As the President noted in the pool spray earlier, the two leaders have already had some great discussions around the issues of trade and security. The various events taking place today, both at the White House and the Capitol, are intended to celebrate America’s commitment to peace and security in Ireland.
And we are pleased to report that the relationship between our two countries is stronger than ever. Looking ahead to next month, I’d like to announce that the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team will be our guests here at the White House on April 10th.
That was a little painful to read, but at least they are an SCC team, so I’m going to let that slide. As you all know, the President attended the National Championship game in January, and he’s looking forward to hosting Coach Saban and the team as they celebrate their record 17th National Championship.
You can tell we’ve got some Alabama staffers – Alabama fans of staffers in the comm shop (ph). It’s been a while since we read a letter here in the briefing, and today I have a great one from 10 year old Paris Stuphar (ph).
She’s a self-proclaimed Army brat who is doing some wonderful service work in her community. My name is Paris (ph) and my sister’s name is London (ph), she writes. My sister and I have been stationed all over the world.
It has really been a great adventure. We’re currently stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We are so patriotic in everything we do. We’re on Instagram @ArmyRoyals, if you’d like to check us out. Over this summer, I used my allowance and raised enough money to get 43 backpacks full of school supplies for military children in need.
We were wondering if you could help us out. We so badly want to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 2nd. She goes on to write that the President is doing a great job and says that if he would invite them to the Easter Egg Roll, she would “do my happy dance all over the house.”
Well Paris (ph), you can get your dancing shoes out. The President and First Lady would love for you, your sister and your parents to be their guests at this year’s Easter Egg Roll. This event is a timeless tradition that dates back to 1878 under the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes.
This year marks the 140th annual Easter Egg Roll, and with you guys in attendance we know it will be an extra special one. To make it even more special, I’d also like to extend an invitation to the children of the White House Press Corps to attend as our guests as well.
If you’re interested in having your kids join us for the event, please contact the press office to work out those details. And on that happy note, I will take your questions. John (ph)?
QUESTION: Sarah, the President said last July there would be a red line if the President – if – if – I’m sorry. The President said July it would be a red line if the Special Counsel were to investigate the Trump family’s personal financial dealings.
It’s now been reported that the Special Counsel has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for its dealings with Russia. Is this a red line? Is the President upset about this?
SANDERS: As we’ve maintained all along, and as the President has said numerous times, there was no collusion between the campaign and Russia. For specific questions regarding the Trump Organization, I would refer you to them.
QUESTION: But is that statement the President made in that interview back in July still stand, that it would be a red line for the Special Counsel to be investigating the Trump …
SANDERS: We’re going to continue to fully cooperate out of respect for the Special Counsel. We’re not going to comment. For any specific questions about the Trump Organization, I’d refer you there.QUESTION: And if I could just ask you about the poison attack in – in Great Britain. The President’s now said he believes that it looks like Putin authorized it, it looked like the Russians did this. What will be the response?
Will Russia pay a price? Will the United States make Russia pay a price for doing this?
SANDERS: Look, the United States, as we have said all along, stands in solidarity with its closest ally, the United Kingdom. We share the United Kingdom’s assessment that Russia is responsible for the reckless nerve agent attack on a British citizen and his daughter, and the United States is working together with our allies and partners to ensure that this kind of abhorrent attack does not happen again. For anything further, we’ll keep you posted.
QUESTION: Yeah, Sarah, in the past week, the secretary of State’s been fired. The top economic advisor’s been replaced. The president’s personal assistant lost his clearance, and was escorted out of the building. The president’s hinted that more changes are going to come. And is there any concern in the White House that this creates an air of chaos or instability that leaves the U.S. vulnerable, especially as President Trump’s preparing to sit down with Kim Jong-un of North Korea?
SANDERS: Certainly, I don’t think there any vulnerabilities here. The president wants to make sure that he has the right people in the right places for the right time. As we move forward into this year, we’ve had an incredibly successful year. The results of the last year don’t lie, and as we look at new successes that we’re focused on, the president wants to make sure he has the right people in those places, for instance, like Director Pompeo and Deputy Director Gina Haspel, that he’s nominated to lead the CIA.
QUESTION: When do you think the changes will add? When — when will he have everybody in place?
SANDERS: Look, as — as you move through an administration, you have different priorities that you’re focused on, and different people that are going to lead those efforts, and lead those priorities. So you may have changes from time to time. The president’s committed, though, to making sure he has the right people in the right place at the right time.
QUESTION: What’s the White House response, Sarah, to criticisms from Capitol Hill on Gina Haspel’s involvement with the CIA “black site” operations in the early 2000s?
SANDERS: Look, the president is incredibly proud of his nominee. She’s highly qualified, highly recommended, highly respected from both sides of the aisle, particularly within the intelligence community. I would point you to some people that are not usually those that often sing praises of the president like Leon Panetta, James Clapper and others, where they have publicly shown broad support for his nominee.
QUESTION: And what’s the president’s response to Democrats on Capitol Hill who voted for Mike Pompeo for CIA director in his confirmation, and are now saying, “We’re rethinking.”
SANDERS: I think it sounds like Democrats are trying to play political games with our national security, and certainly, with our diplomatic efforts, which would be a sad, sad day, and a disgrace to this country, and a question every reporter should ask Democrats what made them change their minds.
QUESTION: I have two questions, one on DACA, and one on trade.
On DACA, is the president open to something attached to the omnibus spending bill that would extend DACA for a period of time, in exchange for wall funding?
SANDERS: We’re continuing to negotiate what that would look like, and I don’t have any specifics at this time. But we do still want to make a good deal. But what’s currently being thrown out in the press is not something that we would support.
QUESTION: Just wait — and my question about trade.
SANDERS: Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: The USTR says that we have a trade surplus with Canada. The president says we don’t. How do you reconcile those two (inaudible).
SANDERS: Well, for one, they’re not taking into account some of the additional things, like energy and timber, that wouldn’t be included in those numbers. And once you include those, it shows that there actually is a deficit.
QUESTION: Are there any other economic indicators that the White House disagrees with, that come out from the federal government besides this particular economic indicator? Obviously, the USTR is putting out one number, a $12.5 billion surplus. You say that’s not accurate. What’s your number?SANDERS: No, I say it’s not complete. There are plenty of things, once you take into the full account of all of the trade between the two countries, that show that there actually is a deficit between those two.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. It has to do — I’m sorry, Sarah. The other thing has to do with a story which appeared first in the Washington Post about an audio portion from a fundraiser the President had in Missouri, in which he said he was not exactly truthful in his conversation with his counterpart from Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau …
SANDERS: That’s actually not what he said.
QUESTION: … what he said, and also other – other – I’ll let you answer this. Are there other times the President has had conversations with his counterparts from around the world in which he is not accurate in terms of the conversation that he’s having with them?
SANDERS: Well the President was accurate, because there is a trade deficit and that was the point he was making, is that he didn’t have to look at the specific figures, because he knew that there was a trade deficit. Whether they got down into the dollar amount or not, there is a trade deficit between the two countries.
I don’t have that number right in front of me, but I know that we have it and we’d be happy to provide it to you. John (ph)?
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. We talked about Democrats playing political games with the nominations of Director Pompeo and Ms. Haspel to the CIA. Rand Paul came out against both nominations and used pretty strong language about it.
Is Republican Senator Paul playing political games, as well?
SANDERS: Well I think the point specific to the question that was being asked, people that had supported Director Pompeo already through the confirmation process. Look, we have two incredibly skilled, very highly qualified individuals.
That to lead these two agencies, we’re very proud of these nominees and fully expect them to both be confirmed. Peter (ph)?
QUESTION: So his language, Senator Paul’s language, doesn’t disturb the White House about the nominees?
SANDERS: Certainly. As I just said, these are two highly qualified and highly skilled, highly recommended individuals that should be confirmed, and we fully expect that they are. I was referencing a specific question about the hypocrisy of the support for Director Pompeo in previous processes.
QUESTION: … is that Spain and South Africa both have relatively small steel industries, they also have youth unemployment approaching 50 percent. Are smaller countries going to have a chance in negotiations to come out ahead where their unemployment won’t grow particularly among the young?
SANDERS: As we’ve said, we’re going to have those conversations with specific countries. But the decision will ultimately be made on a national security basis. And that would have to be determined country by country, and I couldn’t speak to those two specifically today. Casey (ph)?
QUESTION: Sarah, the President has expressed a willingness to work with Vladimir Putin. And now as evidenced by the sanctions, the DHS and the FBI’s new information they put out today, there’s been more bad behavior by Vladimir Putin and the Russians since President Trump took office.
So is Vladimir Putin playing President Trump?
SANDERS: Not at all. The President has said in the past that if we can work together to combat world threats on things like North Korea, then we should. But the President has also shown that he’s been extremely tough on Russia throughout his administration.
And I think particularly you saw that today in the Russia sanctions that were put forward.
QUESTION: So is Putin – in simple terms, is Putin a friend or a foe of the United States?
SANDERS: I think that’s something that Russia’s going to have to make that determination. They’re going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor. I think you can see from the actions that we’ve taken up until this point, we’re going to be tough on Russia until they decide to change their behavior.
Steven (ph)? Sorry, I’m going to keep moving, because I have to get to more of your colleagues. Sorry, I’m going to keep moving.
QUESTION: … Sarah, if I could ask, does the President feel that the Justice Department should act by Sunday to fire Andrew McCabe?
SANDERS: That’s a determination that we would leave up to Attorney General Sessions, but we do think that it is well documented that he’s had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts, a bad actor, and should have some cause for concern.
But that would be a determination that DoJ would have to make.
QUESTION: … should not receive his full pension as a result of …
SANDERS: As I just said, that would be a decision that Department of Justice would have to make. Jeff (ph)?
QUESTION: Sarah, if I could follow on what John (ph) was asking earlier about the red line. Just to get some specific clarity on it, the question as asked was about a red line if the finance questions went beyond anything relating to Russia.
Does the President still believe – does he draw a distinction, do you know, between a red line on family finances separately from family finances or business finances relating to Russia, as it pertains to this case?
SANDERS: The President believes very strongly there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We’re going to continue to cooperate with the Special Counsel, and for questions specific to the Trump Organization, I would refer you to them. Catherine (ph)?
QUESTION: Do you believe that the timing – what does this show about the timing and the speed and drawn out process of this investigation. The President’s attorneys have repeatedly said this will be over by Thanksgiving, Christmas, end of the year.
Do you believe this has been drawn out too long? Does the President believe it’s been drawn out too long? Is he willing to sit back and wait a bit longer?
SANDERS: Look, we’ve seen just this week the House Intelligence Committee come out and say they thought there was no collusion. We’re going to continue to cooperate with the Special Counsel, and we look forward to them concluding soon.
QUESTION: … some Republicans on the committee. It was not the entire committee, it was some Republicans on the committee. In fact, two Republicans on the committee said that it didn’t show that at all.
SANDERS: Individuals that have spent a great deal looking at this. Again, we’re going to continue to cooperate with the Office of Special Counsel, and we look forward to them coming to the same conclusion. Catherine (ph)?
QUESTION: Sarah, the President made his statement to veterans very clear during his time in office and on campaigns, talking about he wants to take care of them. Does he currently believe that America’s veterans are well served by this decision (ph)?
SANDERS: Look, the President has a large number of individuals that are working hard to make sure that the VA is helping veterans at the best level possible. We’re continuing to refer if there are anything we can do to improve on that system. And as we make changes, we’ll let you know.
QUESTION: … changing …
SANDERS: I don’t have any personnel announcements, but I can tell you that every day we’re looking for how we can better the system, whether it’s through policy changes or personnel changes. Not just at the top level, but across the board.
We’ve already made a number of changes within the personnel that made sure we’re looking at how we can best serve our nation’s veterans. David (ph)?
QUESTION: Thank you Sarah. One on Russia and one on a Cabinet member. Is it the Trump administration’s own assessment that Russia was behind the nerve gas attack in Salisbury, or are you just adopting the U.K.’s assessment?
SANDERS: We’re working in close coordination with the United Kingdom.
QUESTION: So the U.S. doesn’t really have its own position, it hasn’t done its own investigation on this yet?
SANDERS: We have a position, I’ve clearly stated, but we’re working in conjunction with the United Kingdom on this front.
QUESTION: And on a Cabinet member, if you will. We’ve all heard by now that HUD Secretary Carson and his wife picked out a $31,000 dining room set for his office. They only canceled the order when it came out in the press.
Is this an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars, and has the President spoken with Secretary Carson about it?
SANDERS: Look, this is something we’re looking into. I don’t have any updates on that front at this point. Sarah (ph)? Sarah (ph)?
QUESTION: Oh, thank you. So the New York Times reported today that the White House has created a working group on North Korea to prepare for the upcoming summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-Un.
Can you tell us what agencies are involved in this working group, who’s preparing it, how often they’re meeting? Any information you can give us?
SANDERS: We’re continuing to move forward in this process, but I don’t have any new updates or information that we can provide today.
QUESTION: And one other, thank you. The President has until tomorrow to sign the Taiwan Travel Act, which says it should be U.S. policy to allow U.S. officials to travel to Taiwan to meet with their counterparts and vice versa.
Does the President plan to sign this act, or will he veto it or allow it to become law automatically?SANDERS: The final decision hasn’t been made, we’ll keep you guys posted. Trey (ph)?
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Today the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster had some strong words for Russia and Iran while speaking at the Holocaust Museum. How much influence did President Trump have on the words of McMaster, and could you give us a little bit of information on the current relationship between the president and his national security adviser?
SANDERS: The president and General McMaster are continuing to work together to put pressure on Russia to do the right thing. Again, I think you can see what the administration’s viewpoint is simply by looking at the actions that we took today by placing new sanctions on Russia.
QUESTION: Sarah, if I could ask you about the deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe. The president’s weighed in numerous times about Mr. McCabe on Twitter. Is the president concerned about the findings of this internal investigation? I know you said he’s not commenting on whether or not he should be fired.
SANDERS: I said he was leaving, that determination to be at the discretion of the attorney general.
QUESTION: Has the president signed onto a statement aligning (ph) France, Germany and the U.K. on the poisoning. Is that as far as you go — will go, or does he plan — is he considering measures that might match what the U.K. is adopting, in terms of diplomatic expulsions? And is there any order been given to intelligence agencies here to — to look out for similar possible threats on American soil?
SANDERS: I can’t get into the specifics on any potential threats, but I can tell you that we’re going to continue to work with our ally in the United Kingdom, and we’ll work in close coordination with them, moving forward, and we’ll keep you posted of any specific actions.
QUESTION: But actions are — actions are under consideration?
SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of anything that we may or may not do, but I can tell you that we’re going to continue to stay in close coordination with our ally.
QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Clinton was in India recently, where she said that President — President Trump won the elections because of people looking backward, people who don’t want womens (sic) to succeed, (inaudible) to succeed, and African-Americans to progress. What do you — what do you have to say on that?
SANDERS: I think that’s a perfect example of why Hillary Clinton is not in the White House. She is completely disconnected from the American public, and certainly, I think, shows her disdain for the millions and millions of Americans who came out and voted, and supported President Trump, and still support him today.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. If I could ask two questions on what the president has said on trade. Twice, he’s cited the McKinley Tariff. Does he view that as a precedent? And I ask that because that tariff pushed consumer prices so high, Republicans lost both houses of Congress and the presidency afterwards.
SANDERS: The president focuses on making sure that we’re protecting American industry and American workers. He specifically thinks that it’s important that we protect the steel and aluminum industry due to the fact of making sure that we have the ability to still manufacture those goods for the purpose of national security.
QUESTION: Can you cite any tariff from the last 150 years that has worked, and done what you want to do now?
SANDERS: I think we’ve made progress since the president’s announcement just over a week or so ago. I think it’s certainly improved to the conversations, and some of the negotiations that we’ve had.
Last question. Steve (ph)?
QUESTION: Yes, Sarah. At this fundraiser yesterday in Missouri, the president, talking about environmentally unfriendly standards that the Japanese allegedly apply on U.S. imported automobiles, talked about a bowling ball test, where a bowling ball is dropped from 20 feet in the air on the hood of a car, and if it dents, the car doesn’t qualify. And he said, “This is horrible.”
I worked in Japan for about 20 years. I covered the automotive industry. I don’t recall anything like this. No one we’ve spoken with in the industry recalls it. Did you speak with President about this? And where did he get this from?
SANDERS: Look, the president’s been talking about unfair trade practices for decades. It’s not new for him. Part of the reason he was elected was to end unfair trade practices and push for free, fair, and reciprocal trade so American goods can compete in more foreign markets.
Obviously, he’s joking about this particular test, but it illustrates the creative ways some countries are able to keep American goods out of their markets.
Thanks so much, guys. See you tomorrow.
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