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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:42 P.M. EST

MR. SPICER:  Good afternoon.  Just before I came up, I wanted to let you all know that we’re monitoring the severe weather that’s going through Louisiana at this time.  The President is aware of the situation and is going to be reaching out to local and state officials throughout the day.

Also, yesterday evening, the President concurred with the FEMA Administrator’s recommendation to approve Governor Bryant’s request to add public assistance to the previously issued major disaster declaration in Mississippi.  Per the Governor’s request, public assistance will be added for three counties — Forrest, Lamar, and Perry.

Yesterday, the President had an amazing day at MacDill Air Force Base, where he met with leaders of both Special Operations Command and Central Command, and then had lunch with enlisted servicemembers thanking them for their service and hearing the ideas that were on their mind.

The President announced his intent to make historic financial investment in the armed forces of the United States, showing the entire world that America has the back of all those who stand in defense of freedom.  As he has said many times before, the armed forces are at the very center of our fight against radical Islamic terrorism, and we must protect those who protect us.

The President kicked off today with a listening session of county sheriffs from around the country.  The President welcomed leaders from the National Sheriffs’ Association to the White House and pledged to work closely with all members of the law enforcement community to keep the American people safe.  He assured the sheriffs that the Trump administration will make every effort to stop drugs and crime from flowing into the country, put an end to the opioid epidemic, secure the borders to keep terrorists out, and strengthen the bonds between state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.

The sheriffs thanked the President for what they described as his “unprecedented” level of support for law enforcement and offered their full backing of his border security and immigration policies.  They expressed how encouraged they have been by the pro-law enforcement atmosphere that has swept the country in the wake of the President’s victory.

They also presented a letter on behalf of the National Sheriffs’ Association, thanking the President for his “recent show of support for law enforcement, specifically on immigration and border security issues” and commending the President’s two executive orders for taking “significant steps to enhancing public safety.”

The group engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about the issues facing the law enforcement community, which the sheriffs said was an opportunity they hadn’t been given under the previous administration.  The sheriffs closed the meeting by thanking the President for defending the rule of law.  And the President took them to the Oval Office to honor them and show his appreciation for their outstanding work they do to keep our communities safe.

A list of the attendees is available for those who are interested.

After that meeting, the President held another listening session on how to best fix the VA.  It’s a top priority for the President and this administration to ensure that veterans get the care they need when and where they need it.  Tragically, many of our veterans are being failed by a system that does not work.  This administration will reform and modernize the VA under the leadership of Dr. Shulkin, creating a culture of accountability that puts our veterans first.

The President welcomed the group to the Roosevelt Room and expressed his intention to take whatever steps are necessary to improve health care access and quality for our heroic veterans. Ms. Tiffany Smiley, the wife of a veteran who was blinded by an IED, detailed her family’s difficulty and experience with the VA health care system, and offered suggestions to how it could be improved.  The President, VA Secretary-designate Dr. David Shulkin, and a group of health care experts and veterans advocates, including Ike & Laura Perlmutter, engaged in a wide-ranging discussion on reforming the VA so that the needs of veterans come first.

The experts discussed private sector solutions and innovations that could be used to improve the VA.  The President praised the Secretary-designate for his commitment to veterans and thanked the group for their willingness to serve and do what was best for our veterans.  They plan to meet on a regular basis to discuss their collective efforts to improve the VA and its health care system.

Also this afternoon, the Vice President had a big day on Capitol Hill, where he cast a historic deciding vote for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.  The President believes strongly that our nation’s success depends on the education of our students.  And Betsy DeVos has devoted nearly three decades of her time and talent to promoting educational opportunity.  As Secretary, she will ensure that every student has access to a good school, whether it’s public, private, parochial, charter, or any other kind.

The fact that we had to get to the point where the Vice President had to be pulled in to overcome the Democrats’ historic and partisan logjam of the President’s qualified nominee is another glaring reminder of the unprecedented obstruction that Senate Democrats have engaged in throughout this process.

The American people sent a strong message when they elected President Trump in November:  They’re fed up with business as usual in Washington.  Democrats in the Senate should expect that voters will remember how they stood in the way of the President enacting an agenda that put him into office.

Last week, I noted the President had a fair amount of Cabinet-level appointees awaiting a full vote by the Senate.  We’re looking forward to seeing more of the President’s picks to lead agencies and departments confirmed in the upcoming week, despite these childish tactics of the Democrats in the Senate, who would rather keep the failed status quo than allowing to put the President’s people in place.

Also on the Hill today, Judge Gorsuch continues a full week of meetings with Republican and Democratic senators.  Yesterday, he met with Senators Tester and Feinstein.  Today he will meet with Senators Sasse, Schumer, Crapo, and Thune.  The President is looking forward to a full hearing for the judge, followed by an up or down vote on this incredibly qualified nominee.

At this moment, the President is meeting with Congressman Jason Chaffetz to discuss how to work together to enact his reform agenda.  Later this afternoon, the President will meet with Secretary of State Tillerson.  The President was obviously pleased to welcome and confirm — swear in Secretary Tillerson in the Oval Office last week, and he’s pleased that the Secretary is now able to bring his unique skillset and deep insights to the important work of the State Department.

Following his discussion with Secretary Tillerson, the President will have calls with Prime Minister Rajoy of Spain and President Erdogan of Turkey.  We’ll of course have readouts of both of those calls when they’re completed.

This evening, the President will host young officers from the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course in the Oval Office.  As the President said yesterday, members of our military and their families are our nation’s heroes.  It is one of his top priorities to ensure that the men and women of our armed forces have the tools, equipment, and resources they need to execute their mission successfully.  The President is looking forward to conveying his gratitude and support to these young brave captains.

Later this evening, around 6:00, 9th Circuit Court will hold oral arguments, per its order from yesterday.  I want to quickly run down what we can expect to happen tonight.  A career attorney from the Department of Justice will present an argument in defense of the President’s order.  And to be clear, all that’s at issue tonight is the hearing — is an interim decision on whether the President’s order is enforced or not until the case is heard on the actual merits of the order.  It’s a simple status quo versus anti-status quo decision.

This is just like the case in Boston, which started as a temporary restraining order.  There, once we were able to explain our position, the court lifted the order and held that the President’s executive order could take effect.  As I have stated before, 8 U.S. Code 1182 gives the President constitutional authority for this executive order.  It says, “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions which he may deem to be appropriate.”  We look forward to a final decision on the merits of this soon.

Looking ahead, I know a few have been asking for more details on Prime Minister Abe’s visit later this week.  As previously announced, he will visit the White House for meetings on the 10th of February.  The President has also invited him down to Mar-a-Lago, and the two leaders will travel there for the weekend.  This is a testament to the importance the United States places on the bilateral relationship and the strength of our alliance, and the deep economic ties between the United States and Japan.

Needless to say, the President is looking very much forward to welcoming the New England Patriots to the White House to celebrate their fifth World Championship.  It was obviously a spectacular game.

Lastly, we have our eyes on Kabul today following the tragic suicide bombing that killed at least 19 Afghan civilians and wounded 14 [41].  Just this morning, General Flynn spoke with the Afghan National Security Advisor to reaffirm our continued support for Afghanistan and for our Strategic Partnership.  We condemn this cowardly attack in the strongest possible terms, and we commend the Afghan security forces for their rapid response.  We also reaffirm our support to the Afghan government as they work to defend their people against enemies of peace.

And with that, I’ll take your questions.  David Jackson.

Q    Sean, the list of 78 terrorist attacks that you released, it looked like it had been prepared well in advance.  I mean, was that already on hand when President Trump made his comments?  Or did you do it afterwards and plan to release it?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think the answer was, we had been getting questions as to what the President’s remarks were.  We wanted to be very clear that there are a lot of examples between 2014 and 2016 that have occurred, and many of them haven’t gotten the attention that they have deserved.  It’s becoming too often that we’re seeing these attacks not get the spectacular attention that they deserve.  And I think it undermines the understanding of the threat that we face around this country.

The reason the President has been acting in so many of the ways that he has with executive order and otherwise, the discussions that he had down at CENTCOM and SOCOM yesterday, are because he cares about making sure that we don’t have attacks in this country, that we’re protected, that we’re ahead of the curve.

And I think what we need to do is to remind people that the Earth is a very dangerous place these days, that ISIS is trying to do us harm, and that the President’s commitment is to keep this country safe.

And I think part of this is to make sure that the American people are reminded how prevalent some of these attacks and how much time and attention they have or have not gotten, but, more importantly, to make sure that they understand the unwavering commitment that the President has and the actions that he will take to keep the country safe.

Q    Was the list put together after his comments?

MR. SPICER:  Yes.  Yes.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  On the call with Turkish President Erdogan later today, does President Trump intend to discuss plans for Syrian safe zones?  And does the President expect Turkey to help create those zones?

MR. SPICER:  I think we’ll have a readout for you on that.  I don’t want to get ahead of the two leaders’ calls.

Alexis, RealClearPolitics.

Q    Sean, I have two questions for you.  You were mentioning that voters are going to remember how senators voted on the President’s Cabinet nominees.  Two Republicans voted against Betsy DeVos — Senators Collins and Murkowski.  Did the President reach out to either of them?  And will he not forget what Republicans did in that particular nominee situation?

MR. SPICER:  I think — look, the President has been very clear it’s not Republicans that have stood in the way of this nomination of all of these qualified individuals.  It’s been Democrats that have stalled over and over again, not attending hearings, trying to use every delay tactic possible.  It’s those people that have a problem, and I think that’s the message that the party has missed on the Democratic side, which — and I don’t think that — I wouldn’t paint it with a broad brush, because I think it’s Senate Democrats, frankly, that haven’t gotten the message.

Q    But he never reached out to them?

MR. SPICER:  Our team has been in contact with the entire Senate team to make sure that they understand and that they’ve had visits as requested.  But we have been in constant contact with the Senate, members of the Senate, their staffs.  Our legislative affairs team has had an extremely robust schedule of meetings with their teams to make these nominees available to them.

But I think the broader issue, again — and with all due respect, I think it’s interesting that we’re focusing on the votes of two Republicans when you look at the spectrum of antics that have gone on in the Democrats.  I mean, the tactics that they have done over and over and over again to delay, not show up to hearings, filibuster to the extent that they can, run the clock out — it’s not Republicans that have a problem here, Alexis.  It’s the Democrats that continue to do this.

Q    The second question has to do with the President’s remarks about the Affordable Care Act in his interview on Sunday — because he indicated in his response, in that interview, that he thought that the repeal-and-replace was going to take longer, perhaps into 2018.  Can you clarify whether he is frustrated about this, what he is doing about the timing?  Because, of course, voters who sent him here were anticipating that this might move faster than he was conveying in the interview.

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think luckily — and you saw Speaker Ryan’s comments earlier today — I think we can have this done legislatively sooner rather than later, but I think the implementation of a lot of the pieces may take a little bit longer.

It’s a big, big bill that the Democrats passed.  As you recall, they told us we could read it after they passed it.  We are now going through this to make sure that we do this in a very responsible way, to make sure that health care, which is so vital to so many Americans and their families, is preserved while we put a new system in place that both lowers costs and increases accessibility.

But the President, I think, is very encouraged by the commitment and work that’s going on on the Hill to make sure that we get this thing replaced as quick as possible.

Fred Lucas.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  I wanted to ask — actually, a follow-up related to that.  Speaker Ryan has actually said — and I’m quoting — with Obamacare you can’t “tinker at the margins and repair it.  You can’t.  It is a collapsing law.”  Do you agree with that?  And you can’t build on what’s already there, you have to get rid of the entire law?

MR. SPICER:  I think what we’re focused on is the end solution.  And I think we’ve been very clear over and over again that the President is going to repeal and replace it, and that what Americans will get at the end of this is a health care solution that, as I’ve said before over and over again, is going to give them a lower-cost health solution with more options.  That’s what they were promised in the first place.  That’s what we can give.

And I think the President, being able to approach this in the businesslike manner that he’s done so successfully in the past, is going to ensure that he negotiates prices, that we look at those business-like practices, force competition among states and other things that will help lower cost once and for all, and provide that competition.

Q    On Iran sanctions, does the President have any concerns about the fact that Adam Szubin is the Acting Treasury Secretary in terms of implementing those sanctions?

MR. SPICER:  No.  We implemented them — they went off without a hitch.

Fred — I mean, John Decker.

Q    Thanks a lot, Sean.  As you know, the President spoke over the weekend on Twitter and criticized the federal judge appointed by George W. Bush who imposed the nationwide restraining order.  He called him a “so-called judge.”  Is the President, as it relates to the arguments — I know you’re confident — but the arguments that will be presented this evening — is he prepared to accept an adverse ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals?

MR. SPICER:  There’s no question the President respects the judicial branch and its ruling, but I think that there’s no way — I just read off the U.S. code on that.  I don’t think there’s any other way that you can interpret that, that the President has the discretion to do what’s necessary to keep this country safe.  And I think that’s his concern, frankly, right now, is that when the law is such as it is, that anyone could interpret that any other way.  I think he feels confident, just like in the ruling in Boston, that we’re going to prevail on this on the merits of the case because it is done so in a very lawful way.


Q    Will the administration take a position on the Israeli legislation to retract or illegalize the thousands of West Bank settlements?  Last week, obviously, you said building the settlements may not be helpful.

MR. SPICER:  I think that, as I mentioned last week — and I don’t want to get too far ahead of this — but Prime Minister Netanyahu will be here on the 15th.  I think that will be obviously a topic of discussion right now.  I don’t want to get ahead of that.

Charlie Spiering.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Just a quick question.  Any response to the calls for impeachment by Representative Maxine Waters?


Hunter Walker.

I mean, I would just say, look, I think, look, it is — the President is doing everything he can to move this country forward.  And I think whether it’s the Democrats in the Senate who are trying to stall these nominees or these little political stunts on the House side, the bottom line is, I think by and large you see the support that the President is receiving for his policies throughout the country.  And it’s because I think people recognize, A, that business as usual is over and that the President’s commitment to both keeping this country safe, growing the economy and creating jobs is something that is welcomed by all Americans, regardless of party.
I think when you see stuff like that, I think it really just shows that they really missed the message that voters sent this past November.

Hunter Walker.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  CNN reportedly declined to interview Kellyanne Conway on Sunday because of the questions about her credibility.  Is the White House willing to offer alternative representatives to networks that refuse to work with specific spokespeople?

MR. SPICER:  Well, frankly, I think that my understanding is they retracted that, they walked that back or denied it, however you want to put it — I don’t care.  But I think Kellyanne is a very trusted aide of the President.  I think for any characterization otherwise is insulting.

I don’t think — if they choose not to work with someone, that’s up to them.  But I think we’re going to continue to put out key leaders of this administration, including Kellyanne, that can articulate the President’s policies and agenda.

Katie Pavlich.

Q    Thanks, Sean, for the question.  Is President Trump planning to ask the Senate to expedite legislation allowing for the swift firing of bad VA employees?

MR. SPICER:  I think the President’s commitment, as you heard both during the campaign and as he’s talked to Dr. Shulkin, is to make sure that we’re providing the best care.  And if there’s things that are an impediment to that care being offered up or reformed, then he is going to make sure that we enact policies internally that make sure that people who are not doing their job, not servicing veterans, we can figure out how to expedite that process.

But the idea that we’re sitting around having a discussion about personnel inhibiting the care that veterans deserve really does not bode well for the reflection that we want on this country.  I mean, people who have served this nation — we should be bending over backwards to make sure that the benefits and the care and the services that they, frankly, earned is something that is given the highest priority and is something that the President remains highly committed to.

Miriam Borgess.

Q    Hey, hi.  The President is going to speak later today with the Spanish leader, Mariano Rajoy.  And I would like to know how President Trump sees the relation with Spain, and which are the main issues they are going to discuss in their phone call.

MR. SPICER:  So I’m not going to — we’ll have a readout after the call, but I imagine that they’re going to talk about a shared commitment to defeating ISIS and that they’ll discuss our bilateral relationship and reaffirm our commitment to the two countries.  I think we will have a readout on that call with Spain as we will with all the countries and all the other leaders that we will talk to and we have in the past.  So I don’t want to get too far ahead of it, but I would imagine that the current relationship that we have with Spain and our commitment to ISIS will be at the forefront of that.

Maria Peña.

Q    Yes, here, sorry.  Thank you.  It’s kind of loud in here.  So it’s a two-part question.  One, can you confirm whether or not the White House has accepted the credentials of the new Mexican ambassador, Gerónimo Gutiérrez?  And also Representative Mike Rogers, I believe, this morning said that he plans to introduce a bill to impose a 2 percent tax on all remittances that Mexicans send to their country to pay for the wall.  Would the President rally behind that bill?

MR. SPICER:  So, first, I would have to get back to you on the ambassador’s credentials.  I don’t know.  We could check with the Department of State and figure that out.  I don’t know that right off the top of my head.

And I’m not going to comment — I don’t — we don’t put out statements of administration policy until the bill has gone through the process.


Q    Two questions for you.  One, following up on health care, the President, as you know, campaigned for 18 months on replacing the Affordable Care Act.  Where is his plan?

MR. SPICER:  He’s working with Congress.  I just answered that question.  But he’s working with Speaker Ryan.  Let me — you’re acting like —

Q    The specifics of it, though.  I mean, does he owe the American people something now given —

MR. SPICER:  And I think he’s been very clear that he owes the American people a result that’s going to lower costs and provide more access.  That’s what he continues to work with Speaker Ryan on.  I think the Speaker was very clear on it — that they’re having meetings both legislatively and at the principal level to make sure that this gets done.

And I think as you heard Speaker Ryan, we continue to be optimistic about getting this thing completed by this year.  It’s a mammoth bill what they passed and did it — and I think we’ve got to make sure that we do this right.  We don’t want to end up with the same result that Democrats did.  They rushed it through.  No one was able to read the bill.  And premiums have skyrocketed; access and options have gone down.  We need to make sure that we don’t do this in a way that’s going to end up with the same result.

John Roberts.

Q    I have a question for you, Sean, though, on Yemen.


Q    I did say two.

Q    One of the world’s most wanted terrorists is now taunting President Trump, calling him a “fool” after that raid.

MR. SPICER:  Right.

Q    Any response from the White House?  And do you still stand by your characterization that it was a successful raid?

MR. SPICER:  Absolutely.  That — he was not — that was — the raid that was conducted in Yemen was an intelligence-gathering raid.  That’s what it was.  It was highly successful.  It achieved the purpose it was going to get — save the loss of life that we suffered and the injuries that occurred.  The goal —

Q    So you’re pushing back on reporting that he was a target?

MR. SPICER:  Absolutely.  He was not — the goal of the raid was intelligence-gathering.  And that’s what we received, and that’s what we got.  That’s why we can deem it a success.

John Roberts.

Q    If — and I know that you believe that you have a good case on the merits to lift the temporary restraining order.  If the President does not prevail at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, will he take this to the Supreme Court?

MR. SPICER:  Let’s see where we go.  I think he made it very clear that —

Q    Can I just finish?

MR. SPICER:  Yes, you can.  I’m sorry.

Q    And is he concerned that if this does go to the Supreme Court with its current 4-4 makeup, that this temporary restraining order might become a little more permanent?

MR. SPICER:  Well, remember tonight is about just a restraining order.  We’re not —

Q    I know what it’s about.  That’s not the question.

MR. SPICER:  Right, I understand.  But I think that it’s important to explain this to everyone, John, because I know you get it and so many others — but I just want to make sure.  Tonight is about the restraining order.  It has nothing to do with the merits of the case.  And that’s why I think we feel confident.  The question is:  Does the restraining order get lifted or not?  But regardless of what happens tonight, the merits of the case still need to be — to discuss.

And I think the merits of the case, as they were in Boston, are ones that we feel very confident on because the law is crystal clear on this.  The President has the authority to do this.  It was done so in an interagency process that ensured that all the appropriate people were consulted.  We went through that with flying colors.  I have zero concern that at the end of the day, we’ll be fine.  It’s just a question of going through the process.

Q    And I get all that, as you pointed it out.  But if he does not prevail at the 9th Circuit, will he take this case to the Supreme Court?

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to get — let’s see where it goes first.  I think our goal right now is to get to a point we can argue it on the merits.  We feel confident, based on how the Court has reacted in Massachusetts, that we’re going to be good on the merits.

Jonathan Swan.

Q    Thanks for the question.  Does President Trump still plan to immediately terminate President Obama’s executive amnesties?

MR. SPICER:  With respect to what, DACA and DAPA?

Q    DAPA.

MR. SPICER:  I’ve said this before, we’ll have further updates on that.  Go ahead.

Q    But just in the thing, it said “immediately terminate.”

MR. SPICER:  I understand that.

Q    So I just wondered what the delay is.

MR. SPICER:  And I’ve made it — and I’ve said before the President will have further updates on both DACA and DAPA very shortly.  We’ve been very clear on immigration — what the President’s priorities would be.  As you heard Secretary Kelly testify in front of Congress today, there is going to be continued progress on the wall and on immigration as a whole.  So we’re going to have plenty of time to address this.

Right now, he’s trying to do it in a very systematic way in accordance to where we find the biggest problems.  And so he’s been very clear in the past that those who are in this country that pose a threat to us or with a criminal record are where his priorities are going to be first and foremost, and we’re going to move through the rest of folks that are in this country illegally.


Q    Thank you, Sean.  Back to Iran.  The Ayatollah Khamenei said today that Trump has “helped Iran reveal the true face of America.”  He said Iran doesn’t fear Trump, and he encouraged Iranians to march in the street against America later this week.  Does the President have a response to those very aggressive comments?  And does he plan to take additional action against Iran if its leaders continue to escalate tensions?

MR. SPICER:  I think the President — or the Ayatollah is going to realize that there is a new President in office.  This President is not going to sit by and let Iran flout its violations, or its apparent violations to the joint agreement.

But he will continue to take action as he sees fit.  The President has also made clear time and time again that he’s not going to project what those actions will be, and he will not take anything off the table.  But I think Iran is kidding itself if they don’t realize that there is a new President in town.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  On Thursday, weather permitting, the President is going to meet with airline executives from throughout the country.  Two complaints from airline executives, as well as the Pilots Association, have been, one, that Norwegian Airlines got a special advantage, a foreign carrier permit from the Obama administration, and also that the airlines of the Arab Emirates are state-subsidized, and both cases are violations of the Blue Skies Act between the U.S. and the EU.  Is this something he’s going to address?  And is he considering upending President Obama’s foreign carrier permit?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, that will be something that — that will be decided when they meet, what they’ll talk about.  Obviously, the President is going to want to talk about economic growth and job creation, how he’s enacting orders to make sure the country is safe.

On the case of Norwegian, my understanding, if I’m correct, that there is a deal in which they’re having 50 percent of the crews and the pilots are American-based.  They’re flying Boeing planes.  There is a huge economic interest that America has in that deal right now.  I don’t want to get ahead of the President on that.  But just to be clear, I mean, when you’re talking about U.S. jobs, both in terms of the people who are serving those planes and the person who’s building those planes.

That’s a very big difference.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  A few minutes ago you said that the President wanted to remind the American people of how prevalent terrorist attacks are and that the Earth is a dangerous place.  That kind of breaks with the rhetoric we’ve seen bipartisan administrations use when it comes to terrorist attacks, encouraging the American people to go about their daily lives.

MR. SPICER:  That’s not the point that — no, no, no, —

Q    Does this President have a different message to the American people?

MR. SPICER:  I think, yeah, his message to the American people is that he is fully committed to doing everything that he can to keep the country safe.  And I think that there’s a big difference between what you’re saying and the point that he was making yesterday.  And I think that what he’s getting at is making — he was making a point as to the exposure that attacks get.  And I think that’s what he was getting at, is that we see these things and they’re becoming too prevalent.

And that’s why I think he wants to become ever vigilant to make sure that we don’t ever get lax, that we need to be reminded that places and groups like ISIS continue to seek to do us harm, and that it is his job as Commander-in-Chief to do everything he can to get ahead of the curve and keep this country safe.

I think when you look at the poll that came out last week — and I think it was 67 percent of the American people agree with his proposition to put further restrictions on people, to make sure that we have countries who are sending people to our country that they are coming here for peaceful purposes, and that if we can’t guarantee those countries have the proper vetting and systems in place when they are outbound to the United States, then we need to do what we can, and he will do what he has to as President, to make sure that this country is safe.

So I think there is a — the point that he was making was not to put fear in anybody, but to, rather, reassure them that as President of the United States he is taking every single step to do what he has to to get ahead of the threats, to get ahead of the concerns so we’re not looking in the rearview mirror thinking, what should we have done, what could we have done; that we’re preventing lives — whether it’s the raid in Yemen, the law that he’s enacting — that he’s going to do what he can to make sure that this homeland and our people are protected and safe.


Q    Thank you.  I just have two questions.  One on a tweet and one on health care.  When the President tweeted, “If something happens, blame the judge and the court system,” did he mean if a terrorist attack is committed by somebody from these seven countries?  Or any terrorist attack should be blamed on the judge and the court system?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think the point that he — the tweet is pretty clear.  But I think his point is, is that — kind of dovetails what I was just saying to Zeke — he’s doing everything he can.  And he walks into office — there are seven countries that the Obama administration has already identified as not having the proper systems in place to guarantee our safety — and I think his immediate reaction is to do what he has to do to make sure that we’re not looking back and saying, you know what we should have done, we should have made sure that we had stricter vetting in place for those seven countries.

So he took immediate and decisive action to make sure that this country and our people were protected.  That’s what he’s talking about, is making sure that we don’t have regret, that a month from now or two months from now or a year from now we hadn’t done something to protect people.  And so he acted as quick and decisively as possible to make sure that we put the systems in place to protect our people.  And I don’t think there’s any other way to read that.

Q    A question on health care.  Can I just get my second question?

MR. SPICER:  Of course.

Q    You just said he’ll negotiate prices, and that’s something he — he ran on negotiating prices for Medicare, drug prices.  And I just want you to clarify where he is on that, because when he met with big pharma the other day, before the meeting he said, we have no choice, we have to get prices down.  After the meeting he said he would oppose anything that makes it harder for these companies to bring their drugs to market, including price fixing by Medicare.  So is he for Medicare negotiating drug prices, or not?

MR. SPICER:  He’s for it, yes.  He wants to make sure —

Q    He’s still for it.

MR. SPICER:  Absolutely.

Q    Okay.

MR. SPICER:  The President is clear — I mean, when you look at the costs of — not just drug costs.  The U.S. government has not done — I mean, you look at what — frankly, the easier way to look at this is what other countries have done — negotiating costs to keep those down.  As drug prices continue to escalate, that drives up health care costs for every American.  But particularly, there’s a huge burden on America’s seniors who are so much more reliant on drug prices.  And in many cases you have people living on a fix income.  And health care costs — rising health care costs and prescription drugs continue to be a burden on their ability to live out their lives in a much more enjoyable manner.

And so his commitment is to make sure that he does what he can, and I think rather successfully uses his skills as a businessman to drive them down.


Q    Sean, can you clarify two things?

MR. SPICER:  Sure.

Q    One, Secretary Kerry — Kelly, excuse me, when he was on the Hill today said that the administration right now is not looking at adding other countries to this temporary travel ban list.  Is the White House still giving itself room to add some countries to that list?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think what his point was is, is that right now, he’s not doing it.  You have to look at his testimony in context.  I think he went through the fact that we’re still in this review process, that he is committed to making sure that we look at all other countries.  But as of this moment, there is no immediate desire to add to that, but he is looking at all of the other countries, the procedures that we have with them, the systems we have in place to check them.  And so nothing is final until the end of the review period.

Q    But I had a second question, sorry.  So you said still leaving room to do that.  Something that the President continues to say as a phrase — and I’m hoping you can define it for us — is that this is about testing who truly loves America and making sure that those who enter the country are those who truly love America.  How do you quantify that?  What is the President thinking of?  Is that a specific test?  What does that mean?

MR. SPICER:  No, I mean — look, I think there’s a — I think the President’s goal is to make sure that people aren’t coming here to do us harm; that they’re going through the proper extreme vetting in cases where we don’t have the information required to make a good judgment on them based on what their country is willing to provide; that we are taking the proper and necessary steps to protect our people.

But he doesn’t — if someone is coming here to do us harm or to espouse things that would give us a good indication that they’re not coming here for the right reasons, then we need to do everything we can to, A, vet them and, B, unless we’re 100 percent certain, keep them out of the country.

Q    It’s a background check.

MR. SPICER:  It’s a background check.  But again, I wouldn’t just — it’s not.  I mean, it is — to the extent that we can, it’s going to be extreme vetting is what he’s talked about; t

hat it’s not going to be just letting someone in on a quick check.  If there’s any cause for concern, he wants to go to every step possible to make sure that people who are entering this country are doing so because they want to come here for the right reasons and for peaceful reasons.


Q    Thank you, Sean.  On South Korea, South Korea knows about Trump is very good friend of theirs.  And the (inaudible) most important part of his policy on South Korea?

MR. SPICER:  What will what, please?

Q    What was most important part of Trump’s policy towards South Korea?

Q    The most important part of the policy —

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  Look, he had a conversation the other day and we look forward to filling that conversation.  I think obviously the threat of North Korea is the most prominent issue that faces South Korea in our alliance right now.  He wants to reassure the South Korean government, the Blue House, that we are going to do what we can to make sure that we stand with South Korea and that we prevent any further hostile actions from North Korea.

So I think that the safety of our country, of South Korea, of the region are going to be clearly the greatest focus of this.

Q    John-Christopher, Talk-Media News.  When the President submits his budget, is he committed to pushing Congress to approve sufficient funding for all American students to have either an outstanding public school education or the public funding for them to reach an outstanding private school education?

MR. SPICER:  Look, I think the President has talked extensively about education during the primary, whether it’s an Associate’s Degree, a Bachelor’s Degree, a PhD or vo-technical education that we’ve got to give students these days the options they need for the workforce; that a vo-tech education in some cases is what’s in the interest of students in terms of their success, and giving them the skills to work on cars or become a computer engineer or whatever.

But as we head into — as we look towards the future, we’ve got to make sure that we’re preparing our students to have the skillset that they need.  And it’s also the retraining aspect of that — that as people get older and certain industries start to turn the corner because of technology, that we’re allowing people the opportunity for retraining to give them the skillset that they need to reenter the workforce and continue to be productive.

So I think as you will see — look, we literally will swear in the Secretary of Education hopefully later this evening, which we will let you all know — probably around the 5:00 or 6:00 hour.  But that will be something that he’s going to continue to have a conversation with Secretary DeVos about.  Something that she’s made clear — and it’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to have this conversation sooner because it was held up for so long — but I think that’s something that Secretary DeVos will be speaking a lot about, about the education funding and skillset and opportunities that we give not just our children but people older in life who are looking to get back into the workforce through another avenue.

Q    How about the K-12?  How about the youngsters?

MR. SPICER:  I think we’ll have plenty of time to discuss the President’s budget as we get closer — as he sort of develops that.  Today, we’re excited that Secretary DeVos will get sworn in.


Thanks a lot, guys.  Have a great one.  Take care.

2:19 P.M. EST