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Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, 7/29/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:35 P.M. EDT
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Good afternoon.  I have one announcement here at the top, and then we will take your questions.  
 
On Monday, President Obama will address the second class of 500 Mandela Washington Fellows at the Young African Leaders Initiative Presidential Summit.  The President will give brief remarks and then take questions from the fellows who represent every country in sub-Saharan Africa.  The event will be a capstone to the President’s trip to Africa where he affirmed his commitment to young people across the continent and entrepreneurial approaches to common challenges.
 
As you all know, the Young African Leaders Initiative, launched by President Obama in 2010, connects the United States to the next generation of leaders across sub-Saharan Africa and provides them with the leadership skills, networks, and professional opportunities that will allow them to make a meaningful impact in their countries and communities.  
 
With that, Nancy, I’m happy to take your questions.
 
Q    Can the White House confirm the death of Mullah Omar?  And what can you tell us about the circumstances of his death?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Thank you, Nancy.  We are aware of the death -- of reports of the death of Mullah Omar.  Without commenting on the specifics of these reports, we do believe the reports of his death are credible.  Beyond that, I’m not going to be in a position to comment on the specifics surrounding his death.
 
Q    So if he died in 2013, what would that say about intelligence cooperation with the Pakistanis?  When would the U.S. have had this on their radar screen?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Nancy, I can tell you that the intelligence community is looking at these reports and continues to assess the circumstances around his death.  But beyond that, I’m not going to be in a position here to speak candidly about what we know at this point.  I’m sure that when the IC has an update, or anything determinative, they’ll be in a position to update you.
 
Q    Can you preview what the President’s message is going to be to the House Democrats today?  Does he have some kind of a new approach or message that he’s bringing with him?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I don’t think he has a new approach or message.  I think the message that he’ll be offering tonight on Iran will be very similar to the public case he’s been making now for a few weeks since the deal in Vienna was reached.  As you know, he’s been making the case publicly both through interviews and through taking your questions.  And we have also had our representatives on the Hill.  Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz, Chairman Dempsey, I believe, are on the Hill this morning fielding questions for members of Congress.  We’ve also had extensive consultations from the White House and other briefings to Congress.  
 
But at the end of the day, the President’s message is simple, which is if you want to cut off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, this deal is the best way to do it, in that none of our critics have offered a more credible -- any alternative, other than going to war.  And I think that’s the case the President is going to make to House Democrats tonight. 
 
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we believe Iran will be the only topic of discussion.  I imagine that will be extensively covered, but I think other legislative priorities like Ex-Im Bank, the transportation bill, and probably the budget could also very likely come up.
 
Q    And is there growing expectation by the White House that the President is going to be likely to need to exercise a veto option on this?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Nancy, we are confident that the arguments that we are making are going to prevail at the end of the day.  As you know, 150 House Democrats sent a letter back in May supporting the President’s efforts and the initial political framework that was announced in Lausanne.  We actually feel that we’ve exceeded the standard that was established in Lausanne.  
 
So as I think you’ve seen over the past couple days, the number-two Democrat in the United States Senate, Dick Durbin, came out in support of the deal.  Yesterday, Congressman Levin, who I don’t think anyone could argue with his support for the state of Israel, made a very compelling case about how this deal is in the interest of the Israeli people.  So we’re going to continue to press the case.  As I mentioned, our Cabinet officials are on the Hill today.  The President will be meeting with House Democrats later this evening.  And we’re going to continue to make this case.
 
Julia.
 
Q    Yes.  Recently, this morning, the CEO of Boeing said that he was actively considering moving key pieces of the company’s business to other countries because of the lapse of the Ex-Im Bank.  I also know President Obama has made some comments on Boeing over his trip.  Has he spoken to the CEO about this issue?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I don’t have any specific calls to read out, but I can assure you that the President feels strongly that Congress needs to act and reauthorize Ex-Im Bank.  I think, since you follow this closely, you are well aware that Ex-Im Bank has supported 164,000 American jobs, and the export jobs -- jobs supported by exports -- pay up 18 percent more on average than other jobs.  
 
And beyond that, the Export-Import Bank is a vital tool for small businesses.  Nearly 90 percent of Ex-Im Bank transactions directly supported small businesses in 2014.  So we feel strongly that this is an institution that is a driver of economic growth and a supporter of American jobs.
 
Q    Also, there’s been a growing outcry over the killing of this lion in Zimbabwe by -- allegedly by an American dentist.  And also, U.S. Fish and Wildlife said that they are looking into the incident and possibly working with Zimbabwean officials who have called to bring this person to justice.  Is the White House, or is President Obama aware of this killing?  And what could the President do at an executive level to possibly keep U.S. trophy hunters from traveling to Africa and committing these acts?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Julia, I’ve seen the press reports on this.  I don’t have much for you.  I have not spoken to the President about this.  As you point out, it has been widely covered in the news.  And as we know, he’s a voracious consumer of news, so it wouldn’t surprise me that he’s aware of it, but I don’t have any detail to read out for you right now.
 
Justin.
 
Q    I wanted to go back to Ex-Im, kind of, but within the confines of the highway bill, which Josh has said before is sort of the legislative package that you were hoping to see Ex-Im attached to.  So my question first is if you guys have a reaction to the apparent agreement on a short-term highway bill. And secondly, if you think that it was at all a mistake for the White House to have endorsed that short-term bill out of the House early, before the Senate had come with a plan that was both longer and had Ex-Im kind of grafted on top of it.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Justin, you’re right -- Josh did suggest that the highway transportation bill would be a good vehicle to attach Ex-Im Bank.  And fortunately, leaders in the United States Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, agreed.  And there were votes, as that bill was progressing, where Democrats and Republicans came together in a bipartisan coalition -- a rare bipartisan coalition that we see these days -- in order to attach Ex-Im Bank to the highway bill.  We feel like that was the right thing to do.
 
In terms of the pending transportation bill that you're referencing, as the President has said, we as a country cannot continue to rely on short-term patches as an approach to funding long-term infrastructure needs.  
 
With that said, since surface transportation authorization does expire at the end of July, just a few days from now, the unfortunate reality is that due to inaction, Congress will need to pass this other short-term extension to keep federal funding for America’s surface transportation system flowing.  And the President would sign that.
 
Q    But, I mean, to get back to the question, was it a tactical mistake to back the House bill that didn't have Ex-Im attached and was only short-term?  Even though we kind of know the President would sign short-term bills, it kind of forced House Democrats to back this package where maybe if they’d held out, they could have had leverage to get the Senate bill in front of the House.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Justin, that's not how we see it.  Reauthorizing Ex-Im Bank has happened 16 times in past Congresses, all with broad bipartisan majorities.  The past 13 Presidents -- Republicans and Democrats -- have supported the bank.  So this time should not have been any different. 
 
As we’ve said, one of the more likely vehicles to pass Congress over the past few weeks is this transportation bill.  That's why we thought it should have been attached, and that's why the Senate apparently shared our view.  
 
Unfortunately, you had the Speaker of the House use a word to describe Leader McConnell’s bill -- a word that I can't even use in public.  So -- 
 
Q    Well, maybe behind the podium.  (Laughter.)  
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Yes.  From the podium.  (Laughter.)  Fair enough.  But if you're asking me to evaluate the level of dysfunction in the Republican Congress, I’m happy to engage you on that because it’s rare that we’ve seen this level of distrust between two leaders of separate chambers but from the both parties.
 
And if you just take a step back and you look at what we’ve experienced over the past few days and weeks, I would like to first remind you of the aftermath of the 2014 midterms where Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner jointly penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal where they thought -- they felt confident in their ability to get Congress working again.  Well, I think we know that the results are in, and I’m not confident they lived up to their promise.
 
Right now what they're focused on is an ideological rider to defund Planned Parenthood.  They're dealing with strife within their own party.  And they're leaving town early to get a head start on their six-week break.  If you put that side by side with their inability to authorize Ex-Im Bank; that we're on the precipice of the Highway Trust Fund running out in the height of construction season; and that they have the gall to leave town without even touching cybersecurity legislation -- we think that's revelatory of their priorities, and we think those are misplaced priorities.
 
Q    One last thing.  On Keystone, Senator Hoeven said yesterday that sources had told him that there would be a sort of release over the August recess of you guys rejecting the pipeline.  That prompts I think a number of questions.  The first is whether the State Department has, at this point, finished its review or informed the White House in any way of where the review is.  If not, what the status of it is.  It’s sort of the constant question.  And then whether there will be a review at the White House after the State Department comes to its decision, and what the timeline of that would be.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Justin, your term for constant question is generous.  Our answer is going to be the same, which is, as you know, this is under a review process at the State Department.  That particular process is a process that predates this administration, so I’m not going to have any update for you from here.
 
Q    Well, then was Senator Hoeven either misinformed or lying about what he had heard about --
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I haven’t read Senator Hoeven’s remarks. 
 
Q    I can relay them to you, though.  He said in August that you guys would reject the pipeline on that odd quiet Friday.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Sure.  I appreciate Senator Hoeven’s remarks here.  I’m not sure I would classify him as a confidant of our State Department.  But you should check with him to see what he’s basing that off of.
 
Byron.
 
Q    Thank you, Eric.  Two inspectors general concluded that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had classified material on her home server, emails that were classified when they were sent and remain classified.  What’s the White House reaction to this?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Bryon, I can say a couple things about this.  First, this administration takes the role of inspector generals very seriously.  They serve an extremely important purpose.  So when they raise a possible issue, it’s important to look into it.
 
Equally important is our commitment to properly handling classified and sensitive information.  For very obvious reasons we have to make sure that those materials are handled in accordance with all the right protocols.  And I can assure you that all of us in government who work with those materials take that responsibility very seriously.
 
I know that the State Department is equally committed to both of those principles, and that's Secretary Kerry has said he’s going to be discussing this with his inspector general this week.  And I also know that Secretary Kerry wants to get to the bottom of this, hear what the concerns are, and then figure out if they need to take any action.  So I think that's the right step, and we support him doing so.
 
Q    You mentioned the role that inspectors general play and how important they are.  How come the White House didn't nominate anyone to fill that role while Secretary Clinton was at State?  And do you bear any responsibility in this situation for not doing that?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Bryon, just like our conversation with Justin, I know that's a frequent question here.  And I can assure you that we do take the role of inspector generals very seriously.  And I believe just because there wasn’t a Senate-confirmed inspector general at the State Department at this time, that doesn't mean that office wasn’t very active.
 
Q    Are you satisfied with the answers you've gotten from Secretary Clinton publicly about the situation?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I think what Secretary Clinton has demonstrated is a commitment to not only transparency.  That's why she has asked the State Department to review and release all of those emails, and we think that's appropriate.
 
Kelly.
 
Q    On Iran, with the reception today, what is it about the environment of a reception and the East Room that you think will be effective in trying to change minds or lock in positions among Democrats?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I think my boss coined a phrase here called a working reception, which, as he said, is the worst of both worlds.  (Laughter.)  So I’ll credit him with that.
 
But, yes, I do think this is going to be an opportunity for the President to speak directly to members here at the White House.  I think he will likely make some opening remarks and talk about his view on this, his perspective, and then I think it’s likely he takes some questions.  I imagine he takes questions from members who have them.  And then I also think it’s likely that they have some time to talk one-on-one in more of a social setting.
 
So I think this will be a good opportunity for him to make the case for why we believe this is not only a deal that’s in the best interest of the United States but also one for the region.
 
Q    Would you take a request for the opening remarks to be open press?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I’m happy to take that request, but I believe that these circumstances -- we’ve traditionally kept this closed press.  But I can assure you that the message that he is going to deliver is one that will be very familiar to all of you.
 
Jim.
 
Q    Let me first ask you about the situation with Mullah Omar.  I appreciate that you were able to semi-confirm his death, saying that the reports are credible -- I guess that’s almost a confirmation.  But if this happened two years ago, is there a problem with American intelligence that we didn’t know that he died either by a drone strike or tuberculosis or something, and we’re not reporting it until today?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Jim, I fully appreciate the question.  Unfortunately, I’m just not going to be in a position to comment on the specifics of these reports and those circumstances.  So it’s hard for me to answer that question in some detail without confirming what presupposes that question.
 
Q    Well, okay, then take out the causes of death, if you would, and just the fact that you believe those are credible reports that he is dead.  Those reports also said he died two years ago.  Why did the United States intelligence not know about that?  That, I don’t think, could cause you to comment on the causes of death or anything else.  It does ask what’s the problem with -- is there a problem with our intelligence agencies.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Jim, I don’t think there’s a problem.  In fact, the intelligence agencies are right now reviewing these reports, reviewing the specific circumstances.  And as soon as there’s anything definitive that we can share with you, that I suspect you will want to scrutinize at that time would be appropriate.  But we’re just not in a position to do that today.
 
Q    Switching subjects just a moment to Cleveland, Ohio, or outside Cleveland, Ohio.  There was another incident where an undocumented immigrant was involved in a -- is charged now with murder.  And he had been, according to reports, picked up before that by local police.  There were no charges to be made then, but they did realize he was undocumented and called, they say, the Border Patrol, which would probably be the wrong agency to call.  But if they called ICE -- but, at any rate, they didn’t -- they were told, no, we’re not going to pick him up.  My question to you is, on the White House level of this, do you believe, as Donald Trump has been saying, that what’s really needed is a wall to prevent this type of incident?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Thank you, Jim, for the question.  I would refer you to ICE for the specifics on any case like the one you mentioned.  I can tell you that if any Republican wants to dedicate more resources to securing the border, then they should go ahead and support comprehensive immigration reform.  That is a bill that passed the Senate with Republicans and Democrats and the support of this President, and would allocate unprecedented resources toward securing the border.  And so if any Republican, either ones running for President or not, want to take a significant step in that direction, then they should go ahead and urge the House leadership to bring that bill up for a vote.  We’re not even urging the House leadership to vote for it; we just want there to be a vote because we’re confident it would pass.
 
Q    But Trump believes it’s a wall, not comprehensive immigration reform.  Does the White House, because of these incidents, believe that a wall would help with that?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I don’t think that’s our take.  What we think are that these episodes do demonstrate the need to eliminate the patchwork of immigration laws around our country and to pass a comprehensive bill.  In fact, it was none other than Marco Rubio, the junior Senator from Florida, who stated it more eloquently than I am, which is the current conditions in this country are amnesty, are a de facto amnesty.  And the way to restore accountability to our national immigration system is to pass the bill, and we couldn’t agree more.
 
Thank you.  Sunlen.
 
Q    Thank you.  A couple items to ask, but first I wanted to ask you about the CNN investigation looking into a federal program called AbilityOne, which provides work to severely disabled people.  Multiple sources saying the DOJ has started an investigation into multiple allegations of widespread corruption, financial fraud; sources saying it’s the worst case of this type that they’ve seen in a federal agency.  What’s the administration’s response?  Are you aware of these problems?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Sunlen, I did see a CNN story on that.  It’s my understanding that a lot of the issues within CNN’s report are tied up in litigation, so I’m not really in a position to comment from here on that.  But I would refer you to AbilityOne for their response.  And I know you all have been reporting on their response.
 
Q    Is the President aware of these problems?  Because it says this group is made up of 15 presidential appointees; they report to the President.  So certainly this is something that he would be concerned about, knowing that these problems -- 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Again, I haven’t spoken to the President about this, so I’m not sure his level of awareness.  But I do know that AbilityOne has been clear that they emphasize program integrity.  But, again, beyond that, I know a lot of this is tied up in litigation so I’d refer you to the agency for more details.
 
Q    And does the White House have any reaction to the indictment of Congressman Chaka Fattah?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  We don’t.  As you know, we go to great lengths to not only avoid commenting on individual cases and prosecutions, but also to make sure that nothing we say here could be construed as interfering in an investigation.  So I’m not going to have anything for you on that.
 
Q    Okay.  And you briefly alluded to Planned Parenthood, but I wondered if I could get the reaction.  This latest third undercover video, very graphic images.  Wondering what the administration’s response is.  Has the President seen the video himself?  And also, the moves by Senate Republicans and others to potentially restrict federal funding.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I haven’t watched the video.  I’m not sure the President has.  Clearly, he has been elsewhere the past few days.  But I can -- we are, of course, here familiar with the news reports, including that a lot of these videos have been edited.  And in response to your question about House Republicans moving to defund Planned Parenthood, we couldn’t disagree more with their actions.  We believe that Planned Parenthood provides a range of important preventative care and health services -- things like screenings, vaccines and check-ups to men, women and families across the country.  Millions of men and women visit Planned Parenthood health centers annually, and we support them getting the types of services and health care they need.
 
Thank you.  Jared.
 
Q    Eric, earlier, to Justin, you described Senator Hoeven as not a close confidant of the State Department.  Maybe you can concede that the former Secretary of State is slightly more intimate with the workers at the State Department.  She, yesterday, in a town hall in New Hampshire, said that she believes that by the time the administration, the Obama administration is over, the Keystone XL question will be resolved.  Does the White House believe that by the end of this administration the Keystone XL issue will be resolved?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Yes.
 
Q    Does Senator Hoeven and Hillary Clinton have better information about what’s dispositive here about Keystone XL, or are they just willing to tell us more than you are?  
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I can tell you that, from the White House perspective, that this is a project that is under review at the State Department.  That is a process that I know has garnered a lot of attention in this room, but it’s also a process that predates this administration.  So that approval process is being handled on the merits, and when there is an update for you on it, I’m sure they’ll share it.
 
Q    And the White House has for years given odds about the situation with the Iranian nuclear deal when it was in Vienna and when it was working through the 50/50 really bad number that we’ve been throwing around very loosely over the past few years.  In the home stretch for Congress and with the vote upcoming, and whatever efforts the White House has been making, do you have some odds on what you believe, at this point, would be -- whether it could be squashed by Congress or whether the White House expects at this point that Congress will be able to either approve or not disapprove of the Iran nuclear deal? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Jared, I do think our arguments are going to prevail.  That if you look at the case that the President has made most recently in response to questions overseas on this trip, and in the case that he’ll be making this evening to lawmakers, in the case that he’s made in interviews and press conferences here, that taking our critics head on and taking on possible criticism of the deal, that we are confident in our arguments. 
 
But you don’t have to take my word for it.  You just have to look at our opponents resorting to not merit-based arguments in order to try and find fault with this deal.  Whether that is over-heated rhetoric, or whether that is Governor Walker saying he wants to prepare to take military action on day one if he were elected to the presidency -- Those are the alternatives out there.  And so that’s part of the reason why we feel confident in our case. 
 
Q    Do you feel certain that this will not be impeded by Congress?  
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Jared, there are -- I have other colleagues who are better gamblers than me, so I'm not going to do the odds business, but I will say that we are confident our argument is going to prevail. 
 
Jared.  I'm sorry, Jordan.  
 
Q    Thank you, Eric. 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Yes, or we could do a déjà vu.  Do that all over again.  (Laughter.) 
 
Q    A follow up on Chaka Fattah.  Was the White House aware an indictment was imminent when he flew on Air Force One with the President to Philadelphia for his event on criminal justice reform? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  No. 
 
Q    And on the minimum wage.  Leader Pelosi came out yesterday in support of a $15 minimum wage.  And I'm wondering if the White House is willing to support a $15 minimum wage? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Jordan, President Obama has made clear, eight years since the federal minimum wage increase last passed, that action by Congress to raise the minimum wage is long overdue.  In a previous State of the Union address, we suggested Congress raise the minimum wage to $10.10.  We more recently supported legislation by Senator Murray and Congressman Scott that would raise the minimum wage to $12.00 an hour by 2020.
 
There is a number of proposals pending before Congress.  We just want them to move on one -- that we believe that despite this President’s leadership in bringing this country out of an economic downturn that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression, that despite the longest stretch of private sector job growth in our nation’s history, that wages have not grown fast enough or steep enough.  And that’s why the President believes that America’s workers deserve a raise.
 
I know that different localities, cities and states, and even private companies, are choosing to take action in light of Congress’s inaction.  Those are moves we support.  It’s my understanding that the current tally is 17 states and the District of Columbia have all passed minimum wage increases despite Congress’s recalcitrance.  We support those efforts.  But we do believe it’s going to be up to those localities to decide the best specific numbers that suit those areas.  
 
Thank you.  Doug. 
 
Q    Back to Mullah Omar.  The BBC report that the Taliban has been putting out statements in his name as recently as this month.  There is a new round of peace talks between the government about Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban set for this Tuesday.  Who has the government of Afghanistan been negotiating with, given he’s been dead for two years now?  And what would you recommend for this upcoming round of peace talks? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Sure.  Well, Doug, I appreciate you raising that because we do believe the Taliban has an opportunity to make genuine peace with the Afghan government and rebuild their lives in peace in Afghanistan.  They can accept the government of Afghanistan’s invitation to join a peace process and ultimately become part of a legitimate political system in Afghanistan, or they can choose to continue fighting Afghans and destabilizing their own country. 
 
So you are right in suggesting that the United States does continue to support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process as the surest way to end violence in the region. 
 
Q    Changing subjects now to this side deal and the Iran nuclear agreement.  Some of your Cabinet members have been taking a beating up in the Senate Armed Services Committee today on that side deal.  Why did the United States not know of this side deal? Why did not the administration representatives brief Congress on this side deal when they first undertook briefings for members of Congress?  And why have no members of the administration read the side deal? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Sure, Doug.  We should take this an opportunity to clear this up.  There is no side deal.  There are no secret deals between the P5+1 and Iran separate from the commitments outlined in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 
Again, this is a deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Everything we and our P5+1 partners agreed to is spelled out within that Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action announced from Vienna last week.  
 
In terms of the documents, Congress has what we have.  We have -- not only are they on the website, online, but they’ve also been briefed many times over to Congress.  As a standard in these agreements, there’s an arrangement specifically between the IAEA and individuals states that are confidential documents that the IAEA does not release to other states, and they have a number of very understandable and possibly obvious reasons why they don’t release documents pertaining to proliferation more widely. 
 
But what’s important to understand is the IAEA, which are the international community’s renowned experts in this area, as well as the P5+1 -- the entire international community -- are absolutely confident in the agreement that was struck between the IAEA and Iran in their inspections.
 
Q    Can you confirm that this deal allows Iran to collect its own soil samples at the Parchin facility?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I think some of the details in that agreement remain classified and remain sensitive, so I'm not in a position to discuss them from here.  But what I can do is I can assure you that not only is the -- the international inspectors, who we all trust to monitor this, have been assured, and assured us, that they will have the access they need.  But I can also tell you the P5+1 -- the international community -- which has an invested stake in this are also confident in the arrangement that was struck. 
 
Q    Last question.  Why did Secretary Kerry, just moments ago, and Secretary Moniz, moments ago, say that they have not read the side deal?  They testified to that effect.  
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Well, I think there’s a difference between reading the side deal and any specific piece of paper and knowing what’s in it.  And I think we’ve been very clear that we are not only are aware of what’s in it, but we’re entirely comfortable with it -- as are the international inspectors and the scientists and the experts who have the expertise in this.
 
Thank you.  Mark. 
 
Q    Eric, how can you say with such assurance a moment ago that there will be a decision on Keystone from State by the end of the administration?    
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  It’s my understanding that this is a process that is undergone at the State Department -- again, this is a process that predates this administration.  And we believe that if you check in with them for an update, they’ll offer where they are in their process.  
 
Q    Is there at all a disparity, do you think, between the years that State has been working on Keystone and the 60 days you’ve given Congress to come to a decision on the Iran nuclear deal?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  No.
 
Q    Why not?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Because, for us, those are entirely separate and unrelated issues -- that the 60-day clock with Iran was written in a legislation that they wrote.  That was a clock that they started.  The Keystone decision is under review at the State Department, and it’s my understanding it had nothing to do with Senator Corkey’s legislation, which dictated the architecture of how they’re going to have oversight over the Iran deal.
 
Q    Is the President at all impatient with how long it’s taking at State?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I haven't heard that.
 
Q    Can you ask him?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I will try.
  
April.
 
Q    Eric, couple questions.  I’m sure you saw back there the news conference about the police officer from the University of Cincinnati.  Basically, he’s indicted and he’s been indicted essentially for losing his temper, allegedly, against a suspect. Does this administration feel that there’s need to be more training of police officers in this country, as it seems that there is somewhat of that same type of threat when we see some of these instances?  Is there an effort from the Justice Department that the President is working with Loretta Lynch on along that line?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  April, you’re right -- I know that there was a news conference going on back in Ohio just as we were coming out. So I didn’t have a chance to watch it, and obviously it’s a local case under local investigation and prosecution.  So I’d refer you to them for details.
 
In terms of this issue at large, which I think you are referencing -- as you know, the President did stand up a Task Force on 21st Century Policing to come out with a host of very serious and tangible recommendations that law enforcement across this country has been studying and have taken to heart.  I don’t have an update for you on departments that have implemented those recommendations, but I know that it is a fulsome list, which we can get you.  And I do know that training is a big part of that; that the President believes that in order to restore trust between certain law enforcement agencies around this country and the communities they serve, a gap that in some places has been widening, that one of the steps that local law enforcement can take is to increase their training.
 
Q    And last question.  There seems to be a serious effort to draft Vice President Biden to run for President of the United States.  Has the President encouraged or talked to Vice President Biden about the possibilities?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I have not spoken to the President about his private conversations with the Vice President.  As you know, the President has said that the best political decision that he’s ever made in his career has been to ask Joe Biden to run as his Vice President.  So he could not be more impressed and appreciative of the Vice President’s service than he is.
 
Q    That’s the endorsement?  (Laughter.)  
 
Q    And I’m going to ask one more question.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  You said that was your last one.  
 
Q    Well, I’m sorry -- (laughter) -- I changed my mind.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Just checking.
 
Q    Has there been any talk around the White House, hearing that -- particularly from next door -- that he could possibly throw his hat in? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I haven't heard anything about those discussions, if they’re happening or not.
 
Bill.
 
Q    There are reports today that there was hacking presumably by the Chinese, at the same time of the OPM hack, against United Airlines, in which information similar to what was taken from the government -- files regarding passenger lists and possibly more -- could have been taken.  Do you have any information?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I don’t, Bill.  I know that the United Airlines has put out a statement.  We are certainly aware of the reports about their cyber intrusion, but I’d refer you to United for comment on their specific situation.
 
Q    You can’t confirm the fact of the intrusion?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  What was the question again?
 
Q    Can you confirm the fact of the intrusion?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I’ve seen those reports, but I’d refer you to United to comment on their own.
 
Q    You could maybe, but you’re not going to?  Is that what you’re saying?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  What I’m saying is I’ve seen the reports, but we’re going to refer you to United to address any circumstances around their --
 
Q    But you certainly suggest that the government must know something and it doesn’t want to talk.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Bill, don’t be so cynical.  I think that --
 
Q    Moi?  (Laughter.)  
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I think, again, we’re going to let United Airlines, which presumably has very able public relations folks, field those questions.
 
JC.

Q    Thoughts and a little insight.  Turkey and the United States have signed a deal over the former Incirlik Air Base with the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State.  The Turkish Foreign Minister has mentioned, and it’s been reported by Reuters.  Wednesday also marked the heaviest airstrikes by Turkey against the PKK, after President Erdogan ruled out any peace process.  Any comments on that from the White House?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  JC, I think, as you saw two weeks ago now, when this was first announced, that we’ve been clear that the United States and Turkey have held ongoing consultations about ways we can further our joint counter-ISIL efforts to respond to common threats.  As you know, Turkey is a strategic NATO ally, a close friend, and a valuable partner in the coalition to defeat ISIL.  And we are appreciative of the commitment the Turkish government has made to further and deepen our cooperation broadly in the counter-ISIL fight.  That’s going to include support for the train-and-equip program, intelligence-sharing, and operational coordination.  
 
And like you mentioned, as part of this, Turkey is going to grant clearance for the deployment of manned and unmanned aircraft from the U.S. and other coalition members participating in air operations in their air base.
 
Q    How does this play in with the unfortunate circumstance of the bombings of the PKK individuals, the Kurdish, who are supposedly supporting our efforts?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  You’re right, as we spoke in real time, that we do condemn the PKK’s attack -- that, as we have said, that they are a foreign terrorist organization, and we have said that we respect Turkey’s right to defend itself.  So we believe that, overall, we call for a de-escalation and we call for the return to a peaceful solution process.
 
David.
 
Q    Thanks, Eric.  On the IRS, two House Republican lawmakers on Monday called on the President to fire IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, or they said they’ll try to impeach him.  Any response from the White House? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Yes.  As we have said, Commissioner Koskinen is a man of the highest integrity with a steadfast commitment to public service during difficult times.  His decades of experience turning around both public and private institutions continue to make him the right person to lead this agency.  
 
If we look back at how cooperative the IRS has been with the multiple investigations which have spanned multiple years now, I think it’s worth noting that they’ve testified in over 25 congressional hearings, provided more than 50 employees for interviews, and produced more than 1 million pages of documents. 
 
I know that you mentioned two House Republicans who tried to make news on this.  I’d call to your attention the response from Congressman Cummings who pointed out that the independent inspector general himself who concluded in a report to the Oversight Committee just last month noted that there is no evidence to substantiate the very claims that Republicans just yesterday were making.
 
So that particular report, which you can find online, found no evidence to back up Republican claims of political motivation, White House involvement, or any intentional destruction of evidence.  So I command that report to your attention.
 
Bob.  Francesca.  
 
Q    What?  (Laughter.) 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Whatever.  (Laughter.)  Francesca.  
 
Q    I’ll take it.  I’ll take it.  You can call me whatever you want, as long as you call on me.  
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Yes.  Welcome back.  How was your trip?
 
Q    Thank you, appreciate that.  I wanted to go back to Iran.  You describe the talks that the President has had or the White House has had with Democrats and members of Congress as extensive about the Iran deal.  Do you know if the President has talked to Senator Schumer personally about the deal?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I don't have specific conversations to read out.  I know that the President has spoken with specific members of Congress -- both in the House and the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, and both skeptics and supporters.  The President believes that, on the merits, that this is an argument -- that our case is one that is worth making.  And so I don't have specific conversations to read out to you.  But I do know that Senator Schumer, as a member of the leadership in the Senate, is someone whose support we’d like.
 
Q    Well, on a related note, will Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz be at the event tonight? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I think we had a resounding RSVP list.  But I don't have the exact tally in front of me, so you might want to check with her office.
 
Q    And a final thing on that topic then, isn’t it troubling, though, to the White House that both of those very high-profile Democratic members who also happen to be Jewish Americans, as well, have not come out in support of the deal?  I know it’s only been two weeks.  But the deal, as the White House has said, is very close to what the political framework was.  So they’ve known what was going to be in it for quite some time now.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  As you pointed out, it’s only been two weeks.  And as others have pointed out, we have a whole 60 days for Congress to look over this.  So we're going to continue to make the case to the two members you've identified, but we're going to make the case to everyone we can.
 
Cheryl.
 
Q    Thanks.  Following up on the meeting tonight with Democrats, so Congress is going to leave without having started any budget negotiations or addressing sequester.  What is the President’s message on because going forward?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  The President’s message is simple, and you've heard it from, Josh, as well.  But that it’s unfortunate that Congress is going to leave town without a lot of progress made on this; that this economic recovery we’ve seen is one that would only be supported if we lift the sequester restrictions and we fund government at appropriate levels.
 
(Sneeze.)  Bless you, Gardiner.  (Laughter.)  Is that not allowed anymore?  We don't have manners here?
 
So, Cheryl, so that's our approach.  I think that's -- if you had eyes in the walls tonight in the East Room, you would see the President making a similar case.  
 
Q    So are there any particular -- 
 
Q    Just open it up.
 
Q    Yes, can we come?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I asked for that.
 
Q    That would be great.  Yes.  (Laughter.)  But is there any particular tactic or strategy to try to kick-start these negotiations that he’s going to -- 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Well, I can tell you that White House officials and officials at the relevant agencies like the Office of Management and Budget and at the Treasury Department have certainly been in touch with House and Senate leaders urging them to roll up their sleeves and make some progress on this.  We’ve been disappointed thus far with their inaction.  
 
John.
 
Q    Thank you, Eric.  Three brief questions for you.  First, Congressman Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania has taken a different tack from other Republicans.  Rather than go and embrace the defunding of Planned Parenthood, he has written the Commissioner of the IRS and asked for an audit of some of the controversial reports that have been coming up.  And this occurred at a hearing of the Ways and Means Subcommittee.  Is this something the administration would be positive about -- an IRS audit of Planned Parenthood to clear the air and controversy? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I haven’t heard that any of the videos or any of the issues surrounding Planned Parenthood have anything to do with the IRS.  So I’m not sure.  I’m sure the Commissioner of the IRS will evaluate the request, as he does all the others.  But I haven’t seen anything to suggest that that audit is necessary.
 
Q    The other question is, does the administration -- while supporting certainly the agreement between Greece and its partners -- believe it is sustainable, even though the International Monetary Fund has raised questions?  Or do they think that the specter of Greek exit from the euro would reappear down the line? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  That's a good question.  I think we do, as you note, we do support the agreement that was reached between Greece and European leaders.  It’s my understanding that they continue to make progress on implementing that deal, so I don't have any updates for you on that.  And I certainly am not going to second-guess that deal right here today.
 
Q    And finally -- and I’ve been dying to know this for a while -- the President made Ms. Harper Lee a member of the Council of Arts in his first term.  Does he plan to read “To Set a Watchman”?  
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I have not spoken to the President about his reading list.  As you know, usually there’s a few weeks in August where he gets a chance to read some books.
 
Q    That's why I mention it. 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  So we can see if that's on the list for this year.
 
Q    Will you get back to me on that?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I will try. 
 
Chris.
 
Q    Thanks, Eric.  The Boy Scouts of America this week lifted its policy prohibiting openly gay people from serving as leaders of its various (inaudible).  The President publicly has called for the organization to lift its ban on openly gay people.  How was he made aware of the news?  And did he have any reaction to that?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I don’t know how the President received the news.  But as you point out, that under the leadership of Bob Gates, the Boy Scouts of America did take a big step forward on Monday in accepting qualified Scout leaders, employees and volunteers, regardless of who they love.  And this is something that’s consistent with what the President has talked about.  He has long believed that the Boy Scouts is a valuable organization that has helped educate and build character in American boys for more than a century.  And he thinks this was an important step for them to take.
 
Q    One things that the policy leaves in place is allowing religious chartered organizations to continue to use religion to evaluate admission, including on the basis of sexual orientation.  Does the President believe that the policy change should go further to prohibit these organizations also from using sexual orientation as a factor? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Again, Chris, I haven’t talked to the President about this, but I do know that he believes and was encouraged by the significant step they announced this week.
 
Q    And one other thing, too.  When the President was in Africa, he responded during a press conference quite boldly to the issue of the way gay people are treated out in that country, where being gay is punished by up to 14 years in prison.  That issue came up publicly in the press conference, but did it come up privately at all during the discussions on the trip?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Yes, I can assure you that the President did raise this privately and he didn’t pull any punches at the time.  The President believes that equality is a fundamental pillar not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it strengthens countries.  And the remarks that he made both -- I believe in both press conferences in Kenya and in Ethiopia, and then in his extensive remarks yesterday in front of the African Union, that the issue of broader human rights in Africa is one where they’ve made progress but they clearly have a long way to go.  And that’s part of the reason why he was so encouraged by his visit.  
 
He felt that this visit was an opportunity to accomplish the goal of not only deepening the ties between the United States and Africa but also raising awareness on these issues.  I know that the President himself said some countries prefer to not engage and to not try and lift up these issues, even when they might be uncomfortable, but that’s not this President’s approach.
 
Q    And what did the President say privately?  What was the reaction he got?
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  I don’t have a detailed readout of the bilateral conversations, but I do know that he raised this and was quite forceful on it.

Thank you.  Goyal, we’ll give you the last one. 
 
Q    Thank you, Eric.  This may be my July birthday gift.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Okay.
 
Q    Two questions.  One, recently, the Vice President was addressing the Fortune 500 companies from the U.S. and from India at the Willard under the leadership and organized by CII and Carnegie Institutions.  Would he lay down the U.S.-India relations (inaudible) -- so for U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement?  Was he carrying any message from the President?  Also, there was an announcement that over $15 billion have been invested in the U.S. by Indian companies, creating over 100,000 jobs in the U.S.  My question is, if he was carrying any presidential message and, second, how this Export-Import Bank is playing a role between U.S.-India trade relations.
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Sure.  Goyal, I think that’s a good question.  I don’t have specifics on how any specific loans or support structures that Ex-Im has offered American companies, specifically for business in India.  But I’m sure my friends and my counterparts at the Ex-Im Bank could get that for you.
 
I think generally speaking, the reason that Republicans and Democrats support Ex-Im Bank is because it is an engine of economic growth and American jobs for American companies here at home.  Generally speaking, in terms of the U.S.-India partnership, which you’ve referenced, the President is very enthusiastic about the prospect of increased collaboration, increased economic growth for American companies, and investments in India.  I think you heard that from his recent trip there a few months ago.  But just because he is not over there right now, that doesn’t mean we don’t have key members of our team working on this.  So economic growth across the country remains -- across the world, remains a priority for this President and oftentimes that manifests itself in investments in foreign countries.  And India is very high on that list.
 
Q    And secondly, on immigration, if I can follow Jim’s question differently.  After presidential victories on many issues, including trade, health and also equal rights among others, now millions of undocumented immigrants, they are seeking and asking that this might be the last victory for the President before he leaves office on immigration.  They are living under the shadow.  If the President can bring them out of the shadows and if they see ever light in their dark tunnel ever? 
 
MR. SCHULTZ:  Sure.  As you point out, millions are living under the shadows, and the best way for them to get out of the shadows and restore accountability is for the House to pass the Senate bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform package.  As you all recall, that was a bill that was not written by this President, but the President never called that perfect.  It’s probably not precisely the bill that he would have passed if he was writing it, but that it was the product of compromise, it was the product of bipartisan compromise, where Democrats and Republicans -- a rare scene in this town -- came together to pass a bill.  And we believe the House should take that up and pass it as well.
 
Q    Any message you think he has for them -- for the immigrants, for these undocumented?
 
MR. EARNEST:  I see.  Well, the President has, as we said when we took the executive actions that I think you’re referencing, that the President asked his team to develop executive actions, the boldest that we could take within the bounds of the law.  And he believes that his team both the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, working with our Attorney General at the time, Eric Holder, came up with a set of policies that he was proud of and worked to implement.  Some of that is tied up in courts and litigation right now.  Other pieces, other significant pieces are being implemented, and so our focus is on continuing that work.
 
Thank you all.
 
END 
2:28 P.M. EDT

Read More

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 7/22/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

**Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.
 
1:15 P.M. EDT
 
MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I brought a special guest to discuss with you the President’s upcoming trip to Africa.  Susan Rice is the President’s National Security Advisor.  She has her own extensive personal experience in dealing with policy in Africa, and she obviously will be accompanying the President on that trip.
 
She’ll make some opening remarks at the top.  And what I would like to do is to try to take as many questions on the Africa trip to satisfy your interest and hear directly from Ambassador Rice on those issues.  She’s agreed to stick around and take a couple of questions on other topics as well.  So we’ll just try to keep it moving.
 
But let’s do the Africa questions first.  So we’ll do a little stage management here, and then I’ll turn it over to Susan.
 
Thank you, Eric.  
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  Thank you, gentlemen.  (Laughter.)  Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s good to see you.  As we prepare to depart for Africa -- and I know many of you may be leaving as early as later today -- I wanted to take the opportunity to give you a preview of what you can expect.  First, some general points.
 
As you know, President Obama, tomorrow evening, will travel to Kenya and Ethiopia for bilateral meetings, for additional meetings at the African Union, and he will attend as well the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
 
This will be the President’s fourth trip to Africa -- the most of any sitting American President.  It will also be the first time that a sitting American President travels to Kenya, the first time a sitting American President travels to Ethiopia, and the first time a sitting American President addresses the African Union.
 
The upcoming travel will go a long distance, as well, to advance our trade and investment relationship with Africa, as well as our continued work to help African governments strengthen their business environment and their capacity for regional and global trade. 
 
In this regard, the President will lift up the recent 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which we’ll also celebrate here tonight at the White House.  And we’ll note what a strong signal that sends to our African partners that we’re serious about expanding and sustaining U.S.-Africa trade, including by helping to create new customers for U.S. businesses overseas. 
 
Congress’s bipartisan support for this legislation allowed us to secure AGOA’s renewal.  And the President, as he has on past trips, has invited a number of House and Senate members to join him.  We’re cognizant that Africa’s economic growth will support increased demand for U.S. exports, which, in turn, will help create U.S. jobs at home, and provide valuable investment opportunities for American businesses.
 
And that’s why we’re intensifying our efforts to create an environment that enables greater trade and investment through encouraging regional integration, legal reforms that allow for the free flow of goods and services, greater transparency, and anti-corruption measures.
 
The President will highlight our continued efforts to support young African leaders, as well as to increase access to electricity, to deepen our partnerships on food security and global health, which are delivering results by reducing hunger and under-nutrition, improving child survival, and helping move people out of poverty.
 
The President will also stress the importance of strong, democratic institutions, respect for the rule of law, fighting corruption, and our support for open and accountable governance, and respect for human rights across the continent.
 
This trip is an opportunity to voice strong support for the vital role played by civil society, as well as to call attention to other important issues, such as the global campaign to combat wildlife trafficking and to stress the importance of equal opportunities for women and girls.
 
I’ll spend a couple minutes discussing the themes for each stop, before running through the itinerary.  
 
When it comes to his time in Kenya, the President will honor the strong, historical ties between the United States and Kenya.  Choosing Kenya as the destination for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit underscores the fact that the United States -- excuse me, that Africa, and Kenya in particular, has become a center for innovation and entrepreneurship.  The Global Entrepreneurship Summit will highlight the President’s commitment to promoting entrepreneurship globally, particularly opportunities for women and girls.  
 
Our time in Kenya will also underscore Nairobi’s strong leadership on regional security issues, its impressive record of economic growth and competitive democratic system, as well as the challenges that Kenya obviously still faces in countering violent extremism, ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
 
As we move on to Ethiopia, the President’s visit will reflect the fact that we have a longstanding, strong bilateral relationship with Ethiopia.  Among our shared interests are facilitating peace in South Sudan, countering al-Shabaab in Somalia, and advancing Ethiopia’s growth and development, as well as promoting regional stability.
 
And just as we work closely together in many arenas, we also regularly conveyed to Ethiopia’s leadership our concerns in such areas as press freedom, transparency, space for civil society, and the political opposition.  So this trip is also an opportunity for to continue our frank discussions and to urge progress in these areas.
 
While in Ethiopia, the President will meet with the leadership of the African Union, and speak to the whole continent from the African Union headquarters.  The African Union is a leader on a broad array of global issues, including peace and security, health and agriculture.  And we have come to work very closely with the African Union on this broad spectrum of issues.
 
Finally, this trip comes a year after the historic U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which resulted in $33 billion in new commitments to support trade and investment across Africa, as well as tangible U.S. and African efforts to improve security, promote human rights and good governance, and provide opportunities for Africa’s sizeable youth population.
 
Our upcoming engagements will advance our trade and investment relationship with Africa, as well as our continued work to help African governments strengthen their business environments and capacity for regional and global trade.
 
So before I take your questions, let me just tell you a little bit about each day on the trip.
 
On Saturday, the 25th of July, the President’s trip will start in earnest on Saturday morning, where he’ll open up the 6th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit co-hosted by the U.S. and Kenya.  I expect the President will have an opportunity also to pay tribute to the victims and the survivors of the 1998 embassy bombings, which targeted our embassy not only in Nairobi, but also in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
 
Saturday, the Kenyan government will host the President for a bilateral program, including a meeting and press conference and state dinner.  
 
On Sunday, the President will deliver remarks to the Kenyan people.  We’ll have additional details on the thrust of his remarks in the coming days.  But you can expect him to speak to the broad themes in our relationship with Kenya and its people.
 
The President will also take part in a civil society event to highlight civil society’s contributions to development, prosperity and democratic institutions in Kenya.  And he will open the event with remarks and engage in a discussion with civil society participants, primarily around the topics of wildlife trafficking, girls’ education, and countering violent extremism.  And late in the day on Sunday, we’ll head to Ethiopia.
 
On Monday, in Ethiopia, the President will take part again in a bilateral program with the government of Ethiopia, including an arrival ceremony, bilateral meetings with the President and the Prime Minister, as well as a press conference with the Ethiopian Prime Minister and a state dinner.  I also expect that the President will take part in a summit meeting with a handful of regional leaders on shared priorities, particularly the crisis in South Sudan and regional counterterrorism issues.  
 
On Tuesday, our final day, the President will participate in a civil society roundtable, and he will speak before the African Union, which, as you know, is headquartered in Addis.
 
The President will hold a bilateral meeting with the chairwoman of the African Union Commission and during that day will also have the opportunity to highlight some of our sustainable development initiatives, including in food security, as well as the work we're doing to deepen economic and trade cooperation with Ethiopia in the broader region.
 
So obviously this will be a busy several days, but we -- the President, his entire national security team -- are very much looking forward to the opportunity to build on the momentum from last year’s African Leaders Summit and to advance our strong and growing ties with the African continent.
 
So with that, let me take a few questions on the Africa trip.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Chris, do you want to start?
 
Q    Thanks.  And thanks for doing this, Susan.  As you know, when the President was elected, there was a lot of high expectations raised about what the President could do for the African continent and Kenya, in particular.  And there are a lot of people -- and much has been written about the fact that he has not realized those expectations.  And I wonder how you would respond to that.  They say -- they often refer to what President Bush did in terms of AIDS being transformative that this President has not yet done anything transformative.  How would you respond to that?  And what’s the goal of this trip in terms of the overall picture of him and the final legacy he will have in terms of his relationship with the African continent?
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  Well, first of all, Chris, let me say that President Obama is building on what has been a strong bipartisan tradition of U.S. support for Africa.  I recall back to the Clinton administration when President Clinton was the first President to take a trip that was broad-ranging and covered the African continent.  We have been steadily building -- including through the Bush administration with President Bush’s obvious strong commitment to Africa -- a foundation that is growing.  And each brick is layered on the last one.
 
President Obama, obviously, has been unique.  First of all, this will be his fourth trip to Africa, more than any other sitting President.  Never before had we had an African Leaders Summit with the leadership from across the entirety of the continent here in Washington for several days, engaging in the most important issues of concern between us.  
 
The trade and investment relationship between the United States and Africa has never been stronger.  Never have we had $33 billion in U.S. commitments driven by public-private partnerships, which this administration has galvanized.  The food security initiative, Feed the Future, and the new Alliance for Food Security are Obama administration initiatives that we launched at the G7 and have pursued in partnership with our G7 -- at that time G8 -- partners, which have brought unprecedented new agricultural opportunities and growth to the African continent.
 
We have built on PEPFAR, President Bush’s initiative in the AIDS space, to launch and sustain a global health initiative both in Africa and then broadly a global health security initiative, which was something we started before the Ebola epidemic, but now we're pursuing both in Africa and around the world, which will bring increased ability to detect and prevent epidemics and bring health to the people of Africa.  
 
Across the spectrum, we are building and deepening our relationship with Africa.  Power Africa, which like PEPFAR, is building up in strength and capacity, will double the amount of power to the African continent.  This is going to take time, as PEPFAR did.  But it will be itself a very transformative initiative.  And when combined with the programs I’ve described in the health sector and the agriculture sector and trade and investment, I think President Obama’s record on Africa will not only match that of his predecessors, but I predict with confidence we’ll exceed it.
 
MR. EARNEST:  April.
 
Q    Ambassador Rice, I have a couple of questions to ask you.  For Kenya and Ethiopia, particularly on issues of human rights, there are concerns about human rights issues when it comes to peaceful assembly in Ethiopia as well as silencing journalists and bloggers.  And then when we talk about Kenya, Kenya in particular with the issue of same-sex couples, how is the President approaching these human rights issues as he travels and makes this historic visit?  And also, on a personal note, you’ve known this President since he was Senator Barack Obama and you know personally his story.  Does this trip for him bring him full circle?  And I speak of traveling to Kenya and thinking of the book “Dreams of My Father”, thinking about his real-life story and going home to -- well, going to his father’s home of Kenya.  And basically, does he make peace with his life story with his father?  I mean, I’m asking you because you know him.
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  You’re trying to get me to psychoanalyze the President?  I’m not going to do that.  (Laughter.)  How dumb do I look, April?  (Laughter.)
 
Q    Not at all, you’re a good friend. 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  For free, yes.  (Laughter.)  Let me address your first question first.  I think as you all know well, we go to many places in Asia and Africa and the Middle East where we engage with countries and leaders with whom we have some questions and concerns about their human rights record, their respect for democracy and the rule of law.  So there is nothing unique about this in the African context, but what is consistent is that wherever we go, whether it’s in Africa or elsewhere in the world where we have such concerns, we raise them directly and clearly, both in public and in private.  And we will do that as we always do when we visit Kenya and Ethiopia.  
 
Each of these are different countries with different contexts.  Obviously, in Ethiopia in particular, we have consistently expressed concern about the treatment of journalists, among other issues.  We noted that recently the Ethiopian government did release five journalists, which is a welcome step but they have a long way to go.  And I think we have been very clear in our dialogue with them on this and other issues related to democracy and governance that we believe they can and should do more and better.  And we look forward to engaging with them on this topic and similarly with the concerns that you raise that are specific to Kenya.  
 
But both these countries are very important longstanding U.S. partners with whom we have a broad range of issues, not just in the governance -- in the interests, not just issues.  But in the governance space and the security space, in the economic space, we have a lot that we can do and are doing cooperatively and productively with these countries, and our aim is to be forthright about the concerns where we have them and strengthen and deepen cooperation in our mutual interests where we can.  So that’s how we’ll approach it.  
 
I won’t speak for the President.  I think you’ll have an opportunity to hear from him during the course of the trip about his personal ties to Kenya.  I do know that he is very much looking forward to both the stops on this trip.  And obviously when you go to a country where you have familial ties and you’re a sitting President, it’s a different deal than when you’re going as a private citizen or even as a United States senator.  So there are certain constraints not only of time but of logistics that limit what he might do in a different context.  But I'm quite confident that he’s looking forward to the trip and the opportunity to spend some time in private with some of his relatives.  
 
MR. EARNEST:  Anita. 
 
Q    Hi.  I'm actually just going to follow up on that.  You said he would be spending some time with relatives.  Can you just expand on that?  Will they come visit him?  Will he go somewhere?  Will he go to his family’s village?  
 
Q    Will the bear be on the loose?  (Laughter.) 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  I'm not going to get into details on the logistics except to say that I do believe he’ll have an opportunity to spend some time privately with members of his family.  I think some members of his family will also be invited to some of the public events, or the larger state-sponsored events, including perhaps the dinner.  
 
It is a fact that he is not going to be able to visit the village most closely associated with his family for a combination of time and logistical reasons, among others.  But nonetheless, I know that he looks forward to having the opportunity to reach out to and have some time with family, as any of us would. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Suzanne. 
 
Q    It’s come to light that Kenyan Airlines has actually published the President’s schedule in detail regarding the two major airports, both arrival and departure, not only among its staff but also it’s been published on Facebook.  Is this a breach in security protocol?  Is there any concern about security measures in light of this kind of widespread information that is now out to the public regarding very specifically his schedule? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  My understanding, Suzanne, is that Secret Service is well aware of this.  It has in no way affected our approach to or plans for the trip.  And it’s also my understanding that oftentimes some of this information turns out to be not entirely accurate.  But I don’t think it in any way is disturbing our plans.  
 
MR. EARNEST:  Christi. 
 
Q    Thank you.  A question on timing.  Kenya obviously is a place of great personal significance for the President.  For reasons that you’ve acknowledged already, there were reasons not to go prior to now.  But I just wonder if you can talk a little bit about why he didn’t go before now, why he is going now.  What’s the reason?  Why is this a good time to go? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  He’s going now because we are the co-chair of the 6th Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit which Kenya is hosting.  So every year there is such a summit; the President hasn’t been able to make every one of them but he’s gone to several.  The Vice President has gone to some.  
 
And so this is an opportunity not only to support the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is something the President is deeply committed to as an initiative that has resonance around the world, but it's also an opportunity to strengthen and deepen our relationship to Africa -- which, as we discussed with Chris, has been a centerpiece of the President’s foreign policy. 
 
Q    Was he waiting for the ICC charges against President Kenyatta to be resolved before he took his trip? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  I think, Christi, the real hook for the timing was the entrepreneurship summit.  
 
Q    Will he appear or meet with the deputy who still is facing charges before the ICC? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  I don’t think he has any plans for any separate engagements with him.  He is a member of the government, so I imagine that he may be present at some of the events. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Isaac. 
 
Q    Can you speak a little bit more broadly to the security concerns on this trip?  Are they higher than normal for a presidential trip, given the countries that he’s visiting and the situation like this?  And also, to just follow up on what Christi was saying, does the President consider the presidents of Kenya and Ethiopia democratically-elected Presidents?
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  First of all, you mean -- okay, let me come to the second one.  The short answer is, on the security side, Isaac, I think I should refer you to Secret Service for any detailed questions.  But obviously we wouldn’t be taking this trip if we thought that security conditions precluded us doing so.  But it is important to note that Kenya in particular -- Ethiopia less recently -- has been the victim of terrorism, primarily perpetrated by al-Shabaab.  
 
We are very concerned for the people of Kenya and for the region, that this threat remains a real one.  And that’s why we’ve cooperated so actively not only with the African Union force in Somalia, which is countering al-Shabaab, but also in a bilateral way with the government of Kenya, the government of Ethiopia, and Uganda and others in the region that have experienced the threat from al-Shabaab. 
 
So it’s something that obviously, given their history and given the strong counterterrorism cooperation we have with the countries in the region, that we take seriously. 
 
The democrat role -- first of all, yes, I think we would say that the President of Kenya was democratically elected.  That was a competitive process.  I think the Prime Minister of Ethiopia was just elected with 100 percent of the vote, which I think suggests, as we have stated in our public statements, some concern for the integrity of the electoral process -- at least if not in the outcomes then in some of the mechanisms that supported the process, the freedom for the opposition to campaign. 
 
Q    So is that -- but does he think that that was a democratic election? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  Absolutely -- 100 percent.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Byron.  
 
Q    Could you say what lawmakers will be traveling? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  I can’t give you a list.  I can tell you that there are a good number, House and Senate, bipartisan.  And one of the most gratifying things about working on Africa policy is that, for many decades now, U.S.-Africa policy has been something that has been executed on a bipartisan basis.  So there is a broad cross-section of members that are excited about coming on this trip, and we look forward to hosting them.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Byron, we’ll try to get you a list tomorrow. 
 
Q    Okay.  Could you say why the First Lady and the First Daughters aren’t going on this trip?
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  For no other reason, I think, in that they all have things they’re doing for their summer, especially the girls. 
 
Q    And one last one.  What are the administration’s concerns about Islamic State’s presence in Africa?  And will this be a focus of any of the bilats and multilats? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  Counterterrorism will certainly be a focus of both the bilats and the multilateral discussions that we have.  We’re going to East Africa where, thus far, the Islamic State has had less of a footprint and a presence than some of al Qaeda-related affiliates.  
 
In West and North Africa, obviously we have seen ISIL become an increasing presence, particularly in the Maghreb, but also in Nigeria.  So yes, we’ll be talking about counterterrorism.  Not to exclude ISIL from that discussion, but in East Africa the focus is principally on other groups. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Cheryl. 
 
Q    Do you expect to announce any new trade initiatives or business partnerships while you’re there? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  I think we’ll announce them when we announce them.  But trade and investment has been and will remain, as you could tell from my opening comments, a centerpiece of our engagement with Africa.  And we’ll have the opportunity both through the Entrepreneurship Summit, through bilateral events in Ethiopia, as well as through discussions with business executives to point to the opportunities in Africa and the support that’s available particularly with the 10-year renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act for increased trade and investment between the United States and Africa.  
 
MR. EARNEST:  Jim. 
 
Q    I want to ask about Cuba.  Can I do that now?  
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, after questions that -- April, do you have another one?  Then Toluse, and then we’ll go to -- okay. 
 
Q    See, how often do we get to talk about Africa?  (Laughter.)  Come out more often Ambassador Rice.  Nigerian girls.  I want to ask you, there is a concern -- every Wednesday on Capitol Hill, the leaders still wear red to bring back the girls.  Congresswoman Frederica Wilson believes that the girls are still alive and still in a large group together being held for leverage.  Boko Haram wants to use them as leverage.  Is that your feeling?  And what are the efforts still to work on bringing the girls back? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  Well, I wish I could give you a definitive answer to the question of what our best information is about the disposition of the girls.  The fact of the matter is, none of us are able to say with certainty what the circumstances of the Chibok girls are today. 
 
We’ve been working intently with the government of Nigeria and with other partners both in the region and from outside the region, including the British and the French, to provide whatever support we could to help locate the girls.  
 
And our cooperation in terms of information-sharing and helping to provide the Nigerians with additional capacity to counter Boko Haram has been a critical thrust of our relationship with Nigeria, and one that expect will intensify now that President Buhari is in office and we are better able to address some of our concerns about human rights and command and control, and support for the Nigerian military, which we are keen to step up. 
 
And as we do so, the search for the girls will continue to be for the Nigerian people and for the American people a very heartfelt priority.  But I don’t have any good information on leads as to their whereabouts and their disposition. 
 
MR. EARNEST:  Toluse.  
 
Q    You mentioned South Sudan a couple of times, and I wanted to ask about that.  The U.S. has invested a lot of money over the last decade in the peace process between Sudan and South Sudan.  What’s your reaction to sort of seeing things fall so far into disrepair there?  And what can the President do specifically during this trip to address that? 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  Well, obviously all of us who celebrated the independence of South Sudan after a very long-fought struggle are deeply disappointed.  And I have personally said I’m heartbroken by the horrific violence and civil conflict and human rights abuses that have characterized South Sudan in the last 18 months.  
 
We have worked long and hard in partnership with the countries in the region to try to broker a lasting peace agreement in South Sudan.  Thus far, the sides have put their own personal power and wealth ahead of the interests of their people and have refused to accept numerous rational proposals for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  It’s for that reason that when the President has the opportunity to meet with a handful of leaders in Addis, in a summit format, that South Sudan will be among the important topics that they take up, including what more we can do at this critical moment as the circumstances on the ground continue to deteriorate to galvanize a peaceful outcome and to hold the leaders accountable on both sides.  And should it prove impossible to get them to come to an agreement, we will be talking about what other steps we might take collectively to impose consequences.
 
Q    And just one more.  Do you expect the President to interact with Robert Mugabe while he is in -- 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  No.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Jeff.
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  There’s not -- no.  Where?  We’re not going to Zimbabwe and he’s not coming to the African Union.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Jeff.
 
Q    Ambassador, you addressed already a little bit of the issue of human rights.  Some aid groups have said that a presidential trip gives the White House a lot of leverage to press Ethiopia and Kenya on rights.  Do you feel you’ve used that leverage?  And do you expect any additional announcements of journalist release or other things along those lines from the Ethiopian government?
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  I can’t speak for the Ethiopian government, Jeff.  I can say that we always -- not just in Africa, but around the world -- when we are traveling to countries where we have concerns about the rule of law, human rights, corruption, whatever, democratic governance, we make those concerns known, publicly and privately.  And we have done so continuously in the case of these two countries, and we’ll continue to do so.  I think our interest is not in some gesture necessarily tied to the trip but in lasting change, which is sustained over time that benefits the people of these countries.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Darlene.
 
Q    It’s kind of astounding that no American President has visited Kenya before now.
 
AMBASSADOR RICE.  Sitting, yes.
 
Q    Yes, sitting President.  How do you -- 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  Or Ethiopia, which is the largest -- one of the largest countries in East Africa and on the continent.
 
Q    But you hear a lot about the historic relationship between the U.S. and Kenya.  So what can you say about why that is that no one -- 
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  I can’t answer that question.
 
Q    Why didn’t Bill Clinton go?  
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  I’m not sure why we didn’t go to Ethiopia or Kenya.  I think one strong thing about Ethiopia that was less the case back then is the African Union, which back then was the Organization of African Unity, has come into its own and become a very strong force for unity and progress, frankly, on the continent.  And so our partnership with the African Union has definitely strengthened and deepened.  It’s been under this administration that we appointed an ambassador to the African Union.  And in many ways, the strength and importance of that relationship has changed.  We’ve always had an interest in Ethiopia’s progress, particularly after the end of the Derg.  And we had Secretaries of State in the Clinton administration who went to Ethiopia and to Kenya, of course.  But we did not have the opportunity for President Clinton to go.  He took two trips to Africa, as you’ll recall.  First one in 1998, where he went to I think six countries, and then a subsequent one where he -- it was a shorter trip where he just went to two.
 
MR. EARNEST:  Steve.
 
Q    I just want to come back to the lawmakers for a moment.  Do you see these invitations to them as a way to advance your policy goals on Africa?  And what specifically might you be asking Congress to do in the area of Africa legislation in the coming months?
 
AMBASSADOR RICE:  Well, obviously we want to strengthen and sustain what I’ve referred to repeatedly as a strong bipartisan consensus around support for Africa, Africa’s development, peace and security there.  The biggest piece of legislation that we were focused on related to Africa was, of course, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which was renewed last month in the context of other trade legislation.
 
But obviously we have many, many issues that are important that we need Congress’s support on -- legislation that will support and codify some of the most significant initiatives, including in the health and agriculture and power sectors, as well as we have a nominee on the Hill that very much needs to be confirmed for USAID administrator.  So that is not something solely for Africa,

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