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Press Briefing by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, 6/30/2017

THIS PRESS BRIEFING WAS NOT TELEVISED – 

2:30 P.M. EDT

MS. SANDERS:  Good afternoon.  Happy Friday.  I have just a couple things I want to highlight here at the top before we get into questions.  We had another bad Obamacare news piece come out today out of Ohio.  Premier Health Plan is withdrawing from the state’s exchange, leaving 20 more counties with no insurance plans on the Obamacare exchange.  That’s on top of the 14 bare counties in Nevada we talked about yesterday. 

For the thousands of Americans now left with no choice when it comes to health insurance, these announcements are more than just words and numbers — it means that they will have to make tough choices when it comes to medical care for themselves and their families.

The President is determined to give these families a better option.  News like this is why it’s so important we repeal this failed law before it collapses completely.

Earlier today, Agriculture Secretary Perry — I’m sorry, Perdue sliced a Nebraska prime rib at a ceremony in China, formally marking the return of American beef to the $2.5 billion Chinese market after a 13-year hiatus.  I strongly encourage you all to take a look at the pictures of the Secretary and representatives from the American and Chinese industries standing around a pretty tasty-looking piece of prime rib, particularly going into this holiday weekend.  This is great news for American ranchers who now have access to the $2.5 billion Chinese beef market.  

Also this morning, the Department of Health and Human Services announced approximately $15 million that will be going to women, infants, and their families who have had or are at risk for lead exposure in Flint, Michigan.

President Trump promised during the campaign that he would address Flint’s water crisis quickly and effectively, and his Cabinet is hard at work keeping that promise to the people of Flint.

In the VA, Secretary Shulkin was in New York to unveil the LUKE bionic arm, the world’s most advanced commercial prosthetic that was made possible by VA research.  The LUKE arm is the product of nearly eight years of testing and research, and represents the amazing advances in technology that are possible when the government works in partnership with the private sector to care for our nation’s heroes.

The LUKE arm has the potential to significantly benefit the lives of veterans and others with upper extremity amputations, and the Trump administration was proud to be part of its rollout today.

Finally, yesterday John Gizzi asked if the United States was sending a delegation to the funeral service of the former German chancellor on the 1st of July, and I wanted to give an update, as I said I would get back.  We are sending an official delegation, which will be headed by the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who is the former United States Ambassador to Germany.

And with that, I’ll take your questions.  And, folks, in honor of the Fourth of July, let’s try to save all our fireworks for Tuesday.  (Laughter.)  

John Roberts.

Q    Sarah, the President tweeted this morning about healthcare. 

MS. SANDERS:  He did.

Q    In which he said that if the senators can’t get a bill on repeal and replace together, then maybe the best idea would be — as Ben Sasse and Rand Paul have suggested — split them up into a repeal and then a replacement later.  This really runs counter to what the President has been promoting all through the campaign and earlier this year where he insisted that the two things had to be done, if not simultaneously, at least very close to each other.  What is the basis for his change in thinking on this particular point?

MS. SANDERS:  The President hasn’t changed his thinking at all.  I mean, he’s campaigned on, talked about since he was elected repealing and replacing Obamacare.  We’re still fully committed to pushing through with the Senate at this point.  But we’re looking at every possible option of repealing and replacing Obamacare.  We are focused on doing that.

As I said earlier, there is another large amount of counties that now have no Obamacare provider, and so we’re continuing to work hard to repeal and replace Obamacare, and that hasn’t changed.

Q    So how does it square this idea with repeal it now, replace it later with what you had said on repeated occasions before that these things needed to be done very close to each other in order to maintain continuity of coverage for many Americans?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, we’re still focused on trying to push through where are, and we’re going to continue moving forward and making progress on that front and looking at repealing and replacing Obamacare.  The bottom line is, we’re focused on the end product here, and that is to repeal and replace Obamacare with healthcare that works for all Americans.

Glenn.

Q    Sarah, in terms of putting some more specifics on the replacement part, one of the issues that they’re having is you got 11 or 12 senators now who are not happy with what’s going on with Medicaid — they can deal with some of the repeal elements.  Can you give us the most specific — you were asked about this a couple of days ago — the most specific articulation of what you want to see in terms of Medicaid?  And do you agree with some of these senators who think what’s in the Senate bill, in terms of Medicaid phasing out, is, to point a phrase, too mean?

MS. SANDERS:  I think the President, again, is very focused on protecting those who are currently in the program.  That’s certainly a big priority for him, is making sure those people are protected and also adding additional resources.  That’s part of the Senate bill as it currently stands.  That’s something we would be most likely supportive of doing.

Q    How about sort of the specifics outlined in the CBO about the potential for, you know, 18 million — what is it — 23 million total, 15 million by next year.  Is that just too steep a drop-off for the President?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry?

Q    In terms of the CBO articulation analysis of what would happen under Medicaid over the next three or four years, is that too steep a drop off in terms of Medicaid?  Does the President have any objection to what was in the Senate bill with regards to Medicaid?  

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t had a direct conversation about a specific number.  Again, the priority is to protect everyone as best as possible and certainly those that are currently on the plan, and making sure that no one that is currently on that program gets taken off.  

Q    I’d like to follow up with that first.  Where did the President actually get the idea of separating them?  Was it through conversations with Senator Paul, or was it something that Senator Ben Sasse had said on the television program?   

MS. SANDERS:  I know people have been talking about this for quite some time.  I don’t know where, specifically, it may have come from.  But again, I’ve heard people talking about it for months.  I don’t think it’s new.

Blake.

Q    And then I wanted to ask about the Election Commission.  Does the President have any thoughts on the fact that so many governors and other state officials have said they’re not going to comply with this request for public information for the Election Integrity Commission?  

MS. SANDERS:  I think that that’s mostly a political stunt.  We’re asking — this is a commission that’s asking for publicly available data.  And the fact that these governors wouldn’t be willing to turn that over — this is something that’s been part of the Commission’s discussion, which has bipartisan support, and none of the members raised any concern whatsoever. 

Blake.  

Q    Thanks, Sarah.  Let me expand upon the tweet that John had brought up.  You just answered his question in part by saying we’re still focused on trying to push through where we are; the bottom line is we’re focused on the end product here.  Is this potential splitting up of the bill, is that plan B at this point? 

MS. SANDERS:  Look, again, as I’ve said before earlier this week.  We’re not focused on plan B, we’re focused on the overall process of repealing and replacing Obamacare.  And the end result right now — we’re still very much focused on the direction we’re on.

Q    And Ben Sasse said in his letter, and on television had mentioned, the first Monday coming back — which is either — I believe it’s July 10th — as to the date as to when they should do it.  Does the White House ascribe to that date?

MS. SANDERS:  No.  As we’ve said before, we’re less focused on the timeline and, again, focused on making sure we get the best deal and healthcare plan possible.

Justin.

Q    I wanted to ask about two separate policy things.  The first one is steel.  The President said today that he had secured some assurances from the Koreans on that.  I’m wondering if those were actual changes that we might see to KORUS or other trade agreements, or if it’s more “we’ll look at it and get back to you” type of assurance.  And then, broadly, if the report in — this morning was correct in that the President has determined he’s going to impose tariffs on steel.   

MS. SANDERS:  No, at this point the President has not made a final decision in regards to the tariffs issue.

Q    And on Korea?

MS. SANDERS:  On Korea, look, the President has been clear throughout the campaign and again during now, he’s looking for the best deal possible for American workers, specifically focused on reciprocal trade.  And that is the primary focus of the conversations that he’s had.  

Q    And then I have one on food aid.

MS. SANDERS:  Sorry, on what?

Q    Food aid.

MS. SANDERS:  Okay.

Q    The President is moving to require all food aid to be sent on U.S. flag carriers, but it’s a policy that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have actually been moving away towards.  AEI, which is not a liberal group, said that it would make food aid costs 46 percent more, it may take 14 weeks longer to reach people, unlikely to create new U.S. jobs.  We heard yesterday from senior administration officials about the President sees foreign aid as an important part of diplomacy and wants to cut costs here.  So I’m just trying to figure out how this is not just kind of a bumper sticker strategy, but why this is actually a good idea for the United States.

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry, what was the last part?

Q    Why this isn’t just a bumper sticker strategy of, you know, we’re putting it on U.S. ships, but why this actually makes sense from a policy standpoint. 

MS. SANDERS:  That’s something, honestly, I haven’t had a chance to dive into much, Justin.  But I’d be happy to circle back with you later today.

Major.

Q    Sarah, just to be clear, the preference of the White House is to go forward with the drafting of a repeal and replace in the Senate and see if that can pass.  That’s the correct position of the White House, right?

MS. SANDERS:  Correct, yes.  

Q    And so this idea of separating the two is only a backup, as an emergency, if this other process fails, correct?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think we want —

Q    The reason I ask —

MS. SANDERS:  No, I understand.  

Q    Is because if you take — if you separate them, as you know, one is reconciliation and the other one isn’t, which makes it much more difficult, and for people as you’ve identified in Nevada and Ohio, repeal only takes care of one of their problems.  It doesn’t deal with them being able to find new carriers or alternative plans as the replacement would.  So I’m just trying to figure out how much of an idea this really is that we should be focusing on, or should this attention still be on repeal and replace as the primary White House focus.

MS. SANDERS:  As I said earlier, the primary focus is repeal and replace through the current Senate legislation that is being discussed.  

Q    If you did separate them, it would complicate things.  Not only legislatively — 

MS. SANDERS:  I didn’t say that that’s true.

Q    What is — I’m asking.

MS. SANDERS:  I think that’s something we would have to review if we went that direction.  But at this point, again, we’re focused on the piece of legislation that does exist.  

Q    What does the President think about the idea of the cancellation of recess in August to focus on healthcare and other legislative ideas and agenda items?  That’s something 10 Republican senators suggested today.

MS. SANDERS:  Not cancelling the August recess?

Q    Cancelling the recess, staying in town, and working on healthcare and the sort of issues — the debt ceiling, tax cuts. Would the President endorse that?

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t had a chance to have a conversation whether or not he wants to push Congress to cancel their recess.  I think that the timeline and that is really something that’s up to Congress, not the White House.

Q    On Chicago, with the ATF permanent taskforce there, is that a suggestion or a recognition that at least part of the problem in Chicago is a gun control problem or a firearms access control problem?  

MS. SANDERS:  I think that the problem there is pretty clear that it’s a crime problem.  I think crime is probably driven more by morality than anything else.  So I think that this is a law enforcement issue, and our focus is trying to add additional support.  

We’ve talked to people on a local level and asked for their input on how we best can be helpful, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.  That’s something the President talked about pretty extensively, and he’s focused on trying to help the people in Chicago.  

Alex.

Q    At his recent rally in Cedar Rapids, President Trump said the situation in the Middle East is worse than it was 16 years ago.  Is he concerned about how long the war in Afghanistan is dragging on for?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think he, as well as others, are always concerned about any war taking place.  He is deferring as much as possible to the generals that he put in place, his national security team to do everything we can to limit those types of things, but at the same time protect Americans and certainly our national security. 

Q    Does he want to see Americans in a combat role there by, say, 2020?

MS. SANDERS:  As we’ve said many times before, the President is never going to broadcast what plans he has or doesn’t have.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  With all the furor and tumult in yesterday’s press conference — or press briefing, some have suggested that maybe it is time for the President to have another news conference and perhaps answer these questions himself, rather than subject spokespeople such as you and Sean to questions about recent controversy.  Does he plan an actual news conference in the near future?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure if there’s one on the schedule.  But if there is, I guarantee you this room will be the first group to be notified.  (Laughter.)  

Q    The other thing is — my other question is:  Has the President today read The New York Magazine article by Gabriel Sherman about the White House and its involvement with Joe Scarborough at all?

MS. SANDERS:  I have no idea if he’s read that piece.  Sorry, John, can’t answer that.

Noah.

Q    Back to the question of trade, the President said today that he was negotiating with South Korea on the agreement.  Has the KORUS agreement been reopened?  And if it has been reopened, what’s the mechanism for that?  And how much concern, if any, is there about impacting other relationships, security relationships with South Korea?

MS. SANDERS:  At the direction of the President, Ambassador Lighthizer is calling a special joint committee meeting to start the process of renegotiating and amending the deal.  And as always, and as we’ve said many times before, the President is committed to making sure he gets the best deal and a better deal if possible when it comes to trade.  And that’s the current status of where they are.

Q    Any impact on the cooperation over North Korean aggression with South Korea?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry?

Q    What concern is there about an impact on the cooperation with South Korea on the military issues and security issues with North Korea? 

MS. SANDERS:  Are you asking if we’re concerned about an impact?  

Q    Yes. Yes, yes.

MS. SANDERS:  I think the President laid out pretty clearly where he is on that in his statement earlier today.

John.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sarah.  I wanted to ask you about the travel ban.  It’s the first full day that it’s gone into effect, and it’s scheduled to last for 90 days.  And my question has to do with what are the next steps.  If it lasts for 90 days, that takes you up to the end of September.  Are there plans to extend the travel ban before this issue reaches the U.S. Supreme Court?

MS. SANDERS:  As of right now, for any specifics about the implementation process and anything beyond that, I would encourage you to contact the Department of Homeland Security, as they’ll be doing the review and recommendation on that process.

And, guys, I’m sorry, I know I was running late, and I hate to end early, but I was notified by note here just — 

Q    Just two quick questions here.

MS. SANDERS:  Hold on a second, I’m trying to finish a sentence — that the President is actually going to sign an executive order, and he’s going to do that in the next few minutes.  And so I’m going to step away.

We will be available this afternoon to answer more questions.

Q    On what?

MS. SANDERS:  On the Space Council.  And we’ll send out more details about that here in the next few minutes.

Thanks, guys.

END 
2:46 P.M. EDT

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 6/26/2017

The big press shocker, Sean Spicer wants to have press briefings that are not televised. The press is losing their minds over it once again.  Amazing what they consider important!

FOR THE RECORD – TODAY – 6/26/2017

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 6/26/2017

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:47 P.M. EDT

MR. SPICER:  Good afternoon.  I want to say at the top that with respect to the Supreme Court decision on the President’s executive order, the President was honored by the 9-0 decision that allows him to use an important tool to protect our nation’s homeland.

His number-one responsibility as Commander-in-Chief is to keep the American people safe, and that’s exactly what this executive order does.

In terms of next steps, the government is reviewing the decision and determining how to proceed going forward.  The decision obviously just came down a few hours ago, so we’ll probably have further guidance for you as it becomes available.  In the meantime, I would suggest you reach out to the Department of Justice as they — as details become available.

The Supreme Court also today handed down its own decision in the Trinity Lutheran case.  That was a 7-2 decision, which is a significant victory for religious liberty and an affirmation of the First Amendment right of all Americans.  

The Court recognized there’s a clear difference between the government supporting a particular religion and the government simply treating all people the same — fairly — regardless of their religion.

This ruling reaffirms that the government cannot discriminate against individuals or organizations simply because they or their members hold religious beliefs.  The President believes that America is stronger when people of faith and their organizations can exercise their religion freely, and he’s pleased with today’s ruling.

In terms of the rest of the schedule this week, it’s going to be extremely busy and action-packed leading up to the July 4th weekend, and the President’s subsequent trip to Poland and the G20.

This week we’re going to wrap up a month-long focus on American jobs with a week dedicated to American energy.  President Trump is committed to utilizing our abundant domestic energy resources both to create jobs here at home and to strengthen America’s global influence and leadership abroad.

Today, energy is going to be a key topic of discussion when the President meets with the Prime Minister of India, including how important our strategic energy partnership and how American energy will help fuel India’s growth and development.

In addition to their statements in the Rose Garden, we’re adding a pool spray at the top of their dinners this evening.  And later this week we’ll have an important announcement on the President’s agenda in terms of how it will help establish American energy dominance.

Of course, it’s also a big week for healthcare with an anticipated vote in the Senate later this week on the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.  The Trump administration is holding events around the country highlighting the failure of Obamacare and what that failure has cost American families.  From the 6.5 million Americans who paid a penalty to the IRS instead of buying an unaffordable product that didn’t meet their needs, to the people in states like Utah, where Secretary Price is today, and where premiums have increased an average of $1,900 since 2013.  

The Secretary has a great op-ed in the Deseret News today that I would encourage you all to take a look at. 

After a small-business roundtable in Utah with some of those who have been shouldering the burden of Obamacare for both themselves and their employees, Secretary Price will travel to Texas and participate in another listening session with physicians in Dallas.

In Washington today, the Vice President and Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services Administrator Seema Verma will be hosting a listening session here at the White House focused on the adverse effects of Obamacare on families and individuals with disabilities.  Many of the participants include families who support children with disabilities, as well as those who have been left with no choice when insurers fled their states’ Obamacare exchanges.

According to recent reports, roughly 41 percent of counties could have only one insurer on the exchanges next year, which is up from roughly about 33 percent with one insurer this year.  And there will be 47 counties as of now that have no insurer on the exchange at all.

Washington has been ignoring the struggles of families for these — like these for too long.  And the faster that we can repeal and replace Obamacare, the faster that we can ensure that they and the millions of other Americans who are paying the real price of this failed law get the help that they need.

Healthcare is making a lot of the headlines on the Hill and in Congress, but there’s also important work being moved forward in fulfilling the promise to crack down on sanctuary cities.  The House is expected to vote on two bills towards the end of this week which are major priorities of the President.

The first — the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act — would prevent states and localities that refuse to follow federal law and cooperate with immigration authorities from receiving certain grants from both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.  Those funds would instead be granted to states and localities that are in compliance with federal law.

And the second is Kate’s Law, which is named in honor of Kate Steinle, which would increase the mandatory penalties for aliens who illegally reenter the United States with stronger penalty increases for those who have been previously convicted of a crime.  This is an issue that should unite all Americans in both major parties.

Over 80 percent of the American people support this common-sense, mainstream approach.  These measures also represent an essential tool in the fight to dismantle the dangerous MS-13 cartel, and is widely supported by law enforcement. 

We fully expect these bills to move through Congress and look forward to the President signing them both.  

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

Kristen.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Over the weekend, in an interview on Fox, President Trump seemed to acknowledge that he does believe that Russia interfered in the U.S. election.  Is that how that statement should be interpreted?  Does he believe that Russia interfered in the election?

MR. SPICER:  The statement that he made in January is consistent with what he said the other day, which is that he believes that Russia probably was involved; potentially some other countries, as well, could have been equally involved — or could have been involved — not equally.  And he stands by the statements that he made in January.

Q    And just a quick follow-up.  Over the past 48 hours, he’s really been hitting his predecessor hard for not doing enough to respond to that.  So what is he doing?  Or what does he intend to do different?

MR. SPICER:  Well, there’s two aspects to that question.  One is, if you believe the story that was written, that means from August through November 8th, two things:  One, that if you believe that, then they did know about this.  And there’s some serious questions about what they did or did not do in terms of acting.  And the second is, I think it’s then pretty clear that they knew all along that there was no collusion.  And that’s very helpful for the President.

But as to the point of what he’s doing, that continues to be what I mentioned the other day.  He signed an executive order on cybersecurity to strengthen our ability to combat anybody from interfering not just in our elections but in a lot of our key infrastructure, cyber infrastructure. 

And secondly, he’s got a commission that will continue to have more activities this month looking holistically at the election process to make sure that we’re taking all the steps to protect the integrity of our voting systems.

Steve.

Q    The President tweeted that his predecessor did nothing in response to this Russian meddling.  Curious what you think that Barack Obama should have done.

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — I think, you know, it’s not just the President.  I think Congressman Adam Schiff, a ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, expressed very similar concern with what wasn’t done.  

Obviously, I don’t have all the understanding of what they knew and when they knew it, but there does seem to be a bit of hypocrisy in terms of what they didn’t clearly do if they truly believed all of this was happening.

But as I mentioned to Kristen just a second ago, I think what’s also important to note is that, if they did know all this, then they clearly do know that there was no collusion.

Q    At the time, though, what I’m sure a lot of us remember, in August and September and October of last year, the President was saying — Mr. Trump was saying, “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest.  We’re running against a rigged system.”

On October 19th, at the debate, he was asked by Chris Wallace, “Will you absolutely accept the result of this election?”  And he refused to say.  Is there any reason to think that Barack Obama, given all of that, should have done more?  Does the President believe that, given what Mr. Trump was saying at the time, that Barack Obama didn’t do enough and may have choked — I guess was the way to put it?

MR. SPICER:  I think the President addressed that in the tweet, Steve.  Obviously, he does think he should have done more if he knew all of this.

Again, I don’t — I have not asked him what additional steps.  I think his tweet made it clear that he does believe, if you believe the story, that he should have.

Blake.

Q    I wanted to ask you about the Supreme Court decision today.  They said that anybody that has a bona fide relationship with another person or another entity is still permitted.  So in a way it limited the initial — or the second executive order.  So I’m curious if the administration feels that what is now permitted by the Supreme Court does indeed protect the homeland.

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, I think it’s a positive step forward.  As I mentioned at the outset, the Department of Justice in particular is reviewing this in terms of both its implementation and its impact.  So I don’t want to get too far ahead of all of these brilliant legal minds as they review the impact.  But I think — as I noted, I think the President feels very, very pleased with the 9-0 decision.

Q    And let me ask you about healthcare.  John Cornyn said over the weekend that August 1st is the real drop-dead deadline.  Does the White House see it that way, as well?

MR. SPICER:  You mean for final passage?

Q    Yes.

MR. SPICER:  I think we’d like to see whenever they leave for their August break — their August recess — it done by then.  So I don’t have at the tip of my fingertips when they plan to leave town, but whenever that date is, whether it’s August 1st or 2nd or 3rd or whatever.

Q    What was President’s involvement over the weekend?  How would you characterize that?

MR. SPICER:  He made several calls to multiple senators to hear their concerns and get their ideas, and understand where they’re at and what needs to get done.

Eamon.

Q    Does the President still see this version of the travel ban as “watered down” and “politically correct”?

MR. SPICER:  Again — well, remember, they’re looking at the totality of it.  So I think part of it, as I mentioned to Blake a second ago, will be dependent on what the lawyers believe its impact will be in terms of how it goes forward and what we can do.  So I’m going to punt on that for a moment and let the lawyers take a look at that and give an update.

Q    And is he still critical of the way the Department of Justice has handled the rollout of it?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think, like I said, right now we’re just pleased with what the Supreme Court has done.  And once we have a better idea of its full impact, we’ll be able to have a better analysis of that.

Jennifer.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Can you characterize how the President thinks the Kushner-Greenblatt meetings went in Israel?  And specifically, is there any truth to reports out of Israel that relations are strained between the U.S. and the Palestinians due to these demands that they stop sending payments to terrorists?

MR. SPICER:  Well, first, I think the meetings were extremely productive.  They’re going to make incremental movements forward, but it’s going to be a process.  It’s not going to get solved in a night.  And I think they made some good progress overall, and also continuing to build trust between all the parties.

It’s no secret, I know, that when President Abbas was here, we discussed the payments as an issue then, and so it should be no surprise it came up.  But I would argue that the relationship continues to be very strong and move forward in a positive way.

Mara.

Q    Sean, thank you.  On several occasions the President has suggested he wanted the Senate bill improved.  He said he was looking forward to making it really special and he said, in Iowa, put more money into it, make it more generous, it should have heart.  Does he believe that the Senate has done that, or is he looking for more improvements in the bill?

MR. SPICER:  He’s very pleased with the developments that have come.  He’s been impressed with the work.  He, obviously, as you mentioned, he wants a bill that has heart.  He wants a bill that does what it’s supposed to do.  When you look at what happened with Obamacare, he wants to make sure we think through this.  As I mentioned to Blake, he had several calls over the weekend hearing ideas and opinions about how to strengthen it, and he’ll continue to support ways to make the bill stronger.

Q    But are his criteria still that we should, as you said in the past, cover everyone with lower premiums and lower deductibles? 

MR. SPICER:  Sure.

Q    So that’s his bar and —

MR. SPICER:  Well there’s a lot.  I mean, obviously he wants to make sure that people have access and that it’s affordable.  So coverage is obviously key.  But as I’ve mentioned multiple times here before, when you have a card and no coverage, that’s not good.  It doesn’t get you the care that you need and it doesn’t do so within means that you can afford.  So we’re going to continue to figure out a way to make that work.

Jen.

Q    Sean.  Sean.  Can you answer whether the President still believes — 

Q    The reports out of Israel — 

MR. SPICER:  There’s no camera on, Jim.

Q    Maybe we should turn the cameras on, Sean.  Why don’t we turn the cameras on?  Why don’t we turn the cameras on?

MR. SPICER:  Jen, I’m sorry that you have to — 

Q    Why not turn the cameras on, Sean?  They’re in the room, the lights are on.

Q    Is it not true that there were tensions and some strain between the U.S. negotiators which were Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt and the Palestinians?  Is it not true that there were tensions on this trip?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not aware of any, no.

Q    Okay, so none?

MR. SPICER:  When I talked to them about the trip, it was very positive.  I’m not aware of any.  I know that there was one story — I believe that story has been updated that came out of there, but I know that that’s been updated.

Q    The President said two weeks ago that he would have press conference in two weeks on ISIS —

MR. SPICER:  As soon as I have an update on that, I’ll let you know.

Q    And then the antitrust out of the European Union.  They’re expected to levy a fine against Google for over $1 billion.  Do you have any reaction?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t, not yet.  

Olivier.

Q    Can we have cameras — can the President hold a press conference, Sean?  Sean.

Q    Senator Corker says he will use his authority as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman to block arms sales to Saudi and Qatar until that crisis is resolved.  Is that a constructive step in your view?

MR. SPICER:  I think we share Senator Corker’s goal on two fronts.  One, obviously we want to resolve this situation.  I know that the states that are involved are viewing this as a family matter, and Secretary Tillerson is helping to facilitate some of that.  We believe that’s positive.  We share that concern, and we also share the concern about terror financing that Senator Corker has, and I think we can work together on both of those goals.  

Q    And one more for you.  In one of your answers on the Russia meddling you said other countries were either equally involved or involved.

MR. SPICER:  Yeah.

Q    What other countries?

MR. SPICER:  The statement that the President gave — and I don’t have it off the top of my head — in January said, I believe Russia was probably involved and there could be — I think he said — an there could be others as well.  Whatever that statement was.

Q    Are you guys talking about an intelligence finding?  Is that just a hypothetical?  I don’t understand where that — 

MR. SPICER:  Again, it’s the same statement that he’s had since January.

Alex.

Q    Will President Trump rely on that previous list of potential conservatives for Supreme Court justices for future picks?

MR. SPICER:  What’s that?

Q    Will President Trump rely on that previous list of 21 potential Supreme Court justices for future picks? 

MR. SPICER:  I’m sure that that will definitely be a strong part of it.  I can’t say that there won’t be someone added on or not, but it proved to be a very helpful list the first time.  So he feels very comfortable about the list but I can’t say for certain that there’s no one that couldn’t get added to a future list.  
Zeke.

Q    Earlier, in your response to the Russia question, you used the conditional “if this story is true.”  I was hoping you could provide some clarity on whether or not the President believes this is an accurate statement.  Has he been briefed on that on what President Obama knew, and also given that he was briefed along that same timetable by the intelligence community. 
 And then separately on that, does the President have a response or any retaliatory measures if he believes Russia was behind this?

MR. SPICER:  In terms of — I’m sorry.  I’m just trying to figure out what part —

Q    I’m asking, does the President believe that Russia was involved in an attempt to influence the 2016 election?  And then, if so, what is he going to do in response to Russia’s doing it?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think I mentioned this to Kristen and I’ll say it again.  He’s answered this questions since January that he said Russia is probably involved in this.  And then, secondly he’s been taking steps to — 

Q    No, he hasn’t said that since January, Sean.   He hasn’t.  

MR. SPICER:  He’s taken steps to ensure that our cybersecurity network —

Q    (Inaudible.)  

MR. SPICER:  Well, I’m not going to get into specific details, but I will just say that he’s taken steps on both of those fronts and on the election.

Q    And just a separate question.  Yesterday, in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu reversed on a deal to create a third — a gender-neutral space on the Western Wall.  And a number of American Jewish leaders are blasting the Israeli Prime Minister.  Does the White House — has there been any contact on this sensitive issue?  And does that the White House take any position on that?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t have anything for you on that right now.  I would probably refer you to the State Department.

Anita.

Q    I have a couple questions about the Supreme Court decision.  I don’t really understand the practicality of it.  I understand they’re going to take it up in the fall.  But one is, do you still need a 90-day review now or is that — has that 90 days has already passed?  And secondly, in the fall when they take it up, I think the Court also addressed, won’t the point be moot by then?  I mean, you’ll have a number of months to implement this and have the review process.  So what’s the point?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, I’m going to let the Department of Justice fully analyze this.  But obviously, there’s certain things that were enjoined when both the 4th and the 9th Circuits issued their opinions on this.  And I think part of what the Department of Justice, among some of the other agencies that are involved, have to look at — 

Q    Do you know when they’ll get back to us?  Like what timing — days?

MR. SPICER:  The decision is hours old.

Q    Okay.

MR. SPICER:  Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Q    Quick question about today.  They’ll be delivering statements in the Rose Garden this afternoon.  I’m just wondering why that ended up being statements and not — the last couple times that the Prime Minister came, for whatever reason President Obama and the Prime Minister did not have statements, nor did they take questions.  Today you have statements, no questions.  Whose decision was that?  Did the Prime Minister not want questions?

MR. SPICER:  I’m going to just say, we obviously — on each visit there are discussions at the diplomatic level back and forth about what will go into that visit, what issues will be discussed.  All of those kind of things get worked out by the two teams, and I’ll leave it at that.  

Glenn.

Q    Two quick questions.  First, back to the Russia thing since I know you never tire talking about it.  One of the things in the President’s tweets that I’ve noticed is that he doesn’t reference the conclusion that the intelligence agencies have made — that Russia intervened on his behalf, or perhaps, to put a finer point on it, against Hillary Clinton.  Does the President accept that aspect of what the intelligence agencies have said?

MR. SPICER:  Honestly, I’ve never asked him that specific question.  I’d be glad to follow up.  

Q    And the second thing is, just to dig the hole a little bit deeper on his comments in January.  Have you ever discussed with him — he has said this in debates, he’s talked about 400-pound kids sitting on edges of beds.  Can we cite anything — or if you can’t provide it today, can you provide it in a subsequent briefing — that gives us some sense that other countries may have been involved in this other than Russia?

MR. SPICER:  I’ll try.  Yeah, look, to the extent that it’s not classified, I can at least ask the intelligence communities for an update on that.

John.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sean.  Do you happen to know if the White House has made any progress with those five Republican senators who have already stated they’re opposed to the Senate healthcare bill?

MR. SPICER:  I can tell you, as I mentioned, that the President talked extensively with several Republican members over the weekend, and he felt very positive about those discussions.  But they’re ongoing.

Q    Can you tell us who they were?

Q    And were those phone calls with those particular individuals?

MR. SPICER:  I know — for example, I know that he’s talked to Senator Cruz.  He’s talked to Senator Paul.  I believe he’s talked to Senator Capito, Senator Johnson.  I don’t have the extent — but I know those individuals in particular, and I think several others.

Q    And then one thing that you mentioned at the top in your statement and the President also put in his tweet, you mentioned that the Supreme Court ruling, which came out today, as it relates to the travel ban, was unanimous — 9-0.  Where are you getting that particular number from?  Because it was a per curiam ruling by the Supreme Court, meaning we don’t know the actual breakdown of the Court in voting for this particular decision.

MR. SPICER:  I’d have to — I’m going to get back with counsel and ask them.  That was on them.  So I’ll find out where they got that from.  Maybe they’ve got —

Jim.

MR. SPICER:  Sean, thank you.  Could you walk me through what Secretary Kelly is going to do to immediately implement the travel ban now that parts of it have been restored?

MR. SPICER:  No.  As I mentioned — I mean, this is — first and foremost, the Department of Justice needs to review the ruling, and then they’re going to coordinate with both DHS and other federal government departments and agencies to figure out how to implement that going forward.

Charlie.

Q    The San Diego Tribune reported that the prototypes for the President’s wall has been delayed.  Is that true?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not aware that that’s true.  I would contact DHS on that one.  They’re the lead on that.

Q    So the wall is going ahead as scheduled?

MR. SPICER:  Nothing that I understand — I know that there are pieces of it.  DHS has been actively involved in both repairing, working on some new sections.  So, you know, you could check with DHS, but my understanding is it’s been — the work to repair sections that needed to be repaired is being done.  And then there’s some new sections that they’re actually already starting on.  So I’m not aware of any delays that may or may not exist.

Q    Did you guys get the prototype?

MR. SPICER:  Again, all that would be a DHS issue.

Kristen.

Q    Thank you.  When asked about what actions President Trump might take against Russia in retaliation for meddling in the election, you cited the cybersecurity executive order.  Can you be more specific, though?  Does he support, for example, the new bill for a fresh round of sanctions against Russia?

MR. SPICER:  Well, the new bill that the Senate parliamentarian rule didn’t follow proper procedure.  So, I mean, there is no new bill at this time.  The House is looking at taking up legislation.

Q    Would you support a new round of sanctions?

MR. SPICER:  Depends on — let’s see what the bill looks like.  I’m not going to comment on a hypothetical.

Q    Does he support some type of punitive action directed at Russia specifically?

MR. SPICER:  I do know, when it comes to how the President works, he doesn’t telegraph what he’s going to do on a lot of these things.  He does a lot of quiet diplomacy, he enacts things, and so until we’re ready to announce something, we’re not going to telegraph it through here.

Q    And can you clarify what he meant in his tweet?  He accused former President Obama of colluding or obstructing.  What evidence does he have? 

MR. SPICER:  I think — again, what I will just leave it at is that clearly they, according to this report, knew back in August.  If they were so concerned, why didn’t they stop it?  What did they do?

Q    Well, the report is very extensive.  It goes into all of those details — that they were blocked in a number of different measures; that they were concerned about looking like they were intervening in the election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.  President Obama did talk to President Putin — 

MR. SPICER:  Well, they seemed to throw — 

Q    So what evidence does he have that President Obama was colluding or obstructing?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, I think it comes back to this idea that they’ve been very clear, they’ve been playing this card about blaming Trump and Russia.  And yet, at the same time, they were the ones who, according to this report, knew about it and didn’t take any action.

So the question is, were they — if they didn’t take any action, does that make them complicit?  I think that there is a lot of questions that have to get answered about who didn’t know what and when.

Q    Well, is there an element of hypocrisy here, Sean?  Because this was President Trump on the campaign trail:  “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.  I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

How can you accuse President Obama of obstructing, when he was egging Russia on?

MR. SPICER:  He was joking at the time.  We all know.  I mean —

Q    He was joking?  He says that as a candidate, and he was pressed during that press conference over and over again.

MR. SPICER:  I understand.  And I think the idea was, is that you had Hillary Clinton with a secret server that was very clear about what she had done to evade it.  And I think that that’s probably a bigger concern right now in terms of what they were doing and the lack of security that they had.

Ronica.

Q    Sean, thank you.  Jeff Mason sent an account out of the meeting that he had with you to the members of the White House Correspondents’ Association about the future of the press briefings.  Would you say that his account of that meeting was accurate?

MR. SPICER:  I was not provided that.  I had the —

Q    Could you give us an account, from your perspective, of what happened in that meeting and what we —

MR. SPICER:  We had two since then.  We had another one since then.  Jeff has stated the position of the board that he believes, and I’ve shared with him where we are on that — that we have been consistent since December and January where we addressed this issue with them specifically and publically, and that we will continue to have a mix of opportunities to stay in touch with the media.

Q    Well, there has seemed to have been a drastic shift, starting from maybe the week before the President took his first trip abroad, that now we see you on camera about once a week.  Is that a new normal that we would expect?

MR. SPICER:  We’ll see.  We’re just — we’ll continue to mix things up.

Q    Why are the cameras off, Sean?

MR. SPICER:  Trey. 

Q    Why did you turn them off?

MR. SPICER:  Trey.

Q    Can you just give us an answer to that?

MR. SPICER:  Trey.

Q    Can you tell us why you turned the cameras off?  Why are they off, Sean?

Q    It is a legitimate question.

MR. SPICER:  Trey.

Q    It’s a legitimate question.

MR. SPICER:  Trey.

Q    You are a taxpayer-funded spokesman for the United States government.  Can you at least give us an explanation as to why the cameras are off?

Q    Can we get this out of the way?  Can we address the cameras issue?  Do you think this will be —

MR. SPICER:  Yeah.  Some days we’ll have them, some days we won’t.  The President is going to speak today in the Rose Garden.  I want the President’s voice to carry the day.  Look, this is nothing inconsistent with what we’ve said since day one.

Q    Can I ask you about healthcare?

MR. SPICER:  Yes.

Q    Where does the responsibility lie in the success or failure of the Senate healthcare bill?  Obviously, the President and this administration have been directly involved.  There’s a chance that it may go to the Senate floor and not pass.

MR. SPICER:  Well, obviously the Senate — I mean, look, the President has made it clear, he wants a bill with heart.  He understands.  He tweeted earlier that Obamacare is dying.  And if we don’t take action — the Democrats own Obamacare.  They’re the ones who gave it to us.  They’re the ones who championed it.  And they own that result.  The President has been the one who has been trying to fix it, trying to give people accessible and affordable healthcare.  

But make no mistake about it that Obamacare is dying.  And the reality, as I mentioned last week, is that, when you look at the majority of House Democrats, they support a single-payer, $32 trillion bill backed by Bernie Sanders.  That’s what the alternative is.  

It’s not a question of Obamacare versus the American Health Care Act.  It’s a question between we need to accept that Obamacare is dead, we need to understand that the reality is that what the choice is is between putting in a system that is affordable and accessible, or a single-payer $32 trillion healthcare plan that the majority of House Democrats support.

Q    Once the CBO score is released, do you envision the President going back to the drawing board?  There’s a high number of people expected to be uninsured as a result of the Senate healthcare bill.  What steps will the President take once he has those numbers?

MR. SPICER:  I think we’ve addressed CBO scores in the past.  We feel very confident with where the bill is.  And he’s going to continue to listen to senators who have ideas about how to strengthen it.  But it’s going to follow the same plan as we have.

Q    Sean, if I could ask you about the —

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry.  The gentleman in the back.

Q    Could I ask you, Sean, about the goal of U.S. energy dominance, which is being highlighted this week.  How is that defined in terms of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East?

MR. SPICER:  In terms of what?

Q    What does energy dominance mean?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think we’ll continue to talk about that throughout the week.  But I think we have gone — we have now — you take LNG, for example.  I think our ability to now export it is a big issue.  The idea of using additional power supplies and be able to find ways not only to be self-sufficient, but to figure out how to grow businesses from it, create jobs from energy, use our natural resources.  

You’re going to hear more and more throughout the week about what the President is doing.  As I mentioned, he’ll have more action on this later in the week where he’ll have some action that he’s going to be taking on behalf of the administration to move forward our dominance, our independence, our ability to maximize our natural resources and create jobs.  

Q    Does that mean trying to put pressure — downward pressure on rural oil prices to impact Persian Gulf suppliers?

MR. SPICER:  I think it means a lot of things.  I mean, just the ability to now be an exporter helps us in economic ways, but then obviously there is a political aspect to this.

John.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Two great questions.  It was widely reported on Sunday that the President is the first person in the White House since Thomas Jefferson not to have the traditional dinner to mark the end of Ramadan.  Was there any reason for this, or was it just an oversight?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know, John.  

Q    The other thing I wanted to ask — I was a little taken aback by the question on the Supreme Court list.  On May the 3rd, I asked Sarah if the President would stick to the list of 21 he had in the campaign from which Judge Gorsuch came, and she said that was her understanding, that he would stay with it and there was no reason to expand it.  Has there been any discussion or change of policy in the month between her statement and what you just said?

MR. SPICER:  Well, my only point is that as we fill a lot of vacancies at the circuit-court level all the way up and down the judiciary, there may be people that come into contact that are highly qualified for one reason or another, and that the President may choose at some point down the road, if there’s every a vacancy, to consider someone else.

I think obviously the list that the President put down initially of 21, but now that Justice Gorsuch is off that list he may want to put one additional on.  But he always has the flexibility, as he encounters additional members — potential members of the bench.

George.

Q    Do you approve of the attacks on Senator Heller by allies of the President?  And is there any danger of putting a Republican Senate seat at risk?

MR. SPICER:  Well, look, I think we’re going to work with all of the senators to try to get their support on the American Health Care Act, something that, as I mentioned, the President has been reaching out to all of them who have concerns and issues.  And we’re going to continue to do that.

Francesca.

Q    Do you have a message to those who are attacking Heller?

MR. SPICER:  I have not seen the ad that you’re talking about, but I would just suggest that, obviously, we want to do what we can from a White House perspective to continue to reach out and work with them.

Francesca.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  You mentioned that the President had been in touch with some of the senators who had concerns about this healthcare bill.  I didn’t hear you mention any Democrats.  And Joe Manchin said yesterday that he had not been called by the President yet.  Has the President reached out to any Democrats?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know the answer to that.

Q    Okay.  And then a follow-up on that going back to Joe Manchin, who you had brought up on Friday as somebody who you guys could potentially work with on this bill — he said in his interview that he would be willing to sit down with the White House if you guys were willing to call it a repair bill or repair effort versus a repeal effort.  Is that something that you would be willing to do, the President would be willing to do in order to get some Democrats onboard in a working group?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think what we need to do is to — we’re going to continue to have a team that will reach out.  I’ll check with our legislative affairs team and see what they’ve — and see what they’ve done.  That being said, we’ve made it very clear for seven-plus years that we’re going to repeal and replace this.

Goyal.

Q    One question on India-U.S. relations.  This afternoon at the White House, the world’s most two powerful leaders — Prime Minister Modi and President Trump — of the world’s largest and (inaudible) two democracies will be meeting and greeting and have a number of discussions about U.S.-India relations.  But Prime Minister Modi said that India will join U.S. to fight against terrorism.  At the same time, yesterday, addressing the India-U.S. — Indian American community in Tyson’s Corner, he said that India had been suffering of terrorism for the last 30 years and telling the world to join us.  Now time has come that entire world can join India to fight against terrorism.  Before it was Taliban and al Qaeda, and now ISIS.  What is, do you think, going to happen in fighting against terrorism?

MR. SPICER:  As you mention, I mean, they’re going to have a long opportunity today to meet and then have dinner together.  They’ll talk about their ongoing cooperation, including areas like counterterrorism, our defense partnership in the region, global cooperation, et cetera.

But I think that energy — there’s a lot of things that they’re going to have an opportunity to discuss, but that will definitely be one that they have plenty of time to discuss.  And after they’re done, we’ll have a readout for you and we’ll make sure that you know what areas they covered and hopefully what ground we’ve made up. 

Thank you, guys.  See you later.

END  
2:21 P.M. EDT 
 

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders – 6/22/2017

As you all know, a Press Gaggle is off camera.  So I have attached yesterday’s press briefing provided by the Office of the Press Secretary, White House. Great information from Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and the mind of President Trump.

 

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

June 22, 2017  — 1:26 P.M. EDT

MS. SANDERS:  Good afternoon.  This morning, the President continued his week of events highlighting technology and how it will continue to contribute to the economy of the future by bringing leaders in the industry to the White House to discuss emerging technologies.  The President met with them after they participated in working groups separated by topic — unmanned aircraft systems, 5G wireless connectivity, and financing — where he saw firsthand how these important technologies are reshaping modern life.

Throughout this week, the administration has been putting the spotlight on the technologies that will improve the lives of every American, from cell towers as small as pizza boxes, to data analysis that helps our farmers and ranchers get their biggest yields, and having productive discussions with the industry on how government can both help them get there and take advantage of these incredible achievements for the American people.

Tomorrow, the President will focus on an issue that can have important responsibility to address, and that’s caring for our nation’s veterans.  The President will be signing the VA Accountability Act, an important step in fulfilling the commitment he made when he signed an executive order on accountability for VA employees who fail our veterans.

As the President has said many times, we must never tolerate substandard care for our nation’s heroes, and this bill will provide the VA with the tools it needs to improve the care and services that veterans receive.  And he’s glad to be signing it tomorrow morning.

This morning, the Senate released the discussion draft of its healthcare bill.  The President is pleased to see the process moving forward swiftly in Congress, and he looks forward to seeing a finalized bill on his desk so that we can finally repeal and replace Obamacare before it completely collapses.

Just yesterday, another insurer announced that it’s pulling out of Obamacare exchanges.  Anthem is leaving the exchanges in Indiana — the state in which the company was actually born and is currently headquartered — and also in Wisconsin.

Finally, I want to welcome Alex Pfeiffer to his first White House briefing.  Alex is young, so he might need some help from a few of his colleagues to help him with this process.  And with that, ladies and gentleman, I’ll take your questions.

Kevin.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  I’m just curious about the President’s revelation by way of Twitter that he has no knowledge of any tapes — didn’t have any tapes, doesn’t have any possession of any tapes.  What can you tell the American people about why he decided to sort of make the inference, at least at some point, that maybe there would be tapes?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think the President’s statement via Twitter today is extremely clear.  I don’t have anything to add beyond the statement itself.

Q    Can I follow up really quickly on the wall?  I was at the rally last night.  The President seemed to get great reaction to the idea that the wall was moving forward.  And he mentioned the possibility of solar as a means to not only pay for the wall itself but also to enhance the wall.  Can you sort of help me unpack that idea?  Is this something that he’s been kicking around for quite some time?  He said it was the first time he’d made it publicly known.

MS. SANDERS:  I think it’s something he’s considering.  It’s certainly nothing final, but just an idea that he is considering and reviewing.  Nothing more than that at this point.

Q    I have a healthcare question but I just want to follow up on Kevin’s questions on the tapes situation.  I get that the tweet is speaking for itself, but I’m curious why it took so long, 41 days, for this to be laid to rest, and whether the President is recording any Oval Office conversations.

MS. SANDERS:  You guys asked for an answer; he gave you one.  He said he would have it to you by the end of this week, which he did.  And beyond timing of that, I can’t really speak anything further.

Q    And any Oval Office recordings?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not aware of anything.  I think his statement here is pretty clear.

Q    But I’m asking more generally, just not specifically to Comey, but, again, he —

MS. SANDERS:  Not that I’m aware of, Hallie.

Q    So no Oval Office recordings that you’re aware of?

MS. SANDERS:  Not that I’m aware of.

Q    And then on healthcare, I just want to know a couple of things on that.  Is the President confident that he will have something to sign in the next few weeks?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t think we’re as focused on the timeline as we are on the final product.  We’re looking for the best bill possible, and we’re going to continue being part of technical assistance and providing that with both House and Senate members as we work to get the best bill we can.

Q    And just on that final product, the President — this Senate bill, by analysis so far, cuts Medicaid.  It doesn’t look like it will cut deductibles for folks.  Does that have enough heart?  Does the President think that is a bill that is not mean?

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t had that conversation but I do know that he made a statement earlier that said this is a negotiation, and so he’s going to continue that process with both House and Senate members and his administration until we get the best bill that we can, and that will be the one that he signs.

Q    So he’s open to changes.

MS. SANDERS:  John.

Q    Sarah, what was the President doing with this?  I mean, he let it go on for 41 days, as Hallie referred to.  That tweet 41 days ago seemed to be, you know, a very kind of ominous message to Comey — “he better hope there are no tapes.”  And then he was asked repeatedly during the intervening weeks whether or not the tapes existed.  You were asked many times.  Sean was asked.  Why the game?  What was he doing?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t know there was a game.  Again, he’s answered the question.  He gave a timeline and the frame that — which he would, and he did that.  He said by the end of this week and he’s done that.

Q    Do you have a sense for — what was behind the original suggestion from him 41 days ago that there may be tapes?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think it was pretty clear in that original statement that he hoped for his sake.  And that was, I think, the very intention.  And he’s laid out his position on whether or not he personally was involved in that in his tweet today.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  Back to the original tweet, did the President intend to threaten James Comey with that tweet?

MS. SANDERS:  Not that I’m aware of.  I don’t think so.

Q    And so why — again, why was he compelled for the deadline to be this week, to clear it up?

MS. SANDERS:  I mean, that was — has been laid out, I believe, also by Congress that they wanted an answer by the end of this week.  

Peter.

Q    Sarah, if I can, the tweet ultimately, we know, according to James Comey, led him to share the memos publicly, which led to the hiring of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, which ultimately led to the reports that the President himself is being investigated for possible obstruction of justice.  Does the President regret the tweet?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t think so.  

David.

Q    Then broadly, he said — you can’t say whether there are any Oval Office recordings, but he did say that “[I] did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”  Did he ever have recordings of conversations with James Comey?

MS. SANDERS:  Again, not that I’m aware of.

Q    Let me ask about healthcare, if I can, quickly.  On healthcare, the President said when he first became a candidate after coming down the escalator, he tweeted, “The Republicans who want to cut SS & Medicaid are wrong. A robust economy will Make America Great Again!”  So if cutting Medicaid was wrong when he was a candidate, why is it right in the new Republican Senate bill?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t believe that the President has specifically weighed in that it’s right to cut Medicaid.  I know one of the big parts of discussion is giving states flexibility.  And again, the President hasn’t weighed in specifically on any specific measure in this bill, and, as he said earlier, this is a negotiation between the House and the Senate and we’re going to play a part in that.

Q    Does the President still believe there should be no —

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry, guys, can you — one at a time.

Q    Does the President still believe, as he did as a candidate, that there should be no cuts to Medicaid?

MS. SANDERS:  I haven’t had a specific conversation to see if there is an update to that, but I do know that he wants to protect that as much as possible.

David.

Q    What specifically will the White House be doing with the Senate as this healthcare moves forward?  You mentioned technical assistance.  What does that entail?

MS. SANDERS:  I think — I know members of OMB, Treasury, and certainly members of the HHS and senior staff have been involved in the process.  They’re going to continue to do that.  This has been one of those things where, from the very beginning, we’ve wanted all the stakeholders involved.  And we’re going to continue to do that until we get the best piece of legislation. 

Q    Will the President be involved, or is he going to wait for the conference committee, which, presumably, will —

MS. SANDERS:  I know he’s been involved by having members of his administration — I think it would be hard to deny the fact they’re an extension of the administration when you have Cabinet secretaries and senior-level staffers that are in meetings and conversations regarding the legislation.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  Twelve days ago, the President announced a press conference in two weeks on his entire ISIS strategy.  Can we expect a press conference in the coming days?

MS. SANDERS:  I’ll have to get back to you on a specific date for when that might be.

Q    Thanks, Sarah.  I wanted to ask you just — about some of the reaction from the left that we’ve seen this week.  

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sure it’s friendly.

Q    Well, our microphones caught a woman who was dragged off from McConnell’s office this morning.  She was screaming, “My child is going to die, and my family is going to die, but they don’t give a damn about it.”  Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said this week, “The Democrats are going to lie down on the train tracks” to stop this bill from passing.  What do you make of all that?  What’s your reaction to that?

MS. SANDERS:  I certainly think that not just Republicans, but I think any American would certainly not support something that allows a child to die.  And the goal is, again, to look for the best healthcare possible that actually provides care — not just gives insurance but actually provides care.  That’s been a goal from the administration on the front end, and we’re looking for ways to do that.

Right now, we know Obamacare is not sustainable.  It is literally collapsing under itself.  Providers are pulling out every single day out of states.  We are down to multiple counties that don’t have providers.  And we are working day in, day out to make sure we have the best piece of legislation possible.

If Democrats really cared, they would try to be involved in the process.  They said from day one that they didn’t want to be in the conversation if it had anything to do with repealing and replacing Obamacare.  I think that it’s sad that they’ve chosen to play partisan politics instead of trying to have a seat at the table.

Matthew.

Q    Thanks, Sarah.  The intelligence community has concluded that the DNC hack was part of a Russian plot to disrupt and influence the 2016 election.  I’m wondering, after the President’s tweet this morning, why does he continue to dispute that finding and call the hack a “hoax”?  And then a follow-up, if I may.

MS. SANDERS:  I believe that the President said even back in January — and I’ll read the statement from then — that he thinks it’s a disgrace, thinks it’s an absolute disgrace.  “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”  

I think he’s made it clear and been consistent that while everyone agrees the result of the election wasn’t influenced, he thinks that it probably was Russia.  And I think that regardless, President Trump has made it clear that we have to protect the integrity of the electoral system.  That’s one of the reasons he’s a strong advocate for voter I.D. laws and why he’s also put in place a voter election commission — integrity commission chaired by the Vice President, which I think shows the level of importance he’s placed on that to make sure that the integrity of all of our elections, particularly moving forward, are as sound and correct as possible.

Q    So then — thank you.  Just a broader follow-up on that.  So like I said, this morning he called the hack a “hoax.”  He hasn’t accepted the popular vote tallies.  You guys have been touting jobs numbers that he used to call “fake.”  You won’t tell us where he stands on climate science.  So I’m wondering, why does the President choose to accept certain facts, but dispute and reject others?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not aware that he accepts certain facts.  I think we accept all the facts.

Q    But like the popular vote totals, climate science.  You still haven’t told us where he stands on that.

MS. SANDERS:  Look, the President won the election.  I don’t know why we have to continue debating this.   

Q    I’m not debating that point.

MS. SANDERS:  The Democrats lost because they didn’t have a message.  They had a poor candidate.  We had a message.  And the President won.  I’m not really sure what fact we’re disputing here.  There’s only one winner and he was it.

Jeff.

Q    Sarah, going back to the tweet, it happened before this gaggle started.  Is the President concerned that surveillance is being conducted against him at the White House?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t know specifically if there’s a direct concern.  I do know that he’s concerned with the number of leaks that do come out of our intelligence community.  I think all Americans should be concerned with that.

Q    He did make clear in that tweet that he didn’t have any recordings, but he raised the prospect that there — somebody else might have them.

MS. SANDERS:  Again, I think that it’s very clear what he meant there, but as far as surveillance —

Q    But who else would have them, I guess?

MS. SANDERS:  — I wouldn’t know, Jeff.  

Mike.

Q    Two questions.  First on healthcare, if I can.  Since the President won’t be weighing in specifically on any of the details of the Senate bill, can you help explain what his role will be exactly during at least this Senate phase of the process?  Will he be whipping for votes to pass the Senate bill, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything that’s in it, just to try to advance the process along?  

MS. SANDERS:  We’ll keep you updated as his involvement takes place.  Again, right now, I know that he’s got a large number of members of his administration that are involved in the process and continuing in those conversations.

Q    Sarah, another question, if I can.  The President is meeting today with the International Olympic Committee.  Can you talk a little bit about what that meeting is for, and will he use it as a chance to lobby for Los Angeles’s bid for the Olympics?

MS. SANDERS:  I know he’s certainly supportive of the committee, and we plan to have a read out after the meeting.  I don’t want to get head of that before it takes place.

Q    By the committee, you mean the bid?  Or the —

MS. SANDERS:  I mean, obviously, the committee itself — and again, we’ll have a readout for you after the meeting takes place.  I won’t get ahead of that.

Q    Sarah, yeah, listen, I want to — if you don’t mind, I want to go back to what Jeff was asking you a moment ago.  I know you say this tweet is clear, but it talks about recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking.  Is that activity that is being carried out by the CIA, the FBI, or other U.S. law enforcement agencies?  Is that what his reference is to?

MS. SANDERS:  I think those are questions you’d have to ask those law enforcement agencies, whether or not they’re engaging in those activities.

Q    But it’s the President who has tweeted this.  The President is the one who has actually put this information out.

MS. SANDERS:  I think there’s public record that talks about surveillance, that talks about unmasking.  We know those practices take place.  I think if you’re asking about specific instances, you’d have to refer to those agencies.

Q    Can I ask one follow-up on China?  The President tweeted obviously the other day that the Chinese had failed to change the situation with respect to North Korea.  I just wonder, in light of that, given how he had put China at the center of his North Korea strategy, what the next steps are.  How does the U.S. bring pressure to bear on North Korea, if the Chinese are not willing to help?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think the President has been extremely clear on this process.  Of course, he hopes to work with China and continue to work with them to put pressure on North Korea.  But if that doesn’t work, then the President has been clear that he will do whatever it takes to protect America.

Q    Are there any more details on that?  Any details on what that would be?

MS. SANDERS:  The President is never going to outline his strategy in a public way, but I think he’s been clear that he would certainly do what it takes to protect American citizens.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  Two questions.  First on healthcare.  The Senate wants to vote in less than a week, or in about a week.  Can you say whether the President supports the bill as it is right now?  Because we don’t know how many changes can be made in the course of a week.

Q    Again, I think he wants to bring the stakeholders to the table, have those conversations, and we’ll get back to you as we go through that process.  But I think right now we’re in a negotiation process.

Jordan.

Q    Does the President think that the process on healthcare is moving too fast then, if he wants to take time and talk to people?  I mean, they’re talking about having a vote next week.  I mean, this may be like the —

MS. SANDERS:  I mean, we’ve been talking about reforming healthcare for a number of years.  I don’t think it’s moving too fast when it’s been nearly eight years.

Q    Sarah, if the healthcare bill changes from what it is now, by the time it gets to the President’s desk, will the President support a bill that funds Planned Parenthood?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure.  I’d have to get back to you on that question.

Q    Hasn’t he that he wouldn’t support a bill that does? 

MS. SANDERS:  He has.  I would have to get back to you on his specific mentality of the bill.

Q    Well, let me ask you this:  If the bill allows the use of healthcare tax credits to buy coverage for abortion, would he support that?

MS. SANDERS:  Not that I’m aware of.  But again, I think it would have to be in the context of the larger legislation.  I can’t speak to a hypothetical on one piece of the bill.

Q    I wanted to ask more about the China question that Mark Landler brought up.  Can you tell us more when you say the President will do what it takes with regard to North Korea?  So that would mean a military option.  Can you tell us more —

MS. SANDERS:  I think he’s said all along that we’re not taking any options off the table, but we’re not going to broadcast what those might be.

Hunter.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  The intelligence community has been pretty unified and adamant that the Russian interference in the election was a very real and serious issue.  Yet the President just called it a “Dem hoax.”  Does he believe that members of the intelligence community are colluding with the Democrats, or did collude with the Democrats?  And what would he do about that?

MS. SANDERS:  I believe the reference in the hoax is about the fact that they’re trying to delegitimize his win in the election process, and less about the hack itself.  I think he’s said several times now that he believes that Russia was part of it, but also, some of those same members have said that they don’t think it influenced the election.  And I think that’s what a lot of this process is about; it’s about trying to make excuses for why Democrats lost.  And the President, I think, has been pretty clear on where he stands with that.

Zeke.

Q    Sarah you just directed Mark’s — his questions about the President’s tweet earlier to the various intelligence agencies.  Is the President accusing elements of the U.S. government of wiretapping the Oval Office?

MS. SANDERS:  That’s not what I said.  I said if he was asking about specific instances, he would have to ask them.

Q    So, specifically, does the President believe he’s being surveilled in the Oval Office?

MS. SANDERS:  Not that I’m aware of.

Q    Why is he tweeting about it?

MS. SANDERS:  Because he was asked if he had tapes, and he was answering that question.

John.

Q    Thank you, Sarah.  A question and a follow-up.  In his speech last night, the President said that several of the major news corporations are not telling the truth to the American people.  Are you willing to name any of those corporations?  And also, are you keeping a list and following corporations that may not be telling the truth?

MS. SANDERS:  I think there are quite a few instances where there have been false reports out there, and I would be happy when I’m not standing up here to help provide a list to you, John.

Q    All right.  And the other thing is, are you keeping this list ongoing?

MS. SANDERS:  I don’t have like a folder on my computer for it.  But I certainly think we’ve got some knowledge of very specific instances that have taken place.

Q    Are you going to release them?

MS. SANDERS:  I’ll let you know.

John.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sean — Sarah.  Were you given a heads up in any context —

MS. SANDERS:  We look pretty different.  (Laughter.)  But, you know.  

Q    It’s off-camera.

MS. SANDERS:  Hey, John, if you’re looking for instances of fake news, there’s a good one for you.  (Laughter.)  I’m Sarah.

Q    Were you given a heads up about the President’s tweet?

MS. SANDERS:  Yes.

Q    And was the General Counsel given an opportunity to vet what the President tweeted out?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m not sure.  I’d have to double-check on that.   

Q    Sarah, the President talked last night about Governor Branstad going to China to become the ambassador.  Is it consistent with the President’s pledge to drain the swamp that he’s giving so many of these first wave of ambassadorships to political supporters and campaign donors?

MS. SANDERS:  Look, I think it’s pretty traditional that you would have somebody supportive of you and your agenda to go out and be an ambassador to speak on behalf of the administration.  And Terry Branstad is somebody who has, I think, some of the best qualifications that you could have to send there.  He’s got a personal relationship with senior-level members of the Chinese administration, as well as a very strong understanding of trade practices given his background.  And I think he’s a perfect fit for that role.

Alex.

Q    Is legal status for DACA beneficiaries on the table?  Has the White House conducted its review of the program?

MS. SANDERS:  As of right now, that’s still under review and I don’t have any announcements on the specifics of the program at this time.

Q    Bloomberg reported that the President first raised the prospect of tapes strategically to make sure that Comey told the truth.  Is that your understanding of the President’s motivation for tweeting about it?  And does he feel it was effective?

MS. SANDERS:  I’m sorry?  Can you speak — I can’t hear —

Q    Do you want me to repeat the whole thing?

MS. SANDERS:  Yeah, sorry.  No, the air — It’s hard to hear.

Q    Bloomberg first reported that the President first raised the prospect of tapes strategically to make sure that Comey told the truth.  Is that your understanding of the President’s motive for tweeting that?  And does he feel it was effective?

MS. SANDERS:  I certainly think that the President would hope that the former director would tell the truth.  But I think that it was more about raising the question of doubt in general.  
Thanks, guys.

END 
1:47 P.M. EDT 

 

5/16/2017 – Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Spicer – detailed notes

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Spicer

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:09 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER:  Hey, guys.  So as we touched on yesterday, the President has got a full schedule here in Washington ahead of the foreign trip.  This morning, he had a call with the King of Jordan, following up on the King’s recent visit to the White House last month.  We expect a readout on that shortly.

Earlier this afternoon, the President of Turkey arrived for an official visit, as you know.  The two leaders obviously made joint statements a little while ago, emphasizing where our countries can come together in their fight against violence and instability in the region.  Later this afternoon we’ll get a readout on that.  They are still wrapping up their lunch together right now.

Later this afternoon, the President will meet with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price, and Director of Office and Budget Mick Mulvaney.  Recently, Secretary Price, in HHS, announced that the first public step in implementing one of the President’s very first executive orders, minimizing the economic burden of Obamacare, was reevaluating the disastrous Small Business Health Options Program — or SHOP, as it’s called.

Even Obamacare supporters have to admit that this program has completely failed to meet anything close to the expectations that were set.  The Congressional Budget Office originally estimated that 2 million employees would enroll in the SHOP exchanges, leveling off at 4 million by this year.  According to recent data, there are now fewer than 233,000 people covered by SHOP plans.  And the map seen here — check that out.  That’s about 6 percent of what was predicted by CBO.  So I know in the past some folks have asked about CBO predictions.  I’d point you to that one as another one.  The numbers don’t really get too much better from there.

Texas has a population of around 28 million people; it had just 1,158 businesses enrolled in the SHOP plan.  Florida has a population of around 20 million people and it has 579 businesses enrolled.  Small businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy, with 30 million of them supporting communities across the country.  And just 0.1 percent of these companies, small businesses, participate in the SHOP program.

Small businesses have clearly decided that SHOP is not an option that makes sense for the overwhelming majority of them in its current form, so it’s common sense to reevaluate this clearly failed program.  And common sense is what the American people elected President Trump to bring to Washington.

The bottom line is that whether we’re talking about individuals or businesses, signups for Obamacare are well below expectations.  Insurance companies continue to flee out of the exchanges.  And if we don’t act quickly, as the President said, we’re going to head for a healthcare meltdown.

The President and Secretary Price and this entire administration look forward to seeing the American Health Care Act reach the President’s desk soon so that we can bring back some common sense to our entire healthcare system.

Finally, two quick updates.  Secretary Mattis is swearing in Heather Wilson as the Secretary of the Air Force at the Pentagon today at 4:00 p.m.  Her distinguished military service, wealth of experience, and wide knowledge base made her an outstanding choice for Secretary of the Air Force.  And the President is glad to welcome her on board.

Lastly, Treasury has just announced the sanctions on additional individuals and entities in response to the continuing violent attacks on Syrian citizens by the Syrian government.  As long as the Syrian government continues its campaign of brutal violence against its own people the Trump administration will continue to utilize many tools at our disposal to intensify pressure on the Assad regime in support of diplomatic efforts to end this civilian conflict.

With that, Hallie.

Q    I just have a few.  If you don’t mind, if I just tick through quickly since it’s an off-camera briefing.  Number one, can you explain the transcripts?  Will you share these transcripts that some lawmakers are calling for, or more information regarding the context and content of this meeting with those on Capitol Hill that are asking for this information?

MR. SPICER:  I think there’s three individuals who were in the room — Secretary of State Tillerson, the National Security Director and the Deputy National Security Director who were all in that and all have put out statements regarding that.

Q    But given that, they want a lot more.  They want to see quotes.  They want to see transcripts.  What do you —

MR. SPICER:  Well, I don’t — I haven’t seen anything.  But what I’m telling you is that I think there were three individuals in that meeting that said — what has occurred today, over the last little while, in terms of these leaks is, frankly, dangerous.  The idea that someone who has been given access to information is pushing that information on to the media is — undermines our national security.  I don’t think there’s any other way to say it than it is, frankly, dangerous.

Q    Two more questions for you, Sean, just on that.  Number one, Israel as the ally here who provided information that the President then shared with the Russians.  It’s our reporting and others that that is the case.  Can you speak to that?

MR. SPICER:  I cannot comment specifically on that.  I’m obviously pleased to see Ambassador Dermer’s comment.  We appreciate the relationship that we have with Israel and appreciate the exchange of information that we have with them.  That being said, I’m not going to comment any further on that.

Q    And my last one question for you just gets to the question of credibility that a lot of folks over on Capitol Hill have been asking over the last maybe 18 hours or so.  The President himself tweeted just last week, Sean, that his surrogates can’t stand at this podium with perfect accuracy.  Are you concerned when you have yourself, when you have General McMaster here, that people perhaps don’t trust or find the statements that are being made credible?

MR. SPICER:  I think I addressed this last week, Hallie, that we do everything we can to provide you the most up-to-date information at the time.  With respect to the events of last night, I think General McMaster stood at this podium just a few hours ago and made it very clear that he stands by what he said. So I’m not entirely sure — I think he put out a statement, Secretary Tillerson put out one, and the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy put one out, as well.

Q    So you’re not concerned about eroding credibility in this administration?

MR. SPICER:  Of course.  Obviously, I would never — no one would ever want that.  But I suggest to you that the statements put out last night — completely consistent and the people who put them out, stand by them.

Q    — in the room is my last question — that Dina Powell, Secretary Tillerson —

MR. SPICER:  I’m not sure that — I don’t know the answer to that —

Q    Can you provide us a readout of who was in that room with him?

MR. SPICER:  I’ll follow up with — I mean, I’m not going to necessarily provide you with information that they’re not comfortable providing in terms of who was or wasn’t in the room. That is something that is up to the President.

Zeke.

Q    Sean, do you believe that this is a case of the intelligence community or elements in the intelligence community actively seeking to undermine the President and his foreign policy as he seeks to build a closer relationship with Russia?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t think it is appropriate for me to — but I will tell you, when you look at that story, it would be impossible for the President to reveal the source of the information because, as General McMaster made very clear as he was leaving this podium, the President wasn’t briefed on the information and wasn’t aware of the source.  So the President wasn’t aware of this.  This wasn’t part of his briefing.  So, therefore, to suggest that, therefore, he revealed it, is impossible.

Q    But you did say undermining — it’s, frankly, dangerous.

MR. SPICER:  It is.

Q    What’s the President going to do about it?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, that in itself is a whole process, and I’m not at liberty to get into that.  And it’s, frankly, something that I wouldn’t even be aware of.

Q    If I could ask just one more question.  Is it the President’s position that he can at any time declassify anything he chooses?  He tweeted this morning he has the absolute right to talk to the Russians about whatever he wants to.  Is that what he’s saying there, that he can declassify anything?

MR. SPICER:  Well, there’s several issues.  One is he can obviously — there is information that is shared with countries all the time on common threats or common areas of interest.  Then there is a second question that you’re asking, which is classification authority.  My understanding is the President, of course, has classification authority.  They’re not synonymous though, right?

So the President can always discuss common threats or common issues with host nations — excuse me — with other heads of government or other government officials as he deems appropriate to tackle the threats our country faces.  But that’s — just so you’re clear, there are two separate issues.  But, yes, he does on the second — because that’s not a question of what he thinks, that’s just sort of like a fact.

Blake.

Q    Just to clarify the last thing that General McMaster said, what you just said — so the President wasn’t aware — this wasn’t a part of his briefing, so to suggest he revealed it is impossible.  Are you saying that the President didn’t say what is being —

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to get into — again, I’m not going to get into the contents of conversation.  What I will just say is, as I mentioned, it wasn’t part of his briefing.  So if that wasn’t part of it, to suggest that, therefore, he released something would not — it just defies logic.

Q    So if it wasn’t part of his briefing, in a way, was there a failure —

MR. SPICER:  Again, I’m not — look, again, I’m not —

Q    — the people underneath him, was there a failure that it didn’t rise to the level —

MR. SPICER:  No.  I’m sorry.  That’s a good point.  It is not routine.  Again, I’m not going to say it doesn’t happen.  But generally speaking, when the President is briefed — and it’s not just this President — when Presidents are briefed, they’re presented with outcomes.  Here’s threats that we face.  Here’s whatever.  And it’s not like there’s always — and it’s not always common that, therefore, they would get into all the sources and methods that undermines it.  That’s just not always how it happens.

And so they are presented with, here are the threats that we face; here’s the circumstances; here’s the issues that are in front of you.

Q    I guess what I’m asking — he was fully prepared going into this meeting by the —

MR. SPICER:  Of course.

Olivier.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Just two for you.  Can you say whether or not there’s an active investigation of these leaks, either formal or informal?

MR. SPICER:  I cannot.

Q    Wait, can I just get one more?  Something that General McMaster declined to answer on two occasions from behind that podium that’s causing some unhappiness on the Hill, the refusal to say whether the Western Wall is in Israel or not.  Can you explain why you guys can’t answer that question?

MR. SPICER:  The Western Wall is obviously one of the holiest sites in Jewish faith.  It’s clearly in Jerusalem.  But there’s been — it’s an issues that’s had serious consideration. It will be a topic that’s going to be discussed during the President’s trip between the parties that he meets with.

But obviously I think this stems from a comment that was made yesterday and which was not the policy of the United States. And so I think just because — so just to be clear about what was said yesterday.

Q    Can you talk briefly about the ripple of information and how it came out of the meeting that occurred last week in the Oval Office with the representatives of the Russian government?  I’m trying to better understand where and how this information could have leaked.

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — if I knew — I mean, I don’t know.

Q    In talking about it as a national security threat, you’ve spoken with the President obviously about this.  What’s his thinking on the information that leaked?  And if there were
— and what does he think about the article that was released by The Washington Post?
MR. SPICER:  Well, I think consistent with what he has said for a long time — that the leaks of classified information, or sensitive information present — there’s a reason that they’re classified.  And the disclosure of them, the non-authorized disclosure of them, present a threat to national security.

Sarah.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  There’s been reporting that suggests Israel is the country that provided that intelligence to the U.S.  Whether it was Israel or not, has the administration had contact with that ally to potentially smooth over any complications that might have arisen from this being shared with the Russians?

MR. SPICER:  Have we — I’m sorry —

Q    Have you reached out to the country that provided that intelligence?

MR. SPICER:  Obviously, I’m not going to get into that kind of discussion.  What I will say is, as I mentioned earlier, that we appreciate the strong relationship that we have with Israel with respect to intelligence-sharing, and hope to continue to grow that bond.  But I’m not going to comment on specifically where it came from.

Ronica.

Q    Sean, can we get a White House reaction or the President’s reaction to the report that said Rich was emailing WikiLeaks before his murder?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — I’m not aware of — generally, I don’t get updates on DNC — former DNC staffers.  I’m not aware of that.

Q    It would certainly have a great influence on where the leaks came from, if they could potentially — I mean, there’s a lot of implications in this story, of course.  But —

MR. SPICER:  I understand that.  But for me to comment from here about an ongoing investigation — I believe it’s still ongoing; I don’t even know the status of it in terms of D.C. — but it would be highly inappropriate to do that.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Two questions.  First, the nature of the information that the President is alleged to have shared are the kinds of things that the Five Eyes allies share among each other.  Is this a sign that that list could be expanded or that the President is considering expanding the Five Eyes, the allies we share intelligence with on a regular basis?

MR. SPICER:  I would just go back to the point that I think — whether it’s this particular country or any other, it is quite commonplace for us to share information on common threats that our countries face, or two countries face, or a variety of other information.  It is a very commonplace thing to occur.

Q    And the other thing is, what’s lost in all of this was that they — the President met with Dr. Kissinger.  What advice did Dr. Kissinger give him on anything?  Was there any readout of their conversation?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t have — I didn’t get one at the time.  Generally speaking, we don’t get readouts of that.

Cecilia.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  You had these Comey headlines last week that you didn’t want.  You’ve got this story that landed in your lap today.  I’m sure you heard Senator Corker say that this White House is in a “downward spiral.”  How do you view the current state of things right now?  Is a “downward spiral” fair, unfair? Is “chaotic” fair, unfair?  And does this White House need a reset?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think we’re doing — the President is committed to enacting his agenda.  He feels very strongly about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.  The leaks that occurred today are not helpful, first and foremost, to national security, beyond any other issue.  But obviously the President is very proud of the work and the accomplishments that he’s had in these first few months, and looking forward to this trip around the world that I think is really going to continue to grow the relationships that he’s already started to build.

Q    Is there any soul-searching that’s being done?  Any reflection that — or any blame even being placed for sort of the current state of chaos, if you will, inside the West Wing or in your colleagues, the President himself?

MR. SPICER:  I guess the way I’d answer that is, when you look at what appears to be somebody intentionally leaking classified information, and you’re asking where the blame should be placed, I think it’s pretty clear.  I mean, it is — to realize that somebody has intentionally gone out, once again — if you start to go back over the last couple months how many times there has been an unauthorized disclosure of national security, that should be — I’ve said it from this podium before, but it’s extremely troubling.

And I think that when you ask how we feel about it, when you are committed to doing — whether it’s economic policy or foreign policy that is in the best interest of the country, and people are going out intentionally leaking classified information that threatens national security, as I said, it’s dangerous.

April.

Q    Sean, could you tell us how the President gets his intelligence briefings?  Because we understand that each President has them differently, they ask for them differently.  How does this President receive his intelligence briefings?

MR. SPICER:  That’s an interesting question.  I don’t sit in on the briefing.  I know every day a team comes over and — I should probably follow up on it before I get too far ahead, but they come in person and present him with information, and it’s classified.

Q    Okay.  But does he read any part of it, or is he given the information verbally?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t sit in on it, so I don’t know.

Q    All right, to follow up on that, a couple questions.  The question — well, the statement from McMaster begs the question as to — the statement about not having parts of the intelligence that the President talked about to Russia begs a couple questions.  Why was that not included?  And some are asking, in the intelligence community, does this go to the fact that the President may not be trusted with this information?  And also, it goes into, again, how does he get his information and why it was it —

MR. SPICER:  So I know you stepped out for a while.  We actually went over this.

Q    I’m sorry, I was coughing.

MR. SPICER:  No, no, but we went over this.  I hope you feel better.  Basically, the answer that I gave — I think it was either Blake or Trey — was that, generally speaking, the President is presented with the end result of the intelligence — here are the threats, here are the issues that are facing us.  Generally speaking, they don’t go into the sources and methods.

Q    But has there ever been a concern that this President was not able to handle the intelligence information and they’ve  kind of crafted it to a piece where he would not get in trouble if it were to slip out?

MR. SPICER:  No.

Q    Okay, wait, I’m not finished.

MR. SPICER:  No, you are.  I mean, this is — everyone gets a turn.  This isn’t —

Q    Well, a couple people had more, and I want to ask something about Secret Service, okay?  I understand that David Garrett — Dave Garrett (ph) is being eyed as the head of the Uniformed Division of Secret Service.  And Dave Garrett, during the Clinton administration, was reprimanded for saying the “N” word to a female pass-holder here at the White House.  What do you say to that?

MR. SPICER:  You have to believe me that I don’t get into the different divisions of employment of the Secret Service.  I think that —

Q    But it is under the administration’s purview.

MR. SPICER:  Sure, as is all the federal government.  But I think specifically a division of the Secret Service, Kathy of the Secret Service is probably — in the Public Affairs Office — is probably your best bet.

George.

Q    A trip question.  There’s been a lot of reporting —

MR. SPICER:  We had big news — it would have been perfect for this —

Q    There’s been a lot of reporting in Israel that the President was going to go to Masada.  That’s something that General McMaster didn’t mention.  Has that been scrubbed?  If he is going, what’s the message you’re trying to send?

MR. SPICER:  So, if I can, it is our goal to have an off-the-record briefing tomorrow, probably sometime later in the day, on the logistics of the trip.  Once we can lock down that time — and the goal would be late tomorrow, but it may slip.  And we can kind of walk through the logistics of the trip with you.  But obviously there’s a lot of things that either aren’t finalized for security reasons.  But I don’t want to get into anything beyond what General McMaster said today.  And our goal is to — we’ll have notice out to you guys at some point on what the details of the trip are.

Glenn.

Q    Sean, it may seem like a small matter, but the President mispronounced President Erdogan’s name a couple of times at the event today.  We had a report yesterday from Politico about the President reading and embracing a report that was pushed in front of him from a fake 1970s Time Magazine story. We’ve had numerous things about the way that the President consumes information, including and not exclusive to the events of the last few days.

Two questions.  Is the President doing his homework?  And are you satisfied, or can you tell the American people that the President is getting the best quality information possible to make decisions?

MR. SPICER:  Yes on both.

Steve Holland.

Q    Senator Cornyn pulled out of the FBI search.  Does the President still think it’s possible to name a new director before he goes on the trip?  Or is that likely to drag?

MR. SPICER:  I think it’s obviously likely, but that’s up to both DOJ and then obviously to the President in terms of who he can get.

Q    Where does it stand at this point, the search?

MR. SPICER:  DOJ is still interviewing candidates.  And if we have an update on the process —

Q    So it probably will drag until after the trip?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — I literally don’t have an update, because part of it is DOJ will notify us when they believe they have candidates that the President wants to meet with, or the President will ask them who they have.  But we’re not at that point in the process.

Anita.

Q    Can you explain — you’re saying that the leaks, that there’s a problem obviously that there’s leaks.  Other people say that the President said something inappropriate.  Regardless of what happened, how can you assure allies that have expressed concern about leaks in the United States that their information is safe with the United States?  How can you assure them?  Are people calling them?  And I don’t mean the particular ally; I just mean in general.

MR. SPICER:  Right.  I think we take — look, there is no one who is more outraged about this than the President.  And he has been very clear in his statements over the last couple of months that this kind of behavior cannot be tolerated, and that this action undermines our national security.

I don’t know — I mean, he’s taking — again, and it would be inappropriate for me to discuss anything beyond that.

Q    Are calls being made?

MR. SPICER:  Again, I’m not going to get into anything.

Brian.

Q    Three quick questions for you.  One, President Reagan said — and they will be quick, I promise — said of the former Soviet Union that they reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, lie, or cheat to attain global revolution.
That was their long-term goal.

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry, what was the beginning part?

Q    President Reagan has said that the Soviet Union reserves unto itself the right to commit any crime, lie, or cheat to obtain its long-term goals.

So what do you think?  What does this President think the long-term goals of Russia are?  That’s the first question.

The second is:  Do you think a public official has a right at any time to lie to the American public under any circumstance?

And third, I guess going back to our question earlier, but to be more pointed, what do you say to the critics who say this administration in one word, in the last few weeks, has been inept?

MR. SPICER:  I think that —

Q    I know I nailed you with three.

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — as far as Russia goes, the question is, what do we think their goals are?

Q    What do you think their long-term goals are?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know — I’ll get — we’ll have to get back to you.  I’m not prepared to go over what Russia’s strategic goals are at this time.

So what was —

Q    And the second one was, do you think under any circumstance it’s all right for a public official to lie to the American public?

MR. SPICER:  The reason I’m hedging on this is that I’m just thinking mentally, going through every position of the United States government.  So, in theory, if you were an operative of some sort, or if there was — I mean, there are cases in which —

Q    Public officials.

MR. SPICER:  I understand.  Yes, if it’s a public official, then no.

Q    And a third one, as far as the last week, the actions from this administration being inept?

MR. SPICER:  Like I said, I think what this is — when you have people that are leaking information, the President is going to do everything he can, I can tell you that.

Q    But that’s not unique.

MR. SPICER:  I think that the level and number of quotes and the damage, I don’t — I can’t say I’m an expert on this, but I would say it’s pretty — it seems like a lot to me.

Q    A number of Republican lawmakers this morning said they were troubled by what they read in The Washington Post, the story that came out late yesterday afternoon.  Senator Lindsey Graham, in an interview that he did today, said, “The only thing I can say when it comes to Russia is they are an unreliable partner.”  Does the administration share that point of view that Russia is an unreliable partner?

MR. SPICER:  I think, first and foremost, as you saw by the comments of the three individuals, they were troubled by the report in The Washington Post.  And so that’s the first thing I would say.

The second thing is — because again, look, when you go back and realize that three people who were in a very small meeting come out — the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor, and the Deputy National Security Advisor — and dispute the account, and yet, on the other hand, you have a bunch of anonymous sources using leaked information that is disputed from what was actually briefed and not briefed, you realize that that — you have to question the intention of why that was done.

So that is something that we’re equally concerned with in terms of the report itself, that a leak that came out does this kind of damage.  And it was — and it clearly — you’ve got wonder why it was done and who did it.

Q    But to Lindsey Graham’s point that he was making in that comment that I just read to you, does the President share his belief that Russia is an unreliable partner?

MR. SPICER:  I think all I’ll say is that on areas like combating ISIS, in particular, we have a shared interest.  In Syria, there are areas where we can have a shared interest.  And I think in areas where — whatever country it is, we can find a shared interest to further a goal, whether it’s our national interest or our economic interest.  That is something that we would have to consider.  But to rule out any country on its face is something that is sort of well above — is something that only the President can decide.

Q    Sean, why did the President’s Counterterrorism Advisor feel the need to reach out to the CIA and the NSA after the meeting with the Foreign Minister?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to get into calls that any staff member may or may not make, but I will say that to suggest that someone who is the Homeland Security Advisor wouldn’t be making calls would somewhat be a little odd that, in the routine part of their job, that they wouldn’t be calling around to different agencies.

That being said, in terms of what I think you’re intending to ask with respect to the article, again, I would go back to the fact that there were three prominent individuals in the meeting that dispute the account.

Q    Is the White House doing anything to reach out to members of Congress to explain what happened in the meeting with the Russian officials?  And Senator Burr, on the Intelligence Committee, said just before you came out that he’s still waiting to hear from someone at the White House.

MR. SPICER:  I do believe that there are some folks that people have asked that have walked them through, shared the statements, et cetera, et cetera.

Q    Are there any plans for the President to reach out himself to any members to explain or reassure?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t — not that I’m aware of.

Matt.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  So you’ve referenced a few times these statements from McMaster, Tillerson, and Powell.  And one thing none of them address is sort of the key point of the article, which is that the President divulged classified information.  None of their statements addressed that.  So can you clarify for us whether or not the President divulged classified information? Number one.  And number two, if so, who gave the okay on that?  Was that preapproved by State or by any of these agencies?

MR. SPICER:  So, number one, going back to another question, there is, in the normal course of conversations with different countries — whether it’s threats or information — information is routinely shared.  Secondly, as was mentioned, if the President wanted to share information, that would be within his decision.  That all being said, I’m not going to discuss what — go down a road of parsing what would be and what wouldn’t be.

Sarah.

Q    So you won’t clarify whether or not the information he shared was classified?

MR. SPICER:  No, I think that the — as you pointed out, the three statements that were made, they are very clear of what was not addressed.  And again, getting into starting to have a discussion about what is and what isn’t — what isn’t classified — is a very dangerous road.

Sarah.

Q    So, two questions.  First, in this meeting with the Russians at the White House, why was the President’s first inclination to want to share sensitive information rather than, for instance, to press them on meddling in the U.S. election, which we saw all these intelligence officials agree just last week was something that Russia certainly did?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think to presume that — I mean, that conversation is still private.  And to just assume what was and wasn’t discussed would not be accurate.  I’m not going to get into the contents of that.

But I also think that, again, we’re missing what was shared and the purpose.  There was a discussion about a shared aviation threat.  As General McMaster pointed out, they had an airplane that was taken down in some way in October of 2015, which over 200 lives were lost.  They shared and discussed a shared threat that our two countries have and a concern that we have.  I think that is extremely appropriate.

Q    And secondly, one of the knocks against this administration has basically been that you guys do things in a sloppy manner and that makes stories like this worse.  So when you look at the way this played out — yes, we routinely share information, but we routinely share information that is sensitive with our allies.  We don’t routinely share sensitive information with the Russians.

So I guess, did you guys take the proper procedures to let intelligence agencies know ahead of time that you wanted to share this information — that the President did — with Russian officials?  Or did he just make the call on the spot, and was that the reason that Bossert made these calls afterward to the CIA and to the NSA?  And was this a learning experience in any way for this administration about following protocols to ensure you guys don’t get the kind of headlines next time that you did this time?

MR. SPICER:  Well, number one, to make any assumptions about what was shared, what wasn’t shared, and what processes were or were not followed would be highly speculative.

Number two, as I’ve said repeatedly, the information that was shared was on a common threat and one that we both have a shared goal in eradicating.  So to suggest that — which I think is the nut of the question — why wouldn’t we want to share a common threat and the efforts that both countries are taking to eradicate a threat that we both feel?

Q    But there’s no indication that you guys went through the proper protocols.

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, with all due respect, you have no understanding of that.  For you — and I’m not — but to sit back and say, because it hasn’t been leaked out — I mean, that’s the nature of the leak.  Somebody is selectively leaking information and facts.  And there’s a reason it’s selective; it’s because they’re trying to create — you know, and again, for me to guess why — but at least it appears as though somebody is trying to create a narrative or a problem.

But to further suggest that somehow because you get one piece of a puzzle, that you know what the entire puzzle looks like — even to suggest that that piece is accurate, which, in this case, you’ve heard our position on that.  But this is clearly a pattern of people releasing sensitive information to further what appears to be someone’s agenda.

And I think that, again, the President has raised this.  Several people in the administration have raised this.  But the idea that there is no concern or seemingly no concern over something like this being put out in the open I think is, frankly, concerning.  And it should be to every American that we have information of a sensitive and classified nature that is being sent out into the open.

Q    But it can be —

MR. SPICER:  Hey, Brian, Brian, brain.

Q    Right?

MR. SPICER:  That’s not how it works.  Thank you.

Jessica.

Q    Sean, if I could follow up on Jon Decker’s question, a couple of questions about the fight against ISIL in this context.  That was what the President talked about was the source of the conversation, or, I should say, framework of the conversation that he had with the Russians last week.  So is the President actively looking for new partners in the fight against ISIL?  And is it his intent to look to partners that have previously been unconsidered because they were not part of traditional alliances and partnerships with the United States?

MR. SPICER:  I think it’s safe to say that the President is going to look to anybody who wants to share our goal of eradicating radical Islamic terrorism, ISIL, and other threats from around the globe.

Thank you guys very much.  Have a great day.  We’ll talk to you tomorrow in Connecticut.

END
2:40 P.M. EDT