In lieu of a daily White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a smaller press “gaggle” earlier today taking questions from pool reporters. The transcript follows:
11:40 A.M. EST – MR. SPICER: Hi, guys. I’m going to try to keep this relatively short. We got a few things going on today, and I know that the pool has got to get out to do a spray at some point soon with the lunch.
So, obviously, last night was a big night for the President and for everyone here at the White House. The President delivered a powerful statement to Congress, to Americans, and the world last night. It was an optimistic, forward-looking message of unity, strength, straight from his heart.
The President was proud to stand before the American people last night and present his roadmap for a renewal of the American spirit. He honestly and — he honestly acknowledged the undeniable challenges that we face, but continually reminded us there’s no challenge facing this country that we can’t meet if we join together.
The American spirit has already proven itself against seemingly insurmountable odds, and we’ll do it again under the leadership of this President.
Republicans and Democrats may be divided on policies, but we’re also united in our mission to achieve peace and prosperity for every American citizen. The President has obviously been humbled by the great reception that the — the reception that his address received. Today, the President is holding a series of meetings with White House staff, congressional leaders, and others to drive the goals that he laid out last night.
He’ll host shortly a leadership lunch with House and Senate Republican leadership. The attendees will include the Vice President, Leader McConnell, Speaker Ryan, Senator Cornyn, Leader McCarthy, Congressman Scalise, Senator Gardiner and Senator Perdue.
Last night’s address clearly generated a lot of momentum, and the President is anxious to continue working on an ambitious legislative agenda. During his speech last night, the President mentioned policies in key areas, from urban renewal to trade reform, where too many leading agencies and departments in charge of implementing are still waiting on their confirmed leaders.
The President was pleased, obviously, to see that Ryan Zinke was confirmed as the Secretary of the Interior by the Senate just a short time ago. So the confirmation process is now coming to an end for him, and start to get the work going.
As the President mentioned in last night’s remarks — and, by the way, one quick note, we’ll have an update on his swearing-in hopefully soon. As the President mentioned in last night’s remarks, he’s calling on Congress to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a patient-focused system that expands options, lowers costs, and improves healthcare outcomes for all Americans. He’s ready to restart the honest engine — to restart the engine of the American economy, which means tax reform that brings down rates for the middle class and simplifies the tax code, a robust infrastructure program and a budget that puts the interests of American people first.
The President and congressional leaders will work together today to continue to chart a path forward on those issues and more. Also, today, Judge Neil Gorsuch will be back up on the Hill meeting with seven senators, including Senators Booker, Sanders, Barrasso and Kaine. And lastly, this evening, the President will have dinner with Secretary Tillerson.
Looking ahead, I know Sarah was kind enough to come brief you yesterday about the President’s trip to Hampton Roads tomorrow. I’ll have a few more details for you on that. The President is looking forward to meeting with the members of the Navy and some of the sailors down there, the shipbuilders, including the lead shipbuilder of the USS Gerald Ford and the ship’s commander, before giving remarks on deck to a group of shipbuilders and sailors.
On Friday, the President will be in Orlando, Florida for a series of important events highlighting his educational agenda. He’ll be visiting St. Andrews Catholic School, where I think you can expect him to drop in on a few lucky classrooms, as well as meeting with parents, teachers, and administrators. Education, as was noted last night from the President, is a top priority. He has said many times before that education has the ability to level the playing field for the next generation. Obviously, last night he noted that he believes this is the civil rights issue of this generation. He is determined to provide choice for every parent, and opportunities for every child, regardless of their zip code. I expect he will be speaking with the parents and teachers and administrators at St. Andrews on his upcoming plans for reaching that goal.
And finally, I want to note that the President is monitoring the situation in the Midwest, where a string of tornadoes is devastating several states with more severe weather predicted for the coming states — for the coming days. Three lives have already been tragically cut short. The families of those victims and also those who have had their homes and property destroyed are in the President’s thoughts and prayers. The millions of people in the path of severe weather will be at the top of his mind over the next few days. He implores everyone to follow the directions of emergency services and stay inside, and obviously will continue to be in contact with state and local officials to provide the necessary federal support that is required.
With that, I’m glad to take some questions.
Q On the lunch today, was it always —
MR. SPICER: John Roberts. (Laughter.)
Q — was it always just going to be Republican leadership? Were the Democrats ever invited? Will he meet with the Democrats?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, I’m sure he will. And you’ve seen he’s met with a bipartisan group of Senate leaders last week. He met with a bipartisan group of attorney general yesterday. He met with the bipartisan group of governors. I mean, just to be factual here, at some point, the people who set the agenda and the timetable to enact his agenda are Republican, and so there’s a difference between meeting with both sides of the aisle, and I think he has pretty well shown a desire to reach across the aisle in the last month. But this is about actually charting out the agenda and the timeline, and that’s why it’s both groups. But yeah, I think you’ll continue to see not just — in the next week, not just leadership but rank-and-file members of the House and the Senate with that aim.
Q Sean, the Dow Jones crossed 21,000 for the first time today.
MR. SPICER: It did.
Q Does the White House believe that that’s a reaction to the President’s speech last night?
MR. SPICER: (Laughter.) Look, I’m not an economist. I don’t want to — I know the Dow goes up and down, as well as the other indexes, and I don’t want to get in the habit of commenting every time the Dow hits. But I think that you’ve seen a sustained economic boon since the President was elected. He commented on it last night.
I think you’re seeing not just the Dow react, but manufacturers, business leaders, folks from small and large companies talk about it. And I think that there is a renewed sense of wanting to business, and of economic growth and optimism. You’ve seen it in not just in the indexes on a day-to-day basis as they go up and down, but also in the confidence numbers that show that there is a continued growth in the confidence in our economy and our market and our policies.
Look, I don’t want to tie a direct link. I think that that’s — you know, we could go back and forth every day about where the market stands at any given time in a day. But I would have to believe that when you talk to a lot of economists, they — and frankly, not just the economists who look at it academically and try to parse it, but when you talk to these company CEOs and leaders that he’s talking to, there is a renewed sense of confidence in their country, in the agenda, in the desire to hire and grow and expand in the United States, and I can only see that as a positive sign, not just for the market, but for our entire economy.
Q How long — to follow up on that — how long does the President think he can wait in order to provide specifics on tax reform and Obamacare and the others before we start to lose that sense of momentum and confidence that you’re talking about in the markets?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think it’s not just those pieces. Obviously, it’s bigger than just that. But I think that, with respect to Obamacare, he’s talked about the next few weeks having something out there, and then same with tax reform. And I think both of those things that we’ll be working with the Hill. Secretary Mnuchin mentioned the other day that hopefully having a tax plan done by (inaudible).
But both of those, specifically, are massive undertakings. And the idea that they are going to be done in two seconds is a little bit of a fallacy, and I think that we’ve given folks updates and guidelines as far as when we see this thing moving. And I think that that’s a pretty good guide of where we go.
Q Sean, Governor Beshear said on Morning Joe today — I’m paraphrasing — that people are going to die if GOP healthcare plans more forward. What does the administration say to Democrats suggesting Obamacare repeal will cost American lives?
MR. SPICER: Well, I would suggest to the former governor that, when you look at where Obamacare stands right now — I think I’ve mentioned this before, Jim — but more and more people are facing higher and higher premiums. People are choosing to opt out of the exchange and pay the penalty. It is collapsing on its own.
And I don’t — I think that that’s a bit extreme. The reality is that more people are having problems right now. They’re losing their doctor. They’re losing the plan that they liked. I’d like him to defend — I mean, I read to you guys two days ago Nancy Pelosi’s own definition of success for Obamacare. They had three prongs for that, and they failed on all three of them.
So Governor Beshear — you know, the President last night extended an olive branch to Democrats and Republicans to work with him on a plan that actually achieves the goals that were laid out. That’s what he should — if he wants to be focused, it’s not just former governors, but I think current governors were here to talk about what they want. And so I know Governor Bevin, the current governor of Kentucky, has noted the concerns that Obamacare has in Kentucky now. And I think those are the challenges and problems that the President is seeking to fix on this.
The reality is, is that we have to have a healthcare system that Americans can afford, that give them choice, that have doctors that can deal with the problems they have. And that’s what we’re working with Congress on right now is to get that kind of a plan in place.
Q Thank you, Sean. One brief question.
MR. SPICER: Wow. (Laughter.)
Q Senator Schumer, the Minority Leader, has said that the President is stalling on one of the pivotal points of his agenda — infrastructure — where he could work with Democrats. What’s the administration’s response to Senator Schumer?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think first and foremost, I’m glad to see that he has finally found one area that he’s willing to work with the President on. I know that multiple times this morning he was offered an opportunity on various shows to talk about things that he thought they could work with on the — with the President. And I think it took — in particular, I saw the exchange on NBC and it was somewhat disappointing that when you look at all the things that the President said that I think offered an olive branch to both parties and seemingly should unify the country on issues and on goals, that it’s nice to finally hear that we found one. Because I think there were a lot of areas in that speech last night that transcended party lines and ideology, and that united us all as Americans.
With respect to infrastructure, I think the President noted last night that we’re going to continue to see a plan evolve that’s really structured in a private partner financing mechanism that will continue to move forward. But whether it’s our roads or bridges, our airports, air traffic control, there is an infrastructure piece of our nation that is so vital to the way we do life. And not just that, but — not just the building itself and the construction of it, but those roads are what — are the byway and the pathway to so much of our economic commerce today. And doing them not only is good for the jobs that they will create on the projects, but allowing us to have — allowing products to get to market and consumers to get to business, et cetera, is actually a magnifying event for that.
Q Sean, I’m just looking for some clarification on your comments from the last week about the administration’s stance on recreational marijuana. During the campaign, the President had said that this is a states’ rights issue. Is this still where he believes this issue should flow, or does he believe it’s a federal —
MR. SPICER: Yeah, I think, Trey, there is a specific carve-out in the appropriations for medical marijuana. And I think the President understands that that can be a vital part of treatment, especially for terminally ill patients and people facing certain kinds of medical things. But there is a — I think I was very — I’m sorry if I wasn’t, but I think I was clear that there is a big difference between the medical and the non-medical.
Q Sean, two things on the speech. The President talked about robust engagement when he was talking about foreign policy. But at the same time, the White House is talking about cutting foreign aid by a large amount. How do you track those two things?
MR. SPICER: Well, because you can have engagement — I mean, I don’t know that —
Q Like, who is going to be doing the diplomacy if you’re cutting the State Department funding?
MR. SPICER: I mean, who is going to be doing it? There’s people that do —
Q Who is the lead on foreign policy? Is it the White House or the State Department?
MR. SPICER: Secretary of State.
Q It is the Secretary of State?
MR. SPICER: Of course, it is. I mean, look, the President obviously guides our foreign policy in terms of who implements it, whether it’s — if you talk about healthcare, it’s going to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services. If it’s on trade, it’s going to be the USTR. I mean, so it’s pretty clear that the Secretary of State implements the President’s foreign policy agenda.
Q Right, but more robust versus cutting. They sound contradictory —
MR. SPICER: But, again, I think this is a very Washington trap. Just because dollars do not decide engagement — I think one of the things that’s fascinating is that as the President has talked to all of these foreign leaders — I don’t know in a single case — and, again, I can’t say I’ve been on every call — but I can’t think of — maybe one or two or something, because again, I don’t want to get in a trap of trying to — but I cannot say in most cases, at least, that I’ve heard direct aid being a discussion that has come up.
In fact, what I hear more often is: “Gosh, we haven’t heard from the United States in a long time. We haven’t had you engage in issues of concern with us. We haven’t talked about trade. We haven’t talked about other issues of bilateral concern.” I think that’s what a robust, healthy, bilateral relationship with a country is about.
I think it is a very Washington-centered argument to literally tie dollars to any program or any type of engagement — to say something is robust by the dollar figure is something that is a very Washington answer. But I think that you can look at dollars that have gotten to a lot of countries. And when we ask them, what’s your relationship been with the United States? They’ll say, we haven’t had much engagement at all with the United States in a while.
Q Sorry, I had a second question —
MR. SPICER: John tried to start something; it just didn’t continue. (Laughter.)
Q In the speech last night, while the President talked about support for vets and support for military, he didn’t talk about the 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, the 5,000 in Iraq, the hundreds of operators on the ground in Syria. Was there a reason that he didn’t lay out his vision for foreign policy in those active war zones?
MR. SPICER: Well, again, I think you could probably go through and say, he also didn’t talk about this or that. He talked about his —
Q The world is watching, and those are clear —
MR. SPICER: I understand that. But you can go through a lot of hotspots that we have in a country. I think when it comes to the military itself, he was very clear about his commitment to the military, his desire to fund the military, give them the infrastructure that it needs. It’s why he’s going to go to Hampton Roads tomorrow to talk about the investment that needs to get made. He talked about veterans and caring for the folks.
So I understand your question. But I think at some point you can literally go through all of the other areas that may not have come up on domestic and foreign policy, other nations that didn’t get a mention, or a hotspot that didn’t get up.
But I think in terms of his commitment to the country, his commitment to defeating ISIS, he did bring that up. He talked about the plan that he wants to have, the engagement that he’s having with the Joint Chiefs in the military, the funding that he wants to lend them.
So I get that you can parse out something and say, “but he didn’t bring up this exact thing.” There’s a lot of things that may or may not have come up last night, and that doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t have the commitment to it.
Q He wasn’t deemphasizing foreign policy?
MR. SPICER: No, I think he talked about ISIS. He talked about the military. He talked about it. So I don’t have —
Q It will not surprise you that I have two questions. The first one is quick.
MR. SPICER: I think for Lent everyone needs to give up two questions. (Laughter.) Or maybe I could at least give up answering two questions. (Laughter.)
Q I’ll make the first one quick, so how about that? Can you update us on where we are on the executive order regarding vetting?
MR. SPICER: Yeah, as I said, we would have an announcement at some point scheduling-wise. When we have one, we’ll announce it. I think the President, as I mentioned a couple days ago, the issue for us has been a continued desire to share with the departments and agencies the ability to implement this, and we continue to do that. When we have a schedule to announce —
Q When do you think —
MR. SPICER: I’ve not — I’ve learned not to put days on things, because until we announce it, it’s much like we’ve talked about all the executive orders, with all the personnel announcements. When the President is ready to make a decision, he lets us know and we let you know. So we’re not there yet.
Q The second question — can you tell us a little bit about the back story with Carryn Owens being there yesterday? She wasn’t on the list you all sent out. When did the President talk to her? When did that happen? When was she invited? Why wasn’t she on the official list? And did they have a chance to visit beforehand?
MR. SPICER: Okay, I’ll take these in order. She was invited on January 30th. In the condolence call to her, the President invited her and her three children to the White House. And during that call, said, “You know, by the way, I’m going to be giving this speech in February. If you would feel comfortable, I would love to have you as a guest.” He asked if she’d like to bring the kids at that time. It was obviously a very raw and emotional time for her, and she said that’s — she appreciated the invitation, she would love to take him up on it, would get back to us. The President asked the military aide in the room at the time to follow up with her. She accepted the invitation. So she and her three children came to the White House yesterday, met with the President prior to the speech, and they had a time to visit before and then after, obviously.
Why she wasn’t on the guidance: We had a conversation with her prior, and just said, you know, I know this is an emotional time for you. Respectfully to you guys, we knew that if we had released her name, that there would be a lot of media attention to her and her family. And we spoke to her before we put out the guest guidance and just said, would you rather us wait and hold? So we made a decision at the time that this was a very raw and emotional time for her, and we didn’t — we worked with her to decide what would be in her best interest and her family’s best interest at this time.
Q Were the children there?
MR. SPICER: No, they were not there.
Q But her parents were there, correct?
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q But the children were in town —
MR. SPICER: The children were in town. They visited the White House. They had an opportunity to visit the Navy Mess, have lunch, go up and see — and so the President got to see them. And they got a tour of the White House.
Q Was there some special interaction with Ivanka, because she was sitting next to her? Or it just happened to be where she sat?
MR. SPICER: They met obviously over — and obviously after — at the end of the evening, the President brought them into the room where he was holding, and everybody, including the First Lady, had a chance to talk to her and her family, and mother and father. But, as I said, this was something that was extended — the invitation was extended to her on the 30th of January when the President made that first call to her.
And again, just respectfully in terms of the follow-up, I know there’s been a lot of interest in her, in Carryn. And we have — our goal was to make sure that we respected her wishes and her privacy. And again, even with referencing her in the speech, that was her decision. We asked her — the President would like to raise this. And she said, I’d like that. And so that was coordinated with her in terms of how public she wanted to be and how acknowledged she wanted her and Ryan to be as well.
Q I just thought I’d bring this up so you could respond to it. You must have seen the criticism of her being there and the President mentioning her. And people are saying it’s a photo-op. So since you’re talking about it, do you want to respond to that, that it’s a way to —
MR. SPICER: I think that that’s — I mean, again, he invited her on January 30th and extended an invitation. I don’t — it was she who accepted the invitation. I think she has a right to honor the legacy and sacrifice of her husband. And I think — I’ve been in this town 25 years, probably watched State of the Unions for 30 — which doesn’t say a lot — (laughter) — for my viewing habits — but I’ve never seen a sustained applause like that. And I think that you can say what you want about a lot of the policies, but I hope to God that everybody in America could literally say that that’s the country that we live in, that you honor and support, not just Ryan’s sacrifice, but her — what she’s going to go through and what those children are going to go through.
It was amazing — I got a chance to talk to the kids yesterday and see them so — you know, they’re kids, they were happy, they were running around. I don’t know that they fully appreciate the sacrifice that their father has made. But I just — I’m not going to — if that’s the criticism that people that, they have a right to in this country. But I would also suggest that we have the right to honor the people who have served this nation and the sacrifice that the families make of those who serve.
Q Thanks, Sean. There were some quotes floating around last night from anonymous administration officials saying —
MR. SPICER: What? (Laughter.)
Q What a surprise, right? (Laughter.) That part of the reason for the postponement of the announcement of the new travel ban was the positive reception of the speech, and that the administration wants the new executive order to “have its own moment.” Was the speech perception part of the reason —
MR. SPICER: I will just refer you back to what I said to Anita’s first question. We hadn’t made an announcement. And I think that — again, this gets back to personnel announcements, executive order announcements, other things. Until they’re on the schedule, that doesn’t make them official. And that’s the point of making the announcement, is that we say this is where we’re going and this is what we’re doing. We try to provide you guys guidance. Obviously, there’s a reason that we don’t — because sometimes things aren’t ready, sometimes we want to make — the President hasn’t made up his final mind about executing something, or he wants to add something in. It’s the same thing with the speech yesterday. I mean, we worked up until game time because the President wanted to continue to work on it.
But when we have announcements to make, we’ll make them. Until we do, then it’s not final.
Q Thank you. I have two really short questions. The first one on the travel ban. The first request was for 90 days so that you could develop the new vetting regime. Thirty days have passed. I assume that means you’re 30 days into this process. Does that mean that the next travel ban will ask for just the remaining time of the 90 days?
MR. SPICER: Respectfully, I’m not — this goes back to the last couple. I’m not going to start getting into discussions of an executive order that hasn’t been announced yet. So to start talking about the specifics of something that I’m not even going to talk about the schedule of — I’ll give you credit for the try.
Q Okay, that’s fair. My next question is on taxes. He talked about massive tax cuts for the middle class. Your Treasury Secretary at one point said there would be no absolute cut for the wealthy. What does that mean?
MR. SPICER: It means that I think the focus is on the middle class. I think there’s two things that are going to be highlighted in the tax reform. One is to make our companies and corporations and businesses more competitive so that they stay in this country and hire more people. I mean, that’s —
Q Right, I’m talking individuals.
MR. SPICER: I know, I know. But what I’m saying is that there’s two big components are going to drive tax reform — that being one to help companies hire more people. And then two is the focus on the individual side of the ledger is going to be on middle-income tax relief. And so I think that’s what Secretary Mnuchin was referring to.
Q But are you saying that a wealthy person will not get a larger — in terms of percentage — tax cut than a middle-class person? I mean, is that how you’re measuring it?
MR. SPICER: Again, all I’m going to do is stick at the high level now and say that the principle that’s guiding this is middle-class tax relief. So I’m not going to get into deciding all this yet.
Q Thanks a lot, Sean. A lot has been made about the President’s tone, his demeanor last night in his address to Congress in the sense that some people are describing it as very presidential; we haven’t seen this side of President Trump in the early days of his presidency. Was this a one-off? Is this something we can expect from the President more often? For instance, tomorrow he is traveling down to the Newport News, Virginia area. Will we see the President Trump that we saw last night in his address to Congress, or more like the campaign-style rally that we saw down in Florida, which took place a few weeks ago?
MR. SPICER: I think the Vice President said it best this morning. I mean, this is the President Trump, the candidate Trump, the President-elect Trump that I’ve known. And I think sometimes — so I respectfully disagree in the sense that I think that the folks around him who have known him, who have gotten to know him, this is something that you see on a regular basis. And I think we’re going to continue to see this.
I think more and more — one of the programs this morning noted that people who have been around him for a long time, this is who he is. I think he’s talked about this a lot, and I know sometimes you pull random clips, but this is who he is. And I don’t necessarily subscribe to are we going to see more or less of this. He cares about this country, he’s got a big heart, he wants America to succeed, he wants America to be safe, he wants more Americans to get back to work. And I think you’re going to hear him talk about that over and over again.
Q Sean, the trade document that’s out there, which suggests that the administration may take a position that would potentially ignore or look past WTO rulings. Is there any truth to this?
MR. SPICER: No.
Q What is the position?
MR. SPICER: Again, I would just argue, look, we’re a member of the WTO, we don’t have a USTR in place yet. So to suggest that we’re going to take any kind of trade policies — I think, obviously, we’ve got some concerns with the percentage of dispute resolutions that are brought to the WTO versus other nations. But I would just — that’s sort of a fact in terms of the percentage of cases that get brought to dispute resolution at the USTR — or, excuse me, at the WTO against the United States. But we don’t have a U.S. Trade Representative, so I would say that that’s not —
Q Like a working —
MR. SPICER: No, no, no. I mean, it’s not even a working. That’s not — full stop — that is not our policy and that’s not where we’re going.
Q Sean, this is a follow-up on the — from the heart. Was the President’s softening of his immigration stand one from the heart or one from the political handbook? Let’s put it that way. And did you get ashes this morning?
MR. SPICER: Well, as soon as — I mean, not that I’m a big fan of sharing, but I will be going to get my ashes later in a little bit. So —
MR. SPICER: I appreciate that. I will (inaudible) in mass, and I’ll let my mom know that you appreciate that, and my parish priest. (Laughter.)
Q — might be able to see you —
MR. SPICER: I try to keep a little bit of the church and state out of this.
Q Do you have a confession?
MR. SPICER: Huh?
Q Do you a have a confession while you’re up there? (Laughter.)
MR. SPICER: There’s three parts to Lent: alms giving, penance, and prayer. And I will make sure that I spend all 40 —
Q Can you answer the first part of the question?
MR. SPICER: No, I’m good with — I’m sorry I got lost in my faith. (Laughter.)
Q The President’s softening —
MR. SPICER: Yeah, thank you. Look, I don’t know that I would agree. Look, the President’s comments yesterday that were that, if we can get a bill, he would like to get that done. I think he — in the conversation that he was having with network anchors, he talked about the fact — and, frankly, one of the anchors said, if anyone can get a deal, it would be you. Obviously, he was pleased with that because it’s true. And I think he recognizes that a solution, a comprehensive solution has eluded our nation for a long time, and it’s a big problem. And if he can get it, consistent with his principles, he will. And I think he made that clear, and the full context of those comments are just that, and in the speech he commented on as well.
And I think there’s a difference between sacrificing your principles to get a deal, and working with others, consistent with your principles to get a deal. And I think his principles remain consistent, and he understands that the benefit of actually enacting a comprehensive solution to a big problem that we face in the country, I think that’s kind of where his head is at.
Q Thank you, Sean.
MR. SPICER: I’m sorry. Go ahead, Zeke.
Q Okay. Two for you. First, following up on Monday, the ISIS review — the status of the review process — who was involved and what is being (inaudible)? The President — who else is being looped into the process?
MR. SPICER: I’m sorry, I owed you that, and I will get back to you. The principals committee did meet. General Mattis shared his outline and ideas and comments, and he got a lot of feedback from the principals committee. And remember, that’s — and I’d need to get Michael to get back with you on that. I owe you that, and my apologies. I’ll add it to my confession. (Laughter.)
Q And then the second is, just following the President’s line of speech last night about “the time for trivial fights is behind us” — does the President believe that he has also sometimes engaged in some of these trivial fights? And going forward, should we be expecting less of these fights from him with all sorts of people?
MR. SPICER: I’m going to let — the President’s vision and words last night should stand for themselves. I think he was very clear in terms of what he expects from the country.
Q The President talked about merit-based immigration last night. Can you talk a little bit more about what that means, and whether that indicates a desire to change legal immigration from a focus on family reunification to some sort of making sure they have a job in the United States? And was he also trying to imply that we don’t have a merit-based immigration system?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think he was — look, I would just refer you back to what he said. I mean, you’ve got countries like Canada and Australia, in particular, that have a true merit-based system, and I think he was making it clear that we currently don’t necessarily — the results of our immigration system don’t yield, necessarily, one that reflects a merit-based one.
But I will say that there was, I think, a very substantial case that he made in terms of merit-based — what he wants and how he wants to get there.
Q Can I have a second? I was going to have a second question.
MR. SPICER: I’m sorry.
Q The President also had a comment about how many factories have left the United States since China joined the WTO. Last night his number was 60,000. A week ago, on February 23rd, he used the figure of 70,000. Just wondering what the genesis of the figure is, and what the White House believes to be the number of factories. And also whether it is truly attributable to China joining the WTO or other factors, as well.
MR. SPICER: I’m going to — we’ll get somebody to follow up with you on the cite for that, as well.
I went to Jeremy.
Q Is the President considering the Pentagon and his Defense Secretary more authority to greenlight raids like the kind that we saw in Yemen? And is that, in part, driven by the political blowback that that raid had initially?
And secondly, could you talk about — the initial executive order on the travel ban called for a 30-day review period to see if they would — you would add additional countries to the list of banned —
MR. SPICER: I’ll take the second one first. I can refer you back to Mara Liasson’s question. (Laughter.)
On the first part, I think that he has been very clear from the get-go. He talked about some of the tactics used a while ago, and he said, I’m going to rely on General Mattis and his expertise. And I think when it comes to national security, he’s got an amazing team by all standards — whether it’s Secretary Mattis, Secretary Kelly, General McMaster. There’s a whole host of these — with General Kellogg. And I think he’s always talked about he’s going to rely on his advisors to give him advice.
I think at the end of the day there are certain decisions that have to be signed off by the President. And I would respectfully dispute the characterization of that, and I think we’ve pushed back and discussed this several times. There is — this raid and action and mission was one that I think we have detailed very, very closely — or carefully — about the timeline for this, and when it was signed off on, and by whom. And it was initiated, signed off on by the previous administration in writing, with a signature to greenlight it. And it was further reviewed and concurred under this administration that the same basis for greenlighting it back then stood.
So, respectfully, the actual timeline and documentation does not support the accusation or the question that you’re trying to ask.
Q And just as far as this was — is nothing going to change as far as who greenlights certain raids?
MR. SPICER: Well, again, I think legally — Jeremy, I don’t want to get into specifics because I think there is certain action that requires presidential sign-off. And there’s certain action in terms of echelon — the way the military works, you have different echelons that can be signed off on certain things. And I think there are certain things that have to be signed off by the President of the United States.
Q (Inaudible) protocol.
MR. SPICER: So the protocol is not changing in terms of what has to be signed off, but I think that the President has made clear — all that being said, he relies heavily on their input, their decision-making, their opinions, and their analysis and conclusions. That’s different. And I think one of the issues that you saw — or some of the criticism that you saw last administration was that you had a lot of the combatant commanders in particular who would say, we came to a conclusion, we made the case, and we weren’t allowed to move forward.
That’s where I think the nuance that you’re asking actually lies, which is —
Q Right, so is he making a change to address that criticism?
MR. SPICER: No, no, no. I think his point — it’s a philosophy more than a sort of a change in policy, which is he believes that these are the experts in this field — as he does with all of his Cabinet. I mean, I think if you ask — in terms of foreign policy interaction, he would say, okay, I chose Secretary Tillerson because I believe he’s the right guy for this job; if Betsy DeVos has an educational matter that’s going to come up. He chose these highly qualified individuals because he believes in their expertise and understanding of the issues.
I think his point and his philosophy is, generally, if they come to him with a case and lay it out, then he is — that is going to weigh heavily on his decision-making, whereas I think in the last administration, one of the major critiques was that they would come to them and then there was a preponderance — the preponderance of time. It would be, no, we’re not going to move forward with this. So I just want to be —
Q Sean, a lot of lawmakers were heartened by the speech last night and drew a contrast from the inaugural address 40 days prior, and said that the tone was very different, the substance was different, the olive branches and outreach. Does the White House agree with that characterization? Was it on purpose? And if it was on purpose, what, over the course of those 40 days, inspired the course correction?
MR. SPICER: It was not on purpose. There is no — I mean, one was an inaugural. One was a joint address. They’re two different speeches, and I think that they serve two different purposes in terms of what you’re trying to lay out. I think the joint address serves as sort of a place hold for the State of the Union for first term — or first year, first term.
Q The way he communicated.
MR. SPICER: I understand — you’re right. And I think he wanted to lay out — it’s a much different and longer speech. He had different sort of messaging objectives at each. But I also dispute the notion on the inaugural. Like, I mean, I think that when you actually look at the critique, people will look at four or five different lines. But for the most part, for much — the most part — the high majority of that speech, he talked about the American people, the American worker, and the challenges that they face and where he thinks the country has kind of gotten off-track prioritizing them and his desire to put, what he called, the forgotten people back number one in line.
And then so one was sort of — that was laying out his sort of vision for the presidency. This time I think it was much more of a laying out the policies of how he’s going to achieve that. And that’s the purpose of a joint address. So I just — it’s two different speeches, but I just don’t agree with the characterization of the inaugural in the first place.
Q Was there some conclusion, though, in the White House or by the President himself that that rhetorical approach early on in the presidency, that the tweets, that the speeches — like he did at CPAC the other day, the fighting with the media — that that was not helping and he needed to do something different?
MR. SPICER: No. No, no, there wasn’t. I just — again, I think he — and this particular speech was a very personal — again, like, each speech, each speech has a different audience, a different objective. And I think for this speech, he was very personal, he was very, very much him. It was his work, it was his voice, it was his words, it was his edits, it was his suggestions.
And then he had a team surrounded by him, including the Vice President, the chief of staff, Steve Miller, Steve Bannon, Jared, Ivanka was part of it. There was a — Kellyanne, Hope — who he would bounce ideas and objectives off of. But this was a Trump speech from his heart, as he said, that evolved over the course of the last 10 days or so. And in the last 48 to 72 hours, really accelerated, got very crisp. And it was up until about 12:15 — excuse me, that’s when I got home. (Laughter.) About 6:15 yesterday when we really started to get that real final point on it, because it was something that was very, very personal to him. But I wouldn’t conflate the two and try to compare one speech with another. He looked at them as very different objectives in terms of how the speech.
I need to run.
Q But, Sean, was this a reset? Was it a reset speech?
MR. SPICER: No, it wasn’t a reset speech. I need to get on. I’ve got some things I have to take care of. But thank you. We will, as I mentioned, expect a gaggle on the way down to Hampton Roads tomorrow, and we will see you later.
Thank you all.
END 12:25 P.M. EST