James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:21 P.M. EDT
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. We're still working on that I see. We'll get better.
Yesterday, three U.S. servicemembers and one partner nation member were killed while providing assistance to counterterror operations. As many of you are aware, U.S. forces are in the country to provide training and security assistance to the local armed forces in their efforts to counter violent extremist organizations. Additionally, two U.S. servicemembers were injured and evacuated in stable condition to Germany.
Names are being withheld at this time as part of the next of kin notification process. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the fallen servicemembers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the freedoms we hold so dear.
The President also visited Las Vegas yesterday to offer his support to the incredible people there. He met with law enforcement, first responders, the medical trauma teams, all of whom did incredible work under dire circumstances, and visited with survivors and their families.
The President was deeply touched by the spirit of the people in Las Vegas. In one particularly stirring moment at the hospital, the President met 28-year-old Thomas Gunderson, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the leg. After being shot, Thomas dragged himself behind a row of bleachers and began worrying that he may bleed out. But two young women rushed to his side. One tied a belt around his leg to stop the bleeding, and others rallied a group of men to carry him to safety.
He suffered a torn muscle in his calf, making it difficult to stand. But when the President and the First Lady walked into his room at the hospital, he endured the pain and rose to his feet. When asked why he did it, Thomas said, "I will never lie down when the President of this great country comes to shake my hand."
The Las Vegas Strong hashtag that has swept across social media in recent days could not be more fitting.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, the Vice President will be traveling to Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. He will meet with survivors, local officials, and first responders, and personally assess the massive recovery efforts.
The federal government continues to provide much-needed personnel and and supplies to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico's governor recently said, "The President and the administration, every time we've asked them to execute, they've executed quickly." That has been, and will continue to be, our goal.
This unprecedented relief effort should make it very clear we will not rest or stop until all of our people are safe, secure, and set on a clear path toward building the very bright future they deserve.
And with that, I will take your questions. Jill.
Q: Two topics for you. I want to start off with gun control. Does the President support legislation that would ban or regulate bump stocks?
MS. SANDERS: Right now our focus, as we've said over the last couple of days, has been on healing and uniting the country. The investigation still continues to be in very early stages. We know that members of both parties in multiple organizations are planning to take a look at bump stocks and related devices. We certainly welcome that, would like to be part of that conversation, and we would like to see a clear understanding of the facts. And we'd like to see input from the victims' families, from law enforcement, from policymakers. And we're expecting hearings and other important fact-finding efforts on that. And we want to be part of that discussion, and we're certainly open to that moving forward.
Q: Can you tell us anything about the President's thinking?
MS. SANDERS: I said we're certainly open to that moving forward, but we want to be part of that conversation as it takes place in the coming days and weeks.
Q: Can I also just ask about DACA today? Obviously it's that October 5th deadline. Is there any thinking right now about potentially extending that deadline because so many people have yet to actually submit their renewal forms?
MS. SANDERS: I'll keep you posted on any announcements on that front. Right now, the President's position has been that he's called on Congress to come up with a permanent solution and a fix to this process to have responsible immigration reform, and we'd like to see that be a part of that.
Q: Sarah, is asking for cuts in the levels of legal immigration going to be part of what the White House seeks in a DACA fix?
MS. SANDERS: We're going to roll out the specific principles that we'd like to see in that responsible immigration reform very soon -- probably in the very short future. And we'll let you know when we do that, and you can see all the details on that day when it's there.
Q: Thanks, Sarah. A couple questions on Puerto Rico if I can. The President said that the debt in Puerto Rico is going to be wiped out. Director Mulvaney sort of cleared that up a little bit, saying he shouldn't take the President word for word on that. Can you just button it down from the podium whether or not the President will take action or push for legislation to forgive any of the debt that Puerto Rico currently has?
MS. SANDERS: Right now, the primary focus is to provide relief to Puerto Rico and support in the rebuilding efforts. While we're still dealing with the immediate disaster, it isn't inappropriate to focus on the difficulties that Puerto Rico was dealing with before the storm. There's a process for how to deal with Puerto Rico's debt, and it will have to go through that process to have a lasting recovery and growth. This was a process that was put in place and set up under Obama, and that has a board of advisors that deals with that debt. And it will go through that process as we move forward.
Q: And just one more on --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to try and jump around a little. We'll come back. Matthew.
Q: Thanks, Sarah. I'm wondering if there's any concern in the White House that the President's frequent use of the term "fake news" to describe mainstream outlets muddies the water a little bit and makes it harder for citizens to identify the actual fake news that the intelligence agencies have said countries like Russia used to interfere in the last election.
MS. SANDERS: I think that the President has a great frustration with the fact that a lot of times you have inaccurate information that's being presented as factual. A lot of times you have opinions that are being presented as news, and they're not. And I think that that is a real concern and something that certainly should be looked at.
Q: But does he see a distinction between erroneous reports or reporting that he finds offensive, and the type of fake news that we saw pushed during the election by Russian intelligence? Does he see a distinction there?
MS. SANDERS: We see a problem with any stories that are inaccurate or untruthful being presented to the American people as facts.
Q: Sarah, can you give us a readout on the meeting with Senator Cotton this morning?
MS. SANDERS: I'm sorry, can you say that again?
Q: Can you give us a readout on the meeting with Senator Cotton?
MS. SANDERS: The President routinely meets with senators and House members, and this wasn't anything beyond that. They talked about a number of issues. Obviously, Senator Cotton has been somebody the President has worked with regularly since taking office. We're going to continue to do that. If we have further information, we'll let you know.
Q: Were immigration and Iran among those issues today?
MS. SANDERS: I think both of those topics were discussed.
Q: Beyond bump stocks, has the President -- has opened an attitude about other methods of gun control that have long been debated? Or is the White House openness, which you just described, and being willing to be a part of that conversation, limited to one on bump stocks?
MS. SANDERS: The President is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment; that hasn't changed. This is a President who wants to look at -- I think at this point in the process, I think we all need to take a step back. We had one of the most horrific tragedies that's ever taken place on U.S. soil.
And before we can run out and start talking about the preventions for something like that to happen again -- which we all certainly want to do -- we have to determine what caused it. We haven't gotten that far down the road. That's something that law enforcement agencies are all collaboratively working day in, day out to do.
We want to help support that effort in any way possible. And again, I think that this administration's position is extremely clear. We would look at taking any step we could to prevent something like this from happening again.
Q: Just to be accurate on that: Bump stocks is what you're open to having a conversation about and that's it, for the moment?
MS. SANDERS: That's something we're certainly open to having that conversation. At this point, again, I don't think that we want to go out and start having and making rash decisions while we're still on an open investigation. We'd like to get more facts about what we can do, not just in this case -- but this is a President who's very committed to doing every single thing he can, every single day, to protect American lives, whether that's securing the border, whether that's defeating ISIS, whether that's containing North Korea, and whether that's looking at legislative fixes that may be necessary to help protect American lives.
That's something that the President and the administration are committed to doing and looking at, and being part of that conversation every single day moving forward.
Q: Thanks. A lot of people talk about the bump stocks so I'm going to kind of talk about something else, and that's the Iran nuclear deal. October 15th deadline coming up. And I want to make it clear for the people that don't know, it's a little more complicated because there's also the Review Act that congress enacted last year.
So I'm just curious, given that the President has previously said, "This deal was an embarrassment," does it make sense then to presume that he will not choose to recertify? Or might he decide to strengthen sanctions and sort of stay in the deal that way? What's your thought?
MS. SANDERS: The President has, as he said, made a decision on this, and he'll make that announcement at the appropriate time. The main focus that he has had has been a comprehensive strategy on how to deal with Iran. That is what he wanted his team to put in place, and I think you will see that announced in short order. And that will be a comprehensive strategy with a unified team behind him supporting that effort.
Q: Despite disparate voices, I'm imagining, in the room on that -- even though they will move forward as one, there's been some debate, is it fair to say that?
MS. SANDERS: The President's team has presented a united strategy that the national security team all stands behind and supports. And the President will make that announcement soon.
Q: Since the briefing began, Sarah, the NRA has put out a statement as it relates to bump stocks -- their positon on bump stocks. They write that they believe that devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to function as fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulation. Does that change the administration's point of view? After all, the President has been a big supporter of the NRA, and the NRA has also been a big supporter of the President.
MS. SANDERS: look, as I said just a few minutes go, we welcome, certainly, that and a conversation on that. That hasn't changed. It's something we're very open to. And again, we want to be part of the conversation on that moving forward.
Q: Sarah, let me ask you, one on Puerto Rico and then one on taxes, if you don't mind. Just going back to Puerto Rico, you said that, with the debt, that there's a process in place and that the process will play out. Does that mean the President's comments of just simply wiping away the debt is no longer on the table?
MS. SANDERS: The President wants that to go through that process and that's the stage we are in this.
Q: And then on tax reform, Sarah. Chuck Schumer right now, or at least is scheduled to have a news conference about the state and local tax deductions being wiped off the books -- how they should stay on the books. There's currently one Republican senator, seven Republicans, at least, in the House, who want that to stay as a part of the tax framework. The President had talked about red lines. Is he up for negotiation on SALT? Or is this something, for him, that is a red line?
MS. SANDERS: Look, the President has laid out his priorities and the framework of what he wants to see in this tax relief package. Look, I think one of the big thigs you have to look at is that most American don't actually itemize deductions; 80 percent of the benefit goes to six-figure tax filers.
The fact is, it isn't fair and it doesn't make sense for working Americans across the country to subsidize the very wealthy in a few states. The President has been clear about his position, and we're moving forward with the framework that we've laid out.
Q: Sarah, a follow-up question on Puerto Rico. Yesterday, the administration, in its supplemental request, asked for $13 billion to help storm victims. Will some of that go towards helping Puerto Rico rebuild its power grid, which was in pretty dire straits before this storm?
MS. SANDERS: There was a large portion of that that will go to FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund, and that will be determined at the appropriate time, which parts of those will go to which efforts. And so I direct you to FEMA on the specifics of what that would look like.
Q: Sarah, why did the President tweet this morning that he'd like to see the Senate Intelligence Committee investigate news outlets in, I guess, this quest to go after fake news? Does he value the First Amendment as much as he values the Second Amendment?
MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. The President is an incredible advocate of the First Amendment. But with the First Amendment, you have --
Q: You don't go after journalists if you're a supporter of the First Amendment.
MS. SANDERS: Hold on. I allowed you to finish. With the First Amendment, with those freedoms also come responsibilities. And you have a responsibility to tell the truth, to be accurate.
I think right now, when we've seen recent information that says that only 5 percent of media coverage has been positive about this President and this administration, while at the same time you have the stock market and economic confidence at an all-time high; ISIS is on the run; unemployment is at the lowest it's been in 17 years; we've cut regulations at a historic pace; we're fixing the VA for our vets -- you've only found 5 percent of your time to focus on some of those big issues, and, frankly, those are the issues most Americans care about -- not a lot of the things that you cover, not a lot of the petty palace intrigue that you spend your time on. I think that we need to move towards a certainly more fair, more accurate, and, frankly, a more responsible news media for the American people.
Q: Sarah, if I could follow up on that. Should Congress --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to try to get to everybody. And like I told your colleague, if I have time --
Q: Should Congress investigate news outlets? Just very quickly, though -- should Congress investigate news outlets?
MS. SANDERS: Two questions. One is, Governor Brown in California just signed a sanctuary state statute. And I'm interested in what efforts the administration will make to block the move and whether this signifies that the administration's efforts to crack down on sanctuary jurisdictions has failed, given that California has more than 12 percent of the nation's population and it will now be an entire state, under the sanctuary designation.
MS. SANDERS: Look, we are spending every day we can trying to find the best way forward. The President will be laying out his responsible immigration plan over the next week. And I hope that California will push back on their governor's, I think, irresponsible decision moving forward.
Q: Just, my second question was a follow-up to Jim's.
MS. SANDERS: Hold on, I'm going to try to get to everybody today.
Q: Sarah, thank you. Sarah, was the President upset that his Secretary of State didn't deny calling him a moron in his public remarks yesterday?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as the Secretary of State said, this is a petty, ridiculous accusation. And, frankly, I think it's beneath the Secretary of State to weigh in on every rumor out there. His spokesperson, however, did come out and clarified that the Secretary of State had never used those words.
Q: But what's your response to those who say the President has undercut the Secretary of State? Sarah, just quickly before you move on. What's your reaction to that?
MS. SANDERS: I think the premise of that question is absolutely ridiculous. The President can't undercut his own Cabinet. The President is the leader of the Cabinet. He sets the tone, he sets the agenda. And I think that question makes no sense because of that.
Q: Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. First, let me follow up on Kevin's question earlier about the Iran agreement. We know that this certified does not mean a complete cut, and it would still keep the U.S. in the negotiating procedure. On the other hand, a clean break, such as advocated by former Ambassador John Bolton, would completely separate the U.S. from any agreement with Iran. Ambassador Bolton proposed that; reportedly has been unable to talk to the President about it. Is the clean break advocated by him still on the table?
MS. SANDERS: As I told Kevin, the President is going to make an announcement about the decision that he's made on a comprehensive strategy that his team supports, and will do that in the coming days. I'm not going to get ahead of that announcement by leaning in now.
Q: The other question I have, Sarah, was this --
MS. SANDERS: John, I'm going to try to get to everybody, and I'll come back if we have time.
Q: I had two.
MS. SANDERS: I know. (Laughter.) Everybody has two. If that's the case that we're setting, somebody can say I have 12 questions on the front end, and I never get to go to anybody else. I'll come back to you if we can.
Q: Just this one for you. We now know that Secretary Price was essentially let go over his private jet travel, and we know that in close proximity to his firing, Secretary Perry took private jets. We know that Kellyanne Conway went along for one of Secretary Price's rides.
At the same time, the President has now spent, I think, 17 weekends, at taxpayer expense for the flights, either at Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster at the cost of $180,000 an hour for Air Force One, and is going to take the place to a fundraiser in North Carolina this weekend. So here's the question: Is he not setting the tone that tells his Cabinet members that this kind of misuse of taxpayer money -- or overuse, if you well -- is okay?
MS. SANDERS: I'll start with North Carolina. My understanding is that for a political event that that will be reimbursed for any political travel. The President is --
Q: The full rate or the first-class rate that Secretary Price paid out?
MS. SANDERS: I'd have to check on that. But the President is certainly in a very different position. He's not allowed to travel in a different way other than in a secure airplane as Air Force One.
Q: But he doesn't have to go every weekend, does he? I mean, he could stay here and work like former Presidents did.
MS. SANDERS: The President certainly hasn't been there every weekend, and every weekend that he's traveling no matter where he is, the President is working. He's hosted foreign leaders on several of those trips, which have led to some great accomplishments. They've led, certainly, to putting further pressure -- unprecedented pressure -- on North Korea in large part because of the relationship development that's taken place at some of those weekends that you're attacking for.
This is a President that is committed to helping move his agenda forward, and certainly I think that those weekends have been very successful in doing that.
Q: I want to ask about the President's tweet this morning about the Senate Intelligence Committee. Is he frustrated with how long the investigation into alleged Russian election interference is taking?
MS. SANDERS: I think more importantly than the President being frustrated, I think the American people are frustrated. The Senate Intel Committee told us yesterday that, after nearly nine months of investigated -- that's included more than 100 interviews, over more than 250 hours, 4,000 pages of transcripts, 100,000 pages of documents, interviewing officials in the intelligence community who wrote the report on Russian election meddling, interviewing relevant Obama administration officials, and talking to every Trump campaign official they've requested -- it's literally found zero evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
I think that the American people would like them to focus on some other things. I know that we certainly have said this all along, and we're glad that as they continue this process they're coming to the same conclusion.
Q: Thank you, Sarah. Thanks. On the Kurdish vote last week, I'm wondering, the U.S. commanders have regularly praised the Peshmerga for their ability to fight ISIS. What message is the White House and the U.S. government sending to them now by not backing them in their desire for independence?
MS. SANDERS: Look, we've been clear and consistent on that. It hasn't changed, and we're not going to weigh in any further than we already have.
Q: Sarah, does President Trump believe the Senate Intelligence Committee should investigate American media organizations?
MS. SANDERS: I don't know that that's the case, but I do think that we should call on all media to a higher standard. And, certainly, I think I weighed in very clearly what our position is when Jim asked a question earlier.
Q: What did you mean when you said why isn't the Senate Intelligence Committee looking into the fake news networks in our country?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that you have a lot of responsibility, and a lot of times false narratives create a bad environment; certainly aren't helpful to the American people. And you have a responsibility to provide and report fair and accurate details. And when we don't, that's, I think, troubling for all of us.
Q: Sarah, you've said several times that the White House wants to be part of the conversation on bump stocks. The President said himself this week, "We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by." But you also suggested, I think -- and just to clear it up -- that the time to talk about that is after the investigation has gotten to another stage or wrapped up. I mean, if not now, when is it appropriate to start having this conversation about policy?
MS. SANDERS: I haven't said that the investigation has to be fully complete before conversations can take place. But I think we have to be careful that, before we go out and try to talk about things that prevented something, we need to know what caused it in the first place. And we're not there yet. We're still in that process. We certainly want to, again, look at every way that we can prevent anything even remotely close to this from ever happening again. And we want to be part of that process, and we hope to.
Q: If I could just ask one question just to clarify the White House's position on these bump fire stocks. This morning in a couple of television interviews, your colleague Kellyanne Conway suggested that the ATF in 2010 made a decision that these bump stocks were firearms parts and not firearms themselves, and couldn't be regulated under the existing law. Is it the White House's view that that was the wrong decision on the part of the ATF?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of Kellyanne's comments, so I'd have to look at that before I weighed in. I'd want to have all the information in front of me before I could answer that.
But again, I think the bigger point here: We're open to having that conversation. We think that we should have that conversation, and we want to be part of it moving forward.
Q: Sarah, I have two Las Vegas questions. One, is the administration considering overriding the 2010 Obama ATF ruling on bump stocks?
MS. SANDERS: Like I just said, I think that's something that we should look at. We're very open to it, and we want to have that conversation and move forward in the process.
Q: And second, Dina Titus, Democrat congresswoman from Las Vegas, said she personally delivered a letter to a member of White House staff yesterday inviting the President to meet with the Gun Violence Task Force. Did the President see it? Is he going to say yes?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not sure if he saw the letter, but I think we'd certainly be open to having a meeting with a number of different organizations and people that would be involved in this process.
Q: Do you know if he saw the letter?
MS. SANDERS: Again, I'd have to check before I could comment.
Q: Sarah, has the President had even preliminary conversations with congressional leaders about bump stocks? And did he talk with any of the rescuers in Las Vegas about these devices?
MS. SANDERS: I know the conversation came up in the very early stages with some of the members that were traveling yesterday, but nothing definitive. Again, opening up that conversation. And like I've said several times today, that's a discussion that we welcome and that we want to be a part of.
Q: Sarah, over the last couple days, the President has used the words "fear," "hate," "cruelty." And since you're saying you're talking, you're having conversations on different things as it relates to Las Vegas, what is the conversation when it comes to the issue of terror?
You've not talked about it yet. You've not classified it as such. In talking to people from both sides of the aisle, they're saying there's no one settled universal definition for terrorism. But we've seen Timothy McVeigh with Oklahoma City, we've seen Roof with Mother Emanuel in Charleston.
Under all circumstances that we've seen so far, people were intimidated, scared, ambushed military-style in a planned, thought-out effort, be it -- whether it's political or not, they were terrorized. Is this administration willing to start -- since they're having conversations about other things -- was this terror, domestic terror?
MS. SANDERS: I think that's something for the law enforcement communities to define and identify. I think the bigger thing that this administration certainly has been focused on is the prevention and looking at how we can stop things like this from ever happening again. I don't care how you label it, it's something that should never take place in this country, and this President is committed to looking for ways to prevent it.
Q: And lastly, what about --
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I've limited everybody to one question today.
MS. SANDERS: The mayor of San Juan had that shirt saying "NASTY." What does this White House believe? The President went there; it was very controversial, his appearance there.
MS. SANDERS: Actually, it wasn't controversial.
Q: Well, some people --
MS. SANDERS: It was actually widely praised, even by a Democrat governor. I think that it is sad that the mayor of San Juan chose to make that a political statement instead of a time of focusing on the relief efforts.
The President invited her to be part of that conversation. He specifically asked in the meeting where many were present, including a couple dozen other mayors who were very happy with the recovery efforts -- the governor, the congresswoman. He opened the floor up for discussion, and she actually made zero comments. To me, that would have been the time and the place that she should have weighed in and asked for what she needed, and laid out what she was asking for for San Juan. She didn't.
Instead she chose to wait until the President left and then criticize him on TV, which I think is the wrong thing for her to do for her constituents. And I hope next time she's given the opportunity to help her constituents, she'll take it.
Q: Sarah, I have a question for you. You've made very clear that the President is open to the conversation surrounding bump stocks and perhaps other regulations on gun control. Does he want to lead that conversation? Will he get out and use the power of his presidential platform to push for more regulation on, for example, bump stocks, which law enforcement officials have said were used in Vegas?
MS. SANDERS: I think right now the position of the President has been to lead on the effort of uniting our country. We've had a country in mourning, and I think what kind of leaders this President wants to be by what he did yesterday. He went in, he met with the law enforcement officials, he met with the medical teams, he met with the survivors of that horrific tragedy. Obviously, this President wants to be a leader. I think he's demonstrated that. I think he'll continue to do that in this process.
If you want me to get down into the weeds on specific policy, I don't think we're there yet. Right now, we want to lead the effort on bringing our country together and offering comfort to those that have been hurt over the last several days.
Q: And I just clarify, in response to the shooting, Sarah --
MS. SANDERS: Again, I'm going to take -- this is the last one. Mike.
Q: There's some talk that some of the main facilitators of the Iran nuclear deal are significant contenders for the Nobel Peace Prize. Is the White House aware of that? And do you have a thought on these folks being talked about as potential winners?
MS. SANDERS: I'm not sure about the Nobel Peace Prize process, and certainly not as it pertains to that. But I think we've been very clear what our position is on the deal. That hasn't changed just because some people may receive an award for it.
Thanks so much, guys. Have a good day.
END 2:47 P.M. EDT