James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Today is a solemn day of reflection across our nation, as we remember the “date which will live in infamy” when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor.
As the President said in a stirring video released earlier today, “We remember the lives that were lost, the families torn from loved ones, and the heroes who rose to America’s defense.” The President will be meeting with members who served at Pearl Harbor later today, as you all know.
Also, as you’re aware, the President will meet later this afternoon with congressional leaders from both parties to discuss the need to fund the government, particularly our military and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The President and the Republicans in the House and Senate are eager to pass a bill fully funding the federal government and the military. With the threats we are facing, our national security should not be held hostage for irresponsible demands. And we certainly hope that won’t happen.
Now, with Christmas season is full swing, I want to shine a spotlight on some of the incredible stories of generosity and love that show what the Christmas spirit and the American spirit are all about.
Today, I’d like to start with a story of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wheeling, West Virginia. The story starts over 100 years ago, when a young girl tragically died around the Christmas season, and her family donated money to the church in her honor and asked that the money be used for children at Christmas. What they may not have realized at the time was that this act of kindness — in the midst of incredible heartache — would bless countless children for the next century.
To this day, St. Matthew’s continues helping children and families during the Christmas season. They usually do it anonymously, but word of their generosity spread through social media this year.
At the local Walmart, numerous families will come to pay the bill for Christmas toys they had put on layaway, and be told that “there’s no need” because it’s already been paid in full.
There will be so many acts of generosity and kindness that go unnoticed this Christmas season, and that’s okay. St. Matthew’s Church wasn’t looking for credit, and neither are so many others. But these stories are important because they remind us of what this season is all about — and that’s the greatest gift of all, that a savior was born. And, hopefully, we can all focus and take time out of our busy schedules to enjoy the Christmas season, or however you may celebrate.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I want to ask you about the possible government shutdown and the optimism that the President might have that he can avert a shutdown. And if I could follow up and ask about the California fires and the very latest the White House has on it.
MS. SANDERS: Sure. In terms of the government shutdown — look, we expect a clean CR to pass with Democrat support. It’s what we hope will happen. Funding the government, particularly our military, our Veterans Affairs, are always important. But particularly now, with so many threats that we face globally, this is certainly an important priority for the administration, and we hope something that will be discussed and agreed to later today.
Q On the fires, I’m sorry.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, on the fires, was there a specific question?
Q Yeah. Is the White House in coordination with the folks out in California in battling that wildfire? Is there more money to be made available, especially for the areas near Los Angeles, which are under siege right now by so many devastating fires?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. The administration is in regular contact. Both FEMA and folks here at the White House are speaking regularly to state and local authorities and making sure that we’re ready and able to help when needed and when requested by those authorities.
Q Can you say a little bit about why John Bolton was here at the White House today? And also, on taxes, we’re a little confused on whether the White House would support a 22 percent corporate tax rate. You had the White House economist, Kevin Hassett, talking about — saying it would be okay and it wouldn’t undermine the economy. And then, a few hours later, the Legislative Affairs Director, Marc Short, said something about it needs to be 20. So can you say —
MS. SANDERS: Look, our focus has been on getting the lowest corporate rate possible. Fifteen is better than twenty. Twenty is better than twenty-two. And twenty-two is better than what we have. Again, we’re going to continue to push, but we’re not going to negotiate that from the podium, and we’re committed to getting the lowest corporate rate we can.
Q And on John Bolton?
MS. SANDERS: On John Bolton, he is here; he’s a friend of the President. Somebody who he wanted to visit with. Nothing more than that. Nothing more than a check-in and a friendly visit.
Q Sarah, Donald Trump, Jr. refused to talk about his conversations with the President, citing attorney-client privilege. Would the President release him from any such privilege and allow him to speak to the committee?
MS. SANDERS: That’s a question you would have to ask his attorneys. We believe that his lawyers had a legitimate reason and basis for not answering those questions. But that’s something I would direct you to his attorneys to address more fully.
Q But can you explain to me how it could be attorney-client privilege when neither Donald Trump, Jr. nor President Trump are attorneys?
MS. SANDERS: Again, that’s something that you would have to talk with Don Jr.’s attorneys about. That’s not something I’m able to comment from here.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Senator Franken today, in announcing his resignation, said that he’s “aware that there is some irony in the fact that I’m leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.” What’s the White House response to that?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President addressed the comments back during the campaign. We feel strongly that the people of this country also addressed that when they elected Donald Trump to be President. And I’ve addressed it several times from here and don’t have anything new to add.
Q Can you say anything more broadly about the differences in the way the two parties are handling these accusations of sexual misconduct?
MS. SANDERS: I think that some of that would be left to some of the party leadership. I’m not sure if there’s a specific question in there on the differences.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Have any of the President’s counterparts around the world contacted the President, contacted the White House to indicate that they too will follow the President’s lead in moving their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or acknowledging that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any country’s commitment to follow suit on this.
Q Do you expect any? Do you expect that to happen? Do you expect that others will follow the President’s lead here?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any countries that we anticipate that happening at any point soon. I’m not saying that they aren’t, but I’m not aware of them.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Last week, the President said that the U.S. would be imposing additional sanctions on North Korea today. Do you have an update on where that stands?
MS. SANDERS: We expect the Department of Treasury to put out more details on that, hopefully by the end of this week. And we’ll keep you guys posted on that front.
Q Thanks, Sarah. What is the President’s reaction to some U.S. allies, particularly in Europe — notably in the United Kingdom — who had expressed opposition to this action recognizing Jerusalem? And also, does the fact that he kept his promise give him more credibility when negotiating in the Middle East?
MS. SANDERS: Certainly, I think one of the abilities to follow through on something you’ve committed to, as the President has done. But, also, let’s not forget that this is something that Congress voted on starting back in 1995 and has reaffirmed 10 separate times over the last 20 years. This is something that the President took action on — a very courageous and bold action — and something that, frankly, the members of the United States Congress have voted on many times before.
Q Thank you, Sarah. So, yesterday, you guys put out a statement under the President’s name, saying that he was directing other officials in the administration to reach out to Saudi Arabia and urge them to immediately allow the flow of humanitarian supplies into Yemen. I have two questions about that. The first is: Why isn’t the President himself working the phones? And the second is: Are there any consequences for Saudi Arabia if they don’t immediately allow this flow of goods?
MS. SANDERS: My understanding is the President did bring these up on previous conversations, and that I believe there are actions that are taking place for a port to open. And we’ll keep you posted as those details become more available.
Q Any consequences for Saudi if they don’t do this?
MS. SANDERS: As I just said, if we have reason to believe that they’re moving in that direction for a port to be open, we’ll keep you posted.
Q Hallie asked on Monday when the President became aware that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI. You referred her to John Dowd, those questions. We’ve tried. John Dowd is not engaging on that. That’s a knowable fact in this building; it’s not a legal matter — not for their attorney to say. Can you just tell us when the President became aware of that?
MS. SANDERS: The attorneys feel differently, and they feel this is a question that should be answered by them. And I’ll encourage them again to respond to you, but I’m going to have to refer you back to John Dowd again.
Q Why is it a legal question for them not about something the President knew and when he knew it?
MS. SANDERS: As I said before, Jon Decker is the only attorney in here. I’m going to listen to the attorneys on this one, and John Dowd hopefully will follow up with you in short order.
Q One other question, Sarah. One other question.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Major, I’m going to keep bouncing because we’re tight on time.
Q I think you want to take this one. It’s real simple; it’s very simple. Today, the U.N. Ambassador said it’s an open question whether the United States will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Is it an open question? Is that now in doubt?
MS. SANDERS: Look, that wasn’t exactly what the ambassador said. No official decision has been made on that, and we’ll keep you guys posted as those decisions are made.
Q So it is (inaudible).
MS. SANDERS: Look, I know that the goal is to do so, but that will be a decision made closer to time.
Q By whom?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s an interagency process. But I think, ultimately, the President would certainly weigh in. But, again, that’s something that he would take into account — probably a number of the stakeholders that would be involved.
Q And it’s all about security?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. If we felt there was an issue, that would come up.
Q I just have two government funding questions. First, does he want S-CHIP reauthorized?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had that specific conversation with him, but I do know that we want to fully fund the government. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into any more details before their meeting today.
Q Okay. The bipartisan leadership is coming up in a much different atmosphere than the last meeting where he tweeted about how he didn’t think a deal was possible because the Democrats were so bad on illegal immigrants pouring over the border. I’m wondering, has the President changed his mind about that? And also, specifically, what was he referring to since, in a government shutdown, ICE and the Border Patrol aren’t affected?
MS. SANDERS: The President is still very much committed to a strong border and to a border wall, and I would imagine that’s discussed at some point today.
Q But do you think a deal can be reached with the Democrats?
MS. SANDERS: I think we all hope a deal can be reached. We hope that the Democrats will be willing to put aside partisan politics and focus on fully funding the government.
Q On the Hill today, Chris Wray praised the FBI and said it was the finest law enforcement force in the world. The President said, you know, it’s “in tatters” and it’s at its worst place in history. Can you explain that discrepancy?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we don’t think that there is a discrepancy. We agree with Chris Wray that FBI field agents are appreciated and respected. The President’s issues are with the political leaders in the FBI under former director Comey, particularly those that played politics with the Hillary Clinton email probe. And we don’t see a discrepancy beyond that.
Q Would he undermine —
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to hop around because we’re tight on time.
Q If he undermines the FBI and says it’s in tatters, does the White House fear that that could create ramifications that people won’t trust law enforcement; that people will say —
MS. SANDERS: No. And again —
Q — why should we interact with the FBI when it’s in tatters?
MS. SANDERS: No. And again, the President is referring to the political leaders at the FBI, particularly those that were involved in the Hillary Clinton probe.
Q Sarah, thank you. Two quick ones about a government shutdown. Chuck Schumer, on the Senate floor, said today of the President: His party controls the Senate, the House, and the presidency — speaking of Republicans, rather. And he said a shutdown would fall on his shoulders. How is that not just a reflection — an accurate reflection — of the political realities that Republicans control Washington at this point?
MS. SANDERS: Look, they may control Washington, but this still takes some Democrats to be engaged in the process, and we hope, frankly, that Democrats will play by the Schumer rule and not hold this bill hostage by playing partisan politics and that they’ll come to the table, help fund our Defense Department, help fund our military, and help fund Veterans Affairs.
Q And you said you want a clear CR. At some point, though, DACA is going to have to be brought up, or potentially be brought up. Is the White House willing to mix, at one point, a DACA fix with government spending? And if so, when would that be the case?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President said that, with DACA, he wants to make sure that we have responsible immigration reform, including a border wall and other things that we’ve laid out in those priorities and those principles. And that’s something that would have to be part of that discussion.
Q Yeah, thank you, Sarah. From that podium, Secretary Mnuchin and Gary Cohn both assured us that, when a final tax reform bill is passed, the alternate minimum tax would disappear immediately. Now, of course, recent statements by the President, as the conference is about to begin, indicate it might not completely disappear and not immediately, certainly. Is the administration still committed to ending the AMT right away?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t think our position has changed on that front at all. But at the same time, look, the conferees were just named. We want to let this thing work through its process. We’ve laid out our principles. We’re very committed to those, and making sure that the bill and the final piece of legislation delivers on that.
Q A lot of attention on sexual misconduct and harassment by members of Congress. Is the President confident that Congress and its leaders can police and investigate themselves on this issue?
MS. SANDERS: I think that we have no reason, at this point, to see otherwise. And hopefully that process will move forward.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I just have one question, but I need to clarify something that you said from the podium here on taxes. You said, I think to Matt, on Tuesday, that as long as his taxes are under audit, he’s not going to release them. His 2016 taxes, to our knowledge, are not under audit, unless they are. Can you —
MS. SANDERS: My understanding — and I will double-check — but the President’s taxes, no matter who the President is, actually immediately go under audit after being filed. So that’s actually inaccurate. But I’ll double-check to be 100 percent sure.
Q Will you get back to us on that? So my question to you, then, more broadly, is on this moment that we find ourselves in, frankly, of a national reckoning when it comes to sexual harassment. And so in, again, a broad 30,000-foot way, does the President believe that he has a credible role in leading this conversation? And can you speak to the specific steps this White House has taken to make sure the women who work here feel like they are in a comfortable environment to talk about these things?
MS. SANDERS: I mean, I think that the President treats — certainly, as a woman myself, I’ve never felt anything but treated with the highest level of respect and been empowered to do my job. And I think that’s what I’ve seen the President do, day in and day out, since we’ve been here and during the campaign. And so I think that’s a pretty good start and a pretty good example on that front.
Q A lot of workplaces are having sessions, they’re having seminars. Are you guys doing that here? Are you talking about, in recent days, what people in this work environment can do? Are you taking —
MS. SANDERS: There are certainly White House policies that we are reminded of. And I think all of us expect each person to live up and to meet those policies, and to not cross a line that is not only not legal but not appropriate or not ethical.
Q A follow-up: We’ve seen Democrats forcefully call for John Conyers’s resignation, and Al Franken’s resignation, which happened today. Do Republicans, and does this President, risk losing their moral authority on this issue — which is a huge issue right now — by endorsing a candidate like Roy Moore, which has now been backed by the RNC as well?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’ve addressed this in depth. We think that the allegations are troubling and that ultimately this is something the people of Alabama should decide.
Q Why not call for him to drop out of the race, or a write-in candidate? Sarah, is the President failing to lead at this critical moment?
MS. SANDERS: Hey, Kristen, I’m going to move around to your colleagues.
Q But just a quick follow. Is he failing to lead on this issue?
Q Was the President’s proclamation on Jerusalem delayed because of concerns expressed by the Secretaries of Defense and State, about security they wanted to get — adequate security in place for U.S. embassies around the world?
MS. SANDERS: We wanted to make sure that we had a thoughtful and responsible process, and that the decision and the components of that decision went through the full interagency process. And once that was completed, the President moved forward and took action.
Q The Palestinians are under the impression that the President pulled out of the peace process yesterday based on the Jerusalem decision. How do you correct that? Did he do that?
MS. SANDERS: No. In fact, in the President’s remarks, he said that we are as committed to the peace process as ever, and we want to continue to push forward in those conversations and those discussions. And hopefully the ultimate goal, I think, of all those parties is to reach a peace a deal. And that’s something that the United States is very much committed to.
We’ll take one more. David.
Q Sarah, thank you. Given the recent revelations that at least one prosecutor on Robert Mueller’s team was sending anti-Trump texts to another DOJ lawyer, and given the revelation that yet another one was congratulating Sally Yates for refusing to uphold and defend the President’s travel ban, Chairman Goodlatte, at the hearing this morning, said that even the appearance of impropriety would devastate the FBI’s reputation.
So the question is: Does the White House believe that the fix was in that Robert Mueller’s probe was biased from the beginning?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we are fully cooperating through this process. We’re going to continue to do so as we — as I said a few minutes ago, we certainly felt like some of the political leadership at the FBI was problematic.
We’re glad that Director Wray is there. We feel like he’s going to clean up some of the messes left behind by his predecessor. And we look forward to this concluding soon and showing what we’ve been saying all along — that there was nothing to see here and certainly no collusion.
The President has got an event here in a couple minutes. Just a couple of last-minute notes: The President has got an event here with the members of the Pearl Harbor survivors, and then we’ll also have a pool spray at the top of the congressional meeting this afternoon at three o’clock.
So we’ll see you guys shortly. Thanks.
Q Sarah, a question about his health, after he appeared yesterday — just on his health, how he appeared yesterday.
MS. SANDERS: I’ll break the rules and I’ll come back. I know that there were a lot of questions on that — frankly, pretty ridiculous questions. The President’s throat was dry. Nothing more than that.
He does have a physical scheduled for the first part of next year, the full physical that most Presidents go through. That will take place at Walter Reed, and those records will be released by the doctor following that taking place.
Thanks so much, guys.
1:59 P.M. EST