James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:41 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: Good afternoon, everyone. EPA Administrator Pruitt is here today to deliver a brief statement on the President’s announcement yesterday and answer any questions you have regarding the Paris Climate Accord and the decision the President reached yesterday. As always, I ask that you keep your questions for Administrator Pruitt on topic. Once he’s finished I’ll be back up here to answer some questions of the day. I would note that he has a flight to head to, so we’re going to try to keep this relatively short on his end.
With that, Administrator Pruitt.
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: Thanks, Sean.
It’s good to be with you this afternoon. And I want to first begin by saying that the President made a very courageous decision yesterday on behalf of America. He put America’s interest first with respect to environmental agreements and international discussions. I really appreciate his fortitude. I really appreciate his leadership in this matter.
The discussion over the last several weeks has been one of a thoughtful deliberation. He heard many voices, voices across a wide spectrum of vantage points. And the President made a very informed and, I think, thoughtful and important decision for the country’s benefit.
What we have to remember when it comes to the environmental agreements and international agreements with respect to things like the Paris Agreement is we have nothing to be apologetic about as a country. We have reduced our CO2 footprint to levels of the early 1990s. And in fact, from 2000 to 2014, we reduced our carbon footprint by over 18 percent. And that’s been largely accomplished through innovation and technology, not government mandate. So when we look at issues like this, we are leading with action and not words.
I also want to say that exiting Paris does not mean disengagement. In fact, the President said yesterday that Paris represents a bad deal for this country; it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue the discussion. To export our innovation, to export our technology to the rest of the world, to demonstrate how we do it better here is, I think, a very important message to send.
He indicated that he’s going to either reenter Paris or engage in a discussion around a new deal with a commitment to putting America first. The President said, routinely, he’s going to put the interest of American citizens at the head of this administration. That’s in trade policy; that’s in national security; that’s in border security; that’s in right-sizing Washington, D.C. And he did that with respect to his decision yesterday on Paris.
So, with that, I’d be glad to answer any questions you might have. And I don’t know your names, so you’ll have to give me that. I’ll just point to you, and we’ll just go from there.
Yes, ma’am. Your name?
Q It’s Mary Bruce with ABC.
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: Hello, Mary.
Q 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?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: You know, what’s interesting about all the discussions we had for the last several weeks have been focused on one singular issue — is Paris good or not for this country? That’s the discussions I’ve had with the President. So that’s been my focus. The focus remained on whether Paris put us at a disadvantage, and in fact, it did. It put us at an economic disadvantage.
You may not know this, but Paris set targets of 26 to 28 percent. With the entire agenda of the previous administration, we still fell 40 percent short of those targets. It was a failed deal to begin with. And even if all of the targets were met by all nations across the globe, it only reduced the temperature by less than two-tenths of one degree.
So that is something that the President focused upon with respect to how it impacted us economically and whether they were good environmental objectives that were achieved as a result of Paris. His decision was, no, and that was the extent of our discussions.
Q On climate change, yes or no?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: Yes, ma’am.
Q 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.
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: There were other stories that were published at the time. The MIT study was something that, as you indicated, showed two-tenths of one degree. They didn’t have a corner on the market as far as the studies at that time. There were many at that point. We can provide those to you.
What’s clear about Paris, what’s clear is that if you go back and look at the criticism that was being levied against the Paris Agreement, it wasn’t just from folks in this country who wanted it to be ratified, or were critical of processes, the environmental left was very critical of Paris. In fact, James — what was — James Hansen is an individual who said at the time it was a fake and a fraud. And the general counsel of the Sierra Club said the same thing. So if you go back and read the media accounts, there was much criticism, largely because it did not hold nations like China and India accountable.
As you know, China did not have to take any steps of compliance until 2030. India had no obligations until $2.5 trillion of aid were provided. And Russia, when they set their targets, they set 1990 as their baseline, which allowed them to continue emitting more CO2. In this country, we had to have a 26 percent to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, which represented the Clean Power Plan and the entire Climate Action agenda of the past administration.
Q 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.
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: I did answer the question because I said the discussions that the President and I have had over the last several weeks have been focused on one key issue — is Paris good or bad for the country. The President and I focused our attentions there. He determined that it was bad for this country. It hurt us economically’ it didn’t achieve good environmental outcomes. And he made the decision to reject the Paris deal.
Yes, right there. Yes, sir.
Q 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?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: As I indicated in my comments yesterday and the President emphasized in his speech, this administration and the country as a whole, we have taken significant steps to reduce our CO2 footprint to levels of the pre-1990s. What you won’t hear — how did we achieve that? Largely because of technology — hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling — that has allowed a conversion to natural gas in the generation of electricity. You won’t hear that from the environmental left.
And so we need to export clean coal technology. We need to export the technology in natural gas to those around the globe — India and China — and help them learn from us on what we’ve done to achieve good outcomes. We’ve led with action, not words.
Paris truly — Paris at its core was a bunch of words committed to very, very minimal environmental benefits and cost this country a substantial amount of money and put us at an economic disadvantage.
Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Q 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 —
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: I’m sorry. I missed the first part of your question. Can you —
Q 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 —
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: Well, I think it’s clear with respect to the Paris Agreement that there are concerns by the administration. The President expressed this constitutionally in his speech yesterday. I have similar concerns that it should have been submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification.
I think it depends on the nature of the deal, what you actually negotiate. If we’re talking about exporting innovation and technology to the rest of the globe, I would say not — I would say that that’s not something that should — needs to be submitted to the U.S. Senate.
I would say, however, that if you’re setting targets, if you’re setting emission targets that are enforceable domestically through regulation or statute, then very much so. The voice of American citizens across the country needs to be heard through the ratification process.
Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Q 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?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: I don’t know if you guys caught my confirmation process or not, but — it’s a very intense process, by the way — but that confirmation process — I indicated that in fact, global warming is occurring; that human activity contributes to it in some manner.
Measuring with precision from my perspective, the degree of human contribution is very challenging. But it still begs the question what do we do about it? Does it pose an existential threat, as some say? People have called me a climate skeptic or a climate denier — I don’t even know what it means to deny the climate. I would say that there are climate exaggerators.
In fact, many of you — I don’t know if you saw this article or not, but “The Climate of Complete Certainty,” by Bret Stephens, that was in The New York Times talked about — and I’ll just read a quote, because I think it a very important quote from this article — “Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the IPCC knows that while modest, 0.8 degree Celsius warming of the Earth has occurred since 1880. Much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. That’s especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn’t to deny science isn’t to acknowledge it honestly.”
And I think that — look, the debate — what the American people deserve is a debate objective — transparent discussion about this issue. And what Paris represents is a international agreement that put this country at a disadvantage with very little benefit environmentally across the globe.
Q If we just look at the —
Q 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?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: We’ve actually been on hiatus since the late 1990s, as you know.
Q 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.
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: Let me say this, and I’ve said it in the confirmation process and I said it yesterday —
Q That’s true, though, right? About the Arctic ice and the sea levels and —
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: We have done a tremendous amount as a country to achieve reductions in CO2. And we have done that through technology and innovation. We will continue to do that. We will continue to stay engaged.
We are part, as you know, of the UNFCCC, and that process encourages voices by some national groups and by countries across the globe. And we are going to stay engaged and try to work through agreements and achieve outcomes that put America’s interest first.
This is not — this is not — a message to anyone in the world that America is somewhat — should be apologetic of its CO2 position. We are actually making tremendous advances. We’re just not going to agree to frameworks and agreements that put us at an economic disadvantage and hurt citizens across this country.
Q 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.
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: There is no evidence of that.
Q 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?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: What’s important to know is that the President said unequivocally yesterday that the targets set in Paris, the 26 to 28 percent targets, are not enforceable and are not going to be complied with. The Green Climate Fund where the United States committed $3 billion of initial funding is not going to continue. That is unequivocally the case, and that’s going to be immediate.
Now, there are discussions that are ongoing with the Justice Department on the steps that we’ll be taking to execute the withdrawal on the exit. That’s something that’s going to be happening over the next several weeks. But as far as the targets are concerned, as far as the Green Climate Fund, that is immediate and it’s something that’s clear.
Q 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?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: Well, as he indicated, whether it’s part of the Paris framework or a new deal, he’s — it’s either approach.
Q But a new deal with who, if they’re not going to sit down at the table with him?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: Well, that’s up to them, right? What America — the United States has a seat at the table. After all, we’re the United States, and we are leading with respect to CO2 reduction. We have made tremendous progress. If nations around the globe want to see — to learn from us on what we’re doing to reduce our CO2 footprint, we’re going to share that with them. And that’s something that should occur and will occur in the future. And we will reach out and reciprocate with nations who seek to achieve that.
Q 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?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: As I indicated several times through the process — there’s enough to deal with, with respect to the Paris Agreement and making an informed decision about this important issue. That where our focus has been over the last several weeks. I’ve answered the question a couple times.
Yes, sir. Yes, sir, this gentleman right here.
Q 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
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: As I indicated, largely, we have reduced our CO2 footprint through innovation and technology, not the least of which is hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.
And the first part of your question? I forget.
Q Isn’t it of concern that we broke a promise to 190 countries? And how does that help our credibility?
ADMINISTRATOR PRUITT: Well, truly, this gentleman’s question back here — if it was a promise that was enforceable and was going to obligate this country, then it should have been ratified as a treaty, right? The exposure here to us domestically was 26 to 28 percent targets that were part of an international agreement, and there are provisions in the Clean Air Act that actually allow for lawsuits to be filed domestically to compel regulation to meet those kinds of percentages. This was as much about constitutional and legal concerns as anything else. And the President dealt decisively with that. But let’s — again, the important thing here is it put us in an economic disadvantage. The world applauded — the world applauded when we joined Paris.
And you know why? I think the applauded because they knew it was going to put this country at an economic disadvantage. And the reason European leaders — going back to the question earlier — that I think they want us to stay in is because they know it will continue to shackle our economy, though we are leading the world with respect to our CO2 reduction.
That’s all I’ve got. I’ve got to head to the airport. Thank you very much.
Q Our word is not our bond?
Q Why did you celebrate at a French restaurant last night? Was that a symbolic gesture?
MR. SPICER: Thanks, Mr. Pruitt.
Early this morning, in the May jobs report, it was released showing that Americans seeking jobs are having more success finding them than at any point in the last 16 years. There’s a lot of positive signs coming out of the job market. Over 600,000 private sector jobs have been added since the President took office. The key U6 unemployment rate, which gives a broader look at both unemployment and under-employment, fell a full percentage point since the President took office in January. Long-term unemployment is down by 187,000 since the President took office. And America’s miners and drillers are getting back to work, with that sector showing job growth for the second — the seventh straight month.
The President is not going to stop until every American who wants to work can find meaningful employment. That’s why we’re working tirelessly on policies that will keep the economy growing — with a tax plan that will leave more money in the pockets of hardworking Americans and making it easier for businesses to thrive; an infrastructure initiative that will generate $1 trillion of investment and put Americans back to work rebuilding our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges; repealing and replacing the job-killing Obamacare with a system that encourages competition and drives prices down; and a systematic regulatory reform to reduce unnecessary burdens on manufacturing and other key industries, aiming for the most far-reaching rollback since the Reagan years.
You can expect the President to be focusing even more on jobs this month and holding events in Washington and outside, pushing his pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda.
Later this afternoon, the President is going to be signing two bills that were both passed with bipartisan support that help protect those who protect us, our nation’s veterans and public safety officers.
First the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2017, which was co-sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. It was unanimously passed by the Senate last month. It will reduce the unacceptable backlog of families awaiting approval of survivor benefits in public safety officers that were killed in the line of duty.
The second is the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act, which was co-sponsored by Senator John Cornyn and Senator Amy Klobuchar, which also unanimously passed the Senate, and assists state and local law enforcement in adding veterans to their forces by prioritizing the Department of Justice funding to law enforcement agencies that is used to hire veterans. It’s critical that we support our veterans and the loved ones of those who have paid the ultimate price while protecting our communities.
The President is glad to be signing these important bills today, and there will be a pool spray at the top of that shortly.
Also in Washington today, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited the Eagle Public Charter School this morning to show the administration’s support for inclusive school environments and celebrate the launch of the Department of Education’s new Individuals with Disabilities Act.
At the State Department, Secretary Tillerson met this morning with the Foreign Minister of Brazil, and is departing for Sydney, Australia this afternoon, where he will join Defense Secretary Mattis to participate in the 2017 Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations. Prior to his arrival in Australia, Secretary Mattis will attend the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, where he will deliver remarks and meet with regional allies and counterparts to discuss security issues.
With that, I’d be glad to take a few questions.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think that what we’ve said with respect to the executive order in question has been fairly consistent since its implementation and the first court action. So last night, we asked the Supreme Court to hear this important case and are confident that the President’s executive order is well within his lawful authority to keep the nation safe and protect our communities from terrorism.
The President is not required to admit people from countries that sponsor or shelter terrorism and until he determines that they are properly vetted and do not pose a threat or risk to the United States. That’s pretty consistent with what we’ve talked about.
I don’t have an update — are you talking about in terms of production for Keystone? I don’t have that at this time.
Q 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.
MR. SPICER: I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.
Q Don’t the American people deserve to know what the President believes on such an important issue?
MR. SPICER: I think that Administrator Pruitt pointed out that what the President is focused on is making sure that we have clean water, clean air, and making sure that we have the best deal for the American workers.
MR. SPICER: Trey. Sorry.
Q No worries. (Laughter.) 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?
MR. SPICER: I think he understands the importance of clean air and clean water, as I just mentioned, and a healthy environment, but also doing so in a way that provides American workers and our economy a way to grow. But obviously, as Administrator Pruitt pointed out, we’ve got a lot of technology that we can export to other countries and help them.
Q 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”?
MR. SPICER: I don’t — I have not — as I mentioned to Zeke, I have not had an opportunity to specifically talk to the President about that.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think the President took input from a lot of individuals and there were other sectors that were very concerned about the implementation of it. Frankly, I think there were some companies and some organizations that are among those that you mentioned that, while they maybe wanted to stay in, also expressed concern about the target levels.
But at the end of the day, the President’s number-one priority is to get the best deal for the American people. This is who they elected last year. This was — I think one of the things that we’ve got to remember is that the President was very clear on the campaign trail about his position on this, but he was also clear that he was going to negotiate the best deal for the American people. And if you look at all of the deals that we have — whether they’re the trade deals or Paris — the President has made it very clear that he’s committed to getting the best deal for America, America’s workers, America’s manufacturers.
Q Is the President going to replace Elon Musk and Bob Iger on the President’s advisory council?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know at this point.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I don’t think — I think part of the reason that the President said it was a bad deal yesterday is because countries, including China, were not making substantial progress in reducing their carbon footprint. They weren’t doing enough and America was carrying the load. So I think by negotiating a better deal, hopefully we can get a better result for our country and the world.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think that the President has made it clear since day one that his job is to protect the interests of this country and our citizens. As he said yesterday, he was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: The State Department issued comments on that earlier saying, “The U.S. and Russia have reached no agreements. They’re projecting negotiations further along than they are.” So the State Department is the lead on that, and they’ve been very clear where we stand on that.
Q Has the President been following the Kathy Griffin meltdown? And does the family want a personal apology for the beheading photo?
MR. SPICER: Does what?
Q Does the family want a personal apology from Kathy Griffin after the beheading photo?
MR. SPICER: Yes, the President, the First Lady, and the Secret Service have all made it very clear their view on those thoughts.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: That committee hearing was just noticed, and I think obviously it’s got to be reviewed.
Q So is that — that’s not a no?
MR. SPICER: I was just saying I don’t — literally, my understanding is the date for that hearing was just set. I have not spoken to counsel yet. I don’t know what that — what they’re — how they’re going to respond.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think, as you know, Secretary Mnuchin and Director Cohn were here a couple weeks ago laying out the broad principles of what they look to see in legislation. They’ve had several discussions, both in the House and the Senate, bipartisan and industry groups. And I think that the reception that the President’s initiative has received in both chambers is moving along very well with leadership and rank-and-file members.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think both Secretary Mnuchin and Director Mulvaney have weighed in on this. This is something that we’re going to work with Congress on. So we’re not there yet; it’s something that our team is going to continue to work with them on.
Q 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 secondly, as you well know, climate has been a key part of cooperation between the U.S. and China. Will you try to replace that very important sort of intersection of interest with something else? Will you continue to do some technological cooperation on clean energy, for example, with the Chinese? Do you have any thoughts on that?
MR. SPICER: Well, this is a decision that was just made yesterday afternoon, and I think the President is going to engage both with domestic stakeholders — he mentioned in the speech yesterday he looks forward to talking to leaders in both parties about a way forward and reasonable ways in which we can engage in that. And then he’ll obviously talk — continue to talk to world leaders. But that’s a process that has to evolve.
Q And on China?
MR. SPICER: What’s that?
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Well, the relationship that President Trump has established with President Xi has been quite remarkable. He’s talked about it very clearly. And it’s a model in which they’ll continue to build their relationship and talk about issues, whether it’s this or North Korea or other areas — economic areas that they’re going to work together on.
So I think that the great thing about this issue is that the relationship that the President has and continues to build with President Xi is one that will allow them to move forward.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: No, he hasn’t.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think that was the nature of what Jen was asking, and I think that is a conversation that our team is going to have with congressional leaders and other stakeholders, Freedom Caucus and other members, about what it’s going to take. I think there’s bipartisan recognition that we need to get that done. And so Secretary Mnuchin, Director Cohn, Director Mulvaney and other members of the team will continue to work with congressional leaders to figure out what it takes to get it done.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Well, if a mayor or a governor wants to enact a policy on a range of issues, they’re accountable to their own voters and that’s what they should do. We believe in states’ rights, and so if a locality, a municipality or a state wants to enact a policy that their voters or their citizens believe in, then that’s what they should do.
But I will say that — with respect to elected officials, there was, I think, a large contingent of officials at every level of government that were very pleased with the President’s decision yesterday and applauded him for that.
Q — bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic mayors who are very upset by this.
MR. SPICER: And we have some bipartisan support for it.
Q 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.
MR. SPICER: Well, I would respectfully disagree with the premise of that. I think we need to denounce hate in any form, in any act. And this President made it clear from election night to his inauguration that he wants to unite this country and move it forward.
Q Thank you. Did Secretary of State Rex Tillerson endorse withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement?
MR. SPICER: I’m not privy to the conversations that individuals had with the President.
Q We were told he wasn’t at the announcement yesterday.
MR. SPICER: I don’t know.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I cannot. And as I mentioned the other day, we’re focused on the President’s agenda, and going forward all questions on these matters will be referred to outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz.
Q But how can you not answer questions about it when the President himself tweets about it?
MR. SPICER: I just — we’re focused on his agenda, and all, going forward, all questions on this matter will be referred to outside counsel.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: As I mentioned yesterday — I guess a couple days ago — the President continues to — has met with some candidates. When we have an update on that we’ll let you know.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: If I can, I will.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: My understanding is that individuals gave the President advice on the deal at hand, and he made a decision on what was best for the country and our people on the merits of the agreement.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I honestly don’t know. I mean, that’s what — the President is the ultimate decider, and when he comes to make a decision — when he gets the information that is required he lets us know that has a decision and he announces it.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Because the President believes that it is in our country’s best interest to renegotiate the deal.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: I think when the President signed the waiver under the Jerusalem Embassy Act and delayed moving the embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no one should consider this step in any way to be a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel and for the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
The President made this decision to maximize the chance of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling a solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interest. But as he repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but when.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: His ultimate goal is to get peace. And as I said, it’s not an “if,” it’s a “when.”
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: As I said to Kaitlan, we’re focused on the President’s agenda, and going forward, all questions on these matters will be referred to outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz.
Q Well, something you may be able to answer directly, does the President still have confidence in Jared Kushner?
MR. SPICER: Absolutely.
Q 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?
MR. SPICER: Yes, that’s correct. There’s two pieces to that that are important. One is, remember, this didn’t have to do with the law or regulations. This had to do with the President’s pledge — so he is the ultimate decider on that. This isn’t with respect to a law or regulation. And what we discovered was that several individuals on staff had previously worked for media organizations, and in order to continue having those discussions and advancing the President’s agenda and priorities, it was important to make sure that all individuals had the opportunity to be able to speak to the media about what the President was doing to make the country stronger.
For what it’s worth, today happens to be National Leave Work Early Day. (Laughter.) I hope you all get a chance to participate and maybe you can go home — if you participated in National Donut Day — you can go home early. (Laughter.)
With that, I hope you guys take advantage of that day. Have a great weekend. Thank you.
Q Are you going home early? (Laughter.)
2:19 P.M. EDT