Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, 7/12/2017
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:24 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Earlier this afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded the confirmation hearing for Chris Wray, the President's nominee for FBI director.
During his hearing, Chris Wray continually displayed the strong character, deep knowledge, and moral integrity that make him, as former Democrat Senator Sam Nunn testified, "…the leader the [FBI] needs at this critical moment." And the President looks forward to seeing this incredibly qualified nominee move through the Judiciary Committee and be swiftly confirmed by the full Senate.
Also, on the Hill today, three bills that represent important tools in combatting human trafficking are on the floor of the House for a vote. H.R. 2200, which reauthorizes $130 million in funding for the prevention of human trafficking, protection of victims, and prosecution of traffickers. H.R. 2664, which ensures the Department of Labor effectively trains its employees to recognize and respond to the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain. And, lastly, H.R. 2480, which expands the ability of a DOJ program to enable law enforcement agencies to compete for federal funding, specifically to develop and carry out programs that fight sex trafficking demand.
President Trump has focused on ending human trafficking, and hopes that these bills will pass the House and move to the Senate quickly so we can continue to fight against this horrific practice.
While the House takes up these critical bills on human trafficking today, the Senate is continuing its work on a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. As I've said time and time again, with every day that goes by with this collapsing law still in place, more hardworking Americans see their healthcare options either disappear entirely or become too costly for their families to use.
The President was elected to protect those American families, and he looks forward to seeing the Senate continue to move toward a solution that works for all Americans during the upcoming weeks.
Also on the Hill, the President was glad to see David Nye confirmed as a U.S. District Judge in Idaho by a vote of 100-0. It's unfortunate, though, that this clearly eminently qualified nominee who was reported out of committee by a voice vote faced more than 30 procedural hurdles forced by Senate Democrats before his unanimous vote. Senate Democrats continue to show the American people that they'd rather play political games with these critical nominations than work with this administration. As the Majority Leader said, if they continue at this rate, it will take the Senate almost 11.5 years to confirm the remaining presidential appointments.
We're again calling on Senate Democrats to stop brazenly abusing Senate procedure to hold up the President's experienced and accomplished nominees so that he can continue his work on behalf of the American people.
We've received several inquiries on what the President -- on his agenda for the past couple of days, so I'd like to read some of that out before I take your questions. He's had multiple meetings with key economic advisors, particularly on issues of trade, such as Ambassador Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Ross, NEC Director Gary Cohn, and Director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, Peter Navarro.
He's had multiple meetings on cybersecurity with homeland security advisors, and met separately with his national security team, and a number of meetings with members of his legislative affairs team and the Vice President specifically on healthcare. Lastly, he had a meeting with his Faith Advisory Board to discuss issues important to the faith community.
As you all know, later tonight the President will depart for Paris, France for meetings and celebrations with America's oldest ally.
Tomorrow, the President will have lunch with American military commanders, after which he will join French President Macron for a tour of the French Military Museum. After a bilateral meeting with the President, the two leaders will hold a press conference. And in the evening, President Trump and the First Lady will dine with the President and his wife.
On Friday, the President will attend France's annual Bastille Day celebration -- the first President to do so since 1989.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I, the people of France have designated America this year's national guest of honor. Troops from the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division, the first unit to arrive on French soil in 1917, will march in the parade, and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will conduct a flyover with planes with the French air force.
And after the parade, the President will return back to the United States.
On the topic of previous inquiries -- because I like to do my best to get back to you -- yesterday I received a question from John Gizzi about whether we'd support changing Senate blue slip procedures for judicial nominees. And the White House is deferring to the Senate on this Senate procedure, and we have multiple highly qualified nominees waiting for Senate hearings, and hope the Senate can start moving them along quickly.
Finally, and lastly, we understand the Chinese hospital treating Nobel Peace Prize laureate and writer, Liu Xiaobo, has invited U.S., German medical experts to China for medical consultations. We remain concerned that both Mr. Liu and his family are unable to communicate with the outside world and that he is not free to seek the medical treatment of his choosing.
We continue to call on the Chinese authorities to grant him full parole and to release his wife from house arrest and provide them the protections and freedoms, such as freedom of movement and access to appropriate medical care consistent with Chinese constitution, legal system, and international commitments.
And with that, I'll take your questions. Phil.
Q Sarah, thanks. Has President Trump had any communication with his son, Donald Trump, Jr., over the last several days? And was he involved in helping Donald Trump, Jr. craft his statement to the press over the weekend on Air Force One, as was reported in the New York Times?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not sure about specific communications and the nature of those conversations. I know that they've spoken at least at some point over the last few days, but beyond that I don't have any other further details.
Q Has he helped him with his response?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of, but I just don't know the answer to that, Phil.
Q So is that not true?
MS. SANDERS: I've been telling you, I'm just not sure. I don't know the answer. I'll have to check and let you know.
Q Okay. Can you find out?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah.
Q Thank you. You opened today by talking about the strong character and integrity of Christopher Wray. He said, during the hearing today, that he does not consider Mueller's probe to be a witch hunt, neither do Republican leaders in Congress, neither does Rob Rosenstein at the Justice Department. So why does the President continue to call it a witch hunt, especially now that there's hard evidence, released by his own son, that the campaign knew that Russia sought to interfere in the election?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President has made extremely clear his position on that, and it certainly has not changed.
Q Can you reiterate then why he calls it a witch hunt?
MS. SANDERS: Because the President knows very specifically any action or inaction that has taken. And so I think that's pretty clear.
Q Does that include members of his campaign?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think we've been extremely clear, and I know Don Jr. was and discussed it at length last night, as did the President's personal counsel over the last couple of days, and have walked through that very detailed.
I think if there's been any evidence of collusion in 2016 that's come out at all or been discussed that's actually happened, it would be between the DNC and the Ukrainian government. I don't often quote the New York Times, but even one of their reporters tweeted earlier today that -- why this example provides evidence of collusion: "Cooperation was between DNC officials and officials from the Ukrainian government, not just some associate."
Ukrainian actions to coordinate with the DNC was actually successful, unlike anything shown by Don Jr.'s emails. Information passed to the DNC from the Ukrainian government directly targeted members of the Trump campaign in an attempt to undermine it. And that was just Ukraine. The other big news was the foreign intelligence dossier that the President's political opponents funded and disseminated widely, and was based on discredited opposition research from foreign intelligence sources. The only collusion I've seen, and that's certainly been proven, would be between those people.
Q So does the President support the three changes that the Senate Republicans have made in the healthcare bill to retain all of the tax increases on upper-income investment earner and healthcare CEOs? And if so, why?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't talked to him about the specific breakdown of those three things. I think the President, from day one, has been very clear about his priorities when it comes to the healthcare legislation. That's what he's focused on, and beyond that I haven’t gotten into the details with either he or Marc Short.
Q Would retaining those tax increases, which Republicans have criticized since their enactment, fulfill the President's pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act when they are foundational tax increases of that very law?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure on that specific piece, but I do know, again, the President is committed to fully repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Q Can you do that and keep those tax increases?
MS. SANDERS: I'd have to look at the specific piece you're talking about, and I haven't done that, Major.
Q So let me just ask you one question on this issue of those within the administration who had to subsequently admit or concede contacts with Russians -- Mike Flynn, Jared Kushner, the Attorney General, and now Don Jr. Can you explain to us why there's this plague of amnesia that affects all these people associated with the campaign and one country, and one country only?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think if you want to talk about having relationships with Russia, I'd look no further than the Clintons. Bill Clinton was paid half a million dollars to give a speech to a Russian bank, personally thanked by President Putin. Hillary Clinton allowed one-fifth of America's uranium reserve to be sold to a Russian firm --
Q What about this question?
MS. SANDERS: -- whose investors were Clinton Foundation donors. The Clinton campaign chairman's brother lobbied against sanctions on Russia's largest bank and failed to report it. I think if we're looking at Russia relations with anybody, it would be directly with the Clintons.
Q But my question was specifically about the need and the requirement to re-remember things that were not disclosed or forgotten. And I'm just trying to get your explanation as to why so many people can't remember contacts with one nation, and the inquiries lead them to then remember and then subsequently disclose them. What accounts for this plague of amnesia?
MS. SANDERS: Every single day we do our best to give the most accurate information that we have, and we continue to do that every single day, and have offered to be as transparent as possible with all committees and anyone looking into this matter.
Q This doesn't suggest to you a pattern of not trying to be transparent?
MS. SANDERS: Not at all. Again, like I said, our goal is to be as transparent as humanly possible, and to put every bit of information that we have at the forefront, and willing to cooperate with anybody that is looking into the matter.
Q But, Sarah, when it's not at the forefront, when it has to be concealed and then security clearance forms, in the case of Jared Kushner, have to be amended and there's re-remembering forced on them either by investigators or by journalists, how is that being at the forefront of transparency?
MS. SANDERS: Again, every time a question is asked, we give you the best information that we have, and try to give you as full and accurate information as possible at all times.
Q And have you done that in this case?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely.
Q So just -- I guess so we're all on the same page, and now you've had time to look into all these various meetings and people can remember things, are there any other additional meetings members of the campaigns have had, advisors to the campaign have had during the campaign between any Russian nationals and members of the campaign or advisors to the campaign? Anything else that's come to light that we should know about?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Oh, can I just have one more follow-up?
MS. SANDERS: Sure.
Q You've been doing a lot of briefings lately. Will you continue doing the briefings? Or can we expect Sean to be doing any briefings in the future?
MS. SANDERS: I think we're all just trying to do the very best job we can every day, and sometimes it may be me, sometimes it may be Sean.
Q On the meeting with the Faith Advisory Board, someone tweeted out a picture of the meeting the other day, and there was a -- the picture showed people, faith leaders laying their hands on the President as they were praying. And I think there was an inference or implication from that photo coverage that they were praying for him because of a political crisis. Could you explain a little bit more about how the meeting came about and what it meant to the President to have them there?
MS. SANDERS: The idea that somebody would only pray when they're in crisis I think makes you miss the entire point of what prayer is about. You should do that every day, and that's -- I think you can do that in the best of times and the worst of times. So I think it would be ridiculous to suggest the only time you might do that is in a time of crisis.
Q How did the meeting come about? And what did it mean to the President?
MS. SANDERS: It’s his Faith Advisory Board, and they meet from time to time to speak about issues that are important to that community.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Chris Wray was asked today in his confirmation hearing whether he believes Russia is a friend or a foe. And he said in his answer that he believes that Russia is a country that should be viewed, in his words, “warily.” I asked you this question on Monday, and I did not get an answer from you. I believe the same question was asked of you yesterday. You said you’d get back to us.
And I think it’s a pretty basic question as to whether or not the President views Russia as a friend, a partner, an ally, or an adversary. Do you have an answer yet on that question?
MS. SANDERS: I don't. But, John, I do assure you I will certainly work to make sure I get that answer to you.
Q And another question as it relates to the Russia sanctions bill. You had Marc Short out here the other day talking about the need for a waiver on that bill. That's what the administration would like to see. If there is no waiver attached to the bill, and it comes before the President’s desk, would the President veto this legislation?
MS. SANDERS: Right now we haven’t made a determination because we don't think that this is an all-or-nothing process, nor should it be. And in the current form, the legislation poses a number of risks to the U.S. government’s ability to conduct foreign policy. Until they get further in the process, we're not going to weigh in any further.
Q Sarah, following up on the Chris Wray testimony today, he also said that he would not pledge loyalty to President Trump. Is that something that the President expects of him?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President expects anybody that works anywhere in government to pledge loyalty to the country, and I think that would be the only pledge of loyalty that anyone would be asked.
Q And one follow-up on just the general Russia question. Can you describe the President’s mood? Is he frustrated by these stories? Is frustrated by Donald Jr.? How is he feeling?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants to be focused on his agenda, and he’d much rather be talking about healthcare, tax reform, infrastructure, national security. I think that's his focus, and when he’s talking about those things, that's a good day for all Americans.
Q Sarah, I want to ask you, the drip, drip, drip is undermining the credibility of this administration. Do you perceive that?
MS. SANDERS: I think it’s actually undermining the credibility of the media because they drip, drip, drip a lot of things that don't seem to have much to -- much ado about nothing.
Q To be clear, that's not me, that's not the media saying that. This is Trey Gowdy, the Republican from the South Carolina, saying, this drip, drip, drip is undermining the credibility of this administration. So what do you say to Congressman Gowdy?
MS. SANDERS: I think I just answered that.
Q So let me ask you if I can separately, you said -- being asked about the witch hunt a little bit earlier -- you said, the President feels comfortable saying as he’s made clear that it’s a witch hunt, because -- in your words -- he knows any action or inaction that has taken.
But given the fact that Jay Sekulow and you have conceded that the President -- or the outside counsel has conceded that the President was not aware of Donald Trump Jr. -- his own son’s meeting with someone who was representing -- who was there under the guise of representing information from the Russian government, how can you say with certitude that the President does know any action that has taken place?
MS. SANDERS: I think Jay Sekulow discussed this at length and covered that nothing inappropriate had taken place.
Q So does that -- but would you concede the President does not know? There may be actions that took place that the President does not know about?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, I think the President has been very clear about his opinion on the matter.
Q So, Sarah, just two things. One on the issue of transparency, we now have three straight weekdays when there hasn’t been any single, public event on the President’s schedule. That's unusual for any President, especially this one who through the first months of his presidency was constantly bringing the pool in. We saw him doing a number of events a day. Why the sudden secrecy and hiding from the public that we're seeing now? Why has the President not been visible to the public for the better part of a week?
MS. SANDERS: There’s nothing secret about having meetings, which I read off to you earlier, with members of his staff and members of the administration.
The President had an incredibly robust schedule overseas in both Poland and Germany, and he’s preparing to leave this afternoon where he’ll be spending quite a bit of time with a lot of those of you who are traveling, and will be taking questions from you guys tomorrow.
Q And then, on the Don Jr. emails, you've heard from a number of Democrats who have raised serious questions about the fact that Jared Kushner was also part of that meeting, he was part of that email chain, knew what that meeting was about, knew what was promised. What do you say to Democrats who say that Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be revoked?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, we don't discuss security clearances, but I think Democrats are trying to play political games. And I think it’s ridiculous.
Q Is there any concern, though, that the top advisor to the President --
MS. SANDERS: Did nothing wrong? No.
Q Thank you, Sarah. You just said he’d much rather be talking about tax reform and healthcare and infrastructure. What has stopped him this week from talking about any of those things?
MS. SANDERS: Like I said, he’s been talking about those internally --
Q To the American people.
MS. SANDERS: Look, he does that through a number of ways. We've been up here. Every day that I have been up here this week, I’ve included -- a pretty heavy portion of the opening statement has to do with healthcare and a number of other issues that are part of the President’s agenda.
We've put out multiple statements on several issues, and members of his Cabinet have been very active in public capacity this week. And just because it’s not the President directly standing behind a podium making a speech doesn't mean he’s not communicating to the American people or pushing his agenda forward.
Q Right. But Jeff asked you how he’s feeling, and you said he was frustrated because he'd much rather be talking about these things. Now you're saying he has been talking about these things.
MS. SANDERS: He asked me specifically about that issue and whether or not he was frustrated by that issue.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. First, thank you very much --
MS. SANDERS: Just two, not three today?
Q Not three. First, thank you very much for getting back to me on the blue slip question. My other question you may recall was, would the administration itself take into account the recommendations of the American Bar Association on judicial appointments or not?
MS. SANDERS: I didn't get a chance to check on that part of the question, so I’ll have to circle back.
Q My other question is: The President, today, had an interview with Reverend Robertson, and I wondered if this would lead to the opening of further interviews with some of us one-on-one with the President, or very possibly a news conference in the near future.
MS. SANDERS: He’s holding a press conference tomorrow while he’s in Paris, and I’ll certainly put in the request for an interview with you, John.
Q Two healthcare questions. It looks like we may get some new version of the Senate bill tomorrow, perhaps, and some action maybe next week. As this heads towards what may be some kind of conclusion if it happens, how much credit does the White House think that it should take and that President Trump should get or receive for how that bill is shaped in the end?
MS. SANDERS: Right now I think the White House is not focused on who gets the credit, but making sure that American people get the care. That’s our focus and that hasn’t changed.
Q Is the White House actually actively participating, then? Is the President participating, helping to shape some of the stuff that --
MS. SANDERS: Once again, we’ve said this all along, that the White House and members of the administration have provided technical assistance throughout the process, and we’re going to continue to do that.
Q On that, President Trump is known for loving to put his name on the top of his buildings and everything else that he can get his name on. President Obama didn’t name Obamacare "Obamacare." If --
MS. SANDERS: I’m sure he wishes he hadn’t now. (Laughter.)
Q You’d have to ask him, I suppose. Does President Trump hope that whatever emerges from the process will ultimately be known as Trumpcare?
MS. SANDERS: Once again, I’ve said it many times before: We’re not focused on the label but focused on making sure we have a healthcare system in place that actually works, doesn’t bankrupt the system, and help protect Americans across the board.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you. When the President has his conversations with President Macron, is it your expectation that he will ask him, or at least engage him, on this concept of climate change and the Paris Accord, or maybe what might come out of our lack of participation in that accord? And I guess my follow-up would be about Janet Yellen. We’ve asked you before if the President has confidence in her. If she were not in that position, would Gary Cohn be someone the President would like to see in a position like that?
MS. SANDERS: On the first question, you know, we never get ahead of the President’s conversations. We’ll certainly provide a readout and you guys will also have the chance to ask the President himself and hear a joint statement from both Presidents after their meeting.
In terms of Janet Yellen and Gary Cohn, I think Gary has been pretty clear that he loves his job and he’s happy doing what he’s doing, and I don’t have anything further to add on that.
Q Did the President watch, by the way, Mr. Wray today, by chance? I know he said in his tweet, I don’t even have time to watch TV. You think he had a chance to pick up some of that coverage?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know if he saw much of it, if any. I know that he was doing quite a few meetings earlier this morning. So as far as I’m aware, I don’t know if he saw any of it.
Q Sarah, I just wanted to give you a chance to respond to Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman of California. Today he entered an official bill, an article of impeachment. Any response?
MS. SANDERS: I think that is utterly and completely ridiculous and a political game at its worst.
Thanks so much, guys.
3:47 P.M. EDT