Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Miami, FL, 10/20/2016
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Miami, Florida
11:25 A.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good morning. Welcome aboard Air Force One en route to Miami, where the President will deliver remarks at Miami Dade College about the Affordable Care Act and the progress we've made to improve our health care system. The President will discuss what more can be done to advance affordable, accessible, quality health care in this country, and the robust enrollment period we're expecting starting on November the 1st, less than two weeks from now.
As you all know, because of the Affordable Care Act, 20 million more Americans now know the financial security and peace of mind that comes with having health insurance. Our health care costs are growing at the slowest rate in decades, and improvements to our health care system, thanks to the law, are keeping patients healthier and letting doctors practice medicine the way they'd like.
For additional background on why we're headed to Miami Dade, let me tell you that this is an institution that's been involved from day one in educating their students, faculty, staff, and surrounding community about open enrollment. They've hosted dozens of enrollment days with in-person assisters on all nine campuses throughout the county. They've sent regular email reminders to all their students around deadlines, and regularly use their social media platforms to amplify open enrollment.
One other thing I wanted to draw to your attention this morning is that today, on our website, at WhiteHouse.gov, we're launching a new feature highlighting the letters that the President has received during his time in office. Many of you know that every night the President receives 10 letters written to him by Americans from around the country, and this first set posted today comprises Affordable Care Act letters that the President has received over the last seven and a half years. So we hope you'll check them out. And we'll continue to add letters on this topic and a range of others over the next few months.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Are the letters just on health care, or will they be about other subjects in the future?
MR. SCHULTZ: We're going to be uploading letters on a whole host of topics. The ones we uploaded today, this sort of inaugural batch, are on the Affordable Care Act.
Q And will they be done in like chunks of different topics? Like, each dispatch will have the same topic kind of idea?
MR. SCHULTZ: For today, I can tell you that today's letters are about the Affordable Care Act and what this legislation has meant to people who have been able to use it. They're amongst the 20 million people who have gotten health insurance based on the Affordable Care Act. They've written really meaningful, touching stories. These are the stories that inspire this President to make sure this law is working as best as it can. So we're going to continue to share those stories and stories on a range of other issues facing Americans.
Q Was the President watching the debate last night? And if so, what was his reaction to Donald Trump refusing to commit to accept the results of the election in November?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jordan, I think before we left off, the President sent out a tweet that you may have seen. He thinks these debates have been an opportunity for the American people to see what the President knows firsthand, which is Secretary Clinton is the most qualified nominee to ever be running for President in our nation's history. He believes, as he has said, she brings more experience and qualifications than even he did when he was running for President.
So he believes all three of the debates now have been an opportunity for the American people to see that.
Q But about Donald Trump specifically refusing to say that he would accept the outcome if he refuses on November 8th.
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, I don’t have anything new for you on that. As you know, the President addressed this on Tuesday in the Rose Garden. He made a couple of points that I think are worth emphasizing here. First, he said the peaceful transition of power in our nation is a hallmark of our country. This is what makes America great.
The President -- I'm not sure there's anyone more diametrically opposed to what the Republican nominee stands for than this President. But even he said that if this country chooses to elect Mr. Trump, he will pursue a peaceful transfer of power. He will escort him to the Capitol. That will be some car ride. (Laughter.) But that's in the best interest of our nation, and that's consistent with hundreds of years of tradition.
The other thing I would draw your attention to is the President's plans for a peaceful transfer of power aren’t starting now. They've actually been in the works for months now. We have stood up resources and assets to make sure that whoever wins the election in November will be able to smoothly enter office. And so our approach to that has been even-handed. We work just as closely with the Republican campaign as we do with the Democratic campaign. Our Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, called both campaigns after their conventions to make sure that they were plugging into our transition process seamlessly. So that work is going to continue unabated.
Q Is the President doing anything in addition to what he planned to, to make sure that after the election there isn’t a problem with the country accepting the results, or some significant segment of a country accepting the results, given this?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I quibble with a little bit of the premise of your question given that --
Q This is Trump sort of saying, I may not accept the results, which, in the past, no one said in advance -- oh, some restrictions apply to accepting the results. And does that cause you to do anything different than you’d planned at all? I don't know. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, you're right that this is unprecedented. And the President made that remark on Tuesday in the Oval Office. The other point the President made is if you're complaining about the toughness of the race, that probably doesn’t portend well for the presidency, that the challenges a candidate faces on the campaign trail pale in terms of the complexities of the issues that a president would face in the Oval Office.
So folks will have to judge for themselves whether that's a sign of strength or not. But in terms of the President’s approach, what he said Tuesday is still operative -- that any serious investigation or examination into the sort of right-wing allegations of voter fraud, those allegations never withstand scrutiny. There’s never much evidence, as you all report, of that happening. And I think that's possibly why the vice presidential candidate, a campaign manager for the Republican nominee continue to insist that they will accept the results of the election.
Q Not to belabor the point, but I think what Mike is getting at is there might be some Trump supporters who -- I mean, the question isn't over whether Trump is going to accept the peaceful transition in the event he loses. The question is, what’s going to happen on polling places on Election Day; what’s going to happen in cities or places where Trump supporters throng afterward? I guess, is the administration taking any specific steps to mitigate any of those concerns ahead of Election Day on November 8th?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jordan, as you know, we believe the right to vote is sacred, and the President believes that people ought to be able to do that easily and safely and securely. And that's not a new principle for us. I don't have any new measures to announce along those lines to safeguard that principle and to safeguard that constitutional right. And again, the President believes that -- and I think as you all have, to your credit, reported -- there’s not a lot of evidence of widespread voter fraud that some on the right continue to allege.
Q -- there are Republicans who say that what Trump is doing is simply reserving the right to do the same thing that Al Gore did in 2000. How do you analyze that in that White House?
MR. SCHULTZ: I noticed that, Christi. And I guess my response is, in 2000, there was an automatic recount triggered in the state of Florida based on the margins of the result. After that was litigated, the Vice President conceded the election gracefully and with dignity. And he did so because it was, indeed, in the best interest of the country.
So I'm not sure this is Republicans’ best argument. In fact, it seems to argue to the contrary.
Q How is it an argument to the contrary?
MR. SCHULTZ: Because the race in Florida was so close that there was an automatic recount triggered by law, by statute. Once that was decided, Al Gore, much to the dismay of some on the left who were urging him to continue the fight, went ahead and placed his own political self-interests behind the interests of the country and conceded the race to then-Governor Bush.
Q Eric, foreign policy unless anyone has another election question? No? So President Duterte was in China, and he said that he’s realigned the Philippines with China, and is separating from the U.S., in his words. I'm wondering how this will affect the arrangement giving U.S. forces access to Philippines bases.
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Roberta. The U.S.-Philippine alliance is built on a 70-year history, rich people-to-people ties, and a long list of shared security concerns. To bluntly answer your question, we have not received any official request from Philippine officials to alter any of our many issues where we bilaterally cooperate. I will tell you that we continue to be the Philippines’ strongest economic partner. Current stock of foreign direct investment -- I happen to have this -- is $4.7 billion. And we continue to outpace any other country in terms of direct investment into that country.
The last thing I'll say, which gets to your question, is we have always believed, and the President has said repeatedly, that it's in our interest for countries in the Asia Pacific to have strong relationships with a responsible China. We don't consider this a zero-sum game. We believe that it's in our national security interest when our partners and allies in the region have strong relationships with China, consistent with international norms.
Q But how does the White House feel about or read these highly negative comments from President Duterte?
MR. SCHULTZ: Roberta, I'm not sure if you were on our last foreign trip or not --
Q Yeah, I was.
MR. SCHULTZ: -- but the President had an opportunity to discuss President Duterte’s remarks. He called them “colorful." As you know, we had to -- we decided to cancel a one-on-one bilateral meeting with him at the time. So I don’t have any new reaction for you right now. All I would say is, our relationship with the country and the people of the Philippines goes back decades and is based on deep ties.
Q Can I follow up on that? One of the principles that the President pushed really hard for in the South China Sea is that countries would not be forced to negotiate bilaterally with China over these disputed islands and shoals and reefs. I mean, the substance of what Duterte said was, we’re now going to negotiate bilaterally with the Chinese. That strikes me as a major defeat for what had been an important part of the President’s pivot to Asia. Do you view it that way? And what would the President plan to do to press his point that these negotiations need to be multilateral, not bilateral?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, Mark. I haven’t heard anyone in the administration describe it that way. As you point out, our view is -- well, we don’t take a side in the dispute. Our view is that these disputes need to be handled through multilateral adjudications and through -- according to rules based on international norms. So there are certain principles at stake here which we adhere to, we expect other countries to adhere to. And that’s going to be our policy moving forward.
Q Can I ask one question about the Bob Creamer story? So I’m wondering whether there’s any more clarity that you can offer on the nature of these meetings that he had in the White House. There are a lot that are listed under visitor logs as “with POTUS,” but I understand that that doesn’t necessarily imply one-on-one meetings. Can you give us any more clarity on the nature of those meetings?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Mark, for the opportunity. Yes, as you know, we are the first administration in history to release the White House visitor logs. I believe the last administration went to the Supreme Court to withhold that information. So I’m pleased to be able to have this conversation with you based on the White House’s commitment to transparency.
We should insert one caveat at the top, which is the WAVES records, which are disclosed voluntarily and proactively by this administration, don’t always reveal real-time information. In other words, this is a database of people who were cleared into the complex, but not necessarily always entered. In other words, you could imagine meetings or large group events where people want to get cleared in, but don’t always attend. So we should just sort of stipulate that caveat at the top.
I don’t know if we’ve had the time to go back and look at every individual visit. I know that a lot of the visits that have been circulating online were large events -- over a thousand people. So as Josh said yesterday, this idea that there were intimate, one-on-one meetings in the Oval Office I don’t think is consistent with where the data is. But if we have more information about the visits, we’ll let you know.
Q Can you say whether there were one-on-one visits?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I don’t know if we’ve looked at each and every one, but I know that a lot of them were large events, over a hundred people, even over a thousand people, from what I could see.
Q Is there any reaction to North Korea’s latest attempt to launch a missile?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, Darlene. U.S. Strategic Command detected a failed North Korean missile launch near the city of Kusong. The missile is presumed to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile. The North American Aerospace Defense Command determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America. We strongly condemn this and North Korea’s other missile tests which violate U.N. Security Council resolutions explicitly prohibiting North Korea’s launches using ballistic missile technology.
We believe this provocation only serves to increase the international community’s resolve to counter the DPRK’s prohibitive activities, including through implementing existing U.N. security sanctions. It also underscores the need for the U.N. Security Council to impose additional strong sanctions in response to the DPRK’s nuclear test on September 9th.
11:42 A.M. EDT