Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:26 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Apologize for the delay -- I wanted to make sure the Governor of Texas was able to complete his briefing before we came out, and that you guys were able to pay attention to that.
I'll keep it quick up here at the top so that we can get to your questions.
The President and his homeland security team, and the entire administration continue to focus on the lives and safety of those affected by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana.Yesterday, at the direction of the President, the Vice President and Mrs. Pence, Labor Secretary Acosta, Transportation Secretary Chao, Energy Secretary Perry, VA Secretary Shulkin, and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Duke traveled to Texas to speak with people on the ground and assess the damage.
Earlier today, the President signed a proclamation declaring this Sunday a National Day of Prayer for those affected by the hurricane. And just this afternoon, the President heard from the heads of the Salvation Army, American Red Cross, and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief on their efforts throughout the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
As Gail McGovern, President and CEO of the American Red Cross, said, the American people are “bound and determined” to bounce back, and these organizations, along with so many others, have been on the ground from the beginning helping the people of Texas and Louisiana do just that.
The President will be back in Texas tomorrow to visit with storm survivors and tell them personally that the federal government is here to help in any way that we can.
The President is currently finalizing a supplemental request to support the needs of emergency responders at the federal, state, and local level. And we'll share more information on that later.
The President has had calls with several foreign leaders who expressed their support for the American people during this difficult time. Just today, he spoke with the presidents of South Korea, Kazakhstan, and Colombia. And we'll have readouts coming on each of those calls later today.
And I’d also like to take this opportunity to follow up on a question I was asked yesterday, and announce that the President will host the Emir of Kuwait at the White House on September 7th and the President of Spain on September 26th.
Finally, I’d like to reiterate the message that Tom Bossert, the President’s Homeland Security Advisor, gave yesterday. In case there is anyone watching today that is in need of assistance, once you have access to a functioning computer, please go to www.DisasterAssistance.gov. And if you have access to a working phone, please call 1-800-621-3362.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Sarah, you mentioned the supplemental. Does the President feel that it would be helpful to tie the supplemental to the vote on raising the debt ceiling? And do you have any details on the amount of the supplemental? There have been reports that it would be about $5.9 billion.
MS. SANDERS: Right now, those details are being finalized, and we'll have more information shortly, most likely by the end of today.
Q What about the issue of tying the vote to the debt ceiling?
MS. SANDERS: Again, those details are being finalized as we speak, and we should have something for you by the end of today.
Q So the President said that he would have a decision on DACA in the next couple of days. Can you talk a little bit about what are the factors driving that decision? What is he weighing right now? And also, does he think that the program, as it is designed now -- does he think it's illegal?
MS. SANDERS: I just spoke with the President, and we're in the process of finalizing that decision and those details. And we're actually going to make that announcement on Tuesday of next week. And the President's priorities on immigration are to create a system that encourages legal immigration and benefits our economy and American workers.
The President has been very clear: He loves people, and he wants to make sure that this decision is done correctly. And so that's what he's doing now, is finalizing that part.
Q Can I ask a question that might help us understand what informs this decision? Does the President feel that young people who came to this country illegally, who came of age here, who have jobs here, went to school here, are those people Americans or are they foreign (inaudible)?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to get into the back-and-forth while we're in the process of finalizing the details on this, but we're going to be working on that throughout the weekend and make that announcement on Tuesday.
Q How incumbent does this White House believe it is upon Congress to come up with a solution to the DREAMers issue?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we're in the process of finalizing the decision on this front. And once we make that, we'll walk through next steps of what any action that would be needed at that time.
Q I asked that -- if I could just follow up -- I asked that question because Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina is introducing a conservative Dream Act. He is leading a group of conservatives in the Senate. Senator Jeff Flake says that it’s important for Congress to do this. Paul Ryan, while he said he doesn’t agree that the President should end DACA as we know it, does think there needs to be a legislative solution. Does the White House agree with what’s being said from Capitol Hill?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’ll say it for a third or fourth time, and I’m sure I’ll get another five or six more questions on this and I’ll get to say it another five or six more times: We’re in the process of finalizing that decision and those details, and we’ll announce that on Tuesday.
Q Sarah, the President said “we love DREAMers” today, and, in April, he said the DREAMers should “rest easy.” You know the President. Is it conceivable that he could end this program and send all these people out of the country after saying things like that?
MS. SANDERS: I knew I’d get another chance to say this. We’re finalizing those details, and we --
Q That’s not a detail, that’s whether he ends the program.
MS. SANDERS: -- and we’re finalizing this decision. It is part of the answer -- is that we’re finalizing this decision and that would certainly be part of --
Q But he must have made that fundamental decision.
MS. SANDERS: -- the details of the announcement on Tuesday.
Q Sarah, thanks. The President has said that if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall. Is he backing down from that threat now?
MS. SANDERS: No, the President is still very much committed to building the wall.
Q So there’s a report out, though, in the Washington Post that basically says he’s -- you have a smile there on your face -- that he’s backing away from this. (Laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: Well, you know how I feel about using other outlets as your source.
Q Well, is it wrong then?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President has been pretty clear what his position is. I would take that as the President’s position over a report on what it is.
Q Sarah, if I can ask you two questions, one about the ROK call that happened today: Yonhap already has a readout of the conversation and, in it, the South Koreans are saying that the President of the United States promised more missile capabilities to Seoul. Can you confirm that? And do you have any sense of what we’re talking about there?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’ll have a readout out shortly, and we’ll certainly make sure all of you guys receive that.
Q I have a question on NAFTA as well. The talks are going on now. Obviously, the President has made his feelings pretty clear, but he’s also talked several times about terminating the deal. Is that on the table as these talks go forward?
MS. SANDERS: Those negotiations are still ongoing, and no decision has been made at this time.
Q Shifting back onto Hurricane Harvey: Has the President made a decision on what charities he’s going to donate to? Do you know if that’s going to be coming from his own money or from the Trump Foundation?
MS. SANDERS: He has not finalized where all of that will go, and I was actually going to use that as a perfect segue to remind everybody, if you have suggestions, he is very open to hearing those. We’ve gotten a couple, but please send more if you have them.
John Gizzi. Oh, sorry.
Q But can you clarify whether it’s going to be his personal money or money from the Trump Foundation?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had a chance to do that, but I will.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday, Sheriff Dave Clarke of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, announced his resignation effective immediately. This started a rush of speculation in the Badger State and in Washington that he would be appointed to a position at the Department of Homeland Security, possibly even the secretaryship, which is vacant. Now a lady at DHS said he’s not coming here, to reporters. Is former Sheriff Clarke under consideration for any position, particularly at the Department of Homeland Security?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any specific jobs that he’s being considered for, but, as always, we’ll certainly make sure when we have a personnel announcement we'll let you know.
Q A poll released by Fox News on Wednesday said that 56 percent of Americans think the President is tearing the country apart, and approval rating polls are usually in the 30s. How do these poll numbers affect how the President governs?
MS. SANDERS: I think that a lot of these polls are a lot of the same polls that predicted that Donald Trump would never be the President, and he’s sitting in the Oval Office as I stand here. So I don’t have a lot of faith in a lot of these polls.
I think if you look at what he’s been doing this week, particularly in terms of focusing on unifying the nation on Hurricane Harvey recovery, talking about tax reform -- an issue that’s got very wide bipartisan support -- the numbers, frankly, that we are focused on and that this administration cares about aren’t polls numbers. But we care about 94 percent of Americans who get assistance to file their taxes, that the majority of Americans thinks the tax code is unfair, and that 70 percent of individuals in 10 key states support broad-based tax reform.
The numbers that we’re focused on have to do with actual problems that Americans are facing. The numbers that we’re focused on are the ones that actually impact day-to-day life for all Americans. That’s what we’re focused on; certainly not silly polls that, frankly, weren’t much use to us in the election, and, certainly, I don’t think are now.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I want to switch to tax reform. We learned today that the President will be traveling to North Dakota next week. This week he was in Missouri. Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate, and the Democratic senators from those states are ones that the White House is targeting. If the White House got those votes that would put you up to 54. Joe Donnelly and Joe Manchin are two other Democratic senators that the White House is looking to pick up. That would be 56. Where are the other four democratic votes that the White House and the President think they can get for tax reform?
MS. SANDERS: I would love to see all of them come on board. I can’t imagine why anybody wouldn’t want to support helping more Americans keep more of their hard-earned money. We want to simplify the tax-filing process for individuals, encourage job creation, encourage job growth, provide tax relief for middle-class America, and encourage companies to bring back money to the United States and invest it. I don’t know why any member of the Senate or the House wouldn’t want to support those things, and hopefully they’ll all come on board.
Q So you don’t have four other states that you might be traveling to or four other names specifically?
MS. SANDERS: Not specifically. Again, I’m hoping that the senators from all 50 states get on board to help Americans and do what, frankly, Americans are demanding.
I think you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody that doesn’t support tax reform in this country, and those are the people that are the bosses of those individuals. Those are the people that elected those members to go there and help do the things that they are asking for, and tax reform is at the top of their list.
Q Sarah, my paper just published a story that Robert Mueller has obtained a copy of the letter drafted by President Trump and written, in part, by Stephen Miller and other aides around the time of the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey that enumerates a rationale for having him removed that focuses principally on the Russia investigation.
A couple of quick questions. First of all, can you confirm the existence of that letter? Secondly, can that letter be made public? And thirdly, we report that Don McGahn thought it was inappropriate. Can you discuss whether or not you or the President believe that drafting a statement was appropriate at that time?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not going to get into any of that. I think we covered a lot of those things very extensively during that time. As Ty Cobb said earlier today, to the extent the special prosecutor is interested in these matters, we will be fully transparent with his investigation. And frankly, I don't have anything to add beyond that.
Q Can we get a copy of the letter?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we're going to work with the special prosecutor, as Ty said, and we'll work through that process.
Q Thank you, Sarah. (Crosstalk.)
MS. SANDERS: Hey, guys -- one at a time. I'll come back to you after that.
Q Earlier this week, the President tweeted that "talking is not the answer" in regards to the North Koreans. Today the South Korean President's office says he and President Moon agreed to reaffirm that North Korea should be brought back for dialogue. So which is it on that --
MS. SANDERS: I think I was clear on this yesterday. The President is looking for an integrated process and we're continuing to move forward on that. We take North Korea extremely seriously and all options are on the table. That hasn't changed.
Q This is a follow-up to the NAFTA question. Mexico has threatened to end the negotiations that are going on if the President initiates steps to pull out of NAFTA. Would the President view that as a positive outcome? And is there any concern overall in the White House that the escalation of the rhetoric will hurt the White House's ability to craft a better deal, as the President has promised?
MS. SANDERS: No, we're continuing to move forward in these negotiations. And as the President says, we'll see what happens.
Q On the issue of DACA, the Vice President said that the President will use a big heart in making this decision. What is the definition of a big heart?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into the back-and-forth on this until there's a finalized decision, which we're in the process of doing. And we'll make that announcement on Tuesday.
Q I have one more on jobs. What is this White House saying about jobs, particularly as the unemployment rate is at 4.4 percent but you have a continuation, historically, of African-American and Latino rates that are higher? For August, the African-American unemployment rate, 7.7 percent; the Latino rate, 5.2 percent; the white rate, 3.9 percent.
A few weeks ago, Stephen Miller was at this podium talking about the black unemployment rate versus that of the immigrants. Is there going to be a targeted approach? I mean, these numbers bear to show that there is a difference when it comes to minority American unemployment versus mainstream America.
MS. SANDERS: I think you make a great point for why we need tax reform. It's one of the primary reasons that that's a top priority for this administration is to do a massive overhaul of the system so that we have a better environment, we're creating more jobs, higher paying jobs, and I think that's a perfect example.
There were 150,000 new jobs created over this time period, and since the President came into office, 1.2 million new jobs. We are incredibly focused on this. This is not just something we have been talking about, but something that the President has been very active in since day one.
He has gotten rid of over 800 regulations that have created a better environment for job creation. We're continuing to focus on that, primarily through tax reform. And, that's why it's such a big deal for us in the fall.
Q Thanks. Can you confirm that the President is meeting with congressional leaders on Tuesday about tax reform? And, does that mean that the details are almost finished?
MS. SANDERS: He is meeting with congressional leaders next week and --
Q On Tuesday?
MS. SANDERS: I believe it's Tuesday. Yeah, I believe that's right. And I believe there's a second meeting on Wednesday, as well.
Q Does that mean the package is almost finished?
MS. SANDERS: That means that we're pushing forward. We're going to continue -- again, focused on those four principles, using that as the guide and the focal point moving forward -- and sit down with a lot of members of Congress to make sure we get this deal done.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. The first one is on DACA. I know you're not ready to make an announcement yet, but these people, these DREAMers came out of the shadows and they provided their personal information to the government for work permits. If the President does end DACA, will that information be used to round up and deport any of these people? That’s my first question.
MS. SANDERS: Well, I'll answer it the same way I have answered it 18 other times today. Those decisions are being finalized and once they are, we will announce them on Tuesday.
Q My second question is on infrastructure. Clearly, the devastation in Texas brings attention to problems with our infrastructure, and there's going to be a need for massive rebuilding. I know tax reform is the focus right now but will there be a push for an infrastructure bill either after that or around the same time? And will that be coming from the White House or will the administration be letting Congress take the lead on infrastructure?
MS. SANDERS: Infrastructure is certainly something that's very important to the President, a priority for the administration. The timing of that hasn't been set forth yet but it's certainly something we're actively working on and looking at every day. As we like to say here, we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and we'll continue to push forward on how to best improve the infrastructure.
Q Hurricane Harvey -- the President was in Texas on Tuesday, he's going back tomorrow. I understand the exact schedule might not yet be set but can you give us any kind of idea of what kinds of things he’s going to be doing and what, thematically -- what he’s going to be doing this weekend that he didn't have a chance to do on Tuesday?
MS. SANDERS: Sure. He’ll be able to go into Houston, which he was not able to do on Tuesday. That will be the first stop of the day. He’ll have the chance to meet extensively with quite a few storm survivors, as well as talk with some of the volunteers that are helping administer a lot of the support that these individuals have needed over the last week.
And then from there, he’ll go to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where he’ll do a stop there as well, meeting with a lot of the volunteers and other storm survivors.
Q Are there any events on Sunday? Or is this all contained to Saturday?
MS. SANDERS: All on Saturday.
Q Does he have any other weekend plans after that?
MS. SANDERS: We’ll keep you posted on further guidance for the weekend.
Q If I can ask two questions on that. Given the President is going to be obviously pretty busy on Saturday, down in that region -- you've said 19 times that he’s going to be finalizing the decision in the next three days. Can you specifically explain what is going to change between now and Tuesday, given that we heard the President talk in the Oval Office about a decision coming this weekend? What specifically is he doing in these next three days that he hasn’t done so far?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that this is a pretty complicated process, as you all know, and we want to work through every bit of that. And that's what he’s doing. He’s making sure he takes the diligent time and effort and attention that this very important issue deserves.
Q And given that it’s so important, I just want to kind of personalize a little. There’s a guy in Texas right now, Jesus Contreras (ph). He’s a paramedic. He’s been working since the storm hit to help people in the community, in and around Texas. He also happens to be a DREAMer. What’s the President’s message to Jesus?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s the same message that he’s said many times before. This President is a President that loves people, and we are working on the best decision possible. And we’ll announce it on Tuesday.
Q New reports are detailing how the, under the Obama administration, the group Antifa was being watched and their activities were declared as “domestic terrorist violence.” My question is: Was the President or his Chief of Staff aware of those investigations and reports before Charlottesville?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure. I’d have to ask, and I haven’t had the conversation, Charlie.
Q Is he tracking the rise of violence from this group going forward?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, is he what?
Q Is he tracking the rise of violence from these groups going forward?
MS. SANDERS: I think we're certainly constantly monitoring all violence across the country as best we can, and something certainly that the Department of Homeland Security and the administration takes very seriously and is constantly looking for ways to end all violence in all forms. So certainly that would qualify.
Q A follow-up to Hallie’s question for a moment. I think I read that there were 120,000 DREAMers in the state of Texas. Is that in any way weighing on the President’s decision about DACA and what the situation there is?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I think that this isn’t a decision that the President takes lightly, and he’s taking time and diligent effort to make sure that he goes through every bit of the process. And he’ll continue to do that and make that announcement on Tuesday.
Q Is what’s happening in Texas and even Louisiana weighing on him at all?
MS. SANDERS: I think the decision itself is weighing on him, certainly.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I’ve got two. The first one is, coming back after Labor Day Weekend, there’s obviously a lot of stuff on the agenda.
MS. SANDERS: It’s going to be a busy September.
Q There were some tensions between the President and congressional Republicans over the summer, and I’m just wondering if he has a message for them that you would want to share about any reset that he hopes to effect in the next four days before he comes back?
And I also wanted to ask you -- with all the caveats that you're loath to discuss -- this letter that -- this part of an investigation --
MS. SANDERS: Let me answer the first question so we don't get lost in that. I think that the message that the President would have for the members of Congress would be: Let’s get to work. You've had a nice long break here, and we've got a lot of things to do. We've got some big commitments to the American people that we need to fulfill, and we need to do some really big and bold things throughout the fall. And hopefully, they’ll get on board and be part of that process.
Q The letter, as reported, suggests that some of the rationale did have to do with Russia. But the President initially talked about Hillary Clinton, and I’m wondering whether you can square those two for us? Do you think his message -- do you think there’s now an inconsistency that needs to be addressed? And would you like to address it from the podium?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure I’m following fully your question. But as I said earlier in reference to the letter and the Comey firing, we have discussed that extensively. In fact, I’ve done that many times from this podium. And I’ll refer you back to Ty Cobb’s statement that I read earlier. There’s nothing more to add on that.
Q Sarah, can I drill down on what is driving the DACA review and final decision? Is the President reviewing the merits of the DACA policy? Or is he reviewing the legality and validity of the process the Obama administration used to grant it? In other words, if Congress were to move to protect the DREAMers, would he be in support of that? Would he sign on to such an effort? There does seem to be interest there. What is he reviewing?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but since you guys are, then I guess I have no choice to be. But we're continuing to work through this decision process and I’m not going to go any further than that. The President has made a lot of statements on this, and he’s going through all of the details of this very thoroughly. And once a final decision is made and those details are ironed out, we’ll let you guys know on Tuesday.
Just as we're wrapping up here, a reminder: If you have suggestions for the President to contribute to that would be great if you could get those to us by the end of the day.
And also we encourage everybody to participate in the National Day of Prayer and hope you have a good Labor Day Weekend.
Thanks so much, guys.
3:50 P.M. EDT