Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Jacksonville, FL, 11/3/2016
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Jacksonville, Florida
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: One quick scheduling announcement. I wanted to make sure you saw that the President and the First Lady will join Secretary Clinton and President Clinton in Philadelphia Monday night for a campaign and get-out-the-vote rally. The President and First Lady are both looking forward to that event.
But with that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Q Since we’re talking about next week, can you give us a sense of how soon after the election the President would hope or expect to meet with the President-elect?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, as you know, the President is committed to a peaceful transition of power, and that actually involves a lot of work that’s been going on for years. The President directed his team to make this a significant priority. He remembers vividly that, in 2008, President George W. Bush’s team worked hard to make sure that the transition to the Obama administration was a seamless one, and he wants to do the same for his successor. So that work continues in earnest.
In terms of any meeting between President Obama and the President-elect, I don’t think that’s on the schedule yet, but we’ll let you know when that changes.
Q What about the President going before the American people to offer his analysis of the election results? Would that be next week, some point also? Could we expect that next week?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, somehow I don’t think there will be any shortage of analysis on this race. I do expect the President to offer his views on the election results, but I don’t have anything to preview at this time.
Q Eric, I understand we have some members of Congress onboard. Can you tell us who they are?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, Gregory. Senator Bill Nelson and Congressman Patrick Murphy are both on this flight. They are joining us from Miami to Jacksonville, and will not be joining us to Washington.
Q Can you talk about the President’s -- the energy at these events in the final days? He seems to be -- the President seems to be in full campaign mode. Can you compare this to 2008? He seems to be relishing this opportunity to get on the campaign trail.
MR. SCHULTZ: I do think you’ve heard him say that he’s got one last campaign in him, and this is it. 2008 -- it’s difficult to compare the circumstances. 2008 was a different time for the country, but obviously it was a different race because he was on the ballot.
This is a moment where, after eight years, the American people can judge his record and the progress that we’ve made over the past eight years, and that they have a stark choice before them. He has said that this is not a traditional Democratic versus Republican race -- contest, this election; that this is much more of a question about the direction this country wants to go and the values that we hold dear.
So, yes, there’s a lot at stake on Tuesday, and the President feels very invested in this race. And I think that’s why he’s not going to leave anything on the field between now and then.
Q I know you say that the scheduling decisions are made by the Clinton campaign, but it’s hard not to notice that the President is following up Trump rallies in Miami and Jacksonville, and Jacksonville in a matter of hours or minutes afterwards. Is that a coincidence? Or is the President shadowing Donald Trump on the campaign trail?
MR. SCHULTZ: Gregory, you probably follow Mr. Trump’s schedule more closely than I do. I think it’s probably a function of the winnowing battleground map; that as Election Day draws near, there’s only so many states that remain in play. And so when you’ve got a powerful surrogate like President Obama, I suspect the Clinton campaign wants to make sure he’s deployed into states that could determine the outcome of the election.
Q Eric, Josh has said recently -- said the President is placed with the trajectory of the race, but now the trajectory seems to be favoring Donald Trump increasingly. He’s gaining ground in polls, both nationally and in key battleground states. Does the President remain confident that Secretary Clinton will win? Is there any change in strategy or attitude or concern here? Can you describe if, at all, these polls have been a topic of discussion?
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, the President is absolutely determined to do everything he can to make sure that the American people elect Secretary Clinton on Tuesday. But if the premise of your question is that complacency can be a problem for Democrats, the answer to that question is yes.
The President feels that when Democrats vote, Democrats win. We have seen in some cycles that Democrats don’t turn out in the numbers that are high enough for their candidates to prevail. So the President is crisscrossing this country. As you all have observed, he’s got a fairly robust campaign schedule. And that’s because the stakes are high. If you look at all the progress we’ve made over the past eight years -- whether that’s rejuvenating this economy to the point where we have the longest stretch of private sector job growth in our nation’s history; whether it’s bringing the international community together to shut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon; whether it’s making sure this planet is preserved by bringing the international community together to focus on the challenge of climate change; or whether it’s extending health care to 20 million Americans; whether it’s all we’ve done to make sure that high school graduation rates are the highest they’ve ever been -- college enrollment is at historic highs.
So we have accomplished a lot over the past eight years, but the President is acutely aware that all of that is at stake in 2016 -- or, more specifically, on Tuesday -- if Republicans prevail, because they have not been shy about their commitment to roll back progress on each of those fronts.
So the President is very much invested, not only because all of this progress we’ve made is on the ballot, as he has said, but because he’s in the unique position to size up the two candidates running. He’s been in the Oval Office. He’s made the decisions that only the Commander-in-Chief makes. And he believes that Secretary Clinton is uniquely qualified to succeed him.
Q Moving away from the election, a panel of judges today ruled that Parliament would need to vote on Brexit. Obviously, this is still kind of an ongoing concern -- or ongoing litigation, but luckily not in the United States. So maybe you can comment on it. And I think even if you won’t sort of discuss the merits of the case, if you could talk about if there’s concern within the administration of the sort of turmoil that this entire process seems to be having on the financial markets.
MR. SCHULTZ: Justin, we are aware of the decision by the United Kingdom’s High Court. We are and will continue to work closely with officials in London, Brussels, and our international partners around the world to ensure continued economic stability, security, and prosperity in Europe and beyond.
We urge both the United Kingdom and the European Union in their negotiations to continue to be flexible and work this out in a process that is smooth, pragmatic, transparent and productive.
We continue to actively monitor financial and economic developments, and we’ll continue to consult closely with international counterparts to support financial stability and growth. I’ll add that the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom endures. It is a bedrock of the United States’ foreign policy. But likewise, the European Union remains an indispensable partner for the United States in stimulating economic growth and addressing regional and global challenges.
Q Eric, I believe yesterday, a statement was -- an audio statement was released from the Islamic State, from Baghdadi, talking about Mosul, saying no retreat. Do you have any response to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Ayesha, we are aware of that tape. But no propaganda can change the reality that week after week, ISIL continues to lose ground. The coalition amassed by the United States has put these terrorists on a path to lasting defeat.
As you may recall, two years ago, this ISIL leader announced a phony caliphate for Mosul’s great mosque. Today, he’s in hiding, unable to show his face in public. Iraqi security forces have entered Mosul for the first time since 2014, and have begun to liberate the city from ISIL’s control. This is ISIL’s current largest operations center in Iraq, but, as you have observed, liberation of Mosul would follow significant territorial losses from ISIL in the past two years -- that’s both in Iraq and in Syria.
And lastly, I would say that part of the coalition’s strategy -- a chief part of the coalition’s strategy has been taking out ISIL’s leadership. That includes the chief operations strategist, the ministers of war, interior, finance, and oil and gas. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop being vigilant or determined. The U.S. will continue to lead the coalition of 67 members to keep pressure on ISIL until they are ultimately defeated.
Q Does the administration believe that Baghdadi is still in Mosul? You said he’s in hiding. I mean, do you believe he’s in Mosul? Do you believe he’s someplace else?
MR. SCHULTZ: The reason I said he’s in hiding is, in 2014, when he declared this phony caliphate, he did it in public. I think it’s been a while since he’s been seen in public, and this was obviously a taped audio recording that they released. But I don’t have any other -- I don’t have any intelligence assessments to read out to you. You might want to check in with the intelligence community.
Q Eric, any readout on the meeting last night about the President’s foundation and whether there was a TV in the room as they talked about that, and how the President then monitored the remainder of Game 7?
MR. SCHULTZ: Scott, I can tell you that from time to time, typically when the President is on the road and has some down time, he’s taking the opportunity to meet with friends and supporters, to brainstorm on next steps and the work that the foundation is going to be doing. So that was what he availed himself of the opportunity to do last night.
I don’t know if they watched the game inside the event; however, I can confirm the President did watch the game in full upon returning to his hotel last night. Obviously, the President is first and foremost a White Sox fan, but shares in the celebration of Chicago. He is proud of the Cubs. It’s a high-quality team. Good players, good manager. And he looks forward to celebrating with them in the White House before he leaves office.
Q Is that going to happen?
MR. SCHULTZ: The invitation is being extended in real time.
Q Because all politics is local, Jack Evans, the D.C. Councilmember who chairs Metro’s board, said that he would advocate for a federal takeover of WMATA. I’m wondering if that’s something that the President would support. I know he’s talked in the past generally about the need for additional infrastructure spending, but the D.C. Metro system in particular seems to have hit a crisis point of sorts, and whether that needs a federal response.
MR. SCHULTZ: He could soon be a customer, a passenger. (Laughter.) Justin, I will take this opportunity to reiterate that the President does believe a well-functioning public transit system is important to the capital region. The President has said many times that if we’re serious about our infrastructure -- whether that’s water-sewer, bridges, transit systems -- as a country, we need to be serious about ensuring that we are funding our infrastructure rather than slowly allowing it to erode.
When it comes to the Washington Metro system, I will tell you that the federal government already had to intervene to address what the Department of Transportation determined were unacceptable risks to the safety of the people using that system. That’s why the Department of Transportation, back in October, I believe, assumed temporary safety oversight, verifying the agency’s progress on safety-related corrective actions and critical maintenance operations.
So there’s no question that we need real solutions here instead of patchwork, and that this is a transit system that’s going to need to get its house in order. But it doesn’t help that Congress has stalled funding what traditionally has been a bipartisan priority.
Q But, I mean, appreciating that -- on the specific idea of a federal control board in sort of the tradition of Detroit or Puerto Rico, is that something that you guys see as necessary or even possible now, or something you’d advocate for, or not?
MR. SCHULTZ: Look, I’d say that many of the proposals floated I’ve seen by local officials back in Washington would require congressional action, so I haven’t seen that being considered within the administration.
I would just say, though, that the long-term viability of the Washington transit system is critical, and any solution here is going to require strong collaboration between Maryland, Virginia and the District.
Q This question has come up before a couple of times. Do you have any more clarity on who makes the decision to use the presidential seal at a purely political or campaign event, as was the case yesterday and today and all of the President’s events this week and early next?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, I know -- like you said, this question has come up in the past. I don’t know if there’s a cardinal rule on this. I know that it can sometimes matter from event to event, given the backdrop or the setting of where we’re at. I know that in some political events, the seal is used and sometimes it’s not. But I don’t have any sort of guiding principles beyond that for you on this.
Q This is 100 percent a campaign trip, correct? The Air Force One expenses are all being paid for by the Democratic National Committee?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes. So there’s a formula that’s used, because some expenses are just attached to being President of the United States. So there’s a formula that’s used when trips are -- again, have political components.
Q This is 100 percent political. Is it fair to say this trip is -- at least his public schedule is 100 percent political?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m going through the schedule in my head, but I don’t believe we have any official stops on this trip. So there’s a formula that governs however many stops -- whether it’s zero, one, two or however many stops -- are political -- are deemed political that dictate the reimbursement from the DNC or political campaign.
Q And is “Come on, man” the new “Yes, we can”?
MR. SCHULTZ: I heard it’s trending, Darlene. But I think it sums up the frustration that not only the President has but that a lot of voters have. That you now have Republicans who previously had said that the next President should pick the next Supreme Court justice, saying even if voters do that and they select a Democrat to be President, that even that Democratic President doesn’t have the right to appoint a Supreme Court justice. And it’s not just a handful of Republicans, it’s the number-two Republican in the Senate who went out of his way to entertain this idea as legitimate.
The President believes that’s misguided; that the last thing the American people want is more dysfunction and paralysis in Washington. And if Republicans think they’ve done a good job debilitating their influence in Congress, the last place that dysfunction should spread is the third branch of government.
Q Eric, is there any reaction to the reports of in-fighting in the FBI with regard to the investigation into the Clinton Foundation?
MR. SCHULTZ: Lesa, I’ve seen a lot of the stories that you’re referencing. I don’t have anything new to share with you. Obviously, the President places a huge priority on the federal workforce and maintaining high professional standards. He wants everyone, whether they work in law enforcement or other agencies, to perform at their highest capabilities and remember that we’re all public servants, and we’re all serving the country to the best of our abilities.
1:54 P.M. EDT