Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Philadelphia, PA
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
12:37 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome aboard Air Force One on this very short flight to Philadelphia. I have one quick announcement at the top, and then I'm happy to take your questions.
As hopefully you all saw, the Census Bureau this morning released its annual data on income, poverty, and health insurance, which shows the remarkable progress that American families have made during this recovery. Today’s report shows that real median income household income grew at 5.2 percent from 2014 to 2015. This is actually the fastest annual growth ever on record. Incomes grew for households across income distribution with the largest gain among lower and middle-class income families.
As you all know, there’s a lot of doom and gloom about America being purveyed these days, but the facts tell a different story. In 2015, we experienced the fastest wage growth on record, the biggest decline in poverty since the 1960s, and an uninsured rate at its lowest level on record. This progress didn’t happen on its own. It was hard-earned by the resilience of the American people and supported by policies of this President.
The President is absolutely committed to using every one of his remaining days in office to further this progress by calling on Congress to take steps to invest in job creation, wage growth, and equal pay for equal work.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Do you know if the White House has received the 9/11 lawsuit bill and the timing on the veto, when we should expect it?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kathleen, I can confirm that the White House received the bill last night. I don't have any further updates for you on timing. As you know, as Josh made clear yesterday, we intend to -- the President intends to veto this bill. He took some time yesterday to explain why. I'm happy to reiterate. The reason we oppose this bill is because it's contrary to how the United States has conducted business on the international stage for decades. It's inconsistent with this administration’s policies, but also policies that have been longstanding by administrations of both parties.
We have felt that if we open up individuals to lawsuits that it can start to chip away at the concept of sovereign immunity, which is something that's protected Americans, again, for a very long time. That includes American servicemembers; that includes American diplomats and also American businesses.
So as a matter of policy, this is just not something that we believe is the right course. And that's why the President intends to veto this bill.
Q Does he intend to veto it quickly?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have any timing apace for you on that. As I just said, we got it last night. So if we have anything new on this we'll make sure to let you know.
Q On those numbers that you read out earlier, you said there’s a lot of doom and gloom that people talk about. Do you think that's illegitimate? Do you think that people who think the economy isn't working, do you think they don't have a strong case to make given the numbers that you just read out?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think the facts today speak for themselves. If you're interested in a few others, I'm happy to share those. In fact, the number of people in poverty fell by 3.5 million from 2014 to 2015, with the poverty rate decreasing faster than at any point since the 1960s -- all racial and ethnic groups saw increases in household incomes and decreases in poverty in 2015, with African American and Hispanic households seeing the largest declines in poverty.
The uninsured rate, as we've said, continued to fall in almost every state in 2015, reflecting progress under the Affordable Care Act. Refundable tax credits like the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit lifted 4.8 million children out of poverty in 2015.
So there’s no question there’s more work to be done. That's why the President is determined to use his last few months in office to keep his foot on the gas, make sure we can be doing whatever we can to lift wages, to invest in job growth and equal pay for equal work. So the President is not resting on these laurels. The President does want to make sure that these benefits are being felt throughout the economy. And, fortunately, the data today shows that that's happening.
Q Hillary Clinton is not on the trail today because she’s recuperating. Does the President feel the need to reassure voters at all about her stamina, or does the White House feel like they need to kind of address her absence or anything like that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Ayesha, as you know, I think, this event has been on the books for some time now, so the President is deeply looking forward to going to Philadelphia. I think you can expect his remarks to reflect themes that you’ve already heard.
He gave a widely received -- well-received speech at the convention a few weeks ago now, talking about why he believes Secretary Clinton is uniquely qualified to be the next President of the United States. That has essentially two underpinnings. One, he’s watched her up close. He worked with her closely for four years as she not only succeeded as Secretary of State, she thrived.
That followed an intense period where he ran against her. He was her opponent on the campaign trail in the primary. And he -- even despite that tension, he witnessed firsthand her grit, her determination, her sense of selflessness and her pride in her country. And that’s why he believes she’s uniquely qualified to be the next President of the United States.
Second, the President also brings a unique perspective to this campaign. He’s one of very few people who have actually sat in the Oval Office making presidential-level decisions. So he understands, like almost nobody else, what challenges face the next President and what opportunities face the next President. And he believes Secretary Clinton should be his successor because she has the determination and the judgment to make those decisions in the best interest of the country.
Q Has he called her to check in on her?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have any calls to read out to you. As Josh mentioned yesterday, we don’t read out every private conversation they had. I know they had a chance to catch up in person at the convention backstage following the President’s speech. So they check in from time to time, but I don’t have any calls to read out.
Q Yesterday the Vice President said that he thought that he could beat Donald Trump if they went jogging together, he could out-run him. Does the President think that he could out-run Donald Trump?
MR. SCHULTZ: Oh, Isaac. (Laughter.)
Q The Vice President says --
MR. SCHULTZ: Yeah, yeah. I think you’ll hear the President make a case today about why Secretary Clinton should succeed him in the Oval Office, the choice that voters face. And I think you’ll hear the President make some policy-based arguments for why Secretary Clinton --
Q -- think that Donald Trump has the physical stamina, since that’s the issue, right? Does he have the physical stamina to be President of the United States? The President knows full well what that is, and he’s kept in shape himself, obviously, right?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m not here to handicap the physical fitness of the candidates running for office. Obviously the President will speak to why he believes Secretary Clinton should be the next President and, quite frankly, why he believes her opponent presents the wrong path for America.
Q It’s been seven weeks since that convention. We haven’t seen him publicly campaigning for Secretary Clinton in a while. Is there any frustration that he’s got this busy day job that’s keeping him off the trail? And how is his schedule being crafted for the final eight weeks here? I assume we’ll see him ramp up that activity.
MR. SCHULTZ: Mike, perhaps you’re frustrated that you weren’t able to join us on a 10-day trip through Asia earlier this month. (Laughter.) So, yes, the President was traveling around the world the past 10 days, so that was part of the reason he wasn’t able to be on the campaign trail. As you all know, he also will be in New York next week for most of the week for the United Nations General Assembly.
That all said, he is very much looking forward to today. Again, he wants to be out there making the case for Secretary Clinton, why he believes she should be the next President of the United States. I’d expect more events in the coming weeks between now and November, but I don’t have any scheduling updates for you.
Q -- to her?
MR. SCHULTZ: He believes that this election has enormous stakes. And he’s not only proud of his record over the past eight years, but he believes that we should not be turning back the clock. And the progress we’ve made -- some of which is outlined in the data that was released this morning -- is a sign of good progress and a sign of where we’ve come -- and how far we’ve come. But there’s a alternative vision for this country that the President wants to make sure doesn’t take hold.
Q Do you think that Democrats need to focus voters’ attention on the sort of alt-right elements in Donald Trump’s campaign -- or the “basket of deplorables,” as some have said? Is that part of his message here today? And do you think Democrats need to do a better job of focusing on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: The good news about doing this event in Philadelphia is we are literally minutes away from you hearing the President himself. So I think the President will address both why he believes Secretary Clinton should be the next President of the United States, but also why her opponent isn’t qualified to be President.
Q More broadly, though, if not today, just as a strategy, is that something he endorses?
MR. SCHULTZ: Look, I think -- Josh mentioned yesterday, this is part of a pattern of this Republican Party. Unfortunately, they have deployed some cynical tactics to appeal to -- they’ve deployed some tactics to appeal to American cynicism. If you look at their House Republican leadership, they have someone who proclaims himself to be “David Duke without the baggage.” They’ve threatened to hold up government funding to make sure that the Confederate flag can be shown in government cemeteries. They have supported proposals to ban Muslims from entering this country.
So we’ve seen this threat before. Unfortunately, it’s been surfacing over the past few months within Republican leadership, but I don’t have anything new to add.
Q Have you gotten a readout of the meeting this morning with Secretary Kerry? Can you talk about why that was added and -- I assume it was Syria related.
MR. SCHULTZ: Happy to clarify that, Mike. This was part of the President’s regularly scheduled meetings with Secretary Kerry. Unfortunately, due to an internal oversight, it wasn’t listed on the public schedule last night, but it was always on the President’s schedule. But in the interest of transparency -- (laughter) -- we wanted to make sure you had all possible information about the President’s schedule before departing for Philadelphia.
So I don’t have a detailed readout of that meeting. I imagine that Syria and the Cessation of Hostilities was on the agenda. I’m sure that was discussed. But I don’t want you to have the impression that this meeting was added at the last minute.
Q One more campaign question. What does the President think about Mike Pence, the vice presidential nominee, not calling David Duke deplorable?
MR. SCHULTZ: Isaac, I saw reporting of that exchange. I haven’t talked to the President about it. Obviously this is a back-and-forth the campaign is having, so we’re not going to weigh in from here.
Q But should a Republican vice presidential nominee be calling a former KKK leader who sticks by all of his views deplorable?
MR. SCHULTZ: You’re going to have to ask the campaign to defend their own comments.
Q Does the White House support the decision by the NCAA to strip North Carolina of its tournament games because of the bathroom bill?
MR. SCHULTZ: As you know, the President himself has spoken out about this. We’ve called this mean-spirited and misguided. He’s called for the repeal of the legislation. And we’ve also made the case that this is not only contrary to our values, but it’s also bad business. And I think you can look no further than the NCAA’s decision yesterday, I believe, for evidence of that.
Q Non-campaign related. We’re reporting that the U.S. has reached a deal with Israel, a funding deal. Do you have any comments on that, or when the deal would be signed?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, Ayesha. As you know, we have been discussing a memorandum of understanding with our Israeli counterparts. I can confirm for you that we’re in the final stages of those discussions.
This has been a long, complicated process. But we believe that it’s one that’s worth it because it’s in the interests of both the United States and our greatest ally in the Middle East, Israel -- one of our closest allies around the world -- to reaffirm our commitment to their security. So I don’t have any updates on timing for you, but I can say that this has been a priority for this administration.
Q One on the health care exchanges. The President dropped by a meeting of insurance executives yesterday. Is he worried about those exchanges before the open enrollment, and does he feel like he has enough sway to get enough young people to sign up?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Toluse, you’re right, we did have a meeting yesterday with some leaders of the insurance industry. That was a meeting with senior administration officials who work on this issue. The President did take a few minutes to drop by that meeting because this is a priority -- making sure the next open enrollment period is a success -- I should say as successful as the previous ones -- is important to the President.
So I can tell you, I was not in the meeting, but the readout I got was that it was a good meeting, a positive one, constructive one -- that in order to make sure the marketplace succeeds, we’re going to need people acting in good faith. And, around the table, people felt confident that the Affordable Care Act is working.
Q Does the President take credit for the positive household income numbers that you announced? Does he personally take credit for that?
MR. SCHULTZ: It’s not about taking credit. This is about making clear where we were, how far we’ve come, and where we are today. And I think that given that we are a few months from an election that it’s important to take stock of how far -- how much we’ve achieved over the past eight years. There’s no question that the grit, determination of the American workforce is why we are in such a better place than we were when the President took office, but there’s also no question that the President’s policies have helped -- steered the United States economy over the past eight years. And that is something the President is proud of.
Q One more. On TPP, did the President get any assurances or have a conversation with McConnell and Ryan yesterday about bringing that up in the lame duck?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kathleen, the President did have an opportunity to have a pretty thorough conversation yesterday with the four leaders in Congress in the Oval Office. I don’t have any additional details to read out to you from that conversation beyond what the President offered in the spray at the bottom of the meeting.
I can tell you that passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a priority for this President. He believes that -- as we’re talking about the economic progress that we made over the past eight years -- it can only be bolstered if we start to invest -- if we continue to invest in America’s workers and American businesses.
So the President does believe that’s on the agenda for the next few months for Congress, and he made that clear. He also talked about his trip -- that you were fortunate enough to accompany him on -- though Asia. And he talked about how -- on that trip, he talked about how America’s credibility in the region is on the line. That this was a deal we negotiated; we negotiated it with America’s businesses and America’s workers’ interest at heart.
But the truth is that if we don’t write the rules of the road on trade, China is going to. And China is already trying to negotiate their own trade agreement. So that’s why the President believes the United States of America should write the rules on trade, and that’s why he’s going to be pushing on Congress to pass this deal.
Q Did he seem optimistic that they will?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I don’t have anything to add from the conversation, but he left confident that the leaders know his position.
All right. Thank you.
12:55 P.M. EDT