TOWOIT #105

May 1, 2017… Day 102

Glenn Thrush to Sean Spicer today:

First of all, you just described Kim Jong-un as somebody who led his country forward at an early age. The President has invited Duterte, who, as Annie pointed out, has talked about assassinating journalists. The President put out a statement after Erdogan won his referendum congratulating him. He said kind things about Putin during the campaign, said kind things about Saddam Hussein.

Does the President have a thing with these totalitarian leaders? 

May Day. Everyone in my office got out of downtown early. I’m sorry I missed the Aztec dancers, and I especially hope these kids are feeling good and empowered about their day:

I was feeling bad for not treating May Day like any other resistance event. I’ve marched for Black Lives Matter, for the catch-all women’s march, for science, for climate, for immigrants and refugees. How is this not just another in the sequence? Just because it’s entrenched in my pre-45 brain and starts to get violent as night falls, that doesn’t mean the daytime peaceful marches aren’t important.

Looking at the #MayDaySea hashtag, I’m seeing a lot of this:

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In other news, I started listening to the second season of Politically Re-active today (getting over my anger at the hosts for supporting and normalizing Jill Stein as a viable ballot option). Hari and Kamau are interviewing the social and racial justice leaders that I need to be listening to, so I’m going to pretend I don’t know what I know about 2016. We’ll see how it goes.

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You might not be able to tell from these questions, but at the press briefing today, a) there was more shouting and bids for attention from the reporters throughout the questioning, b) Sean Spicer was especially salty and curt in not allowing follow-ups, and c) as Sean left the room someone yelled “WHAT ABOUT THE CIVIL WAR??!! WHAT ABOUT THE PRESIDENT’S COMMENTS ON THE CIVIL WAR??!!” and then when the door slammed shut behind Sean Spicer, another reporter started to cackle maniacally.

  • Thank you very much. So I wanted to go back to the comments that the President made this weekend on “Face the Nation” on healthcare regarding preexisting conditions. He said specifically that the bill he wants to sign would “mandate” the preexisting conditions be covered. Can you talk us through a little bit of what he meant there? Was he referring to something he wants to push to include in the bill? Was he talking about the language that’s already in there?
  • How does he ensure, though, that those people actually are treated affordably?  I mean, there was an estimate from AARP that if you’re looking just at the high-risk pool, the premiums can be as high as over $25,000 for somebody. What is he doing to ensure that that doesn’t happen?
  • Couple things for you, Sean, if I could. First of all, what do you say to conservatives who feel like they didn’t get a whole lot out of this spending bill?  There was no money for the wall, no cuts to sanctuary cities, funding for Planned Parenthood was maintained. What do you say to those conservatives?
  • But clearly, he did give up on some things.
  • And the other — I had, on the pending visit of Duterte from the Philippines.  Chris Coons said that the President is giving his stamp of approval to human rights abuses. Governor John Sununu, on the other hand, said this is part of the unpleasant things that Presidents have to do. What’s the White House’s perspective on Duterte and him coming here?
  • I wanted to ask you about the tax deductions. The White House has talked a little bit about that as a way to curb big tax breaks for the rich. Are you looking at any other policy changes when it comes to limiting breaks for the top 1 percent?
  • On healthcare, there seems to be a new optimism from the White House. How confident is the President that he will get a healthcare bill past the House this week?
  • On North Korea, today the President told Bloomberg he was open to meeting with Kim Jong-un if the conditions were right. How does the President define the right condition to have this meeting?
  • Thanks, Sean. Picking up on healthcare, it’s believed possibly that you might be down — Republicans might be down to maybe just a handful of votes away.  Here we are at 2:00 p.m. Monday afternoon. Is this the closest that you think you’ve gotten? I know you don’t want to talk about timelines, but is this as close to maybe getting to that magic 216 number that you’ve talked about?
  • Dodd-Frank — the President just gave an interview in which he said, “I am looking at that right now.” He goes on to say “There’s some people that want to go back to the old system, right, so we’re going to look at that,” meaning potentially breaking up the banks. So breaking up the banks, going back to Glass-Steagall, is that something that he’s just looking at, or is that something that is a preference of his at this point?
  • Thanks, Sean. So you’re saying that you’re not confident that the votes are lined up behind the healthcare bill. So this morning when Gary Cohn said that the bill was ready to be brought to the floor, did Gary Cohn misspeak?
  • Thanks, Sean. The President on the campaign trail raised alarm about federal debt and deficits. His spending bill get us through the end of the fiscal year doesn’t include any of the offsets really that the President requested in this year’s budget. Is the President — will the President sign this agreement that does increase the federal deficit?
  • He called for keeping that balance, essentially keeping —
  • On President Duterte, he made comments when asked about press freedom, he said that journalists are not exempt from assassination. Did the President know about those comments and about his record on human rights when he extended the invitation for him to visit the White House?
  • I wanted to ask you about the future of Sebastian Gorka. Can you tell us why he’s leaving the White House?
  • Thank you, Sean. I have a healthcare and Israel question. On healthcare, when the President talks about a guarantee for preexisting conditions, current law says insurance companies have to sell to people with preexisting conditions, and they can’t charge them more than someone else in that area. Is that the guarantee that the President wants?
  • Right, but people with preexisting conditions would continue to get access but not at the same price as other people.
  • Right. But high-risk pools could still charge them much more.
  • The President turned to Bibi Netanyahu at that press conference and famously said, settlements are not helpful. Israel is going to build 15,000 new homes in East Jerusalem. Does he think that Netanyahu is snubbing him?
  • Is he aware of that?
  • Thank you, Sean. I wanted to ask about some news the President made this morning in an interview that he conducted with Bloomberg. In that interview, he talked about the possibility of raising gas taxes to pay for infrastructure spending. Of course, the President has put forward the idea of a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending plan. Can you talk a little bit more about this possibility of raising gas taxes?
  • As it relates to this idea that the gas tax in America hasn’t been raised for some time, what makes the President believe that now is the time that Republicans who have been opposed to this idea would be open to this idea?
  • You have not foreclosed this possibility of raising —
  • I have two questions, one foreign policy and one on domestic politics. First, last Wednesday, the Kremlin outlawed the Open Russia movement, the premier opposition group to the ruling regime in Russia. And the following day, security forces were forcibly closing down Open Russia’s office in Moscow and other places. Does the administration have a statement on this?
  • All right. My second question is, on Sunday, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a 14-term veteran of the House, past Chairman of the House, foreign affairs committee, announced her retirement. Her statement comes on the heels of a similar announcement by Congressman Chaffetz, and before that, only a few weeks ago, Lynn Jenkins of Kansas. That’s three respected Republican House members all calling it quits. Is the President concerned about the number of Republican House members who do not want to be on the ballot next time and are leaving Congress?
  • Sean, the President opted not to continue Obama’s tradition of holding an Easter prayer breakfast, but he is holding a National Day of Prayer event. Was that a scheduling issue, or did he think — what was the thought process there?
  • Thanks, Sean. Back to Glass-Steagall for a second. As you can imagine, the President’s comments today are getting a lot of attention on Wall Street, so can we be just very clear about this — does the President favor breaking up the big banks?
  • — take any steps toward that behind the scenes that we’re not aware of?
  •  Thanks, Sean. So the lack of border wall funding raises a question of just how serious the President is about getting the border wall constructed. Is it not urgent? Is it not an emergency anymore to build this barrier? What is the timetable and deadline that he has in mind?
  • So it will be built. Is there a time certain? Is there a deadline by the 2018? By?

  • Coming back to North Korea, the President didn’t just say he would be open to meeting with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances.  He said he would be “honored” to meet with him. This is somebody who has starved his own people, somebody who has threatened to destroy the United States. Just last week he put out a video showing the Capitol getting destroyed by North Korea fighters. How could he be “honored” to meet with Kim Jong-un?
  • How could that be an honor?
  • What did he mean when he called him one smart cookie or a pretty smart cookie?

  • Sean, on North Korea and then on Philippines.  On North Korea, both of the President’s comment on Kim Jong-un and what Secretary Tillerson said, you seem to be making the offer that we could have direct talks with North Korea.  Who is going to be leading those?
  • Is that the White House?
  • But who would lead that? Is that the White House or the State Department?
  • And on the Philippines, when you have been asked about President Duterte and his human rights record, you continue to say the effort here is to isolate the Philippines from the North Korea, part of this coalition to isolate North Korea.
  • Are you suggesting that the Philippines has some sort of inappropriate contact with North Korea? Are you suggesting that we are requesting greater access perhaps to their military bases? What is it exactly —
  • Are you suggesting now that they are trading or conducting some kind of financial transactions —
  • When you say economic piece, that’s what I just want to clarify —
  • Sean, two quick, related questions. First of all, you just described Kim Jong-un as somebody who led his country forward at an early age. The President has invited Duterte, who, as Annie pointed out, has talked about assassinating journalists. The President put out a statement after Erdogan won his referendum congratulating him. He said kind things about Putin during the campaign, said kind things about Saddam Hussein. Does the President have a thing with these totalitarian leaders? Does he admire something about the way these guys conduct themselves?
  • What about this whole package —
  • One follow-up question. On Sunday, Chief of Staff Priebus, talking to this gentleman right here, said, with respect to the libel laws and the First Amendment, talking about news outlets that printed false articles, “I think it’s something that we’ve looked at. How that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story.” Is that a project that is currently being worked on by the counsel’s office? Can you just tell me the status of that? Who is pursuing that?
  • Is the counsel actually investigating this?
  • Sean, two questions. One on — just to clarify on North Korea, were those conditions that you laid out to the earlier question, are those the conditions that would have to be met before there was any meeting — i.e. that North Korea would have to agree to totally disarm its nuclear program, stop threatening their neighbors? Are those the conditions?
  • Sean, on a separate subject. The chief executives of United Airlines will be on the Hill tomorrow. Is the President at all — does the President think that Congress should pass any laws after the incident last month where the passenger was dragged off? Should there be some — should there be more done to protect passengers on airplanes from those type of incidents?
  • Thanks. I just want to ask you to clarify something else the President said. He said, “I don’t stand by anything.” How is the American public supposed to digest that, supposed to trust what the President says when he himself says of his own comments “I don’t stand by anything”?
  • Just in this CBS interview with John Dickerson in the Oval Office.
  • About wiretapping.
  • It was about wiretapping. He was asked to — if he still believes President Obama is a bad or evil guy, do you still stand by those comments, and the President said “I don’t stand by anything.”  
  • Sean, I have two questions on the Philippines. First, is President Trump comfortable with the leader’s support of extrajudicial killings of drug users in the country?
  • But what —
  • Sean, I have a second question, if you don’t mind.
  • Looking at — there are three open patents with the Philippines government, one from Trump trying to get the Trump patented to — from Ivanka Trump for her clothing line. How do you respond to concerns about potential conflicts of interest with the leader of the Philippines?
  •  I just want to clarify something you said to Zeke. Is there a possibility that the President would not sign this spending agreement?
  • Are you still on track to issue the full fiscal year ’18 budget? Is it mid-May, or do you have a date for that?
  • Thanks, Sean. Just wanted to first ask what your expectation and what’s your hope for the meeting with President Abbas on Wednesday? And secondly, is the President still considering moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and will that be discussed?
  • Abbas.
  • The first question is your expectations going forward. What’s the hope from this.
  • Sean, quick follow-up on infrastructure. The President has been talking about a major infrastructure package for more than a year and in the campaign, but it doesn’t seem very clear right now what the mechanism is for the construction of whatever it is that he wants to push forward. He talked about maybe attaching it to the reconciliation package for healthcare. He talked about maybe doing that with the tax package. Can you update us on — is that still very preliminary in its invention? Does he have clear ideas? And what’s the mechanism and timing to get that done?
  • This year?

 

 

 

 

 

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