South Lawn

3:52 P.M. EDT

Q    Mr. President, should the Saudis have reason to fear your response?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I hope not.  We’re going to find out what happened.  We’re looking very hard.  We have a lot of very good people on it.  So does Turkey, so does Saudi Arabia.  We’re going to find out what happened.  And you will be the first to know.

Q    Mr. President, there are reports that your administration is considering a new family separation policy at the border.  Do you think that —

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re looking at everything, Phil, that you can look at when it comes to illegal immigration.  We have people that are trying to get into our country because of how well our country is doing.  And, you know, in the old days, when the country wasn’t doing well, it was a lot easier.  Now everybody wants to come in.  And they come in illegally and they use children.  In many cases, the children aren’t theirs.  They grab them and they want to come in with the children.  So we are.  We’re looking at a lot of different things having to do with illegal immigration.

What should happen is the Democrats should pass good bills.  This is the same situation that President Obama found himself in.  He had separation, and people didn’t talk about.  The famous picture from 2014 that they all thought was our picture, that was a picture of young children in jail cells that was during the Obama Administration.

So we want to do whatever we can do.  We have people trying to come in like never before.  Our Border Patrol, ICE, law enforcement is doing an incredible job.  But we’re going to do whatever we can do to get it slowed down.

Q    Mr. President, do you think the original family separation policy from this summer was effective in deterring people from crossing at the border?  Did it work?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I will say this: If they feel there will be separation, they don’t come.  You know, if they feel there’s separation, it’s a — it’s a terrible situation.  We want to go through Congress, but the Democrats don’t want to approve anything.  They’re obstructionists.

If they feel there’s separation — in many cases, they don’t come.  But also, in many cases, you have really bad people coming in and using children.  They’re not their children.  They don’t even know the children.  They haven’t known the children for 20 minutes, and they grab children and they use them to come into our country.  You got some really bad people out there.

We’re doing an incredible job.  But the one thing I will say: The country is doing so well economically and every other way that more people want to come in than ever before.  So we have to be very strong.

Q    (Inaudible) said that you agree with her that families should be able to enter the country, as her parents did and became U.S. citizens.  Do you agree that family members should be allowed to come into the United States?

THE PRESIDENT:  I do, but they have to come in legally.  I want a lot of people to come in.  Frankly, we need people coming in, because I have a lot of companies moving back in.  Jobs are coming back in.  You take a look at all of the new plants that are being built in the United States.  We have a lot of people calling me; they want workers.  And we want people to come into our country.  That’s what people don’t understand about me.  But they have to come in on a merit basis.  And that’s what we’re working out with Congress.

Q    But you say you were against chain migration.  And the First Lady said that you and she both agreed family members should be allowed in.

THE PRESIDENT:  Chain migration is not a good thing.  Chain migration is bad.  If you take a look at the lottery system, that’s bad.  What I want is merit.  I want a lot of people to come in.  We have great car companies entering our country again.  This hasn’t happened for 35 years.  We have companies like Foxconn going to Wisconsin with a massive, massive plant.

We need people coming in, but we want them to come in on a merit.  We want people that are going to help us.  It’s very important.  We want them to come in on a merit basis.

Q    (Inaudible) campaigning on immigration as an issue?

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, as far as I’m concerned, as to whether or not it’s an issue — for those of you that didn’t hear — immigration is always tricky, but to me it’s not tricky.  You have to do the right thing whether there’s an election or not.

I’m very tough at the borders.  We’ve been very tough at the borders.  People have to come into our country legally, not illegally.  Legally.  And I want them to come in on merit.

If that’s a bad policy, then guess what, a lot of bad things are going to happen.  But a lot of people agree with me.  I would say a vast majority of our country agrees.  They don’t want criminals coming into our country.  They don’t want people that they don’t want in the country that aren’t going to help us as a country.  They don’t want these people coming in.  So we have a very strong policy.

The one thing that really has changed over the last couple of years since I’ve been President — our country is doing so well, even with real interest — not with false interest rates.  Zero interest.  Anybody can do well with zero interest.  But our country is doing — we’re the hottest country in the world, economically, by far.  You take a look at us compared to China, compared to everybody else, we’re the hottest country in the world.  A lot of people are trying to come in.  Our border security, our ICE, our law enforcement is doing an incredible job.

Q    Mr. President, in 2014, those children were largely unaccompanied.  But your administration has actually been separating families.  Is it really the same thing?

THE PRESIDENT:  You have children coming in, and they’re coming through Mexico, and they are unaccompanied.  They have no parents.  They may be back in the country that they came from — Honduras and a lot of other countries — or they may not.

But you have many people coming up, many young children — I mean, really young children — and they’re pouring in through Mexico.  And we’re taking care — they have no parents.  Or their parents aren’t in Mexico.  In most cases, not in Mexico.  They’re from other parts of the world.

It’s really a humanitarian tragedy, and we’re taking care of it.  But this isn’t a case where people are coming up with children — coming in with children.  People are grabbing children and they’re using children to come into our country, in many cases.

Q    Mr. President, one more question about Saudi Arabia (inaudible) didn’t get to in the Oval Office.  You’ve talked a lot about your good relationship with King Salman.  That was your first trip, your first foreign trip in May of 2017.  The red carpet, the fighter jets, the (inaudible) — all of that.  Are you considering — reconsidering the relationship with Saudi Arabia?  Are they as good a partner now, given what they might have done?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I have to see what happens.  I mean, you know, a lot of work is being done right now.  I have to see.

Now, one of the reasons it was my first pick is, if you remember, it was $110 billion of military that they were going to buy, but they were going to invest $450 billion in our country through the companies.  I think you were there.  And all of these — Raytheon, and General Electric, and General Motors — they were there getting contracts for $25 billion, $30 billion, $40 billion.  Nobody has ever seen anything like it.  So when you say that was my first country, that was my first country because no other country is going to be investing $450 billion.  $110 billion in the military.  It’s a lot of money.

Q    (Inaudible) China is ready to negotiate again?  China.

THE PRESIDENT:  China wants to make a deal.  China would love to make a deal.  I don’t think they’re ready yet.

Q    Why aren’t they ready yet?  How will you know when they’re ready?

THE PRESIDENT:  I just don’t think they’re ready yet.  They’ve made too much money for too long.  What they’ve done to our country is take out anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion a year.  Rebuilt China.  I have great respect for China and for President Xi in particular.  We’ll probably make a deal, but I don’t think they’re ready.  They want to make a deal.  They are not doing well.  If you look at their economy, the Chinese economy is not doing well.  And we’re doing very well.  We’re doing better than we’ve ever done.

But I told them a week ago — they want to come in, they want to make a deal — I said, you’re not ready to make a deal.

Q    Will Pay Cipollone be the next White House Counsel?

THE PRESIDENT:  I haven’t named the new White House Counsel.  But over a short period of time I will.

Q    Is he at the top of the list?

THE PRESIDENT:  Who?

Q    Is Pat — is he at the top of the list?

THE PRESIDENT:  Pat is a great guy.  I don’t want to say it, but he’s a great guy.  He’s very talented, and he’s a very good man.  But I don’t want to say yet.

Q    Are you preparing written answers for the Special Counsel team?  Are you preparing written —

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t talk about that.  I just say this — any everybody knows it: No collusion.  There never was.  There never will be.

Q    (Inaudible) with Saudi Arabia, given the size of their investment?

THE PRESIDENT:  From where?

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t understand your question.

Q    President Trump, what sort of message does that send to Saudi Arabia, if they are responsible, that you continue with a big arms deal like that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, there are many other things we can do.  But when we take away $110 billion of purchases from our country, that hurts our workers, that hurts our factories, that hurts all of our companies.  You know, you’re talking about 500,000 jobs.

So if we do that, we’re really hurting our country a lot more than we’re hurting Saudi Arabia.  They’ll go to Russia, they’ll go to China.  They’ll make the order.  The equipment is nowhere near as good as our equipment; they know that.  Our equipment is the best in the world.  But they’ll go to China.  They’ll go to Russia.  They’ll order equipment.  We’re just hurting ourselves.

So we would do something that doesn’t have to do with that, in my opinion.  But we don’t know.  We don’t know.  Nobody knows, right now, the answer.  We’re looking for the answer.

Q    President Trump, would you personally sanction the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman if he was found to be —

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I have to find out what they did.  Right now, Turkey is very deep into it.  We’re in constant communication.  And frankly, other countries are looking at it too, including us.  And we’ll get to the bottom of it.  So we’ll have to see.

Q    Is the U.S. investigating?  Do we have investigators in Turkey that are — is the U.S. involved in the investigation?

THE PRESIDENT:  The U.S. is very much involved.  We want to find out what happened.

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve had people speaking at the highest level.  And I didn’t want to call until we had enough information.  Now I want to call.  So probably over the next 24 hours.

Who’s going to Kentucky?  Are you going to Kentucky?  You’d have a great time.  I hear 93,000 applying for 10,000 seats.  There’s something going on, Phil.  This reminds me of ’16.  It reminds you of ’16 too.  Something going on.

Q    Any update, sir, on the search for a U.N. Ambassador?  And are you committed to having a woman replace Nikki Haley?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’d like to.  We’ll see.  Look, I want the most talented person.  But I’d like to.  Nikki was terrific.  We are looking.  We have some — a lot of people want that job.  It’s a great job.  A lot of people want it.  We have some incredible candidates.  Probably over the next week or two weeks, at the most.

Q    But no decision yet?

THE PRESIDENT:  No decision.  But really some great, talented people, some of whom you know very well.  I’m shocked that they haven’t leaked it out yet, but that’s okay.

Q    Well, we welcome it.

Q    Mr. President, do you still feel like you have leverage over Saudi Arabia, given the size of their investment?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think we have leverage over everybody.  We have the strongest now — we have the strongest military in the world, by far.  But we’ll never have to use it, because it’s so strong that nobody can even compete with us.  And we have the strongest country economically since I took over.  You know, we’ve gained $11 trillion in worth.  China has lost many trillions of dollars.  We’ve gained $11 trillion in worth.  So we’re, by far, the strongest military of any country in the world.  And economically, we blow everybody away.

Thank you all very much.

END

4:04 P.M. EDT