Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 3/7/2017, #18

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:36 P.M. EST

MR. SPICER:  Hey, guys.  I brought a guest.  Good afternoon.  First off, at the top, I want to acknowledge that there’s been an additional wave of threats to Jewish community centers and Anti-Defamation League offices.  According to some reports, there have been over a hundred bomb threats phoned in to Jewish institutions since the start of this year alone.

As the President said at the beginning of his joint address, “We’re a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its forms.  We denounce these latest anti-Semitic and hateful threats in the strongest terms.”

It is incredibly saddening that I have to continue to share these disturbing reports with you, and I share the President’s thoughts that he fervently hopes that we don’t continue to have to share these reports with you.  But as long as they will — as long as they do continue, we’ll continue to condemn them and look at ways in which we can stop them.

Now, on to news of the day.  You saw President Trump yesterday continue to deliver on two of his most significant campaign promises: protecting the country against radical Islamic terrorism, and repealing and replacing Obamacare with a patient-centric alternative.

We talked a lot about the executive order protecting the nation from foreign terrorists entering the United States yesterday.  And so, on to Obamacare.  I’d like to introduce the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price, to come up and talk to you a little bit about the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Dr. Price.

SECRETARY PRICE:  Thanks, Sean.  Good afternoon.  First, let me just share with you what an honor it is to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  I’m the third physician out of 23 individuals who’ve had the privilege of serving as the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  And the mission at our department is to improve the health and safety and well-being of the American people.  And we take that mission very, very seriously.

And for many Americans, right now, their ability to gain healthcare or health coverage is a real challenge.  For most Americans, they receive their health coverage through their employer.  It’s about 175 million folks.  Those individuals will see no significant change other than there won’t be a penalty for not purchasing coverage.  For the folks in the Medicare system, there will be no changes at all in the current law.  But we’re talking about those people in the individual and small-group market, the moms and pops, the folks who run the corner grocery store, the corner cleaners.  Those individuals out there are having huge challenges gaining care and gaining coverage.

And then Medicaid is a program that by and large has decreased the ability for folks to gain access to care, and we want to make certain that we address that.

This is about patients.  This is not about money.  This is not about something else.  This is about patients.  And sadly, the costs are going up for those folks in the individual and small-group market.  The access is going down, and it’s only getting worse.  You know the stories.  Premiums increased 25 percent over the last year, on average.  Arizona had an increase of 116 percent.  Deductibles are going up for many, many folks.  If you’re a mom or a dad out there and you make $40,000, $50,000, $60,000, your deductible in this market, in that individual and small-group market, oftentimes is $8,000, $10,000, $12,000 a year.

What that means is you’ve got an insurance card but you don’t get care because you can’t afford the deductible.  And we know that this is happening by talking to the folks who are out there trying to provide the care.

A third of the counties in the United States — one-third of the counties in the United States have only one insurer offering coverage on the exchange.  Five states only have one insurer offering coverage on the exchange.  One insurer is not a choice. So we need to make certain that we correct that.

In Tennessee this morning, it was announced that there are a number of counties that have no insurer offering coverage on the exchange.  Insurers are leaving the market on the exchange.  Last year there were 232 insurers that were providing coverage — that were offering coverage on the exchange; now there are 167.  That’s a loss of about 30 percent in one year alone.  And all of this means that patients are not getting the care that they need.

Now, the principles that we have as our guiding star are affordability, we want a system that’s affordable for everybody.  Accessibility, we need a system that’s accessible for everybody.  A system that’s of the highest quality, a system that incentivizes innovation in the healthcare system, and a system that empowers patients through both transparency and accountability.

The President spoke last week, last Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, and he laid out his principles.  First, wanted to make certain that those with preexisting illness and injury were not priced out of the market.  Nobody ought to lose their coverage because they get a bad diagnosis.

In terms of affordability, health savings accounts — growing choices for patients is incredibly important.  Tax credits that allow individuals to be able to purchase the kind of coverage that they want, not that the government forces them to buy.  We’ve always talked about — in terms of what kinds of reforms need to be put in place, that we need to equalize the tax treatment for the purchase of coverage.

Those, again, in the employer-sponsored market, they get a tax benefit for buying health coverage.  Those folks that are out there in the individual and small-group market, no tax benefit.  And that’s what this plan would do.

State flexibility.  It’s incredibly important that we allow the states to be the ones that are defining what health coverage is, have the flexibility, especially in the Medicaid program, to be able to respond to their vulnerable population.

Lawsuit abuse.  The President mentioned, and it’s incredibly important, that — the practice of defensive medicine wastes billions and billions of dollars every single year, and we need to make certain that we’re addressing that as well.  The President also talked about a glide path, an appropriate transition to this new phase for healthcare for our country, and that’s important as well so that nobody falls through the cracks.

Buying across state lines, buying insurance across state lines.  The President talked about this on the campaign over and over.  The American people understand the commonsense nature of purchasing across state lines, and it increases competition.  And we need to make certain that that happens, and then addressing the incredible increase in drug prices.

There are three phases of this plan.  One is the bill that was introduced last evening in the House of Representatives.  That’s the start of all of this.  Second are the all the regulatory modifications and changes that can be put into place.  As you all well know, the previous administration used regulations to a fare-thee-well — in fact, there were 192 specific rules that were put out as they relate to Obamacare, over 5,000 letters of guidance and the like.  And we are going to go through every single one of those and make certain that if they help patients, then we need to continue them.  If they harm patients or increase costs, then obviously they need to be addressed.  And then there’s other legislation that will need to be addressed that can’t be done through the reconciliation process.

So the goal of all of this is patient-centered healthcare, where patients and families and doctors are making medical decisions, and not the federal government.  We commend the House for the introduction of the bill yesterday and we look forward to working with all individuals in this process.

And I look forward to a few questions.  Yes, sir.

Q    Mr. Secretary, you’re familiar from your time in the House with the clout that conservative groups like the Club for Growth and Heritage Action have with rank-and-file members.  What does it say about this legislation that these groups are already out with opposition to it?

SECRETARY PRICE:  Well, I think that this is the beginning of the process.  And we look forward to working with them and others to make certain that, again, we come up with that process that aligns with the principles that we’ve defined that they actually adhere to or agree with as well, and that is that we need a system that’s affordable for folks, a system that’s accessible for individuals, that’s of the highest quality, that incentivizes innovation, and that empowers patients.

And so we look forward to working with them through this process.

Q    Secretary, Congressman Chaffetz said today that Americans may need to forgo a new iPhone to pay for healthcare, and they’ll have to kind of make these choices.  Does the administration agree with that?  Will Americans under this plan — will they need to maybe sacrifice other goods to pay for their healthcare?

SECRETARY PRICE:  This is an important question, because what’s happening right now is that the American people are having to sacrifice in order to purchase coverage.  And, as I mentioned, many individuals can’t afford the kind of coverage that they have right now.  So they’ve got that insurance card but they don’t have care.

What our desire is, is to drive down the healthcare costs for everybody.  And the way that you do that is to increase choices for folks, increase competition, return the regulation of healthcare where it ought to be, which is at the state level, not at the federal level.  All of these things that, taken in their aggregate, will in fact decrease the costs of healthcare and health coverage, and that will allow folks to be able to purchase the coverage that they want.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you, Dr. Price.  I have two questions for you.  First has to do with guarantees that you can make as the administration’s point person on this legislation.  Can you guarantee that whatever legislation emerges and makes it to the President’s desk will allow individuals, if they like their doctor they can keep their doctor?  And the second guarantee is, can you also guarantee that healthcare premiums for individuals will come down with this new legislation?

SECRETARY PRICE:  Again, a remarkably important question because, as you’ll recall, the promise from the last administration was if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor, if you like your plan you can keep your plan.  Both of those promises turned out to be not true.

We think it’s incredibly important for the American people to be able to select the physician and the place where they’re treated themselves, that the government ought not be involved in that process.  And so our goal is absolutely to make certain that individuals have the opportunity to select their physician.

In terms of premiums, we believe strongly that through this whole process and as it takes effect, that we’ll see a decrease in not only the premiums that individuals will see, but a decrease in the cost of healthcare for folks.  Remember, that was another promise that the previous administration made, that you’d see a decrease in $2,500 on average for families across this land; in fact, what they’ve seen is an increase of $2,500 or $3,000.

So we’re going to go in the other direction.  We’re going to go in a direction that empowers patients and holds down costs.


Q    Mr. Secretary, you are quite a distance away from conservatives with this plan in the central part of it, which is tax credits, which they see as yet another entitlement, very similar to the entitlement of Obamacare but different in form.  How do you convince them, since it’s going to take tax credits to make this work, that they need to swallow this and move forward with the bill?  I mean, you’re getting an awful lot of opposition on the central tenet of this whole thing.

SECRETARY PRICE:  This is all about patients.  And in order to provide that transition and in order to make it so that nobody falls through the cracks.  We’ve got to have a system that allows for individuals to gain the kind of coverage that they want.

And we, conservatives and others, have said for a long, long time that we believe it’s important to equalize the tax treatment for those purchasing coverage, gaining coverage through their employer, and those not.  And the tax credit is the opportunity to be able to equalize that tax treatment.  Folks have talked about this for many, many years, actually, so that there’s not a distortion in the tax code for who’s able to gain a benefit for being able to purchase coverage and not.

Q    Sir, Mr. Secretary, you were talking about making sure people don’t fall through the cracks.  The last administration, with Obamacare, focused in on making sure the underserved were part of the equation.  What is the safety net or the safeguard that you have to make sure — to ensure people don’t fall through the cracks beyond the tax incentives, but also for the underserved, who are now part of — many are now part of the program that weren’t before, prior to Obamacare.

SECRETARY PRICE:  Yes, this is extremely important as well.  And the current system, as you likely know, for those vulnerable in our population, especially in the Medicaid population, this is a system that’s broken.  You’ve got a third of the physicians in this country — one-third of the doctors in this country that would be eligible to see Medicaid patients who aren’t seeing Medicaid patients right now.  And it’s not because they’ve forgotten how to take care of patients, it’s because of the rules that are in place that make it too onerous or too difficult for them to see Medicaid patients.

So we believe that it’s important to allow states to have that flexibility to fashion the program for their vulnerable population that actually responds to that population in a way that gives them the authority, them the choices, them the opportunity to gain coverage and the care that they believe most appropriate.

Q    What if you find out that that is not happening when you give it to the states?  Is there some type of punishment or some type of piece that you’re going to put in place to make sure that that happens, that they follow through on your intent?

SECRETARY PRICE:  Yes, absolutely.  There’s accountability throughout the plan that we have that would allow for the Secretary and the Department to be certain that the individuals that we believe need to be cared for are being cared for in the state at the appropriate level.  But we believe this is a partnership.  This is about patients and partnership.

The previous administration tended to make it about government.  We believe it’s about patients and partnership, and we want to partner with every single person in this land who wants to make certain that we allow the kind of choices and quality to exist.

Q    The President tweeted earlier today.  He described this bill as “our wonderful new healthcare bill.”  There’s been a little bit of confusion.  Does this represent the administration’s bill?  And is there anything in this bill that the administration cannot support?

SECRETARY PRICE:  This has been a work in progress.  As you know, this has been going on for over a year.  The work that I had the privilege of participating in when I served in the House of Representatives in the last Congress was open and transparent and we invited folks in to give their ideas.  And tens, if not hundreds, of people had input into that process.

This grew out of that, and over the past number of weeks, we’ve been having conversations with folks on the Hill, in the House and in the Senate, and other stakeholders.  And so this is a work product that is a result of all of that process.  The President and the administration support this step in the right — what we believe is in the right direction, a step that repeals Obamacare and gets us moving in the direction of those principles that I outlined.

Q    Do you support everything that’s in that bill that’s sitting on the table, sir?  Do you support everything that’s in the bill sitting on the table, sir?

SECRETARY PRICE:  This is a work in progress and we’ll work with the House and the Senate in this process.  As you know, it’s a legislative process that occurs.  I’m glad you pointed out the bill is on the table there.  As you’ll see, this bill right here was the bill that was introduced in 2009 and ’10 by the previous administration.  Notice how thick that is.  Some of you will recall that I actually turned the pages and went through that piece of legislation in a YouTube.  The pile on the right is the current bill.

And what it means is that we are making certain that the process, that the decisions that are going to be made are not going to be made by the federal government.  They’re going to be made by patients and families and doctors.

One last —

Q    Mr. Secretary, given the opposition that John and others have brought up here today, does this plan already need to be salvaged in your view?  And how do you do it?

SECRETARY PRICE:  Oh, no.  You know what happens with these things.  You start at a starting point, people engage and they get involved in the process, sometimes to a greater degree.  Nothing focuses the mind like a bill that’s currently on the table and that has a — as a work in progress — or in process.  And we’ll work through it.

Q    So this is a starting point here?

SECRETARY PRICE:  This is an important process to be had.  The American people have said to their elected leaders that the Obamacare process for them gaining coverage and care is not working.  That’s what they’ve said.  And so we believe it’s important to respond to the American people and provide a healthcare system that allows for them to purchase the kind of coverage and care that they desire.


Q    You said in your letter to the House chairman that necessary technical and appropriate changes might need to be made for this bill to reach the President’s desk.  So what specific changes is the White House and the administration looking for in this bill?

SECRETARY PRICE:  Well, as I mentioned, there are three different phases to this process.  One is this bill, this legislation that’s working through under the rules of reconciliation, which is a fancy term to mean that there are only certain things that you can do from a budgetary standpoint has to affect either spending or revenue.  There are things that you can’t do in this bill, and those we plan on doing across the horizon in phase two, which is the regulatory portion, and then in phase three, which is another piece of legislation that would be going through the House and the Senate with a majority — supermajority in the Senate.

That process will incorporate all of the kinds of things that we believe are absolutely necessary to reconstitute that individual and small-group market and to get us in a position, again, where patients and families and docs are making these decisions.

Q    Mr. Secretary, bearing in mind that the CBO score isn’t back yet, can you guarantee that this plan will not have a markedly negative impact on deficit or result in millions of Americans losing health insurance?

SECRETARY PRICE:  What I can say is that the goal and the desire I know of the individuals on the Hill is to make certain that this does not increase the cost to the federal government.

Q    Mr. Secretary, two elements of the bill.  I have questions about how they control costs and how they help with access.  The Medicaid per-capita block grant through the states, how is that sort of fundamentally different from the Obamacare regime on Medicaid in terms of expanding access?

And then the second point, why doesn’t this bill do away with the cost-sharing community ratings regime that Obamacare had?

SECRETARY PRICE:  So the per-capita cap, Medicaid, again, is a system that doesn’t work for patients.  You’ve got folks out there who need care, who need to see particular physicians who aren’t able to see them.  All Americans should be saddened by the situation that we have when there are patients out there that can’t get the care that they need.  We believe one of the keys to providing appropriate care in the Medicaid population is allowing the states to have the flexibility to address that Medicaid population.

Remember, Medicaid population is four different demographic groups.  It’s those who are disabled, it’s those who are seniors, it’s healthy moms and kids, by and large.  Those are the four main demographic groups.  And we, the federal government, force states, mostly, to take care of those individuals in exactly the same way.  If you describe that to the folks back home on Main Street, they say, that doesn’t make any sense at all.  You need a program that’s different for the healthy moms and kids to respond to their needs that’s different than folks who are disabled and seniors.

And so what we believe is appropriate is to say to the states, you know your population best.  You know best how to care for your vulnerable population.  We’re going to watch you and make certain that you do so, but you know how to do that.  And that will decrease costs markedly in the Medicaid program.  We’re wasting significant amounts of money — not that folks are getting too much care, we’re wasting it because it’s inefficient and there’s significant abuse in the system.

So in terms of the cost-sharing, I think that the cost-sharing measures are being addressed.  It’s important that we run through that process.  This is the process where we felt the previous administration was spending money that they didn’t have the authority to spend, and Congress is working through that to make certain that the rightful holders of the authority to spend money in this nation, which is the Congress of the United States, exercises that authority.

Q    How does the White House and you feel about the label “Trumpcare”?

SECRETARY PRICE:  I’ll let others provide a description for it.  I prefer to call it patient care.  This is about patients at the end of the day.  This isn’t about politicians.  This isn’t about insurance companies.  This is about patients.  And patients in this nation, especially those in the individual and small-group market, these are the folks.

I had the privilege of going to Cincinnati last week with the Vice President to a small-business roundtable.  And one of the business owners, one of the small-business owners there, said he had 18 employees last year at this time.  This year, he has 15 employees — not because he doesn’t have the work, but because of the cost of health coverage for those individuals forced him — forced him — to let three people go.

Now, they’re being forced to let three people go because the federal government has put in place rules and regulations that make it virtually impossible for folks in the individual and small-group market to provide coverage for their employees.  This is a system that’s not working for people.  So if we focus on the patients — I’ll call it patient care.  If you focus on the patients, we’ll get to the right answer.

Q    Mr. Secretary, a major complaint — sorry — a major complaint of conservatives with phase one of the Obamacare repeal-and-replace is that it is missing a measure that would allow healthcare to be sold across state lines.  Now, the President said this morning that that would be in either phase two or phase three.  Is that something that you believe the President could do through executive action, and then you yourself could do?  Or is that something that you believe has to be addressed legislatively?

SECRETARY PRICE:  There are different aspects to the purchase across state lines that will allow individuals to gain, again, the kind of choices that they want.  Some of this might be able to be done from a regulatory or a rules standpoint.  Some of it will require legislation, and that’s where we’re going to need the assistance of our friends on the other side of the aisle.

The American people have demanded that they be able to purchase coverage across state lines, purchase coverage that they want for themselves.  So whether it’s through association health plans, which allows individuals who are in small-business groups, like the fellow that I just mentioned, to pool together nationally to be able to purchase coverage, or whether it’s mom and dad, who don’t gain coverage through their employer through something called individual health pools that allows folks to pool together solely for the purpose of purchasing coverage, even though they’re not otherwise economically aligned.  That allows people — there are 18 million folks in that individual and small-group market.  That would allow those individuals to be able to purchase coverage and get the purchasing power of millions.  That’s huge power and authority that we want to put in the hands of people, that we want to put in the hands of patients.  And some of that may, in fact, require legislation.

Yes, sir.

Q    Mr. Secretary, thank you.  Two questions but first, Congressman John Faso of New York has said that the issue of denying federal funds to Planned Parenthood should be separate from whatever healthcare bill finally emerges from Congress and is signed into law by the President.  Is that the administration’s position as well?

And my second question is this.  You mentioned earlier the people who had their  healthcare plans cancelled when they thought they could keep it.  I believe in your state of Georgia, more than a million people had that experience.  Will some of the plans that were cancelled be able to come back under the new healthcare plan?

SECRETARY PRICE:  Yeah, in terms of Planned Parenthood, we think it’s important that the legislature work its will on this process.  It’s incredibly important that we not violate anybody’s conscience.  We want to protect the conscience provisions that exist.  It’s also important to appreciate that through community health centers, the bill that’s being proposed right now would allow greater access for women to healthcare in greater numbers of facilities across this land.  And they’ve actually proposed more money for women’s healthcare than currently exists.  So I think that they’re working their best to address that issue.

In terms of whether or not old plans that were available before might be available, absolutely.  And we believe that the opportunity to provide a robust market, robust choices for individuals across this land will be secured.  And, again, that’s one of the keys to bringing down the premium costs, of bringing down the cost for health coverage.  So we’re excited about that and look forward to that coming to pass.

Q    If the new plan calls for repealing the revenue-generating taxes and penalties but keeping the entitlements, how is that sustainable?

SECRETARY PRICE:  That’s the work that somebody mentioned over here — the Congressional Budget Office score, and once the Congress receives that score, then they’ll be working through that to make certain that in fact it is fiscally responsible.

Imagine, if you would, however, a system where the incentives within the system are all to drive down costs, to provide greater choices and competition for folks, and respond to the specific needs of patients.  And in so doing, what you do is actually get a much more efficient system for the provision and the delivery of healthcare.  It’s a system we don’t have right now because the previous administration felt that the government — the federal government ought to do all of this.  And we’ve seen what came about when the federal government does all of that — that it’s increasing premiums, increasing deductibles, decreasing choices.  You’ve got a card that says you’ve got insurance, and you walk in, and you can’t afford what it is that’s trying to — for the doctor that’s trying to take care of you.

So this is not a system that’s working for folks in that individual and small-group market and in the exchanges.

Q    Mr. Secretary, many have complained that Obamacare resulted in higher wait times in the emergency room.  Will this new bill cause that?  Have you have any idea on that?

SECRETARY PRICE:  One of the things that the previous administration said was that they were going to be able to drive folks away from one of the most expensive areas for the provision of healthcare, and that is the emergency rooms.  In fact, they did just the opposite.  And much of that is because of, again, the rules and the regulations that they put in place.

So from our perspective, we believe that if individuals are able to purchase the kind of coverage that they want, then they’ll have access to the kind of doctors and other providers that they desire, and won’t need to be able to be seen in the emergency room.  They’ll already have the care.  Emergency rooms ought to be for emergencies, not for the standard care that individuals tend to receive right now.

So we believe that if you put in place the right system, then emergency rooms and emergency physicians will be able to have the opportunity to care for those individuals that appropriately present to their department.

Q    Mr. Secretary, I’m interested in following up on your comment that it’s important that no one vote on anything that violates their conscience.  Federal funding already can’t be used for abortions, but are you saying that the administration has a position on provision of birth control at these community health centers?  And secondly, is the administration looking to actively withhold funding to Planned Parenthood if they continue to provide abortions, as has been reported?

SECRETARY PRICE:  We’re working through all of those issues.  As you know, many of those were through the rule-making process and we’re working through that.  So that’s not a part of this piece of legislation right here.

Q    But you don’t have a view on provision of birth control and access to it?  When you’re talking about women’s healthcare, which you brought up, and saying you wanted to expand more community funding.

SECRETARY PRICE:  Yeah, what we’re doing, as I say, is working through the rules and the regulations to see where the previous administration was, see how they did it, and whether or not it needs to be addressed.  With the understanding that what we believe is important when we look at the rules and regulations is to define whether or not that rule or regulation actually helps patients and decreases costs, or harms patients and increases costs.  If it does the latter, then we need to do away it.  If it does the former, then we ought to accentuate it.

Q    What was the issue of conscience you were talking about?  What was the issue of conscience you were talking about then?

SECRETARY PRICE:  To make certain that individuals in the market are not forced to do things that violate their conscience.

Yes, sir.

Q    Secretary, thank you, sir.  Common people and the small businesses have been waiting for this new bill under President Trump.  So any message, sir, for them?

SECRETARY PRICE:  Well, I think that this is the culmination of years of work.  It’s the culmination of years of concern and frustration by the American people.  They knew at the time that the previous bill — the previous law passed that it wasn’t going to help them.  They knew that costs were going to go up.  In fact, we predicted at the time that costs would go up and that access would go down.  And so this is the culmination of years of hard work by the electorate, by the citizens of this country to say that we want a system, again, that respects patients and families and doctors in these decisions.

One more.

Q    Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  The President tweeted out earlier today that he believes that he’s working on a plan to have drug prices come down by spurring competition.  Can you tell us a little bit about what that plan is going to be, when it might be rolled out?  Is it part of these phases?  And then the second question, the bill also includes a tax break for insurance executives that make more than $500,000.  You said this is about patients.  Why is that tax break important for this legislation?

SECRETARY PRICE:  To the latter, I’m not aware of that.  I’ll look into that.

Drug pricing is really important.  So many individuals are now having significant difficulty being able to afford the medications that they’ve been prescribed.  And it’s not able to be addressed specifically in this phase one because it’s not a revenue or spending issue for the federal government.  So it can’t be in this phase one.

But in phase two and three — which may be concurrent along with this phase one — but in phase two and three, then we look forward to bringing solutions, to solve the remarkable challenge that patients have across this line with the increase in pricing of drugs.

I’ve got to run.  You’ve got a guy right here who is going to answer all the rest of the questions.  Thank you so much.  God bless you.

MR. SPICER:  Thank you, Dr. Price.

Let me just kind of continue on.  The bottom line I think that the Secretary was making is that Obamacare sought to cover 20 million people and in the process it drove up costs for everybody, whether or not you were in the exchange or not.  Most people get their insurance through their employers.  Older populations get their healthcare through Medicare.  Low-income populations get their healthcare through Medicaid.  And veterans get their insurance through TRICARE.  So what we’re talking about here is a very defined amount of individuals that we’re trying to address and not affect the entire system.

Obamacare turned our healthcare system on its head to address the pool of individuals who don’t fall into any of the buckets that I mentioned.  Our plan that we’re talking about today with the House will ensure that those individuals receive the care that they need if they want an affordable cost while not sending rates skyrocketing.

Obamacare was an overcomplicated bill that served the special interests and not the American people.  These over 974 pages that were passed and then we were told we had to read them are filled with carve-outs by over $1 billion of healthcare- related lobbying that were spent on the year that Obamacare was crafted.

Our plan, in far fewer pages, 123 — much smaller, much bigger — so far we’re at 57 for the repeal plan and 66 pages for the replacement portion.  We’ll undo this.  And remember, half of it, 57 of those pages, are the repeal part.  So when you really get down to it, our plan is 66 pages long, half of what we actually even have there.  We’ll undo the massive disaster and replace it with a plan to return healthcare back to the patient.

As the President outlined in his joint address, he expects five core principles to guide Congress through this healthcare process.  First, ensure that the American people with preexisting conditions have access to coverage.  Second, ensure a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the exchanges.  Third, provide more equitable tax treatment through tax credits for people who already don’t receive tax-advantage healthcare from their employer.  And I know — something that Secretary Price was talking about — for the vast number of people who get their insurance through their employer, they’re getting it tax free.  They are not taxed on that benefit, which is something that is not afforded to people who are in the individual market who either run a small business or are sole proprietors.

Fourth, we should expand the power of health savings accounts to return control to Americans over their healthcare dollar and decisions.  They should be able to choose the plan they want, not the plan that’s forced on them by government.  And finally, we should give our state governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicare to make sure that no one is left out.

This is the Obamacare replacement plan that everyone has been asking for, the plan that the President ran on, and the plan that will ultimately save the system.  It’s also a culmination of years of dedicated work and careful thought by Republicans to find a replacement that will best undo the damage that’s been caused by Obamacare while ensuring that all Americans have peace of mind during this stable transition period.

These are the principles for which conservatives have been fighting for for years.  President Trump looks forward to continuing the dialogue between the administration and the Hill on saving the healthcare system.

What’s important to remember is that we’re not going to be able to do all of this on one bill.  As the Secretary mentioned, there are two other steps as well that allow us to get more of the President’s plan accomplished after we pass this first important, major step.

The second piece is already underway, and that’s what Secretary Price can do through executive action.  He has already rolled out a handful of important actions, including the major marketplace stabilization regulation, to help bring stability to the collapsing insurance market.  He’ll continue to enact a number of policy changes in the regulatory and administration space — administrative space to achieve what the first step cannot because of the nature of reconciliation.

The third piece of executing the President’s healthcare plan is on — requires 60 votes in legislation, maybe more depending on what we can do and when.  That’s how we’ll move forward on the policies of purchasing across state lines, lowering drug prices — that just came up — and repealing any of Obamacare’s premium-spiking insurance market distortions that can’t be done through this current bill.

Also, yesterday, in addition to speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the President also had separate calls with Prime Minister of Japan, Abe, and South Korea’s Acting President Hwang.  During both of these calls the President reiterated the United States’ ironclad commitment to stand with Japan and South Korea in the face of the serious threat posed by North Korea.
He also emphasized that the administration is taking steps to further enhance our ability to deter and defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles using a full range of the United States’ military capabilities.

Moving on to today’s schedule.  This morning, the President had a call with President Kenyatta of Kenya.  We’ll have a readout for that call soon, if it’s not already out.  The President and First Lady also announced the official reopening of public tours here at the White House.  You may have seen the President stop by to surprise greet some of the first visitors on their tour.  We’re looking forward to welcoming the people back to — the American people back what is affectionately referred to as the “People’s House.”

We are the world’s only executive residence and office of head of state that also serves as a museum free to the people.  Visiting the White House is obviously an experience that’s uniquely American, and we encourage guests of all ages to come visit the White House, their house.

Also this morning, the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, held a press conference announcing that Chinese ZTE Corporation has agreed to a record-high, combined criminal and civil penalty of $1.19 billion after the company illegally shipped telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea in violation of sanctions.  This civil penalty is the largest ever imposed by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security and, pending approval from a federal judge, the combined penalties between the Commerce Department, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Treasury would be the largest fine and forfeiture ever levied by the U.S. government in such a case.

This settlement tells the world that the days of flouting the U.S. sanctions regime or violating U.S. trade laws are over.
President Trump is committed to ending the disrespect of American laws and American workers.

So back to the schedule for a second.  This morning the President also received his daily intelligence briefing.  He had lunch with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who will continue to be an important partner as the President’s nominee for Supreme Court, Judge Gorsuch, begins the confirmation process in the next couple weeks.

At this moment, the President is leading a discussion on immigration with Senator Cotton and Senator Perdue and members of White House senior staff.  The President and the senators are expected to discuss the merit-based immigration reforms that the President mentioned at last week’s joint address.

Later this afternoon, the President will lead a meeting with the House Deputy Whip Team focused on repeal and replace of Obamacare.  There will be a pool spray at the top of that meeting.  The gather time is 3:20 p.m.  The President will also meet with Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO.  They’re expected to discuss the importance of investing in our country’s infrastructure and renegotiating trade agreements like NAFTA.  There will also be a pool spray at the top of that meeting, and we’ll have further details on it.

This evening, the President will visit with a group of Boy Scouts who are in Washington to participate in a near-century-old tradition of sharing scouting’s achievement with key government officials.  Looking ahead, I want to let you know that the President will be welcoming at least two foreign leaders in the coming weeks, and I expect additional announcements of additional leaders later.  But first, next week, Chancellor Merkel of Germany will visit the White House.  And the following week, the President will welcome Prime Minister al-Abadi of Iraq.

With that, I’ll kick it off with your questions.  Jonathan Karl.

Q    Sean, it’s been a full —

MR. SPICER:  Jonathan.

Q    Thank you.  (Laughter.)  Sean, it’s been a full —

MR. SPICER:  You’re out of practice.

Q    I know.  (Laughter.)  It’s been a full three days since the President said that President Obama had his wires tapped, his phones tapped at Trump Tower.  In those three days, has the White House come up with any evidence whatsoever to prove that allegation?

MR. SPICER:  I addressed this multiple times yesterday.  I think the President — we put out a statement on Sunday saying that we would have no further comment and we were asking the House and the Senate intelligence committees to look into this concern and report back.

Q    Can’t the President just ask the FBI director if this happened?  Has he asked him?

MR. SPICER:  Look, I think — no, the President has not.  And I think that we’ve gone back and forth with you guys — I think there is clearly a role that Congress can play in its oversight capabilities.  They’ve made it very clear that they have the staff, the resources and the process.  I think that’s the appropriate place for this to handle.  I think if we were to start to get involved you would then write stories about how we were getting involved.

So it’s a no-win situation.  I think the smartest and most deliberative way to address this situation is to ask the House and Senate intelligence committees who are already in the process of looking into this to look into this and other leaks of classified information that are troubling to our nation’s national security.

So, as the President said in the statement on Sunday, we believe that that investigation, as well as the investigation of other classified leaks and other important information that threatens our national security, be looked into by the House and Senate intelligence committees, and then we encourage them to report back.

Q    Do you believe that President Obama ordered something like this?

MR. SPICER:  I get that that’s a cute question to ask.  My job is to represent the President and to talk about what he’s doing and what he wants.  And he has made very clear what his goal is, what he would like to have happen.  And so I’ll just leave it at that.  I think we’ve tried to play this game before.  I’m not here to speak for myself, I’m here to speak for the President of the United States and our government.


Q    Sean, one follow-up on what Secretary Price said earlier.  I think he was asked by John about whether the administration was willing to make a — for the American people right now who like their doctor or like their health insurance plan, is the White House willing to make a commitment then today that when this replacement bill is passed, if it passes, that they will at the end of that be able to keep their doctor and keep their healthcare plan?

And secondly, just changing gears radically onto — China overnight issued some strong rhetoric promising consequences for the deployment of the THAAD missile system to South Korea.  If you could respond to that.

MR. SPICER:  So on the first piece, I think — look, one of the things that’s important to understand about this process that’s very different from when the Democrats did it — you’ll recall then-Speaker Pelosi said you’re going to have to read the bill to know what’s in it.  I think there’s a big difference.

This is the bill.  It’s right here.  It’s on the website.  We’re going through regular order.  If you go to the House of Representatives website, Speaker Paul Ryan’s website, it’s listed.  Everybody can read it, and it’s going to go through what they call regular order.  We’re not jamming this down anybody’s throat.  It’s going to go through a committee process.  All parties involved, all representatives in the House will be able to have input into it.

I think that’s the way to conduct this process, is to do it to allow people to watch the process happen in the committees, allow members of Congress to have their input in it, to make amendments, to see that we get the best bill that achieves the goal for the American people.

When it was done the last time, it was jammed down people’s throat, and look what happened.  You had 974 pages that people struggled to read afterwards and figure out what had just gotten passed, and the consequences were, frankly, devastating.

So to your point about keeping your doctor, in a lot of cases you’ve lost your doctor for a couple of reasons.  One, they may not participate in the plan.  They may not take insurance at all anymore.  Two, they may not take Medicaid — or three, they may not take Medicaid.  And the list goes on and on about why they might not be there — or your plan, the plan that you got is no longer accessible.

As the Secretary mentioned, one-third of all counties in the United States no longer take Medicaid — or, excuse me, have only one plan that you can choose from.  So it’s a fact right now that you — in most cases, you have no choice.  In many cases, you’ve lost that ability.

Our goal is to actually add more choice and more competition.  Right now, the government tells you, you must have this plan or you will pay a penalty, and within this plan, here’s what you have to have.  We’ve lost the element of choice and competition in healthcare, and by bringing all of that back, I think there’s a higher degree of likelihood that you’re going to get the plan that you want and you’re going to get the doctor you want.  Because it will be your choice, not the government’s choice.

And that’s a big, big difference.  This plan was jammed down everybody’s throat, and the consequences took their plans away, it took their doctors away, and it drove up costs.  This plan allows more competition, more people to enter it, and the American people and patients to make a decision on what plan they want.  If they have a plan and a doctor they like, then they’re going to choose a plan that allows them to continue with that doctor.  But there’s going to be more competition and more choice, not less.  And that’s, frankly, what you have now.

With respect to China, I think I addressed this yesterday.  We stand shoulder to shoulder with Japan and South Korea in doing what we can to protect that region in particular from an attack from North Korea.  We understand the situation and we continue to work with them.  As I’ve mentioned, the President spoke to both leaders yesterday.  We provided a readout of those calls.  But we obviously understand the concerns of China, but — this is a national security issue for them.


Q    Thank you, Sean.  How concerned is the President with the situation between North Korea and Malaysia right now?

MR. SPICER:  Well, as I said, I think we’re very well aware of the — what’s going on in the region.  The President obviously had a conversation with, in particular, the leader — the acting President of South Korea last night with respect to what’s going on there.  And again, I’ll refer that to the National Security Committee to give you further — Cheryl Bolen.

Q    Thanks, Sean.

MR. SPICER:  Cheryl.  I know, sorry, I forgot you yesterday.

Q    I appreciate it.  So two questions.  One on healthcare.  If the CBO scores this bill and it does not provide the amount of coverage that the Affordable Care Act did, will the President still support it?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I’m not going to get ahead — Secretary Price mentioned this — let’s not get ahead of the CBO going through this.  But I think, as I mentioned to Zeke, one of the things that’s important to understand there’s — this is — this bill has to be done in the phases that it has to to address the repeal part of it, and the replace part of it.

There are only certain things that we can do through reconciliation.  I know there’s the regulatory piece that we can do through actions that the Secretary is empowered to do, frankly, under Obamacare.  And then third is an additional piece of legislation that addresses things.

But there are cost-saving measures that — and competition aspects of this that have to be included in phase two or three because they’re not allowed in the reconciliation bill because of the nature of how reconciliation works on Capitol Hill.

So I think that one of the things that we have to understand is that how that score comes out from the Congressional Budget Office will depend on whether they look at it specifically with just a phase one or whether they look at it in its totality.  But I’m confident that if you look at what’s going on right now, Cheryl, it’s unsustainable.  Premiums in state after state, as Dr. Price mentioned, they’re up 25 percent on average.  Arizona is 116 percent.  I think Oklahoma is the 50s.  Minnesota is in the 40s.  This is unsustainable for a family to continue to pay the premiums that they have and for individuals, small-business owners, et cetera.

So the question is, can we allow people to go on this trajectory where more and more of their paycheck is getting eaten up in a plan that’s, frankly, not giving them choice, doctors, or plans that they want.  This plan I think clearly achieves those goals a lot better.  It gets the price — cost containment down.  It gets price control under it.  And it allows doctors and plans to reengage in the marketplace, as they were prior to this.  And I think that is a major aspect of it.

Hold on.  Cheryl waited.

Q    Thank you.  From yesterday, I had a nominations question.  Is there something that’s preventing the White House from submitting the nominations of Sonny Perdue for Agriculture and Alex Acosta for Labor?

MR. SPICER:  I believe Alex Acosta was sent up to the Hill earlier today.  We should have an announcement officially out.  So sometimes there’s a little bit of a lag.  I apologize between my office and — but that one is up, and I’ll check on Sonny Perdue.  I think some of it is just in coordination with the Senate, so pardon my time.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  I have two questions for you.  First, will the President offer a correction to his tweet this morning that states that 122 prisoners were released from Gitmo by the Obama administration and then returned to the battlefield?  Can you take that first?

MR. SPICER:  Yes, I mean, obviously the President meant in totality the number that had been released on the battlefield — that have been released from Gitmo since — individuals have been released.  So that is correct.

Q    Then my second question.  Is the White House concerned about this new information that came out in WikiLeaks today that U.S. intelligence agencies are potentially, purposely providing vulnerabilities to tech products here in the United States?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to comment on that.  I think obviously that’s something that has not been fully evaluated, and if it was, I would not comment from here on that.


Q    Yes, Sean, I was going to ask about branding.  The President in the past put his name on buildings and different products.  When it comes to healthcare, does the White House feel that the bill presented today should be known as “Trumpcare” from here on out?  I know it was asked of the Secretary.  And at what point do you think that the transition should go away from Obamacare to the new administration?

MR. SPICER:  Well, as soon as it’s repealed we can get rid of that.  I think that will happen quickly.

And as Secretary Price mentioned, I think we’re less concerned with labels right now and more in terms of action and results.  And I think that’s what our focus has been is getting that cost down, getting that choice back that we mentioned.  Yeah.

Q    Sean, DHS is reportedly considering separating families that cross the border illegally.  How does the President feel about that?

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to — that’s a DHS matter.  We don’t get involved in either Customs or ICE enforcement.  So I think that’s a question better reserved to both DHS and ICE specifically.


Q    Oh, thanks, Sean.  On the Obamacare question, one of the criticisms on this is that there is still a de facto individual mandate because it allows insurance companies to increase premiums up to 30 percent of people — if there’s a gap in coverage.  And I have one more.

MR. SPICER:  Well, that’s not — the difference is under the current bill that’s here, if you don’t buy insurance, you pay a fine.  Under the current bill you don’t have — there’s nothing that mandates you to buy insurance.  That’s up to an individual.  So by its very definition, it is not — can’t be considered that.

What’s your second one?

Q    Well, you don’t think it’s a de facto mandate in the sense of there’s a penalty —

MR. SPICER:  It can’t be.

Q    — in place as there is now?  Not by the government, but is by the insurance companies.

MR. SPICER:  Right.  But there’s no — I think you answered your own question on that one.

Q    I have one more.

MR. SPICER:  Okay.

Q    Another topic.  The President has blamed the Democrats in the Senate for blocking the Cabinet.  Last Thursday, the Republicans actually called a recess early — adjourned on Thursday early.  Previously they called a recess the week before.  Does the President have any plans to call for the Senate to remain in session and the Congress to stay in session until they approve the nominees and maybe even also repeal Obamacare?

MR. SPICER:  This isn’t a Republican issue.  I mean it’s not Republicans that are playing beat the clock on a lot of these nominees.  And we’ve discussed this since the transition time.  There were several nominees that, frankly, weren’t even considered controversial by the standards of Senate Democratic leadership, and yet have been held up over and over again.  I don’t think — that’s a very different scenario than going back and being with constituents, which was on the Senate schedule.  So I don’t think — that’s a synonymous thing.

Do we have Michael Medved ready to go for a Skype question?  Michael?

Q    Yes, hello.  Sean, thank you very much.  Obviously, today there was a big emphasis on Obamacare, which is profoundly important to the American people.  But it seems that too often in the last several weeks, the administration has gotten distracted and media have gotten distracted by talk of wiretapping at Trump Tower, or the President calling his predecessor a “bad” and “sick guy” or criticizing the ratings of “Celebrity Apprentice.”  Do you think the White House could do a better job of focusing on the issues that really matter, the reforms that matter to the American people rather than getting distracted to these subsidiary conflicts as we move forward into the coming months?

MR. SPICER:  Thanks, Michael.  Respectfully, I would say that we have been focused.  We’re here talking about Obamacare and the need to drive down the cost and access for healthcare for every American.  I think that’s a pretty significant thing to be focused on.

Yesterday, we were talking about the President’s effort to continue to keep the nation safe, to make sure that people aren’t coming into the country who aren’t here for peaceful purposes.  The President has talked to almost 50 world leaders.  He’s had 30-plus executive actions on all sorts of stuff from regulatory aspects to things that will create more jobs.  I think that’s a fairly focused effort.

That being said, I think, look, whether it was Candidate Trump, President-elect Trump, or now President Trump, the President has always made it very clear — or not he made it clear, but I think the voters made it clear that one of the things that they appreciate about him is his ability to be authentic and to speak very forcefully and very directly with the American people.  And that’s an aspect that I think was central to why he was elected, is because he’s not a canned politician that’s going to give the same staid answers over and over again.


Q    Going back to Fred’s question, conservatives have started to call this “Obamacare Lite.”  But President Trump has promised to fully repeal Obamacare, but this bill leaves a lot of the structure of Obamacare intact.  If this is the policy that passes, is President Trump confident in the future he can say that he fully repealed Obamacare?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, absolutely.  As I mentioned, the first half of the bill that we put forward repeals it.  There are three things, I mean — each phase that we’ve talked about, phase one, phase two, and phase three, there’s a repeal-and-replace aspect in each one.  But Republicans and conservatives have been talking about adding competition and driving costs down for decades now, selling across state lines, small-business pooling.  All of those things have been part of conservative plans for a long time.  And I think instilling that competition in it, allowing more access — I think there is a big difference.

There is no — we have for the longest time — if you’re a conservative, you think about this right now that you have — anyone who has an employer-based — their job comes from an employer that gives them healthcare, they’re getting a subsidy.  They’re getting a credit.  They don’t pay taxes on their healthcare, and their employer doesn’t either.  That’s a huge disadvantage to anyone who is a sole proprietor or owns a small business.

And so, frankly, to allow the playing field to be leveled and allow small businesses, which are, frankly, the job creators in this country, to allow entrepreneurs and self-starters to get the same tax treatment that a Fortune 500 company gets you is a very conservative principle.

And again, look, one of the things that’s important, Sara, is for all of the people who have concerns about this — especially on the right — look at the size.  This is the Democrats, this is us.  You can’t get any clearer in terms of this is government, this is not.

And I think that part of the reason the visual is important is that when you actually look at the difference, you realize this is what big government does.  It crowds out competition.  It drives up prices.  It stifles entrepreneurship and innovation.  Doctors leaving the markets.  More and more people not taking Medicaid or TRICARE.  That should concern people.  When you’ve got veterans that can’t — because most of the time, Medicaid and TRICARE are tied together.  So when you have those systems not accepted by doctors, that means the lowest of our — people on the low-income scale and people who have served our country have fewer and fewer choices.  That alone should be a problem and concerning for many people.

But the premium spikes are another problem.  Because again, even if you’re in the exchange, now you’re seeing over and over again that happen.  You’re also seeing young people decide that they’d rather just pay a penalty because the cost of those basic programs is out of reach for a lot of young people who are just entering the job market.

But again, I think the greatest illustration of the differences in the approaches is that size.  Our bill, which is a tenth of the size, does repeal and replace in what their bill just did in massive government bureaucracy.  And that is a big difference.


Q    Just want to ask you — I mean you had the Health and Human Services Secretary out here, you just talked about this is the Republican bill, this is the Democrat bill.  Is that the President’s bill?  Is that his healthcare bill?

Q    That is a bill that we have worked with with Congress. We feel very good about where it is.  We are looking forward — as I mentioned earlier, the President is meeting with the Whip Team to encourage them to support it and to build it out.  I don’t think — and I’m not trying to be cute here — but I think it’s not his bill or their bill.  It’s a bill that we have worked on with them together.  We’re very proud of where it stands now.

The big difference, Jim, is that, unlike before, as I mentioned, when the Democrats jammed it down people’s throat and said — waited to get that 60th vote, with Senator Kennedy still around, and then basically said, literally, you will have to wait and see what it looks like before we passed it — we not only posted it out there for everybody to look at, but by sending it through regular order, not just putting it up for a House vote, but sending it through the committee process, allows Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike to offer up amendments and suggestions.  And the House will work its will.

Now, we will continue to give guidance and thoughts and suggestions.  But I think the President’s core principles are what’s going to guide us as we head through the Hill and then — the House and then to the Senate.

Q    And just one quick follow-up on Jonathan Karl’s question, because the President made a very serious allegation over the weekend, and I think we would all be remiss if we went through this briefing and not tried to get you on camera to at least offer us some evidence.  Where is the evidence, where is the proof that President Obama bugged President Trump?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I answered this question yesterday on camera on your air.  So just so we’re clear — I know this is now — it will be twice.  But I think I made it clear yesterday —

Q    But since yesterday, since yesterday —

MR. SPICER:  Nothing has changed.

Q    — is there any new proof —

MR. SPICER:  No.  And it’s not a question of new proof or less proof, or whatever.  The answer is the same, which is that I think that there is a concern about what happened in the 2016 election.  The House and Senate intelligence committees have the staff and the capabilities and the processes in place to look at this in a way that’s objective.  And that’s where it should be done.  And, frankly, if you’ve seen the response from — especially on the House side, but as well as the Senate, they welcome this.

And so let’s let the Senate do their job and the House — excuse me — intelligence committees, and then report back to the American people.

Q    Will the President withdraw the accusation?  Does he have any —

MR. SPICER:  Why would he withdraw it until it’s adjudicated?  That’s what we’re asking, is for them to look at this and see if there is —

Q    No regrets with him about raising this accusation?

MR. SPICER:  No.  Absolutely not.  And I think that what he wants them to do is to look into wiretapping, other surveillance, and again, as I mentioned before, the other leaks that are threatening our national security.  You’re seeing the leaks happen over and over again that come out throughout the administration, throughout government, and undermine national security.  And I think the appropriate thing to do is to ask the House and the Senate to look into it.

Glenn Thrush.

Q    To follow up on a follow-up, in terms of — you were given the opportunity on air to say whether or not the President still supported Director Comey.  Does the President support Director Comey?  And I have a quick follow-up.

MR. SPICER:  I have no reason to believe he doesn’t.  He has not suggested that to me.  So now to the non-follow-up to the —

Q    Have you seen any evidence yourself?  Has the evidence been shared with you or other senior members of the President’s staff as to why he made this particular accusation?

MR. SPICER:  As far as me, no.  I’m not in a position that that would be regularly part of my daily duties for the President to sit down and go through that.  That’s probably a level above my pay grade.  But as I’ve mentioned, I think the President believes that the appropriate place for this to be adjudicated is for the House and Senate intelligence committees who have the clearances, the staff, the processes, to go through this, look at it and report back.

Q    Did he share it with —

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to get in — as the President made very clear, Glenn —

Q    — with his National Security Advisor?

MR. SPICER:  As the President said in the statement that he issued on Sunday, we’re not going to have further comment on this until this matter is resolved.


Q    Two quick questions.  So just to follow up on the follow-up.  So does the White House feel that it’s appropriate — you say that you want it to be adjudicated by the congressional committees, but the President made declarative statements on Twitter.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    So I guess, is the White House position that the President can make declarative statements about a former President basically committing a crime and then the congressional committees should look into that and basically prove it?  I mean, how does that exactly —

MR. SPICER:  I take issue with — it’s not a question of “prove it.”  I think as I said, now, five times to a follow-up to a follow-up, that it’s not a question of “prove it.”  It’s that they have the resources and the clearances and the staff to fully and thoroughly and comprehensively investigate this and then issue a report as to what their findings are.

Q    But President Trump’s Twitter statement shouldn’t be taken at face value about what —

MR. SPICER:  Sure it should.  Of course, it — I mean, why
— no.  There’s nothing — as I mentioned to Jim, it’s not that he’s walking anything back or regretting.  He’s just saying that they have the appropriate venue and capabilities to review this.

Margaret.  I’m sorry.

Q    So on the Obamacare replacement, so you said that it will be in phases and that you’re going to need additional legislation.  So just to clarify, are the cost savings that you guys are projecting, is that dependent on phase three of the national competition plan?  Because if that’s the case then —

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, well, it’s not dependent.  I think that in order to see it fully come to fruition, yeah, you have to see all parts of it.  But the way that it was passed doesn’t allow for — the way that it was passed is almost the same way that we’re going through this now, which is they pass certain things, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services, at the time, was granted significant regulatory authority that allowed her to do certain things at the time to implement pieces of Obamacare that we now have to act backwards and go almost in the same steps to do what they did to lay it out.  We’ve got to repeal it, and then we’ve got to replace it with the plan that’s going to do the same.

Certain things can be done in the same way and certain things can’t.  It just — it literally depends on how that was done.

John Frederick.

Q    Sean, in the replacement plan, it says that the states that accepted the Medicare expansion money would continue to be funded.  So what is the message you have to Republican state legislators that thought they were fiscally responsible in rejecting Medicaid expansion in their states and now they didn’t get the federal dollars on either end?  What is your response to them?

MR. SPICER:  I think what we need to do is to make sure, as the President said in his statements, as Secretary Price did, we’ve got to make sure that we continue to protect people through this transition process.  Let the bill work its way.  But this is the first time — as we address the Medicaid portion of this, this is probably the first time that we’ve really addressed an entitlement aspect of something in almost 30 years.  So I think we’ve got to let this piece of it work its way through the House.

But there is — remember, one of the things that happened through the Medicaid expansion was the goal has always been about Medicaid to help people who were disabled or poor or met a specific number of criteria.  For the first time in Obamacare, we expanded Obamacare — or the Obama administration did, rather — to able-bodied individuals that — in a way that had never been done before, and it was not a specific class.  That’s led largely to the ballooning cost.

I think a lot of the reforms that will be contained in this bill will address that, but I think we’ve got to let it work its will through the process.


Q    Sean, I want to ask you two communications questions on two topics.  Because the President gave himself a middling grade on communication, let me ask you about the experience that the previous administration had when Obamacare was going through its own phases.  The President — President Obama said that the opposition to the legislation was able to seize the opportunity while it was being legislated to create public perceptions about what was in the legislation.  So my question is on ACA.  What is the President going to do to improve his communications, to be out there, explaining what is in the bill, to work with lawmakers?  That’s the first question.  And then I’ll ask you the next one.

MR. SPICER:  Okay, thank you.  So on the first one, as I’ve mentioned, he’s had and continues to have significant outreach to members of Congress.  He’s talked to health insurers.  I mean, I think we’ve read out a lot of the activities of the last couple weeks.  And literally, in just — within an hour, he’s going to sit down with the House Deputy Whip Team to talk about the legislative piece of this in the House.

So this is going to be a very aggressive, laser-like focus of this administration over the next month or two to get this thing through the House and then moved over to the Senate.  But there’s a big difference, Alexis.  What we’re doing is vastly different.  They were expanding government, promising people something.  And I think what’s happened is there was a lot of difference with how they approach it.

Right now, the American people, no matter where you are, you understand the state of your healthcare, the costs that you’re seeing and the lack of choice that you’ve now been presented with.  And in many cases, you realize that when you go in to see the doctor or a loved one is going to see a doctor that they’re not getting — they’re not either able to get in, they’re not taking the Medicare or the exchange insurance that they got, the costs are going out of control.

And I think it’s really interesting — I mean, one of the things that Dr. Price mentioned that is so apropos of this is, having a card does not mean you have insurance.  It’s like handing someone a blank check — it doesn’t mean that you have money, it means you have a check.  And I think what we’ve seen over the last few years with Obamacare is you can have an insurance card, but that doesn’t mean someone is going to take it, and it sure doesn’t mean that it’s going to be affordable.  And there’s a big difference between having a card and having healthcare that’s affordable.  And that’s the difference that we’re trying to solve right now.

So when it comes to communication, I think one of the things that’s really helpful is that part of the sell is done for us.  The American people understand the state of their healthcare.  They understand how much they’re paying for.  They’ve gone to see a doctor or gone to a hospital or had a notice from their carrier saying we are no longer part of this, or their employer says, hey, whatever your particular carrier is, is no longer available, we’re switching you into this.

And so for so many Americans, healthcare is a very, very real part of their daily experience because they’re caring for themselves, they’re dealing with an ailment, or dealing with children or a loved one or someone else in their family where they’re seeing, firsthand, the devastation and disaster that Obamacare has caused them in their personal life.

So I think there’s a welcoming of this effort and I think it’s a lot easier for us to go in — because we don’t have to explain the problem.  People are living it.  And I think for them to understand what we’re giving you is more choice, greater competition.  We’re incentivizing more people to be part of the process, and we’re going to be driving down the cost of those premiums.

You had a second.

Q    My second question on communications has to do with the President’s assertion about the wiretapping.  Because the White House wants this now to be handled by the legislative branch, and in confidence and in classification, can we count on the President to, himself, while this investigation is going on, to cease and desist using Twitter or any other public venue to make accusations that are in public but he will not respond to in public?

MR. SPICER:  With respect to this particular situation?  I’ll ask that and I’ll get back to you on that.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Just getting back to the question about if one likes his or her healthcare, they can keep it.  In 2013, Congressman Fred Upton, then Chairman of the House Energy Committee, offered legislation that put precisely those words into law and it received the votes of every Republican member in the House and between 40 and 50 Democrats, and then it died in the Senate.  Would the administration support a revival of the Upton Amendment?  In other words, putting the right to keep one’s healthcare plan and doctor if he or she liked it, today?

MR. SPICER:  I mean, I think that’s the goal.  I don’t want to start talking about what we’re going to — as we go through the process.  We’ve now put our stamp on this and sent it to the House.  It will work its will as amendments come up through regular order.  Our team will weigh in on those with their staff and, again, the President is meeting with the Whip Team today.

I don’t want to start saying we’re going to support this amendment or that amendment now, but I think generally speaking, obviously the goal is to make sure that people get a plan that they like that’s affordable, that meets what they need to have met, that they shouldn’t have to have a one-size-fits-all, government-instilled healthcare system that doesn’t offer any choice or, frankly, isn’t tailored to the needs that they have.  I think that’s an important thing.


Q    Sean, right now you’re two votes short of passing repeal-and-replace in the Senate because you’ve got four Republican senators who are saying they can’t support the bill because of rolling back the Medicaid expansion.  What do you say to those senators who are very concerned that people will lose coverage that this does not provide enough stability for those people who rely on Medicaid for their healthcare?

MR. SPICER:  Well, there’s two things, John.  One is, we’re at day one.  We’re going to go through the House first, so we’ve got a little bit of time.  And I think as we go through that process, these senators — and not just the additional two but I think and hope that we’ll get additional ones — they recognize that those people, as I’ve said over and over again here — if we do nothing, they’re going to be in a very, very worse scenario than they are now.

More and more people — if you’re on Medicaid, which serves so many low-income Americans, as I mentioned, they have a card.  And that card does not allow them to go to doctor after doctor who are saying, we’re not going to take Medicaid or TRICARE anymore.

So I would ask those senators, what are you doing to help us work on a bill that will get them insured again?  Because for too many Americans, they’ve got a card, but they don’t have insurance.  And I think that’s a very, very big thing to — a distinction to make.

They’re the ones who have the problem right now.  They’ve got a Medicaid card and nowhere to go.  And what we need to do is to make sure that low-income Americans, veterans, small business owners, individuals who desperately need healthcare have options and affordability.

Q    One other piece of this.  You could bring down the cost of the insurance itself through efficiencies in the system, selling across state lines.  But the biggest driver of the increase in health insurance cost is the skyrocketing cost of medicine.  What in this overall plan do you propose to do to either cap the rise or even bring it down?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think you — the Secretary mentioned this, but I mean, the cost of prescription drugs is —

Q    That’s one small —

MR. SPICER:  No, it’s not.  It’s a big factor.  I think that —

Q    But when you’re paying $50,000 out of pocket to get a stent?  I mean, it’s —

MR. SPICER:  Again, what is the biggest thing missing —

Q    — but it’s getting out of control.

MR. SPICER:  Fair enough, but —

Q    Fair enough, drugs is one part of it but — huge other part of it.

MR. SPICER:  Okay, when you talk about procedures or drugs, the biggest thing that’s missing in this whole equation is competition.  I mean, we’re down to one plan in many places.  There’s nothing for these places to compete —

Q    There’s plenty of competition between hospitals.

MR. SPICER:  No, there’s — I mean, that’s fine, but if they know they’re going to get the same reimbursement rate, if they know that there’s no other options, that plans aren’t trying to get people — then that’s a big difference.  Right now, there’s a lack of competition in the industry.

And I think one of the President’s — I get it may be one part of that, but you’re right, that all-over medicine — procedures and such — there’s a reason he met with drug executives and talked about getting those costs down; that there’s a multi-faceted approach, and how do we instill competition, how do we drive down costs?

But you’re right, we’ve got to do more to get the cost of that down, of the procedures to allow additional options.  Everything that is — it’s the same way that, again — think about your insurance.  One of the things that was driving up cost in the past was people were exercising the option of going to an emergency room over and over again for their primary care.  And what happened is that you saw all of these “clinics” pop up from around and insurance carriers actually made it cheaper in terms of co-pays to go see that than an emergency room, driving people to somewhere that didn’t continue to drive up cost, clog insurance.  That competition alone starts saving the plans money and helping to keep cost down.  We’ve got to instill more aspects of competition in medicine.


Q    Sean, can you give us an update on the effort to roll back regulations?  Have the taskforce — regulatory reform taskforces identified any regulations to roll back?  And have any actually been repealed?

MR. SPICER:  I think that they have had their work cut out for them.  They’ve started as they — the President has met with different industries and companies, corporations, associations.  That is a constant subject of discussion, which is those regulatory aspects of our economy that are keeping companies from growing, expanding and hiring.  And so I know that the domestic policy team and others have been working on that.  And if I can get further updates on specific legislation or, excuse me, specific regulatory action, I’ll get back to you.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  Two topics for you.  I’m trying to get some clarity on something that my colleagues have tried to follow up on as well.  You’ve said that the President stands by his tweets Saturday morning that President Obama ordered this wiretap.  You’ve also said that the administration wants Congress — let me just be clear — he found out this information.  You’ve also said that the President wants Congress to investigate.  Some members of Congress, by the way, have asked the White House and asked the President to come forward with that information.  So bottom line, why would the President want Congress to investigate for information he already has?

MR. SPICER:  I think there’s a separation-of-powers aspect here as I mentioned to Jonathan that we think it’s —

Q    Talk about resources and time — why waste that?

MR. SPICER:  Well, it’s not a question of waste it.  It’s a question of appropriateness.

Q    But if the President has the info, Sean — and I guess that’s what I’m trying to get to — if he’s sitting on this information that he found out, he’s now directing or asking or recommending that the intelligence committees look into this.  And you talked about they have resources and staff, which they do, but why expend those resources and staff if the President found out this information and has it?

MR. SPICER:  I think there’s a difference between directing the Department of Justice, which may be involved in an ongoing investigation, and asking Congress as a separate body to look into something and add credibility to the look — adds an element that wouldn’t necessarily be there if we were directing the Department of Justice, for example.  But again, I think we’ve made it very clear how he wants this done and where we go from there.

Q    Second question then.  Millions of Americans are working on their tax returns right now.  Will the President commit to releasing his tax returns for this year and is he still under audit for his past returns?

MR. SPICER:  My understanding is he’s still under audit and I’ll follow up on the question.

Q    Question and quick follow-up.  How do you understand what we’ve seen on the growing number of cases at the Canadian border of Canadians born and raised in Canada with valid passports being stopped at the border and told just to go back?  They won’t let them come in and — in the U.S.

MR. SPICER:  I’m not aware of that.  I think that’s something that probably should be addressed to the Department of Homeland Security.

Q    Do you think there might be a misunderstanding of the messages sent on the immigration —

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know.  I think it’s a good question that is probably best directed towards the Department of Homeland Security.

Dr. Swan.

Q    Thank you.  Is the White House going to keep its promise to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement?  And our understanding is that there is some divisions of opinion — Rex Tillerson wants to stay in; Steve Bannon wants to get out.  What’s going on?  Will you keep the promise?  If not, why not?

MR. SPICER:  I think that’s something I’d be glad to follow up with you and everyone.  I don’t have anything on that right now.  I’m aware of the discussion of it, so let me — if I can, I’ll get back to you


Q    I have an unrelated question, but I also want to follow up on something —

MR. SPICER:  Unrelated questions are my favorite.  (Laughter.)

Q    You talked about the communications strategy.  Will the President play a public role in selling this bill?  Will he speak to the public about it?  Will he answer questions about it?

MR. SPICER:  That’s a good question.  I think that we are going to have a very comprehensive strategy.  As I mentioned, just a few minutes from now the President is going to engage with members of the House Whip Team to talk to them.

Q    — talking to members of Congress.

MR. SPICER:  I understand that, but — and I understand that.  This is step one.  There’s a lot of time — as I mentioned, we expect to be dealing with this for the next several weeks.  There will be plenty of opportunities for the President to speak about that, to engage with the public.  But it’s going to be a comprehensive plan that we will discuss.

We had I can’t even begin to tell you how many administration folks, members of Congress flooding the broadcast and radio airwaves today, both nationally and in local markets.  We were very, very active throughout the country getting out the word on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, from national broadcast shows to cable to — I mean, to radio.  We had a very, very aggressive start to this effort.  We’re working with the House, in particular.  We’re continuing to start really engaging with the Senate.

But this is going to be a comprehensive effort, working with the House and the Senate, to get this thing done, and other partners — doctors and outside groups that share this concern.  As I mentioned earlier to one of the other folks, there’s a need by companies and corporations who are feeling the weight of additional cost to join us in this effort.  And I just want — this is obviously something that needs to get dealt with.  The escalating costs are having a significant impact not just on our economy, but on the ability of people to get hired, or, frankly, people who are hired leave their job because the cost of healthcare is not allowing especially people in the small- and medium-sized businesses to keep up with those costs.

With that, thank you guys very much.  I look forward to seeing you —

Q    — meeting tomorrow — congressmen coming to the meeting with the President.

MR. SPICER:  We’ll have a readout —

Q    Sean, I have that unrelated question, which was —

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry.  That’s not fair.  Mike gets his unrelated question.

Q    And answer mine after that, please.

Q    Will the Trump administration continue the Obama administration’s practice of releasing publicly the visitor logs?

MR. SPICER:  We’re currently evaluating our procedures on that and we’ll have some — and when we have an announcement I’ll let you know.

And, April, I’ll have a readout on our schedule for tomorrow later.

Q    He’s meeting tomorrow with —

MR. SPICER:  Once it’s confirmed, I will let you know first, and then everybody else.

Thank you, guys.  Have a great day.

2:54 P.M. EST

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Sean Spicer

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:47 P.M. EST

MR. SPICER:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Another quiet weekend.  (Laughter.)

Q    You sure you don’t want to do this on camera?  (Laughter.)

MR. SPICER:  The President signed a new executive order this morning that continues to protect the nation from terrorists entering into the United States, and a related presidential memorandum.  As we’ve always maintained, the executive order was fully lawful in the first place, and we would have won the related legal cases on the merits.  But rather than leave America’s security in limbo while the litigation dragged on, some estimates having that go up to potentially a year, the President acted to protect the national security by issuing a new executive order that addresses the court’s concerns, some of which merely involve clarifying the intent of the original executive order.

After reviewing the facts and in thorough consultation with the Cabinet, the President had concluded these actions are necessary to protect the United States from those who, unfortunately, wish to do us harm.

Two areas that I want to highlight in the executive order.  There will be a 90-day suspension of travel to the United States by nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, during which time the Department of State and Homeland Security will conduct a review to determine how we can improve the screening process for foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States.

These six countries have been previously identified by Congress and the Obama administration as presenting heightened concerns about terrorism.  Specifically, Iran, Sudan and Syria have been designated as state sponsors of terrorism.  Libya is an active combat zone where violent extremist groups thrive in ungoverned territory.  Portions of Somalia have been a safe haven for terrorist groups.  Most countries don’t even recognize the Somali documents.

Yemen is the site of an ongoing conflict between the government and Iran-backed armed opposition.  Both ISIS and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have exploited this conflict to expand their presence in Yemen and carry out hundreds of attacks.

These governments simply cannot or not adequately supply satisfactory information about their own nationals.  In the absence of adequate information from these governments, the President has had to act to protect the security of the American people.

After the original executive order, Iraq’s government took steps to increase their cooperation with our immigration authorities and improve their vetting process, leading them to be removed from the list of countries covered by the temporary travel suspension.  We hope other countries will also take proactive action to ensure the security of all of our nations.

This is proof of both the need for and the effectiveness of the President’s actions.  There are a number of exceptions to this temporary travel suspension.  The order explicitly states that the suspension does not apply to, one, green card holders; two, foreign nationals currently in the U.S.; three, foreign nationals currently holding valid visas; four, foreign nationals who are dual citizens of a designated country traveling on a passport issued by a non-designated country; and last, foreign nationals who have been granted asylum or admitted as refugees previously.

There will also be a temporary 120-day suspension of the United States refugees’ admissions program.  More than 300 people who have entered the United States as refugees are currently the subjects of counterterrorism investigations by the FBI.  We must find a way to better screen refugee applicants to maintain the safety of our own communities.

This suspension will temporarily reduce the investigative burdens on the agencies that participate in our refugee program, allowing them to properly review and revise their standards and practices.

In regard to both of these provisions, the President places his full faith and trust in the experience and knowledge of his Secretary of State and his Secretary of Homeland Security.  This order makes it clear that they have broad authority to grant waivers based on their expert judgments.  This suspension does not apply to refugees already scheduled for travel by the Department of State, which is explicitly stated in the text of the executive order.  Additionally, this suspension does not treat Syrian refugees different than any other refugees.  It does not separately address the persecution of religious minorities, but does permit waivers in the cases of undue hardship.

This order was drafted in close consultation with the relevant agencies.  It also includes a delay-effective date of March 16th, giving those involved in its enforcement even more time to facilitate an orderly rollout.

We welcome those who come to our country wishing to contribute and share in our nation’s prosperity and wellbeing, but we cannot allow our immigration system to become a vehicle for admitting people who intend to do us harm.  It is the President’s solemn duty to protect the American people, and President Trump has taken an important step in securing our borders through this order.

Moving on to today, the President had a full day of meetings with the Cabinet and members of his staff.  The President received his intelligence briefing this morning.  He had a call earlier with the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, where they discussed regional security challenges.  The Prime Minister thanked the President for his strong stance on anti-Semitism during his joint address to Congress last week.

The President had lunch with the Vice President, and, as I’m speaking to you now, he is beginning a meeting with the Secretary of State.  Later today, he’ll have meetings with his National Economic Council and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Shulkin.  This evening, he’ll have dinner with OMD Director Mulvaney and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, where he will talk about the repeal-and-replace efforts regarding Obamacare.

With that, I’ll be glad to take a few questions.

Q    Follow-up on the executive order?  Have you told —

MR. SPICER:  John Roberts.

Q    Thank you.  (Laughter.)  You told us — I figured since it’s just a gaggle — you told us many times that the President was going to continue with the case in Seattle federal court, yet paragraph 13 in the new EO says he’s going to revoke the original one.  What changed?

MR. SPICER:  As you know, he met with his team over the weekend down in Mar-a-Lago — general counsel, Secretary Sessions, Secretary Kelly, Stephen Miller, other members of the team — where they discussed — continued discussing the current executive order, as well as the strategy.  And they made a determination that it was best to pursue this track.

And again, I think, as I mentioned in the opening remarks, we continue to maintain that the order was fully lawful but there were some legal hurdles that we’d have to potentially cross in terms of enjoinment and things like that.

So it was discussed with the President Saturday, and he made a decision that this was how he wanted to proceed going forward, based on the advice and counsel of his team.

Q    DOJ has informed the 9th circuit of the existence of the new executive order.  Will they move to dismiss the 48 cases that are facing that original order?

MR. SPICER:  That’s a good question.  I know that there’s the issue of both the 9th circuit and then the other ones.  And I’ll have to get back to you on that.  I don’t know what posture they’re going to take, so we’ll go forward.


Q    I was just going to say, would you be able to let all of us —

MR. SPICER:  Oh, yeah, I’m sorry.  Yeah, I’d be glad to let everybody know.

Q    I’ve got a question too but I can wait until he’s finished, it’s fine.

MR. SPICER:  John, are you done?

Q    Oh, I’m done.

MR. SPICER:  Okay.  See how much nicer this is?  Margaret.

Q    Oh, thank you.  Well, actually I’d like to move away from this subject to the other subject.

MR. SPICER:  Sure.

Q    Is the President going to clarify what he meant when he accused President Obama and White House officials of doing wiretaps?  Is that what he meant, or did he mean that he thinks there were wiretaps that the FBI authorized?  And does he want to kind of, like, amend his previous statement?

MR. SPICER:  I think the statement that we issued yesterday where — President Donald J. Trump is requesting as part of the investigation of Russian activity that congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.  Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is continued.

He wants Congress to look into this.  I’ve spoken to the President again today.  He would ask that they, additionally, look into this issue of leaks of classified and other information coming from the government.  He believes that it undermines our national security and that Congress — the intelligence communities in Congress, using their oversight authority, look into these pervasive leaks of national security — of classified information.  So he would do that.

I would note, it’s interesting that when you look at what former DNI Clapper said on “Meet the Press,” when he was asked if there was any evidence that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government while the Kremlin was working to influence the election, his quote was, “Not to my knowledge.”

I think we’ve continued to see people who have been briefed and are aware of these stories that have existed — Congressman Chairman Nunes of the Intelligence Committee, Tom Cotton of the — he’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, Marco Rubio — you name it, on and on and on, have said that the information that they’ve been provided — and this is — I get it, there’s two separate issues here.  But I think on the first one, you saw over and over again the continued comments by people who are in the know or have been in the know on that situation saying that there was no knowledge.  Conversely, you saw former Attorney General Mukasey come out and talk about — that it’s pretty clear that there was some sort of surveillance or wiretaps that had to have existed.

All that being said, I think that’s why the President is asking Congress, the intelligence committees to use their oversight authority to further understand what’s in this.

I’m sorry.

Q    And so —

MR. SPICER:  I’m not sorry but I knew you —

Q    No, no, no — yeah.  Just before we move on — okay, so for now, the President is not amending what he tweeted.


Q    And Jim Comey, in the meantime, I guess wanted Justice to knock it down.  Has the President talked to Jim Comey?

MR. SPICER:  I’ll be honest with you, I have not seen anything aside from another report based on anonymous sources that that actually happened.  So aside from anonymous sources saying that a conversation happened, I’m not aware that that occurred.  I don’t know that we’re aware that that occurred.  And I, frankly, don’t see anything on the record that show that that actually occurred.

So just to be clear, this is one of the problems that I think occurred in the whole first set of stories.  People start taking things as fact because a series of off-the-record and anonymous sources say they do.  We have started to become a series of believing all of these stories, and yet — I’ve addressed this in the past — there’s nothing there to substantiate it.

In fact, all of the people, from — I mean, Clapper’s comment, “Not to my knowledge.”  You saw Nunes, Rubio, all these senators and House members that have been briefed by the FBI coming out and saying, we have not seen anything, either.  At some point, I would ask people to take on-the-record sources and quotes as important as the countless numbers of anonymous off-the-records.

Zeke.  Oh, I’m sorry —

Q    Sean —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, no, I just saw the top of a head.  Hallie, I’m going to get to you, don’t worry.  I’m sorry, that was my bad.

Q    It’s okay, it’s all right.  So explain this to me, then.  You’re talking about not using anonymous sources.  What is, then, the sourcing for the President’s tweet on Saturday morning?

MR. SPICER:  As I said, I think, look —

Q    And does he believe it’s a FISA warrant.  Is it some other — of surveillance?

MR. SPICER:  It could be FISA.  It could be surveillance.  There’s no cameras, slow it down.

Q    So he doesn’t know?

MR. SPICER:  Look, I think he has made it clear that there are continued reports that have been out there.  I’m not going to continue to — I think the President made it clear yesterday that he wants Congress to go in and look at this.  I think there is substantial reporting out there from individuals and from sources.

Q    But what sources —

MR. SPICER:  Okay.  Sara, you’re not on camera.  You don’t need to jump in.  We’ll get to your question in turn.  Hold on.

The answer is, is that the President has made it clear he wants Congress to look into this.  And we’re encouraging the House and Senate intelligence committees to use their oversight capabilities and look into this.

John Gizzi.

Q    Sean, does he not know whether — what kind of surveillance it was?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think that there’s no question that something happened.  The question is, is it surveillance, is it a wiretap, or whatever.  But there’s been enough reporting that strongly suggests that something occurred.  And I think that that’s why what he has said yesterday is that he wants Congress to look into this.  And I think that there is enough out there now that makes one wonder how some of this happened without the existence of surveillance.

Q    But when he published his tweet —

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    — did he know what kind of surveillance?

MR. SPICER:  All I’m telling — like I said, I’m going to put a pin in this and say, the statement yesterday made it very clear that he wants House and Senate Intelligence Committee members to use their oversight authority to look into this situation.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Has the President ever said there’s hypocrisy and a double standard in the reporting of things?  For example, about alleged Russian involvement in U.S. elections, and then on the other hand, relatively little attention paid to the leaking of conversations with world leaders that are classified?  And does the leaking of his conversations with world leaders bother him and make him want to investigate that as well?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I mean, I think he is very concerned about that.  There is obviously information that affects national security that has been leaked out that concerns him.  I mean, it’s — and I think when you’ve seen some of the leader calls being leaked out that are sort of congratulatory or not necessarily dealing with state secrets or national security, that’s one thing to seem — but it gives you pause and concern to realize that, if you’re talking about something of national security, of something that affects two of our different economies or countries, that — whether it’s China or North Korea, whether you’re actually talking to them or talking about them with another leader, that there is obviously concern that those calls are getting leaked out.  And I think that’s why the President is also now asking Congress to additionally use its oversight authorities to also look at those leaks and wonder why that’s happening.

So I think he is concerned.  I think we’ve said it several times before, and it’s obviously something that is of major concern.  And, frankly, when you recognize the potential that that could have on the safety of our country, it should give everyone pause.


Q    Sean, two topics for you here.  I want to clarify some questions again from my colleagues.  Has the President spoken with the FBI director about the allegations he made Saturday morning, and does he have confidence in his FBI?

MR. SPICER:  To the best of my knowledge, I’m almost 100 percent certain that he has not, but I’ve not specifically asked him.  I’m not aware that that occurred.  Obviously I’ll give myself — and I’d be glad to get back, but I have not known that that existed.  So I’m giving myself the ability to get back to you on this, but I’m not —

Q    And all of us.

MR. SPICER:  And all of you.  We’re making a list.  But I am not aware that that actually happened.

Q    And the confidence question.  Does he have confidence in his director?

MR. SPICER:  There’s nothing that I have been told by him that would lead me to believe that anything is different than when it was prior.

Q    And before I get to the second topic, a clarification here.  You’re talking about the President wanting to go to Congress, specifically on the wiretapping question, but this is information that is held by the executive branch.  So why would the President, if it’s information the executive branch has —

MR. SPICER:  Because I think that there’s — like, again, and I’m not going to — I want to stay in my wheelhouse here.  But my understanding is, is that the President directing the Department of Justice to do something with respect to an investigation that may or may not occur with evidence may be seen as trying to interfere.  And I think that we’re trying to do this in the proper way, and that’s —

Q    So his tweets about it — sort of saying that this information exists does not —

MR. SPICER:  That doesn’t interfere with an investigation.

So, Zeke.

Q    Okay, the second topic was actually on the immigration executive order.  The President back in January tweeted about a one-week delay on the travel ban, would have let “bad dudes” enter the country.  This particular revised order doesn’t go into effect for another 10 days.

MR. SPICER:  The 16th.

Q    So what changed?  How does that under — does that undercut your argument that the nation was at risk?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I would argue that the court kind of undercut our argument by not reading the U.S. code the way it’s intended to.  But I think we lost the element of surprise way back when we said we were going to issue a second executive order.

Q    So that’s what it was about, the element of surprise?

MR. SPICER:  Oh, absolutely.  I think we said at the beginning.  The whole reason that we did it in the way that we did was because if you — started to telegraph it.  But I think that when we started talking about a second executive order a couple of weeks back, I think that that generally took away — whether it was done on Friday or Sunday or Monday, it wouldn’t have mattered.  And people have been able to — we have telegraphed what we’re doing for the last couple weeks.  We took that away, and the President, as you’ve seen, has been very methodical about making sure we’ve talked about this for the last week —

Q    Since the —

MR. SPICER:  Right, but talking about implementing it correctly.  And I think Saturday night, if you saw the group of individuals who were down in Florida sitting with him, this is part of that implementation process that we’ve been talking about, that we were continuing to tweak it, to get it ready to speed, overcome a lot of issues and concerns that had to get added in or out, and make sure that the government was properly — but make no mistake, we lost the element of surprise back when we said — when the court enjoined this in the 9th circuit, and then we had to go back to the drawing board and we talked about doing a second order.  That was the intent of it the entire time.  You lose that back then.


Q    Going back to the previous topic, the President calling for Congress to investigate these specific issues.  Does that mean that the President is willing — or is committing now to accepting the conclusions of these congressional investigations no matter what they say on anything?  So because he’s now calling for this investigation, he is now committing to accept the outcome?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I don’t think you would ever just blanketly say “I’m going to accept any outcome.”  That doesn’t matter what it is.  You can go to court and — it doesn’t mean that you get found guilty or innocent that you’re accepting the outcome, it means that you’re agreeing that that’s a legitimate — but I think we’re going to let Congress work its will.  I think if we have a problem with one of the conclusions, we’ll let it be known.

But I think that, for right now, the issue is, is that we think that that’s the appropriate place for this to be looked into.  And they have the resources, and they, themselves, have admitted that.


Q    Sean, can I ask two topics?

MR. SPICER:  Sure.

Q    On this topic, let me just follow up.  If members of Congress pursue an investigation that looks into surveillance in the way the President would like them to, and he believes that that surveillance is potentially against the law, they would make recommendations to the executive branch to pursue and prosecute anyone responsible for that.  So their recommendations would come back to the Justice Department.  So to ask the question again, would the President accept the recommendations of the legislative branch that potentially laws were broken and that those accusations should come back to the Justice Department to investigate?

MR. SPICER:  I think it’s hard to prejudge what they’re doing.  Obviously, the reason that he’s asking the House and Senate Intelligence Committee to go through this is because he thinks that they are the appropriate venues.  They have the appropriate staff to look at them, and I think it’s an appropriate way of having that separation of powers, if you will, where it’s not asking — directing the Department of Justice to do something that they may or may not be the ones conducting.

But again, the reason I don’t want to give a blanket statement, Alexis, isn’t because I’m trying to prejudge it.  But I think that depending on a lot of things, you don’t want to say, we’re going to accept every single thing they do.  I think we definitely will have a lot of respect for what they do and what they look into, but I think to blanketly accept — just say, we’re going to accept anything they say or do, might be a bit premature and not exactly the way to go.

Q    And I had a healthcare question but before I do that, it was reported that the President was interested in having the White House Counsel pursue information that would help support the President’s argument that he may have been under surveillance.  Is it the case that the President has indeed asked Don McGhan to continue doing that?  Or is he dropping that and —

MR. SPICER:  No, Don McGhan was never asked — all Don Mcghan was ever asked to do was to review what options, if any, were available.  That’s it.  Just review internally and tell the President, this is what’s — but we made very clear to anyone who asked — and if you know Don and the team here — these are unbelievably talented lawyers.  They’re very skilled in understanding their — where the bounds are, and would understand that any type of interference would be — it was an internal review of what options, if any, were available.  So it’s full stop.

Q    And that was completed?

MR. SPICER:  That guidance was made available to the President.

Q    Okay.  Here’s my healthcare question.

MR. SPICER:  It was also reported that the President’s desire for speed with the administration’s own Affordable Care Act replacement plan has kicked the ball to the OMB Director rather the HHS Secretary to complete that work and get it out this week.  Who is in charge of actually completing that?  Is it more now in the ball court of OMB rather than HHS?  Or are they working together?  How would you describe it, and is it still coming out this week?

MR. SPICER:  I believe it is coming out — I have every intention that it comes out this week.  But I think it’s a joint effort.  I think Secretary Price is obviously the lead; it’s HHS.  But Director Mulvaney, his time — I mean, they’ve both served in the House and were champions of budget issues.  Obviously, there’s a huge budgetary impact on that, and his understanding of the budget, his role here, and, obviously, his understanding of Congress makes Director Mulvaney a great partner.

So it’s not a question of — and this is the same issue that came up during the transition on trade.  I think we have an unbelievably talented team — everybody from Robert Lighthizer, when he gets confirmed as the U.S. Trade Rep, you’ve got Wilbur Ross at Commerce, Peter Navarro here — it’s not an either/or thing.  It’s I think bringing the best and the brightest together to get something through.

Obamacare and repealing and replacing it with something that’s more accessible, affordable, more innovative is not something that just has to land in one person’s hand.  It can be covered — and I think there are great partners and great teammates.


Q    Yes, please, thank you, Sean.  I’m just wondering when you said that it’s pretty clear that there was some sort of intelligence or wiretaps and that that’s why we need to move forward with an investigation, is that based on people speaking on the record, or anonymous sources?

MR. SPICER:  On the record.  I think General Mukasey was very much on the record when he came to that conclusion.  I think that when you — anyway.  I will leave it to Congress to further follow up on that.

Q    And one more, if I may.  The President has yet to announce the vast majority of his sub-Cabinet-level nominations, such as Ambassador to Japan.  Does the White House have a long-term timeline for all the rest of these nominations?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think that you should — there’s a bunch of sub-Cabinet individuals and ambassadorships that should be coming out very soon.  One of the things that I think — I’m glad you kind of gave me an opportunity to touch on personnel.  There was a report the other day that of, like, the 1,927 positions that — someone went through, I think one of the things that people have to recognize is — we talked about this a lot during the transition.  We had about 600 members of these beachhead teams that went in under a special hiring process — that they’re able to be there for 120 days.  For the most part, most of those people transition into Schedule C positions.  It’s not a given.  It is not a default, meaning — and I think we made it clear during the transition — it’s not just if you showed up for the first 120 days you get to stay.  But sort of — they were chosen specifically because of their understanding of the issue, their expertise or their desire to serve in that particular capacity.

And so we actually — when you actually look at the numbers, we are well ahead, if not on par with — we’re well ahead of almost every modern administration.  I think we’re right on par with Obama ’08.  But you think about it, of the 1,927 or so positions, we’ve got over 600 of those individuals, and — most of whom so far are looking like they’re fully going to convert to Schedule C.  But they are performing the duties that would be done by a Schedule C.

So when you look at the totality of what we’re doing, we were well ahead on the Cabinet.  And again, one of the other things is, you’ve got Congress still holding up the Cabinet getting appointed.  And so I think there’s a degree to which Senate Democrats, before we get a lot of stones thrown at us about where we are on the rest, they haven’t even finished the job at hand of getting the full Cabinet.

Jon Decker.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sean.  Two questions on the executive order.  With the first executive order, there was a lot of fanfare when the President signed that executive order; in the Oval Office today, not so much.  We didn’t see the President, no cameras, no pool.  Why didn’t he want to show us him signing this new executive order?

MR. SPICER:  I tweeted a picture out.

Q    That’s your picture, that’s not independent —

Q    Well, I know — from today.  Yeah, that’s your —

MR. SPICER:  I know, I’m — I think — (laughter) — there are three agencies that are dealing with — to your point, we went through this.  We talked about the courts issue, we talked about this ad nauseam; the President got asked about it over and over again.  I think today was about the implementation of it, was about having the three Departments that are expressly named to implement this to talk about what they’re doing to implement it.  And I think they did a phenomenal job about it.

And that’s what we wanted to highlight today, is the government getting it done.  And the way that the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State were implementing the measures that the President laid forth — again, if you think about it, the principles of the executive order remain the same.  We looked at what the court said, we put together a thing — we consulted with the relevant agencies and Departments.  We talked to Congress.  We had an extensive morning of briefings.  The call to the press lasted about an hour, I guess.

And so we made sure that everybody knew what we were doing.  We sent them out to make sure that the American people could see what they were doing.

And so I just want to be clear that I think we did a phenomenal job of rolling it out and making sure the American people saw the faces of the Departments that were instrumental in implementing it.

I’m sorry, Jon, go ahead.

Q    That’s all right.  The second one has to do with this idea of “element of surprise.”  With the first executive order and also with this one, there’s a 90-day temporary ban on residents entering this country from six predominantly Muslim countries.  What’s to stop a so-called “bad dude” from one of these countries from coming into the country on the 91st day, or the 92nd day?  Why 90 days?  Doesn’t that get rid of that element of surprise when you say —

MR. SPICER:  No, I think that — no, but — thank you, that’s actually an interesting question.  I think part of it is, is that we feel confident that during that 90-day period, the processes could be put in place.

Now, remember, there’s two key things that are important.  Number one is these six countries are the ones that we don’t have the information currently that we feel comfortable — and as I lifted off why — I mean, there are some that literally are state-sponsors of terror.  And I think when you recognize — I don’t think there’s any American that wants a country that is a state-sponsor of terror to be sending their individuals here without us properly vetting them.

You talk about Yemen, the documents that people use in Yemen are not accepted by a whole host of countries because they lack the integrity to ensure that they are not compromised.  And I think that there is a big difference in that, but we can — at the end of that 90-day period, we can let a country off, we can expand the list of countries, we could indefinitely address the countries that are on the list, we could expand that list to other countries that aren’t on it.

But there’s two things that are happening.  One is, we’re putting a ban on those countries, the six that are named.  But two is, we’re looking at an entire — at the rest of the entire world, and all of the procedures that we use to address all countries.

And so at the end of that period, we could add countries.  We could subtract countries.  We could decide to indefinitely continue with one of the two — one of the six, rather.  But if you look at the case of Iraq, after the first order, they stepped up with four very specific things that they did to ensure that people traveling from Iraq, we had certain things — whether it be biometrics and others — that let us ensure that people coming into the country, we felt confident in knowing that they were coming in.

But that’s an important thing.  It’s not just those six.  We’re looking at that time — we’re dealing with those during that 90-day — but we’re also looking at everybody else at the same period.


Q    So why doesn’t the order prevent people who didn’t have visas by the day of the first order from coming in the country?  Because wouldn’t that safeguard from the people who went and got visas during this revision period?

MR. SPICER:  I would just say I think that there’s appropriate steps that have been taken during that period to ensure that the homeland has been protected.

Go ahead, I know you have another one.

Q    Just one more question.

MR. SPICER:  Of course.

Q    Does the President think that Barack Obama himself wiretapped him, or someone in the administration?

MR. SPICER:  I’m just going to say that as the President noted in his statement, we’re going to let Congress look into that and then we’ll get back to you — we’ll discuss it after Congress comes with — Erin.

Q    Since the President contends that he and President Obama like each other, has he picked up the phone and called President Obama since the inauguration, or did he think about asking him directly before accusing him publicly?

MR. SPICER:  I have not — I’m not aware of whether or not they’ve talked.  I can ask and find out and get back to you.


Q    Does the fact that you’re rescinding this first executive order — is it at all an admission that things just didn’t go right the first time around?

MR. SPICER:  No.  I think the first executive order, we’ve made clear time and time again — when you look at how the court adjudicated that, their facts were wrong.  Just in terms of how many people had come into the country, they based it off of several things that I think were not factually accurate.  I think we recognized that we could have been in litigation for up to a year on this, and that would have left the country exposed.

And I think that that’s — there is a goal here that we sought to achieve the first time that we have to maintain.  But by no means — we 100 percent maintain that the executive order as initially drafted is completely constitutional and legal, and that what we’ve done is to do the best of our ability based on what the court —

Q    Sean —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, it’s still Cecilia’s turn.

Q    Thank you.  What about this issue of radicalization after people are here, which is what DHS raised in that report?  One of the examples that’s cited in the EO today is the Somali man, now, who came as a child and was radicalized here.  So what does this order do about that population of people?

MR. SPICER:  The people that are here —

Q    That are here, which is what — the concern that DHS raised in this report, that said people — the bigger concern is people who are here and are radicalized after the fact, not those that are here just stopping to —

MR. SPICER:  I think that what we need to do — this isn’t a one-stop shop.  I think that we have to look at this — the entire problem.  This is one piece of the problem that we’re looking at to make sure that we keep the country safe.  It’s not a either/or, or only-this-then.  But I think you’re going to see a continuation of steps that the President takes to make sure that the country is protected.

One small correction that I’ve been made aware of, it’s Somalia, not Yemen, that the travel docs are not accepted.  So my apologies to Yemen.

Jeff, did you — hold on.  Thanks.  Jeff.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  You’ve mentioned a couple times and referred a couple times today to DNI Clapper — former DNI Clapper’s comments on — over the weekend about Russia and the Trump campaign.  Are you encouraging people to take those comments seriously but not the comments where he said there was no wiretapping?

MR. SPICER:  No, I’m just — well, first of all, he also said that he wasn’t aware — he couldn’t speak entirely when it came to wiretapping.  He said that he wasn’t aware of anything.  I take him at his word that he wasn’t aware, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist.

But I also think that it’s interesting that the double standard that has existed for so long when it comes to — you have these sources over and over again who have been briefed by the FBI that say, I was briefed, there’s nothing there.  You have Clapper saying, “Not that I’m aware of.”  And yet, we still have these stories over and over again citing anonymous sources.

At some point, you have to question how many times are you going to take “didn’t see anything there” before we start seeing these stories getting rewritten over and over and over again?  I think that is a valid question.  It’s interesting how everyone today is asking what sources we have, and yet we’ve been asking the same question about the sources for these anonymous sources and story after story for the last six months.  And it’s just, don’t worry, we have these trusted anonymous sources that may or may not be true.  And at the bottom of every story it has some kind of caveat that — however there has been no formal evidence presented.

I think there’s been a malignment for so many months about what may or may not have happened, and yet not a shred of single truth has actually come that shows any evidence that existed except for anonymous source after anonymous source after anonymous source.

Q    On a different issue?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah.

Q    What is the White House’s reaction to North Korea firing four ballistic missiles into the sea off of Japan’s northwest?

MR. SPICER:  The launches are consistent with North Korea’s long history of provocative behavior.  The United States stands with our allies in the face of this very serious threat.  The Trump administration is taking steps to enhance our ability to defend against North Korea’s ballistic missiles, such as through the deployment of a THAAD battery to South Africa — South Korea.

Q    I just want to circle back around to a couple things that you said.  You said it could be FISA, it could be surveillance.  So are you saying that the administration is conceding that somewhere there was evidence presented before a judge that shows there could be collusion with the campaign and that it was okay to surveil them?

MR. SPICER:  No, what I’m suggesting is that, as I said, that our goal is to allow Congress to do its job, as the statement said yesterday.


Q    And then the follow-up on the new order.  You had said that there are a hundred or so that had been inspected, but how many total that came in that you all have detained.

MR. SPICER:  It’s 300.

Q    Of 300 — 100 refugees?  You said hundreds of — or 300 refugees.  How many total came in, and how many did you detain?

MR. SPICER:  I’d ask you to talk to the Department of Justice — actually, Homeland Security on that one.  I know the top-line stat on that one.


Q    A couple for you.  One, just scheduling.  The Israeli defense minister is in town tomorrow.  Will he meet with the President?

MR. SPICER:  I’ll have to get back to you on that.  I’m not aware that that’s on the schedule at this time, but — I don’t know.  I know that he and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke earlier.  I’m not aware that that came up.

Q    And can you flesh out this notion of 300 refugees being investigated?  What are they being investigated for, specifically?  What’s the source for this information —


Q    So the FBI is investigating 300 refugees currently on U.S. soil on terrorism-related charges?

MR. SPICER:  That’s what I have been — yes.  I’ll get you the stat for that, but that’s —

Q    That would be great.  Thank you.

MR. SPICER:  Anita.

Q    Can you talk a little bit about Iraq and how they’re not — why they’re not in the executive order anymore?  So is this a signal to the other six and to other countries that they can also get removed if they — I think you called it “proactive,” if they were proactively having their own actions?

MR. SPICER:  I think what I would say, and I think the way you phrased it is right.  It’s not just the six countries, it’s countries throughout the globe.  I think that we are — it is in every country’s best interest to know who’s coming in and out of its country and to do things.  And I think there are things that we’ve asked countries to do.  And it’s not inclusive, it’s not “have you hit these four.”  I think each country is a separate case.  So I don’t want to say, “if you do these four you’re in.”

Q    But is it possible, then, to —

MR. SPICER:  Absolutely.  I think there is — now, in some cases, like anything else, Anita, it may be easier for one country to achieve something than for another.  But at the end of the day, I think there are certain things that — there are certain steps that Iraq went through, including things like biometrics and turning over lists of — updating lists, rather, of people within their country that have — that pose a threat.

And so that — they’ve agreed to do certain things after the first one was ordered that give us a much greater degree of confidence in knowing who is coming in and out of the country.

Q    And then on another topic.  What was the President’s reaction to hearing about Vice President Pence’s email use, personal email for government business?  I ask, obviously, because he had so many things to say about Hillary Clinton using personal email for government business last year?

MR. SPICER:  I was going to insert, like, an AOL joke here.  (Laughter.)

But I think, look, I don’t — I think there’s a big difference.  The Vice President complied with Indiana law, turned over all of his emails and made sure that everything was done.  I mean, that’s a very big step.  There’s no question that I’ve been made aware of that he didn’t do everything in compliance with Indiana law.  There’s a big difference between doing what is common practice within a state government and what is in compliance with that state’s laws, then setting up a private server that seeks specifically to go around the government protocols and the Federal Records Act.

There’s a big difference between that.  But I mean, the governor at the time, and now the Vice President, did everything in compliance with Indiana law.  And I think that’s a big difference, is that it’s not a question of — it’s a question of was there a law and was there a rule and did you follow it.  In the case of Governor Pence, he did.  In the case of Secretary Clinton, I would let the record speak for itself on that.

Sara.  Gabby, I’m sorry.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Part of the justification for the hurried rollout of the initial executive order on immigration was that if it wasn’t rolled out immediately, that people would take advantage of that and come into the country.  So why has the administration decided to delay the implementation of this new executive order until March 16th?

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to refer you Hallie Jackson.  (Laughter.)  That was what Hallie asked earlier.

Q    Sorry.

MR. SPICER:  No problem, it’s in the — but basically the answer that I gave Hallie that I’ll give to you is, I think the first order — one of the goals of the first order was an element of surprise, to implement it in a way that didn’t allow people to get in, right?

Since the 9th Circuit acted, we’ve been talking about a second executive order.  I think we lost the element of surprise back in mid- to early February when the 9th Circuit acted the way they did.  So that element — what we’ve tried to do now is to make sure, with that element gone, that we’ve implemented this in a way that ensures the greatest degree of confidence that we know what we’re doing.

One quick item — I’m not done, so don’t — you can keep your hands — someone asked earlier, and I’m trying to remember who, about the source for DOJ.  Was that you, Olivier?  The Department of Justice, FBI investigation, section one, subsection H, the text of the EO notes — you can check on that for the source.

I’m sorry.  Matt.

Q    Thanks.  Sean, doubling back to something we talked about earlier.  President Trump accused President Obama of criminal conduct.  One, can you tell us what his source was for that accusation?  Two, can you tell us, unequivocally, that he was basing that on more than a talk radio report and a Breitbart article about that talk radio report?

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to tell that — I’ve said it over and over again, I think the President made it very clear in the statement yesterday that he is not going to comment any further on this until Congress does —

Q    So maybe it was just based on the talk radio report?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to — I’m just going to say that the President made it very clear that, based on numerous things, including — and I think there’s a New York Times story on it, there’s several sources that made this clear or brought this to light — but I’m not going to go into anything further, as the President noted, until this is resolved.


Q    I have two topics.  One, on the EO that maybe is coming later this week — an EO on the Obama administration’s fuel-economy standards.  Are you going to have an EO reversing those, and will that also negate California’s waiver?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t see anything on — I’ll have to get back to you, as my standard.  I’m not so sure on the timing — I was just looking at my date.

Q    Oh, okay.  Thank you.

MR. SPICER:  But I’d just — I wouldn’t get — I don’t have anything to announce at the time, is generally how I answer that, and I’m going to stick to it.

Q    Okay, but I have just one more question on the other topic.  You said that you pointed rightly to Clapper’s comments — nothing that he knows of suggests there was any collusion between the campaign and Russia.  But he also said that he didn’t know of any wiretap FISA order.  Why are you willing to accept his —

MR. SPICER:  That’s what Jeff asked.

Q    Well, I guess the thing I’m asking is that the President of the United States has unilateral authority to declassify anything that he wants.  He said in his tweet, I just learned of this.  So he obviously had some kind of evidence.  Why not declassify it?

MR. SPICER:  I think that’s — as I have made clear, there’s a reason that we want Congress, the intelligence committees to do their job in terms of making sure that there’s a separation of powers.

Q    He’s afraid it would look like interference?

MR. SPICER:  I think that, again, I’m just going to leave it at that he thinks it’s appropriate for Congress to do this instead of trying to point to his own Department of Justice.


Q    Sean —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, you’re going to wait your turn.  It’s Ashley’s turn.

Q    Thank you.  This morning, Kellyanne Conway went on Fox News and she said, “He’s the President of the United States.  He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not.”  So that seemed to be referring not to these news reports you’re talking about, but to specific, tangible evidence.  So what can you tell us about what that evidence is, where it came from?  And then secondly, if he has this evidence, why is he asking Congress to investigate?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I just — I think the point that Kellyanne was making at the time is that the President, because he’s President, gets access to NSC and other intelligence documents.  I don’t know — I haven’t seen the exact transcript, so I can’t —

Q    I can read it to you.

MR. SPICER:  I appreciate that, thank you.  But I also haven’t talked to Kellyanne about it, so I don’t think you can do that part.  But I don’t — so I can’t specifically respond to you in terms of what she was referring to, whether she was referring to the exact nature of his charge or whether, generally speaking, he is given information.

But again, on all of this, I’m going to go back to the statement earlier that the President’s goal right now is to make sure that House and Senate can do this — yes.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  China is retaliating against the THAAD deployment in South Korea.  What is the U.S. position?

MR. SPICER:  It’s retaliating against what?
Q    Against the THAAD deployment in South Korea, THAAD battery deployment.

MR. SPICER:  The THAAD battery?

Q    Yes.

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think we’re going to work with South Korea.  I mean, obviously, North Korea’s missile launches present a danger to our friends down south.  And I think, as I mentioned in our response, we’re going to continue to work with the government of South Korea to address this thing.

Q    Would the U.S. — the Chinese government?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not at this point — huh?

Q    — the Chinese government?

MR. SPICER:  We have not had any further conversations on this.  I think this is consistent with U.S. policy.


Q    Sean, two points of clarification.  Did the President mean in any way to suggest that the FBI broke the law, or any other intelligence agencies, with this allegation of wiretapping?

MR. SPICER:  In the tweet?

Q    Yes.

MR. SPICER:  I’m just going to let the tweet speak for itself.  I’m not going to get into —

Q    Well, that’s why I’m asking this question?

MR. SPICER:  I get it, but I think that I’m not going to try to —

Q    Because it opens that up.

MR. SPICER:  I understand that, and I think I will seek further clarification on that.  For right now, I would just suggest to you that I’m going to let it speak until I can get further clarification.

Q    My second point of clarification here.  You said, you know, you didn’t want to really get into what the triggering event was for the tweet in the first place, but I want you to address this part if you would.  The question has been raised — or the allegation has been raised that the President was simply trying to change the topic off of an unfortunate news cycle that week.  Can you address that portion of the question, that this was deliberately about changing the media narrative and not anything having to do with the story itself?

MR. SPICER:  No, I don’t — I mean, that’s — I have nothing to lead me to believe that that was the case.  I’m not sure — and I think he had a great week last week.  He had a phenomenal joint address.  We had a great visit down in Norfolk, talked about rebuilding the military.  He was in Orlando, in Florida, talking about how school choice can help children and parents and create better schools.

So I just — I can’t say that I’ve talked to him specifically about this, but I think the President had a good week.  And so I don’t see any reason that he would be using — I mean, that just — I think it was an issue of concern to him.

Q    Sean, let’s remind everybody what the President did tweet Saturday morning:  “Terrible!  Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”  He later called Obama a stupid guy — or whatever it was exactly — a sick guy.  Yeah, sorry.  Are the American people supposed to pull back and suddenly think that this is not the President of the United States accusing his predecessor of committing a crime when he writes it that way?

MR. SPICER:  Look, I think the President speaks very candidly.  His tweets speak for themselves, as we’ve said before, and he’s asked the House and Senate committees to look into this.


Q    Considering the scrutiny surrounding President Trump’s then-campaign advisors and Russia, which has carried over at the White House, is he reconsidering at all his hope or his timeline for pairing with Russia to fight ISIS?

MR. SPICER:  Is he — based on —

Q    Just based on the amount of scrutiny surrounding his —

MR. SPICER:  No, I mean, I think if Russia wants to join with us to fight ISIS, that’s a great —

Q    So nothing has changed on that front?


Q    And secondly, in light of the fact that there were previously undisclosed communications between the Russian ambassador and Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner, has White House counsel done anything proactively to try to go to senior staffers or other Cabinet-level officials and say, hey, if you have had contact with a Russian official that you have not previously disclosed, then now is the time to do it?

MR. SPICER:  Not that I’m aware of.  I’m not aware of any of that.  I would say that there’s — one of the things that is interesting that, you know — in the course of people conducting their business here at the White House or during a transition or in the House or the Senate, you contact a whole host of people — diplomats, government officials, you know, association representatives, corporate representatives.  I mean, that’s — those are the kind of folks that talk to people in government.

And I think that there’s one thing between talking with somebody — I mean, I think — and again, I’ll get back to you so don’t be prescriptive on this.  I think someone had told me earlier today that there were something like 20 visits to the Russian ambassador in the last, you know, 10, maybe, years.  I don’t — huh?

Q    Twenty-two.

MR. SPICER:  Twenty-two.  Thank you for helping fact check me.  (Laughter.)

Q    — is not here, so somebody’s got to do it.  (Laughter.)

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  Where’s Knoller?  But I think at some point, there’s nothing wrong with people doing their job, right?  I mean, that’s what I think that there is a big difference between so-and-so met with someone.  There’s nothing to disclose with a meeting.  If I have a meeting with a member of the media, no one says, hey, did you know that you need to report every time you meet with this individual or this outlet or whatever.  There’s nowhere to report that kind of stuff.  There’s a big difference between doing something nefarious or illegal and conducting yourself in a routine course of business.

Q    But there were clearly a number of instances where people in this administration suggested they did not have any contact or misled you guys about the amount of contact they had, which has then caused some unflattering news cycles.

MR. SPICER:  Well, and I think — so in one case, Michael Flynn was, you know — the President said the inconsistencies and him not being straight with the Vice President — he asked him to resign.  I think the President dealt with it.

But that was — again, if you note the President’s comments at the time, he was very clear that the issue wasn’t that he’s doing his job.  The issue was him misleading the Vice President.  And that’s a very different thing.

So he had no problem with him doing his job and contacting individuals that we were going to need to be in contact with during the administration.  And that’s where I think there is a big difference between a lot of these stories saying, did you know that so and so did this?  There’s nothing wrong with people meeting with ambassadors, or government officials, or corporate representatives, or members of the media.  That’s part of what we do in government.

And so I think there’s a big difference in the question that you’re asking about whether or not someone is doing something that’s wrong and inappropriate or illegal, and someone doing what they would do in a normal course of business.

Q    Well, I think the other question is just whether there have been more instances in this that are going to catch you guys by surprise since he —

MR. SPICER:  And I guess —

Q    — the President himself has denied that there was any kind of this contact throughout the campaign, and then we found out there were national security —

MR. SPICER:  But hold on.  Actually —

Q    — advisors you didn’t mention meeting with the Russian ambassador as well as Jeff Sessions, and then there was this meeting with Michael Flynn, as well as Jared Kushner, which was not previously disclosed.

MR. SPICER:  Okay, so there’s two things.  You said the President found out about this.  What’s “this?”  Having a meeting?  Again, I don’t think that — there’s countless meetings that members of his senior staff and the rest of people throughout government have on it every day.  That’s why he’s asked us to come here and work, is to facilitate some of these meetings and get some of this stuff done.

There is no one to disclose stuff to.  I don’t disclose the —

Q    That sounds like you’re saying you’re not concerned that they’re —

MR. SPICER:  No, it’s not that I’m not concerned.  I guess there’s — but what I’m getting at, Sara, is that there’s a difference between being concerned about somebody — I could equally be concerned that if a member of the media said, hey, I want to take a member of your staff out, and we’re going to break some kind of ethics rule.  I would be concerned about that.  But I wouldn’t be concerned if they said, hey, we want to go have coffee with a member of the media.

They don’t disclose all that on our staff.  And I think — but that’s essential to your question is, is a meeting — there’s nothing wrong with a meeting.  There’s nothing wrong with meeting with a government official, or a diplomat, or a member of the media, or a corporate individual, or association, or a constituent, or a citizen that has an issue.  But on any of those categories, once they cross the line and do something wrong, and I think to the answer of your question, the issue was specifically — or the question surrounded attempts to influence the election.  Those are very different than people meeting also during a transition period, or people meeting in their White House capacity.  But those are three separate instances.

All of the stories that I’ve heard so far, previously all detailed just action with respect to the campaign and Russia’s attempt to influence the campaign, right?

Q    Yes, I mean, I think —

MR. SPICER:  Yes, I mean that’s —

Q    That was the backdrop.

MR. SPICER:  Right.  That’s the backdrop.  And then — and so I think in the one instance where it happened where there was someone that misled someone, they were let go.

So for you to start asking questions about, well, what if these other individuals had a meeting?  Well, were they ever asked about it?  I mean there’s a big difference between did someone meet with someone; and did someone mislead somebody about meeting someone.  And that is a very, very big difference in those questions.

And that’s one of the things that I think is important to distinguish.  People can meet with people.  The question is did they do something wrong.  Did they mislead somebody?  And those are all very, very different categories.


Q    Okay, Sean, I have a couple of topics.  And back on this following up, so the question is:  Under what capacity was he in when he met with the ambassador?  And what did they talk about?

MR. SPICER:  Who is he?

Q    Sessions.

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know.

Q    And then under — then when he was under oath, he said he didn’t do it.  But then we find out later, so what do you say —

MR. SPICER:  No, no.  Well, first of all, I’m not going to — I’ll refer you back to the Department of Justice.  I know — my understanding is he’s amending his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee from what I’ve heard.  So I’ll let his people — but I do think that his explanation that he gave was very — was that he was answering a question did you have any meetings with anyone with respect to the campaign.

And I think in his mind, it was very clear that, I never met with anybody with respect to the campaign.  I met with someone in my Senate office, in my capacity as a United States senator, with Senate staff to discuss foreign policy or whatever it was that he was discussing.

I think the Senator discussed this in his media conference last week Thursday.  So I don’t — I guess the issue is with respect to what was talked about, I don’t know.  That’s up to him.

But I do think the way he described it was very clear that he believed he was answering Senator Franken’s question with respect to activity involving the campaign and attempts to — as I said to Sara, like this whole idea of influencing the election.  Meeting with an ambassador about an area of foreign policy in his Senate office with his Senate staff was clearly not a campaign event.

Q    Okay, so now on the leak issue.  You’re talking about Congress doing an investigation.  But some of these leaks are coming from top officials, people who know insider information.  What has the President said to his staff as it relates to the leaks in reference to trying to find out himself, not just from top-level people, what has he said to people about the leaks, about trying to stop it, or trying to find out what’s happening?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think the President made clear in his comments when he stood before you all a couple weeks ago that his main concern is national security.  That’s — when he keeps talking about the leaks, his concern is the leaks that damage and undermine national security, the leaks that deal with classified and other information.  That’s what his main concern is.  And I don’t think — that’s not a White House issue.  That’s sort of — that is an issue that is beyond the White House.  We’re not —

Q    Other leaks don’t matter, but the national —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, I think — it’s not that other leaks don’t matter.  I think his issue that he has talked about and his concern is the leaks of national security.  It’s not that he’s saying, other leaks are okay.

But I think the ones that threaten our public safety or potentially put our country in harm are the ones that he really cares about.


Q    I have a question.  I’m sorry.  This President reached out to former President Obama several times when he was President.

MR. SPICER:  That’s right.

Q    They started building something.  There was a bridge.  Now some people in the Obama camp are considering these conversations about, or these tweets crazy.  And the question is now:  With this divide between these two, and President Trump may need to one day reach back to former President Obama, how do you think that will play out?  Do you think that these two will never come back together again?  Is this something he could have talked to him about before he went on Twitter?  There is now a chasm.  There’s a divide that wasn’t there a couple of weeks ago.

MR. SPICER:  Okay, well, there was a divide during the campaign, too.  I don’t think that — I think that, as you saw, and the President has made it very clear, he said some things about the President.  And the President said stuff — about the campaign.  I think they came together for the good of the country.  And in cases where they can come together for a common good and to talk about what’s in the country’s best interests, they will.

But I understand your point.  I just think the President —

Q    Did he burn a bridge?

Q    Hold up, hold on.

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  But I think that they’ll be just fine.  So go ahead.  That’s you.

Q    Oh, good.


Q    Hi, Sean.

MR. SPICER:  Hi, Julie.  You’ve been very patient.

Q    Yes, I have.  Thanks.

MR. SPICER:  I think it’s your first time.

Q    It is, yes.

MR. SPICER:  Well, welcome.  See how pleasant this is?

Q    I was feeling like how can I not get called on my first time?  Ten years ago, Bob Levinson disappeared in Iran.  And I know the President talked about this a little bit on the campaign trail.  Is there anything you can tell us about how the administration is approaching this case?  Have they been in communication with his family or any updates on that?

MR. SPICER:  I think we put out a statement from the NSC on Friday on this — Victoria.  I think we — so we have been in communication with his family.  I believe they were here — or we were in touch with them last week.  And obviously, we continue to hold out hope.  But the administration has been in touch with his family.

Q    Sean, the call to Netanyahu, what prompted that?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know, Dave.  I’ll find out.  I just know it happened.  And I got a little bit of a —

Q    As you might know, the Prime Minister is meeting later this week with Vladimir Putin.  Did the President and the Prime Minister talk about Syria at all?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know.  I know that they had a discussion about regional threats, so I don’t want to get ahead of this.

David Jackson.

Q    Comey did tell people this weekend that President Obama did not order these wiretaps, and he did want the Justice Department to put out that statement.  Does President Obama believe —

MR. SPICER:  Are you — like I said, I am not — wait, so —

Q    Does President Trump believe Comey when he says that President Obama did not authorize these wiretaps?

MR. SPICER:  My question is, is that I don’t think that we’ve confirmed that Director Comey did say that.  I don’t — I’m not aware.  Aside from reading stories that cite anonymous sources saying that he did, I’m not aware that that actually happened.  So that’s the first issue that I think we need to resolve.

Q    Well, people we trust did tell us that he did.

MR. SPICER:  Well, with all due respect, not you, but I think that we’ve had a number of reports that I’ve seen that — about things that have occurred in the last 40-some-odd days that actually didn’t occur, but anonymous sources said they did.

Peter Alexander.

Q    Sean, to be clear, you said earlier as an on-the-record source for the President’s wiretapping claims, he referred to the former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.  I just want to ask you to clarify if you could because his public comments were on Sunday, a day after the President tweeted about this.   And even in his public comments, he said that he based his information “on news reports.”

MR. SPICER:  Okay.  But I’m just saying that he is — someone asked whether it was an on-the-record comment.  And that is on the record.

Q    But I was saying, was there an on — you were being asked was there an on-the-record comment in advance of the President’s tweets to which he was basing his information?  Did he have anything better than anonymous sources?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — I’m not — as I said before, I’m not going to get into the elements of that.  I’ll just — I’m going to wait until the House and Senate.

Q    Really, just on a past comment that the President had made about the suggestion that there were — or the claim, in fact, that there were 3 million to 5 million people who voted illegally in this country — he made this claim more than a month ago.  I just want to get a sense now on the update on any investigation into that and where it stands, given the explosive nature of such a claim.

MR. SPICER:  I think we’ve touched on this, but he has asked Vice President Pence to lead a task force on this.  We have — I’ll get more for you.  I know that there’s been some discussion with some Secretaries of State and others on some of this.  I know you had that issue in Texas come — last week, and I’m trying to remember the exact nature of it, but there has been now further evidence that people have voted illegally.  And I think that one of the things the task force is looking to do is to gather additional information of what — it’s still in the process of getting the task members named.

Q    Does the task force, I guess, exist yet?  Or is —

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, the Vice President has been talking to folks potentially to serve on it, and I know that several Secretaries of State have expressed —

Q    It hasn’t convened yet, but he’s been talking to folks about it.

MR. SPICER:  That’s correct.  That’s correct.

Q    Sean, two subjects here, following up on the wiretap question.  Stepping away from what the President knew or the basis of his tweets, how appropriate is it for a President to make an explosive charge as fact and then send you folks out to step away and say this maybe happened and we should investigate it?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, I think there’s two things.  One is the President’s tweets speak for themselves.  We’re making that very —

Q    But —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.  And I think the President has been very clear, as we’ve stated, that I think there’s enough there that we want the House and Senate intelligence to use the resources they do to make sure that they look into this matter.  I mean, that’s — there is — anyway, I do not want to get ahead of where they may go with this or what they may look at, but I’m going to leave it to them.  If we start down the rabbit hole of discussing some of this stuff I think then we end up in a very difficult place.

I look forward to seeing you guys tomorrow.  If you can bring your cameras —

Q    Sean, housekeeping-wise, you said that we’d get some clarification on a number of questions — to all of us.  If you could do that today through the pool —

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think we can try to do that through the pool.  If not, we’ll write everything — we generally write down everything and try to get back to the reporters.  So I will have the team — and then get it out by the pool.

Q    Will we be hearing from the President this week, since we didn’t today?

MR. SPICER:  I’m sure at some point we’ll do either something that we — a photo spray or something.  I think that we have a pretty good track record of making the President available to folks.

Q    — kind of unusual.

MR. SPICER:  What’s unusual?

Q    To not —

MR. SPICER:  It’s Monday.

Q    Exactly.

Q    But you see — everything is closed.  Normally we have a photo spray or something.

MR. SPICER:  I just — I think that’s — don’t give me this “normally we do.”  I made it very clear at the beginning of this, April, that we have some things on camera, some off.  Last week the President traveled two days, he had the joint session.  We briefed every single day —

Q    It’s not about us, it’s about the American public seeing their President.  And we have to —

MR. SPICER:  Wait, hold on.  Seeing their President.  The guy is in meetings all day.  I’m trying — how many times did you complain about the President —

Q    He signed executive orders.  You had us — last week you said —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, hold on.  He signed an executive order.  I mean, this is a President, when it comes to accessibility and allowing the press access, I think I’ve heard from several of you — we have gone above and beyond allowing the press into events, into sprays.  We’ve had greater access.

So, with all due respect, I mean that’s not been the case.  One day out of the last 41 or 40, whatever it’s been — but I think this President has been extremely accessible, extremely transparent, as far as — he signed an executive order this morning that we then put all three Cabinet Secretaries that were relevant to implement this out.

I’ll be out tomorrow.  I think we have an opportunity — look, I made it very clear from the beginning of this that we’d have a briefing every day.  We’ve gaggled every day, we’ve made ourselves available to you.  So, with all due respect, that’s not a very accurate assessment of how we’ve been acting.

Thanks.  I’ll see you guys tomorrow.

2:50 P.M. EST

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders En Route Orlando, Florida

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Orlando, Florida

12:44 P.M. EST

MS. SANDERS:  All right, I’ll walk through — I’ll keep the opening quick since I know we’re on tight time, but the President is going to spend his day here in Orlando, Florida, speaking with students, parents, teachers and administrators on how we can improve our education system and the importance of school choice.  We’ll be at the St. Andrew Catholic School.  The President will then proceed to Palm Beach for a working weekend and returning on Sunday night to the White House.

The Vice President will be Wisconsin today for a listening session with Wisconsin business leaders and their employees, and attending with him are Secretary Price and Speaker Ryan.  Also attending with the President today in Florida Secretary DeVos, Florida Governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio, who is also on the plane with us today — as well as Secretary DeVos.

And with that, I will take your questions.

Q    Is there any reaction from the White House to arrests in connection with the threats against Jewish community centers?

MS. SANDERS:  Is there any what?  I’m sorry.

Q    Reaction from the White House to the arrests.

MS. SANDERS:  I know that happened just within the last few hours and so I will get back to you on that if there’s anything specific from us.  But right now, it’s still too early for us to say much about it.  Let the process work.

Q    Can you see why the White House decided that it’s okay for the Keystone XL pipeline not to be built with American steel?

MS. SANDERS:  Well, the way that the executive order is written is actually — and I’ll get you the exact language, but you can probably all have it in your inboxes if you want to look back.  But it’s specific to new pipelines or those that are being repaired.  And since this one is already currently under construction, the steel is already literally sitting there, it would be hard to go back.  But I know that everything moving forward would be — fall under that executive order.

Q    Vice President Pence in a new story out of Indiana — it was revealed that he used a private email server —

MS. SANDERS:  Actually, it was —

Q    — or a private email account —

MS. SANDERS:  Very different.

Q    Sorry.  A private email account, but it was hacked.  How is that different from what Hillary Clinton did?  What’s the difference?

MS. SANDERS:  There’s lightyears of difference.  Number one, he was a governor — he wasn’t a federal employee, which means the laws are different.  It’s subject to Indiana law, not federal law.  Second, he’s a governor, which means he wasn’t handling classified information like she was.  And third, all of his emails he turned over specifically to be archived, which is why anybody even knows about the account.  He did everything to the letter of the law in Indiana, turned all of his emails over, unlike Hillary Clinton who lost at least 30,000, who knows how many more, had a private server, and had classified information, which he didn’t have.  I mean, that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Q    Sarah, on Russia and Sessions, is the President —

MS. SANDERS:  I can’t believe it took us that long.

Q    I know, right?

MS. SANDERS:  Goodness.

Q    Is the President satisfied that recusal is enough for the Attorney General?  He seemed to say in his statement he didn’t even think that that should have happened and yet the Attorney General took that step on his own.  And there are reports about other members of the President’s campaign staff that had also had connections —

MS. SANDERS:  Campaign volunteers, but yes.

Q    — who have been volunteers.  I mean, at what point is there a “there” there, as Sean said there wasn’t.  I mean, at what point is — I mean, there’s so much out there.

MS. SANDERS:  Is there really?  I mean, please explain to me how volunteers meeting at a conference where nearly 80 ambassadors attended is a story.  I guess that part is kind of lost on me where that would be newsworthy in any capacity.  I mean, Chuck Schumer sitting, having drinks with Putin and that’s not a news story, but apparently a volunteer for a campaign bumping into one at a conference where there’s, again, dozens of other ambassadors is newsworthy, I guess.

Q    Jeff Sessions was more than a campaign volunteer, right?

MS. SANDERS:  As a senator, he obviously in his official capacity met with the ambassador but, again, that was a senator, not as a campaign official.  And so to try to muddy the waters in that way is I think pretty unfair to the Attorney General.

Q    Why is the administration just now telling people about the meeting with Kislyak at Trump Tower?  It seems like a little late, given that there was all this stuff about whether Flynn had had conversations with him.

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think this, again, was a courtesy meeting.  They were part of over a hundred different meetings during the transition.  This wasn’t like a secret — it was just — frankly, I didn’t know about it and so I don’t think anybody saw it as a big deal.  There was no policy discussion.  It was an introductory, courtesy meeting, which we did literally hundreds over the course of the transition.

Q    With other ambassadors?  How many other ambassadors?

MS. SANDERS:  I would have to get a specific number, but I know that there were dozens of other ambassadors.

Q    There were a number of reporters who are staked out at Trump Tower watching people go up the elevators.  No one saw the Russian ambassador.  Did he use a separate entrance?  And if so, why?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure, but I’ll check and find out, and let you guys know.

Q    To go back to Pence and the email issue for a second, is the White House certain that he’s not using personal email as Vice President?  And has the White House sort of checked in with all the Cabinet Secretaries and people to talk to them about using personal email versus government email?

MS. SANDERS:  Yeah, I know that we’ve all had the training on security and ethics training, and I’m also — I will ask specifically that question, but I know that the Vice President is following the law as it’s required by him.

Q    Can you say one thing on the education event today —  Nancy DeVos and her —

Q    Betsy.

Q    I’m sorry — Betsy DeVos, sorry, and her support for school choice has obviously been controversial with teachers unions, with a lot of the Democrats.  Is this a sort of kickoff for the President in his push to try to help her adopt school choice nationwide?

MS. SANDERS:  I think the point of today is exactly what it says — it’s a listening session.  It’s to talk about ideas and reforms that have worked, particularly at this school, which I think you guys will get the opportunity to see that.

Look, the number-one priority for education with the President has been consistent from day one.  It hasn’t changed, and that’s to make the power and the central focus be more on the parents and the local level, and less at the federal level.  And today is part of that process.

Q    Is there any legislation or anything that he is going to pushing on that?

MS. SANDERS:  Not as of today.  We’ll certainly keep you guys posted if we’re making any legislative announcements or bill signings.

Q    There are reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is visiting the White House later this month.  Can you confirm that today?

MS. SANDERS:  Yes, she will be there.  I believe the date is March 14th, and that is confirmed.

Q    What will they be discussing?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not going to get ahead of their conversations, but we’ll certainly provide readouts after that meeting.  And I believe we plan to have a press conference with that, and they can address that directly.

Q    The New York Times story about the debate over climate change and the Paris climate deal, whether the President is going to pull the U.S. out of that deal — can you tell us where the President’s mind is on that, and if we’re expecting an announcement anytime soon?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the President, and he hasn’t made an announcement on that, but you guys are always the first to know.

Q    Can you talk a little bit about the RNC event tonight? What the President is going to do or say there, and anything else that he’s going to do this weekend?

MS. SANDERS:  Sure.  I know that it’s a fundraiser.  This will be the first fundraiser he has attended as President.  And it’s — as you would imagine — like pretty much every other fundraiser.  The goal is to raise money for the Republican Party, and I don’t expect tonight to be any different.

Q    Is there any access for us?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t think so, as of now.  I think the standard policy has usually been not to have press at fundraisers, but I’ll check and let you guys know.

Q    And anything else this weekend?

MS. SANDERS:  I know we have some other stuff.  Stephanie, who will be with you guys through the rest of the weekend, will keep you posted throughout Sunday.

Q    Any update on the travel ban EO?

MS. SANDERS:  We don’t have an announcement yet, but again, we’ll let you know when we’re ready to roll that out.

Q    Any portions of his schedule for next week that you can preview today?

MS. SANDERS:  I think we will have a week-ahead guidance later tonight, and so we’ll get that to you guys then.

Anything else?

Q    More on Sessions and Russia:  The President said he learned about this, as the rest of us were learning, through media reports.  Same thing with Flynn.  He didn’t know about the calls and the fact that they were discussing sanctions.  Does the President feel like he has a full understanding of what his campaign, what his staffers, what his administration has done in terms of its relationship with Russia?  Is there anything that the President feels that he doesn’t know yet?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t think so, and I think the big point here is that the President himself knows what his involvement was, and that’s zero.  And I think he’s the primary person that should be held responsible, and he had no interaction, and I think that’s what the story should be focused on.

Thanks, guys.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.

MS. SANDERS:  You bet.

12:54 P.M. EST

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Sean Spicer en route Joint Base Andrews, 3/2/2017

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Joint Base Andrews

3:44 P.M. EST

MR. SPICER:  I hope you guys had a great visit.  I’m going to try to keep this short, obviously.  We’ve got a short flight time home.

This morning, the President was glad to see Ben Carson confirmed as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and former governor of Texas confirmed as the Secretary of Energy.  He looks forward to working with them to enact his bold agenda.  The Secretaries will be sworn in this evening — Secretary Carson at 5:00 p.m. and then Secretary Perry at 5:30 p.m.

The President was honored to visit our next aircraft carrier of the United States Navy, the Gerald R. Ford, today.  As he emphasized on the campaign trail and again Tuesday in his address, expansion of the United States Armed Forces is a major priority for him, and the naval fleet is a significant portion of that.  Expanding our current fleet of ships requires a collaborative partnership between the military and industry leaders to ensure maximum efficiency for taxpayers.  The Navy is a vital part of the President’s strategy to defeat terrorism with aircraft carriers, especially important in areas where we don’t have a base, from which to launch missions, project power and protect American interest.

Hand-in-hand with military leaders and the shipbuilding community, the Trump administration will continue to build extraordinary crafts like the Gerald R. Ford, protect taxpayer dollars, and support the jobs the shipbuilding industry provides, and, most importantly, keep our nation safe.  While onboard today, the President received a briefing from military leaders.  He then took a tour of the ship, after which he gave remarks on the hangar bay to several thousand workers and crew members and shipyard workers, which I think you all saw.

The Vice President was in Ohio this afternoon with Secretary Price to discuss the President’s economic agenda and especially repealing and replacing the Obamacare disaster.  The Vice President then participated in a listening session with small business owners and a tour of Frame USA, an American-owned and operated small business, and delivered remarks at Frame USA.

With that, you have a couple questions before we —

Q    Did Sessions lie during his testimony in January, saying he didn’t have any communication with the Russians?

MR. SPICER:  No, I think the senator’s comments were clearly with respect to his — he was asked about his role as a surrogate and whether he understood the campaign — whether the campaign had contacts, and he said no.  It was in his — I think clearly with respect to his role as a campaign surrogate.

Q    Has the President spoken with the Attorney General about any of this?


Q    Was the President told that General Sessions should recuse himself from the Russian —

MR. SPICER:  I think that the President — you guys got that question answered from him directly.

Q    Should he provide more information to the committee, perhaps, to try to clarify his comments?

MR. SPICER:  I know the Attorney General is going to speak very shortly, so let’s just — I’ll leave it at that.  But I think the President made his views clear with you guys just a short time ago.

Q    He doesn’t have any concerns about whether he should have given a more clear response at the time?

MR. SPICER:  Well, obviously — I mean, I’ll let the Attorney General speak for himself.  But I think that clearly if you listen to what he was responding to, he’s clearly referring to his role as a campaign surrogate.  That’s what the question was about.  And I think there’s no —

Q    So in that role as a campaign surrogate, does that mean, like, if he was asked at a campaign rally, he’s a campaign surrogate?  If he’s at his office, he’s a senator?  Like, where does one role begin and the other one stop?

MR. SPICER:  We’re moments away from him addressing this.  And it was really silly for me to try to talk about what he may or may not think.  But I think most people — almost a clear — I don’t think there’s very few other ways to read it when you look at the transcript and see the back and forth that he was clearly referring to himself.  He was very — he was clear in referring to himself as a campaign surrogate and believed that that’s what the question was about.  But I will let — I mean, we’re literally moments away from him addressing this, and I think the President made his view clear.

Q    Sean, I had a big question of what he told the Senate.  Is the White House annoyed that he wasn’t completely forthcoming with you guys?

MR. SPICER:  Forthcoming about what?  I mean, he’s a United States —

Q    (Inaudible) with the Russian ambassador.

MR. SPICER:  Wait, hold on, he’s a United States senator who speaks to countless — I mean, that’s — I mean, he was a campaign surrogate and gave the candidate at that time some ideas and advice in very important — he had the value — the President values his opinion tremendously, as you can tell by the fact that he wanted him in his Cabinet.

But the fact of the matter is, how can you do something — I mean, he was literally conducting himself as a United States senator.

Q    Yes, of course.

MR. SPICER:  But hold on, and let’s be clear, you look at all these other senators who have had contact, and this is what senators do in the course of conducting themselves in their job.  And as you’ve seen, whether it’s some of these folks that initially came out of the gate and said that they had never done it, the list gets larger and larger.

Q    But why wouldn’t he go ahead and talk — there was already this flap about the ambassador and Flynn.  Why wouldn’t Sessions put it out there?

MR. SPICER:  Again, I’m going to let him answer it, but I think that it was pretty clear.  The question was about the campaign, and I think the — literally, correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t have the question in front of me, but I think something to the effect of the campaign comments regarding the election of — the 2016 election.  So if you haven’t had anything then there’s nothing — I mean, again —

Q    But (inaudible) saying he should recuse himself, and what about Nancy Pelosi and others saying he should resign?

MR. SPICER:  I would suggest to you that I think it’s interesting that a lot of these guys — this continues to seem to be much more of a partisan thing that we’ve seen over and over again.  As I think I’ve mentioned from the — this continues to be a question of there’s no there there.  And it’s the same over and over and over.

Q    You think there’s no there there.

MR. SPICER:  It’s not that I don’t think —

Q    (Inaudible) a Republican.

MR. SPICER:  I know who he is.  I know it’s — but I’m just suggesting that I think the point is that — again, I’m going to let the Attorney General speak for himself, but the bottom line is, is that for six months now we’ve heard the same thing over and over again, unnamed sources talking about nebulous, unnamed things, and keep having to say the same thing.  At some point, you have to ask yourself where the “there” is.

Q    Sean, we’re hearing rumblings that there may not be a new travel ban coming anymore.  Can you confirm that?  When do you expect it then?

MR. SPICER:  Again, I’ve made this very clear to you guys.  I’ll say again what I’ve said before.  I’m not — and when the President has made a decision about something that he’s ready for us to announce, we’ll announce it, but we’re not there yet.

But again, I think that the —

Q    So you’re taking your time a little bit more with it?

MR. SPICER:  I think that we continue to have a guiding principle doing what’s right to keep the nation safe, and he’s doing everything he can to consult with agencies and departments and key stakeholders.

Q    And he’s still committed to revising this travel ban that was blocked in court?

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to tell you that there’s nothing that has changed from what I’ve said in the past.

Q    General Sessions was talking about the Loretta Lynch-Bill Clinton meeting in the summer.  He said at the time that there should be —

MR. SPICER:  What are you talking about?

Q    When General Sessions talked about the Loretta Lynch-Bill Clinton meeting in the summer, he said a special prosecutor was warranted.  Why isn’t a special prosecutor necessary in this case?

MR. SPICER:  Again, I think that the question goes back to what — he didn’t — he was in the course of his Senate duties, did what senators do.  There’s no discussion — there’s nothing that would lead anyone to believe that he didn’t do anything that was part of his job.

Q    What was that meeting in regards to?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know.  But, I mean, there’s nothing — it was in his Senate office.  There were Senate aides, from what I understand, conducting Senate business.

Q    I don’t think anybody is — nobody is really questioning that the senator has the right to meet with the Russian ambassador in the course of his business.  My question before was rather whether after — when he’s become attorney general, he didn’t take the President or someone in the White House aside and say, listen, I don’t think — there was nothing untoward here but this is pertinent information given the current political climate.

MR. SPICER:  What pertinent information?

Q    That he met with the Russian ambassador and it wasn’t disclosed to the Senate.

MR. SPICER:  But he probably met with countless other ambassadors.  And I think — again, he probably met with countless other associations and constituents and —

Q    So that’s not something you would have wanted to know?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — I guess my question is, why would we want to know everything that he did in conducting himself on behalf of the people of Alabama?

Q    Okay, so you’re fine with it coming out in the papers and learning about it this way?

MR. SPICER:  Learning about — but here’s my question:  Learning about what?  The fact of the matter is, if we’re learning about the fact that he did his job as a United States senator, then that’s great.  I don’t think there has been anything that I’m aware of at this time that suggests anything other than he did his job as a United States senator as, frankly, many of these other senators have now said, well, I met with this ambassador, or another ambassador.  I mean, that’s what senators do.

Q    What about the Counsel’s Office asking staff to preserve Russia-related documents, materials —

MR. SPICER:  That’s a pro-forma, standard operating procedure that — and I think, frankly, it shows how serious we take this subject.

Q    The President hasn’t spoken to Sessions either last night or today?  Why not?

MR. SPICER:  Why not?  I mean, I think — I’m not —

Q    Even though there’s no there there —

MR. SPICER:  I mean, again, I think —

Q    Have you spoken to Sessions, Sean?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to — look, I’m just going to say that the Attorney General is going to make a statement very shortly, and I’ll let that stand for itself.

We’re going to go down.  Thank you, guys.

Q    Sean, do you have anything on al-Masri?

MR. SPICER:  On what?

Q    Al-Masri’s death?

MR. SPICER:  No, I — when we land I can maybe get something.  Thanks, guys.

3:54 P.M. EST

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 3/1/2017

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:40 A.M. EST

MR. SPICER:  Hi, guys.  I’m going to try to keep this relatively short.  We got a few things going on today, and I know that the pool has got to get out to do a spray at some point soon with the lunch.

So, obviously, last night was a big night for the President and for everyone here at the White House.  The President delivered a powerful statement to Congress, to Americans, and the world last night.  It was an optimistic, forward-looking message of unity, strength, straight from his heart.  The President was proud to stand before the American people last night and present his roadmap for a renewal of the American spirit.  He honestly and — he honestly acknowledged the undeniable challenges that we face, but continually reminded us there’s no challenge facing this country that we can’t meet if we join together.

The American spirit has already proven itself against seemingly insurmountable odds, and we’ll do it again under the leadership of this President.

Republicans and Democrats may be divided on policies, but we’re also united in our mission to achieve peace and prosperity for every American citizen.  The President has obviously been humbled by the great reception that the — the reception that his address received.  Today, the President is holding a series of meetings with White House staff, congressional leaders, and others to drive the goals that he laid out last night.

He’ll host shortly a leadership lunch with House and Senate Republican leadership.  The attendees will include the Vice President, Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan, Senator Cornyn, Leader McCarthy, Congressman Scalise, Senator Gardiner and Senator Perdue.

Last night’s address clearly generated a lot of momentum, and the President is anxious to continue working on an ambitious legislative agenda.  During his speech last night, the President mentioned policies in key areas, from urban renewal to trade reform, where too many leading agencies and departments in charge of implementing are still waiting on their confirmed leaders.

The President was pleased, obviously, to see that Ryan Zinke was confirmed as the Secretary of the Interior by the Senate just a short time ago.  So the confirmation process is now coming to an end for him, and start to get the work going.

As the President mentioned in last night’s remarks — and, by the way, one quick note, we’ll have an update on his swearing-in hopefully soon.  As the President mentioned in last night’s remarks, he’s calling on Congress to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a patient-focused system that expands options, lowers costs, and improves healthcare outcomes for all Americans.  He’s ready to restart the honest engine — to restart the engine of the American economy, which means tax reform that brings down rates for the middle class and simplifies the tax code, a robust infrastructure program and a budget that puts the interests of American people first.

The President and congressional leaders will work together today to continue to chart a path forward on those issues and more.  Also, today, Judge Neil Gorsuch will be back up on the Hill meeting with seven senators, including Senators Booker, Sanders, Barrasso and Kaine.  And lastly, this evening, the President will have dinner with Secretary Tillerson.

Looking ahead, I know Sarah was kind enough to come brief you yesterday about the President’s trip to Hampton Roads tomorrow.  I’ll have a few more details for you on that.  The President is looking forward to meeting with the members of the Navy and some of the sailors down there, the shipbuilders, including the lead shipbuilder of the USS Gerald Ford and the ship’s commander, before giving remarks on deck to a group of shipbuilders and sailors.

On Friday, the President will be in Orlando, Florida for a series of important events highlighting his educational agenda.  He’ll be visiting St. Andrews Catholic School, where I think you can expect him to drop in on a few lucky classrooms, as well as meeting with parents, teachers, and administrators.  Education, as was noted last night from the President, is a top priority.  He has said many times before that education has the ability to level the playing field for the next generation.  Obviously, last night he noted that he believes this is the civil rights issue of this generation.  He is determined to provide choice for every parent, and opportunities for every child, regardless of their zip code.  I expect he will be speaking with the parents and teachers and administrators at St. Andrews on his upcoming plans for reaching that goal.

And finally, I want to note that the President is monitoring the situation in the Midwest, where a string of tornadoes is devastating several states with more severe weather predicted for the coming states — for the coming days.  Three lives have already been tragically cut short.  The families of those victims and also those who have had their homes and property destroyed are in the President’s thoughts and prayers.  The millions of people in the path of severe weather will be at the top of his mind over the next few days.  He implores everyone to follow the directions of emergency services and stay inside, and obviously will continue to be in contact with state and local officials to provide the necessary federal support that is required.

With that, I’m glad to take some questions.

Q    On the lunch today, was it always —

MR. SPICER:  John Roberts.  (Laughter.)

Q    — was it always just going to be Republican leadership?  Were the Democrats ever invited?  Will he meet with the Democrats?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I’m sure he will.  And you’ve seen he’s met with a bipartisan group of Senate leaders last week.  He met with a bipartisan group of attorney general yesterday.  He met with the bipartisan group of governors.  I mean, just to be factual here, at some point, the people who set the agenda and the timetable to enact his agenda are Republican, and so there’s a difference between meeting with both sides of the aisle, and I think he has pretty well shown a desire to reach across the aisle in the last month.  But this is about actually charting out the agenda and the timeline, and that’s why it’s both groups.  But yeah, I think you’ll continue to see not just — in the next week, not just leadership but rank-and-file members of the House and the Senate with that aim.

Q    Sean, the Dow Jones crossed 21,000 for the first time today.

MR. SPICER:  It did.

Q    Does the White House believe that that’s a reaction to the President’s speech last night?

MR. SPICER:  (Laughter.)  Look, I’m not an economist.  I don’t want to — I know the Dow goes up and down, as well as the other indexes, and I don’t want to get in the habit of commenting every time the Dow hits.  But I think that you’ve seen a sustained economic boon since the President was elected.  He commented on it last night.

I think you’re seeing not just the Dow react, but manufacturers, business leaders, folks from small and large companies talk about it.  And I think that there is a renewed sense of wanting to business, and of economic growth and optimism.  You’ve seen it in not just in the indexes on a day-to-day basis as they go up and down, but also in the confidence numbers that show that there is a continued growth in the confidence in our economy and our market and our policies.

Look, I don’t want to tie a direct link.  I think that that’s — you know, we could go back and forth every day about where the market stands at any given time in a day.  But I would have to believe that when you talk to a lot of economists, they — and frankly, not just the economists who look at it academically and try to parse it, but when you talk to these company CEOs and leaders that he’s talking to, there is a renewed sense of confidence in their country, in the agenda, in the desire to hire and grow and expand in the United States, and I can only see that as a positive sign, not just for the market, but for our entire economy.

Q    How long — to follow up on that — how long does the President think he can wait in order to provide specifics on tax reform and Obamacare and the others before we start to lose that sense of momentum and confidence that you’re talking about in the markets?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think it’s not just those pieces.  Obviously, it’s bigger than just that.  But I think that, with respect to Obamacare, he’s talked about the next few weeks having something out there, and then same with tax reform.  And I think both of those things that we’ll be working with the Hill.  Secretary Mnuchin mentioned the other day that hopefully having a tax plan done by (inaudible).

But both of those, specifically, are massive undertakings.  And the idea that they are going to be done in two seconds is a little bit of a fallacy, and I think that we’ve given folks updates and guidelines as far as when we see this thing moving.  And I think that that’s a pretty good guide of where we go.

Jim Stinson.

Q    Sean, Governor Beshear said on Morning Joe today — I’m paraphrasing — that people are going to die if GOP healthcare plans more forward.  What does the administration say to Democrats suggesting Obamacare repeal will cost American lives?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I would suggest to the former governor that, when you look at where Obamacare stands right now — I think I’ve mentioned this before, Jim — but more and more people are facing higher and higher premiums.  People are choosing to opt out of the exchange and pay the penalty.  It is collapsing on its own.

And I don’t — I think that that’s a bit extreme.  The reality is that more people are having problems right now.  They’re losing their doctor.  They’re losing the plan that they liked.  I’d like him to defend — I mean, I read to you guys two days ago Nancy Pelosi’s own definition of success for Obamacare.  They had three prongs for that, and they failed on all three of them.

So Governor Beshear — you know, the President last night extended an olive branch to Democrats and Republicans to work with him on a plan that actually achieves the goals that were laid out.  That’s what he should — if he wants to be focused, it’s not just former governors, but I think current governors were here to talk about what they want.  And so I know Governor Bevin, the current governor of Kentucky, has noted the concerns that Obamacare has in Kentucky now.  And I think those are the challenges and problems that the President is seeking to fix on this.

The reality is, is that we have to have a healthcare system that Americans can afford, that give them choice, that have doctors that can deal with the problems they have.  And that’s what we’re working with Congress on right now is to get that kind of a plan in place.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  One brief question.

MR. SPICER:  Wow.  (Laughter.)

Q    Senator Schumer, the Minority Leader, has said that the President is stalling on one of the pivotal points of his agenda — infrastructure — where he could work with Democrats.  What’s the administration’s response to Senator Schumer?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think first and foremost, I’m glad to see that he has finally found one area that he’s willing to work with the President on.  I know that multiple times this morning he was offered an opportunity on various shows to talk about things that he thought they could work with on the — with the President.  And I think it took — in particular, I saw the exchange on NBC and it was somewhat disappointing that when you look at all the things that the President said that I think offered an olive branch to both parties and seemingly should unify the country on issues and on goals, that it’s nice to finally hear that we found one.  Because I think there were a lot of areas in that speech last night that transcended party lines and ideology, and that united us all as Americans.

With respect to infrastructure, I think the President noted last night that we’re going to continue to see a plan evolve that’s really structured in a private partner financing mechanism that will continue to move forward.  But whether it’s our roads or bridges, our airports, air traffic control, there is an infrastructure piece of our nation that is so vital to the way we do life.  And not just that, but — not just the building itself and the construction of it, but those roads are what — are the byway and the pathway to so much of our economic commerce today.  And doing them not only is good for the jobs that they will create on the projects, but allowing us to have — allowing products to get to market and consumers to get to business, et cetera, is actually a magnifying event for that.

Q    Sean, I’m just looking for some clarification on your comments from the last week about the administration’s stance on recreational marijuana.  During the campaign, the President had said that this is a states’ rights issue.  Is this still where he believes this issue should flow, or does he believe it’s a federal —

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think, Trey, there is a specific carve-out in the appropriations for medical marijuana.  And I think the President understands that that can be a vital part of treatment, especially for terminally ill patients and people facing certain kinds of medical things.  But there is a — I think I was very — I’m sorry if I wasn’t, but I think I was clear that there is a big difference between the medical and the non-medical.


Q    Sean, two things on the speech.  The President talked about robust engagement when he was talking about foreign policy.  But at the same time, the White House is talking about cutting foreign aid by a large amount.  How do you track those two things?

MR. SPICER:  Well, because you can have engagement — I mean, I don’t know that —

Q    Like, who is going to be doing the diplomacy if you’re cutting the State Department funding?

MR. SPICER:  I mean, who is going to be doing it?  There’s people that do —

Q    Who is the lead on foreign policy?  Is it the White House or the State Department?

MR. SPICER:  Secretary of State.

Q    It is the Secretary of State?

MR. SPICER:  Of course, it is.  I mean, look, the President obviously guides our foreign policy in terms of who implements it, whether it’s — if you talk about healthcare, it’s going to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  If it’s on trade, it’s going to be the USTR.  I mean, so it’s pretty clear that the Secretary of State implements the President’s foreign policy agenda.

Q    Right, but more robust versus cutting.  They sound contradictory —

MR. SPICER:  But, again, I think this is a very Washington trap.  Just because dollars do not decide engagement — I think one of the things that’s fascinating is that as the President has talked to all of these foreign leaders — I don’t know in a single case — and, again, I can’t say I’ve been on every call — but I can’t think of — maybe one or two or something, because again, I don’t want to get in a trap of trying to — but I cannot say in most cases, at least, that I’ve heard direct aid being a discussion that has come up.

In fact, what I hear more often is:  “Gosh, we haven’t heard from the United States in a long time.  We haven’t had you engage in issues of concern with us.  We haven’t talked about trade.  We haven’t talked about other issues of bilateral concern.”  I think that’s what a robust, healthy, bilateral relationship with a country is about.

I think it is a very Washington-centered argument to literally tie dollars to any program or any type of engagement — to say something is robust by the dollar figure is something that is a very Washington answer.  But I think that you can look at dollars that have gotten to a lot of countries.  And when we ask them, what’s your relationship been with the United States?  They’ll say, we haven’t had much engagement at all with the United States in a while.


Q    Sorry, I had a second question —

MR. SPICER:  John tried to start something; it just didn’t continue.  (Laughter.)

Q    In the speech last night, while the President talked about support for vets and support for military, he didn’t talk about the 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, the 5,000 in Iraq, the hundreds of operators on the ground in Syria.  Was there a reason that he didn’t lay out his vision for foreign policy in those active war zones?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, I think you could probably go through and say, he also didn’t talk about this or that.  He talked about his —

Q    The world is watching, and those are clear —

MR. SPICER:  I understand that.  But you can go through a lot of hotspots that we have in a country.  I think when it comes to the military itself, he was very clear about his commitment to the military, his desire to fund the military, give them the infrastructure that it needs.  It’s why he’s going to go to Hampton Roads tomorrow to talk about the investment that needs to get made.  He talked about veterans and caring for the folks.

So I understand your question.  But I think at some point you can literally go through all of the other areas that may not have come up on domestic and foreign policy, other nations that didn’t get a mention, or a hotspot that didn’t get up.

But I think in terms of his commitment to the country, his commitment to defeating ISIS, he did bring that up.  He talked about the plan that he wants to have, the engagement that he’s having with the Joint Chiefs in the military, the funding that he wants to lend them.

So I get that you can parse out something and say, “but he didn’t bring up this exact thing.”  There’s a lot of things that may or may not have come up last night, and that doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t have the commitment to it.

Q    He wasn’t deemphasizing foreign policy?

MR. SPICER:  No, I think he talked about ISIS.  He talked about the military.  He talked about it.  So I don’t have —


Q    It will not surprise you that I have two questions.  The first one is quick.

MR. SPICER:  I think for Lent everyone needs to give up two questions.  (Laughter.)  Or maybe I could at least give up answering two questions.  (Laughter.)

Q    I’ll make the first one quick, so how about that?  Can you update us on where we are on the executive order regarding vetting?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, as I said, we would have an announcement at some point scheduling-wise.  When we have one, we’ll announce it.  I think the President, as I mentioned a couple days ago, the issue for us has been a continued desire to share with the departments and agencies the ability to implement this, and we continue to do that.  When we have a schedule to announce —

Q    When do you think —

MR. SPICER:  I’ve not — I’ve learned not to put days on things, because until we announce it, it’s much like we’ve talked about all the executive orders, with all the personnel announcements.  When the President is ready to make a decision, he lets us know and we let you know.  So we’re not there yet.

Q    The second question — can you tell us a little bit about the back story with Carryn Owens being there yesterday?  She wasn’t on the list you all sent out.  When did the President talk to her?  When did that happen?  When was she invited?  Why wasn’t she on the official list?  And did they have a chance to visit beforehand?

MR. SPICER:  Okay, I’ll take these in order.  She was invited on January 30th.  In the condolence call to her, the President invited her and her three children to the White House.  And during that call, said, “You know, by the way, I’m going to be giving this speech in February.  If you would feel comfortable, I would love to have you as a guest.”  He asked if she’d like to bring the kids at that time.  It was obviously a very raw and emotional time for her, and she said that’s — she appreciated the invitation, she would love to take him up on it, would get back to us.  The President asked the military aide in the room at the time to follow up with her.  She accepted the invitation.  So she and her three children came to the White House yesterday, met with the President prior to the speech, and they had a time to visit before and then after, obviously.

Why she wasn’t on the guidance:  We had a conversation with her prior, and just said, you know, I know this is an emotional time for you.  Respectfully to you guys, we knew that if we had released her name, that there would be a lot of media attention to her and her family.  And we spoke to her before we put out the guest guidance and just said, would you rather us wait and hold?  So we made a decision at the time that this was a very raw and emotional time for her, and we didn’t — we worked with her to decide what would be in her best interest and her family’s best interest at this time.

Q    Were the children there?

MR. SPICER:  No, they were not there.

Q    But her parents were there, correct?


Q    But the children were in town —

MR. SPICER:  The children were in town.  They visited the White House.  They had an opportunity to visit the Navy Mess, have lunch, go up and see — and so the President got to see them.  And they got a tour of the White House.

Q    Was there some special interaction with Ivanka, because she was sitting next to her?  Or it just happened to be where she sat?

MR. SPICER:  They met obviously over — and obviously after — at the end of the evening, the President brought them into the room where he was holding, and everybody, including the First Lady, had a chance to talk to her and her family, and mother and father.  But, as I said, this was something that was extended — the invitation was extended to her on the 30th of January when the President made that first call to her.

And again, just respectfully in terms of the follow-up, I know there’s been a lot of interest in her, in Carryn.  And we have — our goal was to make sure that we respected her wishes and her privacy.  And again, even with referencing her in the speech, that was her decision.  We asked her — the President would like to raise this.  And she said, I’d like that.  And so that was coordinated with her in terms of how public she wanted to be and how acknowledged she wanted her and Ryan to be as well.

Q    I just thought I’d bring this up so you could respond to it.  You must have seen the criticism of her being there and the President mentioning her.  And people are saying it’s a photo-op.  So since you’re talking about it, do you want to respond to that, that it’s a way to —

MR. SPICER:  I think that that’s — I mean, again, he invited her on January 30th and extended an invitation.  I don’t — it was she who accepted the invitation.  I think she has a right to honor the legacy and sacrifice of her husband.  And I think — I’ve been in this town 25 years, probably watched State of the Unions for 30 — which doesn’t say a lot — (laughter) — for my viewing habits — but I’ve never seen a sustained applause like that.  And I think that you can say what you want about a lot of the policies, but I hope to God that everybody in America could literally say that that’s the country that we live in, that you honor and support, not just Ryan’s sacrifice, but her — what she’s going to go through and what those children are going to go through.

It was amazing — I got a chance to talk to the kids yesterday and see them so — you know, they’re kids, they were happy, they were running around.  I don’t know that they fully appreciate the sacrifice that their father has made.  But I just — I’m not going to — if that’s the criticism that people that, they have a right to in this country.  But I would also suggest that we have the right to honor the people who have served this nation and the sacrifice that the families make of those who serve.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  There were some quotes floating around last night from anonymous administration officials saying —

MR. SPICER:  What?  (Laughter.)

Q    What a surprise, right?  (Laughter.)  That part of the reason for the postponement of the announcement of the new travel ban was the positive reception of the speech, and that the administration wants the new executive order to “have its own moment.”  Was the speech perception part of the reason —

MR. SPICER:  I will just refer you back to what I said to Anita’s first question.  We hadn’t made an announcement.  And I think that — again, this gets back to personnel announcements, executive order announcements, other things.  Until they’re on the schedule, that doesn’t make them official.  And that’s the point of making the announcement, is that we say this is where we’re going and this is what we’re doing.  We try to provide you guys guidance.  Obviously, there’s a reason that we don’t — because sometimes things aren’t ready, sometimes we want to make — the President hasn’t made up his final mind about executing something, or he wants to add something in.  It’s the same thing with the speech yesterday.  I mean, we worked up until game time because the President wanted to continue to work on it.

But when we have announcements to make, we’ll make them.  Until we do, then it’s not final.


Q    Thank you.  I have two really short questions.  The first one on the travel ban.  The first request was for 90 days so that you could develop the new vetting regime.  Thirty days have passed.  I assume that means you’re 30 days into this process.  Does that mean that the next travel ban will ask for just the remaining time of the 90 days?

MR. SPICER:  Respectfully, I’m not — this goes back to the last couple.  I’m not going to start getting into discussions of an executive order that hasn’t been announced yet.  So to start talking about the specifics of something that I’m not even going to talk about the schedule of — I’ll give you credit for the try.

Q    Okay, that’s fair.  My next question is on taxes.  He talked about massive tax cuts for the middle class.  Your Treasury Secretary at one point said there would be no absolute cut for the wealthy.  What does that mean?

MR. SPICER:  It means that I think the focus is on the middle class.  I think there’s two things that are going to be highlighted in the tax reform.  One is to make our companies and corporations and businesses more competitive so that they stay in this country and hire more people.  I mean, that’s —

Q    Right, I’m talking individuals.

MR. SPICER:  I know, I know.  But what I’m saying is that there’s two big components are going to drive tax reform — that being one to help companies hire more people.  And then two is the focus on the individual side of the ledger is going to be on middle-income tax relief.  And so I think that’s what Secretary Mnuchin was referring to.

Q    But are you saying that a wealthy person will not get a larger — in terms of percentage — tax cut than a middle-class person?  I mean, is that how you’re measuring it?

MR. SPICER:  Again, all I’m going to do is stick at the high level now and say that the principle that’s guiding this is middle-class tax relief.  So I’m not going to get into deciding all this yet.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sean.  A lot has been made about the President’s tone, his demeanor last night in his address to Congress in the sense that some people are describing it as very presidential; we haven’t seen this side of President Trump in the early days of his presidency.  Was this a one-off?  Is this something we can expect from the President more often?  For instance, tomorrow he is traveling down to the Newport News, Virginia area.  Will we see the President Trump that we saw last night in his address to Congress, or more like the campaign-style rally that we saw down in Florida, which took place a few weeks ago?

MR. SPICER:  I think the Vice President said it best this morning.  I mean, this is the President Trump, the candidate Trump, the President-elect Trump that I’ve known.  And I think sometimes — so I respectfully disagree in the sense that I think that the folks around him who have known him, who have gotten to know him, this is something that you see on a regular basis.  And I think we’re going to continue to see this.

I think more and more — one of the programs this morning noted that people who have been around him for a long time, this is who he is.  I think he’s talked about this a lot, and I know sometimes you pull random clips, but this is who he is.  And I don’t necessarily subscribe to are we going to see more or less of this.  He cares about this country, he’s got a big heart, he wants America to succeed, he wants America to be safe, he wants more Americans to get back to work.  And I think you’re going to hear him talk about that over and over again.


Q    Sean, the trade document that’s out there, which suggests that the administration may take a position that would potentially ignore or look past WTO rulings.  Is there any truth to this?


Q    What is the position?

MR. SPICER:  Again, I would just argue, look, we’re a member of the WTO, we don’t have a USTR in place yet.  So to suggest that we’re going to take any kind of trade policies — I think, obviously, we’ve got some concerns with the percentage of dispute resolutions that are brought to the WTO versus other nations.  But I would just — that’s sort of a fact in terms of the percentage of cases that get brought to dispute resolution at the USTR — or, excuse me, at the WTO against the United States.  But we don’t have a U.S. Trade Representative, so I would say that that’s not —

Q    Like a working —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, no.  I mean, it’s not even a working. That’s not — full stop — that is not our policy and that’s not where we’re going.


Q    Sean, this is a follow-up on the — from the heart.  Was the President’s softening of his immigration stand one from the heart or one from the political handbook?  Let’s put it that way.  And did you get ashes this morning?

MR. SPICER:  Well, as soon as — I mean, not that I’m a big fan of sharing, but I will be going to get my ashes later in a little bit.  So —

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. SPICER:  I appreciate that.  I will (inaudible) in mass, and I’ll let my mom know that you appreciate that, and my parish priest.  (Laughter.)

Q    — might be able to see you —

MR. SPICER:  I try to keep a little bit of the church and state out of this.

Q    Do you have a confession?


Q    Do you a have a confession while you’re up there?  (Laughter.)

MR. SPICER:  There’s three parts to Lent:  alms giving, penance, and prayer.  And I will make sure that I spend all 40 —

Q    Can you answer the first part of the question?

MR. SPICER:  No, I’m good with — I’m sorry I got lost in my faith.  (Laughter.)

Q    The President’s softening —

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, thank you.  Look, I don’t know that I would agree.  Look, the President’s comments yesterday that were that, if we can get a bill, he would like to get that done.  I think he — in the conversation that he was having with network anchors, he talked about the fact — and, frankly, one of the anchors said, if anyone can get a deal, it would be you.  Obviously, he was pleased with that because it’s true.  And I think he recognizes that a solution, a comprehensive solution has eluded our nation for a long time, and it’s a big problem.  And if he can get it, consistent with his principles, he will.  And I think he made that clear, and the full context of those comments are just that, and in the speech he commented on as well.

And I think there’s a difference between sacrificing your principles to get a deal, and working with others, consistent with your principles to get a deal.  And I think his principles remain consistent, and he understands that the benefit of actually enacting a comprehensive solution to a big problem that we face in the country, I think that’s kind of where his head is at.


Q    Thank you, Sean.

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry.  Go ahead, Zeke.

Q    Okay.  Two for you.  First, following up on Monday, the ISIS review — the status of the review process — who was involved and what is being (inaudible)?  The President — who else is being looped into the process?

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry, I owed you that, and I will get back to you.  The principals committee did meet.  General Mattis shared his outline and ideas and comments, and he got a lot of feedback from the principals committee.  And remember, that’s — and I’d need to get Michael to get back with you on that.  I owe you that, and my apologies.  I’ll add it to my confession.  (Laughter.)

Q    And then the second is, just following the President’s line of speech last night about “the time for trivial fights is behind us” — does the President believe that he has also sometimes engaged in some of these trivial fights?  And going forward, should we be expecting less of these fights from him with all sorts of people?

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to let — the President’s vision and words last night should stand for themselves.  I think he was very clear in terms of what he expects from the country.


Q    The President talked about merit-based immigration last night.  Can you talk a little bit more about what that means, and whether that indicates a desire to change legal immigration from a focus on family reunification to some sort of making sure they have a job in the United States?  And was he also trying to imply that we don’t have a merit-based immigration system?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think he was — look, I would just refer you back to what he said.  I mean, you’ve got countries like Canada and Australia, in particular, that have a true merit-based system, and I think he was making it clear that we currently don’t necessarily — the results of our immigration system don’t yield, necessarily, one that reflects a merit-based one.

But I will say that there was, I think, a very substantial case that he made in terms of merit-based — what he wants and how he wants to get there.


Q    Can I have a second?  I was going to have a second question.

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry.

Q    The President also had a comment about how many factories have left the United States since China joined the WTO.  Last night his number was 60,000.  A week ago, on February 23rd, he used the figure of 70,000.  Just wondering what the genesis of the figure is, and what the White House believes to be the number of factories.  And also whether it is truly attributable to China joining the WTO or other factors, as well.

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to — we’ll get somebody to follow up with you on the cite for that, as well.

I went to Jeremy.

Q    Is the President considering the Pentagon and his Defense Secretary more authority to greenlight raids like the kind that we saw in Yemen?  And is that, in part, driven by the political blowback that that raid had initially?

And secondly, could you talk about — the initial executive order on the travel ban called for a 30-day review period to see if they would — you would add additional countries to the list of banned —

MR. SPICER:  I’ll take the second one first.  I can refer you back to Mara Liasson’s question.  (Laughter.)

On the first part, I think that he has been very clear from the get-go.  He talked about some of the tactics used a while ago, and he said, I’m going to rely on General Mattis and his expertise.  And I think when it comes to national security, he’s got an amazing team by all standards — whether it’s Secretary Mattis, Secretary Kelly, General McMaster.  There’s a whole host of these — with General Kellogg.  And I think he’s always talked about he’s going to rely on his advisors to give him advice.

I think at the end of the day there are certain decisions that have to be signed off by the President.  And I would respectfully dispute the characterization of that, and I think we’ve pushed back and discussed this several times.  There is — this raid and action and mission was one that I think we have detailed very, very closely — or carefully — about the timeline for this, and when it was signed off on, and by whom.  And it was initiated, signed off on by the previous administration in writing, with a signature to greenlight it.  And it was further reviewed and concurred under this administration that the same basis for greenlighting it back then stood.

So, respectfully, the actual timeline and documentation does not support the accusation or the question that you’re trying to ask.

Q    And just as far as this was — is nothing going to change as far as who greenlights certain raids?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, I think legally — Jeremy, I don’t want to get into specifics because I think there is certain action that requires presidential sign-off.  And there’s certain action in terms of echelon — the way the military works, you have different echelons that can be signed off on certain things.  And I think there are certain things that have to be signed off by the President of the United States.

Q    (Inaudible) protocol.

MR. SPICER:  So the protocol is not changing in terms of what has to be signed off, but I think that the President has made clear — all that being said, he relies heavily on their input, their decision-making, their opinions, and their analysis and conclusions.  That’s different.  And I think one of the issues that you saw — or some of the criticism that you saw last administration was that you had a lot of the combatant commanders in particular who would say, we came to a conclusion, we made the case, and we weren’t allowed to move forward.

That’s where I think the nuance that you’re asking actually lies, which is —

Q    Right, so is he making a change to address that criticism?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, no.  I think his point — it’s a philosophy more than a sort of a change in policy, which is he believes that these are the experts in this field — as he does with all of his Cabinet.  I mean, I think if you ask — in terms of foreign policy interaction, he would say, okay, I chose Secretary Tillerson because I believe he’s the right guy for this job; if Betsy DeVos has an educational matter that’s going to come up.  He chose these highly qualified individuals because he believes in their expertise and understanding of the issues.

I think his point and his philosophy is, generally, if they come to him with a case and lay it out, then he is — that is going to weigh heavily on his decision-making, whereas I think in the last administration, one of the major critiques was that they would come to them and then there was a preponderance — the preponderance of time.  It would be, no, we’re not going to move forward with this.  So I just want to be —


Q    Sean, a lot of lawmakers were heartened by the speech last night and drew a contrast from the inaugural address 40 days prior, and said that the tone was very different, the substance was different, the olive branches and outreach.  Does the White House agree with that characterization?  Was it on purpose?  And if it was on purpose, what, over the course of those 40 days, inspired the course correction?

MR. SPICER:  It was not on purpose.  There is no — I mean, one was an inaugural.  One was a joint address.  They’re two different speeches, and I think that they serve two different purposes in terms of what you’re trying to lay out.  I think the joint address serves as sort of a place hold for the State of the Union for first term — or first year, first term.

Q    The way he communicated.

MR. SPICER:  I understand — you’re right.  And I think he wanted to lay out — it’s a much different and longer speech.  He had different sort of messaging objectives at each.  But I also dispute the notion on the inaugural.  Like, I mean, I think that when you actually look at the critique, people will look at four or five different lines.  But for the most part, for much — the most part — the high majority of that speech, he talked about the American people, the American worker, and the challenges that they face and where he thinks the country has kind of gotten off-track prioritizing them and his desire to put, what he called, the forgotten people back number one in line.

And then so one was sort of — that was laying out his sort of vision for the presidency.  This time I think it was much more of a laying out the policies of how he’s going to achieve that.  And that’s the purpose of a joint address.  So I just — it’s two different speeches, but I just don’t agree with the characterization of the inaugural in the first place.

Q    Was there some conclusion, though, in the White House or by the President himself that that rhetorical approach early on in the presidency, that the tweets, that the speeches — like he did at CPAC the other day, the fighting with the media — that that was not helping and he needed to do something different?

MR. SPICER:  No.  No, no, there wasn’t.  I just — again, I think he — and this particular speech was a very personal — again, like, each speech, each speech has a different audience, a different objective.  And I think for this speech, he was very personal, he was very, very much him.  It was his work, it was his voice, it was his words, it was his edits, it was his suggestions.

And then he had a team surrounded by him, including the Vice President, the chief of staff, Steve Miller, Steve Bannon, Jared, Ivanka was part of it.  There was a — Kellyanne, Hope — who he would bounce ideas and objectives off of.  But this was a Trump speech from his heart, as he said, that evolved over the course of the last 10 days or so.  And in the last 48 to 72 hours, really accelerated, got very crisp.  And it was up until about 12:15 — excuse me, that’s when I got home.  (Laughter.)  About 6:15 yesterday when we really started to get that real final point on it, because it was something that was very, very personal to him.  But I wouldn’t conflate the two and try to compare one speech with another.  He looked at them as very different objectives in terms of how the speech.

I need to run.

Q    But, Sean, was this a reset?  Was it a reset speech?

MR. SPICER:  No, it wasn’t a reset speech.  I need to get on.  I’ve got some things I have to take care of.  But thank you.  We will, as I mentioned, expect a gaggle on the way down to Hampton Roads tomorrow, and we will see you later.

Thank you all.

12:25 P.M. EST

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sander, 2/28/2017

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:07 P.M. EST

MS. SANDERS:  Good Afternoon.  Sorry for the delay.  Obviously, I never want to step on anything the President is doing, so I wanted to wait until he finished.  The President has obviously got a full day and night planned, so I’m going to try to keep this short so that you guys can get focused on his speech coming up later.

First off, and I know Sean briefly spoke about this yesterday — and, by the way, just for clarification, he is not here, clearly, because he is up on the Hill briefing House and Senate communicators about the speech and previewing that for them right now.  But Sean mentioned this yesterday, and I’m sure that it stuck with me, but the story has developed further.  I wanted to address the tragic shooting in Kansas.  The President is keeping the family of the victim, who was senselessly, killed in his thoughts, and we’re praying for the full and speedy recovery of those who were wounded.

As more facts come to light, and it begins to look like this was an act of racially-motivated hatred, we want to reiterate that the President condemns these and any other racially- or religiously-motivated attacks in the strongest terms.  They have no place in our country, and we will continue to make that clear.

In regards to the rest of the events today, this morning the Vice President swore in Secretary Ross as the Secretary of Commerce in his ceremonial office, and the President knows Secretary Ross is eager to get started building the country back up again, and we’re glad to finally have him in place at the Commerce Department to do just that.

Moving on to the President’s day, this morning, after receiving his national daily intelligence briefing, the President met with the National Association of Attorneys General, and then had lunch with members of the press, as is tradition for the day of the joint address to Congress.

This afternoon, the President, as most of you saw, just signed two bills and executive orders.  The first bill, H.R. 321, also known as the INSPIRE Act, encourages NASA to have women and girls participate in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and to pursue careers in aerospace using extreme programs and resources.

H.R. 255, or the Promoting Women and Entrepreneurship Act, is a similar bill targeted to the National Science Foundation.  The bill encourages NSF to also use existing programs to recruit and support the employment of women in the sciences.  These bills are the next step in the President’s continued focus on empowering women of all ages and all interests to pursue their chosen careers.

As you saw, the President and Prime Minister Trudeau spent an afternoon speaking with female business leaders about the unique challenges facing women in the workplace earlier this month.  And just last week, during his listening session with manufacturing CEOs, the President heard from a breakout group focused specifically on policies that could help lessen or remove some of those same barriers.

The President also signed two executive orders.  The first instructs the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to review and reconsider the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule, as well as providing instruction to the Attorney General for current legal action on the rule.  The Obama administration’s rule vastly expands federal jurisdiction into state and local areas, and the decisions that directly affects them, and that’s something that this administration does not take lightly.

The second executive order will make Historically Black Colleges and Universities a priority again in the White House.  This order provides a framework for repositioning the HBCU initiative in the White House, allowing it to function across all executive departments and agencies in consultation with the Department of Education.

As you might have seen yesterday, the President welcomed the over 60 presidents of HBCUs and representatives from leading HBCU organizations to the Oval Office before their listening session with the Vice President and Secretary DeVos.  The President is extremely committed to keeping the promises he made regarding HBCUs on the campaign trail, and looks forward to working with these leaders and organizations to provide HBCUs with the resources that they need.

Later this afternoon, probably right about now, the President is meeting with the guests who will be seated with the First Lady at his first address to the Joint Congress.  We provided a list and shorts bios of each of the guests via email last night.  Now, I’m also able to confirm two additional guests for the First Lady: Jessica Gregory and her proud mother, Sheila Gregory.  Jessica was diagnosed at birth with spina bifida, and has undergone 11 surgeries at Children’s National Health System.  Today, she is a dynamic 18-year-old honor student in Maryland, planning for college and a career as a public interest reporter, which was sparked by her experiences at Children’s National Seacrest Studios.

Later this evening, the President will proceed to the U.S. Capitol where he will address the Joint Session of Congress at 9:10 p.m.  And, of course, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s safe to say that the President will be presenting a forward-looking vision to the American people.  He’s already proven that he can bring results and relief to this country, and a wave of optimism is surging across the country in response.

In terms of an outline of some of the policy areas the President will address during his speech, the President will specifically ask Congress to join him in coming up with and implementing solutions to restart the engine of our economy, provide more access to quality, affordable healthcare, expand educational opportunities to every child no matter their zip code, and unite with law enforcement and the military to protect our communities and our homeland.

Together, with the help of Congress, state and local governments, the President will set our country back on the path to a bright future.  Speaking of future, looking ahead in the schedule, I have some updates on the President’s upcoming travel.  On Thursday, he will travel to Virginia to give remarks aboard the USS Gerald Ford, and participate in a roundtable with military officials, shipbuilders, and community leaders.  Initial guidance for that has already been sent out, and we’ll have updates for credentialed media coming soon.

On Friday, the President will attend a listening session on school choice at St. Andrews Catholic School in Florida, and we’ll have guidance for that out soon.  And with that, I’ll take you questions.


Q    Yeah, Sarah, thanks.  Two things:  First, can you —

MS. SANDERS:  Of course, let’s not mess with tradition here.

Q    Very — they’re simple things.  Can you confirm a discussion that happened with the network anchors about immigration, where apparently the President is now open to a compromise bill on immigration reform, and something he might include in the speech tonight?

And the second point is regarding the State Department budget.  There are some reports out there about possibly a 37 or 38 percent cut to the State Department budget.

MS. SANDERS:  So I’ll start with the first question.  I was not a participant in the lunch today, so not part of the specific conversation, so I can’t speak to the exact conversation that took place.  But I do know that the President has been very clear in his process that the immigration system is broken and needs massive reform, and he has made clear that he is open to having conversations about that and moving forward.

Right now, his primary focus, as he had made over and over again, is border control and security at the border, and deporting criminals from our country, and keeping our country safe.  And those priorities have not changed.

Q    And the State Department?

MS. SANDERS:  And the State Department — as we said before, I think — not congressman anymore — but OMB Director Mulvaney made it pretty clear that the budget priorities that we laid out were just that — they were priorities.  And right now, we’re in a discussion process.  This is the same historically today that it always works:  We put out our priorities, we lay those out to the departments, they offer feedback to us, and so right now we’re just in a discussion process.  So there’s nothing firm and exact on any numbers that may be coming out of that.


Q    Two subjects for you.  Kansas — you started off your remarks talking about it.  Can we expect the President to address that tonight?  And forgetting about what may or may not have been discussed, is the President open to an immigration bill that would include a pathway to citizenship without undocumented immigrants leaving the country?

MS. SANDERS:  On your first question, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was mentioned in the speech tonight.  In terms of the immigration, again, I haven’t had further conversations with him about that today, but I do know that his priorities have been very clear on immigration, and that’s the number one focus right now.

Q    One follow on that.  Is it safe to say he wouldn’t —

MS. SANDERS:  That’s three now.

Q    — rule out — it’s a follow.  It’s a follow-up.

MS. SANDERS:  Just so you know, I’m not like Sean.  I’m not going to let her set precedents and take three questions from everybody.

Q    Very quick follow.  Is it safe to say he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of an immigration bill that would not deport people who don’t have criminal records?  In other words, is the focus still on those with criminal records?  And is he very seriously considering some type to carve-out for those who don’t have criminal records?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, the focus is certainly on those with a criminal background and criminal record.  But until I’ve had a chance to have a conversation with the President, I’m not going to speak to that any further.

Sure, go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Two questions, of course.  First off, the budget and possible reductions to the State Department.  Would that indicate — would those reductions indicate any desire to run foreign policy more directly out of the White House as opposed to through the State Department and career diplomats?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry, I’m not following what you’re asking here.

Q    Cuts to the State Department.  There have been reports saying that Secretary Tillerson has been sort of marginalized in a lot of foreign policy discussions going on.  And do these cuts indicate any desire to run foreign policy more directly from the White House and not through the State Department?

MS. SANDERS:  Well, I would disagree that Secretary Tillerson has been marginalized.  I think nothing could be further from the truth.  And so I wouldn’t rely on sources outside of the White House in terms of who will be making decisions.  And at this point, the Secretary of State is very much empowered to do that.  Nothing has changed on that front.

Q    Second question.

MS. SANDERS:  Go ahead.

Q    Not to belabor a point, but to follow up on Kristen’s question.  The reports that are out there are still coming in about this conversation that was had today, but is it fair then to say that the President supports at least a compromise immigration bill?  And then just give us a few details on how he’s spending the afternoon in terms of this speech.  Like, is it done?  Is he still tweaking?  Things like that.

MS. SANDERS:  I love that if we keep asking the same question we think we might get a different answer.  I know.  I appreciate the effort; I think you guys get As for effort.  But again, I’m going to continue to say:  Until I’ve had a chance to have that conversation with the President, I’m not going to speculate on what that would look like.

In terms of the afternoon, I know right now he is currently meeting with the people that will be seated with the First Lady.  And this afternoon, he has plans to work through the speech and practice and make any last-minute changes to that.

Go ahead.

Q    So those people that he’s meeting with right now, is he going to be directly referencing them in his speech tonight?

MS. SANDERS:  I think you can rest assured that most of those names will come up in the speech tonight.

Q    And any idea when the excerpts will be coming out?

MS. SANDERS:  I think we may have some later this afternoon.  I don’t know that we’ll have the full text of the speech before, but I do believe we’ll have at least some nuggets of the speech that we will release later today.

Shaileagh (ph).

Q    Thank you.  So first, on the JCC threats, apparently Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro is saying that in part of his conversation with the President, the President indicated that these threats may have come from “the reverse” or “to make others look bad.”  Do you dispute that characterization of — what did the President mean by that?  Was he saying that these anti-Semitic threats are coming from — I don’t know, you tell us.

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I wasn’t part of a private conversation.  What I do know is the conversations that I have had with the President, he’s been extremely clear and extremely consistent on this topic.  Any act of violence towards people of the Jewish faith is condemned by this administration.  Full stop.

Q    And then one on healthcare, as well.  There have been — some Republicans have now come out publicly against the draft plan that is being circulated in Congress on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.  Is the President concerned about the fact that more conservatives are now saying they couldn’t support that plan?  And what is his message to those Republicans?

MS. SANDERS:  Not at all, because the draft plan is exactly that — a draft.  It’s meant to open up the conversation.  The last several days the President has spent time with governors, he’s meeting with attorney generals, he’s met with CEOs of major healthcare companies to talk about how they can improve that plan.

The big things that he’s made a priority is that we will repeal Obamacare but replace it with something better.  And that’s a lot of what these conversations that he’s had over the last several days are helping to do, is to make that plan better.  And the one that’s been floated out there is nothing more than a draft.


Q    Sarah — and I want to ask two questions on two different things.  When it comes to inclusion, what is the President talking about tonight when it’s inclusion?  Is it about race?  Is it about politics?  What does this inclusion vision or unity vision include?

MS. SANDERS:  I think it’s very clear, the President has made no secret from the campaign trail through the first month in office that his priority is putting Americans first.  And when he says “Americans,” he means all Americans.  He’s not specifying breaking it out by demographic.  He’s talking about every single American, and I don’t think you can be any more clear when it comes to unity than that — and inclusion.

Q    And last question, on HBCUs.  There’s no new money in it, but the people who came to the stakeout, who were in the room for the signing, were talking about a promise of more money.  They’ve been looking forward to more money from (inaudible) Commerce.  What is this next step for them, I guess, to do when it comes to getting more money and this promise beyond what you’re already doing trying to bring the agencies together to pinpoint things (inaudible)?  What is this promise of hope for money?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure on the specific resources, but I do know that the President’s priority here is making sure that the HBCUs have a direct line within the White House and not layers of bureaucracy to have to go through.  And so that conversation has opened up so that he can be part of that directly.  And that’s a big part of moving this group back into the White House outside of the Department of Education.

Q    So you don’t know anything else about —

MS. SANDERS:  I do know that there have been a lot of different discussions on how that could happen.  Some of that is through — all of the different departments have — there are quite a few departments — you would be surprised, not just Department of Education, that actually have funding streams for HBCUs, and figuring out how best to streamline that so that more money goes back to the actual colleges and universities.


Q    The Pentagon — that 30-day report yesterday on defeating ISIS.  Can you give us any sort of update on the options presented in that and what the President’s reaction was?

MS. SANDERS:  I think the President has been very clear, he never lays out a strategy to defeat an enemy.  And that’s exactly what he was asked to get back was a strategy and options.  And I know that that was presented yesterday.


Q    Did the White House reach out to the Pentagon to see what kind of information could be made public about what intelligence was gathered in that Yemen raid?  Do you know if that’s something that occurred?

MS. SANDERS:  I know we’ve had conversations with people at DOD.  I haven’t been given specifics, but I do know that very clearly it was stated that there was substantial information gathered that was offered.  And I’m trying to figure — remember exactly how they phrased it — but actionable items within that information.

Sure, go ahead.

Q    Just to follow up on immigration, I know you said the focus is still on border security and deporting criminals.  But can we expect the President to actually talk about a call for a broader immigration bill at all in the speech?  Or is that just something you’re saying he’s open to but we’re not going to hear about it tonight?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I’m not going to get in front of the President’s speech tonight, but I do think that you can expect immigration to be mentioned.  But I’ll let him fill you in on the details of what that actually looks like.

Q    Two questions.  So first, with regard to the anti-ISIS plan, how much of that can we expect to hear from him tonight?  You’re saying that he doesn’t want to kind of reveal the game plan, but it could involve boosting troop numbers perhaps.  I mean, the American people probably would want to know something like that.  So is there anything that’s going to hint to that?

The second part is, General McMaster has been reported to say that he didn’t think that the phrase “radical Islamic extremism” is helpful, is a useful term.  So is the President going to try to kind of tone that down in his speech tonight?  Or can we expect to still hear that kind of language used?

MS. SANDERS:  I know that national security will be a big part of the speech tonight.  And again, I don’t want to get ahead of that, but I think you can certainly anticipate him addressing national security in depth tonight.


Q    Thanks, Sarah.  A follow-up question about the ISIS review.  Sean yesterday promised a — I guess more information today on the process, who was involved in drafting this review — not specifics of what was in it.  And yesterday, the principals committee, when as it actually brought the President?  That’s the first one.

The second one is, you’ve spent a lot of time talking about (inaudible) following up on a question earlier.  Does the administration hope that the State Department keeps the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism?  Or will the White House sort of commit to keeping that position?

MS. SANDERS:  Yeah, on the first question in terms of the plan and the specifics, luckily we’re not all the way through with today.  And it’s going to be a long day, so we’ve still got plenty of time to get that information to you.  In terms of the second part, I’m not clear on the plan for that, but we’ll check and get back to you on it.

Q    Just two small, short questions.  Do you have anything on this immigration — about the skilled laborers?  For example, H-1B visa.  Because there is a group of lawmakers who were in Delhi, and they spoke to Prime Minister Modi who gave — there is a lot of fear about the H-1B visa being slashed.  So do you have anything on that?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t have any announcements on that right now.

Q    And the Indian foreign secretary is in town from today until March 4th.  Any meetings scheduled here?

MS. SANDERS:  Not that I’m aware of right now, but I’ll check and we’ll get back to you and let you know for sure.

Q    Sarah, I was wondering if you have any details on the strike that may have killed Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, the al Qaeda number two?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t have any comments at all.  Not at this time.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  Two brief questions for you.  One, in at least two of the televised debates during the Republican presidential nomination, candidate Trump made it clear he was for abolishing the Department of Education.  Now he is President, and are there going to be major cutbacks in the Department of Education that have been approved by Secretary DeVos?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure about specific cutbacks.  But I do know that there is a heavy emphasis and priority on moving power away from the federal government to the state and local government.  And I know that that was one of the topics that was discussed yesterday with a lot of the governors that were in town.  Specifically that topic came up.  And I think you can look for ways that we’ll start moving power from the federal government to state and local governments where they’re closer to education decisions.  But as far as specific plans, I couldn’t speak to that today.

Q    So it’s phasing out the department rather than abolishing?

MS. SANDERS:  I did not say that we were phasing out the department.  I said we were moving power away from the federal government to state and local governments.  But as far as specifics go, I’m sure we’ll be getting to those over the next couple of months.

Q    My other question is —

MS. SANDERS:  Sean set me up for the take two here.  (Laughter.)

Q    The Islamic Resistance Council, one of the best-known groups in opposition to the government in Tehran, recently released documents saying the Quds Force, the Elite Revolutionary Guards in Iran have an extra-territorial division now that is fomenting violence in other countries, including Yemen, Iraq, and Syria.  Is the administration aware of this?  And does it have any comment on it?

MS. SANDERS:  That’s a question I would refer to the NSC, instead of through us.

Q    In his Fox interview, the President said this morning, “We will be putting out a replacement plan for Obamacare.”  Who is “we”?

MS. SANDERS:  Well, I think it’s no secret he’s been spending a lot of time working with members of Congress, his HHS Secretary, Secretary Price, himself.  And again, he’s had countless meetings over the first few weeks in office with a lot of people that have major influence and major impact, and that a repeal-and-replace plan would impact a lot.  So I think it’s a collective thing.  But primarily the President, the Department of HHS, and Congress.

Q    Will that be one plan?  Or is it going to be a White House plan and a congressional plan?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t think we’re ready to make that full announcement today, but I definitely know that it’s a collective process that we’ve been working through.


Q    Just to follow up on that question:  Has there been some warmth shown to the Speaker’s office and to the House Republican proposal?  That’s what we’re hearing from sources up on the Hill, that they’re feeling a little bit better about the way the President is receiving their proposals for repealing and replacing Obamacare.

MS. SANDERS:  Look, we — absolutely, this President is very clear he wants to work with Congress.  And we want to make sure that we have the best plan possible.  And I think that requires that all of us come together and work together to make sure we get that.  And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.

Q    Can I just follow on that, Sarah?  There are a variety of House Republicans who know that the working draft is dead in the House — among Republicans for ACA repeal and replace.  And their question is whether they’re going to hear from the President something more specific that will help give them cover and lead them forward on ACA, publicly.  So my question to you is:  What is he going to say that might be in the vein that they’re talking about — leading, giving them cover, and describing something in more detail than Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s speech tonight.  But I do know that he will address Obamacare.  He’ll talk about some of his priorities for the plan, and I’ll let him speak to that later this evening.

Q    Can I also ask — Sean said yesterday we could expect a new immigration, travel EO by midweek.  Is that still operable?

MS. SANDERS:  I would say that’s pretty likely.


Q    Thank you, Sarah.  The White House, I’m wondering, if you have a strategy for who is sitting with the President — or rather with the First Lady in the box — for instance, Democrats are purposefully bringing DREAMers, they’re purposefully brining Muslims to show their opposition to some of the President’s strategy.  So what is the White House’s message with the people that are sitting in the President’s box?

MS. SANDERS:  I think the primary reason that a lot of times you have people in the box are they’re — that highlight specific parts of the speech and specific parts of the agenda.  And I think you can see the people sitting with him.  It’s pretty obvious the reason that most of them are there.  And he’s laid out those priorities since day one of his administration.  And so I think it’s pretty self-explanatory there, Francesca.


Q    Thanks, Sarah.  The President’s budget — even though it’s not complete yet — has already been running into some significant resistance among Senate Republicans.  Senator McConnell is out there criticizing the State Department cuts.  Senator Graham said it was dead on arrival.  So I just want to know what the White House is doing to talk to these members, maybe assuage their concerns.  Can you give us a picture what’s going on behind the scenes to get support for that document before it comes out?

MS. SANDERS:  Sure.  I mean, the President met with Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell earlier this week to talk about some of those priorities.  But again, this isn’t a final budget.  It’s a draft, and the whole point of it is to receive feedback, work together, and put the best budget forward possible.

And that’s exactly what process we’re in right now.  Director Mulvaney is focused on doing that.  And I know he’s got a lot of colleagues in the House and Senate, and he’ll be speaking with a lot of those people over the coming weeks as we lead up to rolling out our budget.

Q    Sarah, the President said he believes that former President Barack Obama is secretly behind these waves of protests that have been coming up these last few weeks.  What tangible evidence is President Trump basing this on?  And when was the last time the two spoke?

MS. SANDERS:  I’ll let the President’s comments on that stand for itself.  And I’m not sure on the last time they spoke.  I’d have to check on that and get back to you.

Q    But does the White House believe that President Obama and his people — like the President is suggesting — are behind these protests?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think the bottom line here is that we’ve all condemned the protests.  I think that that’s the bigger story here.  And the focus that we should be talking about is that this isn’t something that helps and moves us forward.  And that’s what we’re focused on right now.

Q    Two questions — one is on immigration.

MS. SANDERS:  The topic of the day.

Q    In 2014, President Trump, then-citizen Trump, spoke to CPAC and said that he thought immigration in the long term, if there was an immigration reform bill, that it would be a loser for the Republican Party; that the people who could be naturalized through the process would only vote for Democrats.  Has the President come to a different political calculation that if there is a pathway to citizenship for people here illegally, that they could eventually vote for Republicans?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I haven’t had the chance to talk with the President about this specific policy that we’ve now asked about multiple times.  But we’ll try to do that and get something to you guys in the next —

Q    Does the President think that human exploration is something that is important for the — human space exploration is something that’s important for the country to invest in, in the future?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure if I would say that it’s a top priority.  But I know it’s something that’s certainly been discussed.

Thanks, guys.  We look forward to the speech tonight, and we’ll get you some more details.

Q    (Inaudible) tonight?

Hopefully we’ll have some more information to lay out for you guys later this afternoon.  Thanks.

3:33 P.M. EST

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 2/27/2017, #17

James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:43 P.M. EST

MR. SPICER:  Wow, that’s a crowd.  I hope everyone had a great weekend.  Good afternoon.  Before I begin, I wanted to introduce the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, to talk to you a bit about the President’s budget.  When Director Mulvaney is finished, we will allow him to take a few questions and then resume the briefing and all the fun that goes with it.

So without any further ado, Director Mulvaney.

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  Thanks very much.  I want to talk for a few minutes about the budget blueprint that most of you know the President started speaking about this morning with the governors.  I’ll talk a little bit about what it is and what it isn’t, and then talk about where we are in the budget process and what it looks like from here.

First of all, what this isn’t:  This is not a full-blown budget.  That will not come until May.  So you’re not going to see anything in here that has to do with mandatory spending, entitlement reforms, tax policies, revenue projections, or the infrastructure plan.  This blueprint was never going to be that, as I made clear during my Senate confirmation.  It is a topline number only.

As for what it is, these are the President’s policies, as reflected in topline discretionary spending.  To that end, it is a true America-first budget.  It will show the President is keeping his promises and doing exactly what he said he was going to do when he ran for office.  It prioritizes rebuilding the military, including restoring our nuclear capabilities; protecting the nation and securing the border; enforcing the laws currently on the books; taking care of vets; and increasing school choice.  And it does all of that without adding to the currently projected FY 2018 deficit.

The top line defense discretionary number is $603 billion.  That’s a $54-billion increase — it’s one of the largest increases in history.  It’s also the number that allows the President to keep his promise to undo the military sequester.  The topline nondefense number will be $462 billion.  That’s a $54-billion savings.  It’s the largest-proposed reduction since the early years of the Reagan administration.

The reductions in nondefense spending follow the same model — it’s the President keeping his promises and doing exactly what he said he was going to do.  It reduces money that we give to other nations, it reduces duplicative programs, and it eliminates programs that simply don’t work.

The bottom line is this:  The President is going to protect the country and do so in exactly the same way that every American family has had to do over the last couple years, and that’s prioritize spending.

The schedule from here — these numbers will go out to the agencies today in a process that we describe as passback.  Review from agencies are due back to OMB over the course of the next couple days, and we’ll spend the next week or so working on a final budget blueprint.  We expect to have that number to Congress by March 16th.  That puts us on schedule for a full budget — including all the things I mentioned, this one does not include — with all the larger policy issues in the first part of May.

So with that, I’ll take a couple questions.

Yes, sir.

Q    Mr. Director, in order to get to your topline on the rest of the nondiscretionary — or rest of the discretionary budget, if you’re not going to touch veterans benefits, you need to slice about 12 percent off of the rest of government.  Can’t you do that without affecting the services the government provides for —

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  And that’s part of what this process is this week.  The numbers go out, and the numbers — each agency will get its topline number along with recommendations from OMB as to how we think they can hit that number.  And they may come back to us and say, yeah, we think that’s a good way to reach that number, or they may come back to us with other suggestions.  That’s what this process is.

I think it’s fairly unusual for us to be coming to you this early in the process, but we wanted to let everybody know exactly where we were.

Q    But we’re not talking about 2 or 3 percent — we’re talking about double-digit reductions, and that’s a lot.

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  There’s going to be a lot of programs that — again, you can expect to see exactly what the President said he was going to do.  Foreign aid, for example — the President said we’re going to spend less money overseas and spend more of it here.  That’s going to be reflected in the number we send to the State Department.

Q    Thank you very much.  One quick follow on foreign aid.  That accounts for less than 1 percent of overall spending.  And I just spoke with an analyst who said even if you zero that out, it wouldn’t pay for one year of the budget increases that are being proposed right now.  So how do you square that amount?  So why not tackle entitlements, which are the biggest driver, especially when a lot of Republicans over the years have said that they need to be taxed?

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  Sure.  On your foreign aid, it’s the same answer I just gave, which is, yes, it’s a fairly part of the discretionary budget, but it’s still consistent with what the President said.  When you see these reductions, you’ll be able to tie it back to a speech the President gave or something the President has said previously.  He’s simply going to — we are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars.  So we will be spending less overseas and spending more back home.  I forgot your second question.

Q    On entitlements, why not address entitlements, which is the biggest driver of spending?

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  It’s very unusual to — this is a budget blueprint — what some folks used to call a skinny budget — and it would not be at all unusual for larger policy decisions, including tax reform, revenue projections not to be included in this budget.  That will come in —

Q    Down the line?

Q    Sir —

Q    Hold on.  So down the line, could we see some type of budget that deals with entitlements?

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  The full budget will contain the entire spectrum of the President’s proposed policy changes.

Q    Director, on rebuilding the military, can you talk a little bit about more of the breakdown of that?  Can you go into a little bit more detail?

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  No, I can’t — because, again, where we are in this process is that the numbers going to the DOD today and over the course of the next 10 days to two weeks, we’ll be coming up with those types of details.

I’ve got time for one more.

Q    Will you be asking the military — you’re going to increase the military budget, but are you going to at least ask the people in the Defense Department to take a look at their budget and say, hey, where can we at least cut or at least look and make sure that we’re spending the right amount of money?  Is part of that is going to be part of the process?

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  Well, absolutely.  That’s part of what Secretary Mattis and I have already talked.  He’s interested in driving more efficiencies into the Defense Department.  OMB is also going to be involved with him on the procurement process.  All of that will be incorporated in our larger budget in May.

Q    So it’s not just like a blanket — “Here, we’re going to throw money at you, do what you want”?

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  No, sir.  No, sir.

Last one.

Q    Does this account for spending for the President’s wall, either in the $30 billion we’ve heard you’re going to request for this year or the $54 billion increase?  Does that include money for the wall, how to pay for the wall?

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  It would be more likely — excuse me, a little bit of both.  We do expect to include some money in a future supplemental for 2017 for the wall, and a 2018 budget will also contain some longer-term dollars for that.

Q    So it will be split up between the two.

DIRECTOR MULVANEY:  I believe that to be the case.

Thank you all very much.

MR. SPICER:  Thank you, Director.

So let me get back to — I’ll be right there in a second, April.

This morning, the President dropped by the National Governors Association meeting, where 49 governors from both states and territories joined Cabinet members and senior White House staff to discuss where they can work together to rebuild the country and restart the economy.

While at the meeting, the President delivered a statement on his forthcoming budget proposal, which he’ll submit March 16th, as you just heard the Director mention.  The President’s budget will, first and foremost, keep Americans safe.  That means investing in both our nation’s physical and financial security.  We will rebuild the nation’s military.  An increase in defense spending, including increased funding for our veterans and our border, will be matched by equal reductions in nondefense programs.  The savings in our budget will come from looking at outdated and duplicative programs.  The reductions spending will be sensible and rational, but they will also be tough.

With our nation’s debt spiraling out of control, we simply must take a look at the way we’re spending taxpayers’ dollars.  Families across the country are being forced to make difficult choices, because for too long the federal government has not treated their money with the respect they deserve.  The national debt exploded under the last administration from $10.6 billion [trillion] on January 20th, 2009 to $19.9 trillion the day before — sorry, those are both trillions — the day before the President’s — President Trump’s inaugural.  Every child born in America this year will inherit an average of over $60,000 in debt.  And that, frankly, is too much.

Our budget will restore respect for taxpayers’ dollars while funding all the necessary programs to keep our country safe and prospering.  This meeting with the governors was a continuation of a weekend of engagement and discussion between the governors and the administration.  The President and the First Lady welcomed the governors last night to the White House for the Annual Governors Ball.  And yesterday, the Vice President had a very productive meeting with several governors.

The administration is proud to be working with the governors on rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, reforming our healthcare system, and putting Americans back to work.  I know that Obamacare, in particular, was put into place without a lot of input from governors.  We’re committed to consulting and including them on this and so many other subjects as we solve the nation’s biggest issues together.

Later this morning, the President had a listening session with some of our country’s leading healthcare insurance companies.  Interestingly, on yesterday’s ABC “This Week,” Minority Leader Pelosi actually laid out a great outline of how to judge Obamacare’s success based on what it was supposed to achieve.  She said, “It had three goals:  One, to lower the cost, the other to expand benefits, and the third to improve and increase access.”

So let’s go through her criteria.  Lowering costs:  While this year all four tiers of Obamacare insurance plans are facing double-digit increases in average premiums.  Just to take a look at one set of premiums, for standard silver plans in the states, 63 percent increase in Tennessee, 69 percent increase in Oklahoma, and a staggering 116 percent increase in Arizona.

On expanding benefits:  In reality, the new law’s mandates have led to max cancellations of coverage, soaring out-of-pocket costs, and declining enrollment figures.  Millions are choosing to pay a tax over buying the government-mandate insurance.

Increased access:  With insurance fleeing the marketplace, Americans are facing a dwindling number of insurance choices with 17 percent of Americans left with only one insurer option available in their exchange.  Insurers will be indispensable partners in the transition period out of Obamacare into the Patients First plan the President will be working with Congress to put in its place.  The President’s plan will encourage innovation, modernize our healthcare system, and provide immediate relief, and ensure access to quality, truly affordable care.

This afternoon, the President had lunch with Vice President Pence and Ambassador Haley.  Afterwards, he’s having a meeting with Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell.  And then following that, he’s going to be meeting with Secretary of State Tillerson.  The Secretary is coming off a very successful trip to Mexico that — he was joined by Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly.  I’m sure the President is looking forward to discussing that trip with the Secretary.

Also this afternoon, the Vice President will be speaking to an extraordinary group of 60 presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  There will be a pool spray at the top of the event, and the Vice President’s office will release his remarks and photos following the event.  We can also expect a meeting with the President with them as well.

This evening, the President will have dinner with regional press affiliates that are going to be in town for the joint session of Congress.  While it’s tradition for representatives from the networks to meet with the President before his joint address, this is the first time, to my knowledge at least, that the opportunity has been expanded to include representation from 18 regional outlets from around the country.

Tomorrow, the President will also have the traditional lunch with the network anchors.  Beyond the so-called “big five” networks, we’ve also opened it up and invited outlets including Telemundo, Univision, CBN, EWTN, OANN, PBS, C-SPAN, and TV1.

Tonight, the President looks forward to seeing his nominee for the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, confirmed by the Senate.  Secretary-designate Ross has been an important champion for U.S.-struggling industries in the private sectors.  And pending his confirmation this evening, he’ll now do in the same post on behalf of the American people what he has done in private sector.  Assuming everything goes according to the plan in the Senate tonight, we expect to have his swearing-in tomorrow here at the White House.

Also tomorrow, the President will deliver his first address to both houses of Congress.  In his speech, the President will lay out an optimistic vision for the country, crossing traditional lines of party, race, socioeconomic status.  As I said before, the theme will be the renewal of the American spirit.  He will invite Americans of all backgrounds to come together in the service of a stronger and brighter future for our nation.

In addition to laying out the concrete steps the President has already taken to make the American Dream possible for all of our people, he will talk about the bold agenda — he wants to work with Congress.  This includes tax and regulatory reform to provide relief to hardworking Americans and their businesses, making the workplace better for working parents, ensuring the families who have suffered under Obamacare’s skyrocketing rates see it replaced with a patient-centered alternative, making sure every child in America has access to a good education, a rebuilding of our military and fulfilling of our commitments to veterans to whom we obviously owe a great deal of gratitude.

You can expect to see a speech grounded firmly in solving real problems for every American — how can we make sure that every American who needs a better job get one, how can we get kids who are trapped in failing schools into better ones, how we can keep gangs and drug violence out of our neighborhoods and communities.  The President will address the Americans who have been waiting for help from their leaders for too long, and let them know that help is finally on the way.

With respect to the speech, we will be having a background briefing sometime this evening here in the briefing room.  We will provide additional details later in the afternoon.

As you might already know, the Department of Defense presented its preliminary plan to the White House today to defeat ISIS.  This plan has been delivered by Secretary Mattis, who is currently briefing the principals on the option presented today in seeking their input and feedback.

Finally, I wanted to note the President continues to be deeply disappointed and concerned by the reports of further vandalism at Jewish community — Jewish cemeteries, rather.  The cowardly destruction in Philadelphia this weekend comes on top of similar accounts from Missouri and threats made to Jewish community centers around the country.  The President continues to condemn these and any other form of anti-Semitic and hateful acts in the strongest terms.  From our country’s founding, we’ve been dedicated to protecting the freedom of our citizens’ rights to worship.  No one in America should feel afraid to follow the religion of their choosing freely and openly.  The President is dedicated to preserving this originating principle of our nation.

And while we’re at it, I don’t want to get ahead of the law enforcement, but I was asked the other day about the story in Kansas — the shooting in Kansas.  And while the story is evolving, early reports out of Kansas are equally disturbing.

So with that, I’ll be glad to take your questions.  Jon.

Q    Sean, there’s a report this morning that you reached out directly to CIA Director Pompeo.  Did you directly contact Director Pompeo and ask him to knock down the New York Times story on the Russia connection?

MR. SPICER:  Thanks, Jon.  Let me kind of, if I may, walk through the entire timeline.  I think it’s important.

As I mentioned I think a week ago, the New York Times published a story about what they called “contacts” between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials.  The FBI deputy director was at a meeting here at the White House that morning.  After the meeting concluded, he asked the chief of staff to stand back a second, he wanted to tell him that the report in the New York Times was “BS.”  For viewers at home, I think you can pretty much figure what that means, but I’ll leave it at that.

At that time, the chief of staff said, thank you for sharing that with me, can we let other people know that the story is not accurate.  Throughout the day, they went back and forth to see what they thought was appropriate.  Finally, came to the conclusion that they did not want to get in the process of knocking down every story that they had issues with.

They then — we then were informed that other people had come to the same conclusions, including — at that time, Chairman Devin Nunes had told us, hey, I’ve been knocking this down, telling reporters.  We shared a number with him of a reporter that had contacted us.  And again, when the reporters contact us and we said, no, that’s not — to the best of our knowledge that’s not true, they were asking us, can you point to -anybody else that can substantiate this?  And I think we did a good job of saying, sure, we will share with reporters other people who have come to the same conclusion.

So I won’t go into the specifics.  I will say that I think we did our job very effectively by making sure that reporters who had had questions about the accuracy and the claims made in The New York Times, that we were pointing them to subject-matter experts who understood whether or not that story was accurate or not.  And I think just to continue to be very, very clear on this — it was about the accuracy of the reporting and the claims that were made in there, plain and simple — about whether or not a story that appeared in The New York Times was accurate.  And individual after individual continued to say that, as far as they knew, they weren’t.

I think most of you probably saw Chairman Nunes’s comments this morning.  He was very clear, number one, that he reached out to us to say, I’ve been telling people, reporters, that these allegations and descriptions in The New York Times are not accurate.  And then we shared that information with him.  But he came to us to share that he equally had that issue brought up to him, he was briefed and saw “no evidence” that the story was accurate.

So the answer is, we have continued to give reporters information and sources that went to the accuracy, or lack thereof, of a report that was in a newspaper.  And I think Chairman Nunes also equally said it’s interesting how we literally were engaging with the press, saying, if you have a question about the sourcing on this — obviously, when brought to our attention, we said, it’s not accurate as we know, but then most of you and your colleagues who had inquired would say, well, that’s great, I’m sure you’re saying this, but who else can corroborate this?  So our job was to continue to — when informed — share sources who had equally come to the same conclusion that the Times story was not accurate.

Q    You don’t think there’s something strange about — something odd about the White House Press Secretary getting the CIA director on the phone to knock down a story about an investigation?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, but see, respectfully, you’re using words like “knock down.”  There was a story in a newspaper —

Q    Was it disputed?

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.  No, no — there was reporters coming to us saying, there is a story out there, what’s your take on it?  And our answer was, we don’t believe it’s accurate, we don’t* [do] believe it’s false.  But obviously that’s our take on it.  And reporters were saying to us, well, is there anybody that you can point to to substantiate this claim?

Now, remember, this all started with the FBI coming to us, bringing to our attention, saying that the story in the Times was not accurate — in fact, it was BS — and all we did was simply say, that’s great, could you tell other reporters the same thing you’re telling us?  And I would think that other reporters, yourself included, would think that that would be a helpful thing to get the story straight.  All we sought to do was to actually get an accurate report out.  And again, I think Chairman Nunes this morning, over and over and over and over again, made it very clear that no evidence that has been brought to his attention suggests that that reporting was accurate.

So, respectfully, I think it’s interesting that I’m being asked what’s appropriate when what we’re doing is actually urging reporters to engage with subject-matter experts who can corroborate whether or not something is accurate or not.

Q    Should there be a special prosecutor?  Darrell Issa has called for a special prosecutor to look into this.

MR. SPICER:  And I guess my question would be, a special prosecutor for what?

Q    To look into the whole Russia connection, the whole Russia influencing —

MR. SPICER:  And here’s my — right.  And I guess my —

Q    I mean, he was part of the campaign, so — I mean, Sessions was part of the campaign, the Attorney General.

MR. SPICER:  I understand.  But here’s my question, Jonathan:  We have now for six months heard story after story come out about unnamed sources say the same thing over and over again, and nothing has come of it, right?  We’ve heard the same people, the same anecdotes, and we’ve heard reports over and over again.  And as Chairman Nunes made very clear today, he has seen nothing that corroborates that.  So at what point — you got to ask yourself, what are you investigating?

Q    Well, Russian interference — I mean, beyond the context.

MR. SPICER:  No, and I think that both the House and the Senate have looked at it.  You know as well as I do that the intelligence community has looked at it as well.  There’s a big difference.  I think that Russia’s involvement in activity has been investigated up and down.  So the question becomes at some point, if there’s nothing to further investigate, what are you asking people to investigate?

I mean, Chairman Nunes spoke very clearly today when asked over and over and over again about all of this, and said that he has seen nothing that leads him to believe that there’s there.  The President has spoken forcefully time and time again that he has no interests in Russia, he hasn’t talked to people in Russia in years, and yet you keep asking — and when I say “you,” collectively — to try to find something that seemingly, at least the reporting that I’m seeing in different organizations, suggests that there’s nothing new that’s being reported.  It’s the same stuff over and over again that we’ve heard for literally six months.  And so the question becomes at some point, what do you need to further investigate if there is nothing that has come out?

Q    Can you not categorically deny there were no contacts between the Russians and anybody on the campaign?

MR. SPICER:  I can’t deny — I can’t — I guess my question is —

Q    That’s what the investigation would look at.

MR. SPICER:  Right.  And I guess my point is, is that you’ve had the intelligence community look at Russia’s involvement in the election.  You had the House and Senate both do the same.  And so what I’m trying to ascertain is that at what point — how many people have to say that there’s nothing there before you realize there’s nothing there?  I can’t say unequivocally — all I’m saying is, the people who have done the investigating about Russia overall and its activities in the United States, specifically now with respect to our election, haven’t provided anything that leads me to believe or should lead you to believe — and I continue to see reports coming from — there were media sources saying when they checked in with law enforcement, or intelligence community sources, there’s nothing more than has been previously reported over and over again.

So, at some point, you do have to ask yourself, what are you actually looking for?  How many times do you have to come to the same conclusion before you take the answer?  And that’s where I — Mara.

Q    Just to be clear, did you — just to follow up on that, did you personally reach out to Pompeo?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to discuss what we did internally.  I’m just going to say that when we shared — we did our job about making sure that when people had — reporters had questions, we let them know what subject-matter experts were available to discuss the accuracy of the newspaper story.


Q    Yeah, I’m sure people will come back to this, but I actually have a budget question, which is:  During the campaign, the President said he was not going to touch Medicare or Social Security.  His Treasury Secretary repeated that.  It sounded like the OMB Director was leaving that as an open question, TBD.  I’m just wondering, what’s the state of the promise?  That we won’t touch it for current retirees —

MR. SPICER:  What the OMB Director made clear is how it works.  The budget is dealing with the topline discretionary numbers.  Policy decisions are not part of the budget.  That was what he was being asked and what he — so I just want to be clear in terms of what it was.  And again, I think —

Q    — the state of the promise.  In other words what is the promise.

MR. SPICER:  Right.  And I think the state of the promise is clear.  And I think, as you point out, he had made the promise, he stands by the promise.  The Treasury Secretary —

Q    But what is the promise?  Current retirees?  People near retirement?  Anybody paying into —

MR. SPICER:  I will follow up specifically on that.  But I think the President has made very clear that it’s not his intent to do — he wants to focus on the discretionary side; that entitlement reform is not — that, with respect to those programs that he mentioned, he stands by his word.


Q    I wanted to ask a couple issues.  An executive order on religious freedom had previously been in the works.  Will that still come?  And if it does, will it extend beyond religious freedom?

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry, Fred, what?

Q    Will it extend beyond the Johnson Amendment?

MR. SPICER:  I think we’ve discussed executive orders in the past, and for the most part we’re not going to get into discussing what may or may not come until we’re ready to announce it.  So I’m sure as we move forward we’ll have something.


Q    Thanks, Sean.

Q    I’m sorry, just one more.  The issue of types of reforms.  Will there be — how committed is the administration to a border adjustment tax?  And is there any concern that there won’t be enough conservative support for that; that it could block any meaningful tax reform long-term?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I’m not going to get into the specifics of tax reform today.  The President has made clear that we’ll have an outline of the plan very soon.  But what I will say is that I think he has talked about the concerns that he has with current regulatory and tax policy that benefit people from moving out of the country and shipping jobs — or products back in while shedding American workers.  He will continue to fight for policies that promote manufacturing and job creation in the United States, and supports American workers.

So I don’t want to get ahead of the exact nature of the policy.  He has been seeking a lot of input.  As I mentioned earlier, he’s going to talk today with Speaker Ryan and Senator McConnell.  I know that both the joint session, the status of repeal and replace, and I’m sure some discussion of tax reform will probably come up.  But there’s a lot — we’re continuing to move forward and work with them.


Q    Thanks.  A couple on the ISIS strategy.  Can you just get to the timetable from now, now that you received it — what happens?  And there’s a report that you’re asking for $30 billion in emergency defense spending on top of the $54 [billion] in the budget.  Is that true?  Does that cover the new ISIS strategy?  Can you explain what’s different between the two?

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  Right now, literally, that principals meeting — or principals meeting that I mentioned at the beginning is happening as we speak.  So Secretary Mattis was coming over to brief the principals as far as the ISIS plan.  And again, part of it was to make sure that he fully discusses the recommendations that he’s making and seek the input and feedback of the other principals downstairs.  That can help guide where we go from here, how we go.  With respect to the funding, I think Director Mulvaney noted that there will be a supplemental at some point.  Right now the focus is on the budget, and then we’ll go from there.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Two brief questions.  First, I read your statement at the Thursday briefing to Governor Malloy of Connecticut during the NGA meeting.  And he responded — and I quote — “Sean didn’t read a thing that I said.”  He said that he — in Connecticut, they are already working to get criminals who are in the country illegally out.  His objection was to going into warming centers or schools where officials might frighten children.  Your response to the Governor on that?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, I was asked specifically what his stance — what the comments were with respect to sanctuary cities.  And again, I would reiterate, with all due respect to the Governor, I’m not here to pick a fight with the Governor.  I enjoyed my time going to school in the state of Connecticut.  I have a kind affection of the Nutmeg State.  But the reality is, I think that there’s a difference.  Whether or not what he wants to do is state funds, maybe — without knowing the exact nature of how he’s funding, what he’s funding, it’s difficult.  The question I was asked at the time was on how we would be handling it.  And I think the answer, whether it’s Connecticut or California, is that the President’s executive order and the President’s commitment is to make sure that tax dollars are not used to support programs that are helping people who are not in the country legally and who are not citizens entitled to them.

Q    One more question, Sean.

MR. SPICER:  Okay.  Starting early.  (Laughter.)

Q    For 58 years, when Presidents have gone to Rome, they’ve always met the Pope, going back to when President Eisenhower met Pope John XXIII.  Now, one year ago this week, candidate Trump had a disagreement with this Pope and an exchange of words.  When he goes to Rome in May for his first European trip, will he meet with this Pope?

MR. SPICER:  That’s a great question.  Obviously, I would be a huge fan of that.  But I’m not going to — I don’t think we’re at that place in the planning process to make an announcement on any visits with the Pope.


Q    Sean, thank you.  Two budget questions, if you don’t mind.  Mr. Mulvaney, I believe, just said that what the administration plans on putting forward doesn’t add to the current deficit projection, which the CBO says is about $560 billion.  But he didn’t say that it would significantly draw from that either.  So my first question is, is the administration comfortable putting something forward that might rack up deficits of potentially hundreds of billions of dollars?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think — I’m trying to understand the question a little, if you can help me with this.  Because he —

Q    He said it wasn’t going to add to it.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    So my question is, he didn’t necessarily say it was going to cut from it, either.  If it doesn’t cut from it, potentially it could be hundreds of billions in deficit.  And I’m curious —

MR. SPICER:  Right, no, but I think — correct me if I’m wrong — I mean, he basically made it very clear it doesn’t add to the projected baseline deficit.  So that continues to be the goal.  And I think as we continue to work through this process, the passback, you know, it can work both ways.  We could identify further savings and reductions through working with the agencies and departments, but we’re going to make sure that the topline number we maintain is as close to that as possible.

And as we go through this — I mean, this is the beginning of the process as the director noted.  We send the number to the department or the agency, give them some ideas, how we came up with this, and then they come back to us and either justify why a particular program or office, or what have you, needs to stay in existence or why maybe not the reduction that is offered.  But it’s a back-and-forth process that will occur over the next few weeks.  So to get ahead of it is the problem.

Q    Let me ask you what Nancy Pelosi — to just get a quick reaction to Nancy Pelosi.  She put out a statement and said the following:  “Five weeks into his administration, President Trump has not introduced a single jobs bill.”  Your reaction to that would be what?

MR. SPICER:  He’s created a lot of jobs.  I think that’s — he’s continuing to work with Congress on both repealing and replacing Obamacare, tax reform.  And, fundamentally, both of those two items alone I think can help spur a lot of economic growth.  The meetings that we’ve had with the CEOs, the health insurers — there are so many things that are both job-killing and that can be done to help promote a better regulatory and tax climate that lead to job creation.

I think that’s one of the biggest problems right now is that people in Washington aren’t necessarily talking to job creators and saying, what is the impediment that you have to hiring more American workers?  What are the impediments that you have to manufacturing more, to building here?

The meetings and the actions that the President has taken on both regulatory and other matters have helped spur job creation.  You’ve heard these companies come in over and over again — the automakers, airlines, Sprint — I mean, the list goes on and on and on of people saying to the President, because of your agenda, because of your vision, we’re willing to commit to hiring additional people to manufacturing more.  That’s how jobs are created — it’s not through the government.  And too often, it’s the government regulations that stifle and prevent job creation.  And I think the President, as a businessman, fully appreciates and understands how this works and what some of those impediments do to creating jobs and to growing the economy.

And so I would just say that you haven’t seen anything yet.  It’s going to continue to be the case.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  Is there concern in the administration that a large-scale military buildup will appear threatening to other countries around the world and lead to some sort of arms race with other countries?

MR. SPICER:  No, I think when you look at the state of some of the infrastructure in our military, whether it’s the age of our ships or our planes or some of the other hardware that exists, you recognize that we need to rebuild a lot of these things.  The size of our Navy has gone down significantly.  And there are new needs and new — and when you look at the commitment that you have to make not just in one year but in several years, for a lot of these programs — ships and tanks, even weapons systems — they don’t get built in a month or a day.  You have to make a commitment early on to make the investment because of the time that it takes to procure them, to build them, the research and development that goes into it.

And so I would just suggest to you that this is the first step in making sure we make the commitment to a military that through, especially through the sequester the last few years, has not gotten the funding it needs to get off life support.  There are a lot of things that are being taken care of for the military where they’re just continuing to — they’re not putting the systems and the projects in place to allow the military to keep up with the times, and that’s a problem.


Q    Sean, one investigation question and one budget question.  As you may be aware, Bill Owens, the father of William “Ryan” Owens, gave an interview with the Miami Herald over the weekend and he said, “The government owes my son an investigation.”  On behalf of the President of the United States, is the President open to an investigation to the raid in Yemen?  And the father of Ryan Owens called that a “stupid” mission.  Is there something that you’d like to communicate to him about that mission that might persuade him otherwise?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, thank you.  That’s multi-part, so let me kind of walk through it slowly.

First of all, I can’t possibly imagine what he’s going through in terms of the loss of his son.  I can tell him that on behalf of the President, his son died a hero and the information that he was able to help obtain through that raid, as I’ve said before, is going to safe American lives.  It’s going to protect our country more.

So he made a sacrifice to this country.  He was on his 12th deployment.  And I know that his wife, when she spoke to the President, knows that he did this because he loved it, he cared about our nation.  And the mission was successful in helping prevent a future attack or attacks on this nation.  It obtained a lot of information that will help us keep safe.

With respect to his request, it is standard operating procedure for the Department of Defense to undergo what they call a 15-6 review.  That review, in this case, is three-pronged.  Because there was a fatality and a loss of life, there’s that.  Because there were civilians involved, that’s another.  And then third is because there was hardware — a helicopter that was damaged.  That is a separate.  So, in fact, there will be three reviews done by the Department of Defense because of the nature of this.

But, again, I can’t stress enough that on behalf of the President, on behalf of this nation, we express our condolences, extend our prayers to him during this time.

Q    As you said, that is standard procedure.  Is there anything the President is particularly curious about with this mission, in that it was brought to him, he authorized it quickly?  Does he believe in the main it was carried out well and there’s nothing that he’s particularly curious about in the way either the helicopter was damaged, fatality, the civilian casualties — anything of the like?

MR. SPICER:  Well, number one, I’ve walked through the timetable previously in terms of how long this had been planned for, dating well back into the previous administration.  And as you know, their recommendation at the time was to wait for a moonless night.  That night wasn’t going to occur during President Obama’s administration.  And so when General Mattis got into the Department of Defense, he was briefed up on the status of the thing, made aware of when the next time was go.  We went through the process to ensure that we continued to believe that the mission — the way it was going to be conducted and the results of the mission would be worthy of action.

The conclusion continued to be, as it was prior, that we should move forward.  As I mentioned before, I think you can’t ever say that, when there’s most importantly loss of life and people injured, that it’s 100 percent successful.  But I think when you look at what the stated goal of that mission was — it was an information- and intelligence-gathering mission.  And it achieved its objectives.

So, again, I would express our thoughts and our prayers and our condolences to all of the people in Chief Owens’s family and his friends, his shipmates.  But it’s something that, as a SEAL and as somebody who deployed 12 times, he knew that this was part of the job and he knew what he was doing.  And so we’re very comfortable with how the mission was executed, and we’ll let the Department of Defense go through that review process and then see where that leads us.

But I think to get ahead of the three separate reviews that are being done by the Department of Defense would be probably a little irresponsible at this time.

Q    Sean —

MR. SPICER:  Major gets two, too.

Q    Just real quick on the budget.  As you’re aware, to undo the defense sequester, you have to get 60 votes in the Senate because you have a separate domestic sequester number and defense.  Are you confident with these numbers and with this kind of heavy discretionary spending cut proposed, you can get the 60 votes to change the law?  Because without that change in law, the proposal is just that — it doesn’t become operational.

MR. SPICER:  I think that when it comes to our nation’s security, specifically our nation’s military, I don’t think that it’s a partisan issue.  I think that senators from across the country — whether you’re talking about Florida or whether you’ve got an Army installation or a Navy base, you understand the state of repair that many of our planes, ships and other hardware is in.  And I think that there is a bipartisan commitment to give the military and its members the equipment and the tools it needs to succeed and protect this country.  So I do feel confident.


Q    Sean, I have a couple of budgetary questions for you.  One, at the press conference, President Trump talked about the fix for inner cities.  What is the investment in this budget when it comes to a fix for inner cities?

MR. SPICER:  It’s a good try.  I think the Director was very clear —

Q    That’s one —

MR. SPICER:  I mean, part of the process today was to start that passback process that he talked about, where we’re going to the various departments, whether it’s HUD or DOT, and giving them that topline number and then hearing back.  So I don’t want to get into a specific number with you before we get too far down the process.  I think that’s a conversation that we’re going to have with the agencies and then we will have subsequently with Congress when they start drafting their resolutions.

Q    Okay, a follow-up on this, but I do have a question on HBCUs.  See, he talked about healthcare.  He talked about education and he talked about crime.  He needs to talk about Chicago and law enforcement.  So you don’t have any kind of budgetary numbers when it comes to it?  And healthcare is a piece that is one of the line items for this budget.

MR. SPICER:  That’s right.  And I’m not saying that we don’t have numbers.  I’m saying that we’re not giving them out.  That’s a big difference.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. SPICER:  I know.  (Laughter.)  You’re going to do a good job trying.  (Laughter.)

But as the Director noted on this, that they have come up with topline numbers based on their going through each of these agencies’ budget, and saying, hey, there’s a duplicative program here.  In some cases, maybe they give them more, maybe they give them less.  Part of it is to begin that conversation, that process, with the departments and agencies to figure out what those investments are.  Maybe it’s repurposing existing funds in a different way.

So it’s not necessarily a zero-sum game.  There is a way that a department can reallocate money to a program that might end up benefitting because there is a duplicative or out-of-date program or office that that savings could be applied to something.  But I don’t want to get ahead of the process right now, only to say that we are at the very beginning of it.

Q    And one on HBCUs.


Q    The President is going to see the 80-plus presence of HBCUs with the Vice President today.  Some of them are very concerned as to what this executive order looks like, and they are waiting to hear the commitment before they say, “I’m all in.”  What is the commitment that this President is trying to make when it comes to HBCUs to ensure, I guess, their future, or deal with funding for research projects, what have you, or moving it out of the Department of Education to the purview of the White House?  What is the commitment that he’s going to give to them?

MR. SPICER:  So, look, I don’t generally speak about executive orders until they’re finalized.  I will just say that one of the things that I think there’s commitment from this White House to do is to look at the various resources throughout the federal government that support HBCUs.

So, for example, the Department of Defense has ROTC and NROTC programs.  Are they being properly — is that funding being properly executed and spent.  There’s programs within each of the departments — the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development — that affect grants or programs or direct funding that go to HBCUs for various different things, whether it’s construction projects, or teaching programs, or mentorship programs.  Whatever it is, they span throughout the entire government.

And I think that what we are committed to doing is ensuring that there is a high level of understanding and commitment, that goes straight to the President, of how we harness those resource within the government, and make sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

So it’s one thing to have them, right, spread throughout the different departments.  It’s another thing to make sure that there’s a direct pipeline to the President of the United States that those programs are being executed in a way that’s benefitting the future of HBCUs and the various projects and teaching that goes on there.

Q    And so what are you saying — there’s going to be a piece that is going to basically go throughout all the agencies to make sure that there is some kind of commitment to HBCUs and contract of like, let’s say engineering for some schools, or in research for other schools?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I would say — I think I’m going to stick to waiting until we announce it to get out a lot more.

Q    Is that today or tomorrow?

MR. SPICER:  I anticipate it very soon.  How is that?  I want to give myself a little wiggle room.

Phil Rucker.

Q    Yeah, Sean, thanks.  A budget-related question, but on infrastructure.  The President has repeatedly, including today, again, called for a major infrastructure plan to the tune a trillion dollars — roads, bridges, tunnels, you name it.  Can you explain where that money is going to come from, how it fits into the budget that’s under review right now, and what the timeline for that project would be?

MR. SPICER:  So I think that would be part of a longer-term discussion that we’re having with Congress.  As you know, the President got in office 30-some-odd days ago.  The idea of getting a budget is — you know, it’s commonly referred to as a skinny budget — is to get the government to continue to be funding and it will be something that we’ll work with Congress.

I understand your point.  The President continues to talk about the status —

Q    — a priority for him.

MR. SPICER:  It is.  Absolutely.  But I think that we’ve got to make sure that it’s done right and that we work with Congress.  I think, as you correctly mention, there’s obviously a funding mechanism to this.  And we’ve already talked about things like comprehensive tax reform that could add to that discussion.

And so I just — I understand what you’re asking in terms of how this would be funded and when it will be coming, and the pay-fors, but we’re working with Congress to have that discussion.  I think that comes probably outside of the budget discussion.

Q    And so how does he square that with the need to tighten the belt, which he also talked about today — we’ve been spending too much as a government and we need to cut our spending?

MR. SPICER:  Right, but I think — but in the same manner that we’re presenting the budget.  So we’re talking about adding $54 million — $54 trillion, rather — a billion dollars to — thank you.  Appreciate the help here.  (Laughter.)

But we’re looking to add that to defense.  And so what it means is that we have to look through other programs to find reductions in savings.  I think that same kind of discussion would happen with respect to infrastructure, not necessarily the savings piece, but the funding piece; that there’s several ways — and I know that there’s a lot of discussion, private-public partnerships that he is started to have a discussion with in terms of the funding mechanism.

And so all I’m trying to get at is that there are various ways to do this funding without just relying on the American taxpayer in terms of additional taxes.  There are spending reductions, there are other funding mechanisms, and I think, in due course, we will get around to that discussion.

Q    And just related to that, he mentioned in his remarks about infrastructure today that as he drives through the Queens-Midtown tunnel and the Lincoln tunnel, he worries about ceiling tiles falling.  Is there a specific incident he was talking about where people have been injured, or is that just a fear of his?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know.  I’ll ask.  (Laughter.)  But I’m sure Secret Service will take care of the — alleviating the medium concerns.

Hold on.  Alexis.

Q    Sean, I have two questions.  First, one on healthcare.  Because the OMB director was signaling that the complete budget would be made ready early May, and the President today described how complicated he had discovered that the healthcare repeal and replace has become, can you describe when it is that the President would present his framework for an overhaul of healthcare?  Is it going to be included in the budget so we would see it before May?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t think you’re going to see it in the budget, no.  That’s not the appropriate vehicle for it.  I think I’ve mentioned it before.  I think you would drive — or at least the leading option, before I get locked into something, is to add Obamacare to the FY17 budget process and put it through reconciliation.  So that would happen outside of the current budget structure.

But I think he has also been very clear that he wants this outline within a matter of weeks, and that we continue to have these discussions with House and Senate leadership, with Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce, and then similar on Senate finance on the Senate side.

So when he talks to Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell today, I’m sure that conversation will continue.

Q    Just to follow up on healthcare, because not every ingredient in the Affordable Care Act can be handled in reconciliation.  That’s why I was asking about the elements of it that we see in the budget.

MR. SPICER:  That’s right.

Q    So we will see some of those?

MR. SPICER:  Well, there’s several pieces of Obamacare.  Some can be done by executive order, some get done with 50 votes, some have to be done specifically in reconciliation.  I think counter to Major’s point on a previous question, that there are certain things that have to be done in certain ways legislatively, and to create a comprehensive and holistic approach to both repealing it and replacing it.  And we’re aware of that.  We’re working with the House and the Senate to make that happen.

Q    And my second topic.

MR. SPICER:  Of course.

Q    All right.  The immigration executive order, the travel ban — is the President going to address the American people and Congress in his speech tomorrow night and specifically describe and defend the immigration ban?  And when will we see the revised executive order?

MR. SPICER:  So we’re not going to — I would not anticipate the speech being a defense of legislation and executive orders.  I don’t think many previous Presidents have gotten through and used that as a legislative walkthrough.

But you will hear about his commitment to immigration and his desire for border security, and what it means not just about keeping the nation safe, but what impact it’s having on the economy.  So you will hear a lot about immigration tomorrow night, and he will talk about why it matters and the goal that we have and why we should come together on areas like this.

Q    Can I follow up on that, Sean?

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.  Katelyn.

Q    Where’s the next order?

MR. SPICER:  Oh, I’m sorry.  The next order I think we should have it out probably middle of this week.  Looking towards the middle of the week.  And we’ll have further updates as we get through the schedule.  I think obviously our priority right now today was the really get the budget process kicked off, and then continue to prepare for the joint session.


Q    Thank you.

Q    Sean, can I follow on that?

MR. SPICER:  You will in a second.

Q    An internal report in 2015 identified $125 billion in wasteful Pentagon spending.  So how can you justify adding $54 billion to the defense budget?  Is that going to go to hiring soldiers or bureaucrats or contractors?  And is the President concerned with wasteful spending at the DOD?

MR. SPICER:  Of course he’s concerned.  He’s concerned with wasteful spending throughout the government.  But I think there’s also a big difference between rooting out waste and fraud in various programs and offices, and understanding that when you’re talking about adding to the fleet or increasing airplane costs, that that can’t be driven just through those.  And the commitment that you have to make to purchase some of those very-needed upgrades to our infrastructure and to our arsenal and to planes and ships doesn’t just come through that.  Because even if you could start to really identify, you really wouldn’t be able to make the financial commitment that needs to be done to rebuild some of the ships and planes in particular that need a substantial investment on the front end.


Q    If I could just follow on Alexis’s question.  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just denied your request to suspend proceedings in regard to the initial executive order.  That order came out just within the last few minutes.  So do you plan to continue defending your first executive order in court?  And what’s the purpose of doing that as opposed to simply rescinding it and then rendering that case moot?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I haven’t been able to read my phone while this has happened.  So I —

Q    That’s why I read —

MR. SPICER:  (Laughter.)  Thank you, I appreciate it.  So with all due respect, I would ask that I be able to get back to you tomorrow on that after we consult with the Counsel’s Office and go through the briefing and the — excuse me, the reading of what the court has said.  But give me a little time, let me get off the podium —

Q    I mean, the rescinding it question still stands, regardless of the —

MR. SPICER:  I understand that, and I think that the President has made a commitment right now to continue to defend what we did.

Q    For what reason?

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.  Because this is the strategy that — he believes that we have the authority vested in U.S. code.  I’ve talked about this extensively in the past.  And I think that if you’ll allow me, once we get done with the briefing, I will follow up with the Counsel’s Office.

Q    But the point that some of us are trying to understand is, if you have a new executive order that you believe addresses the concerns of the many courts who have weighed in on this, why continue to defend an executive order that —

MR. SPICER:  Because he’s — I mean, because we were right the first time.  And I think that —

Q    Are you trying to prove a point?

MR. SPICER:  Hold on — no, but I think that it’s not a question of proving a point.  It’s that the manner in which it was done in the first place was what we believe and continue to believe was the right way to address this problem.

And while the second executive order attempts to address the court’s concerns that they made, the goal is obviously to maintain the way that we did it the first time because we believe that the law is very clear about giving the President the authority that he needs to protect the country.

So just dropping that is not necessarily the most prudent thing.  And I think part of it is for us to recoup right now, figure out what the court has said, and then reassess the strategy.  But I don’t want to get ahead, as you point out, you’re reading it to me now — I would like the opportunity to maybe go read it and actually have a lawyer read it — since that won’t do very much.

Go ahead.

Q    Sean, thank you.  On anti-Semitism, that was a good, strong statement.  Is there anything that the federal government can do to protect Jewish institutions?  Are there any leads who is doing this?  And also on sequester, when can sequester be lifted?

MR. SPICER:  When can it be lifted?

Q    Yes.

MR. SPICER:  I think we’ve got to go through the process to lift the sequester, and so we’ll deal with that.

With respect to some of the activity that we’ve seen at Jewish cemeteries in particular — look, I think we have to work with law enforcement at a local and state level.  I’ll leave it to the Department of Justice to comment further on what additional steps can be made.  But I think — as has been pointed out multiple times, I think one of the things that we can do is speak from this podium, in particular, and other places to make sure that every American understands what our values are, and that that kind of behavior and activity is wrong and won’t be tolerated, and the highest levels of government denounce it.

So I think it starts at that.  And then I think there’s a law enforcement component that I would ask you to touch base with.

Q    Sean, two on the budget.


Q    I understand this is a blueprint.  I understand the President has previously said he doesn’t want to touch entitlements.  But why does he think it’s the right move to break with years of Republican orthodoxy, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who have said that any sensible long-term budget needs to include entitlement reform?

MR. SPICER:  Look, I’m just going to — I think the President understands the commitment that was made to seniors in particular and that it’s a sacred bond and a trust.

And I think — look, Mara asked this earlier — I think let me get back to you on the specifics.  But I think he made a commitment to the American people.  And one of the things that I think the President continues to get high marks on is that regardless of whether you voted for him or not, or you agree with his policies, he’s a man of his word.  And he has followed up on the promises that he made to the American people.  And I think that’s important.

Now, again, I think that we will continue to work with Congress.  But the President understands that we have commitments that we’ve made on the entitlement side, in particular, and especially on the senior side with respect to Social Security that need to be maintained.  And so he’s going to keep this word to the American people.

Q    But if you talk to some economic analysts, they say Social Security, Medicare won’t be there in a number of years if we don’t address the fundamental problems.

MR. SPICER:  And I think that — right.  And so for right now, I think the budget that we’re laying out deals on the discretionary side.  You’ve heard the President’s priorities and commitment, especially when it comes to protecting this country.  And if we have anything further, I’ll let you know.

Q    And one more — Sean, one more.  Is there an internal leak inquiry right now?

MR. SPICER:  Not that I’m aware of.

Q    Thank you very much, Sean.  I have two questions on U.S.-China relationship, if I may.

MR. SPICER:  You may.

Q    Thank you.

MR. SPICER:  Everyone else gets two.

Q    First of all, since President Trump took office, China sends it very first senior official, State Counselor Yang Jiechi, to visit Washington, D.C. today.  Will there will be a meeting with in the White House, and what’s the White House’s expectation of his visit?

MR. SPICER:  So the State Counselor, and for those of you not schooled in the Chinese government, is basically the equivalent of our NSA Director — NSC Director, correct?

Q    Yes.

MR. SPICER:  So the Ambassador and the State Counselor came today.  They had a meeting with H.R. McMaster, Jared Kushner, and I think some others sat in on the meeting.  They had a delegation of six people here.  After the meeting ended, I believe the State Counselor was taken and had an opportunity to say hi to the President before he left.  This is an opportunity to begin that conversation and talk to them on shared interests of national security.

Q    Sean —

MR. SPICER:  Sorry, hold on.  He gets one more.  Everybody else did.

Q    Can I have a follow up?

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, hold on, hold on.  Let me just — everybody else got two.

Q    Yes, just this morning, President Trump mentioned about his pick for ambassador to China, Governor —

MR. SPICER:  Branstad.

Q    Branstad.  Governor Branstad apparently has a really positive view on China.

MR. SPICER:  Yeah.

Q    So how confident the President is on the Governor’s confirmation to get all the support in the Senate?

MR. SPICER:  Oh, I think he’ll receive tremendous support — bipartisan support.  Governor Branstad has been — is a true — he has huge ties on both sides.  I think he’s one of the longest serving governors ever, definitely in Iowa.  And I think that he has tremendous respect from both sides of the aisle not just for how he’s handled himself as a governor in Iowa, but his deep understanding and ties to China and to China’s economy and to Chinese officials.  And I think he’s going to do a phenomenal job representing our nation.

He starts with a deep understanding of the Chinese economy, the Chinese government, and that is going to really serve our nation well.


Q    Can I just have a follow-up on China?  Thank you.  Because I know I got one before.

MR. SPICER:  You did.

Q    I appreciate that.  A lot of people voted for Donald Trump because they felt — they agreed with him that the U.S. was getting ripped off by China.  And after the election, he made the call to Taiwan, which he was praised for.  Then he told Fox News — he said, “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a one-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”  Then he reaffirmed the one-China policy.  So what did he get in return from China for doing that?

MR. SPICER:  Well, he had a conversation with President Xi.  I’m not going to get into the details of it.  But at the President’s — President Xi’s request and after a discussion, the President reaffirmed the one-China policy.  The President is not one to discuss his negotiating tactics.  So I —

Q    But did he get something?  Can he assure the American people he got something?

MR. SPICER:  The President always gets something.  Ryan.

Q    Well, what was it?  What was it?

Q    Sean, two quick follow-ups.  First of all, I noticed earlier today there were a lot of Republican governors out here but not very many Democratic governors.  Is this administration actively attempting to reach out to the other side of the aisle for compromise?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah.  I think if you saw the remarks during this pool opportunity, the President talked about some of the conversations he had with Governor McAuliffe in Virginia in particular.  But they were here last night, they had dinner with their wives and husbands.  It was an opportunity to really talk to the Cabinet and get to know each other and talk about priorities.

I will say that — it’s interesting, I mentioned Obamacare.  When one of the things that was brought up by the governors — and I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t picking which governors and thinking of party — but it came up over and over again that they actually — several of them commented on how appreciative they have been in terms of seeking their input on not just healthcare but infrastructure and Medicaid, in particular, and other areas that fall into their thing — to their wheelhouse.

So I think — just so we’re clear, the dialogue that exists between this administration and this President and governors I think is a very refreshing move forward.

Q    And then my point — a follow-up, a quick follow-up.  I want to clarify a little bit of something that happened Thursday and Friday about the “public enemy” statement.  Are you saying that all of the press is the public enemy?  People who didn’t vote for the President?  Just the people in this room, or — is it just Bill Maher and maybe Warren Beatty?  Can you clarify what we’re talking about?

MR. SPICER:  I think the President made clear in his tweet that he was referring to the fake news and people who ascribe to pushing fake stories is where his target was.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sean.  As you know, more than 60 Democrats either boycotted or skipped the President’s inauguration.  What kind of reception do you think the President will get tomorrow evening from Democrats in the House and Senate when he gives his joint address?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I hope a very robust and applause-filled reception.  The speech, as I mentioned, breaks down a lot of barriers that have traditionally been political barriers in terms of areas where I think we should find agreement that reaffirm the President’s desire to unite the country and unite our parties in areas of shared common ground.

And I think the things that he’s talking about — increasing the support to our military, our veterans; helping children get an education — those are things that hopefully we can all come together and think are shared American values, regardless of party.  I hope that we see a tremendous amount of support for the President and his policies and his vision tomorrow night.  He recognizes the problems that our nation faces, but he also charts a vision forward.  And I think it’s one that if people are honest, that they will agree that it really isn’t a political agenda as much as an agenda for this country and one to move us forward.

So I think that we’ll have to wait and see, but I can tell you that I think it will be a positive move forward.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  Couple follow-ups to Olivier’s question earlier about the ISIS review.  It’s day 30.  The memorandum the President signed 30 days ago said that he was supposed to be briefed.  Can you give us a more — a timeline on when specifically President Trump will be involved — I know you mentioned there’s a principals meeting earlier today — what the timeline of the review is?  And then separately, you mentioned that Secretary Mattis was the one who’s presenting it to the principals committee.  The memorandum included things other than just the military; it included public diplomacy efforts to cut off financial ties to ISIS.  What were the other Cabinet secretaries involved?  What is sort of — what got us here and where do we go from here?

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  Let me, if I may, get briefed on who and what occurred in the principals meeting to the extent that it’s available, and I’d be glad to get back to you tomorrow on that.  I just don’t have that information available.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  Palm Beach County has said that it’s costing $60,000 a day in overtime pay every time the President comes to visit West Palm Beach.  He’s slated to go there again this weekend according to some reports.  Is the President taking any steps to ensure that taxpayers aren’t saddled with tremendous costs in his travel habits, considering he was so critical of his predecessor on that matter?

MR. SPICER:  Well, Gabi, the security for the President and the First Family is set by the Secret Service.  As you know, they determine the security measures that need to be taken to protect the President — frankly, any President.  So I’m going to leave it up to the Secret Service to decide what security measures and steps are taken to protect the President.

And, as you know, I mean, this — depending on — it transcends administrations.  Wherever the President goes, they need to make sure that the President and the First Family is safe.  That’s something that I think — we rely on the Secret Service to make those determinations.  They continue to do a phenomenal job making sure that the First Family and the President and the Vice President are protected, and we have full confidence in the decisions that they make.

So thank you guys very much.  We’ll have a briefing tomorrow — later today on the state.

Q    Approximate time?

MR. SPICER:  What’s that?

Q    Approximate time?

MR. SPICER:  I would look in the 6 o’clock hour.

Q    Here?

MR. SPICER:  Yes, here.

Q    After 6:00?

MR. SPICER:  I get to see you here again.  I would plan on around 6:00.  We’ll have further guidance.  And I don’t anticipate it being long.  I think we’re just going to walk through the — off camera.  We’ll walk through the themes of the speech, take any questions, and then try to get some additional information, depending on where the President is in his read-through.

Q    No briefing tomorrow, right?

MR. SPICER:  No briefing tomorrow.  If you don’t want one, you don’t have to have one.

Q    You said you’d get back to us on a couple of issues tomorrow.

MR. SPICER:  Well, I’m — it’s April that brought up no briefing.  If you guys want to vote —

Q    No, no, no, but tradition is there’s no briefing on — that’s why I’m asking.

MR. SPICER:  I know.  We will do something for you, I promise.  We will make sure we get back —

Q    Is it going to be a gaggle like last Friday, or is it going to be —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, we will get back to you.  I’m sure you’ll see my face here tomorrow.  Thank you very much.  I’ll see you guys tomorrow.

2:46 P.M. EST

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 2/24/2017

West Wing

1:38 P.M. EST

MR. SPICER:  Hey, guys.  You saw the President signed an executive order today, another important step towards eliminating job-crushing regulations and keeping the government agencies accountable by getting America back to work, just as he promised to do.  This afternoon, he’s meeting with Governor Kasich.  The President of Peru, as I mentioned yesterday, will be swinging by.  Over the weekend, the President is going to be continuing to work on his joint address.  He’s hosting a dinner in the State Dining Room of our nation’s governors.  And the First Lady has a bunch of activities planned.  There’s a ball Sunday night that the First Lady is hosting for the governors and their spouses.

And as I mentioned yesterday — and I think that’s kind of it.  So with that, let me —

Q    What is he going to talk to Kasich about?

MR. SPICER:  This is something that they wanted to get together after the election and catch up, and discuss sort of the issues and agenda that the President is implementing, and hopefully how some of these things — I think coal will probably come up.  But we’ll try and see if we can get a readout of that afterwards.  We generally don’t provide readouts of that, but let me see what I can do.

Q    Will the RNC come up?

MR. SPICER:  Will the RNC?  What about the RNC?

Q    About the convention that he didn’t attend.

MR. SPICER:  Oh, I don’t know.  I doubt it.  My guess is that we’re talking about things going forward.  It’s obviously not for me to decide what the President discusses or what Governor Kasich decides to talk about.

Q    Hey, Sean, just housekeeping-wise, can you just say why you decided to do this today off camera?  And then can you talk about some of the information that has come out from senior administration officials this morning regarding some of the pushback on The New York Times reporting that was on background?

MR. SPICER:  I literally have said since day one that we would have some sort of gathering every day.  The President spoke today.  As you know, we don’t generally do — we haven’t done briefings when the President has had a major event or an event with a world leader.  And we put it on the schedule yesterday that we were just going to gaggle.  I don’t — I mean, this is something that we’ve talked about with the Correspondents’ Association about making sure that we had daily contact with you guys.

And I think — obviously the President gave a very powerful speech today, and our job is to make sure that we’re responsive to folks in the media.  We’re here all day.  We’ve got a big staff.  And we want to make sure we answer your questions.  We don’t need to do everything on camera every day.  I think the President did a good job of making sure that — today at CPAC, on camera, for a long time.  And I wanted to make sure that the President’s message carried.

Oh, and then with respect to —

Q    Can you talk about — exactly, the pushback from this morning?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think — we gathered with a small group this morning.  And I think part of this is to make sure that, especially in the case of CNN in particular, it was — you were — I think several media outlets, who, a majority, frankly, carried it very responsibly in terms of how the events unfolded.  But it’s a pretty serious accusation.  And when you see the chyrons on CNN and the headlines and their story making it appear as though we did something wrong or nefarious, we wanted to make sure that we set the record straight.

And I think that this morning was an opportunity to push back on what actually happened and why it happened.  And I think with respect to the events, just to be clear — and I know we’ve gone over some of it — that the deputy director of the FBI was at the White House for a 7:30 meeting, or whenever it was, the morning that the story came out.  He asked to see the chief of staff after the meeting privately, and said, in very colorful terms, that The New York Times story was not accurate.  As would anyone, frankly, at the time say, “Could you clarify that then?  If it’s not true, could you clarify the story?”  The deputy director said, “I’ll get back to you.”  When he got back to us, he said, hey, look, we don’t want to get in the practice of starting to refute every story.  The chief of staff said, well, you’ve put us in a very difficult situation; you’ve told us that a story that made some fairly significant accusations was not true.  And now you want us to just go out there — and I think that we have a right, if there’s information, or if you’re saying the story is not right, could you at least make it available to the media or some folks in the media that, yes, that story is not right?  It made very, very serious allegations.

And further in the day, the director of the FBI said to Reince that you have every right to go out there and say that you’ve been briefed by us, which he did.

Q    So a clarification on that.  And on “Meet the Press,” when the chief of staff obviously said that he had had permission from senior intelligence officials, he was speaking about McCabe, the deputy director?

MR. SPICER:  And the director.

Q    So they had given him explicit permission?

MR. SPICER:  They said, literally the story in The New York Times is not accurate.

Q    Sean, do you have any idea what —

Q    Sorry, I just want to follow up on this thread.  The President said today that he doesn’t like the idea of unnamed sources.  Obviously, this administration briefs on background, meaning on the condition that you not be named.  Is that going to change now?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, but I’ll give you a great example.  This morning — there’s a big difference —

Q    But —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, Hallie, let me answer the question.

Q    I didn’t get to the question.

MR. SPICER:  Okay, go ahead.

Q    Is there — go ahead, you first.

MR. SPICER:  No, I didn’t let you get to your question, so go ahead.  Seriously, keep going.

Q    The question was, do you plan to change that?  Are you going to do all your briefings on the record?

MR. SPICER:  So there is, I think, a big difference — this morning was an example where we wanted to have a free-flowing exchange with reporters.  At the end of the conversation, several reporters said, can we use some of this on the record?  We said yes.  So the answer is, is that there is times when —

Q    But it’s —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, Hallie.  Let me just answer.

Q    All right, I’m just flowing.

MR. SPICER:  I think there is an opportunity — there’s a way to use background sourcing to be able to have a much more robust discussion about some things.  We came back, as the example this morning, and said, sure, there are quotes that you can use on the record.  I think there’s a big difference between explaining a policy and wanting to be able to have that kind of discussion where you say, hey, let’s do this on background.  And I think, generally speaking, we’ve been pretty open to saying, sure, we’ll put those statements on — or if you want to clear some stuff on the record, for the most part we’ve been very good about it.

There’s a big difference between making serious allegations — us coming back on the record, and reporters saying, well, we have five sources that are unnamed that say contrary to that.  I think there’s a point at which there’s an obligation, if you’re going to make a very serious allegation, and we’re willing to push back on the record that there be somebody at the very least that’s willing to push back on this and say that they’ll put their name attached to it.  When you look at the reporting that The New York Times initially did, it was all background sources.  It basically accused the President and his campaign team of doing some very, very serious stuff.  We pushed back against that reporting at the time, and we were met with, “Well, we have unnamed sources.”  And I think there’s an obligation at some when, if you’re going to make allegations of a serious nature, to at least make somebody go on the record and say, yes, I’m willing to stand behind that, when we’re willing to or another organization is willing to refute them on the record.

So we often get met with us going on the record in multiple ways with reporters to only be told, “Well, we’re not going to believe you on the record because we’ve got one, two, three unnamed sources that we’re not going to tell you who they are, where they’re from, whether or not they’re even in the circle of orbit.”  And in many cases, when I push against reporters, I’ll say, look, there were four people in that meeting — here are the four people.  Can you confirm any of them?  “Well, no they were people who heard from them.”  So I’ve literally gone back to people and said, there is a room that occurred with four, five, six people in it, and this didn’t happen because I was in the room.  And they’ll say, yeah, but people who were briefed by those people.  So how many degrees of telephone do you play before at least you’re willing to say, if someone in the room won’t at least put their name on it or you won’t admit that somebody in the room is willing to say it?  I think that that undermines the credibility of some of the reporting that’s going on.

Q    Can you explain the distinction that the administration has drawn between a lot of conservative anger about the Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton conversation versus the obviously Reince Priebus-Deputy Director conversation?  The administration has said it’s different because the Chief of Staff was talking about a report, a news report and not an investigation.  But the report was about an investigation.  So does the administration worry that the Chief of Staff has crossed the line?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, no, hold on, hold on.  And I brought this up this morning — sorry for those of you who have to listen to this twice — let’s reverse-engineer this in two ways.  Number one, the deputy director comes to us.  We didn’t go to them.  The differences in the case —

Q    I’m not going to rehash, but I want to get this —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, I am.  But I —

Q    I think it’s important to get on the record.

MR. SPICER:  And I will.  And, by the way, just as a side note, as I mentioned to one of your colleagues today, doing a gaggle doesn’t preclude us from doing something on camera later today.  And I’m more than welcome — I think the idea was that with time being what it is today, we wanted to just make sure that you guys got up-to-dated on a variety of issues.

But there’s nothing that precludes us from saying, hey, we’ll go do an on-camera interview.  So just the idea that we don’t do something in the Briefing Room doesn’t preclude.  Here’s the thing — there’s a big difference.  The deputy director came to the chief of staff of the White House and literally said, the story is false.

So here are the two scenarios.  One is, the chief of staff says nothing and just stares at him, which is what some of the folks in this room believe he should have done, he should have just sat there and said — (indicating) — which, now if any of you — the second piece of this is that nine times out of ten0, when I deal with you guys, and I’ll say we had a big problem with the story in X publication or X outlet, the first question I get asked is:  Well, did you push back?  Did you ask for a correction?

And I think in this case, the point is, is that all we simply did was say, wow, you’re bringing us information saying that something — a story in The New York Times is not accurate.  So is there something that you’re doing to let other journalists know that it’s not true?  Because they’re asking us.

So that morning I got, let’s say, five, ten, fifteen phone calls from you and your colleagues, saying, “Hey, there’s a report in The New York Times — what do you think about it?”  Well, if someone is coming to us telling us that it’s not a true story, our goal was to literally just say to them, will your public affairs office take this phone call?

Q    Sean, is there an expectation —

MR. SPICER:  I just want to be clear.  I really am intrigued by I don’t know what else we were supposed to do.  We were provided information.  And this notion that I see on CNN about we pushed back or we applied pressure.  Pressure, by definition, is applying force.  So if we had said, “If you don’t do this, if you don’t do that,” that’s pressure.  And I get that.  That would have been wrong.  “We order you to do this.  We require you to do that.  We’re urging” — we literally responded when presented with information and said, “Could you let the media know that, what you’re informing us of?”

And the answer was, well, we don’t want to get in the middle of starting a practice of doing this.  So our answer is, well, why did you come to us with this information if not to elicit a response?

I don’t know what else you do except for say, gosh, could you clear the record up?  That is a very different scenario than trying to exert influence on a situation.  We literally responded to what they came to us with and said, okay, what are you going to do about it?

And again, if you take —

Q    Did you —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, I’ll finish with this, because the thing that’s interesting to me is that had we not done anything and just sat there, what would — it would have been irresponsible and, frankly, malpractice to say, yes, I was informed that we didn’t do anything, and yet I didn’t act.

Q    So we talked about this six hours ago, all that same stuff.  Can we just move ahead a little bit here?  Do you have any idea what McCabe’s motivation was in coming forward?


Q    Because then he asked the Chief of Staff to call him back at the FBI, only to then be told from the FBI Headquarters, there’s nothing we can do.  And then it was a very small circle of people who knew about this, and yet it leaked.

MR. SPICER:  I think that’s concerning.  Again, remember the timetable.  We didn’t ask them for that meeting.  Reince had never met the guy prior to that morning.  He wouldn’t have known who he was.  And frankly — so he showed up at a meeting.  Director Comey was traveling that day.  It was an intel meeting on a separate subject.  So the idea that — and again, they don’t dispute — from what I understand — any of this chronology that he pulled him aside.  So if you logically can ask yourself why would he have pulled him aside to update him on a story just to say, “Hey, I know we’ve never met before, but I just wanted to know if you read the paper today”?  Logically that makes zero sense.

So I don’t know what his motivations were.  I don’t — I think hopefully to make sure that they knew that they were informing up what the status of the story was.

And can I make one more claim?  Because this just dovetails into something that Hallie asked.  Just so we’re clear — because I’ve seen a lot of reporting about was it proper or whatever — first of all, there’s nothing — there is literally a memo out from past Attorneys General about how the DOJ will deal with the White House.  There is literally a carve-out for dealing with public affairs.  This is a story in The New York Times that was not accurate, according to them.  So this idea about how we handled it, or how they handled it, there is literally in the memo — which is all it is, it’s a guidance memo — there’s literally a carve-out that specifically addresses how to handle public affairs.

Q    Let me just come back to the leak.  Because you’ve got three people who were in this loop.


Q    You’ve got the chief of staff of the White House.  You’ve got the deputy director and the director of the FBI.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    And yet this somehow leaks.

MR. SPICER:  I think that’s why the President —

Q    If the President is pursuing leaks, it would seem that he doesn’t have to look too far.

MR. SPICER:  And that’s why I think you’ve seen the President’s tweet on this today, and you’ve heard the President’s comments.  He is not just today, but last week at the press conference.  This is troubling when an FBI or anyone in the intelligence world, or, frankly, anyone in government entrusted with classified information and national security information is sharing that information widely.  Yeah, that’s a big problem.  And I think you’ve seen the President’s concern for this issue.

Q    Should he fire somebody?  Is he going to fire Director Comey?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to — I think I will leave it at the President’s tweet speaks for itself, and the President’s comments on his concern for national security — yes, it’s concerning.  Overall — overall, it’s concerning.


Q    Pulling back, this Russia narrative continues to dog the administration and it’s something that Americans have been paying attention to, it’s something the media has been paying attention to.  How do you — what’s your goal to sort of end this narrative?  Is there any way you could answer more questions, do more things to finish this thing that started right after the election, that somehow the President has an improper relationship with Russia?  Is he prepared to answer some of these questions, release some more details to finally put an end to this?  Or are we just going to continue to find out about his connections through these leaks?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, there are no connections to find out about.  That’s the problem.  I think, A, he’s answered it forcefully.  You can’t disprove something that doesn’t exist.  He’s talked about the fact how many times he’s talked to Putin.  He has no interests in Russia.  He has no — there’s only so many times he can deny something that doesn’t exist.

Q    Until another leak comes out?

MR. SPICER:  But what are the leaks?  The leaks don’t actually — again, you’ve got a story that comes out from The New York Times with unnamed sources.  You have the FBI coming to us.  And frankly — and I don’t — I know that I do a really good job of lecturing you guys, so I’ll try to stay silent on a Friday.  But to some degree the true story — and Chairman Nunes from the House Intelligence Committee is on the record saying that he received a report and corroborates it.  At some point, isn’t the story that actually the accusations that came out have been disputed?

Q    I guess the question is —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.  The House Intelligence Committee came out, after getting the briefing, and said that the story is demonstrably false.  And I don’t mean to put words into the chairman’s mouth there.  I think he’s quoted in the Wall Street Journal.  But, at some point, isn’t the story actually that there is no story, to your point; that it’s been disproven, and it’s not the level to which The New York Times has made it to be?

But all we have done from the get-go is exactly what you’re asking, which is to continue to disprove a negative.

Q    Sean, on that — but continuing with that though, are you then saying that you would encourage, not interfere with, and not in any way encourage the Attorney General to suppress the investigation?  Because there is some suggestion of that.  Putting this story aside, there is a suggestion that there is suppression.

MR. SPICER:  I know, but the only suggestion, Margaret, with all due respect, is from you guys.  There was — we were not aware of —

Q    Actually, it’s not.  There —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, no — but who?  So you have someone like Nancy Pelosi coming out and making a wildly inappropriate statement.

Q    I’m speaking specifically to the Department of Justice, not Capitol Hill.

MR. SPICER:  I understand that.  But in other words, we’re not aware of an investigation, so how would we be able to — well, I’m sorry, what was the word that you used?

Q    Suppression.

MR. SPICER:  But, but — so if you’re going to make an accusation like that, where is the evidence that there has been anything that A, exists, or B, that we’ve suppressed anything?

Q    But the question was, are you actually saying any investigation — if there was any reason to investigate, the Department of Justice should go ahead, because there is a —

MR. SPICER:  Sure.

Q    — suggestion at the Department of Justice, on the —

MR. SPICER:  Sure, if there is evidence of anything —

Q    — that there is —

MR. SPICER:  No, that’s their job.  Look —

Q    — (inaudible) question.

MR. SPICER:  Right.  And I think we’ve made it clear that if there’s evidence of something, pursue it.  And we’ve said that very clearly about the House and Senate.  There is nothing to — we have nothing to hide.  The President has been crystal-clear consistently over and over again.  And my point to you is that at some point you use words like “suppression” or “investigation” — then show us.  Where’s this investigation?  Where is the suppression that’s occurring?  Where’s the so-called pushback or pressure?

I mean, respectfully, guys, I don’t — I find a lot of this offensive.  When you talk about us pushing back on something that doesn’t exist, at some point answer the opposite — which is, what were we supposed to do when presented by information by them?  Sit back and do nothing?

Q    I’m not speaking about that point and case.  I’m talking about at the Department of Justice, writ large, investigating ties to Russia.  Is that an investigation that should continue to proceed?

MR. SPICER:  If they have an investigation, then they should do what they want.  They should follow the law.

Q    And is that the message that the President has delivered to the Attorney General?

MR. SPICER:  I mean, he literally swore him in.  I think something like, I hope you execute the — I mean, why would he have to — again, respectfully, it’s insulting that the President would have to tell the Attorney General to follow the law.  Did you ask the same question about Obama with respect to Holder?  I mean, with all of the stuff that went out there, did you —

Q    There are reports and those are lines of questions that —

MR. SPICER:  Did you ever ask that question?

Q    I wasn’t covering that case, but there were reporters at my network who did.

MR. SPICER:  They did?  So they did.  You can —

Q    I believe it was CBS that broke the “Fast and Furious” story.  But anyway, moving —

MR. SPICER:  That’s not what I asked.  No, no, I didn’t ask that question.  I’m saying, did you ever question the White House, or did CBS, on the record, question the Obama administration whether or not they asked the Attorney General to follow the law?

Q    But there is — Sean —

MR. SPICER:  No, see what you just did?  You told —

Q    I’m trying to answer you.  There is a sort of boilerplate speaking point, talking point to say we don’t want to impede an ongoing investigation, we hope that all those thing —

MR. SPICER:  Did you ever ask the Obama administration the same question?

Q    About this?  No.

MR. SPICER:  No, about whether or not they asked Attorney General Holder to follow the law.  These boilerplate language —

Q    There were plenty of questions about interference —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, look —

Q    Yes, there were plenty of questions about interference.

MR. SPICER:  So you can you tell me that CBS asked the White House that same question?

Q    About whether the Justice Department was interfering in investigations?

MR. SPICER:  Would follow the law, would use this “boilerplate language”?

Q    Yes.

MR. SPICER:  Okay.

Q    But to the point, there are people that —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, no, but you don’t get to pivot, Margaret.

Q    I’m not.  I’m actually asking to stay on the topic, which was the topic of the Russia investigation, not what you’re talking about.  So on the topic of the Russia investigation, what you have said is there is no knowledge at the White House of any investigation into ties with Russia?

MR. SPICER:  I am not aware of an investigation.  If there was one, then they should follow the law.  But I don’t think — I will definitely try to look for whether or not CBS asked the same question to the White House during the eight years of the Obama administration.  Because at least I never saw that.

Q    Sean, can you say why Mr. Priebus wanted — when he talked to McCabe — why did he then want the FBI to go do, on their own, bat this story down?  Was there something about it being more credible if the FBI were to speak up about than if it was just coming from —

MR. SPICER:  Okay, so just stop for a second.  Let’s walk through this logically.  I come to you and say, hey, there’s evidence that whatever you’ve been accused of is not true.  What’s your response?  No, no, answer the question.

Q    You said to me that there’s evidence of —

MR. SPICER:  So you’ve been accused of some wrongdoing, and I come to you and say, hey, guess what — the accusations that you’ve been accused of I know they aren’t true.

Q    I’d love for you to tell everybody.  I’m asking specifically in this case.  I’m just asking in this case was there a sense, on this subject matter, which is politically very loaded, where you feel you haven’t been treated well, that it would be more useful for the administration if the FBI spoke up —

MR. SPICER:  No, it’s not a question of useful.  They came to us and said, this story is not true.  We said, great, could you tell people that?  Reporters are asking us, we’ve denied it.  We did deny it.  I’m really having a tough time understanding the logic of your question.  They story gets printed in The New York Times.  Just to be clear, let’s think about this for a second.  If we knew that this story was false and we wanted the FBI to pressure, wouldn’t we have asked the day before when the story was coming out?

Q    I wasn’t suggesting you asked them to pressure.  That was not the premise of the question.

MR. SPICER:  So they come to us with information that morning and say, the story that was published is not accurate.  What should have been the White House’s response?

Q    I’m not going to say what your response should have been.  But do you see what I’m asking is —

MR. SPICER:  No, I don’t.  I really don’t.  I think it’s insane.  I think it really — the idea that you’re saying someone tells you that something is false —

Q    Did you think that denial would be more credible if it came from the FBI instead of from you?

MR. SPICER:  Of course, it would.  Because the story listed intelligence sources as saying — The New York Times said, according to multiple sources in the intelligence community, this is false.  If the FBI and part of the intelligence community says, we believe it’s false, it came out after we had denied it — and, of course, The New York Times didn’t believe us, said, oh, we have X number of sources in the intel community, you’re wrong — why wouldn’t we want someone with credibility who’s saying, we have no evidence that this story is accurate, come out and say that?

Q    I guess what I’m aiming towards is, are you trying to — do you guys feel like there’s been background sources from the intelligence community saying things that you dispute, that you don’t like?  Is this part of a broader effort to get the intelligence community —

MR. SPICER:  That’s barely — you show a lack of — I mean —

Q    To go on the record.

MR. SPICER:  No, no, hold on, hold on.  Just stop for a second.  They come to us and say, “The New York Times is quoting intelligence sources claiming X, Y and Z.  We don’t believe that that’s accurate.”  “Okay, could you please let people know that that’s not true?”

Q    And I’m saying, when you say that, is that a way of asking them to get their house in order if these sources are talking —

MR. SPICER:  No, it’s a way of saying — if someone witnesses something that happened and says, I’m willing to go out and say that, hey, I saw that actually the car went right and not left, and I can clear this up — wouldn’t you want the witness to do that?  The FBI is saying, we are in the intelligence business, we didn’t think that story was accurate; we wanted you to know.  Our answer is, great, reporters are calling us — could you let them know?

Q    But I think that happens pretty regularly, that the FBI tells you something and they are not deciding what’s going to go into the public sphere or not.  That’s your job, right?

MR. SPICER:  Not if — we had to — I mean, no, actually it doesn’t, to be honest with you.  It’s the first time that I’ve seen it happen.  Obviously, we had never had — the chairman had never — the chief of staff had never met this guy before.  So for him to come over and say, hey, by the way — no, that doesn’t — at least in my 30-some-odd days, it’s never happened.

Q    I guess what I was wondering is why it’s so unusual for them to want the White House, the political component, to be the ones deciding about what gets put —

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know, ask them.  Again, I hate to probably break some norm, but maybe you should direct your question to them.  I know that’s probably — now you’re going to have stories about how I directed reporters to call the public affairs office to do —

Q    But I’m asking you the question.

MR. SPICER:  No, no, because — I know, and I’ve asked and answered it, like, 18 times.

Q    Sean, did Reince talk to counsel, the White House Counsel’s Office after he talked to McCabe?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — it’s possible.  It’s very possible that they were in the initial meeting.  I’m sure that he has followed up with counsel and said, hey, I just was told this — at some point.

Q    This is a bit of a difficult situation and what do we do.

MR. SPICER:  But again, at the beginning part, the answer was to tell — to say to McCabe, hey, let us know how you want to handle this.

Q    So that secondary —

MR. SPICER:  Just remember the response, which is, it wasn’t a directive.  We didn’t say, “Go do the following.”  That’s a directive.  That could be — we literally said, “What can you do to help get the world out?  Could you take calls from reporters?  Will you clear this up?”

Q    But that kind of, “what could you do” wasn’t — to your knowledge it wasn’t after he had spoken to counsel and said —

MR. SPICER:  Oh, no, it was immediate.

Q    Okay.

MR. SPICER:  Like, “Hey, what can you do?”  And the answer that McCabe gave was, “Give me a few hours to get back to you and see what we can do.”

Q    So you know what McCabe went away and did in those two hours?  I mean, was he talking to his own counsel?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know.  You should ask him.  I don’t want to —

Q    Okay.

Q    Sean, going forward, then, with the FBI, you have a fundamental persistent dispute with them about them stepping into such matters and —

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — in terms of what, Dave?

Q    In terms of if this situation arises again where they have information that they could back down an untrue story —

MR. SPICER:  I think that the FBI — sure.  I mean, if the FBI knows something to be false, unless it hinders intelligence-gathering, an ongoing investigation, I don’t want to get in the — I mean, our job isn’t to get in the way of them doing their job, i.e. investigating something or uncovering a plot, or whatever they’re doing.  If there’s some reason that they have to act in accordance to protect this country, they should by all means do it.  But to come to somebody and say, you’ve been accused of some pretty serious things and we know them not to be accurate, I would assume that you would want — I mean, isn’t their job justice?

I mean, that’s — I mean, if you wrote a story that was knowingly false and somebody came to you and said, I know, Dave, that the story you wrote is false and I’ve got some facts to prove it, I would hope and I do believe that you would say, get them to me and I’m going to update the story.

If this was you, and you had written a story and someone from the FBI came to you and said, hey, I know you wrote that story, Dave, or, Hallie, I saw your package last night, and, gosh, we’re in the intel community and I’m willing to let you know it’s not accurate — I would assume that your answer would be, okay, what do I need to do to correct it, or what can I do, or what can you give me.

Q    So the administration still maintains there is no investigation.

MR. SPICER:  No, that’s not what I said, Charlie.  No.  I literally said then when presented with a story that we were told was not accurate, our answer was, could you go tell other people that it’s not accurate or correct it, or whatever you see fit.  But what are we doing to get the story or the facts straight?

Q    So you don’t know whether or not there is an investigation.

MR. SPICER:  I know nothing more than they told us a story was not accurate.  And our answer was, what are you going to do to get the story right.  It wasn’t — that’s it, full stop.  There was no discussion about anything beyond the story.  And the story wasn’t right.  And I believe he used —

Q    So you’re not aware of any investigation into Russia, did I misunderstand that?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not aware of one.  Huh?  You asked me if I was aware.  I am not.

Q    Is the administration?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — that’s a pretty broad term.  I’m not aware of one.  And so —

Q    More broadly then, to this point, is there concern — or what does this say about the relationship between the administration and the FBI, given that you used words like “concerned,” “troubling,” talking about leaks?  Should Americans be concerned about fallout between the White House and the FBI?

MR. SPICER:  I think you should — no, I mean, all I know is they’ve told us some information, we’ve asked them to help get the word out.  That’s where it stands.

Q    But you called the potential leaks “troubling” and “concerning.”

MR. SPICER:  No, I was asked about the leaks, Hallie.

Q    But you directed us back to the President’s tweet, which says, “The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’.”  Are we to deduce that the President has lost confidence in the FBI and the Director?

MR. SPICER:  I think that I’m going to let the President’s tweet stand for itself.  But I think that — and again, I think he commented on this last week, that there is a concern — these are two separate issues.  One is the instance at hand and the story that came out, and the second is the leaks that are coming out.

Q    And on a sort of semi-related note, this banner on CNN right now that says “CNN and others have been blocked from media briefings,” are CNN and The New York Times not in here right now because you’re unhappy with their reporting?  And why are they not in here?

MR. SPICER:  Because we had a pool and then we expanded it, and we added some folks to come and cover it.

Q    But there’s enough room for others in here.

MR. SPICER:  It was my decision to decide — you know, to expand the pool.  Yeah.

Q    Sean, the President said today at CPAC, “We’re going to do something about it” in reference to these stories that he is saying are false by The New York Times and CNN and others.  What is he talking about there?

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry, say the beginning.

Q    He said, “We are going to do something about it” when he was referencing —

MR. SPICER:  Well, I mean, I think we’re going to aggressively push back.  We’re just not going to sit back and let false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.

Q    In terms of leaks, what’s the next step?  The President has been concerned —

MR. SPICER:  The President is not going to tell you how he’s going to handle this.  Obviously, that would undermine the ability to block them if people knew what he was going to do or how he was going to handle it.

Q    Can I first ask about the shooting in Kansas of the two Indian Americans and what the President’s response to it was, but also if there’s any concern that some of the rhetoric that the President or — that generally has been out here recently could have contributed in any way to that or stepped up violence?

MR. SPICER:  I mean, obviously, any loss of life is tragic, but I’m not going to get into, like, that kind of — to suggest that there’s any correlation I think is a bit absurd.  So I’m not going to go any further than that.

Q    Can I ask about the CEA?  Politico is saying that Kevin Hassett is the President’s choice.  I’m wondering if you can confirm that.

MR. SPICER:  I can’t.

Q    And then more broadly, the CEA is not among the President’s Cabinet positions anymore and I’m wondering if you can explain —

MR. SPICER:  I don’t think it was during Bush, was it?

Q    I know it was under Obama.

MR. SPICER:  Okay, so what’s — okay.  Some positions are and some positions aren’t.  I mean, there are —

Q    Well, can you just explain the logic behind —

MR. SPICER:  No, I can’t.  I mean, I think the President makes a decision — he can always expand his Cabinet.  But I think that there’s some Cabinet positions that each administration decides are part of their Cabinet, some aren’t.  And I think the President has an unbelievably talented group of economic advisors, from Steve Mnuchin to Wilbur Ross to Robert Lighthizer, should he be confirmed by the Senate, as well as Wilbur and others.

So it’s every President’s prerogative to decide beyond the statutory members of the Cabinet who else to have included.

Q    Can I follow up on the shooting?  You mentioned that — is it the — what part is the “absurd”?  I guess I’m just —

MR. SPICER:  Well, it’s absurd to suggest that rhetoric.  And I think the point that was at least — I think the —

Q    I mean, the comment from the man supposedly is, “Get out of my country.”  Is it a question of it’s too early to call it a hate crime?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, no, but I think they’re pointing out — at least what I thought was being asked is, is there any, like — was it your intention to suggest that there was, like, a connection between —

Q    I mean, I think that — I didn’t want to say, this person did — I mean, I don’t think any of us could know that possibly.

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think to sort of — to right now intimate what the motives are is too early.  I mean, I guess my point is to sort of jump to a conclusion.  We’ve seen that too often in the past — in Florida and other places where people jump to a conclusion.  This is — we’re not going to be subject to calling a video as the Clinton — as the Obama administration did.  I mean, let’s let law enforcement do its job before we start jumping to conclusions.

Q    Do you know of any other parts of the administration looking into this potentially?  The Department of Justice, for example, maybe?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t have anything for you on this.

Q    So today, President Trump talked about how he’s going to build up the military, there’s going to be a big funding request.  Can you talk about how much money does the President think he’s going to need to ask for?  And how is this going to be paid for?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think there’s two things.  One, I think he’ll touch on this in the joint address.  But, secondly, the budget that’s come out will be very clear about where a lot of that funding will come from.  And so I don’t want to get ahead of either of those, but I will — I think they’re good questions that will be answered in due time, both beginning with the joint address — we’ll touch on that.  And, second, from a more detailed standpoint, the budget, specifically with respect to the savings and how savings and how additional funding would be processed.

Q    And regarding the joint address, do you imagine the joint address will be kind of like this very broad, like overhead look at what the President plans to do?  Or will it be very specific, like bullet points, this is what we’re going to do, very specific policies that we’re going to enact?

MR. SPICER:  I think it will be a little bit of a blend.  More so the former than the latter.  I think he’s going to talk very optimistically about where we’re going to go as a country and the general policies that he’s going to pursue to get us there.  I don’t think this is going to be the same old Christmas tree kind of State of the Union.  And I think there is a little bit of a traditional tweak between a joint address and a State of the Union.

Q    Is the President going to meet with insurers on Monday?

MR. SPICER:  I’ll have Lindsay get out — we’re going to get the schedule together.  I think —

Q    Sean —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, I told Gabi, and then I’ve got to be downstairs.

Q    Okay, I have a question on the budget.  With so few Cabinet Secretaries confirmed right now, is the White House working with agencies to ensure that their submissions are being —


Q    Okay, and do you expect the budget to be thin because of the absence of Cabinet Secretaries?


Q    Okay.

MR. SPICER:  I think — I mean, it may be thin, but that’s because of — I’m joking.  I think the President’s commitment to getting Washington in order is going to be very apparent in the budget, and his desire to respect taxpayers and duplicity in government and programs that are outdated is going to be very much reflected in the budget.

But we start that process sometime next week, where they start the passback process of going through departments and what their top lines are and things like that.

Q    If I could just ask one more question on immigration.  Before the President was inaugurated, he said that approximately 2 million to 3 million criminal illegal aliens would be deported during his first year in office.  But according to the guidance that Secretary Kelly sent out earlier this week, they are now saying that law enforcement officials should be also looking at apprehending and deporting low-level criminal illegal immigrants and anybody that DHS deems a public risk.

How does the administration — I mean, number one, can we expect that figure — 2 million to 3 million — to expand now that it seems the definition of criminal illegal aliens has expanded?  And also, how are you going to ensure that somebody who didn’t just get a traffic ticket isn’t included in that — under that definition?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not — we’re not going to ensure anything.  I mean, that’s the job of ICE — or DHS and then, more specifically, ICE, is to look at who is in this country, where they sit on that.  But it is not the job of the White House to get involved and do carve-outs about misdemeanor versus that.  People who I think — I would actually just leave it at you should contact ICE in terms of how they’re prioritizing this.

Our job was to make sure that they were enforcing the laws and achieving the mission, protecting the nation, and I’ll leave it at that.

Q    Was that something that the White House had spoken with Secretary Kelly about?  About expanding the definition of the individuals it would include?

MR. SPICER:  I would touch base with Secretary Kelly’s office and then ICE.  But our job was to give them — the executive order and the guidance they put out I think is pretty explicit as far as describing how that executive order is going to be carried out.  And then Secretary Kelly lays out very specifically how they’re going to achieve that.  So if you look at the factsheet and the letters that he put out, I think it lays it out pretty well.

Q    Is the President hoping to have this executive order on immigration done before the joint session to Congress?  And can you talk a little bit about — you’ve talked about the delay in it is related to the fact that there’s been more communication with other agencies to make sure this is rolled out appropriately.  Can you talk about what — I mean, what is the President looking for to get from these agencies?

MR. SPICER:  I think we’re just trying to make sure that it is done precisely with a precision that he expects to make sure that we achieve the goal of the executive order when it’s issued.

Q    Sean, on healthcare, there’s a new executive — a new draft bill, a draft proposal that’s been circulating on Capitol Hill that’s now been made public that, for example, shrinks Medicaid expansion, scales back subsidies, et cetera.  Is this something the President would support?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to get into what we are or are not going to support.  That’s my understanding, from media reports, is that that’s a House draft and I would respectfully ask that you follow up with them.

Q    Real quick yes or no.  The President said at CPAC this morning that we’re going to see the biggest buildup of the military in American history.  Can we take that to the bank?  Is that a real promise?  Or is that —

MR. SPICER:  I think you can take what the President says to the bank.

Thank you, guys.  I’ve got to get downstairs.

Q    One more question just about the idea that it seems as though you’re playing favorites with media outlets by excluding some from this conversation.

MR. SPICER:  You’re my favorite.  (Laughter.)

Q    No, that’s not what I’m asking.  But do you have a response to that, though, given that that is a concern to some that want to see press have access to you, all out?

MR. SPICER:  No, I think that — right — I think that we have shown an abundance of accessibility.  We’ve brought more reporters into this process.  And the idea that every time that every single person can’t get their question answered or fit in a room that we’re excluding people — we’ve actually gone above and beyond with making ourselves, our team and our briefing room, more accessible than probably any prior administration.  So I think you can take that to the bank.  When you look at —

Q    But why not those other outlets today?

MR. SPICER:  Because, Cecilia, there’s 3,000 people that are credentialed to come in here.

Q    But there are six outlets that want to be in here right now.  The New York Times —

MR. SPICER:  No, there’s not.  Actually, that is false.  To say that there are six — maybe six that reached out to you, but that is not —

Q    Well, but —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, hold on —

Q    — listed in the White House Correspondents’ Association’s response to this.

MR. SPICER:  I understand that.  There are way more than six that wanted to come in.  We started with the pool and then we expanded it.  So I get it.  But why — I can ask — there are plenty that want to come in at all times for every event.  We do what we can to be accessible.  And if there’s a problem with that, I understand it.  But we do what we can to accommodate the press.  I think we’ve gone above and beyond when it comes to accessibility and openness and getting folks to — our officials, our team.  And so, respectfully, I disagree with the premise of the question.

Thank you.

2:18 P.M. EST

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 2/23/2017, #15

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:58 P.M. EST

MR. SPICER:  I was thinking about not doing a briefing today, and then I saw Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon give that talk and I thought they were infringing on my ratings, so we figured we had to do something to keep up our record.

It’s been another busy day today.  This morning, after receiving his daily intelligence briefing, the President welcomed some of the world’s top business and manufacturing leaders to the White House to continue the administration’s effort to engage with the private sector to create jobs and expand opportunities for America’s workers.  The 24 CEOs spent the morning in working sessions with the Vice President, Cabinet members and key aides, and came together with the President to brief him on their discussions and recommendations.

The group discussed the need to roll back burdensome regulations that are stifling economic growth.  The CEOs thanked the President for the actions that he’s already taken to address the issues, and the President pledged to do even more, both through the executive branch and by working with Congress to pass legislation that will help further economic growth and job creation.

The business leaders recommended that the administration take a multifaceted approach to tax and trade policies, including tax reform, toward which Secretary Mnuchin said that progress is continuing to be made.  The President committed to working to lower taxes and level the playing field with other countries when it comes to trade and taxation.

The group held a lengthy discussion about the need to invest in the American worker to prepare for the manufacturing jobs of the future, especially the key role of vocational schools in training the workforce of the 21st century.  The CEOs and administration officials agreed that public-private partnerships will be the cornerstone of a robust plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.  The President committed to streamlining a permitting process that is holding back so many key projects.

At the end of the discussion, the group expressed their excitement for having a true partner in economic growth in the White House, and Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow Chemical, even said that this is probably the most pro-business administration since the Founding Fathers.  The President conveyed his intention to assemble the industry leaders on a regular basis to discuss progress towards these important goals.  A full list of the participants is available.

This afternoon, the President spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau by phone.  We’ll have a readout on that call soon.  Right now, many of you just came from the President, who is involved in another listening session with leaders in the fight against domestic and international human trafficking, including representatives from International Justice Mission and United Way.  Their expertise will be invaluable to the President as he engages with members of Congress to raise awareness about, and push through, legislation aimed at preventing all forms of the horrific and unacceptable practice of the buying and selling of human lives.

Human trafficking is a dire problem, both domestically and internationally.  And solving this epidemic is a huge priority for the President.  Dedicated men and women from across the federal government have focused on this for some time, and the President is committed to continue working with these organizations and departments.  A participant list for this listening session is also going to be available.

The President this evening will attend a dinner with the Business Council.

Today in Mexico, Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly had productive meetings at the Cabinet level with officials from the Mexican government.  They were forward-looking meetings focused on finding common-ground ways to advance both of our countries’ security and economic wellbeing.  Both sides had a candid discussion on the breadth of challenges and opportunities as part of the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

The conversation covered a full range of bilateral issues, including energy, legal migration, security, education exchanges, and people-to-people ties.  The parties also reiterated our joint commitment to maintaining law and order at our shared border by stopping potential terrorists and dismantling the transnational criminal networks that are moving drugs and people into the United States.

Under this President there is no mistaking that rule of law matters along both sides of our border.  Both Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly are meeting with President Peña Nieto this afternoon.  That will be a continuation of the productive dialogue that is setting our two countries down a pathway to greater security and long-term prosperity.

Looking ahead to our upcoming schedule, tomorrow the President will welcome President of Peru for a working-level visit.  The President of Peru is in town for a separate visit and requested a meeting with the President.  There will be a spray at the top of that.  Further guidance will be provided later today.  The President will also speak at CPAC tomorrow.  I know the President is looking forward to addressing this group of conservative-committed individuals.

Our nation’s governors are starting to gather in Washington this week for a meeting of the National Governors Association.  The President and the First Lady will welcome the governors to the White House on Sunday evening.  The Vice President and members of the Cabinet will also be in attendance.  While the governors are in town, they will be meeting with members of the Cabinet, White House staff, and other Secretaries including Kelly, Price, and Secretary Chao have also set up a series of meetings.

The President, Vice President, and senior White House staff will also participate in a portion of the business session of NGA’s winter meeting that takes place on Monday morning.

Next week, of course, the President will give a joint session address before both Houses of Congress.  He’s currently working closely with the speechwriting team on presenting his vision to Congress and the American people.  I’ve got a few updates that I want to just — as we’re now a few days out.  The theme of the address will be the renewal of the American spirit.  The address will particularly focus on public safety, including defense, increased border security, taking care of our veterans, and then economic opportunity, including education, job training, healthcare reform, jobs, and tax and regulatory reform.

With that, I’d be glad to take a few of your questions.

Q    Two questions.  First, the White House said previously that that travel ban was pushed quickly out of necessity for national security, and now we’re hearing there’s these repeated delays while the new one is being drafted.  How do we reconcile those two talking points?  That’s question one.

And then secondly, the President said today that the deportations taking place under his watch are a military operation.  Secretary Kelly said the military won’t be involved in deportations.  Did the President misspeak?

MR. SPICER:  So I’ll take the latter first.  The President was using that as an adjective.  It’s happening with precision, and in a manner in which it’s being done very, very clearly.

I think we’ve made it clear in the past, and Secretary Kelly reiterated it, what kind of operation this was.  But the President was clearly describing the manner in which this was being done.  And so just to be clear on his use of that phrase.  And I think the way it’s being done, by all accounts, is being done with very much a high degree of precision and a flawless manner in terms of making sure that the orders are carried out, and it’s done in a very streamlined and efficient manner.

I’m sorry, the first part was?

Q    The first one was about the travel ban.

MR. SPICER:  Yeah.  And I think, look, we have made it very clear that we believe that the first one was done in compliance with U.S. code and the authority granted to the President.  This time, the order is finalized.  What we are doing is now in the implementation phase of working with the respective departments and agencies to make sure that when we execute this, it’s done in a manner that’s flawless.

And so it’s not a question of delaying, it’s a question of getting it right.  We’ve taken the Court’s opinions and concerns into consideration, but the order is finalized.  It’s now awaiting implementation.  What we want to do is make sure that we’re working through the departments and agencies so that any concerns or questions are handled on the front end.  But we are acting with appropriate haste and diligence to make sure that the order is done in an appropriate manner.

Q    I want to ask you about a comment that the Treasury Secretary made today.  He was asked if we should assume that the tax plan that the President is about to roll out will take effect in 2018.  He said, and I’m quoting, “I think we’re looking at that.”  So my question to you is, would the President accept a tax proposal that deals with the timeline of implementation in 2018 but not 2017?

MR. SPICER:  So, Secretary Mnuchin also made it very clear that his goal is to have this wrapped up by August and implemented.  The question is, or what you’re referring to is what year it actually takes place?

Q    Right.

MR. SPICER:  Right, so whether it’s retroactive to tax year 2017 or fiscal year ’17.  And I think as the details get —

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, we’ll have more details on that as it moves forward.  I think there’s two issues — fiscal year ’17 and calendar year ’17.  And, for taxpayers, it’s obviously calendar year 2017 that they’re probably most concerned with, and I think the President, as we work with Congress, will have those details to be able to flush out.

I want to go to our first Skype seat of the day.  Neil Vigdor with Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

Q    Good afternoon, Sean.  Thanks for taking my question.  I appreciate it.  Connecticut’s governor directed police chiefs across the state Wednesday to avoid taking any special action against undocumented immigrants, including honoring immigration detainer requests from ICE.  What will the repercussions be for this state in terms of federal funding it receives from the Trump administration?

And secondly, does the President’s executive order on sanctuary cities apply to those that are undeclared sanctuary cities?

MR. SPICER:  Well, Neil, I think there’s a couple things.  The idea that Governor Malloy would not want the law followed as enacted by Congress or by the Connecticut legislature in any fashion seems to be concerning, right?  Whether you’re a governor or mayor or the President, laws are passed in this country and we expect people and our lawmakers and our law enforcement agencies to follow and adhere to the laws as passed by the appropriate level of government.

So it’s obviously concerning, I think, and it’s troubling that that’s the message that he would send to his people and to other governors.  Because we are a nation of laws, and I think that people need to understand that whether it’s the laws that he passes as the Governor of Connecticut or the laws that are passed through Congress and signed by the President, there’s a reason that our democracy works.  It’s because the people speak, our representatives at every level pass a law, and the executive in that particular branch of government signs or vetoes it, and then we live by those rules.  And the idea that you can decide which laws to agree or not to agree with, or follow or not follow, undermines our entire rule of law.

And so I would suggest that that is not a great sign to be sending to the people of Connecticut and the people of this country, that a particular governor chooses not to follow the duly-passed laws of this nation.

With respect to sanctuary cities, I think this is an area that the American people by huge amounts support.  They recognize their tax dollars shouldn’t be spent supporting programs and activities to which people are not entitled to.  And so I think the President has been very clear on this — that if you are a sanctuary city, declared or undeclared, if you are providing benefits or services, we are going to do everything we can to respect taxpayers and ensure that your states follow the law.


Q    Sean, on the bathroom issue, there was a different comment from the President about, you know, if people like Caitlyn Jenner wanted to use this bathroom in Trump Tower, she could now.  What’s happened?

MR. SPICER:  No, I think that’s — so just to be clear, the President was asked — at one point Caitlyn Jenner was in Trump Tower, and he said, that’s great.  That’s consistent with everything he’s said.  It’s a states’ rights issue.  And that’s entirely what he believes — that if a state wants to pass a law or rule, or an organization wants to do something in compliance with the state rule, that’s their right.  But it shouldn’t be the federal government getting in the way of this.

I mean, if you look at this, the law that was passed in 1972 did not contemplate or consider this issue.  Number two, the procedure for this guidance letter that was done through the Obama administration was not properly followed.  There was no comment period.  There was no input from parents, teachers, students or administrators.  None.

So if we think about how this was implemented last administration, there was zero input, there was zero comment period offered.  Teachers and students never had any say in how this was implemented.  Number three, there’s a reason that the Texas court had this matter enjoined.  It’s because it didn’t follow the law and it had procedural problems.

Four, as I mentioned, it’s a states’ rights issue.  And then five is, I think that we do have to recognize that children do enjoy rights, from anti-bullying statutes that are in almost every state, and that there’s a difference between being compassionate for individuals and children who are struggling with something and wanting to make sure they’re protected, and how it’s being done.  And I think that the President has a big heart, as we’ve talked about in a lot of other issues, and there’s a big difference.  Personally, he addressed this issue when it came up with respect to one of his properties.

But he also believes that that’s not a federal government issue.  It’s an issue left to the states, and it’s an issue that — I mean, there’s a reason in August of last year that the court enjoined this, because it hadn’t followed the law and it hadn’t — the procedure, the comment period and the solicitation of opinions and ideas wasn’t followed.  It was jammed down the process.

And so we’re actually following the law on this one, and I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.


Q    If I could just follow on what April said.  The Human Rights Campaign —

Q    I wasn’t finished, I’m sorry.

Q    Well, I’m following on your question.  Let me follow —

Q    I understand that, but —

MR. SPICER:  Why don’t we let April follow on and then we’ll get to John, Kristen and Brian.

Q    Yeah.  So I have one on — I have something on another issue really fast, then John can do that.  On the HBCU executive order, we understand the executive order that’s coming out sometime later this month, it’s supposed to open — you’re working out issues of opening an office specifically to take the HBCU initiative out of the Department of Education and bring it directly under the purview of the White House.  Who will be heading that?  Have you figured that out?  Have you also figured out how you will build that office out?  Because from what I understand, that is one of the big pieces of this.

MR. SPICER:  Well, respectfully, that’s why it hasn’t been issued yet.  We’re working it through the process.  Obviously, that is something that we’re committed to getting done by the end of Black History Month.  So our days are numbered, but there’s a commitment by the President and the staff to really focus on this issue and give it the proper respect that it deserves.  So if you’ll bear with us a couple more days, I promise you we’ll have more to say on that.

Q    So it will be a department with the full —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, I just want to be clear, I’m not going to get into the details.  Sort of my blanket statement on non-issued executive orders.  But I do know that there is a commitment by the President and the staff that he has been very clear with us that he wants that done by the end of this month for obvious reasons.

Now John.

Q    Let me get back to where we were.  The Human Rights Campaign, in responding to rescinding the guidance last night, said that this is not a states’ rights issue, it’s a civil rights issue, and therefore is in the purview of the federal government.  Do you disagree that this a civil rights issue?

MR. SPICER:  It’s not a — it’s a question of where it’s appropriately addressed.  And I think there’s a reason — like, we’ve got to remember, this guidance was enjoined last August by a court.  It hasn’t been enforced.  There was no comment period by anyone — by the Human Rights Campaign, by teachers, parents, students.  Nobody had any input of this.

And it seems to me a little interesting that if this was any other issue, people would be crying foul that the process wasn’t followed.  The reality is, is that when you look at Title IX, it was enacted in 1972.  The idea that this was even contemplated at that is preposterous on its face.  But that doesn’t mean that the President — the President obviously understands the issue and the challenges that especially young children face.  He just believes that this is a state issue that needs to be addressed by states, as he does with a lot of other issues that we’ve talked about.

And so this is — we are a states’ rights party.  The President on a lot of issues believes in these various issues being states’ rights.  I don’t see why this would be any different.  And again, if you go through it, it’s not just — it’s how the guidance was issued, it’s the legal basis on which it was ordered.  It fell short on a lot of stuff.

It wasn’t us that did this; it was the court that stepped in and said that they hadn’t followed the procedure of the law back in August of last year and enjoin the case.

Q    I understand all that, I’m just wondering if — does the White House disagree with the position that this is a civil right?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think it’s not a question of whether it’s a civil right, it’s where is it appropriately addressed.  And as I noted, it’s appropriately addressed at the state level.


Q    Can I follow on that?  Sean, does the President believe, personally believe that any student who is transgender should be able to use the bathroom of their choice?  His personal belief?

MR. SPICER:  The President believes it’s a states’ rights issue.  And he’s not going to get into determining — I understand what you’re asking, Kelly.  And I think that, as April pointed out, when the issue came to one of his own properties he was very clear.  But again, what he doesn’t want to do is force his issues or beliefs down — he believes it’s a states’ rights issue —

Q    But the public may want to know where the President is on this issue.

MR. SPICER:  I understand that, and I think that he is very sympathetic to children who deal with that and that this is up to states and schools within a particular district to address how they want to accommodate that, and not sort of be prescriptive from Washington.  That’s what the President believes.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  You mentioned that this order was enjoined by a court and there was criticism about the process.  That exact same criticism has been levied on the administration’s first executive order, on the travel ban.  I mean, can you help us square the circle here?  Why are you relying on that same “enjoined by a federal court” criticism of the process for one but not the other?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think there’s a big difference.  There’s no way that you can read Title IX from 1972 — anybody — and say that that was even contemplated back then.  It just — there’s nobody that is possibly suggesting that the law that was passed in 1972 did that.

Number two, there was zero comment period put forward on this guidance, which is in violation of how it was executed, okay?  And so there’s a big difference — hold on, hold, on let me answer the question, Zeke.  There is also a strong reading when you read 1182 U.S. Code that it is very clear that the President does have the authority.

So they are very much apples and oranges issue.  One, it’s very clear that the President is told by Congress in U.S. code that he has the authority to do what’s necessary to protect the American people.  And there’s no way that anybody above a fifth grade reading level could interpret that different.  There is a difference between looking at a statute from 1972 and saying that something was complicated back then.

Not only that — again, it’s a multifaceted thing.  When you look at how the guidance was issued, there was a zero comment period.  Nobody was able to weigh in on that situation back then.  And so when you’re talking about forcing schools to make a huge accommodation from the federal level, and schools, parents, teachers, kids were not able to have any input in that decision from Washington, I think it’s a very, very clear difference.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Just going back two weeks, in a story that got relatively little attention at the time — Chuck Cooper, a very distinguished lawyer, asked that his name be withdrawn when he was on the periphery of being named U.S. Solicitor General.  So my question is a two-parter.  First, can you confirm or deny the administration is now vetting Mr. Miguel Estrada, who was a former nominee for the Court of Appeals, as Solicitor General before the visa delay case gets to the Supreme Court?

And second, Mr. Cooper said that he did not want to go through the same experience that Jeff Sessions, his good friend, did when he had the confirmation hearings and the vote in the Senate.  Does that make the President a little bit discouraged about getting the nominees he wants for some very important positions?

MR. SPICER:  Well, thanks, John.  And I’d say – on the first part, as you know — and I’ll give you the same answer we give executive orders — we don’t comment on personnel decisions until they’re made, until they’re finalized.  So I’ve got nothing for that.

On the second part, what I would say is that the President is very confident we have a deep bench of folks who — during the transition, we talked about this — a number of people who have expressed a huge interest in joining the President in fulfilling this agenda.  And that list is robust and long.

However, that being said, I think for folks who have to go through the Senate confirmation and to watch what has happened to some of these fine individuals — the delay tactics, the tearing apart of their personal lives — it is discouraging for some of these people, I think, in terms of Mr. Cooper and others who are looking at the process saying, I would like to be part of this administration, help fulfill this vision and this agenda, but this is what I’m going to have go through.

So while this is somewhat of an isolated case, I definitely understand what he’s talking about here.  And I think those are few and far between, but I think that when you realize what is happening largely at the expense of Senate Democrats, in terms of dragging these people through a very, very delayed and arduous process for purely political points, I think that there are some people who could look at the process and potentially say I don’t want to serve.

Luckily, we’ve not come to that beyond a handful of folks.  Largely, people have huge desire and are willing to make great sacrifice — both financially and personally — to serve in the administration because I think they understand what potential change this President is bringing to this country and to the city.  But I understand his point.

Q    This morning, the President talked about, as he often does when he talks about immigrants, he talks about really bad dudes.

MR. SPICER:  Yeah.

Q    You talked about precision.  The Homeland Security Secretary this morning insisted there won’t be mass deportation.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    Is it the President’s intent or desire, as some advocates worry, that people who are here illegally with something as simple as a traffic violation, that those people will be subject to deportation?  Yes or no?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think everybody who is in this country for obvious reasons — if you overstay a visa, if you commit a crime, you can’t — by the very nature of you not being legal, you can be subject to deportation.  That’s by definition.  Being in this country is a privilege, not a right, if you are a visitor.  And I think we have a right to make sure that the people who are in this country are here for good and peaceful processes.

And as I’ve said over and over again, there is a big difference.  The President recognizes that there are millions of people in the country who are not here legally, and that we have to have a very systematic and pragmatic and methodical process of going through those individuals to make sure that the people who pose a threat to public safety or have a criminal record are the first that are gone.

What we’ve done — just to be clear — is to untie the hands of ICE and Border Patrol agents and say, your job is to enforce the law — first and foremost to figure out who poses a threat to us.  But in the previous administration their hands had been tied.  There was exception after exception after exception.  And the fact of the matter is, is that we have to — we are a nation of laws, and we have to have a system of legal immigration that is respected.

So I’m not going to be prescriptive in terms of what ICE’s job is.  But needless to say, their job and their mission is to protect the country and to enforce our borders and our immigration laws.  And the President has basically instructed them to carry out their mission.  And so the priorities, as we’ve discussed over and over and over again, is to do that is in accordance with the law but also prioritizes those people that pose a threat.

I’m going to go to Roby Brock from the Talk Business & Politics in — where is he from?  Arkansas.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Roby Brock with Talk Business & Politics here in Arkansas, the home of the rowdiest town halls in the nation.

I have a question on medical marijuana.  Our state voters passed a medical marijuana amendment in November.  Now we’re in conflict with federal law, as many other states are.  The Obama administration kind of chose not to strictly enforce those federal marijuana laws.  My question to you is:  With Jeff Sessions over at the Department of Justice as AG, what’s going to be the Trump administration’s position on marijuana legalization where it’s in a state-federal conflict like this?

MR. SPICER:  Thanks, Roby.  There’s two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.

I think medical marijuana, I’ve said before that the President understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana, can bring to them.  And that’s one that Congress, through a rider in 2011 — looking for a little help — I think put in an appropriations bill saying the Department of Justice wouldn’t be funded to go after those folks.

There is a big difference between that and recreational marijuana.  And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people.  There is still a federal law that we need to abide by in terms of the medical — when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.

So I think there’s a big difference between medical marijuana, which states have a — the states where it’s allowed, in accordance with the appropriations rider, have set forth a process to administer and regulate that usage, versus recreational marijuana.  That’s a very, very different subject.


Q    What does that mean in terms of policy?  A follow-up, Sean.  What does that mean in terms of policy?

MR. SPICER:  Shannon.  Glenn, this isn’t a TV program.  We’re going to —

Q    What is the Justice Department going to do?

MR. SPICER:  Okay, you don’t get to just yell out questions.  We’re going to raise our hands like big boys and girls.

Q    Why don’t you answer the question, though?

MR. SPICER:  Because it’s not your job to just yell out questions.

Shannon, please go.

Q    Okay.  Well, first, on the manufacturing summit, was the AFL-CIO invited?  And then, yeah, I did want to follow up on this medical marijuana question.  So is the federal government then going to take some sort of action around this recreational marijuana in some of these states?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think that’s a question for the Department of Justice.  I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement of it.  Because again, there’s a big difference between the medical use which Congress has, through an appropriations rider in 2014, made very clear what their intent was in terms of how the Department of Justice would handle that issue.  That’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice I think will be further looking into.

I’m sorry, Shannon, what was the first part?

Q    Was the AFL-CIO invited to the manufacturing meeting today with the CFOs?  Because they are part of this manufacturing —

MR. SPICER:  Right.  I think this was just focused on people who actually — they were not, I don’t believe, part of this one.  As you know, that we’ve had union representation at other meetings.  I think this was specifically for people who are hiring people and the impediments that they’re having to create additional jobs, hire more people.  And obviously, while the President values their opinion — and that’s why they’ve been involved in some of the past — this was specifically a manufacturing — people who hire people, who manufacture, who grow the economy, who grow jobs.  And that is a vastly different situation.


Q    I specifically sat here next to John to have —

MR. SPICER:  One can see —

Q    You know me.  (Laughter.)  Thank you.  A question on Russia.  Secretary Tillerson and General Dunford have had meetings with their Russian counterparts.  Is the President pleased with the results of the meetings?


Q    And what comes next?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, both of them had an opportunity to meet with their counterparts in different locations, ironically on the same day.  I believe that was yesterday.  And they both had very, very productive discussions.  The President was very pleased with the outcome of that, and so I would refer you back to both General Dunford and Secretary Tillerson on those.

Q    You started discussing the where and when for the summit for the leaders meeting?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t have any updates on that, but I’ll look into that.


Q    Sean, I just want to follow up.  I want to clarify, make sure I understand what you said.  You said, you will see greater enforcement of it?

MR. SPICER:  I would refer you to the Department of Justice —

Q    But you said, you said there will be greater enforcement.

MR. SPICER:  No, no.  I know.  I know what I — I think — then that’s what I said.  But I think the Department of Justice is the lead on that.  It is something that you should follow up with them, but I believe that they are going to continue to enforce the laws on the books with respect to recreational marijuana versus —

Q    Okay.  And my real question if you don’t mind.

MR. SPICER:  That first one was pretty real.

Q    Ivanka Trump was in the White House today for a meeting on human trafficking.  She had this meeting on CEOs.  We saw her in a smaller session here at the White House today.  What exactly is her role here?

MR. SPICER:  I think her role is to be helpful and provide input on a variety of areas that she has deep, passionate concerns about, especially in the area of women in the workforce and empowering women.  She is someone who has a lot of expertise and wants to offer that, especially in the area of trying to help women.  She understands that firsthand.  And I think because of the success that she’s had, her goal is to try to figure out — and the understanding that she has a businesswoman — to use her expertise and understanding to empower and help women have the same kind of opportunity and success that she’s had.  So —

Q    But still not a formal role?

MR. SPICER:  No, nothing more than you’ve seen now.  I think, last night, the meeting that she had in Baltimore was one that was done on her own.  There’s areas that she’s cared very passionately about before her time in the White House, or before her father coming to the White House, rather.  And now that her father is in the White House, she continues to seek a platform that helps empower and lift up women, and give them opportunities and think of ways that they can be —

Q    Sean, thanks.  On the human trafficking meeting today, the President said, well, when you talk about solving this kind of problem, that’s a nice word, but it’s really — he suggested that, more likely, he could just help out on that problem.  What’s his definition of success in this?  What’s his goal?  Is he looking at stronger criminal penalties?

MR. SPICER:  Well, Dave, I think that’s, as I read out earlier, that the President understands that this is a serious problem both for adults, but particularly for children who are being sold both domestically and internationally, and it’s why we brought these groups in.  It’s to make sure that we figure out how do we make that number as close to zero as possible and that we institute policies both domestically, but then abroad, and working with our partners to figure out how do we combat the trafficking of people.

So it’s things that we can be forceful in terms of the rhetoric that the President uses, but also the enforcement tools that he uses both domestically and internationally.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  Has the President been briefed at all on the situation at Standing Rock?  And is he concerned that a stand-off with protesters could slow down his executive orders on pipelines?

MR. SPICER:  Our team has been involved with both the tribe and the governor there, and so we are not only — we are constantly in touch with them.  And I think we feel very confident that we will move forward to get the pipeline moving.  And so we’ll have a further update on that, but I think we’re in constant contact with the officials there.


Q    Sean, thank you.  Two topics I’d like to ask, but I wanted to start off by following on the transgender directive.  Eight-two percent of transgender children report feeling unsafe at school.  So isn’t the President leaving some of these children open to vulnerable — to being bullied at school?

MR. SPICER:  No.  I mean, there are bullying laws and policies in place in almost every one of these schools.

Q    Transgender children say their experience is —

MR. SPICER:  But I don’t think — hold on —

Q    — not being able to use the bathroom that they feel comfortable using because of vulnerability to bullying.

MR. SPICER:  But again, you’re missing the point here, Kristen.  The President said literally it should be a state decision.  He respects the decision of the state.  So therefore —

Q    So respecting kids is a states’ rights issue?

MR. SPICER:  No, no, that’s not — you’re trying to make an issue out of something that doesn’t exist.  It was the court who stopped this in August of last year.  So where were the questions last year in August about this?  It wasn’t implemented correctly, legally, and the procedure wasn’t followed because the court found, at the time, that it didn’t have the authority to do that.  So you’re asking us why we’re following the law that wasn’t followed.  And the reality is —

Q    Well, I’m asking you why you’re reversing the Obama directive —

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.  No, no, we’re not reversing it.  Hold on.  We’re not reversing it.  That is a misinterpretation of the scenario.  The court stopped it.  It enjoined it in August of last year because it wasn’t properly drafted, and it didn’t follow the procedures, and there was no legal basis for it in a law that was instituted in 1972.

So hold on — for you to use those terms, frankly, doesn’t reflect what the situation actually is and how it happened.  That’s just — so to talk about us reversing something that was stopped by the courts.

Q    I understand that —

MR. SPICER:  No, no, but —

Q    — but you’re sending a message —

MR. SPICER:  No, we’re not.  We’re basically saying that it’s a states’ rights issue.  If a state choses to do it, as I mentioned to April, when this circumstance came up at one of the President’s own properties, he was very clear about his position on this.  So for you to turn around and say what message is the President saying, where was the message when he sent it last year?  I think the message shows that he’s a guy with a heart that understands the trouble that many people go through.

But he also believes that the proper legal recourse for this is with the states.  He believes in the states’ ability to determine what’s right for their state versus another state.

Q    I understand what you’re saying.  But the LGBTQ community yesterday said they felt —

MR. SPICER:  I understand what —

Q    — that what they perceiving is that those kids are not being respected.

MR. SPICER:  But there’s a difference what people may or may not feel and the legal process and the law.  And the law right now doesn’t allow for it under Title IX that was passed in 1972.  And the procedure wasn’t followed.  The court saw this in August of last year for a reason.  And all we’re doing is saying that the proper place for this is in the states.

And so for you to suggest what message is this sending, it’s very simple:  that it’s a states’ rights issue, and the states should enact laws that reflect the values, principles, and will of the people in their particular state.  That’s it, plain and simple.

Q    Moving on to Obamacare very quickly, former House Speaker John Boehner predicted that a full repeal and replace of Obamacare — his words — “is not going to happen.”  He went on to say, “Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act, it’s going to be there.”  Do you think that he has a point?  Are you going to —

MR. SPICER:  Well, no, I think — look, I think what we’re going to end up with is something that I’ve talked about over and over again.  We’re going to end up with a more accessible plan that will allow people to see more doctors, have more providers, and drive costs down.  Those are the two guiding principles that we’re going to have in what the President is going to work with Congress to put forward on.  That’s it, plain and simple.


Q    Sean, on roads and highways in the United States, in many places around the country potholes and other issues are affecting the way in which Americans travel.  And the President has said he would fix these issues during the campaign.  What is the status on that?  And has the President spoken to heads of DOT or other people?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think the President is starting to address that through the budget process we talked about yesterday.  It will be out in mid-March.  And so the infrastructure projects and priorities that the President has talked about — whether it’s air control, and our airports, or the roads and bridges — will be something that he’s going to work with DOT, but also talk about in his budget.  And you’ll see more in his joint address to Congress.

With that, Laurel Staples of KECI-NBC in Montana.

Q    Montana has hundreds of miles of border with Canada.  And according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, almost 1 million people come across that border into Montana each year.  What are the administration’s plans to increase security on the Canadian border?  And does the administration have any plans to build a wall there?  (Laughter.)

MR. SPICER:  Well, we’re obviously concerned — thank you — at all sorts of immigration in this country, whether it’s from our northern border or our southern border.  I think the President understands that our southern border is where we have more of a concern in terms of the number of people and the type of activity that’s coming over there in terms of the cartels and drug activity.  But that doesn’t mean that we’re not paying attention to our northern border, as well.  And we will continue to both monitor and take steps necessary at our northern border to ensure the safety of all Americans.

Yes, sir.

Q    One question on the South China Sea and a follow-up on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

This week was the first week, I believe, that the Trump administration launched freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.  Can you give us a sense of how frequently you are going to be doing those?

And then on the Dakota Access Pipeline, a few weeks ago President Trump said he would try to negotiate a solution between the Standing Rock Sioux and Energy Transfer Partners.  Why hasn’t the President intervened and tried to initiate those negotiations yet?

MR. SPICER:  So on the latter, our team has been in contact with all the parties involved.  They have been working and communicating back and forth.  So if we have an update on that — but there has been work at the staff level between the parties.

And then on the second — on the first part, I’ve got no further update in terms of the frequency by which we will have stuff.


Q    Sean, in the Reuters interview with the President, he described again his interest in seeing the nuclear arsenal expand in the United States.  Can you describe what it is that the President has in mind — the timeframe and how he would like to pursue that?

MR. SPICER:  Yes, let’s just be clear.  He didn’t — what he was very clear on is that the United States will not yield its supremacy in this area to anybody.  That’s what he made very clear in there.  And that if other countries have nuclear capabilities, it will always be the United States that has the supremacy and commitment to this.

Obviously, that’s not what we’re seeking to do.  The question that was asked was about other people growing their stockpiles.  And I think what he has been clear on is that our goal is to make sure that we maintain America’s dominance around the world, and that if other countries cloud it, we don’t sit back and allow them to grow theirs.


Q    Sean, a domestic policy question and then a foreign policy question, if you will.  You said yesterday that the President had named a task force on the voter fraud probe.  When did he name that task force specifically?

MR. SPICER:  I think two weeks ago he announced that Vice President Pence would lead that task force, and that the Vice President and his team were starting to look at members to do that.

Q    So you were referring to the interview in which he said there would be a task force.

MR. SPICER:  That’s right.

Q    Not that something has happened since then.

MR. SPICER:  That’s correct.

Q    Okay.  And then on foreign policy, the President had said in his Saturday campaign speech that the Gulf States would be paying for that safe zone in Syria.  Which Gulf States was he referring to?  Have any committed to paying for that?

MR. SPICER:  So if you look at the readouts that he’s had with several of the foreign leaders that is brought up and mentioned in almost every one of them.  And I think he’s talked about the financing of the safe zones and the commitment that they need to make to those.  And I think by and large, we’ve had widespread commitment.  When we have an update on — and I think that’s an issue that’s going to be ongoing at the Secretary of State level, as well, where you saw Secretary Tillerson follow up on that with numerous folks.

We will have further updates on the funding of safe zones as we go forward.  But there has been a general commitment by most of these heads of government to share in the President’s commitment to help fund these things.

Can I go to Steve Gruber of WJIM in Michigan?

Q    Thank you, Sean.  I greatly appreciate it.  I’d like to talk to you more about tax policy, if I may.  President Trump, of course, on the campaign trail talked a lot about tax policy and tax reform.  That hasn’t happened yet, as we know.  But I want to talk about something different.  That’s the border adjustability tax.  With the manufacturers that were at the White House again today, states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, others have a great concern about this tax, and there seems to be a disconnect between some of the CEOs, some of the Republicans on Capitol Hill and the President as to whether or not this is appropriate.

And I guess the question is:  Could this tax have a chilling effect on manufacturing at a time when places like Ohio, and Michigan, and the Upper Midwest are trying to jumpstart the economy with manufacturing jobs?  I wish for you to clarify, if you could, the President’s position.

MR. SPICER:  Yes, Steve, thank you.  I think the President has been very clear from the beginning that there is no tax if companies manufacture in the United States.  We are one of only a handful of countries that doesn’t tax the imports that come into our country.  Almost every other country operates their tax code under that system.

And so what happens is we have a system by which companies abroad can send their products — tax our products going into their country and institute an import tax, and then their products come into the United States with no import tax — which, frankly, gives a disincentive to companies to stay in the United States, to manufacture in the United States, to hire in the United States.  And it tilts the field against the American worker.

And so the President is looking at tax policy that encourages manufacturing and job creation in the United States.  And if you think about it —

Q    So where is he on this border adjustability tax?

MR. SPICER:  Hold on.

Q    Where is he on this tax specifically?

MR. SPICER:  I understand that.  And I think that what he is doing is he met yesterday with his team on the budget.  He’s talked to Secretary Mnuchin and others who are working on a comprehensive tax reform plan.  And remember, Steve, this isn’t something that’s been done since 1986.  And so as we look at it, part of that is to make sure that we lower our corporate tax rate, that we make it more attractive to manufacture and grow jobs in the United States, to make our companies more competitive with companies overseas that, frankly, have better tax treatment than our own companies who stay in the United States.  So creating more of a playing field that encourages manufacturing and growing and creating in the United States.

But make no mistake, if a company is in the United States already and expanding in the United States, it will be only to their benefit.  Actually, if you think about it right now, the way the current tax code works, it almost incentivizes companies from leaving the United States, manufacturing, and expanding overseas, and then sending their goods and services back to the United States, which undermines our own economy, it undermines our workers.

Q    But the question is about components coming back in the United States being manufactured.

MR. SPICER:  I understand, Steve.  Okay, I know that you’re on the Skype, but we only do like one or two follow-ups.

But the answer is, is that he’s working towards comprehensive tax reform, and we’ll have a plan out within the next few weeks that will address that.


Q    On the transgender guidance, the administration not only rescinded it, but sent a letter to the Supreme Court informing them about the change as they consider a related case.  Does the termination of the guidance present an administration position on the way the Supreme Court should rule?

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry, on?  Well, obviously, we’re — I’m sorry — removing the guidance clearly does.  The guidance that was put forward by the Obama administration, which clearly hadn’t been done in a proper way in terms of how they solicited, or, rather, didn’t solicit comments — the guidance it puts forward obviously sends a signal to the Court on where the administration stands on this issue.

Q    Can I ask you about Syria?  Two quick questions.  First, the talks have started again, peace talks in Geneva.  The man convening them, Staffan de Mistura, says he’s not detected a clear strategy on the political track from the administration.  So what is the President’s thinking on that?  And in particular, what’s his thinking on the future of President Assad, whether he can stay on in a transition or —

MR. SPICER:  I will refer you to the State Department on the status of the talks.

Q    But the overall strategy comes from here.

MR. SPICER:  Right, I understand that.  And that’s one of the things that the President, whether it’s safe zones or how we deal with Syria and the problems that —

Q    What’s the President thinking on Assad’s future?  Just the key points.

MR. SPICER:  I understand that, thank you.

Q    One other question then on Syria, if you don’t mind.  The fall of al-Bab in northern Syria, an important development on the battlefield, creates some space in that town that’s fallen to the Turks and opposition.  Is that the sort of space that the President would like to see a safe zone?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — we’re not trying to be prescriptive right now in terms of the geographic location of a safe zone.  It’s something that — right now, the President’s goal is to get commitments from other world leaders, both in terms of the funding and the commitment to share in how we do that.

So I don’t want to get — we’re not looking to be prescriptive today in how it’s done.  I think, overall, we need a greater commitment in the region to make sure that people are committed to a strategy and to safe zones to allow that to stop some of the human suffering that’s going on and create — while the rest of the conflict ensues.  And I think that we’ve got to dual-track this — deal with the conflict as a whole and how we address it, how we deal with ISIS in combatting it, but then we also have to — there’s a humanitarian piece to this as well with respect to the safe zones.

And I think that we were looking at both pieces of this as well.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Since the election, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed some disquiet about pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change.  And the President has also heard from some world leaders about that.  Can you tell us, is the President still committed to pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change?

MR. SPICER:  I think I will leave that to Secretary Tillerson.  That’s a conversation that he’s having with him as far as where we are on that.

Q    Sean, thank you very much.  I just have a follow-up to the Syria question first.  Do you have any timeline when it comes to when he wants to see those safe zones actually being built?  And I wanted to go back to the executive order on immigration.  You’ve talked about these dual-tracks, where you’re going to be doing the new executive order but also continuing to fight that in court.  Can you give us a status update on where that legal fight is and what we should see happening?

MR. SPICER:  So with respect to the executive order, there are several courts that this is being fought in — 10 or so — and we continue to deal with that in all of those venues.  And then again, I guess, the only way to say this is, then obviously on the dual-track side we have the additional executive order that we’ve talked about earlier that will come out and further address the problems.

We continue to believe that the issues that we face specifically in the 9th district — 9th Circuit, rather, that we will prevail on, on the merits of that.  But on the other challenges that have come and the other venues and the others — that we feel equally confident, as we did in Massachusetts and other venues.  So it’s not a single-track system.

And I’m sorry, I know you —

Q    Have you made a decision yet about the Supreme Court taking it there?  And then the other question was on the safe zones and the timeline.

MR. SPICER:  So with respect to the Supreme Court, I mean, we’ve got to continue to work this through the process.  So right now it’s at the 9th Circuit.  That’s the primary problem that we are addressing.  And then we don’t have any timeline that I can announce today on Syrian safe zones.

Q    I just want to follow up to this morning’s meeting.  And the President said that he gave authorization to a couple of countries to buy military equipment from the United States.  Which countries was he referring to?  And has he gone to Congress to ask for permission to do this?

MR. SPICER:  We’ll follow up and get a list for you on that.

Q    Sean, if I could ask again about the delay of the executive order until the next week.  Is the administration still trying to craft its legal argument to this to withstand scrutiny, or why again the delay?  I’m not sure I understand —

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, and I think I asked and answered this earlier.

Q    Sorry, I don’t understand the delay.

MR. SPICER:  Okay, then I’ll explain it to you.  I think the President this time — we were very careful to understand what the court’s concerns were and address them in the follow-up executive order.  With respect to when we’re going to announce it, part of this is to make sure that we work with the appropriate departments and agencies on the implementation of it to make sure that it is executed and it continues to be executed in a flawless manner, and that it meets the intent that it would serve.

We understand the challenges that may come, and so we want to do this in a manner that makes sure that the Hill, other members of Congress, the appropriate agencies and departments are fully ready to implement this when it’s issued.  And so that’s it.  There’s really nothing more to it.

Q    There also is some concern — if I can follow up — there also is concern inside the Justice Department and in Homeland Security by some officials this afternoon that we’re reporting that the White House is looking for them to help build this legal argument, to find a conclusion here.

MR. SPICER:  No, that’s not — basically, you’re saying that we did our due diligence.  We looked to the departments to ask them to review certain things.  So last week it was we rushed stuff; this week, you’re saying that we are taking our time and —

Q    Has it been more difficult than you thought it would be?

MR. SPICER:  No, that’s not true.  I don’t think so.  And I think you using continued unnamed sources — I think it actually is a — it will be implemented flawlessly because we’ve done the right thing and gone to these individuals, sought feedback and guidance, and done this in an unbelievably comprehensive way to ensure that departments and agencies that are going to be executing and implementing this fully are aware of what’s happening.  But this has been done in a very, very comprehensive way.

Yeah, sorry.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Melanie Arter,  Former Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder admitted that for a few years he unwittingly employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper.  Is this administration committed to holding employers accountable when they employ illegal aliens?  And how does the administration plan to do so?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think that was — that issue was something that Mr. Puzder was very forthcoming on.  And when he recognized the situation that had occurred, he paid all the appropriate taxes and tried to help the individual go through the proper process.  And so, yeah, we’re going to continue to make sure that we hold individuals in compliance with the law.  And he did the right thing then, but whether it’s companies or individuals, I think, we are committed to making sure that people do what’s right.

Yes, ma’am.

Q    Veronica Clearly, with Fox 5.  I have two questions.  Janet Evancho — she sang the National Anthem — she requested a meeting with the President.  Her sister is transgender.  Is he going to take that meeting, or meet with anyone from the transgender community during this conversation?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think the President would be welcome to meet with her.

Q    The second question — second question.  Steve Bannon today called the media the opposition party.  Last week, there was lots of conversation about the fake news and us being the enemy of the people.  Some have said that this is really just a branding of the media, where he did that in the primaries, branding “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted”.  Is this —

MR. SPICER:  Well, no, that was the President.  Just to —

Q    Right, of course.  But is this a branding strategy to —

MR. SPICER:  No, I think that’s what Steve believes.

Q    But this is real.

MR. SPICER:  Absolutely, of course, it’s real.  I don’t think he’d go out — Steve has been very clear about his position on the media and how he believes it distorts things.  So I don’t think there’s —

Q    From the whole administration?

MR. SPICER:  No, no.  Hold on.  I just said that that is what Steve’s view is.  He’s made it several times, and I think he’s very clear on that.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  Back to the border adjustment tax.  President Trump has told Reuters that he does support some form of a border tax.  How does the President respond to critics that are saying the border adjustment tax will be passed on to lower-income and middle-class families in the form of higher prices for goods and higher prices for gas?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think if you look at holistically — I mean, the first thing to understand is that there is no tax if you’re manufacturing in the United States, so there can be no higher cost.  But if you think about it right now, we have to look at this in a holistic way, which is, when a company chooses to leave our country and shed American jobs so they can move overseas, and then sell back to us at a lower price, there’s a big cost that comes to our economy and to our workers.  And so we’ve got to look at this comprehensively.

But if a company chooses to stay and grow in the United States, hire more people, it actually will be a net savings, if you think about it, because it will be the companies who are overseas, who have chosen to move out of the country who will face a higher cost under these kind of plans.

And that’s a big difference.  It will actually benefit consumers, benefit workers, and benefit out economy.  And that’s — when you really think about the economic impact about that, that benefits our economy, it helps our American workers, it grows more jobs, it grows the manufacturing base.  And again, we are probably one of only a handful of developed countries that don’t have a tax system that looks at this.  And so right now, it’s America and American workers and American manufacturing that are the disadvantage of the current regulatory and tax system, not the other way around.

Thank you, guys.  Have a great day.  We’ll touch base tomorrow in some way.  I will see you then.  Tune in to CPAC to see the President.

3:52 P.M. EST

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 2/22/2017, #14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:55 P.M. EST

MR. SPICER:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I wanted to wait until the President finished up with his remarks on the budget before I came out.  As you saw, he’s — a really good opportunity to sit down with his team.  It’s clearly been a busy day here at the White House again, so I’m going to kind of keep it quick and get to your questions.

This morning, after receiving his daily intelligence briefing, the President met with Secretary of State Tillerson.  As you all know, Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly will travel to Mexico City later today as one of their first foreign trips.  It’s significant that the President is sending the secretaries to Mexico so early in the administration.

It’s symbolic of the meaningful relationship that our two nations have.  These are important meetings regarding the President’s agenda to improve the quality of lives for both people of Mexico and the United States by combatting drug traffickers and finding ways to bolster both our economies through a broader relationship that promotes commerce and legal immigration.  This is a very encouraging start to a working relationship with an incredible neighbor to the south.

At this moment, the President has just wrapped up his discussions on the federal budget with some of the officials and staff who will be instrumental in the work to put this country back on a responsibly fiscal path.

Joining the meeting were Reince Priebus, the Chief of Staff; Steve Bannon; Jared Kushner; Gary Cohn, the Director of the National Economic Council; Secretary Steve Mnuchin of the Department of Treasury; Director Mulvaney of the Office of Management and Budget; Russ Vought of the Office of Management and Budget; and Emma Doyle of Office of Management and Budget.

As the President mentioned last week, we look forward to presenting our tax reform plan and providing much-needed tax reform and relief to the hardworking men and women of our nation.  The President is going to restore and respect the American taxpayer by enabling them to keep more of their hard-earned money, and by making sure the federal government spends money more responsibly.  After the lunch, the President will continue this important discussion with other members of the senior staff.

Additionally, the Vice President today is in St. Louis to participate in listening sessions with American workers and employees of the Fabick Cat equipment and engineer* [engine] dealer, a 100-year-old family-owned and operated business.

During his visit, the Vice President will discuss the economic comeback in store for our nation under the President’s economic agenda and with small business owners and employees.  The President has already made strides towards slashing redundant regulations through his executive actions, and we will work with Congress to enact further pro-growth legislation.

Back to the President’s schedule.  Later this afternoon, the President will participate in his standing legislative affairs strategy session.  Our legislative affairs team is in constant contact with our counterparts on the Hill, keeping an open dialogue on all aspects of the President’s agenda.  Last week alone, more than 40 different senators and members of Congress visited the White House.

On the Supreme Court front, so far Judge Gorsuch has met with 58 senators — 36 Republicans and 22 Democrats — and he has more meetings already on the books for next week when the Senate returns to session.  We’ve been especially encouraged by the reception he’s received from several senior Democrats, including Senators Feinstein, Tester, Durbin, and Gillibrand.

Also on the confirmation front, multiple unions came out today for Alex Acosta, the President’s nominee for Labor Secretary. Both the Laborers’ International Union of North America and the International Union of Operating Engineers praised his distinguished career and pledged their support for his nomination.

The legislative affairs team is using the congressional work period to coordinate with key coalitions in Congress.  They are meeting with different groups in the House and Senate, including the staff of the Congressional Black Caucus, House and Senate leadership, and staff throughout various committees.  We’ve used this work period as an opportunity to invite staffers from both sides of the aisle to come to the White House and discuss shared priorities and find common ground on the way forward.

And we’re not just reaching out to Capitol Hill, we’ve actively engaged with key leaders and policymakers around the country.  It’s critical to this administration that we gather input from states and from people throughout the country, rather than just leaders here in Washington.

Looking ahead to tomorrow, the President will meet with a group of world-class business leaders to discuss specific actions he can take to remove barriers to job creation.  These leaders, many of whom represent some of the country’s largest manufacturers, will begin the day in working groups with the Vice President, Cabinet members and key aides of the President’s staff.  The working groups will engage in a deep-dive conversation on the attendees’ specific areas of expertise. Topics of discussion include deregulation, tax and trade, training and the workforce of the future, and infrastructure.

Vice President Pence will be engaged with each of the groups.  And after the groups conclude their discussion, the President’s staff will compile the feedback and the President will sit down with the entire group for a listening session on some of their recommendations.

As you can tell by the structure of the meeting, the President is expecting these interactions to lead to real action being taken by the administration.  Creating a dynamic and booming economy that works for all Americans continues to be at the top of his domestic policy agenda.  As a successful businessman himself, the President knows that if we’re going to get the country back to work, we need to hear directly from job creators what is holding them back, and, where appropriate, take steps to remove the barriers.

In his first month in office, the President has already taken numerous actions to boost job creation, and key economic indicators are showing that it’s working.  CEO and [consumer] confidence are up, the stock market continues to reach record highs, and the January numbers were strong.  The meetings on Thursday will continue to build on that momentum.

And with that, I’m glad to take some questions.  Steve Holland.

Q    Steve Holland is not here.

MR. SPICER:  Sorry, Jeff Mason gets it.  (Laughter.)

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Can you give us an update on the administration’s plans with regard to transgender bathrooms in schools?  And can you confirm that there has been some disagreement between Secretary DeVos and the Attorney General on this issue?

MR. SPICER:  So I would expect further guidance to come out on that today.  The President, as I said yesterday, is a firm believer in states’ rights.  When you look at the guidance that was issued under the Obama administration — first of all, let’s remember, to the best of my knowledge, that was stalled and never fully implemented.  And I think there were various reasons for that — several legal reasons and several procedural reasons.  And so the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, both who jointly issued that guidance back during the Obama administration, are now working together again under a Trump administration, they’ve been reviewing the guidance that was signed, the basis by which it was put through.  And I think there have been several areas of concern, both legal and procedural, that they have been discussing.

And I think where you might be hearing something is more on the timing and the wording of stuff.  The conclusions, everybody in the administration is agreed upon.  There is no daylight between anybody — between the President, between any of the Secretaries.  I think there has been some discussion between the timing of the issuance and recommendations, or between the exact wording.

But as far as the conclusions go, I’ve made this clear and the President has made it clear throughout the campaign that he is a firm believer in states’ rights and that certain issues like this are not best dealt with at the federal level.

Q    Sean, a report out today that some Cabinet Secretaries are bristling at what they see as the White House micromanaging staffing at the sub-Cabinet level.  To what degree does the White House think that it should impose its hiring approvals on members of the sub-Cabinet?  And is some of this at least partially driven by Cabinet Secretaries wanting to appoint people who might not necessarily be aligned with the President’s thinking?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I mean, I think when you come to — they’re called political appointees for a reason.  The idea is that people who come into this government should want to support and enact the President’s agenda that he campaigned on with the American people.  And I think one of the reasons that you see in recent polls the President — people, even if they don’t agree with the President, they give him high marks for following through on the promises that he’s made to the American people and getting things done that he actually said, which is not always the case here in Washington.

And I think that we want to make sure that the people who staff a Trump administration are committed to a Trump agenda, and that’s — so Cabinet Secretaries and other administrators and directors have broad discretion.  But I think at the end of the day, no matter what position you have — whether it’s the lowest or the highest in the White House or in a department or agency — we should be making sure that people who are coming in as appointees of the President support the President’s agenda.  And I think that’s one thing — this isn’t about getting a job as a federal employee where you’re subject to certain restrictions as to what you can and can’t do as a benefit of being a federal employee.  These are political appointees, and so I think that there is obviously — we are going to ensure that people who are political appointees share the vision and agenda that the President campaigned on and is implementing.

Q    And does the White House believe that it needs to have the final approval of these people or can you trust your Cabinet Secretaries to —

MR. SPICER:  It’s not a question of trust.  It’s a question of just making sure that we’re all on the same page and committed to the same agenda that the President has set forth.  This process is probably no different than we’ve seen in previous administrations.  Cabinet Secretaries come to the President with recommendations on who they want, and it depends on the position, obviously.

But in certain cases, if they’re going to fulfill a job that is a key area that the President had very specific goals to enact that he promised the American people, you want to make sure that the person that is fulfilling that job actually is committed to the agenda and the vision that the President set forth and promised the American people.  And that’s — so there is — that’s something that we’re always going to be making sure is in alignment.

Q    And is this approval process in some way slowing down the appointment of crucial staffers?

MR. SPICER:  No.  No, not at all.  I don’t think so.  I think when you look across where we are and we track the number of folks that are in the pipeline, we’re doing very, very well with getting all of these positions filled.  And I think once in a while, you might hear of one or two people, but overall, generally speaking, I mentioned during the transition period how many members of the beachhead teams that we had, and I think we — those members who are appointed through the beachhead process had 120 days.  And they were there to allow basically a four-month process for Secretaries in the White House to make sure that people on a permanent basis could populate those positions.  And that’s what’s happening.

But make no mistake — I mean, we were ahead of the curve on the beachhead teams.  We were very clear with the landing teams during the transition.  This has been a very methodical process that has seen from top to bottom through, and I think we’re doing a phenomenal job of staffing the government.


Q    Thank you.  Oh, which Margaret?

MR. SPICER:  Oh, lucky me.  (Laughter.)

Q    Two Margarets.  I’m going to take mine — I’ve got a Bloomberg-y question for you.  (Laughter.)

MR. SPICER:  I’ve got a Sean-y answer for you.  (Laughter.)

Q    The President in the Roosevelt Room just said to us that, among other things, that the tax plan is nearly finalized but it can’t be submitted until the healthcare plan statutorily or otherwise is, so we’re doing the healthcare.  So what I wanted to clarify was, is the White House doing a healthcare proposal, or was he talking about Congress and not the White House?  Or is there a new plan?

MR. SPICER:  Well, obviously — right.  So obviously there’s two vehicles — reconciliation vehicles that — FY17 — I’m going to give you a Bloomberg-y answer.  (Laughter.)  The FY17 reconciliation, that was never completed because the budget wasn’t finalized in the last Congress.  And then you’ve got the 2018.  I think we want to make sure — look at the opportunities to work with Congress on Obamacare, utilizing the 2017, and then you could utilize the 2018 reconciliation and budget process to do tax reform.

That’s not — and again, that’s not prescriptive.  I’m not — but as far as why the President is saying it that way is because we’ve got that option available to us right now, and I think the President is committed to making sure that the promise that he made to the American people to repeal and replace Obamacare continues to be first and foremost, and then his tax plan.

But it’s not a “we can walk and chew gum” kind of thing.  We can actually be continuting to work with Congress and the leadership in both Houses.

Q    President Obama used to say that.  Just to do the Bloomberg-y timeline, there’s a few things that are going to happen then.  There’s going to be a budget plan that you guys are going to present on March 13th-ish.

MR. SPICER:  Ish.  (Laughter.)

Q    There’s going to be a healthcare — this is where I got lost again — something from him and something from them, and a tax reform plan afterwards?  Is that the way it works?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t want — look, when we’re ready to announce stuff — but I think again, I think you’ve got Obamacare, the budget, and tax reform.  It’s going to be a very busy March and April for us.  And we’ve been continuing to work with Congress to make sure that that’s implemented.

Noah Bierman.

Q    Does the President — you were talking about fulfilling his promises.  As you know, he promised during the campaign a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the country.  There were a lot of people in his party who thought that was a very good proposal.  Can you explain his evolution in backing down from that?  And can you also say whether he regrets using that rhetoric, since it ended up hurting the court case?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, I’d go back to the merits of the case and the order that gives him the authority to make that.  U.S. Code 1182 is very clear.  The President was very clear in his executive order that these were countries that we didn’t have the proper vetting for when it came to ensuring the safety of Americans.

That’s what the executive order said.  The authority is very clear to have done it.  And I think that you’re going to continue to see the President take the steps necessary to protect this country.  That’s why he’s talked about fighting this on both fronts, making sure that we keep evolving through the court system on the existing EO, and then looking towards the next draft of the executive order that will continue to achieve the goal of protecting the American people.

So that’s where we are.  That’s what the order says.  And then so I think we continue to feel confident that that’s — but it was crafted in a way that was very clear about the countries, and was not focused on anything else but the vetting requirements that we have to make sure that we know who’s coming into this country and that they’re here not to do us any harm.

Q    But when talking about fulfilling his promises, can you explain why he decided to back down from that one?  Because I know you differentiated this from that promise.

MR. SPICER:  I think he’s made it very clear, Noah, from the beginning that this was a country-focused issue, a safety-focused issue, and that’s why he issued it.  I don’t see anything other than that with reference to that.

Debra Saunders.

Q    Hi.  The Oscars are Sunday night.  Will the President be watching?  If there’s a Meryl Streep kind of moment, how do you think he’ll react?  And why — if this has happened at other awards ceremonies, why do you think this happens?

MR. SPICER:  Why do I think what happens?  (Laughter.)

Q    Actresses and actors like Meryl Streep.

MR. SPICER:  I have no idea.  It’s a free country.  I think Hollywood is known for being rather far to the left in its opinions.  And I’ve got to be honest with you, I think the President will be hosting the Governors Ball that night.  Mrs. Trump looks forward to putting on a phenomenal event, and the First Lady has put a lot of time into this event that’s going to occur in welcoming our nation’s governors to the Capitol.  And I have a feeling that that’s where the President and the First Lady are going to be focused on on Sunday night, and so we’ll go from there.

Q    Sean, the President is going to have a big audience next Tuesday in the joint address to Congress.  Does he have a set of goals in mind for the speech?  And do you think we’re going to see some specific policy rollouts as part of that speech?

MR. SPICER:  I think that the speech is going to focus — I mentioned this yesterday — I think it’s going to talk — remind the American people what he’s done already, and make sure that he explains to them not just because of a sense of accomplishment in moving this country forward, but because I think it’s important for the American people to know that he was an agent of change, he came here to get things done, and he didn’t waste any time.

He’s committed to keeping his word.  And then I think he’s going to lay out his vision and talk about things like education and healthcare and infrastructure, the problems that we face as a country, the violence in some of our inner cities, but also some of the solutions that we can act on and some of the partnerships that we can create.  It’s obviously still a work in progress.

But I think it’s going to look forward to where he wants to take this country and talk about working with Congress and other leaders throughout the country to get things done.  But I think in the drafts that I’ve seen so far, it is going to be a very strong blueprint of where he wants to take this country.

In the past, I think a lot of presidents — or some presidents, rather, have gotten into very detailed specifics.  I think you’re going to see him try to talk about policies in a broad sense of where he wants to take this country and what defining success is, what that goal means.  But it’s still a work in progress, and hopefully towards the end of the week —

Q    Is the tone going to be optimistic, sunny?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think this is an opportunity for him to lay out a very positive vision for the nation and to really let America know where we can go and how we can get there, and the potential that we have as a nation.


Q    Just piggybacking on that, and then I have another question.  Will he — I know past presidents, including President Obama, immediately hit the road after — I know this isn’t a State of the Union, but something like a State of the Union address to sell policies.  And since you’re saying it’s more of a vision, does he anticipate doing — going out —

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think there will be some travel.  I don’t want to — that’s evolving right now.  There’s a lot of things that we’re trying to look at.  And I think as we look at the speech and some of the objectives and goals and vision that he’s sharing, talk to him about potential places to go to highlight that.  But I think you’re going to see a fair amount of visits in the next few weeks to highlight some of the places that he wants to take them.

Q    And then the other thing was, I’ve seen — some members of Congress were here last week.  There’s the legislative meeting today.  It feels as if we haven’t seen as many executive actions — or executive orders.  I know we have the one — vetting one coming out this week.  Are we in a different phase now that he’s sort of done the executive orders that he wants to do —


Q    — and we’re going to legislation?

MR. SPICER:  We have several that are in the pipeline.  And part of it is just — these days are focused with these meetings and getting things done and trying to plan ahead.  And so as we see fit and as the implementation process of a lot of these goes through the process, we’ll have future — we’ll have plenty more.  But —

Q    It does seem that there’s more legislative emphasis right now.

MR. SPICER:  Well, it’s both.  And I think part of this is as we work through Congress, Anita, these are big things, right?  We’re talking about fundamental tax reform — something that hasn’t happened in our nation since 1986.  The repeal and replacement of Obamacare, which was mammoth.

And I think part of this is that those things take time.  He’s got a joint address on Tuesday.  There’s a lot of things that are happening, and therefore we need to kind of make sure that we appropriately use the schedule.  But I can assure you that if you’ve missed executive orders, you’re going to see a bunch —

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. SPICER:  (Laughter.)  I know.  I just want to make sure you know.

Jonathan Karl.

Q    I want to ask you about the town halls, and we’re hearing about Obamacare.  The President referred to “so-called angry crowds” at these town halls.  Is he suggesting this is manufactured anger, that this is not real anger and real concern?

MR. SPICER:  Thanks.  I think there’s a hybrid there.  I think some people are clearly upset.  But there is a bit of professional protestor, manufactured base in there.  But obviously there are people that are upset.  But I also think that when you look at some of these districts and some of these things, that it is not a representation of a member’s district or — it is a loud group, small group of people disrupting something, in many cases, for media attention.  No offense.

It’s just — I think that necessarily — just because they’re loud doesn’t necessarily mean that there are many.  And I think in a lot of cases that’s what you’re seeing.

Q    Does the President doubt that there is real anger —

MR. SPICER:  No, I just said that.

Q    — and real concern out there beyond just a few loud agitators, that there’s real concern that people may lose their healthcare?

MR. SPICER:  But see, I think that that’s a false narrative.  And I don’t — the President has been very clear.  Look, you have to look at what our healthcare system is right now.  In so many counties around our nation, we’ve gone down to one provider.  That’s not choice.  That’s not access.

And then they’re going in a lot of cases and they’re saying, we’re not taking Medicaid, we’re not taking TRICARE, we’re not taking the insurance you used to have; the doctor that you used to have isn’t participating anymore.  And, oh, by the way, states like Arizona, you’ve got over 100 percent increase in premiums — 112 [percent] I think was the number there.  In many states, it’s double, triple — double-digit.

And I think that the idea that we have to remember is that the American people got sold the Affordable Care Act — it’s neither affordable or accessible.  They’re losing their coverage and premiums are spiking.  And so if people are truly worried about losing their coverage, they should be applauding the President’s action for wanting to make sure that we put a system in place that does what they were supposed to have been promised a while back.

And I think that’s — that’s what I think is missing from this dialogue.  I’ve seen some folks that were protesting in some of these things saying, I lost — I’m on Obamacare, I’m going to lose my thing.  And when they were asked how old they were, they were, oh, I’m 71, 72.  Well, they’re not on Obamacare. — they’re on Medicaid.

Q    So you think you’re making it up?

MR. SPICER:  No, not they’re making it up.  But what I’m getting at it is I think that there is a lot of blurring of the facts.  And the reality is that some people aren’t on Obamacare.  They’re on an employer-based system.  They’re on Medicaid.  They’re receiving their benefits through Medicare because of their age.  And so they’re in — nothing.  They have no problems.

But I think in other cases, people are now being told that the plan that they’re on is unsustainable; that these carriers throughout the country — I mean, you just look at them, over and over again pulling out of the exchanges.  The reality is, is that they are losing their healthcare, but they’re losing it under Obamacare because the exchanges are collapsing on themselves.  Carriers are pulling out.  Premiums are going up.  And access is going down.

So the President’s plan is actually going to do exactly what they were promised eight years ago and didn’t get.  So for those who are worried, the answer is:  Help is on the way.

Q    But what is the plan?  We haven’t seen what he’s going to replace it with.

MR. SPICER:  First, as the President made clear, we’re going to have that out in the next couple weeks.  He’s working on it.  But the goal, Jonathan, is this got jammed through a Democratic Congress, and then they told us you could read it after we get it passed.  So taking our time, getting this right to achieve the goals that we set forth is probably the right thing to do, considering the experience that we had the last time.


Q    Sean, two questions for you.  The issue of transgender bathrooms wasn’t one we heard a lot about from the President during the campaign.  He said at one point, Caitlyn Jenner could use whichever bathroom she wanted to at Trump Tower.  So why is this now a priority for the administration 40 days into office?

MR. SPICER:  It’s not a priority.  I think there’s a case —

Q    But It’s one of the first things —

MR. SPICER:  But let me answer the question.  It’s not a priority.  There is a case pending in the Supreme Court in which we have to decide whether or not to continue to issue guidance to the Court.  It’s dictated by that.

The Obama administration had issued joint guidance from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice.  We now have to decide whether or not this administration wants to continue that track that they were on.  It’s plain and simple.  If we don’t — but there are problems, both in the legal and process way, in which that guidance was issued.  And so it’s incumbent upon us to actually follow the law and to recognize that Title IX never talked about this.  It was enacted in 1972.  There was no discussion of this back then.  And to assume certain elements of the law were thought of back then with respect to this would be completely preposterous.

Q    And to be clear, Secretary DeVos is onboard with this?

MR. SPICER:  Yes, 100 percent.  Thank you.

Q    Sean, that was actually a clarification.  The second question is on Mexico.  The Secretary of State’s trip that is tonight along with Secretary Kelly, obviously there have been tensions, right, between the Mexican President and President Trump.  Is this a clean-up job for the Secretary of State?

MR. SPICER:  No.  I think that President Peña Nieto and President Trump spoke — again, the foreign ministers had several contacts with our staff.  I would argue that we have a very healthy and robust relationship with the Mexican government and Mexican officials, and I think they would echo that same sentiment.  President Peña Nieto has echoed that as well.

But I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now, and I think there’s an unbelievable and robust dialogue between our two nations.

Margaret, and then I’ll get you.

Q    On Syria, General Votel indicated today that the U.S. needs to take a larger share of the burden and perhaps send troops to Syria.  Has the President discussed this with his national security team?  And when does he —

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to refer you back to DOD on that.  I would just argue that I think that you’ve seen the President talk about safe harbors in Syria with several foreign leaders who have shared his —

Q    Safe havens.

MR. SPICER:  Safe havens, thank you.  And that is an area at the top of the President’s foreign policy agenda that he has continued to talk to leaders, especially in the Middle east, about, trying to make sure that we deal with that issue in that area right now.  But I’m not going to get ahead of the DOD on this.  And then when they have recommendations, they’ll make them forward to us.

Q    Is there an NSC — has the President spoken to —

MR. SPICER:  Look, I will — if I have an update, I’ll give it to you tomorrow.

Go ahead.

Q    President Trump and the Canadian Prime Minister launched the U.S. and Canada Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs.  Can you talk a little bit about how the council is growing and transpiring?  What’s the status of it?

MR. SPICER:  I think staff is beginning to implement the President’s agenda.  It occurred, what, six, seven days ago.  And so it’s starting to work through the process and we’ll have further updates as it goes forward.  But I know that he continues to be in touch with Prime Minister Trudeau, and our staff continues to work on the back end to make this happen.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  I have two questions for you.  One, earlier in your conversation with Jon, does the White House not have confidence in its Cabinet Secretaries if it’s looking sort of over their shoulders?  Does the White House not — does the President not trust his Cabinet Secretaries, appointees and agency administrators to staff — to find people who agree with the President’s agenda?

MR. SPICER:  No, not at all.  I think there’s a big difference.  The President named these folks because they’re unbelievably qualified individuals.  Part of it, though, is that you’re staffing major departments and I think we’ve got somewhere in the area of 5,000 positions to fill.  And when you’re filtering through a good number of people, I don’t even think the Secretaries, at some degree, depending on the department, have a full background on some of these individuals.

And so as they get pumped through the pipeline, there are questions.  And, again, there are areas that are of key priority to the President that he campaigned on.  And I think that when he wants to make sure that certain of those individuals who are going to be overseeing key priorities that he promised the American people have somebody who is not only qualified but agrees with and shares the President’s vision to fix whatever problem that was or fulfill whatever vision that he articulated.

But I think that that — I mean, it would almost be malpractice not to do that.  To allow people to fill a job, a political appointee job, who don’t share the vision and agenda of the President of the United States would almost be — I mean, it would be silly on its face to suggest this.

I don’t think there’s any administration in past history that would literally, willingly, take on somebody who was adamantly opposed or spoke out specifically against what the President was seeking to do, and then have them fulfill a job to carry out that mission.  It just — it doesn’t seem as though it makes any sense.


Q    Second thing real quick.  We’re coming up on a week away from the deadline the President ordered for his review of the counter-ISIS strategy.  What’s the status of that review?  The President tweeted over the weekend that he was meeting with a bunch of generals.


Q    Is that regarding that review?

MR. SPICER:  I think General Dunford and Secretary Mattis have begun providing him updates on that.  I know that the new National Security Advisor is getting brought into that process and continuing to do updates, so we’ll have further updates.  But the team has been working on it since the President issued the guidance.


Q    As far as the second executive order is concerned, what is the White House doing differently in terms of consulting with various departments to make certain that this second executive order passes constitutional scrutiny?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think we’ve done a few things.  One is, I think we’ve been very clear about understanding what the court said in trying to tailor that specifically while achieving the same goals of keeping America safe and ensuring that people don’t come into this country that seek to do us harm.  That’s number one.

Number two is, we continue — and that order is basically completed.  I think what we’re now doing is working with the various agencies and departments to make sure that the implementation of that is done in an extremely smooth way.  So we have looked at it from both a process standpoint, as well as a legal standpoint.  And I think it’s achieving the goals.

But again, I would also mention that, on the merits, I believe that the first order did just that.  It was written in a way — and I think ultimately we will continue to prevail on that — because it is written in a way that is clear and consistent with U.S. code and the authority that the President has to protect the nation.


Q    Sean —

Q    No matter what happens, as it relates to the second executive order, it’s almost likely to face a legal challenge.

MR. SPICER:  Sure.

Q    Are you concerned that the President’s prior remarks as it relates to the judiciary is going to allow him to get a fair hearing by the judicial branch as it relates to the second executive order?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, absolutely.  I think that —

Q    Why do you say that?

MR. SPICER:  Because I think that you’ve seen it happen in the Massachusetts case.  I mean, at the end of the day, you look at the law and what the order does.  And I think, again, you may have — in the case of the 9th Circuit, we continue to disagree with that.  I think the President has pointed out you don’t have to be that high up in grade school to recognize what the code says, what the authority that is granted to him, and then what the order does.

I think the things that they brought out in that order — in one of the cases, they suggested there have been no people that have entered within the seven countries.  And a quick cursory look found upwards of close to 20 people that had come in.  So some of the basis for which they decided the case on doesn’t actually pass muster.  And I think any other judge or judges that look at that order or the one that will be put forward will come to the same conclusion.


Q    Sean, I wanted to ask about the President’s budget priorities.  What specifically is the President increasing spending on?  Where is he decreasing spending?  And how much money specifically is he asking for the 5,000 new Border Patrol agents he’s asked for?

MR. SPICER:  So I’m going to refer you back to Margaret’s question, and then we’ll have something in mid-March as we put that out.  But I’m not going to get ahead of Director Mulvaney.

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. SPICER:  No, I mean, it’s not — look, he just had a meeting where he’s continued to work that out.  They’re providing him back-and-forth.  That’s the idea of crafting this budget.  And until we put it out on paper, I don’t want to get ahead of —

Q    Sean, can I follow up on Mexico?


Q    Thank you very much.  Back to Mexico — Videgaray and many officials have said this morning that they’re not going to accept the directives that were put out by the White House and by DHS yesterday, and they may not take anyone that’s not a Mexican immigrant.  What are you guys doing to do with those people that Mexico will not accept?

MR. SPICER:  I think Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Kelly are going to have a great discussion down there, and to walk through the implementation of the executive order.  But I feel very confident that any country who has a citizen that comes into this country, and that we send back, we’ll make sure that they comply with this.


Q    Two questions about immigration.  One, the President has talked a number of times about millions of illegal immigrants casting votes during the election, in his mind.  You guys have promised to look into that.  It seems like there was no mention of that in any of these directives, to look for these immigrants.  Does the President still believe this is a national security problem?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, and Vice President Pence will lead a task force on this.

Q    Where would we stand on that, though?

MR. SPICER:  He named a task force, and the Vice President is starting to gather names and individuals to be part of it.

Q    On the other question I had about the DACA program, yesterday you suggested, well, we have to go after hardened criminals and major national security threats first.  But during the campaign, the President talked about DACA as being an unconstitutional executive amnesty.  Does he still think it was an unconstitutional use of President Obama’s powers?  And if so, does he plan —

MR. SPICER:  I think — yeah, I think — and I said this yesterday:  The President is very clear about his priorities with respect to immigration.  Yesterday was focused on going after people who are a concern — a public safety concern.  And we’re going to walk through this very —

Q    — unconstitutional?

MR. SPICER:  We will get back to you on that.  Right now the focus is on keeping the country safe and making sure that we walk through.


Q    I want to ask on immigration, as well.  Given all of the push on deporting illegal immigrants, I wanted to see if this White House and President Trump have any interest in curtailing legal immigration going forward.

MR. SPICER:  Again, we got to look at this from a priority level.  Right now there’s millions of people in this country that are in the country illegally.  I think the focus continues to be that 800,000 or 900,000 that have already had an order to have them removed and get them processed through in a way that continues to keep America safe.

Legal immigration, obviously, is a completely separate subject, and that includes visa reform and all that other stuff.  The President has talked about that.  He’s talked about it with business leaders — H-1B visas, et cetera.  You’re going to see more of that coming.  But I think there is a prioritization of how we deal with immigration — both illegal and then legal.  And we’ll have more on that later.

I got to run.  Thank you, guys, very much.  We’ll see you tomorrow.  Take care.

1:30 P.M. EST