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Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Sean Spicer en route Palm Beach, FL, 4/6/2017

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En Route Palm Beach, Florida

2:32 P.M. EDT

Q    Can you go over the schedule?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, let me walk you guys through it.  So, obviously, just to recap, I think we had a great visit yesterday with King Abdullah and the Queen.  Obviously, one quick note for this morning — I think we put it out yesterday — but the President ordered flags flown at half-mast today in recognition of Senator John Glenn of Ohio.

This morning, as many of you saw, the President continued a bipartisan tradition that started out of President Bush welcoming the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride to the White House, and I think it was a really cool event.  Ironically, as much as the weather dampened our ability to have it outside, I think spirits were high inside.  We had 50 folks up there.  A great way to start the day.  

Obviously, right now, we’re in flight to Mar-a-Lago.  Quickly, to Steve’s point, let me walk you through the schedule.  I don’t know how much you saw on TV, but the President of China, President Xi, arrived a few minutes ago.  He was greeted by Secretary Tillerson at the airport.  He will be, obviously, heading for the airport to where he’ll be staying. 

I’ve been asked a couple times, so I just want to get it out in front.  No one from the Chinese delegation is staying at Mar-a-Lago.  They were invited, but it was a room-size issue in terms of the size of their delegation, so they’re staying just down the road.  But the invitation was extended to them. 

The delegation will arrive at Mar-a-Lago at 5:00 p.m.  They will be greeted by the President and the First Lady.  Following the welcome, the group will share some private time ahead of their dinner at 6:30 p.m. in the formal dining room.  There will be a pool spray at the top of the dinner.

Tomorrow will be mostly spent in meetings.  The First Lady and Madame Peng will also visit a local school.  There will be a working lunch.  And then the Chinese delegation –

(Interruption due to turbulence.)

There will be a working lunch.  The President’s weekly address will be released tomorrow, focusing on the President’s pledge to reverse decades of dangerous open-border policies that have left the country open, unsafe.  As you may have noted this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a report on the decline of individuals that have been apprehended at the southwest border.  I mentioned this the other day, but we had some really good numbers — declining 35 percent in March, from February of 2017, and down 61 percent from January 2017, and a 64 percent decrease from March 2017.  All this will be mentioned in the brief tomorrow — or in the weekly address.

The Vice President’s office announced that the Vice President will travel to the Republic of Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia and Hawaii from April 15th to the 25th.  This will serve as the Vice President’s first official travel to the Asia Pacific region.  The Vice President will emphasize the President’s continued commitment to U.S. alliance and partnerships in the Asia Pacific region, highlighting the administration’s economic trade agenda, and underscoring America’s unwavering support for our troops here and abroad.

Next week, I mentioned previously the President will host the Secretary General of NATO on Wednesday.  We’ll have a press event at that.

With that, I’ll take a few questions before we buckle back.

Q    Sean, following up on Syria yesterday, there’s a lot of people who see a contradiction between the sympathy expressed for the victims of the gas attack and the policy of basically not allowing, for humanitarian reasons, these sort of people to come into the United States now.  

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry, what are you –

Q    Syria.  

MR. SPICER:  Right.  I think one of the things that you’ve seen the President talk to several of the folks in the region about is the setting up of safe zones and supporting them — something that he’s talked to several of the leaders in the region about.  And I think we got to make sure, number one, while obviously our hearts break for the people of Syria who were innocently attacked the other day, especially these young children who we watched, we’ve got to make sure that we’re always doing what we can to protect our nation.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t support efforts like safe zones through Syria; that we’ll make sure that we do what we can for their people.

Q    But there’s no contradiction about not allowing people like this to come to the U.S. –

MR. SPICER:  Every country’s number-one priority is to its own people and the protection of them.  We’ve got to do what we can to make sure that as we seek to root out ISIS and terrorism throughout the country — throughout the world, rather, that we don’t, at the same time, do things that would bring those same threats to our country.

So we can do what we can to provide humanitarian relief, to support the building and maintenance of safe zones throughout, and that’s something that the President I think has found a lot of common ground with other heads of state, especially in the region.  

Q    Sean, what will the President’s response be if President Xi urges more action on climate change and asking the U.S. to fulfill its commitments and go further on it?

MR. SPICER:  I think it’s a great question.  I think we’ll have an opportunity to talk to you guys at some point tomorrow, and I think we can get through what was discussed on the agenda.  But I’m not going to get ahead of the leaders discussing issues, whether it’s that or economic stuff or North Korea.  There’s going to be a very robust discussion on a lot of these issues, and to start to hypothetically guess what we’re going to say if someone brings up something ahead of the talks is not a place that I want to –

Q    And on the second question.  You mentioned the border security issue.  Yesterday, Secretary Kelly said that it would not be a contiguous border, it would not be a physical border throughout, it would be a combination –

MR. SPICER:  I don’t think he said it wasn’t going to be a physical border.  I think there’s a question of whether there will be some fencing and some other stuff.

Q    He said in response to a question from Senator McCain, would you consider all these other things, including electronic surveillance on the border, and he said, yes, I would, and that’s a good definition. 

MR. SPICER:  I will let Secretary Kelly be the expert on that.

Q    But is that a backing-down of the President’s commitment on a physical wall?

Q    No, I think — no, because, again, I think it’s a physical barrier.  I think he’s informed the President of what’s feasible throughout the extent of our southern border.  And the President’s number-one goal is to do what we can to deter illegal immigration and keep our country safe.  That’s the primary focus.


Q    Chairman Nunes decide to step aside, at least in the House Intel investigation on Russia.  Does the White House believe that it could have handled things better in terms of the invitation for him a couple weeks ago?  Now you have the second administration official, starting with Jeff Sessions recusing himself, Chairman Nunes recusing himself.  Does the White House believe that it could have handled this better?  And how did you find out about Chairman Nunes’s decision?

MR. SPICER:  I found out about it by watching Fox News.  It was on the television.  So — but I don’t know –

Q    Did he notify the White House, though?

Q    I’m told he alerted the White House.  

MR. SPICER:  I saw it live.  But I don’t know how — in terms of us handling with respect to Chairman Nunes, as you know, Jeff, he was the one who requested to come see some things and then said he wanted an appointment with the President.  We were informed of his desire to talk to the President through media reports; he held a press conference and announced it.  So I’m not sure what — our job is not to –

Q    But he was invited to the White House the day before that.

MR. SPICER:  He was no invited to the White House the day –

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. SPICER:  I know, but with respect, you’re making — stating a fact that isn’t true.  He wasn’t invited.  And not that he wouldn’t be; he’s more than welcome to come, as is any member of Congress.  But by his own statement, he requested to come to look at something.  So we have continued to say that we want the House and the Senate to look into it, and we continue to support that effort in both chambers.

Q    If I could follow, going forward, will this change how anyone in the administration from the National Security Council and anyone talks to or deals with matters involving the Russia investigation?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know that there’s been any change in how we — no.  I mean, I’m not aware of anything that we’ve done that would change how we handle requests for information.  But the answer to the question is, there’s been no change in our policy.

Q    Sean, have you been asked about Steve Bannon yet?

MR. SPICER:  Have I been asked about him?

Q    Do you have full confidence in him?  Does he still have a seat at the table?  Do you want to talk about him a little bit?

MR. SPICER:  I mean, tell me what the question is and I’ll answer it.

Q    Well, does his removal from the NSC show that you’re getting more of the professional people, less of the political people involved in national security?
MR. SPICER:  The President respects Chairman McMaster’s willingness to form the National Security Council in the way he did.  It’s something that we said when we announced Chairman McMaster back at Mar-a-Lago, ironically.  We had talked about the fact that he would have full authority to oversee the National Security Council in terms of personnel and structure, and he has. 

Q    Are you saying that it was his decision to ask Bannon to leave then?

MR. SPICER:  Well, obviously, he’s the National Security Advisor, he runs all of these major decisions in restructuring by the President.  But at the end of the day, he is the National Security Advisor.

Q    Just on logistics for the next two days, should we expect to hear from the President and President Xi at all?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I know that there will be pool sprays.  I think, as you know, I wouldn’t rule anything out.  We’re not — there’s nothing beyond that on the thing, and I think we may have some folks come by the filing center and such.

Q    One last thing.  Does the President plan to raise human rights with the Chinese President?

MR. SPICER:  Julie, I’d go back to what Noah said.  I don’t — we will have a readout of what they discussed after they discuss it.  But I don’t want to get ahead of what they’re going to discuss or not discuss until they’ve had a chance to meet.

Q    But does he feel like it’s important, as the American President, to raise human rights?

MR. SPICER:  (Inaudible) human rights, trade.  There’s a lot of areas of both economic and national security, human rights being one of them.  There’s things that we will discuss in private.  And we will have a readout of those discussions.

Q    What about climate change?  Is that an issue?  Oh, asked already?  Sorry.

MR. SPICER:  Again, I mentioned this to — Noah brought that up.  Once we have an update on what they discussed we’ll make sure that we read it out, but I’m not going to — part of this opportunity is for them to develop a relationship and start the discussion on some key issues.

But there’s a lot of folks that are traveling down and having discussions as well.  Secretary Ross is on the plane, Secretary Mnuchin.  Secretary Tillerson, as I’ve mentioned, is already down there.  Secretary Mattis is coming down.  So there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for our folks to interact.  And again, I probably left some — Gary Cohn is on the plane, General McMaster.  There’s going to be a lot of interaction that occurs during this bilateral with our senior officials and their counterparts.

Q    Is Steve Bannon on the plane?

MR. SPICER:  He is.

Q    Can you give us a sense of — we wanted to square in Judge Gorsuch.

MR. SPICER:  We’ll have an update.  I would imagine there’s some — I don’t want to get ahead of this but I know we are looking at dates for next week.  

Q    But you wouldn’t fly back to Washington, or you wouldn’t have the judge down here for a swearing-in?

MR. SPICER:  No.  The earliest that it would be would be Monday.  There are some — we’re looking at some times.  There’s some other logistical things that we’re just trying to figure out, whether it would be Monday.  It could potentially be Tuesday.  I know Wednesday we’ve got the NATO Secretary General.  But once we lock in that, we’ll have something out.  But it would not be over the weekend, no.

Q    The President said that he was flexible in his thinking maybe evolving on Syria.  Can you give us a lens into where that is and kind of what he’s doing behind the scenes?

MR. SPICER:  The President has held several discussions with his national security team regarding the situation in Syria.  Obviously he is being presented with a lot of options.  But I would go back and echo the comments the President made yesterday in the Rose Garden where he is not one to telegraph those decisions or options until he’s ready to make them, and that’s where I think he continues to bring that sense of being a shrewd negotiator to the table and not revealing his hand until it’s time.

Q    And what’s the timeline on the healthcare bill, renewing that or deciding whether to abandon a second attempt?

MR. SPICER:  Well, first of all, I would just — with respect to — it’s not a second attempt.  It’s been an ongoing discussion.  You saw Chief of Staff Priebus and the Vice President were up on the Hill last night.  We’ve had a continuation of discussions over the last several days, and I think they’ve been very productive.

You saw I think Freedom Caucus Chair Meadows made some comments earlier today that they’ve seen some very constructive proposals and ideas put forward.  I think the amendment that Speaker Ryan was talking about putting forward to the rules committee is something that shows tremendous progress by the team. 

And look, honestly, as soon as we get to 216, we’ll let you know.

Q    Sean, did the White House ask for the House to go forward with the vote that they’re planning this week?  Was that driven by the White House?  

MR. SPICER:  (Inaudible) that, as I mentioned, Chief of Staff Priebus and the Vice President and some others were up on the Hill last night working with Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy, Greg Walden, Kevin Brady, and others.  I think the idea is that we feel very good about where the discussions are going and some of the language that is being updated, moving this in a very positive direction towards getting that 216. 

Q    Does the President maintain full confidence in Speaker Ryan and his abilities to get this done?

MR. SPICER:  Yes.  Thank you, guys.  

2:47 P.M. EDT


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