Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley en route Nashville, Tennessee
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Nashville, Tennessee
2:41 P.M. EST
MR. GIDLEY: Today, the President is honored to be the first President to address the American Farm Bureau in more than 25 years. Since they won, the President has been working to deliver for America’s farmers. He wants to make markets more efficient, less distorted, and provide our American farmers and manufacturers a fair platform from which to compete. When we do that, the American farmer will be the first in line to recap benefits — to reap benefits.
And just before Christmas, we enacted historic tax cuts and reform, including sparing the vast majority of farmers from the unfair death tax. Last April, the President commissioned a rural prosperity task force led by Secretary Perdue to find the greatest barriers to rural prosperity. The task force is releasing its final report today. It found five key areas vital to a more promising future, and we’re taking action to address each one.
First is better Internet coverage. Second, quality of life improvements such as infrastructure. Third is job training. Fourth is to promote innovation. Fifth is to empower rural economies. Obviously, the President will speak to this on the ground in Nashville.
This is a big day for the American farmer and really for all of America’s rural communities, and the President is excited to be a part of it.
Second is, the President will be joined on the plane upon landing in Atlanta by Alveda King, the niece of the great Martin Luther King, Jr., as he signs the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park Act into law. This legislation is sponsored by Congressman Lewis and re-designates Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic site as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park, making it the first national historical park in the state of Georgia.
The legislation also expands the boundaries of the park to include the Prince Hall Masonic Temple, which served as the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the historic civil rights organization founded by Dr. King. This will enable the National Park Service to help preserve the temple’s historic integrity.
Through his life and work, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made America more just and free. This important historical park tells his story, and this bill will help ensure that the park continues to tell Dr. King’s story for generations to come.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Hogan, yesterday, Steve Bannon issued a statement in which he calls Donald Trump, Jr. a patriot and seemed to express regret for some of the things he said in the Michael Wolff book. What is the President and White House’s reaction to that?
MR. GIDLEY: I don’t believe there’s any way back for Mr. Bannon at this point. It is very obvious that Mr. Bannon worked with Mr. Wolff in this particular book. The President has been very clear on his thoughts; issued a four-paragraph statement about Mr. Bannon. Zero ambiguity in those statements. It was obvious that the book was false and fake. The President pointed to that and also pointed that Mr. Bannon is not in it for the country but instead in it for himself. And those statements still stand.
Q What was his reaction to the apology, though, Hogan? What was the reaction the apology? What did he have to say about it?
MR. GIDLEY: I haven’t talked to the President on that. But again, I just don’t think there’s any way back at this point.
Q Can you explain —
MR. GIDLEY: Sorry, one more thing, Jen. When you go after somebody’s family, in the manner in which he did — two of the President’s children who are serving this nation, sacrificing in their service — it is repugnant, it is grotesque. And I challenge anybody to go and talk about someone else’s family and see if that person doesn’t come back and come back hard.
Q Hogan, just real quick, can you explain how Jared and Ivanka are sacrificing in their service, please?
MR. GIDLEY: I’m sorry, well, they both gave up personal and private lives to come work at the White House and work for the American people. They do that every day. And it’s ridiculous for anyone to try and attack what they do for this nation.
Q Can you explain why the President repeatedly tried to stop Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation?
MR. GIDLEY: The President was very clear at the time he didn’t think that Jeff Sessions should recuse himself. I mean, he made several comments publicly about that, but anything else I’d have to refer you to the attorneys.
Q But when others said he should recuse himself, why did the President say otherwise?
MR. GIDLEY: I’d have to refer to you to his attorneys on that.
Q Hogan, if asked by the Special Counsel, would the President commit to sitting for an in-person interview with him if that is what is requested?
MR. GIDLEY: I have a statement, actually, from Ty Cobb here on that. And I’ll read this to you, and it’s attributable to Ty Cobb: “The White House does not comment on communications with the Office of the Special Counsel out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process.”
And I can’t go any further than that.
Q Any reaction to Oprah’s speech last night?
MR. GIDLEY: No, other than to say that regardless of who’s on the ballot, regardless who decides to run against this President, they are going to have to face a President who has record-setting achievements in record-setting time, whether it’s an economy that is booming, job creation, historic tax cuts and tax reform when that hadn’t been touched in 30 years, an increase in wages, an absolute decimation of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
We welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else.
Q Did the President see the speech?
MR. GIDLEY: I didn’t speak to the President about that. I don’t know.
Q So you don’t know what his reaction to the speech is?
MR. GIDLEY: No, I’m just telling you that we welcome anybody at this point — we welcome all comers. I mean, the President is —
Q The question was about the speech, not about whether she would run for President.
MR. GIDLEY: I’m sorry?
Q The question was about Oprah’s speech, not whether she would run for President.
MR. GIDLEY: No, no, I’m commenting about — no, I don’t know whether he saw it or not. I was commenting on how we feel about —
Q So you don’t know if he saw it.
MR. GIDLEY: No, I do not know if he saw it. I’m sorry.
Q Has the President decided to run again?
MR. GIDLEY: I don’t know. Why don’t you ask his campaign? You can direct all of the campaign questions and whether he’s running again to his campaign, which is already established that up.
Q Hogan, can you comment on — the President, we know, is having his physical on Friday. What information should we be expecting from his physicians to be released to the public?
MR. GIDLEY: You’ll have to refer to his personal physician on that.
Q Could you give us his details?
MR. GIDLEY: No.
Q Then how can you refer us to him? Like, how do we contact him?
MR. GIDLEY: Oh, yes, I can do that. I thought you said, “Can you give me the details?” I thought you meant of like the physical. I was like, I’m not a doctor.
Q No, for the physician.
MR. GIDLEY: My formal training is in press.
Q And then also, on the President’s schedule, can you comment on reports that the President has long blocks of “executive time” built into his schedule, and doesn’t appear in the Oval until late morning and leaves by early evening, concerns that the President’s schedule occasionally seems very light?
MR. GIDLEY: It is ludicrous, when many of you yourselves have reported on the fact that the President exhibits yeoman-like work every day in this job, whether it be up before dawn and up into the wee hours of the morning every day. It’s been widely reported he only needs a few hours of sleep. This President works tirelessly for the American people.
And, quite frankly, the results don’t lie. Some of the things I mentioned before — record-setting achievements in record-setting time, when his detractors said he couldn’t do it, with 90 percent negative coverage, with the headwinds of palace intrigue stories, tabloid trash. And in the face of all that, he’s still able to accomplish what he’s done in this short amount of time.
The President spends a majority of that morning time, as he said before, talking to the Cabinet, talking to the Chief of Staff, calling members of Congress, members of the Senate.
And to describe his work ethic as anything other than yeoman-like is ridiculous, and everybody knows it.
Q Can I clarify one thing? When you were asked if he’s going to run again, you said, “I don’t know.” Do you think he might not? Or —
MR. GIDLEY: I was joking. I was saying go check — you’re asking if he’s going to run for President again. I said, ask the campaign. I was joking.
Q But you have no reason to believe he might not run.
MR. GIDLEY: No — absolutely, he’s going to run for President again. I mean, that’s what I’m saying. I’m going to direct the questions about whether he’s going to run or not to the campaign that’s already set up and established.
Q This is the week that he has to decide whether he’s going to waive Iran sanctions or not. Is he planning to announce his decision to the country? Or how is he going to handle that?
MR. GIDLEY: When we know the deadlines, we know the timetables — when we have an announcement, we’ll be happy to give it.
Q Hogan, there are reports that the President is going to be visiting the border wall. Is that happening after the State of the Union address? Can you give us any details on those reports?
MR. GIDLEY: Not at this point. When we have an announcement there, I’ll be able to tell you more there too.
Q Can you say why the President felt the need to tweet that he was a very “stable genius”? A lot of people thought that was a very interesting choice of words to wake up and tweet. Why did he do that?
MR. GIDLEY: Well, when most of the press calls him unstable and stupid, but the record shows quite a difference in what the media is trying to portray him to be, then he comes back with exactly what he is, which is — he’s brilliant not just in the business world but as a political tactician, as a President. The accomplishments speak for themselves. And whether it’s George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan or Donald Trump, the less — continued talking points of Republicans are just stupid and can’t accomplish things, and don’t have the capacity to serve, is just ridiculous.
It is absolute dereliction of duty as journalists to report as fact psychiatrists, who have never sat down and talked to the President and had a conversation with him. It’s repugnant. And quite frankly, as I said before, the results don’t lie. And the people that are in with him consistently talk about how incredible he is. I’ve met with him on multiple occasions. He’s sharp as a tack. He is a workhorse, and he demands his staff to be the same way.
Q Will a psychiatric exam be part of his physical?
MR. GIDLEY: I’m not going to speak to the — but, no. Q Has the President been getting updates about what happened in Trump Tower this morning?
MR. GIDLEY: I’m not aware —
Q There was a fire.
Q A small fire on the roof.
MR. GIDLEY: I’m not aware of that. But all right, thanks, guys.
2:53 P.M. EST