The White House — July 10, 2017 — 2:28 P.M. EDT
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Before we get started, I’d like to bring up Marc Short, the Director of Legislative Affairs, to give an update on how we’re moving the President’s agenda through Congress, particularly on the historic obstruction from Senate Democrats on confirming the President’s incredibly qualified nominees to posts across the federal government.
After his statement, Marc will take a few of your questions on that topic; and after that, I will be back to answer your other questions.
MR. SHORT: Good afternoon. This week, the Senate has scheduled a few confirmation votes. Yet as even The Washington Post has reported, the Senate is conducting the slowest confirmation process in American history. For the past six months, Senator Schumer has deliberately run an unprecedented campaign of obstruction against the President’s nominees for high-ranking positions in the government.
Not only are key national security, energy, financial, and regulatory positions left unfilled, procedural slowdowns have kept the Senate committees from doing other legislative work.
Democrats even walked out of committee hearings to deny a quorum, like school children taking their toys from the playground. But it’s the American people who are being hurt. These obstruction tactics are carried out in the name of resisting the Trump administration and playing to a radical left-wing base. But it’s the will of the American people that is being denied.
As war rages in the Middle East, the Senate hasn’t confirmed many national security appointees. In fact, the President’s nominee for Under Secretary of Defense, Elaine McCusker, enjoyed bipartisan support as she advanced through committee. But she has now been waiting since May 23rd for a vote on the Senate floor.
The person responsible for ensuring our national security throughout all foreign investments is still waiting an up or down vote. Heath Tarbert was voted out of committee on May 23rd and for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has now waited for over a month for a confirmation vote.
As Americans are anxious to get back to work and get the economy growing again after eight years of stagflation — sorry, stagnation, the nominee to run the President’s Council of Economic Advisers is stuck waiting for approval. Kevin Hassett again received Democrat support and an endorsement letter from 44 bipartisan economists, some of whom even served in the Obama administration. He was approved in committee on June 14th and again is still waiting to be confirmed.
The list goes on. We currently have seven deputy secretaries — to manage entire federal departments — who have been cleared by committee and are waiting for a vote on the Senate floor.
Folks, it’s July 10th, and we do not have deputy secretaries at the Small Business Administration, the Department of Interior, the Department of Energy, HUD, HHS, OMB, and the Department of Defense. Senate committees have cleared 32 of our nominees who are still waiting for a floor vote.
In total, there are 133 nominees waiting for consideration by various committees. While Senator Schumer irresponsibly champions the resist movement, his partisan tactics are harming the country and obstructing the will of the American people.
To date, the Senate has confirmed a total of 50 Trump administration nominees. To put that in perspective, the Senate had confirmed 202 officials at this same point in the Obama administration. We think that that is a fair analogy because Republicans now control the Senate. Democrats controlled the Senate at that point. And the comparison is 50 to 202.
By the August recess in 2009, the Senate had confirmed 292 Obama administration nominees by voice vote alone. To date, the Trump administration nominees have received five voice vote confirmations.
The truth is the Democrats are putting their agenda ahead of the will of the American people. Democrats are keeping key agency nominees from serving their country. And today, we’re calling on Senator Chuck Schumer to stop blocking the will of the American people for political gain. And we’re also calling on you in the media to help shine light to bring this problem to light of day.
The Senate will likely devote this entire week to approving just three well-qualified nominees. We ask: Give these critical nominees an up or down vote so they can get to work.
I’m happy to take your questions.
Q Have you talked to the Democrats at all to find out why they’re offering such pushback? And have you tried to negotiate with them behind the scenes to try and cure some of the problem? Or is it just here that we’ve heard about it?
MR. SHORT: Yes, we have spoken to them. Yes, we’ve been trying to work that. I think that one comment that Democrats are likely to say is that, well, Republicans control the committees, and so they could move forward these committee assignments to the House floor quicker. But as we’ve already articulated to you, 32 of our nominees are sitting there waiting for floor votes now. The number of voice votes is small — a fraction of what was afforded Obama nominees. And we think that there’s really no historical precedent for this.
Q Just one quick follow-up then. What about those Democrats who are also saying this pales in comparison to what Senator McConnell said about the previous administration that goal one was to not pass anything that — or help the administration out in way, shape, or form?
MR. SHORT: I think that the record shows that what McConnell did as the Senate Republican leader at the time was to confirm Obama’s nominees. I think there’s a long history of believing the American people elect an administration. The committees determine the qualifications. And assuming that those candidates are qualified, they get votes. We’re not receiving that courtesy.
Q Marc, if can ask you, earlier today, we heard from some top U.S. senators, including Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Patty Murray and others that basically said in simple terms they want to advance policies that would help bring stability to health insurance markets and make premiums more affordable for millions of Americans, effectively calling for bipartisanship in the effort to deal with healthcare right now. Do you think bipartisanship — given the fact about Democrats to work with Republicans on these nominees — is bipartisanship the way to go to best serve Americans on healthcare?
MR. SHORT: I think that we believe that bipartisanship is a solution to a lot of our problems. We have not seen bipartisanship. The numbers I’m giving you right now shows everything they’re trying to do is obstruct our agenda.
And specific to healthcare, we’ve commented several times that we would welcome bipartisan support. The Democrats who have said to us openly — they say, look, we know Obamacare is failing. We know that insurance markets are collapsing. We know that insurers are leaving them and that rates have in many cases doubled, and some cases tripled. But we can’t be a part of Obamacare repeal because that’s viewed as something that was a signature accomplishment of the previous administration.
So there may come a time for being able to partner with them. But I don’t think that happens till after this repeal.
Q So, Marc, how confident are you that you’ll be able to pass this Republican-only? Democrats — you can’t blame them for blocking you on this bill, this healthcare bill. How confident are you that you’ll get it done by August? And if it fails, are you going to bring the Democrats down here to work on more modest fixes to the current law?
MR. SHORT: We’re confident that it’s going to pass, and that we’re not going to be in a situation of failure, Jon.
But at the same time, I think that the President recognizes that Republicans have campaigned on repeal and replace since 2010. In all candor, in many ways, he was looking forward to the day he was inaugurated having a bill on his desk to repeal it because it’s something the Republicans have said they would be doing, again, since the 2010 election cycle.
So we’re anxious to get that bill and for the President to sign it.
Q But if it doesn’t come here by the end of — by August, are you going to bring Democrats down here? Are we going to see —
MR. SHORT: We still look forward to completing the repeal and replace before August.
Q Marc, Republican voters know that you have a majority in the Senate. You also have a 51-vote threshold. They also know the Senate Majority Leader controls the calendar, especially on executive branch nominations. So explain to them why it’s only a Democratic obstruction problem?
MR. SHORT: Well, as you understand the nature of cloture votes, it required — that is something that in past administrations has not been required. And so —
Q Motion to proceed, in other words.
MR. SHORT: Yes, thank you, Major.
So in previous administrations — I know I have the number here — it was roughly about 5 percent of nominees that were required to get cloture votes. In our case, it’s been about 90 percent. So, yes, there is the process that the Republicans control the committees. In some cases I mentioned, they’ve gone to the extraordinary steps of actually walking out of committee hearings to deny a quorum, just delaying the process.
And in many cases, we believe that part of this is obstruction because they know the most precious thing the Senate has is floor time, so if they stretch this out longer, it means you don’t get to your legislative agenda. So it’s part of their strategy, as well.
But it is historic in the level of obstruction that is denying the will of the American people who elected a new administration and expect that administration to be able to staff the departments.
Q Now, Marc, you told that you have confidence that healthcare will get passed by the August break. But it appears by all the reporting that we do that the trajectory is moving in the opposite direction. A greater number of Republicans are ambivalent or opposed to this currently drafted legislation than just two weeks ago. What is the source of your confidence when the outward vote counting appears to be moving in the opposite direction from the administration’s vantage point?
MR. SHORT: We look forward to being able to — we support bills that provide I think many things that the various factions of the party were looking for.
I think what you heard over the recess was just expressing displeasure with the previous draft that’s now been amended. It includes, as you know, a lot of resources for opioid funding that many in states perhaps more in the Midwest that have been plagued by opioid addiction were looking to get. It also includes the ability to use your HSA accounts to pay for premiums, and that’s something that many of the conservatives have asked for.
We also are waiting to see how the Cruz-Lee amendment gets scored. So we believe that the bill is changing significantly in a way that will garner the necessary votes.
Q Marc, thank you. Can you map out specifically what role President Trump is going to take in trying to get this bill over the finish line? Obviously in the final days of the healthcare bill’s passage, he was very front and center. Is he going to take the same type of approach in these next two weeks? Obviously he has the Paris trip coming up.
And then I know you’re focused on plan A. But should you need a plan B as the position of this White House that Obamacare should be repealed with a plan to replace it further down the line?
MR. SHORT: Several questions there. I think that there’s a natural difference between a bill passed in the House and a bill passed in the Senate. And so when you have 435 members in the House, I do think that the appearance will be more frenetic. You’ll see many members coming over here to the White House for broader meetings.
In the Senate, we know that the number of targeted votes is a much smaller number. And so you’re not going to see that same level of activity, of members coming and outside the White House. But that doesn’t mean the President isn’t engaged.
As the President was leaving for his most recent trip on a holiday weekend, he was continuing to make calls. And he’ll continue to make this case. This is a promise that Republicans have made to voters, and it’s a promise that he expects them to deliver on.
Q Does he need the plan B option? Is it still the position of this White House, as the President tweeted several days ago, that the focus should shift to repealing Obamacare now, making sure that happens, that promise to America’s voters —
MR. SHORT: To be clear, we still believe that the bill before the United States Senate is the preferable path. I just want to state that clearly for everybody, that that is the path that we’re planning on.
But I think the President is making a very clear point that Republicans have voted many times on a repeal bill. And when we talk about its repealing, it’s important to keep in mind what that did. It continued payment for Medicaid. It continued — it would create basically a stabilization fund to keep the markets as they are for a period of two, three years until a replacement plan is put together.
And I think the President is making the case that Republicans have already cast that vote. And it’s not as if markets have gotten healthier. Markets have only continued to become — have continued to collapse.
And so in light of that, it’s pretty hard to explain we think how you would have voted for it 18 months ago and couldn’t support the similar vote when the markets get worse than what they were.
So the President does recognize that he just thinks stating a simple political fact, that that’s a vote they’re on record. In fact, 49 of the current Republicans voted for that previously. In addition now, Todd Young voted for it in the House, and is in Senate. So right there you have 50 votes basically casting the same vote.
Q — you’re referring to, right, Marc?
MR. SHORT: There’s been multiple repeals. This — was December 15th.
Q Back on the obstruction charge, has the President raised this directly with Senator Schumer? And how often do they communicate?
MR. SHORT: I will leave the President’s personal conversations with Senator Schumer. But keep in mind, that there are also Democrat nominees working through this process; that there are certain independent boards and agencies for which statutorily the Democrats, the minority party gets its own picks.
And to date, I will grant you it’s a very small sample size, but we have nominated twice as many to this point as Bush had — sorry, as McConnell had of Republicans. So it’s again, one more factor of us looking to try to be bipartisan and help to make the nominations that they’re asking for. Yet there’s been no reciprocation as far as a courtesy and anything but obstruction.
Q Back on healthcare issue, how much confidence does the President have in Senator McConnell to push this over the line?
MR. SHORT: The President has confidence in both Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell.
Q Marc, slightly off topic. There’s a quote floating around of you saying that you think the Iran — the drafted legislation on the Iran and Russia sanctions is poorly written. And so I want to know is the White House going to support a bill that is not poorly written? And what exactly would you like to see changed for the White House to support it?
MR. SHORT: Thanks. To be clear, the administration’s perspective is, is that we support the sanctions in the bill on Russia and Iran. Keep in mind, it’s initially an Iran bill for which there is a Russia sanctions amendment. The administration is fully supportive of those sanctions.
What our concern is, is that the legislation we believe sets an unusual precedent of delegating foreign policy to 535 members of Congress by not including certain national security waivers that have always been consistently part of sanctions bills in the past. And so by stripping that, what you in essence do is create I think challenge for us diplomatically and in many cases the ability to react quickly to ongoing circumstances where if a nation is cooperating with you, you can extend waivers. Or there’s certain examples where there’s covert activities in which it’s helpful to have that ability. And by stripping that away from the executive branch, we think the way it’s currently drafted is something that neither a Democrat nor a Republican administration could support.
Q Did the subject come up in the meetings with President Putin at all? Anything around that?
MR. SHORT: That I’m aware of.
Q Marc, on healthcare, one of the reasons that so many senators are reluctant to endorse this bill right now is they’re hearing a lot of opposition in their districts. They’re hearing phone calls in their offices. Is there anything that the President is going to do to use his bully pulpit to make an affirmative case for the American people for this bill? We’ve not heard him do that so far, apart from a few tweets here and there.
MR. SHORT: I think the President has made an affirmative case for the bill, but I think your larger point is a fair one — that the left I think has been more organized in their messaging on this than collectively Republicans have as far as advocating for the benefits of the bill. And I fully accept that point as sort of a lesson learned moving forward.
Q Well, can the President do anything?
MR. SHORT: I think that he will continue —
Q If he could do an address to the American people?
MR. SHORT: The President you will — again, I believe the President has remained very active in this debate, and you will see him continue to remain so. And as far as what plans he has for travel that maybe he could go to targeted states to make his case, I think we’ll wait and see.
Q Marc, do you think it was the right idea, the right approach to have a more of a hands-off approach during this Senate process than he did during the House process? I know Senator McConnell asked the White House to be not directly involved in the negotiations. As it sits here right now, do you believe that that was the right approach? And what are you doing specifically this week to get the Jerry Morans and the Senator Hoevens on board? Because opioids aren’t their concern.
MR. SHORT: I reject the premise of your question. I believe that the administration has been involved. I think initially after the House bill passed, there needed to be a time of rescoring the bill. And that’s what’s transpired in which everyone was a little bit on the sideline.
But since then I think that the Vice President has been to the Senate Policy Lunch every week in which this has been the primary focus of conversation. Seema Verma from HHS has gone and had countless meetings with members who are questioning where they stand or are undecided. She’s been talking to them very specifically about Medicaid funding for their states in very formulaic conversations. The Secretary of HHS, Tom Price, has been making calls and meeting with members throughout the holiday, as well.
So again, it’s different because when you have 435 members in the House, you’re going to see a lot more activity coming in and out of this building. But I think that that’s a false measure for the level of activity that we have in this debate.
Q How do you explain the approval rating for this bill as it now sits? It’s so much lower than the President’s approval rating. Shouldn’t it be at least as high, in the 30s or 40 or something? Why is it so low?
MR. SHORT: I think back to Phil’s question. I think that it’s a fair point that the Democrats were more organized in their messaging on the bill than collectively Republicans have been in making their case for the benefits of it.
But I also continue to see polling that suggests that the American people do want Obamacare repealed. The number of people —
Q They don’t like this bill, though.
MR. SHORT: The number of people who have lost insurance, they know that it’s a dramatic problem. And I think that there’s more we could be doing in educating the benefits of repealing and replacing with our plan.
Q Marc, thank you. Part of the case you’re making for this bill is that the exchanges are collapsing. And day after day Sarah and Sean stand at that podium and talk about insurance —
MR. SHORT: God bless them.
Q Yes, sir. Insurance companies that are pulling out of the exchanges. But until that bill passes, Obamacare is the law of the land. And those exchanges are set up by the law. Has the administration made — or is the administration making any effort to keep these insurance companies in the exchanges? Or are you guys just letting them pull out? What sort of effort is there to keep them in?
MR. SHORT: It’s a great question. I guess fundamentally we don’t think it’s the federal government’s job to force and insurer to stay in the exchange. In fact, I think today what you’re going to see from a report coming out this afternoon from CMS is that for the 2016 year, 281 insurers were in the private Obamacare exchanges. By 2017, it had fallen to 241. And just now — as they’re supposed to submit their bids for next year in 2018, it’s down to 140 insurers. Half of the insurers have already fled the markets. I don’t think they’re going to give you much more evidence that this system is failing.
Q Just to be clear, there’s been no outreach or effort on the administration’s part to attempt to keep any of these companies in the exchanges?
MR. SHORT: We continue to talk to insurers at the HHS and OMB level to continue to talk about here are things that we can do from a regulatory impact to make it easier for you. So, yes, that is happening.
But again, I think that we fundamentally take a different view of the way the government should work. It’s not a heavy handed enforcement to say you must say in the exchanges. That’s not the way we do it. The previous administration may have.
Q As you’re talking about the healthcare bill changing, is the President listening to the diverse voices like women’s groups, people from Appalachia who didn’t like Obamacare but like the benefits of ACA? Is he listening to those diverse voices to be able to change it to benefit all America? Or is it just also his base he’s focusing more on? Or is it all America?
MR. SHORT: No, I think — I appreciate the question. But I think the President recognizes he’s the President of all the American people, and he wants a healthcare plan that meets all their needs. He’s not looking to target a plan that just benefits his base.
And so I think that he is — there have been many countless listening sessions the President has hosted here in the White House with different groups, some that have been open to the media, some that have not. But he’s heard from a wide group of people and believes that this is the best plan forward.
Q Tax reform update for us?
MR. SHORT: Tax reform update — we are continuing to have conversations. I’m actually leaving here to head to the Hill momentarily, continuing to have conversations with them on our schedule. We hope to have a plan that we’re agreed upon between the House, Senate, and the White House.
I think we’ve been very intentional about wanting to be on the same page and not have multiple plans, and so —
Q Maybe something this week?
MR. SHORT: The schedule — I would doubt it would be this week. I think that hopefully before the August recess is when we have it locked in place, and that we would look to begin the markup process when we return from August recess.
Q Can you lower the corporate rate, though, to a level that is more competitive internationally? That seemed to be a big focus.
MR. SHORT: Absolutely, we can lower the corporate rate and absolutely the President is focused 100 percent on getting growth back in our economy.
Q Marc, one thing, Senator Sasse has said that if by today the Senate hadn’t made meaningful progress in coming together around a single bill, they should move ahead with repeal, followed by discussing replace afterward. And the President appeared to endorse that right before — so be clear, do you think that they’ve made enough progress at this point that they don’t need to go down that?
MR. SHORT: Look, I think if that’s a deadline that Senator Sasse set, you should ask Senator Sasse that. I don’t think the President set our official deadline on that. As we’ve already discussed in a previous question, I think that he’s just pointing out the obvious of where the votes are in a previous repeal vote. Thank you.
Q Nominations. I hope you’ll find it an important question. You describe this as a national security threat, the fact that there are 16 nominees on the defense side that have not been confirmed. Given that, given the Democrats’ strategy, would it be a mistake if the Senate were to go on recess in August if these nominees are not confirmed?
MR. SHORT: I think that we are looking toward confirmations by the August recess. One of the data points I gave you is a comparison of what Obama had confirmed by August recess, and that’s a threshold that we’ll look at.
And I think that the President has every right to call Congress back if necessary I think —
Q Will he exercise that authority?
MR. SHORT: Because I think you make a very fair point that I believe that the Democrat obstruction is jeopardizing national security.
MS. SANDERS: Thanks, Mark.
Before we talk about all of the things coming up this week, I wanted to quickly give you guys a recap of the President’s trip to Poland and Germany last week and some of the things that happened back here at home while we were gone.
In both Germany and Poland, the President sought to reinforce old alliances and build new relationships, just as he promised he would do in his Inaugural Address to serve the interests of the American people.
In Poland, President Trump gave a powerful and historic speech in Warsaw that was widely praised both in Poland and the United States as one of the most important speeches by an American President on foreign soil in decades.
In his speech, the President saluted the spirit of the Polish people over centuries of hardship, and especially the Polish heroes of the Warsaw Uprising and those in the struggle to defeat communism.
The President reaffirmed that the NATO Alliance of free, sovereign, and strong independent nations is in the best interests of America and the security of the American people. He also reaffirmed America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty and called upon member states to honor their full and fair financial obligations.
But even more importantly, the Warsaw Speech was a stirring defense of the West in a manner not heard from an American President in many years. Using the Polish experience as an example, President Trump reminded us of the shared history, culture, and values that have made Western civilization great and urged the nations of the West to defend it from new threats inside and out.
President Trump concluded by challenging the nations of the West to remember our histories, have confidence in our values, and have pride in who we are. He proclaimed that by remembering these strengths, we will continue to be the greatest, freest, most successful community of nations in history.
In Germany, the President successfully achieved his objectives on behalf of the American people at the G20.
In his discussions with more than a dozen foreign leaders, he underscored the need for nations to join together to strip terrorists of their funding, territory and ideological support — and to stop doing business with nations that sponsor terrorism, especially Iran.
On North Korea, he called on all nations to isolate the regime and to cut off all ties of trade and commerce.
At the same time, he hailed the launch of the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, of which the United States is a founding member, to help empower women all across the world.
In his meetings, President Trump also underscored the need to end unfair trade practices and to finally provide American workers and businesses with a level playing field.
The trip to Poland and participation in the G20 summit have given the President tremendous cause for hope. He returned to the United States with great optimism for the future and incredible excitement for what lies ahead.
On Friday, while the President was participating in those important discussions at the G20, the June jobs report came out back here at home. Sadly there wasn’t a lot of coverage of these numbers, so I wanted to give you a few highlights: There were –222,000 new jobs were added in June, higher than the monthly average over the past year and well above expectations. With 187,000 private sector jobs added in June, there have now been over 800,000 private sector jobs added since the President took office.
And on top of all that, the jobs report from April and May were revised upward reflecting that an additional 47,000 jobs were added in those months than previously reported.
Looking ahead, as Marc told you, congressional Democrats are committed to inaction. Republicans are driving a lot of action on the Hill this week. Both houses are taking up important legislation on defense spending, military construction, and veterans affairs spending. And of course, the Senate is continuing to work on the Republican plan to repeal and replace the collapsing Obamacare system before it completely falls apart.
Just today, the Gallup-Sharecare survey showed that nearly 2 million adults in the United States dropped out of healthcare coverage this year. That’s 2 million more Americans who are being completely failed by the last administration’s broken promises; 2 million more Americans who deserve better, and they’re only a small part of the picture of those families and individuals who are suffering under the current system.
For those 2 million Americans and the countless others we hear about each time another insurer pulls out of a state’s exchange or one of the dwindling number of co-ops fails, it’s critical that the Senate moves swiftly and decisively to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that truly supports everyone to get the healthcare coverage they need.
Later this week, of course, the President will be in France, and we will have more details on that trip in the coming days. While the President is in France, the Vice President will deliver the opening keynote address to the National Governors Association’s Summer Meeting on Friday. And as a former governor, the Vice President will speak with some of his former colleagues about the President’s commitment to partnering with the states on issues like infrastructure, healthcare, and education. While in Rhode Island for the event, he will also meet with the Prime Minister of Canada, who is attending the NGA meeting to continue our country’s productive conversations on immigration, security, and trade — including renegotiating NAFTA.
Before I take your questions, I want to read a statement from the President on some recent current events.
Today, Iraqi Security Forces supported by the United States in the global coalition, liberated the city of Mosul from its longtime nightmare under the rule of ISIS. We congratulate Prime Minister Abadi, the Iraqi Security Forces, and all the Iraqis for their victory over terrorists who are the enemies of all civilized people. We mourn the thousands of Iraqis brutally killed by ISIS and the millions of Iraqis who suffered at the hands of ISIS. We grieve with the Iraqi people for the loss of heroic soldiers who gave their lives to restore life to their country, and we honor their sacrifice.
We in the United States and the global coalition are proud to stand with the Iraqi Security Forces and all those who made this moment of liberation possible. We’ve made tremendous progress against ISIS more in the past six months than the years since ISIS became a major threat. The victory in Mosul, a city where ISIS once proclaimed its so-called caliphate, signals that its days in Iraq and Syria are numbered. We will continue to seek the total destruction of ISIS.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. And, because he’s not always here and he’s a fellow Arkansan, Frank Lockwood.
Q Thank you.
MS. SANDERS: Because I get to pick. (Laughter.)
Q The President, today, tweeted that it would be unimaginable — he can’t imagine that Congress would go home from Washington in August, take the month off — if they haven’t dealt with the repeal and replace of Obamacare. If Congress does the unimaginable and goes for a month, is the President prepared to ensure that there are consequences for those vacationing lawmakers in 2018?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know that he’s going to lay out a list of consequences. I think he’s focused on the positive component of this, and that’s the hope that all of the members of Congress will come together to repeal and replace Obamacare. That’s his focus — is making sure it gets done. Not on what happens if it doesn’t.
Q If I could ask on one more tweet. The President also tweeted this morning about Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton — said that she was giving away the country, I believe. At what point is the President going to put Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Bill Clinton in the rearview mirror? He won the election. He won it fair and square. When does he just let them go and look forward?
MS. SANDERS: I believe this tweet was a response to the attacks on his daughter taking his seat, if I’m correct. Is that the one you’re referring to, Frank?
MS. SANDERS: Look, this wasn’t about putting them in the front. This was about responding to an outrageous attack against a White House senior advisor. And it’s pretty standard protocol that when the leader gets up, someone takes their seat — as Chancellor Merkel also pointed out and said that this was perfectly standard protocol.
In fact, I think that we should be proud to have Ivanka sitting in that seat, considering particularly the topic at hand was part of her portfolio. If she didn’t have the last name that she has, I think she would be constantly celebrated instead of constantly attacked, and I frankly think it’s a sad thing that they chose to go after her in that moment.
Q Sarah, first, just a quick clarification from the meeting with Putin in Germany: Did the President say that he accepted Putin’s denial of any involvement in election interference, as Putin said in his press conference? Have you had a chance to ask the President about that?
MS. SANDERS: The President was — multiple times asked Putin whether or not he was involved. It took up a great deal of the conversation that they had on the front end of their meeting, and the President heard Putin’s denial and also realized they had some very important topics they needed to cover — Ukraine, North Korea, Syria — and decided to move on from that point of the conversation and focus on those issues.
Q But he didn’t accept that denial or did he?
MS. SANDERS: Look, he heard Putin’s denial and he knew that at the end of the day the important part was them being able to have that conversation, him to directly ask him. He heard his answer and he moved forward with places that they thought they could work together. The President has been clear from his statements back in January and even in his tweets over the last couple of days, his opinion on that matter.
Q And the question I wanted to ask was the reports on this meeting that took place at Trump Tower last June with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner. When did the President learn that that meeting had taken place?
MS. SANDERS: I believe in the last couple of days is my understanding.
Q Is he concerned about that — that the top leadership of his campaign would take a meeting with a Russian lawyer promising to give negative information?
MS. SANDERS: No, I mean, I’ve been on several campaigns and people call offering information. As I know many of you receive similar calls of people offering information. Don Jr. took a very short meeting from which there was absolutely no follow-up. Frankly, I think something that may make sense is looking at the Democrat National Committee coordinated opposition research directly with the Ukrainian Embassy. This is not an accusation, that’s an on-the-record action that they took. So if you’re looking for an example of a campaign coordinating with a foreign country or a foreign source, look no further than the DNC who actually coordinated opposition research with the Ukrainian Embassy. And no one in this room to my knowledge really had a big problem with that.
The only thing I see inappropriate about the meeting was the people that leaked the information on the meeting after it was voluntarily disclosed. At this point, I’d also like to add, Donald Trump Jr. has made a statement on this, the President’s outside counsel has made a statement on it, and now I have as well and I’m not going to add anything further.
Q Just to follow up on that. If this sort of meeting is normal and standard practice in the campaign, do you know if there were any other meetings that either Donald Trump Jr. or other representatives of the Trump campaign had with other Russian officials or any other foreign agent to collect information about Hillary?
MS. SANDERS: I don’t know of any other meetings with Don Jr., but I also haven’t had an extensive conversation with him.
Q Has anyone looked into whether there were any others?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure, Phil. I’ll have to check and get back to you.
Q Thanks, Sarah. I have a quick question about this cyber taskforce with Russia. Yesterday the President tweeted about the cybersecurity unit being put together, and then then about 12 hours later said that it would never happen. What went down in those 12 hours that so drastically changed that situation?
MS. SANDERS: This was part of a discussion in that meeting and, look, we recognize that Russia is a cyber threat, but we also recognize the need to have conversations with our adversaries. And when our adversaries see strength like they did with the President in the meeting, they can look for other ways to work on shared interests and look for positive places where they can move the ball forward. Particularly on things like the ceasefire, and that became a greater focus and something the President chose to stay focused on — is that front.
Q Sarah, just to clarify: That idea is dead?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I would say that discussions may still take place but that’s as far as it is right now.
Q Okay. And I know you just said a minute ago you aren’t going to make any additional statement, but there’s a history and we have been asked by you and others at the podium to respect the statements you make there. So, there’s a long history of blanket denials, during the transition and during times of this administration about nobody within the campaign having any meetings under any circumstances at all with Russian officials. And now one was disclosed this weekend. The original characterization of that meeting was amended within 24 hours when new information was placed before Don Jr. How are we to take all of these blanket denials that occurred through the transition and now when it has been proven and recognized by the President’s attorney and Don Jr. that those blanket denials were not factual?
MS. SANDERS: I think the point is that we’ve tried to make every single time, today and then, and will continue to make in those statements is that there was simply no collusion that they keep trying to create that there was.
Q But that’s a different question than was asked at the time and different than the statements were about. The questions originally, as you know and I know, were about contacts, and those were blanket denials. And then when the contacts became confirmed, then it was, well they were infrequent. Well now we have a whole pattern of lots of different meetings that have to be confirmed later. And those original questions were not about collusion, Sarah. They were just about contacts.
MS. SANDERS: They were originally about that. That’s the whole premise of what you’re asking the question is whether or not the campaign colluded with Russia. That’s the premise of the entire scope of your questioning, and the point we’ve tried to make over and over again and will continue to make is that there wasn’t. And beyond that, I really can’t offer you anything.
Q Sarah, back to yesterday morning’s tweets. Can you tell us what it was or what is or what was going to be a cybersecurity unit and how this was going to work?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure there were specific details discussed. I think it was simply just a discussion on cybersecurity threats and potential options. Not necessarily a formal kind of structure in place.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. After this two and a half hour meeting with President Putin that the President had in Germany, how would you describe the state of U.S. relations with Russia. Do you view Russia as a partner? Do you view them as an ally? Do you view them as an adversary?
MS. SANDERS: I would want to have further conversations with members of the Secretary of State, National Security Council, but I think we saw that there were places of shared interest that we can work together; specifically, things like the Syrian ceasefire, that we both can agree on in order to move forward in some places. I don’t think that’s going to be the case on everything, but there are certainly certain instances where we can work together with Russia to make every part of the world a little bit safer.
Q And does the President trust President Putin?
MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him that question.
Q Can you please ask him that question?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I have two questions. We know there was no note taker in the meeting, but did you make an audio recording of the meeting or did the Russians?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of. I’d have to ask. I’m not sure.
Q Can you ask?
And the second question is: Director Comey was under oath when he said that the memo that he gave to his friend did not include classified information, and the President tweeted this morning that he did leak classified information. Is he accusing Comey of perjury?
MS. SANDERS: I think there are a lot of questions out there and a lot of reports where it indicates that Director Comey may have leaked classified information. That certainly is a threat to the national security and violates policy.
Q You believe he leaked classified information?
MS. SANDERS: I think it is something that should be investigated thoroughly.
Q But the President stated flatly that he leaked classified information.
MS. SANDERS: He’s got a much higher clearance. He may know something I don’t.
Q Sarah, I want to go back to a couple of questions. When you talk about the issue of Don Jr., you talk and you said leaked. What do you think about the word whistleblower?
MS. SANDERS: I’m sorry?
Q You’re trying to say people who gave that information were leakers. What about the issue of whistleblower? What do you see whistleblower versus leaker?
MS. SANDERS: I think this is a voluntary disclosure to include some of that information, and I think that it would be inappropriate for that to be shared outside of the scope of the people that should have that information.
Q Sarah, I just have one more question. So on the issue of collusion, are you saying there’s no collusion when it comes to the overall arch of the campaign? But what about the individuals? What about individuals that could be suspects of collusion? Are you vouching just for everyone in total or individuals or what?
MS. SANDERS: I’m saying that the President’s campaign did not collude in any way.
Q So then when we go to different people, what do you say about that? Don Jr.? Anyone — the names that are coming up.
MS. SANDERS: I would certainly say Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election.
Q What about Flynn? What about Flynn?
MS. SANDERS: To my knowledge, he did not collude with anybody to influence the campaign. Again, I think I’ve been very clear, our position is that no one within the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election. I think the bottom line is that the Democrats had a weak candidate, and President Trump had a stronger message, and they’re constantly looking for ways to undermine the President and delegitimize his election victory.
Q Thank you, Sarah. Two brief questions. When the President arrived for the G20 Summit, it was widely reported that the Putin regime was cracking down on the opposition candidate — Mr. Navalny at the time. This has been just the latest in a series of events in which human rights and dissent have been crushed in Russia. Was human rights raised at all by the President in his conversations with the Russian President?
MS. SANDERS: I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask, John, and get back to you on that.
Q Alright. My other question is —
MS. SANDERS: I knew there was a second one coming.
Q The President did talk privately with Chancellor Merkel, we know. Days before he arrived there, her party, the Christian Democratic Union, made a much publicized change in its platform and dropped its reference to the United States as a friend and changed that to important ally. Was this something that came up in their meeting and did the President ask why she did that?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I haven’t heard that that was specifically discussed, but I’ll be happy to ask and circle back with you.
Q Two quick questions for you. Did President Trump discuss sanctions with Russian President Putin at the G20 Summit?
MS. SANDERS: I do know that it was mentioned. Specifically, when you ask about sanctions I know there is a little bit of a question there, and there were sanctions specific to election meddling that I believe were discussed, but not beyond that.
Q Did the President’s views on sanctions against the Russians change at all after his meeting with President Putin?
MS. SANDERS: Not that I’m aware of.
Q Thank you, Sarah. This latest meeting with the Russian lawyer. We not have three instances where — including with Ambassador Kislyak and a head of the Russia bank — where Jared Kushner seems to have met with Russians and not disclosed it during his security clearance check. Is the White House at all concerned about that and do you think it raises any questions about Kushner’s confidence or honesty?
MS. SANDERS: I believe, actually, it was disclosed on his security clearance when it updated — yeah —
Q His updated paperwork, not initially.
MS. SANDERS: Right. With all of his contacts from during the transition and prior to that, they were all included in the update, not the original.
Q So I’m saying — his omission in the original of all these meetings with Russians, is there any concern about that?
MS. SANDERS: No, because it was just an incomplete form. All of his foreign contacts were listed in the updated version not in the original.
Q One of the subjects President Macron wants to talk to the President about is the Paris climate accord. Is the President willing to negotiate his position on this?
MS. SANDERS: I certainly think he likes to keep all things on the negotiating table. At the end of the day, the President is very focused on making sure that he gets the best deal for the American people. He certainly wants to do things to protect the environment, as we have a history of doing in the United States. He’s going to continue that practice and continue to encourage it but also make sure that he’s making the deal that’s best for the American people.
Thanks so much, guys.
3:13 P.M. EDT