James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:11 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Sorry to interrupt that live shot, Kristen. (Laughs.)
As you’ve all seen this morning, the President secured a dramatically improved trade agreement with the Republic of Korea, continuing to fulfill one of his key campaign promises to the American people.
Since the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement, commonly referred to as KORUS, went into effect in 2012, the U.S. trade deficit increased by 70 percent from $6.3 billion to $10.7 billion. Through negotiations to improve KORUS, the U.S. Trade Representative has secured changes that will reduce the trade deficit and ensure that KORUS is a good deal for the prosperity and the security of the American people.
This is a big deal for the American automotive industry. It’s a big deal for our parts manufacturers. It’s a big deal for our pharmaceutical companies. And ultimately, it’s a big deal and a major win for American workers and American businesses.
Continuing on the economic front, the fourth quarter GDP numbers were revised up, to 2.9 percent. This reflected strong consumer spending at the end of the year, and increased investments from American businesses.
According to Market Watch, “Hiring is strong, unemployment is low, and recent tax cuts are putting more money in people’s pockets. Accordingly, the U.S. is likely to grow even faster this year than it did in 2017.”
The Council of Economic Advisers released a report today on the economic benefits of expanded infrastructure investment, estimating that the President’s plan would deliver employment gains and increase GDP growth.
With that in mind, the President will be traveling tomorrow to Richfield, Ohio to deliver remarks on his infrastructure initiative before an audience of local workers.
The remarks will be at a training site for members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18 — a diversified trade union representing heavy-equipment operators, mechanics, and surveyors in the construction industry, and stationary engineers who work in operations and maintenance in building and industrial complexes.
Following on the success of tax reform, infrastructure is the next piece of the President’s successful economic agenda.
These workers represent the hardworking Americans across the country who will participate in the rebuilding of our nation’s infrastructure sparked from the President’s vision, and it will definitely be worth tuning in to see the President lay out that vision.
And with that, I will take your questions. Cecilia.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Are pardons on the table for anyone involved in the Russia probe?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I would refer you back to the statement from Ty Cobb in the report that you’re asking about in which he said, “I’ve only been asked about pardons by the press and have routinely responded on the record that no pardons are under discussion or under consideration at the White House.”
Q So can you say unequivocally that no one here has discussed pardons in this case?
MS. SANDERS: I can say that Ty Cobb is the person that would be most directly involved in this, and he’s got a statement on the record saying that there’s no discussion and there’s no consideration of those at this time at the White House.
Q Is the White House worried about what Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort might tell Special Counsel Robert Mueller?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as we’ve said pretty much every day since we got here — because you guys have continued to ask about this topic every single day — there was no collusion, and we’re very confident in that, and look forward to this process wrapping up.
Q Sarah, the attorney for Stormy Daniels filed a motion to depose the President of the United States. Do you have a response from the White House — a reaction to that deposition?
MS. SANDERS: Nope. We have addressed this, once again, extensively. And we have nothing new to add. And for any new questions, I would refer you to the President’s personal counsel.
Q If subpoenaed, would the President sit for a deposition?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get into a hypothetical question, and I would refer you to Michael Cohen on that matter.
Q And separately, Sarah, just real quick. We haven’t seen much of the President. He said last week he was going to do a news conference, then ended up not taking questions. He hasn’t held any open press event —
MS. SANDERS: He actually took a couple questions at the end.
Q Walking out, but not sort of formal questions and didn’t address some other topics in the news.
MS. SANDERS: (Inaudible.)
Q Why haven’t we seen so much of the President? Will he commit to doing a formal news conference? He hasn’t done one of those in more than a year.
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has got a major speech tomorrow. He’s been incredibly active all week long. We’ve taken major actions in trade negotiations, as well as expelling intel officers from Russia out of the country this week. There have been a number of major things that the President has taken action on and been engaged on. And he’s giving a major speech tomorrow.
Q Too busy to take questions?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Is he too busy to take questions from the press or —
MS. SANDERS: Look, we take questions from you guys every day in a number of different formats. And right now, I’m standing up here taking questions from you, which I did yesterday, which Raj did on Monday, and the President is speaking directly to the American people tomorrow.
Q Yeah, Sarah. The President has said that Michael Flynn is a good man. He has also said that Paul Manafort is a good man. And I’m wondering if the President believes he has the right to use the power of his office, the power to pardon, to protect them from what he might see as unfair punishment down the road. Does he believe he has that right?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I would refer you back to Ty Cobb’s statement that there is no discussion or considering of that at this time. So there would be no reason for me to have had a conversation with the President about that because that is not being currently discussed at the White House.
Q My question wasn’t about that, though. It was whether he believes he has the right to use the power of his office.
MS. SANDERS: The President has the authority to pardon individuals, but you’re asking me about a specific case in which it hasn’t been discussed, so I would not have brought that up with him.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. It’s the President who has the power of the pardon, not Ty Cobb. So has the President —
MS. SANDERS: Which is what I just said to Phil.
Q Well, not exactly. You talked about Ty Cobb’s statement. It’s the President who has the power of the pardon. Has he considered, is he considering, would he consider pardoning Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, or Rick Gates?
MS. SANDERS: As I said, an on-record statement from the President’s attorney here at the White House on these matters has said, there’s no discussion or consideration of this.
Q On another matter — the trade deal that you spoke about at the very top of the briefing regarding the U.S. and South Korea. As part of this new trade deal, each U.S. carmaker would be allowed to export 50,000 vehicles per year to South Korea. It’s right now capped at 25,000. But last year, if you just look at most recent history, no U.S. automaker sold more than 11,000 cars to South Korea. What makes you think that demand is going to rise so dramatically as to benefit the U.S. auto industry?
MS. SANDERS: It also impacts the parts component, which is a major piece of this deal. We’re going to continue working with auto manufacturers in this country. One of the other things that we’ve seen is an increase in business across the board and people actually making things in America again due to deregulation, due to the tax cuts. We expect business in America to grow, and therefore the trade component to grow, as well.
Q But as for the automakers, do you believe that the actual number of vehicles sold will increase dramatically as a result of this trade deal? Last year, 11,000. The new number is now — you can sell up to 50,000 there. By next year, will we see a dramatic increase in that number?
MS. SANDERS: Look, this wasn’t something that happened — the problem wasn’t created overnight, but this is certainly the steps in the right direction to help remove the trade deficit that we have. And we’re very excited about the progress that’s been made not just with auto manufacturers but also in the agriculture sector and pharmaceuticals as well.
Q Thank you, Sarah. A report today on President Trump and Amazon caused the company’s stock to devalue, to tumble roughly $53 billion. Is the President, as that report said, looking for ways to go after the Internet retail giant?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we have no announcements and no specific policies or actions that we’re currently pushing forward or considering taking.
Q I’m not looking for an announcement, specifically. But has the President been looking for ways to go after Amazon? Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has said that the White House does favor an Internet sales tax, and that’s something that you guys would be looking at. So is that something that the President is pushing for, even behind closed doors?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has said many times before he’s always looking to create a level playing field for all businesses, and this is no different. And he’s going to always look at different ways, but there aren’t any specific policies on the table at this time.
Q And one more question, sorry. On Kim Jong-un’s visit to China, when was the White House made aware of that trip?
MS. SANDERS: The ambassador from China came to the White House yesterday and briefed members of the national security team, who then briefed the President.
Q Sarah, Alton Sterling, the charges against the police officers —
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, can you speak up a little bit?
Q There were no charges against the police officers in the Alton Sterling police shooting. What does the President have to say about that, particularly as he is a strong supporter of police? And then you have the issue, in the midst of that issue that happened, a fatal shooting of a young man in California behind his grandmother’s house with a cellphone?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly a terrible incident. This is something that is a local matter, and that’s something that we feel should be left up to the local authorities at this point in time.
Q What does he feel about that? He was strongly behind police. He supports police, as much as America does, but wants to weed out bad policing. What does he say about weeding out bad policing when you continue to see these kinds of situations occur over and over again?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we want to make sure that all law enforcement is carrying out the letter of the law. The President is very supportive of law enforcement. But at the same time, in these specific cases and these specific instances, those will be left up to local authorities to make that determination, and not something for the federal government to weigh into.
Q And there’s one more large case that’s —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep going, April.
Q Wait a minute, there one more large case that is still lingering.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m —
Q Eric Garner, that cried out 11 times, “I can’t breathe.” His mother is still looking for something — an indictment of the police officers in New York. Does the President — has he asked them what’s the status, if something is going to happen? What?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any specific action. Once again, these will be local matters that should be left up to the local authority.
Thanks, Sarah. Just a quick Q Thanks, Sarah. Quick on one North Korea and then maybe a fast follow on the census. On North Korea, how would you characterize the administration’s mood after the meeting in China between Kim Jong-un and President Xi Jinping?
And I’m asking because, on the one hand, the President’s tweets almost sound optimistic. But at the same time, if we look back historically when Madeleine Albright went over there, the North Koreans were sort of cheating the whole way through. So I would imagine there’s also some skepticism. How would you describe the White House’s sensibility right now?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we’re going to be cautiously optimistic, but we feel things are moving in the right direction and that the meeting yesterday was a good indication that the maximum pressure campaign has been working. You saw him leave for the first time to — since becoming the leader of North Korea — leaving his country for the first time for that meeting. And we consider that to be a positive sign that the maximum pressure campaign is continuing to work. And we’re going to continue moving forward in this process in hopes for a meeting down the road.
Q By the end of May, by the way? We were talking about May. Is that still sort of the goal, right?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we would like to see this. Obviously this is something of global importance and we want to make sure that it’s done as soon as we can, but we also want to make sure it’s done properly. And we’re working towards that goal.
As we’ve said before, the North Koreans have made that offer and we’ve accepted, and we’re moving forward in that process.
Q And on the census, I was going to ask about U.S. Code Title 13, 221. It effectively says that you can be fined if you don’t answer the census truthfully. Now no one has been fined, you know, dating back to 1970. Would the White House support the idea of finding individuals that don’t answer these censuses, or fail to answer it honestly?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the goal is to have data that we can use for specific things. And we think that having accurate data is important. I’m not aware of a mass campaign to start fining individuals, but we certainly want people to follow the law and we want them — whether it’s the census or anything else, people should follow the law, and the law should be enforced.
Q Thank you. Ty Cobb’s statement deals with the President. So I want to just ask you, very specifically, did the President direct John Dowd to talk to the attorneys of Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn about potential pardons?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any conversations of that nature at all.
Q Did the President have a reaction to these revelations in the New York Times?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I —
Q Did you ask him? Did you ask him specifically?
MS. SANDERS: I did not talk to him about it specifically, but, again, I’ve been in a number of conversations; it’s never come up. And Ty Cobb, who would be the lead representative for the White House on these matters, has also gone on the record to discuss and declare that these conversations haven’t taken place.
Q And let me just follow up with April quickly, if I could. You said these are local issues. And with respect, this seems to be an issue that the entire country is grappling with. These tensions between communities of color and police departments, does the President not need to show leadership on this issue?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we certainly — when the President has talked about a number of issues, we want to find ways to bring the country together; certainly not looking for any place of division. I think you’ve seen that in the policies that he’s put forward. He wants to grow the economy. He wants to do that for everybody. He wants a better America for every American and that’s been a repeated thing out of this White House.
But when it comes to the authority to — on the rulings that have taken place in the last few days, those are things that have to be done at a local level and they’re not federal decisions at this point in time.
Q But, Sarah, a lot of African American moms all across the country feel as though their sons are dying. So doesn’t the President feel like he needs to do something about that?
MS. SANDERS: I think we should do every single thing we can, every single day, to protect the people of this country. I think the President — whether they’re black, white, Hispanic, male or female, rich or poor — we look for ways to protect the individuals in this country, particularly children.
That’s why you’ve seen the President take an active role over the last several months in school safety and looking at ways — we want to do that across the board. Whether a kid is in a school, whether they’re at home, no matter where they are in this country, kids should feel safe.
And that’s why this President has focused on safety and security as a big part of the priorities of this administration, both through securing our borders and stopping the flow of drugs, stopping the flow of gangs, stopping the number of school shootings by the STOP School Violence Act, the background system.
I’m not saying it’s perfect, and until every child is safe, we can always do more. And we’re going to show up every day for work trying to do exactly that.
Q Sarah, this is not (inaudible). This has been happening for hundreds of years though. This is a national issue.
Q Sarah, a federal judge in Maryland has refused to throw out the —
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear the first part of your question.
Q A federal judge in Maryland has refused to throw out a emoluments claim against the President, saying that, Washington and Maryland have the right to sue — standing to sue. Wondering if the White House might have some comment on that.
MS. SANDERS: I can’t comment on ongoing litigation. We’ll have to keep you posted on that.
Q Quick one on North Korea, and then, if I might, on something else. You told us last night of a personal message that Xi Jinping had for President Trump. What was in that message?
MS. SANDERS: Again, it was a personal message. We feel like we’ve made significant progress and we’re going to continue moving forward in this process. I don’t have anything to add at this point beyond that.
Q A quick question on Stormy Daniels and the lawsuit that was offered overnight — or the motion that was made overnight. You’ve said that you’ve addressed these issues extensively — you said in response to Zeke today — but you haven’t answered the subset question about whether the President was aware of the $130,000 payment that was made under an agreement in which he is explicitly named to keep Stormy Daniels silent. Can you answer that question? You were asked three weeks ago today and said you weren’t aware. Are you aware now?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has denied the allegations. We’ve spoken about this issue extensively. And I don’t have anything else to add beyond that. Anything beyond that, I would refer you to the outside counsel.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions on big tech, following up on Francesca’s question about Amazon. The report earlier this morning said that the President is “obsessed” with Amazon and its CEO, Jeff Bezos. Have you ever heard the President talk about Amazon? And are they currently competing on a level playing field right now?
MS. SANDERS: I’ve heard the President talk repeatedly about making business practices in this country level for everyone across the board. I’ve heard him talk about it privately and publicly, and I know it’s something that he wants to see happen. Beyond that, I don’t have anything for you.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I have two questions on immigration. First one: Is the President concerned that his immigration policies have kept away from the U.S. high-tech workers, special workers that instead would go to Canada, for instance?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, I’m not sure I follow.
Q Is the President concerned that his immigration policies have kept away from the U.S. specialized workers, high-tech workers, that prefer to go somewhere else?
MS. SANDERS: Not at all. But the President is concerned that we aren’t doing enough to create a strong workforce here, which is why he has put a big emphasis on workforce development. It’s something Ivanka Trump has been directly engaged in, and the Office of American Innovation have played a big role in pushing for very strong policy shifts to improving the workforce development of people in this country so that we have a lot more skilled workers to fill some of those high-tech jobs that you have mentioned.
Q And Mitt Romney, as you know, a Senate candidate in Utah, just said that he’s more hardliner on immigration than the President because he’s opposed, for instance, to citizenship for DREAMers. Would the President sign a bill that would give citizenship to DREAMers?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’ve put out a number of solutions to fix the DACA problem. Democrats have shown their unwillingness to do so, and that they want to use DACA recipients as political pawns instead of actually fixing the problem. We’d love to come up with a long-term solution. If Democrats decide to show up for work and be part of that process, we’d love to do that.
I’m going to take one last question. Trey.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two quick questions for you. On sanctuary cities — following the President’s tweets today — is he encouraging other cities or counties to join this larger DOJ lawsuit against the state of California?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President is encouraging people to follow federal law. There’s a reason that we have laws in this country, and he expects that individual cities and states should follow the federal law.
Q And if I could ask you about the President’s former lawyer, John Dowd. Are there any actions that Mr. Dowd took while he was serving the President that President Trump was uncomfortable with?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Were there any actions that John Dowd, the President’s former attorney, took while he was serving President Trump that President Trump was uncomfortable with?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of. No, I’m not aware of any specific actions.
Thanks so much, guys. Have a great rest of the week.
2:31 P.M. EDT