Cabinet Room

11:35 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you very much for being here at today’s Cabinet meeting.  I have just returned from a very historic trip to Europe, where we’ve made incredible progress toward achieving greater peace, security, and prosperity for America, for our allies, and, in fact, for the entire world.

The meetings with NATO, the United Kingdom, and with Russia were a tremendous success.  And I think you will see that, and it will play out over a period of years, frankly.  But they were a tremendous success.

At home, our economy is thriving and booming like, I would say, never before.  People are looking, and they’re trying to find times.  And there’s never been a time like this.

We’ve created more than 3.6 million jobs since the election.  We are in the longest positive job growth streak in history — in the history of our country, or at least on record.  Unemployment has fallen for every demographic group — every single group.  African American unemployment has reached its lowest levels by far, in history.  Hispanic unemployment is at its lowest levels in history.  Asian unemployment is at its lowest level in history.  Women’s unemployment is at the lowest level in 65 years.  So those are tremendous numbers.

The consumer and business optimism polls have reached the all-time highs — highest number ever recorded.  In today’s meeting, we will focus on a very important issue: workforce training, as part of our commitment to buy American, hire American, and, frankly, to make America great again.

I’m going to, pretty soon, have to take that word again out, because we are moving at a level that few people would have ever thought possible, including job numbers and growth.  And some big numbers have come out already, and I guess numbers will be coming out over the coming weeks.  And I would expect they would be very, very good.  I always talk about growth; growth solves a lot of difficulties, a lot of problems.  And you see that happening.

We will hear from Ivanka, from Secretary Acosta, Secretary Ross, Secretary DeVos, and Administator McMahon about important actions we’re taking in partnership with the private sector and state and local governments to expand vocational education, career and technical training, and on-the-job training.

And the reason we’re doing this is that so many companies are moving back to the United States, like nobody ever thought possible.  And we need people.  We need trained people.  We need people that know trades.  And we’re starting a very intensive program of training people, so that when these companies, these great companies, come back into the country — many of them left years ago; they’re coming back now because of what we’re doing.  Whether it be the regulations or the massive tax cuts, they’re coming back — and it means jobs.  And that’s why the unemployment numbers are so good.  And you’ve seen nothing yet.

So we need people to really be able to take these jobs.  That will have a positive impact, even on immigration.  And we need people to come in on a merit basis, because we have to be able to provide jobs.  We have to be able to provide the people, that are running these massive companies, with labor.

So, tomorrow, I’ll be making a big announcement about workforce training initiatives, which aims to give every American citizen an opportunity to achieve their American Dream.  I want to have choice, just like we have now with the veterans, all approved, which nobody thought would be possible.  The vets now, instead of standing on line for two weeks or one week or three months, they can go out and see a doctor, and we pay for it, and it turns out to be much less expensive.  And they are loving it.  Nobody thought it was possible to get that.

So I want — also, I want choice for workers, so that if they don’t like their job, they can go get another job.  And they’ll find one that they really love, and they’ll love getting up in the morning and going to work.  So that’s what we’re working on.  Tremendous numbers of companies are coming back into our country.  Tremendous dollars are coming back.  We have hundreds of billions of dollars are pouring back into our country because of our tax cuts and reform.  We’re allowing these big companies that have billions of dollars offshore to bring that money back into our country.  Before we had the bill passed on tax cuts and reform, it was virtually impossible to get money brought back into our country.

Now you look at Apple; I believe they’re bringing in about $250 billion, and they’re putting that to work in the United States.  Other companies are, likewise, bringing in billions and billions of dollars.  So we’ve never seen anything like this before.  I think, ultimately, that number could be $4 trillion.  So these are not numbers that anybody has ever even heard of or would ever be familiar with, because it never happened before.  But it’s happening under the Trump administration.

And with that, I’d like my daughter Ivanka to start.  This has been a very important issue — women’s issue and this issue — two issues.  Any woman’s issue is very important to Ivanka, and the issue of workplace employment and jobs and training has been, really, at the top of her list.

So, Ivanka, could you say a few words, please?

TRUMP:  Absolutely.  And maybe I’ll move over here so you don’t have to look behind.

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll ask the press: Would you like to stay, or would you like to leave?  (Laughter.)

Q    Stay.

THE PRESIDENT:  Ah.  I’m shocked to hear.

TRUMP:  Well, thank you, President.  And thanks to the Trump administration’s pro-growth policies, we see that the economy is roaring.  Unprecedented deregulation and tax cuts have been a central component to the success of this administration’s economic agenda.  GDP growth last year surpassed all expectations.  The unemployment rate currently sits at just 4 percent.  And 3.7 million jobs have been added since the election in November of 2016.  America’s economic future is bright.

Last month alone, 600,000 additional Americans entered or reentered the workforce.  And there are millions of prime-aged Americans poised to join the workforce now that there are new and better jobs available.

More people who have been discouraged and sitting on the sidelines are now throwing their hat back into the ring and deciding to look for a job.  Our strong economy has brought a longstanding critical issue to the forefront.  Employers are having trouble finding enough workers with the right skills.  Job openings exceed the number of unemployed people in our country for the first time in recorded history.

As we know, a robust labor market is great for the American worker.  Wages are finally beginning to rise after almost a decade of stagnation, and people are coming off the sidelines and back into high-demand fields.  However, current public investment in education and skills is de minimis after the age of 25, not reflecting an evolving economy in which workers must continually update their skills in response to the changing employer needs and an increasingly digital economy.

Further, while employers themselves typically invest substantially in training for college-educated workers, they invest only half of that in workers with just a high school degree.  This is beginning to change, and this administration is seeking to catalyze and accelerate private-sector commitment to all of our workers.

Already, the administration has taken critical steps to ensure all Americans have a pathway to good-paying jobs.  And tomorrow, President Trump will take another important step to prioritize and expand vocational educations so that we can create and fill American jobs with American workers.

President Trump will sign an executive order to establish the National Council for the American Worker, and a separate advisory board.

The council will work to develop a national workforce strategy and bring together Cabinet-level leadership to build upon the successful work already being done and to further amplify that.

Secretary DeVos has been working very hard over the last 17 months to ensure that the skills being taught in our classrooms align with those in demand in the modern economy.

Secretary Acosta has been working to expand apprenticeship and to increase access to vocational education.

Secretaries Mattis and Acting Secretary Wilkie have shown tremendous leadership in working to help transition our military servicemembers into the workforce at the time their service draws to a close.

Director Mulvaney and his team at OMB have put forward an exciting and ambitious plan to merge the Departments of Education and Labor so that we can holistically think about the role of education and the workforce.

And Administrator McMahon has been traveling around the country and listening to the needs of small business, which now, for the first time in a very long time, now that deregulation has occurred and tax cuts have occurred, are citing the lack of skilled labor as their number-one constraint to growth.

In addition to this U.S. government council, an advisory board co-chaired by Secretary Ross — thank you, Secretary — will bring together some of the most prominent employers and the country’s largest employers to create public-private partnerships and develop recommendations for the implementation of this national workforce strategy.

Recognizing that the American workforce is our country’s greatest national asset, tomorrow, President Trump will call upon the private sector and industry leaders to do their part and invest in the advancement in our current and future workforce.

We are asking them to sign a pledge — a pledge to the American worker — and commit to expanding apprenticeships, increase on-the-job training, and providing Americans from high school to those near retirement with concrete opportunities and to obtain the skills that will enable them to contribute to the economy and provide for themselves and their families.

We’ll also continue this campaign.  And Secretary Ross and I will continue to engage the private sector to have more and more people sign this pledge and affirm their support.

Whether it’s opportunities for high school students who learn the skills to go straight into a job and avoid incurring student debt, or a mid-to-late career worker who needs to be retrained because their job is at risk of being lost to automation, we have to be thinking about the whole spectrum as we think about lifelong learning.  And we need to engage the private sector to be our partner in that.

These are real jobs, and these are new opportunities for growth.  And we are confident that industry will partner with us to accomplish our goals of filling all vacant jobs with qualified workers.

Following this launch of this initiative, we’ll continue to press these companies.  But also, we’ll work with governors and ensure that as the President visits states across the country, that they are mobilizing their largest employers to also sign the pledge and affirm their commitment to the American worker.

I look forward to working with each of you in this room and the private sector to ensure that Americans are all provided with opportunities to thrive in this booming economy.

I’d also like to thank the great team at DPC — Kara, Andrew Bremberg, for their help — Chris Liddell, and, of course, the Vice President, who has been such a champion on this issue during his time as Governor of Indiana and has implemented so many great workforce training programs in his state.  So thank you for your leadership and thank you, President Trump, for enabling us to really develop this holistic solution and empower every American worker with the opportunity to thrive.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you very much.  Wow.  So if that were Ivanka Smith, the press would say, “That was totally brilliant” — (laughter) — “we’ve never seen anything like that.”

As Ivanka Trump, they’ll say, “Eh, she was okay.”  (Laughter.)  That was great.

TRUMP:  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  That was really great.  Unbelievable.

I just wanted to tell you that we have had very good sessions with Mexico and with the new President of Mexico who won overwhelmingly.  And we’re doing really well on our trade agreement.  So we’ll see what happens.  We may do it separately with Mexico, and we’ll negotiate with Canada at a later time.  But we’re having very good discussions with Mexico.

On July 25th, the leaders of the European Union will be coming to see us at the White House.  And as you know — I’ve made no bones about it — they have massive trade barriers where our farmers can’t sell there, for the most part.  They have other barriers on cars and lots of other things, even medical equipment where it’s very, very difficult to sell into the European Union.  And they’re going to be coming on July 25th to negotiate with us.

We said if we don’t negotiate something fair, then we have tremendous retribution, which we don’t want to use, but we have tremendous powers.  We have to.  Including cars.  Cars is the big one.  And you know what we’re talking about with respect to cars and tariffs on cars.  And they know better than you do.  They know better than all of us do what that means.

So they’re going to come and they’re going to try and negotiate a deal.  We have very good relationships with Jean-Claude and Donald — all of them.  But they’re going to be coming to the White House on July 25th.  So that will be very interesting to see what happens.

But Mexico is coming along very well.  We’ve had really, really good discussions with them.  And I think we can say that’s pretty far advanced.  It’s getting closer all the time.  Okay?

With that, I’d like to ask Secretary Acosta to take over the stage and say a few words.  Mr. Secretary.  You’re doing a fantastic job, by the way —

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  — in case nobody has told you that.

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Well, as you mentioned, you have a tremendous, tremendous economy.  Record-low unemployment; the Federal Reserve is estimating it’s going to go even lower.  And this is the first time, since we’ve kept the data, that we have more open jobs than jobs seekers.

And so, we’ve been implementing the apprenticeships since your election.  There have been 300,000 new apprenticeships created, and I think this year we’ll see commitments for at least 300,000 additional apprenticeships.

THE PRESIDENT:  Great.

SECRETARY ACOSTA: We are working on prisoner reentry initiatives.  When an individual leaves prison, the best that we can do for the individual, the best that we can do for society, is help them find a job.  And we’re working very diligently on prisoner reentry initiatives.

We’re addressing the opioid crisis by incorporating job training and education within opioid centers.  So when someone leaves treatment, they’re ready for a job.

And we’re also looking at de-licensing initiatives.  The states have various occupational licenses, and that’s often a barrier to entry.  You signed the executive order on military spouses.  And that executive order took important steps to make it easier for military spouses to find jobs as the serviceperson moves from base to base, who are working for the Department of Defense.

More generally, state occupational licenses are a barrier to entry.  We have more than a million individuals who could be working right now, who, according to Federal Reserve studies, are not in the workforce because of state occupational licenses.  And that’s a problem.

And so we’re working very aggressively to bring more individuals into the workforce.  This month saw the first uptick in the unemployment rate.  And it’s important to highlight the reasons why.  More people found jobs, but for the first time, we’ve had a record number of people coming off the sidelines and saying, “We want jobs, too.”  And so 601,000 Americans said, “We are now ready to look for a job.”  And that is great news because people are starting to reengage and look for jobs, and that’s what this economy needs.

And so I think this initiative is going to build on the work we’ve all been doing, but bring us all together in a very unified way, so.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s really fantastic.  Could you maybe discuss, for just a moment — people coming out of prisons over the years have just been absolutely — they’ve had such a problem getting jobs.  And now, for the first time, maybe, ever — and, to a large extent, it’s because of the job we’ve done in creating all of this enthusiasm in the great economy — people are hiring people out of prison, and they’re loving it.

They’re — I’m hearing from — in one case, a friend of mine hired 10 people.  And of the 10 people — he didn’t give me the exact number, but I will tell you, he said, “These are incredible people.”  And it’s all because of the economy that he did it because he was having a hard time getting somebody.

So would you explain a little bit about what’s going on there?  Because it’s such a big topic, and it affects so many people.  And they have that aura that people did not like.  And all of the sudden, for the first chance, people — first time, really, people coming out of prison are able to get jobs and really have a very productive time for them and their families.  So you might want to explain that.

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  That’s right, Mr. President.  I was — I was out in Las Vegas about three weeks ago.  I was visiting with Jon Ponder, who spoke in the Rose Garden here, who runs Prisoners for Hope — a reentry program.  And he — and his program goes into the prisons and works with individuals, in cooperation with the prison system and the district attorney, to provide skills and education before someone leaves the prison.

And so, when they leave prison, they have a number of businesses that are working with this program that are ready to hire them.  And I spoke to the businesses that were there, and the businesses said, “We hire these individuals because they are great employees; because they’ve been in the prison system, they don’t want to go back, and they’re incredibly dedicated.

And, as impressive, they had some of the individuals who had been through the program — who have been in prison and now had jobs — and they said, “When we take a job, we’re taking it not just for us, but we’re taking it for those that are coming behind us.  Because if we mess up, if we don’t do a good job, we are costing not just our own job, but the jobs of all those others because the employer may not hire other former prisoners.”

And I thought that acceptance of responsibility by those former inmates — that it was not just for them, but for future inmates needing jobs — spoke to the quality of that one program, and spoke to the reason that so many employers in this program were successfully hiring.

I looked at the metrics of this program.  And the metrics — the employment rate for that program — was higher than a lot of colleges.  And that really says a lot about how successful many of these programs can be.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  Well, there’s never been a time like this for people coming out of prison getting jobs.  There’s never been anything close.  And so the economy is turning out to be our best friend.  So it’s really good.

Now, did you ever have so many cameras shooting you from the back?  And I’m watching you, and I’m saying, “Thank goodness he’s got a beautiful head of hair.”  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  And a little spot.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  You did a great job.  You’re doing a great job.

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:   And we appreciate it.

Secretary Ross.

SECRETARY ROSS:  Thank you, Mr. President.  The President’s tax cuts and regulatory reforms are creating a new wave of growth in our advanced manufacturing and technology industries, along with demand for thousands of skilled workers.  Our strength in the economy is a godsend for many millions of Americans who want to be part of the workforce, and who now have the opportunity to participate productively in our economy.

The lack of adequately trained workers is a major issue for American employers, and it is being addressed by this new council, of which I’m most honored to be a co-chair with Ivanka Trump, Secretary Acosta, and Andrew Bremberg.

Since November 2016, 876,000 new jobs have been created in industries that produce goods, including 411,000 construction jobs, 374,000 manufacturing, and 91,000 mining.  This past June alone, 53,000 new jobs were created in those industries, including 36,000 in manufacturing.  These sectors produced the wealth, the technological innovation, and high-paying jobs needed for a modern industrial economy.  It’s imperative that we keep this momentum going.

For example, Foxconn broke ground last month on a $10 billion factory in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin.  They’ll employ 13,000 workers making state-of-the-art LCD screens.  Foxconn and the hundreds of other companies that are expanding will need thousands of skilled workers adept at digital technologies not only on the factory floor, but throughout the entire business enterprise.

They will also need staff at the highest end of the skills spectrum, and we don’t have enough of them.  In 2016, there were 4,000 fewer full-time American STEM graduate students than there were in 2009.  But over the same period, the number of foreign full-time STEM graduate students has increased by almost 70,000, and they mostly returned to their home country after they finished their education.

The shortage of the most highly trained technologists and engineers is both an economic and a national security issue.  One of the biggest risks our employers and our military contractors face is having foreign nationals steal their important intellectual property and provide it to overseas governments.

Just last week, Apple filed criminal charges against one of its former Chinese employees for stealing IP about the company’s autonomous vehicle development program.  That engineer is accused of providing trade secrets to Apple’s principal competitor in China, XMotors.

Training thousands more Americans for these sophisticated engineering jobs would substantially reduce such risks.  But the burden of filling the skills gap is falling directly on employers.  Organizations with more than 100 employees spent $91 billion on worker training last year, almost 30 percent more than in 2016, and about one-half percent of our total economy.

These numbers echoed what we experienced on the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion.  That task force accomplished a great deal, as you heard from Secretary Acosta, outlining key reforms the Department of Labor is making to the apprenticeship system.

President Trump’s new executive order now creates the National Council for American Workers to look at systematic issues that span our entire education and training system, but also establishes a new American Workforce Policy Advisory Board to be housed at the Department of Commerce.  We will raise awareness of the job opportunities that are available for skilled American workers.  We will recognize the companies and organizations that are successfully closing the skills gap.  I look forward to chairing this new council with Secretary Acosta, Andrew Bremberg, and Ivanka Trump, and working with all the members of the council and with the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.

Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Wilbur.  That’s very good.

I thought I’d ask Secretary of State Pompeo to give us a little talk on some of our most recent activities.  And maybe you could also touch on North Korea just for a couple of minutes, Mike, if you don’t mind.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’ll do that, Mr. President.  Maybe I’ll start there, on North Korea.

THE PRESIDENT:  Fine.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So I traveled to Pyongyang for the third time.  We made progress on some issues.  There’s a lot of work to do.  It may take some time to get where we need to go, but all of this will be taking place against the backdrop of continued enforcement of the existing sanctions.

The North Koreans reaffirmed their commitment to denuclearize.  We’re making progress along the border to get the return of remains, a very important issue for those families.  We think in the next couple of weeks we’ll have the first remains returned.  That’s the commitment.  So progress certainly being made there.

Still a fair amount of work to do, but a very hopeful place that we find ourselves with making this strategic change for North Korea and giving them an opportunity for a brighter future for their people.

Mr. President, I’ll turn to the trip to NATO.  I was with you in Brussels.  I’ve known this NATO issue since I was a young soldier.  It’s been a while.  And this is the first time I have seen the leaders of NATO understand fully the responsibility they have to make sure that they spend the money they need to protect themselves from the threat from Russia.

The President, as everyone knows, made clear this obligation — he made clear out continued commitment to support them but also the need for appropriate burden sharing.  And we saw real progress.  I had my counterpart foreign ministers and heads of state say to me they take this obligation seriously, they understand President Trump’s view of this, and the fact that their continued increase in their defense spending will make their countries safer and make NATO stronger.  So I think a fantastic outcome from the day and a half that we all spent there led by the President in Brussels.

I then departed your trip and went to Mexico City.  Led a delegation along with Secretary Mnuchin, Secretary Nielsen, and Jared.  We met with President Peña Nieta — Peña Nieto — and the incoming President, López Obrador.  But again, there are many issues on our plate.  We have made clear to them that the migration issue must be resolved, that we need to have strong borders.

We talked to them about trade, and there will be more, I think, in the coming days to talk about the progress we’re making on trying to resolve the issues on NAFTA.  I’m very hopeful there.

And we talked about all the other issues between our two countries and really set the tone that followed the President’s conversation with the President-elect just shortly after the ballots were counted in Mexico.  It was really remarkable to see the Mexican government transition in a way that demonstrated democracy.  No protests in the streets.  It was a compliment to both President Peña Nieto and President Obrador for conducting an election in the way that they did, with respect.

And then I traveled to join the President in Helsinki.  Had the chance to meet with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov.  And the President’s discussion with President Putin set the conditions where we can find overlapping space: counterterrorism; the Russians on the treaties that they’re in violation of.  Plus, we can now begin to have important dialogues to put that relationship in a place where we reduce the risk to the United States from threats from Russia.

So I think, overall, a very positive set of meetings we’ve had over the last 10 days, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Great job, Mike.  Thank you very much.

Betsy, go ahead.

SECRETARY DEVOS:  Well, thank you, Mr. President.  Back to the issue of workforce development.  And thank you for your commitment to leading opportunity for all American workers.

As we know, when we look at our K-12 system and of those young people coming up, our country has fallen behind our international competitors.  Today, in our PISA scores, we are 23rd in reading, 25th in science, and 40th in math.  We have significant opportunity to improve things for young people.  And there’s essentially a fundamental disconnect between education today and the preparation of our young people and today’s economy and the opportunities there.

What we’re doing and what we’re working toward from a higher-ed perspective is working with Congress to authorize short-term Pell Grants that can be used for some of the programs that Secretary Acosta has alluded to.  Today, there are fewer and fewer traditional students pursuing higher education.  We need to acknowledge that.  We also need to acknowledge that there are many more innovative ways to provide education opportunities to students.  And so we are working on reforming accreditation and regulations that stifle innovation and creativity when it comes to higher education.

We are deploying the $200 million that you have suggested be invested in the STEM education, and the competitive program will be up and running this fall.  We are working closely with Congress and with Secretary Acosta to reauthorize the Perkins Act, which will again provide more opportunities to access these opportunities both in high school — as early as high school — and then into higher ed.

We also are working to support the proposed merger between the Departments of Labor and Education, knowing that our future really depends on a nation that is prepared; people that are prepared for the opportunities that are not only here today, but that will be with us tomorrow.

And so I look forward to working with my fellow Cabinet members to pursue these opportunities and options.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, Betsy.

Secretary Azar, could you maybe just spend a little time on talking about what we’re doing about drug pricing?

SECRETARY AZAR:  Absolutely.  Thank you, Mr. President.  So we, of course, last year approved a record number of generic drugs, saving consumers over $8 billion to the system so far.  We also changed how we pay for drugs, reducing out-of-pocket expenditures for seniors by $320 million a year for our senior citizens.

We had a whole suite of legislative proposals that we are waiting on Congress to enact that would reform our senior drug discount program to reduce out-of-pocket spending and to put more of the burden on the middlemen who run those programs.

We have our blueprint for prescription drug pricing that we rolled out a couple of months ago.  We just closed the comment period on that a couple of days ago.  So we’ve received over 3,000 comments.  We want to go into this; this is a complex area.  We’re talking about the complete restructuring and reform of $400 billion of the American economy.  President Trump is doing it the right way, which is seeking input from experts.  We got that input.  We are right, over the next several weeks, going to be rolling out several major initiatives as part of the drug-pricing plan.

Last week, we already announced that we will be reducing what we pay for new drugs in the senior drug program when new drugs come on the market, reducing the amount that we pay for those already.

We, yesterday, announced a major reform of our over-the-counter program so that every citizen can get drugs cheaper and without a prescription.

This morning, we rolled out our biosimilar strategy.  So that’s to create a generic-like market for these high-cost biologic products.  So that — Commissioner Gottlieb rolled out just this morning.

And over the next several days, we’ve got a whole suite of actions coming, which I will not give the media the benefit of until it comes out.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s great.  And Pfizer, as you know, had a major drug price increase.  And we spoke to them — and I have great respect for the company and for its leader — and they rolled it back to zero.  And we very much appreciate what Pfizer did.  We didn’t like the increase, but we liked what they did.  They responded properly.  So we appreciate that very much.

Linda McMahon, please.

ADMINISTRATOR MCMAHON:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Well, clearly to reiterate part of what’s been said this morning: The tax cuts, regulatory rollback have clearly created a boom in our economy.  Small businesses are growing.

But when I travel around the country and listen to these small businesses, I hear also about the lack of skilled workers for them.  And if you can respect the position of small businesses, as big businesses grow, as they’re raising wages, as they’re making better benefits not only to attract perhaps workers from other big businesses to come work for them, the small-business guy gets crushed a little bit because he can’t compete with that increase in wages and the increase in benefits.

So how are we going to help our small businesses?  And as you’ve said many times, small businesses are big business.  Thirty million of you in our country.  They are the backbone of the economy.  So what SBA is helping to focus on is the training of a skilled workforce.  Now, we’re going to put together a nationwide plan for helping support incubators around the country and accelerators, because they really — and makerspaces — they’re doing incredible jobs of training the workforce coming out.

And so as we go into these incubators, small businesses are already growing there.  How do we take them from that position, putting them into the workforce?  They are actually providing them more and more of the skilled workers.

So I think it’s going to be a great plan to coordinate that on a nationwide basis and through our incubators.  I’ve seen it working and I’ve also seen a lot of what’s been discussed today about the apprenticeships and the programs that Betsy has been working on with Education.

I was actually in Charleston, West Virginia yesterday and I was touring this small business, Alpha Technologies, but they are located on the campus of Bridgeway [sic] Community and Technical College.  On that campus, one whole area of technical innovation is being sponsored by one of the local manufacturers.  And when you go in, all of the equipment that’s in that training program at the community college is being provided by the business.  The workers come and work — spend two days on campus, three days at the company.  They’re earning about $40,000 through the whole period of being in school.  So they’re graduating with the skill that company needs, and they can move right from the community college, right into the business.

And I think that’s the kind of program that we’re going to see fostering because it is that calibration that we’re looking for so that businesses get the kind of skilled worker they need by the public-private partnership.

So all in all, it’s such a good story everywhere.  And I keep hearing, you know, many thanks for the tax cuts, regulatory rollback, because it is absolutely energizing what’s going on.

THE PRESIDENT:  So Linda McMahon has done an incredible job.  And I have to say, because I’ve known her and her husband, Vince, for a long time — they built a great business.  And Linda was a very big part of it.  For those of you that don’t know, I know.  She was a very, very big part of it.  So thank you for what you’re doing.

MCMAHON:  Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Doing a fantastic job.

Ben Carson, say a few words about HUD, please.

SECRETARY CARSON:  Well, one of the big initiatives that’s been going on recently is we’ve put together a Section 3 task force.  Section 3 of the Fair Housing Act says that if you’re receiving HUD funding, there is an obligation to hire, train, or give contracts to the low-income people in that area.

People have found all kinds of reasons to get around it.  But we’ve almost finished reformulating it so that we remove a lot of the barriers that disincentivize people form utilizing it.

THE PRESIDENT:  Right.

SECRETARY CARSON:  And I think that’s going to make a huge difference.  And also, with the EnVision Centers, we’re going to be gathering the information about all of the apprenticeship programs and training programs so that when somebody comes in, you know, they’re not confused.  We’ll have people who will help shepherd them because we have a tremendous workforce out there just waiting to be trained.  And if we make it available to them, I think a lot of them will take advantage of it.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you, Ben.  Really appreciate it.

If I could ask, because it’s very much in the news — Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture.  I love the farmers and we’re breaking down barriers.  One of the things I’m doing is, you know, with these trade deals that have been so unfair to our farmers and to our workers, and to our companies from other countries, we’re talking about it all the time and we’re breaking down barriers so that our farmers can sell their goods to other countries like they sell their goods to us.

And one of the examples is Canada; they charge us on dairy products, 275 percent tariff.  A 275 percent.  It’s just not appropriate.  It’s not fair.  And there’s a big imbalance, even though a lot of people don’t think there is.  But there is a big imbalance between Canada and the United States in terms of surplus and deficit.

But perhaps you could talk a little bit about the farmer.  And I think they understand exactly what we’re doing.  And we’re doing it as rapidly as possible, and we’re taking some strong measures.  But it’s not fair when — I won’t mention specific countries, but you know the ones I’m talking about — when certain countries have barriers that make it impossible for our farmers to sell into those countries and yet they sell all sorts of products into ours unrestricted.  Very unfair.

Sonny.

SECRETARY PERDUE:  Your farmers in America, Mr. President, understand that you’re taking this fight on their behalf.  I used the metaphor yesterday: It’s a little bit like weight loss; it’s a little painful in the meantime but they’re looking forward to being a — winning later on.  (Laughter.)  So I think they understand that.

Obviously, you may not name those countries but you’ve talked about in the past the EU and China playing very unfairly with the non-tariff barriers they’ve had in place for many years and many ways.

And our patriot farmers understand that you’re the first one to attack this.  They’re very anxiously awaiting the wins, and we hope that the deal with Mexico and then Canada can come along very quickly behind that.  But they’re with you.  They’re hurting, actually, economically.  They are strong American values, and they believe that you are an American-first President and they want to be with you.  We just need to help their pocketbooks.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I am.  And I will say that if you look at soybeans — I looked at a chart the other day that came out recently just prior to the election.  Five years before that, soybeans have been cut in half, price wise.

Now, I’ve only been here for little more than a year and a half with Mike.  But I will tell you, soybean is way down over a five-year period, prior to the election.  So something has to be done.

And you know that over a 15-year period, pricing and farms and everything else has been very much trending down.  So we’re going to straighten that out.  And they have to bear with us.  But they are — they’re great American patriots and they really — they really are something.  They’re very special people.

Mike, would you like to say something?  Mike Pence.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thanks, Mr. President.  And as I told you yesterday, good to have you back.  After a successful week of international engagement, it should come as no surprise to the American people that you are right back here at the White House focusing on American jobs.

And I truly believe that we’re here in large measure because of the connection that you made to working Americans.  And I truly do believe that this government-wide initiative that you will set into motion tomorrow with the Council for American Workers, bringing together a broad range of Cabinet agencies, is a reflection of the promises that we made to working Americans.

It is remarkable to think that we’re at a time where there are more job openings in America than there are people looking for jobs.  But the efforts that are reflected here, I think, demonstrate that you’re a President and this is an administration that believes that all honest work is honorable.  I’ve seen the way you interact with working Americans across this country.  You love people that know how to make things and grow things.  And this commitment to skills education and vocational education, I think, is a reflection of that.

And I’m very excited to be working with you on it.  Having had the experience of working in this area a bit when I was Governor of Indiana, I see how enthusiastic the American people are for this.

And I especially want to — I want to thank Ivanka Trump for her work in this area, bringing together all these various agencies and all the Cabinet members who are working so much.  I truly do believe that this will be a centerpiece and a legacy long after we finish our work here that will pay dividends for prosperity in America.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think so, Mike.  I do think so.

Thank you all very much.  Appreciate it.

Q    Mr. President, is Russia still targeting the U.S.?  Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  No.

Q    No, you don’t believe that to be the case?

THE PRESIDENT:  No.

Thank you very much everybody.

Q    But can you just clarify, you don’t believe that to be the case?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re doing very well.  Let me tell you, we’re doing very well.  And we’re doing very well, probably as well as anybody has ever done with Russia.  And there’s been no President ever as tough as I have been on Russia.  All you have to do is look at the numbers.  Look at what we’ve done.  Look at sanctions.  Look at ambassadors not there.  Look, unfortunately, at what happened in Syria recently.  And I think President Putin knows that better than anybody, certainly a lot better than the media.  He understands it.  And he’s not happy about it, and he shouldn’t be happy about it — because there’s never been a President as tough on Russia as I have been.

Okay, thank you very much.  Thank you very much.

END

12:22 P.M. EDT