James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:14 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Happy Friday.
As you all saw this morning, the administration has sanctioned 7 Russian oligarchs, 12 companies, and 17 top government officials and allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Today’s sanctions and the totality of the administration’s actions, which are in keeping with Congress’s wishes, prove the President is absolutely correct when he says no one has been tougher on Russia. We want a positive relationship with the Russian government, but for this to happen, there must be a significant change in their behavior.
As we announced in February, the President and the First Lady are looking forward to welcoming President and Mrs. Macron of France for a state visit later this month.
Today, I can also add the detail that on the first night of their visit, the President and the First Lady, along with President and Mrs. Macron, will enjoy a private dinner at Mt. Vernon, the historic home of our nation’s first President, George Washington. This setting will serve as a beautiful reminder of France’s unique status as America’s very first ally, going all the way back to the Revolution.
Finally, this is General McMaster’s last day serving as National Security Advisor here in the White House.
General McMaster is a terrific person. On a personal note, it has been a real privilege to serve alongside him and to travel around the world advancing the President’s America First foreign policy. His decades-long career in service of his nation is an inspiration to us all, and we know he will do well wherever he lands next.
The President wishes him well; he will miss working with him. But they will continue to be great friends, and will no doubt be seeing a lot of each other in the years ahead.
And with that, I will take your questions. Major.
Q What effect does the announcement today on Russia have with the proposed private President’s summit with Vladimir Putin? Should we consider that off?
MS. SANDERS: No, not at all. We’ll continue — as the President has said, he wants to have a good relationship with Russia, but that’s going to depend on some of the actions by the Russians.
However, at the same time, the President is going to continue to be tough until we see that change take place. And we’re going to continue working forward in what we can to have that meeting and have a meeting with Vladimir Putin at some point.
Q But would not this suggest a ratcheting up of tensions in the relationship? And wouldn’t a summit have to necessarily resolve some of that tension before it could even take place?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that that’s part of the purpose of the two individuals and the two leaders being able to sit down and have those conversations and develop that relationship, and hopefully put some pressure for Russia to change their behavior.
Q In identifying these oligarchs, though, aren’t you sending a very distinct signal to Putin that you have to assume he would respond negatively to and not want to come and talk about that?
MS. SANDERS: We hope that he’ll respond positively.
Q What do you want him to do?
MS. SANDERS: We’d like them to change their behavior. We would like to see some significant changes. I’m not going to get into all of those details right now.
Q Can you name two?
MS. SANDERS: Again, what we would like to see is the totality of the Russian behavior change. And we want to continue having conversations and work forward to building a better relationship.
Q Two questions on China. First of all, what was it that prompted the President last night to come out with a statement that he’s threatening another — he’s threatening tariffs on another $100 billion in Chinese goods? Since none of these tariffs have taken effect, what was the purpose of upping the ante, if you will?
MS. SANDERS: The United States is responding to Chinese actions that have gone on for decades. The Chinese have engaged in unfair and illegal trade practices for many years, and this is simply a response to that. We would like to see them change and make significant changes to the trade back-and-forth that we have with them. And that’s the purpose.
Q But what was it that prompted the escalation? He had already announced $60 billion worth of goods targeted for tariffs, and then he upped it to another $100 billion on top of that last night.
MS. SANDERS: The President is going to actually do something and be tough when no one else has been willing to do this. Look, China created this problem, and the President is trying to put pressure on them to fix it and to take back some of the terrible actions that they’ve had over the last several decades.
Q And second question. A few minutes ago, on CNBC, Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, said, while it’s not intended to, this could ignite a trade war. How concerned is the President that this could tip the balance into a trade war? Because the stock market took a look at that statement and didn’t like it at all.
MS. SANDERS: We are — again, this is something that China has created, and President Trump is trying to fix it. And we are moving forward in that process of trying to — we’re going to continue putting pressure on China to stop any illegal and unfair trade practices that they’ve continued in for decades.
Q Is he willing to fight a trade war on this?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we don’t want it to come to that. The President wants us to move to a process of fairness, to free and fair and open trade. And that’s what he is trying to do.
Q Does the President think that trade wars are easy to win? Is that still his view?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President feels like if he is in charge of those negotiations, absolutely. He’s the best negotiator at the table, and we certainly have full confidence in his ability to help move things forward.
I think if you look, simply, at the KORUS deal, in which the President was able to get a much better deal for the United States. We’ve made great progress on NAFTA. And we’re hoping to have great progress on the trade negotiations with China.
Q And, Sarah, if I could ask you to clarify something he said in his remarks in West Virginia. The President said, “[And] yesterday, it came out, where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before.” What was he talking about? What came out yesterday that these women are being raped?
MS. SANDERS: There was a story — I believe it was the LA Times; I don’t have it here in front of me — that documented some of that. But there’s also — this is a well-documented fact that a lot of the people — I believe up to 80 percent, in recent years, of women that are making that journey have been raped in that process. The President is saying that’s simply unacceptable, and this is something that should be looked at.
Q You’re saying that 80 percent of the women coming across the border are raped?
MS. SANDERS: No, he’s saying that the drug smugglers, the traffickers, the coyotes — this is something that, again, has been, in recent years — I know it’s been up to as high as 80 percent.
Q Sarah, the Dow is down about 500 points the last time I looked. Does that give the President any pause as he pursues these actions?
MS. SANDERS: We know that there could be some fluctuation. But at the same time, the President has said, “Enough is enough.” China has to change this illegal and unfair practice that they’ve been in. And the President, it is the first time — frankly, we shouldn’t be in this situation. Previous administrations should have stepped up and tried to stop these actions long before today. But thankfully, we have a President that’s willing to actually stand up, be tough, and take some really courageous and bold action, like President Trump has done.
Q What is the next step? What do you want to see happen now? Do you want the Chinese to come forward and ask for talks and negotiate? Or what do you want to see happen?
MS. SANDERS: We certainly want to be able to negotiate. We want them to stop participating in unfair and illegal trade practices, intellectual property theft being a huge detriment to United States companies and businesses.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Just following up on Steve’s question regarding the stock market. The Dow is down nearly 4,000 points since January the 26th. Does the President, does the administration believe that any of that decline is attributable to any of the President’s actions concerning the tariffs that the President has announced on steel and aluminum; perhaps the tariffs the President intends to impose upon China? Anything related to what the administration has done since that time period?
MS. SANDERS: We’re focused on the long-term economic principles. Let’s be clear: The tariffs that we’re talking about with China have not been implemented and are months away. The President has cleared the way for a strong economic environment through the tax cuts, through deregulation.
We’re going to continue pushing forward on long-term economic principles. But at the same time, we’re not going to allow a country like China to continue to have these unfair and illegal trade practices.
Q I understand that. But just getting back to my question, any actions that the President has taken since January the 26th, since that period in which the Dow has declined almost 4,000 points, any that he’s done or said, do you think, is attributable to that stock market decline?
MS. SANDERS: The actions of the President have certainly strengthened our economy. We’ve created almost 3 million new jobs. We’ve gotten regulation out of the way. We’ve provided tax cuts for American individuals and companies. Again, we’re focused on the long-term economic principles, and we feel very confident in where we are.
Q Thanks, Sarah. On the sanctions, why hasn’t the President spoken out personally about the sanctions and the behavior enumerated by the administration today by Russia?
MS. SANDERS: The President has. It’s ridiculous that you guys say that. Just earlier this week, the President stood on a stage in an open-press room, and talked about how he had been tough on Russia. And he’s continued to do that through action, and we’ve continued to do that through a number of administration officials.
But to say that the President hasn’t addressed it directly, he did that while standing onstage with the leaders of the Baltic countries in front of, I believe, almost every single one of you earlier this week. So that’s just not a fair or accurate statement.
Q But on these sanctions imposed today, he has not spoken out. And there’s been no statement issued under his name. And he has not spoken out specifically about the issues enumerated by the administration. He hasn’t condemned the alleged subversion of Western democracies, the activity in Syria, a number of things, cybercrimes — all the things that your administration has outlined. He himself has not spoken out against those. He has just said he’s been tough on Russia.
MS. SANDERS: We speak on behalf of the President day in, day out. Again, the President has signed off and directed these actions. I think that that speaks volumes, actually, on how the President feels, and exactly underscores what he said earlier this week when he said no one has been tougher on Russia.
Q Yeah, just a question about the President’s stance on Scott Pruitt keeping his post at the EPA. Has he been advised by anyone close to him that Pruitt should step down? Where does the President stand?
MS. SANDERS: This is a — no one other than the President has the authority to hire and fire members of his Cabinet. It’s a decision that he’ll make. And right now, I don’t have any personnel announcements.
The President feels that the Administrator has done a good job at EPA. He’s restored it back to its original purpose of protecting the environment. It’s gotten unnecessary regulations out of the way. And we’re continuing to review any of the concerns that we have, and I’ll keep you posted if there’s anything — if there’s anything further on that front.
Q And by that he means —
Q Sarah —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, guys, I can’t hear if you’re all talking at one time.
Hey, guys let’s be respectful. I’ll call on you one at a time. Go ahead, Katie.
Q If everything that has been reported about Mr. Pruitt ends up being true, in the President’s estimation — the security detail, the $50-a-day apartment — (inaudible) enough?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to walk through hypotheticals until we have time to go through a full review. That’s what we’re doing right now.
But again, the President thinks that he’s done a good job on the purpose of carrying out the goals of the EPA.
Q Sarah, two quick ones. The first is, the Treasury Secretary was on CNBC earlier. He was asked about the, sort of, ongoing feud with Amazon and responded by saying that the President was focused on the Post Office and “in discussions with the Post Office and looking at that.” The party line around here has been, kind of, that there are no additional actions being contemplated by the administration against Amazon. So I’m wondering if that’s changed. And specifically at the White House, could the President or any part of the administration has — been in contact with the Postal Service about Amazon’s contract?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of anything specific taking place on Amazon, but we are looking at ways to help the Post Office modernize and certainly help move them forward. The Post Office has lost tens of billions of dollars over the last 10 years and we’d like to see that stop. And we’re looking at the best ways to do that.
But anything specific dealing with Amazon, I’m not aware of anything on the table for that.
Q And then, on this China discussion that we’ve been having, I think we’re all trying to get a little clarity on whether the U.S. and China are actively in negotiations now or if there’s, sort of, the routine contact that we would expect between the U.S. and China, but you’re hopeful that, sort of, direct negotiations to —
MS. SANDERS: Currently in routine contact, but this is a negotiation period. That’s why it doesn’t happen immediately. And there’s a process, and we’re going through that process.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. One, following up on that. In terms of negotiations, earlier today, Chinese officials said negotiations would not be possible in this current situation with the threats of tariffs. What is your response to that?
MS. SANDERS: Look, if they want to stop unfair and illegal trade practices, that would be great. Until then, we’re going to continue moving forward in this process.
Q And then, a second question. There are a number of — with the talk of tariffs — a number of farmers, particularly in the American Midwest, who have suggested that the volatility of the markets has made it very hard for them to plan for the upcoming season. They’re already thinking that there’s going to be a negative economic impact on them. What is this White House’s administration to those farmers, many of whom supported the President two years ago?
MS. SANDERS: We’re working with the Department of Agriculture. The President has directed Secretary Perdue to do what we can to protect our farmers and to look at different ways possible. I’d refer to them for some of the specifics and the specific actions that they’re looking at taking.
Q Thank you. Sarah, I was wondering if you could kind of speak to — there seems to be a perception that, at times, the President makes announcements and then the White House has to come up with policy to match what the President said. Like with the talk about the military at the border, there weren’t really a lot of details about that at first. And with the issue with Syria, and him saying he wanted to, kind of, pull all the troops back. Can you talk anything about that perception and what’s going on there?
MS. SANDERS: Well, I think that’s a perception of completely — people that don’t understand, I guess, how civics works.
The only person elected to make those decisions, and actually outline what policy should look like, is the President. So when he makes an announcement, he’s the only one that has the authority to do so. He’s carrying out the duties that he was elected to do. And it’s up to his staff to implement those policies that he announces or that he makes.
So he’s doing exactly what the American people asked him to do, and that’s to come here and change Washington, and he’s doing that every single day.
I’ll take one last question.
Q Thank you, Sarah. On the border —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I was pointing up here. Anita, and then I’ll go to April for the last question.
Q Okay, thanks. I wanted to get an update on the National Guard — sending their troops to the border. A couple days ago, the DHS Secretary was saying that it could happen as early as that night. We still haven’t seen them going over. I was wondering if you could kind of update us. I know California is the one that hasn’t said what they plan to do; they’re still reviewing. Will you also go ahead with the plan if it’s just the three other states and not them? And can you tell us what the holdup is with California?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely, we’ll continue moving forward with the other border states. We’re working with states’ governors right now to go through this process, and we hope to have National Guard on the ground as soon as possible. And we’re going to continue to work with California, and we’re hopeful that they’ll do the right thing and help protect our borders.
Q Do you have a time? Is there timing?
MS. SANDERS: There’s not a specific time, but as soon as possible.
Q Sarah, (inaudible) 4,000 that the President mentioned yesterday?
MS. SANDERS: It’s going to be as many as it takes. We’re looking at what that needs to be, and we’re going to move forward in the process. The President thinks that’s a good first step, to have 2,000 to 4,000. And if we determine that we need more, we’ll make that decision at the time.
Q A follow-up on that and also on Amazon. Really fast. What happens when this Honduran caravan gets there and you have this presence of National Guards? What is going to happen when the caravan arrives at the border with the National Guard?
MS. SANDERS: Well, thankfully, the Mexican government, in conjunction with our team and this administration, has broken up a lot of that and is continuing to do so.
In terms of what the specifics will look like of the National Guard, they will be working in conjunction with CBP, and they will actually — CBP will be the lead law enforcement on the ground with the National Guard backing them up and supplementing them in those efforts. And for the specifics on that, I’d refer you to the individual states who will help make some of those decisions.
Q Okay, and then on Amazon. What is the administration doing with the issue of faxing and the issues of emails? Administrations before this were dealing with the fact that the Post Office was losing money because of the Internet, because of social media, because of people being able to correspond versus using a stamp or metered mail. How is the administration targeting that versus going to Amazon and looking at them as the problem?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re doing — as I said a few minutes ago, we’re working with the Post Office. We’re doing a thorough review and looking at the best ways to modernize that. I don’t have any specific policy announcements on that front, but that’s something that we’re in ongoing conversations with the U.S. Postal Service on.
Thanks so much, guys. Have a great Friday.
END 2:32 P.M. EDT