Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route San Francisco, CA, 6/23/2016
Aboard Air Force One
En Route San Francisco, California
3:33 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Welcome aboard Air Force One, everybody, en route to Silicon Valley, where the President will lead the U.S. delegation to the 7th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit. This summit was born out of the President's 2009 Cairo speech and has become an annual event in connecting entrepreneurs, investors, and ecosystem supporters from across the world.
GES is a reflection of our commitment to build more prosperous, secure, and globally connected communities around the world. As you know, good ideas come from everywhere. However, access to capital and opportunity is not the same everywhere. That's why our goal at this year's summit is to connect the United States with new audiences and partners worldwide, especially focused on women, youth and minorities to fulfill their potential.
President Obama will join approximately 1,200 attendees, including entrepreneurs, investors, ecosystem supporters, educators, business representatives, and government officials, all of whom represent the full measure of entrepreneurial talent from diverse backgrounds across our nation and around the world.
The spirit of innovation is what makes America exceptional, and its results continue to drive American leadership around the world. The President looks forward to his time with entrepreneurs and will continue his innovation efforts at home and abroad for the remainder of his term.
I'm happy to take questions on that or any topic that may be on your mind.
Q Eric, could you talk a little bit about the court decision today? Another executive action falling by the wayside. The President talked ad nauseam about taking action when Congress wouldn’t act. Does he have any regrets about that strategy?
MR. SCHULTZ: No, Kevin. As you heard the President speak a few hours ago at the White House, he is disappointed that the Court couldn’t issue a decision today. But as you point out, this dates back to comprehensive immigration reform. That was a bill that Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate came together to work out. It was not a bill that Democrats jammed down Republicans' throats. It wasn’t a bill that the President dictated.
In fact, he was quite clear at the time that if he was writing the piece of legislation, it would look different. But it represented a compromise. It represented Republicans and Democrats working together on one of the pressing issues of our time. And that passed by almost 70 votes in the United States Senate. And unfortunately, when it went to the House of Representatives, they didn’t reject the bill, they didn’t vote it down. They actually didn’t even have the courage to bring it up for a vote. House Republicans completely abdicated their responsibility by not allowing a vote on this piece of legislation.
So many at the time speculated -- and I think with a lot of justification -- that the reason it didn’t come up for a vote is it would have passed. So as you point out, the President at the time, and today -- at the time since, and even today, said the best way to deal with this problem is for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration. He was also very clear that that's very unlikely in this Congress, and that's why he made clear that there's going to have to be a debate in this country in order for that to get done.
Q Obviously the ruling today only applied to the parents of DREAMers or U.S. citizens. It does not apply to the President's executive action on DACA. What is your message to those children who were brought here illegally? Should they feel confident that the status that they've been given by the administration will hold up to any legal challenges that could go through the same system that this one did?
MR. SCHULTZ: You are right, Justin -- the DACA program that the President announced in 2012 was not an issue in this case, so that wasn’t subject to any judicial review. As the President pointed out, over 730,000 participants have gone through that program. That program will continue to be implemented. And recipients and the participants of that program are our teachers, they're our neighbors, they're our police officers, they're our small business owners. So they continue to be contributing members to society.
The other piece of the President's record on this that was not subject -- that was not a part of this case was the Department of Homeland Security enforcement priorities announced by the President in 2014. Again, those priorities remain unchanged and unaffected by this case. And to remind you, those priorities are criminals, recent border-crossers, and threats to national security. So the Homeland Security priorities that were announced also remain unchanged, and I think that's important.
Q Eric, the President has, as you point out, for a long time laid the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform at the Congress's feet, at the Republicans' feet. But the fact remains that while he has been in office, there have been a large number of deportations and very little to show for his efforts to get a legislative -- nothing to show for his efforts to get a legislative solution through Congress. And now because of the Court's action today, not as much to show for his efforts to address this with executive power as he would have liked. Is he frustrated about that? He is going to be remembered by a lot of these groups that count immigration among their top priorities as not a very successful President on addressing the plight of the 11 million who are here. So what does he have to say to those people?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Julie, I quibble with some parts of your question, namely that there wasn’t much to show for the legislative effort. If you recall, there was a lot of independent reporting and analysis that getting the United States Senate to pass comprehensive immigration reform in a bipartisan way was a far-fetched prediction. It turns out Republicans and Democrats were able to roll up their sleeves and work together on one of the most challenging and complex issues of our time.
So I do think that that was an important milestone to show that comprehensive immigration reform isn’t just common sense, it isn’t just the right thing to do consistent with American values, it's not just widely supported by wide swaths of the American people, but it's also legislatively doable. Unfortunately, House Republicans, for reasons still unclear, refuse to call that bill up for even a vote.
So you're right, legislatively there still remains a lot of work to do. That's why the President was clear that the best way to fix to address this problem is going to be through comprehensive immigration reform. The President was also clear that that's unlikely to happen in this Congress, and that's why he expects a debate amongst the American people on the best pathway forward.
The other, I think, answer to your question is, there does remain additional work that the President has done on this issue that remains in place, and that, as Justin referenced, includes the DACA program announced in the summer of 2012. At the time, the President announced that our lowest priorities for enforcement were these diligent, patriotic young DREAMers who grew up pledging allegiance to the flag, and that they should be able to apply to work, study and pay their taxes here. Since then, more than 730,000 people have come out of the shadows and their lives have been changed as a result. Fortunately, today's decision doesn’t affect those people.
I'd also say, it's one of the reason why comprehensive immigration reform has such wide support. You've got support from the evangelical community. You've got support from business leaders, from law enforcement, obviously from the Hispanic community, from unions. So you see wide and diverse constituency groups supporting this, and yet you see Republicans on the Hill throwing up their hands and doing nothing about it.
Q In the meantime, some of these groups called today after the ruling for a flat halt on deportations. Not one more person to be deported until something can be done about the broader issue. Is that anything the President would consider?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven’t heard that discussed. Again, the deportation priorities that the Department of Homeland Security announced back in 2014 remain in place. And those priorities are recent border-crossers, threats to national security, and criminals.
Q There's been some criticism from congressional Republicans about this latest detainee that was transferred out of Guantanamo. Are we more likely to -- first off, what's the justification for his release? And as the population dwindles, are we more likely to see some of these controversial figures and some of these more hardened terrorists, like this guy who evidently was a bodyguard for bin Laden -- are we more likely to see people like that transferred to other countries?
MR. SCHULTZ: John, I haven’t seen the criticism, so I don’t know if there are specific points you'd like me to respond to. I can say generally speaking that Abdel Malik Rahabi was approved for transfer by the Periodic Review Board, a discretionary, administrative, interagency body that determined by consensus that his continued detention was no longer necessary to protect a significant continuing threat to the security of the United States.
The United States is very grateful to the government of Montenegro for its continued assistance in closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Montenegro now joins other friends and allies in Europe in accepting multiple detainees for -- by bringing us closer to our shared goal of closing the facility. I'll also say that we only make these decisions when our national security officials are sure that the protections are in place to make sure that a former detainee doesn’t pose a threat to the United States.
I'll also say that this is consistent with the President's goal of closing down the facility at Guantanamo Bay. We've spent a lot of time talking about why the President believes that's a worthy goal. Namely, it's exorbitantly expensive. We can accomplish the same things. We can protect our security in a much more cost-effective way. This is a facility that's a known propaganda tool for terrorists who want to do us harm. It's also inconsistent with our values. As you all know, that is a goal that the President has, but it's also a goal shared by Republicans. President George W. Bush believes that facility should be closed. Senator John McCain believes that facility should be closed. And there's a wide number of national security experts, both affiliated with the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, who believe that facility should be closed.
Q Can I ask you on Zika?
MR. SCHULTZ: You can.
Q We saw Josh's statement last night about the conference report, conference agreement. I'm wondering if you can explain a little bit about why -- I mean, $1.1 billion sounds like quite a bit. Why isn’t that enough? And secondly, is the President prepared to veto it? Are his advisors going to recommend that he veto that bill?
MR. SCHULTZ: Roberta, as you referenced the statement last night, we are disappointed that Republicans turned this into a political exercise. This is a conference report that doesn’t look like it can even pass the United States Senate. But if it did, and the President was presented with the bill, he would veto it. And let me explain why.
First of all, it's woefully inadequate. Our public health professionals estimate that the federal government needs $1.9 billion of funding to attack this emergency. This bill falls far short of that.
This is a bill that would also steal money from other critically important public health priorities, including those funded by the Affordable Care Act and those funded by our effort to combat Ebola. So at the end of the day, this bill does not provide adequate funding.
Third, this bill unfortunately includes an ideological rider blocking access to contraception for women in the U.S., including those in Puerto Rico, even though Zika is a sexually transmitted disease and even though it has been transmitted in Puerto Rico. It makes no sense.
I'd also draw your attention to provision in this bill that guts some provisions of the Clean Water Act. So for those reasons, the President would veto this bill if it ever got to his desk. Again I haven’t seen much analysis that suggests it could even pass the United States Senate. And for that reason, we urge Republicans to stop turning this into a political football, to actually get to work, and come up with a proposal that's going to serve the American people.
Q But, I mean, it's a public health emergency. Isn’t it better than nothing to have that money?
MR. SCHULTZ: You're right, it is a public health emergency, and that's all the more reason why it's unfortunate that Republicans want to turn this into a partisan exercise. This isn’t something that -- well, let me rephrase. In the past, when we've had public health emergencies like Ebola or like the H1N1 virus, Democrats and Republicans come together to make sure the federal government has the resources they need. One party doesn’t just huddle in the corner, come up with an ideological bill, and then throw up their hands and leave. It's time for Republicans to join Democrats in coming up with a viable solution to make sure the government has the resources they need to combat this.
And let me give you some examples. Money is desperately needed to fight Zika because mosquito control, a central element of efforts to combat the virus, is spotty and underfunded. Let's look at Florida, specifically. The battle to squash the virus began many months ago, but some two dozen local governments in Florida are collectively seeking millions of dollars to stop that threat. Florida needs to hire more inspectors, buy more insecticide, lay more mosquito traps, and conduct a more effective campaign to enlist the public's help in eradicating mosquito-breeding areas. Nothing the House has done so far furthers any of those goals.
Q Be that as it may, though, isn’t the White House, or isn’t the President worried that by potentially blocking or turning down this legislation, that it will look like it's your fault, it's the White House's fault for not getting people the money that they need for mosquito programs or what have you?
MR. SCHULTZ: Roberta, this is a plan that doesn’t adequately fund the crisis, that actually blocks contraception for women in the United States and in Puerto Rico, even though this exact virus is a sexually transmitted disease. And it also steals money away from critically important public health priorities. We have public health experts on the ground right now in West Africa, making sure that the precautions and safeguards are in place to prevent another Ebola outbreak.
I don’t know why Republicans think it's a good idea to take those people off duty, underfund that effort in order to rob Peter to pay Paul.
Q He's talked in the past about Freddie Gray, and I know Officer Caesar Goodson today was found not guilty on all accounts in that case. I'm just curious about the President's reaction and if the White House has any reaction to that decision today.
MR. SCHULTZ: Darren, I don’t have a reaction from the President to read out to you, namely because there are ongoing federal investigations in the Baltimore Police Department and into the death of Freddie Gray, so it's going to be difficult for us to comment on today's decision by the Court. But generally speaking, I would say our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the loved ones of Freddie Gray. As you may remember, the President discussed this issue at length last April. And so for more on how the President views this, I would draw your attention to that.
Q Eric, can I ask about the incident in the theater in Germany, if you have any details on what exactly transpired there? Whether the President has been in touch with Chancellor Merkel, or top U.S. officials have. If there's any nexus with ISIS, of course. And if the U.S. has taken any counterterrorism steps after that incident.
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, obviously we're aware of the situation you mentioned. I can tell you that United States officials were in touch with their German counterparts. Usually that's communication that's handled through our National Security Council and through the State Department. The President was briefed on this earlier today, but I don’t have any steps to announce in response to it.
Q Do you have any indication if there was a relation to terrorism?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think we're going to defer to the German authorities. If they have any results of their preliminary investigation, I'm sure they'll share it.
Q Eric, how is the President -- or is he staying abreast of the Brexit vote? Has he talked to Cameron? Has he talked to anyone in the UK today about what's going on there?
MR. SCHULTZ: Julie, I don’t have any calls from the President to read out to you. I would expect that we'd have a reaction once there's results. But until then, I think our position has been clear, which is ultimately this is a decision for the British people to make. But the President believes that a strong United Kingdom voice in a strong EU has great benefits to the United States and to the international community. As you know, we had a chance to make that case in a trip to London earlier this year. Some of you were able to join us on that. He laid out a handful of reasons why he thinks that.
First, the United Kingdom historically has outsized influence on the economic and security issues around the world. We want to make sure that influence continues. We believe that the UK can exercise that influence and leverage its relationships more effectively if it remains in the European Union.
Secondly, on the economic front, we believe that jobs, investment, trade, that the UK is better off if it stays within the EU.
And then third, on a host of issues facing Europe -- ranging from migration to the economy to terrorism -- the EU is more capable of facing down those issues with a strong United Kingdom included.
So I don’t have any real-time updates for you on the White House reaction to the vote as it undergoes -- or as it happens.
Q He's not getting briefed on any --
MR. SCHULTZ: I think he'll be briefed as soon as there's something to brief him on.
Q Eric, kind of related to politics. I know the tragedy in Orlando postponed him actually campaigning with Hillary Clinton. Is there any update on when that might sort of come back into something that the White House is going to do?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darren, as you mentioned, there was a trip to Green Bay, Wisconsin for President Obama and Hillary Clinton. That did get postponed in the wake of the terrorist attack in Orlando. We don’t have a new date yet on the books, but I do know the President, which he has said, is looking forward to campaigning. As soon as an event for the both of them is scheduled, we'll make sure to let you know.
Q Can I follow up on that? Would they try to go back to Green Bay? Or are they looking at something completely different? Whatever Hillary Clinton is coming up next in her schedule fit in that way?
MR. SCHULTZ: As soon as we have another event at which the President plans to campaign with Secretary Clinton, we'll let you know. I'm not sure if we've locked in a location yet.
Q Eric, just staying with the campaign fundraising theme, can I ask about the Seattle trip real quick? He's campaigning for the DCCC and for the governors' race. Does the President believe that Democrats -- he can help them make a lot of inroads with the House and with the, I guess, the minority among the governorships across the country?
MR. SCHULTZ: The President is not only President of the United States, but in that role he's also the head of the Democratic Party, and he does take his responsibilities seriously to make sure that campaigns have the resources they need to wage effective campaigns. And so you've seen him fundraise aggressively for the congressional campaign committees. We obviously have a DCCC event later on this trip and an event for Governor Inslee.
So, yeah, I do think you'll see the President out there both making sure that campaigns and committees have the resources they need to wage effective campaigns, but also making the public case for why he believes Democrats would be the best stewards of --
Q Does he think Democrats can take the House this election?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, he absolutely believes that the elections are going to be an important moment -- an historic election, actually -- and that the opportunity that Democrats have to make inroads in the House and in the Senate are opportunities that are going to be important. And he's going to make sure -- he's going to work to make sure that he does his part.
Q Did the President speak with John Lewis after the sit-in?
MR. SCHULTZ: Roberta, I don’t have any calls like that to read out to you. I can tell you that everyone at the White House was and is very supportive of Congressman Lewis's actions that he took yesterday. And that includes the President being supportive. I think you saw the President tweeted out a message of support, and that's just the latest gesture in support of Congress taking action and demanding action. I think what you saw in the House over the past 24 hours is embarrassing for House Republican leadership. They won't even call for a vote. These are common-sense reforms supported by bipartisan majorities around the country, supported by law enforcement. My colleague Josh Earnest called the Senate vote "a shameful display of cowardice." I don’t even know what to call the House Republican leadership because they won't even have the courage to call for a vote.
If the Speaker of the House believes that those who are too dangerous, as determined by our Homeland Security officials, to board a plane, but that that same individual ought to be able to purchase a firearm, then the Speaker of the House should have the courage to call the yays and nays and call for a vote.
If the Speaker of the House believes that we shouldn’t have universal background checks, a position -- by the way, universal background checks enjoys 85 percent support in the state of Wisconsin. If the Speaker of the House doesn’t believe that's worth a vote, isn't worth passing, then call the bluff and call a vote. Have it be voted down. But instead, they decided to shill for Wall Street banks.
Q Republicans, though, said that they called the sit-in a stunt and criticized Democrats for fundraising off of it. I'm just wondering what the White House thinks. Is it appropriate for members to be fundraising off of what essentially was a protest?
MR. SCHULTZ: If Republicans think it's a stunt, they should call our bluff. Call the yays and nays. Make everyone vote. The sit-in will end. But instead, they don’t even have the courage to call for a vote. They don’t even want their members to be on the record opposing these common-sense gun safety reforms.
Again, nothing that's being proposed is particularly controversial or counter-intuitive. But if our Homeland Security officials decide that you're too dangerous to board a plane, then it only follows that you're probably not the right person to purchase a firearm. And if the Speaker of the House wants to go to bat for someone suspected of terrorist ties to be able to purchase a firearm, then he should go ahead and take back the floor of the House, and make a speech and then call the votes.
Q So it's okay to fundraise off it? No problem with that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, one way for -- if Republicans were really upset about this, they could end it by allowing these common-sense measures supported by a bipartisan number of Americans -- I'm sorry a vast majority of Americans from both political parties call it for a vote.
Q Did you guys send over pizza or coffee or anything? (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t believe so. But I can tell you that everybody in the White House, including the President, believes what Congressman Lewis has led was an important thing to do, and underscored the dereliction of responsibility by the House leadership.
Q Do you expect the President to fundraise off of this debate at all?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven’t heard any plans to do that.
Q Some opponents of this have said that it's kind of an unprecedented breakdown of order up on Capitol Hill. The President has spoken a lot recently about the need to un-coarsen our discourse and to sort of return to a normal dialogue where people can come together. Is there any worry that this sets a precedent of kind of more dysfunction on Capitol Hill?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, if you want to talk about dysfunction on Capitol Hill, I don’t think there's any new precedent needed. We have an unquestionably qualified Supreme Court nominee languishing in the United States Senate for 99 days because Senate Republicans have failed to do their job.
It's not just the President or Democrats who believe that this nominee is qualified to be on the Supreme Court. It's Republicans who believe that this nominee is qualified to be on the Supreme Court. It's Bush administration officials, like the Bush administration attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, who believes that Merrick Garland should be confirmed for the United States Supreme Court. It's legal scholars from across the political spectrum who believe Merrick Garland should be confirmed for the United States Supreme Court. It is United States Senator Orrin Hatch who called Merrick Garland a consensus nominee.
So if Republicans for the first time in American history want to abdicate their responsibility in the United States Senate to do their job, I'm not sure there's much new precedent that can be set for congressional dysfunction.
Q Can I just follow up on that? The President seemed to suggest in his comments today after the immigration ruling that, had Republicans in Congress been willing to take a vote on Merrick Garland's nomination, then the outcome here would have been different, and I have to assume he meant that his executive actions would have stood. How does he know that? Has he talked with Judge Garland about how he would have ruled in this case?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think what the President was talking about was, if the Court was fully staffed, it wouldn’t have been a 4-4 indecision. So we would have had a fully staffed Court. I can also tell you the President has actually been very clear that when he meets with potential Supreme Court nominees, he actually doesn’t bring up pending cases or likely cases that would be heard before the Supreme Court. So I think we actually know that he has not spoken with Chief Judge Garland about this issue.
But what I do think the President was talking about is a sentiment that he actually put forward before he selected Chief Judge Garland for this spot, which is the Court should be fully staffed. Never in its history has the Court gone -- never in its history will the Court have gone as long as it's going to go because of Republican intransience.
And again, this isn’t a sentiment just expressed by the President or by Democrats. Republicans feel this way too. President Reagan said with each passing day that when the Court isn’t fully staffed, it impairs its ability to do its job. We have no more starker example of that than today's non-decision.
Q But isn’t the sort of implication here that he said this election matters and is sort of an evaluation of where we are as a country? Isn’t it implicit in that that if you vote for Hillary Clinton, you're going to get a judge to kind of affirm my executive orders on immigration? Or would you not make that link that voting for Democrats this fall equals immigration protection for more undocumented immigrants?
MR. SCHULTZ: I would not make that link. I actually think that the President was making a broader argument, which is if you go back to comprehensive immigration reform, which failed in the United States House of Representatives because the leadership wouldn’t bring it up for a vote, that was a sign of dysfunction. That was House Republican leadership being too scared to bring up a bill for a vote because they knew it would pass. That dysfunction has now metastasized to the United States Senate, where they won't even hold a hearing for a Supreme Court nominee who everybody agrees is eminently qualified. He actually brings more experience to this nomination than any Supreme Court nominee in the history of the country.
Q So just to be -- just so I'm crystal clear, the President was not suggesting that had Merrick Garland been on the Supreme Court, that the decision would have gone in the President's favor?
MR. SCHULTZ: Correct. The President has been clear previously that he doesn’t discuss pending cases before the United States Supreme Court, or even likely cases with potential nominees. That comes from an interview with National Public Radio, in case you want to reference those quotes directly.
But what I think the President was saying is this dysfunction we've seen in the legislative branch in now infecting the judiciary, and that Senate Republicans refusing to do their job and refusing to allow the Court to be fully staffed impairs the ability of that Court to do its job. And that's not just my argument; President Reagan made that as well.
Q There's been reports that Volkswagen has reached a settlement of more than $10 million for the scandal surrounding diesel cars. I'm wondering if the President, if the White House has a reaction to that, and your guys' involvement in sort of negotiating that settlement.
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have a reaction to you for that. Obviously, I'd refer you to the parties involved.
Q Did Congressman Fattah do any favors for Democrats by resigning effective immediately rather than serving until -- he said he was going to go until October 3rd. And then it seemed like Republicans were threatening to exploit him.
MR. SCHULTZ: John, I saw some news reports on the Congressman's decision before we took off this morning. But I don’t have any additional reaction to you from the President.
Q Week ahead?
Q That's tomorrow.
MR. SCHULTZ: That's tomorrow.
Q Are there any lawmakers on board?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, I'll get you a list.
Q And any tech luminaries or CEOs?
MR. SCHULTZ: No.
Q Can I ask one quick question? To follow up on Josh yesterday, he said that the President is discussing being an NBA minority owner in his post-presidency. How seriously is he considering that? And is he at all advancing in those discussions?
MR. SCHULTZ: John, for more details on that, I would refer you to the President's conversation with Bill Simmons, where this came up. That's what Josh was referring to yesterday. I think the President is very focused on his remaining days in office. We have about six or seven months left. He's made clear to us that he's not going to take his foot off the gas. So I am sure in the back of his mind he's thinking about the post-presidency, but I know in the front of his mind are a lot of priorities left to fulfill.
Thank you, guys.
4:07 P.M. EDT