Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2017- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a press conference in the West Wing of the White House. The presser often begins minutes to sometimes nearly an hour after the scheduled time. This one began 30 minutes late. Watch the replay any time. The transcript is below.
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Full transcript to follow event
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:58 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon, guys.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. SANDERS: As you know, the President spoke at length during the immigration meeting this morning and answered even a few questions for you, so we’re going to keep it a little shorter today here in the briefing.
Let me start by saying congratulations to the University of Alabama Crimson Tide who won the College Football National Championship last night. The President had a great time at the game, and needless to say, that was a finish for the ages. I was obviously a little disappointed that the Arkansas Razorbacks weren’t in the game. But as I’ve said many times, the SEC is the best conference, and I was glad to see Alabama and Georgia fighting it out.
As I said, we’re going to keep it short. So with that, I will take your questions. Major.
Q Can you help us clarify? When the Democrats came out, they applauded the President for organizing the meeting, but said it was their understanding this would be a two-phase process — DACA first, and then other elements that you outlined in your statement second, and that they perceived January 19th, not March 5th, as the deadline for action. Can you explain the President’s interpretation of the meeting and that assessment of the congressional Democrats?
MS. SANDERS: Right. The President just concluded what we felt was a very successful and productive bipartisan and bicameral meeting on immigration reform. During the close-door session, the leadership agreed to negotiate and narrow the focus to four issues: border security, chain migration, visa lottery, and DACA. They all agreed that those four things would be part of the negotiation. And beyond that, then they could move into additional scope.
But at this point, those are the four things on the table, and the four things that we anticipate that they’ll be negotiating.
Q So those four things are phase one, from the President’s perspective?
MS. SANDERS: Correct.
Q And are they tied to January 19th or March 5th?
MS. SANDERS: We haven’t outlined the date, and I’m certainly not going to negotiate what that date looks like from the podium. That’s something that we’re going to work with Congress on. But those are the four areas that they all agreed at the conclusion of the meeting to narrow the scope and the focus.
Q How confident are you that those four things will remain part of phase one of this process? Senator Dianne Feinstein posited the idea of doing a clean DACA bill, which the President at first seemed to embrace before —
MS. SANDERS: He embraced — only if you look at what the President’s definition of a clean DACA bill is. And within that bill, he thinks that you have to include not just fixing DACA, but closing the loopholes and making sure we have a solution on that front so we don’t create a problem and find ourselves right back where we started in one, two, three years later.
Q Which is clearly different than her perspective on a clean DACA bill because she clearly stated that she thinks they should do a clean DACA bill, just handle the DREAMers, and then handle border security as part of comprehensive immigration reform. So is the President setting himself up here for a battle where the Democrats are going to say, no, let’s just do DACA, and he’s on the other side, and then there’s no coming together?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President is setting himself up to achieve what everybody in that room agreed they wanted to see happen, and that is a deal on DACA, a deal on border security, talking about chain migration, and visa lottery. That’s where we are in this process. Those are the four principles.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two quick questions if I may. The Democrats said after the meeting that they support border security measures and that their understanding is that the President uses the term “wall” and “border security” interchangeably. Is that true?
MS. SANDERS: We certainly believe that the wall is part of border security. That’s one component of it. We firmly, again, believe that border security has to be part of this negotiation and part of this deal.
Q And then if — just really quickly — is there any update from the White House on the process of deciding if, and if so, how bump stocks should be regulated? That’s something we haven’t touched on in a while.
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, I know that was something that the ATF was doing a full review on, and we anticipate the results of that to come back. And we’ll certainly make a decision once that’s been done. But the Department of Justice asked that that take place.
Q Sarah, thank you. During that meeting, the President also talked about earmarks, saying essentially it could lower the hostility here in D.C. and lead to both sides coming together. But is he not concerned also that it could also lead to runaway spending?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President said you have to be careful with that and you have to have controls on earmarks. The broader point the President was making is that partisan politics have become a big problem in Washington. We’ve gotten to a place where Democrats and Republicans are fighting more than they’re fixing, and he wants to find different ways to bring more and more Democrats and Republicans to work together on legislation, to move our country forward. And he threw that out as one suggestion on how we might be able to do that.
Q And then on Davos, Sarah, is the President expected — or is he planning on making this an annual event, him going to Davos? And do you have any details on what days — I believe it’s a four-day event — when he might actually go?
MS. SANDERS: We’re still finalizing the details on exactly when the President will be there. We don’t have any commitments beyond this year at this point. But as we said earlier today in a statement, the President will attend and he welcomes the opportunity to go there and advance his America First agenda with world leaders. And he is very much looking forward to being part of that process.
Q Thanks, Sarah. My question, not shockingly, is also on Davos. During the campaign, the Trump campaign, the decision not to go — the concern of the time — was that this is viewed by some as a gathering of global elites, and that wasn’t the President’s campaign message or message to his base.
And, obviously, you guys have — your thinking on this has evolved a little bit about who it’s a message for and what message you can do. But is this — has his thinking —
MS. SANDERS: Our thinking hasn’t changed at all. Just to be extremely clear, the President’s message is very much the same here as it will be there; just the same as it was here, as it was when he made many stops in Asia. This is very much an America First agenda. The President is still 100 percent focused and committed to promoting policies that promote strength for American businesses and the American worker. And that’s going to be the same whether he’s in the U.S. or any other place.
Q What I wanted to ask also is do you have a fuller picture of that U.S. delegation that you could share with us at this time?
MS. SANDERS: We’re finalizing the details, but you can expect that a number of senior members of the Cabinet and administration will be part of this event. Some will stay for a more extended period of time than the President.
Q Will he meet any world leaders, be holding bilats while he’s there?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’re finalizing the details of the trip. As all of those things are locked in, we’ll certainly make sure you guys are well aware.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Ivanka Trump praised on Twitter Oprah pretty effusively. She said, “Let’s all come together, women & men, & say #TIMESUP.” Is that the message from this White House, to support this Time’s Up movement?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think the message from the White House is obviously that everyone should come together. I think you saw a great example of the President’s focus on that and his leadership in that effort by bringing Democrats and Republicans together to talk about a very contentious issue, one that’s gone on for years. The debate has never ended in real solutions. We are trying to move that forward. Whether it’s on immigration, or a number of other issues, I think the President is showing his leadership on that front. And we’re going to continue to look for ways to bring the country together.
Q Having been on the campaign of a political outsider, what advice would you give a political outsider like Oprah, who seems intrigued about the idea of running?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to focus on anyone’s campaign other than President Trump’s reelection. I’m sure if she decides to run, which I think the President states he doesn’t feel she will, I’m sure she’ll have help with that.
Q Is she qualified?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I disagree very much on her policies. Is she a successful individual? Absolutely. But in terms of where she stands on a number of positions, I would find a lot of problems with that. But that would be something she would have to determine and lay out if she made a decision to run and what that campaign would look like.
Q Can I ask just a question about phase two of the immigration issue as the President laid it out today? So once you get past the DACA debate and some of these other issues, Senator Lindsey Graham seemed to lay on the table the idea of something that Senator Graham supports, which is a comprehensive plan that would include a path to citizenship for all 11 million or 12 million — however many you count them — people that are illegally in this country. And the President seemed to respond, yeah, let’s do it, let’s go for it — something along those lines.
So are we to then take away that the President is firmly committed to a path to citizenship, to trying to get to a path to citizenship, for all 11 million illegal immigrants in the country once phase two comes?
MS. SANDERS: Right now, our focus is on the four things that I laid out. That’s where our negotiation is, and that’s phase one.
Q I understand. But —
MS. SANDERS: And that’s — hold on — that’s our focus and our priority. We’re certainly open to talking about a number of other issues when it comes to immigration. But right now, this administration is focused on those four things and that negotiation, and not a lot else at this front.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two for you real quick. Overnight, news came out that the North Koreans will be sending a delegation to the Olympics in South Korea. Does the White House have any response to that? And will it have any impact on American participation in the Games? Firstly.
And then secondly, there’s a comment on Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
MS. SANDERS: Let me start with the first thing. In terms of — it doesn’t affect the U.S. participation in the Olympics. The North Korean participation is an opportunity for the regime to see the value of ending its international isolation by denuclearizing. We hope that we can continue to move forward on that front, but certainly doesn’t affect our participation.
Q And do you anticipate announcing a delegation soon?
MS. SANDERS: Yes, we do. And that will happen probably in the coming days. And we’ll make sure, again, we keep all of you guys certainly in the loop.
Q And just one more — (inaudible) — Joe Arpaio running for the Senate. The President obviously pardoned him. Is the White House supportive of his candidacy? Would the President like to campaign for him?
MS. SANDERS: As you know, I can’t comment on the specifics of any election — voicing support for a candidate in a race like that.
Q Does the President believe it’s appropriate for somebody who’s been pardoned for a crime to run for —
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to weigh into the details of that race or make comments on something that would affect that run.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Just to take another stab at Michael’s question. Can you help us understand the term as the President used it? What does comprehensive immigration reform mean to this White House?
MS. SANDERS: Again, our focus, like I told Michael, is those four priorities — border security, ending chain migration, ending the visa lottery system, and coming up with a permanent solution to DACA. That’s where we’re focused, and that’s what we’re going to be committed to during this negotiation process.
Q Inasmuch as the President today seemed to say, okay, let’s go on to comprehensive immigration reform in the afternoon.
MS. SANDERS: As he said, once we get through this process, he said, let’s get this deal done, and then we’ll take an hour off, and then we’ll move on to the next phase of the negotiation. Right now, this administration is focused on those things and making sure we get that deal done, and then we’ll move forward from that point.
Q Has the President not decided what comprehensive immigration reform means to him?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to negotiate with you from the podium. This is something that the leadership agreed to, primarily led by Kevin McCarthy and the President in this meeting, that this would be the focus coming out of today. Let’s get a deal on this, and then we’ll move forward and talk about other things.
Q Thanks, Sarah. On trade, there’s a meeting of trade officials, I understand, at the White House today, concerning the trade agenda for 2018. How much will trade and trade action, particularly against China, be part of the Trump administration agenda this year?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re going to continue to push for making sure we have the best deals possible — certainly deals that benefit the American worker. When we have specifics on that, following meetings that take place, we’ll keep you guys aware. But our position is going to be to continue to fight for and push for better trade deals that benefit this country and American workers.
Q On North Korea, if you can just clarify. In the delegation we’re sending, are Jared and Ivanka going?
MS. SANDERS: I didn’t actually announce the delegation. I said that we would have that announcement in the coming days, and that will be when we release the names of who’s attending.
Q Thanks, Sarah. It’s pretty unusual for us in the press corps to have a front-row seat to those kind of negotiations in the Cabinet Room for about an hour
MS. SANDERS: Luck you guys.
Q Whose decision was it to allow the press in to witness that entire negotiation? And what was the goal of having us sit there and watch?
MS. SANDERS: Just to be clear, you weren’t there for the entire negotiation because the deal didn’t take place until after you guys left. But I think a number of individuals in the room felt it was a good thing to let you see the cooperation and the conversation between both sides, and see how we’re working and leading to move the ball down the field and come up with some real solutions.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Going back to the wall — last summer, Governor Graco, the head of the Mexican Governors Association, said that when the President started talking about a price tag on building the wall, that meant he’d given up on his idea of making Mexico pay for it.
Now, in his remarks in Tennessee, and in his recent speeches, the President has talked about the cost of the wall, and there has been no mention of his standard phrase, “and Mexico will pay for it.” Has the President abandoned the idea of Mexico paying for the wall?
MS. SANDERS: No, he hasn’t.
Q Thank you, Sarah. On trade again, negotiations on NAFTA will start again at the end of January in Montreal. Listening to the President in Tennessee yesterday, is he more hopeful — does he still plan on scrapping the deal if he can’t get everything he wants?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President, as we’ve said many times before, wants to make sure that we have a deal that benefits America and American workers, and we’re going to continue through that process and make sure that whatever we do, we get the best deal possible.
Q Is he a little more hopeful than he was six months ago?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think the President has always been hopeful that we can get a better deal. I think that’s why he ran for President, is to make sure that he’s pushing an agenda that helps Americans, and particularly helps American workers. And he’s hoping to close a lot of those trade deficits and get rid of some of the bad trade deals that we’ve had in the past.
Q Thanks, Sarah. So when the President declined to certify the Iran nuclear deal, it was in the U.S. national interest. A couple months ago, he said he needed to see action in Congress and from American allies. Has he seen enough of that action? Senator Corker is under the impression that it’s possible there’s been enough progress on the legislative fix, at least, that the President might be willing to not re-impose sanctions.
MS. SANDERS: We haven’t made a final decision on that. We certainly will in the coming days, and we’ll make sure, once again, you guys are some of the first to know.
Q Sarah, just to be clear, if the President wants a bill of love, why doesn’t he drop the demand for a border wall and deal with the DREAMers alone, immediately
MS. SANDERS: Because you have to have a full solution to this problem. You have to make sure that you’re taking every step in border security, and you want to make sure that if you fix things on DACA, you don’t create and exacerbate the problem and have to deal with it again in a year. The President wants to make sure we have a clean solution on that front, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Q So what does the President say to young men like 24-year-old Jesus Contreras — he’s from Houston, he’s a paramedic, he’s been working hard in this country to help other lives better — who are now waiting for Congress to come up with something or they may get shipped to a country they’ve never known?
MS. SANDERS: He says exactly what he just did in that room: Let’s work together, let’s figure this out. I’m leading on this effort and bringing all the members that need to be part of the conversation to the table. And he said he was confident that they would come together and get it done, and so that’s what we’re going to do.
Q Just a quick one about last night, only because it made sense —
MS. SANDERS: I’m going to keep moving because we’re going to be short on time.
Chris, go ahead.
Q Sarah, over the holidays, the President terminated the tenure of the members of the President’s advisory council on HIV/AIDS. Does the President want to see those positions re-filled in his administration?
MS. SANDERS: We’re looking at the different options and we’ll keep you posted if we have an announcement on that front.
Q Is he going to add any stops to the Davos trip? And is he actually going to address the group there?
MS. SANDERS: There aren’t any plans for additional stops, and we’ll keep you posted on all the details of the schedule.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two questions for you. First, does the White House have any reaction to the testimony that was released today by Senator Feinstein’s office regarding the Fusion GPS dossier?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had any conversations with anybody specific to that front, so —
Q Okay. And if I could follow up on the immigration meetings today. Is the President concerned about the differences that Democrats and Republicans have when it comes to defining phrases like “border security”?
MS. SANDERS: They have a lot of things that they agree on, and that’s what we’re going to focus on. But again, I’m not going to negotiate with you guys. Look, I’ve laid out what the principles and the priorities are and what all of the individuals in the meeting today agreed to narrow the scope to, and that’s what we’re going to continue to push for.
Q Thank you, Sarah. First of all, on border security, we’re hearing a lot about immigration. How big of a role, though, does drug trafficking play right now vis-à-vis the President and Congress? And specifically —
MS. SANDERS: It’s certainly a factor. It’s one of the reasons that the President is very committed to border security, wants to stop the influx of drugs coming into this country.
Q But surely it’s going to be more than just the wall, because drugs are very easily flung over a wall, right?
MS. SANDERS: Correct. Border security is more than just the wall.
Q And about the report that Mueller is expecting to be sitting down with the President in the coming weeks, what do you have to tell us about that?
MS. SANDERS: The same thing that we’ve said many times before, that the White House is not going to comment on communications with the Special Counsel out of respect for the Special Counsel and its process. But we’re going to continue to be in full cooperation with them.
Q Thank you, Sarah. A lot of immigration critics believe that a DACA deal, by its very nature, is considered to be amnesty. Does the White House believe that that is amnesty?
MS. SANDERS: No. And we believe that this is an important part of the process and, again, one that we’re committed to finding a solution for.
Q Yes, Sarah. Has President Trump been briefed by President Moon on the negotiations that the South Koreans had with the North Koreans? And what would this White House like to see as the next steps from Pyongyang?
MS. SANDERS: I mean, I think certainly the next steps would be — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is our number-one priority and certainly what we would like to see. We are in very close contacts with our South Korean allies about these conversations. The President spoke with Moon over the weekend. I don’t believe they’ve spoken since then, but I know officials from our administration have been in touch with officials from the South Korean side.
Q Just to be crystal clear on this, does the President want a wall in exchange for giving those DREAMers protection?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants border security, just to be clear.
Q Okay. So what does border security entail? Does it include the wall at this stage, or could the wall wait until later?
MS. SANDERS: The wall is one of the pieces, as well as technology and a number of other things that have been laid out by the Department of Homeland Security. I believe that Secretary Nielsen spoke about that pretty extensively at the meeting today. And that portion was covered by you all during that timeframe.
Q So the wall has to be part of a deal in order for these DREAMers to have protection?
MS. SANDERS: Border security does have to be part of this process.
Q But do you understand why — I mean, there’s a difference, right?
MS. SANDERS: Why we want to secure our border? I absolutely do. Because the safety and security of the people of this country are the President’s number-one responsibility and his number-one priority when it comes to anything that he does. So, absolutely.
Q I understand that. But you understand how the wall could be different than border security, Sarah? Border security can mean drones.
MS. SANDERS: No, actually I don’t, Jim.
Q It could mean agents. It could mean more fencing. It doesn’t necessarily mean a physical wall.
MS. SANDERS: And that’s part of the negotiation that we expect Congress to have.
Q And you understand Democrats are saying that they may not be in favor of this kind of deal? That they’re not going to exchange a wall for DREAMers.
MS. SANDERS: If Democrats aren’t in favor of protecting American citizens, then I think we’ve hit a sad day in American history, but I don’t believe that to do be the case. Because as we heard many of them say as they sat around that table, when several of you were in the room, they are committed to border security. They do want it. And most of them have voted previously before this legislation hit the floor. So anything different is just —
Q If they say thanks but no thanks for a wall —
MS. SANDERS: Jim, I’m not negotiating with you. I’m going to let Congress take care of that.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I just want to go back to the question of Davos. Can you tell us a little bit about how this decision perhaps came about and what influenced it? Was there any parts of it that had taken into account Xi Jinping’s appearance there last year, and, kind of, seemed to take center stage and step into a kind of space that had been left open by the U.S.?
MS. SANDERS: No, I think it’s about the President, once again, welcoming the opportunity to talk about the America First agenda. And that’s what his plan is to do, and that’s the main reason that he’s going there is to continue to promote and talk about that with the world leaders that will attend and some of the — obviously leaders of the economy in this country.
Q Was it his idea to go there?
MS. SANDERS: Yes.
Q Does the President have a fixed set of principles and priorities for comprehensive immigration reform? Or does he believe that that’s something he should be flexible on when it comes to that?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as I’ve said, I’m not going to negotiate with you guys. We’re going to do that with Congress. We’ve laid out what we want right now, and we’ll make announcements when we move beyond those four priorities that we’ve laid out.
I’ll take one last question.
Q Sarah, the President said on Saturday that Robert Mueller’s investigation makes our country look foolish, and he’s expressed a similar sentiment a couple times before. But what does he mean specifically about making the country look foolish?
MS. SANDERS: I think when we waste the amount of time that we have on something like this that’s been very clear from the beginning, that there is absolutely nothing to; if we want to look at places where there may be collusion, I think our administration has outlined where we think any Special Counsel should be focused, and it’s certainly not on this President or the President’s campaign.
Thanks so much, guys.
3:20 P.M. EST