Archive for November 17th, 2017

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, 11/17/2017, #33

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:00 P.M. EST

MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Yesterday, momentum continued to build behind our plan to deliver massive tax relief and job creation for the American people. The House passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and the Senate Finance Committee passed its companion tax reform bill. These were important moments as we move closer to a final vote.

In recent months, we've heard from American entrepreneurs, workers, and families from every corner of our nation about how this plan will empower them to build a better life.

In Pennsylvania, Susie Schlomann said that our plan will be “incredible for me and other fixed-income retirees,” because tax relief is targeted at the middle class.

In Ohio, Kristina Port -- a small business owner who raised twins as a single mother while launching her company -- said the increase in the child tax credit would help working mothers. She also said simplifying the complex tax code would ease the burden on entrepreneurs and allow them to devote more of their time to growing their business, rather than wrestling with their taxes.

In state after state, story after story, we've heard how our plan will profoundly improve the lives of hardworking Americans. The optimism is coming back, because with this tax plan -- combined with the President’s efforts to eliminate job-killing regulations -- Americans feel like their goals are once again attainable.

It’s a reminder of one of the things that made our country unique to begin with. Our people have always been able to visualize a future for themselves and their children and make it a reality. That’s why it’s called the "American Dream,” and this tax plan will make it more attainable for more of our people than ever before.

But for this to happen, we need economic growth that makes it possible for businesses to create jobs and raise wages. So to give some perspective on how our tax plan is going to do that, I’ve invited Kevin Hassett, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, to join us in the briefing today. Kevin will say a few words and then take some questions specific to this topic. And, as always, I will come back up to take the rest of your questions after that, which I'm sure will all be on tax reform. (Laughter.)

So, with that, I'll turn it over to Kevin.

MR. HASSETT: Thanks, Sarah. Thanks. And it's a pleasure to be here to see so many familiar faces. You know, last week I had the honor of chairing the Economic Policy Committee meeting at the OECD in Paris. And the Economic Policy Committee is one of the oldest committees in OECD, and it brings together people, like the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, from countries around the OECD.

And, at the meeting, they were going through the staff recommendations of the OECD for creating economic growth in countries around the world. And the three main points of the staff recommendations were tax reform, infrastructure, and deregulation -- that if the government pursues those things, then they can produce more economic growth.

In fact, there was widespread acclaim for the President's approach towards corporate taxation in particular, because the OECD has been calling for us to reform our corporate tax code for almost a decade.

And so the idea right now that this corporate tax reform is close to the finish line is celebrated not only by us at the White House, but by people around the world who have recognized that us having a non-competitive tax code, the highest corporate tax on Earth, a worldwide system that rewards companies for locating activity elsewhere, is bad not only for us but for the world economy -- because a vibrant U.S. economy is good even for our friends in the OECD.

And, with that, I'm pleased to see that the House Ways and Means Committee and then the House have passed this bill, and that it's out of the Finance Committee -- I look forward to the Senate moving forward right after the Thanksgiving break.

And, I guess, I promised -- I'm not good at this. I don’t know what the protocol is, but I'll start in the front row and then work back.


Q Perfect. (Laughter.)

MR. HASSETT: Yeah, that's right. I'm just an economist.

Q Kevin, I know you're an economist but there's obviously a political component to all of this. You got at least six senators up on the Hill, including Ron Johnson, saying that they can't support the bill in its current form or they have serious concerns about it. You can only afford to lose two. Are you confident that you can get this passed through the Senate? Or could the President run into another situation, like he did with Obamacare? That he wins the House and then loses everything in the Senate.

MR. HASSETT: Look, there's an old joke about economists, that there are three types: those who can count and those who can't. (Laughter.) And it takes a while for that one to sink in. And the fact is that the President has supported, from the beginning, regular order because he doesn’t think that we have to wait until the thing becomes law to learn what's in it; that the right thing to do is to expose the bills to scrutiny and debate.


And Senator Johnson -- I met with him yesterday in his office -- has some serious concerns, and it's appropriate at this point in legislative process to bring those forward. And I'm hopeful that people can work it out and that everybody, even Democrats, will end up wanting to vote for it.

And so I'm not sure about the etiquette for follow-ups, so I'll try to limit people to one because there's a lot of hands.

Q What makes you think trickle-down economics is going to work this time when it hasn’t worked before?

MR. HASSETT: So trickle-down economics is something that, I guess, people who criticize the idea that taxes affect the economy will use to characterize approaches like the one that we're pursuing. But I don't think the idea that's celebrated by even the non-partisan staff of the OECD -- that if you have lower marginal rates, you get economic growth -- is voodoo economics or controversial at all.

And yeah, the fact is that countries around the world have cut their corporate rates and had broad-based reforms, like we're doing on the individual side, and then seeing economic growth result.

I don't think there's anybody who thinks that you'll get no growth or negative growth for this. Maybe there are a few people. But in every economic model I've seen, you get growth -- either a lot of growth, or sometimes if it's a closed economy model, a little growth. But you get positive growth out of this. And that growth will benefit workers, and let's talk about that.

So, right now, the way a U.S. firm avoids U.S. tax is they locate activity, say, in a country like Ireland instead of here. And so if you build a plant in Ireland, then you can sell the stuff back into the U.S. And when you sell the stuff back into the U.S., then it increase the trade deficit and doesn’t do anything for American workers, but it does increase the demand for Irish workers and drive up their wages.

And so what the President wants to do is cut the rate to 20 percent and build guardrails around the tax code so that people can't transfer price -- everything to Ireland anymore. And if we do that, then the people who benefit will be the workers here in the U.S. who have increased demand for their jobs.

Q And the incentive --

MR. HASSETT: I said no follow-ups. So I'm going to back this way and then I'm going to switch sides. I'm sorry I don't know everybody's names here.

Q One of Senator Johnson's concerns is that this bill does not do enough for medium-sized and small businesses. Can you talk about what the bill does do for medium-size and small businesses?

MR. HASSETT: Sure. And the fact is that I want to remind everybody that the President has, really, three main non-negotiables for this bill: that there is a 20 percent corporate tax rate; that there's a big middle-class tax cut; and that the bill simplified the tax code. And we believe, after analyzing the progress on the Hill, that both approaches satisfy the three main objectives.

And so the question then is, moving forward, what do they do about pass-through entities? What do they do about this, what do they do about that? And we at the White House don't want to get ahead of that process.

The President supports regular order because that's really how deals get made and how bills become law. The fact is, it's urgent that we get a 20 percent rate for America's workers. And it's urgent that we get a middle-class tax cut for America's workers. And the details about like exactly when the small business things kick in and out are things that we're watching them work out up on the Hill. And we encourage them to pursue regular order because they need to listen to everybody and get the votes they need to make this law.

I'll go to the lady, right there.

Q One of the major differences between the House and the Senate bill is the elimination of the non-taxable tuition waivers. So while they're trying to reconcile their differences on that tax reform bill, what do you foresee which could potentially move this tax burden to a lot of young Americans?

MR. HASSETT: That's the kind of detail that we're letting Congress work out. The fact is that they're finding the coalitions that they need to pass the bills in the House and the Senate. And we support that process. We support regular order. We support the transparency that leading debate about issues like this.

Sorry, now I said I'd come over here. Yeah.

Q Kevin, thanks for being here. On one of your TV appearances yesterday, you said that an average family, when this is all said and done, could accumulate a savings benefit of $4,000. That's a lot of money.

MR. HASSETT: That's a lot of money.

Q Can you walk us through that?

MR. HASSETT: Sure. And for those of you -- and I see some nerdy-looking people out there, so I'm sure that there's people that want to do this -- (laughter) -- that we've got two CEA reports that go through this in gory detail. And the fact is that you can get to numbers like that four different ways.

I won't try to do that now in the limited time that we have, but the basic idea is that back when we increased our corporate tax rate from 34 to 35 percent, we were kind of in the middle of the pack of OECD nations. Subsequently, what happened was that countries around the world found that when they cut the corporate tax, that their economic activity increased and the welfare of their workers improved. And then they very often did it again.

A typical country, since our tax increase, has cut its corporate rate two or maybe even three times. And for economists, what that does is it gives us an enormous amount of data to analyze because there are countries that change their rate and countries that don’t. And you can compare the experiences of those two types of countries.

There's a big peer-review literature that looks at that, including a paper that's by a German economist -- that's about to come out in the American Economic Review. And what we do is we go through all those papers and we have charts that show, well, if this paper is true, what wage effect do you get. And most of the action is well north of $4,000. And that's where the number comes from.

I'll go in the middle, with the orange tie.

Q One of the criticisms, Kevin, of the tax reform proposal is that the corporate tax rate is cut permanently. The individual tax rate phases out after 10 years. Why, in your view, is that such a good idea?

MR. HASSETT: So the President supports permanent tax cuts for the middle class and permanent tax cuts for corporations. And that's certainly the objective of the planners of this tax bill. But there are also Senate budget rules and reconciliation rules that are required to allow this bill to move forward with 51 votes.

Of course, the hope for everybody is that when the time comes for these things to expire, that they get extended, as happens -- I might add -- even for the top marginal rate when President Obama came into office. And so they extended most of the Bush tax cuts. But even the top rate, at the beginning -- which interestingly they must have done because they knew that if you were to increase the top marginal tax rate during a recession, that it would be very harmful for the economy.

So, back then, there was bipartisan support for the idea that you should not lift the top marginal rate. And so there should be bipartisan support. There would be economic growth effects of bringing it down right now.

I'll go back down into the middle there.

Q Hi, Emma Robinson, One America News. The two bills are different in that the House bill repeals or does away with the estate tax and the Senate doesn't. And I know that was a big point for the administration, and Vice President Pence has voiced his support for repealing the death tax, as they call it. What are your thoughts on that? And do you think a final bill will include a repeal of it?

MR. HASSERTT: I think that -- again, that's one of the things that the Senate and the House are working out. I know that the President very strongly favors the elimination of the death tax. And if that is in the final bill, I’m sure that he’ll be happy about that. But he’s listed his non-negotiables, and those non-negotiables I cited at the beginning.

I’ll go back to the far back now.

Q Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate it. Can you talk about this moment earlier in the week at the Wall Street Journal event? Gary Cohn was on stage, and the moderator asked a group of CEOs, "If tax reform passes, who here is going to increase their investment?" And only a couple of hands went up in the room. Gary Cohn said, why aren’t there more hands going up?

Can you answer that question? Why aren’t there more hands going up in a room like that? You would assume that CEOs would say, yes, in fact, we are going to invest more if tax reform passes. Is the administration missing something there?

MR. HASSETT: So that's a great question. And I went on a little bit after Gary Cohn, and when they asked that question, it was kind of hard for me because, like here, they are really bright lights, but even brighter there, and so I couldn’t quite see how many hands there were. But when I was there, it looked like maybe about half the hands went up. And I think if you go back and look, that it could be that people had time to think about it.

But as an economist, if I go back and look at the academic literature, very often people survey CFOs, and they say, hey, if we change the tax code, would you guys do anything? And they tend to always answer "no" in surveys. But if you look at the hard evidence about what they do, imagine if they didn't respond to taxes, then they wouldn’t be pursuing their fiduciary duty to maximize profits for their shareholders. So it would be totally irrational for them to do that. And firms that did act rationally in response to the tax code would put them out of business by taking advantage of the tax code.

So the point is -- the hard evidence is that people do respond. In fact, one of my very, very first papers that I ever wrote when I got out of grad school is the Brookings papers where we looked at the 1986 tax act, the changes that it made to the business tax code and how it affected investment. And there were very large effects.

Right here in the front.

Q Yes, yes. Gene Sperling, who was once in your position in another administration, says that this tax plan -- be it historic -- costs $1.5 trillion and it’s a deficit hole. And he says that basically -- this is in a tweet. I’m just paraphrasing his tweet. He says, it basically doesn't justify that cost for 100 million households for a tax increase.

MR. HASSETT: Well, I respect Gene a great deal and consider him a friend, and I disagree with him about that. And I’m sure we’ll at some point have a chance to talk about that.

But here’s the way I think about it and what I would say to Gene if he was here: That if you look at the Joint Tax Committee’s score, in the 10th year they say that the tax bill costs about $170 billion. If you look at the CBO projection of GDP, then in the 10th year GDP is about $28 trillion. And so the amount of deficit that you're talking relative to GDP in the 10th year is only 0.6 percent. It doesn't take a heck of a lot of economic growth to cover that hole by the 10th year.

And so the idea that right now we have the highest corporate tax on Earth generating almost no revenue -- because people avoid the tax by moving factories to Ireland -- that if we fix that, if we repair it and make the U.S. an attractive place again, that it’s going to blow a hole in the deficit -- it’s just not economically rational.

And I know that the Joint Tax Committee score says what it says, and I respect the professionals in that staff, but the fact is that the OECD has a study, which we’d be happy to email you, that says that the U.S. in the corporate tax space is on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve; that we've got such a high corporate tax rate that we're chasing business offshore and losing revenue.

And so the idea that this blows a hole in the deficit I think is just incorrect.

I’ll go to the purple tie.

Q I want to pick up where John, right in front of me, left off when he asked about the phase-out on the individual side. You're an economist; however, the two answers that you gave were both political. One, there’s reconciliation rules. And two, hopefully politicians down the line solve it. But like I mentioned, you're an economist. So can you not make an economic argument as to why this is good economically for people?

MR. HASSETT: Oh, is it good for things to expire?

Q Correct. Is there an economic argument as to why this is good for the country as it stands right now to expire within eight years or so?

MR. HASSETT: If you lower marginal tax rates, broaden the base, lower rates, give the middle class a tax cut, if you cut the corporate rate -- if you do any of those things, they're positive for economic growth. And they're less positive for growth if they expire.

Expensing is kind of a strange thing in the sense that if you have expensing for a year, if you go back and look at U.S. history, very often in recessions, they’ll put in expensing for a year to try to stimulate the economy. When expensing expires, it could actually have a short-run stimulus because people try to buy capital before the thing goes away.

But for the most part, permanent tax cuts are far more impactful than things that expire -- which is why if you go back and look at the Obama administration, when they were here during the beginning of the Great Recession, they even extended the Bush tax cuts at the top because they understood this.

Can I go right here? And then I’ll come to you, and then that might be the last question because Sarah is standing.

Q I actually want to follow up on that, though. You all made a value judgment to make the corporate tax cuts permanent and to make the individual tax cuts expire, even though you want all of them to be permanent. What’s the rationale for having corporations have that certainty of knowing that they don't have to worry about what’s going to happen in Washington while families are going to have to worry about what politicians do six, seven years now?

MR. HASSETT: Sure. Well, those are the kind of things that are being worked out by Congress in order to create a bill that under Senate and House rules can become law. And the non-negotiables for us are both met in both bills, and we consider that good news. But the choices that the Senate has to make in order to acquire a coalition to make this law are choices that the Senate has to make. And we don't want to get in front of that process.

Q You don’t see the value one way or the other, whether the corporate tax cuts versus --

MR. HASSETT: I think tax cuts that are permanent, of course, will have large positive effects.

I’ll give you the last.

Q Kevin, you've melded politics and economics here quite successfully, and I want to ask you a political and economic question. You've talked about growth covering what the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Tax Committee say could be a deficit hole, a deficit implication of $1.5 trillion. That is going to be measurable over time. There's going to be a means by which either dynamic scoring or static scoring answers that question.

And since it's on the mind of some of your undecided Republican senators, is this administration willing to commit to a review five years in to see if the growth models have held along your lines and the deficit implications aren’t as large -- or, if they aren’t, to reassess these tax cuts in order not to blow a hole in the deficit?

MR. HASSETT: You know, I have not discussed with the President, and I don’t think Sarah has, what we're willing to commit to in terms of what we do five years from now. But I can tell you --

Q Do you think there would be --

MR. HASSETT: But let me talk about what we can be clear about today, which is that, as the President came into office, the President's opponents were saying that 2 percent growth was inevitable, that we were stuck in a secular stagnation; that the President's policies couldn’t deliver 3 percent growth, and that it was a cockamamie idea to assert it.

We've had two quarters in a row of 3 percent growth. If you look at the fourth quarter data, it's suggesting -- at the Atlanta Fed, they have GDPNow, which is about 3.2 as of yesterday. So it's saying that we're growing at 3 percent. If we take that momentum into next year and add a tax cut, then we're quite confident that one should be able to expect sustained growth at that level or above.

With that, I think I have to hand it back to Sarah. Thank you so much for being so gracious with your questions.

MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Kevin. Major, he's right, I haven’t spoken to the President about that. But I do appreciate that you know that the President will still be here in five years. So, I like that vote of confidence that you would know that we will be here to take that review, and we'll be sure to raise that with him.

Let me go back here.

Q Thanks, Sarah. I have a non-Roy Moore question for you. Can you say definitively -- I want to ask you about Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Can you say definitively, from this podium, that he has not been held hostage by the Saudis? And does the President plan to speak to Prime Minister Hariri at all?

MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of any anticipated conversations. That's something I'd have to check on and get back to you. And I don’t have any further comment beyond that at this point right now. And I would refer you to the State Department on specifics of that.


Cecilia.

Q Thanks, Sarah. If it's fair to investigate Al Franken and the allegation made by his accuser, is it also fair to investigate this President and the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by more than a dozen women?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that this was covered pretty extensively during the campaign. We addressed that then. The American people, I think, spoke very loud and clear when they elected this President.

Q But how is this different?

MS. SANDERS: I think in one case, specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the President hasn’t. I think that's a very clear distinction.

Major.


Q So I want to revisit something we discussed yesterday. You said, one of the ways that Alabama voters might be able to figure out if these allegations against Roy Moore are true is in the court of law. That's a direct quote from you. There's no criminal means by which that could happen. So are you suggesting that Roy Moore sue the accusers in order to hash this out in court?

MS. SANDERS: That would be something that I would refer to him to make that decision. That's not something I would be able to advise on.


Q But that's the venue you meant when you talked about "in the court of law."

MS. SANDERS: I said that's one option, one way to determine that process. But that would be a decision that he would have to make, certainly not one I'm going to make.

Q The only reason I raise that is because, during the campaign, as you well remember, then-candidate Trump said, after the election he would sue all the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, and that you have, from the podium, deemed all liars. He hasn’t done that. Why hasn’t he done that?

MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him that question. I'd have to ask him and let you know why he hasn’t chosen to take that path. I'm simply stating that's an option that Roy Moore has on the table.

Jeff.

Q Sarah, some critics have said that it was hypocritical of the President to tweet about Al Franken and not weigh in on Roy Moore.

MS. SANDERS: He has weighed in on Roy Moore. He did it while he was on a foreign trip in Asia. I did it repeatedly yesterday. In fact, I took about 15 questions on that topic and only one on Al Franken. So to suggest that this White House and, specifically, that this President hasn’t weighed in is just inaccurate and wrong. He weighed in; he said, if the allegations are true, he should step aside. He also weighed in when he supported the RNC's decision to withdraw resources from the state of Alabama. It's just a simply inaccurate statement to make about the President.

Sara.

Q Can you tell us whether the President believes the women who are making these allegations against Roy Moore? And would he be willing to ask the Alabama governor to delay the election or take a step like that to try to intervene in this electoral process in Alabama?

MS. SANDERS: The President certainly finds the allegations extremely troubling. As I stated yesterday, he feels like it's up to the governor and the state -- the people in the state of Alabama to make a determination on whether or not they delay that election or whether or not they support and vote for Roy Moore.

Matthew.


Q Thank you, Sarah. In light of the national discussion about the importance of taking these kinds of accusations seriously, I wanted to check: Is it still the White House position that all the women who have accused the President of sexual misconduct are lying?

MS. SANDERS: The President has spoken about this multiple times throughout the campaign and has denied all of those allegations.

Blake.


Q Thanks, Sarah. Let me ask you about something else -- the pending potential AT&T and Time Warner merger. The President had said on the campaign trail, back in October of 2016 -- and I quote here -- he said it was a "deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few." Does the President still feel that way?

MS. SANDERS: The President was asked about this a few days ago, maybe a week ago, while we were on Air Force One, and I’d refer you back to those comments.

April.

Q Sarah, is this an uncomfortable conversation about these sexual allegations for this White House be it Al Franken or be it Roy Moore?

MS. SANDERS: I think it’s an uncomfortable conversation for the country. I think that this is something that is being discussed pretty widely, and we certainly think that it should be taken very seriously. And it’s one of the reasons I stand up here and answer your questions every day, and will continue to do so and continue to address them.

Obviously, it’s something that should be looked at, and I think it should be looked at widespread not just in the political sphere, but in the business atmosphere and across the board in this country. And it’s something we certainly again take seriously.

Q A follow-up.

MS. SANDERS: Alex. We're tight on time today.

Q I talked to Hillary Clinton today about the President’s past -- and going back to what Matthew said, she said, look, I worry about everything from his past because it tells you how he behaves in the present and will in the future. What do you say to that as it relates to these allegations against the President?

MS. SANDERS: I think Hillary Clinton probably should have dealt with some of those of her own issues before addressing this President.

Alex.

Q Two questions. One on taxes, then immigration. A recent Quinnipiac University poll said 61 percent of voters think the Republican tax plan will benefit the wealthy while the White House has pitched this plan as a working-class tax cut. Why the disconnect?

And then on immigration --

MS. SANDERS: Let me answer that first question.

Q Okay.

MS. SANDERS: Look, we've actually argued that this tax plan benefits all Americans. That's the point of it. Specifically, our priority is to target middle-class Americans and make sure that that is addressed first and that those people are prioritized in any piece of legislation for either the House or the Senate.

But at the same time, we want all Americans to benefit by a growing economy and a tax system that actually works for our country versus one that penalizes people.

We're going to keep moving just because we're tight.

John.

Q Let me come back and ask you the same thing I asked Kevin. You've got six Republican senators either "no" or seriously on the fence here. Can you win enough over in order to pass this? And if the President gets snookered again by the Senate, what’s his reaction going to be?

MS. SANDERS: We certainly are still very confident that we're going to get this package passed, and we’d love to see some of the Democrats come on board and support this historic piece of legislation that we feel will be one of the great legacies of this presidency.

Q The fact that you didn't get any Democrats in the House, how does that portend for getting them in the Senate?

MS. SANDERS: There’s always hope. We’ll hold out hope that Democrats in the Senate want to put partisan politics aside and put the people of this country first. We haven’t ruled it, and we're certainly going to keep pushing forward. And we're still confident we're going to get it done.

Q Safe to say the President will not be pleased if he gets snookered by the Senate again?

MS. SANDERS: I think the American people will be the ones that won’t be pleased, because they're going to be the ones that lose out the most if this doesn't go forward.

Toluse.

MS. SANDERS: Thanks, Sarah. The administration put out a disaster funding request for about $44 billion today. It’s much less than what a number of different governors and officials in the various affected territories and states have requested. Can you explain sort of why the number is so low compared to what the local officials say they need?

MS. SANDERS: I don't think $44 billion is a low amount. And my guess is if you ask any average citizen across this country, they wouldn’t feel like it’s low either.

But to this point, Texas has not put any state dollars into this process. We feel strongly that they should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process. We did a thorough assessment, and that was completed, and this was the number that we put forward to Congress today.

Q Are you expecting (inaudible) much more requests forward in the future, specifically for Puerto Rico?

MS. SANDERS: Yeah, absolutely. At this point, the request that went in today of the roughly $44 billion primarily addresses Texas and Florida. Those storms took place ahead of Puerto Rico, and the assessment for Puerto Rico hasn’t been completed yet. Once that's done, we fully anticipate that there will be additional requests at that time.

Kristen.

Q Sarah, thank you. Steven Bannon is sending a strong message to the establishment to back off of Roy Moore. Does the President’s allegiance to Steve Bannon in any way implicate his response?

MS. SANDERS: The President doesn't have an allegiance to Steve Bannon. The President has an allegiance to the people of this country and nothing else.

Q Has he spoken at all to Steve Bannon or any outside advisors?

MS. SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. Not that I'm aware of.

Q How concerned is he, Sarah, about losing this seat to a Democratic candidate, who, right now, according to the polls, is leading?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that the President is less concerned about the seat and more focused on the policy and the legislation that we're pushing through right now, like tax reform.

John.

Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Just in regards to that question regarding the supplemental requests: The President and the administration has put forth $44 million. Puerto Rico has requested $94 million. Are they going to get somewhere along that order? I think half of the island is still without electricity.

MS. SANDERS: As I said, we're going to wait until that assessment is complete and we'll make a determination at that point and see what the best path forward is.

Q Did the President notify Governor Abbott --

MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep it brief.

Q Did the President notify Governor Abbott of the lesser amount that he's put forward?

MS. SANDERS: John, I'm going to keep moving. I'm going to try be respectful of your colleagues.

Q Yesterday, the joint investigative mechanism was vetoed by Russia at the U.N. Security Council, and Ambassador Haley tweeted afterward that the veto proves that Russia cannot be trusted as a partner going forward in trying to solve the political situation in Syria.

Does the President have any response to the veto, first? What is the U.S. view, going forward, of how chemical weapons will be investigated and dealt with in Syria? And is it the U.S. position now that Russia cannot be a partner in trying to solve, or do a next-day political situation by --

MS. SANDERS: I think by the actions that the President's taken specific to chemical weapons, I think he's shown his position on that with a strike in Syria earlier this year.

In terms of Russia's veto, it's certainly not one we support. We do hope that, moving forward, they want to get on board and work with us on this. But at the same time, this isn't something that we support their decision on.

Steven.

Q There's been some extraordinary pushback on the administration's decisions with respect to elephant trophies and hunting of lions and elephants in Africa. Can you shed some light on the decisions the administration has made? And will you make that pushback?

MS. SANDERS: Yeah, this is actually due to a review that started back in 2014, under the previous administration, done by career officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service. This review established that both Zambia and Zimbabwe had met new standards, strict international conservation standards that allowed Americans to resume hunting in those countries.

A ban on importing elephant ivory from all country remains in place. But again, all of this was based on a study that was conducted -- that started back to the previous administration and done by career officials.

Darlene.

Q The senate tax bill has a tax break for corporate jets. How does that help the middle class?

MS. SANDERS: As Kevin stated before, this administration has laid out the priorities that we want to see reflected in this legislation. We're going to continue to fight for those priorities and let the legislative process work through.

In terms of those specific pieces, that's something I would refer you to members of the House and senate on that. But our focus is on making sure these priorities are answered and met.

We'll make this the last one.

Q Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday -- on Jared Kushner and on his campaign e-mails -- that Senate Committee, they're asking for those e-mails in the Russia investigation. You punted it to the Kushner's attorney. Today, what's the White House reaction to those previously undisclosed e-mails?

MS. SANDERS: Look, as I said, they were going to put out a statement; they did. And I would refer you back to that on anything specific to that inquiry.

Thanks so much, guys. Hope you have a happy Friday and a good weekend. We'll see you on Monday.

END

3:41 P.M. EST

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, 11/17/2017, #33

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:00 P.M. EST

MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Yesterday, momentum continued to build behind our plan to deliver massive tax relief and job creation for the American people. The House passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and the Senate Finance Committee passed its companion tax reform bill. These were important moments as we move closer to a final vote.

In recent months, we've heard from American entrepreneurs, workers, and families from every corner of our nation about how this plan will empower them to build a better life.

In Pennsylvania, Susie Schlomann said that our plan will be “incredible for me and other fixed-income retirees,” because tax relief is targeted at the middle class.

In Ohio, Kristina Port -- a small business owner who raised twins as a single mother while launching her company -- said the increase in the child tax credit would help working mothers. She also said simplifying the complex tax code would ease the burden on entrepreneurs and allow them to devote more of their time to growing their business, rather than wrestling with their taxes.

In state after state, story after story, we've heard how our plan will profoundly improve the lives of hardworking Americans. The optimism is coming back, because with this tax plan -- combined with the President’s efforts to eliminate job-killing regulations -- Americans feel like their goals are once again attainable.

It’s a reminder of one of the things that made our country unique to begin with. Our people have always been able to visualize a future for themselves and their children and make it a reality. That’s why it’s called the "American Dream,” and this tax plan will make it more attainable for more of our people than ever before.

But for this to happen, we need economic growth that makes it possible for businesses to create jobs and raise wages. So to give some perspective on how our tax plan is going to do that, I’ve invited Kevin Hassett, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, to join us in the briefing today. Kevin will say a few words and then take some questions specific to this topic. And, as always, I will come back up to take the rest of your questions after that, which I'm sure will all be on tax reform. (Laughter.)

So, with that, I'll turn it over to Kevin.

MR. HASSETT: Thanks, Sarah. Thanks. And it's a pleasure to be here to see so many familiar faces. You know, last week I had the honor of chairing the Economic Policy Committee meeting at the OECD in Paris. And the Economic Policy Committee is one of the oldest committees in OECD, and it brings together people, like the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, from countries around the OECD.

And, at the meeting, they were going through the staff recommendations of the OECD for creating economic growth in countries around the world. And the three main points of the staff recommendations were tax reform, infrastructure, and deregulation -- that if the government pursues those things, then they can produce more economic growth.

In fact, there was widespread acclaim for the President's approach towards corporate taxation in particular, because the OECD has been calling for us to reform our corporate tax code for almost a decade.

And so the idea right now that this corporate tax reform is close to the finish line is celebrated not only by us at the White House, but by people around the world who have recognized that us having a non-competitive tax code, the highest corporate tax on Earth, a worldwide system that rewards companies for locating activity elsewhere, is bad not only for us but for the world economy -- because a vibrant U.S. economy is good even for our friends in the OECD.

And, with that, I'm pleased to see that the House Ways and Means Committee and then the House have passed this bill, and that it's out of the Finance Committee -- I look forward to the Senate moving forward right after the Thanksgiving break.

And, I guess, I promised -- I'm not good at this. I don’t know what the protocol is, but I'll start in the front row and then work back.


Q Perfect. (Laughter.)

MR. HASSETT: Yeah, that's right. I'm just an economist.

Q Kevin, I know you're an economist but there's obviously a political component to all of this. You got at least six senators up on the Hill, including Ron Johnson, saying that they can't support the bill in its current form or they have serious concerns about it. You can only afford to lose two. Are you confident that you can get this passed through the Senate? Or could the President run into another situation, like he did with Obamacare? That he wins the House and then loses everything in the Senate.

MR. HASSETT: Look, there's an old joke about economists, that there are three types: those who can count and those who can't. (Laughter.) And it takes a while for that one to sink in. And the fact is that the President has supported, from the beginning, regular order because he doesn’t think that we have to wait until the thing becomes law to learn what's in it; that the right thing to do is to expose the bills to scrutiny and debate.


And Senator Johnson -- I met with him yesterday in his office -- has some serious concerns, and it's appropriate at this point in legislative process to bring those forward. And I'm hopeful that people can work it out and that everybody, even Democrats, will end up wanting to vote for it.

And so I'm not sure about the etiquette for follow-ups, so I'll try to limit people to one because there's a lot of hands.

Q What makes you think trickle-down economics is going to work this time when it hasn’t worked before?

MR. HASSETT: So trickle-down economics is something that, I guess, people who criticize the idea that taxes affect the economy will use to characterize approaches like the one that we're pursuing. But I don't think the idea that's celebrated by even the non-partisan staff of the OECD -- that if you have lower marginal rates, you get economic growth -- is voodoo economics or controversial at all.

And yeah, the fact is that countries around the world have cut their corporate rates and had broad-based reforms, like we're doing on the individual side, and then seeing economic growth result.

I don't think there's anybody who thinks that you'll get no growth or negative growth for this. Maybe there are a few people. But in every economic model I've seen, you get growth -- either a lot of growth, or sometimes if it's a closed economy model, a little growth. But you get positive growth out of this. And that growth will benefit workers, and let's talk about that.

So, right now, the way a U.S. firm avoids U.S. tax is they locate activity, say, in a country like Ireland instead of here. And so if you build a plant in Ireland, then you can sell the stuff back into the U.S. And when you sell the stuff back into the U.S., then it increase the trade deficit and doesn’t do anything for American workers, but it does increase the demand for Irish workers and drive up their wages.

And so what the President wants to do is cut the rate to 20 percent and build guardrails around the tax code so that people can't transfer price -- everything to Ireland anymore. And if we do that, then the people who benefit will be the workers here in the U.S. who have increased demand for their jobs.

Q And the incentive --

MR. HASSETT: I said no follow-ups. So I'm going to back this way and then I'm going to switch sides. I'm sorry I don't know everybody's names here.

Q One of Senator Johnson's concerns is that this bill does not do enough for medium-sized and small businesses. Can you talk about what the bill does do for medium-size and small businesses?

MR. HASSETT: Sure. And the fact is that I want to remind everybody that the President has, really, three main non-negotiables for this bill: that there is a 20 percent corporate tax rate; that there's a big middle-class tax cut; and that the bill simplified the tax code. And we believe, after analyzing the progress on the Hill, that both approaches satisfy the three main objectives.

And so the question then is, moving forward, what do they do about pass-through entities? What do they do about this, what do they do about that? And we at the White House don't want to get ahead of that process.

The President supports regular order because that's really how deals get made and how bills become law. The fact is, it's urgent that we get a 20 percent rate for America's workers. And it's urgent that we get a middle-class tax cut for America's workers. And the details about like exactly when the small business things kick in and out are things that we're watching them work out up on the Hill. And we encourage them to pursue regular order because they need to listen to everybody and get the votes they need to make this law.

I'll go to the lady, right there.

Q One of the major differences between the House and the Senate bill is the elimination of the non-taxable tuition waivers. So while they're trying to reconcile their differences on that tax reform bill, what do you foresee which could potentially move this tax burden to a lot of young Americans?

MR. HASSETT: That's the kind of detail that we're letting Congress work out. The fact is that they're finding the coalitions that they need to pass the bills in the House and the Senate. And we support that process. We support regular order. We support the transparency that leading debate about issues like this.

Sorry, now I said I'd come over here. Yeah.

Q Kevin, thanks for being here. On one of your TV appearances yesterday, you said that an average family, when this is all said and done, could accumulate a savings benefit of $4,000. That's a lot of money.

MR. HASSETT: That's a lot of money.

Q Can you walk us through that?

MR. HASSETT: Sure. And for those of you -- and I see some nerdy-looking people out there, so I'm sure that there's people that want to do this -- (laughter) -- that we've got two CEA reports that go through this in gory detail. And the fact is that you can get to numbers like that four different ways.

I won't try to do that now in the limited time that we have, but the basic idea is that back when we increased our corporate tax rate from 34 to 35 percent, we were kind of in the middle of the pack of OECD nations. Subsequently, what happened was that countries around the world found that when they cut the corporate tax, that their economic activity increased and the welfare of their workers improved. And then they very often did it again.

A typical country, since our tax increase, has cut its corporate rate two or maybe even three times. And for economists, what that does is it gives us an enormous amount of data to analyze because there are countries that change their rate and countries that don’t. And you can compare the experiences of those two types of countries.

There's a big peer-review literature that looks at that, including a paper that's by a German economist -- that's about to come out in the American Economic Review. And what we do is we go through all those papers and we have charts that show, well, if this paper is true, what wage effect do you get. And most of the action is well north of $4,000. And that's where the number comes from.

I'll go in the middle, with the orange tie.

Q One of the criticisms, Kevin, of the tax reform proposal is that the corporate tax rate is cut permanently. The individual tax rate phases out after 10 years. Why, in your view, is that such a good idea?

MR. HASSETT: So the President supports permanent tax cuts for the middle class and permanent tax cuts for corporations. And that's certainly the objective of the planners of this tax bill. But there are also Senate budget rules and reconciliation rules that are required to allow this bill to move forward with 51 votes.

Of course, the hope for everybody is that when the time comes for these things to expire, that they get extended, as happens -- I might add -- even for the top marginal rate when President Obama came into office. And so they extended most of the Bush tax cuts. But even the top rate, at the beginning -- which interestingly they must have done because they knew that if you were to increase the top marginal tax rate during a recession, that it would be very harmful for the economy.

So, back then, there was bipartisan support for the idea that you should not lift the top marginal rate. And so there should be bipartisan support. There would be economic growth effects of bringing it down right now.

I'll go back down into the middle there.

Q Hi, Emma Robinson, One America News. The two bills are different in that the House bill repeals or does away with the estate tax and the Senate doesn't. And I know that was a big point for the administration, and Vice President Pence has voiced his support for repealing the death tax, as they call it. What are your thoughts on that? And do you think a final bill will include a repeal of it?

MR. HASSERTT: I think that -- again, that's one of the things that the Senate and the House are working out. I know that the President very strongly favors the elimination of the death tax. And if that is in the final bill, I’m sure that he’ll be happy about that. But he’s listed his non-negotiables, and those non-negotiables I cited at the beginning.

I’ll go back to the far back now.

Q Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate it. Can you talk about this moment earlier in the week at the Wall Street Journal event? Gary Cohn was on stage, and the moderator asked a group of CEOs, "If tax reform passes, who here is going to increase their investment?" And only a couple of hands went up in the room. Gary Cohn said, why aren’t there more hands going up?

Can you answer that question? Why aren’t there more hands going up in a room like that? You would assume that CEOs would say, yes, in fact, we are going to invest more if tax reform passes. Is the administration missing something there?

MR. HASSETT: So that's a great question. And I went on a little bit after Gary Cohn, and when they asked that question, it was kind of hard for me because, like here, they are really bright lights, but even brighter there, and so I couldn’t quite see how many hands there were. But when I was there, it looked like maybe about half the hands went up. And I think if you go back and look, that it could be that people had time to think about it.

But as an economist, if I go back and look at the academic literature, very often people survey CFOs, and they say, hey, if we change the tax code, would you guys do anything? And they tend to always answer "no" in surveys. But if you look at the hard evidence about what they do, imagine if they didn't respond to taxes, then they wouldn’t be pursuing their fiduciary duty to maximize profits for their shareholders. So it would be totally irrational for them to do that. And firms that did act rationally in response to the tax code would put them out of business by taking advantage of the tax code.

So the point is -- the hard evidence is that people do respond. In fact, one of my very, very first papers that I ever wrote when I got out of grad school is the Brookings papers where we looked at the 1986 tax act, the changes that it made to the business tax code and how it affected investment. And there were very large effects.

Right here in the front.

Q Yes, yes. Gene Sperling, who was once in your position in another administration, says that this tax plan -- be it historic -- costs $1.5 trillion and it’s a deficit hole. And he says that basically -- this is in a tweet. I’m just paraphrasing his tweet. He says, it basically doesn't justify that cost for 100 million households for a tax increase.

MR. HASSETT: Well, I respect Gene a great deal and consider him a friend, and I disagree with him about that. And I’m sure we’ll at some point have a chance to talk about that.

But here’s the way I think about it and what I would say to Gene if he was here: That if you look at the Joint Tax Committee’s score, in the 10th year they say that the tax bill costs about $170 billion. If you look at the CBO projection of GDP, then in the 10th year GDP is about $28 trillion. And so the amount of deficit that you're talking relative to GDP in the 10th year is only 0.6 percent. It doesn't take a heck of a lot of economic growth to cover that hole by the 10th year.

And so the idea that right now we have the highest corporate tax on Earth generating almost no revenue -- because people avoid the tax by moving factories to Ireland -- that if we fix that, if we repair it and make the U.S. an attractive place again, that it’s going to blow a hole in the deficit -- it’s just not economically rational.

And I know that the Joint Tax Committee score says what it says, and I respect the professionals in that staff, but the fact is that the OECD has a study, which we’d be happy to email you, that says that the U.S. in the corporate tax space is on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve; that we've got such a high corporate tax rate that we're chasing business offshore and losing revenue.

And so the idea that this blows a hole in the deficit I think is just incorrect.

I’ll go to the purple tie.

Q I want to pick up where John, right in front of me, left off when he asked about the phase-out on the individual side. You're an economist; however, the two answers that you gave were both political. One, there’s reconciliation rules. And two, hopefully politicians down the line solve it. But like I mentioned, you're an economist. So can you not make an economic argument as to why this is good economically for people?

MR. HASSETT: Oh, is it good for things to expire?

Q Correct. Is there an economic argument as to why this is good for the country as it stands right now to expire within eight years or so?

MR. HASSETT: If you lower marginal tax rates, broaden the base, lower rates, give the middle class a tax cut, if you cut the corporate rate -- if you do any of those things, they're positive for economic growth. And they're less positive for growth if they expire.

Expensing is kind of a strange thing in the sense that if you have expensing for a year, if you go back and look at U.S. history, very often in recessions, they’ll put in expensing for a year to try to stimulate the economy. When expensing expires, it could actually have a short-run stimulus because people try to buy capital before the thing goes away.

But for the most part, permanent tax cuts are far more impactful than things that expire -- which is why if you go back and look at the Obama administration, when they were here during the beginning of the Great Recession, they even extended the Bush tax cuts at the top because they understood this.

Can I go right here? And then I’ll come to you, and then that might be the last question because Sarah is standing.

Q I actually want to follow up on that, though. You all made a value judgment to make the corporate tax cuts permanent and to make the individual tax cuts expire, even though you want all of them to be permanent. What’s the rationale for having corporations have that certainty of knowing that they don't have to worry about what’s going to happen in Washington while families are going to have to worry about what politicians do six, seven years now?

MR. HASSETT: Sure. Well, those are the kind of things that are being worked out by Congress in order to create a bill that under Senate and House rules can become law. And the non-negotiables for us are both met in both bills, and we consider that good news. But the choices that the Senate has to make in order to acquire a coalition to make this law are choices that the Senate has to make. And we don't want to get in front of that process.

Q You don’t see the value one way or the other, whether the corporate tax cuts versus --

MR. HASSETT: I think tax cuts that are permanent, of course, will have large positive effects.

I’ll give you the last.

Q Kevin, you've melded politics and economics here quite successfully, and I want to ask you a political and economic question. You've talked about growth covering what the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Tax Committee say could be a deficit hole, a deficit implication of $1.5 trillion. That is going to be measurable over time. There's going to be a means by which either dynamic scoring or static scoring answers that question.

And since it's on the mind of some of your undecided Republican senators, is this administration willing to commit to a review five years in to see if the growth models have held along your lines and the deficit implications aren’t as large -- or, if they aren’t, to reassess these tax cuts in order not to blow a hole in the deficit?

MR. HASSETT: You know, I have not discussed with the President, and I don’t think Sarah has, what we're willing to commit to in terms of what we do five years from now. But I can tell you --

Q Do you think there would be --

MR. HASSETT: But let me talk about what we can be clear about today, which is that, as the President came into office, the President's opponents were saying that 2 percent growth was inevitable, that we were stuck in a secular stagnation; that the President's policies couldn’t deliver 3 percent growth, and that it was a cockamamie idea to assert it.

We've had two quarters in a row of 3 percent growth. If you look at the fourth quarter data, it's suggesting -- at the Atlanta Fed, they have GDPNow, which is about 3.2 as of yesterday. So it's saying that we're growing at 3 percent. If we take that momentum into next year and add a tax cut, then we're quite confident that one should be able to expect sustained growth at that level or above.

With that, I think I have to hand it back to Sarah. Thank you so much for being so gracious with your questions.

MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Kevin. Major, he's right, I haven’t spoken to the President about that. But I do appreciate that you know that the President will still be here in five years. So, I like that vote of confidence that you would know that we will be here to take that review, and we'll be sure to raise that with him.

Let me go back here.

Q Thanks, Sarah. I have a non-Roy Moore question for you. Can you say definitively -- I want to ask you about Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Can you say definitively, from this podium, that he has not been held hostage by the Saudis? And does the President plan to speak to Prime Minister Hariri at all?

MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of any anticipated conversations. That's something I'd have to check on and get back to you. And I don’t have any further comment beyond that at this point right now. And I would refer you to the State Department on specifics of that.


Cecilia.

Q Thanks, Sarah. If it's fair to investigate Al Franken and the allegation made by his accuser, is it also fair to investigate this President and the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by more than a dozen women?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that this was covered pretty extensively during the campaign. We addressed that then. The American people, I think, spoke very loud and clear when they elected this President.

Q But how is this different?

MS. SANDERS: I think in one case, specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the President hasn’t. I think that's a very clear distinction.

Major.


Q So I want to revisit something we discussed yesterday. You said, one of the ways that Alabama voters might be able to figure out if these allegations against Roy Moore are true is in the court of law. That's a direct quote from you. There's no criminal means by which that could happen. So are you suggesting that Roy Moore sue the accusers in order to hash this out in court?

MS. SANDERS: That would be something that I would refer to him to make that decision. That's not something I would be able to advise on.


Q But that's the venue you meant when you talked about "in the court of law."

MS. SANDERS: I said that's one option, one way to determine that process. But that would be a decision that he would have to make, certainly not one I'm going to make.

Q The only reason I raise that is because, during the campaign, as you well remember, then-candidate Trump said, after the election he would sue all the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, and that you have, from the podium, deemed all liars. He hasn’t done that. Why hasn’t he done that?

MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him that question. I'd have to ask him and let you know why he hasn’t chosen to take that path. I'm simply stating that's an option that Roy Moore has on the table.

Jeff.

Q Sarah, some critics have said that it was hypocritical of the President to tweet about Al Franken and not weigh in on Roy Moore.

MS. SANDERS: He has weighed in on Roy Moore. He did it while he was on a foreign trip in Asia. I did it repeatedly yesterday. In fact, I took about 15 questions on that topic and only one on Al Franken. So to suggest that this White House and, specifically, that this President hasn’t weighed in is just inaccurate and wrong. He weighed in; he said, if the allegations are true, he should step aside. He also weighed in when he supported the RNC's decision to withdraw resources from the state of Alabama. It's just a simply inaccurate statement to make about the President.

Sara.

Q Can you tell us whether the President believes the women who are making these allegations against Roy Moore? And would he be willing to ask the Alabama governor to delay the election or take a step like that to try to intervene in this electoral process in Alabama?

MS. SANDERS: The President certainly finds the allegations extremely troubling. As I stated yesterday, he feels like it's up to the governor and the state -- the people in the state of Alabama to make a determination on whether or not they delay that election or whether or not they support and vote for Roy Moore.

Matthew.


Q Thank you, Sarah. In light of the national discussion about the importance of taking these kinds of accusations seriously, I wanted to check: Is it still the White House position that all the women who have accused the President of sexual misconduct are lying?

MS. SANDERS: The President has spoken about this multiple times throughout the campaign and has denied all of those allegations.

Blake.


Q Thanks, Sarah. Let me ask you about something else -- the pending potential AT&T and Time Warner merger. The President had said on the campaign trail, back in October of 2016 -- and I quote here -- he said it was a "deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few." Does the President still feel that way?

MS. SANDERS: The President was asked about this a few days ago, maybe a week ago, while we were on Air Force One, and I’d refer you back to those comments.

April.

Q Sarah, is this an uncomfortable conversation about these sexual allegations for this White House be it Al Franken or be it Roy Moore?

MS. SANDERS: I think it’s an uncomfortable conversation for the country. I think that this is something that is being discussed pretty widely, and we certainly think that it should be taken very seriously. And it’s one of the reasons I stand up here and answer your questions every day, and will continue to do so and continue to address them.

Obviously, it’s something that should be looked at, and I think it should be looked at widespread not just in the political sphere, but in the business atmosphere and across the board in this country. And it’s something we certainly again take seriously.

Q A follow-up.

MS. SANDERS: Alex. We're tight on time today.

Q I talked to Hillary Clinton today about the President’s past -- and going back to what Matthew said, she said, look, I worry about everything from his past because it tells you how he behaves in the present and will in the future. What do you say to that as it relates to these allegations against the President?

MS. SANDERS: I think Hillary Clinton probably should have dealt with some of those of her own issues before addressing this President.

Alex.

Q Two questions. One on taxes, then immigration. A recent Quinnipiac University poll said 61 percent of voters think the Republican tax plan will benefit the wealthy while the White House has pitched this plan as a working-class tax cut. Why the disconnect?

And then on immigration --

MS. SANDERS: Let me answer that first question.

Q Okay.

MS. SANDERS: Look, we've actually argued that this tax plan benefits all Americans. That's the point of it. Specifically, our priority is to target middle-class Americans and make sure that that is addressed first and that those people are prioritized in any piece of legislation for either the House or the Senate.

But at the same time, we want all Americans to benefit by a growing economy and a tax system that actually works for our country versus one that penalizes people.

We're going to keep moving just because we're tight.

John.

Q Let me come back and ask you the same thing I asked Kevin. You've got six Republican senators either "no" or seriously on the fence here. Can you win enough over in order to pass this? And if the President gets snookered again by the Senate, what’s his reaction going to be?

MS. SANDERS: We certainly are still very confident that we're going to get this package passed, and we’d love to see some of the Democrats come on board and support this historic piece of legislation that we feel will be one of the great legacies of this presidency.

Q The fact that you didn't get any Democrats in the House, how does that portend for getting them in the Senate?

MS. SANDERS: There’s always hope. We’ll hold out hope that Democrats in the Senate want to put partisan politics aside and put the people of this country first. We haven’t ruled it, and we're certainly going to keep pushing forward. And we're still confident we're going to get it done.

Q Safe to say the President will not be pleased if he gets snookered by the Senate again?

MS. SANDERS: I think the American people will be the ones that won’t be pleased, because they're going to be the ones that lose out the most if this doesn't go forward.

Toluse.

MS. SANDERS: Thanks, Sarah. The administration put out a disaster funding request for about $44 billion today. It’s much less than what a number of different governors and officials in the various affected territories and states have requested. Can you explain sort of why the number is so low compared to what the local officials say they need?

MS. SANDERS: I don't think $44 billion is a low amount. And my guess is if you ask any average citizen across this country, they wouldn’t feel like it’s low either.

But to this point, Texas has not put any state dollars into this process. We feel strongly that they should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process. We did a thorough assessment, and that was completed, and this was the number that we put forward to Congress today.

Q Are you expecting (inaudible) much more requests forward in the future, specifically for Puerto Rico?

MS. SANDERS: Yeah, absolutely. At this point, the request that went in today of the roughly $44 billion primarily addresses Texas and Florida. Those storms took place ahead of Puerto Rico, and the assessment for Puerto Rico hasn’t been completed yet. Once that's done, we fully anticipate that there will be additional requests at that time.

Kristen.

Q Sarah, thank you. Steven Bannon is sending a strong message to the establishment to back off of Roy Moore. Does the President’s allegiance to Steve Bannon in any way implicate his response?

MS. SANDERS: The President doesn't have an allegiance to Steve Bannon. The President has an allegiance to the people of this country and nothing else.

Q Has he spoken at all to Steve Bannon or any outside advisors?

MS. SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. Not that I'm aware of.

Q How concerned is he, Sarah, about losing this seat to a Democratic candidate, who, right now, according to the polls, is leading?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that the President is less concerned about the seat and more focused on the policy and the legislation that we're pushing through right now, like tax reform.

John.

Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Just in regards to that question regarding the supplemental requests: The President and the administration has put forth $44 million. Puerto Rico has requested $94 million. Are they going to get somewhere along that order? I think half of the island is still without electricity.

MS. SANDERS: As I said, we're going to wait until that assessment is complete and we'll make a determination at that point and see what the best path forward is.

Q Did the President notify Governor Abbott --

MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep it brief.

Q Did the President notify Governor Abbott of the lesser amount that he's put forward?

MS. SANDERS: John, I'm going to keep moving. I'm going to try be respectful of your colleagues.

Q Yesterday, the joint investigative mechanism was vetoed by Russia at the U.N. Security Council, and Ambassador Haley tweeted afterward that the veto proves that Russia cannot be trusted as a partner going forward in trying to solve the political situation in Syria.

Does the President have any response to the veto, first? What is the U.S. view, going forward, of how chemical weapons will be investigated and dealt with in Syria? And is it the U.S. position now that Russia cannot be a partner in trying to solve, or do a next-day political situation by --

MS. SANDERS: I think by the actions that the President's taken specific to chemical weapons, I think he's shown his position on that with a strike in Syria earlier this year.

In terms of Russia's veto, it's certainly not one we support. We do hope that, moving forward, they want to get on board and work with us on this. But at the same time, this isn't something that we support their decision on.

Steven.

Q There's been some extraordinary pushback on the administration's decisions with respect to elephant trophies and hunting of lions and elephants in Africa. Can you shed some light on the decisions the administration has made? And will you make that pushback?

MS. SANDERS: Yeah, this is actually due to a review that started back in 2014, under the previous administration, done by career officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service. This review established that both Zambia and Zimbabwe had met new standards, strict international conservation standards that allowed Americans to resume hunting in those countries.

A ban on importing elephant ivory from all country remains in place. But again, all of this was based on a study that was conducted -- that started back to the previous administration and done by career officials.

Darlene.

Q The senate tax bill has a tax break for corporate jets. How does that help the middle class?

MS. SANDERS: As Kevin stated before, this administration has laid out the priorities that we want to see reflected in this legislation. We're going to continue to fight for those priorities and let the legislative process work through.

In terms of those specific pieces, that's something I would refer you to members of the House and senate on that. But our focus is on making sure these priorities are answered and met.

We'll make this the last one.

Q Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday -- on Jared Kushner and on his campaign e-mails -- that Senate Committee, they're asking for those e-mails in the Russia investigation. You punted it to the Kushner's attorney. Today, what's the White House reaction to those previously undisclosed e-mails?

MS. SANDERS: Look, as I said, they were going to put out a statement; they did. And I would refer you back to that on anything specific to that inquiry.

Thanks so much, guys. Hope you have a happy Friday and a good weekend. We'll see you on Monday.

END

3:41 P.M. EST

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, 11/17/2017, #33

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:00 P.M. EST

MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Yesterday, momentum continued to build behind our plan to deliver massive tax relief and job creation for the American people. The House passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and the Senate Finance Committee passed its companion tax reform bill. These were important moments as we move closer to a final vote.

In recent months, we've heard from American entrepreneurs, workers, and families from every corner of our nation about how this plan will empower them to build a better life.

In Pennsylvania, Susie Schlomann said that our plan will be “incredible for me and other fixed-income retirees,” because tax relief is targeted at the middle class.

In Ohio, Kristina Port -- a small business owner who raised twins as a single mother while launching her company -- said the increase in the child tax credit would help working mothers. She also said simplifying the complex tax code would ease the burden on entrepreneurs and allow them to devote more of their time to growing their business, rather than wrestling with their taxes.

In state after state, story after story, we've heard how our plan will profoundly improve the lives of hardworking Americans. The optimism is coming back, because with this tax plan -- combined with the President’s efforts to eliminate job-killing regulations -- Americans feel like their goals are once again attainable.

It’s a reminder of one of the things that made our country unique to begin with. Our people have always been able to visualize a future for themselves and their children and make it a reality. That’s why it’s called the "American Dream,” and this tax plan will make it more attainable for more of our people than ever before.

But for this to happen, we need economic growth that makes it possible for businesses to create jobs and raise wages. So to give some perspective on how our tax plan is going to do that, I’ve invited Kevin Hassett, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, to join us in the briefing today. Kevin will say a few words and then take some questions specific to this topic. And, as always, I will come back up to take the rest of your questions after that, which I'm sure will all be on tax reform. (Laughter.)

So, with that, I'll turn it over to Kevin.

MR. HASSETT: Thanks, Sarah. Thanks. And it's a pleasure to be here to see so many familiar faces. You know, last week I had the honor of chairing the Economic Policy Committee meeting at the OECD in Paris. And the Economic Policy Committee is one of the oldest committees in OECD, and it brings together people, like the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, from countries around the OECD.

And, at the meeting, they were going through the staff recommendations of the OECD for creating economic growth in countries around the world. And the three main points of the staff recommendations were tax reform, infrastructure, and deregulation -- that if the government pursues those things, then they can produce more economic growth.

In fact, there was widespread acclaim for the President's approach towards corporate taxation in particular, because the OECD has been calling for us to reform our corporate tax code for almost a decade.

And so the idea right now that this corporate tax reform is close to the finish line is celebrated not only by us at the White House, but by people around the world who have recognized that us having a non-competitive tax code, the highest corporate tax on Earth, a worldwide system that rewards companies for locating activity elsewhere, is bad not only for us but for the world economy -- because a vibrant U.S. economy is good even for our friends in the OECD.

And, with that, I'm pleased to see that the House Ways and Means Committee and then the House have passed this bill, and that it's out of the Finance Committee -- I look forward to the Senate moving forward right after the Thanksgiving break.

And, I guess, I promised -- I'm not good at this. I don’t know what the protocol is, but I'll start in the front row and then work back.


Q Perfect. (Laughter.)

MR. HASSETT: Yeah, that's right. I'm just an economist.

Q Kevin, I know you're an economist but there's obviously a political component to all of this. You got at least six senators up on the Hill, including Ron Johnson, saying that they can't support the bill in its current form or they have serious concerns about it. You can only afford to lose two. Are you confident that you can get this passed through the Senate? Or could the President run into another situation, like he did with Obamacare? That he wins the House and then loses everything in the Senate.

MR. HASSETT: Look, there's an old joke about economists, that there are three types: those who can count and those who can't. (Laughter.) And it takes a while for that one to sink in. And the fact is that the President has supported, from the beginning, regular order because he doesn’t think that we have to wait until the thing becomes law to learn what's in it; that the right thing to do is to expose the bills to scrutiny and debate.


And Senator Johnson -- I met with him yesterday in his office -- has some serious concerns, and it's appropriate at this point in legislative process to bring those forward. And I'm hopeful that people can work it out and that everybody, even Democrats, will end up wanting to vote for it.

And so I'm not sure about the etiquette for follow-ups, so I'll try to limit people to one because there's a lot of hands.

Q What makes you think trickle-down economics is going to work this time when it hasn’t worked before?

MR. HASSETT: So trickle-down economics is something that, I guess, people who criticize the idea that taxes affect the economy will use to characterize approaches like the one that we're pursuing. But I don't think the idea that's celebrated by even the non-partisan staff of the OECD -- that if you have lower marginal rates, you get economic growth -- is voodoo economics or controversial at all.

And yeah, the fact is that countries around the world have cut their corporate rates and had broad-based reforms, like we're doing on the individual side, and then seeing economic growth result.

I don't think there's anybody who thinks that you'll get no growth or negative growth for this. Maybe there are a few people. But in every economic model I've seen, you get growth -- either a lot of growth, or sometimes if it's a closed economy model, a little growth. But you get positive growth out of this. And that growth will benefit workers, and let's talk about that.

So, right now, the way a U.S. firm avoids U.S. tax is they locate activity, say, in a country like Ireland instead of here. And so if you build a plant in Ireland, then you can sell the stuff back into the U.S. And when you sell the stuff back into the U.S., then it increase the trade deficit and doesn’t do anything for American workers, but it does increase the demand for Irish workers and drive up their wages.

And so what the President wants to do is cut the rate to 20 percent and build guardrails around the tax code so that people can't transfer price -- everything to Ireland anymore. And if we do that, then the people who benefit will be the workers here in the U.S. who have increased demand for their jobs.

Q And the incentive --

MR. HASSETT: I said no follow-ups. So I'm going to back this way and then I'm going to switch sides. I'm sorry I don't know everybody's names here.

Q One of Senator Johnson's concerns is that this bill does not do enough for medium-sized and small businesses. Can you talk about what the bill does do for medium-size and small businesses?

MR. HASSETT: Sure. And the fact is that I want to remind everybody that the President has, really, three main non-negotiables for this bill: that there is a 20 percent corporate tax rate; that there's a big middle-class tax cut; and that the bill simplified the tax code. And we believe, after analyzing the progress on the Hill, that both approaches satisfy the three main objectives.

And so the question then is, moving forward, what do they do about pass-through entities? What do they do about this, what do they do about that? And we at the White House don't want to get ahead of that process.

The President supports regular order because that's really how deals get made and how bills become law. The fact is, it's urgent that we get a 20 percent rate for America's workers. And it's urgent that we get a middle-class tax cut for America's workers. And the details about like exactly when the small business things kick in and out are things that we're watching them work out up on the Hill. And we encourage them to pursue regular order because they need to listen to everybody and get the votes they need to make this law.

I'll go to the lady, right there.

Q One of the major differences between the House and the Senate bill is the elimination of the non-taxable tuition waivers. So while they're trying to reconcile their differences on that tax reform bill, what do you foresee which could potentially move this tax burden to a lot of young Americans?

MR. HASSETT: That's the kind of detail that we're letting Congress work out. The fact is that they're finding the coalitions that they need to pass the bills in the House and the Senate. And we support that process. We support regular order. We support the transparency that leading debate about issues like this.

Sorry, now I said I'd come over here. Yeah.

Q Kevin, thanks for being here. On one of your TV appearances yesterday, you said that an average family, when this is all said and done, could accumulate a savings benefit of $4,000. That's a lot of money.

MR. HASSETT: That's a lot of money.

Q Can you walk us through that?

MR. HASSETT: Sure. And for those of you -- and I see some nerdy-looking people out there, so I'm sure that there's people that want to do this -- (laughter) -- that we've got two CEA reports that go through this in gory detail. And the fact is that you can get to numbers like that four different ways.

I won't try to do that now in the limited time that we have, but the basic idea is that back when we increased our corporate tax rate from 34 to 35 percent, we were kind of in the middle of the pack of OECD nations. Subsequently, what happened was that countries around the world found that when they cut the corporate tax, that their economic activity increased and the welfare of their workers improved. And then they very often did it again.

A typical country, since our tax increase, has cut its corporate rate two or maybe even three times. And for economists, what that does is it gives us an enormous amount of data to analyze because there are countries that change their rate and countries that don’t. And you can compare the experiences of those two types of countries.

There's a big peer-review literature that looks at that, including a paper that's by a German economist -- that's about to come out in the American Economic Review. And what we do is we go through all those papers and we have charts that show, well, if this paper is true, what wage effect do you get. And most of the action is well north of $4,000. And that's where the number comes from.

I'll go in the middle, with the orange tie.

Q One of the criticisms, Kevin, of the tax reform proposal is that the corporate tax rate is cut permanently. The individual tax rate phases out after 10 years. Why, in your view, is that such a good idea?

MR. HASSETT: So the President supports permanent tax cuts for the middle class and permanent tax cuts for corporations. And that's certainly the objective of the planners of this tax bill. But there are also Senate budget rules and reconciliation rules that are required to allow this bill to move forward with 51 votes.

Of course, the hope for everybody is that when the time comes for these things to expire, that they get extended, as happens -- I might add -- even for the top marginal rate when President Obama came into office. And so they extended most of the Bush tax cuts. But even the top rate, at the beginning -- which interestingly they must have done because they knew that if you were to increase the top marginal tax rate during a recession, that it would be very harmful for the economy.

So, back then, there was bipartisan support for the idea that you should not lift the top marginal rate. And so there should be bipartisan support. There would be economic growth effects of bringing it down right now.

I'll go back down into the middle there.

Q Hi, Emma Robinson, One America News. The two bills are different in that the House bill repeals or does away with the estate tax and the Senate doesn't. And I know that was a big point for the administration, and Vice President Pence has voiced his support for repealing the death tax, as they call it. What are your thoughts on that? And do you think a final bill will include a repeal of it?

MR. HASSERTT: I think that -- again, that's one of the things that the Senate and the House are working out. I know that the President very strongly favors the elimination of the death tax. And if that is in the final bill, I’m sure that he’ll be happy about that. But he’s listed his non-negotiables, and those non-negotiables I cited at the beginning.

I’ll go back to the far back now.

Q Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate it. Can you talk about this moment earlier in the week at the Wall Street Journal event? Gary Cohn was on stage, and the moderator asked a group of CEOs, "If tax reform passes, who here is going to increase their investment?" And only a couple of hands went up in the room. Gary Cohn said, why aren’t there more hands going up?

Can you answer that question? Why aren’t there more hands going up in a room like that? You would assume that CEOs would say, yes, in fact, we are going to invest more if tax reform passes. Is the administration missing something there?

MR. HASSETT: So that's a great question. And I went on a little bit after Gary Cohn, and when they asked that question, it was kind of hard for me because, like here, they are really bright lights, but even brighter there, and so I couldn’t quite see how many hands there were. But when I was there, it looked like maybe about half the hands went up. And I think if you go back and look, that it could be that people had time to think about it.

But as an economist, if I go back and look at the academic literature, very often people survey CFOs, and they say, hey, if we change the tax code, would you guys do anything? And they tend to always answer "no" in surveys. But if you look at the hard evidence about what they do, imagine if they didn't respond to taxes, then they wouldn’t be pursuing their fiduciary duty to maximize profits for their shareholders. So it would be totally irrational for them to do that. And firms that did act rationally in response to the tax code would put them out of business by taking advantage of the tax code.

So the point is -- the hard evidence is that people do respond. In fact, one of my very, very first papers that I ever wrote when I got out of grad school is the Brookings papers where we looked at the 1986 tax act, the changes that it made to the business tax code and how it affected investment. And there were very large effects.

Right here in the front.

Q Yes, yes. Gene Sperling, who was once in your position in another administration, says that this tax plan -- be it historic -- costs $1.5 trillion and it’s a deficit hole. And he says that basically -- this is in a tweet. I’m just paraphrasing his tweet. He says, it basically doesn't justify that cost for 100 million households for a tax increase.

MR. HASSETT: Well, I respect Gene a great deal and consider him a friend, and I disagree with him about that. And I’m sure we’ll at some point have a chance to talk about that.

But here’s the way I think about it and what I would say to Gene if he was here: That if you look at the Joint Tax Committee’s score, in the 10th year they say that the tax bill costs about $170 billion. If you look at the CBO projection of GDP, then in the 10th year GDP is about $28 trillion. And so the amount of deficit that you're talking relative to GDP in the 10th year is only 0.6 percent. It doesn't take a heck of a lot of economic growth to cover that hole by the 10th year.

And so the idea that right now we have the highest corporate tax on Earth generating almost no revenue -- because people avoid the tax by moving factories to Ireland -- that if we fix that, if we repair it and make the U.S. an attractive place again, that it’s going to blow a hole in the deficit -- it’s just not economically rational.

And I know that the Joint Tax Committee score says what it says, and I respect the professionals in that staff, but the fact is that the OECD has a study, which we’d be happy to email you, that says that the U.S. in the corporate tax space is on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve; that we've got such a high corporate tax rate that we're chasing business offshore and losing revenue.

And so the idea that this blows a hole in the deficit I think is just incorrect.

I’ll go to the purple tie.

Q I want to pick up where John, right in front of me, left off when he asked about the phase-out on the individual side. You're an economist; however, the two answers that you gave were both political. One, there’s reconciliation rules. And two, hopefully politicians down the line solve it. But like I mentioned, you're an economist. So can you not make an economic argument as to why this is good economically for people?

MR. HASSETT: Oh, is it good for things to expire?

Q Correct. Is there an economic argument as to why this is good for the country as it stands right now to expire within eight years or so?

MR. HASSETT: If you lower marginal tax rates, broaden the base, lower rates, give the middle class a tax cut, if you cut the corporate rate -- if you do any of those things, they're positive for economic growth. And they're less positive for growth if they expire.

Expensing is kind of a strange thing in the sense that if you have expensing for a year, if you go back and look at U.S. history, very often in recessions, they’ll put in expensing for a year to try to stimulate the economy. When expensing expires, it could actually have a short-run stimulus because people try to buy capital before the thing goes away.

But for the most part, permanent tax cuts are far more impactful than things that expire -- which is why if you go back and look at the Obama administration, when they were here during the beginning of the Great Recession, they even extended the Bush tax cuts at the top because they understood this.

Can I go right here? And then I’ll come to you, and then that might be the last question because Sarah is standing.

Q I actually want to follow up on that, though. You all made a value judgment to make the corporate tax cuts permanent and to make the individual tax cuts expire, even though you want all of them to be permanent. What’s the rationale for having corporations have that certainty of knowing that they don't have to worry about what’s going to happen in Washington while families are going to have to worry about what politicians do six, seven years now?

MR. HASSETT: Sure. Well, those are the kind of things that are being worked out by Congress in order to create a bill that under Senate and House rules can become law. And the non-negotiables for us are both met in both bills, and we consider that good news. But the choices that the Senate has to make in order to acquire a coalition to make this law are choices that the Senate has to make. And we don't want to get in front of that process.

Q You don’t see the value one way or the other, whether the corporate tax cuts versus --

MR. HASSETT: I think tax cuts that are permanent, of course, will have large positive effects.

I’ll give you the last.

Q Kevin, you've melded politics and economics here quite successfully, and I want to ask you a political and economic question. You've talked about growth covering what the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Tax Committee say could be a deficit hole, a deficit implication of $1.5 trillion. That is going to be measurable over time. There's going to be a means by which either dynamic scoring or static scoring answers that question.

And since it's on the mind of some of your undecided Republican senators, is this administration willing to commit to a review five years in to see if the growth models have held along your lines and the deficit implications aren’t as large -- or, if they aren’t, to reassess these tax cuts in order not to blow a hole in the deficit?

MR. HASSETT: You know, I have not discussed with the President, and I don’t think Sarah has, what we're willing to commit to in terms of what we do five years from now. But I can tell you --

Q Do you think there would be --

MR. HASSETT: But let me talk about what we can be clear about today, which is that, as the President came into office, the President's opponents were saying that 2 percent growth was inevitable, that we were stuck in a secular stagnation; that the President's policies couldn’t deliver 3 percent growth, and that it was a cockamamie idea to assert it.

We've had two quarters in a row of 3 percent growth. If you look at the fourth quarter data, it's suggesting -- at the Atlanta Fed, they have GDPNow, which is about 3.2 as of yesterday. So it's saying that we're growing at 3 percent. If we take that momentum into next year and add a tax cut, then we're quite confident that one should be able to expect sustained growth at that level or above.

With that, I think I have to hand it back to Sarah. Thank you so much for being so gracious with your questions.

MS. SANDERS: Thank you, Kevin. Major, he's right, I haven’t spoken to the President about that. But I do appreciate that you know that the President will still be here in five years. So, I like that vote of confidence that you would know that we will be here to take that review, and we'll be sure to raise that with him.

Let me go back here.

Q Thanks, Sarah. I have a non-Roy Moore question for you. Can you say definitively -- I want to ask you about Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Can you say definitively, from this podium, that he has not been held hostage by the Saudis? And does the President plan to speak to Prime Minister Hariri at all?

MS. SANDERS: I'm not aware of any anticipated conversations. That's something I'd have to check on and get back to you. And I don’t have any further comment beyond that at this point right now. And I would refer you to the State Department on specifics of that.


Cecilia.

Q Thanks, Sarah. If it's fair to investigate Al Franken and the allegation made by his accuser, is it also fair to investigate this President and the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by more than a dozen women?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that this was covered pretty extensively during the campaign. We addressed that then. The American people, I think, spoke very loud and clear when they elected this President.

Q But how is this different?

MS. SANDERS: I think in one case, specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the President hasn’t. I think that's a very clear distinction.

Major.


Q So I want to revisit something we discussed yesterday. You said, one of the ways that Alabama voters might be able to figure out if these allegations against Roy Moore are true is in the court of law. That's a direct quote from you. There's no criminal means by which that could happen. So are you suggesting that Roy Moore sue the accusers in order to hash this out in court?

MS. SANDERS: That would be something that I would refer to him to make that decision. That's not something I would be able to advise on.


Q But that's the venue you meant when you talked about "in the court of law."

MS. SANDERS: I said that's one option, one way to determine that process. But that would be a decision that he would have to make, certainly not one I'm going to make.

Q The only reason I raise that is because, during the campaign, as you well remember, then-candidate Trump said, after the election he would sue all the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, and that you have, from the podium, deemed all liars. He hasn’t done that. Why hasn’t he done that?

MS. SANDERS: I haven’t asked him that question. I'd have to ask him and let you know why he hasn’t chosen to take that path. I'm simply stating that's an option that Roy Moore has on the table.

Jeff.

Q Sarah, some critics have said that it was hypocritical of the President to tweet about Al Franken and not weigh in on Roy Moore.

MS. SANDERS: He has weighed in on Roy Moore. He did it while he was on a foreign trip in Asia. I did it repeatedly yesterday. In fact, I took about 15 questions on that topic and only one on Al Franken. So to suggest that this White House and, specifically, that this President hasn’t weighed in is just inaccurate and wrong. He weighed in; he said, if the allegations are true, he should step aside. He also weighed in when he supported the RNC's decision to withdraw resources from the state of Alabama. It's just a simply inaccurate statement to make about the President.

Sara.

Q Can you tell us whether the President believes the women who are making these allegations against Roy Moore? And would he be willing to ask the Alabama governor to delay the election or take a step like that to try to intervene in this electoral process in Alabama?

MS. SANDERS: The President certainly finds the allegations extremely troubling. As I stated yesterday, he feels like it's up to the governor and the state -- the people in the state of Alabama to make a determination on whether or not they delay that election or whether or not they support and vote for Roy Moore.

Matthew.


Q Thank you, Sarah. In light of the national discussion about the importance of taking these kinds of accusations seriously, I wanted to check: Is it still the White House position that all the women who have accused the President of sexual misconduct are lying?

MS. SANDERS: The President has spoken about this multiple times throughout the campaign and has denied all of those allegations.

Blake.


Q Thanks, Sarah. Let me ask you about something else -- the pending potential AT&T and Time Warner merger. The President had said on the campaign trail, back in October of 2016 -- and I quote here -- he said it was a "deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few." Does the President still feel that way?

MS. SANDERS: The President was asked about this a few days ago, maybe a week ago, while we were on Air Force One, and I’d refer you back to those comments.

April.

Q Sarah, is this an uncomfortable conversation about these sexual allegations for this White House be it Al Franken or be it Roy Moore?

MS. SANDERS: I think it’s an uncomfortable conversation for the country. I think that this is something that is being discussed pretty widely, and we certainly think that it should be taken very seriously. And it’s one of the reasons I stand up here and answer your questions every day, and will continue to do so and continue to address them.

Obviously, it’s something that should be looked at, and I think it should be looked at widespread not just in the political sphere, but in the business atmosphere and across the board in this country. And it’s something we certainly again take seriously.

Q A follow-up.

MS. SANDERS: Alex. We're tight on time today.

Q I talked to Hillary Clinton today about the President’s past -- and going back to what Matthew said, she said, look, I worry about everything from his past because it tells you how he behaves in the present and will in the future. What do you say to that as it relates to these allegations against the President?

MS. SANDERS: I think Hillary Clinton probably should have dealt with some of those of her own issues before addressing this President.

Alex.

Q Two questions. One on taxes, then immigration. A recent Quinnipiac University poll said 61 percent of voters think the Republican tax plan will benefit the wealthy while the White House has pitched this plan as a working-class tax cut. Why the disconnect?

And then on immigration --

MS. SANDERS: Let me answer that first question.

Q Okay.

MS. SANDERS: Look, we've actually argued that this tax plan benefits all Americans. That's the point of it. Specifically, our priority is to target middle-class Americans and make sure that that is addressed first and that those people are prioritized in any piece of legislation for either the House or the Senate.

But at the same time, we want all Americans to benefit by a growing economy and a tax system that actually works for our country versus one that penalizes people.

We're going to keep moving just because we're tight.

John.

Q Let me come back and ask you the same thing I asked Kevin. You've got six Republican senators either "no" or seriously on the fence here. Can you win enough over in order to pass this? And if the President gets snookered again by the Senate, what’s his reaction going to be?

MS. SANDERS: We certainly are still very confident that we're going to get this package passed, and we’d love to see some of the Democrats come on board and support this historic piece of legislation that we feel will be one of the great legacies of this presidency.

Q The fact that you didn't get any Democrats in the House, how does that portend for getting them in the Senate?

MS. SANDERS: There’s always hope. We’ll hold out hope that Democrats in the Senate want to put partisan politics aside and put the people of this country first. We haven’t ruled it, and we're certainly going to keep pushing forward. And we're still confident we're going to get it done.

Q Safe to say the President will not be pleased if he gets snookered by the Senate again?

MS. SANDERS: I think the American people will be the ones that won’t be pleased, because they're going to be the ones that lose out the most if this doesn't go forward.

Toluse.

MS. SANDERS: Thanks, Sarah. The administration put out a disaster funding request for about $44 billion today. It’s much less than what a number of different governors and officials in the various affected territories and states have requested. Can you explain sort of why the number is so low compared to what the local officials say they need?

MS. SANDERS: I don't think $44 billion is a low amount. And my guess is if you ask any average citizen across this country, they wouldn’t feel like it’s low either.

But to this point, Texas has not put any state dollars into this process. We feel strongly that they should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process. We did a thorough assessment, and that was completed, and this was the number that we put forward to Congress today.

Q Are you expecting (inaudible) much more requests forward in the future, specifically for Puerto Rico?

MS. SANDERS: Yeah, absolutely. At this point, the request that went in today of the roughly $44 billion primarily addresses Texas and Florida. Those storms took place ahead of Puerto Rico, and the assessment for Puerto Rico hasn’t been completed yet. Once that's done, we fully anticipate that there will be additional requests at that time.

Kristen.

Q Sarah, thank you. Steven Bannon is sending a strong message to the establishment to back off of Roy Moore. Does the President’s allegiance to Steve Bannon in any way implicate his response?

MS. SANDERS: The President doesn't have an allegiance to Steve Bannon. The President has an allegiance to the people of this country and nothing else.

Q Has he spoken at all to Steve Bannon or any outside advisors?

MS. SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. Not that I'm aware of.

Q How concerned is he, Sarah, about losing this seat to a Democratic candidate, who, right now, according to the polls, is leading?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I think that the President is less concerned about the seat and more focused on the policy and the legislation that we're pushing through right now, like tax reform.

John.

Q Thanks a lot, Sarah. Just in regards to that question regarding the supplemental requests: The President and the administration has put forth $44 million. Puerto Rico has requested $94 million. Are they going to get somewhere along that order? I think half of the island is still without electricity.

MS. SANDERS: As I said, we're going to wait until that assessment is complete and we'll make a determination at that point and see what the best path forward is.

Q Did the President notify Governor Abbott --

MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep it brief.

Q Did the President notify Governor Abbott of the lesser amount that he's put forward?

MS. SANDERS: John, I'm going to keep moving. I'm going to try be respectful of your colleagues.

Q Yesterday, the joint investigative mechanism was vetoed by Russia at the U.N. Security Council, and Ambassador Haley tweeted afterward that the veto proves that Russia cannot be trusted as a partner going forward in trying to solve the political situation in Syria.

Does the President have any response to the veto, first? What is the U.S. view, going forward, of how chemical weapons will be investigated and dealt with in Syria? And is it the U.S. position now that Russia cannot be a partner in trying to solve, or do a next-day political situation by --

MS. SANDERS: I think by the actions that the President's taken specific to chemical weapons, I think he's shown his position on that with a strike in Syria earlier this year.

In terms of Russia's veto, it's certainly not one we support. We do hope that, moving forward, they want to get on board and work with us on this. But at the same time, this isn't something that we support their decision on.

Steven.

Q There's been some extraordinary pushback on the administration's decisions with respect to elephant trophies and hunting of lions and elephants in Africa. Can you shed some light on the decisions the administration has made? And will you make that pushback?

MS. SANDERS: Yeah, this is actually due to a review that started back in 2014, under the previous administration, done by career officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service. This review established that both Zambia and Zimbabwe had met new standards, strict international conservation standards that allowed Americans to resume hunting in those countries.

A ban on importing elephant ivory from all country remains in place. But again, all of this was based on a study that was conducted -- that started back to the previous administration and done by career officials.

Darlene.

Q The senate tax bill has a tax break for corporate jets. How does that help the middle class?

MS. SANDERS: As Kevin stated before, this administration has laid out the priorities that we want to see reflected in this legislation. We're going to continue to fight for those priorities and let the legislative process work through.

In terms of those specific pieces, that's something I would refer you to members of the House and senate on that. But our focus is on making sure these priorities are answered and met.

We'll make this the last one.

Q Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday -- on Jared Kushner and on his campaign e-mails -- that Senate Committee, they're asking for those e-mails in the Russia investigation. You punted it to the Kushner's attorney. Today, what's the White House reaction to those previously undisclosed e-mails?

MS. SANDERS: Look, as I said, they were going to put out a statement; they did. And I would refer you back to that on anything specific to that inquiry.

Thanks so much, guys. Hope you have a happy Friday and a good weekend. We'll see you on Monday.

END

3:41 P.M. EST

Read More

Africa: Remarks at the Ministerial on Trade, Security, and Governance in Africa

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Thank you. And good morning, everyone. It really is my honor to welcome all of you to the State Department this morning.

And we are grateful to see so many friends and partners here in the United States, and appreciate you traveling to be with us today for this event.

I have been very eager to host this ministerial meeting to bring together leaders from the continent to address our shared goals and, as I was sharing with the chairman of the African Union yesterday evening, I have not had the chance during my time as Secretary of State to travel to the continent. In my prior life, I came to your continent a lot and I visited many of your countries. But I do look forward to coming early next year. We have a trip that’s in the planning now, so – but in the meantime, really did not want to wait that long to get this group together. So very eager to host this ministerial meeting and appreciate you all coming to address our shared goals and challenges, and I look forward to a full day of discussions on how we can work together to achieve those shared goals.

I know all of us are following very closely the events in Zimbabwe and they are a concern to I know each of you, they are a concern to us as well, and we all should work together for a quick return to civilian rule in that country in accordance with their constitution.

Zimbabwe has an opportunity to set itself on a new path – one that must include democratic elections and respect for human rights.

Ultimately, the people of Zimbabwe must choose their government. In our conversations today, we have an opportunity to discuss concrete ways that we could help them through this transition.

Our aim today is to expand and enrich the United States’ relationship with Africa along three fronts that we’re going to be discussing today: promoting trade and investment; encouraging good governance; and countering terrorism.

Let me briefly touch on how these issues will help us strengthen U.S.–Africa relations and our ties in the coming decades.

We’re going to begin today’s proceedings with a discussion on ways we can work together to expand trade and investment, and grow economic opportunities that benefit the people of Africa and the American people.

Trade and investment between the United States and African countries is growing. U.S. exports to Sub-Saharan Africa grew from $17 billion in 2010 to more than $25 billion in 2014. And last year, the U.S. direct investment in Africa grew to $57.5 billion – the highest level to date.

Our trade and investment is stronger than it’s ever been, and the United States sees even more opportunity ahead in the coming years.

Africa is a growing market with vast potential. Five of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, and consumer spending there is projected to exceed $2 million[1] by the year 2025.

By the year 2030, Africa is expected to represent about one quarter of the world’s workforce and consumers, with a population of more than 1.7 billion. By 2050, the population of the continent is projected to double to more than 2.5 billion people – with 70 percent of that population being under the age of 30. All of these young people will have expectations for entering the workforce. The challenge is how to prepare Africa with the appropriate education for its workforce, and to prepare economically and financially for this future, so our partnership can facilitate greater growth and prosperity for both the United States and Africa.

This administration seeks to refocus our economic relationship squarely on trade and investment – to encourage policies that increase openness and competition within Africa.

A more economically vibrant and competitive Africa will grow the middle class, increase standards of living, and make the entire continent more prosperous.

I am also pleased to welcome with us today USAID Administrator Mark Green, and I look forward to his comments on this topic shortly. We also look forward to hearing from private sector leaders, and are very eager to learn more about your views and priorities for expanding trade and investment. Through Power Africa, for example, the United States and its partners have helped the private sector bring 82 power projects to Sub-Saharan Africa.

But economic growth and lasting prosperity can only thrive in environments of good government – good governance.

So we are going to discuss at our working lunch today how a country’s success is firmly rooted in good governance, which fosters strong, accountable relationships between citizens and their elected officials, how that drives economic progress, and improves overall security.

Lasting peace and economic growth are undermined when governments fail to provide good governance, respect for human rights, or to uphold the law.

Peaceful, democratic transitions are important and contribute to stability. But democracy is not just about elections, and elections are neither the first nor are they the final step in the long road to building resilient democracies.

Democracy requires the inclusive, peaceful participation of a nation’s citizens in the political process. That includes freedoms of expression and association, an independent press, a robust and engaged civil society, a government that is transparent and accountable to all of its citizens, and a fair and impartial judiciary. Corruption and weak governance, restriction on human rights and civil society, and authorities who ignore the rule of law and change their constitutions for personal gain are all obstacles to the development of prosperous, free societies. In fact, an African Union study estimated that corruption costs the continent roughly $150 billion a year.

This is money that should be used to create jobs, build schools and hospitals, improve security, and provide social services.

A quality basic education is another powerful contributor to economic growth and development – one that reduces poverty and provides children and youth the skills they need for gainful employment. We have worked with you to build the capacity for your national education system to offer quality education for more people, and we look forward to continued partnership to address low literacy rates, teacher shortages, and greater access to education across all of Africa.

We encourage our African counterparts to address these many governance challenges, and in doing so, unlock your country’s development potential. We look forward to discussing today specific ways to strengthen democracy and promote better governance over our lunch discussions.

The United States also stands with you as we work to defeat the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism, which have taken so many innocent lives in Africa and across the world. That will be our final topic of discussion today.

We are particularly grateful for the work of African countries to expand multinational and regional cooperation to counter terrorism. The United States is committed to partnering with you to defeat ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups across your continent.

Just last month, I announced that the United States pledged up to an additional $60 million in funding to support the G-5 Sahel Joint Force in counterterrorism efforts, and to bolster our regional partners in their fight to provide security and stability.

The United States, as the largest peacekeeping capacity-building contributor, is also helping over 20 African countries train, deploy, and sustain peacekeepers. This year, such efforts have already supported the training of more than 27,000 African peacekeepers to the UN and AU missions.

But we recognize that the force of arms alone is insufficient.

It is imperative that we work together, and with civil society, to address the root causes of violent extremism. To create sustainable peace, we must also combat marginalization, strengthen accountability, and create more economic opportunity.

Before I conclude, let me stress that the United States seeks greater support from our African partners on growing global security matters, including North Korea.

We appreciate the statements condemning the DPRK missile launches that many of your governments have made. But all nations must act to implement UN sanctions in full and cut off all UN-proscribed ties.

Further, I urge you to take additional measures to pressure the DPRK by downgrading your diplomatic relationships with the regime, severing economic ties, expelling all DPRK laborers, and reducing North Korea’s presence in your country in all other ways it may be found.

The DPRK presents a threat to all of our nations. Everyone – including each country represented here today – must play a part in this peaceful pressure campaign to convince the DPRK that the only way to achieve true security and respect from the international community is to abandon its current path and choose a meaningful dialogue about a different future.

The United States will continue to support your efforts to secure your citizens, encourage stronger institutions and better governance, and promote greater economic growth for each of your countries.

I really do look forward to our time together today and in particular to hear how you are working to address these challenges, and how we can learn from your experience and strengthen this already very fruitful partnership.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

[1] trillion

Read More

Africa: Remarks at the Ministerial on Trade, Security, and Governance in Africa

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Thank you. And good morning, everyone. It really is my honor to welcome all of you to the State Department this morning.

And we are grateful to see so many friends and partners here in the United States, and appreciate you traveling to be with us today for this event.

I have been very eager to host this ministerial meeting to bring together leaders from the continent to address our shared goals and, as I was sharing with the chairman of the African Union yesterday evening, I have not had the chance during my time as Secretary of State to travel to the continent. In my prior life, I came to your continent a lot and I visited many of your countries. But I do look forward to coming early next year. We have a trip that’s in the planning now, so – but in the meantime, really did not want to wait that long to get this group together. So very eager to host this ministerial meeting and appreciate you all coming to address our shared goals and challenges, and I look forward to a full day of discussions on how we can work together to achieve those shared goals.

I know all of us are following very closely the events in Zimbabwe and they are a concern to I know each of you, they are a concern to us as well, and we all should work together for a quick return to civilian rule in that country in accordance with their constitution.

Zimbabwe has an opportunity to set itself on a new path – one that must include democratic elections and respect for human rights.

Ultimately, the people of Zimbabwe must choose their government. In our conversations today, we have an opportunity to discuss concrete ways that we could help them through this transition.

Our aim today is to expand and enrich the United States’ relationship with Africa along three fronts that we’re going to be discussing today: promoting trade and investment; encouraging good governance; and countering terrorism.

Let me briefly touch on how these issues will help us strengthen U.S.–Africa relations and our ties in the coming decades.

We’re going to begin today’s proceedings with a discussion on ways we can work together to expand trade and investment, and grow economic opportunities that benefit the people of Africa and the American people.

Trade and investment between the United States and African countries is growing. U.S. exports to Sub-Saharan Africa grew from $17 billion in 2010 to more than $25 billion in 2014. And last year, the U.S. direct investment in Africa grew to $57.5 billion – the highest level to date.

Our trade and investment is stronger than it’s ever been, and the United States sees even more opportunity ahead in the coming years.

Africa is a growing market with vast potential. Five of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, and consumer spending there is projected to exceed $2 million[1] by the year 2025.

By the year 2030, Africa is expected to represent about one quarter of the world’s workforce and consumers, with a population of more than 1.7 billion. By 2050, the population of the continent is projected to double to more than 2.5 billion people – with 70 percent of that population being under the age of 30. All of these young people will have expectations for entering the workforce. The challenge is how to prepare Africa with the appropriate education for its workforce, and to prepare economically and financially for this future, so our partnership can facilitate greater growth and prosperity for both the United States and Africa.

This administration seeks to refocus our economic relationship squarely on trade and investment – to encourage policies that increase openness and competition within Africa.

A more economically vibrant and competitive Africa will grow the middle class, increase standards of living, and make the entire continent more prosperous.

I am also pleased to welcome with us today USAID Administrator Mark Green, and I look forward to his comments on this topic shortly. We also look forward to hearing from private sector leaders, and are very eager to learn more about your views and priorities for expanding trade and investment. Through Power Africa, for example, the United States and its partners have helped the private sector bring 82 power projects to Sub-Saharan Africa.

But economic growth and lasting prosperity can only thrive in environments of good government – good governance.

So we are going to discuss at our working lunch today how a country’s success is firmly rooted in good governance, which fosters strong, accountable relationships between citizens and their elected officials, how that drives economic progress, and improves overall security.

Lasting peace and economic growth are undermined when governments fail to provide good governance, respect for human rights, or to uphold the law.

Peaceful, democratic transitions are important and contribute to stability. But democracy is not just about elections, and elections are neither the first nor are they the final step in the long road to building resilient democracies.

Democracy requires the inclusive, peaceful participation of a nation’s citizens in the political process. That includes freedoms of expression and association, an independent press, a robust and engaged civil society, a government that is transparent and accountable to all of its citizens, and a fair and impartial judiciary. Corruption and weak governance, restriction on human rights and civil society, and authorities who ignore the rule of law and change their constitutions for personal gain are all obstacles to the development of prosperous, free societies. In fact, an African Union study estimated that corruption costs the continent roughly $150 billion a year.

This is money that should be used to create jobs, build schools and hospitals, improve security, and provide social services.

A quality basic education is another powerful contributor to economic growth and development – one that reduces poverty and provides children and youth the skills they need for gainful employment. We have worked with you to build the capacity for your national education system to offer quality education for more people, and we look forward to continued partnership to address low literacy rates, teacher shortages, and greater access to education across all of Africa.

We encourage our African counterparts to address these many governance challenges, and in doing so, unlock your country’s development potential. We look forward to discussing today specific ways to strengthen democracy and promote better governance over our lunch discussions.

The United States also stands with you as we work to defeat the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism, which have taken so many innocent lives in Africa and across the world. That will be our final topic of discussion today.

We are particularly grateful for the work of African countries to expand multinational and regional cooperation to counter terrorism. The United States is committed to partnering with you to defeat ISIS, al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups across your continent.

Just last month, I announced that the United States pledged up to an additional $60 million in funding to support the G-5 Sahel Joint Force in counterterrorism efforts, and to bolster our regional partners in their fight to provide security and stability.

The United States, as the largest peacekeeping capacity-building contributor, is also helping over 20 African countries train, deploy, and sustain peacekeepers. This year, such efforts have already supported the training of more than 27,000 African peacekeepers to the UN and AU missions.

But we recognize that the force of arms alone is insufficient.

It is imperative that we work together, and with civil society, to address the root causes of violent extremism. To create sustainable peace, we must also combat marginalization, strengthen accountability, and create more economic opportunity.

Before I conclude, let me stress that the United States seeks greater support from our African partners on growing global security matters, including North Korea.

We appreciate the statements condemning the DPRK missile launches that many of your governments have made. But all nations must act to implement UN sanctions in full and cut off all UN-proscribed ties.

Further, I urge you to take additional measures to pressure the DPRK by downgrading your diplomatic relationships with the regime, severing economic ties, expelling all DPRK laborers, and reducing North Korea’s presence in your country in all other ways it may be found.

The DPRK presents a threat to all of our nations. Everyone – including each country represented here today – must play a part in this peaceful pressure campaign to convince the DPRK that the only way to achieve true security and respect from the international community is to abandon its current path and choose a meaningful dialogue about a different future.

The United States will continue to support your efforts to secure your citizens, encourage stronger institutions and better governance, and promote greater economic growth for each of your countries.

I really do look forward to our time together today and in particular to hear how you are working to address these challenges, and how we can learn from your experience and strengthen this already very fruitful partnership.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

[1] trillion

Read More

Rohingya death count, war games, and a non-coup in Zimbabwe: The Cheat Sheet

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:

Plus ça change in Zimbabwe

It all started with tanks; except the military vehicles globally reported on the outskirts of Harare on Tuesday evening weren’t tanks at all, but infantry fighting vehicles. Anyway, things like tanks on the streets, the president under house arrest, a man in uniform on state TV insisting it’s all a temporary measure, everything will return to normal shortly. Has to be a coup, right? Not so fast. It’s increasingly apparent that Zimbabwe’s army has no intention of effecting fundamental political changes. It may have determined it’s time for President Robert Mugabe, 93, in power since 1987, to leave office, but they haven’t actually yet deposed him, and still refer to him as the head of state. And, as this article published by African Arguments postulates, what’s really been happening in recent days is a “realignment” and an “internal settling of scores” within the long-ruling ZANU-PF party. “This is no revolution giving the power to the people. The army has done its duty in giving power back to the party,” it concludes. For more on life after Mugabe, read our recent analysis (Not that we’re claiming we saw this coming).

Libya’s descent

Libya is hell for migrants, with rape, extortion, and imprisonment rife. Utter chaos in the country has allowed smugglers – allied with some of the country’s militias and competing political forces – to run rampant. Two months ago, the UN launched an action plan to get an “inclusive political process” going again and establish some sense of stability. But Ghassan Salamé, the UN’s special representative in Libya, hinted in a Thursday briefing to the Security Council that it would be a complicated and long road ahead: “Elections should not take place until we are certain that they will not add a third Parliament or fourth government.” It’s in part thanks to political instability that Libya’s economy is in a bad way. Despite a small rebound in oil outputs, inflation is rising and the country is unable to fund much in the way of food imports or defend its foreign reserves. On the ground – with many going unpaid and food prices rising steadily – some Libyans are getting desperate. Reuters reports that in Tripoli, people are selling foreign currency and jewelry to pay for medical care. Whose fault is the economic collapse? According to Libya’s Central Bank Governor Sadiq al-Kabir earlier this week: “everyone”.

Tracking deaths in Bangladesh’s swelling Rohingya camps

Health authorities in Bangladesh are investigating a measles outbreak in the crowded Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar, to where more than 620,000 refugees have fled since late August. In that time, there have been at least 412 cases. Aid groups have warned that disease outbreaks are likely in the makeshift camps, where authorities have struggled to keep pace with the swelling refugee numbers and even basic water and sanitation systems are severely inadequate. Ongoing tests of drinking water sources in the camps, for example, found 83 percent tested positive for faecal contamination. It’s forced health authorities and aid groups to keep a close eye for early signs of problems. Health providers have set up an early warning reporting system in Cox’s Bazar, tracking everything from severe diarrhoea and respiratory infections to a recent, worrying uptick in cases of “unexplained fever” – there were more than 36,000 reported cases as of early November. This surveillance system is also a thorough, if dispassionate, record of what’s killing people in the camps, which now have the population, but none of the infrastructure, of a bustling city. Until 4 November, the system recorded 143 deaths since the most recent influx began. For more, read some of IRIN’s recent reporting looking at the monumental task of setting up a health system from scratch, and the very real problem of severe malnourishment among new refugees – particularly children.

In Rakhine, official restrictions loosen as informal pressures tighten

While health workers struggle with the influx in Bangladesh, humanitarian groups continue to face obstacles delivering aid back in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where the UN and international NGOs have also become the target of simmering anti-Rohingya sentiment. After being barred from operations in much of the state for three months, the World Food Programme delivered food aid to 119,000 people in October. But restrictions on NGO staff are still a problem; as of this week, more than 150 national staff employed by aid organisations were blocked from working in camps or villages in central Rakhine, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA. While the aid restrictions stem from official refusal of work permissions or travel authorisations, the tensions also see more informal constraints levied on Muslim people remaining in central Rakhine State – away from the northern Rakhine border areas that were the flashpoint of this year’s refugee crisis. In townships like Minbya, Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw, ethnic Rakhine community leaders continue to pressure people not to do business with Muslim communities, according to OCHA. This means that people in Muslim communities have had difficulty even working, buying or selling food in local markets, or accessing public services. For insight into how aid groups have become tangled in Rakhine’s religious and ethnic tensions, read IRIN’s recent analysis: While the international community mulls action, deep-rooted Buddhist distrust of aid groups grows in Rakhine State. It’s a crucial but thorny issue for the UN and aid groups who plan to continue operating in Rakhine; read more about the behind-the-scenes debate on this here.

Event:

Coming up soon, World Toilet Day (on Sunday) is a time to celebrate the benefits of a good lav, and salute the return of the unforgettable #FecalSludge hashtag on Twitter. But doing your business is serious business (see Bangladesh camps above). Diarrhoea from dirty water is still a major killer of children. More than 800 million people don't have a toilet to use and defecate in the open. Among the puns, promos, and campaign materials bubbling up for the bug day, this video from the International Rescue Committee really caught our eye.

Did you miss it?

Peeking through the cracks into Yemen’s war

IRIN Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod recently gained rare access inside Yemen. Her reporter’s diary is a raw, personal account on a conflict and a humanitiarian crisis that can never get enough attention. It is also a must-read. Good thing there’s more to come.

War games

On a single day in June 1859 some 40,000 Italian soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle of Solferino. Visiting Swiss businessman Henry Dunant was so appalled by the suffering of the injured that he dedicated himself to persuading the world to inject rules into the treatment of wounded combatants and medical personnel during armed conflicts. Five years later, 16 countries adopted the first Geneva Convention, a pillar of what is now known as International Humanitarian Law. In its key role as the guarantor and chief advocate of the Conventions (there are now four), the organisation Dunant went on to found, the International Committee of the Red Cross, has now launched an online quiz, “Don’t Be Numb”, which offers virtual medals to those who know that targeting civilians, medical staff and facilities, or religious shrines, or torturing anyone, or looting cultural artifacts, violate the laws of war. It’s a message the ICRC’s Virtual Reality Unit (VRU) has also been gently persuading developers of violent computer games to integrate into their products. As Rolling Stone magazine recently reported, most companies ignored the ICRC’s overtures, which led to erroneous media claims that the Geneva-based organization was calling for 600 million gamers to be prosecuted for alleged digital war crimes. But Dunant would, no doubt, be delighted to learn that his mores have been taken on board by Bohemia Interactive, the creator of the Arma series of games. Is this partnership, which has led Bohemia to donate some of its profits to the ICRC, a model for similar collaborations? “The door is open,” VRU head Christian Rouffaer told the magazine.

am-bp-as-il/ag

Read More

Rohingya death count, war games, and a non-coup in Zimbabwe: The Cheat Sheet

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:

 

Plus ça change in Zimbabwe

 

It all started with tanks; except the military vehicles globally reported on the outskirts of Harare on Tuesday evening weren’t tanks at all, but infantry fighting vehicles. Anyway, things like tanks on the streets, the president under house arrest, a man in uniform on state TV insisting it’s all a temporary measure, everything will return to normal shortly. Has to be a coup, right? Not so fast. It’s increasingly apparent that Zimbabwe’s army has no intention of effecting fundamental political changes. It may have determined it’s time for President Robert Mugabe, 93, in power since 1980, to leave office, but they haven’t actually yet deposed him, and still refer to him as the head of state. And, as this article published by African Arguments postulates, what’s really been happening in recent days is a “realignment” and an “internal settling of scores” within the long-ruling ZANU-PF party. “This is no revolution giving the power to the people. The army has done its duty in giving power back to the party,” it concludes. For more on life after Mugabe, read our recent analysis (Not that we’re claiming we saw this coming).

 

Libya’s descent

 

Libya is hell for migrants, with rape, extortion, and imprisonment rife. Utter chaos has allowed smugglers – allied with some of the country’s militias and competing political forces – to run rampant. Two months ago, the UN launched an action plan to get an “inclusive political process” going again and establish some sense of stability. But Ghassan Salamé, the UN’s special representative in Libya, hinted in a Thursday briefing to the Security Council that it would be a complicated and long road ahead: “Elections should not take place until we are certain that they will not add a third Parliament or fourth government.” It’s in part thanks to political instability that Libya’s economy is in a bad way. Despite a small rebound in oil outputs, inflation is rising and the country is unable to fund much in the way of food imports or defend its foreign reserves. On the ground – with many going unpaid and food prices rising steadily – some Libyans are getting desperate. Reuters reports that in Tripoli, people are selling foreign currency and jewelry to pay for medical care. Whose fault is the economic collapse? According to Libya’s Central Bank Governor Sadiq al-Kabir earlier this week: “everyone”.

 

Tracking deaths in Bangladesh’s swelling Rohingya camps

 

Health authorities in Bangladesh are investigating a measles outbreak in the crowded Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar, to where more than 620,000 refugees have fled since late August. In that time, there have been at least 611 cases. Aid groups have warned that disease outbreaks are likely in the makeshift camps, where authorities have struggled to keep pace with the swelling refugee numbers and even basic water and sanitation systems are severely inadequate. Ongoing tests of drinking water sources in the camps, for example, found 83 percent tested positive for faecal contamination. It’s forced health authorities and aid groups to keep a close eye for early signs of problems. Health providers have set up an early warning reporting system in Cox’s Bazar, tracking everything from severe diarrhoea and respiratory infections to a recent, worrying uptick in cases of “unexplained fever” – there were more than 49,000 reported cases as of mid-November. This surveillance system is also a thorough, if dispassionate, record of what’s killing people in the camps, which now have the population, but none of the infrastructure, of a bustling city. Until 12 November, the system recorded 199 deaths since the most recent influx began. For more, read some of IRIN’s recent reporting looking at the monumental task of setting up a health system from scratch, and the very real problem of severe malnourishment among new refugees – particularly children.

 

In Rakhine, official restrictions loosen as informal pressures tighten

 

While health workers struggle with the influx in Bangladesh, humanitarian groups continue to face obstacles delivering aid back in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where the UN and international NGOs have also become the target of simmering anti-Rohingya sentiment. After being barred from operations in much of the state for three months, the World Food Programme delivered food aid to 119,000 people in October. But restrictions on NGO staff are still a problem; as of this week, more than 150 national staff employed by aid organisations were blocked from working in camps or villages in central Rakhine, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA. While the aid restrictions stem from official refusal of work permissions or travel authorisations, the tensions also see more informal constraints levied on Muslim people remaining in central Rakhine State – away from the northern Rakhine border areas that were the flashpoint of this year’s refugee crisis. In townships like Minbya, Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw, ethnic Rakhine community leaders continue to pressure people not to do business with Muslim communities, according to OCHA. This means that people in Muslim communities have had difficulty even working, buying or selling food in local markets, or accessing public services. For insight into how aid groups have become tangled in Rakhine’s religious and ethnic tensions, read IRIN’s recent analysis: While the international community mulls action, deep-rooted Buddhist distrust of aid groups grows in Rakhine State. It’s a crucial but thorny issue for the UN and aid groups who plan to continue operating in Rakhine; read more about the behind-the-scenes debate on this here.

 

Event:

 

Coming up soon, World Toilet Day (on Sunday) is a time to celebrate the benefits of a good lav, and salute the return of the unforgettable #FecalSludge hashtag on Twitter. But doing your business is serious business (see Bangladesh camps above). Diarrhoea from dirty water is still a major killer of children. More than 800 million people don't have a toilet to use and defecate in the open. Among the puns, promos, and campaign materials bubbling up for the bug day, this video from the International Rescue Committee really caught our eye.

 

Did you miss it?

 

Peeking through the cracks into Yemen’s war

 

IRIN Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod recently gained rare access inside Yemen. Her reporter’s diary is a raw, personal account on a conflict and a humanitiarian crisis that can never get enough attention. It is also a must-read. Good thing there’s more to come.

 

War games

 

On a single day in June 1859 some 40,000 Italian soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle of Solferino. Visiting Swiss businessman Henry Dunant was so appalled by the suffering of the injured that he dedicated himself to persuading the world to inject rules into the treatment of wounded combatants and medical personnel during armed conflicts. Five years later, 16 countries adopted the first Geneva Convention, a pillar of what is now known as International Humanitarian Law. In its key role as the guarantor and chief advocate of the Conventions (there are now four), the organisation Dunant went on to found, the International Committee of the Red Cross, has now launched an online quiz, “Don’t Be Numb”, which offers virtual medals to those who know that targeting civilians, medical staff and facilities, or religious shrines, or torturing anyone, or looting cultural artifacts, violates the laws of war. It’s a message the ICRC’s Virtual Reality Unit (VRU) has also been gently persuading developers of violent computer games to integrate into their products. As Rolling Stone magazine recently reported, most companies ignored the ICRC’s overtures, which led to erroneous media claims that the Geneva-based organisation was calling for 600 million gamers to be prosecuted for alleged digital war crimes. But Dunant would, no doubt, be delighted to learn that his mores have been taken on board by Bohemia Interactive, the creator of the Arma series of games. Is this partnership, which has led Bohemia to donate some of its profits to the ICRC, a model for similar collaborations? “The door is open,” VRU head Christian Rouffaer told the magazine.

(TOP PHOTO: Rokima Begum, 35, tries to get her malnourished two-year-old son, Tarek Aziz, to eat a peanut-based supplement at an ACF feeding centre in Kutupalong refugee camp in southern Bangladesh. CREDIT: Tommy Trenchard/IRIN)

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