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Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders

February 19, 2017

Hilton-West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach, Florida

4:23 P.M. EST

MS. SANDERS: Seems very formal here. (Laughter.) I'll keep it pretty short today. I'm going to walk through a couple of things and then I'll take some questions.

First of all, the President has had an extremely busy day today. He has been in a number of meetings and quite a few calls, and also a lot of staff briefings and other meetings. A couple big ones of note that you would probably find interesting: He did several interviews and in-depth meetings that are still ongoing as of this afternoon, talking to different candidates for the National Security Advisor position. Among those people, as of today, that he met with: McMaster, Bolton, Caslen and Kellogg, and we may have some additional meetings and names tomorrow, and may also meet with a couple of those people again.

There's also an in-depth meeting on Obamacare. Secretary Price, Mulvaney, Chief of Staff Priebus, Bannon, Seema Verma, and quite a few members of the domestic policy staff also were part of that meeting. And they discussed Obamacare repeal-and-replace strategy, and that went on for several hours. He was not there for the entirety of the meeting.

Q: Was everyone at Mar-a-Lago?


Q: They all flew down?


Q: That was all in Mar-a-Lago?

MS. SANDERS: Yes. I do believe that a couple of the people from that group also went over to the golf club, as well, for a brief period of time.

Q: You said he wasn't there for the whole several hours?

MS. SANDERS: Correct.

Q: But for part --

MS. SANDERS: Correct. And remember I'll get to the questions section here momentarily.

He's had several foreign leader calls today, including with the President of Panama, where they talked about U.S. investment and private sector presence. He also did a second foreign leader call with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, where they talked about terrorism and other security challenges, including foreign fighters being the primary point of focus on those calls. And we'll have more detailed readouts for both of those later this evening.

I know there have been quite a few questions about his comments about Sweden last night. I'll address that now as a group so we don't have to have 75 emails to address it. He was talking about rise in crime and recent incidents in general, not referring to a specific issue.

Q: I'm sorry, it's going too fast. Can you just say that again?

MS. SANDERS: Sure. He was talking about rise in crime and recent incidents in general, and not referring to a specific incident.

As I said earlier, he's going to continue several meetings throughout the evening, including additional meetings with National Security Advisor candidates.

And with that, I will take your questions.

Q: On Sweden, where did he get the information about the rise in crime? Was it from that Fox segment on Friday night?

MS. SANDERS: I believe he may have seen that, but I also know there have been a number of reports of rise in crime and specific incidents that have taken place over the last several weeks.

Q: And also, why then did the President specifically say "last night"?

MS. SANDERS: I don't think that was meant to be last night. I think he was just referring to, again, in general. I had a chance to get that clarified, and he wasn't speaking about a specific incident the night before, but about rise in crime in general.

Q: So he misspoke?

MS. SANDERS: Well, yeah -- I think he was referring to a report he had seen the previous night that spoke specifically to that topic.

Q: Was that a report from Fox News?

MS. SANDERS: I don't know.

Q: Sarah, you said that there may be more interviews tomorrow. Can you tell us who those names would be?

MS. SANDERS: Not at this time. We don't have any further details on those yet.

Q: And do you have any updates on his timeline for making the decision?

MS. SANDERS: I know he hopes to make it soon. I would think in the next few days.

Q: Can you clarify whether Ray Odierno is one of the potential candidates?

MS. SANDERS: We don't have any further names to release right now.

Q: There's been some reporting about a memo signed by Kelly, draft memos on new guidelines for detaining and deporting immigrants. Can you talk at all about those? And is there anything particular in the documents that the White House is objecting to?

MS. SANDERS: Right now those are nothing more than draft memos. There are still a lot of conversations that are taking place. The final documents haven't been completed. And we expect that to happen in the next couple of days, and we'll roll that out at that time.

Q: That's on the immigration executive order?


Q: Or is it on the --

MS. SANDERS: Are you talking about the travel EOs?

Q: No, I was talking specifically about the guidelines signed by Kelly about deporting illegal immigrants.

MS. SANDERS: Those are also draft EOs, both sets. I know there have been multiple versions floating around.

Q: These are the ones about hiring more enforcement agents.

MS. SANDERS: None of those are final and have not been signed off by the White House.

Q: But are they an accurate reflection of where the policy is headed when it rises to the level where the Secretary signs it?

MS. SANDERS: Some components are. But again, those haven't even made it to the White House. And so for that to be a final version is just not accurate.

Q: And just to clarify again, that's about --

MS. SANDERS: There's multiple sets of EOs. None of them are final. They are all in draft form.

Q: And what EOs can we expect this week?

MS. SANDERS: I don't have any specific announcements about it at this time, but I think you can expect the travel EO -- the revised travel immigration one to be in the next couple of days.

Q: Can you say a little bit more about the Obamacare meeting -- like, who all was there; specifically how long they met; what exactly they were talking about, and if they were looping in members of Congress or it was just a White House-centric strategy?

MS. SANDERS: There weren't members of Congress that were present today. There were a handful of domestic policy advisors from the White House, Secretary Price, Mulvaney. I know several members of senior staff, Chief of Staff Priebus, Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner were all present for that meeting.

Q: Can you tell us more what it was?

MS. SANDERS: Again, it was primarily a strategy meeting about laying out the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Q: Any response regarding Senator McCain's comments this morning that he's very concerned about the membership of the National Security Council, specifically Steve Bannon?

MS. SANDERS: I'm not going to respond to Senator McCain's comments.

Q: When the President is interviewing these candidates for National Security Advisor, how much of this is simply about him vetting the candidates himself, getting a sense of what they bring to the position, versus the candidates seeking assurances about the ability to set their own staff and other aspects of the job?

MS. SANDERS: I think we've made it pretty clear that whoever takes this position will have full authority on the staffing component. I know Chief of Staff Priebus addressed that this morning on the Sunday shows. And I don't know if there's anything further in that realm that you want to look for, but in terms of staffing they'll have full authority to make those decisions.

Q: And the President indicated to us yesterday that his timeline is in a matter of days. Beyond the interviews that are happening this weekend, is there anything that could happen at the White House? Or could an announcement come before he leaves here?

MS. SANDERS: Your speculation on that is probably as good as mine. I think it could be probably anytime in the next couple of days.

Q: Sarah, was the President golfing this morning? And who was he golfing with?

MS. SANDERS: I know he played a couple of holes this morning, but I'm not going to disclose any of the others that were there.

Q: And yesterday as well?

MS. SANDERS: I do believe he played a couple of holes yesterday.

Q: A couple as in two, or --

MS. SANDERS: I don't think it was a full round, if that's what you're asking.

Q: And on the four names you identified, you said some meetings have happened and some additional would be tonight? Would those be repeat?

MS. SANDERS: Some are ongoing right now while we're here.

Q: Repeat meetings?

MS. SANDERS: Not repeat meetings tonight, but they're ongoing as I'm standing here.

Q: So this first round of four goes into this evening?

MS. SANDERS: Yes, correct.

Q: And just to clarify, they're all face-to-face?


Q: So they're just here at Mar-a-Lago?

MS. SANDERS: Yes, correct.

Q: Four finalists -- that's it?

MS. SANDERS: As of right now. And I said -- remember -- there could be additional names and additional meetings as early as tomorrow.

Q: There have been a couple of reports about administration staffers who have been fired or left their jobs after criticizing the President. One was at HUD; I believe it was the chief of staff. And there's another report today about an NSC aide, Craig Deare, who left his job after harsh criticism of Trump. Is it fair to say that -- I mean, are government employees allowed to criticize the President?

MS. SANDERS: He was just sent back to his original position, so he wasn't fired.

Q: Who --

MS. SANDERS: Craig Deare.

Q: More broadly, do government employees need to be concerned that they are not allowed to criticize the President or they can lose their job?

MS. SANDERS: Well, I don't think that any person that is there in order to carry out the President's agenda should be against the President's agenda. It seems pretty silly that you would have somebody that's not supportive of what you're trying to accomplish there to carry out that very thing.

Q: What about somebody who in the past was against the President's agenda?

MS. SANDERS: Again, I think if you don't support the President's agenda, it would be very hard for you to take a position where your very job is to carry out and help him accomplish that agenda. If they're not onboard with specific pieces of his agenda -- for instance, if you didn't want to help create jobs in the way of cutting regulations, then it would be really silly for him to bring you in to be part of like an economic task force.

Q: Sarah, is this test contributing to the administration's, so far, so few jobs -- so few Senate-confirmed jobs being nominated for, whether it be deputy secretaries from a number of Cabinet agencies, below dep-sec level?

MS. SANDERS: I think one of the biggest problems that we've had is the obstruction by Democrats. It's really hard to put in the secondary staff when you don't have the leader in that office. If you can't confirm a Secretary, you can't really start filling out the second and third positions in a lot of those agencies, and if, by comparison to past administrations, there's not that big of a gap between what we have and what they have at this point in time.

Q: But even in terms of -- not in terms of nominees for the secretaries who are confirmed, what's the timeline then?

MS. SANDERS: Well, and a lot of those have just been confirmed over the last week. So, again, that's a moving process, and we're continuing to add and grow staff every day.

Q: What was the job that Mr. Deare was sent back to?

MS. SANDERS: I'll have to double-check, but I have it, I just don't want to tell you the wrong thing. I don't have it right in front of me.

Q: Has the President followed Vice President Pence's trip overseas at all? And what's his reaction to his sort of debut on the world stage?

MS. SANDERS: He has. And they've spoken several times over the past several days. I know that both the Vice President and the President have talked to each other, as well as their staffs have both talked back and forth, and very happy with how everything is going so far.

Q: Can you tell us more about how you would disagree with the President if you're in a position? You said that if a person doesn't agree with his agenda, they shouldn't have a job. But some people I'm sure disagree with certain policies. How does that work?

MS. SANDERS: I'm not going to get into the back-and-forth on the variation of disagreement that you might be able to have in order to have a job. I think the broader point here is if you don't support the President's agenda, you shouldn't have a job in the White House.

Q: I mean, administration-wide, though, we're talking about. Are you extending that to various department agencies?

MS. SANDERS: I'm not extending like a blanket policy here. I just am saying that if you do not support the agenda and you're not there to help carry it through, then you shouldn't be part of the administration.

Q: The report that the immigrant draft EO that's been going around that shows the same seven countries, but exemptions for travelers who already have a visa, is that where that policy is at right now? Is that an accurate reflection of where you guys are going?

MS. SANDERS: Again, that's not final. There's still a lot of moving parts there. And until it's final, I don't want to get into the details.

Q: On the NSC, one of the reasons that we were told that Harward didn't want to take the job was the fact that he couldn't bring in all of his own team.

MS. SANDERS: That's inaccurate information.

Q: In these interviews, are the candidates being told they can bring on their own team? Or are the deputies who are currently there going to stay?

MS. SANDERS: I know it's been made clear that they can bring on their own team, and so that's inaccurate information that you have.

Q: So the candidates. And how involved is Pence in Trump's interviews and deciding who the NSC director will be?

MS. SANDERS: I don't know his specific involvement, but I know that he and the President have spoken about it.

Q: Leon Panetta today said that there has been no convening of the National Security Council in the Trump White House. Is that accurate?

MS. SANDERS: Not to my knowledge. I don't believe that's accurate. But I'll double-check and verify that for you.

Q: Let me ask you, on a slightly separate topic, we're just looking to confirm a trade story that was in the Wall Street Journal that says the administration is considering changes that would make the trade gap look larger than in past years, and that it would -- one idea would include excluding from the U.S. any exports -- any items imported to the country and then transferring them to another country, like Mexico or Canada. Can you comment on the story?

MS. SANDERS: I saw your question on that, and I'm checking it and getting clarification. I'll let you all know once we have it.

Q: Can you tell us about last night when the President attended the cancer fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago? We weren't told about it. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

MS. SANDERS: He did attend. He and the First Lady were both present at the gala. It's something they've gone to every year, I believe for the last 10 years. They had dinner and then stopped by the event.

Q: Who did he talk to and who did he sit with there? Is it true he sat with Prime Minister Mulroney?

MS. SANDERS: I think he talked with quite a few people there. I believe there were over 800 attendees, and so I think he talked to quite a few of them. I don't know all the names of each person.

Q: Prime Minister Mulroney was at his table, is that right?

MS. SANDERS: I know that they did have an exchange. I don't know if they were actually seated together.

Q: I know Reince confirmed this morning that the White House was aware of this request from the intelligence committee to preserve documents related to Russia. Can you describe how those efforts are underway already? Is the White House Counsel distributing information to make sure that staff are aware of this and doing their best to preserve the documents?

MS. SANDERS: I know that there have been instructions to preserve all documents. But specific to that, I don't have guidance, but I can see if we have something specific for that and let you know.

One more question, anybody? Last one. All right, she got in first. Last one.

Q: There have been a lot of reports about the number of people who are coming down to Mar-a-Lago to meet with the President, talk with the President. Do taxpayers pay for flying everyone down here, all the NSA candidates and the people he's meeting for for the Obamacare roundtables? And any idea how many people that would be over the last couple of weekends?

MS. SANDERS: I don't know the exact number of people that have been here, and I don't have a comment on the specifics of each individual travel.

Q: And along the lines of Mar-a-Lago, there's been concern that people who bought membership to the club, which is now $200,000 up front, are getting special access to the President and his staff that other people don't get. What's the administration's response to that?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I think this President is extremely accessible to most of America. I think that's why he went out and did a rally last night, why he did a press conference earlier this week, why he comes back on the plane and talks to you guys. I think this is the most accessible President that I've certainly ever seen, and I don't think that that's an issue across the board. I think he is in touch with regular Americans every single day, and, again, is very transparent and accessible across the board.

Thanks, guys.

Q: Do you have a week ahead, Sarah?

MS. SANDERS: Not yet, but I think we will later tonight.

Q: And tomorrow, what time is he going back?

MS. SANDERS: I don't know yet. I think we're waiting to see some of the meetings that may take place tomorrow.

Thanks, guys.

END 4:50 P.M. EST

Donald J. Trump, Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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