James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:08 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: Good morning, everyone — or it’s technically afternoon, I guess. Sorry to move it up and screw up the schedule a little, but we’ve got a couple of events this afternoon so I’ve got to get through this, get some questions and then got to move on. But we’ve got two more on-camera briefings the rest of the week.
This morning, the President just wrapped up — or is continuing to — I know some of the pool just left — but the President is currently hosting an opioid and drug-abuse listening session with senior administration officials, governors, experts in the psychology of drug addiction, recovery-awareness advocates, and others who have been affected by the opioid crisis.
Drug abuse has crippled communities across this nation. In 2015, more than 52,000 Americans — that’s 144 people a day — died from a drug overdose, with 63 percent involving an opioid, according to the CDC. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in our country. As the President discussed with the group this morning, we won’t be able to address this academic — excuse me — epidemic with a single solution.
First, we must get struggling Americans the help that they need. Too many families have seen firsthand the destruction that drug abuse can bring, and we must also focus prevention on law and enforcement. Cheap heroin is flooding into our communities as drug cartels expand into the country, setting off a chain reaction of addiction that spreads from person to person and from family to family.
President Trump has already taken executive action to strengthen law enforcement and dismantle criminal cartels. He and his team will continue to discuss how best to root out this threat to American communities with drug enforcement experts as we continue this fight. Stopping this epidemic is not — is an issue that every American, regardless of your political background, can and must get behind. We must work together from the leaders of the most — from most local and community recovery and support programs all the way to the White House to solve this problem.
The White House took a big first step this morning in our battle to combat drug addiction and the opioid crisis by meeting with these individuals, which included New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, who has been a leader on this issue. Attorney General Sessions, Education Secretary DeVos, Veterans Administration Secretary Shulkin, Homeland Security Secretary Kelly, and others were in attendance. A full list of participants has been provided.
I will say — I know the pool was just in there — it is — some of the stories from some of the individuals who have been involved in this with a family member are unbelievably compelling. Their desire to see and to work with the administration to get this problem addressed is one that is plaguing communities, and I know the President places it at the highest priority.
There was a mention by the drug — the Acting Administrator of the DEA that they have a program where, twice a year, they gather unwanted drugs. Last year they gathered over a million pounds of unwanted drugs. There’s 5,000 sites in which people across America can drop off stuff in their medicine cabinet that is no longer used to get it out of their house. The next drop-off will be on April 29th, and I think the DEA will be putting out more information. But when you see some of the action that was taking place in this report, it is truly a call to arms for a crisis that is plaguing our country.
This afternoon the President will drop by the Women’s Empowerment Panel that the White House is hosting, led by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Small Business Administrator McMahon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma, who will all speak about the unique challenges that women and young girls face today. Vice President Pence and the First Lady will also be in attendance.
The President is proud that his administration is full of so many female leaders from who will be on stage this afternoon to those incredibly — their incredible work doesn’t always make headlines, but it’s certainly felt across the federal government and across our nation. Women’s History Month is coming to an end, but the Trump administration is committed to empowering women in the workplace. The work that we started this month will not end at the end of this month but will continue.
The President made women’s empowerment a priority throughout the campaign, speaking out on affordable childcare and paid family leave, investing in women’s health, and the barriers faced by female entrepreneurs and business owners. In February, he and Prime Minister Trudeau from Canada launched the United States-Canada Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs. This month the First Lady hosted an event for International Women’s Day in the East Wing. CMS Administrator Verma hosted a panel on women in healthcare. His daughter, Ivanka, held a roundtable with women business owners with SBA Administrator McMahon, as well as other — roundtable with Latina business owners.
And just earlier today, the First Lady joined the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Tom Shannon, to present the 2017 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award at the State Department.
The President believes, as the First Lady said this morning, “Wherever women are diminished, the entire world is diminished with them. However, wherever women are empowered, towns, villages, schools and economies are empowered, and together, we are all made stronger.” The Trump administration will continue to work to ensure that the American economy is a place where women can work and thrive.
Later this evening, the Vice President will participate in the swearing-in of David Friedman, as the next ambassador to Israel. The President is glad that Ambassador Friedman will be officially on board as we strive for a lasting peace in the Middle East. Mr. Friedman’s strong relationships in Israel will be a tremendous asset to the President in furthering that mission.
Finally, I want to speak about Judge Gorsuch and the blatantly political obstruction of his nomination to the Supreme Court by Senate Democrats. Yesterday, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that next Friday the Senate will vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. We welcome this news. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats have begun justifying their opposition to Judge Gorsuch by claiming a 60-vote standard for his confirmation. That standard doesn’t exist and these claims continue to be false. A party-line filibuster by the Senate minority is not a fair up or down vote.
You don’t have to look further than the voices of many of these same Democrats to see why, in 2013, Senator Tom Udall said, and I quote in full, “Some of us may disagree with Justice Scalia on judicial philosophy, but he was a qualified nominee. He received an up or down vote and he was unanimously confirmed. Likewise,” he said, “Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg was considered a liberal. The former ACLU general counsel, many on the other side may have disagreed with her views but there was no filibuster. She was confirmed by a vote of 96 to 3.” He added, “A minority in the Senate should not be able to block qualified nominees.” We could not agree more with Senator Udall.
Unfortunately, he has now adopted a new party line of obstruction in blocking a fair up or down vote on the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch. It’s both sad and unfortunate. And we encourage all senators from both parties to fairly evaluate the judge’s eminent qualifications and grant him an up or down vote.
With that, be glad to take your questions.
Q Why thank you, Sean. (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: How are you today?
Q I’m fine. And how are you?
MR. SPICER: Fantastic. (Laughter.)
Q Great. Well, Sean, going back to some issues that are in the news — Nunes is not going to recuse himself. In the midst of all of this back-and-forth, what does the White House say about that?
MR. SPICER: Well, April, the White House — I think I mentioned this yesterday. He’s conducting an investigation. He is the elected or appointed — I can’t remember how they do over there, but appointed and confirmed — or however they — but by his colleagues in the House and the Speaker. He is the chairman, he’s conducting an investigation. It is up to the House of Representatives and the Speaker and the members of the House Republican Conference to determine. There is nothing that I see that is problematic in him conducting an investigation that we asked both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Q What are the conversations the President is having with Paul Ryan about this — to include Dems and Republicans are talking about what looks like impropriety in the intel chief’s handling of this so far, particularly as there’s not a hearing right now?
MR. SPICER: Well, I would take issue with — I think you’re right that there may appear to be certain things, but I don’t think there’s any actual proof or sustaining allegation about anything that’s done. Again — I mentioned this yesterday — if you look at what Chairman Nunes has done, he has met with people who are cleared to discuss classified information regarding a review that he is conducting. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
And again, I understand that when things are leaked out in the media that somehow that is a standard that’s acceptable, but when two people who are cleared to discuss classified information, or three, or however many, discuss classified information, somehow that’s wrong because it’s not being leaked. He is conducting a review, which we have supported, on both sides of the chambers. And I think that they should do this.
But I think to start to prejudge where this thing is going — we have been in support of, as you know — and I think that let’s let that process bear itself out and see what happens.
I will tell you that I’ve seen reports in the media that the NSA has documents that they are supposedly trying to get to the House Intelligence Committee that have been requested. We think that’s a great thing if that’s, in fact, what’s happening. But again, I think part of this all gets back to that there’s a process. And I get that sometimes it’s frustrating to us. I believe that we want this over as much as I think some of you. But we recognize that there’s a process that has to take place, and that process is taking place. The Chairman and the House Intelligence, and I know that Senator Burr and Senator Warner are talking about the process that they’re going to go on on the Senate side.
Some of these things take a little bit of time. And to the extent that they are gathering the appropriate documents and looking at those things, then that’s part of the process and the review that is being undertaken, and we’re fine with that.
Q And second topic. Tax reform and infrastructure — reports are saying you’re going to do it together. And ACA — well, Obamacare, going into Trumpcare, at that time, tax reform and infrastructure were said to be some of the reasons why you did not come up in the budget with eliminating the debt. Do you have cost estimates as it relates to tax reform and infrastructure as of yet.
MR. SPICER: No, because I think you need to have plans laid out first. And I think part of this is that we’re in the beginning phases of both of those. So to have a score on either one of them or a cost when we don’t have those formalized yet — and I think we’re in the beginning phases of having those discussions with both stakeholders, members of Congress on both sides, and obviously internally the formulation of those plans is continuing. So until that happens, I don’t see us having a formal cost or a score.
Q Do you trust CBO now?
MR. SPICER: It’s not a question of trust. Remember, I want to be clear about what I’ve said before — I think when it comes to cost estimates and budget issues, which is what CBO is charged to do, they’re the Congressional Budget Office — and while I think sometimes they’re a little off on that, that is what they’re charged with doing. And I think there’s a score.
Where I think — it’s not a question of trust, it’s a question of accuracy. And I think that the issue that we previously brought up was when they had scored people and coverage, which isn’t necessarily their wheelhouse, they have been way off. And again, I don’t think it’s a question of us trusting or not. It’s literally a question of saying, they believe that 26 million people would be on Obamacare; 10.4 were, and falling.
I think that’s — that’s not a question of whether we trust them or not. It’s a question of — those are the facts, and those facts bear out that they were off by more than 50 percent when it came to counting people. And I just want to be clear that it’s not a question of whether we trust them or not. I would ask whether that’s really what they’re supposed to be doing.
Q Sean, a couple of things that we talked about on Monday. On Monday you said to us from the podium you would look into how Chairman Nunes was cleared to be here and with whom he met. Can you give us — we tried to ask you that yesterday as you walked out. Do you have any information to live up to the commitment you made here on Monday to provide more details about how that happened in a process you just told us yet again is above board and totally appropriate?
MR. SPICER: I don’t have anything for you on that at this time. But again, I don’t —
Q Have you looked into it?
MR. SPICER: I have asked some preliminary questions. I have not gotten answers yet. And I think there’s — so, no, I don’t have anything further on that.
But, again, I would argue, Major — it’s interesting — and I brought this up the other day — that there seems to be this fascination with the process. It’s: How did he get here? What door did he enter? As opposed to what’s the substance of what we’re finding. When I get — not from you, and I’m not trying to be — but so many times I get these calls that we have an unnamed intel source that says the following substance occurred, do you admit it, do you deny it, whatever — and we have this argument over substance.
In this case, the fascination is with what door did he come in, who did he meet with, how did he get WAVEd in, as opposed to what I think it should be, and, ironically, it’s not when it’s
— when the shoe is on the other foot, is what’s the substance. Just yesterday, just to be clear, we started this day with The Washington Post falsely posting a story saying the White House blocked Sally Yates. By the end of the day, it’s “officials blocked Sally Yates.” They were wrong. And they jumped to a conclusion based on whatever unnamed sources.
And I think that what we’re trying to do is argue that there should be a process. The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and others are going through a review. We support that review. And so, as much as I understand that everyone wants to jump to how did everyone get in, what did they do — they’re undergoing an investigation.
Q I have a substantive question about that.
MR. SPICER: Okay.
Q But I’m just asking you about something you told us —
MR. SPICER: No, I said I would look into it.
Q Are you going to continue to look into this?
MR. SPICER: I will, I will look into it and whether or not —
Q You’ll live up to that obligation to look into it?
MR. SPICER: I will. But the obligation is I said I would look into it, and I continue to do that.
Q Okay. So you said yesterday about Sally Yates “show what you know.” Well, one of the reasons that there’s this question about Chairman Nunes is he hasn’t told his own committee members what he knows, how he learned about it, and what the substantive importance of that is. So we are also curious about that. And among the things that might shed light on that is how he got here and who he met with and what he learned.
MR. SPICER: Right.
Q We’re trying to figure that out as well.
MR. SPICER: I understand, and I think those are questions for him.
Q Don’t you want to know those things?
MR. SPICER: But I think that, Major, that there’s a slippery slope that we’re talking about here, because if we start looking into certain things, then the accusation the next day is going to be, you looked into this, can you look into that; why did you ask this person. I mean, a couple weeks ago, there were stories about whether or not we called certain people and we did — so we’re damned if we do, we’re damned if we don’t on this stuff — because on the one hand, you want certain answers; on the other hand, you want to talk about us being involved. And I think we’ve tried to keep — we asked for an investigation, and at the same time, we’ve tried to make sure that we allow that review to go on that — both the House and the Senate Intelligence.
So we can’t cherry-pick every time that you decide that a piece of information is relevant to what you want. I think that we know that they are undertaking a review — hold on.
Q — is going on, and the members of the very committee themselves say they don’t know what is being discussed.
MR. SPICER: Fair enough. Right.
Q How is the process going forward? How is that a workable process?
MR. SPICER: But what I’m saying is, the answer to that question is, that is a question for Chairman Nunes. I don’t have any authority over how the House Intelligence Committee conducts itself. That’s a question —
Q You have authority about whether he gets into this building and can review secured information on this site.
MR. SPICER: But how he conducts himself with his members, when and where he shares things, et cetera, are issues for him and the committee and the House of Representatives, not for us. That’s it, plain and simple.
Q Sean, we know that members of the House Freedom Caucus the Tuesday Group, Republican study group are up on the Hill trying to see if they can come to some sort of an agreement to find a way forward on healthcare. How real does the White House think this possibility of resurrecting healthcare is?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think the President, from the early days of his campaign, talked about repealing and replacing it. It’s a commitment that he made. I think he’d like to get it done. But he also understands — and I don’t want to be — I’m going to be completely consistent with two things. One is, he understands that in order to get to 216, we have to make sure that it does what he says it was going to do — that it achieves those goals of lowering cost and creating more options. And so we’re not going create a deal for the sake of creating a deal that ends up being not in the best interest of the American people. You got to know when to walk away from a deal that is going to end up bad. And he wants to have a good deal.
And so the deal that he’s looking for is willing to have members come and talk to him, and engage on this whole area and figure out what it would take, what their ideas are to get there, to grow that vote. And if they can do that and get to an area where we will have a majority of the House and can move it to the Senate, then we’re going to engage in that. What we’ve seen members of both sides of the aisle engage with the White House on ways that are potentially — ways to get there. And so it’s a conversation, and we’re not trying to jam that down anyone’s throat right now. It’s an ongoing discussion.
Q Does the White House share the frustration of many Republicans in Capitol Hill and the sentiments that the House Freedom Caucus “botched” this?
MR. SPICER: I think the President’s comments on this speak for themselves.
Q I just have one more, and on the same thing. The President and members of the White House have suggested that maybe we can get some Democrats onboard on healthcare reform. The fact that no Democrat, not one Democrat supported the last attempt, and given the desires of the Freedom Caucus versus what the Democrats were doing, it is reasonable to think that even one Democrat would come onboard this?
MR. SPICER: No. I mean, I think it is not unreasonable to —
Q No, I said, is it reasonable.
MR. SPICER: I think it depends on how they want to get there. Again, there’s a balancing act. It’s not about just picking up one; it’s picking up enough to get to 216. And it’s, what does that take without compromising the principles that you want to achieve. So is it possible — sure — that there’s a handful or so, or maybe more Democrats that are willing to engage. But it’s worth the conversation. But again —
Q Isn’t this kind of a Boehner tactic, to say, okay, if you’re not going to work with us, House Freedom Caucus, we’re going to go to the Democrats?
MR. SPICER: No, it’s a tactic to get to — I mean, it’s a math tactic. It’s how do you get to 216, in this case. And it’s engage with whoever will get you to that number.
Now, as I mentioned yesterday, I mean, over the course of 17 months, Obamacare failed and started multiple times; it went off on multiple different tracks, including single payer, until it finally came back, and ultimately, upon Scott Brown’s election, they jammed it through and did it so quick to make sure that the Secretary of Human Services — but I get it. And so we’re 20 days, 21 days into this process, 22 probably today. So we’ll see.
But I think the idea that the President has put out there is that if people want to float ideas and suggestions on how we can grow this vote and get to a majority, he’ll entertain them.
Q Thank you. I have sort of a lightning round about opioids. Is a commission being created? Is Chris Christie the head of that commission? He was sort of talking about it, but I haven’t seen anything on it. And what sort of timeline will that commission have in terms of presenting findings? What’s the goal of this thing?
MR. SPICER: Well, there’s — I mean, I think it’s easier to start with the goal. I think if you see the roundtable — and I know the pool will have a readout of this afterwards — the goal is to figure out — I think Governor Christie has been a leader of this in New Jersey. It’s an issue that plagues countless communities more and more. And so whether it’s New Hampshire or other places in the Midwest, it’s sitting there and figuring out best practices and how can we get it down, and how can we provide the treatment.
I mean, I think the DEA Administrator was noting in the discussion that we’ve gotten really good at law enforcement. But the question is, how do we focus on the treatment, how do we focus on the prevention, how do we look at things that happened in the past to deter drug addiction from starting in the first place, and to deter young people in particular from starting with drugs, to now, how do we help families cope with this? There’s a lot of it.
So I think today is the first step of bringing some of these stakeholders together. But like I just mentioned on the other thing, I appreciate that everyone wants the answers, but I think that there’s a reason that you’re looking at this as two things — a whole of government and a whole of person, right? It’s looking at, how do we look at people to help them get the recovery, stay clean, not start in the first place, help them get into treatment centers, help them get a job afterwards. I mean, there’s a lot of whole of person, but then there’s a whole of government.
As I mentioned, I mean, you’re looking at — around that table today you’ve got families and parents and individuals who have been personally affected in one way, shape, or form. You’ve got Governor Christie who’s dealt with it at a state level. You got Pam Bondi who’s looked at it from a state level. You’ve got Secretary Kelly who’s looking at it from Homeland Security; DEA, who’s looking at partially from law enforcement. Then you’ve also got Secretary DeVos, who’s looking at it from education and prevention. And it is a big, big issue that is plaguing our country, plaguing our communities, and plaguing our families.
And so I wish I could give you an answer and say this is how we’re going to solve the problem. But I think the first step is understanding the problem, the magnitude of it, and looking at how we approach it holistically.
Q Two very short ones. The timeline for them coming back with findings. And then, the President, when he was campaigning, seemed to endorse the STOP Act, which would prevent fentanyl from being imported — help to prevent fentanyl from being imported from countries like China. Would he use his presidential bully pulpit to sort of push for that legislation now, which has not really gotten off the ground yet over in the conference?
MR. SPICER: That was one of the — not the specific piece of legislation, not the STOP Act in particular, but I think there was a lot of discussion about fentanyl and the rise of it today. And I think the Attorney General brought that up and was talking about the escalation of that from the 1980s to now. And so there is a look at it.
But again, as I mentioned, you’ve got the Attorney General there, law enforcement, education. Part of this is to really look at this and figure out what are the ways that we can address it from coming into the country. And the DEA Administrator was talking about it, especially the flow from the southern border. But then you look at it from a law enforcement issue, a prevention issue and a treatment issue.
And this is a — I wish I could give you a really easy answer and say here is the silver bullet that’s going to stop this. But we recognize the growth of this problem and this epidemic, and how do we solve it going forward.
Q Thank you, Sean. Yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May signed the letter that began the process for Brexit. A week ago, on Friday, Jean-Claude Juncker, who is the President of the European Commission, used some unusually strong language about the President, saying that his comments encouraging other Brexits could lead to war among the Balkan countries. And he also said in the end, and is quoted on page one of The Financial Times, that the President does not know a lot about Europe. Was is the President’s response to that?
MR. SPICER: To Brexit, in particular? Or to —
Q To the comments by President Juncker of the European Commission on Brexit?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think the President is very well steeped in world affairs, especially Europe, NATO, all of the issues. He was a leader in the effort to call Brexit, as you know. And obviously, with respect to that, we respect the will of the British electorate and Her Majesty’s government in taking steps of departing the European Union. Whatever future the UK-EU relationship looks like, we want the UK to remain a strong leader in Europe, for both the EU and Europe to remain strong leaders globally.
I think both on the EU and on that, that’s — Ronica.
Q Sean, thank you. I have two questions, or topics. But just the first: What’s the White House reaction to the shooting today at the Capitol?
MR. SPICER: Well, it sounds like a very troubled individual. Obviously, I’ll let law enforcement read that out, but I don’t want to get ahead of — from what I understand, and what I have seen, it sounds like a very troubling instance. I think — again, I don’t want to get ahead of this, but it looks like law enforcement — I appreciate the efforts that the Capitol Police and others took. I mean, you literally watched people put their lives in harm’s way today to protect tourists and other citizens. And so I want to commend the work of the Capitol Police and the work of law enforcement to continue to protect us.
At this time, when Washington is in its glory, with the cherry blossoms out, and so many people are coming here to visit the Tidal Basin and the House of Representatives and the Senate, and walk around Washington, D.C., it’s reassuring to know that so many brave men and women are willing to put their lives on the line to make sure that the city stays safe.
Q A second topic — last weekend, the President spent the weekend here, not in Mar-a-Lago. I’m wondering, was that in any way in response to some of the pushback he’s received about the cost associated with those trips. And part two of that — does he plan to be here again this weekend?
MR. SPICER: So, no. Yes. (Laughter.) He will — the President wanted to be here last weekend. He wants to be here this weekend. He’ll be here, and then I will have updates on where he’ll be going forward.
Q Does he feel any concern about that pushback?
MR. SPICER: No, he feels great.
Q Thank you, Sean. President Trump is reportedly expected to sign legislation that would allow Internet service providers to monitor Internet activity and sell that information without users’ permission. Will he be signing that legislation? And why does think it’s good for America? I’m wondering who this benefits apart from ISPs and their executives.
MR. SPICER: The House and the Senate have just passed that. When they enroll it, then we’ll have further updates on that. I’m not — when we have — I know that — I believe we a statement of administration policy on that bill out, and when we have further updates on a signing ceremony, I will let you know.
Q Doesn’t this erosion of protections create major risks for people to use that information for nefarious purposes? Also hostile nations potentially looking at what congressmen are browsing online — is that concerning to the White House?
MR. SPICER: I think there’s — as I mentioned, that we have a statement of administration policy on that bill, that we will have further updates, and when we do — we sign, I’m sure we’ll have further details on why.
Q I’ve got two questions on two topics for you. The commander of CENTCOM was up on the Hill earlier today and testified that the U.S. government believes that Russia has been supplying material (inaudible.) I was wondering if the White House has any response to that testimony, and does it believe that that’s a constructive effort.
MR. SPICER: I’m sorry, who was testifying?
Q The commander of CENTCOM. Is that a constructive effort on the part of the Russian government in that region?
MR. SPICER: I know there is several entities looking into this, and I’m not going to — I will say that DOD’s response speaks for itself. We understand the intelligence on this. The President has been briefed on it. So I’m not really sure what specifically you’re —
Q — on the action of the Russians right now.
MR. SPICER: I think the commander — the CENTCOM commander’s testimony speaks for itself on that.
Q And a second topic for you: About a month from now, the government will run out of money without another CR, as I’m sure you’re aware. The President talked a lot about it in the campaign, and in his budget request funding for a border wall on the southern border with Mexico. Is that a deal-breaker for the President in any sort of government funding measure in the next month or so?
MR. SPICER: So on April 29th, the CR expires — the continuing resolution — and we are going to be working with Congress on that — on the FY17 budget that needs to go forward. I know Director Mulvaney has talked about that. I’m not going to get into the specific details. I know that, if you saw the budget they put out, I think it’s $1.6 billion or $1.7 billion that he’s initially put in the FY17 for the beginning of that wall, and there’s $2.5, $2.6 —
Q $1.6 billion is in there —
MR. SPICER: Again, I think that is our request, and we will continue to work with Congress on how to move forward with the rest of fiscal year 17’s budget.
Q Thanks, Sean. A couple on healthcare. The President here, last night, speaking to senators, said — quoting here — “I know that we’re all going to make a deal on healthcare — that’s such an easy one… I have no doubt that that’s going to happen very quickly.” What is the renewed sense of optimism, and what exactly is “very quickly”?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s a little bit of sound that needs to go with that. I think he was having a little bit of fun with some previous comments that were made with respect to how easy it would be to get healthcare.
So — but there is a renewed sense because I think the comments and the calls that the President has gotten, as well as the Vice President and other members of the senior team that have come in and said, we believe that there is a path forward, we have some ideas, and we’d like to talk to you about that. I know I’ve seen some of the reports that have been put out regarding some of the individual members of the Senate and the House that have been up here meeting with our team, and I think there is a lot of people who have some ideas about how to move forward, and we’re entertaining those.
But I think the interesting thing is, is that despite the setback that we got last Friday, I think there is a renewed willingness from a lot of members who made commitments to the American people and to their voters that they want to see this done, and they understand that not getting this done means that — as I said, and the President echoed when he went up to the House Republican Conference — is there’s going to be a consequence for this. People need to be taken at their word. There’s a lot of members that made a commitment to their voters, to their constituents that they were going to get something done on this and repeal and replace and address the healthcare situation, and that hasn’t gotten done. And I think that’s a concern for them.
Q And let me ask you real quickly — you say that you embrace the House Intelligence Committee review of all of this. John McCain said earlier today that because of the potential schism within that committee, that there should be a select committee that goes from this. Would you embrace that if that happens, and what would your response —
MR. SPICER: I don’t — again, and I’m not going to get into House and Senate matters, but I don’t — as I mentioned at the outset to April, I believe that people — look, all that is — how they conduct themselves internally is up to them. That’s obviously not for us to decide. But I think the question that I still think is outstanding is that what has happened is a review was called for that — part of it was already ongoing, from I understand, especially on the House side. And the chairman of that committee has gone and sought information and individuals who believed that information to further the review. I’m really not sure how that’s anything other than what you’re supposed to do, and I think that is consistent what he has talked about.
Q Sean, thanks. Two questions. You mentioned Senator Udall opposing the Gorsuch nomination. He was here at the party last night. Did the President try to work with the room, with him and other Democrats, about the nomination last night?
MR. SPICER: I know he and the First Lady and others spoke to a variety of senators. I’m not — I wasn’t keeping tabs on everybody that he spoke to, but I do know that he had an opportunity to speak to a lot of different senators, and he’s talked to a lot on the phone. So I don’t know about Senator Udall himself.
Q And secondly, two-thirds of the Democratic senators did not attend the party last night. Did that disappoint the President?
MR. SPICER: I think we were excited to see the one-third that did. I know Senator Schumer was there, Senator Durbin. There were a lot of folks. And again, I think that — I’m sure the President will continue to do things like this. It was an amazing opportunity to have a moment sort of free of politics and to enjoy some collegial moments with each other in the White House, and listen to the United States and Marine Corps bands play some amazing music and bring people together.
And I think the President has talked about this. You know, he’s mentioned this a bunch of times that there used to be a time when you could sit down and share a meal together, go — and I think that’s what he’s been trying to do, is bring groups back in, and at least just have a conversation and get to that human side a little bit. And so yesterday was a good start, I think.
Q Sean, the President’s got in his inbox a letter from Senate Democrats, and they say — the Democrats say they are ready and willing to work with the President on improving Obamacare, they just have a couple of conditions. First, the President has to abandon his effort to completely repeal the law and rescind the executive order. This letter is signed by the vast majority of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. What does the President say?
MR. SPICER: I think, as the President has noted, we’re willing to engage with people. I think they understand his principles. We need to repeal the law and replace it with something better. I understand what —
Q But they’re saying they want to take full repeal off the table.
MR. SPICER: I understand what they — I’ve seen parts of the letter and I know that 40 of them — saw that. And I think what we need to do is figure out who wants to engage in a constructive conversation. I understand what they want, but again, it’s not just a one-way street. I think the President has made very clear what he wants to do. And I think to the extent that some of them want to have a conversation, we have a 52-seat majority in the Senate. If there are individuals in there that want to have a constructive conversation achieving the goals, we can do it. But I think they also need to understand the President’s red lines.
Q But they say, as a first step, they want him to repeal that executive order. Is that something he is willing to do?
MR. SPICER: I think the President is committed to making sure that he continues to go down the path that he’s gone down, and there are ways that, if they want to join him, that they can. And I think there are some areas that they may want to engage with him on that we’ve seen so far.
And so, look, I understand they have a right to put out a letter and draw their lines in the sand. But I think the President is committed to doing — going down the path he is. And obviously first step is to get to 216 in the House, and then address the concerns in the Senate. But he has continued to have conversations with the Senate, and I think that, as Obamacare continues to struggle — which it is — the premiums continue to go up and up — I think the question is will those 40 people understand that they are the ones who are going to be responsible for owning the current policies that are making so many Americans struggle?
Q But just to clarify, was he joking when he said that making a deal on healthcare would be an easy one?
MR. SPICER: I think if you watch the tape, it was a light-hearted moment, Jonathan. And so he was having a little —
Q He doesn’t think it’s easy to —
MR. SPICER: No, he was — no. Watch — he was having a fun time with the senators there.
Q The other thing that the President said last night was our soldiers are fighting like never before in Iraq. But as you know, Sean, U.S. troops there are in a support role — an advise-and-assist role. What does he mean? What does the President mean when he says they’re fighting there like never before? Obviously —
MR. SPICER: I think —
Q — that doesn’t take into consideration what happened during the Bush administration and the Obama administration —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, I appreciate —
Q — fighting house to house.
MR. SPICER: Yes, I think that there has been some progress, particularly in Mosul, the way that they have taken back that city. And I think that for a long time there was a lot of concern about Iran moving in and dominating parts of Iraq. And I think with the advice and consent of U.S. military advisors, there’s been tremendous progress in moving Iraq forward to an area of civility and to continuing to see the troops there in Iraq stand on their own.
And I think that he is very pleased with the action that General Mattis and our soldiers and sailors, airmen, and Marines are taking to do that.
Q I was going to follow up. If you couple that comment with the comment on healthcare, it being the easy one to get that done, it just — it sounds like — probably have heard this and come across this notion that he’s just detached from reality in making those comments.
MR. SPICER: First of all, I think that — I again would respectfully ask you that you review the tape. He was having a light-hearted moment. It’s on tape. Everybody watched it. He was poking fun and making a joke. There’s been comments before about how he didn’t get it, and he was joking about how easy it was, okay? It was a light-hearted moment. It was on tape. I think everybody — and the idea that there’s this — like you’re trying to make it look like he was being utterly serious at the time is a little bit of a stretch.
Q And one quick thing on Chairman Nunes.
MR. SPICER: But I think — just so we’re clear, I’m sorry, just to end there — that he was very proud of the work that our soldiers and sailors are doing over there in Iraq. There is a lot of work and a lot of progress that is being made in the updates that he’s getting from General Mattis on a daily basis.
Q But he doesn’t think they’re in combat, they’re engaged in combat?
MR. SPICER: No, no. But, again, I think the progress that’s being made in Iraq and that the fight against is going extremely well — and he’s proud of it.
Q And I was just going to ask you very quickly on Chairman Nunes. Do you personally know who the source of Chairman Nunes’s information is?
MR. SPICER: No, I do not.
Q Sean, one on both — on two topics. First on healthcare. Does the President want to start a new healthcare bill or tweak the one that did not go last week?
MR. SPICER: I think we’re starting with where we are and trying to move that forward. I think that is the current vessel.
Q And on a separate topic. The President did not mention the Paris agreement yesterday when he went to the EPA. Can you update us on his current thinking about that? Does he want the United States to stay in? And if he does, how does he expect the United States to meet its commitments without the Clean Power Plan?
MR. SPICER: I think the Paris agreement is still under discussion within the administration.
Q Do you have a deadline on when you’ll know?
MR. SPICER: I can try to look into that. I don’t have one at this time.
Q Thank you, Sean. Early voting has begun in the Georgia Sixth Congressional District special election to fill the seat of Secretary Price. Some Democrats are billing this is a referendum on the President, the early days of the presidency. What does the White House think of that? And does President Trump plan to be involved at all in this race?
MR. SPICER: That’s a good — honestly, I’ve not even thought about it. I think that if needed, the President has always been very clear that he wants to support the team and help the team. Honestly I’ve not tried to really focus on — (laughter) — tried to shed that previous life a little. So I’ve not looked into Georgia — the race in Georgia. I’m sure I’d best refer you to either the RNC or the NRCC on the state of that race.
Thank you, guys, very much. I’ll see you tomorrow, Thursday. Take care.
12:47 P.M. EDT