THE PRESIDENT: I am thrilled to be here for the celebration of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, and I am honored to host this beautiful ceremony at the White House. Very, very special people.
Before going any further, I want to say a brief word about the devastating wildfires in California, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. We mourn the lives of those lost and we pray for the victims. And there are more victims than anybody would ever even think possible.
I want to thank the firefighters and FEMA and first responders for their incredible courage in the face of very grave danger.
Yesterday, I signed a disaster declaration for the State of California. We will do everything in our power to support and protect our fellow citizens in harm’s way. And we say, I think as a group — I can tell you as a group: God bless everybody. That’s a very tough situation.
We’re gathered together today to celebrate a very special holiday observed by Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains throughout the United States and around the world. Hundreds of millions of people have gathered with family and friends to light the Diya and to mark the beginning of a New Year, a very special New Year.
Our nation is blessed to be home to millions of hardworking citizens of Indian and Southeast Asian heritage who enrich our country in countless ways. Together, we are one proud American family. Do we agree with that? Huh? I think so. Huh? How are you? I think we do. Right? (Laughter.) You better believe it.
I’m grateful to have numerous Americans of Indian and Southeast Asian heritage who fulfill critical roles across my administration. And they’ve done an incredible job. Many of them are here today, including the Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai. Ajit, where’s Ajit? Huh? Come here, Ajit. I just didn’t like one decision he made, but that’s all right. (Laughter.) Not even a little bit. But he’s independent. (Laughter.)
CMS Administrator, Seema Verma. Seema? Hi, Seema. Thanks. Great job.
Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Neil Chatterjee. Where is Neil? Good. Nice to see you. Thanks, Neil.
Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Neomi Rao. Hi, Neomi. I won’t — I won’t say today that I just nominated Neomi to be on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the seat of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. (Applause.) So that could be a big story. (Applause.) We were going to announce that tomorrow — (laughter) — and I said, “You know, here we are, Neomi, we’re never going to do better than this right?” (Laughter.) I thought it was an appropriate place. So, we’re 24 hours early, but she’s going to be fantastic. Great person.
he Acting Administrator of Drug Enforcement, and another person that I’ve become very close to, Uttam Dhillon. Uttam, where are you? Uttam, where are you? Uttam? Come on up here, Uttam. Look. Look. Now you’re famous. (Laughter.) Now you’re famous. He’ll do a great job.
Acting Under Secretary of State, Manisha Singh. Manisha, hi. Congratulations. Great job. And Deputy White House Press Secretary, Raj. We just have to say “Raj.” (Laughter.) Where’s our Raj? Come here, Raj. Good job. Raj has been with us for a long time, and what a great job he does.
Also here today is my daughter, Ivanka, who really just got back from India. Had an incredible time there. Met with the Prime Minister, Modi, who’s my friend, and now her friend. And has great respect for India and the Indian people — that, I can say, right?
MS. TRUMP: Absolutely. Thank you, Ambassador.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. Thank you, honey.
I’d especially like to welcome Ambassador Sarna, India’s Ambassador to the United States, along with his wife, Dr. Avina Sarna.
AMBASSADOR SARNA: Sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR SARNA: Great pleasure.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. It’s a great honor.
The United States has deep ties to the nation of India, and I am grateful for my friendship with Prime Minister Modi. We’re trying very hard to make better trade deals with India, but they’re very good traders. (Laughter.) They’re very good negotiators, you would say, right? The best. So we’re working, and it’s moving along.
India is the world’s largest democracy, and the relationship between our two countries can act as a bulwark for freedom, prosperity, and peace.
As we light the Diya in the White House, and we join in the fellowship with all of those who light lamps in their own homes, cities, and places of worship. America is a land of faith, and we are truly fortunate to have these wonderful traditions woven into the tapestry of our national life. And that is true.
This ceremony signifies the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. It is a jubilant occasion that brings loved ones, neighbors, and communities closer together. And these shining lights remind us to seek wisdom, to give thanks, and to always cherish and love the ones who grace our lives. And I think that’s very much how people should all feel, and I know that’s the way we all feel. Right? We all feel that.
Maybe Neomi — I don’t know, do you feel that, Neomi? (Laughter.) Huh? Now she does, I can tell. (Laughter.) Don’t make that too big a story, by the way. That may be the big — (laughter) — you know, I hate the — that may be the big story, right? (Laughter.) That’s a pretty big story.
So on behalf of the American people, I wish everyone celebrating here, all over our country, our land — great United States — and around the world a happy and joyful Diwali.
I will now light the Diya. And it’s a great honor to be here. These are tremendous people. Tremendous, tremendous people. And thank you all very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.
(The President lights the Diya.)
Would you like to say something? Please.
ADMINISTRATOR VERMA: Well, I just want to again thank the President. I appreciate your commitment and to celebrating this event. This is good over evil, and light over dark. And we just appreciate everything you do for our country every single day, and for putting together such a wonderful team, a diverse team.
THE PRESIDENT: And you’re doing a fantastic job, and I appreciate it.
Neomi, would you like to say something?
ADMINISTRATOR RAO: Thank you very much, Mr. President, for the confidence you’ve in shown me. I greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: I think you’ve made the right choice. What do you think? (Applause.)
Would you like to say something?
AMBASSADOR SARNA: I just want to thank you, Mr. President, for this great honor for India and for the Indian American community. They feel very welcome here and they are integrated into the U.S. society. They are a plus-plus for both for India and for the United States. And I think we are looking at one of the best times we’ve ever had for the India-U.S. relationship. Thank you for that.
THE PRESIDENT: I think that’s true. We’re very close. I think closer maybe than ever before.
AMBASSADOR SARNA: Absolutely, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s very good. Very good.
CHAIRMAN PAI: Mr. President, I wanted to say thank you for hosting this event. And when I think about my own parents’ journey from India to the United States, I think it’s a journey replicated by many of the folks in this room that represented a desire for the American Dream and also the cherishing of our culture. And to celebrate that here at White House today is a tremendous honor, with you. So thank you for the support you’ve shown to our community.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. You know what? Uttam, where is — say something. This is such an important thing you’re doing, your journey.
MR. DHILLON: Thank you, Mr. President, for having us here today to celebrate this very important holiday to recognize its importance and for recognizing the value of diversity in the administration.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that’s the way we feel. And we love your country. I have great, great respect for, as you know, Prime Minister Modi — tremendous respect. So just please give my warmest regards, okay?
AMBASSADOR SARNA: Absolutely, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: I’ll be talking to him soon. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR SARNA: He looks forward to seeing you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody.
Q Mr. President, do you plan to replace DHS Secretary Nielsen, sir?
Q Are you firing Secretary Nielsen?
Q Are you planning to make a staff change at that level?
Q Do you have any comment on CNN’s lawsuit against you, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, everybody. We’ll be talking about it.
THE PRESIDENT: We’ll be talking about it. Thank you.