James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Over the weekend, the White House released a framework for responsible immigration reform that will protect our people, put the interests of American workers first, and provide a permanent solution to DACA.
Our framework includes four pillars: border security, including the wall; DACA legalization; ending extended-family chain migration; and eliminating the visa lottery, moving us toward a merit-based system of immigration. We look forward to working with Congress to pass and sign legislation that addresses each of these four pillars.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, as you know, the President will deliver his first State of the Union Address. The theme of the address is, “Building a safe, strong, and proud America,” which is exactly what the President has worked to do during his first year in office.
I don’t want to get ahead of what the President will say during his remarks, but it will obviously be must-watch TV, but I do want to make an announcement about one of the most important traditions: the guests who will be sitting in the First Lady’s Box. I’ll name a few of those individuals and little bit about them.
First, Corey Adams: Corey is a skilled welder at Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton, Ohio. Last year, Corey and his wife were able to become first-time homeowners, and they will invest their extra money from the Trump tax cuts into their two daughters’ education savings.
Elizabeth Alvarado, Robert Mickens, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Freddy Cuevas: These two couples are the parents of two beautiful young girls, Nisa and Kayla, who were brutally murdered by MS-13 gang members.
Corporal Matthew Bradford: In 2007, Corporal Bradford stepped on an IED while deployed in Iraq. He was blinded by the blast and lost both of his legs. After multiple surgeries and therapy, he became the first blind double amputee to reenlist in the Marines.
Jon Bridgers: Mr. Bridgers founded the Cajun Navy in 2016, a non-profit rescue and recovery organization that responded in 2016 to flooding in south Louisiana and in 2017 to Hurricane Harvey in Texas. He and his team have helped thousands of people across the South.
David Dahlberg: Mr. Dahlberg is a fire technician who saved 62 children and staff members from a raging wildfire that encircled their camp in southern California.
Officer Ryan Holets: Ryan serves as a police officer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In his six years on the force, he has been shot twice and experienced several near-death encounters. Officer Holets and his wife adopted a baby from parents who suffered from opioid addiction, breaking down walls between drug addicts and police officers to help save lives.
Ashlee Leppert: Ms. Leppert rescued dozens of Americans during last year’s devastating hurricane season.
Agent “CJ” Martinez: Agent Martinez is a Special Agent for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit. His investigations have led to more than 100 arrests of MS-13 gang members who were prosecuted for crimes including homicide, assault, and narcotics and weapons trafficking.
Staff Sergeant Justin Peck: Last year, Staff Sergeant Peck was part of a team clearing IEDs from territory previously controlled by ISIS. When one of his compatriots was struck by a blast, he rushed to their side, saving their life while risking his own.
Preston Sharp: Mr. Sharp has organized the placement of more than 40,000 American flags and red carnations on soldiers’ graves as part of his goal to honor veterans in all 50 states and to challenge others to join the Flag and Flower Challenge.
Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger: These siblings started Staub Manufacturing Solutions 20 years ago. Thanks to the Trump Bump in the economy, they were able to grow to new heights in 2017. And thanks to the Trump tax cuts, they were able to give all of their employees larger Christmas bonuses.
Some of these individuals’ stories are heroic, some are patriotic, others are tragic. But all of them represent the unbreakable American spirit, and will inspire our nation to continue growing stronger, prouder, and more prosperous.
And with that, I will take your questions. John.
Q Sarah, the news came down in the last hour the Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, is stepping down. Can we get reaction from the White House? And as the President, back at the end of December, was tweeting about Andrew McCabe in a less-than effusive praise manner, what’s he thinking about him stepping down?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’ve seen the numerous reports, as all of you have. And any specifics — I can tell you, none of this decision was made by that of the White House. And any specifics, I would refer you to the FBI, who I believe will be making a statement later today.
Q You say that the White House was not involved in the decision, but clearly the President seemed to be involved in a public relations campaign against McCabe.
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President stands by his previous comments. But in terms of the situation today, as I just said, we’ve seen the reports, just as all of you have. We don’t have any specific comments. And I would refer you to the FBI for any specifics on the things that are taking place today.
Q So when you say that you’ve seen the reports, does that mean that the President was not informed by anyone at the FBI that this was happening? Has he had any conversation with anybody there?
MS. SANDERS: No, he hasn’t.
Q Sarah, can you say definitively, though, that the President did not play a role in Andrew McCabe stepping down?
MS. SANDERS: Yes, I can say the President wasn’t part of this decision-making process, and we would refer you to the FBI where Christopher Wray serves as the Director — which, as I said last week and I’ll repeat again today, the President has full confidence in him and has put the decisions at the FBI in his hands.
Q And did the President at any time convey that he wanted to fire Robert Mueller to anyone on the staff here?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Thank you. And just to, kind of, finish this loop — so no one at the White House contacted the FBI about McCabe? No one has put any directives or even had any discussions about his tenure at the FBI? Did anyone at the White House?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of. Nothing specific to McCabe and his stepping down as of today, if that is what is being reported.
MS. SANDERS: Sarah, what would you say to critics who believe that this White House and this President have had almost, sort of, a steady pressure put on the Justice Department, put on the FBI, since the President came into office on this Special Counsel investigation — whether it be conversations with Jeff Sessions’s office about recusal, whether it be about this desire for Robert Mueller to go away, and now with Andrew McCabe?
There were even reports that Rod Rosenstein was also feeling pressure from the White House. It sounds like there are multiple officials at multiple levels who are being pressured by the White House, by the President. What would you say in response to that concern?
MS. SANDERS: I would say what I’ve said probably a hundred times before and continue — will say, I’m sure, a hundred times today: that the White House has been fully cooperative, and is going to continue to be fully cooperative.
In fact, we’ve gone above and beyond many times, and certainly done everything that we could. The White House has provided over 20 witnesses and tens of thousands of pages of documents to the Special Counsel. We have done everything we can to be fully transparent, and we’re going to continue to do that throughout the process.
Q So what about this notion that the President has been applying pressure for months — steady pressure? He fired Jim Comey. He —
MS. SANDERS: The only thing that the President has applied pressure to is to make sure we get this resolved so that you guys and everyone else can focus on the things that Americans actually care about. And that is making sure everybody gets the Russia fever out of their system once and for all; that you’re all reminded once again there was no collusion; and that we can move forward to focus on things like national security, the economy, and solving the immigration crisis that we have here in our country.
Q So no obstruction of justice, nothing improper, nothing inappropriate here at all, whatsoever, from the President since he came into office when it comes to this investigation?
MS. SANDERS: No. And I think we’ve been pretty clear on that.
Q Sarah, a question about the Nunes memo. But first, I want to ask if the President continues to have confidence in the man he appointed to be Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein.
MS. SANDERS: As I’ve said, when you guys ask this question about a number of individuals, when the President no longer has confidence in someone, you’ll know.
Q All right. I hear that as a “yes.”
MS. SANDERS: On the memo — you had another question.
Q I do have another question about the memo. The House Intelligence Committee could vote as early as today to release this memo that Chairman Nunes has purportedly crafted. The House rules contemplate that the President would then get five days to determine whether he has any cause to object to its public release.
What’s the current thinking? What’s the current level of White House involvement in this decision? Can you shed any light on the process between this White House and Capitol Hill with this question?
MS. SANDERS: Look, no one at the White House has actually seen the memo, so it would be hard for us to make a decision or to speak about it before that would take place.
Right now, we’re letting the House process play out. And if and when it’s time for the White House to weigh in, we’ll do that through the proper protocol, making sure we follow legal process. But again, we’re not to that point in the process yet.
Q Sarah, two questions. Just following up on that, is the White House — I know you said you have to wait and see, but is the White House open to the idea of a release of this memo to the public? And can you say, in the State of the Union Address, whether the President will mention at all this ongoing Russia probe which you said, you know, is really “Russia fever” that the country needs to get out of its system? Will he address it in any way?
MS. SANDERS: To answer your first question, we want full transparency. It’s what we’ve said all along. And we’ll make a decision when and if that time becomes necessary.
In terms of the State of the Union, I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s address. It’s tomorrow night. I know you are all excited and will eagerly tune in, and can see, at that time exactly, what is going to be included.
Q But he doesn’t feel a need to address it?
MS. SANDERS: I think we’ve addressed it every single day that we’ve been here. It’s one of the questions you guys ask over and over and over again. In fact, we spend more time on that than we do any other topic, despite the fact that, time and time again, poll after poll says that, frankly, no one cares about this issue, and it’s certainly not the thing that keeps people up at night.
We’d love to talk about all of the things that do. And my guess is, that will be the focus of the President’s State of the Union tomorrow.
Q Sarah, two topics. Back on the State of the Union. Typically, when the Presidents give their State of the Union Address, particularly his first, Presidents normally are optimistic when they say, “The state of our union is…” What is the state of our union today?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s incredible, and I think that you’ll hear that in the President’s words tomorrow night. Look, we’ve got an economy that is booming. ISIS is on the run. We’re remaking the judiciary in a way that actually believes in upholding the Constitution. There are some great things happening in this country, and I think you can expect to hear the President talk about a lot of those — not only what we’ve been able to do in the first year, but all of the great things that we’re going to do in the next seven years after this.
Q On the second topic, I want to go to this issue of black unemployment. One, is the President going to start targeting black unemployment as he’s saying that unemployment has gone down over his watch? I’ve never heard of a targeted approach from this administration. And is this administration aware that the black unemployment rate from December is 6.8 percent, the white unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, the Asian unemployment rate is 2.5 percent, and the Hispanic unemployment rate is 4.9 percent? The black unemployment continues to be higher, and it’s actually two times that — more than two times that of the white unemployment rate.
So is that something that this administration is touting or they’re trying to fix — make an active effort to fix in 2018?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think you can see from the steps that we’ve already taken that we’re trying to fix unemployment for all Americans. That’s the point that the President has made time and time again, is that he wants it to be better for everybody.
And we’ve made significant progress in that, both through the number of regulations that have been cut to make this a more job-friendly market, a more job-friendly environment. And certainly adding to that, the tax cuts and tax reform legislation that the President led on has been historic in what has happened and in the way that it has helped our economy and certainly helped create jobs across the country.
Q So why did he take issue with Jay-Z then, when he was just talking in terms of black America? He took issue — has he seen my black — and he screamed with caps, all caps — has he seen my black unemployment numbers.
MS. SANDERS: Because they’re better than they have been. And we’re certainly making progress and we want to continue to do that.
Look, we want every day to be better than the day before. And again, certainly for black Americans, for Hispanic Americans across the board, this is a President who wants life to be better for all Americans and he’s going to keep fighting and pushing for that. And I think you’ll hear him talk about that, again, tomorrow night.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The former Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, described Andrew McCabe as a dedicated public servant who has served this country well. Would the President, would you, describe him in that same manner?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t have a personal relationship with him, so I’m not going to describe him. I think we’ve talked about some of the concerns that we have with some of the actions that he’s taken. But in terms of anything specific regarding the Deputy Director, particularly the news reports of today, I would refer you to the FBI.
Q The President — based upon past tweets that he’s put out regarding Mr. McCabe — does not seem to be a big fan of Mr. McCabe. Is he disappointed that he’s leaving his post as the Deputy FBI Director?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him if he was disappointed. I can tell you he didn’t play a role in any of that process, and again, would refer you to the FBI for any specifics.
Q Thank you, Sarah. In one of the President’s tweets in December, though, he did say that Andrew McCabe is “racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” So does the President believe that Andrew McCabe should be allowed to retire with full benefits?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I would refer you to the FBI for any specifics around the news of today of his stepping down.
Q And then, I have a questions about the State of the Union. You mentioned who is going to be in the First Lady’s Box at the State of the Union. You talked about a lot of the different guests but I didn’t hear anything about the President’s family. Can you say which of the President’s family members will be there? And can you also, potentially, preview for us some of the travel that the President might take? Usually, the President takes travel to push his agenda afterwards.
MS. SANDERS: In terms of family, all of the President’s children, along with the First Lady, will be at the State of the Union with the exclusion of Barron. I don’t believe he will be attending as of right now.
And in terms of travel, we will keep you posted on any scheduling announcements that we have over the week.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I want to ask you a question about the 5G network. But also, before I do that, Treasury is set — I believe the deadline is today — to release two Russia-related reports to Congress. Can you tell us whether that’s actually going to happen today, and whether the names on the oligarchs list will be public? And on the impact on sanctioning, will portions of that be public also?
MS. SANDERS: We do expect the reports today. And I would refer you to the Department of Treasury for any specifics on that as that happens.
Q I think we’re waiting. So if that’s something you guys can coordinate, that would be really helpful.
On 5G —
MS. SANDERS: We’re coordinating, and I’m telling you that they’re taking the lead. And for questions specific to it, you should reach out to the Department of Treasury in terms of timing.
Q I’ll email them again. I’ll let them know that you said they can tell us. (Laughter.)
On 5G, I know there’s a lot of speculation about what might happen and whether there is a security case to make for one secure network. But some experts, including the Republican FCC Chair, I guess, are a little concerned about the idea of one nationalized network. Can you bring us up to speed on whether that idea is dead or very much still alive, and where that stands?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as we outlined in our National Security Strategy — I believe it’s actually on page 19 — a few people will be proud of me for memorizing that — we discussed the need for a secure network. Right now, we’re in the very earliest stages of the conversation. There are absolutely no decisions made on what that would look like, what role anyone would play in it; simply, the need for a secure network. And that is the only part of this conversation that we’re up to right now.
Q Just one network, or multiple possibilities —
MS. SANDERS: Look, there are a lot of things on the table. Again, these are the very earliest stages of the discussion period, and there’s been absolutely no decision made other than the fact the need for a secure network.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Tomorrow night, will the President talk about an urban revitalization plan?
MS. SANDERS: As I said before, I’m not going to get into the details beyond what was already discussed last week on the State of the Union, but I do think it’s something worth tuning into for all to see.
I’ll take one last question.
Q Thank you, Sarah. So, the President has repeatedly touted black unemployment when faced with allegations of racism. Given those numbers, the low black unemployment, why do you think so many in the African American community are still so uncomfortable with the President?
MS. SANDERS: That’s a question you would have to ask them. But we hope and pray, and expect, to spend every day working to build a greater relationship within that community and, as I said before, with all Americans.
This is a President who wants to lead for everybody. He’s not looking to lead for any one person, any one group, but he wants to be the President of the United States. And I think that if you look at the policies that he has enacted over the first year, you can see that he’s doing exactly that.
He’s building an economy that helps every American. He’s cutting regulations that help every American. He’s helping put ISIS on the run, which helps on the safety and security of all Americans. He’s helping secure the border. He’s helping to put an end to loopholes in our failed immigration system. All of those things benefit all Americans. That’s what this President is focused on, and that’s what we’ve done in our first year and that’s what we look forward to doing in the next seven years.
2:07 P.M. EST