Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 29, 2016 – 12:12 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon. I apologize for starting out a little bit late. But let us get through this and then Mark can start on his weekend. (Laughter.)
Josh, do you want to lead us off?
Q Sure. Thanks, Eric. We learned this morning that the DCCC was hacked in addition to the DNC. I’m wondering if you can tell us if those two breaches were connected, and also if you have any sense of how far this goes. Does the DSCC, where you used to work, were they also involved in this? Do we know about other entities that might have also been impacted?
MR. SCHULTZ: Josh, I saw reports of that early this morning as well. I’d refer you to the FBI for the scope of any investigation they are conducting. Obviously they’ve confirmed an investigation into the intrusion at the Democratic National Committee. I imagine those investigations are not conducted in isolation. So if there’s connected events that they would look at, that would be part of their investigation. Obviously we expect that investigation to be thorough and deliberate and look at all the facts, and look at all the facts to where they lead.
As I think you heard yesterday, our Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, noted at an Aspen security forum — a security forum in Aspen yesterday that they know that there’s sort of usual list of suspects when it comes to malicious cyber activity, so they’re looking at those suspects. But at this point, they don’t have any public confirmation to announce at this time.
Q Do you have any comments about any diplomatic conversations that might have gone on with counterparts in Russia or in any other countries about these concerns that we’ve been talking about this week?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have any update or any additional conversations to tell you about. As I think we mentioned maybe yesterday, Secretary Kerry raised cyber activity with his counterpart when they had a meeting in Laos, I believe — Foreign Minister Lavrov. As I think Secretary Kerry has noted, we’ve been concerned about Russia’s activity in this space for quite some time. Those concerns are well catalogued. If you look at even as recently as early this week at a cybersecurity conference up in New York at Fordham University, the President’s top homeland security advisor, Lisa Monaco, mentioned that Russia has a troubling past in this space. Admiral Mike Rogers of Cyber Command, in testimony just this past April, mentioned that Russia has very capable cyber operators who work with speed, precision and stealth.
So we have longstanding concerns on this. Secretary Kerry raised those concerns with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I suspect that won’t be the last time they have a conversation about this.
Q And this morning, the Florida governor announced that there were four cases they’ve now found of Zika, contracted they believe from mosquitoes within the U.S. At the risk of eliciting your whole spiel about why Republicans should have acted on this — that we’re very familiar with — does this particular development trigger any different type of response from the federal government? Particularly, are there any travel warnings that you’re going to be issuing as far as pregnant women visiting that part of Florida, or anything else like that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I won’t take your aspersion about my spiels personally. (Laughter.) But I will say the President was briefed this morning on this situation. This was part of his Presidential Daily Briefing. And the President has, of course, asked his team to keep him up to date.
As you know, the President was briefed, actually, on Wednesday, before departing for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. There was a briefing led by his Deputy Homeland Security Advisor, Amy Pope. The President also had a chance last week to speak with Governor Scott about this situation in Florida. So he has — the President has directed his team to make sure not only the White House and the appropriate federal government agencies are closely monitoring this, but also that we’re providing the resources and support to the governor that we can.
I will give credit where it’s due. Governor Scott has been preparing for this circumstance for quite some time. We’ve had aggressive vector control in place to limit the transmission with mosquitoes. In this particular case, they announced that they’ve isolated the area, that they’re testing aggressively, and that they’re going to closely monitor this area in the coming days.
They do this with the support of the administration. I think the numbers the CDC have put out is — the CDC has given out $2 million to Florida in Zika-specific response. The CDC has also given out $27 million in emergency preparedness, much of which can be used for Zika response. But, Josh, as I think you alluded to earlier, we believe that’s insufficient; that Congress has been sitting on a $1.9 billion that would fund — more fully fund the federal response to this public health emergency. Unfortunately, they left town for seven weeks without doing anything on this. We find that regrettable.
We often get asked what is not being done because Congress hasn’t approved those funds. That includes everything from hiring more inspectors on the ground. This is something that local governments in Florida have asked for, yet because Congress won’t act, we’re not able to supply enough funding for that. And also, long-term study — a long-term international study — I believe the National Institutes of Health has said they’ve had to suspend, or they won’t be able to complete a long-term study on the health impacts of this virus. That’s unfortunate. And today’s news should be a wakeup call to Congress to get back to work.
Q More on Zika. Right now, the CDC is recommending that women in areas where there’s a Zika outbreak, or who are wanting to get pregnant, that they talk with their doctors and avoid mosquito bites and things of that nature. I was wondering, now that there does seem to be some local transmission, is there any planning or contingency planning, or consideration of eventually, if the outbreak were to get bad, recommending that American women not get pregnant for a while, or delay pregnancy, or delay getting pregnant in light of Zika in the area hit by Zika?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Ayesha, what we’ve said is that women should consult with their doctors and not the White House Press Secretary for personal health tips. But as I think Governor Scott said earlier today, this does appear to be a local area of transmission. But public health officials aren’t taking any chances, and so that’s why the local officials have begun aggressive vector control in this surrounding area. So they’re going to be testing both mosquitos and residents. That testing is already underway. They’re going to be closely monitoring this, and they’re going to be closely coordinating with the CDC on testing to see if there’s any additional resources that are needed.
Again, when the President spoke with Governor Scott last week, he said, let’s keep the lines of communications open. Our principal channel for communicating with Florida on this has been through the CDC. So I know that they conduct a lot of business back and forth. But the President wanted to make sure that Governor Scott was getting the resources he needs, and that was a directive he issued to his team here at the White House.
Q On Turkey — so, some U.S. officials have said that the purges currently going on in Turkey due to the failed coup are hurting U.S. cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkish officials have kind of angrily rejected that criticism and accused the U.S. of maybe being in league — or some in the U.S. of being in league with the plotters of the coup. I guess, does the White House have any response to that? And also, how concerned is the White House that these purges are affecting kind of the cooperation against the Islamic State?
MR. SCHULTZ: Good questions, Ayesha. Let me start by saying the U.S has strongly and repeatedly condemned the failed coup in Turkey. We’ve repeatedly expressed our support for President Erdogan, and we’ve expressed our support for Turkey’s democratically elected government — that respecting the democratic institutions in Turkey is a guiding principle for us, and that any speculation that either the U.S. was behind this or involved or aware, as the President said on Friday, is completely baseless.
So we reject any speculation. And the President also said on Friday that sort of fueling that speculation could impact our relationship with Turkey; that right now we do have a close relationship with Turkey. The President considers President Erdogan a close ally. We work together on a number of the President’s international priorities. That includes our broad coalition to counter ISIL and ultimately defeat them. That includes — obviously they’re a NATO ally, so we have a lot of business we get done with Turkey.
I will say they are — our work on our counter-ISIL coalition continues in earnest. And that relationship continues to be strong. Obviously, our military leaders have a relationship with their counterparts in Turkey. That’s how we’re able to work so closely together. So I know that our Defense Department has addressed this. Obviously there were some interruptions in the intervening — in the past week or so, which is understandable. If you can imagine, the people of Turkey have been shaken by what happened. The President has remarked that if a rump group of military officials tried to stage a coup and flew planes and tried to overthrow the government, it would shake us, too.
So the President has been responsive to that, but he’s also called for restraint in how Turkey responds. He’s called for a strong and abiding fidelity to Turkey’s democratic institutions. These are principles like freedom of expression, like freedom of the press, freedom to gather, freedom to protest; that part of the strength of Turkey is their respect for democratic traditions. These are principles enshrined in the Turkish constitution. And the President wants to make sure that respect for those principles continues, even in the wake of this failed coup.
Q Thanks, Eric. The EU has called what Turkey has been doing in the wake of the coup “unacceptable.” Some have even called it a “purge” — that they have fired or detained tens of thousands of people. So why has the U.S. not spoken out on those particular actions? Is it because the U.S. does not believe that those action are unacceptable, as the EU now does?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Michelle, I’d draw your attention to the President’s remarks on Friday. He made clear that we are concerned by reports of the activities you’re mentioning. The United States does strongly support freedom of expression around the world, and has concerns when a country makes a move to close down media outlets or restrict universal values. We respect the Turkish authorities to uphold their assurances to the President, and as they made to the public, that they will protect the rule of law and fundamental freedoms.
The President doesn’t just believe this because these are freedoms that are American values. But the President believes these are democratic values and that Turkey has a long history of respecting these traditions. And even in the wake of such a serious upheaval that happened in the midst of their failed coup,
that these values need to be respected.
Q But the President then doesn’t think that what the government has been doing is unacceptable?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, look, I think the Turkish government was nearly overthrown in a violent coup attempt that left hundreds dead and public buildings damaged. So it’s understandable that they’re going to take some time to recover from that.
But as they recover, the President has been clear — and he’s been clear in public statements and in his private conversation — that the government of Turkey needs to uphold the highest standards of respect for their own nation’s democratic institutions and the rule of law. That’s going to be the best way for Turkey to get through this.
Q Okay. And did the President watch Hillary Clinton’s speech last night? How much of last night did he actually view, do you know?
MR. SCHULTZ: I know he had the television on last night and I know he saw Secretary Clinton’s speech. I know he saw General Allen’s speech. He remarked to a few of us at the White House how struck he was by General Allen’s speech. He is obviously someone who knows General Allen quite well, but he had not seen him perform in that type of setting before.
As you know, the President released a quick statement last night. And he thought the speech was inspiring. I know there was a question yesterday whether or not Secretary Clinton was up to the task. That was never a question in the President’s mind. The President, as he has said, believes that she’s the most qualified individual to ever be running for President.
So I think the speech echoed a lot of the sentiments we’ve heard over the past week but also over the past years, and from both the President and from Democrats across the board. There is an abounding sense of optimism that was focused on the forward promise of America. We heard a lot of confidence in the American people. And we thought — I thought the speech was quite forward-looking with a sense of pride and a love of country.
We heard a lot about building the economy from the middle class out. That is a deep-rooted philosophy for this President, but, again, Democrats across the board — that the President believes that the strongest economy we can have in this country is one that builds the middle class out and supports economic growth for middle-class families.
And then lastly, I think one of the strong themes we have heard this week is that America is a stronger country when we are united, and that our biggest strength is our diversity. This includes different races, different backgrounds, different faiths. I say this not because it’s precisely the principle that has animated this President throughout his entire career in public office, but also because we believe it’s a fundamental American value that’s part and parcel to this nation’s identity.
Q And now that we’re learning more about the hacking that’s been going on, and we’re seeing another entity saying that they’ve been a victim of it, whoever did this, what it looks like, according to officials, is a state actor that is trying to influence the election. And that raises a question of the security of voting machines, electronic voting machines around the country. I mean, that’s something that’s talked about every year, but given the timing of this hack, how concerned is the White House about that? And the fact that we’re dealing with so many small jurisdictions that are managing the maintenance and security of these machines, are you taking any measures to try to safeguard those? Is that even possible? And how?
MR. SCHULTZ: Michelle, it’s a good question, and I want to, before I answer, make clear that the FBI is still investigating the intrusion that you mentioned, so I’m not going to be in a position to get ahead of that investigation. So we’re going to wait for them to make a determination on the perpetrator and a determination if they want to make that known publicly.
But your question about the integrity about the United States voting system is a good one. That’s one that the President takes very seriously. I don’t have any updates in terms of reviews or a detailed analysis of where that infrastructure stands, but as we’ve seen, Russia in the past has tried to influence elections in Europe and we take seriously their past record on this, and we also take seriously the integrity of our voting system.
So I’m not sure it’s going to be fair to equate a cyber intrusion at a political committee with how elections are tabulated, but the President’s commitment to cybersecurity is one that has not waned. The President has made clear that this has been a priority over the past seven or eight years. Even in the short time of this presidency, we’ve seen the technology develop in ways that might not have been anticipated back seven or eight years ago. That’s why the President believes that our technology and our cyber defenses need to be kept up to speed. That’s why there was a big — significant proposal in his budget this year. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t acted on that. Congress instead decided to leave town for seven weeks. They haven’t even had a hearing on that proposal. So, again, maybe when they get back from their vacation — I mean their recess — they can take a look at this.
Q Do you think this is something that the federal government will get involved in — and I don’t know what can be done really, but taking a look at this ahead of time? Except the DNC and DCCC, the security and resources that they have couldn’t prevent a hack. How is some small county with far less resources going to even notice that there could be some tampering? Is this something that you see the White House or the federal government getting involved in?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think we should just separate out those two things, because the DCCC and the DSCC are political organizations. They don’t conduct any voting. Voting isn’t tabulated through those agencies.
Q Yes, but I’m saying a big entity, including the White House, and others that have been hacked — they couldn’t prevent it from happening. So we’re talking about a bunch of voting machines in some county office somewhere. How are they supposed to have the resources to even know that a hack went on if it does?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, again, the President takes this enormously seriously. At the Department of Homeland Security, we have teams set up to act as resources for any agency outside the federal government that needs help, that needs support. So sometimes that’s the private sector. Sometimes that’s large companies. Sometimes that is political organizations like the ones we’re talking about. And sometimes that’s other governments. Sometimes that is smaller governments.
So that’s a process and a resource that’s housed at the Department of Homeland Security, so we do want to make sure they’re getting the resources they need.
Q Thanks, Eric.
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you.
Q Following up on Ayesha’s question about Turkey, you mentioned that there had been allusions of U.S. involvement in the coup in one way or another, but just today President Erdogan specifically said that he thinks that the U.S. general in charge of the Central Command was involved, was supportive of the coup. Can you directly address President Erdogan’s assertion on that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes. It is entirely false. There’s no evidence of that at all. And the President made clear when he spoke on Friday that there was no U.S. involvement and no U.S. awareness ahead of time. And speculation to the contrary is baseless. Speculation along those lines, as the President said on Friday, is risky because it puts our men and women who are serving in Turkey at risk. So we feel that talk and speculation along those lines is not particularly constructive. It happens to not also be true.
But what the President is focused on is making sure that Turkey comes out of this time, begins to resume their normal practices, understanding how an event like this can shake a society and a government, but that the best way to do that right now is to resume their longstanding tradition and embrace of democratic institutions.
Q You read out a call a few days ago between the President and President Erdogan. Have they had the opportunity to talk any further, and/or are there are any plans for President Obama to make a call now that this has been percolating now for more days?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have any additional calls to read out. As you point out, the President spoke — made that call I believe two weeks ago now in the wake of the failed coup. I would also mention that the United States was one of the earliest countries to condemn the failed coup. In that statement, we supported President Erdogan. We expressed support for the democratic institutions, the democratically elected government of Turkey. So those were sentiments that were expressed both publicly through public statements, but also privately through the President’s conversation with President Erdogan.
Q And then, finally, do you have any update on Turkey’s request to extradite Mr. Gülen from the U.S.?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have an update, Angela, other than to say that that is being assessed through the proper channels. I know that the Turkish government has sent over materials for our officials to review. As Josh has laid out, and the President did on Friday, I believe, in that press conference, there is a very specific channel for this to be worked through. And that process is ongoing. So we’re not going to be in a position to provide a play-by-play up here with every crank. But if there’s an update that’s releasable, we’ll let you know.
Q Thanks, Eric. I want to get the latest on Gitmo. Is it a reasonable expectation that another wave of detainees may be released in the next couple weeks? And if that drives the number below, say, 60, for example, or even into the 60s, what does that say about the President’s efforts to continue to empty the facility there?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Kevin, I think it’s important to look back. You’re always rightfully asking for the current numbers. But if you take a look back at the beginning of this administration, there were 242 detainees at Guantanamo, the facility there. Today there are 76. So we are going to continue to work diligently to reduce the population. We do this through safe and responsible detainee transfers. But I don’t have any ones to preview for you at this time. As you know, when individuals are transferred, we will publicly release that information.
Q On Syria, I’m sure you are aware of reports today that Damascus and Moscow are now allegedly coordinating and cooperating an offensive to — or I should say an operation in and around Aleppo. What is the administration’s perspective of this alleged partnership?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Kevin, the United States is deeply concerned about the situation in Aleppo. Over the last few weeks, Russia and an Assad regime offensive have effectively cut off the opposition-held parts of the city. This only exacerbates the humanitarian situation by laying siege to some 300,000 civilians. The U.N. Special Envoy has noted that there may only be weeks of humanitarian supplies within the city.
So we’re taking a look at Russia’s announcement of the humanitarian corridors. But given their record on this, we’re skeptical to say the least. Access to the city should be open to fully allow for unimpeded humanitarian support and commercial traffic to Syrian civilians in their homes. Unfortunately, Russia’s involvement here is consistent with what we’ve seen from them over the past few months, which is, instead of focusing on the threat posed by ISIL, they are, instead, choosing to prop up the Assad regime. We believe that’s not only counter to the national security of the United States, but it’s also counter to the stated goals of a political transition inside Syria — because as you know, that’s not only our stated goal, but Russia stated that as a goal. So by continuing to prop up the Assad regime we’re only delaying the inevitable.
Q So what does it say then about the overture from Secretary Kerry and the success or lack thereof?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I think that that is a conversation that is happening with the goal of trying to strengthen the Cessation of Hostilities. I know that Secretary Kerry and his counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, have been having a series of conversations. Those steps, if agreed and implemented, will not be based on trust. We’ll be looking for specific actions by Russia that show the Assad regime that Russia is going to fulfill their commitments.
Unfortunately, I think as you’re getting at, recent actions throw a lot of doubt into Russia’s true intentions. So Russia is at a point where they’re going to have to make a decision whether they want to continue to prop up the Assad regime, someone who we believe has lost the legitimacy to lead — not the least of which is because he committed heinous acts against his own people. So Russia can continue to go down that path, or Russia can keep to its word, which as they have said, the only way to solve Syria right now is a political transition.
Q Are you aware — I presume you are — of airstrikes that may have claimed the lives of dozens of civilians in Syria? I understand by way of our sources at the Pentagon that CENTCOM is looking into the possibility. What can you tell us about that?
MR. SCHULTZ: Kevin, you’re right, I believe CENTCOM has issued out a statement on this that says they’re immediately going to look into this, and then once they retrieve their information they’ll see if additional action is necessary. I can speak for the President when I say that this administration, the United States government takes all measures during the targeting process to avoid or minimalizing civilian casualties, or any collateral damage, and to comply with the principles of law of armed conflict.
As the President has noted, we cannot explain our efforts clearly and publicly when we’re not completely transparent. So we believe that transparency is not only consistent with our democratic ideals and principles, but it’s important for the sustainability of our counterterrorism efforts over the long term.
Q Lastly, on ISIS. Is it your perspective that even though the ongoing fight against ISIS in places like Syria and Iraq continue to ramp up from the American perspective — and I’ve seen some numbers now where it’s been suggested by some in the administration that you’re actually shrinking their footprint by as much as 50 percent in some areas, for example, in Iraq. And yet it seems to me fairly clearly that it’s beginning to pop up in other places and continue to spread. What’s your perspective on that? And what, if anything, can you tell the American people who see this continued effort to fight and combat ISIS and yet they seem to be everywhere?
MR. SCHULTZ: It’s a good question, Kevin. We are tightening the noose around ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and we’re working with our partners to close off the border to reduce the flow of foreign fighters in Europe. One of the President’s top goals in building the counter-ISIL strategy, building a coalition, which now exists of 67 members, was to shrink and ultimately eliminate the idea of a caliphate, a safe haven for these terrorists. That was a top priority. And like you said, we’ve made good progress on that so far.
I believe you’re right — they have lost about 50 percent of the territory in Iraq that they once held. They’ve lost a little bit less in Syria, about 25 percent of what they held in Syria. But overall, that’s the result of the coalition flying over 100,000 — I’m sorry — conducting over 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. We’ve also trained over 25,000 Iraqi security personnel.
And the President believes this is a tribute to the strength and determination and resolve of our armed forces, but it’s also due to the dramatic work of our State Department that we’ve been able to build a coalition of 67 members, most newly would be Interpol to help facilitate communication about this threat. And more pointedly to your question, we do have a comprehensive strategy that includes dealing with the challenge posed by foreign fighters as well as individuals radicalized by violence. That’s principally why we are so proud and pleased that Interpol has joined the coalition.
But so this flow of foreign fighters has been a concern. It’s something we’ve talked about, something that remains on the top of the President’s mind when it comes to this. And we’ll get to this in the week ahead, but the President is going to be convening his national security team on an update on our counter-ISIL efforts, and I’m sure this will be discussed.
Q Given what we saw in Philadelphia, is the President willing to give up on TPP, considering the rhetoric on the floor of the convention as well as some of the statements from the Clinton camp that she wants wholesale changes before she would support any of this?
MR. SCHULTZ: The answer to that question is no. The President believes that the Trade* [Trans]-Pacific Partnership is a good policy for American businesses and American workers. He is completely understanding of the complexities around the politics of the issue, that previous trade deals have not lived up to the hype. That’s precisely why he directed his negotiating team to insist on the strongest, most robust human rights, labor, and environmental standards ever to be seen in a trade deal.
So the President is acutely aware of the politics around this. But that’s not going to stop him from getting this done.
Q You’ve been saying that the White House insisted on that point, and a lot of the agency heads from USTR to others have pointed out — talking about the merits. Do you believe that it’s getting harder, though, and more difficult in the climate even among your own party? Because I don’t see a lot of progress in winning over skeptics within the Democratic Party.
MR. SCHULTZ: David, I’m old enough to remember people in this room reading the last rites to Trade Promotion Authority, about a year ago. And that skepticism was well-founded, but turns out, because of the arguments made on the merits, Democrats and Republicans came together to get that done. So we do believe this argument is right on the merits. And at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to prevail. Because 95 percent of the world’s marketplace is outside of U.S. borders, so it only makes sense to make sure that American businesses and services can be marketed and sold around the world.
Q Secretary Clinton did not come out against TPA at that time, I don’t believe. So now she’s firmly — seems to be expressing — and her team — expressing more skepticism of this deal and more adamant that she’s not going to — what’s the administration’s strategy from this point forward in getting it passed then? And if the Secretary, as her team has said and she I believe has said publicly she would not support a lame duck vote on this — if she’s on that position, will you still go forward with a push in the lame duck?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, you’ll have to talk to Secretary Clinton about her views. Our focus has been on generating votes in the United States Congress, both in the House and in the Senate. The playbook for that will be Trade Promotion Authority. That as an instance where Democrats and Republicans came together, again, against some odds that some thought were long. But at the end of the day, the argument did prevail. And I’ll tell you why — because either we can write the rules of the road for trade, or China can.
We know that China is already negotiating their own trade deal, and we also know that that deal is not going to have the labor, environmental, and human rights standards that we’ve insisted on. So you’re right that this will be something that Congress has to contend with, and they can either cede that ground to China — the President believes that’s the wrong approach, that we have the opportunity, we’re in the catbird’s seat to write the rules of the road for trade right now. And we should absolutely do that.
Q Will the White House be pushing for a lame duck vote?
MR. SCHULTZ: The President absolutely believes this deal should pass this year.
Q And final thing. The President spoke I think — well, he seemed to maybe spend some time backstage with Secretary Clinton the other night in Philadelphia. I don’t know if that may be the moment for it. But I’m wondering, has the President been talking to her and her team, specifically try to get her to support this deal? He’s once had great support from her on TPP. Does he think that he can sway her, as he called her sort of the standard bearer, the torch bearer now of the party going forward?
MR. SCHULTZ: David, I don’t have details of that conversation. They did have a few minutes to catch up after the President’s speech in Philadelphia on Wednesday evening. I think there were a few private moments for them to connect. I think also Secretary Clinton’s family was there, too. So I doubt they had deep policy dives on any particular issue. But, again, our focus is on generating the sufficient votes in the House and the Senate.
Q Thanks. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office put out a statement saying that they were dispatching their national security council chief to come here for the role of signing a new military aid agreement with the U.S. as soon as possible. Can you update us on the status of those talks? Is he going to be meeting with people at the White House, and do you guys anticipate that that will be finished next week?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have any meetings to announce at this time. I can tell you, though, that our national security staff does remain in close touch with their Israeli counterparts regarding a new 10-year memorandum of understanding on security assistance with Israel.
As we have long said, the Obama administration is prepared to sign a new MOU with Israel, which would include both foreign military financing funds and an unprecedented multiyear commitment of missile defense funding. This would constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history. Like Israel, we remain committed to upholding the funding levels agreed by the United States and Israel in the current MOU, including $3.1 billion in funds in fiscal year 2017.
Q But you can’t tell us whether you think it’s going to be finished in the near term?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I don’t have any meetings to announce at this time. If we have anything next week to read out, we’ll let you know.
Q Eric, when you say the developments on Zika in Florida ought to serve as a wakeup call, are you calling on Congress to come back early from its vacation — oops, I mean, recess?
MR. SCHULTZ: Mark, I’m calling on Congress to get to work as soon as they find it convenient for them.
MR. SCHULTZ: Yeah. They had adequate time. I believe we sent up this proposal in February. They left town in the end of June. That was four months. They couldn’t find the time to roll up their sleeves and get to work. And we should review the facts here. This was an administration proposal that the President sent up, but it was informed by our nation’s top public health experts. So this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This shouldn’t be a Democratic issue. I don’t know mosquitos have partisan affiliation. Democrats and Republicans should get to work on a public health emergency. Democrats have been united in this, have been committed to doing this. The Senate, on a bipartisan basis, got together and did a $1.1 billion proposal. The House fell far short of that. And unfortunately nothing got to the President’s desk.
Q But if this is a public health issue, why wouldn’t the President come right out and say, “Congress, come back — it’s urgent. You ought to deal with this now and take your vacation later”?
MR. SCHULTZ: Mark, the President was calling this urgent back in February, and Congress still decided to do nothing about it. So it’s unfortunate that Congress left town without addressing this, but we should also remember that the President reprogrammed a lot of money, a lot of federal funding to address this in the wake of Republican recalcitrance.
So we’ve done what we can. I’ve outlined a number of things that are being stymied because Republicans continue to block this. But if they come back and get to work and get this done, then we can even provide more resources to states like Florida and elsewhere.
Q Dr. Fauci said this morning that NIH is getting very close to running out of the reprogram money. Isn’t that a further wakeup call?
MR. SCHULTZ: Absolutely. We did what we could earlier this year to reprogram federal funds, take them away from projects like Ebola, which still pose a threat to the public health of the international community. But there’s only a finite spreadsheet available of funds that allow us to do so. So the keys here are sitting with Congress, and they ought to turn them and unleash more federal funding.
Q Okay, thanks.
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you. Jan, welcome.
Q Thank you. Okay, so you have consistently made the case that the Senate should kind of do its job and confirm the President’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. So without making that case again, I just want to look forward. I mean, if they maintain the resolve, which sees no really signs right now that they’re weakening there, would the President hope or expect Secretary Clinton would re-nominate him if she’s elected President in November?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Jan, it’s not going to surprise you to hear that we hope it doesn’t come to that. The Senate ought to do its job. That’s not something that the President believes. That’s something that’s enshrined in our Constitution. That’s something that’s consistent with past precedent. It’s also something that Republicans have called for. George W. Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, has called for this. Other prominent Republicans have said what — have called Leader McConnell’s strategy misguided. So we absolutely believe that Republicans have a responsibility to fulfill their jobs and get this job.
This is on their to-do list when they get back from their recess. So we believe that there shouldn’t be anything that stands in the way. And you don’t have to take our word for it. Independent assessments of Chief Judge Garland have determined that he is one of the most qualified nominees ever to be nominated for the Supreme Court. The American Bar Association reviewed his record and found that lawyers and judges uniformly praised the nominee with integrity. They interviewed hundreds of individuals in the legal profession who knew Judge Garland, whether for a few years and decades. Not one person could utter a negative word about him. If that type of search was done about me, I’m not sure they’d come up with the same result.
So I believe that this is a unique situation, and the President nominated someone who is unquestionably qualified for the job. And the Senate should get to work and do their job.
Q But they showed no signs that they were going to move on that nomination. So has the President had any talks with Secretary Clinton about this? Or would you expect him to make the case for his nominee that she would re-nominate him if she were elected?
MR. SCHULTZ: The President is going to continue to make the case. Obviously, there’s time when the Senate gets back in the fall. The President expects that the Senate should confirm Merrick Garland in this congressional term.
Q Right. I guess what I’m trying to get a sense of is how much would you expect him to go to bat for his nominee if the Senate doesn’t, and it does then fall to — if Merrick Garland is going to be in the Supreme Court, it would be up to Secretary Clinton, if she’s elected.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, the President has gone to bat for his nominee, and will continue to go to bat for his nominee. And the President believes that the Senate is abdicating its responsibility by ignoring those calls. And we should also point out, according to public statements, Secretary Clinton agrees with the sentiment that Chief Judge Garland should be confirmed for the Supreme Court. So this is someone who comes to this nomination with bipartisan support. He obviously generated a number of Republican votes back when he was nominated for the D.C. Circuit.
Several of those Republicans are in office today. You’ll have to ask them why they believe he earned their vote then, but not today.
Q And then if I could just — there was a big voting rights decision out of the Fourth Circuit that’s just come down. I haven’t had a chance to look at it. But kind of coming on the heels of the decision on voter ID in Texas, does the President have any comment, or what would his statement be in general on some of this?
MR. SCHULTZ: Sure. I haven’t been able to see what you’re talking about, the specific case you’re talking about. But I can tell you generally speaking that the President takes access to voting as a fundamental right. He believes that we should be doing everything possible to make it easier for people to vote — not harder. That’s a position he’s held consistently. That’s something that our Department of Justice has advocated in the federal courts. But it’s also a matter of policy for the President in ways that he has assessed that the United States and this administration and states all across the country should be doing to make it easier for people to exercise their democratic rights.
Q Thanks, Eric. Back on Zika, Dr. Fauci says NIH is about out of money. But by our account of the original reprogrammed $589 million, there’s still over $300 million of that available. So can you square his comments with that pot of money that’s still sitting there?
MR. SCHULTZ: John, I would refer you to the Department of Health and Human Services for exactly where the money is in the transactions. Obviously the President has directed his team to do everything possible to make sure that we’re deploying all appropriate resources to combat this. Unfortunately, that’s been made harder because Congress has sat on their hands for the last four months and decided to not do anything about this.
We spent some time talking about Florida. I know that the junior senator from Florida, despite being of a different political party than the President, spoke out on behalf of the President’s proposal. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same for the House members from the Republican Party in Florida. Maybe today’s announcement will be a wakeup call to them. Maybe the governor’s leadership on this would extend to House members having the courage to come back to Washington — when they get back to Washington to fund this effort.
Q Why not dip into that money sooner and faster now, especially given the four cases in Florida?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m confident that the money has been dipped into, that all available resources have been or are being deployed in this effort. So the President has made clear to his team to spare no expense and to make sure that we’re doing everything possible.
Q On the convention. President Obama tweeted a glowing review of Secretary Clinton’s speech last night, but what are the President’s overall thoughts about the convention this week?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, the President was there for a short time on Wednesday evening. He enjoyed his time there. Obviously it was brief. There’s a lot of — there’s a big footprint when the President travels, so we didn’t want to disrupt the sort of security infrastructure in Philadelphia too much. And I’ll also say that the President — I believe he remarked on Friday on the heels of the Cleveland convention how proud he was of local law enforcement working with Department of Homeland Security officials to keep the people of Cleveland safe. The same can be said for the Philadelphia convention.
All too often, when there’s violence, law enforcement generate — headlines are generated when there’s violence. But the President believes that we ought to give as much or more attention to law enforcement when there’s no violence and when things go right. And this was an instance where local law enforcement worked with Department of Homeland Security, worked with Secret Service to not only keep the convention-goers safe and the principals safe, but also the people of Cleveland safe.
So the President salutes our law enforcement on the ground. And then beyond that, there’s a lot of pundits on the ground in Philadelphia who can give you their assessment of how the convention went. Some of them are former colleagues. Many of them might be on the Acela right now. But I’m not going to be able to offer a political assessment from here.
Q That works. Speaking of law enforcement, has the President been briefed on the two police officers in San Diego that were shot overnight?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don’t have any conversations with the President to read out. As you know, violence against police officers is something the President has spoken out strongly against not only in recent weeks, but for his entire time in public life. The President believes there is no excuse for committing violence against the men and women who wear the uniform, that these are law enforcement officials who put their lives on the line every day. They risk their lives to protect people like you and me. And the President believes that they deserve our respect. The President gave a speech about this in Dallas two weeks ago now.
He also spoke — he’s spoken out repeatedly about how much respect he has for local law enforcement. So obviously our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who we lost. And we’ll be continuing to monitor the situation.
Q Thank you.
MR. SCHULTZ: Thank you. Goyal, I’ll give you the last one.
Q Thank you. Two questions. One, two conventions or summits are going on at the State Department on counterterrorism and also fighting against ISIL. One is more than 20 countries are representing religious and ethnic minorities under ISIL. And second one, India-U.S. counterintelligence summit. So where do we stand as far as — and what role is the White House playing in this conference — one between U.S. and India on counterterrorism, and second, ISIL? The most important thing is that where is ISIL getting money? It takes money to kill innocent people — and their arms?
MR. SCHULTZ: Goyal, I think you’re talking about one of the latest efforts in our anti-coalition — in our anti-ISIL coalition. This coalition is now made up of 67 partners around the world. The President is enormously proud of the coalition we’ve built to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL. That work continues at a fast clip and at a robust level. So we have diplomatic efforts at our State Department that are ongoing. And that’s only one component of our work.
Obviously, we’re grateful for Prime Minister Modi’s contributions on this. Like you said, it’s not just about diplomacy or about military action, but it is about their financing. And that’s why the President directed his Department of Treasury to do whatever we can to cut off and chokehold financing that streams towards ISIL.
Our point person on this is an individual by the name of Adam Szubin. Mr. Szubin has worked for administrations of both parties. He worked in the George W. Bush administration, and he’s one of the very best at what he does. Unfortunately, his nomination is stuck in Congress. His nomination is one of many things Republicans have failed to move on.
And this one is one they have not offered any explanation for. I know that his nomination has been pending for many months in Congress. We find that unfortunate. Mr. Szubin himself has said that when he travels around the world in order to leverage our relationships to make sure that we are doing everything possible to cut off financing towards ISIL, that it’s important that countries know that he has the President’s back and that he fully represents the United States government. And that’s why we call on the Senate to confirm him quickly.
Q And second, as far as South China Sea is concerned, very serious situation in the region after Philippines won a case against China in The Hague. China doesn’t agree with the U.S. and it doesn’t agree with the regional countries and those claiming a serious matter there. And the President of Singapore will be here on Monday meeting the President at the White House. This situation will be discussed with him because many experts at the think tanks are saying that that region of South China Sea may be beginning of third world war because China doesn’t care about those nations who are democratic and peace-loving nations.
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, Goyal, I appreciate the pivot to the week ahead, which I’ll get to in a minute. But you’re right that this is an issue that the United States has been focused on for some time. I can tell you that Ambassador Rice was just in China having several meetings at all levels of their federal government where this issue was raised. So our work on this remains unabated. And I do expect this to be a topic to come up with President [Prime Minister] Loong* [Prime Minister Lee] here next week.
Obviously, we have deep economic ties with the country of Singapore. They’re a member of the TPP. And the President had a very warm visit there back in 2009 right after he was elected. So the President did want to host Prime Minister Loong* [Lee] and Mrs. Loong* [Lee] here next week for a state visit.
Q What is the U.S. doing as far as China’s threat to these small nations in the region as far as the South China Sea? That’s the most important — what message you think the President or U.S. has for these nations?
MR. SCHULTZ: Our policy on this has been clear, Goyal. We don’t take a position on any particular territory in the South China Sea. But what we do take a position on is these need to be adjudicated through international norms. So we believe that any sort of territorial dispute should be adjudicated through the appropriate international channels. That’s what Ambassador Rice conveyed when she was in China earlier this week. And that’s what we’ve said consistently publicly back here at home.
Q And finally, the U.S. is in contact with India to put this — resolving this issue, as far as — because India is also one of the parties in the region maybe threatened by China for their activities?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can tell you we’re in close contact with the government of India. President Obama considers Prime Minister Modi a good friend. We’ve collaborated on a number of projects. Most recently and most notably, the agreement that the United States worked with India on allowed for the Paris climate deal to happen. And so the President is enormously proud of that work. He’s also enormously grateful to Prime Minister Modi for his work on that. But that’s not the only facet of our relationship. Obviously, we have deep economic ties, deep security ties. So the President deeply values his relationship with Prime Minister Modi.
Great. I will do the week ahead.
On Monday, the President will travel to Atlanta to deliver remarks at the 95th National Convention of the Disabled American Veterans group. The President believes it is our nation’s sacred obligation to honor the servicemen and women who keep our country safe and looks forward to discussing how we can ensure our veterans receive the benefits they have earned, as well as continue expanding opportunities for our servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
The President, while in Atlanta, will also attend a DNC roundtable.
On Tuesday, as we mentioned, the President will host Prime Minister Loong*[Lee] and Mrs. Loong* [Lee] of Singapore at the White House for an official visit and state dinner. The President and Prime Minister Loong* [Lee] will also hold a press conference that afternoon. The two leaders will celebrate the bilateral relationship between Singapore and the United States that has served as an anchor for the United States rebalance to Asia.
On Wednesday, the President will participate in a Young African Leaders Initiative Town Hall at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. and Woodley Park.
On Thursday, the President will travel to the Pentagon to chair a National Security Council meeting on the counter-ISIL campaign and receive an update from his national security team on the efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy that terrorist group.
On Friday, the President will attend meetings at the White House. And on Saturday, the First Family will depart for some rest in Martha’s Vineyard.
Q Eric, does the President have any plans for this weekend?
MR. SCHULTZ: We will let you know. Thank you.
Q Thanks, Eric.
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