Thursday, September 28, 2017- White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will give an on camera press briefing and take questions from many highly partisan White House “journalists,” with a few actual journalists sprinkled in.
Transcript of the press briefing
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:45 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. I’d like to start by saying that the President and all of us at the White House were thrilled to see Congressman Scalise back on the House floor today. Our thoughts and prayers have been with him and his family for many weeks now, and we’ll continue to root for him as he works toward a full recovery.
Today, the President is actively engaged in monitoring the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. This morning he received an update from FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Administrator Long has also briefed members of the Senate this morning and members of the House this afternoon.
The full weight of the United States government is engaged to ensure that food, water, healthcare, and other lifesaving resources are making it to the people in need.
At the request of the governor, who is doing a terrific job, the President waived the Jones Act. This will ensure that ample resources are making it to the island, but we will continue to focus on the challenge of distributing those resources.
The island setting presents logistical hurdles that do not exist on the mainland where trucks from around the country can converge on disaster areas. Ten thousand federal government relief workers are there, including 7,200 troops are now on the island and working tirelessly to get people what they need.
We have prioritized lifesaving resources to hospitals and can report that 44 of the island’s 69 hospitals are now fully operational.
The Army Corps of Engineers is spearheading a massive mobilization to restore power, and this began with providing the diesel fuel necessary for sustainable emergency power generation. They’re also working to restore long-term power generation and distribution around the island.
There’s a long way to go, but we will not rest until everyone is safe and secure. Our message to the incredible people of Puerto Rico is this: The President is behind you. We all are — the entire country. Your unbreakable spirit is an inspiration to us all. We are praying for you, we are working for you, and we will not let you down.
As you all know, the President traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana yesterday to roll out a framework for delivering tax relief to hardworking Americans. Our framework is based on four key ideas:
First, we will cut taxes for the everyday, hardworking Americans. Second, we will make the tax code simple, fair, and easy to understand. Third, we will cut taxes on American businesses to restore our competitive edge and create more jobs and higher wages for American workers. And finally, our framework encourages American companies to bring back the trillions and trillions of dollars in wealth that’s parked overseas.
Robin Heldman owns a small printing and digital services business in Indianapolis. Robin and her husband, Roger, bought the business in 1991 and have since tripled in size. They both work full time in the shop and employ three additional people. As Robin describes it, her family is living the American Dream.
However, Robin feels small businesses in our country have been neglected and, in her words, “put on the backburner.” But she’s now excited about what the President and congressional leaders are proposing. She believes this tax cut will be a boom not just for her small business, but also for her customers. Robin relies on small businesses to take risk and make investments in marketing campaigns that require printing services. Robin is thrilled about the possibility of the tax code being simplified to allow the average taxpayer, such as herself, to save time and money, and that they can invest in their families and their business.
People like Robin are at the heart of the President’s tax relief plan. To talk more about the tax relief plan, I’d like to bring up NEC Director Gary Cohn. And after Gary takes a few of your questions, we’ll also have Tom Bossert up to answer some questions specific to the hurricane relief efforts, and then I’ll come up for more general — if you guys are insistent and have other topics you want to cover.
MR. COHN: Thanks, Sarah. I was going to make some opening remarks, but I think I won’t because you covered a few of them.
A couple things I will say is: The President has made his goals very clear what he wants to achieve here with tax reform and cutting taxes in the United States. I think you know where we are in the process. The Group of Six has been working really well together. We’re now in the hands of Congress. We want to go through a normal, regular process both in the Senate and the House, and we’re working well with both tax drafting committees. And the committees will continue to work, and they’re working really, really well and really quickly. And we’re trying to drive tax reform as quickly as we can.
I think you know the basic premise behind that. I’m not going to take you through what we’ve talked about before. Again, a question we get asked a lot, so I’ll say it right now: We have to make some basic assumptions right now on where we’re going to end up with the brackets. But I’ll tell you, based on our assumptions, a typical family earning $100,000 with two children that has been a standard deductor — who uses the standard deduction, continues to use the standard deduction — they can expect a tax cut of about $1,000. That’s where we’re headed, and that’s where we’re going to continue to be.
And with that, I think I’ll open it up to questions and see what’s on your mind. Go ahead.
Q Gary, the big criticism — well, there’s been some criticism that it’s a giveaway to the rich. But the one criticism that seems to be relevant for your home state, Connecticut, California, and other states is that by eliminating the state and local deductions, there are certain people who will suffer double taxation. These are obviously itemizers. Is that a hard and fast red line with you, or would you be willing to give that up in congressional negotiations?
MR. COHN: Our plan is based on lowering rates and expanding the base. It’s very simple if you think of what we’re doing. You expand the base by getting rid of the loopholes — the loopholes that the wealthy taxpayers have used to pay tax on less of their income.
So we have designed a plan where you’re going to pay a lower rate, but you’re going to pay it on more of your income. That is a basic core premise of our plan. And we’re committed to it, and we’re sticking with it.
Q But the criticism is that there are some people in the middle income, for whom this tax cut is supposed to be beneficial — because they itemize — who might be hit by that.
MR. COHN: So just to remind everyone in here: Twenty-five percent of American families today itemize. That’s it. Seventy-five percent of American families do not itemize. So when you’re talking about itemizers, you’re talking about 25 percent of the population.
We also have many things that we’re doing in the tax plan to help out American families. We’re lowering tax rates. We’re going from seven rates to three rates. We’re expanding the zero rate up to $24,000 for that family. The first $24,000 of income they will pay zero on. We’re lowering the 15 percent rate down to 12 percent. So the next rate will be 12 percent. We’re doing things to help that family. We’re expanding the parameters for childcare greatly. We’re really going to move the upper-bound to who’s eligible for childcare up to a substantial higher income level. So that family may be eligible for more and more credits. You have to look at this plan in its entirety.
The one thing I would beg you all to do is don’t look at any one piece. Look at the plan in its entirety. That’s how we’re looking at tax reform. We’re looking at it in its entirety.
Q A follow-up on what John was asking — the standardized deduction versus itemized. There are people who think that if you dissuade people from itemizing, that you’re going to suppress the real estate market; that people won’t be interested in buying homes because they won’t need to use itemized deductions. Can you address their concerns?
MR. COHN: First of all, we’re protecting the mortgage interest deduction, and second of all, look, the home builders today came out in favor of our tax plan. The number-one reason why people buy homes is they’re excited and optimistic about the economy. They have a job today. They feel confident they’re going to have a job tomorrow, and their kids are going to get a job, and their spouse has a job. They feel like there is upward wage pressure. They feel like there’s mobility in their job. And they feel good about the economy. That’s when people go out and buy homes.
We’ve not been in that situation in America for the last decade. We have to get America back to a place where people feel excited and exuberant about the economy. When they do that, they’ll go out and spend money; they’ll buy homes. People don’t buy homes because of the mortgage deduction. Again, 75 percent of families don’t use itemized deductions.
Q How are you going to ensure that wealthy tax payers don’t abuse the lower pass rate plan?
MR. COHN: So it’s a great question. We have spent an enormous amount of time on the anti-abuse language for passes. The last thing we want to see is wealthy individuals or wealthy groups or families move their tax rate down from the 35 percent rate to the 25 percent rate. We are spending time on that. The tax writers at both the House and the Senate are acutely aware of this issue. We’ve got language on it. You’ll be seeing the language as we deliver more of the details.
Q Are there any specifics today though on how to do that?
MR. COHN: What the specific is, is we’re acutely aware of that. Guys like myself should not be allowed to put their assets into a partnership and reduce our tax liability by 10 percent.
Q Just two things about one thing that you said this morning and something the President said yesterday. You said that you couldn’t guarantee necessarily that no middle-class tax payers would actually pay more taxes under this plan. And because of the details that you were talking about just before that, it is a real possibility. Some of the calculations are that some lower-income people could see a very small cut of a few dollars or not more than that. So is it a red line for you and for the President that all middle-class tax payers see a cut under this plan?
And then secondly, the President said yesterday that this tax cut would not help him. In fact, he said in Indiana that it would be bad for him. But based on what we know — what little that we know about his finances — he’d get a big cut on the AMT; I think he’d save something like $31 million. On pass-through income he’d save $16.5 million. He’d obviously save a lot not paying the estate tax; his heirs would. So how can he say that this is not a plan that would help him?
MR. COHN: I think what the American people are concerned about is their financial positon. I think what they’re concerned about is when they go to work every week, and they get their paycheck at the end of the week, how much do they get to keep? How much goes in their pockets versus how much goes to the government? How much do they get to spend versus how much do they send to the government?
If we allow a family to keep another $1,000 of their income, what does that mean? They can renovate their kitchen, they can buy a new car, they can take a family vacation, they can increase their lifestyle. That’s what our tax plan has to do. Our tax plan is aimed to return more income back to hardworking Americans. That’s what we’re trying to do here.
Q Speaking of past years and the President saying that this tax plan wouldn’t benefit him, don’t you think it would be a good idea if the President proved that by releasing his tax returns?
MR. COHN: Like I said, what we’re trying to do here and what we’re all working on in the White House is to increase a lifestyle of American citizens — our hardworking citizens that get up every morning and work as hard as any people in the world to try and keep more of their hard-earned income. That’s what we’re all about. That’s what our tax plan is about. Our tax plan is trying to get the economy, to get the growth rate back to a normalized rate, above 3 percent.
Yes, we just had a quarter of 3.1 percent GDP. People didn’t think we could get to 3.1 percent GDP for a while. We’re at 3.1 [percent]. Can we go higher? What does 1 percent of GDP mean? One percent of GDP means $3 trillion. It more than pays for a tax cut. That’s what we’re trying to do with our tax plan.
Q If you can’t guarantee that all middle-class Americans wont’ see — or some middle-class Americans won’t see their taxes go up, does that contradict the central promise of this plan to help all middle-class Americans?
MR. COHN: Our tax plan is aimed at making sure we give middle-class Americans a tax cut. We are going to give middle-class Americans a tax cut. That is what we’re spending all of our time on doing. And we’ve got lots of tools at our disposal to make sure that we do that, and that’s what we’re going to do.
Q Can you guarantee that all of them will see a tax cut?
MR. COHN: As I said this morning, and I’ll say it again — I could read my statement from this morning — I liked it so much this morning, I’d to say it to you again: I cannot guarantee that. You could find me someone in the country that their taxes may not go down.
Remember, we have 50 states, we have counties, we have cities, we have long-term capital gains, we have short-term capital gains — we have all different types of structures in the tax code. I guarantee you — I’ll guarantee you, you could find someone in this country — maybe one person — who their taxes may not go down.
Q Gary, can you walk us through the timeline for how you think the tax writing committees will get through this? And what confidence do you have that, given what’s happened so far this year on Capitol Hill, that they will actually get this done? And secondly, why did you decide to stay the White House in the wake of Charlottesville?
MR. COHN: So, I’m very confident that the House and the Senate are working as quickly as they can. If you look at Chairman Brady right now and what he’s doing in the House Ways and Means Committee, they are working. They came in on Sunday to start working on the tax plan, and they continue to work every day. Chairman Brady has said that they will get through the tax plan as quickly as they can. We would hope that we get through the House in October. We would hope to be in the Senate in November. And we would hope to have a bill done by this year.
Why am I here? I am here just for this reason. Think about the opportunity that I’m involved in with President Trump in being able to rewrite the tax code — something that hasn’t been done for 31 years. The amount of impact that we can have on the U.S. economy and U.S. citizens and changing the forward outlook of the United States — this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I would never miss this.
Q Gary, one follow on that, and then my question, which was: Does that mean when you’re done with tax reform, that you will no longer be at the White House? Did you mean to imply that?
MR. COHN: There are many more once-in-a-lifetime opportunities at the White House. (Laughter.)
Q We’d love to hear what would make you stay.
On the child tax credit, which we have heard Ivanka Trump talk about, campaign on, can you give us any kind of description as to what that would look like? I know it’s still being written, but what is the goal here? Will it be refundable? What are some of the broad outlines?
MR. COHN: I think we said in our outline yesterday, if you read it, the existing childcare credit will stay refundable. The additional money that will be put into the credit will be nonrefundable. We want to encourage people to work. We want to have people have taxable income to take the credit against. The size of it, we’re still working out.
Q But you have a range in mind.
MR. COHN: We have a range in mind, yes.
Q Can you give any sense of that?
MR. COHN: We’re continuing to work on that range. Again, we are working on delivering a large middle-income tax cut to American workers, one that they rightfully deserve.
Let me go back to the back of the room.
Q Thank you. The Committee for a Responsible [Federal] Budget said that the plan will add $2.2 trillion to the deficit. Are they wrong?
MR. COHN: We think they’re wrong. We think they’re wrong because the way they score. But let’s not argue if they’re right or wrong. Let’s not argue that. We firmly believe that this tax plan will have a dramatic impact on economic growth. We know that 1 percent change in GDP will add $3 trillion back. So if they’re right, we’re only going to pay down $800 billion dollars to the deficit. I’ll live with $800 billion paid.
Q Thank you, Gary. Appreciate the opportunity. On the corporate side, your critics say that on the repatriation of overseas assets, that history would show that companies don’t always use those assets, when they’re repatriated, to invest in manufacturing and jobs and the things that you guys are talking about. They do share buybacks and other financial engineering. How can you guarantee that that won’t happen this time?
MR. COHN: So, look, we’ve heard that numerous times. If that’s our worst-case scenario — that companies repatriate their money and they use it for share buybacks and dividends — what happens? They buy back shares, they issue dividends. They pay the repatriation tax, we get another 20 percent tax on capital gains or dividends, and then the people that get that money back do what? They reinvest it back in the economy in new investments, in new capital.
We’re putting some very enticing rules into the system that will entice people to invest capital for the next five years. We’re giving people a five-year write-off that they can instantly expense. So, look, if that happens, that’s fine. We know that that money will get invested right back in the economy and drive jobs, drive economic growth, drive wages, and drive prosperity.
Right over here.
Q Gary, you’ve been asked a question twice and you didn’t answer. I’d like to get you to answer this — because I get your messaging on the middle class; you’ve made that very clear. But this tax plan, as it stands now, appears that it will benefit the President and his family. Why not just be candid about that?
MR. COHN: Look, I told you it will benefit the middle class. I think that’s what American —
Q What about the wealthy folks, is what I’m asking.
MR. COHN: American taxpayers care about what they take home. They care about what they have to spend. That’s what they care about. That’s what I care about. I care about what I pay in taxes. I bet you, you care about what you pay in taxes.
Q (Inaudible) what the President’s message is here too, and he’s saying he won’t benefit, yet it appears as though the way this is put together, he actually will. And it gets to the idea of wealthy Americans around this country, which people do care about. So can you just speak to that?
MR. COHN: So let me take you through the components that you’re all obsessed on for a minute, and Sarah is going to yell at me because I’m taking too long here.
So you all talk about the death tax and that being a great benefit. The two biggest drivers for repeal of the death tax are the NFIB and the Farm Bureau. That’s small businesses and farms. Those are the two organizations that spend the most time lobbying on the repeal of the death tax. Death tax has the biggest effect on them — small businesses and farms.
Wealthy Americans do a lot of estate planning. They can use trust. They can use all types of things that are legal within the tax code to make sure they don’t pay death tax.
On the AMT, I’m not going to get into deep calculations on AMT, but at a broad-brush level, when you do the AMT, once you get rid of the deductions of state and local taxes, that’s the biggest add-back in AMT. AMT becomes irrelevant once you get rid of the deduction of state and local taxes.
So all the things that you’re trying to pull at, you’re not looking at the plan in its entirety. They don’t make sense once we redo the plan and once we simplify.
Q Gary, just as a follow-up question on that. In your ultimate appearance of this group, you said that — I cited to you the worry of groups such as Jim Martin and the 60 Plus seniors association — that you are going to drag out repeal of the death tax; that it wouldn’t be immediate. And you said at the time it was immediate. Is that final? Is it going to be an immediate repeal and go off the books as soon as the new tax reform package is passed?
MR. COHN: In our outline, it’s immediate.
Q It’s immediate?
MR. COHN: It’s immediate, yes.
Q And the same with the alternative minimum tax?
MR. COHN: It’s immediate. Everything is immediate. The only thing that phases out is the five-year expensing — is a five-year expensing.
MS. SANDERS: Last one, guys.
Q Speaking of small businesses, let’s start negotiating, because yesterday Senator Schumer said that Democrats may be willing to work some kind of small business tax relief into whatever comes out of all this. Where do you start negotiating on that? What offer do you want to make, perhaps, to the Democrats?
MR. COHN: Our opening offer and our final offer are on the table. We are happy to start at 25 and we’re happy to go lower; and we’re happy to start at 20 on corporate and go lower. So there’s our opening offer. If he wants to counter with something lower, we’re very negotiable.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Gary. Now, to try to be respectful of you all’s time, we’ve also got Tom Bossert that will come up and talk about the hurricane relief efforts and take questions specific to that. And then I’ll come up after that.
MR. BOSSERT: Thanks, Sarah. Good afternoon. As you know, President Trump has put people first and paperwork second. He’s had us call out and pull out all the stops, and put out as much federal relief into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as we can muster. And we’ve been ongoing in our efforts to accomplish that and meet his objectives over the last eight days.
And I’m here to take some questions. I know you’ve heard some reporting from Sarah, so if I could, I’ll just jump right in.
Q If I can ask you — first of all, thanks for being here. Specifically on the Jones Act, which has been the focus of a lot of attention in the course of the last 24 to 72 hours right now, critics say the White House should have moved more quickly in waiving the Jones Act, lawmakers among them. Why is that an unfounded complaint?
MR. BOSSERT: Okay, so it is an unfounded complaint and here’s why: The Jones Act, real briefly stated, is a rule that favors flag vessels — U.S. flag vessels. If there are not enough U.S. flag vessels — the capacity, in other words — to meet the need, then we waive the Jones Act. In this particular case, we had enough capacity of U.S. flag vessels to take more than, or to exceed the requirement and need of diesel fuel and other commodities into Puerto Rico.
What happened is, I think almost 17 or 18 days’ worth of now what you’re seeing — backlogged diesel fuel need in the island. But it was a little bit misunderstood and misreported that we had a capacity problem and had to waive the Jones Act. Not the case. The idea here is that we had provided as many commodities as were necessary to the island. The challenge became, then, land-based distribution. That remains the challenge; that remains the priority today.
However, last night, Governor Rosselló called me a little after eight o’clock and said, at this point, to ensure that the additional needs are met as we move forward, it might be a good idea to proactively make sure that we pull out all the stops just in case that capacity problem ran into the requirement problem. I talked to the President; he thought that was absolutely the right thing to do, and waived it right away.
So that was not too late. It was not even too early. It was just the right thing to do proactively.
Q So to be very clear, through this point, then obviously distribution is one of the biggest challenges. You talked about 44 of 69 hospitals now being up and running as necessary to bring those people whose lives are at risk. What percentage of the country would you say you really haven’t had a chance to even explore to see how they’ve been impacted by this?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, so it’s hard to answer the percentage of the country, so I’ll answer it this way: Through aerial surveillance we’ve seen the entirety of Puerto Rico. Some of the southwest and southeast sections of the island have had a little bit more sparse on-foot exploration. But it’s the interior of the island that’s presenting the biggest problem for us right now. The mountainous interior is where we’re dedicating our efforts to try to get in with rotary wing support. The margins, so to speak, are now open to airports and seaports, so that’s where we’re freeing up some of that delivery.
But again, back to the Jones Act question, we had — up until the waiver last night — enough capacity in U.S. flag vessels to get all the commodities necessary into the island. We just then ran into the priority challenge of distributing land-based commodities into the people, and that’s — if I can pivot before I take the next question, that’s a challenge or a function of two problems:
First, the capacity of the locals in the state were diminished because those people are victims, as well, that work for the state and work for the local authorities. And then, secondly, the debris and down power lines had to be pushed out of the way. And so we’ve got the resources there to do that now, but that’s the challenge remaining.
The central interior is going to be reviewed and looked at very carefully over the next 24, 48 hours to make sure we’re getting the needs of the people met.
Q A quick follow on John, if I could. Had Governor Rosselló, Tom, not requested — protectively — a waiver in the Jones Act, would you have seen a compelling reason to initiate a waiver?
MR. BOSSERT: I wouldn’t have, and I wasn’t recommending to the President that he waive the Jones Act at the time until I got the governor’s request. And it may be a historical note of relevance: Sometimes we’ll see the carriers request the waiver, right? So you’ll have foreign flag vessels or U.S. flag vessels or carrier companies call us and say, “Please waive it because there’s an issue.” We didn’t get, to my knowledge, any carrier requests.
But once the governor calls and says, “Proactively, as I see out into the future, on the horizon” — then I think that we should listen to him. And the President completely agreed.
Q Was this just all overhyped, in simple terms?
MR. BOSSERT: Well, perhaps misunderstood. I think there’s also some critics that believe that it was a price issue, and for those, I can’t answer it. I don’t know how the markets price these things. But I can tell you is already bought and paid for by the U.S. taxpayer in a humanitarian effort, and I think it’s an absolutely wise investment to save lives, whether they’re U.S. citizens or not.
In this particular case, we’ve got U.S. Virgin Island citizens, Puerto Rican citizens — all American citizens. I think that’s the right investment to make. Whether it could have changed the price point, I don’t know. There was an op-ed piece on that.
But capacity is the issue. Lifesaving requirements — that’s the need. And we had that capacity met.
Q Tom, your need is immediate, and with all the challenges that are coming, what are the conversations about with airdrops — just airdropping in certain areas? Because people are talking about running out of water, running out of food like in hours or minutes. What’s happening with that conversation? And also, once again, an issue of housing. We’re hearing about ships — cruise ships. What else is going on with this?
MR. BOSSERT: So there’s a number of things happening. With respect to the distribution of commodities, that is the biggest challenge right now. But the restoration of power is also a big challenge, and I’ll tell you why. Energy here — electric power — is supplying the hospitals that are providing medical care to the wounded and those that brought medical conditions and had chelation needs and other needs.
So there’s kind of a dual priority going on in terms of power restoration, emergency power, and then blocking, clearing, pushing out of the way all the roads to open them up so we can get commodities delivered. There’s still a shortfall there, though, and that is drivers for all those trucks. So we are pushing personnel in to augment state and local authorities to continue to push those commodities.
What you saw today, though, I think was some reporting and some loop footage of some trucks sitting on ports and docks. We’re moving those trucks quickly. We’re also prioritizing what needs to come off first so that we can get generators —
Q Wouldn’t airdrops circumvent all of that having to rebuild infrastructure and move things away?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah. At this point, if airdrops are under consideration, I’m not aware of it. But I would promote it if it’s a faster way to get food and water to people who are in need. We now have a one-star general, General Kim, in place, who’s in charge of all ground force operations to make sure there’s one person in charge of marshaling all those efforts. And if he recommends airdrop, then I think we airdrop.
Q Tom, I’ve got a text here from a volunteer who has boots on the ground, and he says that they need helicopters to evacuate people from remote areas of the island. And he says there are people burying their family members in front yards, communication is badly needed, and they look at apocalyptic conditions between 48 and 72 hours. There’s a little bit of disconnect from what I’m hearing here and what they’re telling me there. Can you explain the difference?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, no, there’s no disconnect. If that’s accurate, then it needs to be addressed and remediated immediately. So what I want to do here is be careful not to micromanage it from here. That’s the mistake you’ve seen in the past. I believe — I’m confident anyway — that we’ve got enough resources marshaled and deployed forward to make those decisions under the right command and leadership structure.
What we’ve done, and as I’ve explained in the past, is we’ve had to augment and change our business model in the field. We did that last Thursday in earnest; you saw the effects of it over the weekend. But what we did is we had to augment the local and state authorities, not just at the top, but all the way out through and to the lower levels. So now there are federal officials that are identifying needs and requirements, requesting them of the state level, augmenting the state level to validate those requirements, and then from the federal side, providing them.
So we are in every stage of the identification, validation, and provision of requirements and the delivery of them to people in need. And a couple of things here: First, people seeing 24- and 48-hour horizon problems where they’re saying, I don’t see enough food and water coming, it’s my sincere belief that that food and water is going to get to them before that deadline arises and that we’re going to save their lives. I have no doubt in it. We’ve got over 10,000 people there now, and there’s more on their way, including a lot of aerial support, USS Comfort.
I’m going to read the numbers here for you. There’s 12 Coast Guard cutters, three United States Navy ships, one DOT Maritime Administration vessel, six commercial ships with supplies in route — this was as of 5:00 a.m., so there’s more since — seven additional ships to house responders, and we’ve got commodities distribution now exceeding millions. So 1.3 million meals, 2.7 million liters — that type of thing — of water.
So that’s moving in today, and you’re seeing the distribution problem unclogged. Now, if there’s somebody burying somebody in their front yard, that’s an absolutely terrible story. What I don’t want to do though is project it as the norm, and I think there’s a careful distinction here.
Q What is the norm?
MR. BOSSERT: Right now we’ve seen 16 fatalities confirmed from the state authorities. No fatality is acceptable. If that number increases significantly, that will be a devastating blow. We are going everything we can to prevent that. The loss of life from the storm is one thing; loss of life that’s preventable is another. And that’s why we’re trying to marshal our resources.
Q Senator Rubio, who just got back from the island, says there are significant logistical concerns with the administration’s response. He says there’s no clear command, control, and communication between local and federal agencies. And he says this requires a response led by DOD. Is that option on the table here?
MR. BOSSERT: Sure. It’s already been undertaken. So I was with the senator briefly on Monday, in Puerto Rico, and I think what he’s identifying there is something that we already had in place — or a solution for. So he’s identifying a traditional problem between municipal and state government authorities.
Normally, FEMA and the federal government would provide aid to the governor, to the state, and then they would work it out with the local authorities. What we’ve identified here as of last Thursday, and you saw it implemented over the weekend, was a lack of capacity coupled with this insular several hundred-mile away, divided by an ocean island problem. And so what we’ve done is provided federal authorities — largely guys in green, right — Title X and Title XXXII forces — but also FEMA emergency managers, to stand next to each of those municipality leaders, whether they’re mayors or local authority figures, like the water authority or electric authority leaders. And they’re being augmented by federal forces.
So we’ve addressed those challenges in communicating between local and state authorities by augmenting them with federal staff. That’s something that wasn’t necessarily apparent to the senator as he got there. He identified a problem, but it was a problem already being fixed. And it’s one that he probably wasn’t able to see at the municipal level for two reasons. One, he didn’t get out there to them. Neither of us could make it out to the municipal levels when we visited on Monday. And two, there was a communications problem of grave import that persists to this day, and that communications problem is tied to the electric power restoration problem.
If I could, before I take the next question, let me explain why and how the power restoration process is unfolding.
What we decided to do is take the action of putting the United States Army Corps of Engineers in charge of power restoration on the island. So to your question about whether the military is in charge, it depends on the mission and function. They’re in charge of a lot, but not everything. The people of Puerto Rico are strong, competent, and where they’re not diminished in capacity, they’re in charge. And that’s the best way to handle things. But where they’re not able, and where they have diminished capacity, we’re taking extreme steps.
So a direct federal assistance order was given, a mission assignment was given. I’ve heard others on TV quibble whether it’s a mission or not. Let me make it clear: General Semonite from the United States Army Corps of Engineers has been given a mission to restore power on Puerto Rico, writ large, full stop. He has some priorities.
His priorities are temporary power generation right now. That’s the big diesel-run generators that are supporting the hospitals and other lifesaving capabilities. Two, permanent generation. He’s going to restore the damaged power generation capacity on the south of the island. Three, transmission. Those are the big lines that transmit power to and from. And then, fourthly, distribution. That’s the last mile — capillaries hook up to the houses and that type of power generation.
So those are his priorities, and I’m pretty certain that the Puerto Rican people are going to see the results of a dedicated Army Corps of Engineers mission.
Q If airdrops would help, why are those not happening? Is that a military issue? Is that a problem with them not stepping up?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, it’s my belief that right now both the state government and most of the municipalities involved have identified the fastest route is available to them being ground based. If that’s not the case, then I’m confident — but I want to make sure that I don’t step in between something that I could be far removed from. If the ground force commander down there has identified an airdrop mission as faster and more productive, then I endorse it from here. I certainly wouldn’t question his judgment.
But it was my reporting and understanding earlier today that they identified the fastest delivery methodology to be through ground-based means by clearing first and delivering second, and that we needed drivers and we’re augmenting them, and they needed security forces, and we’ve applied those. There’s a security force plan now laid down for each of the drivers so that they can feel safe.
Q Tom, several aid flights have gotten out of South Florida and managed to get to the island and deliver food and water without having logistical problems. There’s severe criticism coming from South Florida now, saying that there’s mismanagement coming all the way from the President. How do you respond to that?
MR. BOSSERT: Well, I’m not certain who you’re talking about or who’s criticizing us. There’s plenty of criticism to go around, but I’m pretty confident —
Q The mayor (inaudible) managed to get an aid flight into the island and get it unloaded. And he says the problems that you’re having logistically are of your own making from not taking action sooner and bringing in the military sooner.
MR. BOSSERT: Well, first, I thank the mayor for providing aid. Second, the mayor is just dead wrong in this case, and I would challenge him to go down and get a better understanding first before rendering that verdict on what we’ve done, what we had been doing, and how blown away you’re going to be when you see the full totality of the picture. So I’m certain that the mayor has had some positive experiences. I wouldn’t be critical of him personally. But he’s probably — just like with the Jones Act criticism that he rendered — just not yet informed on the facts.
So thanks for that question.
Q How is he able to get supplies through? And why is it that there are 10,000 containers waiting at the port of San Juan?
MR. BOSSERT: Well, to my point earlier, we’re getting a lot of supplies through; it’s just perhaps some misreporting that misunderstands that fact.
Q The President has referenced some of the debt and economic problems that Puerto Rico has been struggling with for some time here. When you were talking about the lack of capacity, municipal and state level — I mean, are you faulting local officials for a lack of preparedness?
MR. BOSSERT: No, absolutely — no. Let me be clear, when I say capacity, I’m talking about the capacity problem of people being victims that would otherwise be the first responders, repairers, and managers of the municipal government functions. So what we’re doing is trying to restore baseline municipal government functions because they’ve been affected. Their homes are destroyed, their families are put in peril. That’s the capacity problem that I’m addressing.
When you talk about money, I believe that the island authority in general, with — Puerto Rico — $72 billion in debt, there’s a restructuring effort underway. And Congress weighed in with the PROMESA Act, and that $72 billion is being restructured and handled through, in part, bankruptcy proceedings and so forth.
Q But how is that impacting this response? Because the President brought it up.
MR. BOSSERT: Well, I think the President — I know the President brought it up in terms of recovery. But here’s how it affects the response: What it does is it puts the island in a position where they don’t have the financial resources to meet the cost-share requirement for all of these goods and resources, personnel and materiel flowing into the island.
What the President did was acknowledge that, publicly and privately; realize that that would be a problem, at the advice of the FEMA administrator, myself, and Secretary Duke; and he took the step of doing a 100 percent federal cost-share adjustment to pay for all of this, from debris removal to debris pushing, power restoration, the Army Corps of Engineers, and all the emergency protective measures — police, fire, EMS, truck drivers, all those sorts of things — 180 days, so six months for the Virgin Islands and for Puerto Rico, until we can get our hands around this. All those functions and all those missions that I just described are all 100 percent federal cost-share. We don’t want anybody worried about paper; we want them worried about people.
I’m going to take two more questions. Sir.
Q I wanted to follow that a little bit and ask: As you’re starting to envision, down the road, if any sort of bailout might be part of this sort of broader recovery package, that you look for in a supplemental. And on that supplemental, I know the first crack at it will be relatively soon. Aides on Capitol Hill are suggesting that it could be the first week in October. Is that the timeline that you’re anticipated? And have you started to compile that?
MR. BOSSERT: As my colleague, Mr. Cohn, alluded to, we’re certainly willing to negotiate with Congress if there’s some better fiscal idea.
From an emergency management perspective, in the next coming weeks it’s important to understand that FEMA just got a $7.1 billion appropriation released on October 1st, and what’s going to happen now is we’re going to go back for more. We’re going to ask for that in the form of an emergency supplemental to provide money into the fund that does this lifesaving, life-sustaining effort, and even some of the early recovery efforts.
Whether we have to address or should address at that point the existing $72 billion worth of debt and how it’s been restructured is something that I’ll have to take my lead from the economists on and from some of the budget hawks.
But I think that the best idea here for us would be to focus on PROMESA and PRASA — the electric power authority and the water authority. Those are the two concerning elements where they’re going to have to be rebuilt, they’re going to have to be rebuilt under proper management, and they’re going to have to be rebuilt under proper rebuilding codes and standards to make sure that they can withstand a future hurricane, and that we don’t just go back to sticks and wires in the future.
So we’re going to put federal money into this. We should do it wisely and prudently. I’ve said that from this podium here before. President Trump believes in that seriously. I don’t think we’re going to have to address the debt restructuring issue in this next go-around, but if we do, and if Congress wants us to, President Trump is up to that challenge.
Q (Inaudible) supplemental?
MR. BOSSERT: Well, it’s going to have to come, I think, in the next two to four weeks, but I can’t put a better date on it. I’d refer you to Director Mulvaney.
Let me take one more question here.
Q I’m not sure if I still understand — why has it taken eight days to get a three-star general on the ground to start organizing this? We know the island situation, et cetera. But why eight days?
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, well, because it didn’t require a three-star general eight days ago. Let me explain to you how the process works. It will be the best way of explaining the answer.
We have a three-star general in charge of this, and we had one in charge of this out of San Antonio from day minus-eight and day minus-two and all the way through until today. We forward-deployed a one-star general — a brigadier general — to take care of ground force command once we realized the problem of logistics distribution had outstripped the capacity of the affected municipal governments.
But that three-star general was there and running and coordinating operations as an extension of NORAD and Northern Command. We’ve made a number of improvements to that distribution process and that marshaling of military resources since, for instance, General Honoré experienced the problems he did in Katrina. We’ve matured quite a bit since that day.
The three-star command structure that he lacked back then has been put in place and has been in place for this response out of San Antonio, and augmented by a Northern Command structure that’s been pretty robust and forward-leaning here. They’ve been doing vocal authorities; they’re not waiting for paperwork. They’ve been doing things that — or on-command authority; they don’t wait for a governor’s request. So all those forward-leaning lessons have been applied here, but perhaps misunderstood.
But now the change, move here on day eight was to take that three-star general and to put him there, physically located in the field. I don’t anticipate he’ll stay there long, but he needs to get there, have his eyes on it, and make sure that he’s comfortable with the interaction between his forces and the governor and the municipal forces, because it’s a little bit of a different business plan model in the field, and because it’s unique and it’s an island 1,100 or so miles away from the nearest land in Florida.
And so once he’s satisfied, I think — or would expect that three-star general to recede back into his appropriate command structure. But for now, both he and his one-star subordinate command will be there in charge of ground forces and overall military marshals, and we’ll end up with a lot more people there over the coming days to try to address this really significant problem and significant need.
And if that’s okay, I’d like to make that my last question.
Q San Antonio is thousands of miles from Puerto Rico. Why — was it a mistake — would you acknowledge it was a mistake, looking back, to not have this three-star general on the ground earlier?
MR. BOSSERT: No, not at all. In fact, that doesn’t affect the way we stage equipment and the way we handle area command and field operational commands. This is textbook and it’s been done well. The unusual step has been to put the three-star general down forward-leaning. So I have every confidence that we’ll handle that in the best way possible.
Peter, if I could —
Q One quick one —
MR. BOSSERT: John, I’m going to see if that’s my last question, if I can.
As I always do, I’m going to end by saying I’d like everyone to say an extra special prayer for the people on Puerto Rico tonight. The U.S. Virgin Islands are dealing well. They’re not getting a lot of coverage, but I’d like you to say that prayer for them as well. And also for the 10,000-plus federal workers, several thousand other volunteer workers, businessmen and others, men and women that are helping those in need. Honestly, this is something that is going to require weeks and months’ worth of patience as we restore power, get food and water, and return to normalcy.
So thank you so much for your time. I’m very proud of the Puerto Rican people, their strength and leadership. Governor Rosselló has our full confidence and faith. Thank you.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Tom. We’re running kind of long today, so I’ll jump straight into questions and we’ll try to take a few before we have to cut off for the end of the day.
Q Has the President looked any further into Tom Price’s use of a private plane? Is he taking any steps to crack down on this practice?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as the President said yesterday, he’s not thrilled — certainly not happy with the actions. We’re definitely looking at the issue. They’re conducting both an internal and an IG full review.
But to be clear also, the White House does not have a role on the front end of approving private charter flights at agencies, and that’s something that we’re certainly looking into from this point forward and have asked a halt to be put, particularly at HHS, on any private charter flights moving forward until those reviews are completed.
Q Does Secretary Price expect to keep his job in this administration?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President has addressed this yesterday. We’re going through this process, we’re going to conduct a full review, and we’ll see what happens.
Q Can I ask two things? First, the President has, six times over the last couple days, said that a senator is in the hospital. I think that’s a reference to Senator Cochran who is not in the hospital. And the reason that this is a relevant question is that the President said that they have the votes for the healthcare bill to pass. So can you tell us what senator he is referring to? And if it is Senator Cochran, why, if the votes exist, that the Senate isn’t voting on it now?
MS. SANDERS: Look, our understanding is that the senator was physically unable to be here this week to actually participate in a vote. We’re glad that he’s fully recuperating.
The point that we’re making is that we have the votes on the substance but not necessarily on the process, which is why we’re still confident that we can move healthcare forward and get it done in the spring.
Q The second thing is, obviously the President didn’t support Roy Moore in the primary, but he has moved to kind of warmly embrace him since then. But I guess what I’m wondering is, Judge Moore has made a series of controversial comments, saying homosexual conduct should be illegal; equating being gay to bestiality; saying that a lawmaker who’s Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to serve. I’m wondering why those comments shouldn’t disqualify him from a presidential endorsement, particularly considering that from the campaign trail the President promised to be an advocate for those groups.
MS. SANDERS: As we’ve said many times before, I’m not going to get into back-and-forth on political endorsements from the podium, so I’m not going to weigh in on a specific race ahead of time at this point.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I want to follow up on that, because as he mentioned, Judge Moore said homosexuality should be illegal. He said that Sandy Hook was some sort of divine retribution. He said Keith Ellison should not be permitted to serve in Congress because he’s a Muslim. So without asking about the specifics of the race, does President Trump share any of those views that I just mentioned? And if not, why does he think this person is fit to be a U.S. senator?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of. I have not taken a deep dive on every comment that the Senate nominee has made. But I certainly know where the President stands on those issues, and wouldn’t see any parallel between the two of them on that front.
Q Are there any beliefs a candidate could hold, or actions a candidate can take that, that if he were still a Republican, the President would not endorse him?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get into every potential hypothetical that any potential candidate may or may not have over the course of the time that the President is the president. I know where the President stands on specific issues — that’s what I can speak out — not somebody else that’s a candidate for another office that’s not here.
Q Tom did not call on me, so I’m going to ask the question I wanted to understand. He mentioned in response to what Senator Rubio was saying, asking the Pentagon to be in charge, that the Pentagon is in charge of a lot but not everything. I still don’t understand why it’s not in charge of everything, or what the response will be to Senator Rubio, who sent a letter over to the President today.
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’re continuing to work with state officials, including the governor, who, as Tom said, we have confidence in. But we’re supplementing and augmenting that with federal resources, including over 10,000 federal employees and a one-star general that’s there on the ground on that front.
Q But why is not one entity in charge, I guess, is the question. He said many people were in charge of different things. Why is one person not in charge, or one entity?
MS. SANDERS: Well, I believe one person is in charge of different parts of this process. The governor is still the governor of Puerto Rico. We’re continuing to work with him, be in constant contact. And we have one person in charge of the federal component of that, and that would be the one-star general on the ground working with state officials.
Q Sarah, two questions. One, I know you said the White House doesn’t approve charter flights ahead of time, but generally speaking, given the focus of the President on cost-saving — like he said, he wanted to not just drain the swamp, but he wanted people to spend money in more responsible ways — is there a policy of the administration for government employees and Cabinet members to try to fly commercial? Do they have any guidance? Were they given any guidance as to how they should be traveling?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, we’re looking into that. When it comes to military aircraft, that’s a part where the White House does actually play a role. And, on that front, the Trump administration has actually authorized far fewer flights for senior government officials than the Obama administration did during the same time period. And so we’re continuing to look at ways to bring that back under the places where the White House has that direct control and authority, which is under military aircraft which we’ve cut back significantly at this point.
Q I just want to follow up on Roy Moore comments. I know you don’t want to talk about the race, but from the podium do you want to at least condemn some of those sentiments that you said the President, to your knowledge, does not share?
MS. SANDERS: I would certainly say we don’t agree with those comments. But in terms of whether or not I’m going to get into the back-and-forth over another candidate, we’re here to focus on the President, the President’s agenda, and those are the questions and the people that I can answer for.
Q One more question on Secretary Price’s flight. You said the White House was not aware of it, but on at least one of those flights, a senior advisor, Kellyanne Conway, was flying with him on a private flight. Are you looking into that one specifically to see if the White House knew about that?
MS. SANDERS: I didn’t say we weren’t aware, I said the White House doesn’t authorize those private charter flights.
Again, we’re doing a full — not just of that flight — but an internal review at HHS of all private charter flights as well as an IG review that will be conducted of all of them, not just any one particular flight. So that will be very thorough.
Q Is the President, as he’s watching this coverage in Puerto Rico, is he satisfied with what he sees as the response there? Is he satisfied of what he’s hearing from his advisors? Or would he like to see things moving along faster as some people on the ground have asked for?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants to continue to do everything we can to protect the safety and security of the people, both at the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We’re continuing to do that, as Tom spoke very in-depth about that process and what it looks like.
That’s our focus. That’s what we’re going to be continuing to do — people first; paperwork second. The President has empowered all of his agencies to go forward with that mindset and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
Q Sarah, I saw that Secretary Price is here today for an event for the First Lady. Did the President have the chance to sit down and talk with him about this issue of his private jet use? Or has he had a one-on-one conversation with the Secretary about that? And when you said that the White House has ordered a halt on all of these flights, is that administration-wide? White House people? Every agency? You said particularly with regard to HHS.
MS. SANDERS: That’s specific to HHS. I don’t know that they spoke today, but I know they have spoken about this issue previously. I don’t believe the President saw the Secretary at any point today though.
Q Following up on that, does the President believe, or does anyone at the White House think that there has been a tone set at the top here that has allowed Cabinet members to feel empowered to able take private jet flights when they’re going on official travel?
We now have the HHS Secretary, the EPA Administrator, the Treasury Secretary took a flight on a private jet, in an itinerary that’s widely available commercially. Is there something that the President has said or done to set this tone that this is okay? And what is he —
MS. SANDERS: Not at all. And I think the President has been clear about what his position is by stating very clearly that he is not thrilled with the airplane use at this point.
Q Two things. One, I just want to kind of understand the extent of the review process here. And two, Price and others — you said there’s an IG review, there’s an HHS review. Is there a White House component? And is Price dealing with that, or has anyone who’s been accused of —
MS. SANDERS: For HHS specifically, they’re conducting an internal review as well as an IG review. The White House is looking at more of an overall, not specific to that department, because there’s already two reviews taking place there.
Q Sarah, the President said that he would donate personal funds — I think $1 million — to Harvey relief. Is he making any kind of personal donation to Puerto Rico?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t talked to him specifically about that, but he didn’t make a donation to Harvey relief. He made a donation to relief organizations — the Red Cross and many others — that are part of all of the hurricanes that we’ve experienced over the last several weeks. And so those organizations aren’t limited to a specific — nor are those donations — a specific storm. But they go to those organizations that are helping aggressively and intensely in the recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as well.
Q Couple housekeeping things: one, we saw Steve Scalise with that emotional remarks on the House chamber today. Did the President speak to him today or yesterday and welcome him back? And can you tell us about that conversation?
MS. SANDERS: I know they did speak today. I don’t have many details on that, but I’ll see if I can get something. But I know he’s certainly welcomed him back and reminded him that we’ll continue to keep he and his family in our prayers for a full recovery.
Q A couple other quick items. Given the extent of the disaster in Puerto Rico right now, is the President considering delaying his trip there scheduled for next Tuesday?
MS. SANDERS: As of right now, we feel comfortable with the President taking a trip on Tuesday. If there were any indication that it would halt or disrupt recovery or relief efforts, we would certainly reconsider and pull that trip back. But at this time, the folks on the ground indicated that it would be helpful for him to be there.
Q And then finally, has Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump or any other White House staff member taken a private plane ride since their joining this administration or been given access, in some form, to ride along with somebody else on a private plane?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure about those two specific individuals. I’ll have to look.
Q I would like to ask about Cuba. CBS is reporting that the U.S. is prepared to announce a major withdrawal of staff and families from the embassy in Havana. Is there anything you can tell us about that? And how would you describe the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. right now?
MS. SANDERS: At this point, I’m not going to weigh in on the Cuba stuff and get ahead of any potential action that may take place there. So I don’t have anything new to add.
Q Cuba says it warned the U.S. against taking any, “hasty actions,” in response to these incidents happening in Havana targeting diplomats. How does the U.S. respond to that?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we haven’t taken any action at this point that I’m going to weigh into any further. When we do that, we’ll let you know. But I can assure you that our goal will be on the focus of what’s best for this country, not what’s best for Cuba.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The President, as you know, has said that players who kneel or take a knee during the national anthem, ought to be fired. And you, yourself have said from the podium, in response to a very critical tweet by an ESPN anchor, that that individual ought to be fired. You said, it was a “fireable offense.”
Which brings me to Secretary Price. His extensive use by these private jets — why is that not a fireable offense — is my first question. And has he offered to reimburse the government in any way for his use of those private jets?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s something that we would determine once those reviews are complete. In terms of reimbursement, I’m not sure. I’d have to check and get back to you.
Q Sarah, on the taking a knee issue, we’re understanding that many of the NFL players are still very upset with this back-and-forth —
MS. SANDERS: I think so are many Americans. Far more Americans than there are NFL players.
Q Okay. I understand but can I finish my question, please? Thank you.
Many NFL players are very upset. Many people have different ideas and opinions on this, but, when the President weighed in, the NFL said we’re going to be united.
There’s an anticipation that it could grow even more so this weekend. What is the President anticipating? What should we expect him to say about this? It’s now the NFL against the President.
MS. SANDERS: I think the President has made very clear, this shouldn’t be about the NFL being against the President. This should be about our country coming together to support the flag, support the national anthem. There’s nothing wrong with having pride in the United States. This President has been very clear on that and he’s certainly not going to back away from it.
Q Okay, so the NFL players, from what we are hearing, it’s not about not having pride. They’re saying they’re patriots. They love this country. But their challenge is challenging the system, and they’re looking at history — like the challenge of the system we’re paying to women’s rights issues, as well as civil rights. What does the President say when you look at history and see how people love this country but wanted to challenge the system to make it better?
MS. SANDERS: I think if we’re going to look at history, we should look at the thousands of Americans who have given their life to protect that flag, to protect that anthem. We should be celebrating those people.
MS. SANDERS: I gave you chance to answer and to finish your statement. We should be looking at every way we can to celebrate our country, bring it together — not looking at ways to divide it. The President is simply talking about what we’re for, not about what we’re against. And certainly this administration will always be for protection and celebration of the flag, and the national anthem, and that’s not going to change.
Q Sarah, wait a minute. Just to clarify on that —
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think there’s much to clarify —
Q Yes, it is. This is a big —
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s pretty black and white there.
Q People are very divided on this issue. It is a racial issue for some people. And the question is, when the military issue is brought in, the military goes and fights for the freedoms of this nation, and the players are saying they’re thankful for the military’s service to allow them to have the freedoms to do this. I mean, is there some kind of confusion here or is it an us-versus-them kind of scenario?
MS. SANDERS: It certainly shouldn’t be. As I’ve said several times before, this isn’t an us-versus-them. This should be something that brings our country together. These are symbols of what our country stands for, and this should be the opposite of what that is. This should be a very unifying moment when the national anthem plays, all Americans should be proud to stand up, salute that flag, salute that anthem, and be part of that process.
Q Just to follow on that, the President, this morning, said he believes that NFL team owners are afraid of their players. What did he mean by that?
MS. SANDERS: Probably the backlash of the players and the stance that they’re making, and, you know, not wanting to create that conflict within their team.
The President is here to lead the country. He feels very strongly about this, as do most Americans because they certainly agree with him, as we’ve seen not just in the public support, but also in public polling on that very specific issue.
Q It has been four days since Angela Merkel was reelected in Germany. Has the President had the time to talk to her —
MS. SANDERS: I believe they spoke either yesterday morning or this morning, and we have a readout coming on that. And we’ll make sure you guys get that.
Q Thank you very much. Follow-up, just quickly — two quick questions. Follow-up on the NFL thing. I may not be the brightest guy in the room. Wait a minute, don’t say anything yet —
MS. SANDERS: You said it.
Q But my question is —
MS. SANDERS: But nobody else argued either, so —
Q Nobody is going to argue. But I really don’t understand. I understand that he’s saying you should stand up. But if a guy is sitting there going, “I don’t want to stand up,” he still recognizes he has a First Amendment right not to, yes? Or his opinion — or is he asking us to carve out an exception to the First Amendment for freedom of expression?
MS. SANDERS: No, we’re not looking for an exception. I think the President has been very clear about what his position is, and he feels very strongly that when the national anthem plays, people should stand up.
Q Okay, and then the follow-up — wait a minute, I had a second question. The second question was in regards to the private emails that have gone out. Has the President admonished any of his staff on that? Is he concerned about them using private emails for public business?
MS. SANDERS: The White House has been clear and instructs all staff to fully comply with presidential records acts. All staff has been briefed on the need to preserve those records, and we’ll continue to do so.
Q (Inaudible) about Senator Cochran and the healthcare vote.
MS. SANDERS: We’ll make this the last question, because we’re out of time.
Q He had said about Senator Cochran and the healthcare vote that it was the White House’s understanding Senator Cochran was not able to physically be here this week. Well, Senator Cochran’s office has said that there have been plans made for Senator Cochran to come to Washington if there was going to be a healthcare bill. Was the White House not aware that those plans had been made?
MS. SANDERS: That was our understanding, as I said, that the Senator was physically unable to be here this week. We’re certainly glad that wasn’t the case.
Thanks so much, guys. We’ll be in the office the rest of the day, and happy to answer the rest of your questions.
END 3:44 P.M. EDT