Watch: White House Press Briefing 3-9-18 [video + transcript]
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a briefing to update the media on the events and issues of the day including:
- North Korea willing to talk de-nuclearization
- Steel and Aluminum tariffs
- The departure of Gary Cohen
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Happy Friday.
Q Happy Friday.
MS. SANDERS: We are once again seeing strong evidence that the American Dream is back and real under President Trump’s leadership. Based on today’s jobs report, the President’s economic policies of historic tax cuts and deregulation are working.
The Obama administration was losing around 1,000 jobs a month in the manufacturing industry. But since the President’s election, manufacturing jobs have increased by 275,000.
Over 300,000 jobs were created in February alone, bringing the total number of jobs created since President Trump was elected to nearly 3 million.
The Federal government is getting out of the way, and the American people are innovating, building, and creating jobs.
In other news today, the President has pardoned Kristian Saucier, a Navy submariner. Mr. Saucier was 22 years old at the time of his offenses, and has served out his 12-month sentence. He has been recognized by his fellow servicemembers for his dedication, skill, and patriotic spirit.
While serving, he regularly mentored younger sailors and served as an instructor for new recruits. The sentencing judge found that Mr. Saucier’s offense stands in contrast to his commendable military service. The President is appreciative of Mr. Saucier’s service to the country.
With that, I will take your questions. John.
Q Sarah, what are the considerations that are under discussion for the location that this meeting between the President and Kim Jong-un would take place?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, as we said last night, a time and place have not yet been determined. We’ll certainly make those announcements when more decisions and more information is available on that front.
Q But what are the considerations that are under discussion for where this could take place? I mean, you wouldn’t — I take it you wouldn’t want to have it in downtown Pyongyang.
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, and we’re not going to have those conversations between me, and you, and the press. Those will be conversations that take place at a much higher level, and, certainly, outside of this room.
Q And just if I could —
MS. SANDERS: Sure.
Q The South Korean national security advisor said that the U.S. responded positively to a South Korean request for a waiver on the steel tariffs. Could you tell us where you are on that?
MS. SANDERS: As the President’s proclamation said yesterday, there were two countries that were specifically excluded, and there would be the opportunity for us to negotiate on matters of national security with other countries. And we’re going to be doing that with a number of different countries.
Q Sarah, does the President think that Kim Jong-un is sincere about talking about denuclearization?
MS. SANDERS: The President is hopeful that we can make some continued progress. Look, what we know is that the maximum pressure campaign has clearly been effective. We know that it has put a tremendous amount of pressure on North Korea. And they have made some major promises. They’ve made promises to denuclearize. They’ve made promises to stop nuclear and missile testing. And they’ve recognized that regular military exercises between the U.S. and its ally, South Korea, will continue.
The maximum pressure campaign, we’re not letting up. We’re not going to step back or make any changes to that. We’re going to continue in that effort, and we’re not going to have this meeting take place until we see concrete actions that match the words and the rhetoric of North Korea.
Q But does he think that Kim Jong-un can be trusted as a negotiating partner?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re not in the negotiation right now. We’ve accepted the invitation to talk, based on them following through with concrete actions on the promises that they’ve made.
Q And if I could just ask you just one other thing. Lindsey Graham said about this news. He said, “A word of warning to North Korean President Kim Jong Un — the worst possible thing you can do” with Donald Trump, in person, is to meet with him “in person and try to play him. If you do that, it will be the end of you — and your regime.” Is Lindsey Graham reading the President correct on that? Is that a correct —
MS. SANDERS: I think that Lindsey Graham knows that President Trump is one of the best negotiators. And certainly, I think that he has great confidence in his ability, and is glad that he’ll be the one at the table for the United States. I think Senator Graham has been on the other side of that, and certainly knows the capabilities and the determination of President Trump.
Q Sarah, why did the President accept this invitation without any preconditions? For example, without demanding that the North Koreans release the three Americans that are being held there.
MS. SANDERS: Look, that’s something that we’re going to continue advocating for and pushing for. But let’s not forget that the North Koreans did promise something: They’ve promised to denuclearize, they’ve promised to stop nuclear and missile testing, and they’ve recognized that we’re going to continue in our military exercises.
Let’s be very clear: The United States has made zero concessions. But North Korea has made some promises. And, again, this meeting won’t take place without concrete actions that match the promises that have been made by North Korea.
Q And I wanted to follow up on that because you just said that now. Do you think that a two-month time period is enough time to make sure that they will actually fulfill those promises? He said he wants to do it by May.
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re working on the determination of the time. But let’s not be lost in the fact that this didnt happen overnight. This maximum pressure campaign and this process has been ongoing since the President first took office.
For the first time in a long time, the United States is actually having conversations from a position of strength, not a position of weakness, like the one that North Korea finds itself in due to the maximum pressure campaign.
Q Does that mean it might not be May?
MR. SANDERS: Again, we havent set a time or a location. Those things have yet to be determined.
Q Sarah, you said they promised to denuclearize. Did they promise to denuclearize or did they promise to talk about denuclearizing?
MR. SANDERS: The understanding, the message from the South Korean delegation is that they would denuclearize. And that is what our ultimate goal has always been, and that will have to be part of the actions that we see them take.
Q Is that before or after the meeting?
MR. SANDERS: We’d have to see concrete and verifiable actions take place.
Q Before the meeting?
MS. SANDERS: Yes. Yeah.
Q Sarah, isnt the President giving Kim Jong-un exactly what he wants, which is respect and stature on the international stage?
MR. SANDERS: Not at all. I think that the President is getting exactly what he wants. He is getting the opportunity to have the North Koreans actually denuclearize.
Look, you have to remember, nothing is changing from the United States’ position. We’re going to continue the maximum pressure campaign. We’re going to continue working with our allies and partners to do that. And we’re going to continue to ask them to step up and do more. Nothing is changing from our side when it comes to this conversation.
Q But there’s no guarantee this will be any more than a photo op? Kim Jong-un gets his equal footing, in his view, on the world stage, with the leader of the free world, and the President gets nothing.
MR. SANDERS: I certainly disagree with — I definitely don’t think that the President is getting nothing, when we’ve already said — and, frankly, I’ve said it many times since walking in here in the last 10 minutes — that the President will not have the meeting without seeing concrete steps and concrete actions take place by North Korea.
So the President would actually be getting something, and, frankly, the world would be getting something. If we can get to a place where North Korea is denuclearizing, that is a massive step and it’s something that will make the entire globe much safer. And even President Moon has said that this is because of the leadership of President Trump.
Q And one small follow-up question, which is — and I apologize for that — which is, given the economic news and the North Korea news, what words would you use to describe the President’s mood right now?
MR. SANDERS: The President is in a great mood. The President has been in a great mood because we’ve had not just a successful couple of days; we’ve had a successful year. And we’re very focused on making sure we have seven more.
Q Sarah, thank you. Top officials at the White House and at the Pentagon seemed to be taken by surprise by the announcement. Was this done in a haphazard way?
MR. SANDERS: Not at all. As I said, that this has been part of an ongoing campaign that’s been going for over a year. And just because some of the individuals that may regularly leak to the press werent involved in the conversation doesnt mean that the appropriate parties that lead those agencies were not in the room and not part of that discussion.
Q But the President came here to the briefing room, though, before reaching out to the President of China. Is that appropriate? Should he not have reached out to his international partners first before making an announcement here?
MR. SANDERS: Look, we had ongoing conversations with leaders across the world. The President simply said there would be an announcement. He had several conversations with world leaders, both last night and today.
Q Were you aware he would make this decision beforehand?
MR. SANDERS: Again, the President had conversations with a few world leaders, both last night and today. This is something that all of these countries have been working together on and something that we’re going to continue to work with our allies and partners on.
Q And was the Secretary of State aware that he was going to make that decision, Sarah?
MR. SANDERS: Yeah, and the Secretary of State’s deputy was in the room at the time these conversations went on. So it’s absurd to pretend like they werent part of this process and havent been part of this process all along.
Q Sarah, to follow on what Peter was asking, how will the President and the United States be able to verify this before the meeting? How will they be able to verify the denuclearization?
MR. SANDERS: That’s something that will be determined through the national security and intelligence community. Certainly not something I would read out to you guys from here.
Q The President has said repeatedly that previous Presidents, his predecessors, have mishandled this and misplayed this. Why can he be so confident that this is the right move, when, just in October, he was telling his own Secretary of State it would be a waste of time to talk directly?
MR. SANDERS: Well, I think it’s really clear that they’ve misplayed it, or we wouldnt be in the position that we’re in. The President wouldnt be having to clean up the mistakes of the previous three administrations. The President is getting promises out of North Korea that havent been made in any recent years. And again, we are going to continue the maximum pressure campaign to make sure that they follow through on these commitments.
Q Who would he like to have with him —
MR. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep moving.
Q If I could just ask, who would he like to have with him at the meeting? The Secretary of State? I mean, there is not an ambassador now in South Korea. Does he plan to step up more before this meeting?
MR. SANDERS: Look, the President has an incredible team that is surrounding him, both from the National Security Advisor, Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the intelligence community. But at the end of the day, the ultimate person to lead that negotiation — or that conversation and be at the table will be the President.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The North Korean government has made promises before; they’ve reneged on those promises in two prior administrations. What’s different now? Why should we trust Kim Jong-un now?
MR. SANDERS: Again, because the United States is going to continue that maximum pressure campaign. We are making no concessions and we are not going to move forward until we see concrete and verified actions taking place by North Korea. We are also operating from a position of strength that we havent had in previous administrations due to the maximum pressure campaign — not just by the United States.
Let’s not forget that a lot of our allies and partners, like China, South Korea, Japan, have stepped up and done infinitely more over the past year due to the President’s leadership than they have in the previous administrations.
So this is a collective effort to put that pressure on North Korea, and it’s going to continue. North Korea is in a place of weakness, and that is certainly recognized by the promises that they’ve made through this conversation.
Q Kim Jong-un has starved his own people, he’s murdered his own people. You could say he’s responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier. Why put him on the same stage as the President of the United States?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President wants to make sure that we denuclearize the Peninsula, and that we’re securing and helping have a safer world.
I’m glad that you guys are acknowledging a lot of the problems of North Korea, because just a couple of weeks ago, a lot of members in the press were actually elevating North Korea and some of the members of the regime, and comparing them to people in the United States and in this administration.
I think that is actually what put North Korea on a similar stage. No action by this administration has even remotely demonstrated a level of rise that the media did during the Olympics and through some of those stories.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday, the South Korean official came out to the stakeout location and said that this meeting would be taking place by May. But you did not say that in your original statement; that’s not what you said today, that a place and time has not been set. So was there some sort of a miscommunication about that? Because that was definitely what had been said by Mr. Chung yesterday evening.
MS. SANDERS: No. I’m simply saying that a time and place haven’t yet been set.
Q Okay. And so, moving on from that point, can you kind of explain to us how this did end up coming about last night? Because we had the President pop his head in here at roughly close of business to say to some reporters who were around that there was going to be this announcement —
MS. SANDERS: Maybe that’s you all’s close of business. Our hours must be a little later than you all’s.
Q Well, you know, around 5 p.m., I mean.
MS. SANDERS: I’m pretty sure you guys were all still here.
Q So, he popped his head in here, though, and said that there would be an announcement coming around 7 p.m. from the South Koreans. Then the White House ends up telling us that it will be here on this property. Then it wasn’t until an hour after that that you even sent out a statement affirming the details — some of the details, not the main part of what this announcement that President Trump would be meeting with Kim Jong-un.
Can you walk us through how that all happened, from the President popping in here, to the fact that a South Korean official, and not the White House, briefed us on our own property outside?
MS. SANDERS: Again, this was the result of the South Korean delegation, who had met with the North Koreans earlier in the week, coming here to give us an update on their conversations and their meetings, and relaying that information, and us responding to that.
Q So why didn’t the White House —
MS. SANDERS: And the reason for the South Koreans — I believe that was the end of your question — addressing is because those were the individuals that had directly spoken with the North Koreans, and they were the ones that were making that response.
Q So it was the President’s idea to come in here and make that statement?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, absolutely. It was the President’s idea to come into the briefing room and alert you all of an announcement coming a couple hours later.
Q On the issue of denuclearization, and going back to Peter and to Jeff, there’s a black hole, when it comes to intelligence, as to what’s really happening in North Korea. What is going to be put in place, specifically, to qualify and quantify what is actually there? When you talk about denuclearization, what are you denuclearizing? How many? We don’t know. Specifically, what is in place? Are you going to employ world bodies beyond what you have? What is in place? What do you plan on doing?
MS. SANDERS: That’s something that is going to be determined by the intelligence community, the national security team, and not something that I would relay from the podium to all of you.
Q But it’s very important — when you have something — some kind of meeting of this nature, it’s very important to understand what is at play. Because he could say, I’m denuclearizing and not denuclearize everything.
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s very important for our intelligence communities and our national security community to understand that, and they do. And that is going to be a major part of any conversation and something, though, that I’m not going to relay at this point, certainly, ahead of any conversation.
Q And last question — one more subject, last question. Did President Trump — when did President Trump, after that photo, see Stormy Daniels? Did he text, email? Do you have any other information?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t. We’ve addressed this extensively and I don’t have anything else to add.
Q I have a California question. Wednesday, Governor Brown said that Donald Trump was declaring war on California. Now I know that the President has given Jerry Brown money to his campaigns before. Have they talked on the phone recently? And when the President goes to California next week, will it be war or will it be peace?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry I couldn’t hear the last part.
Q When the President goes to California, will it be war or will it be peace? What does the President plan on doing?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think if anybody is stepping out of bounds here, it would be someone who is refusing to follow federal law, which is certainly not the President. And we’re going for what we hope to be an incredibly positive trip.
The President is going to look at prototypes along the border, and also meet with and speak to the members of our armed services. He’ll be speaking with members from all five branches of the military, and I don’t think that could be anything but a positive thing.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two brief questions. Stating the date coming up and who might accompany the President, or who’s expected to accompany them, could we assume, then, that General McMaster will remain National Security Advisor throughout the duration of the negotiations?
MS. SANDERS: I have no reason to believe otherwise.
Q And that means — so it could be in the fall of this year; it could be later. But he’ll still be on there to advise?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future, but the President’s National Security Advisor is General McMaster. He’s a valued member of the President’s team, and an important part of this process.
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry? I can’t hear you.
Q He’s not leaving anytime soon?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of, John.
Yeah, Brian. Go ahead.
Q Thanks. Thanks. Different policy question for you, different issue. Three weeks ago, the President came out in a speech and said that we’re going to have the largest nuclear force ever. Hopefully, we’ll never have to use it. We’re going to be so far ahead of everyone else in nuclear like you’ve never seen before, far in excess of anyone else. And as far as disarmament, he said, “We won’t lead the way. We’ll go along with them.”
The day after that, OMB Director Mulvaney came in here and said that you all were going to spend close too — or are proposing to spend close to $50 billion to upgrade and enhance the nuclear arsenal.
The week after that, the President — or a head of Russia came out and said he has a first-strike weapon. Now, whether or not you believe that he has a first-strike weapon, isn’t it inherently dangerous for the owners of the two largest nuclear arsenals to engage in brinkmanship? And why are we abandoning our role as a peacemaker in disarmament?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think that’s the point anyone is making. The President wants to make sure that we have the most robust and modern military. He’s been in constant conversations with the Secretary of Defense and acting, in large part, on the recommendations of the Secretary. And I think everybody can certainly rest assured knowing that Secretary Mattis is making good decisions when it comes to how best to rebuild and modernize the military.
Q But this is global thermonuclear war we’re talking about. You don’t come back from that. Isn’t it dangerous to talk about brinkmanship?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s dangerous to push something that — a narrative that is not at all what this administration is pushing.
Q But he said it.
MS. SANDERS: I’m talking. We’re talking about the safety and security of this country. We’re talking about making sure we have the strongest military in the world so that we can operate from a place of strength. And that’s what we’re doing.
I’ll take one —
Q As far as North Korea goes, can you define —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry. I’m going to keep moving. I’m going to take one last question. Hallie.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Just two questions, Sarah, clarifying what you’ve said from the podium. Is there a possibility that these talks with North Korea, with Kim Jong-un, may not happen?
MS. SANDERS: Look, they’ve got to follow through on the promises that they’ve made, and we want to see concrete and verifiable action on that front.
Q So it’s possible that could not happen?
MS. SANDERS: I mean, there are a lot of things possible. I’m not going to sit here and walk through every hypothetical that could exist in the world. But I can tell you that the President has accepted that invitation on the basis that we have concrete and verifiable steps.
Q And then, second: You said from the podium — you acknowledged that the President, to follow up on April’s question, knows about the arbitration involving Stormy Daniels. So does he remember speaking with his lawyer about that? Does he remember meeting Daniels back in 2006?
MS. SANDERS: I’ve addressed this extensively. I don’t have anything else to add.
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, I did tell Trey I’ll take one last question.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Quickly on North Korea, what specific steps is the President taking to prepare for this major summit with Kim Jong-un?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has been preparing for this for quite some time in his regular briefings with the intelligence community, with his national security team. He’s going to continue doing that, and with other subject matter experts.
But, also, the President is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and dealmaker when it comes to any type of conversation, as I think is reflected in Senator Graham’s statement. And we feel very confident in where we are.
Thanks so much, everyone. Have a great weekend.