Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2017- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a press conference in the West Wing of the White House. This one featured Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council and chief economic advisor, and General H.R. McMaster, National Security Advisor. Each made a statement and answered a few questions.
Click the numbers to pick a video feed
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:47 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. The President — a couple of updates here before we get started. The President has been briefed on the shooting at Marshall County High School in Kentucky. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families there, and we offer our sincerest appreciation to the heroic Marshall County deputy who apprehended the shooter.
A few more updates before we bring up a couple of special guests. I’d like to leave no doubt where the White House stands on the Flake, Graham, and Durbin agreement on immigration reform.
In the bipartisan meeting here at the White House two weeks ago, we outlined a path forward on four issues: serious border security, an end to chain migration, the cancellation of the outdated and unsafe visa lottery, and a permanent solution to DACA.
Unfortunately, the Flake-Graham-Durbin agreement does not meet these benchmarks. In fact, it would not secure our border, encourage more illegal immigration, increase chain migration, and retain the visa lottery system. In short, it’s totally unacceptable to the President and should be declared dead on arrival.
The President has been extraordinarily consistent on immigration and what his priorities are. His views are shared by the vast majority of the American people, and have bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
Moving along, we have some incredible economic news to share today. JPMorgan Chase announced this morning that because of the Trump tax cuts, they will raise wages for 22,000 of their employees, create thousands of new jobs, and increase small business by lending $4 billion.
In total, these moves are part of a $20 billion investment plan, for which JPMorgan Chase directly credits the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as well as the President’s historic efforts to rolling back job-killing regulations.
Also, Disney announced that over 125,000 employees will receive a $1,000 cash bonus, and the company is investing $50 million into a new employee education program.
Lastly, Verizon announced today that all of their employees, other than the top management, will receive 50 shares of restricted stock. This amounts to about $2,500 per employee. “Employees will further share in the company’s success,” Verizon said in a release.
We’re only one year in and the President is just getting started, but we’re pleased to see that our great American workers and families are already feeling the positive effects of the President’s policies.
As you know, the President will be traveling to the World Economic Forum later this week. So I’ve brought in a couple of special guests today to preview that trip. NEC Director Gary Cohn, who played a major role in the tax reform effort, and National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster will discuss the trip and answer questions specific to that topic. And then I will be up with more information and to take your questions. Thanks.
MR. COHN: Thanks. I’m not General.
Q But he is —
MR. COHN: I might be “general.” (Laughter.)
Q In general.
MR. COHN: In general. Thank you very much.
Good to see everyone. Thank you, Sarah. It’s great to be here today with General McMaster, my cohort in briefing you guys.
As Sarah said, we’re going to the World Economic Forum to share President Trump’s economic story and to tell the world that America is open for business. We want the world to invest in America and to create jobs for hardworking Americans.
President Trump’s economic agenda has unleashed the U.S. economy, and we are growing. His policies have led to a rising stock market, low unemployment, and strong GDP growth. The administration’s commitment to deregulation, and our passing of comprehensive tax reform, have helped level the playing field for our businesses and our workers.
As a direct result of President Trump’s tax reform and tax cuts, over 100 companies have announced policies that will create jobs, benefit our workers, and grow our economy. This story will only get better as we continue to invest and rebuild America’s infrastructure.
At the World Economic Forum, we will reiterate America’s commitment to domestic and global economic growth and prosperity, strengthen close ties with other world leaders, and catalyze international business support for the President’s agenda.
President Trump will reiterate that a prosperous America benefits the world. When the United States grows, so does the world. The President will continue to promote fair economic competition, and will make it clear that there cannot be free and open trade if countries are not held accountable to the rules.
As the President has said repeatedly, America and his administration supports free and open trade, but it needs to be fair and reciprocal.
We will now share a little bit about the President’s schedule and the economic agenda, and then I’ll hand it over to General McMaster to discuss our national security priorities at the World Economic Forum and the President’s meetings with world leaders.
The President departs tomorrow evening and arrives Thursday morning local time in Switzerland.
On Thursday, he will have a variety of meetings with world leaders and a quick meeting with Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum.
On Thursday night, the World Economic Forum will host a reception with world leaders to honor the President.
Later on that night, the President will host a small dinner with select European companies to share our economic success story and to encourage them to continue to invest in America. The attendees run companies that have sizable footprints in the United States. They have invested in our economy, and we want them to continue to do so and encourage others to join them.
The President looks forward to hearing from these CEOs on how his administration can help them continue to grow their businesses in the United States.
On Friday, he will have more meetings with world leaders, and then he will deliver his speech that will emphasize everything we have talked about today.
Now I’ll hand it over to General McMaster to talk about the meetings.
GENERAL MCMASTER: Good afternoon, everyone.
Q Good afternoon.
GENERAL MCMASTER: The President will use this travel to the World Economic Forum to reiterate his commitment to mutually beneficial partnerships, and, as Gary said, to fair and reciprocal international economic systems.
As the President has repeatedly said and has made clear in the National Security Strategy, economic security is national security.
The President will also use his time in Davos to discuss other national security issues, including the international effort to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, our coalition to defeat ISIS, our efforts to counter Iran’s destructive agenda to perpetuate violence across the greater Middle East, as well as Iran’s ballistic missile activity, and the fundamental flaws in the Iran nuclear deal.
On Thursday, the President will meet with Prime Minister May of the United Kingdom to discuss the conflict in Syria, Iran’s destabilizing behavior, ways to address shortcomings in that Iran nuclear deal, and our shared goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
He will also meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel to reiterate America’s strong commitment to Israel and efforts to reduce Iran’s influence in the Middle East, and ways to achieve lasting peace.
On Friday, the President will meet with President Kagame of Rwanda, who is currently the chairman of the African Union, to reaffirm the U.S.-Africa relationship and discuss shared priorities, including trade and security.
He will also meet with President Berset of Switzerland, the host nation for the World Economic Forum, to discuss bilateral investment, economic growth, and innovation.
In all of his meetings, the President hopes to increase economic opportunities for the American people, to build partnership to address common security goals, and to find new ways of reforming international and regional organizations to make them more effective and more accountable.
The President looks forward to a very productive trip on behalf of the American people. Thank you.
MR. COHN: He outranks me so he said I had to come up here first. (Laughter.) All right. Go ahead.
Q I guess the first question — your economic — as far as economic growth. We just had a litany of businesses that are going to give back to the American people, but isn’t it unfair to give the President credit for that? They already had that money in their coffers, right? I mean, what we’re saying — they would have not turned it loose otherwise? And then I had a second question for him, hopefully.
MR. COHN: Well, I would disagree with your premise completely. You know, look, if they had their money in their coffers, they could have done it last year, the year before, the year before, the year before. It seems like — it’s not “seems like.” Since we have passed the tax reform plan, all of these announcements have been made.
And if you look specifically at the words in most of these press releases, all of them are talking about the regulatory relief, which we saw in the JPMorgan announcement. And we’ve seen the tax plan mentioned directly that companies now feel more comfortable about the economic position they’re in, they feel better about the U.S. economy, they feel more confident about their earnings, and they feel like the lower tax rate allows them to share more of their potential earnings with their employees.
So I think there’s a hundred-percent correlation between what we’ve seen these almost close to 200 companies do and what we have done from a regulatory standpoint and more on a tax policy standpoint.
Q And my follow-up question to you, General McMaster. As you mentioned, North Korea — they have said that they are in talks with South Korea. Has the President’s policy led to where we are now? And how big of a threat is North Korea now compared to even three weeks ago?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, as President Moon has said, it is the President’s policy — his ability to rally international support behind the campaign of maximum pressure — that has made a significant difference.
And what you see that’s fundamentally different from a year ago is the common commitment across all nations that denuclearization is the only acceptable outcome on the Peninsula.
Second, that the international community, and China in particular, does have a great deal of coercive economic power to be able to bring to bear to this.
And the third element is that everyone recognizes that we can’t repeat the mistakes of the past; really, to fall for what in the past has been the North Korean ploy to create the illusion of success in talks, and to use that lock in the status quo as the new normal while they continue to pursue these programs with undiminished vigor.
So the danger is growing. And I think it’s important for all of to recognize the North Korean regime for what it is and how grave a threat this is to the world.
MR. COHN: One other thing — let me follow up — is, on the wage increases, the hourly wages going up, that’s obviously coming out of future earnings. And the stock grants are obviously companies making an investment in their future.
Q Thank you, Gary. I have one question for you and one for the General. So the President is traveling to Davos to present his America First agenda. How can one square an America First agenda with goals of increasing trade? The President has spoken many times of trade deals and other international agreements in which the U.S. is being ripped off and other countries are laughing at us. Does he believe that all of these negotiations and agreements are inherently zero-sum? And that for America to come first, do other countries have to take a backseat, or can agreements be truly win-win?
MR. COHN: Look, the President believes we can have truly win-win agreements. America first is not America alone. I said in my remarks: When we grow, the world grows; when the world grows, we grow. We’re part of it, and we’re part of a world economy. And the President believes that.
He’s going to talk to world leaders about making sure we all respect each other, we all abide by the laws, we all have free, fair, open, and reciprocal trade. And if we live in a world where there are not artificial barriers, we will all grow and we will all help each other grow. And the President truly believes that. He went to the G7, he went to the G20, he went to NATO, he went to APEC, he’s going to the U.N. He’s talked about these positions consistently, and this is exactly what the President is going to talk about at the World Economic Forum.
Q One for the General also. General McMaster, there have been reports in the news recently that leaders — authoritarian leaders in other countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, are using one of the President’s favorite phrases, “fake news,” to describe reporting that is not flattering and it reflects poorly on their country, and reports inconvenient truths.
And President Trump has made a point of not publicly talking about things like human rights and freedom of speech, freedom of expression. Is he concerned at all, or are you concerned that the President’s rhetoric, combined with his silence on these issues, is creating a climate where authoritarian leaders feel they have free rein to do what they want, and the United States will not speak up publicly?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, it’s just not true. It’s just not accurate that the President hasn’t spoken loudly, both in words and in deeds, against those who violate human rights. So I would ask you to go to his speech that he delivered in Warsaw, where he talked about the importance of individual rights and rule of law.
I would say, go to his speech in Riyadh, where he said all nations of the world have to come together to defeat this wicked ideology that perpetuates terrorism.
I would say, look at his U.N. General Assembly speech where he defined sovereignty as strong, sovereign nations who respect the sovereignty of their citizens and the sovereignty of their neighbors.
Look at his deeds — look at his deeds in confronting the most brutal dictatorial regime in the world, North Korea. How could that not be a human rights issue?
How about in Syria, when the Syrian regime committed mass murder of its own people, with the most heinous weapons on Earth. What did the President do? He struck against that regime’s ability to deliver those weapons. How is that not human rights?
Look at the Cuba policy, when the previous policy had done nothing but strengthen the grip of that authoritarian regime. There’s a new Cuba policy, which now tries to encourage a more pluralistic economy and different power centers within Cuba that can then better protect the rights of the Cuban people.
Look at what the President has said and done on Venezuela. The list goes on. So this premise — I mean, this false premise that the President hasn’t spoken on human rights, it’s demonstrably false in words but also in deeds.
Thanks for that question.
Q General, last time you spoke from that podium, you mentioned that it wasn’t useful to shout about human rights.
Q General McMaster, there’s been a lot of talk about you possibly going back into the military. Can you tell us today if you plan on staying in your current role, or if there’s consideration for you to leave?
GENERAL MCMASTER: No, I have a job. It’s a tremendous honor to do this job every day — to advance and protect the interests of the American people, to do my best, to provide options to our President, and once he makes decisions to assist with the execution of those decisions.
So I have a job, and it is my intention to go as long and as hard as I can in service of the President and the nation in this job. Thank you.
Q Gary, I was just wondering if you could talk a bit about what went into —
MR. COHN: And, by the way, he does a really good job. (Laughter.)
Q And actually, don’t let me forget to ask you if you’re staying in your current job, too. (Laughter.)
MR. COHN: Over here? (Laughter.) You can ask that one.
MS. CONWAY: You can ask her.
Q Was that a “yes”?
MR. COHN: That was a “yeah.”
Q I know first you’re going to go to Davos. I wanted to make sure I understood what went into the President’s decision to go to Davos. He’s the first sitting President to go since 2000. A lot of what this forum is about seems to go against his populist American First agenda. Can you explain the decision-making process?
MR. COHN: Again, America first, not alone. The President is very proud of the accomplishments he’s created in his first year when the GDP growth, on the unemployment numbers, what’s going on in the stock market, what we’ve done in reg reform, which is an artificial tax on businesses, what we’ve done on tax reform. We are competitive today. We are competitive with the rest of the world. We have a tax rate that’s competitive with the rest of the world.
The President is going to Davos to speak to world leaders about investing in the United States, moving businesses to the United States, hiring American workers, changing the direction of our economy to be one of the biggest and best and most efficient economies in the world.
The President has done that. As I said, as he’s gone around the world, that’s what he’s talked about. He is firmly committed to keep doing that and being the best salesperson the United States has to drive economic growth and drive prosperity and drive a better quality of life for American citizens.
Q You talked a great deal about some of the positive economic numbers. Can I get you to drill down on workforce participation rate? DOL, I think, gave it a 62.8 percent back in June of 2017. What can, or is the administration doing to get that number up, say, 70, 75 and higher?
MR. COHN: So, I talk about it the first Friday of every month — well, sometimes the second — when the unemployment number comes out. We had two really disappointing components of the unemployment rate — of the unemployment reports, not just
this year, but for the last three, four, five years. We’ve had no wage growth in the United States, and our participation rate has remained stagnant at best.
Part of our tax reform plan was to get people back into the workforce. We need to create more jobs. By creating a tax system that allows us to compete globally with the rest of the world — we’re now at a 21 percent corporate rate, we’re now at a very effective rate for personal businesses that allows them to compete with the rest of the world — we can now compete.
When you compete against the rest of the world, you grow your business, you hire people. When you hire people, you compete for labor. When you compete for labor, you compete by wages. We need to see wage growth in this country, something we haven’t seen in almost a decade.
As we see wage growth, we will make it economically realistic for people to come back into the workforce. It will make sense for them to come back in the workforce. The alternative cost of staying out of the workforce will be way too high once we start seeing wage growth.
The big catalyst for everything we’re doing is to create better jobs, higher-paying jobs, bring more people into the workforce, and grow our economy and tax a broader base. That’s exactly what our whole premise is based on, and so far, the very early data looks very good.
So we’re excited about where we’re going.
Q Thank you. Today, the President announced new tariffs, and the Prime Minister of Canada also announced a big trade deal with 10 other countries. What do you say to critics who argue the President is giving up the United States seat at the global trade table?
MR. COHN: First of all, I disagree. Today, the President announced the culmination of something that’s been going on for a long time. These were individual companies that tried various remedies. I mean, if you read the cases, they’re extraordinary what these companies had to go through to try and protect American jobs and American workers against unfair practices from other countries.
So you finally see companies bring cases in a bipartisan system. They go through the system, it goes up to the USTR. The USTR makes a recommendation made on the bipartisan committee’s recommendation, and the President makes a final ruling.
The President made a ruling that will make the U.S. competitive and help us grow our economy. It just so happens on the washing machine side, both of the companies that had been creating enormous problem for the U.S. manufacturers of washing machines are going to open up manufacturing facilities in the United States, hiring over 1,600 workers.
That’s exactly what the President wants to see. He wants to see companies moving to the United States to build their products in the United States. So, ultimately, we’re getting the outcome that we want to get.
On the solar panels, he left enormous amount of latitude in that decision that where we actually have a business — which is making the panels, not the actual cells; the cells can be imported — we’re protecting our panel makers because we do make panels here in the United States, and we should continue to make panels and hire more workers in the United States.
Q But on the broader point of having Canada take the lead on a big global trade deal, and the United States really pulling out of some of the global trade deals, are you not concerned — is there not concern within this administration about giving up the United States seat at the global trade table?
MR. COHN: The President said this through his Asia trip, he said it in Europe: We are very open to free, fair, reciprocal trade. If you treat us one way, we will treat you the same way. If you have no tariffs, we will have no tariffs. If you have tariffs, we should have a reciprocal tariff. It’s hard to argue against that, that we should treat each other equally. That’s our trade policy. That’s our trade premise. The President is going to keep going on that.
Q A year ago, at Davos, President Xi made a big splash internationally. He was seen as asserting himself as taking world leadership at the expense of the United States, in some respect. Is President Trump going to make any effort to counter that? And is his appearance here any effort to counter that?
MR. COHN: The President’s appearance is there to sell his accomplishments, to remind the world that we are open for business, that we’re a competitive country, that we have made America very competitive, and that everyone should understand what he has accomplished in his first year, and what we’re going to continue to accomplish in the next three remaining years.
The CEOs we’re having dinner with, as I said, they are European-based companies with large presence in the United States. There’s no reason that those presences shouldn’t be much larger. The President wants to hear from those CEOs, what do they need to have more of their business in the United States.
This is — he’s doing exactly what he should be doing to grow our economy and create jobs in the United States.
Q But how much of a concern is there about China and the influence it’s exerting now, and a lot of people observing, that it’s exerting because the U.S. has pulled back from a lot of these international agreements?
MR. COHN: Look, the U.S. is pulling back from nothing. The U.S. is involved. When the President was out in Asia, he talked about trade agreements and his willingness to have bilateral trade agreements with many of the countries he visited in Asia. And we’re more than willing to have bilateral trade agreements.
Go ahead. Right behind you. Behind you.
Q Yes. I’d like to get both of you to talk about —
MR. COHN: Good. (Laughter.)
Q — about the Africa meeting. It deals with economics, it deals with national security, as well as immigration. In light of all the controversy over immigration and the alleged racist comments that were made, can you both talk about that? And also how you’re trying to quell the upset of the African Union and the African leaders after last week.
MR. COHN: I’ll let you — I’ve talked enough.
GENERAL MCMASTER: Okay. Well, the President will be building on what was a very successful meeting with African leaders on the side of the U.N. General Assembly late last year.
And it was in that meeting and in some remarks that I think could have received broader attention, the President laid out a very clear direction for our relationship with key African nations in particular.
And the need is obvious for us to work together on issues of security. Our interests overlap completely in the area of transnational terrorist organizations and other who are attempting to polarize societies and create these cycles of violence — tribal and sectarian violence — that is a grave threat to security and then also of prosperity, as a result.
And our interests overlap in encouraging American investment in Africa, and African investment in the United States. The President and Administrator Green have laid out a very clear vision for how we want to evolve our economic relationships and our development initiatives in Africa, in particular in the National Security Strategy.
Africa is the perfect place for us to transition from just delivery of assistance to robust trade and economic relationships that benefit the people of the United States and the people of Africa.
And, as you know, there have been some tremendously successful programs — the PEPFAR program, for example, that shows the power of when the United States works with key African leaders and communities to take on threats that are health-involved. But also you see tremendous security cooperation and relationships over time.
So there’s a lot they’re going to be able to talk about, especially because President Kagame is going into the presidency of the African Union. So it will be a discussion about how to advance a mutual agenda that is in the interest of the African continent, and nations within that continent, and the United States.
Q How would you characterize the relationship with Britain at the moment, given the decision of the President to pull out of his trip to the UK next month? And do you think that there will be a fresh arrangement made for a visit to take place in the foreseeable future?
GENERAL MCMASTER: Well, of course, the President is prioritizing his meeting with Prime Minister May because we do have a special relationship. It’s a special relationship not only in words, but it’s how we work together, really, on every issue. It is very, very hard to find any place where our interests don’t overlap almost completely with those of the United Kingdom.
And we are working together in a very effective manner, at the U.N., for example, on some of these problems, but then in a bilateral sense — within international organizations, but bilaterally.
And so the President will talk about those key topics of mutual concern. You can imagine what those are. And so we have seen there, obviously, no diminishment — only growth and strength of our relationship and cooperation with a great ally.
Q You mentioned the President wants to make bilateral trade agreements, and he’s made pretty clear he doesn’t like multilateral ones. Could you just tell us what bilateral trade agreements are in the works right now, and what do you think will be the first ones completed?
MR. COHN: Look, we’ve got Ambassador Lighthizer working on a bunch of different agreements as we speak here. He’s also involved in NAFTA renegotiation. We’re also having conversations with Korea, on renegotiating some of the terms in Korea. So he’s got a lot on his plate —
Q So are there any new bilateral agreements?
MR. COHN: There are some new discussions that we’re starting to work on. So there are things —
Q Can you mention the specific country?
MR. COHN: I’m not going to. I’m not — I’m going to let Ambassador Lighthizer handle his negotiations in the fashion he wants to handle them. And when he think it’s time to make them public, he’ll make them public.
Eamon, the last question. Then you can have Sarah back.
Q You guys are going to be in a hotbed of globalization tomorrow at Davos. You’re going to get a question about the tariffs that you put into place. The question is often asked by critics, isn’t this just hurting American consumers who want to go out and buy washing machines or solar panels, that they’re going to pay a higher price at the store when they go to do that? How do you answer that?
MR. COHN: Well, on the washing machine situation, as I said, both of these companies are opening manufacturing plants. One of them could be open within the next 30 days or less, which will hire 1,000 new employees there. So they will be manufacturing washing machines here in the United States. We do have a very large domestic manufacture of washing machines.
So when we’ve looked at it — we’ve studied this quite extensively — and I said, this was a very rigorous process that went through a bipartisan committee; they made a recommendation. Then, the Trade Ambassador held hearings as well; he made a recommendation. And then there was extensive meetings with the President. The President understands that, and he understands the importance of the economy and the price of consumer goods to consumers.
So we’ve taken that all into account as we’ve made the decisions. The President cares enormously about growing the economy and keeping the economy on the right track, and making sure that our consumers have the best opportunity possible. But he also cares very much about the workforce in the United States, and making sure that we create a great job environment and we create workforce participation, and we create wage growth. And we’ve got to get both of those right; it’s something we’re committed to do.
Thank you very much.
Q Just to follow up, you’ve been to Davos a lot over the course of your career. The President, I don’t believe, has been there before. So what’s one thing, you think, he’ll find there that he wouldn’t expect?
MR. COHN: A lot of snow — 14 feet of snow. (Laughter.) And I’ve never seen 14 feet of snow there either. So it will be interesting to see.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Director Cohn, General McMaster. Before we get started with questions, I have a story that I’d like to read, and then deliver a special message from the President.
Today, an inspiring family and a brave little girl from Brownfield, Texas are facing a challenge that is inspiring their friends and neighbors, and now, hopefully, an entire nation.
Nine-year-old Sophia Marie Campa Peters suffers from a rare disease that causes the blood vessels in her brain to narrow and close. Three years ago, this condition resulted in Sophia enduring four massive strokes.
The strokes left her partially paralyzed. Since then, she has undergone numerous surgeries, but she has faced each one of them with a fearless exuberance for life that warms the heart of everyone she meets.
When the doctors told her she would never walk again, she dismissed them. “If you’re only going to talk about what I can’t do, then I don’t want to hear it,” she said. “Just let me try.”
Not only did she try, she succeeded, leaving her doctors dumfounded. When they asked how she was doing these things, she had a simple answer: “Because I’m awesome,” and she’d smile.
During the holidays in 2016, Sophia had several more minor strokes, but she kept fighting. One of the neurosurgeons told her mom, “This little girl has God on her side.”
These experiences led Sophia’s mom to realize that her daughter’s incredible faith could have a profound impact on others. “In a world where things are so bad and ugly, when there is so much loss of faith,” she said, “people needed to hear Sophia’s story so that they could hear a true testament to God’s grace and His glory revealed.”
This Friday, Sophia will undergo brain surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital, and she has one request: She has asked the entire world come together and pray for her on the day of her surgery. In her amazing, nine-year-old mind, that meant creating a goal of just reaching 10,000 people.
We want to make sure she gets that and far exceeds it. So today, Sophia, I’m here to tell you that millions of people from every corner of the world will be praying for you on January 26th.
And among those will be people and all of us here at the White House, including President Trump. He told me to tell you to keep fighting, to never give up, keep inspiring us all, and never, ever lose faith in God. With Him, all things are possible.
Thought that was a very inspiring and a great message for all of us to remember and remind us. So thank you, Sophia, for your strength and for reminding us of that today.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Sarah, given how far apart the parties are on the immigration deal, how hard is it going to be to get a deal by February 8th?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think they’re that far apart. Look, you saw a perfect example of their ability to come to the table and talk about a lot of things. I think there are a couple of places where everyone agrees.
DACA is something both Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate, all want to find a solution to — a permanent solution to that.
Border security — Democrats may not agree on the exact amount, but they certainly agree that there is a need for that in their willingness to do that.
Look, a lot of these individuals — both Democrats and Republicans — have voted for ending chain migration, ending the visa lottery system in the past, so I think that indicates their willingness and their agreement on that issue as well.
I think there are some — certainly, maybe the depth to which we go in each of those areas — and that’s part of the negotiation. But we certainly think that there are a lot of things that we agree on. And I think, if we focus on what we agree on a lot more than what we disagree on, we can have a lot of progress and hopefully get to something that helps everybody and solves a big problem.
Q And what is the President going to do to facilitate an agreement?
MS. SANDERS: He’s going to continue what he has been doing — talking to members from both the Republican side, Democrats, House, Senate.
And one of the things I think that has been very important in this process, and one of the things I think was really important in the shutdown process is the President has laid out exactly what he wants to see, and he’s laid out the principles that need to be addressed for a piece of legislation that he’s actually willing to sign.
And I think that is a huge and, first, very important step. And then he’ll help facilitate those conversations and negotiations as we move forward.
Q The President said today nobody knows for sure whether they’ll be able to reach a deal on DACA. Could this White House envision a scenario in which these DREAMers are deported? Would that be something the President is okay with?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think the President has stated what he would like to see happen. And at this point, the President is willing to sign something to find a permanent solution for DACA, and he has placed the responsibility which the Constitution has placed — and he has reminded the Congress that it is their job to actually get that legislation passed and send it to him.
Again, he’s going to play a big role in the process, but it’s on Congress to get that legislation through the two bodies and hit the President’s desk.
Q And the budget director said today that the President’s position on DACA depends on what the White House gets in an immigration deal. Is the White House using these DREAMers as a bargaining chip? Is that the strategy?
MS. SANDERS: Not at all. But you can’t fix the problem if you just tinker with the immigration in a small way. We want to make sure that we’re not having this problem and this conversation and this fight in two years; in three years; in four years.
We want to address making a permanent solution to DACA, but at the same time closing the loopholes so we don’t have to continue having this battle. But we also want to put some things in place with border security. Because if you don’t, you’re not actually solving the problem, you’re just extending it and making us have to deal with it at a later time.
Q Sarah, thanks. This is something that’s been in the news quite a bit over the last week or so. Representative Devin Nunes apparently has a memo that was created for the House Intelligence Committee describing, based on early reports, of a certain level of what appears to be bias at the FBI. Is it the President’s opinion that that memo should be released so that the American people can see what the House Intelligence Committee has observed?
MS. SANDERS: We certainly support full transparency and we believe that that’s at the House Intel Committee to make that decision at this point.
And as I said yesterday, and we’ve said many times before on a number of different issues, we certainly support that transparency. It sounds like there are some members in the House that have some real concern with what’s in that memo, and feel very strongly that the American public should be privy to see it.
And at this point, I haven’t, so I’m going to lean on these reliable individuals to go through that process of what that looks like. But again, we support full transparency.
Q Has the President seen it, by chance?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of, no.
Q Sarah, apparently what the memo is based on is underlying intelligence or information that resides in the executive branch, in the Justice Department. So as the original classification authority, would the President be willing to declassify it so the whole country can see it, if he believes in transparency? That would take the question away from Representative Nunes and his colleagues in the House, and he could make it himself.
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had that conversation with the President. Right now, I think it’s going through the process for the House Intel Committee, and we feel like they should play that role at this point. And if it doesn’t happen, then we can address it at that point.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I want to go back to immigration. There’s a group of conservatives in the House who believe they have a bill that fits all the criteria the President laid out — the Goodlatte proposal. I’m wondering what the President’s thoughts are on that bill and would he support the Congress passing that. Would he sign it?
MS. SANDERS: I believe that it addresses the principles that we’ve laid out, and would be something that we would support.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The President, on a few occasions, has spoken of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.” And Hogan Gidley, on your team, used that same phrase today when asked a question about it. If Mr. Mueller asked the President to submit to an interview, is that something that the President would be open to?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as we’ve said probably just about every day this year since we’ve been here, that we’re going to be fully cooperative with the Special Counsel and we’re going to continue to do that throughout the process. But we’re also not going to comment on who may or may not, or could be interviewed at any point. But we’re going to continue to be fully cooperative with the process.
Q If it is, Sarah, a witch hunt, as the President has said and others members of the administration have said, why doesn’t the President just get rid of Bob Mueller, just fire him? Mr. Gidley also said today that it’s wasting taxpayers’ money. In that regard, why doesn’t he just end the investigation because it’s wasting the taxpayers’ money?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we want to see this come to a complete and full conclusion. I think we all know what everybody in this room would do if the President did that, and I don’t think that’s helpful to the process.
The President wants to see this end, and he wants to see them finally come to the same conclusion that I think most everyone in America has, that there is nothing to this. They’ve spent the better part — most of you have spent the better part of a year looking, digging, obsessing over trying to find something and have yet to find anything.
In fact, a CNN reporter actually admitted over the weekend that when you talk to people about Russia — and that’s all we talk about at CNN, basically — they say they don’t care because it doesn’t have any effect on their lives.
Frankly, this administration, we’ve said it time and time before, there was no collusion, there’s nothing to it, we’re ready to move on. Clearly, the American people are, and my guess, is some of you are probably tired of talking about it as well, and hopefully we’ll get to that point soon and we can do that.
Q Sarah, just a couple questions on immigration. You sound a lot more conciliatory today. When you talked about Democrats voting in the past to end chain migration, that was part of the Gang of Eight bill, which was a comprehensive immigration reform bill. You say we can’t just take this — tackle this in a small way. Do you want to have a much bigger bill to solve the whole immigration problem? Is that what you’re talking about?
MS. SANDERS: As we’ve said, and the President stated when he had the meeting where everyone was at the table, we’d like to see at a minimum, in this first phase, those four principles addressed. And then beyond that, there are other areas that we’d like to look at, past that. But right now, we’re focused very singularly on making sure there four principles are addressed.
Q But in terms of those four principles and how they’re addressed, you just said that you wanted chain migration addressed, but you said maybe the depth to which we go into it could be negotiated.
MS. SANDERS: No, I said the depth to which we agree, is the point I was making. He was — Steve was asking specifically about the differences of Republicans and Democrats.
Q But are you insisting on a complete end to chain migration for the President to not deport the DREAMers?
MS. SANDERS: We would like to see an end to chain migration, yes.
Q But if you don’t get it, is he willing to start deporting them on March 5th? Because that’s (inaudible) —
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to debate or negotiate with you, Mara. That’s what we’re working on doing with the House and the Senate. And we’re going to come up with something that gets us to a place where we end chain migration. That’s one of the priorities that we’ve laid out from the administration.
Q Sarah, let me ask you, now that we know that the Special Counsel has interviewed the former FBI Director James Comey, it’s important to understand exactly what the President’s position is on exactly, basically, what went on in the conversation between the two. So the question is simply: Is the President saying that James Comey lied when he said Trump, the President, asked for his loyalty and suggested he should drop the Flynn investigation?
MS. SANDERS: Look, out of respect of the Special Counsel, I’m not going to weigh into any matters beyond that, and would refer you to the Counsel that —
Q The President been public about this, so I just want to be clear so it’s clear for the American people, not just for investigators.
MS. SANDERS: I understand that he has been public about that, and there’s nothing else to add at this point beyond his comments. And anything further would have to be directed to the Counsel here at the White House out of respect for the Special Counsel and their process.
Q Sarah, the President tweeted today about these missing text messages at the FBI. He called it one of the biggest stories in a long time. Does he think there’s a cover-up? Or why does he think this is one of the biggest stories in a long time?
MS. SANDERS: I think he thinks that there is a great cause for concern that five months’ worth of text messages have gone missing, particularly given the individual. Part of that process has already been shown to be extremely biased against the President, and was involved in what seems to be some very inappropriate behavior. And that certainly is a great concern.
You guys are absolutely obsessed with everything to do with collusion. If it has anything to do with the President, we hope that you’ll take some of that same obsession, energy, and fervor, and direct it to some of the places where it looks like there could’ve been some really inappropriate and possibly illegal behavior.
Q Just to follow up on the FBI, does he think there needs to be a staff shakeup at the FBI?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we have 100 percent confidence in Director Wray, and if anybody is going to make that decision, it will be the Director, and we’re going to leave that in his hands to decide whether or not he feels that there need to be changes made.
Q But related to that, Sarah, does the President have any concerns about Andrew McCabe and his knowledge of, or acceptance of, what he and others in this administration have identified via the texts and other pieces of information, as something that was seriously wrong in the upper echelons of the FBI?
MS. SANDERS: We’ve spoken about the fact that we felt like the FBI at the top, with Director Comey and others, had been politicized. I haven’t spoken with him directly about that, but certainly, more generally speaking, that it had become political. That was one of the reasons that the President wanted Director Wray there, somebody of impeccable integrity, to make those decisions. And if changes needed to be made, he would do so.
Q And the President said today that Director Wray did not threaten to resign. How does he know that?
MS. SANDERS: I guess that would be based on conversations that he would have had with Director Wray. I haven’t been part of those, so I can’t speak to it any further.
Q Do you know that for a fact? Did he ask Director Wray himself?
MS. SANDERS: No, I’m saying, I guess that would have been part of it. I haven’t spoken to him and I wasn’t part of any conversations on that matter.
Q The only reason I ask is, he may have had a — I know he was talking to Don McGahn, the White House Counsel, and I’m just curious if the President went through McGahn to find out what that conversation was —
MS. SANDERS: Director Wray speaks to —
Q — or if he asked the FBI Director himself because he was concerned about these reports.
MS. SANDERS: Director Wray is the head of the top law enforcement agency. It’s very routine that he would speak to the White House Counsel, as well as the Attorney General.
As I understand it, the conversations they’ve had have been routine and focused on things dealing with his position, not whether or not he would keep it.
So I can only speak to what I know. And anything further, you should ask the Department of Justice or the FBI on those conversations.
Q Sarah, just to follow up on that, to ask you directly: Does the President think that Andrew McCabe should step down?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him that question.
Q And you talked about concerns about the leadership previously at the FBI. Does the President have concerns about the current senior leadership at the FBI beyond Christopher Wray? Not including Christopher Wray, who he’s expressed confidence in today.
MS. SANDERS: We haven’t gone member by member, but I know that the President has complete confidence in Director Wray and his ability to determine if there are any issues and to make those decisions.
Q But does he think there’s current political bias against him at the FBI — in the upper echelons at the FBI?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I haven’t gone member by member of every single person in the top ranks of the FBI. The President has a great deal of respect for the rank-and-file members of the FBI, and he has a great deal of confidence in Director Wray. And he feels that if any changes need to be made, the Director will make that decision and carry them out.
Q Yeah, thank you, Sarah. A follow-up question on that. Several references were made, and considerable publicity was given, to the use of the term “secret society” within the FBI. Have you had any discussions with the President about it? And does he believe there is a secret society within the Federal Bureau of Investigation?
MS. SANDERS: No, we have not discussed any secret societies, and I couldn’t speak to their existence either.
Q Yes, Sarah. The President is about to speak to the Turkish President, Erdogan, about Turkey’s offensive in Syria. What message does the President want to get across to Turkey about that?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think what I said yesterday — we want them to deescalate. I think you can expect that to be part of the conversation, but I’m not going to get ahead of their call. And we’ll have a readout after that takes place. I believe it’s tomorrow.
MS. SANDERS: Yeah.
I’ll take on last question. Charlie.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Just a follow-up to Kevin’s question. If the House Intelligence Committee decides to release the memo, the President has to sign off on it. Is the White House committed to signing off on it if the House Republican — or House Republicans decide —
MS. SANDERS: Actually, my understanding is that he doesn’t. So if they make that decision, that wouldn’t be something the President would need to be involved in.
So, thank you guys so much. Have a good day.
4:34 P.M. EST