James S. Brady Briefing Room
3:04 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: Sorry for the delay, guys. It’s budget day. I was supposed to kick this off with Director Mulvaney. He’s still on a call with the governors, and continues to host a ton of briefings today with key stakeholders. And so my goal, if this times out right, is that as we finish up, Director Mulvaney will walk in the room, right on cue, and then he will talk to you a little bit about the budget, and we’ll walk through Q&A on that. So hopefully this all works.
I’m going to skip past the part where I say “thank you, Director Mulvaney.” (Laughter.)
As the Director will say, the President’s budget blueprint keeps his promise to put America’s security first, turning his words directly into policies that restore respect for our citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars.
There were some additional non-events — non-budget events of the day. This morning, the President had a bilateral meeting with Taoiseach Kenny of Ireland. Our two nations have a long history, common values, and important economic ties.
The President was honored to host him here in the Oval Office and recommit to strong social, political, and economic relations between the U.S. and Ireland.
This afternoon, the President made the remarks at the Friends of Ireland Luncheon at the Capitol. This traditional lunch celebrating America’s bipartisan commitment to peace and security in Ireland was started in 1983 by President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill — both proud Irish Americans — and has been attended by every President, Speaker, and Taoiseach of Ireland since then.
And also, while at the Capitol this afternoon, right around now, the Vice President is swearing in former Senator Dan Coats as the next Director of National Intelligence in his ceremonial office. Former Senator Coats has clearly demonstrated the deep subject — the subject matter expertise and sound judgment required to lead our intelligence community, and the President is finally glad have him on board as part of him team.
Later this evening, the President, along with Taoiseach Kenny, will attend the St. Patrick’s Day Reception and participate in the annual Shamrock Ceremony. Since 1952, the President has invited the Taoiseach to come to the White House in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, where they present a bowl of shamrocks as a symbol of the profound and lasting relationship between the two countries. The President and Taoiseach Kenny will also make remarks.
I have a few more notes before I get to Director Mulvaney. First, I wanted to share with you guys — it’s a letter that should be going out shortly, if it hasn’t already, that the President signed this morning, wishing Ray Chavez, the oldest living survivor of Pearl Harbor, a happy 105th birthday.
Our nation owes Mr. Chavez’s generation — a Great Generation — a debt of gratitude for an extraordinary legacy of liberty and freedom around the world, fighting to ensure security and prosperity for millions. A copy of the letter will be sent out, if it hasn’t already. And obviously, we all extend our warm wishes to Ray and his family and they celebrate his 105th. And the President signed the letter wishing that he hopes to have several more birthdays to come.
This afternoon, the President announced his intent to nominate several individuals to key posts at the Department of Defense: Robert Daigle as Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation; Elaine McCusker as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense; David Norquist as Under Secretary of Defense and Comptroller; Kenneth Rapuano as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security; Patrick Shanahan as Deputy Secretary of Defense; and David Joel Trachtenberg as Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
The President is glad to have these extremely qualified men and women on board to assist Secretary Mattis as he undertakes the great rebuilding of our nation’s military.
Also this afternoon, the President declared a major disaster in the State of California and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms, flooding, and mudslides this January.
We also announced this afternoon that Second Lady Karen Pence will lead the Presidential Delegation to the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria.
The House Budget Committee met earlier this morning and approved the American Health Care Act, making it now the third committee to move the AHCA forward. We’re working hand in glove with the House to consider improvements, and we’re confident that this thoughtful and thorough process will lead to legislation that reforms our healthcare, making it affordable and accessible to every American.
Since we won’t have a chance to meet tomorrow in light of the President and Chancellor Merkel’s press conference, I wanted to quickly walk you through a couple of events on the President’s schedule.
Tomorrow, of course, the President will welcome German Chancellor Merkel here to the White House, a rescheduling from the snow, inclement weather that prevented that from happening the other day. The President and the Chancellor will have a series of meetings and then will host a roundtable focusing on the importance of vocational training with both American and German business leaders.
They will also have a press conference in the afternoon. We’ll have details on the entire day later this afternoon.
Also tomorrow, the President will attend a listening session with Veterans Affairs and VA Secretary Shulkin and representatives from the various Veterans Service Organizations.
It’s incredibly important to the President that we reform the VA system so that it can fulfill the promises made to the men and women who risked their lives for our nation. He looks forward to discussing potential changes that can help improve the Veterans Administration.
On Monday, the President will meet with Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft. He’ll also have lunch with the Vice President and a meeting with the Secretary of State.
Later that afternoon, the President will welcome Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq to the White House.
And on Wednesday, the President has invited all 49 members of the Congressional Black Caucus to come to the White House for a meeting. The President looks forward to welcoming [them] for what he hopes will be a productive discussion.
And I also want to remind everyone that — I did yesterday, via Twitter — that the lottery for the 139th Annual White House Easter Egg Roll is open until Saturday — this coming Saturday. Everyone who is interested in attending can go to Recreation.gov. Further information is at WhiteHouse.gov for details.
At his rally last night, the President addressed the decision by the federal district court in Hawaii to block his lawful executive order. As the President said last night, “The law and the Constitution give the President the power to suspend immigration when he deems it to be necessary in the national interest…” The Court didn’t even bother to quote the relevant statute in its opinion, which could have plainly shown that the President clearly has this authority.
I know you’ve heard it before, but since the Court didn’t, let me quote it again for you. 8 U.S. Code 1182 states: “Whenever the President finds [that] the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he [shall] deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem [to be] appropriate.”
The Department of Justice said in a statement that they “strongly disagree[s] with the federal district court’s ruling, which is flawed both in reasoning and [in] scope.” DOJ continued, “The President’s executive order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our nation’s security, and the Department will continue to defend this executive order in the courts.”
The Department is exploring all available options to vigorously defend this executive order. We intend to appeal the flawed rulings. Currently, the Department of Justice is determining the legal strategy and timing. We expect action to be taken soon to appeal the ruling in the 4th Circuit and to seek clarification of the order prior to appeal in the 9th Circuit.
The danger is real, and the law is clear. The President was elected to change our broken immigration system, and he will continue to exercise his constitutional authority and presidential responsibility to protect our nation.
And just before I get to your questions, and then before we’ll introduce Director Mulvaney, I just wanted to follow up on a couple of questions that have come up recently.
Jon Decker asked multiple times on the enforcement of the President’s executive order to restrict lobbying activities of executive branch employees, which includes a five-year ban on lobbying agencies where you’ve served and a lifetime ban on lobbying from foreign governments.
I said I’d get back to Jon, so here we go. The executive order itself has a section, Section 5, which focuses on enforcement. The order outlines that each agency head is tasked with working with the Office of Government Ethics to establish procedures for determining potential violations of the ethics pledge. Should a violation be determined, the executive order authorizes the Department of Justice to enforce the order through several mechanisms: debarment proceedings — these would restrict an individual or his or her associated entities from doing business with the federal government; seeking an injunction, such as a restraining order from lobbying for 10 years — the five years in the ethics agreement plus an additional five years; or civil penalties such as a fine commensurate with the nature of the violation.
The President fully expects the Department of Justice to vigorously enforce this executive order.
Also yesterday several of you asked where the House is in regard to additional legislation as outlined in the third prong of the AHCA and the President’s plan to reform healthcare. I’m pleased to note that last night Leader McCarthy in the House introduced four pieces of legislation that will remove burdensome regulations, lower costs, and increase access as we’ve noted: the Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act, H.R. 372, which eliminates anti-trust protection for an insurance provider, creating competition so that Americans are not left with just one choice for healthcare coverage; the Small Business Health Fairness Act, H.R. 1101, which allows small businesses to band together and negotiate lower prices; the Protecting Access to Care Act, H.R. 1215, which limits frivolous lawsuits that unnecessarily drive up healthcare costs; and the Self-Insurance Protection Act, H.R. 1304, which protects workers who get their healthcare coverage from employers that self-insure by providing a backstop on catastrophic losses.
And finally, in terms of following up from yesterday, in regard to the DOJ’s indictments of Russian hackers on Yahoo data, this action demonstrates the United States’ commitment to identifying cyber criminals and bringing them to justice, no matter where they are. It also highlights the criminal importance of international cooperation to our cyber regime. And like I said, yesterday, though this is a lawful enforcement action, anything beyond that, I would direct you to the Department of Justice and the FBI for further details.
Before I continue, let me turn it over to Director Mulvaney to talk a little bit about the budget.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Thanks very much. Good afternoon, and happy day before St. Patrick’s Day, also known as Budget Day. Most of you heard me talk about the budget before so I’m not going to say too many things in opening before we get to your questions. But we will remind you that this is what we’re calling the America First Budget. We had an America First candidate; you now have an America First President. And it shouldn’t surprise anybody that we have an America First Budget. It’s in the details, as we talked about last week — $54 billion of additional defense spending. We have some more details today on where that money is going.
We’re seeing increases at the VA, increases within the Department of Justice for law enforcement, increases within the Department of Homeland Security for things that include border security and immigration controls. Immigration is within — excuse me — increases within the Department of Energy to deal with a nuclear triad.
And then corresponding reductions in similar amounts offsetting dollar for dollar in other programs. The largest reduction if you’ve seen the budget already is a 31 percent reduction within the Environmental Protection Agency. The next largest reduction on a percentage basis is within Department of State; and the other departments are reduced in lesser amounts. I think the smallest reduction we have is NASA, which is just less than 1 percent. But there again, as with many of the agencies, you’ll see certain line items within those budgets plussed up.
This is the message the President wanted to send to the public, to the press, to Capitol Hill: he wants more money for defense; more money for border enforcement; more money for law enforcement generally; more money for the vets; more money for school choice. And then to offset that money with savings elsewhere so that all of that is done without an additional dollar added to the deficit.
As I’ve mentioned before, the budget does not balance the budget. This budget simply reallocates and reprioritizes spending as any family or business would do.
This budget does not — for those of you who were not here last week — this budget does not address the big-picture items such as policy changes, revenue flows, tax policy, mandatory spending. This is simply the topline spending budget. That’s why we call it the budget blueprint, and not the full budget. That full budget, which will contain all the rest of those pieces and parts, will be released in May.
Before I take questions, I’m going to do something I don’t ordinarily do — I’m sure it’s kind of new — I’m going to call on the New York Times because they’re in trouble. Apparently, is there a — where’s my New York Times guy? Matt Flegenheimer and Alan Rappeport — okay, are in big trouble. I’ll give you the first question but you have to deliver this message to them. They printed this morning that I am the father of 17-year-old triplet girls. My 17-year-old daughter really wishes that were happy — really wishes that had happened, but my two 17-year-old sons are upset. (Laughter.) So if you could clarify that, that would be great. And I’ll give you the first questions, if you’ve got one.
So go ahead.
Q We’re not great at math, obviously, at the New York Times.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: The math is right, it’s actually the gender that was wrong. (Laughter.)
Q Sir, during the campaign President Trump, then candidate Trump, talked about the national debt, which of course has reached around $20 trillion. You mentioned it in your budget message this morning. Is there a plan, as the President talked about during last year’s campaign, to actually eliminate the national debt in eight years? He said during the campaign it would be easy to actually eliminate the entire debt — not the deficit, but the debt — in eight years. Is that something that this President is actually committed to trying to do?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: It’s a good question, it’s a fair question. I would just suggest to you it’s not the right time for the question. The budget blueprint, again, does not deal with the debt, it even doesn’t deal with the deficit. It is simply the first part of the appropriations process. We’ll send this up to the Hill now, and the Appropriations Committees of the House and the Senate — of course the House controls the power of the purse, the Senate — excuse me, Congress controls the power of the purse. And this will be the first step in that process.
We will start to address the issues of the longer-term deficit, longer-term debt in that larger budget. And of course we’ll have to deal at that time with things like mandatory spending, tax policy, revenue flows to the government.
So again, it’s a fair question, I just don’t think now is the time to ask the question.
Q The 28 percent that comes out of the State Department, I know that you’re leaving a lot of discretion to the people who are in charge there at all of these agencies for how to implement these cuts. But how much is intended to come out of the foreign aid budget of that $10 billion?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: A lot of it. As I’ve said before, one of the reasons that you’re seeing such a dramatic reduction in the State Department on a percentage basis is not that this President thinks that diplomacy is not important — in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve already seen that Secretary Tillerson has had a tremendous — one diplomatic success already on the deal he cut with Iraq.
The President believes in diplomacy, and we believe that this budget protects that core function of the State Department. It just so happens that much of the foreign aid that the President talked about in campaign — much of the money that goes to climate research, green energy, those types of things — are actually in the State Department budget. If those line items had been in the Department of Commerce, you would see Department of Commerce having gone down by a similarly large percentage.
So the answer to your question is that most of the cuts within the State Department try to focus directly on foreign aid.
Q Yes, the budget showed a 0.8 decrease for NASA, but you’ve also talked about in the administration using private companies such as SpaceX, for example, for more of that. So does this show some — is some of this going to be shifted over to the private sector? And does this show a commitment on the administration’s part towards science and NASA?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: It does. Again, if you go back and you do what we did, which is go back to the President’s speeches, the interviews he gave and just talking to him, we tried to identify his priorities. And one of the things he told us was, look, I’m still interested in America being involved in space exploration.
So even though the overall topline number at NASA is reduced by a small fraction — I think it’s 0.8 percent, as you mentioned — individual line items that deal with specifically space exploration are actually plussed up. And part of the intent there is to promote exactly what you just talked about.
Q Two questions. Your own experience in the House tells you that a lot of these cuts haven’t been voted for before. Do you consider this budget an opening bid, and do you expect a lot of pushback, even from Republicans, on the specificity and the size of these cuts?
And secondly, to take your point about the President’s words on the campaign, those of us who traveled around with him remember — he said he didn’t want to touch Social Security, Medicare, the big entitlements. The fact that that’s not in this budget, is that a signal that those programs are going to remain untouched? And as the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said, that ignores 70 percent of spending and 90 percent of its growth over the next decade.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: I’ll deal with the second one first, which is the President is absolutely going to keep the promises he kept on the campaign trail. Again, you will see no reference in Social Security here, no reference to Medicare here, no reference to Medicaid here or any of the other mandatory programs — what some people call entitlement programs — because that’s not what this budget is.
This is the discretionary part of the budget, half of which, as you know, is defense, and the other half is everything else, the alphabet soup of government. So just because it’s not here doesn’t mean we’re dodging the issue. You would never see in any budget blueprint that deals with the topline spending numbers Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
To your other question about it not being popular on the Hill — yeah, I can recognize that. I’ve been on the Hill enough to know that some of these would be very unpopular. Keep in mind the President is in a unique position. I’ve been a member of Congress, I represented 700,000 people in South Carolina. I had my constituency. It was a district. Senators represent an entire state. We’re always dealing with special interests from back home, we’re dealing with lobbyists from back home.
The President is beholden to none of that. The President has drafted a budget for the entire nation because that’s who he sees himself as representing. He did not ask lobbyists for input on this, he did not ask special interests for input on this, and he certainly didn’t focus on how these programs might impact a specific congressional district.
But we knew that going into it. And again, the message we’re sending to the Hill is we want more money for the things the President talked about, defense being the top one, national security, and we don’t want to add to the budget deficit. If Congress has another way to do that we’re happy to talk to them about it.
Yes, sir, in the glasses.
Q James Bays from Al Jazeera. The United Nations said the world is currently facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II — 20 million people in just four countries facing starvation or famine. And yet you’re cutting funding to the U.N., cutting funding to the foreign aid budget. Are you worried that some of the most vulnerable people on Earth will suffer as a result?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: We’re absolutely reducing funding to the U.N. and to the various foreign aid programs, including those run by the U.N. and other agencies. That should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign. The President said specifically hundreds of time — you covered him — I’m going to spend less money on people overseas and more money on people back home. And that’s exactly what we’re doing with this budget.
Q Given your focus on dollar-for-dollar offsets in fiscal ’18, and for your fiscal 2017 request you didn’t insist on dollar-for-dollar offsets. Why is that? Why are you not concerned about adding to the deficit in fiscal 2017?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: The large part of the — the point — the question deals with the 2017 request, which is a $30 billion — I think it’s actually $3 billion — a billion and a half in there for the wall. And it’s not entirely offset. There’s a couple reasons for that. One of them is time. Another one is that some of that is what they call Overseas Contingency Operations. Now, you also know that I have a somewhat colored history with the overseas contingency operation, but I will tell you that we went through this and made sure that the money that’s being requested is true OCO — means that it’s focused truly on the areas where we’re involved overseas, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, those types of places.
So we have sent them $18 billion worth of proposed reductions for 2017, but not all of them are offset.
Q The President has called for eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcast and the National Endowment for the Arts. If the Republican Congress sent the President appropriate bills that fund CPB and NEA, will he veto those bills and tell the Republican leadership to send bill that defunds those things?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: The message the President sent right now is that we want to defund those. And there’s completely defensible reasons for doing that. It’s a simple message, by the way. I put myself in the shoes of that steelworker in Ohio, the coal-mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit, and I’m saying, okay, I have to go ask these folks for money and I have to tell them where I’m going to spend it. Can I really go to those folks, look them in the eye and say, look, I want to take money from you and I want to give it to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting? That is a really hard sell, in fact, some of you don’t think we can defend anymore.
As to specific vetoes, you and I both know it doesn’t come over one by one, line item by line item doesn’t come over. They come over in large appropriations bills. And we’ll work with Congress to go through the appropriations process and we’ll make determinations on whether or not to sign appropriations bills or veto them at the appropriate time.
Q There are several cases in the country where you’re talking about eliminating some of these unauthorized programs. Are you laying down a marker there on unauthorized programs, and do you think spending discipline would be improved if Congress authorized everything that it is —
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: We hope so. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, we actually spend a lot of money in the federal government that’s on programs that aren’t authorized at all. Remember, spending is sort — to break it down, it’s sort of a three-step process to spend money. You have to budget for it first. Then you have to authorize it, and then you have to appropriate it. But a lot of the programs that we’ve spent money on for years have been unauthorized spending. Either they used to be authorized — actually, most of them used to be authorized and then they simply lapsed. And some of them were just never authorized in the first place. They simply were appropriated without any authorization.
And, yeah, the message is that’s not the right way to do it. In fact, we think that’s the wrong way to do it. You heard the President talk specifically on the campaign trail about at least 5 percent reductions for unauthorized programs, and that’s what generated this budget.
Q Director Mulvaney talked about this budget basically keeping the promises that the President made during the course of the campaign. For Housing and Urban Development, this budget blueprint calls for a 13-percent reduction, $6 billion. During the course of the campaign, President Trump said, specifically to urban black voters, he says, “What do you have to lose? It turns out what they have to lose is at least $6 billion that goes to many programs that benefit those communities. What do you say to those Americans who feel that?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Nobody is going to get kicked out of their houses. What we did when we looked at the HUD budget was try to figure out a way to spend money better, and what we saw — and I talked to Dr. Carson about this just today — what we saw as we went through the analysis of the HUD budget is that a lot of their money got spent on government housing and building. It’s actually infrastructure. And what Senator Carson — what Secretary Carson and I talked about was figure out a way to do that better.
And as we did that, what we realized was we are working on a large infrastructure program that we hope to roll out this summer. And what Secretary Carson wants to do is take the money for the infrastructure that’s in HUD right now — and not very well run — and move that into this larger program.
In fact, you’ll see the same line items — or similar line items at the Department of Transportation for the same reason. These do not mean the President is changing his commitment to infrastructure. Again, far from it. What we’re saying is, look, for years and years we have built infrastructure like this and it doesn’t work very well —
Q Well —
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Let me finish and I’ll get back to you. So what we’re doing now is we’re taking it out of the discretionary budget and we’re going to move it into the larger infrastructure plan this summer.
Q Housing and Urban Development and the Community Development Block Grants aren’t exclusively about housing. They support a variety of different programs, including, in part, Meals on Wheels, that affects a lot of Americans. In Austin, Texas today, one organization there that delivers those meals to thousands of elderly says that those citizens will no longer be able to be provided those meals. So what do you say to those Americans who are ultimately losing out? Not on housing, but on other things that are taken out of that budget?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: As you know, or I think you know that Meals on Wheels is not a federal program. It’s part of that community — the CDBG — the block grants that we give to the states. And then many states make the decision to use that money on Meals on Wheels.
Here’s what I can tell you about CDBGs because that’s what we fund — right? — is that we spend $150 billion on those programs since the 1970s. The CDBGs have been identified as programs since I believe the first — actually, the second Bush administration as ones that were just not showing any results. We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good. And Meals on Wheels sounds great — again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular portion to. But to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work — I can’t defend that anymore. We cannot defend that anymore. We’re $20 trillion in debt.
We’re going to spend money, we’re going to spend a lot of money, but we’re not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.
Q So you’re talking about programs that do work or don’t work. There’s a program called the SHINE, and it’s in Pennsylvania — rural counties of Pennsylvania that provides after-school educational programs for individuals in those areas, which so happens to be the state that helped propel President Trump to the White House. I’m curious to what you say to those Americans in the community where they tell me today that 800 individuals will no longer — children, who need it most — will no longer be provided, in those most-needed communities, that educational care they need.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: I’m not familiar — you all are at an advantage over me because I’d have to memorize all 4,000 line items. So let’s talk about after-school programs, generally. They’re supposed to be educational programs, right? That’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence of actually helping results, helping kids do better in school, which is what — when we took your money from you to say, look, we’re going to go spend it on an after-school program. The way we justified it was these programs are going to help these kids do better in school and get better jobs. And we can’t —
Q To be clear, we’re saying that —
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: — prove that that’s happening.
Q To be clear, we’re saying — the administration, with this budget, is saying that no after-school programs out there are doing their job in helping educate these children?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: No, but I — and again, now you’re asking me a question I don’t know the answer to, but I don’t believe we cut all the funding for those types of things.
Q Just to follow up on that, you were talking about the steelworker in Ohio and the coalminer in Pennsylvania and so on. But those workers may have an elderly mother who depends on the Meals on Wheels program, who may have kids in Head Start. And yesterday or the day before, you described this as a hard-power budget, but is it also a hard-hearted measure?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: No, I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do to actually be —
Q Cut programs that help the elderly and kids?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right? You’re focusing on recipients of the money. We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place. And I think it’s fairly compassionate to go to them and say, look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore. A single mom of two in Detroit, okay — “give us your money” — we’re not going to do that anymore unless we can guarantee —
Q And that single mom has two kids — what if that single mom has two kids in Head Start?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Let me finish. Unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function. And I think that is about as compassionate as you can get.
Q I have a question on the border wall.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Sure.
Q Thank you for doing this. The budget, as I understand it, asked for $4.1 billion, so $1.5 [billion] for this year and $2.6 [billion] for the following year. There’s no mention at all of whether or not Mexico is going to help pay for it or reimburse the U.S. for it, as the President pledged. So where is that money coming from for the border wall?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: A couple of things. Your number is correct — it’s $1.5 [billion] for 2017 — back to your question about 2017 — and I think $2.6 [billion] for 2018. People have asked me a couple times, does that build the whole wall. No, it doesn’t, but it gets us a start on the program and you’ll see some of the wall being built this year, and then obviously increased funding in 2018. But the wall will take longer than two years to build.
As to the source of funds, that’s up to the President and the Treasury and the State Department. I’m the folks — we’re the guys at OMB and the gals at OMB who take the money that we have and allocate it in a budgetary process. So it’s up to somebody else to figure out where the money comes from.
Q Yes. The budget for DOJ zeroes out reimbursements for state and local jails holding immigrants in the country illegally. Some of that money now goes to sanctuary cities. Is that part of the President’s promise to withhold funding from sanctuary cities? And are there other elements of the budget intended to carry out that punishment that the President talked about?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Honestly, I’m not familiar with that particular line item, so let me deal with the DOJ like this — and also Homeland, because there’s many pieces in Homeland that deal with this sort of topic. You’re going to see an increase in Homeland for an increase in detention facilities. It’s a fairly significant increase in detention facilities because we have — the President has said he wants to stop the catch-and-release program. In fact, he signed an executive order to do just that. And we fund that; we increase the amount of money for detention facilities for folks who come into the country illegally.
I’ll give you a follow-up because I didn’t answer your first question very well.
Q A question about the cuts you’re making to things like transportation and housing. You said those would be paid for later with other appropriations, but you said this would be balanced. And I know you’ve been a fiscal hawk yourself. It sounds like a bit of a shell game, though, where you’re saying now this is a balanced budget, but you’re saying you’re not stopping to pay for other things because those will be paid for later. But then where are you going to pay for those other things? Eventually, doesn’t all this stuff have to get paid for?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: And just to clarify, it’s not a balanced budget. There will still be roughly a $488 billion deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office, next year. We simply didn’t add to that in order to spend more money on the President’s priorities. Regarding moving projects out of the, say, the base budgets for the agencies and into the infrastructure, the infrastructure program is something we’ve just recently started. It won’t probably come until summer or maybe even early fall. We have to do Obamacare repeal and replace first, then tax reform second. That leaves infrastructure probably third, which may come after the August recess in Congress.
So you’re making an assumption that I’m not willing to make. You’re making an assumption that all that infrastructure that we provide for later on in the year is going to go to the deficit, and I’m not willing to make that assumption.
Q I have two short questions. One, the budget blueprint provides robust funding for embassy security —
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Yes, sir.
Q — citing the Benghazi Accountability Review Board. Does that mean there will be an increase, considering all the criticism that the President and Republicans levied against President Obama for supposedly cutting embassy security?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: That’s one of those line items that we leave up to Secretary Tillerson. He and I talked about the State Department budget and how he decides to allocate that. It may be that there are some embassies that don’t need a lot more security and some that do. So we give him the flexibility to do that.
The gentleman in the back had a question.
Q Many countries around the world didn’t take seriously President Trump that he would cut the foreign aid, because most of the countries getting U.S. aid were not with the U.S. supporting terrorism against the U.S., and also they were not working with the U.S. So how does President Trump feel now about those countries? Will they continue the aid? Because U.S. taxpayers will be asking that we don’t have to spend on those countries who are against the U.S.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Again, I come back to what the President said on the campaign, which is that he’s going to spend less money overseas.
To your question, though — because this came up the other day — which is the hard power versus soft power. There is a very deliberate attempt here to send a message to our allies and our friends, such as India, and our adversaries with other countries, shall we say, which is that this is hard-power budget, that this administration tends to change course from a soft-power budget to a hard-power budget, and that’s a message that our adversaries and our allies alike should take.
I’ll take one more, because I’m sort of running down. Yes, ma’am.
Q Can you explain a little bit more about what message the President is trying to send by eliminating a lot of funding for science and climate change research, as you mentioned earlier? And just a follow-up later when you get a chance.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Sure. A couple different messages. When we talked about science and climate change, let’s deal with them separately. On science, we’re going to function — we’re going to focus on the core function. There’s reductions, for example, I think, in the NIH — the National Institutes of Health. Why? Because we think there’s been mission creep, we think they do things that are outside their core functions. We think there’s tremendous opportunity for savings. We recommend, for example, that a couple of facilities be combined; there would be cost savings from that.
Again, this comes back to the President’s business person view of government, which is if you took over this as a CEO, and you’d look at this on a spreadsheet and go, why do we have all of these facilities — why do we have seven when we can do the same job with three, won’t that save money? And the answer is, yes. So part of your answer is focusing on efficiencies and focusing on doing what we do better.
Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the President was fairly straightforward — we’re not spending money on that anymore; we consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that. So that is a specific tie to his campaign.
Q A follow-up —
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Yes, I’m sorry, you had a follow-up.
Q Just really quick on Meals on Wheels. You mentioned that it’s one of those programs that’s determined had not been doing its job effectively. What evidence are you using to make that statement? And is not feeding seniors in and of itself the fulfillment of the —
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: And my understanding from having been in the state government — and I may have this wrong; I’ve been wrong several times today — this may not be the first time. But my understanding of Meals on Wheels is that that is a state determination. The federal government doesn’t directly fund that; it funds the central Community Development Block Grants, the CDBGs. And some states choose to take the money and do Meals and Wheels. Other states and localities might choose to do something else with them. We look at the CDBGs. And when we do that, we look at this as $150 billion spent over 40 years, without the appreciable benefits to show for that type of taxpayer expenditure. And that’s why we have the reduction.
Q May I follow up on that?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: No, because I’m going to — how Sean does this every day for an hour and a half, I have no idea. (Laughter.) But I’m going to —
MR. SPICER: No, keep going. (Laughter.)
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Yeah, exactly. (Laughter.) I’ve been up since 4:00 a.m. this morning, so I’m going to turn it back over to Sean. Thank you very much. And we’ll talk to you all soon.
MR. SPICER: Thanks, guys. Anyway, so to kick it off, Jonathan Karl.
Q So, Sean, the day before yesterday you said you were extremely confident that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees would ultimately vindicate the President’s allegation that Trump Tower was wiretapped. As I’m sure you have now seen, the Senate Intelligence Committee has said they see no indications Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance. That seems to be a pretty blanket statement. What’s your reaction?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s several things. It’s interesting to me that, just as a point of interest, that when one entity says one thing that proves — that claims one things, you guys cover it ad nauseam. When Devin Nunes came out and said, I think it’s very possible — yesterday — it was crickets from you guys. When Devin Nunes came out and said there was no connection that he saw to Russia — crickets. When Tom Cotton said the same. You don’t want to cover the stuff —
Q Devin Nunes said he saw no evidence of wiretapping at Trump Tower.
MR. SPICER: No, no, hold on — actually —
Q Now you’ve had the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee —
MR. SPICER: No, no, actually here’s his quote, Jonathan. No, here’s the direct quote: “I think it’s very possible.”
That’s what he said when he said the President’s communications could have been swept up in collection.
So again —
Q He said there was no — “I saw no indication of wiretapping” — no evidence of wiretapping.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. And I think the President has been very clear when he talked about this — and he talked about it last night — when he talked about wiretapping he meant surveillance, and that there have been incidents that have occurred. Devin Nunes couldn’t have stated it more beautifully. But you choose not to cover that part.
You chose not to cover when Tom Cotton went out, when Richard Burr went out, when others — Chairmen Nunes and others — and said that there was no — hold on —
Q Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee is saying point blank — they say no evidence of surveillance.
MR. SPICER: I understand that, Jonathan. And where was your passion, and where was your concern when they all said that there was no connection to Russia? Where was it then? Crickets from you guys.
Because at the end of the day when —
Q So you’re saying the President stands by his allegation that President Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower?
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, hold on. Hold on. I’m making a point. The point is this: Number one, that it’s interesting how when evidence comes out and people who have been briefed on the Russia connection come out and say that there was nothing that they have seen that proves a connection, you choose not to cover that, you don’t stop the narrative, you continue to perpetuate a false narrative.
When he came out yesterday and said, “I see no evidence that this happened”; when he said, “I think it’s very possible, but like I said, we should know later,” you don’t cover that part. You only cover the parts that — but let’s go through what we do know. Okay?
Q I want you to respond to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
MR. SPICER: Hold on, hold on, let me — and I am trying to answer your question, Jonathan, if you can calm down.
If you look at what The New York Times reported on January 12th, 2017, they said, “In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections. The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the NSA may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operation, which are largely unregulated by wiretapping laws.”
When Sara Carter reported that “by the start of the new year, it brought with it unexpected politicizing of the intelligence gathered in secret. Separately, the Obama administration amended a longstanding executive order, allowing information intercepted through FISA warrants or by the National Security Agency to be shared by a wider audience and 16 government agencies as Obama was leave office, intelligence normally reserved for just a handful of intelligence leaders was spread throughout briefings to scores of workers, and soon leaks began appearing in news media office organizations, often in stories lacking context of how national security investigations are actually concluded.”
On March 3rd, Fox News chief anchor Bret Baier said that the following: “There was a report in June 2016 — a FISA request by the Obama administration — Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — to monitor communications involving Donald Trump and several other campaign officials. Then they got turned down. Then in October, then they renewed it and did a startup wiretap at Trump Tower with some computer and Russian banks.” Baier continues, “A June FISA request that foreign intelligence surveillance courts gets shot down. A judge says” — hold — Jonathan, I’m going to — you can ask — you can follow up — “A judge says no-go to monitoring Trump Tower. They go back in October. They do get a FISA granted. This is wiretap going on and a monitoring of computers that have some ties, they believe, to Russian accounts. By all accounts, they don’t come up with anything in the investigation, but the investigation continues and we don’t know it.
On November 11th, 2016, days after the election, Heat Street reported, “Two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community had confirmed to Heat Street that the FBI sought and was granted a FISA warrant in October, giving counter-surveillance intelligence permission to examine the activities of U.S. persons in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia. The first request, which sources say named Trump, was denied back in June. But the second was drawn more narrowly and granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign and its alleged links to two banks — SVB bank and Russia’s Alfa-Bank. Sources suggest that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full context of related documents that concern U.S. persons. Two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community have confirmed that the FBI sought and was granted a FISA warrant in October giving counter-intelligence permission to examine the activity of U.S. persons in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.”
They go on: “The FISA warrant was granted in connection with investigation of suspected activities between the server and two banks. However, it is thought that the intelligence community that the warrant covers any U.S. person connected to this U.N. investigation, and thus covers Donald Trump and at least three further men who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as media surrogates.”
On January 19th, the New York Times reported the following: “American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communication and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation of possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications have been provided to the White House. It is unclear which Russian officials under investigation or what particular conversations caught the attention of American eavesdroppers. The legal standard for opening these investigations is low.
Andy McCarthy, writing in National Review, suggested: “From three reports, from the Guardian, Heat Street and the New York Times, it appears the FBI has concerns about a private server in Trump Tower that was connected to one or two Russian banks. Heat Street describes these concerns as centering on “possible financial and banking offenses.” This is his quote — “I italicized the word “offenses” because it denotes crimes. Ordinarily, when crimes are suspected, there is a criminal investigation, not a national security investigation.”
We go on. Sara Carter from Circa, reporting, “Intelligence professionals tell Circa News they were concerned that some of the Russian intelligence was spread through group briefings to a much-larger-than-usual audience back in January. This would have happened during the final days of the Obama administration when it expanded executive order 12333, which allows employees with a “need to know” have further unfettered access to raw data stowed by the NSA. The new rules allowed the NSA to share “raw signals intelligence information, including the names of those involved in phone conversations and emails. The expansion of the order makes it difficult to narrow in on the leaks and, frankly, it allows too many people access to the raw data, which only used to be available to a select few, said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity and was not granted to speak on the authority. Numerous outlets, including the New York Times, have reported on the FBI investigation into Mr. Trump’s advisors; BBC, and then McClatchy revealed the existence of a multi-agency working group to coordinate investigations across the thing.
On February 14th, the New York Times again refers to phone record and intercepted calls — let me quote them — “American law enforcement intelligence agency intercepted the communications around the same times they were discovering the evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three officials said.
The intelligence agencies then thought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on hacking or other efforts to influence the election. The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that so far they have seen no evidence of such cooperation. The official said that the intercepted communications are not limited to Trump campaign officials and other associates of Mr. Trump. The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the FBI is sifting through.
Days later, the New York Times then reports, “In the Obama administration’s last days, some White House officials scrambled to spread information about Russian efforts to undermine the presidential election of Donald Trump, connections between the President-elect and Russians across the government. But the increasingly hard-to-escape conclusion that in our government — that individuals in our government were instead trying to undermine the new President by saying, quote — this is the New York Times again — “At intelligence agencies, there was a push to process as much raw intelligence in a possible analysis to keep the report at relatively low classification levels to ensure a widespread readership across the government. And in some cases, “among them, European allies.” This allowed the upload of as much information — intelligence as possible to Intellipedia, a secret Wiki used by American analysts to share information.
Sean Hannity went on Fox to say, “But protections which are known as minimization procedures have been put in place to protect Americans that are not under warrant, American citizens that are caught up in their surveillance.” And, “By the way, their identities are protected. Their constitutional rights are protected. Now, of course, this was not the case with Lieutenant General Flynn, because a transcript of his call was created and then given to intelligence officials who then leaked this information, which is a felony, to the press that printed it.”
Last, on Fox News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement. “Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI, and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ, what is that? It’s the initials for the British Intelligence Spying Agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, ‘the President needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,’ he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.”
Putting the published accounts and common sense together, this leads to a lot.
Q So, Sean, are you saying that despite the findings, the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee —
MR. SPICER: No, they’re not findings. There’s a statement out today. They have not begun this — as you know, yesterday, or two days ago, the Department of Justice asked for an additional week. So the statement clearly says that at this time, that they don’t believe that. They have yet to go through the information. The Department of Justice, as you know, has not supplied this.
But I’ve just read off to you — it’s interesting, when the New York Times reports —
Q I let you do that whole long answer. Can I just ask my question?
MR. SPICER: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Q Okay. So are you saying that the President still stands by his allegation that President Obama ordered wiretapping or surveillance of Trump Tower, despite the fact that the Senate Intelligence Committee says they see no indication that it happened? Does the President still stand by the allegation?
MR. SPICER: No, but — first of all, he stands by it, but again, you’re mischaracterizing what happened today.
Q No, the Senate has no indication. I’m reading exactly from their statement.
MR. SPICER: I understand that. And at the same time, they acknowledge that they have not been in contact with the Department of Justice. Again, I’d go back to what I said at the beginning. It’s interesting —
Q They’ve been briefed by the FBI Director. They’ve been —
MR. SPICER: Hold on. It’s interesting how at the same time, where were you coming to the defense of that same intelligence committee and those members when they said there was no connection to Russia? You didn’t seem to report it then. There was no —
Q Because —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, so you want — hold on, you want to comment and you want to perpetuate a false narrative.
Q Actually, I did report that Clapper said that. I actually did.
MR. SPICER: But when those individuals have gone out time and time again, when Chairman Nunes has said, number one, that there was no information that he’s aware of that that existed, that got zero reporting. Number two, when he went out yesterday and said, “I think it’s very possible,” you don’t include that in the question mark.
The bottom line is, is that the President said last night that he will be — that there will be additional information coming forward. There’s a ton of media reports out there that indicate that something was going on during the 26  election. And I think it’s interesting, where was the question of the New York Times or these other outlets when that was going on? Where was the question —
Q So he’ll be vindicated. You think he’s going to be vindicated.
MR. SPICER: I believe he will.
Q Yeah, you were just quoting Sean Hannity there. The House and Senate intelligence committees are quoting the FBI Director. You’re citing Sean Hannity and Andrew Napolitano.
MR. SPICER: I also quoted — I get you’re going to cherry-pick — no, no, okay, you also tend to overlook all of the other sources that — because I know you want to cherry-pick it. But at the — no, no, but you do. But where was your concern about the New York Times reporting? You didn’t seem to have a concern with that.
Q We have done plenty of reporting on all of this, Sean.
MR. SPICER: No, no, but you want to cherry-pick one piece of commentary —
Q These connections between the aides of the President — associates of the President to the Russians has all been looked at and it’s —
MR. SPICER: No, wait, how do you know all this? How do you seem to be such an expert on this?
Q I’m saying that this has been looked at, Sean. We’ve all looked at it.
MR. SPICER: How do you know it’s been looked at?
Q There have been —
MR. SPICER: Hold on, hold on, where is — I’m sorry, I’m afraid to understand — can you tell me how you know that all of this has “been looked at”?
Q You’re asking me whether or not it’s been looked at?
MR. SPICER: You made a statement, you said, “All of this has been looked at.”
Q Our outlet, other outlets have reported —
MR. SPICER: No, no, so — okay, so when your outlet says it’s all been looked at —
Q — on contacts between associates and aides of the President and the Russians during the 2016 campaign. It sounds like during the context of that investigation there might have been some intercepted communications. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman did mention that, and we have reported that, others have reported that on our air and in various publications. But, Sean, what you are refusing to answer — the question that you’re refusing to answer is whether or not the President still believes what he believes —
MR. SPICER: No, I’m not — I just said to Jonathan. I didn’t refuse —
Q But you have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee, both leaders from both parties on both of those panels saying that they don’t see any evidence of any wiretapping. So how can the President go on and continue to say these things?
MR. SPICER: Because that’s not — because you’re mischaracterizing what Chairman Nunes said. He said, “I think it’s possible” — he’s following up on this. So to suggest that is actually — and you’re stating unequivocally that you somehow —
Q He said, if you take the President literally — he said, if you take the President literally, he is wrong.
MR. SPICER: Right, and I think that we’ve already cleared that up. And he said exactly that. But the President has already said clearly when he referred to wiretapping he was referring to surveillance.
Q Right, but it sounds like, Sean, that you and the President are saying now, well, we don’t mean wiretapping anymore because that’s not true anymore, so now we’re going to expand that to other forms of surveillance. What’s it going to be next?
MR. SPICER: No, no, Jim, I think that’s cute, but at the end of the day — we’ve talked about this for three or four days. The President had “wiretapping” in quotes; he was referring to broad surveillance. And now you’re basically going back. We talked about this several days ago.
The bottom line is, is that the investigation by the House and the Senate has not been provided all of the information. And when it does —
Q It sounds like your information is news reports, not evidence, not conversations with the FBI Director.
MR. SPICER: No, no, what — I think the President addressed that last night. He said there’s more to come. These are merely pointing out that I think there is widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people that came up.
Q There was an investigation going on into whether there were contacts between the President’s campaign and the Russians. Of course, they’re going to be looking at these various things. I mean, isn’t that right?
MR. SPICER: I get it. Somehow you seem to believe that you have all of this information, you’ve been read in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.
Q I haven’t been read in by the FBI Director, but the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been.
MR. SPICER: Well, no, you’re coming to some serious conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence — (laughter) —
Q Give me some credit, Sean.
MR. SPICER: I’ll give you some —
Q A little intelligence maybe. But no, what I’m saying is that —
MR. SPICER: Clearance. I wasn’t done. Clearance. Maybe both.
Q Well, come on, now. Those two panels have spoken with the FBI Director and have been told there’s no evidence of this. So why not just — why can’t we just end this farce and just have the President say he was wrong?
MR. SPICER: Okay, I think this question has been asked and answered, Jim. It’s interesting how you jump to all of these conclusions about what they have and what they don’t have, and you seem to know all the answers. But at the end of the day, there was clearly a ton of reporting —
Q So a week from now, we’re going to be wrong, you’re going to be right?
MR. SPICER: Hold on, Jim. Let me answer — I think that there has been a vast amount of reporting, which I just detailed, about activity that was going on in the 2016 election. There’s no question that there was surveillance techniques used throughout this I think by a variety of outlets that have reported this activity concluded.
And I think when you actually ask those two people whether or not — and as Chairman Nunes said yesterday, when you take it literally and — wiretapping, the President has already been very clear that he didn’t mean specifically wiretapping. He had it in quotes. So I think to fall back on that is a false premise. That’s not what he said. He was very clear about that when he talked about it yesterday.
Q So just to be clear, you’re good and the President is good with stories that have anonymous sources in them.
MR. SPICER: No, it’s interesting — I think when it comes to the Russia story, and the on-the-record sources who have been briefed by the FBI continue to conclude that there’s nothing there, you guys continue to fall back on these anonymous sources and perpetuate a false narrative. And yet when it comes to us talking about all these reports in there, you then criticize the anonymous sources.
Q I’m just asking.
MR. SPICER: No, it’s just interesting that sort of the double standard that exists when it comes to us citing stories when it comes — and then how you intend to use them.
Q So let me ask you what the President said last night. He was asked by Tucker Carlson — “you’re in charge of the various intelligence apparatus that report to you. You can ask them.” And he said —
MR. SPICER: And again —
Q Can I ask my question?
MR. SPICER: Yeah.
Q He said he was reluctant to do that. So let me just put two things together. Earlier this week, you told us, when asked, “Has the President directed the Justice Department to collect and distribute information to the various relevant congressional committees?” If I remember your answer correctly, it was, “No, we hadn’t given that specific direction.” Has that changed?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q Has he now directed the Justice Department?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q And is he asking, himself, for the intelligence agencies that report to him, to provide him specific answers to these underlying questions that are separate from the reports you’re citing?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q Why not?
MR. SPICER: Because I think — we’ve covered this before. I think that gets into interfering, and I think that the appropriate process is to allow the House and the Senate to do this so that it doesn’t appear as though we’re interfering —
Q But interfering —
MR. SPICER: I understand that. But I mentioned to you this the other day, Major. If we go ask them, then you’re going to turn around and say, you guys interfered with something and you pressured them. It’s a catch-22 for us. And the bottom line is, is that I think the President made it clear two Sundays ago that he wanted the House and Senate Intelligence Committee to work with these agencies to collect the information and make a report.
That’s what we’re doing, in order to make sure that there is a separation from us so that you can’t turn around and then accuse us of forcing or pressuring an agency to produce a document. We’re asking them to go through the process of the separation of powers, and actually going to those different entities. The Department of Justice said, yesterday, that they want an additional week, and we’re allowing that process to play through.
Got it? Abby.
Q Sean, is the President making these statements based on classified information?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to get into what how the President makes a decision. I think that what I think is clear though is — through the reporting that I just read — is that there’s clearly widespread open-source material pointing to surveillance that was conducted during the 2016 election.
Q (Inaudible) that that information is available to members of the House and the Senate. It’s public, as you noted. They are looking at that same information, and they came to the conclusion that they have not seen —
MR. SPICER: No, no, that’s not true.
Q — any evidence to back up the President’s claim. So if there is other information, why won’t the President release it?
MR. SPICER: Again, I’m not going to get into that yet. I think the President discussed that last night on his interview, and we’ll let the process play out. I understand what he discussed —
Q He discussed these reports —
MR. SPICER: I understand what he discussed. They have clearances in the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees. They’re able to conduct this.
Q Sean, I’d like to ask you about two topics, but can you help us a little by calling on Peter right now?
MR. SPICER: No, I’m going to —
Q Call it —
MR. SPICER: I understand. I actually call the question. Alexis, if you don’t want to answer the question I can call on somebody else.
Q Could you call on the New York Times, please?
MR. SPICER: No, thank you. Gabi.
Q Thanks, Sean. In the case that Judge Watson issued against the restraining order against Trump’s second travel — sorry, the President’s second travel ban, he included one of the President’s tweets and this was also included in the Washington State case. So I’m wondering, does it give the President any pause that this virtual paper trail is creating — is having an impact on advancing his agenda?
MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, I think that the Department of Justice’s statement speaks for itself when it comes to that last night. But the federal law that I read out clearly gives the President the authority. This is what we argued during the first one. I think for a judge to ignore that statute and talk about tweets or interpreting something that happened during the campaign trail is not in keeping with how they’re supposed to interpret the law. I’m not going to continue to comment.
We tailored that additional — that second executive order to comply with the judge’s order. I think — so to go back now and to say, well, based on how the first order was conceived makes absolutely no sense. But I’m going to let the Department of Justice litigate that, how they do it.
The second order literally was tailored to the concerns that were rendered by the 9th Circuit in the first executive order. So for them to then turn around the make arguments that are non-germane seems kind of odd. But I’ll let the Department of Justice do that.
Q Is the President concerned that comments made by his staff came up in this lawsuit? It shows comments by Stephen Miller, saying that the second travel ban would have roughly the same policy outcome as the first, that was the intent that that was used by the judge in that case to sort of — to get that (inaudible) yesterday. Is he concerned that there’s mixed messaging coming out of the West Wing on this ban?
MR. SPICER: No, he’s not. And I think that the Department of Justice will be pursuing avenues that will seek to remedy this. I think when you read through the court’s ruling in Hawaii in particular, it just doesn’t seem to make sense.
As I mentioned to Gabi, the second executive order was literally tailored. So to go back and talk about statements that occurred, in some cases, well before even the first one, seems to not be an accurate reading of the law. But I’ll let the Department of Justice be the ones that argue this and make the appropriate legal argument.
Hunter. Olivier, I’m sorry.
Q I have one more for you. To go back to your long list of sort of news reports you mentioned — one that you reached that perhaps the GCHQ was involved. Did the President ever raise this in his conversation with Theresa May? And if that were to pan out, would that imperil the special relationship between the two?
MR. SPICER: Again, these are just — that happened I think two days ago. It was something that was reported on air. I think the point is, is that there’s been —
Q Was it raised —
MR. SPICER: No, no, it has not been raised. But I do think that, again, we’re not — all we’re doing is literally reading off what other stations and people have reported, and I think that casts into concern some of the activities that may have occurred during the ’16 election. We’re not casting judgment on that. I think the idea is to say that if these organizations, these individuals came to these conclusions, they merit looking into.
Q Thanks, Sean. I got a couple for you. There’s a news report about the President’s meeting with the Saudi Defense Minister/Deputy Crown Prince that says that the defense minister told the President about a plot, a terrorist plot against the United States. Did that happen? What’s the nature of that? How worried should Americans be?
MR. SPICER: We’re obviously never going to comment on any kind of specific threats to the homeland. We’re obviously committed to ensuring the safety of every American. But it should be no secret that we share intelligence amongst a variety of countries, and so we would never comment on a potential threat or not that existed. But we appreciate several countries that we work with closely to make sure that we do what we can to protect the homeland.
Q One more. Secretary Tillerson in Asia said that 20 years of diplomatic efforts have failed to get North Korea to denuclearize. That’s plainly true, but the question I guess that comes up is does the President plan a break from diplomacy altogether? Are we looking now at only the use of force or some other coercive measures?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to comment. I think the President never takes anything off the table. That’s something he’s been very clear about, and — with that.
Q Sean, over the course of the campaign the President made a couple different — many comments about the budget and the deficit. At one point, he said he thought that he could get rid of the national debt over the course of eight years. At another point he said that he would insist on a balanced budget relatively soon. Now the base line that the administration is giving us is, well at least we’re not adding onto the deficit, which is nearly half a trillion dollars. So I’m curious as to how we got from that point to now, to where — he was talking at one point about eliminating a bunch, and now it’s adding onto it.
MR. SPICER: I think Director Mulvaney addressed that. I think — look, a couple things. Number one, the Senate dragged its feet on getting Director Mulvaney confirmed and in office. So I think we were way — we were behind the curve in having a director of OMB. We got in here — I think we produced a blueprint that is consistent with the President’s principles and priorities. But he’s already made it very clear that we’ll have a budget probably sometime in May that will outline the more specifics of the revenue piece, the entitlement piece, and the full details of all this.
But eliminating a $20 trillion debt and tackling the current deficit is something that’s going to take a little bit of time and something that the President is committed to reducing. I think we’ve talked very extensively about the President’s commitment to protecting taxpayer dollars and using them more efficiently. This budget and a lot of the action the President took on other projects, including the F18 and the next generation of AF1, show that the President is committed on a very, very personal basis to getting involved in programs and policies to reduce the deficit and respect taxpayer money. So this is step one, and it’s a down payment on that goal.
Q Are there future steps — there are lots of cuts in here, but no matter which way you splice the numbers, anyone will tell you, if you want to drop it somehow you’ve got to get to entitlements.
MR. SPICER: I understand.
Q Is that on the table potentially, yes or no?
MR. SPICER: As Director Mulvaney put it, he was chosen for this job because of his commitment to fiscal austerity and respect of taxpayer dollars and budgeting skills. And I think that we’ve got to get passed today. Let us get down that and we’ll have more for you.
But again, I think this budget is a huge down payment on the President’s goal of showing his commitment to fiscal responsibility and respecting the taxpayer.
Q Sean, tax day is coming up. A lot of Americans put together their tax returns. When the President puts together his tax returns this year, will he release it publicly? Presumably he’s not under audit, right?
MR. SPICER: Well, St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow — that’s what I’m more focused on.
Q Presumably, his 2016 returns are not under audit yet.
MR. SPICER: Right. Again, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it. I think the President has been very clear about his position on his tax returns, and we’ll have to see where it goes from there. But the President has been very clear throughout the campaign and consistent that he’s under a routine audit.
Q Thank you, Sean. Reading the draft of the budget and listening to Director Mulvaney’s comments yesterday and today, it would appear that the National Endowment of the Arts would be phased out entirely in two years. Can you name any other government programs or even Cabinet departments — such as Housing and Urban Development, and Education — in which its entire function may be phased out or reduced to another agency in government or even the state?
MR. SPICER: John, those here from OMB is the appropriate person to ask on that. I know that they’ve done several briefings on the budget. We can have OMB definitely get back to you on this. If you can contact him after this.
Q Going back to the fact that the President used “wiretap” in quotes, and last night he said it was very important that it was in quotes, but out of the four tweets when he accuses Barack Obama of wiretapping him he only used quotes in two of them. In two of them he specifically said that he tapped his phones. He didn’t use the term, wiretapping. And just minutes ago, you said it was communications being swept up. So can you definitively say that he still feels like Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, or does he feel like it was broadly surveilled? Which is it?
MR. SPICER: Look, he was very clear about this last night. He talked about it, as you said —
Q He wasn’t —
MR. SPICER: Yeah, he was. He said that he meant it, he put it in quotes, it was very broad. And so that’s what he meant by the use of the term.
Q But was it phone-tapping? Was it —
MR. SPICER: No, it was surveillance. I think we’ve covered this like 10 times.
Q There’s no specific answer of what it was. What did President Obama do to —
MR. SPICER: I understand that, but that’s the point of them looking into this, Kaitlan. I think the idea is to look into this, have the House and Senate Intelligence Committees look into this and report back.
Q I want to follow up on that. If all this comes out and there’s no proof that President Obama had any role in any wiretapping, if there was no wiretapping, will President Trump then offer an apology to President Obama?
MR. SPICER: I was asked this like three times this week and I think the answer is we’re not going to prejudge what the outcome of this is. I think we’ve got to let the process work its will, and then when there’s a report that comes out conclusive from there, then we’ll be able to comment. But to jump ahead of this process at this point would be inappropriate.
And I go to Bryan Crabtree of Salem Radio, Georgia.
Q Thank you, Sean, for taking questions from a talk-radio host right here in Georgia and not in the D.C. swamp. First, I have two questions. First, to the President’s tax returns and classified information. President Trump campaigned on draining the swamp. The American people then want to know why he (inaudible). And Commissioner (inaudible) has not yet been fired by the Trump administration. My second question is with regard to there are — many conservatives are really concerned that Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, is leading President Trump down a very wrong path on healthcare. How do you react to that?
MR. SPICER: Well, on the first one, there’s no personnel updates with respect to — with the exception of the ones that I mentioned today.
On the second, Donald Trump is not one to be led down a path by anyone. I think he is — he talked today at the lunch with the Taoiseach and Speaker Ryan that he’s working hand-in-glove with the Speaker. He talked about it last night. This is a commitment that he has to enacting healthcare. This is a process that he is committed to, wants to see through because of a goal that he wants to achieve, which is making a more patient-centric healthcare system that lowers the cost and increases the options.
But he doesn’t get led down any path. He leads very clearly. And I think if you listen to Speaker Ryan today, he’s in agreement that there’s been a strong partnership between the House, the administration and I think the Senate so far to make sure that we get this bill done. And that’s what our goal is going to be, and that’s — so I would argue that we’ve actually done a pretty good job of getting that done.
Q I want to ask you about the decision to cut the National Institutes of Health budget by 19 percent. It’s, as you know, a very important part of the government funding medical research. Budget Director Mulvaney yesterday acknowledged that the private sector can’t fill that gap. When there are rare diseases, we do need a really robust government presence. The President invited a rare-disease patient to his speech to Congress to talk about medical innovation. How do you square those things when you’re cutting NIH by 19 percent? And many conservatives actually wanted to increase the budget.
MR. SPICER: I think Director Mulvaney actually — somebody asked him during the Q&A period the same question.
Q But he suggested that it wouldn’t — like my take from listening to him yesterday was that it wouldn’t be cut. I mean, I almost wrote that.
MR. SPICER: There’s this assumption in Washington, Jonathan, that if you get less money it’s a cut. And I think that the reality is that in a lot of these there’s efficiencies, duplicity, ways to spend money better. And I think if you’re wasting a lot of money, that’s not a true dollar spent. And I think when you look at the way that Director Mulvaney and the President approached this budget, it was can we ask — can we get more with the same dollar, can we find duplicity, can we find efficiencies, can we combine facilities in some cases at NIH to enhance a better experience whereby we actually have an outcome that’s reduced savings.
But to assume that because you spend a ton of dollars you’re going to get a better outcome, I mean, with all due respect, you look at the District of Columbia, they spend by far more per capita than any other city in the country on education, and I think they have tremendous issues that are constantly being dealt with in their education system.
So to assume that just because you throw money at a problem it’s somehow magically solved is a very Washington way of looking at a budget problem.
Q But they believe —
MR. SPICER: I understand that, and I think part of the issues that we’re working — as the Director outlined a couple weeks ago during the passback process, is to work with them to talk to each of these agencies and departments about how to walk through their budget in a way that ensures they can continue to do the core functions that they want while finding ways to reduce waste, get rid of — enhance efficiencies and get rid of duplicity.
But that is a very Washington way of looking at a problem, when you say, let’s just look at how much we spend as a measure of how much we care or how much we’re going to get done. And I think that the President has been very clear as to what his priorities on this budget are and the outcomes that we expect from every dollar that we spend.
So for being in office for 55 days, or 50-some-odd days, whatever it’s been, we’ve had a unique ability to go forward so far and make a very strong commitment to enhancing our national security, to protect the country and to keep America safe and its citizens safe, while at the same time making sure that we don’t ask for people to work harder, to spend more to Washington — send more to Washington that gets ultimately wasted. I just don’t see how that’s showing respect to the American people or to the American taxpayer, especially when so many people are working two, sometimes three jobs, or both parents are working just to get by, pay the mortgage, and we’re saying, hey, don’t worry, keep sending more money to Washington — and we’re not going to take the time.
But there should be a review of all these agencies. Director Mulvaney was pointing out how many unauthorized agencies and departments and programs we have throughout the government. If we’re going to do that, at some point there should be a debate on whether or not these agencies and programs are achieving their mission. And if they are then great, fund them. But if they’re not, we shouldn’t be asking hardworking American taxpayers to send more money to Washington to fund things that don’t further those goals.
Thank you guys very much. I look forward to seeing you all tomorrow. Take care. Have a good one.
4:15 P.M. EDT