Press Gaggle en route to Nashville, TN
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Nashville, Tennessee
4:27 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: All right, good afternoon. I wanted to mention here at the top that yesterday after the briefing, moments after she was sworn in -- Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Tom Price and Seema Verda, the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in their first joint action, co-signed a letter to the nation’s governors reaffirming the department’s intent to work directly with the states to improve the Medicaid program and enhance the lives of the people it serves.
The Secretary and the Administrator echoed their strong belief -- of this entire administration -- that when states have more freedom to design programs that meet the diverse needs of the unique Medicaid population they’ll produce reforms that result in better healthcare outcomes.
Tonight, White House officials will be flooding the zone on the repeal and replace option that we've talked about on healthcare. Dr. Price will be on CNN for a live town hall at 9:00 p.m., and the President will be appearing on Tucker Carlson on Fox, as well, describing his actions to repeal and replace Obamacare and replace it with a more patient-centric healthcare option.
Also last night, the President announced his intent to nominate several individuals to key administration posts -- James Donovan as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury; J. Christopher Giancarlo as Chairman of the Commodity and Futures Trading Commission; Eric Hargan as the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services; Adam Lerrick as Deputy Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Finance; Andrew K. Maloney as Deputy Under Secretary of the Treasury for Legislative Affairs; David Malpass, Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs; Sigal Mandelker as Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence; and Brent James McIntosh as General Counsel of the Department of Treasury.
Moving on to today, this morning a broad coalition of leading conservative organizations sent an open letter to Congress endorsing the American Health Care Act. Some of the groups who signed the letter include the Americans for Tax Reform, the Association of Mature American Citizens, Log Cabin Republicans, and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. These groups announced their support for the AHCA because they know it’s a conservative and sensible step towards reforming our healthcare system.
The AHCA repeals nearly all of Obamacare’s tax increases, implements the most significant entitle reform in over 20 years, and provides mean-tested tax credits for those who don't have access to employer-sponsored insurance or government programs.
This announcement comes on the same morning that the Department of Health and Human Services released enrollment numbers showing that almost half a million fewer Americans signed up for Obamacare this year than last.
The bottom line is Obamacare is on the brink of failure, and together with Congress, the President is working to deliver positive change to our broken healthcare system through both the AHCA and through additional policy changes that will increase competition and decrease costs.
Also today in Detroit the President made major announcements on CAFE greenhouse gas emissions standards for the auto sector. When leaders from around the U.S. auto industry met with the President during one of his first days in office, they discussed specific actions that he could take to eliminate government barriers to job creation and their industry. Specifically, they sent him a letter unanimously requesting the President “reinstate the data-driven midterm review of fuel economy GHG rules through model year 2025 without prejudging the outcome and to harmonize federal requirements.”
The President listened and researched the request. He concluded that this was the right thing today, and he quickly took action. Today in Michigan, the President celebrated the American manufacturing and ingenuity that this administration will continue to set free from unnecessary, overcomplicated, and unproductive regulation.
Our nation’s great auto manufacturers no longer have to wonder if they have an ally or an adversary in the White House. The President clearly showed once again today that he’s committed to working together with businesses and unions to rethink our regulatory system to grow our economy.
The President’s regulatory reform is being applauded across many industries, not just the auto industry that we saw here in Detroit. This morning the National Association of Home Builders released its monthly index for March, which is set at its all-time level in 12 years. The NAHB directly cited President Trump’s “actions on regulatory reform,” specifically mentioning his recent executive orders on the Waters of the United States rule as a cause of the surge.
Under the President’s leadership, the United States will once again be the world’s greatest magnet for innovation and job creation.
Once we get to Nashville, the President will head to Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage where he will take a tour and lay a wreath on the President’s tomb in commemoration of his 250th birthday, which we celebrate today.
Of course, tomorrow is budget day. OMB Director Mulvaney did a background briefing earlier this morning. There’s a transcript available by the pool for those who weren’t able to listen in.
Tomorrow, the President’s budget blueprint will be delivered to the Hill and posted online, and tomorrow afternoon, Director Mulvaney will join us at the daily press briefing for all of your budget-related questions.
Finally, I want to make sure that all of you remember to get your requests in for the Easter Egg Roll. The lottery went live today on Recreation.gov. It’s available through Saturday of this week.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Scott, on the Yahoo-Russia -- oh, Sean. Who is Scott? I don't even --
MR. SPICER: No, that's okay. (Laughter.)
Q On the Yahoo Russia hacking, was anyone from the administration read in before those indictments? And is the President planning any other actions against Russia after those indictments around this Yahoo hack?
MR. SPICER: I’m not sure if anyone from the Department of Justice read anyone in, but I’m not aware of that. I would refer you to the Department of Justice on that.
Q Are there any other actions on Russia?
MR. SPICER: I can’t -- that’s a Department of Justice issue.
Q On the tax returns that were published last night, a couple questions on that. Firstly, the statement last night said that the White House believes that MSNBC, I presume, is breaking the law. Are there intentions there -- I don’t know if it would come from the President’s personal lawyer or from the White House -- to pursue legal actions against MSNBC?
MR. SPICER: I’d have to follow up with the President’s personal lawyer. But, I mean, there’s several issues there that are concerning with how they did it.
Number one, it is illegal to publish somebody’s individual tax returns. That’s against the law. And it’s ironic, of all institutions, to have NBC News, in so many ways, brag about something like that. They are an institution -- and then not only did they violate it, but then they went on last night and through today, and questioned the President’s integrity by whether or not he put them out.
It’s ironic that a news institution like NBC News, that has sat in the briefing room day after day and questioned our integrity, and questioned whether or not we had the proof for certain issues and allegations and policies, and then sat there and speculated openly, and pushed a narrative about whether the President was behind this. It’s despicable and reprehensible, and they should be ashamed of themselves as how they conducted themselves regarding this entire episode.
Q To be clear, the President did not himself personally send those tax returns?
MR. SPICER: No, and I think it’s offensive to ask that question. And I think that, frankly, how NBC News handled this, and the idea that they made a spectacle of it just shows how desperate they are for ratings.
Q And then to follow up on that. I mean, last night, as that report was about to come out, the White House released a statement that included two numbers: the amount that the President paid in taxes -- income taxes -- that year, and then his full income. I want to understand why, during the campaign, a move was never made to just release those numbers, and would the White House consider releasing those numbers for maybe the past 10 years?
MR. SPICER: Number one, those numbers were obtained and released to us illegally. They were provided to us by them, to ask us for comment. But to sort of use one illegal act, and then say we should act further on that is somewhat preposterous. The President has asked and answered this issue over and over again throughout the campaign and multiple times since he’s been President.
So the issue still stands. And I think to use the fruit to talk about, well, because they obtained one year illegally, we should respond in kind with several years is preposterous.
Q Sean, can I ask you, with these tax returns, do you know if these 2005 numbers were under audit?
MR. SPICER: I don’t. I don’t know.
Q Can I ask you, separate -- Republicans and Democrats in the House Intel Committee said today they still don’t have any evidence of wiretapping. Will the President apologize to former President Obama for this? They still have no evidence of this.
MR. SPICER: I think what Chairman Nunes said is twofold. One is that he said he did not have anything at this time. Two is that he said that can understand that the President has tweeted that there is a lot there with regarding surveillance during the cycle. And again, I think this is -- the Department of Justice asked for an additional week to provide information. We are still at the beginning stages of this. We asked both the House and Senate to look into this. We hope they will. We believe that they will have further updates as they go through this process.
But, again, these two individuals today were making comments on where we stand right now. And I think, as we go through the process, I think as I mentioned yesterday, the President feels very comfortable that there is information out there regarding surveillance that was conducted during the 2016 election.
Q Sean, follow-up: Nunes said, “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.” You’ve broadened it to surveillance. Does the White House still believe that there was a wiretap of Trump Tower?
MR. SPICER: I answered this question two days ago in the briefing, and the President has discussed this. I think it’s something that he was asked by Tucker Carlson, and he’ll answer it tonight. But he was very clear that, you know, he used the wiretap, generally. He put it in quotes, to mean that it counts for surveillance and all types of activity of that sort.
Q Sean, can I ask you about the healthcare plan? Republicans on the Hill today were saying that they had gotten some sense that you guys had accepted changes to that plan. Are there --
MR. SPICER: Well, I think one of the things that I’ll say is that the President has been very clear -- I’ve mentioned this from the briefing room several times; Director Mulvaney and Director Price have mentioned it as well -- that we want to work with the House to achieve the best outcome. And if members have ideas --I know that there’s talk of a manager’s amendment, and we’re obviously in talks with Speaker Ryan and the entire leadership team over there, and is Director Mulvaney and Secretary Price to get the best outcome based on the feedback from members.
But that’s why he continues to bring in groups of senators, groups of House members -- to have those discussions, to find out if we can achieve the best outcome.
Q But at this point, have you agreed to anything that would go in the manager’s amendment?
MR. SPICER: I don’t -- I’m not privy to -- this is not -- once we have a manager’s amendment that we can talk about, we will. But there is an ongoing discussion about areas that we can get to. And again, one of the points that I talked about in the briefing yesterday is there’s a lot of ideas out there, and I think, at the end of the day, we have to make sure that all of those ideas continue to the goal of growing the vote from 218 up.
There are some ideas that while have merit and may have a lot of support don’t have enough merit -- have support to help grow the bill or have a majority support, and that’s important when you’re looking at trying to pass legislation through the House or the Senate.
Q Sounds like there are some things that you can rule out then? Can you tell us what’s definitely not going to be in there?
MR. SPICER: Again, this is something that was an ongoing process with the House at this time, and I'm sure we'll go through it with the Senate as well. And I don't want to sit here and prejudge where we are at this stage because it is ongoing.
Q Just to follow up on that, do you believe, does the White House believe there are enough votes in the Senate right now for HCA to pass?
MR. SPICER: I think, obviously, the focus is -- I don't mean to sound evasive, but the first goal is to get it through the House, and then to worry about the Senate. I think until you have a product that comes out of the House with a manager’s amendment that the Speaker is working on, there’s not something necessarily that every senator can fully make a determination as to how their vote is.
I think they’ve started to talk. There was a group over yesterday, as you're well aware -- Senator Cruz, Senator Sasse, Senator Strange, several others -- that provided their input to staff as far as things that they’d like to see. Staff is going to continue to work on that.
Remember that as that bill leaves the House it will be an opportunity for senators to have their say as well. And so this is part of a legislative process.
Q On a separate subject, some members of Congress have asked for James Comey to say one way or another whether there’s an investigation into the campaign and Russia ties. Does the White House, does the President believe that for the sake of clarity that James Comey should be more specific about whether an investigation exists?
MR. SPICER: I'm not going to interfere with those discussions. I think that's up to -- I don't want to get in the middle of Congress and their request. So I'll leave that up to Director Comey and to Congress to determine what’s appropriate.
Q Does the President want to know whether an investigation exists?
Q Does he know?
MR. SPICER: I think there’s an area -- it's not a question of one, Abby, it's a question of we've made it clear what we -- how we think this has to happen. I think what’s important to note is that every single member that I'm aware of that has publicly come out that has been briefed has said that there is nothing, no connection between the campaign and Russia.
And I think we have to be very clear that there are two issues. There’s always been a discussion in the IC community network about Russian activity. Then there’s the bigger issue that the media has been obsessed with, which is whether or not there was a connection between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Every single person that has been briefed on that secondary matter has said that they’ve seen nothing there, including Director Clapper, including others that have been briefed by Director Comey -- Senator Cotton, Senator Burr, Senator -- Chairman Nunes -- over and over again. And, again, it's interesting that when we talk about proof -- as far as the previous question on wiretapping -- I don't know how much more proof that we can get in terms of the number of people that have been briefed that have said that when it comes to involvement with Russia there’s nothing that they -- that has been shown to anybody who was aware of the situation.
And so I don't know how many times we have to answer this question before people who have been briefed come up with the same conclusion that there’s nothing there.
Q Did the President meet with the Mayor of Flint today? Did that meeting take place?
MR. SPICER: I believe he did speak with her briefly before they departed.
Q Do you know if he raised a question in the listening session about lead in paint and whether the paint are still as good given the lead regulations? Do you know at all where his thinking is coming from on that, any thoughts about --
MR. SPICER: I don't. I don't.
Q -- of what the two of them discussed during their meeting?
MR. SPICER: It wasn’t a meeting -- I mean, it was on the way out, the President met with several individuals and he had an opportunity to talk to them about -- just thanking them, and it was a brief conversation.
Q -- the President request for the two of them to spend some time together?
MR. SPICER: -- follow up from the last time that he had been in Flint, so I'm not exactly sure what the nature of how it came to be. I can ask a little bit from our staff how that came to be, but I know that they wanted a chance to say hi.
Q On the CAFE regulations, the President kind of sounded like he believed that fuel efficiency regulations shouldn’t get in the way of auto companies creating more cars. Does he have an opinion on where those fuel efficiency regulations ought to be? Does he think that they are too high?
MR. SPICER: Just to be clear, I think one of the things that's interesting -- and I know there was a briefing for you guys on this -- that what the Obama administration did is rush through a process that they had promised the automakers and, frankly, the unions as well as far as how this determination would be. Right now we've got three entities looking at efficiency and emission standards. I think what the President actually went back to is say that we are going to follow on the process that the Obama administration originally had promised those automakers and unions. That's simply it -- is agreeing to a process that had been agreed to early on.
Q He hasn't himself prejudged what he would like the outcome to be?
MR. SPICER: No. He said it very clearly during his remarks that all he wanted to do was return to the promise that was made to these individuals.
Thank you guys very much. Return to your seats and hopefully you can stay safe.
4:43 P.M. EDT