TOWOIT #87

April 13, 2017… Day 84

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(Headlines are from Huffington Post, Mirror, NPR, and CBS today)

Questions reporters asked Sean Spicer today

  • Sean, where is the administration on cost-sharing subsidies for insurance companies?
  • So, undecided?
  • Thanks, Sean. The last few days we’ve seen a number of policy shifts by the President on China is a currency manipulator, the Ex-Im Bank, the order (inaudible) healthcare and taxes. There’s more, but I won’t belabor the point. What should the American people make of these shifts? And are there any policy areas that are nonnegotiable?
  •  A quick follow-up, if I may. The Ex-Im Bank is another one.  That’s an institution that hasn’t changed at all. So I’m wondering, on some of these other policy shifts where you haven’t seen the type of change you’re talking about with NATO, what should we make of those kinds of shifts? And again, are there any policy areas that are nonnegotiable, that are off limits?
  • On a separate matter — you mentioned what you see as a win at the U.N. Security Council. I’m curious as to why you believe this is a win. After all, this particular resolution did not pass — what happened at the U.N. Security Council in the past, for instance, a Security Council resolution which gave the green light for the Persian Gulf War, you actually had all five permanent members in the U.N. Security Council voted yes. So why are you saying this is a win when not all five permanent members of the Security Council actually voted yes? You had one — Russia — blocking it.
  • Thank you, Sean. In his remarks to us off-camera, OMB Director Mulvaney talked about the vision of the federal government being reorganized as, in some cases, more agencies. And he said also that the final plan will come not just from right-wing think tanks — I believe that was his phrase. Coupled with the President’s statement on the Ex-Im Bank, is he already receiving any criticism or voices of disappointment from small government conservatives who backed him strongly? I refer to groups such as Americans for Tax Reform, or the Cato Institute.
  • Thank you, Sean. The U.S. ambassador at the Europe Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says that Syria, he says, uses chemical weapons, embedded — Syria uses the weapon embedded by Russia’s continuing efforts to bury the truth. Was the President offered proof of such truth-burying efforts by Russia?
  • Truths of this — evidence that this is happening by Russia?
  • I would like to know also — you’ve been putting in the same sentence Syria, Iraq and North Korea as failed states, Russia being not a failed state but part of this.  Has it become the — to use an old expression — the axis of evil of this administration?
  • Very quick, last question. With the National Hockey League playoffs just started, will the President cheer for the Rangers or the Caps?  (Laughter.)
  • Obviously, our concern is the reconstruction of 85. We understand that the President is meeting with the first responders this afternoon — in just a few minutes, actually.  We wanted to ask about the federal commitment to getting I-85 rebuilt as far as federal dollars and easing some federal regulations to get the job done quickly.
  • Thank you, Sean. Back on some of these shifts. On China, in particular, the President did not mince words during the campaign. Now he says he and President Xi have been bonding, Xi means well. He says China is not a currency manipulator. What message does this send to the President’s supporters who sent him to the White House thinking he’d be following through on his tough talk against China?
  • And a follow-up, if I may. The President told the Wall Street Journal that President Xi helped him realize that North Korea is not so easy. Did the President underestimate the complexities of this? Did he underestimate how difficult this was going to be?
  • Sean, on currency manipulation, why specifically did he decide to abandon this? And what other tools does he have in his toolbox to try to modify China’s trade —
  • Has he given up on trying to modify China’s trade behavior?
  • Two questions, Sean. You were very forthcoming about the tick-tock leading up to the missile launch into Syria, so can you give us any background on the MOAB in Afghanistan?  Was there a Situation Room scenario?  Was the President — was this several days in the making? And my second question is, the President has been very critical of the intelligence community leading up to his inauguration. He’s obviously been working very closely with the intel community on these — at least on these situations in Syria and Afghanistan. Has his opinion changed toward the IC?
  • But as far as the President’s consultation.
  • Thanks, Sean. Following up on that question, did the President specifically order — authorize the use of this piece of ordnance?
  • And to follow up on a question earlier, you didn’t answer specifically what has changed about the Ex-Im Bank that has led the President to re-evaluate his previous —
  • Two questions about the budget. Are you all prepared to hold things up? We’ve got a couple weeks left here. How serious are you about getting money for the wall? Would you hold up the spending plan for that? And I have one other question.
  • So you can’t say whether you would have to have money in this budget or —
  • Okay.  And then the second question on the budget was, there’s a proposal now to punish members of Congress who do not pass this spending plan, in a variety of ways — withhold salary, even arrest.  Do you support that Congress should be punished —
  • Thank you, Sean. Historically, sitting Presidents have refrained from stating preferences on — free-market economy goals. Yesterday President Trump said he wants low interest rates and he wants a weaker dollar, and then the market followed his preferences. So given his criticism of other economies and their intervention, how do you characterize that response?
  • But, traditionally, you have low interest rates when the economy is weak and needs help, and then they recover when the economy strengthens. So what was he trying to get —

As Sean abruptly leaves after answering this question, questions are shouted — he ignores them even though he’s still right there.

“Very quickly, did the President not KNOW about the Moab strike” I don’t know why you can’t talk to us about it. Can we get any clarity?” and someone else asked if Sean’s answers meant the President didn’t authorize the strike. Then just as the door closed, another person said “THAT was weird.” Another person said, “Twenty-three minutes.”

Mark Toner finally does another press briefing! Here’s what the reporters asked him:

  • To the best of your knowledge, was there ever any indication that the Secretary’s meeting with President Putin would NOT happen?
  • Did you ever get any indications from the Russians that the meeting might be off?
  • There seemed to be a line of commentary that Secretary Tillerson had been kept waiting by President Putin–
  • On to the substance. The Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov both announced that they would be creating working groups to look at various irritants and see how they — can you be more specific about what these working groups will be looking at and what you hope to achieve?
  • So it’s singular, it’s not multiple.
  • And then you said they went over the history of why we’re at where we’re at — was this like the airing of grievances? How far back did they go?
  • So is the idea that they’ll focus on smaller issues and not huge issues like Syria?
  • That’s been the common goal since Geneva 1.
  • So what’s the point of agreeing to something that you’ve previously agreed to? If there’s no progress on the means to the end, then I don’t understand what’s so productive for the two sides to run down a list of what pisses you off about the other side. I don’t get it.
  • Just to come back — so you don’t know when the working group is going to start?
  • Ok, was there maybe a discussion about a follow up meeting between Lavrov and the Secretary? Are you aware of anything?
  • You probably saw that the AFP had an interview today with Assad, who called the accusations of the chemical attack a fabrication. You saw earlier this morning the Syrian army statement that the U.S. air strikes against Isis had hit a chemical weapons depot by Isis — what’s going on there? Day after, those meetings seem to be pushed back. This doesn’t look like someone who’s about to change course.
  • Mark, I just want to follow up but before that I want to ask about Russia. The President said that everyone will come back to their senses and they are going to have better relations and so on. Is that the result of the conversation between Secretary Tillerson and President Putin? Because it sounded more hopeful than yesterday.
  • On the Assad interview. Now you keep saying you have irrefutable evidence. I mean, today the U.S. is saying they intercepted some communications between the pilot and some chemical scientists and so on and how to do this. I find that difficult — you know — isn’t it a bit odd that the pilot would be talking to whoever the scientists are —
  • — that’s what CNN said– they were told by a high official and so on.
  • Let’s say you have an investigation and it concludes that there was no Syria chemical attack. I mean, you’ve already struck. You’ve already destroyed that air base. So how would you —
  • And lastly I just want you to clarify something — what is it that the U.S. army, which was supposed to destroy these weapons– and in fact they did, they destroyed something like 600 tons which was all the chemical weapons at least declared by Syria — would you clarify because we keep hearing that Russia was responsible to see that these were destroyed.
  • My understanding was that the agreement you just referred to allowed for investigations, so is it correct?
  • Right, but, yesterday’s resolution was not required for there to be an investigation.
  • It didn’t need–they didn’t need a new authorization from the security council to adjust an investigation.
  • I have a question bout yesterday’s meeting in Moscow, but in frame of Ukraine issue. Secretary of State said yesterday that he discussed Ukraine and Minsk with Mr. Lavrov, but there was no acknowledgment that Mr. Tillerson talked about it with Mr. Putin. Was the Ukraine issue raised in meeting with Russian president?
  • I have a pivot. Russia’s hosting multi-nations consultation on Afghanistan tomorrow. What, if any role, will U.S. play in those talks? And is there any fear that Russia is trying to expand its role in Afghanistan through these talks?

to be continued…

 

 

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