White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a briefing to update the media on events and issues of the day including the Paul Manafort indictment, George Papadopoulos’ plea, tax reform effort and more.
The briefing is scheduled for 2 pm EDT.
Full transcript of White House Press conference on 10/31/17
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Happy Halloween. I thought for sure I’d see some costumes today.
Q We’re dressed as reporters.
MS. SANDERS: That’s not nearly as exciting as what you could have come as, but we’ll let it slide for today.
Today, I’m once again pleased to talk about the topic that we and, more importantly, the American people are all very excited about: tax cuts.
We’re approaching the release of legislation based on the tax reform framework the President supports. Unfortunately, no matter how great the plan is for the hardworking families, Democrats are expected to criticize the tax cuts as they’ve done in recent years, putting partisan politics ahead of their constituents’ pocketbooks.
While arguing over President Reagan’s 1981 tax cuts, Democrats claimed it would only benefit the rich. The Democrat Speaker of the House at the time, Tip O’Neill, called them royal tax cuts, because he claimed they favored the wealthiest Americans.
What really happened was more than 14 million new jobs were created over five years; incomes grew by over 22 percent for the next seven years; and the economy grew by over 3.5 percent, on average, for the rest of the decade.
Some Democrats must have been paying attention to history, because as recently as last year, they publicly supported many of the principles for which the President is advocating today. That includes lowering the corporate tax rate, which is the highest among developed nations, so that our greatest businesses can be more competitive.
In fact, Presidents Obama and Clinton both advocated for cutting corporate tax rates. Senate Democrat Leader Chuck Schumer in the past called our tax system upside down and inside out. And last year, he actually admitted that cutting corporate taxes is really important for American competitiveness. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi apparently agreed, because she said, It is long past time for tax reform that would lower the corporate tax rate.
The only thing that seems to have changed since then is who occupies the White House.
Since day one, the President has been committed to jumpstarting our economy and giving hardworking Americans the raise they deserve. Under the framework supported by the President, our economy will grow, businesses will invest back in the country, and American workers will see their wages grow. In fact, the Council for Economic Advisers estimates that a typical, hardworking American family would get a $4,000 pay raise.
So to Democrats in Congress, particularly those who would like to place American jobs and middle-class tax relief ahead of partisan politics, the question is very simple: Do you believe the Americans people deserve a pay raise?
We certainly do. And that’s what we’ll be focused on and fighting for. The choice is yours.
And with that, Ill take your questions.
Q Sarah, where does the President stand on this tax deduction for state and local taxes? That seems to be in dispute up on the Hill.
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’ve laid out our priorities for the tax cut plan. Those havent changed. The President is going to continue working with both the House and the Senate to push forward and make sure that the principles he laid out are achieved. And we havent made any adjustments to that at this time.
Q But what about the mortgage interest deduction?
MS. SANDERS: Again, same point here: We havent made any changes to the priorities that we’ve laid out. I’m not going to negotiate between you and I. But the President is going to be involved in ongoing conversations with members of both the House and Senate, and we’ve laid out what our priorities are and we’re going to stick to those as we move forward.
Q Has it come up in the conversation with Speaker Ryan just now?
MS. SANDERS: They’re still meeting now, and we’ll have a readout on that meeting once it’s completed.
Q Thanks, Sarah. A question on yesterday’s Mueller news. President Trump’s nominee to serve as chief science advisor over at the Agriculture Department is Sam Clovis, and Clovis was the campaign supervisor cited in that Papadopoulos plea. And his lawyer has since acknowledged that he was the one in that plea who encouraged Papadopoulos in August 2016 to make a trip to Russia to meet with Russia officials about the campaign.
Given all that, is the President still comfortable with him, Sam Clovis, serving in the administration?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware that any change would be necessary at this time.
Q And on that note, is the administration aware of who the other three or four campaign individuals who were referenced in that Papadopoulos plea were? And are any serving in or advising the administration?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of the specific individuals. What I can say is that I think Papadopoulos is an example of actually somebody doing the wrong thing while the President’s campaign did the right thing.
All of his emails were voluntarily provided to the special counsel by the campaign, and that is what led to the process and the place that we’re in right, was the campaign fully cooperating and helping with that.
What Papadopoulos did was lie, and that’s on him, not on the campaign. And we can’t speak for that.
Q The Chief of Staff, John Kelly, said that this counsel investigation has been very distracting to the President. Can you elaborate on that? Is this affecting his ability to get the job done here?
MS. SANDERS: I dont think it’s at all affecting his ability to get his job done. And that wasnt the point he was making. You guys seem completely obsessed with this, while there are a lot of other things happening around the country, and, frankly, a lot of other things that people care a lot more about. The media refuses to cover it, and I think that’s the distraction, instead of the focus being constantly on tax cuts and tax reforms.
My guess is, if you look at the records, the questions that I take in here day out have far more to do with an investigation that, frankly, most Americans dont care too much about, and a whole lot less to do with policies that actually impact them.
Q Why are you so confident that the investigation won’t go on much longer?
MS. SANDERS: Because we have confidence that it’s going to come to a close in short time.
Glenn, go ahead. (Phone rings.) Glenn has got a call. Maybe he needed to phone a friend to get help with his question. (Laughter.)
Q Sarah —
MS. SANDERS: Glenn, I had more faith in you to be able to ask a question all by yourself, but —
Q The other thing that General Kelly said yesterday was in reference to General Lee, and he said that the Civil War was a result of a failure to compromise. Was he suggesting that there be compromise on the abolition of slavery? Can you expand on exactly what he was talking about?
MS. SANDERS: Look, all of our leaders have flaws — Washington, Jefferson, JFK, Roosevelt, Kennedy. That doesn’t diminish their contributions to our country, and it certainly can’t erase them from our history. And General Kelly was simply making the point that just because history isn’t perfect, it doesn’t mean that it’s not our history.
Q Let me follow up. You’re a proud daughter of the South. When you see Nathan — like a statue as they had in Memphis of somebody like Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was responsible for the Fort Pillow Massacre, and other folks like that, is there a differentiation? Do you think there are certain Confederate figures who don’t deserved to be honored, like Nathan Bedford Forrest?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t think that we should sit here and debate every moment of history. I think those moments took place. There are moments that we’re going to be a lot less proud of than others, but we can’t erase the fact that they happened. I think you have to determine where that line is. The President has said that those are something that should be left up to state and local governments, and that’s not who I’m here representing today, so I’m not going to get into the back and forth on it.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Just to follow up on what you said yesterday and what you have reiterated today about this investigation and your belief that it’s going to be wrapping up soon. Yesterday, you said that, “Those are the indications that we have at this time.” From your point of view, is what you’re saying wishful thinking? Is it spin? Are you getting leaked information that gives you that indication? Why do you continue to say that you believe that it is wrapping up soon?
MS. SANDERS: Again, that position has not changed, and we do think that it will wrap up soon. I didn’t say it would be three or four days; I said soon. And we hope that that’s the case, in large part because we know that the facts are on our side, there was no collusion. And we’re looking forward to moving forward, and hoping that you guys can as well, and we can actually start talking about and focusing on some of the things that I mentioned to Jonathan that we feel the American people would rather the conversation be turned towards.
Q At the Papadopoulos hearing —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep moving.
Q I just want to ask you this one thing about one of the prosecutors that is on Bob Mueller’s team. At the plea hearing for Mr. Papadopoulos last month, he hinted at the possibility of more to come in the investigation. He said the Mueller probe is “a large-scale, ongoing investigation of which this case” — the Papadopoulos case — “is a small part.” So, given what he said, as an officer of the court, are you disagreeing with anything that he said in his remarks during that plea hearing?
MS. SANDERS: Maybe his reference is in looking more to come between the Democrats and the Clinton campaign, since I think if there’s any evidence that we’ve seen to date, it’s between them colluding with other foreign governments, certainly not from our side.
Q Sarah, I have one question about what the President said today, and then an Asia trip question, broadly. But the first question is: The President mentioned in the tax reform meeting there that he was going to be announcing “soon” some companies that are coming back to the United States. Can you either name them or give us the industry that we’re talking about?
MS. SANDERS: You know I’m not going to get ahead of an announcement that the President is going to make. If he wasn’t willing to tell you today, I’m certainly not going to step in and do it.
Q And then on the Asia trip,the speech that he’s making at APEC is being billed as a theme for the trip as well as the Indo-Pacific. Does this administration see India as a pivotal part of your strategy when it comes to the Asia-Pacific more broadly?
MS. SANDERS: It certainly plays a big role, and General McMaster will be here later this week to discuss the trip in greater depth and more detail. And he’ll be happy to address more of those questions at that time.
Q Sarah, the former White House strategist, Steve Bannon, is saying the administration should push back harder against Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Does the President support defunding the special counsel?
MS. SANDERS: No. And I’m not sure what we’d push back against since, so far, all they’ve done is come up with ways and shown more and more that therewas no connection between the Trump campaign and collusion with Russia.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions, please. First, the President is quoted last year as calling Mr. Papadopoulos, and I quote, “a great guy.” And today it was “a liar.” And I wonder, just to kind of clear the air, how well did he actually know him? And was briefed by him often? Did he have frequent meetings? How well does he know this man?
MS. SANDERS: My understanding is the only interaction he ever had was the one meeting that the advisory council gathered together, where he was in a large group of other people in the room. And to my knowledge, that’s the only interaction they ever had.
Again, this was a campaign volunteer. He wasn’t somebody that was a senior advisor, as many of you want to bill him to be. He was somebody that played a minimal roll, if one at all, and was part of a voluntary advisory board. That’s it.
Q And he only met the President — candidate Trump, one time?
MS. SANDERS: That’s my understanding, John. That’s the only incident that we’re aware of.
Q The other thing I wanted to ask was that a few weeks ago, when the President sent out Twitters about the media, he suggested that equal time be applied. Now, to many people, that was a euphemism for the Fairness Doctrine, something that President Ronald Reagan helped eliminate and which Democrats, such as Leader Pelosi, have tried to revive. Is he seriously in favor of reviving the Fairness Doctrine? And I might add that its premier opponent of revival was a young congressman named Mike Pence.
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know that he’s into the deep weeds of the Fairness Doctrine, but I know he certainly believes in fairness. And I think that he would like to see that applied, certainly, to his administration in a way that it probably hasn’t been so far.
Q The President — sorry, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore is on Capitol Hill today. Does the President have plans to meet with him at any point today or this week before he leaves for Asia?
MS. SANDERS: No, there’s no planned meetings at this time.
Q Sarah, there is still a lot to be negotiated on taxes — SALT, which was just brought up; possible phasing in of the corporation rate, just to name a couple. When the tax bill — whatever of it — is released tomorrow, will the President wholeheartedly endorse this as his plan?
MS. SANDERS: As of right now, we see no reason to feel otherwise. But until we see the details of that, I’m not going to speculate on where we are. We’ve laid out what our principles are, and we expect that that piece of legislation to reflect those principle. If it does, you’ll certainly see the administration come in with full-throated support.
Q And lastly, on the Fed — I know you’re not going to give us a name. I’m not asking you to give us a name.
MS. SANDERS: But what If I did, wouldnt it be fun? (Laughter.)
Q Then we would love the name.
Q Come on —
MS. SANDERS: That’s the most excitement we’ve ever gotten out of this room. (Laughter.) Sorry.
Q If you want to give us a name, we will take it. If not, my simple question is: Has the President made his decision, or is he still debating it?
MS. SANDERS: I can tell you that it’s not Major Garrett. (Laughter.) But beyond that, I don’t have anything to weigh in on.
Noah, go ahead.
Q President Trump, during the campaign, repeatedly castigated Hillary Clinton for not coming forward and coming clean when she got debate questions ahead of the debates. Why didn’t anyone in the Trump campaign, including his son, come forward when there were solicitations from Russian agents to provide dirt on his opponent?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure how those two things are even remotely related, so I couldn’t begin to figure out how to answer that question.
Q I’m just getting to the sense of the proactive duty to come clean when there is an ethical question. And is the President upset that people in campaign did not come clean when there were ethical questions and ethical lines being broached?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t believe that to be an ethical question. That’s a pretty standard campaign operating procedure.
Q Collaborating with the Russians is?
MS. SANDERS: That’s not collaboration with the Russians. Sorry, Noah. I know you want it to be, but it just isn’t.
Go ahead, Mara.
Q I have two questions. The first one is: You’ve been very clear that Trump didn’t collude but Hillary did. What is your definition of collusion?
MS. SANDERS: Well, I think the exchanging millions of dollars to create false information is a pretty big indication. I think taking millions of dollars into a foundation that benefits you while making decisions that impact people that gave that money, I think those are certainly areas of collusions that should certainly be looked at.
Q And my second question is about —
MS. SANDERS: Steven. Sorry.
Q Just to follow up from Glenn. Robert E. Lee aside — and I understand your point about how all leaders have flaws — but what Kelly said yesterday was that an inability to compromise led to the Civil War. And back in the spring, the President said that he thinks that Andrew Jackson could have made a deal to avert the war. What is the compromise that they’re talking about? To leave the southern states slaves and the northern states free? What was the compromise that could have been made?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know that I’m going to get into debating the Civil War, but I do know that many historians, including Shelby Foote, in Ken Burns’ famous Civil War documentary, agreed that a failure to compromise was a cause of the Civil War. There are a lot of historians that think that, and there are lot of different versions of those compromises.
I’m not going to get up here and re-litigate the Civil War. But there are certainly, I think, some historical documentation that many people — and there’s pretty strong consensus from people from the left, the right, the north, and the south — that believe that if some of the individuals engaged had been willing to come to some compromises on different things, then it may not have occurred.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Apropos what’s going on on the Hill this afternoon, and Facebook disclosing yesterday that more than 100 million Americans were apparently exposed to what amounts to Russian propaganda, what’s the White House’s view of that notion, that more than 100,000 people have been reading and watching what this Russian outlet has been putting out?
And what do you make of the notion that there ought to be some kind of requirement that Facebook be required to disclose — the way that many broadcasters are required to disclose — when political ads are made?
MS. SANDERS: I think we need to see how this process works out over the next several days. And some of those questions are things that you’re going to have to ask Facebook. That’s not something that the federal government can weigh in on at this point, until the findings of that investigation and those hearings are completed.
Q Sarah, I’d like you to follow up on something you said earlier, but I also want to follow up on the conversation that’s been happening about the slavery compromise. I’m not asking you to re-litigate the Civil War. We don’t need a history lesson on the compromises that have happened. But does the White House at least acknowledge that the Chief of Staff’s comments are deeply offensive to some folks, and historically inaccurate?
MS. SANDERS: No. Because as I said before, I think that you can’t — because you don’t like history, doesn’t mean that you can erase it and pretend that it didn’t happen. And I think that’s the point that General Kelly was trying to make. And to try to create something and push a narrative that simply doesnt exist is just, frankly, outrageous and absurd.
I think the fact that we keep trying to drive — the media continues to want to make this and push that this is some sort of a racially charged and divided White House — frankly, the only people I see stoking political racism right now are the people in the groups that are running ads like the one you saw take place in Virginia earlier this week. That’s the type of thing that I think really is a problem. And I think it is absurd and disgraceful to keep trying to make comments and take them out of context to mean something they simply don’t.
Q There’s a new poll out that shows that the public seems to trust many of the mainstream media outlets that the President criticizes more than they trust the President himself. Why do you think this would be? And do you think the White House agrees with that?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t seen anything to suggest that. I’d have to look into it. I certainly can’t comment on some study I know nothing about and don’t agree with.
Q Sarah, given some of the criticism we’ve heard from the President’s outside advisors, is the President happy with his legal team right now? Does he feel well-represented, well-defended when it comes to the Mueller probe particulars?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure how he couldn’t, considering — as I said yesterday and I’ve repeated several times today — all of the revelations that have taken place over the last several days and hours have nothing to do with the President, have nothing to do with his campaign. And I think the further we get into it, the more and more we see that happening.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I just wanted to ask about taxes and then maybe just a very quick follow on the discussion about compromise. If I’m understanding you correctly, what you’re really saying is, he’s not just suggesting a compromise on slavery, he’s talking about other compromises that may have been germane to that period of history. Is that fair?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that was part of the conversation that a lot of people have had. He didn’t get into the specifics because that’s something that’s been discussed very widely by many historians, again, from both the left, the right, the north, the south — however you want to look at it. And he didn’t get into the details of it because it wasn’t the point he was making.
Q On taxes. I just want to get a sense of what the President might really be interested in as far as the child tax credit and as far as the Obamacare individual mandate. Is it your opinion that the President would be supportive of both? Meaning, that they need to be a major tenet of the tax reform that will be unveiling this week?
MS. SANDERS: He certainly supports the childcare tax credit. I’m sorry, what was the other piece you were asking?
Q The Obamacare individual mandate. Does that have to be a part of tax reform?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t believe it has to be part of tax reform, but the childcare tax credit is something he’d certainly like to see.
I’ll take one last question.
Q Sarah, you said to us a few moments ago the Papadopoulos plea agreement is an example of an individual doing the wrong thing but the campaign doing the right thing — if I remember what you said — correct me. Does that extend to Sam Clovis encouraging George Papadopoulos to go to Russia on behalf of the campaign to solicit information?
MS. SANDERS: My understanding is there wasn’t encouragement. He made multiple attempts at setting up a variety of meetings that were constantly rebuffed. He also made false statements to investigators. That’s something that the campaign nor the administration would ever support. All of his emails, again, were voluntarily provided to the special counsel by the campaign, and that is how they got to the place that they’re in right now.
Q Are you saying that Clovis is being misinterpreted by George Papadopoulos?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not getting into the detail of that. I’m talking specifically about the multiple attempts that he made in setting up a variety of meetings. There were more than one instance in which he tried to set up meetings that were rebuffed by the campaign. He lied about a lot of those activities, and that is the place that you, I think, see come through in the emails that were voluntarily turned over.
Q Let me ask you about one thing you said yesterday. You were asked at one point during yesterday’s briefing when the President became aware that Russia was behind hacking and possession of emails. You said, “I’m not sure of the specific date of when that took place, so I’d have to look and get back to you.”
MS. SANDERS: Yeah. I can respond to that now. The President was briefed in a pretty widely publicized meeting back in January. Later that very day, he said publicly that he had received the intelligence briefing and he believed Russia was behind the email hacks.
Thanks so much guys. I hope you have a happy and safe Halloween.