James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:37 P.M. EST
MR. SPICER: Good morning. First off, I want to acknowledge, as the President did this morning, that today is International Women’s Day. It’s also Women’s History Month. We’re going to be holding several events throughout the month here at the White House to honor and celebrate women and how their vital contributions have and continue to be to our society, our economy, our family and our businesses.
The President tweeted this morning about the surge in hiring in the two months that he’s been in office. LinkedIn’s workforce reports say January and February were the strongest consecutive months for hiring in over a year and a half. A new report from ADP and Moody’s showed strong private job growth that is far exceeding market expectations. And just this morning, Samsung confirmed that it’s planning a “major investment” in U.S. production facilities, directly citing the President’s election as an influence in their decision. The initial investment is expected to reach around $300 million.
We keep seeing that the wave of optimism in growth in the wake of the President’s pledges to help American businesses continues to produce real results for people throughout our nation.
Yesterday I forgot to — there are a couple of things that I didn’t get to yesterday, so let me mention a couple of those. Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David Shulkin, and senior White House staff met with several veteran service organizations — included in what is commonly referred to as the Big Six — to discuss the President’s commitment to helping our veterans and modernizing our VA. The meeting represented another step in fulfilling the President’s promise to the men and women who have served our nation so honorably. I know the President looks forward to personally following up on that meeting with the VSOs.
Also last night, the President named several individuals whom he intends to nominate or appoint to key administration posts: Courtney Simmons Elwood, General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency; Noel Francisco, Solicitor General at the Department of Justice; Jeffrey Rosen, Deputy Secretary of Transportation; John J. Sullivan, General Counsel for the Department of Defense; Ajit Pai, member of the Federal Communications Commission; and Tony Sayegh, Jr., the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Treasury.
Expect further announcements as the week goes on.
Now, on to the events of the day. This morning, after receiving his daily intelligence briefing, the President met with Laurene Powell Jobs, the founder and president of Emerson Collective, an organization dedicated to removing the barriers that unfortunately prevent some in the world from achieving their full potential. They discussed education and immigration policy, which are two of the areas that Emerson Collective focuses on.
Then the President held a strategic affairs lunch, focused on infrastructure with leaders in the private sector. Infrastructure used to be a point of American pride. But now, an overbearing, ineffective regular system can keep projects in limbo for years. The President has already started removing the regulatory roadblocks that have been killing projects before they’ve even begun through his executive actions, streamlining the permitting process and calling for each agency throughout the government to identify regulations that cause undue burden.
As the President has said many times, strong public-private partnerships will also be key to revitalizing our country’s ruined roads, crumbling bridges and outdated airports. The government has wasted too much of the taxpayers’ money on inefficient and misguided projects. By looking at infrastructure from a businessperson’s perspective, as the President and these executives do, we can restore respect for the taxpayer dollar and make the best investment.
The President was particularly pleased to be holding this meeting now that Secretary of Transportation Chao, EPA Administrator Pruitt, and Energy Secretary Perry are all confirmed and getting to work. In attendance at the lunch, as I mentioned, were Secretary Chao, Secretary Perry, Administrator Pruitt, and then Richard LeFrak, CEO of LeFrak; Steve Roth, the CEO of Vornado Realty Trust; Josh Harris, co-founder of Apollo Global Management; Bill Ford, the CEO of General Atlantic; Lynn Scarlett, the managing director of the Nature Conservancy; Tyler Duvall, the partner of McKinsey; and Elon Musk of SpaceX.
Later this afternoon, the President will meet with Congressman Elijah Cummings to discuss rising prescription drugs prices. I know the President is looking forward to continuing the dialogue that they started a few weeks ago on the phone.
At 4:00 o’clock, the President will meet with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Senator Murkowski, and Senator Sullivan of Alaska. They’re expected to discuss the priorities of the Department of Interior, especially as it pertains to the government-owned lands in Alaska.
This evening, the President will meet with conservative leaders about health care. We’ll have more details and participants on that meeting a little bit later this afternoon.
The President and the Vice President continue to reiterate their support for the House bill on Obamacare repeal and replace, and look forward to working with Congress to institute a new healthcare system. Tonight, the President will have dinner with Senator and Mrs. Cruz.
And finally, a couple of additional administration announcements. Today, the President and the First Lady announced the initial details for the 139th White House Easter Egg Roll taking place on Monday, April 17th. They are honored to continue the traditions of the past while creating new ones that will play a lasting role in the fabric of our nation’s history. Tickets to the Easter Egg Roll are free to the public and will be allotted through an online lottery. Further details on the lottery and information on that day will be released later this month. Keep an eye on WhiteHouse.gov for updates on that.
I’m also pleased to announce — and a little bit proud — that Taoiseach Kenny of Ireland will be visiting the White House for the traditional St. Patrick’s Day visit on March 16th. We’ll have further details on that visit, as well as the other foreign leader visits later this week.
With that, some questions.
David Smith of The Guardian.
Q Hi, Sean. Can I ask about the President’s state visit to the UK? Is there timing for that? And what was your reaction to some members of Parliament in Britain saying the President is not welcome? They actually used words like “racist” and “sexist.” Has that led him to reconsider?
MR. SPICER: The President, as you know, accepted Her Majesty’s invitation when the Prime Minister was here. He looks forward to going over and visiting the United Kingdom. As we have details to share with you further, we will, but there is nothing further at this time.
Q Does the White House have a reaction to the Iranian vessels coming within 150 yards of a Navy ship over the weekend? Aren’t they on notice? And will you offer anything beyond a verbal reaction? And then I have a follow-up question.
MR. SPICER: Okay. The USNS ship that was in close proximity is obviously something that the President has been made aware of. The President has been very clear that this provocative action is something that won’t be tolerated. With that, I would refer you to the Department of Defense, who is monitoring that situation and will talk about the appropriate actions they may take.
And your next one?
Q And then, secondly, does he have any plans to revamp the H-1B visa program by the April 1 deadline?
MR. SPICER: I think we’ve talked before about immigration as a whole. I think there is the legal part of immigration and then the illegal part of immigration. The President’s actions that he’s taken in terms of his executive order and other revamping of immigration policy have focused on our border security, keeping our country safe, our people safe. And then, obviously, whether it’s H-1B visas or the other one — spousal visas — other areas of student visas, I think there is a natural desire to have a full look at — a comprehensive look at that. He discussed the RAYS Act yesterday with Senators Perdue and Cotton. We’ll have more on that coming forward.
But I think as the readout mentioned, he was very supportive of their efforts with respect to how we view legal immigration. He mentioned it in his joint address that we’re one of only a handful of countries that doesn’t use a merit-based system of immigration, and that is something that we need to look at in its totality.
Q Thank you, Sean. I had two quick questions. Are you aware of any women who work at the White House who are participating in the strikes today? And also, more generally, what is the administration’s reaction to this protest? And do you think it’s an effective way — skipping work is an effective way for women to demonstrate their power and significance?
MR. SPICER: On the first part, I am not aware of any that are not here. I think everyone that I’m aware of has shown up and is working really hard to advance the President’s agenda. They’re committed to moving this country forward. For those of us who have joined the President throughout government, I think — but obviously, as the President stated today, we want to recognize the contributions that women make to our businesses, to our families, to our economy, to our society.
And it’s a free country. People have the right to express themselves. But I think that we should, on a daily basis — not just one day a year but 365 days a year — appreciate the contributions that women make in all of those categories. So it shouldn’t be a daily thing, and hopefully we can help fix that a little bit more.
Q Thanks a lot, Sean. There seems to be this groundswell of conservative opposition to the healthcare bill that was offered up by leadership in the House of Representatives. You mentioned the President is going to be meeting this evening with conservatives. What is his message to those individuals? Are they members of the Freedom Caucus? Will Senator Rand Paul be there? And can you give a sense about what the President intends to do to turn around that opposition that was quite apparent yesterday?
MR. SPICER: So a few things on that. One, as I mentioned, we’ll have a list of participants later. Two, I think that there has been a lot of — from business and conservative groups have been very supportive of this, whether it’s Americans for Tax Reform, Americans’ Taxpayers Union, the Medical Device Manufacturing Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AdvaMed, One Nation Health, Consumer Health Products Association, the Association of — AMAC, the National Association of Wholesale Distributors, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and others.
There’s been tremendous support for this. We’ve had people throughout Washington, D.C going to different associations and groups throughout the day the last couple days talking about the benefits of this. And we’re going to continue to do outreach. He met, as you know, yesterday with the House Whip team expressing his unwavering support for the bill and the process that it’s about to encounter. He’ll mention — he’ll work with these individuals tonight.
And we’re going to have a full-court press. Our team throughout the administration on local radio and local television to get that message right to the American people to talk about both the things that we talked about yesterday — why we have a crisis right now in healthcare and why Obamacare is failing, but then secondly why the solution that the President has worked on with the House is the right one to bring down costs and to reinstitute choice. So that message is going to continue to get delivered both today and for the next several weeks until it passes the House and the Senate and comes back to his desk.
But again, one of the important messages that I think those on the conservative side need to understand is, right now, there is an uneven playing field. If you get your insurance through Medicaid, Medicare, through the government, or an employer-based healthcare, you are untaxed, your employer is untaxed. It is those self-employed individuals, those small businesses that are paying the penalty for this.
And that’s what I think we have to remember, is that we talk so often on the conservative side and on the Republican side about the importance of entrepreneurship, the importance of small businesses to our economy, and yet they’re the ones who suffer right now with an inequity in the tax system. And I think that by leveling that playing field, and by giving them more options and driving down cost, we’re actually doing a very conservative thing here by removing the mandate of a government-mandated “you must buy this program or you will pay a penalty,” and eliminating choice.
We are enacting I think very strong conservative values in healthcare that give all Americans more choice at a lower cost. So I think that should be a very positive message.
Q Yes, thank you. As a brand new federal employee I’m sure you’re aware —
MR. SPICER: A current — welcome back.
Q Yes, well, at the moment. I’m sure you and your family are aware that Office of Personnel Management offers a very comprehensive healthcare program called the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program.
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q You, anyone in this building, on the Hill, their staff, their family, their friends — not their friends, their family — well, maybe who knows — very generous. It’s state of the art. The individuals involved in the healthcare situation right now, the debate, no matter how it plays out, can they really have the kind of sympathy and empathy for individuals who may not benefit nearly as much when they’re negotiating this — all these plans, Sean?
MR. SPICER: In what respect?
Q Well, I mean, you’re fine. You’re covered.
MR. SPICER: Sure, but it’s unfortunate — first of all, I’m not fine. Because I think because of Obamacare, premiums on everybody have gone up. Regardless of what you pay, federal employees make a contribution to their healthcare plan as well. And I think that the — all premiums have increased over the last — whether you’re in an employer-based system or not.
So one of the big issues with Obamacare was in order to fix a problem that faced 15 to 20 million people, is that the entire system got shattered, and prices on everybody got ratcheted up. People who were on Medicaid suddenly lost their ability — so the issue was, is that in an attempt to solve a problem that affected a very specified and defined group of people, we affected the entire healthcare market.
So whether or not you get it from an employee or not — an employer or not — but to your question, that’s part of the issue.
Q But —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, hold on. Here’s the issue — you’re right, you’re absolutely right. Right now, if you’re a federal employee, and a lot of cases in state, you get to open a book and you get to look at what plan matters to you, what plan is best for you or your family — how much do you want to pay, how much coverage do you want to have, what’s the co-pay you’re willing to — what services or benefits do you want as part of your plan. Absolutely. But the issue is, for so many Americans, they don’t have that choice. For a third of the counties in this country, they’ve got one choice, one. And in a lot of states they’ve got none, or the exchanges are becoming fewer and fewer, the number of doctors and plans that take Medicaid, fewer and fewer.
So to your point, I think actually we’re in a unique place, because we get to understand what the average American should get — that we shouldn’t be limited to a specified number of people.
Q I appreciate your argument. Very well taken.
MR. SPICER: Thank you.
Q However, I’m going to compare a GS-5 or a GS-9 to a senator or a secretary of one of the agencies. I mean the safety net on those individuals gives them a certain cushion, then they’re negotiating. But do they really have that kind of compassion or that kind of empathy for the people who, in fact, may be thrown off the healthcare?
MR. SPICER: I think that just because somebody has healthcare doesn’t mean that they can’t empathize with somebody who doesn’t.
We all have family and friends that are suffering. I mean, that’s like saying because I have a job I can’t be empathetic to somebody who doesn’t have a job. We all have family or friends. It’s the same thing when we watch a friend or a family member suffer through a terminal disease, because we have suffered through it doesn’t mean that we can’t have compassion towards that person or be concerned on how much that bill is costing them. I mean, that’s actually in some ways — depending on the relationship you have with that person — you can even feel worse. You can feel guilty about how much you have and how you’re not able to help that person. I think in many cases that’s what drives us is to know that there are options available to some Americans and not others.
Q I appreciate your response.
MR. SPICER: Thank you.
Q Sean, will you confirm that there is a criminal investigation into this alleged theft of cyber tools from the CIA by WikiLeaks? What can the White House tell us about the situation, particularly the fact that it seems like there’s another leak for the intelligence community that’s on the scale of Edward Snowden? And can you assure the American people that none of these tools have ever been used against them?
MR. SPICER: Well, there’s a couple things in that. Number one, for obvious reasons it is our policy as a government not to confirm the authenticity of any kind of disclosure or hack. That would be highly inappropriate for us.
But all of these occurred under the last administration — that is important. All of these alleged issues. And I think it’s interesting to have it asked this way about the damage that could have occurred or what tools could be used in light of what’s been going on recently.
We’ve had your own network’s correspondent James Rosen had his phones — multiple phones tapped. Was that appropriate back then?
I think there’s a lot of concern out there about alleged leaks. There’s two steps to this. And I think what you saw over the last week in terms of — this should be a major concern to people in terms of the leaks that are coming out and the desire to get to the bottom of them — whether or not — not specifically with respect to the disclosure that you’re referring to, but I think the idea that we are having these ongoing disclosures of national security and classified information should be something that everybody is outraged by in this country. This is the kind of disclosure that undermines our country, our security, and our well-being.
And you’ve seen over the last two years, depending on the leak, it depends on the outrage. It’s interesting how whenever — whether the leak occurred under the last administration, you had member after member talking about disclosures that occurred during that last administration, whether it was members of Congress — Elijah Cummings expressed concern during the last thing — last administration in terms of the Americans that were — when it dealt with Hillary Clinton, there was complete outrage about the leaks that occurred; members calling for investigations to the leaks. It’s interesting how there is sort of a double standard with when the leaks occur, how much outrage there is.
And so I do think it’s important. While I don’t want to get into confirming or denying this particular thing, I think it is interesting how different subjects are approached.
This one everyone is immediately rushing to, and there should be a lot more coverage of this. This alleged leak should concern every single American in terms of the impact it has on our national security.
Q Can I ask something unrelated?
MR. SPICER: Of course, you can.
Q Robin Shahini has been imprisoned in Iran since last October for collaborating with a hostile government — that government being the United States of America. He’s on a hunger strike, apparently his health is suffering. Is the President aware of Mr. Shahini’s plight and that of three other Americans who are being held in Iran? And what, if anything, might the President be doing about it?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, so obviously we’re aware of the situation. In that particular case, I would refer you to the State Department.
Q I wanted to go back to an earlier question. What is the President personally going to be doing in order to sell this healthcare bill? And what’s he going to do to convince reticent lawmakers to come along — people like Rand Paul, who don’t like it?
MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, we’re on day two. As I mentioned, we’ve been out and local — talk radio and local markets. The President yesterday met with the House deputy whips. Today, he’s having a series of additional meetings with conservative groups, with others. He’s already talked to insurance agents. I mean, we’ve talked about the lead up to this with the insurance executives, with companies, with various members of the House and the Senate from both parties. He met with governors, attorneys general, I think there’s a group of lieutenant governors coming in.
We’re going to be aggressively going after — talking about the solution that we have for healthcare, both the need to repeal the current Obamacare system and the need to replace it with something that gives patients the choices and costs that they need. As I mentioned yesterday, and I can’t overstate this, there’s a difference between having a card and having care. Being told you have coverage and not being able to use it is no good, and that’s the thing that I think is really important.
When we get asked the question, so often, how many people are going to be covered, that’s not the question that should be asked — how many people are going to get the care they need? Having coverage with a high deductible and, in some cases — or not having a plan that allows you to get the coverage you need or afford it, isn’t real coverage. It’s a card. And I think that’s the big difference in the approach that we’re taking here. It’s how do we get people the affordable care they need; that there’s more choice; that more doctors are coming into the system instead of leaving. And that is a big, big difference in the approach that’s happening now.
Q Will he be going on the road to try to sell it?
MR. SPICER: I think you will see a lot of travel and a lot of activity by the President and all of the administration. And it’s not just going to be the President. It’s going to be the secretary, the directors, key administration staff. The Vice President has been actively engaged in meeting on the Hill, on talk radio, on local radio, on local television. You’ve seen a flurry of meetings with outside interests, with op-eds explaining the problem and engaging groups and associations that have an interest in this, and industry leaders.
But this is going to be a very, very aggressive, comprehensive approach to making sure that every American understands that there is a major problem and that we are here to fix it.
Q Just on WikiLeaks, I want to go back to that — two parts. Is the President outraged by this?
MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, again, I don’t want to — the allegations — he has been very clear about the concern that he has for leaks. This is —
Q This one specifically —
MR. SPICER: Well, again, Cecilia, if I — I think he is very concerned about the allegations that are out there in terms of what may or may not happen. It is an allegation, it is something that we are not going to confirm at this time. But as you can imagine from the President’s previous comments, he is extremely concerned about this, about these allegations, about this — about the potential that something — if this were true — would have on our national security.
And make no mistake about it, I think the President has talked before that anybody who leaks classified information will be held to the highest degree of law. We will go after people who leak classified information. We will prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Playing with our nation’s national security is not something that should be taken lightly under this administration.
Q Quick follow-up. When it came to the campaign and Hillary Clinton, the President said, “I love WikiLeaks.” Does he still feel that way today?
MR. SPICER: There is a big difference between disclosing Podesta — John Podesta’s gmail accounts about a back and forth, and his undermining of Hillary Clinton, and his thoughts on her on a personal nature, and the leaking of classified information. There is a massive, massive difference between those two things. And I think it is, again, the interest and the outrage that occurred last year by a lot of Democrats when it came to leaks is interesting that we’re hearing not as much outrage now when it comes to some of our issues of national security.
Q Sean, a couple questions. One, you said Congressman Cummings — you affirmed Congressman Cummings is meeting with President Trump today.
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q In the last press conference, his solo press conference the President had, he talked about Senator Schumer telling Elijah Cummings not to come. What happened to smooth this over? And what is the conversation going to be about? Is it just going to solely be on the high cost of prescription drugs?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that the nature of the meeting stems from the conversation they had on the phone, which was on prescription drugs. And then I’m sure that if Congressman Cummings or the President brings up another subject, it will go there. I’m not — we’ll try to have some sort of readout afterwards, depending on how that goes.
But the nature of it is an area where they agree. And if you remember, one of the things that they talked about on the phone was that there were probably several more areas that they would agree on, and find that they would agree on, throughout a conversation. And I hope that that conversation does exactly what they said that it would in terms of getting to those areas of common agreement where they can work together to help solve additional problems that our country faces.
Q So you don’t have any knowledge of what happened to smooth that over for him to come in —
MR. SPICER: I know our teams were in touch with — his office immediately followed. And as you know, there were a couple times when the meetings had been — tried to be scheduled and just didn’t work out. And luckily, he was able to —
Q He’s one member of the 49 of the CBC. Right after that press conference, the White House reached out to the Congressional Black Caucus, to Cedric Richmond, the head of the caucus. Where is that meeting? Where does that meeting land? Is it happening?
MR. SPICER: I know that we’ve reached out, and we’re looking for a date on that, as well. So we’re pleased that this one was able to come together, and then we’ll get to the next one.
Q My last question.
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q Yesterday there was a compare-and-contrast with visuals, show and tell if you will —
MR. SPICER: Yes, I saw that —
Q Yes, you were — yes. And you compared and contrasted about how you’re going about it and how the Obama administration went about Obamacare. One difference that they’ve made note of — and I want to get your response to this — is the fact that you may have this and said that you’re doing this versus what they’re doing — the one thing they say that you did not do that they did: had their bill scored by CBO. And you did not score it by CBO.
MR. SPICER: Sure. It is being scored. Look, I know — look, with all due respect to them, this the same group that said — who passed it and then told us we could read it.
This bill is online for every American to go to ReadTheBill.gop. It’s on the Speaker’s website. We link to it on several accounts that we’ve tweeted.
Q But it was scored before they went before the Congress.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. And again, if that’s the complaint, this is the same group that didn’t let anybody read it, that jammed it through with no bipartisan support. This President has reached out to both sides of the aisle, had governors here, had senators here to get their input. There is no contrast between what we did and what they did. This was a full effort to reach out to the members in the House and the Senate. It’s going through regular order in the House. Every member of the House and the Senate will be able to have their opportunity to have amendments offered through — well, through the committee process and on the floor.
So the idea that they can compare the date that they got it scored is pretty reaching deep on this because there has been an opportunity for members to have their input on this and to talk about their concerns, to give their input on it — especially the governors, who were left on the sideline last time and who have such an important role in administering healthcare when it comes to Medicaid.
The idea that anyone talks about when the score was issued — there will be a score in all good time. But the other thing is, let’s be honest, the irony of the score is that the CBO was way off the last time. I don’t think that we’re waiting to — that that’s a big issue to us right now.
Q Doesn’t cost matter, though, before you —
MR. SPICER: Of course, cost matters. But look at how off they were last time. If you’re looking at the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place. They were way, way off last time in every aspect of how they scored and projected Obamacare in terms of —
Q But you have no numbers —
MR. SPICER: But neither did they. Last time, if you look at the number of people that they projected would be on Obamacare, they are off by millions. So the idea that we’re waiting for a score — it will be scored. But the idea that that’s any kind of authority based on the track record that occurred last time is a little far-fetched.
Q Two questions on the wall, Sean. As you know, the bids for prototypes went out today. And I just was curious about the timing of that, how much pressure there was to get that going quickly. And then secondly, is there guidance from the White House about what kinds of vendors can build the wall, especially can international vendors build the wall?
MR. SPICER: I think that process is working through — as the President has talked about before, we were trying to move ahead with existing funds that DHS has. And then we’ll continue to create a timeline to ask Congress for that funding. We’re working with Congress on that.
And then I don’t think it will be any surprise to know that the President is going to favor American workers and American companies when it comes to an American project. That shouldn’t be any kind of surprise.
Q Sean, it’s looking increasing likely that the Federal Reserve next week will hike interest rates. Two brief questions. One, how does the President feel about that? And secondly, does he have the full confidence in Janet Yellen, who he described during the campaign as “too political” to lead the Federal Reserve and set monetary policy?
MR. SPICER: Let me get back to you on that one. I don’t have any comment on the Federal Reserve. I’ll look at the team. What I will say is that, as I mentioned at the outset, when you look at the hiring and the jobs and the manufacturing and the pace, the consumer confidence and the CEO indexes that are going — that have already come out in the first two months, we see a resurgence, an optimism in the economy by job creators to want to hire here, who want to manufacture here, who want to grow here.
And I think that our economy is clearly on the upswing. And I think you see statement after statement, company after company coming out and sharing in the President’s vision for moving the country forward and for renewing the optimism and building and being part of an American resurgence in terms of our economy.
Q Just to be clear, the no comment was on Mrs. Yellen or on this thoughts of a rate hike?
MR. SPICER: I’ll get back to you on both. How is that?
Yeah, go ahead.
Q Sean, along with April’s last question about the difference between this administration and the previous one and how to approach this issue, one thing that the Obama administration did do was get key stakeholders at the table — AARP, American Medical Association. Both of those organizations have come out today strongly opposed to this proposal. What’s your message, particularly with respect to the AARP?
MR. SPICER: Well, they got a really good deal last time when it came to prescription drugs in particular. I think — this is a patient-centric bill. It’s about patients. It’s about people. It’s about the Americans who were left behind. Look at what those deals got people last time. I mean, for all those people that are on Medicaid, in particular, they don’t have choices anymore. So I would argue that the President has put the American people first and has put patients first.
So you can talk about — we’re glad to have support, make no mistake about it. But I think that the support that this administration and I think the House is focused on is getting every American their buy-in and their support. Obviously, look, I’m not going to — we would love to have every group on board. But this isn’t going to be — every single deal we heard about it getting through, “the Cornhusker Kickback,” this and that. Over and over again, it was one deal after another to get to — to buy votes to get it through the Senate.
So if you want line up how many special interests got paid off last time versus now, they’ll probably win hands down.
Q Sean —
MR. SPICER: This isn’t — hold on — but this isn’t about trying to figure out how many special interests in Washington we can get paid off. It’s about making sure that patients get the best deal that lowers prices and brings back costs.
But again, I think — what I’m trying to figure out is at some point you’re defending the indefensible. Nancy Pelosi put out three criteria for how they judge Obamacare. And by their own standards, they fail on all three. Costs are up. Choices are down. There is no other way to judge that. By every account, every single premium by every standard is up. Choices are down across the country. So there is a horrible deal that the American people got bought — got sold. And what we’re trying to do is put patients back first in line.
Q But so the AARP is specifically talking about patients in their 50s and 60s. The AARP describes this as an “age tax” that will disproportionately affect people who right now are low-income, are benefitting from subsidies under Obamacare and could stand — according to the AARP’s estimate — to take a hit of thousands of dollars in their premium payments this year when the subsidies go away and the tax credits go away. What’s your message to those people who voted for the President?
MR. SPICER: I think that — right. And the message from the President is that we want you to get more choice and a lower cost. And I think that, as we work this bill through, through daylight — not jam it through in the middle of the night — that they are going to see as more and more people will that this is a deal for the American people that’s going to put patients first, lower their costs, and give them more choices.
But again, I don’t — there is probably not a person out there, either through themselves or a loved one or a friend or a colleague that has seen choices go down and premiums go up [sic]. So what people are dealing with now is not acceptable. And I think the idea that anyone defending the current status quo — and even in some of the statements of some of the groups, they admit that there’s a problem right now.
And so my advice to those people is, join the process. Share your idea, share your thought, let the process work its will so that it is a bill that has input. But the bill — the way it was done last time is not something that’s acceptable.
Q Is the President worried, though, that every major doctors group — the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians — have all come out and said they have serious concerns? For all the talk of doctors and patients and choice, the doctors groups are all so far unanimously coming and saying they’re not supportive of this. Is that concerning to the President?
MR. SPICER: No, I think when you look at a lot of doctors versus the associations here in Washington, we have had tremendous input from doctors themselves. Dr. Price, himself a doctor, is the one who crafted this.
So you have a doctor in charge of the administration’s effort to work with Congress. You’ve got several physicians and other medical professionals in Congress that are talking about the experiences they have — in fact, many of them ran for Congress because of the concerns they saw in their own industry.
So while I have respect for some of the work that some of these Washington, D.C.-based associations do, at the end of the day this is about patients and about the input from doctors who are on the front line of seeing patients and talking about the care that they’re able to give or not to give to people.
Q Do you mind if I follow up on something else you said?
MR. SPICER: I do — I don’t, sorry.
Q You’ve talked about people having a card. You’ve got a card, but it’s a $2,000 deductible and there’s only 10 doctors in your town that will see you, let’s say. But that’s better than nothing if you get cancer or hit by a car. So maybe this makes access — right, but it is better than no insurance. So if this expands access to people and choice, but it reduces the number of people who actually have health insurance —
MR. SPICER: But I don’t think —
Q — so can it do both?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, of course it can. And it will do both, by ensuring that more people — right now you’ve got more people paying the penalty and saying, I don’t want healthcare, I’m going to pay the penalty because costs are too high. And was it probably five, six, seven years ago, before Obamacare went into place, a single individual, young individual person on the open market could get a premium — a plan with a premium of 100, 150 bucks a month. It’s in the high 300s now.
And I think that there’s a big difference. You’re not — for young people just entering the workplace, for example, your example — they go get into an accident, right now you’ve got a lot of individuals that get off their parents’ healthcare and say, I’m healthy, I have no desire to go get healthcare, it’s another few hundred dollars a month that I don’t have or that I’d rather spend on something else.
If we can get that cost down, it makes a lot more sense — and get them plans that are tailored to them, 27-, 28-year-old individuals don’t need care that’s for folks — that talks about certain things that — a plan that has certain things that are towards the end of life. But right now, you’ve got one-size-fits-all, government-run, government-mandated plans that offer people a suite of medical services that they do not need, because there’s no choice, and it’s a government-mandated system.
I think offering more choice and more competition allows people to pick a plan that is more tailored to your needs. And this goes back a second ago to what John was asking, that if you can actually pick a plan and across state lines find one that suits you as an individual — as opposed to maybe there’s a family plan that’s more comprehensive, it has dental and vision and all the things that your kids are going to need because of all the things you anticipate — that’s a plan that a young family might need versus an older person that’s single or a young person that’s just entering the workforce.
But right now there’s no competition, there’s no choice. So it’s not an either/or situation. We’re facing a situation where more and more people are getting less and less and paying more and more for it, and that’s the wrong way to go.
Q Anita. You actually — Anita.
MR. SPICER: My apologies. Anita, then Mara.
Q Switching gears completely, the military have recently conducted some kind of exercise at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, and it was preparing for a migrant crisis. And there is a DHS migrant center there. And I wondered if the administration has considered, and what you all think about using that facility for immigrants. Has that come up?
MR. SPICER: That particular exercise, to the best of my knowledge, is a rather regular exercise that occurs, as do many of the exercises that the military prepares for on a whole host of contingency operations.
So that is a routine military operation.
Q Is there any consideration, though?
MR. SPICER: It is a routine military operation, as several of them do with our partners throughout the world where we plan for random contingencies that may or may not happen. That’s the job of the military — to practice for contingencies that may or may not happen on a whole host of issues.
But to try to ascertain —
Q Okay, so are you all considering using the facility for immigrants?
MR. SPICER: There is nothing to consider it for. I think we’re fine right now. There is nothing that we would need to use it for.
But again, I mean, I think part of the goal of preparing the military going through various exercises is on a whole host of issues — on refugees, they prepare for natural disasters. We’re not anticipating a natural disaster, but we prepare for them. At the White House, when we were coming in as an administration, I think we briefed during the transition period — we did what’s called a right-seat, left-seat operation with the outgoing administration. So we sat down and talked about cyberattacks and natural disasters, and the whole-of-government response in some of these things.
It doesn’t mean that we anticipate them, it doesn’t mean that we want them, it means that we’re going to prepare for them in the same way that many organizations do fire drills. It’s not that you anticipate or expect a fire, but you prepare for them, as many families do. Preparedness is the key to executing well, and I think that’s what all we’re doing.
Q And secondarily, the Louisville media is reporting that President Trump will be there on Saturday. Can you confirm that? And is this about healthcare? As you just said, he was going to make the rounds.
MR. SPICER: Yeah, I’ve seen that report. We have nothing to announce with respect to the President’s schedule at this time. But, as I mentioned earlier to I think it was Shannon, that we will have — or is it Jill, I can’t — somewhere in this area — we will have an update on the President’s schedule later this week.
But I do anticipate the President to be very active in his support for the repeal-and-replace effort. And so this is what you should expect.
Q The CBO score is supposed to come out next week, and you just called into question their credibility.
MR. SPICER: I didn’t call into question — just so we’re clear, I’m just —
Q It’s true.
MR. SPICER: Thanks, Matt, I appreciate it, I can answer. Their record is what I’m calling into question to — when you look at the number of people and the costs on what they scored, the last Obamacare bill on, it’s way off. That’s a fact, that’s not anything more than that.
Q Well, people base their votes on what they think is going to happen to the cost and the coverage — if they lose coverage.
MR. SPICER: That’s right.
Q Is there any analytic organization that you would accept a score from?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that there’s — yeah, I mean OMB will probably put out a score on —
Q If not the CBO, is there some organization — so OMB is the —
MR. SPICER: No, no, I’m not saying — but, Mara, hold on. All I’m saying is, look at what the CBO’s record is on Obamacare. It’s vastly off. I think they projected 20 million people to be on Obamacare this year; I believe the number is 12. They’re way off in terms of the millions.
So it’s not a question of whether I’m questioning anything — anyone that can actually do basic math can understand that their projections for Obamacare the last time were way, way off the mark. And so my only point is, is that I think when they come out with this score, we need to understand the track record when it comes to healthcare.
Q — the track record? Is there any scoring organization that you think has a good track record?
MR. SPICER: There’s probably a lot. And I think members have to look at a lot of things to cast their vote on. They’re going to have to look at the totality of the bill, the support of their constituents, the current state of things. I think that there’s no question — look, when you look at the trajectory of the cost right now in terms of premiums, you can either say — and not just the premiums, but Obamacare is going to collapse on its own weight very soon. And the President made it very clear in his press conference and a lot of previous statements, the politically easy thing to do is just let it collapse and let Democrats come back to the table.
I don’t think that’s the right thing, and the President has made it clear he doesn’t think that’s the right thing. This is an opportunity for him to show the American people that the right thing to do is to care about their healthcare options and the cost that they’re paying.
Q And just one last thing. He mentioned deductibles before and how they’re going up under Obamacare. Are you promising people that their deductibles will come down under this plan?
MR. SPICER: Everything that we have been led to believe about how this is — yes, this will drive costs down. When you talk about opening up pooling, when you talk about driving costs down because you can buy it over state lines, everything that has driven up costs, all of those market forces that will come in, and I think every leading economist that has looked at this says it will drive costs down.
Q Thank you, Sean. The premier argument by Democrats, notably former President Obama today, is that enactment of the act that was illustrated yesterday would lead to many people losing their healthcare. You certainly heard that from Democrats, but also several of the Republican governors who were here for the National Governors Association, including strong allies of the President — Governor Bentley of Alabama, Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas voiced the same concern. They did not want any plan that would lead to anyone losing their present healthcare. What does the administration say to what is the leading argument against a new plan? And then I have a follow-up question.
MR. SPICER: Of course. I would say that any governor that is concerned about people losing care right now should join us. They are losing their care right now, they are losing their options, and they are paying too much. So the answer is that, if you’re concerned about those principles, then you should be concerned with what is happening right now, and you should be concerned and want to join in this administration and work with this Congress.
And again, the big difference that’s here is, instead of us jamming a bill down Congress, and now allowing the American people to read it until it is passed, as was done with Obamacare with then-Speaker Pelosi, is that this bill is out in the open for every single person in the world to read. It is open for people to let their member of Congress share their thoughts, share their ideas, and it’s done out in the open.
I think that is a vastly different approach with how this is going about than the last time, and that makes a big difference with the approach. And it gives people an opportunity through the process, what they call regular order, to have input on this. And if it can be made better, then great.
But I think this time, we recognized that there’s a lot of work that needs to get done on behalf of the patients that are having trouble getting care.
Q Oh, wait.
MR. SPICER: I’m sorry.
Q My follow-up question is a follow-up question about the wall. During the recent Governors Association meeting, Governor Graco Ramirez, who is the Chairman of Mexico’s Association of Federated Governors, warned that continued discussion about the wall and the President’s talk of building it might very well lead to the election of Mr. Lopez Obrador as the President of Mexico, and he is considered the most anti-American, most hostile-to-America of any of the candidates. Are there any concerns that come up in the discussion of the wall, namely the impact on Mexican politics?
MR. SPICER: No. (Laughter.) That was pretty good. The President’s number-one concern is the safety of our country. Number two is the jobs that are impacted by this and the ability of Americans to get the wage that they deserve.
But again, this is a national security issue, something that, frankly, when he’s discussed this with President Peña Nieto of Mexico, that — there is a shared concern about drug cartels, drug trafficking, arms sales over the border. There is a shared concern for the respect of the border, because it means a lot to both sides.
So this is something that we care about from a national security standpoint, and then obviously the President is concerned on it both — as well as on an economic standpoint.
Q I want to follow up on what John was just — your answer was that if the healthcare bill could be made better, the President is interested in that. So could I just clarify, when he meets with the congressional conservatives this evening who have misgivings about the legislation, is he intending to talk to them about what they would like to change, and is he open to making those changes? Is that what he — is that the mode he’s in, rather than a sell mode? He’s in a listening mode?
MR. SPICER: I think he’s in a — very much of a sell mode. The President and his team have worked very hard on this. They’re very proud of the effort and the product that they have produced in consultation with the House and the Senate.
But obviously, it’s going through the process. And so if somebody has an idea — and that could be on the administration’s side — that we believe that after a consultation with individuals or groups, that there’s a way to improve upon this — but that’s the beauty of going through the process that we are.
But make no mistake, the President is very proud of the product that we have produced. We are out in full sell mode all around the country talking about how we think this is the best way to solve the problem that the American people face, and why we believe that the solutions that we put forward in this bill are the right ones, and that will benefit them.
Q And can I follow up and say — before the President meets with Chancellor Merkel next week, is it possible that we could see the President for a more general multi-question news conference? He’s been a little press-shy this week. And from North Korea to healthcare selling to CIA leaks, we’d love to talk to him. Could we see him for a news conference?
MR. SPICER: I will ask, Alexis. (Laughter.)
Q Would you ask him that? (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: Is there anyone else? I would be glad to ask — show of hands. (Laughter.) Okay, thank you, I appreciate it. I would be glad to ask the President, share your request with him, and I’ll see what we can do on his schedule. But as you can — he is very busy these days. He has done a lot of sprays, he will continue to interact with you guys. But I will be glad to make your request known.
Q Sean, yesterday Secretary Price said that the bill that you guys have introduced, both the repeal and the replace, are starting points. And on Capitol Hill there was a lot of talk of the starting point being a nonstarter. So it seems like there’s negotiations that need to be made. Does the President have any non-negotiables in his bill that he will not take out, even at the request of conservatives?
MR. SPICER: Well, Katie, I mean, I think, as I was just saying to Alexis, that it is a starting point. It’s going through regular order in the House. And so part of that process as it goes through the committee markup hearing, both in Ways and Means and House Energy and Commerce Committee — that by its very nature allows for input through both of those committees and then ultimately on the floor before it moves over to the Senate, and the Senate goes through a similar process.
So I think, frankly, we’re just acknowledging the reality of where the process is. But we’re proud of the process, we’re proud of the input that we’ve received from governors, from senators, from individuals, associations, companies. And we feel very proud of the work that is encapsulated in this bill, and the results that it will yield.
And so that being said, I think the President understands, as a businessman, that if someone’s got a really good idea that he’s going to listen to it. And if he can be part of the process to help make something better, there’s nothing that’s going to preclude that. We have been very open to listening to people. We’re very proud of that. We’re going to go out, as I said, in full sell mode. But if there’s an idea that comes across, we’re going to entertain that to make it clear.
Q Sean, two topics here. First on healthcare, then I’ll have a follow-up on that. In the past, you and others have accused Democrats of rushing through the original healthcare law. Now, there are some Republicans, including today, who say this is simply moving too fast. Is the President willing to accept a delayed timeline if it pushes repeal and replace into later in the year?
MR. SPICER: Going through the process can’t be delayed — I mean, by its very nature. We’re going through the committee process. There are two House committees —
Q But you said the timeline is being — maybe Easter break — after that —
MR. SPICER: But again, that’s subject — right, but again, I would argue it’s subject to how the House does its will and then how the Senate does. I think obviously we would like this to move forward. There’s a lot of stuff in the queue. We’ve talked about tax reform. This bill is attached to the FY17 budget reconciliation, and I know that, for a lot of Americans, that means nothing in terms of the phrase and the nomenclature that surrounds how Congress does it.
But it’s important to recognize that that vehicle allows Congress to do certain things and not others with a 50-vote — with a majority vote in the Senate. That’s important. There are certain things you can do through that, that you can’t do through other vehicles, and that will take a 60 vote and — that you can do administratively.
So it’s actually — if you heard Dr. Price talk yesterday about the three phases, it’s actually multi-phased, it’s going through regular order. But there is simply no contrast between how we are approaching this and how Democrats approached it last time.
Number one, there’s actually been input from across the aisle, both from the governors who were here, attorneys general, outside groups, House and Senate Democrats have been able to provide input to both staff, to the senior administration officials and to the President. And then secondly, it’s actually going through the process.
So while we can predict a timeline, ultimately, it’s going to be up to the House and then the Senate to determine how fast it goes. But there are members on each of those committees, and then, ultimately, every member on the floor that has the ability to give input.
Q Just one other question. I’m just curious about this meeting with Senator Cruz tonight. He has come out and expressed some skepticism on the bill as it stands now. Presumably that will be part of the topic of conversation, but as you mentioned, Heidi Cruz is coming too, and I’m wondering if the President has any plans to apologize to her for the insinuations he made on the campaign trail.
MR. SPICER: I think they’re looking forward to a great dinner. He had dinner with the Rubios a couple of days ago, maybe a week ago. He had lunch yesterday with Senator Graham. As I stated weeks ago, the President is going to continue to have outreach to members of Congress of both parties. He’s meeting with Congressman Cummings today.
This is a President who wants to engage with members of both sides of the aisle in both Houses, but also groups, business leaders, union leaders, the AFL-CIO head, Richard Trumka, was here yesterday. This is a President that’s going to engage with everybody that can help join in proposing ideas and thoughts and opinions on how to move the country forward.
So he looks forward to dinner tonight with Senator and Mrs. Cruz, as he has with several others. And I think you’re going to see more — a continuation of this kind of effort to reach out and get people’s ideas.
Q And then — I apologize, I have a second topic, which is, does the President believe the CIA has been compromised in any way?
MR. SPICER: With respect to the disclosure, is that what you’re —
MR. SPICER: Again, I’m not going to — it’s U.S. government policy not to confirm this. I think he has obviously been very concerned, as I stated, about the disclosure of national security on any level. It undermines our country’s national security. And I think that — I just will say, I think there’s also been a big double standard when it comes to disclosures of classified information and the outrage that exists when one side has it happens versus another.
Q What do you mean?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that there has been a lot of disclosures about national security that occurred last cycle when there was potential that the FBI had leaked certain information. The members of Congress on the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton, and others talked about how there was so much concern about classified information — we’re seeing such silence and outrage from the media, from others with the current disclosures now with things that may or may not have happened towards the 2016 election when it comes to this side.
So I think there’s a vast difference when it comes to how the disclosures are approached.
Q Sean, on North Korea, what is President Trump’s position toward North Korea, and what is his decision for the North Korean policy?
MR. SPICER: On the which —
Q North Korean policy.
MR. SPICER: On the politics?
Q No, policy.
MR. SPICER: Oh, policies. Well, I mean, we’re very troubled by the launch of missiles that have occurred from North Korea. I think that’s why the THAAD missile system that we’ve started to deploy into South Korea is so important. We’re continuing to work with the government of South Korea to make sure that they have the defenses necessary to protect themselves.
The deployment of a THAAD system is critical to their protection, as witnessed by this weekend’s ballistic missile test. China and the United States in particular both understand the threat that North Korea poses to the region. And I think that there’s areas of concern that we can work together to protect the country.
Q You had called on me.
Q Today was International Women’s Day. There’s a lot of concern about access to healthcare for women. Will the President commit to reaching out to female Democratic lawmakers as the next two phases of this healthcare bill continue? And additionally, what is the President’s stance on access to birth control for women across the country?
MR. SPICER: I think that question was asked and answered by Secretary Price yesterday. With respect to women’s health, the President has also made it clear that he intends to have a substantial increase in funding towards women community centers that fund women’s health services. And that will be reflected in his budget.
Q Thank you.
MR. SPICER: Sorry.
Q Sean, is the President the target of a counter-intelligence investigation?
MR. SPICER: I think that’s what we need to find out. There’s obviously a lot of concern. I mean, I mentioned to John there was considerable concern last cycle when a reporter was the target of one. But part of the reason that we have asked the House and the Senate to look into this is because of that.
And I think it was interesting. I think if you look at last week, all of a sudden these stories that keep coming out about the President and his links to Russia, it has continued to be the same old, same old, played over and over again. The President has made clear he has no interest in Russia, and yet a lot of these stories that come out with respect to that are, frankly, fake.
They are a series of fake allegations that at the bottom note, “While there’s no evidence to substantiate any of this,” it’s the same unnamed sources, “associates” that we get tagged with, and yet there is no evidence that continues to be shown. And every single person that gets briefed on this shows that — whether it’s Senator Cotton, Chairman Nunes, who has done a phenomenal job of trying to get to the bottom of this.
But it’s interesting, I think the double standard that exists between the concern about getting to the bottom of the allegations that — with respect to the President, that there are so many other issues. When you talk about —
Q So he doesn’t know whether he is the target of a probing?
MR. SPICER: But I think that’s one of the issues that we have asked the Senate and House to look into.
I can tell you with respect to the other instances, you look at former DNI Clapper’s comments, he literally said, the DNI — he said, “The DNI, which includes the NSA, FBI and CIA, did not find any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.” Senators Rubio, Cotton, Burr, Chairman Nunes — all of the people who have been briefed on this situation have come to the same conclusion.
And it is interesting how many times this fake narrative gets repeated over and over and over again, and yet no evidence has ever been suggested that shows the President has anything to do with any of the things that are written. It’s a recycled story over and over and over again. And I think that there’s a bit of — it’s amazing, the President goes out last week, does this joint session, and then literally 24 hours, stories start getting recycled about potential issues that come up that literally continue to offer no fact, nothing but the unsubstantiated rumors over and over again.
And yet, what is ignored is when you have someone like former DNI Clapper go out and literally say that they “did not find any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and [Russian] agents.” You have Rubio, Cotton, Nunes all say the same thing that they’ve been briefed that there’s nothing — and yet this fake narrative —
Q Sorry, just want to make sure that I’m understanding you. Are you saying that there is a possibility he is the target of a counter-intelligence probe involving Russia? Because you just connected those two things.
MR. SPICER: No, no, no. I think what I’m saying is that there is a difference between that narrative and then the narrative that has been perpetuated over and over again.
The concern that the President has and why he asked the Senate and House intelligence committees to look into this is to get to the bottom of what may or may not have occurred during the 2016 election. But the interesting — Margaret, is that when you look at every single person that’s been briefed, they’ve all come to the same conclusion — that nothing happened during the 2016 election tying him to Russia. And yet the fake narrative continues over and over and over again, and the idea that it has to — it continues to be recycled without any substance, without any evidence, needs to stop.
Q The President said he was tapped.
Q He said his wires were tapped.
Q He said this as a fact.
MR. SPICER: I understand that, and that’s why we’re —
Q So you’re saying he doesn’t know whether he was wiretapped?
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, that’s not what I said was —
Q Well, he doesn’t know he’s the target of an investigation.
Q That his wires were tapped.
MR. SPICER: Hold on, one at a time. I said that the President made clear on Sunday that he has asked the House and the Senate intelligence committees to use their resources and their processes to examine the facts and come to a conclusion.
Q Since you’re talking about whether things are true or not, let me ask you — following up on something yesterday, you seemed to acknowledge that the President was wrong when he tweeted that 122 prisoners released by the Obama administration from Gitmo had returned to the battlefield. In fact, it was mostly by the Bush administration. Will he retract, or even apologize for that, given that he also called it a “terrible decision” by the Obama administration, and given that that was incorrect? That there still has been no proof either of his tweets about widespread voter fraud or the wiretapping? Does the President have a credibility problem?
MR. SPICER: No, look, I said yesterday — I think Trey asked the question — that the President meant the total number of people.
Q But he said the Obama administration.
MR. SPICER: I understand that, I’m actually explaining it. That’s why you asked the question. He meant that the total number of people released from Gitmo was 122. What the President — but just to be clear, there’s a big difference — under the Bush administration, most of those were court ordered. The Obama administration took great steps — they talked about — it was a campaign promise, frankly, from day one to close Gitmo. This President is very clear that he understands the nature of the threat that the people in Gitmo pose to our nation, and the recidivism rate that there are among people that we have released.
That is a concern that he shares. The reason the Bush administration did it was in many cases they were under court order. The Obama administration made it actually a priority to let people go and to actively desire to close that camp and to release more and more of those people, especially in the waning days. There is a huge contrast between the posture and the policy of the last two administrations on how they were dealing with Gitmo.
This administration understands and the President has been very clear that he understands the people that are kept in Gitmo pose a danger to our country and to the rest of the world. There’s a big, big difference between the posture of those two.
Q Do you acknowledge that the tweet was wrong?
MR. SPICER: I just said it. I said that the tweet — he meant that it was — the totality of the people. That’s what I said to Trey yesterday, I’ll say it again to you today.
Q So can I just follow up on something else you said, Sean? A totally different topic, because you said that you’re in full — you’re in sell mode, completely in sell mode. And I wonder if the President sees this as a test of his ability to make a deal, something that he really talked about, something that voters responded to on the campaign trail. Is this essentially, does he feel, on him that this is him going to show the American people that he can get this deal done?
MR. SPICER: Well, he gets — he is a dealmaker. He’s a negotiator. He’s a world-class business leader. And he’s been highly successful at it. So if anybody can get a deal on something, it’s going to be Donald Trump. That’s part of the reason I think that the American people — what they saw in him, that there was so much broken with Washington that when it came to the big problems — whether it was domestically or internationally — that if somebody could come in and work across party lines, work with another country to get a deal that was in the country’s best interest, he had that skillset. And that’s why they, frankly, elected him President.
So I think he feels very good about the product that we’ve put out. We are in sell mode. We want to get this done. But the President has an open mind. He enjoys meeting with people and hearing ideas about how to make this country better, how to create jobs, how to create a better healthcare system, how to create better schools. And if there’s someone that comes up with a better idea that will help lower costs and increase access, he’s certainly going to listen to it.
Q Sean, yesterday in the President’s meeting with the deputy whips he was talking about his tax cut plan. He said it’s going to be the biggest since Ronald Reagan, maybe even bigger. He said, “I know exactly what we’re looking at, most of us know exactly the plan.” So my first question is really easy. Tell us about the plan.
MR. SPICER: What the plan is?
Q The tax cut plan.
MR. SPICER: Well, again, I’m going to wait until — thank you, I appreciate the layup, Dave. (Laughter.) But I’ll leave it to him to work with Congress. When we’re ready to roll it out, we will do just that. We’re not there yet, so let’s go on with the next hopefully —
Q Secondly, building on these jobs numbers today that look very positive, obviously there’s a lot of CEOs out there who are excited about the possibility of a tax cut plan, and yet the President has also expressed a lot of concern about the national debt. If you’re going to get a tax cut on the level of Ronald Reagan, a historic-sized tax cut, how are you going to do that, balance the needs for continued job growth with the concerns about the debt?
MR. SPICER: Because I think that one of the best ways to get the national debt down is to grow the economy. The more the economy is growing, the more we can get it at three, four, five percent, the more the deficit goes down. That’s just the best way to tackle the deficit is to grow the economy, put people back to work, create a deeper manufacturing base. I mean, that is — between that and some of the efforts that the President has put in to make government more efficient and effective, and save money at that level, those are the two things that I think combine to get the deficit down.
MR. SPICER: Hi, Sean. Of the more than 13,000 Syrian refugees who are in this country, less than 150 of them are Christian, Shia, or Yazidis — the same groups that the U.S. government acknowledges are literally being at risk of being wiped off the map. So I wonder, now that Secretary Tillerson has had time to settle in and as you review the refugee program, immigration policy, is this something that’s being discussed? Is this a priority to give these groups some relief?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that you know that when we talked the first time about the executive order, it was something that we acknowledged. There is definitely an area where — in the executive order that we just passed, one of the areas that we talked about was — and I’d have to go back and look at the exact phraseology, but we recognize that certain groups, and they can be religious in nature, are being persecuted, and I think that that’s going to be a factor on how we look at that program.
It’s something that the President, as you mentioned, he’s talked about in the past. It’s something that Secretary Tillerson has acknowledged. And that’s not just refugees coming into this country, but I think one of the reasons that we need safe havens in Syria is to make sure that groups and individuals, whether they be part of a group or religion who are being persecuted have a degree of safety that they can count on.
Q Thanks, Sean. Appreciate it —
MR. SPICER: No, no.
Q Mike, Maria.
Q Right here, thank you.
MR. SPICER: It’s International Women’s Day, Mike.
Q Exactly. Thank you so much. So the President is on the record saying that he supports some sort of legalization for many of the undocumented people in the country. And you know there’s a DREAMer that was caught in the raids in Seattle, Washington. We don’t know if he is going to be released or not. Does the President want to or plan to meet with DREAMers to talk about what’s on his mind about gathering ideas for some sort of legalization? And if so, when would that meeting occur?
MR. SPICER: The President, I think, has talked about how he wants to tackle this holistically, and back to Chris’s question a second ago, I think he has made clear that if there’s someone who has the ability to strike a deal, to get people in a room and acknowledge well, we have to stay true to our principles, that we can get a deal on a way to fix our broken immigration problem, it is him.
We are not at that phase yet. This is something that he has talked to senators about, and I think that, as we continue to move forward, obviously, the focus now is on Obamacare, repealing and replacing it with this program. But it is something that we’re going to continue to move forward with, and as a comprehensive thing — not just the illegal issue, but the visa issue, how we deal with the other folks that are in this country. But stay tuned, we’ve got more to go on this. We’ll go further.
Q No meeting on the works with DREAMers?
MR. SPICER: There is nothing on the schedule at this point.
Q I’m sure you’re aware of reports that the President had ordered the Pentagon to step up the attacks on al Qaeda in Yemen. Does this mark a new strategy rather? And does the President delegate now to the Pentagon attacks on either ISIS or al Qaeda?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think the President talked about this a lot during the campaign, about giving the authority and trusting the generals and the decision-makers of his national security team with executing what they need to, to prosecute the war on terror and the war against radical Islamic terrorism.
So it’s not a question of delegating authority. There are certain things — and we addressed this in the briefing in previous weeks — but there’s a big difference. He’s not delegating the authority, but making sure that they have the ability and the timeliness to act in an appropriate manner to prosecute the case and to go after terrorists in a way that they probably weren’t last time.
So I mean, there is a big difference between the approach of this President and the last administration in terms of giving the generals and the leaders in the national security team and the Defense Department the tools and authority they need to prosecute the case against ISIS.
Sarah. Gabby, sorry.
Q Thanks, Sean. You’ll get it one day.
MR. SPICER: I know. You guys switch.
Q Israel’s defense minister said yesterday that U.S. officials had sent a direct warning to Prime Minister Netanyahu against annexing parts of the West Bank. I wanted to know if that was at the request of President Trump. And then also, if you could tell us where the White House is in terms of reaching a deal with Israel on what they consider permissible settlement construction.
MR. SPICER: Well, as you know, yesterday, the President spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu. That conversation largely had to deal with areas of regional security. I don’t have anything further to readout on that, and I know that when they met here at the White House, there was discussion of settlements, and the President was very clear about what his desires and his wishes were. I think as we continue to follow up with Israel in the coming weeks, we will have more on that.
Q Thank you. Ronica Cleary with Fox 5. I have a follow-up question to actually his asking about the thousands of women who have chosen to strike today, and you saying that it is a free country. But at Channel 5, we’ve reported quite a bit on the schools and the districts that are closing because so many women chose to strike today.
So it is a free country, but what would be the President’s reaction to, if you will, what is more important; the students being at school today or the woman’s right to strike and kind of make a statement, if you will, on this day?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, thanks, Ronica. I think it’s an important question. I mean, you’ve — I know, locally, this affects a lot of individuals throughout Northern Virginia and Maryland and the District. So look, I think — I haven’t talked to the President specifically about this. Obviously, as I mentioned, people have a right to express themselves under our First Amendment, as the President is doing today by making sure that we appropriately salute the contributions that women make to this country.
But there’s clearly an impact in the case of schools — localities throughout the country, here in the greater Washington, D.C. area. But I think that that concern is best utilized by parents through their local school boards and through their city councils and mayors, whether or not they found it appropriate for that to occur. I have not spoken to the President about this, but I think there’s a balance. And I think that — I would hope that we should use this opportunity to recognize the role of women in the workplace, in the family, and throughout society for the contributions that they continue to make and have made in the past in making the country as great as it has.
So with that, one last thing, just to clarify. I think Jill asked this, but I just want to be really clear on one point, which is, there is no reason that we should — that we have to think that the President is the target of any investigation whatsoever. I’m sorry, that was Margaret. I apologize.
Q Specifically counterintelligence.
MR. SPICER: Right, and there is no reason to believe that he is the target of any investigation. I think that’s a very important point to make, and so —
Q So retract your previous —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no. It doesn’t — what I’m saying is — hold on. The one question dealt with whether or not the tweet dealt with wiretaps during the thing, the other is an investigation. They are two separate issues, and there is no reason to believe that there is any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice.
Thank you, guys. I’ll see you tomorrow. Thank you. See you guys —
Q — leaks?
MR. SPICER: Not that — I can’t comment. Thank you, guys.
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