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White House Press Briefing; Trump: Reaching Health Care Deal "An Easy One"; Spicer: Nothing "Problematic" In Nunes Conduct. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 29, 2017 - 12:30   ET


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And so I wish I could give you an answer and say this is how we're going to solve the problem, but I think the first step is -- is understanding the problem, the magnitude of it and looking at how we approach it holistically.



QUESTION: (inaudible) timeline for them coming back with findings?

And then, the president when he was campaigning seemed to endorse the STOP Act, which would prevent fentanyl from being importer -- help prevent fentanyl being imported from countries like China. Would he use his presidential bully pulpit to, sort of, push for that legislation now, which has not really gotten off the ground yet over in Congress?

SPICER: That -- that was one of the -- not the specific piece of legislation -- not the STOP Act in particular, but I think there was a lot of discussion about fentanyl and -- and the rise of it today. And I think the attorney general brought that up and was talking about the escalation of that from the 1980s to now.

And so, there is going -- there is a look at it.

But I -- I -- I again, as I mentioned, you've got the attorney general there, law enforcement, education. Part of this is to -- to really look at this and figure out what are the ways that we can address it at -- at -- from coming into the county. And the DEA administrator was talking about it, especially the flow from the southern border. But then you look at if from a law enforcement issue, a prevention issue and a treatment issue.

And this is a -- I -- I wish I could give you a really easy answer and say, "Here's the silver bullet that's going to stop this," but we recognize the growth of this problem and this epidemic and how do we -- how do we solve it going forward.

John Gizzi?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sean. Yesterday, Prime Minister Teresa May signed a letter that began the process for Brexit. A week ago on Friday, Jean-Claude Juncker, who is the president of the European Commission, used some unusually strong language about the president, saying that his comments encouraging other Brexits could lead to war among the Balkan countries. And he also said in the end, and is quoted on page one of the Financial Times, that the president does not know a lot about Europe.

What is the president's response to that?

SPICER: To Brexit in particular or...

QUESTION: To the comments by President Juncker of the European Commission on the Brexit.

SPICER: Well, I -- I -- I think the president is very well steeped in world affairs, especially Europe, NATO, all the issues. He was a leader in the effort to call Brexit, as you know.

And obviously with respect to that, we respect the will of the British electorate and her majesty's government in taking steps of departing the European Union. Whatever the future the U.K.-E.U. relationship looks like, we want the U.K. to remain a strong leader in Europe -- for both the E.U. and Europe to remain strong leaders globally. So, you know, I think both on the E.U. and on that that -- Veronica (ph)?

QUESTION: Sean, thank you.

I have two questions or topics, if you will.

Just the first, what's the White House reaction to the shooting today at the Capitol?

SPICER: Well, sounds like a very troubled individual.

Obviously, I'll let law enforcement read that out. But I -- I don't want to get ahead of -- I -- from what I understand, what I've seen, it's sounds like a very troubling incident (ph). I think -- again, I don't want to get ahead of this, but looks likes law enforcement -- I appreciate the efforts that the Capitol Police and others took. I mean, you literally watched people put their lives in harm's way today to protect tourists and -- and other citizens. And so I want to commend the work of the Capitol Police and the work of law enforcement to continue to protect us at this time, when Washington is in its glory, with the cherry blossoms out and so many people are coming here to visit the Tidal Basin and their House of Representatives and the Senate and walk around Washington, D.C. It's reassuring to know that so many brave men and women are willing to put their lives on the line to make sure the city stays safe.

QUESTION: My second topic.

Last weekend the president spent the weekend here, not at Mar-a- Lago. I'm wondering, was that in any way a response to some of the push-back he's received about the costs associated with those trips? And part two of that, does he plan to be here again this weekend? SPICER: So no, yes.


He will -- the president wanted to be here last weekend. He wants to be here this weekend. He'll be here. And then I will have updates on where he'll be going forward. But...

QUESTION: Does he feel any concern about that push-back?

SPICER: No. He feels great.


QUESTION: Thank you, Sean.

President Trump is reportedly expected to sign legislation that would allow internet service providers to monitor internet activity and sell that information without users' permission. Will he be signing that legislation? And why does he think it's good for America? I'm wondering who this benefits apart from ISPs and their executives.

SPICER: I -- I -- the House and the Senate have just passed that. When they enroll it, then we will -- we'll have further updates on that.

I'm not -- when we -- I -- I know that -- I believe we have a statement of administration policy on that bill out. When we have further updates on a signing ceremony, I will let you know.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Doesn't this erosion of protections create major risks for people to use that information for nefarious purposes? Also hostile nations potentially looking at, you know, what congressmen are browsing online? Like, is that concerning to the White House?

SPICER: I -- I think there's -- as I've mentioned that -- we have a statement of administration policy on that bill. We will have further updates. And when we do -- we sign it, I'm sure we'll have further details on why.



QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Two questions on two topics for you.

The commander of CENTCOM was up on the Hill earlier today and testified that the U.S. government believes that Russia has been supplying materially the Afghan Taliban. I was wondering if the White House has any response to that testimony? And does it believe that that's a constructive effort?

SPICER: I'm sorry. Who was testifying?

QUESTION: The commander of CENTCOM.

SPICER: Yeah, OK. QUESTION: Is that a constructive effort on the part of the Russian government in that region?

SPICER: I -- there are several entities looking into this, and I'm not going to -- I will say that DOD's response speaks for itself. We understand the intelligence on this. The president's been briefed on it. So I'm not really sure what specifically you're...


QUESTION: ... on the part of the Russian government right now?

SPICER: I think the commander -- the CENTCOM commander's testimony speaks for itself on that.


QUESTION: ... topic for you. About a month from now, the government will run out of money (inaudible) the C.R., as I'm sure you're aware. The president talked a lot in the campaign and in his budget request, funding for a border wall on the southern border with Mexico.

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: Is that a deal-breaker for the president in any sort of government funding measures that...


SPICER: So, on April 29th, the C.R. expires, the continuing resolution. And we are going to be working with Congress on that, on the F.Y. '17 budget that needs to go forward. I know Director Mulvaney has talked about that.

I'm not going to get into the specific details. I know that if you saw the budget they've put out -- I think it's $1.6 or $1.7 billion that he's initially put in the F.Y. '17 for the beginning of that wall. And there's $2.5...


QUESTION: ... billion in there...


SPICER: Again, I think that is our request. We will continue to work with Congress on how to move forward with the rest of fiscal year '17's budget.


QUESTION: Thanks, Sean.

Let me pick up where (inaudible) left off on health care. The president here last night speaking to senators said, quoting here, "I know they're all going to make a deal on health care. That is such an easy one. I have no doubt that it's going to happen very quickly."

What is the renewed sense of optimism? And what exactly is "very quickly"?

SPICER: Well, I think there's a little bit of sound that needs to go with that. I think he was having a little bit of fun with some previous comments that have been made with respect to how easy it would be to get health care. So -- but there is a renewed sense. Because I think, you know, the comments and the calls that the president has gotten, as well as the vice president, other members of the senior team, that have come in and said, "we believe that there is a path forward; we have some ideas; we'd like to talk to you about that."

I know -- I've seen some of the reports that have been put out regarding some of the individual members of the Senate and the House that have been up here meeting with our team. And I think there's a lot of people who have some ideas about how to move forward, and we're entertaining those.

But I think the interesting thing is is that despite the setback that we got last Friday, I think there is a renewed willingness from a lot of members who made commitments to the American people and to their voters that they want to see this done. And they understand that not getting this done means that, as I said, and the president echoed when he went up to the House Republican Conference, that there's going to be a consequence for this.

People need to be taken at their word. There's a lot of members that made a commitment to their voters, to their constituents, that they were going to get something done on this, and repeal and replace and address the health situation. And that hasn't gotten done. And I think that's a concern for them.

QUESTION: And another one for you real quickly. You say that you embrace the House Intelligence Committee review of all of this. John McCain said earlier today that because of the potential schism within that committee, that there should be a select committee that goes from this. Would you embrace that if that happens? And what would your response...


SPICER: Yeah, I don't -- again, I'm not going to get into House and Senate matters. But I don't -- I -- as I mentioned at the outset to April, I believe that people -- look, all that is -- how they conduct themselves internally is up to them. That's -- that's obviously not for us to decide.

But I think the question that I still think is outstanding is that what is happened is a review was called for that part of it was already ongoing, from what I understand, especially on the House side. And the chairman of that committee has gone and sought information, and individuals who (inaudible) that information to further the review. I'm really not sure how that's anything other than what you're supposed to do. And I think that is consistent with (inaudible) talked about.


QUESTION: Sean, thanks. Two questions.

You mentioned Senator Udall opposing the Gorsuch nomination. He was here at that party last night. Did the president try to work the room with him and other Democrats about the nomination last night?

SPICER: I know he and the first lady and others spoke to a variety of senators. I'm not -- I wasn't keeping tabs on everybody that he spoke to. But I do know that he had an opportunity to speak to a lot of -- a lot of different senators. And he's talked to a lot on the phone.

So I don't know about Senator Udall himself.

QUESTION: And secondly, two-thirds of the Democratic senators did not attend the party last night.


Did that disappoint the president?

SPICER: I think we were excited to see the one-third that did. I know Senator Schumer was there, Senator Durbin. There were a lot of -- a lot of folks.

And again, I -- I think that -- you know, I hope -- I'm sure the president will continue to do things like this. It was an amazing opportunity to have a moment sort of free of politics and to enjoy some collegial moments with each other in the White House and listen to some -- the United States and Marine Corps bands play some amazing music and bring people together.

And I think the president's talked about this. You know, he's mentioned this a bunch of times that there used to be a time when you could sit down and share a meal together and I think that's what he's been trying to do, is bring groups back in and at least have a conversation and get to that human side a little bit. And so tonight -- yesterday was a good start, I think.


QUESTION: Sean, the president got in his inbox a letter from Senate Democrats and they say -- the Democrats say they are ready and willing to work with the president on improving Obamacare, they just have a couple of conditions. First, the president has to abandon his efforts to completely repeal the law and rescind the executive order. This letter is signed by the vast majority of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

What does the president say? SPICER: I think as the president's noted, we're willing to engage with people. I think they understand his principles. We need to repeal the law and replace it with something better. I understand what...

QUESTION: But they're saying they want to take full repeal off the table (ph).

SPICER: I understand what they -- I've seen part of the letter. I know that 40 of them saw (ph) that. And I think what we need to do is figure out who wants to engage in a constructive conversation. I understand what they want. But again, it's not just a one-way street. I think the president has made very clear what he wants to do.

And I think to the extent that some of them want to have a conversation -- we have a 52 seat majority in the Senate. If there are individuals in there that want to have a constructive conversation achieving the goals, we can do it. But I think they also need to understand the president's red lines.

QUESTION: But they say as a first step, they want him to repeal that executive order. Is that something he's willing to do?

SPICER: I think the president's committed to making sure that he continues to go down the path that he's gone down and there are ways that if they want to join him, that they can, and I think there are some areas that they may want to engage with him on that we've seen so far. And so, look, I understand they have a right to put out a letter and draw their lines in the stand, but I think the president's committed to doing -- going down the path he is.

And obviously, first step is to get to 216 in the House and then address the concerns in the Senate. But he has continued to have conversations with the Senate. And I think that as Obamacare continues to struggle, which it is, the premiums continue to go up and up, I think the question is, you know, will those 40 people understand that they are the ones who are going to be responsible for owning the current policies that are making so many Americans struggle?

QUESTION: But could (ph) you clarify, was he joking when he said that making a deal on health care would be an easy one?

SPICER: I think if you watch the tape, it was a light-hearted moment, Jonathan. And so he was having a little...

QUESTION: So he doesn't think it's easy to (inaudible)?

SPICER: No, he was -- yeah, no. Watch -- he was having a fun time the with senators there.


QUESTION: You know, the other thing that the president said last night was our soldiers are fighting like never before in Iraq. But as you know, Sean, U.S. troops there are in a support role, an advise and assist role. What does he mean? What does the president mean when he says they're fighting there like never before? (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... take into consideration what happened during the Bush administration and the Obama administration.

SPICER: No, no, no. I -- I...


SPICER: Yeah, I think there's been some progress, particularly in Mosul, the way that they have taken back that city. And I think that for a long time, there was a lot of concern about Iran moving in and dominating parts of Iraq. And I think with the advise and consent of U.S. military advisers, there's been tremendous progress in moving Iraq forward to an area of stability and to continuing to see the troops there in Iraq stand on their own. And I think that he is very pleased with the action that General Mattis and our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines are taking to do that.

Kevin (ph)?

QUESTION: I was going to follow up. If you couple that comment with the comment on health care, it being the easy one to get that done, it just -- it sounds like...

SPICER: I -- look...

QUESTION: You probably have heard this and have come across this nation that he's just detached from reality in making those comments.

SPICER: First of all, I think that -- I again would respectfully ask you that you review the tape. He was having a light-hearted moment. It's on tape. Everybody watched it. He was poking fun and making a joke. There have been comments before how he didn't get it and he was joking about how easy it was, OK? It was a light-hearted moment. It was on tape.

I think everybody -- and the idea that there is this -- trying to make it look like, you know, he was being utterly serious at the time is a little bit of a stretch.

QUESTION: One quick thing on Chairman Nunes.

SPICER: But I think -- but just so we're clear. I'm sorry, just to (inaudible). He was very proud of the work that our soldiers and sailors are doing over there in Iraq.


There is a lot of work and a lot of progress that is being made and the updates that he's getting from General Mattis on a daily basis...

QUESTION: But he didn't think they're in combat -- they're engaged in combat?

SPICER: No, no. But, again, I -- I think the progress that's being made in Iraq and the -- the fight against ISIS is going extremely well. And he's proud of it.

QUESTION: And I was just going to ask you very quickly on Chairman Nunes. Do you personally know who the source of Chairman Nunes' information is?


QUESTION: You do not know (ph).

SPICER: Jeff Mason?

QUESTION: Sean, one on both -- two topics.

First on health care, does the president want to start a new health care bill or tweak the one that did not go last week?

SPICER: I think we -- we're starting with where we are in trying to move that forward. I -- I think that is the current vessel.

QUESTION: And on a separate topic, the president did not mention the Paris Agreement yesterday when he went to the EPA. Can you update us on his current thinking about that? Does he want the United States to stay in? And if he -- if he does, how does he expect the United States to meet its commitments without the Clean Power Plan?

SPICER: I think that -- the Paris Agreement is still under discussion within the administration.


QUESTION: Do you have a deadline on when you'll know?

SPICER: I -- I can try to look into that. I don't have one at this time.

QUESTION: Thank you, Sean.

Early voting has begun in the Georgia Sixth Congressional District special election to fill the seat of Secretary...

SPICER: Price.

QUESTION: ... Price. Some Democrats have -- are feeling this is a referendum on the -- on the early days of the presidency. Does -- what does the White House think of that? Does President Trump plan to be involved at all in this race?

SPICER: That's a good -- honestly, I -- I've not even thought about it.

I -- I -- I think that if -- if needed, the president has always been very clear that he -- he wants to support the team and help the team. Honestly, I have not tried to really focus on -- trying to shed that previous life a little. So, I've not looked into Georgia's -- to the race in Georgia. I'm sure I -- I'd best refer you to either the RNC or the NRCC on the state of that race.

OK, thank you guys very much. See you tomorrow, Thursday. Take care.

[12:47:00] JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Well, that's Press Secretary Sean Spicer holding court in the briefing room for about 45 minute. A lot of topics covered. One that came up a lot was health care. And we want to play you Sean Spicer said the President was sarcastic, light hearted, joking last night at a reception for senators at the White House when he said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I know that we're all going to make a deal on health care. That's such an easy one. So I have no doubt that that's going to happen very quickly.


KING: Was that light hearted? Was that is sarcastic. Was that --

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It didn't seem to be, right? I didn't hear any laughter there. When I heard it last night when it was rolling live it, didn't seem to be a joke at all because he talked about it after he was talking about Iraq which obviously is very serious. So, yes -- I mean, this seems to be another example of you know, the air quotes, right, that he didn't mean in the way it seemed initially and this is what we've seen from this White House, revisionist history of whatever Trump's words are and this underlying idea that Trump says shouldn't be taken seriously. That it's open up to interpretation based on whatever, you know, what then comes up next.

So if --

KING: I think the history that Nia is getting at here that, you know, this president's own aides say don't take him literally or don't even listen to the President. Don't pay attention to his tweets. Listen to Secretary Tillerson or Secretary Kelly.

The history makes, I guess you, skeptical when you get explanations like this because that's (INAUDIBLE) advocate for a second. It's the first time the President's done this, brought the entire Senate down to the White House. Maybe he was being casual. Maybe he was being relaxed. But in this environment?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: He's still two months into his presidency and he's not been a politics before. He's still learning that people actually pay attention to every word you say when you're president and they take it very seriously and very literally. And even if he was joking, you know, it would be very easy to misinterpret. So, it's still something that he is adjusting to. He tends to throw things out there very casually, very undisciplined and that's part of his appeal, right, to his supporters is that he seems very forthright, candid and not scripted. But it does leads to these questions where people say what are you really trying to say here and what do you really believe id you don't actually -- if (INAUDIBLE) easy after these last two months.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But I do think one of the things that really came out of this health care process was there is certain amount of naivete on the part of this President. And you heard him say you knew health care can be so complicated.

We heard him talk the day that they decided to pull this bill about the fact that this is sort of learning curve and loyalty and or cane rules in the House and Senate. He called it a very interesting experience. So, I think we're going to continue to see some of that. And the question is what lessons does he take away from having to pull that bill the first time and does he personally realize that health care is a lot harder than they thought it was going to be.

DAN BALZ, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think that's the key point. What lessons did he learn. And it's easy to say we learned some lessons. But in the aftermath of this, we have not seen any concrete evidence that the administration has decided on a new strategy or any strategy about what to do about this. They're saying yes, there are talks going on. They don't -- Sean Spicer didn't sound today as if they think there's anything moving in a serious direction. So what did they learn from this?

[12:50:07] KING: If you listen to Sean Spicer, I think he probably knew what the President said last night that he was going to be ask about. But he sounded skeptical. He said some Democrats are reaching out or conversations among and between the different Republican factions. But he was trying to say, you know, this is going to take a bit to sort out.

HENDERSON: Yes. And it -- he put it pretty squarely on Congress. He basically said that they're the one who's made a commitment to this, that they would pay a price if they weren't able to make good on those commitments. But guess what? President Trump also made that commitment about repealing and replacing Obamacare. So this idea that his fate isn't tied to Obamacare but Republicans in the House and Senate, their fate is, it's odd.

And also this idea that his fate as president isn't tied to their fate. Like if they don't do well, then he won't do well either because they'll be wiped out in terms of elections.

KING: And to Dan's point about lessons learned, what do we know? I mean, Sean Spicer there said he was being skeptical and anything is going to happen in the short term. What do we know about inside? Because you had this -- the President go back to his announcement speech. He said if you can't make a deal with the politician on this, meaning Obamacare, you're not very good. So, by his own standards right now, the President didn't perform very good to use his words there. But we saw, you know, Steve Bannon, the chief strategist was involved to a degree. The chief of staff Reince Priebus not as involved as you would think. A chief of staff might be normally (ph). The vice president's is a great piece by some of your colleagues in "New York Times" today but the vice president's role in this including quotes from Penn State saying at times they don't think Reince Priebus is up to the task of the legislating part.

But Mike Pence was supposed to be the guy. Now, apparently according to the piece, the President trusted his math when he said the votes aren't there. But I thought he was supposed to be (INAUDIBLE) like Joe Biden get some of these things to the finish line or Tom Price, from the House of Representatives, the health care expert. Mick Mulvaney, a former member of the Freedom Caucus. So they had the issue guy. They had a guy close to the leadership in Mike Pence. They had a Freedom Caucus guy and the budget director and they were unable to get this done. It's pretty damning (ph).

BAKER: Well, I suppose (INAUDIBLE) is what Donald Trump did not do. He did not use the full force of his persona to go out there and really push it in a public way. He did a couple, you know, public events. But basically he was play and inside game and did not bring to bear, the strength of his supporters to put pressure on fellow Republicans to go along. And it may be because he didn't really understand the details of the bill, what he was asking them to do. He didn't seem that engaged in the specs of the negotiation.

KING: And his staff was incapable of getting there. If that's party of a presidential stuff, it's the principal seems off target or not up to speed whether it's on the details or, you know, don't do a rally in Kentucky, go to a Freedom Caucus district. Now that's what the political team is supposed to do.

BALZ: Yes. And this really was ultimately an inside game. I'm not sure you could do public persuasion on this because we know that attitudes on this issue have been in concrete for a long time. The only thing that changed is the Affordable Care Act is more popular now than it was when it was passed and through most of the Obama administration.

But, you know, it comes back to the age-old problem of the Republicans on Capitol Hill and particularly the House conference. And that division there, whatever happened in the election had no impact at least for the short term on that fractured caucus.

KING: Let's spend a little time unpacking a little bit more of what we heard from Sean Spicer. Let me just start with the mood, if you will. It's been pretty contentious in the room lately. The two of you are there quite frequently. I watched from afar. He seemed very almost sedate, non-confrontational state. He started to get a little testy with our Jim Acosta at the end there. But it seemed to be a deliberate effort on his part calling on April Ryan for the first question. He had a spar with her yesterday. American radio correspondent. Take us inside that room. MURRAY: Well, I think, you know, there are more contentious briefings, there are more sedate briefings that kind of bandies back and forth. I do think that he tries to sort of course correct sometimes when things get a little heated. They obviously were yesterday. And we saw him try to remedy that a little bit by calling on April Ryan first who had this difficult interaction with the day before.

But, you know, I think one of the things that sort of adds to this frustration in the room is that Spicer feels like he's being asked the same question over and over again and reporters feel like they're asking him questions that he should be able to answer. And I think the question of who let Devin Nunes into the White House grounds, who was he meeting with is a very clear example of that.

It's not hard for the White House to determine who let someone on the grounds of the White House. That is an answer that is very simple to get. If that is something the administration wanted to share but it's pretty clear they don't want to share this information.

KING: He's going to say, he can get that information -- he is the White House Press Secretary. He could get the answer to that question --

HENDERSON: Yes, yes.

KING: -- boom.

MURRAY: Right.

KING: A phone call, walk across the court room, drive way to the executive office building.

BAKER: The other thing that is interesting is the chronology of this, OK? We all know as you've said and others have said that Sean Spicer has an audience of one. Who is he performing for? Not for the reporters. Certainly, he's performing for his boss. So if he goes out, there are all guns blazing as he did yesterday, we presume that's because his boss wanted him to.

He goes out today more sedate. What does that mean? Did his boss say -- what you for yesterday, maybe you need to pull it back? What was going on behind the scenes before the briefing that caused him to come out and be relatively restrained figure as he was today?

[12:55:13] KING: But he also said nothing that I see that is problematic about the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes who has refused to step aside. White House --

BALZ: He's in the minority on that. That judgment. I mean, the questions about how the chairman has handled himself particularly over the last 10 days are widespread in Washington. And most of it is critical. There are very few defenders except for a few of his close allies.

KING: Yes. Even some Republicans in the House who publicly say he should stay, privately you get a lot of doubts in the Republicans and House.

Everybody, thanks for your patience watching the briefing today. Thanks for joining us on "Inside Politics." See you back here same time tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.