Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters en route Fort Myers, FL
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Fort Myers, Florida
10:10 A.M. EDT
MS. WALTERS: Good morning, everyone. I'd like to quickly run through what the President will be doing on the ground in Florida when we arrive before I take your questions here.
When we land in Fort Myers, the President will be greeted by FEMA Administrator Brock Long, Governor Rick Scott and his wife, Ann, Senator Marco Rubio, and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
The President will then receive a briefing on Hurricane Irma relief efforts by FEMA, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. National Guard, and local first responders and volunteers.
He will then lift to Naples where he, along with the Vice President, Secretary Perry, Acting Secretary Duke, Administrator Long, Senator Rubio, Representative Diaz-Balart, will visit a neighborhood that was devastated by the hurricane and meet with storm survivors.
After that, he will return to Fort Myers and depart for Washington, D.C. And with that, I will take your questions.
Q So is there a deal or is there not a deal on DACA? Who's right here?
MS. WALTERS: The President made that pretty clear this morning that there is no deal. There was a constructive conversation last night with the Democratic minority leaders, but there was no deal made.
Q Isn't this issue of "agreement" or "deal" semantics? Do you see a difference between "agreement" and "deal" if those words are used?
MS. WALTERS: What I can tell you is that a deal was not reached. There was a conversation on the legislative priorities for the fall, which include tax reform, infrastructure, and DACA. But by no means was any deal ever reached last night.
Q So was an agreement reached?
MS. WALTERS: There was, as I said, a constructive conversation to move forward. In terms of DACA, which is important to the minority leaders, this is something that Congress needs to work on. They need to continue to have constructive conversations amongst themselves to figure out what they're going to do to enable real and responsible immigration reform, and bring that to the President's desk before the six-month window expires.
The President has made it clear that he's willing to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats and Republicans alike. He wants to have bipartisan support. You saw that through the different various meetings and dinner this week. And he'll continue to do that. But this notion that a deal was made -- to have the minority leaders say that -- you've seen them have to go back and re-amend their statement from last night -- just shows that it's silly. There was no deal met, and they know that.
Q How do you respond to the criticism -- there's a lot of criticism coming that he's offering amnesty. You're seeing on Breitbart they're calling him "Amnesty Don." How does he respond to those critiques from the right?
MS. WALTERS: The President has been clear in the past that there will be no amnesty. The Trump administration will not be discussing amnesty. What the Trump administration will discuss is a responsible path forward in immigration reform. That could include legal citizenship over a period of time. But absolutely by no means will this White House discuss amnesty, and the President has made it clear how he feels about no amnesty.
But again, this is Congress. Congress needs to put together what they're going to do before the six-month window runs out and bring it to the President. And this falls back on Congress. The President has encouraged the Republicans and Democrats to come together to have real immigration reform that is legal and substantial.
Q How do you define amnesty?
MS. WALTERS: I'm not going to sit here and litigate what the definition of amnesty is. What I will tell you is the President has made it clear that he does not support amnesty. I think I was clear when I said that --
Q You weren't clear. You said that he could support a path forward to citizenship. That is the definition of amnesty to many, many Republicans, especially in the House.
MS. WALTERS: Again, I'm not going sit here and litigate what the definition of amnesty is, what I will tell you is right now Congress needs to focus on getting real immigration reform to move forward so that there is a legal path forward instead of right now. DACA was illegal. The President took the responsible action, and now this is in the hands of Congress to put something on the President's desk.
Q Did the President agree not to push for border wall funding as part of a DACA deal?
MS. WALTERS: The President made it very clear that we will need to have massive border security. You heard him say this again this morning. That was made clear in the meeting last night that there will be massive border security included in any agreement that is eventually met.
Q What does that include, Lindsay? If not a wall, what does massive border security include?
MS. WALTERS: The President has been clear that there will be a wall. A wall is part of massive border security, but we need to ensure that we are having -- as he ran before that there will be border security. We need to secure our borders and protect the American people. The wall is very much still in play, and the President has been clear that we need to have massive border security. You heard him say that this morning; you heard the Democrats walk back their statement.
Q So why remove -- why separate the wall and DACA in the negotiations? A lot of people would say that taking the wall out really takes away a leverage point for him in terms of getting something from Democrats.
MS. WALTERS: We haven’t said yet where the wall funding is being tied to, what vehicle. It’s too premature at this point to say where that funding vehicle will be tied in. Right now the President is focused on massive border security, as well as getting a wall.
But what we need to -- the Democrats are pushing DACA. They need to look at their colleagues in the Congress and work with them to put something in front of the President that's responsible immigration reform.
Q What is this -- what is this massive border security that the President is looking for immediately?
MS. WALTERS: There are several ways you can have massive border security. I will let DHS speak more to that, but I can tell you that massive -- securing our borders is very important to this President. We will still have a wall. He has not backed down from that wall or a structure being on the southern border. And we’ll continue to keep you abreast as developments --
Q Several Democrats in the meeting yesterday at the White House, the bipartisan meeting, came out in the White House driveway and said on the record that the President was very clear that the border wall would not need to be tied to the DACA bill, that they would be separate. And they made clear they would not tie those two together, and the President reiterated that he agreed. Is that true?
MS. WALTERS: What I said to you earlier is it’s too premature to say what vehicle the funding for the wall will be tied to at this time.
Q But the President made clear in the meeting, according to all these Democrats, not -- even before the Pelosi and Schumer meeting -- that it may be too early to tell where the border wall money would be, but it would in a separate bill from DACA. Are they wrong?
MS. WALTERS: The President has made clear that we need to have massive border security in whatever deal is made regarding DACA, and that's what we will move forward on.
Q One more on the wall. Nancy Pelosi said in her statement that both sides agreed that the White House and Democratic leaders would work out a border security package. Is that your understanding that it’s going to be the Democrats and the White House putting together the border security package and basically cutting out Republicans from the process?
MS. WALTERS: Republicans will not be cut out from this process. The President said this morning that the Republican leaders are all aware. This is a process that will work through both Republicans and Democrats. The President wants this to be a bipartisan effort, and that's what we will focus on -- it being a bipartisan effort with both the Democrats and the Republicans.
Q Then why weren’t Ryan and McConnell in the meeting last night to talk about DACA?
MS. WALTERS: The President is leader of the Republican Party. He was having dinner with the minority leaders on the Democratic side. He speaks frequently to the other Republican leaders, and that doesn't -- I wouldn’t look into who was and who wasn’t. This is not a tit-for-tat on who attended the dinner last night.
Q How do you respond to Representative Steve King who said that the Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair and no promise is credible?
MS. WALTERS: I can't speak -- I’ll let Representative King speak for himself. What I can tell you is that the President has made it clear what his priorities are this fall. We need to get tax reform. We need to have real and responsible -- sensible immigration reform.
And that's what he’s focused on. He’s focused on reaching across the aisle and working with both parties, both Republicans and Democrats, to get real solutions for the American people. The American people elected him to do this for our country, and that's what he’s doing. He’s working across the aisle and looking to cut deals with both parties in the benefit of the American people.
Q Can I ask about taxes? What did the President mean yesterday when he said taxes for the wealthy may have to go higher?
MS. WALTERS: We're still in the early forms of tax reform. We've made it clear there are four principles in tax reform: We need to make it easier, make it fair, win again, and bring it home.
The President, as well as his senior principals, are continuing to meet with leaders on the Hill to discuss tax reform. This is a high priority. We need to be able to bring jobs back to the American shores and have a tax reform plan that works for the middle-class, working Americans.
With that, because we're about to land, I want to introduce --
Q The plans that we've seen so far from the White House would lower the rate for individuals. Is the President talking about raising rates for some income levels with his comments about the wealthy?
MS. WALTERS: The President said his comments yesterday, he was clear in what he said about tax reform for the wealthy. What I can tell you is right now we're going through a process of determining what is the most reasonable tax reform for the American -- that will benefit the American people; that will grow the economy; put more money back in the pockets of everyday citizens and bring jobs back.
Q He won’t rule out raising rates on the wealthy?
MS. WALTERS: I’m not going to commit to anything at this time. I do need to introduce John Daly, who is going to give an update on the hurricane as we're about to land here and what the recovery-relief efforts are.
Q Can I just clear up one thing you said earlier? Just I’m just trying to make sure I understand. You said at one point the words “path the citizenship” and indicated that this White House, this President will be open to some sort of path to citizenship. You weren’t specific about for who or how many people. But is that true that this President would consider a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants?
MS. WALTERS: You're parsing what I said. What I said is that the President does not support amnesty. This White House will -- the administration will not discuss amnesty, but that it’s in the hands of Congress to come up with a real and responsible immigration reform and a path forward. And when you pushed on the amnesty and the definition of amnesty, what I was saying to you is that in a real and responsible path forward there are many different options. One, for example -- not committing to but as an example -- could be a program that over a set period of time through a certain -- through a program and a process that you could eventually.
But again, this is in Congress. They need to come back. The White House is not leading --
Q You could eventually have a path to citizenship --
MS. WALTERS: You are parsing my words. The White House is not leading this effort. We need Congress to work together to come to the President to say what their immigration policy is moving forward, and we’ll review it then. I’m not going into any further details.
MR. DALY: Hi, I’m John Daly. I’m the Deputy Homeland Security Advisor.
Since we're going to be landing here shortly, I want to give you a little bit more detail about today’s trip with respect to the President’s meeting with local officials, emergency responders, and survivors from Hurricane Irma.
As you know, our commitment right now is still on the life-sustaining activities and recovery operations. There are still some search-and-rescue efforts underway as well, particularly in areas of Florida that might see some flooding and the rivers that still have not crested.
The immediate threats from Irma with respect to heavy rains and flooding may have surpassed or passed us already, but there are still some concerns that we need to be thinking about with respect to the survivors that were left in the wake of the storm.
The President has made clear his commitment that the entire federal government is here to support the Governor of Florida, as well the Governors of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as they execute their recovery efforts.
With respect to our priorities over the next couple of days, power is a significant issue, particularly in power restoration in Florida. The last three days have been an excellent response by the electricity subsector to get power back turned on.
On September 11th, at the peak of the power loss, there were about 7.8 million customers that did not have power. That number is down to 3.6 million in less than three days. So great effort by everybody involved to get power restored. That's an important step towards the recovery efforts.
In addition to power, there's a lot of discussions about fuel. The Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Duke extended the Jones Act waiver, which allows for fuel to be brought into the state of Florida more readily.
On Tuesday, 12 million gallons were actually delivered to the port of Tampa, 18 million gallons to Port Everglades, and those fuels will be actually trucked into key areas within the state that are currently short of fuel.
As far as Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, please keep in mind that they are still in the recovery mode as well. Ninety-two percent of the power in Puerto Rico has been restored. Governor Rossellò and Governor Mapp meet with FEMA Administrator Brock Long yesterday during his visits down to the islands, and Governor Rossellò is at the White House today meeting with officials, including Mr. Tom Bossert, the Homeland Security Advisor, to work through some recovery plans for the next few weeks.
I'll stop there with any questions that you like.
Q Is there any value in the President going to the Virgin Islands?
MR. DALY: Yeah I won't speak to the Virgin Islands opportunity. I think there's a -- the key thing today is for the President to meet and focus on the survivors here in Florida and meet with the emergency officials, the state officials, and the first responders and volunteers who have done amazing work to actually help our fellow citizens. That will be the focus today. We'll look at the Virgin Islands later and make that determination at that time.
Q We've heard in the Virgin Islands, that they're not going to have the sustained attention. Can you assure that the people there -- that the United States government is totally committed to helping with their recovery?
MR. DALY: Absolutely, the President has been very clear that he is committed to expecting all the members of the Cabinet to provide all resources necessary to support all of the locations that have been impacted, including the territories. For example, Department of Defense has been -- and the State Department actively involved in getting resources down to the Caribbean, not only for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, but also other foreign nations down there that need assistance.
DOD has marshaled unprecedented levels of resources to provide that support, including evacuating people from the islands that needed it for medical reasons. So yes, the President is committed to providing the support to the Virgin Islands -- to the recovery efforts.
Q What specifically will the President see in the areas he's going to today?
MR. DALY: So the first stop will actually be meeting with the state officials, local officials, the people who are really getting the job done, including the Governor and his team, and the first responders and the volunteers. After that, we'll make a trip down to Naples where the President will spend some time meeting with survivors -- a neighborhood that was directly impacted by the storm.
Unfortunately, as we throw numbers around, we have to remember that every person that's impacted is just that, they're impacted. And it's important to them to see the President's support, to see the Cabinet's support, to see the federal government's support.
We have over 40,000 federal employees deployed to support Irma -- victims right now in the state of Florida. Over 7 million meals have been deployed, commodities have been deployed. And the President will have the opportunity to meet with some of those survivors and hear some of their personal stories.
Q The President proposed cuts to FEMA's grant programs. Do you think he's reconsidering that in the wake of what he's seeing in Texas and now here?
MR. DALY: The good thing is that FEMA is in a good position right now to provide all the level of support that's needed for the request, not only from the governors of the impacted areas for Irma, but also the Governors of Texas and Louisiana.
Q Do you favor more money, though, and keep that money -- increase the budget?
MR. DALY: (Inaudible) why I want to focus on the visit today, and the visit today is about the survivors and making sure that the folks are getting what they need in order to be able to get back on their feet. The President's message is going to be very clear today that the President of the United States, his entire federal workforce, all of his Cabinet are here to support the Governor, the state and local officials in order to be able to ensure that we recover appropriately and restore normalcy back to post-Irma.
Q (Inaudible) for the rest of it, when people will be able to get down to the Lower Keys?
MR. DALY: So, the actual inspections were done on the actual roadways of the Keys, I'll leave it to the state and local officials to make a determination on that.
The bottom line is that, remember, there are still threats to individual safety. So the message that we need to give the American people, particularly the Floridians that are returning to their homes, is that they need to listen to their state and local officials, the local officials in particular, on when it's safe to return. It may look like there may not be threats, but in actuality with downed power lines, with standing water, there are still threats to people's safety. It's imperative people listen to the messages of their state and local officials.
MS. WALTERS: Thank you, guys.
10:27 A.M. EDT