February 23, 2017… Day 35

“We are entering a space of total metaphysical and informational confusion.”

–Matthew Yglesias, Vox podcast In the Weeds

McCain made a secret trip to Syria.

Trump calls deportations a military operation. Sean Spicer tells the press, “he was using that word as an adjective.”

CNN headline: Steve Bannon attacked EU in private convo to Germany’s envoy to the U.S., even as Pence reaffirmed ties.

New travel ban executive order delayed until next week.

Washington Post headline: CPAC organizer denounces “alt-right” as “left-wing fascist group”

In House, Republicans burying Democratic measure to require disclosure of Trump’s conflicts of interest. The Republicans can just bury it in the Judiciary Committee, to spare themselves the embarrassment of publicly voting against it.



Man kicked off flight to Houston for racist comments toward fellow passengers. As he left the plane he said to one of them “I’ll be back, but you’ll be GONE.”


ICE agents examined the “papers” of everyone deplaning a domestic flight.

Miami Herald headline: You could be arrested in Arizona just for planning a protest.

Us Weekly: Could Donald Trump Get Impeached? Here’s How it Could Happen

Jeff Sessions kills Obama order to phase out use of private prisons.

Protests at Stonewall in NYC, for transgender civil rights.

Bannon at CPAC: He is seeking “deconstruction of the administrative state”

“I’m wondering if you could right-size my paranoia?”

–Tommy Vittor, Pod Save the World


White House press briefing without Sean Spicer:

  • Two questions. First, the White House previously said that the travel ban was pushed quickly for national security reasons. But now we hear there are repeated delays while the new one is drafted. How do we reconcile these two talking points? And then secondly, the President said today that the deportations taking place under his watch are a military operation? Secretary Kelly said the military won’t be involved. Did the President mis-speak?
  • Sean, I want to ask you about a comment that the Treasury Secretary made today. He was asked if we should assume that a tax plan will take effect in 2018. He said, and I’m quoting, “I think we’re looking at that.” So my question is, would the President accept a tax plan that deals with a timeline of 2018 and not 2017?
  • Good afternoon Sean, thanks for taking my question, I appreciate it. Connecticut’s governor directed police chiefs across the state Wednesday to avoid taking any special action against undocumented immigrants, including honoring immigration detention requests from ICE. What will the repercussions be for this state in terms of federal funding it receives from the Trump administration and , does the President’s executive order on sanctuary cities apply to those that are undeclared sanctuary cities?
  • Sean, on the bathroom issue–there was a different comment from the President, that you know, if Caitlyn Jenner wanted to use his bathroom in Trump Tower, she could… now, what’s happened?
  • If I could just follow on with what April said–
  • I wasn’t finished–
  • I’m following on what you said–
  • I know. I have a question on another issue. On the HBCU executive order. You’re working on opening an office specifically to take the HBCU initiative out of the Dept. of Education and bring it directly under the purview of the White House. Who will be heading that? Have you figured that out?
  • So there will be a department with a full–
  • Let me get back to where we were. The Human Rights Campaign responding to the rescinding of the guidance last night — they say this is not a states’ rights issue, this is a civil rights issue and therefore is in the purview of the Federal government. Do you disagree that it’s a civil rights issue?
  • I understand all that. I’m just wondering, does the White House disagree with the position that this is a civil right?
  • Can I follow on that? Does the President believe, personally believe, that any student who is transgender should be able to use the bathroom of their choice? His personal belief.
  • But the public may want to know where the President is–
  • Thanks Sean. You mentioned that this executive order was enjoined by the court and there were criticisms with the process. That exact same criticism was levied against this administration’s travel ban executive order. Can you help square the circle on that?
  • Thank you Sean. Just going back two weeks. In a story that got relatively little attention at the time, Chuck Cooper, a very distinguished lawyer, asked that his name be withdrawn when he was on the periphery of being named U.S. Solicitor General. So first, can you confirm or deny the administration is now vetting Mr. Miguel Estrada as Solicitor General? And second, Mr. Cooper said that he did not want to go through he same experience as Jeff Sessions, his good friend did, as he went through the confirmation hearings. Does that make the President a little bit discouraged about getting the nominees he wants for some very important positions?
  • This morning the president talked about “really bad dudes.” You talked about “precision.” The Homeland Security secretary insisted this morning there won’t be mass deportation. Is it the president’s intent or desire, as some advocates worry, that people who are here illegally — with something as simple as traffic violations — that those people are subject to deportation?
  • Thanks Sean, Roby Brock from Talk Business & Politics in Arkansas, the home of the rowdiest town halls in the nation. I have a question on medical marijuana. Our state voters passed a medical marijuana amendment in November and now we are in conflict with federal law like a lot of other states. The Obama administration chose not to strictly enforce those federal marijuana laws. My question to you is that with Jeff Sessions over at the DOJ as AG, what’s the gonna be the Trump administration’s position when there’s state-federal conflict?
  • What does that mean in terms of policy? Follow-up, Sean, what does this mean in terms of policy? 
  • What is the Justice Department going to do?
  • Why don’t you answer the question, though?
  • Okay. Well first, on the manufacturing summit, was the AFL-CIO invited? And yeah, I did want to follow up on this medical marijuana question. So is the federal government gonna take some kind of action around this medical marijuana issue?
  • Question on Russia. Secretary Tillerson and General Dunford have had meetings with their Russian counterparts. Is the President pleased with the results of the meetings, and what comes next? [Reporter is Russian]
  • Have you started discussing the where and when for the summit for the leaders meeting?
  • Sean, I just want to clarify–you said you WILL see greater enforcement on [marijuana]?
  • But you said, you said there will be greater enforcement.
  • Ivanka Trump was in the White House today for a meeting on human trafficking. She had this meeting on CEOs, we saw her at a smaller session here today — what exactly is her role here?
  • It’s still not a formal role?
  • On the human trafficking meeting today, the President said well when you talk about solving this kind of problem that’s a nice word but he suggested that more likely he will be able to “help out.” What is his goal–is he looking at stronger criminal penalties?
  • Has the President been briefed at all on the situation at Standing Rock? And is he concerned that a stand-off protesters could slow down his executive orders on pipelines?
  • Sean, thank you. Two topics I’d like to ask, but I wanted to start off by following on the transgender directive. Eight-two percent of transgender children report feeling unsafe at school. So isn’t the President leaving some of these children open to vulnerable — to being bullied at school?
  • Transgender children say their experience is –
  • — not being able to use the bathroom that they feel comfortable using because of vulnerability to bullying.
  • So protecting kids is a states’ rights issue?
  • Well, I’m asking you why you’re reversing the Obama directive —
  • I understand that —
  • — but you’re sending a message —
  • I understand what you’re saying. But the LGBTQ community yesterday said they felt —
  • — that what they’re perceiving is that those kids are not being respected.
  • Moving on to Obamacare very quickly, former House Speaker John Boehner predicted that a full repeal and replace of Obamacare — his words — “is not going to happen.” He went on to say, “Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act, it’s going to be there.” Do you think that he has a point? Are you going to —
  • Sean, on roads and highways in the United States, in many places around the country potholes and other issues are affecting the way in which Americans travel. And the President has said he would fix these issues during the campaign. What is the status on that? And has the President spoken to heads of DOT or other people?
  • Montana has hundreds of miles of border with Canada. And according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, almost 1 million people come across that border into Montana each year. What are the administration’s plans to increase security on the Canadian border? And does the administration have any plans to build a wall there? (Laughter.)
  • One question on the South China Sea and a follow-up on the Dakota Access Pipeline.This week was the first week, I believe, that the Trump administration launched freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. Can you give us a sense of how frequently you are going to be doing those?And then on the Dakota Access Pipeline, a few weeks ago President Trump said he would try to negotiate a solution between the Standing Rock Sioux and Energy Transfer Partners. Why hasn’t the President intervened and tried to initiate those negotiations yet?
  • Sean, in the Reuters interview with the President, he described again his interest in seeing the nuclear arsenal expand in the United States. Can you describe what it is that the President has in mind — the timeframe and how he would like to pursue that?
  • Sean, a domestic policy question and then a foreign policy question, if you will. You said yesterday that the President had named a task force on the voter fraud probe. When did he name that task force specifically?
  • So you were referring to the interview in which he said there would be a task force.
  • Not that something has happened since then.
  • Okay. And then on foreign policy, the President had said in his Saturday campaign speech that the Gulf States would be paying for that safe zone in Syria. Which Gulf States was he referring to? Have any committed to paying for that?
  • Thank you, Sean. I greatly appreciate it. I’d like to talk to you more about tax policy, if I may. President Trump, of course, on the campaign trail talked a lot about tax policy and tax reform. That hasn’t happened yet, as we know. But I want to talk about something different. That’s the border adjustability tax. With the manufacturers that were at the White House again today, states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, others have a great concern about this tax, and there seems to be a disconnect between some of the CEOs, some of the Republicans on Capitol Hill and the President as to whether or not this is appropriate. And I guess the question is, could this tax have a chilling effect on manufacturing at a time when places like Ohio, and Michigan, and the Upper Midwest are trying to jumpstart the economy with manufacturing jobs? I wish for you to clarify, if you could, the President’s position.
  • So where is he on this border adjustability tax?
  • Where is he on this tax specifically?
  • But the question is about components coming back in the United States being manufactured.
  • On the transgender guidance, the administration not only rescinded it, but sent a letter to the Supreme Court informing them about the change as they consider a related case. Does the termination of the guidance present an administration position on the way the Supreme Court should rule?
  • Can I ask you about Syria? Two quick questions. First, the talks have started again, peace talks in Geneva. The man convening them, Staffan de Mistura, says he’s not detected a clear strategy on the political track from the administration. So what is the President’s thinking on that? And in particular, what’s his thinking on the future of President Assad, whether he can stay on in a transition or —
  • But the overall strategy comes from here.
  • One other question then on Syria, if you don’t mind. The fall of al-Bab in northern Syria, an important development on the battlefield, creates some space in that town that’s fallen to the Turks and opposition. Is that the sort of space that the President would like to see a safe zone?
  • Thanks, Sean. Since the election, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed some disquiet about pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change. And the President has also heard from some world leaders about that. Can you tell us, is the President still committed to pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change?
  • Sean, thank you very much. I just have a follow-up to the Syria question first. Do you have any timeline when it comes to when he wants to see those safe zones actually being built? And I wanted to go back to the executive order on immigration. You’ve talked about these dual-tracks, where you’re going to be doing the new executive order but also continuing to fight that in court. Can you give us a status update on where that legal fight is and what we should see happening?
  • Have you made a decision yet about the Supreme Court taking it there? And then the other question was on the safe zones and the timeline.
  • I just want to follow up to this morning’s meeting. And the President said that he gave authorization to a couple of countries to buy military equipment from the United States. Which countries was he referring to? And has he gone to Congress to ask for permission to do this?
  • Sean, if I could ask again about the delay of the executive order until the next week. Is the administration still trying to craft its legal argument to this to withstand scrutiny, or why again the delay? I’m not sure I understand —
  • Sorry, I don’t understand the delay.
  • There also is some concern — if I can follow up — there also is concern inside the Justice Department and in Homeland Security by some officials this afternoon that we’re reporting that the White House is looking for them to help build this legal argument, to find a conclusion here.
  • Has it been more difficult than you thought it would be?
  • Thank you, Sean. Melanie Arter, Former Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder admitted that for a few years he unwittingly employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper. Is this administration committed to holding employers accountable when they employ illegal aliens? And how does the administration plan to do so?
  • Veronica Clearly, with Fox 5. I have two questions. Janet Evancho — she sang the National Anthem — she requested a meeting with the President. Her sister is transgender. Is he going to take that meeting, or meet with anyone from the transgender community during this conversation?
  • The second question — second question. Steve Bannon today called the media the opposition party. Last week, there was lots of conversation about the fake news and us being the enemy of the people. Some have said that this is really just a branding of the media, where he did that in the primaries, branding “Little Marco” and “Lyin’ Ted”. Is this —
  • Right, of course. But is this a branding strategy to —
  • But this is real?
  • From the whole administration?
  • Thanks, Sean. Back to the border adjustment tax. President Trump has told Reuters that he does support some form of a border tax. How does the President respond to critics that are saying the border adjustment tax will be passed on to lower-income and middle-class families in the form of higher prices for goods and higher prices for gas?
  • Sean, has the President spoken to anyone in Mexico (went unanswered as Sean left)


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