TOWOIT #85

April 11, 2017… Day 82

Everyone’s talking a lot about Sean Spicer’s Hitler gaffe and the White House’s dance with Holocaust denialism. A lot of good points made. But I think some people don’t realize the extent to which Sean Spicer just cannot talk. I mean the ignorance, laziness, and carelessness is there too and it’s already been looking bad for the White House on the anti-Semitism front. But just saying, don’t read too much into Sean Spicer’s exact wording because the man is a walking gaffe.

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What I was mostly struck by was the way he casually shrugged off the idea of letting Syrian refugees into the U.S., now that Trump suddenly cares about humanitarian concerns.

But no, Spicer seems to suggest–we’ll just fix up Syria and that will take care of it. Like it’s no big deal at all. Spicer basically says that Assad will have to go, and also Isis will have to be defeated, and Russia (which will stop backing Assad because we said so), will create a political environment that will allow the Syrian people to choose a leader that better “suits them.”

I’m not sure, but definitely seemed like the Trump administration delivered ultimatums (by tweet & Tillerson) to both Russia and China today.

General Mattis says the ships moving toward the Korean peninsula are no big deal.

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“Trump has not revealed which intelligence reports he is relying on” — do we all really have to pretend that those intelligence reports exist and he isn’t just making stuff up?

Sean Spicer: But I think it’s interesting that we went from all these direct links to Russia, to now, are we disappointed that we can’t even get a meeting with them. There’s a bit of irony in your question.

Major Garrett: I don’t even understand your point.

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Oh can it, Horseface.

Here’s what they asked Sean Spicer today:

  • Sean, on Russia to start.  Does the administration believe that Russia had any advance knowledge of this chemical attack in Syria?  And does the administration believe that Russia may have been complicit in this attack?
  • Is there any thought within the intelligence community, or are there some strands of the international community that —
  • Today, in the background briefing, top officials accused Russia of helping Syria cover up Assad’s use of chemical weapons. In the past, Trump had praised Putin, calling him very smart and expressing general admiration. Does he still think Putin is very smart? And does this change the relationship between the two leaders?
  • The administration has said sanctions against Syria are forthcoming. What will those look like, and when can we expect them?
  • Secondly, has the administration identified an opposition party that could come to power in Syria if there is a regime change?
  • Thanks, Sean. I’m going to change the topic. Mark Meadows said earlier this morning that he thinks “we’re very close” as it relates to healthcare, and that two options were given to the House Speaker. Does the White House believe that you’re “very close” on healthcare? And have you signed off on those two options?
  • Have you signed off to those?
  •  And secondly, a video that’s being played across television — United Airlines.  Do you think the government should investigate them, the industry as a whole, as it relates to passenger treatment?
  • Sean, two questions. Just to follow up on Blake, just very briefly. Has the President seen that video?
  • And what’s his reaction?
  • I have two questions, though. That was actually just the clarification. First, on — both foreign policy. One on Syria. This administration is continuing to fight for its travel ban that would in part limit refugees coming in from Syria. The President spoke very starkly about how affected he was by some of the images that he’s seen of these youngest victims. There have also been images of refugees like, for example, Alan Kurdi, that have also been heart-wrenching for people. Is the President giving any thought to reconsidering that aspect of his travel ban?
  • But don’t the images touch him also?
  • On North Korea, Sean, I also know that you’ve seen the latest provocations from Pyongyang. The President tweeted this morning that if China won’t help, the U.S. will solve the problem.
  • What does he mean by that, “solve the problem”?
  • So there will be airstrikes? 
  • Thanks a lot, Sean. The alliance between Russia and Syria is a strong one; it goes back decades. President Putin has supplied personnel, he’s supplied military equipment to the Assad government. What makes you think that at this point he’s going to pull back in his support for President Assad and for the Syrian government right now?
  • First one, coming up on Tax Day, when does the White House plan on releasing President Trump’s 2016 returns? And are there any concerns about possible conflicts of interest reflecting on the tax debate that could be cleared up with this release? Second, how many people are you expecting at the Easter Egg Roll? And will you practicing your previous role as the bunny?
  • How many are you expecting?
  • Thank you, Sean. You said last month that the White House was reviewing the policy on visitor logs.
  • Will the White House voluntarily release those visitor logs?
  • Okay. And then a question on Syria. Secretary Tillerson said this morning that it was the United States’ hope that Bashar al-Assad will not be a part of Syria’s future but it’s up to the people of Syria to make that determination. At the same time, the question is now whether it’s the White House’s position that Assad is a bad actor and it would be ideal if he would go, or whether the White House thinks that the atrocities that he’s committed are absolutely unacceptable and he must go, period.
  • So he absolutely has to go?
  • Thanks, Sean. I want to ask you about some comments that Eric Trump said, speaking of Ivanka Trump: “Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence. I’m sure she said, ‘listen, this is horrible stuff. My father will act in times like that.'” Did Ivanka Trump play a role in President Trump deciding to strike Syria? And if so, what was that role?
  • And just to be clear, she was among those who supported taking action?
  • Do you know if they discussed the attack, or if she responded and gave her personal reaction to it?
  • And just a couple of others. He also said if there was anything that the strike on Syria did, it was to validate the fact that that there is no Russia tie, which raises the question that there was some type of political component to this. Can you respond to that?
  • He wasn’t suggesting that was a factor in the decision —
  • And just to follow up on the North Korea question — Hallie read the President’s tweet — North Korea seemed to threaten the possibility of taking some type of nuclear action if the U.S. launches what they see as another provocation. What is the specific reaction to that? Is the President considering —
  • What’s your reaction to them making that threat?
  • Thank you, Sean. I want to sort of follow up on that. The President in his tweet noted that China could certainly help on the North Korean issue. And when you unpack it through that lens and the fact that the USS Carl Vinson is sort of steaming out toward the Sea of Japan, that may be an additional pressure to maybe get China to come to the table. Is that an accurate read of what the President would like to see them to do to really apply the pressure on Pyongyang?
  • Putting that strike carrier group in the Sea of Japan, in that region, is that also a messaging circumstance? Or is that simply protective for our allies in Japan and Korea?
  • Last point, if I might, on infrastructure and taxes. The CBO is obviously very interested in trying to get something done as quickly as possible — A, shovel-ready opportunities for people to get to work, and obviously a lowering of the taxes to enhance business expansion and perhaps even lower for middle-class Americans. But I’m wondering if there isn’t a healthcare component that needs to happen before you can move forward on that.
  • Sean, thanks. I just want to give you an opportunity to clarify something you said that seems to be gaining some traction right now. “Hitler didn’t even sink to the level of using chemical weapons.” What did you mean by that?
  • I’m just getting —
  • Okay. Did the President speak with Secretary Tillerson before he went on this trip to Russia? And is this stern message that the Secretary delivered today a direct message from the President to Vladimir Putin?
  • So this message that these — it’s pretty stark, harsh words from Secretary Tillerson this morning about Russia. Is that — can that be interpreted as a message from the President to Russia?
  • Thank you, Sean. Two foreign policy-related questions. You’re speaking about Secretary Tillerson’s trip, and I’d like to do a follow-up on the question I asked two weeks ago. Is he scheduled to meet with Mr. Navalny or Mr. Khodorkovsky or any of the civil society representatives outside of government?
  • And has the President or anyone in the administration been in touch with President Erdogan on all of the actions in Syria?
  • You said at the top that you hope that Secretary Tillerson will be able to clearly convey to the Russians the sentiments of the U.S. government.  Is that enhanced by a meeting directly with the Secretary and President Putin? And if there is no meeting like that, would the President of the United States consider his Secretary of State snubbed by the Russian President?
  • Would the history of Putin meeting with Kerry and with previous secretaries of state influence the President’s judgment on that?
  •  (Inaudible) the President — in other words, for Tillerson to see Putin on this visit even though there are very specific things you want to convey to the Russian government.
  • I’m just asking if the President considers it important.
  • I don’t even understand your point. I’m asking you, at a time after the United States has called out Russia for a disinformation campaign in Syria for collusion with a government it regards as carrying out a war crime, meeting with the Russian President, is it or is it not a priority for this President to have his Secretary of State convey that directly with the head of the Russian government?
  • The head of the Russian government — that’s all I’m asking.
  • And I’m asking you if that —
  • You would not consider that a snub?
  • The Russian President today said that all this talk in the White House about weapons of mass destruction reminds him of what he heard from the White House in 2003. This White House is expressing confidence that sarin gas was used. What do you say to skeptics in Moscow and maybe in other countries, perhaps here at home, who doubt that level of confidence?
  • And one other historical villain who used chemical weapons against his own people was Saddam Hussein. It was the policy of the United States government that there should be regime change in Iraq as a result of that and other things.  Why shouldn’t it be the same policy towards Bashar al-Assad?
  • So I just want to clarify, is the U.S. position as far as cooperation with Russia that Russia must admit or agree that Syria was behind the chemical attack, and then also that Russia must disown Assad? Like, can cooperation happen if Russia maintains its position that Syria was not behind that chemical attack?
  • But at this point, Russia is not even agreeing with the U.S. contention that the Syrian government carried out the attacks.

 

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