White House press secretary Sean Spicer listens during a Jan. 20 news briefing. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
White House press secretary Sean Spicer barred television cameras from a media briefing on Friday and prohibited live audio broadcasts, marking the third time this week that spokesmen for President Trump have imposed such restrictions.
In keeping with a promise we made Monday, The Fix has annotated a transcript of the session, since it could not be seen on TV. We’ll continue the practice when White House spokesmen go off camera. To view an annotation, click on the yellow, highlighted text.
MR. SPICER: I want to start with some good news. We continue to see great progress by Congressman Steve Scalise, but additionally, it’s great to note that just a few minutes ago George Washington Hospital has announced that Mike Mika, who was also involved in that shooting, has been upgraded to good condition. So we continue to keep an eye on the situation and wish him a speedy recovery on his way to getting out of the hospital. And so that’s a great way to start this.
Back to business here. This morning, after a series of meetings with Secretary of State Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary Kelly, and Secretary of Defense Mattis, the president was honored to sign the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act surrounded by a group of our nation’s great veterans and their brave families.
As we all know, the VA scandals exposed unacceptably long wait times for our nation’s veterans and issues with tracking their care. In response, Congress passed the Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act in 2014, which has since brought many more instances of poor performance and misconduct by the VA to light.
The bill the president signed this morning further empowers Secretary Shulkin and the VA to protect our veterans from this kind of misconduct in the future. It’s one part of the president’s comprehensive plan to modernize the VA so that it gives the veterans the care, treatment and support that they so richly deserve.
Back in March, many of you may remember they signed the Veterans Choice Improvement Act so that more veterans can see the doctor of their choice and they don’t have to travel long distances or wait for care. Already under the Choice program, this year, veterans have received 42 percent more approvals to see a doctor that they have chosen. And he signed an executive order in April creating the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection within the VA to hold employees who fail our veterans accountable. At the same time, this office rewards and retains the many VA employees who do a fantastic job and it protects the honest employees who expose wrongdoing.
At the signing, he called on Congress to pass legislation then that he signed this morning with Secretary Shulkin to give the authority he needed to best protect those who protect us. Since taking the reins at the VA, Secretary Shulkin has carried through a thorough review to uncover all of the problems and challenges it inherited from the previous administration. He’s imposed new standards of accountability and transparency, and just this month he announced that the VA will finally sync up its medical records with the Department of Defense so that veterans will be treated as a single patient across the system, a long-overdue step, giving them the seamless care that they deserve throughout their service and beyond.
As he said many times, the president cares deeply about the men and women who have served our country, and he was glad to sign the VA Accountability Act this morning that takes another step toward shaping the VA into a department that is truly worthy of our veterans.
Also this morning, the Department of Justice expressed its full support for Texas’s efforts towards improving public safety by mandating that statewide — towards improving — by mandating statewide cooperation with federal immigration laws that require the removal of illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. The president has made a commitment to keep America safe, and Texas’s SB4 law is critical to maintaining cooperation from state and local enforcement partners in that mission.
The federal government must have the proper assistance from state and local authorities to effectively enforce immigration laws and keep our communities safe. And that’s, frankly, what Texas’s law does. Given the strong federal interest in facilitating this cooperation, the Trump administration is glad to be putting its full support behind Texas’s effort.
As he said yesterday, the president is very supportive of the draft Senate health-care bill, which represents the next step in repealing and replacing Obamacare. It’s time to — for all Republicans to unite and fulfill this promise that we’ve been talking about for over seven years, and that we would rescue them from the mess that they — was created by imposing a risky health-care experiment on our country several years ago.
With costs rising and options dwindling, it’s clear that the risk that we were given didn’t pay off. Just ask the people of New Hampshire, where another insurer just announced that it will stop offering insurance on the state’s Obamacare exchange. The president and his entire team will be looking forward to working with all senators who are willing to come to the table to amend, finalize and pass the bill so that we can deliver a world-class health-care system in place of the failing system that we have now.
And with that, let’s get into some questions. John.
Q The president this morning, in an interview with “Fox and Friends,” seemed to indicate that he thinks that the special counsel may have some conflicts of interest, one being his friendship with Comey; another being the fact that one of the people that he’s hiring, bringing on — special counsel’s officer were either Hillary Clinton supporters, and the president said even some of them are — even worked for Hillary Clinton. Is he still ruling out firing this special counsel?
MR. SPICER: Nothing has changed on that in terms of his position on it.
Q And his position is?
MR. SPICER: That while he retains the authority — anyone who serves (inaudible), I believe — Steve and I had a healthy exchange with — but that he has no intention of doing that.
Q And does — he seemed to suggest this morning there might be a circumstance under which Mueller should take himself out. Can you tell us —
MR. SPICER: Yeah, that’s one. Obviously, I would refer to Marc Kasowitz in terms of the president’s legal strategy on that. But I’ll just leave it at that. But good try.
Q Sean, on health care, what is the president’s current outlook on the Senate bill, given some of the reservations that some of the senators raised yesterday? And does the president feel that Senator McConnell should pull the bill next week if he doesn’t have the number that — the numbers to pass it, or is time to vote?
MR. SPICER: Well, we’ll approach that in the same way that we approach the House bill. I’m not going to be — I wasn’t prescriptive then with Speaker Ryan in terms of when they’re ready to vote, they’ll vote. Senator McConnell has said that he wants a vote next week, and that’s up to him to run the chamber the way he sees fit. But the president is very supportive of the bill. He wants to work with all the members to improve it in any way that can help facilitate that passage and make it a stronger bill. And he intends to work with all the individuals — he’s got a lot of respect for the four senators in particular on the Republican side that have come forward — wants to work with them.
But I know Senator Manchin talked about potentially getting some Democrats together, and the president welcomes that.
Q Sean, thank you.
MR. SPICER: Welcome.
Q Thank you. What is the president’s level of involvement at this point in terms of trying to push the bill forward or not? Can you give us a sense of whether he’s taking calls?
MR. SPICER: He’s not — he’s had a couple calls with Majority Leader McConnell. As you’ll recall, I think last week we had six senators here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that continued involvement. As you recall, it’s a very similar situation as to what it was in the House, right — that he had several House members come in and out prior to the lead-up of the vote. And as the vote got closer, in working with the whip team in the House and the legislative affairs team here, he identified members that had concerns, or continued to call them.
I expect a similar process at this point. But he’s had meetings with members. He was on the phone with Senator McConnell. But also Secretary Price, Seema Verma, the legislative affairs staff, the chief and staff, and others are intimately engaged in this, having conversations with senators, providing feedback to the president. He’s providing guidance back, as far as he’ll continue to tweak it. But I think we have a fairly robust discussion going on right now.
Q Sean, what is the vice president’s role in the Senate health-care bill? How involved has he been? And how involved do you see him being going forward?
MR. SPICER: The vice president has played a very important role. He’s been up there. He goes to the policy lunch once a week. He’s constantly on the phone with him. And he’s been a huge asset, as he was in the House side.
But again, to Maggie’s question, I’d say right now it’s a fairly similar process. The legislative affairs team is identifying concerns that individual members have, or ideas and suggestions that they have, feeding them back to the team and asking for the president’s input, technically, on some of those technical matters, and providing feedback.
So as we get closer to that vote, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with a lot of the support that’s already come out, and I think we’ll continue to work through, in particular, the four individuals who have expressed some ideas and concerns. And we’ll get to it.
Q So you’re saving the president for the tail end of the process? Is that what you’re saying?
MR. SPICER: No. I think — and Maggie can correct me if I’m wrong — but I think she was asking what the process was. And I think that we’re following a similar pattern, which is he has engaged with them. I mean, I think we’ve talked about the number — the individuals that he’s had over to the White House and met with, and he’s also had some pull-asides here and there when they’ve come over for different things. So he has personally engaged with them.
The question about — Maggie had specifically asked about phone calls. And I think that while he has addressed it here and there, the type of push that you saw at the end of the vote, before the House, we’re not at that phase where —
MR. SPICER: Yeah. And just because of the nature of — these are individuals — I mean, because of the numbers, the Senate being what it is, and the numbers that we have to get to 50 plus one is in a different place than the House, where you had many more members to address.
Q When you look at the House bill and the Senate legislation, is the Senate legislation the preferred vehicle for this going forward?
MR. SPICER: I think the president is very supportive of the Senate bill. There’s a lot of ideas in there. He’s talked about having heart, and he likes a lot of the reforms that have been in there. He’s committed to making sure that no one who currently is in the Medicaid program is affected in any way, which is reflected in the Senate bill, and he’s pleased with that.
So I think he is very pleased with that bill, and he wants to continue to push it forward. But in the same way, the way he dealt with the House — I mean, if there’s other ideas and amendments as the bill moves forward that would strengthen it, he’s all ears.
Q And what is the argument he’s making, or plans to make, to the senators he’s trying to get on board? Is it a policy-focused argument, getting the nitty-gritty? Or is it a larger argument about this being the last best chance, or the best chance to keep a campaign promise?
MR. SPICER: It’s a good question, because I think it depends on the senator and what their concerns are. I mean, if you look at some of the individual senators that have expressed concerns, from Rand Paul to Ted Cruz, there are differences in what their individual concerns are. And so it’s not a holistic approach.
But I think the overarching point that he’s made very consistently is that Obamacare is dead and that it is not a binary choice. It’s not “keep this or take that.” It’s “this system is failing and we must act.” That is the overarching point that he’s made to all of these individuals.
One interesting point is that when you actually look at the House side in particular, you’ve got 113 members of the Democratic caucus that are co-sponsors of single, universal care, the Bernie Sanders bill. It’s a $32 trillion alternative. So if you think about it, the bill that the House — the House bill that got passed, that’s the basis of what the Senate worked off of as a net savings.
What the majority of House Democrats support is not maintaining Obamacare, but the majority of that conference is actually supporting the Bernie Sanders universal health-care bill, which is a $32 trillion, one-size-fits-all, government-run, no-competition-forces, no-market-forces bill. And I think that is really what the choice has become.
If you think about this, the majority of Democrats in the House aren’t backing Obamacare. What they’re backing is a government takeover of universal care that doesn’t have any market forces and is going to cost our country $32 trillion. And I think that that’s the real choice that exists.
Q Just in response to tapes, did you see that Congressman Schiff said yesterday something about, ‘I don’t think we can accept this as a complete answer, referring to the president’s tweet. His problem with it was that the president was really talking about him, and that Schiff would like to see, in writing, a response that covers the entire White House. Because the tweet suggested that maybe someone else has recordings. Does the White House plan to deliver some sort of official written response to Schiff in the House Intel Committee?
MR. SPICER: I believe — and I have to follow up — but I believe that there was some communication we have to have by close of business today. So I’ll figure out if that’s going out. But, I mean, I think the president was clear — he was asked — he said he would follow up on whether he knew of this, and I think he’s answered it very clearly.
Q Just real quick on Medicaid. You mentioned a moment ago something about Medicaid. I want to make sure I’m clear. So is the president comfortable with the changes to the Medicaid program in the Senate bill, and how that would roll back the expansion at a certain date? Is he comfortable with that aspect?
MR. SPICER: I think right now, as I said, he’s very supportive of the current bill.
Q And real quick on Qatar. Does the White House have any response to the demands that the Saudis have made of the Qataris?
MR. SPICER: The four countries that are part of that, we believe it’s a family issue and that they should work out. If we can help facilitate those discussions, then so be it. But this is something that they want to and should work out for themselves.
Q Thanks, Sean. Just following up on Janet’s question there. One of those demands would be shut down Al Jazeera. The United States generally has spoken out in favor of free and independent press — (inaudible) about Al Jazeera one way or the other in this case. But does the White House believe that it’s appropriate that the free press is something that’s on the table for restoration of diplomatic relations?
MR. SPICER: Again, we’re not — we’re willing to play a facilitating role in those discussions. But that’s a discussion that those countries need to have among themselves.
And so until we’re asked to join that and facilitate it, I’m not going to get in the middle of that discussion.
Q And second question. In this morning’s Washington Post there’s an item about some friends of the president inquiring about his health. I’m wondering, is Dr. Jackson of the military office — of the medical unit, the president’s personal physician — has the president seen him? And will the White House commit to releasing sort of the annual physician’s letter that has been customary of presidents for years?
MR. SPICER: I know Admiral Jackson travels everywhere with the president, so he consults him regularly. I don’t have an update on his particular vitals but I will follow up on the letter. But I know that Dr. Jackson — Admiral Jackson is intimately involved in the president’s care and provides him feedback — whatever medical issues he has.
Q Does President Trump think special counsel Robert Mueller is partisan?
MR. SPICER: I think his comments this morning speak for themselves as to his views on Robert Mueller.
Q Thank you, Sean. Two brief questions. First, it was reported on one of the networks that the president referred to the American Healthcare Act as a mean bill and he wanted more money that was coming in. Did he actually say that, or could you confirm or deny whether he used that term to describe it and call for greater funding for parts of it?
MR. SPICER: I will tell you that I don’t comment on private conversations that the president has.
Q All right. And the other thing I do want to know was, on Tuesday night, in a public conversation, his speech that he delivered in Cedar Rapids, the president called for legislation that would deny welfare benefits to illegal immigrants for five years. It has been widely reported that has been on the books for 21 years, going back to when President Clinton signed the omnibus welfare reform legislation in 1996. Was that a misstatement on the president’s part, or was he aware that this is already on the books?
MR. SPICER: The president is aware that law exists. I think the president’s concern generally speaking with all the immigration laws is that they’re not being enforced.
We’ve got several laws that are on the books but they’re not being enforced. I think the president believes that we need to do what we can — I mean, obviously, he’s been very clear on immigration and on — especially from our southern border. But that law, while on the books, has not been enforced and clearly either needs to be reexamined, enforced, or new legislation needs to be introduced.
I’m sorry — Hallie.
Q I have two questions for you. One is a follow-up from earlier in the week. You were asked whether the president believes Russia interfered with the 2016 election, and said you hadn’t had a chance to have that conversation. So I’m wondering if you’ve had that conversation. And if so, if the president is concerned about that interference.
MR. SPICER: I have. Thank you. And the only point that I would make, just as a point of clarification, he commented I think it was January 5th or 17th, something like that, on that at the time. And he said Russia probably interfered but maybe some other countries did as well.
Q He said, “I think it was Russia but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”
MR. SPICER: There you go. Thank you.
Q And so does he stand by that? Is he concerned about that, Sean?
MR. SPICER: Of course. He’s concerned about any country or any actor that wants to interfere in elections. I confirm that he stands by that.
But he’s — and he’s taken two I think very large steps. One is cybersecurity, to make sure — he signed an executive order. His homeland security adviser is working diligently to make sure that we take steps to protect the integrity of our election system and all of our other cyber defenses.
And then secondly, he instituted an election commission that is making sure that we look at all of how we’re voting, and to make sure that we maintain integrity in all of our voting process to make sure that we have faith in it. And that includes cyber, it includes voter I.D., it includes all sort of systems. I expect that commission to have several announcements in probably the next two weeks, and potentially some hearings in July.
But there’s going to be continued activity. But the President takes that very seriously, and I think those two actions in particular point to his commitment to it.
Q So to follow up on that then, Sean, what do you say — we’ve talked to dozens of state officials who say they simply have not heard much from this administration regarding how to protect their own voting systems. What do you say to those critics who say you’re not doing enough?
MR. SPICER: I think those official — state and county, and I think down to the municipal level — will get a letter next week from the commission asking them to help facilitate some transfer of data back to us so we can begin the process of a thorough review of the systems. And we will continue to engage them and find out ways that we can strengthen the integrity of our system and make sure that we have the utmost confidence in our voting system.
Q Thanks, Sean. The front row gets an A for effort. Let’s see how the back row (inaudible).
MR. SPICER: All right. You have a lot to live up to. (Laughter.)
Q This question is on health care. Obviously, the House bill and the Senate draft discussion, they’re similar but they’re different. Does the President at this point have a preference to either one? And if so, which one?
MR. SPICER: I think right now he’s, as I mentioned, very supportive of the Senate bill. Let’s get that passed, and then, obviously, we’ll go to conference. And so there’s elements of the Senate bill that he’s very pleased with, but let’s — our goal is to work through the process, get it passed through the Senate, and then have that discussion in conference.
Q And let me ask you — comments that you made this morning. You talked about — you were asked about the strategy and you talked about how several high-level people within the administration have been provided technical assistance, working with members and Senate leadership to ask — or to talk, rather, about additional changes that might be necessary. I’m curious as to what those — specifically what those additional changes in the Senate bill that you view might indeed be necessary.
I think you’ve got four Republican senators in particular that have expressed — each one of them has concerns, and in order to get over 50 votes we’re going to — we’ll listen to them and to others that will help strengthen the bill and get us to that point. But that’s — part of that — that’s part of the process. Same thing that we did in the House side too.
Q So nothing specific from the White House point of view as far as —
MR. SPICER: Well, I don’t want to — I mean, again, this is a discussion that we’ll have with those senators, but I’m not going to telegraph it right now. As I mentioned — correctly quoting me from earlier this morning — that we’re going to have those conversations with them, find out what additions, suggestions, ideas they have that strengthen the bill and help it move forward.
Q Real quick wanted to follow up on health care. Is the President eager enough to get rid of Obamacare that he would accept a bill that he doesn’t like? Or if he doesn’t get what he wants out of the Senate and/or out of conference, would he veto it and make them go back to the drawing board?
MR. SPICER: Well, of course — in theory, if he doesn’t like something, he’s not going to sign it. As I’ve said, he’s very supportive of the Senate bill as it stands. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.
Q And the follow-up to that is there are four members of the Republican Party who say that the problem with it is that it’s really too much like Obamacare and they want to see it completely jettisoned.
MR. SPICER: That’s not entirely accurate.
Q Well, all right, I’m paraphrasing —
MR. SPICER: Again, he’ll work with them and our staff will work with them, and we’ll look at issues that can get us there. But I think — you know, and I mentioned Senator Manchin himself also noted that he would like to sit down and work, and I think if we can find — if we can grow that number even larger, he would love to do it.
Q Will he sit with Democrats?
MR. SPICER: Senator Manchin is a Democrat.
Q I mean, other than —
MR. SPICER: He mentioned that he might have some additional folks that have expressed to him a willingness to work together. And I think the President has been clear, if anybody has a willingness to move this forward and get it done, he’d love to be — work across party lines.
Q Thank you, Sean. We saw the President’s tweet about China’s role in the North Korea crisis. He just met with Mattis and Tillerson, who met with their Chinese counterparts yesterday. He characterized at this point what he thinks about China’s role in North Korea and whether he’s preparing to impose what are called secondary sanction on Chinese entities that are flouting international sanctions.
MR. SPICER: I will not comment on the second part of that for obvious reasons, but good try.
Look, he remains hopeful that we can work with China, both politically and economically, to apply the pressure on North Korea. He commented personally, and I’ll reiterate, that he continues to be very troubled by what happened to Otto Warmbier and would like to see China do more.
Q So you’re not hopeful — I’m sorry. He’s hopeful, he’s not impatient at this point? He hasn’t lost patience with China?
MR. SPICER: I just would say that he remains hopeful that we can find a way forward.
Q Sean, on the —
MR. SPICER: Steve.
Q I want to ask you about Russia, because this week the Russians canceled planned talks in St. Petersburg. It’s been widely reported that two weeks from now, in Germany, the President and Vladimir Putin are supposed to have some kind of talk on the sidelines of the G-20. Is it the President’s intention to have a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Germany?
MR. SPICER: Obviously, Steve, we have a lot of countries that we will probably have bilaterals with on the sidelines of the G-20, as well as during the visit to Poland. Not — that wouldn’t happen during that, but there are countries that we are planning bilats with both during the stop in Poland as well as during the two days that we’ll be at the G-20.
Q Does the President want to meet with Vladimir Putin?
MR. SPICER: I think that he understands that we have a role — to the extent that we can work with Russia to solve some problems and to cooperate, if we can find that willingness that we’d like to do it. And when we have an update on the schedule as we grow closer to the G-20, I’m sure we’ll provide that to you.
Q How would you describe the current state of American-Russian relations?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know what word you’re — I mean, they have — we maintain a — I’ll give you a good example. We continue to have deconfliction with them in Syria. I think that’s a positive thing. I think we enjoy normal diplomatic relations with them. And, as the President has said very — on numerous times that if we can find areas of agreement with Russia, especially with respect to the fight against ISIS, safe zones in Syria, then we’ll do it. But it’s got to be on terms that are in the best interest — in our national interest.
Q Thanks a lot, Sean. When the President tweeted out earlier this week that China’s efforts at applying pressure on North Korea, in his words, has not worked out, was he referring to the idea that China has not applied the necessary pressure on North Korea, or that North Korea has received that pressure and it has specifically not responded to whatever pressure China has applied?
MR. SPICER: I will just say that, as I mentioned to Olivier, he remains hopeful that they will continue to apply additional pressure that will seek a better outcome in terms of North Korea. But I’ll leave that tweet for itself and continue discussion through diplomatic channels.
Q So when he seemed to sort of abandon the idea of getting China to apply that pressure to North Korea, at the same time it’s — let me just finish — at the same time, it seems as if Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson are going to continue that effort. Is there a conflict there in terms of what the President wants to perhaps not do and what the Secretaries of Defense and State want to do in applying that pressure to North Korea through China?
MR. SPICER: So can you just expand on that, just to —
Q Well, it seems like the President has given up on trying to get China to apply pressure —
MR. SPICER: No, I don’t think that’s true. As, I mean, I mentioned, he remains hopeful that they will apply both diplomatic, political and economic pressure to force North Korea to do the right thing.
Q Sean, two questions for you. One, just on the tapes, in an interview this morning, the President said he believes his tweet about the tapes influenced Comey to tell the truth in his testimony. So two-pronged question here. Is his position now that Comey was truthful in that testimony? And is he conceding that he used Twitter in a way he believes to change the behavior of a congressional witness?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to comment any further than the comments that he made this morning.
Q Separately — on a separate topic. On the briefings, you said Monday about your decision to hold these off-camera briefings, off-audio briefings, “There are days that I’ll decide that the President’s voice should be the one that speaks, and iterate his priorities.” Today the President spoke, so did you this morning — had an interview with Fox News. What’s the reasoning for not answering questions on camera today?
MR. SPICER: The President gave lengthy remarks today on camera, spoke about the VA bill. Hope you carried it.
Q You spoke on camera, too, earlier.
MR. SPICER: I know, I did. See how much on-camera there is? I mean, look, I think — as I said, you referenced the comments I made on Monday; I made the same comments — similar comments in December and January. And some days we’ll do it. I think it’s great for us to come out here and have a substantive discussion about policies.
I don’t think that the be all and end all is whether it’s on television or not. We’ve made ourselves available a lot of times and will continue to do. But I’d rather sit here and have a very enjoyable conversation with you on issues on a Friday afternoon, and let the President’s comments stand on the great things that he’s doing on behalf of our nation’s veterans.
Q A follow-up on the tapes. You were also on Fox this morning —
MR. SPICER: I was. Thank you for watching.
Q Yeah. But you indicated that the President’s tweet on the tapes successfully influenced Comey to tell the truth in his testimony. So do you believe that he lied about — is it the White House’s position that he still lied about the President pressuring him to end the Flynn investigation? Is that still the White House position?
MR. SPICER: I believe that the President’s remarks on Fox and Friends this morning reflect the President’s position.
Q So that would mean that he believes that Comey told the truth.
MR. SPICER: I don’t think I need to do any further analysis than what the President himself said the intention was.
Q Thank you, Sean. I have two questions, if I may. First is about — during yesterday’s meeting between President Trump and the Chinese State Councilor, Yang Jiechi, President Trump expressed his interest in joining Belt and Road Initiative. Could you tell us more about their meeting?
MR. SPICER: I can’t. I mean, obviously I think we sent a representative to that conference, but I’m not going to get any further than the discussion that they had.
Q So we heard that Jared and Ivanka have accepted an invitation to visit China by the end of this year. Could you comment on that, as well?
MR. SPICER: They have.
Q Take one question, Sean?
MR. SPICER: I know because Goyal has got a visit coming on Monday, so he gets a question on Friday.
Q Thank you, sir. Two questions.
MR. SPICER: Are you excited?
Q This will be the first face-to-face meeting —
MR. SPICER: It will.
Q Yes, sir. This will be the first —
MR. SPICER: Better get ready.
Q — face-to-face meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi. So is President Trump ready to accept him and welcome him, because both have the same dream? Prime Minister Modi is saying “Make in India,” and President Trump is saying “Buy American,” and make in America — or “Hire American.” So my question is, so much is there on the plate when Prime Minister Modi arrives here. He’s saying that he will have a great meeting with the President because we have many things in common, as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned. So what can we expect between the two leaders?
MR. SPICER: Well, first, I want to wish the people of India a happy 70th anniversary on their independence.
But during the meeting, the President and the Prime Minister will discuss ongoing cooperation, including counterterrorism, defense partnership in the Indo-Pacific region, global cooperation, burden-sharing, trade, law enforcement, and energy. I think it’s going to be a very robust discussion.
Q And a separate question, please —
MR. SPICER: Yeah.
Q Thank you. On Wednesday, June 21st was the International Day of Yoga, which was declared by the United Nations three years ago under the leadership — initiative by Prime Minister Mode. Any citation you think President Trump will issue? Or what he has — any message as far as yoga is concerned? Because yoga means less trips to the doctors and hospitals.
MR. SPICER: I don’t have — (laughter) — anything on yoga at this point. But I appreciate the —
Q Show us a stance. (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: Trey.
Q Thank you. I have two questions — one on North Korea and one on health care. Starting with health care, does the President consider the Senate bill a full repeal of Obamacare? The four senators you talked about, they say that they don’t feel it’s a full repeal, which is why they’re not supporting the current draft.
MR. SPICER: Obamacare is — I mean, I think I’ve said it before — Obamacare is dead. So it is — you have no carriers, the premiums are skyrocketing. So whatever you want to call it, the bottom line is, it is a dead health care system. There isn’t a question about whether or not — what to do with it. We have to act. I think the President has made clear that we need to actually get a system in place.
Q On North Korea, the government of North Korea said that Otto Warmbier’s death is a mystery to them. How does the White House respond to these comments?
MR. SPICER: I don’t think it’s a mystery. I think we know very well what happened. And I think, as the President said, it’s a disgrace.
Q Sean, I had a couple questions. First, on health care. The order in which the Senate was going to vote will occur after the CBO score, and the White House was very critical of the Congressional Budget Office back in March, during the House process. So my question is, does the President believe that his discussions with lawmakers about what they want and their concern about the legislation should be guided by the CBO score? And will it influence his thinking as he looks at the bill?
MR. SPICER: I think one of the points that I made last time, Alexis — which stands — is that the CBO core function is budgetary and fiscal impacts, not on people. And they’ve been wildly off by a huge percentage when they’ve tried to score people. Their track record on doing that is not good. And so we maintain what we have all along: we want to do the right policy. And the CBO score should be used by members in the Senate to decide — to the extent that they think that helps them make a decision. But I think we all understand — look, Obamacare promised it was going to drive premiums down $2,500, it was going to bring down deductibles. It did none of that stuff.
I think the way that this bill has been constructed has done so in a way that it’s actually going to achieve the goals that the American people were promised.
All the way in the back.
Q Can I just follow up on another topic?
MR. SPICER: Of course.
Q Hallie was asking about Russia and the interview. I just wanted to ask you, because you were just commenting that the President does believe Russia was behind the interference in the election, that he is concerned, that the administration is taking steps. So to follow up on her question and Steve’s question — is it the President’s desire to speak directly to Putin, if he gets that chance, to say that U.S. officials believe that Russia poses a risk to the 2018 and 2020 elections, and the United States would like Russia to be on notice or on warning that the United States disapproves of this?
MR. SPICER: If and when there’s a meeting, we will have a readout for you.
Q Thank you, Sean. There’s a play rendition of Julius Caesar in New York City where the character portrayed as President Trump gets assassinated. Is the President aware of this play? And if so, what’s his reaction? And also, is the Secret Service investigating it?
MR. SPICER: That’s a question for the Secret Service. You can call Kathy over there and ask her.
Look, I think it’s troubling whether it’s that or Johnny Depp’s comments. We’ve seen this. And, frankly, as far as I’m concerned, I know that the President and the first lady weighed in on Kathy Griffin’s comments. I don’t know that he’s aware about the play in particular that’s going on there. But it is, frankly, my belief, a little troubling the lack of outrage that we’ve seen in some of these instances where people have said what they’ve said with respect to the President and the actions that should be taken.
The President has made it clear that we should denounce violence in all of its forms. And I think that if we’re going to hold to that standard, then we should all agree that standard should be universally called out. And so when those actions are depicted — and I think we saw a couple folks in the media and some other places tweet out their support for that show — I’m not sure that that’s a smart thing to do. We either all agree that violence should be called out and denounced, or not. And I think that it’s concerning when you see a pattern that these comments get made, these actions get depicted, and the lack of attention that they get when it’s on our side.
Q Sean, thank you. With regard to the bill signing from this morning, do you see this as a — because the President talked a lot about during (inaudible) federal employees and so forth. Do you see this as maybe a larger point of going through civil service reform, and which you could look at holding career-level federal employees to higher standards, and making it easier to fire certain people for certain conduct?
MR. SPICER: I think it’s a good start, yeah. This is the first step. I think it’s important that we start with our veterans. But I think everyone who serves in the public trust has an obligation to serve the public and do what they can, whether it’s our veterans or people looking for an education loan or whatever. And if you’re not doing your job, I think that we should, as a government, have a standard that if you’re not doing what the job is supposed to be doing, and you’re not helping your fellow Americans achieve what that department or agency is after, that we should make sure that there’s a process by which we can have that person removed and put in place somebody who will do it.
The President’s step this morning was a big step forward. And I think to your question, the impact of that, the signal that it sends isn’t just about veterans, obviously, but it is — it should resonate governmentwide that we expect people who serve in government to do what they can to serve our country.
Q You mentioned veterans would be a good start. What would be the next step? I mean, would it be the (inaudible) misconduct?
MR. SPICER: We’ll wait and see. I think we’ve got a fairly robust legislative agenda right now, but if the House and the Senate wanted to move forward with something else, I’m sure we could find a way to work with them.
Q Thank you, Sean. The Carrier plant the President visited right after the election has told employees that it would lay off more than 600 people between now and the end of the year. Its employment would actually fall below the agreement that it has with the state. Would the President reengage in that situation? Should the state claw back some of those incentives?
MR. SPICER: We’re talking about 632 jobs in this instance. This was announced last year, so what we’re hearing now is nothing new. Carrier remains committed to retaining 1,069 Hoosier jobs over the next 10 years, consistent with the deal that was reached after the election. By maintaining these jobs in Indiana, Carrier is showing confidence in the business climate and the future of the American economy.
Q So in terms of the deals that the White House is making with individual companies, though, earlier this week you addressed Ford and you said, “At some point in the future, tax reform is what would incentivize companies to operate here.” But what sort of enforcement mechanisms does the White House have to keep these companies honest?
MR. SPICER: Well, again, remember, that deal that you’re talking about with Carrier is consistent with the deal that they struck. This is just the manifestation of the deal that was struck back in, I think it was November of last year; it could have been early December.
So this is consistent with what they said they would do back then, but I think both in terms of regulatory policy and tax policy, we need to do what we can to incentivize more companies to not just stay here, but to grow here.
Q Thank you, Sean. Two separate policy topics. First of all, you said that Senator Joe Manchin III, a Democrat, is going to be looking at potentially getting some Democratic votes for the Senate health care bill. The President has said repeatedly that no matter how good this bill is, that he doesn’t think that he would get any Democratic votes for it. It now sounds like you’re saying that you do expect potentially to get some Democratic votes for it, and therefore you might not even need these four Republican senators who say that they can’t support it.
MR. SPICER: I didn’t say that.
MR. SPICER: But what I said — and just to be clear — is it’s obviously — the President believes, and for good reason — I don’t think that — he doesn’t believe that we’ll end up getting any. I think it’s encouraging that, as we evolve through this process, that you see someone like Senator Manchin say, I agree that the system is broken and I’m willing to fix it.
Now, whether or not we ultimately can get his vote, that’s another question. But I think it’s encouraging that someone like him wants to step forward and engage in a discussion about — if there’s a potential of getting his vote. And obviously that’s a discussion that — whether it’s him or someone else — I noted the other day, I think, to Hallie that a couple of times already, Senator Schumer has been very clear that there would be no engagement from Democrats.
So to see this progress I think is — I don’t want to get too far in front of it, but it’s also — it’s good to see at least one senator publicly say that they’re willing to have that discussion.
Q Sorry — I said two policy questions, sorry.
MR. SPICER: You did.
Q Totally separate subject, I wanted to follow up on what John Gizzi had asked about the —
MR. SPICER: That’s a first. (Laughter.)
Q Follow up on what John Gizzi had said about the President’s speech on Tuesday night and the welfare requirement for immigrants. What specifically would the proposal that the President was talking about do that’s different than what is already a part of the federal law? You said he wanted to reexamine it, maybe even put in a new law. What was he proposing? How is that different?
MR. SPICER: Well, when we have an announcement on that, I’ll let you know.
Q You said he’d be he putting in legislation soon.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. And so when we do, we’ll let you know. But at this point, we don’t have that.
Q Thank you, Sean. If he White House is concerned about the message of Julius Caesar and stuff that’s said by Johnny Depp, then why was Al Baldasaro, who said that Hillary Clinton should be shot for treason for the handling of Benghazi, invited to the VA event today at the White House?
MR. SPICER: Well, obviously, as I mentioned, we also — I’d make it very clear, I don’t — I condemn all acts of violence. I don’t believe that any — and the President has said this as well — that anybody who goes out and tries to highlight those kind of actions should not be welcome. I don’t — I’m not aware of the comments he made.
But again, I’ll say it right now, that I don’t think that we should be resorting to that kind of language with respect to anybody in our country.
Q You mean you do condemn it.
Q You do condemn it.
MR. SPICER: I do. Thank you.
Q Let me ask you about — one on Russia, one on health care. The Russia sanctions bill — can you talk at all about what your goals are for that bill, even a sense of timing? Is it helpful to have that bill sooner or later from this White House?
MR. SPICER: You mean the one that the Senate passed that is — got pulled back with the — I mean, that’s — right now — the Senate passed the bill, the parliamentarian rule that it had a revenue component to it and it had to have originated in the House. So now the House is looking at it.
But right now, I mean, there’s not a — there’s nothing to comment on in the sense that the Senate parliamentarian rule that because of the revenue nature —
Q What (inaudible) opinion on whether —
MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, let’s see what it looks like. I think obviously the concern that we will have is whether or not the executive maintains the authority and the flexibility with respect to implementing sanctions both going forward to pulling back to effectively achieve a goal.
And so —
Q It’s not a timing issue for you guys.
MR. SPICER: No, I think it’s a policy — it’s — how it’s crafted. And I think that’s something that we’re going to look at as it — assuming that the House takes up its legislation, and then when it goes to the Senate. But I think our main concern overall with sanctions is how they — how the Congress crafts them, and any potential erosion of the executive branch’s authority to implement them.
Q And just real quick, these contested Obamacare payments —
MR. SPICER: The CSRs.
Q — that the administration looked through this month, the President has referred to those as “ransom.” Is there any reason to believe that those will — won’t keep — won’t be approved every month until there’s a change to the health care law?
MR. SPICER: I think we committed to making them last month, and that’s as far as we will go at this time. We’re not committing to them this month. Obviously —
Q Why is it a month-to-month thing to you guys?
MR. SPICER: Because I think that the question is, if we believe — again, I’m not going to — last month, obviously, if we can pass health care overall then that changes that. And part of it is going to be where we are in that process. But it ultimately — up to the President to decide. But the reason it’s a month-to-month is because exactly what you said, he doesn’t — the court has ruled very clearly on this instance.
Q Can you say why he decided to make — authorize these payments?
MR. SPICER: Because again, part of it is — our goal is to ultimately transition to a health care system that doesn’t need them and isn’t a bailout to the insurance companies. So we want to get to that system as quick as possible. And our hope is that transition can take place.
Q It seems like a — to threaten these payments on a month-to-month basis, does this risk the President’s —
MR. SPICER: It’s not a — there’s no threat. It’s just a fact. As soon as we can get it done, it’s in the best interest of a health care system, it’s in the best interest of the American taxpayer. And as soon as the President decides that we either have a system or he doesn’t want to continue the bailout, then we’ll stop. But it wouldn’t make —
Q So (inaudible).
MR. SPICER: I don’t think — look, I’ll give you the flip side. If the President were to hypothetically say that he’s going to make the payments in perpetuity or for a year, I think that continues to prop up a failed system. It continues to do wrong by the American taxpayer. And it also doesn’t lend itself to the expediency that I think we want to — help get a new health care system in place.
Thank you guys very much.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer has had many memorable moments since he took the high-profile position Jan. 21. Here are some of the most notable. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)
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