Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:18 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. SANDERS: It's Friday. Come on, guys.
Q Happy Friday.
MS. SANDERS: Don't let Brian Karem show you up. I know that there is more spirit out there. (Laughter.)
As many of you saw last night, the Senate adopted a budget resolution. This is another important milestone for tax reform, and sets the stage for us to pass major tax cuts that will deliver more jobs and higher wages for hardworking Americans all over the country.
Many of you have seen today that the First Lady donated the gown she wore to the Inaugural balls to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. In her speech, she mentioned that leading up to Inauguration Day, everyone was so busy getting ready that the dress's designer ended up only having two weeks to work on the First Lady's design and create the dress. It obviously came together, and the First Lady is very excited to take part in the rich tradition of First Ladies contributing to and maintaining our great history.
By the way, if you've not visited the Smithsonian's exhibit of First Lady dresses, you certainly should take time to do that.
Lastly, today is a particularly special day for all of us here at the White House. There are a lot of people here who serve the President and our country behind the scenes. One of those people is Hope Hicks, our incredible communications director. Tomorrow is her birthday, and as you know, I love a good birthday. So I wanted to make sure to mention it here in the last briefing of the week. So happy birthday, Hope. If you get a minute, be sure to send her a note and wish her a happy birthday. Thanks for your selfless leadership, and perhaps, most importantly, your great sense of humor.
And with that, happy Friday, and I'll take your questions.
Q Sarah, I'd like to open with a question about the Fed. The President finished his interviews this week and said in an interview with Fox Business that he would consider having Powell and Taylor come to the Fed together. Should we take that a signal that the other candidates are not going to get the job?
MS. SANDERS: We still have an announcement on that. As the President said, that's something that's certainly under consideration, but he hasn't ruled out a number of options. And he'll have an announcement on that soon, in the coming days.
Q What else is he looking for as he makes his decision?
MS. SANDERS: As you know, I'm not going to get ahead of a big announcement like that that the President himself will make, but we'll keep you posted when we're ready to roll that out.
Q On that note, Janet Yellen -- the President was extremely critical of her during the campaign, saying at one point she was too political, that she should be ashamed of herself, essentially said she was a political arm of the President and Hillary Clinton. Now he's said some rather nice things about her, most recently, a couple times, that he respects her. What has changed in his thinking as it relates to Janet Yellen over the last year? And can you shed some light on their relationship?
MS. SANDERS: I think them having the opportunity to spend some time directly communicating with one another, certainly through this process. But beyond that, again, I'm not going to weigh any further into this process and where we are, other than the fact that the President will make an announcement on it soon.
Q Sarah, when is the President himself going to weigh in on what happened with those four special-ops soldiers in Niger?
MS. SANDERS: I'm sorry, I'm not sure I follow your question.
Q Will the President address publicly -- and if so, when -- what exactly happened to these four special-ops soldiers?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, as we said, as General Kelly specifically addressed several times yesterday, that the Department of Defense has initiated a review, which occurs any time there's an American that's killed in action. We're going through that process. The President, the Department of Defense, and, frankly, the entire country and government want to know exactly what happened.
And the President and the nation are grateful for those four American heroes, and we won't rest until we get some answers. And that's part of this process, and that's what they'll do. And when the time is appropriate, we'll talk about the details of the investigation.
Q Sarah, the South Florida Sun Sentinel released a video of Congresswoman Wilson's speech in 2015. In the speech, it doesn't appear that she referenced funding for the FBI building in South Florida. Does General Kelly still stand by the statement that he made yesterday that he felt that she was grandstanding and that she was taking credit for funding?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. General Kelly said he was stunned that Representative Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation. As General Kelly pointed out, if you're able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes all about yourself, you're an "empty barrel." If you don't understand that reference, I'll put it a little more simply. As we say in the South: All hat, no cattle.
Q Well, in fact, have you seen the speech?
MS. SANDERS: I have.
Q Then you know that most of it was heard effusively praising these FBI agents. And when she was talking about what she did in Congress, she was not talking about securing the $20 million; she was talking about naming the building for these FBI agents who she then went on to effusively praise. And that was the bulk of the speech.
MS. SANDERS: She also mentioned that, and she also had quite a few comments that day that weren't part of that speech and weren’t part of that video that were also witnessed by many people that were there.
Q like what?
MS. SANDERS: What General Kelly referenced yesterday.
Q Well, tell us specifically. Because if he’s going --
MS. SANDERS: Exactly what he said: There was a lot of grandstanding. He was stunned that she had taken that opportunity to make it about herself.
Q Can he come out here and talk to us about this at some point so that he can get the facts straight?
MS. SANDERS: I think he addressed that pretty thoroughly yesterday.
Q No, he was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money. The money was secured before she came into Congress.
MS. SANDERS: If you want to go after General Kelly, that's up to you. But I think that that -- if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that's something highly inappropriate.
Q Well, shouldn’t he have to come out here and get the facts straight? That would be great if he could come out here and do it. That would be wonderful.
MS. SANDERS: Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Sarah. When President Trump spoke at the CIA building in January, in front of the stars of 117 CIA agents who had fallen and been killed in the line of duty, he talked about a number of different things, including a lot about himself. He talked about the fake news attacking him. He talked about the MLK bust and the controversy over that. He talked about the crowd size at the inaugural.
MS. SANDERS: That wasn’t an event set to memorialize those individuals. That was a celebration talking about the transfer of power. It was two very different events. If you look at the President’s comments at events like the 9/11 ceremony earlier this year, those were very somber. Those were focused specifically on those events. Those are not even apples to apples, so that's not a fair comparison.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Putting the congresswoman aside for a second, I want to focus on what the mother of Sergeant Johnson said. She said that she felt that the President disrespected her in his comments. Now, regardless of the President’s intentions, is the President concerned that what he said might have come across as disrespectful? And does he plan to follow up with her and repair that relationship?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, if the spirit of which those comments were intended were misunderstood, that's very unfortunate. But as the President has said, as General Kelly said -- who I think has a very deep understanding of what that individual would be going through -- his comments were very sympathetic, very respectful. And that was the spirit in which the President intended them. If they were taken any other way, that's certainly an unfortunate thing.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The 43rd President of the United States, President George W. Bush, made some comments up in New York City yesterday. And I’d like you, if you could, just to address some comments that he made just concerning the issue of Russia, specifically Russian influence in the United States.
He said, “The Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other.” And he also said that Russian interference will not be successful. “Foreign aggressions, including cyberattacks, disinformation, and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated.”
Do you agree with those sentiments expressed by the former President?
MS. SANDERS: Do we agree that Russian interference shouldn’t be tolerated? Absolutely. And we've said that many times before and certainly would argue that that has been repeated. I know I’ve said it at least a dozen times from this podium.
Q And I just want to follow up with a question I’ve asked you a few times, but most recently in July. It relates to our relationship with Russia, and I’ve never gotten an answer for you on that. Does the President -- President Trump -- view Russia as an ally, a partner, or an adversary?
MS. SANDERS: And as I’ve said before, I think a lot of that depends on Russia and what type of relationship they want to have, and whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor. And we're going to continue trying to work with them on certain things that are very important, particularly for national security. On things like Syria, on things like North Korea, we’d like to be able to work with them to confront some of those threats. And so some of that will be determined by the actions that Russia takes and how they want to be perceived.
Q Thanks. I also have a question about that George W. Bush speech. But first, just to clarify, are you saying the White House is no longer saying that the congresswoman talked about the funding? She just talked about legislation in general?
MS. SANDERS: We're talking -- I specifically said and I’ll repeat it again, that General Kelly said he was stunned that she made the comments about herself, and that was the point of what he said. That was what took place here yesterday, and we still stand by those comments.
Q Okay, and then on the George W. Bush speech. He said at one point, “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.” Does President Trump agree with this assessment? And if so, what does he see as his role in addressing that?
MS. SANDERS: Does he agree with the assessment of what? I’m sorry.
Q That bigotry seems emboldened and our politics seem more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication. Those were for -- President Bush’s words.
MS. SANDERS: I think if anybody is pushing a lot of fabricated things right now, I think most of that would be coming from the news media. And we would certainly agree with that sentiment.
Q What about the bigotry?
MS. SANDERS: I'm sorry, I've called on David.
Q The President signed the executive order today, and what it appears to do is it allows the Pentagon to recall retired officers into duty under the 9/11 authority that he has. What's the reason for this executive order?
MS. SANDERS: I don't have anything further on that and I'll have to get back to you, David.
MS. SANDERS: General Kelly was obviously very upset that this has now become a political conversation -- the President's call with the widow, and I think, more broadly, the fallout of the soldiers that were killed in Niger. So why did he feel like it was appropriate to come out here, to call a congresswoman an empty barrel, rather than calling her privately like he has done with other members of Congress who have been critical of the President? And why did President Trump feel the need to take that even further today and tweet about her?
MS. SANDERS: I think that it's real simple: You guys are the ones talking a lot about that story, and he felt it was important to address you and all of America directly. This story has been given an enormous amount of coverage over the last 48 hours, and he thought it was important that people got a full and accurate picture of what took place. And that was a personal decision that he made, that he wanted to come out and, frankly, not just share with you but, like he said, share with all of America and make an appeal to America to go back to kind of honoring that sacred code of Gold Star families.
Q In one of those questions that the President was asked earlier today -- I know there's an investigation --
MS. SANDERS: And in terms of -- hold on to that, just to finish on the rest of your question -- why the President felt the need to respond, it's because it should have ended yesterday after General Kelly's comments. But it didn't. It continued, and it's still continuing today. It's still the bulk of the coverage on most every TV you turn on and most every newspaper that you open up today. And the President responded to those continued accusations and continued mischaracterizations of his comments.
Q And one other question the President was asked earlier today [was] whether he authorized this mission in Niger. Can you give us any information on whether this was something he authorized or even something he was aware of before finding out that American soldiers were killed?
MS. SANDERS: As I've said, as is the process anytime an American is killed in action, there is a full review that takes place. And before we start jumping to any conclusions, we want to make sure that that is completed fully, and then we'll have those details for you at that time.
Q Sarah, thanks. On Niger, a senior congressional aide who was briefed on the matter said that there is an indication that there was a massive intelligence failure. Is that the assessment of the White House?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, as I just told Sarah, we're going to wait until that review is complete by the Department of Defense, and we'll answer those questions at that time.
Q And one more question, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: Olivier.
Q One more question, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to try to work my way around.
Q Lara said she saw a transcript of the phone call. Can you just answer that question, Sarah?
Q Did the President authorize explicitly the operation in Niger, or was that delegated down in the DOD?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into any of the details at this point. You may be able to talk with those at the Department of Defense, and they can answer anything further. But where we are in the process, until the review is complete, we're not going to weigh in any further.
Q The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is going to --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to try to get to everybody.
Q Given all of the reaction to the content of the President's phone call, does President Trump intend to make phone calls to families of the fallen in the future should other Americans die while he is Commander-in-Chief?
MS. SANDERS: I think we're hoping and praying that those phone calls don't have to take place. And so that's where we are right now.
Q The Los Angeles Times has reported -- we reported that the military operating in Niger had requested additional overwatch capacity and medical response assistance in the months leading up to this ambush on October 4th. Is the President satisfied that that Special Forces unit, when it went out there that day, had all the resources that it needed to operate there?
MS. SANDERS: As I've said several times here today and we'll continue until that review is complete, I'm not going to get into the details until that is finalized. I think too often, in cases like that, we have jumped to conclusions and tried to make determinations before all of the details are known. We want to make sure that that process is complete before we weigh in.
Q Thank you, Sarah. And I have to keep it to one question today?
MS. SANDERS: Yes, sir. (Laughter.) Even you, John. I know it will be tough.
Q I will obey. (Laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: Wow, if only I had that kind of power over anybody else, including my kids. That would be great.
Q Reluctantly. (Laughter.) Several London publications have said that the President's visit to London, when and if the details work out, will be a working visit with Prime Minister May and not an official state visit, which means he will not be received by the Queen at Buckingham Palace. What will be the nature of his visit to London and to Prime Minister May -- a working visit or a state visit?
MS. SANDERS: That still hasn't been determined. We're still going back and forth with our allies there. And once we have those travel details outlined and determined, we'll certainly let you know.
But they've made the invitation for the President to come. We've accepted and we're working out the logistics.
Q They've made it. Now that means --
MS. SANDERS: We anticipate that it will be sometime next year. But at this point, there's no other details beyond that.
Q So 10 Downing Street has made the invitation.
Q Thanks, Sarah. The State Department announced today that it's now up to 24 people who have been impacted by the sonic attacks in Havana. I wanted to ask: Is the President satisfied with the investigation into what's happening? And has he reached out or considered reaching out to any of the victims?
MS. SANDERS: I don't believe that he has reached out to any of the victims involved at this point. That's an ongoing investigation and something we can't weigh in on further at this time.
Q On the call to Sergeant Johnson, Lara Trump seemed to suggest in an interview this morning that there was a transcript of the call and that she read it. Is there a transcript? And has it been shared with members of the President's family?
MS. SANDERS: There's not a transcript of the call. I believe she was responding to reports and things that she had read. But I haven't spoken directly with her. I'd refer you to the campaign that handles her press inquiries. But there's not a transcript.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Senator John Cornyn confirmed today that he is blocking the nomination for the OMB (inaudible) to try to get more relief funds for Texas after Hurricane Harvey. Does that come as a surprise or a disappointment to the White House that the number-two Republican would be blocking a nominee?
MS. SANDERS: The administration welcomes a conversation with all members of Congress about the next disaster relief request which we expect to come in the coming weeks. While we work with Congress on that next request, we urge the Senate to keep doing their jobs by confirming qualified nominees to crucial positions inside our government. This administration has already faced unprecedented obstruction of its nominees, and further delays only hurt the American people. And we hope they'll get on board and make that process move further along.
Q Sarah, given President Bush's comments yesterday that you were asked about, in general, does the White House feel it's appropriate for past Presidents to be critical of the sitting President? And when was the last time President Trump spoke to President Bush?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not sure the last time they spoke. But our understanding is that those comments were not directed towards the President, and, in fact, when these two individuals -- both past Presidents -- have criticized their President, they've done so by name and very rarely do it without being pretty direct, as both of them tend to be. So we'll take them at their word that these actions and comments weren't directed towards the President.
Q The United Nations, of course, is following, very carefully, the refugee situation along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. And President Trump today met with the UN Secretary-General. Did they speak about the Rohingya refugee situation? Was the President asked for any further help? What was the tenor of their conversation?
MS. SANDERS: They had a very productive conversation, and we'll have a readout coming with more details about that later this afternoon. And we'll be around the rest of today to answer questions.
And with that, happy Friday. I hope you guys have a good weekend. Thanks.
2:36 P.M. EDT