FULL – White House Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 2/3/2017, #8
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:37 P.M. EST
MR. SPICER: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday. It’s another busy day here at the White House and across the Trump administration.
The first jobs report under the President’s administration was released this morning. It’s National Wear Red Day, highlighting the importance of preventing heart disease. It’s National Catholic Schools Week. And the President is going to be signing some executive orders, delivering some much-needed regulatory relief to lenders and borrowers in the next few minutes.
We’re finishing up the second week here really strong. Yesterday, another great deal was reached with Lockheed Martin for the purchase of a new lot of F35s. Through the President’s intervention, a total of 90 planes — for a lot of 90 planes; 55 were purchased for U.S. military that added up to a total of $455 million savings for U.S. taxpayers from the previous lot, with an average cost reduction of 7.5 percent, another big win that the President has delivered on for U.S. taxpayers.
Speaking of good numbers, let’s turn to the jobs report. The economy added more than 227,000 new jobs, significantly more than the 175,000 that had been expected. Today’s report reflects the consumer confidence that the Trump presidency has inspired. According to a recent Gallup poll, economic confidence is at a new high, and ADP showed strong private sector hiring. President Trump campaigned on how to make America work again. Even before he took office, the markets knew he would deliver on that promise. The President has already taken significant steps to turn our economy around, and he’s looking forward to ensuring that every American who wants a job has the opportunity to find one.
While the President is definitely pleased that the job growth has far surpassed expectations and that the labor force participation is rising, he also recognizes that there’s a lot more work to be done. The President has a big and bold agenda to grow the U.S. economy and to create jobs. In just his first two weeks in office, he’s met with more than 50 business leaders across a vast range of industries. This morning, the President participated in a strategic and policy forum with business leaders from some of our country’s most successful companies. The President understands the importance of an open dialogue with fellow business leaders on how to make the nation’s economy stronger. His firsthand experience as a successful businessman helps to guide his decisions as President, and he will continue to seek opinions of other job creators while crafting an economic agenda.
All of these meetings are focused on one primary goal: providing new and improved employment opportunities for all Americans. We’re looking at a full range of policy measures to achieve that goal: regulatory relief, tax and trade reform, empowering women in the workplace, rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure, and improving our education system.
Also today, in pursuit of that goal, the President will be signing two executive actions as part of his plan to overhaul our financial and regulatory system. I expect that to happen closer to the one o’clock hour. The first is an executive order for posing guideline principles that sets the table for a regulatory system that mitigates risk, encourages growth, and more importantly, protects consumers.
The Dodd-Frank Act is a disastrous policy that’s hindering our markets, reducing the availability of credit, and crippling our economy’s ability to grow and create jobs. It imposed hundreds of new regulations on financial institutions while establishing unaccountable and unconstitutional new agency that does not adequately protect consumers. Perhaps worst of all, despite all of its overreaching, Dodd-Frank did not address the causes of the financial crisis, something we all know must be done. It did not solve the “too big to fail,” and we must determine conclusively that the failure of a large bank will never again leave taxpayers on the hook.
The presidential memorandum addresses the burdens of government regulations and the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule. The rule is a solution in search of a problem. There are better ways to protect investors, and the Trump administration is taking action to do so. We’re directing the Department of Labor to review this rule. The rule’s intent may be to have provided retirees and others with better financial advice, but in reality, its effect has been to limit the financial services that are available to them.
President Trump does not intend to put unnecessary limits on economic opportunity. The Department of Labor exceeded its authority with this rule, and this is exactly the kind of government regulatory overreach the President was put into office to stop. We desperately need to overhaul how we approach financial regulation. The President is taking action to protect American taxpayers and get people back to work.
Moving on, we announced earlier this week that we would be taking steps to address Iran’s recent actions. Today, the U.S. sanctioned 25 individuals and entities that provide support to Iran’s ballistic missile program and the Islamic Revolutionary Quds Force. These designations are in response to Iran’s ongoing ballistic missile program, including its ballistic missile test on January 29, 2017, as well as Iran’s continued support for terrorism. We’ve taken these actions today, after careful consideration, and will continue to respond with appropriate action.
These designations mark yet another stop in our continued effort to aggressively target Iran’s ballistic missile program and terrorism-related activities. Over at the Department of Defense, Secretary Mattis is on the final day of a two-day trip through Asia. He visited Korea yesterday and Japan today, returning to Washington tomorrow. Secretary Mattis’s visit emphasizes the priority President Trump places on the Asia-Pacific, and on strengthening the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance in the face of a growing North Korea nuclear and ballistic missile threat.
Over in the Senate, the President now has 11 Cabinet nominees awaiting a full Senate vote on their confirmations. We look forward to welcoming these individuals into the administration.
Regarding the weekend’s plans, the President will debut his second weekly Facebook Live event this evening at 5 o’clock. You can expect him to recap another week of action on behalf of the American people. He’ll also comment on his selection of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. And while recognizing Black History Month, he will discuss his vision to deliver more opportunity and safety for the African-American community.
One more note of this week’s address: the lead-in to the President’s remark on Facebook Live will feature some of the incredible artwork throughout the White House that was created by African American artists, so you definitely don’t want to miss this.
As I mentioned previously, this weekend the President will be shifting the operation of the White House down to the “Winter White House” at Mar-a-Lago. While in Florida, he’ll hold meetings and calls with advisors and staff to plan for another big week of action on behalf of the American people. We’ll provide readouts of these as they occur. By our count, as of this morning the administration has already racked up more than 60 significant actions: 21 executive actions, 16 meetings with foreign leaders, and 10 stakeholder meetings, to name a few.
We’re looking forward to another productive week next week.
On Monday, the President will visit Central Command and Special Operations Command Headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base.
While at MacDill, the President will receive command briefings from both CENTCOM and SOCOM, have lunch with the enlisted troops, and have an all-hands address to personnel. General Dunford and General Flynn will also be present for the meetings, and the President will return to Washington that evening.
With that, I’m going to go my first Skype question seat. Jackie Nespral from NBC 6 in South Florida. Jackie.
Q Good afternoon. On behalf of the viewers of South Florida, thanks so much for this opportunity. You know, a lot of focus on foreign affairs this week, a new sanctions announced today against Iran, and of course Miami, as you know, is home to the largest Cuban-American community in the country. And during the campaign, President Trump talked about his discontent with the warming of U.S.-Cuba relations implemented by President Obama. And in the last days of his administration, he ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, leaving thousands of Cubans in limbo.
So my question is twofold. A, has there been any contact between your administration and the Cuban government? And B, are there any plans to change the current policy right now?
MR. SPICER: Thanks, Jackie. We are in the midst of a full review of all U.S. policies towards Cuba. The President is committed to an agenda of ensuring human rights for all citizens throughout the world. And as we review those policies in Cuba, that will be forefront in their policy discussions, but there is nothing that we have on that front at this point.
Q Thank you, Sean. Today, the United States put new sanctions on Iran. Previously, this morning, the President had said that they were playing with fire. You said that appropriate actions would continue to be taken. Is this the full extent of the punishing actions that we’re seeing right now? And are military options still on the table in response to the administration saying that all options are on the table?
MR. SPICER: Thanks for the question. I think one of the things that the President has said throughout the campaign, during the transition, and since becoming President is that he doesn’t like to telegraph his options. That’s how he believes that you can have a much greater successful option.
So I’m not going to go into the full extent, and I think today’s sanctions really represent a very, very strong stand against the actions that Iran has been taking and make it very clear that the deal that they struck previously was not in the best interest of this country, and that President Trump is going to do everything he can to make sure that Iran is stayed in check.
Q So it is possible that there are more actions coming, though?
MR. SPICER: I just — I would never rule anything off the table. I think the President has made it clear throughout his time that that’s what going to happen.
Q Thanks a lot, Sean. I wanted to ask about one of the members that has been announced as being part of President Trump’s team — it’s Gina Haspel. Senator Ron Wyden has written to the President saying that her background makes her unsuitable to be the CIA Deputy Director. And what he was specifically referencing was her role in the enhanced interrogation program that the CIA had during the course of the Bush administration. Do you believe that this background is a disqualifier for that position?
MR. SPICER: I think she has had an unbelievably distinguished career as a covert operative. She basically gave up that to come out and serve in this role at the request of Director Pompeo, and I think she has been a very, very distinguished servant to the American people and is highly qualified for that position.
Next, I’m going to go to Josh McElveen over at — from WMUR in New Hampshire.
Q Hey, Sean, thanks for taking the question. I know you’re looking forward to the Patriots coming down in a couple of months — a lot of people up here are hoping that happens as well. Getting to business, though, for more than two years, the number-one public health and safety threat facing this state is the heroin and opioid crisis. During the campaign, the President promised to be swift and aggressive when it came to this problem — stopping the flow of drugs coming across the border. Increasingly, though, the problem lies in synthetic fentanyl being cooked up in labs in the northeast. What is the administration doing on that front as well as the treatment aspect of addiction?
And secondly, if I may, with the understanding it is a state issue, New Hampshire is poised to become a “right to work” state, but the vote is expected to be close. Given the administration’s favorable view of “right to work,” is it actively engaged in that effort? And if not, what is the general message from the White House?
MR. SPICER: Thanks, Josh. First, on the opioid crisis, that is a major problem for not just New Hampshire but for so many states across the country. I think one of the things beyond the health issue is to make sure that we’re looking at borders use. And the flow of heroin through our southern border is something that the President obviously takes — that’s part of his whole strong immigration stance, strong border security, having that wall built, having additional assets on the southern border will go a long way to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the country from our southern border up through the states.
It was obviously, as you mentioned, a big issue that he made in New Hampshire throughout the primary and continued so on the campaign. And that’s something that as soon as Tom Price and others are confirmed throughout the department, this has got a health component to it, it’s got a border issue to it. So there is a multi-government approach that needs to be taken to the opioid crisis.
With respect to right to work, I think you accurately portrayed it. The President believes in right to work. He wants to give workers and companies the flexibility to do what’s in the best interest for job creators. Obviously, the Vice President has been a champion of this as well. It’s something that is a big deal in Indiana and something that he has championed as well.
Q Sean, I want to ask you about Dodd-Frank. Beyond the executive order that’s going to be signed here momentarily, is the administration planning on or working with Congress to overturn certain portions of the law itself that can be done with an executive order? If so, what might that be? What might that timeline be? And can you say if a full repeal of Dodd-Frank is actively being considered or not?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s two aspects of this. There’s the administrative piece, which he’s starting to address through executive action, and then there’s a legislative piece that I think we’re going to work with Congress on. But I mean, I think I’d go back to what I said earlier — that Dodd-Frank has been both a disaster in terms of the impact that it’s had, but also it hasn’t achieved the goal. And I think that there’s no question that the President talked about this extensively, the impact that it’s had. And it’s not an either-or. It’s, frankly, just not doing what it set out to do. And so I think we’re going to continue not just to act through administrative action, but through working with Congress and figuring out a legislative fix.
Q Sean, meeting with the Australian ambassador here yesterday with Chief of Staff Priebus and Steve Bannon — can you describe what that meeting was about? And did the administration make a commitment — which we heard from the State Department yesterday — that, in fact, all of those subject to the Obama administration agreement are still possible refugee re-settlers just with extreme vetting or some sort of process? What was communicated?
And on the Iran sanctions, Adam Szubin is the Acting Treasury Secretary. He was, of course, in charge of sanctions at the Treasury Department before. Oftentimes these are a long time in development. Were these sanctions something that were kind of on his desk or have been identified, and that’s what made them so, if not easy, available to enact so rapidly?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, I think those are — I think you correctly pointed out — I mean, he served in the last administration. These kind of sanctions don’t happen quickly, but I think the timing of them was clearly in reaction to what we’ve seen over the last couple days. We knew we had these options available to us because they had been worked through the process, but we acted swiftly and decisively today because the timing was right. So they were in the pipeline, they had been staffed and approved, and the President made the decision that now was the time to do it based on recent action.
Chief of Staff Priebus and Chief Strategist Bannon did meet with the Prime Minister yesterday. I think they had a very productive —
Q The ambassador.
MR. SPICER: The ambassador. Thank you. Appreciate the correction. They did have a very productive and candid conversation. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the people of Australia, for Prime Minister Turnbull, and it was a follow-up on the call. But we’re going to continue to work through this. We’re going to honor the commitments that we’ve made in some way, meaning that we are going to vet these people in accordance with the agreement that happened. And we’ll continue to have further updates as we do.
Q Sean, your statement last night on settlements in Israel — has there been a shift in U.S. policy? While you said that you didn’t think that they were helpful to achieving peace, you also didn’t think that they were an impediment to peace, which would represent a departure from both Obama and Bush. And there was no reaffirmation of a two-state solution in that statement. So where are you on that?
MR. SPICER: The President is committed to peace. That’s his goal. And I think when the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu meet here on the 15th, that will obviously be the topic on that. At the end of the day, the goal is peace. And I think that’s what you have to keep in mind. I think that is going to be a subject that they discuss when they meet on the 15th, and that’s as far as I want to go on that.
Q Sean, back to the settlement thing. What is your position on settlements in terms of whether or not they — I mean, you said that they were not an impediment to peace, but you also don’t want them building new ones.
MR. SPICER: Right.
Q So where are you —
MR. SPICER: I mean, I think the statement is very clear about that. We don’t believe that the existence of current settlements is an impediment to peace, but I think the construction or expansion of existing settlements beyond the current borders is not going to be helpful moving forward.
Q Two for you. Seventeen members of Congress requested that President Trump not interfere with the current way unemployment is calculated by the Department of Labor. Does the President intend to comply with their request? And a related question — how many of the 227,000 jobs added to the U.S. in January does the President attribute to his administration versus the Obama administration?
MR. SPICER: I think, look, when you look at the confidence indexes, I’m not going to get into — unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of a breakdown. I think that you’ve seen the actions that he’s taken, whether it’s Carrier or some of the other companies — Sprint, SoftBank. Clearly there is a desire for companies to want to come be part of this Trump agenda and build and manufacture, create jobs, bring jobs back. But I’m not at liberty to start parsing the BLS and other reports as far as where that comes down.
But look, his team, led by Gary Cohn, was really pleased with the numbers this morning. Obviously, we’re pleased that we’re — 227,000 jobs is a great kickoff. We hope they get better. We know that there’s a lot more work to do, and that’s why the President continues to meet with business leaders, union leaders to help figure out how we can grow the economy.
Q The government revealed in an Alexandria court case today that over 100,000 visas have now been revoked as part of the President’s travel ban. Does that include visa holders who are already in the United States? And will the government begin finding them and trying to deport them?
MR. SPICER: I’ll have to get back to you on that. I don’t have all the details on that right now.
Q Six hours ago, the President tweeted that professional anarchists, thugs and paid protestors are proving the point of millions of people who voted to make America great again. Does the administration have any intention of investigating the groups who have been rioting at conservative or pro-Trump events?
MR. SPICER: I think we know who they are. I don’t know that we need to do an investigation.
Q Has the President seen the letter sent from Senator McCain yesterday? And if so, is he looking into arming the Ukrainians?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Q Ambassador Nikki Haley came out with a strong statement on Russia yesterday. Does the administration have plans to keep the sanctions against Russia in place, or do they have any intention of adding more sanctions?
MR. SPICER: So there’s two things. One, I think I commented the other day on the sanctions that Treasury put out. Those are, in fact, routine — or the clarification — they are a routine clarification that occurs. With respect to the sanctions, I think Ambassador Haley made it very clear of our concern with Russia’s occupation of Crimea. We are not — and so I think she spoke very forcefully and clearly on that.
If I can, I’d like to go to the third Skype question. Christopher Sign from ABC15 in Arizona.
Q Sean, thank you for doing this. Hello from a sunny and beautiful Phoenix. With the likely confirmation on the horizon with a new Veteran Affairs Secretary, there has been discussion regarding privatizing the VA. There’s also still concerns regarding wait times, even overall care and some reports regarding a suicide rate. What is the reform that the administration is seeking here? Also, will the administration protect whistleblowers?
Second part of the question — we’ve seen protests here in Phoenix, as in the nationwide as well. When you talk about unity, what is the administration doing to bring more unity to the nation, and even more transparency? As here in Phoenix, we saw that secret meeting on the tarmac. How is the administration repairing all of this?
MR. SPICER: Thanks, Chris. First, I mean, I think the President, mostly through deed, continues to show that he wants to bring people together in this country, figure out how to move the country forward, both economically, job-wise. I think that is something that he continues to show a desire for. He talked about it in his inaugural address and the prayer breakfast.
So I think he’s going to continue to show through both word and deed his desire to move the country forward. I’m trying to think — can you go back to the first part?
Q That’s all right — the confirmation — the likely confirmation of the VA Secretary.
MR. SPICER: Oh yeah, Dr. Shulkin. Yeah, look, I think first and foremost on VA reform, the number one thing is to get Dr. Shulkin confirmed. And so many of these, as I brought up in the past couple days, it’s hard to talk about how we’re going to enact an agenda of reform when Senate Democrats continue to slow-walk some of these folks. And I think that’s a big problem. Dr. Shulkin is the right individual to reform the VA — to understand whether it’s lending or medical care, the problems and the challenges that we face at the VA. These are people who have served our nation and deserve the best care they can get, whether that’s the mortgage lending, health care, or the variety of other stuff that the VA serves or provides to our veterans. And I think that what the President has done is talk to people like Dr. Toby Cusgrove at Cleveland Clinic and other business leaders about providing a better approach to serving the needs of our veterans.
Right now, you’re right, there are still wait times that are unacceptable. There’s care that’s unacceptable. We’ve got to address that, and he’s going to continue to do it.
Q Sean, during the campaign, candidate Trump repeatedly said he was going to void the Iranian nuclear deal. Bottom line — is he going to do that, or is he going to let it stay?
MR. SPICER: I think today’s action speaks for itself in terms of the sanctions. He’s made it very, very clear, David, that the deal that was struck was a bad deal, that we gave Iran too much and we got too little for it. And I think that he is going to continue to be tough on Iran in a way that wasn’t done in the last eight years. I think today’s actions and the way that we expedited those sanctions are another example of how he’s going to stay tough on them.
Let me go to the fourth Skype seat. Dale Jackson from WVNN Talk Radio in Huntsville, Alabama.
Q Sean, thank you very much for taking questions from outside the elite media bubble there in D.C. My question is about immigration. Donald Trump made this the forefront of his campaign, the foundation of it, yet the DACA and DAPA programs still exist. And I learned from a member of Congress yesterday that the Trump administration is still issuing the work permits that (inaudible) individuals.
Question one is, when are these programs going to be ended? And question two, when will they stop issuing work permits to these individuals?
MR. SPICER: Thanks, Dale. I think as you know, Secretary Kelly just assumed office. We are reviewing these programs. We’ve made it very clear that we’ll have further updates on immigration referring to DACA and DAPA. The President has made significant progress on addressing the pledge that he made to the American people regarding immigration problems that we face, and I think we’re going to see more action on that in the next few weeks.
Q Sean, yesterday the President described NAFTA as a catastrophe. We’ve heard about his concerns with Mexico, but I’m wondering if you can outline some of the irritants that he finds along the Canadian border, and if there’s any talk of a meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau.
MR. SPICER: I think he has spoken to Prime Minister Trudeau. I know that they’re looking at setting up a time to come down. We’ve been in constant contact with Canadian officials, and I think that will be a meeting that is set up very shortly.
Q Thanks, Sean. Russia’s foreign minister has pressed the administration for further details on the President’s plans to establish safe zones in Syria. The President has said to have discussed this yesterday with King Abdullah. When can we expect further details on that plan?
MR. SPICER: That’s a good question. I think that we are — as you noted in the readouts from last weekend, that has been a subject that has come up with all of the Middle East leaders that he’s talked about. It’s an area that he feels strongly about. And I think as he continues to have follow-up conversations, we can expect further details. It’s something that — Secretary Tillerson obviously just got sworn into office, — that there will be further follow-up on that.
Q The President will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Abe next Friday.
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q So what’s the main topic for the meeting? Will the President tell Japanese Prime Minister Abe that Japan should pay more and pick up all the expense (inaudible) in Japan?
MR. SPICER: I think there’s going to be a lot of both trade and national security. I think as we get closer to that meeting, I’ll have further information on it. But right now, as you can imagine, there’s an economic aspect to this, and then there’s a national security aspect to this.
Q Sean, you have referenced polls a couple of times from the podium, but a poll came out today. CBS says the President has a 40 percent approval rating. We’ve seen the approval rating drop during the transition period. He talked about polls a great deal during the campaign. A, what do you think that says about the way the American people are looking at these actions that he’s taking? And, B, what do you think it says about his pledge to unite the country on the eve of his election?
MR. SPICER: I think there’s also a Rasmussen poll that showed he had a 51 percent approval rating. You had an Ipsos/Reuters poll that other day that showed — and again, I don’t have it handy, but a majority of people approved —
Q (Inaudible) those.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. And I think that as the President’s policies continue to get enacted, for all the hysteria regarding his efforts to protect the country, on those seven countries where we didn’t have the proper vetting in place to ensure that the American people were safe, what we did have was a very high response from the American people in support of that. His policies continue to do it. The President understands this is a marathon, and not a sprint. And as he continues to get people back to work, protect this country, I think the poll numbers will act in accord.
Q Sean, you mentioned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Does the administration intend to keep Richard Cordray as the head of that agency?
MR. SPICER: I don’t have a staff announcement on the CFPB right now, but we’ll see where we go.
Q You criticize the bureau broadly, but do you want to see it stay in place?
MR. SPICER: I think we’ll have further updates on that. That’s an area that we need to work with Congress on.
Q Okay, Sean, two things. One, you said something about President Trump talking on the Facebook Live that he was going to talk about Black History Month and issues pertaining to the African American community. When you first came, a couple days into the administration, I asked you about the agenda, the black agenda that he had possibly formulated or he was formulating as he came out maybe the day before with the issue of Chicago, or the day after — something around that time — Chicago and sending the Feds in if it doesn’t change. Has he now formulated a plan to deal with the black community, not just with issues of law and order? What is that —
MR. SPICER: I mean, he had a meeting with African American leaders the other day in the Roosevelt Room. I think part of this is, to your point, it isn’t just law and order — it’s jobs, it’s education, it’s health care, small business lending. There’s a lot that goes along with that agenda. And I think part of these business meetings they have are about hiring and small business and job creation. All of those issues, I think, are at the forefront of small business — or that community. So it’s not just a single thing. I think that there’s a lot, whether it’s crime and law and order, or education, health care, small business, job creation. That impacts that entire segment of the population, whether they’re living in a rural part of the country or an inner city. And I think that’s what he’s really focused on right now.
Q Sean —
Q Wait, I’m not finished. So he’s now formulating the agenda?
MR. SPICER: Absolutely.
Q Okay. So the second question — CVE. What’s on the table for that?
MR. SPICER: We’re not getting — I have nothing to announce on that right now.
Q You have nothing to announce, but people are concerned —
MR. SPICER: I understand people. I understand we’ve heard a lot of rumors about what may or may not. When we have something to announce on that, we will do it. But I don’t think it should be any surprise that the President, when it comes to rooting out radical Islamic terrorism, which is what that initially was supposed to be focused on, he is going to make sure that that is a major focus of his — keeping this country safe. And so I don’t have anything further for you on that. I’m just —
Q What about excluding people — there are reports about excluding white supremacists from —
MR. SPICER: There are a reports. I don’t have anything for you. I just said I don’t have anything for you, but I will be very clear that this President’s commitment to rooting out radical Islamic terrorism is something that is at the forefront of his agenda. And I know that there’s been a lot of reports about where that program or that effort is going to lie.
Q Is there going to be any kind of target on the issues of white supremacy?
MR. SPICER: I have nothing else. Thank you, April.
Q Sean, thank you. The President has been using some tough talk, tough language on Iran — “playing with fire.” Should Americans be ready for the possibility of military action with Iran? Is that on the table?
MR. SPICER: Look, I’ve said this before, the President has been very clear: He doesn’t take options off the table but he understands the impact of something like that. The sanctions today I think are going to be very, very strong and impactful. And I hope that Iran realizes that after the provocative measures that they’ve taken, that they understand that this President and this administration is not going to sit back and take it lightly.
Q Thank you, Sean. On Monday, several published reports saying that it will be a tie in the Senate on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, and Mike Pence will have to cast a historic tie-breaking vote as Vice President. Should we be watching for any surprises? Has the Congressional Affairs Office perhaps gotten one more vote from the “no” camp into the “yes”? Or do you expect the Vice President to be on hand to confirm her?
MR. SPICER: Look, I would say this: Betsy DeVos, as I mentioned before, is an unbelievable champion of education — for children, for teachers, for parents. I hope that that vote gets 60, 70 votes. She is an unbelievable, remarkable woman who has fought very hard to improve our nation’s education system and to make sure that schools are serving children. And I think that we are going to make sure we do everything we can, and we feel 100 percent confident that she will be confirmed Monday night and be the next Secretary of Education.
Thank you, guys. Have a great weekend. The President is about to sign executive orders. I hope you all have a great weekend. To those of you who can’t travel down to Florida, we’ll be gaggling on the plane on Monday. Thank you. Have a great weekend.
1:07 P.M. EST
FULL – White House Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 2/2/2017, #7
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:32 P.M. EST
MR. SPICER: Good afternoon. Happy Groundhog Day. We’ve got six more weeks of winter, apparently. Luckily, for those of you who are going to be joining the President down to Florida this weekend, you’ll get some time to get a glimpse of summer at the “Winter White House” in Mar-a-Lago.
The President is going to start his meeting at 1:00 sharp. You probably just saw the b-roll of folks from Harley rolling on in, literally. So I’m going to try to keep this a little quick.
The President signed a proclamation yesterday ushering in Black History Month. He looks forward to an engaging and informative month of events honoring the enormous contributions that African Americans have made throughout our history.
Last night, the President was honored to host the swearing-in of the next Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, in the Oval Office. As the President said last night, Secretary Tillerson is a man who’s already respected all over the world for the tremendous life that he’s led, and now will bring his years of experience to the critical task of making our nation safer, more prosperous, and more secure.
It’s time to bring a clear-eyed focus to our foreign affairs, and now with Secretary Tillerson at the helm of the State Department, we’ll do just that. We’ll strengthen our alliances, form new ones, and enhance America’s interests throughout the world.
Speaking of the President’s excellent nominees, praise is pouring in from around the country for his pick for Supreme Court. The Detroit News said Judge Gorsuch is a “legal superstar”; “an outstanding choice,” says the New Hampshire Union Leader. The Richmond Times-Dispatch says the “initial reaction” was “to cheer.” The South Florida Sun Sentinel touted his “excellent qualifications.”
Yesterday, Judge Gorsuch had his first round of meetings on the Hill. Unfortunately, Senate offices aren’t in the habit of releasing editorials, but from everything we heard, the Judge knocked it out of the park on the Senate as well. The President looks forward to a fair and speedy confirmation process for this exceedingly qualified nominee and jurist.
In my last briefing, I read out a list of the senators Judge Gorsuch met with. In addition to the meeting with Majority Leader McConnell, Majority Whip Cornyn, Judiciary Chairman Grassley, and Senators Hatch and Gardner, the Judge also met with Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Recently, Senator Manchin expressed his belief that Judge Gorsuch could win enough Democrats to hit 60 votes. I’ll agree with the Senator there on that one. I mean, we have to have a few Trump-state Democrats who want to win re-election.
But, as I pointed out yesterday, this so-called 60 vote “standard” is simply not accurate. Democrats are grasping at straws to block the confirmation of an unquestionably qualified nominee. I’ll repeat, neither of the two Supreme Court justices that President Obama put forward were subject to the 60-vote threshold. So although I agree with Senator Manchin that Judge Gorsuch will probably get enough Democrats to get to 60, it’s just simply not ever been a requirement.
Now, on to the events of today. The President started his day by attending the National Prayer Breakfast. It’s a tradition that continued over six decades, going back to President Eisenhower. The President thanked the American people for their faith and prayers that have sustained and inspired him, noting that the five words that he has heard more than any others as he’s traveled throughout the country are, “I’m praying for you.”
He spoke at length about the ISIS genocide against Christians and the oppression of peace-loving Muslims, as well as the threats of extermination against the Jewish people, and made it clear that he believes the United States has a moral obligation to speak out against such violence.
He encouraged Americans to remain a tolerant society where all faiths are respected and where all of our citizens can feel safe and secure. With that goal in mind, the President remarked that he’s taken action to ensure that the United States will not allow a beachhead of intolerance to spread throughout our nation. In the coming days, we will develop a system to help ensure that those admitted into our country fully embrace our values of religious and personal liberty and reject any form of oppression or discrimination.
The President also committed to get rid of the Johnson Amendment and allowing our representatives of faith to speak freely and without retribution.
In a particularly poignant moment during his remarks, the President recalled yesterday his visit to Dover Air Force Base to join the family of Chief Ryan Owens as America’s fallen hero was returned home. After honoring Chief Owens for giving his life in defense of the American people, the President quoted John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
After returning to the White House this morning, the President held a legislative affairs staff meeting in the Oval Office with his team. The team continues to work closely with Congress to enact the President’s agenda. With the nomination of Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, extensive outreach is underway on Capitol Hill and we look forward to the Judge receiving a swift and fair hearing.
Between his meetings, the President was pleased to see that EPA Administrator-designee Pruitt was voted out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. As has unfortunately become the practice, Democrats again boycotted the hearing, requiring a suspension of the rules in order to advance his nomination.
Following the strategy session, the President met with Senators Hatch, Wyden and Congressmen Brady and Neal. This meeting was an opportunity for the President to meet with the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee to help chart the future of U.S. trade policy. The President has put together an all-star trade team that will work closely with the U.S. Trade Representative and the committees led by these members to craft new trade deals.
The President has expressed his concern time and again with NAFTA, which he believes is an out-of-date agreement. The ultimate goal is to ensure the best and fairest treatment of U.S. workers and businesses, and the President believes that those interests are best secured by bilateral, rather than multilateral trade deals. He looks forward to working closely with the USTR and Congress when it comes to issues of trade.
For those of you who weren’t outside and just saw the Harleys roll up, it’s no surprise that this afternoon the President will host a meeting and listening session with Harley-Davidson executives and union representatives. For a list of those individuals, please contact our office.
Harley-Davidson has been an American success story since 1901, when William S. Harley, at age 21, completed the blueprint drawing of an engine designed to fit into a bicycle. In 1903, Harley-Davidson began building motorcycles in the United States. And today, the company has approximately 6,000 employees and $6 billion in annual revenue. The company’s global headquarters is located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — which may have had something to do with them getting in so quickly. And there’s a certain staffer.
Today, the President will welcome to the White House the latest generation of Harley-Davidson executives to discuss how to make it easier for businesses to create more jobs and factories in the United States. Beyond the company executives, representatives from the machinists and steel workers unions were also be in attendance.
Their motorcycles have carried our American servicemembers in war. They carry our police officers that keep us safe. They carry the Secret Service as they protect our presidents. And they bring joy to millions of Americans and throughout the world — and others throughout the world, rather. The President is looking forward to hosting these leaders from one of America’s truly great entrepreneurial success stories. The American worker built this country, and the President is focused on restoring a government that puts their interests first.
A few administrative notes. The National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, today announced additions to the NSC senior staff. David Cattler will be a Deputy Assistant to the President for Regional Affairs. John Eisenberg, Deputy Assistant to the President, NSC Legal Advisor, and Department [Deputy] Counsel to the President for National Security Affairs. Kevin Harrington, Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Planning. And Kenneth Juster, Deputy Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs.
Lastly, we had a great reaction to our Skype introduction seats yesterday. I know we’ve had a tremendous amount of requests pouring in from around the country. Please contact the press office if you know of any that has an interest in joining us in the future.
In terms of the schedule for tomorrow, the President will host a Strategic and Policy Forum. Then, in the afternoon, the President will have lunch with General Flynn before departing down to Mar-a-Lago later in the day.
With that, I’ll take some questions.
Q Hi, Sean. Thanks for the question. Today, President Trump talked about Christian genocide at the National Prayer Breakfast, and last year the Obama State Department officially declared a genocide by ISIS against Christians and other minority and religious groups in the Middle East and North Africa. Now that Rex Tillerson has been sworn in as the Secretary, what specifically is the administration planning to do to comply with the legal obligations of protecting these groups under the U.N. 1948 Treaty?
MR. SPICER: That’s a great question. I think Secretary Tillerson is learning his way around the building so far this morning. He gave a great speech talking about his vision and goal for the State Department. I think there will be further guidance coming out on that, Katie. Right now, his job is to get in, get settled, talk to the employees, make sure they understood.
But back to the issue, obviously it’s important to President. It was during — throughout the campaign. It’s something that he addressed this morning, and is something that he is committed to. He talked about it in terms of the executive orders, and allowing Christian minorities in key countries seek asylum in the United States. He recognizes that, in so many nations, these are the oppressed groups in accordance with how the U.N. defines refugees. So I think you’ll see further guidance with that.
Q Thanks, Sean. I have two questions, actually. Today, the President renewed his promise to protect religious liberty, which he says is under threat. Some Americans see religious liberty as code for discrimination. Can you kind of give us a sense of how the President views this tension?
MR. SPICER: It’s an interesting question, because I do — you know, this is something that comes up quite a bit. I think there is a line. We have freedom of religion in this country, and I think people should be able to practice their religion, express their religion, express areas of their faith without reprisal. And I think that pendulum sometimes swings the other way in the name of political correctness.
And I think the President and the Vice President both understand that one of the things that makes our country and this democracy so great is our ability to express our religion, to believe in faith, to express it, and to live by it. And that’s where I think the important part is — whether it’s a small business owner or employee, he wants to have some degree of expression of faith at the company. And too often those voices get pushed out in the name of political correctness.
So he’s going to continue to make sure that we not only speak up for it, but find ways in which we can keep that line a little less blurred and make sure that the pendulum doesn’t swing against people. We shouldn’t impose a religion on anybody. We’re free to express our religion or be — you know, not have one. That’s obviously, in our country, an equally valid way of living your life. But at the same time, I think people who want to express their faith shouldn’t be ostracized because they want to live that.
Q If you could give us an example, if you could, of the pendulum swinging in the direction of political correctness. And how is that going to inform the President with this executive order? And as you may know, a draft is circulating around town and many have wondered if that is going to be a way to either silence those on the left or be a threat to the LGBTQ community. Talk us through both of those.
MR. SPICER: Well, I think if you look back to the Little Sisters case, if you look back to other businesses that were, under Obamacare —
Q Would you put Hobby Lobby in that category?
MR. SPICER: I would, yeah. Absolutely. I think there’s several businesses and several institutions — Catholic institutions and others — that have been mandated or attempted to mandate certain things that they may or may not do or how they have to treat their employees. Those are instances where clearly the pendulum is swinging a different way, where you are not carving out institutions or the ability for privately held businesses to conduct themselves to live according to their faith or their moral compass.
And so there’s clearly a lot of evidence in the last couple years of the government coming in with regulations and policies that have, frankly, denied people the ability to live according to their faith.
Q From the President’s point of view, that’s discriminatory in itself.
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s — like I said, I think it’s a pendulum. And where the President is, is that he wants to make sure that you don’t penalize someone for wanting to express their faith, and that to the extent that we can keep that line a little less blurred and allow people who don’t believe in a faith or have an opposing faith, make sure that they are equally comfortable in the workplace. But we shouldn’t penalize people or mandate them to abide by certain policies or regulations which are in direct contradiction to their faith.
Q And what about the executive order, Sean?
MR. SPICER: There’s right now no executive orders that are official or able to read out. We maintain that there’s nothing new on that front.
Q (Inaudible) drafted along —
MR. SPICER: It’s not a question of — there are a lot of ideas that are being floated out — I mentioned this the last couple days. But that doesn’t mean — part of it is, as the President does all the time, he asks for input, he asks for ideas, and on a variety of subjects there are staffing procedures that go on where people have a thought or an idea and it goes through the process. But until the President makes up his mind and gives feedback and decides that that’s final, there’s nothing to announce.
Q Thank you. In light of the tragedy that happened in Quebec City last week, which Prime Minister Trudeau is actually calling an act of terrorism, what is the President doing, what initiatives is he taking to make sure that that kind of homegrown — because he was a Canadian citizen — homegrown terrorism, homegrown violence doesn’t happen within our country?
MR. SPICER: Well, there’s a lot of things. Number one, he’s talked cyber — I mean, he’s looking at it from every angle. I think the first thing is to make sure that we look at our borders. You’ve got to protect your own people first, then you’ve got to look at the cyber threats. I mean, so there is a holistic approach to both immigration and there’s a direct nexus between immigration and national security and personal security that he has to look at.
But then it’s a multi-tiered step. You look at the borders, you look at who we’re letting in, and you also look at what we’re doing internally with our intelligence agencies and the FBI that make sure that we’re looking at — whether it’s the cyber threats that we face or other terrorist activities — but making sure that we’re working with the NSA and the FBI to be ahead of the curve, if you will.
Q If I may, these are homegrown — Oklahoma City was an American kid.
MR. SPICER: Sure.
Q Okay. That’s all. That’s what I’m asking.
MR. SPICER: That’s what I’m saying. But I think that, part of it is, looking at using the assets that we have here — the NSA, the FBI — looking at using the different agencies to see if we can get ahead of the curve and see things. And a lot of times, that’s been a very big issue, is getting ahead of the curve for when there are telltale signs, having the reporting systems up, working with the various agencies. But it’s a multi-effort process, if you will.
Q Sean, thank you. Why is the administration easing sanctions against Russia?
MR. SPICER: We’re not easing sanctions. The Treasury Department — it is, from what I understand, it’s a fairly common practice for the Treasury Department, after sanctions are put in place, to go back and to look at whether or not there needs to be specific carve-outs for either industries or products and services that need to be going back and forth. But I would refer you back to the Treasury Department on that one.
Q Hold on, Sean. The language on the Treasury Department website suggests that you are, in fact, easing sanctions that authorizes certain transactions with the Federal Security Service. Does that not suggest a shift from what was put in place —
MR. SPICER: No, it doesn’t.
Q So explain —
MR. SPICER: It is, from what I understand, a regular course of action. The Treasury does, quite often, when there are sanction imposed, but I would refer you back to the Treasury Department.
Q Thank you. Could I ask you to describe the tone of the call on the weekend between the Australian Prime Minister and the President, and also outline the President’s concerns about the refugee deal in question? And I asked you this earlier this week, but could you clarify whether the deal is on or not? Because the President tweeted last night “I will study this dumb deal,” implying that he’s still considering it.
MR. SPICER: Right. The President had a very cordial conversation with Prime Minister Turnbull, where they went through an extensive discussion of this deal. The President is unbelievably disappointed in the previous administration’s deal that was made and how poorly it was crafted, and the threat to national security it put the United States on.
He has tremendous respect for the Prime Minister and for the Australian people, and has agreed to continue to review that deal and to ensure that as part of the deal, which was always part of it, that we would go through a very, very extreme vetting process to ensure that every single person that is being offered up is coming here with peaceful intentions and poses no threat to the United States.
So he has ensured that while he has respect for the Australian people and respect for Prime Minister Turnbull, that we do not pose a threat to the United States of America, that the deal that was cut by the last administration is something that he is extremely, extremely upset with. He does not like it, but out of respect for him, he’s going to allow that process — continue to study it and allow it to move forward under the conditions that have been set — that there will be extreme vetting on every single one of those individuals.
Q Just for clarity, the deal itself is still under review, so it’s not certain to proceed? Or it will proceed as —
MR. SPICER: Part of the deal was that — the deal allows for the United States to vet the individuals that are being offered up to be processed. The President’s goal is to make sure that every single one of those people, in accordance with the deal and as discussed in the telephone conversation with the Prime Minister, is subject to extreme vetting to ensure that no one puts it. But I cannot underscore how disappointed he was in the deal that was made and how he thought it was just a horrible deal that was offered up by the United States by the previous administration.
Q The President and his national security advisor have been clear the administration wants to put Iran “on notice,” but they haven’t specified what that is. What options are on the table? And are there any options, like military action, that might be off the table at this point?
MR. SPICER: So I think General Flynn was really clear yesterday that Iran has violated the Joint Resolution, that Iran’s additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel are ones that we are very clear are not going to sit by and take.
I think that we will have further updates for you on those additional actions, but clearly we wanted to make sure that Iran understood that they are on notice, this is not going un-responded to.
Q Thank you very much, Sean.
Q It was a Saudi vessel.
MR. SPICER: Thank you. Yes.
Q They thought it was an American, but it’s a Saudi vessel.
MR. SPICER: Right, that’s right. John.
Q Thank you, Sean. On January 27th, at the Republican retreat in Philadelphia, Vice President Pence had a closed-door meeting with House Republicans where several of them brought up the case of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. There was an attempt to impeach him last year, which some of the leadership in the House felt was unfair to the commissioner, and they urged him to tell the President that given his entire record, he should fire him or ask for his resignation soon. My sources said the Vice President said “I can hear you.” Is there any pending action on the fate of Commissioner Koskinen?
MR. SPICER: I have nothing to update you on.
Q On Yemen, it was initially described, the raid over the weekend, as a successful raid by the administration. There are now some questions and comments raised about the possibility of additional civilian casualties. So I’ve got a couple of questions for you on this one. Would you still stand by your characterization of the raid as “successful”? Was the President given multiple options about this raid, or just one? And were there consultations with the prior administration’s national security officials, military officials about the raid moving forward?
MR. SPICER: Thank you. Actually, I’d like to just walk through that. I appreciate you bringing this up.
There is — let’s go through the tick-tock on that raid. On November 7th, CENTCOM submitted the plan to DOD. Clearly, that was under the last administration. Legal teams were involved immediately when it was submitted to DOD. On December 19th, the plan was approved by the Department of Defense and recommended that it be moved ahead. It was sent then to the National Security Council staff here in the White House. Again, this all happened under the previous administration.
On January 6th, there was an interagency deputies meeting. The deputies recommended at that time that they go ahead. It was so easily approved it was sent straight up. The conclusion to hold was, at that time, to hold for what they called a “moonless night,” which, by calendar, wouldn’t occur until then-President-elect Trump was President Trump.
On January 24th, shortly after taking office, Secretary of Defense-then Mattis read the memo, resent it back up to the White House conveying his support. On the 25th of January, the President was briefed by General Flynn on Secretary Mattis’s recommendation and the status of the operation, or potential operation.
The President asked to see Secretary Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford. He then, on that evening, had a dinner meeting, which included the President, the Vice President, Secretary Mattis, Chairman Dunford, Chief of Staff Priebus, Jared Kushner, Chief Strategist Bannon, General Kellogg, General Flynn, and CIA Director Pompeo where the operation was laid out in great extent. The indication at that time was to go ahead on Friday the 26th.
In the morning, the deputies committee met again. It was not a necessary step because they had previously recommended and also reaffirmed their support for that. On January 26th, the President signed the memo authorizing the action.
So it was a very — not only was it a very, very though-out process by this administration, it had started back on November 7th in terms of — clearly well before that, but it was a move forward by CENTCOM on November 7th. This was a very, very well thought-out and executed effort.
Q Where was the President the night of the raid? How did he learn about Chief Owens’s death? And do you still stand by your characterization that it was successful?
MR. SPICER: The President was here in the residence. He was kept in touch with his national security staff. Secretary Mattis and others had kept him updated on both the raid and the death of Chief Owens, as well as the four other individuals that were injured. So he was kept apprised of the situation throughout the evening.
And again, I think — I would go back to what I said yesterday: It’s hard to ever call something a complete success when you have the loss of life, or people injured. But I think when you look at the totality of what was gained to prevent the future loss of life here in America and against our people and our institutions, and probably throughout the world in terms of what some of these individuals could have done, I think it is a successful operation by all standards.
And again, I want to reiterate, it is tough to ever use the word “success” when you know that somebody has lost their life. But when you go back and look at an individual that dedicated their life to serving this country, and went over and over and over again knowing that this not only the risk that he took but wanted to do it because he knew the threat that these kind of individuals pose to our country and to our people, that’s — while not a success that you lost to him, you know that he died in sacrifice for someone else here in this nation.
Q Thank you, Sean. I’ve seen some criticism of the President’s remarks at the prayer breakfast this morning. Can you shed any light on why he thought that was a good venue to mock “The Apprentice” for its ratings?
MR. SPICER: Look, Mark Burnett, the creator of “The Apprentice,” who is a long-time supporter of the prayer breakfast but also has a personal relationship, was there. He meant it as a light-hearted moment. And I think if you look at the totality of his remarks, they were absolutely beautiful. And I think to hone in on that, it was a light-hearted moment he was trying to have with a big supporter of the National Prayer Breakfast and a personal friend.
Guys, I’ll be out tomorrow. I want to make sure we all get to see the President now. Thank you, guys.
12:57 P.M. EST
FULL – White House Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 2/1/2017, #6
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:43 P.M. EST
MR. SPICER: Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for coming.
Last night, the President was honored to announce Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to serve as the next justice to the Supreme Court. It was an unbelievably phenomenal evening. Immediately after being announced, Judge Gorsuch was honored to meet with Maureen and Father Scalia. As some of you have reported, his first call after coming back behind the podium was to Merrick Garland, who I would also note has already come out to say that Judge Gorsuch deserves a fair hearing.
In less than 24 hours, Judge Gorsuch has already received widespread praise from across the political spectrum as an inspired choice, with sterling academic credentials, a brilliant legal mind, and a steadfast commitment to constitutional principles.
During his long career in public service, Judge Gorsuch has enjoyed bipartisan approval, having previously been confirmed by a voice vote to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. In fact, 12 current Democratic senators — including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Leahy — were all in office when he was first confirmed without opposition in 2006.
With as many as eight Democrats, like Senators Blumenthal, Durbin, McCaskill, already supporting a full hearing and vote for Judge Gorsuch, there is no question that he is a widely respected jurist who deserves to have his nomination fairly decided upon by the United States Senate.
Now that Judge Gorsuch has been officially named, I hope you all allow me to talk for a moment about how exceptionally qualified he is to succeed the late, great Antonin Scalia.
Judge Gorsuch’s academic record is impeccable, and as he said last night, the President holds education in the highest regard. Judge Gorsuch graduated Phi Kappa Beta [sic] from Columbia, graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School, and attended Oxford as a recipient of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship.
Like Justice Scalia, the cornerstone of Judge Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy is fidelity to the text. He believes that judges should base their decisions solely on the law and the — he believes — sorry, I almost screwed that one up — (laughter) — he believes his decision should be based solely on the law and the Constitution, not on their own policy preferences or personal feelings. He will be a reliable and principled voice on the bench, preserving equal justice under the law, regardless of background.
And I would note, I think — and I always want to caveat this — but to my understanding, I think he would be the first justice that will serve with the — as someone he clerked for on the bench. So it will be a sort of first when he is confirmed by the Senate.
Now, on to the issues of the day. Today is February 1st, which means we are kicking off Black History Month. The President has events planned throughout the month, starting today with a listening session that occurred earlier this morning with African American leaders in the Roosevelt Room. The meeting also included some of the administration’s African American appointees.
Later today, the President will issue a proclamation. The U.S. Postal Service kicked off the month by issuing the Dorothy Height Forever stamp, the 40th stamp in their Black Heritage series. Dr. Height led the National Council of Negro Women for four decades and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and the Congressional Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2004 — excuse me, 1994 and 2004. President Obama delivered her eulogy in 2010, and President Trump is now proud that the Post Office is honoring her incredible legacy as a civil rights icon.
At events throughout this entire month, we’ll celebrate the contributions of courageous African American leaders — from Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Clarence Thomas. African American history is American history, and this month is a great reminder of that.
Continuing with today’s schedule, the Vice President went to the Hill with Judge Gorsuch to meet with lawmakers for the first time since being named last night. On the Hill, the Vice President met with Majority Leader McConnell. And the staff spearheading Judge Gorsuch’s nomination will also meet with Senators Cornyn, Grassley, Hatch, and Gardner.
With Judge Gorsuch on Capitol Hill, I think it’s a good time to talk about the confirmation process. Neither of the two Supreme Court justices that President Obama nominated were subject to the 60-vote threshold of a Senate filibuster. They received bipartisan support because Republicans, despite some political and philosophical differences, viewed them as mainstream and qualified. And Judge Gorsuch should receive the same fair treatment.
Also this morning, the President met in the Roosevelt Room with representatives of outside groups to discuss Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, including David O’Steen of the National Right to Life; Paula White of the New Destiny Christian Center;
Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association; Penny Nance of Concerned Women of America; Charmaine Yoest of American Values; Juanita Duggan of the National Federation of Independent Businesses; Tom Collamore of the United States Chamber of Commerce; Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform; Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society; Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List; and Morton Blackwell of the Leadership Institute.
President Trump told the group that his decision on the Supreme Court is among the most important decisions he will ever make as President. He praised Judge Gorsuch for his academic and professional achievements and his lifelong devotion to the law.
The attendees thanked the President for making such an inspired choice and for delivering on what was, for many of them, their number one issue in the campaign. They committed vocally to supporting Judge Gorsuch throughout the confirmation process and expressed their desire for the Senate to move swiftly to give him a fair hearing and vote. The meeting closed with the President inviting the group in the Oval Office, which several attendees really enjoyed that honor.
The President then had lunch with Secretary of State designee Tillerson. Mr. Tillerson’s tenacity, broad experience, and deep understanding of the geopolitics are going to make him an outstanding chief diplomat for the United States, and the President is looking forward to the full vote of the Senate on his nomination.
Later this evening, the President will participate in a standing legislative affairs strategy meeting with his team, who have been working closely with Congress to enact the President’s agenda. So far, between the Vice President and staff, we’ve had many productive conversations with members of both parties, in both chambers, on a variety of issues, from trade to the President’s nomination for the Cabinet and now the Supreme Court.
Now, starting this week, our Legislative Affairs team will also conduct extensive outreach on behalf of Judge Gorsuch’s nomination process. Clearly, this administration has made reaching out to Congress a top priority, but you know where I’m going with that: Democrats in the Senate continue to use every tool at their disposal to try and get in the way of the President’s attempts to make America great again.
Just today, Senate Democrats again refused to even participate in committee votes for Senate [sic]-designees Price and Mnuchin who were moved out of the Finance Committee with zero Democrats present. Democrats also boycotted EPA Administrator-designee Pruitt’s hearing. They’re doing their constituents and our country a disservice by resorting to these childish tactics. The President’s Cabinet nominees will be confirmed on the floor of the Senate, once Democrats actually allow them to get a fair vote.
In other Cabinet news, Attorney General-designee Senator Jeff Sessions was voted out of committee today. We look forward to his full vote as the next Attorney General.
Additionally, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — designee — is expected to receive a vote by the full Senate this afternoon. And finally, Veterans Administration Secretary-designee Dr. David Shulkin will go before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs at 2:30 this afternoon.
A few more things before I open it up for questions.
In terms of the schedule tomorrow, the President will attend the National Prayer Breakfast and have lunch with Harley Davidson executives here at the White House. The President will also meet with Senator Hatch, Senator Wyden, Congressman Neal and Congressman Brady. Further guidance on all of those meetings will be coming soon.
A few personnel announcements. Today, the President sent the following nominations to the Senate: Rachel L. Brand, of Iowa, to be Associate Attorney General; Steven Andrew Engel, of D.C., to be Assistant Attorney General; and Rod J. Rosenstein, of Maryland, to be a Deputy Attorney General.
On another note, yesterday we talked about recent reporting concerning the President’s executive order protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry. I wanted to draw your attention to some polls that have come out on that subject. For all the hysteria around the implementation of this order, the American people as a whole are very supportive of the action that the President is taking. A new Rasmussen Report polls finds that 57 percent — which is a clear majority — of likely U.S. voters favor a temporary ban on refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen until the government can do a better job of keeping these individuals out who pose a threat.
A Reuters poll found that 66 percent of Americans believe that the United States should limit the number of refugees into the country. And the safety of the American people and the security of the American homeland are the President’s top priorities, and most Americans agree with the steps that he’s taking to keep our country safe.
Further, today the United Arab Emirates foreign minister voiced his support for the President’s decision to take our national security so seriously. The foreign minister also added that he believes the restrictions are not based on religion, but on the “structural problems” faced by these nations.
I know that there was a question on Monday regarding Iran’s firing of a missile and attack on a navy vessel. I’d like to introduce National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn to provide a quick update.
GENERAL FLYNN: Good afternoon, everyone. Recent Iranian actions involving a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants underscore what should have been clear to the international community all along about Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the entire Middle East.
The recent ballistic missile launch is also in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology. These are just the latest of a series of incidents in the past six months in which Houthi forces that Iran has trained and armed have struck Emirati and Saudi vessels and threatened United States and allied vessels transiting the Red Sea.
In these and other similar activities, Iran continues to threaten U.S. friends and allies in the region. The Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions, including weapons transfers, support for terrorism and other violations of international norms. The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East, which places American lives at risk.
President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran, the Obama administration as well as the United Nations as being weak and ineffective. Instead of being thankful to the United States in these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice.
MR. SPICER: Thanks, General. We are going to have a background briefing with NSA staff — NSC staff, rather, today at 4:00 p.m. here in the briefing room. Further details will be provided on that subject. So thank you, General, with that.
As we start off, I mentioned yesterday I’m pleased that we’ve expanded the briefing room — at least virtually. And so with that, as I begin to take your question, I’m pleased to offer the first-ever Skype seat question in the White House briefing room to Kim Kalunian from WPRI in Rhode Island.
Q Thank you. Good afternoon. Can you hear me okay?
MR. SPICER: We can.
Q Great. Just this week, the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island began calling our capital city a sanctuary city. As we know, President Trump’s executive order says the White House will begin publicizing a weekly list of these municipalities and pledges to withdraw federal grant money from them. What I’m wondering is, is how soon we can expect to see this list, and how soon should cities like Providence expect to see their federal funding cut?
MR. SPICER: Thanks, Kim. I think the President’s goal in ending sanctuary cities is pretty clear. We want to, as we mentioned with these other actions, keep America safe. The goal is to make sure on two fronts. One, we are doing everything we can to protect American citizens, institutions, and ending sanctuary cities is one of the ways in which we can continue to do that. Furthermore, the President has been very clear through his executive order that federal funds, paid for by hardworking taxpayers, should not be used to help fund sanctuary cities.
As we continue to implement this executive order and fulfill the pledge that he made, we’ll have further updates on how we tend to — on how that list will come out and when it will come out. So I look forward to following up on that as well.
With that, David Jackson.
Q David isn’t here but I’ll ask a question. (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: Go for it. (Laughter.)
Q Maybe he’s on Skype? (Laughter.)
Q The President’s daily briefing has been renamed the daily intelligence briefing. Can you tell me how that differs at all from the PDB? Is the President receiving his intelligence briefing in writing or orally, and who is giving it to him?
MR. SPICER: He did receive an intelligence briefing today. Congressman — or Director Pompeo was here. General Flynn, his national security advisor, his briefer. So he receives an intelligence briefing and the PBD every day.
Q Is there any sense that we should get out of the renaming of it from the PDB?
MR. SPICER: I think it is a more comprehensive — again, I think — we went through this during the transition period, right? There is a difference between the raw intelligence and the analysis, and I think he is constantly updated by his national security team and other intelligence officials. But every single day, he does receive the PBD. And then I think, on top of that, he is receiving intelligence briefings from his team.
Q But the oral briefing does not necessarily happen every day?
MR. SPICER: Well, I can get back to you on that. He does get the PBD every day and on a daily basis meets with his intelligence team, yes.
Q Two quick questions.
MR. SPICER: We’re not going to do this again.
Q On Black History Month.
MR. SPICER: Yeah.
Q Is President Obama being invited to any of the Black History Month celebrations?
MR. SPICER: Not that I’m aware of. It’s day one. We just started it off. We’ll have to get back to you on further details. I think —
Q And if I may —
MR. SPICER: We have a lot — there’s a lot of activities, as I mentioned, that the President is going to do to celebrate and honor this month. And this was just the first day of the month of February.
Q And today he made the comment about Frederick Douglass being recognized more and more. Do you have any idea what specifically he was referring to?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s contribution — I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made. And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.
Q Thank you. Very quickly, can you clarify what was meant by “we’re putting Iran on notice?”
MR. SPICER: Well, as I mentioned, I think General Flynn and the NSC staff will have a briefing at 4:00 p.m. They can go forward. I’m not going to — I think we wanted to make very clear that we felt as though that — their actions were both provocative and a violation, and making sure that they understood that we weren’t going to sit by and not act on those actions.
Q Are you building the case to —
MR. SPICER: I’m just — I’m not going to go any further than that, Kristen.
Q Okay, then let me ask you about — let me just ask you about the confirmation hearings. How does the President plan to get Chuck Schumer onboard with his pick for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, when he has referred to him as a “clown” and accused him of fake tears?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think those are two things. I think we’re going to — you look at the support that’s already come out. I think there’s eight senators already that have talked about the need to have a vote and his qualifications. And not just the Senate but I mean you look at the widespread support that came out for Judge Gorsuch last night across the spectrum. No matter your philosophical view of the Court, I think his qualifications for the Court, his academic background make him an unbelievably highly qualified person.
And so it’s not just Chuck Schumer; I think the rest of the Senate as he goes up there — but I think the interesting thing —
Q Sure —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, hold on. I understand that. And I think Chuck Schumer has shown time and time again through this confirmation process with the Cabinet that he’s more interested in politics than actually moving the government along. And I think that is troubling.
I would ask you that — I think that the question needs to be asked to Chuck Schumer: Why are you stalling all of these nominees? Why are you insisting on new requirements that you didn’t assume for Sotomayor or Kagan? I mean, there’s a point at which they need to get asked, why are they obstructing government at every step of the way? There’s an element to which they need to be held accountable as well. They held certain standards in place for their nominees, both for the bench and for the Cabinet. And the question is, are they going to live up to the same standards that they imposed on Republicans when they had nominees in a Democratic White House.
Q But does the President think that by personally insulting Chuck Schumer that’s a way to get —
MR. SPICER: But again, Kristen, I think the goal is to get — when — but again, I would go back. Chuck Schumer is not innocent in this. There’s a lot of comments that he’s made and a lot of accusations that he’s thrown out there and a lot of politics that he’s played. At some point, Chuck Schumer needs to be held accountable for his actions and his words.
Q Sean, the President today invoked the possibility on the Supreme Court, Sean, of the possibility of going the route of the nuclear option. If it gets to that point, is the White House comfortable with that path?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think the President made clear his goal today, which is, number one, he believes that Judge Gorsuch is unbelievably qualified and that he will get nominated — not only confirmed, but done so with a large bipartisan vote. As I said at the outset, Republicans looked at the qualifications of the two justices that got through in the Obama administration, and while they may not have agreed with their judicial philosophy, definitely agreed that they were qualified on the merits to be confirmed and they did so.
I think that we would ask that we be held to the same standard that the Democrats used when they had nominees up. But I think the President made very clear that the decision is something that we would rather not have to go down, but also that it is ultimately up to Senator McConnell and how he wants to operate this.
Q Thank you, Sean. Just one question today. Leading up to Judge Gorsuch’s announcement last night and him coming out after, there were still rumors that Judge Hardiman was going to be nominated and he, in fact, drove to Washington.
MR. SPICER: No, actually, John, he didn’t. That was media — that was misreporting. My understanding is that Judge Hardiman never left the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. So with all due respect, I can’t be held accountable for reports that falsely stated that he was here. He never was at the White House. My understanding is he had a meeting in eastern Pennsylvania with another judge. But it was — and, again, I’m not — I don’t track his whereabouts, but my understanding is he never left the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yesterday. So it was — we announced when we were going to make this announcement. I think it was a phenomenal way to introduce Judge Gorsuch to the American people and the United States Senate. We invited Democratic leaders, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Unfortunately, none of them showed up. But it was an opportunity for them and the American people to see an amazing choice that the President made for the bench.
Q My question, Sean, my question is —
MR. SPICER: You said one, John.
Q But I didn’t ask the question. My question is simply this: With the support that he received, the people who called the President, would it be safe to say that Judge Hardiman will be on deck if there is another vacancy soon — say, Justice Kennedy retiring by the end of the term?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s a lot of vacancies that we see at the appellate level and throughout the government. He’s an impressive, impressive jurist. Obviously the four that really made that final list for the President were unbelievably impressive. So I don’t want to get in front of the President.
Hopefully he continues to have the President’s support and is someone that the President was unbelievably impressed with. So we’ll have to see what vacancies come down the pipe.
Q I know you love when we say we have two questions. I do have two quick questions about something you mentioned at the top. First, you mentioned the three folks that are being nominated to the Department of Justice. Why are they being nominated now, before Senator Sessions is there? Is it because there’s a lack of people? Was he consulted? Or is it just because of the whole issue this week with the acting attorney general?
MR. SPICER: It’s the normal process of getting those — I’ve mentioned at a few briefings — the deputies, the unders, and the actings are in the pipeline. We announced one the other day for Homeland. We’ve got Commerce was previously announced. And so this is just a continuation of the process to fill —
Q So would then Senator Sessions — I mean, in speaking with him —
MR. SPICER: Of course. These are people that he is clearly aware of and supportive of, 100 percent.
Q Okay. And then the second question was, you mentioned tomorrow the meeting with the Harley Davidson executives. There’s reporting that he was supposed to go to Milwaukee tomorrow or he was supposed to. That was canceled because of the company. Can you talk about that?
MR. SPICER: I just think — look, it was easier for the executives to come here, considering the week and all of the activity that’s been going on. And we figured the easiest thing to do was — again, no decision had been made about or announced as to what we were doing. We looked at different options and, ultimately, the easiest thing to do in accordance with the President’s schedule was to invite them here to Washington to talk about some of the stuff that we’ve been doing.
Q Are you worried about protesting?
MR. SPICER: We’re not concerned. I think we’re not concerned about that. We’re concerned about American jobs, moving this economy forward, and we’re excited to welcome them here to Washington to talk about the great work that they do and the many thousands of people that they employ.
With that, let me go to the — we’re going to be here a while, guys. We’ll go to the second Skype seat. Natalie Herbick from Fox 8 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Q Secretary Spicer, thank you so much for this rare opportunity. I appreciate it. And I’m learning the ropes.
MR. SPICER: Natalie, you’re coming back. (Laughter.)
Q And I would like to quickly ask two questions, if I may. The first one being, President Trump has been quick to take action on several issues he’s addressed along the campaign trail. And with that in mind, he made a stop here in Cleveland and he said that he would like to make cities like ours the economic envy of the world — a bold statement. So our viewers would love to know an example, a specific example, as to how he plans to do this sooner than later.
MR. SPICER: That’s a great question, Natalie. I think it’s not just Cleveland but it’s Detroit and so many of the other cities around the country. You’ve heard the President talk about the need to rebuild our inner cities. We were really impressed with Cleveland this past July — we went there for the national convention — the people of Cleveland, their desire and the rebound that the city has taken. And I think that when you go to — whether it’s a city like Cleveland or Detroit through different tax and regulatory measures, there’s a way that we can continue to bring manufacturing back, we can continue to bring jobs back. And whether it’s Harley Davidson or Carrier or Lockheed or Boeing or the GM, Fiat, Ford, these companies, he continues to talk with about how they can bring jobs back, relocate. I think that was, again, another one of the conversations that he had with the pharmaceutical companies yesterday. How can they bring jobs back? How can we ease regulations to do that?
So it’s about making sure that we have an environment, Natalie, that allows more cities to compete, to grow the manufacturing base, and to recognize the things that we can do, tax-wise and regulatory-wise, to allow that to flourish.
Q Thank you. And Steve Bannon can be heard on recording saying, “Islam is a dark religion, not a religion of peace, a religion of submission.” Does the President share his chief strategist’s apparent beliefs on Islam?
MR. SPICER: No, I think the President has been very clear that his number one goal is not to target any one religion but places and areas where we believe that there is an issue. That’s what the executive order was all about the other day — making sure that areas that we don’t feel have the proper mechanisms in place to assure the security — that when they travel to the United States, that we know that they’re coming here for peaceful purposes.
The President’s number-one goal has always been to focus on the safety of America, not the religion. He understands that it’s not a religious problem, it’s a radicalization problem. There’s a big difference between Islam, the religion, and radical Islamic terrorists that come here to seek to do us harm.
Q But nothing about his comment that the President wants to distance himself from or even elaborate on?
MR. SPICER: I just think I made it clear that there’s a difference between the President’s view.
Q Thanks. There have been multiple reports of people landing Saturday in the U.S. with valid visas who were denied entry and placed on flights back out of the country. So that’s in violation of at least five of these federal judges’ orders that came down. Is the White House working to ensure that those people illegally deported can return to the U.S.? And are these court orders causing any second thinking about certain aspects of the order?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that we just — we issued earlier today some clarification — an update from the Counsel’s Office that clarifies section 3C and 3E that legal permanent residents, LPRs, do not — that the waiver — you no longer need a waiver. Initially, as the program was lifting off, the idea was that they would go through, be granted a waiver of which everyone was issued a waiver coming in.
In the sake of efficiency, we have interpreted the guidance to all of these agencies to both the Acting Secretary of State, the Acting Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security that the guidance is — that all individuals are responsible for the administration implementation of this order — that that does not apply. They no longer need a waiver, because if they are a legal permanent resident, they won’t need it anymore.
MR. SPICER: Yeah.
Q On Glass-Steagall, the President during his campaign said that he supported a reestablishing of Glass-Steagall legislation, which would separate the investment banks from the commercial banks. There’s legislation on both the House and the Senate side. It’s in the Republican program. Mr. Mnuchin when he was queried on the Hill by Senator Cantwell, who is the author of one of the bills, was a little bit more ambiguous on this issue. And I wish you could say something on where this President stands on this.
MR. SPICER: I think part of the reason that it’s — we’ve got to get a Treasury Secretary confirmed. And I think that when we sit here and get asked questions about policy and you go department after department, — whether it’s Treasury, Energy, EPA, HHS, HUD, Education — the list goes on and on. And so you ask about issues and where the President’s agenda is. Well, the reason that the President nominated these highly qualified people was to implement his agenda. And Senate Democrats continue to hold that up. And I think when you — you can’t — you’re asking us about how we’re going to move forward on an agenda, whether it’s Glass-Steagall or so many other issues. And at the same time, the Democrats are holding up the confirmation of these highly qualified people. Until that occurs, it makes it a heck of a lot harder.
Q But the President —
MR. SPICER: Major Garrett.
Q — still supports Glass-Steagall.
MR. SPICER: The President’s position is consistent, yes.
Q Sean, a broad topic I’d like you to take on, which is dissent within the administration, and specifically related to the President’s lunch with Rex Tillerson today. More than 1,000 employees at the State Department, Foreign Service officers and others, have signed this dissent-gape. Is it the President’s position that Rex Tillerson, when he’s confirmed, should go through the formal process, meet with those people, and have a dialogue as previous Secretaries of State have?
And is it the President’s point of view that when there is dissent, it can be rooted in a philosophical disagreement that’s not necessarily in defiance of his orders and that there can be a dialogue, and that it can maybe inform him differently about policy?
MR. SPICER: Sure. I think the President has always —
Q Because you said a couple days ago they should get out if they —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, I think there’s a difference. Just to be clear on this — every American has a right to speak their mind. That’s one of the amazing beauties of this country. You have the ability to write what you want through our First Amendment, and people have a right to speak out, and that’s not hampered. The point that I was making then is that if you believe so deeply that the policy is offensive to you, then you have to understand that the job, the way our government works is we elect a President, and that President gets to carry through their agenda that they set out with the American people during the campaign.
And so they have a right to express it. And I think Secretary Tillerson, for those who have gotten to meet him, has a very open mind and a desire to meet with people and hear ideas, as does the President, as evidenced through what did through the transition, and what he’s done since he’s become President. He has met with groups, businesses, associations, Republicans, Democrats, independents, that have been supportive of him, that have not been supportive of him. And I think that he’s going to continue to do that.
So people have a right to speak their mind, but I think there’s a difference between expressing dissent and concern, and not implementing a lawful order, as the acting Attorney General did the other night.
But again, I don’t mean to keep coming back to this, but you’re asking what we’ll do when Rex Tillerson becomes. And part of the problem right now is I can’t fully answer your question because Democrats are holding up and slow-walking this nomination. So to presuppose what Rex Tillerson is going to do — you know, again, I just — it’s ironic that we’re being asked what these secretaries will do when they get into office, and the Democrats won’t let them assume this, when we all know that the votes are there for them.
Q But I’m just talking about a particular process that has historically been (inaudible) in the State Department.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. And I think — but again, I think for me to presuppose what Secretary-designee Tillerson is going to do prior to him actually getting sworn in, I don’t — he probably will, I don’t know. But it would be irresponsible of me to answer a question about what he’s going to do before he actually gets sworn in.
Q Thanks, Sean. Senate Democrats have been described as “bitter” over the manner in which Judge Merrick Garland was treated when he was nominated for the Supreme Court. Do you feel, does the President feel that that bitterness is well-founded?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know, I’m not a Senate Democrat. I think they have a right to feel the way they do. I think we’ve explained our position, both during last year when this was going on, that we felt as though this was up to the voters to make a decision on. And as I pointed out yesterday, so many voters made up their mind based on who they believe the candidates would appoint. Mr. Trump — then Mr. Trump — then-candidate Trump, now President Trump was very clear about the type of people that he was going to put forth first in a list of 10 and then in a list of 11 additional ones. So I think the American people knew clearly where he was going to go. He followed through on that campaign promise.
And I think that when you look at the number of people who solely based their vote on that, never mind it was — and then you expand that, it was pretty clear that that was an important factor in the election.
So I understand it, but I also think that’s — we had an election, it was a major issue in that election, and I think that even when you look across the spectrum — Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative — Judge Gorsuch has an unbelievable record and is being praised for that record because of that.
Q I want to ask about Friday, and there’s been some reporting that there will be a meeting with President Trump and JP Morgan CEO and others. Can you tell us a little bit more about who else will be there and where things are at on financial reform? What message does the President have for bankers, specifically, on financial reform? We’ve heard so much about Obamacare and tax reform, but it seems like financial reform has sort of fallen by the wayside.
MR. SPICER: Well, I wouldn’t agree with that. I think that when you look at regulatory reform and tax reform, and all of the steps that he’s been taking to help the economy grow and to create jobs, that’s right in that wheelhouse. I hope to have further updates on the schedule for you tomorrow, but I don’t now.
Q Thank you, Sean. I have question about foreign policy, but I wanted to follow up. You said that LPRs no longer need a waiver, but you didn’t answer the question about what about the people who were put on planes, people who were LPRs but would put on planes back to where they came from. What happens to them?
MR. SPICER: Well, again, I think then they go through the process. It depends if they’re an LPR; if not, then they go through the application process. So if they are an LPR, a legal permanent resident, then they are waived, they can come right through.
Q So they can come back again?
MR. SPICER: That’s right. But I don’t know how many cases that applies to. I know that if they’re not a legal permanent resident, then they have to go back. And that’s part of this vetting process.
Q Sean —
Q Wait, my question is about the fighting in Ukraine and Russia-backed rebels are moving the lines forward. And I’m wondering if the President feels that Russia is testing him because this is coming so early in his administration before he’s had a chance to fully assemble his team, and what he plans to do about it.
MR. SPICER: The President has been kept aware of, through his National Security Council and his national security team as a whole, what’s been going on in the Ukraine, and we’ll have further updates as we go on.
Q During the campaign last January, Donald Trump promised that on his first day in office he would get rid of gun-free zones in schools and on military bases. When can we expect action on that? And if so, can you share details of what we should expect?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, I think you’ve seen that the President has been very active in terms of getting executive orders out and following up on the campaign pledges that he made to the American people last night, being another example of that. We’re going to continue to move through this process, and I think we’ll have further updates on where we are with respect to the rest of the EO process.
With that, I want to go to my third Skype seat, Lars Larson of the Lars Larson Show.
Q Commander Spicer, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for your service to America, and thanks for the opportunity. I’ve got a broad question. The federal government is the biggest landlord in America. It owns two-thirds of a billion acres of America. I don’t think the Founders ever envisioned it that way. Does President Trump want to start returning the people’s land to the people? And in the meantime, for a second question — since that’s in fashion these days — can he tell the Forest Service to start logging our forests aggressively again to provide jobs for Americans, wealth for the Treasury, and not spend $3.5 billion a year fighting forest fires?
MR. SPICER: Thanks, Lars. I think the President has been very clear that as part of an overall comprehensive energy solution, that we’ve got to utilize the resources that we have, that the federal government owns, whether that’s the forests or natural resources or minerals that exist above and below the ground, that we have too infrequently looked at our own resources and counted too much on foreign sources of energy.
So we’re going to continue, as Congressman Zinke goes through the process to head up the Interior Department, and Governor Perry goes through his appointment — his confirmation process, to get those individuals through, but then working together in areas where they have overlap and also on areas where they will act individually to realize, to look at those natural resources that we have and figure out how to best utilize them to benefit not just our energy, but also economic growth opportunities with that.
Daniel Happer (ph)
Q I was wondering about executive orders. You haven’t really explained why the President is using the executive orders in the manner that he’s doing so. Why not take this extreme vetting to Congress and have a congressional bill? And why not — I mean, what is the philosophy behind —
MR. SPICER: Well, I don’t think it’s a binary choice, Daniel. I don’t think it’s “only do this.” I think he has talked about — especially in the area of immigration — he’s been very, very clear that this a huge priority for him. And I think that he is going to continue to look at this from a holistic aspect. In other words, visas, visa reform, the wall, our southern border, our northern border — all of these things that — you know, vetting. Those are very, very comprehensive. And those things in which he can do through executive order and action, he will. Those things that he can do through working with Congress legislatively, he’s going to continue to do as well.
Toluse from Bloomberg.
Q The President’s top trade advisor, Peter Navarro, told The Financial Times yesterday that he believes that the euro is grossly unvalued, and Germany is benefiting from that and that’s why we have a huge trade deficit with Germany and with Europe. Does the President agree with that, that the euro is undervalued? And if so, does he plan to do anything about it?
MR. SPICER: I think when it comes to currency valuation, I’m not going to get — I think we’ve got a Secretary of Treasury that’s in the confirmation process. And once that happens, I think then Secretary Mnuchin will be able to address that, as well.
Q Sean, Dan Hausle, 7News of Boston. I’d like to ask you about Kelly Ayotte’s role shepherding —
MR. SPICER: I was hoping you were going to ask about the Patriots. (Laughter.)
Q Well, I would like to ask you about that.
MR. SPICER: You’ll get a second — (laughter) —
Q Okay, I’ll get a second. But can you talk about Kelly Ayotte’s role shepherding Justice Gorsuch around Capitol Hill?
MR. SPICER: Sure. Look, Senator Ayotte is someone who’s respected on both sides of the aisle. She has a lot of great relationships. She’s a former attorney general. She understands the judicial process very well, but she’s also — I mean, this process is a relationship process by and far. You’re going around introducing a judge, someone who has not generally been exposed to the legislative process, definitely not the congressional process.
Q Her relationship with President Trump was stranger in the campaign, and kind of —
MR. SPICER: That’s right. And I think that that goes and shows, as I’ve mentioned several times both through the transition and early, the President is not holding some kind of test about what degree of support you had for him. He wants the best and brightest to continue to serve this country in whatever capacity they can. I think Senator Ayotte very, very helpfully offered up her services. She’s got a lot of relationships on both sides of aisle. She’s got a tremendous amount of experience in this field. And I think the President thought she was extremely qualified to do this to help shepherd this unbelievably qualified justice through this process.
And so she, as well as the team that we’ve gathered of individuals on staff here, are going to help get Judge Gorsuch through the nomination process. And I would say, just as a side note, that if you look at the amazing job that has been done by the team during the transition and now to get these amazing individuals through the process, despite all of the hype that continues to go about this individual is going to face this problem, or which is the one person — each of them have really sailed through this process. And story after story says Democrats have tried to land a — take them out and couldn’t land a glove. They’re unbelievably qualified. They’re unbelievably prepared. And I think that the same process that we followed with this is going to be followed with Judge Gorsuch, and I think we’re going to have a very speedy —
Q As a follow-up — as an unbiased Rhode Island native, can you offer your Super Bowl pick? And President Trump has also showed quite an affinity for Tom Brady and —
MR. SPICER: I will. I think you know where I come down on that one.
Q Thanks, Sean. Senators Murkowski and Collins both say they’re going to vote “no” on Betsy DeVos’s nomination. That leaves zero votes to spare. And Vice President Pence would have to cast the tie-breaking vote. So my questions are, how confident are you that you have all of the other Republican senators locked down? And what’s the level of concern in the White House that her nomination is going to fail?
MR. SPICER: Zero. I am 100 percent confident she will be the next Secretary of Education. She is an unbelievably qualified educator and advocate for students, teachers, parents. I think that the games that are being played with Betsy DeVos are sad. She is someone who’s been a tireless advocate over the last couple decades to really support reforms that benefit children. And they are going to be the real winners with her as the Secretary of Education.
Q In terms of both the two Republican senators who are voting no on Betsy DeVos and the outcry we saw from Republicans on the Hill last week — earlier this week about how you guys dealt with the travel ban. First, is there more that the Trump administration and Trump himself should be doing to ensure that his party is on the same page with his priorities? And secondly, on the Yemen raid, can you give us more of an understanding of was there a discussion about the risks involved in this? Was it a straightforward decision? And do you guys still view it to be a success in spite of the death of a Navy SEAL?
MR. SPICER: So first, I would just note, Sarah, that I’ve heard story after story in the last 40 days about how whether — going back to the last question about these nominees and not getting through. Rex Tillerson was going to go down and so-and-so was going to — and every one of them, after they got to meet with senators of both sides of the party, have shown why the President chose them — because they were unbelievably qualified, unbelievably ready to lead and enact an agenda of change in the area of responsibility that they’re taking over. And I think the same is going to be true for everyone else who is remaining.
Q But two members of your own party disagree.
MR. SPICER: The vote hasn’t taken place. I think we’ve had some concerns in the past and I think when these nominees have met with them and shared with them their thoughts throughout the process — and, again, you can go back, story after story, and again, each one of these folks who I’ve heard isn’t going to make it, is going to go over the finish line each time. And I think that — we hear it over and over again and yet we succeed every time. And yet, another roadblock is put up — well, this person won’t succeed. And yet, you look at each one of these people going through the process and it’s worked beautifully every time. And I think we’re going to continue that path.
With respect to Yemen, I think it’s hard to ever say something was successful when you lose a life. But you’ve got to understand that Chief Owens — he went back, deployed 12 times, because he loved this country and he believed in the mission. And knowing that we killed an estimated 14 AQAP members and that we gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil is something that I think most servicemembers understand that that’s why they join the service.
And so you never want to call something a success, 100 percent, when someone is hurt or killed, and that was the case here, but I think that when you recognize that an individual like this loved this country so much and deployed over and over again because he knew that the mission that he was conducting was so important to our protection, our freedom, our safety. And I know that when the President spoke to Karen, his wife, and talked about the three children that he left behind, she continued to be impressed with — to impress upon the President, rather, that while it was an unbelievably sad and emotional time for her and her family, that he loved doing this.
And so, again, I don’t think you ever call anything 100 percent success, but what he did for this nation and what we got out of that mission, I think I truly believe — and I know the President believes — it’s going to save American lives.
With that, let me go to the last question on Skype and then we’ll continue. Jeff Jobe of South Central Kentucky — of the Jeff Jobe Publishing in South Central Kentucky.
Q Thank you for allowing me to be part of today’s White House press briefing. Clearly, anyone paying attention will see that President Trump is aggressively acting on his campaign promises. This in itself gives hope to my state and particularly the region in which I grew up, Appalachia. We’ve seen countless politicians make promises at both state and national levels, and not only forget us, but to turn on us. So my question is, how soon or when will the roles restricting coal mining, coal burning and coal exports be reversed?
MR. SPICER: Thanks, Jeff. I’ve talked about this a couple times so far, but I believe — or the President has very clearly stated that clean coal in particular is an issue that’s so important to our energy independence as well as our job creation in this country. And so whether you’re talking about Kentucky or West Virginia or Pennsylvania, or so many other places in this country that rely on coal, bringing the production of clean coal back is good for our energy independence, is good for our economy, is good for job creation, and is something that he continues to talk about. And I think once we have the Secretary of Energy confirmed, that we can continue to take steps to move forward with.
Q Two questions for you. After the primetime announcement last night, it seems like the numbers were good. Do you have a sense that this President will be more aggressive than his predecessors on seeking primetime air play for his announcements? And two, top Democrats are asking the Defense Department to investigate Michael Flynn’s possible violation of the Constitution. Do you have a — it sounds like you saw that story. Do you have a response to that?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, I think on the air time issue, that’s something that we’re not particularly suffering from when it comes to attention. And I think the President does a phenomenal job of getting attention and getting his message out. His use of social media in particular that when you look at the number of people — I think we had something like 11 million people watching the address on Facebook Live last night. Obviously if we have important issues to discuss with the nation, or announcements to make or nominations, then we’ll request time. I don’t think that that’s something that we’ve spent a ton of time figuring out. I think we’re doing pretty well on that front.
And then, I’m sorry, the second question, Mike?
Q The request from Democrats to investigate Flynn for a possible violation of the Emoluments Clause.
MR. SPICER: Yeah, so General Flynn, like I think probably countless, if not hundreds, of retired flag officers joins his speaking bureau, and has given speeches at various places. And I think that is something that is kept in practice. And the Department of Defense is the appropriate place for them to review it. But as I said, I think that when you look at so many countless retired flag officers, that’s something that generally keeps (inaudible).
Q Thanks, Sean. General Flynn, when he was up here, offered some criticism about the Obama administration’s handling of Iran in particular. Is that something we should be expecting to hear more from this administration, whether it be on foreign policy or other issues — criticism of the previous administration going forward?
MR. SPICER: I think in area where there’s going to be a sharp difference, in particular national security, in contrasting the policies that this President is seeking to make the country safer, stronger, more prosperous, he’s going to draw those distinctions and contrast out. But in this particular area, I think the President, when it came to the Iran nuclear deal, was very, very adamant in his opposition to the deal and to its implications.
And so he’s going to continue to make sure that the American people know that some of these deals and things that were left by the previous administration, that he wants to make very clear what his position is and his opposition to them. And the action and the notice that he put Iran on today is something that is important, because I think the American people voted on change. Again, this is another issue that he was very clear about.
So with that, thank you, guys. I’ll see you tomorrow. Take care. Have a good day.
2:32 P.M. EST
FULL – White House Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 01/31/2017, #5
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:09 P.M. EST
Good afternoon. I know you’re all looking forward to what promises to be a historic night for the nation and for this President. The President is very excited to make his announcement of the next Associate Justice to the Supreme Court later this evening.
According to some polls — and you know we love polls around here — for 70 percent of the voters, the President’s choice for Supreme Court was an important factor in their choice at the ballot box in November. For more than one in five, it was the most important factor. Tonight, he will formally present his nominee to the American people, and I can assure you that this individual will make those voters and every American very, very proud.
This particular choice is one that the President takes very seriously. He knows it will impact the course of our country’s jurisprudence for generations to come. As such, he’s taken careful steps to ensure that this process has both been transparent and inclusive. He has been speaking about the list of individuals that he may nominate since May of this year, and, after consulting with several influential groups, released a definitive list of 21 in September, pledging that his nominee will solely come from that list. He sought the advice and consent of both Republicans and Democrats, senators throughout this process.
The President recognizes the gravity of his choice to fill the seat left by Justice Scalia, one of the most steadfast protectors of our liberty and devotees of our Constitution that ever graced the bench. Whomever the President selects will be a worthy successor to the brilliant legal mind and constitutional dedication of Justice Scalia.
It’s our intention to start promptly tonight in the East Room at 8:02 p.m. Pre-set will begin at 6:30. The East Room will be available for live shots approximately 20 minutes following the announcement, and both the Briefing Room and Pebble Beach outside have extended hours tonight to accommodate any additional journalistic needs. We’ll have further guidance on tonight’s plans as the day evolves.
Moving to the news of the day, I know that Secretary Kelly, alongside other DHS officials, just recently concluded a briefing on the operational implementation of the President’s executive order. I think it’s pretty clear from the Secretary’s press conference that this executive order was enacted with the proper preparation and coordination between the White House and DHS, and that implementation will continue and proceed as planned.
We also have a few updates on the leadership of some of our most critical government agencies. Last night, as you know, the President relieved Sally Yates of her duties as acting Attorney General and named Dana Boente, as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as the acting Attorney General until Democratic senators finally quit their obstruction and confirm the unquestionably qualified Senator Jeff Sessions as our next Attorney General.
Ms. Yates failed to enforce a legal order, approved by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel and designed to protect the citizens of the United States. Calling for tougher vetting for individuals traveling from seven nations is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country.
Around 9:00 p.m. last night, the President signed an affidavit of nomination for Mr. Boente. As one of his first official actions in his new post as acting Attorney General, he signed a memorandum rescinding Sally Yates’ guidance regarding the President’s executive order to ensure its full implementation.
Last night, the President also announced the appointment of Thomas Homan as Acting Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and Director of ICE. Mr. Homan has had a long career at ICE, most recently serving as the Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations. Having a professional in place like this go serve as the acting director is critical to ensuring the efficient administration of the President’s agenda.
One other update on a story from yesterday. I hope you all saw the statement that was put out from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where Chairman Dunford noted — discussed the reorganization of the National Security Council. And he made it clear that he continues to fully participate in the interagency process and provide the best possible military advice to the President and members of the NSC. I really hope that that statement closes the book on the misleading narrative, and this should hopefully be the final time that we have to address what was in the national security directive.
The family of the President — excuse me, the President also had a very somber and lengthy conversation with the family of [Navy] Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens. The President offered his sincerest condolences to Officer Owens’s wife, his father, and their three children. Chief Owens was on his 12th deployment, from what I understand. We could never repay the debt of gratitude we owe him, the freedom that he fought for, and the sacrifice that he made, as well as the other members of his unit who were injured in this operation.
Today in the Senate, two of the President’s nominees advanced out of the committee. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the nominations of both Congressman Ryan Zinke as the next Interior Secretary and the nomination of former Texas Governor Rick Perry as the next Secretary of Energy. Elaine Chao also gratefully received the approval of the full Senate to become the next Secretary of Transportation. I expect further guidance on her official swearing-in to come very soon.
The Senate Democrats have done everything in their power to slow the work of the Senate, while the President continues to take decisive action, just like he promised. So it’s unfortunate that Senate Democrats remain so out of touch with the message that the American people sent this past November — that people want change. President Trump is delivering that change, and the only response from Senate Democrats so far is to try to stall the core functions of our government.
I know that I’ve repeated this every day, but honestly it’s getting a bit ridiculous. The idea that these highly qualified nominees have the votes for their nominations to be endorsed out of committee and get a full vote are being stalled because Democrats are boycotting the committee vote is outrageous. The mere idea that they’re not even showing up to hearings is truly outrageous. So I’d like to give a special shout-out to the folks at C-SPAN for making sure that all of these embarrassing actions by Senate Democrats get the wall-to-wall coverage that they deserve. Voters are going to remember what senators stood in the way of when President Trump — by President Trump trying to install his agency and department leaders the next time their name is on a ballot.
I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the numbers don’t lie. Sixteen of President Trump’s nominees to head major department or agencies are still waiting to be confirmed. At the same time in 2009, President Obama only had seven of these people awaiting confirmation. In 2001, President Bush had all but two.
Moving on, here at the White House, this morning, we reiterated the President’s intention to continue to enforce the executive order protecting employees from the anti-LGBTQ discrimination while working for the federal government or contractors.
Also this morning, the President had a breakfast and listening session with major pharmaceutical company executives in the Roosevelt Room: Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Celgene, Amgen, Eli Lilly, and the PhRMA trade group were represented at the meeting. Chairman Greg Walden, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, also participated. During the meeting, the President commended their progress in lowering drugs prices but also reiterated his insistence that there is more work to be done. He promised to continue reducing the burdensome regulations that raise the cost of doing business in America.
He was pleased to hear that the Chairman of Amgen, Robert Bradway, discussed how 1,600 American jobs will be added by Amgen. This administration will continue to prioritize jobs and make it easier for businesses around this country to hire more Americans.
The President had lunch with Mayor Giuliani just a short time ago, who serves as the CEO of an international security firm, Giuliani Partners, and was tapped by the President to lend his expertise to the administration’s cyber efforts. Mayor Giuliani was asked to initiate this process because of his long and very successful government career in law enforcement and his 15 years private sector security, providing solutions for the challenges that we face in the cyber world.
During the transition, the President announced that he intended to host a series of meetings with senior corporate executives from companies that are facing challenges, such as hacking, intrusions, disruptions, manipulations, theft of data and identities, and securing information from technological infrastructures. These are the same challenges facing the government that are facing public entities and businesses, and the President believes that solutions to these issues will often come from the private sector.
Following the lunch with Mayor Giuliani, the President will host a listening session with these cybersecurity experts and Mayor Giuliani. No consensus or advice on the recommendations resulting from the group are wildly expected, but we do expect a spirited and wide-ranging discussion regarding the growing cybersecurity threats that our nation is facing.
Later this afternoon, the President will sign an executive order — or potentially sign one — the federal government cybersecurity efforts, and give leaders the tools they need to keep the country safe from cyberattacks.
The order does three main things: It secures the federal networks we operate on behalf of the American people. It will work with industry to protect critical infrastructure and maintain our way of life. And it will advance the cause of Internet freedom.
More information will be available later this afternoon, but the executive order is the first step in the President taking to address the new security challenges of the 21st century.
The Vice President today participated in the Republican Policy lunch today in the Senate. He’ll hold several meetings with members on Capitol Hill, the beginning of extensive outreach by our Legislative Affairs team on the President’s Supreme Court choice.
Tonight, the Vice President will swear in Elaine Chao, as I mentioned. We’ll have further updates. We expect it to be at 5 o’clock in the ceremonial office across the way, in the Old Executive Office Building.
Secretary Chao is one of the most successful Cabinet officials in American history, having been the longest tenured Secretary of Labor since WWII, and also serving as the Deputy Secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush’s administration. She’s the perfect choice to lead the Department of Transportation into what promises to be a significant period of modernization and improvement.
As I already mentioned, the last thing on our schedule for tonight is the President’s announcement of the next Associate Justice for the Supreme Court.
Tomorrow is the kick-off for Black History Month, and the White House is excited to host a series of events this month in recognition of it. In particular, the U.S. Post Office will hold a ceremony tomorrow celebrating the official issuance of the Dorothy Height Forever stamp. Dr. Height led the National Council of Negro Women for four decades and is a true pioneer in the Civil Rights Movement.
Finally, a couple administrative notes. On Friday, the President will depart from this White House to the “Winter White House” down at Mar-A-Lago, where he’ll spend the weekend and be holding meetings. Further guidance on both trips will be coming out throughout the week.
And I’m excited to announce that following up on our announcement of expanding the press briefing room to Skype seats, we’ll officially be launching the briefing room tomorrow. The inaugural panelists will be Natalie Herbick, from Fox 8 in Cleveland, Ohio; Lars Larson of the Lars Larson Show; Jeff Jobe, from Jobe Publishing in South Central Kentucky; and Kimberly Kalunian, from WPRI in Rhode Island. Not sure how she snuck in there. (Laughter.)
I look forward to virtually welcoming them to the briefing room. And with that, some questions.
Q The removal last night of Ms. Yates from her position has raised questions as to how this President will deal with dissent in the ranks currently and in the future. Does he see what she said yesterday as a difference of opinion, an active insubordination? How would he read it? And how will he act on similar things in the future?
MR. SPICER: Well, there’s a big difference, John, between listening and sharing ideas, and executing lawful orders. It is the right of every American to express their idea and opinion, and, frankly, that’s what you’ve seen the President do today. We’re talking about leaving — at 2 o’clock hour, him sitting down with cyber experts to get their opinions and ideas on how to protect our critical infrastructures.
But there’s a difference. When she, as the Acting Attorney General, is not only responsible but required to execute lawful orders and defiantly says “no,” as someone who was chosen to lead a department, she was rightfully removed. That is a position of leadership that is given to somebody who is supposed to execute orders that are handed down to them properly, of which that executive order was 100 percent done.
Ironically, it went through their office’s — the Department of Justice Office of Legal Compliance. So the idea that it went through the entire process of which they were part of, and then she chooses not to execute it, actually is bewildering as well as defiant.
Q So is the President — so, sorry, can I just follow up on that? So is the President laying down a marker now to all of his Cabinet secretaries and all of his other officials to say, if I give you a directive and you do not follow it, you’re gone?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that that kind of comes with the job, right? If you don’t believe in the President’s agenda — and I think every one of the Cabinet members, every one of the appointees understands that they serve at the pleasure of the President. We talked about this at length during the transition. This isn’t about joining the government to execute your ideas or your initiatives. The President was very clear during the campaign, whether it was economic security or national security, that he has an agenda that he articulated very, very clearly to the American people, and that —
Q But —
MR. SPICER: Hold on. Thank you. And that it is his job to lay that vision out, and that the people that he appoints and nominates and announces as staff members or Cabinet-level members or agency heads, their job is to fulfill that. And if they don’t like it, then they shouldn’t take the job. But it is the President’s agenda that we are fulfilling here.
Q Thanks, Sean. As it relates to the executive order today, how will the Trump administration ensure the digital privacy of all Americans as the President looks to strengthen U.S. cybersecurity?
MR. SPICER: Well, look, just to be clear on the executive order, I think one of the things that the President — the reason the President wants Mayor Giuliani and some of these cyber experts to come in is to get their ideas, to make sure that where we’re headed in cybersecurity is fulfilling the intent that ensures that our critical infrastructures throughout the government and, frankly, throughout business — to the extent that the government can be helpful in that — are protected and secured.
So I just want to caution what we may or may not do today. I think the President has got a pretty good idea of where he’s going to go, but I think he wants to hear what Mayor Giuliani and some of these other experts have to say about the steps that we can take in terms of executive action that will help secure further these critical infrastructures.
Q Sean, I have a couple of questions. I want to go back to the issue of this travel ban.
MR. SPICER: Well, first of all, it’s not a travel ban. I think you heard Secretary Kelly — I apologize, I just want to make sure I get this straight. I think Secretary Kelly or one of the other individuals that got up there from DHS mentioned I think a million people have now come into this country. That’s not a ban.
What it is, is to make sure that the people who are coming in are vetted properly from seven countries that were identified by the Obama administration. A ban would mean people can’t get in. We’ve clearly seen hundreds of thousands of people come into our country from other countries. Sorry. Go ahead.
Q Okay. But mind you, I have two questions. (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: I know, of course.
Q So with all of this happening, and as you’re trying to give specifics about what’s happening, what is the concern about the fallout from other countries who are viewing this still in a certain way? Have you looked at the fallout and how to counter it, and how to work with these other countries that may be allies, or even may not be allies, in order to prevent something from happening?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think, April, one of the things that we’re doing is trying to make sure that people understand what actually happened. I saw reporting today that Secretary Kelly was out of the loop and he was on a plane and flying, and then it was reported on one of the networks and major institutions about what happened. And Secretary Kelly comes out and says, I was briefed on this time, I was talked on this time, the edits came from my staff. I don’t know how — I don’t want to spend each of these briefings talking about misinformation, but at the end of the day, a major newspaper and a major network reported today that they were kept out of the loop. The Secretary detailed multiple occasions in which he was briefed on it. His staff made edits to it.
I don’t know how much more — and so I think part of what we’re trying to do is make sure that people actually understand what happened, what the process was, and what the order actually does. Because when we use words like “travel ban,” that misrepresents what it is. It’s seven countries previously identified by the Obama administration where, frankly, we don’t get the information that we need for people coming into this country.
Because what this isn’t about is not just the people. It’s about the information that another country provides us. So we work with other countries, and we have systems in place to ensure that when you travel from our country to their — or from their country to our country or vice versa, that we are sharing information about passengers and citizens that are going in and out.
These seven countries in particular, we don’t have the information that is necessarily required to make an accurate determination at the time of entry into our country. So we are going to make sure that because that country doesn’t have maybe either the systems in place or, in some cases, the willingness to provide us the information necessary to ensure that the people that are coming into this country are properly vetted.
This isn’t about refugees, it’s about travelers. And that’s what this is about.
And so part of what we’re doing is, frankly, making sure that other countries understand exactly what was in the order, how it, how it applies, what it means to visas and waivers and all this kind of stuff. But for the most part, you’ve seen a lot of panic, and the people actually stopping, reading the order, and realizing, “oh, that’s it?”
And I think that’s what we’ve tried to make sure that people have the facts.
Q So you’re doing outreach for that?
MR. SPICER: We’re doing — we’re not just doing outreach. I think we’re doing as many briefings — Secretary Kelly going out there a little while ago with the head of both ICE and CBP is trying to make sure that people understand that the process is working correctly — it’s working very well — that the government is doing what it’s supposed to, to protect its people. And that’s the number one thing that we can do.
Q One other — you said, two.
MR. SPICER: I’m sorry. You’re right.
Q Now, the President met with the pharmaceutical heads.
MR. SPICER: Yeah.
Q When is this meeting scheduled for Congressman Elijah Cummings and President Trump, after that call that President Trump made —
MR. SPICER: Right. My understanding is that Congressman Cummings was — he was invited to this meeting. He had a scheduling conflict, and we’re looking at setting it back up. But he was invited to the meeting today. He informed us he had a scheduling conflict. And we’re looking to get it back on the books as soon as we can.
Q Would it be one on one? Not —
MR. SPICER: I expect at this point it will be one on one.
Q Thanks, a lot, Sean. Does the President anticipate a difficult confirmation fight for his nominee, whoever that is?
MR. SPICER: No. I think we’ve proven so far that the Democrats can try to obstruct, but at the end of the day, the will of the American people is going to overcome that.
And again, what I mentioned at the outset of this is the advice and consent piece of this. He and our team have met with senators from both sides of the aisle to make sure that we understand the qualities that they are looking for in the next associate justice. And I think that we have done a very, very good job of getting a nominee in place that will be announced tonight that meets the criteria that they set forth. They may not like their political or philosophical background, but I think the criteria in terms of academia background, time on the bench, the expertise and criteria meets the intent of both Republicans and Democrats.
Q Do you believe you can get nine Democrats to support this nominee?
MR. SPICER: I do. Absolutely. Because I think at the end of the day, one of the things that’s been a time-honored tradition in this country is that we recognize that the confirmation process is — the default is that if you’re qualified for the position, then you should be confirmed. Not the other around.
And I think that most Democrats realize that at some point that is — having a court that is not fully operational is not the political fight to have.
Q Sean, let me ask you the obvious follow-up question then. At least one Republican senator has said Democrats have removed the filibuster from just about every other appointment, aside from the Supreme Court. And he said several Republicans say they would have no hesitation about moving for another nuclear option if Democrats attempt a filibuster of any of the possible nominees. Is this something the President would support? And has he discussed it with members of the Senate?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think first and foremost taking a step to the last question, I think we’re going to get the nine senators regardless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more. When you look — and I’ll be able to shed more light on this tomorrow in terms of the background. But I think that he is — we’ve got an individual that I think is hopefully going to garner widespread bipartisan support because I think this individual has the qualifications and the experience and the judicial philosophy that should win bipartisan support.
That being said, beyond that, I would suggest that that’s — Senator McConnell has done a phenomenal job of moving things along in the Senate to the extent that Democrats will let him. And I’ll leave any further questions on how the Senate operates to him.
Q Sean, thanks. We know that the list of 21 was put out during the campaign. We know that, at 8:02 tonight, the President is going to reveal his selection. Can you kind of fill the gap in between as to how often the President might have spoken with this person, whether there were any meetings here at the White House, just any of the — how he got there? And then the last hours — (laughter) — or in the last days here, really, who has he leaned on to kind of narrow this down? And then a follow-up, if you don’t mind.
MR. SPICER: I will say, I think I can probably shed a lot more light on this tomorrow. I appreciate the effort to try to head that off. Tomorrow I think we might be able to have a little bit more of a discussion as to how the President came to this choice. He may touch on it a little tonight; I’ll leave it to him. But I appreciate that.
Q Let me ask you about the news of the day. Prescription drug prices — the President met with the pharma leaders earlier today. What makes him so confident that he can drive down drug prices, whereas administrations past have tried to do the same but haven’t been able to? How is he going to go about it?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think it’s the story of his entire administration. He’s a successful businessman and a top-notch negotiator. Several people tried to get the cost of planes down, the cost of the F-35 and the cost of the Air Force One. And through a couple of conversations, he did it — shaved billions off of the cost of both — excuse me, off the F-35 and significant off the next generation of Air Force One.
I think he has a track record so far just during the transition, but also as a businessman — he knows how to negotiate. And I think he is going to sit down with these individuals the same way that he’s getting people to understand the agenda and the regulatory and tax climate that he wants to institute that’s bringing jobs home. People are making a commitment to him to bring jobs and manufacturing back based on his track record as a businessman and his word. They understand that he’s going to create a climate that supports the American worker and American manufacturing.
So I think — you look over and over again, the number of companies that want to come back and say, we want to be part of this agenda to grow the economy and to create jobs or to help you fight on behalf of taxpayers, and I think you’re going to continue to see that.
He understands the challenges that the bureaucracy that’s holding back some of the negotiating, that’s allowing these prescription drug prices to drop or get the best deal for the government in cases whether it’s Medicare or Medicaid, who are such large buyers of the VA — that you’re not — you have got such purchasing power that’s not being utilized to the full extent.
Q Thank you, Sean. The President is meeting with Mayor Giuliani today. What do you think of the mayor’s claim that the executive order on those seven countries evolved from the Muslim ban that the President proposed during the campaign? Is that accurate?
MR. SPICER: I think the President has talked about extreme vetting and the need to keep America safe for a very, very long time. At the same time, he’s also made very clear that this is not a Muslim ban. It’s not a travel ban. It’s a vetting system to keep America safe — that’s it, plain and simple. And all of the facts and a reading of it clearly show that that’s what it is.
Q Mayor Giuliani stressed that too, but he said that it came out of the desire to have a Muslim ban.
MR. SPICER: Then you should ask Mayor Giuliani. That’s his opinion. I’m just telling you what the President has said and what the President has done has been to focus on making sure that we keep the country safe and that the executive order that was drafted does just that — is to make sure and to ensure that people coming in from seven countries, identified by the Obama administration, that we didn’t have the proper systems to know who was coming into our country was put in place, and a 90-day period was also granted to ensure that we knew how to further address vetting situations in the future.
Q Thanks, Sean. Just following up again about the strike over the weekend in Yemen. Can you confirm that the eight-year-old — the reports that the eight-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in that strike? And if you can address sort of the killing of the American citizen in this anti-terrorism operation.
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to go any further than what the Department of Defense has released. Obviously, we recovered a tremendous amount of information, and we killed an estimated 14 members of al Qaeda in — AQAP individuals. And then we suffered the loss of life of a servicemember, and four people were injured. That’s as far as I’m willing to go at this time.
Q Sean, thanks. You’re saying it’s not a ban. This was President Trump’s tweet yesterday: “If the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week.” So he says it’s a ban.
MR. SPICER: He’s using the words that the media is using. But at the end of the day, it can’t —
Q Those are his words.
Q Wait a minute.
MR. SPICER: Hold on, hold on, hold on. It can’t be —
Q That’s his words, his tweet.
MR. SPICER: Jonathan, thanks, I’ll let Kristen talk. It can’t be a ban if you’re letting a million people in. If 325,000 people from another country can’t come in, that is by nature not a ban — it is extreme vetting.
Q I understand your point. But the President himself called it a ban.
MR. SPICER: I understand that.
Q Is he confused or are you confused?
MR. SPICER: No, I’m not confused. I think that the words that are being used to describe it are derived from what the media is calling this. He has been very clear that it is extreme vetting.
Q It seems to fit into this broader point, Sean, which Paul Ryan said today: “I think it’s regrettable that there was some confusion on the rollout of this.” The House Speaker saying that. What do you say to Republicans who argue that this is a part of a broader issue with the President not enacting this policy smoothly?
MR. SPICER: Well, first of all, I think we’ve addressed that — that we could have either telegraphed this days in advance, in which people could have gotten on planes and come over here, which would have undermined the exact nature of what this sought to prevent. Or we could have done it in a way that inconvenienced some folks for a little while —
Q But do you dispute that there was confusion —
MR. SPICER: Can I answer the — no, no, I do — there’s clearly some confusion. But I think part of it, your network was one of the people that just hours ago told people that General Kelly was unaware of what’s going on. And then moments later he gets on air saying, here’s how many times I got briefed. So, I mean, with all due respect, I think you have been part of the confusion. You have helped cause this, despite claims that whatever. You claim that you have sources that tell us. General Kelly stands up and says, this is how many times I’ve been briefed, this is how many people were involved. And yet you were out there for —
Q I think there was a New York Times report that was cited —
MR. SPICER: Oh, okay, so I apologize if NBC News’s reporting is based on The New York Times’s false reporting.
Q It was accurate reporting, Sean.
MR. SPICER: How can it be accurate reporting, Glenn, if —
Q Both things can be true.
Q It was accurate reporting, Sean.
MR. SPICER: Okay, so the —
Q They can be true that he —
MR. SPICER: The Secretary of Homeland Security just stood up, and so you’re calling him a liar?
Q He didn’t say he saw the specifics of the —
MR. SPICER: Jonathan, I’m talking to Glenn. I’m talking to Glenn.
Q No one is calling anyone a liar. I’m saying we —
MR. SPICER: You said that the report in the New York Times said that he was unaware of the ban.
Q Sean, let me ask you a question.
MR. SPICER: Hold on. No, no, answer the question. Because you just called this —
Q So a couple of minutes ago you stood at the podium and you reiterated something you said yesterday about anyone who doesn’t agree in terms of career bureaucracy should hit the road. I’m paraphrasing. You had a statement that President Trump made where he accused the acting Attorney General of “betraying” her own department by expressing a counter opinion. Don’t you think that kind of language has a chilling effect on the public statements that your officials make?
MR. SPICER: No, I think there’s a big difference. Think about the process that worked it here. The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Compliance vetted the executive order, sent it back to us saying it was completely compliant. Then the acting Attorney General goes out and says, I’m not going to enforce it. You tell me how that jives. Because at the end of the day, if the action Attorney General has an office under her jurisdiction that says that something is legal and compliant, and then she gets out there and says, I’m not going to enforce it, that doesn’t sound like an Attorney General that is upholding the duty that she swore to uphold.
Q Well, if she think it’s illegal —
MR. SPICER: At the end of the day — then she should step down. But at the end of the day, the Attorney General either had a problem with her own division approving something. But it wasn’t the President she had a problem with. The President followed the process, sought feedback, went through the inter-agency review, had other departments sign off, despite the reporting that said it was otherwise.
Q But is this a betrayal, though?
MR. SPICER: Hold on. Guys —
Q Is it a betrayal?
MR. SPICER: David.
Q That’s a very hard word.
MR. SPICER: Why don’t we just let me answer Glenn so we can be polite now, huh?
And what the answer is, is that we went through the process. The Office of Legal Compliance came back and said, this is a compliant executive order, it’s fully legal, and it can be executed.
So then for the Attorney General to turn around and say, I’m not going to uphold this lawful executive order is clearly a dereliction of duty. And she should have been removed, and she was. I just — it is odd to me that we’re having a discussion about somebody whose job it is to execute lawful orders who chose not to do it — hold on — who chose not to do it, and then we’re questioning whether or not we were right to remove her. That’s the right thing to do.
And if you looked at the folks from the right and the left, constitutional scholars this morning — they said, we might not agree with some of the policies or the political — or the party of the President, but he was right to do this. He had every right —
Q So why use the word “betrayal” —
MR. SPICER: Because the department’s job is to execute. They’re the Department of Justice. And if you have a legally executed order and the Attorney General says, I’m not going to execute it, that truly — that clearly is a betrayal of what she’s —
Q Let’s define the word “betrayal.”
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to define the word, Glenn.
Q Sean, I think the New York Times report said that the Secretary did not receive a full briefing until the executive order was being signed. So my question is, can we expect that secretaries, agency heads, when there are future executive orders or changes of policy, may not receive full briefings before —
MR. SPICER: Look, the Secretary was briefed on multiple occasions with the language of the order. I don’t know how you can say this any other way.
Q Well, I’m just talking about a full briefing, which is what the New York Times reported.
MR. SPICER: And I’m telling you that I don’t believe the New York Times reporting is accurate. What I’m telling you is that the Secretary on multiple occasions was briefed, his senior officials were briefed — not just briefed; they were part of the drafting process. It went through — not only that. Just back up. So they get consulted and briefed. It goes through the Office of Legal Compliance. Then it gets shipped out to the NSC and the Homeland Security Council. This went through a very, very extensive staffing process.
So the idea that you can talk whether or not he got fully briefed or — he was briefed multiple times, saw the language. His staff made edits. It came back multiple times. I’m not sure how much more briefing you can do.
Q Thank you, Sean. Zoe Daniel, from Australian Broadcasting. Thanks for taking the question. The Australian government made a recent deal with the Obama administration whereby the U.S. would take refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centers. Now most of these people are from Iran, but also some are from Iraq and Somalia, among other places. Can you confirm that this deal is still on? Are those refugees exempt from what you describe as the extreme vetting? Or will that deal change or be delayed?
MR. SPICER: So the deal specifically deals with 1,250 people. They’re mostly in Papua New Guinea, being held. Those people — part of the deal is that they have to be vetted in the same manner that we’re doing now. There will be extreme vetting applied to all of them. That is part and parcel of the deal that was made. And it was made by the Obama administration with the full backing of the United States government.
The President, in accordance with that deal to honor what had been agreed upon by the United States government, and in ensuring that that vetting will take place in the same manner that we’re doing it now, will go forward.
Q The big question — looking at the bigger picture — this President, when he came in, said he was going to gather us all together, that he was going to bring us together. And the actions taken in the first 10 days seem to indicate otherwise from people in his own party — the use of the word “betrayal.” How is this President going to address the fact that people are looking to him to bring people together, and yet with his own words seems to be driving us apart?
MR. SPICER: I think that’s a very one-sided way of looking at this. I think he’s brought —
MR. SPICER: I will. I think he’s brought unions together, business leaders together, Republicans, Democrats, independents. I think someone who doesn’t carry out an act and using that as a way to describe that he’s not bringing the country together is not exactly a representation.
Q I have one quick follow-up.
MR. SPICER: Hold on. I don’t — I’m not — the President has done a tremendous amount through both what he has said and done, more importantly, to start to bring this country together. And his policies, frankly, are focused on keeping every American safe and getting every American a higher-paying and better-paying job. I think that is something that benefits all of us.
Q The follow-up — I asked you about a shield law for journalists last week. You said you would get with this?
Q If I could just —
MR. SPICER: Hold on.
Q — ask real quick on trade. Now that notices have been given to the TPP countries, are you considering any changes in the roles of your three sort of official trade negotiators? And what area of the globe are you going to start first on negotiations?
MR. SPICER: Well, there’s no change in their roles. I’m not entirely sure. I think they — as announced —
Q (Inaudible) negotiator —
MR. SPICER: He is the U.S. — I mean, he’s got to be confirmed first, but the U.S. trade representative is clearly the leader of negotiating trade deals. Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro and Jason Greenblatt — there’s a great, unbelievably robust, brilliant team that has continued to work on behalf of deals and renegotiating, looking at them. So it’s a two-step process.
I think, number one, we’re going to reexamine all of the current trade deals, figure out if we can re-improve them. But secondly, I think we’re going to start talking to other countries around the globe, including some of those TPP partners. I think of the 11 other countries, five of them we have current trade deals with. So you would examine those to see if we can improve upon them and then look at the other countries in there and see if there’s a willingness to engage with some of those other countries.
Q Sean, the President has previously indicated that he would encourage the targeting of families of terror suspects. Is that still his current position?
MR. SPICER: When did he say that?
Q December 3rd, on Fox. He said, “The other thing with [the] terrorists is you have to take out their families.” Is that still his position?
MR. SPICER: I think he’s been very clear that when it comes to seeking out ISIS and other terrorists, that he’s going to lean on Director Pompeo, General Mattis, and seek their opinion on stuff. And I think that will be continued.
Q Even the families of terror suspects, civilian members of families, Sean?
MR. SPICER: Thank you. Rebecca.
Q On Guantanamo, Sean. Thanks for taking this question. I know that you’ve indicated at that podium that there will be further action. What does this look like? And there are five detainees that have been cleared for transfer that are sitting at Guantanamo. Would this administration take action in the next coming months on those detainees?
MR. SPICER: I think all of those actions are being currently reviewed, and we don’t have anything further at this time.
Q The Obama administration’s endangerment finding undergirds the Clean Power Plan. Does the President still plan to revoke the Clean Power Plan? And would he perhaps even go further and try and revoke the endangerment finding?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think the President has made very clear with respect to energy policy that he wants to review all of the options that we have to use our natural resources to better the country in terms of wind power, solar, clean coal. We’re in the process of reviewing all of our energy policies. I’d go back to note that we don’t have an Energy Secretary confirmed right now because the Senate hasn’t yet moved forward with that. I hope that once that’s done, we will have further updates on energy.
Q Sean, Sally Yates was obviously an Obama appointee, was holding it through the transition. How many more of them are there throughout the government at this time, as the transition and confirmation process plays out? And do you expect any more problems from any of the other ones?
MR. SPICER: In some cases, we’ve held some individuals over because they hold a critical position within government. In some cases, we’ve named folks as acting. It’s a case-by-case basis. And again, I think part of it right now is the President wanted to focus on getting his Cabinet up and complete. We’ll continue to make nominations both at the deputy, under and assistant secretary-level.
But in key agencies — so, ICE being one of them, where it’s an assistant secretary. But there are 30 other agencies where we’ve named acting heads to ensure that as we move through the confirmation process, we have somebody in that position to ensure continuity of government.
Q Sean, yesterday you said 109 individuals were affected by this extreme vetting.
MR. SPICER: Right.
Q DHS officials said that it was over 1,100.
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, hold on. First of all, just to be clear, what they’re talking about is the number of people who weren’t allowed to board a plane coming in. So they were stopped at their port of entry, had to get additional clearance, and then take off. There’s a big difference. The numbers that we’re talking about were the initial group of people that were in transit at the time the executive order was signed.
And then there’s another group of people — and the Department of Homeland Security has those numbers up to date on their website — where they’re talking about people that are stopped at the port of entry to ensure that they’re properly vetted before they board a plane. There’s a very, very delicate distinction between people who were on the plane coming into this country when the executive order was signed, all of who have been vetted and cleared, and the people who have been stopped at a port of entry in one of those seven countries to ensure that the proper vetting took place before they were able to move on.
Q Sean, Hallie’s question was about civilians that are being targeted by the administration in anti-terror raids. And Zeke’s question was about al-Awlaki’s daughter. So let me ask you: Is the President willing to kill and target American citizens, even minors, just because their family members are terrorists?
MR. SPICER: No American citizen will ever be targeted.
Q One more follow-up there. If you’re qualified for the position — you said earlier, if you’re qualified for the position, you should get confirmed. That’s not how Merrick Garland was treated in the previous administration.
MR. SPICER: No, there’s never been a situation in which you had a fourth-term — someone that late in an election cycle. That had never occurred before. And I think that the Senate Republicans were very clear that we should wait and let the voters have a choice, and that’s exactly what happened.
As I noted at the beginning of this, 70 percent of people thought that the President’s choice for the next Supreme Court was a major decision. That was something he campaigned on. I think when you’re that late in a term — it had never happened before. And the goal was to make sure that the voters had a say in allowing that to happen. And I think that, clearly, it worked. The voters looked at that as a major reason in which they voted for the President. And I think that as we move forward, that’s why I think we’re going to get the support we need.
Q Sean, if the President does get his pick on the bench, what are any specific cases that the administration hopes that the Court takes up in the near future
MR. SPICER: Well, there’s a lot of cases that I think are in the queue right now that have the potential to be 4-4. I think the idea is to get this individual confirmed as soon as possible just to get the docket moving. That’s probably the biggest priority right now.
Thank you guys very much. Have a great day. I’ll see you tonight. Good luck. Eight o’clock.
END – 1:50 P.M. EST
PLAYLIST: FULL White House Press Briefings – Sean Spicer
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