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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:13 P.M. EDT

MS. SANDERS:  Good afternoon.  President Trump’s 2020 budget, which was released today, builds upon incredible success and keeps his promises to the American people.  It continues the President’s pro-job creation policies, keeps taxes low, combats the opioid epidemic, protects our veterans, defends our nation, and secures our borders.

Even with a strong economy, deficits are still a threat, and this budget demonstrates the President’s vision to restrain Washington spending and reach a balanced budget by 2034.  This is a clear roadmap for a more fiscally responsible future if Congress chooses to follow it.

To talk about the President’s budget proposal and take questions on the topic, I’d like to bring up Acting Director of OMB Russ Vought.

After that, I’ll be back up to take questions of the day.

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  Thanks, Sarah.  Good afternoon everyone.  Happy budget day.

Q    Happy budget day.

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  Today we have released the President’s fiscal year 2020 budget, “A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First.”  This budget reflects the President’s priorities to ensure that all Americans can benefit from the nation’s historic economic boom and record-low unemployment.

No President has done more in two years to strengthen our military, restart our economy, and reform our government than President Trump — promises he made while running for office.

This great progress is threatened by our unsustainable national debt, which has nearly doubled under the previous administration and now stands at more than $22 trillion.  Annual deficits are continuing to rise and will exceed a trillion dollars a year.  And it’s projected that interest payments on the national debt will exceed military spending by 2024.  Washington has a spending problem and it endangers the future prosperity of our nation for generations to come.

This budget contains nearly $2.7 trillion in savings, more spending reductions proposed than any administration in history.  This budget will balance in 15 years.

Last year, President Trump directed federal agencies to meet a target of a 5 percent reduction to non-defense discretionary spending.  I’m proud to report to you today that we have achieved that target.

In terms of the economy, our GDP grew by 3.1 percent over the four quarters of fiscal year 2018.  While many claimed we were guilty of wishful thinking, we’ve met our economic forecast two years in a row — the first administration to ever do that.

We are confident that the President’s historic tax reforms, deregulation, trade policy, unleashing American energy will continue our economic growth.  Economic policies in this budget will generate more than enough revenue to pay for the cost of the tax cut.

The fiscal year 2020 President’s budget outlines a number of key priorities for the administration to continue to pursue.  The budget supports public and private school choice through a federal tax credit of up to $50 billion over 10 years.

While this administration has made major progress toward streamlining our infrastructure permitting, we continue to request an additional $200 billion to lever up to a trillion dollars in total spending.

It’s the government’s responsibility to protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life.  The budget requests $750 billion for our national defense.  And to be clear, this is not funding for endless wars, this is for research and development and procurement to fund the most awe-inspiring military the world has ever known.

In addition, federal resources and frontline defenders are overwhelmed at the southern border.  And the fiscal year 2020 budget provides sizeable funding of an $8.6 billion for full completion of the wall and other border security resources.

In terms of other major reforms, the administration is proposing uniform work requirements for Medicaid, TANF, SNAP — or food stamps — and certain housing programs.  We can help low-income families and end dependency on government benefits by strengthening work requirements.

The administration also wants to lower drug costs.  The budget proposes a drug pricing strategy that puts American patients first, promotes generics, and reduces out-of-pocket costs.

This administration has also identified a number of wasteful, inefficient programs.  For example, we can save hundreds of millions of dollars by right-sizing and reforming the underperforming programs like Job Corps, a residential youth training program that has made headlines in recent years for the number of security incidents at the facilities.

Or take the $600 million that we spend at 85 different cultural and exchange programs at the Department of State, despite the fact that only 1 percent of the 1 million students that come to this country to study ever benefitted from that program, and the fact that, at the State Department, these programs doubled in the last 10 to 15 years.

This budget is yet another fiscally responsible and commonsense spending plan from President Trump.  The President has continually called for fiscal restraint and will persist in his efforts to end the wasteful spending.

Thank you, everyone.  And with that, I’m ready to take some questions.  John.

Q    Russ, there are concerns by some budget watchdogs that money that’s in the Overseas Contingency Operations budget will end up building a barrier on the southern border.  Can you allay concerns of some of these folks that none of that money would be used to build a barrier?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  We do not request any OCO money — overseas counterinsurgency money — for the purchasing of — or for the completion of the wall.  We do have emergency spending that we devote to it, and we continue the military rebuild by asking for what’s necessary to complete the wall.  That does include military construction funding.  So what we do is we both backfill in fiscal year ’19 any funding that is used in military construction.  And in fiscal year 2020, we asked for Congress to appropriate these dollars.

Q    And one other question about defense, if I could, Russ.  It also calls — the budget also calls for the purchase of eight F-15s.  And there are concerns that you’re going to lower the number of F-35s that we bought.  What’s the reason for buying the F-15s?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  We go along the lines of what the Defense Department has requested with their five-year defense program.  It’s an allocation of different plans, including the F-35 and the F-18 — the Super Hornets.  So this is something that has been requested by the military, and we think it’s something that will make sense when Congress considers it.


Q    Yeah.  Just two questions.  One, you mentioned what the President promised during the campaign.  During the campaign, he also promised that he would eliminate the national debt within eight years.  And as you know, the debt at the end of his first year was at $20 trillion; last year it went to $21 trillion; last month, $22 trillion.  So what happened to that promise?  I mean, the President has added historically large numbers to the national debt instead of keeping a promise to actually pay it off.

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  Look, again, the last administration nearly doubled the national debt.  And when this President ran for office, he made a commitment to the American people that he would attempt to tackle the debt within eight years.  This President did that the very first year that he came to office by sending forth a budget that balanced within 10 years and had more spending reductions than any in history.

Q    But he’s added $2 trillion — more than $2 trillion to the national debt.

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  He also came into office and had an economic recovery that was needed to put people back to work, get the economy going, and to rebuild the military, and had historic levels of military at $700 [billion] and $716 billion in national defense dollars.

At the same time, Congress has been ignoring the President’s spending reductions for the last two years.  It’s only now in our third budget that they’re willing to have a conversation about the national debt.  We’ve been trying to have it since we got to office.  The President is putting forward these reductions: He’s putting forward a 5 percent cut to non-defense discretionary spending.  He’s putting forward reforms to mandatory programs that are on autopilot while keeping his commitment to American seniors by not making changes to Medicare and Social Security.

Q    Two quick questions.  One, to go back to — to drill down a little bit on what Jon Karl asked.  If the deficit is such a problem, why not at least cut the rate of increase to the defense budget?  And secondly, he had said “promises kept,” but we’re cutting Medicare.  How does that keep his promise to the American people?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  He’s not cutting Medicare in this budget.  What we are doing is putting forward reforms that lower drug prices, that because Medicare pays a very large share of drug prices in this country, it has the impact of finding savings.  We’re also finding waste, fraud, and abuse.  But Medicare spending will go up every single year by healthy margins, and there are no structural changes for Medicare beneficiaries.

Q    But as for the defense budget, why not at least cut the rate of increase if the deficit is of such concern — it’s in the trillions — why not cut at least the increase?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  Because he’s the Commander-In-Chief and he thinks it’s important to secure the country.  It’s one of his most basic constitutional responsibilities.  The military put forward a five-year defense plan.  It was done over a series of years about the needs, which gets back to Jon’s question.

We are going along with that five-year defense plan.  In addition, we’re putting additional dollars towards the military construction funds that we have tapped.


Q    Yeah.  Thanks, Russ.  Yeah, a couple.  One, could you address two major drivers in long-term spending, which would be baseline budgeting and entitlement spending in general?  And secondly, this seems maybe a little bit more ambitious in terms of savings than previous budgets you’ve proposed.  And I wondered why that would be, since you’re now dealing with Democratic House, whereas in the past you might have been able to get more (inaudible)?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  It’s very in line with previous budgets.  We balance in 15 years.  Our first budget balanced in 10.  One of the reasons that we were unable to balance quicker is because it gets harder each and every year that Congress doesn’t go along with our spending reductions.

You mentioned mandatory spending; it is a driver.  We have more reforms than any President’s budget in history.

But look, what has happened for far too long is that Congress has blamed mandatory spending and then increased discretionary spending, which they have a vote on every single year, by large degrees.  They continue to let a paradigm exist in this country that says: For every dollar in defense spending, we’re going to increase non-defense spending by a dollar.  We think we need to break that paradigm.  We don’t think that that paradigm allows us to be able to get our fiscal house in order.

Q    Thanks, Russ.  Realistically, the administration is not going to get $8.6 billion for wall funding through this budget.  Are there other executive actions that you have been looking at in order to pursue — but despite the national emergency being declared and the Treasury Asset Forfeiture and the drug enforcement dollars — that you could use in order to continue to fill the additional funding that you say is necessary for the wall?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  Right now, we are focused on spending the money that Congress gave us in the last appropriations bill and the money that we have identified as part of declaring a national emergency and spending that well.  And this $8.6 billion is geared towards what we would need in addition to complete that wall.

Q    Russ, I mean, I know this administration has talked about the importance of infrastructure, and you propose a $200 billion infrastructure this year.  But last year, there were cuts to other programs that caused — would’ve caused a net decrease to infrastructure spending.  So would there be a net increase in infrastructure spending under this budget?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  What most people refer to when they look and make that assertion is they’re looking at the fact that the trust fund doesn’t have enough revenues coming into it.  This budget looks at the baseline and assumes that to be the case.

But we are totally ready and willing to talk with Congress about how to ensure that there’s additional dollars in the Federal Trust Fund and to put forward additional $200 billion in new investment to make sure that it’s not just a surface transportation bill; that when we need money for broadband or other infrastructure, that is also something that we can pursue.

Q    Russ, thanks.  So it sounds like you’re saying that the administration needed to take on deficit spending the first couple years because the economy needed the kick.  But we also hear from the administration that this is an economy that is roaring right now.  So with that being the premise, how do you square having deficits in 2019, 2020, ’21, and 2022, four years going forward, of trillion-plus-dollar deficits?  How is that fiscal conservatism?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  I wouldn’t say that we needed deficits to get the economy started.  I would say that we put forward spending reductions that were aimed at a balanced budget, and we have each and every year.

We do have large deficits.  That’s why we’re here transparently saying that we have a problem as a country.  It takes a long time to get out of that mess.  We came into office and faced $10.5 trillion right off the bat.  And instead of being with us and considering our proposals, and allowing us to make the factual case for why the American people would be better off under these reforms, Congress just hasn’t been willing to play ball, even though they have the power of the purse.

Q    It seems like — Russ, just to pick up on that real quick.  It seems like one of the ways you’re trying to go at it is by reducing non-defense discretionary spending.  Defense spending over the next years is $7 trillion, but non-defense discretionary, $5 trillion.  Do you really believe that Congress is going to yank spending down that significantly over the next decade?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  We believe that every budget is an opportunity to put forward our vision of the next 10 years.  We are doing that in this budget, and we are saying to the American people: We can no longer afford the paradigm that Congress keeps giving us, which is that we’re never going to make any tradeoffs; that we’re never going to align what we spend with what we take in; that we’re not going to do what every family does across the country and trying to figure out what they can afford before they go out and spend.

So, yes, we are trying to say that we need to continue to secure the country.  We need to continue to secure the border.  We’re not going to be bashful about that.  But at the same time, we’re also going to say that we have many, many programs that are wasteful and inefficient that we can longer afford.


Q    Russ, you called on me next.  I’m sorry, Russ, you came to me.


Q    (Inaudible) the next question.  I want to go the least of these: welfare reform and SNAP.  How much money is proposed for this Welfare to Work Initiative with job training?  And also, with SNAP, what are the lessons learned that you’re trying to, I guess, reshape this harvest box proposal?  Because it came under great criticism before, and now you’re proposing it again.  Could you talk about those two issues?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  It did receive criticism, but we thought those criticisms were unmerited, and we’re not going to walk away from the proposal as it pertains to the harvest box.

Look, we think there’s nothing wrong with putting forward a reform that says, “In addition to your normal food stamps spending benefits that you would get at the retail, that you would get a harvest box that allows you to get a more balanced meal and to save money to the taxpayers at the same time.”

In terms of work requirements, it’s something that has long been viewed as a success since the 1990s.  We expand on it.  It is something that we have long viewed as important to be able to say — take the same principles of reducing dependency that we saw in TANF and then apply them to housing and to food stamps, and to Medicaid.

Q    But there are some people that slip through the cracks and they may need job training.  Are there funds proposed for job training, if you’re going to do this Welfare to Work Initiative?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  Absolutely.  The Department of Labor receives an adequate amount of funding in an era where we have $1 trillion deficits.  There will be many, many workforce development programs that are funded as part of this budget.


Q    A lot of the discussion has been in terms of federal debt, but can you address that the federal unfunded liabilities, where does that number stand right now?  And what does this budget do to address that much larger number?

ACTING DIRECTOR VOUGHT:  Look, we have a lot of debts as a country.  We’re trying to take it on head on.  We’re trying to say that $22 trillion is not acceptable and we can’t go forward with trillion dollars every single year, and that the way to start doing that is to pursue the types of reforms where we think that the American people will have an opportunity to see how their lives would be better off under our proposals.

We do that in federal retirement benefits.  We do that in student loans.  We do that in welfare reforms.  We think that in each one of these scenarios, we’re going to be able to encourage the kind of conversation that allows us to get our house in order.

MS. SANDERS:  Thank you, Russ.

Lastly, quick comment: We extend our prayers to the loved ones, friends and family, of those killed in the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302.  At least eight U.S. citizens were among the victims.  We are working with the government of Ethiopia and Ethiopian Airlines to offer all possible assistance.

With that, I will take your questions.  John.

Q    Sarah, the President said that Democrats hate Jewish people, according to a recent report.  We’ve also seen him tweet in the last couple of days that Democrats are the, quote, “anti-Jewish party.”  Does the President really believe Democrats hate Jews?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, the President has been an unwavering and committed ally to Israel and the Jewish people.  And, frankly, the remarks that have been made by a number of Democrats and failed to be called out by Democrat leadership is, frankly, abhorrent and it’s sad.  And it’s something that should be called by name.  It shouldn’t be put in a watered-down resolution.  It should be done the way the Republicans did it when Steve King made terrible comments.  We called it out by name.  We stripped him of his committee memberships.  And we’d like to see Democrats follow suit.

Q    But I ask — first of all, you mentioned Steve King.  The President — correct me if I’m wrong — has not condemned Steve King for what he said praising white supremacy.  Has the President publicly come out and said anything to criticize or condemn?

MS. SANDERS:  I speak on behalf of the President on a number of topics, and I have talked about that a number of times.  And I’d refer you back to those comments where I used words like “abhorrent” and “unacceptable.”


Q    We’re getting some word that the President plans to nominate Patrick Shanahan later this week to be the Secretary of Defense, elevating him from the Acting position.  Can you tell us whether or not that is going to happen?

MS. SANDERS:  I am not going to make any personnel announcements at this time.  I can tell you that the President has a great deal of respect for Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan.  He likes him.  And when the President is ready to make announcement on that front, he certainly will.

Q    Just one more.  There are a lot of “actings” in the administration these days.  Any possibility of removing “acting” from Mick Mulvaney’s title?

MS. SANDERS:  Certainly a lot of possibility there.  Some of the reason that we have “actings” is because we’re waiting on the confirmation process, at least for a couple of those folks.  And we hope that that moves forward quickly.

Q    Sarah, I wanted to follow up on what the latest with China is.  Has the President made an offer for a Mar-a-Lago date?  And there’s also some reports that the Chinese feel the President is an unreliable negotiating partner after walking out on the North Korea talks.

MS. SANDERS:  Well, let me start with the first one.  In terms of whether or not we have a date set, not yet.  We’re continuing the negotiations with China.  When we have an announcement for the two leaders to sit down, we’ll certainly let you know.

The second part?

Q    And what would you say to the concerns by the Chinese that the President is an unreliable negotiating partner after the talks with North Korea broke down and he walked away from that?

MS. SANDERS:  I would say that’s absurd.  The President is going to make a deal if it’s a good deal.  He’s going to make a deal if it’s in the best interest of America.  And if he doesn’t feel like it’s a good deal, it’s not worth just signing a piece of paper.

And the President didn’t feel like what was on the table was enough.  The President is 100 percent committed to denuclearization of the Peninsula, and he’s going to make sure that whatever we do furthers that process.  We’ll see what happens with North Korea, the same way we’re going to see what happens in the negotiations with China.  They’re ongoing.

And the President is going to make sure whatever deal we get is in our best interest — that it’s fair and reciprocal trade; that it protects our intellectual property; and that it actually has safeguards to make sure that the Chinese follow through with whatever commitments that they make.


Q    Sarah, picking up on that, does the President have any plans to speak with President Xi over the phone?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not aware of any scheduled calls.  But if we have any, we’ll certainly keep you posted.

Q    Is that the most likely step here, that they speak on the phone beforehand?  Or is it possible that these two still meet at the end of the month or at the beginning?

MS. SANDERS:  We’re going to keep everything on the table.  Again, negotiations are ongoing.  The President’s team, as well as the Chinese delegation, continue conversations.  And when they feel like it’s time for the two leaders to sit down, we’ll make that happen.


Q    Thanks, Sarah.  I have a news-of-the-day question but I didn’t get to ask my budget question before.  So, can I try —

MS. SANDERS:  You missed a big moment.

Q    I did.

MS. SANDERS:  The guy with all the details.

Q    All right.  So, in the budget, the way that I see it — and there’s a lot of pages to go through — it keeps referring to Western Hemisphere with regards to foreign aid spending but nothing specifically about Central America.  The President has said that he wants to cut money to Central America.  In fact, he could cut it all.  Is that in the budget?  Is that (inaudible)?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t have any specific update on that front.  I don’t think there’s a different policy.

Q    All right.  On the news of the day, the big vote is coming up this week in the Senate on the resolution with regards to the national emergency.  What is the President doing to stop a rebellion among Republican senators?  We know that a rising number — it’s been reported as many as 10 or 15 — to vote against that.  What’s the President doing about that?

MS. SANDERS:  He’s doing his job.  He’s doing what Congress should be doing.  He took an oath of office, and he has a constitutional duty to protect the people of this country.  We have a humanitarian and national security crisis at our border, and the President is doing his job in addressing it.  He gave Congress a number of opportunities to actually address it, and they’ve failed to do so.  So the President is taking his constitutional authority that Congress granted him.

Let’s not forget, the only reason he has the authority to call a national emergency is because Congress gave him the right to do so.  They failed to do their job.  The President is fulfilling his duty, and he’s going to make sure he does what is necessary to protect the people of this country and secure our borders.

Q    I meant more along the lines of calls or meetings that he might be taking with senators who he believes could be voting for that resolution.

MS. SANDERS:  Certainly, we talk to a number of members every single day, certainly at the presidential and the staff level.  And we’re going to continue to engage with them in this process.

Q    Sarah, what is the administration specifically doing to look into Secretary Acosta’s role in the secret plea deal for Jeffrey Epstein?  Does the President have any misgivings about the role that this top official played in this deal?

MS. SANDERS:  That’s currently under review.  Because of that, I can’t get into a lot of specifics, but we’re certainly looking at it.


Q    Do you have a timeline for that review, Sarah?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not aware of a specific timeline.

Q    So I have a question for you, but I also have a follow-up to my colleague because I didn’t hear you actually answer the question.  So, yes or no: Does the President truly believe that Democrats hate Jews?

MS. SANDERS:  I am not going to comment on a potentially leaked document.  I can tell you what —

Q    (Inaudible.)  Does he think Democrats hate Jewish people, as he said on the South Lawn?

MS. SANDERS:  I think that they’ve had a lot of opportunities over last few weeks to condemn some abhorrent comments.

Q    But I’m asking about the President specifically.

MS. SANDERS:  I’m trying to answer you.  If you’d stop talking, I’ll finish my statement.

Q    Just a yes-or-no question.

MS. SANDERS:  The President has had — and laid out clearly his position on this matter.  Democrats have had a number of opportunities to condemn specific comments and have refused to do that.  That’s a question, frankly, I think you should ask Democrats what their position is, since they’re unwilling to call this what it is, and call it out by name, and take actual action —

Q    So is that a yes?

MS. SANDERS:  — against members who have done things like this, like the Republicans have done when they had the same opportunity.

Q    So I want to ask you about Paul Manafort, but I just want to be very clear.  You’re not answering the question.  Is there a reason?

MS. SANDERS:  I believe I answered it twice.

Q    You didn’t say yes or no.  Does he really believe Democrats hate Jews?  I’m just trying to get a sense of that.

MS. SANDERS:  I think that’s a question you ought to ask the Democrats.

Q    Let me ask you about Paul Manafort.  Why hadn’t — obviously, Paul Manafort goes for the second half of his sentencing this week.  Why hasn’t the President ruled out a pardon for Paul Manafort?

MS. SANDERS:  The President has made his position on that clear, and he’ll make a decision when he is ready.


Q    Sarah, on the pardons.  Last week, the President tweeted that Michael Cohen, quote, “directly asked me for a pardon.”  When did that happen?  Was that when Cohen — was Cohen here at the White House?  He came into the Oval Office and asked the President for a pardon?  Did it happen on the phone?  Do you have a date?  Do we know when that happened?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not going to get into specifics of things that are currently under review by the Oversight Committee and other committees.  What I can tell you is that Cohen’s own attorney stated and contradicted his client when he said that he was aware that those conversations had taken place.

We know that Michael Cohen lied to Congress prior to his testimony most recently, and we know that he’s lied at least twice in that hearing.  I think that it’s time to stop giving him a platform.  Let him go on to serve his time, and let’s move forward with matters of the country.

Q    One budget question just to put it on the record, because a lot of people in the country want to know.  Is there anything in the President’s 2020 budget request that has Mexico paying for the wall?

MS. SANDERS:  As the President has stated a number of times: through the USMCA trade deal that we look forward to getting passed soon; that will be part of how that takes place.


Q    Thank you, Sarah.  Two brief questions.  Following up on John’s personnel question, does the President have full confidence in Secretary Acosta?  Or is the Labor Secretary possibly leaving?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not aware of any personnel changes.  But, again, those things are currently under review.  When we have an update, I’ll let you know.

Q    The other question is, is the President in discussion about signing an executive order to undo Executive Order 13166, President Clinton’s executive order requiring —

MS. SANDERS:  I was going to say, I hope you tell me what that one is.  (Laughter.)

Q    President Clinton’s executive order, 19 years ago, requiring multiple languages.  A new executive order, I am told, would make English the official language in government.  Is he considering that?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not aware of a specific executive order that’s been drafted, but that is the position of the White House.


Q    Yes.  Did the President ask Gary Cohn to intervene or block AT&T’s merger with Time Warner?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not aware of any conversations around that matter.

Q    And just to get back to Jon and Hallie’s question about the President’s comments about Democrats and Jewish people, isn’t that kind of rhetoric just, sort of, beneath everybody?

And do you think that the President has thought at all — going into this 2020 campaign — that the rhetoric just needs to be lowered, whether it’s talking about Democrats, the media, immigrants?  Or should we just plan on hearing the President use the same kind of language that we heard in 2016 and all through the first couple of years of this administration?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think that the real shame in all of this is that Democrats are perfectly capable of coming together and agreeing on the fact that they’re comfortable ripping babies straight from a mother’s womb or killing a baby after birth, but they have a hard time condemning the type of comments from Congresswoman Omar.  I think that is a great shame.
The President has been clear on what his position is, certainly what his support is for the people in the community of Israel.  And beyond that, I don’t have anything further for you, Jim.

Q    Don’t you think that just, sort of, drags down the rhetoric in the debate when you’re saying something that’s just patently untrue?  I mean, obviously —

MS. SANDERS:  Stating their policy positions is not patently untrue.

Q    But Democrats don’t — but Democrats don’t hate Jewish people.  That’s just silly.  It’s not true.  So —

MS. SANDERS:  I think they should call out their members by name, and we’ve made that clear.  I don’t have anything further to add.


Q    But the President — you know, he —

MS. SANDERS:  Sorry, Jim.  April, go ahead.

Q    His rhetoric after Charlottesville, saying that there “are very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, essentially suggesting that there are very fine people in the Nazis.  You know —

MS. SANDERS:  That’s not at all what the President was stating, not then, not at any point.  The President has been incredibly clear, and consistently and repeatedly condemned hatred, bigotry, racism, in all of its forms, whether it’s in America or anywhere else.  And to say otherwise is simply untrue.


Q    That’s kind of along what I was asking — two questions — but that’s kind of along what I was asking.  Since the President did say that in Charlottesville — “some very fine people on both sides” — has he, in your opinion, or has he, for us — because I don’t remember it — condemned the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville for their actions against the Jewish Americans there?

MS. SANDERS:  The President has condemned neo-Nazis and called them by name, which is what we are asking Democrats to do when they see this same type of hatred.


Q    And also, can we expect to have —

MS. SANDERS:  Sorry, I’m going to keep moving.  Deborah, go ahead.

Q    Can we expect to have briefings more often now, since there has been a little bit changing atmosphere here?

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t noticed a change in the atmosphere.  I know that the President is the most accessible President in modern history.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MS. SANDERS:  I know that he takes questions from you guys nearly every single day.  On days he doesn’t, sometimes I do it from here.  We answer hundreds of questions from reporters all over the world, every day.  We’re going to continue to do that.  Sometimes we’ll do it from this room.  Sometimes we’ll do it in other venues and other platforms.


Q    In the new spending blueprint, why did the OMB include money for the Yucca Mountain —

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry, can you say that a little louder?

Q    Yes, I can.  Why did the OMB include money for the Yucca Mountain waste — nuclear waste repository?  And what are the chances it’s in your spending blueprint?  And what are the chances that Congress will actually enact that?

MS. SANDERS:  I think that the chances that Congress will do its job based on historical precedent over the last couple of months are probably unlikely, but that doesn’t mean we’re not hopeful that they will work with us, look for ways that we can reduce spending, and grow — protect our military, do things like that, which you see in the President’s budget.  We’d love for them to work with us on that.

Q    And, Sarah, can you tell us a little bit about what the thinking was to put that in?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not aware of any specific policy changes on that front or anything on there.  I’ll let you know if we have something.

One last question.

Q    Sarah, why did the President write a check to Michael Cohen for $35,000 in August of 2017 while he was here in the White House?  What was that money for?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not aware of those specific checks.

Q    He testified about this.  He specifically accused the President of engaging in a conspiracy to conceal campaign finance violations.  He presented the check.

MS. SANDERS:  The President has been clear that there wasn’t a campaign violation.  Beyond that, I can’t get in —

Q    But the President has also said he didn’t know about these hush money payments.

MS. SANDERS:  Beyond that —

Q    His story has changed.

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I would refer you back to the President’s comments.  That’s not something I’m a part of.  And I would refer you to the President’s outside counsel beyond his comments.

Q    But this is something he did during his time in the White House.  Does the White House deny that the President is “Individual 1”?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry?

Q    “Individual 1,” in the Southern District of New York, (inaudible) Michael Cohen?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I’m not going to comment on that — an ongoing case.  That’s not something I would be a part of here at the White House.  And I would refer you to outside counsel.

What I can tell you is the President has stated his position and made it clear.

Thanks so much, guys.


2:45 P.M. EDT