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Inspector General Report on FBI Conduct Released; White House Briefing. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired June 14, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Here we go. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.
Got a lot to talk about, including the breaking news of the hour, this explosive report 18 months in the making. The inspector general at the Justice Department has determined former FBI Director James Comey was not biased in his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, but that he did, in fact, deviate from department norms.
Just a reminder here. A lot of Democrats, including Hillary Clinton herself, blame her election loss on Comey's decision, remember, to reopen the investigation just a couple of days before the election.
And a lot of Republicans felt Comey gave Clinton a pass when he stood there and chose not to charge her. Also revealed in this 500-page report, more of these anti-Trump text messages between this FBI official and the former FBI attorney.
The most damaging here, a text that reads -- quote -- "We will stop Trump from becoming president."
CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez is with me now.
Evan, you have been going through this whole thing. Your biggest takeaways?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I think the most important point that the inspector general makes is really addressing the criticism that has been coming from the president, from a lot of Republicans in Congress, which was that this investigation was done in a politically biased manner, that she should have been charged, Hillary Clinton should have been charged and she wasn't because there was interference, political interference in the way this investigation was done.
And the inspector general found that that is not so, at least that there's no evidence of that. And you just pointed to the key quote in there where they said they have found no evidence that the conclusions of the prosecutors was affected by political bias. I think that's the biggest overarching finding from this. But you also pointed out this -- these key text messages by a couple of people who were FBI employees. And I think it's going to be the thing that the president and other people are going to focus on, because it does open up -- and I think the inspector general even says this in his report -- he says that these text messages and a lot of other actions really does raise the specter of political interference, of political bias, even if it didn't affect the outcome of the investigation.
And you can put it back up the text message from Pete Strzok, who's one of the top people in the counterintelligence division, who was overseeing -- helping to oversee this investigation, and he's e- mailing or text messaging with Lisa Page, who is a lawyer at the FBI. They were in a relationship.
And he says -- she says: "Trump's never going to become president, right? Right?" And Strzok responds: "No. No, he won't. We will stop it."
And at the time that he sends this text message, he's now overseeing the Russia interference investigation. And so the inspector general does ask the question or whether or not this was something that may have affected some of the things that he did in the conduct of his work.
Again, the Russia investigation is still ongoing. Pete Strzok was for a brief period part of the Mueller investigation. He was kicked off the investigation after the discovery of some of these text messages, but it does raise the problem for the FBI and for everyone involved, really, the question of whether or not there's some political bias against the president.
The president certainly is going to seize on this. You can already hearing it -- you can already hear it from his allies in Congress. I expect that Sarah Sanders is going to address that in her press conference.
We have also heard from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, because he is obviously still in control of the Justice Department and the FBI. And really, you know, the reason why James Comey is no longer the director of the FBI is because people at the Justice Department had lost faith in him.
And he says -- quote -- "The inspector general's report reveals a number of significant errors by senior leadership of the Department of Justice and the FBI during the previous administration. Accordingly, this report must be seen as an opportunity for the FBI, long considered the world's premier investigative agency, and all of us at the department to learn from past mistakes."
And make no mistake that this 500-plus-page report from the inspector general, Brooke, is scathing. There is a lot here that criticizes not only James Comey, but other officials, top officials at the FBI, as well as Loretta Lynch, people at the Justice Department at the time, for some of the things that they did which cast a cloud over the way this investigation was handled, the Clinton investigation was handled. BALDWIN: Yes.
PEREZ: And clearly we're still living with the results of all of those actions.
BALDWIN: Seventeen, 18 months later.
We also -- as we've been on TV in the last half-hour or so, "The New York Times" hit publish on an opinion piece from James Comey himself. What's his message?
PEREZ: Well, his message is that he obviously supports this inspector general investigation.
He says that that's one reason why he asked for it. But he says he disagrees with some of the findings. And I think we have part of the op-ed there from James Comey.
He basically says that he disagrees with some of the findings of the inspector general, but he supports that what the inspector did -- inspector general's investigators did was honest and it was good work. And he thanks them for doing what they did.
Look, I think Comey knows -- and we saw this in his book tour just in the past month or so, Brooke -- we saw -- you saw that he acknowledges that there were things he did that could have been done differently.
But, you know, Comey is not going to really back down from his idea that he did everything he did because he had the best motives in mind and that he didn't have political bias in what he did.
BALDWIN: We are getting -- thank you, Evan Perez. You know so much about this, having gone through all these pages of this massive report here.
We will let you go and just straight to Capitol Hill, because we're getting all kinds of reaction. We're waiting for the White House, right? We're waiting for the briefing to begin.
But, for now, let's go to our senior congressional correspondent on the Hill, Manu Raju.
What are you hearing folks on the left and the right?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reaction is really taking down along party lines.
You're hearing Democrats and Republicans taking out different things from this report and saying that it furthers their argument.
On the Democratic side, they acknowledge significant missteps by James Comey that occurred during the 2016 election, but they're saying this actually was to the benefit of then candidate Trump. This is what Jerrold Nadler and Elijah Cummings, two senior Democrats
in the House, said. They said: "The stark conclusion we draw after reviewing this report is that the FBI's actions helped Donald Trump become president."
Now, the Republicans are seizing on these -- these text messages from Peter Strzok and Lisa Page talking about their disdain for President Trump and saying that it may actually taint the Russia investigation as well.
This is what Trey Gowdy, the House Oversight Committee chairman, said just moments ago.
He said the report also conclusively shows an alarming and destructive level of animus displayed by top officials at the FBI, Peter Strzok's manifest bias towards animus -- trends towards animus, casts a pall on this investigation. His bias was so pervasive and toxic as to call into question any other investigations he was a part of, including his role in the investigation of what Russia did in 2016."
So, you're hearing a number of Republicans that I have spoken to say that this raises questions about the Mueller investigation, the Russia investigation going forward, given Peter Strzok's role at the time in that.
But you're also hearing some Republicans, Brooke, saying that really it is not going to change their view. Ron Johnson, who is the Homeland Security chairman, I asked him specifically about the finding in the inspector general report that there was no political bias in the way the investigation ultimately was carried out, according to the inspector general's own finding.
Johnson said there's nothing in this report that would change my view that the investigation, the Clinton e-mail investigation was mishandled, in an attempt to exonerate her.
Of course, that's not the inspector general's finding, but that is what Republicans believe. So, clearly, there are some Republicans who you're not going to move on that key issue. And we will see what the president and the White House ultimately have to say, but the reaction so far, perhaps not surprisingly, Brooke, breaking down along party lines -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Manu, thank you.
I have got some more small voices here to go through all of this.
Chris Cillizza is here, CNN politics reporter and editor at large, Jamie Gangel, CNN special correspondent, and Laura Coates, CNN legal analyst and a former federal prosecutor.
All right, so there's a lot to go through. We have gone through a bit of it. There's more to -- there's more to learn, right, as time goes on.
And, again, all of this thinking -- we're also about to hear from Sarah Sanders and hear how the White House is taking this whole thing.
First to you, just your initial takeaway.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can't believe the Donald Trump hasn't tweeted about this yet.
BALDWIN: He hasn't.
GANGEL: We are seeing remarkable restraint, especially because of those texts.
BALDWIN: The FBI.
GANGEL: The FBI texts.
It is so blunt. We're going to stop it. This speaks to everything that Donald Trump has been saying all along. And even though the report says no political bias, I think it is fair to say that it is likely that the president is going to spin this eventually whenever he does.
He's going to use it...
BALDWIN: To move it to the Mueller investigation.
GANGEL: To move it to the Mueller investigation.
GANGEL: To say, look, here's proof, and, of course, I was right to fire James Comey.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: It's -- to Jamie's point, it's a 500-plus-page report. Seven words are, I think, the takeaway, which is, no, no, we will do something to stop it, effectively.
I think what will get lost in that is the broader context, which is the things that I.G. says Jim Comey did wrong in this, he didn't consult directly enough with Loretta Lynch -- Loretta Lynch -- easy for me to say -- the attorney general.
He went public with the fact that there wasn't any prosecution related to Hillary Clinton. He went public again with the fact that the investigation had been reopened days before the election.
All of those things likely helped Donald Trump. You can argue how much or how little, but none of those things were detrimental to Donald Trump's campaign.
The things that James Comey did that he was sort of in this report said he shouldn't have done, those all probably helped at the margins Donald Trump. But he will seize on this, because it will be proof, in Donald Trump's mind, of, there is a deep state conspiracy against me. We will stop it.
What else could you conclude? He's already hit on the -- in Twitter on those allegations back and forth, on the text messages, on that relationship. If he hasn't tweeted yet, it is coming. Yes.
BALDWIN: I want to come back to that point.
Laura Coates, your initial thoughts on this thing?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I thought this was 500 pages' worth of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It didn't have any great epiphanies for me, per se, because we already knew there were reasons to be critical of James Comey. It was even memorialized by Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein in a letter saying that he was extraordinary and insubordinate, and that Loretta Lynch deserved some -- also some blame for not cutting short the meeting on the tarmac between her and then -- and President Bill Clinton.
But the great epiphany to me here -- and if there is one in this report -- is the idea that for so many months the FBI and those around us and supporting of them has been saying that agents have been able to compartmentalize their private political views from their actually professional directives.
And the reason the president of the United States likely has not tweeted about this issue yet is because, again, a self-fulfilling prophecy of those who tried to stop it have fed right instead that narrative.
By not prioritizing, say, the Anthony Weiner laptop e-mails over the Russia investigation, in conjunction with the statements by Peter Strzok on those text messages, you essentially are showing that there is some reason to doubt the reason or the ability of the agents, at least in that sliver of the investigative team.
And there is a very, very wide breadth of agents available. If they were unable to compartmentalize, then there was reason to doubt. But ultimately you are seeing a tale here of a quest to try to look neutral and perceived as objective and not to undermine the credibility of the FBI.
You have got internal forces working against that very notion. And, unfortunately, it inures the benefit of the greater narrative that there is reason to doubt the current Mueller investigation, which is very separate than what happened in the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe.
BALDWIN: Which is perhaps -- going out on a limb -- part of what we're about to hear from Sarah Sanders at that White House briefing, which should be minutes away.
Everyone, stand by. Quick break. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On Tuesday, June 19, President Trump will deliver remarks at the NFIB's 75th anniversary lunch. NFIB is America's leading small business association, promoting and protecting the right of Americans to own, operate and grow their businesses.
The president will highlight the strong American economy and tout the benefits we are seeing from tax reform and de-regulation, including that small business optimism has hit its highest level in more than 30 years.
As you know, National Economic Council Director and Assistant to the President Larry Kudlow was discharged from the hospital and is recovering at home. The president has spoken with Larry and he's in good spirits. We look forward to having him back here at the White House soon.
Tonight at Nationals Park, Republicans and Democrats in Congress will put aside their political differences to play America's game. After last year's horrible shooting at the GOP practice, where Capitol Police acted heroically in the line of fire to save lives, we are excited to see those who were injured return to the field, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
Those injured have fought hard for this moment and we will proudly be cheering them on. I've heard the Republican team looks pretty good in practice, and that they're headed for a victory.
Lastly, on June 14th we celebrate Flag Day, commemorating the adoption of our American flag, which we all proudly stand for, the founding of our brave U.S. Army.
And last, but certainly not least, we would like to wish the President a very, very happy birthday. And if I do say so, I don't think he looks a day over 35.
And with that, I'll take your questions. A little sucking up's probably never bad.
QUESTION: Sarah, thank you. If -- if you would please comment on the recently released I.G. report, your impressions of what you've read so far. And have you had an opportunity to discuss with the president the New York attorney general's idea of -- of suing the Trump Foundation to have it shutdown in the state of New York? SANDERS: The president was briefed on the I.G. report earlier today, and it reaffirmed the president's suspicions about Comey's conduct and the political bias amongst some of the members of the FBI. Director Wray, as you know, will be holding a press conference later this afternoon, and we'd encourage you to tune in for specific questions.
As to your other question, the president has tweeted about this, specifically earlier today. The foundation raised $18 million while giving $19 million to charity while virtually having zero expenses. The previous New York A.G., who was forced to retire in disgrace, made his stated mission to use this matter to advance his own political gain, and the current Acting New York A.G. has stated that battling the White House is the most important job she's ever done.
SANDERS: That sounds outrageously biased and certainly problematic and very concerning. Cecilia (ph)?
QUESTION: Sarah, in his State of the Union the President had some really harsh words for North Korea. He said, "No regime has oppressed its own citizens more brutally than North Korea. Why is he now downplaying North Korea's horrific atrocities?
SANDERS: The president hasn't downplayed. Like you said, the president has raised (ph) North Korea's human rights record, and some of the abuses of the North Korean regime in a number of occasions. He also raised them at the summit that took place earlier this week, but the focus of the summit was denuclearization and peace on the peninsula, and that was the purpose of the president's conversation, and that was the focus of what took place there.
QUESTION: Sarah, (inaudible) rights on Fox News, he said "A lot of other people have done some really bad things." How is that not downplaying the atrocities?
SANDERS: Again, certainly, that's a factual statement. A lot of people have done some bad things. However, the president hasn't ignored the bad things that have been done by the North Korean regime. He's directly called it out on a number of occasions, as you yourself mentioned, --
-- and he brought it up at the summit. And again, the purpose of the summit was to focus on denuclearization, and looking towards that brighter future, and that was what the president was trying to do.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Could you confirm that there is a trade principles meeting today, that there are Chinese tariffs coming tomorrow? And there was a report that somewhere in...
SANDERS: That's a lot of questions. We'll go one at a time.
QUESTION: Well, it's all -- it's the same thing. SANDERS: First, yes, there is a trade meeting today. In terms of any announcements, I'll keep you posted when we have something to announce.
QUESTION: So the third -- third part of my three-part question is there has been a report that...
SANDERS: Third part of a three-part question.
QUESTION: ... that 800 to 900 Chinese products will be on that tariffs list. It seems like quite a high number, even though, I guess, the highest number is 1,300. But even if your not ready to roll out the whole thing, if that number is higher than it really is, could you -- could you tell us now?
SANDERS: Well, since I'm not making any announcements, it would be hard for me to give details of an announcement that we're not quite ready to make. Whether or not we will, we'll certainly keep you posted, but beyond that, I can't get into any details.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Two questions, if you don't mind. The president said earlier this week that he did speak with Kim Jong-un about human rights abuses. Can you tell us exactly what areas of concern they talked about? Was it the gulag work camps, torture, public executions, the lack of freedom of religion or the press, kidnapping, women's rights? What did they actually talk about?
SANDERS: Again, they covered a number of different topics, a couple that you listed. I'm not going to get into all of the details of their private conversation, but I can tell you, as the president has already publicly stated, that he did bring up human rights abuses of the North Korean regime.
Jim? Sorry, you -- you had two.
QUESTION: All right, thank you. Rudy Giuliani spent 20 minutes today talking with one of our -- our reporters about his love life, and proclaim that, in his words, he's not going to be a priest if he's separated from his third wife. I -- has this become too big of a distraction, to the point where the president would consider (inaudible) a lawyer? And then also on that, he said his ex -- soon- to-be-ex Judith called the president last week. Can you tell us what they talked about?
SANDERS: I'm not today, or tomorrow, or at any point ever going to comment on Rudy Giuliani's love life.
I will be glad to leave that to you, and the reporter that spoke with him, and I'm not aware of a call, and don't have any information on that.
Jim? QUESTION: Sarah, can you tell us why the president saluted the North Koreans when he was over in Singapore?
SANDERS: It's a common courtesy, when a military official from another government salutes, that you return that.
QUESTION: If I could just ask you a second question, completely unrelated, on these children who are being separated from their families as they come across the border. The Attorney General earlier today said that somehow there's a justification for this in the Bible. Where does it say in the Bible that it's moral to take children away from their mothers?
SANDERS: I'm not aware of the attorney general's comments, or what he would be referencing. I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.
QUESTION: But where in the Bible did it say...
SANDERS: However, this -- hold on, Jim, if you'll let me finish.
QUESTION: ... children lie (ph) to their parents?
SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to comment on the attorney's specific comments that I haven't seen.
QUESTION: You just said it's in the Bible to follow the law.
SANDERS: That's not what I said, and I -- I know it's hard for you to understand even short sentences, I guess, but...
QUESTION: Come on.
SANDERS: ... please don't take my words out of context. But the separation...
QUESTION: That's a cheap shot, Sarah.
SANDERS: ... of illegal alien families...
QUESTION: That's a cheap shot, Sarah.
SANDERS: ... is the product of the same legal loopholes that Democrats refuse to close. And these laws are the same that have been on the books for over a decade, --
-- and the president is simply enforcing them.
(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: ... a moral policy, to take children away from their parents? But can you imagine...
SANDERS: It's a moral policy to follow and enforce the law.
QUESTION: ... the horror that these children must be going through when they come across the border?
QUESTION: They're with their parents, and then suddenly they're pulled away from their parents. Why is the government doing this?
SANDERS: Because it's the law, and that's what the law states. And the law...
QUESTION: It's not -- it doesn't have to be the law. You guys don't have to do that.
SANDERS: You're right, it doesn't have to be the law. And the president has actually called on Democrats in Congress to fix those loopholes. The Democrats have failed to come to the table, failed to help this president close these loopholes and fix this problem.
We don't want this to be a problem. The president has tried to address it. A number of occasions, we've laid out a proposal. And Democrats simply refuse to do their job and fix the problem.
QUESTION: I'm sure it's (ph) the other party's fault, too (ph).
SANDERS: Paula, go ahead.
SANDERS: Sorry, Jim. I've given you enough time.
QUESTION: Two questions. First of all, there is no law that requires families be separated at the border. This was the administration's choice to move from civil matters on immigration, on to criminal, to criminally prosecute people who come across the border illegally. Therefore, you have (ph) to separate families.
So why did the administration find that this was necessary? And, if it continues to not have much of a deterrent effect, will you continue this policy?
SANDERS: Again, the laws are the ones that have been on the books for over a decade, and the president is enforcing them. We would like to fix the broken system that our immigration -- and fix our immigration problem. However, until Democrats are willing to actually fix this problem, it's going to continue. But we would like to see it fixed.
SANDERS: Jill? QUESTION: ... doesn't want to take responsibility for it. It's policy change from civil -- handling them as civil matters to criminal prosecutions.
SANDERS: It's not -- it's not a policy change to enforce the law.
QUESTION: It absolutely...
SANDERS: That's been -- that's been this administration's policy...
SANDERS: ... since the day we got here.
QUESTION: No. The president made a decision in April that he was going to...
SANDERS: It's (ph)...
QUESTION: ... move from (ph) handling it as a civil matter to criminal...
SANDERS: ... it has been our administration's policy...
QUESTION: ... separating families. Your (ph) administration said it was a deterrent. They're separating families to deter people from coming here illegally.
SANDERS: Our administration has had the same position since we started, on day one that we were going to enforce the law. I know it was something that wasn't high on the priority list in the previous administration, but it is on ours.
We're a country of law and order, and we're enforcing the law and protecting our borders. We would like to fix these loopholes. And, if Democrats want to get serious about it instead of playing political games, they are welcome to come here and sit down with the president and actually do something about it.
QUESTION: ... Sarah, don't you have any empathy?
SANDERS: Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Come on, Sarah, you're a parent. Don't you have any empathy for what these people are going through? They have less than you do.
SANDERS: Jill -- Brian, gosh, settle down.
QUESTION: Sarah, come on, seriously -- seriously.
SANDERS: I'm trying to be serious, but I'm not going to have you yell out of turn. Jill, please go ahead.
QUESTION: ... you're sitting there telling us it's a law, and -- and they have -- these people have nothing. They come...
SANDERS: Hey, Brian, I know...
QUESTION: ... with nothing.
SANDERS: ... you want to get some more TV time, but that's not what this is about.
QUESTION: It's not that. It's not about that.
SANDERS: I want to recognize you.
QUESTION: It's about you answering a question, Sarah.
SANDERS: Go ahead, Jill.
QUESTION: Honestly, answer the question. It's a serious question. These people have nothing, they come to the border with nothing, and -- they throw children in cages. You're a parent, you're a parent of young children. Don't you have any empathy for what they go through?
SANDERS: Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Two questions for you. Firstly, does the president really believe that Crimea is part of Russia because everyone there speaks Russian?
And the second question: The president has said that Kim Jong-un told him that North Korea is destroying...
SANDERS: Let me answer your first question. I'm not aware of any comment like that. I know it's been reported, but I'm not going to comment on a private conversation I wasn't a part of that I don't have information on.
QUESTION: So the president said that Kim Jong-un had told him that North Korea was working to destroy a major missile engine testing site. Is that the Sohae site, as it's sometimes referred to?
SANDERS: We'll have specific details later. We're working with the Department of Defense, and we'll make sure we get you guys that information. (CROSSTALK)
SANDERS: Trey (ph)?
QUESTION: ... talking about today?
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.
SANDERS: Sorry, Trey (ph). Go ahead.
QUESTION: Two questions on the I.G. report. Earlier this year, the president suggested that the DOJ Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, was, quote, "an Obama guy." How does the president view Horowitz today? And does he feel that this investigation was (ph) thorough?
SANDERS: Again, the president thinks that this report reaffirms the suspicions that he had about Comey, and Director Wray is going to hold a press conference later today, and I would encourage you to tune in for that.
QUESTION: ... ask you about the text message exchange between two...
SANDERS: Kristin. Sorry, go ahead, Trey (ph).
QUESTION: ... the text message exchange highlighted in the report between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok -- ultimately, the FBI agent, Peter Strzok, said, "We'll stop it," and that -- he was referring to candidate Trump becoming President.
Did the president have any reaction to this information when you spoke with him after he was briefed today?
SANDERS: Certainly, again, causes a great deal of concern and, I think, points out the political bias that the president's been talking about and -- has been repeatedly mentioned from this administration that we feel to be a huge problem. And we're glad they're looking into it.
QUESTION: Sarah, thank you. Did the president or anyone else use funds -- Trump -- from the Trump Foundation to pay for personal, business or campaign expenses?
SANDERS: I'm not aware of any of that taking place.
QUESTION: But can you definitively say no?
SANDERS: Again, I'm not aware of it and I'd have to get more information, but I would refer you to the Trump Foundation for that specific point.
QUESTION: Have you asked the president?
SANDERS: I haven't spoken to him about that specifically.
QUESTION: And, Sarah, let me just follow up with you. President Trump said several months ago he doesn't think Michael Cohen is going to flip. Is that still the case?
SANDERS: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the last part of your question.
QUESTION: President Trump tweeted several months ago that he doesn't think that Michael Cohen is going to flip. Does he still think that's the case?
SANDERS: I would refer you back to the president's comment.
QUESTION: Yeah, two questions, please, Sarah, thank you.
First, there have been reports on almost a daily basis and in punctilious detail about EPA head Scott Pruitt doing things that border on the unethical, and, almost on a daily basis, Republican members of Congress call for his resignation.
What is his status within the administration? And does the president have confidence in him to remain as administrator?
SANDERS: Certainly, we have some areas of concern in some of these allegations, but I don't have any personnel announcements at this point.
QUESTION: My second question...
SANDERS: ... sorry.
QUESTION: ... is Congressman Mark Sanford blamed the president's tweet as the final straw in his defeat, making him the second Republican House member to go down in defeat.
This is the first time in 48 years a sitting president has opposed a member of Congress of his own party.