Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders | Eastern North Carolina Now

Press Release:

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room  •  October 29, 2018  •  2:27 P.M. EDT

    MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. I want to begin today with a few words about the heinous killing of 11 Jewish Americans at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday.

    As you know, the shooter is in custody, and the FBI is on the scene leading the investigation with the support of state and local law enforcement.

    This atrocity was a chilling act of mass murder. It was an act of hatred. And above all, it was an act of evil. Anti-Semitism is a plague to humanity, and it is responsible for many of the worst horrors in human history.

    We all have a duty to confront anti-Semitism in all its forms, and everywhere and anywhere it appears.

    The American people reject hatred, bigotry, prejudice, and violence. We are a nation that believes in religious liberty, tolerance, and respect. And we are a people who cherish the dignity of every human life.

    Today, America grieves for the precious lives that were cruelly stolen. Our hearts ache for every person who lost a loved one.

    The 11 Jewish Americans who were horribly murdered represented the very best of our nation. They were brothers and sisters who looked out for each other. They were doctors who cared for citizens in need. They were proud grandparents who taught their grandchildren to value faith, family, and country. And they were the religious heart of the Tree of Life community.

    Our nation mourns the loss of these extraordinary Americans, and we also pray for those who were wounded. Our hearts are with the four brave police officers who were shot and injured while trying to stop the attack. We thank God for these officers and for every member of law enforcement who responded swiftly and bravely.

    In the wake of the attack, we have witnessed Americans of every faith and tradition coming together to mourn with their fellow citizens to support one another and to stand in solidarity with America's Jewish community.

    The President cherishes the American Jewish community for everything it stands for and contributes to our country. He adores Jewish Americans as part of his own family.

    The President is the grandfather of several Jewish grandchildren. His daughter is a Jewish American, and his son-in-law is a descendent of Holocaust survivors.

    Tomorrow, the President and First Lady will travel to Pennsylvania to express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community.

    And with that, I will take your questions.


    Q Sarah, the President said over the weekend that he could tone up his rhetoric. What does he mean by that? And does he have any concern at all that his words could inspire or provoke troubled people to do awful things?

    MS. SANDERS: Certainly the President wants, in moments where our country is hurting, like we've seen in the last several days, to find ways to bring our country together. And we've seen him do exactly that.

    However, the President is going to continue to draw contrast - particularly as we go into the final days of an election - the differences between the two parties, particularly on policy differences. You'll continue to see him make that contrast.

    But he has certainly, I think, found those moments to bring our country together and certainly focus on some of the things that all of us can support and all of us can condemn as well.


    Q But he's also harshly attacked some of the very people that received those pipe bombs, and this morning suggesting that the news media is responsible for the anger in the country.

    How does he do that when, in the case of the pipe bomber, this was somebody who went to Trump rallies, this is somebody who had a van covered with attacks on the media and praise for the President? The shooter in Pittsburgh is somebody who was provoked, it seems, by the caravan the President has spent so much time talking about. Why is he out there - when you say he's trying to unite the country, why is he out there making these attacks?

    MS. SANDERS: Jonathan, the very first thing that the President did was condemn the attacks, both in Pittsburgh and in the pipe bombs. The very first thing the media did was blame the President and make him responsible for these ridiculous acts. That is outrageous that that would be the very first reaction of so many people across this country.

    Q I'm not blaming the President.

    MS. SANDERS: I'm not finished. The only person responsible for carrying out either of these heinous acts were the individuals who carried them out. It's not the President no more than it was Bernie Sanders's fault for the individual who shot up a baseball field of congressional Republicans. You can't start putting the responsibility of individuals on anybody but the individual who carries out the crime.

    Q But why is the President suggesting it's the news media? The President is the one placing blame here.

    MS. SANDERS: No, the President is not placing blame.

    Q It's what he did this morning.

    MS. SANDERS: The President is not responsible for these acts. Again, the very first action that the President did was condemn these heinous acts. The very first thing that the media did was condemn the President, and go after and try to place blame not just on the President, but everybody that works in this administration. The major news networks' first public statement was to blame the President and myself included. I mean, that is outrageous than anybody other than the individual who carried out the crime would hold that responsibility.


    Q Sarah, what's it going to take to stop these killings from happening over and over and over again?


    MS. SANDERS: You know, I think if we had a good answer to that, I think everybody in the country would support it. If anybody knows the answer, I think certainly this administration would be all ears. The President spends every single minute of every single day looking for the best ways to protect the safety and security of Americans, and we're going to continue to do that.


    Q Can I add just a second thing? Is the President going to give a speech on immigration this week? And what's your thinking about options in terms of closing the border?

    MS. SANDERS: We'll keep you posted if there's any scheduling announcement on an address on that topic. I'm not aware of that at this point in time.

    Q Eleven Jewish leaders in the Pittsburgh area have said that the President's visit is not welcome unless and until he denounces fully and forthrightly white nationalism. Does the White House believe this President has done enough to denounce white nationalism?

    MS. SANDERS: The President has denounced racism, hatred, and bigotry in all forms, on a number of occasions. We'll continue to do that. I'm doing it here today. And I would also say, at the same time, that some individuals - they're grieving, they're hurting. The President wants to be there to show the support of this administration for the Jewish community. The rabbi said that he is welcome as well. And certainly, we want to show our support for those individuals.

    Q If I could just follow that up. I know that there is another meeting this morning about what to do about the border. You're thinking about an executive action, maybe some sort of regulatory action. Is one of the options being discussed making it impossible for anybody to claim asylum unless they enter through a port of entry? So that would mean that anybody who crosses the border illegally would not be able to make a valid claim of asylum?


    MS. SANDERS: There are a lot of options that are being discussed right now. The number-one priority is looking for ways to secure our borders. We'd love for Democrats in Congress to actually help step up and do their job, and help us do that. If they don't, and they're unwilling to do - as they've shown in the past that they are - then we're looking at administrative actions that will help and allow us to do so.


    Q Sarah, thank you very much. About the Brazilian election - the State Department repeated today that a commitment to promote human rights and democracy will continue to guide the relationship with Brazil. However, the Brazilian President-elect, Bolsonaro, has made very controversial comments about minorities. The opposition defended the military declaration in Brazil.

    My question is if the White House plans to address this and ask assurances from the government - the incoming government in Brazil - that they will protect human rights and democracy in Brazil.

    And another question: What do you think about these comparisons that a lot of people say that -

   MS. SANDERS: Let me address the first thing.

    Q Sure.

    MS. SANDERS: First, we promote human rights all over the world. We value our longstanding relationship with Brazil, and we want to continue to be able to work with them, and we'll see what happens from there.

    And your second question?

    Q Okay, so what do you think about these comparisons? A lot of people are calling Bolsonaro the "Trump of the Tropics." And if President Trump plans to invite Bolsonaro to the White House, or if he has any plans to go to Brazil anytime soon, maybe attend Bolsonaro's inauguration?

    MS. SANDERS: There's only one Donald Trump, in my opinion.

    Steven, go ahead.

    Q I'd like to follow up on Jon's question about the caravan. The President has used the word "invasion" to describe this caravan. That's the same word that is mentioned in the Constitution three times - "invasion" - with respect to the powers of the federal government to repel invasions.

    So my question is, have there been any discussions here with respect to that about the fact that the Constitution provides for, for example, the suspension of habeas corpus to repel an invasion if the public safety requires it? Is the President talking about potentially ignoring posse comitatus by having the military go down? There's a provision in the law that allows for a constitutional exemption. Is that in any way under consideration?

    MS. SANDERS: We're looking at a number of different options. I know that the Department of Defense is holding a press conference this afternoon at 4 o'clock to talk about some of the actions that they'll be taking. I would encourage you to tune into that.

    Q That's not a "no" to my question. It has not been ruled out? Those are options on the table?

    MS. SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to get into specific policies that we're considering. There's a number of actions that we're looking at taking. When we're ready to make an announcement on that front, we'll let you know.


    Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. The midterms are eight days from today. And we often get - from both parties - what the midterms actually mean the day after the election. So I wanted to ask you what the midterms mean, before the election. The President, on October the 18th, in Mississippi, said, "I'm not on the ticket. But I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum [on] me." Is that right? Is this midterm election a referendum on the President?
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