THE PRESIDENT: Hello and merry Christmas -- very special people. Thank you very much. There's no greater privilege for me than to serve as your Commander, and you know that. Being Commander-in-Chief of what we're building -- what has been built, but what we're building -- is something really very special.You're a part of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, the U.S. Military. I'm thrilled to speak to you on behalf of our country for this beautiful -- and representing this beautiful Christmas Day in the United States.
I know it's a great sacrifice for you to be away from your families, but I want you to know that every American family is eternally grateful to you, and we're holding you close in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers. We're all praying for you. We love what you do. We love your work. You're amazing people.
From Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, I want to welcome the soldiers of Task Force Talon. Lieutenant Colonel Johannes Castro, I understand that as part of the unit's asset protection responsibilities, Task Force Talon played a critical role in securing and protecting assets and personnel when Typhoon Tutu[Yutu] struck earlier this year. I heard it was a big one -- one of the biggest. That was one of the strongest storms ever to hit a U.S. territory in fact. And we want to thank you for the incredible work. Everybody is talking about it. They're all very grateful. So thank you all for that incredible work.
I also want to welcome the Marines from Attack Squadron 223. Known as the "Great American Bulldogs," your squadron faced adversity before deploying when Hurricane Florence struck your home base at Cherry Point. Yet the Bulldogs were ready to go, and within 48 hours of arriving in Bahrain, the squadron was flying combat missions. You were back very quickly.
Since then, you delivered thousands of pounds of ordinance against ISIS. Lieutenant Colonel Wineman, these achievements are a lasting credit to the unstoppable tenacity of the Bulldogs. And I just want to thank you all. That was a great job you've done. And I know it's a great job you will be doing for a long time. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Joining us from Bahrain is Captain Benjamin Allbritton, Chief of Staff of Naval Forces Central Command. Captain, the Fifth Fleet and our Combined Maritime Forces strike fear into the adversaries by projecting the awesome strength of American power. Our mighty naval forces are unrivaled anywhere in the world -- not even close. And as you know, with our new and very, very increased military budgets, we're building you more ships. We're building a lot of different things for all of our forces -- $716 billion. So I know you're very happy. That's a lot of good equipment, and you see it coming already.
We're also pleased to welcome the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing from the United States Air Force. The 379th is the largest expeditionary air wing anywhere in the world, performing tens of thousands of daring missions every year. In fact, the 379th flies nearly 20 percent of all daily sorties, and dispenses more fuel than any -- if you think of it -- of the next five Air Force bases combined. That's a big operation.
Brigadier General Jason Armagost is the Commanding Officer, and I want to say merry Christmas to you and the airmen of the Guard and the Grand Slam Wing. And it is, in fact -- in fact, when I look at your work, it truly is a Grand Slam Wing. It's a great job, fellas. We really appreciate it -- and folks.
Finally, joining us from Juneau, Alaska are the men and women of Coast Guard District 17. Lieutenant Matthew Spado is the senior Coast Guard officer on the call. In the last year, District 17 has saved 265 lives, assisted more than 600 others in distress, conducted 275 pollution responses, 156 law enforcement boardings, and saved nearly $20 million of property. District 17 proves that the United States Coast Guard is "Always Ready."
And I've been saying about the Coast Guard -- when I was in Texas, I've never seen anything like it; they saved thousands of lives. The Coast Guard is very special. And if there was ever a score on branding, I think the Coast Guard in this country would have probably increased by the highest score of any group. I'm talking about businesses; I'm talking about anything -- the branding of the Coast Guard because of what you did in the hurricanes in Texas and in Florida and in Puerto Rico -- all over. You were incredible. We want to thank you very much. It was a great job.
To every service member listening and to those standing watch all around the world, it is because of your service and your courage and your willingness to be away from the ones you love that American families can celebrate at home in safety and peace. It's an incredible thing you do. You're incredible people.
On behalf of the First Lady and the entire Trump family, we thank God for each and every one of you. And let's have a little fun now. We'll go around, and you can ask me any question you want. That doesn't mean I'll let them do it -- but, you, I can do it. Okay?
So why don't we start with the Army. Lieutenant Colonel John Castro. John?
LIEUTENANT COLONEL CASTRO: Mr. President, I'm Lieutenant Colonel John Castro, the Commander of Task Force Talon. On behalf of the soldiers, family members, and contractors of Task Force Talon, we wish you a merry Christmas and happy holidays from the tropical U.S. territory of Guam.
As we conclude a Christmas on this side of the Western Pacific, morale remains high, and our soldiers remain proud to serve our great nation. Along with our joint partners here on Andersen Air Force Base and in the Pacific, our (inaudible) remains high and we remain ready in defense, ready to protect our nation as the first line of defense. Sir, Mr. President, no questions from this side.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much. So, John, how is it going in Guam? How are things going? I've heard it's an incredible place in terms of a military operation. The people are terrific that you work with. But how is it doing in Guam?
LIEUTENANT COLONEL CASTRO: So, Mr. President, things are going really well here. You mentioned the typhoon; it's been a very active tropical storm season here in the Western Pacific. In addition to Typhoons Maria and Mangkhut, you mentioned Tropical Storm Yutu. They just -- they were really active. And actually, that's something we train for and maintain as part of our readiness.
THE PRESIDENT: I know when I first became President, the supplies on Guam were very low -- one of the first things I heard about. They were really low, in terms of virtually every aspect of supply. And now I know you're stocked up to the brim. Is that correct?
LIEUTENANT COLONEL CASTRO: Absolutely, Mr. President. We're well -- we have good reserves and are able to do our wartime missions, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Right. But it is true, it was pretty low for a period of time, right? You had a lot of empty buildings. We filled them up fast.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL CASTRO: I imagine so.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Thanks a lot, John. I appreciate it. Great job. Great job. Thank you.
On the Air Force, Brigadier General Jason Armagost. And so, Jason, how is it going?
BRIGADIER GENERAL ARMAGOST: Great, sir. I'd like to wish you a merry Christmas on behalf of the 7,000 men and women at Al Udeid Air Base, here in Doha, Qatar. And the mission continues. We are working 24/7, 365 on providing Global Strike intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; airlift and cargo and tanker operations; including a defensive space control as well across the entirety of CENTCOM. It keeps us busy, but we are one of the strategic locations that goes -- Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria every day -- and the airmen are proud to do so.
We also jointly operate here with soldiers, sailors, Marines, and 28 coalition partners, as part of the CAOC for command and control. So it's a fascinating operation, but we have taken the time to wish a merry Christmas back to you and the people of the United States.
THE PRESIDENT: So how are they doing in Qatar? How are they doing getting together with Saudi Arabia and UAE and -- what's the latest word? You probably know better than anybody, but maybe I shouldn't be asking you that question. How are they doing getting together? Do you see anything -- any signs of hope?
BRIGADIER GENERAL ARMAGOST: Well, sir, I will say that, from within Qatar, as a host, they are fantastic. They take good care of us. They burden share with us. They're helping us to improve our infrastructure and really make this kind of a crown jewel of a base. You know, we don't track necessarily the political followings of Saudi Arabia and UAE, with regards to Qatar. But I will tell, they're fantastic hosts, they're great to us, and it's a fascinating place to work and operate from.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's true, and it is a great place, and it's an incredible base, as I understand it. And we'll get out to see you one day. And thank you very much. Fantastic job. Thank you.
BRIGADIER GENERAL ARMAGOST: Yes, sir. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: So now we have the Navy and the Marines together. That's the way it should be, right? Together. And that's fantastic. And you're in Bahrain. So maybe I can ask -- Captain and Lieutenant Colonel, maybe you could say a few words, please.
CAPTAIN ALLBRITTON: Yes, sir. Good morning, Mr. President. It is an absolute honor to speak to you today. We really appreciate this call. On behalf of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps and also the U.S. Coast Guard team, we want to wish you a merry Christmas and best wishes for 2019.
I would say at no other time in our history are we more united in our operations together here in the Central Command area. We also work with our Air Force brothers and sister at Al Udeid to execute our strategy here at CENTCOM; it is absolutely seamless.
And you mentioned in your opening about airplanes and ships and everything else. But I'll tell you, the real secret factor to our success are our people. I have magnificent sailors like (inaudible) sitting next to me, Sergeant Major Bower. The commitment they have, on a daily basis, to execute the mission is amazing. And that's the real x-factor, and that's what sets our force apart from any other force in the world.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's true. And I know you do have great equipment being sent there, but there's nothing like the personnel; you have to have people to use it. Plenty of people have good equipment -- only if they buy from us because we have the best equipment and we make the best equipment. But I can tell you this, that nobody can use it like us. That's one thing we've seen and we know it very well. We study it. Nobody uses it like us. So I just want to thank you.
Please, go ahead.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL WINEMAN: Mr. President, good morning. From Sergeant Major Bower, myself, just wanted to wish you and all the American people, especially our families that are back home holding down the fort, a very, very merry Christmas and happy holidays.
I can tell you, sir, in your opening, you talked about Hurricane Florence and what effect that had on my unit. And I can tell you, all these Marines out here that are doing these -- loading these jets, getting them ready for flight every day -- I work them hard, 24/7, every single day of the week, and they've done a fantastic job, and we couldn't do that without the American people, and especially our families.
My wife Amina and the Sergeant Major's wife Shelly, and all the families of 223, they have had our back and they are literally repairing our homes as we speak. I've had over ten whole families (inaudible) completely destroyed, and it is just a -- it's really representative of what the Marine Corps and what the United States Military is all about: coming together. We came together as a Command and really got the job done. So it's just my pleasure to be here serving.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's great. And with Bahrain and with Qatar -- there's six different ways of pronouncing that, from "Qatar" to "Qatar," right? There's many, many ways of pronouncing it; all of them are acceptable. I've said, "Well, which one?" I guess, maybe, they like me. They say, "You can say it any way you want."
But, you know, I'm asking them for a lot more money than they've been paying over the years for burden sharing. And those are examples -- those are two countries that have the money; it's unlimited money. And we're asking them to put up a lot of money, and they're happy to do it because we're performing a service like nobody in the world could perform. We're keeping them safe.
But we don't want to be subsidizing rich countries at the disadvantage to us. So that makes me a little bit different than any other President because nobody used to ask these questions. And if you look at what's been happening over the years -- over many, many years, over decades -- it's rather ridiculous.
So that's all changing and that's all good for us. So I just see -- I mean, I have two perfect examples: We have Qatar and we have Bahrain. You don't get much wealthier, and they're agreeing to do a lot more than they've ever done. And we're going to max out, and that will be good. That will be good. That will be great for our services.
It'll be nice where we can ask for a lot less money for our military because we're right now the policeman of the world, and we're paying for it. And we can be the policeman of the world, but other countries have to help us. And I think everybody up there agrees.
So thank you very much from Bahrain. That's great. I love to see you getting together like you are. You've been together for a long time, your two groups. And you've had a lot of victories. I have flags in the Oval Office with a lot of stripes from the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and the Coast Guard. And they all have ribbons. I don't know if the cameras can show you, but they all have some -- in some cases, hundreds of ribbons from victories. We only put up the victories, but we'll only have victories. But we only talk about the victories.
So thank you all very much. That's fantastic.
Now we'll go to the Coast Guard. And we just ordered a Coast Guard Cutter, the -- an icebreaker -- the likes of which nobody has seen before. The bad part is the price; the good part is it's the most powerful in the world. And it can go just about anywhere. The ice is in big trouble when that thing gets finished. It'll go right through it. But it's very expensive, but that's okay; we have to get the best.
But you folks are going to be very proud of it. Because you've seen it, I'm sure. It's a new design, highest technology. But with all the technology, it still needs very thick steel, when you get right down to it, right? It can be good technology, but you need thick steel.
It's like the border wall. We still need a wall. They can have all the drones they want flying up in the air and spinning around, and all the technology in the world. It's all -- I call it "bells and whistles." But if you don't have the wall, it doesn't work.
With the icebreakers, you need a lot of steel in those hulls. And you have it. It's maxed out, and it's going to be incredible, and you'll get it fairly soon. We gave out the contract, and that's for the Coast Guard. So that's a little Christmas present. We'll call it a Christmas present to the Coast Guard. And thank you for the great job you've done.
So, Matt -- would you like to say something, Matt?
LIEUTENANT SPADO: Yes. Good morning, President Trump. And merry Christmas on behalf of District 17 and all of the Coast Guard. I'm surrounded here by some of our watchstanders that stand duty at Sector Juneau, at the Coast Guard District, and also some of the station crews that operate out of small boats stationed in Juneau. And we're just here and we're ready for any unplanned events that could be occurring, whether it's search and rescue, environmental pollution, law enforcement, or any marine safety issues that might pop up.
So far, we've had a calm day here in Alaska, and we hope that it stays that way and people stay safe out there on the waters.
THE PRESIDENT: So how did you do in Alaska with the recent problem we had with the big -- that was a big quake. They say we got lucky. There were very few people hurt, and nobody died. And it was big. It hit -- it hit the proper location, I guess, we have to say.
How did you do with it? Were you involved much?
LIEUTENANT SPADO: Well, in Juneau, Alaska, we did not get much of the experience of the earthquake. But some of our members in Anchorage, they did sustain some structural damage to some of the buildings there. But luckily there was no injuries to any of the personnel, and everybody seems to be doing okay. Things are coming along quite well.
THE PRESIDENT: We got lucky there. It was a really big one, but it hit a area that, I guess, we were lucky that day. Things got a little bit lucky.
Well, I want to wish everybody a really merry Christmas, a happy New Year. Just remember, the people in our country, we're very proud of you. The country is doing well. We have a little bit of a shutdown because we believe in walls and we believe in borders and we believe in barriers. And, you know, we have a special country. People have to come in through the legal process -- not just walk in and we have no idea who they are.
And we're stopping drugs at a record rate, but we need some help, and the help is the wall. We need a wall to help us. Otherwise, they just flow through. No matter what you do, they just flow through. You people know that better than anybody. I know that two of your groups actually built some very effective walls.
And the military built some very effective walls for me over the last four weeks on the southern border. And we've held them. We had caravans of people coming up. You've been seeing it. And we stopped them. We stopped them cold. And they're heading back. For the most part, they're heading back or they're staying in Mexico.
But I will tell you, I know the work you do, and it's been amazing. And it's great. I will see you all. I know I'll meet you all; I'll see you all.
But, on behalf of the country, merry Christmas, happy New Year. Keep doing the job. We're all very proud of you. Nobody can do what you do. Nobody. And we're very proud of you. And it's my honor to send you all that brand new equipment, whether you get the planes, or the ships, or the rifles, or any of the things you get. You're getting the best in the world.
We're even doing a little change on some of the uniforms, to put it mildly, right? Some of the uniforms -- I hope you all like them. It's going to mean you have to be in perfect shape to wear those uniforms. That's one thing. But probably that's good.
But that's a big change. It hasn't been done in 50 years. And we're buying the new uniforms. They're going to be incredible. You know what I'm talking about, right, General? I see you.
So thank you all very much. I appreciate it and the country appreciates it. Merry Christmas. Thank you.
Okay, thank you, folks. Merry Christmas.
Q Sir, do you still have confidence in Secretary Mnuchin?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do. Very talented guy. Very smart person.
Q What about the Fed Chair? Is the Fed Chair --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll see. They're raising interest rates too fast. That's my opinion, but I certainly have confidence.
But I think it'll straighten. They're raising interest rates too fast because they think the economy is so good. But I think that they will get it pretty soon. I really do.
I mean, the fact is that the economy is doing so well that they raised interest rates, and that's as a form of safety, in a way. President Obama didn't do much of that -- much easier to run when you have no interest rate. He had a very low interest rate. We have a normalized interest rate. A normalized interest rate means -- you know it's good for a lot of people. They have money in the bank; they get interest on their money. For many years, nobody got interest on their money.
So -- but I have confidence in them. I have great confidence in our companies. We have companies -- the greatest in the world, and they're doing really well. They have record kinds of numbers. So I think it's a tremendous opportunity to buy -- really a great opportunity to buy.
Q When will the government reopen, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: I can't tell you when the government is going to be open. I can tell you it's not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence -- whatever they'd like to call it. I'll call it whatever they want, but it's all the same thing; it's a barrier from people pouring into our company -- into our country. From drugs -- it's a barrier from drugs. It's a barrier --
You know, there's a problem in this world today; it's called "human trafficking." Human trafficking is one of the hard-to-believe problems. And we're not going to let that take place. We're not going to let -- we are working so hard to catch these traffickers. They're bad people. We can't do it without a barrier. We can't do it without a wall.
So you have drugs. You have human trafficking. You have illegal people coming into our country. We can't do that. We don't know who they are. In the caravan, 618 people were very bad -- in some cases -- criminals. Wanted for very bad -- you saw the one man; he said he was wanted for murder. I don't want them in the country. The only way you're going to do it is to have a physical barrier, meaning the wall. And if you don't have that, then we're just not opening.
Yesterday, I gave out 115 miles worth of wall -- 115 miles in Texas. And it's going to be built, hopefully rapidly. I'm going there at the end of January for the start of construction. That's a big stretch. We're talking about 500 to 550 miles total. It's a 2,000-mile border, but much of it has mountains and region where you can't get across. So we're looking at between 500 and 550. So we gave out 115 yesterday, and we gave it out at a great price. So we're going to have great wall there, and we have other sections to give out.
One other thing people don't understand or know or whatever, but they might as well because they're not really told: We've renovated massive amounts of very good wall -- wall that was good, but was in bad shape. And so you don't have to replace it, but you have to renovate it. And we've renovated a massive amount of wall.
And, in addition to that -- and I think very, very importantly -- we've built a lot of new wall. So it's all being built. The new piece, the new section is very, very exciting what's going on there. And you'll see it. Because in January, I'm going there. We're almost having a groundbreaking, it's such a big section. It's probably the biggest section we'll get out.
So while we're fighting over funding, we're also building. And it's my hope to have this done -- completed all 500 to 550 miles -- to have it either renovated or brand new by election time.
Q And the contract, who did that go to?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, different people. Different people. Highly bid. Yeah.
Q Mr. President, is the $5 billion number -- is that (inaudible) open to negotiation?
THE PRESIDENT: It's complicated because we're getting $25 billion. It's already approved. But that's for everything. That's for Homeland Security. That includes, as we say, the "bells and whistles." We have a lot of drones, a lot of everything in it, plus we have some wall money.
But we want the wall money to be increased because I want to finish it. But what people have to understand, it has been strongly started. A lot of areas -- if you look at San Diego, it's now almost complete. And, interestingly, it's California which has been difficult to deal with because of the governor -- very, very difficult to deal with.
But the people of San Diego came, and they wanted the wall built. Like I was going to build it last, but then I determined, "Let's build it." They really wanted it built. Because if I built it last, they'd all be screaming for a wall. And you don't hear that.
But the wall is beautiful. The job they've done is fantastic. So San Diego is largely built; it'll be completed very shortly. But they came to us -- the people -- and they were asking. They needed border protection. People were walking through Mexico, right into San Diego -- right over people's front lawns -- by the hundreds and by the thousands.
And they came to us. They asked for a wall. You know, the only thing that's going to stop that -- a drone isn't going to stop it. High technology is not going to stop it. The only thing that stops it is a wall.
And when the Democrats talk about a wall -- "It doesn't mean anything." Well, in Israel, they had a big problem. They put up a wall -- 99.99 percent of the people were stopped from coming in. And we'll have the exact same thing. And we have a long, long border, but we'll have the exact same thing.
Now, there may be the case of an Olympic champion who can get over the wall. But, for the most part, it's a -- you're not able to do it. Very high. It's going to be 30 feet, and much of it is 30-feet high. Some of it is lower. But in some areas, we have it as high as 30 feet. That's not -- that's like a three-story building.
So we're making great progress on renovation, on fixing. And we're making great progress on building new wall. And, most excitingly, we gave out our largest section yesterday, and that work is starting next week. And we'll have it completed fairly quickly.
Q What's your message to federal workers, sir, who have been impacted by the shutdown in some way -- either they're not getting paid or not working?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think they understand what's happening. They want border security. The people of this country want border security, you know. It's not a question of me; I'd rather not be doing shutdowns. I've been at the White House, and I love the White House, but I wasn't able to be with my family. I thought it would be wrong for me to be with my family; my family is in Florida -- Palm Beach. And I just didn't want to go down and be there when other people are hurting.
But it's going to all work out. But many of those workers have said to me and communicated, "Stay out until you get the funding for the wall." These federal workers want the wall.
The only one that doesn't want the wall are the Democrats because they don't mind open borders. But open borders mean massive amounts of crime. I mean, the Democrats don't want it because they don't want open borders. And yet every one of those Democrats approve the wall, or a fence, or very, very substantial barriers. Every single one. I don't think there's one.
But let's assume, let's use the word, "almost everyone" approved a wall or a fence or exactly what we're talking about as little as three years ago. But over the years, every one of them -- the only time they went against it -- the only time they went against it -- there was only one time: when Donald Trump said, "We want to build the wall." As soon as I said, "I want to build the wall," they were all against it.
It's like -- take another example. Take Comey. Everybody hated Comey. They thought he did a horrible job. The Democrats hated him. They were calling for his resignation. They were calling for his firing -- including Schumer, including Nancy Pelosi -- until I fired him. And once I fired him, everybody said, "Oh, why did you fire him? Why did you fire him?" Take a look at some of these people. This is what we're doing now.
Take a look at some of these people. Literally, the day before I fired him, they were saying he should be fired. As soon as I fired him, they said, "Oh, what did you fire him for? That was a terrible thing to do." It's a disgrace what's happening in our country.
But other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Q Are you planning to have a meeting with congressional leaders again?
THE PRESIDENT: I'll meet with them. Sure. I'll always meet with them. And hopefully, we're making progress on the funding of the wall or barrier or whatever you want to call it.
Q So what happens in January, when the Democrats take the House? They say they're going to pass the (inaudible) without wall funding.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, then there's probably presidential harassment, and we know how to handle that. I think I handle that better than anybody.
There's been no collusion. After two years, no collusion. There has been collusion, but it's been by the Democrats. But there's been no collusion. And you're talking about millions and millions and millions of dollars of wasted money. There's been absolutely no collusion, but there has been a lot of collusion by the Democrats with Russia and with a lot of other people that maybe they shouldn't have been dealing with, including very dishonest people.
Thank you very much everybody.