Press Briefing by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:18 P.M. EDT
MS. MCENANY: Hello, everyone. Democrats in Congress failed to act in the best interests of Americans hardest hit by this pandemic. Amid inaction, President Trump stood up for every American who, through no fault of their own, needed relief.
Politics as usual should find no place during this pandemic, but Democrats rejected multiple clean bills to provide relief. The American people are tired of games. They seek leadership, and President Trump delivered.
This weekend, President Trump took executive action designed to provide the relief Democrats have denied to those who need it most. Through four executive orders, he took the following steps:
On the payroll tax, he deferred payments of the employee portion of certain payroll taxes from September 1st through the end of 2020.
On unemployment assistance, states will provide 25 percent cost sharing, amounting to a total of $400 per week in benefits through the end of the year.
And then, third, he extended the eviction protections. President Trump will direct HUD to prevent evictions resulting from financial hardships caused by the virus, doing everything in his executive capacity to make sure those renting and those homeowners are protected.
Finally, on student loans, he extended 0 percent interest and suspended loan payments through the end of the year.
The bottom line is that these actions will help Americans. President Trump is for the American people, and Democrats failed to deliver.
Also, earlier this year, hundreds of Americans — working men and women — at the Tennessee Valley Authority — the TVA — were told that they would lose their jobs to lower-paid foreign workers imported from abroad, and then ser- — suffered the further indignity of training their foreign replacements.
President Trump boldly and resolutely intervened in defense of these hardworking Americans — rallying to their case, rushing to their aid, and taking action to restore their jobs. He invited laid-off workers and their representatives to the White House, and then he fired the chairman of the board of the TVA and one other board member.
President Trump offered an ultimatum: The firings would continue until the cruel and heartless decision to fire the hardworking Americans was reversed. TVA did reverse. Layoffs have been canceled, and tech workers have been rehired.
In the words of Gay Henson, president of the Engineering Associates, IFPTE, Local 1937 — the labor union representing the 2- — the 2,200 highly skilled professionals employed by the TVA — in Ms. Henson's words, "The President's personal intervention saved these jobs, restored the workers to their rightful place, and set TVA on the path to returning to its mission of service to both the workers at the TVA and to the people of this country."
And, with that, I'll take questions. Yes.
Q: Kayleigh, thank you. Starting right there with the President's actions over the weekend: How quickly can Americans expect to see that extra $400 of unemployment insurance?
MS. MCENANY: So, we hope to see it quickly and close to immediately. I don't have an exact readout for you on time, but a lot of this will depend on states and them applying. Because as you know, it's 75 percent federal government covering and 25 percent the states. And they can use CARES funding or even existing unemployment funds for that $100, but it will require an application process.
Q: And given that part of it is up to the states and the application process, is it possible that there will be a delay and that some individuals won't see this relief at all?
MS. MCENANY: We will be working around the clock to make sure there's not a delay. But any delay that does exist, it's important to note where that delay and the responsibility rests, and it's with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who — they were offered a clean extension — not of $400 of unemployment benefits, but $600 — and it was roundly rejected by Democrats.
So this President stood up for the American worker at a time when Democrats refused to do so.
Q: And just to be very clear: You're saying that you're going to work around the clock and want it to get to Americans quickly. Are we talking weeks? Are we talking a month? Can you pinpoint the timeline you're —
MS. MCENANY: I can't pinpoint a timeline, other than we'll be working around the clock. And we encourage Democrats on the Hill to come back. Secretary Mnuchin has said he's willing to review any proposal, because the American people deserve better than the games and partisanship they've seen from Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and their Democrat colleagues.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. Two questions, just to follow up on what Kristen was asking: Is there a mechanism by which the federal government can provide the $300 immediately, even if states don't provide the $100?
MS. MCENANY: Well, it's important and, in fact, required by statute that 25 percent of that money be provided by states, and the 75 percent is what we can do from the federal government's side.
I would note: States can look to CARES Act funding as a way to bring that $100 forward. They can also look to the general fund. But we will be pursuing every creative way possible to make sure that the preeminent priority prevails, and that is making sure that this money gets to America's workers.
Q: And then the orders that the President — that doesn't address funding for small businesses or for schools or stimulus checks. Does he still want legislation to address all of those things? And is he willing to negotiate with Democrats?
MS. MCENANY: He absolutely would love to see both of those things. School funding is very important, and he's been for a second round of direct payments.
So we encourage Democrats to really negotiate with us in good faith. So far, they have not done so — in fact, moving further away from us rather than towards us. Negotiations work by coming towards one another, and it's incumbent upon Democrats to do that.
Q: But they say they've come down from $3 trillion to $2 trillion. Is the White House willing to go up from 1 to something else?
MS. MCENANY: They've still put in several nonstarters. They've never put forward a serious proposal. And the notion — before they claimed to have come down, they actually went up, and then they wanted $100 billion in school funding. We said, "Okay, we'll give you more than you asked for — $105 billion," to which was no longer acceptable.
So they've been fundamentally unserious with each and every one of their — their offers in this negotiation.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. A number of Democrats, but also Republican Senator Ben Sasse has suggested these executive actions are unconstitutional. Can you walk us through what the White House is using as a legal rationale for the President to step in here? And would you be able to share the legal opinions?
MS. MCENANY: Yes, I absolutely can do that. First, I would note that what we are doing is entirely within the executive capacity of the President.
On student loans, section 2A — 2, subsection A — of the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003, which is 20 U.S.C. § 1098(bb), authorizes the Secretary to waive or modify provisions of student financial assistance programs to ensure that individuals who've been affected by the National Emergency are not worse off financially. There's another statute for that one — section 432 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 — which gives broad authority to the Secretary.
On unemployment, the Stafford Act 42 U.S.C. § 5174 says, the President, after a state applies for it, can provide assistance to people who have been adversely affected by a major disaster. These are often known as "Other Needs Assistance" or "ONA."
On payroll tax authority, 26 U.S.C. § 7508A plainly authorizes the Treasury Secretary to provide any taxpayer that has been affected by federally declared disaster with an extension of up to a year. This was used before, when the Secretary extended the individual filing deadline for 2019 taxes from April to July.
And finally, for evictions, the authority would be suggesting that HHS and HUD consider whatever legal authorities they have to protect Americans. And also, the President merely instructed in that EO that we should do everything within the lawful capacity of the executive branch to protect Americans from evictions.
Q: Kayleigh, on China, is the administration planning to respond to the new sanctions that China announced this morning on several lawmakers and other people in the United States?
MS. MCENANY: So, I won't get ahead of the President on any actions, but we are certainly aware of the announced sanctions. And instead of taking meaningful actions, such as immediately repealing the national security law and stopping the sys- — the systematic repression of Uyghurs, the Chinese Communist Party opted to respond with this symbolic and ineffectual action.
And a growing number of nations around the globe are demanding real action from Beijing. The ball is in the Chinese Communist Party's court. This President has stood strongly against China, and he'll continue to do so.
Q: Is there any discussion, Kayleigh, of delisting Chinese companies on the U.S. Stock Exchange?
MS. MCENANY: Again, I won't get ahead of the President on any official announcements.
Q: Thank you. The President said, over the weekend, that he had heard from Democrats about wanting to restart these negotiations. Who exactly did he hear from?
And then, also, his tweet this morning, regarding — he said that he had his — he said that Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi had his number in regarding — regarding negotiations. Does that mean he is going to play a larger role in this process going forward? Or is it still going to be Secretary Mnuchin and the Chief of Staff leading?
MS. MCENANY: Well, they speak on the President's behalf. He's been actively engaged in the negotiations and working closely with Secretary Mnuchin and the Chief of Staff.
Democrats should come to the table. Their immediate statement in the aftermath of the President issuing these EOs says that they would like to meet halfway. But, you know, those are empty words from Democrats that they'd like to meet halfway because so far they've just gone in the other direction.
Q: So who — did anybody reach out to him, and —
MS. MCENANY: I'm not going to go through the President's call logs, but you guys can ask him later today if you'd like. He'll have a press briefing at about 5:30.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. Secretary Pompeo has raised the issue of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan with his counterpart. Does that mean that the administration now considers the intelligence on this secure or clear? And, if so, does the President plan to raise it with President Putin?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, so on the part about Secretary Pompeo, I'd refer you to the State Department. That was a New York Times story. So in terms of his personal conversations, I would refer you there. But on the part of the President, he — this was unverified, not conclusory, as the New York Times initially reported.
The President will always act in the interest of our troops, and look no further than the killing of Soleimani and al-Baghdadi, which brought vindication to hundreds of U.S. servicemen and women who lost their lives overseas.
Q: Just to be clear: Does that mean that you did — that Pompeo did not raise this? Does that mean that the —
MS. MCENANY: I would refer you to State Department.
Q: But are the two sides seeing this — seeing the intelligence as different here and the State Department?
MS. MCENANY: Again, you're asking me to verify reporting. That would be in the realm of the State Department.
But rest assured this President will always act in the best interest of our troops.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. Back on the executive orders the President signed this weekend: As a candidate, Donald Trump criticized fairly sharply Barack Obama's use of executive orders and faulting him for failing to reach deals with members of Congress. How are the President's actions this weekend any different from President Obama's?
MS. MCENANY: They're a lot different when you consider the fact that President Barack Obama utilized executive order to push forward a policy that he denied he had the right to push forward 23 times on DAPA and on DACA. He said, at least 23 times, "I don't have the power to do this," and then he went on to do just that.
I've already listed out and enumerated the various legal authorities on the part of the President. And in terms of deal making, I would note that the CARES Act was landmark legislation, you know, at the heat — at really the height of this pandemic, that brought relief to the American people. And that was negotiated within one week, from first drafting to enactment.
And by comparison, if we want to go back to President Obama, the American Recovery Act during the Great Recession took roughly three months from inception to enactment as law, under single-party control. This President managed to push the CARES Act through divided government — a very big accomplishment on the part of the President.
Q: Kayleigh, the deal that the President announced late last month with Kodak to make new drugs in the United States is apparently on hold now amid allegations of insider trading. Is the President concerned that his infrastructure here is being misused, that the Defense Production Act funds are potentially being misused? Would he pull the plug on the Kodak deal? And what does it say about the safeguards that you have in place that this potentially could have resulted in insider trading?
MS. MCENANY: So, first, the President will always act in the best interests of the American people. As you noted, as soon as we became aware of these allegations, the International Development Finance Corporation said that the "recent allegations of wrongdoing raise serious concerns. We will not proceed any further unless these allegations are cleared."
The President has strong faith in the process here. We've used the DPA more than 30 times to increase production, and it's been to great effect when you consider, in the Stockpile, we've seen vast increases: tripling the amount of N95, tripling the number of gowns four times, the number of ventilators on hand at 69,000, and we'll have more than 10,000 — 10,000 more by the fall.
So, this President has used the DPA effectively, but we're certainly aware of the Kodak alle- — allegations and take them seriously.
Q: Would he pull the plug on that deal?
MS. MCENANY: I'll leave that to the President, but he takes these very seriously, and —
Q: Thank —
MS. MCENANY: — we won't speculate as to what that investigation finds.
Q: Thank you. Two questions, if I may. The President just tweeted that Gettysburg would be one of the two sites he's looking at. What — can you characterize the message that he would want to be sending with that choice, if it was that choice?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, I won't get ahead of the President, as to what his convention speech will look like, but the President has done a lot to bring this country together.
We've faced unprecedented challenges and he's worked to make sure that the American people are — are best equipped and taken care of to rise above the challenges that we face. And he has a strong record of achievement that he'll be touting on that day.
Q: Sorry. The other question, if you don't mind: Is there a message to the protesters in Belarus? Is the President looking at that? Is he supporting them?
MS. MCENANY: Yes, so, we are looking at that, and we're deeply concerned by the Belarus presidential election. Severe restrictions on ballot access for candidates, prohibition of local independent observers at polling stations, intimidation of opposition candidates, and the detention of peaceful protesters and journalists have marred the process, and we urge the Belarusian government to respect the right of peaceab- — to peaceably assemble and to refrain from use of force.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. Is the President willing to provide some aid for states and local governments, giving that — given that the administration is asking states to pay for a quarter of the National Guard assistance, and now quarter of the unemployment benefits?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, the President has always been clear here that, you know, he wants to support state and local governments, but only for COVID-related matters, and he doesn't want to bail out blue states that had structural problems long before this. So that's where his priorities lie.
Q: Hi. I have two questions; one from somebody who can't be here today. But, first of all, the President also just tweeted that "student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled." So does he disagree with colleges canceling sports? And how would he guarantee their safety if games did go ahead?
MS. MCENANY: Yes, I spoke to the President in the Oval Office about that just before walking out here, and he is — very much would like to see college football safely resume their sport.
And, as he mentioned in that tweet, a lot of these college athletes, you know, work their whole lives to get, you know, four years — sometimes they're redshirted an extra year if they're lucky. They work their whole lives for this moment, and he'd like to see them have a chance to live out their dreams.
Q: And a question from Anthony Leake of the Chronicle Fashion Guide: Do you have any reaction to the resignation of the prime minister and cabinet in Lebanon?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, the President's aware of the situation, but that was just breaking as I came out, so I have nothing to add to that, other than our heart is with the people and those who lost their lives.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. Two on the orders: Is the administration at all concerned that funding the federal government's cost share through FEMA could leave the government underfunded for hurricane season?
And then secondly, on the housing provisions, I'm just curious: Why didn't the President extend the eviction moratorium as it was outlined in CARES? Was that because it was deemed unconstitutional?
MS. MCENANY: So, on evictions — so, on evictions, I would note that the President took four strong actions here. And again, the eviction moratorium created — there was a temporary moratorium put in place by the CARES Act, so the President did what he can within his executive capacity, and it was four-part, taking all lawful measures to prevent residential evictions. Number two, instructing HHS and CDC to measure — to take measures to temporarily prohibit residential evictions. On HUD, prioritizing federal fundings that can be used as financial assistance to struggling renters and homeowners. And also, HUD, working with its grantees and partners, to ensure that homeowners are not forced out.
And with regard to HHS, as they explore their executive authority here, 42 U.S.C. § 264a author- — authorizes the Surgeon General, in consultation with the Secretary, "to make and enforce such regulations as [is] in his judgment [that] are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases." So it will be within HHS — HHS's purview to determine whether COVID meets those standards, and it could go a long way in helping Americans who face eviction.
And your second question?
Q: It was about FEMA. Is there a concern that, you know, pulling from the disaster funds could leave them unprepared for the rest of — well, the really — the worst part of hurricane season coming up?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, so there is that snap-back provision that, if FEMA does get below a certain level that that money will snap back. So that is certainly a concern, and we'll make sure that two things happen: that Americans get paid, but also that there's enough funding there to safely go through hurricane season.
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh, very much. Two questions: What would you like — the White House would like to see happening in Lebanon right now, next?
And, this weekend, the U.S. reached 5 million coronavirus cases. In Brazil, 100,000 dead. As healthcare experts compares response from both governments, what went wrong here and there?
MS. MCENANY: So, first, with Lebanon — that was your first question — you know, we're monitoring the situation closely. As I've said, our heart goes out to the men and women who lost their lives. It's an absolute tragedy.
And the President participated in a virtual conference with international leaders to work closely on our international response effort. We are delivering aid to the region, and our deepest condolences go out to the victims.
With regard to the U.S. response to the coronavirus, we've done more testing than any country in the world. And we do identify more cases; we do have, after all, the most testing, as the President has noted.
When you look at the U.S. response — the therapeutics — at the beginning of this, there was no coronavirus test. It was a novel virus. But we immediately worked to get more than 100 emergency use authorizations to identify various types of testing.
On therapeutics, there was no therapeutic that we knew to work with COVID. It was a novel virus. But again, this President worked; and there are more than 210 clinical trials on therapeutics; and we have dexamethasone and convalescent plasma, remdesivir, and others.
And the vaccine, to be on pace to be completed by the end of the year — when Ebola, it took four years to go to completion — this President is securing a vaccine at the fastest rate ever for a novel pathogen.
So this President has a — a really historic coronavirus relief response that we're happy to talk about.
Q: (Inaudible) the comparison between —
MS. MCENANY: Yes. (Pointing to a journalist.)
Q: — Brazil and the U.S.?
Q: Thank you, Kayleigh. So, going back to this question on HHS and the executive order: Is there no real solution then for people who may be facing eviction by the end of this month or early September?
MS. MCENANY: Well, there is a solution. I've mentioned the four things that we've done and will continue to do. But the real solution, the holistic solution, rests with Congress and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer coming to the table.
This President instructed his administration to find every single way possible that, without congressional Democrats — who have been unrelenting and lacking in any sort of care or empathy for the American people, at least when it comes to their negotiating tactics — if they're not going to act and care for the American people, he would.
So he instructed this administration to pursue every legal avenue available to us without Chuck and Nancy, and he's done just that.
Q: And then on the timeline —
MS. MCENANY: Chanel.
Q: Thanks, Kayleigh. Just so the — with the President bypassing Democrats stalling for the stimulus bill, as we've been discussing this in this room, how pressing is it to actually have a next-phase bill? Because it seems that the executive order and the three memoranda that he just signed really was kind of a wish list of items he wanted to pass. So how motivated is the White House to push for a next-phase stimulus bill, in spite of what Mnuchin said this morning?
MS. MCENANY: Yeah, the White House is still motivated. You know, the President would love to see the direct payments to Americans. The President would love to see the school funding. There are several items that we'd like to see happen. The more relief for the American people — and those in need, in particular — the better.
But this President, you know, has taken action to alleviate — alleviate some of that burden. But make no mistake: There's still much more that we'd like to accomplish, but that includes having willing negotiating partners in Congress. And so far, we have none on the — in the Democrat Party, it seems.
And then, finally, one thing I want to leave you guys with is that, 18 days ago, Mayor Ted Wheeler tweeted, "What I saw last night [in Portland] was powerful in many ways. I listened, heard, and stood with protesters. And I saw what it means when the federal government unleashes paramilitary forces against its own people." He, in fact, called our federal agents "paramilitary forces."
And around this same time, our federal officers were facing rioters barricading officers inside the courthouse, trapping officers inside, launching of commercial-grade fireworks. A federal agent's hand was impaled by planted nails. Three officers were likely — were at least temporarily, I should say, blinded when a laser was put in their eyes. This has been an ongoing tactic by the rioters.
That was 18 days ago when Mayor Wheeler stood with the rioters and against the, quote, "paramilitary forces." But just four days ago, it appears Mayor Wheeler had a change of heart as local officers took over the situation in Portland. And he now — I guess this is what he believes now, quote: "When you commit arson with an accelerant in an attempt to burn down a building that is occu- — occupied by people who you have intentionally trapped inside, you are not demonstrating; you are attempting to commit murder."
He could not be more right about that. It is a drastic change. It took him 73 days, I — I suppose, to come up with that realization. And what we're seeing in Portland with, six nights in a row, riots being declared — on Wednesday, you had some of these rioters shining lasers in officers' eyes, disabled security cameras, broke windows, used boards to barricade the doors and start a fire with 20 sworn officers and civilian employees inside.
This is unacceptable, and it is encouraging to see that the liberal mayor of Portland finally seems to realize that.
Thank you everyone.
END 1:42 P.M. EDT
Kayleigh McEnany, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343308