Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz and National Security Advisor Susan Rice
Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage, California
12:35 P.M. PST
MR. SCHULTZ: Hello, everyone. Welcome to sunny Palm Springs. We're going to go ahead and get started. Unfortunately, Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications, Ben Rhodes, has been waylaid in Washington, D.C. So he's still scheduled to attend the summit. He'll be here later today, but he's not going to be able to make this briefing.
What we'll do is, I'm going to turn it over to National Security Advisor, Ambassador Rice. She has some opening remarks. And then I think we have the pool dialed in, so we'll turn it to them for some questions, and then we'll open it up to the rest of the room.
AMBASSADOR RICE: Good afternoon, everyone. It's great to be with you all in beautiful Rancho Mirage, California. We're very excited to be hosting the leaders of 10 countries of ASEAN. This summit is truly an historic occasion. It's the first time we've hosted ASEAN leaders here in the United States for this kind of meeting. That we've succeeded in doing so reflects a return on seven years of significant and sustained investment by this administration and by President Obama, personally, in the Asia Pacific and in Southeast Asia in particular. And it demonstrates our enduring commitment to this vital region.
Indeed, as reflected by this summit, U.S.-ASEAN relations have never been stronger. With nearly half the Earth's population, one-third of global GDP, some of the world's most capable militaries and some of the earth's most critical ecosystems, the Asia Pacific region is increasingly the world's political and economic center of gravity. Which is why President Obama, from the very beginning, has prioritized engagement with Asia, recognizing that this region is central to U.S. interests in the 21st century.
This was the impetus behind our Rebalance strategy, which aims to forge a network of partners throughout Asia who work together to build and sustain a rules-based regional order. And, ASEAN, of course, is at the heart of Asia. This 10-state union -- founded on common principles, like respect for international law, free trade, and peaceful resolution of disputes -- is a natural partner for the United States, and from day one has been a core focus of the rebalance.
Our ties with Asia have expanded dramatically over the last seven years. In 2009, we signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. We joined the East Asia Summit. We became the first ASEAN Dialogue partner to establish a dedicated, diplomatic mission, and appoint a resident ambassador to the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. And in 2013, we created the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, YSEALI, which now has over 60,000 vibrant members.
Our economic ties are also booming. We have a quarter-trillion-dollar trade relationship with ASEAN, up 55 percent since 2009. The ASEAN region is now the fourth-largest goods export market for the United States. Trade with ASEAN countries supports more than 500,000 American jobs. Last year alone, companies from right here in California exported $11 billion in goods to ASEAN. In fact, companies from all 50 of our states engage in trade with ASEAN. U.S. companies have been the largest investor in ASEAN, with a stock of more than $226 billion nearly doubling since 2008.
ASEAN is also an increasingly important partner in addressing regional and global challenges -- from maritime disputes to climate change, pandemic disease to violent extremism, sustainable development to trafficking in persons -- which is why last year, during the President's trip to Malaysia, we elevated our partnership with ASEAN to a strategic partnership.
But there is much more we can still do together, and that's why we're here. Over the next day and a half, we'll discuss our shared interest in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship, encouraging peaceful resolution of disputes, and combatting terrorism, pandemic disease, climate change, and trafficking in persons.
We're quite aware that some of our ASEAN partners have a long way to go on human rights. But the United States will continue, as we do everywhere, to stand up for the rights of all people -- and I emphasized this point last week in my meeting at the White House with civil society representatives from all 10 ASEAN countries. The President, as always, will stress the importance of good governance, the rule of law, human rights, and a vibrant civil society, and capable, accountable institutions.
The unique and informal setting that we have here at Sunnylands will allow leaders to engage in more in-depth and candid discussions than is possible at the usual, more formal summit meetings. So this we look forward to as a rare opportunity for candor and to identify new areas of cooperation that will help ensure peace and prosperity in this critical Asia Pacific region for our children and grandchildren.
Thank you all very much. I'm happy to take a few questions.
Q: This is Jeff Mason. With regard to the South China Sea, what is your expectation of all of the groups agreeing to --
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, we're having trouble hearing you.
Q: -- and what is your reaction to, of course, the region that China has been pressuring countries like Cambodia and Laos not to sign on to that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, we're having trouble hearing you. If you could repeat that and speak up.
Q: The question was, what is your expectation, Susan, tomorrow about the likelihood of a strong statement from all of ASEAN and the United States with regards to the South China Sea? And what is your reaction to reports from the region about China having put pressure on some members not to sign that?
AMBASSADOR RICE: I think the question was about Chinese pressure on some ASEAN partners and the potential statement about the South China Sea. We will be continuing to work with our ASEAN partners on a potential statement that we might issue together. This statement will cover a wide range of topics. It won't be focused primarily on the South China Sea. And we obviously have issued such statements in the past with ASEAN, and in it we consistently underscore our shared commitment to a peaceful resolution of disputes, freedom of commerce and navigation, the rule of law, and the necessity of disputes being resolved through peaceful, legal means.
We also have expressed concerns about efforts to resolve disputes through other means, and we'll continue to do so. So I'm very confident that, among other topics that we will discuss during the next day and a half, this will be an important one -- by no means the only one. And I'm confident that our shared commitment to upholding these norms will be reinforced.
Q: I have a question on Syria. It's been a pretty tough week for U.N.-backed rebel forces in Syria. They've been getting hit by Russian bombs in Aleppo and now we're seeing that the Turks in Turkey are also sort of hitting a lot of Kurdish forces that we've been allied with. I'm wondering what the U.S. is doing to back up the forces as they come under attack from different sides. And specifically, what's your response to what Turkey has been doing to sort of attack a lot of the Kurdish forces? And then, secondly, what is Plan B if the ceasefire doesn't stop Russia from continuing its bombing campaign?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, first of all, we continue our strong support for moderate opposition elements in Syria and for the government in Iraq, and we do so in furtherance of our primary objective, which is to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. And we have made progress on the ground in recent weeks and months, and we look, obviously, to see that progress sustained.
But you're right that this has been a period of intensified bombing, particularly in the north of Syria. We have condemned that in the strongest terms, and we think it runs counter, frankly, to the commitment made in Munich of Friday and to our shared interest in seeing the violence reduced, civilians allowed to receive humanitarian assistance, which is of critical importance, and more importantly, ultimately to the goal of achieving a negotiated peaceful resolution of this dispute, which is necessary both for the well-being of the people of Syria and for a political transition to come into effect which reflects the will of the Syrian people. It's also essential, in our judgment, ultimately for the long-term success of the counter-ISIL campaign.
And so we'll continue our efforts both to support those on the ground who are fighting ISIL. We'll do our best in partnership with our many allies in the coalition, now about 65. Turkey remains an important partner in that effort, as do many others. And we'll stay focused on the fight against ISIL even as we work intensively on the political track and the prerequisite steps discussed and agreed in principle in Munich to achieve a cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access.
Q: This is Andrew Beatty from AFP. I wanted to ask a related question about -- and get your view on the threat by the Islamic State in Libya. There have been some reports that Libya is become something of a magnet for fighters (inaudible) the Sahel, and I wanted to get your view on what you think (inaudible) for increased military intervention there.
AMBASSADOR RICE: I couldn't hear him.
MR. SCHULTZ: Do you want to try one more time, a little louder?
AMBASSADOR RICE: I don't want to answer a question I didn't hear, though. That's not smart.
Q: Let me try again. The question was about Libya and your assessment of the threat posed by the Islamic State there. There's the suggestion that it is becoming something of a magnet for fighters from across the Sahel, and also -- well, I just wanted to get your view on, like I said, whether you should consider increased military intervention to deal with that threat.
AMBASSADOR RICE: I'm sorry -- is that Andrew?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yeah.
AMBASSADOR RICE: You're really breaking up and it's very hard for me to hear the question. I think we're going to come to some folks in the room here.
Q: Let me follow up, Ambassador. You mentioned northern Syria. There have been several specific attacks at hospitals, schools, a UNICEF facility, an MSF facility there, as many as 50 people dead, many of them children, we're told, in an area where the Russians and Syrians have been very active. What is your understanding of exactly what happened there and who is to blame, who's responsible?
AMBASSADOR RICE: I'm not in a position to offer you details on what's transpired on the ground. We've been very clear, and the State Department issued a strong statement today condemning the bombings both of the MSF facility and other facilities in which civilians, we believe, were present. It appears that this was action taken by the regime with the backing of its supporters, but I can't provide a specific attribution at this point.
Q: Does it concern you that this happened right after President Obama had a direct conversation with President Putin, saying that this sort of activity -- military activity had to stop?
AMBASSADOR RICE: What concerns us, Ron, obviously is that as the violence continues, more and more civilians are being impacted. And the pressure on civilians and the outflow of displaced persons from their areas of residence is increasing. And that is why we have put a premium on trying the halt the violence, enable humanitarian access, and create an environment that is conducive for a political track to get underway. That is the reason for our collective efforts in Munich. That's why we'll be working in the coming days to try to encourage all parties to implement the agreements reached at Munich. And it's why the President will continue his communications with leaders of all stripes who have a role to play in this.
Q: You've been working with some of these countries at the summit to try to limit their cooperation with North Korea, militarily, economically. Can you be a little more specific on what you might expect to come out of this on that front? And would you say you're putting pressure on them to do so? Also, what effect do you expect that to have on North Korea?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, North Korea is obviously a topic of interest to the entire region, certainly to the United States and our allies in Japan and the Republic of Korea. So we will continue our work to contain and reduce the threat posed by North Korea. We'll do it both in the context of our discussions here on the margins -- this is not a topic formally on the agenda -- but more urgently, as we have done bilaterally and trilaterally in our cooperation with the Korean government in Seoul and Japanese government as well.
In New York, we continue to work and see the negotiations on a Security Council resolution, which we expect will contain significant new sanctions, progress. And so we'll be working on this issue, as we have been on multiple fronts simultaneously in the coming days.
Q: I actually heard Andrew's question and it's kind of an important one, so if it's okay I'll just repeat it.
AMBASSADOR RICE: You are asking it yourself?
Q: I'll ask it myself. I'd like to hear your answer. What he was asking was there's a lot of concern that Libya has become a magnet for foreign fighters from all across the Sahel, and so his question was, how concerned are you by those reports? And also, is that concern prompting you to weigh more seriously some form of military intervention in Libya?
AMBASSADOR RICE: I heard you much better. Thank you. Obviously Libya is an important area of interest and concern for us for a variety of reasons. One, we're actively engaged in trying to support the effort to establish a unity government and our diplomatic efforts have been quite energetic in trying to back the U.N. effort there. And we've seen some modest progress, but obviously that is a difficult and persistent challenge. But it's a necessary aspect of trying to help to stabilize Libya, because when it's had competing governments, it's been even more fertile ground for extremists to exploit even when it had a weak central government.
With respect to the terrorist threat there, this is something we have long been focused on. We have been involved in trying to improve our situational awareness both of the threat as it's evolved and to take steps to counter that threat, which is why the United States has acted against the ISIL leader in Libya with success.
So we're going to stay very focused on the ISIL threat as it relates to Libya. Just as we have done in Iraq and Syria, we will be trying to cut the flow of foreign fighters and financing, look at opportunities to build partnerships with those on the ground, and take action as appropriate and necessary against ISIL.
I'm not prepared to suggest anything further than that at this point. But this is an area, as we look at combating ISIL globally, where the United States is giving considerable attention, along with our partners and allies in Europe.
Q: Ambassador, thank you. When President Obama spoke with Vladimir Putin, did he receive any kind of assurances Russia will stop its ongoing bombing in Syria? It would seem that Russia says one thing diplomatically and then continues to charge ahead with its battlefield dynamics. It does not appear that the U.S. has much leverage here. Do you have any reason to think that it will change now?
AMBASSADOR RICE: We'll have to see, Margaret. I'm not prepared to characterize Russian motives. I am prepared to characterize some of their recent actions as being counterproductive and actions that we've condemned. Clearly the intensified bombing, the displacement, the fact that civilian entities have been hit by the regime and its backers is of grave concern. And it does call into question Russia's willingness or ability to implement the agreements achieved in Munich. That said, we still believe that Russia has the ability, should it choose to play a constructive role, in restraining the regime, obviously its own actions as well, and we stand ready, in cooperation with our partners in the Syria Support Group, to do our part to try to bring about the cessation and the humanitarian access that's so badly needed. We'll see what Russia will do.
Q: Do you think the Russians can stop the regime but they're choosing not to?
AMBASSADOR RICE: I think they can. And in the event that the two sides -- meaning the opposition and the Syrian government -- indeed commit to implement the cessation, they will be obliged to. But we will see how events unfold over the coming days.
Q: I'd like to follow up on North Korea. You mentioned your efforts at the U.N. Security Council. It seems that the Chinese still be reticent to have tougher sanctions against North Korea. How can you get support around member states at the Security Council?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, China is obviously a critical player at the United Nations and it, too, has choices to make. We have had ongoing discussions with the Chinese in New York. President Obama has spoken to President Xi. I think these discussions are progressing. But I think it unlikely that China wants to be seen by the international community as the protector of North Korea, given its recent outrageous behavior in violation of international law and U.N. Security Council resolution.
So, given that, I expect that they will indeed come onboard with significant new sanctions, and we're working towards that end.
Q: One more. North Korea announced this retaliation against the Japanese government, that they announced that they're going to (inaudible) and dismantle abduction meeting, which is supposed to investigate North Korea's abduction of Japanese people. What's your reaction to that?
AMBASSADOR RICE: Well, we have been supportive of Japan in its efforts to pursue resolution of the abductions, and we hope that Japan's interest in this will continue to be fulfilled.
Q: Madam Ambassador, may I ask a question on human rights? The President is hosting people like Thammavong of Laos, Hun Sen of Cambodia, Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei, all people that have terrible human rights records. And human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, says that this sends a signal that the United States supports and legitimizes these leaders to their people, and that, in fact, the pivot to Asia is about a pivot to governments, rather than to people and civil society. How would you respond to that?
AMBASSADOR RICE: I dispute that strenuously. We deal with countries around the world, including in Asia, with whom we have serous disagreements on human rights, on democracy, on corruption, and yet we do talk to them. But at the same time, we take every opportunity, both publicly and privately, to underscore our grave concerns about human rights. That's why I made mention of that in my opening statement. That's why I spent an hour and a half last week with leaders of ASEAN civil society to hear their points of view, to ensure that their perspectives and concerns were incorporated into our thinking and planning for this summit.
We have stood with the people of Southeast Asia for many years as they seek to build more just, more open, more accountable societies. We've been significant supporters of civil society organizations. YSEALI, the President's Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, is about the United States building people-to-people ties with the next generation of the region's leaders. So just because, in Asia, as elsewhere, we are obliged to deal with governments, including in some cases those with whom we have significant disagreements on things like human rights, does not mean that we're legitimizing them or their behavior, or that we have in any way lessened our commitment to democracy, human rights and civil society.
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you. I am willing to entertain any topics of the domestic nature that you might have. Should we try the pool again? Is the pool still with us? Jeff, do you want to give it a whirl?
Q: I don't have any domestic questions. Thank you, Eric.
MR. SCHULTZ: Okay. Mark.
Q: I'm just wondering, Eric, whether you can give us any updates at all on a timetable for a selection of a nominee for the Court, or any details on who might be leading the effort to vet candidates. Anything new on that front?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have an update on the timetable. As we said yesterday, the President will take the time and rigor this process deserves before selecting a nominee. I would not anticipate an announcement this week, especially given that the Senate is out on recess.
But as soon as the Senate returns, the President was very clear that he is going to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia and he also called on the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote.
I'm going to resist the urge to engage in speculation about lists and names. But if you are looking to get a sense of the types of jurists the President nominates, I'd urge you to take a look the two Supreme Court justices that the President has already nominated and successfully got confirmed to the bench. And I'd also urge you to look at the several hundred judges the President has nominated and successfully confirmed to the lower courts.
Generally speaking, I think the President's judicial nominees adhere to a number of basic principles, which I'm happy to share with you. Number one, I'd say the President's judicial nominees are all eminently qualified with a record of excellence and integrity. The President looks for individuals who have impeccable credentials.
Number two, the President intends to nominate individuals who honor constitutional responsibilities. These are individuals who have a commitment to impartial justice, respect the integrity of the judicial process, and adhere to precedent. The President seeks judges who will faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand.
And lastly, the President is also mindful that there are rare cases where the law is not clear, and we acknowledge that those incidents occur most often at the Supreme Court. And in those times, a judge will have to bring his or her own ethics and moral bearings into a decision. In those instances, the President seeks judges that understand that justice is not about some abstract legal theory or a footnote in a casebook, but it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives.
Look no further than the past year or two at the rulings coming out of highest court of the land, and you'll see that these aren't cases that are just about legal theory but they're about the way that people go about their daily lives. And often that means protecting people's freedoms.
Q: Given all that's now being said -- I mean, starting hours after Scalia's death -- by Republicans, including the Senate Majority Leader, what is your take on this? And do you feel that there's any chance that a nominee that you put forward is going to go anywhere?
MR. SCHULTZ: Of course. The President was clear that he plans on fulfilling his constitutional responsibilities, and we expect the United States Senate to do the same. Those responsibilities described in the Constitution are ironclad. There are no caveats. The Constitution does not include exemptions for election years or for the President's last term in office. There's no exemptions for when a vacancy can tip the balance of the Court.
So I acknowledge your skepticism here because we do know that this is a Republican Congress that has a lot of practice saying no. This is the Republican Party leadership that shut down the government in 2013, that brought us to the brink of defunding the Department of Homeland Security just last year, and just a few weeks ago announced they won't even have a hearing on the President's budget. But I also want to point out that this is not the first time that Republicans have come out with a lot of bluster only to have reality ultimately sink in. As you'll recall, since you've covered us closely, Republicans threatened to keep sequester-level funding for the government. They threatened to not raise the debt limit. They threatened to not reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. And they threatened to upend the deal with Iran. At each pass, they took a hard line, they tried to play politics, but ultimately they were not able to back up their threats.
So we believe that in those instances, Republicans fell back when their positions aren't tenable. And we are only asking members of the United States Senate to do their job. Some of you were fortunate enough to be with us in Springfield, where the President talked about the yearning in this country for elected officials to be able to put aside partisan politics in order to fulfill core responsibilities of their job. That's all we're asking for today.
Q: To follow up on that, you talked about things that they backed off of. Does the administration believe that there could be consequences for the Republicans if they continue this line? And what do you think those consequences might be? And where is the real leverage that you think the President has in trying to make this happen? Again, as opposed to that list of things that they backed off, what do you think is the real leverage that he has and what do you think are the consequences for the Republicans if they persist in this?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, good questions, Ron. There's absolutely consequences for the Court. There are a number of cases pending before the Court this term. And I'm not going to speculate on how this particular tragedy will affect the rulings of the Court. I will say that, as you all understand, the effect of a 4-4 split is to affirm the decision of the lower court without setting a precedent going forward. So a lot of those cases that are pending before the Court right now, some of them the administration had won and in other instances the administration is appealing.
But your point is a good one, which is we need a fully staffed Supreme Court; that there are indeed a number of important cases on the docket this year, touching a range of important areas of law, many of which affect people's daily lives. This only underscores why it's important for the Court to have a full complement of nine judges -- justices. And this isn't a new argument. In fact, in 1988, when President Ronald Reagan was advocating for his own nominee against a Democratic Senate, he said that "Every day that passes with the Supreme Court below full strength impairs the people's business in that crucially important body." We couldn't agree more.
Q: Do you anticipate the President trying to make an appeal directly to voters in certain swing states where there are -- certain important states where there are elections coming up? I guess I'm trying to get the point of, first, how engaged is the President going to be, beyond the statements that he's already made. And what do you really think is the consequence that the Republicans will face if they persist?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can tell you that the President is already deeply engaged. He's been in touch with his senior team, both those at the White House this weekend and those of us traveling with him on this. White House officials have been engaged with congressional offices, primarily on the Senate side, but both Democrat and Republican offices. Those conversations have been preliminary in nature but are a signal that we plan on conducting robust engagement throughout this entire process.
I'm going to resist the urge to talk about the politics of this. In fact, again, if you go back to the President's speech in Springfield, he talked about moments that are too important to play politics with. The Supreme Court, the highest court of the land, seems to be one of those moments.
Q: The President has talked a lot about regretting how divisive Washington has become. So does he see this choice as an opportunity to perhaps reach out to the other side? Or is the White House just preparing for a fight to get their nominee through?
MR. SCHULTZ: That's a clever way of asking me to handicap potential nominees, which I resist the urge to do. Again, if you're looking for the type of jurist that the President would likely select, I'd really encourage you to go back to the several hundred nominees the President has put forward for the federal courts.
You are right that the President has called for a better functioning politics and more a constructive politics. For the President, that means a federal government that is more responsive to its citizenry. And we hear often that Republicans have said that elections matter and that the people should have a say in who is on the Supreme Court. We couldn't agree more. That's why the President was reelected on November 6, 2012. And at that time, I'm sure you will find Republicans saying that this could have an impact on the Court. And again, that was November 6, 2012.
We have 11 months to go in the President's second term; that's just under a quarter of our term. And if you go back through history and you look at the average time spans for how long a Supreme Court justice takes between getting nominated and confirmed, it's about 65, 70 days. We are well within that to get this done.
Q: So you don't see this as particularly politically charged because of the timing, and that impacting the President's own decision-making?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, we're in an election year, so I'm not going to pretend that that's not part of the atmospherics here. But the President is very focused on doing his job. Again, this isn't something that you have to take my word for; this is laid out in the United States Constitution. This is respecting the rule of law. And we expect Republicans to do just that.
I recall a piece from Leader McConnell that was published in the wake of his hard-fought victory regaining control of the United States Senate. He said he wanted to get Congress functioning again, get it moving again. That's all we're asking for here, too.
Q: Any potential nominee could face obviously a very divisive confirmation fight and one that could be fruitless in the end, if we are to believe the leader of the Senate. Is the President concerned whether the best candidates might not want to go through that and would reject outright any kind of offer to do it? And has the White House heard or talked to anybody who's expressed any concern like that at this point?
MR. SCHULTZ: I haven't heard any discussions along those lines. And again, I would point to the very clear precedent for confirming a nominee in an election year, even when the Senate is not controlled by that President's party. As I think some of you have researched, six Supreme Court justices have been confirmed in presidential election years, including three Republican appointees. Another 11 have been confirmed in non-presidential election years. And the most recent, as I think some of us have remarked, was nominated by the Republicans and confirmed by Democrats. Justice Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, was confirmed by a Democratic-controlled Congress in February 1988, just 65 days after his nomination. At that point, every single Republican voted to confirm Justice Kennedy, despite it being an election year. The only difference I can tell right now is that Barack Obama is a Democrat.
Q: I just want to read something to you. You may find this a little interesting: "For the rest of this President's term, [and] if there's another Republican elected with the same selection criteria, let me say this: We should reverse the presumption of confirmation…With respect to the Supreme Court, at least -- I will recommend to my colleagues that we should not confirm a Supreme Court nominee…" Those are the words of Chuck Schumer in 2007, with 18 months remaining in the term of President Bush.
When you hear comments -- when you read comments like that, and you compare them to today, is it not hypocritical that some are sort of trying to play this in saying, listen, we should get this done in a very speedy fashion, when, in fact, many of the so-called leaders on the other side did virtually the same thing, or participated in the same sort of rhetoric, if you will, back then?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, I've seen a lot of quotes moving back and forth. For the President, this boils down to something very simple: just doing his job. And we expect the Senate to do the same.
There is almost a full year -- 340 days -- before the next President takes office. Since the 1980s, every person appointed to this Supreme Court has been given a prompt hearing and a vote within 100 days. Most recently, Justice Kagan went from nominee to appointment in 88 days. Justice Sotomayor, 67 days.
So all we're asking is for the same standard to apply. We also believe it would irresponsible and unprecedented to let a vacancy on the Court extend into 2017. If Congress fails to act, the Supreme Court will preside for well over a year with a vacancy, and would not only impact two consecutive Supreme Court terms, it would be wholly unprecedented for the modern Supreme Court. In fact, since the 1980s, there's never been any vacancy spanning more than one term.
Q: Then why not do a recess appointment?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, we've said that the President wanted to -- in light of the Senate being out of session this week, the President wanted to take a little bit of time and go through this process in a thoughtful and rigorous way. So I expect that when the Senate returns within due time, the President will identify and announce a nominee.
Q: Just last thing.
MR. SCHULTZ: Of course.
Q: Based on what you're saying, then, is it your expectation that the Senate, despite sort of the rhetoric, will, in fact, give an up-or-down vote on a nominee? And the reason I ask that is, if you're saying we believe that that's the process that should go forward, and we believe that it's not necessary then to fill the vacancy by recess appointment, then it is your expectation, I imagine, that they will, in fact, vote up or down. Or am I over-reading it?
MR. SCHULTZ: No, our expectation is that members of the United States Senate will do their jobs, and that, yes, that includes Republicans. That includes identifying an ample number of Republicans who take their oath of office seriously and who take their fidelity to the United States Constitution seriously enough to do their jobs.
Q: Does the President see, though, that by filibustering a nominee they would not be doing their jobs? Because in 2006, Senator Obama joined 24 colleagues in an effort to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Samuel Alito. Does he see that as not following their jobs? Did he not follow his job when he was a senator?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think what we've seen over the past 24 hours is something entirely different, which is Republicans abjectly objecting to even the President putting forth a nominee. So we believe -- and I don't know if anyone in here would disagree -- but we believe we haven't seen anything like that. And that's why we believe it would be wholly irresponsible to leave the Supreme Court short-staffed, especially considering the important work pending before them. And that the consequences of that, you don't have to take my word for it. Again, President Reagan said that every day that the Court is short-staffed, it impairs the work of that important body.
Q: Thanks so much, Eric. Let me go back to the South China Sea and the Sunnylands meeting. I believe the United States and ASEAN countries are preparing Sunnylands principle, which include freedom of navigation and (inaudible), and also no militarization in the South China Sea. So what particular message are you going to deliver in this meeting? And also, has the United States asked ASEAN countries to play a role to sustain peace and security in the South China Sea? What kind of role does the United States expect ASEAN to play?
MR. SCHULTZ: I know that Ambassador Rice addressed this briefly earlier, and I think we'll also have more to say on this over the next 36 hours. So I'm not going to get ahead of the President. But our message on this is not particularly different today than it has been over the past few weeks and months, which is we fully support freedom of navigation and that we are going to stand by our partners in the region, and make sure that international norms are respected.
All right, one more.
Q: Just a follow-up question. It's more relevant to Asia perspective. And frankly, I'm from Cambodia. My question is, why Obama, he decided to host the summit in Sunnylands instead of the White House?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. The President has used the venue here at Sunnylands as a relaxed venue where heads of state and other leaders, his counterparts from around the world, can have a more informal, casual discussion. In Washington, there's a little bit more of a stiffness. And the President wanted to be able to afford the world leaders here more of an opportunity to have a more candid, relaxed discussion.
Carol, one more.
Q: Can you just clarify -- when you said that the President has been in touch with senior advisors on the Supreme Court issue, is he going over a specific list? Has he asked them to come up with a list of candidates? Is he looking at that? Where is he in this process?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, we're only a few days old here. I'm not going to be able to release the details of those conversations, but my only point was the President -- Ron asked has the President been engaged, and the answer to that is yes. And for a starting point, that means working with his team, both White House officials who are back at the White House and back here, to make sure that this process is moving forward.
Q: And just two other things. When you said that you guys have been reaching out to Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, you mean on the Judiciary Committee, or McConnell? Who specifically are you reaching --
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, so you can imagine we're hearing from a lot of folks on the incoming, and then we're also proactively reaching out to key offices. I don't have a list here to detail. But I think in the coming days, that engagement and that outreach will become more extensive.
Q: And lastly, can you say -- have you guys said when the President will sign the sanctions legislation on North Korea?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have an update on that for you, but I can try and check.
Q: Do you expect that to happen while he's here via autopen, or do you think he'll do it when he returns to Washington?
MR. SCHULTZ: I'm not even sure we have the bill yet. But as soon as I have an update on that, we'll get it for you.
Thank you, all.
END 1:20 P.M. PST
Barack Obama, Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz and National Security Advisor Susan Rice Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/311944