Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:07 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon. I don't have any announcements at the top, so, Darlene, if you want to kick it off.
Q Sure. The administration announced earlier today that it was going to be expanding efforts to help Central American families and children come to the U.S. legally. And I was wondering if you could speak to timing of that announcement -- today, this week -- given that the Democratic convention is going on and they’re trying to put on a more -- friendlier face in terms of immigration.
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, I'm happy to talk about this. As you tracked closely, Darlene, over the past year, the United States has taken a range of steps to address the humanitarian crisis in Central America. Today we announced three new steps. The first is announcing in-country processing for vulnerable populations inside El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This allows us to process requests for resettlement on the ground. That includes screening and interviews by officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
The second piece we announced today was that Costa Rica has announced a partnership with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to help address regional migration challenges. So what that means is populations that are unable to be processed in those three countries, we can now do that in Costa Rica.
The third piece we announced was the expansion of the Central American minors program. Currently, children in the three countries I just listed -- El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- we have programs that facilitate the resettlement into the United States for those children, and this program would -- the expansion today would expand the infrastructure that governs that program.
All of these have the goal of protecting Central Americans at risk while providing an orderly and safe resettlement here in the United States. In terms of the timing, what actually dictated the timing, Darlene, is our announcement with Costa Rica. This is the culmination of some negotiations with the government of Costa Rica, and as soon as that was finalized is when we decided to announce this.
Q A question about the convention. The President doesn’t have a public schedule today. Can you sort of give us a little fill on what he’s doing to prepare for his speech tomorrow night?
MR. SCHULTZ: The President is working on his speech. He was actually up late last night working on his speech. He’s been working on the speech for a few weeks now. I don't have too much to preview on what to expect tomorrow night. I do think, as some of you have noted, tomorrow night will be the 12th anniversary of then-Senate-candidate Barack Obama’s speech in Boston where he was introduced to the national stage. I think it's a good bet that he'll reflect on that.
I think the President will talk about what the country has accomplished together since then, what the grit, ingenuity and determination of the American people helped to achieve over the past eight years -- whether that's coming back from the brink of economic collapse to the longest stretch of private sector job growth in our nation’s history, or whether that's changing the way the world views the United States for the better.
As you’ve heard from him over the past few weeks, the President has been candid about why he thinks electing the Republican nominee is a risky path for the United States, but I would suggest to you that I think tomorrow night’s speech will much more focus on how Secretary Clinton has the judgment, the toughness and the intellect to succeed in the Oval Office.
Lastly, I think the President will talk about who we are as a country and that we are better united than divided, and that we're better together than apart. I think you’ll hear that as a theme, not just because it's a stark contrast between the two candidates on the ballot this year, but also because it's a principle that has animated the President’s lifetime of public service. It also happens to be a distinctive American tradition, one that the President believes is fundamental to our nation’s identity.
Q Do you have any sense of, out of all the speeches -- the big speeches he’s given as President, how would he rank -- where would he rank tomorrow night’s speech among those? And also, what’s his plan for topping Michelle Obama? (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: She set the bar very high. I'll say a few things about that. One is the President is aware of the importance of the speech. Obviously the national conventions come around once every four years. They’re a high-profile moment. And the President believes that, as he said, the stakes are high in this campaign, that the choice for voters could not be starker. And he believes that this is an opportunity for him to not only make the case for why the record of accomplishment over the past eight years should indicate that we should continue on this path and not regress, but also why Secretary Clinton is uniquely qualified to make the decisions that a commander-in-chief would have to make.
Q So the UAW president said today that Hillary Clinton has indicated that she will try to renegotiate NAFTA if she’s elected as president. I was wondering, does the administration have any response to that and this idea that NAFTA needs to be renegotiated?
MR. SCHULTZ: Ayesha, I did not work on Senator Obama’s campaign in 2008, but I do know that as a candidate he pledged to renegotiate NAFTA as well. And the good news is his promise has been fulfilled. Renegotiating NAFTA is part of a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that was reached earlier last year. And that's one of the reasons the President is so proud of TPP and why he believes Congress should pass it.
So he’s acutely aware -- the President is acutely aware that previous trade agreements haven't lived up to the hype. He’s acutely aware that that presents challenges for the politics of trade right now, but that's all the more reason why, when TPP was being negotiated, he insisted that we impose the strongest, most robust human rights, labor, environmental protection standards ever to be placed in a trade agreement.
Q But there seem to also be concerns about TPP, so it seems like people aren't necessarily taking that as a renegotiation of NAFTA. It seems like these calls on the campaign trail are a bit different. Or does the administration not see that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, our view is those with concerns about how NAFTA has been implemented should look no further than TPP as a means to fix those wrongs; that once TPP is approved through Congress, a lot of the problems that we saw in NAFTA -- which I think principally were that a lot of the trade enforcement mechanisms were not built into the agreement, rather, they were in side agreements -- TPP fixes all of that. So we believe those with concerns about how NAFTA is being implemented have a solution right in front of them, and that's passing TPP.
Q Today, the Cyber National Action Plan was issued. I was wondering, how would this plan prevent or affect what happened with the DNC and the emails? And under this new plan, how would the U.S. respond if it turns out that it was a foreign actor who carried out a hack or a similar -- who carried out the hack of the DNC or a similar hack if it happened in the future?
MR. SCHULTZ: Ayesha, thank you for raising the announcement today. As you know, the President's top counterterrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, unveiled this today in the remarks at Fordham University. I'm happy to tell you that this particular policy has been in the works for several years -- for the past year, but is the culmination of about seven or eight years of the United States government working through responses to these episodes.
Unfortunately, they're happening all too often, and so we have a lot of practice. And what we decided to do was to build out the best practices that we've seen in terms of our ability to respond to these intrusions, and that's what the announcement today did, which was codify the best practices that we've seen. It also builds on lessons learned from natural disaster response and counterterrorism response, and so that we can write a playbook for both this administration and, to be candid, for the next administration so they don't have to recreate the wheel every time there's an intrusion.
As you point out, the policy largely sets forth how the federal government responds to cyber intrusions. First, the FBI will be the lead agency in responding to the immediate threat. Again, this is consistent with how terrorism cases are handled. But in the past, we know this is an important organizational distinction because it's not always clear at the outset of a cyber incident whether the actor is a nation-state or a criminal.
But under these new rules, the FBI will be positioned to bring the full range of law enforcement and national investigative tools to bear. That includes collecting evidence, gathering intelligence, determining attribution, and bringing malicious cyber actors to justice.
The second piece of this was that the Department of Homeland Security would take the lead in helping organizations and institutions deal with the impact of an attack or an intrusion. We call this asset response. I should say those who do it call it asset response. But basically what this boils down to is Department of Homeland Security will provide technical assistance to protect assets to bring the systems back up and running and to shore up vulnerabilities.
And thirdly, the last piece is that the Office of Director of National Intelligence will be responsible for integrating the intelligence and analysis about the threat and identifying opportunities to mitigate and disrupt it. We are not going to look retroactively at past cases in order to see where they fall on a scale that was announced. Obviously, the DNC situation is still under investigation, so if there's a determination where on the scale that would fall, I'm sure that will be released in due time.
Q Thanks. On the same subject, regardless of who orchestrated this act, even though there is some evidence pointing in a particular direction, are you treating this -- okay, let's just say that this is a state actor. Are you treating this as a state actor potentially trying to influence the 2016 election?
MR. SCHULTZ: Michelle, I don't have any significant update today to offer on the investigation. As Josh mentioned yesterday, the FBI has made clear they're investigating this matter. Obviously, that will be a careful and thorough investigation. Josh also made clear that the FBI will be the first to release any information that they learn in the context of this investigation.
This was obviously the case in 2014 with the Sony hack that you all referenced yesterday. At that time, though, back in 2014, we also said that releasing an internal assessment on attribution wouldn't necessarily be the standard playbook. To the contrary, this decision will be made on a case-by-case basis, and investigators will look at two things. One is the clarity of evidence pointing to a particular culprit, and the second is whether it's in the United States' best interest to release that information or not.
So as you point out, I know a couple of news organizations and other voices are pointing at certain actors. From here, I'm going to have to yield to the FBI investigation.
Q Just speaking of that, in the past, we've named and shamed other countries, pretty obviously, but never Russia, even though some have suspected Russia, saying that there was a preponderance of the evidence to blame Russia for certain hacks. So are you saying that it's never been, then, in the U.S.'s best interest to name Russia, even though that evidence, according to some, is out there?
MR. SCHULTZ: That's not what I'm saying, Michelle. What I'm saying is, once this investigation concludes, the investigators themselves will decide whether it's in the United States' best interest to name the culprit. And I do think that we have a long record of holding bad actors accountable for their actions in this space. We have a full range of options available to us in the government. That includes economic sanctions out of Department of Treasury. That includes a number of law enforcement measures that Department of Justice has announced and has taken action on.
It also includes, by the way, Department of Defense disrupting ISIL in the cyber battlefield. So we feel very confident in our capabilities. But I am going to let the FBI investigation unfold into this particular incident before we make any decisions about what we want to do in response.
Q But whoever did this, the timing looks pretty -- obviously as if they were trying to affect the election, no? Would you agree with that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I’m not going to characterize the motive of who conducted this attack. I do think it’s likely that investigators will look at motive. I think that's reasonable to assume. But I also think it’s true that the United States isn’t going to pull any punches in terms of our response; that, as I’ve mentioned, the United States has shown -- has a record of aggressively responding in situations that warrant a response. But we are going to wait for the investigation to conclude before we make any of those determinations.
Q And speaking of naming, the President has been in the habit lately -- and now it seems the First Lady is, too -- of not ever saying Donald Trump’s name, but there’s no question who they're talking about at times. So why the aversion to actually say the name of the person they're speaking about?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Michelle, I think if you're asking about the First Lady’s speech last night, I’m happy to talk about it. I know there’s been plenty of commentary over the past week about the darkness of the proceedings in Cleveland, and the President said on Friday that he was struck by the dire picture painted by Republicans at their convention. And I think what made the First Lady’s speech such a powerful one last night is that it was a speech that only one person could write and deliver. The country and the world watched with intense interest in 2009 when the First Family moved in the White House making history, and eight years later that family and this country has an impressive story to tell. And that's what we heard from the First Lady last night.
The last thing I would do -- given how remarkable that speech was -- would be to second-guess any of those word choices.
Q So then why doesn't the President ever say Donald Trump’s name when he’s speaking about him?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think you've heard the President mention the Republican nominee on occasion. I don't think he’s shied away from that. And more importantly, I don't think he’s shied away from making the argument of why he thinks that his election would be a risky path for the United States.
Q Obviously he has shied away from it. Sometimes when he’s speaking publicly, he seems to go out of his way to always say “the Republican nominee.” And I’m just wondering why. And now that he’s on the trail and will be doing other events, and he’s about to give a speech at the DNC, I’m just curious, why doesn't he ever want to --
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, we should both go back and look at the remarks. I’m confident that he has mentioned him before. I have some recollections of being there while he has. But I think the argument that he’s making as you all pick up without hesitation is usually crystal-clear.
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin.
Q First I just want to follow on something that Michelle was asking you about. You mentioned it’s not just media speculation that Russia is responsible for the hack. Nancy Pelosi said today that there was no question. John Podesta, just very similar. So is your view here that those top allies of the White House are baselessly speculating? Or are members of the administration giving those allies information, in which case, potentially putting at risk the national security interest that you were talking about?
MR. SCHULTZ: I heard about Leader Pelosi’s remarks shortly before coming out here, and you’d have to ask her what she was basing that on. We do know that there’s been a lot of analysis in the public space, making some determinations about who was behind this. A lot of that analysis is based on people with expertise and experience in this field. So you’d have to ask those who are offering a judgment about what they base that on.
For me, here, I have to yield to the FBI investigation because that investigation continues. We want that to be thoughtful, meticulous and unfettered. And so I’m not going to do anything from here to prejudice that investigation.
Q Yes, so, I mean, the administration has aggressively gone after instances where there have been leaks to reporters about ongoing national security investigations. Why wouldn’t the same thing apply here, especially in what appears to be leaks or conversations, or sanctioned conversations, to top political allies of the President?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, you’d have to ask them what they’re basing their comments on. We know that there was one report done by a very credible entity that laid out the case for this, so it might be just based on something that’s already in the public space. You should just ask them.
Q TPP was obviously a big theme last night. Does the White House believe Secretary Clinton when she says that she would not support TPP as President?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, we take Secretary Clinton at her word, and you’ll have to ask her to expound on that if you’re skeptical. I think that our view is that we’re at a crossroads, and that if we stipulate that the world is more interconnected than ever before, if the commercial ties between countries are strengthening and not diluting, that we have a choice -- either other countries can write the rules of the road for trade, or the American people can step up and take a leadership role.
Our view is that the American people and the United States of America should write the rules. We know, Justin, that China is trying to negotiate its own trade deal in this region. We also know that if that deal were to be codified it would not have the labor, environmental and human rights protections that TPP has.
So it’s going to be up to leaders of Congress, obviously, who stand to approve the deal. But our view is that not only is it in America’s best interest to write the rules of the road for trade, it’s in America’s business interest that American companies and American workers are advantaged by the deals that we arrange.
Q The reason that I ask is, if you take Secretary Clinton seriously -- Donald Trump has obviously said he’s against TPP. You’ve lost Tim Kaine now, who was (inaudible) in the Senate. You’ve seen Bernie Sanders rally the Democratic Party on the floor of the convention last night to block TPP in a lame duck Congress. I’m just wondering -- I know you’ve made the argument a million times just about why you think TPP is important, but what is the possible viable path for TPP at this point?
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, I remember the same skepticism when the President was trying to get TPA past Congress, and I believe we had very much the same exchanges that were rooted -- rightfully so -- in how challenging the politics of this issue can be.
And so we acknowledge that the politics here can be complicated, but we also acknowledge this is the right thing to do. And the President believes this is not only the right thing to do because we want to advantage American workers and American businesses, but also because if we don’t write the rules of the road on international trade, then China is going to. And we don’t believe that’s in America’s best interest.
So I understand your skepticism here. I think it’s well-founded. But we had the same conversations about Trade Promotion Authority and it turns out Republicans and Democrats came together to get that done.
Q Last one, on the refugee announcements. The administration, I think you guys admitted, struggled when the President asked for a greater influx of Syrian refugees here -- lagged behind scheduled and needed additional resources from Congress. So I’m wondering, with this new program, if it’s going to require more resources from Congress, and if you expect some of the newly eligible refugees under this program to either detract from other countries that are sending refugees our way, detract resources from vetting in other areas, or whether refugee caps are going to go up and spending on refugees is going to go up.
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven’t heard an analysis that speaks to those questions. But our goal here is to conduct the resettlement process in the home countries so that we’re not dealing with an influx on the border and we’re not dealing with a heartbreaking or unsustainable situation that is neither safe, or orderly.
So our view is, let’s get a lot of the process pieces done on the front end before they come to the country, and once we’re assured of the security measures, then we can resettle them.
Q So, I mean, because federal resources are a zero-sum game, is it -- the fact that you’re doing this in other countries means that the costs overall are going down, or the program isn’t kind of substantial enough that it’s changed -- how is this being paid for, I guess is --
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, one of the streams of funding here is from the United Nations’ High Commission on Refugees. They actually agreed to provide care, food and necessities for individuals housed in Costa Rica. That’s again one of the new pieces of the program today.
So there’s a variety of funding streams. We can get you more information about how it’s paid for. But I haven’t heard that this is going to prompt an enormous -- this is not going to require a new, enormous sum of money.
Q Hi. I was just wondering about the speech tomorrow. You talked in general themes, but will the President be talking about specific policies like TPP, like Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform? Or is this just going to be a thematic speech?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, first, stay tuned. And I can tell you the speech is still being worked on. So I don’t really have specifics beyond some of the themes that I mentioned earlier to read out to you right now, but the President is working on the speech diligently and around the clock.
And I think that what you can expect is a reflection on the past eight years in office, what the American people have gone through over the past eight years -- again, their grit, their ingenuity, their determination to come back from a very different place than we were in 2009 when this President too office. And whether he hits on the fact that health care costs are growing at the lowest pace in decades or that more Americans are graduating high school than ever before, or that we’ve had the longest stretch of private sector job growth in our nation’s history -- we’ll have to tune in.
Q Thank you, Eric. Can you give me an update on the fire situation in California? Has the President been in contact with the governor of the state? And what, if any, federal assistance is due for the Golden State?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. Kevin, I don't have any conversations between the President and the governor to read out to you right now. I can tell you that White House officials are in touch with their counterparts in the state of California, and they offered any assistance possible.
As you know, our FEMA Director, Craig Fugate, is one of the best. And so I know that the President has directed his team here at the White House to make sure that all available assets are at the disposal of local first responders in California.
Q And there has been no declaration of disaster, anything like that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven’t heard that they signed one.
Q Got you. Last night, Sarah Silverman said something interesting, she said that Bernie supporters were being “ridiculous.” Many of them feel like the administration has sort of turned their back on them. They feel like, in many cases, that they support a lot of the policies that the President seems to support. Is it unfair to say that the Democratic Party has turned its back on Bernie’s supporters?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Kevin, I think as Josh mentioned yesterday, there’s plenty of experts on the ground in Philadelphia to assess the strength and unity of the party right now. Maybe Sarah Silverman accounts herself -- is one of them.
I would just observe Josh’s theory from yesterday, which is that when the First Lady spoke to the crowd, they would be on their feet. And I certainly don't mean to knock anything that my boss says from this podium, but if anything, I think he underestimated the reception that the First Lady received. She was met with warmth, with enthusiasm, with an embrace that I think was unique for speakers at a convention like that. And I think that's not just because of her message. It’s not just because she’s a spectacular First Lady. It’s because she represents the record of this administration and the values that drive her and her husband.
The other thing I’d point out is that the individual who had the most invested in defeating Secretary Clinton for the nomination could not have been more steadfast in his support the party’s nominee. If you watched Senator Sanders’s speech, it’s clear that that wasn’t just a perfunctory exercise or one that didn't come from the heart. I think you heard Senator Sanders use his trademark passion to make the case for not only the ideals which animated his campaign, but also for how the party’s nominee will help achieve those goals as President.
Q But you also saw a three-minute-long standing ovation for a movement and a person that a great many of the people in the hall last night and presumably tonight and even into the day after feel like they have not had their voices heard. Is the White House concerned about the mood of a large portion of the party moving forward?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, the President has remarked several times how much respect he has for Senator Sanders, and in particular the strong campaign that he built. The excitement that he generated was historic. And there’s no question that all of that energy, passion, and drive was on full display last night.
And the good news for Democrats is that Senator Sanders committed unequivocally to ensure Secretary Clinton becomes the next President. But as the President has said, he absolutely recognizes the value that Senator Sanders brought to this race, an energy that captured the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. That's why the President is grateful that he’ll be working hard to elect Secretary Clinton.
But we should also talk about the shared values between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton and the President of the United States. That includes everything from building and economy from the middle class out. That includes striving hard towards social justice, civil rights, and equality. That means doing everything this country can to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people who are prone to violence. So there’s a lot of shared values there. And I think you heard a lot of them on display last night. But I suspect you’ll hear more about that in the coming nights.
Q -- know if the President has reached out to the President of France? Yet another devastating attack on humanity -- what can you tell us about the assault on a Catholic priest today in France?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, I don't have a call to read out to you from the President. But I can tell you that the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the horrific terrorist attack today at a Catholic church in Normandy. We offer our condolences to the family and friends of the murdered priest. And our thoughts and prayers are with the other victims of the attack, as well as the parishioners and community members of this church.
France and the United States share a commitment to protecting religious liberty for those of all faiths. And today’s violence will not shake that commitment. We commend French law enforcement for their quick and decisive response and stand ready to assist the French authorities in their investigation going forward.
Q Last one I have for you is on Afghanistan. There is a limit to the number of troops that can be there. The cap -- I believe it’s 8,400 or so. Is there a concern about this cap as it relates to the folks on the ground being able to complete and do the task at hand?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, as you covered, I believe, two or three weeks ago now, we announced an adjustment in our drawdown in Afghanistan. And that was the result of analysis and feedback we have gotten from our commanders on the ground and from the rest of the President’s national security team. So I don't have any new changes to announce today. But I can tell you that the President’s national security team closely monitors Afghanistan, obviously, and is in constant touch with our military advisors on the ground to making sure that they're getting the support and resources they need to carry out their mission.
Q So is there any flexibility or fungibility in terms of the numbers if they come back to the White House and say, hey, listen, we really could use an extra thousand troops or so. Is that part of the process? Or is that not possible?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I haven’t heard a request like that come through channels. Obviously, I would assume that they’d want to see how this adjustment is working out before making any new requests. But again, we're constantly making sure that the decisions the President has made in regard to American troop deployment around the world -- we're constantly making sure that those are serving the best interests of not only the troops, but also the war theaters that they're in.
Q Thank you, Eric. First on the refugee announcement. In the past when we’ve heard the President talk about this issue, his message has been very much one about deterrence -- don't make a difficult journey. Don't risk sending your children with smugglers -- that, in fact, these people, even if they're facing a desperate situation at home, really shouldn’t be coming. And now today we're hearing that the refugee qualification process is being expanded pretty substantially. So I’m just wondering what happened to change the President’s view of what’s going on in Central America. Has he decided for some reason that this is a refugee situation and that he wasn’t convinced it was before? What played into that decision?
MR. SCHULTZ: Julie, I think what’s happening in Central America is heartbreaking. And I think the President has voiced that consistently for a while now. There’s ongoing humanitarian challenges in Central America, particularly for many vulnerable individuals attempting to leave the region and come to the United States. So it was important for us to take action to promote a safe and orderly migration.
I think the concerns that you're referencing are concerns of the journey from Central America back to the border -- or up to the border of the United States. That journey has proved perilous, dangerous, and even deadly. And it’s also done at the request and under the guise of bad actors who don't have these children’s best interests in mind. They're human smugglers.
And so the President’s warnings about not engaging in those types of activities remain as steadfast today as they were in the past. The difference is today we're able to announce that a lot of the processing for this can happen in-country, so that we can begin to address the humanitarian crisis without making these children take a harrowing and sometimes deadly trip.
Q Right. But you're also opening up that process to a whole universe -- a much bigger universe of people than it was open to before. Before it was just unaccompanied children. Now it’s their parents, their older siblings, caregivers. It seems like an acknowledgment that there is a much larger population of people who are vulnerable here than the President had made in the past.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, we've constantly been evaluating the best approach to tackle the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Central America. What’s happening there, as I said, is heartbreaking and it’s distressing. And that is why the President had heretofore not been satisfied with the steps that we've been taking. That's why we've been able to expand some of these programs. That's why he’s proud that the government of Costa Rica has agreed to host processing in their country. And that all furthers the goal of making sure that any resettlement is done in a safe and orderly way.
Q And just one more on the First Lady's speech last night. Even though she had a pretty warm reception in the hall, there are some critics who have responded to her comments about slaves having built the White House, saying that it was somehow race-baiting or a divisive thing to say. Does the White House see it that way?
MR. SCHULTZ: No.
Q John Kerry met with the Russian Foreign Minister today and said he raised the issue of the DNC hacking. If Russia is not a suspect here, why have America's chief diplomat take that message to Russia's chief diplomat?
MR. SCHULTZ: I believe that if you ask Secretary Kerry, he will tell you that this is -- the issue of cybersecurity is one that he raises all across the globe; that, unfortunately, the intrusion at the DNC is not an incident that's unique. In fact, when you assess the activity in this space, that we see this all too often. And so I'm fairly certain this wasn't the first time Secretary Kerry raised this with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov. I suspect that Foreign Minister Lavrov is one of many foreign leaders that Secretary Kerry has raised this with.
Q But he said specifically he raised the DNC hacking. And Lavrov said to the press, at least, he wanted to use four-letter words to respond to it. So, I mean, this was obviously something that has a lot more weight than just a general discussion of cybersecurity.
MR. SCHULTZ: I won't use any four-letter words here, much to your relief.
Q You would definitely get on TV. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: Look, you'll have to ask Secretary Kerry to the extent to which -- what the details of the conversation that he conducted with the Foreign Minister.
Q Did the White House give him a message to deliver to Russia?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't know that to be true. I believe that Secretary Kerry raises this as an issue pretty regularly with his counterparts. Obviously, we have concerns across the board in this space, and the President takes it seriously. And that's why it's one of the chief issues that when we engage our foreign counterparts around the world that we work on -- as you'll recall, when President Xi was here last year, a lot of work went into establishing an agreement with the Chinese. So this isn't something that we take as a one-off engagement. This is something that we take a holistic approach to. And so I believe Secretary Kerry raising it with Foreign Minister Lavrov is consistent with that approach.
Q So is it fair to say that the White House is considering this as not a political issue but a national security one?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think we'd wait until the FBI makes any determination before I'm in a position to sort of characterize our response. And as I mentioned to Michelle, I think that motive is likely to be part of the FBI investigation, but I just can't get ahead of that from here.
Q Can you confirm that the administration had previously warned the DNC regarding vulnerabilities of their systems?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know that to be true. I do know that, as the federal government, we take a lot of responsibility in promoting best practices. There's a term here at the White House that I'm reluctant to use but we call it cyber hygiene -- yes.
Q (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm not going to get into graphic descriptions. But we want to make sure that everyone across the board, both in the private sector, in the political space, in people's personal computing, that they're using best practices, because we know that there are bad actors out there looking to do harm.
And so I think, unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, we have too much practice responding to these attacks. That's why the President thought it would be important to sort of codify our responses and make sure that we've written a playbook that distills down best practices from our previous responses.
Q So at a minimum, the cyber hygiene kind of program, it would be normal for the administration to advise the DNC, weigh in on their security?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think that we're often in touch with agencies and organizations and companies when they have questions about their cybersecurity. I know that that's a program that's housed at the Department of Homeland Security, so I wouldn't be surprised if there were conversations taking place. I know that lots of large companies reach out to the administration when they have questions about possible intrusions or possible questionable activity on their servers or in their systems. So I wouldn't be surprised if those conversations were happening. But I also wouldn't be surprised if those conversations were happening across the board.
Q Can you say what level of communication the administration is having at this point with the DNC? Is it purely just at the FBI level? And is the conversation today between Kerry and Lavrov the highest-level conversation so far directly with Russia about it?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have any additional communications with the Russians to read out at this time. In terms of conversations with the DNC, as I mentioned, the FBI is the principal investigative agency on this, so I assume any communications would be going through those channels. But you might want to check with the DNC if they’ve heard from other components of the administration.
Q If I could just follow up on the Lavrov meeting, just so I can understand the White House kind of rendering of the discussion. It was completely routine and it didn’t have anything to do or any connection to the leaked emails that were published by WikiLeaks?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think you should ask Secretary Kerry about what he brought up in that conversation --
Q And you're unaware of any message from the White House delivered to Secretary Kerry that he should inquire along these lines?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm not aware of any directive to do that. But obviously Secretary Kerry is our chief diplomat around the world, so you’ll have to ask him to what extent he raised this in the meeting.
Q The question for the White House is, was there a message from the White House to Kerry. And you're telling us that you don't know that.
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, I'm telling you I'm not aware of one.
Q Thanks, Eric. I wanted to clarify one of your earlier responses on the cyber framework. You mentioned that it wasn’t going to be applied retroactively, but you also mentioned that this DNC investigation is ongoing. So will the DNC investigation go through the cyber framework? Will we see -- isn't this hack being characterized on the zero-to-five scale?
MR. SCHULTZ: So the answer to that question is good news, because this is a codification of systems and methods that are already in place. So you can be assured that this hack is going through that scheme because this is just based on methods and processes that we've been using for some time.
Q So has it been assigned a zero-to-five designation?
MR. SCHULTZ: We can check on that. I think they will wait to do that until the FBI determines the results of its investigation.
Q And then, second, the President’s speech and the President’s message generally -- the President recently saying the world has never been less violent. And you just mentioned he’s going to be trying to counter some of the darkness that we heard in Cleveland. But just this weekend we saw another shooting in Florida, an attack in Afghanistan that left 80 dead, a German suicide bomber. And then, just in the past, I think, 16 hours or something -- as of this morning we had Ned Price sending out three condolence statements after violent attacks in France, Somalia and Japan. So can you address what seems to be a bit of a contradiction in terms of the President’s message and what people may be hearing?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think -- and the President did this, if not on Friday, a little bit earlier in remarks -- but I think it's important to disentangle those two things. One, we've got perpetrated terrorist attacks happening on foreign soil, and then you’ve also got gun violence in the United States of America. So we can sort of take those things in turn.
The terrorist attacks happening on foreign soil are horrific and are unfortunate. And that is why the President has taken a leadership role in making sure that he’s summoning I think now 67 international partners to build a coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. That effort remains ongoing. It remains robust. And it remains a top goal of this President for the remainder of his term in office.
In terms of the violence we’ve seen in cities, which I think you’re also referencing, there is preliminary data so far from 2015 from the FBI that shows an uptick in murders and violent crime compared to last year in some cities, but if you look at overall trends, violent crime right now remains at historic lows. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be paying attention to this. To the contrary, the President has asked that his Department of Justice -- to play close attention to any increase in violent crimes, even if they’re in sporadic communities. But he does believe it’s too early to draw any sweeping conclusions.
That said, the Department of Justice does take very seriously any increase in violent crime, and it’s -- but we also believe -- and I think the President spoke to this -- that it’s important to put any sort of single reports in this historic context.
Q Will the President touch on ISIS in his speech at the convention?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I don’t have details to read out to you in advance of the speech. I’d just urge you to tune in tomorrow night.
Q And what categorizes something for -- or what is the bar for flags to be flown at half-staff? Will any of these recent events or tragedies qualify for that?
MR. SCHULTZ: That’s a good question, and as you know, when the President directs the flags to be flown at half-staff, we issue a proclamation. Those proclamations are released publicly and then the flags come down, and you all usually cover that.
So I don’t have any proclamations to forecast for you at this time, but if there’s any decisions made on those, we’ll make sure we get them to you.
Fred, I’ll give you the last one.
Q The Democratic platform, it calls for getting rid of the -- for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. The President actually -- pressing the ACA, signed an executive order applying the Hyde Amendment to the ACA. Also the President -- Josh, I think a few times, used the Hyde Amendment as one of the reasons that there’s no reason to defund Planned Parenthood. Is that something the President supports, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment?
MR. SCHULTZ: Fred, I don’t believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment. But if we do, you’ll be the first to know.
Q Okay. So you’re not necessarily on board on that particular issue --
MR. SCHULTZ: Like you said, we have a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.
Q And another hack that came up in a congressional (inaudible) few weeks ago, the House Science Committee pointed out that the FDIC had been hacked by China, and that they didn’t -- the FDIC did not report it, and it looked like there might have been an attempt to avoid some oversight there. Has the administration looked into this? Is this something that there’s a lot of concern about as well?
MR. SCHULTZ: I have not seen that report so I can’t comment on it, and I’m not familiar with the particular episode that you’re referencing. I can say, in general terms, that we believe transparency is the best policy when it comes to cyber intrusions, so a lot of what we tried to do in today’s announcement was to clarify who do you call. And we laid out the right agencies that are in the lead for each of the aspects that come into play when an intrusion takes place like this, but we absolutely believe that public reporting of these incidents is only in the -- only advances the U.S. national security interest.
Q And the last question -- with regards to the DNC emails -- and I’ll just take a -- sort of a blunt approach on this --
MR. SCHULTZ: Go ahead.
Q Do you think there’s reason to believe that Vladimir Putin does want to see Donald Trump elected President?
MR. SCHULTZ: You’ll have to ask Moscow. (Laughter.) I’m sure they’ll get right back to you. (Laughter.)
Q -- said nice things about each other, so I wanted to see if you might have -- want to weigh in.
MR. SCHULTZ: It’s hard to for me to publicly speculate on motives of United States politicians. The last thing I’m going to do is speculate on Vladimir Putin’s motivations.
Q There is talk that there’s a lot of money from Russia and the nation state in Donald Trump’s businesses, and that is possibly a motivation. Wouldn’t that make him very vulnerable as a presidential nominee, more vulnerable than usual -- to possibly be controlled or blackmailed by a nation state?
MR. SCHULTZ: That’s not going to be an assessment I can offer from here, but you might want to check with the campaigns.
1:54 P.M. EDT