Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds an on camera press briefing.
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Transcript of the press briefing to follow
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:43 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Apologies for the delay. It’s great to be back with everybody. Certainly missed seeing most of you who weren’t on the road.
Q Most of us.
MS. SANDERS: Most of you. I gave myself a little wiggle room there.
The President’s historic five-country trip to Asia was an incredible success. He rallied the world against the menace of North Korea; strengthened our alliances and showed our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region; and took a stand for fair and reciprocal trade. As a result of the trip, American families will be safer and more secure, and American workers and companies are one step closer to competing on the level playing field they deserve.
Speaking of leveling the playing field for our workers and businesses, the President applauds the House for passing the Tax Cut and Jobs Act — a massive step toward fulfilling our promise to deliver historic tax cuts for the American people by the end of the year.
We are encouraged that the House and Senate continue to work together to deliver what the President asked them to do: allow hardworking middle-class families to keep more of their money, and empower our companies and workers to dominate their global competition.
The Senate Finance Committee is also making progress on its companion bill, and will soon advance it to the floor for a vote.
A simple, fair and competitive tax code will be rocket fuel for our economy, and it’s within our reach. We’ll bring back our jobs, we’ll bring back our wealth, and as the President has said many times, we’ll bring back our great American dreams. Now is the time to deliver, and we fully expect the Senate to follow the House’s suit.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. Cecilia.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions — two topics, if I may. Does the President believe Roy Moore’s accusers, or does he think Roy Moore should drop out of this race?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President believes that these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks that the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their next senator should be.
Q So that’s a no? He thinks Roy Moore should stay in?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President said in his statement earlier this week that, if the allegations are true, then that Roy Moore should step aside. He still firmly believes that.
Q How would the President like to see that truth proven?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to get into and litigate back and forth. But the President has been clear that if any of these allegations are true — allegations that he takes very seriously and finds very troubling — if those do happen to be true, then he should do the right thing and step aside.
Q Does the President believe the accusations themselves — that is to say the women themselves and their own credibility — can be established outside of them making these allegations? What’s the mechanism by which the President would be satisfied that the allegations are true?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t think the President has laid out what the mechanisms are. That should be determined possibly by a court of law. But that’s also something and a decision that the people of Alabama need to make, not the President, whether or not they want Roy Moore to support them in the Senate.
Q Sarah, Ivanka Trump says that she has no reason not to believe the women who have come forward. Does the President disagree with her position?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President is not disagreeing with anybody. He’s saying that he finds the allegations to be extremely troubling. He doesn’t know any more than you do on this fact, other than that these are something that should be taken very seriously and that the people of Alabama should be the ones to make the decision on whether or not to support Roy Moore.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Having the information that we have and the information that the people of Alabama have, would President Trump vote for Roy Moore?
MS. SANDERS: The President is not a voter in Alabama, so —
Q I know he’s not, but he endorses candidates all the time in states that he’s not a voter in. And if he says, “I would vote for this person or I wouldn’t,” would he vote for Roy Moore.
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him if he would vote for Roy Moore.
Q Would you get back to us on that?
MS. SANDERS: Yes. Jon.
Q Thank you, Sarah. A number of Republican senators have pulled their endorsement for Roy Moore. They’ve urged him to step aside. And Senator Sheldon said he wouldn’t even vote for him; he would write someone in on the ballot. Senator Cruz has pulled his endorsement. The President is not only President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief, he’s also leader of the Republican Party. Why won’t he weigh in on this? Why won’t he take the same type of strong position that these other Republican senators have taken on Roy Moore?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President supported the decision by the RNC to withdraw resources from this race, but feels it’s up to the people of Alabama to make a decision. So I don’t have anything further to add on that.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I don’t mean by asking about that to suggest it’s necessarily the most important thing facing the country right now, but it happens to be my story assignment for the day. You say that the President finds these allegations against Mr. Moore, Judge Moore, to be very troubling, extremely troubling, et cetera. As we all know, the President faced a number of similar allegations, or somewhat similar allegations during the course of the campaign, and he vigorously denied them.
But I wonder what you would assert to be the difference between the two situations such that, on the face of things, we should find one set of allegations very troubling and, on the other, we shouldn’t pay attention to them at all or we should totally disbelieve them.
MS. SANDERS: Well, I think the President has certainly a lot more insight into what he personally did or didn’t do, and he spoke out about that directly during the campaign. And I don’t have anything further to add beyond that.
Q Sarah, I’d like to ask you about two other topics. The tax bill passed the House today. One of the things that the tax bill does is increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. I know the White House has argued that that will be paid by growing the economy. But if the economy doesn’t grow, how do you square that with the Republican view of — or general principle that deficits are bad?
And on a second —
MS. SANDERS: Well, I mean, I just disagree with the premise of the question. We do expect the economy to grow. We’ve seen that happen over the last 10 months, and we expect that to continue.
Q But are you confident that the economy will grow consistently enough to cover these costs that otherwise would lead to a ballooning deficit?
MS. SANDERS: Yes. That’s been part of our process and part of what we’ve laid out from the beginning. We expect this to be consistent, and that’s certainly what we hope for. That’s one of the reasons that the President continues to push for things like deregulation that have helped boost the economy. He’s going to continue to push things that help do that and accomplish that, and we feel confident moving forward.
Q Sarah, let me ask you about the tax code as well. On the House side, they passed it today. The Senate side still has a ways to go. These are similar but they are also different bills and plans. At this point, does the President have a preference for the House or the Senate bill? And if so, which one?
MS. SANDERS: Right now, both bills achieve the President’s priorities — that’s been his focus: tax cuts for middle-class families; simplifying the tax code; slashing tax for businesses of all sizes so they can grow, create jobs, raise wages for their workers, and compete in the global marketplace.
He’s laid out those priorities. Right now, both of those pieces of legislation do that, and that’s what he’s been focused on throughout the process.
Q You didn’t say they’re repealing the Obamacare individual mandate. Is that a priority for the President as well?
MS. SANDERS: That’s something the President obviously would love to see happen. But in terms of the big things that he laid out on the very front end of the principles for the tax reform package, it’s those things I just laid out.
Q Sarah, thank you very much. I have a question about the trip. But just, first of all, does his endorsement of Moore still stand?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as I’ve said, the President believes this is a decision for the people of Alabama to make, not one for him to make.
Q Okay. And my question about the trip is that he’s made a strong argument that having a good relationship with Russia and with Vladimir Putin is a good thing for the United States. Does the President believe that Putin would ever lie to his face?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as the President said many times before, he doesn’t think that it’s helpful for him to get into a back-and-forth argument with Vladimir Putin. But he does think that there are places where we can work with Russia, particularly whether it’s on Syria, North Korea, or other big global issues that the world is facing. And that’s been the President’s focus and he’s going to continue to look for ways that we can work with them that help America.
Q Can I ask you another question about tax reform? Thirteen Republicans in the House today broke from the President, broke from their party leaders because they believe that this bill will actually increase taxes for some, if not many or most, of their constituents in California, New Jersey, and New York.
Those 13 members represent millions of people who, in theory, voted for the President believing that he would lower their taxes. So what does the President say to those people? And how is this whole tax reform endeavor for them not a bait and switch?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President is still incredibly focused. He’s laid out his priorities of making sure that this tax plan helps those in the middle class, and that’s exactly what it does. That’s the focus of both pieces of legislation in the House and the Senate.
Q On Roy Moore, would the President campaign with Roy Moore?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q And can I ask you a follow-up? Do you think he’s a creep?
MS. SANDERS: Do I?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t know Roy Moore. I haven’t met him in person, so I wouldn’t be able to respond to that.
Q Thank you. Does the President think that Roy Moore is qualified to serve in the U.S. Senate?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President, as I’ve said about seven or eight times now, thinks that this is a decision for the people of Alabama to make.
Q Sarah, we’ve heard from you and we’ve heard from Ivanka on this. When are we going to hear from the President himself?
MS. SANDERS: The President has put a statement out earlier in the week when we were on the trip, and he stands by that statement.
Q But he’s ignored shouted questions for two straight days. He’s the President of the United States, the leader of the Republican Party; I think a lot of people want to hear —
MS. SANDERS: I’m aware of all of those qualifications of the President, and it’s actually my job to come out here and answer questions on his behalf, which I am doing —
Q But he’s the President.
MS. SANDERS: — which I’ve done, and which he has done repeatedly over the last 12 days while we were on a trip across Asia. So to act like he hasn’t answered questions is just silly.
Q Does he think Senator Al Franken should step down? What does he think of Senator Al Franken?
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Kristen, I’m going to move around.
Q On the other side of the aisle, does the President have a response to the allegations against Senator Al Franken and also the mistrial over Senator Bob Menendez?
MS. SANDERS: On Senator Franken, it appears that the Senate is looking into that, which they should. And we feel that’s an appropriate action. I haven’t asked him about Senator Menendez.
Q Could you talk a little about the decision-making behind apparently appointing Mick Mulvaney to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Board, at least on an interim basis, given the fact that he’s been a longstanding critic of the board — and (inaudible) existence in the first place? And what signal should we take from that in terms of the future of that board and the director?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any announcements on that front at this point, but we’ll follow up with you in the coming days over any movement in that area.
Q Thank you, Sarah. China has announced that it’s sending a special envoy to North Korea tomorrow. The President was just in Beijing. Is that something that the President talked to President Xi about while he was there? Is that something that the President favors?
MS. SANDERS: The President certainly favors China taking a greater role in putting maximum pressure on North Korea. This is one of the things that he and President Xi spoke extensively about over the course of our visit. And certainly any effort in order to denuclearize the Peninsula there in North Korea, then China participating in that, the President certainly supports those efforts.
Q Sorry, I have another question about China and trade. Yesterday in his remarks, the President said that we can no longer tolerate unfair trading practices that steal American jobs and wealth and intellectual property, and the days of the United States being taken advantage of are over. He specifically mentioned China as he said all those words. Does the President still believe that China is raping the U.S. economy?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President knows that there hasn’t been fair and reciprocal trade with China. He doesn’t think that we’ve had great ideals in place with China. And he’s been very clear, and he was very clear directly with President Xi — which he’ll continue to be — that we want to make sure that Americans, and American workers in particular, are getting the best deal and the best pieces possible. That was one of the reasons that he worked to secure massive deals totaling over $250 billion while he was in China. He’s going to continue to push for those types of efforts.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Before the President left for Asia, officials here hinted that North Korea might be added back onto the list of state sponsors of terror. Has the President decided to go forward with that move?
MS. SANDERS: I believe the President will be making an announcement and decision on that at the first part of next week. And we’ll keep you posted on those details.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The Fish and Wildlife Service is lifting a ban and will now allow elephant trophies imported from Zambia and Zimbabwe. President Trump has previously said he disagreed with big-game hunting. Why does he want this ban lifted? And has he changed his view on the practice?
MS. SANDERS: Actually, there hasn’t been an announcement that’s been finalized on this front. But at this point, I defer you to the Department of Interior.
Q I did speak to them today. They said that they have a draft of what’s going in the Federal Register tomorrow.
MS. SANDERS: Again, there hasn’t been an announcement. And until that’s done, I wouldn’t consider anything final.
MS. SANDERS: Again, I would defer you to the Department of Interior for the time being. And when we have an announcement on that front, we’ll let you know.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The Senate Judiciary Committee today sent a letter to Jared Kushner alleging that he did not provide all the information that he should have about his e-mails during the campaign, including e-mails regarding WikiLeaks. Do you acknowledge that Mr. Kushner has not been fully forthcoming?
And then, secondly, Donald Trump, Jr. sent out all of this correspondence with WikiLeaks on his Twitter account. Do you acknowledge that the campaign was in touch with WikiLeaks during the campaign? And was the President aware that his son was corresponding with WikiLeaks?
MS. SANDERS: On the first question, Jared’s attorney will be putting out a statement momentarily. If that hasn’t happened yet, it will happen here within the next half hour or so. So I would refer you to that.
In terms of any other questions dealing with the campaign, I’d refer you to the campaign.
Q Thank you, Sarah. After the House passed the GOP healthcare law, you had a celebration in the Rose Garden. I’m assuming there’s not going to be a celebration today about the tax bill. What are you doing differently this time around?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President was on the Hill earlier today, took praise and rallied support for the vote. He’s very engaged in this process. We’re going to continue to be. And we’re looking forward to seeing the same results come out of the Senate when they pass a bill and sign historic tax cuts and tax reform by the end of the year.
Q Yes, you have talked about the tax bill in terms of fulfilling the promise to middle-class people that the President made during the campaign and afterward. Why does the President support a bill, though, where the individual tax rates will — the cuts will expire at the end of 2025, but the corporate rates will never expire, going down from 35 to 20?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President laid out his principles. That’s what we’ve said all along. We’re counting on the House and Senate to actually put in the details of that legislation that reflect the priorities that the President laid out. We’re going to continue letting this bill work through the process, and right now we think it’s in a really good place and we’re going to keep pushing forward for progress.
Q Does he think that’s a fair bill, to have that one provision expire and the other not?
MS. SANDERS: Again, the President has made clear what his priorities for this legislation are, and we’re going to continue to stay focused on this.
Q Thank you. One of the other things that happened in China right after the President left was that this announcement about more foreign ownership in the financial sector in China was announced, but it was announced after the President left. I wonder if that came up in the conversations between the Presidents and if that was part of any ongoing conversations or deals that were reached during the visit or before the visit.
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure if that specific thing came up. I’d have to check and get back to you.
Q The Chinese Foreign Ministry has taken issue today with the President’s statement yesterday that he and President Xi agreed that there would be no freeze-for-freeze proposal regarding North Korea. What is your understanding, or the President’s understanding of what he and Xi agreed about that? And does the President stand by that statement yesterday?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, both sides made their position clear. They’re different, but we agreed that they’re going to be different positions and therefore it’s not going to move forward.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Sarah, before the President left for his trip to Asia, he called on the Justice Department to look into the Democrats and that situation, as he put it. And then days later, the Attorney General asked special prosecutors to look into the Uranium One allegations in the Clinton Foundation. Did the President cross any lines and try to influence the Justice Department and the Attorney General to look into the situation of the Democrats?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President hasn’t directed any investigation or the appointment of a special counsel. In fact, he said publicly that he hasn’t been involved with that, and that’s entirely up to the Department of Justice.
Q Thank you very much. Going back to Russia just a bit. When he said that he spoke with Putin and he believed that he meant what he said — in other words, there was no collusion with the government —
MS. SANDERS: He actually said he believed that Putin believed what he said, and that he wasn’t going to get into an argument with him over that when they had bigger things, like North Korea, like the issues in Syria that they needed to deal with and work together on.
Q Okay, so the question being, he’s always maintained that it was the Democrats who colluded with Russia. Is he saying that Putin exonerated the Democrats?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President still firmly believes that there was collusion with the Democrats during this election process. But, again, he’s not going to get into the back-and-forth with a world leader that he needs to work with and wants to work with in order to deal with some of the big and serious things that are facing our country right now.
Q Sarah, as a New Yorker, is President Trump concerned at the potential tax increases for hardworking New Yorkers who can no longer deduct state and local taxes, and might cause an exodus from New York losing his spot as the U.S. and world financial capital?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’ve addressed this. A very minimum number of people actually itemize their deductions. But again, I’ve said it a few times today — I feel kind of like a broken record today — but the President is focused on the principles he laid out in making sure that we get the most tax cuts possible for the people of the middle class and for most Americans. And that’s what he’s been focused on.
I’ll take one last question. Eamon.
Q Thank you, Sarah. So Senator Johnson, a Republican, raised some questions about the fairness of the tax proposal, particularly the disparity between corporate and individuals in the way they’re — big corporations and regional corporations in the way they’re treated as well.
So the question is: What concessions is the White House prepared to make to Senator Johnson? And if you do make concessions to him, are you worried that other Republicans will demand their own concessions on issues of importance to them and you’ll have just a revolving door of senators who want something from you in this bill?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s something for the members of this Senate to work through. Certainly not something the President is getting into the — necessarily the back-and-forth of that conversation at this point in time. Again, he spoke with Senator Johnson. He supports the priorities. He wants to work with members of this Senate to bring them together to make sure that we pass historic tax cuts and tax reform.
Q Did he offer Senator Johnson anything when they spoke?
MS. SANDERS: No. But he did encourage him to get on board and support the tax reform package.
Thanks so much, guys. We’ll be around the rest of the afternoon.
4:03 P.M. EST