TOWOIT #216

August 24, 2017… Day 217

All the stuff that’s happened this month, and today was the first regular press briefing since the Stephen Miller show on August 2.

Here are the questions that the reporters asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders today:

  • Sarah, there seems to be some acrimony between the President and the Republican congressional leadership. How do you repair this relationship going into the fall?
  • Will the President sign any budget bill that does not include funding for the wall?
  • It’s my understanding that when the President meets with Senator McConnell in the beginning of September when Congress is back that he will ask him to take another swing at repealing Obamacare. At the same time, a judge in New Jersey, Judge Walls, has said that Senator Robert Menendez cannot come back to the Senate to cast votes. How does that, in combination with what the President might want the Senate Majority Leader to do on Obamacare factor into the balance of power and the vote count you need to get a repeal bill through?
  • But given what happened just before the August recess, does he really have a chance of getting it through?
  • Thanks a lot, Sarah. Hurricane Harvey appears to be bearing down on the southern part of the U.S.; specifically Texas seems to be in its crosshairs there. There’s no replacement yet for General Kelly at the Department of Homeland Security. First question, does the President plan to name a replacement for him anytime soon? And second of all, is this problematic in terms of dealing with Hurricane Harvey — the fact that there’s no one at the helm right now at DHS?  
  • Sarah, the President promised over and over again during the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall. So why is he now threatening a government shutdown if Congress won’t pay for it?
  • Why is he threatening a shutdown over paying for it? Again, he said over and over again — he talked about it in the campaign over and over again. He said Mexico is going to pay for the wall.  He asked people and his crowds chanted back at him, Mexico is going to pay for it. And now he’s pushing — threatening a shutdown of the government.
  • Thanks, Sarah. About a week ago, on August 17th, the President again referenced a fictitious story about General Pershing committing a mass execution in the Philippines. A couple of questions on that. Does the President know that this story is false? And if so, why does he keep repeating it? And why does the White House think it’s appropriate for the President to perpetuate this false story if he hasn’t been informed that it’s not true?
  • Then on the broader point, so the President is spreading false information via his Twitter account that seems to encourage wartime atrocities. No one in the White House has thought to inform him that this story is false?
  • Thank you, Sarah. Thank you. The U.S. has withheld funding to Egypt over its human rights record. President Trump praised President Sisi back in April when he was here. Why the change in tone now?
  • Sarah, two questions. On the economics of a government shutdown if the wall is not paid for, the President likes to talk about how the economy is doing well under his watch. If there is a government shutdown, people could be laid off for a moment or some people could lose their jobs. Talk to us about the economics. What does he view the economics of it with this wall for the average American that he’s fighting for?
  • And then with the HBCU Summit, there is a big back-and-forth about this HBCU Summit. Three of the organizations that are over top of the HBCUs — that basically represent them — are saying this is not the time to have this summit because of Charlottesville and the fact that some of the schools feel that they just did not get what was promised from this administration and there could be an alternate summit by a congresswoman. Talk to me. What’s going on here —
  • Can I see the list of schools and the names? Because we’re hearing from schools that are saying that they are not coming — and a lot of leaders.
  • Sarah, what are the President’s thoughts on the situation in Cuba at the U.S. embassy? We understand now as many as 19 Americans have been injured.
  • Does the President believe that Cuba is involved directly?
  • Thanks, Sarah. This morning, the President said that the debt-ceiling approval process is a mess. Is it? Is that accurate?
  • So, Sarah, does he want a clean debt-ceiling bill?
  • Does he want it to be clean? Yes.
  • I was just going to ask a follow-up question about that. The health attacks — as the Secretary of State has deemed them — has the President been informed of this? Has he been briefed?
  • Thank you, Sarah. I’m going to try a business question for you.
  • Does the White House have any reaction to the FTC approving the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon?
  • And second question, I want to read the comments from Senator Bob Corker — I’m sure you’ve seen them — over a week ago about the President saying that the President has not yet “been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.” He also said that he’s not sure that the President understands the character of this nation. Do you have any response to that from a Republican senator?
  • Just to follow up on Jonathan’s question, since the President is going full-court press, threatening a shutdown over the funding of the wall, does that mean he is abandoning any efforts to negotiate with Mexico any payments for construction of the wall?
  • So wait, hold on, one second. You mentioned in the opening remarks “honorable” and “victory,” as the President did, in Afghanistan. Can you describe to the American people what both of those words mean for the President — honorable and victory? What does it look like? What will the — what does that mean?
  • Does that mean, therefore, that U.S. military personnel will be there as long as there is any type of terrorist activity or cell in Afghanistan or Pakistan?
  •  I’m just asking because you’ve mentioned terrorism. You mentioned threats. There are several different networks there — Haqqani, Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS.  Is the priority of this administration and the strategy that it will pursue until it is accomplished to eliminate all of those terrorist cells in either Afghanistan and Pakistan and only then can victory be achieved and that be described as honorable?
  • Sarah, I’ve got a follow-up on Major on Afghanistan. So first of all, if what we’ve been doing in Afghanistan has been working, then why are we still there? And if it hasn’t been working, what are we planning to be doing differently moving forward?
  • Adding troops is just prolonging the withdrawal. Is that what that is? 
  • And my second question — hold on, wait, I had a second question on that. Whatever the final objective is, is it really worth the reported trillion dollars that it would cost? Isn’t there anything better we might be able to spend that on?
  • Sarah, one more question on Afghanistan. The President talked about putting more pressure on Pakistan to play a constructive role. But he also talked about having a new, closer strategic partnership with India, which is Pakistan’s prime antagonist. Why does the President think drawing closer to India will prompt the Pakistanis to play a more constructive role rather than becoming more defensive and playing more into a strategy of giving harbor to extremists?
  • Sarah, on this threat of the government shutdown if Congress doesn’t secure funding for this wall, how is that not a concession from this White House that Mexico isn’t actually going to pay for this wall and American taxpayers will?
  • But he’s not saying that Mexico is going to pay for it now.
  • They have. They have.
  • On the President’s ban on transgender service in the military, how close is the White House to sending guidance to the Pentagon on that? And the policy itself, how much discretion will be given to the Pentagon on implementing it?
  • Thank you, Sarah. Two questions, please. First, the beginning of May with great fanfare, the President signed a string of religious liberty executive orders. In the last few days, the head of the Becket Fund — a group that fights for religious liberty in court — complained that that the executive order, even with the Johnson amendment, the tax-exempt status for churches, whether they deal in politics, and the Affordable Care Act’s contraception clause were both still being enforced in spite of the President’s orders that they not be. What is the President doing about this? And is he aware of these complaints?
  • All right. And my second question is:  In Russia the major story there is that the theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, who is a well-known figure in the Russian entertainment industry and an opponent of the Putin regime, has been arrested and is being tried on what he said are trumped up charges regarding his finances. There are massive demonstrations beginning. Does the administration have a comment on what’s happened to Mr. Serebrennikov?
  • Yes, two questions. One, given the rift with the President and Republican leaders in Congress, is there an elevated role right now for Vice President Pence — having been in Congress or kind of speaking both languages — in terms of working with Congress going into negotiating the budget and so forth?
  • I got one more question. Is that role elevated though considering that there seems to be a rift between the White House and Congress?
  • One more topic. And then, Sarah — there has been some increased criticism from conservatives about Commissioner Koskinen at IRS after an IG report came out that highlighted that there were 213 employees that were rehired after committing offenses, including some crimes — for termination. And I was wondering if you could revisit why Commissioner Koskinen is still part of the administration and if the President has any plans put in place to replace him when his term is up in November.
  • Two questions on pardons, if I could. One on Sheriff Arpaio. Is the President seeking a recommendation from the pardon attorney and the deputy attorney general, or is he asking for an FBI background check in his consideration of that pardon?
  • And more broadly, beyond Arpaio, there are 2,200 other pardon applications pending. Does the President have any pardon policy, pardon philosophy, any particular way that he would like to use his pardon power during his term in office?
  • Sarah, the President has made clear that — in the past that he wanted to get started on tax reform, but we haven’t heard him say that much about it.  Politico talked to a White House correspondent and published this week that the President has an imminent announcement about tax reform. Can you describe how he wants to kick off the fall campaign to get that accomplished this year? And are we going to hear from him this week, next week, what would you expect?
  • Then, Sarah — it’s customary for Presidents to get annual physicals — physical exams at Walter Reed.  The President — I think he last released information about his medical condition last fall during the campaign. Can you tell us whether the President intends to utilize the federal facilities at Walter Reed this year to get a physical and then release that information to the public?
  • Thanks, Sarah. On Tuesday, President Trump said “if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall.” Does he stand by that statement? 
  • Is there a plan to force a government shutdown to get the wall built?
  • Two questions for you. First, the President at the rally in Phoenix mentioned that he seemed inclined to be pulling the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. His comments came after the first round of NAFTA renegotiation talks last week. So were those comments informed by the status of those negotiations last week here in Washington when he said — that was his prediction that he was going to be pulling the U.S. out?

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