Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Springfield, Illinois
11:00 A.M. EST
MR. SCHULTZ: I do want to welcome everyone aboard Air Force One en route to Springfield, Illinois, where we're going to mark a special, memorable occasion -- the nine-year anniversary of the President announcing his candidacy on the steps of the Old State Capitol. To honor it, the President is going to the place where his political career began -- the Illinois State Senate -- where he's going to address the General Assembly.
The President is going to build on his State of the Union address by talking about his time in the state senate, working in good faith across party lines with Democrats, Republicans and independents to effectively govern as an example of proof that a better politics doesn't mean we have to agree on everything.
The President will also build on his call to make it easier, not harder, to vote, by talking about steps states can take to make it easier for people to participate in the political process. The President will also once again acknowledge that what he's suggesting is not easy -- in fact, it can be quite hard -- but that it is a lot easier to be cynical than to accept that change is not possible.
But the President will again call on a politics of hard-won hope because we know that change is possible. And to illustrate that, it's worth taking a look at what the President said nine years ago in his speech. Valerie Jarrett took some time over the past few days to do just that. She was with the President nine years ago, and went back to annotate his 2007 speech paragraph by paragraph, noting on how we as an administration have delivered on the President's vision for creating a more perfect union. That includes building an economy ready to compete in the digital age, and to finally fix our broken health care system. So I encourage you to go and check that out. One of my colleagues remarked to me that it resembles the VH1 pop-up videos, the way that the technology annotates the speech. And that's found on WhiteHouse.gov.
So with that, I'm happy to take your question.
Q: Is there any reaction to the primary results out of New Hampshire?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, I don't have any reaction from the President to read out to you. I do think it's clear, based on the results last night -- and this is something that was similar in 2008 for the President's experience -- that based on the results of the first two contests, I think this is a process that's going to go on for some time, both on the Democratic side and on the Republican side.
Q: No cause for concern given the breadth of Hillary's lack of support last night across all demographic groups?
MR. SCHULTZ: That's not how we see it, Darlene. We think that there is tremendous excitement to be a part of this political process, including on the Democratic side. And we think that however this shakes out, candidates on the Democratic side and the Republican side, that there's going to be a massive contrast between those candidates that the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee come this summer and come this fall. That is going to boil down to, do we continue the progress we made over the past seven years, or do we take steps backwards.
Q: Eric, the Supreme Court dealt the administration a fairly significant blow last night with regard to the Clean Power Plan rule. We saw your reaction from Josh Earnest, so I'm aware that you're confident already that this will eventually prevail. My question for you today is, what are you telling allies who agreed at Paris to cut climate change -- or to fight climate change? What is your message to them today when they ask, is the U.S. actually going to fulfill its commitments?
MR. SCHULTZ: The answer to that is, unequivocally, yes. We do remain, Jeff, as you mentioned, confident that we're going to prevail on the merits when the Clean Power Plan rule gets its full day in Court. We believe this principally because this is a rule that gives states the time and flexibility they need to develop tailored, cost-effective plans to reduce their emissions.
As the EPA has said, while litigation proceeds, they're going to continue to work with states that choose to continue plan development, and will prepare the tools that those states will need.
I also want to take a moment to step back and look at the overall context for which this came down, which is the Clean Power Plan is only one part of this administration's initiatives to transform the energy economy in our country. We're going to continue to take aggressive steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, that includes pursuing a broad range of policies to reduce emissions from cars and trucks from the oil and gas sector, aircrafts, and increase energy standards.
I do want to take a minute, since the last 24 hours, a lot was spent on looking at the President's budget. But if you go back and look at the budget agreement that was signed at the end of 2015, that included long-term extensions of the renewable energy tax credits. The inclusion of those tax credits, which is something this administration fought for, is going to continue the momentum of cleaner sources of energy and lower emissions in the power sector.
It is our estimation that the inclusion of those tax credits is going to have more impact over the short term than the Clean Power Plan.
Q: All right, but you can't deny that this was a pretty big blow. Can you elaborate on which countries you've been in touch with about this? Who has reached out to the White House? Is State involved? And discuss that diplomatic process.
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure, Jeff. We do have ongoing, intense diplomatic conversations with our partners, with the nearly 200 countries that had signed onto this agreement. And, as I think my colleagues have discussed, that our international partners are well aware of the policy-making process in the United States; that it's a complicated process, that there's often litigation.
But I would make two points. One is, the schedule for this litigation looks like it will be concluded well in advance of -- well in time for the U.S. to make its commitments in the Paris agreement. And lastly, again, there are driving forces that will allow the United States to meet its commitment outside of the Clean Power Plan rule. One of those main forces is the inclusion of the tax credits at the end of the 2015 budget agreement.
Q: Are you getting calls from other countries?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have private conversations to read out to you. But again, I think, as my colleagues have assured me -- the administration officials who work on this and engage their counterparts in other countries feel very confident that their counterparts understand the complexities of rulemaking in the United States, and understand that this will be a temporary procedural determination.
Q: Eric, is there a plan B if it's not a temporary setback, if this is more permanent? If the Court rules against you, is there an alternative regulation that you can put out? Are you working on a plan B, given how significant this could be?
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, I'm familiar with Plan B questions because they were often asked to us in the context of the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act several times now. So we remain confident that when this is given its day in court, it's going to be upheld on the merits.
Q: The President is going to talk about building a better politics again today, but right after that he's going to go talk to his sort of Democratic supporters, it sounds like, and interest groups that probably support his agenda. And then tomorrow he's going to be raising money in New York at Democratic events. At past events such as these, he's sort of ratcheted up his own rhetoric and criticizing Republicans. Last year, for example, he talked about how could Republican candidates stand up to Putin if they can't even deal with CNBC moderators. Is the President willing to temper some of his own rhetoric and criticism and maybe sort of act by example? Or does he believe if Republicans are going to attack, that he has to attack back?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, you're right -- the President is going to take some time today to talk about how do we improve our politics. And that does include more civility in our discourse. So I do think you can expect the President to discuss that today in Springfield. And you're right, we do have a robust schedule of events following that. But I would not expect the President's remarks in Springfield today to be particularly partisan. In fact, to the contrary. He's going to talk about how his experience in Springfield informs what he thinks public service should be all about, and that means being able to disagree on some issues but being able to roll up your sleeves and work on others.
Q: So what happened -- I mean, he talked, for example, last fall in Turkey, that if Republicans want to pop off on his policies, and sort of anti-Muslim rhetoric, then he's going to respond. I mean, does he feel that he has to, or are you now saying that he's going to pledge to sort of temper his own words even if the rhetoric on the campaign trail is overheated?
MR. SCHULTZ: Two points, David. One is -- and I think the President will talk about this today -- but the combative nature of our politics is not new. That's goes back centuries. As you all are scholars of American political history, that's not something new to our political discourse. What I do think the President will discuss is how, over the past few years, our political system has become more polarized. And I think the President does want to address that head on this afternoon.
Q: Can I look ahead to the ASEAN Summit? The Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, has warned Cambodians who made protests at the site of the summit that they shouldn't do that. And there's a precedent in the past where he's cracked down domestically when he's been the subject of protests abroad. Is the White House concerned about that? Is there any message that you want to send to him or any other guest of the summit that protests are acceptable in the United States?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have any reaction to that specific report. I will say, generically speaking, that a lot of these countries are in different phases of becoming democratic -- with a small "D." And those are reforms that the President takes very seriously, and pursues in private conversations and in public forums like the summit you all will be attending early next week.
So I'd expect that the right to protest and the right to peacefully be heard, it falls under that umbrella. And I do expect the President to talk about the importance of democratic reforms as part of the summit conversations next week.
Q: I'd like to return to the issue of climate change. There's a huge methane leak going on in California right now, which has not received a great deal of attention, and could offset the administration's goal on cutting climate almost as much as, perhaps, this climate change setback from the Court. How concerned is the President about that leak? And what is the administration doing to make sure it gets stopped?
MR. SCHULTZ: Jeff, you are right that that is a very serious situation out in California. I know that the President has been updated on this regularly. I don't have any new policy announcements to make on this, but I do know that the appropriate administration officials have been in touch with local and state officials in California to figure out what can be done to stop it.
Q: Are you concerned about its overall effect on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions?
MR. SCHULTZ: I have not heard conversations about that. From our vantage point, obviously lowering greenhouse gas emissions is not only a priority for this President but it's a record over the past seven years that we're very proud of.
Q: The Senate is scheduled to vote today on a North Korea sanctions bill. I assume the administration would be for that, but do you have anything?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, I don't believe -- I could be wrong, but I don't believe that Josh has briefed since the President a few nights ago spoke with Korean President Park and Prime Minister Abe of Japan in separate phone calls. Those readouts that we released related directly to the recent provocations by North Korea.
The President continues to work with his counterparts around the country [sic], as do our diplomats, on making sure that we build as robust and as uniform an international response to this as possible. But I don't have a direct response to the Senate legislation right now.
Q: Can I ask you about New Hampshire again? Bernie Sanders just won a very huge victory after part of his message being that Hillary Clinton was a moderate and not a progressive. It sounds like what the President wants to say today is that we need more moderation in our politics. How does he react to the fact that someone who's basically attacked someone for being a moderate is winning pretty big or just won pretty big in New Hampshire?
MR. SCHULTZ: Toluse, I think I'd say a couple things about that. One is, the President has talked about the energy that Senator Sanders has been tapping into in this country. This is a longstanding thread that's been particularly prevalent in the Democratic Party for many decades now. So the President is acutely aware of that energy, understands that that animates a lot of voters, and thinks that bringing them into the process is a very good thing.
If your question is are voters frustrated with Washington, the answer to that is, absolutely. And I think the President is going to take that head-on in his remarks today -- that we can be doing a lot more to make government function better for its citizens. That not only applies in Washington but also in state houses across the country.
Q: And the President talked a little bit during the State of the Union about -- saying that he's going to try harder personally to make an effort to bring politics together. What can we expect to hear from him today about what he'll do personally in such a hot and heated political environment to tone down the rhetoric?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, in answer to David's question and this question, he's going to spend some time today talking about discourse and the importance of having civility in our discourse. I also would not expect this to be a speech that is too backwards-looking; that the President doesn't want to dwell too much on the past, that he wants to look forward and look at things that we can do to make our politics more responsive to our citizenry.
Q: What members of Congress are on board to take this trip down memory lane with the President?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, aboard Air Force One we have Senator Durbin, Congresswoman Duckworth, Congresswoman Kelly, and Congressman Quigley. I believe the Governor and the Mayor will be meeting us on the tarmac.
Q: Are there former White House staff or campaign officials traveling, as well?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, we have several. David Axelrod, who was there on that cold day in February in Springfield nine years ago. Valerie Jarrett is with us, who was also there. Anita Decker-Breckenridge, our Deputy Chief of Staff, who was there at that moment is also on board.
Q: David is there or he's on the plane?
MR. SCHULTZ: David is on the plane.
Q: Are there any current Clinton staffers that are former Obama campaign staffers that will be there?
MR. SCHULTZ: Current Clinton staffers? I imagine they're busy today, but I don't know if they're planning on attending the event, but they're not on the plane.
Q: Feel free to send David back.
MR. SCHULTZ: Understood. (Laughter.) Thank you, guys.
END 11:17 P.M. EST
Barack Obama, Press Gaggle 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/311943