James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:04 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. I would like to invite Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin up to speak first with all of you and take a few questions regarding a recent announcement on sanctions. And, as always, I will be back after to answer your questions.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Thank you. Today, the Trump administration is continuing its efforts against the government of North Korea. Despite multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions imposing international sanctions, the government of North Korea continues its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Today, Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has found the Bank of Dandong to be a foreign financial institution of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the U.S.A Patriot Act. This bank has served as a gateway for North Korea to access the U.S. and international financial systems, facilitating millions of dollars of transactions for companies involved in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The United States will not stand for such action. This will require U.S. banks to ensure that the Bank of Dandong does not access the U.S. financial system directly or indirectly through other foreign banks. This action reaffirms the Treasury Department’s commitment to ensure that North Korea is cut off from the U.S. financial system.
In addition, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control has sanctioned two individuals and one entity for their continued support of North Korea’s activities.
While today’s actions are directed at Chinese individuals and entities, we look forward to continuing working closely with the government of China to stop illicit financing involving North Korea. We are in no way targeting China with these actions. We will be meeting with China and other countries at the G20 next week to further our efforts to cut off North Korea’s illicit activities.
North Korea’s provocative, destabilizing, and inhumane behavior will not be tolerated. We are committed to targeting North Korea’s external enablers in maximizing economic pressure on the regime until it ceases its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
And with that, I’d be happy to answer any questions.
Q Thank you very much. On North Korea, recently, a congressman introduced about North Korea travel bans, but do you — I mean, do Treasury Department have any guideline for the North Korea travel ban act?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I have no comments on that today, although I will say we will continue to look at a range of options as we are very serious about them stopping their activity.
Q Mr. Secretary, can you quantify the financial activity that you’re trying to stop today and the access, direct and indirect, this particular bank had to U.S. financial markets?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: This is very significant, since this is the first bank that we’ve cut off under this, and that we will continue to look at these actions and continue to roll out sanctions. As I said, in this case it’s millions of dollars, but we are committed to cutting off all illegal funds going to North Korea.
Q Can you explain how it works? Can you explain how it works, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Yes. So when we put sanctions —
Q What they’re doing now and what you’re trying to stop.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: This bank will not be able to access the U.S. financial system, either directly or indirectly. So it’s a very significant action.
Q Mr. Secretary, you’ve made clear that this was not a punishment against China, but obviously the White House wants to be putting pressure on Beijing to take action on North Korea. Are you satisfied that China will see it that way and with what China is doing currently against North Korea?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, I think, as you know, President Trump and President Xi have had very productive conversations about North Korea, and we appreciate their work and hope they will continue to work with us. Notwithstanding that, we are taking these actions to show the seriousness in which we are going to deal with this.
In the back.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Can you talk more about the link between this specific bank and the government of North Korea? We’re trying to get a better picture of what exactly they were funding in North Korea.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I’m not going to go into the specifics of that because it does involve certain intelligence. But again, I can tell you we have very specific intelligence. And again, we will follow the money and cut off the money.
Q Mr. Secretary, would you be able to explain to us — I know you did the research — the actual economic impact this is going to have on the North Koreans and how that economic impact negatively may cause them a change in their position?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, I think, as you know, in Iran, these sanctions were very effective, and that’s what brought Iran to the table. And we will continue to work with our allies and we will continue to speak to people at the G20. We are firmly committed to work with other nations to cut off illicit financing.
Q Mr. Secretary, was China given a heads-up in any way about the action that you’re announcing today? And you used a term in your statement. Is China an enabler as it relates to North Korea?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, I’m not going to comment specifically on our behind-the-scenes conversations. We’ve obviously had very productive conversations with them.
Again, as I said, this is not directed at China, this is directed at a bank as well as individuals and entities in China. And again, whether they’re in China or anyone else, we will continue with sanctions.
Q Can North Korea simply move their assets from this particular bank to another bank in China? Are they permissible to do that?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, if we find other activity, we will sanction other entities. Nobody is off limits.
Q Quick follow-up on China. Can you just characterize whether you think China is doing enough? Because last week, the President tweeted, “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi of China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried.” It sounds like he was giving up on China. Has he?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I don’t think the President is giving up in any sense. I think we will continue to work with China and everyone else. The President is firmly committed that we will cut the money off to North Korea until they behave properly.
Q Any asks of the South Korean leader today?
Q Let me ask you a few here, if you don’t mind. Two different topics. One, how much do you feel that China has actually moved the needle on North Korea? Two, in terms of tax reform, you say you’ve got 100 folks over there, roughly, at the Treasury Department dealing with that issue. Are there any contingency plans in place in case healthcare doesn’t get done? And thirdly, Janet Yellen, how much is the administration — is the administration seriously considering her to remain on as Fed chair?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, that’s an awful lot of questions, so let me work backwards. Again, no decisions have been made in regard to the Fed chair. Gary Cohn and I will at some point make recommendations to the President, but no decisions have been made on that.
In regards to tax reform, I think, as you’ve heard Gary and I say, we are very committed to get tax reform done this year. It is one of the President’s top priorities for economic growth. I think the people of America understand that, that we need economic growth and we’re committed to doing that. I expect that healthcare hopefully will get done, but regardless, we are committed to getting tax reform done.
And you had so many questions I forgot your first one.
Q And then how much — well, let me actually follow up with you on tax reform, if you don’t mind. Paul Ryan had said today that things are on track. Why should the American public believe that things are actually on track with what we see what’s going on with healthcare reform and it seems like the timeline keeps getting pushed?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Why shouldn’t the American public believe it? Of course they should believe it. We’ve said that, Speaker Ryan has said that, Chairman Hatch has said it. We are all 100 percent committed to getting tax reform done this year.
Q Mr. Secretary, in February you received a letter from lawmakers suggesting the Treasury Department should consider sanctioning the Bank of China. My question to you is, have you reconsidered that idea? Do you think that idea is on the table? And then the second question I had is about the debt ceiling. My understanding is that the debt ceiling, drop-dead time for you all is October. Does that give Congress additional time in your mind, or would you still like them to act earlier?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I haven’t given any specifics in regards to the drop-dead date. What I have said is that I hope that Congress acts before they leave, yet we do have contingency plans if they don’t so that the market shouldn’t be concerned. But again, I think for the benefit of everybody, the sooner that they do this, the better. And as it relates to banks, again, I think as you’ve seen, we’ve taken very significant action today. We will continue to take very significant action rolling out additional sanctions on North Korea until they stop their behavior.
Q Mr. Secretary, one question on indirect access to the banking system. Are you aware of other banks that are providing similar access to the North Koreans — to the international financial system? And what other banks are you prepared to take steps against going forward?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, let me just say we have a team of people both in Treasury and working with the intelligence agencies. And as we see other banks or individuals or entities, you can expect we will continue to rollout additional sanctions. This is something we take very seriously. We will be having discussions with our counterparties at the G20. This is a big priority of ours.
Q This is not about targeting China but this is aimed at a Chinese bank. Does it speak to a message that you’re trying to send to China in any way, specifically right before the G20? Or is this really an indication of how limited your options are in terms of just dealing with North Korea directly?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t say in any way it’s limited in what our options are. Quite the contrary — we are committed and we will work with everybody, and nothing is off the table. Where we see illicit financing, we will stop it.
And there’s no message before the G20. The message to everybody at the G20 is this is a serious issue, we’re going to work with everybody. But if there is illicit financing going on, we will cut it off from the U.S. financial system, which has significant impacts.
Q Just to follow up, you’re saying in no way this is a message aimed at China?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I specifically said in my comments this wasn’t aimed at China. We continue to work with them. Again, this is about North Korea, and this is about how serious we’re taking this. And, kind of, whether it’s China or anybody else, we will take this seriously.
Q Will this help with the release of the three Americans still detained?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I’m not going to make any comments about that.
Q At the end of Kristen’s question here, you say, “The President is firmly committed that we will cut the money off to North Korea until they behave properly.” How are you defining success with that? In other words, what are you exactly looking for —
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I think you’ll know success when you see it.
Q Well, no, I’m asking how do you and the administration feel.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, I think everybody will know success. Their behavior is unacceptable and it will be very clear, kind of, we want them to stop doing tests of the ballistic missile programs and others. It’s very clear.
Q Mr. Secretary, I want to ask you something that a lot of people don’t understand and you’re uniquely qualified to explain. The administration and Congress are saying there will be $321 billion in savings from the healthcare bills that are out there. But isn’t that because people and benefits are being taken away? So isn’t this really just a takeaway?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Not at all, okay? And one of the flaws of the scoring on the CBO — on this, when you look at the number of people — is that, again, there’s a lot of people, when given the option, will decide not to elect to take this healthcare because it’s a bad deal. That doesn’t mean people are losing healthcare. I think everybody knows Obamacare was just a giant tax hike on the economy. It slowed down the economy. It’s another reason why we’ve continued to have sub-two percent growth for the last eight years. And this administration is 100 percent focused on creating economic growth, creating jobs, creating proper wages, and getting this economy back to 3 percent or higher.
Yes, right here in the front.
Q First of all, congratulations.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Thank you very much.
Q I’ve got a couple dorky finance questions. Could you talk about — just if push came to shove, would you advise for prioritizing debt payments or not? And do you believe that CFIUS review of Chinese investments into the U.S. should be more careful or more involved?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, again, let me just make the comment on CFIUS. I do chair CFIUS. I take it very seriously, and I can tell you the reviews are very careful and very involved no matter who’s on the other side. It’s very important for national security, and we will use that to the maximum powers.
And in regards to prioritization, again, I think that Congress should act quickly, raise the debt ceiling, and we should pay our debts on time.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. And I was going to say congratulations too. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Thank you.
Q Two questions. First, you were a participant, along with Madam Lagarde, at the last IMF-World Bank meeting and you certainly know there was some concern about what the future of U.S. policy is toward involvement with the International Monetary Fund. What is the U.S. policy toward that and toward involvement in financial relief in the Eurozone?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: So let me just say I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with Christine at least a dozen times. I think the IMF plays a very important role in looking at currency and world economies. The IMF was very helpful in regards to stabilizing the Greece situation and working with Europe. I think that could have been a major problem this summer that would have had significant concerns to the markets and the economy, and I think she was a very important part of those negotiations.
Q My second question was, how do you feel about maintaining the U.S. level of support at the IMF at the current level and, specifically, as a part of the relief for Greece? Because the U.S. role is through the IMF in relief of the Greek financial crisis.
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Yeah, well let me just comment. The IMF commitment to Greece was quite small. I’m not even sure that Greece is necessarily going to use that, so I think the significance was really more of a stamp of approval. And, again, there’s no direct cost to the U.S. or the taxpayers. And we’re supportive of the IMF, although we’ll look at our contributions to the IMF like we look at all contributions very carefully and making sure we’re spending the taxpayers’ money properly.
In the back, yes.
Q Can you clarify which entities are being sanctioned? Because the paperwork that OFAC sent out also includes Dalian Global Unity Shipping — two Chinese individuals — and does not mention the Bank of Dandong in that paperwork. So is it four total entities and then these two individuals?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: So there’s two different actions. There was a FINCEN action against the Bank of Dandong, and then there are the three OFAC sanctions, as you’ve pointed out.
Q So we should see a release from which part of Treasury? You said FINCEN?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: You will see. FINCEN. There will also be released on the bank.
Q And did you communicate this in advance to Beijing that this was going to happen?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, I’m not making any comments on our behind-the-scenes — how we can communicate.
Q In regards to tax reform, you’re a mathematical man. What are the chances that we get a 15 percent corporate tax rate or a 25 percent corporate tax rate in the final bill?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Let me just comment. Tax reform is a pass/fail exercise, okay? And we’re going to get this passed for a plan that’s good for the American public. So we are working closely with the House and the Senate, and we’re going to get a bill that’s passed that’s going to be great for this economy, great for Americans, putting people back to work.
Q Mr. Secretary, how is it possible for reducing the funding source for the healthcare to lead to lower premiums and expanded coverage?
MR. MNUCHIN: Again, I’m here primarily to talk about sanctions and tax reform, but I will comment again on healthcare, although it’s not my primary area. The healthcare that’s been in place is a bad deal for the American public, and that’s why a lot of people aren’t using it. It was a giant tax hike to the American economy, and premiums have been going up a ton. So we’re looking at making the system more competitive so people can actually afford it.
Q Mr. Secretary, we heard for your counterpart at the Department of Homeland Security that airports all over the world have to step up aviation security because there’s this threat. This is the product of a month’s-long discussion within the interagency process that resulted in yesterday’s decision. I’m wondering if you are convinced that the potential security risk — are you satisfied that the security risk outweighs any potential economic risk if, for example, certain airlines are cut off or certain airports are cut off if they don’t comply?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, let me just say, I can think of nobody better than General Kelly to protect our country in this position. Again, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss these issues with him at the National Security Council. I’m not going to comment specifically, but let me make it clear: The safety of the American public is our utmost concern, and we will never, ever put economic issues, where we would risk the lives of the American public.
Q On tax reform, are you going to be revenue neutral? And if the CBO and JCT say you don’t get the growth or the revenue, what are you going to do?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Again, let me just first say there will be complete transparency when we come out with the plan. We are in the process of listening sessions. We’ve literally met with hundreds and hundreds of CEOs, think-tanks, various different groups. I was over at the House twice today, talking to people at the House of Representatives in groups. We’ve been at the Senate. We’re listening. And as we develop this plan, we’ve said we’re going to have a responsible plan that is paid for, and we do believe in dynamic scoring and we’re going to take that into account.
Q Mr. Secretary, the GDP for the first quarter came out today at 1.4 percent — slightly better than economists anticipated. But during the campaign, the President repeatedly promised to have growth rates between 3 and 4 percent. Two questions. First, how much of that 1.4 percent is attributable to the actions of this administration, or inactions? And secondly, when are we going to start seeing the 3 to 4 percent growth rate that the President promised?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: So again, I think I’ve been very clear on what our projections are for growth and that we believe that we can get to 3 percent or higher GDP. We’ve been very clear that that’s not this year, that’s not next year. It will take some time to scale in. Our projection over the 10-year period is actually 2.9 percent, which I think is quite conservative, scaling up to 3 and staying there, which I think both the President and I believe we can do better than 3 percent. So our projections in the budget are quite conservative.
I think that to the extent we can get healthcare passed, to the extent we can get tax reform passed, to the extent we can roll back regulatory issues, which we’re working on very carefully, both in financial and in energy and in other areas, we are very comfortable that we will hit these growth projections.
I’m going to take two more questions, and then I’m going to have to turn it over to the superstar over here.
Q Thank you. The President said before that if China is not going to help solve the North Korea problem, then the U.S. will. He’s made it clear that he doesn’t think that China is currently doing enough. So where does he stand on the U.S. taking unilateral action? And is there a deadline, such as the G20 meeting ultimatum, or a deadline for which the U.S. need to — sorry, that China would need to do more?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: I think the President has made it very clear that if there are deadlines, he is not going to advertise those deadlines. So I am not going to make any specific comments as to whether he has a deadline, or, if he has a deadline, when it is. That would make absolutely no sense. I can assure you we will have conversations with our G20 counterparts about this next week, and we’ve been having these conversations and we will continue to do more on this.
One more question. Right here.
Q There was a little bit of a legislative snafu, but it does appear that the House and Senate will pass sanctions legislation related to Russia. It includes a broad range of sanctions. I don’t think we’ve gotten a straight answer from the White House on whether the President would support that. Does the administration support that? Is Treasury prepared to implement those sanctions?
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: Well, let me just be clear — again, not only the sanctions that we have on North Korea today. We have sanctions on Iran already. We will continue to put more sanctions on Iran around their ballistic missile and other programs. You’ve seen we’ve used sanctions in other areas. We will continue to use these.
So, notwithstanding anything Congress passes, I can assure you this administration and the Treasury Department will use sanctions to the maximum amount available by law. We don’t need Congress to tell us to put on more. We’re going to do more whether they tell us or not. But anyway, we look —
Q Are those called for —
SECRETARY MNUCHIN: — the Russia sanctions, we got plenty of those on, as well.
So again, thank you, everybody. A pleasure to be here.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. At the top of yesterday’s briefing, you heard from Tom Homan and John Huber about how important the two immigration bills the House will be voting on today are in our efforts to secure the border and protect our communities.
This morning, Secretary Kelly spoke about Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act on the Hill — important legislation that is supported by 80 percent of Americans.
Yesterday, the President heard the tragic stories of the innocent American lives that were ended by a violent individual who should never have been allowed into our country or our communities. [Jamiel Shaw], a star high school athlete from Los Angeles, who was killed by a member of the 18th Street gang, while his mother was serving her second tour of duty in Iraq. And Joshua Wilkerson, who was brutally beaten and tortured to death by his classmate in Texas who then set his body on fire. Christy Pina, a 14-year-old girl who was raped and murdered by a man who had multiple warrants out for other crimes involving kidnapping and rape. Twenty-five years later, he was finally located in his native Mexico, where he fled after murdering Christy in 1990.
The President also heard from federal immigration officials and local sheriffs who are on the front lines of this fight to protect innocent American lives. These laws will help to empower the federal government — in partnership with local authorities — to more easily locate and remove these violent individuals and prevent so-called sanctuary cities from receiving benefits from the very agency whose rules they are refusing to enforce.
The President looks forward to seeing these commonsense proposals pass the House today so we can be one step closer to helping fulfill his campaign promise to help stop these horrific crimes.
Yesterday, we were disappointed to see that people living in 14 out of Nevada’s 18 counties will be left without a single choice on the state’s Obamacare exchanges, specifically citing difficulties due to a “shrinking and deteriorating market.” And to add insult to injury, the thousands of people living in Nevada without access to health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges will then be taxed for not having insurance that isn’t even available to them.
This is yet another reminder that Obamacare is continuing to collapse, leaving millions of people around the country suffering, and the consequences of this failed law.
The Vice President is back on the Hill this afternoon for one-on-one meetings on healthcare. As work continues this week towards repealing and replacing Obamacare, we are keeping these American families, business owners, and individuals at the front of our minds. They’ve been paying ever-increasing premiums and still losing their plans and their doctors, and it’s time for Republicans in the Senate to fulfill their promise to the American people and come together around a consensus plan to fix this broken system.
In terms of the schedule for today, this afternoon the President will make a big speech on the importance of American energy dominance at the Department of Energy. The United States has been reliant on other countries for our energy for decades, but with new innovations and advances, particularly in liquid natural gas, we have had the opportunity to not only become energy independent, but to use our abundant resources as an important tool in advancing our global interests.
I’m going to let the President get into more details on how we’re going to do that later this afternoon. Hopefully you’ll all tune in.
There have been a few questions asked this week, and Sean and I both said that we would get back to you on. I want to address a couple of those now.
On Monday, Sean was asked about how we knew that the Supreme Court’s ruling on the President’s travel executive order was 9-0 when the case was — when the decision was announced. In fact, the decision, which stayed the lower court’s injunction on the President’s executive order for all affected individuals without a bona fide connection to a person or entity in the United States, was unanimous on the point that the stay should be granted at least to that extent. Three justices would have gone further and stayed the injunctions in full. No justice dissented on the point that the stay should be granted in part, and no justice indicated that he or she did not participate in the decision.
Jennifer Jacobs from Bloomberg also asked about the IMF’s projection about U.S. growth. This morning, the Commerce Department revised First Quarter GDP upward. But both the IMF and the Commerce Department’s figures show we still have more work to do. The President has spoken out clearly about the need for faster and more sustainable economic growth that will create jobs and raise incomes for Americans. The IMF has expressed support for a lot of the President’s policies, including more infrastructure spending, reforming our tax code, boosting educational outcomes, and adopting family-friendly policies. President is also working to end job-killing government regulations and negotiate good trade policies that help workers.
Lastly, Jordan Fabian from the Hill asked what deal-breakers exist in Senate negotiations on the healthcare bill. The President isn’t going to negotiate in public, but he has laid out his priorities to repeal and replace Obamacare with a system that provides greater choices and better coverage at lower cost. I can tell you that Obamacare is failing and new policy is around the corner.
From our ongoing negotiations, we’re confident that any amendments the Senate agrees to will make the bill stronger. The other bill out there that’s gained the support of a majority of House Democrats is the Bernie Sanders single-payer plan that would cost the government $32 trillion over the next decades. 113 House Democrats, including the DNC vice chair, have signed on to this approach.
The President believes that it’s completely unaffordable and creates a one-size-fits-all government approach to healthcare. That bill and others like it on the other side that have been proposed are clearly deal-breakers.
Now that I’ve answered a couple of the questions from earlier this week, be happy to take a few now.
Q Sarah, in reference to the President’s tweets this morning that have been a matter of some discussion today, you said earlier on Fox News that the President has a right to defend himself when he is attacked and it’s no secret that this particular program has been very critical of him. However, the nature of the tweets this morning has drawn condemnation from people on Capitol Hill, including the Speaker of the House, Senator Graham, Senator Susan Collins — all of whom are allies of the President. Did the President go too far with his tweet in its deeply personal nature?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t think so. I mean, I think that the President has been attacked mercilessly on personal accounts by members on that program, and I think he’s been very clear that when he gets attacked he’s going to hit back.
I think the American people elected somebody who’s tough, who’s smart, and who’s a fighter. And that’s Donald Trump. And I don’t think that it’s a surprise to anybody that he fights fire with fire. The things that this show has called him — and not just him but numerous members of his staff, including myself and many others — are very deeply personal.
So to then turn and pretend like this approach is — I guess it’s kind of like we’re living in the twilight zone. They do this day after day after day, and then the President responds and defends himself and everybody is appalled and blown away.
Frankly, if this had happened in the previous administration, the type of attacks launched on this program, the things they say, utterly stupid, personality disorder, mentally ill, constant personal attacks calling multiple members liars, liars to their faces while they’re sitting on their programs — the rest of the media would have said, guys, no way, hold on. But nobody does that.
But the President, he’s not going to step back. He’s showed that, and that’s exactly what he did today.
Q If I could just follow on that, Sarah, if I could just follow on that. A couple of the criticisms from supporters of the President have been that this particular tweet was beneath the dignity of the office. Where does the President draw that line, on the dignity of the office?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that he shows that every day in the decisions that he’s making, the focus and the priorities he’s laid out in his agenda. But he’s not going to sit back and be attacked by the liberal media, Hollywood elites. And when they hit him, he’s going to hit back.
Q I have a healthcare question, but on this, just one other aspect of it. Some have suggested in their tweet response or public announcements today that the President misconstrued one of the messages that should have been gathered from the shooting that involved Steve Scalise and others, the hostility of the verbal environment can create an atmosphere of violence. I’m not saying that, but members of Congress have said that about this particular tweet. I know that episode affected the President and those here at the White House personally, very importantly and deeply. Do you have any reaction to that sentiment, that conversations like this create an atmosphere that is either dangerous or one we need to avoid?
MS. SANDERS: The President in no way form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary. And he was simply pushing back and defending himself.
Q Sarah, I just had a healthcare question. So you talked about the President’s overall priorities. Last night, late last night, as part of the amendment and evolution on the Senate draft, $45 million was put on the table for opioid treatment and health savings accounts can be used, according to this new draft, to pay premiums in the future. Does the President support those two initiatives, and why does he believe they make the bill better, specifically does he believe that opioid allocation will be sufficient, as many people do not, to address that problem?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not going to negotiate the details — the back-and-forth in public, but I can tell you the President has obviously made fighting the opioid crisis a priority for him, and I would imagine he would be supportive of pushing resources towards that.
Q How about on health savings accounts? Does he have any particular approach —
MS. SANDERS: I think we’re always looking for ways to add additional flexibilities — and something certainly to be considered.
Q Sarah, what about the Republicans who are criticizing the President?
Q Sarah, thank you. I want to go back to the shooting and remember what President Trump said then. He said, “Our country will perhaps become closer, more unified, so important.” Does his tweet this morning, his series of tweets help to unify the country?
MS. SANDERS: Again, Kristen, I think I’ve asked and — this question has been asked and I’ve answered it several times.
Q But do his tweets help to unify the country, to do what he said he wanted to see happen in the wake of that shooting?
MS. SANDERS: Look, again, I think that the President is pushing back against people who attack him day after day after day. Where is the outrage on that? You guys are constantly coming and asking, like, is this okay — he does it one time — this is day after day after day. And it’s not just the President —
Q He’s the President of the United States, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: The only person that I see a war on is this President and everybody that works for him.
Q Sarah, two questions, to follow up on that. One is that I understand your point, but he’s the President of the United States, they are cable news anchors. So he has to stand to a higher standard, one. And two, you talk about criticism, he said that former President Obama wasn’t born in this country, right? So he clearly was a part of criticizing the past President, who was not immune to criticism himself. So I wonder how you make that argument.
MS. SANDERS: Again, I think I’ve been pretty clear that when the President gets hit, he’s going to hit back harder, which is what he did here today.
Q Doesn’t he have to meet a higher standard than cable news anchors, Sarah? Doesn’t he have to meet a higher standard than cable news anchors?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t think you can expect someone to be personally attacked day after day, minute by minute, and sit back. Look, the American people elected a fighter. They didn’t elect somebody to sit back and do nothing. That’s — they knew what they were getting when they voted for Donald Trump, and he won overwhelmingly.
Q Sarah, how is insulting a woman on Twitter being a fighter?
Q What about the impact of statements like this on his effectiveness? There was a Maris poll this week that said 68 percent of registered voters say the President’s tweets are reckless and distracting. Only 22 percent say that they’re effective and informative. And Republicans on this question are split down the middle — half of Republicans say that they’re reckless and distracting. So how can you argue that this is something the President must do?
MS. SANDERS: I answered this question yesterday in regards to the poll. I think any time the President has a chance to speak directly to the American people, it’s a good thing.
Q Sarah, as a woman, how do you feel about the President attacking another woman specifically for her looks? And what does that show as an example to how men should be treating other women?
MS. SANDERS: Look, everybody wants to make this an attack on a woman and a — what about the constant attacks that he receives or the rest of us — I’m a woman, and I’ve been attacked by this show multiple times. But I don’t cry foul because of it. I think that you want to create this false narrative — one hand it’s like, let’s treat everybody equally and on the other hand they attack, attack, attack, and he responds and apparently that’s wrong.
I’m sorry, guys, I’ve answered this question —
Q He’s the President, Sarah.
MS. SANDERS: Hallie.
Q Why can’t he take the heat?
Q I just have a follow-up, Sarah, and then I have a separate question too. And this kind of gets to the point that’s been made, and —
MS. SANDERS: Exactly, this is the point that’s been made so I’m not sure why we’re continuing to answer the same question.
Q You’ve been talking about the idea that the President is a fighter. I just want to put it in — because you talk about being personally affected by all of this as well, and that nothing is wrong with the President fighting fire with fire, is the argument that you’re making. So I would ask this to you sort of on a personal level. You have stood here and talked about your family from this podium. Are you going to tell your kids this behavior is okay?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I’ve been asked before when it comes to role models — as a person of faith, I think we all have one perfect role model. And when I’m asked that question I point to God, I point to my faith, and that’s where I would tell my kids to look. None of us are perfect, and certainly there’s only one that is, and that’s where I would — point that direction.
Q I want to ask you my follow-up, Sarah — a follow-up question just on more policy points, with the G20 coming up next week.
MS. SANDERS: That would be a change in tone, policy.
Q I disagree with that. I think we talk about policy a lot here.
Q I just did one about five minutes ago, Sarah.
Q But I want to ask about his meeting with President Putin that is coming up next week that has just been confirmed by Gary Cohn and H.R. McMaster, and a definitive answer from you on whether the President will bring up election interference. It is clearly the biggest topic between the U.S. and Russia right now, the fact that Moscow meddled in the election. Is the President going to press Putin on that?
MS. SANDERS: Obviously I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s conversation. As we typically do, I would imagine we’ll have a readout after that conversation takes place.
MS. SANDERS: I’ll come to you next.
Q Okay, thanks a lot, Sarah. The President’s tweet today, does it help his legislative agenda? Does it help him win the votes of those nine senators who have come out against that Senate bill? Senator Collins, Senator Murkowski, for instance? What’s your view on that?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I think we’re just looking for new ways to rephrase this question. The President was attacked, he responded. There’s nothing more I have to add than that.
Q But as it relates to his legislative agenda — I’m not asking about the tweet itself, I’m asking about whether or not this helps his legislative agenda.
MS. SANDERS: I think the President would love for us all to focus on the legislative agenda a whole lot more. You look at the coverage over the last month of the extended period between May and June, all of the major networks, if you look at their coverage and what they’re talking about, they spent one minute in the evening newscast talking about tax reform; three minutes on infrastructure; five minutes on the economy and jobs; 17 minutes on healthcare; and 353 minutes — 353 minutes — attacking the President and pushing a false narrative on Russia.
I mean, look at that in comparison. If you guys want to talk about legislative agenda and focus on policy and priorities, you guys get to help set that table. And 353 minutes of attacks against the President and driving a false narrative, and one minute on tax reform — that’s over the course of a month. That’s — the numbers — guys, the numbers don’t lie. The media’s focus on priorities, they don’t line up with the rest of America.
Right now we’ve got our economy is growing. The stock market is up. Unemployment is down. Jobs are back. And ISIS is on the run. America is winning, and that’s what we like to talk about. But you guys constantly ignore that narrative.
Go ahead, John.
Q All those points that you make, Sarah, about the —
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, John.
Q — the positive elements of the President’s agenda are certainly true. All of those things are true.
But the President today put out this tweet which takes away from all of that, and do you expect us here in this room to simply ignore that? Now, I think that’s the valid question that should be asked of you right now. Should we just ignore this entirely?
MS. SANDERS: I think he’s put out a number of tweets on healthcare, on the immigration bills that will be in the House today, but that’s not being talked about. That’s not being asked about. But the discrepancy — again, 353 minutes. You can’t say that you want to talk about policy and then you look at the numbers, and they just don’t lie. You can’t expect for that amount of attack and intensity to come on a President and him to never respond.
John Gizzi. I said I was going to John Gizzi next.
Q Two questions for you, Sarah. First, did the U.S., did the administration send a representative to the funeral mass for Chancellor Kohl? Or will they send anyone to the official funeral service July 1st?
MS. SANDERS: I do believe that there is an official delegation. I’ll have to get details back to you on that.
Q My other question is this: You’ve had people turn down nominations to be deputy secretary of the Treasury. The President is on his third appointee, I believe, for Secretary of the Army. And the ambassador to Ireland has declined the nomination, and there’s no candidates for ambassador to Germany or France — both major allies — or Greece, for that matter, an important country. Is the President having trouble recruiting people to fill some of the key slots that remain unfilled after six months?
MS. SANDERS: No, John. Actually, the trouble isn’t in the recruitment, it’s in the vetting and getting them through the process.
Like I mentioned yesterday, there are over, I believe, a hundred candidates in the queue waiting to be pushed through. But due to the historic obstruction, it’s taking much longer than normal to get a lot of those nominees through. And frankly, a lot of the people that are part of that process — one of the number-one reasons we’ve had people take a step back is because that process is so lengthy.
And, hold on, I’ve got a Skype question from Chris Berg in North Dakota, and we’ll go to that.
Q Hey, Sarah. Thank you so much. I don’t want to talk about any tweets. I want to talk about making America great again, and part of that energy dominance in Energy Week.
Here’s the thing: During the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, we had some pretty scary times in North Dakota. Just a couple weeks ago, a judge (inaudible) suggesting that the Army Corps of Engineers had prematurely issued some permits. This creates more uncertainty for people. My question is this: What specifically is the administration going to do to give these companies more certainty, more clarity as they make these multi-billion-dollar infrastructure investments to improve our energy? At the same point in time, our tribal leaders and tribal nations (inaudible) feeling honored and respected about this entire permitting process.
MS. SANDERS: It was a little difficult to hear, but I believe the question was focused on energy production specific to Dakota Access, and I think we’ve been talking consistently about this. The President is dedicated to increasing energy production in the United States, and we’re doing — part of the review of the Dakota Access Pipeline is the administration working with those tribal leaders and stakeholders throughout that process to make it as successful as possible.
A lot of the tribal leaders also want to expand energy production and development in their area, and we’re going to work continuously with them to try to make that as successful as possible.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I want to ask you again about this Russia sanctions legislations in Congress. If, as Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said, the administration wants to go to the upper limits of the law in keeping those sanctions on Russia, then why not support this legislation that basically keeps what has been slapped down in place?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’re continuing to review that process until there’s final legislation there.
I’ve got another Skype question from Greg Meriwether in Louisiana. Hopefully we’ll be able to hear him a little better.
Q Sarah, our question is on healthcare. Specifically, our governor put out a number that perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana will lose their healthcare if this bill goes through. If you add up the other states, that kind of puts it into the (inaudible). Is there an acceptable number (inaudible) behind the scenes of people losing coverage to get the great bill through?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I’m having a little difficulty hearing. But as best I could understand, you’re looking at how Obamacare repeal and replace would affect the state of Louisiana. And, I mean, frankly, Louisiana has been one of the hardest hit states in the country by Obamacare. Their insurance premiums have gone up over 125 percent. The goal here is to give people in the country choices. No one who currently has Medicaid will have their benefits cut. We’re looking across the board the healthcare plans that will lower taxes, reduce premiums, and offer more choices for people in Louisiana and across the country. And hopefully that somewhat addressed your question as best I could.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I had a two-parter. The President had let us know that he had planned on having an ISIS news conference to update people on the situation within the next couple weeks, which is now-ish. But we’re coming up on departure —
MS. SANDERS: Is now-ish an official word?
Q Now-ish. I’m wondering, do you expect that we would get that update, whether it’s a news conference or just kind of remarks before the upcoming foreign trip, or whether we need to wait?
And I also wanted to ask you — it looked like there might be some coverage of remarks at the fundraiser yesterday. It didn’t work out. But beyond yesterday, are you guys looking at beginning to do that now for fundraisers of a certain size to have some transparency and the ability to hear what he’s telling donors?
MS. SANDERS: Yesterday it was a logistical issue trying to make that and accommodate at the last minute. It was going to be a little bit complicated. Certainly on the table for future events.
As for the first question, we’ll keep you posted when we have an announcement on that.
As you guys know, the President is getting ready to depart for the Department of Energy and will be speaking on that soon.
Thanks so much.
2:51 P.M. EDT