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Sean Spicer: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer
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Sean Spicer
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer
March 21, 2017
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:56 P.M. EDT

MR. SPICER: Hi, guys. The hearing is still -- Judge Gorsuch's hearing is ongoing, and considering the significant attention, I'm going to try to keep this a little on the shorter side today.

The President is making a full day of progress towards some of his biggest promises that he's made to the American people. This morning he met with the House Republican Conference members on Capitol Hill, ahead of the House's scheduled vote on the American Health Care Act, which is currently scheduled for Thursday.

During the meeting, the President reminded members of the House Conference that repealing and replacing Obamacare has been a promise that Republicans have been making to voters for years.

Members have made it clear that if voters put a Republican in the White House and continue Republican majorities in the House and the Senate that we would repeal and replace this ill-advised legislation.

And for every member who pledged to the American people that they would deliver on this promise, this is really their chance. This is the repeal of Obamacare that Republicans have been working on for years, and voters have been waiting for this for some time.

On Thursday, as the House gathers on the floor and casts their votes for the ACH, it will be exactly seven years after President Obama had signed Obamacare into law. We're hoping to make this the last anniversary Americans will have to endure Obamacare. Republicans have been working to repeal and replace this misguided law ever since. And now, under President Trump, we will finally be able to take this step towards fundamental reform of our healthcare system.

I think most Americans remember the lines that were used to sell Obamacare seven years ago: "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor." "If you like your healthcare plan, you'll be able to keep your healthcare plan." But for millions of Americans, those lines proved to be nothing more than empty promises. Plans that their families had relied on for years were suddenly cancelled. Premiums and deductibles skyrocketed, leaving many who had plans unable to actually use them. And insurers fled the marketplace. Nearly one in five Americans only have one insurer offering plans on their Obamacare exchange.

President Trump and Republicans in Congress will keep their promise by reforming the system once and for all. And that's exactly what we're doing with the American Health Care Act, which, along with the additional legislative and administrative action that is part of the three-prong approach that we continue to outline, will finally give all Americans the healthcare system they deserve, where market-based competition leads to more affordable, higher-quality care opportunities.

This is an ongoing process, and the President has made it clear to Congress that they should be open to incorporating some of the common-sense policy proposals that have been suggested by members in both chambers who share their commitment to improving the healthcare system. To that end, the House introduced several technical and policy amendments to the legislation last night, which the President acknowledged on Capitol Hill this morning.

They include: Delivering more immediate relief from Obamacare's taxes, accelerating the repeal of these taxes from 2017 rather than from 2018, and ensuring that millions of Americans who paid Obamacare's penalties or taxes can reclaim their hard-earned dollars from the IRS.

It's making it easier for Americans to deduct more of the costs of their medical expenses.

Protecting life by prohibiting taxpayer dollars from being used to help purchase insurance plans that currently cover abortion.

Giving states additional flexibility for their Medicaid program covering traditional adult and children populations, while maintaining baseline funding for elderly and disabled populations.

Giving states the ability to implement optional, reasonable work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents as part of their Medicaid programs.

Freezing Obamacare's Medicaid expansion while allowing for a responsible unwinding, so that people who enroll before 2020 will continue to be supported by the program.

And providing a more generous reimbursement for elderly and disabled Medicaid enrollees, recognizing that those populations have unique needs that must be taken care of.

After a return to the White House from the House -- speaking to the House Republican Conference, the President received his Daily Intelligence Briefing. Then the President signed S.442, the NASA Administration Transition Authorization Act for 2017, acting on another of the President's most ambitious promise to the American people. Many may recall in his joint address, the President said of a dream."

And with this bill, he is taking the latest step towards making that dream a reality by reiterating NASA's mission to ensure America remains a leader in space exploration.

This bipartisan, bicameral legislation provides NASA with the full support it needs to fulfill this and many other important missions, including: supporting NASA's plan to explore deep space and sending astronauts to Mars, including an endorsement of launching the Mars 2020 Rover. The rover will explore a site that is likely to have been habitable, seeking signs of past life and testing compelling samples and techniques for future robotic and eventual human exploration of Mars.

Reaffirming that NASA remains a fully multi-mission agency with a balanced set of core missions in space science, space technology, aeronautics, human space flight, exploration, and education.

Endorsing NASA's continued progress towards launching the James Webb Telescope, which will be a giant leap forward in our ever-evolving quest to understand the universe, and establishing an astronaut occupational healthcare program, something that NASA has considered a priority for years.

After the bill signing, the Vice President also announced that the President will be taking action shortly to relaunch the National Space Council, which the Vice President will chair. The President was honored to sign this new bill into law so that NASA can continue its work towards making America the world leader in space exploration once again.

Also this morning, the President -- the Vice President, rather, hosted a breakfast meeting with Prime Minister al-Abadi of Iraq. We provided a readout on the President's meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday as well, and I believe there has been a readout of the Vice President's as well.

At 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, the President will meet with members of Congress who are part of the House Tuesday Group to discuss the American Health Care Act. And this evening, the President will speak at the National Republican Congressional Committee March Dinner.

Over on the Senate side of the Hill, the President's pick for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch has been doing a phenomenal job in the Senate today during his first day of questioning. The judge's eloquent testimony yesterday was widely praised from both sides of the aisle, and it's clear that everyone agrees, from a broad spectrum, that Judge Gorsuch is a very qualified person to serve on the Supreme Court.

As the Judge noted today, "a judge is there to make sure that every person, poor or rich, mighty or meek, gets equal protection of [under] the law." His records show that he has lived up to this commitment throughout his entire career, and he's continuing to prove that he is exactly the type of jurist we need on the Supreme Court throughout the questioning that's started today.

Today is also National Agriculture Day, for those who are keeping note. The world needs America's farmers and ranchers to lead, just as the world needs America to lead. Global food demand is expected to increase by 50 to 97 percent by 2050. The world can't afford for America's farmers and ranchers to retreat, but the agriculture industry has met its share of challenges in recent years. While our farmers are the most efficient in the world, margins have been tightening, regulations have been multiplying, and exports, which have historically counted for over one-fifth of U.S. farm production, have been declining due to unwise trade policies.

The President promised the many people in the agriculture industry and throughout rural America that he would not allow this to continue, and he will continue to pursue policy changes that will reverse this disturbing trend.

Quickly, in terms of follow-up from yesterday, I was asked about North Korea, and I wanted to provide an update from the NSC: "The United States, in coordination with our allies, is exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures in response to the grave and escalating threat posed by North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

And before I open it up for questions, let me run through a few scheduling updates. Tomorrow, the President will stop by the Women in Healthcare panel hosted by CMS Administrator Seema Verma. There will also be a series of meetings with members of Congress tomorrow. In the morning, the President will meet with members to discuss the American Health Care Act. And in the afternoon he will meet with congressional -- members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

On Thursday, the President will have lunch with Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin before hosting a meeting with truckers and representatives from trucking companies on healthcare that we discussed yesterday. In many states throughout the country, trucking happens to be one of the largest employers, and it's important to understand the impact of healthcare legislation on this important industry.

I'll have updates on the weekend schedule for you hopefully tomorrow. And finally, yesterday, pursuant to the President's executive order on interior enforcement that he signed on January 25th, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, ICE, released its first weekly list of detainee requests, which local law enforcement agencies have failed to comply with. These examples where criminal illegals who have been arrested or convicted, in many cases, of serious and violent crimes threaten public safety. In each instance, local law enforcement is refusing to cooperate with ICE in its efforts to remove illegal immigrants who have committed a crime. It is part of the President's continued efforts to keep our communities safe.

A copy of this report is available on the ICE website that details all of the municipalities where there has been an issue and the crime that has been committed, and the person -- not necessarily the person's name, but the offense in which they were convicted for.

And with that, I'd be glad to take a few questions. Since we're talking Supreme Court -- John Roberts. (Laughter.) Come on. That was good.

Q: Unless there's an Alito in the audience. On healthcare, the President came away from Capitol Hill sounding pretty positive about where he was going to go on Thursday, but then at the same time, Heritage Action came out and said it was going to encourage members to vote "no." Club for Growth is taking out ads attacking this bill. Jim Jordan said the President's great, but it's still a bad bill. This is going to go to a vote day after tomorrow. What gives the President the sense of optimism that he can get this through, and might he request more changes from Speaker Ryan before it goes to a vote?

MR. SPICER: Well, we've talked about this for days. There's been a lot of input from members of Congress, and I think that the meeting this morning really was a huge sign of support. There was a lot of enthusiasm and optimism, not just for the bill itself but for something that, as I noted, conservatives and Republicans and a lot of Democrats, frankly, have been fighting for for a while, which is a more patient-centric healthcare system.

I think the President is continuing to engage with members. He will continue to do that all the way through Thursday. But as I also noted, there were a lot of changes that were made by the Speaker last night, additional legislation -- the three-pronged approach that we've talked about in the past has been put forward to actually make sure that members understood the comprehensive nature of this.

This is one vehicle. There's a huge administrative piece that Secretary Price will administer through administrative action that was given to them when they passed this bill and gave that authority to Kathleen Sebelius, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to implement pieces that they couldn't get done legislatively.

We can now unwind a lot of that and add a lot of consumer-based and competition measures through the administrative thing. But then the third prong, all the other stuff that we've talked about for years as Republicans -- buying across state lines, expanding health savings accounts, et cetera, et cetera -- all of that has now been introduced as well. And I think that he continues to meet with members and walk away with a very, very optimistic view of where the bill is headed. I think a lot of the measures that have been changed and tweaked and updated have assuaged members who had concerns or wanted to see some additional tightening.

But keep in mind, if you are a conservative who has been fighting for repeal and replace, this is your chance. If you are a conservative who has been looking to address out-of-control entitlement spending, this is the first attempt -- this is the first reform of an entitlement program in terms of Medicaid in 30 years. These are a truly conservative set of principles that we are fighting for. The competition that's in the bill, the ability to allow prices to come down and choice to go up, there is nothing more conservative than there is in this bill. And I think as members continue to talk about ideas that have been included in this bill, and the principles of it, we feel very good going into the final stretch.

Q: But may he seek more changes in order to further assuage some --

MR. SPICER: It's possible. But I think that we've made some very positive steps forward. So I don't want to rule anything out, but I will say that I feel very good about this where it stands now. And I think the more and more that members meet with the President, the more they understand how important this is to the overall agenda that we're seeking to pass. And I think if we can -- as the President noted this morning to members, if you can repeal Obamacare, replace it with a healthcare system that does what conservatives and independents, and, frankly, some Democrats have talked about it for years, that does exactly that kind of thing -- instill choice, drive down costs, allows people to actually get care that they've been promised, and then get on to things like tax reform -- we will have an amazing first year in office.

And I think the President reminded them this is the first step in an amazing agenda that he set forth and that we can work together on.

Eamon.

Q: Thanks, Sean. Members of this administration have talked about the stock market as a real-time barometer for how the administration is performing. But this afternoon, though, the stock market has been off as much as 200 points on the Dow. Some commentators on Wall Street are suggesting that's because traders are starting to sense a lack of progress in the Trump legislative agenda, worried that he might not be able to accomplish everything he set out to do. Does the President believe that today's dip in the Dow is the result of his performance as President of the United States?

MR. SPICER: Well, I think to look at any one day is nothing that we've ever -- we've always cautioned. I think overall it still continues to be up tremendously. And I think when you look at not just that one indicator -- I think if you want to get a -- I mean, you probably know better than anybody in terms of what you guys cover -- that you can't look at one indices and say that that is the benchmark of an entire economy. But you see confidence levels, both in small business and in other surveys, that show that there is continued confidence in the market and optimism in the market. You see manufacturers coming back to America, talking about investment; major CEOs and small businesses trying to grow the economy and talking about job creation. Those are the real indicators.

And again, I think the numbers that we saw last month -- again, one month doesn't make a record. But I think that it was very promising, not just because of what the number was, but what it had been forecast to be -- right? So it was expected to be 200,000; it came in at 235,000. So, again, when you're over-performing, I think that shows a sign of optimism and confidence in the market.

I think -- again, I just want to make sure that we're clear before we go into -- as we continue through the months. One report does not make something to base an entire record off of. But I think that we feel very good about where things are headed and the direction things are going, not just in terms of the indices and the ups and downs in the market, but also in terms of the number of manufacturers that are walking in and restating their commitment to grow jobs, expand, et cetera, in the market.

Q: -- feel confidence that President Trump will be able to get a tax cut done this year that would be in place for next year, is that something we should worry about at all?

MR. SPICER: Look, I think we're well on our way to seeing this agenda done. The President has rolled out the budget, which I think reaffirmed his commitment to fiscal austerity and to the priorities he set out of defending this country, making the increases in national defense and homeland security that he promised, prioritizing other things in the budget. We've got Obamacare done, on immigration, executive order-wise.

And I think that when you're doing big things -- Obamacare, tax reform -- I mean, the healthcare system is a fifth of the economy; that's not small fee. And I think in terms of what you've seen so far -- going through three committees, moving along -- the Senate ready to take it up, his pick of Neil Gorsuch -- the agenda is moving along at a very brisk pace in terms of what his priorities were and where I think we're headed.

Q: Sean, last month, I guess, you talked to us about the consideration, potentially, of the carbon tax, which I guess was discussed in a meeting at the White House. We're hearing some reports that there's a pretty lively internal debate. Gary Cohn might be someone who's more prone to that. Can you just discuss, is the President considering a carbon tax? And what are sort of the various things that are going on in the White House with that?

MR. SPICER: I think there's a robust debate going on with respect to comprehensive tax reform. And as we've mentioned, I mean, our goal right now is to get through Thursday, and that's what the President has talked about very publicly. We need to get Obamacare repealed and replaced, and move on to tax reform and some of the other trade reviews that we've talked about -- immigration. There's a lot of things on the agenda. But I'm not going to comment on specific prongs of that. I will just tell you that obviously there's a lot of people who recognize that we haven't have comprehensive tax reform since 1986, and that there's a lot of pieces in this that we need to examine and get to and there's a lot of voices and opinions that get shared with him.

So I'm not in a position where I'm going to get into commenting piecemeal on where it is, but I will say that's even more reason that we -- let's get past Thursday. When you look at the week ahead real quick, Glenn, in terms of this, the repeal-and-replace aspect and Gorsuch, I think, from a legislative standpoint -- going back to Eamon's question -- I think it's a pretty big week for the White House to seeing all this done.

Hunter.

Q: Thank you, Sean. President Trump has previously indicated that he wanted to appoint pro-life judges who would be willing to overturn Roe vs. Wade, yet in his testimony today Judge Gorsuch said he would have walked out the door if President Trump asked if he had this position. Is President Trump still confident that Judge Gorsuch would be willing to overturn Roe vs. Wade? And is this position still important to him?

MR. SPICER: I think the President's comments speak for themselves. I think the President's list that he's put out on 20 are jurists that both the Federalist Society and Heritage have deemed to be people who interpret the Constitution as originalists, as people who aren't looking to legislate from the bench. And I'm not going to take the bait during a live hearing to comment on that but I appreciate the effort.

Ronika.

Q: Thank you, Sean. I have two questions on the same story. Recently a 14-year-old girl, she was raped in the boy's bathroom of her high school. A 17- and 18-year-old boy have been charged. One of the boys we know unlawfully entered the country; both of them have outstanding orders with ICE. So here's my first question about it: Currently, schools are prohibited from denying access to public education based on immigration status. Does the President hear a story like that and think that it should change or be addressed in a future executive order?

MR. SPICER: I think first, let me just say that this is a tragic event, and it's horrendous and horrible and disgusting what this young woman in Rockville went through. I can't possibly imagine. So first of all, let's remember the human side of this, that this is a tragic event that no child, no person, no parent should ever have to deal with. Schools should be a place where a parent puts their child on a bus or drops them off or sees them off and knows that they're safe. And the idea that this occurred is shocking, disturbing, horrific, and whatever other words that come to mind that someone can think of.

Because this is not -- schools should be a safe place where children are there to learn and to feel safe. In that kind of environment -- to know that this happened and the circumstances

-- this young women in particular fought to come to this country legally because of the freedoms and the treasures of this nation. And to think that this kind of tragedy would occur to someone who's personally endured that kind of struggle to come to this nation and then face this is reprehensible. And it is not who we are as a country.

I think it is troubling, and I think further, to your question, the President recognizes that education is a state-run and a local-run issue. But I think it is pause for concern what happened there, and I think the city should look at its policies. And I think that this is something that authorities are going to have to look at.

I think from an immigration standpoint, clearly to see somebody -- there are so many facets of this case that deserve question -- why was there a -- I think he was 17 or 18 years old -- 18, thank you -- and how does that person get put into the ninth grade? Why was -- there are so many issues that come up in this case.

I will leave it to authorities to get to, but I think that we are in the early stages of this and there's a lot that needs to get addressed with respect to this case in particular.

Q: So I hear you about it being a state issue. Let's talk about something, though, that the President has implemented and introduced VOICE -- VOICE, Victims of Immigration Crime Enforcement -- is that enough to support a --

MR. SPICER: No, it's one piece. The President understands that victims need a voice, which is why he brought it in there, to help them when they're specifically targeted or victims of a crime by people who are here illegally. But I think part of the reason that the President has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this.

We act so many times when we talk about this and say -- how is the President going to -- why is the President dealing with this -- because of this priority. Well, part of the reason is because of the tragedy that this young girl dealt with, had inflicted upon her, whatever the word is -- this is why he's passionate about this, because people are victims of these crimes in terms of them -- they're victims of the economic pieces, there's a national security. But immigration pays its toll on our people if it's not done legally.

And this is another example, and it's why the President is so passionate about this. But he recognizes that it's multifaceted, why we have to be tough at the border, why I just read off that this executive order is dealing with people who have committed crimes who local enforcement agencies, our municipalities of -- at the state level are not dealing with it.

And if you go to the ICE website and download this, you'll see it's over 30-something pages of cases where there's a person that is convicted of a crime that local people -- local municipal law enforcement, for whatever reason -- and in some cases they're prohibited but for one reason or another are not enforcing the law and not turning that individual over to federal authorities to be deported. And I think this is another example of why this issue needs to be addressed.

Jon.

Q: Sean, is the President going to hold Republicans who vote against healthcare accountable? Are they going to pay a price if they vote against this bill?

MR. SPICER: I think they'll probably pay a price at home, meaning I think that you can't go promise over and over again, since 2010 -- in the case the member has been there that long, but at least for those who have been there that long and at least -- and even the new ones -- this was a major component of the last election. And I think there is probably not a single Republican member in itself who went out and talked about this.

And I think when you realize the components of this bill and that the President worked with the House and the Senate to put something together that achieved a promise that was made to voters, yeah, I think there's going to be a price to be paid, but it's going to be with their own voters. And they're going to have to go back and explain to them why they made a commitment to them and then didn't follow through.

And one of the things that's interesting that people who agree or don't agree with the President in terms of legislative agenda, at least give him high remarks regardless of whether or not they subscribe to his agenda, for keeping his word and his promises. And I think that's one of the things that he's made very clear this morning.

We pledged to the American people at the congressional level, at the Senate level, at the presidential level to go do something. And this bill, while probably not everybody got everything they wanted, does exactly what we said. It's repealing it and replacing it with all of the principles and the aspects that we discussed throughout not only last cycle but in a lot of these cases back through 2010.

Margaret.

Q: Will he campaign against those Republicans?

MR. SPICER: Let's get through the vote. I think one of the things that he made clear this morning was that he was going to make sure that the people who did support this, he would be out there supporting them. And so I'm not going to focus on the negative as much as the positive today. And he made it clear to members that for those of you who go out there and keep your word and support it, we're going to make sure that we remember those who stood by us and who stood by the word that they gave to their voters.

Margaret.

Q: Thanks. Okay, so I was actually -- that's one I was going to ask, but let me try to --

MR. SPICER: Oh.

Q: No, that's okay, I've got another one, don't worry. So my other one -- but I'm going to go back to that -- is on the laptop restrictions by the U.S. and now the UK, it certainly sounds like that may have been in response to some kind of a specific security threat. What can you talk about from the podium in as much specificity as you can, and if you can't do specifics at least to help us to understand -- are there multiple threats, is there one threat, what is going on here?

MR. SPICER: So yesterday the TSA announced new enhanced measures on flights inbound to the United States from 10 of more than the 250 countries that have flights coming into the United States that serve as the last point of departure. I think even ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, who we've not always shared the same point of view with, even agreed by saying, "These steps are both necessary and proportional to the threat."

Elevated [Evaluated] intelligence that we're aware of indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressive in pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks to include smuggling an explosive device in various consumer objects. Base on this information, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the TSA administrator determined that it's necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last-point-of-departure airports.

That being said, I'm not going to go any further than that, and I would refer any further comment to the TSA.

Q: Can I try what I was going to try out earlier then? Mark Meadows -- seems like a nice guy -- and the President seemed like he was kind of joking, but has the President decided in his own mind yet whether he thinks it would be appropriate potentially to mount primary opposition, to campaign for primary opposition in Republican congressional midterms?

MR. SPICER: Mark Meadows is a long-time early supporter of the President. He had some fun at his expense this morning during the conference meeting, and I think he continued to express hope that Congressman Meadows, who's the head of the Freedom Caucus, would continue to see the efforts that have been made to make this better and address a lot of the concerns out there.

But he has made it very clear that he was having fun with him. The President is committed to making sure that this gets passed. We'll go from there.

Vivian.

Q: Thanks, Sean. First a follow-up to Margaret's question. Why wait for the new aviation regulations 96 hours to implement it? Isn't the President's mantra on counterterrorism that we have to kind of sneak up on our enemies, not let them know our tactics?

MR. SPICER: So I'm going to ultimately you refer you back to TSA, but I will tell you that -- remember that these are 10 airports of last point of departure to the United States out of 250 that come here. Part of it is to allow -- you have to provide appropriate notification to the host country, to the host airlines, and give them opportunity to get those procedures in place.

I'm not going to comment any further about the security measures that have been taking place or are taking place just to continue to refer you back to TSA. But I will tell you that I think that implementing something of this nature in that timeframe is pretty darn quick.

Q: Okay, and one more -- sorry, I had a follow-up --

MR. SPICER: Of course.

Q: Sorry. Something totally unrelated. I wanted to ask, has the White House Counsel approved Ivanka Trump getting a West Wing office and clearance? And so what is the administration's thinking behind this? What is she going to do as the --

MR. SPICER: I don't think the counsel actually approves office space, but I get your questions.

Q: Right.

MR. SPICER: Ivanka has taken on several measures to promote high standards of ethical conduct. Even though she's not a federal employee, she'll follow the restrictions that would apply if she were. She's taking these steps with advice of counsel and in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics.

Hallie.

Q: Two for you. One on healthcare, to follow up on the follow-ups. You've made very clear that the President was going to be supporting those who supported the bill. And I want to talk about the flip side of that, but when he talked this morning in the closed-door meeting about people paying a price, losing seats, not get the majority -- is that an implied threat from the President to the members that don't back this bill

MR. SPICER: No, I think it's a political reality. I think if you go out and promise the American people something and your voters something, especially on a scale like this -- and, frankly, as I said, there's obviously members that have been there one term, two terms, three terms, but this is something that as a party we've made very clear -- if you give us this, American people, we will get this done. And I think that to go and make a promise and a pledge of this magnitude and not to follow it through, I'm sure that voters would be upset.

And we've seen this in the past. And it's something that I think the President, as I mentioned earlier, has staked -- has earned high marks for, is keeping his word. And I think the President was stating a political reality -- if we go out there and make these pledges to the American people and don't do what we've said we've done on these big things, then I don't think they're going to continue to want to see us in the majority and they're going to look for an alternative.

Q: And the second, just about -- will he remember the names of those who don't back the bill?

MR. SPICER: (Laughter.) We'll see.

John Gizzi.

Q: Actually, on yesterday, I just wanted to clarify that.

MR. SPICER: -- on counting -- it's like CBO. (Laughter.) Sorry. Come on, that was --

Q: Do you want to elaborate on that one?

MR. SPICER: No, I don't. Please go ahead.

Q: I do want to ask about the Russia testimony from yesterday. I know you obviously addressed it from the podium hours ago, but there was sort of this interesting moment that happened a little bit after the briefing, where Director Comey was asked about the live tweets coming from the President in his account at the same time that the hearing was happening. And Director was fact-checking the President in real time, essentially saying he was incorrect in what he was tweeting. Is there concern on the part of the White House about the President's credibility in that situation, that his own Director is correcting his tweets and what he's saying in real time?

MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, let's just be clear. I mean, he was answering questions. I mean, it's not like he was out there -- he was responding to a question. But again, I think it's important to note, with respect to this -- and I saw a couple comments yesterday -- Senator Coons took issue with a couple of the comments that we made. Let me just read you -- I know you guys love this when I do this, so I'm just going to entertain you for a second -- Senator Chris Coons -- this is his quote, direct quote -- "I have no hard evidence of collusion." Director Clapper, "Not to my knowledge." Senator Tom Cotton, "Not that I've seen and not that I'm aware of." This is in reference to any type of collusion with Russia that occurred.

Obama's Acting CIA Director Morell, "There's smoke but there's no fire." Senator Chuck Grassley after the Comey briefing -- I can say #POTUS and #Clapper are both right, no evidence of Trump collusion with the Russians.

So we've now gone over this on multiple occasions, but at some point there is a distinction between an investigation that goes into Russia's involvement in 2016 and this continued narrative that falsely tries to link the Trump -- the President or the White House into any of it. They continue to see that there is nothing there. Every single person who has been briefed who has come out and publicly talked about it -- Republican, Democrat, former DNI, former CIA directors, Obama appointees -- have said no evidence.

And so I get that -- we keep getting asked --

Q: That's not my question.

MR. SPICER: But my point is, is that -- that was one of the tweets, though, that he addressed. He said, former DNI continues to note -- and that was actually true. These are their quotes. This is what they've said. So it's not a question -- I think sometimes you come back to us -- at some point, the question has to be to the individuals who said this -- whether it's Chris Coons from Delaware, or former Director Clapper, or former CIA Acting Director Morell -- they're the ones who've said these things on the record. They're the ones who've been briefed by the intelligence community, by the FBI, and come out and said there is no collusion.

And so, at some point, to fact-check the President for merely quoting them is not -- the question should be directed at them, not us. But over and over again, it's come to the same conclusion.

So, Kaitlan. All right, John. Then Kaitlan. That was very nice of you. It's National Ag Day afterwards --

Q: Thank you, Sean. Thank you, Kaitlan. I have two questions. First, the author David Horowitz, in his book, The Big Agenda, writes of what he calls "a deep state," in which he said these are Obama holdovers in government who are trying to undercut the President's agenda. This has been widely repeated on social media. Does the President himself believe in this deep state?

MR. SPICER: Well, I've been asked this question before and I'll give you the same answer I've given before, which is I think there are people that burrow into the government after an administration -- this is going back since the beginning of time. They used to call it ramspecking -- it's suddenly no longer permitted in terms of that same way. But this has been going on since the country was -- country came to be, where people burrow in after an administration into a civil servant job. But, sure, there's people, after eight years of Obama that found their way into government, so it should be no huge secret.

Okay?

Q: Yes. Another question on --

Q: What was that again?

Q: -- that word?

MR. SPICER: Ramspecking? Oh, Google it.

Q: I remember -- I remember when --

Q: How do you spell it?

MR. SPICER: You ever seen my spelling? Come on. (Laughter.) Ramspecking. It was named after -- we're going to go through a history lesson here, guys.

Q: My other question was, over the weekend, Governor Graco Ramirez, the head of the Mexican Governors Association, was again in Washington, and in a much publicized statement said that Mexico had scored its first victory over the proposed wall. He said that in the President's budget there's a line item for $2.6 billion --

MR. SPICER: In FY'18.

Q: -- in tax dollars, and no mention of Mexico paying for the wall in any way. He's claimed a victory in that. Your response to Governor Graco Ramirez?

MR. SPICER: It's a little early to be claiming victory. I think the President has made it clear that he was going to use the current process to start the construction of the wall and that there would be ways that that fulfillment of that pledge would come true.

Kaitlan.

Q: Thank you. The administration and the President have repeatedly said that over the next few weeks they will present evidence that he was wiretapped. And last week he said it would be coming this week and he may speak on it this week. Can we expect the President to, this week, present evidence that he was wiretapped by Barack Obama? Or will he speak about it? Because he didn't mention it last night in his rally.

MR. SPICER: Let's see how the week goes.

Margaret.

Q: Sean, when we heard from the President before talk about the need for this healthcare plan to pass, he's talked about the important steps of tax reform and the rest. At what point do you think that his agenda could be imperiled as you look at the vote count? Because you're also going to have a further fight, of course, to get any of this through the Senate.

MR. SPICER: So, at what point will the vote count --

Q: This seems to be such a centerpiece of the rest of the President's agenda. So given that it's still not any -- there's no certainty in terms of passage at this point, how concerned are you that Thursday could imperil the President's agenda?

MR. SPICER: Well, I think it's -- the President's visit this morning was very well received. I think we continue down the path to get the votes. We got a ways to go. We got to get to the Senate next. But I think members understand that this is something that has been at the heart of what Republicans have campaigned, and I feel we -- I feel very good headed into this. The President continues to talk to members, and we're going to make sure that we grow the vote as much as we can.

But with respect to the rest of the agenda, I think all of the issues that the President campaigned on are things that the House and the Senate both look forward to taking up. Whether it's trade or immigration or comprehensive tax reform, all of these issues are stuff that many Republicans have campaigned on for a long time and are eager to get going.

The President has made it very clear, as he did last night, as well, that, look, part of the -- we've got to keep moving along if we want to get big things done. There's a lot that can be done during this administration, during the first term, and he wants to get as much of it done as possible. And so the quicker we get repeal and replace done, and put the American Health Care Act in place, the better. I mean that's just the nature of it.

But I think when you look at the speed in which we've moved, it's been very responsible. We've allowed the committees to work their will. The House has taken up the amendments. It's been online. So this is -- there's always a balance between jamming it down and getting it done and over with, which is how the Democrats operated at one point when they finally moved on their bill versus how this is done. But I think we've stricken a very nice balance on this.

Q: At which point will be it Trumpcare? The President said today it could happen when we asked during the photo spray.

MR. SPICER: We'll have to see. Right now it's the American Health Care Act, and we're trying to get it done.

Anita.

Q: Two questions. First, the Kansas legislature is on the verge of possibly passing a Medicaid expansion, and the current version of the healthcare bill does not allow states to pass that. And so I'm wondering -- as you know most legislatures are currently meeting across the country. Will there be an exception for states if they expand before any new bill comes to --

MR. SPICER: It would have to be addressed in the legislation. I don't believe there's an exception clause, so I don't -- but I also don't -- it would be -- far be it from me to say at this point, the bill is getting ready to move to the House, the legislation is meeting. I don't want to prejudge the outcome yet. But I don't believe from my understanding that there is any kind of like clause that says "if."

Q: And secondly, tomorrow -- you mentioned the Congressional Black Caucus. Is there a specific topic -- healthcare, five topics? What can you tell us about the President's message to them? And how did it come about? I know there's been some back and forth on getting a meeting going, how did that come about?

MR. SPICER: (Laughter.) April is -- okay, don't drag April into that. (Laughter.)

Q: Didn't say a name, didn't say a name.

MR. SPICER: This has been something that the President has talked about for a while. He met with Congressman Elijah Cummings. He started off in a phone call probably a month or so ago where they discussed prescription drugs and the need to get it down; and then the conversation continued. Our legislation affairs team early on went to some of their meetings and started having a dialogue with them, and that dialogue continued. And there was a desire to have a meeting. The President wanted to have them down.

I think there's going to be a range of issues that get discussed that range from drug prices to infrastructure, investment in education, HBCUs. There will be a range, and I think that's part of it. There's no set agenda to say we must talk about these things. And obviously, I think healthcare is going to come up, too. The President wants to get their idea. Before April jumps out her seat, we'll give her --

Q: Thank you for giving a follow-up. I want to follow up on the CBC, and I have another question on another subject. So with the CBC, since you're saying you went through all of this prior to the fact that he became President, that there was an effort to reach out to the CBC. So with all of this understanding that they are an important to deal with in handling some of the issues, the urban issues, or issues that pertain to their community, how does the President plan to move forward in working with them, particularly as some just don't see eye-to-eye with him?

MR. SPICER: I think part of it is it continues to have a dialogue, April. I mean, it's simply sitting down with people, talking about issues, talking about common ground. I think if you look at the conversation that he began and continued with Congressman Elijah Cummings, they found common ground. The President talked about areas where, despite some of the narratives that are out there, there were issues that they probably both share concern for and that they can work on together. And maybe they won't agree on 100 percent or 60 percent, but maybe there's 15, 20, or 30 percent of the issues. Maybe there's one bill in particular that they can work on.

But there's a willingness to sit down and talk, and I think that's the first step in the process of any of these. It's not just your own party -- and the President has shown this on several of these meetings -- where it's not just business leaders. He's brought in the union leaders. We talked about healthcare; yesterday, he had Dr. Zeke Emanuel in. It's not about just bringing in people who agree with you, it's about people across the spectrum who can offer ideas. And the President -- and I get it that inner cities aren't exclusive, the rebuilding of inner cities aren't the only issue. But he's talked about -- he's elevated the status of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, bringing that office into the White House to help coordinate some of the federal government activities. He's talked about rebuilding the inner cities. He's talked about school choice. A lot of issues that --

Q: Law and order.

MR. SPICER: Law and order, and healthcare. And there's issues that impact urban areas, minority communities, whether they live in rural areas or urban areas. But I think that that dialogue needs to continue because it can only help, and I think that that's what we look forward to tomorrow.

Q: And the second subject -- as you're talking about bringing in groups, you're also bringing in truckers. And there is a concern in the trucking industry about something like e-logs that's going to happen at the end of the year, where truckers -- be it truckers with commercial trucks, or mom-and-pop businesses -- all of them are going to have computers to log in, to monitor the time you drive, the stop and speed, et cetera. And many people are saying that it cuts into their income. Where does the President stand on that?

MR. SPICER: Yeah, I think let's see if that comes up in the meeting, and I'll have a readout. But I know --

Q: But even whether it comes up in the meeting --

MR. SPICER: I understand. That's more of a DOT issue, so I would refer you to the Department of Transportation.

Q: They're very concerned about it. Would he at least --

MR. SPICER: I understand that. And I hope that that comes up.

Jeff Mason.

Q: Just a follow-up on the DHS airline issue. If there is a danger to Americans or to fliers generally with having laptops or things that are bigger than a cellphone in planes from those 10 countries, why would that also not be a danger from other countries?

MR. SPICER: As you can imagine, I can't talk about the intelligence that we have. I can just tell you that the steps that are being taken are appropriate and commensurate with the intelligence that we have. And I'd refer you to the Department of Homeland Security and, specifically, the Transportation Security Administration.

Q: One other question.

MR. SPICER: One out of two.

Q: Okay. The President has traditionally issued a greeting to those celebrating the Iranian New Year, Nowruz. Will President Trump be doing that today?

MR. SPICER: Let me get back to you. I know that -- I don't want to get ahead of myself on that, but we may have something for you later. I've got to check on that.

But thank you, guys, very much. Let's get back to watching Neil Gorsuch. And I will see you tomorrow. We're going to have a week full of briefings. I'm excited. And, by the way, I am very happy that the individual in the press corps who took Tom Brady's jersey -- (laughter) -- that that has been returned properly. Another bad on the press, but we have righted that wrong. Thank you.

END 2:41 P.M. EDT



Citation: Sean Spicer: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer," March 21, 2017. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=123594.
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