Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders en route Washington, D.C., 8/23/2017
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Washington, D.C.
6:07 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: I’ll keep opening short today so we can jump straight into questions. Everybody knows I love a good birthday. Today is Stephen Miller’s birthday. If you get a chance, be sure to tell him happy birthday. And if you have Jim Acosta’s email, I’m sure Stephen would love to hear from him, so make sure you let him know it’s his birthday so he can send him a note.
Q How old?
MS. SANDERS: Twenty-five, I’m sure. (Laughter.)
Q I think I read 32.
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, it's 32. But, I mean, I think everybody -- once you hit 30, you get to keep celebrating 29. I know that’s what I’ve been doing for the last several years. I’m going to keep doing that for a while.
Q Here, here.
MS. SANDERS: But anyway, we’ve had a great couple of days on the road, and with that I’ll go ahead and take your questions and we’ll jump right in.
Q Sarah, we had a chance to gaggle a little bit yesterday, but we didn’t talk a whole lot since last Tuesday about just how the White House has reacted to the fallout from President Trump’s remarks at Trump Tower. Can you tell us just a little bit about how people are feeling internally about that? There were some rumors that Gary Cohn was very upset and was considering leaving. Have you gotten any feedback from other advisors about how the President handled that last week?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think the President clarified a lot of that last night and had the opportunity to walk through each of the three times where he addressed both the media and the public, and has been very clear and very consistent since the beginning that the type of hate and evil that we saw has no place in America. He condemns that. He’s done that time and time again, and he’s going to continue to do that.
But at the same time, he’s looking at ways that we can unify and break down some of the division that we think is taking place in our country. I think he strongly feels that a lot of that can be done through growing the economy, creating better jobs, and helping people have a better life.
And that’s certainly a big priority for this administration moving into the fall. Tax reform will be -- a tax relief, certainly for the middle class, is going to be a priority for the administration. It’s something you’ll see us put a lot of focus and emphasis on while we continue to look at the best ways to create a job-friendly environment and a strong economy.
Q So he joked a couple of times, both last night and today, about how his advisors had wanted him to rein it in a little bit -- be more “presidential.” Can you tell us a little bit about why that was that people within the White House were suggesting to him to take a different tone? I mean, he made it clear two times at least that he had been advised to do so.
MS. SANDERS: I think you addressed that on the very front end of your question. He made a joke about it. Look, I don’t think anybody in this administration came into it wanting to do anything but support and help this President and this President’s agenda. And I think everybody who works for the President knows and understands that the reason that he is President is because he was himself, and the American people want somebody who is honest and authentic. And that’s what they get with President Trump, and I don’t think anybody in the administration feels differently.
Q Sarah, there were some reports earlier today that the White House was setting up meetings between the President and Mitch McConnell. Is that the case? Are there meetings? What will they talk about? And how would you characterize the relationship between the two?
MS. SANDERS: Sure. You guys probably haven’t seen it because I don’t know if you have Internet, but we have a statement that’s going out now, and also, Leader McConnell’s office has put out a statement. I don’t know if you guys saw that before you took off. I don’t have his handy, but I’ll make sure that you have it, and I’ll bring a printout of this one so that you’ll have it. But:
“President Donald J. Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell remain united on many shared priorities, including middle-class tax relief, strengthening the military, constructing a southern border wall, and other important issues.
They will hold previously scheduled meetings following the August recess to discuss these critical items with members of the congressional leadership and the President’s Cabinet. White House and leadership staff are coordinating regarding the details of those meetings.”
So, as you can see from this statement, there have been several conversations going on throughout the August recess about multiple meetings that will take place when everybody returns from August recess to discuss and set the agenda and the priorities for the fall agenda.
I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anybody. There have been quite a few ongoing conversations with the Leader’s office, the White House, and members of the administration throughout August.
Q Where does healthcare fit into that?
MS. SANDERS: I think that will certainly be part of the conversation. There’s no question that Obamacare is still a disaster and there are still some things that need to be done, and we’re going to continue to look for ways to fix the healthcare system. And I think there a lot of different options that may be on the table for that.
Q How do the various pieces fit together? Not just healthcare, but the President last night threatened a government shutdown over funding for the wall. The debt ceiling either has to be raised or has to be breached. All of these things -- funding the government -- all these things have to happen in, really, like four weeks, five weeks by the time people get back from recess. And Speaker Ryan today said he doesn’t see a shutdown as necessary to achieve all the goals, but the President was threatening it specifically over the wall, which is not so much of a priority for some on the Hill. How does this all come together before we get to September 30th at 11:59?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah. Specific to the border wall -- look, we’re looking forward to working with Congress to get funding for the border wall. This was something the President campaigned on, he ran on it, and he won on it. And he’s going to make sure that -- and has definite plans to make sure that it gets built. The border wall is a priority for the President. It’s vital to security, the immigration system. And restoring law and order to the country’s immigration system is one of the President’s main priorities. This a big step in that direction.
The President has made no secret that this is a priority for him, and he continues to advocate for it and he'll continue to make sure that we move forward to secure the border and secure our country.
Q Was he serious when he said he would push the government to a shutdown in order to achieve that?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think the President is committed to making sure it happens, and he's also committed to working with Congress to make sure that we move forward. And as I think Speaker Ryan said, it's not necessary, so maybe that means he's onboard with making sure it happens.
Q And a follow to Jeff -- about being serious about the shutdown, was he also serious when he said that he didn’t think that some journalists -- some in the press -- love this country?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think there are certainly some very real frustrations with the press, and certainly a lot of information out there that is not accurate that gets pushed to the American people. I think that's a real disservice to the American people. I think the job of reporters is to present facts and let people make up their own minds about where they stand on those issues. It's not for them to insert their own opinions and force those upon the American people. I think that's a problem. I think as much as we can avoid that, it's good for everybody.
Q Obviously you're the Press Secretary. Do you think what's happened since Charlottesville has irreparably damaged the President's relationship with the press?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t ever like to think that anything is irreparable. I certainly think that -- and the President pointed out last night -- that there are some good people within the press corps, but I do think that there are steps that need to be taken to make stories more accurate and to make sure that we're presenting the American people with the most -- the best information possible, and let them make up their mind on where they stand on particular issues.
Q Sarah, the President said last night that he views the press as the culprit for deepening division in the country and for sort of sowing some of these hateful thoughts. Can you elaborate a little bit? I mean, what specifically is he talking about that the press does that he thinks contributes to that process?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly I think that some of that would be giving a platform to some of the divisiveness there and elevating it. There are a lot of problems that we have in this country that are completely ignored by the press, that aren’t talked about, while others that certainly aren’t issues of unity are relentlessly reported and driven and pushed and covered to the point where a lot of the big issues of our time are totally unknown.
I mean, we have a lot of gang violence that's never reported, rarely talked about. Hundreds of people are dying in our country as a result of that, and that's something that just simply doesn’t get covered a lot. And I think that's an issue that could be highlighted, and focusing on the law and order component versus, I think, issues where we give platforms to a lot of the evil people out there. We elevate a lot of -- oftentimes I think it's been seen when you have terrorism. By elevating those individuals it certainly, I think, encourages at times people who want to become famous by repeating those crimes and things like that. And I don’t think that's helpful.
Q I was just going to ask, is the President going to go to any cities and talk about gang violence? I mean, he said the other day that he has plans to do more for urban cities than any previous President, but I don’t believe he's made a major address on gang violence or any of those issues yet. Can you tell us what his plans are?
MS. SANDERS: He certainly wants to make this a priority. He has talked pretty exclusively about the MS-13 gang violence, and he did an event in New York just maybe within the last month, I think it was, to highlight that and what we're doing to crack down on that. But I certainly think that you can always do more, and we'll keep you guys posted on scheduling for any event like that.
Q Is the White House drawing up paperwork for the President to pardon Sheriff Arpaio?
MS. SANDERS: I’ll keep you posted when we have an announcement and a decision on that front.
Q Sarah, the President's remarks on Saturday, after the Charlottesville riots, on Monday at the White House, and then on Tuesday at Trump Tower were all carried live by the networks. So his remarks were public and carried by the press. And he drew criticism not just from talking heads in the press, but also from members of his own party, as well as Democrats, as well as some world leaders. Does he acknowledge that?
MS. SANDERS: I mean, does he hear that people were making critical remarks? Absolutely. But I also think that a lot of his remarks were mischaracterized in the following panels and everything else, basically calling the President a lot of things that he certainly isn't, and ignoring the fact that he had condemned these bad actors, he had condemned racism, he had called it evil. He called out the driver specifically. He condemns specific groups. And I think a lot of those comments had been ignored in some of the following -- just because they were covered in the 20-minute span of when he was talking. The other 23.5 hours of the day certainly didn’t, I think, give a clear picture of the full comments that he had made at that time.
Q We really haven't had a chance since Monday night to talk about Afghanistan. The President said he wants an honorable and enduring result there. How long does he think that's going to take? And what does it look like for him at the end?
MS. SANDERS: As the President said many times before, he's not going to set a timetable. He's looking at not repeating the mistakes of the previous administrations on this front, and going to rely heavily on the generals and the folks on the ground and the conditions to determine when the right time is to remove from Afghanistan.
Q Does the President, does the White House, does the administration feel responsibility to the American people, to military families, people in the military, to offer some kind of ballpark, some kind of idea of the magnitude of the number of troops who will be going into harm's way, and whether that's a rise -- a significant rise from current levels?
MS. SANDERS: I think it's important for the members of the military to be informed. And I think that as things move forward, that will take place. I think there was a reason that the President wanted to give that address and give those remarks in the location that he did. That was a decision that he made, that he wanted to do. And he wanted to speak directly to the troops and to all of the American people out of respect, because he understands the burden that he is asking them to take on, and that those are the people that will carry the water on this front. And so that was important for him to have the opportunity to speak directly to them about not only why, but what was happening in the process, and give them context into the decision that he made.
Q Sarah, he talked about the issue of economic development in Afghanistan, and he said that it could actually help to fray the cost of the American mission, but he didn’t say how. Some people have speculated that the U.S. could actually invest in the mining industry and in extracting valuable minerals from Afghanistan. Is that what the President was getting at when he made that comment?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not sure about that. I have to check on that and get back to you.
Q Since Monday night, have any specific parts of his plan moved forward?
MS. SANDERS: I know that the Department of Defense will be taking the primary lead on that, and they have stated that they are actively moving forward. But in terms of specifics, I would refer you to the Department of Defense to get more on that front.
I'll take one more question.
Q A follow-up on Arpaio. You had told us yesterday that that issue would not be discussed. The President obviously did hint at it when he was at the rally. I know you don’t want to talk about whether or not paperwork is being prepared, but can you comment on what he meant when he referred to that last night?
MS. SANDERS: What I meant when I referred to it last night?
Q No, what President Trump meant when he was talking about the sheriff is going to be just fine.
MS. SANDERS: Again, I think that he'll continue to make his plans clear when he's ready and at the appropriate time, and we'll certainly keep you guys posted on that. But I don’t have anything else to add on that front today.
Q Actually, I have one more question. To go back to Leader McConnell, at the very beginning you were talking about this meeting and all that, but has the President seen the Times report in which the Leader specifically kind of -- at least through all this reporting -- seems to be saying that he's not sure that this President can get things done? Has the President seen that? What was his response? And in general, we've heard some jabs at some Senate Republicans from him in the last day. Is he worried that maybe taking this tough approach actually won't work with them?
MS. SANDERS: The President -- again, I don’t know if you guys have seen it, but Leader McConnell put out a statement and I'll try to make sure that we get you copies of that. I think it offers some clarity and mirrors a lot of what the statement I read to you earlier.
In terms of being tough with members of the Senate, I think everybody knows this President isn't somebody who backs down. And if he thinks that you need to lean in a little bit, he certainly will. And I don’t think that's going to change at any point.
Thanks, guys. I'll make sure -- I'll try to get you guys copies of those statements so you'll have them.
6:23 P.M. EDT