James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:04 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: I know the pool is gathering at 1:30 p.m., so I’m going to try and keep this on the short end.
This morning, the President held a listening session with the Attorney General and the Fraternal Order of Police with the Vice President to discuss law enforcement issues related to terrorism and inner-city violence.
The Fraternal Order of Police is the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, with more than 330,000 members. They represent those who dedicate their lives to protecting and serving. They advocate for improved working conditions for law enforcement officers and for the safety of our communities.
The President thanked the FOP leadership for their support and reaffirmed his pledge to have our back. The President also remarked that his highest duty is the security of our people and pointed to several actions that he’s already taken to enhance our domestic security, including the creation of a Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime; an Inter-Agency Task Force to Dismantle Criminal Cartels; and historic action to secure our borders and remove criminals from our country.
The group held an in-depth discussion about the rise of violent crime in some parts of the country, the disturbing increase in members of law enforcement being targeted in ambush style attacks, and the need to address the country’s opioid epidemic.
Attorney General Sessions told the FOP leadership that he looks forward to continuing to work closely with them to tackle the challenges facing law enforcement as they work to keep our communities safe.
This afternoon, as I mentioned at the top, the President will sign an executive order on energy independence at the Environmental Protection Agency Headquarters. The President strongly believes that protecting the environment and promoting our economy are not mutually exclusive goals. This executive order will help to ensure that we have clean air and clean water without sacrificing economic growth and job creation.
First, it directs all agencies to conduct a review of all regulation, rules, policies, and guidance documents that put up roadblocks to domestic energy production and identify the ones that are not either mandated by law or actually contributing to the public good.
It also rescinds a number of the previous administration’s actions that don’t reflect this administration’s priorities. The full list is laid out in the executive order, which will be provided to you later today, after the President signs it.
Next, the order directs the EPA to take several actions to reflect this President’s environmental and economic goals, including a review of the new performance standards for coal-fired and natural-gas-fired power plants that amounted to a de facto ban on new coal plant production in the United States.
This is great news for states like Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and others.
Finally, the order establishes a directive for agencies to use the best available science and economics in their regulatory analysis moving forward.
For too long, the federal government has acted like a barrier to energy independence and innovation. By reducing unnecessary regulatory obstacles, we’ll free up American energy companies to responsibly use our vast energy resources, protecting the environment while creating well-paying jobs throughout the country.
American electricity producers have already done an amazing job of adapting and utilizing new technologies to deliver clean power to the United States. Under President Trump, the federal government is going to acknowledge that progress and adjust its policies accordingly.
Moving on, later in the afternoon, the President will meet with Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly. And this evening, the President and the First Lady will host a reception here in the White House for senators and their spouses. This will be the first time that President Trump has invited all current senators to the White House, and he looks forward to this opportunity, as well as to speak with some of the senators about the places where they can come together and make this country better.
One of those places that he hopes to find common ground with Senate Democrats here tonight is the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Yesterday, many Senate Democrats began declaring support for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s partisan filibuster of Judge Neil Gorsuch. And as I’ve said, these senators should get — if these senators get their way, this would be the first successful filibuster of a nominee to join the Supreme Court.
Leading Democrats have lamented these tactics as recently as last year. Senator Schumer, in fact, wrote last year in an op-ed in the New York Daily News — and I quote — “At a time when Americans want to move forward, the last thing we need — the last thing is a new recipe for gridlock at the Supreme Court.”
Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton said of the Supreme Court confirmation progress — “[It] should not be an exercise in political brinkmanship and partisan posturing,” and that nominees deserve a “full and fair hearing followed by a vote.”
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri tweeted “[T]he constitution says the Senate shall advise and consent. And that means having an up-or-down vote.”
So who are Senate Democrats going to enact this on in extraordinary lengths to block? It’s an individual, frankly, who their body, including Senator Schumer, unanimously confirmed for a seat on the 10th Circuit not too long ago. This is a judge who received a unanimous “well qualified rating” by the American Bar Association, was a Harvard Law graduate who received the Edward J. Randolph Award for outstanding service at the Department of Justice. So it can’t be their qualifications they’re taking issue with.
Judge Gorsuch is, frankly, a mainstream judge. Here are some figures and facts to point that out. Number one, in 98 percent of the cases in which he issued the opinion, he received the unanimous support of all of his colleagues. Second, in divided cases over the last five years involving both Republican and Democrat-appointed judges, Judge Gorsuch sided with the Democrat-appointed judge one in three times.
When the shoe was on the other foot, when a Supreme Court nominee for a Democratic President went through the confirmation hearings and meetings with senators from both parties, neither Justices Kagan nor Sotomayor faced an attempted Senate filibuster. Both received Republican votes in support of their confirmations.
In fact, during the Kagan nomination, on the Senate floor, when Senate Leader Harry Reid planned to file a cloture motion to bring Kagan to a vote, it was then-Senator and now current Attorney General Jeff Sessions who stopped him and said, “I have a high standard before I would attempt to block an up or down vote,” and asked Senator Reid to proceed with a vote without the need for overcoming a Republican filibuster.
Judge Gorsuch has met with most of the Senate Democratic caucus. He has gone through days of hearings and answered probing questions. He is eminently qualified and deserves the deference and consideration from the minority Senate Democrats that President Obama’s selections were given once they had gone through the confirmation process.
A few things I want to highlight. Last night, the President announced his intent to nominate Makan Delrahim to serve as Assistant Attorney General of the Anti-Trust Divisio) at the Department of Justice.
And this morning, we announced the President’s declaration that a major disaster exists in the State of Nevada and ordered federal assistance to supplement recovery effort in the areas affected by severe storms, flooding, and mudslides this past February.
And finally, this morning, the President was pleased to see that Ford announced $1.2 billion investment in three manufacturing facilities in Michigan, just two weeks after automobile executives came to the White House and met with the President. This adds to the growing wave of positive news — jobs news under the President and continued the investment from Charter Communications, and his approval for the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday.
In addition, Energy Transfer Partners reported Monday that the Dakota Access pipeline has been filled with oil as they enter the final stages of preparation that will finally put this into service.
According to data released by the Conference Board, in March consumer confidence “soared” to its highest level in 16 years. And from individual announcements to significant boosts in both consumer and CEO confidence generally, it’s clear that the President’s economic agenda is what America’s businesses have been waiting for. These businesses have spent years being held back by unnecessary bureaucratic red tape, and what we’re seeing now is just the taste of the heights our economy can reach once those burdens are removed.
And lastly, I want to make a comment on a false report regarding former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. As a matter of fact, I’d like to walk you through the sequence of events just to make sure that everyone is abundantly clear on what happened.
On March 14th, Chairman Nunes and Ranking Member Schiff invited Sally Yates to testify on March 28th. On March 23rd, Sally Yates’s attorney sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking for their consent to testify without constraints.
On March 24th, the Department of Justice responded the President owns those privileges to discuss the communications they were requesting to talk about and referred them to the White House.
Also on the 24th, Ms. Yates’s attorney sent a letter to the White House Counsel requesting that consent, specifically stating that if they did not receive a response by March 27th at 10:00 a.m., they would “conclude that the White House does not assert executive privilege over these matters.” The White House did not respond and took no action that prevented Ms. Yates from testifying.
That’s the story. That’s what the documents show.
And with that, I’m glad to take some questions.
Q Can I follow on that, Sean?
MR. SPICER: Of course you can, John Roberts.
Q I’d like to follow on that. There are reports that even though the hearing that was set for the 27th was not scheduled, it was cancelled by Devin Nunes to prevent this White House from publicly invoking a claim of executive privilege. Could you speak to that?
MR. SPICER: I hope she testifies. I look forward to it.
It was never — let’s be honest, the hearing was never — we actually never notified. If they choose to move forward, great. We have no problem with her testifying. Plain and simple. The report in The Washington Post is 100 percent false. The letters that they, frankly, publish on their website all back up everything I just read. All of the letters are available on their website — I hate to give them the traffic — but the reality is, is that they specifically say, if you don’t respond, we’re going to go ahead. We didn’t respond. We encouraged them to go ahead.
But to suggest in any way, shape, or form that we stood in the way of that is 100 percent false.
Q A couple of things you said earlier, a couple of quick follow-ups. You said you want the agencies to use best available science. Does that meant there’s going to be no further scientific research, you don’t want to fund additional scientific research? And number two: What other issues do you like to see the President reach out to Democrats?
MR. SPICER: So on the first one, best science is best science. And that’s whatever —
Q Best available is what you said.
MR. SPICER: Right. Well, if it’s not available, it’s tough to use it. Just as a matter of practicality.
Q Well, but is that a code for not using —
MR. SPICER: No, it’s a code for it’s got to be available. That’s it, plain and simple. You shouldn’t read anything into that. And I think the President will speak more to that at today’s signing at 1:30 p.m. — at 2:00 p.m., rather, I’m sorry.
Q And are Democrats —
MR. SPICER: I think there’s a whole host of issues. I talked yesterday about healthcare. If they want to come together on infrastructure, tax reform, we’d love to have as much support as possible.
Q Thanks, Sean. A couple questions. One on coal. Your actions today, the White House is saying that they’re going to reverse President Obama’s so-called “war on coal.” But a lot of people in the coal industry suggest that jobs are just not going to come back in that industry, based on the way the industry has changed, technology and other things. Does this administration have an estimate of how many jobs will be created as a result of the actions it’s taking today?
MR. SPICER: I’m not aware of one, an estimate. I know that the President has already met with some of the coal miners the other day, and Senators Manchin and Capito, in particular, from West Virginia, and others from Kentucky that were here when we did that EO signing a few days ago. I will tell you that from a mining perspective, the miners and the owners are very, very bullish on this.
So the people who are actually in the business applaud this effort, believe that it will do a lot to revive the industry. It’s obviously a private industry so I’m not going to get into who does what. But I know that the industry itself said so.
Q On the court announcement, you just said that the announcement today comes two weeks after the automakers met here at the White House. Did the White House or the President do anything in that meeting that led to this announcement today?
MR. SPICER: I think there’s been some regulatory effort and some commitments on the regulatory efforts going forward in the future that I think may have played a role. I would ask Ford on that. I think it’s a continued sign of it. I think we have seen a number of industry leaders, union leaders, truckers, truck companies come in, talk about burdens. And I think there’s been several cases where meetings in the White House — or, frankly, we went to Michigan and held that roundtable out there as well — that meetings that we have have a very positive follow-up in terms of a commitment from a company or an industry to create jobs, to invest more in this country. But in each of these cases —
Q Is the White House, then, going to get political credit for this announcement today?
MR. SPICER: I’ll leave it up to Ford to make that determination. I think that we’re obviously pleased with more Americans getting jobs throughout various sectors. And I think that we’ll continue, and the President has made it very clear that he continues to fight to bring back jobs and manufacturing here in the country.
Q Sean, as you begin looking seriously at tax reform, could you just go through what is the President’s bottom line? Does it need to have middle-class tax relief, corporate tax relief? Can you do it comprehensively, or piecemeal? Do you add infrastructure spending to it somehow? How are you looking at this?
MR. SPICER: So, on the first two, those are both key components — the middle-class individual tax piece of it and then the corporate rate has to come down. I think those are guiding principles that the President has laid out.
As far as how the process works, there are — and I don’t want to get ahead of the folks in the legislative affairs or the guys on Capitol Hill, but I would suggest to you that there’s a prevailing attitude out there that the FY18 reconciliation is probably the most likely vehicle to move some of this.
Again, what we want to do is keep a lot of options on the table in terms of do we put infrastructure in, is there another vehicle to drive that. But part of gathering folks together now from Capitol Hill, from industry, from groups, is to begin that discussion, to talk about what needs to go in, what the way forward is. And so that conversation has begun and is continuing.
Q And when do you think you’ll have some recommendations to take to the President?
MR. SPICER: Well, internally, the team has been talking to him for a while. I think there’s a bigger discussion that has to happen as we branch out with outside groups, industry, members of Capitol Hill, et cetera, that start to formulate some additional listening that needs to happen on this. And again, I think part of it is there’s a legislative strategy that needs to tie into this.
Q Is the White House currently involved in any renegotiations of the healthcare bill? And if so, in what manner?
MR. SPICER: Staff has met with individuals and listened to them. So I don’t know how detailed you want it. Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes. Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time. I think there is a discussion that began, as I mentioned yesterday, of a lot of individuals on both sides of the aisle reaching out to both the President and key staff members to share ideas and additional ways forward. So there has been a discussion, and I believe there will be several more.
Q What would you say to the folks who have a genuine concern that if you could not get healthcare done, how do you go about getting big-ticket items like tax reform and infrastructure done? People say if you can’t get one, how are you going to do the next? What would you say to that concern?
MR. SPICER: Well, again, I think — I mean, we’re going to build a coalition for this. I think each of them have different constituencies. And I think we’re going to work with members on both sides of the aisle on both of those big-ticket issues to see where we can find agreement and move forward. But I don’t want to prejudge the outcome at this point.
Q Thank you, Sean. Just as a follow-up question on Blake’s. Did the President himself have any discussions with Speaker Ryan or Leader McCarthy or anyone over the weekend about healthcare and making an actual vote on the American Health Care Act? And one got the impression from Speaker Ryan today that he was going to try to pass this with Republican votes, which would contradict some of your statements about reaching out to Democrats all along. Has any of this come up with discussions between each side of Pennsylvania Avenue?
MR. SPICER: So I think I talked yesterday — they have spoken a few times about different strategies, different ideas, different policy aspects to the bill.
Q Over the weekend?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. At least on a number of — at least two, maybe three times, they’ve spoken. And I know several of our staff members have also engaged in discussions, again, to talk about potential ways forward. So those conversations have occurred. I think that’s what I mentioned to Blake and I mentioned some of it yesterday. And if we can find a way forward, well do it.
But, look, I don’t think — just so we’re clear, John, to your question, I’m not saying we’ve picked a strategy and we’re going to go with this group or that group. I think the President was — several people reached out and expressed an interest. And the President’s view is that he’s willing to listen to them and hear what their ideas are.
And I made a comment yesterday that was — that just so we’re clear, we have — let’s call it 205, 207, somewhere in there, votes, right? Maybe 210, depending on what it is. The point that I made yesterday is to get to 216, to get to 218, depending on the day of the week, there are certain things that people want that would take what I think the President views as a very good bill that weren’t worth doing it because they would make the deal bad. And so the question is, can we add the additional votes in ways that enhance the bill or bring people over that have been previous skeptics? But there’s a way in which people are saying, hey, if you bring me on board with these five provisions, then I’m on board — in which either, A, take people off the bill, or don’t make it as strong and make it a bad deal.
And I think that’s the balancing act that has to happen. One is, can you add additional folks on without pushing additional folks off. And two is that, what you have to add to the bill, does it make it stronger or does it not? Because I think there are suggestions by some out there that have said we’re willing to come along with the bill, but in doing so it would make it a bad deal. And that’s an important aspect, is how do you take whatever that number is that we have now and get it up to 216 to pass without making — without losing people and/or making it a bad deal?
Q Sean, does it —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, Glenn, I’ve already —
Q — done with Republican votes, not Democrats?
MR. SPICER: However we get there, John.
Q Thank you, Sean. Yesterday you weren’t able to tell us very much about Congressman Nunes’s visit to the White House or to the White House grounds to view classified information last week. A Democrat on the committee today said that the White House would have known that he was here. The same Democrat also said that it looked like a criminal cover-up to him. My question to you is, have you learned any more information since we had this conversation yesterday about how he would have even gotten in and how he would have gotten cleared? And do you think that Congressman Nunes should recuse himself from being in charge of the Russian investigation at this point?
MR. SPICER: Well, number one, on the latter part of that, it’s not up to me. He’s a member of the House. He’s appointed by the Speaker. That is entirely up to the Speaker and the members of the House of Representatives. We’re not going to start commenting on that kind of stuff.
I do think that he is running an investigation which we asked for. And I think the thing that’s important to note is there is somewhat of a double standard when it comes to classified information. When leaks are made illegally to the press, and you all report them, the coverage focuses almost entirely on the substance of the allegation and that are part of an illegal lead, not on the illegal nature of the disclosure, the identity of the leaks, or their agenda.
But when the information that is occurring now, which is two individuals who were properly cleared — or three, or whoever he met with — I don’t know — that they are sharing stuff that is entirely legal with the appropriate clearances — and then there is an obsession on the process.
And it’s sort of — it’s a backwards way that when you all report on stuff with sources that are leaking — illegally leaking classified information, that’s appropriate and fine. No one questions that — the substance and material. When two individuals, or however many are engaged in this process, have a discussion that is 100 percent legal and appropriate and cleared, suddenly the obsession becomes about the process and not the substance.
And I think that it is somewhat reckless and — how the conversation over classified information is discussed without — while sort of attempting to press a false narrative that exists. So while it is completely appropriate to share classified information with individuals who are cleared, it is clearly not the case to do that when it is illegally leaked out. And I think that’s sort of the irony of how this whole conversation has gone.
Q Thanks, a lot, Sean. Just following up on your statement in regards to The Washington Post story that you say is false. Did the White House Counsel Office ever consider invoking privilege as it relates to Sally Yates testifying before this congressional committee?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q And why is that? You certainly would be in a position to invoke privilege. After all, these were privileged communications between the Acting Attorney General and the executive office of the President. That would fall into privilege.
MR. SPICER: Because I know this will be a shocker, but, again, part of it is that I think that we’ve been very clear that when you actually get to the bottom of the facts, every single person who has been briefed on this, as I’ve said ad nauseam from this podium, that they have been very clear that there is no connection between the President or the staff here and anyone doing anything with Russia. And I think that the view here was, great, go share what you know.
So, no. And that’s why The Washington Post should be ashamed of how it handled this story. It was 100 percent false. The letters that they actually publish back up exactly what we’re saying, that she was asked about this information — her attorney asked the DOJ. The DOJ said that she had to ask the White House. They made it very clear, if you don’t do this, we are going to go forward. We had no objection to her going forward. That’s it.
Q Just quickly following up on that, I have two questions on two different topics. So we’re taking what you’re saying as assurances that Chairman Nunes’s decision to call of that hearing did not have anything to do with any pressure from with White House?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q Okay. Thank you.
On a different topic, we’re seeing more states — Maine, Virginia, and Kansas, specifically — moving to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, joining the 30-plus states that have already done that. What is President Trump’s message to Republican legislators and legislators generally in those states now that the Affordable Care Act’s future is so uncertain?
MR. SPICER: I think there’s a reason he explained to Congress, and especially members who have talked about entitlement expansion, why we should have passed this bill last week and why we need to address it now. This is a major issue. It was one of our talking points, so I hope they listen.
Q Does he encourage the expansion?
MR. SPICER: I think he understands that the way that it was handled in terms of the able-bodied provision under that right now are leading to an implosion on that piece of the entitlement, and that there was an opportunity to refocus it, and to push the money and a lot of the authority back to the states to best determine how to handle issues within their states — both in terms of high-risk pools and individuals that they wanted to cover.
So we — frankly, the bill made it a much more state’s rights program and a much more state’s rights decision-making process in terms of how to care for the populations that they had to address.
Q Thank you. Just a couple things on the Yates thing. So how and when exactly did the White House encourage her to testify?
MR. SPICER: Well, the letter that her attorney sent literally says that, if we do not receive a response by March 27th at 10:00 a.m., I will conclude that the White House does not assert executive privilege over the matters with respect to hearings or otherwise. I don’t think you can be any clearer than that.
Q And so you’re saying now executive privilege does not —
MR. SPICER: No, no, I’m not saying anything. I’m literally — that’s what she wrote. The action was, if you don’t act, then we will assume the following. Great. I don’t think that you can read that any other way. It was very — she’s a, I’m sure, a very talented — he is a very talented lawyer, and wrote it specifically for it. We read it that way, and chose to not act because we have no problem with her testifying — plain and simple.
Q So executive privilege is not an issue for Sally Yates — would not have been an issue for Sally Yates testifying?
MR. SPICER: That’s correct.
Q Okay, thank you. And following one issue — do you want to add?
MR. SPICER: No, I just — it’s interesting, I mean, this is very clearly worded, and yet somehow you’re asking me how to interpret that in any other way than literally reading plain English.
Q Okay. Interpret something else for me: Does the President still believe that climate change is a hoax?
MR. SPICER: I think you will hear more today about the climate and what he believes. I think he understands — he does not believe that — as I mentioned at the outset, that there is a binary choice between job creation, economic growth, and caring about the environment. And that’s what we should be focusing on. I think, at the end of the day, where we should be focusing on is making sure that all Americans have clean water, clean air, and that we do what we can to preserve and protect our environment.
April, go ahead.
Q All right, thank you. Sean — don’t seem so happy. Anyway, with all of these investigations, questions of what is is, how does this administration try to revamp its image? Two and a half months in, you’ve got this Yates story today, you’ve got other things going on, you’ve got Russia, you’ve got wiretapping, you’ve got —
MR. SPICER: No, we don’t have that.
Q There are investigations on Capitol Hill —
MR. SPICER: No, no — I get it. But you keep — I’ve said it from the day that I got here until whatever that there is no connection. You’ve got Russia. If the President puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that’s a Russian connection. But every single person —
Q It’s beyond that. You’re making it–
MR. SPICER: Well, no — I appreciate your agenda here, but the reality is —
Q It’s not my agenda.
MR. SPICER: No, hold on. At some point, report the facts. The facts are that every single person who has been briefed on this subject has come away with the same conclusion — Republican, Democrat. So I’m sorry that that disgusts you. You’re shaking your head. I appreciate it, but —
Q I’m shaking my head and I’m listening, and I’m trying to get —
MR. SPICER: Okay, but understand this — that at some point, the facts are what they are, and every single person who has been briefed on this situation with respect to the situation with Russia — Republican, Democrat, Obama-appointee, career — have all come to the same conclusion. At some point, April, you’re going to have to take “no” for an answer, with respect to whether or not there was collusion.
Q But my question was how do you change the perception of —
MR. SPICER: We’re going to keep doing everything we’re doing to make sure that the President — that what the President told the American people he was going to do to fulfill those pledges and promises that he made, to bring back jobs, to grow the economy, to keep our nation safe — that’s what he’s been focused on since day one. We’re going to keep focusing on that every single day.
Q But when Condi Rice comes Friday. Condi Rice did not support this President. She did not go to the convention. She comes — what is on the agenda, and how is their relationship? Has it healed since 2006 when he used a very negative word to describe her?
MR. SPICER: So, here’s what I’ll — hey, it’s interesting that you ask those two questions back-to-back. On the one hand, you’re saying what are we doing to improve our image, and then here he is, once again, meeting somebody that hasn’t been a big supporter of his.
Q But he called her that negative name in 2006.
MR. SPICER: No, no, but you put it — April, hold on. It seems like you’re hell-bent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays, because at the end of the day —
Q I am just reporting what —
MR. SPICER: Okay, but you know what? You’re asking me a question, and I’m going to answer it, which is the President — I’m sorry. Please stop shaking your head again. But at some point, the reality is that this President continues to reach out to individuals who’ve supported him, who didn’t support him — Republicans, Democrats — to try to bring the country together and move forward on an agenda that’s going to help every American.
That’s it, plain and simple. So if you’re asking what we’re doing, I think we continue to do it, which is to bring groups together that have been supportive of him, that haven’t been supportive of him, but that to share a goal, which is finding common ground on areas of national security, of personal security, of economic security, of job creation, of safer communities, of education, of healthcare that can unite us as a country and make the country stronger.
Q — about Russia and Tillerson Friday?
MR. SPICER: I think they’re going to — I’m not ready to
— when we’re done with that, we’ll see if we can have a readout.
MR. SPICER: Hold on, I understand that. We’re not at Friday yet. I will have a readout when that’s done.
I know the pool needs to get to the vans for the signing. Thank you. I’ll be back tomorrow. We’re going to do five days in a row this week, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, guys.
1:32 P.M. EDT