some restraint and not take the bait.
As you point out, there are plenty of judges -- in fact, I believe most of Obama’s judges have engendered bipartisan support. These are judges that deserve and get support from Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate. I’d point you to the President’s prior two Supreme Court justices, Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan. Both earned confirmation with Republican and Democratic support. And I have no doubt that the nominee the President puts forward to fill Justice Scalia’s seat will deserve bipartisan support, as well.
12:05 P.M. EST