TOWOIT #91

April 17… Day #88

Crawling toward Day 100. It used to seem like every day was 10 days. Now it’s down to about two days per day. When I found out Trump was going to win, the first thing I cried for was the fact that I didn’t want to see his face or hear his voice any more. I hadn’t realized how desperate I was for him to be shuffled out of my daily eyeshot and earshot. And in that moment, I didn’t think I could bear another day of Trump on national television, let alone Trump as President. Well, I’m fucking stronger now. We all are.

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Trump also didn’t seem to know or remember that Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un were different people.

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Four years ago, in tweets, Trump seemed to have a better handle on things.

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“You got a fly on your head.”

—John Roberts to Sean Spicer during today’s White House Press Briefing

Questions they asked Sean Spicer today at the WHPB:

  •  I’ll take it. Thank you, Sean.  Does the President have a red line when it comes to North Korea that, if they cross it, they will bring about some kind of military response from the U.S.?
  • Just to follow up on that, Syria is one thing and North Korea is quite another, when they have nuclear ambitions the way that they do. When you talk about, “Well, we did this to Syria and we did this to Afghanistan,” is that being a little too loose with, you know, bombastic rhetoric?
  • But North Korea did launch that missile. They did launch it.
  • Thanks a lot, Sean. The President, as you just mentioned, has spoken about this relationship that he’s developed with President Xi, where President Xi would be leaning on the North Korean government to prevent the kind of attempted missile launches, like we saw over the weekend. It seems as if that effort in terms of leaning on North Korea did not work. In addition to that, the Vice Foreign Minister of North Korea said to the BBC today that North Korea will test its missiles on a weekly, a monthly, and a yearly basis. So my question is, what kind of pressure is China putting on North Korea?
  • But North Korea is essentially, just based upon what they tried to do over the weekend, thumbing its nose at even China because of what they attempted to do.
  •  Thanks, Sean. What was the review of the White House visitor logs? What was the extent of that review?
  • What was the extent of the review of the White House visitor logs? What made you change your mind to not continue releasing them?
  • So why does the President object to people knowing who is coming in the White House?
  • But why didn’t he take this opportunity to one-up the transparency game? If Obama was so bad at it —
  • Thanks, Sean. Following on Kaitlan’s question, the rationale given Friday for the visitor logs reversal was for national security and privacy concerns. Both of those were clear exemptions in the Obama administration’s policy which led to that scrubbing that you described. So why exactly the reversal? You seem to be describing maybe a third rationale that you’re giving.
  • The Obama administration had that exception to their visitor logs.
  • I’ll grant you that —
  • — but this President entered office running a campaign saying he was going to “drain the swamp.” So under this existing policy, a lobbyist — the President has decried on the campaign trail — Washington insider, members of the swamp can walk into the White House and there is no recourse for the public to hold the President to account —
  • Thank you, Sean. On North Korea, is the President prepared to act alone, or does he feel that Congress should be somehow involved in the process if any decision that includes the use of force is made?
  • Thanks, Sean. With tax filing day coming up, is the President going to release his 2016 tax returns, given that we can assume, maybe, that those are not themselves under audit, which is the —
  • And as you know, the IRS never comments on individual taxpayer information.  This obviously is an extraordinary case involving the President of the United States. The President could authorize the IRS, presumably, to go ahead and confirm that he’s under audit and to give us some details about that audit — what years, how long is this expected to take, et cetera. Will the President authorize the IRS to confirm that he is indeed under audit?
  • You got a fly on your head.
  • Political leaders in Hawaii are reviewing plans — emergency plans in case they are attacked. Does the President believe that the level of tension between the United States and North Korea is at the point where we should start reviewing emergency attack plans?
  • Sean, I’m just wondering, how high does the President view the threat level from North Korea at this point?
  • And just one more on that topic. One of the reasons why successive administrations have chosen to negotiate with the leaders of North Korea is because it’s believed that there are no good military options to deal with it. Does this President believe that there ARE viable military options for dealing with North Korea? Without telegraphing what–
  • I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about the situation in Turkey. Is the President concerned at all about the reports from international monitors that this referendum that gives President Erdogan these sweeping powers have irregularities in it?
  • And what would he like to see Erdogan do? Would he like to see a hold right now while that review happens?
  • And just beyond the irregularities, just the act that Erdogan is going through to try to accumulate these powers, what does the President make of that?
  • Sean, when Vice President Pence says, regarding North Korea, that “strategic patience” is over, what does that mean exactly?
  • What would it take to restart some sort of talks with North Korea?
  • I have two for you on North Korea. You’re doing it today and you’ve done it before — you’ve stood at the podium and said you don’t want to telegraph moves that the President will make to preserve that element of surprise. A Kremlin spokesperson said that President Trump is more impulsive and unpredictable than Kim Jong-un. At what point does this strategy of unpredictability become a liability?
  • So you feel unpredictability is an asset?
  • You’ve made it clear that you’re not taking options off the table, including military options. Defense officials have estimated for a long time that war on the Korean Peninsula would cost thousands of lives, it could economically devastate South Korea. Is this to be read then as an acceptance of that risk by the Trump administration?
  • So do you accept the risk of war?
  • I don’t mean to belabor the point, but I just want to be clear, because I want to flip the coin, right — which is something you’ve talked to us about — if you’re not taking options off the table, if you flip it then, that can be read as your accepting the fact that that crisis could escalate.  
  • So you don’t accept that risk?
  • Last week you dismissed — I think it was when Hallie asked a question — you dismissed North Korea and said it isn’t a threat if you can’t go through with it.  So what changed? What’s our goal in North Korea? What’s the strategy? And what’s your response to the critics who say that this is just blue smoke and mirrors to hide some of the problems on the White House staff and some of the failing domestic social agenda?
  • But you SAID that it was —
  • So what about the — well, the follow-up there is what about the criticism from people on the Hill who say you’re just hiding a domestic agenda that isn’t working?
  • Well actually, I have.
  • Thank you, Sean. This morning in an interview, you referred to the missile launch as an “unsuccessful military attack.” That contradicts what other White House officials have said.  
  • Okay, so you just misspoke in the “Fox and Friends” interview? There’s no specific evidence that this was some sort of attack?
  • Sean, you talked about the end of strategic patience — two questions — in the context of attempting to expand China’s role in pressuring North Korea. Do you believe China has the power to change North Korea’s behavior if they choose to do so? And then a follow-up.
  • How concerned are you that the uptick in the language, the bellicosity, tweets, could potentially provoke, unintentionally, military action? I mean, is there a concern that a lot of the words that are being thrown around could have an unforeseen impact? Just explain to me what the President is thinking, how concerned he is of the risk of an unintentional conflict.
  • I’ve got a question on North Korea and China, but first to follow up on the tax question. You’ve been asked about this obviously a thousand times. You always talk about “under audit — the President is still under audit.” Is it time to say once and for all the President is never going to release his tax returns?
  • I mean, is he — I mean, really?
  • He may?
  • And on North Korea, you said that China is playing an active role — you even said a historic role — right now in pressuring the North Koreans. What are they doing?
  • That the Chinese cut off the coal?
  • And the President suggested there was a quid pro quo in terms of not declaring China a currency manipulator because they were helping or going to help with North Korea. So if China does not adequately put pressure on North Korea, is he going to go back and declare them a currency manipulator?
  • Sean, on both the taxes and the visitor logs, there are now ethics experts on both sides of the aisle who say this is the least transparent administration in decades. How do you respond?
  • Sean, there’s a new Gallup poll out today showing that 45 percent of Americans don’t believe that the President will keep — only 45 percent believe he will keep his promises. That’s down 17 percent since early February. Given some of his reversals, especially in the last week, does he risk being seen as a flip-flopper?
  • On a separate issue, about the President’s continued travel to Mar-a-Lago or any other place where he’s conducting official business. Does the White House believe that those other locations should be treated like this building in the sense that you guys will be transparent about who he’s meeting with and what kind of official business he’s conducting while he’s there? Is that a commitment that you all are willing to make?
  • But that’s not true, Sean. Long stretches of time go by and we get pool reports from the pool saying, “we’ve been asking the White House for information about what the President is doing and we don’t get that information.” We can’t even get an answer to whether he’s golfing or not these days.  
  • Some days we never get it.
  • But then that’s the difference then to what you’re saying to Abby, which is that you are providing that information.

 

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