James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:04 P.M. EST
MR. SPICER: Good morning, everyone.
MR. SPICER: Thank you. Appreciate the — John Roberts fact-checking from the seat. (Laughter.) Good morning — good afternoon. (Laughter.) It’s not my fault, it’s on the paper.
After receiving his daily intelligence briefing this morning, the President led a National Economic Council listening session with CEOs of small and community banks. Since 2008, the number of small banks has declined 30 percent. The dramatic increase in regulation following the financial crisis has been a major driving force in the decline of these banks. Dodd-Frank alone has resulted in 22,000 pages of new regulations.
While large banks can hire armies of compliance officers whose sole purpose it is to ensure they meet the ever-growing number of regulations, it increases the cost of doing business for community banks, leading some not to engage in some forms of lending, or simply due to the time and costs involved.
Our community banks are key funding sources for small-business owners, entrepreneurs, farmers and ranchers across the country, many of whom can’t qualify for traditional loans. They provide approximately half of all loans to small businesses. By reforming the regulatory system so that it is efficient, effective, and appropriately tailored, we will stop treating these critical institutions in our communities the same as banks that have exponentially more in assets, enabling them to engage even more with small businesses and entrepreneurs that stimulate local economies.
The banks participating in this listening session are members of the American Bankers Association and the Independent Community Bankers of America. A full participant list is available to those who are interested.
Yesterday I noted the continued signs of good news in our economy in terms of hiring, and the morning reports showed that consumer comfort has risen to the highest level in a decade. I’m sure last night you also saw the report that illegal southwest border crossings are down by an extraordinary 40 percent, a significant deviation even when you consider the seasonal trends. These measures reflect that both the economy and the border are already responding to the President’s agenda, even while we’re still in the beginning stages of putting his policies in place.
The country and the world are clearly ready and waiting for the change that the President campaigned on and is already delivering. Right now, the President is holding a legislative affairs lunch with OMB Director Mulvaney and key members of Congress on his plans for the federal budget and repeal and replace that we’ve talked about.
This is just the latest opportunity to continue the dialogue between the President and members on Capitol Hill on turning his ambitious agenda into action. The strong relationship between President and congressional leaders will be key as the budget process moves along. As Director Mulvaney has been saying, our budget blueprint will be released in mid-March, and the President is working collaboratively with both his Cabinet and Congress to create a budget that keeps the President’s promises to secure the country and make the most efficient use of taxpayer money.
In attendance at the meeting from Capitol Hill are Senator Crapo, the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Chairman Cochran; the Senate Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Senator Mike Enzi, the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee; Senator Bob Corker of the Senate — member of the Senate Budget Committee; Congresswoman Black, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee; Congressman Thornberry, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio; Congressman Meadows of North Carolina; the Chairman of the House Freedom Caucus; and Congressman Rokita of Indiana.
Later this afternoon, the President will meet with former Secretary of Commerce Pete Peterson. Then the President has a meeting with Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly and the Director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo.
And finally, the President will make remarks to the Senate Youth Program around 4:00 today, a tradition that began with President Kennedy and has continued through every administration. The President is honored to be speaking to this distinguished group of young men and women who are interested in pursuing careers in public service.
I also want to mention that right about now, the Vice President is giving the keynote remarks at the Latino Coalition’s Policy Summit. His remarks focus on the particularly negative impact of Obamacare on small businesses, many of who have been unable to hire more workers, or were forced to scale down their operation due to high taxes and burdensome requirements that were imposed by the law.
The President is dedicated to improving the healthcare system for every American, including small businesses owners who have especially been suffered — have had to suffer through complying with thousands of pages of regulations and rules. That’s exactly why he’s working with Congress to enact the American Health Care Act, which he was glad to wake up this morning and see approved by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Also today, the President was pleased to see his Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, voted out of committee. We had hoped to see Seema Verma, who would be confirmed as the administrator this week as the administrator of Health Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the Department of Health and Human Services. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats continue to unnecessarily delay her confirmation. At this critical time when we’re talking about healthcare, it’s ironic that they refuse to consider someone with such amazing expertise in this area.
Seema Burma has worked for over 20 years in healthcare policy. She has redesigned Medicaid programs in several states, including Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Kentucky. She’s worked with governors’ offices, state Medicaid agencies, state health departments, state departments of insurance, as well as private companies and foundations. She’s unquestionably and uniquely qualified for her position, and especially now that health reform is at the top of the President’s agenda, it’s time to get her in place. This delay by Senate Democrats at this critical time is unacceptable.
On a scheduling note for the weekend, the Vice President announced yesterday that he’ll be in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday with Governor Bevin. The Vice President’s Office will have further details for you on that trip as we get closer.
Finally, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that today is the 10-year anniversary of the disappearance of Former FBI Agent Robert Levinson from Kish Island, Iran. The Trump administration remains unwavering in our commitment to locate Mr. Levinson and bring him home. The Levinson family has suffered far too long, and we will not rest until his case is resolved. And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q I got a couple of topics for you, if you don’t mind.
MR. SPICER: Of course.
Q Julian Assange says the CIA has lost control of its entire cyber weapons arsenal. Does the President agree?
MR. SPICER: I think, as we’ve commented before, there’s grave concern that the President has about the release of national security and classified information that threatens and undermines our nation’s security. Obviously, he believes that the systems at the CIA are outdated and need to be updated. We are not commenting on the current situation, as is U.S. government policy, but I think the situation technology-wise at the CIA, the President has acknowledged, needs to be updated. The CIA put out a statement regarding the current situation, and I would refer you to that.
Q Follow-ups on that. Is he going to talk about that with Mike Pompeo today?
MR. SPICER: He gets a daily briefing from the director, and I’m not privy to the contents of his discussion, but obviously issues of national security, including that, are probably something that gets discussed.
Q And then some Republicans have said Julian Assange should be imprisoned. Does the President agree?
MR. SPICER: I think the U.S. government has had a position on Julian Assange is — a position in the past, and I don’t see anything that has changed that. He has compromised in the past — and undermined our national security, and I think I’ll leave it up to the Department of Justice to further comment on their disposition of him.
Q Second topic was on healthcare.
MR. SPICER: Second topics?
Q Second of two topics.
MR. SPICER: It’s like an interview, not a press briefing.
Q The President tweeted just a little bit ago that he believes that healthcare is coming along great. We’ve also been watching Paul Ryan deliver a pretty lengthy PowerPoint presentation —
MR. SPICER: Very good PowerPoint.
Q — seeming aimed at convincing Republicans to get onboard this plan. Isn’t that a sign that healthcare is not actually coming along great?
MR. SPICER: I think anybody who has been in Washington for a few days or longer recognizes that any major piece of legislation takes a lot of explanation. The President has been very committed to talking to members of Congress. He had another meeting last night. Something as complicated as this, that deals with one-fifth of our economy, that was a major takeover of our healthcare system, isn’t a simple thing.
It’s a major, complicated piece of legislation that’s got three prongs to it. And this is the first one — the reconciliation piece that starts to chip away at finally repealing Obamacare. When they passed Obamacare, they rushed it so quick they gave the then-Secretary of Health and Human Services great authority to enact certain aspects of it. We now — that would be our phase two, is having Secretary Price go through the pieces of Obamacare that he has been given the authority to, when they passed it, to help unwind a lot of the things they did.
And then phase three is stuff that has to be done through other pieces of legislation that does stuff like allow people to sell insurance across state lines; that allows small businesses to pool. So there’s a lot of facets to getting this pushed through, and I think that one of the things that we’ve been able to do quite effectively is talk to members, especially in the House, but the Vice President has been very active on both sides of both chambers to communicate how this is a comprehensive strategy in three prongs to repeal and replace it with something more effective.
Q — for example, roll back Medicaid expansion freezing until 2018? Would he support that?
MR. SPICER: Look, Hallie, I think this is going to through the process of — it’s working its way through Ways and Means today, there’s a mark-up in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and I think that’s where we are going to continue to see action — in the House, and then when it goes to the Senate the President will continue to engage very actively with the House and the Senate to get this done.
Q Thank you, Sean. New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray said in a statement that Donald Trump should keep his hands off women’s bodies, women’s healthcare, and Planned Parenthood, which has done just fine without President Trump’s advice. I wanted to know what the response from the White House was on this.
MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, with respect to Planned Parenthood specifically, the President has been very clear that he’s pro-life. We’ve worked with them to talk about making sure that there’s a difference between taxpayer funding of abortion and women’s health services. We have, and the President has committed to making sure that funds for women health community centers is going to be reflected by a substantial increase in his budget. He’s committed to doing that, and he’s trying to figure out a way to make sure that the focus of taxpayer money is spread towards community centers that provide vital health services to women, and that we’re not using taxpayer funds for abortion.
Q I just want to follow on Hallie —
MR. SPICER: Which one?
Q In an unrelated topic. (Laughter.) Just so you’re prepared. On healthcare, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas today sent a series of tweets in which he basically said, this is dead on arrival in the Senate, go back to the drawing board, adding that it is absurd for the committees to be voting on something that hasn’t even been scored yet. What does the President think of what Senator Cotton said today? Does he plan on having a conversation with him?
MR. SPICER: Well, we’re going to engage. He has talked to Senator Cotton, and will continue to talk to any senator that has questions or concerns or ideas. It went through the Ways and Means Committee last night. I think they started at something like 10:15 yesterday morning. It is an 18 —
Q Has he talked —
MR. SPICER: I don’t believe he has talked to Senator Cotton. He’s meeting with members right now. As I just mentioned, he had dinner last night with Senator Cruz. He’s continuing to work both sides of the aisle, both chambers. As I mentioned yesterday, I think you’re going to see a very aggressive, a very robust push. We continue to have the team out talking to local media, local radio, op-eds placed, talking to local leaders.
We believe that the more we talk about the comprehensive, three-prong approach that we have to doing a lot of the things that conservatives have talked about — to bring back cost containment, to get people to be more patient-centered in the healthcare decisions they make, allow more choices — it’s going to bring people on board.
But the thing that’s really interesting, John, about the current approach is that, no matter where you are, especially on the conservative side, you cannot possibly believe that the current healthcare system is an effective program. It is a monstrosity. It is a government gone wrong. And I think —
Q I hear that, but —
MR. SPICER: And I think that we will continue to engage with him and other members of the House and Senate that have ideas, but it’s going to continue to work its way through the process. As I mentioned, it went through the House Ways and Means Committee. It’s currently going through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. When the House passes it, and it goes over to the Senate, I’m sure Senator Cotton and other senators will have an opportunity to have their say. That’s part of the process. We welcome his ideas and his thoughts, as we do with other senators.
But the President has continued to do tremendous outreach, and our staff has continued to do that. Mick Mulvaney has been on the Hill, Vice President Pence has maintained a very aggressive schedule, as well as other members of the administration, and we’re going to get this thing passed with all of their input and ideas.
Q Was the President aware that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was acting as a foreign agent when he appointed him to be the national security advisor?
MR. SPICER: I don’t believe that that was known. I would refer you to General Flynn and the Department of Justice in terms of the filings that have been made.
Q Had the President have known that, would he have appointed him?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know, John. That’s a hypothetical that I’m not prepared to ask. I don’t know what he discussed prior to being appointed in terms of his background, his resume, his client base. I don’t know any of that. I know that, from what I have read, that he has filed the appropriate forms with the Department of Justice, and I think you should ask him and subsequently them if you have any questions about this specific filing.
Q Sean, just following up on Senator Cotton, he told me just a short while ago that he believes that this bill might actually make things worse than the current Obamacare. What do you say to Senator Cotton?
MR. SPICER: I respectfully disagree, and I hope we have an opportunity for the team to continue to not only talk to him about what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it, but that we’d love to hear his ideas. I mean, this isn’t — as I mentioned the last couple days — we’re not jamming this down people’s throat. We’re welcoming ideas and thoughts. We think this is a great vehicle to restore a patient-centered healthcare bill to drive down costs, and I think Senator Cotton clearly recognizes that the current version of healthcare that is out there right now is not sustainable.
And so we welcome his input into this process. We think that the work that we’ve done prior to putting this together with the House is something that reflects a lot of the best ideas, and we would continue to welcome his input on this.
Q Are you open to major changes —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, Charlie. It’s not — I’m not open —
Q Is the White House open to major changes or is it —
MR. SPICER: I think the President has said before he wants to hear members’ ideas. He believes that this bill encompasses the best of ideas and the best way forward. But again, we’re going to let the process work its will through the House and then subsequently through Senate. And if members have ideas, we want to hear them and want them to be part of it.
This isn’t getting jammed through, and we welcome that, and that’s why the President continues to meet with folks. He met with individuals yesterday. He going to go meet with them today. He’s going to be hitting the road. He wants to hear members of Congress, outside groups, physicians, healthcare providers, patients. But he wants people to have an input in this to make sure that we have the best possible bill that serves their needs and that don’t look back, like we do now with Obamacare, and say, I wish was had done this right.
We’ve got a system that, frankly, isn’t working. And I think that, no matter where you are on the political spectrum, you have got admit that either you or a loved one, or a friend, or a colleague isn’t getting the care they deserve, or isn’t paying what they thought they would be paying. And I think we have to do this right so that we don’t look back the way we do now and regret the way that it was done.
Q Senate and House conservatives said that they want sort of a return to a 2015 Obamacare repeal effort. If that effort landed on the President’s desk, would he sign it?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think the effort that is going through right now is the vehicle that is what people are on board with. I think one of the things that we have to remember is that the process, this three-pronged process, is done for a particular reason. The reconciliation process — which I know for most people, it sounds like a very arcane, inside-baseball congressional term — but it only allows for certain things to happen in that repeal process.
And that’s why we’ve been very clear — and I think Paul Ryan laid out, Dr. Price has laid it out, and Mick Mulvaney is laying it out when he goes up to the Hill — that there’s a reason that we keep talking about it in three prongs. Because there are only so many things that you are legally allowed to do through the reconciliation process.
When the Democrats jammed this through, they did it in a way that they did it basically in two steps. They jammed it through the reconciliation process, number one. And number two, they gave broad authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services so at the time — that she could unilaterally do certain things with healthcare and implement certain things that we now have to undo in the same way.
What we’ve done that’s different, though, is frankly, add a third prong, which allows for additional legislative vehicles that will go through the House and then to the Senate, that will allow some of the core conservative principles that we’ve talked about for, frankly, decades, about allowing more competition, allowing people to pool, allowing people to do things that we think will allow lower prices to come out of the process. And I think that’s a big difference in how —
Q So if a repeal lands on the President’s desk, he would not sign it?
MR. SPICER: It is going to land on his desk, because we’re going to go through this process.
Q I mean repeal without replace.
MR. SPICER: Well, again, I think the way that we’re doing now I think is the right and the responsible way to do this. This bill will land on the President’s desk. He will sign it. We will repeal Obamacare and we will put into place a system that will be patient-centered that will allow the American people to have greater choice and lower cost.
Q Sean, with the pushback that you’re getting so far with healthcare, do you think it is realistic to have both healthcare and tax reform done in 2017? And I ask you that because Mitch McConnell was asked about this day, and he talked about there being certain constraints, and that the tax reform portion of it could be a 2018 item.
MR. SPICER: I think we feel very confident that we’re going to get a lot done — continue to get a lot done this year. Tax reform is high on the President’s priority list. I think it’s high on the American people’s priority list. And especially as April grows closer and closer, and people look down at their federal tax form and realize how much they’re paying, and we see companies pledging to come back recognizing that these companies bought into the President’s vision and agenda to make America more tax and regulatory friendly so that they would create jobs, manufacture more here. That’s something that he’s committed to.
He understands how important it is. Look, the President is uniquely qualified as a businessman, a successful businessman, to understand what a good business climate does to job creation and to manufacturing. And I think his commitment isn’t just a campaign promise; it’s something that he has lived by for decades now, understanding that that’s what spurs economic growth, that makes one place more attractive to invest in or to hire more people or to grow jobs. And so for him, this is deeply personal. And I think that you’re going to see Secretary Mnuchin and others work on the contours of that in the next several weeks. But we intend to maintain to the schedule that he laid out.
Q The August portion is still the timeline?
MR. SPICER: That’s right.
Q Thanks, Sean. On drug prices, Congressman Elijah Cummings was here yesterday. He said that the President was enthusiastic about his deal to cut drug prices. Is the President enthusiastic about that? And if he is, how much pain should drug companies be prepared to take here?
MR. SPICER: (Laughter.) Ironic that you’re talking about drug companies and pain. Maybe there’s a pill for that.
Q Of course.
MR. SPICER: Yeah. I think the President — as you know, one of the reasons that he reached out to Elijah Cummings initially is because they share that and I think, frankly, yesterday came to a lot of other areas where I think that they can find common ground and work on issues. And I know that drug prices is something that he understands near and dear is helping many people get the care that they need, but the rising cost is something that is — so I think as we look at the vehicle in terms of the specific legislation, they share a commitment to it. And I think that there will be continued follow-ups not just between Congressman Cummings but others as to what the best piece of legislation is and how we get that home.
Q The Democrats said that they’re going to drop this bill in two weeks. Is the President prepared to push the Democrats on Capitol Hill?
MR. SPICER: I don’t — I think that’s a bigger conversation that we have to have with House leadership in terms of some — maybe it is that right vehicle. Maybe Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy and Chairman Brady have other ways to achieve the same goal or work with Congressman Cummings. I don’t want to be prescriptive to the House as to how they work their will, but I know that the President has a commitment to that topic and that he wants to work with Congressman Cummings and others who share that same commitment.
Q Thanks a lot, Sean.
MR. SPICER: John Gizzy.
Q Oh, Gizzy. (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: You’re both good-looking Johns — (laughter) — but I’m going to — I’ll come back.
Q All right, thanks.
Q Thank you, Sean. Two questions. First, a Japanese news service is reporting this morning that the President will have a meeting with President Jinping of China in April. Does this mean that there is a new meeting before their scheduled meeting at the G20 in July?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to comment on the President’s schedule or foreign leaders at this time, John. I think I’ve pretty much gotten that one down. So until I have something further for you, I’m just going to let you get on to your next question.
Q All right, thank you. Going back to the meeting and to your opening statement about the banks, in the last campaign, candidate Trump campaigned hard on restoring the Glass-Steagall Act, which would put a barrier between commercial and major investment banks. It, of course, was repealed in 1999 — the repeal signed by President Clinton. Senator Sanders campaigned on this as well, noted that it was in the Republican platform in Cleveland, and said in December he’d be happy to work with the Trump administration on restoring Glass-Steagall. Is there any plans for the President to meet with Senator Sanders? And is repeal of Glass-Steagall on his agenda?
MR. SPICER: There’s no current schedule to meet with him. I’m sure that, as he has done with several other members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, that at some point, that will be scheduled. But we don’t have anything on the books for now.
But look, he’s shown — and I think today was another — or yesterday was another example, today another example of his willingness to reach across the aisle, his willingness to look into both chambers and not just business but labor unions and other industries where we can find common ground. And I think if Senator Sanders and others want to work with the White House on areas of ways that we can improve the financial industry, we’re going to do that.
Q Are you still committed to restoring Glass-Steagall?
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q On infrastructure, can you give a sense of timing, where it is on the priority list, and if these new reports that say that the infrastructure in the nation is in really bad shape, does that give it new urgency?
MR. SPICER: I think the President mentioned it in the joint address. I think we’re looking at a public partner private — a public-private partnership as a funding mechanism. There is a lot of work being done behind the scenes. And I don’t want to put a timeline on that.
Obviously, as I just mentioned to Blake, we’ve got — we’re currently dealing with the repeal and replace of healthcare. I think we need to move on to tax reform. But that is definitely somewhere that is — we’re trying to figure out how to move that vehicle. There will be further discussion of that as we get closer to the budget as far as where that fits into the piece.
Q Thanks a lot, Sean. The President had this meeting last evening here at the White House with some conservative groups. Out of that meeting, can you tell us whether the President was successful in twisting arms, getting these conservative groups to back this particular healthcare bill? And just separately, I see on the President’s campaign website that there is an event, a campaign-style rally planned in Nashville, Tennessee for next week. Can you confirm that? And why did you choose Nashville, Tennessee? There’s a Democratic congressman that represents Nashville — it’s Jim Cooper. Are you hoping to get some Democrats behind this bill?
MR. SPICER: So in the first part of that, you saw a lot of the statements that came out last night from some of the various groups. They were very encouraging. Their guiding principle is we want to get to yes.
I think one of the things that’s really interesting, and I addressed it earlier, is that there’s a lot of members, a lot of interested parties, a lot of groups that haven’t fully heard the three-prong approach. And I think Speaker Ryan did a phenomenal job today of really laying this out. Dr. Price has done a good job. That people need to understand the totality and the comprehensive nature of this; that there are three pieces of it. And I think what happens sometimes is that the reconciliation piece of this gets lost as defining the totality of it. And people need to understand the two other pieces that achieve many goals, that healthcare advocates and conservatives have fought for, for a long time that allow great competition, that allow small businesses to pool those resources together. But there’s a lot of things that occur in phase two and phase three that help bring down cost and create greater choice.
It’s amazing when you listen in to some of these meetings how often people say, I didn’t realize that, and I didn’t understand the full scope and totality of what the plan was. It’s very encouraging. And then I think they — without getting into details — I think in a lot of cases, they’ve shared some ideas with the President that we might be able to find some common ground on. So we’ll take it one step at a time.
Q On the campaign-style rally?
MR. SPICER: I would refer that question to the campaign. I think the President is going to be traveling next week. And then — but there will be — the details of that are listed on the campaign site. There is going to be I think additional travel announced for next week on the official side. And as we get closer to either the end of this week or the beginning of next week, I’ll try to have more for you.
Q The President promised to immediately terminate DACA when he got in office. It’s been nearly seven weeks tomorrow and he still hasn’t done it. Can you definitively say if he’s going to get rid of DACA? And if not, is he giving them legal status? And what’s the plan for DREAMers?
MR. SPICER: I think, Kaitlin, we’ve talked about the status of that and the — and how many steps we have to go through on immigration. In the past, I think we’ve made significant headway in achieving the President’s priorities of starting the wall, driving down illegal immigration. The numbers that came out last night show that even when seasonally adjusted, we see a 40 percent dip in the people crossing our Southern border. That’s a very promising sign.
That being said, the executive order, the second one — there was a lot of effort put into making sure that that was rolled out effectively and achieved the goal of protecting the country that the President sought out to do initially. So we’re continuing to take steps on immigration, both legal and illegal immigration. And as I’ve mentioned in the past, we’ll have more as we go forward.
Q So he does still plan to get rid of DACA?
MR. SPICER: I think the President has been very clear about how he plans to address immigration as a whole, both legal and illegal.
Q Sean, the President is convening with conservative groups, but there’s also opposition on the left. Does he plan to — he brought bipartisanship to Washington, finally. (Laughter.) Does the President plan to meet with groups like the AMA and AARP, which supported Obamacare but are not supporting this bill?
MR. SPICER: I don’t — it would be ill-advised for me to start saying who he is going to — but I think that what we’ve shown over the last couple weeks is the President’s willingness to meet with individuals, senators, groups. So I don’t want to rule in who is going to meet, or out, but I think that I’ve said before with respect to members, and I’d say it again with respect to groups, that I think if people have ideas that will help provide a more patient-centered healthcare system that drives down cost, the President and the team here will be willing to meet with them.
So I don’t want to be prescriptive in terms of telling them who they have to meet with. Their day is pretty busy right now with the Hill, but I will get back to you on some of the other groups that they’re going to meet with and we’ll go from there.
Q Thanks, Sean. Two quick questions. One, this morning at the National Press Club, a local business in D.C. filed a Superior Court of suit against the President in regarding Trump Hotel. And I don’t expect you to speak to that issue specifically, but their feeling less that — as much as this administration has supported small business, couldn’t he divest himself from this and support small business in the district? First question.
MR. SPICER: I’m really not sure — how would he — in terms of what?
Q Well, there’s 25 small businesses, restaurants, in the area, and they’re saying that the Trump Hotel is taking all that business away from them. And couldn’t he walk away from it and help out the small business in the district?
MR. SPICER: Well, as far as the President’s — obviously the President has made very clear in that December press conference at Trump Tower he doesn’t have conflicts and he’s done everything in accordance with the guidance that was given and gone well beyond what he ever needed to do. But obviously, you can’t — your name is on certain things and that’s a very big difference in terms of some of the properties that he owns. But he understands the importance of small business.
That’s why we’re meeting with community banks this morning to talk about the lending that they need — whether it’s small business, entrepreneurs, farmers, ranchers throughout the country. He understands the role of small business in our economy and how many jobs they provide, and I think he’s been a champion of it.
Q Second question was, in his speech before Congress last week, he said it’s not too much to dream that at some point in time our — and I’m paraphrasing — our feet could be on foreign soil, and I’m guessing other planets. With the NASA budget being released yesterday, I believe, is there a major initiative for this administration for space exploration? Or are we just talking dreams?
MR. SPICER: I’m going to let Director Mulvaney get into the details of the budget next week, or whenever that — I’m trying to remember the calendar here. But when the Director comes out he’ll talk about the specific funding levels.
As you know, we’re in the middle of this what we call passback provision where we’ve sent them from top — numbers. They’re sending us back their recommendations and their observations and edits and questions with respect to their budget. So we’re going to take this one step at a time.
Q When he said —
MR. SPICER: Obviously he’s very keen on America’s role in space, and I don’t want to get into specific budget priorities or numbers until we’re ready to release them.
Q You called on me.
MR. SPICER: I’m sorry, April.
Q It’s very important.
MR. SPICER: I know, I saw the hands. (Laughter.)
Q So, Sean, just really fast, following up on John, we’re seeing the campaign information for next week in Nashville. You said something about talk to the campaign — who’s the campaign?
MR. SPICER: I’ll try to help get you a name. There is a campaign infrastructure still in place. It would be inappropriate for me to be commenting on campaign activities from the podium. So there’s a website up, same one that was during the campaign, and I would suggest that you utilize that. But I’m only here as an official in the government so I don’t want to get into that.
Q Now, yesterday, going to back to Congressman Cummings, you talked about some other issues that they talked about in that meeting, where they found common ground. I want to hit two issues. The vote irregularities, voter fraud and voter suppression — where does the President see this coming together. We heard from Congressman Cummings, but where does he see — we understand he’s saying that voter fraud is real when there are other people saying it’s not. But then there are factual documents and cases of voter suppression. So how is there a marrying of that in this President’s eyes?
MR. SPICER: I think that’s why he’s asked Vice President Pence to look into it. I would disagree with the ascertation of — I think there’s also factual evidence of people voting illegally. We saw that in Texas a couple weeks ago and in other places.
So part of the reason that he’s asked Vice President Pence to chair this task force is to look into the issue. But we welcome input in other areas, and it’s an area that they’ll continue to discuss.
Q I’m not done. HBCUs, HBCUs. Now, also, Congressman Cummings said that when he talked to the President and he brought up the issue of funding for HBCUs, President Trump said to Congressman Cummings that the President did not ask for money. Now, they came here, according to many of the presidents that I’ve canvassed, they came here with the intent of — the fact that they were going to get some money from this executive order.
MR. SPICER: I don’t think the executive order is the —
Q That’s what their belief was. But then what I understand is that there was talk about investment in these colleges from Steve Bannon. One president wrote this down saying that “we are looking for a plan from you to invest in HBCUs and we will execute it when we get it. And they’re looking for full funding for Title 3, Pell grant full funding — fall, spring and summer, — as well as a one-time $25 billion investment. What does this White House think about this plan that they’re trying to give back to this White House, especially at a time when you’re looking at cutting domestic spending?
MR. SPICER: I think, when they were here, we were pleased to roll out the executive order that talked about making historically black colleges and universities a priority in this administration, moving that sort of point person into the White House so that we could coordinate a whole-of-government opportunities for — we talked about this.
Looking at the different educational opportunities — expand government, whether it’s health or investment in sciences or even stuff like ROTC and NROTC programs that are some of these that span out of the Department of Defense. But we’ve got to look at how we’re providing government assistance in a whole host of ways to historically black colleges and universities.
I think the issue of funding will be properly addressed in the budget, and at that time — but obviously this is something that has been discussed. The President —
Q Is the President’s request realistic? Is this funding realistic?
MR. SPICER: April, I’m not going to negotiate the budget from here, but I think that the President has been — made very clear that the vital role that they play in our society. And I think he’s shown that initially by the executive order that he unveiled, and we will have further information for you as we get closer to the budget.
Q Thanks, Sean. Circling back to what you said about critics characterizing the budget reconciliation bill as the entirety of repeal-replace, how quickly does the President want to see Republicans move on phase three, the companion legislation? Does he envision those unfolding simultaneously? And then given the early opposition to the budget reconciliation bill, does the President maybe want Republicans to recalibrate their strategy when it comes to that companion legislation?
MR. SPICER: I am not going to start to tell Speaker Ryan or Leader McCarthy [sic] or the Whip, Mr. Scalise, how to release and when to release legislation. But I think obviously we need to make sure that members and all Americans understand the totality of this so — at a schedule that they see fit. And I’ll let them unveil that schedule that — they talk about the totality of this plan and the comprehensive nature in all three prongs that make up the repeal and replace part of this.
It’s important I think, though, for people to understand that there’s a commitment to do all those things that we’ve talked about — whether it’s pooling or — across state lines. There’s a lot of principles and things that we’ve discussed that I think are important to let people — to know about.
Q What’s the assessment of the situation in Afghanistan? What is the assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, because there have been a series of terrorist attack there? And does the President have plans to send additional troops to Afghanistan?
MR. SPICER: So on troops I’d refer you to the Department of Defense on that one. I think we are in the middle of a comprehensive review on our policy in Afghanistan that — working with our Afghan partners and the Department of Defense and our key military leaders to create an approach to address Afghanistan to defeat ISIS.
So we’re in the middle of that process. When we have more we’ll update you. But I think the Department of Defense is probably the best place to go to get that.
Q Thanks, Sean. Today, hundreds of U.S. Marines were deployed to Syria. So I’m wondering how involved was the President in that decision-making process, and is this part of his wider anti-ISIS strategy?
MR. SPICER: Obviously, the President was made aware of that. This is something that was done in consultation. He understands the regional issues that need to be addressed there, and, again, I would refer you back to the Department of Defense on that.
Q Sean, thank you. I have a follow-up question to Hallie’s first set of questions on WikiLeaks. My question is —
MR. SPICER: I feel like Hallie gets, like, eight questions —
Q The Republicans are calling for Julian Assange to be in jail or be arrested. What about the tech companies that he says that he will work with to give them these CIA hacking techniques? Should there be any legal repercussions for tech companies willing to sort of embrace and use this technology that you’re taking a stance against, if you will?
MR. SPICER: So, number one, I’ll go back to the statement that we don’t comment on validating or authenticating allegations of this sort as the U.S. government — in terms of U.S. government policy. I will say that the President obviously feels deeply concerned about anybody, an individual or anybody, that seeks to undermine the national security of our country.
I don’t want to — stay within my purview here, but I do think that I would check with the Department of Justice in particular about — if a program or a piece of information is classified, it remains classified regardless of whether or not it is released into the public venue or not. And so I would just suggest that someone consult with them regarding the legal repercussions of any individual or entity using any piece of still-classified information or technique or product that hasn’t been declassified.
There’s a reason that we have classification levels, and that’s to protect our country and our people. And that’s something that we have to maintain, regardless of how it’s thought out.
Q Sean, two questions for you. One, back to General Flynn, how concerning is it to the President and to the White House that a registered foreign agent was selected to become — was the national security advisor for a brief period of time?
MR. SPICER: Look, I think this is what he did for a living. And as the President said in the press conference, talking to individuals that are within the realm of the duties that you’re going to perform is part of your job.
Q — compensated for —
MR. SPICER: I understand that but he was being compensated, he wasn’t being compensated as part of the transition, as far as I’m aware. And so he was a private citizen at the time. And when you’re a private citizen, you’re allowed to engage in legal activities.
I don’t have anything further on that, but I think there’s nothing nefarious about doing anything that’s legal as long as the proper paperwork is filed.
Q Sean, just real quick, it was just — several reports out of the State Department from our colleagues that on Secretary Tillerson’s upcoming trip to Asia, he will not be taking any press with him on that trip. That’s a breach of precedent, certainly of the last several bipartisan administrations. Is it concerning to the White House that the administration’s foreign policy might not be effectively communicated to the American public and around the world because there isn’t a press pool with the Secretary of State?
MR. SPICER: This is the first I’m learning of it, I’d be glad to follow up with you, Zeke. I don’t know that. I think you all know that we have been a very transparent administration in terms of access to the President and his activities here. I’d be glad to follow up with the Department of State and follow up — that you can share that with your colleagues.
Q Thanks, Sean. Yesterday you said the President had no reason to believe there was any type of investigation with respect to the Department of Justice. Did the Justice Department give you that assurance? Because they’re telling The New York Times they did not.
MR. SPICER: I’m not aware of it, but that’s my point, is that we’re not aware of anything.
Q — been told by the Justice Department that there is no investigation.
MR. SPICER: No.
Q So there might be one, you just don’t know.
MR. SPICER: Right, I said I’m not aware and we’re not aware. And that’s why we want the House and the Senate to do what the President has asked of them, to look into this. But, no, we’re not aware.
Q To discover if there is an investigation.
MR. SPICER: No, to look into the situation.
Q The Justice Department is saying, though, that they never gave you the assurances that you gave us.
MR. SPICER: Okay. No, the assurance I gave you, Margaret, was that I’m not aware. And that is 100 percent accurate.
Q So when you said, no reason to believe, it was, I’m not aware if there’s an investigation?
MR. SPICER: That’s right. Right. I mean, I don’t know that they’re not interchangeable. I’m not aware. I don’t believe — look up in a thesaurus and find some other ways, but I don’t know that there’s a distinction there that’s noteworthy. But we’re not aware, I don’t believe, that that exists.
Q What’s that based on?
MR. SPICER: That’s based on that I’ve not been aware of. But that’s the answer to that. When someone is asking me if I’m made aware of something and the answer is no, then the answer is no.
Q But the question was whether he was the target of a counterintelligence probe.
MR. SPICER: Right, and the answer is, we’re not aware. I don’t know how much clearer we can be on this.
Q So it’s just that White House is not aware if the President is the target of a counterintelligence probe?
MR. SPICER: Correct. I’m not sure what we’re dancing around the same question.
Q Well, because I think yesterday, when you came out and corrected and clarified, people took that as a definitive answer that, in fact, that was not the case that you said —
MR. SPICER: No, it means we’re not aware. I don’t — just that should be the definitive answer.
Q Thank you. I have two questions, but a really quick follow-up to Zeke’s.
MR. SPICER: So that’s three.
Q Two and a half. (Laughter.) So can you elaborate a little bit on how and to what extent Michael Flynn was involved in shaping the current Turkey policy for President Trump? I mean, was he engaging with the Turkish leaders and —
MR. SPICER: I don’t have anything on that. You can contact the NSC on that. I’m not aware.
Q Okay. So for my two real questions. First, is there any official response to the lawsuit in Hawaii over the revised travel ban?
MR. SPICER: I think we feel very comfortable that the executive order that was crafted is consistent and we’re going to go forward on this. But I think, by all means, I don’t want to — we feel very confident with how that was crafted and the input that was given.
Q Okay. Thank you, and the second thing is Nigel Farage was at the Ecuadorian embassy in London today where Julian Assange happens to be staying. We don’t know if they met or not, but was he there? I mean, he’s a close ally of President Trump. Was he there in any official capacity?
MR. SPICER: I don’t keep his schedule.
Q Was he delivering a message? Do you know if there was contact on that?
MR. SPICER: I have no idea. No. I have my own concerns here, keeping track of what everyone is doing. I generally don’t worry about what is going on across the pond.
Q You already gave me one, but just to follow through. (Laughter.)
Q I’ll take his.
MR. SPICER: Wow, all right. Hey, hey.
Q But the question is not what, but Farage — can you tell us he just wasn’t there on behalf of the White House?
MR. SPICER: Sure. I don’t — this is silly. I really don’t think asking where random foreign leaders are and whether or not they are there — I’m sure he was there doing whatever on behalf of either the —
Q — ally leaders —
MR. SPICER: He’s a member of —
Q He had dinner with the President —
MR. SPICER: Okay. I understand that, but I don’t keep his schedule. I’m not sure.
Q Two questions on two different topics. First, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin sent a letter to Congress saying that Congress should raise the debt ceiling. We know that the Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, when he was in Congress, he voted against raising the debt ceiling multiple times.
So is Mulvaney going to support the raising of the debt ceiling and does the President support that? And is he going to push Congress to do that?
MR. SPICER: I think we’ve got a few months to do that. I think the Secretary was making Congress very much aware. We got into — have now been in the White House six weeks. We’re approaching the 50th day here of this administration. I think we are trying to deal with the situation at hand. Part of the reason that the President has addressed a budget the way he has is to try to get our nation’s debt deficit and budget in order. I think he’s continuing to show a tremendous respect for taxpayer money, the way we spend money and bring it down. But obviously, there are certain things that are a little beyond our control when we walked into this building, and we’re going to work with Secretary Mnuchin and Director Mulvaney to address this issue, and obviously work with Congress.
Q Second question on another Cabinet Secretary. Scott Pruitt said today that carbon dioxide was not a primary contributor to global warming. That obviously is at odds with global scientific consensus. Does the President agree that —
MR. SPICER: I think — that’s a snippet of what Administrator Pruitt said. He went on and said, I don’t think we know conclusively, this is what know. I would suggest that you touch base with the EPA on that. But that’s — he has a very lengthy response, and so that is just one snippet of what the administrator said at that.
Q Two things. One, I think you mentioned at the top but I’m not sure, that apprehensions were down across the border. There was a question yesterday about the wall. Is the wall still needed if the apprehensions are down?
MR. SPICER: I think so, sure. The President was very clear. It’s not just needed, the President committed to doing it to the American people. And I think, while we can have a good month, and I think we’ll see if that continues, that the President made a commitment to the American people to make sure that this isn’t just an anomaly, and that, while they might be down, I think we have to do what we can to protect our country, both in terms of national security and economic security. So it’s of course still needed, and it’s a commitment that the President made, and I think one of the things that the American people, regardless of where they stand across the aisle, appreciate about this President is that he is a man that has kept his word. He talks — he made commitments to them, and he’s fulfilling them to make the country better.
Q Sean, I said there was a second question.
MR. SPICER: I’m sorry, you did.
Q I think you’ve been asked this before but have been reluctant to say whether President Obama and President Trump have spoken since the inauguration, although President Trump was very forthcoming about that during the transition so I’m not sure why you wouldn’t mention it. But I’m just asking that again. And there was a report yesterday that said aides for both Presidents have spoken. Can you talk to us about either of those things?
MR. SPICER: I’d be glad to follow up. Unfortunately I did not ask the President whether or not he spoke — I’ll be back tomorrow —
Q Can you follow up? Can you ask about the aides?
MR. SPICER: Yes, I can. I will. I keep my word too.
Q Okay, well —
MR. SPICER: Stealing what — all the way —
Q It’s actually me. (Laughter.)
Q Lost your shot.
MR. SPICER: Look at that.
Q Can you tell about policy now on Guantanamo, how it might have changed, where things are with that?
MR. SPICER: Where what, please?
Q On Guantanamo, on whether Guantanamo will be expanded, whether detainees will be brought to Guantanamo, whether they will be transferred out. Just where things are.
MR. SPICER: I don’t have anything to announce with respect to its expansion or its use — expansion use. I think the President has commented on the importance of Guantanamo and the need to maintain that the people who are there are not people who seek to do anyone good. They’re there for a reason, and he has no plans to close it, if that’s what you’re asking.
As far as the future use goes in terms of expansion, I don’t have anything to comment on at this time.
All the way in the back, yeah. You got it, Goyal.
Q All right, all right —
MR. SPICER: No, no, Goyal. (Laughter.) You keep trying to steal his question.
Q Thank you, Sean. Two questions please. One is that — as far as the attacks on the Indian American communities across the nation, they’re not new, it happened in the past also. But the Indian American communities recently have been having candle vigils, have prayers, and all kinds of those things. And also, the Indian ambassador met with the State Department officials — President Trump recently. So any presidential message for the Indian American community, how to stop these attacks at this time?
MR. SPICER: I think with respect to — are you talking about the event in Kansas City specifically?
Q Yeah, and another one also.
MR. SPICER: I think the President — whether it’s the event that happened in Kansas City, other events, the attacks on Jewish community centers that continue to plague us — we saw another report this morning of some unfortunate activity. I think we’ve got to continue to call it out, we’ve got to continue to root it out, we’ve got to continue to engage law enforcement, whatever is the applicable level of law enforcement depending on the event.
But it’s something that I think all Americans should be outraged and disgusted by — and stand up for the principles that unite us, and that’s what the President spoke so eloquently about during his joint address, and made it very clear that while certain policies may divide us as individuals, there are certain principles that can unite us.
Q And second part of my question, please, I’m sorry. As far as the U.S.-India relations are concerned, they have been great in the past and now we have two businessmen in India — Prime Minister Modi is also a businessman, and he — President Trump of course a great, successful businessman. So recently, high official visits have been going on from India to the U.S., meeting President Trump and officials, including foreign secretary and Commerce secretary and — from the energy department from India. So where do we go — what is the future under President Trump’s administration of U.S.-India relations economically, trade, and bilateral — all of those.
MR. SPICER: Thank you. I think he has talked about during the campaign and the transition establishing a deeper relationship with Prime Minister Modi and U.S. — India and businesses. And I think as we move forward in terms of our foreign policy, we’ll have further updates on that.
But as you know very well, he spoke very clearly and frequently about the relationship that we have and hope to continue to grow with India.
Q Sean, thank you. During the campaign President Trump was not shy about his desire to get the United States out of these Middle Eastern wars, yet as a question earlier, we just sent 250 Marines into Syria. Is President Trump committed to going to Congress to receiving authorization for an AUMF or a declaration of war if we continue to deploy United States troops overseas?
MR. SPICER: Well, John, I think there’s a big difference between an authorization of war than sending a few hundred advisors. And I think most in Congress would probably agree with that as well. I think that’s a big difference between a hostile action and going in to address some certain concerns, whether it’s certain countries in the Middle East or elsewhere.
I would refer you to the Department of Defense on that one. I think the actions that he has done and taken with the advice that his generals have given him, his admirals as well, is something that we will continue to work on.
Q Two questions. One, first off, kind of clarifying the difference between the campaign stop and also the healthcare rollout. So Nashville will be kind of the campaign stop. How will the White House kind of pick and choose how that goes, whether it’s going to be a presidential visit trying to sell the healthcare rollout, or one for the campaign? And then a second question.
MR. SPICER: I think the campaign will make decisions with respect to how they want to spend their money and where they want to go. And the White House will do the same. But that’s something that every President back as far as modern history has done as well. The President will be visiting several cities over the next coming weeks to engage the American people on the need to repeal and replace and other steps that he’s taking to deliver on the promises that he’s made as Commander-in-Chief.
Q And then a second question, I know Senator Cruz was here for dinner last night. Can you characterize the relationship between the two men? 2018 will be here before you know it. Do you anticipate the President will be there to support him in that effort?
MR. SPICER: We got a few battles to get through legislatively, but I know that he enjoyed welcoming Senator and Mrs. Cruz and their two daughters last night to the White House. They had a very enjoyable time and a very fruitful discussion. But it’s something that he’s going to continue to do with members of both parties, both chambers, and not just here in Washington. I think you’re going to see him continue to engage with governors and attorneys general and lieutenant governors.
The President truly enjoys this level of engagement. He likes to sit down and talk about ideas, talk about the future of this country and get their input and ideas. And I think they talked a little business and a lot of personal last night, and it was a very enjoyable thing.
With that, thank you, guys. Have a great day. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. I think tomorrow is going to be one-question Friday. Thank you all.
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