2:27 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much for being here. I know that you’ve all been following the terrible tragedy of the Ethiopian Airlines crash this weekend. Tragic. The FAA is prepared to make a announcement very shortly regarding the new information and physical evidence that we’ve received from the site and from other locations, and through a couple of other complaints.
We’ve had a very, very detailed group of people working on the 737-8 and the 737-9 — new airplanes. We’re going to be issuing an emergency order of prohibition to ground all flights of the 737 MAX 8 and the 737 MAX 9, and planes associated with that line.
I’ve spoken to Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation; Dan Elwell, Acting Administrator of the FAA; and to Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing, and they’ll be available shortly after our conference today. They are all in agreement with the action.
Any plane currently in the air will go to its destination and thereafter be grounded until further notice. So planes that are in the air will be grounded — if they’re the 737 MAX — will be grounded upon landing at the destination. Pilots have been notified. Airlines have been all notified. Airlines are agreeing with this. The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern.
Our hearts go out to all of those who lost loved ones, to their friends, to their families, in both the Ethiopian and Lion Airlines crashes that involved the 737 MAX aircraft. It’s a terrible, terrible thing.
Boeing is an incredible company. They are working very, very hard right now, and hopefully they’ll very quickly come up with the answer. But until they do, the planes are grounded. And you’ll be hearing from the FAA directly, in a little while. We’d say probably in 45 minutes from now, so you’ll be prepared to hear. They’re going to go into great detail as to what they found and where we’re going and what we’re doing. But all of those planes are grounded effective immediately. Okay?
This is a briefing that we’ve had planned for quite some time. Some incredible people are with us. This is on drug trafficking and on the southern border. And we have a lot of great things happening there. We’re building a lot of wall, as you all know. A lot more than they understand, I think, Carla, right?
CHIEF PROVOST: Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: They don’t understand how much we’re building, but that’s okay. They never did.
And we’re joined today by federal, state, and local leaders on the frontlines of the battle against the vicious drug traffickers and criminal cartels violating our sovereignty and infiltrating our southern border.
I want to thank Director of Office of National Drug Control Policy, who’s with us, Jim Carroll. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, Jim. Fantastic job you’re doing.
Acting DEA Administrator, a friend of mine, Uttam Dhillon, who I hear just incredible things, the job you’re doing. Thank you, Uttam.
Director of the Houston, Texas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Mike McDaniel. Thank you, Mike. And you’re going to be saying a few words.
Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost. Thank you, Carla, very much. A friend.
ICE Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Director Matt Allen. Thank you, Matt.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics and Global Threats, Thomas Alexander. Thomas, thanks.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. Steve? Steve. Thank you, Steve, very much. I appreciate it. You’re doing a great job too, by the way. I hear. And the other law enforcement professionals. These are fantastic people. Work so hard. Great danger. And they have incredible responsibility.
Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by the vast quantities of deadly, poisonous drugs that are smuggled across our nation’s very porous borders. They’re a lot less porous with us there, but they’re coming in bigger numbers, and part of that is because our country is doing so well economically. They’re coming up for that. And even the drugs — I guess the money that we’re spending, unfortunately, within the country, if we could just tell people not to be doing that, but they are doing that. And we have a very, very strong country economically. And people come up, to a large extent, for that reason.
But we’re having tremendous amounts of meth, cocaine, heroin, and ultra-lethal fentanyl. That’s literally ultra-lethal. It gets stronger.
This comes at a great cost to our society. An excess of $700 billion annually is spent, and we think that’s a very, very small number compared to what the actual number is.
The administration declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. Illegal immigration provides a lucrative cash flow, to put it mildly, to some of the most dangerous and ruthless criminal organizations on planet Earth.
We’re doing a lot at the border, a lot of wall going up. A lot of equipment has been purchased. A lot of equipment is being purchased as we speak. We have tremendous things going in terms of technology. We have tremendous amounts of technology going to the ports of entry, where a lot of the drugs come in. But I think it’s highly overrated. I think much of the drugs — the big loads of drugs, and certainly the human traffickers, go not through the ports of entry; they go through the open areas where they don’t have walls. These folks know that better than anybody.
When the press talks about ports of entry, sure, things go through ports of entry, but we’re going to have that very well sealed up with this equipment. The equipment is incredible what it does. It’s expensive but it’s pretty amazing stuff. And that’s going in literally as we speak. But we have a lot of — we’ve got to get the wall up, otherwise it all doesn’t work.
And I have to say, and I have to say it again: I hope you go down there, because we’re going to have a news conference at the border over the next three weeks. We’re going to do it in areas where we’re building large stretches of wall. And tomorrow, or the next day, we’re giving out another very large section. So we got a lot of wall going up.
The massive, surging flow of illegal immigration, trafficking, drugs, and crime threaten the safety and security of all Americans. To confront this urgent national crisis, we’re doing many, many things. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today.
We have a vote tomorrow on national emergency, and we’ll see whether or not I have to do the veto. And it will be, I think, all very successful, regardless of how it wall works out. But it’s going to be very successful.
A lot of money is being spent right now. We have access to a lot of money. And more money is coming in, and people are starting to see it. Even certain of the other side are starting to see the level of importance and the importance of having this wall. I call it a “wall”; some people are liking to call it a “barrier.” And some people are even calling it “slats.” But it’s a wall, and it’s a strong wall. It’s a powerful wall.
So a lot of very positive things are happening on the border.
I’d like ask Mike McDaniel to say a few words — Director of Houston, Texas. The whole job that you and your folks have been doing has been incredible, Mike. People are studying it. So maybe you’ll say a few words to the media, please?
MR. MCDANIEL: Thank you, sir. I’m honored to be here today to report on the important work being done by the 21,000 state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement officers participating in the HIDTA program across the country. Some of our principal partners are sitting here at the table with us today.
Let me first begin by thanking you for your unprecedented commitment in fighting against the drugs and the cartels that are assaulting our communities. Thank you for the support and respect you’ve restored to law enforcement in this country. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mike.
MR. MCDANIEL: Your appointment of Director Jim Carroll has been significant for us in the HIDTA program, and we thank you for that and also for you signing the reauthorization of ONDCP with the opioid act that you signed. So thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks.
MR. MCDANIEL: We all see the charts, and everyone at the table is familiar with seeing 72,000 in 2017 died of drug overdoses. And sometimes I believe the general public doesn’t realize the magnitude of what that really represents. And as a matter of fact, I was at a rodeo event in Houston this weekend, and the announcer said, “There’s 72,000 in attendance at this thing.” And I looked around the stadium, and you talk about giving it a whole new perspective of how big of a crisis this is in our country, just take a look at the next time you’re at a major sporting event.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s a good way of explaining it too. A stadium full of people.
MR. MCDANIEL: Yes, sir.
Now is not the time for business as usual in addressing this epidemic. Now is the time for us to develop and implement new and innovative strategies to address this country’s drug addiction issues. The fact that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem is well recognized by law enforcement. But law enforcement is a part of the solution, and the emerging partnerships between public health and public safety have never been more important. And HIDTA is a perfect platform, and the DFC — the drug-free communities — is a perfect platform to work along, side by side, with our treatment and prevention partners.
As a point of reference, I have been involved in drug law enforcement for 36 years as a police officer with the city of Houston, 24 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration. And I retired to get the job done that I’m blessed with having now as the Houston HIDTA Director.
But today I come representing the other 32 HIDTA directors across the country. And thanks to this administration, the HIDTA program is now in 50 states, with the inclusion of Alaska, and we’re very proud of that. And the HIDTA program is in 33 critical regions, to include our five southwest border HIDTAs.
We just recently, in Arizona, had a seizure of 29,000 counterfeit OxyContin and fentanyl tablets that actually had contained fentanyl. And it was an Arizona HIDTA task force that seized these, and they seized them up in Phoenix, Arizona.
The scary thing about that is those drugs actually went through our southwestern border primarily through backpackers that are moving them up into the communities of our nation.
And, as a matter of fact, the Arizona HIDTA just last week had to issue an alert about teenagers overdosing on counterfeit OxyContin pills. So, how many of those pills are actually making it in our community is really the scary thing to focus on.
HIDTAs around the country have effectively assembled unified teams of federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement to work together towards one common goal, and that is attacking and dismantling these violent drug cartels.
One of the most important things I believe that we do — and working with our partners at CBP and Border Patrol — is to try to connect the dots. When there’s seizures along the border, the most important thing law enforcement can do is connect the dots and actually identify the cartels that those drugs are coming from so that we can dismantle those drug trafficking organizations and, more importantly, criminally prosecute them in U.S. courts.
Recently, a lot of you in the media have noticed there was a 254-pound fentanyl seizure by CBP in Nogales, Arizona. Just two weeks ago, a case in Little Rock, Arkansas, and with the Gulf Coast HIDTA, they seized approximately 38,000 in several seizures that were coming into the port of New Orleans and — a good case. And, sir, I can assure you that the women and men of law enforcement across this country are trying to connect those dots so that we can do our job of dismantling those cartels.
There’s another alarming trend that really bothers me, in that we’re seeing juveniles actually transporting fentanyl, especially in the San Diego area. And if you can imagine — us in law enforcement — you’ll see law enforcement wearing suits and everything else to prevent any contact. But the cartels are strapping these drugs, many times on these juveniles, and sending them across the border, telling them that it’s actually methamphetamine or coke. And they have no regard for human life.
The cartels and transnational gangs targeted by law enforcement are predators that only exist to make money and harm our communities. My prior experience with DEA has allowed me to see the inner workings of these cartels on a first-hand basis. I do not see the difference of these cartels and many of the designated terroristic organizations also seeking the destruction of our country.
What keeps me up at night is not the vast amount of drugs being seized but the vast amount of drugs coming into our country not being seized. Our hearts grieve for the loss of so many lives and for the family members that have lost so many of their sons and daughters.
Thank you, sir, for your support on this important issue.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mike. I really appreciate it. Great job that you’re doing.
Okay. Any questions?
Q Mr. President, can we get your reaction to the Manafort sentencing — more than seven years — and the fact that the Manhattan District Attorney has now filed similar charges in New York State, which would seem to negate any effect of any pardon that might be down the road?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I feel very badly for Paul Manafort. And, you know, he worked for Ronald Reagan very successfully. He worked for John McCain. He worked for Bob Dole and many others for many years. And I feel badly for him. I think it’s a very sad situation. And I saw that just a little while ago. And certainly, on a human basis, it’s a very sad thing. I feel badly for him.
Q Was Canada a factor in your decision to ground the airplanes? And secondly, why haven’t you made arrangements to have (inaudible).
THE PRESIDENT: Say it again?
Q Two questions: Was Canada’s grounding of —
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’re doing it almost as a simultaneous —
Q Was that a factor in the decision?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, we were coordinating with Canada. We were giving them information; they were giving us information. We very much worked in conjunction with Canada. And you’re going to be having an announcement in a half an hour or so directly from the FAA as to some of the details. But we were working actually very closely also with Boeing and with other countries. But Canada was one of those countries.
Q And on the China trade meetings that you anticipated having with President Xi, why haven’t you secured a date yet?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think things are going along very well. We’ll just see what the date is. I’m in no rush. I want the deal to be right, much more importantly. It’s — somebody said I’m in a rush. I’m not in a rush at all. Right now, we’re getting billions and billions of dollars of tariffs paid into our coffers. I am not in a rush whatsoever. It’s got to be the right deal, and it’s got to be a good deal for us. And if it’s not, we’re not going to make that deal. But I will say that deal is going along very nicely.
Q Mr. President, could I come back to the second question that I asked you, which is —
THE PRESIDENT: Steve. Go ahead. Steve.
Q The China — the Boeing aircraft, was that a hard decision to make? You spoke to the Boeing CEO yesterday.
THE PRESIDENT: Very tough decision. It’s — you know, it’s tragic. It’s all the people that we’re talking about and that we paid our highest respects to. But it’s a very tough decision from the standpoint of a company like Boeing. It’s a great, great company with a track record that is so phenomenal.
And they want this solved; they want it solved quickly. They don’t know the problem yet. They have to find the problem. But they don’t know the problem; it could be a lot of different things. So they have to find it, and they will find it.
The United States has the greatest record in the world of aviation, and we want to keep it that way. So I didn’t want to take any chances. We didn’t have to make this decision today. We could’ve delayed it. We maybe didn’t have to make it at all, but I felt — I felt it was important both psychologically and a lot of other ways.
And again, working with Canada, working with other countries, we just felt it was the right thing to do, and also in speaking to Boeing and speaking to airlines. I spoke with American Airlines. I spoke with a number airlines. And speaking to the airlines, I think that we all agree that this was right decision to make. It didn’t have to be made, but we thought it was the right decision to make.
Q Mr. President, are you confident the FAA acted quickly enough?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, they acted very quickly, yeah. And we acted also very fact-based and very much working with other countries and with the airlines. Okay?
Q Take the second part of my question, sir?
Q Mr. President, will you pardon Paul Manafort?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes?
Q Will you pardon Paul Manafort?
THE PRESIDENT: I have not even given it a thought as of this moment. It’s not something that’s right now on my mind. I do feel badly for Paul Manafort, that I can tell you.
Q What about the second set of charges that were filed at the state court?
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know about that. Are they going after him for state taxes?
Q No, they’re going after him in New York State. He faced federal charges and he’s been sentenced on federal charges. Right after the sentencing took place here in Washington, D.C., the Manhattan District Attorney filed state charges against him, which would seem to be a way to get around the effect of any pardon that might be down the road.
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t know anything about it. I haven’t heard that. I’ll take a look at it.
Q Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Go ahead.
Q Republicans in Congress are looking — are working on another bill on the national emergency declaration that would curb future Presidents from being able to declare an emergency. Are you supportive of that effort?
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll have to take a look at what they’re going to present. They are coming over in a little while just to present something. But we’re in very good shape in terms of the money and in terms of the national emergency. Ultimately, we’re in very good shape.
Q But they want to curb future —
THE PRESIDENT: And we’ve had great support from the House, from House Republicans, and we have great support from most — as you know, from most of the Senate, from most of the Republican Senate. Because this is really a bill on border safety, border security, and it’s a bill on — I would say, maybe more than anything else, we’re here talking about drug trafficking, and you people know the subject better than anybody. We’re talking about drugs. We’re talking about human trafficking. This is a bill on human trafficking, on drugs, on all of things that we’re all gathered in this room.
We’ve brought up the problem with the Boeing and the jetliners. It’s a big problem. But we were really here for another reason. And I thought we should bring this up because you’re going to be having a meeting in about a half an hour with FAA.
But this is really a vote not on constitutionality, because it’s constitutional. It’s not a vote on precedent, because you take a look at what President Obama did with DACA and with so many other things — that was no precedent. This is a vote on border security, and it’s a vote on drugs and trafficking and all of that. So — and I think most Republican senators fully understand that.
Q Senator Rand Paul said that there are a number of Republican senators who are beaten up and pretty bloody because the White House has been going after them to not vote in favor of this bill. How much effort have you been putting into keeping Republicans with you on this issue?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, nobody — nobody is beaten up. I said, “Use your own discretion.” But I think it’s a bad vote if they go against — I think anybody going against border security, drug trafficking, human trafficking, that’s a bad vote.
The Democrats are for open borders. They’re for crime. I mean, frankly, they’re for crime. These people can tell you that better than anyone. When you have open borders, when you don’t have walls — Mike, when you don’t —
Very well — all of you folks know it very well. We deal with it all the time. I guess they think it’s good, politically. I think it happens to be bad, politically. I think it’s an 80 percent issue and maybe more than that.
But the Democrats, in order to make things difficult, they are for open borders and they’re for crime, and the Republicans aren’t. But I told Republican senators, “Vote any way you want. Vote how you feel good.” But I think it’s bad for a Republican senator, I also think it’s bad for a Democrat senator to vote against border security and to vote against the wall. I think if they vote that way, it’s a very bad thing for them long into the future.
Q The China trade deal, does it have to include intellectual property?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it does. It has to include everything.
Q So it’s possible this could all fall apart?
THE PRESIDENT: Anything can, but I think we’re doing very well. I would say that we’re — now, I tell you — I’m very open about it because I’m very happy the way we are right now: We’re collecting billions and billions of tariffs. The money we have pouring in now, we’ve never had money like that pouring in from China. We are collecting billions and billions of dollars, mostly paid for by China. If you look at the 25 percent — a report was done where four points out of the 25 percent are paid for by us, and 21 points are paid for by China. So we’re in a very good position one way or the other.
I think the deal is going to be made. I think there’s a very good chance the deal is going to be made. And I will say, officially, we’re doing very well in the deal. So — but we’ll see what happens.
Q Lighthizer seemed to be at about 50/50 on a deal in testimony to Congress yesterday. What gives you optimism?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you always have to be 50/50; 50/50 is very good. But I think even if you felt you’re better than 50/50, you should never say it. I think 50/50 is good.
Q What gives you optimism?
THE PRESIDENT: They want to make a deal. China wants very much to make a deal. China has not been doing well; we’ve been doing unbelievably well. Our economy is the best it’s ever been, just about ever.
You look at our unemployment numbers. If it’s African American, if it’s Asian, if it’s Hispanic, they’re the best historic numbers in history — in the history of our country they’re the best numbers we’ve ever had. And overall employment, the best in 61 years, and that’s going to soon be a record if we keep going the way we’re going. It’s going to soon be a record. But it’s the best in 61 years.
Our country is doing great. China would like to make a deal and we’d like to make a deal. We’ll see. We have a very good relationship. I have a very good relationship with President Xi. We’re going to see what happens.
But it’s an exciting time in terms of trade. We just made a deal with Mexico, Canada. We just made a deal with South Korea. We have other deals that we have cooking.
And, frankly, our country was being taken advantage of by everybody. We were getting — what was happening to our country on trade was a horrible thing; that this wasn’t done years ago. And I’m not talking about the Obama administration. I’m talking about that and plenty of other administrations before it. That they could have allowed this to happen — we lost, over the last number of years, almost $800 billion a year on trade. What kind of deal — who’s making these deals?
So we’re making great deals or we’re not going to make them at all. We’re going to go tariffs.
Q And are you in favor of nailing down a deal before a summit so that all that would need to happen at the summit is just to sign it?
THE PRESIDENT: Doesn’t matter to me. I’ll go either way.
I think President Xi saw that I’m somebody that believes in walking when a deal is not done. And, you know, there’s always a chance it could happen, and he probably wouldn’t want that. That could be a reason.
But we can do it either way. We can have the deal completed and come and sign, or we can get the deal almost completed and negotiate some of the final points. I would prefer that, but it doesn’t matter that much.
Q Is Shanahan your pick for Defense Secretary?
THE PRESIDENT: He’s doing a great job. Shanahan is doing a fantastic job as — at Secretary — as the Acting Secretary of Defense.
Q Will you nominate him?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m just telling you, he’s doing a great job. Look at we’ve done with respect to the caliphate in Syria. I was told by our previous person that it was going to take two years to knock it out, and I did it in three weeks once we started. Did it, really, in less.
And no — I have a great group of people. We are surrounded by some tremendous talent in this building. We have great Secretaries and a lot of great people. I don’t think they get the credit for the job they do.
Look at — you take a look at the economy. You take a look at regulations. You take a look at tax cuts. You take a look at all of the things that we’ve done. We have great people in this government.
Q Any update on North Korea?
THE PRESIDENT: No update. No. No. Seem to have a very good relationship. We’ll let you know about it.
Q Any idea when the Mueller Report is coming down?
THE PRESIDENT: I have no idea.
Q Are you anxious to see it?
THE PRESIDENT: I have no idea. I can only tell you one thing — again, that was proven today: no collusion. There’s no collusion. There’s no collusion. And there hasn’t been collusion.
And it was all a big hoax, and you know it. It was done and stated by the Democrats because they lost an election that they should have won because the Electoral College is a big advantage for Democrats, not for Republicans.
And they should have, and I ran the clock out. We ran the whole thing. You ran up the East Coast from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, and then we go up to Wisconsin and Michigan — states that hadn’t been won for many, many years. We won those states.
And they said, “How do we — how do we solve this horrible problem? We lost an election that, in theory,” some people — I didn’t — but some people thought they were going to win, right? And they said, “I have an idea. Let’s blame Russia.”
It was a hoax. It was all a big hoax. And now you’re seeing it. Today, again, “No collusion.” The other day, “No collusion.” There was no collusion.
When I had to go Wisconsin, I went to Wisconsin. When I had to go to Michigan and Pennsylvania and South Carolina and North Carolina, that’s where I’d go. When I had to go Florida, which we won easily, I went to Florida. You don’t call Russia when you go to Florida. Russia won’t help you much.
Have a good time, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.
2:55 P.M. EDT