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Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz

February 19, 2015

Aboard Air Force One

En Route Chicago, Illinois

12:35 P.M. EST

MR. SCHULTZ: My name is Eric Schultz. Welcome aboard Air Force One on our trip to Chicago. To lead us off, I brought with us with us Christy Goldfuss, who is a senior advisor at the Council on Environmental Quality, to discuss what we're up to today and the announcements that we're making today. So I will let her lead us off if you have any questions for her, and then I'm happy to take up anything else you have.

MS. GOLDFUSS: Hi, everybody. Just to introduce myself again, my name is Christy Goldfuss. I'm a senior advisor at the Council on Environmental Quality. Let me just say up front, I've only been on the job three weeks, and this is my first time in front of all of you, so this is a big day for us -- and take it easy on me.

Today, the President is launching an initiative called "Every Kid in a Park," that will give every fourth-grade student and their families a free pass to national parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year, starting next September.

This initiative is a part of President Obama's commitment to make sure that all Americans, and especially kids, have the chance to explore the extraordinary outdoor resources and historic treasures that belong to all of them.

The National Park Service will celebrate its centennial in 2016, which gives us the opportunity to think about what we would like to see in the next century. The focus will be on helping all Americans find the park that speaks to them, whether it's urban, rural, cultural or historic. But the administration will focus our resources on kids.

We know today more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces. At the same time, kids are spending more time than ever in front of screens. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that young people now devote an average of more than seven hours a day to electronic media use, or about 53 hours a week.

To remove financial barriers to get kids outdoors, the "Every Kid in a Park" pass will allow the people who take children to public lands and waters -- their families, guardians, community groups, or teachers -- to visit these places for free as well. And because we know that a big reason many children don't go to these places is because they can't get there easily, this initiative will also help schools and families arrange visits by providing trip-planning tools and helping to cover transportation costs for schools with the greatest financial need.

Let me just take a moment to talk about why fourth grade. So the National Park Service and the other federal land management agencies worked with the Department of Education and other advisors to explore what the right age range was. There's a lot of research showing that if you reach kids before the time they turn 11, you have a better chance of building a lasting relationship. In addition, a lot of the land management agencies already have existing programming in this place so they don't have to build something new.

And lastly, this is about building a lasting relationship with educators. So we want to make sure that we really make the connection with fourth-grade teachers so we can build a bond that lasts beyond just the centennial, and works into the future so that we're continually working with these fourth-grade educators and fourth-grade students.

In addition to announcing this exciting initiative, the President today will discuss his designation of three new national monuments. As you know, he's on his way to Chicago to create Pullman National Monument. This will be Chicago's first national park system unit, so it's not surprising that many of the kids he will be addressing today have most likely never been to a national park.

With the designation, not only will they have the opportunity in their backyard to learn from the successes and struggles of the past, but they will benefit from the economic support that comes from sharing these stories with the entire world.

The Pullman site is one of America's first factory towns and is iconic for its history of labor unrest, and the legacy of civil rights advances fueled by the Pullman porters. When the Pullman company lowered its workers' wages in 1894, but not the rent it charged for company housing, it prompted a strike with nationwide ramifications, including the creation of Labor Day.

The Pullman company also recruited from the population of former slaves to serve on these luxury cars. These service jobs held prestige in the African America community, and played a major role in the rise of the African American middle class, and ultimately the development of the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century.

And lastly, just on Pullman -- talk about finding your own park -- this is just blocks away from where President Obama started his career as a community organizer years ago. The President will also discuss his designation of Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado -- a cultural site of extraordinary beauty with world-class recreational opportunities that attract visitors from around the globe.

And noting that today is a day of remembrance for the Japanese American internment, he will announce that he will create Honouliuli National Monument in Hawaii, the site of an internment camp where Japanese-American citizens, resident immigrants and prisoners of war were held captive during World War II. All of these monuments have broad and longstanding community support.

So let me close by saying -- by announcing "Every Kid in a Park" initiative at the same time he is committing to sharing the riches of one of America's best ideas with children across the country, he is making it possible for each and every one of them to find a story that relates to them so that they, too, can find their park.

And with that, I'm happy to answer any questions.

Q: So the costs -- do you know what the estimated cost is for this?

MS. GOLDFUSS: So unfortunately, the Park Service and the other federal land management agencies have looked at the numbers, and we can't take into account the increase in visitation around the centennial and inviting all Americans. So they have some estimates but believe that the overall increase in visitation will make up for those losses, and that the community benefit around each of these federal lands in terms of economic value of going to restaurants and going to hotels will make up for that as well.

Q: Do you think it's going to be a net-zero? That there will be no --

MS. GOLDFUSS: That's what we're hoping, yes.

Q: Can you talk about Rahm?

MR. SCHULTZ: Yes. Anything else for Christy so she doesn't have to bear witness to this?

MS. GOLDFUSS: Really? That would be so much fun. All right. Good, thank you, guys.

Q: Thank you very much. Do we have to prompt you any more than that?

MR. SCHULTZ: Do you have a question?

Q: I do. As you know, Eric, ahead of the Israeli Prime Minister's visit, the White House said that he wouldn't be meeting with Netanyahu because of a policy against appearing with elected officials so close to their reelection. I was wondering if that policy applies to Democratic mayors from major U.S. cities.

Q: He was an Israeli citizen at one point.

MR. SCHULTZ: It is a very good question, Josh. As you know, that is not a principle that generally applies to our domestic politics. Obviously, the Mayor is someone who has served as the President's Chief of Staff. They have been friends for many years, remain in very close touch. And as mayor of a city that the President cares deeply about, the President has supported the Mayor's elections in the past, campaigns in the past, and he supports this one as well.

Q: He did some radio spots and robo-calls, is that right?

MR. SCHULTZ: So I don't have the full list of what he's done, but we can try and pull that for you.

Q: And is this basically a campaign stop for Rahm?

MR. SCHULTZ: Well, today's stop, as you know, designating this area, is one that's been in the works for a while. It's part of about 16 different implementations of the Antiquities Act that the President has done in recent months.

And so this is a designation that, I think as you're suggesting, the Mayor has supported, but it's also had widespread support throughout the community. Republicans and Democrats -- I know the Republican governor there has been advocating for this, as well as Senator Mark Kirk, both of whom I think are joining us today. So I actually don't think the designation today is a partisan issue at all.

Q: As you know, Eric, this is a site of particular significance to the African American community in Chicago, and Mayor Emanuel has really been counting on a lot of support from African American voters, particularly if he wants to avoid a runoff. Is the President hoping that his visit today will help encourage African American voters to turn out for the Mayor's reelection?

MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, you are right that this center has a long and iconic history, a very rich history, which Christy mentioned and the President will discuss at length shortly.

The President's designation of this area is, again, one that's been on our radar for a very long time. There's been legislation to this effect. It's something that, again, both Democrats and Republicans have supported on the ground in Chicago and throughout Illinois. The President's support for the Mayor's campaign is, again, something that -- he believes he's been a very strong mayor for the city.

Q: You have to say the timing does look a lot like a campaign stop. It's only days before the election.

MR. SCHULTZ: I would tell you that with today's announcements of the three that Christy mentioned, we are now up to 16 established national monuments in the past few months. So I don't think this announcement or the timing is out of the ordinary. This builds on what we've done with the San Gabriel Mountains -- some of you joined us on that trip in California -- and our move to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Bristol Bay in Alaska.

Q: What is Obama doing to help support Rahm -- maybe possibly going into Tuesday? And can you tell us whether or not Emanuel asked for Obama to come, or whether Obama offered his support to come to Chicago on this day?

MR. SCHULTZ: Julia, I don't have the full rundown, as I mentioned to Mike, of all that the President has done to support the Mayor. I'm happy to see if we can pull that for you.

In terms of how this visit came about, again, this is something that the President -- I think as you all have noticed -- has been doing a lot of lately. Today's designations are the latest of 16 that we've done around the country. Again, including the San Gabriel Mountains in California, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, two other announcements out of Colorado and Hawaii today. So this is not something out of the ordinary for us.

Q: Moving away from Rahm -- I can always come back. Germany has denied Greece's request for a six-month extension on its loan from the Eurozone. Has Obama weighed in on that at all? Has he been in touch with European partners? And does he still believe that Greece should be allowed to loosen its austerity measures?

MR. SCHULTZ: Julia, I don't have any presidential calls to read out, but I think you all are aware that Treasury Secretary Lew spoke with his counterpart yesterday on this, and they discussed the latest deliberations between Greece and its international partners.

Secretary Lew noted that the failure to reach an agreement would lead to immediate hardships in Greece, and that that uncertainty is not good for Europe, and that time is of the essence. As you know, our general approach to this is that Greece, the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF are engaged in very difficult but important negotiations on how to chart a path forward. It builds on the crucial structural reforms that Greece wants to sustain so that we can get back to long-term growth.

Q: Does the White House have any thoughts about Walmart's decision to increase wages for its workers, and also to change the way that they do some of their scheduling for workers?

MR. SCHULTZ: I'm incredibly glad you asked that, Josh. As I think you clearly saw this morning, Walmart announced that it would be raising wages for its associates. Today's announcement is another example of businesses along with cities and states taking action on their own to raise wages for their workers, recognizing that doing so can raise productivity, reduce turnover and improve morale.

I think we're now up to 17 states, the District of Columbia, and obviously corporations large and small that have taken action since 2013 when the President called for this in his State of the Union. We continue to call on Congress to give all workers in America a wage -- a raise hike. But given their recalcitrance on this, because Republicans keep blocking it, we're going to continue to make progress in other ways.

Q: Any thoughts on Ukraine and the situation in Ukraine at the moment? It seems to be getting worse.

MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you, Mike. We are definitely deeply troubled by reports of the Ukrainian military and civilian casualties as a result of the Russian-backed separatist assault. This violence has continued, despite Russian and separatist commitments to a ceasefire, reaffirmed in last week's Minsk Implementation Plan. And we call on all parties, including Russia, to abide by that plan. What was agreed to last week was not a shopping list. You don't get to decide which items you're going to abide by. Those were commitments made by all parties, and we expect them to keep their word.

Q: Has President Obama seen the report that Rudy Giuliani said that he doesn't love America? And if so, did he have any reaction to it?

MR. SCHULTZ: Mr. Giuliani test-drove this line of attack during his fleeting 2007 run for the presidency. I was obviously not at the dinner last night, nor did I watch the remarks, so I'm going to leave it to those at the dinner to assess whether or not they were appropriate.

He seems embarrassed enough to be doing damage control this morning, so I'm not going to pile on from here. But I will say I agree with him on one thing he said today, which is that it was a horrible thing to say.

Q: Vice President Biden announced plans to travel next week to New Hampshire, following visits this past week to Iowa and to South Carolina. Is he on an early state primary tour? Should we expect Florida down the line?

MR. SCHULTZ: Nice try, Josh. I think the Vice President announced his travels, and that office will have more on what they're doing in New Hampshire, in the Granite State.

Anything else? Thank you, guys.

END 12:49 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

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