James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:16 P.M. EDT
SANDERS: Good afternoon. As you know, the President has just concluded a productive meeting with South Korean President Moon. This is the sixth visit between them.
The two leaders had significant conversations on important issues, including the scheduled U.S.-North Korea summit. Both leaders are committed to working together to accomplish the common goal of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
As you also know, it’s commencement season. And the President and First Lady would like to extend a special congratulations to World War II veteran Bob Barger.
Sixty-eight years since he last sat in a classroom, Bob graduated from the University of Toledo this month after a review of his transcripts from the late 1940s showed he completed enough courses to qualify for an associate’s degree.
As the President said in his letter to Bob, his hard work, diligence, and passion to learn exemplify the Greatest Generation’s commitment to excellence and the American spirit.
As you know, the President took a number of questions earlier, so we’ll keep this short today. And with that, I’ll get started.
Q Sarah, do you agree with the South Korean official who said that there would be a 99 percent chance that this summit with Kim Jong-un comes off? And how will the President ultimately make the decision about whether or not to go?
SANDERS: The President addressed this earlier directly to you and said that we’ll see what happens. We continue to prepare for the summit, and if they want to meet, we will certainly be ready. And the President, I think, rightly stated that if North Korea agrees to denuclearize, that it can be a bright future for them. But we remain clear-eyed in these negotiations, but we continue to prepare, and we’ll see what happens.
Q What preconditions, though, does he have? What does he see that the North Koreans have to do to make that trip? And I’m just asking — you know, the challenge coins were made. Was it premature to make those coins commemorating the summit?
SANDERS: So on the first part of your question, the President has laid out what he wants to see is a commitment to denuclearization. That has not changed.
In terms of the coins, this is not something that the White House has anything to do with. We don’t have any input on the design, the manufacturer, the process, in any capacity. This is a standard procedure by the White House Communications Agency, which is made up exclusively of career military officials. And these coins are designed and done by that organization.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Why did the U.S. guarantee the safety of a dictator whose regime is a serial human rights abuser and is responsible for the recent death of an American college student? Why is that the morally right thing to do?
SANDERS: Again, the goal and the purpose of these conversations would be to have complete and total denuclearization of the Peninsula. And the President has been upfront about that part of the conversation. And we’re going to continue to move forward.
Q Just to follow up, though, Sarah, really quickly.
SANDERS: Sorry. I’m going to keep moving, just because we’re going to be really short today.
Major, go ahead.
Q Sarah, you talked about preparations for the summit. Can you describe for us how the President himself is personally preparing? Who is he working with? How much time does he devote on a daily basis to get ready for the underlying themes, questions, and difficulties of a summit of this magnitude?
SANDERS: As you all know, he’s spent a significant amount of time meeting both in person and having regular phone conversations with other world leaders, like you saw today with South Korean President Moon, as well as, he has constant and regular meetings with his national security team. This is something they talk about on a daily basis and will continue to in preparation.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I want to ask about this meeting the Chief of Staff is setting up with lawmakers regarding the documents that they requested about the Russia investigation. Can you say what specific documents the lawmakers will be allowed to see? Chairman Nunes has requested all documents related to this intelligence source. Will he get to see all of the documents?
SANDERS: That’s something that you would have to ask the Department of Justice. I can tell you the President asked Chief of Staff Kelly to set up the meeting. It is scheduled to take place on Thursday of this week. The individuals that are expected to attend are Chairman Nunes, Chairman Gowdy, FBI Director Wray, DNI Director Coats, and DOJ official Ed O’Callaghan. No one from the White House staff will attend.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The North Koreans are bringing in some journalists to view what they say is the dismantling of a nuclear test site. I’m curious if the administration believes that site is already damaged, as some are led to believe, and what exactly the administration’s response is to this.
SANDERS: I don’t have anything that I can comment on at this time.
Q Yes, Sarah, can you tell us what was the outcome of the discussions between the South Korean President and President Trump today about the size and cost of U.S. troops in South Korea?
SANDERS: The focus — at least in the meeting that I was in — that specifically did not come up, but certainly conversations primarily centered around preparations towards the scheduled summit.
Q You said that no one from the White House staff will attend the meeting on Thursday. Does that not mean that the Chief of Staff Kelly would not attend the meeting?
SANDERS: He was charged with coordinating and making sure it took place, but at this point is not expected to attend.
Q Can you ask — can you respond a little bit, though, to why no Democrats would be at that meeting if the White House was putting its imprimatur on it? The Democrats have said that they think it’s inappropriate to have a meeting set up with just Republicans and the Justice Department. Is the White House — would the White House welcome Democrats to be at that meeting?
SANDERS: We’ll keep you posted. My understanding is they haven’t been the ones requesting this information.
Q No, but they say they that to the extent that the White House is, sort of, brokering a deal between the Justice Department and Capitol Hill —
SANDERS: I hardly call brokering a deal to set up — help coordinate a meeting and help Congress receive information that they’ve requested. To my knowledge, the Democrats have not requested that information. So I would refer you back to them on why they would consider themselves randomly invited to see something they’ve never asked to.
Q Sarah, the President spoke at length this morning about his vision for a solution to dealing with Chinese company ZTE. Both Republicans and Democrats on the Hill are criticizing that, saying that he is bowing to pressure from Beijing. Senator Schumer, I believe, called it, a wet-noodle solution. What’s the White House’s response to that criticism?
SANDERS: The U.S.-and-China relationship has a number of issues that we’re constantly having conversations — national security, trade; ZTE is among one of those. And this is something that the President has asked Commerce to look into, and he’s outlined some possible actions against ZTE by Commerce. But at this point, they’re still in discussion. And there’s nothing else to add beyond what the President already said this morning.
Q Can you just respond to their criticism, though, about what he has said on Capitol Hill?
SANDERS: Like I’ve said a few times before, Senator Schumer is not somebody this White House is probably ever going to take advice from on how to negotiate or get a good deal on anything, particularly based on his track record and, certainly, I think, his weakness when it comes to China.
We finally have a President who’s actually calling out China on their unfair trade practices — and not just calling them out, but actually doing something about it, and aggressively pushing forward in negotiations, something that we haven’t seen in decades. And so Senator Schumer is probably the last person we would call and ask for on how to make a deal.
Q I wanted to change topics. I wanted to get your comment on this incident that happened at the EPA earlier today. They were having a national summit on water contaminants. At least two reporters were barred from going into the event and one was forcibly removed. I wondered if you had a comment. Do you approve of how that was handled? And will anyone be speaking to the press office over there about it?
SANDERS: Certainly, we’ll look into the matter. I’ve seen the reports. I know EPA has put out a statement. At this point, I’d refer you to them as we look into the incident. I don’t have a lot of visibility since certainly we weren’t there and were in other meetings here. But something we are certainly going to look into. But at this point, I’d refer you to the statement the EPA put out.
Q Do you approve of how it was handled, though?
SANDERS: Again, I can’t speak to a situation that I don’t have a lot visibility into, but I would refer you back to their statement.
Q Sarah, back on North Korea just for a second. The President, in the Oval Office, said that he was disappointed that after his second meeting with Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un seemed to have a change of attitude. Does the White House have any theories as to why that might be? Is China a spoiler, and why?
SANDERS: The President spoke to this directly. There’s nothing else to add at this point.
Q Could you add anything more about the President’s comments — he said that China, South Korea, and Japan were willing to invest very large sums of money into North Korea. Can you add anything more to that? Is the U.S. planning to add to that very large sum? Can you describe what kind of money he’s talking about there?
SANDERS: I don’t have anything to add beyond the President’s comments.
Q Can you talk at all about what President Moon said about Kim, about the new tenor coming out Pyongyang? What President Trump learned in the meeting with President Moon?
SANDERS: We felt like the conversations today were productive. And again, we’re going to continue in preparations and we’ll see what happens.
Q Sarah, to follow up on Anita, and then a question as well to you: Is there any situation, barring a security incident, in which you feel, the White House feels, it is appropriate to physically touch or physically handle a reporter?
SANDERS: I’m not going to weigh into random hypotheticals that may or may not exist. I don’t know any information about this specific incident. You’re asking me —
Q I’m just asking about the appropriateness or not of touching a reporter.
SANDERS: No, you’re asking me to speak to a blanket possibility, which I’m not going to do, nor would I ever ask or expect you to do.
Q My other question was actually on the —
SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to do one question at a time today, because we’re short on time.
Q — DOJ demand. A couple other got follows, Sarah.
SANDERS: John, go ahead.
Q So just quickly, is it appropriate for the President to make a demand to the Department of Justice, Sarah?
SANDERS: Sorry, John, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Sarah —
SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to keep moving. We’re tight on time. Thanks.
Q There’s been considerable discussion back and forth about the tenure of Speaker Ryan, whether he will relinquish his gavel early and have a new election of a Speaker before the elections. Conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill made it clear that they want Ryan to stay. Congressman Warren Davidson said that’s unfair to the new members coming in. And he also said that there should be a discharge petition so members can have an up and down vote on repeal of the Affordable Care Act and immigration. Does the President agree with the statements of Congressman Davidson and the conservatives among House Republicans?
SANDERS: I haven’t spoken with him specifically about that statement, so I wouldn’t want to weigh into that right now.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The President earlier today, in that press availability, spoke about the protections that he’s prepared to offer to Kim Jong-un, not only personally but also for his country. In preparing for these meetings, and when the summit actually takes place, does human rights play any consideration in the meeting that the President will have with Kim Jong-un?
SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of the discussion that the President and Kim Jong-un could have. But certainly we would expect that that would come up and be addressed.
Q Following up on John’s earlier question, does the President back Speaker Ryan’s decision to stay in office until after the election? Or is he concerned that there may be a period of time when he’s not getting as much done as he could, serving as a lame-duck speaker?
SANDERS: Yeah, at this point that’s something for Speaker Ryan and members of Congress to make that determination, not something that the White House has weighed into at this point.
Q Thank you, Sarah. We heard from President Trump before that meeting with President Moon. But after sitting down with him, does President Trump feel more like this summit is worth having and that it will happen? And what is the White House’s drop-dead date, so to speak, for deciding whether or not to go to the summit?
SANDERS: Again, we’re going to continue to prepare, and we’ll see what happens. There’s really nothing to do add beyond that, as this point.
We’ll take one last question. Ben.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to ask about Gaza. The violence continued today. Does the White House have any plans to meet with the Palestinian Authority?
SANDERS: There are no scheduled meetings at this point. But if something changes, we’ll certainly let you guys know.
Thanks so much. Have a great day.
3:29 P.M. EDT