Thursday, January 24, 2019

Remarks by President Trump in a Meeting with Republican Members of Congress on the United States Reciprocal Trade Act

Office of the Press Secretary
Cabinet Room

4:44 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Another day in paradise, right?  (Laughter.)  A good day.  A good day.

This is the United States Reciprocal Trade Act that this room is very enthused about, that a lot of people are very enthused about.  We're taken advantage of by many, many countries all over the world.  They charge us tariffs and taxe -- the likes of which nobody has any understanding, they're so high and so unfair.

They also have barriers where we can't go in.  They have trade barriers that make it impossible for us to sell our farm products and our other products or cars in those places.

So this is the United States Reciprocal Trade Act, and it's really a preliminary meeting.  It's a little bit of an early meeting.  We're going to be talking about it.  We have tremendous support, and we're going to find out what happens.

It should have been done many years ago, as many things should have been done many years ago.  Frankly, the wall should have been built many years ago; we wouldn't have the problems that we have today.

So I'm pleased to welcome Republican members of Congress to the White House.  I especially want to thank Congressman Sean Duffy for sponsoring one of the top legislative priorities, to my way of thinking, that you can have.  It's called "fairness," really.

The United States Reciprocal Trade Act -- this legislation will help finally to give our workers a fair and level playing field against other countries.  Countries are taking advantage of us, whether they think we're very nice or not so smart.  They've been doing it for many, many years, and we want to end it.

Many of these are friends.  Many of these are allies.  But sometimes allies take advantage of us even more so than our non-allies.

All over the world, foreign countries put massive tariffs on our products while we put very few, if any, on theirs.  So we then wonder why we're not doing the business we should be doing.  And we wonder, maybe most importantly, why we had, last year, over an $800 trillion trade deficient -- $800 billion, in terms of a trade deficit.

So when you have a number like $800 billion, you say to yourself, "Somebody made a lot of bad deals."  And that's happened over a long period of time.

The Reciprocal Trade Act will give us the tools to solve this problem once and for all.  In addition to the various trade deals that we're working on with Mexico, Canada, China -- South Korea, we just finished.  It's a good deal.  Made it a good deal.  It was a terrible deal, and we made it into a good deal.  We'll get the trade way down and we'll get the deficits way down.

Under the U.S. Reciprocal Trade Act, whatever the tariffs for a foreign country is, we place the same tariff on us.  So if somebody is charging -- and I brought a chart.  If somebody is charging us 100 percent tariff, and we're charging them nothing, we're entitled to charge the same tariff as them.

And what's going to happen, I think, from a practical standpoint, is they won't be charging us tariffs anymore.  We'll see.  Or we'll charge them a lot.  It's a tremendous amount of money.  It's a tremendous problem for our country.

The U.S. Reciprocal Trade Act will be an incredible tool to bring foreign countries to the negotiating table and to get them to lower their tariffs on our products and also to get rid of their trade barriers, making it really impossible for us to do business.

India, as an example, has a 150 percent -- hard to believe -- tariff on whiskey.  They make whiskey, and they sell it to us.  We charge them zero.  We sell it to them; they charge us 150 percent.  So I would say, other than that, it's a very fair deal.  Okay?  (Laughter.)  That's the least of it.  We have far worse than that.

The EU charges us 67 percent tariff on pork, and we charge them almost nothing.  And they make it very hard for us to sell pork in the EU.

For bulldozers, Malaysia charges us, as an example, 20 percent, and Indonesia charges us a lot.  We charge them all nothing.  We charge them nothing.  Very unfair to our companies.  Very unfair to our workers.

So if countries refuse to lower their barriers, then we will simply place a matching tariff on their product.  It's very simple.  It's the simplest thing that you can do.

The result will be more countries will remove their barriers and open their markets to American exports, to American farmers, to American manufacturers.

I will be talking a lot about reciprocal trade over the next six years.  Hopefully, we'll have it done in two years or less.  And we will see deficits down to a level that would really -- you know, we talk about "Make America Great Again"; we have to do these things to make America great again.  Because we can't lose almost $800 billion on trade, like has been done for many years.  And it's been numbers -- they varied anywhere from $300 billion to over $800 billion.  Can't do that.

And what we're doing with China, I think, will have a tremendous impact, if you look at the numbers that we're talking about.  We'll see how that all comes out.  But, as you know, we're charging tremendous tariffs now, and they go up, as of March 1st, very substantially.  I think China would like to make a deal.  We'd like to make a deal.  I like exactly where we are right now, to be honest with you.  We're very happy.  We have billions of dollars coming into our Treasury -- billions -- from China.  We never had 10 cents coming into our Treasury; now we have billions coming in.

But if we could make a deal that'll be great -- on intellectual property, and theft, and all of the other things we're talking about, in addition to taxes themselves.

So I'll be talking a lot about this over the next period of time, and I want to just thank the incredible people -- all friends of mine.  They are -- this is a very early meeting.  This is the beginning of something, I think, that's going to be very important for our country.  And I look forward to discussing it.

They did a chart, right here, where, as an example, these are -- and these are not big abuses.  You look at apples.  Japan, foreign tariff -- 17 percent.  The United States -- nothing.  We get nothing; they get 17.  The same apple.  Actually, ours are better, you want to know the truth.  (Laughter.)  So that makes it even worse.

I don't want to cover you up.  You're such a good-looking guy,

REPRESENTATIVE ADERHOLT:  No, you're good.  You're good.

THE PRESIDENT:  He's a handsome man.  I don't want to cover him up.

Autos, China -- you have a 15 percent tariff, and the U.S. has 2.5.  So when you sell -- and, by the way, we got the autos down from 40 in China.  I got them down to 15.  But it's still 15 percent versus 2.5 percent.  But, if you know, it was 40 and 25 percent.  We got them down to 15, but that's really not good enough because we have 15 versus 2.5 percent.  And we don't even get the 2.5 percent.  There are ways that they can eliminate that.

French fries -- one of our favorite meals.  (Laughter.)  French fries from Thailand -- 30 percent.  We get 8 percent.  You look at the numbers.

Go down -- look at motorcycles, as an example.  India -- 50 percent.  It was 100 percent.  I got them down to 50 percent just by talking for about two minutes.  But it's still 50 percent versus 2.4 percent.  Again, other than that, it's a very fair deal.

Pork, EU -- pretty much zero.  And it's 67 percent.  So you look at that, and something like whiskey from India, and other things from India -- India is a very high tariff.  They charge us a lot of tariffs.  But you look at whiskey.  So India gets 150 percent, and we get nothing.

I will tell you that those are just a few of the products.  It's actually much worse than that, as bad as that sounds.  And all we're saying -- if you're going to charge us 150 percent, we're going to charge you 150 percent.  And what will happen, in many cases, is we'll both charge each other nothing or we'll get 150 percent.  That's okay, too.

I spoke to a couple senators about this that are really into this stuff, and they said, "Hey, sounds fair to me."  And a lot of people think it's fair.

We have to get foreign countries to respect us again, both militarily and on trade.  And I tell you, we have come a long way in two years.  It's a whole different ballgame.  When you look at what's happened, it's a whole different ballgame.

So this is the Reciprocal Trade Act, and I think that it's something that's going to -- you're going to hear a lot about it.  And, you know, hard to believe -- you'll have people that are against it.  You'll have people say that we don't mind if a country charges us 50 percent, 100 percent, 250 percent.

We have some cases, like with butter -- Sean was telling me -- in Wisconsin.  Do you want to tell that story?  The difference?

REPRESENTATIVE DUFFY:  Yeah, so Europe charges us 68 percent tariffs on our Wisconsin butter, and we charge 2.8 percent on European butter.  It's totally unfair.  It's not right.

THE PRESIDENT:  Mister great hockey player, congratulations on your victory.  We worked hard, right?

REPRESENTATIVE STAUBER:  Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  That was a great job.  Great job.  Thank you.

REPRESENTATIVE STAUBER:  We appreciate your support.

THE PRESIDENT:  (Inaudible.)  Thank you very much.  Congratulations.

So thank you all very much.  I appreciate it.  Thank you.

Q    (Inaudible) with this idea of the temporary spending measure to reopen the government, allow federal workers to --

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, one of the ideas suggested is they open it, they pay a -- sort of a prorated down payment for the wall, which I think people agree that you need.  You need the wall.  In fact, I see a lot of the Democrats are all -- almost all of them are breaking and saying, "Look, walls are good.  Walls are good."  Big difference from what you had two or three weeks ago.

And the vote -- we had the vote on our bill, which we won 50-47.  That was our bill.  But we got one Democrat.  It was 50-47.  And we need -- as you know, we have to get 60.  We don't have 60 votes, so we need Democrat support.  We didn't get Democrat support, other than from a -- actually, a wonderful man, as you know -- Senator Manchin.  And he's doing the right thing for his people.  I mean, he's doing the right thing for West Virginia, frankly.

And the other bill -- it was 52-44.  And that included a lot of hurricane relief for a lot of different states.  So it's sort of not something -- some of them really voted for the hurricane relief, which they felt they needed.  That was 52-44.  But you need 60.  So that didn't go anywhere.

So we knew they both were not going to go anywhere, we thought.  And now Mitch is negotiating with Chuck Schumer, and we'll see what happens.  I think they just left a meeting.  They just had a meeting.  I think they're going to have to see their people.  But they just left.

So we have two bills.  I think we did very well.  The Republicans held.  Except for two, the Republicans held.  Two were not there.  They couldn't -- they weren't able to be there, so there were two non-votes.  But even with two non-votes, I think they would have been good votes for us.  It's 50-47; we won.  But we need 60 votes because of the 60-vote rule.

And so I just really want to thank the Republicans for holding.  Again, on the other one, that was the opening up.  That's 52-44, but you need 60 votes.  So it's a long way short.  And a lot of that -- a lot of those votes were based on the fact that there was hurricane relief for certain states.

Q    (Inaudible) temporary spending without money for the wall, which is just to reopen the government --

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I wouldn't be happy with it.  I wouldn’t be happy.  But we have a lot of alternatives.  Honestly, we have -- everybody -- look, for the most part, people agree -- when I say "everybody," I would say almost everybody agrees we have to have border security.  We have to have a wall in order to have border security.

You cannot have border security without a wall.  I mean, we can play games, and we can talk about technology.  We can talk about drones flying around.  You know, right now, formed, is an 8,000-person caravan.  And the caravan is heading our way.  Congratulations.  We have another one.  We stopped the first one.  We stopped the second one.  I wouldn't say that Tijuana is too happy, but they're happily living in Tijuana right now.  And a lot of them have gone back.  But we stopped them, but it's very tough.

And if we didn't have a wall in those areas, it would have been very hard to stop them.  We have the military and we have the Border Patrol; they've done an incredible job.  And ICE has done an incredible job all over the country, frankly.  We've removed thousands of MS-13 and others out of our country.

But if we had a wall, we wouldn't have that problem.  It would be great.

So we have a lot of alternatives, but I'm just honored that almost all of the Republicans voted for our bill.  Our bill is the bill that, I think, we're really focused on.  But we had almost all of the Republicans, so the end result was 50-47.  The Democrats lost one that came over to our side.

So they pretty much held, and we held.  And, again, we were missing two Republicans.  They couldn't vote.  They were not here.

Q    Do you get the sense that there's enough movement to end the shutdown soon?  Or are we going to see this drag out for a while?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I have to find out.  After this meeting, we'll find out.  But right now, Mitch McConnell is meeting with Chuck Schumer and to see -- they'll have to see what happens.  They're meeting to see if they can work out something, maybe on a temporary basis where we start.

But I have -- you know, we have a lot of alternatives.  There are a lot of people that want this to happen.  I'll tell you who wants this to happen: The military wants this to happen because this is a virtual invasion of our country -- of drugs, of human traffickers, of so many different things, of criminals.  It's an invasion of our country.  And the military wants this to happen, and the Border Patrol wants this to happen.

And, by the way, Border Patrol said all of the drones flying up in the air -- having a lot of fun, flying drones all over the place -- they don't mean a thing when they look down and they see thousands of people rushing our border.  The only thing that works is a strong barrier or wall.

Q    Have you talked to Nancy Pelosi?  Or do you plan to talk to her soon?

THE PRESIDENT:  I have not.  I haven't spoken to Nancy Pelosi.  But I'm here, you know?  I haven't left except for a beautiful evening in Iraq.  I've been here for a long time.

Q    Mr. President, did you see Wilbur Ross said that he didn't understand why federal workers would need help getting food?  Can you understand why?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I haven't -- I haven't heard the statement, but I do understand that perhaps he should have said it differently.  Local people know who they are when they go for groceries and everything else.  And I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say is that they will work along.  I know banks are working along.  If you have mortgages, the mortgagees -- the mortgage -- the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along.

And that's what happens in times like this.  They know the people.  They've been dealing with them for years.  And they work along.  The grocery store -- and I think that's probably what Wilbur Ross meant, but I haven't seen his statement, no.  But he's done a great job, I will tell you that.


Q    On Venezuela, I just want to know: Aren't you worried to leave the American diplomats behind?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we're looking at Venezuela.  It's a very sad situation.  That was the richest state in all of that area.  That's a big, beautiful area, and by far the richest.  And now it's one of the poorest places in the world.  That's what socialism gets you, when they want to raise your taxes to 70 percent.

You know, it's interesting, I've been watching our opponents -- our future opponents -- talking about 70 percent.  Number one, they can't do it for 70 percent.  It's got to be probably twice that number.  But, maybe more importantly, what happens is you really have to study and take a look at what's happened to Venezuela.  It is a very, very sad situation.

So we have our eye very closely on Venezuela.  Very closely.

Q    Mr. President, if Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer can come to some sort of agreement, will you support the results of those negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it depends what the agreement is.  I mean, yeah -- but if they come to a reasonable agreement, I would support it.  Yeah.

Q    Even if it has no wall money?  Or does it have to have wall money?
THE PRESIDENT:  I only -- look, look -- I have other alternatives, if I have to.  And I'll use those alternatives if I have to.  But we want to go through the system.  We have to have a wall in this country.  We have criminals pouring into our country.

And I'm not talking about the southern border.  They don't stay there.  They go through and they permeate all throughout the country, including places like Wisconsin -- a lot of different places.  And that's the problem.

I say that we would cut our crime -- you know, we're very well on crime rate, compared to past years and past administration, but I think our crime rate would go way down.  And I know our drug rates -- our drug -- what's happening is the drugs are pouring in.  And, yes, they come through the ports of entry, but the big trucks come through areas where you don't have a wall and you have wide-open spaces.

We have to have the wall.  You'd stop drugs.  You'd stop human trafficking.  I mean, human trafficking -- where they tie up women and they put duct tape on their mouths, and they put them in the backseat of a car or in a van.  They don't come through a port of entry because the people at the port of entry are going to see that.  That's not like hiding drugs in the engine or in the hubcaps, and they have incredible, ingenious ideas.  I mean, frankly, I have to say, some of these people are so genius, if they were ever legit, they'd become very rich people.

But what they do is they go through the ports of entry with small stuff, but the big stuff comes through areas where you have nobody watching.  I mean, you have hundreds of miles of open space, and they go out there, and they're loaded up with drugs or they have women in the backseat of the cars with duct tape all over the place.  It's a disgrace.

And you don't catch them.  They make a -- you don't even know the difference between Mexico and the United States.  They make a left turn after they go out 20 miles, 40 miles -- 5 miles, in some cases, and less.  They make a left turn; they're in the United States.  And then they do whatever they have to do.

You need the wall.  And we can all play games, and we can all talk about technology.  I know more about technology than anybody.  If you don't have the wall, the technology doesn't work.

First of all, the wall is based on -- I mean, it's all based -- any technology works only with the wall.  It's not going to work otherwise.  You need the wall.  In fact, a lot of the technology is put on top of the wall.  That's how you see it -- the cameras and everything else.  I mean, they literally put the technology -- they fasten it to the wall.

Then you have drone technology.  And that's great, in terms of -- what are you going to do?  Are you going to follow the people?  First of all, once they step into the country, you know what happens, right?  You know what they do.  It's called -- what do they call it?  Do you know?

Q    Tell me.

THE PRESIDENT:  They put one foot in our country, right?  And we got them.  That's it.  So the drones don't help us.  We have to keep it out.  We have -- we have no choice but to have a wall or a barrier.  And if we don't have that, it's just not going to work.  So it's very important to me.

All right.  One more question.

Q    Mr. President, what's your message to federal workers who are missing another paycheck this week and struggling?

THE PRESIDENT:  I love them.  I respect them.  I really appreciate the great job they're doing.  They -- you know, many of those people that are not getting paid are totally in favor of what we're doing because they know the future of this country is dependent on having a strong border, especially a strong southern border because we have tremendous violence and crime coming through that border.  We have tremendous drugs.  We have the human trafficking.  We have MS-13 and gangs pouring through those borders.  And if we don't strengthen those borders, we're going to have a big problem in the future.

And one of the people I blame is myself because the economy is so strong right now -- stronger than ever before.  Today -- today, right now -- we have more people working in the United States than has ever worked in this country before.  That's a great compliment.  So I blame myself, okay?

But the fact is people come up because our country is doing so well, and they want to break through our borders.  The fact is we want them to come up.  We have a big -- we took in more people last year, legally, than we have in a long time because we need them because we have -- a lot of companies are coming into our country.  So we need people coming in.

I want people to come in, but they have to come in legally and they have to come in through merit.  They have to be able to help companies.  And if they don't help companies and if they don't help our country, we can't do that, folks.  We just can't do that.  All right?

Q    Why did you decide to agree to Nancy Pelosi that (inaudible)?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it's really her choice.  I mean, I would have done it in a different location, but I think that would be very disrespectful to the State of the Union -- to pick some other place.  I could have done it.  I could have gone to a big auditorium and gotten 25,000 people in one day -- and you've been there many times -- but I think that would be very disrespectful to the State of the Union.

So what she said, I thought, was actually reasonable: We'll have the State of the Union when the shutdown is over.

Q    And when do you think that's going to be?

THE PRESIDENT:  That I can't tell you.  That I can't tell you.  But we have a lot of alternatives.  But we need border security.

Okay, thank you very much everybody.  Thank you.
END                5:05 P.M. EST


Medicaid and TANF Extension Acts of 2019

Office of the Press Secretary
On Thursday, January 24, 2019, the President signed into law:

H.R. 259, the "Medicaid Extenders Act of 2019," which extends certain Medicaid authorities and modifies Medicaid funding provisions; and

H.R. 430, the "TANF Extension Act of 2019," which extends Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Child Care Entitlements, and other Department of Health and Human Services grant programs.


Office of the Press Secretary

     James A. Crowell IV, of the District of Columbia, to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for the term of fifteen years, vice Brian F. Holeman, retired.

     Keith Krach, of California, to be an Under Secretary of State (Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment), vice Catherine Ann Novelli, resigned.

     Keith Krach, of California, to be United States Alternate Governor of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vice Robert D. Hormats, resigned.

     Keith Krach, of California, to be United States Alternate Governor of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development for a term of five years; United States Alternate Governor of the Inter-American Development Bank for a term of five years, vice Catherine Ann Novelli, resigned.

     Jason Park, of the District of Columbia, to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for the term of fifteen years, vice John McAdam Mott, retired.

     Robert K. Scott, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Malawi.



Office of the Press Secretary

Via Telephone

January 23, 2019
1:43 P.M. EST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hi, everybody.  Thank you for joining this phone call.  This is, of course, an important moment, and we want to make sure that you have all the details and information that we can share as soon as possible.

As hopefully everybody on this line has seen, the President had a statement on Venezuela, and that went out about a half an hour ago from White House Press.

If you have not seen that statement, please feel free to reach out to us, or White House Press, and they can give that to you.

That said, I'm going to introduce one of my colleagues from (inaudible) at the NSC.  He is going to walk through the President's statements, share a few words, and then take Q&A.

This call is embargoed until the completion of the call, and it's attributed to a senior administration official only.

So with that, let me introduce my colleague, and he can make a few words and share the President's remarks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Good afternoon.  So as my colleague mentioned, let me start out with reading the President's statement, and then I’ll add a few things to it.  And then I'll open up for Q&A.

According to the statement, it says, "Today…" -- the statement from the President:

"Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as the Interim President of Venezuela.  In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant.  The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.

I will continue to use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.  We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President Guaidó as the Interim President of Venezuela, and we will work constructively with them in support of his efforts to restore constitutional legitimacy.  We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people.  As Interim President Guaidó noted yesterday: 'Violence is the usurper’s weapon; we only have one clear action: to remain united and firm for a democratic and free Venezuela.'"

With this, I will add that this recognition by President Trump is pursuant to his Article II of powers to recognize foreign leaders.  As such, this is an important moment and it's an important message to the Maduro regime and an opportunity for them to have a peaceful transition and to accept a peaceful transition to democracy according to their own constitution and their own legal order.

If the Maduro government chooses to respond -- if Maduro and his cronies choose to respond with violence, if they choose to harm any of the National Assembly members or any of the other duly legitimate officials of the government of Venezuela, all options are on the table for the United States in regards to actions to be taken.

As we have said, the full diplomatic and economic (inaudible) United States will be put forward in support of the legitimate Interim President of Venezuela, who President Trump has now said is Juan Guaidó.

I'll open it up for any questions.

Q    Hi, thank you for having this call.  I noticed that on the statement you mentioned encouraging other Western Hemisphere countries.  What sort of -- what actions will the administration take to still encourage other countries, such as maybe Mexico, that’s maybe not being very fast on this, on recognizing Guaidó?  This is (inaudible) with the Hill.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  So we've been working constructively with countries particularly of the Lima Group, which consists of larger countries on the Western Hemisphere, along with some of the Caribbean countries.  But we've been working with those countries and namely, obviously, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Canada, and others in regards to what position they are looking to take and what actions they are planning to pursue.

We've also been talking obviously to the European Union and other countries.  Altogether, between the European Union, the Lima Group, and other countries such as Japan, Australia, et cetera, there are almost around (inaudible) countries that held that the Maduro government was illegitimate.  And so, therefore, consequently, the next action should be to recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate Interim President of Venezuela.

So we will continue to work with all of our partners who have spoken out very loudly and clearly on the issue in order to, one, encourage them to take further steps to ensure that Maduro and his cronies are not able to loot any further from the Venezuelan people.  And, by the way, and in that regards, to work productively if Maduro chooses to seek -- to accept a peaceful transition of power, to find an exit solution for him in that regard.

Q    Thank you for doing this.  This is Andrea Mitchell at NBC News.  Can you explain what you mean by "all options are on the table"?  And what could precipitate such actions?  And what steps can you, or have you taken to protect Americans who have actually been in custody still in Venezuela, including some people from the oil companies who have been down there for quite some time and have not been released?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  So first and foremost, our embassy in Caracas has been extraordinarily active and has been very vigilant of events, and has been in contact, obviously, with the families, with Americans that are on the ground, families of those affected -- some that may be in prison, and others.  So, clearly, our embassy is very cognizant of all of these facts and has prepared for all different scenarios.

In regards to the options, frankly, in our sanctions we've barely scratched the surface of what actions the United States can take from an economic sanctions front.  We are willing, and we consider that all of those options are viable.  You know, it's not very difficult to figure out what constitutes the majority of -- (inaudible) majority of hard currency that is being looted by Maduro and his cronies.

And therefore, the message is very clear, which we hope the Maduro government has gotten, is that the United States remains resolute in supporting a peaceful transition to democracy and freedom in Venezuela, and it will not allow an illegitimate individual -- in this case, Nicolas Maduro -- or his cronies to continue to loot the assets of the Venezuelan people, of the Venezuelan state, regardless of what sector it is, whether it's gold, oil, or (inaudible).

Q    Hi, this is Andrew Feinberg with Breakfast Media.  Thanks for doing this call.  So over the past two years -- two years of the Trump administration -- you guys have taken a lot of actions on Venezuela and listed a whole host of abuses by the Maduro regime: (inaudible) and suppression of freedom of the press, ignoring free elections, suppressing dissent, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

But Venezuela seems to be one of the few nations that the President and the administration routinely criticizes for this stuff.  Governments like Erdogan's in Turkey, Putin's in Russia, Duterte's in the Philippines, Saudi Arabia -- they get congratulatory calls, and Venezuela gets called out and sanctioned.  Why is Venezuela's government -- the Maduro political government -- so much worse than all of these other dictators who the President has said very nice things about on occasion?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  So our policy towards the Western Hemisphere is dictated by the commitment that 34 out of 35 countries, including Venezuela, made on September 11, 2001, ironically, in Lima, Peru at the time, which was signed at the time by Secretary Powell, who was there, on the Inter-American Democratic Charter which holds that a representative democracy is the practice in the Western Hemisphere.

We are bound by the commitment that we made in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  Venezuela is bound by the commitment that it made in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.  And we hold democracy to be not only an American value, not only for the United States, but across the Western Hemisphere.  That is the reality of geopolitics.

Q    Hi, this is Ian Talley, Wall Street Journal.  Thanks for doing this.  Can you tell me, firstly, how this decision was made within the administration?  Did this come from Trump himself?  Was it orchestrated by the NSC?  Was State pushing for this?  Just, can you give us some insight there?

And secondly, I just want to clarify when you say that "all actions are on the table," then you used the clause of diplomatic and economic -- when you say "all actions" are you restraining what that means, or confining it to economic and diplomatic, and not to, sort of, a naval blockade, or any (inaudible) of military force?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So to answer your first question, Article II of the Constitution provides the power to recognize foreign leaders only to the President, therefore, and not to anybody else, or to any other branch of the Executive.  Therefore, this decision was made solely and squarely by the President who is the person that has the Constitutional authority to do so.

The President's interest, his message, his consistency on Venezuela and the need for a democratic transition there is unequivocal.  We've seen it for over a year in that regard, so it's fully consistent with where we have been as an administration from day one.

In regards to the sanctions, you know, knowing what we have done, and understanding what is on the table, and which everything is on the table -- all options -- but in the economic sphere, if you look at what we have done, there is still a tremendous amount of leverage and there's still a tremendous amount of magnitude in our toolbox in that regard.

As I said previously, we haven’t even scratched the surface, per se.  And there's a whole new -- a whole bunch of new dynamics that come into play, including the fact that now the legitimate decision-makers in regards to economic transactions between Venezuela and the United States is the government of Interim President Juan Guaidó and the National Assembly.  And that will entail a whole bunch of consequences on daily interactions between Venezuela and the United States.

If Nicolas Maduro and his cronies attempt to usurp those authorities and engage in certain transactions, that would constitute, frankly, an illegality.  And those are issues that will be discussed in the coming days.

Q    Hi, thanks so much.  It's Nick Schifrin from PBS NewsHour.  Thanks so much for doing this.  I just want to be a little more specific on the punishment, if Maduro, for example, arrests Guaidó, or does any (inaudible.)  I've been told that, you know, you've got an oil embargo ready.  Would that oil embargo be instituted if Guaidó was arrested or something happened to him, or if there was violence in the next few hours?

And then, an overall question: Now that he has declared himself Interim President, and now that the President of the United States has declared Guaidó Interim President, does that mean that you can divert money toward whomever he says is the rightful recipient of oil revenue?  And does that mean you can, for example, kick out Venezuelan (inaudible) and replace them with Guaidó's diplomat?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, so you were cutting in and out, but I got most of your question.  You know, when we say all options on the table, it means all options are on the table.  And in that sense, you know, let's remain optimistic and hope that Maduro and his cronies saw the message, the magnitude, frankly, of the message -- (inaudible), frankly, in the last decade -- the magnitude of the message that the Venezuelan people have sent him and his cronies, and will seek to accept this peaceful transition and will seek an exit route -- a peaceful exit route.  So let's remain hopeful in that regards.

Now, if they choose the route of violence and seek to usurp the constitutional order and democracy, let us be clear that we have a host of options.  We will take every single one of those options seriously.  And the message to Maduro and his cronies would be that if that is the route they choose, that it would be very clear to them that they will have no immediate future, they will have no immediate livelihood, and therefore, one way or another, have their days counted.
END             1:59 P.M. EST  

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Office of the Press Secretary

Roosevelt Room
2:19 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you all for being here.  I especially want to thank Secretary Azar and Secretary Acosta -- they're doing a fantastic job -- for everything they're doing with respect to healthcare, and more affordable healthcare at that, for the American people.  It's incredible some of the things we've come up with that are much less expensive than Obamacare, and in many respects, are much, much better.  People have to know about the options.  We have a lot of options, and people have to know that.

We're here today, though, to discuss how the healthcare system too often harms people with unfair surprises.  They have some really -- surprises in a very negative sense: medical bills and the like.  The pricing is hurting patients, and we've stopped a lot of it, and we're going to stop all of it.  It is very important to me.

My administration is committed to delivering a healthcare system that takes care of American people -- of the American people, and like they haven’t been taken care of before.  And we can do that.  It's a very difficult subject, it's a very complex subject, but we've all gotten to understand it very well.  And the strides we've made are rather amazing.

We want to take advantage of those strides now, and we want to let them be known to the American people, as we make additional headway.  We've already made that progress.  In certain way we're lowering, and we will continue to lower, healthcare costs.  We approved a record number of generic drugs over the past two years.  If you look at what we've done -- and we're going to be putting out a list at the end of the week -- the number of generic drugs, which brings down the pricing.  They're just as good as the name drug.  In fact, one of things that amazed me -- I was asking a few of the people, including Scott -- I was saying that, "What's the difference between the generic and a big-name drug where you pay much more money?"  And they said, "Absolutely no difference."  Do you still agree with that?  I mean, Secretary, do you still --

SECRETARY AZAR:  Absolutely.

THE PRESIDENT:  So, somebody is going to have to explain, why are they paying for the brand?  Will somebody explain that please?  Because they literally say there's absolutely no difference.  Identical.  And you'll pay four, five, six times more money for something that comes in a container that you're more familiar with.  So we've expanded that greatly -- a lot of generic drugs.

Through the association health plans -- thank you, Secretary Acosta -- we've expanded access to affordable, high-quality healthcare, particularly for employees of small businesses and self-employed individuals.  And we reduced average premiums on the federal Obamacare exchanges for the first time in the history of the horrible Obamacare.  Okay?  It's the first time it's ever happened.

We're working very hard to get those -- the pricing down, as we really do things that are going to make it much better, and ultimately, it will result probably in a court case termination, and then we'll all get together and we'll come up with real healthcare.

As the result of our efforts, prescription drug prices have declined in 2018 for the first time in over 50 years.  So, prescription drug pricing has been very important to me.  Think of that statement: For the first time in over 50 years, it's gone down in pricing.  Is that a correct statement?

SECRETARY AZAR:  That's correct.

THE PRESIDENT:  Because if it's not, you know, they're going to get us.  Okay?  (Laughter.)  We'll be looking very strongly, so we have to realize that that's a very powerful statement.  First time in over 50 years that prescription drug prices have declined -- that’s in 2018.

But the seen and unseen costs of healthcare are still taking an enormous toll on millions of American families.  And this is something that I inherited; unfortunately, you inherited it, and also the people inherited.  And we're doing a lot about it.

Half of all unpaid bills on consumer credit reports in America are for medical bills.  One-fifth of credit reports include a past-due medical bill.  And you think of so many other bills, but one-fifth -- a big portion of what people are having trouble with right now are medical bills, and we're doing a lot about that.

Nearly 40 percent of insured adults report receiving a surprise medical bill in the last year.  Patients should know that the real price -- and what's going on with the real prices of procedures, because they don’t know.  They go in, they have a procedure, and then all of a sudden they can't afford it.  They had no idea it was so bad -- of procedures, treatments, and medicines before they receive them.  And this is a big shock to a lot of people, patients and others.

When you go to a grocery store, or you go to see a mechanic, you know the prices upfront, and you get a receipt that shows the cost of every item.  Every single item.  You know exactly what you're paying.  You go and get your car fixed and you say, "How much?"  But people don’t do that with the medical to the same extent, and they get some very unpleasant surprises.

And one of the things that happens is when you don’t make a deal upfront, then the doctor, or whoever it may it be, all of a sudden doubles and triples the price, because they figure you don’t care or you're rich -- you have plenty of money; you don’t have to worry about it.  And we don’t want that happening.

That’s what we want to do with healthcare so that patients will know exactly what the cost is, what the quality is.  And just think of it as a consumer.  You're really a consumer at a very high level, and you can get some great healthcare.  We have some plans that are great. but you have to go in and price them.

So I'd like to hear about some of the experiences of the people around the table.  We've had some incredible experiences, some really eye-opening experiences, and we're going to hear that.  But before we begin, maybe I'll ask Secretary Acosta to say a few words, and follow it up.

Mr. Secretary, please.  Okay?  Thank you.

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  Mr. President, thank you.  You mentioned association health plans, and I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on some of the preliminary results.

You asked us, you ordered us to look at these, to make them available or possible.  And so far, we've had about 30 association health plans across the nation.  We've had two that have gone across multiple states.  And I wanted to highlight one in particular.  An early adopter was the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.  And so, they had had an association health plan in the past, and so far -- they're still processing -- but they've had more than 500 employers and 100 sole proprietors sign up for this plan.


SECRETARY ACOSTA:  The plan provides quality.  It's providing substantial cost savings.  For example, a small business where employees used to be paying about $400, $450 per month for healthcare are now on average paying $230 per month.  So a 40 percent reduction.  And it's quality.  It provides a two-year rate lock.  It provides and covers preexisting conditions.  Dental and vision are available.  Health savings accounts are available.  And this is the kind of quality that we're seeing in these plans across the nation.

THE PRESIDENT:  And enough people don’t know about it.

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  And people do not know about it, but you're seeing chambers of commerce from Massachusetts to Vermont to Nevada.  You've seen the American Veterinary Association that just started a nationwide association health plan.  Land O'Lakes that is starting a multistate health plan for farmers.  And so as these are commencing, you're seeing incredible cost savings and you're going to see many, many more of these.

THE PRESIDENT:  And better healthcare.

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  And better healthcare.

THE PRESIDENT:  So you get better healthcare -- much better healthcare at a lesser cost.  So, you know, people just have to know about it.  And it's available now.  And are you doing the 401?  Or what are you doing with that?

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  So we're also taking the concept of an association health plan and extending it to an association retirement plan where, right now, 14 percent of small businesses -- and only 14 percent -- offer retirement savings to their employees.  We wrote a rule -- it's been out for notice and comment -- that would extend the association concept so that these same organizations, whether a chamber of commerce or the American Veterinary Association, can offer 401(k) plans.

So instead of every small business having a separate 401(k), you can have large, centralized 401(k) plans.  And not only does this eliminate paperwork, not only does it allow more employees to access retirement savings, but a small 401(k)'s fees are much larger than a large 401(k).  And so you're looking at about a 1 percent fee saving per year with these association retirement plans.  One percent over a lifetime is incredibly meaningful to all of these employees.

And then finally, we're working on the reimbursement accounts -- the health reimbursement arrangements -- where employers can give their employees cash.  So those employees can go out and they can buy their own healthcare.  It provides more options.  It provides more flexibility.  And that’s one project that I'm working with Secretary Azar on.  It's out for notice and comment, as well.  And we're very excited about the possibilities.

THE PRESIDENT:  So when will you have all of your various plans out, would you say?

SECRETARY ACOSTA:  And so, they're both out for notice and comment.  And I would expect certainly the association (inaudible) by spring.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good.  Okay, great.  Thank you.  Great job.

Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY AZAR:  Well, thank you, Mr. President, for welcoming us here today to discuss this, really, very important topic.  Like all of the Trump administration, HHS knows the right way to bring down costs while improving quality in any area is to empower consumers and to employ market forces.

This can't be accomplished without transparent pricing information.  It's got to be meaningful price signals.  But in healthcare, prices are often hidden, far out of line with what many patients will owe, or both.

Making prices more transparent can protect patients from the kinds of awful stories that we're going to hear about today, and bring down costs for everybody in both healthcare services and prescription drugs.  People should have the right to know what a service or a drug will cost them before they have to buy that service or drug.

One key area is healthcare services.  We've already started bringing transparency to hospital prices.  Starting on January the 1st, hospitals are now required for the first time to post their list of sticker prices online in a machine-readable format, which is a historic first step in much bigger efforts around transparency.  The data has to be machine-readable so that patients can use private sector solutions, like apps, that can help them understand this data.

Ultimately, patients should know a service's price and the price that they're going to really pay -- the out-of-pocket -- before they agree to that service.  Delivering that is a complex challenge, which we -- and we put out multiple requests for information on how to make that a reality.

And this is a problem not just for the folks who are visiting us from around the table.  None of us are immune -- myself included.  Several years ago, my doctor wanted me to get a relatively routine diagnostic test.  He then sent me within his complex, from his office, over to the hospital unit of this facility, where -- because I had a high deductible plan -- I asked how much it would cost.  Do you know what I was told?  "We can’t tell you."  Well, because I was a former deputy secretary of HHS, I pushed and pushed, and I didn’t -- and I said, "You're going to tell me what this is going to cost."  And eventually, he told me: $5,500.

Well, I went on my phone and I quickly checked a very reliable healthcare site run by an insurance plan, and said, "If this very basic diagnostic were done in a doctor's office -- in the doctor's office, not in the hospital -- it should cost $550."  And I said, "Okay, so $5,500.  How much with my insurance company is the negotiated discount?  What will I pay given my insurance company."  "We can't tell you."  "What do you mean you can't tell me?"  And I fought, and fought, and fought.  And eventually they told me.  "$3,500."  So, armed with that information, I took the plastic wristband off and walked out of the facility, and didn’t get the test done.

But we have a right to know this information.  We have a right to be demanding customers, because if that happens, we have a right to take that plastic wristband off and walk out of that facility, and not get a surprise bill when we get home, months later.  Many individuals, like the horrific stories we're going to hear today, who cannot afford those types of bills.

And we know that employers and insurers who pair price transparency with incentives have driven costs down.  This works.  In one study, costs for imaging -- like what I was going to have -- were driven down almost 20 percent while price disparities across providers also narrowed.

Another key area that the President mentioned for transparency is around prescription drugs.  And the President has put forth the first-ever proposal to require disclosing the list prices of drugs in TV ads.  Many patients pay based on their prices in deductibles or co-insurance, based off of the list price of these drugs.  And they've got a right to know that information.

And earlier this year, the President put out a regulation and then signed legislation banning gag clauses that prevent your pharmacist from telling you if you can get a drug at a lower cost by simply paying out of pocket for that drug than by using your insurance.

One study suggested that 23 percent of patients are paying more in co-pays than -- at the pharmacy than they would if they simply paid in cash.  And the President and Congress delivered that relief and transparency to America's patients.

We also are concerned about the issue of rebates.  And, Mr. President, you asked about the issue of "why would anyone ever take a branded drug when there is a generic available."  One of the most common reasons is because a pharmacy benefit manager is getting a rebate payment from that branded company to steer you to use the branded drug, rather than the much, much, much lower cost generic.

We're concerned that patients and payers are left in the dark about the hundreds of billions of dollars in rebates being paid from drug manufacturers to pharmacy benefit managers, or so-called middlemen.  These payments are non-transparent and they distort these prices, and create bad incentives in our system.

Marty Makary, whom we have here today, has done remarkable work showing how neither patients nor employers who pay for insurance know what's going on with these rebates and prices.  Bringing down prices in healthcare, as this President has promised to do, ultimately has to involve in making sure everybody knows and understands these prices, they're transparent, and they're available.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you very much.  And thanks for the great job.  And remember, as we get ready to leave the media, prescription drug prices in 2018 went down for the first time in over 50 years.  And that’s not by accident; that’s because we did a lot of hard work, and it's going to continue to go down.  And we're finally getting drug prices down for the American people.

And this was a one-way street up.  And now, for the first time in over 50 years, prescription drug prices have gone down.  So we're very proud of that.  Thank you very much.  I appreciate it.

Q    Mr. President, you made an announcement about Venezuela today.  Some administration officials told reporters in a conference call that all options are on the table.  Are you considering a military option for Venezuela?

THE PRESIDENT:  We're not considering anything, but all options are on the table.

Q    Does that mean you're considering a military --

THE PRESIDENT:  We're just -- all options, always.  All options are on the table.

Q    Mr. President, Nancy Pelosi just responded and she said she will not consider a concurrent resolution to have you come to the House on January 29th to deliver your State of the Union.  Your response to the House Speaker?

THE PRESIDENT:  I'm not surprised.  It's really a shame what's happening with the Democrats.  They've become radicalized.  They don’t want to see crime stopped, which we can very easily do on the southern border.  And it really is a shame what's happening with the Democrats.

This will go on for a while.  Ultimately, the American people will have their way, because they want to see no crime, they want to see what we're doing.  Like, today, we lowered prescription drug prices, the first time in 50 years.  They want to see that.  The Democrats would never have been able to do that.

So we're all working very hard.  We'll have to respond to it.  We'll respond to it in a timely manner.

Thank you very much everybody.

Q    How likely are you to get a deal with the Chinese next week?

THE PRESIDENT:  China very much wants to make a deal.  We'll see what happens.  I like where we are right now.  We're doing great as an economy.  They're not doing very well because of the tariffs.

But, as you know, fairly soon, that -- the deal that I made with them will come off.  The tariffs will be substantially increased on China.  They're paying billions of dollars to the United States Treasury.  First time we've ever done that.  First time we've ever had money coming the other way from China.  It's always been a one-way street.  But I have a very good relationship with President Xi, and we'll see what happens.  But we're doing very well in our negotiation with China.

One way or the other, it doesn’t matter -- one way or the other, we're going to do well.

Q    The story from Michael Cohen delaying his testimony -- he says he's been threatened by you and Mr. Giuliani.  He and his family have been threatened.  What's your --

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I would say he's been threatened by the truth.  He's only been threatened by the truth.  And he doesn't want to do that probably for me, or other of his clients.  He has other clients also, I assume.  And he doesn’t want to tell the truth for me, or other of his clients.

Okay, thank you very much, everybody.
END                2:37 P.M. EST