Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue en route Cedar Rapids, IA | June 21, 2017
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Cedar Rapids, Iowa
5:12 P.M. CDT
MS. WALTERS: Good evening, everybody. As you all know, we're on our way to Cedar Rapids, where the President will highlight precision agriculture and discuss trade. Lots of people associate technology with only Silicon Valley, but, actually, there are many other sectors of our economy that are taking advantage of technological advances, including agriculture.
We're going to be visiting Kirkwood Community College, which is one of the first programs to have an associate's degree is precision agriculture. The President, along with Secretary Perdue, Secretary Ross, and Ambassador Branstad will be engaging with some of the people who are bringing cutting-edge technology to the ag sector.
With me today I have Secretary Perdue. I'm going to walk you through the rest of the evening, take a few questions, and then I will hand it over to the Secretary to give you more in-depth details on how technology plays an active role in the agriculture sector and the importance of us being in Iowa.
Today, while we're in Iowa, you're going to hear the President talk about this precision agriculture and what it means for the agricultural community to be advancing to the technological age of tomorrow, and how this is going to help farmers ensure the highest yield of crop production each year.
This is not only about the equipment, it's also about the data that they're going to be able to collect. And with this data, one component is Internet access availability -- you know, Internet connectivity -- are you able to take this data that you're collecting and then be able to do something with it.
And so you're going to hear in the President's speech later today not only the discussion around the importance of advancing agriculture, but also this broadband connectivity in rural communities so that they have the access to modern-day technology both in the equipment and when it comes to cellular usage and data. And so what he's going to be doing is reinforcing his commitment to working with Congress to do what's needed to be able to help bring you this Internet connectivity to rural communities, as well as, as you all know, we are sending off the favored son of Iowa, former Governor Branstad.
And so the President is going to be bidding him farewell while we are at the event at Kirkwood College. While there, he will highlight the fact that, as Senator Grassley said, Branstad has been an ambassador for the people of Iowa. And now going to China as a skilled negotiator, he will be an ambassador for all American people as he looks at trade. And that's an important thing -- the President has spoken to the importance that trade holds for the American people and that relationship -- to have an ambassador with such skills over in China, advocating for all American people.
So with that, I will take your questions.
Q Has the President given up on trying to get China to help out with North Korea?
MS. WALTERS: I'm not going to project what -- the President is not going to project his strategy. And tweets speak for themselves.
Q Is he going to announce some sort of a new program or policy today in his speeches, either at Kirkwood or at the rally?
MS. WALTERS: I'm not going to get ahead of what the President's speeches are going to be at the rally or Kirkwood. What I can tell you is that, at Kirkwood Community College, he is going to highlight precision agriculture, as well as this commitment to work with Congress on increasing broadband connectivity for rural communities in order to bring them up to the current and the day and age of tomorrow in terms of technology.
Q How did the President's tweet about giving up on China affect the Secretary of State's meeting with the Chinese?
MS. WALTERS: I'm not going to weigh into the impact of tweets. What I can tell you is we're not going to project the President's strategy publicly.
Q A number of Democrats have called for Jared Kushner's security clearance to be suspended in the midst of this investigation. Does the White House have any plans to do that or turn over the documents they've requested?
MS. WALTERS: That's something I'll have to get back to you on.
Q Does the President think that the special election in Georgia was a personal victory?
MS. WALTERS: The President is obviously happy with both of the wins. This just shows that the American people are resonating with the President's agenda and that they want to advance the President's agenda -- that the American people care about having a better healthcare system that works for all Americans; for bringing jobs back to America; growing our economy; and making sure that our nation is safe. So both wins in Georgia and South Carolina show that the American people want the President's agenda enacted and they want the people of Washington to work with the President.
Q Lindsay, we have a few issues outstanding. Do you have any updates on the Comey tapes, whether the President has seen the Senate healthcare bill, or his views on climate change?
MS. WALTERS: In terms of the Comey tapes, I don’t have anything further than what Sean had, other than I can tell you there will be something this week.
As for the Senate -- the healthcare bill, the appropriate individuals have seen the bill. The President had 13 senators over last week for dinner. The Vice President has been going weekly to the Senate lunches where the focus of conversation has largely been on healthcare, as well as the presentations. And the President's legislative team has been working with the Senate leadership's team as well as the members over on the Senate side. And the President has received a full brief from his legislative team.
Q And the other one was climate change.
MS. WALTERS: What about climate change?
Q If he still believes it's a hoax.
MS. WALTERS: I have nothing further than what's been said on that before, that the President believes that climate does affect things -- some good, some bad.
Q Lindsay, the President was briefed before we left on the incident in Flint, Michigan. Do you have any specifics about what he was briefed on? Does the President believe it's terrorist-related? Anything specific?
MS. WALTERS: The President was briefed on the situation. As for any further details, I'll need to get back to you on that.
Q The Congressional Black Caucus voted to decline an invitation to have a follow-up meeting with the President. Does the White House have a response to that?
MS. WALTERS: I saw that come in slightly before walking back here. I'll need to look into our official response. But I do know that the President had the leadership, and there was an invitation extended to all the membership. And I will get back to you on our response.
Q Is the President going to meet Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit coming up in two weeks?
MS. WALTERS: I don’t have an announcement at this time. When we do, I will let you know.
Q I'm not sure if this was the Flynn question, but is there any response to the fact -- the reports that Flynn did not report a 2015 trip to Saudi Arabia, possibly about building nuclear reactors?
MS. WALTERS: I'm going to need to refer you to Kasowitz for anything Russia-related.
Q On the Russian probe, has staff been given any guidance on whether they should hire their own personal attorneys? Do you know if Reince or Sean have -- or Bannon have their own attorneys yet?
MS. WALTERS: I'm not going to comment on what individuals inside the White House have decided to do. You're going to need to ask those individuals. And even furthermore, I would recommend you reach out to Marc Kasowitz.
Q We know that he talked to King Salman. Has he talked to the Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia yet -- the new Crown Prince? Do you know?
MS. WALTERS: I'll look into that. You know, he has obviously spoken (inaudible) but I'll look into the further details.
All right? With that, I’m going to hand it over to Secretary Perdue, who can walk you through a few updates at the Department of Agriculture, as well as talk a little bit more about the importance of us being in Iowa and how this impacts rural communities.
SECRETARY PERDUE: Lindsay has given you so good a briefing on ag technology, there's nothing else for me to say. (Laughter.) You did a great job.
Oftentimes, when we think of technology and science being in other fields, you're going to amazed that you see some of the products here in Iowa, in this community college, over self-driving combines and the kind of data that's collected through these combines go through the fields. So science and technology have played a huge part in the productive capacity of American agriculture over the last several years, whether it's genetic engineering or actually the connectivity through the Internet usage that's so needed.
And as Lindsay said, that's why the President is so involved in the rural connectivity of broadband because most of our farms are obviously in rural areas, and they need this connectivity to feed into big data that helps them to make better decisions over precision agriculture.
What is precision agriculture? It's using less resources, less inputs, less water, less fertilizer, less insecticides, less pesticides in order to produce a better, healthier, more wholesome crop. And that's why it's so important, as we learn how to produce better crops with less inputs, making a less carbon imprint, less resources there for the world. So that's why it's important there.
The trade aspect is also important. I just left yesterday -- actually, this morning -- from a meeting with my counterparts in Mexico and Canada, Minister MacAulay of Canada and Secretary Calzada of Mexico. We had a very good relationship. It was just kind of a personal trust-building relationship as we begin the NAFTA negotiations. We began to talk, really, as a neighborhood would, as a neighborhood of North America. And we laid out -- their wives were there and my wife was there.
So it was a great building relationship to develop the basis for discussions when maybe some of the discussions are not as comfortable as that -- when we have to discuss issues that we need to have very candid and direct family conversations about. We laid that background this past two days.
We took them to Savannah, Georgia to show them the fastest-growing container port in the United States and how ag products, both inbound and outbound -- it's a very balanced port -- about 50 percent imports, 50 percent exports. And we showed them the coal storage that the products coming in from Mexico do. We even transshipped some things, railed down from Canada out to the Southeast Asia and that area as well.
So it was very productive. We went inland and they saw actual farm technology, some of which we'll see today, of direct farm -- field-to-table aspects of farmers growing and processing greens and Vidalia onions and those types of things; sweet potatoes right there in a safe environment. Food safety with FSMA laws and regulations, and showing how they comply was a very interesting thing for our friends.
We talked about the standardization of food safety and food modernization regulations to make sure that, if we're going to trade trilaterally with free trade, each of us has to be sure that food safety is a zero tolerance issue, and to standardize our standards with animal, plant, health and safety, and our food safety inspection systems with the equivalency in Mexico and Canada.
So they were very productive discussions. We laid a great groundwork, I think, to begin a relationship of maybe issues that may not be as comfortable in the future.
Q For Internet in rural areas, would you like to see more federal spending to make that happen?
SECRETARY PERDUE: As we know, the productivity or the profitability in less-dense areas is very difficult. But we also know that this country created the Rural Electrification Association years ago in an obligation to serve. We know most everyone in the country can get a dial tone today. We think we ought to have the same push to have broadband connectivity all over the country, because in the 21st century, it's just as important as a telephone, just as important as water, sewer, or roads. It has become an infrastructure of necessity in rural areas as we've described how technology is driving agriculture.
Does that mean that it's going to be -- I think government will have to help, whether it's local government, states government, or the federal government. But we want partnerships. We want people that have skin in the game. These are going to be revenue streams coming in. People are going to pay for these services, but we've got to help ignite that and kick-start that in order to make sure it gets where it need to be.
Q How much would it cost, do you think, to get it started?
SECRETARY PERDUE: I'm sorry?
Q How much would it cost?
SECRETARY PERDUE: We don't know yet. We're actually developing proposals now with our rural broadband connectivity, independent telephone systems, rural cooperatives there. We gave a loan for about $46 million, I think, two weeks ago to some of our rural cooperatives in order to get that started. So we haven't calculated how much. It's a big price tag, but who shares what part of that will probably differ from place to place.
Q So there's not a plan yet for rural broadband? In other words, you're in the beginning stages of trying to figure out how you're going to do it, or --
SECRETARY PERDUE: I don't think you're going to see a national plan, per se, because each area is different. Each area has different services now. Some are served by independent telephone companies that are already providing some of these services. How we help them extend that in the more rural areas will be different in every area.
So there's not going to be a national footprint. We're going to take every area. That's what our department at the Rural Development USDA will do in working with the resources that we have, the assets out in every area of the country in order to make broadband -- rural broadband as ubiquitous as we can.
Q But ag takes the lead on rural broadband. Is that the idea?
SECRETARY PERDUE: (Inaudible), along with Chairman Ajit Pai of FCC, we're in communication. He was part of our rural taskforce last week along with 21 other agencies that came together to talk about rural prosperity and the barriers for rural prosperity to catch up with the urban areas regarding their livelihoods.
Q Secretary Perdue, just a quick -- can you give us your assessment of the wins in both Georgia and South Carolina? I know you were down there and you know that area well. What is your assessment of them?
SECRETARY PERDUE: I think -- again, I think it was an affirmation from the base of people, of the majority of people affirming President Trump's agenda. As you know, the Democrats wanted to make this a referendum on President Trump's agenda, and we agreed with that. And I think when you see the vote totals of 53-47, I think the majority of people indicate they want him to move forward. They want Congress to move forward with his agenda. I think that's exactly what the vote was. There was no doubt about it.
They began making it a referendum. You know, make Trump furious was their first comments. And then I think it made Republicans furious. But they want to see President Trump's agenda carried out not only nationally but certainly within the congressional action as well.
Q And then quickly --
MS. WALTERS: I think we have to head back. We're about to land.
5:27 P.M. CDT