Thursday, January 16, 2020


Office of the Press Secretary


Via Teleconference

8:03 A.M. EST

     MR. CANTRELL:  Thank you, Operator.  Good morning, everyone, and happy National Religious Freedom Day.  Thank you for joining this morning's briefing to preview new rules to protect religious freedom.  This briefing will be conducted by Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Joe Grogan, along with subject-matter experts, [senior administration officials].

     Director Grogan's opening remarks will be the only remarks on the record.  Opening statements by subject-matter experts that I just listed will be entirely on background attributable to "senior administration official."

     Furthermore, the question-and-answer session to follow will be entirely on background regardless of who answers the question.  All information is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.

     And with that, I am happy to begin with DPC Director Joe Grogan.

     DIRECTOR GROGAN:  Thank you.  Today, on National Religious Freedom Day, President Trump continues our efforts to make sure that people of faith and religious organizations continue to be invited to participate fully in civic and public life.

     The administration is taking three big actions to ensure that people of faith are always able to exercise their rights to religious expression.  These actions are just the latest President Trump has taken to defend the constitutionally protected right to the free exercise of religion.

     First, this morning, nine agencies will be releasing proposed rules that will ensure that religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally by the federal government, and that organizations are not discriminated against simply because they are religious in nature.

     These agencies -- the Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, and Housing and Urban Development -- all worked together over many months to get this done.  These agencies have done an incredible job in collaborating and also working together, and also working with the White House.  Coordinating like this, just scheduling, is frequently difficult.  And to make sure that everybody's governing statutes and regulations are all simpatico is not an easy task.

     They will remove discriminatory regulatory burdens that the Obama administration placed on religious organizations that received federal funding, thereby ensuring that the federal government social service programs are implemented in a manner consistent with religious liberty protections in federal law, including the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  Specifically, the regulations take down requirements of alternative provider notice and referral.

     Second, this afternoon, the President will host an event in the Oval Office celebrating the release of updated guidance on prayer in schools.  This guidance lays out constitutional protections for religious expression in public elementary and secondary schools.  It is required by law to be updated every two years, but it has not been updated since 2003.

     President Trump is committed to making sure that people of faith, particularly children, are not subjected to illegal punishment or pressure for exercising their constitutionally protected rights.

     The guidance will remind school districts of the right to students, parents, and teachers, and will empower students and others to confidently know and exercise their rights.  For example, a group of middle school students in Texas, who had gathered in lunch room to pray for a former classmate that recently was in a car accident, they were confronted by a principal who told them they needed to stop the prayer.  The next day, the students attempted to pray again.  The principal required the students to move behind the cafeteria curtain to an empty gym or outside, if they were going to pray.  School district officials eventually reversed the principal's decision.

     Finally, the Office of Management and Budget is releasing a memo that requires federal agencies to ensure that not just their own grant-making practices, but also the grant-making practices of state recipients of federal funding, comply with the First Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

     In a case decided in 2017 called Trinity Lutheran, the Supreme Court said that rules or grant terms that penalized or disqualify a religious person or organization from a right to compete for a public benefit, including a grant or contract because of the person's religious character, violate the Constitution's Free Exercise Clause.

     The Trinity Lutheran case revolved around grants for playground resurfacing, and Trinity Lutheran was specifically excluded in that instance from participating in the -- from accessing the funds to resurface their playground to improve safety for children.  It went all the way up to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ruled that the Free Exercise Clause prohibited that type of discrimination.

     Even when no federal regulation or grant term penalizes or disqualifies grant applicants from participation based on their religious character, some state laws governing award for sub-grantees, including state constitutions, may limit sub-grantee participation in violation of the federal Constitution.

     The most obvious example are Blaine Amendments, which are in existence in 37 states.  These were originally passed out of anti-Catholic bias.  The historical and legal record is very clear on that.  And after Trinity Lutheran, it's obvious that these laws are unconstitutional, but many states have not fully implemented Trinity Lutheran in grant disbursements.

     In attempting to comply with state constitutions and laws, in certain instances, grantees may be discriminated against applicants for sub-grants on the basis on their religion, in violation of the Free Exercise Clause and the grantees' commitment to adhere to federal laws prohibiting discrimination.

     So this memo from the Office of Management and Budget will tell grant-awarding agencies that they must ensure that the terms of the federal grants they award make clear that states or other public grantees may not condition sub-awards of federal grant money in a manner that would disadvantage grant applicants based on their religious character.

     The administration is committed to using every tool at its disposal to protect the rights of faith-based organizations to operate without unlawful government impediment.

Taken together, these actions exemplify the President's commitment to protecting free exercise for individual believers and for religious organizations.

     Thank you.

     MR. CANTRELL:  Next we have [senior administration official].

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you, Joe, for that introduction.  And it's a pleasure to be here with you all.

     I'd like to provide a little bit more background on the nine-agency proposed rules.  And as Joe mentioned, these rules are yet another step in the administration's commitment to giving religious organizations a full and equal seat at the table in federally funded programs and in allowing them to serve their communities.

     So these rules will ensure equal treatment for religious organizations in several ways, the first of which, as Joe mentioned, is that they will remove the prior administration's alternative provider of notice and referral requirements.  These requirements were imposed by an executive order by President Obama and then implemented in agency regulation.

     And, essentially, what they do is they require religious organizations, but not secular organizations, to post notices saying that they will refer beneficiaries, who object to their religious character, to alternative providers including secular providers if requested to do so.  And they're required to then make those referrals upon request and to keep records of any referrals that they make.

     In addition, agency-implementing regulations also require that notices contain certain rules that were applicable to faith-based providers participating in federal programs and that they provide a point of contact for the reporting of violations of rules.

     And, again, I want to stress that these notices -- these notice requirements applied only to faith-based or religious organizations.  They were not applicable to secular organizations.  There was no similar notice that required secular organizations to refer beneficiaries to alternative providers or to give them a point of contact for reporting violations.

     And as Joe mentioned, President Trump's Executive Order 13831 removed the alternative provider requirements from the executive orders of the prior administration.  In addition, I should note that these requirements were not required by any applicable law, only by executive order of the prior administration.  In addition, they are intentioned with recent Supreme Court precedent, as Joe mentioned, and in particular the Trinity Lutheran decision.

     And, you know, removing these burdens that had been imposed only on religious organizations is consistent with the administration's broader deregulatory agenda.  So that's the first way that this will ensure equal treatment for religious organizations.

     Another way that it will ensure equal treatment is that it will prevent similar regulatory burdens from being imposed in the future on religious organizations.  Religious organizations under the proposed rules would not be required to post notices or to give assurances that are not required of other secular organizations.  And restrictions on use of grant funds would apply equally to both religious and non-religious organizations.

     A third way that it will ensure equal treatment is that it will -- you know, it will ensure a level playing field for federal funding opportunities.  In particular, it will clarify that religious organizations can apply for awards on the same basis as any other organization; that the federal governments will not discriminate against religious organizations when it selects recipients for federal funding opportunities; that it won't discriminate on the basis of their religious exercise or their religious affiliation.  It will also clarify that religious recipients of federal funding may continue to carry out their mission consistent with religious freedom protections in federal law.

     Throughout the proposed rules, we'll ensure that federally supported programs are implemented in a manner that's consistent with religious liberty protections in federal law.

     And -- oh, the one other last thing that I should mention is it will further ensure equal treatment of religious organizations by adjusting the definition of indirect aid to better comport with Supreme Court precedent.  And that adjustment in the definition will have the effect of ensuring that religious organizations are not subject to different rules simply because they choose to serve underserved communities.  It won't make the definition of indirect aid hinge on the availability of secular providers, which, of course, varies of by geography.

     So, again, that would have the effect of just ensuring that religious organizations are subject to the same rules, including when they choose to serve communities that are underserved.

     So, in all of these ways, the proposed rules will ensure that religious organizations are treated equally by the federal government; it will eliminate burdens that the prior administration had imposed on religious organizations; and they will ensure a level playing field for federal funding opportunities.

     And I'll just leave -- yield the floor to the next speaker.

     MR. CANTRELL:  Thank you.  [Senior administration official], you have anything to add?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Not that much.  Thanks very much.  I'm happy to be here to -- I thought my colleague described it well.  I mean, I just -- you know, before I turn it over to my colleague, who's going to take the lead on describing the prayer guidance, I just think it's worth noting that, as both my colleagues stressed, that the overriding principle that runs throughout both the regulations -- the changes we're making to the regulations and prayer guidance is, you know, quality of treatment.  The Supreme Court made clear in Trinity Lutheran that you can’t impose special -- as general matter, you can't impose special disabilities on religious organizations based on religious character.  And that's running throughout regulations.

     With respect to the prayer guidance, similarly, the main idea, or at least one of the ideas, is that religious speech that goes on in schools needs to be treated equally to all other forms of speech and assembly.  And I think my colleague will be able to describe exactly how that plays out and what we've done in the guidance.

     MS. CANTRELL:  Great.  Thank you.  Next is [senior administration official].

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Good morning.  I'd like to add that the Department of Education is among the agencies that is engaging in a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the religious liberty protections that my colleague described.

     In addition to the proposals that other agencies are making, the Department of Education is also proposing a regulation specifically related to religious student groups.

     The Department would like to strengthen religious liberty protections for religious student groups at public institutions of higher education.

     One of the proposed regulations is that, as a condition of funding, a public institution of higher education cannot deny a religious student group the same benefits, privileges, and rights that other secular student groups have.  This places religious student groups on equal footing with secular student groups at public institutions of higher education.

     Separate and apart from the notice of proposed rulemaking, the department is doing something that is very unique to the Department of Education and it is fulfilling a statutory requirement to issue guidance on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools.

     This guidance, as Joe mentioned, is statutorily required and it has not been updated since 2003 when it was first issued, even though the law requires that it be updated every two years.

     The updated guidance provides information on the current state of the law regarding prayer and religious expression in public schools.

     The law requires that as a condition of funding, a local educational agency, which is essentially a local school board, certify once a year to the State Department of Education that it has no policy that prevents participation in constitutionally protected prayer.

     The State Department of Education has to report to the Secretary once a year two things: First, the State Department of Education has to report a list of the local school boards that have failed to make the required certification.  The second thing that the State Department of Education has to report to the Secretary of Education once a year is any complaint made to that State Department of Education about a local school board or a local school that has allegedly denied a person the right to engage in constitutionally protected prayer.

     The law requires that the Department of Education ask the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel to review the guidance to verify that it indeed reflects the current state of the law, the Department has done that, and the Department of Justice has made the required verification.

     I'd like to briefly go through three changes from the updated guidance to the 2003 guidance.  The first change is that the updated guidance clarifies that State Departments of Education must provide a clear process for people to report complaints about a local school board or a local school denying a person the right to engage in constitutionally protected prayer.  Most people who have a complaint against the local school board or a local school go directly to that school and they never realize that they can actually file a complaint with the Department of Education, and that if they do so, the State Department of Education must report that complaint to the Secretary of Education.

     The second way this guidance differs is that it clarifies that if a State Department of Education is aware of a public legal charge -- for example, a lawsuit against a particular local public school or a local schoolboard alleging that that school has denied someone the right to engage in prayer, then that State Department of Education must report the lawsuit to the Department of Education.

     Some Departments of Education have not reported lawsuits even when those lawsuits have received national attention.  And this guidance clarifies that they are obligated to do so.

     Finally, the updated guidance adds two sections that were not in the prior guidance.  One section describes the religious expression generally and the other section describes the Equal Access Act.

     Local education agencies are not required to certify compliance with this part of the -- the added parts of the guidance.  But the reason the Department of Education decided to include these parts is because, first, the legal principles regarding religious expression also relate to prayer because prayer is a form of religious expression, and also, religious expression intersects very naturally with prayer.  For example, some faiths require that a person wear certain religious garb as they pray.  For example, if a Muslim student would like to wear a certain religious garb as they pray, the wearing of that religious garb is considered religious expression, not necessarily prayer.  But there is an intersection there.
     Additionally, the guidance describes the Equal Access Act requirements.  The Equal Access Act applies only to public secondary schools or public high schools, and it requires that religious student groups receive the same access to facilities such as classrooms as secular student groups.  So if a religious student group would like to hold a prayer meeting in the classroom, that religious student group may do so as long as a secular student group can reserve that same room for a secular activity.

     I'd like to note that the portions about religious expression in the Equal Access Act come primarily from a presidential memorandum from 1995 on Religious Expression in Public Schools and also a 1998 Department of Education Memorandum on Religious Expression in Public Schools.

     MR. CANTRELL:  Thank you all.  Operator, we will now take some questions.

     Q    Hi.  This is Andrew Feinberg with Breakfast Media and the Independent.  Thanks for doing this call.  I had a question about the removal of the alternative provider requirements and how is that going to fit in with, for instance, the substance abuse treatment programs that are often court ordered.

     If a person under -- what you're suggesting, it seems if a person is court-ordered to a particular rehab program that is faith-based, they're not going to be allowed to ask to be referred to, say, one that is not faith-based, but is medication-based treatment or not religious in nature, and they'll have no right to know that (inaudible) is even available.  Is that what you're proposing?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  You know, to answer your question, I want to (inaudible) that these nine-agency rules -- proposed rules -- deal with situations where applicable law does not require any notice or referral.  So with respect to the instance in which the proposed rules would remove the alternative provider requirements, it's doing so with regard to programs where no statute (inaudible) with the Constitution and no other applicable law requires them.

     Q    Could you give an example of that?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I mean, I could give you -- just, as an example, from my department, the Department of Justice, there are a great many programs (inaudible) dive into those, but there are three main grant-making offices within the Department of Justice: The Office of Justice Programs (inaudible).

     MR. CANTRELL:  [Senior administration official], I think you might be cutting out a little bit.  Would you say that again?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, there are -- and I apologize.  There are three grant-making components at the Department of Justice.  And just speaking for my own department, there is no requirement, statutory or otherwise, that imposes these notice and referral alternative provider requirements.  They were implemented simply because they had been required under President Obama’s executive order, which President Trump’s Executive Order 13831 has removed.

     So, again, these rules are removing these requirements only with respect to programs where applicable law does not require it.  They only require it under executive order.

     Q    How is it a burden on an organization to say you can get this somewhere else?  I mean, how is that a burden?

     MR. CANTRELL:  Operator -- we’d be happy to answer that question -- if I could just ask you to mute participant lines after one question is asked so that we can get the most questioners in here.  But we’re going to answer that question right here by a senior administration official.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hi, the administration decided to take out that notice and referral provision for a couple of reasons.  One, it’s not required by religious liberty law, as a couple of other briefers had mentioned, and we believe it’s intentioned with several aspects of religious liberty laws.

     Two, it’s profoundly unfair, right?  Anytime that one set of group who’s carrying a burden that others aren’t, we believe that’s unequal treatment.

     Three, we also think that it's cast religious organizations as sort of "rights violators in waiting," right?  It suggests to everyone who walks through the door of a religious social service entity that maybe they should be offended or uncomfortable or be seeking to find a service elsewhere.

     And, you know, it is an additional administrative burden to figure how to provide this notice and to keep your running list of potential secular alternatives to which the organization refers people.

     So for all those reasons, in our judgment, this was a requirement that really needed to be taken down.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I just want to add one more thing to that.  I mean, I think the Supreme Court has recognized that, in certain circumstances, the obligation to refer someone to an organization that may -- where they may provide services in a manner that would violate that organization’s religious penance and can in certain circumstances impose a burden, doesn’t pose a burden.  That’s the Hobby Lobby case, which we -- which the regulations cite as in support of that idea.

     Q    Hi, this is Noah Bierman with the Los Angeles Times.  You mentioned that grantees and sub-grantees could not be treated any differently by granting -- you know, federal grant makers.  What if those grantees have religious beliefs or expressions that discriminate against those of other races or religions or sexual orientations?  How will that be handled?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  [Senior administration official], you want to take a crack at that?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  I’m happy to take a crack at that.  So, existing regulations already provide that those who participate in federally supported programs may not discriminate on the basis of religion -- you know, holding a religious belief, failure to hold a religious belief.  And these proposed rules would not remove any of those anti-discrimination protections whatsoever.

     And I would also observe that, under existing regulations, you know, those who are looking to use the services of a social services provider that’s (inaudible) federal programs, they can choose whether or not to use the services of a particular provider.  And these rules would not require any beneficiary to use the services of any particular provider.  So they will retain that freedom.  They retain their anti-discrimination protections, and they retain the freedom of choice in terms of which providers they wish to use.

     MR. CANTRELL:  Great.  Next question.

     Q    Hi, this Ron Kampeas from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.  So I want to -- I want to understand: A vulnerable Jewish person goes to a rehab center because they’re addicted -- they have an addiction problem.  That rehab center doesn’t have to -- they might -- that rehab center might include within its program aspects of proselytization.  They don’t have -- they no longer have to tell them, “Hey, there’s a Chabad house down the street that might be more appropriate to you,” or “there’s just a secular organization that might be more appropriate to you”?

     What are the -- you’re removing the protections for that Jewish person to protect them from being -- from being exposed to government-funded proselytization.  How do you address that?

     Secondly, you know, you’re -- these new orders seem to be burdening states with notification responsibilities while removing them from government-funded religious organizations.  How do you reconcile that?     

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hi.  So just to clarify, under the proposed rules, all organizations -- religious and secular -- will continue to be prohibited from discriminating against recipients on the basis of religion or on the basis of refusal to (inaudible) to attend or participate in a religious practice.  Any organization that discriminates on these bases remain ineligible to participate in social service programs in accordance with federal financial assistance.

     That’s a pretty key piece of the law that governs how federal aid can be spent.  That direct aid to an entity can’t be used for proselytization, can’t be used to discriminate on the basis of religion.  And the regs make clear that that requirement remains in place.  That has not changed.

     MR. CANTRELL:  Operator, we’re happy to take one last question, please.

     Q    Hi, this is Sandhya Raman with Congressional Quarterly.  Thanks for dong this call.  My question was related to the nine rules that you mentioned, specifically to HHS.  I know HHS has done a number of rules related to expanding religious freedom, and I guess a lot of those have already been pretty (inaudible).  What does this do that the number of those rules don’t already do?  What does it -- what is the added benefit of this rule?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hey, good question.  Thank you.  So, you’re right, HHS has a really robust sort of religious freedom portfolio.  A lot of what they’ve done has to do with the religious freedom rights of individuals, specifically the conscience rights of individuals, how to handle moral and religious objections to participating in certain kinds of activities.

     HHS has done a little bit of regulating to protect religious entities, specifically typically as to their own -- again, their own conscience rights and how they exercise -- how religious entities and entities that have conscience rights exercise them.

     This is different.  This is not about HHS and these agencies specifically protecting the free exercise rights of individuals; that’s what the prayer guidance does.  It’s not what the regs do.  The regs are about implementing the free exercise rights of religious organizations as recipients of federal funding.

     Mr. CANTRELL:  Thank you, everyone.  This will conclude our call.  Again, Director Grogan’s opening remarks are the only remarks on the record.  Opening remarks by both subject-matter experts -- by all three subject-matter experts, excuse me, and all the question-and-answer portion was on background, attributable to a senior administration officials.

     As always, direct all further questions to the White House Press Office.  Thank you, everyone, for joining this morning.

                                  END            8:34 A.M. EST   

West Wing Reads Trump's Phase One China Trade Deal Result of Negotiator-in-Chief's Courage

West Wing Reads

Trump's Phase One China Trade Deal Result of Negotiator-in-Chief's Courage

“President Trump signed the much-anticipated ‘Phase One’ trade agreement with China after months of hard-fought negotiations,” Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX) writes in Fox Business.
“This is a monumental achievement for farmers and ranchers in my district in West Texas and across rural America, who will reap the blessings of China’s commitment to purchasing as much as $50 billion worth of U.S. agriculture products. This is nearly 100 percent more than the largest amount of U.S. commodities purchased by China since normalizing relations in the 1970s.”
How did it happen? “For decades, as a result of political short-sightedness and economic expediency, policymakers have acquiesced to Communist-controlled China . . . At this critical juncture in history, we are fortunate to have a Negotiator-in-Chief who understands that China is the biggest existential threat to America and, more importantly, who has the political courage to do something about it.”
“The Senate can now do better by the Constitution by holding a trial that judges President Trump without validating the partisan House process and its weak case . . . The House hearings blocked GOP witnesses and limited cross-examination. Despite selective leaks and a pro-impeachment media, they failed to move public opinion,” The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes. 
“The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 29000 for the first time Wednesday after President Trump signed an initial trade pact with China . . . Both the Dow and the S&P closed at records, while the Nasdaq is within 0.2% of Monday’s high,” Alexander Osipovich and Avantika Chilkoti report in The Wall Street Journal.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) handed out commemorative pens to her impeachment managers yesterday—a ceremonial act typically reserved for landmark legislation—while posing for photos. The scene undermined the tone of “proceedings she has said should be serious and somber,” Cameron Cawthorne reports for The Washington Free Beacon.


Office of the Press Secretary


Via Teleconference

1:04 P.M. EST

     MR. GIDLEY:  Thank you very much.  We appreciate everyone for joining the call today.  This is a background briefing regarding impeachment.

     The call has several ground rules.  And here they are, as follows:  Number one, this can be attributable to senior administration officials.  And number two, the contents of the call are embargoed until the end -- the conclusion of this phone call.

     Now, with that being said, I'm going to introduce two of the participants today, [senior administration official] and [senior administration official].

     And with that and one reminder that this is attributable to senior administration officials,  I'll turn it back over to [senior administration official].

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you, Hogan.  So the House is finally voting today on House managers, and my reaction is: It's about time.  It's been four weeks since the House voted on the articles of impeachment.  Before, they were saying this was an urgent matter and that's why they had to rush through the fastest presidential impeachment process in history and that they had overwhelming evidence, and then they changed their minds and decided it wasn't that urgent to move that fast and that they didn't really have a case that was overwhelming because they needed more witnesses for evidence.  And now we're going to actually finally get things moving.

     These are the weakest articles of impeachment that have ever been passed in any presidential impeachment.  They state no violation of a crime, no violation of any law.  And the idea that it is obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress for the President to assert constitutionally grounded privileges that protect the separation of powers is absurd.  We think that these articles fail on their face.

     We're prepared.  We have been ready and are ready to get things moving in the Senate because the facts overwhelmingly show that the President did nothing wrong.  And we're happy now that we're going to have a chance to vindicate the President and get this process behind the country so that the American people can move on and stop having time wasted by House Democrats with their obsession to try and attack the President.

     And with that, I'll open for questions.

     Q    This is Kaitlan Collins from CNN.  Our question is: Are you guys going to be adding any House Republican members to the impeachment defense team?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We'll be making an announcement about the team at the appropriate time, but I don't have an announcement for that right now.

     Q    Can you say when you're going to make that announcement or give a little bit more guidance on that for us, please?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It will be soon, but I can't give you a definitive time.

     Q    Hi.  This is Shannon Pettypiece with NBC.  A couple things.  First, I wanted to know, do you have any response that has come out in the recent days from Lev Parnas that seems to show that Rudy Giuliani was directly working on behalf of the President?

     And I also wanted to, two, get your response to John Bolton and whether the President would be asserting executive privilege on that if Bolton was subpoenaed to testify?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, let me take those in reverse order.

     On John Bolton and executive privilege: Certainly, we're not going to get out ahead of the President.  It would only be the President who asserts executive privilege.  I think it's fair to say, though, that it would be extraordinary to have the national security advisor testifying about his communications directly with the President about foreign policy and national security matters.  So that's a bridge that we would cross if we have to, when we get to it, but that would be an extraordinary situation.

     On the Giuliani -- we don't have any comments on those documents at this point.  We're -- that's something that's not clear that it's even going to be a part of this process and we're not going to get out ahead, reacting on that, right now.

     Q    Hi.  This is Tierney Sneed from Talking Points Memo.  Thanks for having the call.  I'd ask you a similar question about executive privilege, but slightly different.  You know, it's my understanding that a question like that could be decided by a Senate vote -- you know, if you did try to invoke privilege.  Would you ever consider bringing a formal lawsuit -- you know, with the D.C. federal court -- to exert those privileges if it came to that?  Or are you going to let the Senate have the final call on these legal questions?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I think that is getting way out ahead of things.  You know, whether or not -- we don't think that there's going to be any need for witnesses in this trial.  I think that if the Senate decides to adopt similar procedures to the Clinton trial, which seems to be a possibility and seems to be logical; all 100 senators agreed on it, at that point.  It allows the senators to hear presentations and then decide whether they need to hear anything else.  And we think, at that point, they wouldn't need to hear anything else because this is an extraordinarily weak case for the House managers.

     So, I'm not going to get out ahead of anticipating not only whether there are witnesses, but then what happens if there are potential witnesses with potential lawsuits related to that.  I think that's pretty far down the road.

     Q    Hey, guys.  This is Katherine Faulders with ABC News.  Thanks for doing this.  Can you just talk a little bit about this motion to dismiss that may come up -- when you guys will get there?  You know, why insist on the right to call this vote, for example, if Senate Republicans don't want that?

     And then, just separately, related to that, why this motion to dismiss is favored perhaps over acquittal?  And then, in addition to that, how soon do you think you guys will be making motions?  Have you discussed whether this is something that could come before opening arguments?  Thank you.
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, let me -- let me frame that in this way, because there are several questions there.  And I think one is, why would there be a motion to dismiss?  Why consider that?  And that's because these articles of impeachment are so weak that, on their face, if this were a court proceeding, they'd be subject to dismissal.  And so, for lawyers going into court, if you have a complaint or an indictment against someone that, on its face, doesn’t state something that is actually a violation of the law, that is actually a crime of something, that's what you do: you make a motion to dismiss.  And you don't take up everyone's time with a trial or anything; you get it thrown out right at the threshold.

     These articles of impeachment would be worthy of being dismissed right at the threshold.  Now, in terms of -- the Senate isn't exactly like an ordinary court; it isn't like exactly going into federal district courts.  So exactly what's going to happen and what motions will be made, I'm not going to get into, sort of, telegraphing exactly what we'd be doing.

     But that's why it would be an appropriate thing to do -- because it demonstrates and allows someone to make a decision right at the threshold that this is so insubstantial, we shouldn't spend more time on it.  It doesn't meet the standard and we should just get rid of it.  And that would be an appropriate thing to do, in this case.

     Q    Hi, guys.  Greg Walters from VICE News.  Thanks for doing the call.  A couple of questions here.  I realize that you're saying there's going to be an announcement about who will represent the President coming soon, but I wanted to ask whether, at this point, Rudy Giuliani is being seriously considered or if he ever was seriously considered to represent the President.

     And I'm wondering if you can comment on the question of Robert Hyde, who appeared in the recent files that were released about -- in conversations, Lev Parnas about Marie Yovanovitch.  And I'm wondering if the President had any communications with Robert Hyde over this time, and if you have any comment on that.  Thank you.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On the team, we'll make an announcement at an appropriate point.  I don't have anything more to say on that at this point.  And I don't have any comment on the other question either.  That's not something we're going to get into on this call.

     Q    Hi.  Yes.  This is Alex Swoyer with the Washington Times.  And I was wondering: If the trial goes beyond two weeks, is the President still planning to give the State of the Union, as scheduled, or would the White House request a delay?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think you can consult with the Press Office about that, but I would say I think it's extraordinarily unlikely that we'd be going beyond two weeks.  We think that this case is overwhelming for the President, and the Senate is not going to have any need to be taking that amount of time on this.

     Q    Hi, guys.  Thanks for doing this.  This is Morgan Chalfant with The Hill.  I wanted to know if the President is still -- he's been reportedly going to Davos next week.  Is he still planning to do that if the impeachment trials begins, as expected, early next week?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think -- I'll refer you to the Press Office for the President's travel plans and that sort of thing, and they'll be able to provide an answer.

     Q    Hey, guys.  This is Toluse, with the Washington Post.  Thanks for doing the call.  A couple of quick questions.  It sounds, as you were saying, that you believe this case is very weak and it won't even take two weeks.  That, one, you're abandoning the idea of having witnesses like Hunter Biden and the whistleblower testify -- something the President talked about before.  And also, during the Clinton impeachment trial, the White House Counsel and White House lawyers spent several days mounting a defense of the President.  They used a good chunk of their time.  It sounds like you're planning to not have a multi-day, hours-long defense on the President’s conduct.  Can you, sort of, confirm how you def- -- you plan to defend the President, and summarize why you think it's a weak case and why you think you'll be able to convince the Senate to dismiss the charges after just a couple of days?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, let me -- there are a number of things built in there.  One, at one point, you said that we had now abandoned any idea of having witnesses.  And let me just clarify that, you know, we don't think the Senate needs to hear from any witnesses.  And the way this works is, the House is supposed to prepare a case, the House is supposed to be able to come into the chamber, and say, "We have a case that we think stands up with what we have, and we can succeed on what we have."  What the House is now saying is, "No, sorry, we don't have a case that stands up on what we have.  We think we need additional witnesses or something to make your case -- make their case.”

     (Inaudible) sort of do a do-over for them.  They're supposed to do their preparation and come ready to present a case.  If they're not able to do that, then what should happen is, the President should be acquitted.  And we think that's what's going to happen and we think it's going to happen readily.

     If, for some reason, there were a move to have witnesses in the Senate, then other witnesses, for our side, are not at all on the table, because the purpose of a trial, usually -- in procedures and in trial -- is to protect the rights of the accused.  The President hasn't had any rights in this process so far.  So if we go on to a longer process with witnesses or something, the President will have a right to have witnesses as well.

     In terms of the presentation, I'm not going to give you the details about how we think we're going to present the case.  What we will present is a very strong case for the President.  And the reason it doesn't take a long time -- and I'm not getting into how many days it is; I think you should not assume your characterization of it was correct -- but the reason it doesn't take a very long time is the facts are simple, and the facts are on the President's side.  And the House Democrats don't have any credible evidence to show any wrongdoing.  When you have any easy case, you don't need a long time to present it.

     MR. GIDLEY:  Thanks.  We have time for one more question.

     Q    Hi.  This is Jon Decker from Fox.  Thanks for doing this.  I really appreciate it.  Like you, I'm also a lawyer.  I'm a member of the D.C. Bar, and I just came back from teaching a class on impeachment at UCLA Law School.  And I have a process question for you.  Your understanding -- what's your view if there is a tie on a particular matter that comes up in a Senate trial?  In the impeachment of President Johnson, the Chief Justice at the time, Salmon Chase, actually broke a tie on one particular matter.  Is it your view that the current Chief Justice, John Roberts, could break a tie?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don't want to get into answering a hypothetical about trial procedure now.  You know, it's something -- if it comes up, we'll face it when it comes up in midst of the trial.  But I'm not going to, sort of, pre-commit or telegraph our view on that.

     Q    Shouldn't you prepare for that possibility right now?  Or are you already preparing for that possibility?
     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We're prepared for all possibilities.

     MR. GIDLEY:  Thank you, everybody, for your time and for the questions.  Remember, this is attributable to a senior administration official.  If you have any more questions -- the ones that actually dealt with the President's schedule and other matters that the Press Office can deal with -- please come by and see me and we'll take care of it.

     Thank you very much.

                              END                1:24 P.M. EST



Office of the Press Secretary


Via Teleconference

3:03 P.M. EST

     MR. CANTRELL:  Good afternoon, everyone.  And thank you for joining today's background briefing call with a senior administration official on the signing of an agreement between the United States and China.

     Today's briefing will be with [senior administration official].  The call will be on background, attributable to a senior administration official.  We will begin with opening statements, and as time allows, we will follow with question and answer.  All information is embargoed until the conclusion of the call.  And with that, I would like to give it over to [senior administration official].

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thank you very much.  And thank you everyone for joining the call today.  President Trump and Vice Premier Liu He from China signed a historic phase one trade deal today.

     This effort to reach this deal started with the President's commitment to correct unfair trade practices and rebalance our trade relationship with China.  It also rose out of the Section 301 investigation and report that USTR did relating to China's practices on technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation.  It was the product of many, many months of hard work by countless people on both sides.  And it covers three main areas.

     One is structural changes relating to intellectual property, technology transfer, agriculture, financial services, and currency.

     The second is on increased purchases by China of U.S. goods and services.

     And finally, the third piece of it relates to some tariff reduction that we have agreed to as part of the deal.

     Now, on the structural issues, as I mentioned, it covers the five main areas.  And I should say that all of this -- the structural issues and the purchases -- are all fully enforceable and subject to a very strong enforcement mechanism, which I also discuss in greater detail.

     On the intellectual property structural issues, it addresses all the main areas of intellectual property protection and enforcement, including trade secrets, pharmaceutical-related intellectual property, patents, geographical indications, trademarks, and enforcement against pirated and counterfeit goods.  It has both general broad commitments, as well as very specific commitments being made by China to address issues that our companies and right holders have had.

     On technology transfer, that chapter has strong, binding, enforceable commitments relating to several of the technology transfer practices that we dealt with in our Section 301 investigation and report.

     China has committed not to force or pressure companies to turn over their technology as a condition for market access, or administrative, or licensing approvals, or for receiving advantages from the government.  And China has committed that, you know, any transfer of technology would have to be voluntary and take place on market terms.  And China has also committed not to direct or support outbound investments aimed at acquiring foreign technology to meet its industrial plans.

     On agriculture, that chapter deals with a number of structural barriers to our exports to China.  It deals with a number of non-tariff barriers, what we call SPS barriers to trade that affect products including meat, poultry, seafood, rice, dairy, infant formula, horticultural products, animal feed, pet food, and others.

     It also has very strong commitments on important areas like agricultural biotechnology.  And that has been a source of issues with the Chinese over the past.  And China has committed to implement fair and predictable, and science and risk-based regulatory process for approval of ag biotech products, and made a number of commitments relating to administrative improvements and how they process those applications.

     There's also commitments in the ag chapter on China's domestic support policies and practices, and on tariff rate quota administration, which also has been an area -- a problematic area for our ag exports.  And I'm happy to talk in more detail about what is in the provisions on (inaudible) administration.

     On financial services, our financial services suppliers face a number of barriers in the Chinese market.  And this chapter of the agreement would address those barriers.  And those can -- it has commitments relating to licensing approvals, providing nondiscriminatory treatment to our companies dealing with issues relating to equity caps and investment restrictions, and other business restrictions -- regulatory restrictions that our companies have faced in the Chinese market.  And it covers all of the areas of financial services, including banking, insurance, securities, credit rating services, electronic payment services, (inaudible) debt, as well as others.

     And then, finally, on the structural issues, there are strong commitments in the currency chapter that will require China to refrain from competitive devaluations and targeting of exchange rates.  There is import provisions on transparency and enforcement as well, relating to currency practices.

     Those are the structural issues chapters.  There is a chapter also on -- relating to China's commitments to increase its purchases of U.S. goods and services.  And China has committed to increase its purchases of U.S. goods and services by $200 billion over the next two years, and with an agreement that the trajectory of increases will continue on that path after the two-year period, as well.

     And it covers four major areas of purchases: manufactured goods, agriculture, energy, and services.  There's been, obviously, a lot of discussion on the agriculture purchases.  These commitments will result in China making purchases of U.S. agricultural products over the next two years in the range of $40- to $50 billion each year.  The total will be $80 billion at least over the years.

     But there are also commitments on manufactured goods to increase by over $75 billion over the next two years.  For energy, over $50 billion over the next two years.  And services, close to $38 billion.  And that’s split up into more specific sub-categories, as well.  Each of those four categories has sub-categories.  The specific numbers on those will remain confidential because of -- in the interest of not in any way distorting markets or revealing confidential business information.     

     And, once again, those commitments on the purchases are fully enforceable and subject to the dispute resolution section chapter of the agreement.  And I'll talk a little bit now about that.  It has a very strong enforcement mechanism.  There will be regular meetings of various officials, even separate from the dispute resolution piece of that chapter, but then it provides a process for the resolution of dispute, and basically just sets out very specific time frames and the process, which will start at an attempt to resolve a dispute at the working level.  There's 21 days for that.

     And then it would rise to my level, at the deputy or vice-ministerial level, and there would be a total of 45 days from the start of the appeal to resolve that at the deputy level.  And then if that can’t be resolved, there's another 30 days to resolve at the USTR-Vice Premier level.

     And if it can't be resolved at that point, the complaining party has the ability to take proportionate action.  And as long as that action is in good faith, the other side would not be able to either take counter measures or otherwise challenge that action at the WTO or at any international forum.

     And the final thing that I'll mention is the tariff reduction I think has been well reported.  We have agreed not to implement what was scheduled -- the tariffs that were scheduled to go in effect December 15th.  We've also agreed not to increase the tariffs that had been scheduled to -- the increase had been scheduled to go in effect on October 15th, from 25 to 30 percent.  Those will stay at 25 percent.

     And then, finally, we have agreed to reduce the September 1 tariffs from 15 percent to 7.5 percent.  There is no other agreement on tariff reduction at, despite reports.  That is the entirety of the tariff reduction.  The tariff reduction on the September 1 tariffs will -- I believe is scheduled to go in effect 30 days from today, when the agreement will enter into force.  And that is the date for entering into force of the agreement is 30 days from today.

     So that is really an overview of the agreement.  And obviously it covers a lot of ground and a lot of really detailed issues.  And I'm happy to answer any questions.

     MR. CANTRELL:  Operator, we can take some questions, please.

     Q    Hi, this is Haik Gugarats with Argus Media.  On the chapter dealing with purchase commitments, how do you monitor it, or what is the role of USTR or any other government agency?  Are you putting Chinese companies in touch with the American counterparts?  Or are you just going to look at census numbers and say, "Well, this is what it adds up to for the year" and they either consider it or not?  Just, can you explain it -- that part?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, we will be actively monitoring both the Chinese import data and our export data.  And it will be, you know, the official statistics from both to ensure that China is meeting the purchase commitments.

     We will also, as part of the bilateral evaluation and dispute resolution chapter of the agreement, be having regular meetings with the Chinese, at the working level.  They will happen at least once a month, at my level.  At the deputy and vice-ministerial level, it will happen at least once a quarter.  And then, at the USTR and Vice Premier level, twice a year, every six months.

     So we will have regular meetings and an raise issues relating to what we view as any failure to implement the purchase commitments or concerns we have about that, or difficulties that are being encountered.  But we will be actively monitoring the official data sources for both countries to ensure that the Chinese are fulfilling their commitments on the purchases.

     Q    Hi, it's David Lawder calling from Reuters News Service.  Just a quick question regarding the enforcement.  What's the total time period from when you bring a complaint and when you can, like, take retaliatory measures, presumably putting tariffs on?  And how do you define "good faith," in terms of, you know, if they've acted in good faith, the other party can't take a countermeasure against you?  How do you define that good faith?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, thank you.  And so, in terms of the timeframe, it’s going to be roughly a 90-day timeframe from start to finish.  And that’s based on -- it’s going to be a 75-day period from the start of the appeal until, you know, resolution -- if it can be resolved -- at the USTR and Vice-Premier level.

     And then, after that, there will be an opportunity for expedited consultations on the remedy that’s imposed, if the violation has not been addressed and resolved.

     So we’re thinking that’s going to be roughly -- you know, would be finished within a 10- to 15-day period.  So, from start to finish, it’s going to be roughly 90 days.

     And the in terms of the “good faith,” I think that’s -- you know, it has not be defined. But, you know, there will be, through the process -- you know, the parties will be exchanging information and facts relating to any alleged violations.  And you know, there will be a consideration of the factual basis and whether the action taken has been a proportionate one.  And then, if it -- if, as I said, if it’s in good faith, there will not be any -- there cannot be any counter-measures or challenge to the action taken.

     If the party that is being alleged to have violated the agreement thinks that the action taken has been bad faith, the only remedy is to get out of the agreement.

     Q    So they can’t put retaliatory tariffs on?   All they can do is quit the agreement?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Correct.  That’s correct.

     Q    Mara Lee, International Trade Today.  I wanted to ask -- you said you believe that the 15 percent tariff will drop to 7.5 percent 30 days from now.  Why do you say “believe”?  Is that not determined yet?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  No, it is.  I should have been more precise.  Yes, that is going to be the date.  And, you know, I don’t know that a Federal Register notice has been issued yet, but it is in process.  So it will be 30 days.  It’s in line with the date of entry into force of the agreement.  So it will be 30 days.  I should have been more precise on that.

     Q    Thank you.

     Q    Yes, hello.  This is Alex Lawson from Law360.  I had another question about the enforcement mechanism.  It was already established that, you know, if one country believes that the other country has acted in bad faith, that the agreement then calls on them to drop out -- to withdraw from the agreement entirely.  Can you just explain the reasoning behind that?  Is that to prevent just a sort of wild escalation of exchanging retaliatory tariffs?  And if so, I mean, might that happen anyway if someone drops out of the agreement?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, yeah.  It was designed so that there would not be the ability to take an action at the WTO or other international forum to challenge an action that was taken in response to a violation of the agreement or to allow for, you know, retaliation, as you mentioned.  So it was designed to not allow for that.

     Now, again, if the party decides to get out of the agreement, they can take action at that time.  That is true.  But I think this was designed to try to prevent an escalation of disputes.

     And, you know, there will be -- I think that each party that is -- if there’s action taken against them -- if we decide to take an action against China for a violation of the agreement, they will have to make an assessment of whether they want to stay in the agreement or not.  I think there are obviously broader interests that would keep them in the agreement rather than getting out.

     So I think they would see it in their interest to stay in the agreement.  And this was designed to avoid them counter-retaliating or challenging us at the WTO.

     So this was obviously set up as an expedited enforcement mechanism to ensure strong enforcement and to avoid the other side just being able to do something in terms of its response.

     Q    Hi this is Heather Scott with AFP.  Two quick questions.  You mentioned the U.S. action on tariffs -- the reducing to 7.5.  What has China agreed to do on the tariffs they have implemented?

     And also, if I could ask more about the currency provisions.  What is new?  Because the commitment not to target exchange rates for competitive purposes was a longstanding G20 commitment, and there doesn’t seem to be any enforcement on that in particular.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  And so, on the tariffs, China has not agreed -- made any specific commitment to adjust its tariffs, reduce its tariffs, or eliminate its tariffs.  But China does have specific enforceable commitments to increase its purchases in all these various areas that I mentioned in significant amounts.  And China will have to determine how it’s going to make that happen and to ensure that nothing, either in the form of tariffs or non-tariff barriers, barriers prevents them from being able to do that, because they are all enforceable commitments on the purchases.

     They do have an exclusion process for -- you know, in their system, just as we do in ours.  And my understanding is they’re going to continue to refine that and improve that exclusion system that they have.  And so we’re monitoring, of course.  But the fact is that the Chinese will have to make these purchases and they will -- you know, they will have to make sure that their tariffs do not in any way inhibit them from doing so.

     In terms of the currency: You know, you mentioned G20 commitments.  Now, these are very strong commitments in this chapter, which are comparable to what we have in USMCA.

     But, you know, these are all subject to our enforcement mechanism in the agreement.  So, again, if there is a violation -- if there is targeting of exchange rates or competitive devaluations, we can challenge -- by the Chinese -- we can challenge that through our dispute resolution mechanism, and within, you know, 90 days taken action against the Chinese.  There is nothing at all like that in the G20 or through the G20 process.

     So this is a much -- you know, these are binding, enforceable commitments that the Chinese have made on currency.

     Q    Hi, my question was also just really about tariffs.  So you’re basically saying China will have to make that decision on their own in terms of agricultural -- tariffs on the agricultural products?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  That is correct.  They will have to take action on their own.  Now, our understanding is -- and we’re seen this with respect to at least a few products thus far on agriculture -- that they have started, you know, granting exclusions.

     And, in fact, I think there’s been indications that they’re (inaudible) automatic exclusions from the tariffs from certain -- for certain products in the ag area.

     So they, I think, will continue to refine and improve that exclusion process.  And I think they, you know, will have to address that to be able to fulfil their commitments.  But that’s -- you know, they will have to find a way to make that work.

     But our indications are that they are already taking action through exclusions from the tariffs.

     MR. CANTRELL:  Operator, [senior administration official] is happy to take one more question.

     Q    Hi, it’s Bob Davis from the Wall Street Journal.  One thing -- I came in late.  Is this on record or “senior administration official”?

     And then also, a couple of things to clear up: One, how do you respond to the charge that, with the purchases, what you’re doing is manage trade and encouraging China in the wrong direction on that issue?

     And then, secondly, on the enforcement, can you sort of walk us through?  I mean, do you expect a company to come to you and complain that, you know, they’re getting pressured on tech transfer, and then you would represent the company?  And if so, how do you get companies to volunteer, given their concern about the retaliation in China?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Right.  Thank you, Bob.  And so, first of all, it’s on background by a senior administration official, to answer your first question.

     Q    Okay.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On the purchases -- on your question there, you know, these are -- and when you see the chapter, you’ll see this is all sort of laid out in here.  I mean, clearly, we’re setting forth in here that the purchases are going to made at market prices based on commercial considerations.

     And, you know, it also clearly shows -- and throughout the rest of the agreement as well -- that the changes that are being made here by China, and other changes that it is making in its own economy, are going to significantly expand demand for our exports and facilitate the ability for our companies to be able to sell their products and supply services in the Chinese market.

     And so, I think this is just a reflection of that to, you know -- for China to commit to making these purchases.  We think they’re going to have the need for, and a strong demand for, these products and services in the Chinese market.  So it’s just a natural outgrowth of everything we’re doing and they’re doing.  And it will all be done through market forces or commercial considerations at market prices.

     So again, it’s -- and I think it’s something that I think the Chinese themselves have recognized that they have a need for greater imports of U.S. products and U.S. services.

     On enforcement, in terms of how that will work, you know, companies do already, of course, come to us and raise concerns or issues that they have relating to a number of issues with China, including forced technology transfer.  The dispute resolution chapter specifically provides for us to be able to bring issues to the Chinese on a confidential basis without identifying companies.  And that was put in there specifically for the reason that you mentioned, because of the concerns that I know that companies have regarding retaliation.  So we were trying to -- we have, you know, specific provisions in there to avoid that type of retaliation.

     So we will -- we’ll have, you know, officials and a mechanism set up within USTR to be able to field these complaints and then bring them into the regular process that’s set up in the dispute resolutions chapter, and keep it all in a confidential basis.

     MR. CANTRELL:  Thank you, everyone.  This will conclude our call.  Again, remarks were on background, attributable to a "senior administration official."  As always, direct all further questions to the White House Press Office or to USTR.

     Thank you, everyone, for joining this call this afternoon.


END         3:30 P.M. EST        

Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day, 2020

Office of the Press Secretary

Religious Freedom Day, 2020

- - - - - - -

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

     From its opening pages, the story of America has been rooted in the truth that all men and women are endowed with the right to follow their conscience, worship freely, and live in accordance with their convictions.  On Religious Freedom Day, we honor the foundational link between freedom and faith in our country and reaffirm our commitment to safeguarding the religious liberty of all Americans.

     Religious freedom in America, often referred to as our "first freedom," was a driving force behind some of the earliest defining moments of our American identity.  The desire for religious freedom impelled the Pilgrims to leave their homes in Europe and journey to a distant land, and it is the reason so many others seeking to live out their faith or change their faith have made America their home.

     More than 230 years ago, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was authored and championed by Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson famously expounded that "all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities."  This statute served as the catalyst for the First Amendment, which enshrined in law our conviction to prevent government interference in religion.  More than 200 years later, thanks to the power of that Amendment, America is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world.

     Since I took office, my Administration has been committed to protecting religious liberty.  In May 2017, I signed an Executive Order to advance religious freedom for individuals and institutions, and I stopped the Johnson Amendment from interfering with pastors' right to speak their minds.  Over the last 3 years, the Department of Justice has obtained 14 convictions in cases involving attacks or threats against places of worship.  To fight the rise of anti-Semitism in our country, I signed an Executive Order last month to ensure that Federal agencies are using nondiscrimination authorities to combat this venomous bigotry.  I have also made clear that my Administration will not tolerate the violation of any American's ability to worship freely and openly and to live as his or her faith commands.

     My Administration also remains cognizant of the stark realities for people seeking religious liberty abroad and has made protecting religious minorities a core pillar of my Administration's foreign policy.  Repressive governments persecute religious worshipers using high-tech surveillance, mass detention, and torture, while terrorist organizations carry out barbaric violence against innocent victims on account of their religion.  To cast a light on these abuses, in July 2019, I welcomed survivors of religious persecution from 16 countries into the Oval Office.  These survivors included Christians, Jews, and Muslims, who all shared similar stories of persecution.  At the United Nations in September, I called on global leaders to take concrete steps to prevent state and non‑state actors from attacking citizens for their beliefs and to help ensure the sanctity and safety of places of worship.  And, last summer, the State Department convened its second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, where our diplomats engaged a broad range of stakeholders in government and civil society, both religious and secular, to identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination around the world and ensure greater respect for freedom of religion and belief.

     On this Religious Freedom Day, we reaffirm our commitment to protecting the precious and fundamental right of religious freedom, both at home and abroad.  Our Founders entrusted the American people with a responsibility to protect religious liberty so that our Nation may stand as a bright beacon for the rest of the world.  Today, we remain committed to that sacred endeavor and strive to support those around the world who still struggle under oppressive regimes that impose restrictions on freedom of religion.

     NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2020, as Religious Freedom Day.  I call on all Americans to commemorate this day with events and activities that remind us of our shared heritage of religious liberty and that teach us how to secure this blessing both at home and around the world.

     IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fourth.

                             DONALD J. TRUMP