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Background Press Briefing by Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Agricultural Trade, and Food Assistance Ray Starling, Special Assistant to the President for Technology, Telecom, and Cybersecurity Policy Grace Koh, and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture Rebeckah Adcock on the President's Remarks at the American Farm Bureau Federation's Annual Convention

January 05, 2018

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:34 A.M. EST

MS. WALTERS: Good morning, everyone. So, as you know, we're going to have a background briefing now on the event that the President will be participating in on Monday.

We are going to open up the opening statements to on the record, so I will have the speakers, when they come up, say their name and then spell them for you. So the opening remarks will be on the record, and then question-and-answer will be on background.

Today, I'm joined by two White House administration officials -- who for the questions portion you can cite as senior White House administration officials -- Ray Starling and Grace Koh, and then a USDA administration official, Rebeckah Adcock, who will, again, be underneath the same premise of on the record for opening, background for question-and-answer.

There is an embargo until Sunday evening at 9:00 p.m. So again, the embargo is Sunday night at 9:00 p.m.

With that, I'm going to turn it over to Ray. They will run through the three speakers, and then we will open it up to question-and-answer.

MR. STARLING: Well, thank you, and good morning. I am Ray Starling, just like the bird -- S-T-A-R-L-I-N-G. I'm the Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Agricultural Trade, and Food Assistance on the National Economic Council.

Thank you for being in the room. I realize it's cold outside, and that might have driven your decision in some parts. But I'm glad that you're here to hear about what we're doing Monday and about the work of the Ag and Rural Prosperity Task Force.

That is not, by the way, a perfunctory nod to you. For a guy having grown up in southeast North Carolina on a farm and who has a brother that keeps me very humble -- because he spent the last two days following waterers on the farm -- I'm very blessed to be with you, and I appreciate you paying attention to these issues that impact ag America and rural America.

Hopefully, Monday will lead to even more conversation, but it's been gratifying over the course of the last few weeks to see the media pay attention to rural American and to cite some of the trends and statistics and challenges that we have there. And again, I hope that on Monday we get a chance to lead to even more of that.

My task here is to set the stage a little bit, mainly answering the question of how we got here and why the White House believes the work of the task force is important.

You may recall that Secretary Perdue's first day in office, literally hours after he was sworn in over at the Supreme Court by Justice Thomas, he came to the White House with a group of 15 farmers in tow. And they sat in the Roosevelt Room and had a conversation with the President about the needs of ag America -- what the priorities ought to be there for the administration, and the needs and concerns of rural Americans.

That day, which was within the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, the President ordered Secretary Perdue to come back to him with a roadmap of how we would achieve prosperity in agriculture and in the rural economy, generally, which is admittedly is bigger than the ag sector alone.

The idea here was not only that the President knew rural America was critical to his ascension into the presidency, but that he recognized rural America would have been a part and has to be a part of any broad-based economic success that he would have during his tenure.

The directive to the Secretary was very clear. Number one: Gather input; identify these challenges; talk to folks both on the ground and throughout the administration; make recommendations about the best way we approach those problems across the administration; and get going about the work of tackling those problems.

So the Secretary did just that. Rebeckah, in a moment, will tell you more about the Secretary's process of input gathering, and even more about the general recommendations of this task force that's being submitted to the President, which will be unveiled in full on Monday.

From a very big-picture perspective, I think that what they found will make a lot of sense to folks who are in tune with rural America. I think, number one, that rural America has more than its fair share of challenges.

I'll steal a little thunder from the report. There's a sentence in the opening that states that, "While other sectors of the American economy have largely recovered from the Great Recession, rural America has lagged in almost every indicator."

The administration recognizes that those challenges exist, and is committed to not overlooking them or ignoring them. So that's number one. There's challenges there. It's real.

Number two: There's renowned agreement -- and if I may use a turn of phrase, the middle C of the task force report is going to be that the great economic, perhaps not equalizer, but at least platform provider for an equalization among rural America is connectivity; that high-speed Internet should remain a high priority for the administration.

That is the seminal finding, but it's not the only one. You'll also hear and read about quality-of-life issues, the rural workforce, the technological innovation, and in particular for ag, the biotechnology possibilities that we have and other tools we'll have at our disposal to develop the rural economy. Strategies for addressing these are laid out in the report.

So, A, challenges; B, we have some recommendations of how to greet them or meet them.

And then, number three, I think you'll also see -- and you'll hear this Monday in both the Secretary and the President's remarks -- while there are challenges, no doubt, in rural America, it's still full of promise. I think what we often see communicated about rural America is that there are these isolated pockets of despair that are beyond hope or recovery and that the population exodus from these areas will never be reversed and is just a part of where we are going.

The report makes clear that, at least this administration, that's not what we believe. It's not what we hope and it's not what we believe in the long term. And to be a part of reversing that, unleashing the potential and ingenuity of rural communities is an integral part of halting some of those trends.

That summarizes the task force work at a very high level, but I think it also gives you a sneak peek into what you're going to hear more about from the President and the Secretary on Monday. We'll touch in a little more detail about the event itself. Be aware it's been a least a quarter century since a president addressed the American Farm Bureau Convention. This is their 99th annual meeting, and they have stated to us that the President's participation has clearly amped up interest and even attendance at their convention.

I should also pause to say that American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall -- who will introduce Secretary Perdue at the event, and then Secretary Perdue will introduce the President right around 3:00 p.m. -- he has been, and American Farm Bureau generally, and their staff have been welcoming to us and have been very helpful as putting this group together. So, grateful to them for that.

On the speech, if I were you, I would keep in mind that this is the first major policy address that the President is going to make since the enactment of the tax reform legislation. I'm going to be willing -- even though we're on the record -- to go out on a limb and suggest that there might be a few lines about that in the text of the speech. I also anticipate that the President will acknowledge the opioid epidemic and the attention being devoted already across the administration there.

This is an audience that has warmly welcomed the deregulatory agenda pushed by the President, and I would expect acknowledgement of that on both sides, frankly -- from the American Farm Bureau audience, when the President says what they want to hear, and then certainly the President acknowledging that he has heard what they want.

Keep in mind that the American Farm Bureau was really the lead coordinating private sector entity that were opposed to the last administration's direction on the Waters of the United States interpretation. They literally had a campaign called "Ditch the Rule." And so you hear, I'm sure on both sides of the conversation Monday, that our deregulatory agenda continues to be a priority and continues to be welcomed, I think, by that community.

Even more specific to the aggies and the rural audience in the room on Monday, I expect the President to recognize the significance of this group to our economy, to our national security, and to the social fabric, frankly, of the country, both historically and now. And acknowledging that, we think, is a big deal.

On the policy front, he'll track some of the recommendations in the task force report and express support for them: the connectivity initiative; the notion of putting our forest to even greater use; the notion of minimizing government hurdles that dampen the deployment of technology and, specifically, biotechnology. It is not lost on us that the farm bill expires later this year, and so I would watch for the President's urgings on that.

Before I pivot to Rebeckah, though, let me offer one quick advertisement, and I mean this in all sincerity: Secretary Perdue has done a great job leading this task force. There are really two qualities that he has that were apparent in the work of the group, and one of those is that he understands the needs of this community and connects with them, but then very gratifying from our perspective is that he is a great ambassador for these issues across the administration.

It is not just USDA that has the responsibility in the government to help the folks on our farms and in rural communities. And the Secretary's relationship with other Cabinet members and with other departments has really been an asset for us.

I'll close with a story. Not only is it a good story; it happens to also be true. One morning, when we were doing the work of the task force, I walked into the USDA building, and reporter met me there, and he had this look in his eye. He said, Ray -- Secretary Chao; Secretary Perdue, at that time; Secretary Price; Ajit Pai -- all these people have come into the building this morning. What is going on? And what was going on was that Secretary Perdue was having an informal breakfast with folks to talk about this topic and these issues.

And so, in those conversations, there was an extremely high amount of genuine interest from folks who have, obviously, many competing priorities, and they were very dedicated to this work.

So, Rebeckah, who has done tremendous work on this, along with many others of the Secretary's staff, she can come forward and talk a little bit more about the unveiling of the task force report and the timing of that.

MS. ADCOCK: Good morning, everyone. How are you? I'll give you my name; it's Rebeckah Adcock. It's spelled a little differently: R-E-B-E-C-K-A-H A-D-C-O-C-K.

I serve as senior advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture at USDA, and I also lead a team -- it would be very unfair for me to suggest that I am the sole proprietor of the task force and the task force report -- but I have helped lead a team at USDA to get organized around the report and around their events that USDA and the Secretary have led for the entirety of the federal government, in this space, on rural prosperity. And the task, which Secretary Perdue will be quick to remind us all, was not executive suggestion, it was an executive order.

And the order was to create a footprint and a work plan and a roadmap for rural America as it relates to the federal family and how we would get our own house in order, at the federal level, to do what we can, preferably with existing resources or with very thoughtful new initiatives to build out how we better serve rural America -- where they have been left behind; where we know there are things that we can do better -- and build out a path for them, working with state folks, working with local entities, working with tribes, working with the private sector, to pull together all the resources and all the equities that we have in order to empower the rural communities to do better for themselves, especially those within agriculture.

With that, as was mentioned by Ray, there were five broad categories of concern. And those categories of concern will include recommendations. And some of those recommendations you would expect to see fairly quick, short-term actions relating to the individual recommendations. Again, more to follow. We will be rolling those things out over time.

The five areas of concern, I'm going to call them, are e-connectivity, which is this notion of connecting rural America robustly in a commercial manner -- not just the coverage maps that you see when you're going to buy your cell phone, but what really is the quality of the connection to the Internet, to the e-economy in rural America.

And we know that at least 39 percent of America does not have a sufficient, robust, certainly not commercial level of connectivity. And that's got to improve because it really is the pillar. It's foundational to the rest of the concerns in the report because all of them have elements that require those rural communities, those farms, those businesses, those industries to have that connection.

The next issue that we covered is quality of life. And that can cover everything from the availability of health services, including issues relating to opioids and the crisis that is happening largely in rural America, to educational resources, to recreational access -- all those things that you think of -- what's the quality of life in my community and why do I want to live there.

Next up, we talk about the reliable rural workforce, and that's kind of a little bit of a tongue twister there. But we have to look across the board and discover what are we doing. How are we training rural people or people who want to come into rural America for the right jobs that are in rural America? And how are meeting those labor needs not just based on what we know, but what we know is coming? There's a lot of things in that package, including things relating to the President's initiative on apprenticeships and other sorts of things there.

Next up, we talk about the technological innovation that can empower rural America. And that is everything, again, back to how we're educating people in rural America or to serve rural America, to biotechnology, to other technologies, to access to technologies, to being part of the global commerce workplace, and all of those things that build on what are those opportunities that we can send out and use and enable for rural America and make sure they have equal access. Not that we're trying to make them into cities or suburban areas, but that we are letting the good parts of rural America that we know are there, that don't need to be changed, and empower them in the 21st century.

Next, we talk about economic development. And economic development relates to everything -- a little foreshadowing here -- to the traditional notions of infrastructure and some of the things that you've heard coming out of the White House and other places relating to how we're going to deal with modernizing those things, to access to capital.

We've learned that not just in rural America, but particularly in rural America, if you're small enough or if you're big enough, there's programs, opportunities, places. People are willing to take a chance on you and invest in you. But in rural America, and in small business, and in medium-sized businesses throughout the nation, sometimes it's the folks in the middle that have the hardest time justifying being small enough, big enough, or having people take a chance on them.

And so we're going to look at some ways to help improve that, enable that, and partner particularly with the private sector to make those things happen.

We also talk about the use and empowering or restoring the use and access of resources, whether it's forest resources, whether it's recreational resources, whether it's mineral resources. Those things lie largely in rural America. And we've seen an erosion of the ability of the most localized -- the people most interested in maintaining and restoring and accessing and benefitting from those resources not being able -- or being hamstrung, to some extent by regulations and other factors as well -- not being able to access those things.

So we're releasing that back to them, letting them have the power -- the reasonable power -- to do the right thing, but use those resources to their advantage to help build their economies and create a system where we're empowering them to be the beneficiaries of their own homes.

That's foreshadowing for the categories that we'll be talking about, the things the you'll be hearing the Secretary talk about, the things you'll see in the report. And you will again see some short-term actions in those spaces.

We will also be having a longer-term strategy to build out further things. One of the key components to the report is the element of interagency. You're hearing from me at USDA, because as the chairperson, the Secretary was tasked with pulling all this information together and representing it to the President on behalf of the taskforce.

However, USDA alone will never be able to execute this entire report. Much of it is not even in our jurisdiction, and that's good. What that means is that the federal family is going to be expected and asked to act together in a coordinated fashion to figure out how we accomplish these actions. And because the report was endorsed by the entirety of the folks that were listed on the executive order, that demonstrates the commitment of the entirety of the federal family to make things better and to do what we can to get our own house in order to empower rural America.

As we were working on finalizing the report, helping facilitate getting it completed and printed, and some of the things that you'll see and getting ready to post online, one of the staff assisting to do that, who is not a political person at USDA, acknowledged -- like me, from rural America -- if you accomplish half the things on this list, you will transform rural America; if you accomplish everything on this list, you will have fully changed the landscape of rural America.

And so when we thought about that, we all paused -- we were sitting around the table, and here we were talking about the mechanics of printing and editing, and things like that -- and we all were like, huh, that is true.

I mean, there literally are things in here that are not new. They shouldn't be remarkable, but they haven't been put all in one place and they haven't been quantified, and they haven't been measured. And they haven't been -- the authority assumed to make them happen. And if we do that, and the stakeholders and the public hold us accountable to do that, we are very hopeful that we really can see a change, an uplift, and bring rural America and agriculture into the 21st century.

So with that, I'm going to turn it over to Grace who is going to go into a lot of detail on e-connectivity and some of opportunities, and maybe a foreshadowing of some of the actions we might expect to see in the short term, since that is foundational to the report.

MS. KOH: Thanks, Rebeckah, and thank you all for giving me the chance to tell you how excited the White House is to be able to respond to the recommendations of the Rural Prosperity Task Force report.

This is -- I guess -- well, you'll first notice, I'm probably the only one without an accent. My name Grace Kho. (Laughter.) That's spelled G-R-A-C-E K-O-H. I'm the Special Assistant for Technology, Telecommunications, and Cybersecurity at the National Economic Council.

As I said, the White House is very excited about being able to respond, particularly to the challenge of bringing broadband to rural America. This is the platform on which much of this report is built, and we believe that we have to meet this challenge in order to be able to bring some of the promises and recommendations that this report highlights.

The actions that we're going to be talking about here are actions that we are going to take for quite some time. This is not going to be a sprint. This will be a long time of -- a long process of figuring out how to exactly move the federal government in the right place in order to be able to get broadband to rural Americans. And this is not new work; this is work that has been ongoing for quite some time.

The reason why it is so difficult in most instances is simply the low density of populations in rural communities. The FCC has estimated that about 39 percent of rural Americans do not have access to quality broadband. That is primarily because when you have very little incentive to build out because the costs of deployment are high, and very little promise of return because the revenue base is small, it makes it difficult to actually justify a business case for building that out. Well, we have to change that.

What we're going to do is we've decided to take three work streams in order to begin immediately to start working on trying to make differences in that deployment equation.

One is obviously the federal permitting questions. Federal permitting is a much bigger -- has a much bigger impact on rural broadband deployment than local permitting than it does on, say, suburban or urban broadband deployment. In rural deployments, you have to traverse a lot more of federal land and you do end up having to work through greater and longer federal permitting processes. And we'll seek, in particular, to make sure that those permitting processes that make sense for other utilities or infrastructure, but do not make sense for broadband, are taken out of the way and removed.

Additionally, we'll also be looking to make sure that we are using every federal asset that can be leveraged in order to be able to provide broadband to rural America. So things like towers that have already been built, for example, on federal lands, we'll make them available for collocation of antennas for cell phone coverage.

We will seek to use dark fiber that the agencies have already deployed, in order to be able to allow rural providers to interconnect and provide service to communities that have not had access to broadband before.

We'll also look at funding sources. There are funding sources for both broadband deployment and adoption scattered across the federal government. We will be looking to see how we can coordinate those funding sources and bring them together in order to get the maximum effect for the subsidy.

So there's at least three work streams that will take quite a bit of time and effort all across the federal government, but we know that we have the commitment from all of the agencies across the Trump administration.

We are hoping at this point to have a few immediate actions to start right away, responding to some of these questions. And certainly, we anticipate being able to make towers and other infrastructure from the Department of Interior available for collocation. This should allow -- this should cut down on tower construction costs and allow for providers to get their plant and equipment out much more quickly.

We are also looking to finally implement the congressional directive of 2011 in standardizing forms and contracts for antenna siting on federal buildings. This is something that this administration really wants to get done and make it easier for broadband providers to get out there to know with certainty what the process will be for collocating antennas on federal buildings.

We expect to continue to find ways to move the needle slowly, incrementally, but we expect also then to be able to change the face of broadband in rural America and to cut down on that percentage of Americans who do not have access slowly but surely.

I can say that this is a problem that we have been working on for quite some time, and there has been a lot of research done. What we would like to do in this administration is execute on all of the work and the policies that have been -- and the recommendations that have been developed over the past administrations at the FCC, where a good deal of broadband work has been already looked at by Ajit Pai, and we're hoping to actually make a difference on this front in this administration.

MS. WALTERS: Before we take questions, for those of you who are on the phone, I understand there was a muting issue and you all couldn't hear portions of the beginning. There will be a transcript that's released following. We're now going to take questions, which is on background. And the opening remarks will be on the record, and I'll make sure that's noted in the transcript that will be distributed following this.

So for anyone who is on the phone and could not hear the opening remarks, you will receive a transcript -- everyone will -- following.

But now we will open the floor to questions, and these will be on background, cited to administration officials from their respective agency.

Q: Thank you. First off, will it be possible to get a copy of the report before the President's remarks for our coverage needs?

And then, on the broadband question, is the administration with this document making a goal of a hundred percent access to broadband by the end of the President's term? And what's the timeframe on, sort of, the majority of folks in rural communities who may actually be able to get broadband?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, in terms of the distribution of the report and the mechanics of that, you want to handle that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the plan -- my understanding of the plan is that the communications folks are going to be releasing the report in between the Secretary's remarks and the President's remarks, so probably that early afternoon, midday notion on that day.

Q: If you want coverage of the report --

Q: It's a lot easier if --

Q: -- you should give it to us earlier. That's just a tip.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The metric question is a good one. But if I'm going to be frank, I don't think that we're ready to put out a metric at this point in time. I think obviously a hundred percent would be fantastic. But we're also going to be realistic about what we can do.

There are going to be people who are actually living at vacation homes and a whole number of nuanced data sets that are probably going to be difficult to cover, so I think you'll be looking for -- I think we'll be looking to produce metrics, I think, as we have a closer look at the problem and have more concrete recommendations to bring forward.

Q: Is he actually going to put in a request for a trillion dollars to do this? It's been quoted. I mean, that's the number that's been quoted.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you're referring to the conversation about the infrastructure effort, generally. My quick remarks on that are: Number one, I think we'll know more about the infrastructure agenda when we get back from this weekend.

The second thing I would say is, for us there are a number of material things we can for connectivity and broadband deployment with or without the infrastructure bill, with or without a major legislative initiative. And so we are hoping to start those as early as next week.

Q: But how much is it going to cost? Any feel for that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You want to address that? Or your thoughts on that, at least.

Q: I know it's not going to be happening in a week, but how much is it going to cost?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a number of estimates that are out there that we will have to try to look at. I'd direct you to -- we have not produced our own estimate of what the costs are going to be at this point in time. So we'll be looking to do -- as you know, obviously, we're going to try to put some rigor around the analysis. And so metrics, cost, et cetera, will basically be part of the forthcoming work.

Q: But it won't be cheap.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. (Laughter.) That's fair. That's absolutely fair.

Q: This community, as you know, has been very vocal about its desire to stay in NAFTA and the benefits of NAFTA. Is that something the President will be talking about? And will he express a commitment to NAFTA given that that's something that I know a lot of attendees will be listening to?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, clearly, trade will be on the mind of folks in the room on Monday, and I think you'll hear the President touch upon that. I won't get in front of him, but I think the takeaway is that what we have said all along, throughout the administration with regard to trade, is that this President wants to end the day with agreements and with a standard that is more efficient for markets, that is less distorted, and that gives not only our farmers but our manufacturers and others that participate in the trade economy a fair platform.

The beauty of that test, the beauty of that metric, if you will, or that objective is, at the end of the day, if we're able to do that, regardless of what strategies the President employs to get there -- at the end of the day, if those three things happen, then the first person to benefit from that, in my view, is going to be the American farmer.

So at the end of the day, I don't think our objectives conflict. Does that make sense?

Q: What is the President's view right now about the best way to get there?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, we'll leave that up to the President. Thank you.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: The FCC is currently reconsidering a spectrum rule -- the CBRS spectrum and the 3.5 [GHz] band that would help rural broadband if it remains the same. Is the White House going to be encouraging the FCC not to change that rule?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you know that the FCC is an independent agency, and we do not tend to weigh in heavily on or weigh in directly on open dockets. Obviously, spectrum use is going to be critical to rural broadband rollout, and we hope that there will be equitable consideration for different types of use of spectrum.

I can't say more than that, unfortunately.

Q: Another area where I think there is certainly some concern is about, kind of, the use of immigrants as labor by farmers. Is the President going to address that at all, you know, in that he's pushing for a lot of policies that could potentially cut down on that labor force?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My quick response to that -- I mean, that gets away a little bit from the prosperity report release on Monday, except to say that there is acknowledgement in the administration that a reliable, dependable, legal workforce is an imperative for agriculture, and that that reliance is not lessening any today. In fact, it may be increasing in terms of other employment opportunities rising across the growing economy.

I don't think that will be, on background, a major point made on Monday. But I can tell you, on background, there is acknowledgment of that issue. The Secretary has certainly talked about that before. And in my experience working on that issue across the administration, I think we draw a very, very concrete line between the difference of illegal immigration versus legal, circular migration -- documentable folks here, who are here for a set period of time and who do not overstay the expiration of their visas.

So, in my view, there's a way to accomplish both objectives -- all of the objectives of the administration with regard to immigration generally, but also looking out for the workforce needs in our fields and on our farms.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And it's worth noting that we do speak to that within the workforce part of the report.

Q: Is there talk in the Trump administration about crop subsidies ending -- subsidies for crop insurance?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The answer to that question is well documented in the budget proposal last year. Certainly, the proposal that the administration put out recommended that some savings could be accomplished in the crop insurance title of the farm bill. Interestingly, on background, we will see what the President says about the farm bill and about crop insurance, specifically, on Monday.

But there again, I think any -- what you didn't see in the budget proposal and what I would never expect to see is that we would completely zero or eliminate those tools. Folks here, and certainly the Secretary understands they're an important part of the farm safety net.

Last question.

Q: You said the President is going to touch on trade. But what about the task force report itself? Anything in there about growing export markets or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It does, yes. In multiple sections.

In multiple parts, part of the connecting to the global economy, certainly, relates to -- you have to have trade in order to do that, in order to be effective. There are multiple -- that is a theme, actually, throughout multiple sections of the report, specifically, economic development, e-connectivity, and also in the technology and innovation sector.

Q: But does it propose anything new?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is. It is proposing the robust need to be sure that rural American agriculture is very fairly treated and has access to global markets.


Q: Thank you very much. You mentioned in your opening remarks that the President would talk about the farm bill. Can you give us any sort of a sense of what he'll say? And if you're not able to do that, can you just, sort of, speak broadly about what it means that the farm bill is expiring this year and how the White House is dealing with that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. Yes sir, I'm sorry, were you --

Q: I was going to follow up with one other question, which is just to follow up on Zeke's with regard to the report. My tip of releasing it early is just to help us get information on it.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On that front, from a White House planning perspective, we have a fact sheet that is going through final clearance that we anticipate getting to you by the weekend.

Q: Great.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And then, we'll discuss on the timing of the -- when we can get that report launched.

Q: It was just for the nine o' clock embargo on a Sunday, anything on paper you can give us ahead of time would be helpful to writing it.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you for the question about the farm bill. And there, again, careful not to get in front of the President, I'd say, really, two things. I think it is remarkable that in the year in which the farm bill expires, the President would address that. And certainly, in working with him, he has an awareness of that need and knows that that's a part of a very packed legislative agenda and an interesting year.

The second thing, though, I think I would say is that we're comfortable acknowledging that, at the end of the day, Congress will write the farm bill. We have a lot of confidence in the chairmen of the committees. We have a lot of confidence in Secretary Perdue and his staff to provide the technical assistance that they need. And so, certainly, there are conversations across the administration about what our priorities might be in that conversation, but we're going to be very careful to give Congress the room to operate because we know that's exactly what they need.

Q: Is this an area that you'll be working on extensively? Is it something that you're concerned about?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, yeah -- well, that's a -- no doubt that the farm bill is the seminal piece of ag policy that comes in the form of legislation every five, six, seven years. I think you'll hear from the Department of Agriculture later in this year -- later in the first quarter, some rollout plans. And, again, I'll defer to the Secretary and his staff on that and we'll leave it at that.

Q: So the President weighing in on it will be just sort of, very broadly, we know it's expiring; get to it you guys?

Q: Twenty-one percent cut to the USDA?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I'll -- I think, yes, sir. That's consistent with what I said before. Just very high-level.

Q: Are you all worried about a 21 percent cut to USDA? Isn't that in the budget?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can address the second question. I mean, I think one thing that I'm careful to say to the stakeholders that I deal most closely with, who are the most vested constituents in those programs in the farm bill, is that the objective that the OMB accomplishes when they complete a budget proposal is that they not only set a "here's what we're going to spend," they have very strict rules on themselves about what they want to say.

And so, in the context of a conversation about getting to a budget number that everyone agrees is important in terms of lessening the debt and making sure that we're fiscally responsible as an administration, I do think that's a conversation that can occur within the administration and within the context of the budget process.

However, I don't think it completely supersedes the notion that we will have to have conversations with the Hill about what their priorities are and what the stakeholders are going to insist they get from the Hill.

So, certainly, the Department of Agriculture, and our agricultural interests will not take a disproportionate blow. But, certainly, we won't take a disproportionate pass either, I don't believe. And again, that's in the context of building the budget, not in the context of what may happen at the end of the day -- because it takes both chambers and the President to enact the bill.

Thank you.

END 12:11 P.M. EST

Note: This transcript was embargoed until 9:00 P.M. EST, January 7, 2018.

Donald J. Trump, Background Press Briefing by Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Agricultural Trade, and Food Assistance Ray Starling, Special Assistant to the President for Technology, Telecom, and Cybersecurity Policy Grace Koh, and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture Rebeckah Adcock on the President's Remarks at the American Farm Bureau Federation's Annual Convention Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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