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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:18 P.M. EDT

MS. SANDERS:  Pulling out the big guns for Friday.  (Laughter.)  Serious business.  Good afternoon.

Q    Good afternoon.  Happy Friday.

MS. SANDERS:  Let me start by addressing the Black Hawk helicopter crash in Iraq.  At least from initial reporting, the crash does not appear to have been caused by enemy action.  However, this incident is under investigation.  This tragic crash reminds us all that our courageous men and women take extraordinary risks every single day in service of our country.

American troops, alongside their coalition partners, continue their efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and to prevent its re-emergence.  As the President tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the brave troops lost…  Their sacrifice in service to our country will never be forgotten.”

Looking ahead to next week, the President will be traveling to New Hampshire on Monday.  The purpose of this trip is to further enforce the administration’s commitment to combatting the opioid crisis.

As the President said in his State of the Union Address, this “administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need, for those who have been hurt so terribly.  The struggle will be long and it will be difficult, but, as Americans always do — in the end, we will succeed.  We will prevail.”

As you all know, the last couple of weeks we have highlighted Democrats’ unprecedented effort to stop the President from filling his administration with highly-qualified nominees.

Today, we have a special guest with us to provide some additional details on that front.  Marc Short, our Director of Legislative Affairs, will come up now to make a statement and take a few questions.  Then I’ll be back up after he’s done to take your questions on other news of the day.  Thanks.


MR. SHORT:  Thanks, Sarah.  Hey, good afternoon.  Since I know many of you are interested in White House personnel issues, we wanted to take a few minutes to discuss the historic obstruction that we have faced by Senator Schumer and Senate Democrats in confirming our nominees to enable us to fill out our White House.

The Senate, obviously, has the constitutional responsibility for advice and consent.  So what that looks like in real life is the President selects a nominee, they then undergo an entire FBI background check, they work with the Office of Government Ethics to de-conflict financial issues — and that’s a process that takes a good amount of time, a good amount of resources.

Only then, after cleared through an FBI background check and the Office of Government Ethics, is a nominee submitted to the United States Senate.  When they get to the Senate, they go through several additional evaluations, including meetings with staff, meetings with the members on both sides of the aisle.  The nominee then undergoes a hearing and the committee then votes on the nominee to get out of that committee.

At that point, the nominee moves to the Senate floor for full confirmation.  Traditionally, the Senate routinely confirms the administration’s nominees once out of committee.  It is there to respect the will of the American people and the election for an administration to fill out its roles under a new President.  Instead, what Senator Schumer has done is to require cloture votes to essentially slow down the process and to obstruct.

At this point, in the past four administrations combined — the last four administrations — the Senate had conducted 17 cloture votes combined; cloture vote, in essence, being a filibuster on a nominee.  Seventeen cloture votes in the last four administrations combined, at this point.  Today, the Senate has had 79 cloture votes in the first 14 months of our administration.  Seventeen, over the last four administrations, versus seventy-nine in the first 14 months of our administration.  That is roughly five times the number of the last four administrations combined.

Senator Schumer is essentially weaponizing a Senate procedure and demanding cloture votes on our nominees that he even eventually supports.  Eleven of the President’s nominees have been approved without a single dissenting vote, yet still forced to go through a 30-hours of debate to essentially slow down the Senate calendar simply for the purpose of obstruction.  Even Senate Democrats have begun to call this out and to say it is getting to the point of ridiculous.

At this rate, the United States Senate would take eleven and a half years to confirm our nominees.  Eleven and a half years to confirm our nominees.

So, let me give you one more example of the comparison, historically.  In the first entire term of the George H.W. Bush administration, his entire four years, he faced one cloture vote.  In the entire four years of the Clinton administration, he faces 10 cloture votes.  Under the George W. Bush administration, the entire first term, he faced four cloture votes.  Barack Obama faced 17 in his first entire four years.  We have faced 79 in our first 14 months.  That adds up to 32 combined in the entire first four years of those administrations, relative to 79 in our first less than a year and a half.

So let me give a couple more illustrations of specific individuals.  Pat Pizzella is our nominee to be the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor.  We still do not have a Deputy Secretary, a number two person, at the Department of Labor.  Pat Pizzella was nominated 269 days ago.  He was reported out of committee in October.  He was confirmed in the George W. Bush administration by a unanimous voice vote.  So he’s already been confirmed by a previous Congress without any dissention, and yet, 269 days later, we still do not have a Deputy Secretary at the Department of Labor.

At the EPA, the Deputy Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, he was nominated 152 days ago.  Scott Pruitt, still to this day, does not have a deputy, a number two, serving at the EPA.  He was reported out of committee in November.

Yleem Poblete will be Assistant Secretary for Arms Control at the Department of State when confirmed.  Obviously, Arms Control is an important issue for national security and particularly heightened in light of upcoming negotiations with North Korea.  She was nominated 298 days ago, and has been previously a Staff Director at the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Isabel Patelunas, nominated 270 days ago, reported out of committee in July, has been nominated to be Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Intelligence and Analysis.  This helps work with many of the sanctions that you have covered.

So many of these positions, in fact, are national security positions.  And lastly, Kevin McAleenan, to be Commissioner of the Customs and Border Patrol, was nominated 298 days ago.  Obviously, it’s been a priority of this administration to highlight the security threats we face on our southern border.  Kevin, in taking that role, will be safeguarding our borders and helping to prevent terrorists and contraband from entering the United States.  Yet, Congress and the Senate continues to dither and not have a confirmation vote.

We are pleased that he finally got through a cloture vote last week.  We expect him to be confirmed on Monday night.  But 298 days later — as the American people have been anxious to make sure that our south border is being secured, we still do not have a head of the Customs and Border Patrol.

So this level of obstruction is beyond historic.  It is something that — as you, I know, are very focused on personnel inside the White House — we ask that you also shed light on the historic obstruction that’s happening in the United States Senate to make sure that we are able to fill out our administration to do the job of the American people and to help make sure that our country is safe and secure.

Q    Thanks a lot, Marc.  Thanks for coming out.  You mentioned the plight of your nominee at the State Department for the Arms Control position, and you mentioned the need for having that person for the upcoming negotiations with North Korea, yet you still do not have a nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.  Why is that?  When will you have that nominee?  And is that position also important for your efforts?

MR. SHORT:  Sure, I think that there has been several conversations about that internally with putting forward nominees that — as they go through that process.  In many cases, it gets so delayed and so long that nominees have withdrawn from the process before actually being submitted to the Senate.  So there is a couple of examples where that’s happened recently.  That includes that post.  But we have been having ongoing conversations about nominating someone soon.

Q    On Rick Grenell, the President’s nominee for Ambassador to Germany, which Senator is actually holding up this nomination, withholding unanimous consent?  And why doesn’t Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just — and is there reason he has been given for withholding unanimous consent, and why doesn’t Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just force a vote on the nominee.

MR. SHORT:  Thanks.  I’m going to — Mary Elizabeth is one of the stars on our team who’s been with us from day one, and she helped to staff Justice Gorsuch to the confirmation, helped us shepherd him through, and is the one in charge of all our nominations.  So I’m going to phone a friend on that one, but Grenell got out of committee, right?  And so basically he’s waiting for a final vote on the Senate floor.


MR. SHORT:  And so that, I believe he got out of committee several months back.  So he’s another one that should be on our list of those that has been waiting.

The challenge that Leader McConnell faces — when you’re not allowed to just bring up for a voice vote, you have to go through a cloture, then he has to prioritize these.  And that is one more of our nominees that has simply been historically obstructed.


Q    Marc, thanks.  You know well what goes on on the Hill.  This is part of the toxic nature that’s been going on for several years.  I mean, the Democrats pushing back because of Republicans.  What are you doing to ease or water down that toxicity?  What can you do?

And secondly, explain to those who don’t understand how it is that a minority party — when you control both the Congress — you know, both the House and the Senate — how you’re unable to get it through, because that is one of the big stumbling blocks for people to understand why you’re complaining.

MR. SHORT:  Right.  Well I think that the reality is that this is a Senate process; it’s not a House process.  But as you nominate a candidate to the Senate for a personnel issue, the Senate has the ability to go through the nomination process — the committee process — but it requires a super majority to get past the motion to proceed.  And what the Senate has done is they’ve basically said, we’re going to require a cloture vote on these nominees where, historically, once out of committee, they would bring it to the Senate floor, they would just require an up-or-down vote.

And you say that it is part of the toxicity that has been going on for some time.  I think that’s the point we’re trying to make, is this hasn’t been going on for some time.  This has not the tradition of the United States Senate to do what they’re doing right now under Senator Schumer.  It is not been — it has not happened.  As the numbers I went through, we faced, again, four times the number of cloture votes in 14 months in the last four terms combined — the last 16 years, the first term of a Presidency.  So this is not what’s historically been done.

Q    Do you see it as a reflection of, for example, when Obama was in office and the Republicans said they were going to make it their prime concern not to pass any legislation that Obama favored.  Don’t’ you see that as part of the problem?

MR. SHORT:  I think part of the challenge is the American people got so frustrated with the way that Washington worked, that they elected an outsider to come to Washington to try to help fix it.  What we’re trying to do is to shed light on the way that this town works and the way that, currently, the United States Senate is broken.

And yes, we are assigning that blame to Senator Schumer and his team of Democrats because, in many cases, even the fellow Democrats are saying the level of this is getting absurd, and it’s time that we allow the President to fill out his administration.

Q    And the Republicans don’t bear any of the blame?

MR. SHORT:  I think the reality is the Republicans are moving forward for these votes.  I do think, as far as one of the solutions, this is going to be, obviously, an issue for the United States Senate.  But I do think that this will force pressure to continue to see more rules changed in the United States Senate.

Q    But specifically, Marc, does the President still feel — do you still feel — do you feel that Rule 22 should be amended or eliminated to prevent what you’re describing which are national security ramifications.  I mean, you have a number of positions that you are arguing are essential to the national security of the United States.  And you say that this something the Democrats are obstructing, too; Republicans have 51 votes.  What should happen?

MR. SHORT:  I think the United States Senate is going to continue to have internal conversations about potential rule changes and I think it’s a very fair question.  I want to be very respectful of having a White House determine what the United States Senate rules should be.  But I think by continuing to highlight and recognize the level of obstruction, I think, it continues to put more pressure on the Senate to address this internally.

Q    Oh, well, I was going to ask if you’re concerned that this objection will carry over to the nominee for Secretary of State and the nominee for the CIA Director?

MR. SHORT:  Thanks.  I think that, obviously, the current Director of the CIA is somebody who is incredibly qualified.  As people know, he graduated top of his class at West Point, graduated top of his class at Harvard Law School.  I think he’s done a phenomenal job as Director of the CIA, and, when he went through that process, earned bipartisan support to the Director of the CIA.

So we would certainly hope that considering only 14 months ago, 15 Senate Democrats crossed over to support his nomination — that they would also support his nomination to be Secretary of State.

Likewise, we feel that Gina is uniquely qualified — as somebody who has served in the CIA for 33 years, has been a Station Chief in multiple localities, has been commended by Democrats and Republicans alike for those that she has served under in previous administrations.  I think that she has incredible qualities.

We’ve very excited about her nomination.  We’re excited that she would be the first female Director of the CIA.  And we would expect a very quick — we would expect a quick hearing and, moving forward, the vote, because these are very critical national security positions.

Q    Marc, has the President had any personal conversations with Senator Schumer about this “obstruction,” in your words — specifically, as he’s been having conversations about infrastructure and other matters.  Has he has Senate Democrats over here?  And why haven’t we heard more from him talking about this?  And also, do you believe that, just given the backlog here, how many more confirmation hearings can this Senate withstand as it leads to other potential of personnel announcements that we may or may not be seeing in the coming days here?

MR. SHORT:  I think you’re going to — I think the President has been vocal about this.  I think that perhaps I’m a warmup act for him making a larger foray into this to make his case to the American people that the objection has gotten ridiculous.  And yes, he’s also spoken to Senator Schumer about his frustration with it.

Q    Marc, is there the possibility that the President could offer something — make a deal where not everyone gets what they want?  But has he offered anything to Senator Schumer in exchange for helping get some of these nominations through?

MR. SHORT:  I guess it’s hard for me to understand what it is that we should be offering when the American people elect a President — elect a new administration to come in — and the expectation is they should be able to fill out their administration.

The Senate has an advise-and-consent role but why should we be offering making a deal on something that should be the normal process of the United States Senate.  For us, that would be kind of hard to understand.

Q    I mean, in his conversations on DACA, has there been any suggestion — you know, we would make some concessions on DACA if you help get some of nominations through?

MR. SHORT:  Well, I think on DACA, the President has been very clear that he wants to make a deal.  I think he put forward a very rational proposal.  One that even provided a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million people.  I think we’re frustrated that, so far, Democrats don’t seem to actually want to come to the table; they want to politicize the issue.

We stand ready to make a deal on that.  But again, I reject the notion that this is something that should be offered for them just doing their job.  They should just do the job for the American people.  I shouldn’t be something we have to barter in order for them to just do what they’re supposed to do.

Q    On DACA, is there room for a smaller deal?  Are you working a smaller deal now — one that doesn’t have all four pillars but that might be part of the omnibus?

MR. SHORT:  As I said, the President has been very open to continuing negations on this.  He’s anxious to get a deal.  He believes that it’s important to secure our border, but he also believes passionately that these are people who have been in our country working productively and, in order to get a DACA permit, have been obeying the law.  So he wants to protect them.  We’re anxious to find a way to get a deal.

Q    That’s a yes, Marc?

MR. SHORT: (Inaudible.)  Please.

Q    Thanks.  Just to be clear, Marc, do the challenges of getting personnel cleared through the U.S. Congress prevent the President from changing the makeup of his Cabinet right now if he wanted to?

MR. SHORT:  No, I think — and I don’t — I believe that the President always has the ability to make the changes that he wants and I don’t think that — when he’s ready to make a change, he’ll do that.  I’m not sure that he’s worried about what that process is.

But again, I think our challenge is — our requirement is to put forward quality people.  And if you look at Gina and Director Pompeo, they’re incredibly qualified.  We think they’ll make enormous contributions to the administration and for the American people.  And so we certainly hope the United States Senate will confirm them quickly.

MR. SHORT:  Thank you all.

Q    Thanks for coming.

MS. SANDERS:  Thank you, Marc.  And because it’s Friday and it’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I’m sure you all have very exciting plans.  We’ll take a few questions and then let everybody get out of here.

Phil, go ahead.

Q    Yeah, Sarah, an attorney for the porn star known as Stormy Daniels said this morning on a television interview that she was physically threatened to stay silent about her affair with President Trump.  I’m wondering if you talked to the President about that?  If he knows who might have threatened her?  And more generally, if he has concerns about women accusers being threatened in that way?

MS. SANDERS:  Obviously, we take the safety and security of any person seriously.  Certainly would condemn anyone threating any individual.  But I have no knowledge of that situation and would refer you to the President’s outside personal attorneys.

Q    Did the President have anything to say about it?

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t spoken with him about that specifically.


Q    Sarah, we’re hearing a lot from staff, behind the scenes, saying they’re “on edge,” “people are worried,” they “don’t know what’s happening,” in terms of staffing, exits, firings.  Has the President or the Chief of Staff made any kind of assurances to staffers today about what is to come?

MS. SANDERS:  The Chief of Staff actually spoke to number of staff this morning, reassuring them that there were personnel changes — no immediate personnel changes at this time, and that people shouldn’t be concerned.  We should do exactly what we do every day and that’s come to work and do the very best job that we can.  And that’s as exactly what we’re doing.  That’s exactly what we’re focused on.

And many of us have relayed that to other staffers that weren’t part of that meeting.  And we’re going to continue to focus on having record success in this second year, as we had in our first year.  And we fully expect to do that.  And we expect to do that as a staff and as a team.


Q    Thank you, Sarah.  Life sentences for drug dealers, as part of the effort to fight opioid abuse and distribution — I’m just curious about the President’s plan with respect to that, and his thoughts on that.  I know that you don’t want to get ahead of what he may be about to announce.  But broadly speaking, is the ultimate penalty something that should be on the table when it comes to dealing with drug dealers and opioid abuse?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not going to get ahead, as you said, of any potential policy rollouts that we may or may not have here at the White House.  I can tell you, the President is headed to New Hampshire on Monday to reinforce the administration’s commitment to combatting the opioid crisis.  This builds on some of the previous action that the administration has taken, and we’re going to continue to look for ways that we can combat that crisis.  But in terms of the specifics on a rollout, I don’t have that.

What I can tell you are some of the things that we have done, particularly with the President’s budget, where it included $10 billion for HHS to combat the opioid epidemic by preventing opioid abuse and helping those who are addicted get access to overdose reversal drugs, treatment, and recovery support services.  It also empowered Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and he has announced the establishment of a team to help federal enforcement disrupt online illicit opioid sales.

The Department of Veterans Affairs became the first hospital system to release opioid prescribing rates, and President Trump also signed the Interdict Act, which authorizes the appropriation of $9 million to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prevent, detect, and interdict the unlawful importation of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Those are some things and steps that the administration has taken.  In terms of additional things and policies that we may roll out, I’m not going to get ahead of any potential announcements that may or may not happen next week.

Q    Thank you.  Sarah, you took to Twitter last night to ensure the public that McMaster’s job was safe.  But has the President spoken directly to either McMaster, Carson, or Shulkin to tell them that their jobs are, in fact, safe?

MS. SANDERS:  I — again, like I said last night, and I’ll echo it again, I spoke directly to the President last night.  He asked me to pass that message along to General McMaster.  I know the two of them have been in meetings today.  Whether or not that came up, I don’t know.

But again, our focus is not on a lot of the news stories that you guys would like us to be focused on, but we’re actually focused on what the American people want us to do, and that’s to come here and do our jobs.

General McMaster is a dedicated public servant, and he is here not focused on the news stories that many of you are writing, but on some really big issues: things like North Korea; things like Russia; things like Iran.  That’s what he’s doing, and that’s what we’re going to continue to be focused on every single day that we show up for work.

Q    But as Mr. Short just pointed out, there is an issue when you look at the number of people that you’re hoping to confirm.  So to look at the people in these top positions that continue to change — just wanting to know if the President gave assurances to Carson, to Shulkin, as well as McMaster that their jobs are, in fact, safe.

MS. SANDERS:  Look, we aren’t making — as I just said, we don’t have any personnel changes at this time, but the President shouldn’t be bound because Democrats in the Senate can’t do their job.  If the President wants to be able to make a change because he feels like it’s the right thing for the American people, his hands shouldn’t be tied because Democrats fail to do what they were elected to do.

This President was elected to put forward policies and push those policies forward with a team that he selects, not the team that the Democrats think he should have.  That’s not how the system works.  And just because they don’t want the President to have his full team, that doesn’t mean, if he decided to make changes, he shouldn’t be able to.


Q    Sarah, just for clarity on this, though, I know you said that this is something that media wants to talk about right now, but frankly it’s the President who has repeatedly sort of stoked the speculation.  Just yesterday, he said, “I think you want to see change.”  Earlier this week, he said, “I’m really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.”  So isn’t it the President himself who is sort of creating this aura of  — some use the word “chaos,” but simply put, turmoil or a potential upheaval within the West Wing and, frankly, across the administration?

MS. SANDERS:  Taking two sentences out of the thousands of remarks that the President makes, and trying to make it look like that’s the entire focus of his administration is —

Q    Sarah, the President said, “I’m [really] at point where we’re getting close to having the Cabinet and other things [that] I want.”  “There will always be change.  I think you want to see change.”  Those aren’t my words; they’re his words.

MS. SANDERS:  Yeah, and he just — yeah, he just nominated two new people to be part of his Cabinet.  So we are getting close.  We’d like those two individuals to be quickly confirmed, quickly put through that process so that they can take a seat at the table, so that they can continue to engage with the President on big issues that actually matter to the American people.

Q    But initially he said —

MS. SANDERS:  Sorry, I’m going to keep moving here.

Q    It’s been a week since the U.S. accepted the North Koreans’ offer for a meeting.  Can you give us any update — has the U.S. had any direct or indirect contact with the North Koreans?  Or are you still relying, right now, on this offer from the South Korean delegation?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not going to go into details on the internal U.S. government preparations, but I will say that this is a comprehensive approach in support of the President, and we’re continuing to move forward with those conversations.

Q    Anything on timing?  I know there’s been talk of May.

MS. SANDERS:  Still no updates on time or location.


Q    Thank you, Sarah.  The government said this week that we’ve reached a point now where the government has added a trillion dollars to the debt since President Trump took office.  Obviously, that’s not the direction he promised to go in the campaign.  And he really doesn’t talk about deficits much anymore.  Has he given up on cutting deficits?  Is he still concerned about it?  Or what can he do about it?

MS. SANDERS:  Yeah, of course he’s still concerned.  That’s one of the reasons that the very first budget they put forward tried to address some of those concerns.  We’re continuing to look for ways that we can cut government.  I think we’ve done that in a number of ways through the deregulation process, cutting out a lot of inefficiencies in government.  And we’re going to continue to do that and continue to push for policies that will help us reduce that.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sarah.  It’s also been a week since the President announced that he will impose both stiff sanctions on imported steel and imported aluminum.  And today the EU published a list of American products that would be targeted in retaliation for the tariffs the President intends to impose.  It’s an exhaustive list: agriculture products; orange juice; motorcycles, like Harley Davidson; (inaudible); blue jeans; tobacco; motorboats.  What’s your reaction to this threat of retaliation to the President’s plan to impose those tariffs?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, the President is going to continue fighting for the American worker.  He’s also working with a number of individual countries and negotiating on areas of national security where we can work together.  And there’s some flexibility there.  And we’re continuing to have those conversations and will continue through the next part of — the end of next week, which is, when I believe the deadline happens.

Q    Just real quickly on that, in your view and the administration’s view, would those EU tariffs hurt American workers?  Would they hurt American industry?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, we’re going to continue to have those conversations with individual countries, and we’ll keep you posted on specific policies that happen.

Q    Sarah, you called for quick confirmation of the CIA Director and Senator John McCain put out a statement calling for further scrutiny of her record, and in particular of what he called a really “dark period” of torture and — what he calls “torture.”  So are you concerned about that nomination?  It looks like there could be one or two Republican Senators who would be against it.

MS. SANDERS:  Again, we’re highly confident and certainly very excited about the nomination of Deputy Director Gina Haspel to take over at the CIA.  She is incredibly qualified.  She’s someone who has been in the CIA for over 30 years, has the respect of both Republicans and Democrats.

There have been a number of Republicans who have come out and praised this nomination — including Senator Feinstein, a Democrat, who came out in support of her today, as well as people that have worked with her a number of years from both sides of the aisle that have a very good understanding of the type of individual she is.  But everyone from Leon Panetta to James Clapper — that have praised her work and support her in this process.

Q    You’re going to brief committees —

Q    Thanks, Sarah, two —

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry?

Q    Well, you’ll brief committees about whatever they want to know about her tenure running the CIA black site?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry; can you speak up a little bit?

Q    You’re going to be — the White House is going to be as fulfilling as possible of that request to — regarding her tenure running a CIA black site in Thailand?

MS. SANDERS:  Certainly, we’ll be as cooperative as we can.  But we specifically want to make sure that people actually have an accurate reflection, which I know some of the Senators, including Rand Paul, made comments off of incorrect information.

So we certainly want to make sure that they actually have accurate information, particularly, before they go out and speak on behalf of their constituents.  And as a member of the United States Senate, we hope that they take that role very seriously and get accurate information before they peddle it out in front of the American people.


Q    Thanks, Sarah.  Two quick questions for you.  You said you spoke to the President last night regarding these stories about potential staff turnovers here at the White House and —

MS. SANDERS:  We spoke specifically about the story with General McMaster.

Q    What was the President’s reaction to all of these stories?  Did he see any truth in the reporting that was out there?

MS. SANDERS:  As I said, the President has said that that was not accurate and he had no intention of changing, that they had a great working relationship, and he looked forward to continue working with him.

Q    And if I could ask you about Syria.  The President, last month, called the situation on the ground at Syria, “a humanitarian disgrace,” particularly in the suburb east of Damascus.  Is the President taking any steps to try to correct this humanitarian disgrace, other releasing statements by the administration?

MS. SANDERS:  We’re continuing to look at all different ways.  The U.S. continues to denounce the Syrian regime and their violations of United States Security Council and we’re going to continue to look at this and we’ll make determinations and announcements as we go forward.


Q    Thank you, Sarah.  Turning away from personnel within the administration — and personnel in the midterm elections. Danny Tarkanian, the insurgent candidate against Senator Heller, abandoned his candidacy to run for the House, he said, at the urging of the President.  Will the President be involved in other contested primaries involving Republican incumbents and try to discourage these kinds of challengers, who, I might add, more often than not, are backed by Steve Bannon, and Sebastian Gorka?

MS. SANDERS:  I can’t get into any specific races due to a little thing called the Hatch Act, but I can tell you that the President is going to continue to support people that support his policies and his agenda, and certainly those will be the type of candidates he would look to support.


Q    Thanks, Sarah.  A couple on North Korea.  One, I want to go back to Shannon’s question, has the United States received any direct or indirect confirmation that the North Koreans are interested?  Or is the United States still acting on the South Korean representation of their negotiations?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I can’t get into the details of the preparations and the progress being made, but I can tell you that we’re continuing to move forward in hopes of having the meeting take place.

Q    And then seizing the opportunity offered by Marc’s presence here today, my understanding from talking to people in Congress is that the administration has been asking lawmakers to hold off on any new package of North Korea sanctions, telling them both that the executive branch powers are sufficient in case — should the need arise to impose more, but also to avoid inflaming the situation.  Would either you or Marc address that?

MS. SANDERS:  I know that we are continuing our maximum pressure campaign on North Korea.  We’re continuing to ask our allies to engage in that maximum pressure campaign not to let up at any point for any reason until we see real progress on the promises that have been made by the North Koreans.  Beyond that, I can’t get into any conversations.

I’ll take one last question.  Jeff.

Q    So we are about to enter the 15th month of this administration.  Why is it that there is still a need for change inside the President’s Cabinet or among his circle of advisors?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, as we’ve said many times before, you want the right people for the right time, and as policy priorities change, that means that sometimes you’re going to have personnel change.  That’s not different for this administration as it has been in any other administration, and we’re going to continue to add new staff regularly.

I’ll take one last question.

Q    Does the President enjoy the drama?

MS. SANDERS:  Sorry Jeff, I’m going to go to your colleague, here.

Q    Thank you.  Britain, France, and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran, maybe in a bid to preserve the nuclear deal.  Do you have any response to that or any response to their proposal to put new sanctions on Iran?

MS. SANDERS:  We don’t have any new announcements on sanctions at this time.  But as always, we’re continuing to look at the best ways to promote and protect the American people and certainly push the President’s agenda.

Thanks so much guys, hope you have a great Friday and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.


2:51 P.M. EDT