James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:26 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. The September jobs report continues America’s economic winning streak under President Trump, evidenced by strong job creation, rising wages, rapid business growth, soaring consumer confidence, and increased manufacturing activity.
To go into greater detail on why the American economy is booming, I’d like to welcome Kevin Hassett, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, to the podium to take your questions on this topic. And, as always, I’ll be back up to answer questions on news of the day. And I apologize in advance for Kevin’s really bad calculus jokes. (Laughter.)
And, with that, Kevin.
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Thanks. It’s really a great pleasure to be back here. And thank you, Sarah, for the kind introduction.
You know, one of the hypotheses that’s been floating around about the economy lately is that the strong economy that we’re seeing is just a continuation of recent trends. And, you know, since we’re the nerds at the White House, we decided that this is a testable hypothesis. And so what we can do is we can go out and we can estimate recent trends — that is, trends that ran in the economy up to the point of the last election — and then compare the latest data to the recent trends.
In most cases, by the way, the estimates of the trends that we present to you here are very statistically significant, as are the deviations from the trend.
And so now I’m going to, as I always do, show you a few slides. Could I have the next slide, please? That’s the first slide again. There we go.
So the first slide that we’re looking at is small-business optimism. And this is basically — for parallel construction, you’re going to see that each of the slides we go through is going to look a lot like this. And so the blue part to the left of the slide is what happened from the 2012 election through the 2016 election. And the dotted blue line is the trend that President Trump inherited from the previous President. And the red line is what actually happened with the data.
And so, I think that if you look at this chart, you can see that the first thing is small-business optimism. The middle chart is the percent reporting now as a good time to expand. The last one is the percent expecting higher real sales in six months. I think if you look at any of those, you’d say, “Gee, that doesn’t really look like the continuation of a recent trend.”
Could I have the next slide, please?
The next chart is something that, in my first presser here, way back last fall, we talked a lot about. It’s business investment, which is more than $300 billion over the trend. Again, if you look at the blue line on the left, the first chart is nonresidential fixed investment. And the dotted line is the trend and the growth rate to that, that President Trump inherited.
For the middle chart is structures, or buildings. And that, as you can see, the dotted line is something that is headed straight down.
And then, the final chart is equipment investment, and that went straight down before President Trump was elected.
And I think that if anyone were to assert that the capital spending boom that we’re seeing right now was a continuation of the trend that President Trump inherited, then, well, you know, they wouldn’t get a high grade in graduate school for that assertion.
The next chart, please.
Durable goods orders, capital goods orders — it’s a key part of the economy, and it’s one of the factors that we look at most closely because it characterizes, basically, the good-paying jobs, the jobs that affects normal Americans — blue- collar Americans.
And the first chart is core capital goods orders, and the second chart is core capital goods shipments. And if you look at it, the blue again shows a clear downward trajectory and billions of dollars. And then that trajectory reversed itself completely when President Trump was elected.
If you were going to assert that the current good news is just the extension of a recent trend, then you’d just simply be factually incorrect.
The next slide, please.
Here we’re looking at the ISM purchasing managers index, which is a survey of people who are purchasing managers for manufacturing firms. And so they’re the folks that, you know, as the title suggests, manage the purchases. And so it’s a really great indicator of the economy because you can survey them and say, “Hey, have you been buying lots of stuff this month or have you not?” And the index shows what their responses look like.
And you can see that the trend on the purchasing managers index was pretty much flat when President Trump took office. And the red line shows you what happened since, that there’s a clear inflection right at the election and a clear break in the trend.
Let’s turn to the next one, please.
Now, one of the things that I can remember at the American Enterprise Institute talking a lot about before I came in here was the fact that entrepreneurship in America was falling off. And one of the ways we can measure entrepreneurship is that, if you start a new business, that you have to apply for an ID number — a tax ID number — for your business.
And so, in this chart, we’ve plotted the EIN applications for new businesses. And if you look at the blue line, they were heading up because we were at a recovery, but there’s clear upward trajectory way above the trend at the end.
And, you know, Sarah — like John Roberts — is a calculus geek. And so she looked at that one, and said, “Jeez, that looks like a very strong second derivative to me.” (Laughter.) And then, I said, “I didn’t know you did calculus.” And she said, “I like calculus better than talking to these guys.”
The next chart is prime-age workers reentering the labor force. And again, if you look at the trend, one of the things people said when we put out our growth forecast that said that we’d have 3 percent growth was we said that President Trump’s policies are going to bring factories back to the U.S., give you the capital spending boom that you saw in the previous chart, and that was going to bring people back into the labor force at precisely the right time. Once again, you can see that there’s clear break in the trend.
And so, if you see a break in the trend in the capital spending, the new plant formation that gives blue-collar workers their jobs — go to the next slide, please — then maybe we see a break in the trend in blue-collar workers employment as well. And so this is employment for people in goods-producing industries.
If you look, again, at the blue part on the left, you can see that there’s a clear downward trend going on in the growth rate of that for President Obama, and then a clear inflection timed almost precisely, once again, at the election. And the notion, again, that somebody might defensively attempt to assert that this is a continuation of the trend is almost laughable if you look at this chart and, you know, look at the rest of them.
Now, somebody might say, if you’re showing a bunch of charts, well, gee, maybe it depends on when you estimate the trend. And I’m sure that if you went back and began your estimate of the trend at the Civil War, and then thought about, well, what trend do we get then — well, then, maybe we’re not — yeah, well, you would get a different answer from what we see.
But another way to sort of test whether the data that I just showed you is a fair representation of what a trend looked like when President Trump was elected is just to compare it to what nonpartisan bodies were saying.
So if I could have a look at my final chart here. I know — guys, I heard this sigh of relief when I said “final chart.” So if you look at the final chart, you’ll see that the black line is, in June of 2017, what the CBO — Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency that has a job, really, of looking at recent trends and projecting it — what they said would happen to capital spending back in 2017. The blue line is what they said in April 2018. And the red line is what’s actually happened.
And so, I would assert that if you look at the collective body of evidence, the notion that what we’re seeing right now is just a continuation of recent trends is not super defensible. And I think that — I know that we’re in a political time and passions are high. But, as geeky economists, one of the things we have to do is think ahead to what historians will think when they look back at this time. And I can promise you that economic historians will 100 percent accept the fact that there was an inflection at the election of Donald Trump, and that a whole bunch of data items started heading north. They will, of course, argue for a long time about why that happened.
But my final thought for you is just this: That when they do that, and when you watch people do that in the media going forward, with op-eds and so on, that you should watch out for ex-post theorizing. As an economist, one of the things I most care about is an ex-ante theory — something that happens before, and then let’s watch the data, and then see if it agrees with a theory. That’s how you test a theory.
You might recall that I came back here last fall, and I told you that if we had the tax cuts that President Trump advised that we have, that he pursued — if we passed them, then there would be a boom in capital spending this year.
In fact, we provided estimates at the time last fall that said that capital spending this year would go up about 11 percent because of the tax cuts. So far, in the first half of the year, capital spending is up 10 percent.
And so you don’t have to really reach far for a theory of what happened. President Trump deregulated the economy; we’ve talked about how that affects growth. The tax cuts have had exactly the predicted effect on the economy that’s brought businesses back to the U.S., factories back to the U.S., and created jobs for ordinary Americans. It clear in the data that there’s been a trend break.
And with that, I look forward to taking a few questions before I hand it off to Sarah to talk about other things. And I’ll let Mr. Roberts go first, and then I’ll maybe try one for each row, because I know I’m not allowed to go for the whole time.
Q Kevin, based on the information that you have given us, where did the revenue drive, from all of these increasing trends, meet the deficit line caused by tax cuts?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: You know, it’s a great question. One of the things that we could talk about — in fact, Sarah, let’s have a whole other briefing — well, after we do the calculus briefing, let’s do a briefing on the deficit.
But one of the ways to think about it is that there’s been a big change in tax law and a big change in spending policy. And in the tax law side, you could remember that the dynamic score for the corporate tax was that it would have a very, very low cost. And I think that the cost estimate, not dynamically scored — and Tyler will nod for me — was about $400 billion in the final bill, over 10 years. And clearly, the growth and the investment boom that was projected by CBO was a significant underestimate for what’s happened already. And so I think that the notion that the corporate tax side has about paid for itself is clearly in the data.
On the individual side, there was about a trillion-dollar cost. About $700 billion of that was a refundable child credit that got expanded at the last minute to get the votes they needed to pass it.
Now, a refundable child credit is a very sound policy for people who care about equality of opportunity, or families with children. President Trump supported it wholeheartedly but not at the size that it came out. And the child credit, though, is not something that you would expect would pay for itself.
And so the tax cuts have increased the deficit a little bit, but not the tax cuts that the Democrats are attacking, but rather the tax cuts that the Democrats probably should have supported.
I’ll go to row two, right there. I am sorry I don’t know your name.
Q Steven. There’s another chart, not included in your packet, and that’s a chart about the spike in the consumer price index. That’s the cost of goods, and it’s inflation going up —
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: I know that.
Q — at a higher rate — (laughter) — (inaudible) for those who don’t. Americans are paying more for their goods now than they did in recent years. Can you explain to what extent Americans should be concerned about the fact that the price of goods is increasing at a high rate?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Right. Well, Americans should be
concerned that prices are going up. And if you look at the consumer price index, then — over the most recent year, then it’s a little bit short of 3 percent. And I know that that’s something that affects Americans when they go to the grocery store or the gas station. And they should be concerned about that.
But the best defense against increase in inflation is an increase in wages. And the CEA put out a report this week that documented that it correctly measured real after-tax wages are growing about 1.4 percent this year. So that means that the wage growth that President Trump has helped create with his policies is overpowering the inflation numbers right now.
I’ll go to row three and then back.
Q Thanks, Kevin. What credit, if any, does former President Obama deserve for the current state of the economy?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: You know, I think that attributing blame or credit to individuals requires that I identify policies and then talk about, well, what affected this policy or that policy. And I prefer to give blame or credit to policies than to individuals. I think that President Obama sometimes, on the partisan trail, gets criticized with numbers that are clearly incorrect because people blame him for the Great Recession, which was there when he started, and it’s not fair.
If I look specifically at President Obama’s policies, there are a whole bunch of policies that I think were very negative for growth. I think the Affordable Care Act lifted marginal tax rates on individual workers, so much so that the CBO even said that it would have a negative effect on growth. He increased marginal tax rates on small businesses, and that’s why small-business creation wasn’t so high.
And so I could look at a lot of policies, and we could talk about them one by one and say, did they help or hurt growth. I think he also advocated policies that he said would help growth that clearly did not. And really, I kind of wonder about what was going on in the heads of the economists that told him they would, like Cash for Clunkers, and so on, that really didn’t have much effect at all.
But to say he destroyed the economy, or something like that, that’s not what the CEA chair should be doing.
And I’ll go back another row.
Q Thanks, Kevin. I have two questions for you. Can I take them separately? Do you mind?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Yeah, I will —
Q First one —
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Yeah, sure.
Q — just playing off of this question here.
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: But yeah, go separately, because I’ll forget the first one when you finish the second.
Q Exactly. Thank you. You’re coming out, obviously, talking about the economic numbers in our first briefing here in nearly three weeks. It seems like it might be timed to President Obama’s speeches on Friday and Saturday, in which he talked about the economy and some of these very issues. Is that why you’re here today? Or is that just a coincidence?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: That — you know, thank you for asking that, actually. Because Sarah can tell you that I’ve been pushing her to let me show these slides for quite a while, that we’ve updated them for recent data, but that, in fact — I don’t know about the three-week lag; I think it has something to do with the fact that sensible people sometimes, even in the White House, take a break in August, and there was some vacation taking at the time.
But yeah, that — we were prepared to do this briefing a few weeks ago. And there’s not in any way a timing that’s related to President Obama’s Friday remarks.
And then I promised you number two.
Q Thank you very much. You talked about, obviously —
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: But the next person is going to ask for three, you realize, and so I shouldn’t have done that. (Laughs.)
Q (Inaudible) — under President Trump, the President also — and I’m curious about your views and comments on this — has told private companies — Apple, Amazon, the NFL — how to run their business. Do you believe that’s appropriate for a President to do? Do you believe that stimulates economic growth for a President to be dictating how private companies run their stuff?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Well, the President has strong opinions about everything. I think that we wouldn’t have had all the policy success that we’ve had if he hadn’t been such a strong advocate for the things that we’ve seen. I think that his strong opinions sometimes stretch into areas that are outside of the places that CEA has any purview. And I don’t counsel him on that.
I think, at a previous presser, I once said that I don’t run the “Council of Twitter Advisors,” and may that be true for all of my stay here.
I’ll go back to the blue shirt in the back. Yeah. And I skipped a row. Sorry, I’ll come forward.
Q A quick question for you on an economic stat that the President put out in a comment today. The President said, “The GDP Rate…is higher than the Unemployment Rate…for the first time in over 100 years!” That’s just not true, though, is it?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Yeah, that’s — so I could tell you what is true. (Laughter.) And the history of thought — no, but, though, let me just say that the history of thought of how errors happen is not something that I can engage in. Because, like, from the initial fact to what the President said, I don’t know the whole chain of command. But what is true is that it’s the highest in 10 years. And at some point, somebody probably conveyed it to him, adding a zero to that, and they shouldn’t have done that.
And I could say that we numbers geeks here at the White House are grateful for — when the press finds mistakes that we make. We don’t like making mistakes, but we’re grateful when they’re pointed out because we want to correct them.
And you might have noticed that I gave Sarah a bad number a few weeks ago. It was 100 percent my fault, and I apologized immediately. And we created it. And, you know, you’d have to talk to the President about where the number came from, but the correct number is 10 years.
And then I said I would come forward.
Q He said President Obama — former President Obama — said “President Trump would need a magic wand to get to 4 percent GDP.” The President suggested that was a direct quote from President Obama. Did President Obama ever say that?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: I don’t know. I’m sorry. And again, I’m not the chairman of the “Council of Twitter Advisors.” But I was trying to go back up. Yeah.
Q On wage growth, the White House put out a number that uses a different way of calculating wage growth. It seems like that’s unfortunate, because you get an apples and oranges comparison to previous wage-growth calculations. Why is it important to do that? The new calculation incorporated things that are non-cash benefits, like vacation time and other types of benefits. Why do that mid-stream and not just base your analysis on wage growth based on the way that it’s been calculated in the past?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Yeah. Well, thanks for the question. We have a whole report that came out last week, and there were a lot of new stories that I thought were very well done and thoughtful about the piece. And I think that the question for Americans — what they really want to know is: How are President Trump’s policies affecting their lives? And it turns out that the statistic that got the most attention in the media is not a very reasonable statistic for answering that question.
Now, we talked about how to better measure that. And it was not a criticism of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We love those people; we’re data geeks. We use their data to come up with a better measure. But a better measure will account for the fact that people get benefits. A better measure would account for the fact that people just had tax cuts. A better measure will account for the fact that the composition of the labor force is changing because so many people are coming in. And the people who have been out for a while tend to be lower skilled, and so they can bring averages down if you don’t control for that.
And so, in our study, we controlled for all of that and showed that just as is consistent with our 4.2 GDP growth, we’re seeing a massive amount of wage growth right now compared to what projections were when President Trump took office.
And I don’t see Sarah telling me I have to stop. So should I keep going?
MS. SANDERS: (Inaudible.)
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: (Laughs.) Okay. Oh, yeah, I’ll go back there and then — I’ve been right-handed and that’s really terrible. I apologize.
Q To keep these trends going, how important is it for you to have a new North American Free Trade Agreement including Canada?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Yeah. Thank you for the question. And the first thing, before I turn to the trade part of the question, is that some people have also said, “Well, sure, the economy is strong, but that’s a sugar high.” But it’s not a sugar high at all. Because what’s happened is that the capital spending boom that we promised would happen if we passed the tax cuts is underway. And the cool thing about capital spending is that people build factories — that’s what capital spending is — and they do that in the first half of the year. It’s up 10 percent since the beginning of the year. And then in the second half of the year, those factories start producing output, so you get more output.
And so the idea that the trend might not continue — that it’s a sugar high — is just inconsistent with the form that the growth is taking. And as for NAFTA, Ambassador Lighthizer and the whole team have been in negotiations with Canada. We continue to be hopeful that they’ll sign on to the 21st century deal with Mexico, which is really a better deal for American workers. And they should sign on to that.
So I’ll come over here and I’ll go back to you.
Q Hi, Yamiche with PBS NewsHour. I have a question about income inequality. Can you talk a little bit about whether or not you’ve seen income inequalities shrink? And are you at all concerned about whether or not people that are just poor — not just people that are in the economy, but actual poor people that are living beyond the poverty line — below the poverty line — are they being improved by this economy?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Yeah, they certainly are. Certainly think about it. All the new entrants that get a job — they go from having zero wage to having a wage, but they won’t necessarily show up in the wage statistics — those people are better off.
And there are a number of other ways that people are better off, too, because of the growth in the economy, but also because of policies that have given resources to families that are needy. At the CEA, we put out a different report over the summer on what’s going on with poverty — correctly measured. And then, in the “stay tuned” department, there is important data coming out this week which will help us look at how income inequality has changed over — not in this year, but over the previous year.
My expectation is that that data will start to turn, and that this year we’re going to see a decline in income inequality because blue-collar wages are starting to grow.
And it’s a final point — and it’s a really important point that you bring up, and I want to emphasize it because I care so much about it. The fact is that we’re at a historic moment because we’re deep into a recovery, the unemployment rate is really low, and we’ve created a capital spending boom. And so normally what happens, if you don’t have a capital spending boom, is that people start to bid up the wages for folks, but they’re bidding them up because there’s a shortage of labor. What’s happening now is that they’re bidding up wages because people have better machines to work with and their productivity is going up. That means that the recovery can last longer. And that’s really, really good for workers, especially at the low end.
And so it’s precisely at this moment in economic history — if you look at past economic booms where income inequality has declined — that if we were to blow it, and have a recession because of bad policy right now, then we’d lose an enormous opportunity on income inequality.
I’ll come right here.
Q Thank you. Also, two, not three.
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: And I guess it’s the last question.
Q Sorry, two quick ones. Sorry.
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Is he allowed two? Can you tell — do you like this guy? (Laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: That will get me into trouble.
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: (Laughs.) Okay.
Q You said, ‘I prefer you blame or credit to policies rather than individuals,’ but your trend charts start with his election, obviously, when he wasn’t even President when he didn’t bring his policies into place. So how does that — how do you decide when to start that, given that policies couldn’t have been in place for months afterwards?
CHAIRMAN HASSETT: Yeah. So Robert Lucas — a famous Chicagoan who won the Nobel Prize at the University of Chicago — got the Nobel Prize for answering your question back in the early ’70s. But the basic point is that America’s businesses, especially, that their activity is forward looking. And so if you want to model their investment today, then you have to understand the fact that they’re forming expectations not just about this month, but about the next 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years.
And so if you look at what happened the moment President Trump was elected — both in equity markets and in sentiment surveys — is that people started to ratchet up their expectations for what would happen to the economy. Perhaps, you know, everybody, except for Mrs. Clinton’s supporters, was starting to do that right after the election. And the fact is that those expectations turned out to be rational because the turnaround that they expected is something that we see, as you just saw in the data.
Let me hand it back to Sarah now, but close by saying that anyone who wants to follow up and talk about the data — you can tell I kind of like to do that — so feel free to reach out through the press office and connect with me over at the CEA. Thank you so much.
MS. SANDERS: Thanks so much, Kevin. Thank you, Kevin.
A couple of announcements and updates, and then I’ll take your questions.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee under Chairman Grassley conducted a thorough and transparent week of hearings allowing each senator ample time to thoroughly review the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Unfortunately, many committee Democrats and protestors attempted to turn the hearing into a circus. Nonetheless, Judge Kavanaugh demonstrated exactly why President Trump nominated him. He showed his respect for the Constitution, impeccable qualifications, and extraordinary temperament. Judge Kavanaugh reinforced the bedrock principles of judicial independence and the rule of law. And we look forward to the judiciary committee completing its review and advancing his nomination.
On another matter — later today, by phone, and also tomorrow in person at the White House, President Trump is scheduled to receive a briefing from DHS Secretary Nielsen and FEMA Administrator Long. The latest briefing is part of the President’s monitoring of multiple storms that are predicted to affect the U.S. in the coming days.
The White House has been in contact with governors’ offices and local authorities in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, just since Saturday morning.
Lines of communication remain open, and the federal government stands ready to assist. These tropical storms and hurricanes are very dangerous, and we encourage anyone in the path to heed the warnings of state and local officials who have the expertise and knowledge of their communities to provide the best on-ground information.
Lastly, we extend our deepest condolences to the family of Secret Service Agent Colin Johnson. Agent Johnson has served his country honorably, first as a Marine and then in the Secret Service.
Many of you know him. He was larger than life, literally — was a great friend, father, husband, and member of the United States Secret Service.
The men and women in the Secret Service are among the most honorable and dedicated public servants you can find anywhere in the world, and Colin was among the very best of them.
And although he was assigned to Chief of Staff John Kelly, he was always there to help anyone who needed it.
Our hearts are broken, and Agent Johnson will be greatly missed. Our prayers are with his entire family.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. John.
Q If I could start off, sort of, with the topic of the day, and that’s the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times. What the President said on Friday — that he thought it would be a good idea for Jeff Sessions to look into this — is there anything about what was published by the New York Times that would warrant an investigation by the Department of Justice?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly if there’s an individual — whether or not, since we don’t know who they are — if that individual is in meetings where national security is being discussed or other important topics, and they are attempting to undermine the executive branch, that would certainly be problematic and something that the Department of Justice should look into.
Q So would that be a suggestion of misuse of classified information? I mean, what realm would that fall into?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, it’s something that the Department of Justice should simply look into. And that’s for them to make that determination.
Q Can I just add one quick follow-up on that, if I could? Is the White House actively trying to find out who this person is? Or do you not really care and you’re moving on to other things?
MS. SANDERS: We’re certainly focused on things that actually matter. And the staff here that — is here to do their job and not undermine the great work that this President and this administration has done. And we’re going to continue focusing on that.
It’s, frankly, I think, sad and pathetic that a gutless, anonymous source could receive so much attention from the media. And I think that the American people would be much better served if we actually spent some time talking about some of the really important things that are facing our country and the things that this administration is doing to help fix them.
Q Has the President received the Kim Jong Un letter from the State Department? And if so, can you share any details about the content or tone, or if there were any commitments or requests from the North Korean leader?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, the President has received the letter from Kim Jong Un. It was a very warm, very positive letter. We won’t release the full letter unless the North Korean leader agrees that we should.
The primary purpose of the letter was to request and look to schedule another meeting with the President, which we are open to and are already in the process of coordinating that.
The recent parade in North Korea, for once, was not about their nuclear arsenal. The President has achieved tremendous success with his policies so far. And this letter was further evidence of progress in that relationship.
A number of things that have taken place: The remains have come back; the hostages have returned; there’s been no testing of missiles or nuclear material; and of course, the historic summit between the two leaders. And this letter is just further indication of the progress that we hope to continue to make.
Q And is the expectation that that second meeting would be here in Washington? I know that’s something that the President has talked about.
MS. SANDERS: We’ll let you know when we have further details, but certainly something that we want to take place and we’ll already continue to work on making that happen.
Q Sarah, to follow up on that, you mentioned the remains being returned, the hostages, the lack of testing, which were all happening when the President cited a lack of progress and cancelled Secretary Pompeo’s trip.
So other than these really nice words from Kim and a parade, what signs of progress warrant this new optimism from President Trump?
MS. SANDERS: Again, certainly the most recent parade this weekend, one of the first times, I believe, that we — they have had parades similar where they weren’t highlighting their nuclear arsenal. We consider that a sign of good faith. And again, the letter from Kim Jong Un to the President certainly showed a commitment to continuing conversations, continuing to work on the progress that they have had since their meeting just a few months ago. And also, a continued commitment to focus on denuclearization of the Peninsula.
Q And a separate question on Bob Woodward, because President Trump continues to call him a liar and says his book is completely a work of fiction. He’s also mentioned libel laws quite a bit. Is President Trump considering filing a lawsuit against Woodward?
MS. SANDERS: I’ll certainly keep you posted on that. But I think we’ve been extremely clear from the beginning. Many of the book’s sources have already spoken out to refute. A couple of them: Chief of Staff John Kelly aggressively pushed back in this. General Mattis aggressively pushing back in the claims. John Dowd also pushing back against the things that are attributed to him. And a number of people have come out and said that Woodward never even reached out to corroborate statements that were attributed to them, which seems incredibly reckless for a book to make such outrageous claims, to not even take the time to get a 10-dollar fact-checker to call around and verify that some of these quotes were — happened. When no effort was made, it seems like a very careless and reckless way to write a book.
Q Sarah, the President said that he was looking into whether or not to take action against the New York Times for publishing the anonymous op-ed. Does the President not think that that op-ed is protected by the First Amendment? Does he really think that the federal government should contemplate action against a newspaper for publishing an article?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s less about that part of it, and whether or not somebody was actively trying to undermine the executive branch of the government and a duly elected President of the United States. If they don’t want to be part of that process, they shouldn’t be here.
Q And if I could ask — he tweeted earlier — and it’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to talk to you, so this goes back a little while — but he tweeted last week, suggesting that the Justice Department should not be investigating, should not be prosecuting those two Republican congressmen because it might hurt Republican chances in November. Is the President really trying to suggest or outright saying that the Justice Department shouldn’t be investigating or prosecuting allies of the President if it might hurt his party’s political chances? Or what was he saying?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, the President thinks that no one is above the law. What he would like to see is a fair playing field; that there also be — there have been a number of concerns raised about individuals, both in the FBI and the Department of Justice, that have been ignored, and we’d like to see those looked at as well.
Q But those two prosecutions, he doesn’t want to go forward because they’re his allies?
MS. SANDERS: I can’t weigh in right now on an active investigation —
Q He did.
MS. SANDERS: — but I can tell you that the President doesn’t think anyone is above the law. And we’re simply stating that there should be cause for concern of a number of things that have happened, both in the Department of Justice and the FBI, that we’d like to see those looked at as well.
Q Back to North Korea, how soon would you like to have this second meeting?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t have any specifics on the exact timing —
Q Before the end of the year? Or —
MS. SANDERS: — as these conversations for the second meeting are taking place now. And as we have more details, I’ll certainly let you know.
Q And, secondly, could you just update us on where the Canada trade talks stand?
MS. SANDERS: We continue to have ongoing conversations with the Canadians, and are still hopeful that we’ll come to an agreement with them.
Q Sarah, do you know if the President believes these denials that have been coming in from some of his top advisors? Or does he believe that it’s someone from within? And does he believe that lie detector tests should be issued, as the Vice President volunteered to do on Sunday?
MS. SANDERS: No lie detectors are being used or talked about or looked at as a possibility. Frankly, the White House and the staff here are focused on doing our jobs, and trying to show up here every day and do what we can to help better the American people, not deal with cowards that refuse to put their names in an anonymous letter.
Q He tweeted something on Friday, after George Papadopoulos was sentenced. He said, “14 days for $28 MILLION – $2 MILLION a day, No Collusion.” What was he talking about — the $28 million?
MS. SANDERS: I’d have to go back and check and look at that. I didn’t see that.
Q Was he talking about the price tag of the Russia investigation? Because if so, that’s highly inflated.
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’d have to check, Jeff. I’m not sure of that reference. Sorry.
Q Has he made a decision if he’ll testify yet or not? If I could just follow with (inaudible).
MS. SANDERS: That’s a question I’d refer you to outside counsel.
Q The President is going to Pennsylvania tomorrow. What does he plan to say? And what does he hope to accomplish with this year’s 9/11 address?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the focus will be on remembering that horrific day and remembering the lives that were lost, and certainly honoring the individuals who were not only lost that day, but also put their lives of the line to help in that process. He’ll be there, and the Vice President will be here in Washington, D.C. at the Pentagon.
Q Sarah, thank you very much. I’m assuming you’ve read Bob Woodward’s book. I know a lot of us have. Can we expect, other than repeating denials from General Mattis, General Kelly, John Dowd — can we expect the White House to give us a list of all the things in the book that are wrong and that qualify Woodward to be a liar?
MS. SANDERS: I think that would be a complete and utter waste of our time. So, no.
Q Okay, well — hold on a second. Because then that goes to this Quinnipiac poll that came out today that says 55 percent of Americans believe that the op-ed writer in the Times is right. And the President is getting a 60 percent negative rating on the honest and truthful — that 60 percent of Americans think he’s a dishonest person.
So does the President think he can actually win a credibility battle with Bob Woodward, who’s a — you know, an august member of the Press Corps, helped take Richard Nixon down, and is a legend. How can he win that credibility battle?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, I think I would certainly rather take the actual on-record account from people who are here — who have been working in this building, who have interacted with the President day in, day out, like General Mattis, like General Kelly, like myself — and not disgruntled former employees that refuse to put their name on things when they come out to attack the President.
I think that those are far more credible sources and certainly far more reliable voices within this administration, and that can accurately tell what’s taken place in the building behind me.
Q Is the President still a credible voice?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. You’ve said a lot, the President has said a lot, about the publication of this op-ed. You’ve called it, the President has called it, “a betrayal.” You’ve called it an “act of disloyalty.”
But the President, as has been mentioned quite a few times, even here in this briefing, has called on the Department of Justice to investigate the publication of this op-ed.
There is no violation of the criminal code that goes along with the publication of this op-ed, so I’m a little curious as to what it is that the President believes may have been violated in the law as it relates to the publication of this op-ed piece.
MS. SANDERS: Once again, we would consider someone who is actively trying to undermine the executive branch of our government inappropriate, and something certainly to cause concern, and they should take a look at it.
Q What’s the criminal violation here?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, we’re just saying that this gives a great level of concern, and they should look into it.
Q But, Sarah, that’s not a violation of the law. Just being concerned is not a violation of law. I’m just looking to see —
MS. SANDERS: I’m not an attorney. It’s the Department of Justice to make that determination, and we’re asking them to look into it and make that determination. And they certainly are fully capable of doing that. But someone actively trying to undermine the duly elected President and the entire executive branch of government, that seems quite problematic to me and something that they should take a look at.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Just to try to specify this a bit, is the White House treating the anonymous op-ed writer as a full-fledged breach-of-security matter? And is the FBI investigating both staff and their means of communications — cellphones, computers, and the like?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of that level. That wouldn’t be something I would be a part of. But certainly, as I just told your colleague, we think that there is a concern here and it should be looked into.
Q One other question —
MS. SANDERS: Go ahead, John.
Q Did the — obviously, the whole world watched when Jair Bolsonaro, the front-running Brazilian presidential candidate, was stabbed last week. Has the President called or sent any statement to his family at all?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware that the President has, but I do believe members of the administration have reached out. And I’ll work to get you the specifics of who that was.
Q Sarah, what does the President make of all of this talk of the 25th Amendment and some of what he hears on media outlets regarding the word “crazy talk”? There’s a lot of — it seems like there’s a lot of talk about that on many of the mainstream media outlets.
MS. SANDERS: I think we would say that it’s about as ridiculous as most of Bob Woodward’s book. The fact that that’s actually being honestly discussed is ridiculous. And, frankly, it’s insulting to the nearly 62 million people that came out and overwhelmingly supported this President, voted for him, supported his agenda, and are watching and cheering on as he successfully implements that agenda every single day.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Can you give us a sense of what documents the President is considering for declassification sometime in the next two weeks? And when exactly can we expect them?
MS. SANDERS: When we have specifics on that, we’ll let you know.
Q Can you give us a sense of what the documents are, though? What documents —
MS. SANDERS: I can’t get into that right now. But when we have an announcement on it, I’ll certainly let you know.
Q I want to ask you about the Mideast peace process, because today the State Department announced it’s going to close the Palestinian mission here in Washington. The Palestinian Ambassador to the U.S. accuses this country of murdering the peace process and undermining its role in the peace process. The State Department says that it’s not retreating from our efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace. Which is it? And how is the United States still an honest broker in this process?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we’ve been very upfront throughout the process and the fact that we want to see peace, we want to have those conversations, we want to help broker that deal. And we’re going to continue pushing forward. Beyond that, I don’t have anything specific on it today.
Q To close the office, the Palestinians are saying that the U.S. can no longer be an honest broker. This is another example, they say, of the fact that the U.S. is too aligned with Israel. Is that not the case?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we have a great deal of support with our friend and ally in Israel. But again, we are as committed today as we’ve ever been to the peace process.
Q Thank you. On Friday, President talked about a new deal — a trade deal with India. What kind of agreement — trade agreement deal is he talking about? What kind of agreement he wants with India?
MS. SANDERS: I know that a number of administration officials just recently came back from India. They expressed their willingness to negotiate new and better trade deals, and those conversations are at the beginning stages. And we’ll certainly keep you posted as we get further in the process.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I have one on the ICC, but I want to follow up on Steven’s question on the peace process here. And just — you say the door continues to be open and that you’re still working on it, but is it realistic for the President to believe he can actually achieve peace in the Middle East in his first term in office — as he’s promised to do; something that his son-in-law is working on as well — when the administration has taken steps that Palestinians themselves have said do not help?
MS. SANDERS: Again, certainly we are very much committed to the process, and we’re still hopeful we can get there.
Q Let me ask about the ICC. John Bolton today said the administration would sanction the International Criminal Court, which is a move that seems to be a reversion to, sort of, Bush-era policies. Is it fair to say that this administration is now shifting to a more hard-lined stance toward the ICC? And if, in fact, it so feckless, then why is the U.S. so concerned?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the President is committed to defending our national sovereignty and all of our security interests, which would include using any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by the ICC.
Their announcement that they would consider opening an investigation into — among other parties — U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is a threat to American sovereignty. And if they proceed with that, then the United States would consider those options that Ambassador Bolton laid out today.
Q So why the concern? If the ICC is, in fact, dead to you, as John Bolton said today, then what is the concern that U.S. has if, in fact, they do not (inaudible) Afghanistan?
MS. SANDERS: Because they told us they were on the verge of making that decision, and we’re letting them know our position ahead of them making that decision.
I’ll take one last question. David.
Q Sarah, the editor of the Global Times — which is Beijing’s premier foreign policy outlet — wrote on Twitter today that the President blames China on North Korea quite a bit. But now that there seems to be some improvement in North Korea’s stance, does China deserve some credit? He suggested that they do. What do you think about that? Does it now deserve credit? Does the President believe China is acting better?
MS. SANDERS: I think that the President deserves the credit in this process. He’s been the lead voice and the one that put the initial pressure on North Korea. Certainly the President has very publicly expressed his gratitude towards President Xi for the role that they play. He would have liked to have seen them continue to step up and do more. Frankly, we’d still like to see them step up and do more. But the credit in this process, at this point in where we are, I would say belongs to President Trump. And we’re going to continue to hopefully work with President Xi and his team and his administration to continue making progress.
Q Given that you’re scheduling a second meeting, it sounded like, with Kim Jong Un, does the President believe that it’s really he has to negotiate almost personally with Kim, given that once the two leaders have left, things seem to go poorly and then they have to reschedule another meeting? Is it that level that it has to —
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know that it’s — I don’t know that it’s gone poorly, considering steps have been taken by the North Koreans to show signs of good faith.
Q He cancelled a meeting, saying there’s not enough progress.
MS. SANDERS: Right. But other steps have been taken, so I wouldn’t say that it’s gone poorly.
But at the end of the day, ultimately it’s always going to be when you can have the two leaders sit down, particularly from the North Korean side, as we know most of the decisions are going to be have to run through Kim Jong Un. Certainly he’s going to want to talk to his counterpart in President Trump. We think it’s important, and we’re glad that we’re making progress.
Thanks so much guys. Have a great day.
3:10 P.M. EDT