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Report: WH Says Transgender Bathrooms a State Issue; U.S. Won't Yield Supremacy on Nukes; WH Says Greater Enforcement of Anti- Pot Laws. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 23, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] SEAN SPICER: WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President understand that this is a serious problem for adults but particularly for children who are being sold both domestically and internationally. That's why we brought these groups in to make sure that we figure out, how do we make that number as close to zero as possible. And that we institute policies both domestically and abroad working with our partners figuring out how do we combat the trafficking of people. It's things that we can be forceful in terms of the rhetoric the president uses but also the enforcement tools he uses both domestically and internationally.

REPORTER: Has the President been briefed at all on the situation in Standing Rock? And is he concerned that a standoff with protestors could slow down his executive orders on pipelines?

SPICER: Our time has been both involved with the tribe and the governor there and so are constantly in touch with them and I think we feel very confident that we will move forward to get the pipeline moving, and so we will have a further update on that but I think we are in constant contact with the officials there.

REPORTER: Two topics I'd like to ask on. Start off by following up on the transgender directive, 82 percent of transgender children report feeling unsafe at school, isn't the President leaving these children open to being vulnerable to being bullied at school?

SPICER: No, there are bullying laws and policies and rules in place in almost everyone one of these schools.

REPORTER: Transgender children say -- but not being able to use the bathroom they feel comfortable using.

SPICER: But again, you're missing the point here, the President said literally it should be a state decision. He respects the decision of the states so therefore --

REPORTER: It's a states right issue?

SPICER: You're trying to make an issue of something that didn't exist, it was the court who stopped this in August of last year. Where the questions last year in August about this? It wasn't implemented correctly legally and the procedure wasn't followed because the court found at the time that it didn't have the authority to do that. So, you're asking us why we're following the law that wasn't followed.

REPORTER: you're reversing it.

SPICER: Hold on, we're not reversing it. That's a misinterpretation of the scenario, the court stopped it. It enjoined it in August of last year because it wasn't properly drafted and didn't follow the procedures and there was no legal basis for it in a law that was instituted in 1972, so hold on for you to use those terms doesn't reflect actually what the situation is and how it happened. So, to talk about us reversing

something that was stopped by the court.

REPORTER: You're sending a message.

SPICER: No, we are not. We are basically saying that it's a states- rights issue, if a state chooses to do it as I mentioned in April when this circumstance came up at one of the President's properties, he was very clear about his position on this. For you to turn and say what was the message he was sending, where was the message when he sent it last year? I think the message shows that he is guy with a heart and understands the trouble that many people go through. But also, believes the proper legal recourse for this is with the states, he believes in the state's ability to determine what is right for their state versus another state.

REPORTER: I hear what you are saying but the LGBT community said yesterday they're perceiving --

SPICER: There is a difference between what people may or may not feel and the legal process and the law, right now doesn't allow for it under title nine passed in 1972. The procedure wasn't followed, court saw this last year in August for a

reason and all we're doing is saying the proper place for this is in the states, so for you to suggest what message it is sending, it's very simple it's a states-rights issues and the state should enact laws that reflect the values, principles and will of the people in their particular state. That's it plain and simple.

REPORTER: Obamacare, former House Speaker Boehner predicted that a full repeal and replacement of Obamacare, quote, his words, "it is not quote going to happen." He went on to say most of the framework of the affordable care act is going to be there, do you think he has a point?

SPICER: I think what we're going to end up is something I've talked about over and over again. We're going to end up with a more accessible plan that would allow people to see more doctors and providers and drive costs down, that's what the President is going to work with Congress to put forward on.

REPORTER: On roads and highways in the United States, in many places around the country, potholes are affecting ways in which the Americans travel and the President said he would fix these, what's the status on that and has he spoken to heads of D.O.T. SPICER: I think the President is starting to address that through the

budget process we talked about yesterday that will be out in mid- March.

[15:35:00] The infrastructure projects and priorities that the President has talked about whether it is air control and airports, roads and bridges will be something that's he's going to work with D.O.T. but also talk about in his budget and you will see more with his joint address to Congress. With that Laurel Staples of KECI NBC in Montana.

LAUREL STAPLES, KECI NBC MONTANA: Montana has hundreds of miles of border with Canada and according to the U.S. Department of Transportation almost 1 million people come across that border into Montana each year, what are the administration's plans to increase the security on the Canadian border and does the administration have any plans to build a wall there?

SPICER: We're obviously concerned -- thank you, whether it's the northern border or southern, I think the President understands our southern is where we have more concern of the number of people and type of activity that's coming over there in terms of cartels and drug activity but that doesn't mean we're not paying attention to our northern border as well and will continue to monitor and take steps necessary at our northern border to ensure the safety of all Americans.

REPORTER: This week was a first week I believe that the Trump administration launched freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, can you give us a sense of how frequently you are going to be doing those? And then on the Dakota Access Pipeline, a few weeks ago, President Trump said he would to negotiate a solution between the Standing Rock Sioux and Energy Transfer Partners, and why hasn't the President intervened and tried to initiate those negotiations yet?

SPICER: On the latter, our team has been in contact with all the parties involved, they have been working and communicating back and forth. But there's been work at the staff level between the parties, and on the first part, I've got no further update in terms of the frequency by which we will have stuff. Alexis.

REPORTER: In Reuters, it was described again an interest in seeing the nuclear arsenal expand in the United States, can you describe what it is the President has in mind, the time frame and how you would like to proceed?

SPICER: Let's be clear, what he was very clear on was that the United States will not yield its supremacy in this area to anybody. That's what he made very clear in there and that if other countries have nuclear capabilities it will always be the United States that has the supremacy and commitment to this. Obviously, that is not what we are seeking to do, the question that was asked was about other people growing their stock piles, and he's been clear on our goal is to make sure we maintain America's dominance around the world and if other countries flaunt it we don't sit back and allow them to grow theirs.

REPORTER: You said yesterday that the President had named a task force on the voter fraud probe, when did he name that task force?

SPICER: I think two weeks ago, he announced Vice President Pence would lead that task force and that the Vice President and his team were starting to look at members --

REPORTER: Are you referring to the interview which he said there would be a task force not that something has happened since then.

SPICER: That's correct.

REPORTER: And on foreign policy the President said in his Saturday campaign speech the gulf states would be paying for that safe zone in Syria, which gulf states was he referring to? Have any committed to paying to that?

SPICER: If you look at the readouts that he has had with several of the foreign leaders that is brought up and mentioned in almost every one of them. I think he has talked about financing the safe zones and the commitment they need to make to those. I think by and large we have had widespread commitment. When we have an update on -- and I thing that is an issue that is ongoing at the secretary of state level as well where you saw Secretary Tillerson follow-up with that, we will have further updates on the funding of safe zones as we go forward but there's been a general commitment by most of the heads of government to share in these. Can I go to Steve Grover of WJIM Michigan?

STEVE GROVER, WJIM MICHIGAN: I would like to talk to you about tax policy. President Trump on the campaign trail talked a lot about tax policy and tax reform. That hasn't happened yet as we know. The border adjustability task, states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin have a great concern about this tax and seems to be a disconnect between the CEOs, some of the Republicans on Capitol Hill and the President as whether or not this is appropriate.

[15:40:00] I guess the question is could this tax have a chilling effect on manufacturing at a time when places like Ohio and Michigan an upper Midwest are trying to jump-start the economy, and clarify if you would the President's position?

SPICER: Thank you. I think the President has been very clear from the beginning there's no tax if companies manufacture in the United States. We're one of the countries that doesn't tax the imports that come into our country, almost every other country operates theirs under that system. We have a system by which companies abroad can send their products, tax our products going into their country institute an import tax, it gives a disincentive to stay in the United States and hire in the United States and tilts it against the American worker, so the President is working at tax policy that encourages manufacturing and job creation in the United States.

GROVER: Where is he on this border adjustability tax specifically?

SPICER: I understand, and I think what he was doing he met yesterday with his team on the budge budget. Talked to secretary Mnuchin, this isn't something that's been done since 1986, as we look at it, part of that is to make sure we lower our corporate tax rate and make it more attractive to manufacture in the United States and make it better for those, and creating more of a playing field that encourages manufacturing and growing and creating in the United States. Make no mistake if a company is in the United States already and expanding in the United States it will be only to their benefit. It actually if you think about it right now the way the current tax code works, it almost incentivizes companies leaving the United States, manufacturing and expanding overseas and sending their goods and services back to the United States which undermines our own economy and our workers.

GROVER: But the question is about components coming back into the United States and being manufactured.

SPICER: I know you're on the Skype but we only do like one or two follow ups, but he's working towards comprehensive tax reform and we'll have a plan out in the next few weeks that will address this.

REPORTER: On guidance, the administration not only rescinded it but sent a letter to the Supreme Court informing them about the change, as they consider a related case. Does the determination of the administration position on the way to the Supreme Court should rule?

SPICER: I'm sorry on -- removing the guidance clearly does, the guidance put forward by the Obama administration which clearly had not been done in a proper way in terms of highly solicited or didn't solicit comments, the guidance puts forward sending a signal to the court on where the administration stands on this issue?

REPORTER: Syria, two quick questions, first the talks, peace talks in Geneva, what's his thinking on the future of President Assad whether he can stay on in a transition?

SPICER: I would refer you to the state department and one of the things that the President whether it's safe zones or how we deal with Syria, and the problems --

REPORTER: But thinking on -- the key point.

SPICER: I understand that, thank you.

REPORTER: The fall of al Baath in northern Syria, important development on the battlefield, creates some space in that town has fallen to the Turks and opposition, is that the sort of space that the President would like to see a safe zone?

SPICER: We're not trying to be prescriptive in terms of the geographic location of a safe zone. Right now the President's goal is to get commitment in terms of the funding and commitment to share how we do that. We're not looking to be prescriptive today how it's done, overall, we need a greater commitment to allow that to stop some of the human suffering going on and create while other -- while the rest of the conflict ensues and I think we've got to deal with the conflict as a whole and how we address it with ISIS and combatting it but there's a humanitarian piece with respect to safe zones and looking at both pieces of this as well.

[15:45:00] REPORTER: Since the election, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed some disquiet about playing out the Paris agreement on climate change and the President has heard from some world leaders, is the President still committed to pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change?

SPICER: I would leave it up to the Tillerson that's a conversation he is having with him as far as where we are on that.

REPORTER: Do you have any timeline when he wants to see those safe zones actually being built and I wanted to go back to the executive order on immigration, you talked about the dual tracts, the new executive order but also fighting that in court, can you give us an update where the legal fight is and what we should be happening?

SPICER: With respect to executive order, there are several courts being fought in ten or so, and we continue to deal with that in all of those venues, then on the dual track side we have the additional executive order talked about early that will come out and further address the problems. We continue to believe that the issues that we face specifically in the ninth district -- ninth circuit that we will prevail on that in others as we did in Massachusetts and other venues, it's not a single-track system.

REPORTER: Have you made a decision about the Supreme Court taking it there and the other question was on the safe zones.

SPICER: With respect to the Supreme Court we have to continue to work through the process, right now it's at the ninth circuit. That's the primary problem we are addressing, and then we don't have any timeline that I can announce today on Syrian safe zones.

REPORTER: I want to follow-up to this morning's meeting, and the President said that he gave authorization to a couple of countries to buy military equipment from the United States, which countries was he referring to?

SPICER: We'll follow-up and get a list for that.

REPORTER: The delay of the executive order until next week is the administration still trying to craft its legal argument to this to withstand scrutiny, why again the delay, I'm not sure.

SPICER: I think I asked and answered this earlier, I think the President this time, we were very careful to understand what the court's concerns were and addressed them in the follow up executive order. With respect to when we're going to announce it, part of this is to make sure we work with the appropriate departments and agencies on the implementation of it. We understand the challenges that may come and want to do in a manner to make sure that members of Congress the appropriate agencies and departments are fully ready to implement this when it's issued, so that's it. Nothing really more to it.

REPORTER: There also is concern inside the Justice Department and Homeland Security by some officials this afternoon that we're reporting that the White House is looking for them to help build this legal argument to find a conclusion here? SPICER: No, basically you're saying we did our due diligence, we looked to the departments to ask them to review certain things. Last week it was we rushed stuff this week you're saying we're taking our time. I think you using continued unnamed sources I think it is actually -- it will be implemented flawlessly because we have done the right thing and sought feedback and guidance and done this in an unbelievably comprehensive way that's going to be implementing this are fully aware of what's happening but this is been done in a very comprehensive way.

REPORTER: Former labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder admitted for a few years he unknowingly employed an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper, is this administration committed to holding employers accountable when they employ illegal aliens and how does the administration plan to do so?

SPICER: Yes, I think Mr. Puzder was open and was committed to go through the process and we are going to make sure we hold individuals in compliance with the law and he did the right thing then, and whether it's companies or individuals we are committed to making sure people do what's right.

[15:50:00] REPORTER: Janet Evancho, she sang the national anthem, she requested a meeting with the President, her sister is transgender, and is he going to take the meeting or with anyone from the transgender community during this conversation?

SPICER: I think the President would be welcome to meet with her.

REPORTER: Steve Bannon today called the media the opposition party last week, there's lots of conversation about the fake news and some have said this is really just a branding of media where he did that in the primaries branding Little Marco and Lying Ted, is this a branding strategy?

SPICER: I think that's what Steve believes. Of course it's real. Steve has been very clear about his position on the media and how he believes it distorts things.

REPORTER: But the whole administration?

SPICER: I just said that that is what Steve's view is he's made it several times and very clear questions. Jane

REPORTER: President Trump told Reuters he does support some form of border tax. How does the President respond to critics saying the border tax will be passed on to lower income and middle class families in the form of higher prices for goods and higher prices for gas?

SPICER: Well, I think if you look at it, understand there is no tax if you're manufacturing in the United States. So, there can be no higher cost. But if you think about it, right now we have to look at this in a holistic way, which is when a company chooses to leave our country and shed American jobs so they can move overseas and then sell back to us at a lower price, there is a big cost that comes to our economy and to our workers. And, so, we've got to look at this comprehensively. If a company chooses to stay and grow in the United States, hire more people, it actually will be a net savings. If you think about it, because it will be the companies who are overseas who have chosen to move out of the country who will face a higher cost under these kind of plans. That's a big difference. It will actually benefit consumers, benefit workers and benefit our economy. When you really think about the economic impact about that, that benefits our economy. It helps our American workers. It grows more jobs. It grows the manufacturing base. And, again, it's -- we are probably one of only a handful of developed countries that don't have a tax system that look at this. And, so, right now it's America and American worker and American manufacturing that are at the disadvantage of the current regulatory and tax system, not the other way around. Thank you guys. Have a great day. We'll touch base tomorrow in some way. Will see you then. Tune into CPAC to see the President.

BALDWIN: Sean Spicer there for the daily briefing. He ran through a lot of issues including the President's words on deportation, military operation, described it in adjectives, what he meant as being precise, on to greater enforcement of anti-pot laws to this issue roll back the guidelines, Obama era guidelines as it pertains to transgender students in public schools and using bathrooms. Let me actually just begin there. Jackie Evancho who sang at the President's inauguration and her sister who is transgender wanted to meet with the President. She tweeted, quote, you gave me the honor of singing at your inauguration. Please give me and my sister the honor to meet with you and talk transgender rights. Jackie and Juliet are with me now. I understand, ladies, when the President -- rather when Sean Spicer said yes when asked that he would indeed meet with you all, you high fived. To Juliet, you tell me what you want to say to President Trump.

JULIET EVANCHO, TRANSGENDER SISTER OF JACKIE: What I want to say to Donald Trump is, can we please sit down and talk, how can we make transgenders safe? And basically, we just really just want to calmly sit down with him.

JACKIE EVANCHO, SINGER: Yes, maybe there is a way we can create a federal law or something, something that's just going to help with transgender discrimination.

BALDWIN: But the issue sounds to me -- and this is what we heard again from Sean Spicer -- they're saying, no, this is a state's-rights issue, right? So, it depends on where you live as far as which bathroom, you know, pertains to your gender identity. This is not the federal government. That is crystal clear from the White House.

[15:55:00] JULIET EVANCHO: Right, and that's where I think there's an issue. It need to be on a federal level because if it's not and if it's left in states' hands, we are going to have this many states saying one thing and then this many states saying another and --

JACKIE EVANCHO: It's just going to divide America. Going to divide America more than it already is. We're trying to work together to piece America together again.

BALDWIN: You know, it's interesting to note what President Trump has said. I mean, his friend is Caitlin Jenner. Let me play this out. This is what the President said.


REPORTER: So, if Caitlin Jenner walked into the President's house, you would be fine with her using any bathroom she chooses?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: That is correct.


BALDWIN: So, in a sense, ladies, Juliet, he is on your side. Does that give you solace?

JULIET EVANCHO: Yes, it does. It gives me a lot of hope. But, again, it's not a choice.

BALDWIN: Ladies, I'm going to let you go. You follow-up -- thank that reporter who asked that question. Have that meeting with President Trump and let's have a date again and you let us know how it goes, OK?

JULIET EVANCHO: All right. Thank you.


BALDWIN: All right, Juliet and Jackie, thank you so much. Let me bring in my panel, Gloria, Patrick, Brian. Jeff, when he hops out of that seat, Patrick, let me go to you with the "New York Times." On this transgender issue, it is interesting, reinforcing it's a states- rights issue, but then asked about anti-pot laws, he's saying, nope, that's federal, greater enforcement, federal level, very different.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, very different. I mean, I think he and Attorney General Sessions are sort of -- find themselves dealing with a lot of different conservative constituencies, other constituencies on each of these issues. I think they're going pretty case by case. I think in terms of the transgender rights issue, the problem there is they are sort of suggesting or pushing policy that's based on what they think people might do as opposed to what the civil rights laws and protections are for transgender students in term of using bathrooms. And then with marijuana, this has traditionally been in the last several years, a states-rights issue where different states are deciding different things for themselves, for their citizens. So, you're definitely seeing some conflict, maybe some kind of, you know, intellectual tension. I'm not going to say hypocrisy, but some conflict there.

BALDWIN: Sure, sure. Gloria, Brian, what do you think? Well, go ahead, Brian because you've been thinking about it awhile.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: I think Patrick is exactly right. This is an example of the Trump administration trying to cater to various constituencies. We're seeing versions of CPAC playing out as well. What is the Republican party when it is the Trump party? And we're seeing that play out in this issue about marijuana. GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And, you know, today,

just to talk about some other things Sean was talking about, he talked about the executive order that they are --

BALDWIN: Why the delay?

BORGER: Why the delay was Jeff Zeleny's question. He said we want to be careful to understand what the court's concerns were and that we intend to execute it this time flawlessly. Speaking of flawlessly, I made a flaw. I had a mistake. I said that earlier in your show that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was not at the CEO meeting and yes, he was.

STELTER: You're doing some clean up and Spicer was doing some clean up, by the way. Adjectives, talking about Trump said military operation. Spicer said --

BALDWIN: The President said in the case of deportation, we're going to get out the bad dudes, quote, and it's a military operation. Secretary Kelly, DHS Secretary down in Mexico saying essentially promising again no mass deportations and saying, no, no use of military and immigrant enforcement which leads to questions, out of the gate, saying which was my question -- is the right hand not talking to the left.

STELTER: Now Spicer saying this was being used as an adjective. What he meant was this will be done with precision.

BALDWIN: We have the shot. Let's roll the sound bite.


SPICER: The President was using that as an adjective, it's happening with precision. It's being done clearly. We made it clear in the past and Secretary Kelly reiterated it what kind of operation this was. The President was clearly describing the manner in which this was being done. And, so, just to be clear on his use of that phrase, and I think the way it's being done by all accounts is being done with very much -- high degree of precision and a flawless manner in term of making sure that the orders are carried out and it's done in a very streamlined and efficient manner.


BALDWIN: And then he went on and say what Secretary Kelly said was actually just reiterating what the President said.

[16:00:00] BORGER: It was a military-like operation.

STELTER: Hard to argue with wanting precision. The President wasn't precise in what he meant. I think a lot of people who are concerned about this deportation idea are going to hear military operation and take that phrase for exactly what it means, not for the idea of it being military like.

BALDWIN: Patrick, I have 45 seconds before I hand this thing over to Jake. What did you think?

HEALY: To Brian's point, too. To all of us who covered Donald Trump during the Presidential campaign know that he is not the most precise person with language and this was partly what appealed to a lot of voters about him, that he spoke like what they saw as kind of like a regular American, that he didn't sound like a lawyer all the time, or sort of a practiced politician. But we're going to keep having this, I think, over and over again where he says something and Sean Spicer goes out and cleans it up and you can think what you will of it.

BALDWIN: OK. Patrick Healey, thank you so much, Gloria and Brian Stelter, appreciate you all. I'm Brooke Baldwin in New York. "The Lead" with Jake Tapper starts right now.