James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:31 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. With labor participation, wages, and job growth all on the rise, we are seeing firsthand how President Trump’s economic policies are benefitting American workers.
The unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 percent, the lowest level since the year 2000. The unemployment rate for adult women is at 3.5 percent. And the African American unemployment rate is at 6.6 percent –- the lowest ever recorded. And the unemployment rate for Hispanics tied a series low.
Since the President’s election, more than 3 million jobs have been created. The President’s historic tax cuts, deregulation, and pro-growth policies are creating jobs and restoring confidence in America’s economy.
On another important matter, the White House has been in close contact with state and local officials in Hawaii since the initial earthquake and volcanic eruption. The President continues to monitor the ongoing situation.
FEMA and the White House encourage all individuals in potentially affected areas to monitor local radio or TV stations for updated emergency information, and follow the instructions of state and local officials.
The New York Post said today that CIA Acting Director Gina Haspel has headed four CIA stations across the globe; been a senior official in the CIA’s Russia operation; held several top roles in the division responsible for covert operations; and post-9/11, was a senior-level supervisor in counterterrorism.
The Post further noted that her integrity and, significantly, her political impartiality are unchallenged. She deserves quick confirmation without partisan theatrics.
The bottom line: Acting Director Haspel has an unparalleled understanding of the CIA and is the right person to lead it during these dangerous times.
Lastly, and on a slightly lighter note, I would like to congratulate Katherine and Alex –- two members of the White House press corps –- on their engagement over the weekend. So congratulations.
And with that — I don’t know if they even showed up today but that’s okay. (Laughter.)
Q They’re in the back
MS. SANDERS: Definitely would have given them a question, but since I don’t see them — Kevin, we’ll go with you.
Q Thank you, Sarah. A couple questions. First, on Gina Haspel. Is it true the President and yourself and others had to, sort of, convince her not to withdraw her name from consideration? And if so, what was that like? And has this circumstance happened before since you’ve been at your position here at the White House?
And a follow-up about Don Blankenship. Why does the President believe he can’t win an election in the state of West Virginia?
MS. SANDERS: Let me answer the first question. We’ll come back to that. In regards to Acting Director Haspel, her commitment to the agency is one of the reasons that she is the right person to lead it. She wants to do everything she can to make sure the integrity of the CIA remains intact, isn’t unnecessarily attacked. And if she felt that her nomination would have been a problem for that and for the agency then she wanted to do everything she could to protect the agency.
At the same time, she wants to do everything she can to protect the safety and security of Americans, which is why she is 100 percent committed to going through this confirmation process and being confirmed as the next leader of the CIA.
Q And the follow —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry.
Q — was on Blankenship in West Virginia. Why does the President believe that he can’t win an election in the state of West Virginia? Why not?
MS. SANDERS: As you all know, I have a few more limitations than the President and, due to the Hatch Act, can’t get into the specifics about an election prior to it taking place. But I’d refer you back to the President’s tweet, which I think is pretty clear. And if he has more to say on it, he certainly will.
Q Thank you, Sarah. We also congratulate Alex and Katherine.
Rudy Giuliani said that, if necessary, it’s possible that Michael Cohen could have paid off other women to keep them quiet about alleged affairs with the President. Is that possible? Are there other women out there who received money from the President to stay quiet?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any other activity, but I would refer you to Rudy Giuliani to respond to any of those questions or anybody else on the President’s outside counsel.
Q But you’ve been in his circle for a long time now. You were on the campaign. Is that anything that came across your desk?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not aware of anything like that. But I would refer to the President’s outside counsel.
Q The President has got a May 12 deadline on the Iran nuclear deal. Is he wavering on this deal based on the pressure from the Europeans with Boris Johnson here this week?
MS. SANDERS: The President will make an announcement on what his decision is soon. As you know, he’s got a few days to do that, and we’ll let you know when he’s ready to make a decision on it.
Q And John Kerry’s shadow diplomacy — how does that impact the deliberations?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think it impacts it at all. I think the President spoke out about that pretty clearly, and I don’t think that we would take advice from somebody who created what the President sees to be one of the worst deals ever made. I’m not sure why we would start listening to him now.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Back to Gina Haspel. Her confirmation hearing is on Wednesday. It’s an open hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Are there any questions that are off-limits, from the White House’s point of view, as it relates to her career at the CIA?
MS. SANDERS: We think that acting Director Haspel is a highly qualified, uniquely positioned individual to lead the CIA, and we’re very confident in her ability to answer the questions that we know are going to come.
And if you don’t believe me, listen to some of the quotes from a lot of other people that have been very outspoken in their support for her.
Former Director Leon Panetta said, “I’m glad it’s Gina, because frankly, she is someone who really knows the CIA inside and out.” Former Director Michael Hayden said, “Haspel is absolute best choice to be Director.” Former Acting Director and Deputy Director Michael Morell said, “She is capable. She has integrity. She cares deeply about the mission of the Agency, and she cares deeply about the men and women of the Agency.” And lastly, former Acting Director and Deputy Director John McLaughlin said, “If you’re picking a professional officer to head the agency, I can’t think of a better person than Gina.”
We want her to get a fair hearing, a thorough hearing. And we’re very confident that not only will all of the members of the Senate see what the rest of us see, and certainly even some of the people that have held that position see, that Gina is more than qualified to run and lead the agency.
Q So, Sarah, if she’s asked any questions regarding enhanced interrogation techniques that took place during her tenure at the CIA — that Democrats say that she was involved with — she can answer them fully in an open hearing. Is that your position?
MS. SANDERS: I’ll let her address those questions as they come. But as we’ve said, we think all of the issues surrounding her record, her experience, will be brought up. And we’re fully confident in her ability to answer those questions.
Q Yes, Sarah. President Putin, in Moscow, was inaugurated today for a new six-year term. Over the weekend, throughout Russia, we saw police arresting, it’s estimated, about 1,600 anti-Putin demonstrators, including organizer and anti-corruption campaigner, Alexei Navalny. We’ve seen the President tweet about other Russia matters today but not about either of these things. What message does the President have for the Kremlin and the Russian people about these events?
MS. SANDERS: First, the President congratulates him and looks forward to a time when we can hopefully have a good relationship with Russia. However, the United States believes that everyone has a right to be heard and assemble peacefully.
Q Sarah, thank you. The President has said in the past that the Russia investigation is an excuse for Democrats losing the 2016 election. But today he appeared to look forward to the 2018 midterms, and tweeted out, “Is this Phony Witch Hunt going to go on even longer so it wrongfully impacts the Mid-Term Elections, which is what the Democrats always intended?” And he ended that with a question mark. Does the President now believe that the Russia investigation actually has to do with the 2018 midterms, as well?
MS. SANDERS: I think he thinks that the idea that this narrative continues to be driven; the fact that a year and a half later, after spending most all of your time, every single day, looking into this and still finding nothing; the fact that we’re still talking about it will — has the potential to impact the 2018 election. I think the point he’s making is how ridiculous it is that we’re still having this conversation, and the depths to which this research has gone on, and investigation has been conducted, and still produced nothing.
Q Is the President pleased with the appearances of Rudy Giuliani over the last few days?
MS. SANDERS: I didn’t speak with him specifically about his feelings about it, but certainly feels that he’s an added member — added valued member to his outside special counsel.
Q Thank you, Sarah. On that note, Rudy Giuliani said yesterday that the President could plead the Fifth if he’s subpoenaed by the Special Counsel. And I want to know why the President would even go that route if he hasn’t done anything wrong, as he’s said repeatedly that there was no collusion and there was no obstruction of justice.
MS. SANDERS: That’s a question you’d have to ask the outside special counsel. I’m not an attorney; certainly couldn’t address that.
Q Sorry, Sarah —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep moving just because we’re going to get real tight on time here. Jim.
Q In the same vein, does the President believe he is within his executive powers to reject a subpoena from the Special Counsel’s office?
MS. SANDERS: That’s a question that I would refer you to the Special Counsel.
Q And can I follow up on Gina Haspel?
MS. SANDERS: I’m going to just keep moving because I did it to your colleague.
Q The President, this time around, on Iran — Mike Pompeo is Secretary of State, and you’ve got John Bolton, the new National Security Advisor — they’ve been amongst the most prominent critics of the Iran deal. I mean, is there any reason to think President Trump won’t kill the deal when Saturday rolls around?
MS. SANDERS: The President will make that announcement very soon, and we’ll certainly keep you all posted on it as it happens.
Q On the EPA, Andrew Wheeler has been now confirmed as the second-in-command at the EPA. Does the President think that he would be able to continue the deregulatory agenda that Mr. Pruitt has been in charge of, were he to remove Mr. Pruitt? And given the sort of cascade of ethical problems, how close is — what’s the status of the review that you guys have been saying you’re doing? And is the President closer to removing Mr. Pruitt from office?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any personnel announcements on that front. Certainly, we have confidence in the number two; otherwise, the President wouldn’t have asked him to serve at such a senior-level position within the EPA. But I don’t have anything further on that front.
Q I wanted to catch back up with — on China, after the delegation came back. Presuming that the President has had some sort of briefing on that interaction now, can you tell us his reaction to the talks that happened; if the U.S. has plans to talk to China again before the May 22 public comment deadline; and what sort of next steps are there?
MS. SANDERS: Sure. The President had a briefing this morning with members of the team that traveled. The President has a great relationship with President Xi. And we are working on something that we think will be great for everybody. China’s top economic advisor, the Vice Premier, will be coming here next week to continue the discussions with the President’s economic team, and we’ll keep you posted as discussions are ongoing.
Q Sarah, in its front-page story this morning, the Washington Post, among many things, reported that there are persistent rumors that Mrs. Trump does not live in this White House and that she lives with her parents somewhere in the suburbs. What do you make of those rumors?
MS. SANDERS: I make of the fact that just when you think the Washington Post can’t get things any more wrong, they do, and that that is an outrageous and ridiculous claim. The First Lady lives here at the White House. We see her regularly. And I think that’s something that belongs in tabloid gossip, not on the front pages of the Washington Post. And I hope that they’ll do better next time.
Q Sarah, we’re going to hear from the First Lady in a moment. She’s going to promote, among other things, good behavior among children. Part of this effort has to do with cyber bullying right now. Does the President accept any responsibility for American skepticism that the First Lady from the White House would be speaking out against cyber bullying?
MS. SANDERS: Look, this is something that is extremely important to the First Lady. I’m not going to get ahead of her announcement or her comments. In fact, I’m only going to take one last question because we got to make sure that we get there so nobody misses that. And the President will also be joining the First Lady at that event, so we want to make sure everybody has a chance to tune in.
Ayesha, we’ll take your question last.
Q Just if you could, the question was about him, not about her. I know that we’ll wait to hear what she says. But does he accept responsibility for this climate that exists right now, that there is the need to sort of address an issue like cyber bullying?
MS. SANDERS: I think the idea that you’re trying to blame cyber bullying on the President is kind of ridiculous. When it comes to kids, this is something that has been problematic and something that we have seen over the last decade. And the First Lady sees it —
Q Is not at all to blame?
MS. SANDERS: — to be an important issue and something that she wants to address. And she’ll do that here shortly.
Q Thanks, Sarah. There have been some reports that an Israeli intelligence firm was hired to kind of dig up dirt on former Obama administration officials regarding the Iran nuclear deal. Does the White House have any knowledge of that or the idea that any Trump aides were involved in hiring this intelligence firm?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of anything on that front. If something comes up, we’ll let you guys know.
Thanks so much. We hope you’ll join us here in the Rose Garden with the First Lady and the President rolling out her initiatives. Thanks guys.
2:45 P.M. EDT