TOWOIT #66

March 23, 2017… Day #63

Chuck Schumer says Democrats will filibuster the Gorsuch vote in the Senate. That’s good because last night the rumors that Democrats would “make a deal” in exchange for supporting Gorsuch. We’re in no mood for deal-making, Dems!

Speaking of deal-making, Trump did not hammer out a deal with the Freedom Caucus today. House vote on the AHCA (repeal & replace) law was supposed to be today but now will be tomorrow. Sean Spicer says in his press briefing that it was never about making a deal. Hard Times for Big Daddy Negotiator.

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The Freedom Caucus members seem like a bunch of dicks. I really hope the tea party of the left does not become an actual legislative caucus.

Nancy Pelosi called the whole thing a rookie mistake on Trump’s part. She had a twinkle in her eye. She deserves to get a dig in after her “pass it to find out what’s in it” remark was taken out of context and bandied about for the last seven years.

Devin Nunes tells an interviewer he went to brief the White House yesterday because “the President’s been taking a lot of heat.”

Adam Schiff has said that the new evidence that he has seen would “merit a grand jury investigation.”

Sean Spicer waxes creative and esoteric about what the word “associate” really means.

Trump met with trucking companies, climbed up into the cab of a big rig and honked the horn. Unfortunate photographs were taken.

What reporters asked Sean Spicer today:

  • Sean — This is a Patriot question. (Laughter.) No, it’s not. (Laughter.)
  • I’ve got nothing on that. But I have a healthcare question for you. First, do you expect there to be a vote tonight?
  • Any chance that that’s going to be pushed back?
  • Is the President concerned at all that as he draws support for the bill from the Freedom Caucus that he may lose support from more moderate groups of the House?
  • Sean, Patrick McHenry said “we have an offer that” — speaking of the House Freedom Caucus — “can accept it or reject it.” Is that the way that you see it at this moment? Are you just waiting on the House Freedom Caucus to come to your side? Are you at their whims at this point? What’s their status as far as you know?
  • Do you know how many came across and what it was that brought them across in that meeting?
  •  With them is it essential health benefits? Is that their main sticking point as far as you know?
  • Two questions, both on healthcare. First one — is the President open to removing protections for preexisting conditions from the bill?
  • Okay. Secondly, about this essential benefits protection. Obviously among those is maternity leave. So how would removing that jive with the President’s promise during the campaign to expand maternity leave? Obviously this would take it out and insurers would no longer have to provide that.
  • So one follow-up on that then. Is the President concerned that without having those essential benefits in there, he’ll have a situation where women are just de facto paying higher for health insurance? Obviously they’d be paying for maternity leave.
  • Thanks, Sean. The White House and House leadership initially defended the way this bill was written by saying it needed to be structured a certain way and exclude certain things to be able to proceed through the Senate through budget reconciliation. So what’s changed to put now these pretty substantive policy changes on the table? What’s given the White House and Republicans confidence that now it can survive through that same process in the Senate?
  • Thanks, Sean. Two questions for you. One on the healthcare bill first. A question about the way this bill is now being modified to basically pick up votes. On Monday night the amendment included that special carve-out for upstate New York — had a bunch of good nicknames that I can’t do justice for — but they also announced these latest bits of horse-trading. Is the President concerned that this bill now looks a lot like — procedurally, it looks a lot like what Obamacare looked like seven years ago that Republicans have spent seven years criticizing the way that bill was brought to the floor, and here they are seven years later on the same day about to do the exact same thing?
  • Sean, just one for you on a different question. Yesterday, Secretary Mattis and Chairman Dunford testified on Capitol Hill that they were willing to, before Congress, have a public debate around a new AUMF. Is that something that — traditionally, those have started in the executive branch. Is the White House willing to put one forward and willing to begin that round of discussions?
  • So is that statement operative for the White House, that the White House now is calling —
  • Now that Chuck Schumer has announced a definite filibuster of Judge Neil Gorsuch, do you think it’s time for the White House to take a stand on eliminating the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees?
  • He’s your nominee, and —
  • Sean, thank you. Has anybody from the national security team or the homeland security folks been in touch with their counterparts in London in the last 24 hours or so?
  • Can you expound on that at all?
  • A supportive effort needless to say.
  • Thanks, Sean. Chairman Nunes today refused to definitively rule out that he received the information he announced yesterday on surveillance, that he got that from the White House. So will you rule out that the White House or anyone in the Trump administration gave Chairman Nunes that information?
  • Well, that’s why it was confusing to many of us, so I was wondering —
  • Thanks, Sean. On healthcare, a couple for you. Mark Meadows says — came out of a meeting and said there is no deal. Does the President acknowledge that this bill appears to be in trouble right now?
  • You wouldn’t call the essential health benefits package a deal?
  • No final offer before it is —
  • Two quick clarifications. You said that there’s only plan A. At this point, is there an acknowledgement that perhaps there does need to be a plan B if this vote doesn’t happen tonight?
  • Okay, then the next follow-up is just, has the President asked Speaker Ryan to delay this vote while he works with some of these members to try to convince them to come on board.
  • Did the President asked Speaker Ryan —
  •   — to delay the vote?
  • I was going to offer you the opportunity to respond to what Leader Pelosi said today. She said that it’s a “rookie mistake” to set a date for a bill before there’s consensus from the Republican caucus. What’s your response to that?
  • And potentially related, if I might. There are some former White House lawyers who served in the prior administration who say that by tweeting from his official POTUS account this morning, a video that was put out on official social media channels, that the President and the White House have violated the anti-lobbying law because they’re using money that was appropriated by Congress. Is that a concern you guys appreciate? Is that something that’s been talked about here?
  • Thanks, Sean. The President wrote a book called “The Art of the Deal.” He’s considered the ultimate closer when it comes to negotiations. If this deal falls through, if this bill does not pass, would he accept the blame for its failure?  And if not, who would?
  • Two very quick clarifications on previous answers and then I have a third question. I think the issue was not what the President had done but what White House staffers were doing with their official Twitter accounts. So while the law does not apply to the President it was a question about White House staff.
  • When you were talking about the Byrd Rule earlier, can we read from your answer that Vice President Pence does not at any point intend to overrule the Senate parliamentarian?
  •  You understand the Byrd Rule, right?
  •  Sure, and if the guidance from the Senate parliamentarian is that something would violate the Byrd Rule, would Vice President Pence —
  • Just finally, CNN reported yesterday that U.S. officials believe that — are investigating that associates of President Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. I’m wondering if you can respond to that or say definitely that they did not do so.
  • Without getting too deep in the weeds on exactly what this strategy is in the Senate to get this bill through the Byrd Rule, is the President confident that the strategy that’s being developed in the Senate WILL result in a bill that can pass muster?
  • And the President told us several weeks ago that if it looked like the Democrats were going to filibuster Judge Gorsuch, he would encourage Mitch McConnell to invoke the nuclear option. Has the President’s position on that changed at all?
  • Thanks, Sean. Following up on Jordan’s question and then I have a follow-up on Hallie’s question. How did Chairman Nunes end up at the White House yesterday? This morning he said he invited himself here, but that’s sort of an uncommon way to end up here. Can you take us through sort of the tick-tock of what happened?
  • You know who he spoke with at the White House?
  • Was this the first time that the White House was made aware of the surveillance that he brought to the President yesterday?
  • And then the follow-up on healthcare. Is there any sort of plan if the bill does not pass tonight?
  • What is the plan B?
  • Now that you’ve been briefed — I know yesterday you hadn’t been on everything had just happened — can you say if the information that Nunes had is the same information that the President said he had that would be revealed this week?
  • Wait, one more question. What will the President’s reaction be to Republicans who vote against the healthcare bill tonight? And are they being encouraged the vote their conscience?
  • Regardless of what happens tonight, will we hear from the President? Will he come out and make a statement?
  • And similar to the question you were asked here, but is the President, no matter what happens, prepared to take responsibility for the outcome of this bill?
  • Whether it succeeds or fails? His name is on it. A lot of people think so.
  • Thanks, Sean. A moment ago you said that there was some members of the House Freedom Caucus in the meeting today who were “no’s” who stood up and said, Mr. President, I’m with you. Can you tell us how many of those there were and what their names were?
  • And can you give us a sense of what specific offer was made? There’s been reporting that the final offer was put on the table for these guys. What specific changes did the President offer them today that were new that we haven’t seen before?
  • Thank you very much, Sean. Two questions please. One, as far as 68 countries representing against terrorism or against ISIS at the State Department under the leadership of Secretary of State Tillerson — there was an advisor to the President of Afghanistan coming here speaking at CSIS. And also, the day before yesterday, at the (inaudible) he was addressing Mr. Rabbani, who is the foreign minister of Afghanistan. What both were saying or addressing to the audience at these two think tanks that unless we control two countries who are financing and training — Saudi Arabia is financing in the name of charities, and Pakistan is training. So what is the presidential message to this group? At the same time, there is a Mr. Abdel Said, who is wanted by the U.S., $10 million — there’s a bounty on him. And he’s openly spewing hatred against the U.S. and India and Pakistan. So where do we go from here?
  • As far as President’s relation with the Indian American community is concerned, that 40 years it was 1976 when a spiritual leader came from — all the way from India to New York City, and he wanted to have a parade, Festival of India in New York, but they didn’t have any resources or sources, but Mr. Trump that time, Donald Trump, came out and helped the group to go on this festival. But now, candidate Trump was also among the Indian American community celebrating Diwali in New Jersey — same group who has been now at the White House this weekend, a peaceful prayer and vigil. They’re asking the President to come out or meet the Indian American community against hate crimes or somebody from the White House.
  • I have a question about essential health benefits. The President said to Tucker Carlson that he wasn’t going to — if his people weren’t taken care of, he wasn’t going to sign anything. And I’m wondering what he says to people who voted for him who relied on the provisions for opioid addiction — things that were included in those essential health benefits, if they go away.
  • Right now, where do the essential health benefits stand?  That they’re going to be part of this bill, or still —
  • They’re going to be part of this bill?
  • Sean, just to follow up on Mara’s question. I think part of the inherent question is, a lot of people buy insurance not knowing what they’re going to need.
  • That’s possible. But here is the question Mara was suggesting: Opioi0d and drug addiction — you don’t buy your insurance and say, I really need that back-up coverage because I think I’m going to get addicted to painkillers or opioid drugs. So the question is, is the President confident that the kind of choice he has ambitions for would be offered by insurance companies on their own volition?
  • Sean, can you say unequivocally that associates of President Trump did not collude with suspected Russian operatives and coordinate on the release —
  • Can you say unequivocally that associates of Donald Trump —
  • “This gentleman,” Paul Manafort, you’re referring to was a campaign chairman —
  •  And also on the question of anonymous sources. I mean, you clearly have an issue with the way that they have been used among the intelligence officials. But people in this White House are often on background, they are often appearing as anonymous sources. Devin Nunes has used an anonymous source to present his intelligence. So why is it acceptable in that case but not in this case?
  • He said the information wasn’t classified.
  • He said he was able to talk about it because it was not classified.
  • Sean, the nuclear posture review is commencing with this administration. Can you assure us that everything is on the table, including a lifting of a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, and also developing new nuclear warheads?
  • Sean, you keep saying that there’s not a plan B for healthcare. President Trump has repeatedly said that Republicans should just allow Obamacare to collapse because Democrats will own that, and therefore maybe we shouldn’t do anything about it, but it’s not fair to the American people to do that. Is the reason there’s not a plan B is because the President’s plan is to allow Obamacare to collapse?
  • So a follow-up question:  Who is the President holding accountable for a split in the Republican Party not being able to get this bill done, the struggle that it’s taking to get the bill to the last minute? Is he holding Republican leadership, Paul Ryan, accountable for bringing a bill to the table without having consensus from the Freedom Caucus? Or is he holding the Freedom Caucus accountable for opposing it?
  •  Sean, you’ve criticized President Obama for the way he sold Obamacare, and there may be some validity to that. But candidate Trump, President-elect Trump, and now President Trump has been selling this legislation as coverage for everybody, lower premiums, lower deductibles, and better healthcare.  Hasn’t he put Republicans on the spot with this legislation by selling it that way?
  • Can it do that?
  • Sean, yesterday when Chairman Nunes was here, we heard his comments. Today, behind closed doors, he apologized to the committee for not coming to them before he came to the press. And then he expressed regret for the way he handled this — going public and going to the President before speaking to the members of his own committee. So I guess my question is, why was it appropriate? Why does the White House believe it was appropriate for Chairman Nunes to come and give this information to the President regarding an investigation about the President’s own associates during the campaign?
  • So to be clear, though, just because appearances matter on this, doesn’t the White House have a concern that it creates the appearance that there was potentially interference by the President that he was included in conversations about the investigation because it was completed?
  • Isn’t the President —
  • The President is the one who wants the conclusion. He asked for it.
  • So I’m asking, why didn’t he ask for details before it was completed?
  • To follow on this thought, I want to ask you — at CPAC, President Trump said, people “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use someone’s name.”  He said, it does “tremendous disservice.” This is following up on the conversation you started with Sarah earlier. So, I guess, the simple question is — Chairman Nunes came out; he noted sources that he couldn’t create and provide publicly. So why, when it’s politically advantageous, is that use of sourcing okay, but when it’s politically damaging, it’s not okay?
  • But if he had not been vindicating him, wouldn’t it have been just as important for the President to learn?
  • My question is to you.
  • Following on that, two questions. You said again, the word “vindicated.” The President said he felt somewhat vindicated. Did he feel that having Chairman Nunes come down here helped his own credibility?
  • And are they going to meet again? And after conversations, since they spoke directly, did the President accept Chairman Nunes’s finding that there was no wiretapping at Trump Tower, which he said yesterday?
  • So the President is confident that Chairman Nunes can continue to lead this investigation, and, in his view, be impartial?
  • Because there have been some questions about that, including from Republicans.

 

Questions the reporters asked Mark Toner today at the State Department:

  • Mark, as you know, the 60-day review that the administration put in place for the Keystone Pipeline is set to expire on Monday. Do you have an update on the status of that review? Do you expect that we’ll have an announcement on that?
  • The Obama administration had been very set on the idea that this is not really a White House decision but should be centered on the approval or disapproval from the State Department. Is that no longer true?
  • Given that the State Dept. under the previous administration looked at the issue quite extensively over several years, and Secretary of State Kerry concluded this did not serve the national interest. If there was a determination that was different than that, what new information has come to light or what would be the justification for changing your view on that?
  • You said new factors? Have you commissioned new research? Or are you looking at what you already knew?
  • Has the State Department’s role changed? Has the Secretary’s role in the process remained the same?
  • So has he made a determination yet?
  • Has he delivered that review to the White House?
  • Because the White House said a decision would be made by tomorrow?
  • By the White House?
  • But you have delivered what the State Department is leaning to the White House?
  • And in this review, you’ve had to — it’s still gonna be a long process before there is a final outcome — this is just the start of something. How does the State Department see its role in that process?
  • Can I follow up with that? Is it just the environmental impact? Or is it also the jobs? I remember the State Department finding that most of the jobs this would create would be temporary. Is that still your finding?
  • Can you speak to the old conclusions about jobs?
  • If the Secretary of State has recused himself from this — so then he has no role whatsoever?
  • Would it be fair to say that if this review led to an approval, that it no longer undermines America’s position as a climate change leader?
  • Sure. If this goes through, would that not undermine America’s position as a climate change–
  • The only member of staff who has changed since the transition is the Secretary, and he’s recused himself from this issue. SO is this exactly the same people looking at exactly the same information?
  • But you know you haven’t appointed any deputy assistant secretaries?
  • Are the pipeline and climate departments the same as before?
  • So this is essentially the same set of people coming to a different conclusion?

More transcription to follow.

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