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Gaggle on Background on the Buy American, Hire American Executive Order

April 18, 2017

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Joint Base Andrews

4:50 P.M. EDT

Q: On the EO, are you asking agencies to consider getting rid of the lottery system?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that the question is -- the lottery system right now has no regard for skill, wages, salary, et cetera. So if there is a way to not have it be random but take into consideration all of those things, that's something that should be pursued. What can be done administratively and what can be done legislatively is part of what we're asking agencies to tell us. They've never been asked to go through before and look at all of the reg, all of the rules, of all of the guidance documents and come back with the answer to that question.

Traditionally, you can have a similar effect by raising the fees or the wages paid to H1B workers because it wouldn't be a random lottery anymore because a lot of the folks that benefit from a random lottery that wouldn't be able to anymore.

Q: Can you repeat that? I'm so sorry, I didn't hear.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So if you raise the fees or the wages paid to H1B workers, it has the effect of replacing a random lottery system, because even if you're still doing a lottery, it's not random because you're excluding from that lottery folks that are paid well beneath the market wage, or, if you raise the H1B fees, companies that are not looking for skilled workers -- because if they're looking for skilled workers, foreign workers, you're obviously willing to pay a premium. If you're not willing to, then I suggest that you perhaps have a different idea in mind.

Q: What do you say to the criticism, one, that this is ultimately going to have the adverse effect, that ultimately you're going to look for skilled laborers from outside of the country, and two, that the people who want to see action, that's not actually demanding any action, it's just asking for a review?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The irony of the second one is you have reporters saying, why an executive order? Why not just pick up the phone and tell them to do it? Well, that's the point. The most muscular thing you can do is an executive order. So I'm starting on your second question first.

Q: -- than an executive order?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The best thing that you can do in the realm of administrative action is an executive order. And so agencies now know that when they're asked to give us the full, total menu of all options, it's because the President of the United States has demanded it and specifically demanded it in the context of an executive order which says it's the policy of the government to promote job opportunities and higher wages for American workers.

And so specifically on the wage point, let's say you're going to prioritize higher wages for American workers, you're telling these agencies to find ways to avoid allowing guest workers to be used at beneath-market pay.

So an executive order is a very muscular way of getting the agencies to begin that process. And remember, if you go back to the Obama administration, they did some rule-making on guest worker policy and it wasn't done through the executive order process. And nobody said with that that it wasn't strong action. Of course, it was a strong action in the other direction. We're going to be even stronger than that, though, because this is done under the cover of a President's executive order.

To your first point -- she asked another question -- so you do get some criticism, that's true, from employers who rely on contract laborers who are trying to cut labor costs. But the job of the United States government is not to be representative to -- and companies will always try to get an advantage by cutting labor costs. That's the job of a company. It's not the job of the American government to have a race to the bottom trying to help any particular company reduce labor costs to the lowest degree possible. It's the job of the United States government to represent the interest of the nation as a whole, and the interests of the nation as a whole is to have higher wages paid to American workers, in particular, or in general, and STEM-trained American workers specifically.

We actually have -- to finish the part of your question about looking elsewhere -- we actually have a massive supply of American workers who are trained in STEM -- a lot of great literature and research is done in this area -- that graduates from college with STEM degrees, not able to find employment, or, conversely, they worked in a STEM field for many, many years and laid off in the prime of their career. So the evidence of that point is clearly substantial.

Q: -- today said that it was hard for them to find enough trained workers to do the kind of jobs that they have in the U.S.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Specifically, are you referring to STEM jobs or a different kind of field?

Q: -- the kind of jobs --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- tech field, for instance, there are tens of thousands of tech layoffs on an annual basis. So are we saying that those workers, the one who are laid off, have lost their entire skill training and career?

Just imagine for a second, you're one of the tens of thousands of laid-off tech workers, watching TV, being told there aren't American workers trained to do these jobs. That must strike you as a very incongruous statement when you yourself have been laid off. But the point about -- if a company says it's hard to find a worker to do a job, any particular job, the answer to that is not to use immigration policy as a substitute for training and employing our own workers. That's why we had Gateway Technical College at the event today to highlight the need for vocational education in our country.

So regardless of which thing is true in a particular circumstance, the answer still isn't to bring in low-cost labor. In other words, if an American worker is available, hire them and hire them at an appropriate wage. If an American worker is not available, the solution is not to bring in another worker from another country to do a job, the solution is vocational education and training.

Q: So two follow-ups on that. You're talking about -- let's accept your premise that there are domestic workers that are capable of doing this. Two questions. Why not just do an executive order that raises the fees as you have described, enacting that policy instantly? That's the first question. And secondly, on this issue of the older workers, why not incentivize through the tax system, or create some program in terms of educational subsidies that gives American companies an incentive to hire these older workers who, as we know, are often kicked to the curb by tech companies?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the discount for hiring an H1B worker over an American worker to be -- is $40,000. I won't get right now into specific cases, but there's some high-profile examples where large numbers of American workers were laid off and replaced by foreign guest workers. And the wages kind of ranged between $20,000 and $40,000. So it's very hard for workers to compete with a $20-$40,000 wage discount for a worker who comes here on a three-year visa.

Q: -- attack it right now instead of studying the thing.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- your question first. It is not like a -- sometimes you hear like businesses are offering a 1 or 2 percent margin. These are sometimes 40 percent salary discounts.

On the first point, there's a administrative process that has to be followed to get that done. I don't want to get into the details of what that is. I don't want to prejudge the very complex process with respect to rules and regulations. But it was our judgment that we would have the most profound effect in the end by starting with the general instruction to agencies to come up with a full menu of reforms to move forward on.

Q: How soon would you like to have this review done?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, starting immediately. In other words, literally, this afternoon the work has already begun.

Q: But when do you want to hear back?

Q: What's happening this afternoon?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The workers at the agencies are already beginning to do research in response to the President's order.

Q: And when would you like to hear back?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I imagine we'll be hearing back on some possibilities in days, and others in weeks. But the timeline for implementing different kinds of reforms depends on the preexisting architecture of -- again, I don't want to prejudge, but the rulemaking process is a complex one, and different actions -- some require to go through the (inaudible), some don't require going through the (inaudible.) I don't want to tie our hands by elucidating all the possible options, but there are many.

Q: -- Buy America half of this, yesterday you talked about how if after the review of the waivers, specifically, it was found that those are not good deals for America, those waivers, the trade agreements could be either revoked or reformed in some way. Is that -- I didn't see that language specifically in the EO, though maybe I missed it. Is that still something that's a possibility?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- the first ever review of worldwide procurement procedures that includes looking at all of our free trade deals in WTO that affect procurement. And we believe that that will show that it has not been reciprocal, that we basically gutted our own Buy American laws and not for the same amount of sales in return for our products in other countries.

When those determinations come back, logically that would lead to a decision about what aspects of trade deals or WTO arrangements could be revisited. But additionally, the public interest waiver, which is the broadest waiver in Buy American, has been abused the most. And further, by saying that calculating the price of a particular bid that you can take into account the use of dumped steel also means that a lot of folks that are currently winning binds from foreign countries presumably wouldn't be able to win those bids anymore if there's a finding that they're using dumped goods. So that will certainly change a lot of outcomes.

But, look, a lot of this has to do with -- using that same word again -- extremely muscular implementation. And all the agency heads now have to be accountable to the President of the United States. The order putting waivers on their desks, they now have to answer to the President for every decision they may make about a waiver, and that introduces an enormous amount of accountability.

Q: I just want to follow up on Gwen's question. It sounded like what you were saying was that I'm in favor of -- that it's very likely that fees will be raised, the number of H1B visas, or the pendulum may be shifted --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to -- we're going to get a full menu of options from the agencies that will comply with the President's order. But continue.

Q: -- what you were saying was part of the reason to go through the study and to do it that way, in addition to just gathering information and doing the fact-finding, is that it's just a better likelihood of where you kind of think you probably are or leaning towards doing sticking if you run through the full process -- is that kind of a fair way to think about it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean you're -- let me rephrase just so -- we're dealing -- the rules that govern H1Bs are four agencies, four departments, right? You know this. I'll indulge myself in rephrasing. So you have four -- each of them have their own set of rules and regulations. In one case, you have an department that doesn't even have a confirmed head of a department yet. And each of those rules and regulations and memos all have their own governance procedures.

The best hope of having the most comprehensive solution is to give those agencies the ability -- and departments -- to dig deep and come up with the most robust set of options possible and then methodically implement them.

QQ: And then just to follow on Steve's question about the timing -- I think the reason we keep -- it's not to be pesky, it's really to understand. I think -- when, on the background call -- when the 220-day thing -- so I think everyone is thinking is nothing going to happen before 220 days?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, so that's a different thing. So on the procurement side, the thing that's supposed to happen immediately is drastic minimalization of waivers, and especially public interest waivers, and much, much tougher enforcement and much, much more accountability. So, in other words --

Q: And that will happen as soon as a matter of weeks?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In other words, from now on, when any waiver request crosses anyone's desk it has to immediately comply with the terms of the executive order.

Q: Is there a time frame coming up that you can share with us, just that we can keep our eyes on?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, as soon as I get that information I'll let you know. But the --

Q: -- focus on action that is demonstrable action that's going to happen sooner rather than later. What did you say, the drastic minimalization of the public interest waivers be something for us to look at?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, that's right. That's the --

Q: That's something we can assert in our story.

Q: Well before 220 days.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Every executive order -- I'm sorry, every public interest waiver that comes through now has to -- or the request has to comply with the executive order, full stop.

Q: How many people typically?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean, it's a complex patchwork of projects across state, local and federal that have any kind of federal --

Q: Can you retroactively review existing ones and retroactively deny?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to give you an answer to that without being better informed on the question.

Okay, so then on the -- so all the reports and things that are 220 days out should best be understood as monitoring the progress and the success in accomplishing the immediate change. So that's the very important point, is that immediately, we're saying, comply with these executive instructions with every waiver that comes across your desk. And then, some days later, we're going to check in on your reports -- to figure out how to maximize accountability and to give us the broadest range of information about what further actions had to be taken.

On the immigration piece, "as soon as practical" means just that. When a President issues and executive order and it says "move as soon as practical," then that is what is going to happen. And so as soon as we're able to move is exactly how soon we will move. In other words, we will move -- how do I put this -- whatever the quickest responsible time frame possibly is, it will be that time frame and no slower.

Q: When you talk about muscular -- if you could expand on that. What does that mean? I mean, is that basically speaking more loudly to your agencies, or does that carry legal standard by having an executive order to help if it gets tied up in court, say?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, this is -- so there's nothing litigable here. In other words, the directing agencies in the case of -- let's just -- the immigration piece, for instance. We're fortunate in that with visa and immigration law, that we have extraordinarily robust laws already on the books. And in fact, you look up the citation that's in these executive order referring to the entry of foreign labor. And so directing agencies the o immediately enforce all of the various rules and restrictions governing entry of workers from abroad is against -- it's not litigable. I mean, you're just saying, use the laws and tools you have right now to the greatest extent possible to protect American workers. So that is an immediate muscular instruction. "Muscular" is just the term I'm choosing to use to --

Q: -- ask one thing?


Q: You're talking to your own agencies, right? So they report to you. So why do you need to have an executive order to make them do something, since they work for you, right? I mean, I'm missing something maybe, because I thought an executive order went beyond that, that you're creating some sort of legal justification for a thing that doesn't do --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: An executive order is a signal to every single worker in the federal government, including career workers -- everyone across the federal government that it is a order from the President of the United States, memorialized in writing, with all of the enormous legal ramifications of it being an executive order in terms of the chain of command in the executive branch.

I would probably rephrase this -- I would say -- legal ramifications, I would say, just -- the administrative ramifications of saying that this is an order from the President of the United States. There is no higher statement of executive direction than the form of an executive order. And so when you're dealing with -- look at, like, our immigration order on border security, which was an executive order, and look at how much of an effect that has had being in the form of an executive order.

Q: But it was litigated.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, we're talking about --

Q: But it was, right? This is different.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're talking about a whole bunch of different things, but the executive order on border security has -- to my knowledge, nothing in it has been subject to litigation. But regardless -- in other words, the executive order on border security and the one on interior immigration enforcement. But regardless -- we're getting a little bit off track with, like, all this.

Q: Was there anything that you seriously considered in one of your drafts for this that was removed because of the potential for litigation?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, because the absolute best way to get the best result is the formula that's in this executive order, period. And remember, we've done a great number of different executive actions and each executive action requires a different approach.

Like, for instance, in the case of -- to cite an obvious example that I know is on your mind, in the case of -- travel restrictions, the last stipulates it must be done by presidential proclamation. So everything just depends upon lawyers' best judgment about what is the most appropriate way to construct something to have the best policy outcome.

Q: Just to clarify something you said, you said that you didn't want to speak about what he can go back and renegotiate.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He asked me a question that --

Q: Existing waivers.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- that I haven't -- he asked me a question that I haven't contemplated or spoken --

Q: Yesterday -- the guidance that you guys put out yesterday says, "If it turns out America is a net loser because of those free trade agreement waivers, which apply to almost 60 countries, those waivers will be promptly renegotiated or revoked." I'm just trying to understand.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He was asking a different question.

Q: The public interest waivers.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you two are having a different conversation now.

Q: What's the difference between these waivers, then?

Q: They're entirely different waivers for us, because --

Q: Then I don't -- this just says waivers of Buy American.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're, I think, talking about free trade deals. And I believe you're quoting the senior administration official who said something about how in the course of investigating free trade deals, that if provisions in those trade deals proven to be harmful to Buy American, then we could renegotiate or even rescind those provisions. I believe the question that you asked was --

Q: There are waivers that are written into the covenants of the trade deals, is what you're saying.

Q: Yeah.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, that's the question that you're asking.

Q: -- the public interest waivers that you were -- as part of the --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The public interest waivers are part of federal law governing Buy America.

Q: For bidding.


Q: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's for bidding.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And you asked a question about some kind of a --

Q: Okay, so I'm just forgetting that one is for free trade agreements --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. You had a different question about sort of a preexisting waiver under Buy American law, could it be revisited in the case of like an ongoing contract or something. And I just sort of hadn't really studied that question.



Q: Thank you. Appreciate your coming back. Thanks for coming back.

Q: Sarah, really quickly, did you get an answer to whether the President submitted his taxes?

MS. SANDERS: I will before we land. Do you all have any other follow-ups from earlier?

Q: Do you know what the dairy thing he was talking about was? The President, the fight with Canada?

MS. SANDERS: So there was a story in I believe The Washington Post, and we're aware of it, keeping an eye, monitoring it, and reviewing it is essentially where it stands right now.

Q: Is the President talking to Trudeau? I mean, if you call out Canada in a speech like that, are they talking on the plane by any chance?

MS. SANDERS: I haven't been back there, I've been back here with you guys. So I'll find out if anything -- I'm sure we would alert you all.

Q: Bloomberg and AP, and I think Reuters all have dairy stories out, so we're definitely --

Q: Yes.

MS. SANDERS: -- cheese, and many other dairy products.

Q: Everybody likes milk and cheese. What about the lactose intolerant?

Q: What about the curds? How did we get --

Q: I have one follow on Turkey that we didn't get to ask. Given all the backlash that you guys are getting about this call to Turkey, do you have any regrets about making that call?

MS. SANDERS: No. Again, the President is putting Americans' safety first and foremost, and why would he ever regret taking steps to protect Americans?

Q: Could you have done that call without congratulating him, or taking a step toward enhancing his own powers that some people are very worried aing democracy?

MS. SANDERSE: It's about developing the relationship and being able to have that open conversation, and that's what they did. And no, he wouldn't have any regrets about that.

Q: Any further update on North Korea? Has the President talked to his advisors for an update or anything like that?

MS. SANDERS: He's continuing to be regularly updated and monitoring that situation very closely.

Q: You don't have any kind of timing guidance or next-steps guidance on North Korea that you can share?

MS. SANDERS: I think we've made pretty clear that the President is not going to lay out a plan one way or the other. But again, he's keeping a very close eye, as well as interagency communication, watching that situation very closely.

Q: No further calls to the Chinese that you can --

MS. SANDERS: Not in the last hour.

Q: One very quickly on Georgia. Does the President see this as a referendum on his first 100 days?

MS. SANDERS: I wouldn't use the word "referendum." I think he hopes to have a Republican elected to that seat, and hopefully it will be someone to follow in Tom Price's footsteps and be a leader from that district. And so that's what he's looking forward to seeing whether that plays out tonight.

Q: How do you plan to mark the 100 days of the presidency?

MS. SANDERS: We'll have updates coming on that soon and probably throughout that week.

Q: He'll travel?

MS. SANDERS: We don't have any announcements on it at this time.

Q: What did you say?

MS. SANDERS: We don't have any announcements on it at this time.

Q: A speech?

MS. SANDERS: You guys always do this, you all trade off asking in different ways. But nice try, I like the enthusiasm.

Q: Any new date set for the Paris discussion?

MS. SANDERS: Not yet, but we'll keep you guys posted.

Q: We heard as soon as tomorrow.

MS. SANDERS: It could be as soon as tomorrow, but I know that they're working on trying to find a time that works for everybody.

Q: It's fair to say, without any more details, that you expect a week's, several days' worth of events leading up to the marking of the 100 days? He sees it as an important landmark?

MS. SANDERS: I don't know if there will be events, but I know, for instance, a lot of you guys have stories and a lot of the networks have shows that are specific to that all week long. So I would imagine we weigh in on some of those activities that you all have created for us.

Q: Thank you.

MS. SANDERS: You bet.

Q: Thanks.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Is this on the record? I'm sorry.

MS. SANDERS: My part is on the record. Thank you.

END 5:17 P.M. EDT

Donald J. Trump, Gaggle on Background on the Buy American, Hire American Executive Order Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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