Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, 10/24/2017, #26
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:51 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon.
Q Good afternoon!
MS. SANDERS: All right, yeah.
President Trump had a productive meeting at today’s Republican Senate Caucus. The President discussed the urgent need for the Senate to focus on cutting taxes for hardworking American families. We must also make American companies more competitive so they can create more jobs and boost wages for American workers. And we must simplify the burdensome tax code that is currently rigged in favor of the wealthy and well connected.
As the President tweeted this morning, the market continues to hit historic highs, and unemployment is at a 16-year low. There is a spirit of economic optimism sweeping the nation, but our economy cannot take off like it should unless we deliver historic tax cuts and reforms. This is the President’s top legislative priority, and he was encouraged today by the show of unity by Republicans on the Hill about getting this done.
During the policy lunch, the President also discussed the urgent need for the Senate to confirm his slate of eminently qualified nominees, in spite of Democratic obstruction, so that they can get work on behalf of the American people. The President will continue to work closely with the Senate to deliver on a legislative agenda that puts the interests of the American people first.
This morning, the President welcomed winners of the Minority Enterprise Development Week awards. This awards program is designed to celebrate the outstanding achievements of minority entrepreneurs, as well as individuals and organizations that are leading the way in advancing minority business enterprise.
The award winners who visited the White House certainly meet that criteria, and the President was proud to host them. He's laser-focused on building an economy that works for all Americans and delivering tax cuts and reforms for these hardworking entrepreneurs by the end of the year.
On the national security and foreign policy front, for the eighth time, Russia has blocked U.N. Security Council action to hold accountable those who use chemical weapons, including terrorists and the Assad regime. By blocking the extension of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, Russia has once again demonstrated it does not care about stopping the barbaric use of chemical weapons in the world and will do whatever it takes to protect its ally, the Assad regime.
Blocking the extension of the investigating authority means nothing less than Russia's endorsement of the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against innocent women and children. We will continue to push back against this.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
Q Sarah, President Trump previously tweeted that Jeff Flake is a very weak and ineffective senator. Do you know if he has any reaction to Flake announcing that he won't seek reelection?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't spoken with him directly since the announcement by Senator Flake, but I think that based on previous statements and certainly based on the lack of support that he has from the people of Arizona, it's probably a good move.
Q Thanks, Sarah. We have two Republican senators now, just today -- Senators Corker and Flake -- calling the President's behavior unacceptable and dangerous, saying that he regularly tells untruths. Senator Flake just called on his fellow Republicans to end what he called complicity and accommodation. I'm wondering, what's the White House's response to this criticism coming from two Republican senators?
MS. SANDERS: I think that we support the American people on this. I think that the people both in Tennessee and Arizona supported this President, and I don’t think that the numbers are in the favor of either of those two senators in their states. And so I think that this was probably the right decision.
Q Sarah, why is the President involved in this feud with Senator Corker? Because there's some concern on Capitol Hill that what you should be focused on is getting your agenda of tax reform through, and that petty feuds like this just distract from the bigger issue. So why is the President engaging in this?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President is focused on doing this. That's what he spent the majority of his day talking about. He went to the Hill and met with Republican senators to talk about tax reform, to push his legislative agenda. That's what he's spending a good bit of this week doing and will continue doing next week until we get the job done.
Q But why does he engage like this?
MS. SANDERS: Look, you've got an individual in the President -- he's a fighter. We've said it many times before. The people of this country didn't elect somebody to be weak; they elected somebody to be strong. And when he gets hit, he's going to hit back. And I think Senator Corker knows that, and he's maybe trying to get a headline or two on his way out the door.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Since the President has taken office, as you know, two Republican senators, Senator Corker of Tennessee and Senator Flake of Arizona, have both announced they're not running for reelection. In your view, is the President remaking the Republican Party? And if he's doing that, is he remaking it in a positive way?
MS. SANDERS: I wouldn't say necessarily he's remaking it because you have a couple of individuals that are no longer running for office. Look, he's got a great relationship with a number of Republican senators. He's going to continue working with them and make sure that we get things done for the American people.
He wants people to be in the Senate that are committed to actually moving the ball down the field, and I don't think these two individuals necessarily have been as focused on that. The President wants to get things done, and that's what we're going to work through, through the fall.
Q Sarah, I understand that neither of these two senators that we're talking about now have been allies, to say the least, of the President. But this has been an extraordinary series of attacks on the President from major figures in the Republican Party, not typical political attacks. I mean, saying that the President is responsible for the debasement of the nation, that a breakdown of civility is the fault of the President, and that enough is enough.
We've seen similar remarks from John McCain, the party's former nominee. In any of this -- does any of this make the President pause and wonder if he is doing anything wrong; that he bears any responsibility for what these senators are saying is a breakdown of civility in our country?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think the voters of these individual senator's states are speaking in pretty loud volumes. I think that they were not likely to be reelected, and I think that shows that the support is more behind this President than it is those two individuals.
Q Why is there so little pushback from other Republican senators on this? I mean, Mitch McConnell is the Republican Leader. Bob Corker is still a committee chairman. Should there be --
MS. SANDERS: Look, Leader McConnell stood with the President just last week here at the White House and talked about how they were working together, how they were getting things done, how they were focused on actually moving the agenda forward. And so I think that's a pretty clear indication of where his support lies and what we're working to do.
Q If I could just pick up on what Jon was talking about. One of the criticisms from Senator Corker today was the idea that history will most remember President Trump for "debasing" the country. And you hear, in Senator Flake's remarks, the idea that he seemed to be writing it for history. How do you think history will view not only the remarks of the two senators today, but also former President Bush last week?
MS. SANDERS: I certainly think history is going to look at this President as somebody who helped defeat ISIS, who built an economy that was stronger than it's been in several decades, who brought unemployment to a 16-year low, who's created over 1.7 million jobs since being elected.
I think those are the things that people actually care about, not some petty comments from Senator Corker and Senator Flake. And I think they're a lot more concerned about the big policy initiatives that this President is driving, including historic tax cuts, which we're going to get done by the end of this year, and then start focusing on some other things.
Those are the things this President will be remembered by, and I think those are pretty good -- certainly good facts, and ones that we're happy to standby.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The President at lunch today asked the senators for a show of hands on two candidates for Fed Chair, Jerome Powell and John Taylor. Since being that Powell and Taylor are the President's favorites for the Fed Chairmanship, why would he ask input from the Senate on this?
MS. SANDERS: Those are certainly individuals that he's looking at. And as we've said, we don't have any announcements on that at this time. But the President is taking that decision extremely seriously, and he's being very thorough in the process. And he'll have an announcement on it soon.
Q Sarah, is the White House concerned at all that these conflicts, which keep escalating, could impact the President's agenda? In specific, it could -- for example, Senator Corker, if the President continues to lash out at him like this, could that prompt him to do things that would be detrimental to the tax cut?
MS. SANDERS: I would hope that Senator Corker is more focused on getting things done in his final months. And so we hope that he'll be very supportive of the tax cuts and tax reforms that the people in his state have demanded and, frankly, elected him to go to Congress and help do.
Q Sarah, may I pick up on that? Because the President, in two different tweets today, had said that Senator Corker was fighting tax cuts -- those were his words -- will now fight tax cuts and is now fighting tax cuts. But there's been nothing public from Senator Corker that he might be against tax cuts. So what exactly was the President suggesting or referring to there in those tweets? Has Senator Corker privately told the President or the White House that he's against tax cuts?
MS. SANDERS: I don't know that he said he's against them, but he's certainly indicated his unwillingness, at this point, to really step forward and work with the administration on getting things done. We hope that he will come around and certainly vote for tax cuts as the people in his state have demanded and requested and pushed for him to do such.
Q Does the White House think that Flake, McCain, and Corker will eventually vote for tax cuts -- all three of them -- because you need all three of them?
MS. SANDERS: I certainly think America hopes they do.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Last week, I asked you if the President wanted Senator Corker to resign, and you didn't want to go there. In light of everything that has happened since, has the White House changed its position on that? And at the very least, does the President think that Senator Corker should step down as head of the Foreign Relations Committee? Especially since Senator Corker told CNN today, and I quote, that he "wants to investigate some of the things that he is purposefully breaking down" -- he, being President Trump.
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that's a decision for Leader McConnell in terms of who has those chairmanships. That's not something for the President to determine.
Q The President doesn't think that he should step down or that he should resign?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't spoken to him specifically about that. But in terms of how the chairmanships are decided, that would be up to Leader McConnell.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. There is currently a contested primary for Senator Corker's seat; Congresswomen Blackburn facing former Congressman Fincher. And it's almost inevitable there will be a contested primary in Arizona; Dr. Ward not going to be left to get the nomination. Will the President make any role in the nomination process there?
MS. SANDERS: As I've said many times before from the podium, I'm not going to weigh in on any political races and whether or not the President will engage. It's not appropriate for me to do from here.
Q The other thing, Sarah, is that in his penultimate salvo on Twitter, the President said that Senator Corker asked him to be Secretary of State, and he refused the request. That's a pretty serious claim because no one really has been proven to have asked for a job in modern times like that. Did Senator Corker actually ask the President to be his Secretary of State?
MS. SANDERS: That's my understanding, but I don't know much beyond those initial comments.
Q Is the President confident that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can pull the Senate Caucus together?
MS. SANDERS: Yes, he is, and he thinks that we're going to work together with Republican senators, particularly Leader McConnell, to get tax cuts and tax reforms done this year.
Q Why does the White House, and the President specifically, continue to say that Senator Bob Corker helped President Obama on the Iran Deal, when the facts clearly say that's not true?
MS. SANDERS: Actually, the facts do say that it's true. It was Senator Corker who wrote the INARA legislation that legitimized the Iran nuclear deal. Despite lacking the votes to ratify the flawed Iran Deal as a treaty in the Senate, Corker's bill rolled out the red carpet for the Obama administration gaining congressional approval without the necessary votes. He may not have voted for it, but he certainly helped make it happen.
Q But he didn't vote for it.
MS. SANDERS: But he helped allow it to take place.
Q And the Washington Post has given four Pinocchios on this. If you look through, Senator Corker says it's a lie.
MS. SANDERS: And as I've said many times before, I wouldn't use the Washington Post as my source, Jeff. You should know better than that.
Q Exactly. But this is true. When you go back and look through, the White House clearly is not telling the truth on this. Why does the President continue to say that he helped President Obama with it?
MS. SANDERS: Because he did.
Q It's just not true. He voted against it though, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: He voted against it, but he allowed it to happen. He put it in motion, he rolled out the red carpet, and he made it possible for it to move forward. That is a fact and that is true.
Q Sarah, what do President Trump's advisors advise him about his use of Twitter? And on a separate, unrelated issue, is the President seeking to kill a deal between Boeing -- or Boeing's deal to sell planes to Iran Air?
MS. SANDERS: On the first one, I would say in regards to Twitter, as I've stated several times before from here, it's always a benefit for the President to be able to speak directly to the American people without any filter, without any bias. I think that's a positive thing. I think it's one of the reasons that the President is president, is because he often goes directly to the American people, speaks directly to them. And I think that's a plus.
And the second question -- I'm not aware of that. Any detailed conversations, I couldn't weigh into that right now.
Q Sarah, on Niger -- and I'm not going to ask you to talk about the ongoing investigation, but I do want to say: The commander of U.S. forces in Africa told Congress last March that he had only a quarter of the reconnaissance flights needed to do his job, and, in fact, that did impact search-and-rescue missions.
Is the White House concerned that U.S. forces in Africa do not have adequate resources and that that could have contributed to what happened in Niger? And has there been any outreach by the White House to Nigerian officials?
MS. SANDERS: As always, the safety and security of our military is a top priority. In terms of specifics, we're going to wait until that investigation is completed. As General Dunford said yesterday, we're going to make sure that we get full and adequate answers for not just the American people, but for the families of those that were lost. And we're going to continue to do that. The administration fully supports the Department of Defense in that process.
Q And has there been outreach from the White House to Niger?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure. I’d have to check and circle back.
Q Sarah, back on Niger, an offshoot -- the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson is concerned that there may not be remains in his coffin. What does this White House say as she is not able to get anything more than dog tags as it relates to trying to put to rest all of those?
MS. SANDERS: My understanding is that the family can request to see those remains, and that would be a process handled through the Department of Defense and the casualty officer. And I would refer you to the Department of Defense for specifics on that.
Q And one last piece on another subject really fast. Beyond personality -- beyond the President’s personality, beyond Flake, beyond Corker, beyond McCain, at issue there is a divide, be it in the nation, be it in your own party. When is there an effort to unify? Because you have people saying, in their own party, in the President’s party, that the President is not helping to pave the way and the path that the President is taking is wrong? When is there an effort for this President to start unifying not just within the party, but with the country because there are so many divides?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, every day there is an effort to unify. I think you see that in the policy initiatives that this President is pushing -- tax cuts that affect everyone, particularly the middle class. I think that's something everyone should be able to rally around. Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, that should be something that brings everybody together.
You look at the defeat of ISIS, you look at the growth of the economy, you look at unemployment -- these are all things that should bring our country together and certainly things that this President has been focused on and will continue to be focused on moving forward.
Q Sarah, the President is likening his tax cuts to what Reagan did. But as we all know, after those 1981 cuts, there were a series of tax increases, including the Social Security payroll tax increase, which affected middle-class Americans.
Today, Social Security’s situation -- fiscal situation -- is far more dire. What does the President have to say about his intentions when it comes to these entitlements once these tax cuts go through?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President said that he did not want to impact Social Security and wanted to make sure that we protected that. The biggest thing he’s focused on right now, though, are those tax cuts and making sure that they're permanent tax cuts that really impact and help the middle class. And that's his biggest priority.
Q Is he still planning no changes?
MS. SANDERS: Cecilia.
Q No changes?
MS. SANDERS: Not at this time, no.
Q The three Republican senators have hit at the same theme that there is this degradation of civility in American politics. And we've also heard that from three past Presidents in recent days. So does this White House agree with that sentiment, that there is a lack of civility in the conversation happening in this country right now from American politicians? And does this President bear any responsibility for that?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think as I’ve said before, we can all always do better. And we're looking at ways every single day, as I just told April, to bring the country together, to focus on policies that really help people, really empower people, and do that for all Americans. That's this President’s -- what he laid out on the campaign, and that's what he’s been focused on since he became President.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the President’s tweet in which he called Pastor Robert Jeffress a “wonderful man.” Given that there are 70 million American Catholics, why would he say that about somebody who’s so viciously anti-Catholic?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of Robert Jeffress being anti-Catholic. I know that he engages with the Catholics in his home state on a regular basis to participate in events like the March for Life. Those are the only actions I’ve seen him participate in, so I couldn’t comment any further on that.
Q Sarah, thank you. One of the aspects of civil discourse is for people in the discussion to acknowledge when they've made misstatements. And there’s a pattern in this White House and with the President that when they make misstatements, those are not corrected. For example, the Chief of Staff came out here at this podium and mischaracterized the speech by a congresswoman given at an FBI building dedication. Why won’t the Chief of Staff or you, right now, acknowledge that that was a mischaracterization and correct the record?
MS. SANDERS: I don't believe that General Kelly mischaracterized. He gave his account of what took place. General Kelly and his family have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I think he’s led with honor and integrity. I think he’s doing a great job of Chief of Staff, and I don't think he has anything to correct or apologize for.
Q Just to follow up on that, why wouldn’t -- even if President Trump meant to console the widow of Sergeant Johnson, why hasn’t he or anyone from the White House apologized for how she took his call? She took his call as insensitive.
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President was making the point that his call was meant to be respectful, sympathetic, and the purpose was to offer condolences on behalf of the nation.
Q Sarah, two quick questions for you. You talked about the President’s big policy initiatives, that that will be how history judges him. Obviously, so far right now, he has none that have made it through the legislative process on Capitol Hill. He wants to get taxes done. Bob Corker --
MS. SANDERS: That's not true. Neil Gorsuch went through a legislative process. I would say that's a pretty big historical moment.
Q I don't know that that's a policy initiative.
MS. SANDERS: Something that has a lasting legacy, probably far beyond most any other individual piece of legislation, is how the courts can shape and determine a lot of different things. And I think you'll see that in Justice Gorsuch.
Q So then to finish that first question, then. You talk about -- when we talk about policy initiatives, like -- I'm thinking of healthcare or, for example, tax reform -- that have not been completed, at least not yet, on Capitol Hill, the lack of support from somebody like Bob Corker might make that a lot more difficult. Given that, does the President feel like he's winning?
MS. SANDERS: I think he feels like America is winning. I think if you look at some of the progress that's taken place in the first nine months, despite the fact that the Congress has done very little up until this point, the President has gotten rid of nearly 1,000 regulations that have paved the way for massive job creation and job growth in this country.
We're looking at a booming economy. I think those are things that people actually care about. We're looking at the defeat of ISIS; something that this President has led on and worked with our coalition forces to help do.
He's created better relationships with countries around the globe. He has bolstered the relationship with NATO and had other countries encouraged in the growth of the amount of money that other countries are participating in that.
The historic moment that we saw with the President on his first foreign trip when he was in Saudi Arabia and he spoke in front of nearly 60 Muslim-majority countries. These are historic moments that he has done without Congress. Imagine how incredible and how many good things we would be doing if people like Senator Bob Corker got on board and started doing their job instead of doing so much grandstanding on TV.
Q So then does the President believe, Sarah, that there should be --
MS. SANDERS: Jake.
Q My second question, Sarah: Given those comments, does the President believe there should be a loyalty test for Republican senators? Does he demand -- you've mentioned several times before --
MS. SANDERS: I think that their loyalty should be to the American people and to the agenda that those people elected them to carry out.
Q Well, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake say that is where their loyalty lies.
MS. SANDERS: Well, I hope we'll see that in their votes.
Q So Sarah, I just want to --
MS. SANDERS: Dave. I'm sorry, Hallie, I got to move on.
Q Did the President have any reaction today to Chairman Nunes's announcement that he's going to open an investigation into the Obama administration's deal to allow a Russian company to obtain U.S. uranium?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't spoken with him directly about that but I certainly think it is a move in the right direction, and something that we've spoken about several times here -- that if there was any collusion whatsoever during the campaigns of any point -- or any collusion at any point with another country, that they should look at the Clintons. And so I think that's the right thing.
Q Sarah --
MS. SANDERS: Ronica. Sorry, go ahead.
Q Sarah, thank you. So, the President regularly highlights the success of the stock market in his tweets, but only about 50 percent of Americans are invested in the stock market. And earlier today, I spoke with Grover Norquist, a prominent conservative voice pushing for tax reform. I mean, he characterizes the economy, and says -- he says, "The economy itself still sucks."
So what's your reaction to that, and for those people who aren't benefiting from the success of the market right now?
MS. SANDERS: Well, I think there's also a lot of other things beyond just the stock market. The fact the unemployment levels have dropped, that's certainly a big thing. The fact that 1.7 million new jobs have been created since Donald Trump was elected. Those are all positive things in the economy.
We didn't say it was completely fixed and that -- but we're certainly moving in the right direction. I think we've been more successful in these first nine months than Obama was in eight years.
Q Sarah, I have two questions. One is, we understand that when the President gets hit, he hits back, but what is he trying to accomplish when he says that Bob Corker couldn't win a race for dogcatcher? What is he trying to accomplish?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that the President is voicing the frustration that probably you see from a lot of people in the state of Tennessee, which is why Senator Corker's numbers are where they are.
Q Okay, my second question is, can you point to any votes that Flake and Corker took that were against the President's agenda?
MS. SANDERS: I'm sorry?
Q Can you point to any votes that Flake and Corker took that were against the President's agenda?
MS. SANDERS: I'd have to look detailed into their voting records. So I'll check on that.
Q I don't think there are any.
Q You said before that Senator Flake and Senator Corker's comments were "petty." What exactly of Senator Flake's speech did you find to be petty?
MS. SANDERS: I thought that his attacks and a lot of the comments that he made -- I don't have a readout in front of me, but as I was watching it, I noticed that a lot of the language, I didn't think, was befitting of the Senate floor.
Q But nothing in particular?
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, go ahead.
Q I mean, I was going to ask about Fed Chair and I'm just interested if the vote that seemed to happen at the Senate meeting, where you saw -- where, according to Senator Scott, John Taylor, got the most votes, if that is going to influence the President's decision on that. And then, just a follow-up on Andrew's question --
MS. SANDERS: Let me answer the first question first. As I said earlier, the President is taking this decision very seriously, going through a very thoughtful and thorough review and interview process. And when we have an announcement on that, we'll let you know.
He's talking to a lot of relevant stakeholders and individuals about this and knows that it has a great deal of impact -- this decision. So, again, he'll take his time and make sure he makes the right one and not just a fast one.
Q Sarah, thanks. To follow up on some of the questions that have been asked, how does fighting with members of his own party advance the President's agenda and his stated goals for the American people?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President is fighting for an agenda, and he has -- as I've said, if he gets hit, he's going to hit back. And people didn't elect him to be weak; they elected him to be strong. And if he feels it's necessary to respond, he's going to do that.
And at the same time --
Q But you have -- there is no margin for error, though, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: -- he can talk and chew gum at the same time. He's pushing forward on an agenda. It takes 30 seconds to send out a tweet, and he spends the bulk of his day working on and pushing policy initiatives like tax reform, like tax cuts, and that's what he is committed to doing.
Q Let me just follow up with you very quickly. There's some confusion around 401(k)s, and some Republicans are saying that's making their job to actually get tax reform done more complicated. So can you say here definitively that the Republican tax reform proposal will not touch 401(k)s?
MS. SANDERS: That's the President's plan, and that's what he'd like to see Congress get onboard with as well.
Q Is he committed to that?
MS. SANDERS: He wants to make sure that we're protecting American's futures and American's retirements, and that's part of that process.
Q Thanks, Sarah. On the opioid crisis, we've seen the President organize a commission, we've seen him host meetings, he's used the word "crippling," the words "national emergency," we've seen the administration put more resources into law enforcement, and we've seen him take on this message of telling kids just not to start.
But advocates for those who are addicted say they feel like they just haven't seen enough work towards helping people who are currently addicted -- that there is a need for a huge rush of money to get more people into treatment. What's the President's thinking right now? And can they expect anything in the coming days when it comes to getting help to those who are addicted and need treatment?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. This is obviously a growing epidemic that the President is very committed to fighting against. He has been working with his policy advisors and his team diligently and all the relevant components and agencies. And you'll see some more details on those efforts by the end of this week, and in the next couple of days, some specific announcements that the President said he would have.
Thanks so much, guys. We'll be around the rest of the afternoon. Have a good day.
END 4:20 P.M. EDT