Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Orlando, FL, 6/16/2016
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Orlando, Florida
**Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.
11:50 A.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good morning, everyone. Welcome aboard Air Force One en route to Orlando. I actually don't have any announcements at the top, so I'm happy to go right to your questions.
Q Any additional details that you can share with us about what the President plans to do while he’s in Orlando today?
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, as you know, putting together the President’s public schedule has been challenging, but I think it's fair for you all to report that he and the Vice President will be able to meet with family members of those we lost over the weekend, some of the survivors who were there at the club over the weekend, and local law enforcement personnel to express his profound gratitude for their acts of heroism over the weekend.
I think the President believes that there’s no more tangible way to show support than by traveling to the city where this horrific incident occurred. He'll be standing with the citizens of Orlando during this difficult time, during this path to recovery. Make no mistake about it, this was a horrific attack, one filled with hate. The victims who were killed were enjoying a fun Saturday night out, singing and dancing, and suddenly they were taken from us. So the President understands the grief that family and friends feel is unthinkable right now. And even if you didn’t know anyone personally, this can still be a very painful time. And that's why the President and Vice President wanted to be there.
I think you’ll also have an opportunity to hear the President’s personal reflections on what he has observed over the course of the visit. I wouldn't expect an expansive speech or anything, but I do think he'll be able to express publicly that Americans stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Central Florida during this difficult time.
Q Eric, how does the President prepare for something like this?
MR. SCHULTZ: Roberta, it's a good question. And I think that, generally speaking, the President understands that part of his job is representing the American people. That's often most evident when we're traveling abroad, but it's also at times like these. And the President wants to make sure he pays tribute to those we lost, to express profound gratitude to the local law enforcement, and mostly, above all else, to show solidarity with the people of Orlando during this time.
Obviously each of the visits you're referencing are different. But the President’s goal is to remind Americans that, even in the wake of terrible tragedy, that we're stronger as a nation when we're unified, and the entire country in this instance is standing with the people of Orlando.
Q Eric, the President typically waits a few days before going to the scene of an event like this or to the city where an event like this happened. In this case, he’s going more quickly. Can you talk about why that is? And there are some logistical things about this trip that seem different from past ones. Is that because he’s trying not to stress out the state and local officials who have to host his visit, in addition to manage their incident?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Christi. We are working very closely with Mayor Dyer’s office of Orlando. The Mayor and his team have been instrumental in helping us plan this visit. Like you said, we don't want to do anything to overly tax local law enforcement, which is already strained in the wake of the attack from the weekend.
So the President -- in terms of the timing, the President wanted to send a very clear signal that in the wake of this horrific incident, the people of the United States of America stand with the people of Orlando, shoulder-to-shoulder and by their side. And there’s no more tangible way to do that than to show up in person.
Q Is Governor Scott going to be part of this? Is he meeting him at the --
MR. SCHULTZ: Margaret, my understanding is Governor Scott, along with the Mayor of Orlando and the Mayor of Orange County, will be greeting us at the tarmac.
Q So that's --
MR. SCHULTZ: On arrival.
Q Eric, I wanted to ask you about the President’s feelings about the 15 hours that Senator Murphy and his colleagues stood on the Senate floor. And specifically, the White House obviously has a robust Legislative Affairs office. Can you shed any light on the apparent deal between Senate Democratic and Republican leaders to hold a vote on these two pieces of stricter gun measures that Senator Murphy wants to see?
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, thank you for the question. We have been very clear on this, that if our homeland security officials determine you are too dangerous to fly on an airplane, we believe you should not be allowed to purchase a gun. That is our bottom line, and it's a position that has the virtue of common sense.
Unfortunately, Republicans, back in December, disagreed. They were united in blocking legislation that would have fixed this loophole. And at the same time, back in December, they were also united in blocking universal background checks. So we want this loophole closed. We also believe the assault weapons ban should be renewed. We also want universal background checks mandated by federal law. We also want to make sure that our federal law enforcement officials have the resources they need to be enforcing the laws on the books.
We often hear from Republicans that gun safety laws on the books are not being fully enforced. Well, we have a proposal that would fund 200 additional ATF agents to do just that. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have not moved at all to get that done.
So if there’s progress on these fronts, that will be a remarkably positive development. But the President is acutely aware of the political realities that we face. Maybe some of that has changed in the wake of the horrific attack this past weekend in Orlando. But heretofore, Republicans have carried the water for the NRA and blocked common-sense gun safety reforms. We hope that changes. And perhaps the effort led by Senate Democrats yesterday does change that. Maybe the lives of those afflicted and taken from us in Orlando over the weekend will change that.
But the President has also said that the politics of this issue have to change. And that's why he’s led by example. He has pledged to not campaign, support, or raise money for any candidate who doesn’t support common-sense gun safety reforms. And he believes that the more people who do that, the more people who follow his lead, the better chance we'll have of success in actually making our gun laws safer.
In terms of the actual legislative pieces that I think you've asked about, I know that things are moving in real time. I can tell you that when it comes to Senator Feinstein's amendment -- I believe that's 4720 -- this morning, the Department of Justice released a statement indicating that the Attorney General and the administration would support this measure. We believe this will make a substantive difference in keeping guns out of the hands of individuals believed to be engaged in terrorism. We believe this is a provision that gives the Justice Department important additional tools to prevent the sales of guns to suspected terrorists.
Q Do you know if the President watched any of the filibuster on the Senate floor?
MR. SCHULTZ: I know the President is aware of this and, again, appreciates anything Senate Democrats are doing to give visibility to an issue that he feels so strongly about.
Q May I ask you on a slightly different subject? There are reports from Middle Eastern news outlets about a meeting tomorrow. I'm wondering, could you confirm this for us -- the President to meet with the Saudi's Deputy Crown Prince?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, I can, Margaret. The visit of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is an extension of discussions the President had in Riyadh in April with King Salman and other GCC leaders. As you know, the Deputy Crown Prince met with Secretary Kerry on Monday evening and will have a meeting with Secretary Carter this afternoon at the Pentagon. He's also going to come to the White House this afternoon to meet with the National Economic Council at the White House. And then tomorrow afternoon *[morning], he'll be meeting with President Obama in the Oval Office.
We believe this visit serves to underscore the deep strategic partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Mostly, it's going to give us an opportunity to further discuss issues of mutual concern and cooperation, including the situations in Yemen and Syria, our campaign against ISIL, Saudi Arabia's national transformation program of reforming its economy -- so all of the issues that were discussed at the GCC Summit in April.
Q It might shock you that I have a 2016-related follow-up to this. But Secretary Clinton, earlier this week, said it was "long past time" for the Saudis and the Qataris and the Kuwaitis to stop allowing citizens to fund extremist groups and supporting mosques in schools that teach that sort of extremism ideology. Is this a sentiment that the President agrees with? And whether or not he agrees with it, is it anything that he would actually directly articulate in a meeting like this? Or is that not really the way diplomacy works? Can we expect that to come up?
MR. SCHULTZ: Margaret, I haven’t seen those comments, so I'm not going to be able to offer a reaction from here. But I can tell you that the bulk of the agenda tomorrow between the President and the Deputy Crown Prince are going to be about the issues I just mentioned, namely restoring some stability to the regional conflicts we've seen both in Yemen and in Syria, our cooperation with the Saudis in the campaign against ISIL, Saudi Arabia's own national transformation program for reforming its economy. That's actually a program that the Deputy Crown Prince himself announced.
So a lot of our economic officials this afternoon will be meeting with him about how to move that program forward and adopt best practices. I know that our Chairman of the Council, Zients -- Jeff Zients will be there. And Secretary Lew and Secretary Pritzker will also be in the meeting, as well as Secretary Moniz.
Q Is Susan Rice in tomorrow's meeting? And is Vice President Biden in tomorrow's meeting?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have a full manifest, Margaret, but I do know that we can provide a readout of that meeting after it happens. So hopefully we'll be in a better position to answer some of those questions about the meeting after the meeting.
Q If something comes up, will you let us know?
MR. SCHULTZ: Margaret, I'll do my best to get you as most detailed of a readout as possible.
Q Is anybody else -- any other government officials flying with the President today?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes. Senator Rubio is on the plane with us. Congresswoman Corinne Brown is on the plane with us. Senator Nelson is actually flying on the Vice President's plane with the Vice President down to Florida. So he'll be with us today as well.
Q Does the White House share any of the concerns that were raised by Director Comey of the FBI in the past, with the Hill, about some of these gun restrictions that have been proposed interfering with FBI terrorism investigations?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, you're right, Director Comey has articulated some very specific views on this, and we take all of that into account, as does the Attorney General when she issues a statement of support.
So I know there's different proposals sort of floating about on the Hill right now. As I mentioned, we're able to articulate specific support for the Feinstein amendment that I know is being debated. But our view is consistent with the Attorney General and Director Comey in that we -- there is limited bandwidth and we have to make sure our law enforcement officials are prioritizing the right threats. And that's why the President has so much confidence in Director Comey to do just that.
Q Is Senator Rubio going to meet with -- will the other lawmakers on board also be part of the family meetings that the President is having, or no, not so much?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t want to speak for Senator Rubio. I know that he's flying down there --
Q -- come back after you're done --
MR. SCHULTZ: If he's interested in speaking with all of you.
Q Is the President planning on speaking with Senator Rubio while they're in flight? Is he looking forward to speaking with him?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yeah, I anticipate them having a conversation.
Q Does he have any advice about Senator Rubio seeking reelection?
MR. SCHULTZ: I suspect the conversation between the President and Senator Rubio will be much more focused on the events of today and the aftermath of the tragedy of this weekend, and making sure that the people of Orlando understand the solidarity that this President wants to show even with someone who is at other times a political rival. But I think this is a moment where Democrats and Republicans can come together and show that, in the wake of a horrific attack, when one community is attacked in the United States of America, the United States of America stands together and united to help.
Q Eric, often when the President goes to memorials like this one, he speaks at a podium with lengthy, prepared remarks. This seems to be a different response. Can you talk about why something shorter and more quiet in nature is called for at this time?
MR. SCHULTZ: Christi, it's a fair question. I quibble with one aspect of it, which is although, as Roberta mentioned, the President has had to embark upon these trips with too much regularity, there's no playbook for how these trips come together. So I know that in some instances there are preexisting memorial services that the President is invited to join, and we accept that invitation. This is an instance where the President wanted to meet privately with the families that are grieving, with some of the survivors from the nightclub, and with local law enforcement and pay his respects. He wants to make sure that those families who are going through this unimaginable pain know that the President of the United States is there with them.
Q Do you have any idea how many people he might be meeting with today and how long that might go on?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have any numbers. Obviously, you will travel with him to the site, so you’ll be able to have a sense of the time duration. If I have a sense of the numbers, I’ll try and get that to you. And we should just acknowledged the reality that a lot of those conversations are going to be private. So for I think understandable and obvious reasons, those conversations will not be in front of the cameras.
Q Eric, is the President aware of the British lawmaker that was shot this morning? And do you have any information about that incident?
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, I don’t have any updates on that. I know that’s something we’ve been following, but I’d refer you to the British authorities on that.
Q Can we go back the Deputy Crown Prince for a minute?
MR. SCHULTZ: We can.
Q I’m wondering whether the President plans to speak with the Deputy Crown Prince about the pressure that the U.N. said the Kingdom placed upon it to remove the Kingdom from a blacklist over children that have been killed in Yemen.
MR. SCHULTZ: Roberta, I don’t know if that specific item is going to be on the agenda. I know that the situation in Yemen broadly, and Syria, will be a topic of discussion. I think that you’ve seen cooperation between the Saudis and the Americans on deescalating a lot of the conflicts in the region, so we’re going to continue those discussions. We’ve seen progress in some areas, but there’s a lot of work to be done. And so that’s why the President wants to have this conversation tomorrow.
Q And on the national economic plan, does the President feel that the plan to wean the Kingdom off oil as sort of its main economic driver is feasible?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think that’s going to be a large part of the conversation that our economic team is having this afternoon. I think that the Deputy Crown Prince had a conversation with Secretary Kerry earlier this week and is meeting with Secretary Carter today, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it came up in that meeting.
But obviously, helping Saudi Arabia through this is important. And the plan that they release is one that includes a lot of important economic reforms as well as diversifying their economy. And those are objectives that we think that our experts can be helpful with, and that’s why they’ll be meeting later this afternoon.
Q Just one more question. You said that there was a lot of politics going on around this, but his message will largely stay out of the fray, if you will, and will there be any -- will he be listening to the family members too about their concerns or their opinions about how to handle things like discrimination or against LGBT communities?
MR. SCHULTZ: You all have heard the President actually speak about this incident a number of times since it happened over the weekend. And I think it was late Sunday morning, early Sunday afternoon where the President went to the podium in the White House Briefing Room and talked about how this is an attack, it’s a terrorist attack, and it’s a hate-filled attack. And it’s one that targeted a community that has struggled for decades for equality.
And I think that is certainly front of mind for the President, so I would not be surprised if that comes up in conversations with the family. And I think that’s all the more reason why the President wanted to be in Orlando, to stand shoulder to shoulder with members of the LGBT community as they make their way through this.
This healing process is not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to be a quick one. It’s one that is difficult and challenging. But that’s all the more reason why the President wanted to be there in person.
Q Eric, has the White House settled on a date for the rescheduled first appearance with Clinton?
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, I don’t believe we have. As you know, that was a scheduled campaign appearance for Wednesday in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I know that the campaign and our Office of Political Strategy and Outreach are coordinating on different possible dates. Clearly, Secretary Clinton and the President have busy schedules, but I know that they are working in real time to get a new date back on the books.
Q Do you have a better sense today whether Donald Trump’s attempt to discuss gun control with the NRA is a sincere effort, or just political posturing?
MR. SCHULTZ: Dave, the last thing I would want to do is assess the sincerity of that effort. I think that our focus right now is on the United States Senate and if Republicans can muster the courage to stand up to the NRA. Heretofore, they have not. But possibly in the wake of this horrific attack in Orlando, or in the wake of the reality that there are 30,000 gun deaths in America each year, that over 20,000 children under 18 are killed by -- have been killed by firearms in the last decade, and over 500 law enforcement officials have been shot and killed by firearms in the last decade -- maybe those realities will finally sink into Republicans, and they will take and support some of the common steps -- common-sense gun safety legislation that the President has been championing for years.
Q Anything not related to the Orlando tragedy that the President will do? Any phone calls, any meetings while he’s in Florida?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t believe there’s anything on the President’s schedule, but if there’s anything like that that appears that we can read out, we will.
Q Thanks, Eric.
Q Oh, by the way, if you wouldn’t mind letting Senator Rubio know that we’d all love to see him that would be --
12:11 P.M. EDT