Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, 12/9/16
1:16 P.M. EST
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon. I apologize profusely for being so late. But I will try to move through this swiftly, so you all can get started on your weekends.
Darlene, I don't have anything at the top. You're welcome to lead us off.
Q Thank you. Can you speak to what prompted the President to order this review on the Russian hacking into the presidential elections?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, Darlene. And we should just clarify that the President, earlier this week, instructed the intelligence community to conduct a full review of the pattern of malicious cyber activity related to our presidential election cycle. So he’s requested this report be completed and submitted to him before the end of his term.
As you all know, in 2008, there were intrusions into both the Obama and McCain campaigns. There haven't been any noted episodes in 2012, but the President asked to go back, with what we know now, to make sure that we're using every tool possible as a means of due diligence. And then, of course, in 2016, our intelligence community determined that there was malicious cyber activity intended to interfere with our elections. In the high confidence assessment that was released this past October, the intelligence community made very clear that this was activity directed by the highest levels of the Russian government.
So as we've made clear, we are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections. And this report will dig into this pattern of malicious cyber activity timed to our elections, take stock of our defensive capabilities, and capture lessons learned to make sure that we brief members of Congress and stakeholders, as appropriate.
Q Will the review go all the way back to ’08?
MR. SCHULTZ: So we're going to actually -- what the President asked for is a review to look at malicious activity timed to our presidential election cycle. And so it will be broader than just looking at this past election.
Q Will it also look at whether state election systems were tampered with, or will it just be about email intrusions?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, what we determined in mid-November, a few weeks ago now, is that state election systems did not -- the federal government did not detect any increased malicious cyber activity on Election Day or related to the administering of the elections. So we've already made that determination, and that's something we've announced publicly from here. But in terms of what this review will look at, this is going to be a review that’s conducted by the intelligence community.
As you know, in that October statement that we released, that was released by the *Department[Office of the Director] of National Intelligence and Department of Homeland Security. Obviously there’s other agencies that work on those issues, including the FBI, the Department of Justice and Department of State.
Q Will it be made public?
MR. SCHULTZ: So we're going to make public as much as we can. Obviously, you can imagine a report like this is going to contain highly sensitive and even classified information, perhaps, so when that report is submitted we're going to take a look. We want to make sure we brief Congress and relevant stakeholders, like possibly state administrators who actually operationalize the elections.
So given that the directive to launch this review was just this week, we want to make sure that that process unfolds in all due accord.
Q And quickly on one other subject. Can you go into what guidance the White House may be giving to departments and agencies in the event there’s a shutdown tonight?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can, Darlene. And we should just take a step back and remember that the fact that we're even talking about this is an indication of the failure of Republicans to govern. They come to Washington -- they hold majorities in both houses of Congress, and they come to Washington with a basic responsibility, and at that top of that list is funding the government. And the fact that we're in the 11th hour here and you even have to ask that question is an indication that Republicans have failed to fulfil their basic responsibility of governing.
So given that today is the deadline to keep the government open, we're obviously expecting and hope for them to pass a continuing resolution. We understand that there’s conversations ongoing on the Hill about the path forward here. There’s been concerns raised by Democrats about a couple of provisions; we echo those concerns. Josh talked about them earlier this week.
That includes not fully supporting retired coal miners who deserve benefits related to their health care and their pensions. These are coal miners who worked for decades in treacherous conditions and who earned these benefits. Unfortunately, the proposal that Republicans are floating only takes care of them for a few months. We believe that's not right. So, thankfully, Senator Manchin and Senator Brown are leading the effort here. I know those talks continue.
Another concern that we've raised -- that's been raised by Democrats on the Hill includes playing games with funding for Flint. We've heard forever now from Republicans who’ve demagogued that the federal government should be doing more to support the people of Flint, and we couldn't agree more. Republicans this fall committed to doing more to support the people of Flint. And unfortunately, the funding in the CR is tied to a bill that's completely unrelated and that has problems in it. So it's unclear whether that bill can even pass. So Republicans need to stop monkeying around with this and just get the job done.
In terms of the guidance that the Office of Management and Budget has released, I can tell you that, unfortunately, under a Republican-controlled Congress, they have too much practice releasing guidance about government shutdowns. And they've been in touch with agencies across the administration, across the government, planning for a number of contingencies.
Q Hi. So South Korean lawmakers voted overwhelmingly today to impeach President Park. I was wondering, does the White House have any response to that or any response to these latest developments?
MR. SCHULTZ: Ayesha, we are following developments in the Republic of Korea closely. It's worth noting that this has been a time of political unease and change. And despite that, South Koreans have acted peacefully, calmly, and in respect for their own democratic principles.
The United States continues to be a steadfast ally, friend and partner to the Republic of Korea. And we look forward to working closely with *President[Prime Minister] Hwang in his new capacity as Acting President. We've always said that our alliances are deeper than tied to any particular -- any singular leader in any country, but rather, our ties are based on long-shared values, goals and interests.
We got similar questions earlier this year when Prime Minister Cameron stepped down, that if that would alter the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. And the answer is, no, that we have a strong relationship with the people of -- with the Republic of Korea, and I wouldn’t expect that to change.
Q And does the White House have a position on whether she should step down or go through the impeachment process?
MR. SCHULTZ: Ayesha, we have enough on our plate in domestic politics, so it's not going to be for us to weigh in on the domestic politics in Korea.
Q On another subject. There's been reports that President-elect Donald Trump will remain on as an executive producer for "Celebrity Apprentice." And this morning, his advisor, Kellyanne Conway, compared the possibility of him staying on as executive producer of "Celebrity Apprentice" to President Obama's golfing. I was wondering, does the White House think those two are comparable? Do they think they're similar? And does the President have any thoughts on President-elect Trump remaining on as executive producer of this show?
MR. SCHULTZ: So I will confess to you I have not asked the President about this today. I'm not quite sure that analogy holds any water. But, look, that's going to be a question for the President-elect's team and perhaps our friends at NBC to answer how that relationship will work.
Q So you mentioned that this new review of Russian hacking activity will go back to 2008. Is that the main way that it differs from the FBI investigation that's already done?
MR. SCHULTZ: I see. It's a good question. And the FBI investigation was looking at specific acts that we saw over the summer and fall of this year. So, as you know, they looked at the hacks at campaign committees like the DNC and other malicious cyber activity that we were detecting. At the time, they determined that this is activity that could have only been directed from the highest levels of the Russian government. So, yes, this is going to put that activity in a greater context. That's going to look at the pattern of this happening from foreign actors, dating all the way back to 2008.
Q Okay. And the response that's coming now from the foreign ministry in Russia is that they're saying many times they've asked Americans to provide full information but never had any response. Is that true? I mean, have you guys not wanted to have those conversations with Lavrov or others? Is it something you wanted to kind of keep to yourselves for now? What can you say about the handling of this with respect to Russia?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think to the contrary, Michelle. This isn’t something we've tried to keep to ourselves. The President, himself, has made clear that this is activity that's unacceptable, that is outside the bounds of --
Q But in terms of, like, the greater detail that they said they were looking for.
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm not aware of any sort of specific request that they've asked for. But the President has made clear his views on this, and that malicious cyber activity -- specifically malicious cyber activity timed to our elections has no place in the international community.
Unfortunately, this activity is not new to Moscow. We've seen them do this for years, try and meddle in elections and engage in similar activities in Europe and across Asia. So they, unfortunately, have a long record of this. But the President has made clear to President Putin that this is unacceptable. But that's not the only channel of communication. I do know that Secretary Kerry has talked to his counterpart, and we have other national security officials who have made this clear to their counterparts in Moscow.
Q Okay. And will this include a look at any potential attempts or activity at local levels? Or this is only going to look at kind of a bigger or federal level?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think these agencies will have to take a look at what we saw in 2008, 2012, and 2016. So I think that this is going to be a deep dive, that this will be a review that is broad and deep at the same time. And so they're going to look at where the activity leads them to look at. In other words, again, like I mentioned, in 2012 there was no noted episode of this nature, but knowing what we know now, using the tools that we have now, we can go back and see if there was anything that was missed back then.
Q How is there going -- I mean, if this is going to be so broad and deep, as you said, going beyond what the FBI took a pretty long time to do, and going back to 2008, how is there time to do this?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, it's a huge priority. This is a major priority for the President of the United States. He directed his intelligence community and national security officials to take this on. He expects that report to be issued to him before he leaves office. You're right, there's going to be a lot of work to be done. But like you've also said, there's already been a lot of work done about the episode this year in 2016. So what we want to do is put that into context over the past eight years to see if we can sort of develop patterns, take stock of where we are and make sure that we do have the right defensive capabilities in place.
Q So when you see the allegations from some members of Congress and others that there could be evidence that Russia was actually trying to influence the election in a particular way, will this also look at potential motivations and whether that meaning was there or not?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, we know that, again, in October when the intelligence community released their high confidence assessment --
Q Just real quick -- was it high confidence? Because I thought the statement was just confidence. And this is the first time I've heard high confidence.
MR. SCHULTZ: Hans, I should double-check that, but I'm pretty sure it was high confidence.
Q I can read it to you.
MR. SCHULTZ: Let us take this, because when I was briefed out here I was told it was high confidence. But maybe we should just sync up.
Q So in the breadth of it, will it also look at whether they tried to influence the election in a particular way? Is it safe to say that it would look at motivations?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I want to be clear here that this is not an effort to challenge the outcome of the election, that we have acknowledged who won the election. It wasn't the candidate that the President campaigned for. And so the President has actually gone out of his way to make sure that we are providing for a seamless transition of power. So we're not calling into question the election results. We are taking seriously our responsibility to protect the integrity of those elections.
Q But is it safe to say that it will look at motivations and goals as well as the technical side of what was done?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think in that assessment that was released in October, it made clear that this was an attempt to interfere in our elections. So whether or not they dig deeper into motives, I'm not sure that will be a part of this review, but there are some things we already know for sure.
Q I want to go back to Korea first. I'm wondering if you anticipate this having any impact on the implementation of the missile defense system that we've been trying to install there, and also, if you have any sort of reaction to the, I think, push for corporate reform in South Korea that seems to have been a kind of underpinning of, or at least partial underpinning of this impeachment effort.
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, I don't have -- I haven't heard any internal conversations that this could change that agreement that was announced earlier this year between President Park's administration and ours. So I don't have anything to suggest that that agreement is going to be changing.
Obviously, in the wake of the political changes in the Republic of Korea, we are in close coordination -- in close contact with our counterparts there. So the President's belief is that our relationship with the people of Korea is solid and strong. And that's based on a number of things. One, it's our rich people-to-people ties. There's a large Korean population in America that is strong and vibrant. There are strong relationships with young people between the United States and the Republic of Korea, a lot of cultural exchange programs that we take seriously.
Obviously, Korea is a large trading partner, so we have vibrant economic ties. And lastly, obviously regional security, as you're suggesting. We work closely with Korea on our stabilization and security efforts in the Korean Peninsula, specifically in regards to the threat posed by North Korea.
And the second question?
Q I think we got it all.
MR. SCHULTZ: Oh, good. (Laughter.) Okay.
Q But I did want to go back to the CR briefly. You praised Senators Manchin and Brown. Obviously their tactic right now seems to be to force a government shutdown in hopes of getting a minor provision for the full year -- minor funding. And they've also -- I think there's this dispute over the California water issue that seems unresolved. So is the President willing to veto legislation over this? And do you support sort of the tactics that could lead to a government shutdown here, even if it's just a brief one over the weekend?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I haven't brought out my veto pen.
Q But you've got, like, I don't know, 10 hours at this point, right?
MR. SCHULTZ: We do have 10 hours and, unfortunately, Republicans have run out the clock. There's no reason it had to come to this point. They've had majorities in both chambers and they've also known this deadline was coming. This wasn't something that should have caught them by surprise.
So we do support efforts to care for the minors. These are benefits that they've accumulated over decades of work, and so we do support efforts to try and restore the benefits that they deserve.
Q But you're not willing to threaten a veto and you're not willing to say that you think the government should shut down at this point?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, I know those conversations are ongoing. I know that it's bewildering to me why we even need to have conversations about this. I don't understand why Republicans are picking a fight over minors in coal country who've worked for decades in treacherous conditions and who have earned the exact benefits that Democrats want to provide to them.
Q Well, what about on the water provision? I guess, like that -- I mean, that's Democrats being unable to agree with each other about what to do.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I'm not sure we see it that way, Justin. The problem with the Flint provision is that Republicans aren't putting their money where their mouth is --
Q They passed funding for Flint. The problem is that the two senators from California, who are both Democrats, can't agree on what the water plan that is attached to the Flint bill should be.
MR. SCHULTZ: So, in other words, we, for months, heard Republicans talk a lot about the people of Flint and the support they need. But when it comes time to actually funding the people of Flint and making sure they have the support and resources they need, we have to tie it to another totally unrelated bill that has problems in it that's passage is in question? Why can't we just do this by the books and play it straight, and get the people of Flint the funding they need?
There's $170 million worth of funding in there, but without specific authorization language, it's really unclear whether that funding can actually get to the people of Flint.
Q All right, last one. The Vice President is up in Canada. I'm wondering if you anticipate any movement during his trip on the softwood lumber dispute. And there was a petition filed a few weeks ago -- I don't think we've talked about it yet -- but whether you guys anticipate the Commerce Department taking up this issue --
MR. SCHULTZ: If Josh was here, he'd have a pun. I don't have one. (Laughter.) But I can tell you that I haven't heard the Vice President make any news on this on his trip. And I haven't heard from the Commerce Department if they plan to take this up, so you might want to just check with them.
Tamara. Welcome back.
Q Thank you. It's good to be back. On the assessment that's being done, the review that's being done, is there an effort to get this done quickly, before the President leaves because the President-elect has said publically that he doesn't think Russia was involved or that there was a 400-pound man somewhere in a basement involved? Is there an effort to, like, get this out and on the record before the new administration comes in?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think the President wanted this done under his watch because he takes it very seriously. And this is something that the President has been monitoring closely for all eight years now. We placed a huge premium on cybersecurity, and that's actually reflected in how we've done business over the past eight years. If you look at our budget that we released *last[this] year, we include significant resources for cybersecurity. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t done a thing about it.
A more concrete data point would be look at how we've handled this past year. In the summer and fall, we noticed an increase in probing and scanning of state election systems. As a result, the President ordered his Department of Homeland Security to respond. And what we did is we stood up resources at the Department of Homeland Security, which engaged state offices around the country, nearly every state. And we deployed experts; we worked with them to bolster their defense systems; we shared best practices. And we convened conference calls and communications to share the latest information as we learned it.
So this is something the President has been focused on for a while. But, yes, in the wake of the election, in the wake of this pattern that we've seen fairly regularly in recent elections here at the presidential level in the United States, the President wanted to make sure that we were executing on an after-action look at what we've noticed over the past few years.
Q The President has spoken with some regularity it seems to the President-elect. Has he told President-elect Trump about his review? And was there any reaction?
MR. SCHULTZ: Tamara, we have acknowledged that the President and President-elect have spoken. I think we're up to a handful of times. But what we don't do is we don't read out those conversations, in order to protect the President’s ability to have confidential conversations with the President-elect.
Q And when stakeholders will be told about the results of this, would those stakeholders include people like Hillary Clinton and the Trump campaign?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I think we just announced that this review is going to be underway. So as soon as we have a rollout plan for when it’s submitted, we’ll let you know.
Q Eric, I want to ask you about another pending piece of legislation, which is the defense policy bill. The Senate passed it 24 hours ago. Will the President sign it?
MR. SCHULTZ: We did see its passage. As Josh said, it’s a 3,000-page bill. So we are reviewing it. As we've said, there are some things we were relieved to see in it, like a lack of the budgetary gimmicks that have been a hallmark of Republican governing over the past few years. Those aren’t in it. There’s some concern we have, like the permission to restrict -- to prevent our ability to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
So I don't have a new position for you at this time.
Q I mean -- I guess the last time you guys threatened a veto over the bill, but signed it anyway over the Gitmo provisions. Are we to read that you're just going to sign it again from --
MR. SCHULTZ: You have an accurate recollection of modern history.
MR. SCHULTZ: Hans.
Q I just want to follow up on what the review is going to encompass. Should we be thinking of it as something that's going to be looking at Russia, or follow the facts wherever they may lead if that includes other either state actors or non-state actors?
MR. SCHULTZ: The latter. So, in other words --
Q So this isn’t going to be a global review. It’s looking more at vulnerabilities of U.S. election processes and then it will follow the facts wherever they go?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, in other words, the intrusion that I mentioned in 2008 was publicly attributed to the Chinese, not to the Russians. So, yes, we will be looking at all foreign actors and any attempt to interfere with the elections.
Q And that's state and non-state?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, we should check in with the agencies who are charged with actually conducting the review. But I don't think they're going to take a -- this isn’t going to be a narrow dive, this is going to be a deep dive into this troubling pattern.
Q And the other side of that question is will you be looking at Russian influence or other non-state actor influences outside of U.S. elections? Because in your answer you mentioned Europe and Eurasia. Will you be -- will you follow this to say if they interfered in an election in Central America, South America? How far will it take you?
MR. SCHULTZ: I know that the United States’ government and other governments have acknowledged that Russia participates in these sort of activities around the world. I’m not sure that this particular review will look into those episodes around the world. So I can't really confirm that it will be included in this review.
Q Thanks, Eric. I want to ask you about something that happened in Germany. To loud applause, Chancellor Angela Merkel told her party members this week that Germany should ban full-face veils wherever legally possible. What does the White House have to say about that decision, considering the strong ties that the President and the Chancellor have had over the last eight years?
MR. SCHULTZ: You're right, Kevin. The President -- I don't think there’s a world leader that the President has worked closer with than Chancellor Merkel. They most recently had an opportunity in Berlin a few weeks ago now. You were with us. And they've worked together on everything from national security to the refugee crisis, to climate change, to the Iran deal. And they have a very close working relationship.
I think it’s significant that on the President’s final foreign trip, he went out of his way literally to go to Germany as a way to, A, express gratitude for the Chancellor’s hard work on a whole host of issue; and B, as a symbolic gesture that the relationship between the United States and Germany is as strong as it's ever been, and because of that cooperation we've been able to accomplish great things over the past eight years. So the President, when he travels to countries like Germany, continues to speak out on democratic values.
I don't know if we have issued a position on this. I did see those reports from Germany. But again, the President’s views on this are clear, that in this country we have a strong tradition of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and so the President frequently will speak out on those obviously when he’s here at home, but also when he’s abroad.
Q On the CR -- and I don't want to make more of this than has already been mentioned in the room, but I'm just curious -- if you're a senior, if you are -- it can be something as simple as going to the Army-Navy game, and you're wondering what happens if this doesn’t get wrapped up. What’s your message to the folks who are watching at home and wondering? They’re not awash in this sort of policy on a day-to-day basis. They see the headline, and many of them are obviously concerned.
MR. SCHULTZ: I'll get very specific. So if it is apparent late Friday evening or early Saturday that a new CR is likely to be enacted on Saturday, our Office of Management and Budget will instruct agencies to operate at a normal manner and not engage in a shutdown procedure.
If OMB determines late Friday or early Saturday that a CR is not likely to be enacted, we will issue instructions for agencies to proceed with their shutdown implementation. That includes the orderly shutdown by non-exempted employees. And agencies will need to work through their own furlough issues for days that are traditionally open for the federal government. I know it falls over the weekend, so we'll be looking at that.
But, look, individual agencies are required to have updated shutdown plans that outline activities that will take place during the shutdown. So if you have specific questions about what will be open and what wouldn't be open you should check in with those agencies.
Q Hey, Eric. To go back to the review for one more question. If the goal is to obviously figure out if there was an attempt to interfere with the elections and past elections and share that with stakeholders, with Congress. Obviously we're talking about this broad review that's going to be pretty in-depth. Is there a concern that the next administration -- is the goal for the next administration to take some action as well, since the President only has 40 days left? And if so, is there a concern that the next administration -- President-elect Donald Trump, President-elect Trump won't act on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, in terms of what the next administration will do, it's hard for me to speculate on that. So I'd refer you to the President-elect’s team. I do think -- this exact issue surfaced a little bit earlier this week when -- well, maybe it was Friday -- when the President’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity released its report, which was a deep dive unrelated to the election, but looking at cybersecurity infrastructure around the United States. And there were some pieces in there that were actionable that we could probably work on and improve over the next 40-45 days while the President is still in office. But there’s a whole host of recommendations in that report that will not be able to be implemented in the next 45 days.
So this is going to be a challenge. I don't think it's a controversial statement to say this will be a challenge for the next administration and the next Congress. We hope that Congress puts a little bit more muscle into funding a lot of the requests for better resources and better support. But, yes, this will be a problem that outlives this administration. And I do think that the report that was released Friday and presumably the report that gets turned in based on this review can provide a road map for future administrations to tackle this.
Q And, Eric, I don't think I heard you say -- and forgive me if you did -- has the President reached out to Senate leadership on the CR, or any senators who have -- like Senator Manchin who’s had a stake in this with fighting for coal miners -- has there been some type of communication?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have any presidential conversations to read out to you. I can confirm there were about 300 to 400 members of Congress here last night for the congressional balls, so I wouldn't be surprised if there were conversations in the photo line or elsewhere in the East Wing on this. But I can assure you that members of Congress know precisely where we stand. I know our Office of Legislative Affairs is in touch with both Democrats and Republicans on this. So there shouldn’t be any question as to our position.
Q And, Eric, also -- so the President-elect's Labor Secretary is a vocal critic of many of the President's initiatives -- so raising the minimum wage, expanding overtime pay eligibility. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. So what impact do you think he'll have on workers, on labor? Is there a concern there?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, I'm not going to be in a position to speculate on what the incoming President's team -- what policies they will implement and the results of those policies. We can only just speak for ourselves. And I think the record that we've produced is one to be proud of, and it's one, I think, that the next administration will be judged against. Hopefully, it's one that future administrations for some time will be judged against.
As you recall, when we took office, the unemployment rate was at 10 percent. Governor Romney famously said that he could bring it down to 6 percent. We actually hit that earlier than expected, and right now it's at 4.6 percent. So we feel good about our record, which, again, includes the longest stretch of private sector job growth on record. Businesses have added 15.6 million jobs over the last 81 months. And so wages have started to accelerate in recent years. So we feel good about the progress we've made.
I'll give you one example of something specifically that we've worked on. In the 2015 State of the Union, the President called for an increase in the minimum wage. Congress has not lifted a finger to do that under Republican direction, but some states have and some private companies have, and some localities have. I believe we're now up to 18 states and the District of Columbia which have raised the minimum wage. My colleagues at the Council of Economic Advisers released a report a few days ago that looked at the impact of raising the minimum wage in those states. They found that wages went up, and they found that there was no adverse impact on business interests.
So that's an argument that we frequently hear from Republicans. Maybe under the next administration they can take more direct action to increase wages, because that's something we've been focused on. Unfortunately, we've had a recalcitrant Congress refusing to do so.
Q And finally, has the President had a chance to reach out to the family of John Glenn?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kenneth, I don’t have any calls on that to read out to you. As you saw, we released a statement yesterday from the President. I think it's clear that Senator Glenn is someone who enjoyed the admiration, and captured the imagination, of the American people. He's an American hero and a true public servant. He's a decorated Marine Corps pilot from World War II in Korea. He was the first American to orbit the Earth. And he served in the United States with unimpeachable integrity. He's someone who fought for science and technology. He was a thought leader on these issues, and not just while he was in the Senate, but for years after.
So our thoughts and prayers are with his family. POTUS was proud to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. And we thank him and his family for their service.
Q Yeah, Eric, one more on the hacking. To what degree -- or is this at all a response to the Senate Democrats who wrote you I guess earlier this week and -- the ones who say, look, we need more evidence to back up this general assertion that we've had, and that you would then -- so how much of this review is to decide what can actually be made public to bolster the argument that the intelligence community has made?
MR. SCHULTZ: None. So that will be a separate process. So as we've acknowledged here, we've received a request from members of Congress for briefings on this. And I think as Josh made clear yesterday, we have been briefing them on this. There are certain committees with unique jurisdiction on these issues, so we make sure we brief them. Some of that has been classified briefings; some have been unclassified. But we're also in touch with all members of Congress, because we know there's wide interest on this.
So we're happy to conduct those briefings. We're also happy to go through the process to figure out if there can be more material that is unclassified in response to those requests. But this review is unrelated to requests by Congress. This is something the President directed his national security team to conduct.
Q Okay. Can I also you about the climate resilience area that the President has just declared? What's the rationale behind it? And is this, as some Republicans have been warning us about, the beginning of a raft of environmental rules that you're going to close out and rush before the inauguration?
MR. SCHULTZ: Mark, as you point out, this was something released, I believe, a short while ago; announced in Alaska. And it's in response to requests we've gotten from indigenous people up there that the coastal tribes along the Northern Bering Sea and the Bering Strait requested that the federal government take this action to protect the health of marine ecosystems of the Northern Bering Sea while maintaining opportunities for sustainable fishing and sustainable economic development.
So this was the right decision to make. If you have more questions about it, we can get you the details. But the idea that this is a preview of additional actions to come, I wouldn’t read that into it. Again, here, under this President's direction, we make decisions on the merits. And as the President as indicated, we're going to continue to do our job until January 20th. So I don’t have any additional actions to preview.
Q Thanks. I have a couple things I want to ask about. First of all, it's reported that President-elect Trump has asked -- or is picking Cathy McMorris Rodgers to be his Interior Secretary. The President -- she's part of the Republican leadership. The President has -- or the White House has worked with her in some capacity. I wondered if you had any thoughts of her in that particular role, given her voting record on environmental and energy issues.
MR. SCHULTZ: Fred, I -- like we have generally done, I don’t have a lot to say about the President-elect's team. Obviously, when you select a member of Congress, you have a long record that's attached to you. So I'm going to let others sort of dig deep into that record and what that might mean for policies that the next administration pursues.
Q And any thoughts on -- I mean, just from your experience and your knowledge on her record on some of these issues, aside from the Cabinet position.
MR. SCHULTZ: It's a fair question. The posture that we've taken here, though, is that Donald Trump was elected President on November 8th, and it's not the candidate that the President campaigned for. It's not the candidate who offered policies the President agrees with. But in light of the election results, we're going to allow that president the respect he deserves in order to -- that President-elect the space he needs to put together his team.
That was not something afforded to this President. As you know, we faced fierce opposition on some of our nominees, even though they came to office -- they came to these positions with unimpeachable integrity and high qualifications. But the President feels strongly that our priority now needs to be allowing the President-elect to take office in about 40 days, and do so with a team that he selects.
Q On some other question -- I have asked before about possible executive actions. So just maybe get an update on this -- any (inaudible) or movement. A couple things that have been out there -- former President Carter has said that the President should take some type of executive action on possibly a Palestinian state, either through U.S. recognition or just not vetoing a U.N. resolution. Another issue that's been out there -- some House Democrats have -- they sent a letter, they've advocated using the pardon power for DREAMers. Has the President ruled either of those out?
MR. SCHULTZ: Fred, on the former, I know that the former President Carter had an op-ed piece out today. I haven't had a chance to take a close look at it, but clearly he is someone who has strong views about that region. And so I don't think those views are new today, so I don't have any new positions or views from us on that.
On the ask from House Democrats, there is a process at the Department of Justice to review pardon applications. The President has said he is not going to do anything to circumvent that process. What he has done in recent years is bolster resources at the Department of Justice to make sure they are at maximum capacity to have all the bandwidth they need to review applications. So that process continues in earnest.
I expect that process to continue for the rest of the time the President is office. But we're going to also respect that process at the Department of Justice.
Q You're not ruling out anything on Palestinian statehood, but you're saying no -- to the second question?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm saying that I don't have anything new to offer on that first issue that's a departure from our positions.
Q The last few times Congress has needed a CR and kind of taken it to the last hours, the President seems to have mostly stayed out of it. But as the countdown clock may appear on cable news shortly, as head of government, does he feel any responsibility at some point this afternoon, this evening, to get involved in the talk -- to try to find some resolution?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, I don't have any presidential conversations to read out at this point. I can say to you that it's quite clear whose responsibility this is; that if Republicans -- maybe if Republicans didn't control both chambers or maybe if they only controlled one, or maybe if they didn't control either, they could sort of shirk this. But I'm not sure that's going to hold water at this point.
So, yes, the President does want to avoid a government shutdown. That's a bedrock principle of this President over the past eight years. Unfortunately, Republicans haven't always shared that principle, so we'll have to see now if they want to dig in and have their support for coalminers questioned, whether they think this is a fight worth having. That's going to be a question they need to resolve.
Goyal, I'll give you the last one, and then we'll do the week ahead.
Q Thank you very much, a couple questions. One, many people, especially women around the globe, are wondering that America is not ready for a female President. Many countries, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Israel, even Liberia, and now UK and Germany. My question is that Madam Hillary Clinton wasn't elected to be the first female President. Is America ready for a female President? Or it's a man's world? People are asking around the globe.
MR. SCHULTZ: Goyal, we should just remember that Secretary Clinton has made history several times. She was the first First Lady ever elected to the United States Senate in her own right. She was the first woman to be a nominee of a major party for the presidency. And so she's made an awful lot of history and she's broken a lot of barriers herself.
As we've said, November 8th she didn't get elected President of the United States. I quibble perhaps with the presumption in your question that America isn't ready for this when she got more votes than the Republican nominee. So she got about 2.5 million more votes than Donald Trump, but that isn't going to get you much when you don't win the Electoral College. So she came up short in this election.
But I think that there is going to be a lot of analysis about why that happened. But in terms of the inspiration that she provided women of all ages throughout her career and her lifetime of public service, I don't think that's in question at all.
Q As far as President-elect Trump is concerned, he also made history, and he is a household name around the globe. My question is that he comes from the business community, and I’m sure he’s going to run America like a business. So where do we stand as far as the U.S.-India business future is concerned under President Trump? Because now under President Obama, we had great relations between the two countries as far as commerce, trade, and recently last week signed agreement with Boeing and other. India will be making some U.S. airplanes and fighter jets. But President Trump -- or elect-President Trump is saying that it might change. So where do we stand, the future of U.S.-India trade?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. Goyal, this might be disappointing, but it’s not going to be surprising that I’m just not going to be in a position to weigh in on positions that the next President might take when they assume office. They’ll have ample opportunity to express those and field your questions.
I can speak to the relations between India and the United States under this administration. And they're as strong as ever. The President has worked closely with Prime Minister Modi on a whole host of issues, ranging from national security, to climate, to trade, to commerce, and to strong people-to-people ties. We have a rich history and shared values. The President is proud of that record. And the President is proud of the steps we've taken to increase the ties between our two countries over the past eight years.
Q And one more, if I may. Tomorrow is Human Rights Day -- or international, global Human Rights Day. And many women around the globe -- freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and blasphemy laws in the Saudi Arabia and in Pakistan. People are under attack. And especially in Saudi Arabia, women and in Pakistan, and the community of (inaudible), Hindis, and also minorities. So where do we stand? Any message from the President as far as universal Human Rights Day is concerned?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I know that's an important day. But the President speaks out about this throughout the calendar. And like we've discussed, the President believes strongly in human rights. He wants those adhered to strictly here in the United States. But he also hasn’t been afraid to raise those issues around the world. Sometimes that's when he travels. Sometimes that's when he -- that's when we have foreign leaders here visiting in the United States.
But the President gave a speech earlier this week where in a different context he talked about freedom of press, freedom of expression, freedom to criticize your own leadership. Those are democratic values. But we think those are consistent with human rights that should be afforded to people around the world, that countries are stronger when they respect human rights, when they respect decency and values of their own people.
Q And as far as China -- as well as talking about China on human rights, they don't care. They are telling that don't preach us, don't give us any lecture on human rights.
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. It’s a good point, that the President raises this every time he is in China or meeting with his counterpart. And it’s not only raised at the presidential level, but all counterparts -- everyone in this administration raises these issues. We did it most recently when we were in China. But I can't think of a single visit where the President didn't raise human rights in the context of our relationship with the Chinese.
Q Thanks, Eric.
MR. SCHULTZ: Good. I’ll do the week ahead.
On Monday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House.
On Tuesday, the President will sign the 21st Century Cures Act. The President and Vice President will deliver remarks at this event.
On Wednesday, the President host two Hanukkah receptions here at the White House. The First Lady will attend both.
And on Thursday, the President will be here at the White House for meetings.
And on Friday, the President will depart the White House en route Honolulu, Hawaii for his final Hawaii holiday vacation while President of the United States.
Q When is the news conference?
MR. SCHULTZ: Stay tuned.
MR. SCHULTZ: No.
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes.
Q You didn't give me a chance to counter about that Energy Department questionnaire the Trump transition team sent out. It seems like people who have worked on the President’s climate change agenda were being asked certain questions about did they, in fact, work on it. Were you guys read in on this or briefed on this?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kenneth, I saw some news reports on this before we came out. And for questions about the President-elect team’s questioning of civil servants or targeting of civil servants, you should check in with the President-elect’s team.
All I can tell you is that President Obama is enormously proud of the work of civil servants and federal workers across the administration; that over the past eight years, they've worked to make this country stronger. And they don't do so out of a sense of great pay or because the hours are great. They do so out of a sense of patriotism. And the President is proud of their record.
Q So no concern of employees being targeted?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, we just saw some news reports on this before heading out here. So if you have questions about activity that the President-elect’s team is doing, you should check in with them and try and figure out why they're doing it.
Q And personally, I just want to thank the President and First Lady for the White House party invitation.
MR. SCHULTZ: Good. Thank you, Goyal.
2:06 P.M. EST