James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:54 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. This morning, faced with the very real possibility of a potential immediate shutdown of the entire DACA program by a federal court, President Trump took the responsible and constitutional step of announcing that the administration will be phasing out the program over the next two years.
Today’s September 5th deadline was set by the plaintiffs presenting the administration with two, and only two, real options to choose from: the likely sudden cancellation of the program by a judge or an orderly wind-down that preserves the rule of law and returns the question to the legislative branch where it belongs. The President chose the latter of the two options.
The President made the best decision in light of the fact that the system was set up by the Obama administration, in clear violation of federal law. President Obama even admitted this himself when announcing the program, calling it a “temporary stopgap measure” and calling on Congress to act.
DACA was initiated after Congress explicitly rejected the same proposal in legislative form. In other words, President Obama didn’t just suspend federal law, but implemented a policy Congress had explicitly rejected.
There is a misconception that DACA primarily serves as a shield from deportation. This is misleading. DACA grants work authorization to nearly 800,000 individuals who are not legally authorized to work. DACA recipients, whose average age is in their 20s, were not an enforcement priority before, and they certainly won’t become a priority now. The priorities remain the same: criminals, security threats, and those who repeatedly violate our immigration laws.
The main effect of today’s announcement is that work permits and other government benefits are being gradually phased out. But rather than leave DACA recipients and men and women of immigration enforcement in confusing limbo, while the DACA program was challenged by states in the same court that struck down another of the previous administration’s unlawful immigration orders earlier this year, President Obama [sic] is laying out a responsible 24-month phase-out — sorry, President Trump. (Laughter.)
No permits will be expiring for another six months, and permits will remain active for up to two full years. The President was elected partly on his promise to deliver meaningful immigration reform that puts the jobs, wages, and security of the American people first. He is delivering on that promise every day, and he has put forward serious proposals to Congress that would responsibly end illegal immigration, prevent visa overstays, remove dangerous criminals, protect American jobs and wages, and create a merit-based system that grows our middle class.
These are not just President Trump’s priorities; they are the American people’s priorities. For decades now, the American people, immigrant and U.S.-born, have asked Congress to establish a lawful immigration system that protects our country. They’ve asked for strong, secure borders, they’ve asked us to protect American security and American jobs, and they’ve asked us to have compassion, not only for those who are here illegally, but for unemployed American citizens, including millions of unemployed African American and Hispanic citizens who continue to suffer under a broken system.
The President’s DACA decision today brings us closer to a safer, fairer, and legal immigration system. Now that he has ended this unsustainable and unconstitutional program imposed by the previous administration, the President is calling on the men and women in Congress to fulfill their duty to the American people by truly reforming our immigration system for the good of all people.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. John.
Q Sarah, one question that went unanswered today was, some 359 members of the DACA program enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2016. Their tour of duty would run the standard four years, I would assume, but their DACA status would only last two years. If there’s no fix by Congress before March the 5th, do you know what will happen to those people? Will they become ineligible to remain in the military, or will there be special dispensation? Has that been worked out?
MS. SANDERS: We have confidence that Congress is going to step up and do their job. This is something that needs to be fixed legislatively, and we have confidence that they’re going to do that. And we stand ready and willing to work with them in order to accomplish responsible immigration reform, and that would include — DACA is certainly part of that process.
Q There are many Republicans who believe that getting something on the Republican side is not going to be easy; that the divisions that we see between the center and the right in the Republican Party will become only deeper. What gives you confidence that this will actually happen?
MS. SANDERS: With all due respect, I don’t think the American people elected Congress to do things that were easy. They elected them to make a government that works, to work properly, and to work for American people. And that’s their job. And if they can’t do it, then they need to get out of the way and let somebody else who can take on a heavy lift and get things accomplished.
Q Sarah, in the context of DACA as a piece of legislation, would the President be willing to sign only something that addresses that? Or would it also be to have components of the RAISE Act? Would there need to be funding for the border wall? Or would he be willing to sign something that simply addresses DACA legislatively?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants to see responsible immigration reform, and he wants that to be part of it. But again, we can’t take just a one-piece fix. We’ve got to do an overall immigration reform that’s responsible and, frankly, that’s lawful. And that’s what the President wants to see Congress do.
Q What would be the priorities for him in a comprehensive reform package? It would be DACA and what else?
MS. SANDERS: And certainly to control the border, to improve vetting and immigration security, enforce our laws, and do things that protect American workers.
Q Let me ask you a question on North Korea. In the President’s mind, is it an option to simply contain a North Korea that possess nuclear weapons?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the priority of the administration is to have denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and it’s also to protect American citizens. But certainly the priority would be that.
Q Sarah, you’re talking about a comprehensive immigration fix from Congress in a span of six months, and much to the President’s frustration, Congress hasn’t been able to really do much at all this year. What gives him confidence that they’re going to be able to act on immigration? Has he spoken to any congressional leaders since making this DACA decision?
MS. SANDERS: He’s spoken to a number of leaders, but hopefully, as you guys all know, they just came back from a three-week vacation. I think that they should be rested and ready to take on some big challenges that America faces.
Q Why put the fate of the lives of 800,000 DREAMers, people —
MS. SANDERS: Because it’s Congress’s job to legislate. It’s not the President’s job to create law. It’s Congress’s job to create legislation. I think that’s something we all learned in 8th grade civics; I know I certainly did. And I think that every member of Congress should know that that is their duty, and we’re asking them to fulfill it. It’s pretty simple.
Q Do you think they’ll be able to do it?
MS. SANDERS: I think that the American people elected them to do it. And again, if they can’t, then they should get out of the way and let somebody else take their job that can actually get something done.
Q What consideration are you giving to negotiations with North Korea, over the nuclear program?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think in the terms of negotiations, we’re looking at putting aggressive measures, both diplomatically, economically. And as we’ve said, all options are on the table and we’re going to continue to push for a safer and denuclearized Korean Peninsula. And that’s the priority here.
Q It sounds the President is saying, and your saying, that if we’re going to allow the DREAMers to stay in this country, we want a wall. Is that accurate?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think that the President has been shy about the fact that he wants a wall, and certainly something that he feels is an important part of a responsible immigration reform package.
Q Can I ask you one follow-up question? Why did the President not come out and make this announcement himself today? Why did he leave it to his Attorney General? It’s his decision. These kids — their lives are on the line because of what he is doing. Why not have him come out and make this call?
MS. SANDERS: It’s in large part a big part of the legal process. This was deemed illegal by, I think, just about every legal expert that you can find in the country, including many of Obama’s own attorneys said that this was not a lawful program. And therefore it would be the Department of Justice to make a legal recommendation, and that’s what they did.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Quick question, yes or no, and then a follow-up. Would the President sign a standalone DACA extension?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I have addressed this. The President is hoping to work with Congress on responsible immigration reform, and I laid out the priorities that the administration has on that front.
Q So the President has voiced, and you’ve voiced, some objections to the constitutionality of DACA. Where does the President stand on the program itself?
MS. SANDERS: I think that in the answers that I have given, is that the President has been — and I think part of the reason that this is complicated, and one of the reasons he’s wrestled with this back and forth, in large part is because this is not an easy one, and certainly something where he wants to be able to make a decision with compassion, but at the same time you can’t allow emotion to govern. And this has to be something where the law is put in place and it’s something that he would support if Congress puts it before him.
Q You would support it, if it came with — I am just trying to get the specifics
MS. SANDERS: Again, responsible immigration reform. We can’t just have one tweet to the immigration system; we need really big fixes and big reform in this process. And we’ve laid out the principles that we feel are important in that.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Is this a position — what?
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, John Decker.
Q Thanks, Sarah. The President had, recently as February, expressed sympathy for the DACA recipients. Today we heard in a statement from House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said that these so-called DREAMers have done nothing wrong. Was this a difficult decision for the President to take this drastic action, given what he’s said as recently as February? And does he agree with House Speaker Paul Ryan that these individuals — 800,000 individuals — have done nothing wrong?
MS. SANDERS: I think largely, yes, and that’s why I said it was one of the things that the President wrestled with this decision all throughout the weekend. So I kind of addressed that, so I think that’s pretty clear.
Q It was just this weekend that he wrestled with it? It wasn’t leading up to it?
MS. SANDERS: Well, no — I mean, I think we’ve been clear throughout the process. There wasn’t a final decision made until over the weekend because of the back-and-forth and the complexity of the issue, and the ability to make the right decision, and allow Congress to actually do their job and provide a fix, instead of just stopping the program. And that was a big point for the President.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I want to drill down a little more on what you mean when you say the President wants to act with heart and compassion in regard to these DACA recipients. Does that mean offering them a pathway to citizenship?
MS. SANDERS: I think it means providing a more permanent solution that’s done through the legislative process; done legally and responsibly, unlike the previous administration.
Q A permanent solution — does that mean you’re giving them legal status, legislatively? Like, what is the permanent solution that the President —
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s something we want to work with Congress to determine exactly what that looks like. But there has to be — something needs to be done. It’s Congress’s job to do that, and we want to be part of that process. And make sure that there is a fix put in place and that this isn’t ignored, like it has been for the last five years.
Q If Congress doesn’t get it done by the March 5th deadline, considering the President’s personal feelings about these DACA recipients, would he consider giving them additional time to get a solution passed?
MS. SANDERS: We’d like to have confidence that Congress will actually do their job. We’re going ask that they do that and that they allow us to work with them and be part of that process. But again, if Congress doesn’t want to do the job that they were elected to do, then maybe they should get out of the way and let someone else do it.
Q Sarah, when we heard from the Attorney General this morning, he repeatedly referred to DACA recipients as illegal aliens. And at one point he intimated that hundreds of thousands of Americans did not get jobs that were taken by DACA recipients. Does the President share that view?
MS. SANDERS: I think that it’s a known fact that there are over 4 million unemployed Americans in the same age group as those that are DACA recipients; that over 950,000 of those are African Americans in the same age group; over 870,000 unemployed Hispanics in the same age group. Those are large groups of people that are unemployed that could possibly have those jobs.
But again, we’re looking for fixes. We’re not looking for complaints but we’re looking for solutions. And that’s our focus moving forward.
Q How do you reconcile those statistics with the idea that hundreds of thousands of people, if the President gets what he wants, could achieve legal status? How do you reconcile those two competing interests?
MS. SANDERS: Well, I think one of the first things is, the President is looking to create a whole lot more jobs in America so that it addresses both problems. There’s a reason he’s focused largely, since day one of taking office, in creating a better market for businesses to create jobs, to hire more people, higher wages.
He’s gotten rid of over 800 regulations that have helped do just that. 1.2 million jobs have been created since he came into office, and every single day we’re looking for more ways to grow that number. And so we’re doing our part to address and create an environment that allows people to have more jobs. And we’re going to continue doing that.
Q Sarah, thanks. The President vowed to treat DREAMers with “great heart.” How is this move treating them with great heart?
MS. SANDERS: I think by allowing an orderly process to take place. You know, there’s a lot of people that I’ve seen attacking the President for not showing the level of compassion that they feel like he should. To me, the most heartless thing that I’ve seen all day today is that Democrats, like Nancy Pelosi, are using this decision today for fundraising while the President is trying to fix this situation. They are politicizing an issue instead of actually doing their job.
If they would spend less time fundraising and more time focusing on solutions, we wouldn’t even be in this problem in the first place.
Q But keeping it on the President’s decision, where all of this stems from, the DREAMers, the supporters of DREAMers says this is cold-hearted; you’re leaving the future of 800,000 people uncertain, up in the air. What’s your message to them?
MS. SANDERS: It’s not cold-hearted for the President to uphold the law. We are a nation of law and order. And the day that we start to ignore the fact that we are that, then we throw away everything that gives these people a reason to want to come to our country. If we stop becoming the country that we were envisioned to be, then we throw away what makes us special, what makes America unique. This President is not willing to do that. The previous administration was; this one isn’t.
But we want to have real solutions. We want to have laws that address these problems, but it’s Congress’s job to legislate, not the President’s. And we actually want to uphold the Constitution, and I think people across this country should be celebrating the fact that they have a President that is standing up and upholding the Constitution as he was elected to do.
Q I’d like to ask you about North Korea. But quickly on DACA, is the President committed to honoring the will of Congress, essentially whatever Congress passes on DACA? Or does he reserve the right to veto a DACA fix if he feels that it doesn’t kind of holistically do what you’re talking about — a bigger-picture thing that touches on some of these things?
MS. SANDERS: As I’ve said, we want responsible immigration reform, and that would be part of that package and part of that process.
Q And then on North Korea, if I could just ask. Vladimir Putin has said that he doesn’t believe that sanctions are going to work at all against North Korea. And I’m wondering whether the President himself is coming around to that perspective, or whether he still believes sanctions can be effective, and if he has any plans that you could share with us to talk with the Chinese President or the Russian President himself.
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’ve been clear about what our priorities are; that now is not the time for us to spend a lot of time focused on talking with North Korea, but putting all measures of pressure that we can. And we’re going to continue through that process.
We’ve also said that everybody, including Russia, including China, need to do more to address the threat. This is a global threat, and everybody needs to take part in putting pressure on North Korea. And as we’ve said many times before, both Secretary Mattis and the President, that all options are on the table, and we’re going to continue to keep them on the table until we get the results that we’re looking for.
Q Sarah, the President has said that the DACA recipient should “rest easy.” He’s also said on several occasions that he loves them. Is he giving them his personal assurance that at the end of six months they will not be deported?
MS. SANDERS: I think he is giving Congress the ability to do their job. I’ve said that earlier —
Q What does “rest easy” mean when he said they should rest easy?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President gave the ability for us to have a six-month process for Congress to actually step up and fix this problem. And they certainly have the ability to, and certainly should take that opportunity.
Q One other question about — during the other immigration moves that the administration has made, you made the argument that the President’s powers over immigration are very, very broad and unquestioned. Why in this case does he feel he can’t do anything by himself and he has to turn it over to Congress?
MS. SANDERS: That was a specific statute within the Constitution that allows the President to take action to protect Americans. These are two very different things and certainly not apples to apples.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. On DACA —
MS. SANDERS: Two-question Tuesday.
Q Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a close ally of the President’s, denounced the decision because of the six-month delay in it, and said there should be no phase-out; it should have been implemented immediately. What’s your response to that criticism from a strong supporter and ally of the President?
MS. SANDERS: I think our response is pretty clear. The President made a decision, and we feel very much that it was the right one.
Q The other thing is that you talk about 4 million jobs that could go to other people. Has the President ever discussed this part of DACA with some of the leaders of organized labor to try to involve them in the process — President Trumka of the AFL-CIO, President Hoffa of the Teamsters, and others that they work with?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure about specific conversations on that exact figure, but I do know that he has had conversations with individuals and relevant stakeholders in this process on both sides that know that that is an issue.
Whether DACA existed or not, the fact that there are 4 million people in this age group that are unemployed and certainly why creating a better job market is a priority for the administration.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I wanted to follow up on what Jim asked. I don’t know that we heard back here the rest of your answer.
You said that the reason that Attorney General Jeff Sessions put out the earlier statement on camera was because it was a legal argument. But a lot of what we’ve been talking about in here is a legislative argument. Why have we not heard from the President directly on this day? And can we expect to hear from him later today on this?
MS. SANDERS: You have heard directly from the President. He issued a pretty lengthy statement directly from the President.
Q Why was it Attorney General Jeff Sessions that went on camera when the President hasn’t gone on camera to make this case today about what a big heart he has and how compassionate he is, and how he wants Congress to take legislative action on this to essentially save DACA?
MS. SANDERS: The President has spoken about this numerous times in the past. But at the same time, this was a legal issue because there was a court decision that had to be made with a timeline not placed — that the administration created, but a timeline that was created by the attorney generals in those states that were forcing this issue and this decision to take place by today. It was a legal decision, and that would fall to the Attorney General, and that’s why he would be the one making the announcement.
Q Talking about stakeholders, has the President met any enrollees in the DACA program?
MS. SANDERS: I believe he has had several conversations with enrollees and those that have been part of the program.
Q Can you tell us anything about that — in what context, and what he got out of those conversations?
MS. SANDERS: Look, again, I think that the President’s goal was to talk to a lot of people on both sides of the issue, and, one, do what it takes to uphold the law, uphold the Constitution, but also allow Congress to create a permanent solution and fix the problem, which he’s done by allowing for that six-month period.
Q He’s had those conversations recently as part of this recent deliberation?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m not sure on the exact timeline, but I know he has had many conversations with people on both sides of this issue, certainly people that support keeping it as is and those that support getting rid of it.
Q (Inaudible) people will be affected by it, though, right?
MS. SANDERS: Right. Again, like I said, he’s, I know, had conversations with people that have been part of the program.
Q Sarah, you said the President wrestled with the decision all weekend. Can he walk us through any of the process he went through to get to this — when did he make this decision, who was he consulting with, and how this came about?
MS. SANDERS: He made the final decision over the weekend. And as I said, he spoke to many relevant stakeholders and individuals that support a variety of positions on this program.
Q Sarah, can you tell us anything about the meeting today — the Big 6, what are you expecting out of that? Is there anything you’re hoping to get out of that?
MS. SANDERS: We’ll continue to keep you guys posted. I think the ultimate goal is, as Congress is coming back into session, to talk about some of the big priorities — certainly tax reform, immigration reform, among many other things that are going to be on the agenda for the fall.
Noah. I’ll go here, and then I’ll come back to you.
Q The President has basically told Congress to do this, but he hasn’t written any legislation, similar to how he approached —
MS. SANDERS: I didn’t know it was the President’s job to write out specific details of legislation. (Laughter.) I think that’s exactly what the —
Q Well, other Presidents with their major initiatives have taken a greater role in helping to craft that legislation. They found friendly allies in Congress to actually be the ones to propose it, but this President has not. Why hasn’t he made that shift? And does he think it’s — is he reconsidering it in light of the fact that some of the other major pushes he’s tried to make have not been successful legislatively?
MS. SANDERS: We’ve laid out detailed principles, and we have worked with members of Congress on specific pieces of the legislation, and we’ll continue to do that.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Quick international question. The situation in Myanmar is quickly escalating to a major humanitarian crisis. Has the President been briefed on the situation in Myanmar? If so, is he planning to speak to any of the leaders during the upcoming meeting about this situation?
MS. SANDERS: I know this is something that we’re monitoring closely, but I’m not aware of any specific conversations that are planned at this time. But as always, in calls like that, we will keep you guys posted and put a readout after.
Q The President says that DREAMers won’t be a priority for enforcement, but that’s not a guarantee of protection. Is this White House willing to offer one?
MS. SANDERS: Again, they’re not a targeted priority. But the goal here is that Congress actually fixes the problem, and then that isn’t an issue. And so that’s the focus over the next six months, is making sure that something takes place, that Congress does their job, and a real solution is implemented.
Q But is there a way to put this in writing so that these 800,000 people who are very fearful of ending up in a country that they don’t know have some guarantee that, in fact, they won’t be deported in, say, 6 months?
MS. SANDERS: I think that the statement that the President put out earlier today lays out what the priorities are and lays out what the focus of the administration is, and that they are not targets — they are certainly not priority targets of this administration. They weren’t before, and they won’t be now.
And again, Congress has six months, which is a pretty long time to get something done. And we hope they do, and there’s a solution in that so that this isn’t a problem moving forward.
Q I was wondering — you mentioned that the President had spoken over the weekend or in recent days to various stakeholders. We had talked to the attorney general’s office in Texas and they had said that they did not get a heads up or nobody conferring with them about this. Did you all talk to the 10 states, and are you positive that they are not suing?
MS. SANDERS: I know that various members of the administration have been in contact with individuals in those states.
I’m going to wrap here, but I have one note — I have one thing I’d like to just add. The President will be announcing the donations that he will be personally making to the various charities. And thank you to those who have submitted; we had several people put in submissions, and he’ll be doing that tomorrow.
And again, I know there were a lot of questions over the weekend. That will be a personal donation of $1 million from the President to various organizations and charities, many of which came from this room. So thank you again for that.
Hope you have a good day.
2:20 P.M. EDT