South Lawn

4:01 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Mark Esper, who is a highly respected gentleman with a great career — West Point, Harvard, a tremendous talent — was just named Acting Secretary of Defense.  I think he’ll do very well.  He was Secretary of the Army.  I got to know him very well and he’s an outstanding guy.

Pat Shanahan, who is a wonderful person, is, as you know, going to take some time off for family matters.  And I want to thank him for his service.  He’s a terrific person.  And it’s a difficult time for Pat, but he’s going to take a little time off for family service and for working things out.  And I think you know about it.  You know very well about it.

But Mark Esper is going to be outstanding, and we look forward to working with him for a long period of time to come.

Q    Did you ask Shanahan to withdraw, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me?

Q    Did you ask Shanahan to withdraw?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I didn’t.  I didn’t ask him to withdraw, but he walked in this morning and he said it’s going to be a rough time for him because of, obviously, what happened.  But I did not ask him to withdraw.  He presented me with a letter this morning.  That was his — that was his decision.

Q    Did you know about these allegations before you said you wanted him to be the Defense Secretary?

THE PRESIDENT:  I had heard about it yesterday for the first time.  I didn’t know about it.  I had heard about yesterday.  And it’s very unfortunate.  Very unfortunate.

Q    Does that make you concerned then about the White House vetting process if you had just heard about it yesterday?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, we have a very good vetting process.  And you take a look at our Cabinet and our Secretaries — it’s very good.  But we have a great vetting process.  But this is something that came up a little bit over the last short period of time.

And, as you know, Pat was Acting.  And so, Acting gives you much greater flexibility.  A lot easier to do things.  So that’s the way it is.  Too bad.

April.

Q    Mr. President, will you apologize to the Central Park 5?  They’ve been exonerated.  There have been videos and movies shown about the case, and you came out with a full-page ad saying that they should die, that they should have the death penalty.  Do you apologize?

THE PRESIDENT:  Why would you bring that question up now?  It’s an interesting time to bring it up.

Q    There’s movies and everything about them.

THE PRESIDENT:  You have people on both sides of that.  They admitted their guilt.  If you look at Linda Fairstein, and if you look at some of prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case.  So we’ll leave it at that.

Q    Does not having a permanent Defense Secretary complicate your policy —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, not at all.

Q    — let’s say, with Iran?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think, frankly, this could happen very quickly for Mark Esper.  He’s very experienced.  He’s the —

Q    But it’s already been six months.

THE PRESIDENT:  — he’s been around all of the things that we’re talking about for a very long period of time.

Q    Why should Americans trust your administration to tell the truth about what’s going on with Iran?  If we go to war, why should we believe you if you say why?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we have Iran.  We’ve been talking to various people on lots of different sides.  And we’ll see what happens with Iran.  We’re very well set.  We’re very well configured.  We have a lot of things going on with Iran.

I spoke with President Xi, this morning, of China.  We’ll be meeting at the G20.  And I think that is working out pretty much as I anticipated it would.  China very much wants to discuss the future, and so do we.

So the relationship with President Xi is a very good one.  We had a long talk this morning.

Q    Immigration officials we’ve been speaking with say they don’t know anything —

THE PRESIDENT:  Say it?

Q   Immigration officials say they don’t know anything about a planned roundup of millions of people in the next few weeks.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, they know.  They know.  And they’re going to start next week.  And when people come into our country and they come in illegally, they have to go out.  And everybody is seeing that.

And as you know, Mexico has been doing a very good job the last four days.  They haven’t done that in 25 years.  They’re doing a very good job.  I appreciate the job they’re doing.  Guatemala, likewise, is much different than it was under past administrations.  So we’ll see how that works out.

With all of that being said, the Democrats should get together and solve the asylum problem, which is very easy to solve.  And they should solve the loophole problem, also very easy to solve.

Q    Mr. President, you have an Acting Defense Secretary; you’ve had one for months.  Why is it taking you so long to nominate someone permanently when you have so many hotspots in the world?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, this came up — this just came up.  And I did the nomination —

Q    The White House has known about it for a while.

THE PRESIDENT:  This just came up, and I think we did it very quickly.

Pat Shanahan was Acting, and we put Mark Esper in.  Mark is highly experienced.  I think he’s going to fit in very easily.

Q    Do you still want to demote Jay Powell?  Is that something you’re still interested in?

THE PRESIDENT:  Say it?

Q    Do you want to demote Jay Powell?  Are you interested in that?  At the Fed?  At the Federal Reserve?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let’s see what he does.  I can tell you that Draghi and the EU, if you look at what’s going on with the euro, they have a much different stance than our folks do.

As you know, he did something today that was very dramatic.  And, frankly, it helped that part of the world.  So we’ll see what happens.  They’re going to be making an announcement pretty soon, so we’ll see what happens.

But I want to be given a level playing field.  And, so far, I haven’t been.

Q    (Inaudible) to demote him, do you think?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah, I would be allowed to speak to him very easily.  I speak to him anyway.

Q    Mr. President, are you going to nominate Mark Esper for the permanent position, not just Acting?

THE PRESIDENT:  Say it?

Q    Are you going to nominate Esper for the permanent position?

THE PRESIDENT:  Most likely.  That’s what I’m thinking about doing.

Q    When are you going to decide?

THE PRESIDENT:  Most likely.  Pretty soon.

Q    And what’s the next step for Iran, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re looking at Iran.  We have a lot of things going with Iran.  We have — we’re very prepared for Iran.  We’ll see what happens.  Let me just say this: We are very prepared.  Regardless of what goes, we are very, very prepared.

If you look at what’s taken place, if you look at what they’ve done, if you look at — and I’m not just talking about over the last week, I’m talking about over a long period of years.  They’ve been a nation of terror.  Now, we’ll see what happens.  We’ll see what happens.  They are a much different country today than they were two and a half years ago when I came into office.

When President Obama signed that horrible deal, they were screaming “Death to America.”  I haven’t been hearing that lately.

Q    Mr. President, on the 9/11 Compensation Fund, do you want to see it approved so that this never has to be revisited again — through 2090?

THE PRESIDENT:  I have a meeting on that, actually, this afternoon, before my speech.  I’m going down, as you know — it’s a very big crowd down in Florida — Orlando.  And before that, I’m having a meeting.  So we’ll — we’ll be letting you know.

Q    Do you think you can reach a deal with President Xi at the G20?  Or are you basically starting over?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I have a very good relationship with President Xi, and we’ll see what happens.  I think we have a chance.  I know that China wants to make a deal.  They don’t like the tariffs.  A lot of companies are leaving China in order to avoid the tariffs.  I have a very good relationship with President Xi.  We’ll see what happens.

Q    If that meeting goes well, are you willing to hold off on the next round of tariffs?

THE PRESIDENT:  Say it?

Q    If that meeting goes well, are you willing to delay that next round of tariffs?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we’ll see what happens.  I think the meeting might very well go well.  And, frankly, our people are starting the deal as of tomorrow.  The teams, they’re starting to deal.  So, we’ll see.

China would like to make the deal, we’d like to make the deal, but it has to be a good deal for everybody.

Q    Have they given you an indication that they’ve changed their position on some of the sticking points that scuttled the last deal?

THE PRESIDENT:  They did.  They changed their position.  So I said, “We’re not going to do that.”

Q    (Inaudible) immigrants do you want to see deported?  Are you talking about families, children?  What’s the population of people you’re going to (inaudible)?

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re going to find out.  You’re going to find out.

Thank you very much.

END

4:09 P.M. EDT