TOWOIT #154

June 23, 2017… Day 155

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This is just a piece of a display on news literacy at the University of Washington library

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Sean Spicer holds another off-camera press briefing, as the tradition continues to wither and die. CNN sends a courtroom sketch artist.

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Here are the questions the reporters asked him:

  • The President this morning, in an interview with Fox and Friends, seemed to indicate that he thinks that the special counsel may have some conflicts of interest, one being his friendship with Comey; another being the fact that one of the people that he’s hiring, bringing on — special counsel’s officer were either Hillary Clinton supporters, and the President said even some of them are — even worked for Hillary Clinton. Is he still ruling out firing this special counsel?
  • And his position is?
  • And does — he seemed to suggest this morning there might be a circumstance under which Mueller should take himself out. Can you tell us —
  • Sean, on healthcare, what is the President’s current outlook on the Senate bill, given some of the reservations that some of the senators raised yesterday? And does the President feel that Senator McConnell should pull the bill next week if he doesn’t have the number that — the numbers to pass it, or is time to vote?
  • Thank you. What is the President’s level of involvement at this point in terms of trying to push the bill forward or not? Can you give us a sense of whether he’s taking calls?
  • Sean, what is the Vice President’s role in the Senate healthcare bill? How involved has he been?  And how involved do you see him being going forward?
  • So you’re saving the President for the tail-end of the process?  Is that what you’re saying?
  • When you look at the House bill and the Senate legislation, is the Senate legislation the preferred vehicle for this going forward?
  • And what is the argument he’s making, or plans to make, to the senators he’s trying to get on board? Is it a policy-focused argument, getting the nitty-gritty? Or is it a larger argument about this being the last best chance, or the best chance to keep a campaign promise?
  • Just in response to tapes, did you see that Congressman Schiff said yesterday something about, ‘I don’t think we can accept this as a complete answer,’ referring to the President’s tweet. His problem with it was that the President was really talking about him, and that Schiff would like to see, in writing, a response that covers the entire White House. Because the tweet suggested that maybe someone else has recordings. Does the White House plan to deliver some sort of official written response to Schiff in the House Intel Committee?
  • Just real quick on Medicaid. You mentioned a moment ago something about Medicaid. I want to make sure I’m clear. So is the President comfortable with the changes to the Medicaid program in the Senate bill, and how that would roll back the expansion at a certain date? Is he comfortable with that aspect?
  • And real quick on Qatar. Does the White House have any response to the demands that the Saudis have made of the Qataris?
  • Thanks, Sean. Just following up on Janet’s question there.  One of those demands would be shut down Al-Jazeera. The United States generally has spoken out in favor of free and independent press — (inaudible) about Al-Jazeera one way or the other in this case. But does the White House believe that it’s appropriate that the free press is something that’s on the table for restoration of diplomatic relations?
  • And second question. In this morning’s Washington Post there’s an item about some friends of the President inquiring about his health. I’m wondering, is Dr. Jackson of the military office — of the medical unit, the President’s personal physician — has the President seen him? And will the White House commit to releasing sort of the annual physician’s letter that has been customary of presidents for years?
  • Does President Trump think Special Counsel Robert Mueller is partisan?
  • Thank you, Sean. Two brief questions. First, it was reported on one of the networks that the President referred to the American Healthcare Act as a mean bill and he wanted more money than was coming in. Did he actually say that, or could you confirm or deny whether he used that term to describe it and call for greater funding for parts of it?
  • All right. And the other thing I do want to know was, on Tuesday night, in a public conversation, his speech that he delivered in Cedar Rapids, the President called for legislation that would deny welfare benefits to illegal immigrants for five years. It has been widely reported that that has been on the books for 21 years, going back to when President Clinton signed the omnibus welfare reform legislation in 1996. Was that a misstatement on the President’s part, or was he aware that this is already on the books?
  •  I have two questions for you. One is a follow-up from earlier in the week. You were asked whether the President believes Russia interfered with the 2016 election, and said you hadn’t had a chance to have that conversation. So I’m wondering if you’ve had that conversation. And if so, if the President is concerned about that interference.
  • He said, “I think it was Russia but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”
  • And so does he stand by that? Is he concerned about that, Sean?
  • So to follow up on that then, Sean, what do you say — we’ve talked to dozens of state officials who say they simply have not heard much from this administration regarding how to protect their own voting systems. What do you say to those critics who say you’re not doing enough?
  • This question is on healthcare. Obviously, the House bill and the Senate draft discussion, they’re similar but they’re different. Does the President at this point have a preference to either one? And if so, which one?
  • And let me ask you — comments that you made this morning. You talked about — you were asked about the strategy and you talked about how several high-level people within the administration have been provided technical assistance, working with members and Senate leadership to ask — or to talk, rather, about additional changes that might be necessary. I’m curious as to what those — specifically what those additional changes in the Senate bill that you view might indeed be necessary.
  • So nothing specific from the White House point of view as far as —
  • Real quick wanted to follow up on healthcare. Is the President eager enough to get rid of Obamacare that he would accept a bill that he doesn’t like? Or if he doesn’t get what he wants out of the Senate and/or out of conference, would he veto it and make them go back to the drawing board?
  • And the follow-up to that is there are four members of the Republican Party who say that the problem with it is that it’s really too much like Obamacare and they want to see it completely jettisoned.
  • Well, all right, I’m paraphrasing —
  • Will he sit with Democrats?
  • I mean, other than —
  • Thank you, Sean. We saw the President’s tweet about China’s role in the North Korea crisis. He just met with Mattis and Tillerson, who met with their Chinese counterparts yesterday. He characterized at this point what he thinks about China’s role in North Korea and whether he’s preparing to impose what are called secondary sanction on Chinese entities that are flouting international sanctions.
  • So you’re not hopeful — I’m sorry.  He’s hopeful, he’s not impatient at this point? He hasn’t lost patience with China?
  • I want to ask you about Russia, because this week the Russians cancelled planned talks in St. Petersburg. It’s been widely reported that two weeks from now, in Germany, the President and Vladimir Putin are supposed to have some kind of talk on the sidelines of the G20. Is it the President’s intention to have a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Germany?
  • Does the President want to meet with Vladimir Putin?
  • How would you describe the current state of American-Russian relations?
  • Thanks a lot, Sean. When the President tweeted out earlier this week that China’s efforts at applying pressure on North Korea, in his words, has not worked out, was he referring to the idea that China has not applied the necessary pressure on North Korea, or that North Korea has received that pressure and it has specifically not responded to whatever pressure China has applied?
  • So when he seemed to sort of abandon the idea of getting China to apply that pressure to North Korea, at the same time it’s — let me just finish — at the same time, it seems as if Secretary Mattis and Secretary Tillerson are going to continue that effort. Is there a conflict there in terms of what the President wants to perhaps not do and what the Secretaries of Defense and State want to do in applying that pressure to North Korea through China?
  • Well, it seems like the President has given up on trying to get China to apply pressure —
  • Sean, two questions for you. One, just on the tapes, in an interview this morning, the President said he believes his tweet about the tapes influenced Comey to tell the truth in his testimony. So two-pronged question here.  Is his position now that Comey was truthful in that testimony? And is he conceding that he used Twitter in a way he believes to change the behavior of a congressional witness?
  • Separately — on a separate topic. On the briefings, you said Monday about your decision to hold these off-camera briefings, off-audio briefings, “There are days that I’ll decide that the President’s voice should be the one that speaks, and iterate his priorities.” Today the President spoke, so did you this morning — had an interview with Fox News. What’s the reasoning for not answering questions on camera today?
  • You spoke on camera, too, earlier.
  • A follow-up on the tapes.  You were also on Fox this morning —
  • Yeah. But you indicated that the President’s tweet on the tapes successfully influenced Comey to tell the truth in his testimony. So do you believe that he lied about — is it the White House’s position that he still lied about the President pressuring him to end the Flynn investigation? Is that still the White House position?
  • So that would mean that he believes that Comey told the truth.
  • Thank you, Sean. I have two questions, if I may. First is about — during yesterday’s meeting between President Trump and the Chinese State Councilor, Yang Jiechi, President Trump expressed his interest in joining Belt and Road Initiative. Could you tell us more about their meeting?
  • So we heard that Jared and Ivanka have accepted an invitation to visit China by the end of this year. Could you comment on that, as well?
  • Yes, sir.  This will be the first face-to-face meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi.  So is President Trump ready to accept him and welcome him, because both have the same dream?  Prime Minister Modi is saying “Make in India,” and President Trump is saying “Buy American,” and make in America — or “Hire American.” So my question is, so much is there on the plate when Prime Minister Modi arrives here. He’s saying that he will have a great meeting with the President because we have many things in common, as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned. So what can we expect between the two leaders?
  •  Thank you. On Wednesday, June 21st was the International Day of Yoga, which was declared by the United Nations three years ago under the leadership — initiative by Prime Minister Modi. Any citation you think President Trump will issue?Or what he has — any message as far as yoga is concerned? Because yoga means less trips to the doctors and hospitals.
  • Thank you. I have two questions — one on North Korea and one on healthcare.  Starting with healthcare, does the President consider the Senate bill a full repeal of Obamacare? The four senators you talked about, they say that they don’t feel it’s a full repeal, which is why they’re not supporting the current draft.
  •  On North Korea, the government of North Korea said that Otto Warmbier’s death is a mystery to them. How does the White House respond to these comments?
  • Sean, I had a couple questions. First, on healthcare. The order in which the Senate was going to vote will occur after the CBO score, and the White House was very critical of the Congressional Budget Office back in March, during the House process. So my question is, does the President believe that his discussions with lawmakers about what they want and their concern about the legislation should be guided by the CBO score? And will it influence his thinking as he looks at the bill?
  • Hallie was asking about Russia and the interview. I just wanted to ask you, because you were just commenting that the President does believe Russia was behind the interference in the election, that he is concerned, that the administration is taking steps. So to follow up on her question and Steve’s question — is it the President’s desire to speak directly to Putin, if he gets that chance, to say that U.S. officials believe that Russia poses a risk to the 2018 and 2020 elections, and the United States would like Russia to be on notice or on warning that the United States disapproves of this?
  • Thank you, Sean. There’s a play rendition of Julius Caesar in New York City where the character portrayed as President Trump gets assassinated. Is the President aware of this play? And if so, what’s his reaction? And also, is the Secret Service investigating it?
  • Sean, thank you. With regard to the bill signing from this morning, do you see this as a — because the President talked a lot about during (inaudible) federal employees and so forth. Do you see this as maybe a larger point of going through civil service reform, and which you could look at holding career-level federal employees to higher standards, and making it easier to fire certain people for certain conduct?
  • You mentioned veterans would be a good start.  What would be the next step?  I mean, would it be the (inaudible) misconduct?
  • Thank you, Sean. The Carrier plant the President visited right after the election has told employees that it would lay off more than 600 people between now and the end of the year. Its employment would actually fall below the agreement that it has with the state. Would the President reengage in that situation? Should the state claw back some of those incentives?
  • So in terms of the deals that the White House is making with individual companies, though, earlier this week you addressed Ford and you said, “At some point in the future, tax reform is what would incentivize companies to operate here.” But what sort of enforcement mechanisms does the White House have to keep these companies honest?
  • Thank you, Sean. Two separate policy topics. First of all, you said that Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, is going to be looking at potentially getting some Democratic votes for the Senate healthcare bill. The President has said repeatedly that no matter how good this bill is, that he doesn’t think that he would get any Democratic votes for it. It now sounds like you’re saying that you do expect potentially to get some Democratic votes for it, and therefore you might not even need these four Republican senators who say that they can’t support it.
  • Totally separate subject, I wanted to follow up on what John Gizzi had asked about the President’s speech on Tuesday night and the welfare requirement for immigrants. What specifically would the proposal that the President was talking about do that’s different than what is already a part of the federal law?  You said he wanted to reexamine it, maybe even put in a new law.  What was he proposing?  How is that different?
  • You said he’d be he putting in legislation soon.
  • Thank you, Sean. If the White House is concerned about the message of Julius Caesar and stuff that’s said by Johnny Depp, then why was Al Baldasaro, who said that Hillary Clinton should be shot for treason for the handling of Benghazi, invited to the VA event today at the White House?
  • You mean you do condemn it.
  •  Let me ask you about — one on Russia, one on healthcare. The Russia sanctions bill — can you talk at all about what your goals are for that bill, even a sense of timing?  Is it helpful to have that bill sooner or later from this White House?
  • And just real quick, these contested Obamacare payments  that the administration looked through this month, the President has referred to those as “ransom.”  Is there any reason to believe that those will — won’t keep — won’t be approved every month until there’s a change to the healthcare law?
  • Why is it a month-to-month thing to you guys?
  • Can you say why he decided to make — authorize these payments?
  • It seems like a — to threaten these payments on a month-to-month basis, does this risk the President’s —

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