Press Briefing by the Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, 5/20/16
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:33 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon. I apologize for the delay. One quick announcement, and then we'll go ahead and move to your questions.
I wanted to let you all know that as of Sunday, it will have been 67 days since the President fulfilled his constitutional responsibility and presented the American people with an exceptional nominee for our nation’s highest court, Chief Judge Merrick Garland.
Since 1975, the average period of time from nomination by the President to confirmation by the United States Senate for a Supreme Court nominee has been 67 days. In that time, Chief Judge Garland has met with 58 senators, has sent a detailed questionnaire to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including over 2,200 pages of information. And today he stands ready to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on camera, under oath, to answer any questions those senators may have about his nomination to the highest court.
You may have seen last week, Senator McConnell said on the floor of the Senate that “we are going to give the Senate every opportunity to do the basic work of government this year.” He said the elections are not an excuse for people *not to do their work. And you know what, we couldn't agree more. We believe very strongly that the Senate ought to do its job and fulfill its constitutional duty to advise and consent on this nominee.
By nominating a highly qualified individual, someone with more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in history, the President has done his job, and Chief Judge Merrick Garland continues to do his. As of Sunday, it will be past time for Republicans to do theirs.
With that, Kathleen, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q I'm going to start with the EgyptAir crash. Do you have any update on U.S. assistance, and any update on who is responsible?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kathleen, as Josh mentioned yesterday, our thoughts and prayers of everyone here at the White House are with the families of those who were onboard Egypt Flight 804. Obviously the uncertainty and impending sense of loss that the loved ones of those who were on that plane must be experiencing is unthinkable for us here.
The President continues to receive updates on this. He was first informed yesterday morning by his Homeland Security Advisor and Counterterrorism Advisor, Lisa Monaco. He was updated throughout the day yesterday on this. And then, this morning, as you saw, the President received his Presidential Daily Briefing.
Without violating the confidences of that briefing, I think it's a safe bet to say that this topic came up.
I can tell you that the President has directed his staff to make sure that administration officials are reaching out to their counterparts in both Egypt and France, and to stand up resources should they be requested. Already, the Navy has sent a P-3 Orion aircraft. That aircraft is above the Mediterranean right now, assisting in the search.
Q And do you have any new information on who you think -- whether or not it was a terrorist attack?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, for us, it's too early to definitively say what may have caused this. We continue to pursue all potential factors that have contributed. Obviously the Egyptian authorities are in the lead here, but we stand ready to assist in any way we can.
Q Okay. I also wanted to move on to the Russian defense minister’s claim that -- is proposing joint airstrikes with Russia against al-Nusra. Are those negotiations or discussions going on with the U.S. --
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Kathleen, as you know, this is not the first time Russia has proposed enhancing their military cooperation with the United States. Right now, that cooperation is basically in de-confliction talks through a very specific channel at the Department of Defense, based on both countries’ activities in Syria. But we believe that if Russia wants to do something to take on al-Nusra and ISIL, the first thing on their to-do list is to make sure that the Assad regime is abiding by the Cessation of Hostilities in Syria. Clearly, the turmoil and chaos there is what provides a fertile breeding ground for ISIL to conduct its operations.
So our goal is for Russia to urge its patron, Assad, to abide by the Cessation of Hostilities. But we're not going to comment on any further steps at this point.
Q That's not something -- you're not ruling out the possibility that you would conduct joint strikes?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, we have two priorities. One is to make sure that the United States -- Counter-ISIL Coalition is doing everything we can to apply maximum pressure against the threat posed by ISIL. Second, when it comes to Russia’s involvement, they have an opportunity to help provide a political solution in Syria. That is a political solution -- it's going to be the only resolution to the crisis in Syria as we know it. And in order to get to that political solution there needs to be much more stability on the ground. That stability on the ground can only be achieved if the Assad regime abides by the cessation of hostilities.
One of the main levers on the Assad regime is Russia. And so if they want to play a role in increasing pressure against Nusra and against ISIL, that's how to do it.
Q Thanks. One last one on the President’s upcoming trip. Do you know if he plans to, or the White House plans to announce any additional assistance to Vietnam with regard to Agent Orange or exploded mines, landmines?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kathleen, I think as you know, the President is very excited for this trip. We leave tomorrow afternoon. We have a whole lot on the agenda. We'll be spending three days in Vietnam. This is the first-ever trip of its kind. As you know, President Clinton visited Vietnam to announce normalization of relations. President Bush went to Vietnam for an international forum. But President Obama will be spending three days on the ground to deepen and strengthen our partnership with that country. We'll be focusing on expanding economic cooperation, security cooperation. We'll be focused on people-to--people engagement.
As you know, Vietnam has a rapidly expanding middle class, and for us, that's important for a couple of different reasons. But at the top of the list is that provides a marketplace for U.S. goods and services. So the President is going to use this as an opportunity to advance U.S. interests abroad, including our economic interests. That’s why the President worked so hard to gain agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That’s why he is pushing that so hard domestically as well.
So I believe we will have a few more announcements along the road over the next week. And those of you who are joining us, we’ll keep you updated.
Q Eric, following up on the Russia question, do you or does the White House have any sense of the motivation behind Russia’s proposal?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t. I’m not going to sit here and speculate on what our counterparts in Russia are saying. I think that you’ve seen Russia show an eagerness to cooperate with us militarily. This is not something that’s new. But for us, again, we principally keep in a very specific lane about de-conflicting our activities within Syria, and we don’t have any new plans to change that.
Again, our view is that if they want to do something about ISIL and Nusra, which is their stated goal, then the best thing they can do is help provide for a stable Iraq -- a stable Syria, and make sure that Assad abides by the cessation of hostilities.
Q Speaking of Iraq, is there* a reaction to the violence in the Green Zone today?
MR. SCHULTZ: We have seen those reports, and clearly our first priority is the safety and security of our personnel on the ground there. We are in close contact with the Iraqis regarding the current situation, and we are standing by to support them as necessary. Obviously, the situation is dynamic and evolving. I was briefed just minutes ago before coming out here. So the Iraqi government will have the latest information, but we’re going to stay in touch with them and monitor it closely.
Q And lastly, Donald Trump today said that Prime Minister Cameron had invited him for a visit. Number 10 Downing Street said maybe not so fast, although they also said it was standard for the Prime Minister to meet with the candidates of both parties. Any reaction to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t. Obviously, the President was just in London with some of you. We had a great visit there. The partnership between the United Kingdom and the United States is one that’s special and unique. We deeply value our relationship. The President had a great visit with Prime Minister Cameron.
If I was feeling looser, I’d recall a 2012 visit by a different Republican presidential candidate, but I don’t do that right now.
Q Shows remarkable restraint. (Laughter.) You say that the United States government stands ready to assist, which sounds like the posture we were in yesterday. Has Egypt requested assistance? Have they accepted it?
MR. SCHULTZ: So I don’t have specific conversations to read out to you. Typically these are conversations and discussions that happen with my colleagues at the Department of Defense and Department of State, and, to the extent appropriate, Department of Homeland Security. So I can tell you that the Navy has already deployed an Orion P-3 aircraft. That plane is over the Mediterranean right now, assisting in the investigation. And if there are other assets that are deployed, we’ll let you know.
Q But the government hasn’t asked for it yet?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I don’t want to read out private conversations, but we stand ready to assist. And that’s a directive directly from the President.
Q Egypt is sending the message that this crash was not their fault because the plane originated in Paris. The last time -- we had Metrojet -- the focus I think was on Egypt, and they were reluctant to say that they had a little bit of culpability in it. Do you buy the Egypt argument that they’re not responsible because this plane originated in Paris?
MR. SCHULTZ: I understand the inclination to sort of speculate. I think our first priority is helping the authorities find a plane. And so until that happens, it’s going to be hard for us to reach any definitive conclusion on what happened. So I’m going to reserve judgment.
Q Just a couple other questions. General Dunford has been quoted as predicting a “long mission to Libya in the fight against ISIS.” Can you give us some idea of what that mission might look like?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can. Joe, as you know, this administration is focused on supporting the Government of National Accord in Tripoli as it strives to restore stability and security to Libya and to serve the Libyan people. We commend the Prime Minister there and the leadership of the new government for taking steps in the process of restoring a unified governance to that country.
The United States -- and I think this goes to your question -- would welcome a request from the Libyan government to strengthen the capabilities of the presidential guard there, embedded forces supporting and aligned with the Government of National Accord.
We will work with members of the international community on such a request. And, as General Dunford indicated today, it is possible that NATO could have a supportive role to help build Libyan capacity to provide security and combat ISIL. Clearly, that’s a goal shared by the Prime Minister there, by the government there, and that’s something we stand ready to assist with.
Q Are we talking about a lead role here?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think obviously combatting the threat posed by ISIL is something that the United States has led on throughout the world. We’ve assembled a coalition of countries around the world. And so the President has asserted that this is a priority for us. So we’re happy to entertain a request from the Libyan government, but I don’t know if it’s gotten to that level of detail yet.
Q And last question. The President is going to be promoting TPP in Asia. When you think about it, Sanders, Clinton, even Trump have also been opposed to TPP. What’s the calculation over here as far as the likelihood of it getting anywhere, given the fact that all three of the presidential candidates appear to be opposed?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, only one of them has a vote in Congress right now. And we continue to work with our partners in Congress and the leadership in both the House and the Senate, and we believe that this is something that should pass because it’s good for American workers.
As I mentioned, Vietnam has a rapidly growing middle class. We want to make sure that American goods and services and American companies can service that middle class with the products made in the U.S. of A. So we believe that this is a good deal for America’s workers. We also believe that it -- well, we know, because it's in the text, that it will reduce tariffs for American exports.
It's important that American exports are able to get into those markets. And above all else, if we don't set the rules of the road in the economies in this region, China is going to. So we believe that it's in American interest for TPP to pass. We believe that there’s a reason that Trade Promotion Authority passed the House and the Senate with bipartisan support. And we're going to continue to push for that.
I'll just give you a few more statistics in case it's helpful. In Vietnam, currently U.S. auto exports face a 70 percent tariff. Construction equipment faces tariffs as high as 59 percent. And auto parts face a 32 percent tariff. In Japan, currently U.S. beef exports face tariffs of nearly 40 percent, and leather footwear faces tariffs of up to 189 percent.
So we believe this is a deal that represents not only the future of the interconnected global economy but also a potential for American goods and services to be sold and purchased around the world.
Q Eric, this week, after approving a defense bill that would allow federal contractors to discriminate against LGBT workers, the House yesterday defeated an amendment from Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney that would have voided that language. At first it looked as though the amendment would have passed, but then seven House Republicans changed their votes and the amendment failed 213-212. Does the White House think House leadership strong-armed those seven lawmakers to change their votes?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw that episode yesterday, Chris, and I read the reports afterwards. As you know, earlier this week we put out a very detailed Statement of Administration Policy explaining our objections to this piece of legislation. I'm happy to walk you through a few of them now. But the broadest way to put this is that this bill inserts obstacles in the way of our Defense Department trying to modernize our military forces. We often hear Republican rhetoric, especially on the campaign trail, talking about how our military has been eviscerated. And what's going to eviscerate them is if the Defense Department doesn’t have the resources and equipment and capabilities they need to modernize and make sure that we have the military needed to face down 21st century threats.
This bill also includes what we've called a funding gimmick called the Overseas Contingency Operation. This is something Secretary Carter himself has called "gambling with war-fighting money" at a time of war. We think that's an illegitimate way to fund our government, and does a disservice to our troops.
Second, this is a piece of legislation that restricts our ability to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. That is a facility that Democrats and Republicans purportedly share the goal of closing for a whole host of reasons -- namely, it's a recruiting tool for those who wish to do us harm. We've seen the prison at Guantanamo Bay repeatedly used in propaganda materials from terrorist organizations. We also know the prison at Guantanamo Bay is exorbitantly expensive. It costs about $445 million a year to operate. We can do this -- we can keep our country secure in a much more fiscally responsible way.
And the least reason is it's inconsistent with our values. This is something that this President has spoken out on for many years now, and it's also something that, again, Democrats and Republicans have echoed as well.
And as you point out, one of the other objectionable pieces of this legislation is that it would make it easier to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. That has nothing to do with our national defense. I can't for the life of me figure out why Republicans would want to insert an ideological rider into a defense bill, let alone one that is mean-spirited like that.
So I did see what happened on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday. I know that the measure by Congressman Maloney was on track to pass and then it failed. We believe that overriding the President's work to make sure that defense contractors don't discriminate based on sexual orientation -- trying to override that is misguided and ill-advised. It's also mean-spirited. It's also inconsistent with American values of equality and tolerance.
Q But do you believe that House leadership instigated the spectacle that took place on the House floor yesterday?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can't speak to the machinations of the House floor yesterday.
Q Thanks, Eric. On Zika funding, the President was fairly critical just now, or this morning, of both the House and the Senate bill as not being enough. I guess do you have a veto threat to give us today?
MR. SCHULTZ: I came out here just with a ballpoint pen. (Laughter.)
Look, as we have said, we believe -- we have issued a veto threat on the House bill. We believe that's woefully inadequate. It not only underfunds this urgent priority dramatically, but it also, as we say, robs Peter to pay Paul. It takes away crucial funding from our fight against Ebola -- a fight and an effort that you all remember vividly -- because I do, sitting in that chair, as you all asked questions -- you all asked very legitimate questions about what we were doing to combat it.
So we believe we shouldn't take our eye off that ball just because a new public health threat is emerging. We can do both. And there are U.S. government personnel on the ground in Africa, still working on that, very earnestly, and there is now a new threat that we should be combatting at the same time.
As you know, the President asked three months ago, now, for $1.9 billion for Congress to allocate that. The House has fallen woefully short. The Senate made a little bit more progress. It's not often that we invoke the junior Senator from Florida, who recently ran for President, but he put it better than I could. He said, admittedly, this is a request that comes from the President, but it's grounded in reality from our public health officials.
So we believe that if members of Congress want to make decisions on the merits, they should look at the facts and they should look at science. They have a week left before they take another week-long recess. They should get to work and fund this request. There's no reason for delay.
Q I hear you and the White House has sent that message many times before. So would the President veto $1.1 billion Senate bill as not being enough?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Cheryl, obviously that is short of what the President's request is. And the President didn't just pick a number out of the air -- the President sent up a detailed package -- again, not just a press release, not just a letter, not just a set of talking points, but a detailed analysis grounded in facts and the latest information from our public health officials, laying out this request.
And this isn't something that can be subject to partisan bickering, and it shouldn't be something where Congress just passes the buck. We're talking about the health and public safety of pregnant women and children. And Congress need to get a bill to the President's desk for a signature as soon as possible.
Q You didn't answer her question.
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, the Senate bill is something that falls short of the President's funding request. They made more progress in the Senate than they did in the House. I'll remind you that the Senate bill is bipartisan.
Q Would he veto it?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, the Senate bill is more progress -- allocated more funding, doesn't rob Peter to pay Paul, so we're more encouraged by what the Senate did. But there's a long way to go, because clearly the House and the Senate are in vastly different places. I would also note that the junior Senator from Florida felt strongly that the $1.9 billion should be fully funded, so I'm curious why the House members who represent that great state, the "Sunshine State," aren't also in sync with their Senate leadership, their Senate colleagues, because it seems like if I was a member of Congress from Florida, then I would be doing everything I could to make sure that my constituents are protected from this.
Q A few different subjects, but just staying with Zika funding for the moment. I guess a simple way to ask this question is, why is there no veto threat against the Senate measure?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, we should be clear here that the Senate passed a bill that's $1.1 billion. That is quite a bit short of the $1.9 billion that our public health professionals tell us we need. So we believe it's a step in the right direction. We are encouraged by bipartisan support on that front. It's rare in Washington these days we get bipartisan support, so we are encouraged by the steps they took. But we still continue to urge Congress to fund the President's request. We feel like anything short of that will be insufficient.
And I am happy to walk you through some of the actions that we could be taking as soon as that money is allocated. For example, without the funding, vaccine development is getting delayed, diagnostic testing is getting delayed, funding for mosquito control could slow or even halt, and states don't have the funding they need to fight Zika. This is a request that comes from governors, James, and that is why we want to make sure that those states are getting the resources they need to combat this.
I'll say one more thing -- that we know that at some point there's going to be a media -- let's say a heightened level of interest in this and what is the federal government doing to respond. And when that day comes, I want you to remember the preceding three months of Congress’s inaction on this.
Q So, to that point, listening to the President this morning, there seemed to be kind of a passivity in the sense that he was saying Congress needs to get something to my desk. And he was urging members of the public to contact their lawmakers to exert that kind of pressure on them for that purpose. But I just wonder, where is the President's own outreach on this? Why isn’t he bringing people into the Oval Office for serious conference sessions with himself? And if it's so urgent, why isn’t he finding $1.9 billion somewhere within his discretionary funds in order to meet this emergency?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'll take the last part of your question, first, which is the President was able to retrieve some funds that had been previously allocated to fight Ebola. We maxed out on that. We scraped the bottom of the barrel. So that money has been reallocated to fight Zika, but we can't take any more of those funds without endangering our effort to combat Ebola.
To the first part of your question, I would just point you to this February 22nd proposal that we sent to Congress, outlining our plan. This wasn’t a haphazard package that we put together in a few minutes or a few hours. This was a detailed proposal. It includes guidance from the Office of Management and Budget. It also includes guidance from our public health officials at the CDC and NIH, and goes into detail about why we need these funds.
Q But why isn’t he working Congress in the manner of a Lyndon Johnson? Why isn’t he getting people in the Oval Office, saying, you're not going anywhere until we have this money for what he himself called an emergency back in February?
MR. SCHULTZ: I wouldn’t stipulate to those facts. I can tell you that we don’t always read out every conversation the President has, but I can assure you there is not a member of Congress who is not aware of the request that we have before them. And I can also tell you that White House officials continue to remain engaged with members of Congress to get this done.
Q Very quickly -- the Green Zone issue raised earlier -- should the fact of this violence in that particular area lead people to conclude the central government in Iraq is in very serious trouble?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm not sure that's the conclusion that we would draw. Our conclusion is that Iraq does need a stable and functional government, and we need that for a couple of different reasons. First and foremost is, only with a functional government can we have active partners on the ground to pursue the fight against ISIL. So our first priority is making sure that Prime Minister Abadi has a functional government. Sometimes that's going to include dissent and peaceful protests. But as I talked about, this situation is dynamic and ongoing, so we're going to continue to monitor it closely. But we stand ready to provide any support and assistance we can.
Q Last question. In advance of the President's trip to Vietnam -- Mr. Obama was, if my math is correct, 14 at the time of the United States' final withdrawal from Saigon. And I just wonder if you could speak, to the extent possible for you, how the Vietnam War and the post-Vietnam period shaped this President's view of America and the world.
MR. SCHULTZ: James, I think that's a very good question, and I think you're going to hear the President talk about that over the next couple of days, so I don’t want to get ahead of him. I will say the President is very much focused on this trip. This is one that has been in the works for a while and it's a trip that he wanted to make. He felt very strongly about this. And we're spending three days -- we're spending three days on the ground. That's a lot for one country, normally, on these trips.
The President is not only looking forward to speaking with the leadership in Vietnam and government leaders, but he's also going to be speaking with young people. He's going to have a town hall where he takes questions from young people. He's going to meet with business leaders and civic leaders. And he's going to talk about how far we've come since those days in the decades since the time you mentioned to now, and how far our relationship has come.
As I mentioned, it was President Clinton who decided to begin the normalization process with Vietnam. Since then, Presidents of both parties have worked to deepen that relationship. But the President sees this as a pivotal opportunity to expand that partnership, expand collaboration on security and economic cooperation.
And I want to be clear that he's also going to make a push for human rights. Vietnam has made some progress on this front, but they have a long way to go. So I'd expect the President to speak about that not only in his public remarks but also in private when he meets with the leadership.
Q But in your own time around this President, has that been something that you've been able to observe, this idea that he was very much shaped by the post-Vietnam experience in some ways?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of how the President is going to talk about this. I believe he wrote some about this in his book, and so I'd refer you that. But I also think this was a consequential time for the President, but it was a consequential time for the United States of America. And this will harken back to a very emotional time for the United States and a time where our leaders were tested and tried and challenged. And I think the President is going to -- that will all be included in the President's reflections over the next few days. And I want to make sure you know that Secretary Kerry, who obviously has his own unique story, will be joining us in Vietnam for those three days. So we look forward to hearing from him as well.
Q Eric, do you know if the update that President Obama got on the Zika virus, whether it included discussion of the risks to U.S. athletes planning on going to the Summer Games in Brazil?
MR. SCHULTZ: Mark, I don’t know if the discussion this morning included that piece. I can tell you the President was updated on both where things stand and sort of the status of what we know from our latest public health information, but also the latest on our response to this effort. As I mentioned, we were able to allocate some funds from the Ebola effort to this, but we're also being stymied because Congress refuses to act for ways that escape my comprehension.
Q And yesterday, the U.S. swimming team announced it was moving its training camp from Puerto Rico to Atlanta because of the Zika virus. Is that something that came up in the briefing?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I don’t know if the Olympics came up. I understand the interest in this, but as we have said, we defer to people's personal decisions made with their doctors.
Q Does the White House have confidence that the Egyptians can handle this -- taking the lead in the recovery effort with the plane and the investigation?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Karen, as we've said, the Egyptians are in the lead on this. We stand ready to support. I know they're working closely with our French counterparts. And so we want to make sure that that investigation is as comprehensive and as fast as possible. So that's why the President directed his team to make resources available. But I don’t know have updates for you on the sort of status of that investigation.
Q Would the White House rather see France take the lead on this?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven’t heard that determination made. Obviously, the Egyptian authorities right now are in the lead of this investigation, and we want it to proceed without delay.
Q Two more. I think you had said yesterday -- Josh had said there hadn’t been conversations yet with the Presidents of Egypt and France. Is there any update on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have any new calls to read out to you, but if that were to happen, we'll let you know.
Q And one more quick one. The TSA Administrator said today -- he alluded that there could be potential changes coming to the TSA, that there might even be an increase in staff or increase in funding to handle any changes that would be made in the wake of this plane incident. Is the TSA prepared with staffing and funding? And what did he mean? What would that look like?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, it was the TSA Administrator, so you should check in with the TSA. They're best prepared to sort of answer the details of their operational decisions. I can tell you that, last week, Secretary Johnson, our Secretary of Homeland Security -- which TSA is a component of -- directed TSA to take several steps to address the long security lines. And so we are always making sure that we're constantly balancing to make sure that people's air travel remains unfettered while keeping them safe. So you should check in with them on that.
Obviously, our first priority is making sure that people are safe. TSA must continue its rigorous security screenings and we're not going to lower our standards for the sake of convenience.
Q Can I follow up on Mark's questions? More generally, was there -- I don’t know if you were in the room, but was there discussion in there of people restricting their travel to certain areas, generally?
MR. SCHULTZ: Chip, I was not in the room. I know the President spoke at the bottom of the meeting, so I'm not sure we're going to have any more of an expanded readout on that. Those travel warnings are typically issued by the CDC, so if they have any updates on what they're advising the American people, you might want to check with them.
But our belief is that federal, state and local partners should be working together to limit the impact of this virus. But right now they don't have the resources they need, and that's a real shame. And that's why the President is going to continue to make the public case that Congress should pass this bill. And it's also why White House officials remain engaged with members of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate so that Congress can get its act together and get this bill to the President’s desk.
Q I asked Josh yesterday about Puerto Rico and the bill that just passed, and specifically the minimum wage requirement in the bill that would allow a reduction in the minimum wage in Puerto Rico. To sort of follow up on that, why did the White House not fight harder to not have that be a part of the final package? Especially since the White House made such a big deal out of increasing the minimum wage, why not fight harder on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Just want to take it -- I don't think the bill passed. I think it was just introduced, right? So we actually believe that, given that it hasn’t passed -- I don't even think it's passed committee yet -- we believe there is still time for those provisions to come out and we would strongly urge members of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate to do just that.
Again, Josh laid out the scenario yesterday of the 18- or 19-year-old Puerto Rican making minimum wage. It doesn’t seem to make much sense that, A, they bear the brunt of poor fiscal decisions that were made by people they don't even know. And it also doesn’t make a lot of sense that if we're trying to grow the economy and stabilize the economy in Puerto Rico that they can't even make a livable wage.
So we do believe those provisions are misguided. We are disappointed the bill includes those unhelpful measures. I will say they’re better than the original proposal, which I believe they’re now temporary. But we ultimately believe they should come out.
Q Does this run the risk if this overall package is successful in sort of turning around and helping the Puerto Ricans get out of their economic troubles that people who say that the minimum wage should not be raised will have a new piece of evidence, pointing at Puerto Rico saying we reduced the minimum wage there and it worked, and we could do that in the case of the entire nation?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, let’s just separate out those two issues. First, on Puerto Rico, we absolutely would have preferred a bill without the minimum wage and the overtime protections that you mentioned, but we do believe this is a bill that both Democrats and Republicans can support. This is not a bailout. We're encouraged to see the House introduce this legislation that ultimately provides Puerto Rico with the tools they need to address the crisis, harming 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico.
The administration made clear I believe almost a year ago that any legislation to address the crisis in Puerto Rico must provide a workable and comprehensive restructuring authority with appropriate oversight that respects Puerto Rico’s self-governance. And we also said at the time that only bipartisan congressional action can end this crisis. So that's why we urged members to stand firm against the special interests attempting to undermine this essential legislation and act without delay.
In terms of the issue of the minimum wage across this country, clearly the American workers need and deserve a raise. We've talked frequently about how to give American workers more money in their pocket, earn a livable wage and earn a wage that is commensurate with what they’re working. The President announced recently new rules to make sure that Americans were paid fairly for the work they were putting in.
But there is probably nothing else on the table that would have more of an impact than if Congress were to raise the minimum wage. This would help middle-class families around the country. The President believes -- and I think his record for the past seven or eight years affirms -- that when we grow the economy from the middle class out, everyone wins. Raising the minimum wage is not just something that we believe, but I believe we're up to about 17 or 18 different states that have taken action on their own, and we've seen private companies take action on their own. They believe -- those companies -- and you should check with them -- have said that when they pay their workers a better wage then that increases productivity in their own bottom lines.
So we don't really understand why Congress is so dug in on this, why Congress doesn’t want to lift wages for American workers. So you should ask them what their rationale is. But we we're going to continue to press hard and do everything we can, even while Congress is dug in. And that's why I think you’ve seen a number of states push this with our support and a number of private companies. And cities, too, actually.
Q On the Nigerian schoolgirls, the Nigerian government just announced that they have conducted an operation that rescued several women, including a second one of the Nigerian schoolgirls, in the last week. Was the U.S. involved at all in the operation? And do you have any reaction to it?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can tell you that we are aware of the reports and we do await official confirmation from the Nigerian government. Unfortunately, Boko Haram’s impact goes well beyond the Chibok girls. We are equally concerned about the thousands of other kidnapping victims of Boko Haram and the more than 2 million who have been forced to flee their homes.
The United States supports the Nigerian efforts to bring about the safe recovery of all of those kidnapped, and we call for all hostages held by Boko Haram to be immediately released without preconditions.
In terms of the United States’ role, we are a strategic partner with Nigeria and we continue to work closely on all security matters. And we offered our assistance and resources to bring about the safe recovery of all of those kidnapped by Boko Haram.
Q Thank you. Two questions. One, President said that if you harm the U.S. sooner or later you will regret it. And he was referring to Osama bin Laden’s after five years. Now, has anything changed in the last five years after the President got Osama bin Laden? And those who were protecting him and keeping him for the last 10 years -- have they brought to justice, or anything changed between the U.S. and the 10 years in that country and five years --
MR. SCHULTZ: Goyal, I think what the President was talking about was terrorists who either aim to do us harm or who commit acts of violence or terrorism against us. And you're right, the President has a strong record that if you commit an act of violence or terrorism against us, we will stop at nothing to find you. Osama bin Laden is one example, but I believe the Defense Department briefed yesterday the latest in our fight against ISIL, and I believe the Defense Department laid out that over 120 mid-to-high-value leaders of that organization have been taken off the battlefield. So I think that’s what the President had in mind.
Q Mr. Fareed Zakaria also, CNN, in his show, he said that -- why do they hate us? If the President had been ever asked this, why they hate us. It means he was -- harming the U.S. but they still hate the U.S. Why?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I did not see Mr. Zakaria’s show. I try and catch that when I can, but I must have missed that particular segment. I believe that the President has worked hard to build relationships around the world. That was a priority for him over the past seven, eight years.
And look at this trip. We’re going to go to Vietnam. It’s the first-ever trip of its kind -- where the President is going to spend three days on the ground, both meeting with the government, the leaders of that country, but also with young people, with entrepreneurs, with business leaders in order to deepen the ties between the two countries. And then he’s going to travel to Japan.
Both of those countries we have a difficult past with, but if you look at the preceding decades, we’ve built strong relationships. Japan is now one of our closest allies in that region. We do a whole lot of business with them, both in military cooperation, maritime security, economic cooperation.
And so the President is absolutely looking forward to deepening those relationships. Those are the fundamental goals of this trip, alongside advancing U.S. national security interests.
Q Fareed Zakaria was talking about ISIL and terrorists and why they hate the U.S., why they hate --
MR. SCHULTZ: You’ll have to ask them why they say what they do.
Q And if I may, quickly, as far as Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the White House is concerned, Indian American community and the Congress both are waiting for an address to the Congress. Anything new from the White House as far as the visit is concerned?
MR. SCHULTZ: No. As you saw, this morning we were pleased to announce that Prime Minister Modi of India will visit the White House on Tuesday, June 7. This is going to be a visit that highlights the deepening of the U.S.-India relationship in key areas since the President’s visit to New Delhi in January of 2015. The President looks forward to discussing progress made on climate change, on our clean energy partnership, on security and defense cooperation, and, of course, our economic growth proposals -- priorities.
So I think we’ll have more to talk about on that visit in the coming weeks. But the President is absolutely looking forward to this visit.
Q Is this a state visit?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t believe so, no.
John, do you have a question?
Q Back on Zika. I want to try this a different way. Given the bipartisan support for the Senate bill, would the President sign something -- would he sign the Senate bill or something very similar?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, we sent up a proposal about three months ago, February 22nd -- so in two days it will be -- maybe that’s the anniversary for both the 67 days, which is the average time that a Supreme Court justice should be confirmed and the anniversary of our proposal to fund Zika.
Q -- for numerology. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: It will be a busy day for journalists trying to mark where we are.
So the President sent that up on February 22nd. That’s not a proposal that we sort of put together haphazardly. That was a proposal based on guidance from our public health officials in terms of making sure the government had the resources they need. We didn’t insert a lot of wiggle room in that proposal. We actually laid out in very detailed ways what that money would be used for.
So I know that the Senate made a lot more progress than the House did. It’s unclear how those two packages would be reconciled if even that’s their plan. But I think that’s why you heard the President call on Congress to work together, both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate, in order to get this done.
I don’t know why this became a partisan issue. As, again, the junior Senator from Florida has said, this is an issue of public health. And we believe Senator Rubio’s House colleagues should follow suit.
Q And on Hiroshima, it’s pretty clear there’s no apology coming. But would the President express something like remorse or something similar?
MR. SCHULTZ: John, the President is not going to revisit the decision to bomb Hiroshima. What he will do is he will lay a wreath at the Peace Memorial. He’s going to briefly tour the memorial grounds and deliver brief remarks reflecting on his impressions there. He’ll be joined by Prime Minister Abe. And I do expect him to recognize the human toll of war, the special responsibility that the United States carries as the only country in the world to use a nuclear weapon. And of course, he will reaffirm the United States’ commitment to working towards a world with no nuclear weapons.
Q You say there’s no wiggle room -- what the President sent up on February 22nd was a multi-year, no-year appropriation with broad transferability. And if you look at the history of how Congress actually approves these emergency supplementals, they almost always put a year appropriation on them. So my question to you is, what number does this administration need in fiscal year 2016 for Zika funding?
MR. SCHULTZ: That number is $1.9 billion. And let me -- thank you for the opportunity to address this. What I meant by wiggle room is that number, the proposal that we developed wasn't done willy-nilly. It was done based on the advice and guidance of our public health professionals. And so that is the number that they have determined is what is needed to fight this possible threat.
Q Okay, so if you need $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2016, are you going to come back with another request for an appropriation in 2017? 2018?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think first steps first, right? Congress can't even get this done. So our belief is -- and I appreciate you going back to look at the history here because what the House of Representatives has done is tried to find offsets, which we believe is misguided, which is inconsistent with how these requests have been allocated in the past. So we do want Congress to look at history. They rose to the occasion on Ebola and they actually allocated a sufficient amount of money in order for the United States government to do its job to combat this threat. And now we're looking for the same thing on this.
Q So $1.9 billion or bust?
MR. SCHULTZ: Our request has been $1.9 billion, and we hope that's fulfilled with some urgency.
Q One of the criticism that Republicans have leveled against that $1.9 billion request is that there are long-term projects included in it, like new construction. How is that part of the emergency funding that the President speaks to with such urgency? I guess to follow up, the $1.1 billion is not a number that Republicans say they came up with haphazardly.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, you'll have to ask them why -- what they see is the foundation for their numbers.
Q Like I said, it takes out things that aren't emergency, like new construction.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I urge you to take a look at our proposal because what we do is we detail exactly what these funds would be used. And what I can do for you is lay out exactly what's not happening because Congress hasn't done its job. And let me just walk you through a few examples.
By Congress stymying this request, they have delayed the development of vaccines. We're asked frequently in this room what the status of that development is. Unfortunately, we are unable to accelerate that because of Congress not doing its job. Diagnostics tests to make sure that manufacturers can develop faster and more accurate tests are needed to ensure sort of a frontline diagnostics and expand laboratory capacity -- that's not getting done because Congress isn't doing its job. Funding for mosquito control has slowed and even halted in some areas. We have states and partners on the ground that are starting to do mosquito surveillance control activities, but they need funding. That stuff doesn't pay for itself.
And so, again, I cannot for the life of me figure out why Congress wants to pass the buck on this instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing their job.
Thanks. I will do the week ahead, and then Mark can get started on his weekend. (Laughter.) New spokesman, same joke.
I know we've already laid out the schedule so I might have to hunt -- oh, I think I have it.
Great. Go as you know, the President will depart Sunday afternoon -- I'm sorry, Saturday afternoon, and Monday morning arrive in Hanoi, Vietnam. While in Hanoi, the President will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Quang. Following this meeting, the President will meet with the Chairwoman of the National Assembly. And afterwards, the President will participate in a press conference with the President, and attend the state luncheon.
Later in the afternoon, the President will participate in a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Vietnam. In the evening, the President will participate in a bilateral meeting with General Secretary of the Community Party of Vietnam.
On Tuesday, the President will meet with embassy personnel and families. Later in the morning, the President will meet with members of civil society -- that's something that the President likes to do in these countries. In the afternoon, the President will deliver remarks on U.S.-Vietnam relations, where I think he'll reflect on a lot of the themes we spoke of here today.
The President will then travel to Ho Chi Minh City. He will tour the Jade Pagoda, and following his visit, he'll make remarks.
On Wednesday, the President will meet with U.S. consulate staff and family members, and then the President will participate in a town hall with young people in Ho Chi Minh City. In the afternoon, the President will depart Vietnam en route to Japan.
On Thursday, he'll make a cultural stop, and then in the afternoon, he'll attend meetings at the G7 Summit.
On Friday, the President will attend G7 meetings on energy, climate -- in particular the implementation of the Paris agreement -- and the prosperity of Asia and the United States.
In the afternoon, the President will depart en route to Hiroshima. While in Hiroshima, the President, as we discussed, will deliver remarks, and participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The President will also meet with servicemembers. And in the evening, the President will depart for Washington, D.C.
With that, have a great weekend.
2:25 P.M. EDT