Return to Transcripts main page


White House Decision On Dreamers To Be Announced Tuesday; Mueller Has Early Draft Of Comey Firing Letter According To NYT; Trump To Meet With Harvey Survivors This Weekend. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, so what the president said that he would have a decision on DACA in the next couple of days. Can you talk a little bit about what are the factors driving that decision? You know, what is he weighing right now? And also, does he think that the program, as it is designed now, does he think it's illegal?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I just spoke with the president, and we're in the process of finalizing that decision and those details and we're actually going to make that announcement on Tuesday of next week, and the president's priorities on immigration are to create a system that encourages legal immigration and benefits our economy and American workers. The president's been very clear, he loves people, and he wants to make sure that this decision is done correctly, and so that's what he's doing now is finalizing that part.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A question that might help us understand what informs this decision. Does the president feel that young people who came to this country illegally who came of age here, who have jobs here, went to school here, are those people Americans? Or are they foreign --

SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to get into the back and forth while we're in the process of finalizing the details on this but we're going to be working on that throughout the weekend and make that announcement on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How incumbent does this White House believe it is upon congress to come up with a solution to the Dreamers?

SANDERS: Again, we're in the process of finalizing the decision on this front and once we make that, we'll walk through next steps of what any action that would be needed at that time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if I could just follow up. I ask that question because Senator Tom Tillis of North Carolina is introducing a conservative DREAM Act. He's leading a group of conservatives in the senate. Senator Jeff Flake says it's important for congress to do this. Paul Ryan, while he said he doesn't agree that the president should end DACA as we know it, does think that there needs to be a legislative solution. Does the White House agree with what's being said? SANDERS: Again, I mean, I'll say it for a third or fourth time and

I'm sure I'll get another five or six more questions on this and I'll get to say it again. We're in the process of finalizing that decision, and those details, and we'll announce that on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, the president said we love Dreamers today and in April, he said the Dreamers should rest easy. You know the president. Is it conceivable that he could end this program and send all these people out of the country after saying things like that?

SANDERS: I knew I'd get another chance to say this. We're finalizing those details.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not a detail. That's whether he ends the program.

SANDERS: It is part of the answer is that we're finalizing this decision, and that would certainly be part of the details of the announcement on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, the president had said that we have to close down our government, we're building that wall. Is he backing down from that threat now?

SANDERS: No, the president is still very much committed to building the wall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, there's a report in "The Washington Post" that says he's -- you have a smile -- that says he's backing away.

SANDERS: Well you know how I feel about using other outlets as your source.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it wrong, then?

SANDERS: I think the president's been pretty clear what his position is. I would take that as the president's position over a report on what it is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two questions. One about the ROK call that happened today. There's a readout of the conversation and in it, the South Koreans are saying that the president of the United States promised more missile capabilities to Seoul. Can you confirm that and do you have any sense of what we're talking about there?

SANDERS: Again, we'll have a readout out shortly and we'll make sure all you guys receive that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I Have NAFTA as well. The talks are going on now, obviously the president made his feelings pretty clear but he's talked about terminating the deal.

[15:35:00] Is that on the table?

SANDERS: Those negotiations are still ongoing, and no decision has been made at this time. SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Getting back to the

hurricane Harvey, has the president made a decision what charities he's going to donate to? Do you know if that's going to be coming from his own money or from the Trump Foundation?

SANDERS: He has not finalized where all of that will go and I was actually going to use that as a perfect segue to remind everybody, if you have suggestions, he is very open to hearing those. We've gotten a couple, but please send more if you have them. John --

MURRAY: But do you know whether it's his personal money?

SANDERS: I haven't had a chance to do that but I will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday, sheriff Dave Clarke of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, announced his resignation effective immediately and this started a rush of speculation in the badger state and in Washington that he would be appointed to a position at the Department of Homeland Security. Possibly even the secretary-ship, which is vacant now. A lady at DHS said he's not coming here to reporters. Is former sheriff Clarke under consideration for any position, particularly at the Department of Homeland Security?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any specific jobs that he's been considered for. But as always, we'll certainly make sure when we have a personnel announcement, we let you know. Alex.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A poll released by Fox News on Wednesday said that 56 percent of Americans think the president is tearing the country apart. Approval rating polls are usually in the 30s. How do these poll numbers affect how the president governs?

SANDERS: I think a lot of these polls are the same polls that predicted that Donald Trump would never be in the -- would never be the president and he's sitting in the oval office as I stand here, so I don't have a plot of faith in a lot of these polls. I think if you look at what he's been doing this week, particularly in terms of focusing on unifying the nation on hurricane Harvey recovery, talking about tax reform, an issue that's got very wide bipartisan support, the numbers that we are focused on and that this administration cares about aren't poll numbers.

But we care about 94 percent of Americans who get assistance to file their taxes, that the majority of Americans think the tax code is unfair. And that 70 percent of individuals in ten key states support broad base tax reform. The numbers that we're focused on have to do with actual problems that Americans are facing. The numbers that we're focused on are the ones that actually impact day-to-day life for all Americans. That's what we're focused on. Certainly not silly polls that frankly weren't much use to us in the election and certainly I don't think are now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Sarah. I want to switch to tax reform. We learned today that the president will be traveling to North Dakota next week. This week, he was in Missouri. Republicans hold 52 seats in the senate, and the Democratic senators from those states are ones that the White House is targeting. If the White House got those votes, that would put you up to 54. Joe Donnelley and Joe Manchin are two other Democratic senators that the White House is looking to pick up. That would be 56. Where are the other four Democratic votes that the White House and the president think they can get for trying to reassure?

SANDERS: I would love to see all of them come on board. I can't imagine why anybody wouldn't want to support helping more Americans keep more of their hard-earned money. We want to simplify the tax filing process for individuals, encourage job creation, encourage job growth, provide tax relief for middle class America, and encourage companies to bring back money to the United States and invest it. I don't know why any member of the senate or the house wouldn't want to support those things. And hopefully they'll all come on board.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you don't have four other states that you might be traveling to specifically.

SANDERS: Not specifically. Again, I'm hoping that the senators from all 50 states get on board to help Americans and do what, frankly, Americans are demanding. I think you'd be hard pressed to find somebody that doesn't support tax reform in this country and those were the people that are the bosses of those individuals, those are the people that elected those members to go there and help do the things that they are asking for. And tax reform is at the top of their list -- Glen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, my paper just published a story that Robert Mueller has obtained a copy of a letter drafted by President Trump, in part by Steven Miller and other aides around the time of the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey that enumerates the rationality for having him removed, but focuses principally on the Russia investigation. First of all, can you confirm the existence of that letter? Secondly, can that letter be made public? And thirdly, we report that Don McGahn thought it was inappropriate.

[15:40:00] Can you discuss whether or not you or the president believe that drafting such a letter was appropriate at that time?

SANDERS: I'm not going to get into any of that. I think we covered a lot of those things very extensively during that time. As Ty Cobb said earlier today, to the extent the special prosecutor is interested in these matters, we will be fully transparent with his investigation. And frankly, I don't have anything to add beyond that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a copy of the letter? Can we get a copy of the letter?

SANDERS: Again, we're going to work with the special prosecutor. As Ty said and we'll work through that process.

Hey, guys, one at a time. I'll come back to you after that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier this week, the president tweeted that talking is not the answer in regards to the North Koreans. Today, the South Korean president's office says he and President Moon agreed to reaffirm that North Korea should be brought back for dialogue. So, which is it on that?

SANDERS: I think I was clear on this yesterday. The president's looking for integrated process, and we're continuing to move forward on that. We take North Korea extremely seriously and all options are on the table. That hasn't changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow-up to the NAFTA question. Mexico has threatened to end the negotiations that are going on if the president initiates steps to pull out of NAFTA. Would the president view that as a positive outcome, and is there any concern overall in the White House that the escalation of the rhetoric will hurt the White House's ability to craft a better deal, as the president has promised.

SANDERS: No, we're continuing to move forward in these negotiations, and as the president says, we'll see what happens. April --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On DACA, on the issue of DACA, the vice president said that the president will use a big heart in making this decision. What is the definition of a big heart?

SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into the back and forth on this until there's a finalized decision, which we're in the process of doing. And we'll make that announcement on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have one more. On jobs. What is this White House saying about jobs, particularly as the unemployment rate is at 4.4 percent but you have continuation, historically, of African- American and Latino rates that are higher for August? The African- American unemployment rate, 7.7 percent, Latino rate is 5.2 percent. The white rate is 3.9 percent. Few weeks ago, Steven Miller was at this podium talking about the black unemployment rate versus that of the immigrants. Is there going to be a targeted approach? I mean, these numbers bear to show that there is a difference when it comes to minority American unemployment versus mainstream.

SANDERS: I think you make a great point for why we need tax reform. It's one of the primary reasons that that's a top priority for this administration is to do a massive overhaul of the system so that we have a better environment, we're creating more jobs, higher paying jobs, and I think that's a perfect example. There were 150,000 new jobs created over this time period, and since the president came into office, 1.2 million new jobs. We are incredibly focused on this. This is not something we've just been talking about, but something the president's been very active in since day one. He's gotten rid of over 800 regulations that have created a better environment for job creation. We're continuing to focus on that. Primarily through tax reform and that's why it's such a big deal for us in the fall -- Dave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you confirm that the president is meeting with congressional leaders on Tuesday about tax reform and does that mean that the details are almost finished?

SANDERS: He is meeting with congressional leaders next week, and --


SANDERS: I believe it's Tuesday. Yes. I believe that's right. And I believe there's a second meeting on Wednesday as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does that mean it's almost finished?

SANDERS: That means that, you know, we're pushing forward. We're going to continue, again, focused on those four principles, using that as the guide and the focal point moving forward and sit down with a lot of members of congress to make sure we get this deal done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. Two questions. The first one is on DACA. I know you're not ready to make an announcement yet, but these people, these Dreamers came out of the shadows and they provided their personal information to the government for work permits. If the president does end DACA, will that information be used to round up and deport any of these people? That's my first question.

SANDERS: Well, I'll answer it the same way I've answered it 18 other times today. Those decisions are being finalized, and once they are, we will announce them on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second question is on infrastructure. Clearly, the devastation in Texas brings attention to problems with our infrastructure and there's going to be a need for massive rebuilding.

[15:45:00] I know tax reform is the focus right now, but will there be a push for an infrastructure bill, either after that or around the same time, and will that be coming from the White House or will the administration be letting congress take the lead on infrastructure bill?

SANDERS: Infrastructure certainly is something that's very important to the president, a priority for the administration. The timing of that hasn't been set forth yet but it's certainly something that we're actively working on and looking at every day as we like to say here, we can walk and chew gum at the same time and we'll continue to push forward on how to best improve infrastructure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hurricane Harvey, the president was down in Texas on Tuesday, he's going back tomorrow. I understand the schedule, that schedule might not yet be set but can you give us any idea of what kinds of things he's going to be doing and what thematically he's going to be doing this weekend that he didn't have a chance to do before?

SANDERS: He'll be able to go into Houston, which he was not able to do on Tuesday. That will be the first stop of the day. He'll have the chance to meet extensively with quite a few storm survivors, as well as talk with some of the volunteers that are helping administer a lot of the support that these individuals have needed over the last week, and then from there, he'll go to Lake Charles, Louisiana, where he'll do a stop there as well, meeting with a lot of the volunteers and other storm survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any events on Sunday or is this all contained on Saturday?

SANDERS: All on Saturday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any other weekend plans after that?

SANDERS: We'll keep you posted on further guidance for the weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have questions on that. Do you think the president is going to be busy on Saturday, down in that region? You said 19 times that he's going to be finalizing the decision in the next three days. Can you specifically explain what is there to change between now and Tuesday given that we heard the president talk in the oval office about a decision coming this weekend? What specifically is he doing in these next three days that he hasn't done so far?

SANDERS: I think this is a pretty complicated process as you all know, and we want to work through every bit of that and that's what he's doing, making sure he takes the diligent time and effort and attention that this very important issue deserves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And given that it's so important, I just kind of want to personalize a little bit. There's a guy in Texas right now, a paramedic, he's been working since the storm hit to help people in the community and around Texas. He also happens to be a Dreamer. What's the president's message to Jesus?

SANDERS: I think it's the same message that he said many times before, this president is a president that loves people, and we are working on the best decision possible and we'll announce it on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, follow up. New reports are detailing how the -- under the Obama administration, the group Antifa was being watched and their activities were declared as domestic terrorist violence. My question is, was the president or his chief of staff aware of those investigations and reports before Charlottesville?

SANDERS: I'm not sure. I'd have to ask and I haven't had that conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And follow-up. Is he tracking the rise of violence from this group going forward? Is he tracking the rise of violence from these groups going forward?

SANDERS: I think we're certainly, you know, constantly monitoring all violence across the country as best we can, and something certainly that the department of homeland security and the administration takes very seriously and is constantly looking for ways to end all violence in all forms. So, certainly that would qualify.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, the follow-up to her question for a moment. I think I read there were 120,000 Dreamers in the state of Texas. Is that, in any way, weighing on the president's decision about DACA and what the situation there is?

SANDERS: Again, I think that this isn't a decision that the president takes lightly. And he's taking time and diligent effort to make sure that he goes through every bit of the process and he'll continue to do that and make that announcement on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is what's happening in Texas and even Louisiana weighing on him at all?

SANDERS: I think the decision itself is weighing on him, certainly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, Sarah. I've got two. First one is, coming back after labor-day weekend, there's obviously a lot of stuff on the agenda.

SANDERS: Going to be a busy September.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were some tensions between the president and congressional Republicans over the summer, and I'm just wondering if he has a message for them that you would want to share about any reset that he hopes to effect in the next four days before he comes back. And I also wanted to ask you, with all the caveats that you're allowed to discuss, this letter that is part of the investigation --

SANDERS: Let me answer the first question so we don't get lost in that. I think that the message that the president would have for the members of congress would be, let's get to work. You've had a nice long break here, and we've got a lot of things to do. We've got some big commitments to the American people that we need to fulfill, and we need to do some really big and bold things throughout the fall and hopefully they'll get on board and be part of that process.

[15:50:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The letter, as reported, suggests that some of the rationale did have to do with Russia, but the president initially talked about Hillary Clinton and I'm wondering whether you can square those two for us. Do you think his message -- do you think his -- do you think there's now an inconsistency that needs to be addressed and would you like to address it from the podium?

SANDERS: I'm not sure I'm following fully your question, but as I said earlier, in reference to the letter, and the Comey firing, we have discussed that extensively. In fact, I've done that many times from this podium, and I'll refer you back to ty cobb's statement that I read earlier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, can the president reviewing the merits of the DACA policy, or is he reviewing the legality or validity of the process? In other words, if congress were to move to protect it, would he support that? Reviewing the merits of the DACA policy, or is he reviewing the legality or validity of the process? In other words, if congress were to move to protect it, would he support that? There does seem to be some interest there.

SANDERS: Again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but if you guys are, I guess I have no choice to be. We're continuing to work through this decision process, and I'm not going to go further than that. The president has made a lot of statements on this, and he's going through all of the details of this thoroughly, and once a final decision is made and those details are ironed out, we'll let you guys know on Tuesday. Just as we're wrapping up here, a reminder if you have suggestions for the president to contribute to, that would be great if you could get those to us by the end of the day, and also, we encourage everybody to participate in a National Day of Prayer and hope you have a good labor day weekend. Thanks so much.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right, so I heard a lot of those decisions are being finalized from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a lot of questions about DACA, the deferred action for childhood arrivals, the Obama era policy, 800,000 young people came to this country illegally, but through the DACA, they've been able to stay here without fear of deportation, living and working. And so, the question has been how will President Trump address this, will he end it, or as certain members of congress, the speaker Paul Ryan has said, let us decide, let congress decide the fate of DACA.

Kaitlan Collins standing by with that. You hear the reporters asking the questions, how is he weighing this, the 120,000 dreamers of Texas alone, is that factoring in? What did you make of this whole exchange?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: They weren't clear of what the president is taking into consideration as they decide what to do with DACA. The president has gone back and forth on this for quite some time during the campaign. He said he was going to immediately terminate it if he got into office because he considered it to be illegal. Then we saw him really soften his tone in December, saying, we're going to work something out for these Dreamers. Since then we've heard more of that. He's told them to rest easy. And even as soon as today, he said, we love the Dreamers.

The president hasn't been clear on what his stance is and he hasn't been clear on what his decision is. He said it would be today, this afternoon or sometime over the weekend. Then a few minutes when people were back in the Oval office the president was asked about it again, and he said he would have a decision by Monday at the latest. Then we just heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the press briefing and she said the decision would happen on Tuesday. So Brooke, we're not sure what the president is weighing as he makes this huge decision here or when we're going to find out what his decision is.

BALDWIN: Such a great point. The evolution of time frames of when the public learns. Kaitlan, thank you. Stay with me. Dana Bash, I know you're with me as well talking about the nebulousness of this press conference, the decision being finalized, that response over and over and over again from her. Paul Ryan and others are offering, would it be correct to say, almost a cover for the president, saying, let us, let congress handle this, take this off your plate but it sounds like the president will decide Tuesday?

DANA BASH, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think in part it's cover, Brooke, but it's also trying to delay or even to do away with what the president promised during the campaign, which is to get rid of DACA, to get rid of this executive order that has allowed all of these young illegal immigrants to stay in this country. I think the real reason, Brooke, that Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't have the real answer is because the policy --

BALDWIN: She doesn't know.

BASH: Right, the policy is not finalized. What they're actually going to do inside the White House is not finalized. The pressure that you are seeing from the Paul Ryans of the world, the Jeff Flakes, senator from Arizona of the world and others who are basically pleading with the president, don't do this, let us do this, is to buy time. So, I think that that is the reality.

And also, I should add, that there is a divide or maybe more fair to say a healthy debate inside the White House as to how to deal with this. Because yes, the president said many times during the campaign that he's going to end this program, and it was very important and is still very important to the Republican conservative base that elected him. At the same time, there is the broader question, the broader implications for actually going through with that, which is why there is that very real internal debate on how to deal with it.

BALDWIN: Let's put DACA to the side. Let's pick up the question on this "The New York Times" report. Kaitlan, to you on how they're saying there was an original draft of this letter from the president and his top aide Steven Miller, which would be the reason -- OK, Sarah Murray has popped up. Sara, I've got this. Let me pose this to you. The report of the "The New York Times," the letter the council originally opposed which wasn't the ultimate letter that went to the now FBI Former Director Jim Comey. It sounds like Sarah was reiterating we're going to the special counsel, but so far, we haven't heard anything.

MURRAY: They don't want to give anything about the Russian investigation from the podium because they don't want to become part of the Russian investigation. When it comes to Jim Comey, the initial decision from the White House, from the president was because he decided to fire James Comey because of Hillary Clinton's email investigation. That doesn't hold water to anything Trump said when he was candidate Trump. In fact, an interview on another television network, just a few days later, the president acknowledged that Russia was on his mind when he was weighing the decision whether to fire Comey.

The White House is not covering that at that point. They have made no admission to releasing that original memo, and all we've heard from Sarah is they're willing to be forthcoming from the special counsel but they're not willing to be forthcoming with the press at the podium here today.

BALDWIN: I didn't hear the answer to the $1 million donation. He's giving it, but from the foundation or Trump personally, we don't know.

MURRAY: Just the pledge, and no answer whether it's coming from Trump or the foundation, and no answer of where that money is going. Send your recommendations.

BALDWIN: Send your recommendations to the president. All right, ladies, thank you all very much. We heard from the president he will be back in Texas, this time able to walk around the damaged areas of Houston, talking to those survivors, talking to first responders. We'll have all that coverage for you on Tuesday here at CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We're going to take a very quick break. Brianna Keilar picks it up on the other side.