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White House Holds First Briefing in 42 Day; White House Claims Trump Didn't Say Democrats Anti-Jewish; White House on Trump claim that Cohen Asked for Pardon; Trump Demanding $8.6 Billion for Border Wall in 2020 Budget. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:31:17] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We've also seen him tweet in the last couple of days that Democrats are the, quote, "anti-Jewish party." Does the president really believe Democrats hate Jews?

SANDERS: Look, the president's been an unwavering and committed ally to Israel and the Jewish people, and frankly the remarks that have been made by a number of democrats and failed to be called out by democrat leadership is frankly abhorrent and it's sad, and it's something that should be called by name. It shouldn't be put in a watered down resolution. It should be done the way the republicans did it when Steve King made terrible comments.

We called it out by name, we stripped him of his committee memberships, and we'd like to see democrats follow suit.

QUESTION: But I ask -- first of all, you mention Steve King. The president -- correct me if I'm wrong -- has not condemned Steve King.

SANDERS: I...

QUESTION: Like when he said praising white supremacy. Has the president publicly come out and said anything to criticize and condemn...

SANDERS: I think on behalf of the president on a number of topics and I've talked about that a number of times and I'd refer you back to those comments where I used words like abhorrent and unacceptable. John?

QUESTION: Yes. We're getting some word that the president plans to nominate Patrick Shanahan later this week to be the Secretary of Defense, elevating him from the acting position. Can you tell us whether or not that is going to happen?

SANDERS: I am not going to make any personnel announcements at this time. I can tell you that the president has a great deal of respect for acting Defense Secretary Shanahan. He likes him. And when the president's ready to make an announcement on that front, he certainly will.

QUESTION: There are a lot of actings in the administration these days. Any possibility of removing acting Mick Mulvaney (ph)?

SANDERS: Certainly a lot of possibility there. Some of the reason that we have actings is because we're waiting on the confirmation process at least for a couple of those folks, and we hope that that moves forward quickly.

QUESTION: Sarah, I wanted to follow up on what the latest with China is. Has the president made an offer for a Mar-a-Lago date? And there's also some reports that the Chinese feel the president's an unreliable negotiating partner after walking out on the North Korea talk.

SANDERS: Let me start with the first one. In terms of whether or not we have a date set, not yet. We're continuing the negotiations with China. When we have an announcement for the two leaders to sit down, we'll certainly let you know. The second part...

QUESTION: What would you say to the concerns by the Chinese that the president's an unreliable negotiating partner after the talks with North Korea broke down and he walked away...

SANDERS: I would say that's absurd. The president's going to make a deal if it's a good deal. He's going to make a deal if it's in the best interest of America, and if he doesn't feel like it's a good deal, it's not worth just signing a piece of paper, and the president didn't feel like what was on the table was enough.

The president's 100 percent committed to the denuclearization of the peninsula, and he's going to make sure that whatever we do furthers that process. We'll see what happens with North Korea the same way we're going to see what happens in the negotiations with China.

They're ongoing and the president's going to make sure whatever deal we get is in our best interest, that it's fair and reciprocal trade, that it protects our intellectual property, and that it actually has safeguards to make sure that the Chinese follow through with whatever commitments that they make. Blake.

QUESTION: Sarah, picking up on that, does the president have any plans to speak with President Xi over the phone?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any scheduled calls, but if we have any, we'll certainly keep you posted.

QUESTION: Is that the most likely step here that they speak on the phone beforehand or is it possible that these two still meet at the end of the month or the beginning...

SANDERS: We're going to keep everything on the table. Again, negotiations are ongoing. The president's team as well as the Chinese delegation continue conversations, and when they feel like it's time for the two leaders to sit down, we'll make that happen.

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah. I have a news of the day question, but I didn't get to ask my budget question before, so can I...

SANDERS: You missed a big moment. QUESTION: I did.

SANDER: (inaudible) all the details.

QUESTION: (inaudible) All right, so in the budget the way that I see it and there's a lot of pages to go through, it keeps referring to western hemisphere with regard to the foreign aid spending, but nothing specifically about Central America. The president said that he wants to cut money to Central America. In fact, he could cut it all. Is that in the budget? Is that...

SANDERS: I don't have any specific update on that front. I don't think there's a different policy...

QUESTION: All right, on the new -- on the news of the day, the big vote's coming up this week in the Senate on the resolution with regards to the national emergency. What is the president doing to stop a rebellion among republican senators? We know that a rising number -- it's been reported as many as 10 or 15 -- could vote against that. What's the president doing about that?

SANDERS: He's doing his job. He's doing what Congress should be doing. He took an oath of office and he has a constitutional duty to protect the people of this country. We have a humanitarian and national security crisis at our border, and the president's doing his job in addressing it.

He gave Congress a number of opportunities to actually address it, and they've failed to do so. So the president is taking his constitutional authority that Congress granted him. Let's not forget the only reason he has the authority to call a national emergency is because Congress gave him the right to do so.

They've failed to do their job. The president's fulfilling his duty, and he's going to make sure he does what is necessary to protect the people of this country, secure our borders.

QUESTION: (inaudible) calls and meetings that he might be taking with senators who he believes could be voting for that resolution?

SANDERS: Certainly. We talk to a number of members every single day, certainly at the presidential and the staff level, and we're going to continue engage with them in this process.

QUESTION: Sarah. So what is the administration specifically doing to look into Secretary Acosta's role in the secret meeting (ph) for Jeffery Hepstein? Does the president (inaudible) about the role that this top official plays in this field?

SANDERS: That's currently under review. Because of that I can't get into a lot of specifics, but we're certainly looking at it.

QUESTION: Do have a timeline for that review, Sarah?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of a specific timeline? QUESTION: So I have a question for you, but I also have a follow up to a college because I didn't hear you actually answer the question. So yes or no, does the president truly believe that democrats hate Jews?

SANDERS: I am not going to comment on a potentially leaked (inaudible). I can tell you what -- I can tell you...

QUESTION: Does they -- democrats hate Jewish people as he said on the SOUTHCOM...

SANDERS: I think that they've had a lot of opportunities over the last few weeks to condemn some abhorrent comments.

QUESTION: (inaudible) the president's...

SANDERS: I'm trying to answer. If you'd stop talking, I'll finish my statement. The president has had and laid our clearly his position on this matter. Democrats have had a number of opportunities to condemn specific comments and have refused to do that. That's a question, frankly, I think you should ask democrats what their position is since they're unwilling to call this what it is and call it out by name and take actual action against members who have done thing like this like the republicans have done when they had the same opportunity.

QUESTION: So I want to ask you about Paul Manafort, but I just want to be very clear. You're not answering the question. Is there a reason?

SANDERS: I believe I answered it twice.

QUESTION: You didn't say yes or no. Does he really believe democrats hate Jews? I'm just trying to get a sense of that.

SANDERS: I think that's a question you ought to ask the democrats.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about Paul Manafort. Why hadn't -- obviously Paul Manafort goes for the second half of his sentencing this week. Why hasn't the president ruled out a pardon for Paul Manafort?

SANDERS: The president has made his position on that clear, and he'll make a decision when he's ready.

QUESTION: Sarah, on pardons, last week the president tweeted that Michael Cohen, quote, "directly asked me for a pardon." When did that happen? Was that when Cohen -- was Cohen here at the White House? He came into the Oval Office and asked the president for a pardon? Did I happen on the phone? Do you have a date of when that happened?

SANDERS: I'm not going to get into specifics of things that are currently under review by the Oversight Committee and other committees. What I can tell you is that Cohen's own attorney stated and contradicted his client when he said that he was aware that those conversations had taken place.

We know that Michael Cohen lied to Congress prior to his testimony most recently, and we know that he's lied at least twice in that hearing. I think that it's time to stop giving him a platform, let him go on to serve his time, and let's move forward with matters of the country.

QUESTION: Sarah, one budget question just to put it on the record because a lot of people in the country want to know. Is there anything in the president's 2020 budget request that has Mexico paying for the wall?

SANDERS: As the president has stated a number of times through the USMCA trade deal that we look forward to getting passed soon. That'll be part of how that takes place. John (ph)?

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you Sarah, two brief questions. Following up on John's (ph) personnel question, does the President have full confidence in Secretary Acosta or his -- the Labor Secretary possibly leaving?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any personnel changes, but again, those things are currently under review. When we have an update, I'll let you know.

QUESTION: The other question is is the President in discussion about signing an executive order to undo Executive Order 13166, President Clinton's executive order requiring ...

SANDERS: I was going to say, I hope you can (inaudible) what that one is.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: ... President Clinton's executive order 19 years ago requiring multiple languages. A new executive order I am told would make English the official language in government.

SANDERS: I'm not aware of a specific executive order that's been drafted, but that is the position of the White House. Jim (ph)?

QUESTION: Yes, did the President ask Gary Cohn to intervene or block AT&T's merger with Time Warner?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any conversations around that matter.

QUESTION: And just to -- to get back to -- to John (ph) and Hallie's (ph) question about the President's comments about Democrats and Jewish people. Isn't that kind of rhetoric just sort of beneath everybody and -- and do you think that the President has thought at all, going into this 2020 campaign, that the rhetoric just needs to be lowered?

Whether it's talking about Democrats, the media, immigrants, or should we just plan on hearing the President using the same kind of language that we heard in 2016 and all through the first couple of years of this administration?

SANDERS: Look, I -- I -- I think that the real shame in all of this is that Democrats are perfectly capable of coming together and agreeing on the fact that they're comfortable ripping babies straight from a mother's womb or killing a baby after birth, but they have a hard time condemning the type of comments from Congresswoman Omar.

I think that is a great shame. The President has been clear on what his position is, certainly what his support is for the people and the community of Israel, and beyond that I don't have anything further for you.

(CROSS-TALK)

QUESTION: ... drags down the rhetoric and the debate when you're -- you're saying something that's just patently untrue? I mean obviously ...

SANDERS: Stating their policy positions is not patently untrue.

QUESTION: ... but Democrats don't hate Jewish people, it's just silly. It's not true.

SANDERS: I think they should call out their members by name and we've made that clear. I don't have anything further for you. April (ph)?

QUESTION: President -- but President, you know ...

SANDERS: Sorry, Jim (ph). April (ph)?

QUESTION: ... after Charlottesville saying that there are very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville, essentially suggesting that there are very fine people in the Nazis.

SANDERS: That's not at all what the President was stating, not -- not then, not -- not in any point. The President has been incredibly clear and consistently and repeatedly condemned hatred, bigotry, racism in all of its forms, whether it's in America or anyone else, and to say otherwise is simply untrue. April (ph)?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) asking two questions, but that's kind of along what I was asking. Since the President did say that in Charlottesville, some very fine people on both sides, has he, in your opinion, or has he or us, cause I don't remember it, condemned the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville for their actions against the (inaudible)?

SANDERS: The President has condemned neo-Nazis and called them by name, which is what we are asking Democrats to do when they see this same type of hatred. Debra (ph)?

(CROSS-TALK)

QUESTION: Can we expect to have briefings more often now, since they have been (inaudible) changing atmosphere here?

SANDERS: I haven't noticed a change in the atmosphere. I know that the President's the most accessible President in modern history, I know that he takes questions from you guys nearly every single day and on days he doesn't, sometimes I do it from here.

We answer hundreds of questions from reporters all over the world every day, we're going to continue to do that. Sometimes we'll do it from this room, sometimes we'll do it in other venues and other platforms.

QUESTION: In the new spending blueprint, why did the ONB include money for the ...

SANDERS: I'm sorry, could you say that a little louder?

QUESTION: Yes I can. Why did the ONB include money for the Yucca mountain waste nuclear waste repository and what are the chances -- it's in -- it's in your spending blueprint -- and what are the chances that Congress will actually enact that?

SANDERS: I think that the chances that Congress will do its job based on historical precedent over the last couple of months are probably unlikely, but that doesn't mean we're not hopeful that they will work with us, look for ways that we can reduce spending and grow our -- protect our military, do things like that that -- which you see in the President's budget. We'd love for them to work with us on that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about what the thinking was to put that in?

SANDERS: I -- I'm not aware of any specific policy changes on that front or anything on there. I'll let you know if we have something. One last question?

QUESTION: Sarah, why did the President write a check to Michael Cohen for $35,000 in August of 2017 while he was here in the White House? What was that money for?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of those specific ...

QUESTION: ... testified about this, he specifically accused the President of engaging in a conspiracy to conceal campaign finance violations, he presented the check.

SANDERS: The President's been clear that there wasn't a campaign violation. Beyond that, I can't get in ...

(CROSS-TALK)

Again, I would refer you back to the President's comments, that's not something I'm a part of and I would refer you to the President's outside counsel beyond his comments.

QUESTION: ... during his time in the White House. Does the White House deny that the President is Individual 1?

SANDERS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: The Individual 1 in the Southern District of New York ...

SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to comment on that -- on an ongoing case, that's not something I would be a part of here at the White House and I would refer you to the outside counsel. What I can tell you is the President has stated his position and made it clear.

[14:45:18] Thanks so much, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why did the president deny saying something was caught on tape?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: There you have it. After 42 days, we got a briefing from the White House. Sarah Sanders at the podium there answering all kind of questions from the upcoming vote on the national emergency and the Republican rebellion, to Paul Manafort to North Korea.

So, John Avlon again is with me.

John, let's start with what seemed to be the thrust of the conversation. A lot of questions came to Sarah Sanders on comments that the president made on Friday about Democrats being anti-Israel, anti-Jewish. This is what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I thought that vote was a disgrace. And so does everybody else, if you get an honest answer. If you get an honest answer from politicians, they thought it was a disgrace. The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've become an anti-Jewish party. And that's too bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: So I know. I know. I know. I know.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And when Sarah was pressed on the president's comments there, she compared the Congresswoman Ilhan Omar situation to that of Congressman Steve King, the racist comments he's made, and the point simply being, where was Trump on Steve King?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. That was her push back. Was that the Republicans censured Steve King, took away his committees, how come the Democrats couldn't --

BOLDUAN: Trump said nothing. That's the point.

AVLON: That's the kicker. That's the kicker. That they weren't apparently ready for in the White House by invoking the example Republicans tried to set with Steve King. Crickets. Tumbleweeds. Silence from the president. When she says, tried to deny what we all heard the president say on camera, said he's consistently condemned hate and bigotry in all its former. We know it's a lie. We know the example of Charlottesville among many, many others.

BOLDUAN: Neo-Nazis came up. Why didn't he condemn them.

AVLON: Yes.

BOLDUAN: Both sides.

AVLON: Both sides, people. Not really a tough one, but apparently it was for the president who kept going back to that particular talking point. So again, you see the White House in a situation where the best they've got is trying to assert something that the president's own words makes it fall apart.

BOLDUAN: Just looked at my notes. She was asked about Paul Manafort, right, the fact that he was, we know he was sentenced week. Some thought it was lenient. He'll be sentenced on the whole lying and plea deal, that coming Wednesday. Would he not be pardoned? Did she -- she didn't totally rule it out. If I heard that correctly, right, she doubled down on Trump's claim that Cohen asked him directly for a pardon.

AVLON: Brought it back to that. I think you've got the classic White House. The president's been clear on this. When the whole point is that, no, he has not, but when you got nothing, that's the best you can do is cite a largely fictious standard. No, that door is still apparently open or Sarah Sanders didn't have the clarity or authority to speak on behalf of the president conclusively to it.

BOLDUAN: I've got a question for Maya on budgets.

Maya, here's my question for you on this whole news of Trump releasing the budget to Congress. The big one that everybody's latching on to today is the $8.6 billion for construction of the border wall. There was a question again from a reporter, is Mexico going to pay for it. News flash, no. Why do you think the president is bringing this up again? Is it about the fight for 2020? Is it about needing the money? What do you think?

MAYA MACGUINEAS, PRESIDENT, COMMITTEE FOR A RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET: Right, well, I think the fact that the wall is going to be what gets so much attention when this is the president putting out what's supposed to be the whole blueprint for how we would guide the country forward, but the reality is that the budget has become less and less serious around this just demonstrates this. That this will have a big fight over the wall. And nobody will notice a couple of key things here. This is a president who for years was critical of Barack Obama and all the debt he added, but this budget would add another $7.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. And if you use realistic numbers, which its growth numbers are too aggressive, closer to $10.5 trillion. So look at the sparkly thing over here, create a fight. And unfortunately, our entire budget process, which is really important to governance of country, is becoming less and less important and not being taken very seriously.

BOLDUAN: Let me play something for you. We took live the Q&A with Sarah Sanders. Prior to that, Russ Vought, the new OMB director, spoke. I want to play what he said about the deficit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSS VOUGHT: OMB DIRECTOR: Washington has a spending problem and it endangers the future prosperity of our nation for generations to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[14:50:02] BOLDUAN: So he said it gets harder to balance the budget every year. Congress doesn't go along with their spending plan. So my question is, is it Congress' fault? Is it the White House's fault? The administration asking for a 5 percent increase in defense spending to $750 billion. Here's what he had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOUGHT: And to be clear, this is not funding for endless wars. This is for research and development and procurement to fund the most awe- inspiring military the world has ever known.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The other piece of this, it's at the time when the U.S. is leaving Syria and Afghanistan. Where would the money go?

MACGUINEAS: We have a spending problem and we have a revenue problem and this budget doesn't really address either of them seriously, in that it extends all tax cuts in the baseline and doesn't pay for them. That makes the revenue problem worse and ignores the biggest drivers of our national debt. The bigger programs, Social Security. It does have some health care savings, but it would need to do more. And it doesn't get serious about parts of the budget that are going to fix the problem. So the focus on small domestic savings, which, in reality, aren't going to happen and are not going to be paired with big increases in defense. And some of the welfare programs, which are targeted in a way that Democrats will never go along with, means we're not being serious about the big question, how, if you want to spend more money, are you going to pay for it and how are we not going to continue this endless cycle of borrowing that's making our debt grow faster than our economy? That's going to leave us very weak for all the future challenges, including a potential recession that we're going to face at some point.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. Listening to you, seeing John Avlon nodding aggressively out of the corner of my eye.

I've got Jim Acosta standing by, our chief White House correspondent, who got a couple of questions in to Sarah Sanders at the briefing.

Loved your question about the ratcheting down the rhetoric ahead of 2020. But of all of the above, what stood out most to you, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDEN: Well, you know, this is part of the reason why we've seen the briefings get scaled down over the last several months. There are just so many difficult questions for this White House to answer. But you saw Sarah Sanders there and, to her credit, she did take multiple questions from several reporters. My colleagues at NBC and ABC and so on, were able to ask several follow up questions on some pretty pointed issues.

I think this issue of the president referring to Democrats as anti- Jewish or hating Jewish people, that just naturally is going to dredge up some of his own questions from his past. You know, the days after Charlottesville when he said that there were very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville. That's a comment that's just going to live on forever, no matter what they say here at the White House. And I think it's important to say and not even put it in the form of a question, that, obviously, Democrats don't hate Jewish people. That is just a silly thing to say. But it just goes to where we're headed, I think, over the next, you know, 18 to 24 months. We are in for probably -- it's astonishing to say this and to hear it -- but we're in the nastiest campaign we've ever seen in our lifetimes coming up in 2020. And I wanted to ask whether or not the president plans on ratheting down the rhetoric because, as we know, he is largely responsible for this driving down of our political discourse. You know, going out and making speeches saying Democrats are hating Jewish people. That just goes to pushing people's buttons in ways that you know the president of the United States really shouldn't be engaged in doing.

But getting to, I think, some of the other critical questions in this briefing, Brooke, some critical questions were asked about Michael Cohen, the Stormy Daniels payments, Paul Manafort, and whether or not he's going receive a pardon. You can see, going back to the issue of why they haven't had many briefings lately, there are just legal questions that are going to twist any press secretary into a pretzel because Sarah Sanders is not going to want to say something from the podium that might get her hauled into the special counsel's office, for example. So there's a whole host of issues that are difficult to deal with.

I think it's important when we were going through the budget with acting OMB Director Russ Vought, you know, this issue of the wall and the funding for the wall, they know that that is a political item here at the White House. It was inserted into the budget to spark another fight with Democrats. And they know, inside the Trump campaign, it's one of the bread-and-butter issues going into the 2020 election. And so these budgets tend to be almost more political documents than fiscal documents. But you know, the president did say during the 2016 campaign he knows how to eliminate a budget deficit, knows how to trim the national debt, that he'll do it in eight years and so on. And a lot of those comments coming back to haunt the president like they often do Brooke?

BOLDUAN: Yes, will the idea of a budget, driven by political ideology, we've seen that movie before with presidents on both sides.

But, Jim, thank you so much. A lot happening there.

It was nice to hear from Sarah Sanders trying to answer some of those questions.

John Avlon, I appreciate you.

[14:55:08] We'll continue that conversation with Gloria Borger.

Coming up next, the White House is asked about President Trump's stunning claim that Democrats hate Jews. And Sanders leaving a door open to a possible pardon of Paul Manafort.

We're back in a flash.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

Moments ago, at the very first White House press briefing in 42 days, the White House failed to answer a simple question, whether President Trump said during private comments that Democrats hate Jews. This all stems from these comments that the president made just this past Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And I thought that vote was a disgrace. And so does everybody else, if you get an honest answer. If you get an honest answer from politicians, they thought it was a disgrace. The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've become an anti-Jewish party. And that's too bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And just talking to our chief White House correspondent --