South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building

2:20 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, it’s a great honor to be with you. And, Secretary Chao, you’ve been so fantastic in so many ways. Transportation — it’s just moving along. And you’ve done a fantastic job for me and for the country. And I appreciate all that you do.

And I shouldn’t say it because it always causes a problem, but we just don’t have any problems there. It goes so smooth. And you’re a very special person. Thank you very much, Elaine. Really appreciate it. (Applause.)

It’s a true honor to host so many great leaders from Alaska, California, and Hawaii. In particular, I want to thank the President of the National Association of Counties and a member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, Greg Cox. (Applause.) Greg, thanks. Go ahead, stand up. Yeah, that’s good. Thank you, Greg.

Also, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler is joining us. Where is Andrew? Andrew is here someplace. I saw him back there. Thank you, Andrew. Thank you very much.

Since I first took office, my administration has made it a priority to invite county commissioners from across the United States to the White House. Very, very important people to me and to a lot of other people. Perhaps to some people, you’re not important. But, to us, you’ll always be important, okay? (Applause.) We know where it’s at. We know where it’s at.

I am pleased to say that more than 3,700 local officials from all 50 states have now participated in a White House State Leadership Conference.

In recent weeks, we have seen the crucial importance of state, local, and federal partnerships. Natural disasters have struck states across the nation, including each of yours — and very heavily in your states. In every instance, our joint response and recovery efforts have been critical to saving lives and rebuilding communities.

The White House State Leadership Conference is a perfect venue for us to share priorities and to forge partnerships.

This is a truly exciting time for America. You’ve heard me say this before, but we just got the World Economic Forum the recognition that the United States has reclaimed its rightful place, after many years of being off the list, as the most competitive economy anywhere in the world. Nice. (Applause.) We’re back. It’s a big statement.

And if you look at consumer confidence, we’re at the top of every list. We’re setting records in terms of that, too. But we got back on the list in the number-one position and world’s most competitive.

Following the passage of our massive tax cuts and regulation cuts, the unemployment rate has fallen to the lowest level in more than 50 years — 5-0. We have — (applause). Great.

We have created more than 4.2 million new jobs and lifted over 4 million Americans off of food stamps. So — (applause) — that’s a great number.

Median household income in 2017 was the highest level ever recorded. (Applause.)

Hispanic American household income reached an all-time high, historic level. Hispanic American poverty and African American poverty have reached an all-time low. The lowest levels ever. (Applause.) That’s great.

Hispanic American, African American, and Asian American unemployment all recently achieved their lowest rates ever recorded in the history of our country. (Applause.) That’s pretty great.

We’ve reached a deal to replace NAFTA. And, as you know, I wasn’t a big fan of NAFTA. I think it’s one of the worst trade deals ever entered into. I rate it second; I won’t tell you what the first is. (Laughter.) There’s another one that’s actually worse. And I won’t tell you it’s the WTO. Okay? I refuse to tell you the name. (Laughter.) But that’s a total disaster, also. I refuse to say what it is, though. Keep it quiet. Am I allowed to say “off the record”? Let’s see. (Laughter.)

And we have a tremendous new deal with — so, with the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The “USMCA,” we call it. I didn’t want the “NAFTA” name on it, because I saw what NAFTA did many years ago to towns and factories and businesses; and what it did to the car companies where — not so much to companies — to Michigan, and Ohio, and Pennsylvania and Kentucky and so many other places where these companies just left the United States. And we still have empty factories all over the place from that devastation of NAFTA.

Well, we have just the opposite: the USMCA. One of the strongest things about that, you’re not going to have companies leaving anymore, because they have a dis-incentive to leave. I don’t want them to leave. (Applause.)

Call me a “nationalist” if you’d like, but I don’t want companies leaving. I don’t want them firing all their people, going to another country, making a product, sending it into our country — tax-free, no charge, no tariff, no nothing. And in the meantime, we end up with empty plants, unemployment all over the place. We end up with nothing. So those deals are not happening anymore.

We also completed a wonderful new deal with South Korea. This was a deal that the previous administration did. And they promised 250,000 jobs. They said, “This will create 250,000 new jobs.” And they were right — for South Korea, not for us. (Laughter.) They produced 250,000 jobs; we got nothing, except loss. So we’ve renegotiated the deal with South Korea. Now, it’s a reasonable deal.

Just last week, I signed a presidential memorandum to dramatically improve the reliable supply and delivery of water critical to states like California. (Applause.) It’s one of the most ridiculous things. I saw it on the campaign trail, and I saw it numerous times. But I was out in that area — actually with Congressman Devin Nunes, who is a terrific guy, and some of the congressmen that, right now, are out there so happy at what I signed.

And I look at these incredible, beautiful fields, and they’re dry. It’s like dry as a bone. And I see hundreds and hundreds of acres as far as the eye could see, and then you’d have a little, tiny, little green patch in the corner. Just beautiful — green. It’s so beautiful. So rich.

And I said, “Huh, what’s going on? You have this little patch, and then you have all this dry, horrible…” — really, to me, it was horrible. It was all dry land. And they said — I said, “You must have a tremendous drought going on.” This is like, three and a half, four years ago. I said, “You must have a tremendous drought going on.”

They said, “No, we have so much water, we don’t know what to do with it. But they don’t let the water come down to us. It naturally flows to us. They won’t let it — they send it out into the Pacific Ocean. Millions and millions and millions of gallons. We have the greatest farmland anywhere in the world, but they won’t give us water. So the only areas are if we take little spots on these massive areas of land.”

I could see it. I’m driving down the highway and I’m saying — after, like, 10 minutes of looking at all this barren — and then a little spot of beautiful. So green. I’ve never forgotten it.

And I said, “What’s going on here?” But I assumed it was a drought. They said, “No. The government, state and federal, send the water out into the Pacific.” I believe he said they’re trying to protect a smelt. Little, tiny — which, by the way, is doing very poorly. (Laughter.) It’s doing very poorly. Nobody knows what a smelt is. I still don’t know what a smelt is. But it’s doing very poorly. It really is a terrible thing.

I said, “So, let me ask you…” And they have a — they have a — like a valve, but massive. Like from a faucet, but massive. And they turn it and the water goes pouring, Elaine, out into the Pacific Ocean, where it means nothing. Like, like a drop. For the Pacific, it’s a drop. For the farmers, it’s like we have more water, more economic development than anything you can do in the state of California.

So it left a great impression. And I told them, I said, “Listen, if I win the nomination…” — this was during — before I got the nomination — “…and if I go on to victory, I’m going to come back and revisit this. This is a seriously defective thing going on.” I thought they had a drought. I said — you know, I didn’t realize. They said, “No, we have so much water, we don’t know what to do with it.”

Then you have all the forest fires burning. We have so much water, they could actually water some of it. And of course, Secretary Zinke — I’m sure he talked about management. Because, you know, we’re tired of giving California hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars all the time for their forest fires, when you wouldn’t have them if they managed their forests properly. They don’t. They have lousy management.

And the environmentalists are, you know, doing something very bad. They won’t let us take the logs. They won’t let us take the dead trees. It’s all a mess.

And if you did it properly — I was in another state I won’t mention, but I was in another state where they have tremendous forests and it’s a very well-managed state. And they maintain their property. And when a tree dies, it doesn’t sit there dry as a bone; rotting; and, if a little spark hits it, the whole — they lose 200,000 acres.

And they’ve tested and they did — and, basically, it’s almost — you can’t lose anything when you maintain. They sometimes have a grass burn-off underneath the tree; doesn’t affect the tree. Doesn’t last long enough to light the tree. And they said, “We had two areas we checked. One was where we let it be, like the California where they have such a disaster. And the other was where we cleaned and managed the forests.

We lit one; we lost a half an acre. We lit the other; we lost like — I don’t know what he said — like 100,000 — it was out of control. And these guys are really good with this. But they did it as an experiment. They lost a tremendous — thousands and thousands of acres. We couldn’t put it out, they said.

So, California, get on the ball. Because we’re not going to hand you any more money. It’s ridiculous, okay? (Applause.)

So with the water, we’re looking at that. I mean, we’re not only looking, it’s going to be approved. We’re — Andrew Wheeler, EPA, is working on it; and Zinke; and everybody. We’re going to have that approved fast. And the state has to approve it too. And I hope the state will do it. You know, in California, it might be tough, but they have to do it. They have to do it.

Do you know the kind of money you’re talking about for the state and for the federal government? You’re talking about an area that’s not doing well, to an area that would be the most robust farmland in — anywhere in the world.

Because I’ve heard — I don’t know, you people are nodding like you know exactly what I’m talking about. I hear it’s the finest land there is for growing things. But they took away the water. You know, it’s artificial. They took it away. Do you understand? Am I correct? Do you want to stand up? You look like you know exactly what you’re talking about. I don’t know who he is, but that’s okay. (Laughter.) Good-looking man. Nice-looking man. (Laughter.) Go ahead. Go ahead.

PARTICIPANT: We’re from the Central Valley. Thank you. As a farmer —

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, you’re Central Valley?

PARTICIPANT: Yes sir.

THE PRESIDENT: That’s great.

PARTICIPANT: Congressman David Valadao’s district —

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

PARTICIPANT: Yeah. Congressman Valadao and Congressman Nunez’s districts.

THE PRESIDENT: It’s true.

PARTICIPANT: And we can’t tell you — you know the disaster that’s occurring there. Unfortunately, for me, because of a lack of water, three generations — my family, we sold the farm two years ago because of a lack of water.

THE PRESIDENT: And you used to have the water, right?

PARTICIPANT: We used to have water. Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT: They turned it off. They literally turned the water off.

PARTICIPANT: Yeah. So we just can’t thank you enough. You kept your campaign commitment to help us.

THE PRESIDENT: I did.

PARTICIPANT: And we truly appreciate that.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we have to get the state bill to get it approved. (Applause.)

Now we have to get — now we have to get the — you know, I didn’t know I’d be doing this. To be honest with you, we stuck on this point. But it has such — especially with the commissioners and every — we have to get the state to approve their share. The amount of jobs you’re talking about is an enormous. The amount of economic development — the hundreds of millions of dollars. And it’ll be better maintained, much better maintained.

Yes, please.

PARTICIPANT: Yeah, so it also created another industry which is, selling the water. So they put a value on our water. And as a fourth-generation farmer myself, I had to buy the water for my family. So I had to pay $6,000 an acre-foot to buy this water. So over a million dollars to farm 187 acres.

THE PRESIDENT: So horrible, isn’t it?

PARTICIPANT: So that doesn’t make any sense. So it created another industry. So now some people in the Southern California are paying $5,000 an acre-foot for water when they shouldn’t be paying that. It’s too much money.

So it’s putting counties at each other’s throat too. So what you did is a — I can’t put it in words.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I know California well. And I see houses, beautiful houses — people are very proud of their house. Their lawn is brown. (Laughter.) It’s dead. It’s dying. It’s dead. And they end up taking it out and just have sand in front of their houses. And they have so much water, they don’t know what to do with it. It’s so crazy.

And you’re lucky, you have the climate and you have the — and you have the heat. But you have the water. Very few climates have that. Most climates like that don’t’ have water; you do. You have so much you don’t know what to do with it. It is a disgrace.

So on behalf of all of the congressmen that I signed with the other day — and I hear, in California, it was very well received. The people want it. The only ones that don’t are a couple of environmentalists that probably get paid huge amounts of money for being consultants — I know that business better than anybody in the world — (laughter) — and some of the politicians that probably think it’s popular, what they’re doing. And it’s not; it’s the opposite. That’s one of the great examples.

Okay, you tell the people we’re with them and, whatever we have to do to push the state, we will do to push the state. And those congressmen that stood behind me — those people are great people. They’re not doing it for themselves. They’re great people. They just know what’s right and wrong.

So good luck. We will be pushing. Okay? Thank you. (Applause.) It’s amazing. Thank you. And thank you for being here.

Later today, I’m going to sign America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which authorizes important investments in ports and harbors and waterways and levees and water systems in communities all across our country.

I was in Texas last night, where we had a seriously amazing crowd of people. (Laughter.) We had over 100,000 people sign up to hear a speech. So they want to hear something. You know, they’re waiting. They’re tired of what’s been happening for so many years.

And big oil — they can’t get ships into harbors because they can’t get permits to drain. And is Andrew Wheeler here someplace? Because I’m going to ask Andrew to get that done right away. If you — if Andrew could just step up, I’ll ask Andrew to get that done. And their ports — where is he?

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER: Right behind you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, come here, Andrew. (Laughter and applause.)

ACTING-SECRETARY WHEELER: Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: He’s Acting, but he’s going — he’s doing well, right? So maybe he won’t be so Acting so long — Andrew — especially if he gets this done. (Laughter.)

So, in Texas, they can’t get the big ships in because they need to dredge a couple of feet. Standard stuff. They can’t get the permits. It’s not for months; they’ve been trying for years. But the ships have gotten much bigger and probably with the silt, it’s gone up a little bit.

But if you could work with the state of Texas, and I’ll give you the names, they were just — last night. They say the cost of this is enormous what it’s costing not to do it. The dredging is very — but they need dredging. You may have heard about it. You may know it.

But whatever you can do for the great state of Texas. This way they can bring the giant ships right in, fill them up, and they go out.

ACTING ADMINISTRATOR WHEELER: We will get that done, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: And it’ll be a tremendous difference. It will sell a lot more oil. We have now become the number-one energy source in the world. Can you believe it? In the last little while. If you could do that, Andrew, okay? (Applause.)

Thank you. He’ll get it done.

To expand — boy, we’re getting a lot done. I was just going to say a few words. (Laughter.) I was going to say a few words, and get out of here and say — now I’ve fulfilled my function to Elaine and to Kellyanne. Where’s Kellyanne? Our great Kellyanne. She’s so good. She’s — they’re all backstage here. I think they’re all looking for something exciting. Oh, she’s speaking? Isn’t she after me?

AUDIENCE: Yes!

THE PRESIDENT: Oh. That’s going to be interesting. (Applause.) Oh. She’s speaking. Maybe I’ll have to hang around and hear her speak. (Laughter.) She’s terrific.

To expand opportunity for all citizens, we are also focused on vocational education. To me, very important. (Applause.) Very important. And I’m proud to have signed into law the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. That’s a long name, but good name. And I love the name “vocational.”

You know, when I was growing up, we had vocational schools. Today you have community college. I’m trying to say, “Well, a community college — what do they teach? English and Latin and — what are they teaching?” The old days, we had vocational schools. And I’d go to school with people who knew — weren’t necessarily good students, but they could go outside after school hours and take away a car engine, take apart electric motors, take apart their — and nobody else — the best student in the class didn’t even know what they’re doing. They had no clue. But they were great at that, and that’s what they liked to do.

And we’ve gotten rid of vocational schools and we’ve replaced them with community colleges. We need vocational schools. It’s great money.

I mean, did you see a recent study came out? They earn more than a lot of the white-collar people that go out and they work behind a desk. They’re doing better. And that’s their ability, and that’s what they want to do. So we have to bring back vocational schools. Use that name. I think it’s a much better name.

Our Pledge to America’s Workers has also resulted — and Ivanka Trump worked so hard on this — in employers committing to train more than 4 million Americans. And that number is now up substantially. These are the company’s training.

One of the most important areas of state and federal cooperation is public safety. In the past, and if you look at post-9/11 era, we know how capital — and how critical it is to have a seamless cooperation between all levels of law enforcement. And I want to specially thank the community leaders here today we have expressed their support for working with federal immigration authorities. So important. So great. (Applause.)

And a lot of times you’re not allowed to do it, by some bad leadership in various states. You have some bad leadership, but you know what the right thing to do is. So I want to thank all of those people that work with federal immigration authorities to remove gang members, drug dealers, and criminals from your community. Sounds like a pretty easy thing to do, I think. (Applause.)

So what do they do? They say, “No, we don’t want gang members removed from the community”? “We don’t want — we don’t want criminals removed.” I guess, right? Someday, you’ll have to explain the politics of that, okay? Because I don’t’ get it. I don’t’ think too many people in this room do either because you know what you’re doing at the highest level. But I appreciate you working with the authorities.

My administration is also working closely with state and local leaders to save the lives of those suffering from the scourge of drug addiction, by taking historic action to confront the opioid epidemic, and also the drug epidemic. I mean, just the drug — generally — epidemic.

Since last year, the totally number of opioid prescriptions has decreased by 17 percent. And we’re very — working very hard on the drug problem.

You see what’s going on on the border. You see how bad the immigration laws are given to us — thank you very much — by the Democrats. They’re the dumbest laws anywhere in the world. Dumbest immigration laws anywhere in the world. There’s nothing — catch-and-release.

You know what catch-and-release is? (Applause.) You catch a criminal, you take his name, and you release him. Release him. You know where we release him? Into the United States. Supposed to come back for a trial two or three years later because the judges — you know, you need thousands of judges. How do you have judges for that many people? It’s so ridiculous.

Another country doesn’t do that. They say, “I’m sorry, I can’t come in. You can’t come in.” Once they set a foot on our land, it’s like, “Welcome to the United States.” It is the dumbest. We’re changing it. But we need Republicans. We need people — or Democrats that have common sense, or Democrats that aren’t going to listen to their bosses, because that’s what it is.

But you see what’s happening. And you see the drugs they pour into our country through many different ways, but many through the southern border. And we’re taking care of it.

You also see what’s coming up. We have a lot of people coming up. We can’t let that happen. We either have a border or we don’t. We need a wall. We’ve put up some of the wall. We do it as fast it comes.

The money comes in; we are building. And San Diego — for those of you that are from San Diego — (applause) — they were begging us for a wall. I said, “Maybe we’ll leave it until the end.” Because they wanted it so badly. They’re strong politically. But I said, “Look, let’s get it done.” And we’ve done a great job with building it, and it’s had a tremendous impact on San Diego. And I’m not sure; I think the people will tell you that. But I’m not sure that the governor would tell you that or any of that.

We’re in a system that’s so political that they don’t want to do what’s right if it’s politically good for them. And the fact is, I actually think it’s bad politically for them; they just don’t realize it. And maybe that’s why we’re here and they’re there. Maybe that’s why. Maybe that’s why. Could be. (Laughter and applause.)

But last year, ICE — they’re very brave, brave people — and Customs and Border Patrol seized more than 2.8 million pounds of illicit and deadly narcotics. Early estimates show that, in 2017 and 2018, fentanyl — a real horrible situation with fentanyl — seizures were more than four times higher than the previous two years. We’re working very hard on that. Even going through the postal systems, we’re working very hard. You saw the change we made last week.

On these initiatives and so many others, we’re working hand in hand with your state and local leaders: you. And we’re getting tremendous cooperation. I appreciate it very much because otherwise we can’t beat — you can’t beat this problem. The state people are so important to what we’re doing. We’re committed to a future of safety, opportunity, and prosperity for all Americans, from California, to Hawaii, to Alaska, to every state in our magnificent Union.

Thank you all for being here. Thank you all for your incredible service. We really appreciate it. We’re going to work with you so hard and so strong. And any problems, you call — just call me direct. Why not? I’m here. Okay? (Laughter and applause.) I’m here. But we will work with you 100 percent.

Thank you all very much. You do a fantastic job. Thank you. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much.

END 2:42 P.M. EDT