Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Chicago
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Chicago, Illinois
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Air Force One en route to Chicago, the President’s hometown. As you saw this morning, the President was briefed by FEMA Administrator Fugate, his Deputy Homeland Security Director, Amy Pope, and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. You heard directly from the President, so I don't have much to add to his comments other than to underscore what he said at the end, which is he'll remain engaged and focused on this, just as he has over the past week, through the upcoming weekend.
Q One thing that wasn’t addressed on Matthew I wanted to bring up. Governor Scott -- there were several requests of Governor Scott to extend the voter registration deadline. He declined to do that. Does the President believe that Governor Scott should reconsider and extend the voting registration deadline in Florida in light of the storm?
MR. SCHULTZ: Mike, I saw some of the exchanges on that. I don't know if we’ve weighed in on that specific decision. I can tell you, generally speaking, the President believes we should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder. And any steps that impede on a citizen’s ability to exercise that right to vote is a step in the wrong direction.
So right now, we're focused on the storm and recovery and response. But again, generally speaking, the President believes we should be doing everything possible to make it easier for people to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Q Do you expect him to go down there this week?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have any additional travel for the President to announce. As you know, John, we were scheduled to go down there last week, but the President made the decision to postpone that trip because what he didn’t want to do was deter assets that were going to be positioned in preparing for response -- for storm response. He didn’t want to deter those assets to prepare for his own travel. So he pulled down that trip. We said we would postpone it. We haven't announced a new date. But instead of traveling to Florida, he went to FEMA Headquarters to get a briefing on the storm and to make sure that the response was going to be of high caliber from the federal government.
Q Do you know why the President went back to the Oval Office last minute? Did he forget something? Or what was it?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, he forgot something that he wanted to bring on the trip. He’s human like the rest of us.
Q Donald Trump said earlier today that people are pouring over the border to affect our election by voting -- illegal immigrants are coming over from, I guess, Mexico to vote. Do you have any reaction?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven't seen those comments and I have no idea what he would use to back those up.
Do you have any comments on the Wall Street Journal story about the emails from the White House to the State Department?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw that story, John, and all I know is that for years now, my boss, Josh Earnest, from the podium in the White House Briefing Room has acknowledged that our staff in the communications office at the White House will be in touch with Secretary Clinton’s team about stories that pertain to Secretary Clinton’s service to the Obama administration. So the documents that were printed seemed to only back up what Josh has been acknowledging for a while now.
Q But there was some indication that the State Department was pressuring CBS, for instance, not to ask John Kerry about the email situation and that they seemed like they succeeded. They claimed to have succeeded. Is that an appropriate sort of position for the administration to be in?
MR. SCHULTZ: That's not my understanding. You’ll have to talk to the State Department about any engagements they had with media outlets.
Q A senior military official in Russia said that the country is considering reestablishing its presence in Cuba and Vietnam, and going back to some of the bases from the Cold War era. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, I haven't seen those comments. Obviously, our relationship with Russia right now is one that remains complicated. Obviously, there are areas where we disagree, and there’s areas where we've still been able to put those disagreements aside and work together. Generally speaking, we believe that we can work together when we have joint goals. And unfortunately, in recent times, Russia has not been able to live up to the commitments that they’ve made -- whether that's in Syria, whether that's in Ukraine, or elsewhere around the world.
So we've been disappointed and concerned by Russia not living up to their word, but that something they’re going to have to answer for.
Q The President again raised concerns about Haiti, which was hit very hard by Hurricane Matthew. Does the administration have any plans for aid to Haiti, or are you guys looking at anything to help them?
MR. SCHULTZ: Ayesha, thank you for raising that. I can tell you that while we are laser-focused on the response to the storm within the United States, the damage caused by the storm in the Caribbean has been devastating. And our thoughts and prayers are particularly with the families and loved ones of those who died in this tragic storm.
USAID has already sent disaster teams to Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas, and they’re working with local authorities to coordinate relief efforts. USAID has already provided an initial $1.5 million in assistance. And the Department of Defense has authorized up to $11 million in overseas humanitarian disaster and civic aid.
I can also tell you that Department of Defense personnel are on the ground in Haiti. Currently, there’s about 150 people there. I suspect that, weather permitting, that number will grow to a couple hundred over the weekend. And those men and women on the ground are helping with disaster response. They're fulfilling responsibilities that would normally fall to -- in the case of the United States -- the National Guard. So that's distributing food and water; that's making sure that assets are able to move; that's helping with transportation; that's able to stand up sort of first responder and emergency response apparatus.
So Haiti doesn't have that infrastructure, unfortunately, as the President said. They're one of the poorest nations of the world, so that's why the President wanted to make sure that the Department of Defense was able to help send personnel to the ground to help out with that.
Q The President mentioned that he's going to I guess fill out his ballot but not go to a precinct. Is there a reason why he's not voting in person this time? Can you talk about that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Ayesha, I don't have any scheduling announcements to tell you about. As you know, the President takes his responsibility as citizen very seriously. He likes to lead by example on this. And so he's called voting one of the most important responsibilities every citizen has. So I do know that Illinois is a state that enjoys early vote. That's an option that the President has availed himself of previously, and so if he decides to that on this trip, we'll make sure you guys tag along.
Q Eric, keeping on this trip, he hasn't gone out and really -- I mean, he's done a lot of campaign work for Hillary Clinton, but not too many for individual Senate and House candidates. What are some of the factors behind why he wanted to do something for Tammy Duckworth? Why is this particular race so important to him?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thanks, Kevin. It's a good question. As you point out, we have done some events for individual candidates beyond Secretary Clinton. The President -- I was at an event where -- for Governor Inslee of Washington State, Senator Murray of Washington.
But you're right -- Congresswoman Duckworth is a friend of the President. They've worked together in a number of capacities. But that's not the main reason why he'll be doing an event for her on Sunday. The main reason is he thinks she's a phenomenal public servant. She's a true patriot. She's someone who puts country first. She's served in a variety of capacities. She served her country in a variety of capacities -- obviously in Iraq; she headed the veterans office in the state of Illinois; she served in this administration. She proudly was in a senior leadership role at the Veterans Administration and, obviously, she now serves in the House of Representatives. The President wants to make sure that the people of Illinois give her a promotion of the United States Senate.
I think what you're probably getting at in your question is this isn't just another seat in Congress for the President -- this is his own Senate seat. So this is one that's important to him, and I think you'll hear more about that on Sunday.
Q Eric, just to follow up on that, has there been a sense from the President that maybe he doesn't want to get too involved in a race like this just to avoid the perception of this race as closer than it is?
MR. SCHULTZ: Mike, you probably follow the polls closer on this than I do, but the President's view is, we take nothing for granted. And he's, as you all have observed, been working hard this year to make sure that Democrats wage successful campaigns in the fall. He feels like the stakes are enormously high. He wants to make sure that Democrats up and down the ballot have the resources they need to wage effective campaigns. We're getting to that "Get Out the Vote" time of the campaigns, especially in a state like Illinois, with early vote. So you'll hear more about this from the President. He does have deep views about this particular campaign, and I think he'll in a position to share them with you on Sunday.
Q Does he feel this is unfinished business, having a Republican in the seat that he once occupied?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, like I said, he thinks Congresswoman Duckworth is a phenomenal public servant, someone who has bravely served this country in a number of capacities, and he wants to see her in the Senate.
Q Is the President planning to see Mayor Rahm Emmanuel? And how would you describe their relationship? He's been here a few times -- I don't know when the last time they actually have seen each other is.
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, I can try and pull that for you. I know one of the last Chicago trips I did they had a chance to connect. I'm not sure if they'll have a chance to see each other on this trip, but I can check for you.
Q Does the President think that Mayor Emanuel is doing a good job in Chicago, given the fact that Republicans always talk about Chicago as being a sign of bad Democratic leadership, specifically for the African American community?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you for reminding me to answer your broader question. Yes, the President and Mayor Emanuel are good friends. Their relationship goes back many years. The President is proud of Rahm Emanuel's service as chief of staff for the first few years of this presidency. They do remain in touch. Like I said, occasionally when the President gets to travel to Chicago, they're able to connect. I will let you know if they meet up in person.
Obviously, the President loves the city of Chicago and making sure that Chicago does well is important to him. And he thinks nobody knows the challenges and opportunities that Chicago faces better than Mayor Emanuel and nobody is working harder on those on any given day. So he appreciates the work that Mayor Emanuel does. And anyone who knows Mayor Emanuel knows that work probably continues around the clock.
Q Will the President be undertaking any business this weekend related to his library?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, again, I don't have any scheduling announcements for you. What I will say is that, consistent with our obligations to the press, if the President makes any movements or has any events that are outside of where he's staying, we'll let you know.
Thank you, guys.
12:36 P.M. EDT