Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short | Eastern North Carolina Now

Press Release:

    Issued on: March 16, 2018  •  James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  •  2:18 P.M. EDT

    MS. SANDERS: Pulling out the big guns for Friday. (Laughter.) Serious business. Good afternoon.

    Q Good afternoon. Happy Friday.

    MS. SANDERS: Let me start by addressing the Black Hawk helicopter crash in Iraq. At least from initial reporting, the crash does not appear to have been caused by enemy action. However, this incident is under investigation. This tragic crash reminds us all that our courageous men and women take extraordinary risks every single day in service of our country.

    American troops, alongside their coalition partners, continue their efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and to prevent its re-emergence. As the President tweeted, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the brave troops lost... Their sacrifice in service to our country will never be forgotten."

    Looking ahead to next week, the President will be traveling to New Hampshire on Monday. The purpose of this trip is to further enforce the administration's commitment to combatting the opioid crisis.

    As the President said in his State of the Union Address, this "administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need, for those who have been hurt so terribly. The struggle will be long and it will be difficult, but, as Americans always do - in the end, we will succeed. We will prevail."

    As you all know, the last couple of weeks we have highlighted Democrats' unprecedented effort to stop the President from filling his administration with highly-qualified nominees.

    Today, we have a special guest with us to provide some additional details on that front. Marc Short, our Director of Legislative Affairs, will come up now to make a statement and take a few questions. Then I'll be back up after he's done to take your questions on other news of the day. Thanks.


    MR. SHORT: Thanks, Sarah. Hey, good afternoon. Since I know many of you are interested in White House personnel issues, we wanted to take a few minutes to discuss the historic obstruction that we have faced by Senator Schumer and Senate Democrats in confirming our nominees to enable us to fill out our White House.

    The Senate, obviously, has the constitutional responsibility for advice and consent. So what that looks like in real life is the President selects a nominee, they then undergo an entire FBI background check, they work with the Office of Government Ethics to de-conflict financial issues - and that's a process that takes a good amount of time, a good amount of resources.

    Only then, after cleared through an FBI background check and the Office of Government Ethics, is a nominee submitted to the United States Senate. When they get to the Senate, they go through several additional evaluations, including meetings with staff, meetings with the members on both sides of the aisle. The nominee then undergoes a hearing and the committee then votes on the nominee to get out of that committee.

    At that point, the nominee moves to the Senate floor for full confirmation. Traditionally, the Senate routinely confirms the administration's nominees once out of committee. It is there to respect the will of the American people and the election for an administration to fill out its roles under a new President. Instead, what Senator Schumer has done is to require cloture votes to essentially slow down the process and to obstruct.

    At this point, in the past four administrations combined - the last four administrations - the Senate had conducted 17 cloture votes combined; cloture vote, in essence, being a filibuster on a nominee. Seventeen cloture votes in the last four administrations combined, at this point. Today, the Senate has had 79 cloture votes in the first 14 months of our administration. Seventeen, over the last four administrations, versus seventy-nine in the first 14 months of our administration. That is roughly five times the number of the last four administrations combined.

    Senator Schumer is essentially weaponizing a Senate procedure and demanding cloture votes on our nominees that he even eventually supports. Eleven of the President's nominees have been approved without a single dissenting vote, yet still forced to go through a 30-hours of debate to essentially slow down the Senate calendar simply for the purpose of obstruction. Even Senate Democrats have begun to call this out and to say it is getting to the point of ridiculous.

    At this rate, the United States Senate would take eleven and a half years to confirm our nominees. Eleven and a half years to confirm our nominees.

    So, let me give you one more example of the comparison, historically. In the first entire term of the George H.W. Bush administration, his entire four years, he faced one cloture vote. In the entire four years of the Clinton administration, he faces 10 cloture votes. Under the George W. Bush administration, the entire first term, he faced four cloture votes. Barack Obama faced 17 in his first entire four years. We have faced 79 in our first 14 months. That adds up to 32 combined in the entire first four years of those administrations, relative to 79 in our first less than a year and a half.

    So let me give a couple more illustrations of specific individuals. Pat Pizzella is our nominee to be the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor. We still do not have a Deputy Secretary, a number two person, at the Department of Labor. Pat Pizzella was nominated 269 days ago. He was reported out of committee in October. He was confirmed in the George W. Bush administration by a unanimous voice vote. So he's already been confirmed by a previous Congress without any dissention, and yet, 269 days later, we still do not have a Deputy Secretary at the Department of Labor.

    At the EPA, the Deputy Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, he was nominated 152 days ago. Scott Pruitt, still to this day, does not have a deputy, a number two, serving at the EPA. He was reported out of committee in November.

    Yleem Poblete will be Assistant Secretary for Arms Control at the Department of State when confirmed. Obviously, Arms Control is an important issue for national security and particularly heightened in light of upcoming negotiations with North Korea. She was nominated 298 days ago, and has been previously a Staff Director at the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

    Isabel Patelunas, nominated 270 days ago, reported out of committee in July, has been nominated to be Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Intelligence and Analysis. This helps work with many of the sanctions that you have covered.

    So many of these positions, in fact, are national security positions. And lastly, Kevin McAleenan, to be Commissioner of the Customs and Border Patrol, was nominated 298 days ago. Obviously, it's been a priority of this administration to highlight the security threats we face on our southern border. Kevin, in taking that role, will be safeguarding our borders and helping to prevent terrorists and contraband from entering the United States. Yet, Congress and the Senate continues to dither and not have a confirmation vote.

    We are pleased that he finally got through a cloture vote last week. We expect him to be confirmed on Monday night. But 298 days later - as the American people have been anxious to make sure that our south border is being secured, we still do not have a head of the Customs and Border Patrol.

    So this level of obstruction is beyond historic. It is something that - as you, I know, are very focused on personnel inside the White House - we ask that you also shed light on the historic obstruction that's happening in the United States Senate to make sure that we are able to fill out our administration to do the job of the American people and to help make sure that our country is safe and secure.

    Q Thanks a lot, Marc. Thanks for coming out. You mentioned the plight of your nominee at the State Department for the Arms Control position, and you mentioned the need for having that person for the upcoming negotiations with North Korea, yet you still do not have a nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea. Why is that? When will you have that nominee? And is that position also important for your efforts?

    MR. SHORT: Sure, I think that there has been several conversations about that internally with putting forward nominees that - as they go through that process. In many cases, it gets so delayed and so long that nominees have withdrawn from the process before actually being submitted to the Senate. So there is a couple of examples where that's happened recently. That includes that post. But we have been having ongoing conversations about nominating someone soon.

    Q On Rick Grenell, the President's nominee for Ambassador to Germany, which Senator is actually holding up this nomination, withholding unanimous consent? And why doesn't Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just - and is there reason he has been given for withholding unanimous consent, and why doesn't Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just force a vote on the nominee.

    MR. SHORT: Thanks. I'm going to - Mary Elizabeth is one of the stars on our team who's been with us from day one, and she helped to staff Justice Gorsuch to the confirmation, helped us shepherd him through, and is the one in charge of all our nominations. So I'm going to phone a friend on that one, but Grenell got out of committee, right? And so basically he's waiting for a final vote on the Senate floor.

    MS. TAYLOR: Yes.

    MR. SHORT: And so that, I believe he got out of committee several months back. So he's another one that should be on our list of those that has been waiting.

    The challenge that Leader McConnell faces - when you're not allowed to just bring up for a voice vote, you have to go through a cloture, then he has to prioritize these. And that is one more of our nominees that has simply been historically obstructed.


    Q Marc, thanks. You know well what goes on on the Hill. This is part of the toxic nature that's been going on for several years. I mean, the Democrats pushing back because of Republicans. What are you doing to ease or water down that toxicity? What can you do?

    And secondly, explain to those who don't understand how it is that a minority party - when you control both the Congress - you know, both the House and the Senate - how you're unable to get it through, because that is one of the big stumbling blocks for people to understand why you're complaining.

    MR. SHORT: Right. Well I think that the reality is that this is a Senate process; it's not a House process. But as you nominate a candidate to the Senate for a personnel issue, the Senate has the ability to go through the nomination process - the committee process - but it requires a super majority to get past the motion to proceed. And what the Senate has done is they've basically said, we're going to require a cloture vote on these nominees where, historically, once out of committee, they would bring it to the Senate floor, they would just require an up-or-down vote.

    And you say that it is part of the toxicity that has been going on for some time. I think that's the point we're trying to make, is this hasn't been going on for some time. This has not the tradition of the United States Senate to do what they're doing right now under Senator Schumer. It is not been - it has not happened. As the numbers I went through, we faced, again, four times the number of cloture votes in 14 months in the last four terms combined - the last 16 years, the first term of a Presidency. So this is not what's historically been done.

    Q Do you see it as a reflection of, for example, when Obama was in office and the Republicans said they were going to make it their prime concern not to pass any legislation that Obama favored. Don't' you see that as part of the problem?

    MR. SHORT: I think part of the challenge is the American people got so frustrated with the way that Washington worked, that they elected an outsider to come to Washington to try to help fix it. What we're trying to do is to shed light on the way that this town works and the way that, currently, the United States Senate is broken.

    And yes, we are assigning that blame to Senator Schumer and his team of Democrats because, in many cases, even the fellow Democrats are saying the level of this is getting absurd, and it's time that we allow the President to fill out his administration.

    Q And the Republicans don't bear any of the blame?

    MR. SHORT: I think the reality is the Republicans are moving forward for these votes. I do think, as far as one of the solutions, this is going to be, obviously, an issue for the United States Senate. But I do think that this will force pressure to continue to see more rules changed in the United States Senate.

    Q But specifically, Marc, does the President still feel - do you still feel - do you feel that Rule 22 should be amended or eliminated to prevent what you're describing which are national security ramifications. I mean, you have a number of positions that you are arguing are essential to the national security of the United States. And you say that this something the Democrats are obstructing, too; Republicans have 51 votes. What should happen?

    MR. SHORT: I think the United States Senate is going to continue to have internal conversations about potential rule changes and I think it's a very fair question. I want to be very respectful of having a White House determine what the United States Senate rules should be. But I think by continuing to highlight and recognize the level of obstruction, I think, it continues to put more pressure on the Senate to address this internally.

    Q Oh, well, I was going to ask if you're concerned that this objection will carry over to the nominee for Secretary of State and the nominee for the CIA Director?

    MR. SHORT: Thanks. I think that, obviously, the current Director of the CIA is somebody who is incredibly qualified. As people know, he graduated top of his class at West Point, graduated top of his class at Harvard Law School. I think he's done a phenomenal job as Director of the CIA, and, when he went through that process, earned bipartisan support to the Director of the CIA.

    So we would certainly hope that considering only 14 months ago, 15 Senate Democrats crossed over to support his nomination - that they would also support his nomination to be Secretary of State.

    Likewise, we feel that Gina is uniquely qualified - as somebody who has served in the CIA for 33 years, has been a Station Chief in multiple localities, has been commended by Democrats and Republicans alike for those that she has served under in previous administrations. I think that she has incredible qualities.

    We've very excited about her nomination. We're excited that she would be the first female Director of the CIA. And we would expect a very quick - we would expect a quick hearing and, moving forward, the vote, because these are very critical national security positions.

    Q Marc, has the President had any personal conversations with Senator Schumer about this "obstruction," in your words - specifically, as he's been having conversations about infrastructure and other matters. Has he has Senate Democrats over here? And why haven't we heard more from him talking about this? And also, do you believe that, just given the backlog here, how many more confirmation hearings can this Senate withstand as it leads to other potential of personnel announcements that we may or may not be seeing in the coming days here?

    MR. SHORT: I think you're going to - I think the President has been vocal about this. I think that perhaps I'm a warmup act for him making a larger foray into this to make his case to the American people that the objection has gotten ridiculous. And yes, he's also spoken to Senator Schumer about his frustration with it.

    Q Marc, is there the possibility that the President could offer something - make a deal where not everyone gets what they want? But has he offered anything to Senator Schumer in exchange for helping get some of these nominations through?

    MR. SHORT: I guess it's hard for me to understand what it is that we should be offering when the American people elect a President - elect a new administration to come in - and the expectation is they should be able to fill out their administration.
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