Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Jennifer Friedman
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Miami, Florida
2:56 P.M. EDT
MS. FRIEDMAN: Thanks, everyone. And I don't actually have anything at the top, so I will just turn it over to your questions.
Q: Jennifer, would you like to give the White House reaction to the jobs report? And is there anything that the White House could do in the coming months that might improve the jobs picture?
MS. FRIEDMAN: Thanks, Kevin. So I think as you've heard us say many times throughout the past seven years and again today, we don't read too much into any one month's number. This is obviously something we generally look at longer-term trends and these numbers are inherently volatile. And so obviously the number this month was disappointing and fell below expectations, but there are a couple factors involved in that, which is generally the volatility and then, of course, the temporary strike in the telecommunications industry, which I know many of you have covered, and which, as you're aware, Secretary Perez worked very hard to help resolve.
So what we're really focused on is some trends that we've seen particularly so far in 2016 that tell sort of the better story of where things stand. A couple of data points for you on that. Payroll growth has averaged 150,000 jobs a month, which is well above the pace necessary to maintain a low and stable employment rate. Average hourly earnings for private employees have increased 3.2 percent in 2016. And in addition, this week actually marks 65 consecutive weeks of initial jobless claims below 300,000. And that's actually the longest streak since 1973.
So it's important to sort of keep in mind and look at those longer-term trends. Now, there are a number of things that Congress, in particular, can and should be doing, and this is something that you've heard the President and others talk about extensively for a long time now -- some of the basic and most fundamental pieces, including adequate funding for our nation's infrastructure, raising the minimum wage -- again, something we've been calling on Congress to do for years now and we've seen 17 states plus Washington, D.C., a number of businesses take action, but still Congress has yet to act on that. Passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement -- these are all things -- steps that we can take and should take.
Q: This report comes just a couple days after the President talked up the strength of the American economy. Does this report undercut that? And is there a potential to hurt Democrats at the ballot box in November?
MS. FRIEDMAN: So, look, Byron, again, we don't read too much into any one month under any circumstances. In addition to the data points I just shared with you, the fact is that U.S. businesses have now added 14.5 million jobs over 75 straight months in private sector job growth.
So what you heard the President talk about in Elkhart are a couple important things -- some of the longer-term trends that we've seen over the course of his entire presidency. So a couple of points there. The rate of new foreclosures has fallen to pre-crisis levels and rising home prices have gotten millions of homeowners back above water. Auto sales reached record a level in 2015 and domestic auto production has doubled since the crisis. As you know, health care prices have risen at the lowest rate in 50 years since the ACA became law, and 20 million Americans have the added security of health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
So you heard the President discuss that progress that's been made but also what we've done together as a country to make that progress and what we need to do to build on it. And he talked about the choice that Americans are going to have to make in the coming months to ensure that we can continue to build on that progress rather than reversing it.
Q: What about 2016? The White House might not care as much about the month-to-month numbers, but the general public does, and certainly the Republicans will use this as fodder on the campaign trail. What's the administration's strategy for countering that? And will the President say anything either tonight at the fundraiser or anytime soon to try to address this and try to keep your message going?
MS. FRIEDMAN: I think, again, what you heard the President lay out in Elkhart on Wednesday is something that you'll hear him continue to make the case for in the weeks and months ahead -- obviously you'll hear from him tonight as well. So I think you can expect to hear those kinds of themes, again, where he draws a clear, stark contrast in the choice that voters are going to have to make in the coming months between what the Democrats are running on and talking about, which is building on the progress we've made, and what the alternatives are on the other side, which have been laid out pretty clearly as well.
Q: There was continued violence in San Jose yesterday at the Donald Trump rally. Does the White House have anything to say to the people who are protesting? I know you don't agree with Donald Trump's comments, but are people crossing the line?
MS. FRIEDMAN: So, look, I think the President has spoken about this generally a number of times. He's made clear that violence has no place in American political discourse, and that continues to be his position. You'll have an opportunity to hear from him again certainly in the coming days and weeks and months, so I'm sure you'll hear more about the topic generally.
Q: Is the President going to try, though, to cool passion out there, tempers, for the people that are outside of Trump's rallies?
MS. FRIEDMAN: I think you've heard the President speak to this generally and his views on the fact that violence has no place in the political discourse, and that continues to be his view.
Q: Donald Trump kept up his attacks on a judge of Mexican heritage. He questioned that this judge could even hear this fraud trial. I guess, is the White House alarmed by those comments, both the racially tinged nature of them as well as the attack on an independent judiciary?
MS. FRIEDMAN: So, look, as you've heard us say before, we're not going to comment on every comment that's thrown out there on the campaign trail, both the positive ones and the more egregious ones. But one thing the President has been clear about in general is his strong belief in both an independent judiciary and the rule of law. And both of those things are essential to our democracy. And that's true in all circumstances, and that should also be something that transcends politics. And this is obviously something the President has spoken about a number of times and spent a lot of time on. So that is his general view.
Q: Before we got on the plane I noticed that the NSC was tweeting about Zika. Has there been another case or a case -- is there something new that you can tell us about?
MS. FRIEDMAN: I don't have any updates from here. I'm not sure if anything has transpired since we've been in the air. But I think generally you've heard what we've said -- the President and, as importantly, our public health officials -- about what we need to do for what is now a public health emergency in terms of dealing with the Zika virus. The President has put forward the plan that his public officials believe are what we need to combat Zika, and House Republicans are basically three months and more than a billion dollars short in terms of -- three months late and a billion dollars short in terms of what they've done about it.
The President, along with his public health team, along with governors from across the country and a number of members of Congress understand the need to adequately fund efforts to address Zika. And he's put forward a $1.9 billion proposal to do so, and there's absolutely no reason that Congress shouldn't be acting immediately.
Q: I wanted to ask you about this retirement advice regulation lawsuit led by the Chamber of Commerce against the Obama administration. I'm just kind of wondering if this new advice -- if these regulations interfere with the business's ability to cut a profit. Is that the view?
MS. FRIEDMAN: So I think -- I don't have any specific comment for you on the lawsuit. I have not looked into that, and would leave that to folks who are the lawyers in the house. But as a general matter, I think you've heard the President say a number of times that he believes that American workers and retirees deserve to receive retirement advice that is in their best interest. And that should be a basic, fundamental right. And the rule that the Department of Labor put forth was created to ensure that financial advisors act in their client's best interest -- which, again, should be common sense.
We know that conflicted advice already costs American families an estimated $17 billion a year. And so not only is this something that's the right thing to do, but it makes sense for pocketbooks, as well. And so that's sort of the hallmark of the action that the Labor Department took.
Q: And then yesterday, the President met with the pilot of that Thunderbird aircraft that crash-landed. Does the President have any intention -- or has he already reached out to the family of the pilot that was killed in the Blue Angel crash in Tennessee?
MS. FRIEDMAN: I don't have any particular conversations or phone calls to read out at this point. But obviously the President sends his deepest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends and colleagues of that individual.
Q: On the Puerto Rico legislation being considered in Congress, the White House has been clear that it wants legislation to move. There's a provision in that bill that would create an oversight board for Puerto Rico. Does the White House want Congress to include funding for that board so that it's fully independent, and ensure objectivity of it?
MS. FRIEDMAN: So, Angela, I'm glad you asked about this, because this is an issue that's very important both to the President and the American people. Just stepping back, what we've said a number of times is that it is critical, and the time is right now to address the crisis in Puerto Rico. And that involves providing a workable and comprehensive restructuring authority with appropriate oversight that respects Puerto Rico's self-governance. So we're obviously encouraged to see the House introduce legislation to provide Puerto Rico with these tools that help address the crisis that's harming the 3.5 million Americans who are living in Puerto Rico.
And so, as you know, the legislation that you're referencing passed the House National Resources Committee with strong bipartisan support, and we are encouraging Congress to move forward on that as quickly as possible.
Now, obviously we would have preferred a bill without certain provisions, such as the minimum wage and overtime provisions. But as is the case in any compromise, this is a bill that we could support and we think it's critical.
When it comes to the oversight board, obviously the discussions are still ongoing. And I think it was important generally that we reach an agreement on the process to ensure that we had a well-functioning independent group of experts on the board and that the board is up and running as quickly as possible so we can work with Puerto Rico to address the crisis.
Q: Any position on whether it should be funded by Congress?
MS. FRIEDMAN: I think I would check with the Treasury Department on that specific question, and we can see if we have any additional details for you.
Q: One more question I had was: In Elkhart, the President said that he believed that after next week's primaries there be a clear picture on who the Democratic nominee is. At that point, do you expect the President to put more pressure on Bernie Sanders to end his campaign? Do you think that he'll step up or change his own -- I guess he's kind of been reserved so far from putting pressure on Bernie Sanders. Do you expect that to change in the coming days?
MS. FRIEDMAN: So, John, what you heard the President say on Wednesday is something that he said a number of times over the past months, but actually his views on this date back to his own experiences in 2008, where he had an extensive primary campaign. The President also said on Wednesday he believes that a competitive Democratic primary is a good thing. He said that, "There's been a healthy debate in the Democratic Party." And he, in terms of timing, was noting that this is -- given the primary calendar coming to an end soon, with two large primaries next week in the calendar, just as a matter of fact, time is going to be ending soon.
And so I think what the President also said is that what he's tried to do is make sure that voters, rather than he, are making the decision and deciding the outcome. And so he said we'll have a pretty good sense next week, a clearer picture, given the large primaries that are expected next week, and that there's going to be plenty of time for him to step in and campaign. So I don't have any specific announcements or events to preview for you.
Q: Speaking of previewing, can you preview the visit by Prime Minister Modi on Tuesday? He was here fairly recently. And India sounds like it has a fairly long agenda for what it wants out of the meeting with President Obama. But what does the U.S. want to go away with? And what do you expect to be top of mind during those talks?
MS. FRIEDMAN: Thanks, Angela. So I think we'll have additional detail for you on that closer to the time. But obviously there's a whole host of issues where our relationship and partnership is robust and important -- everything ranging from climate to military steps we're taking, to a whole host of economic steps that we're working on together. And so I think you can expect them to discuss a whole range of those items and the robust partnership we have.
Q: What can you tell us about the President's activities this weekend, beyond the fundraisers tonight?
MS. FRIEDMAN: So we don't have any additional public schedule items for this weekend. Nothing to share at this point. Now, as you may recall, there have been certain other times where he's spent a little bit of time outdoors in this part of the country, so I wouldn't preclude that from happening again this time. But no, nothing public on his calendar for this weekend.
Q: Week ahead?
MS. FRIEDMAN: The week ahead. All right, let's do it.
So, on Monday, the President will welcome this year's Super Bowl Champion, the Denver Broncos, to the White House to honor the team in their Super Bowl 50 victory.
On Tuesday, the President will meet with Prime Minister Modi of India, as we've just discussed, at the White House. And the visit will highlight the deepening of the U.S.-India relationship in key areas since the President's visit to New Delhi in January 2015. Among the issues that the President looks forward to discussing are progress made on climate change and clean energy partnership, security and defense cooperation, and economic growth priorities.
On Wednesday, the President will travel to New York, New York, where he will attend a DSCC event and a DNC event.
On Thursday, the President will host a reception at the White House in recognition of LGBT Pride Month.
And on Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
Q: Could you just repeat Thursday? I didn't hear that, sorry.
MS. FRIEDMAN: Sure. On Thursday, the President will host a reception at the White House in recognition of LGBT Pride Month.
Q: Jen, is there anyone traveling with him on the plane today? Any members of the Senate?
MS. FRIEDMAN: No, I don't think we have any members on the plane with us today. I'll let you know if there's someone I missed. But I don't think so.
END 3:12 P.M. EDT
Barack Obama, Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Jennifer Friedman Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/317945