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Aboard Air Force One

En Route Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1:38 P.M. EST

MR. SHAH:  How you guys doing?  We’re very excited today for the President’s remarks this afternoon at H&K Equipment, which is just outside Pittsburgh.  He’s going to talk about the tax cut bill that was passed and signed into law in December and what it’s going to do for the middle class, what it’s going to do for families with children; how it’s going to expand opportunities by lowering the business tax rate and bring back jobs to the United States.

You saw announcements throughout the holiday weeks.  You’ve seen more recent announcements — Apple’s announcement earlier this week about hundreds of billions of dollars of investment being repatriated back to the United States.  It’s very exciting.  So that’s going to be what the President focuses on and centers on.

And with that, I’ll take your questions.

Q    So I just want to make this very clear.  So you guys said this is an official event, but the President tweeted this morning, we “Will be going to Pennsylvania today in order to give my total support to RICK SACCONE.”  So can you explain how that tweet lines up?  Will he be talking about Saccone?  And then, will the campaign be reimbursing any of the costs as a result?

MR. SHAH:  The President is supportive of Saccone’s candidacy, but this is an official event.  His message is going to be focused on the tax cut bill, on the economy.  I just checked before coming out here — the Dow is still above 26,000.  There’s plenty to talk about and a lot to be excited about.  Over 2 million jobs created since this President was inaugurated.  $8 trillion of wealth has increased in the stock market.  And it’s going to be focus of his remarks.

Q    So was he just confused this morning when he tweeted?  Did he think he was going to a different event for a different reason?

MR. SHAH:  No, it’s an official event, but he supports that candidate.


Q    Well, can you say what the President was objecting to in his tweet this morning about his immigration views?  It seems like what John Kelly said behind closed doors is pretty accurate based on Trump’s meeting on Tuesday that was broadcast for everyone to see.  He is looking for a bipartisan view — a bipartisan bill.  He is looking for Democratic support.  He is open to changes in the wall.  So what exactly is he objecting to that John Kelly said yesterday to Congress?

MR. SHAH:  The President is frustrated with the media coverage over the last 24 hours of that interview and of the meeting.  The President’s position on border security has been very clear since day one, since the summer of 2015 when he jumped into this race.

He wants to see increased personnel, technology, and infrastructure, including the wall.  And he always said throughout the campaign that he would be listening to the folks on the front lines; so that’s our ICE agents, that’s our Border Patrol folks.  And that’s what the Chief of Staff was talking about in his interview on Fox News.  And that’s what, actually, the President talked about in an interview with you guys at the Journal pretty extensively.  He talked about listening to the Border Patrol agents.  They’ve influenced his views.

For example, right now, he talks about a wall with visibility, when he talks about a see-through wall.  That’s something he got from ICE agents and Border Patrol folks.

So his only frustration is with the media, and that’s what that tweet was about.  But what General Kelly is talking about is him listening to experts and folks on the front lines, which is something he said he would do throughout the campaign.

Q    Have he and Kelly cleared that up?

MR. SHAH:  Yeah, I mean, General Kelly was with him in the Oval Office this morning.  He was with him in the visit to the Tank earlier today.  They have a great relationship, and that continues.

Q    There were reports last night that the President was fuming and upset with the Chief of Staff’s interview on Fox News.  Can you respond to that?  And what was the President’s reaction last night after the interview?  Did he speak to the Chief of Staff?  Did they talk about it directly then?  Any response to that?

MR. SHAH:  I don’t know exactly the nature of their conversation, but they talk routinely, multiple times throughout the day.  They were in the Oval Office together this morning.  And I think any reports that the President was upset with the interview — he’s upset with the media coverage about the interview and taking the Chief’s comments out of context.


Q    Can you just — I know you guys issued a statement earlier today about the CR, and it was, sort of, in response to the CHIP tweet this morning.  But there’s been a lot of confusion, even among Republican senators on Capitol Hill, on what the President was trying to convey with that tweet.  Can you walk us through what the President was trying to say?

MR. SHAH:  Sure.  The President and the White House want to see — and we’re, frankly, very frustrated with Congress being unable to do its job and pass a budget with two-year budget caps that provide certainty for our military and national security.  We’d like to see continuing resolutions be clean.  That’s our preference.  We don’t want to see other legislation and spending matters attached.

But the President, as he said outside — earlier today, we can’t allow some of these disagreements to allow our military to have a lapse in funding.  We need to make sure our military is strong, rebuilt, and has all the resources that it needs.

So we support the continuing resolution as it’s been introduced, but obviously the President would prefer a clean CR.

Q    Just to follow up on that, how involved is he going to be in, or has he been, in talking to conservatives on the Republican side in the House, in particular, but also in the Senate to get their support for that kind of approach?  Because, right now, he’s talked all about Democrats for the past few days, and you guys have as well, but the problem seems to be within the Republican rank and file, that they don’t actually want to support what the President has said he would actually accept in terms of a CR.

MR. SHAH:  Well, when the Democratic leadership — first of all, when the Democratic leadership and Democratic members put hurdle after hurdle after hurdle in front of their basic job of funding the government, they’re certainly to blame for any type of shutdown that were to occur tomorrow.  It rests squarely with Democrats and their inability to support, frankly, a measure that they would in any other circumstance.

Now, the President will be talking to members from both parties, so he’ll be talking to Republicans, he’ll be talking to conservatives.  He will convey to them that a shutdown would not be great for the military.  And we expect, in the coming bit here, to have support line up behind this continuing resolution, and for it to be passed and the President to be able to sign it into law.

Q    Will the President leave for Florida before this shutdown issue is taken care of?

MR. SHAH:  We believe that the bill will pass and the President will have an opportunity to sign it.  I mean, some of the timing and logistics of travel will have to reflect the reality, but we expect it to be passed.  And we expect the President to be able to travel to Florida this weekend.

Q    Should there be a shutdown, does he intend to stay in D.C. or will he go to Florida regardless?

MR. SHAH:  We don’t expect a shutdown.

Q    But are you contingency planning for the very real possibility?

MR. SHAH:  The government is contingency planning.  OMB always does, you know, I think about a week going into a funding situation.

Q    But I asked about the White House specifically and your guys’ travel plans.  Like, is the President going to be — if the government shuts down, is the President going to be having a party in Mar-a-Lago?

MR. SHAH:  If there are updates to be made — we don’t expect a shutdown.  If there are updates that have to be made or changes to the schedule that have to be made, we’ll make announcements appropriately.

Q    Raj, what was the President’s reaction to General Kelly telling lawmakers behind closed doors that he was not fully informed about immigration when he was a candidate, and that he’s since been educated by John Kelly and has evolved on it?

MR. SHAH:  Well, any President listens to the advice of senior advisors, counselors, policy experts.  That’s nothing unusual.  The President is more informed today than he was a week ago, which is more informed than he was a month ago, which is more informed than he was six months ago.  There’s nothing here nor there about it.

The President’s view on border security, on what it takes to secure the southern border, and illegal immigration, and the flow of drugs across our southern border hasn’t changed.  What he called for — a physical barrier on the southern border, but also barriers along all 2,000 miles.

And something that he talked about as early as the summer of 2015 is that we need about somewhere between 800 and 1,000 miles of actual new physical structures.  There’s about 600 miles that need to be fixed.  And then there are areas where, because of rough terrain, because of waterways, there are natural barriers.  We need to secure that border and make sure that folks can’t travel across it illegally.

But what he has talked about, in the broad contours of what he’s been talking about has always been the same, but he’s always going to listen to — and as he said during the campaign — listen to the folks on the front line — our Border Patrol agents, our ICE agents, who are telling him — who are dealing with these issues every day and do continue to inform him.

Q    Should we expect Kelly to use that kind of language again to describe the President’s view on immigration?

MR. SHAH:  I think that General Kelly informs the President’s view on immigration.  Remember, he ran Southern Command.  He understands this issue very acutely, understands — as the DHS Secretary.  So understands the need to build the wall and dealing with Congress.  So he will be continuing to talk about the President’s views on a range of issues, including immigration policy.

Q    If the CR passes, as you expect it to, that’s just, kind of, kicking things down the road a little bit.  Like, what is the plan after that happens?  Like, is there any plan to do something longer term — a longer-term deal?  Like, what is the White House planning to do to actually get that done?

MR. SHAH:  Well, the White House will continue working with leadership in the House and Senate and with appropriators and folks on the budget that deal with the budget.

But, you know, our view has been pretty clear, that a minimal function of Congress is to fund the government.  That is a very basic and fundamental duty.  And for them to be engaged in partisan fights, back and forth, isn’t helpful and it doesn’t help our national security in particular.

We want to see a two-year budget caps deal that provides certainty for the government, provides certainty for our national security, for our intelligence systems, for our military in particular.  That’s what the President talked about, and that’s what we’re going to continue to work on once the CR passes

Q    This is an issue that hasn’t really gotten much attention amidst everything else, but nonetheless, this woman named Stephanie Clifford, goes by the name “Stormy Daniels,” she says that she had an affair with the President.  She spoke on record about it to a magazine.  They say that she took a polygraph test.  What is the President’s response to her allegations?

MR. SHAH:  This allegation was asked and answered during the campaign, and I’ll point you to those comments.

Q    Was there some kind of settlement, some kind of hush money that was paid?

MR. SHAH:  Like I said, this matter was asked and answered during the campaign, and anything else could be directed to Michael Cohen.

Q    The President said yesterday in an interview that he was unhappy with Russia over North Korea.  Did he have a chance to talk to Vladimir Putin recently, or does he intend to do so to express his dissatisfaction?

MR. SHAH:  I haven’t spoken to the President about this — about this issue, and I don’t believe he’s talked to the Russian President about this in the last 24 or 48 hours.

I would say that our policy with North Korea continues to be what it has been, which is a pressure — or, sorry, a campaign of maximum pressure.  But we want all countries not just in the region, but around the world, to do all that they can, and that includes Russia.

We have seen some success where Russia has been involved.  We passed two U.N. Security Council resolutions — rather, three that imposed some of the toughest sanctions North Korea has ever seen globally.  We want to continue that pressure.  We’re also happy that — happy to see that China has significantly cut trade.  That was an announcement they made last week — in 2017 with North Korea.  We want to see every country do all that it can, because North Korea’s illicit nuclear program is a threat to global security.

Q    Raj, is the White House concerned about Steve Bannon’s cooperation with Robert Mueller?

MR. SHAH:  No.  The White House has been fully cooperative with the Special Counsel, encourages all folks to be fully cooperative of the Special Counsel.  We hope that the Special Counsel’s process can get wrapped up in the near term, and we look forward to that happening.

Q    Will the Special Counsel — there’s a report in McClatchy today that Mueller is looking into whether Russia used the NRA to influence the 2016 election.  Does the White House support that line of inquiry?  Should Mueller get to the bottom of that question?  Or —

MR. SHAH:  We’re not going to comment on the Special Counsel’s lines of inquiry as reported in the press.  And if there’s anything to add, I’ll have Ty Cobb get back to you.

Q    In terms of wrapping it up quickly, if that would include an interview by Mueller with the President, is that something that his legal team is still weighing?  And can you update us on the status of those talks?

MR. SHAH:  I don’t have an update on that from what’s been previously said.

Q    You said in response to an earlier question that the President would be making calls to try to rally support behind the CR.  Have those calls begun yet?  When is he planning to make them?

MR. SHAH:  I don’t have a readout, but if we do have more specifics, I’ll get them to you.

Q    Back on CHIP.  So you said the President supports clear — clean funding of —

MR. SHAH:  Yeah.

Q    — the government.  Does he also support a clean CHIP bill that could just go now or whenever for six years?

MR. SHAH:  The President — we do support CHIP funding.  The President has been clear he supports CHIP funding.  But as a matter of how Congress legislates, if there need to be other items attached to CRs on a routine basis, that’s not good governing, and that’s our point of view.

Q    So that would be a deal breaker, in terms of a CR?

MR. SHAH:  No, no, no.  We’re very clear that we do support this CR.  But as a matter — we would prefer clean continuing resolutions.

All right, folks.


1:52 P.M. EST