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Sen. Orrin Hatch Announces Will Not Run for Reelection; White House Daily Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 2, 2018 - 14:30   ET



[14:31:46] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCOR: Welcome back. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

We are continuing to follow breaking news. Just within the last few minutes, we learned Senator Orrin Hatch, longest-serving Republican in the Senate, will not run for re-election. He is setting himself up to retire at the end of this term.

I want to play you this video. This is from Senator Hatch making this announcement about his retirement. And also, important to remember, President Trump has been urging Senator Hatch to run for reelection. Ultimately, he decided otherwise.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R), UTAH: My fellow Utahans, for over 40 years, I've had the great pleasure serving as your Senator. As many of you know, I came up during the Great Depression, living in a ram shackle house with recycled lumber from the scrapyard. My parents gave us everything they had. But in the eyes of the world, we still didn't have much. Only in a nation like ours could someone like me, the scrappy son of a simple carpenter, grow up to become a United States Senator.

As your Senator, I always fought the fight for those who could not fight for themselves. And I believe the results speak for themselves. I've authorized more bills that became law more than any other Congressional live today. I played a central role in the creation of the modern generic drug industry, the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, and the confirmation of every current member of the United States Supreme Court. Just last month, I helped lead the effort to pass historic comprehensive tax reform. One of my proudest legislative achievements is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which guarantees vigorous religious liberty protections for all Americans.

When the president visited Utah last month, he said I was a fighter. I've always been a fighter. I was an amateur boxer in my youth and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington. But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching. That's why, after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I've decided to retire at the end of this term. Although I'll miss serving you in the Senate, I look forward to spending more time with my family, especially my sweet wife, Elaine, who is unwavering love and support made all of this possible.

I'm deeply grateful for the privilege you've given me to serve as your Senator these last four decades. I may be leaving the Senate, but the next chapter in my public service is just beginning.

I want to thank you for your support through these many years.

May God bless you all.


CABRERA: Joining us now, CNN political reporter, Maeve Reston.

Maeve, first your reaction to this.

[14:34:33] MAEVE RESTON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, this was just an agonizing decision for Senator Hatch over the last year. We saw him, at the beginning of the year, hint that he might be retiring, which is what he said in 2012, that it was going to be his last campaign, and even suggested, at one point, he would like to see Mitt Romney take his seat. But as the year went on, he was really in the center spotlight on tax reform, just kind of loving being back in that powerful legislative position. He developed a very close relationship with President Trump. And so friends and colleagues were telling me, you know, as recently as a couple weeks ago, that he was just really agonizing over this decision, really wanted to run again, but obviously, has some concerns about his wife's health and really has kind of a hunger in Utah as much as Senator Hatch is revered for new leadership. There was a poll by the Hinkley Institute in Utah a couple of months ago that said that close to three-quarters or two- thirds of Utahans wanted to see someone else take on that role. So they are definitely ready for new leadership. He's the longest- standing Senator in history. So an eighth term would have been too far. And we would have seen a fierce primary challenge for Hatch. So he had a great accomplishment for last year with tax reform. That was something that he wanted to stay in the Senate to do. And he decided it was time.

CABRERA: Maeve, I want to continue our conversation. But just a quick reminder, we are monitoring the White House press briefing, scheduled to start any minute, scheduled to start at 2:30. If I have to cut you off, that is why.

But I understand, when you talk about new leadership, Mitt Romney, his name has been floated out there for a possibility to run for the Senate seat. This was before we knew for sure whether or not Orrin Hatch was going to retire. You just spoke with the Romney camp. What are they saying?

RESTON: Well, we've been talking to Romney advisers over the last couple of weeks and months and days. Clearly, he is very interested in this role. But he did not want to, in any way, suggest that he was going to announce anything until he was sure about what Senator Hatch was doing. They have a very close friendly relationship. And I think that Governor Romney was just waiting to see what would happen. But really would relish that kind of a robust return to the national stage. We know that there are a number of draft Romney groups that have formed all over Utah. And in fact, when you talk to people in Utah, there are voters under the impression that he's already running. That's how much discussion there is about it. And this would be a very easy race for him. He is wildly popular in Utah.

The reason why we saw some people like Boyd Mathison (ph) bowing out and saying they would not run for Senate last year was because clearly it looked like Romney was opening that door. And nobody would want to go up against him in Utah. And of course, this will create a really interesting dynamic if he does run.


CABRERA: OK. I'm going to have to cut you off. Sorry about that.

Sarah Sanders is at the podium. Let's listen.

SANDERS: Good afternoon. Happy New Year. It's great to be back with all of you. Start by wishing everybody a Happy New Year. But you guys kind of stole my thunder a little bit on that.

The president would like to start by congratulating two great teams from two great states both in the heart of Trump country. We look forward to a fantastic National Championship between Georgia and Alabama next week. And we know for certain that a lot of American workers are starting and having a very happy new year, thanks to the wage increases and bonuses they got as a result of the president's tax cut bill.

Companies are doing exactly what the president said they would, increasing investment and raising wages. And the workers are the big beneficiaries. We will be talking a lot more about that in the coming days. With the new year, we also have a renewed appreciation for the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States.

Unfortunately, millions of people around the world are not so fortunate. In recent days, we have watched widespread protests erupt in many Iranian cities. Years of mismanagement, corruption, and foreign adventurism have eroded the Iranian people's trust in their leaders. The Iranian regime spends its people's wealth on spreading militancy and terror abroad rather than ensuring prosperity at home.

Prices for everyday staples and fuel are rising while the Revolutionary Guard spend the nation's wealth on foreign militant groups and enrich themselves in the process. The Iranian people are angry at the rising tide of corruption in their daily lives. The people are tired of paying the price for their violent and corrupt rulers.


SANDERS: The Iranian people are angry at the rising tide of corruption in their daily lives. The people are tired of paying the price for their violent and corrupt rulers. As a result, we are now seeing an organic popular uprising organized by brave Iranian citizens on the largest scale since 2009.

But the international community cannot sit silent as it did then. The United States supports the Iranian people and we call on the regime to respect its citizens' basic right to peacefully express their desire for change.

America longs for the day when Iranians will take their rightful place alongside the free people of the world. As the president said in October, we stand in total solidarity -- solidarity with the Iranian regime's longest-suffering victims; its own people. The citizens of Iran have paid a heavy price for the violence and extremism of their leaders and the Iranian people long to reclaim their country's proud history, its culture, its civilization and its cooperation with its neighbors.

On an even more somber note, we are sad to have to announce that a brave American service member died in Afghanistan. We are going through the notification process and DoD will provide updates on that situation as available. And our thoughts and prayers are with that individual's family and friends.

With that, I will take your questions.

Major (ph)?

QUESTION: The Iranian protest, does that create an opening or renew the president's desire to reimpose sanctions as part of the Iran nuclear deal? And then a follow-up on Pakistan.

SANDERS: Look, we certainly keep our options open in terms of sanctions, in terms of signing a waiver, later in January. The president hasn't made a final decision on that. He's going to keep all of his options on the table in that regard.

QUESTION: Have the Iranian protests changed the calculations about that? Meaning, created a -- a situation in which the president, who was already inclined to be moving in that direction, would move more rapidly in that direction to send a signal not just to the Iranian regime, but to the world?

SANDERS: Not necessarily. I mean, I think the president's been very clear what his position is in support of the Iranian people and in terms of what decision he'll make on that waiver. He hasn't made a final one yet but he's going to keep every option on the table with regard to that.

QUESTION: And on Pakistan, what precipitated the president's tweet about threatening to withhold future U.S. aid? Is there something in particular that he was either briefed upon or that he noticed? Because it's not necessarily a secret that there's been a long-running dispute between the United States government and Pakistan about how cooperative Pakistan has been with counterterrorism measures and other issues.

SANDERS: Look, the president outlined a new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia earlier this past year, in August. And at that time, he laid out and said that Pakistan is not fulfilling its obligations. The president is simply following through on a commitment that he made, because this is a president who does what he says he's going to do.

We know that Pakistan can do more to fight terrorism and we want them to step up and do that.

QUESTION: Happy New Year. What -- what did the president mean when he said the deep state justice department? Does this administration believe that the deep state is a real thing, that there is this shadow government out there actively plotting to sabotage him?

SANDERS: Look, the president finds some of those actions very disturbing and he thinks that we need to make sure, if there is an issue, that it's looked at. But if there was anything beyond that, I would refer you to the Department of Justice, that would look into it.

QUESTION: Does he believe -- does he believe the entire Justice Department and its more than 100,000 employees are part of this deep state?

SANDERS: Obviously, he doesn't believe the entire Justice Department is part of that. You know, one of the things that the president has done is appoint Christopher Wray, at the FBI, because he wants to change the culture of that agency and he thinks he's the right person to do that.

Steve (ph)?

QUESTION: What does the president see as the end game in Iran? Does he like -- would he like to see regime change?

SANDERS: I mean, I think the ultimate end game would be that the citizens and the people of Iran...

QUESTION: ... does he like -- would he like to see regime change?

SANDERS: I mean, I think the ultimate end game would be that the citizens and the people of Iran are actually given basic human rights. And he'd certainly like to see them stop being a state sponsor of terror. I think that's something the whole world would like to see.

QUESTION: Follow up. Is there a risk of by (ph) encouraging these demonstrators, that there could be a backlash against them from the Iranian government?

SANDERS: No. And you know, I think one of the big things and I think even Hillary Clinton outlined this when she said that the Obama administration was too restrained, at the 2009 protests, and said that won't happen again. And for once, she's right, and we agree with her because President Trump's not going to sit by silently like President Obama did.

And he certainly supports the Iranian people and wants to make that clear.

Matthew (ph)? QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Another question on one of this morning's tweets. Is the president requesting that the Department of Justice investigate Huma Abedin? And how did he reach his conclusion that she should be in jail, given that she hasn't been indicted or convicted of any crime?

SANDERS: All right. Look, obviously the facts of that case are very disturbing and I think the president wants to make clear that he doesn't feel that anyone should be above the law in terms of any investigation. That would be something the Department of Justice would need to decide and I would refer you to them on whether or not they move forward.

Jordan (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Was the president disappointed that Senator Hatch decided not to seek reelection? And is he committed to campaign for whoever the Republican nominee would be in 2018?

SANDERS: Obviously, I don't think we've made a determination in terms of campaigning, but the president certainly has the greatest and deepest amount of respect for Senator Hatch and his over four decades of experience in the Senate. He's particularly thankful for the Senator's leadership and massive effort that he played in the role that he played in getting the tax cut and reform package passed.

And the president certainly praises his service and is very sad to see Senator Hatch leave and knows that he will certainly be missed.

John (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah.

President Moon of South Korea has reached out to North Korea about a possible meeting between North and South Korean officials as early as next week. Is this a meeting that the administration supports? Would it in any way upset their strategy for dealing with North Korea?

SANDERS: Look, our policy on North Korea hasn't changed at all. The United States is committed and will still continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea to change and make sure that it denuclearizes the peninsula. Our goals are the same and we share that with South Korea, but our policy and our process has not changed in this.

Trey (ph)?

QUESTION: Would just such a meeting be helpful...

SANDERS: Sorry. Go ahead, John (ph). I'll come back.

QUESTION: Would such a meeting be helpful though in terms of defusing the situation that exists now in the region?

SANDERS: Again, our policy hasn't changed and we've been very clear about the fact of what our priority is, and that's a denuclearized peninsula. And there's nothing new to update on that front. Trey. (ph) QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. Two on Iran. The president tweeted over the past weekend that the U.S. is watching very closely for human rights violations. What actions are being considered by the Trump administration should these violations occur?

SANDERS: Look, we'll keep you posted on any actions that we plan to take. And we're keeping a lot of options on the table at this time.

QUESTION: And if I could follow up on Steve's (ph) question about regime change. There are protesters who are calling for a regime change in the country. Does the Trump administration support regime change in Iran?

SANDERS: We support them giving basic rights to the people of Iran and we support them stopping being a state sponsor of terror and we want to see those actions take place.

Francesca (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Today, Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. said that the aid cut for Pakistan was not tied to the United Nation's vote on Jerusalem. But what is happening to the countries that did not vote with the United States? Both Ambassador Haley and President Trump made threats against those countries. And I also wanted to ask you about what the president's schedule is today and the rest of the week and what he's been up to lately. We know that he had a lunch today. We know that he'd had his intelligence briefing and clearly we saw him tweeting, what else is on the president's agenda?

SANDERS: That's a lot of questions from a lot of different angles. I'm going to try to make sure I cover them all. First in terms of Pakistan. As I said, our goal is that we know that we know they can do more to stop terrorism and we want them to do that. That seems pretty simple.

In terms of specific actions, I think you will see some more details come out on that in the next 24 to 48 hours and we'll be sure to keep you guys updated on that front. In terms of the president's schedule, he's had a number of meetings today. We'll keep you guys posted on that. He met with the vice President, Secretary of Labor, and a number of staff members talking about goals and priorities as we move into the new year. And we're excited about having as a successful 2018 as we did 2017.

Ashley (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, this morning the president tweeted that Hispanics and DACA activist will soon be falling in love with him and Republicans. So what protections is the president, if any, prepared to provide to DREAMers and would any protections for DREAMers have to be tied to a tangible, physical, wall at the border?

SANDERS: The president wants to have responsible immigration reform. He said before that he's-that he would like to include a DACA resolution in that process and we hope to be able to work with members of Congress to get that done and that's certainly a big priority for the Administration in 2018.

QUESTION: Can you provide any specifics?

SANDERS: Look, we've laid out what our principles on immigration reform look like and that would need to be part of any package that includes DACA.

QUESTION: There are folks on Capitol Hill that are, I believe (inaudible) that the White House is going to provide another document of smaller lists, more narrow lists of policy proposals that's looking for an exchange for protections for DREAMers. So they're expecting some other kind of document. Is that going to -- is that coming and is that something you're going to talk about tomorrow?

SANDERS: We'll certainly keep you posted if it does. Right now, we're still focused on helping achieve those principles that we laid out at the end of last year and we want to continue to work with Congress to get those done.

Steve (ph)? Sure.

QUESTION: Can I ask one more quick question? There are a...

SANDERS: I'm in a good mood today. I haven't been here in a long time, so.

QUESTION: ... at least a couple of folks that were nominated last year that did not get confirmed by the Senate. Will you re-- will the White House re-nominate them or looking, are you looking for other people?

SANDERS: I don't have any personal announcements on that front but we'll keep you posted.

Steven (ph)?

QUESTION: I want go back to North Korea for just a second. The president, in one of his tweets this morning, said that sanctions and other pressures aren't having a big impact on North Korea. But we learned this afternoon that Kim Jong-un is apparently making preparations for another missile launch either this week or next. There was the rhetoric over the weekend about a nuclear button on his desk. Can you point out how these pressures are having a big impact, as the president says, and I know a lot of people want to know, if we stay on the current course of maximum pressure, are we moving further from war or closer to the brink?

SANDERS: Again, the focus here is to continue like you said to apply maximum pressure on North Korea and we want all of the other countries, this is not just a United States threat. This is a global threat, which is why we're calling on everybody to step up and do more and we're going to continue working with a lot of different leaders and other countries to help do that. And we're going to keep all of our options on the table. As we have said time and time again, our policy on that front hasn't changed.

Mike (ph)? QUESTION: Just a follow up on that point. If the policy is denuclearization and Kim won't talk to the U.S. about that, why -- how could it be good news as the president suggested in his tweet that North Korea wants to talk to South Korea about the Olympics?

SANDERS: How can -- I'm sorry, what was the last?

QUESTION: He said it may be good news that North Korea wants to talk to South Korea about the Olympics.

SANDERS: How can -- I'm sorry, what was the last?

QUESTION: He said it may be good news that North Korea wants to talk to South Korea about the Olympics.

SANDERS: Look ...

QUESTION: So in what -- in what scenario is that good news for the White House?

SANDERS: Look, our alliance and friendship with South Korea remains stronger than -- than it ever has been and we're in close contact with those people about a unified response. We're going to continue to work with South Korea to put maximum pressure on North Korea and work towards the ultimate shared goal that we both have.

Kristin (ph)?

QUESTION: Yes, Sarah, thank you. Just a follow-up, does the United States support North Korean athletes' participation in the Olympics?

SANDERS: We haven't made a final determination on that front.

QUESTION: Is that something that you plan to determine in the coming days? Is it something that could -- (inaudible)?

SANDERS: I don't know if there's a set timeline when we're going to do that, like in the next 24 hours, but we'll certainly keep you posted.

QUESTION: All right, let me try to drill down on the president's tweet about Iran earlier today. I know you've been asked a version of this question but just to be very specific the president said it's time for change in Iran. Did he mean in leadership, or in policy, or both?

SANDERS: I think the -- again, the biggest thing is the change would be that the people of Iran have basic human rights, which their government is, frankly, not allowing them to have at this time. And certainly, in large part, stop being a state sponsor of terrorism. I mean, I think those are the changes we're looking for. If they want to do that through current leadership, if that's possible, OK. But those are our priorities, is making sure that those principles are met.

QUESTION: Does the president think it's possible with the current leadership?

SANDERS: I haven't asked him that direct question. Kevin (ph)?

QUESTION: Happy New Year, Sarah.

SANDERS: Happy New Year.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about some agenda items and then I'll follow- up with a question about the budget. Infrastructure, welfare reform, border security, which of these is the primary focus in the early stages of 2018, or is this a buckshot approach and you're simply going to go for them all and see which one you can stick the landing on first?

SANDERS: Look, the president was elected because of his ambitious agenda and his desire to get a lot of things done. We're going to focus on that. The things that you've listed are certainly going to be big priorities for us in 2018. A lot of the meetings that the president has this week with leadership will help determine what the best strategy is on each of those individual areas, but those are certainly welfare reform, infrastructure, responsible immigration reform and health care will all be top priorities for the administration this year.

QUESTION: And speaking of the meetings, both tomorrow and even coming up this weekend, for the American people who might be wondering so what happens in a meeting like this? Can you sort of layout what the expectation might be from the president's point of view?

SANDERS: I -- I think it would be to talk about, again, the strategy of the best way to accomplish maximum success in all of those areas that we've outlined. Obviously, the budget is, first and foremost, one of the biggest priorities right now and certainly the big priority in the immediate term.

the president wants a two-year budget deal that provides realistic budget caps and provides certainty for our national security, that's our biggest and number one priority and that'll be the focus front and center of the conversations that are taking place this week. And then beyond that, it will be talking about those four other priorities that I outlined, and what the strategy to get maximum success on those would look like.

Jill (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. I wanted to circle back to the Orrin Hatch retirement decision. The president and Mitt Romney have obviously traded some very harsh words against one another. Would the president be open though to supporting Mitt Romney if he decides to run?

SANDERS: I haven't had that conversation with him and I think I would be prohibited from weighing in too far, right now, given the Hatch Act on who we might or not support in that race.

QUESTION: And then, I just wanted to follow-up from the questions about the president's Pakistan tweet. Just to be perfectly clear. So there was no particular incident, nothing the public doesn't know about that prompted that tweet yesterday?

SANDERS: Look, this is something that the president has been following and has talked about, again, back during August when he laid out his Afghanistan and South Asia strategy.

SANDERS: And this is something that the administration continues to watch on a daily basis and the president receives daily updates and briefings and I can't go into any further detail beyond that.

John (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

Several of the Iranian exile groups in the United States have praised the president's comments and statements on Iran, as have former prisoners of the Iranian government, Pastor Saeed Abedini among them. Is the president in touch, either directly or indirectly with any of the exiled group, notably the National Council for Resistance in Iran?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any conversations, certainly not directly between the president. But I'd have to verify that no one in the administration has had those conversations. And I'm just not prepared to answer that extensively.

Peter (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, can I ask you about another presidential tweet today? The president today appeared to take credit for zero commercial airline deaths in 2017. In fact, there hasn't been a commercial -- U.S. commercial airline crash, fatal crash, in the country since 2009. So does President Obama deserve credit for that long stretch that dates back to 2009?

SANDERS: Look, the president has raised the bar for our nation's aviation safety and security. He certainly is very grateful. Last year the president announced his initiative to modernize air traffic control, and under his leadership, the Department of Homeland Security released enhanced security measures to ensure safer commercial air travel. Look, the president's very happy that there were no...

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

SANDERS: ... Commercial airline deaths in 2017 and we hope that that trend continues well into 2018 and beyond.

Brian (ph)?

QUESTION: Michael -- just to follow up, Michael Huerta is the FAA administrator, obviously he's had a successful run. He's an Obama holdover, his term expires this week. Will he extend Michael Huerta?

SANDERS: I don't have any personnel announcements on that front.

QUESTION: Follow-up if I can because you started talking football, so I'll ask you about football. The two teams that are going to be in the national championship game come from the state of Georgia and the state of Alabama. As you know well, obviously, Alabama just elected a Democratic senator, you said they're right in the heart of Trump country. Does the president see the country as Trump country and the rest of the country?

SANDERS: Look, I was simply making a congratulations to two great football teams in the greatest conference in the country, which...

QUESTION: (Inaudible).


SANDERS: ...I'm sure that most of you will all agree, even those that don't live in one of those lucky states.

QUESTION: I'm not going to ask you specifically about -- well, I'm not going to ask you if you worked during the holiday because I think I know what you'll say there. But what I do want to ask you is...

SANDERS: There was a holiday?


QUESTION: Right? What I wanted to ask you is, will he give a comprehensive breakdown of what he accomplished during the holiday season? And specifically, he met with Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Robert Lighthizer, his trade rep, his commerce secretary and his treasury secretary. Did you accomplish anything during that break, and could you let the American public know what it was that you accomplished?

SANDERS: Obviously, the president's been extremely focused on trade. He talked a lot about it during the campaign, he's talked a lot about it since he was sworn in. That's going to continue to be a big priority for the president in making sure that American workers and American companies are at the best end and have better trade deals. He doesn't feel like we have very many of those right now and wants to make sure that we make every effort to improve all of the trade deals that we have so that we're benefiting our workers and our companies and our country.

And that was certainly a big part of that conversation and will continue to be so. And we'll keep you posted if we have specifics to roll out on that front.

QUESTION: Does he plan to hold -- he's had one solo press conference in a year. Is there any chance we get him out here to answer some questions from us any time soon?

SANDERS: I will certainly make sure that you guys are aware if he's going to make an appearance. Look, the president communicates, he's one of the most accessible presidents we've ever had. He gives feedback and answers questions in a variety of different ways. Sometimes it's through a press conference...

SANDERS: ...sometimes it's chatting with you guys on the way to and from Marine One, it's often through Twitter where he gets to speak directly to the American people and give exact information on what his thoughts and feelings are. The purpose, if I understand correctly, is for you to get information about where the president is and we do that in a variety of different ways.

Hunter (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. And Happy New Year.

SANDERS: Happy New Year.

QUESTION: So in less than a year in office now, President Trump has visited golf courses 91 times. There's confirmation that he's played the game of golf at -- at least 75 times. Sean, back in March, told me that this was different than President Obama's use of golf, which was -- Obama played far less than President Trump, but Sean said Trump was using the game much differently. Can you tell me the biggest single thing the president has accomplished for the American people during his time on the golf course?