James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: I hope you guys had a good weekend. It was definitely a busy one for the Trump administration. On Friday, the President signed several proclamations ahead of the start of the new month. Those are all available at whitehouse.gov.
On Saturday, you may have not noticed, but it was the President’s 100th day in office, for those of you not keeping count. The President took several significant steps towards leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses while visiting an Ames factory in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Ames has been making tools in America since before our country’s founding. It’s an example of the amazing persistence of the American spirit — the type of company that will be able to expand and create new jobs under the President’s pro-growth economic agenda.
He signed two executive orders at Ames that will help keep jobs and wealth in our country. The first fulfilled an executive order of a major campaign promise by directing the Secretary of Commerce to identify every violation and abuse of our trade agreements and to use every measure available under the law the end those abuses.
And the second established the Office of Trade Manufacturing policy, which will be led by Dr. Peter Navarro. This office replaces the National Trade Council and elevates it to a permanent office within the White House, sending an important signal to the world that the United States will no longer tolerate trade cheating while our manufacturing and defense-industrial base suffers.
He also signed a third executive order over the weekend establishing the American Technology Council, which will be led by Chris Liddell, which is dedicated to modernizing the federal government’s information technology so that it works more efficiently and effectively for everyone. And he wrapped up the day speaking to thousands at a rally in Pennsylvania.
This weekend, the President also engaged with some of our longtime allies in Southeast Asia who are on the frontlines against the fight against ISIS and other forms of terror through calls with the President of the Philippines, the Prime Minister of Singapore, and the Prime Minister of Thailand.
Today is the start of another big week here. After signing a proclamation on Law Day, he stopped by the Kennedy Garden, where around 100 members of the Independent Community Bankers of America kicked off their Capital Summit. Smaller banks are one of the driving forces behind economic investment and development in our communities, but they have been disproportionately harmed by the dramatic increase in regulation since 2008, declining in number by 20 percent since 2008.
The President’s pro-growth agenda, including instituting what he has called a 21st century Glass-Steagall, will allow these banks to spend less time complying with unnecessary requirements, many of which were designed to police much larger entities, and more time, infusing their communities and local small businesses with capital.
It’s also the start of Small Business Week. Today, Ivanka Trump will be participating in a conversation at the United States Institute of Peace with SBA Administrator Linda McMahon, and the Vice President will deliver remarks at the National Small Business Week awards program later this afternoon.
Back to the President’s schedule. After speaking with the Community Bankers members, the President had lunch with Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense Mattis, as well as National Security Advisor McMaster before meeting separately with Secretary Tillerson.
I also want to mention this morning that FEMA held a severe weather coordination call to discuss impacts on the remaining threat for continued severe weather across portions of the Southwest to the Mississippi Valley, which has already killed five people in Texas. Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly participated on the call, and the White House is in contact with local residents in these affected areas. We’ll have those communities in our thoughts and prayers, and encourage everyone to follow the directions of their state, tribal, and local officials to stay safe.
Finally let me run down what we’re expecting for the President’s schedule this week. Tomorrow, he’ll present the Commander-in-Chief Trophy to the United States Air Force Academy. Wednesday, the President will host the President of the Palestinian Authority for an official visit. And on Thursday, he’ll host a National Day of Prayer event. And as I mentioned last week, he will then attend an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea aboard the United States Senate Intrepid, and meet with the Prime Minister of Australia.
I’ll continue to update you on the schedule throughout the week. And with that, your questions.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think both, in the sense that the MacArthur-Meadows amendment ensures that preexisting conditions continue to be covered. But then obviously as this bill hopefully passes the House this week, or whenever it does, and then goes through the Senate and the House, this is an issue that is important to him.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: So there’s two things — and I think he mentioned in the same interview — just to be clear, right now, under Obamacare, as it collapses on its own weight, people who have preexisting conditions are really the most vulnerable. Because if you have an insurance system that no longer is able to provide care to those who need it, then — I think we’ve talked about this before — you have a card without coverage.
So what the President is doing is ensuring, going forward as we attempt to repeal and replace it, that coverage of preexisting conditions is at the core of that. So that is something that he is ensured is in the current bill and we’ll continue to push for to make sure that coming out of the Senate and going to conference it’s there as well.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Let’s take them in order. But I think the President got a lot out of this bill, most specifically $21 billion to help rebuild the military. I think that is something that he was very proud to campaign on and is delivering on. That’s probably the biggest thing.
With respect to border security, he got $1.52 billion in the current language that’s posted. I think that’s a significant — and remember, I think people have to keep in context, we’re talking about 2017 funding, right? So this is something that most Presidents would walk into office and that would have been done. Because the last Congress didn’t do this under President Obama, we have an opportunity to get some of the President’s priorities infused for the last five months of 2017.
That’s a big step forward, and something that he’ll continue to fight for in 2018. When the fiscal year starts the end of September, we will have an opportunity to really infuse the President’s priorities. But I think there’s a lot there, and there’s also — D.C. school choice was something that we felt very strongly about, making sure it was back in. There’s no Obamacare bailout. The coal miners is something that the President felt very strong on, making sure they got taken care of. That happened. So there’s a lot in this bill that I think — of the priorities that he put forward on.
Q But clearly, he did give up on some things.
MR. SPICER: No, I mean, I think on the Planned Parenthood thing in particular — but again, remember, this is 2017 funding. This is something that he wouldn’t normally even had a shot at because it should have been done. So infusing his priorities in the 2017 budget cycle is actually something that he’s been able to have a say in, which is a big deal for the remaining five months.
The 2018 budget will address those things, but this is a down payment on border security. It’s a down payment on his ability to rebuild the military. And repealing and replacing Obamacare will address a lot of the other healthcare issues.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think it is an opportunity for us to work with countries in that region that can help play a role in diplomatically and economically isolating North Korea. And, frankly, the national interest of the United States, the safety of our people and the safety of people in the region are the number-one priorities of the President.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Well, we’re at the beginning of this process, but I think you saw from the briefing that was given the other day, the focus on this is really on lower- and middle-income Americans. The doubling of the standard deduction means that a family of four that is making — right now they’re getting a $24,000 deduction, which means, in a lot of cases, you’re going to see a family pay zero taxes at the lower end of the economic scale. That’s a big deal for them to really help put more money back in their pocket and help them take care of their family.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think the President has made it clear that he’s not instituting a timeline. I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say that we feel confident the direction this is going. We see more and more members come on board. A lot of the changes that were made make the bill not only better but garner greater support. So we feel very good about it.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Well, there’s a lot of things that go along with that, and that’s the key thing. “Under the right circumstances” was, I believe, the phrase he used. And I think that is something in keeping with our — consistent with the policy expressed by Secretary Tillerson as well.
We’ve got to see their provocative behavior ratcheted down immediately. There’s a lot of conditions that I think would have to happen with respect to its behavior and to show signs of good faith. Clearly, conditions are not there right now, but I think the President has made it clear, as Secretary Tillerson had the other day, that if the conditions, if the circumstances present themselves we’ll be prepared to, but they’re clearly not at this time.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Well, sure. We’re not going to — once we get 216 we’ll stop counting. And I think the Speaker gets that. But as I mentioned to Trey, I mean, we’re getting closer and closer every day, so I would assume that today we’re closer than we were a week ago. But we’re not there yet, and that decision is going to be wholly within the Speaker, the Majority Leader and the Whip to let us know when they’re going to open that vote up.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think I mentioned in the opening, he’s looking at a 21st century Glass-Steagall. That is something that we’ve talked about at the beginning. He mentioned this on the campaign trail. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, but it is something that is currently being looked at.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: No, I just — I would never want to get in front of the Speaker. That’s up to them. We have a good whip count. I think we feel very good about where we are and where it’s headed. But ultimately, the Speaker and the House leadership determine when to call a vote. I think that we know that when the vote gets called we’ll feel confident that it’s going to be able to pass.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think we got a number of the President’s priorities included in the CR. When we are at the final point the President will make a decision, but right now, he’s pleased to see the plus-up for the military, he’s pleased to see a down payment on border security, he’s pleased about the D.C. opportunities scholarships. There’s a lot that he’s pleased in.
And I think, again, as I mentioned to John, we’re getting a shot at the 2017 funding, which should have been done last year.
Q He called for keeping that balance, essentially keeping —
MR. SPICER: I understand that, and I think that, obviously, this is something that required 60 votes in the Senate. We couldn’t have our entire way on this. But we’re five months away from having a 2018 budget, and I think the President’s priorities will be reflected much more in that.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I mean, the President gets fully briefed on the leaders that he’s speaking to, obviously. But the number-one concern of this President is to make sure that we do everything we can to protect our people, and specifically, to economically and diplomatically isolate North Korea. And I think when you look at what he is doing in terms of building that coalition of countries in that region to do it, I think this is hopefully going to have — well, he knows — I’m not going to tell you every single thing that’s in his brief, but he’s well aware of — when he speaks with a leader, he gets briefed on a lot about their — what they’re doing, what they’ve done. That’s all part of the brief.
Q I wanted to ask you about the future of Sebastian Gorka. Can you tell us why he’s leaving the White House?
MR. SPICER: There is no personnel announcement at the time. I have no belief that he is currently leaving the White House, so there’s nothing to update you on with respect to that, and we wouldn’t comment on personnel matters at this time.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: So the bill does not remove Obamacare’s guaranteed issue requirement. That’s it. And on the community ratings, the bill would allow states to waive Obamacare’s community rating requirement if certain conditions designated to preserve access to coverage for people with preexisting conditions are met. And there are reduced average premiums, increased enrollment, stabilize the market, stabilize premiums for those with preexisting — the bottom line is to try to give the states flexibility to actually get that premium down.
Q Right, but people with preexisting conditions would continue to get access but not at the same price as other people.
MR. SPICER: Well, the idea is actually they would create a high-risk pool. The idea is actually to create a system where it gets the premium down for them as well.
Q Right. But high-risk pools could still charge them much more.
MR. SPICER: You can’t — you’re right. When I say the whole goal of this is to give the states the flexibility to get lower premiums, that’s the goal all around, is to make sure that the system that we employ gets it down.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I’m sure that we’ll continue to have conversations with the Prime Minister and —
Q Is he aware of that?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to — that will be something that President will continue to discuss.
John. Two Johns —
Q Let me go first, John Gizzi. All right, sound good?
MR. SPICER: That’s quite a negotiation. (Laughter.) We may need you.
Q From “The Art of the Deal.”
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: So what the President said during that interview is that folks from the industry had come to him and expressed to him how the deteriorating roads were affecting their ability to deliver goods and services throughout this country, and that they had expressed a willingness to see something like that as a way to help pay for and repair the roads and bridges, and that he said that he, out of respect, would definitely listen to them and consider it.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think you’re missing the — he did not express support for it. He expressed that a group that had met with him expressed support with it, and that he, out of respect, would consider their request. That’s it. There was no endorsement of it or support for it. He was just relaying what another industry group had shared with him about how to pay for the roads and bridges that need to be repaired and the impact that deteriorating roads and bridges are having on their ability to operate and to deliver goods and services, and, frankly, the cost that it is having on their trucks, on their infrastructure.
Q You have not foreclosed this possibility of raising —
MR. SPICER: People ask the President all the time, please consider the following policy, and he has an open mind. I mean, there are people on both sides of the aisle, different backgrounds, that come in to see the President and ask him, could you please consider this, will you keep an open mind on it? And I think that’s, frankly, what the President was doing.
Q Thank you, Sean. Thank you, John. (Laughter.)
Q And thank you, John.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I do not. I would refer you to the State Department.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: No. And respectfully, I would say that there are two groups of folks. I mean, in the Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, I think she’s been here 35 years and she —
MR. SPICER: Twenty-eight. And so she’s just decided it’s time to retire. In the case of Congressman Chaffetz, he announced that — you know. That doesn’t — I don’t think that there’s any belief that you have to stay here for 20, 30, 40, 50 years. There’s always going to be churn between election cycles between members in both parties who decide, for a number of reasons, to go back home. And I think that’s a healthy part of the democracy and that’s, frankly, something that our framers saw. And it’s a citizen legislature, so to some degree, that’s a healthy part of it. But we feel very confident about where we stand.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I really don’t know. I know that we wanted to do this National Prayer Breakfast this Sunday, and I think that you’re going to see a lot of folks represented. I don’t know enough about Obama’s thing, how far back it went. Each President is going to have their own traditions, and I think this is one that the President — you know, that morning after you’ve got the Easter Egg Roll and there’s a lot going on. This is his way of starting a tradition here at this White House to bring faith leaders from a variety of backgrounds here to the White House.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think he talked about, on the campaign trail and he’s mentioned it before, this idea of a 21st century Glass-Steagall, a modernization of it. And we’re not at a point where we’re ready to roll out details of that yet. This is something, as the President said in that interview, he is actively looking at options and considering things. We’re not in a position to make any announcements on this at this time.
Q — take any steps toward that behind the scenes that we’re not aware of?
MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, he’s obviously been briefed by his advisors. Secretary Mnuchin and others have given him ideas and thoughts to ponder. We have nothing to announce at this time.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Well, make no mistake, the wall is going to be built. The President has made it very clear. We have five months left in this fiscal year. We’re getting $1.52 billion for border security. There’s a lot that can be done with that. We’ve got a lot of things that happen before the wall is built in terms of planning, technology, gates. There is a lot of things they can do to prepare for that wall being constructed.
Our big — this was a down payment for 2017. And as we get ready for Fiscal Year 2018 — that will start in the beginning of October — this will be a major priority.
Q So it will be built. Is there a time certain? Is there a deadline by the 2018? By?
MR. SPICER: That it will be completed? I know the President wants it done as quick as possible. There have been bids that have been put out. Part of what the Homeland Security Department is reviewing now are not just the costs, but the timetable for a lot of that. So as we move through the planning phase, that’s definitely going to be part of the consideration. But obviously, the President wants this done as soon as possible.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Well, the President understands the threat that North Korea poses, and he will do whatever is necessary under the right circumstances to protect our country from the threat that they pose, so —
Q How could that be an honor?
MR. SPICER: I guess because he’s still a head of state. So it is sort of — there is a diplomatic piece to this. But the bottom line is the President is going to do what he has to do. Right now he’s building a coalition in the region to isolate North Korea both economically and diplomatically to get the threat — to take that threat down. And so — but that is his number-one priority right now, is protecting this country and our people.
Q What did he mean when he called him one smart cookie or a pretty smart cookie?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think his point was — he went over this in the interview — that he assumed power at a young age when his father passed away. And there was a lot of potential threats that could have come his way, and he’s obviously managed to lead a country forward. Despite the obvious concerns that we and so many other people have, he is a young person to be leading a country with nuclear weapons. And so that set aside, I think the President recognizes the threat that he poses and is doing everything he can to isolate that threat and to make sure that we bring stability to the region.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: No, no — I just — again, I think —
Q Is that the White House?
MR. SPICER: I think that the key part of the President’s statement was “under the right circumstances,” and that is the key. And those circumstances do not exist now. This is consistent with what Secretary Tillerson said the other day. But I think that if North Korea continues down a degree of provocative behavior, then those circumstances will never be there. But we want to hold out the possibility that if North Korea were ever serious about completely dismantling its nuclear capability and taking away the threat that they pose both to the region and to us that there is always going to be a possibility of that occurring. That possibility is not there at this time.
Q But who would lead that? Is that the White House or the State Department?
MR. SPICER: We’re not — we’re so far away from that possibility existing to start identifying an individual would be highly premature.
Q 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.
MR. SPICER: Well, it’s also to build a — yes.
Q Are you suggesting that the Philippines has some sort of an appropriate contact with North Korea? Are you suggesting that we are requesting greater access perhaps to their military bases? What is it exactly —
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s an economic piece to this, as well. And I’m not going to go into — that’s part of the reason that I think the President wants to meet with him. And I’m not going to get ahead of their discussions. But I would suggest to you that there are multifaceted ways and areas in which not just the Philippines but other countries in the region can help play a role both economically, diplomatically, and otherwise to help deter the threat that they pose.
Q Are you suggesting now that they are trading or conducting some kind of financial transactions —
MR. SPICER: No, I’m not — like I said —
Q When you say economic piece, that’s what I just want to clarify —
MR. SPICER: Right. And again, I’m just going to let — the President will have an opportunity to speak with him about those objectives. At this time I’m not going to get ahead of that discussion.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: The President clearly, as I’ve said, understands the threat the North Korea poses. Having someone with the potential nuclear capability to strike another country and potentially our country as some point in the future is something the President takes very seriously. And so the idea that he is doing everything diplomatically, economically, and militarily to consider every way to prevent that threat from taking on the United States is something —
Q What about this whole package —
MR. SPICER: I understand. Unfortunately, those are the neighbors. There are certain things — those are the countries in the region. Those are the countries that can be helpful as we move forward to try to prevent the threat that they pose.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think the Chief of Staff made it very clear that it’s something that is being looked into substantively and then both logistically how it would happen. But that’s nothing new. It’s something the President talked about on the campaign trail.
Q Is the counsel actually investigating this?
MR. SPICER: I will not go into it. But I’ll just tell you that —
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think those are some of the conditions. There’s going to be a whole host of ones that we determine, that the State Department determines in consultation with the President that have to be met.
As I mentioned, we are so early into this process that I don’t see this happening anytime soon. But I think that, as the President said, under the right circumstances. Those circumstances aren’t present today, and there would have to be significant change for that to even be a possibility.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think there’s two things. One is I think the industries probably need to — and have — said that they have taken a look at how they’re handling a number of issues within that, both in terms of compensation, how they’re handling passengers who are on planes. So there’s an industry component, and then I’ll leave it up to Congress to decide whether or not it’s appropriate to address it legislatively. Once there was a piece of legislation, then we could — we would have an opportunity to weigh in on that.
Q 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”?
MR. SPICER: What are you referring to?
Q Just in this CBS interview with John Dickerson in the Oval Office.
MR. SPICER: I’m just — I need more context.
Q About wiretapping.
Q 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.”
MR. SPICER: No, that was a long back-and-forth exchange. That’s why I’m asking for the context. But I think the point is he clearly stands by that. That’s something that he made very clear, if you look at the entire back-and-forth.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Obviously, there’s a human rights component that goes into all of this, and so it’s a balance. We want to make sure that our country, our people are protected. This isn’t a simple yes-or-no kind of situation. You’ve got a country in North Korea that possess a nuclear weapon and is looking for the appropriate delivery system to potentially do harm.
I think the President recognizes that the number-one priority is the protection of our people, the safety of our people, and the safety of the people in the region. And so it’s not just a question of either/or, it’s a question of priorities and balance.
There’s a lot that the President talks to these leaders in private about, and I think you saw that case in Egypt where sometimes that kind of diplomacy, privately talking about them and building a relationship, can achieve results not just for our people, but for their people, and discussing how — the human rights issues. But I think that it would be a mistake to assume that the President, because we don’t put out statements publicly chastising leaders at every call, means that the President is not —
Q But what —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, hold on, let me answer the question. I think the President understands the value, but he understands the balance. And the reason that the President is building an effective coalition and is getting results around the globe in reasserting America’s place is because he understands the type of diplomacy and the type of negotiating and the type of deal-making that actually gets real results for our country. So I think it’s not a balancing — it’s a balancing act, but the President is getting real results.
Q Sean, I have a second question, if you don’t mind.
MR. SPICER: Okay.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think the President and Ivanka have done everything in compliance — made it very clear. And I would refer you to the Trump Organization.
Q I just want to clarify something you said to Zeke. Is there a possibility that the President would not sign this spending agreement?
MR. SPICER: I mean, he’s very pleased with the priorities, but I just want to — let’s wait until it’s presented to him. But he’s obviously very pleased with how his priorities were addressed in the CR, and I have every expectation that he would sign it. But let’s just — let’s wait until it’s on his desk.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: My understanding was it was still mid-May, but I’d want to consult with Director Mulvaney first.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: That is still being discussed by staff. And then what was the first question? I’m sorry.
Q The first question is your expectations going forward. What’s the hope from this.
MR. SPICER: The President’s ultimate goal is to establish peace in the region. And so I think he’s going to — that’s obviously the goal and the discussion that he’s going to have with the head of the Palestinian Authority. But that’s going to be a relationship that he continues to work on and build with the ultimate goal that there’s peace in that region between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think he does. He’s been working on that with his both economic and policy team. But this week we’re a little busy with the CR and healthcare. He laid out the tax package last week. But it is clearly still up there on the priority list. Let’s get through this week — and then hopefully have some additional details moving forward. But he has been very clear that infrastructure package is something that he wants to get done and get moving.
Q This year?
MR. SPICER: This year? Oh, absolutely. And it’s just a question of when he wants to announce it. But I think for this week, we’re pretty focused on getting the government funded for the last five months of 2017 and getting the — and getting healthcare done as soon as we can.
So with that, I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Have a great day. Thank you.
2:34 P.M. EDT