Thursday, August 22, 2019


Office of the Press Secretary


Via Telephone


10:05 A.M. EDT
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining today’s background briefing on the Trump administration’s actions to combat the trafficking of fentanyl and synthetic opioids.  Today’s briefing will be conducted by Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway, Director Carroll of the U.S. Office of Drug Control Policy, and Director Blanco of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.  Opening statements will be on the record.  The Q&A section to follow will be on background, attributable to senior administration officials.  All information is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.

     With that, I’ll turn it over to Senior Counselor Kellyanne Conway.

     MS. CONWAY:  Thank you very much.  Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining us and for your interest in this topic.

     We all know the harrowing statistics that attend to the crisis next door -- the opioid and drug crisis that’s roiling every community in this country.  However, recently, we came upon some very positive news.  For the first time since 1970 [1990], drug overdose deaths fell by 5 percent overall.  And in some of the key states that have been particularly hard hit, drug overdose deaths have fallen much more precipitously.

     At the same time, the number of fentanyl-related deaths continue to rise, with nearly 32,000 Americans dying from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids just last year.

     As part of the President’s effort to stop opioid abuse and reduce drug supply and drug demand, the President and the First Lady and other principals have tried to interject into the everyday lexicon the word “fentanyl,” because fentanyl is incredibly lethal in tiny doses.  When it can kill by just a grain, it poses a threat to any handler and intended recipient of a package containing concealed fentanyl, or anyone who may buy a street drug that is laced with fentanyl.

     So for this reason and many others, we’ve made central to our effort to stop the flood of fentanyl unprecedented support for law enforcement and their interdiction efforts.  It’s crucial at our border states, but it’s actually everybody’s business because securing the southern border means we’re stopping the flow of illicit drugs like fentanyl into our kid’s systems and into our communities.

     I’d like to review a couple of the progress points with respect to interdicting the flow of fentanyl into our country ahead of the big announcement we have today.  The Department of Homeland Security seized almost 5,000 pounds of fentanyl in fiscal year 2018.  That’s approximately 1.2 billion -- billion, with a “B” -- lethal doses.  That’s enough to have killed every American four times, in just one year.

     Between the ports of entry, Customs and Border Protection, last year, seized enough fentanyl to kill nearly 90 million Americans.

     In March of last year, the Interior Department created a Tribal Task Force specifically to combat the opioid crisis on tribal lands.  That has been incredibly successful, in that it’s led to over 422 arrests, 175 indictments, and seizure of 4,000-plus pounds of illegal drugs worth $12 million on the street.  That includes over 35,000 fentanyl pills taken out of our tribal land.

     We have brought targeted sanctions against fentanyl traffickers who operate in China, India, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and throughout Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore.  These targeted sanctions are the product of interdepartmental work combining DOJ, DHS, U.S. Attorneys, intelligence community, and of course our U.S. Treasury efforts to stop the handiwork of drug traffickers.

     By targeting these traffickers with these sanctions, we’re ending their access to U.S.-based financial assets that help them flood communities with fentanyl.

     Last fall, the President signed into law H.R. 6, which was the most comprehensive single piece of legislation on any one drug crisis in our nation’s history.  I’m happy to report and re-report that it was passed with every single Democratic vote, including all the Democrats in the House and Senate at the time who are now running for President.

     And part of H.R. 6 included the STOP Act -- that’s an acronym: S-T-O-P.  The STOP Act empowers our CBP agents with electronic data to track fentanyl packages.  Using this new data, CBP agents increase seizures of fentanyl in our own U.S. mail by over six-fold.

     To build on these efforts, today the Trump administration has a new announcement.  We’re releasing four advisories aimed to help the private sector prevent their supply chains from being hijacked by fentanyl traffickers.  We need private sector partners to work with us to strengthen the supply chains and the means of marketing and advertising against use by transnational organized crime.

Many of these private sector partners obviously are unwitting in their assistance to these transnational organized criminals and fentanyl traffickers.

These advisories cover the manufacturing, marketing, movement, and money related to illicit fentanyl production and trafficking.  These advisories highlight the risks that fentanyl traffickers pose to American firms and their brand's reputation.  They highlight activity patterns that the traffickers tend to use and, on the way, help private sector partners better anticipate and stop fentanyl trafficking.

The 21st century drug traffickers are taking advantage of private sector platforms to profit from peddling addiction.  And today, we're making a big move to help mitigate and eradicate that.

Fentanyl traffickers have become increasingly sophisticated in leveraging otherwise honest elements of our markets against us.  A few examples: They're tapping into our manufacturing supply chains, using the same factories that produce licit chemicals and pharmaceuticals to generate illicit fentanyl.

They are using our own social media and e-commerce sites to push this poison.  One trafficker listed boldly on Craigslist, quote, that they were selling “fentanyl, Chinese."

Fentanyl is a low-volume, high-potency product, so the traffickers are able to pack it into our mail and shipments, sometimes concealing it within other products.  They're using money laundering techniques and the dark web to backstop their illicit activities within our markets.

These illicit activities are hijacking and distorting otherwise legal channels used by Americans and American product manufacturers in our day-to-day lives.

Currently, the Treasury Department is also announcing kingpin designations, a form of sanctions against Chinese fentanyl traffickers to prevent them from using American assets and currency from bankrolling the deadly drug trade.

Last fall at UNGA, President Trump launched a call -- a global call to action for other nations to join our efforts to stop the flood of illicit drugs into our communities.  More than 130 countries have joined President Trump and the United States of America in that effort.  We are working with these nations so that they too bring a comprehensive approach to combatting the scourge and help reduce the flow of drugs to our own country and, frankly, to theirs.

On that note, I would like to turn the call now to Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Jim Carroll, to tell us more about these new advisories.  Director Carroll?

DIRECTOR CARROLL:  Thank you, Kellyanne.

The negative consequences of the trafficking and use of illicit drugs, along with the toll that drug misuse and abuse is taking across America, has endangered too many communities, it has ruined too many families, and it is taken the lives of too many of our fellow citizens.

As the U.S. drug czar, the evidence shows that almost all of the illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids causing American deaths are produced outside of the United States.  The vast majority originate in China, and then are trafficked across the nation's border.  Increasingly, this is through international mail and express consignment carriers.

Our announcement today and the countless other law enforcement actions that are being taken continue to disrupt the flow of these deadly drugs and target their illicit proceeds like never before.

The illicit opioid trade offers a different model of drug trafficking.  The use of online marketplaces, international mail and express consignment, virtual currency payment, small-scale distribution, and the manufacturing of counterfeit pills all enable this new model of 21st century drug trafficking.

Private sector business and platforms are vulnerable to being exploited by these drug trafficking organizations because of the way that they operate.  These businesses can and should be a critical partner in this fight.

At the bottom line, these advisories allow there to be a force multiplier effect by partnering with businesses across the country.  Building a shared understanding with partners in the private sector will shape our response.
Domestic and foreign businesses can take individual measures to protect themselves from inadvertent involvement in the facilitation of trafficking and production.  They can collaborate to help protect their own platforms from being exploited.

ONDCP, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Treasury, the National Security Council, and several interagency partners are unveiling today a series of private sector advisories on illicit fentanyl, as well as other synthetic opioids.

     This is the first of its kind for any administration as the work continues with our government partners and the private sector to confront synthetic opioids.  These fentanyl advisories are focused on all facets of trafficking destined for the United States and are broken down into four targeted areas.

     First, the manufacturing advisory describes the unique characteristics of manufacturing illicit synthetic opioids to assist stakeholders in combatting the scourge of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids into our neighborhoods.

The marketing advisory raises awareness about the marketing and sale of illicit fentanyl via vulnerable and unsuspecting private sector digital platforms, including social media, e-commerce, and online forums.

     The third, the movement advisory, increases awareness about the entities of each stage of the illicit fentanyl supply chain, including information that can help identify and prevent the movement of these drugs into the United States.

     And finally, the money advisory alerts financial institutions to help them detect and report illicit financial schemes and mechanisms relating to the trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

     Under President Trump, we will hunt down these drug traffickers.  We will stop them from bringing poison into our country and killing our kids.  We will not rest.  We will leave no stone unturned.  And under this administration, we will bring them to justice.

As part of the Trump administration's National Drug Control Strategy, we are committed to disrupting, dismantling, and defeating drug traffickers and their supply chains.  We will continue to interdict the flow of drugs on land and at sea to prevent them from entering the United States.

     Now we are enlisting the support of the private sector in combatting this problem both domestically and internationally.  Make no mistake: We will use every resource at our disposal to find these traffickers.  And once we have them in custody, we will apply the fullest measure of the law.

     While this administration will always be relentless in our efforts to hunt down drug traffickers and bring them to justice, we never forget to help our fellow Americans along the way who are struggling with an addiction.  We must be ruthless on the traffickers, but compassionate to our fellow citizens suffering with the disease of addiction.

     These fentanyl advisories will be available for download via the White House ONDCP fentanyl advisory press release.  Once they are translated into numerous languages, they will be distributed globally.

     The White House would like to thank the leadership of all of the agencies supporting this effort, as it was truly a whole-of-government approach and it demonstrates this administration's commitment to be relentless in attacking this issue head on.  With that, I would like to turn it over to Ken Blanco.
     DIRECTOR BLANCO:  Good morning.  Thank you, Jim.  And thank you all for joining us today as we collectively fight an epidemic that has killed thousands of Americans, devastated families across our nation, and is tearing at the social and economic fabric of many of our communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 130 people die every day from this menace.  The Department of Treasury uses its authorities and resources to confront this epidemic and to protect innocent people, families, and our communities.

Let me be clear: The scourge of fentanyl and synthetic opioids threatens the security of our nation.  Its devastating and profound effects on people's lives cannot be overstated.  The accounts of lives lost and families destroyed is heartbreaking.

In light of that, Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network -- FinCEN -- which I lead, took coordinated action today to apply significant pressure against those who manufacture, sell, and distribute fentanyl and synthetic opioids and the chemicals used to make them.  FinCEN issued an official advisory alerting financial institutions of the financial schemes related to the trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.
     Today's advisory will help financial institutions detect and report suspicious activity to FinCEN, which we and our domestic foreign law enforcement partners will use to target criminals, conspirators, and networks fueling this epidemic.  We need greater support from financial institutions, which are on the frontlines of the fight against opioid trafficking and other criminal activity.

     We strongly encourage banks and other financial institutions to incorporate our red flags and indicators, and report suspicious activity.  We will continue using all authorities at our disposal to protect our communities and our families and our national security.

     It is about saving lives.  We are working alongside and coordinating with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice on numerous fentanyl investigations across the United States.

We are also working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and other law enforcement agencies on a -- as members of the Joint Criminal Darknet Enforcement Team.  This interagency effort is combatting the trafficking of illicit opioids and related financial crimes over the Darknet.  And we are speaking to U.S. Attorney’s offices from districts across the country to highlight our counter-opioid efforts and determine how we can better assist them.

Combating the fentanyl epidemic requires collaboration beyond our borders, including with our North American counterparts and other foreign jurisdictions.

FinCEN’s analysis indicates individuals located in the United States use their accounts to move funds between domestic and foreign locations, such as Mexico.  This is why we are committed to working with Mexico and why we are, with our counterparts in Canada, frequently partnering together to combat illicit fentanyl trafficking.

The Treasury Department is committed to working with our law enforcement and international partners, as well as the private sector, to end this epidemic of addiction, death, and devastation.

It is imperative that we continue these efforts together so that no more parents can grieve for the loss of a child and no more children can mourn parents killed by this poison.  We must end the tragedy caused by the criminals and their associates profiting off the backs of this epidemic’s many victims.


MS. CONWAY:  Thank you so much, Jim and Ken.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you all.  Operator, we will now take some questions.

Q    Hello, this is Toby Capion calling from EWTN. My question: How would you describe the level of cooperation with China?  And how can you hunt down drug traffickers overseas where you have no authorization?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Good morning.  Thank you for the question.  China is becoming the drug dealer of the United States and I think that is a reputation that they do not want.  President Trump has been very direct with President Xi of China and, for the first time in history, secured a commitment by the Chinese government to do class scheduling of fentanyl.

What we are seeing is that they have begun to take the initial steps to crack down on this.  And so we believe that China is moving in the right direction.  We are continuing to -- we will continue to hold them accountable for this because, at the end of the day, we are talking about saving lives in the United States, which is the (inaudible) of this President.

Q    Yeah, my name is Alex Ruoff; I’m with Bloomberg Government.  I was hoping you guys could outline a little bit just how exactly advisories for private companies are going to, you know -- I guess, (inaudible), can you explain sort of how this might turn into better enforcement?  And, can I ask, is -- do advisories often come with sort of a sense of, you know, if you’re following these procedures, you’re kind of above board here?  Is there kind of a discretion of -- is this going to be followed with more enforcement on private companies that are assisting in drug trafficking, whether wittingly or not, if they’re being warned, here?   

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, that’s a good question.  So, there are four different advisories here, and these advisories go to private institutions in the private sector so that they can better help us look for these people who are committing crimes, right?

And if you’ll notice, in these advisories, there are red flags; there are tips; there are suggestions that these institutions and these -- and industry can look at to determine who is doing this kind of activity and to be on the lookout for it so they, too, can stop it.

For example, with the money laundering advisory out by FinCEN, what it does is: Financial institutions in the United States and, frankly, across the world, too -- because they're going to look at this -- can tell what people are doing that might otherwise look like innocent activity but, taken together, shows a network of criminal activity that is killing people in the United States.

And they'll take a look at that, they'll use algorithms inside the financial institutions, and they'll use people who are reporting suspicious activity to us here at FinCEN.  We then will take that -- we will then take that information that they have, share it with law enforcement.  Law enforcement will use it as tips so they can begin their investigation and take a look into the individuals who are conducting this activity.  But not only the individuals, the assets that they use too, which is very important -- seizing those assets and stopping them from continuing to use assets that they've gotten through their ill-gotten gain to move more fentanyl and to look at their network.
It also -- the financial information they have -- also connects people.  If you'll take a look at it: bank accounts doing business with other bank accounts; people using their phone numbers on the information they give financial institutions, connecting that information together; email; associations; addresses.  All that creates a network so that law enforcement can determine who is doing this, how they're doing it, where they're located, so that we can find them and stop them.  That's what this advisory does to financial institutions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  I just wanted to add to that that we constantly hear from the private sector, "How can we help?"  

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think it's also important to also let them know that these advisories do not create additional regulatory obligations for them in the private sector, but it does give them guides and red flags that they can follow.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  That's right.  I think it’s net-plus for them.  And in not creating additional regulatory obligations or burdens, we actually are just giving them the tools to be more aware that this is happening and that they may be assisting it unwittingly.

But we constantly hear from private sector partners who have been tremendous in helping the government -- our federal government -- with our whole-of-government approach to be great private sector partners in helping us to combat drug abuse overall and the drug supply chain overall.  But this is another answer to the question, "How can we help?  What more can we do?"

And I think no single red flag necessarily indicates suspicious activity, so this allows them the information, again, to talk about money, marketing, manufacturing, and movement -- meaning, redistribution -- to allow them to have a more robust approach to just partnering with us, but also keeping this poison out of consumer's hands.

The drug traffickers and cartels are smart, and they're vicious, and they don't care about our kids.  In fact, the more deaths, the more popular they are, the more financially solvent they become.  And so, for them, they just move on to another drug, to another area, to another system.

But if we can, as we're combatting the use -- combatting the misuse, and the overuse, and the disease of addiction in our country -- we're also combatting the supply chain.  And this has been incredibly important.  Our own law enforcement have done it, and now we’re calling upon the private sector to answer the call as well.

Thank you.

Q    Hi, this is Eric Katz, with GovExec.  Kellyanne mentioned the STOP Act and the role that that has played to help stop the trafficking of synthetic opioids.  I just was wondering -- there was a report out recently from the Inspector General, saying that the Postal Service is falling behind on the deadlines there.  It’s not getting all the electronic data that it’s supposed to get and it’s not setting aside packages that it’s supposed to set aside.

So I’m wondering: A, do you think that the Postal Service still needs to be more -- to hold up its end of the bargain on that?  And, secondly, would you -- is the administration considering adding more Customs and Border Protection personnel to these international mail centers to help sort through the packages that raise red flags?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  At this point, the White House is planning on a delegation to China in about three weeks.  And the Chief of the U.S. Postal Inspector Services will be accompanying the delegation, along -- expected -- the head of CBP.  And so we’ll be leading that there.  The three of us will be going to China to meet directly with our counterparts there to hold them accountable for what they are doing.

The U.S. Postal Inspector Services understands the danger.  They understand the danger not only to their carriers and the people in their facilities, but ultimately to the individuals, the recipients -- and, sometimes, as Kellyanne mentioned, the innocent people that might receive a package unknowingly, unwittingly.  And so that’s why it's important to go.

     But President Trump was right: China needs to do more.  That’s why we're going.  That’s why I'm taking the Chief of USPIS, as well as the head of CBP with me, so we can meet with the Chinese directly and hold them up to their end of this bargain.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  That’s an incredibly important trip that you're leading there.

     The other thing that I would just mention is, if you haven’t caught it before or maybe it's worth rereading, the Washington Post exposé, called "The Fentanyl Failure," from just several months ago.  A truly remarkable, well-reported piece that basically leaves the blame of the exploding fentanyl crisis in this country at the feet of the last administration.

And the reason I mention that is because it's relevant; it comes from a mainstream media report.  But also, it just tells you the mountain that our brave men and women at the Postal Service, at CBP, and other places are just climbing every single day.  If it was ignored for all those years, and now we're tackling it instead of continuing to look the other way while people are dying in our communities, that's going to take a while.  These battleships turn slowly.

And the STOP Act by Senator Portman of Ohio and others had been in existence long before President Trump and the rest of us got here, but nobody ever passed it.  It became part of the 50 different bills on the drug issues.  It became part of H.R. 6 that passed last year, and the STOP Act was central piece of that.

So we -- I think they are doing -- the fact that they -- the fentanyl seizures in the -- the fentanyl interruptions in our U.S. Postal Service have increased six-fold just since the STOP Act was signed into law less than a year ago is truly remarkable.

But it shows you two things.  It shows you, A, the relief you can get just by doing the right thing and signing into law a very simple piece of legislation that was way overdue.  And, B, the daunting gravity of this monumental task that has been ignored for so long.  And I think you'll just continue to see those numbers increase over time.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I'm going to just expand a little bit more on that.  And that really is a great question about CBP.  I mean, what we know is the -- what is going on at the southwest border is just wreaking havoc, in terms of allowing drugs to come across the border as the men and women of CBP who are doing what their moral obligation is, of course -- of helping the people that need help -- but that means they're no longer able to stop the flow of drugs into their -- into this country.

All you have to do is look at the patch that they wear on their uniform and understand that when they took the oath of office, they were trying to protect our border; they were trying to protect our country.  And instead, as we know, so many people are coming in between these ports of entry.  They are diverted from going back and from protecting the (inaudible) to providing assistance to people that are showing up.

So one way to do this is to have a strong southwest border so that the CBP can back to their job of protecting the nation by the example that you gave in the question of being able to interdict more drugs at the U.S. Postal Inspector Services and consignment carrier ports of entry into the U.S.

Q    Hi, thanks for doing the call.  This is Marisa Schultz at the New York Post.  Can you give some examples of who these advisories are targeted at?  You had mentioned the four different areas -- the movement, money, marketing, et cetera.  Are we talking about like FedEx, UPS?  If you could just give some examples of companies in each of those sectors that could benefit from these advisories.  And if you'd like to mention any companies that you guys are working hand in hand with, particularly on this issue, that you'd like to point out as well, that would be helpful.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I can tell you, with respect to the financial institutions -- and, really, all private industry, I think, could benefit from reading these advisories.

The feedback that we're getting, particularly in the financial sector is they want to know what our priorities are.  And we're giving them a huge priority here in how we protect our national security and protect our people.

And so when we're talking about different companies and institutions, there's not one in particular.  They all should -- they all would be advised to read them, because I think that would be helpful in what they do and I think it would be very helpful to law enforcement.  And they've been asking for what our priorities are.

So that is what I think that these advisories do.  And I think that, if you really look at it, these industries all want to help and this helps them help us.

Q    Hi, this is Mike Ludwig with Truthout.  Thanks for having the call.  We heard today that we should be ruthless on traffickers but compassionate to our fellow citizens struggling with addiction.  Just this week, the U.S. District Attorney in Philadelphia was in court trying to block the establishment of a safe consumption site there and local public health officials say that’s crucial for reducing overdose deaths.  Has the administration considered reversing its position on safe consumption sites?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, we have not.  The evidence does not support -- when you look at some of the international cities that have tried this, you see that it does not work.  It is against federal law to have those types of facilities.  And more importantly, it shows that they don’t work.  The referral to treatment from those sites is horrific.  It does not actually get people into court -- excuse me, into treatment.

What we are trying to do is get help to individuals to help them extend their life and become productive members of society.  Under this President, we have 20 percent more people than ever before getting treatment.  We have more resources than ever before going into treatment and prevention.

Most people assume, so incredibly -- and they're so incredibly wrong -- that this administration, the only focus is on law enforcement.  This administration has got more funding than ever, and we spend more money on treatment and prevention than we do on law enforcement.

And the effort that has been -- the President has put into this -- his commitment shows.  He is very open about losing a brother to addiction.  He understands the compassion and the way that we need to reach out and embrace someone that has an addiction.  And how we actually have to get them scientifically-proven methods to get there.  And that’s what we need to look at.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  And while we're on the subject of Philadelphia -- close to where I grew up -- I will tell you that it wasn’t very helpful when the mayor there made the decision to not share information with ICE -- because that, of course, includes drug trafficking -- and did a dance, famously, in his office, after he made that announcement.  And the same mayor, who, last week thought that somebody who was shooting up six police officers with a rap sheet the size of me, the response to that is gun control.  So not really in the mood to be lectured by that mayor.

And the fact is that safe injection sites are the response by people who -- before we got here -- are looking the other way and lazily addressing what is a public health emergency, as the President declared less than a year into his first term.

We want people to not move from site to site to inject themselves; we want them in treatment.  That’s why we've invested resources and secured historic funding from Congress in the billions of dollars for medication-assisted therapies; for the IMD 1115 exclusion, so that the -- we're up to like 20, 21 states now that has an exclusion from the 1115.

We got a waiver from the 1115 that used to prevent people from filling the 17th bed and still getting Medicaid reimbursement because it was a long-standing exclusion on not overly institutionalizing people in mental institutions, but it was preventing us from treating people who suffer from the disease of addiction -- that we have these long waiting lists and empty beds.

So this President and his leadership, in this whole-of-government approach, has changed that.  And so I know you're quoting some public health officials, but you need to talk to a whole bunch of others.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Also, I think it's important to note that this administration -- President Trump has put more money towards alternative courts, diversion courts than ever before.  The people that have a low-level conviction or arrest -- no one wants to incarcerate them and certainly no one in this administration (inaudible).

We’re funding diversion courts in greater numbers than ever before.  And we know that they work.  The evidence shows that they work.  And that’s what we have to look at here, and that’s why the President has committed to funding these diversion courts.  We fund so many of them directly here.  And it's a great effort that really works.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you very much.  If there are any follow-up questions, they can be presented to the White House Press Office.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you all.  This will conclude our call.  Again, a reminder that opening statements were on the record and that the Q&A section is on background, attributable to a senior administration official.  Thank you all for joining us this morning.

                             END                10:41 A.M. EDT


President Donald J. Trump to Award the Medal of Freedom

Office of the Press Secretary
President Donald J. Trump to Award the Medal of Freedom

Today, President Donald J. Trump will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Robert Joseph “Bob” Cousy.  This prestigious award is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, which may be awarded by the President to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

Bob Cousy is one of basketball’s all-time greatest players and an exemplary American on and off the court.  During his 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, the “Houdini of the Hardwood” led his team into legendary success including six NBA National Championships.  He led the league in assists for 8 straight years, was a 13-time All-Star, and won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award in 1957.  Off the court, Mr. Cousy fought racism and became a leader for racial equality in and beyond the league.  He was also instrumental in the creation of the NBA Players Association.  In 1971, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

West Wing Reads Trump Signs Order to Expedite Forgiving Student Loan Debt for Disabled Veterans

West Wing Reads

Trump Signs Order to Expedite Forgiving Student Loan Debt for Disabled Veterans

“President Donald Trump signed a memo to automatically discharge federal student loan debt for permanently and totally disabled veterans during his visit to Louisville Wednesday, where he addressed more than 1,000 veterans,” Chris Kenning reports for the Courier-Journal.

“I have taken executive action to make sure our wounded warriors are not saddled with mountains of student debt,” the President told the crowd, vowing to eliminate “every penny” of the average $30,000 of student loan debt facing roughly 25,000 disabled veterans.

Click here to read more.
“How do you stop the torrent of kids risking their lives and coming to America illegally? One key way: by finally fixing the Flores agreement, as President Trump hopes to do,” the New York Post editorial board writes. “Wednesday, Trump unveiled a plan to scrap the 20-day limit on keeping migrant kids in detention. The cap . . . set up a Catch-22: If kids can’t be held more than 20 days, and no one wants to separate them from their parents (or other adults they come with), then the only option is to release the whole family. That creates an enormous incentive for adult migrants to bring kids along, even if the journey puts them in danger.”
“Vice President Mike Pence stepped up pressure on Congress to support the Trump administration’s new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, taking his pitch Wednesday to a congressional swing district in New Mexico,” Morgan Lee reports for The Associated Press. “We need to pass the USMCA and that’s going to open the door to a boundless future of American energy,” the Vice President said.
“The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, suggesting the labor market was holding firm,” Jason Lange reports for Reuters. “Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 209,000 for the week ended Aug. 17, the Labor Department said on Thursday. The decline was sharper than expected.”


Office of the Press Secretary

“How do you stop the torrent of kids risking their lives and coming to America illegally? One key way: by finally fixing the Flores agreement, as President Trump hopes to do.”
Team Trump’s humane fix for migrant families crossing the border 
New York Post
August 21, 2019

Wednesday, Trump unveiled a plan to scrap the 20-day limit on keeping migrant kids in detention. The cap, in effect since 2015 and part of the 1997 Flores consent decree, set up a Catch-22: If kids can’t be held more than 20 days, and no one wants to separate them from their parents (or other adults they come with), then the only option is to release the whole family.
That creates an enormous incentive for adult migrants to bring kids along, even if the journey puts them in danger. And it makes America’s immigration system unworkable.

[C]learly, there’s a problem: Almost 475,000 families crossed the border in the last 10 months, notes Homeland Security Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan.

Democrats like Schumer would prefer no detentions at all — just let migrants come right in. But Trump is offering a humane way to, as McAleenan put it, enforce laws Congress passed. And ensure some order to the immigration process.

Read the full editorial here.

Bill Announcement

Office of the Press Secretary

On Wednesday, August 21, 2019, the President signed into law:

H.R. 540, which designates the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 770 Ayrault Road in Fairport, New York, as the Louise and Bob Slaughter Post Office;

H.R. 828, which designates the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 25 Route 111 in Smithtown, New York, as the Congressman Bill Carney Post Office;

H.R. 829, which designates the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 1450 Montauk Highway in Mastic, New York, as the Army Specialist Thomas J. Wilwerth Post Office Building;

H.R. 1198, which designates the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 404 South Boulder Highway in Henderson, Nevada, as the Henderson Veterans Memorial Post Office Building;

H.R. 1449, which designates the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 3033 203rd Street in Olympia Fields, Illinois, as the Captain Robert L. Martin Post Office; and

H.R. 3305, which designates the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2509 George Mason Drive in Virginia Beach, Virginia, as the Ryan Keith Cox Post Office Building.



Office of the Press Secretary


Galt House Hotel
Louisville, Kentucky

2:36 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you very much.  That's a great honor.  Great people.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  (Laughs.)  Sit down, please.  Thank you.  And I want to thank Commander Riley. Truly thrilled to be here with thousands of America’s proudest and toughest and most extraordinary patriots: the incredible veterans of AMVETS.  We love our veterans.  AMVETS.  (Applause.)   Thank you very much.  You're special people.

You fought courageously for our country, and now my administration is fighting for you.  That's for sure.  (Applause.)  And, you know, we've accomplished a lot.  We've done a lot.  And one of the things we have done is you get that medical care quickly now, when you go into those doctors.  And you used to have to wait for weeks and weeks and weeks.  And you don’t wait anymore.  You go out and see a private doctor and we pay the bill.  And people are really happy about it, and the vets are very happy about it.  (Applause.)

     Veterans Choice, as you've been trying to get that for 44 years, they say -- 44 years.  I guess it's longer than that; probably earlier than that.  But for 44 years, at least, that we know of.  And you got it, so congratulations.  Hopefully, you don’t have to use it too often because you're going to feel great.  Okay?  (Applause.)

To every veteran here today and all across our land, thank you for your noble and incredible service.  It's an honor, really, of my life.  I understand that I'm the first Commander-in-Chief, first President, to address you and be here.  And that's something -- (applause) -- something that's very special.  (Applause.)  And it's also an honor to be the Commander-in-Chief of the greatest fighting force the world has ever known: The United States Military.  And it's stronger today.  (Applause.)  And it's a lot stronger today than it was two and a half years ago, I can tell you that.  A lot stronger today.  A lot stronger.

Seven hundred billion dollars we spent, and then seven hundred and sixteen billion.  That's with a "B."  And this year it's $738 billion.  So we've rebuilt your military, and it's stronger than ever before.  And that was really needed.  It was depleted.  It was tired.  It was exhausted.  And you know that better than I do.  But we have totally rebuilt it.

I want to thank your outstanding National Commander Rege Riley, as well as your terrific Executive Director Joe Chenelly.  (Applause.)  Where is Joe?  Joe, thank you.  Where's Joe?  Thank you, Joe.  That's not a very good seat for you, Joe.  Huh?  Give that mention right up top.  Look.  See?  You want to give other people the better seats.  I like that type of person.  Right?  (Laughter.)  Thank you, Joe.  (Applause.)

It's also my privilege to recognize your National First Vice Commander -- the highest-ranking woman in AMVETS history -- retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Jan Brown.  (Applause.)  Jan?  Thank you, Jan.  Thank you.

Congratulations as well to this year’s recipients of the Silver Helmet Awards, especially a dear friend who is an inspiration to all Americans: World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams.  (Applause.)  Where's Woody?  Thank you, Woody.  You're looking good Woody.  (Laughs.)  Woody is looking good.  That was a big day -- Medal of Honor.  Nothing like the Medal of Honor.  I wanted one, but they told me I don’t qualify, Woody.  (Laughter.)  I said, "Can I give it to myself any?"  They said, "I don’t think that's a good idea."  (Laughter.)  Great, great people.  These are great, great men and women that get the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Thank you, Woody.

We are unbelievably grateful to all of the members of AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary.  They've worked so hard.  And the Sons of AMVETS, and the Junior AMVETS -- (applause) -- and, of course, the legendary AMVETS Riders -- (applause) -- who are fighting to keep alive the spirit of Rolling Thunder.  I love Rolling Thunder -- that noise.  (Applause.)  Wow.  Rolling Thunder.  We're taking care of Rolling Thunder, since I've been there.  Rolling Thunder, please stand up.  You have so many great people.  So many great people.  Thank you.  Thank you.  And the leaders are all here too.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  And we'll see you in a little while, in Washington.  And to honor the prisoners of war and those missing in action, today we renew our vow that America will never, ever forget.  It's a great -- (applause) -- thank you.

Great to be joined by a number of champions for America’s veterans, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  Betsy?  Betsy.  (Applause.)  Doing a great job.  Deputy VA Secretary James Burn.  James, thank you.  Great job.  (Applause.)  A an who has really done a great job -- I don't know if he's appreciated.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but he's done an incredible job, and your state is doing phenomenal business and I want to take all of the credit but I can, because I have to give him a lot too, because he has been a truly great governor: Matt Bevin.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Matt.

And you know, Kentucky has record numbers right now.  It's the best year they've ever had in just about every category.  So it's -- it's really an incredible thing.

And a man who I just watched on television -- he's so good.  You can do television for me anytime you want.  Congressman Thomas Massie.  Where's Thomas?  (Applause.)  Good job.  Thomas, say hello to our friends.  Say hello to our friends back in Washington.  That was a good job.  Just watched you.

I cannot come to Kentucky without also praising the exceptional work of Senator Mitch McConnell.  I have to tell you -- (applause) -- this guy is a true fighter for our veterans and for Kentucky.  He's worked tirelessly to enact massive tax cuts, record defense spending, and crucial VA reform that I was just talking about.

And I have to think -- yet, of all the things with respect to Mitch.  Mitch is a -- he's a good person, but his leadership in the Senate, we've confirmed -- think of this -- almost 150 federal judges to uphold our nation's beloved Constitution, and the foundation of American freedom.

And Mitch and I have worked very hard.  We're up to 150.  Within about two months, we'll be at 179 federal judges and two Supreme Court judges.  (Applause.)  And -- it's your senator.  And it's -- for him, that's -- that's a passion like I've never seen before.  And there is nothing more important.

You know, when I became President, he said, "The most important thing you can do is judges."  And in particular, they said, Supreme Court justices.  Well, as you know, we've named two Supreme Court justices, right?  Justice Kavanaugh, Justice Gorsuch.  (Applause.)  And I want to just congratulate Mitch McConnell.  And you have them.  You have them.  And he's a champion.  And he fights hard.  And he really is something special.  And he loves your state.  And I'll be here campaigning for Mitch and I'll be campaigning for Matt.  And we're going to get them both back in.  And I just had to say, because Mitch has been somebody very special and Matt knows that as well.

This year, we commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when thousands of American patriots stormed the beaches of Normandy and charged through the fires of hell to ensure their survival of liberty.

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the organization that took care of those victorious veterans when they returned, and every generation of veterans since.  Incredible job.

Today we celebrate AMVETS -- (applause) -- for 75 years of love, and loyalty, and lifelong service to our military personnel, to our veterans, and to their families.  Congratulations.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

AMVETS posts across the nation have become pillars of pride in our community -- so true -- and shining symbols of the enduring power of the American spirit.  Your support of our troops overseas, it welcomes them when they come back home.  And you welcome them and you're there for them in every way -- medically, physically, morally.  You're with them all the way.  And they appreciate it much more than you would even know.

You safeguard our values, pass on our traditions, and teach generation after generation to love our country, honor our heroes, and always respect our great American flag.  (Applause.)

We gather today at a truly incredible time for our nation.  We are reawakening American pride, American confidence, and American greatness.  We are America first.  (Applause.)  It's about time, too.

It's about time, wouldn't you say?  We hear, "America first."  You didn't used to hear that.  You didn't use to hear that too much, right?  You didn't used to hear it at all, come to think of it.  You hear that a lot now.  Hope you don't get sick of it.  I don't think you will.  (Laughter.)  Not this group.  Not too many people in our country would feel that way.

We're respected again as a nation.  We're respected again.  We're restoring the fundamental principles that government -- and its first obligation is the highest loyalty is to our citizens.  It's the loyal to our citizens that really is that first obligation.

No longer will we sacrifice America's interest to any foreign power.  In all things, we are putting our country first. We are saying, let's say, "Make America great again."  But we're almost there, where we say, "Make America great again."  We may have to switch it.  You know what we're going to switch it to?  Right?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Keep America great!

THE PRESIDENT:  That's right.  That's right.  I won't say it here because this is not a campaign speech.  (Laughter and applause.)  This is not a campaign speech, so I will not say "keep America great," but we're going to keep America great.  (Applause.)  We're going to keep America great.

That's a lot of press back there.  Look at all of them.  Wow.  That's a lot of cameras going.  Look at all those red lights on there.  (Laughter.)  The red lights mean, "You're on."  (Laughter.)  When the lights are off, you can get a little sleepy back here and take it easy.  (Laughter.)

Nowhere is this patriotic allegiance more essential than fulfilling our duty to the American warrior and to the American veteran.  We're upholding our nation's solemn pledge to protect those who protect us -- and they've protected us brilliantly.

With America's core interests guiding us as we do, we are making unprecedented strides.  Our incredible American warriors have pulverized the bloodthirsty killers of ISIS.  We defeated 100 percent of the caliphate in Syria.  We're holding thousands of ISIS fighters right now -- prisoners.  And we're going to give them to -- from where they came.  The Europe- -- certain countries in Europe, they got to take them back because we don't want to hold them.  Got to give them back.  We're fighting for other people, and we got to give them back.  They’ve got to take them.  They'd rather have us hold them and let us have them for 50 years.  We don't want them.  We don't want them.  They should take them.  Do we agree?  They should take them.  (Applause.)

They say to us, "Why don't you hold them in Guantanamo Bay for 50 years and you just hold them and spend billions and billions of dollars holding them?"  And I'm saying, "No, you got to take them."  We fought.  We have them captured.  They're all captured -- thousands.  ISIS.  But now Europe has to take them, and different countries, where they came from, have to take them.

Do we agree with that?  Yes?  (Applause.)  I was just curious as to what you thought.

We withdrew from the horrible Iran nuclear deal.  Horrible deal.  (Applause.)  We brought home the remains of our fallen North Korean war heroes.  (Applause.)  We brought them home -- so many of them, and many more are coming -- so they can rest alongside their brothers and sisters in American soil.  We believe in our sacred responsibility to ensure no one is left behind, right?  (Applause.)

We’re rebuilding the awesome might of the United States military with these big budgets that I just described.  And think of it --


THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  I appreciate it.  Thank you very much.

And we’re very proud of it.  We’re very proud of it.  And those in the military are very proud, too.  Beautiful new -- the best equipment in the world.  We make the best planes.  We make the best missiles.  We make the best ships.  We make the best everything.  And it also, in this case, secondarily, it also happens to be made in the USA, every inch of it.  And it’s called jobs, jobs, jobs.  That’s secondary, but it’s also good.  (Applause.)

And the Army will very soon have 300 powerful, new M1 Abrams tanks.  (Applause.)  The Navy is deploying the most advanced class of aircraft carriers in history, with hundreds of brand new F-35s and F-18s, American airmen will continue to own the skies wherever we fly.  We have the greatest Air Force in the world.  (Applause.)

And we’re preparing to dominate the newest warfighting domain by establishing a sixth branch of the armed forces.  It’s called the Space Force.  We need that.  The Space Force.  (Applause.)  And that’s moving along through approval and it’s become very, very popular.  People see it now more than they did two and a half years ago.  They see it now and they know how important it is for defense and offense and for everything.

We’ve delivered the largest pay raise in years for every soldier, sailor, airman, coast guardsman, and Marine in the United States military.  One of the largest increases.  (Applause.)

Our active duty personnel are the best-equipped, best-trained, most technologically-advanced fighting force in the history of the world.  The best equipment in the world.  Best training in the world. 

America is a peace-loving nation.  We seek friendship.  We seek harmony, not conflict and division.  But if we are threatened, we will never hesitate to defend our people as they should be defended.  (Applause.)

And if our enemies should dare to fight us, they will be crushed with overwhelming American might.  No adversary stands a chance against the awesome power of the Red, White, and Blue.  They is no military even close to ours.  You know, you read all sorts of things.  (Applause.)  “Well, maybe this country, maybe that…”  It’s only propaganda put out by different areas and different countries.  There is nothing close.  And they all know it and they tell me that.  They tell me that: There is nobody close.  And we have to keep it that way.  And we don’t want to have to use it.  We don’t want to have to use it.  But we have to have it just in case, right?  (Applause.) 

The members of our armed forces -- and you understand that very well -- the members of our armed forces have always lived by the word of Douglas MacArthur: “In war, there is no substitute for victory.”  We have an armed forces that’s unparalleled.  And to achieve victory, there is no substitute for the unmatched character and courage of those who proudly wear the nation’s uniform.

And we even have different uniforms.  Did you see some of the different designs of the uniforms?  We’re going back to a style and a look that nobody thought we’d go back to because of expense, and now we have brand new -- the most beautiful uniforms you’ve ever seen.  But much more importantly are the people that wear that uniform -- what’s inside that uniform.  That’s much more important.  Much more important.  (Applause.)  That’s the best in the world.    

Every warrior who serves has a poured out -- and they have poured out their hearts and souls for America.  We believe their government must show them the same devotion in return.  And we’ve been doing that -- at least, in the last two and a half years, we have.

Can you believe it’s almost three years now?  Because I’ve been saying “two and a half years” now for a number of months.  (Laughter.)  And we’re getting close to three.  I’ll have to be changing it to “three” very soon.     

After years of neglect, we’re fixing the heartbreaking failures from the last administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  America must never abandon our heroes in their hour of need.  We’ll never do that.  For that reason, I proudly signed into law the groundbreaking VA Accountability Act.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Big deal.

And that was another one.  They wouldn’t do it -- 40 years, 50 years.  They wouldn’t do it.  You couldn’t get it done.  And I won’t blame unions and I won’t blame civil service.  I won’t blame any of it.  But, man, was there power against it.  It was tough and I got it done.  (Applause.)  Now somebody mistreats you or mistreats people in the VA and we know what happens, right?  It’s called, “You’re fired.”  (Applause.)  Stand up, please.  Stand up.  There is the man that implements it.  “You’re fired.  Get out of here.  Get out of here.”  (Applause.)

You couldn’t fire anyone for virtually any reason.  They could do anything.  So we have the Accountability Act.  And we’ve removed more than 7,600 bad employees who failed to give our vets the care they so richly deserve -- 7,600.  (Applause.)

Think of that.  They were treating some of them -- you know, most of them are fantastic, but some of them were treating our people, our great heroes so badly.  Sadistic, terrible people.  They were terrible people and they’re gone.  They’re fired.  They would never have been fired -- 7,600.  I didn’t know you were that vicious to get rid of that many, huh?  (Laughter.)  And everyone deserves to be out, right?  Good.  That was a big deal.  That was a hard one to get.  (Applause.)

And, as I said -- and something that I guess I’m most proud of because -- I don’t know, Accountability was very important.  Some people think it was as important -- maybe not.  But most significantly, the VA reforms -- we did the Veterans Choice.  And that’s -- I don’t know which was more difficult.  They were pretty much equal.  But since I took office, nearly 3 million veterans have been able to choose a private doctor in their own community.

And have you ever seen -- and this is a great tribute to the people at the VA -- the people and the leadership of the VA.  I don’t hear these horror stories.  You know, I used to see -- as growing up, I'd see, “VA, VA, VA.”  I don’t want to, you know -- well, let me find some wood.  Wait.  (Laughter.)

(The President knocks on wooden desk.)  (Laughter.)

I'm not hearing bad stories.  I'm hearing all good stories. (Applause.)  But the fake news will go out and they'll find somebody in the system.  (Laughter.)  They'll find somebody.  They'll find somebody in this giant medical system -- the largest system in the world, by far.  They're going to find somebody that wasn’t treated perfectly.  And he'll be on the top of the news tonight.  "We have breaking news."  (Laughter.)

We've also slashed wait times at the VA by more than 33 percent.  That’s a great thing.  (Applause.)  And the care is better.  More importantly, the care is even better.

A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that wait times are now shorter for primary care at the VA than at private sector doctors and hospitals.  How about that? (Applause.)

Good job.  Say hello to our friend.  Tell him he's doing a good job.  He's done some job.  What a job all of you have done.

To improve the efficiency at the VA, I signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act.  You know what that is.  So far this fiscal year, the VA has processed nearly 1.2 million claims for compensation and increased the number of appeals decisions by 70 percent compared to two years ago, when I really started doing this.  That’s a big number.  (Applause.)

We are modernizing your medical records to begin a seamless transition from the Department of Defense into the VA -- something that they just said they couldn’t do.  You know that, right?  They said, "We can't do it.  It's just too complicated."  We did it.

The VA has also cut opioid prescriptions by 30 percent over the last two and a half years -- (applause) -- and we're committed to defeating the opioid epidemic in America.  And I have instructed all of our people that give so many grants to lots of geniuses all over the country, I said, "Find a pain killer that’s non-addictive.  Get a pain killer that, when you break your arm and you go to the hospital, you don’t come out of the hospital addicted to opioids.  Get a pain killer that’s non-addictive.”  And we're closer than you think, right?  We're closer than you think.  (Applause.)

Our veterans are seeing dramatic improvements in the quality of care across the board.  Patients’ trust has increased -- I mean, you look at the trust that the patients give -- increased at 92 percent of VA medical centers.  Ninety-two percent increase at the medical centers.  And we will not rest until we reach 100 percent.  And we'll get there, too.  We'll get there.  (Applause.)  Probably there already.  Probably we're there already.

No issue facing our veterans is more urgent than ending the national crisis of veterans suicide.  My administration -- (applause) -- is determined to do everything in our power to save the lives of our heroes.  And if you think about what's going on, we have a new -- I guess you'd call it a drug -- that came out.  Johnson & Johnson.  And I know you're dealing very strongly with them.

I think they should make a contribution to the United States of America.  But they have something that, whatever it may do, it really takes that horrible anxiety -- whatever causes somebody to be so desperate to commit to suicide.  You take it; it's an inhaler.  And you take it, and its results are incredible.

And I don’t know long term, but it really -- it really has an incredible effect on a lot of people.  And I've instructed the top officials to go out and get as much of it as you can from Johnson & Johnson.  And I think they should make -- they've done so well in this country, and they've made so much money, I think they should give it to us for free.  (Applause.)  Give it a shot.  (Applause.)  Give it a shot.

No, but it's incredible.  Actually it's -- it does something -- something pretty amazing.  It's new.  And it's had a tremendous -- and it's been approved.  And I guess it's been fully approved.  Right?  It's gone through the process.  And it's gone through a long process and it's been fully approved.  We think that’s going to have a great impact.

We've secured a record $8.6 billion for mental health services.  (Applause.)  And we opened -- that’s a record.  We opened the White House VA Hotline to help ensure no claim ever again falls through the cracks.  I mean, a lot of claims were having a lot of problems, going on for years.  We work it out.  The VA is now providing same-day emergency mental health care and mental health screenings to every patient that walks through the door.  It's incredible the difference between now and three years ago.

To end the tragedy of veteran suicide, it will require government and society at all levels working together.  We have to work together with a lot of different groups, a lot of people.  And a lot of progress is being made, but going to be made.  Things are happening.

We must strive to build communities that truly serve, support, and protect our veterans from the very first moment they return to civilian life.  It's an incredible adjustment.  That's exactly what we aim to achieve with the PREVENTS Initiative.  You know what the PREVENTS Initiative is -- a task force created earlier this year to unify the efforts of government, business, and nonprofit groups.

We want to build on proven strategies, like the AMVETS HEAL -- you know what AMVETS HEAL -- you know what it is; you told me about it -- Program.  (Applause.)  An amazing partnership with the VA that has served over 600 families in crisis in just the last year, without a single life lost to suicide.  Not one.  (Applause.)

To every veteran who is facing this struggle, I want you to know that you are not alone.  We are with you.  You are not forgotten -- not at all forgotten.  We're with you all the way.  And you are not beaten.  You will overcome, you will prevail, you will triumph, and you will thrive.  You will thrive.  A lot of progress has been made.  So many different things we're making progress in.  Millions of Americans are right by your side, and we are with you every single step of the way.

One of those Americas is -- Americans -- is someone that you know very well: Jim Pidgeon, a Navy veteran and former National Commander of AMVETS.  Jim?  Where's Jim?  (Applause.)  Come on up here, Jim.  Come on up here, Jim.

For the past 1,257 consecutive days, Jim has challenged Americans to join him in doing 22 push-ups -- don’t challenge me -- (laughter) -- don’t make me do that -- representing the number of veterans whose lives -- think of that, 22 -- representing -- that’s the number of suicides a day.  Can you believe it?  I heard that number and I said, "It can't be possible."  You would think a year, a month.  A day.  Nobody can believe it.  Nobody believes that, Jim.

Thousands of patriots have joined him in raising awareness, and together they are summoning the national will to act.  And I want to thank, Jim.  Jim, say a few words, please.  (Applause.)  Great job.  

MR. PIDGEON:  Thank you, Mr. President.  It’s an honor to be here.  I would not be able to do this without the support, the love, and the prayers of my beautiful wife, Paulette.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Good.  Thank you.

MR. PIDGEON:  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  He’s got strong arms.  (Laughter.)  I just tapped them.  It’s like a piece of steel.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, Jim.   

No one deserves the blessings of freedom more than the heroes who risk their lives to defend it.  For this reason, my administration has worked aggressively to boost veterans employment, and we’re setting records.  Since my election, we have reduced the number of unemployed veterans by 37 percent.  That’s pretty good.  (Applause.)

Veterans unemployment has reached the lowest level ever recorded.  You ever hear that?  That’s big.  Same thing with African American unemployment.  Same thing with Asian unemployment.  Same thing with Hispanic unemployment.  Same thing with many other groups.   It’s been amazing.

To every employer in America, we say: If you are looking for a worker of unrivaled skill, integrity, and devotion, all you have to do is hire a veteran.  That’s what’s happening and they’re doing it.  (Applause.)  They’re doing it.  I have a friend who’s been doing it lately, and he said, “Why didn’t I do this 25 years ago?”  I said, “That’s your problem.”  (Laughter.)  He was very happy.

Every service member has the right to return to civilian life with dignity and security, and that’s what’s happening.  Driven by this core principle, we have helped 30,000 veterans find permanent housing over the last two years.  Thirty thousand.  (Applause.)

We have also expanded the GI Bill so that veterans can use their benefits to get an education at any point in their lifetime -- a crucial reform to expand opportunity to veterans in every stage of their career.  That’s a big thing.  (Applause.)

And today, I am proud to announce that I am taking executive action to ensure that our wounded warriors are not saddled with mountains of student debt.

In a few moments, I will sign a memorandum directing the Department of Education to eliminate every penny of federal student loan debt owed by American veterans who are completely and permanently disabled.  (Applause.)  Incredible.

Nobody can complain about that, right?  Nobody can complain about that.  The debt of these disabled veterans will be entirely erased.  It’ll be gone.  (Applause.)  And you'll sleep well tonight.

Altogether, this action will wipe out an average of $30,000 in debt owed by more than 25,000 eligible veterans who have made immense sacrifices -- the ultimate sacrifice, in many -- in many ways, for our nation.  They have made a sacrifice that's so great.  And they're such incredible people.  And they never complain.  They never complain.  That’s hundreds of millions of dollars in student debt held by our severely wounded warriors.  It's gone forever.  (Applause.)

I want to thank Secretary DeVos for her leadership and making veteran debt forgiveness a top priority for the Department of Education.  Betsy, thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Stand up, Betsy.  Stand up.  (Applause.)

And there will be no federal income tax on the forgiven debts.  So that's really big stuff.  (Applause.)  It's all passed.  It's all passed.  All we have to do is sign it, which we're going to do right at that beautiful desk, okay?  (Applause.)  All we have to do.

Today, I'm also calling upon all 50 states to immediately waive all applicable state taxes as well.  The state taxes, hopefully, will be going away very quickly.  Most of the states have already agreed to do that.  (Applause.)

Joining us today is one of the many American heroes who will benefit from this action, Katherine Castle.  Amazingly, Katherine served in three different branches of the Armed Forces: the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.  Wow.  You're going to have to tell me which is the best, please.  (Laughter.)  I want to know which is the best.

Which is the best?  Don't -- don't say it.  Don’t say it.  I might -- she may say it and I'll be in big trouble.  Please say a few words, Katherine.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

MS. CASTLE:  Thank you, everybody.  This is an amazing relief on my family, as well as, I know, many thousands of veterans as well.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, Katherine.

After two tours in Iraq, Katherine developed multiple serious health conditions -- very, very serious -- related to her service, including significant lung problems.

Despite these obstacles, Karen [Katherine] is now pursuing a degree at the University of Nevada.  Katherine, we are really profoundly grateful for your service and for your immense sacrifice.  You've been incredible.  And thank you.  And it's great to have gotten to know you.  And everybody in this room is very proud of you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Katherine.  (Applause.)

Veterans like Katherine who have made such enormous sacrifices for our country should not be asked to pay any more.  Rather, it is America who owes our heroes a supreme debt of gratitude.  (Applause.)  So that's the way we feel.

Across oceans, jungles, mountains, and deserts, in battlefields and enemy camps across the globe, our veterans fought and bled to vanquish our enemies and preserve America’s birthright of freedom.

Our country, our liberty, our families, our homes, our safety, our very lives -- everything that matters and everyone who we hold dear -- are sacred, and just sacred to us, and secured by the grace of God and the immortal courage of those who serve.

The story of the American veteran -- and I call them the “American warrior,” because that’s what they are; they're great warriors -- is the story of the American nation.  You have written our history, shaped our identity, forged our destiny, marched us to glory, and always planted the righteous flag of American victory.  (Applause.)

You have filled our enemies with dread, you have filled our friends with hope, and you have filled our American heart with fierce patriotic pride.

Because of you, America is safe.  Because of you, America is strong.  Because of you, America is free.  And because of you, America will forever remain the bravest, mightiest, and greatest nation on the face of the Earth.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Because of you.  You.  Because of you.

I would now like to ask AMVETS’s leaders to come forward;  Secretary DeVos -- please come forward; Deputy Secretary Byrne, Governor Bevin, Sergeant Katherine Castle, and Sergeant Nick Stefanovic -- to join me on stage as I sign the presidential memorandum facilitating the cancellation of student loan debt for 25,000 of our most severely disabled veterans.  (Applause.)

And with today’s order, we express the everlasting love and loyalty of a truly grateful nation.  God bless our veterans, and God bless America.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

(The memorandum is signed.)

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.) 

                       END                3:16 P.M. EDT