South Lawn

3:13 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  How are you?  Very good numbers, economically.  The country is doing really well.  We expect great things, and we have a lot of potential.  A lot of way to go.  We’re the hottest economy now — definitely, actually, for the last quite a bit, period of time.  And I think we have tremendous potential for a lot of growth.

Europe is not doing well.  A lot of places are not doing very well; we’re doing very well.  So, I just want to let you know.

Q    Mr. President, Iran seized at least one oil tanker today with British oil.  What is your reaction?  Have they crossed the line?  You said that would be a foolish thing to do.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, as you know, we have a very close alliance with the UK, and we always have.  We heard that.  The United States has very few tankers going in because we’re using our own energy now.  We’ve made a lot of progress over the last two and half years.  So we don’t have very many tankers going in, but we have a lot of ships there that are war ships.  And we’ll talk to the UK.  And we have no written agreement, but we have an agreement.  They’ve been a very great ally of ours.

So, we heard about it.  We heard it was one; we heard it was two.  And we’ll be working with the UK.  They’ll have a new Prime Minister soon, which is a good thing.  And we’ll be working with the UK.  But we have no written agreement, but I think we have an agreement which is longstanding.

Q    Mr. President, thank you very much.  It’s clear you are standing by your tweet about going back to the original country.  How would you feel if somebody asked the First Lady to go back to her country?  And what has she said to you about the chant, the tweet, about this entire episode?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  If you go back to the four congresswomen, the things they’ve said about our country are terrible.  What they’ve said about Israel are just terrible.

I don’t know — I can’t say for sure — but certainly a lot of people say they hate our country.  And I think it’s a disgrace what they’ve said.  I think you can’t talk that way about the United States.

So I think, frankly, to say that about Israel — you know, we just gave the embassy in Jerusalem, making Jerusalem the capital of Israel.  I just gave Golan Heights — recognized Golan Heights for Israel.  I’ve done all of this for Israel.

And then you have these people — I think that Omar — I find it hard to believe — but I hear Omar today put in, or yesterday put in a sanctions bill against Israel, and other things beyond sanctions.  So, when I hear that, you just can’t talk about our country that way.  And when people are angry at them, I fully understand them.

Q    Mr. President, (inaudible) political feud that you’re having with Congresswoman Omar and the rest of those Democrats, is it a good thing politically for you?  Or do you think it turns people off?

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t know if it’s good or bad politically.  I don’t care.  But when people are speaking so badly, when they call our country “garbage” — think of that.  That’s worse than “deplorable.”  When they call our country “garbage,” I don’t care about politics.  I don’t care if it’s good or bad about politics.  Many people say it’s good.  I don’t know if it’s good or bad.  I can tell you this: You can’t talk that way about our country, not when I’m the President.

So I think they’ve said horrible things, and they’re anti-Semitic.  And if you look at the kind of statements they’ve made about Israel, it’s a disgrace.

Q    Mr. President, they have a First Amendment right to say what they want about our country.  That’s what the Constitution guarantees.  Do you see not agreeing with you as the same thing as hating the country, sir?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah, they have First Amendment rights but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about them saying.  And when they say bad things about us, we can certainly feel — and again, we have First Amendment rights also — we can certainly feel what and say what we want.

Q    What do you mean one or two sanctions this evening?

THE PRESIDENT:  Say it, Steve.

Q    What do you mean one or two sanctions this evening?  What are you talking about — an agreement with the UK?  Is that like a mutual defense agreement?

THE PRESIDENT:  So we’re going to be speaking with the UK.  And this only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran: trouble.  Nothing but trouble.  And remember this: The agreement — the ridiculous agreement made by President Obama expires in a very short period of time.  It was a short-term agreement.

When you’re dealing in countries, you have to deal in 50 years and 100 years.  You don’t deal in the short term.  That was a ridiculous agreement.  And it goes to show you I was right about Iran.  And let’s see what happens.

But I know that it’s not an American ship; it’s UK.  I guess it could be one, could be two.  And we’ll be speaking to them.  They have a new prime minister coming soon, and that’s a good thing for the UK.

Q    Mr. President, in the past, you said —

THE PRESIDENT:  Go ahead.

Q    In the past, you’ve said that America is the “laughing stock of the world,” that you don’t believe in American exceptionalism.  Why is it okay for you to criticize America but not the Democratic congresswomen?

THE PRESIDENT:  I believe all people are great people.  I believe everyone is great.  But I love our country, and I’m representing our country.  And people can’t —

Q    But you’ve criticized our country in the past yourself, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  — go around speaking about our country and saying “garbage.”  This is the greatest country in the world.  We now have the strongest military by far.  We had a depleted military when I took over.  We spent $716 billion last year; $700 billion the year before.  We have a great, powerful military.  More powerful than we’ve ever had before.  We have the greatest economy on Earth.  Not even close.

You can’t speak about our country the way those four congressmen — they said, “garbage.”  They say things about Israel that’s so bad I’m not even going to repeat them right now.

They can’t get away with that act.  Not the right (inaudible).

Q    Mr. President, are you trying to backtrack on disavowing the chant of “send her back,” by saying that these are “incredible patriots” that were chanting?

THE PRESIDENT:  These women have said horrible things about our country and the people of our country.  Nobody should be able to do that.  And if they want to do that, that’s up to them.  But I can’t imagine they’re going to do very well at the polls.

And I say this: If the Democrats want to embrace people that hate our country, people that are far — so far-left that nobody has even seen anything like it, if they want to embrace people that are so anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, if they want to do that, that’s up to them.  But I don’t have to do that.

I think what they say and what they’ve said is a disgrace to them, to the Democrats, and, frankly, to our country.

Q    Mr. President, why did you have a falling out with Jeffrey Epstein?  You said you hadn’t talked to him in 10, 15 years.

THE PRESIDENT:  A long time ago, yeah.

Q    Why not?

THE PRESIDENT:  Fifteen years ago, I had a falling out.

Q    What happened?  Why did you have a falling out?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I didn’t get along with him.

Q    Mr. President, can you explain why you were on the phone with Michael Cohen in October of 2015 — with Michael and Hope?  Why were you on a phone call?  What was that about?

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t really know.  I’d have to look into it.  That’s a long time ago.

Q    Are you in favor of banning plastic straws?

THE PRESIDENT:  I do think we have bigger problems than plastic straws.  You know, it’s interesting about plastic straws: So, you have a little straw, but what about the plates, the wrappers, and everything else that are much bigger and they’re made of the same material?

So, the straws are interesting.  Everybody focuses on the straws.  There’s a lot of other things to focus on.  But it’s an — it’s an interesting question.

Q    Secretary Mnuchin (inaudible)?

THE PRESIDENT:  Go ahead.  Talk up.

Q    Secretary Mnuchin just did a phone call with his Chinese counterpart.  So how did the phone call go?  And will you send him to China to talk?

THE PRESIDENT:  Secretary Mnuchin did have a call with the Chinese counterpart.  They had a very good talk.  We’ll see what happens.  We’re dealing with China.  We’re doing very well; they are not doing very well.  They had the worst year they’ve had in 27 years.  And we’re having the best year we ever had.  So we’re doing well.  But let’s see what happens.

And our farmers are doing very well because I’ve taken some of the billions of dollars of tariffs that we collect from China.  We collect billions and billions of dollars of fees and tariffs, and I gave it to our farmers.

Q    What did the First Lady and Ivanka advise you about the chant?  I know you guys talked about it and —

THE PRESIDENT:  False information.  It was fake news.

Q    You never talked about it with her?

THE PRESIDENT:  Nope.  We — I talked about it, but they didn’t advise me.  They told me, but I didn’t —

Q    I’m sorry.  What did they say?  What did they tell you?

THE PRESIDENT:  By the way, what you’re saying — fake news.

Q    What did they tell —

Q    Rand Paul — what does Rand Paul want to do for you on Iran?  Or what do you want him to do?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Rand is a friend of mine, but I have, really, 53 very good friends, and they’re in the Senate.

I also have a lot friends — you saw that the other day when they brought a ridiculous vote up, and only four Republicans out of hundreds voted against.  So I have a lot of great friends.  I’m 94 percent in the Republican Party approval rating.

Rand is a friend of mine.  And Rand asked me if he could involved.  The answer is yes.  And if other senators ask me to get involved, I’d probably say yes depending on who they were.

We’ll see what happens.  But I have many people involved.  And Iran is going to work out very nicely.  Iran is showing their colors.  It’s going to work out very nicely.

Iran is in big trouble right now.  Their economy is crashing.  It’s coming to a crash.  They’re trying to bring soldiers back home because they can’t pay them.  A lot of bad things are happening to them.  And it’s very easy to straighten out or it’s very easy for us to make it a lot worse.

Q    Mr. President, thank you.  The chant, “Send her home,” is it racist to you?

THE PRESIDENT:  Say it?

Q    The chant, “Send her home” —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, you know what’s racist to me?  When somebody goes out and says the horrible things about our country — the people of our country — that are anti-Semitic, that hate everybody, that speak with scorn and hate.  That, to me, is really a very dangerous thing.

I think these four congressmen — and I could say some worse than others — but if you look at the statements they’ve made, when they call the people of our country and our country “garbage,” when they hit Israel the way they’ve hit Israel so hard, so horrible — I think, to me, that’s a disgrace.  And we should never forget it.  We’re dealing with people that hate our country.

Q    Mr. President, are you going to watch — are you going to watch Mueller, Mr. President?  Do you plan on watching the Mueller testimony?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I don’t.  I don’t.

Q    And are you concerned about — Democrats have said they’re going to try to —

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me tell you: They had an impeachment vote the other day.  Just a big waste of time.  It’s a disgrace.  No other President should ever have to go through it.  And the vote was a totally lopsided vote with many Democrats voting in favor.  As far as I’m concerned, they already took their impeachment vote.  And the impeachment vote was so lopsided, it was a — it was a massive victory.  And you know what?  At some point, they have to stop playing games because they’re just playing games.
No, I won’t be watching Muller.

Q    Mr. President, a follow-up.  Your initiative called “Prosper Africa” was launched.  And I have the opportunity to speak to with many African leaders.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good.

Q    They say that’s a good opportunity for African countries to engage more —

THE PRESIDENT:  Right.

Q    — and work with the United States.  But the President of Zimbabwe, he said that because of the sanctions that U.S. imposed on Zimbabwe, they cannot — it will be hard for them to work for you guys.

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re looking at Zimbabwe right now.  Go ahead.

Q    Mr. President, did the First Lady approve of your tweets about the congresswomen?

THE PRESIDENT:  The First Lady feels very strongly about our country.  The First Lady thinks that it’s horrible what they’ve said about Israel and horrible what they’ve said about our country — these congresswomen.

They can’t call our country and our people “garbage.”  They can’t be anti-Semitic.  They can’t talk about “evil Jews,” which is what they say: “evil Jews.”  That’s what the First Lady (inaudible).

Thank you.  Thank you.

END

3:25 P.M. EDT