THIS PRESS BRIEFING WAS NOT TELEVISED –
2:30 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Happy Friday. I have just a couple things I want to highlight here at the top before we get into questions. We had another bad Obamacare news piece come out today out of Ohio. Premier Health Plan is withdrawing from the state’s exchange, leaving 20 more counties with no insurance plans on the Obamacare exchange. That’s on top of the 14 bare counties in Nevada we talked about yesterday.
For the thousands of Americans now left with no choice when it comes to health insurance, these announcements are more than just words and numbers — it means that they will have to make tough choices when it comes to medical care for themselves and their families.
The President is determined to give these families a better option. News like this is why it’s so important we repeal this failed law before it collapses completely.
Earlier today, Agriculture Secretary Perry — I’m sorry, Perdue sliced a Nebraska prime rib at a ceremony in China, formally marking the return of American beef to the $2.5 billion Chinese market after a 13-year hiatus. I strongly encourage you all to take a look at the pictures of the Secretary and representatives from the American and Chinese industries standing around a pretty tasty-looking piece of prime rib, particularly going into this holiday weekend. This is great news for American ranchers who now have access to the $2.5 billion Chinese beef market.
Also this morning, the Department of Health and Human Services announced approximately $15 million that will be going to women, infants, and their families who have had or are at risk for lead exposure in Flint, Michigan.
President Trump promised during the campaign that he would address Flint’s water crisis quickly and effectively, and his Cabinet is hard at work keeping that promise to the people of Flint.
In the VA, Secretary Shulkin was in New York to unveil the LUKE bionic arm, the world’s most advanced commercial prosthetic that was made possible by VA research. The LUKE arm is the product of nearly eight years of testing and research, and represents the amazing advances in technology that are possible when the government works in partnership with the private sector to care for our nation’s heroes.
The LUKE arm has the potential to significantly benefit the lives of veterans and others with upper extremity amputations, and the Trump administration was proud to be part of its rollout today.
Finally, yesterday John Gizzi asked if the United States was sending a delegation to the funeral service of the former German chancellor on the 1st of July, and I wanted to give an update, as I said I would get back. We are sending an official delegation, which will be headed by the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who is the former United States Ambassador to Germany.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. And, folks, in honor of the Fourth of July, let’s try to save all our fireworks for Tuesday. (Laughter.)
Q Sarah, the President tweeted this morning about healthcare.
MS. SANDERS: He did.
Q In which he said that if the senators can’t get a bill on repeal and replace together, then maybe the best idea would be — as Ben Sasse and Rand Paul have suggested — split them up into a repeal and then a replacement later. This really runs counter to what the President has been promoting all through the campaign and earlier this year where he insisted that the two things had to be done, if not simultaneously, at least very close to each other. What is the basis for his change in thinking on this particular point?
MS. SANDERS: The President hasn’t changed his thinking at all. I mean, he’s campaigned on, talked about since he was elected repealing and replacing Obamacare. We’re still fully committed to pushing through with the Senate at this point. But we’re looking at every possible option of repealing and replacing Obamacare. We are focused on doing that.
As I said earlier, there is another large amount of counties that now have no Obamacare provider, and so we’re continuing to work hard to repeal and replace Obamacare, and that hasn’t changed.
Q So how does it square this idea with repeal it now, replace it later with what you had said on repeated occasions before that these things needed to be done very close to each other in order to maintain continuity of coverage for many Americans?
MS. SANDERS: Again, we’re still focused on trying to push through where are, and we’re going to continue moving forward and making progress on that front and looking at repealing and replacing Obamacare. The bottom line is, we’re focused on the end product here, and that is to repeal and replace Obamacare with healthcare that works for all Americans.
Q Sarah, in terms of putting some more specifics on the replacement part, one of the issues that they’re having is you got 11 or 12 senators now who are not happy with what’s going on with Medicaid — they can deal with some of the repeal elements. Can you give us the most specific — you were asked about this a couple of days ago — the most specific articulation of what you want to see in terms of Medicaid? And do you agree with some of these senators who think what’s in the Senate bill, in terms of Medicaid phasing out, is, to point a phrase, too mean?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President, again, is very focused on protecting those who are currently in the program. That’s certainly a big priority for him, is making sure those people are protected and also adding additional resources. That’s part of the Senate bill as it currently stands. That’s something we would be most likely supportive of doing.
Q How about sort of the specifics outlined in the CBO about the potential for, you know, 18 million — what is it — 23 million total, 15 million by next year. Is that just too steep a drop-off for the President?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q In terms of the CBO articulation analysis of what would happen under Medicaid over the next three or four years, is that too steep a drop off in terms of Medicaid? Does the President have any objection to what was in the Senate bill with regards to Medicaid?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had a direct conversation about a specific number. Again, the priority is to protect everyone as best as possible and certainly those that are currently on the plan, and making sure that no one that is currently on that program gets taken off.
Q I’d like to follow up with that first. Where did the President actually get the idea of separating them? Was it through conversations with Senator Paul, or was it something that Senator Ben Sasse had said on the television program?
MS. SANDERS: I know people have been talking about this for quite some time. I don’t know where, specifically, it may have come from. But again, I’ve heard people talking about it for months. I don’t think it’s new.
Q And then I wanted to ask about the Election Commission. Does the President have any thoughts on the fact that so many governors and other state officials have said they’re not going to comply with this request for public information for the Election Integrity Commission?
MS. SANDERS: I think that that’s mostly a political stunt. We’re asking — this is a commission that’s asking for publicly available data. And the fact that these governors wouldn’t be willing to turn that over — this is something that’s been part of the Commission’s discussion, which has bipartisan support, and none of the members raised any concern whatsoever.
Q Thanks, Sarah. Let me expand upon the tweet that John had brought up. You just answered his question in part by saying we’re still focused on trying to push through where we are; the bottom line is we’re focused on the end product here. Is this potential splitting up of the bill, is that plan B at this point?
MS. SANDERS: Look, again, as I’ve said before earlier this week. We’re not focused on plan B, we’re focused on the overall process of repealing and replacing Obamacare. And the end result right now — we’re still very much focused on the direction we’re on.
Q And Ben Sasse said in his letter, and on television had mentioned, the first Monday coming back — which is either — I believe it’s July 10th — as to the date as to when they should do it. Does the White House ascribe to that date?
MS. SANDERS: No. As we’ve said before, we’re less focused on the timeline and, again, focused on making sure we get the best deal and healthcare plan possible.
Q I wanted to ask about two separate policy things. The first one is steel. The President said today that he had secured some assurances from the Koreans on that. I’m wondering if those were actual changes that we might see to KORUS or other trade agreements, or if it’s more “we’ll look at it and get back to you” type of assurance. And then, broadly, if the report in — this morning was correct in that the President has determined he’s going to impose tariffs on steel.
MS. SANDERS: No, at this point the President has not made a final decision in regards to the tariffs issue.
Q And on Korea?
MS. SANDERS: On Korea, look, the President has been clear throughout the campaign and again during now, he’s looking for the best deal possible for American workers, specifically focused on reciprocal trade. And that is the primary focus of the conversations that he’s had.
Q And then I have one on food aid.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, on what?
Q Food aid.
MS. SANDERS: Okay.
Q The President is moving to require all food aid to be sent on U.S. flag carriers, but it’s a policy that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have actually been moving away towards. AEI, which is not a liberal group, said that it would make food aid costs 46 percent more, it may take 14 weeks longer to reach people, unlikely to create new U.S. jobs. We heard yesterday from senior administration officials about the President sees foreign aid as an important part of diplomacy and wants to cut costs here. So I’m just trying to figure out how this is not just kind of a bumper sticker strategy, but why this is actually a good idea for the United States.
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry, what was the last part?
Q Why this isn’t just a bumper sticker strategy of, you know, we’re putting it on U.S. ships, but why this actually makes sense from a policy standpoint.
MS. SANDERS: That’s something, honestly, I haven’t had a chance to dive into much, Justin. But I’d be happy to circle back with you later today.
Q Sarah, just to be clear, the preference of the White House is to go forward with the drafting of a repeal and replace in the Senate and see if that can pass. That’s the correct position of the White House, right?
MS. SANDERS: Correct, yes.
Q And so this idea of separating the two is only a backup, as an emergency, if this other process fails, correct?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think we want —
Q The reason I ask —
MS. SANDERS: No, I understand.
Q Is because if you take — if you separate them, as you know, one is reconciliation and the other one isn’t, which makes it much more difficult, and for people as you’ve identified in Nevada and Ohio, repeal only takes care of one of their problems. It doesn’t deal with them being able to find new carriers or alternative plans as the replacement would. So I’m just trying to figure out how much of an idea this really is that we should be focusing on, or should this attention still be on repeal and replace as the primary White House focus.
MS. SANDERS: As I said earlier, the primary focus is repeal and replace through the current Senate legislation that is being discussed.
Q If you did separate them, it would complicate things. Not only legislatively —
MS. SANDERS: I didn’t say that that’s true.
Q What is — I’m asking.
MS. SANDERS: I think that’s something we would have to review if we went that direction. But at this point, again, we’re focused on the piece of legislation that does exist.
Q What does the President think about the idea of the cancellation of recess in August to focus on healthcare and other legislative ideas and agenda items? That’s something 10 Republican senators suggested today.
MS. SANDERS: Not cancelling the August recess?
Q Cancelling the recess, staying in town, and working on healthcare and the sort of issues — the debt ceiling, tax cuts. Would the President endorse that?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had a chance to have a conversation whether or not he wants to push Congress to cancel their recess. I think that the timeline and that is really something that’s up to Congress, not the White House.
Q On Chicago, with the ATF permanent taskforce there, is that a suggestion or a recognition that at least part of the problem in Chicago is a gun control problem or a firearms access control problem?
MS. SANDERS: I think that the problem there is pretty clear that it’s a crime problem. I think crime is probably driven more by morality than anything else. So I think that this is a law enforcement issue, and our focus is trying to add additional support.
We’ve talked to people on a local level and asked for their input on how we best can be helpful, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. That’s something the President talked about pretty extensively, and he’s focused on trying to help the people in Chicago.
Q At his recent rally in Cedar Rapids, President Trump said the situation in the Middle East is worse than it was 16 years ago. Is he concerned about how long the war in Afghanistan is dragging on for?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think he, as well as others, are always concerned about any war taking place. He is deferring as much as possible to the generals that he put in place, his national security team to do everything we can to limit those types of things, but at the same time protect Americans and certainly our national security.
Q Does he want to see Americans in a combat role there by, say, 2020?
MS. SANDERS: As we’ve said many times before, the President is never going to broadcast what plans he has or doesn’t have.
Q Thank you, Sarah. With all the furor and tumult in yesterday’s press conference — or press briefing, some have suggested that maybe it is time for the President to have another news conference and perhaps answer these questions himself, rather than subject spokespeople such as you and Sean to questions about recent controversy. Does he plan an actual news conference in the near future?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure if there’s one on the schedule. But if there is, I guarantee you this room will be the first group to be notified. (Laughter.)
Q The other thing is — my other question is: Has the President today read The New York Magazine article by Gabriel Sherman about the White House and its involvement with Joe Scarborough at all?
MS. SANDERS: I have no idea if he’s read that piece. Sorry, John, can’t answer that.
Q Back to the question of trade, the President said today that he was negotiating with South Korea on the agreement. Has the KORUS agreement been reopened? And if it has been reopened, what’s the mechanism for that? And how much concern, if any, is there about impacting other relationships, security relationships with South Korea?
MS. SANDERS: At the direction of the President, Ambassador Lighthizer is calling a special joint committee meeting to start the process of renegotiating and amending the deal. And as always, and as we’ve said many times before, the President is committed to making sure he gets the best deal and a better deal if possible when it comes to trade. And that’s the current status of where they are.
Q Any impact on the cooperation over North Korean aggression with South Korea?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q What concern is there about an impact on the cooperation with South Korea on the military issues and security issues with North Korea?
MS. SANDERS: Are you asking if we’re concerned about an impact?
Q Yes. Yes, yes.
MS. SANDERS: I think the President laid out pretty clearly where he is on that in his statement earlier today.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. I wanted to ask you about the travel ban. It’s the first full day that it’s gone into effect, and it’s scheduled to last for 90 days. And my question has to do with what are the next steps. If it lasts for 90 days, that takes you up to the end of September. Are there plans to extend the travel ban before this issue reaches the U.S. Supreme Court?
MS. SANDERS: As of right now, for any specifics about the implementation process and anything beyond that, I would encourage you to contact the Department of Homeland Security, as they’ll be doing the review and recommendation on that process.
And, guys, I’m sorry, I know I was running late, and I hate to end early, but I was notified by note here just —
Q Just two quick questions here.
MS. SANDERS: Hold on a second, I’m trying to finish a sentence — that the President is actually going to sign an executive order, and he’s going to do that in the next few minutes. And so I’m going to step away.
We will be available this afternoon to answer more questions.
Q On what?
MS. SANDERS: On the Space Council. And we’ll send out more details about that here in the next few minutes.
2:46 P.M. EDT