Aboard Air Force One
En Route Huntington, West Virginia
5:50 P.M. EDT
MS. WALTERS: So I know you guys had so much fun yesterday with Stephen. Sorry to disappoint but today is not going to be nearly as lively as yesterday was.
Yesterday, we talked about the American Dream and how the President’s immigration policies will help keep it alive for generations to come. Today I want to briefly talk about two other critical parts of his agenda: economic growth and keeping the promises we made to the American heroes.
Just yesterday, the Dow soared to an all-time high of over 22,000 points. American businesses and consumers have great reason to be optimistic under President Trump. From an aggressive push for smarter regulation to renegotiating unfair trade deals, everything comes back to jobs for the President.
That’s why we’ve added over 850,000 jobs since he took office. That’s why consumer confidence is at an all-time high.
And that’s why major companies are announcing billions of dollars of investments here at home instead of overseas. And the President is bringing this same forward-looking vision to the care of the men and women who have risked their lives to protect our freedom.
This morning, as many of you saw, the President and VA Secretary Shulkin unveiled a suite of new telehealth options that will expand access to department medical care for tens of thousands of rural homebound veterans.
Last year, 700,000 veterans got telehealth services through the VA. With the help of the innovations like Veterans Appointment Request, which allows veterans to schedule VA appointments on their smartphones, and a VA [Video] Connect, which allows VA providers to better connect with their patients, we hope to see that number continue to rise.
Finally, this might be one of the last times we gather like this before the West Wing staff are temporarily relocated. I wanted to give you a little information update on the GSA renovations. Beginning tomorrow, Friday, all staff will be relocated to the EEOB to accommodate necessary renovations to the West Wing. These renovation plans had been approved by the previous administration, following the completion of the phase 1, but were never actually initiated.
I know most of you have seen the ceiling issue we have in lower press, but to give you an idea of some of the other vital projects that need to be taken care of — for example: The HVAC systems are 27 years old, but due to the 24/7, 365-day use a year, the estimated age of the system based off of usage is 81 years old. The South Portico steps on the South Lawn will also be repaired. They haven’t been restored in 64 years.
In addition to these larger structural repairs, we will be renovating the Navy Mess kitchen, the West Wing lower lobby, and the IT system, and generic cosmetic upgrades.
So all of us in lower press will miss seeing you guys every day, but we’re definitely looking forward to the much-needed renovations in the HVAC system, as well as throughout the rest of the West Wing.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Where will the President be working during this time when everyone is evacuated from the West Wing?
MS. WALTERS: The President tomorrow will be taking off for Bedminster for a working vacation. As I mentioned, with the HVAC system being replaced, that means that the West Wing will be without air conditioning for the next two weeks, which is why the staff and the President are moving out, because I don’t think any of you would like to be in the West Wing in an August D.C. summer day when it’s over 100 degrees with no air conditioning.
Q The President is going to West Virginia today. This is a campaign rally. But his opioid commission recommended declaring an emergency on the opioid crisis. Will he be making any announcements about that? Is he considering that recommendation?
MS. WALTERS: I don’t want to get ahead of what the President’s announcement will be tonight. This week, the opioid commission did submit their interim report. As you know, this is an issue that is very important to the President — something he discussed on the campaign trail and has continued throughout his administration to advocate for, as it’s plaguing many of the states across our country.
Q I have a coal-mining question. As you know, the White House hasn’t nominated a chief for the Mine Safety and Health Administration yet. Is there a timeline for that? Do you have plans in place for when to —
MS. WALTERS: We don’t have any personnel announcement at this time. When we do, you will all be notified.
Q Are there any concerns about pushing greater coal production and possibly easing regulations, and whether that could lead to an increase in the number of coal miners injured or killed?
MS. WALTERS: The regulations that the President is doing are to help create jobs. He’s not lowering any safety regulations. Safety is still a top priority, but as the President said, we need to create jobs, we need to bring jobs back to our shores, and send them to the people of West Virginia where coal mining is so prevalent.
These are important jobs that grow and boost their economy, and so nothing he is doing is cutting back on the safety — safety is a top priority, but our main focus is on creating and growing jobs in these communities that rely on the coaling industry as a main source of income.
Q Did you — apparent transcripts of the President’s conversations with world leaders in January leaked today, including comments about the President to President Peña Nieto where he apparently said that building the wall on the southern border with Mexico was not a policy priority but only a political one. And then separately he had a conversation with Malcolm Turnbull — it got heated at points, there seemed to be a bit of information — sort of confusion between the President and Prime Minister Turnbull. Do you have any response to those revelations? And since the White House had denied some of those revelations when they were reported back three months ago, now here’s the transcript proving that that conversation did in fact happen as reported back then.
MS. WALTERS: I’m not going to comment on leaked calls. Obviously, as you said before, this is a national security matter when phone call transcripts are being leaked out. It prevents the President from being able to do what he does best and negotiate with foreign leaders.
What I can tell you regarding the border wall is that the President spoke about this on the campaign, continues to echo it now, that having a secure border is prevalent to the safety of our country, and that that is something that he had promised his supporters and has continued to focus on is making sure that we have a secure border.
Q I’m going to follow up on that. The President’s comments about the state of New Hampshire have been condemned now by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle from the Granite State. Does the President intend to apologize to the people of New Hampshire for his comments?
MS. WALTERS: The President was referring to — you know, he was talking about the opioid epidemic up there which has affected a lot of lives in New Hampshire. I can tell you that’s an important focus of his. As we talked about earlier, the commission he formed — you know, that is a focus and something that no person should deal with. You shouldn’t be a mother or a father, or sister, or brother — have to bury a loved one who has — their life has been cost due to substance abuse.
Q He referred to it as a “drug-infested den.” People are feeling insulted by the way he characterized their state.
MS. WALTERS: Again, this was a conversation that was leaked out. I’m not going to get into commenting on that conversation. I can just echo the fact that combatting the drug abuse and substance and opioid epidemic is important to the President.
Q So no apology?
MS. WALTERS: I’m not going to comment any further.
Q Does he plan to act on the recommendations of the commission? You said that they put out a report, but what is he doing about it?
MS. WALTERS: They put out the interim report earlier this week. Let me check back with you on what the next steps are regarding that report.
Q How did those conversations get out — those transcripts get out? What stage are things at in terms of looking at how that happened?
MS. WALTERS: Again, Roberta was asking how did the transcripts end up getting leaked to yourselves, and I’m not going to get into leaked conversations.
What I can tell you is that it’s damaging to our national security, and it’s something that we take very seriously. You’ve heard this administration talk over and over again about the fact that we need to end these leaks, and that it’s not beneficial to anyone to be having documents leaked out.
Q So is that being investigated then?
MS. WALTERS: I’ll look into that for you.
Q Do you have any update on that big announcement that the President was talking about? Can you give us some idea of what he was talking about?
MS. WALTERS: If I did that, it wouldn’t be the surprise he was talking about earlier. So unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait. But we are landing shortly as you can hear the gears go down. So you’ll know soon enough.
With that, I’ll take one more question.
Q Do you have any comment on legislation that’s afoot to sort of protect special counsel Mueller from being terminated?
MS. WALTERS: Let me look into that. What I can tell you is I will refer to Ty Cobb, but I can get back to you on that.
Q Why is the President taking vacation if he said that Congress should stay in town and work in healthcare, and the President criticized President Obama for taking multiple vacations? So can you talk about why the President decided to take this vacation now?
MS. WALTERS: The President is going to continue to work. We all need to be relocated out of the West Wing due to these renovations that should have taken place before. And we’re at a position that we’re now at a dire need, and they either need to be repaired or replaced. And it’s not something that can go on while we’re still occupying the West Wing. So the President will continue to work over the next two weeks.
But I’m going to let everyone sit down since we are landing and it’s getting awfully turbulent. Thanks, guys.
6:00 P.M. EDT