Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Press Briefing – GOP Healthcare Bill – White House – 7/18/17

 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds an off-camera press briefing and takes questions from reporters on the GOP Senators’ failure to repeal and replace Obamacare.

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MS. SANDERS:  The second door was already open.  You guys must be ready for me. 

I apologize for the delays.  Good afternoon.  Today, the Trump administration continued to shine a spotlight on the people, products, and principles that have made this country great with an event hosted by Secretary Zinke, celebrating the American outdoor recreation industry. 

The United States has a long tradition of preserving the all-American outdoor experience, dating back to the days of President Theodore Roosevelt.  And we’ve developed a booming industry to support that tradition that employs 7.6 million across the country, building boats and RVs, or supplying campers, fishers, and hunters.

The importance of exploring, innovating, and building here at home has always been a central part of our country’s heritage.  And President Trump is proud that his administration is highlighting its continued significance to both our economy and our culture.

Yesterday, the United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, took the next step in renegotiating the outdated and unfair North American Free Trade Agreement by releasing the administration’s negotiating objectives.

President Trump promised the American people, during the campaign, that he would renegotiate NAFTA to get a better deal for our workers, or he would withdraw from the deal.  These objectives are a framework for what the administration sees as a more fair NAFTA — one that maintains the benefits for American farmers and ranchers who have obtained much-needed market access but provides relief for the manufacturing industry that has suffered particularly hard under the current agreement.  

They include addressing the United States’ persistent trade imbalances in North America and obtaining reciprocal market access; eliminating unfair subsidies, market-distorting practices by state-owned enterprises, and burdensome restrictions on intellectual property; updating provisions throughout the agreement to support U.S. manufacturing; expanding market access for U.S. agriculture; adding a digital economy chapter; incorporating and strengthening labor and environment-side agreements; calling for the establishment of appropriate mechanisms to combat currency manipulation; and strengthening trade remedies, including the ability of the United States to enforce rigorously its trade laws.  

Politicians have been promising to fix NAFTA for years, but this is the first time that a modern United States free trade agreement has been renegotiated.  USTR will be making an announcement soon on the first round of negotiations as we work towards a NAFTA that benefits all Americans — our workers, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and service providers.

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This morning, the Treasury and State Departments took strong action as part of the administration’s broader strategy to keep America safe from the threat of Iran’s destabilizing influence.  The Departments designated several individuals and entities for contributing to that influence.  These actions are separate and on top of the President’s direction to work with our allies to explore options for addressing the serious flaws of the JCPOA.

Even as we continue to work to prevent Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon, we cannot look away while Iran threatens our country and our allies in ways beyond their nuclear threat.  All of these elements will be part of the comprehensive integrated strategy that the Trump administration is developing to address the full spectrum of Iranian threats to our national interest. 

And, finally, yesterday Sean was asked about the administration’s position on the concept of net neutrality, and he said we’d get back to you.  The administration believes that rules of the road are important for everyone — website providers, Internet service providers, and consumers alike.

With that said, the previous administration went about this the wrong way by imposing rules on ISPs through the FCC’s Title II rulemaking power.  We support the FCC chair’s efforts to review and consider rolling back these rules, and believe that the best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty.

And with that, I will take your questions.

Eamon.

Q    Thanks, Sarah.  The President seemed fairly blindsided yesterday by the defections on the healthcare bill.  As the White House pivots and moves over to tax reform later in the summer, what are you going to change at the White House to make sure that he has a pretty good sense of where the votes are on tax reform as that legislative train tries to move (inaudible)?

MS. SANDERS:  The same thing we’ve been doing, and that’s continue to have ongoing, regular, consistent contact with members of Congress.  Ideally, some Democrats will want to participate in the process moving forward on a number of issues, including tax reform.  And maintaining that open line of communication, as the President often does, meeting here with members of both the House and Senate as well as having regular calls and also having members of his administration in touch daily with both leadership and members of both houses.

Q    And as you know, the debt ceiling vote is coming up later this year.  Is there any plan to have the President reach out and make a case personally?  And if he does, what is that case to lawmakers up on Capitol Hill on the debt ceiling talk?

MS. SANDERS:  In terms of actual tactics, I think we’ll make those decisions as we get closer to that point.  Certainly, I would expect the administration to be engaged in that process throughout.

Blake.

Q    Thanks, Sarah.  Let me ask you a couple of questions about healthcare.  The President said a couple times in his remarks a little while ago that at this point he’ll just let “Obamacare fail.”  Why is it acceptable policy to let Obamacare fail?

MS. SANDERS:  I think in large part — look, Democrats have refused to join in fixing the healthcare problems that have plagued our healthcare system, specifically in large part due to Obamacare and Obamacare’s failures.  And that sort of, I think, behavior is simply unacceptable, and hopefully with the collapse of the program that they put in place, they’ll be more willing to come to the table and help clean up the mess.

Q    I want to ask you — another comment about the timing going forward.  The President said, “Something will happen and it will be good.  It may not be as quick as we had hoped, but it is going to happen.”  He also started talking about 2018 and the need for more Republicans to get elected.  So I guess in the short term, is it realistic for some sort of healthcare agreement to happen before the August recess, even, as the administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill had been hoping for?  Is this a much longer-term horizon now?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, as we’ve said many times before, we’re less focused on the timetable and making sure we actually get it right and get it done.  We’re continuing to focus on repealing and replacing Obamacare with a system that actually works, and those priorities and principles haven’t changed.

Q    So is it possible that this is a post-recess — maybe even a 2018 event?

MS. SANDERS:  Ideally I think it happens as soon as possible.  But again, we’ve been clear about not saying “by X date, by X date,” but more about “let’s get better coverage, let’s get a better plan and a better program.”  That’s been our focus, not the timetable.  

John.

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Q    Sarah, three Republican senators — Collins, Murkowski, and Capito — have come out against this idea of repeal.  Collins, not surprising, she voted against it in 2015.  However, Murkowski and Capito both voted for repeal in 2015, and now they’re saying they’re against it.  Is this thing dead before it even leaves the barn?

MS. SANDERS:  I think the thing that’s dead here is Obamacare.  I think we’ve seen that it’s completely failed, and at this point Congress needs to do their job and they need to do it as quickly as they can, because every day that they don’t, we go further into collapsing under Obamacare.  And so I think that, at this point, inaction is not a workable solution, and so they need to come to the table and figure out how to reform the system and fix it.

Q    So what do you say to these two senators, Murkowski and Capito, who voted for repeal in 2015 but now say they won’t vote for it in 2017?

MS. SANDERS:  I think we say what the Vice President said today:  Do your job.  It’s time for Congress to do their job and do it now.

Q    Speaking to members of the House, Paul Ryan a short time ago said it’s pretty difficult to explain to your constituents why you voted for something two years ago but aren’t voting for it now.  Is that the tact that this White House will take, as well?   

MS. SANDERS:  I think that’s something that those senators will have to answer to their constituents.  That’s not something that the White House has to answer on behalf of those members.

Q    Sarah, will the Trump administration take actions to move Obamacare towards collapse, like stopping CSR payments or other things that have been threatened before?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t think that the White House has to take any actions for Obamacare to collapse.  I think you see the evidence every single day.  You’ve got dozens and dozens of counties that have no options on the exchange; premiums continue to skyrocket.  I don’t think the White House needs to do anything for the failure to continue.

Q    But what about the CSR payments to insurance companies?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t have anything further than where we’ve been the last several months on that.  Nothing new to update.

Q    Can I ask one more question about —

MS. SANDERS:  Sure.  Why stop now?  We’re on such a roll.  Everybody is having a good time.  (Laughter.) 

Q    The Afghan girls’ robotic team is here competing down the street.  Ivanka Trump went there and visited today and met the girls.  How does the President find out about some of these individual cases that he’s interceded on, like Aya Hijazi or the Afghan girls’ team?  And sort of what ends up moving him on these individual cases?  

MS. SANDERS:  I mean, I can’t speak to every single way that he finds out about information.  Obviously, he has a large staff and an administration that pays close attention to a wide range of issues, and this is something that was flagged and something that he took a great deal of interest in, in making sure that the problem was solved.  And it was, and we’re excited that they’re here.

Matthew.

Q    Thanks, Sarah.  Two questions, if I may.  First, who is responsible — primarily responsible for what appears to be the failure of this healthcare legislation?

MS. SANDERS:  I would say Democrats.  They’re responsible —

Q    Can you explain to me how —

MS. SANDERS:  Sure.  

Q    — given that they’re in the minority?

MS. SANDERS:  Absolutely.  They’re responsible for passing Obamacare.  They’re responsible for creating the mess that we’re in.  They’re responsible for being unwilling to work with Republicans in any capacity to help fix a system that they know is completely flawed and have publicly said so.  I think that it’s pretty clear, and I think the responsibility lies on their shoulders.

Q    Great.  So then just a quick follow-up.  A bipartisan group of governors, including the Republicans John Kasich, Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker, Brian Sandoval, are calling for a seat at the table and a bipartisan process in healthcare reform.  Is the President open to that specifically, sort of starting over with a bipartisan look at this, bringing governors to the table?

MS. SANDERS:  The President has met with a large number of governors, talked to them regularly.  That certainly won’t stop at this point of the process — not just on healthcare, but on a wide variety of issues.  In terms of bipartisan, I think the President laid out pretty clearly from the beginning of this process he was more than willing to sit down with Democrats.  I think they’ve been the ones that have been completely unwilling to even come to the table to be part of the discussion.

Hopefully now that Obamacare continues to completely collapse, maybe they’ll decide that they want a part of this process.

Steve.

Q    Sarah, what is the President’s level of frustration with Republicans since they control both houses of Congress?

MS. SANDERS:  I think he’s frustrated.  He spoke about this earlier today.  Again, I think his primary frustration is that there is no progress in terms of over the last 24 hours of moving this further down the road and giving Americans the system that they deserve.  But I think he laid out pretty clearly that there’s a small number of people that he’s probably frustrated with.  But I think in large part, most of the frustration lies with the Democrats who created the mess but don’t want to help fix the problem. 

Q    And when he says he’s not going to own it, what does he mean by that?

MS. SANDERS:  I think he’s not going to own the failure of Obamacare.  I think exactly what I just said to Matthew.  The failure of Obamacare I think rests solely on the shoulders of Democrats.  They created the program.  They pushed it through.  They made this legislation happen, and they need to own the failure of it.

Jon.

Q    Sarah, back during the transition, at the press conference the President had at Trump Tower, he was asked about healthcare.  He said that there would be repeal and replace the same week, but probably the same day, could be the same hour.  Did this turn out to be a lot more difficult than he anticipated?

MS. SANDERS:  Certainly I think that after hearing members of Congress talk about repealing and replacing Obamacare for seven years, I think that most people thought that it would probably move a little bit faster.

Q    What did he learn about the way Congress works in this process?  What did he learn about this town?  What did he learn about the legislative process?

MS. SANDERS:  Probably that government always moves slower than it should.  

Zeke.

Q    Thanks, Sarah.  Two statements from the President.  One —

MS. SANDERS:  If you can speak up?

Q    Sorry.  Two statements from the President, one from him a year ago this Friday at the Republican National Convention as he accepted that party’s nomination.  He said, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” 

So if the President knew the system so well, does he owe his supporters an apology? 

MS. SANDERS:  For what?  For —

Q    That he couldn’t get healthcare across the finish line?

MS. SANDERS:  For what?  Having the stock market at an all-time high, creating jobs, putting ISIS on the run, getting rid of countless regulations that have made the business climate better?  Should he apologize for that?  Absolutely not.  We should be very proud of the progress that we’ve made in the first six months and the continued progress that we’re going to make over the next seven and a half years.

Q    And second question, another statistic (inaudible) your response to Matt.  This is from November 8th, 2013, from the President:  “Leadership, whatever happens, you’re responsible.  If it doesn’t happen, you’re responsible.”

So why is the President trying to shunt responsibility over to Democrats?  Doesn’t he own any of the blame here?

MS. SANDERS:  The blame of a program that was created and forced through before he took office?  No.  But the process of reforming healthcare is certainly not over, and we’re going to continue to focus on reforming the healthcare system and putting one in place that isn’t a failure, like Obamacare. 

Hunter.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  This seems like a multi-question day, so I’ve got two.  

MS. SANDERS:  I thought they were all multi-question days.  (Laughter.)  I didn’t know that there was an option that we could do it different from day to day.

Q    We could also do it on camera, but just an idea.

MS. SANDERS:  I’ll consider that one, too.

Q    Is the failure of this Senate bill going to change the President’s approach on this at all going forward?  Will we see him take a more public role with rallies and speeches calling for healthcare legislation?  And also, how much should we expect to see him meeting with senators about this?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, the President has laid out the priorities of what he wants to see in healthcare reform.  And now it’s Congress’s job to legislate, and we’re looking to them to work through some of that process.  But we’re going to continue to be incredibly engaged, specifically on providing technical assistance, as well as looking at all options for best repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Q    And the second one.  One thing I’ve been hearing a lot is this notion that it might have been smarter to pursue infrastructure first because that had more bipartisan appeal and more likelihood of passage.  Do you think there’s any regret about not going for another agenda item first?

MS. SANDERS:  No, not necessarily.

April.

Q    Sarah, a couple questions.  One, is the President going to go to the NAACP convention next week in Baltimore?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure, April.  I’ll have to check and get back to you.

Q    Is he considering?

MS. SANDERS:  I honestly don’t know.  I haven’t see the schedule for next week.

Q    Okay.  When it comes to ACA, you’re blaming Democrats.  But Democrats are saying there were 99 amendments by Republicans in ACA.  What do you say to that?

MS. SANDERS:  This is still a Democrat piece of legislation.  It was written — it was forced through.

Q    But 99 written amendments. 

MS. SANDERS:  Ninety-nine amendments to how many hundreds of pages of legislation?  It’s outrageous to make this a bipartisan bill.  I think everybody knows exactly who was part of that process, and it certainly wasn’t Republicans.

Q    And last question.  Some congressional leaders — particularly Democrats — are very concerned about the trust factor when it comes to Jared Kushner and his security clearance, and also still remaining in the job.  What does the President have to say about his son-in-law, right now, in the midst of this storm — the fact that more information continues to come out after he gave his initial statements, and their concern about the trust factor when he has a critical piece of security clearance that deals with issues of trust?  Is the President considering allowing him to stay or leave?  And should he keep his security clearance?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t know of any changes that would be made.  The President has confidence in Jared, and I’m not aware of any changes at all.

Q    Sarah, is it fair to say the President was blindsided last night?  Can you walk us through a little when he found out, when his senior staff found out?  

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not going to get into the process piece and the tick-tock and the back-and-forth.  Again, as we’ve said a dozen times, our focus is on the repeal and the replace, not the process piece of it, but making sure that we get this done.

Q    Also, Sarah, can you confirm the President did tell lawmakers again last night that they would look like dopes if they did not vote for repeal and replace?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure.  I’ll have to check and get back to you.

Q    Thanks, Sarah.  I want to ask you about the President’s pledge to get more Republicans elected in 2018.  He said earlier today that he’s going to be working very hard to make that happen.  Does that go for two Republican incumbent senators, Jeff Flake and Dean Heller, who were not onboard for this healthcare plan?

MS. SANDERS:  Due to legal restrictions, I’m not going to get into any potential election questions.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  Two questions, please.

MS. SANDERS:  John Roberts is bored today.  He’s headed out.  (Laughter.) 

Q    John, stick around.

Q    If it were on camera, I might not.  

Q    Ooh — 

MS. SANDERS:  Nice.  

Q    Two questions.  Even before Senator McConnell’s statement last night and Speaker Ryan’s press conference, the concept on an outright repeal was cause du jour in the House of Representatives at least.  There was this meeting of conservative lawmakers on Thursday who were adamant about it.  Congressman Biggs has since introduced the bill for a direct repeal.  Is there any possibility the administration would at least sit down and join the cause for a direct repeal before it pursued any new kind of legislation?

MS. SANDERS:  I think we’re certainly open to having conversations on all fronts and the best way to move this process forward.

Dave.

Q    All right, my second question —

MS. SANDERS:  Oh, sorry, number two.

Q    One of the things — it’s been concluded that the meeting that Ms. Veselnitskaya had with Donald Trump, Jr. was about eventually lifting all of the Magnitsky sanctions, which targeted top officials in the Kremlin.  Now, since January, Secretary Tillerson has said none of the sanctions will be lifted.  Many of the Russian expatriates and opponents of the Kremlin regime had suggested that if the President could put this issue behind him by supporting further Magnitsky sanctions.  Are there any plans to do that?

MS. SANDERS:  Specific sanctions, I can’t speak to that today.  But once we have an announcement, I’ll certainly let you know.

Dave.

Q    Sarah, thanks.  The President has said many times in the past six months that we needed to get the healthcare legislation done first so we could go on to massive tax reform to help the economy.  Can you now proceed with massive tax reform that will give the biggest bang to the economy without having done the Obamacare part of it?

MS. SANDERS:  We’re going to continue pushing forward on tax reform and laying out that plan.  I know this will surprise a lot of people, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time.  We’re not done with the healthcare battle.  We’re going to continue pushing forward on that and hopefully get that completed, and then transition fully to tax reform after that’s over.

Kristen.

Q    Sarah, thank you.  You continue to say that this is the Democrats’ fault.  The reality is, they were willing to sit down at the table with you guys and negotiate and try to improve Obamacare.  

MS. SANDERS:  I missed all of those phone calls —

Q    But they said they weren’t going to work with you guys on repeal and replace.  So isn’t it fair to say that you guys were dug in and wouldn’t find common ground with them as well?

MS. SANDERS:  Not at all.  We’ve been very clear from the beginning we’re willing to sit down with Democrats and talk about how to reform the healthcare system.  And until they recognize the fact, I think, that Obamacare has completely collapsed and failed, I think it will be hard for them to move forward in the process.  I think that their unwillingness is pretty well documented.

Q    In 2012, @RealDonaldTrump’s Twitter account tweeted, “Obama’s complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda” — and I’m quoting — “are BS since he had full control for two years.  He can never take responsibility.”  Doesn’t the President need to take some responsibility for this moment, Sarah?  

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think we’re taking responsibility in terms of pushing new legislation through, but not the failures of legislation that happened before the President got into office.  I think you also have to take into account the outrageous obstruction that we’ve talked about pretty frequently up here, not just on healthcare but across the board in just allowing the President’s administration to be fully staffed and be able to fully carry out the duties of the office.

Q    And I understand what you’re saying, but this moment is not about the legislation that was passed before the President took office.  This moment is about the President and Republicans who campaigned on a promise to repeal and replace Obamacare for seven years — the President for the time he was on the campaign trail — not living up to that promise to the American voters.  Doesn’t he need to take responsibility?

MS. SANDERS:  Like I said before, the debate and the battle over healthcare isn’t over.  We’re continuing to push forward to repeal and replace Obamacare, and we’re going to continue fighting for that every single day.  So you’re speaking as if this is over and done, and it certainly isn’t.

Charlie.

Q    Just curious whether the President would be willing to sign a repeal-only legislation if that ended up on his desk.
  
MS. SANDERS:  You know, I don’t have any announcement to make on specifics that hasn’t hit his desk, but I think right now we’re certainly open to considering all options to reform healthcare and make sure that Americans get the best care possible.  

Alex.

Q    The President earlier today had a luncheon with servicemembers and said he wanted to hear ideas from them about the war in Afghanistan.  Can you tell us any of the ideas that he heard?  Also, he’s clearly not happy about how long the U.S. has been in Afghanistan.  Would he reject a plan from Mattis of keeping the U.S. there long term?   

MS. SANDERS:  In terms of specifics that were discussed at the meeting, I’ll see if I can get any of those ideas if that’s something that those individuals want to share.  But the President felt like it was important to talk directly to some of the servicemen that have been on the ground and hear some of their feedback and some of their thoughts about what’s taking place there and some of the progress being made.

Q    And (inaudible) Mattis came forward with a plan that kept the U.S. there long-term.  Trump has been complaining — President Trump has been complaining that the U.S. has been there for 17 years.  Would he be supportive of a plan that kept the U.S. there longer?

MS. SANDERS:  The President is still reviewing what options he wants to take and what decisions he’ll make, and we’ll keep you guys posted when we have an announcement on that.

Jon Decker.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sarah.  Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act was perhaps the biggest campaign promise that the President made when he was President.  Does the President believe, does he fear, that failing to do so will impact the Republicans’ ability to hold on to the House and the Senate in 2018?  Is this something that he’s conveyed to members of Congress in his conversations with them?  

MS. SANDERS:  Again, we’re going to get the job done.  We’re still focused on doing what we set out to do.  But I would also argue that the President laid out a lot of priorities during the campaign:  creating jobs, creating a better job environment; getting rid of burdensome regulations; putting ISIS on the run; securing the border; protecting our country; taking steps every single day to help improve the lives of the forgotten man.  And I think he certainly delivered on a lot of those things, and we’re going to continue to do that every single day that he’s in office.  

Q    And then, Sarah, also, in terms of what the President said a little bit earlier and also what he tweeted earlier, he spoke about coming together.  Does that indicate that the President is open to some sort of bipartisan solution to fixing what is wrong with the Affordable Care Act?

MS. SANDERS:  Absolutely.  The President said all along that his primary goal is to find a solution, and he’s happy to work with Democrats to get that done.  

Francesca.  

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  You said that the administration would want Congress to finish work on healthcare and then it would move on to taxes.  Previously, the White House had said that it wanted to see a draft plan for that tax reform before the August recess.  Is that still the case?  And do you still expect to get tax reform done this year, in light of what we learned about the healthcare bill yesterday?

MS. SANDERS:  We’re still very focused on moving forward on tax reform.  It’s still a big priority for the administration.  And that certainly has not changed.

Q    In terms of getting it done before the end of the year?

MS. SANDERS:  We want to get the biggest tax reform as possible — tax reform plan in place.  And we’ll, you know, keep you guys posted on the timeline and announcements for that happening.

Q    One other topic, since it’s multiple-question day.  I wanted to ask about the legal fees.  Is the President paying for his lawyers that are defending him in the Russia case or in the Russia allegations that are outside of this White House?  And is the President paying Mark Corallo, the spokesman, for — Marc Kasowitz and Jay Sekulow and the lawyers on his team?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure what the structure is for that.

Q    Sarah, didn’t the President, though, himself, as a candidate and as President, raise significant expectations about this legislation, saying it was going to be a beautiful plan, everyone was going to be covered?  And did he ever really have a plan?  And what does that say about his true knowledge regarding the healthcare system?

MS. SANDERS:  I think the President has shown he has extensive knowledge.  He’s laid out the priorities that are important for him to be included in the legislation.  And once again, this is not a game-over situation.  We’re continuing to push forward every single day and work hard to make sure that the American people get the type of healthcare that they need and deserve.

Alexis.

Q    Can I just clarify:  As long as the Affordable Care Act remains law and replacement legislation is in abeyance, is the President committing, through HHS, to support the subsidies, the executive sustenance that the law — the existing law requires?

MS. SANDERS:  As has been the case since we got here, we’ll continue to keep you posted as decisions and changes are made, or if they’re not.

Q    And can I follow up?  You just said a few minutes ago, we are taking responsibility in terms of pushing new legislation through.  That sentence seemed to conflict with what you were saying earlier.  Can you clarify what you mean by “we’re taking responsibility”?  What happened last night is the President’s responsibility — that’s what you’re saying?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m saying that our goal is to continue to push to repeal and replace Obamacare.  We’re committed to doing that.  That hasn’t changed.  Throughout the campaign, that was something we talked about and something we talk about every single day — that we’re here, we’re focused on doing that, and we’re going to continue pushing forward.  That’s it.  

Abby.

Q    So, outside of the White House, a couple of weeks ago, Mitch McConnell said either Republicans will agree to change the status quo or the markets will continue to collapse and we’ll have to sit down with Senator Schumer.  So he was suggesting that sitting down with Democrats would be a consequence of Republicans failing to repeal and replace Obamacare.  Is McConnell and the President — are they on the same page about whether or not they really do want to work with Democrats on this?  McConnell seemed to indicate that that was the plan B, not the plan A.

MS. SANDERS:  The President has said all along that he’s happy and willing to work with Democrats on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Q    But do you guys believe that that’s the way the process has actually unfolded in the Senate?

MS. SANDERS:  In terms of Democrats being unwilling to come to the table, yes.

Q    In terms of whether the Senate Republican leaders have been open to Democrats participating in the process.

MS. SANDERS:  I think Democrats laid out very clearly from the very beginning of this process they were unwilling to come to the table and have that conversation.

Q    Sarah, I want to ask you about the Iran deal.  It’s been reported that the President was reluctant to certify that Iran is in compliance.  Can you give voice to that reluctance?  Just how reluctant was he?

MS. SANDERS:  I think, as everybody in the room knows, the President has talked about this pretty extensively, and his opinions and his feelings on this deal have certainly not changed.  He still very much thinks it’s a really bad deal and that the Iranians have not been fully compliant.  And we’re going to continue through this process.  And I refer you back to his statement to see where he lays that out pretty clearly.

Q    One more question.  To follow up on the lunch today, he sat with enlisted men and he heard from them what they think should happen.  Was the President seeking a second opinion from what he’s hearing from the commanders?  I’m just curious why he wanted to hear from the enlisted men.

MS. SANDERS:  I wouldn’t call it a second opinion.  I think it’s important for him to have that type of engagement.  I know that’s something that matters to him, not just on specific policy issues, but just to be able to have that type of open dialogue with the guys that have the boots on the ground.  And he’ll want to probably be able to continue to do that throughout, you know, his time in office.

Q    Sarah, both you and the President have suggested that Obamacare is simply dead.  In fact, though, there are millions of people who still depend on it.  And the President has decisions to make — as was noted earlier, the payments to insurance companies and subsidies.  He can push this over the cliff.  As Senator Schumer said a short time ago, he has the power to do that.  It’s not simply going to fail on its own.  He has the power to do it.

MS. SANDERS:  I disagree with you.  I think we’re seeing it fail day after day after day as millions of people — 

Q    Well, if it’s already failed, it can’t fail day after day after day.  You’re saying it’s dead.  You’re saying it’s dead.  It’s not dead.  There are still millions of people — many of them, the forgotten men and women you like to talk about — who still depend on it.

And he has the power to kill it, dead.  He has the power to push it over the cliff.  Are you saying he’s already made the decisions on subsidies and payments to insurance companies that would finally kill it?

MS. SANDERS:  No, that’s not what I’m saying.  Again, in terms of Obamacare being dead, it’s an unsustainable program.  When something is unsustainable and it can’t be revived — 

Q    So you’re saying it’s dying, you’re not saying it’s dead.  There are people who depend on it, millions of people, many of them your supporters, his supporters.

MS. SANDERS:  Right, and that’s why — 

Q    How could it be dead?

MS. SANDERS:  That’s why the process of repealing and replacing would need to make sure that those people continue coverage.  And that’s been a big focus and one of the priorities of this process throughout — from the beginning.

Q    Is he going to help push it over the cliff?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I think this is already going over the cliff and doesn’t need a push by the President. 

Q    Sarah, when you’ve spoken, you’ve spoken to the President earlier today — said that this system will continue to collapse and we’ll get to a point where Democrats have to come back to the table and join in trying to find a way to fix it.  What specifically does the administration think would be that point where he would get a group conversation that has not happened yet?

MS. SANDERS:  I think that’s a question, frankly, you’d have to ask the Democrats.  

Q    No, no, no, it’s your —

MS. SANDERS:  I think they’re the only ones that know what’s going to bring them to the table.

Q    No, you’re the ones who keep saying that there’s going to arrive a point at which the system has failed to such a degree that suddenly there’s a willingness to compromise.  So, like, what are you envisioning?

MS. SANDERS:  Well, I can’t imagine that — 

Q    Failures of individual plans?

MS. SANDERS:  I can’t imagine — that as this program, as he laid out, goes deeper and deeper off the cliff, that —

Q    You’re either off the cliff or not off the cliff.  (Laughter.)  You don’t go deeper and deeper off a cliff.

Q    What is the point you’re describing?

MS. SANDERS:  The point is Obamacare is simply unsustainable.  We’ve said this a hundred times.  It’s not a program that can be revived.

Q    But you’re saying you’re going to arrive at that point —

MS. SANDERS:  It’s not a program that can be revived.  It is essentially a dead program in terms of being able to provide the type of healthcare that Americans need and deserve.

And our point is the priorities that the President has laid out, we have to have a plan in place that actually provides care — not just coverage; that brings the cost down; lower deductibles; across-the-board reform.  And at this point, hopefully Democrats will see how bad the system is and come to the table.

Q    But what specifically is going to happen to bring them back to the table?  You’re saying it’s unsustainable, it can’t be supported.  And the President is saying it’s going to get to a point —

MS. SANDERS:  I would think that those things alone should wake up Democrats and make them want to come to the table.  I would — again, I’m not going to speak for the breaking point of Democrats, but I can’t imagine that as we continue down this road, they don’t come to the table to try to help save healthcare in this country. 

Q    Sarah, you spoke before of — a question about Syria.  You spoke before about progress made (inaudible) ISIS.  And U.S.-backed forces have taken a couple more neighborhoods in western Raqqa recently.  I was wondering, does the President have an opinion on who should control the city after ISIS is expelled?

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t had that conversation, but I would certainly refer you to members of the national security team, and they might be able to help lay that out more clearly.

Thanks so much, guys.

END 
3:11 P.M. 

 

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