Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders
BY PRESS SECRETARY SARAH SANDERS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:59 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. SANDERS: Today's jobs report shows the extraordinary impact recent weather events have had on our economy. Calculations from Moody's Analytics estimate the recent storms could cause between $195 billion and $245 billion in economic losses. But those numbers, as large as they are, are not the best way to understand the impact these storms have had on the people of our nation.
President Trump has now personally visited storm-ravaged areas in numerous states and territories. He's seen the devastation, and he's looked into the eyes of Americans struggling to find hope in the midst of heartache. The President has committed to these people that we will walk with them every step of the way as they rebuild their homes, their communities, and their lives.
And he has committed to all Americans that we are going to build an economy that works for everyone. We are encouraged to see that the unemployment rate has once again dropped, and workforce participation vaulted to a 3.5-year high. This report underscores the need for Congress to work with us to grow the economy and create jobs.
The importance of passing tax relief for American workers and business cannot be overstated. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a tax code that is simple, fair, and easy to understand. That means getting rid of the loopholes that primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans and special interests. It also means lowering taxes for middle-income Americans so that they can keep more of their hard-earned paychecks and buy the great American products made by American manufacturers.
Today, the President signed a proclamation declaring October 6th National Manufacturing Day. This honors the men and women who create the products that power our communities, improve our lives, and defend our nation; the people who, as the President says, "believe in those beautiful words: Made in the USA."
In addition to the 14 workers the President hosted in the Oval Office during today's proclamation signing, more than half-a-million people around the country are participating in thousands of events related to Manufacturing Day. Among them will be numerous members of the President's Cabinet and other senior officials.
Our tax plan would lead to a great American manufacturing boom. We will cut taxes on American manufacturers and businesses of all sizes, and restore their competitive edge so they can create more jobs and higher wages for our workers. Our plan will also encourage them to bring back trillions of dollars currently parked overseas.
The President will be back out on the road next week building support for this plan, which is really a jobs bill. He will be visiting Hamburg, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, and we'll have more details on that trip coming soon.
And with that, we'll kick off Friday with questions, and we'll start now. (Laughter.) This is kind of fun. We should do this more often, not just save it for Fridays.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The body of another U.S. soldier has just been discovered by local forces in Niger, which brings to four the total number of Green Berets that were killed on Wednesday in Niger. So far there’s been no response to this by the President. No tweet from the President, no statement from the President. Can we expect some sort of reprisal by the U.S. military in Niger as it relates to what happened on Wednesday?
MS. SANDERS: I made a statement on behalf of the administration yesterday in the opening. Obviously, anytime one of the members of our great military are injured, wounded, or killed in action, that is certainly something that we take very seriously. Our thoughts and prayers are with those individuals. We're continuing to review and look into this. And as we have more details, we’ll certainly let you guys know.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Can you clarify the President’s comments? Was he referring to military action when he said “calm before the storm”?
MS. SANDERS: As we've said many times before -- I know the President has; as I have from this podium on quite a few occasions -- we're never going to say in advance what the President is going to do. And as he said last night, in addition to those comments, you’ll have to wait and see.
Q But how seriously should the American public or American adversaries, for that matter, take these comments? Was it a joke? Was it serious?
MS. SANDERS: I think you can take the President protecting the American people always extremely serious. He’s been very clear that that's his number-one priority. And if he feels that action is necessary, he’ll take it.
Q Sarah, when the President said that he wants his military leaders to give him military options faster, does he feel like they are intentionally slow-walking these options to him?
MS. SANDERS: No, not at all. But this is -- as you know, he’s a person who likes to take action and take it quickly. And I don't think you should read into anything beyond that as he wants options on the table so that he can make quick decisions.
Q And was that just a general comment? Or did he mean a specific country?
MS. SANDERS: I believe it was just a general comment. I’m not aware of anything specific that that was in reference to.
Q Sarah, I have two questions. One on the soldier who was killed in Niger and the other on DACA. On the soldier, when was the President made aware that there was a fourth soldier that was missing in action? And when did he become aware that unfortunately that soldier had been killed and discovered by local forces?
MS. SANDERS: I believe that the notification was yesterday, but I’d have to get clarification on the specific timing of when that took place.
Q When was the President made aware that that soldier’s body was found?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I know that it was pretty soon after that had been discovered. But as far as like an exact time, I couldn’t give you that. But I know Chief Kelly kept him updated constantly on that situation as it evolved.
Q And to a question on DACA, today the President welcomed Hispanic American leaders to the White House. He did not mention his decision to end DACA during his remarks there. He did not call -- renew his call for Congress to protect those who are going to be vulnerable for deportation starting in March. Why did he not bring that up?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think he’s been clear there’s no reason to continue to reiterate the same position that he’s held. He’s called on Congress to act on it. You can expect in the coming days that he’ll lay out his responsible immigration reform. I think you can count on that to happen very soon. And that's all part of the process moving forward. But he hasn’t been unclear about what his position is on that front.
Q Sarah, going back to “calm before the storm,” when presidents deal with world matters like this, all options are on the table. Have you -- has this White House exhausted diplomacy? Because for him to say the “calm before the storm” and listening to what you just had to say --
MS. SANDERS: We're continuing to put maximum economic and diplomatic pressure on countries like North Korea. We're going to continue to do that. But at the same time, the President is going to keep all of his options on the table. Our position has not changed. It’s been very consistent.
Q So is it North Korea -- that's the storm?
MS. SANDERS: I’m just using that as an example. I think we've got a lot of bad actors in the world -- North Korea, Iran. There are several examples there.
Q Sarah, let me ask you about the HHS decision today to expand the contraception waiver. The ACLU has already filed a lawsuit or at least announced its intention to, and this was their response. They said, and I quote: “The Trump administration is forcing women to pay for their boss’s religious beliefs.” They go on to say, “We're filing this lawsuit because the federal government cannot authorize discrimination against women in the name of religion or otherwise.” Your response to that would be what?
MS. SANDERS: I don't think it’s been a secret that I would probably never use the ACLU to get any of my talking points. The President believes that the freedom to practice one’s faith is a fundamental right in this country, and I think all of us do. And that's all that today was about -- our federal government should always protect that right. And as long as Donald Trump is President, he will.
Q So then in not responding to the ACLU, what would you say maybe to the women out there or to the families out there who now have to pay more out of their pocket to get contraception coverage that they choose and that they desire?
MS. SANDERS: This is a President who supports the First Amendment, supports the freedom of religion. I don't think I understand why that should be an issue. The Supreme Court has validated this decision certainly many times over. And the President is somebody who believes in the Constitution. If people don't like what the Constitution says, they should talk to Congress about changing it.
Q I want to follow up on that, but I have a few. Given the lawsuits that the ACLU has already filed, said it would plan to file, is the administration prepared to defend this contraceptive mandate rollback all the way to the Supreme Court if need be?
MS. SANDERS: The Supreme Court has already made clear what their position is, and it supports what this administration has done.
Q You don’t believe it will be a legal fight that escalates to the Supreme Court at all?
MS. SANDERS: I think if it does, it will show that this administration is on the right side of the law.
Q And then my question, Sarah, was just on the “calm before the storm” issue again. If the President wants to --
MS. SANDERS: Why would we ask the same question?
Q Well, it’s a different question, actually.
MS. SANDERS: It is Friday so I thought maybe we’d change it up.
Q It’s actually a follow-up -- because you said the President wants to preserve an element of surprise. So if he wants to preserve an element of surprise, why would he dangle hints about his actions in the first place?
MS. SANDERS: I don't believe he did.
Q He said, “You’ll find out” and brought up a “calm before the storm.” So he --
MS. SANDERS: He didn't talk about any specific actions at all.
Q If I could ask two questions. First, following up on the HHS change, does the White House have any estimate of how many people could lose access to birth control under this change?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware. I’d refer you to HHS for specifics on that data.
Q Just a quick follow-up on a different topic. The President repeated earlier today that the U.S. is the highest-taxed nation in the world. That's not true. So why does he keep making that statement? Why does he stick to that talking point?
MS. SANDERS: I believe there are specific sectors within the country that are among the highest-taxed in the world, and we’ll be happy to provide that data to you.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I have two questions. First, there's been rumors that Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece will come here on the 17th, meet with the President, and then meet with the Vice President on the 18th, and we've had no confirmation. Is the Prime Minister invited? And is he coming to meet the President and Vice President?
MS. SANDERS: He is. And I believe that date is correct -- the 17th I believe that he’ll be here on that date.
Q The other thing is that the administration has had a vacancy without a permanent Secretary of Homeland Security for two months, which is a record for that position not operating with a permanent Secretary. Are we going to have an announcement on a choice for permanent Secretary within days -- next week, perhaps? And rumors are consistent he will make Elaine Duke the permanent Secretary and send her appointment up. True or false?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of any announcement that the President may make about a permanent person. But I will say that Acting Secretary Duke is very competent and has managed the Department of Homeland Security very well in a very tough and trying time, given the hurricane season that we've had, and certainly have not wanted to make big shifts in leadership during this time and while there's so much going on there.
In terms of a timetable, we'll keep you posted when we have an announcement on that front.
Q It's the President's opinion too, right?
MS. SANDERS: I'm sorry?
Q What you just said about Secretary Duke, the testimony you gave is the President's opinion of her as well.
MS. SANDERS: Yes, he's happy with the job that she's done as the Acting Secretary.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Senator Cornyn said that the immigration principles that are being floated out there would be harmful to the DACA negotiations. He believes that DACA should be kept separate from any discussion about legal immigration. What is the White House response to that? I mean, are you guys committed to attaching legal immigration to the DACA debate?
MS. SANDERS: We want to make sure that whatever we put forward is a responsible immigration reform, and it's not one piece of this process dealt with separately. We need to make sure that we're addressing all the problems so that we're not dealing with this again in two, four, five, six years, but that we're putting forward a very thorough and full plan. And that's what you're going to see coming from the administration in very short order.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two questions. First, does the White House have any view on the CFPB rule on payday lending?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. I'd have to check on that and circle back with you.
Q And just to follow up on that topic, there have been some House Republicans who believe that there's already cause for firing Richard Cordray, going back to his handling of the Wells Fargo case. Why hasn't the President taken action? I mean, does he approve of the job that Cordray has done so far?
MS. SANDERS: When we have any personnel announcements on that front, we'll certainly keep you guys posted.
Q Just one more.
MS. SANDERS: That's two already. I'm going to have to move on. Margaret. Sorry.
Q Sarah, two quick questions for you. One, there have been some rumors about the future of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson today. Can you continue to say the President remains confident in him as Secretary of State?
MS. SANDERS: He does. As he said yesterday, or two days ago, as I said yesterday, nothing has changed despite what you may read in the media or watch on TV. I would certainly trust the President and my comments far above those of other reporters.
Q And I want to ask you, the President -- words matter. The President can move markets. He can cause miscalculation when it comes to adversaries. In the context of the questions asked of you today when you've been asked what he meant by "calm before the storm," you've put them -- you've mentioned North Korea, you've mentioned Iran -- there's implication that there is some kind of military action. There is some sort of forecasting there. Can you clarify if we are interpreting things correctly?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't been specific about anything. I've also talked about the fact that we're continuing to put maximum economic and diplomatic pressure on countries like North Korea. I'm simply saying that all options are on the table, as they have been. And we're not going to announce what actions we'll be taking until that moment comes.
Q Sarah, can you be more specific about the President's position on bump stocks? Would he be open to legislation clearly banning them?
MS. SANDERS: As I said yesterday, we want to be part of that conversation. We want to gather more information. We're going to continue to do that over the coming days, and that's the current position. It hasn't changed since yesterday.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions, if I can.
MS. SANDERS: Why not?
Q I asked you about Senator Corker a few weeks back --
MS. SANDERS: Just not three. Two is the limit.
Q Just two. I asked you about Senator Corker and some of the comments he made a few weeks back. Earlier this week, he said that Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and General Kelly are basically what's keeping the country separated from chaos. And he said there are other people in the White House that aren't putting forth policies in a coherent fashion. Do you have any response to Senator Corker's statement?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that the President is the one that's keeping the world from chaos. He has an incredible team around him that's helping him lead that effort, and he's had tremendous accomplishments on the international stage by working with allies and confronting enemies. We're going to continue doing that, and we're going to continue doing that as a team with the President leading that effort.
Q Is General Kelly helping him lead that effort? Is General Kelly --
MS. SANDERS: I'll come back to you.
Q Sarah, getting back to these "calm before the storm" comments, I wanted to ask you about that in a different way. There's a theory in Washington -- and forgive me if you've been asked about it before -- that the President subscribes to this "Madman Theory" that if he makes a lot of unsettling, off-putting comments that sort of throw people off, that he likes to keep his adversaries guessing; that that's sort of the point of making comments like "calm before the storm" and so forth. What is your sense of that? Is there anything to that? Is there --
MS. SANDERS: I think the President has addressed this himself. He certainly doesn't want to lay out his game plan for our enemies. So if you're asking, is the President trying to do that -- absolutely. I mean, I don't think that's --
Q He's trying to throw people off?
MS. SANDERS: I don't think that that's a secret. I wouldn't say necessarily that he's trying to throw people off, but he's not trying to broadcast or telegraph his exact actions. I think we've seen what a failure it is when an administration does that, and this is a President who's going to do it differently and do it better.
Q And just a quick follow-up on that. When people are -- when they sort of catch their breath in this town, when they sort of hold their breath in this town when he says something like that -- you have a smile on your face -- is that somewhat satisfying that --
MS. SANDERS: No, I just picture people in this town actually holding their breath. That might be a welcome surprise for most of America.
Q Sarah, just one more thing. I want to pick up on what Margaret was trying to get at, I think, is can you -- let me put it to you this way: Can you exclude the possibility that the President was actually just being mischievous -- that he was messing with the press a little bit when he made that comment?
MS. SANDERS: I wouldn't say that he's messing with the press. I think we have some serious world issues here. I think that North Korea, Iran both continue to be bad actors, and the President is somebody who's going to always look for ways to protect Americans. And he's not going to dictate what those actions may look like. I don't think there's anything beyond that that I can add on that front.
Q A second question on Iran. A couple days ago, Senator Tom Cotton gave a speech in which he said he believes the best outcome for the Iranian nuclear deal would have to be referred to Congress. But rather than have Congress reimpose sanctions, which he called a backward looking step, we would use this period of 120, 90 days to renegotiate several terms of the deal. Does the White House think that that sounds like a plausible -- like a good way to deal with the Iran nuclear deal?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of the President's announcement on the decision that he has. What I can tell you is the President isn't looking at one piece of this. He's looking at all of the bad behavior of Iran, not just the nuclear deal as bad behavior, but the ballistic missile testing, destabilizing of the region, number-one state sponsor of terrorism, cyberattacks, illicit nuclear program. He wants to look for a broad strategy that addresses all of those problems, not just one-offing those. That's what his team is focused on, and that's what he'll be rolling out to address that as a whole in the coming days.
Q To follow up on that, is it the President's wish that Congress reimpose sanctions on Iran for those bad acts you're talking about?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into the details of what the President's decision is until he makes that later in the week.
Q One other question about Cuba, Sarah. Sarah, about Cuba. Our CBS News reporting today has taken this story to a new level. There are now Americans who do not work for the government who are saying that they're subject to these health attacks. The State Department is telling us that there are a handful of Americans who have reported these symptoms. What's going on here? How is the White House viewing this? How are we going to get to the bottom of it?
MS. SANDERS: Something we take extremely seriously. We're continuing to investigate. The State Department is taking the lead on this effort, and we're going to continue looking into this until we get some real answers.
Q You called on me, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: I'll come back.
Q Just to drill down a little bit on what you said yesterday about the press, saying that we owe it -- I don't think anybody disagrees that we should be as accurate and fact-finding as possible. But to flip it, do you and the President believe the President has a responsibility to be as truthful and honest with us as possible? Has he done it? And for those surrogates who have used -- your term is "alternative facts" -- would they then not do that?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. I think we all come here every day and do our very best to give you the best and most accurate information that we possibly can.
Q Have you been successful?
MS. SANDERS: I think so.
Q Okay, going back to the answer about leadership -- the President's leading -- is General Kelly part of that leadership team with the President as he's leading in this White House?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely.
Q Does the President have confidence in General Kelly?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely.
Q And today is Friday. Could we expect a resignation today from anyone? (Laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: I don't think so, April.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Since we last heard from you, the film producer, Harvey Weinstein, has become the subject of some very serious sexual harassment allegations, and there's building pressure around Democrats who received campaign donations from him to send the money back. And I know that this particular producer was very critical of the President during the campaign and suggested that Latinos in Hollywood would be deported if he were elected. Does the President support the idea that Democrats who got donations from this person should send the money back?
MS. SANDERS: I think that's a decision for those individuals to make. Whether or not that's money that they want to take, that's up to them. That's certainly not a decision for us to make.
Q And one more, I'm sorry. Why hasn't the President fired John Koskinen from the IRS, given all the scandal over the -- the conservative targeting scandal that he commented about so much during the campaign? Why does John Koskinen still have his job?
MS. SANDERS: I'll have to ask him, David, and get back to you.
Q Las Vegas question. The President lavished praise on Las Vegas police for their amazing handling and their response after Sunday night's shooting. Nevadans credit federal programs that train police to deal with terrorist attacks.
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, can you speak up a little bit?
Q Nevadans credit federal money programs that train them to deal with terrorist attacks for their great response. You all have cuts in those programs, in your budget plan. Are you rethinking that?
MS. SANDERS: I think at this point we're continuing to move forward. If there is a moment where we feel like the safety and security of American citizens may be at risk because of cuts, I think we'd have to revisit it at that time.
Q Sarah, the nation lost 33,000 jobs in September, and I was just curious how the President feels about that. And is he stepping up his efforts to convince Congress to pass major tax reform because of this surprising job loss in September?
MS. SANDERS: I think that today's report shows, certainly, the devastating impact of the hurricane season. But while many displaced weren't able to work, the economy still remains extremely strong. Those people continue to have jobs, which is why the unemployment rate actually fell.
I think one thing to really note and something this administration wants to focus on, certainly moving into the future -- I think tax reform plays a big role in this -- but that one of the big identifiers that I think we should look at is the drop in the unemployment rate, including new lows for African Americans, teens, and women, which is certainly a great step forward in this process.
Q Sarah, a question on the Affordable Care Act. President Trump has repeatedly said that we should just let Obamacare implode. But there's a new report in the Washington Post that says that President Trump personally directed administration officials to deny requests from the Republican governor of Iowa to fix the Obamacare market in that state. Is that true?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of that specific directive, so I'd have to check into that and get back to you.
Q But if it is true --
MS. SANDERS: I'm not going to comment on hypotheticals where I don’t have the information in front of me.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I wanted to ask you a question about the Iran recertification process. Regardless of what the President decides when he makes this decision next week, would you rather not have to do this every 90 days after that?
MS. SANDERS: Again, as I said earlier, we're looking at something that is a broad strategy -- doesn't just address one part of Iran's bad behavior, but that addresses a wide range of issues. So that would certainly be our focus.
Hopefully, they would begin to not be a bad actor and we wouldn't have to do this at all. But our goal, again, would be to address a number of factors, not just one or two things.
Q A second question.
MS. SANDERS: It is two-question Friday.
Q It’s been six weeks since the President indicated that he wanted Pakistan to move against agents of chaos within Pakistani territory or areas under Pakistani control. The Prime Minister was here at the White House this week to meet General McMaster. Have you seen any change in Pakistani behavior in those six weeks?
MS. SANDERS: Nothing specific that I can weigh into at this time, but we'll certainly keep you posted.
Q Sarah, will the President campaign for the candidate for governor in Virginia, Ed Gillespie?
MS. SANDERS: As I've said many times before from the podium, I'm not going to weigh into specific races and the actions that we may or may not take.
And I think that's a great place to end this for Friday, and I hope everybody has a great rest of your Friday and a good weekend. Thanks, guys.
3:24 P.M. EDT