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White House Press Briefing; New Education Secretary Address Education Department. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 8, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So what's your message to him and anyone else who is worried about sort of big push in the beginning who might be concerned that it's -- that momentum is stalling?

SPICER: I -- I think it's hardly stalling. I think it's a mammoth thing to repeal and replace. I think the -- that there's no question the president's commitment to doing this. You've heard Speaker Ryan talk about how we're going to - we should be able to have this wrapped up by the end of the year. It's a big bill. It got jammed through and it was very sweeping, we're talking about 1/5 of our economy.

We can even do it quickly as the Democrats did and end up with a monstrosity where premiums go up, access is limited, or we can do it right. And I think the president, while he wants to get this done as soon as possible and understand what's at stake, he wants to do it right. He understands how important healthcare is to American families and individuals.

And so, his goal is to get it done right and have an outcome that achieves the goals that it sets out to do. That's it, plain and simple.

QUESTION: I have a series of questions, I want to...

SPICER: ...Please.


SPICER: Look at what you started, Hallie Jackson (ph).

QUESTION: Don't blame it on Hallie (ph), OK? Going back to the issue of policing, what happens when there is a situation - you're talking about good policing. But what happens when there are situations that we've seen over the last few years that have been highlighted with this accountability piece (ph) with cameras?

What happens when there is bad policing? What...

SPICER: ...Then we have to deal with it. I mean, I don't - I think the president wants to do what he can but again, I think you're right, we've got to have good policing. But that's - he wants to stand with them, talk about how we can do proper training, what kind of funding they need to do their job better. In so many cases, the police are asking for the resources because they've become fearful of making routine stops by preventing it (ph). So I think it's - it's working with the police, integrating those kind of back and forth and having a back - a dialogue in communities to make sure that we're doing it, as you put it, like in a way that instills confidence in our citizens and our communities. But we can do this right and we can make...

QUESTION: ...Is that either/or though (ph)?

SPICER: No, absolutely not.


SPICER: No, no, no. We've got to do this - look, police officers from around this country on a daily basis put their lives out there and I think that they want to - they want to keep communities safe. Like teachers, they entered this not - no cop signs up or sheriff because of the money. Like teachers, they do it because they care about this community, they care about making this country better, their community better.

But I think in return they should provided the resources and policies they need to do their job well and to do so that ensures that we, you know, have this back and forth dialogue with the American people that continues to earn the respect that they deserve for the sacrifice that they're making.

QUESTION: Next question...

SPICER: ...How many do we got? Just so I.

QUESTION: Maybe three. Maybe three.


SPICER: No, no, no.

QUESTION: Is black history month - let me go (ph).


SPICER: You can play that one (ph).

QUESTION: I've got a couple more days (ph).



QUESTION: All right, so listen, on the issue - on the issue of last evening with Elizabeth Warren (ph). Coretta Scott King, these words - I want to get your reaction to these words that were not allowed. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.

And she's basically saying that Sessions has indifference towards criminal violations of civil rights law. What do you say to that?

SPICER: Well obviously we have a lot of respect for her and the sacrifices that she made and the sacrifices that frankly she endured in her life. But I would respectfully disagree with her assessment of Senator Sessions then and now. His record on civil and voting rights I think is outstanding. And like Arlen Specter, the late Arlen Specter, I can only hope that if she was still with us today, that after getting to know him and to see his record and his commitment to voting civil rights that she would share the same view that Senator Specter did where he said "although I voted against him, getting to know the man that is now, I regret that vote."

And I would hope that if she was still with us today that she would share that sentiment because Senator Sessions' record both as - as U.S. Attorney for Alabama as attorney general and as senator has been one that has stood up for voting rights, he prosecuted the Klan - the Klan. He stood up for Coretta Scott King getting - for getting the gold medal. He has been a tireless advocate of voting and civil rights throughout his career.

And I would just hope that if she was still with us today that she would share the sentiments of former Senator Specter.

QUESTION: OK, and last two.


QUESTION: Diversity here (ph), the administration's diversity issues, you've been slammed on that recently. I understand that there's been a meeting, Vice President Pence has been talking to J.C. Watts, Michael Steele and others to collaborate on that. And also, there's a lot of groundswell about this HBCU executive order. What's going on with that?

SPICER: So, the HBCU presidents will be in town later this month as part of the national celebration. We'll have further updates on both the meetings that we may have with them, the activities surrounding that in terms of the administration, and then I think we'll have further updates on both the meetings that we may have with them, the activities surrounding that in terms of the administration, and then I think we'll have further updates on - as I mentioned, with all executive orders, we have nothing to update on that.

But obviously, the president, you know, has a strong commitment to - to them and understands over the last eight years, they've been woefully neglected and I think he wants to really show a commitment in funding to HBCUs and so you'll see, I think, not just a push this month but in his budget and going forward.

QUESTION: Share (ph) PLUS loans, Pell Grants...

SPICER: ...I think his budget will address a lot of these issues.


SPICER: And I think - look, we're going to continue to reach out to a lot of folks to get their ideas and their input. I think he's shown that both through the transition and now but we're going to continue to reach out to people of different backgrounds, of different color, of different gender, of different economic - you know, socioeconomic, of different industry, of different parties.

The president, I think, continues to show a desire to reach out and talk to people who I think share an agenda of moving the country forward and doesn't really care about their background, their voting history, any of those other ideological traits. They share a commitment to moving this country forward and lifting people up, that's his end of the (ph).

QUESTION: You mentioned the one in, two out order in your opening. There was a lawsuit filed in federal court this morning challenging that lawsuit. What else (ph) - where is that and what's your response to it?

SPICER: Well, I think the lawsuit presumes a lot of outcomes that are widely inaccurate. I think it presumes that certain things would get - be part of the one out. The bottom line is that overregulation has stemmed economic growth and job creation. Reviewing those to make sure that they are meeting their intent and not stifling job creation at the expense of whatever they were intended to do is something that should be smart and welcomed (ph) by everybody.

The idea that we're willy-nilly just allowing regulations to occur. But the lawsuit specifically is wildly inaccurate. It makes a ton of assumptions that call for speculation on what may or may not happen in the future and that's highly - you know, it's just subjective at best and doesn't have any basis in fact. Thank you guys, look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

QUESTION: More hands up here, Sean.

SPICER: I know, I see them. Tomorrow.

[14:37:28] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There he is, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, wrapping up a rather lengthy briefing, with lots of issue, everything from a strong defense to what the president had to say about the three-judge court of appeals decision that we're anticipating later today on whether the president's travel ban will be reinstated or will continue as is. There's a lot of discussion as well on the president's strong words, raising the specter that the terror threat to the United States is greater than he anticipated. Also, some significant words with the president tweeted this morning about his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and Nordstrom, the department store. We're going to get to all that.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington. Once again, we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

We have a great panel of our political reporters and experts standing by, and legal analysts as well.

Gloria, first of all, what the president said this morning very strong words on the "disgraceful" -- his word -- nature of what's going on with ninth circuit court of appeals considering the travel ban?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate. OK. So, you can suspend, you can put restrictions, you can do whatever you want. And this is for the security of the country.

So, there it is, folks. It is as plain as you can have it. I didn't -- and I was a good student. I understand things. I comprehend very well, OK? Better than I think almost anybody. And I want to tell you, I listened to a bunch of stuff last night on television that was disgraceful. It was disgraceful. Because what I just read to you is what we have, and just it can't be written any plainer or better.

I don't ever want to call a court biased, so I won't call a court biased. And we haven't had a decision yet, but courts seem to be so political.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Was the president this morning talking about to the merits of the order when he called it disgraceful the hearing that he heard last night?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He wasn't arguing before the ninth circuit, Jeff. Last night was a motion on the temporary restraining order. I think the president was very clear that U.S. Code and the Constitution clearly give the president all the authority that is needed to make sure that he can regulate who comes into this country and prevent any acts of -- you know, anyone who is not coming to this country in a peaceful manner. The code, 8 U.S. Code 11520, is very, very clear on this. So, I think the president was very -- was pointing out the same issue that we had in Boston, which is, once we had a chance to argue it on the merits, we won on it. So, he clearly did not argue in front of the ninth circuit last night. So --

[13:40:28] ZELENY: But he called it disgraceful.


ZELENY: Calling it disgraceful, is that the type of language --


SPICER: I think the president -- when you look at the U.S. Code and how clear it is written and the authority and power it gives to the president to keep this country safe and regulate who comes into the country, I think it's a very, very clear thinking. And I think we went on to say, it doesn't matter what level of your education you're at, I don't think you can misread this.


SPICER: I think he was very clear, Jeff, so thank you.


BLITZER: Excellent exchange.

Jeff Zeleny is with us.

You're still in the briefing room, Jeff. You were trying to get an answer from him on the president's use of that word disgraceful in describing that one-hour hearing that we all listened to last night, the oral arguments presented before the three-judge panel, and the president, apparently, thought that whole operation was disgraceful.

ZELENY: He did, indeed, Wolf. Strong language from the president this morning when he was talking to the sheriffs and other law enforcement officials here. We were simply trying to get a little bit of clarity.

It was clear that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was trying to take the temperature down several levels from what the president said this morning. He was trying to focus reporters' and perhaps the attention of the White House on the specific merits of the argument, but that was not what the president was arguing this morning in that speech. It was an extraordinary exchange from a sitting president to the judiciary branch, a separate branch of government here. But Sean Spicer clearly trying to not repeat the president's words but simply trying to refocus the conversation here.

But, Wolf, as this White House is waiting for the ruling, certainly judges all over heard what he said this morning. We have no indication of the impact of the ruling at all, of course, but certainly, stinging words from him -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Very stinging words.

Quickly, Laura Coates, our legal analyst, do you remember, is there an example where a sitting president of the United States refers to a federal court of appeals, the ninth circuit, in this particular, in San Francisco, awaiting the results of their consideration of this decision and he refers to the process as disgraceful?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, and that's what makes this an outrageous thing and it also shows the president does not understand the role of the ninth circuit in this particular context. It's not ruling on the overall constitutionality or the merits of the case. What they're doing is they're saying, look, the lower court decided to suspend this ban, in order for us to flip flop again and add to confusion, show us why you will be harmed, Trump administration, by returning to the status quo of the original vetting procedures in place for those seven countries. They could not do that sufficiently last night, in my opinion. Therefore, that is what the confusion is now about. But saying they're disgraceful for doing their job, it just misunderstands we are in a very, very nuanced part of the law and have not yet reached the full merits of the constitutionality of this case.

BLITZER: Very good point, Gloria Borger, because these three judges, they were asking tough questions to both sides, which is the normal procedure. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And I think that

the president may understand the separation of powers. In this case, he's clearly rejecting it. He's essentially saying, by calling them disgraceful, that somehow everything should go unchecked to a degree. Judges in the Supreme Court ask questions. And again, they're aggressive. That is their job. So, for the president -- he also said, I think, at some other point this morning, that there were these extraneous points being raised. They weren't extraneous. They went to the issues before the court. And I think that what Sean Spicer was trying to do in saying the president is clear is to kind of clear up that the president wasn't really clear about what he was saying.

BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, it's a tough job that the press secretary has trying to clean up some pretty extraordinary words that his boss, the president of the United States, made earlier in the day.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, we've seen this all week, with Kellyanne Conway, the president of the United States often says things that are incorrect and not true. So, if you have to go out there and balance between not calling the guy you work for a liar, but answering the press' questions, it's almost an impossible position to be in.

I think Trump is making things more difficult for him with this court. One, all of the public statements he made prior to this reaching the courts have been thrown back in the government's face in that in the oral arguments last night. And hard to predict, but going out and attacking the court, what's that going to do with the psychology of the judges that have to hear the case, not to ascribe to them, but it may make them less willing to give what the president wants because they don't want to be seen as worked by the reps.

[14:45:39] BLITZER: And the president - and I want to bring in Tony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state, CNN's global affairs analyst.

He was asked -- Sean Spicer, was asked about the president's -- if the president was pleased with the way the Justice Department lawyer defended the arguments in favor of the travel ban from these seven mostly-Muslim countries. Listen to this.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was a lot of back and forth during that entire argument. He made some solid points and I think he did what he had to do represent the president's case and the administration's case.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He was happy with his presentation?

SPICER: I think he is looking forward to the merits of the discussion. And I think he was pleased with some of the points that got made. His focus is on the merits of the order and making sure that, ultimately, we're able to do what we can to get the order back in place and protect the American people.

BLITZER: That Justice Department lawyer, August Flentje (ph), special counsel to the assistant attorney general at the Justice Department.

When I was listening to his half-hour presentation, the Q&A going on, I said to myself, I suspect the president, President Trump's not very pleased the way this discussion is going.

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Two things, Wolf. First, I find it deeply troubling that the president seemed to be saying he is not subject to judicial review. That's not the way our system works. And to say it wasn't -- was a moment of disgrace. One of the things the government has to show is that there's a real threat if this ban is not put back in place. There's no evidence of an imminent threat that we have to stop. As it stands with the system we have in place, it is very difficult to come into this country as a refugee or an immigrant. It takes two years on average. The seven countries in question, not a single American has been killed by someone coming from those countries since going back to 9/11.

BLITZER: But the president this morning said, when he was meeting with the sheriff's, he specifically said that over the past two weeks he's been president of the United States, he's seen he's terrorist threats reported to him, and it's a lot worse out there than anyone can imagine.

BLINKEN: Look, that may be true, generally speaking, but what we do know looking at the data going back more than a decade is at when it comes to the refugee program or immigrants coming to this country that's not the case.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And at some point, Trump also said - and this came up in the briefing -- the idea that they are pouring in, coming from certain areas, we can guess what certain areas he means. Spicer was asked about that, what sort of metrics he was looking for, and Spicer said he will have to go back and get the data set, I think was his response. So, we'll see if there's any metrics that will show that they're coming over and that they're dangerous. It's not just --


LIZZA: That's the thing. If you want to take advantage of this temporary reprieve, probably makes sense there are more visa applications. But the whole point is, what's the evidence there's any danger from those people?


BORGER: What's troubling is the stoking of public fear, with the American public, saying, "I know more than you do," which, of course, is true. He gets a daily brief, looks at the threat matrix, everything else. But he's telling the American public, be afraid. It's one thing when you're a candidate and running for the presidency and saying they're not doing a really good job. It's another thing when you're sitting in the Oval Office and telling people you should be scared about this.

BLITZER: Another issue that came up today was a tweet from the president earlier in the day on his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and the department store, Nordstrom, dropping her line. I want to read you the tweet. This is the president. "My daughter, Ivanka, has been treated so unfairly by Nordstrom. She is a great person. Always pushing me to do the right thing. Terrible".

Here is what Sean Spicer said about that during the briefing that just happened.


[13:50:06] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How is she being treated unfairly if she's not --


SPICER: Well, I think there's clearly a targeting of her brand and it's her name out there. She's not directly running the company but her name is still on it. And there's clearly efforts to undermine that name based on her father's positions on particular policies he's taken. This is a direct attack on his policies and her name. So, there's clearly an attempt for him to stand up for her because she is being maligned because they have a problem with his policies.


BLITZER: Brian Stelter is with us, our media correspondent, the host of "Reliable Sources."

Brian, it was tweeted @realDonaldTrump, but also @POTUS, the official presidential twitter account. Was it appropriate for the president to be defending his daughter, commercial enterprise, if you will, officially as president of the United States?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: I think the overwhelming reaction from experts and media commentators has been no, it's not appropriate. You have Spicer at the podium saying this is a direct attack on the president's policies. I think this relates to this administration's allergy to criticism. They're not the first to feel this way, but when you're the president you're the most criticized person probably on the planet. Right now, it's President Trump. What we heard from the podium about Nordstrom and I can -- Ivanka, I was struck by Spicer saying anyone who was not a Yemen, is doing a disservice to the U.S. Navy SEAL who was killed. President Trump himself has criticized the Iraq war. I know this is personal for Sean Spicer. He was a Navy commander. But I think it relates to this resistance to criticism.

BLITZER: Let me get Ryan to weigh in.

When you saw the president's tweet on Ivanka, and Nordstrom, a strong defense coming from the press secretary right now, what did you think?

LIZZA: This is exactly what every ethics ex-par ethics expert warned of, Sean Spicer said this is a direct attack on the president's children. You have the children running the president's company and the message coming from the White House is make sure you don't mess with our brands, make sure you don't mess with our hotels, make sure you don't take any public efforts that put our brand name in any bad light or else. We saw Nordstrom stock immediately dip. Now it's recovered earlier. But this is exactly the thing that all of the ethics experts said this is the problem with mixing business and one's public life, and this is why the Trumps refusal to divest from his companies is so troubling.

BORGER: And he's taking the power of the presidency and turning it against an American retailer because they failed to renew a contract with his daughter, which he says is because of his policies. I guarantee you Nordstrom would say something else.

LIZZA: Correct me if I'm wrong, but is there any reporting that this is why Nordstrom actually severed this relationship?

BORGER: No, no --


HENDERSON: I do think there is something of a boycott and people have shed a light on Nordstrom and all sorts of companies for their relationship with Trump.'

But the think about this that is so striking and unsettling for people is that being president -- and for Ivanka, too, who is working in the White House. She's tweeting of photos of working in the White House -- it's supposed to be about public service. It's not supposed to be about brand or profit. And here he is tweeting about this company that decided to sever a relationship with his daughter.

BORGER: And I guarantee you Ivanka Trump didn't tell him to tweet this. I think this is something that he probably did on his own, because he doesn't help her brand at all.


BLITZER: And you could argue this is a father defending his daughter. He It's a very personal issue.

BORGER: Right, but he's president of the United States --


HENDERSON: -- the account, the official account.


HENDERSON: So you say in private, you grumble --

BLITZER: All right.

BORGER: Talk about blurring the lines here.

BLITZER: The new education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who was sworn in last night after extremely close, 51-50, confirmation vote in the Senate, she's now the education secretary. Moments ago, she addressed officials at the Department of Education.


[14:54:55] BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECREATRY: And I'm here with you, alongside you to serve our nation's students.

We here at the Department of Education are fortunate to join an incredible array of parents, teachers, educators and school leaders to serve all students.

Americans have tremendous respect for all those within and outside of these walls to work for opportunity through better education.

So let's turn to recent headlines. There's no need to pull any punches. For me, personally, the confirmation process and the drama it engenders has been a bit of a bear.



DEVOS: In all seriousness, for many, the events of the last few weeks have likely raised more questions and spawned more confusion than they have brought clarity. So, for starters, please know I'm a door-open type of person who is here to serve with you. I'm committed to working with everyone and anyone, from every corner of the country, every walk of life, ever background and with those who supported my nomination and those who did not, to protect, strengthen and create world-class education opportunities for America's students. Let's acknowledge, we just came through one of the most bruising divisive elections of modern times. And that's OK, because we, the people, are resilient.


BLITZER: You know, Gloria, I'm sure most of our viewers know, she was confirmed in a historic first, the Vice President Mike Pence, who also serves as president of the Senate, can break a tie. It was 48 Democrats, two Republicans joining the Democrats. He broke the tie. Cabinet nominee confirmed because he broke the tie.

BORGER: And I think the vice president said it was the best vote he ever cast, or something to that affect. This was quite a divisive nominee and I think you're seeing the same thing whether it's Jeff Sessions and Elizabeth Warren, or other nominations the Democrats have made a strategic decision though in the end they understand the president will get their cabinet, they're using it kind of as an education seminar about who just the president was putting into his cabinet and try to educate the public. As this Democrat said, there were a lot of billionaires, a lot who tried to close the departments they head and have very little experience.

BLITZER: And it looks like all, if not most of the remaining cabinet nominations will be confirmed.

HENDERSON: I think that's right. Again, I think this was about the Democratic Party showing we're still there. I think we're going to see what they're going to be like in terms of opposition, and who leads the party. Elizabeth Warren has gone viral over this stance against Jeff Sessions. And I think you will see others speaking out against the remaining nominees. But I think, ultimately, Trump will get his cabinet, while in the meantime, complaints from the White House about the Democrats' obstructionisms.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by.

There's high drama right now up on Capitol Hill after Republicans silenced Elizabeth Warren over her protest against Jeff Sessions to become the attorney general of the United States. You will hear what Democrats are doing on the Senate floor, right after a quick break.


[14:59:58] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, I'll take it from here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you so much for being with me.

You've been listening to the discussion from the White House daily briefing. Today, two major stories unfolding. First you have President Donald Trump unleashing on the very judges who are deciding whether to reinstate his --