Wednesday, March 7, 2018- 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
2:45 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. As you all saw, the President delivered remarks at the Latino Coalition Summit this afternoon. The business leaders in attendance are living proof that the American Dream is back and stronger than ever under President Trump’s leadership.
As the President noted, last year Hispanic unemployment reached the lowest level in history. It has now remained below 5 percent for the longest period ever recorded.
Latino-owned businesses are thriving like never before, contributing nearly half a trillion dollars for our economy last year alone. And with the President’s pro-growth policies, this is only the beginning.
The last couple of weeks, we have been highlighting Senate Democrats’ historic efforts to obstruct the ability of the government to function. A stunning 43 percent of the President’s highly qualified nominees are still waiting for confirmation in the Senate. Senator Schumer’s tactics have led to 102 fewer confirmations than the next closest administration.
As I noted before, blocking Ric Grenell from serving as Ambassador to Germany is putting our national security in jeopardy.
Today, I’d like to highlight Yleem Poblete. It has been almost 150 days since Dr. Poblete was nominated to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance. She would work to verify compliance of arms control, including disarmament agreements and missile defense cooperation.
We need her in place so she’s able to fully represent the United States at upcoming international meetings to discuss Syria’s use of chemical weapons, and to participate in April’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee meetings. Say that really fast.
And yet, Senator Schumer is holding her up, putting the safety and security of the American people and, frankly, the entire world in danger.
Senator Schumer is blocking nominees indiscriminately. He forces time-wasting procedural votes on nominees, and then eventually votes in support of them.
Just yesterday, the Senate had to waste precious floor time on a universally respected nominee, Terry Doughty, who was confirmed 98 to 0. Even Senator Schumer eventually voted in favor of the nominee, yet still demanded the Senate go through archaic Senate procedure that delays votes and wastes the American people’s time. It’s a disgrace, it’s dangerous, and it must come to an end.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Sarah, on the tariffs. Does the President expect to sign the tariffs tomorrow? And can countries like Mexico and Canada and allies within the European Union expect to have a pathway to gain an exemption from the tariffs?
MS. SANDERS: We expect that the President will sign something by the end of the week. And there are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada based on national security, and possibly other countries, as well, based on that process.
Q Specifically, what would they have to do to —
MS. SANDERS: Again, that would be a case-by-case and country-by-country basis, but it would be determined whether or not there is a national security exemption.
Q So far this year, six top White House staffers have resigned. The President says there are more names to come. Why are so many people leaving this administration?
MS. SANDERS: Look, this administration has had a historic first year. We’re going to continue to do great things. This is an intense place, as is every White House. And it’s not abnormal that you would have people come and go. But we’re continuing to do great work. We’re continuing to focus on the President’s agenda. And that’s what we’re all here to do.
Q But, actually, it is actually abnormal. No administration in recent history has had this much turnover as in this administration.
MS. SANDERS: I said it’s not abnormal to have turnover.
Q If this is not the definition of “chaotic,” how would you describe what’s happening in these recent weeks?
MS. SANDERS: If it was, then I don’t think we would be able to accomplish everything that we’ve done. The economy is stronger than it’s been in ages, ISIS is on the run, the remaking of the judiciary. Jobs are coming in at record numbers. There are historic things that have taken place in the first year. Sounds like a very functioning place of business to me.
Q When you talk about potential carve-outs, are you also talking about NATO Allies as possibly getting this exemption?
MS. SANDERS: It would — again, it would be a country-by-country, and it will be based on national security.
Q Let me follow up. Today, the President tweeted, “China has been asked to develop a plan for the year for a One Billion Dollar reduction in the[ir]…trade deficit.” What’s he talking about? Did he make this recently, or has he been talking to the Chinese?
MS. SANDERS: We had conversations with officials last week, and we’re going to continue those conversations with them. The President has been very clear that he wants to address the trade imbalance that the United States has with a number of countries. He feels like the United States has been taken advantage of for far too long, and he’s not going to allow that to continue under his watch.
Q Have they responded, Sarah?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Have they responded?
MS. SANDERS: We’re continuing conversations with them.
Q Sarah, you’ve said repeatedly that we’ve addressed our feelings on that situation, in regards to the Stormy Daniels payment. But specifically, can I ask, did the President approve of the payment that was made in October of 2016 by his longtime lawyer and advisor, Michael Cohen?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration. And anything beyond that, I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Q When did the President address, specifically, the cash payment that was made in October of 2016 to —
MS. SANDERS: The President has denied the allegations against him. And, again, this case has already been won in arbitration. Anything beyond that, I would refer you to outside counsel.
Q But did he know about that payment at the time, though?
MS. SANDERS: Jeff, I’ve addressed this as far as I can go.
Q I’m not talking about the actual allegations, but about the payment. Did he know about the payment at the time?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of. And, again, anything beyond what I’ve already given you, I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Q Has he talked to Michael Cohen about that, since this has become a news story this week? Has he talked to Michael Cohen about it, if I can just ask one more question?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Has he talked to Michael Cohen about that this week since this has become news?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know. I’m not sure.
Q Yeah, Sarah, this administration has now imposed additional sanctions on North Korea after concluding that Kim Jong-un’s government assassinated his half-brother using VX nerve agent in Malaysia. Now we have authorities in Britain have announced that a nerve agent was used to try to kill a former Russian double agent and his wife. Obviously, Moscow the prime suspect.
What does this administration have to say about this attempt at assassination in the UK? And are sanctions against Russia likely, as they were in the case of the North Koreans?
MS. SANDERS: This is currently under review, and I’ll keep you posted as we have further information and developments on that front.
Q Thank you. A quick clarifying question on the China tweet, and then had an NEC question. Is there any chance that if China did respond on that $1 billion reduction plan, that that could assuage or affect the shaping of this tariff plan before it is announced at the end of the week? In other words, is China’s piece of this tariff thing negotiable, or are we only talking about tweaking Canada, Mexico, EU countries?
And my other —
MS. SANDERS: Hold on. Let me address that first.
MS. SANDERS: The President has been clear that he wants to address the trade imbalances and the unfair practices. And certainly, we would take anything into consideration. But as of right now, we’re moving fully ahead. And anything that would change would be done so on a national security basis — any decision for carve-outs.
Q Okay. Obviously, you’re going to take your time and space on making the next NEC decision. But can you give us, sort of, a scope of the short list? And there’s two names in particular I wanted to bounce off of you in this room, just among friends here — (laughter) — Larry Kudlow and Andy Pudzer. Can you confirm that those two are among the names under consideration? And how much of a role is Gary Cohn himself going to have in helping the President make that pick to succeed him?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get into any naming or a list, but I can tell you that the President has a number of people under consideration. And he’s going to take his time making that decision.
Q With Gary Cohn leaving, Senator Cornyn — Republican Senator Cornyn said today, “I’m concerned who the President will turn to for advice.” Should he be concerned?
MS. SANDERS: No. The President has got a number of very accomplished, smart, capable people around him. And he is going to continue to lean on a lot of those people.
But at the end of the day, the American people voted overwhelmingly for President Donald J. Trump. They voted for his policies, his agenda, and for him to be the ultimate decision maker. And I think that everyone can rest assured in the American people’s choice on that front, and that they’ve made the right one.
Q You said earlier today that we’re continuing to bring in new people every day. Could you tell us who has come in this week?
MS. SANDERS: We’ve made several personnel announcements. I’d refer you back to the press releases of nominations and personnel announcements that have gone out. I think there’s been at least three that have gone out earlier this week.
Q Senior level in the White House?
MS. SANDERS: I’d be happy to forward those to you, if you’re not receiving the White House press releases.
Q The European Union is being very shrewd in its threats of retaliation against these tariffs, saying that they would slap tariffs on things like bed linens, which would include the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Georgia; his manufacturers — chewing tobacco, which includes North Carolina; cranberries, the leading producer of which is Wisconsin; orange juice, again Florida. Is the President concerned that he could hurt his political fortunes in some of these swing states if he goes ahead with these tariffs?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has been talking about this for a long time. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody. Other countries have created unfair trade policies for decades that have harmed our national and economic security. The President wants a strong economy and a strong national security. And a strong U.S. economy benefits all Americans, particularly by helping us maintain a strong military and defend U.S. national security interests. And he’s going to continue every day to fight for making sure that we have strong both national and economic security.
Q But the EU is going to hit him where it hurts. Is he prepared to take the hit?
MS. SANDERS: The President is prepared to protect our country. That is the number-one priority he has as President, is to protect our economic and national security interests. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Q And if I could ask one just about Gary Cohn. He was a noted free trader, a globalist. Will the President seek another globalist, another free trader for that position?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s announcement on who will replace Gary.
Q A follow-up on Gary Cohn. The President has often touted the strength of the markets. There has been some volatility today. The U.S. markets opened down; so did the Asian markets. Is he concerned about the volatility in the markets in the wake of Gary Cohn’s resignation announcement?
MS. SANDERS: The President is focused on long-term economic goals. The economy is still infinitely stronger today than it was when the President took office. We’re going to continue to fight for strong economic policy, job growth, wage growth, and, certainly, an increased number of people that are working in this country again, specifically some of the actions that you’re going to see through the announcement later this week.
Q Isn’t the message from the markets, though, that they’re concerned about Gary Cohn’s departure and what it might mean for the stability of this White House and the U.S. economy?
MS. SANDERS: I think if you look at the overall message of the markets, it’s that we’re doing much better under President Trump than we were doing before he took office.
Q And the President called Gary Cohn a “rare talent.” Does that mean that he’s open to having him come back in some other capacity, perhaps a Cabinet-level role?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, they maintain a strong relationship and are going to continue that relationship, and certainly Gary will continue to be an advocate for the President in a number —
Q Is that a yes?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not closing the door.
Q Sarah, one more, quickly. One more, quickly. Can you confirm —
MS. SANDERS: I’m going to move around just because I want to make sure I get to as many of your colleagues as possible.
Q Can you just confirm or comment on the ABC News report that a number of staffers have had their —
MS. SANDERS: Kristen, I’m going to bounce around, but I’m sure one of your colleagues would be happy to pick up where you’ve left off.
Q I do have a question about something you said earlier in response to Jeff’s question. You said that there’s arbitration that’s already been won. By whom and when?
MS. SANDERS: By the President’s personal attorneys. And for details on that, I would refer you to them.
Q But you’re aware of them, so what more can you share with us?
MS. SANDERS: I can share that the arbitration was won in the President’s favor, and I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel on any details beyond that.
Q A follow-up, a separate question. Tomorrow, the President will be meeting with video game executives. What does he hope to accomplish? And why is he bringing them in?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants to continue the conversation on every different area that we can to help promote school safety. And I’m not going to get ahead of the discussion that they’re going to have tomorrow, but we think it’s an important discussion to have and one that the President looks forward to.
Q Does he think they’re too violent? Is that why?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Does he think that video games are too violent? Is that why he wants to bring them here?
MS. SANDERS: It’s certainly something that should be looked at and something that we want to have the conversation about.
Q Thanks very much. I was wondering — the President tweeted earlier about — saying the U.S. is acting swiftly on intellectual property theft. Should we understand that to mean that the 301 report is imminent? And can you, kind of, give us some detail about whether it might lean into tariffs or damages for intellectual property theft?
MS. SANDERS: Something, certainly, that we have considered and talked about extensively, but I’m not going to get ahead of any potential announcement.
Q Sarah, given the President’s criticism of the Attorney General in the past referring matters to the IG, does he then concur with several of the GOP congressmen who are calling for a second special counsel to look into FISA abuse in the Department of Justice?
MS. SANDERS: The President has made clear that he has significant concerns about the current FISA process. Nothing makes the problem of FISA more clear than what the Democrat and the Republican memos that outlined that the FBI used political campaign material to get a warrant to spy on American citizens. They failed to disclose to the judge that the dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, even as it was being used to spy on people associated with the Trump campaign.
Obviously, those details alone show that the process needs to be looked at closely and reformed to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect the privacy of Americans.
Q On a separate topic, I want to ask you about the VA, but I do want to follow up on something you have said twice now this week, which is, when asked about that payment to the President, you said, “Not that I’m aware of.” Have you asked the President this question?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, can you be more (inaudible)?
Q Sure. Sure. To both Jeff, as well as, Monday, to the Wall Street Journal reporter, you were asked about whether the President knew about this payment his longtime lawyer made to — facilitated, rather — to Stormy Daniels. You said then, and again today, not that you’re aware of. Have you asked the President this question?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, I’ve had conversations with the President about this. And, as I outlined earlier, that this case has already been won in arbitration and that there was no knowledge of any payments from the President, and he’s denied all of these allegations.
Q But I just want to — is there a reason why you’re not answering the actual substance of the question on the payment itself? Because it’s come up a few times now.
MS. SANDERS: I’ve believed I’ve addressed this question pretty extensively. And on ongoing litigation, I’m not going to comment any further than I already have.
Q (Inaudible), which is the new IG report coming out. This is an issue that the President has been passionate about — veterans’ care. It finds that Secretary Shulkin was a part of failed leadership at the VA. So why is he still a part of this administration?
MS. SANDERS: Look, Secretary Shulkin has done a great job, as I outlined on Tuesday. A number of the things that have been improved upon at the VA under his leadership. We’re proud of the work that we’ve done, and we’re going to continue to do everything we can to protect the veterans and helps veterans in this country. It’s something that the President talked about extensively on the campaign and has directed Director Shulkin to take an aggressive approach, and he’s done that since becoming Secretary.
Q Jordan, and then me. Jordan, and then me.
MS. SANDERS: Oh, sorry. You’re right. Jordan, I’m sorry.
Q All right, thanks, Sarah. I want to ask about —
MS. SANDERS: April, that was very polite of you.
Q I’m always polite. (Laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: Just to be clear, I didn’t suggest otherwise, because I’m sure there will be some sort of terrible comment about how I was abusive to the press otherwise.
Go ahead, Jordan.
Q Me, in particular (inaudible). (Laughs.)
Q All right, thanks, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about elephant trophies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put out new guidance saying it would evaluate all permit requests on a case-by-case basis. This comes after the President had suspended the previous guidance lifting the trophy ban.
The President called that practice of collecting trophies a “horror show.” So I’m wondering what does the President think of this latest policy of relaxing the ban? And did he sign off on it?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President’s — President Trump’s position on trophy hunting remains the same. The Fish and Wildlife’s announcement is a response to a court decision impacting how trophy import applications are reviewed. Anything further, I’d refer you to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Q Does the President want them to further curtail that, given his thoughts about —
MS. SANDERS: The President has been clear what his position is, and that has not changed.
April. I’m sorry, I was a little scattered today on the order. Go ahead.
Q You’re all right. All right, three topics, really fast. The President was a businessman before he became a politician. And understanding business — if there’s high turnover in a business, it’s considered a management issue at the top. What’s the issue here?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t believe there is one. I think that’s why the first year of the administration has been so successful. As many people have outlined, we’ve actually accomplished a great deal of what the President campaigned on and set out to do, and we’ve only been here just over a year. So we certainly feel like there isn’t an issue, but, actually, a great deal of success and a great story to tell about the President’s first year.
Q Do you have any confidence in this administration, with top — I mean, you’ve had a lot of people — 10 to 13 people — in top-tier positions leave.
MS. SANDERS: I think that confidence should be in the President and the policies that he’s outlined, and the agenda that he’s laid out. That’s what the American people voted for, and that’s certainly what we’ve seen enacted over the first year and a half. And I think that’s been a tremendous success.
Q And the second, going back to Jared. You know, we heard a tape of the President with Billy Bush, and now we hear about Stormy Daniels, and you’re saying that it’s not true. What should the American public believe? And what does the President want the American public to believe after hearing that before the election, and now this?
MS. SANDERS: Well, let’s not conflate two different things. The President has denied these allegations. We’ve addressed this. The American people were aware of this and voted for the President. I don’t have anything more to add.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two quick questions on two separate topics. Have any countries notified the administration of their intent to file complaints with the WTO regarding the imposition of the steel and aluminum tariffs?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any specific complaints.
Q And then, on the other question I wanted to ask you. Michael Cohen has indicated that he was not reimbursed in any way by the Trump organization or the Trump campaign for the $130,000 that he paid to Stormy Daniels. At the same time, he is being reimbursed for this legal fees by the Trump campaign. They’ve already paid $214,000 in legal fees to a firm that’s representing Mr. Cohen. I don’t want to get you in trouble with the Hatch Act, but do you happen to know why it is that the Trump campaign is paying his legal fees?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t. I can’t speak on behalf of the campaign. I’d refer you to them.
Q Sarah, can you confirm this trip to California next week? And also, why has it taken so long for the President to visit California?
MS. SANDERS: I can confirm the President does plan to make a trip to California next week. Why it’s taken so long? I think it’s because he’s been busy growing the economy, creating jobs, defeating ISIS, remaking the judiciary. I’d be happy to name off some other successes.
Q It’s been 14 months. It’s a pretty big state.
MS. SANDERS: But I think that’s probably enough. But, yes, I can confirm the President will be headed to California next week.
We’ll take one last question. Alex.
Q Sarah, bouncing off John’s question on the Hatch Act, the White House is reasoning that Kellyanne Conway did not violate the Hatch Act when she said that a candidate in Alabama would be “a vote against tax cuts, weak on crime, weak on borders, and strong on raising your taxes.” How do you see that as not advocating against a candidate?
MS. SANDERS: She didn’t advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate. She simply expressed the President’s obvious position specific to policy, that he have people in the House and Senate who would support his agenda. I don’t think it should be a secret to anybody that the President is going to want people both in the House and Senate that are going to help push forward policies that he supports and push forward policies and his agenda.
In fact, Kellyanne’s statement actually shows her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act, as she twice declined to respond to the host’s specific invitation to encourage the people of Alabama to vote for that Republican.
Thanks so much, guys. We’ll see you tomorrow.
3:06 P.M. EST