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White House Briefing Continues. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 27, 2017 - 14:00   ET


SEAN SPICER, WHOTE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- and descriptions in The New York Time (sic) are not accurate."


And then we shared that information with him. But he came to us to share that -- that he equally had that issue brought up to him. He was briefed and saw quote, "no evidence" that the story was accurate.

So, the answer is, you know, we have continued to give reporters information and sources that went to the accuracy, or the lack thereof, of a report that was in a newspaper. And I think -- you know, I think Chairman Nunes also equally said it's interesting how we literally were engaging with the press, saying, "If you have a question about the sourcing on this," obviously when brought to our attention we said, "It's not accurate as far as we know," but then most of you and your colleagues who have inquired will say, "Well, that's great, I'm sure you are saying this, but who else can corroborate this?"

So, our job was to continue to, when informed, share sources who had equally come the same conclusion that the Times story was not accurate.

QUESTION: You don't think there's something strange about or something odd about the White House press secretary getting the CIA director on the phone to knock down a story...

SPICER: No, I just -- I just...

QUESTION: ... about an investigation?

SPICER: No, no. But see, respectfully you're using words like knock down. There was a story in a newspaper.


SPICER: Hold on. No, no. It was -- there was reporters coming to us saying, "There is a story out there, what's your take on it?" And our answer was, "We don't believe it's accurate, we don't believe it's false (sic), but obviously that's our take on it." And reporters were saying to us, "Well, is there anybody that you can point to substantiate this claim?"

Now remember, this all started with the FBI coming to us, bringing it to our attention, saying that the story in the Times was not accurate, in fact, it was "B.S." And all we did was simply say, "That's great, could you tell other reporters the same thing you're telling us?" And I would think that other reporters, yourself included, would think that that would be a helpful thing to get the story straight.

All we sought to do was to actually get an accurate report out, and again, I think Chairman Nunes this morning over and over and over and over again made it very clear that no evidence has been brought to his attention suggested that reporting was accurate. So, you know, respectfully, I have -- I think it's interesting that I'm being asked what's appropriate when what we're doing is actually urging reporters to engage with subject matter experts who can corroborate whether or not something's accurate or not.

QUESTION: Should there be a special prosecutor? (inaudible) called for a special prosecutor to look into this.

SPICER: Right, and I guess my question would be a special prosecutor for what?

QUESTION: Looking into the Russian connection. The whole...

SPICER: To -- to -- but yeah. And here's my...


SPICER: Right. And I guess my...

QUESTION: He was part of the campaign.

SPICER: I -- I...

QUESTION: So -- I mean, Sessions was part of the campaign, the attorney general...

SPICER: I understand, but here's my -- Jonathan, we have now for six months heard story after story come out about unnamed sources say the same thing over and over again. And nothing's come of it, right? We've heard the same people, the same anecdotes and we've heard reports over an over again. And as Chairman Nunes made very clear, he has seen nothing that corroborates that.

So at what point you've got to ask yourself, what are you investigating? And...

QUESTION: Well, Russian interference. I mean...


SPICER: No, and I think that both the House and the Senate have looked at it. You know as well as I do that the intelligence community has looked at it as well. There's a big difference. I think that Russia's involvement and activity has been investigated up and down. So the question becomes at some point, if there's nothing to further investigate, what are you asking people to investigate?

I mean, Chairman Nunes spoke very clearly today when asked over and over and over again about all of this and said that he has seen nothing that leads him to believe that there's there. The president has spoken forcefully time and time again that he has no interest in Russia. He hasn't talked to people in Russia in years. And yet, you keep asking -- and I say you collectively -- to try to find something that seemingly, at least the reporting that I'm seeing in different organizations suggests, that there's nothing new that's being reported. It's the same stuff over and over again that we've heard for six months.

And so the question becomes at some point, what do you need to further investigate if there's nothing that has come out? And...

QUESTION: Do you now (ph) categorically deny there were no contacts between the Russians and anybody on the campaign?

SPICER: I can't deny -- I can't -- I guess my question is -- I'm not -- right. I'm not...

QUESTION: That's what the investigation would look at.

SPICER: Right, and I guess my point is is that you've had the intelligence community look at Russia's involvement in the election. You had the House and the Senate both do the same. And so, what I'm trying to ascertain is at what point -- how many people have to say that there's nothing there before you realize there's nothing there?

I can't say -- all I'm saying is the people who have done the investigating about Russia overall and its activities in the United States, specifically now with respect to our election, haven't provided anything that lead me to believe or should lead you to believe, and I continue to see reports coming from media sources saying when they checked in with law enforcement or intelligence community sources there's nothing more than has been previously reported over and over again.

So at some point you do have to ask yourself what are you actually looking for? How many times do you have to come to the same conclusion before you take the answer?


That's what (inaudible).

Mara (ph)?

QUESTION: Just to be -- did you -- just to follow up on that, did you personally reach out to Pompeo...

SPICER: I'm not gonna discuss what we did internally. I'm just gonna say that what we shared -- we did our job about making sure that when people had -- reporters had questions, we let them know what subject matter experts were available to discuss the accuracy of a newspaper story.

Mara (ph)? QUESTION: Yeah, I'm just -- I'm sure people will come back to this, but I actually have a budget question, which is during the campaign, the president said he was not going to touch Medicare, Social Security. His Treasury secretary repeated that. It sounded like the OMB director was leaving that as an open question, TBD (ph).

SPICER: No, no, no.

QUESTION: And I'm just wondering, what's the state of the promise, that he won't touch it for current retirees? Anyone paying in?

SPICER: No, I think what the -- what the OMB director made clear is how it works. The budget is dealing with the discretionary -- topline discretionary numbers. Policy decisions are not part of the budget. That was what he was being asked and what he -- so I just wanted to be clear in terms of what -- what he was...


SPICER: Again, I think -- right and I think this (inaudible). It's clear. And I think as you point out, he had made the promise. He stands by the promise. The Treasury...

QUESTION: What is the promise? Current retirees? People near retirement? Anybody paying it?

SPICER: I will follow up specifically on that before I -- but I think the president has made very clear that -- that it's not his intent to do. He wants to focus on the discretionary side. that entitlement reform is not -- that with respect to those programs that he mentioned, he stands by his word.

Brett Lucas?

QUESTION: (inaudible) issues. The -- an executive order on religious freedom (inaudible) previously been in the works. Will that still come? And if it does, will it (ph) religious freedom?

SPICER: I'm sorry, what?

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Will it extend beyond the (inaudible)?

SPICER: You know, I think we've discussed executive orders in the past, and for the most part, we're not going to get into discussing what may or may not come until we're ready to announce it. So I -- I'm sure as we move forward, we'll have some -- Olivier?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. I have just one more.


QUESTION: The issue of tax reform. Will it be -- how come (inaudible) border adjusted tax? And is there any concern that there won't be enough conservative support for that, that it could block any meaningful (inaudible)? SPICER: Well, I'm not gonna get into the specifics of tax reform today. The president has made clear that we'll have an outline of a plan very soon.

But what I will say is that I think he has talked about the concerns that he has with current regulatory and tax policy that -- that benefit people from moving out of the country and shipping products back in while shedding American workers. He will continue to fight for policies that promote manufacturing and job creation in the United States and supports American workers.

So I don't want to get ahead of the exact nature of the policy. He's been seeking a lot of input. As I mentioned earlier, he's going to talk today with Speaker Ryan and Senator McConnell. I know that both the joint session, status of repeal and replace and I'm sure some discussion of tax reform will probably come up. But there's a lot -- you know, we're continuing to move forward and work with them.


QUESTION: A couple on the ISIS strategy. Can you just (inaudible) the timetable from now? Now that you have received it, what happens? And there's a report that you're asking for $30 billion in order to save defense spending on top of the 54 in the budget. Is defense spending. Is that true? Does that cover the new ISIS strategy?


SPICER: Yeah, so -- thank you. Right now, literally that principals meeting -- or principals meeting that I mentioned at the beginning is happening as we speak. So Secretary Mattis was coming over to principals as far as the -- the ISIS plan.

And again, part of it was to make sure that he fully discusses the recommendations that he's making and seek the input and feedback of the other principals downstairs. That -- that can help guide where we go from here, how we go.

With respect to the funding, I think Director Mulvaney noted that there will be a supplemental at some point. Right now, the focus is on the budget and then we'll -- we'll go from there.

John (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sean. Two brief questions. First, I read your statement at the Thursday briefing to Governor Malloy of Connecticut during the NGA meeting. And he responded, and I quote, "Sean didn't read a thing that I said." He said that in Connecticut, they are already working to get criminals who are in the country illegally out. His objection was to going into warming (ph) centers or schools where officials might frighten children.

Your response to the governor on that?

SPICER: Well, again, I was asked specifically what his -- what the comments were with respect to sanctuary cities. And again, I would reiterate, with all due respect to the governor, I'm not here to pick a fight with the governor. I enjoyed my time going to school in the state of Connecticut. But I have a kind affection (ph) of the Nutmeg State.

But the reality is, I think, that there's a difference whether or not what he wants to do with state funds, maybe -- you know, I -- without knowing the exact nature of how he's funding, what he's funding is difficult.


The question I was asked at the time was on how we would be handling it.

And I think the answer, whether it's Connecticut or California, is that the president's executive order and the president's commitment is to make sure that tax dollars are not used to support programs that are helping people who are not in the country legally and who are not citizens entitled to them.

QUESTION: One more question...


QUESTION: ... Sean.

SPICER: Starting early.

QUESTION: ... years when presidents have gone to Rome, they've always met the Pope, going back to when President Eisenhower met Pope John the 23rd. Now one year ago this week, Candidate Trump had a disagreement with this pope and an exchange of words. When he goes to Rome in May for his first European trip, will he meet with this Pope?

SPICER: That's a great question. Obviously, I would be a huge fan of that. But I'm not gonna -- I don't think we're at that place in the planning process to make an announcement on any visits with the Pope.

But -- Blake (ph)?

QUESTION: Sean, thank you. Two budget questions if you don't mind. Mr. Mulvaney I believe just said, that what the administration plans on putting forward doesn't add to the current deficit projection, which the CBO says, it's about $560 billion. But he didn't say that it would significantly drop from that either.

So my first question is, is the administration comfortable putting something forward that might rack up deficits of potentially hundreds of billions of dollars?

SPICER: Well, I think, I'm trying to understand the question (inaudible) help me with this.

QUESTION: He said it wasn't going to add to it.

SPICER: Right. QUESTION: So my question is, he didn't necessarily say it was going to cut from it either. If it doesn't cut from it, potentially it could be hundreds of billions in deficits and I'm curious...

SPICER: Right, but no, I -- I think -- correct me if I'm wrong, he basically made it very clear, it doesn't add to the projective baseline deficit, right? So that -- that continues to be the goal. And I think as we continue to work through this process -- past back, you know, it can work both ways. We can identify further savings and reductions through working with the agencies and departments. But we're going to make sure the top line number we maintain, as close to that as possible.

As we go through this, I mean, this is the beginning of the process, as director noted. We send the number to the department or agency, give them some ideas how we came up with this and then they come back to us and either justify why a particular program or office or what have you, needs to stay in existence or why maybe not the reduction that is offered. It's a back and forth process that'll occur over the next few weeks. So...


SPICER: ... to -- to get ahead of it is the problem.

QUESTION: Let me ask you to what Nancy Pelosi said -- just get a quick reaction to Nancy Pelosi. She put out a statement and said the following, quote, "Five weeks into his administration, President Trump has not introduced a single jobs bill." Your reaction to that would be what?

SPICER: He's created a lot of jobs. I think that's -- he's continuing to work with Congress on both, repealing and replacing Obamacare, tax reform and fundamentally, both of those two items alone, I think can help spur a lot of economic growth. The meetings that we've had with the CEO's, the health insurer's, there's so many things that are job killing and it can be done to help promote a better regulatory and tax climate that leads to job creation.

I think that -- that's one of the biggest problems right now. Is that people in Washington aren't necessarily talking to job creators and saying, what is the impediment that you have to hiring more American workers? What is the impediment that you have to manufacturing more, to building here?

The meetings and the actions that the president has taken, on both regulatory and other matters, have helped spur job -- job creation. You heard these companies come in over and over again, the automakers, the airlines, Sprint, I mean the list goes on and on of people saying to the president, because of your agenda, because of your vision, we're willing to commit to hiring additional people to manufacture more.

You know, that's how jobs are created. It's not through the government. And too often it's the government regulations that stifle and prevent job creation. And I think president, as a businessman, fully appreciates and understands how this works and what some of those impediments do to creating jobs and to growing the economy.

And so I, you know, I would just say that you haven't seen anything yet. It's going to continue to be the case.

Trey (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you Sean. Is the concern in the administration that a large scale military buildup will appear threatening to other countries and the world and lead to some sort of arms race with other countries?

SPICER: No, I -- I think when you look at the state of some of the infrastructure and our military with the age of our ships or our planes or some of the other hardware that exists, you recognize that we need to rebuild a lot of these things. The size of our Navy has gone down significantly. And there are new needs and new planning,


and when you look at the commitment that you have to make, not just in one year, but in several years, for a lot of these programs, ships and tanks, even - even weapons systems, they don't get built in a month or a day, you have to make a commitment early on to make the investment because of the time that it makes to procure them, to build them, the research and development that goes into it and so I would just suggest to you that this is - this is the first step in making sure we make the commitment to a military that especially through the sequester the last few years has not gotten funding it needs to get off life support.

There are a lot of things that are being taken care of in the military where they're just continuing to - they're not putting the systems and the projects in place to allow the military to keep up with the times and that's a problem - major.

QUESTION: One investigation question, one life question (ph). As you may be aware, (inaudible) interview with "Miami Herald" over the weekend and he said, quote, "the government owes my son an investigation." On behalf of the president of the United States, is the president open to an investigation into the raid in Yemen? And the father of Ryan Owens called that a stupid mission.

Is there something that you'd like to communicate to him about that mission that might persuade him otherwise?

SPICER: Yeah. Thank you, that's multipart so let me kind of walk through it slowly. First of all, I can't - can't possibly imagine what he's going through in terms of the loss of his son. I can tell him that on behalf of the president, his son died a hero and the information that he was able to help obtain through that raid, as I've said before, was going to save American lives.

It's going to protect our country more. So he made a sacrifice for this country, he was on his 12th deployment and I know that his wife when she spoke to the president knows that he did this because he loved it, he cared about our nation and the mission was successful in helping prevent a future attack or attacks on this - on this nation.

It obtained a lot of information that will help us keep safe. With respect to his request, it is standard operating procedure for the Department of Defense to undergo what they call a 15-6 review. That review, in this case, is three-pronged because there was a fatality and a loss of life. There's that. Because there were civilians involved, that's another, and then third is because there is hardware, a helicopter that was damaged.

That is a separate - so in fact there will be three reviews done by the Department of Defense because of the nature of this. But again, I can't stress enough that on behalf of the president, on behalf of this nation, we express our condolences, extend our prayers to him during this time...

QUESTION: ...As you said, that is standard procedure. Is there anything the president is particularly curious about with this mission? In that it was brought to him, he authorized it quickly. Does he believe in main (ph) it was carried out well and there's nothing that he's particularly curious about in the way either the helicopter was damaged, fatality, the civilian casualties of anything of the like (ph)?

SPICER: Well, number one, I've walked through the timetable previously in terms of how long this had been planned for dating well back into the previous administration. And as you know, their recommendation at the time was to wait for a moonless night. That night wasn't going to occur during President Obama's administration and so when General Mattis got into the Department of Defense, he was briefed up on the status of the thing, made aware of when the next time was go.

We went through the process to ensure that we continued to believe that the mission, the way it was going to be conducted and the results of the mission, would be worthy of action. The conclusion continued to be as it was prior that we should move forward. As I mentioned before, I think you can't ever say that when there's, most importantly loss of life and people injured, that it's 100 percent successful.

But I think when you look at what the stated goal of that mission was, it was an information and intelligence-gathering mission and it achieved that - its objectives. So, again, I would express our thoughts and our prayers and our condolences to all of the people in Chief Owens' family and his friends, his shipmates, but the - it's - it's something that as a Seal and as somebody deployed 12 times he knew that this was part of the job and he knew what he was doing.

And so, we're very comfortable with how the mission was executed and, you know, we'll let the Department of Defense go through that review process and then see where that leads us.


But I think to get ahead of the three separate reviews that are being done by the Department of Defense would be probably a little irresponsible at this time. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: As you are aware, to undo the Defense sequester, you have to get 60 votes in the Senate because you have a separate domestic sequester number and (ph) Defense. Are you confident with these numbers and with this kind of heavy (ph) discretionary spending proposed you can get the 60 votes to change the law? Because without that change in law, the proposal is just that, it doesn't become (inaudible).

SPICER: I think that when it comes to our nation's security, specifically our nation's military, I don't think that it's a partisan issue. I think that senators from across the country, whether you're talking about Florida, whether you've got an Army installation or a Navy base, you understand the state of repair that many of our planes, ships and other hardware are in.

And I think that there is a bipartisan commitment to give the military and its members the equipment and the tools it needs to succeed and protect this country. So I do feel confident.


QUESTION: Sean -- I'm sorry. Sean, I have a couple of budgetary questions for you. One, at the press conference, President Trump talked about the six (inaudible). What is the investment in this budget when it comes to a fix (ph) for inner cities?

SPICER: That's a good try. I think the director was very clear that we're not...


SPICER: I mean, part of the process today was to start that (inaudible) process that he talked about where we're going to the various departments, whether it's HUD or DOT, and giving them that topline number and then hearing back. So I don't want to get into a specific number with you before we get too far down the process. I think that's a conversation that we're gonna have with the agencies and then we will have subsequently with Congress when they start drafting their resolution.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on this, but I do have a question (inaudible). He talked about healthcare. He talked about education. He talked about crime and continues to talk about Chicago and law enforcement. So you don't have any kind of budgetary numbers when it comes to -- and healthcare is a...

SPICER: No, no. I...

QUESTION: It's one of the line items for this budget.

SPICER: That's right. And I'm not saying that we don't have numbers, I'm saying that we're not giving them out. That's a big difference.

(LAUGHTER) I know. You're gonna do a good job trying. But as the director noted

on this, they have come up with topline numbers based on their going through each of these agency's budget and saying hey, there's a duplicative program here. In some cases, maybe they give them more, maybe they give them less. Part of it is to begin that conversation, that process with the departments and agencies to figure out what those investments are. Maybe it's repurposing existing funds in a different way.

So it's not necessarily a zero sum game. There is a way that a department can reallocate money to a program that might end up benefiting because there's a duplicative or out of date program or office, that that savings could be applied to something. But I don't want to get ahead of the process right now, only to say that we are at the very beginning of it.



QUESTION: The president is going to see (ph) the 80-plus (inaudible) the vice president. Some of them are very concerned as to what this executive order looks like and they are waiting to hear the commitment before they say I'm all in.


QUESTION: What is the commitment that this president is trying to make when it comes to HVCUs (ph) to ensure I guess their future or deal with funding their research projects, what have you, or moving it out of the Department of Education to the purview of the White House. What is the commitment that he's gonna give today?

SPICER: So I don't generally speak about executive orders until they're finalized. I will just say that one of the things that I think there's a commitment from this White House to do is to look at the various resources throughout the federal government that support HVCUs (ph).

So for example, the Department of Defense has ROTC and NROTC programs. Are they being properly -- is that funding being properly executed and spent? There's programs within each of the departments, the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, that affect grants or programs or direct funding that go to HVCUs (ph) for various things, whether it's construction projects or teaching programs or mentorship programs. Whatever it is, they span throughout the entire government.

And I think that what we are committed to doing is ensuring that -- that there is a high level understanding and commitment that goes straight to the president of how we harness those resources within the government and make sure that they're doing what they're supposed to be doing.

[14:25:10] So it's -- it's one thing to have them, right, spread throughout the different departments. It's another thing to make sure that there's a direct pipeline to the president of the United States that those programs are being executed in a way that's benefiting the future of HBCUs and the various projects and teaching that goes on there. Does that...

QUESTION: So what are you saying? There's going to be a piece that is going to basically go throughout all the agencies to make sure that there is some kind of commitment to HBCUs in (inaudible) let's say engineering for some schools or in research for other schools?

SPICER: Yeah, I -- I am -- I would say this. I think I'm going to stick to waiting until we announce it.


SPICER: I just -- I anticipate it very soon, how's that? I want to give myself a little wiggle room.

Bill Rucker (ph)?

QUESTION: Budget related question, but on infrastructure. The president has repeatedly, including today again, called for a major infrastructure plan to the tune of a trillion dollars; roads, bridges, tunnels, you name it. Can you explain where that money's gonna come from, how it fits into the budget that's under review right now and what the timeline for that project would be?

SPICER: So I think that would be part of a longer term discussion that we're having with Congress. As you know, the president got into office 30 some odd days ago. The idea of getting a budget as -- you know, as commonly referred to as a skinny budget is to get the government to continue to be (ph) funding and it'll be something that we'll work with Congress.

I understand your point. The president continues to talk about the status...

QUESTION: He said (ph) it was a priority for him.

SPICER: It is, absolutely. But I think that we've got to make sure that it's done right and that we work with Congress. I think as you correctly mention, there's obviously a funding mechanism to this and we've already talked about things like comprehensive tax reform that could add to that discussion.

And so I just -- I understand what you're asking in terms of how this will be funded and when it will be coming and the pay force (ph), but we're working with Congress to have that discussion. I think that comes probably outside of the budget discussion.

QUESTION: And so how does he square that with the need to tighten the belt, which he also talked about today?

SPICER: Because... QUESTION: We've been spending too much and the government (inaudible).

SPICER: Right, but I think there's -- but in the same manner that we're presenting the budget. So we're talking about adding $54 million -- $54 trillion, rather -- billion dollars to -- thank you. Appreciate the help here. But we're looking to add that to defense, and so what it means is that we have to look through other programs to find reductions in savings.

I think that same kind of discussion would have happened on -- with respect to infrastructure. Not necessarily the savings piece, but the funding piece, that there's several ways -- and I know that there's a lot of discussion private-public partnerships that he has started to have a discussion with in terms of the funding mechanism. And so all I'm trying to get at is that there are various ways to do this funding without just relying on the American taxpayer in terms of additional taxes. There are spending reductions, there are other funding mechanisms.

I think in due course, we will get around to that discussion.

QUESTION: And just related to that, he mentioned in his remarks about infrastructure today that as he drives through the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the Lincoln Tunnel, he worries about ceiling tiles falling. Is there a specific incident he was talking about where people have been injured or is that just a fear of his?


SPICER: I don't know. I'll ask. But I'm sure Secret Service will take care of that, alleviating the (inaudible) concerns.


QUESTION: Sean, two questions. First one healthcare. Because the OMB director was signaling that the complete budget would be maybe ready early May and the president today described how complicated he's discovered that the healthcare repeal and replace has become, can you describe when it is that the president would present his framework for an overhaul of healthcare? Is it going to be included in the budget so we would see it before May?

SPICER: I don't think you're gonna see it in the budget, no. That's not the appropriate vehicle for it. I think -- I think I've mentioned it before. I think you would drive or at least the leading option, before I get locked into something, is to add Obamacare to the FY '17 budget process and put it through reconciliation. So that would happen outside of the current budget structure.

But I think he has also been very clear that he wants this outlined within a matter of weeks and that we continue to have these discussions with House and Senate leadership, with Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce, and then similar -- Senate Finance on the Senate side. So when he talks to Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell today, I'm sure that conversation will continue. QUESTION: Just to follow up on healthcare, because not every

ingredient in the Affordable Care Act can be handled in reconciliation...

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: ... that's why I was asking about the elements of it that we see (ph) in the budget.

SPICER: That's right.

QUESTION: So we will see some of those?

SPICER: Well, there's several pieces of Obamacare.