TOWOIT #134

May 30, 2017… Day 131

“Can you give an example of fake news, Sean? Could you give us an example?”

At long last, another Sean Spicer briefing. From now on, each one will be treated like it could be the last. Not just the last Sean Spicer briefing, but the last White House briefing period. Because they are straying so far into Our Dear Leader territory, I’m not sure how long this can go on.

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A lot of savvy people on Twitter have said that the White House Press Briefing has been pointless for a long time. But those reporters together asking intelligent questions matter to me. A lot. And I don’t care that Sean Spicer answers back in aggro gobbledy gook. The questioning itself is what matters to me.

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Here’s what they asked today:

  • Yes, so the issue with the Russia probe, I’m wondering, Sean, if you can tell us when the President knew –whether the President knew at the time that Jared Kushner was seeking to establish back-channel communications at the Russian embassy through the Russian government. And if he didn’t know at the time, when did he find out?
  • Did the President discuss this, though?
  • Does he approve of that action?
  • Does the White House dispute that that happened?
  • Thank you, Sean. But the President retweeted this morning an article about that back channel that was based on an anonymous source that said that there was an effort to set up a back channel, that it was the Russians who suggested that, and that it was to talk about Syria. Was the President not confirming that that effort — that there was an effort in the facts that I just said when he retweeted that?
  • But he was — but you said that, first of all, that the article was based on anonymous sources —
  • But the Fox article that the President retweeted was also based on anonymous sources. Why are those sources — or the source, rather, that they used more credible than the one in The Washington Post article?
  • Thank you, Sean. I have two questions. First, the President, for the second time in a month, retweeted his desire for the Senate to reduce the votes to pass anything to 51, which would effectively scuttle the filibuster for legislation as it has been scuttled for nominations. Is this something he discussed with Majority Leader McConnell or any of the Senate leadership before he tweeted it?
  • But he wants to scrap the filibuster entirely —
  • And my second question, I did want to mention that before he left to go abroad, the President praised Philippine President Duterte for his action against drug dealers and dealing with them. Various human rights groups have condemned President Duterte, saying that a lot of the executions of drug dealers have been done without trial. Does the President stand by his words of praise for the Philippine President?
  • Tomorrow is the deadline for the Jerusalem embassy act — the last Obama waiver, six-month waiver. Has the President made a decision about whether or not he will sign another waiver?
  • And so that decision will be made in the next 24 hours?
  • And, secondly, we’re also waiting on a few other reviews — the ISIS review, as well as the Afghanistan review. What is the status of those? You mentioned that Paris — we’ll be hearing this week, the President said. What about the other two?
  • Thanks, Sean. The President tweeted on Sunday that he thinks Republicans should “add more dollars to healthcare and make it the best anywhere.”  What did he mean by that?
  • But “add more dollars” — did he mean to the high-risk pools? Did he mean to the cost-sharing reduction payments? Where did he want to add them?
  • Thanks, Sean. Following on one of Zeke’s questions, Afghanistan is now the country’s longest war. How much more American blood and treasure is the President willing to expend? And does he think it’s a winnable conflict?
  • Sean, let me ask you a couple, if you don’t mind. First on tax reform. The President tweeted over the weekend that it was going “very well.” You just used the word “progress.” However, Republicans on the Hill still appear to be divided. The President tweeted today that maybe they should reverse the filibuster rule. So I’m wondering what the progress is and what is it that is going very well at this point in time.
  • And let me ask you about the FBI director. Before the foreign trip, Joe Lieberman was the leading candidate identified by the President. Mr. Lieberman is out. Where does the FBI director search stand? John Pistole — he is at the White House interviewing today. Is he the leading candidate at this point?
  • Are they THE two finalists at this point, or two of —
  • Thanks, Sean.  The President tweeted that tax reform is going well, but you just said that he’s actually very frustrated with the lack of progress in the Senate. So does the White House still stand by its August deadline for tax reform? And does the White House still believe that healthcare, tax reform, and infrastructure is going to get done this year?
  • Sean, where do you see the state of the U.S.-German relationship right now?  And how important is that relationship to the White House and the President and the American public?
  • And how did he view her comments that she felt that Europe could no longer depend on the United States?

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  • Sean, has the President been meeting with lawyers specifically about defending himself in the special counsel investigation into Russia? And I’m sure you’ve probably seen the reports that Congressman Adam Schiff would like to see Jared Kushner before his committee, and possibly to go over his clearances.
  • And about the President, whether or not he’s had any meetings with —
  • Sean, a couple things. First, welcome back, by the way. Thanks. Two quick questions. This weekend, while you all were gone, someone shot up the Lexington Herald-Leader, and of course we understand what happened in Montana with now-Congressman Gianforte — I think it’s a misdemeanor charge of assault. Will this administration take a stand against violence aimed at reporters?
  • Well, and so would you — all right, second, let me follow THAT up with, would you support legislation — you all have been the ones that have come out screaming against fake media — would you support legislation that would support real reporting, such as this shield law? I’ve asked you before, such as —
  • The second question: When you say that you’re going to try to defeat ISIS and al Qaeda, what are you doing to eliminate the abject poverty that is the breeding ground for the terrorists?
  • You said that a back channel is an appropriate part of diplomacy.
  • Add more to that. How is it that it’s appropriate for someone who’s a private citizen, not sworn in as an official of the U.S. government, to conduct any kind of negotiation or diplomacy with a foreign official?
  •  But, at the time, there was no one who was close to the President who was working in an official government capacity. How is that appropriate?
  • I know the President hasn’t made a public decision on the Paris agreement, and I know you don’t want to get out ahead of him, but on the more broad issue of climate change, can you say whether or not the President believes that human activity is contributing to the warming of the climate?
  • And do you feel like that is a decision he’s still trying to make?
  • And just real quick on healthcare, to follow up on question back there. So as part of the tweet about wanting to add more money to get better healthcare, would the President consider putting back some of the Obamacare taxes that were taken out of the health bill as it goes into the Senate? Would he be in support of keeping taxes in there to help pay for healthcare?
  • Let me finish, please —
  • Thank you, Sean, for calling on me — Angela Merkel’s quote:  “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands…”  How did the President react to that? And will this have any effect on what he decides to do with Paris?
  • And will it affect his decision on Paris?
  • Will it have any effect on his decision on Paris?
  • Sean, does the departure of Michael Dubke signal some kind of broader reorganization in the West Wing? Obviously, we’re hearing that more campaign aides, like Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie might be returning; that there’s a “war room” he might be setting up to deal with the Russian investigations.
  • Is the White House considering changing how you communicate the President’s message at all? I mean, be it him communicating directly more or different faces at the podium.
  • But do you think that he is happy with the messaging that’s been done thus far?
  • Can you give an example of fake news, Sean? Could you give us an example?
  • Please.
  • Can’t reporters make mistakes?
  • Sean, none of that was in the newspaper. None of that was on the front page.  Your trip was all over the front page.  You’re making something out of one tweet instead of the vast majority of the coverage.
  • Don’t you?
  • You gave it more prominence than anybody ever did originally.
  • That’s something insignificant, though. That’s just so minor.
  • It’s frustrating when you —
  • Something big.
  • Are you saying that reports that there’s going to be an overhaul of the communications operation are fake news? That’s the question —
  •  Sean, we reported on the counterterrorism center.
  • Come on —
  • Is Kushner fake news?

It’s unusual that the White House transcriptionist left a few of the trailing questions on at the end after Sean dismissed everyone:

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There was a lot more shouting than that.

Other important stuff from today:

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THIS IS SO WEIRD TO SEE:

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