Donald Trump: ‘You also had people that were very fine people on both sides’
Full transcript of the US president’s press conference in which he accused the ‘alt-left’ of contributing to violence in Charlottesville
President Trump gave an update on the administration’s efforts on infrastructure on Tuesday at Trump Tower, New York, and then held a combative question-and-answer session that touched on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, his view on removing Confederate statues, Stephen K. Bannon’s role in the White House and more.
Following is a transcript of those remarks, as prepared by the New York Times. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
TRUMP: Great to be back in New York with all of our friends and some great friends outside the building, I must tell you.
I want to thank all of our distinguished guests who are with us today, including members of our cabinet: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, O.M.B. Director Mick Mulvaney, and of course our transportation secretary, who’s doing a fabulous job, Elaine Chao. Thank you all for doing a really incredible and creative job on what we are going to be discussing today, which is infrastructure. We’ve just had a great set of briefings upstairs on our infrastructure agenda.
My administration is working every day to deliver the world-class infrastructure that our people deserve, and that frankly our country deserves. That’s why I just signed a new executive order to dramatically reform the nation’s badly broken infrastructure permitting process.
Just blocks away is the Empire State Building. It took 11 months to build the Empire State Building. But today it can take as long as a decade, and much more than that. Many, many stories where it takes 20 and 25 years just to get approvals to start construction of a fairly routine highway. Highway builders must get up to 16 different approvals involving nine different federal agencies governed by 29 different statutes. One agency alone can stall a project for many, many years and even decades. Not only does this cost our economy billions of dollars, but it also denies our citizens the safe and modern infrastructure they deserve.
This overregulated permitting process is a massive, self-inflicted wound on our country. It’s disgraceful. Denying our people much needed investments in their community. And I just want to show you this, because it was just shown to me. I think I’m going to show it to the media, both real and fake media, by the way. This is what it takes to get something approved today.
Elaine, you see that. So this is what it takes, permitting process flow chart. That’s a flowchart. So that can go out to 20 years. This shows about 10. But that can go out to about 20 years to get something approved. This is for a highway. I have seen a highway recently in a certain state. I won’t mention its name. It is 17 years. I could have built it for $4 or $5 million without the permitting process. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars, but it took 17 years to get it approved and many, many, many, many pages of environmental impact studies. This what we will bring it down to. This is less than two years. This is going to happen quickly. That’s what I’m signing today. This will be less than two years for a highway. So it’s going to be quick. It’s going to be a very streamlined process. And by the way, if it doesn’t meet environmental safeguards, we are not going to approve it. Very simple. We are not going to approve it. Maybe this one will say, let’s throw the other one away. Would anybody like it from the media? Would anybody like that long, beautiful chart? You can have it. So my executive order also requires agencies to work together efficiently by requiring one lead agency for each major infrastructure project. It also holds agencies accountable if they fail to streamline their review process.
So each agency is accountable. We’re going to get infrastructure built quickly, inexpensively, relatively speaking. And the permitting process will go very, very quickly. No longer will we tolerate one job killing delay after another. No longer will we accept a broken system that benefits consultants and lobbyists at the expense of hard-working Americans.
Now I knew the process very well, probably better than anybody. I had to get permits for this building and many of the buildings I built, all of the buildings I built in Manhattan and many other places. And I will tell you that the consultants are rich people. They go around making it very difficult. They lobby Congress. They lobby state government, city governments to make it very difficult so that you have to hire consultants and that you have to take years and pay them a fortune. So we are streamlining the process, and we won’t be having so much of that anymore. No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay. While protecting the environment, we will build gleaming new roads, bridges, railways, waterways, tunnels and highways. We will rebuild our country with American workers, American iron, American aluminum, American steel. We will create millions of new jobs and make millions of American dreams come true. Our infrastructure will again be the best in the world. We used to have the greatest infrastructure anywhere in the world. And today, we are like a third-world country. We are literally like a third-world country. Our infrastructure will again be the best. And we will restore the pride in our communities, our nation. And all over the United States will be proud again.
So I want to thank everybody for being here. God bless you. God bless the United States. And if you have any questions, we have Mick. You could come up here, please. Come on up. Mick Mulvaney.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
REPORTER: Why do you think these C.E.O.’s are leaving your manufacturing council?
TRUMP: Because they’re not taking their jobs seriously as it pertains to this country. But we want jobs, manufacturing in this country. If you look at some of those people that you are talking about, they are outside of the country. They are having a lot of their product made outside. If you look at Merck as an example, take a look — excuse me, excuse me — take a look at where their product is made. It’s made outside of our country. We want products made in the country. Now I have to tell you, some of the folks that will leave, they’re leaving out of embarrassment, because they make their products outside. And I have been lecturing them, including the gentleman that you are referring to, about you have to bring it back to this country. You can’t do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country. That’s what I want. I want manufacturing to be back into the United States so that American workers can benefit.
REPORTER: Why did you wait so long — [CROSS TALK]
TRUMP: I didn’t wait long. I didn’t wait long. I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement but you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts. It is a very, very important process to me. It is a very important statement. So I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts. If you go back to my statement, I brought it. I brought it.
As I said, remember, Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America. And then I went on from there. Here is the thing. Excuse me. Take it nice and easy. Here is the thing. When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn’t happen yet as we were speaking. This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts. So I don’t want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent. In fact, the young woman, who I hear is a fantastic young woman, and it was on NBC, her mother wrote me and said through I guess Twitter, social media, the nicest things. And I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine, really actually, an incredible young woman. Her mother, on Twitter, thanked me for what I said. And honestly, if the press were not fake and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. But unlike you … [CROSS TALK]... and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.
How about a couple of infrastructure questions.
REPORTER: The C.E.O. of Walmart said you missed a critical opportunity to help bring the country together. Did you?
TRUMP: Not at all. I think the country — look, you take a look. I’ve created over a million jobs since I’m president. The country is booming. The stock market is setting records. We have the highest employment numbers we have ever had in the history of our country. We are doing record business. We have the highest levels of enthusiasm, so the head of Walmart, who I know, who’s a very nice guy, was making a political statement.
I would do it the same way, because I want to make sure when I make a statement that the statement is correct. And there was no way of making a correct statement that early. I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters. [CROSS TALK]I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts. And the facts, as they started coming out, were very well-stated. In fact, everybody said his statement was beautiful. If he would have made it sooner, that would have been good. I couldn’t have made it sooner, because I didn’t know all of the facts. Frankly, people still don’t know all of the facts. It was very important — [CROSS TALK]excuse me, excuse me. It was very important to me to get the facts out and correctly. Because if I would have made a fast statement — and the first statement was made without knowing much other than what we were seeing. The second statement was made with knowledge, with great knowledge. There are still things — [CROSS TALK]excuse me. There are still things that people don’t know. I want to make a statement with knowledge. I wanted to know the facts.
REPORTER: Two questions: Was this terrorism? And can you tell us how you are feeling about your chief strategist Steve Bannon?
TRUMP: Well I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country. You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? Then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. What he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.
REPORTER: Can you tell us how you are feeling about your chief strategist, Mr. Bannon?
TRUMP: Go ahead.
ANOTHER REPORTER: Steve Bannon — I would echo Maggie’s question.
TRUMP: I never spoke to Mr. Bannon about it.
REPORTER: But can you tell us broadly, do you still have confidence in Steve?
TRUMP: Well, we’ll see… Look, look, I like Mr. Bannon. He is a friend of mine. Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that. And I like him. He is a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He is a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard. We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. He is a good person and I think the press treats him frankly very unfairly.
REPORTER: Senator McCain has called on you to defend your national security adviser, H.R. McMaster against these attacks.
TRUMP: I’ve already done … I did it the last time.
REPORTER: … and he called on you again, linking it to the alt-Right…
TRUMP: Senator McCain? You mean the one that voted against Obamacare? You mean Senator McCain who voted against us getting good health care?
REPORTER: Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these and he linked that same group to those that perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.
TRUMP: Well, I don’t know. I can’t tell you. I’m sure Senator McCain must know what he is talking about. When you say the alt-right. Define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead. No, define it for me. Come on. Let’s go.
REPORTER: Senator McCain defined them as the same group —
TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at — Excuse me — What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? [CROSS TALK]Let me ask you this: What about the fact that they came charging, that they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. So, you know, as far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.
Wait a minute. I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day.
TRUMP: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that. But I’ll say it right now.
You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.
REPORTER: Do you think that what you call the alt-left is the same as neo-Nazis?
TRUMP: All of those people — Excuse me — I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.
So — excuse me — and you take a look at some of the groups and you see and you would know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases, you are not. But, many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?
But they were there to protest — excuse me — you take a look, the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. Infrastructure question. Go ahead.
REPORTER: Does the statue of Robert E. Lee stay up?
TRUMP: I would say that is up to a local town, community or the federal government, depending on where it is located.
REPORTER: Are you against the Confederacy?
REPORTER: How concerned are you about race relations in America and do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office?
TRUMP: I think they’ve gotten better or the same. Look they have been frayed for a long time. And you can ask President Obama about that because he would make speeches about it.
But I believe that the fact that I brought in, it will be soon, millions of jobs, you see where companies are moving back into our country. I think that’s going to have a tremendous positive impact on race relations.
We have companies coming back into our country. We have two car companies that just announced. We have Foxconn in Wisconsin, just announced. We have many companies, I say, pouring back into the country. I think that’s going to have a huge, positive impact on race relations.
You know why? It is jobs. What people want now, they want jobs. They want great jobs with good pay. And when they have that, you watch how race relations will be. And I’ll tell you we are spending a lot of money on the inner cities. We are gonna fix, we are fixing the inner cities. We are doing far more than anybody has done with respect to the inner cities. It is a priority for me. And it’s very important.
REPORTER: Mr. President, are you putting what you are calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
TRUMP: I am not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.
REPORTER: You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides?
TRUMP: Well I do think there’s blame. Yes, I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don’t have doubt about it either. And if you reported it accurately, you would say.
REPORTER: The neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest —
TRUMP: Excuse me. They didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis. And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.
You had people in that group — excuse me, excuse me — I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
TRUMP: George Washington as a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good.
Are we going to take down the statue? Cause he was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It’s fine. You are changing history, you’re changing culture. You had people and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. O.K.? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.
Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group too.
REPORTER: Who has the press treated unfairly? Sir, I’m sorry, I just didn’t understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just didn’t understand what you were saying.
TRUMP: No, no. There were people in that rally. I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee. I am sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.
Because I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this. There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country. Does anybody have a final question? Do you have an infrastructure question?
REPORTER: What makes you think you can get an infrastructure bill? You didn’t get health care, you didn’t get tax reform...
TRUMP: Well, you know, I’ll tell you. We came very close with health care. Unfortunately, John McCain decided to vote against it at the last minute. You’ll have to ask John McCain why he did that. But we came very close to health care. We will end up getting health care. But we’ll get the infrastructure. And actually infrastructure is something I think we’ll have bipartisan support on. I actually think Democrats will go along with the infrastructure.
REPORTER: Mr. President, have you spoken to the family of the victim of the car attack?
TRUMP: No. I will be reaching out.
REPORTER: When will you be reaching out?
TRUMP: I thought that the statement put out, the mother’s statement, I thought was a beautiful statement. I tell you, it was something that I really appreciated. I thought it was terrific. Under the kind of stress that she is under and the heartache that she is under, I thought putting out that statement to me was really something I won’t forget. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
REPORTER: Do you plan to go to Charlottesville, Mr. President?
TRUMP: Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville? It is in Charlottesville. You’ll see.
REPORTER: Is that the winery?
TRUMP: It is the winery. [CROSS TALK]I mean, I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that’s been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It’s in Charlottesville.
REPORTER: What do you think needs to be done to overcome the racial divides in this country?
TRUMP: I really think jobs can have a big impact. I think if we continue to create jobs, over a million, substantially more than a million. And you see just the other day, the car companies coming in, with Foxconn. I think if we continue to create jobs at levels that I’m creating jobs, I think that’s going to have a tremendous impact, positive impact, on race relations.
REPORTER: What you said today, how do you think that will impact the racial —?
TRUMP: Because the people are going to be working. They’re going to be making a lot of money, much more than they ever thought possible. That’s going to happen. The other thing, very important: I believe wages will start going up. They haven’t gone up for a long time. I believe wages now, because the economy is doing so well, with respect to employment and unemployment, I believe wages will start to go up. I think that will have a tremendously positive impact on race relations. Thank you.
The New York Times