TOWOIT #193

August 1, 2017… Day 194

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The White House briefing was only 22 minutes long today, but there was some testiness in the briefing room today over this:

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And also this:

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A lot of that testiness was because SHS went on and on about “Why aren’t we investigating HILLARY and Russia?” as an answer.

Oh yes, and Trump might not sign that Russian sanction bill after all:

The Washington Post chronicles Scaramucci:

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A lie about Boy Scouts was discovered because the full transcript of a WSJ-Trump interview was leaked to Politico. The WSJ tried to keep the transcript secret. Trump said that reaction to his Boy Scout speech was NOT mixed, in fact they called him and told him it was the best speech anyone had ever given to the Boy Scouts.

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But don’t worry, because at long last they are going to take care of anti-white discrimination in this country:

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For context, the Congressional Black Caucus is a fairly sober Twitter user:

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Questions they asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders today:

Continue reading TOWOIT #193

TOWOIT #182

July 21, 2017… Day 183

End of a busy week at the office, and a busy week of watching ourselves careen toward authoritarianism, maybe, or maybe a presidency goes down in flames, or maybe we’re not hurtling but grinding slowly. I don’t know. Can we do this for three and a half more years?

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We were blessed with an on-camera press briefing after Sean Spicer resigned today. It was the first one since June 29. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is now the official press secretary. But the briefing was the Anthony Scaramucci show. And that’s why it was on camera. For this confident little Wall Street dude’s song and dance. This guy is the new communications director and the reason Trump was fired. Since I don’t have TV, I’ve managed to pretty much avoid this guy until today. Boy what a slick son of a gun. I’ve never wanted to be a political cartoonist so badly. The man just spawns image after image.

Scaramucci said he wished Sean well, and the way he expressed this was to say, “…and I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money!” The unabashedness. He described the gap between how Trump loyalists see Trump and how the press sees Trump as “an arbitrage spread.” He said he didn’t want to go into an “advertisement or infomercial,” but there was the implication that he didn’t want to go into his spiel right then. Not that he never planned to get salesy.

When asked what he would do first to “right the ship,” Scaramucci said that the ship was “heading in the right direction.” Which just conjured the image of a badly listing ship, far out at sea, storm on the horizon–but with its bow heading in the right direction!

He also said that he learned at Goldman Sachs that if you need to eat an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time. Then he said that he and Sarah would be eating the elephant. There’s definitely a cartoon in that one, with Don Jr. holding the severed elephant tail as a trophy. And the GOP being the elephant. The only problem is that the cartoonist will probably use the eating megafauna angle to make Sarah Huckabee Sanders look fat and homely in a sexist way, and make her and little Scaramucci will be drawn as Jack Sprat to her Mrs. Sprat. I’m defensive on behalf large women with asymmetrical faces.

More great Scaramucci lines:

“I’m obviously committed to being transparent, because I’m standing here.”

And, when asked if he would be truthful, he said “I sort of feel like I don’t even have to answer that question.”

Before I round up the reporters’ questions, here are some other things that happened today:

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(If this happens it won’t be a drill. I’ll walk out and consult Twitter and we will clump into groups and find each other like water coming together with other water).

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Questions reporters asked at the Scaramucci show (featuring Sarah Sanders): 

Continue reading TOWOIT #182

TOWOIT #157

June 26, 2017… Day 158

Early this morning I watched a Vox video about “democratic backsliding.” How it happened in Venezuela and how it is happening here. It was very scary. But let’s focus on something good — Susan Collins is firmly opposing the Senate “healthcare” bill. YES!! Thank you for being NON-CRAVEN.

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Jim Comey’s friend does this sometimes when something is about to happen:

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Sometimes I just kinda wonder if they are actually frenemies.

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The White House seems to be gearing up for more military action against Syria. The Supreme Court is partially reinstating Trump’s travel ban. And Ivanka Trump says she tries to stay out of politics.

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I hate the White House Press Briefings being off camera. I loved to hear the reporters’ voices, see their faces, listen to their questions in real time.

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Reporters’ questions after the jump:

Continue reading TOWOIT #157

TOWOIT #147

June 12, 2017… Day 144

Today I was thinking about Alexei Navalny and the young people protesting Putin and corruption in Russia. Now that’s bravery.

And I think about DeRay, Brittany, and Sam on Pod Save the People, talking calmly about Jeff Sessions and the justice department — when it’s so awful for black people, it’s been so awful. And now Sessions as AG feels like a five-alarm fire, but these three podcast hosts sound so calm. It makes you realize how brave and seasoned black people have had to be in the face of terrible things long before Trump became President.

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And I think about the voters in the UK who pulled Labour and the voters in France who pulled centrist. I don’t think all those voters were FOR Corbyn or FOR Macron. Not by a long, long shot. But they pulled together and they voted for the person who had the best shot to intervene against the forces pulling Europe rightward. And that was pragmatic and beautiful and good.

Yeah, I didn’t get any of those feelings, none of the above, for what I heard coming out of Bernie’s People’s Summit. Not feeling it, guys. Not. Feeling. It. Get Keith Ellison in here, stat. He’s the person who can bridge this divide if Bernie can stand to stop taking up all the air in the room.

Ok, so other news today. Trump-allies in the media are laying the groundwork for the idea that Trump could fire Mueller and end the Russian probe. If the Republicans let that slide, and it feels like they would — then sayonara, democracy. It was good to know you. We didn’t deserve you.

In other signs of wear and tear, at Trump’s cabinet meeting, the cabinet secretaries went around the room in front of the press and said how wonderful Trump was and how blessed they are to be working for him. He started off by saying he had signed more legislation and done more things than almost any other president. Reporters in the room described the whole interlude as “awkward” and “humiliating.”

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Jeff Sessions will testify in public tomorrow after all, although Chris Cilizza seems to think he’s gaming the system somehow with this decision. I just got that from the headline. I don’t always read Cilizza. Or rather, I reach my personal quota and can’t go on until I have a break from him.

So we’ll see what that’s like tomorrow. Sessions has already lied under oath, so why expect him to tell the truth?

The Republicans in the Senate seem to be secretively hurtling a healthcare bill through it’s various stages, and will be passing it with 50 votes and a tiebreaker from Mike Pence. Indivisible and other organizations are doing what they can to rally the troops, but it feels like a losing proposition. I really want the option of changing jobs. I don’t want to cling like a monkey to my job forever. I don’t want to marry for health insurance like my mom and my sister both did in the early 2000s. Don’t get me wrong — they married wonderful men. But they made that leap for the health insurance.

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The 9th circuit court of appeals upheld the freeze on Trump’s travel ban. I’ve lost track of the whole thread on that travel ban, except that it keeps losing in court. In other court news, Maryland D.C. are suing Trump for violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

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Puerto Rico voted overwhelmingly for statehood and everyone seems to be downplaying it. Also downplayed: the Cosby trial. I think we’re just all too sad and worn down for that sad mess.

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Sean Spicer took questions for eleven minutes. And then in those eleven minutes, he managed to be combative, snitty, an obfuscating liar, a bully, a dodger, an evader… it was a sorry display. It was so far beneath the dignity of the journalists in the room. Those people really know their shit. They could swap places with the other people in the White House and do a better job running things. I’m sure of it for this White House.

The questions reporters asked today:

  • Thank you. Following up on your India announcement, the President, in his speech in New Jersey had said if he’s elected he would be the best friend of India ever in the White House. What steps does the President want to take in his next four years, or eight years, to implement his promise he made to the community here?
  • Sean, thank you. Two questions on trade. Number one, you talked about the beef arrangement. Is that beginning today? And can you flesh out a little bit more about what it looks like? I understood there was going to be an announcement from USDA. Are we waiting for that to actually make this is a fact? Or where are we in the process?
  • And secondly, my other quick question is on steel and aluminum, and the review that the administration is doing. The President said — and was quoted in one of the pool reports as saying that there is legislation being drafted on antidumping. The 232 process goes to Congress anyway.  Was he referring to additional legislation, or this 232 review that you had already initiated as reported by Secretary Ross?
  • Thanks, Sean. A couple questions for you. First, does President Trump have audio recordings of his conversations and meetings with the former FBI Director, James Comey?
  • Do you have any sort of timeline on when that announcement will be?
  • And a quick follow-up on the Attorney General. From the perspective of President Trump, what role did Attorney General Jeff Sessions play in the firing of James Comey?
  • Sean, to that end, when Jeff Sessions testifies tomorrow, do you believe that he should invoke executive privilege on conversations between himself and the President as it relates to Jim Comey?
  • In any way, did Jeff Sessions, folks at the DOJ ask for the White House’s permission, in essence, for him to testify publicly tomorrow?
  • Is the President okay with him testifying in this open setting tomorrow?
  • But just to follow on that, the President seemed to indicate that he thought that it was a mistake for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself in the Russia investigation. He said that his preference would have been to the contrary, off-camera.  What does the President think about the fact that Sessions will be testifying tomorrow and, according to the Department of Justice, wanted to testify in an open session rather than closed classified session?
  • If I could ask you about the other headline of the day — the State of Maryland, the District of Columbia filing a lawsuit against the President, seeking rulings on two points in the emoluments clause in the Constitution. The RNC thinks that this is a bogus lawsuit. What is the President and what is the White House’s perspective on that?
  • Thanks, Sean. I wanted to just — two questions. But first, why leave open this question of whether there are tapes? Don’t the American people — do they deserve to know whether Comey was lying to the Senate? Why leave this question open?
  • But is — I mean, it’s an open question that —
  • Okay, but to follow up on — speaking of lawsuits, for the Ninth Circuit — they just came out and they upheld the block of the travel ban. Any response to that?
  • Hey, Sean. So two questions for you then. I want to follow up on the tapes issue. If the President does have evidence that the FBI Director lied under oath, what is he waiting for?
  • Right, but so what is he waiting for? What’s the delay?
  • On the travel ban, Sean — this is the second question — you just mentioned you obviously responded to the Ninth Circuit ruling today. That ruling also cites the President’s tweets from June 5th on the travel ban. And it cites your statements — this administration’s statement that the President’s tweets are official statements. So given that measure, given that the travel ban is obviously a priority for the President, how is it that the President is not putting his own agenda in danger when it comes to his Twitter habits?
  • The Twitter question, Sean — it’s a different question, though.
  • It comes to the Twitter issue.  So I just want to —
  • Sean, what is the President’s reaction to the Russian government’s crackdown on anti-corruption protests today?
  • Well, Mr. Navalny in particular, but I assume that would be part of your overall —
  • Thank you. One more. The President mentioned a press conference in a couple weeks on the ISIS review. Can you say where and when? And has he made a decision about changing the policy?
  • Thank you, Sean. You said that the President wants to see this Russia investigation and all these investigations wrapped up as soon as possible. He said on Friday that he would be willing to testify under oath. Can you say when he would be willing to do that? Would he be willing to do that before Congress goes into recess to get this done as soon as possible?
  • So he would — sorry, just wanted to be very clear about this.  So he’s not saying that he would go before Congress —
  • Does he have confidence in Director Mueller, Sean? <<This question was ignored>>
  • Thank you, Sean. Two questions. Does the President have a reaction to the vote in Puerto Rico yesterday — the nonbinding measure calling for statehood as the first choice of the people for their future?
  • My other question was, there are widespread stories and speculation that when the President goes to Miami this Friday he will undo the executive orders from the Obama administration that eased relations with Cuba. Can you confirm whether he will undo all of them or some of them?
  •  Thanks.  Following on some of the stories over the weekend in England, when the President signs off on a foreign trip, how much does he factor in his personal popularity in that country?

 

 

 

 

TOWOIT #141

June 6, 2017… Day 138

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Is everything accelerating or is my head just flying apart? The White House Press Briefing lived to see another day and the reporters’ questions are after my round-up of headlines and tweets. First, here’s some of the other stuff that happened today:

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(Oh good, I’m sure this will work out well for everyone.)

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Continue reading TOWOIT #141

TOWOIT #137

June 2, 2017… Day 134

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Sean Spicer did a joint briefing. The lies were amazing. Scott Pruitt was a fiery and defiant lying asshole. Sean Spicer just sounded like he had given up on life. The reporters actually got quite a few questions in considering how short the briefing was, because Sean just says some kind of feeble, kill me now “I don’t know” now instead of replying in blustery obfuscating paragraph storms. There was no answering of questions, but here were the questions.

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Questions for Pruitt:

  • Thank you. I have a two-part question. I was hoping you could clear this up once and for all. Yes or no, does the President believe that climate change is real as a threat to the United States?
  • On climate change, yes or no?
  • Two-tenths of one percent, a statistic that you’re citing — the MIT scientists who helped with that report say that Trump “badly misunderstood” the findings of that report, and that, in fact, if we take no action, temperatures can rise a devastating five percentage points. So, specifically, what other science did the President rely on.
  • I’d like to go back to the first question that was asked that you didn’t answer. Does the President believe today that climate change is a hoax? That’s something, of course, he said in the campaign. When the pool was up in the Oval Office with him a couple days ago, he refused to answer. So I’m wondering if you can speak for him.
  • Thank you. Given the fact that you and other administration officials haven’t been able to outline the President’s views on climate change, why should other countries believe that the President wants to negotiate a new deal in good faith?
  • Does the President believe that — or does the administration believe that any additional deal on carbon emissions, whether it’s Paris or a subsequent deal, needs —
  • Does the administration believe that any deal — whether it’s a revised Paris Agreement or another carbon emissions deal — needs congressional approval?  Either as a treaty or some other form —
  • Obviously a lot of people from the White House are not willing to answer this question of what the President’s view is on climate change. So let’s talk about your personal views. In March, you said, there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of human impact, and you would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to global warming. Would you agree that human activity contributes at all to global warming?
  • If we just look at the —
  • Can I ask a follow-up question on that, sir? Why, then, is the Arctic ice shelf melting? Why are the sea levels rising? Why are the hottest temperatures in the last decade essentially the hottest temperatures that we’ve seen on record?
  • But, sir, so there’s — when NASA says that 95 percent of the experts in this area around the world believe that the Earth is warming, and you are up there throwing out information that says, well, maybe this is being exaggerated and so forth, and you’re talking about climate exaggerators, it just seems to a lot of people around the world that you and the President are just denying the reality.  And the reality of this situation is that climate change is happening and it is a significant threat to the planet.
  • That’s true, though, right? About the Arctic ice and the sea levels and —
  • Critics argue you’re putting your head in the sand, though, Mr. Pruitt. They’re a little worried that you’re putting your head in the sand.
  • Thank you, Mr. Administrator. Your fellow Sooner Senator Inhofe said that while he has full confidence in the President in this, he is very nervous about lower-level career government employees in the EPA and the State Department in actually executing what it means to exit the Paris Climate Accord. As the Administrator of EPA, what do you say to your own staff?
  • European leaders have made it very clear the deal can’t be renegotiated. So how does the President renegotiate a deal when the other parties aren’t willing to come to the table?
  • But a new deal with who, if they’re not going to sit down at the table with him?
  •  And just a quick follow-up. You’re the EPA Administrator. Shouldn’t you be able to tell the American people whether or not the President still believes that climate change is a hoax? Where does he stand?
  • Thank you. Isn’t it of concern that the United States has broken a promise to 190 countries? And the President did not address that particular point. And second, you’ve several times raised the lowering of CO2 levels. Isn’t the reason for lower CO2 levels because of blocking the smokestack spews that now are not allowed, the kind of regulations that the administration is now opposing?
  • Isn’t it of concern that we broke a promise to 190 countries? And how does that help our credibility?
  • Our word is not our bond?
  • Why did you celebrate at a French restaurant last night? Was that a symbolic gesture?

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Questions they asked Sean Spicer:

  • Thanks, Sean. I want to ask about the push for the travel ban to the U.S. Supreme Court. Is it fair to say that one of the reasons that the President wants to keep this going is obviously now we have a full Court impaneled, but also because it gives the White House perhaps a chance to build on some momentum, especially if you look back at yesterday? It would appear that his base was very pleased with what the President decided to do. Is that part of the calculus?
  • And I’d also like to ask as a follow about the XL pipeline. Can you give us an update on what’s happening with that in terms jobs and development?
  • Thank you, Sean. You were asked earlier this week about the President’s personal views on climate change and whether or not he believes it’s a hoax.  You said you hadn’t had a chance to have that conversation with him. Now it’s been 48-72 hours. What does the President actually believe about climate change? Does he still believe it’s a hoax? Can you clarify that? Because apparently nobody else at the White House can.
  • Don’t the American people deserve to know what the President believes on such an important issue?
  • Quick question for you related to the Paris climate agreement. Why does the President feel it’s important to continue to reduce carbon emissions and export clean energy technology?
  • Just a quick question as it relates to climate change. Very simple definition of climate change is a change in the Earth’s weather patterns. The EPA Administrator said today that he does feel there is some value to the studies that say the Earth is warming somewhat. Does the President share the EPA Administrator’s thoughts on this topic? And why has the administration sort of backed away from using the words “climate change”?
  • Thanks, Sean. Yesterday the President painted a pretty dire economic picture if the United States were to stay in the Paris Accords, saying it would be disastrous for the U.S. economy. And yet dozens of the top CEOs of American corporations lobbied the President in order to stay in the Paris Accords. Why would the President argue that this is bad for the economy if all those CEOs are saying, you know what, we need to do this? Is the President right about the economic forecasts and all those private sector leaders wrong?
  • Is the President going to replace Elon Musk and Bob Iger on the President’s advisory council?
  • Thank you, Sean. The President’s critics are claiming that pulling out of the accord will lift China as a global leader. Do you agree with that sentiment?  What does the White House have to say about that?
  • Thank you, Sean. Yesterday, President Macron of France delivered a sharply worded speech in English attacking the President on the climate change decision, saying it is bad for all of our children. And he specifically called on scientists to come and move to France. What’s the President’s response to President Macron?
  • Thank you, Sean. The Washington Post has reported that the administration is considering returning these properties in Maryland and New York to Russia.  What is the reason for that? And what would the White House have to see before giving back those properties?
  • Has the President been following the Kathy Griffin meltdown? And does the family want a personal apology for the beheading photo?
  • Does the family want a personal apology from Kathy Griffin after the beheading photo?
  • Sean, it’s been a matter of curiosity in this town for a couple of days now — is the White House going to evoke executive privilege to prevent James Comey from testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week?
  • So is that — that’s not a no?
  • Two questions, Sean, one on the tax bill and one on the debt ceiling. In the Rose Garden yesterday, the President said something about our tax bill is moving along in Congress very well. We’ve heard something about a bill being drafted in House Ways and Means. Is that what he was talking about? Or what tax bill was he referring to?
  • And then on the debt ceiling, we’ve been getting some mixed messages from administration officials on whether you’d like to see a clean debt bill or whether you’d be — can you explain what the President’s feeling is on whether he’d like to see riders attached on a decrease in spending or whatever? What is his feeling?
  • Thanks, Sean. Two questions. Number one, when we heard the Administrator talk about this decision on the Paris Climate Accord he said it’s not a signal that the U.S. wants to disengage on climate policy. So what are the steps that the administration is taking to engage internationally on climate?
  • And on China? The relationship with China, the point of cooperation — have you guys given some thought to how you’ll manage? Because the model was, you manage tensions with China as the U.S. government by having areas of cooperation, and this was previously an area of cooperation. There’s obviously other areas that the White House is working on now with China, but do you envision some other cooperation on the area of climate with the Chinese government?
  • Thank you, Sean. In a recent statement by Senator McCain, he said that Vladimir Putin is a greater threat to the United States — security of the U.S. than ISIS. Has the President had any conversation with you about that comment?
  • Sean, thank you. Secretary Mnuchin has said that he wants the debt ceiling raised before the August recess, that we’re going to run out of money by then.  This morning — he wants it clean as well. This morning, Gary Cohn said that the administration was willing to do whatever with Congress to get it passed before August, and the Freedom Caucus has said they want spending cuts. So what does this look like? It doesn’t sound as if the Treasury Secretary is going to get a clean bill. What is the administration willing to take as far as spending cuts to get the debt ceiling raised?
  • Sean, could you tell me, how is the President dealing with the fact that there are several mayors — many mayors — from a bipartisan group, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who are against the President’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement? How does this President move forward with what he’s saying about making coal great again and taking the — walking away from the economics of clean energy, and then walking out of Paris, when you have mayors who are saying, we’re going to continue with the Paris Agreement?
  •   — bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic mayors who are very upset by this.
  • Okay. And last topic — there are a number of reports on hate crimes. Nooses have been found at the museum — the new museum the President toured, the African American History and Culture Museum. And also there was a very negative word, one of the worst that you could say, spray-painted on LeBron James’s home. What is the President saying about this? Specifically, people are saying over the last 130-plus days people are feeling that there has been a divide that is perpetuated from this White House. 
  • Thank you. Did Secretary of State Rex Tillerson endorse withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement?
  • We were told he wasn’t at the announcement yesterday.
  • Can you clarify the nature of the conversations that Jared Kushner had with Russian officials and a banker in December? And what was the date of the meeting with the banker?
  • But how can you not answer questions about it when the President himself tweets about it?
  • Thanks. Firstly, noting that you’re not responding to any of those questions — if you guys are actually finding a new spokespeople or people who will respond to this, that would be helpful. Two things.  Do you have any update on the search for the FBI director?
  • And you said you haven’t talked to the President yet about whether he still believes if climate change is a hoax. Can you — would it be possible for you to have that conversation with him and then report back to us at the next briefing?
  • Even though Administrator Pruitt can’t say where the President stands on climate change, does it mean that members of his administration helped the President make this decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord without knowing where the President stands, without knowing whether or not he thinks climate change is real?
  • Sean, we know that the President heard a lot of points of view on this on both sides of the issue, and there was an impression — maybe a false impression — that it was a difficult decision and that he was wavering. In the end, though, yesterday, he was emphatic about getting out of the agreement. In the end, was this an easy decision, or was it a close decision?
  • One other thing. There’s a lot of talk about renegotiation. Why renegotiate?  The United States has the authority to simply reduce the targets. Why not just do that?
  • Sean, the President signed a waiver yesterday that delays a campaign promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem. I know you said that this was to not hinder any sort of peace deal. But how confident can his supporters be that this is a campaign promise that he’s going to keep?
  • But he promised in the campaign to do it on day one. I mean, is there a time frame now for when he will do this?
  • Thank you, Sean. Following up on Kaitlan’s question, — and I have a second thing after that — is it still the administration’s position, though, that Jared Kushner was in the meeting with the Russian banker as a representative of the transition, representing the President?
  •  Well, something you may be able to answer directly, does the President still have confidence in Jared Kushner?
  • Thank you, Sean. One of the ethics waivers the White House released applied to all White House appointees concerning discussions with the news media was retroactive. Was that aimed as — did the White House have Steve Bannon’s communication with Breitbart News in mind? Was that applied retroactively to address those communications? And any response to Director Shaub’s claim that if you (inaudible) retroactively you have violated the rule?
  • Are you going home early? (Laughter.)

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TOWOIT #135

May 31, 2017… Day 132

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Sean Spicer’s briefing was listed on C-Span as Audio Only. Then it had the little “Live” button next to it but when you clicked on it, it said “Program Unavailable” which is not normal.

Then there was a headline that the White House asked outlets not to broadcast it live but said it would be available at some point. That was a real departure. A few outlets broadcast it live anyway, but some of them had weird things like the Veteran Affairs guy on camera, but then it cuts to just a picture of Sean Spicer, like there’s going to be audio, but the audio is only 12 minutes of elevator music.

Then on youtube I found the briefing, which was very weird. Very weird. All questions on Russia will now be addressed to the President’s private lawyer.

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And “covfefe”? That was intentional, not a typo. This caused howling and laughing and exclamations of “WHAT??” from the reporters. They were calling out, “What does it mean?” and “What is covfefe?” and “Why did it stay up so long?”

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Most of the questions were about the Paris climate accord, but there was also a question about how Ted Nugent called for Obama to be killed and then got invited to the White House by Trump. Sean, incredibly wearily, was just like “Yeah, I don’t know anything about Ted Nugent saying that.” And then you hear April Ryan’s stern voice, “Ted Nugent did say that, Sean.” He was already moving along to the next question he wouldn’t really answer.

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Later, the briefing was removed altogether from the C-Span agenda for today, including the Veteran Affairs part of the briefing, which was weird. And then over on the White House website, a transcript of the Veteran Affairs part of the briefing was there, but it was like the Sean Spicer part of the briefing never existed.

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Maybe Christians shouldn’t be allowed to hold office. You know, until we can figure out what’s going on.

 

 

 

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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TOWOIT #116

May 12, 2017… Day 113

H.R. McMaster came in and yelled at the reporters during the White House Press Briefing. He sounded just like Flynn putting Iran on notice. I don’t know why McMaster wants to mess with his reputation like that. He’s part of the propaganda machine now.

I don’t want to forget, in light of this Comey madness (more madness today), that Jeff Sessions is a total disaster as Attorney General for other reasons. Harsher drug sentencing, and the lack of sympathy for the victims of police brutality — this guy is racist as fuck. As one headline said, this guy is going to fill prisons one way or another.

Tillerson signed a trans-Arctic agreement emphasizing the need for action on climate change, even as the Trump administration is still mulling over withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

Chris Stirewalt, writing for Fox News online today:

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And in another Fox News piece, this one by John Moody, there’s this:

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The first piece is harshly critical of Trump. The second is much much kinder, the paragraph I just clipped notwithstanding. But the second piece seems to be offering Trump a narrative. The title is “Does Donald Trump Want to be President?” It’s laced with Trump flattery and is a sweetly persuasive argument for why it would be better for Trump, and make total sense, if he just bowed out now and let Pence take over. It would still be a success. It would be the best win!

Also, on the Fox News TV channel today they were going full bore on the Comey story. Earlier in the week, they were pretending like it was barely happening.

Vanity Fair included Fox in its rundown of media responses yesterday:

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This morning, a conservative financial blog casually (and straight-facedly) ran the numbers of what they predicted the markets would do if Trump resigned (answer: a 3-5% bump!). One guy at work said he bet that Trump would resign BY MONDAY. Everyone laughed at him, but still. Also, for what it’s worth, the moderate Republicans at work have started throwing around the word “impeachment.”

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Today is also the day that Trump suggested there were tapes of his conversations with Comey, and told Comey (via tweet) to watch his mouth when talking to the press.

Comey declined to testify to Congress next week. But then it seeped out later that he wanted to testify in public, not in a closed door session. Also that he said he HOPED there were tapes. Cause that’d be perfect.

Bunch of stuff with Paul Manafort and his finances. Bunch of stuff with Trump’s finances. Stupid “certified letter” regarding Trump’s financial ties to Russia. The Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit agreed to hand over financial information on Trump.

Questions the reporters asked Sean Spicer today:

  • Moving on to the news of the week, really, and the day, did President Trump record his conversations with former FBI Director Comey?
  • His tweet.
  • Why did he say that? Why did he tweet that? What should we interpret from that?
  • Are there recording devices in the Oval Office or in the residence?
  • Does he think it’s appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?
  •  If I could quote another one of the President’s tweets this morning, he said “Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democrat excuse for losing the election.” What did the President mean by that? How specifically is the U.S. tearing itself apart over all of this?
  • I understand all that, but — you’ve said that many times. But how is the U.S. “tearing itself apart” over this?
  • Do you think this is what the Russians wanted all along in interfering with the election?
  • Sean, in the dinner that the President had with James Comey earlier in January, did the President implore him to pledge his loyalty to the President? Is that true?
  • Did that happen? That did not happen?
  • How important is it that the FBI director be loyal to the President? Is that a quality the President wants to see in anyone, particularly his FBI director?
  • Thanks, Sean. On the dinner with James Comey, does anyone in this White House have an audio recording of what unfolded during the January 27th dinner between the former FBI director and the President of the United States?
  • I have one follow-up question for you. What can the administration do better when it comes to communication? Today the President tweeted out that he felt from behind that podium it’s not always possible to present the information with “perfect accuracy.”
  • Is the President considering cancelling the daily press briefings?
  • Can I ask you one final logistical question? On the original question I had about the dinner on January 27th with James Comey, the President wasn’t clear during the NBC interview who invited the FBI director to the White House at that time. How many invitations did the White House send to Director James Comey after January 20th and before the director was fired?
  • Thanks, Sean. I have a question about the Turkish President’s visit next week. He recently called — President Erdogan called for Muslims to rush the Temple Mount. Considering the President has said he’s a mediator for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, what is his response to that? And then I have another question.
  • Are those comments helpful from the Turkish President?
  • My other question is, is the discussion about the refugee crisis, which is fueling problems in Europe — the President has talked about refugees being a problem in the United States and terrorists hiding refugees — or refugees hiding in the — terrorists hiding in the refugee stream, excuse me. Is he going to talk about that with Arab leaders specifically when he visits Saudi Arabia? Or is that not something that he’s willing to bring up to those leaders?
  • But in Saudi Arabia specifically?
  • Thanks a lot, Sean. In that interview that the President conducted yesterday with NBC, he indicated and confirmed that on three separate occasions he asked the director of the FBI, and received assurances from the FBI, that he was not under investigation by the FBI. Why was the President seemingly so consumed by this that he would ask that question on three separate occasions?
  • I would appreciate you getting back to me. And as far as asking that question, did the President ask the White House Counsel whether it would be appropriate to ask such a question, given that it was against, generally, Justice Department guidelines to indicate whether or not investigations are ongoing against any individual, let alone one at the White House?
  • Did the White House Counsel —
  • General McMaster mentioned that, on the trip, the President is going to be raising the issue of religious persecution with the Pope. And I wanted to ask you about a case in the last week, in Indonesia, where a Christian governor in the state of Jakarta was imprisoned for two years for blaspheming the Quran.  Does the President find that case troubling? Does he plan to say anything —
  • Thanks, Sean. I just want to clear up a point on Jeff’s question. I’m hoping you can answer this in a yes-or-no fashion. Is the President of the United States currently recording conversations taking place in the Oval Office?
  • And I wanted to follow up. Since you were involved in this on Tuesday night as well, giving a blanket answer and saying at the time that it was all him regarding Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, why did you come out with information that was later contradicted by the President two days later? Can you explain the tick-tock? When were you brought in? Who else was involved?  Why were the American people given incorrect information that night?
  • Sean, I wanted to follow up on that real briefly. What you said Tuesday doesn’t match what the President was laying out yesterday, in the interview yesterday. Can you walk through why the discrepancy in terms of whose decision this was?
  • Okay, well, did he —
  • Sean, let me ask you about the way forward as it relates to who the President might nominate to be the FBI director. Where does that process stand right now? How many people have been interviewed? Does the President hope to wrap this up before he goes overseas?
  • Sean, Sarah was talking the other day about how somebody, not necessarily being political in that role — if somebody has been a member of Congress, past or present, does that count as an automatic disqualifier as somebody who might be —
  • And lastly, does the President still have — the other day someone asked, does the President have confidence in Andrew McCabe? After the testimony on Capitol Hill the other day, is that still the case? He is the acting director at this moment.
  • Yesterday, Sarah told us that the President expects that the FBI investigation will be wrapped up with integrity — that’s what the White House wants. Today, the President tweeted and called it a “witch hunt.” How does tweeting and calling it a “witch hunt” help wrap that investigation up with integrity?
  • And secondly, I talked to a former FBI official today who said that the President’s tweet, the implicit threat to former FBI Director James Comey, indicates that the President, in his words, is simply “out of control.” I’d like to get you to respond to that. Is he?
  • Thank you, Sean. Two questions about the FBI director selection process. You said the names are coming from the Justice Department right now. Is the President consulting with Democratic congressional leaders, as well, or Republican congressional leaders on this? Or is he just getting names out of DOJ?
  • Now, I know that you said you’re not disqualifying anyone on this. You also know there has been considerable mention in the last 24 hours of former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers as the new FBI director.  Does the President have a meeting planned this weekend with Congressman Rogers?
  • I had a couple questions about the President’s remarks to NBC about General Flynn. He said that it wasn’t an emergency, or he didn’t think it was an emergency and that’s why the firing, dismissal didn’t happen right away. So I had a couple questions about that. Why didn’t he think it was an emergency?  And was it because of the messenger? Was it because information came from Sally Yates, who you called an opponent — I think a political opponent of the President? Or is because Don McGahn downplayed the situation? Can you explain what he meant by that? And I have a follow-up.
  • Okay, so then two follow-ups. One, I’m still unclear, and you’ve mentioned this several times, why did it take so long for the White House to get those documents?
  • Is the White House asking?  You couldn’t go get the documents?
  • Is it because she was fired, though, in between?
  • Just explain to us then a little bit, when you compare these two situations with General Flynn and Director Comey, the memo came one day and he was fired that day. That was the review process. And General Flynn was 18 days. That’s a huge difference. Why was one so fast when one was 18 days?
  • Sean, in the tweet about Director Comey, he said — the President says that he “better be careful before he goes leaking to the press.” Yesterday, on NBC News, the President called him a showboat and a grandstander. Does the White House acknowledge that Director Comey has a First Amendment right to speak to the press if he so chooses to set the record straight about any of this, instead of just leaking? It may not be leaking, it may just be his First Amendment right to speak to the press.
  • Okay, and a follow-up. Just in terms of the FBI being in disarray, also the President’s comments, is he concerned that if he continues like this it could jeopardize morale at the FBI instead of actually kind of correcting a problem that he obviously observes there?
  • I want to ask you — President Trump seemed to rely on James Clapper this morning when he tweeted that virtually he and everyone else with knowledge of the “witch hunt” says there’s no collusion. James Clapper himself today told Andrea Mitchell, “I don’t know if there was collusion or not. I don’t know if there’s evidence of collusion or not, nor should I.” On March 5th on “Meet the Press,” when he was asked a similar question, he said, “Not to my knowledge.” So can you describe the discrepancy and explain it?
  • No, between Director Clapper’s comments and President Trump — why is he leaning on Clapper when he said “I have no knowledge” of whether there was collusion?
  • He said he hasn’t been briefed. He said he wouldn’t know because he hasn’t been briefed on the investigation.
  • He was very clear today that — he said, “Nor should I have in this particular context.” He made the case that he’s not briefed on an FBI investigation, that that’s not his purview.
  • But at one point was — he wouldn’t know, right? That there has been no final conclusion. And the President seemed to indicate that there was —
  • The President doesn’t believe that there’s been a final conclusion made about this investigation, right? There’s an ongoing investigation. He’s not making that argument, is he?  
  • His argument is he wants to move forward with the investigation. But I want to move on to just one other question.
  • But the comments are not mutually exclusive, Sean. He’s saying he wasn’t — (inaudible) — “it’s not surprising or abnormal that I would not have known about the investigation or the context of the investigation.”
  • Let’s talk very quickly about the accuracy tweet.
  • He wasn’t saying he wasn’t sure. He said he wasn’t briefed. But moving on to the accuracy tweet.
  • No, but I just am interested in the discrepancy and drawing a final conclusion on the part of the President.
  • No, on the part of the President, drawing a final conclusion about the investigation. In terms of the accuracy tweet, should we take that tweet to mean that you don’t have the full picture when you stand at that podium?
  • Can I — Sean, can I actually pick up there if you don’t mind?
  • So I wanted to ask you about the One Belt, One Road Summit that starts on Sunday in China. You announced yesterday, or Secretary Ross did, that you’re going to send a delegation to that summit. Can you talk about how you came to that conclusion, why it’s important for the U.S. to be represented at what’s ostensibly a major trade initiative by a foreign country?
  • Is the intended signal that the U.S. is going to participate in the One Belt, One Road initiative?
  • Two questions — the first on loyalty and the next one on the visit to the FBI headquarters. So this President does value loyalty. Was there any sort of — before you were hired, any sort of request or hint that you pledge personal loyalty to him at all before you were hired?
  • Is it true that the President was warned that he might not be well-received at the FBI headquarters if he were to visit it?

TOWOIT #112

May 8, 2017… Day 109

The many dubious facial expressions of White House reporter Kristen Welker. (She’s saying “So that didn’t give him pause?” about Obama warning Trump about Flynn. Later she tried to nail down whether or not the Trump administration actually vetted Flynn at all, but Sean Spicer cut her off and moved to another reporter instead of answering.)

I saw these two maps this morning. One was robots and the other was racism.

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Red = Most racist places in the U.S.

I think the “adopt-a-district” thing is funny. If a Republican voted for AHCA and won’t do a town hall over recess, then a Democrat from a nearby congressional district will come over and do a town hall on his or her behalf. And explain the whole thing to their constituents. Whoops.

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Of course, sometimes when Republicans humiliate themselves, they humiliate all of us:

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Today was Sally Yates day. She gave as good as she got, especially when Cornyn, Cruz and Kennedy tried to explain the law to her and told her they were disappointed in her. Like the Comey hearings, the Democrats asked important national security questions about Russian interference and collusion–the Republicans just wanted to know who leaked stuff out to the newspapers. One thing we learned today (or had confirmed) was that if it weren’t for the Washington Post reporting, Flynn could still be in his position. Because the White House only cared once it became important to seem like they cared. We also learned this morning, before the hearing, that Obama specifically told Trump not to hire Flynn. Sean Spicer passed it off as Obama just being petty because Flynn knew too much about Obama’s faults.

13 judges are hearing the revised travel ban case this week.

The Trump administration is “huddling” on the Paris Climate Accord.

Something that came out in the White House Press Briefing: We’re 30 days into the 90-day commission on fighting opioid abuse… and the Trump administration hasn’t named anyone TO the commission yet. Sean Spicer said he would look into it.

Questions they asked Sean Spicer today:

Continue reading TOWOIT #112

TOWOIT #105

May 1, 2017… Day 102

Glenn Thrush to Sean Spicer today:

First of all, you just described Kim Jong-un as somebody who led his country forward at an early age. The President has invited Duterte, who, as Annie pointed out, has talked about assassinating journalists. The President put out a statement after Erdogan won his referendum congratulating him. He said kind things about Putin during the campaign, said kind things about Saddam Hussein.

Does the President have a thing with these totalitarian leaders? 

May Day. Everyone in my office got out of downtown early. I’m sorry I missed the Aztec dancers, and I especially hope these kids are feeling good and empowered about their day:

I was feeling bad for not treating May Day like any other resistance event. I’ve marched for Black Lives Matter, for the catch-all women’s march, for science, for climate, for immigrants and refugees. How is this not just another in the sequence? Just because it’s entrenched in my pre-45 brain and starts to get violent as night falls, that doesn’t mean the daytime peaceful marches aren’t important.

Looking at the #MayDaySea hashtag, I’m seeing a lot of this:

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In other news, I started listening to the second season of Politically Re-active today (getting over my anger at the hosts for supporting and normalizing Jill Stein as a viable ballot option). Hari and Kamau are interviewing the social and racial justice leaders that I need to be listening to, so I’m going to pretend I don’t know what I know about 2016. We’ll see how it goes.

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You might not be able to tell from these questions, but at the press briefing today, a) there was more shouting and bids for attention from the reporters throughout the questioning, b) Sean Spicer was especially salty and curt in not allowing follow-ups, and c) as Sean left the room someone yelled “WHAT ABOUT THE CIVIL WAR??!! WHAT ABOUT THE PRESIDENT’S COMMENTS ON THE CIVIL WAR??!!” and then when the door slammed shut behind Sean Spicer, another reporter started to cackle maniacally.

  • Thank you very much. So I wanted to go back to the comments that the President made this weekend on “Face the Nation” on healthcare regarding preexisting conditions. He said specifically that the bill he wants to sign would “mandate” the preexisting conditions be covered. Can you talk us through a little bit of what he meant there? Was he referring to something he wants to push to include in the bill? Was he talking about the language that’s already in there?
  • How does he ensure, though, that those people actually are treated affordably?  I mean, there was an estimate from AARP that if you’re looking just at the high-risk pool, the premiums can be as high as over $25,000 for somebody. What is he doing to ensure that that doesn’t happen?
  • Couple things for you, Sean, if I could. First of all, what do you say to conservatives who feel like they didn’t get a whole lot out of this spending bill?  There was no money for the wall, no cuts to sanctuary cities, funding for Planned Parenthood was maintained. What do you say to those conservatives?
  • But clearly, he did give up on some things.
  • And the other — I had, on the pending visit of Duterte from the Philippines.  Chris Coons said that the President is giving his stamp of approval to human rights abuses. Governor John Sununu, on the other hand, said this is part of the unpleasant things that Presidents have to do. What’s the White House’s perspective on Duterte and him coming here?
  • I wanted to ask you about the tax deductions. The White House has talked a little bit about that as a way to curb big tax breaks for the rich. Are you looking at any other policy changes when it comes to limiting breaks for the top 1 percent?
  • On healthcare, there seems to be a new optimism from the White House. How confident is the President that he will get a healthcare bill past the House this week?
  • On North Korea, today the President told Bloomberg he was open to meeting with Kim Jong-un if the conditions were right. How does the President define the right condition to have this meeting?
  • Thanks, Sean. Picking up on healthcare, it’s believed possibly that you might be down — Republicans might be down to maybe just a handful of votes away.  Here we are at 2:00 p.m. Monday afternoon. Is this the closest that you think you’ve gotten? I know you don’t want to talk about timelines, but is this as close to maybe getting to that magic 216 number that you’ve talked about?
  • Dodd-Frank — the President just gave an interview in which he said, “I am looking at that right now.” He goes on to say “There’s some people that want to go back to the old system, right, so we’re going to look at that,” meaning potentially breaking up the banks. So breaking up the banks, going back to Glass-Steagall, is that something that he’s just looking at, or is that something that is a preference of his at this point?
  • Thanks, Sean. So you’re saying that you’re not confident that the votes are lined up behind the healthcare bill. So this morning when Gary Cohn said that the bill was ready to be brought to the floor, did Gary Cohn misspeak?
  • Thanks, Sean. The President on the campaign trail raised alarm about federal debt and deficits. His spending bill get us through the end of the fiscal year doesn’t include any of the offsets really that the President requested in this year’s budget. Is the President — will the President sign this agreement that does increase the federal deficit?
  • He called for keeping that balance, essentially keeping —
  • On President Duterte, he made comments when asked about press freedom, he said that journalists are not exempt from assassination. Did the President know about those comments and about his record on human rights when he extended the invitation for him to visit the White House?
  • I wanted to ask you about the future of Sebastian Gorka. Can you tell us why he’s leaving the White House?
  • Thank you, Sean. I have a healthcare and Israel question. On healthcare, when the President talks about a guarantee for preexisting conditions, current law says insurance companies have to sell to people with preexisting conditions, and they can’t charge them more than someone else in that area. Is that the guarantee that the President wants?
  • Right, but people with preexisting conditions would continue to get access but not at the same price as other people.
  • Right. But high-risk pools could still charge them much more.
  • The President turned to Bibi Netanyahu at that press conference and famously said, settlements are not helpful. Israel is going to build 15,000 new homes in East Jerusalem. Does he think that Netanyahu is snubbing him?
  • Is he aware of that?
  • Thank you, Sean. I wanted to ask about some news the President made this morning in an interview that he conducted with Bloomberg. In that interview, he talked about the possibility of raising gas taxes to pay for infrastructure spending. Of course, the President has put forward the idea of a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending plan. Can you talk a little bit more about this possibility of raising gas taxes?
  • As it relates to this idea that the gas tax in America hasn’t been raised for some time, what makes the President believe that now is the time that Republicans who have been opposed to this idea would be open to this idea?
  • You have not foreclosed this possibility of raising —
  • I have two questions, one foreign policy and one on domestic politics. First, last Wednesday, the Kremlin outlawed the Open Russia movement, the premier opposition group to the ruling regime in Russia. And the following day, security forces were forcibly closing down Open Russia’s office in Moscow and other places. Does the administration have a statement on this?
  • All right. My second question is, on Sunday, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a 14-term veteran of the House, past Chairman of the House, foreign affairs committee, announced her retirement. Her statement comes on the heels of a similar announcement by Congressman Chaffetz, and before that, only a few weeks ago, Lynn Jenkins of Kansas. That’s three respected Republican House members all calling it quits. Is the President concerned about the number of Republican House members who do not want to be on the ballot next time and are leaving Congress?
  • Sean, the President opted not to continue Obama’s tradition of holding an Easter prayer breakfast, but he is holding a National Day of Prayer event. Was that a scheduling issue, or did he think — what was the thought process there?
  • Thanks, Sean. Back to Glass-Steagall for a second. As you can imagine, the President’s comments today are getting a lot of attention on Wall Street, so can we be just very clear about this — does the President favor breaking up the big banks?
  • — take any steps toward that behind the scenes that we’re not aware of?
  •  Thanks, Sean. So the lack of border wall funding raises a question of just how serious the President is about getting the border wall constructed. Is it not urgent? Is it not an emergency anymore to build this barrier? What is the timetable and deadline that he has in mind?
  • So it will be built. Is there a time certain? Is there a deadline by the 2018? By?

  • Coming back to North Korea, the President didn’t just say he would be open to meeting with Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances.  He said he would be “honored” to meet with him. This is somebody who has starved his own people, somebody who has threatened to destroy the United States. Just last week he put out a video showing the Capitol getting destroyed by North Korea fighters. How could he be “honored” to meet with Kim Jong-un?
  • How could that be an honor?
  • What did he mean when he called him one smart cookie or a pretty smart cookie?

  • Sean, on North Korea and then on Philippines.  On North Korea, both of the President’s comment on Kim Jong-un and what Secretary Tillerson said, you seem to be making the offer that we could have direct talks with North Korea.  Who is going to be leading those?
  • Is that the White House?
  • But who would lead that? Is that the White House or the State Department?
  • And on the Philippines, when you have been asked about President Duterte and his human rights record, you continue to say the effort here is to isolate the Philippines from the North Korea, part of this coalition to isolate North Korea.
  • Are you suggesting that the Philippines has some sort of inappropriate contact with North Korea? Are you suggesting that we are requesting greater access perhaps to their military bases? What is it exactly —
  • Are you suggesting now that they are trading or conducting some kind of financial transactions —
  • When you say economic piece, that’s what I just want to clarify —
  • Sean, two quick, related questions. First of all, you just described Kim Jong-un as somebody who led his country forward at an early age. The President has invited Duterte, who, as Annie pointed out, has talked about assassinating journalists. The President put out a statement after Erdogan won his referendum congratulating him. He said kind things about Putin during the campaign, said kind things about Saddam Hussein. Does the President have a thing with these totalitarian leaders? Does he admire something about the way these guys conduct themselves?
  • What about this whole package —
  • One follow-up question. On Sunday, Chief of Staff Priebus, talking to this gentleman right here, said, with respect to the libel laws and the First Amendment, talking about news outlets that printed false articles, “I think it’s something that we’ve looked at. How that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story.” Is that a project that is currently being worked on by the counsel’s office? Can you just tell me the status of that? Who is pursuing that?
  • Is the counsel actually investigating this?
  • Sean, two questions. One on — just to clarify on North Korea, were those conditions that you laid out to the earlier question, are those the conditions that would have to be met before there was any meeting — i.e. that North Korea would have to agree to totally disarm its nuclear program, stop threatening their neighbors? Are those the conditions?
  • Sean, on a separate subject. The chief executives of United Airlines will be on the Hill tomorrow. Is the President at all — does the President think that Congress should pass any laws after the incident last month where the passenger was dragged off? Should there be some — should there be more done to protect passengers on airplanes from those type of incidents?
  • Thanks. I just want to ask you to clarify something else the President said. He said, “I don’t stand by anything.” How is the American public supposed to digest that, supposed to trust what the President says when he himself says of his own comments “I don’t stand by anything”?
  • Just in this CBS interview with John Dickerson in the Oval Office.
  • About wiretapping.
  • It was about wiretapping. He was asked to — if he still believes President Obama is a bad or evil guy, do you still stand by those comments, and the President said “I don’t stand by anything.”  
  • Sean, I have two questions on the Philippines. First, is President Trump comfortable with the leader’s support of extrajudicial killings of drug users in the country?
  • But what —
  • Sean, I have a second question, if you don’t mind.
  • Looking at — there are three open patents with the Philippines government, one from Trump trying to get the Trump patented to — from Ivanka Trump for her clothing line. How do you respond to concerns about potential conflicts of interest with the leader of the Philippines?
  •  I just want to clarify something you said to Zeke. Is there a possibility that the President would not sign this spending agreement?
  • Are you still on track to issue the full fiscal year ’18 budget? Is it mid-May, or do you have a date for that?
  • Thanks, Sean. Just wanted to first ask what your expectation and what’s your hope for the meeting with President Abbas on Wednesday? And secondly, is the President still considering moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and will that be discussed?
  • Abbas.
  • The first question is your expectations going forward. What’s the hope from this.
  • Sean, quick follow-up on infrastructure. The President has been talking about a major infrastructure package for more than a year and in the campaign, but it doesn’t seem very clear right now what the mechanism is for the construction of whatever it is that he wants to push forward. He talked about maybe attaching it to the reconciliation package for healthcare. He talked about maybe doing that with the tax package. Can you update us on — is that still very preliminary in its invention? Does he have clear ideas? And what’s the mechanism and timing to get that done?
  • This year?

 

 

 

 

 

TOWOIT #103

April 29, 2017… Day 100

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As Jon Lovett said last night, if Trump’s term were a marathon, we haven’t even run 2 miles yet. Uggghh.

I’m glad the climate march was robust in Washington, D.C….

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… because it was real sad in Seattle.

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Not just because the crowd was small. But because the crowd was subdued and because at least half the speakers seemed like guilting activists with bad and conflicting information. Come on. I hate that.

I was at the office early, trying to catch up stuff. I was planning to join the march but I thought there would be more of a milling around period at the start before the marching began. When I went to look down in the direction of the starting point, all I saw was eight people with signs slipping around the corner onto Fourth Avenue. I went over to the other side of the building and saw the tail end of the crowd, heading up the canyon between buildings. I’d already been alone way up in that building all morning, so it was a lonely feeling. My people were disappearing up the street and they just looked kind of sad. Collectively sad.

I went downstairs and fell in with the stragglers on the sidewalk. More stragglers joined us. People honked in support and yelled “Thanks for marching!” out the window at us. We eventually caught up with everyone, loosely pooled down at Westlake Center.

One thing I appreciated was that it was the first time in “the resistance” that I’ve seen a certain demographic rise to prominence: Old white guys. Old white guys, I rag on you all the time. But when you showed up today you showed up for all of us, so thank you.

And some old white guys in training:

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But yeah, it feels a little depressing:

And then there’s this:

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MEANWHILE, over in Trump world:

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Here are the questions the reporters asked Sean Spicer on the press gaggle en route to Atlanta on Air Force One yesterday:

  • Can you confirm that Senator Ted Cruz is on the plane?
  • What’s he doing?
  • Sean, what’s the status of the healthcare effort?
  • There’s no vote —
  • Sean, obviously, the President tomorrow night is holding this rally during the Correspondents’ Dinner. Is there any message he’s trying to send with those two things happening concurrently?
  • Can you give us an update on where things are with the spending plan? I know there was a bill for one week. But what about the long-term progress?
  • When we talked to him last night about South Korea, he mentioned the THAAD missile system. Is he going to ask the South Koreans to pay for that?
  • Can you give us an update on — there was a meeting yesterday about the Paris agreement, where things stand. What’s the state-of-play in the White House on that?
  • When will they do that?
  • Can you talk more about the NRA and the speech? About the NRA, about the forum, about his relationship with the NRA or about firearms policy, about guns? Anything?
  • Is he going to thank — that kind of speech, where he’s thanking —
  • Conceal and carry?
  • — his own views about guns? His sons are hunters.
  • Sean, what about the trip to Israel?  Is that something that you guys can firm up?
  • And what are the other options? Rome, Israel, Saudi?
  • (Inaudible) some things about FEMA director. Is that coming soon?

 

TOWOIT #101

April 27… Day 98

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Questions they asked Sean Spicer today:

  • Sean, what changes in NAFTA does the President hope to achieve through renegotiation?
  • Thanks, Sean. As you know, under both the Reagan and Bush administrations, concerns about tax cuts-fueled deficits were dismissed with promises of growth, and we’re hearing that same sort of rhetoric now. The deficit increased a great deal under both those administrations after the tax cuts. What’s different about the President’s plan that won’t lead to the same sort of ballooning of the deficit?
  • Thanks a lot, Sean. You may have seen the news about the Office of the Inspector General announcing that it’s launched an investigation into the payment that the former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn received prior to becoming the National Security Advisor from RT — Russia Today — which is an entity of the Russian government. What’s your reaction to that, first of all?
  • Are you satisfied with the vetting that was done of General Flynn by the transition team before he came on board as the National Security Advisor?
  • If he wasn’t fired by the President for lying to the Vice President, would he still have a job today, right here at the White House?
  • Given the progress that congressional Republicans have made on the healthcare talks, does the President want a vote on that bill this week?
  • If there’s no vote, does that mean the President won’t be disappointed?
  • Thanks, Sean. The President’s tax plan, we’re getting a little bit of mixed signals here on exactly what his vision is in terms of retirement savings. Can you lay out what the President’s vision is for 401{k}s, and particularly tax deductions surrounding those?  Does the President imagine removing those deductions entirely along with the other deductions, or is he going to protect those?
  • These tax deductions, though, of course, comes with its own group, its own lobby, its own interest group.
  • They fight very hard for these things. Are you guys prepared for a battle on all those tax deductions, eliminating all of those?  I mean, politically, that’s a big lift.
  • Just one more. Gary Cohn told us the retirement savings was protected.
  • Two on General Flynn. First, you said the Obama administration had reissued his clearance last year?
  • So is the implication there that should be taken that if the Trump administration was the one adjudicating his clearance, this year he would not have been issued that clearance, now that the White House knows everything that there is about General Flynn?
  • You’re not implying wrongdoing in the part of —
  • Finally, when you were here on February 14th, the morning after General Flynn was fired by the President, you said that the President asked him to leave the White House — the situation regarding the phone call with the Russian ambassador and the Vice President. But also “a series of other questionable instances.” I was hoping now you can provide some more information now that more — some of his financial dealings, in particular, now have come to light. Is that what led to his termination at the White House?
  • Not this —
  • To follow on a couple of things that have been brought up to you today. John’s question — not the process, but your own vet, meaning the transition — are you satisfied that that met the standard that should have been met with Michael Flynn? And then if there are any regrets that this White House has about bringing him in, knowing what you know about him now and seeing a behavior that would be plainly inconsistent with the standard that candidate Trump set during the campaign?
  • But that’s not the only question you asked Michael Flynn — it couldn’t possibly be the only you asked him.
  • As you just said to Zeke, it was not just the episode with the Russian ambassador, it was other instances. Those things have come to light. Any regret about bringing him in —
  • — to have this done and knowing what you know now did you miss something and you regret Michael Flynn in?
  • He regrets bringing him in?
  • On the question about — Gary Cohn and the Treasury Secretary left us with the implication yesterday when asked about retirement savings that they were protected. What you just said has indicated they might not be. Can you help us understand?

  • So General Flynn came in with just the Obama administration vetting, is that right, Sean?
  • Because that’s the impression you’re giving.
  • General Flynn came in and he walked through the door with just the clearance that was conducted by the Obama administration? That doesn’t make any sense.
  • I’m not the National Security Advisor. 
  • It’s a serious question.
  • And when Congressman Cummings accuses this White House of a cover-up, you say what?

  • Are there no other documents that you have at this point that could be turned over to this committee that would be relevant to this investigation?
  • Thank you. Two questions. One, does the President still feel that Mike Flynn should seek immunity?
  • But does the President?
  • And secondly, the President said he wants to start renegotiating NAFTA as soon as today. Has he notified Congress about that yet?
  • The President tweeted this morning about Puerto Rico — begin to default on their debt May 1st, pending some kind of solution.  There are millions of investors in the United States — senior citizens — who may not be aware that they hold funds within muni-bond mutual funds that expose them to a default in Puerto Rico. Is there anything the White House should do or the administration can do, one, to safeguard those senior citizens and their investments; and two, to prevent an increase in cost to states and municipalities that may have to pay more to borrow when they access the munibond market if Puerto Rico defaults?
  • I understand that the CR is different.  But if Puerto Rico defaults with or without the CR — is the administration working with Puerto Rico?
  • As the tax plan evolves and we start to get details, do you believe it is a fair question for anyone to ask how that plan personally affects the President and his family?
  • But is it a fair question to ask?
  • if middle-income Americans should feel empowered to ask how this plan affects them, why is it that Secretary Mnuchin today could not guarantee that no one in the middle class would pay more under this proposal?
  • So there is a guarantee from the White House? That’s the position of the White House right now — that middle-class American should not —

TOWOIT #100

April 26, 2017… Day 97

Obviously, should have started this string of consecutive posts on Nov. 9 instead of 3 days before the inauguration. Oh well. What’s done is done. TOWOIT is TOWOIT. I made a thing, and I call it TOWOIT.

Today there were rumors that Trump was backing out of NAFTA and then later he said “nah”

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All 100 Senators went to the White House to be briefed on the “grave” North Korea situation. People seemed genuinely confused about whether the briefing was for legitimate reasons or was  just going to turn into a pre-100-day photo op for Trump.

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Today Mnuchin and Cohn introduced the “tax reform plan” that Trump promised would come out today. It is just a high level, one-page wish list. There’s no plan there. They just say “I would never bet against Donald Trump” and “it’s going to be the biggest tax reform deal ever.” Ask them any questions at all and it just reverts immediately to “Well, we’ve got people talking to people on the hill about that…”

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“And do you think softwood lumber might get Michael Flynn’s name off the front pages?”

–White House reporter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross yesterday.

I’ve listened to yesterday’s White House Press Briefing four times now. I think it’s kind of a doozy. Here are the questions the reporters asked. The remarkable thing was how much Sean Spicer was smiling, laughing and sort of chuckle-talking like everyone in the room was preposterous except for him.Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 10.42.52 PM

  • Sean, does the White House believe that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn broke any laws in filling out his Standard Form-86 disclosure? And furthermore, why is the White House apparently stonewalling the committee on oversight and government reform on its request for some of the documents that should be in the White House’s possession on Mr. Flynn?
  • Well, in the letter that Marc Short — and I know that SF-86 was referred to the DIA, and apparently —
  • Well, I know — but they were referred to the DIA for the SF-86, and apparently they have gained access to that document. But there were other documents that should be in the White House’s possession that Marc Short, in the letter to the committee, said the White House can’t provide because of its sensitive nature.  It also said that there were no documents that were available prior to the 20th.
  • But I also ask the question: Does the White House believe that Lieutenant General Flynn might have broken the law when he filled out the SF-86?
  • So was it the sheer volume of it, or —
  • Sean, is it your position that during the transition, the Trump transition has no custodial possession of any of these documents that Flynn filled out as part of a process to become the President’s National Security Advisor? I mean, what you seem to be suggesting is an arms’ length relationship.
  • Okay.  So —
  • Right. I’m just trying to find out from your perspective, is there no obligation either from the transition or the White House to do anything more than you have done or has been done in this matter?
  • How about these calls made when he was working during the transition on behalf of a future President Trump? Aren’t those things that you should have some either responsibility or obligation to provide if you can?
  • Those calls were made on behalf of the Trump transition, were they not?
  • When he was in the — I mean —
  • Yes, but he was working for the transition. And I’m saying, is there any obligation you have —
  •  — the delivery of those documents?
  • But you’re acting as if you had no custodial responsibility of your own transition. That’s all I’m trying to —
  • He wasn’t making calls as a private citizen. He was making them as a future National Security Advisor.
  • Two weeks ago, when General Flynn’s attorney wrote to the Senate Intelligence Committee suggesting some sort of immunity deal for General Flynn, I asked you a question about whether the White House would be invoking executive privilege, and your response at that time was, no, we have no problem with General Flynn testifying, he’s free to do so, we won’t be invoking any type of privilege. Does that also apply to any documents that the White House may have related to General Flynn’s service, the short service as the National Security Advisor to the President, and the time in which he served in the transition period as an advisor to the President-elect?
  • What about prior to his service at the White House?
  • And the overall issue of privilege, would you be open to —
  • Sean, generally speaking, within the Trump administration, how important is it for the President that everyone working for this administration is honest on their security clearance forms?
  • Do you know if the President is aware of the comments that were made by the House Oversight Chairman today? And does he agree at all with the assertion that it seems as though General Flynn was not in compliance with the law?
  • Does the White House consider Mike Flynn’s payment from Russia today to be a payment from a foreign government?
  • YOUR White House, does THIS White House consider a payment from Russia today to be a payment from a foreign government?
  • If it was to happen today, do you consider that to be a payment from a foreign government?
  • If someone took money from Russia today — today —
  • To follow up on that, why didn’t he — why wasn’t he more closely vetted during the transition period?
  •  — the White House and the Trump transition team should have known about this before they were having him come to the White House.
  • I have two questions, but I want to follow up on that. So you’re saying that it’s a problem with the process of vetting — the vetting process, and not —
  • I do want ask you really quickly about the wall. Yesterday, President Trump reportedly said that he’s going to delay pushing the wall through. And so can you just clarify what the status of that is — what’s happening, when?
  • So it’s delayed for now?
  • So use that partial funding —
  • Can I ask a follow-up on healthcare? The President has threatened to withhold cost-sharing payments from insurance companies. So is that still the case?
  • So just to follow up on the two, three topics — the wall and on — first, on the wall, I just want to be clear — so is the President no longer insisting that there is money for the wall in this current appropriations bill?
  • So the President is not insisting that he has money for actual construction of the wall in this current bill?
  • And the actual construction can wait until the fall?
  • Before you start construction.
  • And on Michael Flynn, does the President feel that he was misled by General Flynn?
  • But does he now feel that he also wasn’t straight with him in the beginning during —
  • At the time he made that decision, he said he was the victim of a media witch hunt and said he was a good man that had been a victim of —
  • — a witch hunt.  Does he still feel that?  Or is —
  • Thank you, Sean. Two questions:  Last night the President said — and some have reported it — some pretty sensational charges about the Iran treaty.  We know he’s called it the worst agreement in history, and the worst he ever saw himself. But he also said that at the time of the treaty, the government in Iran was on the verge of collapsing. And that is something I don’t believe that has ever been reported before. He also said that the unfrozen assets — the billions were not used to fund terrorists, but they were in Swiss bank accounts.  Is this based on intelligence reports he’s received or other information?
  • I had a second question.
  • Okay. On General Flynn, anyone who is at his level and some levels below undergoes an investigation by the FBI with a final report. Was the President ever given a final security report by the FBI on General Flynn?
  • If you could just talk a little bit more about the overall efforts that the administration is making. We note the United Nations meetings yesterday. Now you’ve got an upcoming meeting with Congress. Are you as an administration trying to get a coalition together to build a stronger diplomatic case around actions against Pyongyang?
  • How would you characterize the administration’s overall strategy on the DPRK?
  •  — strategy on Wednesday when you have the meeting with the senators?
  • Will you be able to articulate that strategy and put a finer point on it for the senators?
  • Well, you —
  •  — it’s YOUR administration —
  •  — characterize it as you presenting your strategy to the U.S. Senate?
  • — the strategy will be articulated then?
  • So the senators should not expect —
  • Thanks, Sean. How long would you reasonably expect the government to take to be fully staffed with essential personnel to draft, negotiate, and implement complicated policies like tax reform, and put forward something that’s a little bit more meaty than just broad principles?
  • But what progress have agencies been able to make in carrying out the executive orders that the President has put forward? Because today is actually the deadline for the regulatory reform offices to be in place. How many of those are there?
  • Thanks, Sean. Staying on taxes for a minute, can you give us a sense — the President said he’s going to present this plan tomorrow. Can you give us a sense of what we’re going to see and when we’re going to see it?
  • Just a bit of color. The President, on Friday, when he announced that it was going to happen on Wednesday, aides here at the White House and over at Treasury seemed a little bit surprised to find out that this was coming as early as Wednesday. Can you tell us who inside the White House and at Treasury the President told he was going to announce this on Wednesday before he made the announcement?
  • The Secretary of Treasury actually said that the goal on tax reform is to spur growth of 3 percent of more, but already people are worried about deficits and that’s — Taxpayers For Common Sense put out a statement saying that growth — “Hogwash. Growth is the magic pixie dust policymakers throw on economic plans to make them appear fiscally sound when they are not.” What would you say to Republicans on Capitol Hill who are worried about this being a tax reform that would blow a hole in the deficit and the debt?

TOWOIT #98

April 24, 2017… Day #95

This last week before day 100 is dizzy. Day 100 is also potential government shutdown day to boot. It’s like this circus doesn’t realize I’m trying to hold down a job, maintain relationships, and get better at sleep hygiene.

But first, this snippet:

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Woman efficiently handles male commenters

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Things reporters asked Sean Spicer today: Continue reading TOWOIT #98