Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump White House Holds First Briefing. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 23, 2017 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:05]

QUESTION: He still plans to do everything on that day one list, though?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's his intention, yes. He's very clear about that.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Sean, is the president going to shake up the leadership of CFPB before the director's term is up?

SPICER: I'm not going to -- no decision has been made at this time on that.

Kristen Welker.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Sean.

One on Obamacare. Has he finished his plan on Obamacare? When will the American people see that? And then, on NAFTA, can you just clarify? I know he is going to meet with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. Has he started to have discussions with them currently about renegotiating that?

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Yes. On Obamacare, I think he is going to continue the discussion tonight with Speaker Ryan in particular at the meeting that he is going to have after the reception.

When it comes to the -- I'm sorry, the other part was NAFTA.

QUESTION: NAFTA.

SPICER: He discussed on the phone with both leaders his desire to reform it. But, obviously, his goal was to have that discussion when they come in person. And I think I mentioned yesterday the foreign minister of Mexico is going to come on the 25th, 26th to sort of set the table and have some of those meetings ahead of President Pena Nieto's meeting here.

QUESTION: Now that he is officially in office, don't they deserve...

SPICER: Well, again, he has been -- this is his first working day. I think he's been busy and robust, not just today, but in the two-and-a- half other days that we had.

And I think you are going to see a lot more come out. But there is a lot of things that have to get done and a lot of things that we are working on as a staff to get him prepared. He is going to have very, very robust weeks.

Thank you guys. I appreciate it. This was a good first one. Huh?

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Thank you.

QUESTION: My question, last two days, I have gone to a number of balls (INAUDIBLE) balls, including the Asian America and Indian American balls. And most of those people are supporting president's actions and also trade. And most important (OFF-MIKE) from U.S.-India business council (OFF-MIKE). He represents 500 Fortune companies to and from India.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Question.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: His companies are supporting.

So, my question is, where do we go as far as U.S.-India and U.S.-Asia -- U.S.-India business relations are concerned?

SPICER: hank you for the question.

I think that, whether it's India or other countries throughout the globe, today, as I mentioned, the goal is to figure out countries and markets that we want to access that benefit the American worker, help us grow manufacturing and the services industry.

And so that's one area that we will continue the work with the prime minister there on. But we have got a very robust agenda.

Thank you, guys. It's been a pleasure. God bless. See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, answering reporters' questions for more than an hour, an hour and 15 minutes-plus, in fact, at the White House Briefing Room.

A very different Sean Spicer than we saw on Saturday.

Jake Tapper, the main headlines in our mind coming out of this briefing?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I think there are a bunch. And, yes, this was a much more traditional press conference, given that he didn't take any questions Saturday. First, he gave more details about the communications between the

incoming national security advisory, General Mike Flynn, and the ambassador from Russia than we have ever heard. He said it was one call, four topics, loss of life that some Russian soldiers had experienced, Christmas greetings, a summit, a conference about battling ISIS, and then setting up a call between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

He also talked -- he responded to the question about whether President Trump had spoken with any of the intelligence community leaders about investigations into Russian connections between his team and Russia. He said he didn't believe that President Trump had talked to anybody in the intelligence community about these investigations. And he has not made any indication he would stop an investigation of any sort.

Two that were pretty subsequently in addition to those. One, he was asked if he agreed with secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson that the U.S. should take steps to try to prevent China from having access to these manufactured, manmade islands that they built. And he basically gave a very aggressive response.

"If they are in international waters, yes, we are going to make sure that we defend international territories from any actions."

And that's a very robust defense. And that's going to raise a lot of eyebrows in Beijing. And then, lastly, he really seemed to walk back the idea of relocating the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

He said: "It's very early in the decision-making process." And then he said, "If there had been a decision, we wouldn't be going through a process."

[15:05:00]

All indications from what we had heard from the Trump team before was that there had been a decision, this was definitely going to happen. Certainly, the incoming, assuming he is confirmed, U.S. ambassador to Israel, seems to be under the impression that the embassy is without question moving, Sean Spicer much more circumspect on that.

BLITZER: This was the Sean Spicer that you and I have known for years as compared to what we saw on Saturday, when he came out with that statement that was so angry.

TAPPER: Yes, that's the Sean Spicer I think a lot of us worked with in the last few years up until about a month ago, and let's hope that this Sean Spicer stays with us.

BLITZER: Dana, what was the main headline out of your mind?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Since we are on that topic, the fact that our friend John Karl from ABC came at him -- he was one of the first in that front row to get a question -- with the one thing that we all as reporters want to know. Are you going to tell us the truth? Are you going be sure to tell us the truth?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Because he didn't on Saturday.

BASH: Because he didn't on Saturday. He came out with a whole bunch of facts which were not facts. They were...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lies.

BASH: Incorrect. They were absolutely incorrect.

And he answered yes. And he did -- he didn't do a full mea culpa, but he did enough of a mea culpa that he didn't necessarily get things right. And I think that's important. And I think that I'm hoping that we are all, the White House and in the body of Sean Spicer, the spokesperson for the White House, and the press corps are back on the right -- on the right side and on the right foot.

And it's important, because, if he doesn't say that, everything else that he said about China, about Russia, about the things that really matter, not crowd size, would have to be in question. So that's why that was a very important exchange to happen.

BLITZER: He basically said he got some bad information that he provided on Saturday.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He did. He did. And then he said, when you have bad information it is a two-way street was his point, that the press ought to do that and we ought to do that.

He did channel Donald Trump a lot at the end of this press conference talking about how the media seems to want to undermine his credibility, meaning the president's credibility.

But I do think, as Jake was pointing out, we got some serious informing out of Sean today. One other thing in addition to Jerusalem was he did not rule out joint military action with Russia in Syria. And he was asked about working with Assad a couple of times. And he did not rule that out.

He was also asked very directly about whether China would benefit from the withdrawal from the TPP. And he didn't seem to answer that head on either. So I think that we did see a little bit of walking back on -- certainly on Jerusalem, and question marks being raised about whether in fact we would participate in joint military exercises in Syria with Russia.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Adding to that list, Wolf, the whole issue of deporting the children of illegal immigrants, they have been walking this back since the election.

And even when he talked about comprehensive immigration legislation, he seems to be hewing much closer to what is the Obama administration's line, which is to focus on those with some kind of criminal background. I think that's significant. This is a big issue all around the country, on college campuses and elsewhere on the issue of sanctuary cities. I think that was important. I'm feeling a little less generous toward him in terms of how he handled this whole Saturday business. Again, the issue is not the crowd size. That is so important. The issue is that we have a president who is obsessed with it and obsessed with ratings and who says -- and Sean Spicer said again today the president wanted to go to the CIA because he heard about this whole rift with the CIA made up by the media.

The president of the United States suggested and compared our intelligence chiefs to Nazi Germany. Right? So, they haven't walked that back. That still hangs out there. That's very significant.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: They haven't even deleted the tweet. It's still there.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: And something that Nazi Germany would have done. Again, I think does the president want to spend time really examining what Nazi Germany actually did as Hitler came together, and we can have that discussion and we can compare it?

Incredibly reckless and irresponsible. He's the leader of the free world and said that, and Sean Spicer didn't walk it back.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: ... intelligence.

GREGORY: Right.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think at some point he said of the whole CIA thing that he was going to the CIA to essentially say don't believe what you are hearing.

And, of course, what they were hearing were things that he was saying about them. It wasn't spin from the White House.

It's clear that these press conferences are going to be very different in the Trump era. Usually, a press secretary goes to the front row. He goes to the networks early on. And this is going to be much different. He talked about adding the Skype seats, for instance.

And I think he is obviously trying to give something of an olive branch to the press. He kind of made light of the whole thing that happened on Saturday early on. But, again, I think is a sort of clever by half approach to this.

He likened, for instance, the whole notion of what happened on Saturday, he said, well, papers make mistakes, too, sometimes, news outlets make mistakes sometimes, and then you issue a correction.

[15:10:10]

This White House so far and this candidate, no corrections, no sort of apologies, no omissions of making false statements.

BLITZER: David Chalian, he did say as White House press secretary his intention was to always tell the truth. Maybe there could be a mistake here and there, but he would quickly fix it. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Is it your intention to always tell the truth from that podium and will you pledge never to knowingly say something that is not factual?

SPICER: It is. It's an honor to do this. And, yes, I believe that we have to be honest with the American people.

I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts. There are certain things that we may miss -- we may not fully understand when we come out. But our intention is never to lie to you, Jonathan. Our job is to make sure that sometimes -- you are in the same boat. There are times when you guys tweet something out or write a story and you publish a correction.

That doesn't mean that you were intentionally trying to deceive readers and the American people, does it? And I think we should be afforded the same opportunity. There are times when we believe something to be true or we get something from an agency or we act in haste because the information available wasn't complete, but our desire to communicate with the American people and make sure that you have the most complete story at the time.

And so we do it. But, again, I think when you look net/net, we are going to do our best every time we can. I'm going to come out here and tell you the facts as I know them. And if we make a mistake, we will do our best to correct it.

But I don't -- I think, as I mentioned the other day, it is a two-way street. There are many mistakes that the media makes all the time. They misreport something, they don't report something. They get a fact wrong. I don't think that's always to turn around and say, OK, you were intentionally lying.

I think we all go and try to do our best job and do it with a degree of integrity that -- in our respective industries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What did you think?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That old Daniel Patrick Moynihan expression that you are entitled to your own opinions, but you're not entitled to your own set of facts, that seems to be out the window if indeed you hear Sean Spicer saying that he can disagree with the facts and bring his own facts or, as Kellyanne Conway called them, alternate facts.

So, I do think we are still in a world where it doesn't seem we are going to be able to disagree on certain facts and from there be able to ask questions and get answers for the American people.

That being said, though, as you noted, Wolf, him stating his intention is to always speak honestly, as -- was saying, that is a good baseline to have. So I think Sean Spicer was successful today at turning down the temperature. He didn't come out there with a Hillary Clinton- style reset button, but I think there was a bit of a reset moment for Sean Spicer and for the Trump White House there.

And on the news front, I do want to underscore something David said I think is really important on DACA and this whole issue of dreamers. Since Donald Trump said in that interview in "TIME" magazine when he became person of the year, they have been dialing this back.

He said four times this is not the priority, this is not the focus, this is not the priority. Now, he did come back and say, but we are going to continue to work eventually on getting everyone that's here illegal out of the country, but could not stress enough that these young dreamers are not -- that -- I just think that is going to come as a surprise to a lot of the people that voted for Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, what jumped out with you?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, if I can disagree on the reset point there, because the reset only works if it's not just the promise to tell the truth, but if you actually tell the truth.

And I just want to take issue with his description of the CIA speech by the president. Right? The key issue there was not crowd size. It was Donald Trump saying that the dispute with the intelligence community was manufactured by the media, which is factually not true.

Many public statements by Donald Trump still out there, as Jake said, tweets not deleted yet of the president undermining the intelligence community. His answer to that, his sole answer was, there was a five- minute standing ovation, which there was not. There were people clapping.

And it's our understanding that this was a self-selecting crowd, one, and there were many staffers who did that. But that doesn't -- regardless of how many people were clapping, it doesn't wipe away that the president told a lie at the CIA to say that the CIA -- that the media created this dispute, when he has repeatedly publicly undermined the intelligence community.

Just one more point I would make ,there was an opportunity here, which the president missed in front of that Memorial Wall at the CIA, was to say anything about the sacrifice of the 117 stars representing the people who died in the field for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Sean Spicer had an opportunity there to say, and, listen, the president knows the great sacrifice. Right? So, it's two opportunities missed with what became really one of the core critiques from people inside the CIA, some who have been speaking to me privately, but some publicly. John Brennan, Ryan Crocker speaking to Robin Wright, who you had on

your program earlier, they were upset that the president went there and he didn't say, I -- at the equivalent of their Arlington and didn't make a comment about that. I think that's an enormous missed opportunity for the press secretary.

(CROSSTALK)

[15:15:00]

TAPPER: I want to say one other thing just to bring the viewers into the world of Washington press.

And I don't want anyone to think that I'm complaining about this. But Sean Spicer, the order in which he called on people suggests that it is a new day when it comes to whom this White House considers to be priorities in terms of being called on.

Again, I'm not griping. But normally what happened for decades, as far as I know, is the first question goes to the Associated Press, which is front row center. The Associated Press is an organization that a lot of media organizations, newspapers use. It's considered impartial, down the middle.

He didn't call on the Associated Press first. He did call on them, but he didn't call on them first, second, third or fourth. He called on "The New York Post," which is, I think it's fair to say, Donald Trump's favorite newspaper, the newspaper that he has used and read and provided all sorts of interesting tidbits to for decades.

He also called on second the Christian Broadcasting Network, which is significant. That's a Christian -- that's obviously for conservative Christians largely. And he called on them second. He called on Univision, called on FOX. He was trying to set a tone about this is a different era. We are going to call on different people.

He did call on the networks in the front row eventually, I think except for CBS. And I think he didn't call on "The New York Times." I might be wrong about that.

But he definitely was trying to make a point about the media that he is going to prioritize.

One other thing I want to say, and this is much more important, although maybe not as fun, which is the Associated Press is now reporting, to your point, Gloria, the Russian Defense Ministry says that its warplanes have been -- have flown its first combat mission in Syria with U.S.-led coalition aircraft.

So, if that's true -- that's an Associated Press report, not a CNN report, and, obviously, we want to reach out to the Pentagon on that.

BORGER: Right. And He didn't confirm that today. He just didn't -- he didn't rule it out.

TAPPER: But that's incredibly significant that that is happening right now, according to the Associated Press, U.S.-led -- U.S. leading Russian warplanes in Syria.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right. And maybe that would explain the need for a phone call between the president of the United States and Vladimir Putin.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY: ... to Jake's point, is that press is also -- the White House press corps has got to hang together, because, yes, fine it's a new day. You want to call all over the room. They are making a point. They're doing that deliberately. That's fine. Nobody is going to cry for us.

But the ability to do what Jake has done and Dana has done in the White House, what I tried to, what you did, where we follow up on each other's questions, that's how you go deeper on the issue of Syria. Are they willing to work with Assad and Russia to fight ISIS? We want to know that.

Those are substantive things we -- and you get at that by penetrating questions, not going all over the place. The White House will try to keep the press corps off of one singular topic, so that they can move it around, but that's where the press has got to hang together.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: You talked about Russia and the U.S. and Syria.

Another is the whole question of the embassy. He did clearly -- I'm sorry, the embassy moving in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He did clearly indicate that that's going to be slow-walked, which, you know, it would be nice to also hear why, because, as we know from our reporting, that there is a very, very a big disagreement internally, because Donald Trump, like many candidates before him, campaigned...

TAPPER: Every candidate.

BASH: Every candidate campaigned on moving the embassy, but then didn't do it. But he said, I really mean it. And he had the financial backing of Sheldon Adelson from Nevada, who is a singular issue. And that is making sure that this embassy moves and he has a lot of pressure to do that, except he has also got pressure not to do it, to wait and let things settle.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Dana makes an excellent point, Jim. It was significant. He had a phone conversation today, the president of the United States, with the president of Egypt, President El-Sisi, who has improved the relationship with Israel, but like Jordan and several other countries would be pretty upset if the U.S. were to move that embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

(CROSSTALK) SCIUTTO: ... back home who might not know, why does it matter to go from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, they're both in Israel, they're both big cities, why does it matter, because Jerusalem is fundamentally under dispute by the sides in this decades-, centuries-old, right, battle over this land.

It is claimed as the holy site for Jews, Muslims and Christians, by the way. And in any final peace settlement, if there is any hope of a two-state solution, right, both sides say they need either all or part of Jerusalem.

If the U.S. moves its embassy to Jerusalem, it's in effect saying our embassy to Israel is in Jerusalem, therefore, we view Jerusalem as an Israeli city.

Just sort of that's the key. And that's why you have folks in the State Department of both cities frankly and elsewhere saying, whoa, before you do this, you better think about it.

TAPPER: Can I say, I interviewed the Israeli defense minister, Lieberman, about a whole number of topics, and I asked him about this. He said it was not a priority for Israel to have their embassy moved.

I suspect it is a priority for...

BASH: Pro-Israel...

TAPPER: ... pro-Israel in the United States and some conservatives in Israel. But he said it wasn't...

(CROSSTALK)

[15:20:02]

BLITZER: Netanyahu himself says the priority for Israel is dealing with the potential threat of Iran...

TAPPER: Iran, yes.

BLITZER: ... and a nuclear...

BASH: American political pressure on Donald Trump, just like it was on other...

BORGER: And Republican presidents have promised it and taken it back. And Democratic -- Bill Clinton I believe promised to move the embassy and ended up taking it back.

Let me just add one more issue here that I think sort of got discussed. But Sean Spicer was asked about whether in fact we would send more troops into Iraq to take the oil, which is something that the president said or implied, I would say, on Saturday, by saying...

SCIUTTO: We may get another chance.

BORGER: We may get another chance. And he didn't venture there either. He didn't rule it out. And he didn't -- he didn't venture there.

It's clear that these are things that there -- sometimes a president says something or tweets something, and Sean Spicer I would have to say has a very difficult job.

BASH: You think?

BORGER: Because he has got to walk it back. He has got to walk it back. He couldn't say today what Jim said or what you said about the president's tweets. Well, that didn't clarify anything about his relationship with the intelligence communities, let's say. It made it worse.

I think it's tough. And he didn't have answers to these important questions.

BLITZER: Jake, what was encouraging, I think, to all of us, he spent an hour and 15 minutes answering reporters' questions on a wide range of issues, a very important gesture, if you will. Let's see if it stays like that.

TAPPER: A gesture for the American people, because we are just asking questions on their behalf. And so I'm glad that he took the questions. And I hope he continues.

BLITZER: I hope he does as well.

All right, guys, everybody, stand by.

Up next, the former press secretary of President George W. Bush gives his take on Sean Spicer's first White House briefing. Ari Fleischer is with us.

Stay with us. Much more of our special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:25:39]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we go. I'm going take to it from here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN.

You just listened to what, an hour, hour and 15 of Press Secretary Sean Spicer's first White House briefing. A variety of topics covered. Let's begin with President Trump's biggest moves of his first Monday in the Oval Office, his executive actions, one of them his first shot against U.S. trade deals.

Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been talking about this for a long time. Thank you. OK, great thing for the American worker, what we just did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: With a stroke of a couple of pens, America's role in TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is dead. And Mr. Trump has delivered on one of his campaign promises, to get tough on foreign competitors, a promise he echoed in his inaugural address just on Friday, when he promised an America first approach to his presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Today, President Trump met with some of the country's top CEOs and vowed to impose a "very major border tax" on companies that move jobs outside of the U.S.

Let's begin with David Chalian here, our CNN political director.

David, let's just begin with how these executive actions -- these are Republican wins. These are symbolic moves, we know, from the president. Run through what he did today.

CHALIAN: Sure, not just Republican wins. On that first one, for TPP that we just talking about, remember that was...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Bernie, Hillary.

CHALIAN: Exactly, through the entire campaign.

This is where the overlap was between Sanders and Trump supporters. And as you noted, even Hillary Clinton came out against this. This was a sort of dominant economic theme in the 2016 campaign from all sides. So delivering on that...

BALDWIN: Forgive me, David Chalian. We have got Donald Trump meeting with union leaders. Let's dip in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TRUMP: This is a group that I know well, whether personally or just because I have hired thousands and thousands and thousands of you as you can say, Sean (ph), right? You know that better than anybody. We just officially terminated TPP.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I just signed a document, very powerful document. And we are going to have trade, but we are going to have one on one. And if somebody misbehaves, we are going to send them a letter of termination, 30 days, and they will either straighten it out or we're gone, not one of these deals where you can't get out of them and it is a disaster.

So we are going to have plenty of trade. But TPP wasn't the right way. So we are going back to those countries one on one and that will be beautiful. But we are going to have a lot of building going on. We are going to have a lot of plant expansion, and a lot of brand-new plants.

We met with the head of Ford today, the head of many of the great companies, Johnson & Johnson. They are very, very excited about what we are doing. You guys will be responsible for getting those plants built in nine months, instead of 18 years. You know the process today, when they put in for a plant, it takes so long.

And, by the way, you all know our great vice president, Mike Pence. I think you know some of the folks in the room. I know almost all of the folks in the room. So, it is just a great honor to have you here. It's a great honor.

You have been very special to me. I have told you for -- whether it's sheet metal workers, how have you been?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

TRUMP: I have hired a few of them over the years, haven't I, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

TRUMP: Yes. We just finished a big one right over down the street. And you guys did a great job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's good to hear.

TRUMP: You did a great job.

So, we are going put a lot of people back to work. We are going to use common sense and we're do it the way it's supposed to be done. We are going to stop the ridiculous trade deals that are taking everybody out of our country and taking companies out of our country, and it's going to be reversed.

I think you are going to have a lot of companies come back to our country. Companies that left are going to come back to our country. And they are going to hire a lot of people.