Fwd: WH Travel Pool #2b: Gaggle

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From: "Memoli, Michael" >
Date: June 1, 2016 at 2:32:30 PM EDT
To: Jessica Allen >
Subject: WH Travel Pool #2b: Gaggle

Gaggle highlights, with many thanks to co-pooler and gorilla question-asker Michael Shear of NYT.

Earnest opened by pointing reporters to the preview excerpts of POTUS' remarks in Elkhart before taking Qs.

Asked about whether POTUS will refer to Donald Trump in his remarks, Earnest answered without mentioning the presumptive GOP nominee himself.

He said there has understandably been a tendency to see POTUS comments as a contrast to "the presumptive Republican nominee for president." But the arguments he'll make today are consistent with what he said in his 2004 convention speech and his own presidential campaign.

"The arguments that President Obama is seeking to advance and the arguments that have been made by Republicans both predate the presumptive Republican nominee’s appearance on the national stage," he said, noting later that some Republicans have made a concerted effort to try and distance themselves from Trump.

"Some of the arguments are diluted if we don’t appreciate the decades long context in which they’re taking place. That the arguments that Republicans have been making and included Republicans up and down the ballot in 2016, are consistent with the kinds of arguments that Republicans have been making for decades. The same is true of the kind of argument that President Obama is seeking to advance as well."

Earnest said we have to have "an honest debate" about the types of policies that have helped advance the nation's economic recovery.

"Because this is not the last time that a president and a Congress will be faced with some consequential decisions about how best to advance our economy. And so if we acknowledge and recognize that we’ve made progress in the last seven years, and no community in the country is a  better illustration of that than Elkhart, then we should take a look at what policies made that progress possible. And that’s why it’s important to not allow the debate to be reduced to what admittedly is a significant election. But it’s important for us to recognize the broader historical context. Because that’s the kind of debate that we believe the country should be having."

Asked if POTUS was frustrated with the tone of the campaign debate so far, Earnest said he hasn't heard POTUS say that and pointed to his comments to reporters in Japan last week, at least about the Democratic primary. “The values on the Democratic side are remarkably similar, even in candidates that demonstrate some pretty different political styles. The same can not be said on the Republican side."

Asked about Indiana Gov. Pence's comments that Elkhart's recovery was in spite of, not because of POTUS' policies, Earnest began by pointing to the difficult decision POTUS had to make early in his administration on the auto rescue, which is of "particular concern" in Elkhart. The decision to do it had a pronounced impact not only on the auto industry but across the economy.

“If the economy in Elkhart had somehow gotten worse early in the president’s tenure, that Republicans in Indiana would be blaming the president for the worsening economy. And now that the economy has improved significantly they’re not willing to give the president any credit. That may be an indication that the political debate is not entirely on the level.”

Earnest said POTUS' message is to people in both parties and those who don't align with either party as well. POTUS includes himself in those who believe more needs to be done to improve the economy, Earnest said, adding that more would have been done if Republicans hadn’t opposed infrastructure investment, minimum wage or other policies.

One reason POTUS feels it’s so important to engage in the political debate is because the progress made on the economy is important, but fragile, and going back to trickle down policies will put progress of the last seven years “at grave risk.”

Asked about legislation from Sens. Kaine and Murphy to extend Iran sanctions and its impact on the Iran nuclear deal, Earnest said he wasn't familiar with the legislation and would consult with leg affairs.

Asked about the Zika virus and the baby born in New Jersey with birth defects, Earnest said the CDC is "in close touch" with health officials in NJ, but that there is more to learn about the situation there. He used the incident as a reason to once again call on Congress to act to provide more funding for the fight against Zika.

"Hopefully, it will prompt Republicans to reconsider their approach so far, which is to basically deny there is a problem."

He noted that Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, recently wrote to the administration demanding action on the virus. He referred specific questions about the governor's demands to CDC, but said POTUS is relying on the federal government's health officials for advice on how best to confront the disease.

On migrants, Earnest said the government is trying to "add bandwidth" to the effort to process potential refugees. But he said POTUS made clear that needs to be done "without taking any shortcuts on security."

On the speech in Colorado Springs, he said POTUS would express again that it is his "highest professional honor" to be commander in chief of the "greatest fighting force that the world has ever known."

On the gorilla, he said the WH has no official view of what happened, but said that the incident could "legitimately be viewed as a tragedy" and said that it was "sad." He said that individuals at the WH surely have personal views on the subject but he had not heard POTUS express a view on the subject.

Asked about the writing process for POTUS commencement speeches, Earnest said that he did not think there were any real differences in the process this year.

On CDC data that showed death rate increased, he agreed that the opioid crisis was in part responsible and urged Republicans in Congress to support more money for treatment.

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