James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:44 P.M. EST
MR. SPICER: Happy Friday. Good to see you all. Good afternoon. Two more days until the work week is over — (laughter) — full attribution to Rahm Emanuel for that one.
As many of you know, today is day 50 of President Trump's administration. We have a lot to talk about and a lot that's gotten done. I also want to acknowledge that today is also Brian's birthday, so happy birthday to Brian. I'll let you guys celebrate amongst yourselves afterwards.
In just these first 50 days, the President has taken many key steps towards delivering on the pledges he made to the American people as a candidate. He has jumpstarted job creation not only because of his executive actions, but through the surge of economic confidence and optimism that has been inspired since his election. President Trump knows exactly what businesses need to thrive and grow, therefore adding well-paying and steady jobs to the market.
Obviously, we're very pleased to see the jobs report that came out this morning. It's great news for American workers. During the first full month of the Trump presidency, the economy added 235,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate ticked down to 4.7 percent. Notably, we also saw significant growth in the construction, manufacturing and mining sectors. The unemployment rate ticked down and labor force participation rate ticked up, showing that even as more people are reentering the job market due to the economic optimism that I spoke about, businesses are continuing to grow and create new jobs.
The President looks forward to continuing his work with the private sector to clear roadblocks to key infrastructure projects, withdraw from job-killing trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and slash the bureaucratic red tape that makes additional hiring difficult for American businesses.
He has taken action to ensure the safety and security of the United States homeland, its borders and its people. He has proposed great rebuilding of our nation's military, following a full review of our military readiness and supported by a $54 billion budget increase. He's implemented new protections to prevent people from coming into our country that seek to do us harm. As a result of the presidential memorandum that he signed on January 28th, the President has received a plan to defeat ISIS, designed by the Secretary of Defense and the national security team.
Just as he has promised during the campaign, he has made enforcing our nation's immigration laws a top priority, signing executive orders that start work on a Southern border wall, that enhance the public safety of Americans through ordering the strong enforcement of immigration laws that are already on the books, halting funding to jurisdictions in the United States that don't comply with federal immigration rules, and directing the Department of Homeland Security to hire a combined 15,000 new officers and agents to support the system and protect the nation.
He's outlined an aggressive legislative agenda that includes tax reform that brings relief to small business and the middle class, a massive commitment to infrastructure investment that will generate jobs and rebuild our nation, and repealing and replacing Obamacare. In fact, just this week, he began working with Congress directly on repealing the worst parts of Obamacare and replacing it with the American Health Care Act. And this particular legislation is just one prong in the President's comprehensive approach to reforming our healthcare system.
The administration is also taking additional steps to stabilize health insurance markets and start bringing down costs for the millions of Americans that have been affected by Obamacare, such as stabilizing insurance markets through regulatory reform, including the ability to purchase insurance across state lines, providing individuals and families with lower access — with access to lower-cost options by loosening the restrictions on the financial structure of plans offered through the Obamacare exchanges.
And finally, the President is committed to working with Congress on additional legislation that won't be subject to the budget reconciliation process, that will allow the purchase of health insurance across state lines; that will streamline the process of the FDA to bring down the cost of critical medicine; to allow for the expansion of health savings accounts to allow more Americans to use their funds for more healthcare costs — healthcare-related costs, and so much more.
There's a one-page factsheet that lays out the three prongs of the President's plan to repeal and replace. All Americans can see that one-pager that's available at WhiteHouse.gov/RepealAndReplace. Feel free to download it and share it this weekend.
This administration is already looking forward to all that we've been planning to accomplish in the days and weeks ahead. You should have a document outlining in each of your email boxes of the President's major actions during these 50 first days. We've made it available to the public as well at WhiteHouse.gov.
In terms of the schedule for his 50th day in office, the President will be having a series of meetings and calls, moving even further along on some of the most significant campaign promises that he made to the American people.
After receiving his daily intelligence briefing this morning, the President led a healthcare discussion with key House committee chairs. The President thanked and congratulated the chairs on successfully ushering the American Health Care Act through the first phase of the legislative process. He noted that he was pleased to see the bill pass through both committees — the Energy and Commerce committee, and the Ways and Means committee — with unanimous Republican support.
They discussed working together on additional legislation to further work towards turning healthcare into a system that works for every individual and family and business. Together, the President and Republicans in Congress will act decisively to keep their promise to the American people. In attendance at the meeting, including the Vice President, were Congresswoman Black, the chair of the House Budget committee; Congressman Brady, the chair of the House Ways and Means committee; Congressman Walden, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee; Congresswoman Foxx, the Chairman of the House Education and Workforce committee; and Chairman Goodlatte of the Judiciary committee.
In addition to this Hill outreach, senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have met with the American Medical Association to discuss the bill, and will be meeting with additional stakeholders in the coming days. The President is committed to making the system better, and that includes making sure his team hears feedback from all interested groups in pursuit of a more affordable and accessible healthcare.
This afternoon, the President had a call with President Abbas, the Palestinian authority. We’ll have a readout of that call soon. The President had lunch with Secretary of State Tillerson, and this afternoon the President will meet with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson. He looks forward to discussing HUD’s mission to create strong, sustainable, and inclusive communities with quality, affordable housing, especially the ways in which we can partner with the private sector to come up with innovative solutions to turn our public housing system around and empower our struggling communities.
Looking ahead to the weekend, the President will spend this weekend here at the White House in a series of meetings with his team. The Vice President’s office has already announced the details of his trip to Louisville, Kentucky, where he will participate in listening sessions with small businesses and job creators throughout the community, and then, joined by Governor Bevin, will hear from local small businesses.
The Vice President will discuss the President’s economic agenda, especially the repeal-and-replacement aspects of Obamacare, and how it will reduce the burden on small businesses. He will then conclude with formal remarks at the Trane parts and distribution center.
Also coming up, Judge Gorsuch confirmation hearings will begin on March 20th. Yesterday, the American Bar Association reported their committee determined that, by unanimous vote, Judge Gorsuch was given a “well-qualified mark for the Supreme Court.” The President looks forward to seeing Judge Gorsuch receive a speedy and fair hearing, and an up-and-down vote on the Senate floor.
Finally, the President’s weekly address is out. It discusses Women’s History Month and his plans to repeal and replace Obamacare. It aired this morning on Facebook Live. It is now available to watch on YouTube and whitehouse.gov. Obviously, I encourage everyone to go check it out.
And with that, I’d be glad to take your questions. John Roberts.
Q I was going to say, your pin is upside down.
MR. SPICER: John Roberts always helping with the fashion tips. (Laughter.)
Q It’s still upside down.
Q You wanted — is that a distress call, Sean? (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: Appreciate that.
Q House of Cards promo.
MR. SPICER: Thank you, no. There’s no promo. (Laughter.) John, now on to your questions. (Laughter.) But thank you.
Q Our involvement of sending rangers and Marines into Syria marks a dramatic change in our presence on the ground there, and I’m wondering, how much autonomy is the President giving General James Mattis to involve U.S. forces on the ground in Syria?
MR. SPICER: A U.S. Marine artillery unit and a team of rangers have recently positioned in Syria to provide a combined joint task force, Operation Inherent Resolve, the commander, the agility to expedite the destruction of ISIS in Raqqa in particular. The exact numbers and locations of the forces are still a sensitive order to protect the location of the forces, but there will be approximately an additional 400 enabling forces deployed under existing authorities for a temporary period to enable our Syrian partnered forces to accelerate the defeat of ISIS, specifically in Raqqa.
I think, as I’ve mentioned before, one of the things that the President has ensured is that the commanders have the flexibility to do what they need to fulfill the mission. The President is obviously, as Commander-in-Chief, made aware and signs off on all of those missions, but at the end of the day, it’s going to up to the generals to execute their mission to make sure that we continue to defeat ISIS and protect the nation.
Q Now our involvement there really sort of complicates the whole picture because we’re aligned with the Kurds, but then at the same time, a NATO ally, Turkey, sees the Kurds as the enemy. And then there’s what happens with Russia and its involvement with the Syrian government. So the big problem with Iraq was we never planned for the day after.
MR. SPICER: Right.
Q So what are the plans for the day after here when Raqqa falls? Who occupies it?
MR. SPICER: Well, one of the things that I mentioned in the script that is part of what the President has done during his first 50 days is issue an executive order on January 28th for the Secretary of Defense to submit a comprehensive plan in consultation with the joint chiefs and other members of the national security team to defeat ISIS. That is part of that plan.
And so I think you are seeing a comprehensive approach to not only how we’re going to engage in Syria, but the total defeat and elimination of ISIS. So that is part of an ongoing process that the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and others have been involved in, in briefing the President.
Q But does the President have an idea of who should occupy Raqqa? Should it be Kurkish forces? Should it be a coalition? Should American forces stay there?
MR. SPICER: I think that as we devolve that plan I’ll have more for you on that. I think you’ve already killed one-question Friday, but we’re going to get back to it.
Jon Karl, one-question Friday.
Q Okay, I’ll make it one. Sean, the chair and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee have asked the Justice Department to turn over any information that they have that there was any wiretapping of President-elect Trump, candidate Trump at Trump Tower. If there is no evidence that any wiretapping took place, will the President apologize to President Obama for making such a serious charge?
MR. SPICER: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think it’s important to see where that goes, and I don’t want to prejudge their work at this time.
Q But if there’s no evidence, I mean, what’s he –
MR. SPICER: But I think you’re asking, well, what if there’s evidence? I’m not going to get into a series of hypotheticals, prejudging the outcome of a report or an investigation that hasn’t occurred yet. I think once that’s done, we’ll respond appropriately.
Q Thank you, Sean. Senator Cory Gardner was reported by Politico yesterday to have said he doesn’t believe that a $14-billion wall along the Mexican border is the best way to provide border security. Does the White House see support for the border wall weakening in Congress?
MR. SPICER: No. The President was very clear that was something that he campaigned on and promised the American people as an effort to both protect our national security and our economic security, and he’s going to fulfill that pledge. He’s already started to work with the Department of Homeland Security on both the plans, and the funding mechanism and the bidding and the RFP process will roll out slowly — or shortly, I should say. But that’s a pledge that he intends to maintain.
Q Sean, a lot of action on the Hill of course with healthcare lately, but April 28th is right around the corner, government funding expires. Given that during the transition period you guys asked for a short-term CR so you could weigh in once you were in office, what’s the White House doing right now to avoid a shutdown? I talked to some sources, they couldn’t point to specific talks. So what’s the state of play there?
MR. SPICER: Well, Director Mulvaney is going to release his budget on the 16th. That’s the first step in working with them to get the budget under control. We’re approaching $20 trillion of our debt, and I think we need to get spending under control.
And so part of funding the government goes hand in hand with keeping track of what we’re spending it on and how we’re spending it on, what our priorities are. We’ve begun that passback process that we talked about internally within the executive branch. Director Mulvaney has had several conversations with members on the Hill on both sides, and he’s going to continue to have them. I know the Vice President has been actively engaged as well.
But to your question, I mean, that’s part of the process. We need to release a budget first about what our priorities are for the coming fiscal year, and then make sure that we do what we can going forward. But this goes hand in hand with that.
Q – finish out the current fiscal year, so does the –
MR. SPICER: I understand. That’s fiscal year ’17, but I think they go hand in hand. I think you need to close out FY17 and then I think our budget lays out where we want to go in FY18. And I think once we have a handle on FY18, we can start to backfill 2017.
Q – a specific ask, you want cuts for the rest of ’17?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to — I appreciate — we’re not having that discussion here.
Q Thank you, Sean. And I will honor the one-question Friday. The President has said in the past the he welcomes compromise, and they’re open to compromise on the immigration legislation that’s coming up. This morning when she spoke at the Christian Science Monitor press breakfast, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that she would like to see the comprehensive immigration package that passed the Senate but was stopped in the House brought back, and that was her version of a compromise on immigration. What’s the administration’s position on what former Speaker and Minority Leader –
MR. SPICER: I think you’re referring the Gang of Eight bill, correct?
Q That’s correct.
MR. SPICER: I think the President’s been very clear during the campaign trail that that’s not a bill that he supports. But he looks forward to engaging with members to find a way forward to fix our broken immigration system.
That bill in particular I think is a nonstarter. It was a nonstarter when it came out the first time. I think it continues to be a nonstarter. But the President recognizes that the system is broken and that he wants to work with Congress to fix it.
Q Thank you, Sean. Does the White House believe there’s such a thing as the deep state that’s actively working to undermine the President?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that there’s no question when you have eight years of one party in office that there are people who stay in government who are affiliated with, joined, and continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration. So I don’t think it should come as any surprise that there are people that burrowed into government during eight years of the last administration, and may have believed in that agenda and what to continue to seek it. I don’t think that should come as a surprise to anyone.
Q And will the Director of the CIA or the DNI have a presidential mandate to seek these people out and fire them or purge them from the government?
MR. SPICER: That’s not part of the CIA’s mandate under any circumstances, so I don’t know on that.
Q Sean, thanks. The DNC just put out a statement a little while ago saying it is President Obama who deserves the credit for the February jobs numbers.
MR. SPICER: I’m sure they did.
Q My question to you, how much do you feel that President Trump should be credited for that, and how would you characterize the economy that President Trump was handed over by President Obama?
MR. SPICER: Look, numbers are going to go up and down. We recognize that. But I think there’s no question when you look at the CEOs that hire people and the CEOs that have talked about the investment that they want to make in America — you can look back over the last several administrations, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the number of CEOs and businesses come out and talk about investments and continuing investments and the expansion of investments or hiring based on the vision and agenda of an administration the way they have in this one.
And so it's not just a question of what we believe. I think if you look at the automakers, the other manufacturers, and, frankly, some of the service industries that have come out and talked about the investment that they're going to make, or the continuation of a project that they had going, or the movement of one — of a manufacturing plant or job investment — those speak for themselves. It's not a question of what we believe. I think it's a question of the commitment that U.S. manufacturers and job creators and businesses are making because they want to buy into the President's agenda and vision for creating a more tax and regulatory business-friendly environment to grow here. And I think that those speak for themselves.
Q Do you believe, though, that he's had — that the policies already have had an impact on them?
MR. SPICER: Absolutely. Look at the confidence indexes. They're all going to the top. I think the stock market has generated over $3 billion of additional wealth since he was elected. There are several economic indicators that show signs of strength because of the President's vision and agenda. And I don't think that that's any secret.
I mean, when you talk to the economists, when you talk to business leaders, they have confidence in the President's agenda that it will yield for a more favorable business climate to hire more Americans, to expand the manufacturing based in America, to make us more competitive around the globe. And so I do believe that. But I don't think it's a question of what I believe or what the administration believes. I think if you look at what outside economists and what business leaders do, they confirm that.
Q Thanks, Sean. In the past, the President has referred to particular job reports as “phony” or “totally fiction.” Does the President believe that this jobs report was accurate and a fair way to measure the economy?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, I talked to the President prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly — “They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.” (Laughter.)
Q Thanks, Sean. Could you clear up what appears to be some tension between what you said yesterday about when the administration or the President was made aware of General Flynn's foreign lobbying ties and the AP reporting today that the transition team was informed of Flynn's potential need to register?
MR. SPICER: So there's a big difference between when he filed, which was the other day — two days ago — and what happened then. What the AP is reporting, just so we're clear, is that a personal lawyer of General Flynn's contacted a transition lawyer and asked for guidance on what he should or should not do. The lawyer was instructed that that wasn't the role of the transition, and that it was up to the personal lawyer to work with the appropriate authorities or subject matter experts to determine what was appropriate and what was not appropriate in terms of filing.
But this was a personal matter. It's a business matter. It's not something that would be appropriate for a government entity to give someone guidance on when they should file as an individual — as a private citizen.
That was the guidance that was given, which is consistent with what should be done. And so I don't think it should be a shock to anybody that if you asked a government lawyer what you should do in your private capacity as a citizen, they're going to tell you you should consult experts in that area to determine what you should or should not do.
Q That advice was — the transition was aware of that advice, why wasn’t that then — was the President made aware that that recommendation had been given to his national security advisor?
MR. SPICER: Well, wait a minute, Sara. There are tons of individuals that consult with the lawyers and with ethics experts and say, I own this stock, will I have to sell it? I own a business. I own this house.
And for the most part, they're given guidance as to, hey, go seek professional help, consult with this entity, consult with a lawyer. It’s almost like asking someone for tax advice, calling — and what you will — if you call the IRS and say, hey, I want to know what I should do this, they will tell you to consult a tax attorney.
That's not the job of a government official, is to tell you what you should or should not do in your capacity as a private citizen. And so that's a vastly different scenario that any — whether you — regardless of what department you call in government, if you call the Department of Education and ask them about education standards, they’ll probably refer you to a local entity or to a teacher if you're asking about your own child. That's not why government officials — they're very clear about the line between private action and government action.
Q Thanks, Sean. Does the President agree with House conservatives that the sunset date for the Medicaid expansion should be moved up to the end of next year?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think the bill that is before the House right now, the reconciliation piece — and again, I cannot reiterate it enough — is part of a three-prong process.
But the current process does several things. Number one, it’s the first time that you're going to have a full addressing of an entitlement like this in decades. It is actually a very, very good thing for conservatives when you look at how we're going to address Medicaid and an entitlement that many conservatives have fought for years need to be addressed.
But that being said, the President has also been very clear through all of the discussions — and I’ve commented on that throughout the week — that as he meets with members of Congress and outside groups, that if someone has got an idea that can make this legislation more accessible, give more choice to the American people, drive down costs, make it more patient-centric, he wants to listen to it.
But I think right now that's where the bill stands. We're going to continue to listen and work with members of the House and then eventually the Senate. And so I don't want to prejudge where — the process itself. But the bill was crafted in a way that I think represents the President’s thinking and in a — very smart way of addressing entitlements and going forward.
Q So just to put a pin in it, the President is willing to negotiate on the sunset of the expansion of Medicaid?
MR. SPICER: Right. Right now the date that's in the bill is what the President supports. He is willing to listen to individuals on different aspects of the bill that might make it — that might achieve the goals that he set out. But it’s not a question of negotiation. We have a date in the bill, and that's the date in the bill.
But I think as the bill continues to work its way through the House — and that goes for Speaker Ryan, he’s got members that are approaching him with ideas and I’m sure he’s listening to them as well. Senator McConnell is probably dealing with the same issue in the Senate. And that's the way that the process is going to work.
And I’ve made it very clear since the get-go that this process is going to be one where we're going to take the best ideas, we're going to listen to individuals and try to make sure that we achieve the goals that the President has laid out and the principles that he has laid out.
Q Thank you, Sean. Piggybacking off John and John, at a breakfast this morning — the same one he referenced — Nancy Pelosi also said, “It couldn't possibly be true” of the President's allegations against the former President, “because that is not how our system works.” She also said “Obama would not do that” and “it would be a waste of time” for the House Intelligence Committee to investigate that allegation. Does the White House have any evidence to refute House Minority Leader and former Speaker Pelosi's claim? And could you explain why the President hasn't asked the FBI chief about this directly?
MR. SPICER: I think we spoke very clearly about what we'd like to happen last Sunday and I'm going to reiterate it: We believe that the House and Senate intelligence committee have the appropriate forum and process and staff to look into this matter and report back.
Q Sean, on Flynn. Can you say that the President was informed at all about this arrangement?
MR. SPICER: No, he was not.
Q The need to register as a foreign agent?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q And then did this set off any alarm bells with anyone?
MR. SPICER: No, just so we're clear, you wouldn't — General Flynn filed with the Department of Justice two days ago. How would anyone know that he was going to — I mean, that's sort of like asking –
Q What about the need to file?
MR. SPICER: That's up to his personal lawyer. I mean, again, each person that goes through the process in government seeks counsel in many cases regarding the assets they own and the activities they conducted as to what they have to do or not do. But this is something that — it's like asking whether someone needed to file — if they had a client, whether or not they have to file a lobbying disclosure form. That's not up for us to determine. That's up for them and their counsel to determine if they engaged in activities in the past or whatever it is. Or if a doctor needed to go and up their certification, that is not up for the government to determine. There are certain private citizens' activities that you conduct and you seek counsel on, or professional advice. That's not up to the government. And that's exactly how the system worked.
Q But how did that not raise a red flag? I mean, you have an attorney calling –
MR. SPICER: You already got your question, John. We're doing one-question Friday.
Q But this is an important point.
MR. SPICER: No, it's not, John.
Q Because you have an attorney calling the transition saying that the person who is in line to be the national security advisor may need to register as a foreign agent. And that doesn't raise a red flag?
MR. SPICER: No, it's not a question of raising a red flag, John. It's a question of whether or not they gave them the advice that they're supposed to, which is, it is not up to them to make decisions as to what you need to do or not do. As you know, there are certain activities that fall under each of these requirements as far as what the threshold is, what activities, who the funding source was, et cetera, et cetera. It is not up to — nor is it appropriate, nor is it legal — for the government to start going into private citizens, seeking advice and telling them what they have to register or not. That would be the equivalent of walking through someone's tax return and saying that's not a deduction that you should take, that is.
That's why, when you contact these agencies, they will tell you, you should seek counsel or professional advice or expertise in whatever matter it is. That is not up to them to determine, plain and simple.
Glenn. I called on Glenn — John, we’re going —
Q Moving beyond the legal question here.
MR. SPICER: Thank you.
Q Just to follow up with John, moving beyond the legal question here, this is an issue of judgment about who you guys wanted here in your administration. There were published reports that your potential national security advisor had dealings with the government of Turkey, a controversial regime at this moment in time. Congressman Cummings sent a letter to Mike Pence during the transition informing him of this and raising a red flag. Mr. Pence was on television, I believe yesterday, saying twice that he had no knowledge of that letter.
MR. SPICER: That's right — no, no, that's not — hold on, it stop there. No, no, hold on, before you accuse the Vice President of certain things –
MR. SPICER: Now, what he said was that he was not aware of the filing, just so we're clear. And he wasn't. Thank you. Go on.
Q But just in terms of the larger question here. Forget about filling out forms and the legalisms here. What does this say about the transition team's judgment about still appointing him as national security advisor when you had knowledge of this information?
MR. SPICER: No, but you're asking me — forget about the legalisms. That's what we ask people to do, is follow the law. You can't forget about the legalisms.
Q No, no.
MR. SPICER: No, no, that's what you said. And what I'm saying is, that's what we did. They consulted a lawyer, which everyone who had something of — is advised to do. That lawyer consulted the transition lawyer, who said, it is your job to consult the appropriate lawyers.
Q I'm moving beyond the legal issues, I'm saying in terms of — we're moving beyond the issue of the papers here. We're talking about the judgment that the President, the Vice President and your team made to select this man as national security advisor when you had information that he had these dealings with Turkey. Why did you guys still make that decision?
MR. SPICER: But it's a question — what dealings are you referring to? The fact that he had a client — he was also the head of the department of — the Defense Intelligence Agency, unbelievably qualified, 40 years in the military with impeccable credentials. I mean, so what is it? That he — what exactly are you getting at? Because so far, he has impeccable credentials, he had a stellar career in the military, widely respected, and I think for you to start to impugn his integrity –
Q No, but Vice President Pence said that yesterday — that he wouldn't have that –
MR. SPICER: But again, but there was no disclosure at the time. And the question is, is that if his counsel worked with whomever he worked with and determined that he didn't, that's up to him. But it was up to him. The burden is on the individual to seek the legal advice or professional expertise to decide what they have to file and not.
I mean, we could literally have a hypothetical question about somebody who made an inappropriate filing on their tax returns or another — or a professional qualification. At the end of the day when people present it with you, they are advised to seek expertise and counsel and legal advice about what's appropriate and what's not. That is not — it is not up to the transition attorney to go through someone's livelihood and determine what they need to see. They were given the proper legal advice at the time, which was to seek expertise in that matter. He had already obtained counsel, and that's –
Q Let me just sort of clarify. The transition officials were not overly concerned by his relationship with the government of Turkey?
MR. SPICER: It's not a question of overly concerned, Glenn. The question is, did they provide him the avenue that they were supposed to, which is, did they tell him to seek counsel, and they did. And that’s what’s supposed to happen. That’s it, plain and simple.
Q Sean, I guess the question for you very simply would be then right now, does this raise concerns that there may be other members of this administration or other members that served in the transition that were or are currently lobbying on behalf of foreign governments right now that may be advising the President of the United States?
MR. SPICER: Look, I think we trust people to fill out the appropriate forms that they need to, and in this case –
Q But that’s what betrayed –
MR. SPICER: – and the President acted accordingly back in the thing, and he made the right call then.
Q He may have been taking actions, though, he may have made the right call — the national security advisor.
MR. SPICER: But you’re asking me — this is — look, this is like saying — can you tell me that the executives at NBC News have gone through every single person’s and reporters background –
Q They’re not the President of the United States.
MR. SPICER: No, no, I understand that. But we trust people to fill out the forms that they’re required to do so in an honest and legal manner. And in this case, he retroactively filed the forms that he was supposed to do, but we advised him to do what the legal and proper thing was, and that’s the right thing for this administration.
So we did the right thing then, and we expect every employee to follow the law. This President, when it comes to ethics and when it comes to lobbying, he instituted a five-year ban, he banned people — he has ran on a commitment to drain the swamp. He has been very committed to making sure that we institute high standards here and that we’re held to them.
And so at the end of the day, when he found out that General Flynn had betrayed the trust of the Vice President back in the day, he let him go. The President has high standards for everyone that works in this administration.
So the answer to your question is, if somebody does something that is not in keeping with the President’s standards that he’s set for every single person in the administration they will be let go.
Q So do you have full faith in all those people that are advising the President right now?
MR. SPICER: I believe that everybody has done what has legally been required of them, but I can’t tell you that every single person has done everything. I can tell you the President has made clear to every person in this administration you are expected to live up to the high standards that he has set for them, and that if you don’t you will be dismissed.
Q Sean, the removal of South Korea’s President, what’s the reaction of the White House to it? And also, we know that there will be a presidential election very soon in South Korea, and we know several leading candidates. They prefer — last confrontation was DPRK and also opposed the deployment of a THAAD system. So does the White House looking to the impact of the election might bring?
MR. SPICER: Well, I believe they have to have an election within 60 days. There’s an acting President who we have strong relationships with, and we will continue to work with South Korea. They are both an ally and a friend in the region. This is obviously an issue that we continue to keep up with on the developments there. It’s a domestic issue in which the United States takes no position in the outcome of that election.
It’s up to the Korean people and their democratic institutions to determine the future of their country. The United States continues to be a steadfast ally, friend and partner to the Republic of Korea. And that’s it.
Q Obviously, you guys were excited about the jobs report but maybe a little too excited, both you and the President tweeting within an hour of the jobs data coming out, which is a violation of the federal rule. So I’m wondering I guess both if there is counseling in you and the President’s future? But also what you’d say generally to critics who say, the risk of doing this is politicizing what should be kind of nonpartisan –
MR. SPICER: What I understand is that that rule was instituted to deal with market fluctuations. I could be wrong, but I believe that’s why it was instituted. I think tweeting out “Great way to start a Friday,” here are the actual numbers that you all have reported, is a bit — I mean, don’t make me make the podium move. (Laughter.) I mean, honest to god, like, every reporter here reported out that we had 235,000 jobs, 4.7 — there isn’t a TV station that didn’t go live to it. So to tweet out “Great way to start a Friday,” I think, yes, the President was excited to see more Americans back to work.
I don’t think that’s exactly a market disruption. I think that there’s a lot of excitement in this country when we look at the policies that the President has instituted to help put more Americans back to work.
So I mean, I understand the rule, but let’s –
Q The Obama White House, for instance, went out of their way not to comment in that hour-long period. They would rearrange the President’s schedule around it. It was something that they and previous –
MR. SPICER: I get it. And I think there’s a difference –
Q – going forward, yeah.
MR. SPICER: It’s not about commenting. I think it’s one thing to give analysis and whatever; literally tweeting out great news. I think, yes, we are excited that when the President and the rest of the team saw the news this morning, as reported on every television station, Twitter, the Internet and every major news site in the country and around the world — we were excited to see so many Americans back to work.
So I apologize if we were a little excited. And we’re so glad to see so many fellow Americans back to work. But that’s — Ashley.
Q Sean, Congressman Cummings’ letter to the Vice President in November did lay out that General Flynn was being paid to lobby for Turkish interests during the campaign. Why did that not raise a red flag to the Vice President?
MR. SPICER: It’s not a question of raising a flag. Remember — I think we keep forgetting something — his attorney then went to a transition attorney who was told, you need to seek counsel on this and get further guidance. That’s the job. It’s not a question of “raise flags,” it’s not for us to adjudicate whether or not someone needs to file under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, the FARA Registration Act. That’s not the job of a transition attorney. It’s to tell them to seek additional counsel, or to explain to them where to find that information, not to tell them what to do or not to do.
Q But I’m asking about Vice President specifically — not saying you should go to this attorney or giving legal advice, but why, when this information was brought to the Vice President’s attention, didn’t he raise questions, bring it to the President, look into it further?
MR. SPICER: Because I think it’s fairly simple to say why didn’t this occur. We’re going through several people. The answer is, did they seek the appropriate professional advice and counsel, and they did. And that’s the answer.
Q I have a healthcare question for you.
MR. SPICER: Oh, good. (Laughter.)
Q Aren’t you relieved.
MR. SPICER: That’s the appeal about it.
Q Would the President be willing to sign legislation — is he flexible about the refundable tax credit portion of the House bill? Would he be willing to sign legislation that avoided that particular provision? Because, as you know, conservatives are concerned that that’s an additional entitlement.
MR. SPICER: I think that, more and more, as the President talks to members of Congress and outside groups — number one, I think they’re excited to understand the totality of this, and I think he addresses this in the weekly address that you can at whitehouse.gov, that continues to explain the comprehensive aspect of this. Our reconciliation piece, the administrative piece that Secretary Price will institute, and then the additional legislation — buying healthcare across state lines, allowing small businesses to pool their things, allowing health savings accounts to expand, the streamlining of the FDA, going after medical malpractice — all those things that bring costs down.
But as I’ve noted before, I mean, people have to remember that if you get your healthcare through your employer, which the majority of Americans do, you are not taxed on that, your employer is not taxed on it. It is fairly inadequate and unbalanced for small business owners, ranchers and farmers, sole proprietors to have to face a disproportionate tax burden because they’re not a big employer. I think this is something that conservatives should be embracing, and I think the more that they understand the comprehensive nature of this, they are beginning to support more –
Q So the President wants it to stay, the refundable tax credit provisions?
MR. SPICER: Oh, absolutely.
Q Yes — House Republicans that wrote a letter to the White House asking about why IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is still in his job. Do you have any response to that?
MR. SPICER: I don’t. I’d refer you to the Department of Treasury on that. Yeah.
Q Thank you, Sean. The other day, the President tweeted that, for the past eight years, during the Obama presidency, Russia “ran over” the United States and, in particular, picked off Crimea and added missiles, which the President described in his tweet as “Weak!” Given that he seems to be focused on Crimea, at least as far as the tweet is concerned, will the President use the authority and funding granted him in the NDAA to send lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, as has been called for by the House and Senate Armed Services Committee chairmans, and was in was in both party platforms, although the Republican language was watered down? And if he’s not going to — I did ask you this about several weeks ago when Senator McCain sent a letter asking for this — if the President doesn’t want to do it, is that because he would rather focus his efforts with Russia on partnering to try to defeat ISIS?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think Ambassador Haley has noted at the U.N. that any attempt to undermine sanctions that currently exist because of the annexation of Crimea will remain in place until that issue is resolved. I’m not going to — the President, when it comes to his overall negotiating strategy, has made it very clear in a variety of circumstances that his philosophy is not one that says, “I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do.” He holds his cards close to his vest to maximize his negotiating strategy.
Q But why does sending weapons to Ukraine have anything to do with sanctions?
MR. SPICER: I’m not going to get into the President’s negotiating strategy. I will tell you that, as he continues to engage with the President of Russia and Secretary Tillerson –
MR. SPICER: I’m not. We’re not — Ryan, it’s your birthday. You get a question.
Q Going back to — my staff, we’ve got about several dozen emails on — we talked to congressmen this morning who were getting these emails saying, if you’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare, why not give everybody what Congress and Senators get? Can you address that, since Congress won’t?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think part of what we’re trying to do, we — someone asked the other day about federal benefits. Right now, a third of the counties around our country have one provider. That’s not choice. I think the President understands that very clearly, and that’s, frankly, why he’s pushing the American healthcare — you know, why we’re doing this, is that so many Americans have no choice, and that he wants there to be greater choice and lower costs.
By doing the stuff that we’re doing, especially the third prong of this — allowing competition over state lines, taking the government mandates away from what they have to include — that’s really going to institute more choice. There will be more options.
If you remember, prior to Obamacare, you could go out on the open market and go from a variety of different options and tailor what you or your family needed based on the conditions that you sought or the deductible that you wanted. And choice dried up with Obamacare. I think that’s the point, though, is that if you want more of that kind of a system, then this is the bill and the legislation and the comprehensive approach that you should be supporting.
Q But specifically, the perception that somehow senators and congressmen get better care than the rest of us. Can you address that?
MR. SPICER: Well, that’s what I — yes, I think that’s why we’re trying to pass it the way we are. We want more choice. We want more competition. We want lower costs. The American people deserve a better healthcare system, and that’s what this President is pushing for.
Q Sean, did the White House sign off on Secretary Tillerson’s decision not to take the press with him on what should be an important trip to Asia, and the growing North Korean threat? And what are his marching orders? You talked a lot about the flexibility the President has given to his generals. What flexibility has he given for diplomatic initiatives to his Secretary of State?
MR. SPICER: As I mentioned at the beginning, the President is having lunch with Secretary Tillerson. I know that the trip was one of the topics of discussion, and so I will try to follow up with that.
And with respect to the first part of the question, press is being invited to that trip. They’re traveling commercially. There is a press logistics component to make sure that they can get everywhere, that they’re given access to everything. There’s a press conference –
Q You can possibly to go to all three of those cities commercially to cover him in the way that –
MR. SPICER: The plane that the Secretary is taking doesn’t accommodate that, but they have made accommodations for members of the press to cover everything. And I know that –
Q Is that something you advised to him?
MR. SPICER: No, we don’t get involved in the logistics for every Cabinet member’s trip. I would advise you to touch base with the Secretary, with the State Department on this. But I know that they have made aware of the concerns of some of your colleagues, and they are making accommodations in the future with respect to the size of the plane.
But make no mistake about it, there is a logistics component to make sure that the press is welcome throughout the trip and at every stop, and that accommodations are taken care of, and there’s logistical support to do that. There will be a press conference component as well.
Q Would you like, though, public diplomacy and this kind of important diplomatic initiative for this administration to be covered fully going forward?
MR. SPICER: I think it will. I hope it will be covered fully.
Q And should they be — reporters allowed to be on the place with the Secretary, as they have for many years?
MR. SPICER: And I think that, when appropriate, they can. And again, there’s a big difference between making sure that we carve out X number of seats and making sure that we have transparency and openness in covering events. They have logistical support for you all, to make sure that you have hotels. There’s travel support. There’s accommodations and filing centers. I mean, at some point, this isn’t about blocking anybody. They’ve gone above and beyond. Not every plane can accommodate every member of the press.
Q You couldn’t get a bigger plane?
MR. SPICER: It’s not a question — there’s an element of tax –
Q Most Secretaries of State can accommodate that.
MR. SPICER: Thank you. I understand that, and there’s an element of cost-savings at this point that the Secretary is trying to achieve. But at the end of the day, there has been a press component to every stop of the Secretary’s trip. He is doing everything he can to logistically support the press who wants to come and cover him, and they are being open to make sure that Secretary is available throughout the trip.
Q President Trump has been — was very critical of German Chancellor Merkel on the campaign trail. I was just wondering, how does the White House think that will affect the tone of the meeting on Tuesday, and what type of tone does the President plan to take?
MR. SPICER: I know that we did a bit of a readout earlier today on that. There’s a lot of excitement on both sides of the ocean for this trip. I know that we are looking forward to meeting with the Chancellor and her team, and I’ve talked to their folks over there and they’re very excited about coming over. There’s a lot of trade and economic interests on both sides, and obviously there’s an element of national security that we share.
And so I will let the trip’s — look forward to the readout, but there is a lot of excitement coming. And I think the President looks forward to meeting with the Chancellor and discussing areas of shared national interest with her.
Q Just following up on all of this Flynn discussion. I gather from today and yesterday, correct me if I’m wrong, I want to make sure I understand the answer to this question. Are you saying the President was not aware that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was acting as a foreign agent when he appointed him to be national security advisor?
MR. SPICER: Correct. Well, and just remember, you wouldn’t know that until he filed. He didn’t file until two days ago, so therefore, nobody would have known that because he hadn’t filed as a foreign agent until two days ago.
Q My understanding is that he had filed a lobbying disclosure with Congress in November.
MR. SPICER: Again, that’s different than filing a FARA request with the DOJ.
Q And one more question –
MR. SPICER: Well, it’s one-question Friday. (Laughter.)
Q It’s very much attached to this.
MR. SPICER: All right.
Q The other question is, did Flynn disclose he was acting as a foreign agent in the security clearance review before he became NSA?
MR. SPICER: I don’t know the answer to that question. That’s something that you should follow up with General Flynn on.
Q Sean, I want to go back to the numbers. When is it when a former President’s spillover ends and the new President stands on his own merit? When does that happen?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think on January 20th at noon, you start to assume command of the government, and — what specifically are you asking for?
Q The numbers from jobs. You’re taking –
MR. SPICER: Well, I think that this is the first full month that encapsulates the President’s administration. I think that’s a very telling number. Look, and I get it. These numbers are going to go up and down. But I think for the first full month, we’re seeing the enthusiasm and spirit that so many business leaders have been drawn to, and that is exciting as a first month. But I think this encapsulates a full 30 days of the Trump presidency, and so we’re going to continue to work forward with policies that will lower regulation and lower taxes, create a more business-friendly and entrepreneur-friendly business climate to allow the expansion of U.S. companies and grow U.S. jobs.
Q And lastly, over the last couple of weeks we’ve heard all the negatives — well, not all the negatives, but a large portion of negatives about the Affordable Care Act, and how you’re looking to make it patient care. So with that, are there any positives which you could articulate from ACA that will carry into possibly patient care?
MR. SPICER: I think children being able to stay on their plans to 26. There’s a preexisting-condition piece. But again, remember –
Q That’s going to states, the way we understand it. That’s subject to –
MR. SPICER: No, no, no, but that — you’re asking if there’s elements. I think those are some things that — and again, remember, there was some stuff that was part of the ACA that is stuff that Republicans had supported for a while as well. I think this is making sure that this is the most effective and comprehensive healthcare policy that achieves the President’s goals.
Q So those are the only two? Those are two –
MR. SPICER: Yes. You asked — I don't know, April, I’m sure I could go through the bill and get back. It’s very long, as you saw the other day. It’s a thousand-page –
Q – pages versus –
MR. SPICER: Nine hundred seventy four pages. Very good.
Q The Palestinians are saying that President Trump invited President Abbas to the White House for a meeting very soon. Can you confirm that?
MR. SPICER: I can. Thank you guys very much. Let’s end on a positive note. Have a great weekend. We look forward to seeing you. Take care everybody. Thank you.
2:44 P.M. EST
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