Today is NATO day; the 70th anniversary of NATO formation. President Trump hosts an oval office open-press meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to their bilateral meeting. The President takes multiple questions from the media about a variety of issues. [Video Below – – Transcript Added]
[Transcript] – Oval Office – 1:53pm EDT – PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much. It’s a great honor to have Secretary General Stoltenberg of NATO with us. We have developed a very great relationship, and I’m very happy to say the Secretary General will be with us for quite a long time because he was just extended. So congratulations on that.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: That’s a big thing. And I was with you 100 percent. But you know that. I felt very strongly about that.
We’ve worked together on getting some of our allies to pay their fair share. It’s called burden sharing. And as you know, when I came, it wasn’t so good, and now it’s — they’re catching up.
We have 7 of the 28 countries are currently current and the rest are trying to catch up, and they will catch up. And some of them have no problems because they haven’t been paying and they’re very rich. But we’re looking at the 2 percent of GDP level. And at some point, I think it’s going to have to go higher than that. I think probably it should be higher. But we’re at a level of 7 out of the 28.
The United States pays for a very big share of NATO — a disproportionate share. But the relationship with NATO has been very good. The relationship with the Secretary General has been outstanding. And I think tremendous progress has been made.
If you look — in fact, you showed me this originally, yourself — if you look at the charts and the different things, if you go back 10 and 15 years, and it’s a roller coaster ride down, in terms of payment.
And since I came to office, it’s a rocket ship up. We’ve picked up over $140 billion of additional money, and we look like we’re going to have at least another $100 billion more in spending by the nations — the 28 nations. We’re going to have — and that’s exclusive of the United States. We’ll have another $100 billion more by 2020 or a little bit into 2020.
So tremendous progress has been made, and NATO is much stronger because of that progress. And, Mr. Secretary General, it’s a great to honor to have you with us at the White House. Thank you. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much, Mr. President. And once again, thank you for hosting me and my delegation, once again, in the White House. And it’s great to be back, great to see you. And thank you for your strong commitment to NATO, to our alliance, and to our transatlantic bond, and especially for your very strong leadership on burden sharing. Because as you just mentioned, after years of cutting defense budgets, NATO Allies have now started to invest more. And by the end of next year, they will have added $100 billion more into their defense budgets since you took office.
And that helps and it proves also that NATO is a strong alliance. We have increased the readiness of forces. We have stepped up in our joint fight against terrorism. And we are investing more.
So, actually, North America, United States, and Europe, we are doing more together now than have done for many, many years. And that shows the strength of this alliance. In the year, we actually are celebrating the 70th anniversary of NATO.
So it’s great to see you. I look forward to our meeting. And thank you for your support.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, thank you. And it has been an honor. And we’re very proud of what’s happened over the last couple of years with respect to the relationship and to NATO.
A lot of the media doesn’t understand what took place, but a tremendous amount of additional money was invested by other nations, which was a fair thing from the United States — you know, from our standpoint, the standpoint of the United States. And a lot more money will be invested.
But we’ve been picking up a tremendous and disproportionate share, and we just want fairness. I have to have fairness for our taxpayer too. And I think that’s what’s happening, and I very much appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Thank you all very much.
Q Mr. President, is your intention, sir, to close the border this weekend? What would it take to not close the border?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I haven’t made that intention known. And I’m ready to close it, if I have to close it.
Mexico, as you know, as of yesterday, has been starting to apprehend a lot of people at their southern border coming in from Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador. And they’ve — they’re really apprehending thousands of people. And it’s the first time, really, in decades that this has taken place. And it should have taken place a long time ago.
You know, Mexico has the strongest immigration laws in the world. There’s nobody who has stronger. I guess some have the same, but you can’t get any stronger than what Mexico has. And we don’t want people coming up making that very dangerous journey and coming in.
Our system is absolutely maxed out. And Border Patrol has done an incredible job, but the system is absolutely maxed out. And it’s a very unfair thing.
So Mexico has, as of yesterday, made a big difference. You’ll see that — because few people, if any, are coming up. And they say they’re going to stop them. Let’s see. They have the power to stop them. They have the laws to stop them.
And what we have to do is Congress has to meet quickly and make a deal. I could do it in 45 minutes. We need to get rid of chain migration. We need to get rid of catch and release and visa lottery. And we have to do something about asylum. And to be honest with you, you have to get rid of judges.
Every time — and you won’t even believe this, Mr. Secretary General — you catch somebody that’s coming illegally into your country, and they bring them to a court. But we can’t bring them to a court because you could never have that many judges. So they take their name, they take their information, and they release them. Now, we don’t release too many. We keep them. It’s called “catch and keep.” But you don’t have facilities for that. But you have to bring them through a court system. If they touch your land — one foot on your land: “Welcome to being Perry Mason. You now have a big trial.”
So what they’ve done over the years is they release them into the United States and they say, “Come back in four years for a trial.” And nobody comes back. I guess 1 percent — 1 to 2 percent, on average, come back. And nobody can understand why they come back. They’re the only ones that come back.
It is the worst, dumbest immigration system in the world. The Democrats could change it with one meeting. Everybody would agree. But they don’t want to change it because they don’t want to give the Republicans a victory. They don’t want to change it because they want open borders, which means crimes — and lots of other things coming in, including drugs.
So we’ll see what happens. I think the Democrats — today, I spoke to a couple of them and they — all of a sudden, they’re changing because they’re seeing it really is a crisis. It is a national emergency on the border. And let’s see if they can do it.
But I want to thank — it’s a very short period of time, because for years this should have been done. But Mexico is now stopping people coming — very easy for them to do — stopping people coming in through Mexico. Let’s see if they keep it done, if — if they keep doing that.
Now, if they don’t, or if we don’t make a deal with Congress, the border is going to be closed, 100 percent. And this should have been done by other Presidents. So many things should have been done by other Presidents.
But if we don’t make a deal with Congress, or if Mexico — and probably you can say “and/or” — if Mexico doesn’t do what they should be doing — they shouldn’t have people coming into their country either; this is their southern border that they have to protect — then we’re going to close the border. That’s going to be it. Or we’re going to close large sections of the border. Maybe not all of it. But it’s the only way we’re getting a response, and I’m totally ready to do it.
And I will say this: Many people want me to do it, because we’re being abused by a bad legal system that was put in by Democrats. And that has to be changed. And it can be changed in 45 minutes, if they want to change it. Let’s see what they do.
Q Do you worry about the impact on the U.S. economy by closing the border?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure. It’s going to be — have a negative impact on the economy. It’s one of the biggest trade deals in the world that we’ve just done with the USMCA.
It’s a very big trading partner. But to me, trading is very important, the borders are very important, but security is what is most important to me. I have to have security. This is what this gentleman is all about — to my right. And we’re going to have security in this country. That’s more important than trade.
Hey, all you hear me talking about is trade. But let me just give you a little secret: Security is more important to me than trade.
So we’re going to have a strong border, or we’re going to have a closed border. And you know, when we close that border, we will stop hundreds of millions of dollars of drugs from coming in, because tremendous amounts of drugs come through our southern border. And so that’s one of the benefits.
So I’m totally prepared to do it. We’re going to see what happens over the next few days.
Q It sounds like Mexico is doing enough to keep you from immediately closing the border, though, from all their apprehensions (inaudible).
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they made a big step over the last two days. Look, they are apprehending people. You see how many there are. A lot. It’s a lot of people. And the fact that they’re doing that means fewer people are going to come. But, you know, we pay hundreds of millions of dollars to Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador as a combination. And what do they do? They don’t do anything for us. You know, it’s supposed be money well spent. I understand the reason for it, but that money doesn’t get there.
So we’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars to these three countries, and the money is not going to where it’s supposed to be going, number one. Number two, they’re taking advantage of the United States, and they have been for many years. So I cut off the payments yesterday. I know what the payments are supposed to be for; they’re supposed to be to help so that they don’t have this problem. But they don’t do that. The money is gone. It’s not spent properly.
And they arrange — I mean, the thing that bothers me more than anything: They arrange these caravans and they don’t put their best people in those caravans. They put people in there that you don’t want to have in the United States. And we’re not going to have them in the United States. It’s very simple. It’s very, very simple.
Q Are you happy with Stoltenberg as leader of NATO?
THE PRESIDENT: Say it?
Q Why are you happy with Stoltenberg as the leader of NATO?
THE PRESIDENT: I think he’s been a terrific leader. And I can just say, during my time — so it’s already amazing, two and half years — but we get along really well. And he made — his first statement was — we had our first meeting, and I think I got them to put up — the other countries, respectfully — 27 countries; put up the other 27 — $64 billion. Sixty-four billion. That’s a lot of money.
And he went out and he said what a great job he did. A lot of people don’t like giving credit. Like the media never gives me credit, but he gave me credit. Now we’re up to way over a $100 billion, and it’s going to be a lot higher than that by the end of 2020.
But I appreciate the job he’s done. He’s done an excellent job. And when it came time to renew — because a lot of people wanted that job; that’s a great job. I mean, it really is. But a lot of people wanted it. But I had no doubt in my mind who I wanted.
Q Have you ever contemplated moving the U.S. out of NATO?
THE PRESIDENT: People are paying, and I’m very happy with the fact that they’re paying.
Q What kind of security threat do you think Russia poses to NATO?
THE PRESIDENT: I hope that it’s not going to be a security threat. I hope we have a good relationship with Russia and with, by the way, China and everybody else. But I think the fact that we have NATO — and NATO is a lot stronger since I’ve been President, would you say that’s correct? We’ve taken a lot more money and —
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: Allies are investing more, and that provides some new capabilities. We need to maintain credible defense and defense for all NATO countries.
THE PRESIDENT: But I think we’ll get along with Russia. I do — I do believe that.
Q Mr. President, on healthcare, why are you pushing a vote on a healthcare replacement until after the 2020 election?
THE PRESIDENT: Because I think we’re going to have a great healthcare package. I think the Republican Party will become the party of healthcare. I see what the Democrats are doing; it’s a disaster what they’re planning and everyone knows it. You’re going to lose 180 million people under private insurance.
And I think, really, very important, Obamacare has been such a catastrophe because it’s far too expensive. It costs the people so much; they can’t afford it. And, of course, the premiums are very high: seven to eight thousand dollars on average. So you have to spend over $8,000 before you even hit.
So, Obamacare has been bad. So if we get back the House, and on the assumption we keep the Senate and we keep the presidency — which I hope are two good assumptions — we’re going to have a phenomenal healthcare.
Q Did Mitch McConnell ask you to delay this?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I wanted to delay it myself. I want to put it after the election because we don’t have the House. So even though the healthcare is good, really good — it’s much better than — when the plan comes out, which we’ll be showing you at the appropriate time, it’s much better than Obamacare.
So when the plan comes out, you’ll see it. It’s possible the Democrats would want to do it. I mean, it’s much better for the people, but I’m assuming they won’t because the Democrats never do anything that necessarily is going to be anything other than political.
So what happens is we’ll go through the election, we have a very good chance at retaking the House, and we have a very good chance of keeping the Senate. And I think we will keep the Senate. And I think we’re going to keep the presidency and we’ll vote in the best healthcare package we’ve ever had.
Q Mr. President, what do you think that NATO has accomplished in 70 years?
THE PRESIDENT: I think many things they’ve accomplished, but I think they also really stand for a signal of truth and of strength. And we have a great leader.
Q Are you going to talk about Germany today? The news from —
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll be talking about Germany. I always talk about Germany. I mean, Germany, honestly, is not paying their fair share. I have great respect for Angela and I have great respect for their country. My father is German. Right? Was German. And born in a very wonderful place in Germany, and so I have a great feeling for Germany.
But they’re not paying what they should be paying. They’re paying close to 1 percent, and they’re supposed to be paying 2 percent. And the United States, over the years, got to a point where it’s paying 4.3 percent, which is very unfair. And the U.S. GDP, especially under me — because the GDP has gone up so much, because it’s 4.3 of a much larger GDP. So we’re paying for a big proportion of NATO, which basically is protecting Europe. So we’re protecting Europe.
At the same time, they’ve taken advantage of us on trade. So we have the best of all worlds: We’re protecting countries that have taken advantage of the United States on trade. But it’s all changing. It’ll take a little while, but it’s all changing.
Q Mr. President, there is going to be a vote in the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow whether or not to authorize subpoenas to demand an unredacted version of the Mueller report and all of the background materials. If they do vote out the authority for subpoenas, will the White House fight those?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it’s ridiculous. We went through two years of the Mueller investigation. We have — I mean, not only that. You read the wording. It was proven. Who could go through that and get wording where it was no collusion, no nothing?
So there’s no collusion. The Attorney General now, and the Deputy Attorney General, ruled no obstruction. They said no obstruction. And so there’s no collusion. There’s no obstruction. And now we’re going to start this process all over again? I think it’s a disgrace.
These are just Democrats that want to try and demean this country. And it shouldn’t be allowed. And I’ll totally live by what the Attorney General — I have great respect for the Attorney General. I’ll live by what he said.
But I will tell you this: Nothing you give them, whether it’s Shifty Schiff or Jerry Nadler, who I’ve known — he’s been fighting me for half of my life, in Manhattan, and I was very successful, thank you. But Nadler has been fighting me for years and years in Manhattan — not successfully.
I will tell you: Anything we give them will never be enough. We could give them — it’s a 400-page report, right? We could give them 800 pages and it wouldn’t be enough. They’ll always come back and say, “It’s not enough. It’s not enough.”
This thing has gone on for two years. And, really, it started long before that. It practically started from the time I came down the escalator, because this was a whole — this was a whole plot, whether you want to use the insurance policy as a timeframe. This was an insurance policy just in case she — Hillary Clinton — loses. Well, she lost and she lost big.
This has been going on for years. Now they want to keep it going on? We had the most — they spent over $30 million on an investigation. They found no collusion — which, by the way, was the most ridiculous premise I’ve ever heard of anyway, and you understand exactly what I mean. No collusion. There was no collusion. There never was.
After $30 million, we’re going to start this process again because Jerry Nadler wants to start it or because Schiff wants to start it? I’ll rely on the Attorney General to make decisions, but I will tell you: Anything that’s given to them will never be good enough. You could give them more documents than they’ve ever seen and it would never be good enough.
So I think it’s somewhat of a waste of time. This is just politics at a very low level.
Q What about the fact that Congressman Nadler opposed the release of the Starr report in 1998?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s a good thing. That’s very nice that you bring that up. The fact is that Jerry Nadler was on the opposite side of this. And he thought it was a disgusting, terrible thing to even think about giving the Starr report but now we should give the Mueller report.
And actually, the Mueller report is actually much tighter because the Starr report went to Congress. The Mueller report goes to the Attorney General. So there’s a big difference. They made that because the Starr report got out of control with respect to going to Congress, because I guess lots of people had it that maybe shouldn’t have had it and did bad things with it.
So now they limited it to the Attorney General and they did that specifically for that reason. So Jerry Nadler thought the concept of giving the Starr report was absolutely something you could never do. But when it comes to the Mueller report, which is different on our side, that would be something that he should get. It’s hypocrisy and it’s a disgrace.
I will say this: Look, there was no collusion. There was no obstruction. They were very disappointed. I don’t know what they were thinking, because they all know. I guarantee you, they go into a room — between Nadler, Schiff, and the group — and they laugh like hell at how they’ve kept this thing going for two years. They laugh like hell.
And I hope that this investigation now, which is finished — it’s totally finished. No collusion. No obstruction. I hope they now go and take a look at the oringes [origins] — the origins of the investigation, the beginnings of that investigation. If you look at the origin of the investigation — where it started; how it started; who started it, whether it’s McCabe or Comey or a lot of them; where does it go; how high up in the White House did it go — you will all get Pulitzer Prizes, okay? You’d all get Pulitzer Prizes. You should have looked at it a long time ago.
And that’s the only thing that’s disappointing to me about the Mueller report. The Mueller report, I wish, covered the oringes [origins] of how it started — the beginnings of the investigation and how it started. It didn’t cover that. And for some reason, none of that was discussed.
Now, if you look at the IG report, it’s very serious. Now, we have another IG report coming out, hopefully, very soon. And I think you’re going to learn a lot.
But you should look at the beginnings and where it started — the whole situation. Because this has been a very, very bad thing for our country. The question was asked before about Russia, about Germany, about all of the different things that you and I discuss so often.
This has been a very bad thing for the United States. It’s been a total waste of time. But what hasn’t been a waste of time is some very bad people started something that should have never been started. And I hope that’s going to continue forward because people did things that were very, very bad for our country and very, very illegal and, you could even say, “treasonous.” Okay?
Thank you very much everybody.