the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz -- En Route Los Angeles, California

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Los Angeles, California 

2:12 P.M. PDT

MR. SCHULTZ:  Let’s do this.  I’d like to begin with an observation about an occurrence happening roughly 2,500 hundred miles away back in Washington.  The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee voted 14-0 to approve Bob McDonald to be the next Secretary of the Veterans Administration.  We don’t often get to observe bipartisan, unanimous votes out of the Senate, even at the committee level.  But we believe this support underscores Bob McDonald’s unique qualifications for this role and will help him, once confirmed, to take on the issues facing the VA to improve veterans’ access to care and strengthen accountability at the agency. 

With that, I will take your questions.

Q    We’ll start with Ukraine.  Eric, what information does the White House have in the latest of whether or not the missile belonged to the rebels?  Reuters has a report out today saying that there are some rebels who are confirming that they have the Buk missiles.  Can you tell us what kind of intelligence the White House is seeing?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Thank you, Jeff.  I think the intelligence community is in the process of putting out their presentation of the evidence -- they did so yesterday.  And I think it’s important for us to realize that while we work to determine who is responsible for literally firing this missile, the picture emerging is not in doubt.  We assessed that it was an SA-11 and that it came from a separatist-controlled area.  And we know Russia has provided arming and training for these separatists. 

In other words, the question of who specifically fired the missile is for the investigation to determine so that the victims’ families can gain closure.  But the fact that we don’t know that yet does not absolve Russia of its responsibility for creating an environment in which militants were trained, given weapons, and encouraged to fight. 

Q    Will the U.S. be releasing more evidence about this in the days to come and do you have a timeline for that?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I may be the Principal Deputy Press Secretary, but I’m not part of the intelligence community.  So I’m going to let them talk about their process for that.  But I will say that I know we’ve been trying to be as forthcoming as possible in explaining and laying out what we have to date.

Q    There are reports that there are additional sanctions on Russia being considered.  Do you have anything on that for us?  Dow Jones is reporting that.

MR. SCHULTZ:  Well, I know that yesterday the Europeans took actions to prepare additional sanctions against Russia.  As far as the United States is concerned, I would tell you that clearly we’ve already put in place a sanctions regime that has had a debilitating impact on the Russian economy.  And right now, we’re assessing all the sort of tools in our arsenal as we move forward.

Q    Any sense on the -- when the timeline for additional U.S. sanctions on Russia could happen?  Any sense on timing for that?
MR. SCHULTZ:  No, again, this is something we’re constantly reviewing and assessing so I don’t have any announcements on that.

Q    And on the FAA restricting flights into Israel, do you guys have any comment on that?  Does the White House support that decision by the FAA?  Is it productive for talks going on there?
MR. SCHULTZ:  Lisa, I appreciate the way you phrase the question since this is a decision within the FAA’s regulatory authority, and it’s strictly security related.  The FAA makes its determinations on whether to issue or rescind its various notices, free from any political interference.  So as you know, the FAA continually evaluates the hazard and threats to determine when U.S. carriers can operate safely, so we’ll let them make that determination. 

Q    Eric, on the border.  The Speaker today sent the President a letter indicating some frustration over lack of guidance from the White House on what the White House wants in terms of changes to the 2008 law.  I’m wondering if you could be as clear as possible as to what it is that you guys want Congress to do.  You’ve said you want Congress to do something -- can you specify what that is?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Sure, I can be crystal clear.  I would refer you to the letter we sent a few weeks ago on this very issue.  I’m not sure what the Speaker is referring to, especially since the letter we sent seeking additional authority for the Department of Homeland Security Secretary, was outlined in that letter and has been reiterated by my colleague, the Press Secretary Josh Earnest several times since. 

We want to work with Democrats and Republicans to make sure those changes are done the right way.  But first and foremost, we need the resources -- in the form of judges, prosecutors, asylum officers -- to deal with the problems.  If Republicans are as serious and sincere about solving the problem as they claim to be, we’re counting on them to act quickly and be part of the solution.

Q    Eric, the President is talking a lot about the economy on this trip and -- to donors -- and again tomorrow.  And I’m wondering if you feel like some of the world crises are drowning -- is having an effect on that message, whether or not it’s hard for the President to get the economic message across.

MR. SCHULTZ:  Thanks, Kathleen.  We are not the first administration and we won’t be the last to deal with multiple priorities and challenges, both domestically and internationally.  But that doesn’t take away from the President’s chief domestic policy priority, which is creating opportunity for the middle class.  That’s why on Monday, the President signed an executive order protecting LGBT workers from discrimination, and on Monday he also outlined significant new private sector commitments to help expand opportunity for young men of color. 

On Tuesday, not even 24 hours ago -- even though it feels like a month -- the President and Vice President announced new efforts to make sure our federal training programs are delivering the skills workers need for good jobs.  So I do stipulate there’s a lot going on right now, but even as you’ve heard the President speak over the last few days, he’s focused on creating jobs and expanding middle-class opportunity.  I think you’ll hear more about that tomorrow, as well. 

Q    Eric, can you speak to the decision to keep the information about the super PAC events the President has done so limited?  I know that the events are run by the House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC and it’s their call, but there is information that you guys could release -- even about the attendance, how many people are there, who they are, how much money they’re paying to be there.  And was there an effort made to get the President’s remarks open at all to the press?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I appreciate the question, Isaac, especially since, as you point out, these events are built by the outside groups.  Given your question is about transparency, I would only ask that you judge us by the record -- by our record and that of our predecessors. 

Without a doubt, I think we’ve done more to achieve the President’s commitment to transparency than any other previous administration -- that includes, by the way, opening up fundraising events at private homes to the print pool, people like yourself.  So we feel good that you were able to cover events today and yesterday on this trip.  That’s a change that we implemented to give reporters more access than they’ve had before, and that’s a change we feel good about.

Q    Why not provide more information about simple things about the events like the cost to get in -- that was a question about the Senate Majority PAC event last night.

MR. SCHULTZ:  Again, I’d refer you to those outside groups. 
Q    And just one more on this.  Sorry, Jim.  The President was reluctant to do events like the ones that he has done at these super PACs, even during his reelection campaign.  Can you explain the decision of why it’s okay now to do those events when two years ago that was not what he was doing?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Isaac, I very much appreciate that question because usually I field questions that we’re not doing enough to help Democrats.  (Laughter.)  But as you know, the President has long advocated for campaign finance reform and expressed his opposition to the Citizens United ruling, which opened the floodgates for special interests.  We supported the DISCLOSE Act, ultimately blocked by Republicans, and we’ve also said we’d support a constitutional amendment.

But in terms of the events on these trips like the ones you’re mentioning, I think as you and many others have reported, the President is committed to helping Democrats do well in these midterm elections.  We’ve outlined the case of why we think it’s important for the country that Democratic candidates and this President want to grow the economy by helping expand the middle class.  The other side wants to help the few at the top and we think that’s not a sound vision for a viable, growing economy.

Q    And you don’t think it undercuts the principles that you outlined that the President has for him to be doing these events now when he wasn’t doing them two years ago?

MR. SCHULTZ:  No, I think the President’s policies positions are clear.  He has tried to do a lot on this, some unilaterally, but when Republicans block measures in Congress, he doesn’t feel like we’re going to allow the midterms to happen on an uneven playing field.

Q    It just seems, Eric, that the President, one of his objections to the super PACs to begin with was their secretive nature, and isn’t he just fostering that by participating in them and not providing any sunshine into them?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Again, I would refer you to the outside groups for the policies that they’ve adopted for how they disclose information.

Q    Can we go back to Ukraine and --

MR. SCHULTZ:  We can.

Q    -- whether there is -- the intel community said yesterday that there was suggestions that the Russians are still continuing to help the rebels, the separatists.  Is the White House looking at any sort of means of finding a way to dissuade them from doing that?  Any other, like, arms embargoes or anything like that as the Europeans have looked at?

MR. SCHULTZ:  We continue to be concerned by the Russian support for the separatists.  That’s why we’ve taken a number of steps.  That’s why I think President Putin feels increasingly isolated.  That’s why I think that people, even in Russia, are starting to question the direction President Putin is taking their country.  And I think that’s why you see an international coalition building consensus around this.

Q    Do you expect the President will reach out to Putin again over the next couple of days this week?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Sure, I don’t have any foreign leader calls in the future to read out yet.  (Laughter.)

Q    Would he like to speak to Putin?

MR. SCHULTZ:  We’ve been in touch regularly -- as soon as we have a call like that, I will happily let you know.

Q    Sorry, you guys made clear at the beginning of this trip that if it were necessary for him to return, he could.  Can you just give us an update on what he has done about this crisis and whether you guys have noted any reasons to go back to Washington early?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Yes, as you point out, our number-one way of assessing these situations is if the President needs to return to Washington in order to perform his responsibilities, we will.  I do think we’ve been fairly forthcoming in describing how we make those decisions.  But as you know, the President is the President 24 hours a day, no matter where he is.  And that’s why he travels with an array of staff and communications equipment that allow him to do his job from wherever he happens to be.

That’s why, since departing Washington yesterday, he spoke with the Dutch Prime Minister, he has spoken with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and today, he had his presidential daily briefing.  If we have any more calls to read out, I will do so as soon as they happen. 

Q    Can you describe how the presidential daily briefing went for him today?  Was it a SVTC?  Was it in person?  Who was participating? 

MR. SCHULTZ:  I’m not going to be in a position to read that out.

Q    The President has some downtime when he gets to L.A. and has sort of an early night tonight.  Could you give us any sense of what he’s doing when they get there?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I will check.  I’m not sure. 

Q    The background to that question is one time when he came to L.A., he went out for dinner with Katzenberg and we didn’t find out about it until the next day.  So we’ll be very eager to find out about it today if he has plans tonight. 

Q    And in that event, he didn’t leave the hotel and that’s why we weren’t told about it beforehand.

MR. SCHULTZ:  Noted.  (Laughter.) 

Q    Back to the border, on your response, does that mean that the President first wants Congress to act strictly on the supplemental request and not on policy changes, or would he accept legislation that both makes changes to policy and provides the resources that he’s asked for?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I think it’s important to realize that new authorities without the resources won’t solve the problem.  So that’s why we do call on Congress to pass the supplemental.  I know that some Senate Democrats are moving on a plan to do just that and we welcome that progress.  But again, as you know, we sent a letter a few weeks ago outlining new authorities we’d like the Department of Homeland Security Secretary to be able to have.  And we’re hoping Congress moves on that as well.

Q    Can you give us any updates on Secretary Kerry’s approach in the Middle East?
MR. SCHULTZ:  Sure.  I’d obviously refer you to Secretary Kerry’s team and the good folks in Foggy Bottom for the latest.  What I have is that over the last few days, Secretary Kerry has been engaged with the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Egyptians and many other key players in the region and those with influence in the region.

Our bottom line is, as Secretary Kerry has articulated both in public and in private, that no country can live with rockets raining down on it by terrorists or having terrorist tunnels underground to facilitate the killing or kidnapping of its citizens.  So Israel is doing what it must to end that threat.  But right now, given the civilian toll, there’s an urgency to bring this entire episode to a close.

Q    Do you sense that he’s close to helping broker a cease-fire?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I’m not going to handicap those negotiations.

Q    Has the President been in touch with Secretary Kerry?
MR. SCHULTZ:  We’ve been in touch with his team.  And if I have any calls on that to read out, I will.

Q    Can you comment on the GAO report on abuse of health subsidies, what the White House or the administration is doing to address that?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I can.  I would say to make sure in your reporting you note that this was an interim report.  But our bottom line is we take fraud seriously and CMS is examining the report carefully, and we will work with GAO to identify additional ways to strengthen the verification processes. 

As you know, Jim, the marketplace has several safeguards in place to verify consumer data.  People submit information under penalty of perjury and tax credits are paid directly to insurance companies, not even to enrollees. 

Q    Is there anything in your packet of notes that we didn’t ask you about that you want to -- (laughter) --

MR. SCHULTZ:  I think we covered the waterfront here.  (Laughter.)

END
2:29 P.M. PDT