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Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer — #35

Monday, April 10, 2017 14:17
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(Before It's News)

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:45 P.M. EDT

MR. SPICER:  Welcome back, everyone.  Good to see you all after a few days — for those of you who didn’t get a chance to go down to Florida.  

This morning, in the Rose Garden, the President was honored to host the swearing-in of Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch.  His confirmation was the culmination of a thoughtful and deliberative process that the President started almost a year ago when he released his initial list of potential nominees for the Supreme Court.  

In September, he released a final, definitive list, promising to select only from those individuals who would continue the legacy of the great Justice Scalia on the bench.  And today, the President celebrated our new associate justice who will protect our Constitution for generations.  It was definitely a great day to kick off the week, and another productive week that we will see here at the White House.

Before I get into the upcoming week, just a couple updates from over the weekend.  First, the President spoke with Prime Minister Lofven of Sweden to express our condolences for the loved ones who were killed in Friday’s terrorist attack in central Stockholm, Sweden, and to wish a speedy recovery for those who were wounded.  

The President also called President Sisi yesterday to convey his deepest condolences to Egypt and the families who lost loved ones in the heinous attack that occurred there.  Dozens of innocent people were killed and many more were injured on holy Palm Sunday.  The United States condemns in the strongest terms these barbaric attacks on Christian places of worship in Tanta and in Alexandria.

The President also spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia, the Prime Minister of Japan, the Acting President of South Korea, all about the United States’ military strike on the airfield in Syria.  All of the leaders expressed support for the United States’ necessary action in response to the horrible chemical and bomb attack on innocent civilians.  

And yesterday, he spoke with Commander Andria Slough, the commanding officer of the USS Porter, and Commander Russell Caldwell, the commanding officer of the USS Ross, to thank them and their teams for successfully carrying out that strike.  During these calls, the President communicated that he could not be more proud of the crews of these two ships and their flawless execution of these operations.  

As you know, these ships, between the two of them, sent 59 Tomahawk missiles and each of them hit all of their targets, showing America’s power and the military’s accuracy, which is just a small representation of our military’s overall capability and a fraction of what this President will continue to build up the military to be throughout his administration.  The sight of people being gassed and blown away by barrel bombs ensures that if we see this kind of action again, we hold open the possibility of future action.  

The resulting action of what happened ensured that their fueling operation is gone from this air facility, 20 percent of their fixed-wing aircraft were destroyed and knocked out, and I think by all measures, the world and domestic reaction was highly laudable for the President’s action.

Additionally, obviously, we're all aware that the President had a very successful visit with the Chinese President, and it concluded on Friday.  As you’ve read, one of the most significant developments from these discussions was the agreement to create a 100-day initial plan — hopefully with some tangible near-term deliverables — to lead to a more balanced economic relationship between our two countries.  As that develops, we'll make sure that we provide you with additional details.

And this morning, the President was glad to see Toyota announce that it will be spending $1.33 billion in its Kentucky plant as part of its plan to invest $10 billion in America over the next five years, a continued signal of the confidence that businesses have in the American economy under President Trump.

Now, in terms of the week ahead.  Tomorrow, the President will have a discussion on strategy and policy with several members of his Cabinet and a group of CEOs.  This is a follow-up from his meeting with 20 CEOs from the Strategic and Policy Forum just this past February, with some of the same business leaders and some new ones.

First, they’ll meet in small interactive groups, each led by a Cabinet member, to discuss the priorities for those Cabinet Secretaries and their agencies.  The President will then oversee a report that will be presented to the group — by the group, rather.  The Cabinet-level participants will be Secretary of Commerce Ross, Secretary of Education DeVos, EPA Administrator Pruitt, OMB Director Mulvaney, and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.  We’ll have the full list of additional participants for you later.

As part of the effort to deescalate the conflict in Syria and press for a political process that can resolve the conflict and eventually result in a transition of a new, legitimate Syrian leadership, U.S.* [U.N.] Special Envoy for Syria will be coming to Washington tomorrow for consultations with the State Department and with National Security Advisor McMaster here at the White House, among others.  He has been overseeing the political talks among Syrian parties in Geneva.

On Wednesday, we will welcome the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, to the White House.  The President and Secretary General will have a joint press conference later in the afternoon.

And then the President plans to spend the Easter holiday in Florida, and he’ll return to the White House on Sunday.

As the President noted today, as we hit day 81 in the President’s administration, we have done so many great things, including nominate and confirm a Supreme Court justice; roll back more regulations than any President in modern times; roll back the Obama-era war on coal, oil and natural gas; restore confidence in the economy.  We're now seeing historic levels of consumer, CEO, homebuilder, manufacture confidence.  There’s been a 12 percent gain in the stock market.  We've even seen a real resurgence in the mining industry.  We've reduced illegal boarding* [border] crossings by over 60 percent to the lowest level in nearly two decades, and implemented historic ethics reforms, including a five-year lobbying ban and a lifetime foreign ban.

So with that, I'd be glad to take your questions.

Q    Why is it okay to bomb Syria but not okay to assist the refugees?  One.  And number two, what is the reaction — this administration’s reaction to Russia saying we are running a danger of a real war within the Middle East?

MR. SPICER:  Well, with respect to number one, the reason that we took action was multifold — number one, to stop the proliferation and deterrence of chemical weapons.  When you see mass weapons of destruction being used it should be a concern to every nation, especially our own people.  The proliferation of those weapons pose a grave threat to our national security.  So, number one, we have to stop that.  

Number two, we have to stop ISIS.  But with respect to the people of Syria, by us taking action and deescalating what’s going on in Syria, that's the greatest thing you can do to support those people.  Deescalating the conflict there, containing ISIS is the greatest aspect of humanitarian relief that we can provide, first and foremost. 

Secondly, creating areas in which we can work with allies, including Russia, in committing to ensuring that there are places that are free from violence and are places free for people to gather safely is another.  Because I think everyone would agree that the last thing people want to do there is leave.  They want to stay there.  They want to be in Syria.  They want to have a safe place to remain with their families and not be separated.  

So our number-one priority is to defeat ISIS, but we're also, I think from a humanitarian standpoint and a refugee standpoint, ensuring that we create an environment that provides a safe place for them to ultimately remain.

And then on Russia, in particular, look, I think that if you look at the countries that are with us, it speaks pretty loudly the number of countries that have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with this President.  Russia, on the other hand, stands with Syria, North Korea and Iran.  I think when you contrast the two groups of country sets, it's pretty clear that we're on the right side of this issue.

Q    Right.  So does that mean we're going to commit troops?  I mean, there’s talking about a war.

MR. SPICER:  No, no, what it means is that I think the action that we took last week has been widely praised, domestically and internationally, as a great step to ensure the deterrence and proliferation of chemical weapons and of action against innocent people.  When you watch babies and children being gassed and suffer under barrel bombs, you are instantaneously moved to action.  I think this President has made it very clear that if those actions were to continue, further action will definitely be considered by the United States.

We continue to urge further the world community to join us in this, in both stopping — the deterrence — and proliferation of use of those weapons, but then further, trying to create a political environment that will result in new leadership.  Those are very important.  They go hand in hand.

Q    Are we building a coalition or –

MR. SPICER:  I think we have a — I mean, again, I think if you look at who’s not with us, it's a pretty small group and not a group that too many people are looking to bring on board.  I mean, you got Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Russia on one side of this.  That's a pretty small group.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  President Trump has spoken out extensively about the crimes of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.  Does the President consider Assad a war criminal?  And does he believe Assad should eventually appear before the ICC?

MR. SPICER:  I think right now the focus is twofold.  One is defeating ISIS, and the second is creating the political environment necessary for the Syrian people to have new leadership there.  I don't think that there’s — I can't imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where Bashar al-Assad is in power.  I think we all recognize that that happens — and there can be a multipronged approach; we are ensuring that ISIS is contained and that there’s a de-escalation of the proliferation of chemical weapons, at the same time, creating the environment for a change of leadership.

Q    Does the President believe Assad has committed a war crime? 

MR. SPICER:  I think that there is a court that decides those things.  And obviously, there’s a reason that — well, I clearly — the actions — when you take an action against the people that he has, and I think we feel unbelievably confident in the intelligence that we have.  But again, that would be something for a court to decide.


Q    A lot of people are talking about what the Trump doctrine is on foreign policy, what it may or may not include, and the President even stated that he was very flexible.  Do you know what the Trump doctrine is on foreign policy, and can you explain it to us?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I think the Trump doctrine is something that he articulated throughout the campaign, which is that’s America is first.  We’re going to make sure that our national interests are protected; that we do what we can to make sure that our interests, both economically and national security, are at the forefront; and we’re not just going to become the world’s policeman running around the world, but that we have to find a clear and defined national interest wherever we act and that it’s our national security, first and foremost, that has to deal with how we act.

Q    The action in Syria fits in that doctrine?

MR. SPICER:  Absolutely.  I think if you recognize the threat that our country and our people face if there is a growth of use or spread of chemical weapons of mass destruction, those — the proliferation of those, the spread to other groups is a clear danger to our country and to our people


Q    Sean, thank you.  I was just going to follow up on what you were saying about Bashar al-Assad.  Are you saying that defeating ISIS and getting Bashar al-Assad out of power through a political process should happen at the same time?

MR. SPICER:  I think — I’m not trying to — how you sequence them, but I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.  I don’t think that you have to do one and another.  But I think they kind of go hand in hand.  As you reduce ISIS’s strength, as you deescalate the conflict in Syria, the political environment to remove him becomes stronger and stronger.

Q    And just to be clear, Secretary Tillerson, over the weekend, said we can navigate a political outcome in which the Syrian people will determine Bashar al-Assad’s fate and his legitimacy.  Nikki Haley seemed to align more with what you were saying.  She said, no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government.  So who better reflects the –

MR. SPICER:  I don’t think that’s — I don’t think those are mutually exclusive statements.

Q    How so?

MR. SPICER:  Because I don’t think — I think that you can — one of them is saying, we don’t see peace with him in charge.  The other one is saying, we need to have him gone.  I think that’s the point of both.  The goal for both of them — the goal for the United States is twofold, as I’ve stated.  It’s, one, to make sure that we destabilize Syria — destabilize the conflict there, reduce the threat of ISIS.  

But then, secondly, is create the political environment not just within the Syrian people, but I think you can have — work with Russia, in particular, to make sure that they understand that Syria, backed up by Russia’s own accounting, should be held accountable for the agreements that it’s made with respect to its international agreements on chemical weapons alone.

Q    And can you defeat ISIS with Assad still in power?

MR. SPICER:  Yes.  Sure.  But I think that — I think you can defeat ISIS with him in power.  I think that obviously, to your point, it’s not like there’s a single track that says you have to do it.  I mean, if we can get both at the same time, or one happens after another, that’s fine as well.  But I think that we obviously — the number-one threat that America faces is ISIS in that region, and we’ve got to make sure that we do everything we can to do that.

Q    And just finally, when Secretary Tillerson meets with his Russian counterpart, what is his specific message going to be?  Is he going to threaten, potentially, more sanctions if Russia doesn’t get – 

MR. SPICER:  Look, I think he is on his way there tomorrow, and I’ll let Secretary Tillerson talk about his meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov.  I think there’s a lot of things to obviously discuss — the overall fight on ISIS.  But I think with respect to Syria, in particular, I think we need to remind them of the commitments that they’ve made, and the commitments that Syria has made.  And I think that –

Q    (Inaudible.)
MR. SPICER:  I think that, first and foremost, we need to make sure that we all understand what the situation is on the ground.  There is no question who acted in this case and what Syria did.  And I think that we need to make sure that Russia fully understands the actions that Assad took, the commitments that Syria has made, and Russia has equally agreed to the same understanding.  So that getting them back on the same page, first and foremost, would seem the logical step.

But secondly, and I guess equally as important, is to make sure that the areas where we can find a commitment to defeat ISIS is something that we share.


Q    So would the President want the Secretary of State to put the threat of sanctions on the table to get Russia’s attention in this matter?  Because the Secretary of State said Russia is either complicit or incompetent.  What does the President believe Russia actually is in this –

MR. SPICER:  Well, look, we’ll have plenty of time to discuss how those talks go.  I don’t want to — the one thing the President has been very clear on from the get-go is that he doesn’t like to telegraph all the cards that he has.  I think he wants to see how that conversation goes with Secretary Tillerson.  If we can get them to agree to commit to action on defeating ISIS, get –

Q    What kind of action?
MR. SPICER:  Well, I think that’s what they’re going to have a discussion about.  I think that we need to see what goes beyond rhetoric and what goes — where that talk start, and what they’re willing to commit to in action.  I think that’s important.  I think to get ahead of this right now, before they meet, is not something I want to do.  I’d like to let Secretary Tillerson meet with Lavrov, have that conversation, and then report back.

Q    Two more, quickly, about the White House itself.  What is the President’s perspective on the ability — the current ability of his senior advisors to resolve their ideological differences, resolve their personality differences, and work as a team?

MR. SPICER:  He’s very confident in that.

Q    Why?

MR. SPICER:  Because this is the same group, with the same ideologies, the same strengths, that came together for a common purpose to win a campaign.  There is an unbelievably talented team at the senior level, and at the mid-level, and, frankly, all the way down to the bottom level of this administration that is committed to the President’s agenda.

I said this multiple times throughout the transition, that everybody that came into this administration, while they might have a personal view or an action on an issue, they understand 
— understood and understand the President’s vision and agenda.  And their goal of coming into this was to understand, first and foremost, that it is the President who made pledges and promises to the American people about the direction he’d take this country and the actions he has taken.  

And he is doing that.  And I just read off a series of them in terms of the judges that he’s appointed, the Congressional Review Act pieces of legislation that the signed, the executive orders.  When you look at the actions that he’s taken and the results that he’s getting — 60 percent down on the border. Nobody would dispute the fact that immigration was a hot topic during this campaign, and the President’s actions are seeing results.  And I think you’re seeing it both on the market and on a national security front.

So he understands that we have some pretty smart, talented individuals who are opinionated on a lot of subjects, but that our battles and our policy differences need to be behind closed doors; we need to focus, and ultimately all come out committed to advancing the President’s agenda.  

But he is completely aware of the talent that he has, and that’s part of the reason that he’s brought this team together, is because of the talent and successes and accomplishments they’ve had on a variety of backgrounds.  And he fully believes that they are going to continue to push forward to advance his agenda.

Q    – led him to have or order this meeting on Friday where the two principals, Bannon and Jared Kushner, were essentially told by the President, cool this and get along and get on the same page?

MR. SPICER:  Well, look, I think there’s a lot of stuff that was overblown about this that makes it out into the media sometimes and gets a little bit more sensational than it truly is.  But I think the President is obviously very pleased with the last week that he’s had and the accomplishments, especially on the foreign policy front.  I think we had an unbelievably helpful and productive meeting with the Chinese.  His meeting with King Abdullah was unbelievable, and he’s continued to have very strong foreign policy wins in terms of the relationships that we’re making with other heads of state.  The attack on Syria won not just bipartisan praise here at home, but world praise.  

And I think that he recognizes that sometimes some of this spills over in these policy differences and discussions, and he’s made sure that the focus stays on advancing the agenda.

Q    Sean, thanks.  If you’re saying one of the priorities is to see a regime change in Syria, how far is the President willing to go to see Bashar al-Assad out of power there?

MR. SPICER:  So, just to be clear, I can’t — I don’t think it’s — you can’t imagine a stable and peaceful Syria with Assad in charge.  I just — I don’t think that’s a scenario that’s possible.  But I think that the first step in that has to be to make sure that the region — and Syria, in particular — are stable.  You can’t have ISIS marching through Syria and then worry mostly about who’s in charge right now.  

We’ve got to make sure that, first and foremost, in terms of our national security — I think it was Brian’s question at the beginning — our national security is the first and foremost reason that we have to act.  And as ISIS is proliferating and chemicals of mass destruction are on the rise there, we’ve got to contain that.  Then once that’s done, I think we can apply political, economic, and diplomatic pressure for a regime change.

Now, they can work in tandem.  I’m not trying to — but the bottom line is the first priority is still the containment of ISIS and the conflicts that’s occurring.

Q    And is the red line — just to clarify — the red line for this White House — chemical warfare — is conventional warfare enough to get the President to go further there than this White House has gone before?

MR. SPICER:  Look, I think the President has been very clear that there were a number of lines that were crossed last week.  He’s not going to sit down — we saw that in the last administration.  They drew these red lines, and then the red lines were run over.  I don’t think you’re going to see the same play.  

I think what not just Syria but the world saw last week is a President that is going to act decisively and proportionally and with justification when it comes to actions like that.  And I will tell you, the answer is, is that if you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb in to innocent people, I think you can — you will see a response from this President.  That is unacceptable.  And I think the rest of the –

Q    – bomb?  

MR. SPICER:  I think — look, again, one of the things that I don’t want to start doing, Cecelia, is say, if you do this, this is the reaction that you’re going to get.  The President has made very clear throughout his time in the campaign, through the transition, and now, as President, that he’s not going to telegraph a response to every corresponding action, because that just tells the opposition or the enemy what you’re going to do and whether or not that response is worth taking.  The President is going to be very clear that he’s going to keep his cards close to the vest.  But make no mistake, he will act.


Q    Thanks a lot, Sean.  I wanted to ask you about the reaction that the President took in terms of military involvement last week.  You said in your statement that all 59 of those cruise missiles hit their intended target, and yet we’re seeing reports that that military airbase in Syria continues to be used by the Syrian military.  Given that, how can you consider that particular — a success?

MR. SPICER:  Well, because I think, from what you’re hearing, you’ve taken two pre-fueled planes and taken them off.  It’s a PR stunt.  The bottom line is their fueling capability has been taken out, their radar capability was taken out, and over 20 percent of their fixed-wing aircraft from their entire air force was taken out.  Their ability to operate successfully out of that airbase is gone.

Like I said, they — as a PR stunt, they took some pre-fueled planes, pushed them over to make it look like nothing is — but make no mistake about it, their radar capability is gone, their fueling capability is gone, and a good chunk of their aircraft is gone.  That’s a huge success.  

Q    I just want to ask you one other question following up on what Major Garrett asked, sort of about these reports of a shake-up at the White House.  There have been various reports that the Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. MacFarland is stepping down from that post.  She'll take on the post of U.S. ambassador to Singapore.  Can you confirm that?  And what's behind that particular move if, indeed, that's the case?

MR. SPICER:  I appreciate — look, I've said many times before that we're not going to get into personnel announcements until they're ready to announce.  I would say two points on that.  One, when General McMaster was announced, it was pretty clear — we said it at the time — you all asked the question, whether or not he would have the ability to shape the National Security Council in his liking, with the President's concurrence — I think you've pretty much seen that that was an accurate statement at the time and it continues to be now.  And General McMaster has the President's confidence to ensure that our National Security Council is shaped in a manner that best serves the President of the United States in every way, shape, or form. 

Secondly, to your point — I think the staff said it over the weekend, I'll reiterate it — the only thing that's being shaken up in Washington right now is — or is being shaken up is Washington.  I think this President continues to show that he is going to be a disrupter and do things differently and bring real change to Washington.

John Gizzi.

Q    Thank you, Sean.  Two questions.  First, the previous administration was in touch with the Assad opposition and gathered conclaves of different groups, including the Free Syrian Army.  Is this administration in touch with the same anti-Assad forces, political and military?

MR. SPICER:  I'm not going to go into details on what we're doing and who we're talking to.  I think that obviously didn’t prove too successful the last cycle, the last administration, in terms of regime change.  So I'm going to not get into telegraphing what we're doing and how we're doing it.

Q    And on the domestic front, Congressman Ron DeSantis wrote the President just last week to call, in very strong language, for him, by executive order, to end what he calls the OPM rule of 2013.  That was an executive order, of course, that undercut the Affordable Care Act's amendment, saying that members of Congress and their staff could not get healthcare and special subsidies unlike any other American.  And he said, as soon as that is eliminated, Congress will move faster because they and their staff will not have special treatment.  Is the President going to use his pen and get rid of the OPM order?

MR. SPICER:  I'll have to look at that.  I know Secretary Price has been dealing with a lot of it.  I know that's an OPM order.  Secretary Price has been reviewing all of the necessary implementation, documents, and orders with respect to Obamacare.  I know that he's working with Director Mulvaney.  Director Mulvaney, I anticipate, will be here with you guys at some point, probably tomorrow, to talk about some reorganizing of government.  That might be an appropriate time to talk to him specifically about that.


Q    Thanks, Sean.  The list of judges that the President put out last year, saying these are the people I would consider nominating — and you referred to earlier — in the end, Democrats still tried to filibuster Judge Gorsuch.  So what difference, from that perspective, did putting out that list make in the end?

MR. SPICER:  That's a great question.  I think what it showed, first and foremost, is the President kept his word.  The President put out a list of people and campaigned on it, and said, if you elect me, these are the type of justices that I will choose from.  And they are originalists.  They are going to read and interpret the Constitution as it was written and meant to be.  And I think the American people, in a lot of cases — if you look at exit polling — voted for him in a lot of cases because of that.

I think it shows that, again, whether or not you disagree or agree with the President, sometimes philosophically, he gets high marks for keeping his word.  I think that means a lot, that he went out on a number of topics, including the type of justice that he would appoint, put it before the American people, allowed them to vote up or down at the ballot box.  And it's an affirmation of the kind of justice that he wants, but it's also a continuation to know that the President is going to be someone who makes a pledge to the American people and keeps it.

Q    He's going to obviously have other federal judges to nominate.

MR. SPICER:  I hope so.  

Q    What else did this process teach him?  Anything?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think, from a political side, it was pretty obvious that you can disagree with Judge Gorsuch's judicial philosophy, but I think by every standard he was a very highly qualified justice.  The American Bar Association rated him their highest.  The people who have worked with him in the past, his judicial record in terms of the number of cases where he was in the mainstream and Democratic appointees sided with him.  And I think it basically showed the President that trying to work Senate Democrats wasn’t really — was somewhat of a futile task; that these were people who made up their mind, by and large, regardless of who the person was, they were going to vote it down.

So that was probably the biggest lesson.  But it also shows that when you've got the right individual, you've got someone who's eminently qualified, we're going to succeed in getting it done.


Q    Sean, let me turn your attention to tax reform real quick.  And I got a few others.  There's a report out there that says the President has basically gone back to the drawing board as it relates to taxes.  Is that accurate?


Q    Or does he still — what he put out there on the campaign trail, is that still the backbone of what he wants to see get done?

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, I mean, that's the backbone.  But I think that what you're seeing is us going through this process of his economic team — everyone from Secretary Mnuchin to Secretary Ross to Gary Cohn and others sitting down internally and beginning that process of meeting with groups that have been advocating for tax reform since 1986 — kind of the ink of that one dried — and starting to meet with outside groups, industry groups, individuals, members of Congress, to get their input.  This is going to be a major undertaking, and I think we want to make sure that we listen, have their ideas and their input as we move forward.  But this is the beginning phases of that process.

Q    You mentioned Gary Cohn.  He said on Friday that there's been this August deadline that Steve Mnuchin and others have talked about.  On Friday, Gary Cohn suggested that August might not be the deadline.  Is this timeline getting pushed at this point?

MR. SPICER:  Well, it's not getting pushed.  I think it's getting — obviously that still would be a great opportunity before they leave for August recess.  But we're going to make sure that we do this right and we do it with the input of all of the individual groups and members of Congress that have had a longtime interest in doing this.

And it is a big deal, right?  You've got the ability for our businesses and industries to be more competitive in the global market, and then you want to make sure that you're providing middle-income tax relief that creates economic growth throughout the country.

Q    Americans are filling out their tax forms right now for 2016.  This time, next year, they're going to fill it out for 2017.  Will they have a 2017 tax cut this time next year?

MR. SPICER:  I think middle-income Americans I hope have a tax cut by then.


Q    Sean, during the campaign –

MR. SPICER:  Sorry, it's –

Q    Sorry.  You can go next.  (Laughter.)  

MR. SPICER:  Be careful with that.  (Laughter.)  

Q    The President, then-candidate Trump, was pretty critical — or, excuse me — was pretty complimentary of President Putin.  Now, after seeing how Russia has reacted in Syria, what's his view of President Putin now?

MR. SPICER:  I think it's always been the same, respectfully, which is that if we can get a deal — we have a shared interest in, particularly in the area of ISIS, and if we can defeat them and if we can work with them on a plan to defeat them, then we're going to do it.  But he’s also said — and I think sometimes people cut off part of the quote, which is if we can't work with them, then, okay.  

But the President came into office to really focus on two fronts — keeping our country safe, and growing our economy and putting people back to work.  And I think if Russia or any other country can help us achieve those two goals either through market access or additional products and services from the United States into a major marketplace, but more importantly, how to keep our country safe through a combined effort to defeat something like ISIS, especially in a place like Syria where their planes are (inaudible) — then I think we want to work with them.

But if we can't get a deal with them, then the President is not going to be disappointed.  But he would like to do what he can to work with these individuals to make it happen.

Q    Would he still describe him in the same way that he did several months ago as a leader who he (inaudible) than President Obama?

MR. SPICER:  I think we'll wait and see.  We're 81 days in.  I think Secretary Tillerson will have a lot of information after he meets with Foreign Secretary Lavrov.  

Q    Can I ask you one other question on trade?


Q    You mentioned the 100 days that President and President of China agreed on.  Did China offer to give U.S. concessions on beef exports and financial investments as part of that?

MR. SPICER:  Look, this is an initial working plan that they’re going to try to hammer out what that 100 days looks like.  And then they call them way stations — like what are those stops between a 100 days and now that would be things that both sides would be looking at.  And I think obviously beef exports and additional market access in China, intellectual property, the ability to have foreign ownership, especially in the services industry, is something that has been of a prize of U.S. exporters and industry for a long time.  But it is something that is being hammered out as we go forward.

So the plan was to put together a plan, and there’s a lot of pieces that both sides would like to see in there and these benchmarks between now and those 100 days.  But that plan is something that they talked about putting together during the — just over the day that they met together.  And it is something that the counterparts are now going to continue to flesh out.

So there’s a lot of topics that got put on the table.  We're going to see how that works.


Q    Thank you, Sean.  What is the status of the renegotiation of NAFTA?  And what is the White House doing to treat NAFTA in U.S. interests?  And is there a concern about getting it done before the Mexican elections heat up at the end of the year?

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think the first thing with respect to trade is we need to have the Senate to approve Robert Lighthizer as the next U.S. Trade Representative.  That's obviously — USTR drives that.  And so our focus is getting that done, and then we'll be ready to go.  We still have an official 90-day notification that we have to give Congress, and so once we get Ambassador Lighthizer confirmed we'll be ready to probably announce a better work plan on that.  But as of right now, that's not there.


Q    I just wonder — when Mr. Trump as a private citizen had a lot to say about Syria.  One of the things he said that the President — then President Obama — needs to seek congressional approval.  Some members of Congress believe he should as well.  What is his plan to explain his strategy in a broader sense?  And why does he not need congressional approval in this deal?

MR. SPICER:  I think Article 2 of the Constitution is pretty clear that when it's in the national interest of the country, the President has the full authority to act.  He did that.  He and his team spoke extensively to congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle that night to describe the action that was being taken forward.  So I think we have fully fulfilled every obligation.  But the power vested in Article 2 is very clear with the President’s ability to act.

Q    In terms of things happening here at the White House behind the scenes with his staff members, obviously there was some ideological and policy differences on this particular military action last week.  Does the President believe, or do you believe, that this has been smoothed over in the short term, or there has been a long-term solution to the fighting between Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and others?

MR. SPICER:  Are you talking specifically of Syria, or are you talking –

Q    Specifically with Syria, there was a disagreement.  But is this a short term fix to this problem, or do you believe, does the President believe, that there is a longer-team fix to this infighting that has really plagued the administration?

MR. SPICER:  Well, again, I'd say a couple things, Jeff.  One is that a lot of this is, frankly, overblown.  But number two is, the reason the President has brought this team together is all for a diverse set of opinions.  He doesn’t want a monolithical kind of thought process going through the White House.  He wants a diverse set of opinions.  He is the decider.  He has people come in and give him a variety of options and plans.  He went back and forth over that 72-hour period where he wanted additional options, additional explanations and questions answered.  That's how he’s going to deal.

And so whether it's this, healthcare, tax reform, trade, he’s got a divergent set of opinions here of experts.  The idea isn't to have one set of thought and policy flowing through, it's to give the President the best advice as possible, but that once the President makes a decision, that the team is on board a hundred percent to make sure that we do what’s in the best interest of the country and fulfill the agenda he’s laid out.

So I don't — I think the President wants to have a series of ideas and thoughts put forward to him.  That's how he’s going to make the best opinion — best decision possible for this country.

Q    It must have crossed a line if he said to work it out.

MR. SPICER:  Well, I think sometimes — again, I'm not going to get into what happens internally, but I think sometime some things might spill out in the public more than other things.  But there is always going to be a healthy debate internally on a variety of policy issues among the Cabinet, among the staff, to make sure that the President sees every option that's available, every opinion that he should weigh and counter before he makes a final decision.  

`It's just sometimes I think sometimes those discussions may come out a little bit more publicly than they do.  But I think  – as I noted in the beginning, I thought there was a lot of overblown coverage of how it actually happened and what went down.

Q    And on sticking with Steve Bannon –

MR. SPICER:  He’s very confident in the team that he has, that they have an unbelievable amount of knowledge, and he believes the counsel that they all bring to the table.

Thank you guys very much.  I'll see you tomorrow.

2:23 P.M. EDT


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