James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:27 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. I want to begin today with a few words about the heinous killing of 11 Jewish Americans at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday.
As you know, the shooter is in custody, and the FBI is on the scene leading the investigation with the support of state and local law enforcement.
This atrocity was a chilling act of mass murder. It was an act of hatred. And above all, it was an act of evil. Anti-Semitism is a plague to humanity, and it is responsible for many of the worst horrors in human history.
We all have a duty to confront anti-Semitism in all its forms, and everywhere and anywhere it appears.
The American people reject hatred, bigotry, prejudice, and violence. We are a nation that believes in religious liberty, tolerance, and respect. And we are a people who cherish the dignity of every human life.
Today, America grieves for the precious lives that were cruelly stolen. Our hearts ache for every person who lost a loved one.
The 11 Jewish Americans who were horribly murdered represented the very best of our nation. They were brothers and sisters who looked out for each other. They were doctors who cared for citizens in need. They were proud grandparents who taught their grandchildren to value faith, family, and country. And they were the religious heart of the Tree of Life community.
Our nation mourns the loss of these extraordinary Americans, and we also pray for those who were wounded. Our hearts are with the four brave police officers who were shot and injured while trying to stop the attack. We thank God for these officers and for every member of law enforcement who responded swiftly and bravely.
In the wake of the attack, we have witnessed Americans of every faith and tradition coming together to mourn with their fellow citizens to support one another and to stand in solidarity with America’s Jewish community.
The President cherishes the American Jewish community for everything it stands for and contributes to our country. He adores Jewish Americans as part of his own family.
The President is the grandfather of several Jewish grandchildren. His daughter is a Jewish American, and his son-in-law is a descendent of Holocaust survivors.
Tomorrow, the President and First Lady will travel to Pennsylvania to express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Sarah, the President said over the weekend that he could tone up his rhetoric. What does he mean by that? And does he have any concern at all that his words could inspire or provoke troubled people to do awful things?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly the President wants, in moments where our country is hurting, like we’ve seen in the last several days, to find ways to bring our country together. And we’ve seen him do exactly that.
However, the President is going to continue to draw contrast — particularly as we go into the final days of an election — the differences between the two parties, particularly on policy differences. You’ll continue to see him make that contrast.
But he has certainly, I think, found those moments to bring our country together and certainly focus on some of the things that all of us can support and all of us can condemn as well.
Q But he’s also harshly attacked some of the very people that received those pipe bombs, and this morning suggesting that the news media is responsible for the anger in the country.
How does he do that when, in the case of the pipe bomber, this was somebody who went to Trump rallies, this is somebody who had a van covered with attacks on the media and praise for the President? The shooter in Pittsburgh is somebody who was provoked, it seems, by the caravan the President has spent so much time talking about. Why is he out there — when you say he’s trying to unite the country, why is he out there making these attacks?
MS. SANDERS: Jonathan, the very first thing that the President did was condemn the attacks, both in Pittsburgh and in the pipe bombs. The very first thing the media did was blame the President and make him responsible for these ridiculous acts. That is outrageous that that would be the very first reaction of so many people across this country.
Q I’m not blaming the President.
MS. SANDERS: I’m not finished. The only person responsible for carrying out either of these heinous acts were the individuals who carried them out. It’s not the President no more than it was Bernie Sanders’s fault for the individual who shot up a baseball field of congressional Republicans. You can’t start putting the responsibility of individuals on anybody but the individual who carries out the crime.
Q But why is the President suggesting it’s the news media? The President is the one placing blame here.
MS. SANDERS: No, the President is not placing blame.
Q It’s what he did this morning.
MS. SANDERS: The President is not responsible for these acts. Again, the very first action that the President did was condemn these heinous acts. The very first thing that the media did was condemn the President, and go after and try to place blame not just on the President, but everybody that works in this administration. The major news networks’ first public statement was to blame the President and myself included. I mean, that is outrageous than anybody other than the individual who carried out the crime would hold that responsibility.
Q Sarah, what’s it going to take to stop these killings from happening over and over and over again?
MS. SANDERS: You know, I think if we had a good answer to that, I think everybody in the country would support it. If anybody knows the answer, I think certainly this administration would be all ears. The President spends every single minute of every single day looking for the best ways to protect the safety and security of Americans, and we’re going to continue to do that.
Q Can I add just a second thing? Is the President going to give a speech on immigration this week? And what’s your thinking about options in terms of closing the border?
MS. SANDERS: We’ll keep you posted if there’s any scheduling announcement on an address on that topic. I’m not aware of that at this point in time.
Q Eleven Jewish leaders in the Pittsburgh area have said that the President’s visit is not welcome unless and until he denounces fully and forthrightly white nationalism. Does the White House believe this President has done enough to denounce white nationalism?
MS. SANDERS: The President has denounced racism, hatred, and bigotry in all forms, on a number of occasions. We’ll continue to do that. I’m doing it here today. And I would also say, at the same time, that some individuals — they’re grieving, they’re hurting. The President wants to be there to show the support of this administration for the Jewish community. The rabbi said that he is welcome as well. And certainly, we want to show our support for those individuals.
Q If I could just follow that up. I know that there is another meeting this morning about what to do about the border. You’re thinking about an executive action, maybe some sort of regulatory action. Is one of the options being discussed making it impossible for anybody to claim asylum unless they enter through a port of entry? So that would mean that anybody who crosses the border illegally would not be able to make a valid claim of asylum?
MS. SANDERS: There are a lot of options that are being discussed right now. The number-one priority is looking for ways to secure our borders. We’d love for Democrats in Congress to actually help step up and do their job, and help us do that. If they don’t, and they’re unwilling to do — as they’ve shown in the past that they are — then we’re looking at administrative actions that will help and allow us to do so.
Q Sarah, thank you very much. About the Brazilian election — the State Department repeated today that a commitment to promote human rights and democracy will continue to guide the relationship with Brazil. However, the Brazilian President-elect, Bolsonaro, has made very controversial comments about minorities. The opposition defended the military declaration in Brazil.
My question is if the White House plans to address this and ask assurances from the government — the incoming government in Brazil — that they will protect human rights and democracy in Brazil.
And another question: What do you think about these comparisons that a lot of people say that —
MS. SANDERS: Let me address the first thing.
MS. SANDERS: First, we promote human rights all over the world. We value our longstanding relationship with Brazil, and we want to continue to be able to work with them, and we’ll see what happens from there.
And your second question?
Q Okay, so what do you think about these comparisons? A lot of people are calling Bolsonaro the “Trump of the Tropics.” And if President Trump plans to invite Bolsonaro to the White House, or if he has any plans to go to Brazil anytime soon, maybe attend Bolsonaro’s inauguration?
MS. SANDERS: There’s only one Donald Trump, in my opinion.
Steven, go ahead.
Q I’d like to follow up on Jon’s question about the caravan. The President has used the word “invasion” to describe this caravan. That’s the same word that is mentioned in the Constitution three times — “invasion” — with respect to the powers of the federal government to repel invasions.
So my question is, have there been any discussions here with respect to that about the fact that the Constitution provides for, for example, the suspension of habeas corpus to repel an invasion if the public safety requires it? Is the President talking about potentially ignoring posse comitatus by having the military go down? There’s a provision in the law that allows for a constitutional exemption. Is that in any way under consideration?
MS. SANDERS: We’re looking at a number of different options. I know that the Department of Defense is holding a press conference this afternoon at 4 o’clock to talk about some of the actions that they’ll be taking. I would encourage you to tune into that.
Q That’s not a “no” to my question. It has not been ruled out? Those are options on the table?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’m not going to get into specific policies that we’re considering. There’s a number of actions that we’re looking at taking. When we’re ready to make an announcement on that front, we’ll let you know.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The midterms are eight days from today. And we often get — from both parties — what the midterms actually mean the day after the election. So I wanted to ask you what the midterms mean, before the election. The President, on October the 18th, in Mississippi, said, “I’m not on the ticket. But I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum [on] me.” Is that right? Is this midterm election a referendum on the President?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I can’t get into specifics that will impact the election. But I can tell you that the President wants to see more people that support his policies elected than not.
Q Sarah, it’s now been four weeks since Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The President said early on that, if the Saudis are found responsible, there would be “severe punishment.” That’s his word. It’s now obvious to the world that Khashoggi was murdered, it was premeditated, it was by the Saudis. Why has there been no action?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President met last week with CIA Director Gina Haspel, after having gathered additional intelligence on her overseas trip. And the administration is weighing different options, and we’ll make an announcement about what the decision of that action is.
Q But there’s been no action, Sarah. Is he considering any actual action?
MS. SANDERS: Like I just said, the administration is considering what action we will take moving forward based on that information and the briefing that the President received last week.
Q Sarah, two things for you. I want to go back to the tone in question, because the President said he was planning to tone down his rhetoric this week. But at his rallies since the suspicious packages began being mailed, the President has called out Maxine Waters by name at his rallies. He’s stood there as his supporters chant “Lock her up,” in reference to Hillary Clinton, who he continues to called “Crooked Hillary Clinton.” Will the President stop using that kind of language in light of the fact that these individuals were targeted by this attack?
MS. SANDERS: The President is going to continue to draw contrasts. Let’s not forget that these same Democrats have repeatedly attacked the President, whether it was Eric Holder saying “Kick them when they’re down”; whether it was Hillary Clinton saying “You can’t be civil until Democrats have control of Congress”; or whether it was Maxine Waters, who encouraged her supporters to get up not just in the President’s face, but all administration officials’ faces.
Those actions were from those Democrats. The President is going to continue to fight back when these individuals not only attack him, but attack members of his administration and supporters of his administration.
Q And then (inaudible) follow up on something else. Why does the President feel like it’s necessary to send active-duty troops to the border when he’s already sent National Guardsmen down there who are doing the exact same job as the active-duty troops would be able to do?
MS. SANDERS: The President’s number-one job and number-one priority is to protect the safety and security of Americans, and he’s going to do what he deems necessary in order to do that. For specifics regarding that, I’d encourage you to tune into the press conference this afternoon.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two brief questions. The first, a follow-up about the question on Brazil. Up until a few months ago, you used to give us readouts of the President’s calls with world leaders, including congratulatory calls to newly elected leaders such as President Macron, Chancellor Merkel. Did the President, or does the President plan to, make a call to President-elect Bolsonaro?
MS. SANDERS: He did. And he spoke with him last night. I actually sent a note to the White House press pool. If you didn’t receive that, I’ll make sure that you do after the briefing is over.
Q All right. My other question, Sarah —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry. Second question.
Q — is this: With the election eight days away, some Republicans, such as Mr. Hugin, the nominee for the Senate in New Jersey, do not mention the President at all, do not invoke his name or image. Others, such as Mr. DeWine — running for governor of Ohio — have him in brochures and pictures. Is the President aware that some candidates run against him? And is this going to enter into his decision where to go in the final days?
MS. SANDERS: That’s a decision for individual candidates to make. I think the President has an incredible story to tell. He’s had a historic first two years — a number of successes that I think any Republican running for office should be proud of.
Q Sarah, yeah, I wanted to ask you — David Lapan, who was a spokesperson over at DHS under General Kelly — Chief of Staff Kelly — a former Marine who worked at the Pentagon, tweeted this morning: “I dealt w/ the news media nearly every day. I know quite a bit about the press and know this — they are NOT the enemy of the American people.” Shouldn’t you reserve the term “enemy” for people who are actually the enemy of the United States, rather than journalists?
MS. SANDERS: The President is not referencing all media. He’s talking about the growing amount of fake news that exists in the country, and the President is calling that out.
Q May I ask a follow-up?
MS. SANDERS: Sure. Go ahead.
Q May I ask a follow-up, please? May I ask a follow-up, please?
MS. SANDERS: Go ahead, Jim.
Q Since you mentioned that, the President said this morning, “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly.” Can you state for the record which outlets that you and the President regard as the enemy of the people?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to walk through a list, but I think those individuals probably know who they are.
Q Would that include my outlet, which received a bomb last week?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think it’s necessarily specific to a general — broad generalization of a full outlet. At times, I think there’s individuals that the President would be referencing.
Q So you’re not going to state for the record then — I mean, if the President is going to say the fake news media are the enemy of the people, and if you’re going to stand there and continue to say that there are some journalists, some news outlets in this country that meet that characterization, shouldn’t you have the guts, Sarah, to state which outlets, which journalists are the enemy of the people?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s irresponsible of a news organization like yours to blame responsibility of a pipe bomb that was not sent by the President — not just blame the President, but blame members of his administration for those heinous acts. I think that is outrageous, and I think it’s irresponsible.
Q The bomber was caught, Sarah. We didn’t say the President —
MS. SANDERS: Jim, I’ve given you three questions.
Jordan, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Sarah. The President has talked multiple times about how the Republican lawmakers are going to protect preexisting conditions if they keep control of Congress. But the administration is supporting a lawsuit that would undercut those protections under Obamacare and take in a couple of regulatory actions to that effect as well.
So how do you square those two stances? And what’s the plan — the Republican plan for protecting preexisting —
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President’s healthcare plan that he’s laid out covers preexisting conditions. The President wants to lower premiums to make healthcare more affordable. Nobody will be charged higher premiums if they keep their coverage, and nobody will be denied coverage under the President.
Q Thank you, Sarah. On Chancellor Merkel’s announcement that she won’t — she’ll be stepping down as party leader and won’t seek to rerun as Chancellor, how does that — what is the reaction from the administration, and how does that affect the relationship with Germany going forward?
MS. SANDERS: We’re aware of the announcement, and this is an internal matter for the Chancellor and the German people. We’re going to continue to work with the Chancellor and continue to develop that relationship.
Q Sarah, why did the President —
MS. SANDERS: Blake, go ahead.
Q — call Andrew Gillum a “thief.” Why did the President, in his tweet, call Andrew Gillum a “thief”?
MS. SANDERS: April, I’ll come back to you. Blake, go ahead.
Q Sarah, thank you. Before you walked out here — just a handful of minutes before you walked out, there was a report that said, should the meeting between President Trump and President Xi of China not go well, in terms of easing the trade war, the trade tensions, then, at that point, the U.S. would go forth with the $257 billion in tariffs. Is that indeed the timetable that the administration is working with here?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s meeting, and I hope it goes well.
April, go ahead.
Q How important is that —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, go ahead.
Q How important is that meeting then? Because we heard Larry Kudlow say, last week or two weeks ago, that maybe there might not be a lot of detail that comes from it, in terms of trade and going back and forth.
MS. SANDERS: As the President likes to say, “We’ll see what happens.” I’m not going to get ahead of the conversation. You have two of the most powerful leaders in the world. I think that’s consequential no matter how you look at it. And we’ll see what happens when they sit down.
April, go ahead.
Q The President was tweeting today. In one tweet, specifically, he called Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor in Florida, a “thief.” What is his definition of that statement?
And also, I want to ask you about issues of voter suppression. The President has talked about voter fraud.
MS. SANDERS: Let me answer your first question. That individual is under FBI investigation. I would refer you to that.
Q But he’s not under investigation; his (inaudible) —
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to get into specifics on that matter because it involves two candidates running for office, and I’m not going to impact that due to the Hatch Act. I’ll leave that to the President to make those types of statements.
And your second question?
Q Yes. Second question: The President talks about voter fraud at a time when there are allegations and proof of voter suppression going — taking place in the state of Georgia, where Stacy Abrams is ahead of the Republican contender, and also in North Dakota, where Native Americans who don’t have a street address but have a P.O. box if they live on a reservations — they’re not able to vote. So what’s going on with that? Is the President talking about that? Is he working on that issue?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly we don’t support any type of voter suppression. What we do support is voter integrity. Again, I’m not going to weigh into specifics that have an impact on an election that’s a few days away. We’ll leave that for the President to lay out that specific case.
Saagar. Saagar, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Could you tell us, does the White House currently believe that they have the legal authority to close the southern border? And is it an option that’s being explored, with relation to the caravan?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we have a number of options on the table. We’re exploring each one of those.
Q But does the White House Counsel believe?
MS. SANDERS: When we have a decision on that, we’ll let you know.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Two questions, please. First, last week, we asked the President whether he had called President Obama or any of the others that the bombs were addressed to. And he said, “If they want[ed] me to. But…we’ll probably pass.” Can you explain why that decision was taken?
MS. SANDERS: The President did speak with Governor Cuomo of New York last week. And as of this time, there aren’t any plans for other calls. If there are, we’ll let you know.
Q Just one quick one —
MS. SANDERS: Hallie, go ahead. Last question. Sorry.
Q One more about Jamal Khashoggi. Can you tell us if CIA Director Haspel actually heard the tape that the Turks allegedly have proving that he was killed in the embassy — in the consulate?
MS. SANDERS: I can’t confirm or deny the specifics of the intelligence that Director Haspel saw while she was there.
Last question. Hallie, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Sarah. So throughout the course of this briefing, you have repeatedly defended the President’s attacks on his political opponents as valid because the midterms are coming up. So at what point —
MS. SANDERS: No.
Q — does the White House —
MS. SANDERS: Not because of the midterms. I’ve defended the President —
Q You said you’ve supported drawing contrast.
MS. SANDERS: I’ve defended the President fighting back when he’s regularly attacked. There’s a difference. It doesn’t matter if there’s a midterm or not, the President is going to defend himself, and he’s going to fight back.
Q From a political perspective, right? You’re making that point.
MS. SANDERS: From any perspective.
Q But at what point does a national tragedy take precedence over the President needing to punch back? If not now, when?
MS. SANDERS: I think you saw the President do exactly that in the wake of a national tragedy, not just this week, but every time our country has experienced the type of heartache and pain that we have over the last week.
This is a President who’s risen to that occasion and worked to bring our country together in a number of occasions — whether it’s the hurricanes, whether it’s the Las Vegas shooting, whether it was the Pittsburgh shooting. All horrible, horrible tragedies that this country has experienced. And this President has come out, condemned the attacks when it is caused by an individual, and tried to look for ways to provide and bring the country together when it was a natural disaster.
Q But both he and you have also acknowledged that, in the next breath, after he calls for unity, he does talk about division and what you describe as “drawing contrast.” Is he incapable of — in the words of some — “toning it down” and toning down the rhetoric?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I think the President has had a number of moments of bringing the country together. Once again, I’ll remind you that the very first thing —
Q But when would you say those were?
MS. SANDERS: — the President did was condemn the attacker. And the very first thing —
Q And the second thing he did was go after the media and press.
MS. SANDERS: — the media did was blame the President.
You guys have a huge responsibility to play in the divisive nature of this country, when 90 percent of the coverage of everything this President does is negative, despite the fact that the country is doing extremely well, despite the fact that the President is delivering on exactly what he said he was going to do if elected. And he got elected by an overwhelming majority of 63 million Americans who came out and supported him, and wanted to see his policies enacted.
He’s delivered on that. He’s delivered on the promises he’s made. And, if anything, I think it is sad and divisive the way that every single thing that comes out of the media — 90 percent of what comes out of the media’s mouth is negative about this President, despite the fact that the economy is booming, despite the fact he said he would fix the trade deals. And he’s done exactly that —
Q But Sarah —
MS. SANDERS: He said he would defeat ISIS and he has. The President has been delivering day in and day out. And I think it would be nice if, every once and a while, we could focus on a few of the positive things the President has done, instead of just attacking him.
Q Sarah, more broadly, though —
MS. SANDERS: Thanks so much, guys. Have a great day.
2:50 P.M. EDT