James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:11 P.M. EDT
SANDERS: Good afternoon. This morning, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force announced the arrest of an Ohio man for providing material support to al Qaeda. On Sunday, the suspect explained to an undercover FBI agent that he was planning to conduct an attack in Cleveland on Independence Day, and a future terrorist attack in Philadelphia.
President Trump commends the work of the DOJ and FBI for helping stop this would-be attacker.
To continue the ongoing and important work of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, Secretary Pompeo will be leaving for North Korea on July 5th to meet with the North Korean leader and his team. The State Department will release more details about his upcoming trip.
One item that some of you may have missed last Wednesday in the midst of a busy news day was the confirmation hearing for VA Secretary Nominee Robert Wilkie.
Mr. Wilkie has been twice confirmed by the Senate, most recently last fall by unanimous consent, for his current position as Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness at the Department of Defense.
During the hearing, Mr. Wilkie not only demonstrated that he has the leadership and experience to lead the VA; he also spoke in depth about how he shares the President’s vision to put veterans first.
Senators Isakson and Tester, the Committee Chairman and Ranking Member, respectively, have expressed their support. The White House expects the Senate to move quickly to confirm Robert Wilkie as the next VA secretary upon its return.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Sarah, did you just call on me before my husband? (Laughter.)
SANDERS: It’s a tough battle.
Q For the record, did you call on me before my husband?
SANDERS: I did, for the record. Yeah, let the record show.
Q Okay, does that mean the President will do “GMA Live” instead of “Fox and Friends”? (Laughter.)
SANDERS: I’m not going to commit to that, but I will say I’ll take a question.
Q Yeah, you got it. Maybe two.
Q Sarah, this is history. You realize that.
Q You realize this is history?
SANDERS: I think this is a big moment, so I had to give it to the (inaudible).
Q Now, if the President would tweet about it then it just changes the whole dynamic. All right, I digress.
During the campaign, the President said, “I am pro-life and I will be appointing pro-life judges.” Is the President still committed to appointing pro-life judges?
SANDERS: As the President said last week, he’s not going to talk to judges about specific cases. He’s looking for individuals that have the right intellect, the right temperament, and that will uphold the constitution.
Q Senator Susan Collins says that she wants a nominee that will respect precedent and that Roe v. Wade is settled law. Does the President agree that Roe v. Wade is settled law?
SANDERS: Again, the President is not going to get into asking the candidates about specific cases, but he’s looking for somebody that meets those qualifications that I just outlined.
Go ahead, Major.
Q Sarah, is there any concern the President has, based on — over the weekend — reports out of North Korea that it is either continuing on with its nuclear program, making efforts to enhance it, and in any way seeking to deceive this administration about its denuclearization intentions?
SANDERS: We aren’t going to confirm or deny any intelligence reports. What I can tell you is that we’re continuing to make progress. Ambassador Kim had a meeting just yesterday with members of the North Korean delegation. And Secretary Pompeo, as I just mentioned, will be headed to North Korea later this week. And we’re going to continue those conversations.
Q When you say you’re continuing to make progress, how can the public evaluate that progress? What’s happened?
SANDERS: Well, I think a number of things. One, in the last eight months you haven’t seen missile launches. You haven’t seen nuclear — you haven’t seen the nuclear detonations. And again, these conversations are continuing to evolve. I’m not going to get into the details, but I can tell you that progress continues to be made.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Who are the four judicial candidates that the President met today?
SANDERS: Well, it wasn’t me, so I can clear that up. I know you were really curious about that. Again, the President is being very thoughtful about this process. He’s looking for certain characteristics, which we’ve outlined. And beyond that, I can tell you he met with four people today. The meetings lasted roughly 45 minutes. And he’s going to continue —
SANDERS: Yes. And he’s going to continue meetings through the rest of this week with a few other candidates.
Q Can you comment on the CBS report today that judges Kavanaugh and Barrett are now at the top of his list?
SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get into any more of the process other than what the President stated.
Q Thank you, Sarah. The President last Thursday wrote on Twitter, “HOUSE REPUBLICANS SHOULD PASS THE STRONG BUT FAIR IMMIGRATION BILL, KNOWN AS GOODLATTE II, IN THEIR AFTERNOON VOTE TODAY…” And then on Sunday, he wrote on Twitter, “I never pushed the Republicans in the House to vote for the Immigration Bill, either GOODLATTE 1 or 2…” Why would the President lie about something like that?
SANDERS: He didn’t. The President has talked all along. We’ve laid out the priorities and the principles that we support that we wanted to see reflected in legislation. But at the same time, the President wasn’t aggressively lobbying members because he knew that Democrats in the Senate still were unwilling to actually come to the table and focus on solutions rather than playing political games. We could have gotten it through the House, but that doesn’t work if we can’t get it through the Senate.
And Democrats have made it abundantly clear that they don’t actually want to fix problems; they just want to talk about this all the way — I guess, for some reason, they think this is a good issue for them, although it isn’t. And, frankly, I think it’s outrageous that Democrats have not come to the table and tried to help fix this problem.
Q Thank you, Sarah. There was a report that it’s even kind of, maybe, on the table that President Trump would —
SANDERS: Kind of, maybe? That sounds solid. (Laughs.)
Q — invite Chairman Kim to New York around the U.N. And I just wanted to get on the record if you can put that in context for us. Number one, is that in play? Number two, it sounded — I mean, a number of conditions would have to be met, but is that really something he would consider doing (inaudible)?
SANDERS: We don’t have any announcements or plans to roll out at this point.
Q And then, without getting into who all the four were, the President said that two of the five he’s looking at for the Supreme Court, at least, are women. Were any of the people he met with today women?
SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get into those details.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Following up on that question, is this an important consideration for the President, getting a conservative woman on the U.S. Supreme Court?
SANDERS: Again, the President would like to see somebody who meets the qualifications that I’ve laid out. And that’s what he’s focused on.
Q And then just one more, Sarah, if I may, on trade. Canada responded to the steel and aluminum tariffs that the President has imposed already on imported steel and aluminum. What’s the response from the White House, from the President, to that action by Canada?
SANDERS: We’ve been very nice to Canada for many years, and they’ve taken advantage of that, particularly advantage of our farmers. And at the G7, the President actually proposed that they get rid of all tariffs and drop all barriers, and have really great trade. And they refused that. And escalating tariffs against the United States does nothing to help Canada, and it only hurts American workers.
The President is working to fix the broken system, and he’s going to continue pushing for that.
Q Thanks, Sarah. The National Security Advisor, John Bolton, appeared to leave the door open to the U.S. recognizing the Russian annexation of Crimea in his upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin. Will you rule out the U.S. acknowledging that annexation? Or is that on the table?
SANDERS: We do not recognize Russia’s attempt to annex Crimea. We agree to disagree with Russia on that front. And our Crimea sanctions against Russia will remain in place until Russia returns the peninsula to the Ukraine.
Q Would recognizing Crimea be a possibility in the future if Russia —
SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q I said, would recognizing the annexation be on the table if Russia agrees to certain concessions?
SANDERS: I’m not going to get into any negotiations at this point.
Q Sarah, following up on North Korea, the President had declared on Twitter that there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. And even putting aside these reports about the intelligence material, there’s also commercial satellite imagery showing activity going on at these North Korean sites related to uranium processing, as well as the missile facilities. So does this administration believe that there is no longer a nuclear threat?
Also, John Bolton yesterday, on “Face the Nation,” said that the overwhelming bulk of the program could be dismantled within a year, while experts are saying it could take 10 to 15 years. So could we get a little bit of clarity on that, please?
SANDERS: Again, we’re continuing to make progress. We had good meetings yesterday. And as I said, the Secretary of State will be there later this week to continue those discussions. I’m not going to confirm or deny any of the intelligence reporting that’s out there. And as far as the one-year timeline, Ambassador Bolton said if North Korea makes the decision to denuclearize, their ballistics programs could be dismantled in a year. There’s great momentum right now for positive change, and we’re moving together for further negotiations.
Beyond that, I don’t have anything for you.
Q Sarah, on Friday, the President said that one of the topics up for discussion with President Putin would be elections and that we don’t want election meddling. Does that mean he intends to raise the possibility of Russian interference in the midterm elections? And does he have any proposals or anything specific he would like to hear from President Putin about that?
SANDERS: I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s conversations. But we’ll keep you guys posted and updated as things develop.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I wanted to ask — firstly, the President said he’d spoken to the new President-elect of Mexico. Does the President believe that López Obrador’s election is going to have any impact on NAFTA negotiations — improve or change the terms?
SANDERS: They had a very positive and constructive first call. It lasted about a half hour. And they talked pretty extensively about trade and the willingness for both parties to come together to make a deal. And we’re going to continue focusing on making sure we get a good deal for the United States.
Q And then, just on a second topic, is the President worried, after his comments this morning, that Michael Cohen is going to flip? And has he considered at all paying Michael Cohen’s legal fees?
SANDERS: As you know, I’m not going to answer questions on this topic and would refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Q Sarah, thank you. Picking back up on trade, the EU has responded with retaliatory tariffs. Canada did so over the weekend as well. Mexico has done so as well. China has put their tariffs on as well — some of them — and some are expected to come 34 billion dollars’ worth in the next few days. Is the United States winning this battle? And if so, how?
SANDERS: Again, the President is focused not on the short term but on the long term, and he wants to make sure that we’re doing things that help protect American workers and protect American industry. And he is going to keep pushing to make sure that we have good trade deals. We have been in trade deficits with nearly every country across the globe for years, and the President wants to ensure that that doesn’t continue.
Q But how long is the “long term”? Because if there’s — for the folks who are actually impacted by this, and they just hear, “Well, we’re in it for the long term” — is the long term weeks, months, years? How long is the long term?
SANDERS: Look, we’re not setting a timetable, and there are a lot of different negotiations going on, and we’ve made progress on a number of fronts. And the President, again, is committed to making sure we have good deals.
He’d be happy to get rid of all tariffs and all barriers. So if there’s countries out there that want to do that, I’m sure he’d be happy to sit down and make that happen right now and move this process forward a whole lot quicker.
Q And so he’s (inaudible) with the $34 billion on Friday?
SANDERS: I don’t have any changes right now.
Q Sarah, two clarifications, just quickly here on two different topics. Number one, would the President like to see Roe v. Wade overturned?
SANDERS: Once again, I’m not going to get into any specifics that we would be looking at.
Q Not about this conversation with these justices. I’m saying, does he himself — as just a matter of how he feels, his own policy — does he want to see Roe overturned?
SANDERS: Again, as this is ongoing, I’m not going to weigh into anything specific on that front at this point.
Q That is a presidential policy question. I’m not asking about the conversations. Does he have a position on it or is he not (inaudible)?
SANDERS: I understand. And I’m telling you, while we’re in the middle of this process, I don’t have an updated comment on that front.
Q So let me ask about North Korea. Does the President still trust Kim? Does he believe he’s a credible negotiator?
SANDERS: Again, we see progress and momentum in the process, and we’ve had good conversations as recently as yesterday. And we’re going to continue those conversations later this week, and push forward.
Q Sarah, the President said today that the WTO treats the United States very badly and, if that doesn’t change, that he’ll do something. Is he considering anything other than leaving the WTO? And does he have a timetable for that decision?
SANDERS: As Secretary Mnuchin and the President have said, that is not accurate that the U.S. is leaving the WTO. But he certainly voiced frustration, and he’s been clear that he has concerns; that there are a number of aspects that he doesn’t believe are fair. And China and other countries have used the WTO to their own advantage, and we’re focused on fixing the system, and that would include that.
Q So what he said today — that if the WTO’s treatment of the U.S. doesn’t change that he’ll do something — what was he referring to?
SANDERS: I don’t have a specific announcement on what he’d do. Right now he’d like to see the system get fixed, and that’s what he’s focused on doing.
Q Does the President feel that Senator John McCain should resign so the governor can pick a new senator who will then vote on his Supreme Court nominee?
SANDERS: I haven’t asked him about that specifically.
Q One more question. This is such a pivotal choice for the President. It’s going to affect his legacy for decades to come. Why is the White House moving this so quickly? When he announces on Monday, that will be just a little over two weeks, I think, since Kennedy announced he’s retiring.
SANDERS: The President put out his list nearly two years ago of what those individuals would look like, and has continued — he made updates to the list just last year. And these are all individuals that have been looked at and considered, and not just for the last week but for the last two years. And it’s something that the President has been very thoughtful in and is going to make the right decision when that moment comes on Monday.
Q Thank you. Just to follow up on the question that Jeff asked, so what exactly does the President want to see from the WTO? What actions does he expect them to take?
SANDERS: The President would like to see just an overall more fair trading system. And we’re going to be continuing negotiations with individual countries as well as organizations, and we’ll keep you posted on any details.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two questions: one domestic and then one foreign. Back on Michael Cohen, can you at least tell us whether the President watched the interview this morning, and potentially how he feels about the idea that his former attorney said that he would put his wife, his son, his family, his country first, but not the President?
SANDERS: Once again, I’m not going to weigh into this issue, and I’d refer you to the President’s outside counsel.
Q Okay, and then the other question. In response to Jordan, you made very clear that sanctions for Russia, as it pertains to Crimea, are not on the table going into this meeting with Vladimir Putin. But what can you tell us about election meddling? Are sanctions for the election meddling on the table in this discussion?
SANDERS: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s meeting, but we’ll keep you posted as it takes place.
Q Yeah, thank you, Sarah. Two questions, please: one foreign and one domestic. A week ago —
SANDERS: Starting a new trend. (Laughter.)
Q A week ago, you told us that the President intended to call President Erdoğan of Turkey following his reelection, or his election as President. And we never got a readout on that call or whether or not he congratulated him. Would you elucidate on the call that he made to President Erdoğan?
SANDERS: You always have one of those zingers in there, John. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
SANDERS: I know that they spoke last week. I’ll get back to you with details of the call.
Q Will you put out a readout?
SANDERS: Again, I’ll check into it and get back to you with details of the call.
Q And the other question I had was regarding the President’s position on Roe v. Wade. In the third debate with Secretary Clinton, the open question was about this very subject, and he did say the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and the issue of abortion would be returned to the states. Is that still his position now?
SANDERS: The President is pro-life. But in terms of the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee, as the President said last week, he’s not going to discuss specific cases with those nominees.
Q Just a quick question on China trade. You said that a lot of negotiations are taking place right now. Is there any reason to assume or to see that there have been progress with the Chinese before the deadline to implement tariffs this week?
SANDERS: We’re continuing those negotiations. I don’t have anything further at this point for you.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Now that Goodlatte I and Goodlatte II are both dead in the House, is the President open to any standalone bill which would stop family separation at the border permanently and reform the U.S. asylum process, which is led by GOP senators and some members in the House?
SANDERS: We’d have to see the specific legislation before we weighed in directly. But certainly would be open to legislation that fixed the broken system. If Democrats would actually show up to do their jobs and participate in solutions, we would be happy to discuss those, and, again, support things that help fix the broken system.
Q To follow up on that. What is current U.S. policy at the border? Is it zero tolerance or is it catch-and-release?
SANDERS: The President’s executive order has bought some time for Congress, but the clock is ticking. And Congress needs to act to fix this process because we’re running out of time on what we have the ability to do, particularly with the district court that weighed in just last week.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Going back to trade for just a second. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which generally works very well with Republican Presidents, launched a campaign today to oppose the President’s tariff agenda. They’re saying that the administration is threatening to undermine the economic progress it worked so hard to achieve. What does the President make of that criticism of his agenda?
SANDERS: Again, the President is focused on helping protect American workers and American industries, and create a fair playing field. That’s what he wants to do, and that’s what he’s hoping to achieve, and we’re confident that he will.
Right here. Go ahead.
Q Two-part question. But before that, if I can make a quick comment. Sarah, you are most welcome at any Indian restaurant across the U.S., including especially in this area.
SANDERS: Thank you.
Q My question is — two-part question. One, when the President is going to make history by visiting India? Because 1.2 billion Indians are waiting for him because he’s very famous in India.
SANDERS: I’ll keep you posted. I don’t think we have a trip planned, but once we do, we’ll certainly make the announcement.
We’ll take one last question.
Q Second part, please. I’m sorry.
SANDERS: Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
Q As far as legal immigration is concerned, people who came here legally and people who are living here legally, they are waiting at least 15 years to get a green card. And if this trend continues, that almost 500,000 green cards are backlogged, then it will take about 70 years for them to get green card. So any (inaudible) as far as clearing this backlog for the legal immigrant who are going across the U.S. demonstrating and asking the U.S. President for help?
SANDERS: Certainly, the President has talked many times about fixing the overall system, both illegal and legal immigration. We want to certainly address illegal immigration and securing our borders and protecting American communities. However, at the same time, there is a process that people should follow. And we want to look for ways to fix that process as well and expedite that.
I’ll come back here for the last question.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Just continuing on immigration. Vice President Pence was just in Central America telling leaders that they need to do more to control immigration. President Trump has threatened to cut foreign aid to Central American nations if they don’t do more to address the outflow of immigrants. Can you tell me what specific steps the White House has taken to carry out this threat? Has there been any meetings with USAID, State Department, to outline what could be cut?
SANDERS: Frankly, we’d like to see that not happen because we’d like to see them step up and do more to stop illegal immigration into the United States. We would like their help and their participation in making that happen.
Thanks so much, guys. Have a great day.
4:32 P.M. EDT