Sarah Huckabee’s 33rd press conference as press secretary.
She wore a black dress with a large pale floral image partially visible (podium in the way) and a string of pearls. She looked doleful, as if weighed down by the souls of decapitated elephants and fondled nobodies.
Kevin Hassett, White House Council of Economic Advisers, was there. He smiled like a goon the whole time, smiled through his own words, smiled through the questions. He smiled as he said that trickle-down economics work, and he smiled as he refused to take follow-ups on that.
Questions for Kevin:
[John Roberts, Fox News] Kevin, I know you’re an economist but there’s obviously a political component to all of this. You got at least six senators up on the Hill, including Ron Johnson, saying that they can’t support the bill in its current form or they have serious concerns about it. You can only afford to lose two. Are you confident that you can get this passed through the Senate? Or could the President run into another situation, like he did with Obamacare? That he wins the House and then loses everything in the Senate.
[Unknown man] What makes you think trickle-down economics is going to work this time when it hasn’t worked before?
And the incentive — [No follow-ups!]
One of Senator Johnson’s concerns is that this bill does not do enough for medium-sized and small businesses. Can you talk about what the bill does do for medium-size and small businesses?
[Young woman on the side] One of the major differences between the House and the Senate bill is the elimination of the non-taxable tuition waivers. So while they’re trying to reconcile their differences on that tax reform bill, what do you foresee which could potentially move this tax burden to a lot of young Americans?
[not sure who this is, another man] Kevin, thanks for being here. On one of your TV appearances yesterday, you said that an average family, when this is all said and done, could accumulate a savings benefit of $4,000. That’s a lot of money.
Can you walk us through that?
[Jon Decker, Fox Radio News] One of the criticisms, Kevin, of the tax reform proposal is that the corporate tax rate is cut permanently. The individual tax rate phases out after 10 years. Why, in your view, is that such a good idea?
Hi, Emma Robinson, One America News. [ultraconservative outlet] The two bills are different in that the House bill repeals or does away with the estate tax and the Senate doesn’t. And I know that was a big point for the administration, and Vice President Pence has voiced his support for repealing the death tax, as they call it. What are your thoughts on that? And do you think a final bill will include a repeal of it?
[Eamon Javers, CNBC–another money guy] Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate it. Can you talk about this moment earlier in the week at the Wall Street Journal event? Gary Cohn was on stage, and the moderator asked a group of CEOs, “If tax reform passes, who here is going to increase their investment?” And only a couple of hands went up in the room. Gary Cohn said, why aren’t there more hands going up? Can you answer that question? Why aren’t there more hands going up in a room like that? You would assume that CEOs would say, yes, in fact, we are going to invest more if tax reform passes. Is the administration missing something there?
[April Ryan, American Urban Radio Network, not suffering fools] Yes, yes. Gene Sperling, who was once in your position in another administration, says that this tax plan — be it historic — costs $1.5 trillion and it’s a deficit hole. And he says that basically — this is in a tweet. I’m just paraphrasing his tweet. He says, it basically doesn’t justify that cost for 100 million households for a tax increase.
[Blake Burman, Fox Business News] I want to pick up where John, right in front of me, left off when he asked about the phase-out on the individual side. You’re an economist; however, the two answers that you gave were both political. One, there’s reconciliation rules. And two, hopefully politicians down the line solve it. But like I mentioned, you’re an economist. So can you not make an economic argument as to why this is good economically for people?
Correct. Is there an economic argument as to why this is good for the country as it stands right now to expire within eight years or so?
[Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News] I actually want to follow up on that, though. You all made a value judgment to make the corporate tax cuts permanent and to make the individual tax cuts expire, even though you want all of them to be permanent. What’s the rationale for having corporations have that certainty of knowing that they don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen in Washington while families are going to have to worry about what politicians do six, seven years now?
You don’t see the value one way or the other, whether the corporate tax cuts versus —
[Major Garrett, CBS] Kevin, you’ve melded politics and economics here quite successfully, and I want to ask you a political and economic question. You’ve talked about growth covering what the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Tax Committee say could be a deficit hole, a deficit implication of $1.5 trillion. That is going to be measurable over time. There’s going to be a means by which either dynamic scoring or static scoring answers that question. And since it’s on the mind of some of your undecided Republican senators, is this administration willing to commit to a review five years in to see if the growth models have held along your lines and the deficit implications aren’t as large — or, if they aren’t, to reassess these tax cuts in order not to blow a hole in the deficit?
Do you think there would be —
Then Sarah came back. She took questions for 12 minutes. Questions to Sarah:
Thanks, Sarah. I have a non-Roy Moore question for you. Can you say definitively — I want to ask you about Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri. Can you say definitively, from this podium, that he has not been held hostage by the Saudis? And does the President plan to speak to Prime Minister Hariri at all? [She sidesteps this and refers the questioner to the disappearing state department]
[Cecilia Vega, ABC News] Thanks, Sarah. If it’s fair to investigate Al Franken and the allegation made by his accuser, is it also fair to investigate this President and the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him by more than a dozen women?
But how is this different?
MS. SANDERS: I think in one case, specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the President hasn’t. I think that’s a very clear distinction.
[Major Garrett, CBS News] So I want to revisit something we discussed yesterday. You said, one of the ways that Alabama voters might be able to figure out if these allegations against Roy Moore are true is in the court of law. That’s a direct quote from you. There’s no criminal means by which that could happen. So are you suggesting that Roy Moore sue the accusers in order to hash this out in court?
But that’s the venue you meant when you talked about “in the court of law.”
The only reason I raise that is because, during the campaign, as you well remember, then-candidate Trump said, after the election he would sue all the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, and that you have, from the podium, deemed all liars. He hasn’t done that. Why hasn’t he done that?
[The handsome and plaintive-looking Jeff Mason of Reuters] Sarah, some critics have said that it was hypocritical of the President to tweet about Al Franken and not weigh in on Roy Moore.
[Sara Murray, CNN, sitting next to Jeff in the front row] Can you tell us whether the President believes the women who are making these allegations against Roy Moore? And would he be willing to ask the Alabama governor to delay the election or take a step like that to try to intervene in this electoral process in Alabama?
[Matthew Nussbaum, Politico] Thank you, Sarah. In light of the national discussion about the importance of taking these kinds of accusations seriously, I wanted to check: Is it still the White House position that all the women who have accused the President of sexual misconduct are lying?
[Blake Burman, Fox Business News] Thanks, Sarah. Let me ask you about something else — the pending potential AT&T and Time Warner merger. The President had said on the campaign trail, back in October of 2016 — and I quote here — he said it was a “deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” Does the President still feel that way?
[April Ryan] Sarah, is this an uncomfortable conversation about these sexual allegations for this White House be it Al Franken or be it Roy Moore?
A follow-up. [We’re tight on time, says Sarah and calls on someone else]
A follow-up. I talked to Hillary Clinton— [April! says Sarah]
I talked to Hillary Clinton today about the President’s past — and going back to what Matthew said, she said, look, I worry about everything from his past because it tells you how he behaves in the present and will in the future. What do you say to that as it relates to these allegations against the President?
[Alex Pfeiffer, The Daily Caller, conservative wunderkind, was a correspondent already when a freshman in college] Two questions. One on taxes, then immigration. A recent Quinnipiac University poll said 61 percent of voters think the Republican tax plan will benefit the wealthy while the White House has pitched this plan as a working-class tax cut. Why the disconnect?And then on immigration — [she doesn’t allow his second question]
[John Roberts, Fox News] Let me come back and ask you the same thing I asked Kevin. You’ve got six Republican senators either “no” or seriously on the fence here. Can you win enough over in order to pass this? And if the President gets snookered again by the Senate, what’s his reaction going to be?
The fact that you didn’t get any Democrats in the House, how does that portend for getting them in the Senate?
Safe to say the President will not be pleased if he gets snookered by the Senate again?
[Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News] Thanks, Sarah. The administration put out a disaster funding request for about $44 billion today. It’s much less than what a number of different governors and officials in the various affected territories and states have requested. Can you explain sort of why the number is so low compared to what the local officials say they need?
Are you expecting (inaudible) much more requests forward in the future, specifically for Puerto Rico?
[Kristen Welker, NBC News] Sarah, thank you. Steven Bannon is sending a strong message to the establishment to back off of Roy Moore. Does the President’s allegiance to Steve Bannon in any way implicate his response?
Has he spoken at all to Steve Bannon or any outside advisors?
How concerned is he, Sarah, about losing this seat to a Democratic candidate, who, right now, according to the polls, is leading?
[Jon Decker, Fox Radio News] Thanks a lot, Sarah. Just in regards to that question regarding the supplemental requests: The President and the administration has put forth $44 million. Puerto Rico has requested $94 million. Are they going to get somewhere along that order? I think half of the island is still without electricity.
Did the President notify Governor Abbott —
Did the President notify Governor Abbott of the lesser amount that he’s put forward? [She won’t answer, keeps moving]
[White woman, looks like she is WAPO or NPR from seating chart] Yesterday, the joint investigative mechanism was vetoed by Russia at the U.N. Security Council, and Ambassador Haley tweeted afterward that the veto proves that Russia cannot be trusted as a partner going forward in trying to solve the political situation in Syria. Does the President have any response to the veto, first? What is the U.S. view, going forward, of how chemical weapons will be investigated and dealt with in Syria? And is it the U.S. position now that Russia cannot be a partner in trying to solve, or do a next-day political situation by —
[Steven Portnoy, CBS Radio News] There’s been some extraordinary pushback on the administration’s decisions with respect to elephant trophies and hunting of lions and elephants in Africa. Can you shed some light on the decisions the administration has made? And will you make that pushback?
[Darlene Superville, Associated Press] The senate tax bill has a tax break for corporate jets. How does that help the middle class?
[Not sure who is talking, a man] Thank you, Sarah. Yesterday — on Jared Kushner and on his campaign e-mails — that Senate Committee, they’re asking for those e-mails in the Russia investigation. You punted it to Kushner’s attorney. Today, what’s the White House reaction to those previously undisclosed e-mails?
She completely did not answer with a White House reaction, and left the room.
The man who killed Philando Castile was acquitted today, and people are grieving.
Steve Scalise called himself “David Duke without the baggage.” Jeff Sessions joked that he thought the Klan was all right until he found out they smoked weed (seriously WTF is up with his weed obsession).
For the last two days, Trump’s craziest tweets have come in groups of four.
About Rosenstein’s weird memo last night:
And the health care travesty continues behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, there’s some kind of big Naval disaster happening. The USS Fitzgerald is in danger of sinking and 7 sailors are missing.
There was another off-camera press gaggle today. This time a Mr. Anton was in charge, and it was en route to Miami. Mr. Anton turned it over to someone who is listed in the transcript as Senior Administration Official, or SAO instead of by name. Here’s what the reporters asked:
So you are aware of the reports?
Are you in touch with the Russians on those reports? Have you spoken with your Russian counterparts?
Off the record, meaning background as senior White House official?
You mean you want to go just completely off the record?
(Goes off the record.) (Returns on the record.)
For the new Cuba policy, does that have anything to do with —
I’m just wondering if you’re worried about Cuba being a staging ground for terrorists and that’s part of the reason for the new policy.
(Goes off the record.) (Returns on the record.)
On the Cuba announcement today, you guys are doing it during a meeting of a lot of Latin American leaders who have been against changing the Obama administration policy. Some might see this as a slap in the face to them during this meeting. Why the timing?
Mike, explain the significance of the location. The theater is named after the man who led the Bay of Pigs invasion. There’s the notion that this is provocative.
The changes that are being talked about seem relatively small compared to what you could have done. How is that going to — are the folks going to be happy with that?
The President said in a statement today that he was under investigation. How was he made aware of that?
Michael, if you’re an American wanting to travel to Cuba, what will you need to do before going?
How do you square the President’s focus on human rights in Cuba with his apparent lack of interest in human rights in other countries.
— in his speech — just what we’re expected to hear today from him?
Is he going to list the benchmarks that Cuba needs to do for better relations with the United States?
And what are those?
Do you expect the policy to change which hotels Americans will be able to, under the law, to stay in in Cuba? In which hotels —
Can you address what the administration is doing to get to the bottom of what happened to Otto Warmbier in North Korea and how it is that he was returned to the U.S. in a coma?
But is the U.S. satisfied with the explanation that North Korea gave that it was botulism and then a sleeping pill that led to his current condition?
Michael, is the President willing to have talks with the Cuban leadership?
Why will these changes help bring about change in Cuba when decades of a full embargo did not change significantly the human rights record?
Does that mean you agree, essentially, with the Obama administration’s posture toward Cuba, even though you’re refining the policy? Because those are similar arguments that they made.
Can you tell us who is aboard?
Is Reince on the plane?
Will the President do anything in Miami besides the speech and signing the directive?
From the group that endorsed him last year?
Will anybody from the administration today be able to answer questions on DACA and DAPA and the President’s statements regarding the investigation?
The disgustingly hyped and teased announcement in the Rose Garden was today. There was a band playing. I didn’t watch that garbage.
Meanwhile, the country continues to be racist as hell:
A black friend of mine was working her job in a shop in downtown Seattle yesterday and a white man saw her through the window, opened the door and yelled “F___ YOU, N____ !!” Just out of the blue. Just to yell at her.
In my sister’s primarily Mexican & Filipino neighborhood in California, white supremacists from somewhere else drive through looking for Black Lives Matter signs in yards and windows. They come back again and again once a house is identified, shouting at and threatening anyone they see in the yard or driveway or porch. The people she knows who have been targeted are white like she is. She’s afraid to put up a Black Lives Matter sign because she’s the only white person in her household — and if they’ll harass and intimidate white people with BLM signs, what would they do when a dark-skinned Mexican-Filipino man is the one associated with the sign?
And then there’s Russia, other bullshit, and a Twitter dig from none other than sweet, square Ken Jennings.
“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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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 —
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: