Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon. I apologize for a late start. The last thing I want to do is delay your weekends.
Q: You always look at me when you say that. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: We won't discuss your weekend plans, Mark.
Two quick announcements right off the top. One is a personnel announcement. A lot of people in this room, on both sides of the podium, tend to get a lot of credit when we're in front of the cameras; there's a lot of limelight on both journalists and those of us who speak on behalf of the administration. But sometimes the hardest-working people are those who work behind the scenes. And I know that NBC has a professional here whose last day is today. Al Harvey will be leaving us after 30 years of service. (Applause.)
So I think everyone in here knows that Al is a true professional, and someone who makes us look and sound great. And we appreciate your service. You're here day in and day out, so we thank you. And best wishes from everyone here at the White House.
Q: He needs to --
MR. SCHULTZ: What's that?
Q: He needs to do a little more work -- (laughter) --
MR. SCHULTZ: Yeah -- right. (Laughter.)
In similarly upbeat news, today we learned that, in November, the U.S. economy created 178,000 jobs, extending the longest streak of total job growth on record. As we've discussed in this room many times, upon assuming office the President took bold action to help rescue and rebuild our economy. As the President's time in office nears its end, I thought it would be useful to look back at eight years to the jobs report directly following the election of the President in December of 2008.
In December of 2008, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent and was rapidly climbing on its way to 10 percent. Today, the unemployment rate, according to today's report, is at 4.6 percent, the lowest unemployment rate in more than nine years. In December 2008, we lost 695,000 jobs. Today, our economy added 178,000 jobs. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the U.S. economy was shrinking at an annual rate of 8.2 percent. Today, our economy is growing at an annual rate of 3.2 percent.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q: Great. Thanks, Eric. Let's start with the announcement of the President's support for having women register for the Selective Service. The timing is a little curious, given that there is this debate going on in Congress right now about the Defense Policy Bill and whether to include that in the bill. It's currently not in the version that the House voted on.
Is the President hoping to influence that debate about that bill or to signal that he would not sign a Defense Policy Bill that doesn't have that provision included in it?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Josh, I appreciate the question, because it is an important issue. And the President does believe that the military is strongest when we draw from a pool from all eligible recruits, irrespective of gender. So the President values the service of all men and women who comprise our all-volunteer force.
And if you look at the brave men and women who serve our country now in uniform, they've all proven their mettle in missions around the world, including operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We remain committed to an all-volunteer force that meets the highest standards of performance that applies equitably to all those who serve and that sustains a strong legacy of public service. I think the draft registration is a vivid reminder to our nation's youth about the value of public service, and that as old barriers get removed, the President supports women registering for the Selective Service.
As you point in your question, Josh, this is now a question for Congress to resolve. I'm not sure, to be honest, if they will address this in the NDAA. My understanding is that there is some language in the NDAA that touches on this, but basically just said they're going to continue to look into it.
Q: Last night, a number of Clinton aides, including former
White House Communications Director Jen Palmieri, said that the Trump campaign had given a platform to white supremacists during the election. Does the White House agree with that assessment?
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, I saw reporting on this forum in Cambridge last night. And as you know, typically this is an opportunity for the strategists from both sides of each of the campaigns to debrief over a hard-fought campaign. This is an opportunity to learn from both sides, hear from the people who are key decision-makers about the decisions they made. Sometimes they take the opportunity to reevaluate decisions that they made in real time, with the benefit of hindsight. Sometimes we learn about moments that they thought were more significant at the time than they were, and sometimes it's the opposite. But there's value in these types of discussions. It's not something that I'm going to be able to engage in from here.
But that analysis, again, has value. I know that obviously historians will look at it, scholars will look at, journalists will look at it. So it's an important conversation to have; it's just not one that we're going to engage in from here.
Q: And then two quick foreign policy questions. Will the President block the Chinese government, Fujian Grand Chip, from taking over Aixtron?
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, I've seen some reporting on this. As you know, there's a codified process in place for evaluating deals like this, so we don't comment on them publicly from here. But if you have questions on the CFIUS process, those are best directed at the Department of Treasury.
Q: And Iran's government is saying that the renewal of the sanctions explicitly violates the JCPOA and that they'd have to be forced to respond if it were implemented. I know that it's the administration's position that it doesn't violate it. But it sort of doesn't matter what you guys think as much if the Iranians believe it does and can use that as cover to pull out of the deal and say it's because the U.S. violated it. So, first of all, can you say whether the President intends to sign it? And second, are you concerned that the Iranians may use this as an excuse not to continue with the deal even if that doesn't comport with your assessment of what this piece of legislation does?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. We have long said that extending the Iran Sanctions Act was unnecessary. And to the contrary, our focus has been on our key objective of the continued successful implementation of the Iran deal.
We believe the Iran Sanctions Act extension is not necessary, but we also believe it won't interfere with the Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that was agreed upon between Iran and the P5+1.
So I would expect the President to sign this piece of legislation. As you know, inside that legislation it includes a provision to allow the Secretary of State to waive relevant nuclear-related sanctions as consistent with both the legislation and our commitments made under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. So that's something we've been doing since implementation day, and that's something we'll continue to do under our obligations of the deal as long as Iran keeps up its end of the deal, as well.
Broadly speaking, as long as Iran adheres to its commitments under the Iran deal, we're going to as well. But we should also make clear that our concerns about Iran's other destabilizing activities in the region -- like support for terrorism, their ballistic missile program -- our concerns about those activities haven't waned. We haven't been shy about taking action in response to those actions. That includes strong, robust sanctions, and that's not going to change.
Q: Thank you, Eric. Does the White House have a reaction to President-elect Trump inviting the Filipino President Duterte to the White House next year, particularly given sort of the friction in the relationship between President Obama and President Duterte?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, as I think you are referencing, we have expressed concerns with a lot of the inflammatory rhetoric from President Duterte recently, and I believe just last night President Duterte delivered remarks which could be seen as taunting additional extrajudicial killings.
So that's something that's inconsistent with the values that we try and promote around the world -- values that include basic human rights. Obviously, the Philippines is a country that has a long tradition of a vibrant civil society and universal freedoms, but this doesn't take away from our longstanding history and shared traditions with the Philippines' people. Obviously, we work very closely together on maritime cooperation. We have rich people-to-people ties. And our trade between the two countries is robust.
So obviously, it's going to be up to the next President-elect to decide which foreign leaders he meets with, so we're going to leave it to him to make those decisions. But obviously, it carries a certain amount of weight when the President travels abroad to visit his counterparts around the world, and similarly, it carries weight to invite a foreign leader to the White House.
Q: The President declined to meet with President Duterte on a recent foreign trip where they were both planning to meet. Do you see any irony in that declination being followed up by the President-elect setting this meeting for next year, or for whenever?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, again, it's going to be up to the next President to decide which foreign leaders he meets with in which sequence. Again, it carries a lot of significance when the President of the United States decides to travel to a foreign country and meet with a head of state or one of his counterparts.
So those decisions are made with an understanding of the complexities of bilateral relationships and regional relationships around the world, so those decisions are not made lightly here. But similarly, decisions to invite a foreign leader to the White House, to the United States, aren't made lightly either. So those will be decisions the President-elect will have to make, so we're not going to cast judgment on those.
Q: There are some recounts going on, as you know, in three states. Supporters of President-elect Trump have started some legal challenges to prevent those recounts from continuing. What's the White House's position on whether those should continue?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw that. And I think that because of those challenges, this is now subject to ongoing litigation. So I'm going to be under some constraints about how much I can offer. I can tell you that here at the White House, we're focused on our institutional responsibilities to provide for a seamless transition of power. The President set the tone for that transition just 36 hours after the polls closed when he welcomed the President-elect to the Oval Office.
So we are focused on that. Obviously, the state officials in Michigan will have to focus on this recount question, and we expect that question to be resolved there.
Q: And finally, with just not too much time left before the President leaves office, can you shed any light on what his plans are after January 20th? Has he gotten a book deal put together? Does he have any teaching gigs lined up? What's the outlook?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I think the first order of business, which he has said publicly, is he is going to take his wife on vacation. I think that's a commitment he made that he plans to follow through on. Beyond that, I think that a lot of those plans are still getting worked out. As you know, there will be a foundation that is stood up that continues a lot of the work of his public service, if you take -- from a higher altitude -- if you look at the values that he's championed and the work that he's tried to do as President, but also just as a public servant, and as a leader in this country.
So I think that the foundation will be a place where a lot of those goals continue to be worked on. So I don't have a whole lot of details right now to announce. But I suspect in the coming weeks and months, you'll hear more about their mission and how they plan to fulfill it.
Q: Eric, is there anything more on the letter from Senator Wyden and six other Democrats? It essentially says additional information about Russia's attempts to interfere with the United States election are being kept secret. Is the President going to do what his fellow Democrats want him to do?
MR. SCHULTZ: Joe, we addressed this a little bit yesterday. We received that letter. We acknowledge receipt of that letter. I don't have any update on the response.
As you do know, it's been several weeks now -- maybe over a month -- where the United States government's intelligence community did announce that it had determined an intent by Russian officials -- senior Russian officials to try and interfere in our elections. That was an announcement that was made by the intelligence community in conjunction with the FBI and law enforcement. That was an announcement that was released publicly at the time.
So if Democrats on the Hill are looking for more information along those lines, the process of seeing if we can declassify more information along those lines will follow a similar process and a similar track to when the IC originally decided to make that determination public.
Q: But is that process fast, is it slow? Is it something that could be done before January 20th?
MR. SCHULTZ: To be honest with you, I'm not sure. I know that we just got the letter yesterday, so I'm sure that the right folks here and at the appropriate agencies are taking a look. So if we have a response to that, we'll make sure we get it to you. But we just got it yesterday.
Q: I think probably the 30,000-foot view for the American public is the question of whether the election was actually affected by Russia's attempts. Can you give us anything on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, what I can give you is two things. One, like I mentioned, the intelligence community determined, I think --
Q: They were trying.
MR. SCHULTZ: Right -- middle of October, I think, is when this determination was released that Russian officials were trying to interfere with our election. We also know that -- from our Department of Homeland Security and our collaboration with states -- that we did not notice any increased intrusions or malicious cyber activity on Election Day. So in terms of the actual cybersecurity and the actual sort of integrity of those systems where votes are cast and counted, we did not notice any increased malicious cyber activity on November 8th.
Q: Another area. What is the administration's position on the idea of military personnel being appointed to head DOD within seven years after leaving military active duty? It apparently can come up with the person the President-elect has said he might nominate --
MR. SCHULTZ: I was going to say, you're just randomly asking our position on this? (Laughter.) Look, President Obama has been clear that Donald Trump won the election and he's going to have the latitude and space he needs to appoint the people that he thinks are fit to lead this country, and that includes members of his Cabinet.
General Mattis is someone who served our nation with distinction. He was commander of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013, so about three years that overlapped with President Obama serving as Commander-in-Chief. The President is grateful for his leadership and his counsel. And so the question of whether a recently retired military officer should serve as the Defense Secretary is one that the next administration and the next Congress is going to have to address.
Q: Is it a policy issue that this administration ever considered when proposing a possible DOD Secretary? Did somebody get knocked out because of this law?
MR. SCHULTZ: It's actually not a policy or a custom. It is a law. It's in the statute. And it's important to keep in mind that the Defense Department is the single largest institution in the world. Three million Americans report to the Defense Secretary. U.S. military and civilian personnel are stationed in over 100 countries around the world. They have a budget of nearly $600 billion. Recent Defense Secretaries include scientists, business leaders, CIA director, congressmen, senators. So some have had military experience; some haven't.
But again, we're not going to be in a position to cast judgment on the President-elect's team. The specific question about this waiver will be determined by the next Congress and the next administration.
Q: Back to cybersecurity. I guess the President's commission that's going to be issuing its report later today. Do you know if the recommendations that are contained in that -- is the President going to embrace some of these right away? Is he going to be acting on them? Is there time to act on them in the remaining weeks of the administration?
MR. SCHULTZ: It's a great question, Mark. And, yes, the President will be meeting with the commission's chair, Tom Donilon, later this afternoon. I think the two will discuss in the Oval Office how we, as a country, can build on both the commission's work to enhance our cybersecurity over the coming years and take a look at what's been working and what needs more improvement.
Since you've studied this, you know that in February of this year, the President directed the creation of a nonpartisan commission and charged it with assessing the current state of cybersecurity in our country, and recommending bold, actionable steps that the government, private sector and the nation as a whole can take to bolster cybersecurity in today's digital world.
So I don't want to preview their report for you or our response. I can commit to you that we will make sure that that report is public. We'll also make sure that our response on that report is public, so you guys have a chance to judge for yourselves.
But, look, the President has made clear that cybersecurity is one of the greatest challenges we face as a nation. That's why this administration has consistently made cybersecurity a top national security and economic security priority. And that's reflected most recently in the fiscal year 2017 budget, which called for a 37 percent increase in cybersecurity resources. One would think that Congress would act on that budget request; it hasn't to date. So hopefully a lot of the rhetoric we hear from Congress about wanting to make sure our cybersecurity is improved can be translated into some action.
Q: Is there other things that the President is going to be able to do over the next numbers of weeks?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't want to get ahead of what's in the report. I think we'll be able to get that out to you later this afternoon. But this isn't something the President plans to take his eye off the ball on. So if there are actionable pieces in that report, recommendations that we can do over the next 50 or so days, I wouldn't rule out the President acting on those.
But I also think that this problem isn't going to get solved in the next 50 days. It's not a challenge that is stagnant. It's a challenge that morphs and turns, given the way technology is developed these days.
So I think this is absolutely going to have to be a challenge that the next President takes on, as well as the next Congress.
Q: Is there any coverage that we're going to get?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think it's going to be a closed, private meeting in the Oval Office.
Q: What time?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have the time, but later this afternoon.
Q: I want to ask you a couple of questions. Most notably, I want to get your take on this refugee story that you may have heard about. Australia apparently is turning back a number of refugees that were set to be headed to the island, and now there is reporting that they'll be making their way here to the United States. There's been some concern on the Hill as well about the usefulness of this particular approach, to say nothing of the vetting process. Can you give me an update on why the administration feels like this is a good example of opening our doors, if you will, to refugees who are in need of a place to go?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I appreciate the question, because the United States is proud of its long history as the largest refugee resettlement country in the world. As the President has said, our refugee resettlement program has grown considerably in the last year -- that's under the President's direction. He feels it's an American value to take care of some of the world's most vulnerable populations. And the U.S., as you're referencing, has agreed to consider resettlement from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, for refugees now living in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
We engage all countries to find durable solutions for refugees. The President believes that it's important that we do that. But to your question about screening and security, the President also believes that his chief priority is to keep the American people safe. That's why the screening for refugees is the highest level of scrutiny anyone coming into the United States is subjected to. So that includes security checks with the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, multiple intelligence agencies.
The safety and security of the American people is our top priority, but the President believes that doesn't mean -- that doesn't detract from the President's goal to make sure that we are caring for the world's most vulnerable populations. Those are not mutually exclusive goals, and we can safeguard the American people while also providing refuge to the world's most vulnerable populations.
Q: I think there are a number of people, Eric, who would wonder if, given the President-elect's posture on this particular circumstance as it relates to making certain that the people that might be coming to this country are not only vetted properly but also have proper placement, is of great concern to congressional lawmakers. Would you cede the point that, especially from their perspective, this would seem to fly in the face of the tone and tenor of the way things are going on the Hill right now?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I can't speak to the tone and tenor of the way things are going on the Hill right now. All I can say is, one of the principles that we have -- that we believe in and adhere to, and as does the President-elect, is that we have one President at a time. So this was a decision and an announcement that I believe was made either in late October or early November. So we have one President at a time. The Commander-in-Chief, this President, sets the policies. The President-elect, Donald Trump, will set the policies once he takes the oath of office.
But in terms of the screening, I want to assure you that, again, this is a population that is subject to the highest level of scrutiny of anyone trying to enter this country. We work closely under the President's direction with our Department of Homeland Security, our intelligence community, and other relevant agencies to increase capacity to conduct security screening over the past year. DHS has deployed additional officers to interview applicants; they conduct exhaustive screenings. And I should also add that the burden is on the refugee to show evidence that he or she will not be a threat. So we don't just take anyone's word, and we don't -- it's not the absence of evidence that allows us to approve someone. A refugee has to proactively show that they will be safe here in the United States.
Q: Can you tell me if the President had an occasion to speak with French President Hollande since his announcement yesterday? And if so, can you give me sort of a readout of what that conversation was like and if there are any concerns that the sort of growing populism that we're seeing has percolated in places like the UK and perhaps, you could argue, here in the U.S. is now spreading to France?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, I don't believe the President has had a chance to phone President Hollande in the past day. I know that they were able to catch up in Berlin a few weeks ago; I know that you were on that trip as well.
Look, generally speaking, everyone here at the White House appreciates President Hollande's service as the President of France. Under his leadership, France has responded courageously to horrific terrorist attacks and been an indispensable partner to the United States in our shared struggle to defeat ISIL and all terrorist groups.
Under President Hollande's leadership, France hosted the COP-21 conference on climate that's brought together nearly 100 -- nearly 200 countries to be the first-ever deal of its size and scope to help combat climate change. So President Hollande has been a trusted partner and friend to the American people. I wouldn't be surprised if President Obama has a conversation with President Hollande in the coming weeks. But I don't have anything to read out to you now.
Q: And last is -- can you give me an update on the comings and goings over Gitmo, where we are right now? Do you have any transfers to announce? I know the President -- he's made it clear that he would like to close it. That's not likely to happen, obviously, but he certainly is doing his best to empty it along the way. Where are we on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, I don't have the numbers in front of me right now, but we can get you those. You are right that the President has established this as a priority, to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay. One of the stumbling blocks -- well, the principal stumbling block to this has been the United States Congress. And, in fact, the National Defense Authorization Act hasn't come up yet in this briefing, but I have a feeling it will, and there's a provision in there that continues to prevent the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
We believe that's a misguided provision, but we're not the only ones. President George W. Bush, Republicans in Congress, Republican experts outside of Congress have all said that this facility should be closed. So we share that goal. We wish that more members of Congress did, as well.
Thank you, Kevin. Stephanie.
Q: Thank you. How does the administration feel about President-elect Trump essentially hitting the trail again on a victory tour, thank-you tour? In the past when this has been done by past Presidents -- a long time ago, Woodrow Wilson, George Bush 43 -- they were pushing an idea, but Mr. Trump is essentially trying to thank folks. How does the administration feel about that?
MR. SCHULTZ: You've done more history studying on this than I have. I think that -- look, President Obama has spoken a lot about how much he likes to get out of Washington, the bubble of this campus, and meet with folks. So sometimes that takes the form of crowd events, sometimes that's small roundtables, sometimes that's interviews or conversations or panel discussions.
So President-elect Trump is going to have four years at least to get out with the American people and engage them. So I don't think anyone here begrudges the next President for similarly trying to get out of the bubble here and be with the American people.
Q: But since he hasn't been here yet, do you think this is a bit early, or is this how he should be spending his time -- kind of hitting the trail again in a rally-style event?
MR. SCHULTZ: Look, that's going to be up to him to decide. I don't think anyone here is going to cast judgment on how the President-elect is choosing to spend his time.
Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done. We, actually, inside the administration have been preparing for this transition for over a year now, and the President-elect, obviously for the better part of 2015 and 2016, has been on the campaign trail. I know that they have dedicated a team to prepare for the transition. Obviously, that's a more fulsome, all-encompassing effort on their part. So I'm sure they're making decisions based on -- decisions on the President-elect's time as they see fit.
Q: And what advice did President Obama have for the incoming United Nations Secretary-General about working with President-elect Trump? Did the Secretary General express any concerns about any of Trump's comments on refugees, climate change, anything like that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Stephanie, that's a fair question. I don't have any of the private exchange to read out to you. I do know that obviously the President was able to speak to all of you in the Oval Office to give some of the contours of their conversation. Obviously, Secretary-General-Designate Guterres is assuming a role of enormous consequence and awesome responsibilities for around the world.
So he's someone who's well-qualified for this post, but it comes with significant responsibilities. And the President wanted to make sure that he had a chance to touch base to, A, thank Mr. Guterres for his service thus far -- obviously, he's done a lot of work around the world, but specifically on this refugee problem. And so it's hard to think of someone more qualified to be in this position, given the complex challenges facing the international community right now.
Q: And last question. Two Republican senators wrote President Obama a letter last night urging him to implement a hiring freeze on all career civilian servant positions except those in public health or safety between now and the end of the administration. They also want him -- in this letter, they say they want him to stop the practice of "burrowing in" in which political appointees become converted to career civil servants in order to keep their jobs under a new administration. I'm sure you know what that is. They say these steps would prevent outside people from being hired or the folks already under this administration staying on board -- basically, people that might try to undermine the policies of President-elect Trump. Is President Obama open to this idea of implementing this hiring freeze?
MR. SCHULTZ: Stephanie, I saw a story about this letter. I assume the signers are the same Republican senators who didn't want the President to appoint a justice to the United States Supreme Court.
As the President has remarked, Republicans in the United States Congress have been trying to debilitate the President from doing his job for four and even eight years now. So we're going to do this by the books. That's been the President's directive as we've been preparing for this transition of power, so I don't have any personnel announcements like that to make right now. But I can tell you that the President takes this responsibility seriously. That's why he himself welcomed the President-elect to the Oval Office just a day or two after the election, and that helped set the tone for the entire administration -- that he clearly did not support Donald Trump in the election. He had profound disagreements with both a lot of the rhetoric, a lot of the policies, and the direction that Mr. Trump wanted to take this country.
But Mr. Trump won the election. And so now it's up to us to make sure that we provide for the seamless transition of power. And as the President said in the Rose Garden the day after the election, this was an intramural sport; that as Americans, we all support our President. So that's work that we have been doing for, again, the better part of the year, but it's ramped up now to make sure that the transition team is getting the information they need in order to take their place without a gap. And so we're going to continue to focus on that. Thanks.
Q: Eric, it's that time of the year again. Christmas carols are being sung. Menorahs are being polished. And the government runs out of money in a week. Where do you stand on these negotiations for the continuing resolution? Are you actively involved, et cetera? Where do we stand right now?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. We stand at a place that is, unfortunately, all too familiar -- that Republicans have once again failed to fulfill their basic responsibility of government. Probably very high on that list when you get to Washington and you're elected a member of Congress is figuring out a way to pass a budget that is responsible, that funds critical national security, that grows our economy, and that gives certainty to the agencies that carry out each of those duties.
Instead of passing another short-term extension, Republicans should actually do their job. They should pass funding bills that adequately fund our national and economic security, adhere to the framework of last year's bipartisan budget deal that increases spending, should be equally divided between defense and non-defense spending, and free of ideological provisions.
So our belief is that if Congress does have to pass the CR, that they should get back to work early next year and pass a budget that governs the country for the year.
Q: Are you willing to accept the March 15th, I guess, what's being kicked around the House right now?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I know there's a lot being kicked around both chambers of Congress. I know this is one where Republicans in the House might not be seeing eye to eye with Republicans in the Senate. We've seen that movie before; it doesn't usually end well.
But, look, as they negotiate this they should be mindful of a couple of things. One is, there are strong Democratic voting blocs in both chambers, and there's a Democratic President who has to sign this budget. So we believe they should get to work, they should roll up their sleeves and get this done.
Q: Thanks, Eric. You mentioned the Guantanamo concerns. That's not going to stop him from signing the NDAA, though, is it?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, we have pointed that out as a concern in that piece of legislation. As you know, I think this was just released about 36 hours ago. So it's 3,076 pages, so we're still looking at it. That's one provision in there that concerns us. But we continue to review it. There are some things in there that are encouraging. It's mostly free of the budgetary gimmicks that Republicans have deployed in the past. These are gimmicks that sort of risk the safety of our servicemembers and undercut stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars. So we're going to continue to study it. Again, we got it about three days ago now, so we'll take a look.
Q: And then, back in 2013, at the National Defense University, the President said it was time to get America off of permanent wartime footing. And now, it appears he's going to hand that permanent wartime footing off to his successor. How bummed out is he about that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Olivier, what are you doing on Tuesday? You should join us in Tampa. I think the President is going to address, for the past eight years, his work in the national security space. He believes that he's kept his promise to keep America safe and to advance our interests around the world. So I think the President is going to address this very question on Tuesday. He's going to talk about the progress we've made and, quite frankly, some of the unfinished work. So he'll be addressing that directly on Tuesday in Tampa, and we invite you to join us.
Q: Thank you, Eric. (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes. I sound like a travel agent.
Q: Eric, you had mentioned earlier that General Mattis served with distinction. There were some reports when he left Central Command back in 2013 that he was fired without even a phone call from the White House. Can you react to those reports and talk about whether that's true?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yeah, I haven't seen -- I've seen some of the reporting on this from that time. I don't have a vivid tick-tock of the chronology. But I do think that at the time, the President and the administration and the Secretary of Defense did say that General Mattis served with distinction. So we're proud of his service. We're grateful for his service. He's someone who provided not only this country, but this administration and this President, with tremendous counsel and wisdom. So I don't have -- I don't know of anything to second-guess that.
Q: I also wanted to ask you about -- there's an upcoming referendum in Italy on Sunday. Obviously, Europe has gone through a lot of turmoil with these types of votes. What's the message of the President to the Italian people? And does he think that Prime Minister Renzi should stick around if he loses that referendum?
MR. SCHULTZ: I know that Prime Minister Renzi has addressed that second part of your question, so I'm going to leave that to him.
Look, this is a decision for the people of Italy to make. As you point out, this referendum is on Sunday. I know they'll be voting then. Generally speaking, the President is supportive of Prime Minister Renzi's reform agenda. He makes some compelling arguments about why the government there could be more functional if it's streamlined. So again, this will be a decision for the Italian people, and we'll let you know if we have a reaction once the results are in.
Q: On the unemployment numbers, some critics of the President's record have pointed out that the labor force participation rate has actually gone down in the last month. What's your reaction to that, the fact that fewer people seem to be looking for jobs?
MR. SCHULTZ: I have a couple reactions to that. One is, if you look at the long-term trends of the numbers we've gotten, the growth and the sustainability and the strength of our economy is undeniable. We've seen the longest streak of total job growth on record. Businesses have added 15.6 million jobs over the last 81 months. Since its peak during the recession, the unemployment rate has been cut by more than half, and now stands at 4.6 percent. So, similarly, we've seen wage growth accelerate in recent years, and so far, in 2016, wages have grown 2.7 percent at an annual rate.
So that's not to say that the job is done. But that is to say that the President is enormously proud of our record. He's proud of the decisions he made, quite frankly, early on in this administration, some of which were not very popular, some of which were subject to criticism from the President's political opponents, saying we shouldn't rescue the auto industry, we should let them fail, or the Stimulus Act wasn't going to do any good, or that it was too expensive.
So I think the results speak for themselves, and the President is proud of his record on this.
Q: Thank you, Eric. Just a couple of brief things. First, the President-elect -- you made some pretty strong suggestions about businesses in the future that would close their plants in the United States and move to overseas. And this seems at odds with the traditional Republican philosophy of the free market and leaving private enterprise alone to make its own decisions. What's the White House's official opinion on that policy?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think it's no question that if you look at the rhetoric from the campaign of this past season, that the President-elect and the current President have vastly different views on how to grow the economy. We believe that the economy grows best when you grow it from the middle class out, when you invest in things like infrastructure and schools and reducing health care costs.
So, again, we believe that record speaks for itself. The data is in. We are able to sort of judge the decisions that the President made -- again, many of them unpopular and controversial at the time -- but we're able to judge them now with some history and some data intact. So you'll have to talk to the President-elect's team about his approach. I know that while running for office, he said that people like him in his income bracket should pay more, should incur a heavier burden for the tax system. We'll have to see. I know they're still putting together their policies for their administration, so we'll have to see how that manifests itself once they're in office.
But again, in terms of the President's approach, which are things like investing in our schools, investing in education, infrastructure, lowering health care costs, lowering the deficit, and making sure that U.S. manufacturers have the resources they need to not only build the best goods and services worldwide, but also ship them overseas, we've increased our market share of U.S. exports significantly. And that's something the President is also proud of.
Q: But the idea of actually taking action by government against the moving of a plant or a business abroad at the loss of American jobs -- is that an area in which the President would have a difference from the President-elect on economic policy?
MR. SCHULTZ: So, again, the President believes, generally speaking, that when manufacturing jobs stay in the United States, that's a good thing. That's welcome news. So I'm not here to criticize Carrier's announcement from earlier this week. If 1,000 jobs are staying in Indiana, that's welcome news not only to the people of Indiana but to the greater community there.
Look, if you look at holistically what the next President's policies will be, you can judge them by our policies. And if you look at our record in a state like Indiana, Indiana in 2009 had an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent. It's now dropped to 4.4 percent. So, again, if you look at -- I'm not going to be in a position to judge President Trump's economic record until he's had some time in office. Maybe then you guys will invite us back for a briefing. But I think Josh laid out a few days ago -- (laughter) --
Q: Is that something we do? (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh laid out a few days ago some metrics by which you can use. These are metrics that we are enormously proud of, that we think speak to the President's record and leadership, but also to the grit and determination of the American worker.
Q: My other question was about the Democratic National Chairmanship. There appears to be some growing opposition to Congressman Ellison. On the other hand, he has significant support -- notably that of Senator Sanders. Is the administration -- anyone from the President on down -- taking a part in the selection of the next Democratic National Chairman?
MR. SCHULTZ: So I know this is a process that's going to work itself out sort of organically, conventionally. Sometimes that's a little messy and it spills over into the public space. But there's a handful of candidates for the chairmanship, some of whom are publically working it and have declared, some of whom are still evaluating whether they want to get in this race.
So we're not going to -- I'm not going to have an endorsement for you today from here, but the President has spoken generally about how the Democratic Party can rebuild itself, that obviously the results of the election in November were not elections that we either anticipated or desired. And the President has spoken about how this Democratic Party is going to need to make some changes in order to make sure that we're better at getting our message across; that we're better at showing up in communities that might not initially be receptive to our argument and our case, but that's all the more reason to be present and to show up and make our case.
So I think that's going to be a debate and a conversation that the Democratic Party has. Obviously there's certain stakeholders and constituency groups and leadership profiles and members of Congress that will be consulted as the Democratic Committee selects its new chair, but we don't have a preference to weigh in from here today.
Q: And know if the President's official family has a preference either?
MR. SCHULTZ: Not that I know of.
Q: I wanted to ask a few questions about the forum which took place yesterday up at Harvard, which you could say you're familiar with. This forum takes place every four years, and it involves high-ranking campaign aides from both the winning campaign and the losing campaign. And with these forums, they're generally very civil. Yesterday was anything but civil. Are you surprised by the tone of the forum which took place yesterday up in Massachusetts?
MR. SCHULTZ: I guess I'm not too surprised, given how hard-fought this campaign was, that there would still be a lot of passion and a lot of emotion that both sides are wrestling with. This wasn't a typical campaign, as I think most people in this room have observed, so I'm not surprised that there would be a feisty program up at Harvard. As you point out, they do this every four years. It's an opportunity to sort of dissect and debrief how the campaign went. So I'm not surprised that it was particularly feisty.
I don't -- I'm also not sure that that's a bad thing. I think it's okay to be candid and to honestly look back at the decisions you made, the decisions your opponent made, and how that played out in the context of the race when you're not in the heat of it. So often in a campaign, you're making a decision in the heat of the moment and don't really have time to sort of think a few days back or a few days forward. And so it's nice to be able to just sort of take a breath and really digest those decisions outside of the heat of the campaign.
Q: The President has said, you have said, Josh has said that the President does not take back any of the harsh rhetoric that he aimed at President-elect Donald Trump out on the campaign trail, including calling him unfit to serve as commander-in-chief. But I'm wondering, given that the President has not felt the need to take back those remarks publicly, do you think it sends a cue to certain people who may still be bitter about the presidential election to essentially demonstrate in the manner that it demonstrated yesterday that lack of civility?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, John, I think that the President did speak out on the trail early and often about his profound differences with Mr. Trump. They didn't agree on most policies, on the rhetoric that he was using, and when Mr. Trump used campaign rhetoric that President Obama felt was contrary to our values he did speak out about it.
So you all covered that. He crisscrossed this country discussing that and highlighting it. But Mr. Trump won. He won the election on November 8th. So the President has made clear that our priority in light of that election is to provide for a seamless transition of power. That's what we're all working on here at the White House. That's been the directive sent across the federal bureaucracy to every agency to make sure that the President-elect's team, when they assume office, that they're ready to go on day one. And so that's been our focus.
Q: Eric, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, on Wednesday, heard arguments on whether sexual orientation discrimination constitutes gender discrimination under current civil rights law. Is the President aware of the proceedings? And is it fair to say he agrees discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people violates Title 7?
MR. SCHULTZ: Chris, I have not spoken to the President about this case, so I'm not sure how closely he is tracking. Generally speaking -- since it's clearly in litigation, there's only so much I can say -- but generally speaking, the President believes that equality is a fundamental right. It's not only a strong tradition and custom in the United States, it's enshrined in our Constitution. So he believes there's no place, both in government or outside, for discrimination. And that's a principle that he's fought for and that's animated his entire career in public service.
Q: That generally is the principle, but the administration over the course of eight years hasn't articulated whether that existing law under Title 7 prohibits discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Why haven't you specifically articulated that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, if we have something to add to this case that would come out of the Department of Justice. So you should check in with them to see if they've offered anything. I don't have any new announcements or positions from here.
Q: Does the President welcome an announcement from the Justice Department that this kind of discrimination is legal under current law?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, typically, those decisions are made at the Department of Justice by career prosecutors and career litigants. So we're going to let them make those decisions. But if they have anything they should be able to get it to you, and if there's additional comment from here we'll make sure we reach out.
Q: Thank you, Eric. On North Korea sanctions, today the Treasury Department announced the addition of U.S. (inaudible) sanctions against North Korea. What specific items are available?
MR. SCHULTZ: So I saw that announcement. We're not going to have much from here on the additional sanctions that President Park announced. I would draw your attention our focus has been the weeks of months of putting together work at the U.N. Security Council to draft and deliver and pass the strongest, most robust sanctions against North Korea on record.
As Josh discussed yesterday -- or two days ago now, I think -- that largely has to do with targeting coal experts out of North Korea. So we look forward to making sure those are implemented. And hopefully they deter some of the nefarious behavior and provocative acts we've seen out of North Korea.
Q: That included WMD. It means military sanctions, or a little bit different -- what is the WMD?
MR. SCHULTZ: This is the new South Korean sanctions, or the U.N.?
Q: North Korea sanctions.
MR. SCHULTZ: Right, but that was passed out of South Korea?
MR. SCHULTZ: So I would refer you to President Park's team. I'm not as steeped in what South Korea had announced overnight.
Q: So you don't have your own sanctions included -- WMD? (Inaudible.)
MR. SCHULTZ: I see. Right. So in terms of our sanctions against North Korea, we can get you an update. I don't have anything new from here. Again, our focus has been working through Ambassador Power's office at the United Nations to make sure that the U.N. Security Council there passed the most robust and tough sanctions regime on record against North Korea.
Q: You have a secondary sanctions --
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm happy to take a look.
Goyal, we'll give you the last one.
Q: Thank you. As far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, Mr. Trump was speaking to the Indian-American community in New Jersey celebrating Diwali, where he said that -- we'll have great relations with India and also with Mr. Modi. And then also his daughter-in-law was at the Hindu Temple in Virginia where she was praising the Indian-American community. My question is, how are the relations in the last eight years between the U.S. and India under President Obama, and the last two and a half years with Prime Minister Modi? And what will the future?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I don't know who can tell you about the future, but I think we'll leave it to historians to judge the contours of the relationship between the United States and India. Obviously the President is enormously proud of his record of working closely with Prime Minister Modi. They've worked together on a number of projects -- most recently, the Paris agreement, that a lot of the work that went into that, again, was a deal brokered between nearly 200 countries, but India was a vital part of that. And that could not have been done without Prime Minister Modi's leadership.
So I know that President Obama speaks to his counterparts as heads of state frequently. Prime Minister Modi is one that he enjoys speaking with. They touch base regularly. And so it's a good thing for the United States if that relationship continues in some strength.
Q: And as far as illegal immigration is concerned in the U.S., millions of them were living for the last five, ten or even twenty years, and they made their home America for them. Before, they were living in fear, underpaid and under the table and so forth. But now they are fearing that they may be deported. So any message the President may have for them that their future may not be as dark as they're thinking under the new administration?
MR. SCHULTZ: I've seen the new administration -- the incoming administration start to answer questions about how they want to address this. Our message is quite simple, which is there's a reason that the President worked so hard to pass comprehensive immigration reform. That was a bill that was complicated, that was hard, but it was done with bipartisan support in the United States Senate. Democrats and Republicans came together to tackle one of the most complex issues facing our country. And they did so earnestly and with our sleeves rolled up and tried to solve a problem.
Unfortunately, the House of Representatives left without doing a thing. And that's a stain on the House of Representatives and their leadership there. Unfortunately, they could have taken up this bill that was thoughtful and smart. It didn't represent everything the President wanted. It didn't represent everything Republicans wanted. But it was the result of a compromise and a lot of hard work.
So our message would be that it's not too late, that Republicans and Democrats can still work together on this. And that would be in the best interest of the country.
Q: Final, one question, on the press. As far as press relations are concerned, President-elect Trump was not happy the way the press covered his message, that he was saying that the press was biased --
MR. SCHULTZ: I know what that feels like.
Q: And now even he's repeated now yesterday, also. My question is that: How can we repair the relations with the press, which has been covering everybody, everywhere, day and night, and giving everything? So what message you think -- how will you consolidate or consult with the press in the future?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I think our message is that freedom of the press is not only a strong tradition in this country but it's, again, enshrined in our Constitution, and for good reason. It instills a sense of accountability. It encourages transparency on the behalf of the administration. We've worked hard to live up to those ideals. The next administration will have to make a whole host of decisions based on how -- based on the high standard of transparency that we've set.
So that will be decisions they have to make, but there is a high bar when you run for President that you subject to scrutiny and transparency. And that's not always comfortable. That's not always enjoyable. But that's part of the job. And at the end of the day -- and the President has spoken about this -- that all makes us do our jobs better, when we know that the bar is high and that our actions are going to be scrutinized not only by the American people, but by professional journalists who take the time to really look at what we're doing, look at the policies we've made, look at the decisions we've made, and figure out if they're really in the best interest of the American people. And that's what the President-elect's team will have to do.
Q: More than 700,000 DREAMers trusted in President Obama, in that candidate -- feel they can be deported. What President Obama can do about it? And what answer gave to the Democratic lawmakers asking for presidential pardon, and also to delete the NSEER, which is the National Security Entry/Exit Register? Can you give us an answer about it?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. The executive actions that you're asking about were the result of the President taking action because Congress failed to. So those were the policies that the President announced in conjunction with Department of Homeland Security because he thought it was in the best interest of our country.
As you and I think Goyal pointed out, we have millions of Americans living in the shadows not paying taxes, not accountable in their communities. These are neighbors, these are teachers, these are friends and families, coworkers. And the President believes that that's contrary to our values as a country.
So that's why he worked so hard to champion comprehensive immigration reform. Again, Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate came together to work on this and to tackle it. They put in a lot of work. They came up with a bill that, again, the President didn't view as perfect, but he thought did the job and represented a spirit of compromise in the spirit of tackling one of the country's most gripping problems.
So that bill passed the Senate; unfortunately, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives decided to not bring it up. But that's going to be the best way to address a lot of the problems you're talking about.
Q: I understood that; I covered that. But my question is, what President can do now that they feel they are vulnerable after they were registered in DACA?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, you'll have to speak to the next administration about how they want to do this. I know that some of their representatives in interviews have been answering -- offering questions. I don't think they've made any decisions yet based on public reports. So you should check in with them about how they're going to -- if they want to reverse this executive action or leave it in place or change it.
Q: Was there any response of President Obama to these lawmakers? Luis Gutierrez and 50 lawmakers were asking for the pardon.
MR. SCHULTZ: This is a process that starts at the Department of Justice. We have a well-established process for this, so I don't have any new ones to announce for you at this time.
Thanks. I have a week ahead if we want to do that.
On Monday, the President will attend meetings here at the White House. On Tuesday, the President will travel to Tampa, hopefully with Olivier, where he will meet with active-duty servicemembers at MacDill Air Force Base, the home of the U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command. While in Tampa, the President will deliver remarks on the counterterrorism campaign and meet with uniformed leadership from both commands.
On Wednesday, the President will be here at the White House attending meetings. On Thursday, the President and First Lady will attend the Congressional Ball at the White House, one of our favorites. On Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
END 2:19 P.M. EST
Barack Obama, Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320209