Monday, Feb. 26, 2017- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a press conference in the West Wing of the White House.
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:10 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Due to all the events at the White House today and the President being out, we’ll keep this fairly quick. Also, I flew back in this morning, so bear with me a little bit.
But it’s great to be back with everybody. After traveling with the U.S. Presidential delegation to the Winter Olympics closing ceremonies, led by Ivanka Trump, the entire country is very proud of our athletes. Not only did they perform well in their events, they did it with extraordinary class and sportsmanship.
On a personal note, it was a real privilege to meet many of our athletes and their families, and they are just as impressive off the field as they are on.
In addition to the athletic competition, these Winter Games were also important from a diplomatic perspective.
On Friday, the United States announced the largest-ever set of new North Korea sanctions. Companies and countries around the world should know that the Trump administration is 100 percent committed to the permanent denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we are watching closely who joins us in fully enforcing United States and United Nations sanctions.
We will continue to lead a campaign of maximum pressure on the regime. We also believe that there is a brighter path available to North Korea. They have expressed a desire to hold talks. But let us be completely clear: Denuclearization must be the result of any dialogue with North Korea. Until then, the United States and the world must continue to make it known that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.
Here at the White House today, the President was pleased to welcome America’s governors. The governors participated in breakout sessions on pressing issues facing our states.
Perhaps most importantly, the President led a session on safe schools and safe communities. It was a productive dialogue with our state leaders, and came on the heels of other listening sessions the President hosted with survivors, students, teachers, family members, and local officials.
The President is committed to ensuring the safety of our schools and communities, and he wants to hear ideas from Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs.
He believes we must make our schools a much harder target for attackers. We must protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, while keeping guns out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves and society. And we must create a culture that cherishes life and human dignity, condemning violence rather than glorifying it. The President will not rest until these goals are achieved.
Finally, I am pleased to officially announce the first state visit of the Trump administration. The President and First Lady will welcome President and Mrs. Macron of France to the White House on April 24th. This visit will advance American and French cooperation on economic and global issues, and deepen the friendship between the two countries.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Sarah, does the President believe that Sheriff Israel of Broward County should step down? And also, the Broward County deputy who has been — who resigned, Scot Peterson, has come out with a statement saying he believed that he was acting appropriately. He thought the gunfire was coming from outside the school and that he was taking steps to ensure that he was in a position to be able to respond to this. Can I get your response on both of those?
MS. SANDERS: Sure. The President feels, in terms of his employment, that that should be left up to local officials to make that determination. But he has been very clear in his public comments on how he feels about the situation specifically. But that’s a decision that should be left up to local officials.
Q And Sheriff Israel? Should he step down?
MS. SANDERS: Again, those are decisions that should be left up to the local communities and the local officials, and not the President.
Q Sarah, can you specify, the President did not mention whether he actually wants the age limit still lifted to 21, something he had previously spoken about. Can you clarify that’s still his position? Will lawmakers be coming to the White House? And did the President mean to say today that he will be asking for law to be crafted on bump stocks if it doesn’t follow through this executive directive he’s asked the ATF to craft?
MS. SANDERS: That’s a lot of questions. Let me see if I can answer all of them. I’m sure you’ll remind me if I miss something.
On bump stocks, the President did sign an executive memo directing the ATF and Department of Justice to work on outlawing bump stocks so we don’t have to wait for a legislative fix. However, if we cannot find an administrative fix, we would support a legislative solution to complete that.
On whether or not he’s going to be meeting with lawmakers, the President is planning a meeting for Wednesday with bipartisan members of Congress. We’ll have further details on that later in the week to discuss different pieces of legislation and what they can do moving forward.
In terms of — I think the last question you had was the age limit. Some things are still being discussed, but a final determination and legislative piece has not been determined on that front yet.
Q Is that why he didn’t mention it today, but he had mentioned it in the past? Is he reconsidering how that should be implemented?
MS. SANDERS: In terms of the concept, there’s still support for that. But how it would be implemented and what that might look like is still part — very much part of the discussion.
Q Under General Kelly’s new policy on security clearances, can you describe how many people today lost their access to classified information today?
MS. SANDERS: As we’ve said many times before, we’re not going to discuss individual clearances. That goes to a broader number or an individual number, so I’m not going to get into that today, just as I haven’t in the past.
Q Can you say were there any administration officials who lost their access?
MS. SANDERS: That would, again, be discussing security clearances, which our policy has always been not to do so, so I’m not going to change that today.
Q Thank you. Does the President believe that background checks should apply to gun shows and Internet sales?
MS. SANDERS: The President believes that we should look at strengthening background checks. And we’re looking at all of the different ways to do that, and haven’t made a final determination on what that should look like. I do think that will be, certainly, a large part of the conversation that takes place later this week when he visits with lawmakers.
Q One more question on guns. The House bill, which he has expressed support for in the past, has a provision that the NRA calls “constitutional carry.” Basically, it would allow people with a concealed carry permit in one state to carry into states, even if those other states don’t allow concealed carry. Is the President for that?
MS. SANDERS: I know he has been in the past. I haven’t talked to him about it recently, so I would have to follow up with you.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The President has been getting a lot of pushback during the governors’ meetings about his proposal to allow more adults in schools to carry guns. Governor Inslee, this morning, for example. Has the White House heard from any jurisdiction, any schoolboard, any state that is actively pursuing this, where they don’t already have that authority?
MS. SANDERS: We definitely heard from individual teachers and school personnel that support it. But look, we’re not advocating for the arming of every single teacher in the school. There are teachers and other school personnel who have experience, preexisting training, and the desire to be part of something like this.
We’re still listening and making and determining the best steps forward. But we think that hardening our schools and protecting our students with trained personnel is a viable path and one that we’re very much looking at. But a final determination on what that would look like — would be — hasn’t been made. And we’ll certainly involve state, local, and federal officials all weighing in, which is a lot of what you’ve seen over the last couple of weeks.
We’ve had a number of different stakeholders involved. I think you’ve had some voices, from the very most conservative to the most liberal side. And we’re looking to bring all of those groups together and determine the best path forward to do the very most that we can to make sure we’re doing everything under the administration’s purview to protect America’s kids.
Q What did the President think of Ivanka’s answer to NBC when she said — she didn’t sound completely sold on the idea, either. She said it was something to look at, but she wasn’t sure whether it would work.
MS. SANDERS: Look, this is something, like I just said, that is part of the discussion. And that’s what we’re doing right now. It’s what we did last week; it’s what the President did this morning. It’s what we’re going to continue to do on Wednesday with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to make that determination.
Q Thanks, Sarah. You mentioned North Korea in your opening remarks. The President today said that Russia is flouting international sanctions on North Korea. Are there going to be any consequences for that? And, as you also mentioned, the possibility of dialogue. Who, from the administration, would take point on that?
MS. SANDERS: The President would be the lead in taking point on anything that would move forward. In terms of whether or not there will be any consequence, I’m not going to weigh in ahead of time, and we certainly have never broadcast what we might do. But it’s something the President does take very seriously.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Some conservatives on Capitol Hill want concealed carry reciprocity to be included in a package of gun legislation. Is that something the White House also supports?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, I just answered this for Mara, but —
Q It wasn’t clear to me, which is why I re-asked it.
MS. SANDERS: Well, as I said, I know the President has been supportive of it in the past, but I haven’t spoken to him about it recently, so I’d have to follow up with you.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. It’s on North Korea — and welcome back from your trip.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you.
Q I want to get a sense about whether there are any preconditions for talks that would occur between U.S. and North Korean officials.
MS. SANDERS: I mean, as we’ve said in the past, that any conversation that we have would match the comments that we’ve been making in public, and anything that would be discussed would have to be solely on the focus of them agreeing to denuclearize the Peninsula. That would be the primary factor in whether or not we would have any conversation with them.
Q And then, Sarah, the Vice President led the delegation for the Opening Ceremonies. Ivanka Trump led the delegation for the Closing Ceremonies. Such high-level administration officials were in South Korea, and there were some North Korean officials that were present. Was it a missed opportunity for both sides to talk to one another during the Olympics?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think so. I think that the message that the United States wanted to deliver was the one of maximum pressure, and we continued to do that.
I think you certainly saw that in all of the remarks, both publicly and those that were private between the U.S. officials and President Moon and his administration, and also through the actions of the Treasury Department with the largest sanctions ever that you saw on Friday.
Q Thank you. I want to get back to the 21 age limit for gun ownership. The President was pretty forthright about this in the onset. And now you just said that it is something that is still being discussed. It feels like a little bit of a downgrade. Why the downgrade? And to those who would say, “Well, he had lunch with the NRA over the weekend,” did the NRA get a hold of him?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think it’s at all a downgrade. I think we’re talking specifically about implementation and what this process would look like, what specific pieces of legislation might look like. And we haven’t seen those yet, so it would be premature for us to weigh in. But, as I said, the President is still supportive of the concept.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two quick questions for you. You just returned from the region. From the perspective of the administration, have the North Koreans been successful at all in driving a wedge between the South Koreans and the United States?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think so. I think our alliance is as strong as ever. I think you saw that both with the Vice President’s visit. And, certainly over the last several days, there was a great sense of cooperation. And I would say that that alliance is still very much strong. There’s no daylight between us and the South Koreans, particularly on what needs to happen moving forward.
Q And on the Syrian ceasefire, is the President concerned about the continuing violence, despite the fact that there’s been a ceasefire brokered for the region?
MS. SANDERS: Look, Syria is terrorizing hundreds of thousands of civilians with airstrikes, artillery, rockets, and a looming ground attack. The regime’s use of chlorine gas is — as a weapon — only intensifies this. The United States calls for an immediate end to offensive operation, and urgent access for humanitarian workers and badly needed humanitarian aid.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I also want to ask about that luncheon with the National Rifle Association that the President revealed today. Could you say whether that was on Saturday or whether it was on Sunday? And why wasn’t that on the President’s public schedule, given that he’s a pretty open supporter of the NRA and he often talks about it?
MS. SANDERS: It was on Sunday. Obviously, the President wasn’t trying to keep it under wraps, or he wouldn’t have announced it so publicly. It was a productive conversation, and I think everyone is in agreement that things need to be done and we have to have some changes take place to do what we can to protect America’s kids. And members of the NRA want to be part of that discussion.
And, as we’ve said, the President is taking information from a number of stakeholders. And to try to pretend like he’s being influenced by any one group would be ridiculous, considering the number of individuals he’s met with that come from both the far left to the far right, and a lot of those in between. And we’re going to continue those conversations and meet with bipartisan lawmakers on Wednesday, later this week.
Q The reason I ask you about what day that the lunch took place, Sarah, is because, yesterday morning, the NRA’s spokeswoman had said that these are just things that he’s discussing right now when it comes to that age limit that Blake was asking about. And it does seem like there was a softening of the stance from the President between what we heard last week and what we’re hearing now today. And is it — at this point, is the President firmly committed to that if he can see it in a legislative form?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we haven’t seen the legislation in form yet, and so we’re not going to speak to potential legislation that doesn’t exist that may have a lot of different nuanced language.
In concept, the President still supports it, but in terms of legislation, we’d need to see what that looks like before we weigh in further.
Hallie. I’m disappointed that Peter didn’t make it. We were on the same travel schedule. You should give him a hard time for that.
Q (Inaudible.) Thank you. I want to follow up to Trey on Syria. But before I do, I want to ask you this — because given a guilty plea from Rick Gates on Friday, I’m wondering what it says, in your view, about the President’s judgment that three people linked to his campaign have now turned out to be criminals.
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that those are issues that took place long before they were involved with the President. And anything beyond that, because those are active investigations, I’m not going to go any further than that.
Q Even though Gates served on his campaign?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, but those actions that are under review and under investigation took place prior to him being part of the President’s campaign.
Q Let me ask you about Syria, because I think it was last summer — Sean Spicer, who was at this podium, issued a statement in which he said, if “Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.” Given the developments in Syria that we’ve seen over the last few days, should the Assad regime be on notice? And has President Trump talked with President Putin in recent days about the situation there?
MS. SANDERS: I think that the President put the Assad regime on notice some time ago, and we’re continuing to echo that message. When I said that we call for an immediate end to these offensive operations, we mean it. But in terms of any specific action, as we’ve said before, I’m not going to broadcast what we may or may not do. But I think they should absolutely take it very seriously.
Is there a second question?
Q And on the Trump and Putin discussion —
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any conversations. I don’t believe anything has taken place over the last couple days.
Q And when you say immediate action, what is immediate? What is the timeline where you need to see something happen in Syria?
MS. SANDERS: As the President said, he’s not going to lay out a specific calendar. He thinks that’s a big mistake when it comes putting pressure on and negotiating things, so I’m not going to do that today.
Q Two things. I’d like to follow up, first, on the question about the background checks. The President has talked about making background checks stronger, but that would suggest that he thinks that an effective background check is a useful tool. So can you say, for sure, whether he would support what had been talked about as universal background checks in 2013 — the idea of expanding the existing background check system to also cover private sales at gun shows and on the Internet. Is that something, at least, that he’s open to — or looking at?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware that that’s, you know, the position that he’s in right now. I do know that he supports the Cornyn legislation, and that would be something that the administration could get behind.
In terms of other specific pieces of legislation that STOP Guns Violence Act would be another piece of legislation that the President would specifically support. Any legislation beyond that, we’d have to see what it looks like and review that before we make that determination.
Q Has he ruled that out? Has he ruled out looking at —
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him that, specifically.
Q And then just one other thing. The First Lady, today, in her remarks — her brief remarks to the governors — the spouses, I guess — mentioned the young students from Stoneman Douglas who have been advocating over the past couple of weeks — praised them and said their voices need to be heard. Given that the large majority of those students have been expressing views that run counter to the policies of this administration or the things that this administration would support — for example, assault weapons bans — does the President also agree with the First Lady that these are important voices that need to be heard?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. And that’s the reason that he had a number of them here at the White House just last week, and why we’re going to continue having those conversations. That’s one piece of the conversation. And it’s certainly one that is very important and should be listened to. And that was why that was the very first meeting that the President held on school safety, was hearing from a number of those students.
We want to continue that dialogue, as well as continue the conversations with state, local, and federal officials. That’s why the President had the governors here today, and that’s why he’s going to have meetings with lawmakers from Congress from both sides of the aisle later this week.
We’ll take one last question. Jim.
Q When the President said earlier today that he would have run into the school, was he suggesting that he could have saved the day down in Parkland? What —
MS. SANDERS: I think he was just stating that, as a leader, he would have stepped in and hopefully been able to help, as a number of the individuals that were in the school — the coach and other adults, and even a lot of the students — stepped up and helped protect other students. I think the point he was making is that he would have wanted to have played a role in that as well.
Q Can I just follow up on that? Is he trained in firing a weapon? Is he trained in using a handgun or a firearm of some sort?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think that was the point he was making. He was saying that he would be a leader and would want to take a courageous action. And a lot of the individuals that helped protect others that day weren’t carrying firearms, which I think shows that you can be helpful in that process without it.
Q There are a lot of parents who are worried that if you have a lot of people inside these schools with weapons that this could turn into a situation like the Wild West. What would you say to parents out there who are worried about faculty members, coaches, administrators, packing heat in a school?
MS. SANDERS: That’s why we’re having this conversation. There are also a lot of parents. And we heard from one of them whose daughter was tragically murdered last week — one of the parents from Parkland who advocated for personnel having guns. So there’s a lot of different people on both sides of this issue.
That’s why we’re continuing to have these discussions. And that’s why we’ve opened most of them up so that you guys can see exactly where a number of these people are, and see that there are a lot of voice on both sides. And we’re doing everything we can to bring those groups together, to unify the country, and do everything we can to make sure we’re taking the biggest and the strongest steps forward in protecting America’s kids.
I know I said that was the last question, but, Jeff, I’ll take one last one for you. And then we’ll call it a day.
Q Thanks, Sarah. China has moved to get rid of term limits, which would allow President Xi to stay in office indefinitely. What’s the White House’s reaction to that?
MS. SANDERS: I believe that’s a decision for China to make about what’s best for their country. But, as you know, the President has talked about term limits in a number of capacities during the campaign. It’s something that he supports here in the United States. But that’s a decision that would be up to China.
Thanks so much, guys. Hope you have a great day. Maybe we’ll do a little bit longer tomorrow after get a full night’s rest. Thanks, guys.
3:31 P.M. EST