Thursday August 31, 2017- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders takes questions from the rabid White House press corps.
Transcript of the press briefing
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:01 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. I know most of you, and more importantly the American people, have many questions related to Hurricane Harvey.
And as you all know, the President was in Corpus Christi and Austin earlier this week, and today at the President’s direction, the Vice President, Mrs. Pence, and five Cabinet secretaries are back in Texas meeting with local officials and storm survivors, and thanking many of the first responders and other volunteers.
The President’s team here has been working around the clock to support state and local authorities following the storm. And now, I want to bring up Tom Bossert, the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, to provide and update on the administration-wide effort to support the recovery and relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
He’ll make a few opening remarks and then stay to take questions specific to the storm and what the administration is doing to help the state and local authorities and the people of Texas and Louisiana. And as always, after Tom speaks and takes your questions, I’ll be back up here to take questions on other topics.
MR. BOSSERT: Thanks, Sarah. Let me see if I can start by addressing maybe some different audiences. We’ve got international audience, national audience, state and local audience, and I want to see if I can speak to each one of them with a brief update and where we stand.
From the international perspective, we’ve had heads of state from a lot of different countries. In particular, I would stress today, yesterday the heads of state of Mexico and Canada called to express their condolences, their prayers and thoughts, but also assistance if they could lend anything to the effort. We very much appreciate that, and the President was deeply touched by those phone calls.
I joined him for the call from Justin Trudeau just moments ago, and we appreciate the neighborly gesture quite seriously. And it’s an international expression of what we’re seeing here at a very local level. We’ve got neighbors helping neighbors in Texas and Louisiana, but also neighbors that aren’t in close proximity internationally expressing help to our international neighbors, though Canada and Mexico are also offering their condolences, and we very much appreciate it.
We’re seeing deployed assets now from a lot of states. I know we’ve got 28, for instance, search and rescue teams and taskforces from, I think, 16 different states all sending down their support to Texas. That’s a pretty large activation. In fact, I believe that that’s the first time we’ve activated all the task forces since 9/11.
So this is an all-hands-on-deck operation, and it’s not just a federal one. There are state and local officials from all walks — even from Pennsylvania, where I’m from, there are people now addressing this problem by getting their hands dirty and going right down to Texas to help. So we want to stop and say thank you to them for that.
And then, if I can move to the nation, many of you are watching this and you want to hear from us what we’re doing. I want to make sure you understand that you should continue to have confidence in what we’re doing as a government. There are significant commodity numbers and numbers of personnel and materiel moving into this affected region, and it’s an increasing number every day as we move forward.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t stop and say that none of that matters if you’re an affected individual. So 10,000 liters of water doesn’t matter if I don’t have the one liter I need to drink right now.
And so if I could, I’d like to stop and give a message or two directly to the people who need the assistance. If I can, this might sound a little bit mundane from a White House podium, but if you’re in need of assistance and you have access to a functioning computer, if you can get to a shelter or someplace where you can do this, it’s very important that you go to >www.DisasterAssistance.gov<. You can find what you need there to register for the assistance that you might need.
If you don’t have access but you can find a working telephone, 1-800-462-7585. Again, 1-800-462-7585. There’s another number that FEMA has given us of 621-3362. I’m going to clarify and say — I think 621 — 1-800-621-3362, that’s the number — 3362 spells FEMA. That second number of 7585 is the TTY number.
I want to make sure that people use those numbers and use those resources to register. I’d also like to give them the advice that it’s never too early to call your insurance adjustor, make sure if you have property loss or damage, you’ve got the process underway. It can take some time. There’s going to be a high volume of calls, and we want to make sure your needs are attended to as soon as possible.
So that’s where we stand right now. I’d like to go through a few additional messages.
Lifesaving and life-sustaining operations are still underway. We’ve seen some hospitals suffer some damage in Beaumont. Most of you that are tracking the event have seen that. The DOD and the HHS officials responsible for coordinating the federal response here are actively figuring out and deploying resources to help move those patients to a better definitive care location. So we will see probably upwards of 7,000 estimated patients moved into better and safer definitive care hospitals elsewhere in Texas. And we’ll see that happen expeditiously, and I’m quite comfortable with where those operations stand.
Secondly, a little word of caution: A lot of lost lives end up in this time zone right after a response. We lose, unfortunately, some lives in an immediate disaster, but then in the immediate response and recovery phase, people will use chainsaws, people will remove debris, people will be stressed. The elderly, when they’re stressed, you heard Dr. Fauci say, tend to get sick. That sickness can lead to death, unfortunately.
And so, unfortunately, we will see additional losses of life if history is any precedent here — or if that history is any prologue, we will see additional loss of life. So please try to avoid that, try to avoid strain and stress. Try to get to where there’s food, water, and shelter, and take care of yourself so that you can then take care of others.
With that, I’d like to suggest that from the FEMA perspective, they’re continuing that operation. But from the White House, it’s important that we look at the cost of these events and that we look on the horizon a little bit about what’s next.
So as we look into it — these are estimates at this point — but it looks like around about 100,000 affected homes. That’s a big number. We’re going to have 100,000 affected homes, all with different degrees of insurance, some with flood insurance, some underinsured, some uninsured. We’ll have to address those on a case-by-case basis as we move forward, but I want to put a scope and magnitude on this.
We’re also going to have damage to publicly owned infrastructure. And so what we will do as an administration is put together a responsible supplemental request for Congress — an appropriations request. We’ll make that request shortly. We’ll make that request based on the information that we have now. And what we’ll do then is come back later for a second supplemental request when we have additional information that would make a more informed total for Congress to consider.
So I’d like to stop on that point and take a few questions.
Q Question for you. Obviously, after Hurricane Sandy, some money flowed fairly quickly, but the big bill didn’t happen until two months after the hurricane hit. The hurricane hit on October 29th; the bill was signed into law on the 6th of January. How important is it, do you believe with Texas, for Congress to get that money through faster? The President promised it would happen quickly.
MR. BOSSERT: Yep. So three things here. First, you have to look at the health of the disaster relief fund, which is funding most of this operation. That was a relatively healthy fund. It had about $3.6 billion in it, heading into this storm. That allowed us to get through the initial response operations. That drawdown rate, though, is something that we keep a close eye on. We’re going to need to go up and ask for a disaster supplemental, shortly.
We are also, secondly, heading up into the end of a fiscal year. And so any available money from a regularly appropriated prospective in a department or agency is running out. The end of the fiscal year is upon us. And so Congress had already planned to provide us some replenishment into that fund through their regular course of operations.
And then, thirdly, if there are — and there will be — needs for additional funding in the future as those drawdown construction numbers become more clear on the recovery phase, we’ll be able to look at them and ask for a third, kind of, bite at the apple on this.
So that’s where we stand, and I’m not worried at all that we don’t have the money right now for the operations underway and the operations that we foresee in the next month.
Q Thank you. You mentioned the offers of assistance from the leaders of Canada and Mexico. Will the President be accepting any of those offers of assistance?
MR. BOSSERT: Sure, you know, the answer here is that the President didn’t get into the specifics and neither did the heads of state calling. So I think their primary purpose was to express and extend their prayers and their thoughts and their condolences to those who lost their lives.
What we’ll do is turn it over to FEMA and the Department of State to accept that request for additional, actual, concrete or tangible assistance. FEMA then has an office of international affairs, and they’ll figure out how to integrate that with the operators. If we have unmet needs that they can offer — some valuable supply for — we’ll take that. But there’s no reason to not take that assistance.
Q Can you get back to us and let us know exactly what —
MR. BOSSERT: I would say yes, but I would highly encourage you to ask FEMA how that’s unfolding because you have to look at that from a very specific perspective. I’ve done that before and the operators have to integrate something very carefully into a logistics chain that is complex.
Q Hey, Tom, can I follow up on this question here. You talk about what’s next — the recovery is obviously going to be not just months, but years in the making. This is also an administration that’s proposed some pretty significant cuts to FEMA. Are you — given what you have seen and what the President has seen on the ground in Texas — are you encouraging the President to rethink those budget cuts? You have been in emergency management a while. Do you think he should reconsider them?
MR. BOSSERT: There is a number of misnomers on that. So the core operating function at FEMA is going to be well-funded under the President’s proposal. The disaster relief fund, which really provides the money for these events that you don’t plan for but that you prepare for, those things will be all well-funded through that disaster relief fund.
Q So no cuts to disaster relief?
MR. BOSSERT: But what you will see are responsible proposals in the President’s budget for reductions and some Homeland Security grants. Those grants — I was around for their creation — those grants were never meant to be permanent. And what we need to do is reduce state and local dependency on some of that federal money, but we need to do it in a responsible way. So it’s a little wonky but you’ll see not just a request for a cut in money in the budget that the President put forward, but you’ll see some additional details that allow the states to responsibly develop a glide path to get off of those grants and their dependence on them over a period of four, five years or so.
And so I would say, understanding that’s important for the American people, to know that the President wasn’t irresponsibly cutting any money. In fact, he was doing something that would further empower state and locals.
And then I’d come back to reiterate the fact that the disaster relief fund is strong, it’s got plenty of money in it now, and we’re going to ask for some very responsible surplus supplementals.
Q Tom, could you talk to me about the issue of those who are displaced? Temporary housing is a big issue. What can you tell us about what’s happening over at HUD, what’s happening with this administration as it relates to this? It was a big issue during Katrina, and it was a major problem. Are you looking at issues of finding and designating vacant locations for some of these people to — some of these victims or survivors to go into?
MR. BOSSERT: So I met with the chiefs of staff of all of the Cabinet today, and we talked about housing quite a bit. What’s happening now is, HUD, in cooperation with FEMA, and state and local officials are starting to get together. The available housing stock — both available to rent or stock manufactured housing, which often fits a need in this type of disaster, but also available housing stock for those who receive assistance under HUD programs — Section 8 in particular.
So we’re trying to put all those housing stock solutions and all those government programs together, think through what’s available and how people might utilize that. Right now, FEMA is doing that in a planning section, but their operators are focused on saving lives.
So, if I could, one additional point there, this will be a housing challenge, but I don’t want to concede any kind of housing — a lack of coordination. What we’ll have to do is allow a lot of this to unfold. And so when I say 100,000, some portion of those homes were affected with two foot of water or less; some were affected with eight foot of water or more. And you’ll have to look at a case-by-case basis, the people and whether they’re underwater financially and underwater actually. And we’ll have to work with the mortgage lenders and others as we address those problems.
Q A follow-up really fast. During Katrina there was a big issue of, when the people received housing, temporary housing, rent prices went up dramatically. Is there any kind of safety net or safeguard that that will not happen, that these survivors will not be gouged when they go into these temporary housing situations?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, you just used an important word and I’ll make a really clear point right now. Gouging will not be tolerated. Jeff Sessions and the President of the United States will not tolerate gouging.
Anybody that is going to go out and try to take advantage of a disaster victim ought to expect law enforcement to come down on them with a hammer. That’s not acceptable on a regular day. It’s certainly not acceptable when people are suffering.
What we’ll do is use the latitude that we have under the law — to come back to your first administrative point — and provide a fair market value rental rate that’s a little bit higher than 100 percent to accommodate the natural demand and supply tensions.
Q To follow up on April’s questions about gouging and housing, what about gas prices? Is the administration looking at that in terms of national pricing against gouging of a profit?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, gouging is a problem if it exists and if it happens at all levels in every vertical market and every horizontal. But I think the idea here on fuel is a good question. We had at one point, in the peak, somewhere around 4 percent of our oil shut in the Gulf due to rigs having to pull themselves in. That number is going to come back online.
But again, to take things back to housing, to bring back all the business operations in the Houston petrochemical triangle, we need to make sure that the employees down there have responsible and safe housing. So while there might be some effect to our fuel prices as a nation, right now we’re hoping that it’s not a large or sustainable fuel price at the pump problem.
What we’ll also do is look for the health of the pipelines. So, remember, there is still rain falling. Texas is, I think, not experiencing any rain today; maybe some small storms, but not any major storm. Now Louisiana and the rest of the Tennessee Valley and the middle of the country are starting to see rain storms. The Colonial and the Plantation pipelines, we’ll keep an eye on that. We talked about that today in our meeting. And if we have any update on that, we’ll give it to you the rest of the week.
Q Yeah, on this Crosby chemical plant that’s on fire, the local sheriff there says the plume that’s coming out of that plant is not dangerous to the community. The FEMA director says, “…by all means…it’s dangerous.” Which is it?
MR. BOSSERT: So, if you were there, it would be dangerous. But the good news is, is that the people around that facility had been evacuated already because of the storm and because of the notice that we had on the pending explosion. Some really responsible reporting — private-public partnership took place on that facility. And what we saw was that the electric power that went to the pumps and to the maintenance systems shut out. We couldn’t responsibly get that power back, so the temperature rose in a concealed tank — or a confined tank, and we ended up having an explosion.
So they’re testing the air quality as local responders, but they don’t know of anyone yet that’s in that area of plume that would be affected. So if they were there, it would be dangerous, and they have to keep an eye on it and make sure they take it seriously. But for right now, the people don’t seem to be there. So a tree falling in the woods, if you will.
Q I have one more question for you, if I may. There are 575,000 undocumented immigrants in Houston, one of the largest populations in this country. Does this White House believe they should be eligible for long-term federal recovery assistance?
MR. BOSSERT: I think illegal immigrants and that issue has come up a number of times. So if you’ve committed a crime, that’s the priority for the Department of Homeland Security. I think you’ve heard John Kelly say that, and pretty clearly the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the head of CBP.
What I would say, though, is in terms of immediate life saving: No individual human being should worry about their immigration status, unless they’ve committed a crime on top of coming here illegally, when it comes to getting food, water and shelter. So the authorities won’t be conducting any routine swipes or searches inside those shelters. Those are shelters for food, water, and providing kind of insulation against exposure.
So that will happen, and we won’t go rounding people up when they show up there. We don’t want to discourage that.
Now, subsequently, our priority will be illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. They’re going to be rounded up as they always are, and taken out of this country if we find them. I think that’s pretty clear.
Sir, can I go here.
Q Thanks a lot, Tom. Fifteen oil refineries went offline as a result of the hurricane. Is it your understanding that they’ve gone back online? Is this a concern for you? Are there any thoughts of tapping into the SPR because this represents 25 percent of U.S. oil refining capacity?
MR. BOSSERT: So I don’t have an answer for you on the SPRO right now. Certainly, the President will make that decision. If necessary, you don’t want to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if you don’t have the refinery capability to handle that. So I haven’t checked today on the status of the refineries, but I know people have, and I can get that answer back to you.
We worry about that, but for right now I’m not aware of any major damage to the refineries, and so that’s why I suggested, to the earlier question, we might have an effect to fuel prices, but it shouldn’t be a huge one. Don’t hold me to it; we’ll come back tomorrow and give you a better answer.
Can I go right here.
Q Two questions. First off, Super Storm Sandy, the federal recovery package was around $60 billion. Governor Abbott has suggested this might exceed $100 billion. Does Governor’s Abbott’s estimate sound reasonable, that this will exceed $100 billion? And the second question is, we’ve received a lot of sanguine reports about coordination between federal, state, and the local agencies. Can you give me a sense of one or two challenges, areas, where that coordination may require some improvement?
MR. BOSSERT: Sure. Okay, so on the first question, there’s nobody that’s wrong on estimates right now. I don’t have any information to challenge anyone’s estimate, and I don’t think that they have any reason to think their estimates are wrong. So we’re in the estimate game right now. And as a result, what we’d like to do is not get into second-guessing anybody, and in particular the Governor, who’s got the firsthand knowledge of what’s happening. But what we’d like to do is a strategy, just figure out the predictable burn rate for the response operations and put up a responsible supplemental request to Congress so that they can meet those needs quickly. So that’s the bite-at-the-apple approach that I suggested.
We’ll go up to Congress and give them a sound supplemental request number. We’ll add to it.
Q (Inaudible) that might be?
MR. BOSSERT: I think we’ve got some internal numbers that we’re thinking, but I don’t want to get in front of Director Mulvaney as he works with Congress. But again, there will be some regular funding coming in as a matter of plan, because we’re headed up to the end of the fiscal year as it is. And then we’ll have a supplemental request later.
When we have better understanding and when we can have a better handle on the damage, we can come back with a responsible last, so to speak, supplemental request and get the Congress to give us an informed amount of money.
Q Were there any areas where coordination has been wanting — where you’ve see a need for improvement?
MR. BOSSERT: No. You know, I think, at this point, the message is that coordination is happening better than any storm that we’ve seen before. And so stressing on anything that’s not working well really is, especially from this podium, going to be ill-informed.
I’m seeing nothing but positive. I’m seeing nothing but appropriate coordination. If there is a problem somewhere, Brock Long is going to get his handle around it and he’s going to fix it. That’s my perspective. So not to be political on that answer, but I don’t have a negative word on coordination right now.
Q Tom, let me ask you about the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. 500,000 barrels were pushed out today. The Energy Department says, during Katrina, that, on a loan basis, it was nearly 10 million barrels. So we’re talking so far just a fraction of what was put out during Katrina. What is the administration’s thinking going forward as to how the SPR will be used? And is what we saw today just a start of what might happen going forward?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, as I said, I’ll come back to you on where we stand after talking to Secretary Perry. I don’t have the numbers right now on what we’re going to do and why. Again though, I’d caution comparisons between storms. Every disaster is different; every emergency manager knows that. Where the storm hits, what it hits, and who it affects constitute massive changes in how we respond to those storms.
So in terms of your structural question though, I think if any need for that Strategic Petroleum Reserve manifests, I think we’d be very comfortable in tapping into that and providing that alleviated resource.
Q There’s some talk about attaching the supplemental to the debt ceiling increase, some talk about rolling a supplemental debt ceiling increase into an overall continuing resolution. From an emergency management standpoint, how important is it to your thinking to get a clean supplemental?
MR. BOSSERT: Well, I think everyone wants a clean supplemental. And so, as we tie the — hopefully, we get a responsible budget, right, and that the Congress comes together and finds a way to take the President’s request and meet it. That would be an ideal answer.
You’re presupposing that we’re going to have a continuing resolution. That’s not the best way to run a railroad, but based on your question, we might have a CR. If that happens, that’s fine. I think it’ll also happen — not fine, but less ideal, but nevertheless fine to my needs as an emergency manager here looking for a DRF supplemental.
The DRF supplemental, when you say “clean,” should focus right now on replenishing the disaster relief fund and any other ancillary and obvious needs that might come for other departments and agencies for repairing roads or highways of that nature. But I think that will be separate and distinct from the debt ceiling.
I think we have every reason to believe that that’s going to happen in a responsible way as well. And I’ll allow Sarah to amplify that if you have any additional questions. But from my perspective now and from the planning session we had this morning, I don’t think there’s going to be any particular problem in our approach to the Congress this fall. That’s at least my sense.
Q I’m just a little bit confused about your answer to Cecilia. I just want to go back to that on the idea of undocumented immigrants getting long-term funding. Was that a yes or a no? Does the administration support that?
MR. BOSSERT: Sorry, what? Yes or no to what question?
Q On the undocumented immigrants eligible for long-term relief help. What happens once they leave? Are undocumented immigrants able to get additional help from —
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, so the eligibility standards range across a number of different programs, and the point here would be that, if you are an immigrant that has committed a crime, you’re going to be removed. If you’re an immigrant, I guess the question is, that’s looking for assistance that’s eligible for citizens, it’s my understanding that you’re not eligible in that case. But I think that that doesn’t mean we’re going to let somebody starve or die of thirst or exposure.
So I don’t think there’s too much of a problem there. I’m not sure where they were living before they got into the shelter. I’d be making some pretty gross suppositions at this point that I’m not prepared to answer. But I understand the hypothetical you’re driving towards, just not looking to deal with it.
Q Well, the Acting Director of ICE has made it clear that he views coming to the U.S. illegally as a crime and that they’ve — people (inaudible) and deported them. And so you’re saying that the priority is still to deport people who have committed a crime on top of that. And it’s different from what we’re hearing from the Acting Director of ICE. And so if you are an undocumented immigrant and you did have a home, and that home was destroyed in a flood and you are in a shelter, what happens?
MR. BOSSERT: There’s a lot of ifs there, and I’ll figure that out as I deal with them. But from my perspective, the priorities couldn’t be any clearer. So I don’t think that I even know how to begin to answer that question. But I will say that there’s no real wavering here, and it’s pretty clear about our position on immigration. So hopefully that answers your question. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of benefits going out to illegal immigrants in terms of the American taxpayer.
But I will say that he’s also made the point that those that have come to the country and then committed crimes constitute the priority offense that we need to focus on. And I believe that he also said that’s not a victimless crime. And so I think that the focus on gangs and other things have everybody pretty well busy right now. And the focus on saving lives and providing food, water, and shelter have everybody pretty well busy right now.
And I think what you’ll find is the good men and women of CBP and ICE are out there providing assistance not only to the men and women of Texas and Louisiana that are American citizens, but also, in the interim, to people of an immigration status that need food, water, and shelter.
So if I could, I’d like to leave it at that because that’s the clear message I want to leave behind to somebody that might otherwise, based on your questioning — no disrespect intended — be discouraged from going in and finding something that would save their life. So that’s the message for today.
Q I did want to ask about the flood insurance program. Before this year, it was — the Treasury — $25 billion, and now this. The question is, should homeowners who are in flood zones have to pay even more than they already have been paying in premiums to fund the program? Or should this be a problem that taxpayers help solve? I mean, at this point, this disaster proves that, even if you’re not in a floodplain, you still run the risk of having your house flood.
MR. BOSSERT: Yep. So a couple of questions here, and I’m going to give you a couple answers. First, just for clarity, because there are people right now suffering that are looking for immediate answers. For clarity’s sake, if you have a flood insurance policy and you’ve been paying your premiums, call and get your claim in. There is no problem. There is no shortfall. We have enough money to meet those claims, and you’re going to get what you’ve got coming to you under your policy. So that’s the first, I think, answer here from the National Flood Insurance Program.
The second one, for people watching this — you have to understand that that flood insurance program is coming up to be reauthorized. It’s about to expire. It’s going to have to be reauthorized, and I have every confidence that Congress will reauthorize that program.
And the third part of your question is, how much money is left in that fund under the borrowing cap or borrowing authority. And the answer is: Enough. I think it’s $8.6 billion to get through this round of claims and then some. That will push us into the late-fall, winter timeframe when we have to get into discussing what the forecast projections are.
And then the last part of your question is a future policy discussion. I think that this administration has been pretty clear that we’d like to see some responsible reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program. I don’t think now is the time to debate those things, as we need to help people that have pending claims. But we’ll debate that late-fall here as we come up with good policy ideas to help move that back into a risk-based private sector, hopefully, supported solution.
But FEMA has been pretty clear about how to do that and to do it responsibly so as to not throw anybody off that’s on that current program. So for anybody that doesn’t know, you can’t buy a flood insurance program in this country that’s not underwritten by the United States of America. The agent that sold it to you might be a private agent, and that’s a public-private partnership that has been working since the Reagan administration. But at the end of the day, that standard flood insurance policy that you have — SFIP that you have — is underwritten by the federal government.
So could I go back — in the back?
Q Can I follow up on Cecilia’s question about undocumented? The President is reported to be poised to make a decision about the DACA program. Right now, the DREAMers who were in that program believe that they are documented — that they’re documented to work, have work permanence, et cetera. There are those who are in the pipeline who have applied for extensions or are new applicants. In the time going forward, what is your advice to them about their risks of being deported — in any of those three categories — under the DACA program?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, so the question is on deferred action against childhood arrivals, and I think what you’ll see is that my position today is that the administration is still reviewing the policy.
On the second part of your question — what happens to people that are in an illegal status that require assistance — I’d refer you back to how I answered the first question: Anybody needing food, water, or shelter is going to get it. Anybody that’s here illegally that subsequently committed a crime is going to get caught and thrown out. And anybody in between has to wait for a decision or at least a policy announcement from the administration on how we’re going to handle deferred action moving forward.
Q Do you believe that that is likely to be revealed in the days that are coming up now, in which you’re trying to manage that emergency?
MR. BOSSERT: Well, I don’t know the timing of that, but as soon as the President is ready to announce the result of our policy process, he’ll do so.
Q Have you been consulted on the decision?
MR. BOSSERT: I have.
Q Can I follow up on DACA? Yeah, just want to ask: What will be the treat of a lawsuit from the state attorney general? Is that going to affect the decision or influence the decision at all?
MR. BOSSERT: Say that one more time.
Q The treat of a lawsuit from the attorney general that sent the letter to the DOJ. Will that affect the decision?
MR. BOSSERT: It won’t affect the policy decision, but it will affect the timing of it. We certainly have to watch the lawsuits and how they matriculate through the courts and when the deadlines would be imposed. That will inform our decision-making process, but it won’t affect the policy decision.
If I could now, I think it’s been — I see Sarah standing up — I’ve been told to turn to — I think we have Skype questioners. Not that you folks in Washington, D.C. don’t matter to me, but for the rest of the people watching, I’d like to turn to — where do I turn? We’ve got Skype questioners — where do I go? Okay.
So I think first, is it somebody from Texas that’s going to ask a question from Skype? And how do I get that, Sarah?
Here we go. Sir, you’re on. Go ahead.
Q Okay, Greg Groogen, Fox26 in Houston.
MR. BOSSERT: Greg, we got you loud and clear.
Q We have, in the Houston area, Army Corps of Engineer reservoirs that are, frankly, failing to protect our citizens from flooding, who are examining that situation. Is the administration considering adding additional resources to the (inaudible)?
MR. BOSSERT: Did everybody hear that question? I think, just to repeat it in case we’re not wired up right here — I think the question, a good one, is that people in Houston are worried about the two systems, the two reservoir systems that the Army Corps of Engineers maintains. They’ve been pictured on television overtopping, they’ve been in a controlled release environment, allowing a lot of water through the affected populated areas of Houston, and you want to know if they’re safe and if there’s any additional funding needed. Was that the question?
Okay, I’m going to answer that question, I think that’s a yes.
So the answer is — and it just so happens that earlier this morning, almost just before I came out here, I was in contact with General Semonite, in-charge commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, and three answers here:
First, he’s got engineers monitoring those systems right now for structural integrity. So what you don’t want to have happen is water come over the top and then eat away at the other side of the wall and have the structural integrity undermined in that fashion we’ve seen in previous events.
As of an hour ago, there was no structural integrity determined by any of the engineers that are standing there watching the facility. And so that means that nobody is in immediate damage — or, I’m sorry, in immediate harm’s way of damage and additional property loss.
But then, lastly, the question is, do we need any additional money to shore those facilities up? So I would try and answer that a little bit differently. We’re not going to get into a position of saying they’re safe or not safe, or asking for more money or not more money right now. What we’ll do is continue the controlled release. The reason the controlled release is good is it’s the alternative to an uncontrolled release. And so it seems like you’re dumping more water on people that don’t need more water, but if you don’t do that, you’ll end up with this structural integrity failure that I just referenced a moment ago.
And so, as soon as the water goes down — and it’s rapidly going down right now, we’re still going to have some flooding for some time — but the big, large, heavy masses of water that are going down and out right now are flowing in a way that will allow us to get in and do an engineering assessment over the coming days and weeks. And if there was structural integrity problems caused by the coming days and weeks or by the storm heretofore, we’ll asses that, we’ll put together a responsible number, estimate for repair, and then we’ll put it forth to Congress.
And then very last on that, we’ll do it in a way that thinks through a mitigation perspective. You just don’t want to rebuild it to the way it was before and then have it undermined again. So when you put federal dollars into a project like that, you want to make sure you do it smartly so that the next storm doesn’t cause any structural problems.
So that’s the way that process will go. It will take a little time for the engineers. But the good news right now for the people in Houston is that both of those reservoir systems are holding up, and there’s engineers sitting there watching them on a 24/7 basis.
So, thank you for that question, and thank you for doing what you’re doing down there. I hope your home hasn’t been affected.
All right, do I have another question? Is there one more?
All right, sir, you’re on.
Q Hi, this is Justin Sternberg with KTRK-ABC out of Houston. How are you?
MR. BOSSERT: I’m doing well.
Q What will you guys do differently? I mean, we’ve had disasters all over before. How do you reassure the people of Texas that real help is coming and it’s coming quickly?
MR. BOSSERT: How do you reassure people that help is coming and help is coming quickly?
Well, there’s a real short answer to that. We send help, and we send it quickly. And I don’t mean that glibly. When we get requests from the governor, from the mayors, we send in as much as they ask for, or more, and make sure that they’re to meet those needs.
The reassurance part comes in the kind of pudding, right? The proof is in the pudding. So if we’re not getting to where we need to get, we need to hear that. And I’m not immune to criticism and neither is Brock Long, and neither are the local officials there. The mayor has stood up and taken a great deal of smart criticism, but he’s also taken a great deal of smart action. And from my perspective, what you have to do is hold us accountable.
And what I think this President is doing — President Trump is holding me and Brock Long and Elaine Duke and the rest of his Cabinet accountable. And when we’re not telling him what he wants to hear, he’s going right down to the governor and finding out if we’re doing it right from his perspective.
So that’s the answer. I think it’s pretty straightforward. Is there anything that’s unmet from a need perspective right now that you want to inform us of? If you do have something, I’m 20 yards from the President. We’ll take it to him.
Q I mean, not as of yet. But there’s a lot of communities that have been devastated here and there’s going to be a lot of needs really quickly.
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah. Let me pick up on that and use that, because that’s a great point to wrap up my remarks here today.
We are still in response mode, and that means lifesaving, life-sustaining. There are still people up to their waists in water. There are still the elderly and infirmed that require our immediate attention. There are still hospitals in need of evacuation and relocation. We’ve activated all those forces from DOD and from DHS to move those patients.
But we’re soon going to move into a long, frustrating recovery process. And the important message for me to leave to the American people and to the people of Texas and Louisiana at that point, is that we’re not going anywhere. And all this talk about supplemental funding, it’s about having the money in the reservoir of cash — sorry to use that pun — to having that money in the fisc for us to use to help you as we rebuild and get you back into your homes, back into yours jobs, and get your kids back into their schools. That’s what makes America great. We’re going to have Houston and Texas bigger, better, and stronger than it was before this storm, and the resilient nature of the American people is just awesome.
I couldn’t be any more proud to be in this job, and I thank you for your time and attention. That’s going to be the last question. A local gets it, I’m sorry. And I appreciate your time. Thank you.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Tom. Finally, before I open it up for further questions, I wanted to be sure and highlight a major step forward in the fight against ISIS. Earlier today, the Iraqi Prime Minister declared that after a nearly two-week long military operation, the city of Tal Afar fully deliberated from ISIS militants.
This victory represents the loss of a very important ISIS stronghold, the hometown of a number of top ISIS commanders. We congratulate the Iraqis on achieving this big milestone, and we’ll continue to support them in their fight to take their country back from radical Islamic terrorism.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. Jeff.
Q Sarah, one follow-up on Tom’s remarks. He said that the White House will be putting together a supplemental. Do you have a sense of when you will submit that to Congress? And then secondly, can you confirm reports that the President is leaning towards or decided to end DACA? And what are the ramifications of that for the DREAMers?
MS. SANDERS: I’ll take the first question in terms of supplemental funding. As Tom said, we’re working with Congress. We’re not going to get ahead of Director Mulvaney. He is working with them around the clock to make sure that process moves forward quickly and effectively.
In terms of DACA, echoing again on what Tom said earlier, a final decision on that front has not been made, and when it is we will certainly inform everybody in this room.
Q Sarah, thanks. In January, the President said that DREAMers shouldn’t be worried. So can you stand here today and say DREAMers should not be worried?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, when we have a final decision — this is under review. There are a lot of components that need to be looked at, and once a decision is made we will certainly let you guys know.
Q Sarah, there’s a specific report out by Fox that talks about — that says essentially a decision is made to roll back the program by the end of this week and that there will be provisions allowing DREAMers who are in the country right now to stay until their work authorization expires. Are you specifically denying that report?
MS. SANDERS: No offense to your colleague from Fox News, but I think that I’m a little bit better informed than they are in terms of when the White House has made a decision. And as I just said a moment ago, it has not been finalized, and when it is we will certainly let you know.
Q Sarah, I have two questions just on Glenn. Can you at least talk about the timeline here? You’ve got these states that have said September 5th is when you will be getting this court action. That’s obviously the Tuesday after Labor Day. So does that mean that some decision will be coming down tomorrow before the holiday weekend? Can you at least talk about the timeline for this for those folks who are wondering what their status is going to be here?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of something and be presumptuous when a decision hasn’t been made. We don’t know when the final review is going to be completed, so it would be disingenuous for me to create a false timeline that simply just isn’t workable.
Q So that September 5th timeline is not — you guys aren’t even thinking about that?
MS. SANDERS: There are a lot of conversations around the timeline and when that has to be made. And again, that hasn’t been fully reviewed and vetted and decided.
Q And just one more on Harvey, Sarah. There’s obviously been a huge outpouring of support from people all around the country for the victims of Harvey. You’ve seen people lining up to volunteer, and you’ve seen people donating tens of millions of dollars. Can you speak to what the President and his family have done regarding donations for Harvey relief, personally?
MS. SANDERS: Yes I can. I had a chance to speak directly with the President earlier, and I’m happy to tell you that he would like to join in the efforts that a lot of the people that we’ve seen across this country do. And he’s pledging a million dollars of personal money to the fund. And he’s actually asked that I check with the folks in this room, since you are very good at research and have been doing a lot of reporting into the groups and organizations that are best and most effective in helping and providing aid, and he’d love some suggestions from the folks here, and I’d be happy to take those if any of you have them.
But as I said, he’ll pledge probably a million dollars of his own personal money to help the people of both Texas and Louisiana.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Previously, the President had said that he may return to Texas and may also go to Louisiana over the weekend. Do you have an update on the President’s travel schedule? We know that Vice President Mike Pence is there today. And if the President is going, where might he go? And will he meet with evacuees while he’s there?
MS. SANDERS: The President and the First Lady will be traveling both to Texas and Louisiana on Saturday. The specific cities and locations are being finalized. Hopefully, we’ll have that information for you later today.
I believe, as of right now, tentatively, he plans to be in the Houston area of Texas and possibly Lake Charles, Louisiana. But again, varying on conditions, that may change a little bit, but that’s the tentative plan at this point.
Q Can I get one in on taxes before I move on as well? Yesterday, the President went to Missouri to push for tax reform. He has said — the administration has said that they would like to see a bill before the House of Representatives in September. But there’s differences between where the administration is and where House GOP leaders are. Do you still expect that to happen in September?
MS. SANDERS: As we’ve said before, this is going to be a big priority for the administration, certainly, moving through the fall. The biggest part is that we make sure that we get it right and that we provide tax relief to middle-class America and that we help Americans across the board. That’s the goal. And if we can do that by September, that would be great.
Q Sarah, picking up on that — with the President hitting the road yesterday, he made it seem as if this should be a simple bipartisan fix. However Democrats are saying that there should not be tax relief for those who are the wealthiest 1 percent of earners. Does the President believe that the wealthiest 1 percent deserve tax breaks?
MS. SANDERS: The President laid out clearly what his big priorities were yesterday. I’ll be glad to repeat those: permanently reducing tax rates, encouraging entrepreneurs to invest, simplifying the process, incentivizing American companies to bring back jobs and profits. The President is focused on helping all Americans across the board. The biggest priority he has is on helping middle-class Americans and making sure more of those people keep more of their money.
Q Does the White House think working with Democrats on this is reasonable or likely? I mean, they’re already laying down the marker for where they stand. You just said “for all Americans.” Presumably, that includes the top 1 percent.
MS. SANDERS: I would love for Democrats to want to help all Americans. I don’t know why they would ever want to be against that. Certainly, helping more Americans have more money that they worked hard to earn in their pocket — I don’t know anybody that would want to be against that. So hopefully, they will be reasonable and want to come to the table.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I have a tax reform question. But first, just quickly about that charitable donation — will that be coming from Trump personally, as opposed to the Trump foundation or the Trump organization?
MS. SANDERS: I know that the President — he said he was personally going to give. I don’t know the legal part of exactly that, but he said his personal money, so I would assume that comes directly from him.
Q And then on tax reform, if I may: Secretary Mnuchin said earlier that the administration is going to release a blueprint on tax reform that will then go to Congress. When can we expect that? How much detail will that go into? And how is that — is that a change from letting Congress take the lead on actually drafting the legislation?
MS. SANDERS: Again, as both members of the administration and the President have said, our job is to lay out the core principles, the primary pillars that we want to see in tax reform. It’s Congress’s job to legislate. So we want to work through that process and allow them to actually do their jobs.
We’re going to do our jobs and lead the conversation, set the table, set the priorities, and let them do their job, and legislate, get it passed, so that the President can sign it.
Q Do you know when we’ll see that blueprint?
MS. SANDERS: I think we’ve already been laying out a lot of those principles. That’s the foundation and we’ll continue to add to that.
Q Thanks Sarah. Is this push for tax reform a priority for the President and the administration right now? Have you put the repeal-and-replace effort to the side for the moment to focus exclusively on your tax reform proposals?
MS. SANDERS: As the White House, I don’t think you ever get to exclusively focus on only one issue. It’s certainly one of the top priorities for the administration moving into the fall. But as we’ve said many times before, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. And we plan to push through a lot of different things throughout the fall.
Q Just one thing, Sarah, if I may: On repeal and replace, as you know, you received no democratic support in either the House or the Senate. As far as tax reform is concerned, are you expecting a different result? Do you think you can get Democrats to support some sort of legislation that comes from both houses of Congress?
MS. SANDERS: As I said a minute ago, I would certainly hope so. I don’t know why any Democrat would be against wanting to provide tax relief for hardworking Americans — particularly those in the middle class. I think it would be very sad and a big mistake.
Q Thank you Sarah. Just one question.
MS. SANDERS: Just one.
Q Just one on politics: The President gave a very strong endorsement, through Twitter, of Senator Luther Strange in his bid for nomination in the special election. The runoff is coming up on September 26th. There have been published reports that the President is backing away from that endorsement and not taking sides, which would make him the first Republican President in 47 years not to back an incumbent senator for another term. Is he as committed to Senator Strange? Or has his position changed since the original primary?
MS. SANDERS: Due to the legal restrictions that I have, I cannot answer anything political from the podium. So I’d have to leave that to outside folks and the President himself to answer that.
Q Sarah, Steve Mnuchin, today, in an interview said — he was asked about plans to put Harriett Tubman on the $20 bill. He was vague in his answer. During the campaign, the President called this pure political correctness. Is the administration reversing those plans to change the $20 bill?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any policy change. I’d certainly have to check into that.
Q Sarah, on DACA —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I promised I’d come back to him.
Q On DACA, in February, the President said he would treat DREAMers with heart. Does the President stand by his statement to treat DREAMers with heart?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. The President stands by his statement. Right now this is currently under review both from a legal standpoint, primarily, and until that review is complete. Again, as I answered before, we don’t have anything to add further on that front.
Q Would rescinding DACA be treating DREAMers with heart?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get into a back-and-forth until a decision has been made on this front.
Q Let me ask about Russia then quickly.
MS. SANDERS: Hold on. Let me come to him, and if I have time, I’ll come back to you, Peter.
Q I’ll go right after. I’ll go right after Chip then.
Q Shifting to Russia for a moment, the decision — the announcement —
MS. SANDERS: See, he jumped in there for you. Teamwork.
Q Back to the announcement today by the State Department on closing three facilities in this long tit-for-tat that’s been going on with Russia. A lot of analysts now say that relations between the U.S. and Russia are at the lowest point since the Cold War. Do you agree with that? And if so, whose fault is it?
MS. SANDERS: Right now we’re requiring the Russian government to close its consulate general in San Francisco, a trade annex in Washington, D.C., and a trade annex in New York City. These closures have to be completed by September 2nd.
We’re taken a firm and measured action in response to Russia’s unfortunate decision earlier this year. We want to halt the downward spiral and we want to move forward towards better relations. We’ll look for opportunities to do that, but we also want to have equity in the decisions. And anything beyond that —
Q And are those relations —
MS. SANDERS: Anything beyond that, I would refer you to the State Department.
Q Are those relations worse than they’ve been since the Cold War or at least in decades?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think so.
Q Because the President came in determined to improve relations with Russia and they have just gone downhill.
MS. SANDERS: And as I just said, we’re going to look for opportunities to do that. But we’re also going to make sure that we make decisions that are best for our country.
Q Sarah, thanks. Senators Grassley and Graham revealed today that they have evidence suggesting that former FBI Director Comey made a decision to not charge Hillary Clinton several months before the investigation actually wrapped up and before they interviewed Hillary Clinton. Does the President know about this? And does he believe that that adds weight to his decision to fire Comey?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure if he is aware of that revelation. But if it is as accurate as they say it is, I think that would certainly give cause and reason that Jim Comey was not the right person to lead the FBI. And hopefully, all of your colleagues will follow suit in covering that story.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Just going back to tax reform real quick: You mentioned the President has laid out a bunch of core principles. One of those, presumably, is the effects of whatever the tax plan is on the budget. Has the White House taken a position on whether the tax plan needs to be revenue neutral? Or is the White House willing to accept a tax plan that would essentially raise the deficit? The President has talked a lot about the deficits over the course of his campaign and in the White House. So is he laying down the marker there?
MS. SANDERS: Not at this time. I don’t have any further announcement on that front.
Q Oh, thanks, Sarah. A couple questions on Obamacare. Some governors today came out in favor of a sustainability approach being talked about among even some Republicans in the Senate. I want to ask you: Would the administration outright oppose any type of Obamacare bailout for insurance companies?
MS. SANDERS: I can’t imagine that would be something we would want to be involved in. But I would have to refer you to HHS specifically on that question.
Q And secondly, the President tweeted in July, I believe, talking about taking away the Obamacare exemption for members of Congress and staff. Is there anything that would stop him from taking that action now? I mean, it’s something that could be done executively by —
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s something he is certainly still considering.
Q Let me go to foreign policy. The U.N. said that last week a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen killed 42 civilians. Is the President concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen?
MS. SANDERS: It’s something that we’re certainly keeping an eye on, and I would refer you back to them for anything further at this point.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The Kuwaitis are saying today that the Emir will be here next week to meet with the President. I’m just wondering if you can confirm that.
And then on the Russia diplomatic move, did the President initiate this?
MS. SANDERS: This was a decision made by the President, yes.
And on the Kuwaitis, I’m not ready to make an announcement on that. I’ll have to check on the specifics of that.
Q Sarah, the President has made clear that he believes all options are on the table when it comes to North Korea, and has seemed to indicate that the military option is certainly among them. But is negotiating still on the table?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely — “all” includes all. So I think that would certainly include diplomatic, economic, and military options.
Q And then — sorry, just one quick follow-up just as we are getting closer to Friday. Can you tell us whether the President still has confidence in Gary Cohn?
MS. SANDERS: Yes, the President is working hand-in-hand with Gary and the rest of his team on tax reform. As I’ve said several times earlier today, that’s a big priority for the administration moving into the fall. And Gary is an integral member of the team leading that effort.
Q Sarah, on the issue of repeal and replace: Since this President is so dead set on trying to make sure that he replaces and repeals Obamacare, what’s happening with the website? Is there still active enrollment on that website?
MS. SANDERS: As far as I know. I’m not aware of any reason that it’s not, but I’d have to certainly check into that.
I’m not checking into the Obamacare website daily, so I’d have to look into that.
Q I understand. But you’re not actively encouraging people? You’re more so saying repeal and replace?
MS. SANDERS: I think that everybody in the country knows that Obamacare is collapsing and that something still needs to be done, and the administration is still very much committed to putting a healthcare system in place that actually works because we know Obamacare doesn’t. It’s not sustainable. So, yes, we’re continuing to move forward and look for ways to help all Americans receive better care.
Q And on the HBCU Conference: Is it possible — I asked last time — could you give us the list? Because we’re still hearing more and more from other colleges and universities in the HBCU community who are saying they’re absolutely not coming. And you say it’s at capacity and you have a waiting list. Is there any way that you can share some of those names?
MS. SANDERS: Yes, I think the Department of Education is housing that. But again, I will try to look into that. I meant to do that last week.
Thanks so much, guys. Hope you have a great day.
3:53 P.M. EDT