James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:14 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. I hope everybody had a nice Columbus Day. Got to take a little break. I’m sure you missed me.
Let me start by saying that our hearts go out to the people of California who are enduring the wildfires taking place now. The loss of homes and burning of precious land is heartbreaking, but the loss of life is truly devastating.
Last night, the President spoke with Governor Jerry Brown, and today he approved an expedited major disaster declaration for California, along with Fire Management Assistance Grants.
The administration is working closely with state and local officials to ensure the people of California are receiving the support they need.
Staying on the disaster relief front, I’d like to share some positive news from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands today. School resumed in the U.S. Virgin Islands this week. Seven schools opened today, powered by generators, and 11 more are scheduled to open next week.
Additionally, in Puerto Rico, FEMA is hosting a jobs fair to hire 1,200 Puerto Ricans to help with the relief efforts and boost the local economy.
The road to recovery is long, and there is so much work left to do, but the resilience of the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands continues to inspire us all. We will be with them throughout this entire process, and we are confident they will come back stronger than ever before.
Over the weekend, we released the President’s three primary immigration policy objectives, which should be included in any immigration legislation Congress considers.
The President has presented commonsense immigration reforms with broad bipartisan support that finally puts hardworking Americans first. According to a recent poll, over 70 percent of the American people support more ICE officers and strengthening penalties against illegal immigrants who are repeat violators of our laws. Two in three Americans implement a merit-based immigration system that looks out for working-class Americans — ideas that even Bernie Sanders has supported in the past.
The President’s priorities also include a southern border wall like what the Democrats voted for in the 2006 Secure Fences Act. These are not radical proposals. Many have gotten bipartisan support in the past. The Trump administration is ready to work with Congress to achieve these policy objectives and to ensure safe and lawful admissions, defend the safety and security of our country, and protect American workers and taxpayers.
Today, the First Lady flew to West Virginia to visit Lily’s Place, the nation’s first nonprofit infant recovery center that also provides services to parents and families dealing with addiction. Lily’s House treats infants for neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when a baby withdraws from drugs he or she was exposed to in the womb before birth.
According to the Governor Accountability Office, an American baby is born with NAS every 25 minutes, and 40 percent of babies born addicted to opioids go into the foster system. Each situation is a tragedy, and the First Lady is doing incredible work to raise awareness about this important issue.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, the President will continue his push to provide tax relief to hardworking Americans. He’ll be traveling to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to deliver remarks. In attendance at the event will be hundreds of truckers. They keep our economy moving, literally, and they are excited about the President’s tax reform plan, which will create more jobs and empower workers and families to keep more of their hard-earned money.
Before I take your questions, I’d like to offer an invitation to all of the White House Press Corps, on behalf of the President and the First Lady and the administration, to bring your children to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on October 27th to celebrate Halloween, where there will be lots of fun, and I’m sure lots of candy so we can sugar your kids up and send them back home to you. (Laughter.)
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Sarah, over the weekend, the President said that he wished his Secretary of State was a little tougher. And now today he is suggesting that Secretary Tillerson has a lower IQ than he does. So my question is: Why would the President want somebody who he thinks is neither tough nor particularly smart, as a Secretary of State?
MS. SANDERS: The President certainly never implied that the Secretary of State was not incredibly intelligent. He made a joke, nothing more than that.
Q But he said he would like him to be tougher.
MS. SANDERS: He has full confidence in the Secretary of State. They had a great visit earlier today and they’re working hand-in-hand to move the President’s agendas forward.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Over the weekend, Senator Bob Corker called the White House an “adult daycare center,” said the President could lead the country into World War III, and said that “He concerns me. He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.” What can you tell us a little about the internal reaction to such a senior Republican making comments like that? And is there concern that other top Republicans could make similar comments like that?
MS. SANDERS: Look, Senator Corker is certainly entitled to his own opinion, but he’s not entitled to his own facts. The fact is, this President has been an incredibly strong leader on foreign policy and national security. And he’s been a leader on this front, and I think that’s been seen and demonstrated time and time again since he took office.
And a few examples: Over 20 nations to significantly reduce economic and diplomatic ties with North Korea, further isolating them. He’s gotten China and Russia to sign on to the toughest U.N. sanctions against North Korea, ever. His new strategy is destroying ISIS. We have tremendous battlefield gains throughout Iraq and Syria. With Europe, he’s gotten more NATO allies to pay their fair share and he’s strengthening that alliance. We’re also exporting energy like coal and natural gas to Eastern Europe.
His vision of principled realism is creating calm around the world and defeating our enemies. Again, Senator Corker may have an opinion but the facts certainly don’t lie. The President has been very successful in this front.
Q Sarah, two question for you, if I could. First of all, going into the weekend, the President sent his principles for the DREAMers legislation up to Capitol Hill. Included in it was a provision for building the wall. The President had earlier said that he would do the wall at a later time; do the DREAMers first, put some security measures, and then do the wall later. Did he change the goalposts?
MS. SANDERS: No, the President is simply stating his priorities for what responsible immigration reform should look like, and that includes those three big priorities. That’s what he’s promised Congress he would lay out. That’s exactly what he did. I don’t think we’ve been inconsistent on that front and certainly not unclear. The President has talked about his priorities repeatedly and, in this case, over the weekend, laid them out in a very detailed fashion.
Q Is he insistent that the wall be part of any DACA legislation?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to stand up here and negotiate from the podium with you guys. That’s something for the President and Congress to work out, but we’re laying out our priorities. That’s exactly what we put in that document and we’re going to work with Congress to try to get the most responsible immigration reform package that we can.
Q And question two: Speaking of goal posts —
MS. SANDERS: That was like three questions already. (Laughter.)
Q That was a question, a follow-up, and question two.
MS. SANDERS: Good thing he’s a reporter and not a math teacher. (Laughter.)
Q I was horrible at math. (Laughter.)
NFL Commissioner Goodell sent a letter to owners and chief executives of all of the NFL teams saying, “Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem. It’s an important moment of our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us.” He’s having a meeting next week to discuss all of this. Given the position of the league, as articulated there by Commissioner Goodell, what’s the White House reaction to what it looks like the NFL is going to do going forward?
MS. SANDERS: I think we would certainly support the NFL coming out and asking players to stand, just as the President has done. We support the national anthem, the flag, and the men and women who fought to defend it. And our position hasn’t changed on that front. We’re glad to see the NFL taking positive steps in that direction.
Q I had two, but I promise they’re really just two. (Laughter.) The first is, I wanted to ask about something the President said earlier in the Oval about tax reform. He suggested that there be adjustments to strengthen the tax framework. And obviously we know that lawmakers need to fill it out. But by saying adjustment, it suggests some sort of change.
So I’m wondering if there are going to be changes to that framework, and if so, if it might be things like modifying the state or local deductions, or changing the past-through for business interest rates that we’ve heard, kind of, floating out there?
MS. SANDERS: We don’t have adjustments to make to the framework at this time. I think our, kind of, key principles that we’ve laid out remain the same and no changes to announce today.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two of the President’s allies have suggested that Senator Corker resign. Does the President think that Senator Corker should resign?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s a decision for Senator Corker and the people of Tennessee, not for us, to decide.
Q And a follow-up on the Senator Corker question. The President also said this weekend that Senator Corker was largely responsible for the Iran Deal, which the President has hinted that he wanted to renegotiate. That was a deal that was negotiated by Barack Obama’s administration. Why does the President think that that was largely Bob Corker’s fault?
MS. SANDERS: Senator Corker worked with Nancy Pelosi and the Obama administration to pave the way for that legislation, and basically rolled out the red carpet for the Iran Deal. And those are pretty factual.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Over the last few months, the President has criticized a number of senior Republicans, sometimes in very personal terms: Senator Murkowski, Senator Flake, Leader McConnell, most recently Senator Bob Corker. What do you say to critics who say that the President is alienating himself from Republicans that he will need to move his legislation forward?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think he’s alienating anyone. I think that Congress has alienated themselves by not actually getting the job done that the people of this country elected them to do. They all promised and campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare; they haven’t done that. They’ve campaigned on tax reform; hopefully we see that happen. We’re certainly committed to that and think we’ll get there. But time and time again, Congress has made promises and failed to deliver. If anyone is being alienated, it’s people that are promising things and not delivering on them.
Q One more, Sarah, on the Iran nuclear deal.
MS. SANDERS: I’m going to skip around so I can try to get to more people.
Q You talked last week about the fact that you planned to roll out a comprehensive plan on Iran, and we also know the President’s feelings on decertification. What I’m not clear on is how you see the connection. How does decertifying the Iran nuclear deal lead to an opportunity to negotiate on all of these other issues that you have with Iran, like exporting terrorism and cybercrime, et cetera?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s announcement on this, but he’ll make that later this week. And we’ll be happy to take more of those questions after that announcement is made.
Q Sarah, in a tweet this morning, the President referred to “Liddle” — l-i-d-d-l-e — Bob Corker again. I’m wondering, if the White House continues to work or continues to plan to work with Senator Corker’s team to amend the law that gives oversight to the Iran accord that you’ve already said you don’t like, are you working with him to change that law? Are you still willing to?
MS. SANDERS: We’re certainly still willing to work with anybody that wants to come and actually put forth real solutions and be part of those solutions and not part of the problem.
Q But specifically on Iran you are?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’ll be happy to work with all parties on bettering the American people. And if he wants to be part of that, we’d certainly be happy to talk about it.
Q Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just issued a statement condemning the purported behavior of one of her prominent Hollywood donors, Harvey Weinstein. The President also said he wasn’t surprised by the news, and said that he had known Harvey Weinstein for some time. My question is, does the President have a reaction to Clinton’s statement? And secondly, does he have his own reaction? Or how much did he know about Harvey Weinstein’s behavior? And what’s his response to today?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know if he’s seen Secretary Clinton’s statement. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about that, so I wouldn’t want to weigh in on what his reaction might be on that front.
Q And what about his response — he said that he had known Weinstein for a long time.
MS. SANDERS: I think that statement speaks for itself. There’s nothing to add.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I know he’s going to announce it later this week, but has the President reached a decision on whether to recertify Iran or not?
MS. SANDERS: The President has reached a decision on a overall Iran strategy and wants to make sure that we have a broad policy to deal with that, not just one part of it, as I said last week, to deal with all of the problems of Iran being a bad actor. Beyond that, I don’t have anything to add today on that point.
Q Would he like to see Congress do away with the 90-day recurring certification?
MS. SANDERS: I’ll let the President speak to that later this week.
Q What does the President intend to do with his executive order on healthcare reform? And secondly, the President, when he was rescinding DACA, said that one of the reasons he was doing that was because it was inappropriate for the Obama administration to do with executive order what couldn’t get done with legislation. Why the difference when it comes to healthcare?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that the American people demanded something happen. They have elected a number of different people to Congress to deal specifically with this issue. You can see that reflected in the number of people that campaigned on that and later went on to win office. And due to Congress failing to act, it’s no surprise that the President is going to try to take action to provide flexibility and relief to the many Americans who continue to suffer under Obamacare. I think that’s a positive step forward, and we’ll have more details moving forward.
Q Sarah, what exactly is this EO going to do? What is he going to try to do or try to improve? We’ve gotten some generalities from the President but not a lot of specifics about what he can do with executive orders and why it might be effective when it comes to lowering costs. Again, the promises were pretty high, we heard — you know, we’re going to cover people and lower costs.
MS. SANDERS: The goal is to, again, take action as much as we can; to help provide that flexibility and that relief. That’s what the President is going to do. He’s going to make an announcement on that later this week, and we’ll see that, again, by the end of Friday.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. The President said that Senator Corker asked to be Secretary of State when they met privately before he took office. That is almost historically unknown that someone would actually ask for a Cabinet position in a meeting with the President, at least in the 21st and 20th centuries. Does he stand by that statement completely, that the Senator asked to be named to the position of Secretary of State?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t talked to him specifically about that. But I would certainly imagine the President wholeheartedly stands by his statement on that.
Q And the other thing —
MS. SANDERS: Oh, sorry.
Q The other question I had was, last Sunday before the tragic events in Las Vegas, Catalonia had its vote. The President had said the week before, when he was with Prime Minister Rajoy, he supported a unified Spain. Today, the President of the State of Catalonia said he would not declare independence, but would seek independence from Spain through negotiations at this time. What’s the administration’s position on that?
MS. SANDERS: Our position hasn’t changed, but we would certainly welcome the President of Spain in conversations between us and them moving forward. But there’s nothing different from what the President said when he was here a couple weeks ago.
Q So you welcome talks with Catalonia and Spain?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s up for the people of Spain and Catalonia to decide, but our position is still consistent with what the President said a couple weeks ago.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I have a couple of questions for you. Do you stand by your statement that Bob Corker rolled out the red carpet for the Iran Deal?
MS. SANDERS: I do. I just made it about 10 minutes ago. (Laughter.)
Q Bob Corker originally opposed the Iran Deal, and even led a bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to have it reviewed by Congress, despite former President Obama not wanting that review to take place. How can you say that he rolled out the red carpet for the deal then?
MS. SANDERS: He worked with them on the INARA legislation that rolled that out. That’s what helped, I think, put things in motion. He may have voted against the deal, ultimately. But he not only allowed the deal to happen, he gave it credibility. And I stand by my statement.
Q And I have one quick follow-up, Sarah, on taxes. The President repeated this claim in the Oval Office today, saying we’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Why does the President keep saying this? It’s not true, overall.
MS. SANDERS: We are the highest-taxed — corporate tax in the developed economy. That’s a fact.
Q But that’s not what the President said.
MS. SANDERS: That’s what he’s talking about. We are the highest corporate taxed country in the developed economies across the globe.
Q Sarah, so that’s accurate, but the President keeps repeating this claim that we’re the highest-taxed nation in the world.
MS. SANDERS: We are the highest-taxed corporate nation.
Q But that’s not what he said. He said we’re the highest-taxed nation in the world.
MS. SANDERS: The highest-taxed corporate nation. It seems pretty consistent to me. Sorry, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.
Q Sarah, in a Forbes interview, the President talked about economic development rules. Does he see that as a way to basically get tax reform through? Are they going to work hand-in-glove?
MS. SANDERS: We certainly want to move tax reform through. I think the President’s position — American companies have been forced to send their operations and, more importantly, a lot of their jobs overseas due to decades of increased taxes and overregulation. In addition to historic tax and regulatory reform, the President is looking at additional ways to bring jobs and profits back to our shores.
Q Sarah, the Chamber of Commerce said today that the White House is putting poison pills in the NAFTA negotiations to make them unpalatable. Does the President want these talks to continue, or does he want these harsher measures that the United States is proposing to end the talks?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants to continue the conversation, but the President’s ultimate goal is to make sure that we get the best deal for Americans as possible, and certainly for American workers. He’s been clear that he doesn’t think the current structure is a good one, and he wants a better deal.
So we’re going to keep moving forward and see how these conversations go. And that’s where we are in the process.
Q What will he say to Prime Minister Trudeau about that tomorrow?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of their conversations, but we’ll have a readout as we always do about meetings.
Q Sarah, how do you think these ongoing fights with the Republicans on Capitol Hill help the President’s agenda, tax reform, first and foremost?
MS. SANDERS: The President is very committed to getting tax reform done. Look, he’s calling on Congress to get their job done. They’re on another vacation right now. I think that we would all be a lot better off if the Senate would stop taking vacations and start staying here until we actually get some real things accomplished. The President is here, and he’s committed to working with them to do that.
Q I think the Senate is working today, though. But how specifically does belittling the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee help with tax reform? Because the President may need his vote on that.
MS. SANDERS: Well, look, and hopefully Senator Corker, who’s been somebody who’s consistently talked about being a fiscal hawk, was presented with responsible cuts, that he would certainly support those.
Q I just wanted to tie up a loose end from one of the President’s tweets this morning. He said that the NFL is getting massive tax breaks. He called on Congress to change tax law. What specific changes was he calling for? The NFL claims it no longer seeks a tax-exempt status.
MS. SANDERS: Well, while the NFL may have given up its tax-exempt status a few years ago, it’s been well documented that billions of taxpayer dollars continue to subsidize the construction and renovation of professional sports stadiums. If this industry is going to use money from American taxpayers to build the very fields they play on, is it really too much to ask that they show respect for the American flag at the beginning of the game?
Q Is it appropriate for the Vice President of the United States to spend taxpayer money to go to a football game where he’s going to walk out if players take a knee, knowing that he would be taking that action?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s appropriate the Vice President was invited, and he attended that game. And I think it’s always appropriate for the leaders of our country to stand up for the national anthem, to stand up for our flag, and to stand up for the men and women who fought and died for it.
Q For clarification — the justice question. The President said today that there would be adjustments made to the tax bill that is being worked on. You just said, though, that adjustments might not be made; the framework stands as is. So I’m curious as to –-
MS. SANDERS: There’s not a final piece of legislation. But our framework –- he asked me specifically if our framework -– our priorities would change. Our priorities remain the same. But the final piece of legislation hasn’t been finalized, so this a time of negotiation. But the principles and the priorities that we’ve laid out are not up for negotiation.
Q So he was just specifically talking about the negotiation point versus big ticket items that may or not be red lines, or what he may or may not move on?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the first part of your question.
Q So he was just talking about basic negotiations and not necessarily top-end, top-level numbers that have already been laid out?
MS. SANDERS: At this time, the President has laid out his principles and those have not changed. That framework is still the same.
Q In that Forbes interview, the President says he is not planning to fill some of the vacancies in the federal government because those positions are unnecessary. Is he comfortable with the level of vacancies in, specifically, the State Department and some of the other Cabinet departments?
MS. SANDERS: There are still some positions that he is working to fill and a lot of individuals that are in the queue and going through the process –- the vetting process that is very lengthy. Certainly want to fill some of the open positions but not all of them. The President came to Washington to drain the swamp and get rid of a lot of duplication and make government more efficient. And so if we can have one person do a job instead of six, then we certainly want to do that and save taxpayer dollars.
Sorry, I’m going to try to cover everybody.
Q Just two little quick questions. One, to follow up on your answer: Who invited the Vice President to the Colts game?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q Who invited the Vice President to the Colts game?
MS. SANDERS: I believe he was there to present an award. I don’t know all the details. I’d encourage you to contact the Vice President’s office. But that’s my understanding — he was invited to present an award a few weeks ago.
Q And the second question about the President’s tweets about Bob Corker. He said, “He ‘begged’ me to endorse him for reelection in Tennessee.” Bob Corker’s office is vehemently denying that happened, saying that the President actually called him and asked him to reconsider his retirement. Is the President telling the truth about this account?
MS. SANDERS: Yes.
Q On the football — the subsidies you’re talking about are made by states and local government. So is the President then supporting federalization to take that power out of the hands of state and local governments to subsidize — local and state — if they want do so?
MS. SANDERS: I think he’s just making the point that if these individuals are going to be supported in large part and subsidized by taxpayers, that a large percentage and majority of Americans have said that they want NFL players to stand. That he’s just drawing that connection between the two, nothing –-
Q When he said, change the tax law, he doesn’t actually mean change the tax law?
MS. SANDERS: I’m saying the federal tax law doesn’t apply here, but certainly we know that they receive tax subsidies on a variety of different levels.
Q Sarah, thank you. How does the President expect his Secretary of State to be effective when he’s questioning his intelligence?
MS. SANDERS: Again, he wasn’t questioning the Secretary of State’s intelligence. He made –-
Q Why does he think he has a higher IQ, effectively, than the Secretary of State?
MS. SANDERS: He made a joke. Maybe you guys should get a sense of humor and try it sometime. But he simply made a joke. He’s been extremely clear, time and time again, despite the fact that you guys want to continue to bring this up and create a story.
He’s got 100 percent confidence in the Secretary of State. He said it multiple times over the last couple of weeks. And we’re trying to move forward and focus on the agenda while you guys want to move forward and talk about who likes who, when that’s simply not what we’re doing here.
Q Sarah, one more question. Sarah, one more question.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to go to Eamon. We’re on a tight time here before the President —
Q Thank you, Sarah. So the President — with the agenda – the President, in a Forbes interview earlier today, said that he’s got an economic development bill that he’s working on. He said nobody knows anything about it and this is the first he’s talking about it. It would have some kind of a carrot-and-stick approach for companies that left the United States. Can you tell us more about what the President plans and when that’s going to happen, given that you’ve got immigration, tax reform, and a whole bunch of other things moving on the Hill?
MS. SANDERS: As I said a few minutes ago, that in addition to the historic tax cuts and regulatory reform, the President is looking at different ways that we can bring jobs and profits back to our shores. That’s all I have on that front at this point.
Also, the President is getting ready to have an event here shortly so we’ll end with that, but we’ll be here the rest of the day to answer your questions. Thanks, guys.
2:40 P.M. EDT