Watch: White House Press Briefing with Sarah Sanders, Larry Kudlow and John Bolton – 11/27/18 [video + transcript]
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a joint briefing with National Economics Council Director Larry Kudlow and National Security Council Advisor John Bolton to update the media on the issues and events of the day.
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Later this week, the President and First Lady will travel to Argentina for the G20 Summit. President Trump’s participation in the G20 Summit is a key opportunity to reiterate his commitment to domestic and global economic growth and prosperity, cement relations with other world leaders, and advance a global economic system that is based on fair economic competition and free, fair, and reciprocal trade.
While at the G20, the President and the delegation will interact — interact with many leaders, including bilateral meetings with the President of Argentina, the President of Russia, the Prime Minister of Japan, and the Chancellor of Germany, and a working dinner with the President of China.
To speak more about the G20 and what the President intends to accomplish, I’d like to welcome to the podium Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow and, following him, National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton.
After their remarks, both will be available to take your questions on the G20 and other foreign policy news of the day. And then I’ll be back up to take other questions on news of the day. Thanks.
MR. KUDLOW: Thank you, Sarah. Thanks everybody. Let me just walk through some quick themes and then I want to mention some things the President talked — talked to us just a little while ago.
As Sarah said, G20 — funny, it’s not actually the G20 when we count it up properly. As Ambassador Bolton points out, it’s much more than the G20.
Now, in terms of the U.S. positions, we’re going to use this as an opportunity to talk about our measures of tax cuts and deregulations, and reskilling and job training, and so forth that have generated significant economic growth and prosperity. And that includes women’s economic empowerment.
As Sarah mentioned, free, fair, and reciprocal trade and trade reform. There’ll be discussions of infrastructure, finance, and also the U.S. emergence as the dominant energy power in the world today, actually.
In terms of the much-discussed meeting — it’s going to be a dinner meeting between President Trump and President Xi and representatives from both sides. It will be a bilateral. I want to just mention what the President told us a short while ago and that is, in his view, there’s a good possibility that a deal can be made and that he is open to that. He is open to that.
But having said that — some caveats, as always — certain conditions have to be met with respect to fairness and reciprocities. We’ve said many times, for example, issues of intellectual property theft must be solved. Forced technology transfers must be solved. Significant tariffs and non-tariff barriers must be solved. Issues of ownership have to be solved.
The President will probably reiterate his view: We want a world, ideally, of zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies. Now, whether they can through all of that remains to be seen but that’s the President’s point of view, as I said just a little while ago.
The U.S. is coming to the summit in very good shape. Our economy is quite strong. It’s growing at 3 percent over the past year. Second quarter was 4.2. Third quarter was 3.5, perhaps to be revised upwards. We’re in a very strong holiday season, so-called “Black Friday.” Very strong.
We’ve had tremendous investments — business investments, energy investments. Oil prices and gasoline prices are coming down. That helps consumers of course. We’re in very good shape.
China, not so good. I’m not here to critique or second-guess the Chinese economy, but most observers believe China to be in a slump, whereas the United States is in a very strong solid position going into this summit.
However, again, to repeat, the President said, there is a good possibility that we can make a deal. And he is open to it. But on the other hand, if these conditions I mentioned a few moments ago are not met and not dealt with — you know, the President said, look, he’s perfectly happy to stand on his tariff policies, which — 10 percent, the last $200 billion — scheduled to go to 25 percent. That’s not a certainty, but that’s the schedule.
And he has said as recently as yesterday, the day before, if need be — if things don’t work out in this U.S.-China summit meeting, he will invoke another 267-some-odd billion dollars in tariffs. That may not be the first choice. I’m just saying that is his view if we can’t get something done.
And things have been moving very slowly between the two countries, until the President himself called President Xi and said, “Let’s restart. Let’s try to get things going again.” And then, since then, he’s made positive comments about that. So we will see.
As I said, the key U.S. goals surround growth and prosperity. And you know, our economy is in good shape; theirs is not.
I’ll just leave it right there. John, do you want to add stuff to that? Do you want me to take some questions?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Go ahead.
MR. KUDLOW: You sure? Okay, good. Let me take some questions and try to help out on this.
Q Mr. Kudlow, I’d like you to address some concerns recently from representatives in Italy and France and Germany who say that we’re actually backing away from the national stage and they fear that Russia will be the dominant economic force in Europe and the Middle East in the coming years. Could you address those concerns, A? And, B, can you tell us a little bit, if you can, about the layoffs at GM?
MR. KUDLOW: Well, I’ll talk to you about GM layoffs. Regarding the Russian story, I’m going to leave that to my long-time friend and colleague, John Bolton.
I met with Mary Barra yesterday and we had a lengthy conversation about the layoffs, the cause of the layoffs. It’s a great disappointment, obviously.
The President indicated his own disappointment. He believes — as, frankly, the Prime Minister of Canada, Trudeau, believes — that the USMCA deal was a great help to the automobile industry and to autoworkers. And, by the way, they made those statements separately.
And yet, GM comes in right after the deal — by the way, that deal will be signed in Argentina with the U.S. and Canadian representatives. So there’s great disappointment there. There’s disappointment that it seems like GM would rather build its electric cars in China rather than in the United States.
We are going to be looking at certain subsidies regarding electric cars and others — whether they should apply or not. I can’t say anything final about that, but we’re looking into it. Again, that reflects the President’s own disappointment regarding these actions.
Ms. Barra told me on the other hand — I want to be completely fair here — it’s her business — it may be possible to transfer workers to other plants in Texas and Michigan. I’m not an expert on General Motors. I’m not an analyst — auto analyst. But that’s what she said.
But obviously there’s lot of disappointment, even anger. I’ve heard it, again, from Mr. Trudeau, from President Trump, from Democrats and Republicans.
Q And just to follow up, do you think it’s going to adversely affect our economy coming to the Christmas season and after?
MR. KUDLOW: No. I mean, look, I don’t want anybody to get laid off. I’m — I want workers to do very well. I want worker wages to do well, and they are. I mean, that’s one of the great things.
You know, there’s a certain amount of pessimism that I’m reading about. Maybe it has to do with a — really, a mild stock market correction. Let’s not forget a couple weeks ago. Just on this very point, we had 250,000 new jobs, which was a blockbuster number. Nobody really expected it. With a 3.1 percent yearly gain in wages and a 3.7 percent unemployment rate — those are very spiffy numbers by any benchmark in any metric.
So again, holiday season layoffs from GM — brutal. Brutal. All right? Very disappointing. Will it affect the overall economy? I don’t think so. I do not think so.
Q Yeah, back to the question over the tariffs and — if these talks with President Xi go nowhere and we move forward with this escalation of the tariffs that you just described — which, correct me if I’m wrong, would be the biggest addition of tariffs that we’ve seen in your lifetime — what will the impact be on the U.S. economy? I mean, you — and I’m asking —
MR. KUDLOW: That’s a long — that’s a long period of time you mentioned. My lifetime.
Q Well, you know, but I — (laughter). I mean, you have been a committed free trader for almost all of those years.
MR. KUDLOW: Yes.
Q So what will be the impact on the U.S. economy if we see tariffs go up to the degree that you just described?
MR. KUDLOW: You know, we’ll see what happens, okay? I don’t want to presuppose anything. The President is going to make up his mind after the meeting.
But I will say this: Our economy is in very good shape right now. And when you multiply through whatever numbers you want to use — $250 billion or tack on another tranche, which may or may not happen, at a 10 percent tariff rate or more — it’s really just a fraction of our economy. Okay? It’s just a fraction of our economy.
I’m not suggesting that there aren’t winners and losers in that game. It’s a complicated game. But on the other hand, I think we are in far better shape to weather this than the Chinese are.
And I want to say one other thing. I really appreciate your characterization; I am a free trader. But you have to ask yourself — and this is what President Trump has been talking about — is it free trade when there is clear evidence of unfair and WTO illegal trading practices by China for several decades? Is that fair? Is that free? Is it free when intellectual property theft occurs or when Chinese ownership of American companies force transference of technology from American companies to the Chinese companies? Is that fair? Or high tariffs on agriculture and industrial supplies, is that fair?
So President Trump is the first President in, I don’t know, at least 20 years — and I’m including Democrats and Republicans — who not only has made this case but continues to make this case forcefully and to take actions to defend American workers and our overall economy. Other Presidents in both parties have raised the issue and then walked away from it and President Trump obviously doesn’t intend to.
You know, this is under the heading, I think, for him, of “Promises made, promises kept.” It’s something he’s talked about for several years and he now continues.
If China will come to the table — or, in this case, the dinner table — with some new ideas and some new attitudes and some new cooperation, as the President said, there’s a good possibility they can make a deal. He’s open to it. So nothing is written in cement or stone. But, again, for a free trader, where’s the free trade?
And, for several months now, since I’ve been here, the President and I have talked about this — you know, we’d love to see a world of zero tariffs, and zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies. We’d love to see that world. But unfortunately we don’t have that world, particularly with respect to China, but not only China. And so he’s taking actions that he thinks will get us closer to that world.
We can go around. Yes, please.
Q Thanks. Just another GM question: When the President said yesterday “they better damn well open [up] a new plant there very quickly,” was he just venting his frustration? Or does he have some consequences in mind if they don’t?
MR. KUDLOW: You know, I’m going to leave that to him. You may find additional announcements coming on that topic.
Some more? Let me go in the back. Yes, ma’am.
Q I wanted to ask you about what Ambassador Cui Tiankai said recently to the Wall Street Journal.
MR. KUDLOW: Who?
Q Ambassador Cui Tiankai, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States.
MR. KUDLOW: Yes.
Q His thought was that there would be a real risk to global — to the global markets if there wasn’t a deal. That they could become fragmented as well. How big are the stakes if you can’t reach a deal?
MR. KUDLOW: Look, the ambassador makes a point. Now, if he would do his part or his government would do their part, then we can all make a much better point. That’s what President Trump is saying.
I mean, I’ll read you the quote again. There’s a “good possibility” we can make a deal, and he’s open to it. But certain conditions, you know, have to be met. Certain things have to be changed. And the President, again, in the spirit of “Promises made, promises kept,” is going to defend, you know, the interests of the American workers and ranchers and small businesses and the economy writ large.
We’ve — let me just add one other point to this: The rest of the world agrees with us. I mean, we signed, at the U.N., for example, the trilateral agreement with the EU and the United States and Japan — worth looking at that document, which outlines, you know, what they call “non-market abuses.” Read: China.
Just recently, before the Shanghai conference where President Xi was to give an important speech — I’m not sure there was much new there. But in any case, just before that conference, with no prodding from the USA, the ambassadors — the French and German ambassadors to China — the French and German ambassadors to China wrote a very tough piece going after, again, non-market, unfair, non-reciprocal trading practices. There is broad-based support for the American position here, which is China should change its practices and come into the community of responsible trading nations.
They can do that. Right? They’re a major economy right now. It’s not like they were 25 or 30 years ago. We would welcome it. The President has said he’s happy to make a deal, but they have to take certain actions and give certain assurances. So, you know.
Q Director, does that mean you’ll spend the G20 getting that support around your position from other countries at the G20?
MR. KUDLOW: I’m sure we will. I’m sure we will. We have in many other forms. It’s got more — I want Ambassador — I want Ambassador — yes, please.
Q Mr. Kudlow, thank you.
Q Yes, he was talking to me.
Tariffs are — in effect, are tax on imported products that are paid for by the consumer. So does the President realize that these escalated tariffs are going to be paid for by the American citizens?
MR. KUDLOW: Well, look, he realizes the ramifications. As I said earlier, given the strength of our economy, given the size of our economy, we are in position to deal with this and handle this very well. That’s the key point. And I’m not so sure about China, but I’ll leave that to China experts, and so forth and so on.
The benefits — let me just look at the other side of the ledgers. Very important. The benefits of true, free trade, globally, will be enormous. You know, if we go back to the idea of zero tariffs, and zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies; if China plays by the rules, even the WTO rules — and all of that needs reforming, in our judgement — but they are violating those rules. If we do have a free trading system or we move in the direction of the free trading system — a true free trading system — we will benefit enormously. And, frankly, we will benefit, they will benefit, and the rest of the world will benefit.
You know, free trade throws off enormous benefits when it’s done properly, and consistency, and in a reciprocal manner. That’s the key point the President emphasized and he’s absolutely right.
So, you know, I think of it — this is a — possibly a long rainbow here, and at the end of that rainbow is a pot of gold. You open up that pot and you have prosperity for the rest of the world, but you got to get through that long rainbow. We’re not there yet. We can get there, the President is reaching out, but we’ll see how that works.
Yes, go ahead. I’m sorry. Yes, go ahead.
Q Thank you, sir. Earlier, you mentioned low oil and gas prices as evidence that the President’s economic policy is working. You mentioned the U.S. becoming the global dominant energy player. But merely days ago, the President said that it was necessary to let Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince get away with ordering the murder of a Washington Post journalist because Saudi Arabia ensures low gas prices. Now, which one is it sir?
MR. KUDLOW: I’m going to let Ambassador Bolton handle that question. I’m trying so hard to swim in my own lane, and I think John will help out with that whole discussion. He’s sitting there much too calmly and quietly so I want to get him up here. We’ve known each other a very long time.
You’re on, John.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Well, I’m delighted to be here. (Laughter.) I don’t really have much to add. Sarah gave you the list of bilaterals. Let me just update it a little bit because we’re trying to fill every minute of the President’s schedule.
She said he’s going to meet with President Macri, the host government of Argentina. He’ll meet with President Moon of South Korea. He’ll meet with President Erdoğan of Turkey, Prime Minister Abe of Japan. That will transform at some point during that meeting into a trilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. And then, as Sarah said, the President will meet with President Putin, and have a working dinner with President Xi.
Yeah, right here.
Q Thank you, sir. Does the President have any plans in the works to meet with the Saudi Crown Prince while he is there?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: No. Look, the bilateral schedule is full to overflowing at this point, and so those are ones that I’ve listed that he’ll be meeting with.
Q Hello? Yes. I have a question about the border tensions right now with the U.S. and Mexico.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Yes.
Q The U.S. launched tear gas canisters into Mexican soil, and I’m wondering if you’ve gotten any — if Mexico has given the go ahead before that happened. And what is the U.S. doing to mitigate any tensions right now with the incoming López Obrador administration?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Yeah. I don’t think that’s really a subject of the G20. But I can say that Secretary of State Pompeo, who will be attending the G20, and therefore will not be accompanying Vice President Pence to the inauguration on Saturday the 1st — Secretary Pompeo will fly overnight from Argentina to Mexico, and will meet with the new foreign minister of Mexico on Sunday the 2nd. And they’ll have a full conversation about all the issues in connection with the border.
Q What do you expect to be on the agenda for the President’s meeting with Putin?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Well, I think all of the issues that we have on security issues; on arms control issues; on regional issues, including the Middle East — I think it will be a full agenda. I think it will be a continuation of their discussion in Helsinki.
Q Thank you so much, Ambassador. Two questions about Brazil since you are heading there on Thursday to meet with the new incoming President from Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. One on trade that I know is one of the priorities: For the past few years, Brazil had a trade surplus with Brazil.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: The United States had a trade surplus with Brazil?
Q Just last year, $27 billion alone. And besides of that, President Trump complained about the Brazilian protectionism. He said Brazil is one of the “toughest” on trade access. What should we expect — related to trade relationship with Brazil — with the new Brazilian government? Should we expect more cooperation or more tariffs like those on steel and aluminum?
And another one on Venezuela that I know is another priority of the meeting. What kind of cooperation are you expecting with the new Brazilian government? Are you guys going to discuss sanctions?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Well, the meeting with President-elect Bolsonaro came as a result of President Trump’s call on election night in Brazil to congratulate President-elect Bolsonaro. They had a really outstanding phone call — I think developed a personal relationship, even remotely. President Trump was the first foreign leader to call President-elect Bolsonaro.
So, following up on this, we thought it would be useful and certainly very helpful to the United States to hear from the President-elect what his priorities are, what he’s looking for in the relationship.
From the perspective of the United States, we see this as a historic opportunity for Brazil and the United States to work together in a whole host of areas: economics, security, and a range of others. So I’m really looking forward to hearing what the President-elect’s priorities are, try and respond to him, and try to tell him a little bit about what President Trump’s views are. And hopefully, when President-elect Bolsonaro is inaugurated on January the 1st, that the two leaders can really get off to a running start.
So I’m just really there to prepare the ground for them.
Q Ambassador Bolton, you tweeted earlier today about a case involving an American family that’s being held in China. Is the President — have you talked to the President about this case? What is he — if so, what has he told you? And will he bring this up directly at his meeting with Xi Jinping and expect the family to be allowed to leave before any trade deal is done?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Well, I’ve discussed the question of American hostages and people wrongfully held with him on a whole range of subjects. I don’t want to get into what his reaction was, because I don’t think those conversations should be public. But this is a matter of real concern to us. And I think, given that the range of issues that President Xi and President Trump will be covering, it’s entirely possible that that would come up.
Q Ambassador Bolton.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Yeah.
Q Thank you. Back to that meeting with President Putin and President Trump. Will President Trump condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine? Does the U.S. consider it an act of war? And has he spoken with either Putin or Poroshenko about what happened?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Look, Ambassador Haley, in the very estimable position of U.N. ambassador, spoke for the United States yesterday at the Security Council and we’re going to stand on that statement.
Q Ambassador Bolton, I just had a question about the — you mentioned the bilat with the Turkish leader. They’ve been very critical of the U.S. position backing Saudi Arabia with respect to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Are you concerned that that will affect the relations with the U.S. ally?
And I wanted to follow up — that audio intelligence of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, have you heard that tape? And does it conclusively point to the Crown Prince as ordering the killing of Jamal Khashoggi?
And one final one —
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I’m supposed to remember all these? (Laughter.)
Q I’ll prompt you, if need help.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Thank you.
Q And finally, is it true the White House is blocking Gina Haspel from speaking to senators about that audio intelligence on Wednesday?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: So, let me take the question of the tape first. No, I haven’t listened to it. And I guess I should ask you, why do you think I should? What do you think I’ll learn from it?
Q Well, you’re the National Security Advisor. You might have access to that sort of intelligence.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Yeah. How many in this room speak Arabic?
Q You don’t have access to an interpreter?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: What, you want me to listen to it? What am I going to learn from — I mean, if they were speaking Korean, I wouldn’t learn any more from it either.
Q Well, an interpreter would be able to tell you what’s going on.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Well, then I can read a transcript, too.
Q Okay. So you don’t think it’s important that you hear that as the National Security Advisor?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I’m just trying to make the point that everybody who says, “Why don’t you listen to the tape?” Unless you speak Arabic, what are you going to get from it, really?
The President — the President has spoken to our position on this issue. He’s spoken very clearly. And that is our position.
Now, tell me the other questions.
Q Are you blocking Gina Haspel from —
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: No, certainly not.
Q — sharing information with members of the Congress?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Certainly not. Certainly not.
Okay? No, back here in the back.
Q Mr. Bolton, could you —
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Sorry. The man in the back.
Q Okay, so the Argentinian authority captured two Hezbollah suspects last week. And Brazil probably is going to follow the American footsteps and blacklist Hezbollah also on terrorist list.
And also, Hezbollah is replying for the sanctions — the last sanctions — by blocking the formation of the new government; it’s a quotation for Saad Hariri. So how will you put all this together? Is it going to be discussed in the G Summit — [G]20 Summit — Iran and Hezbollah influence the region?
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Well, I expect in the bilateral meetings, depending on the country, that there will be substantial conversation about counterterrorism efforts where we participate together. That’s certainly something that may well come up in Brazil with the President-elect Bolsonaro. And I think it’s one of President Trump’s biggest priorities, to extend cooperation against terrorism, whether it’s Hezbollah or Hamas or others.
So, entirely likely, it could be a subject.
Q Ambassador, going back to the Khashoggi issue. Being informed about an issue is part of, I guess, what is in the scope of national security.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: We try to be.
Q Okay. But in the midst of it, why not — I’m going to go back to that question again, sir. Why not get a translator to understand, to hear what happened? You could find out a little bit more than what they’ve told you by listening.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: People who speak Arabic have listened to the tape, and they have given us the substance of what’s in it.
Q And you trust those who’ve given you the substance —
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I don’t speak Arabic.
Q I know. But a translator — you could hear the emotion, and a translator could help you understand what happened at that time to relay to the President, to the United States, and to convey to the world what happened.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I’m very satisfied that we know what the tape picked up. And it was factored into the President’s decision. And he’s announced his position very clearly.
Q As economic security is national security, I think this should be in your lane.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I was going to defer to Larry, but it’s —
Q (Laughs.) Let me see if I can keep it in your lane, if I could. The talks with China have been marked with intransigence, disappointment. Larry was talking about that at length this morning — this idea of some sense of optimism going into this Saturday night dinner with Xi. Is it based on any notion that Xi is going to suddenly say, you know, “This idea of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer, protectionist tariffs — I don’t know what we were thinking. It was a bad idea. Let’s level the playing field and start anew.”
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Well, I think President Trump has developed a very positive relationship with President Xi. They’ve met. They’ve spoken over the phone. Obviously, both leaders carry in to any discussion like this their national interest. And I think it’s instructive and I think the Chinese side believes the same thing — to have the two leaders exchange their views in the presence of their senior advisors. And not with the expectation that, at this meeting, there’ll be some substantial agreement coming out of it, but that there would be an indication, a kind of way ahead that the advisors could then pursue.
And I see Sarah is so eager to be here to answer your questions (inaudible).
MS. SANDERS: I was going to give him one more but —
Q Well, Mr. Kudlow deferred a question to him. Could he answer the question that was deferred to him, please? Mr. Bolton. (Inaudible) Bolton.
MS. SANDERS: I think he’s already going. (Laughter.)
As you know, the new President of Mexico will be inaugurated on Saturday. To represent the United States in Mexico City, President Trump has asked the Vice President Mike Pence to lead a delegation that will include the Second Lady of the United States Karen Pence, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, United States Embassy Mexico City Diplomat John Creamer, and Assistant Secretary of State Kimberly Breier.
Lastly, this morning, we learned the sad news that three U.S. service members were killed and three wounded when an explosive device detonated in Afghanistan.
The wounded service members were evacuated and are receiving medical care. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of those killed and to those recovering.
The United States is grateful for their service and forever in debt of their sacrifice.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Sarah, the Guardian is reporting today that Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange around the time that he was coming onboard with the Trump campaign. I’m wondering if you know if that meeting took place, and if you remain confident in the White House’s repeated denials that no campaign officials were involved in discussions about the plans to release John Podesta’s emails?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, I remain confident in the White House’s assertion that the President was involved in no wrongdoing — was not part of any collusion. The things that have to do with Mr. Manafort, I would refer you to his attorneys to address that.
Q Sarah, given what the President said this morning that Robert Mueller is “ruining” people’s lives, is he considering a pardon for Paul Manafort, or for others who were prosecuted and have been prosecuted?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any conversations for anyone’s pardon involving this process at all.
Q And if I can follow up — he also said this morning Mueller is “doing TREMENDOUS damage” to the criminal justice system. If that’s true, is he considering picking up the phone, calling his acting Attorney General, and saying, “Fire Robert Mueller?”
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that the President has had Robert Mueller doing his job for the last two years, and he could’ve taken action at any point, and he hasn’t. So we’ll let that speak for itself.
THE PRESIDENT: So is he (inaudible) it out now?
MS. SANDERS: He has no intent to do anything.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Over the weekend, we saw some powerful images of children, as well as adults, who were affected by tear gas fired by U.S. officers along the U.S.-Mexico border. We heard the President talk about that at length yesterday. But one thing we did not hear from him was any expression, really, of regret that there were children caught up in this. I was wondering, does the White House regret the fact that children were affected by tear gas, and that this situation took place? And are they — is there an investigation underway to prevent this from happening again?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the White House would never want children to be in harm’s way in any capacity whatsoever.
However, that is why we are continuing to encourage people to follow the law and go to ports of entry. Law enforcement officials have used appropriate, non-lethal force to protect themselves, and prevent an illegal rush across the border.
And let’s also not forget that this isn’t the first time that non-lethal force like this has been used. In fact, tear gas was used on average once a month during the Obama administration for very similar circumstances. In fact, they were actually for far less circumstances, because they didn’t have the same numbers in the mass rush that we’re seeing in this caravan take place.
Certainly no one wants women or children or any individuals to have this happen, which is why we’ve encouraged them to actually follow the law and go to ports of entry.
Q And, Sarah, if I may, can I just follow up real quick on something that Ambassador Bolton actually — when he ruled out a bilat that the President and MBS — is the White House ruling out any interaction between the President and the Saudi Crown Prince, and is he sort of in the equivalent of a diplomatic time-out?
MS. SANDERS: I wouldn’t say that we’ve ruled out any interaction. I know that the President’s schedule is pretty packed and has a number of sessions that he’ll be involved in with the G20, as well as a number of bilats. I don’t think there is any time for us to add anything additional. Whether or not there is some interaction, I’m not going to rule that out and we’ll keep you guys posted as to what happens tomorrow.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Yesterday in Mississippi at his rally, the President said — he asked a question about Mike Espy. He said, “How does he fit in with Mississippi? I mean, how does he fit in?” I guess suggesting that he doesn’t fit in. I mean, Mike Espy’s great-grandparents were slaves in Mississippi. What did the President mean by that?
MS. SANDERS: Due to the fact that is an election that is taking place today, I’m not going to comment on anything that could affect anything taking place in Mississippi. And I’m certainly happy to comment on that after today.
Q Thanks a lot Sarah.
Q But the President was talking (inaudible) —
MS. SANDERS: The President is not guided by the Hatch Act.
Jon, go ahead.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Does the administration have a position on the President of Ecuador continuing to provide asylum to Julian Assange at its embassy in London?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of anything official. I’d have to get back to you.
Q Just one more on that, if I may, Sarah. Will you, from the podium, call on the Ecuadorian government to confirm whether or not some sort of meeting may have taken place between Paul Manafort and Julian Assange at its embassy?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we encourage the process to continue to play out, but I’m not going to get engaged in specifics of that case.
Q Sarah, President Trump has implied that a potential new deal with Mexico is a done deal, tweeting that migrants will stay in Mexico as they wait for their cases of asylum to be processed. How far along are talks with the new Mexican administration about the so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy?
MS. SANDERS: Those conversations continue. We won’t have a final decision until the new government actually takes over, which will happen on Saturday. And on Monday, we expect the Foreign — the new Foreign Minister for Mexico to meet and sit down with White House administration officials and the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and continue and try to finalize those conversations.
Q A second question on Khashoggi because, tomorrow, Secretaries Pompeo and Mattis will brief the full Senate on the murder. Why is a leader of a U.S. intelligence agency not joining them — specifically Gina Haspel, who many senators expect to hear from?
MS. SANDERS: Ambassador Bolton addressed this. I’m not going to comment on behalf of the CIA Director in that capacity. That’s something that I would direct you to them to answer.
Q Sarah, I want to ask you about the climate assessment that your administration released last week. The President, yesterday, when asked about the economic forecast, essentially said he didn’t believe it.
The takeaway for many people is that the President doesn’t feel necessarily a responsibility to lead, either in this country or in the world, on climate change and preventing the calamity that your administration forecasts. Do you agree with that view? And if not, why not?
MS. SANDERS: The President is certainly lean- — leading on what matters most in this process. And that’s on having clean air, clean water. In fact, the United States continues to be a leader on that front. Even Obama’s undersecretary for science didn’t believe the radical conclusions of the report that was released.
And you have to look at the fact that this report is based on the most extreme modeled scenario, which contradicts long-established trends. Modeling the climate is an extremely complicated science that is never exact.
The biggest thing that we can do is focus on how to make sure we have the cleanest air, the cleanest water. And the President is certainly doing that and certainly leading on that front.
Q Sarah, how is he doing that? I mean, the President is about to go to Buenos Aires and meet with all the leaders of the world’s industrialized nations — and developing nations, as well. Isn’t this a great opportunity for him to sit at the table and say, “Folks, this is what my administration just reported. This is the time that we all have to act in concert to prevent what my administration is forecasting”?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, we think that this is the most extreme version and it’s not based on facts. It’s based on — it’s not data-driven. We’d like to see something that is more data-driven. It’s based on modeling, which is extremely hard to do when you’re talking about the climate.
Again, our focus is on making sure we have the safest, cleanest air and water. And the President is going to do exactly that.
Q Sarah, I want to go back to GM. President Trump early on in January 2017 met with the big three automakers, and he said he wanted to make the U.S. a more attractive place for companies to manufacture products by lowering taxes and business regulations. What does this move, this action by GM say?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, it’s disappointing to see that GM decided to lay off these workers. The President has been extremely committed to bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States, which is why, since he took office, we’ve seen 400,000 new manufacturing jobs created in the United States. It’s because of his policies that we’ve seen that grow.
This is not about the President; it’s about the fact that they’re making a car, frankly, that people don’t want to buy. And hopefully they will make adjustments and make changes and bring those workers back.
Q Sarah, getting back to Paul Manafort and the Special Counsel’s office saying that he’s violating the terms of his plea agreement by lying to investigators. Would the President recommend that Mr. Manafort begin to cooperate, offer full cooperation to the Special Counsel’s office?
MS. SANDERS: We can only speak to what our role is in that process. And not only has the President, but the entire administration has been fully cooperative with the Special Counsel’s office, providing hours and hours of sit-downs, as well as over 4 million pages in documents.
We continue to be cooperative, but we also know that there was no collusion and we’re ready for this to wrap up.
Q And if I could ask a follow-up? The President doesn’t believe the warnings in the climate report. The President doesn’t believe the CIA when it comes to Jamal Khashoggi. The President doesn’t believe the —
MS. SANDERS: That’s not accurate.
Q — intelligence community when it comes to Russia meddling. Why doesn’t he have faith in his advisors?
MS. SANDERS: That’s not true. The President has a great deal of faith in the intelligence community and certainly in the team that he has assembled around him.
However, I’ve addressed the climate report. There’s really nothing else to add on that front.
Q But on Khashoggi, you said that that was not true, that he doesn’t believe the CIA. He said the other day: Maybe MBS did, maybe he didn’t — the Crown Prince.
MS. SANDERS: And we haven’t seen definitive evidence come from our intelligence community that ties him directly to that. What we have seen is a number of individuals that we know are tied to that and those individuals have been sanctioned. The people that we have no doubt about their involvement, we’ve taken action on. And as he said, we’ll see what happens beyond that. And if there is more definitive information, we’ll make a decision at that point.
Q Sarah, the “Remain in Mexico” meeting that you talked about on Monday, is that happening here or in Mexico? And is the United States offering Mexico any international assistance to help accommodate the migrants seeking asylum who would be staying in Mexico as a result?
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, on that second question, do you mind repeating that? I was — the first part on whether or not the meeting is here or in Mexico, I’ll get back to you on that. I’m not sure on the exact location.
Q Okay. Is the United States offering Mexico any financial assistance, or does the United States plan to, to accommodate the migrants who would be staying in Mexico as a result?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of financial assistance, but certainly we’ll keep you posted if (inaudible).
Q Just to clean up — just to clean up on the bilats. You mentioned in your list a bilat with the Chancellor of Germany, but the Ambassador did not. Has that bilat been canceled?
MS. SANDERS: No, it hasn’t. I just think he was giving additional updates on the one that I didn’t mention.
Q Sarah, the President tweeted at length yesterday about the Mueller report, asking if it was going to show both sides. What are his concerns about any forthcoming Mueller report? And as that report is supposed to be delivered to no one else by the attorney general, is he concerned that’s it going to become public without his knowledge?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think the President has any concerns about the report because he knows that there was no wrongdoing by him and that there was no collusion. So I don’t think he has concern on that front.
Q If he has no concerns, why is he tweeting so vociferously about it?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the President has voiced his unhappiness from the beginning that this has gone on — this ridiculous witch hunt — for more than two years. Still nothing that ties anything to the President, and we’d like to see it come to conclusion.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Does the President believe that the work of the Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller is illegitimate?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Does the President believe that the prosecutions — the indictments of Bob Mueller are illegitimate?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President believes that what I’ve said several times today and several times over the last couple of years — that there was no wrongdoing on his part; there was no collusion by his campaign. And beyond that, that’s really all we can speak about here at the White House.
Last question. Hallie.
Q Thank you. Two questions for you. The President, as you were speaking, is tweeting that he is going to be considering cutting all GM subsides, including for electric cars. Can you explain why — he says that he thinks that would help American workers. Can you explain why that wouldn’t end up backfiring as we’ve already seen, and who the President has consulted, and what a timeline is for this decision?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know that there is a specific timeline. As he said, he’s looking into what those options might look like. The President wants to see American companies build cars here in America, not build them overseas. And he is hopeful that GM will continue to do that here.
Q And my second question for you is on Afghanistan. The President, on Thanksgiving Day, told U.S. troops that we are winning the war in Afghanistan, which contradicted what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said — that it was a stalemate. Does the President today still believe, after what we saw over the weekend, that we are winning in Afghanistan? And why?
MS. SANDERS: Certainty anytime you have a loss of life, particularly by an American service member, it is a horrific tragedy and something that no President wants to see, certainly not during their administration. And the President wants to make sure that the battle that we’re fighting takes place there and not here. And he’s going to continue consulting with his national security team and make decisions on how best to move forward beyond that.
Thanks so much, guys. Have a great day.