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White House doubles down on Russia claims, feels pressure on school safety

For the first time in a week -- packed with new indictments in the Russia investigation, a mass shooting that killed 17 at a school and questions about Jared Kushner's security clearance -- White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held a press briefing. Yamiche Alcindor joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what Sanders said about sanctions, a potential ban on bump stocks and more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders took questions from the press corps this afternoon for the first time in a week. She was asked about Russian election interference, school safety measures, and White House senior aide Jared Kushner's security clearance.

    On Russia, Sanders doubled down on the White House claim that President Trump has been tougher on Russia than his predecessors.

  • Sarah Sanders:

    The president has been extremely tough on Russia. He helped push through $700 billion to help rebuild our military. I can assure you, Russia is not excited about that. He has helped export energy to Eastern Europe. I can assure you, Russia is not excited about that.

    He has put in, and upheld, sanctions that the Obama administration put in place. He's upheld those. He has closed three diplomatic properties that were Russia's here in the United States. He has taken a number of actions against Russia and put pressure on them. He's helped arm the Ukrainians. There are a number of places that Obama was too weak and refused to take and put pressure on Russia where this president has.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, has been tracking all of this. And she joins me now.

    So, Yamiche, we heard Sarah Sanders mention sanctions, said the president has upheld what was there under the previous administration. But there were also sanctions that Congress passed against Russia last year. Where do those stand?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, Sarah Sanders made the point today that there is still a process ongoing, and that this White House needs time to impose those sanctions.

    But when I asked White House officials about them, they said that essentially they had already been compliant with the law and they're doing all that they were supposed to do.

    That comes as there's bipartisan frustration. Chuck Schumer and Peter King, a Republican and a Democrat, have put together and said that they want this president to impose these sanctions. And that comes, of course, as Sarah Sanders is making the point that President Trump always believed that Russia meddled in our elections.

    And that's just simply not true. The president has repeatedly questioned Russia's role in the elections.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, let's ask about — or let me ask you about the school shooting. The White House is saying today this is, what, how many months, four or five months after the slaughter of those people in Las Vegas, with the guns using the so-called bump stocks.

    The White House is now saying that the president will go along with some sort of provision to ban bump stocks. Why the delay and how does this affect the whole gun debate?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The delay is because the White House was starting to think — trying to think through what it was going to do.

    But the White House is feeling pressured. In particular, the president is feeling pressured from all these mass shootings and these students speaking up. He, over the weekend, threw his support behind a bill that would force states to further go through the background check system and actually be compliant with it.

    But then he's also taking unilateral steps with bump stocks. There had been a federal review of bump stocks that was going on since last year that had not been resolved. So, what you see is a president who is trying to look like he's doing something.

    But these aren't huge changes. This isn't a federal ban on assault weapons. This isn't changing whether or not you can get an AR-15 at 17 or 19. So, there are still a lot of things that he could be doing differently.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I know we're continuing to watch that every day this week.

    Finally and just quickly, Yamiche, the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a lot of discussion about the fact that he still has only an interim security clearance. She was asked about that. How does that affect the work he does in the White House?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It doesn't affect it at all. He has a top-secret security clearance. That is going to continue. President Trump can take that away from him, but there is no sign that he's going to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, again, an issue that keeps coming up.

    Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

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