James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:45 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. This morning, we had the honor of joining of the President at the Pentagon to observe the anniversary of September 11th with the families and survivors of the horrific attack on our homeland that took the lives of 2,977 of their brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives 16 years ago. The lives of those survivors and families were changed forever on that day, and our country has never been the same since the unimaginable evil of terrorism reached our shores.
In response to the attacks we are memorializing today, the Department of Homeland Security was created and given a vital mission: securing our nation from the many threats we face, from counterterrorism and border security, to disaster preparedness and relief, which we know all too well in light of FEMA’s work surrounding Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The men and women, in responding to these storms, embody the spirit under which DHS was established. The President recognized a Pentagon police officer this morning who sped to the scene of the crash at the Pentagon as soon as he heard of the attack, and saved as many as 20 people. Like Isaac, the first responders to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey are running directly into danger to save lives and serve our nation. I hope that every American can take comfort in the fact that, in the face of unbelievable tragedy, this country has always come together to heal, protect, and save.
From the firefighters and police officers who rushed into burning buildings on 9/11 to the first responders on the ground in Florida, the United States Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, FEMA, through its national and regional response coordination centers and liaisons to the National Hurricane Center, continues to actively monitor the track of Hurricane Irma and support local authorities responding to the damage the storm has already caused.
I’d like to bring up Tom Bossert, the President’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor to provide an update on issues related to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey before I take questions. As always, he’ll make an opening statement and take questions, and then I’ll be back up to answer further questions.
MR. BOSSERT: Thanks, Sarah. Good afternoon. It’s a somber day today. And I, and Sarah, and others were honored to join the President at the Pentagon in a moment of silence, on the South Lawn as well.
In addition, I would note that President Trump continued a long tradition of Presidents since 9/11 to receive a counterterrorism briefing this morning in the Oval Office from his intelligence community, from his Director of National Counterterrorism Center, from myself, and others on the team. The purpose of that is to give the President a sense of the terrorist threat that exists globally and to the homeland, and to give him a sense of what we’re doing about it, and make sure that he’s comfortable with our posture.
As I said the other day, we don’t have any current, active threats against the homeland to our knowledge, and that’s a good news story for today.
Let me move into a quick thought. Before I do it though, Sarah noted that we created the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of 9/11. I would note that the government engaged in a massive reorganization of its structures and efforts to create a National Counterterrorism Center; to create a Department of Homeland Security; an Office of the Director of National Intelligence; a U.S. Northern Command, which you’ve seen now marshal resources in an expert fashion for this storm; a combatant command in the United States of America; and Cyber Command, which you’ve seen recently President Trump elevate to a full combatant command.
And so we’ve marshaled our resources and we’ve organized them in a way to confront the threat of terrorism, but also to organize ourselves in a way that would allow us to respond to any event, from a manmade hazard to an unfortunate terrorist attack, but also to a hurricane.
So let me see if I can today talk to you about what we’ve done. I believe Harvey, as I said earlier, was the best integrated, unified, joint federal, local, state response effort that our country has seen in its history. I continue to stand by that. We’ve got roughly 700,000 registrants now for individual assistance in the greater Houston and South Texas area. Governor Abbott continues to demonstrate leadership, and President Trump continues to work with him and direct his Cabinet to not lose focus on the people of Texas.
With respect to Hurricane Irma, as you now know, it’s a tropical depression. That does not mean it’s not a dangerous storm. As you’ll see from reporting, Jacksonville is suffering what has been called early some of the worst flooding it has seen in 100 years. And so the category might be reduced, but the effects on Jacksonville, for instance, when you combine storm surge and wind, might now replicate that of a Category 3 storm, even though it’s a tropical depression.
So as that flooding is ongoing, we have lifesaving, life-sustaining operations underway, and we are prayerful that there are not people right now trapped by floodwaters.
The President spoke this morning to the Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Governor Mapp expressed — and I joined that call — his thankfulness to our administration’s help, with the U.S. government providing such a rapid response and an ongoing response, I would add.
So if I could on that, I’ll speak to it later. But the mobilization of our military in response to the storms in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is the largest ever mobilization of our military in a naval and marine operation. And we now have an Air Force aircraft carrier deployed in this effort; this was the first-ever as well.
So we have the largest flotilla operation in our nation’s history to help not only the people of Puerto Rico, the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands, but also of St. Maarten and other non-U.S. islands affected, and the people of Florida.
With respect to Puerto Rico, the President spoke to the Governor of Puerto Rico this morning around 11:30 a.m. and they discussed similarly how happy they were with the federal response to their needs. The governor communicated to the President that they still have a large, island-wide power outage problem that we are addressing as soon as we can.
And then Florida, if I can speak to Florida — I think Governor Scott has been demonstrating an outstanding leadership instinct and pressing forward, continuing the message of getting people out of harm’s way — which, by the way, is an ongoing effort. The storm is still hitting the United States, in Georgia and South Carolina. It’ll move up through an inland flooding problem in Tennessee, maybe North Carolina, as we see the storm progress.
Governor Scott has, at this stage, begun conducting overflight surveys of the Keys. And it looks like to the north and east of Key West, the storms there took — the islands there took the largest brunt of the storm. So I’ll be able to speak to that when we take questions.
And then if I can come back to 9/11, I think the lesson we learned that day, among others, was that not only does evil exist but good people taking action can confront that. And what I’ve been reinsured — assured and reassured about over the last 24 hours is how many good people are taking action. So that’s kind of my lesson for today.
I’d like to take questions now.
Q Tom, in the immediate aftermath of Harvey, the federal response priority was to rescue people who were trapped by the enormous flooding. In the state of Florida, what’s the priority for the federal government?
MR. BOSSERT: There’s a number of priorities for the federal government. Right now, because the storm is still ongoing, our priority is lifesaving, life-sustaining. Jacksonville and the Keys are taking a considerable amount of our attention right now.
But what you’ll see in Florida and, more broadly speaking as a comparative matter, Houston and Harvey was an acutely narrow area of operations comparatively. What we have now is a large scale area of operations. So what we’re trying to do is marshal the resources where they’re needed, and so it’s a prioritization effort.
We are worried about flooding, housing, debris, and power restoration. And power restoration is also a function of access to fuel — refined fuel. So as you’ll see the next days and week play out, we will have to clear debris from roadways so that people can gain reentry. Right now though, the message is not to rush reentry. There are still dangerous conditions, downed electric lines, flood conditions, problems that would be compounded by your reentry.
And so listen to your local officials, not only about evacuation but then about when and how to stagger your reentry, for a reason. There’s a life safety reason, a public safety reason.
here’s our priority set. Eventually we’ll move into issues about recovery and insurance and so forth.
Q Tom, what are you doing on the fuel front?
MR. BOSSERT: On the fuel front, what the federal government is doing at this stage, and what we did in the three or four days building up to this event, was to get out of the way. And by that, I mean we waived regulations, we waived rules, we waived the Jones Act restrictions to free up additional capacity.
Florida is a uniquely postured state in the way it receives refined fuel. It’s not part of the larger pipeline system throughout the country. It receives fuel by ship or tank — by ship tanker. Those ship tankers then link into intermodal sites, where they fill up trucks and trucks distribute.
And so what we’ll do is clear those pathways, assess those three ports where those tankers dock, make sure they’re not damaged, and we’ll get things back up and running. Florida Power & Light and others, the nuclear power generation facilities, Duke Energy and others, they’ll continue with their professionalism and they’ll bring those facilities back up as soon as possible.
Q Tom — yes, hi. Do we have any agreements in place with the private sector to contribute to the both response and recovery — talking about Costco, Home Depot, Walmart — so that we don’t have to deplete the disaster relief fund? As a public service.
MR. BOSSERT: Yeah, no, — absolutely. So two things. First, there’s a partnership in terms of coordination, where those private-sector entities are actually built into our coordinating centers so that they can understand what we’re doing and how to prioritize their re-opening of facilities and the safety of their workforce.
But secondly, it is our absolutely baseline doctrine nowadays in the emergency management community that we would rather reopen those stores and continue providing food, water, and temporary shelter to people. It’s just not within their regular course of operating business. It’s not routine, and it’s not something that we can easily sustain. So it’s healthier, better, faster for us to reopen those stores as fast as possible. Thanks for that question.
Q Mr. Bossert, the previous administration saw a connection between climate change and homeland security in that the frequency and intensity of powerful storms, like Harvey and Irma, could pose a problem for future administrations. You could have a FEMA budget that can’t keep up with the demand when you have powerful storms hitting the country. Is that something that you think this administration should take a look at? We know the President pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. Are these storms giving this administration some pause when it comes to the issue of climate change and homeland security?
MR. BOSSERT: I was here in the 2004 cycle of hurricanes, four and six weeks that hit Florida. I think what’s prudent for us right now is to make sure that those response capabilities are there. Causality is something outside of my ability to analyze right now.
I will tell you that we continue to take seriously the climate change — not the cause of it, but the things that we observe. And so there’s rising flood waters — I think one inch every 10 years in Tampa — things that would require prudent mitigation measures. And what I said from the podium the other day, and what President Trump remains committed to, is making sure that federal dollars aren’t used to rebuild things that will be in harm’s way later or that won’t be hardened against the future predicable floods that we see.
And that has to do with engineering analysis and changing conditions along eroding shorelines, but also in inland water and flood control projects.
Q And just to follow up on that, when you see three Category 4 hurricanes all on the same map at the same time, does the thought occur to you, “Geez, you know, maybe there is something to this climate change thing and its connection to powerful hurricanes”? Or do you just separate the two and say, “Boy, these are a lot of big hurricanes coming our way”?
MR. BOSSERT: Well I don’t know if I say either, but I do know that there is a cyclical nature of a lot of these hurricane seasons. And I thank the scientists for their forecasts on this particular one. They were dead on that this would be a stronger and more powerful hurricane season, with slightly more-than-average large storms making landfall in the United States. So we’ll have to do a larger trend analysis at a later date.
Q To follow up a little bit on just the budget. What kind of pressure — you’ve had wildfires in the West, two major hurricane strikes — but what pressure on the federal government’s budget has these natural disasters put and how are we going to react to it? Are there going to be programs cut? Are there going to be reassessments of what goes on in order to rebuild the infrastructure? It’s going to take several years.
MR. BOSSERT: I think the President and Director Mulvaney and others started the process of a bipartisan discussion on this point. I think right now we have plenty of resources to get through this; that was the nature of the appropriation that we saw and the second appropriation that we will see at the end of this month subject to the regular course of order in the fiscal year.
We’ll ask for a third, perhaps fourth supplemental appropriation for the purpose of rebuilding. We’ll do it smartly, to the previous question — but in terms of pressure on the budget, this is a disaster-relief-fund issue. It’s funded a little bit differently, and I have every belief that this President will end up with proposals as he’s started this administration with that will lead to a balanced budget.
But to get too far into how that works and the politics is way outside my lane, and I’ll —
Q Just to follow up, at any point in time as you’re taking a look at this issue, is there any chance that FEMA, the EPA, and some of the places that were cut will see more money go into their budget?
MR. BOSSERT: I think that we’ll put money in as money is needed to address the need. So I think what you’ll see here is the same trend that I alluded to earlier. In 2004, we had a large spike in disaster-relief funding, but we also had to elevate the cap on flood insurance. And we’ll probably end up having to do that again here.
You’ll see, though, over a longer span of time even the flood insurance budget is red and black, red and black again based on claims and based on premiums. So we’ll analyze it in that fashion, but I don’t have any prediction for you on that.
Ma’am, in the middle.
Q Tom, I asked you two weeks ago about Harvey, and you said — I asked you about housing. And I wanted to know if you had an update on the issues of housing, since now we’ve had Harvey and now Irma and what else is coming along the way. Can you give us an update as to locating housing for those who’ve been displaced?
MR. BOSSERT: Locating housing in Texas?
Q Housing in Texas, housing — I mean, for those who need housing, be it Texas, be it outside of the state, what have you come up with?
MR. BOSSERT: So I’ll answer both. So in Texas, again, going back to praising the Governor, he’s done what we haven’t seen done so well in the past, and that is he’s owning the housing problem with a task force that he’s initiated. He’s also assigned a person to be in charge of long-term recovery.
And there’s four or five solutions to the housing problems in Texas. Of course, some of them are short lived, and what you’ll have to do is find short-term solutions. People can stay in their home — it’s been flooded — when the drywall is ripped out, when the repairs begin, they’re going to have to find another place to live temporarily. So we try to find hotel solutions.
In some cases, FEMA has initiated a manufactured housing solution where they’ll put a mobile home or travel trailer on your property that you can live in for a period of time while your home is being repaired. Those are the ideal solutions when there’s enough acreage on your lot for that housing unit to sit. You can then move back into your home and we can remove that temporary unit. That’s essentially the option that we have right now.
The third option, of course, is just distance. So there’s available rental stock, but you have to draw a larger circumference as people move away from their homes and into rental stock available farther away. So we have some analysis done on the available rental stock and the available manufactured housing stock. We can get that to you after the podium brief here.
In Florida, we’ll have a slightly different issue. But we haven’t assessed yet entirely what the damage is. So that —
Q Will it be kind of like the same model?
MR. BOSSERT: Florida will be the same model. But remember, it’s a peninsula, and it’s a wider scale problem, and it’s been a larger swath storm.
And so what we’ll do there is assess whether those are the right models or whether we have to apply some different creative solutions. If we do, we have the authorities and we have the budget to do so, and we’ll make sure people are taken care of.
Q And during the Bush years, there was a very big concern about the mobile homes — and then they wound up having issues with formaldehyde. Is that all cleared up, all of that concern before? There was a big concern about mobile home communities just being in place after Katrina. Is that kind of out of the mindset now? Or is it still part of the mindset?
MR. BOSSERT: No, the mindset of making sure that people have a safe place to live is still very much alive.
What we do as a government is purchase available manufactured housing. We don’t make it, and we purchase it off the open market. I think the open market has improved their building practices, and I think that we’ve improved through that experience in knowing who to buy from and who not to buy from.
I also understand that problems of ambient air quality continue to persist in our everyday lives, so I don’t know how much formaldehyde is in this room right now, but I do know that formaldehyde is a carcinogen at any level. (Laughter.) The point here is that we take it very seriously, and we’ll make sure we message very seriously the importance of, basically, ventilation.
But to my knowledge, we buy off of a better market now, and we provide that solution in a more tailored and responsible manner.
If I could maybe come up front.
Q Tom, a couple of questions about the conditions in Florida. First of all, more than half of Floridians are now without power. It’s usually a very local issue, but this is a catastrophe of a much greater scale. When is it your assessment that people in Florida can expect to get their power back? And what’s the federal government’s role in making that happen?
MR. BOSSERT: So my numbers now are somewhere north of 5 million. If the number is higher, I don’t know if that constitutes half the people on Florida, but I’ll take your word for it.
Q It’s 5 million households and businesses, so it’s a lot more people.
MR. BOSSERT: It’s a significant — it’s a significant number. To the extent that a customer might have four people in the household, you’ll see that number increase. The number of people then would be four in the home, the number of customers would be one. So that’s the difference.
The idea here is, as I said earlier, we all have a joint role in this. Florida Power & Light, Duke Electric, others will all be bringing forces to bear here. The U.S. government brings to bear a number of forces that are imperative to the restoration effort, like pushing debris out of the road and clearing roadways.
Yesterday what we saw was not just the reports of, but the actual evidence of — this will be the largest ever mobilization of line restoration workers in this country. Period. End of story. They were already mobilized yesterday. They were at the Daytona Speedway. We will have line restoration workers from every company in this country, from states all over this country, but also from Canada, coming to Florida to help restore the lines.
And so in Florida, unlike in Houston, where they’re buried power lines, in Florida they’re all strung on poles. So we have to restore the poles, restring the lines. And the way that process works is they restore the plant, then the sub-plant, then line by line into each road, and then house by house. And you can’t hook up each house until the homeowner makes sure that it’s safe. You don’t want to burn the house down with flood damage and corroded lines and so forth.
So it is a — literally — joint effort from federal clearing, to public and private partnerships, to line restoration efforts that are partnered in the for-profit and regulated world all the way through to the individual homeowner. So that’s how that process works.
Q What’s your assessment of how long that’s going to take? How long are these people going to be in the dark?
MR. BOSSERT: I would caution people to be very patient here. Between reentry and that process, we could have power down in homes for the coming weeks. Weeks.
Now, I don’t want to cause any panic in Florida — and I’ll come to a question here next — there are hospitals and nursing homes and other facilities that have generator power to provide services that are necessary. And there, the concern is providing fuel to those generators should they run out. And from that perspective, the federal government provides a great deal of fuel, a great deal of transport assistance through TRANSCOM and other contracts. And we give that fuel to the state and locals, and they distribute it to those — I say wholesale and retail distribution — that’s the best analogy. They distribute it to those facilities. And so that’s our role there, as well. And we expect that to happen seamlessly.
Q Thank you, Tom. Is preventing price gouging in the state of Florida a federal responsibility? Or is that up to state officials in Florida and local officials there?
MR. BOSSERT: It can be both. And I think you’ll hear from the Attorney General later, so I’ll let him explain to you what he’ll do to prevent fraud. I think he’s going to announce an effort on that this week. And I think you’ve already heard Pam Bondi announce that she is conducting active gouging and anti-fraud practices when there are state and local laws at play.
So “both” is the answer, but I can tell you that neither officials — the Attorney General of the United States or the attorney general or attorneys general of the states are going to tolerate gouging. I think that’s something that people ought to think twice about.
Q You raise the possibility of a third and fourth supplemental for disaster relief. Can you tell us how much money the administration wants included in the supplementals? And are you going to put language raising the cap for flood insurance in that legislation as well?
MR. BOSSERT: So on the first point, no. The reason we pursued this approach is we’re trying to make sure that we have responsible estimates as opposed to making wild guesses now. We’re going for the amount of money we need to get through this response operation phase. And as we transition into recovery, we’ll analyze the damage, figure out how much money we might need, and go up for another responsible request.
If we got that wrong, then we’d go for another if necessary. It’s not necessarily wrong, but if we estimate a world and find actuals don’t meet those estimates, then we’ll go up and rectify.
With respect to flood insurance, we’ll see how many claims come in. But the flood insurance program had $8.6 billion, roundabout, available to it. If claims exceed that amount, we’ll go up and ask for the cap to be raised.
Q I was hoping you could drill down a bit more on the efforts to evacuate Americans in the Caribbean. You described the military mobilization. I know the State Department task force, they’re working around the clock in their operations. Can you assess those efforts? And can you give a message to Americans who are right now in dire straits in the Caribbean who might be listening to this? What should the expectation be for an evacuation? How soon can the Americans get the Americans out?
MR. BOSSERT: While I’m preaching caution to make sure people understand that this is an ongoing effort and that there’s still going to be long, painful days ahead, I am doubling down on my assertion that this is the best integrated, full-scale response effort in our nation’s history. That includes the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and non-U.S. islands where we helped American citizens during a window of operational safety between Jose and Irma. This has been a large event, and you’re going to see a lot of positive stories from it.
Now, control expectations. You’re on an island where we have to transport commodities — food and water — where we have a long road ahead of us to bring electric power back online. But we’ve assembled two of the most powerful naval relief flotillas in recent memory, a total of nine large ships. I’m going to just cut right to the Kearsarge, Oak Hill, Wasp, McLean, and the Abraham Lincoln, the Iwo Jima, the Farragut, and New York. That is an aircraft carrier, and large platforms for helicopters — 80 or more helicopters flying sorties right now. That is an operation that for most Americans, if you can’t picture, has never been mobilized for this type of emergency response effort in our history.
And so to the extent that I can assess it, I’m pretty proud of that. To the extent that it meets the need, I’m going to hope it does because we’re saving hundreds if not thousands of people off of these islands at this point collectively. And so if the burn rate is not fast enough, I would be surprised because we’re mobilizing ourselves in ways that we’ve never mobilized before.
And Governor Mapp, the President of the United States, and the Governor of Puerto Rico, Rosselló were all very pleased in their phone calls today. So I’m in no better position from this podium than they are from their locations to assess it as a positive outcome.
Q Quick question on timing tomorrow. With so many people who evacuated from the Keys and given the level of destruction there, any time estimate on when people might be able to return to the Keys?
MR. BOSSERT: They Keys are going to take a while. We have not assessed the structural integrity of the bridges there. There’s some early reason to believe that some of the drawbridges that were up may or may not have been bent. So restoring those is going to take some time.
That Route 1 is a large, expansive bridge, essentially. All of the undergirding there has to be examined for structural integrity. I would expect that the Keys are not fit for reentry for regular citizenry for weeks. And if that’s wrong and I’m wrong, then fine, then let the local officials bring you in. But I would set the expectation pretty broad right now.
And I would say that for the people that choose to stay, they had every warning to leave, we hope that they took that warning. And those that didn’t, we’re going to get back down there as soon as we humanly can. And right now we don’t know.
We had three or four overflights today. I talked to the FEMA administrator just before come out here, and he is not certain yet that we’ve had a good overflight assessment of where all those people might be. Neither of us would be surprised if lives were lost. But neither of us would be surprised if the responders are going to get down aggressively. So we’re doing everything we can to help them.
I see, Sarah. I’m going to actually end on that, if I could — and end where I started. Today is the day of solemnity and remembrance for 9/11. It is why I got into this business, and it’s why I believe our government is now organized for the level of response that we’ve seen. It just goes to kind of show what we’ve got if we want to bring ourselves together in helping our fellow humans. Under good leadership from President Trump, I think we’ve put forward a good effort.
Please, for the people in Florida, continue to follow the instructions of your first responders and your local authorities. This isn’t over yet, and it’s going to be a painful, slightly frustrating if not very frustrating week or two ahead.
Thank you all very much.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Tom. As he wrapped up, he reiterated the need to listen to local authorities. I know that the Governor of Florida is getting ready to hold a press conference. I’m going to try to take as many questions as we can, but I also want to make sure that everyone is able to tune in for that and cover that extensively.
Finally, before I take your questions, several of you have asked about the U.S. response to the ongoing violence in Burma, and I’d like to read part of a statement that will be coming out shortly on that topic.
“The United States is deeply troubled by the ongoing crisis in Burma where at least 300,000 people have fled their homes in the wake of attacks on a Burmese security post on August 25th. We reiterate our condemnation of those attacks and ensuing violence.”
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Sarah, two questions. One, do you have a reaction to Steve Bannon’s comments on “60 Minutes,” saying that the firing of James Comey was the “biggest political mistake in modern history?”
And secondly, if you could look forward to tomorrow a little bit and the President’s meeting with the Malaysian Prime Minister, what do you expect to achieve during that meeting? And will the President address or avoid the issue of the U.S. investigation into him?
MS. SANDERS: Pretty wide-ranging topic, so I’ll try to make sure I cover. First on the Comey firing, I think that we’ve been pretty clear what our position is. And certainly, I think that that has been shown in the days that followed, that the President was right in firing Director Comey. Since the director’s firing, we’ve learned new information about his conduct that only provided further justification for that firing, including giving false testimony, leaking privileged information to journalists, he went outside of the chain of command, and politicized an investigation into a presidential candidate.
I think the President has been very clear about his position on that front. He’s very pleased with the new Director and has full confidence in him to fully restore and lead the FBI.
In terms of Malaysia and on that question — hard transition, but I’ll try to make sure we cover that — the United States and Malaysia have had a 60-year relationship and partnership built on common economic and security interests, and that continues. And the President looks forward to discussing a wide variety and wide range of regional and security issues with the Prime Minister and talking about ways that they can strengthen counterterrorism cooperation, certainly the halt of ISIS, addressing North Korea and their continued actions, and making sure that we promote maritime security in the South China Sea.
Those are certainly, I think, some of the priorities of tomorrow’s meeting, but I’m not going to get ahead much further than that on any conversation that may take place.
Q (Inaudible) corruption probe?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation being led by the Department of Justice, and that investigation is apolitical and certainly independent of anything taking place tomorrow.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I also have a question on Mr. Bannon’s interview. During that he said, “I think Mitch McConnell and, to a degree, Paul Ryan — they do not want Donald Trump’s populist, economic, nationalist agenda to be implemented. It’s very obvious. It’s as obvious as night follows day.”
First of all, does the President agree with that obvious characterization of McConnell and Ryan?
MS. SANDERS: The President is committed to working with Congress to get some big things done. We’ve got a very big agenda. The President wants to work with all members of Congress. Obviously that includes Republican leadership, as well as Democrats. I think you saw some of the President’s leadership last week when he helped strike a deal to make sure that we got the funding that was necessary.
We’re focused on moving things forward, and certainly that’s the goal and the priority of the administration.
Q So on that note, would he like to see — given his past criticisms of Mr. McConnell and Ryan, would he like to see different leadership in the Republican Congress?
MS. SANDERS: Look, right now, the President is committed to working with the leadership we have and nothing beyond that, at this point.
Q Sarah, just to follow up on Bannon’s comments, he actually went and said all that about McConnell and Ryan, but also said that they were — they wanted to nullify the 2016 election results. So just a simple yes or no question, does the President agree with that assessment?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of. I haven’t had that conversation with him, Jonathan.
Q Is he talking to Stave Bannon? Does he still seek his counsel on the outside?
MS. SANDERS: I know they’ve had one conversation but I don’t think anything beyond that since he left.
Q On Steve Bannon — (laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: Popular topic.
Q Yes, good topic. Did the President happen to watch —
MS. SANDERS: I think we may be answering more questions on Steve Bannon now that he’s not here then when he was, but go ahead.
Q You might be right about that. Did the President happen to watch the interview? Any reaction? Did you happen to watch the interview on 60 Minutes? And —
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure if he saw it in its entirety. I know he has seen clips of it but I don’t know that he watched the entire thing. I did watch parts of it.
Q And what was your reaction to it? As a former colleague of yours — he worked here at the White House — were you disappointed with any of his comments? Were you surprised by any of his comments? Did you like the fact that a former staffer is speaking so openly about some of the inner workings of what happens here, at the White House, on a regular basis?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sure it made for great TV and I’m sure CBS will be happy to put those ratings out. As for me, I’m here to speak on behalf of the administration.
Q Why ruin a good thing, Sarah?
MS. SANDERS: Is that what this is — a good thing? (Laughter.)
Q Staying on the topic of Steve Bannon, another comment he made with that, “DREAMers should consider self-deporting when their work permits run out.” Is that something that the White House thinks is realistic — that the DREAMers would voluntarily leave the country when their work permits run out? And is that something the President thinks that they should do?
MS. SANDERS: The administration has been clear what our position is. We’re hoping that Congress will step up and do their job and fix this problem and implement responsible immigration reform, and addressing that problem would be part of it.
Q Last week, Nancy Pelosi told the Congress that the President would sign the DREAM Act. Is that accurate? And will the President sing the DREAM Act?
MS. SANDERS: Again, the President and the administration are looking responsible immigration reform. And part of that would be part of that process, but we want to do something that addresses a multitude of issues. And again, Congress has six months to do their job. We’re very hopeful and confident that they will.
Q In his 60 Minutes interview, Steve Bannon said that this discussion over DACA could lead to a civil war in the Republican Party. How and why is he wrong about that?
MS. SANDERS: I think that Steve always likes to speak in kind of, the most extreme measures. I’m not sure that I agree with that.
Q On a different topic —
MS. SANDERS: Oh, wow.
Q In recent weeks —
MS. SANDERS: Maybe you get two questions since —
Q In just a matter of weeks, two storms that have been categorized as “once in 500 years” or even longer — major events — have hit the United States. In light of that, has the President given any thought to reviewing his decision to leave the Paris Climate Accords?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure specifically on the Paris climate deal. But as he said at the time, the goal is to always do our very best when it comes to taking care of the environment and taking proper steps.
The United States is one of the best in the world at doing this. We want to continue to do that, but right now the administration is focused on the recovery and relief efforts. And as Tom said a few minutes ago, we’ll look at that analysis once we get through the coming days, and focus on recovery and relief and saving-life effort taking place.
Q Two questions. To follow up on John’s question a little bit here, and since you said you do speak for the administration, can you clarify whether the President believes human activity contributes to climate change?
MS. SANDERS: The President has addressed this already.
Q But I’m asking you if that has changed given these storms?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think that it’s changed over the last several weeks. And again, he’s addressed his opinion on that several times since.
Q So my second question is actually on something that happened back on August 10th, as you know — which is the President declaring that he wanted to have a national emergency when it came to the opioid crisis. It has now been more than a month since he said that. That’s a delay for a President who likes to do things quickly, as he has often said. Is the President taking this seriously enough? And when does he intend to declare this an emergency and actually get the ball rolling on that?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely — taking it very seriously. The commission and members of the administration have continued to meet and work on the details of that national declaration. And that’s certainly a big priority for the administration, and we’ll continue to focus on pushing that through.
Q What’s taking so long? You know, this is a President who likes to snap his fingers —
MS. SANDERS: It’s a much more involved process, and that’s something that they’re working through on the legal side, the administrative side, and making sure that it’s done correctly.
Q I was going to ask about Steve Mnuchin — (Laughter.)
MS. SANDERS: Tricky, tricky, Bender.
Q He and Cohn are going up to the Senate tomorrow to talk to the budget committee. What do they want that budget resolution to look like? And does the administration support the House budget?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t want to get ahead of their conversations, and I’ll let — Secretary Mnuchin, I think, plans to address that in further detail tomorrow.
Q Another one on Steve Mnuchin real quickly. He took some criticism last week from Republicans for his handling of debt deal. What does the President think of Secretary Mnuchin’s performance so far?
THE PRESIDENT: The President has confidence in Secretary Mnuchin and is glad that he is part of the effort, working with Gary Cohn, to get tax reform done this year.
Q Just to drill down a little bit on what you said a moment ago regarding James Comey. You said that he was responsible for giving false testimony. Do you believe that Comey either perjured himself before Congress or, at the very least, misled Congress in his testimony?
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s something, probably, for DOJ to look at, not me. I’m not an attorney.
Q Two questions, one of the Equifax leak and one on tax reform. If a big tax reform bill doesn’t pass by December, would the President support adding middle-class tax cuts to the end of the year (inaudible) bill that the Congress has to pass?
MS. SANDERS: We’re focused on making sure we get a complete tax reform package. That’s the goal.
Q (Inaudible) he would support —
MS. SANDERS: Right now, that’s the focus. And if that doesn’t happen, we’ll look at other options at that point.
Q And then on Americans’ personal data security after the Equifax leak, is more regulation warranted for the handling of American’s personal data?
MS. SANDERS: I think this is something we have to look into extensively. Tom Bossert will be one of the primary people taking the lead on that front — and certainly something we have to explore all the best ways to make sure that Americans are protected in that sense.
Q Was the President disappointed by Steve Bannon’s comments on 60 Minutes?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure if he was disappointed in the comments.
Q And secondly, did Steven Bannon warn the President that firing James Comey would be the biggest political mistake in modern history?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware that conversation ever took place.
As I mentioned when we started, the governor of Florida has a press conference that will be starting here in a few minutes. We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to tune in.
The press team will be here, and we’re happy to answer any questions, particularly if you have anything beyond Steve Bannon, we’d be even more than happy to answer.
3:21 P.M. EDT