Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan, 11/30/2017, #36
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:17 P.M. EST
MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. As you all know, the Constitution states that the President "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend [to] their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."
With that in mind, we're pleased to announce that the President has accepted the Speaker's invitation to deliver the State of the Union Address on January 30th.
As you all know, the holiday season is in full swing here at the White House, with Thanksgiving having just passed and Christmas on the horizon. We've also just survived Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the biggest shopping days of the year.
But right in the middle of all of this is another important day that deserves attention. Earlier this week was the 6th annual Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday was created in 2012 to celebrate and support philanthropy. It's a great reminder each year that we have the opportunity and the duty to give back to the people, the institutions to the country that has given us all so much.
As the Gospel of Luke says, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Americans understand this. Year after year, the United States ranks at or near the top of the World Giving Index, which ranks countries according to how charitable their people are.
In a statement earlier this week, the President encouraged people all over the country to open up their hearts and their pocketbooks to support worthy causes. This Giving Tuesday, he said, "I thank those who have contributed to charitable organizations, including our houses of worship, and ask that we continue to come together to give and help others in need, especially to communities devastated by the recent natural disasters. Together we can ensure that the blessings of this holiday season are shared around the world."
The President is leading by example on this. As you're aware, he donates his full presidential salary on a quarterly basis. He donated his first-quarter salary to fund restoration projects at the [Antietam] National Battlefield. In the second quarter, he donated his salary to the Department of Education so they could host science, technology, engineering, and math camps for children.
And today, I have Acting Secretary Hargan from HHS to make an announcement regarding what the President will be doing with his third-quarter salary.
So, with that, I'd like to bring up the Acting Secretary. And before I wrap up, I just want to say how much we look forward to hosting everybody tomorrow. And I will be back up, after the Acting Secretary makes remarks about what the donation is for, to take questions on other topics. So with that, I'll turn it over to the Acting Secretary and be back up.
Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.
ACTING SECRETARY HARGAN: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks, Sarah. So thank you, Sarah, for that. And good afternoon everyone.
As Sarah said, I'm the Acting Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, known as HHS. HHS is home not just to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, but also to the National Institutes of Health, NIH; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, known as CDC; Food and Drug Administration, FDA; and the federal government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Agency, known as SAMHSA.
That's a lot of acronyms, so sorry about that. But I want you to know what HHS does because I'm here to talk about the check that I was just given, written by President Trump to HHS using his third-quarter salary. His decision to donate his salary is a tribute to his compassion, to his patriotism, and a sense of duty to the American people. But it's his compassion, above all, that drives his interest in the issue to which HHS is going to devote his donation: America's devastating opioid crisis.
Since day one of this administration, President Trump's leadership on this issue has driven action on it across the federal government. Speaking for HHS in particular, earlier this year, we unveiled a comprehensive strategy that attacks the opioid epidemic on five fronts. The five points are: better data on the epidemic; better research into pain and addiction; better pain management; better targeting of overdose-reversing drugs; and better prevention, treatment, and recovery services.
This strategy devotes HHS's unique resources and expertise to empowering heroes on the frontlines of this crisis. Because after all, it's our local partners in community clinics, churches, law enforcement, schools, and state, local, and tribal governments who ultimately are going to turn the tide on this epidemic. They are fighting each day, face to face, with a drug crisis that is killing more than 175 Americans every day.
Just think about that for a second. That means we'll lose seven of our fellow Americans to drug overdoses during this press briefing alone.
That kind of urgency is why President Trump delivered a speech back in October calling for HHS to declare an unprecedented nationwide public health emergency regarding the crisis.
After we did so, we've continued to take aggressive action at our department, including approving state waivers to expand addiction treatment, and clarifying that doctors and hospitals can share information with the patient's loved ones in dangerous situations like drug overdoses.
Now, I got to meet some of the local heroes that we're working to empower just a few weeks ago when I traveled to Kentucky the day after the President's speech. We visited a clinic in Lexington that treats young mothers struggling with opioid addiction and their babies who are sometimes born physically dependent on opioids themselves.
The stories we heard in Lexington hit close to home for me, personally, because I'm from a small town in southern Illinois, the kind of rural community that's been hit hard by this epidemic. It's also the kind of community that President Trump has spent a lot of time in over the past couple of years where he's heard about how Americans are suffering.
Part of the way we aim to stop this crisis is by raising awareness of how devastating and deadly drug addiction can be. That's why we're so pleased that President Trump has chosen to donate his salary this quarter to the planning and design of a large-scale public awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid addiction.
And HHS is proud to be working with the White House on this effort. And our team of public health experts brings a great deal of experience and expertise to the table regarding how to make these campaigns effective.
At HHS, our goal is to create healthier lives, stronger communities, and a safer country. And we're glad to have a President who recognizes that the opioid crisis is a huge threat to all three of these goals.
The President is personally dedicated to defeating this crisis because addiction hits home for so many of us. You heard him share the story in his opioid speech about how he lost his own brother to alcoholism. And speaking personally, opioid addiction has been a presence in my hometown, in my family, for years. It was years ago, in fact, that I lost a close relative who constantly struggled with opioids.
So, this Christmas and holiday season, all of us should consider following the President's example and think about what we can do in our own private lives to help fight back against a crisis that's tearing American families apart. We all know people that are hurting this holiday season, and I know that we, as Americans, will rise to their aid.
So thanks again for having me here today, and thanks once again to President Trump for his generous donation.
MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Acting Secretary Hargan. I appreciate you being here today on behalf of the department.
Q You got a cold there, Sarah?
MS. SANDERS: I actually have strep throat, so, if you guys will bear with me a little bit I may sneak a sip of water here. Thank you for your concern. And I may not stay as long as normal, but I'm going to do the best I can.
And, Steve, we'll start with you on questions.
Q Thank you. With all these reports about Secretary Tillerson today, could you talk a little bit about the relationship between the President and the Secretary? Does the President have confidence in him? And does the President agree with all of the positions that the Secretary has taken regarding North Korea, the Gulf crisis, et cetera?
MS. SANDERS: Look, as we've said many times before -- as many of you love to write these type of stories -- when the President loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they're in.
The President was here today with the Secretary of State. They engaged in a foreign leader visit and are continuing to work together to close out what we've seen to be an incredible year.
Q Can we deduce from that that the President has confidence in the Secretary of State?
MS. SANDERS: I think I addressed that pretty clearly just now.
Q Is that a yes?
MS. SANDERS: As I just said, and as we've said many times before, when it comes to questions like this of senior staff and Cabinet Secretaries, when the President loses confidence in somebody, they'll no longer be here.
As the President said on the record, and several of you were in the room in the Oval today, the Secretary of State is here and we're working hard to get big things accomplished and close out what's already been a very strong and positive year.
Q What's his future in the administration?
MS. SANDERS: I think his future right now is to continue working hard as the Secretary of State, continue working with the President to carry out his agenda.
Q Thanks, Sarah. A question on taxes. The Joint Committee on Taxation says that, by 2027, people making between $40,000 and $50,000 a year will pay a combined $5.3 billion more in taxes under the current bill while those earning a $1 million or more will pay $5.8 billion less. And coupled with that, the University of Chicago surveyed 38 economists. Only one said that the bill would lead to substantial economic growth, and all 38 said that the cut will increase the debt. Is it the White House position that these analyses are wrong?
MS. SANDERS: I can't speak to that specific report because I haven't had a chance to look at it and talk to the economic team here. What I can tell you is what I've said every single day that we've been of this process: The President laid out his priorities. We feel like the plans, as of right now, from the House and Senate meet those priorities of cutting taxes for the middle class, simplifying the tax code, bringing business back home. Those have been the big focus of the administration, and those are going to be the things we continue to fight for as we go through this tax policy.
Q The JCT -- nonpartisan -- their analysis seems to say middle-class taxes would actually go up in a lot of cases --
MS. SANDERS: There are several studies that say the opposite --
Q Does White House or the Treasury have data that would contradict that?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah. And there have been several studies that say that this is a good thing for the middle class. I saw one just yesterday; we'll send it to you after the briefing concludes.
But again, we're going to continue fighting for this and making sure that the middle class does receive tax cuts that they deserve and, frankly, that they need. And we think that we're making a lot of progress on this front. And we think that we're going to get it done by the end of the year.
Q Based on Ambassador Haley's speech yesterday at the U.N., and the President's tweet this morning, does this administration now advocate regime change in North Korea? And if not, why not?
MS. SANDERS: This administration is focused on one big thing when it comes to North Korea, and that's denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That's our number-one priority. That's what we're focused on. Anything beyond that is not the priority at this point.
Q Thank you, Sarah. I want to ask about the videos that the President tweeted yesterday. Firstly, does the President feel that he has an obligation to ensure that the information that he shares on his Twitter feed to millions of people is accurate?
MS. SANDERS: I think the President feels that bringing up important issues of our time, like extreme violence and terrorism, are important to do. That was what he was doing in that process, and I think he's going to continue to do that in a number of venues, whether it's through speeches, whether it's through Twitter, or other social media platforms.
Q But does he understand, though, that sharing those videos might incite violence against Muslims? And does he understand that he's elevated a fringe political group that many people outside of Britain didn't even know about until he tweeted?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I think what he's done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat, and that's extreme violence and extreme terrorism, something that we know to be very real and something the President feels strongly about talking about, and bringing up and making sure is an issue every single day; that we're looking at the best ways to protect Americans.
Q On that point, Sarah, did the President, when he retweeted Jayda Fransen, know who she was?
MS. SANDERS: No, I don't believe so. But again, I think he knew what the issues are, and that is that we have a real threat of extreme violence and terrorism not just in this country, but across the globe, particularly in Europe. And that was the point he was making, and I don't really have very much to add beyond that.
Q Yesterday, the President tweeted that NBC should terminate Joe Scarborough because of an "unsolved mystery that took place in Florida years ago." Why did President Trump think it was appropriate to seemingly reference the death of Lori Klausutis in 2001? And does the think Scarborough is responsible for the death of his former aide?
MS. SANDERS: I don't have anything to add on that front, beyond the tweet.
Q Sarah, a couple things. One, what was the tipping point between President Trump and Tillerson?
MS. SANDERS: Like I said, I don't believe there was a tipping point, considering they were sitting here in a meeting today, working hard to carry out the President's agenda. I think the tipping point is trying to do the best they can to make sure that they're making our world a better place, making America safer, and they're working together to get that done.
Q Is the President listening to Tillerson as it relates to North Korea, as North Korea is escalating?
MS. SANDERS: The President is listening to the Secretary of State, as well as the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, his Chief of Staff, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a number of other individuals, including world leaders that he has spoken to several times this week specifically about North Korea. And he's going to continue to do that and continue to talk to all of the relevant stakeholders.
Q What about John Conyers? John Conyers is in the hospital.
MS. SANDERS: Sorry, April. I'm going to keep moving.
Q What about John Conyers? He's in the hospital and there's a call for him to resign. What does the President have to say about that?
MS. SANDERS: That that's a decision for John Conyers to make.
Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Back to Tillerson. Where does the administration think these stories are coming from? Is it difficult, in your view, for Mr. Tillerson to carry out his job as Secretary of State with all of these questions surrounding whether or not he's going to be in the administration maybe through January of next year?
MS. SANDERS: Look, I don't know where those stories are coming from. I don't try to spend most of my day figuring that out. I'd rather focus on the points that I know and the points that we're driving through the administration. And the Secretary of State is a pretty tough guy. I think he'll be just fine carrying his job out.
Q Sarah, we often hear the President -- or see the President talk about the stock market. We haven't yet heard from him, though, on a separate but similar issue, which is cryptocurrency. Has the President been following this at all -- Bitcoin specifically, the major run-up in it? Does he have an opinion on it? Does he feel or does the administration feel that this is now something that needs to be regulated by the government?
MS. SANDERS: I know this is something that is being monitored by our team here. In terms of specific briefings and announcements on it, I don't have anything that I can share with you right now but would be happy to follow back up with you.
Q What kind of monitoring?
MS. SANDERS: I'm sorry?
Q What kind of monitoring?
MS. SANDERS: Look, this is an issue, I know, that Tom Bossert, with the homeland security team, an advisor to the President, has brought this up in a meeting earlier this week. I know it's something that he's keeping an eye on. And we'll keep you posted when we have anything further on it.
Q Sarah, I'm sorry to hear you're not feeling well. Actually -- I hope you feel better -- I have a question about the President's health. Mr. Trump's predecessors, going back -- I checked as far as Ronald Reagan -- every year would go up to Bethesda to be looked at by the best doctors in the military, and they would report on their health and their vital statistics to the American public. We have a month left in the year. Does President Trump intend to get a physical at Walter Reed?
MS. SANDERS: I'd have to ask. That's not something I've checked on, but I would be happy to check on it.
Q Do you know if the President intends to share any details about his health the way his predecessors have?
MS. SANDERS: Like I said, I haven't asked him that, but I'd be happy to check. I do know that I spent 12 days on the road with him in Asia, and despite the fact that he's a little bit older than me, he had twice the energy that I do, and I'm the one sick now and he's still going. So I think he's in pretty good health, but I'll be happy to share any information.
Q Thank you, Sarah. You read the verse from Luke earlier about how to those who are given much, much is expected. Linking that to tax policy, the President said yesterday that this tax bill is going to cost him a fortune. Independent analysis says that that's not true; that he's actually going to save a lot of money and his family could save more than billion dollars. So can you tell us specifically what in the bill is going to cause the President to pay more in taxes than he's paying now?
MS. SANDERS: Yeah, I think some of the provisions in the bill, which may or may not be there -- we'll see what they final piece of legislation looks like -- but a lot of the deductions that he would probably normally receive might not be part of the package that would affect his actual -- what he pays in taxes.
But again, until there's a final piece of legislation, I can't go into much more detail. But I know that some versions of it take out a lot of those deductions that currently benefit the President and his family.
I'll take one last question here.
Q The President was pretty definitive yesterday when he said he would pay more, that his wealthy friends would pay more. So what was he referring to?
MS. SANDERS: Well, like I just said, I believe his reference was to a lot of the deductions that may no longer exist that are in the current policy right now. Again, we'll have to see what the final piece of legislation looks like.
Our focus, as an administration, has been to focus on middle-class tax cuts. That's why I think the President doesn't care whether or not he gets a tax cut or not, but his focus is on making sure that the middle class and middle-class families get those tax cuts, that we simplify the process, and that we bring companies back home so that they can invest here.
Margaret, I'll take one more question.
Q Sarah, you repeatedly said that Tillerson would help to close out a successful year. Are you saying that he will close out the year? Will he serve beyond that? And when you're talking about elevating the conversation here, does the President normally watch these kind of anti-Muslim videos that have been posted by this group? I mean, is that --
MS. SANDERS: I'm not sure every single video the President has viewed.
In terms of the Secretary of State, I think I've spoken about that pretty extensively and answered that question.
Q But that language seemed pretty deliberate by you. Were you really meaning to signal --
MS. SANDERS: We're all closing out the year. You guys are closing out the year in your news network. We don't set the calendar; that's something that happened a few centuries ago. The year is going to end whether we like it or not. And we're all going to close it out, and we're all going to do the very best job we can for the American people in that process.
I don't mean anything by it more than that. I'm closing out the year; you guys are. I know most of you are doing end-of-the-year stories, because that's how the calendar works -- the year ends. And we're going to end on a really strong note, and I think we're going to end the briefing on a strong note.
And I'm going to go get some water and a few cough drops. And our team will be around the rest of the afternoon to answer any other questions you guys have. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
3:37 P.M. EST