TOWOIT #56

March 13, 2017… Day 53

Today there was an Executive Order signed that called for reorganization, possibly elimination, of each and every federal agency. Yeah it sounds wild, but here’s a chunk of it:

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The CBO “scored” the Republicans’ repeal and replace bill and said that 14 million people fewer would have health insurance by 2018, and 24 million fewer would be insured by 2026. Leading up to today, Republicans have been trashing the non-partisan CBO because they weren’t expecting to like the report.

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Today at midnight was the deadline for the DOJ to send information to the House Intelligence Committee on the wiretapping allegation by the President. A couple hours ago, the DOJ sent a letter requesting more time.

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Fox News reporter who usually lobs softballs asks Sean Spicer, “Is it our job to be nice?”

I’m overwhelmed and Sean Spicer’s press briefing was a humdinger, so let’s cut to that: 

Questions asked of Sean Spicer today (before CBO score came out):

  • Um, Sean, if I could come back to the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York, Preet Bharara, who was asked to resign along with 45 other U.S. Attorneys. The President seemed to indicate, not too long ago, that he wanted Mr. Bharara to stay on in that job. And he was asked to resign along with the others, and then he said he was fired on Saturday when he refused to resign. Did the President change his mind about keeping him on? Was it only supposed to be for a finite period of time?
  • I understand that this happened at the DOJ and the request came from the DOJ, but there seems to be a White House connection vis a vis the fact that he President had actually asked him to stay on. And then the President called him a couple of days before he was allegedly fired? Can you tell us what that was about? Did the President change his mind?
  • Sean, yesterday John McCain said the President should either provide information about the allegation he put on Twitter about his phones being tapped at Trump Tower, or retract the statement. Today’s the deadline–what’s the President going to do?
  • But the tweet came from the President of the United States. Does he have an obligation, as Senator McCain said, to clear things up?
  • Then, so, what you’re saying is that the President doesn’t have an obligation to provide any evidence?
  • And that leads us to believe that the President’s only evidence is these reports?
  • Following up on Major’s question, does the President feel he has an obligation once the investigation is over, to release some sort of statement in response to whatever the findings are? That’s my first question.
  • My second question for you–has President donated his paycheck from the month of February, like he promised to do during the campaign?
  • May I suggest the Correspondents Association?
  • Thanks Sean, I wanted to follow up on questions regarding Michael Flynn who is no longer in the administration. There’s a five-year lobbying ban that’s been imposed upon all Trump administration employees. Does that also apply to Michael Flynn?
  • What are the repercussions if an employee of this administration lobbies within five years–where’s the teeth, what’s the punishment?
  • I was wondering, did the President ask Preet Bharara to stay on during their conversation during the transition or not?
  • I just want to ask about the reports about President Xi Jinping visiting Mar-a-Lago April 6 and 7. Can you confirm that visit and what you want to accomplish with that type of less formal visit. And secondly, with respect to that visit, you still don’t have a confirmed ambassador, you don’t have an assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs–how does that affect your planning and your ability to properly brief the President and make sure he has a strong position?
  • Is the implication that Tillerson will be setting up the visit?
  • There’s been a rash of attacks on LGBQ community centers over the weekend. The community center here in D.C. was attacked and a transgender staffer was assaulted. And this follows similar attacks in Florida, New Jersey, and Oklahoma. These are not like the anti-Semitic attacks that the President previously denounced. Will he denounce these attacks also?
  • Is it at all connected to the withdrawal of the transgender guidance?
  • You mentioned North Korea–can you tell us about the review of North Korea right now, and what direction you think the administration is going in terms of trying to manage the threat from North Korea.
  • Thank you Sean. Can you confirm that any cooperation with Russia with regards to Syria is off the table, and if not–is it fair to say that the forthcoming anti-ISIS plan does include some sort of cooperation with Russia?
  • Second question. A Kremlin spokesperson said President Putin and president Trump will meet at G20. Can you confirm that and would the White House rule out the possibility of a meeting before that?
  • Director Mulvaney said yesterday that he thought the Obama Administration had been manipulating the unemployment rate. I wondered if that’s a view that the President shares and what evidence there is of that.
  • Does the President feel that the Obama administration had been manipulating the unemployment numbers?
  • I just want to clarify your answer to Major’s question. So, will the DOJ and/or the administration comply with the deadline to supply information today?
  • But surely the White House knows whether is or is not evidence?
  • To follow up on Major’s point though, this is a tweet from the President. Doesn’t the President have an obligation to prove he has the evidence–
  • But will DOJ comply?
  • How is the Press making Obamacare look good?
  • Sean, just going back to the counter-ISIS plan. You mentioned earlier that it wasn’t done yet. The President said during the campaign multiple times that within 30 days he wanted that plan presented to him. Obviously it’s undergoing comments in the national security council, but is the President upset that he hasn’t received the plan yet? Does that point to a difference in campaigning and governing, that things take longer than he thought?
  • When is it actually going to take effect?
  • Thanks Sean. On the executive order this afternoon, do you have a numeric goal for either reducing the size of government or saving a certain amount of money?
  • Thanks Sean. You had said previously that the Republican healthcare plan wouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. But the current plan preserves Obamacare’s health benefit requirements which literally defines insurance at the federal level. So how do you reconcile those two things?
  • Would phase 2 or 3 of this eliminate those requirements?
  • A lot of conservatives are suggesting that the President doesn’t fully back the Paul Ryan healthcare plan. Has the President spoken to Paul Ryan about the plan, and have they had any conversations on its future in Congress?
  • You spoke on behalf of the President quoting him on Friday. It may have been phony in the past but they are very real now. When should Americans trust the President? Is it phony or real when he says that President Obama was wiretapping him?
  • What *does* he think?
  • So on the same topic, on the CBO report–did the President think it was real then and is phony now?
  • On the expectation the CBO report that’s coming out. The quote is “If you’re looking at the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place.” Three years ago you said of the CBO report that it confirms that Obamacare is bad for the economy–
  • So the question is, was it real then and is now phony?
  • I guess the question is, when can we trust the President? When he says something is phony or when he says something is real?
  • No, no. NO, I asked a question about wiretapping first, and then we moved on to CBO. So, in simple terms, the question is, when he says something, can we trust that it’s real or should we assume that it’s phony?
  • Well no, no — How can we trust that it’s real when you just told us that it was phony but now it is real.
  • You told us on Friday, that the President said “the numbers were phony then, but they are very real now.” So, how can we trust anything he says, that he won’t later say “actually, it’s the opposite.”
  • I’m listening.
  • The bottomline is, the question you still have not answered — can you say affirmatively that whenever the President says something, we can trust it to be real.
  • Now we have to start over again with “joking”–
  • “More than three million people voted illegally”–was he joking, or does he believe it?
  • Thanks Sean. I have a healthcare question but first can we just get an answer one way or another about whether the President directed the DOJ to respond to this–
  • So, and does he plan to?
  • Ok, so on health care. Secretary Price said on Sunday that nobody will be worse off financially and more people will be covered with the plan that you guys are pushing. Paul Ryan acknowledged that some people will lose coverage. What is the goal here? Is the goal that people not lose coverage?
  • You’re talking about quality and about cost. I’m asking about coverage.
  • Thank you Sean. First, Democratic leader Pelosi said on Friday that every single Democrat would vote against the AHCA. The Freedom Caucus in the House have come out for Senator Paul’s plan. When one simply does the arithmetic, that’s a majority against the plan. How does the President plan to deal with the arithmetic?
  • The other question is this–in recent weeks there’s been considerable attention on the upcoming elections in the Netherlands and France in a few weeks. Candidate Geert Wilders of the Netherlands was here for the CPAC conference. Many analogies were made between these candidates and President Trump and they offered words of praise for him. Is he aware of candidates in Europe who invoke his name, and if so, what does he think of these would-be Trumps and Trumpettes?
  • Sean, can I follow up on Peter and Julie’s questions? Whether the President and Director Mulvaney put a lot of faith in the CBO, members of the Senate will if they get legislation from the House. So my question is, what does the President intend to do to establish to senators’ satisfaction that the numbers coming out of the CBO are not substantial and can be countered by other information–in other words, is OMB doing its own score? Is the President relying on a think tank? Because senators are already messaging that they will put weight in the CBO score.
  • I may be confused about the wiretapping, your answers, in terms of the President’s response. The President was the one who tweeted this, right? And said that he had learned something. So can you just establish for me, because I’m confused, the President did discuss what he had in mind when he tweeted, with the Department of Justice, when he–
  • But how would the Department of Justice have any idea–
  • Thanks, Sean. Congressman Steve King has issued an inflammatory tweet about someone else’s babies. Does the White House have a reaction.
  • Sean, two for you. You said a minute ago, what the President meant when he tweeted about the wiretapping and you sort of explained. But you’ve also stood at that podium and said the tweet speaks for itself. When do you decide when a President’s tweets, his words, are open to interpretation, and when those words stand on their own?
  • Ok, but you just sort of interpreted it for Peter, saying “no he didn’t mean”
  • You said when he said “wiretapping”
  • So you’re interpreting the tweets for us.
  • Did you ask him?
  • What did he say?
  • So he cited other reports when he was speaking with you?
  • So is that he was basing his tweet on?
  • I want to go back to the healthcare issue. Just yes or no, are CBO numbers legitimate or not?
  • Just are those numbers legitimate?
  • It depends on what?
  • On Preet Bharara–there are two possibilities here. One is that the President asked him to stay on in November and the other is that he didn’t. Preet Bharara came down to the lobby of Trump Towers and said the President made that commitment. Did the President make that commitment to Preet Bharara?
  • It matters to ongoing investigations, and it also matters in the sense of whether the President made a commitment. If he made a commitment, why did he change his mind?
  • Sean but what changed between November and now?
  • Thank you, I have two questions. The first, I think especially in light of what has happened in the room here today. The President tweeted this morning that much of the media is being rude and we should be nice. SO my question is, is it our job to be nice, and do YOU think we’re nice?
  • Second question. But this is about you. The interaction you had at the Apple store this weekend. If someone doesn’t want to be aggressive and has a question for you, what would be your message to a regular citizen that has an issue?
  • Thank you Sean, you said that when the President said “wiretapping” he meant a whole host of surveillance types. So that we can be crystal clear, what surveillance types was he referring to? What would you consider to be part of that range?
  • We took that to mean monitoring his calls specifically. What else would you include?

 

 

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