TOWOIT #280: Confusing Tweets

January 12, 2018

Today as Donald Trump finished up his Martin Luther King Jr. day declaration (that dreadful Paris Dennard was there), April Ryan asked him, in a loud, clear voice, if he was racist. He just scooted out of that room. Tomorrow is April Ryan’s 21st anniversary of being a White House reporter.

Mnuchin and Sanders had a press briefing from yesterday. This happened a few hours before Trump asked why we keep taking people “from these shithole countries” like Haiti and El Salvador and said we SHOULD be taking people from places like Norway. This morning, the ambassador to Panama resigned his post.

There was something a little toadying about certain moments of yesterday’s press briefing. I know that people just go along to get along and everyone is just a bunch of humans trying to get through the work day. But I hate it when they are all hyuk hyuk hyuk with Sarah Huckabee Sanders (or Steve Mnuchin for that matter).

Anyway, yesterday is the day the president sent very confusing tweets about his own FISA bill, throwing Congress and the White House into a tizzy until 101 minutes later when he sent another tweet that seemed to contradict the first one. But we all forget that because that was the morning and he said a bunch of white supremacist garbage in the afternoon.

  • (Brian Karem, Sentinel Newspapers) Okay, thanks. (Laughter as Mnuchin commented on the guy’s hat) You made me laugh. In regards to Walmart and the minimum wage — and since they already have the money and are increasing the minimum wage, does that mean that we can expect movement on the federal government’s behalf to increase the federal minimum wage for everyone? (Today Brian Karem commented on Twitter about how his grandfather came from Lebanon–then Syria–and became a judge. Karem’s response to Trump’s “shithole” comments)
  • And a quick follow-up. Do you believe that they should raise the minimum wage; that it should be a federal raise? (Mnuchin aggressively ignored this question and went to the next person)
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Mr. Secretary, just for those who are watching, on February 1st, will these withholding tables go into effect and that’s when the American taxpayer will first see a change in the withholding of their paycheck?
  • And as far Davos, what is the point of the Trump administration going to a place that is regarded, usually, as a hangout for globalists?
  • (April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks) You just talked about Walmart, and that’s a big deal. What has been the efforts with Walmart, with this administration, for them to raise their wages?
  • But have you been talking with Walmart on this? How long have you been talking?
  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News) Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You are using an outdated — or the system will use an outdated W-4 form for this year. You will encourage people to go onto a calculator on the IRS website and maybe try to figure things out. Taxes are messy to begin with. How is this not going to lead to, in one way or another, some sort of implementation mess?
  • I guess when people are hearing a three-step implementation process of a massive tax systems, in no way this was rushed to try to get this out there for pay checks in February?
  • (Brogue-talking white guy standing in the back) Thanks, Mr. Secretary. I just want to be clear. It sounds to me like you are saying that the administration’s policies are partly responsible for the Walmart wage rise, but that the layoffs have nothing to do with you? Is that — am I understanding that correctly? And is that not inconsistent?
  • (Eamon Javers, CNBC) Yes, thank you, Mr. Secretary. Last year at Davos, Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, made a speech and he talked about isolationism not necessarily being a good policy for most countries around the world. And so it was viewed very much as China making entreaties to a global economy, saying, “Hey we’re open for business at a time when other countries are turning inward.” Is the President going to respond to that line of argument when he goes to Davos? What’s he going to say when he’s there?
  • Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Staying with trade, can you give us an update on the negotiations over NAFTA? And how concerned is this administration over the fact that Canada has recently made a complaint to the WTO and that Mexico is concerned that this administration will, in short order, withdraw from NAFTA?
  • (Woman, unseen and unnamed) Yes, Mr. Secretary, I know you’ve had a lot going on with taxes, but since we have you here, could you give us an update on Treasury’s progress on this list of Russian oligarchs that Congress had asked for? I believe we were expecting it sometime in January. Can you let us know where that’s at?
  • (Anne Gearan, Washington Post, a white woman with a pointy face and sunglasses on her head) Mr. Secretary, if I heard you correctly, you’re predicting that there won’t be a great increase — or decrease, rather, in the number of American taxpayers who used to get a refund, who — basically, the same number will still get a refund that have been expecting to get a refund all along. Is that correct?
  • And then, can you then address the Democrats’ charge that you all are juicing this?
  • Are you expecting any new sanctions on Iran to come from Treasury?
  • (Matthew Nussbaum, Politico) Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Leaders in some states — Connecticut, New York, New Jersey — are talking about ways to limit the impact of the SALT scale-back, such as letting people pay their property taxes in a way that would then be charitably deductible. Is the administration going to try to halt any of those efforts? And how are you responding to that?
  • (Jake Turx, Ami, an Orthodox Jewish magazine) Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. As the national debt clock approaches $21 trillion, I have a few real and quick questions. First of all, is this something that the administration is concerned about?
  • Okay. So then what can we realistically expect the national debt to be by the end of the — and I hope this is not a hypothetical — but by the end of the President’s first term, what can we hope the —
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You talk about the tax being flatter, and 90 percent of the taxpayers benefitting from it. Yet, it would seem that under those circumstances you’re going to eliminate a lot of the deductions which so many small businesses and self-employed business people depend on.  Is there really a major cut in deductions? And how do you expect that will play with the small-business community?
  • And self-employed business —
  • Thank you. Mr. President, when you’re talk about the —
  • Mr. President? (another reporter)
  • I’m sorry, Mr. Secretary.  (Laughter.)
  • 2020 news. Not yet. (I don’t know what this is, but seems too toadying)
  • (I can’t see who this is, but it might be Jim Acosta from CNN) Mr. Secretary, in talking about the impact and the benefit that most American workers will see under the tax cut plan, wouldn’t this be a good day for the President to release HIS tax returns so we can see how he benefits from the tax cut bill? And have you recommended that? (“…they voted for him, he’s the President…”)
  • Mr. Secretary, what does the administration hope to achieve with these additional sanctions on Iran?
  • (Hallie Jackson, NBC News, fastest talker ever) Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Just two quick follow-ups to a couple of questions that have been asked. On Ann’s question related to the Democratic charge about the issues that could come up next year, are you at all — just yes or no — was there any consideration given to the midterms when you guys ensured that the implementation of this would happen in February and not, for example, later, to give you more time to sort all of this out?
  • And then just to follow up on Davos, to Major’s question and Eamon’s. You talked about the message being consistent, that the President will deliver in Switzerland. Obviously, one of his big messages has been aimed at middle-class Americans.  He got elected on this populist platform. I’m hoping you can explain how it’s consistent to take members of his Cabinet — many of whom are very wealthy — to go rub elbows with a bunch of other very wealthy people in Switzerland. Can you explain the consistency on messaging? (Mnuchin assures her that it’s going to be “all business”)
  • (A white man in the back with glasses) Thanks, Mr. Secretary. Can you please say, when it comes to charitable giving, people worry that the new tax code, with the higher standard deduction, could limit giving to charities.  Do you share that concern?
  • (Can’t see who this is) Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Will the President decide today on the Iran deal?  And do you anticipate that he will waive sanctions like he has done in the past?

Sarah’s turn now.

  • (Jonathan Lemire, AP) Thank you, Sarah. Can you walk us through the events in the building this morning that informed the President’s tweets about the FISA reauthorization vote on the House today? They seemed to be — he took different positions at different times. And as a follow-up to that, what do you say to the idea that having these seemingly in-conflict stances undermines the administration’s ability to get an agenda done?
  • (Roberta Rampton of Reuters) A quick question about Dr. Jackson’s statement. It will come tomorrow after the exam, on paper?
  • No, but — no, but tomorrow, though, right?
  • Then on Walmart, if I might, just because it’s in Arkansas. (Ugh none of this cheesy, jokey butt-kissing, Roberta! You’re better than this!)
  • At the same time as it announced the raises, it also announced that 260 Sam’s Club stores are going to close without much notice, and I’m wondering if you have any comment on that aspect of what’s happened today.
  • (John Roberts, Fox News) Sarah, if there was no contradiction between the President’s tweet this morning and official White House policy, can you tell us why his first tweet sparked off a flurry of activity and phone calls between the White House and Capitol Hill — (John Roberts was one of the reporters Trump called on the day before during his joint press conference with the prime minister of Norway. Maybe he thought John would be Fox-friendly, but John immediately asked him whether he would agree to be interviewed by Mueller. Then in conversation with Bret Baier on Shithole Evening, Roberts was a bit more wink wink just a coupla white guys in this crazy political reporting world, whaddya know — there’s that whole “bitches be crazy” thing that Fox News does when Democrats object to racism)
  • —   and the White House and White House staff, leading one government official to say, we did more work before eight o’clock this morning than most people do in a week?
  • But can you speak to the official? (John Roberts is not backing down in the face of her folksy insistence that EVERY morning at the White House is a rip-roaring hootin’ hollerin’ workaholic’s wet dream)
  • (Major Garrett, CBS News) Two questions. One, Senator Flake has left some on Capitol Hill with the impression that there is a deal on immigration and DACA. Is there one? And does the White House believe it’s one it will support?
  • Related to that, is the White House familiar with what — of the contours that Senator Flake was talking about?  And would it regard it as progress?
  • On Medicaid, can you explain from the administration’s point of view the value of demonstration projects in the 10 states that have asked for it for those who are able-bodied who receive Medicaid? Because there are critics who say — even as a demonstration project, it would fundamentally change Medicaid’s orientation to those who receive it because they qualify. And that’s historically been the method. If you qualify, you receive.
  • Yes, yes.
  • (Cecilia Vega, ABC News) Thanks, Sarah. Back to FISA, if I can. Many people are interpreting that first tweet from the President to mean he didn’t actually know how FISA works and, for that matter, that he wasn’t familiar with his own administration’s policy. Does he know FISA? Was he familiar with the policy?
  • And how exactly was the Trump campaign so badly surveilled and abused under FISA as he seemed to claim in that tweet?
  • (Jim Acosta, CNN) If you’re a DREAMer out there, should you have confidence that this President is going to reach an agreement that will protect you from being deported?
  • And a quick follow-up on FISA. There seems to be a pattern — and correct me if I’m wrong, if there is no pattern — where the President watches something on “Fox & Friends” and then he tweets about it. Apparently, this morning, one of their personalities, Andrew Napolitano, said that, ‘This is not a good deal, Mr. President. Don’t do this.’ And then he went on Twitter and tweeted about the FISA program. There have been folks out there who have said, there’s a cause and effect:  He watches something on “Fox & Friends,” and then he tweets about it. Is that what happened this morning? And does that go on?
  • I think he watches a lot of CNN, if you don’t mind me saying.  (Laughter.)
  • They’re actually better than they’ve been in a long time.
  • We can keep going.
  • (Matthew Nussbaum, Politico) Thanks, Sarah. Sticking on the FISA topic.
  • Yeah. If you didn’t see confusion and contradiction between that first tweet and the White House’s past stated policy, then why two hours later issue that second tweet that seemed to clarify the position?
  • (Inaudible) people on the Hill or people in these offices who have been saying —
  • (Blake Burman, Fox Business News). Sarah, on Medicaid and what CMS put out today, critics would say you need to be healthy to get a job in the first place. How are they wrong? (A very human question from this young business bro. I think he’s got a new baby at home.)
  • Do you think people are just taking advantage of the system? Is that what —
  • Do you think people are just flatly taking advantage of the system?
  • (Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg) Sarah, back in the summer, the President said “a hundred percent” he would talk with Special Counsel Mueller. Yesterday, he said, “We’ll see what happens.” He seemed to raise questions about whether there would be an interview. What’s changed between the summer and now, and the President’s thinking about speaking with Robert Mueller?
  • Those discussions are still going on?
  • (Dave Boyer, Washington Times) Thank you, Sarah. Back on the tax cuts, you mentioned that the Walmart bonuses are having the impact that you had hoped. As you know, Republicans alone in Congress passed the tax cuts. The Democrats didn’t vote for it at all. Why do you —
  • How can you explain then that almost twice as many Republican incumbents are quitting Congress this year, as opposed to Democrats? (I think that the Washington Times is a conservative paper)
  • (Steven Portnoy, CBS News) Sarah, I am still confused about the timing of the tweet this morning. It was at 7:30 this morning, and the President referenced the fact that the House was going to vote today on this controversial FISA bill. He intimated that, under FISA, his campaign was abused. Why would he do that this morning? The morning the House voted on a program that he so cares about and wants to —
  • Sarah, I’m not sure I got a clear answer from the Treasury Secretary to my question about what this administration hopes to achieve with addition sanctions on Iran. So I want to give you a crack at that.
  • That’s outside of the JCPOA, though — right, Sarah?
  • So those he talked about — the new ones — would be outside of that?
  • Not necessarily.
  • (New York Times guy, I think) Back to immigration, real quick. Yesterday, I guess, a group of House Republicans put out an immigration plan that would deal with DACA but would also do a whole lot of things that weren’t under the umbrella of the four things that you guys outlined in the meeting yesterday. Was that helpful? Was that not helpful to getting to a deal ultimately? Does the President wish that they take that off the table so that you can focus on what might be happening with Senator Flake or others in the Senate? How does a competing package —
  • Even though it went beyond what the parameters that the President very specifically, and then you later, after the meeting, set out?
  • But he understands, right, that adding the extra things are what has the potential to make this more difficult, because various constituencies think of those things as poison pills that are actually going to make that more —
  • And do you think you can get that by the end of — by the next week or so?  Or do you —
  • (April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks) Sarah, Secretary Mnuchin said that this White House had been working with businesses as it relates — for a while — as it relates to this tax plan. And when it comes to Walmart, had this White House been talking with Walmart about a safety net for the employees that were going to lose their jobs today? Because I’m looking at a sign right now, from Sam’s Club, that says, “This Club will be closed on January 11th, 2018.” That’s today, the day that Secretary Mnuchin talks about how wonderful there will be increases in pay for Walmart workers.
  • And what’s the (inaudible) on welfare reform? Is there a status report?  Because I understand that Ryan and McConnell are not together on issues of welfare reform as relates to education. Where does the President stand on this back-and-forth?
  • (John Gizzi, Newsmax) Thank you, Sarah. Two brief questions. The President said yesterday that, and I quote, “We are going to take a strong look” at the libel laws. Now, many lawyers said that was an unusual statement because all libel laws are at the state level and not the federal level. Was he referring to states should take a look at libel laws or something else? (Conservative paper, keeping an out for states rights)
  • But I mean, he meant the states, not that there should be federal libel laws?
  • Right. My other question is, does the administration have any reaction to the reports of the arrest of former Iranian President Ahmadinejad who was leading a protest movement against the regime?
  • (Francesca Chambers, Mail Online). Thank you, Sarah. Back on the President’s first tweet this morning on FISA. When he said that it “may have been used” — the FISA Act — to “surveil and abuse” his campaign, what specifically was he talking about there, when he said “may” and “abuse” and “surveil”? Could you point us in the right direction?
  • (Trey Yingst, OAN). Thanks, Sarah. Two questions for you. First, a few days ago, you said the White House did not have any reaction to the transcript that was released on Senator Feinstein related to Fusion GPS. Is the President aware of this transcript? And does he have any reaction to the FBI references within the transcript and what was said by that gentleman?
  • And my follow-up question: Today, Ecuador announced that it’s granting nationality to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Does the President agree or disagree with this decision by the Ecuadorians?
  • (Anne Gearan, Washington Post) Sarah, can I just ask you on Iran again? When the President went through the exercise in October of decertifying but signing the sanctions waivers, he said words to the effect of, “fix it,” or he wouldn’t do this again. The fix was supposed to include some legislation, which hasn’t happened yet. Is the President comfortable with where the “fix it” part of this process is right now? And what is his feeling about what a fix would look like?
  • (Hallie Jackson, NBC News). Thanks, Sarah.  I want to ask, actually, about offshore drilling. But before I do, I’m hoping you can clarify something that you’ve said a couple of times now, which is that a lot of people were confused by that tweet. So Mike Pompeo–
  • I think your quote was, “We weren’t confused, but some of you were.
  • Yeah. So I want to ask about that, because Mike Pompeo was obviously out talking about this, pushing for this, and (inaudible). A lot of people in the President’s administration were representing the President’s position on this, that he wanted this to pass. His tweet today was confusing. It was contradictory; it just was. So how are people supposed to trust — not us, as reporters — but lawmakers, stakeholders, policymakers, that the people representing the President’s position… actually are?

Sarah Huckabee Sanders: I think the premise of your question is completely ridiculous and shows the lack of knowledge you have on this process.

  • Can you explain why —
  • I just want to be clear, Sarah, before I ask about offshore drilling, that you definitively are saying that the President’s tweet this morning was, in your view, not at all confusing and not at all contradictory. You think that’s an accurate statement? I just want to be very clear about this.
  • Let me ask about the offshore drilling ban, Sarah?
  • Because there’s been a lot of questions about what’s happening in Florida.  There have been other states that have pointed to the reason this administration has given for exempting Florida, saying that they also are not — they also would like to be exempt. So how is exempting Florida from the ban anything other, in critics’ view, than giving a political favor to White House allies in a key battleground state?
  • So was it or was it not a political favor?
  • (Jake Turx, Ami) Thank you, Sarah. On prison reform, the President recently commuted the sentence of a first-time offender, a father of 10 children, who had been sentenced to an excess of 27 years. What kinds of injustices does the President view as priorities?
  • There have been reports out, and if you could please clarify — what is Mr. Kushner’s role in the prison reform initiative, exactly?
  • (Anita Kumar, McClatchy) Can you just — going back to immigration, can you just shed a little bit of light on what the holdup is? Members of the Republican Party were in the negotiations. They are the ones who were saying they agree with Democrats. The administration has been in the meetings, at least some of them. So what is the — what do you all not like?
  • One piece that the President talked about missing — is that the issue? Or is there not enough funding? Can you shed a light —


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