Aboard Air Force One
En Route Orlando, Florida
12:44 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: All right, I’ll walk through — I’ll keep the opening quick since I know we’re on tight time, but the President is going to spend his day here in Orlando, Florida, speaking with students, parents, teachers and administrators on how we can improve our education system and the importance of school choice. We’ll be at the St. Andrew Catholic School. The President will then proceed to Palm Beach for a working weekend and returning on Sunday night to the White House.
The Vice President will be Wisconsin today for a listening session with Wisconsin business leaders and their employees, and attending with him are Secretary Price and Speaker Ryan. Also attending with the President today in Florida Secretary DeVos, Florida Governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio, who is also on the plane with us today — as well as Secretary DeVos.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Is there any reaction from the White House to arrests in connection with the threats against Jewish community centers?
MS. SANDERS: Is there any what? I’m sorry.
Q Reaction from the White House to the arrests.
MS. SANDERS: I know that happened just within the last few hours and so I will get back to you on that if there’s anything specific from us. But right now, it’s still too early for us to say much about it. Let the process work.
Q Can you see why the White House decided that it’s okay for the Keystone XL pipeline not to be built with American steel?
MS. SANDERS: Well, the way that the executive order is written is actually — and I’ll get you the exact language, but you can probably all have it in your inboxes if you want to look back. But it’s specific to new pipelines or those that are being repaired. And since this one is already currently under construction, the steel is already literally sitting there, it would be hard to go back. But I know that everything moving forward would be — fall under that executive order.
Q Vice President Pence in a new story out of Indiana — it was revealed that he used a private email server —
MS. SANDERS: Actually, it was —
Q — or a private email account —
MS. SANDERS: Very different.
Q Sorry. A private email account, but it was hacked. How is that different from what Hillary Clinton did? What’s the difference?
MS. SANDERS: There’s lightyears of difference. Number one, he was a governor — he wasn’t a federal employee, which means the laws are different. It’s subject to Indiana law, not federal law. Second, he’s a governor, which means he wasn’t handling classified information like she was. And third, all of his emails he turned over specifically to be archived, which is why anybody even knows about the account. He did everything to the letter of the law in Indiana, turned all of his emails over, unlike Hillary Clinton who lost at least 30,000, who knows how many more, had a private server, and had classified information, which he didn’t have. I mean, that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.
Q Sarah, on Russia and Sessions, is the President —
MS. SANDERS: I can’t believe it took us that long.
Q I know, right?
MS. SANDERS: Goodness.
Q Is the President satisfied that recusal is enough for the Attorney General? He seemed to say in his statement he didn’t even think that that should have happened and yet the Attorney General took that step on his own. And there are reports about other members of the President’s campaign staff that had also had connections —
MS. SANDERS: Campaign volunteers, but yes.
Q — who have been volunteers. I mean, at what point is there a “there” there, as Sean said there wasn’t. I mean, at what point is — I mean, there’s so much out there.
MS. SANDERS: Is there really? I mean, please explain to me how volunteers meeting at a conference where nearly 80 ambassadors attended is a story. I guess that part is kind of lost on me where that would be newsworthy in any capacity. I mean, Chuck Schumer sitting, having drinks with Putin and that’s not a news story, but apparently a volunteer for a campaign bumping into one at a conference where there’s, again, dozens of other ambassadors is newsworthy, I guess.
Q Jeff Sessions was more than a campaign volunteer, right?
MS. SANDERS: As a senator, he obviously in his official capacity met with the ambassador but, again, that was a senator, not as a campaign official. And so to try to muddy the waters in that way is I think pretty unfair to the Attorney General.
Q Why is the administration just now telling people about the meeting with Kislyak at Trump Tower? It seems like a little late, given that there was all this stuff about whether Flynn had had conversations with him.
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think this, again, was a courtesy meeting. They were part of over a hundred different meetings during the transition. This wasn’t like a secret — it was just — frankly, I didn’t know about it and so I don’t think anybody saw it as a big deal. There was no policy discussion. It was an introductory, courtesy meeting, which we did literally hundreds over the course of the transition.
Q With other ambassadors? How many other ambassadors?
MS. SANDERS: I would have to get a specific number, but I know that there were dozens of other ambassadors.
Q There were a number of reporters who are staked out at Trump Tower watching people go up the elevators. No one saw the Russian ambassador. Did he use a separate entrance? And if so, why?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure, but I’ll check and find out, and let you guys know.
Q To go back to Pence and the email issue for a second, is the White House certain that he’s not using personal email as Vice President? And has the White House sort of checked in with all the Cabinet Secretaries and people to talk to them about using personal email versus government email?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, I know that we’ve all had the training on security and ethics training, and I’m also — I will ask specifically that question, but I know that the Vice President is following the law as it’s required by him.
Q Can you say one thing on the education event today — Nancy DeVos and her —
Q I’m sorry — Betsy DeVos, sorry, and her support for school choice has obviously been controversial with teachers unions, with a lot of the Democrats. Is this a sort of kickoff for the President in his push to try to help her adopt school choice nationwide?
MS. SANDERS: I think the point of today is exactly what it says — it’s a listening session. It’s to talk about ideas and reforms that have worked, particularly at this school, which I think you guys will get the opportunity to see that.
Look, the number-one priority for education with the President has been consistent from day one. It hasn’t changed, and that’s to make the power and the central focus be more on the parents and the local level, and less at the federal level. And today is part of that process.
Q Is there any legislation or anything that he is going to pushing on that?
MS. SANDERS: Not as of today. We’ll certainly keep you guys posted if we’re making any legislative announcements or bill signings.
Q There are reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting the White House later this month. Can you confirm that today?
MS. SANDERS: Yes, she will be there. I believe the date is March 14th, and that is confirmed.
Q What will they be discussing?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of their conversations, but we’ll certainly provide readouts after that meeting. And I believe we plan to have a press conference with that, and they can address that directly.
Q The New York Times story about the debate over climate change and the Paris climate deal, whether the President is going to pull the U.S. out of that deal — can you tell us where the President’s mind is on that, and if we’re expecting an announcement anytime soon?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the President, and he hasn’t made an announcement on that, but you guys are always the first to know.
Q Can you talk a little bit about the RNC event tonight? What the President is going to do or say there, and anything else that he’s going to do this weekend?
MS. SANDERS: Sure. I know that it’s a fundraiser. This will be the first fundraiser he has attended as President. And it’s — as you would imagine — like pretty much every other fundraiser. The goal is to raise money for the Republican Party, and I don’t expect tonight to be any different.
Q Is there any access for us?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think so, as of now. I think the standard policy has usually been not to have press at fundraisers, but I’ll check and let you guys know.
Q And anything else this weekend?
MS. SANDERS: I know we have some other stuff. Stephanie, who will be with you guys through the rest of the weekend, will keep you posted throughout Sunday.
Q Any update on the travel ban EO?
MS. SANDERS: We don’t have an announcement yet, but again, we’ll let you know when we’re ready to roll that out.
Q Any portions of his schedule for next week that you can preview today?
MS. SANDERS: I think we will have a week-ahead guidance later tonight, and so we’ll get that to you guys then.
Q More on Sessions and Russia: The President said he learned about this, as the rest of us were learning, through media reports. Same thing with Flynn. He didn’t know about the calls and the fact that they were discussing sanctions. Does the President feel like he has a full understanding of what his campaign, what his staffers, what his administration has done in terms of its relationship with Russia? Is there anything that the President feels that he doesn’t know yet?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think so, and I think the big point here is that the President himself knows what his involvement was, and that’s zero. And I think he’s the primary person that should be held responsible, and he had no interaction, and I think that’s what the story should be focused on.
Q Thank you, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: You bet.
12:54 P.M. EST