May 3, 2017… Day 104

Comey testified for four hours in front of Congress. It seemed like most of it was about Hillary Clinton, because that’s what they asked him about. Sean Spicer tangled with a Breitbart reporter about what’s a wall, a levee wall, a bollard wall, a cyclone fence, and a toy wall. Later in the day the Republicans said they’d be voting on the Obamacare repeal and replacement tomorrow in the House. It hasn’t been scored by the CBO yet. It’s a big rush to get a win for Trump before the next congressional recess. Rex Tillerson said our dealing with foreign leaders will no longer be based on U.S. values like human rights.

Questions they asked Sean Spicer today:

  • Sean, on healthcare, does the President feel like we’ve reached an inflection point here with the House? Is this a make-or-break moment in terms of getting the bill through the House? And what precisely is the President doing, and what arguments is he making to members on why they should support this bill?
  • Is this a “now or never” kind of moment, though, with the bill?
  • Yesterday, the President tweeted that FBI Director James Comey gave Hillary Clinton a “free pass” for many bad deeds. Is the President comfortable having an FBI director that gives out free passes serve during his administration?
  • On healthcare, the President appears to be directly involved behind the scenes.  How much responsibility does the President plan to take for the outcome of the vote if it does occur this week?
  • Sean, there was a report in Politico yesterday that seemed pretty well sourced indicating that President Trump plans to sign an executive order tomorrow in the name of religious freedom. Will the President sign a religious freedom executive order tomorrow? And will it enable discrimination against LGBT people?
  • But you can’t deny that the executive order — the President is a friend of the LGBT community. Isn’t that a law?
  • How can the President be a friend of the LGBT community if the President is considering this executive order?
  • Thanks, Sean. I want to get the reaction to former President Obama. He tweeted yesterday after Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue that went viral — a monologue you’ve probably seen about his child. Kimmel talked about the need to cover preexisting conditions that need funding for the NIH. And Mr. Obama said, “Well said, Jimmy. That’s exactly why we fought so hard for the ACA and why we need to protect it for kids like Billy.” Your reaction to both of them would be what?
  • And I’ll ask you about what Hillary Clinton said yesterday. She said, “If the election had been on October 27th, I would be your President.” And on the Hill today, James Comey, testifying, said — speaking about October 28th — he said, “Would you speak, or would you conceal?” Did James Comey make the right decision on October 28th?
  • “Speak or conceal” — did he make the correct decision?
  • Thanks, Sean. There’s been a lot of focus recently on Ivanka Trump’s role in this White House. Can you clarify for us what exactly her areas of responsibility are here, and what her qualifications are for those responsibilities?
  • But what specifically are her responsibilities here? For example, The New York Times reported this morning that she has a weekly meeting with the Treasury Secretary. What’s that meeting for?
  • Thanks, Sean. Back to healthcare. An analysis from AARP showed that the sickest patients will pay nearly $26,000 a year in premiums under the new healthcare law, and that $8 billion, which was included in that amendment this morning, is not nearly enough to lower those costs. So I’m wondering, how does that, which would be a major premium hike on the sickest patients, square with the President’s promise to both lower premiums and take care of those with preexisting conditions?
  • Two follow-up questions. One, would the President prefer — does he have a preference as to whether or not states opt out, given that option? And two, yes or no, will people with preexisting conditions pay higher premiums under this bill than they currently do?
  • And then on the other question, the congressman, this morning, from Michigan was saying he’s confident, from conversations with his governor, that his state will not ask for a waiver. Does the President have a preference as to whether or not states ask for waivers?
  • Thank you. I want to go back to Director Comey on the Hill today, and some things he said about Russia. One of the things that he said was, the Russian government is still involved in American politics. Is that the view of this White House?
  • Is that different than the White House?
  • And in that particular one, does then he accept that assessment from the FBI?
  • Okay, and just one more thing on that front. He called Russia “the greatest threat of any nation on Earth.” Is that something the President agrees with?
  • Sean, I have two healthcare questions. Can I follow up on what you were saying about the President’s conversation with Congressman Upton? Until yesterday, the President thought there was sufficient funding, and Congressman Upton came to him and suggested a billion dollars more. You were just saying that it’s impossible to estimate what would be needed. My question is, why did the President think that there was sufficient protection for those individuals who have preexisting health conditions yesterday, but today he now believes $8 billion will cover it? What persuaded him that the number that he had embraced yesterday was not sufficient and that $8 billion is going to do it?
  • I want to also ask about the next step. There are members of the House who are concerned on the Republican side that they could vote for something that will change dramatically in the Senate. What is the President’s message to those members who are concerned about that?  Is he going to press the Senate to embrace whatever may or may not come out, but you hope may come out of the House?
  •  Would be adopted by the Senate in whole.
  •  Thanks a lot, Sean. Chairman Upton and Congressman Long were very pleased to (inaudible) floor with this legislative fix. They say they’ve turned their “nos” into “yeses.” Do you believe there’s additional legislative fixes that are still to come before this bill actually hits the House floor?
  • Sean, on timing, I’ve heard different things from the President over the course of the past two weeks. At one point I heard the President say he wants the bill to be taken up now; other times, it’s not important, just get the bill right.  What’s your view? Is it very important, as far as the administration is concerned, that this vote take place sooner rather than later?
  • I want to revisit the President’s comments in his tweets about the omnibus spending bill. He campaigned on his business record, on his ability to make good deals, make better deals than politicians in the past have. Does the President view the spending bill as a good deal?
  • Sean, can you say definitively that no one with a preexisting condition will pay more under the amendment?
  • Can you guarantee it?
  • Is there a concern — you criticized former President Obama rushing through his healthcare plan. Is this not being rushed through? This legislation hasn’t even been scored yet by the CBO or put up for public debate — this latest piece of legislation.
  • Does he expect to see a vote this week?
  • Sean, it looks like we’re on the precipice of a vote on the omnibus spending bill.  Senator Lindsey Graham said a short time ago that Republicans got their clocks cleaned on this bill. It looks like as many as 100 House Republicans will vote against it. How do you square that with the pronouncements out of this White House that this was a big win for Republicans?
  • Quick second topic, if I could. This is at least the fourth White House, fourth administration in a row that has come in with optimistic predictions of how Middle East peace will go. What’s going to be different this time?
  •  In January, the President did an interview deriding the “little toy walls” along the southern border — that’s a quote — and said, I don’t know why they’re even wasting their time. Why is the government focused so much on existing border security measures rather than fighting for the wall that he promised that he would build?
  • Just one question about the photos. Are those photos of fences or walls?
  • So that’s the wall the President promised?
  • What’s that?
  • So that’s not a wall, it’s a levy wall?
  • He’s building fencing, not a wall.
  • But it’s not the wall the President promised?
  • So you’re basically just telling supporters, the President’s supporters, to be satisfied with this existing tough-guy fencing until he’s ready to build the wall?
  • Mahmoud Abbas stood next to the President today and said he wants to see East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian State. Yesterday, Vice President Pence said you’re still looking at moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. What is the White House view on those remarks? I mean, we didn’t hear anything from President Trump in response to that.
  • On the Palestinian —
  • He doesn’t object to what President Abbas said, it’s just not decided?
  • That’s why I’m asking.
  • Just to follow up on the President’s meeting with Abbas, he did say at one point, “Frankly,” talking about Middle East peace and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “maybe it’s not as difficult as people have thought.” Why does he believe that the toughest — arguably the toughest foreign policy challenge in our lifetime may not be as difficult as people have thought?
  • And getting back to healthcare, why even monkey around with preexisting conditions? That’s the most popular thing in Obamacare. Why are you guys spinning your wheels messing around with preexisting conditions?
  • Right now, people with preexisting conditions are covered.  They’re not discriminated against.
  • You’re going to change to a system where who the hell knows what’s going to happen. It depends on what state they live in. If they live in this state over here, that governor may seek a waiver and all of a sudden they’re thrown into this system where hopefully that fund is going to cover their preexisting conditions. It is a big change for people who live with those kinds of illnesses, is it not?
  • So you’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
  • Repeal Obamacare because you’re saying it’s not working, but then why change preexisting conditions?
  • Is it strengthening it if —
  • — a governor can say, here’s my waiver and no more preexisting conditions?
  • Why not fix that?
  • Why does the preexisting condition component have to be altered? Why not just keep that protection in place?
  • So anybody who has a preexisting condition under Trumpcare, they’re going to be fine, without question?
  • Thank you, Sean. I want to follow up on healthcare. I just want to know why the White House is pushing so hard for a vote on this healthcare bill at a time when, as you just said a few minutes ago, it’s literally impossible to analyze its impact on the healthcare system. Why not wait for that analysis to come out?
  • Thanks, Sean. Two questions for you; one following on Jordan real quick. You just made a guarantee to the American people on behalf of the President regarding preexisting conditions, but you told Matt and then Jordan earlier that it’s literally impossible to know the impact of this law. So how can you make that guarantee?
  • And so then the White House has the analysis to back that up, is what you’re saying?
  • And then to just follow up on something that Director Mulvaney said yesterday regarding the President’s tweet about calling for a “good shutdown” potentially in September. He said the reason the President sent that tweet was he was frustrated by Democrats spiking the football and thereby poisoning the well for future negotiations. The President, when he was campaigning, said he was going to win for all Americans. Why did the President’s feelings matter at all?
  • Thanks, Sean. So you’ve cited the 60-vote threshold as a reason why funding for the wall wasn’t pursued in this spending bill, but what’s going to be different in September? I mean, presumably the legislative conditions would be the same, so what will change between now and September to give you confidence that we’ll get funding for the border wall then?



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