Watch: White House Press Briefing 3/1/18 [video + transcript]
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a briefing to update the media on events and issues of the day including:
- Resignation of Hope Hicks
- Putin’s bluster on Russian nuclear missiles
- School safety progress
- Tariffs on steel and aluminum
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Let me start by saying what a meaningful experience it was to attend yesterday’s ceremony preceding the lying in honor of Reverend Billy Graham. Reverend Graham left this Earth last week, but his legacy will live on for eternity.
As the President said during his remarks, “Everywhere he went, Reverend Graham delivered the same beautiful message: God loves you.” That’s a message that we should all stop and really consider a little more often. The President and First Lady will also be attending Reverend Graham’s funeral in North Carolina tomorrow.
I’d like to highlight some positive and important work the House did on Tuesday by passing H.R. 1865. This bill empowers federal, state, and local prosecutors to hold websites accountable for supporting the sale of sex-trafficking victims.
As you may recall, the President and Ivanka Trump met with survivors, law enforcement officials, and victims’ advocates here at the White House. He made it clear that this administration will fight to hold sex traffickers accountable and to ensure survivors have the support they need.
This bill is an important step forward. And the White House appreciates the House taking action on a bipartisan basis.
Earlier this week, I mentioned that we were going to begin regularly highlighting the historic obstruction of Senate Democrats, an issue that threatens the safety and security of the American people.
As a reminder, compared to the four previous administrations, this Senate has confirmed the fewest nominees. Half of the President’s highly qualified nominees are still waiting on confirmation.
Today, we have another example. Two-hundred and seventy-six days ago, Kevin McAleenan was nominated to be Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Kevin’s primary responsibility would be to help safeguard American borders, keeping both terrorists and their weapons out of our nation, all while facilitating lawful international trade. Kevin should be preventing terrorists and contraband from entering the nation, yet he is still awaiting Senate confirmation.
Senator Schumer should stop putting the safety and security of the American people at risk and immediately confirm him.
And with that, I will take your questions. John.
Q Sarah, the President announced, at the meeting a little while ago, punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that would take effect next week. Ten percent for aluminum; twenty-five percent for steel. He announced them even though the fine details have not been worked out yet about what countries will be involved, whether there are any exemptions. The Dow is down about 500 points as a result of this. Some of our allies, including Canada, are saying that these actions are unacceptable. Why did the President announce them now, particularly before the details have even been worked out?
MS. SANDERS: The President is announcing his intent to sign those actions next week. We’re not going to get into any more details until those details are finalized, but that is what he intends to do next week, when he was making that announcement.
Q Is he concerned about the results or the effects that his announcement has had so far?
MS. SANDERS: The President is concerned about the men and women of this country who have been forgotten about, the industries that our country was founded and built on. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. This is something, frankly, the President has been talking about for decades; certainly something he talked about regularly on the campaign trail; and something that he’s delivering on, making that clear today. And those details and that actual announcement and signing will take place sometime next week.
Q Sarah, the President often talks about stock market reaction to his Presidency. Is he surprised to see the market down after making this announcement without explanation on tariffs? And do you have any detail on why he decided to announce it today? As John was asking, you know, it seemed kind of sudden when we were called in for that event. It wasn’t something on our, necessarily, public schedule.
MS. SANDERS: This is something, again, that the President has been talking about for a long time. It’s not a surprise. And we’re going to continue doing what we can to protect American workers. That was something that the President committed to during the campaign. This is something that he feels is vitally important.
Q But 25 and 10 percent is specific, and that was new.
MS. SANDERS: Yeah. That part is new. And he’s announcing his intent to make those things happen next week. And we’ll have more details on that.
Q Did he make that decision today?
MS. SANDERS: Again, this is something the President has wanted to do for quite some time.
Q But why was it a surprise to, you know, the press gathered there? It wasn’t on the schedule when we were through —
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think that the President always tells you guys everything first, but it’s certainly something he’s been talking about for a long time.
Q Well, it seemed like you haven’t told some at the White House, because there were these competing events.
MS. SANDERS: Look, these are conversations that the President has been having for a long time. He’s made his intentions very clear to the team at the White House. And I don’t think it came as a surprise to anybody here.
Q Can you say that 10 and 25 are set, or could that change between now and next week?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s the intent, but until those details are finalized, Im not going to get into any more specifics right now.
Q Thank you, Sarah. A couple questions for you. First, a number of the members of the President’s Cabinet have fallen under public scrutiny; in some cases, inspectors general, for spending, whether it be first-class travel. In the case of Ben Carson, a $31,000 dining set. The President talked about it on the campaign that he was going to drain the swamp. So does he plan on draining some of his Cabinet?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t — in terms of if you’re asking if he’s getting rid of anyone on the Cabinet, I’m not aware that that’s taking place at any point right now. To be clear, on Secretary Carson, the order that you referenced was cancelled and they’re looking for another option that’s much more responsible with taxpayer dollars.
Q Well, Sarah, you said a number of times that when the President loses confidence in a member of the Cabinet, he tells us. So that means we haven’t heard that, so he has confidence in these people. So can you explain why the President has confidence in some of these members of his Cabinet — in Carson, Shulkin, Pruitt, Zinke — there have been a number — there are numerous investigations into some of their conduct and spending? So why do they have the President’s confidence?
MS. SANDERS: Look, starting with the VA, with Secretary Shulkin, the President is glad for the job that he’s been doing in reforming the VA and modernizing the VA, a lot of the movements that they’ve had there. And he supports him in those efforts.
But they’re also — we have been reviewing these actions and making sure that we’re being very responsible with taxpayer dollars. This is something that the President has asked all of his team to go back and look at.
Q Just one quick one on guns. Senator McConnell, up on Capitol Hill, a few minutes ago, said that next week the Senate would not be moving forward with the Fix NICS legislation that Senator Cornyn has put forward, and Cornyn said that they’re going to be discussing (inaudible) regulation and potentially also human trafficking next week, and not gun legislation.
After yesterday’s session, it seems that Republicans are running away from what the President wanted a, sort of, quick solution to this — a quick resolution on this front. Why didn’t the President have the clout on Capitol Hill that a President — this is a Republican President, Republican Congress — why can’t he seem to get Congress to bend to his will?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think it’s necessarily about bending to his will. I think it’s about an ongoing discussion about the best pieces of legislation that they can put forward. Yesterday was certainly an important part of that. The President has met with a number of stakeholders. Next week, he’ll also be meeting with members of the videogame industry to see what they can do on that front as well.
This is going to be an ongoing process and something that we don’t expect to happen overnight, but something that we’re going to continue to be engaged in and continue to look for the best ways possible to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect schools across the country.
Q Sarah, does the President want to get rid of his Attorney General?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I know of.
Q And how about Jared Kushner?
MS. SANDERS: No.
Q Is Jared Kushner becoming a distraction, given all the controversies that he’s been at the center of in recent days?
MS. SANDERS: Look, Jared is still a valued member of the administration and he’s going to continue to focus on the work that he’s been doing, and we’re going to continue pushing forward on that front as well.
Q And are there any concerns about conflict of interest, given those meetings that he had with executives from companies that gave his family business millions of dollars in loans?
MS. SANDERS: I would refer you to the statement that was put out by his attorney.
Q But conflict of interest appearance even? Concerns about that here at this White House?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I would have to refer you to the statement put out by his attorney.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Back on the tariffs announcement. Is the President concerned about the impact that this may have on America’s allies, like Canada, the UK, the EU?
MS. SANDERS: The President’s biggest concern is making sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect American workers, and that was what his announcement on his intentions next week are specifically geared towards. This isnt something that he’s shied away from or something that he hasn’t spoken about regularly and often, or something that he’s going to stop talking about at any point soon.
Q Is the President concerned about any retaliation coming from any of the countries that may be impacted by this announcement?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q And one final thing. Just wanted to ask you about a comment and get your reaction to — Republican Senator Ben Sasse put out a statement in regards to these new tariffs. He said that, “The President is proposing a massive tax increase on American families. Protectionism is weak, not strong.” And he concluded by writing, “You’d expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one.” Do you have a comment on that?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know that the President will, or should ever, apologize for protecting American workers. And certainly not to Senator Sasse.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Let me try to drill down on this. You say you won’t be getting into details at this point. So if there are details to get into, should we read into it that there will be exemptions for certain countries?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the final details that will be put out next week. At this point, there’s no additional information to share as this is all being finalized.
Q Has the President made up, in his mind, which countries he might exempt or at least is considering?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get into any details on this front and I don’t have anything further to add on his intentions that will take place next week.
We’re a little bit tight so I’m going to keep moving. Jordan.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Yesterday was the deadline that Chairman Gowdy set for the White House Chief of Staff to reply to his questions about security clearances at the White House. Was that request met? Did the Chief of Staff send a reply to Chairman Gowdy?
MS. SANDERS: We’re having conversations with the committee and we’re going to continue working with them. And I can’t go any further than that at this point.
Q Do you have, at least, the time you think that you might answer the committee?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’re in regular conversations with them and we’re going to continue working with them.
Q Thanks, Sarah. This week, the President expressed frustration with his Attorney General and the Department of Justice as it relates to the process to look into FISA abuses. What would the President like to see done differently?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has made clear that he has a lot of concerns, like you said, with the current FISA process. Nothing makes the problems of FISA cleaner than what was outlined in both the Republican and Democrat memos.
The FBI used political campaign material to get a warrant to spy on American citizens. They failed to disclose to the judge that the dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, even as it was being used to spy on people associated with the Trump campaign. Obviously, that alone shows us that the process needs to be looked at closely and reformed to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect the privacy of American citizens.
Q And as it relates to that tweet, could you elaborate on the relationship between the President and the Attorney General? Does President Trump believe his Attorney General is disgraceful?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has made his frustrations very clear. I don’t have anything else to add.
Q What was the President’s reaction to what the Mayor of Oakland, California, did last weekend when she tipped off residents that there was an imminent immigration raid coming? Does he feel that the mayor broke the law, and now the Justice Department is looking into that?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s outrageous that a mayor would circumvent federal authorities, and certainly put them in danger by making a move such as that. And that’s currently under review by the Department of Justice, and I don’t have anything else to add.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I got two for you. First, I know you’re averse to providing details about the tariff plan. Does the President plan to couple the tariff plan with any policies to mitigate the impact on, say, the auto industry?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I don’t have anything else to add at this point.
Q And, very open ended, did you take note of President Putin’s speech? And do you have a reaction to his rhetoric and threats about these invincible weapons?
MS. SANDERS: Yes. President Putin has confirmed what the United States government has known all along — which Russia has denied — Russia has been developing destabilizing weapons systems for over a decade in direct violations of its treaty obligations.
President Trump understands the threats facing America and our allies in this century and is determined to protect our homeland and preserve peace through strength. U.S. defense capabilities are, and will, remain second to none. And now, because of the new defense budget of $700 billion, our military will be far stronger than ever. As the President’s Nuclear Posture Review made clear, America is moving forward to modernize our nuclear arsenal and ensure our capabilities are unmatched.
Q Yeah. Thank you, Sarah. Two short questions. First, can you confirm or deny that the President has made a decision to go for the outside for a successor to Hope Hicks as Communications Director, rather than promote from within?
MS. SANDERS: The decision on that hasn’t been made. I don’t have a personal announcement.
Q The other thing is that the President has a good relationship with Senators Manchin of West Virginia and Toomey of Pennsylvania. Has he been in touch with either of them to discuss further the proposed universal gun ban that’s been floated around since last week?
MS. SANDERS: I know that they were both a part — attended the meeting earlier this week. The President also spoke, I believe, with Senator Toomey earlier today, but has not seen that final legislation, as discussions are still ongoing. And so I can’t say where we fall in position on that piece of legislation at this point.
But he is continuing to have conversations and is going to continue to be engaged with members of Congress across the board.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was due to be at the White House today for the opioid summit. Did the President have an opportunity to speak to him while he was here?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Okay. And then moving on to gun violence prevention. The President said yesterday that he would sign a bill, and then he said, “And I will call whoever you want me to if I like what you’re doing.” If Senators, if the House, if Congress, passes a bill that does deal with school safety, gun violence, is the President committed to signing whatever they pass?
MS. SANDERS: The President is not going to unilaterally say without seeing that piece of legislation. But he does want Congress to come together and put forward a piece of legislation that addresses the safety in schools and gun violence, specifically. And he laid out a number of things he’d like to see in that, and so we’re hoping that Congress will continue working with us and put a strong piece of legislation forward.
I’m going to take one last question. The President — hey, guys, hold on just a second. The President is headed over to speak at the opioid summit here momentarily.
I’ll take one last question. Sarah.
Q Thank you, Sarah. So according to the White House readout, there was a phone call this morning between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Trump. Moon Jae-in briefed him on the inter-Korean talks. The South Korean government is also saying that they plan to send a special envoy to North Korea soon. How does the President feel about the dialogue between North and South Korea? Does he welcome it, or is he concerned? And does he feel that President Moon is being too soft on North Korea?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants to continue working with South Korea as a strong ally, and we have no daylight between the two of us. We’re going to continue those conversations. Again, the ultimate goal is to denuclearize the Peninsula. That’s what we’re focused on. And we’re excited about any steps moving forward in that process.
Thanks so much guys. I’m going to move out. The President will be speaking here in a couple minutes.