James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:27 P.M. EDT
MR. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Before we get into the briefing today, I wanted to reiterate the President’s statement from last night and say that the thoughts and prayers of the entire administration are with Senator John McCain, his wife Cindy, and their entire family.
As the President said, throughout his life, a distinguished career in public service, Senator McCain has always been a fighter, and we know that he will bring that unflappable spirit to his latest challenge.
This morning, the Office of Management and Budget released the first unified agenda update of the Trump administration, which shows that we are blowing away our initial one in and two out goal for regulatory reform.
And with that, I’d like to bring out Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, to talk more about the administration’s war on waste, and how it’s helping our economy grow.
Also, as a few of you may know, tomorrow is the Director’s birthday. While I don’t want to insult him by getting into too many specifics, I can tell you that the CBO estimates that this will be his 75th birthday. But actually — (laughter) — took a couple of you a little longer to pick up on that. But actually, it’s just the last day he can answer questions as a man in his forties. So please do a favor and speak really loudly so you can make sure that he can hear you.
And with that, Director Mulvaney.
MR. MULVANEY: Thank you. That’s absolutely lovely. Thank you.
Q Before you begin, Director, the visual aids, is it still off-camera given that you guys have this? I just had to ask.
MS. SANDERS: Yes.
MR. MULVANEY: Good. I’m glad we got that out of the way. Yes, happy birthday to me. This is a great way to spend my birthday. We actually started a Twitter account this morning for the sole purpose of getting into a Twitter war with my good friend, Congressman Gowdy, who tweeted out this morning that he thought I had turned 50 a long time ago. I tweeted back that he had two deep, dark secrets; one of which was that he’s a lot older than I am — which is true — and also that he needs help counting to 50 — which is also true.
I’m going to talk a little bit about MAGAnomics, talk a little bit about what used to be called the unified agenda, which is a terrible name. And we’ll talk about that in a second, and then take your questions.
Thirty-five years ago, the situation the country was in had some similarities to where we were as we ended the Obama administration. Things were kind of rough. I was in the homebuilding business. My dad was; I was only 13 at the time. And I remember what it was like. We had stagflation, we had malaise, we had all these challenges that the country faced economically.
And in response to that, Ronald Reagan came out with Reaganomics — a term, by the way, that I’m not even sure he created. I think his opposition used that as a derogatory term to begin with, but it came to be associated with his presidency.
And I think if we look back on it, we know what its basic, fundamental tenets were. It was a monetary policy to fix inflation, tax cuts, spending restraints, and a little bit of regulatory relief.
Fast-forward to where we are today, here we are. It’s been more than 10 years since our last year of a really healthy American economy, which we define as greater than 3 percent — or 3 percent growth. And we think it’s time for the next iteration of that, the next plan. And that is what we’ve put together as MAGAnomics. It’s supposed to be this unifying theme of just about everything that we do.
You all have seen me up here before, when we walk through the budget. You say, “Mulvaney, why are you doing this? Why are you doing that?” And I talked about the importance of getting back to 3 percent growth.
I talked about the historical importance of that, the historical achievability of that — about how if you’re 30 years old in this country, you’ve never had a job during your adult lifetime, in a healthy American economy, and you think that 1.9 or 2.1 or 2.5 percent growth is typical, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s not.
I remember in the mid-1990s, when I had my first real job — if I had been fired, it wouldn’t have been that big a deal because I knew I could go find something else, because you could do that in a healthy economy. I actually ended up quitting my job so that I could start my own business, because you know you can do that in a healthy economy.
It’s been a long time since we’ve been there. And our fear is that if we don’t get back there quickly, there will be people who never know what 3 percent means. There will be people who have forgotten what 3 percent can be like. And I don’t think it should come as a surprise that there are some people who don’t want you to remember what 3 percent growth would be like, because it would be a tremendous sort of damnation of what happened in the previous administration.
So, what is MAGAnomics? It is tax reform. It is, what we’re calling the “regulatory accountability project” — regulatory accountability project. It’s longer, but it’s at least a little bit more descriptive than “unified agenda.” Took me about six months here to figure out what the unified agenda was. And they told me, and I said, what is it really? And they said, well, it’s a way to bring to some accountability to regulations. I said, great, it’s now the regulatory accountability project.
Energy dominance is part of this. Welfare reform is part of this. Infrastructure is part of this. Our trade policies is part of this. Even the spending restraint that we tried to introduce in the budget is part of this. All of those things are designed towards one common end, and that is 3 percent sustained economic growth in this country again. We’ve done it before. In fact, we’ve always done it. The last 10 years was the first time we have not been able to do it, I think, ever. We can do it again. We absolutely fully believe that.
And I want to talk a little bit today about one piece of that, which is our deregulatory agenda. The regulatory accountability project — used to be called the unified agenda — released — last night? Today?
MR. CZWARTACKI: This morning.
MR. MULVANEY: This morning. When the President came into office, he gave me some pretty specific instructions over the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs — what we call OIRA — O-I-R-A — part of OMB. In fact, I still think OMB should be called OMBRA — the Office of Management and Budget and Regulatory Affairs. That’s how important it is to us. That’s the priority that the President has set for it over at OMB. He said, look, get over there and tell everybody at all the agencies that we’re on a two-for-one policy on new regs.
You cannot put out a new reg until you get two old regs off the books. That was our two-for-one policy. He also said — and no new burden. No new financial burden. If you come out with a new reg that raises the burdens on the private sector by a dollar, you got to go find me a reg you get rid of to reduce that burden by a dollar. So, zero net impact on the regulatory financial burden in this country.
This is our first chance today to sort of get a temperature check on how we are doing on that. So the goal is two-for-one. When it comes to major actions — we’re at 16 to 1. Sixteen major deregulatory actions in the first six months of this administration. There’s one new one. Is anybody going to guess what it is? Does somebody know? No dentists here? You know what it is? Yes. The dental amalgam rule. Apparently we’re now regulating something to do with the stuff we put in our teeth when we get —
Q Mercury and waste water.
MR. MULVANEY: There you go. All right? So that’s the only significant new reg we put out in the first six months. We’ve gotten rid of 16. Twelve of those are CRAs you’re probably familiar with, and four of them have gone through the agency process and so forth.
But it doesn’t — it’s not just those big ones, okay? The number that I use — 860 regulatory actions removed or withdrawn — 860.
By the way, I asked for a list of them, and I got news for you: None of them are very sexy. None of them are very glamorous. None of them really rise to the level of getting national attention. But think about that — 860 of them. I describe it as that — sort of that slow accretion, that slow cancer that can come from regulatory burdens that we put on our people.
Ryan Zinke, over at the Department of Interior, has already made some changes on how they streamline the paperwork for outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen — people who want to go out in our national parks. That’s really small. We know that. It’s not going to change the world. But when you do that 860 times in the first six months, it can have a benefit. Plus, if you’re a citizen and you’re not out there and it’s now easier for you to use the national parks, to use our public lands, that’s got to have a positive impact on you. We think that it does.
By the way, of the 860, and this is one that I think — I don’t think anybody knows about this because I didn’t know about it until about 24 hours ago. The Obama administration had a secret list of regs. Back in 2011, they were doing their unified agenda. They had a bunch of things that they wanted to regulate. And what we’re hearing is that they just didn’t want to tell you about it. They thought it would be bad for their reelection prospects in 2012, so they created a secret list of regs that were not disclosed to you folks, and we are disclosing it.
And by the way, when we threatened to disclose it, a lot of the agencies came up with those 860 things that we got rid of. So there will be no more of that, by the way. There will be none of that in this administration. We will not have a secret list. We will not have a hidden list of regulations that we’re thinking about doing but we’re not going to tell you about. That’s going to end effective immediately. In fact, it has already ended. We’re not going to do that anymore.
By the way, where’s my stack? So I’d love a little graphics. This is the last week of the Obama administration — the regs put out by the Obama administration in their last week in office. This is ours from our first week in office. I can’t lift both of those together, can I? I don’t think I can.
In the last six months here, the Obama administration put on over $6 billion in new regulatory burden. The last six months, just over $6 billion. We had zero. In the first five months in their administration back in 2009, they had over $3 billion of new regs. We cleared the decks of $22 million of regs. So we actually went the other way.
So I cannot express to you enough how much things have changed when it comes to the regulatory burden, the attitudes towards regulations in this country, and you’re just going to see more of that for the next eight years.
So I think that’s everything I wanted to cover. Is it? I forget. So if I got any questions — yes, sir. Right there.
Q Thank you, Director. You talked about regulations in terms of the cost to business. Is there any other metric that you think is appropriate for measuring the effectiveness or necessity of regulations, such as whether they improve people’s — improve quality of life, improve safety in products, improve any sort of thing? Because it seems like all you talk about is how much this costs business. So is there any other metric that you look at?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Yeah, in fact, we’re required by law to do exactly that. We’re required by law to do cost-benefit analyses before we put on new regs or take off old regs. It’s what we’re supposed to do. Our attitude has been, and our philosophy has been that the previous administration fudged the numbers, that they either overstated the benefits to people or understated the costs. And we’re going to look at it in a much more pragmatic perspective.
Q I mean, the reason I ask is because, you know, you just talked about the previous administration overstating the benefits. Are there benefits? I mean, talk about the regulations —
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Were you healthy and safe before this came out? Yes, you were. And you’ll be healthy and safe with this gone.
Q I don’t know what’s in those, Director. What I’m asking you is — and you just said it; you talked about benefits to people. Is there any other measure? Because all you do is talk about the cost. And you talked about what your first week in office — you know, what the benefit to the ones that you held up for you all’s first week?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: I think I answered that question. Yes, we are going through a cost-benefit analysis. We are obligated by law to do that and we continue to do that.
Q Can you tell us more about the secret list from the Obama administration? (Laughter.) What it was and what was in it?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: I don’t know. John, have we got details on that? You want to push that?
MR. CZWARTACKI: They called it a “pending list.”
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: They called it the “pending list” or something like that — previously undisclosed. We can get you a list of the examples that came off of it.
Q So it wasn’t available anywhere? It was completely secret?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: 2011 — I think they did a unified agenda in the spring of 2011?
MR. CZWARTACKI: Yeah, in the fall, they did 2011. But the ’12 spring agenda, they didn’t do.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: They didn’t do it.
MR. CZWARTACKI: And instead, they put things they wanted to advance — they kind of parked them on something they called the “pending agenda” and they kind of just went with that. And so when the fall full agenda came out, conveniently after the election, it was missing some things. So it was a trigger to a lot of academics who said, something’s not right here, because there was this secret list being held back that was filled with all this.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Fast forward to when we started this process and we started asking the agencies to send us their ideas about de-reg. Listen, it’s been a challenge. Start to think about the last time that the federal government has engaged in a full board deregulatory type of action and attitude. There’s a lot of folks who work for the federal government who have never been asked to do this.
In fact, one of the anecdotes we’ve got is that — I can’t remember which agency it was — but there was actually — there was no box they could check on whether or not an action was deregulatory or regulatory. There was no column for deregulation. We’re asking the federal government to use muscles it hasn’t used in a long time, and it’s hard to do.
But I will tell you this, when we first started looking at this a couple months back, and we noticed there wasn’t — we had done a pretty good job at all the agencies of slowing new stuff, but we hadn’t done a very good job of clearing the decks of the old stuff — the stuff that was already in the pipeline — getting rid of it until we found this secret list and threatened to go ahead and expose it. And then they said, well, you know what, maybe we’ll get rid of those. And that’s how we ended up with our 860 here —
Q Can you assure us — on one side of the ledger, then, you have secret lists from the Obama administration of potential new regulations. Can you assure us that there are no secret lists and will be no secret lists in this administration of regulations you want to do away with? Is all that public?
MR. MULVANEY: Yes.
Q You have no secret lists anywhere?
MR. MULVANEY: I like questions like that. That’s an easy one.
Q When you went back up on the Hill — last time you were on the Hill — some of your critics had said that 3 percent —
MR. MULVANEY: I have critics on the Hill? Really?
Q Yeah, can you believe it? (Laughter.) They were saying that you had — that it’s a pie-in-the-sky to believe that we can reach 3 percent. What is your response to those critics who say that you’ll never reach 3 percent?
MR. MULVANEY: It’s outrageously pessimistic. You guys have heard my answer on that before.
MR. MULVANEY: Specifically is this — is that, yeah, you can get there again. They say, oh well, there’s not enough people here anymore, all right. We’re a graying population. There’s almost 7 million people right now in between — and I hate to get too technical — U3 and U6. U3 is the general broad measure of unemployment. U6 are the folks who are working part-time or temporarily against the — they want to work full-time but they can’t find it. Almost 7 million people in that gap between U3 and U6 who could move into the full-time workforce tomorrow if they had the opportunity to do that. They want to do that, we just haven’t given them the chance to do that. There’s a big part of your workforce base — move to productivity, okay. We also need productivity to be higher than it has been in the past couple years.
Look at our tax plan. That’s why the whole thing has worked together. That first answer, by the way, was welfare reform. How do you get people from U6 to U3? Economic opportunity plus welfare reform. Now we look at tax reform and its impact on productivity. We have to have the capital investment necessary to boost productivity, and we have to get that — we can get that –through our tax reform. It’s why we focus so heavily on corporate tax reform. We need those businesses to invest in capital in order to increase their employees’ productivity because that’s how we get to 3 percent GDP.
Q Just a quick follow up, though. Isn’t — just real quick. Your critics say that what that will do is help further destroy the tax base and the middle class. How do you address that?
MR. MULVANEY: The tax base is — I wish they had asked me that — how is the tax base eroded by having people go back to work? That’s absurd. So no, we are going to broaden the tax base by making sure there’s more folks working.
Q Two part question. First, in terms of the 3 percent growth, can you give us your latest target for when you think that might be possible?
And then as the second part of that, you talked about tax reform. Without overhauling Obamacare, if you don’t get those tax cuts repealing the Obama-era tax cuts that you’re looking toward, can you actually achieve comprehensive tax reform or do you then go to a series of tax cuts? What’s your latest thinking in terms of what’s —
MR. MULVANEY: Okay, let me see if I can get this right. The first question is, what’s our sort of schedule, our plan, or how do to get to —
Q When you can achieve 3 percent —
MR. MULVANEY: I don’t think we’ve adjusted the — we put out the midseason report or the midyear report, something like that, a couple weeks ago. That’s where you may have seen we changed sort of our — we’ve measured actual receipts in the deficit and so forth. The deficit was a little bit higher than we expected. So we sort of go back in and say, well when we introduce our budget this is what we thought the world would look like. Here’s what it looks like today. That would have been an opportunity for us to change our economic projections from the budget. We didn’t do that. I think our projection for this year is still 2.3 percent and then 2.5 percent and then 2.7 percent or something like that. So the goal is to be at that 3 percent plateau in about three or four years.
To your second question about the Obamacare taxes and so forth, let me answer it this way and see if I’ve answered your question. Yeah, I think we’re a little disappointed. The most recent proposed version of the Senate healthcare bill left some of those taxes in place, but I agree with many of my Republican colleagues on the Hill who say well, yeah, but you get another bite of that apple on tax reform. Is that your question?
Q Do you think you can do comprehensive tax reform if you don’t repeal and replace Obamacare? Or do you then have to go to a series of tax cuts?
MR. MULVANEY: I think it becomes easier to do comprehensive tax reform after healthcare for political reasons, for reasons of momentum and so forth, but I don’t —
Q The math —
MR. MULVANEY: Well, the math comes back to the issue of the deficit, so let’s talk about that for a second. What is OMB’s thoughts on this, right? You know that I’ve worked with Paul Ryan for many, many years. I believe that we should be willing to take on short-term increases on deficits if it’s what it takes to get an increase in our long-term sustained growth.
By the way, that’s one of the big fiscal hawks in town saying that. Okay? That I’m okay with larger deficits in the short run if the tradeoff is 3 percent growth, and if we need more aggressive tax reform in order to get to 3 percent, then I’m more than willing to argue that despite the fact that it may increase the deficit.
By the way, where did I learn this message about how important growth is in order to save the country long-term? Does anybody know? From Paul Ryan. So I can tell you, I think I’ve studied with some of the best, and I think I can make the case to him that while I appreciate and understand his position on deficit neutrality, when it comes to the tax reform, I think that growth needs to be paramount in that and that we’re willing to take on short-term deficit increases.
We got one question here, and then I have to give it back to Sarah. Yes, sir.
Q Okay. Two-parter, one on the regulation and one on tax reform. On tax reform, there’s a current-law baseline in the House budget that assumes that current tax cuts are going to expire, which means you’ll have to pay for them. Is that going to make it hard — will that make tax reform harder?
MR. MULVANEY: I’m sorry, there are no — the current tax cuts that are proposed? Because there are no current tax cuts. Are you talking about like when the Bush tax cuts were going to expire a couple of years ago?
MR. MULVANEY: Those are all taken care of. I don’t think — if there are tax cuts on the books right now that expire in the future, I’m sorry, I’m not aware of those. Maybe I don’t understand your question.
Q Fair enough. Let me ask you one about the regulation then. Bigger picture here, does this make it cheaper to run your regulatory agencies, and will you have a cut following ’18 or ’19?
MR. MULVANEY: Well, you saw some of our proposals in our budget and our budget blueprint about some of the reductions we made, for example at the EPA. And yes we do foresee a fundamental difference in the way that agency functions, and we think they should be able to function in the future with a much smaller workforce. That’s a reasonable conclusion from the proposals that we made in the budget, but I don’t think it’s fair to say we’re doing this in order to make it cheaper to run the government. What we’re doing is making it easier to run a country. That’s what’s driving the regulatory reform.
Listen, I’d love to do this again, but I promised Sarah the last 10 minutes. Thanks very much, and thank you for not making a big deal about the fact that I’m getting old.
MS. SANDERS: We’ll let you leave those there so you don’t throw your back out carrying those out of here. Thank you, Director Mulvaney.
As the Director pointed out, today also marks six months since President Trump took office. On top of the historic results of our efforts to streamline regulation led by Director Mulvaney, the President has also made significant progress toward the rest of his top policy priorities.
In part due to the deregulation, our economy is booming again, and Americans are going back to work in construction sites, mines, and factories across the country. And those workers can rest easy knowing that they have a staunch defender in the White House, as the President shows time and again that he is putting America first in trade negotiations, pursuing reciprocal agreements with our trading partners so that everyone benefits.
He’s prioritized the enforcement of immigration laws to protect all Americans and ensure that our system treats everyone fairly. He’s opened up American energy after years of political opposition, putting us on track for energy dominance.
Secretary Shulkin and his team at the VA are making sure our veterans get the care they deserve after the sacrifices they’ve made for our country by holding failing employees accountable.
And in these first six months, President Trump has put America first in world affairs and national security, delivering historic speeches calling on our allies to come together in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism and calling out our enemies for the destructive behavior the previous administration neglected to address.
As you can see, President Trump has taken serious action on everything from energy to defense to immigration, even as he faces historic obstruction from Senate Democrats, who are pulling every trick in the book to prevent him from putting his team in place.
This week, we’ve seen even more evidence of Senate Democrats’ pattern of holding up this administration’s qualified nominees in unprecedented fashion.
Here are some startling facts. To date, Senate Democrats have filibustered 34 of the 54 nominees that have eventually been confirmed. By contrast, in President Obama’s entire term, his nominees faced four filibusters in total.
This President’s Cabinet nominees faced more Senate filibusters than all other Presidents combined. And as we’ve mentioned they’ve filibustered nominees that enjoyed unanimous support, including a judge that President Obama had previously nominated, and who was eventually confirmed by a vote of 100-0.
They’ve filibustered key national security positions, like Patrick Shanahan to be the number two at the Department of Defense, who enjoyed bipartisan support and eventually received over 80 votes.
And recent reports show that their refusal to hold votes on the President’s nominees for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approves potential new pipelines, is preventing an estimated $14 billion in pipeline projects. These are projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will create 17,000 new jobs and $2.7 billion in economic activity in Virginia and North Carolina, just through construction, while generating $377 million in annual energy cost savings.
There are thousands more jobs like these that won’t happen, and the Democratic senators of states like Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are standing by as party leadership puts politics over what’s best for their constituents.
To be clear, they’re slow-walking because they can’t justify blocking these nominees who are both qualified and non-controversial, but this is part of a deliberate strategy to obstruct this President’s agenda and resist the will of the American people.
Consider this fact: At this pace, it would take an astounding 11 years to confirm all of this President’s qualified nominees and finally have these important leadership positions fully staffed — 11 years, clearly well after the President’s two terms.
We call on Senator Schumer and Senate Democrats to stop this reckless partisanship, which is undermining national security, undermining our judiciary, undermining health care, job creation, energy production, and our basic functions of government, and swiftly approve this President’s qualified nominees.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Sarah, thank you for the question. Does the President have confidence in his Attorney General? Does he want the Attorney General to stay in this post?
MS. SANDERS: The President said — as the President said yesterday, he was disappointed in the Attorney General Session’s decision to recuse himself. But clearly he has confidence in him, or he would not be the Attorney General.
Q Sarah, can I follow up on that one? You said the President has confidence in the Attorney General. Does the President believe that the Attorney General serves the President or the Constitution?
MS. SANDERS: I believe that the President — I think that’s kind of a both. Obviously, the Attorney General’s job is to follow and uphold the Constitution. But also, every member of the Cabinet and the administration serves at the pleasure of the President.
Q Would the President prefer the Attorney General resign?
MS. SANDERS: I believe I’ve answered that question.
Q It’s a little bit of a slightly different nuance, so that’s why I’m asking it. You say he has confidence in him. Does that mean he does not want him to resign?
MS. SANDERS: I think you know this President well enough to know that if he wanted small business to take an action, he would make that quite clear.
Q But clearly there’s a difference of opinion here because the President thinks what the Attorney General did was improper, yet the Attorney General, in recusing himself last spring, believes that he was taking the appropriate action, given the potential conflict of interest in him leading the Russia investigation. So how do you explain that split? And what —
MS. SANDERS: As I said, the President is disappointed in the decision and I think he’s spoken about his feelings on this quite clearly.
Q Thanks, Sarah. A question about healthcare. The President has repeatedly said that 21-year-olds can pay $12 a year for health insurance under the Republican plan. He said it again yesterday to the New York Times. What does he mean by that? Is the White House aware of a health insurance plan that charges only $12 per year? And if not, why does the President keep making that claim?
MS. SANDERS: I’ll have to check on the specifics.
Q Can you get back to me on that —
MS. SANDERS: Sure.
Q — because the CBO estimates that it would be about $1,100 dollars a year, even for the lowest income 21-year-olds.
MS. SANDERS: Okay, I’ll check on that.
Q The President said that if Robert Mueller were to look at his finances or the family finances, it would constitute a red line. How is that not a threat to the special counsel?
MS. SANDERS: I think that the President — the point he’s trying to make is that the clear purpose of the Russia investigation is to review Russia’s meddling in the election, and that that should be the focus of the investigation. Nothing beyond that.
Q That should not be viewed as a threat, as a warning to what the special counsel should or should not be looking at as it relates to the President’s and his family’s finances?
MS. SANDERS: The President is making it clear that the special counsel should not move outside the scope of the investigation.
Q Let me try to come at this one different way.
MS. SANDERS: I have a feeling we might do this for a little while.
Q Why does the President have confidence in his Attorney General? Maybe you can explain it that way.
MS. SANDERS: I believe that the Attorney General has made significant progress in terms of things like MS13. They’ve taken great action on that front — certainly on the front of immigration. He spoke today about some of the cybersecurity measures that they’re taking, and I think those are great examples of successes that they’ve had at the Department of Justice.
Q It was reported last month that there was this rift between the President and the Attorney General and it ended up that the Attorney General had offered his resignation. Did that happen? How did that process play out? And why did the President at that time decide not to accept the resignation?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of that taking place so I can’t speak to that.
Q One more question. From his sickbed, Senator McCain today issued a statement that questioned why, six months into the administration, there still is not an Afghanistan strategy. He said they’re still waiting. Why is there still not an Afghanistan strategy, and when can we expect it?
MS. SANDERS: I believe that the President has empowered Secretary Mattis to make decisions on that front, and I would refer you to the Department of Defense for those specific questions.
Q Sarah, thanks. I want to go back to the President’s comments about Robert Mueller. He was asked if Mr. Mueller does, in fact, look into his finances as part of his special counsel, would he consider firing him. The President said, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Does that mean that firing the special counsel is something that’s on the table for this President?
MS. SANDERS: I’ve answered this question several times before. Although the President has the authority to do so, he doesn’t intend to do so.
Q And, Sarah, if the President is not concerned about this probe, why does it matter? Why does he care if Robert Mueller looks into his finances?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s clear that the President is frustrated by the continued witch hunt of the Russia investigation, and he’d love for this to come to a full conclusion so that everyone can focus fully on the thing that he was elected to do. And that’s what he’d like to be focused on.
Q And just one more about Senator John McCain. The President, like so many others, sent out letters of prayers last night to the Senator. Has he had any time to reflect on some of his past comments about Senator McCain? Does he regret saying he likes people who weren’t captured?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure about that. I do know that he certainly hopes that the Senator makes a full and speedy recovery. I don’t have anything beyond that.
Q Sarah, it’s been over a month since the President promised a press conference on discussing the administration’s ISIS strategy. The Daily Beast had an article about this ISIS strategy document, and so can we expect this press conference to take place soon? And if the strategy is completed, then what’s the delay about having this so far?
MS. SANDERS: We’ll certainly make sure that there’s an announcement if there’s a press conference and that you are all invited.
Q Sarah, can you tell us a little bit more about the President’s meeting today at the Pentagon? What was discussed? What was sort of the main focus there?
MS. SANDERS: Sure. Obviously, it’s important for the President to have continued conversations and dialogue. The President met with members — key members of his Cabinet and national security team, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, primarily to discuss challenges and opportunities.
They discussed how to integrate U.S. actions around the world to promote American prosperity, enhance American security, and extend American influence.
Q So was it a certain part of the world? Or all parts of the world?
MS. SANDERS: It was a broad discussion.
Q Did North Korea come up?
MS. SANDERS: I cannot get into the specifics of the detailed conversation.
Q Sarah, a finer point on Mueller: The President said if he does investigate his or the family’s finances, that’s crossing a red line. There’s a report today that Mueller is investigating a broad range of the family’s financial transactions. If that report is true, then he has crossed the red line. Does that mean he fires him?
MS. SANDERS: Again, as I said earlier, the President has no intention to do so at this time.
Q Even if he crosses the red line? So the red line doesn’t mean anything?
MS. SANDERS: That’s not what I said. I don’t believe everything I read in the paper. We’ll have to see as we get more details on that.
Q But he said that. It’s on audio. He said, that’s crossing a red line. That’s not something you read in the paper. You can listen to the audio.
MS. SANDERS: I’m talking about the investigation looking into the finances.
Q But if it’s true —
MS. SANDERS: The President has been clear many times before that he has no financial dealings whatsoever with Russia. The point the President is making is that the investigation should stay within the confines of meddling — Russia meddling in the election and nothing beyond that.
Q And if it doesn’t, he fires him.
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get into that.
Q Why does the President expect loyalty from his aides, from members of his Cabinet when he’s constantly criticizing them and undercutting them and contradicting them in — particularly in media outlets that he constantly tries to discredit?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t believe that the President is undermining them. I think he was being very candid about feelings that he had. But as I said, he has confidence in his ability.
Q Sarah, how does the process play out when the President is very candid about what he thinks about his Attorney General, about what he thinks about Mueller? How does this process play out?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry — what?
Q The investigation — the investigation, the whole process of relationships between Sessions and the President; the process of this investigation by Mueller. How does this play out with the President being very upset over the process and openly criticizing everyone and people in fear?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s pretty clear how the process will turn out from our side is that this will be proven to be the witch hunt that it is, and that nothing further will happen.
Q I have two more questions.
MS. SANDERS: Two more?
Q Yes, two more. There’s a belief that these conversations with the New York Times, with — whatever reporters are pieces of intimidation to go to Mueller, to go to Sessions. What do you say to that?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s ridiculous.
Q And then lastly, Baltimore. Does the President regret what he said about Baltimore? He threw Rosenstein under the bus for the wrong city. He’s not from Baltimore, he’s from Philadelphia. And there are people in Baltimore saying there are a lot of Republicans there even though the city is led by a Democratic mayor.
MS. SANDERS: I think he’s making a general statement.
Q But it was wrong. The statement was wrong.
MS. SANDERS: He’s spent a lot of time and has worked pretty extensively in Baltimore.
Q Has President Trump spoken with the Attorney General in the past 24 hours?
MS. SANDERS: No, not that I’m aware of.
Q And a follow-up, does he regret appointing Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t believe so. I think if he did, then he probably wouldn’t be in that position.
Q And a quick one on Afghanistan policy: Following his meeting this morning at the Pentagon, is the President any closer to unveiling a policy towards Afghanistan? And should the American people expect that we will be sending more troops to the region?
MS. SANDERS: As I said earlier, the President has empowered Secretary Mattis in that front, and I would direct you to the Department of Defense.
Q Sarah, can we just reconcile what you just said? You said the President does not regret appointing Jeff Sessions, yet he said in that interview with the New York Times that he does regret it because had he known what he was going to do before he appointed him, he would have said, sorry, Jeff, I’m going to get someone else.
MS. SANDERS: I think —
Q So I just wondering, how do you come to those two thoughts?
MS. SANDERS: Sorry. I may have misunderstood what Trey was asking. My understanding —
Q He asked, does the President regret appointing Jeff Sessions —
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry. I thought you’d asked if he regretted not taking action to remove Jeff Sessions.
Q So does he regret appointing Jeff Sessions?
MS. SANDERS: The President has spoken very clearly on this in the interview yesterday. And as he said, he was disappointed that the Attorney General made the decision to recuse himself and certainly that he didn’t tell him that before taking the job.
Q But he also said had he told him that he wouldn’t have appointed him. So does he regret now in retrospect appointing Jeff Sessions?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him specifically.
Q When asked about Mueller today a couple of times you’ve used conditional language that he doesn’t intend to — it’s at this time. How can his independence be guaranteed if you’re saying in conditional tense that he’s not going to try to have him removed?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I can’t predict everything that could possibly take place in the future and what Mueller could potentially do that might create an outrageous reason not to take action, so I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals. I can talk about where we are today, and that’s the position of the President.
Q Sarah, you’ve been asked multiple times today about the war in Afghanistan. Both times you referred us to the Defense Department. But President Trump is still the Commander-in-Chief. Does he take full responsibility for whatever happens on the conflict in Afghanistan?
MS. SANDERS: I would think so. But again, he has empowered Secretary Mattis in terms — I’ve been asked specifically about troop levels and decisions on specific instances, and in that regard, I would refer you to the Department of Defense.
Q Thank you, Sarah. You spoke earlier about — apparently about confidence in General Sessions staying there. Does the President have the same confidence and lack of regret in name Ron Brownstein [sic] deputy attorney general? Mr. Brownstein being —
MS. SANDERS: Rosenstein, Rosenstein. I don’t know who that guy is, but — (laughter). So I’m not going to speak about him. But Rod Rosenstein, as I stated, if the President didn’t have confidence, he wouldn’t be in that position.
Guys, I hate to cut us short today, but the President has — hold on, I’m not finished. The President has an announcement that he’ll be making here shortly —
Q Here at the podium?
MS. SANDERS: No. (Laughter.) Here at the White House, and so I’m going to cut it short today. Thanks, guys.
3:06 P.M. EDT