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Aboard Air Force One
En Route St. Louis, Missouri

1:45 P.M. EST

MR. SHAH:  We’re looking forward to the President’s remarks later today.  It will be in St. Charles, talking about the need for middle-class tax relief and business tax relief.

The focus of today’s remarks are going to be on small businesses.  He’s going to feature two specific small businesses.  One is a local small business incubator, and the other is a jewelry business — they’re a retail business that also wholesales to about two and a half dozen different retailers throughout the country.

So we’re very excited about these remarks, and we’re excited about the developments on pushing tax reform and tax cuts.  And the President is going to make a push for “Yea” votes.

So with that — yeah.

Q    Democrats are saying that the President’s tweets have become an impediment to the functioning of government, if you look at what happened yesterday and then the Muslim tweets today.  How do you respond that — that he’s actually in the way of doing the work of the government?

MR. SHAH:  Well, look, we think that it’s never the wrong time to talk about security and public safety for the American people.  Those are the issues he was raising with the tweets this morning.

With respect to the tweets yesterday — or the tweet yesterday, we think it’s very disappointing that Senator Schumer and Leader Pelosi chose to basically pick a fight and engage in a stunt rather than actually governing.

We’ve long been very public about our disagreements with Democrats on the issues.  But choosing not to talk and not to show up, especially when we’re very close to a government funding deadline, is irresponsible, it’s reckless, and we find it very disappointing.

Q    Is the administration doing anything to prepare for the possibility of a government shutdown?

MR. SHAH:  Look, there are always contingencies in place, but we hope it doesn’t get to that.  We really think that Democrats’ insistence on attaching amnesty provisions that don’t go through the legislative process to must-pass funding bills — something that Chuck Schumer and other Democrats have warned against in the past.  I think Chuck Schumer said that that’s the equivalent of an arsonist.  So I think you should ask him about what’s actually driving the government toward a potential shutdown.

Look, we think that it’s very important to fund the government.  We have vital national security interests from funding our troops to funding our veterans, and, most importantly, the national security threats around the world.  We’re seeing that, obviously, in the last 24 hours with North Korea’s missile test.

So, we are not anticipating a shutdown.  We think that we’ll be able to work together, but the developments of the last 24 hours are discouraging.


Q    The North Korean government claims now that it has the capacity to strike anywhere in the continental United States with a nuclear-topped missile.  Is that the assessment of the U.S. government?

MR. SHAH:  I’m not going to get into the details of our assessment, but I will say that the North Korean threat is very grave.  It’s not just a threat to the United States or a threat to the region — or the Korean Peninsula region, but a threat to the entire world and the civilized world.

And we’re encouraged that more countries are taking more significant steps to help apply as much maximum pressure as we can on North Korea.

Q    The President, this morning, mentioned the possibility of new sanctions on North Korea.  What was he talking about?

MR. SHAH:  Well, I’m not going to get ahead of any announcement that’s coming.  I will say, though, that the maximum pressure campaign that the United States has been a big part of has really yielded a lot of results.

We’ve seen the toughest sanctions ever imposed on North Korea that the Chinese and Russians have signed onto.   We’ve seen China restrict energy shipments to North Korea.  We’re seeing dozens of countries engage in different efforts in their bilateral ties with North Korea to cut off both energy, economic ties, and diplomatic ties.

So we’re seeing more and more steps take place.  We’ll see future actions by the United States and others, and we’re looking forward to applying as much pressure as we can to get to our ultimate goal, which is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Q    Can I look back on the tweets this morning?  There’s two separate ones I want to talk about.  The first one is, obviously, the retweets of videos that were said to depict Muslims.  One of them has already been sort of shown to not be a Muslim or an immigrant.  The entire, sort of, decision to retweet a sort of far-right party in the U.K. has drawn condemnation from Downing Street.  You might want to highlight security issues, but can’t you concede that there’s far better ways to do that than retweeting fake videos in a way that upsets our allies?

MR. SHAH:  The President has been talking about these security issues for years now, from the campaign trail to the White House.  He talked about them yesterday at the pool spray.  He’s going to continue to talk about them on Twitter, he’s going to talk about them in speeches, he’s going to talk about them in policy —

Q    The security issue, right?  But —

MR. SHAH:  I think the President raised a security issue that we’ve been talking about at length.  Look, we are now looking at the possibility of a difficulty in passing government funding legislation because of disagreements on immigration policy.  The Democrats’ priority is amnesty.  Our priority is safety and security.

Q    I have no idea what that had to do with a tweet of a video that has nothing to do with Muslims or immigrants or the United States.  I just — can you make the connection for me?

MR. SHAH:  The President is raising these security issues that he’s been raising for years.

Q    Was the President aware of the source of the tweets that he was retweeting?

MR. SHAH:  I haven’t spoken to him about that.

Q    How’s the response to Theresa May and her office condemning the President for retweeting those messages today?

MR. SHAH:  We have the greatest respect — The President has the greatest respect for the British people and for Prime Minister May.

Q    How did those tweets come to his attention — the Muslim videos?  Does he follow those folks?

MR. SHAH:  Look, we’re not going to be focusing on process.  I know you guys want to.  We’re going to be focusing on the —

Q    No, we want to focus on — we want to focus on why the President is retweeting from a far-right, anti-Muslim party that’s been condemned by the British leadership.

MR. SHAH:  Again, we’re going to be focusing on the issues that are being raised, which is safety and security for the American people.  We’re talking about extreme vetting policies, ensuring that individuals who come to the United States do not pose either a public safety or a terrorism threat, and the other measures that we want to take.

For example, ending the visa lottery system that allows individuals to come to the United States, and replacing it with a merit-based system.  Remember, the eight individuals who were killed in New York City last month — the killer, the terrorist came here through the visa lottery system.

So the President is going to continue talking about these issues because they’re important for the safety and security of this county.

Q    Does the President think that Muslims are a threat to the United States?

MR. SHAH:  No, look, the President has addressed these issues with the travel order that he issued earlier this year and the companion proclamation.

There are plenty of Muslim-majority nations whose citizens can come to the United States without travel restrictions.  But those that pose public safety or terrorism threats through our worldwide security review that was overseen by the Department of Homeland Security is why there were certain travel restrictions put in place.

Q    I want to ask about — both another tweet that happened this morning, and a story last night in the New York Times where the President seemed to be forwarding conspiracy theories.  The one this morning was the implication, it seemed, that Joe Scarborough was involved, in some way, in the death of an intern in his office.  I’m wondering if you could explain if there’s any other explanation for what the President meant in his tweet.

Second is the New York Times story.  Has the President, at any point since taking office, voiced doubt over either the authenticity of the Access Hollywood tape or the authenticity of President Obama’s birth certificate?  And if so, can you explain why that’s changed from the campaign?

MR. SHAH:  On the New York Times story, there are a number of inaccuracies in that report.  Each of the issues that it brings up, the President, for quite some time now, has addressed.  Nothing has changed on his views.

Q    What were the specific inaccuracies?

MR. SHAH:  I’m not going to get into the details of it, just to state that there are a number of inaccuracies in the report.  Nothing that the President or his staff has said publicly has changed.  His views on those issues have not changed.  And there’s nothing —

Q    (Inaudible) publicly?

MR. SHAH:  You know, there’s nothing further to add.

And then on — I’m sorry, what was — yeah, the — on the issue — look, I haven’t talked to him about it.  I have nothing to add on that.

Q    Would the President accept a fiscal trigger in the tax cut legislation that Corker is proposing?

MR. SHAH:  So we are supportive of fiscal discipline.  We think that tax cuts that make American businesses more competitive and bring more jobs to the United States is the way to grow our economy, create more revenue, and fix any fiscal issues coming forward.

We’re going to let Congress decide on some of these details, so I don’t have specifics on that provision, and if we have something forthcoming, I’ll let you know.

Q    And is the President reaching out to some of these people who are on the fence — like Senator McCain, Susan Collins?

MR. SHAH:  Look, you know, he went to the Senate yesterday and, after meeting with the senators, got a yes vote out of the Senate Budget Committee.  He’s going to continue to engage with Senator Collins, others — and he’s spoken to Senator Collins about some of her concerns.

Look, we see a lot of momentum behind this bill.  You know, we have passage out of the judiciary committee, passage out of the budget committee.  We’re looking forward to a vote later this week that we fully expect to pass, and we’re looking forward to finally get tax cuts passage by Christmas.

Q    Raj, I have two for you.  One of the President’s tweets this morning — the retweets that are being condemned by Muslim groups in the United States as being part of a pattern.  Some suggest that the President may be spreading Islamophobia in the United States.  Does the President — the White House want to reassure Muslims in the United States of their security?  And what steps does the President take to do that going forward?

And secondly, with regards to Theresa May’s criticism of the President, does the President still have plans to go England anytime soon?  That seems to be — it was delayed this year.  When does he plan on making that trip now?

MR. SHAH:  Well, there was nothing scheduled on a trip to the U.K., so any announcement will be forthcoming.  We just don’t have anything on the books right now.  Look, the President is the President of all Americans.  The tweets were about national security and protecting the safety and security of the American people.

Q    Can you explain that?  I mean, these were videos of — now, in one case, a debunked video of some people that a far-right, anti-Islamic group was claiming was violence allegedly committed by Muslims against other unidentified people in grainy videos.  Why is that anything to do about security?

MR. SHAH:  Look, a lot of folks want to focus on the videos.  We want to focus on the issues.  It’s about safety.  It’s about security.  It’s about ensuring that individuals that come to the United States don’t pose a public safety or terrorism threat.

Q    Does the President put the focus —

MR. SHAH:  Hang on.

Q    He didn’t retweet issues; he retweeted videos.

MR. SHAH:  No, but he is raising the issues.

Q    Yeah, but with those videos, if the President wants to make a policy point and talk about national security, couldn’t he do that in a way that doesn’t include fake videos?

MR. SHAH:  He does do that, often.  He did that yesterday and he continues to do that all the time.  He’s talked about — extensively about these issues.  He’s signed presidential proclamations, signed executive orders.  He’s talked about these issues at quite some length, and today was just another example of it.

Q    Senator Lee and Senator Rubio, today, have been floating a proposal to sort of bump up the corporate rate to 22 percent.  I know that you guys have said a lot of this is getting sorted on Capitol Hill.  You’ve said that corporate rate is one of your bright lines — red lines, on this.  So, can you say whether or not you would support that proposal, specifically?

MR. SHAH:  We do support the child tax credit.  We also think that it’s important to make businesses more competitive.  We would not support raising the corporate rate as outlined in that amendment.

Q    You talked about improving — making improvements for the middle class.  Can you give us any examples of what the President is looking for and to make things better for the middle class in this package?

MR. SHAH:  In this package?  Yeah, look, this bill provides significant middle-class tax relief.  It provides tax relief in the form of the child tax credit.  Both the House and Senate proposals that have moved forward have significant tax relief for middle-class families.  A family of four in the median income would receive, on average, an $1,182 tax credit, so — or tax cut — so we believe it’s a huge boom for the middle class.

All right, folks.

Q    Monday to Utah?

MR. SHAH:  I can’t confirm that.


1:57 P.M. EST