James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:39 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Sorry for the very delayed start today.
The President spoke earlier today with Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and offered his deepest sympathies and condolences to the victims of the attack at Marshall County High School.
We are preparing to leave tonight for Switzerland, where the President will be attending the World Economic Forum. Director Cohn and General McMaster did a great job previewing that trip to all of you yesterday, so I won’t add too much more to their remarks.
The President is very much looking forward to delivering the message to the world that America is open for business and that there is no better time in history to invest and create jobs here in the United States.
As you all know, this week is National School Choice Week. Secretary DeVos has been a strong leader on this issue for many years, and she’s doing a great job leading the charge at the Department of Education.
The President released a proclamation officially declaring this National School Choice Week. “To maintain our global leadership and strengthen our modern economy,” he wrote, “America’s education system must prepare students for the unforeseen challenges of the future. By giving parents more control over their children’s education, we are making strides toward a future of unprecedented educational attainment and freedom of choice.”
“During National School Choice Week, I encourage parents to explore innovative and educational alternatives, and I challenge students to dream big and work hard for the futures they deserve. I also urge state and federal lawmakers to embrace school choice and enact policies that empower families and strengthen communities.”
On the nominations front, we were pleased to see the Senate confirm the President’s highly qualified nominee to chair the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell.
We’re also pleased that the President’s HHS Secretary nominee, Alex Azar, cleared his final procedural hurdle in the Senate on a bipartisan basis. We look forward to Mr. Azar’s confirmation so we can continue working to lower healthcare costs and increase the quality of care for all Americans.
Finally, before taking your questions, I’d like to deliver a statement and update regarding the path forward on immigration:
“Last fall, the White House sent Congress a list of the core reforms necessary to fix our immigration system. These reforms were assembled in coordination with frontline law enforcement officers and career public servants who know what is necessary to keep America safe.
Since that time, President Donald J. Trump and his administration have hosted dozens of meetings with Republican and Democrat leadership, and rank-and-file members of the House and Senate, to discuss these reforms and find a bipartisan path forward. Based on these negotiations, the White House will release a legislative framework on Monday that represents a compromise that members of both parties can support. We encourage the Senate to bring it to the floor.
This framework will fulfill the four agreed-upon pillars: securing the border and closing legal loopholes; ending extended-family chain migration; cancelling the visa lottery; and providing a permanent solution on DACA. After decades of inaction by Congress, it’s time we work together to solve this issue once and for all. The American people deserve no less.”
And with that, I’ll take your questions. Zeke.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two for you. First on that immigration announcement. Does that legislative framework you said is a permanent solution for DACA, does that include a path to citizenship for the recipients?
MS. SANDERS: Well, if I told you now, it would kind of take away the fun for Monday. We will, again, as I said, be rolling out some of the specifics of the framework of that legislation that we’d like to see on Monday. I’m not going to get ahead; I’m not going to go any further than we have in laying out the principles we already have over the last several days.
Q And separately, you mentioned the Davos trip. Secretary Mnuchin made some news over there earlier today when he said that — said that he supported — that he was pleased to see that there’s a weaker dollar. And that was a break from previous Treasury secretaries. Does that reflect accurately the President’s view of U.S. currency?
MS. SANDERS: Look, currently we have a very stable dollar because of how well the U.S. is doing, and it’s as powerful as it’s ever been. And therefore, it’s the reserve currency of the world, and that’s the official position at the White House.
Q So the White House prefers a strong dollar versus a weaker dollar?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we believe in free-floating currency. The President has always believed in that. And we have, like I said, a very stable dollar in large part due to how well the U.S. economy is doing right now.
Q Does the President make a habit of asking career government officials their voting habits?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of, no.
Q Did he ask Andrew McCabe how he voted?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President and Andrew McCabe have had limited and pretty non-substantive conversations. I can’t get into the details of what was discussed. I wasn’t there. There are widespread reports of his retirement. We’re making sure that we’re focused on the FBI and DOJ serving all Americans fairly and efficiently, and we’re going to move forward from there. Thanks.
Q But that’s kind of a yes-or-no question — he did or didn’t ask.
MS. SANDERS: I wasn’t in the room. I don’t know what was discussed. I know he didn’t ask me. So I can tell you that.
Q But does the President trust the FBI and the people who work at the FBI?
MS. SANDERS: He certainly has 100 percent confidence in Director Wray, and that’s why he put him there. He feels like he is the right person to lead the FBI. As I’ve said many times before, he has confidence in the rank-and-file members of the FBI. We’re not going to let a few bad actors tarnish the entire group. But that’s why Director Wray is there, and he feels like any changes that need to be made, he will make those changes.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The Justice Department is threatening 23 so-called sanctuary cities — including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles — with subpoenas if they fail to provide documents to show whether the local law enforcement officials are sharing information with federal immigration authorities. What is the White House’s view on this? And the fallout from that appears to have affected the attendance of some mayors to today’s event. If you would comment on that, I’d appreciate it.
MS. SANDERS: The White House has been very clear that we don’t support sanctuary cities. We support enforcing the law and following the law. And that is the Department of Justice’s job, is do exactly that. And if mayors have a problem with that, they should talk to Congress, the people that pass the laws.
The Department of Justice enforces them, and as long as that is the law, the Department of Justice is going to strongly enforce it.
Q How will that impact the White House’s relationship with some of the larger-city mayors in this country with whom this White House has pledged to not only work hand-in-hand on some major policy issues, in particular with infrastructure? How does that (inaudible).
MS. SANDERS: Look, we would love to able to work with these mayors, particularly on issues like infrastructure and other things. But we cannot allow people to pick and choose what laws they want to follow. If we have a country with no laws, then nothing matters.
So we cannot allow a few individual people to decide that they don’t want to follow the rules. You guys wouldn’t be allowed to do that in your own networks and outlets, and the federal government cannot allow people to act independently and completely ignore the law.
Q Sarah, in the development of this compromise framework that you’re going to release on Monday, how closely did the President and his staff work with the House Republican leadership?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’ve been working with both House and Senate members. We’ve had dozens of conversations with them. And the framework that you see on Monday will be born out of a lot of those conversations that we’ve had with a number of members, both Republicans, Democrats, House, and Senate.
Q Will it be the President’s belief that, once that’s presented, that would be a package that could pass the House of Representatives?
MS. SANDERS: We’d certainly like to think so.
Q With Republican leadership.
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’ve taken into account all of the conversations that we’ve had, both at the Presidential and the staff level, and tried to incorporate that into what we think addresses all of the different things that we’ve heard from the various stakeholders throughout the last several months.
Q So it’s your belief it would be able to pass the House and the Senate, and that’s the —
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think a legislative package that can’t pass both Houses doesn’t help us much.
Q No, no, no, but you understand the — you understand the difference. The perception is, in the Senate it would come down in one form and would not be passable in the House. My question is: Do you think you can bridge that? And is the point of this framework, based on your conversations, to do precisely that?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. We want to see a legislative package that addresses the four things that we’ve laid out, that can pass both the House and the Senate, and make it to the President’s desk so that we can help actually fix our immigration system.
Q And therefore, it’s different than what you’ve previously discussed, either with Senator Schumer or Lindsey Graham, or Dick Durbin, or Representative Goodlatte?
MS. SANDERS: It addresses the four principles that we’ve talked about all along, and we think, again, takes into account all of conversations that we’ve had over the last several months.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Steve Bannon, the former Chief Strategist for the President, in the next few weeks will likely come before the Special Counsel’s office to submit to an interview with the Special Counsel’s office. Will the President be invoking executive privilege to prevent any part of his testimony?
MS. SANDERS: I can’t speak to the specifics of that. I can tell you that the White House has been fully cooperative and will continue to do so.
Q The privilege of executive privilege is one that only the President can invoke, and as you may recall, he did not invoke it for when former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. As you’ve mentioned many times, the President has mentioned many times, there is no collusion. What — why —
MS. SANDERS: I’m glad you guys are starting to echo that too
Q Yeah, we hear it a lot. (Laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: If you could say it more and more when you’re on your networks, that would be really helpful.
Q Why would the President want to invoke executive privilege? After all, he didn’t do so for the former FBI Director.
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to walk through hypothetical conversations or negotiate with you guys. That’s something that the attorneys are going to do. I can tell you, once again, the White House will remain and continue to be fully cooperative with the Special Counsel and allow them to work through their process.
Right here. Go ahead.
Q Yes, so the President’s own immigration seems to have positioned himself in a center between the House and the Democrats in the Senate. The Democrats seem to be moving further left, including bait-and-switch on the border-wall funding. What is the benefit of the President being in that position as negotiations move forward?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President is in the position to lay out a framework. There’s nothing currently on the table that addresses all of the concerns that we feel like brings all of these various stakeholders to the table, like this framework does. And the President wants to lead on this issue, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do and you’ll see more details on that on Monday.
Q Thanks. What was the President’s reaction to learning that his former national security advisor Michael Flynn didn’t immediately tell him that he was interviewed by the FBI here at the White House?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as you know, I’m not going to get into the details of anything on this case. If you have specific questions on that, you’d have to reach out to the Special Counsel.
Q But is the President frustrated by that?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t spoken to him about that specifically.
Q Can you say when the last time is he spoke with Michael Flynn?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure.
Q And does the President still think that Michael Flynn is a “Wonderful Man”?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him since he made that statement.
Q And one final question, Sarah. You told Cecilia that you hadn’t asked the President whether he asked how Andrew McCabe had voted. That’s one of the stories — the leading story of the day. You didn’t talk to the President —
MS. SANDERS: It’s not the leading story that most Americans care about.
Q You didn’t talk to the President about one of the big stories —
MS. SANDERS: Even all of the polling that any person in here would take, I very seriously doubt that any person in America would list that as an issue they care about.
Q Can you ask him?
MS. SANDERS: And frankly, that’s what we’re focused on.
Q Can you ask him and get us an answer
MS. SANDERS: I’ll let you know.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two brief questions. First, a housekeeping matter. It has been reported, unofficially, that the President will host French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife at his first state dinner coming up this April, I believe. Will you confirm that President Macron will be his guest and make a state visit here?
MS. SANDERS: Yes. I can confirm that that will be the first state visit. The date is still being finalized and we don’t have that yet done. But as soon as we do, we’ll certainly let you know.
Q And my other question is: Recently, district courts in Moscow have ruled that Mr. Navalny, the dissident against the Kremlin, will not be allowed on the ballot, and he repeatedly has run into efforts that have kept him from having a competitive election against President Putin. Does the White House have any feelings about that and about the Russian elections?
MS. SANDERS: I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Yeah, I had two questions. First, could you comment on the President nominating Charles Rettig to be the IRS Commissioner?
MS. SANDERS: We don’t have any personnel announcements on that front at this point.
Q Okay. And another question. In light of the “fake news awards” last week, I wanted to ask — there’s been some reports about a cover-up. The EU Commission has set up a panel to investigate fake news. Other European democracies — allies — have set up panels to look into fake news, saying that they’re trying to protect democracy.
This has some people concerned about governments actually looking in to saying what’s true and not true. Can you say, in light of what the President has talked about in fake news, that this is not something the U.S. government should ever do?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we certainly believe in a free press, but we also believe in a fair and accurate press.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Was the President speaking more metaphorically when he promised to build a solid wall that was over 30 to 50 feet high along the border?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has always guaranteed he’s going to build a wall, and that’s exactly what he intends to do. Over the past several years, I know he’s talked about what that could look like. In some places, we have natural barriers that you don’t actually need the wall, and in other places where it is desperately needed as determined by law enforcement officials and DHS. That’s where we would put the wall.
Q At this point, what does his actual vision of the wall look like, though?
MS. SANDERS: I think you’ll see some more of those details laid out in the framework on Monday.
Q And has that evolved at all from the 30- to 50-foot physical barrier?
MS. SANDERS: Again, you’ll see some of the details laid out on Monday.
Q Thanks, Sarah. The President has said repeatedly there was no collusion between the campaign and Russia. Can you define what he means when he says “collusion”? Is he talking about meetings between officials? Is he talking about information-exchanging hands? What does that mean?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think the accusation against the President is that he had help winning the election, and that’s simply untrue. The President won because he was the better candidate, because he worked harder, because he had a message that America actually cared about and believed in, and came out in a historic fashion and supported and voted for him.
That’s why he won. It wasn’t because of some made-up hoax that has been created to delegitimize this President. It’s because he was the best candidate, at the right time, that America wanted to see, and that’s why he’s in the Oval Office today.
Q Sarah, just to follow up. Does he think that the reporting from the intelligence community saying that there was hacking that went on, done by Russia — he rejects that or does he accept it?
MS. SANDERS: No, he’s addressed that, but that doesn’t mean that he participated in it. I think those are very different things. Stating the existence of something happening is very different than having helped make it happen, and you can’t conflate the two. And I think oftentimes that’s what individuals are trying to do.
Q Right. Does he mean that about himself or about campaign officials? When he says collusion between the campaign, does he mean himself, or does he mean that no one on his campaign could have known anything?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think he’s stating for himself and to anything that he would be a part of, or know about, or have sanctioned. But that would be something that, again, I think he’s very clearly laid out he and his campaign had nothing to do with.
Q Sarah, you talked about the stability of the U.S. dollar. But today, when Secretary Mnuchin spoke about the U.S. dollar, it went — his remarks sent the dollar down to a three-year low. So I’m wondering whether the White House has concerns about the way he casually talked about the value of the dollar and whether you can say unequivocally whether the White House believes in a strong dollar policy.
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, as I said, we also believe in a free-floating currency. And that’s always been the President’s belief. We still very strongly believe that we have a stable dollar and that that’s a good thing, and that’s why it is the reserve currency. I don’t have anything else further to add on that front.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Does the White House still maintain its commitment to Representative Meadows and to Senator Tom Cotton that they would have consultation and signoff on any bill? And were they consulted in this legislative framework?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’ve been consulting with both of those individuals, as well as a number of other members of Congress, and incorporated a lot of those thoughts and ideas into this framework that you’ll see on Monday.
I’ll take one last question. Peter.
Q Sarah, let me ask you — on Tuesday, it was a high school in Kentucky; Monday, a school cafeteria outside Dallas; a charter school parking lot in New Orleans as well. There have been 11 shootings at schools in the first 23 days of this year. In October, after the Vegas shooting, you said it was an “unspeakable tragedy” from that podium, said it was a day for consoling survivors and mourning those who we lost. You said there is a time and place for political debate. What has the President done in the time since October to try to prevent any of these shootings from taking place?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think, first and foremost, to recognize that any loss of life is incredibly sad, and any shooting at any school across this country is something that should never happen. Students fearing for their lives while they’re attempting to get an education is unacceptable, certainly in this administration and by this administration.
The President believes that all Americans deserve to be safe in their schools and in their communities. We’ve had two years of increased violence prior to the President taking office. We’ve tried to crack down on crime throughout the country.
The President instructed his administration to make the recent crime wave a top priority. Some of the things that they’ve accomplished in that process, and been focused on, is they’ve charged more defendants with violent-crime offenses than in any year in decades, they’ve charged the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade, and they’ve convicted 1,200 gang members and took down numerous drug-trafficking organizations, all in an attempt to help create safer and better communities, and certainly safer schools.
Q So to be clear, Sarah — wait, Sarah, to be clear, you said, we all agree that we want students to be safe at schools. That’s not in dispute. And we all agree we don’t want there to be crime. But what is the President specifically doing? You guys said at the time, today was not the day, but we should have these policies — you said it —
MS. SANDERS: Look, I just read off a lot of the things that he’s doing.
Q But you said we should have the policy conversation. So the question is, what is the policy the President is willing to pursue, or actively direct others to pursue, to help make sure that these students are safe?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I know the Department of Justice instructed ATF to do a thorough review on a number of firearm provisions. That is ongoing, and it will be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget. We’re going through that process. That policy review and that policy discussion is taking place.
At the same time, the President has instructed the Department of Justice to crack down and make the crime wave that took place long before the President ever came into office a major priority. And you’re seeing that happen. You’re seeing a Department of Justice that is being active, empowering its law enforcements to crack down on crime. And that’s what those results that I just read out to you show, is that they’re putting their focus on that.
Q But are school shootings crime waves? Schools shootings seem to be their own category. We agree we don’t want crime.
MS. SANDERS: I think they’re part of a crime wave, absolutely. I don’t think you can completely separate the two. They are a part of domestic violence, and I think that it certainly would be part of a crime wave that we are focused on addressing. And you can see some of the things that we’ve done since taking office.
Q Will the President come before the nation and tell Americans how he feels about this issue, and try to do what he can with the bully pulpit to help?
MS. SANDERS: I think he has, Peter. I mean, to sit there and question —
Q He hasn’t. He said now is not the time.
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, hold on.
Q He’s already said now is not the time.
MS. SANDERS: I was polite and let you finish but —
Q I’ll listen.
MS. SANDERS: Let me be very clear on this. The fact that you’re basically accusing the President of being complicit in a school shooting is outrageous.
Q I’m not. It’s his advertisement that accuses the Democrats of being complicit on a different topic. I’m not accusing the President of anything. I’m concerned about the students in America and want to know what he’s going to do.
MS. SANDERS: Ignoring the fact of the safety and security of our borders is very different. The President has been very clear, and instructed the top law enforcement agency in this country to crack down on crime and to do everything they can to prevent these types of things.
We’ve talked about it here numerous times, and we’re going to continue moving forward in that process.
3:01 P.M. EST