Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Sean Spicer – 4/21/2017


The White House —  Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release —  April 21, 2017

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Sean Spicer

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

11:23 A.M. EDT

MR. SPICER:  The U.N. Secretary General is in Washington for meetings today.  He came to the White House to meet with National Security Advisor McMaster, and we anticipate he’ll be 
— our plan is that he’ll stop by the Oval Office and meet with the President today.  So I just wanted to update you on that.  We’ll provide a readout after that meeting concludes.

The President is also extremely pleased to have Aya Hijazi and her husband home again after three long years — nearly three long years.  The President directly engaged behind the scenes on her behalf and made it clear to the Egyptian government how important it was to him that this American be released and returned.

For those of you who are not fully aware of the story, Aya Hijazi was running an NGO dedicated to improving the lives of children in Cairo.  Nearly three years ago, she, along with her husband and six Egyptian colleagues, were arrested and held without trial for almost, as I mentioned, three years.  Early in the administration, the President was briefed on the situation and directed his national security team to figure out ways to address this situation through diplomatic channels.

The President discussed the issue privately with President el-Sisi when he visited the White House a short time ago.  And today, the President is proud to be welcoming her back to the White House and happy that she is back home on American soil.  He will be meeting with her, and her brother is accompanying her in the Oval Office very shortly.  

Moving on, the Office of Management and Budget, as required, is taking routine steps to prepare in the unlikely case that there’s a lapse in appropriations next week following the continuing resolution.  We have a handout — I don’t know if that’s already been — okay.  

Just to be clear — and again, I just want to make sure — we remain confident that we’re not going to have a shutdown. These are required steps that OMB has to do in terms of agencies and departments to make sure that they are prepared.  It’s part of the agency guidance.  OMB has held these pre-appropriation-lapse calls with agencies since 2013.  Calls were made once in 2013 for FY14, once in 2015 for FY16, and twice in 2016 for FY17.

I would direct you to OMB, but my understanding is that there is a policy that directs OMB to conduct certain activities with these departments within a — I think it’s a seven-day window.  And again, I’m not — I don’t want to be prescriptive, but I believe that it’s a seven-day window.  If there hasn’t been — as you come up to a CR, they must take — they’re required to take certain steps, and so they are just going through those routine steps.

Agencies are required to develop and maintain plans with updates every two years for such an event.  As I mentioned, this is a routine part of the interagency process.  At the bottom of the handout is a contact number for any further questions you may have.    

The Vice President, as you know, is continuing on his trip.  While in Indonesia, Vice President Pence and his Indonesian counterpart presided over $10 billion in trade and investment agreements that demonstrate the strength of the U.S.-Indonesia economic relationship, and included delivery of cutting-edge U.S. technologies.  He also visited Indonesia’s national mosque, where the Grand Imam guided him and his family on a tour of the largest mosque in the largest Muslim democracy in the world.

Vice President Pence also announced the President will attend three summits in Southeast Asia:  The U.S. Association of Southeast Asian Nations — or ASEAN — Summit, and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit, or APEC, that will be in Vietnam.

On Saturday, he will visit Sydney, Australia, and have a series of meetings with senior Australian government officials.  The Vice President’s Office has been providing readouts and pool reports and further information on all of that during his trip.  

This weekend, the President and the First Lady will open the White House gardens to the public on Saturday and Sunday.  And finally, I know that we’ve gotten a couple of requests from you all about Bring Your Child to Work Day, which is next week — I think, Anita — one of them.  I am pleased to let you know that on behalf of the President, the First Lady, the White House will be welcoming your kids to join us at work that day.  We’re planning some activities for them, and I will have further guidance on that hopefully this weekend.  We’re working out some details.  

As you know, there’s a foreign leader visit that day, and we’re trying to work out some spacing and some other things during the day.  But anticipate further guidance on that if you want to have your kid come.

Q    What day is that?

MR. SPICER:  It’s Thursday, right?  It’s next Thursday.  

Q    That’s the press conference —

MR. SPICER:  That’s right.  (Laughter.)  

Q    My daughter has some questions.  (Laughter.) 

MR. SPICER:  Your daughter may get some questions.  So anyway, we’ll try to give you guidance, and just plan appropriately in terms of — the lower press will be working with you in terms of getting all that kind of vitals that we need to enter the White House, et cetera.  But plan on a day of some back-and-forth that we can do with you. 

So with that, let’s go.  Adam.

Q    Sean, thank you.  Just a quick question about tax reform.  And I know the details are not 100 percent public, but there have been trial balloons, whatever you want to call them, about maybe repealing the deductions for state and local taxes.  How does that play into middle-class tax relief?  What does that look like for the middle class in terms of —

MR. SPICER:  I’m not going to even start to talk about the nature of tax reform.  I think you heard the Secretary — we’ll have something soon in terms of an outline.  They’ve been working for a while now with House and Senate leaderships in undergoing the process of engaging with various stakeholders, but I’m not going to start talking about what’s in and out.


Q    What’s the source of your confidence that there will not be a shutdown?

MR. SPICER:  Strong.  

Q    No, the source.

MR. SPICER:  The source?

Q    From what does it — why are you so confident?  What is it that you’re seeing or hearing in the back-and-forth that gives you confidence?  Because yesterday, there seemed to be a chill brought into negotiations introduced by the OMB Director and the request for specific allocations either for the border wall or some limitation on sanctuary cities.  And that seemed to create a hostile response from some of the people who are not just in the Democratic Party, but are the key negotiators with House and Senate Republicans.

MR. SPICER:  So you heard Director Mulvaney yesterday saying a shutdown is never desired and neither is it a strategy, and I think we echo that.  We feel confident.  We’ve been working with House and Senate leadership, and our goal is to continue to do what’s necessary to fund the government.

Q    Right, but is it your goal in that process to obtain the President’s spending cut priorities and spending allocation priorities, or avoid a shutdown?  Right now you can’t do both.

MR. SPICER:  Well, I don’t necessarily — I think we’ve made it very clear that we want border wall funding, we want greater latitude to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities.  We want hiring of immigration agents, and we want $30 billion to infuse the military budget.  Those are our priorities.

That being said, I don’t think it’s synonymous with — we’ll continue to negotiate and work with the leadership.  But no one wants a shutdown, we want to keep it going.  And I get the question, but I think we’ve talked about what our priorities are.  We’re working with members on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to find a way forward.  But I think we feel confident that will happen, that we will avoid a shutdown.

Q    And if push comes to shove and your priorities have to take a backseat, they will?

MR. SPICER:  We’re working with House and Senate.  Our goal now is — we’ve laid out our priorities and we’re committed to not having a shutdown.  So I don’t know how easier to put it.


Q    Yesterday at the press conference, the President said that there had been some “unusual moves” — I assume those were by China — “in the last few hours” regarding North Korea.  What was that all about?

MR. SPICER:  The President, obviously, is privy to a lot of information.  He’s not going to share everything he knows, but there’s some things that he saw that were helpful in that — with respect to that subject.

Q    Can you tell us what —

MR. SPICER:  I cannot.  I’m not privileged — I’m not privy — no.  

Q    Not at liberty to say.

MR. SPICER:  Thank you.  

Q    Also, today, yesterday the President seemed to indicate that he had liked what China was doing, but this morning said “if they want to solve this they will.”  It seemed like he was giving X Jinping a bit of a push.

MR. SPICER:  I think we’ve seen a lot of positive action from China, both at the U.N., some of the public statements they’ve made on — the President noted yesterday with respect to some — the energy sector.  So we’re very — I think that, growing off of the relationship that they established down in Florida, we’ve seen some very positive signs with China that — to help put the appropriate pressure on North Korea.

Q    But am I wrong in reading that as a little bit of a push?

MR. SPICER:  No, I think the President — he tweeted out a week ago, I think, if they won’t we’ll do it ourselves.  So this is very consistent with what he’s been saying.


Q    Speaking of tweets, the President, back in October, gave a long speech in Gettysburg, I believe, talking about what he wanted to accomplish or hoped to accomplish in his first 100 days.  And then just recently he tweeted that it was a ridiculous construct.  So is it ridiculous, is it not ridiculous?  And what do you guys see as the President’s biggest accomplishments?  I know we’re not there yet, but we’re getting close to there.

MR. SPICER:  Well, you’re right, I mean, we do have a ways to go.  And I think that you’re going to continue to see activity to further that goal.  So far, we’ve passed 24 laws, we’ve signed 24 executive orders; we’ve achieved the first Supreme Court confirmation in 100 days since 1881; we’ve instituted tough immigration policies that have driven illegal border crossings to a 17-year low; we’ve removed more job-killing regulation through legislation than any President in U.S. history.

I think that there’s a lot of things that have been accomplished so far, and I think you’re going to continue to see it.  We’re not looking at, like, a marker and saying let’s just rush to it and get to — I think day 101, 102, 103, 180, 200, we’re going to continue to press on.

Q    And just two quick follow-ups.  One is, does the President believe that Judge Gonzalo Curiel needs to recuse himself, or does he —

MR. SPICER:  I’m sorry, say that —

Q    Does the President believe that Judge Gonzalo Curiel should in any way — should recuse himself from this case that he’s overseeing on the DREAMer?  And also, does the President have a preferred candidate in the French election?

MR. SPICER:  No, and no.  


Q    Sean, thank you.  Can you tell us any more about the behind-the-scenes with getting this American home from Egypt?  When did this become a priority for the President?  And can you tell us some more about the specific actions he took over the past few months to make that happen?  

MR. SPICER:  So as I mentioned — I don’t have the dates in front of me, but he was briefed by his national security team on a whole host of issues around the world, including this one, early on in the administration, and directed the national security team to begin to take steps and work behind the scenes.

And again, I’m not sure that it’s appropriate that I get into it from here, but I will say that the team and he, in particular, brought this up privately with el-Sisi when he was here during the visit, and the team has worked extensively behind the scenes over the last couple months, as least, to make this a priority and bring her home.

And so, again, I hope you can respect that there are some things that I can’t publicly address at this time in terms of the dates, but I would say that early on in the administration, when he became aware of it, he began to instruct his team, and then obviously it was something that he believed from a behind-the-scenes sense was best addressed to achieve in a positive outcome for her.

Q    So he brought it up specifically with el-Sisi when he was here?

MR. SPICER:  Again, I don’t want to get into it, but, yes, it was brought up.  And I think we’ve had obviously very productive and helpful discussions that resulted in her being able to come back to the United States.


Q    Sean, forgive me if you’ve talked about healthcare already, but there does seem to be some optimism in the West Wing about getting something done, perhaps the timeline of next week.  It seems to be not at all unrealistic from what we’re hearing from the Hill, particularly around leadership.  Can you characterize where the President is on this?  Is this the White House sort of trying to get something done before the 100-day mark to point to an accomplishment?

MR. SPICER:  Again, we’re not looking to get something done to point — we’re trying to get it done.  I mean, I don’t think it’s —

Q    Next week?

MR. SPICER:  If it gets done next week, great.  If it gets done — it will get done when we feel like we’ve got the votes and we’ve got a position where we’re there.  But I don’t — this has not been our goal.  and I would respectfully say that to — I’m sorry, let me just finish the sentence — to sort of say that we have to have it done by X date — I think the President addressed this yesterday.  If we can get it done next week, great.  If we get it done the week after, great.  We’re going to get it done when it’s appropriate in terms of getting to that 216, or depending on when some of these members — the specials happen.  So we’re not — there’s no — it is not our official position to get this thing done by next week.

Q    But did he move the goalpost a little yesterday?  Because on the campaign trail he said he would do it day one, and now he’s sayING, well, maybe it will take months, maybe it will take longer.

MR. SPICER:  Well, I mean, I think we addressed this during the debate.  It’s funny — first we rushed it; and now we’re not getting it done quick enough.  No, but I’m saying — I think he did make it a priority right away.  We started working with Congress, and as soon as we can get them to 216 — but that is part of the constitutional process that they get to do.  

And so we are working very diligently with them.  I think we’ve had very productive conversations.  There is a sense of optimism, I think, in terms of the direction.  But as soon as Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy and Whip Scalise believe that they have this — I know Chairman Walden has been doing a tremendous amount of work through his committee in particular to get there.  And if we get to a point where we feel like they’ve got the votes, obviously we would be very excited to see a vote happen.


Q    Sean, can you characterize the extent of the White House’s involvement in the budget negotiations up to this point?  Has there been a recent flurry of activity, particularly from Director Mulvaney?  And has the White House issued any —

MR. SPICER:  You’re talking about the CR?

Q    Yeah.

MR. SPICER:  FY17 OR ’18?

Q    The funding — the budget showdown to avoid the government shutdown.

MR. SPICER:  Okay, that’s FY17.

Q    Yes.  Sorry, I’m not a reporter from — and as far as the border wall funding, is that something that the White House sees as a sticking point, and is that scuttling negotiations?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know that I’d say it’s a sticking point; it’s a priority.  And I answered Major’s question to the extent that I think I’m going to comment on this, that we’ve laid out our priorities and we’re working with them, and I think we feel good about the direction that those conversations are going.  


Q    Thanks, Sean.  These financial executive actions that the President is undertaking today, they set off a number of countdown clocks.  You have the issue to study and conduct a report and there’s the 100-day clause and all that.  At the end of all of that, can you give us the President’s specific vision for what he wants to do with Dodd-Frank?  What’s in his mind right now about where this is all going to end up, if he’s sort of firing the starting gun today?

MR. SPICER:  I wish you would have asked that question of the Secretary of Treasury.  So I will let his responses go.  I’m not going to — I’ll do a little message discipline today.  (Laughter.)  


Q    Mick Mulvaney said that funding for the border wall is tied to this funding bill, this spending bill.  Is this a hard line for the White House?  And is there any funding bill without funding for the wall?  And then, secondly, on a different topic, you said there were ongoing developments with regard to the DREAMer who was deported.  Do you have any updates you can share on that?

MR. SPICER:  I think that DHS is the best — when I said — my point then and my point continues to be I think there is some question about how everything played out, whether — in this particular case, my understanding is he may — when he was stopped and when he wasn’t.  Those questions are all best directed to towards the Department of Homeland Security in terms of the exact nature of — or the circumstances surrounding that.  So I would continue to direct you there.

Q    And the first?

MR. SPICER:  Oh, the first part.  I just think —

Q    Is there a bill without funding for the wall.

MR. SPICER:  Well, I’m not going to — I mean, obviously, Director Mulvaney is negotiating with the House and the Senate.  We’ve made very clear that border wall funding is a priority.

Q    I have a follow-up on Hallie’s question on healthcare.  So when you’re sitting there at the 100-day mark trying to judge the progress, will the President feel like he has delivered on his promise to repeal and replace Obamacare if he’s tried to do it and it hasn’t yet passed?  Does he consider those attempts to be kind of check marks?

MR. SPICER:  No, he wants it done.  He talked about this yesterday, and I think his comments yesterday should stand.  He spoke very clearly that he wants to get it done, and his team is making progress.  But I don’t — I mean, to Hallie’s point, I just don’t think — we’re not looking and saying we have to have it done.  We want to get it done right, and we want to get it done so that it passes the House.  And so Obamacare, I think it was — and again, don’t — 17 months or something like that.  And I think we’re well on track.  We’ve had an unbelievable 91 or 92 days I think right now, as we entered in, and we’re looking forward to keeping that activity going for the American people.


Q    Sean, thank you.  How did the President work with human rights organizations in reference to helping this aid worker come back home after three years?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know what NGOs, specifically.  Like I said, I think this was handled primarily through diplomatic channels.  I’d be glad that — my understanding is that the national security team in particular was working through diplomatic channels to folks in the el-Sisi government, and then the President brought this up directly during that visit.  I don’t know the extent to which, either prior to in the past three years or in the last —

Q    But since he’s been in office.

MR. SPICER:  Since he’s been in office, I’m not sure.  I know most of this was directly tied to his staff and his actions.

Q    And a follow-up, on another question on something, the topic that I’ve been asking about, on HBCUs.  Bennett College is in need of $4.5 million by June of this year.  The President has talked about bolstering or helping them.  What can this administration do for Bennett College, as HBCUs are a priority for this administration?

MR. SPICER:  I got to be honest with you, I don’t know the exact nature of their financial situation, and so — I really don’t.  I would — I think maybe the Department of Education would be a better source for that.  But I don’t know specific universities’ funding situations, and so, sorry, I can’t.

Q    I understand.  And I appreciate you saying that.  But when it comes to this and this is being a priority for HBCUs — is it beyond the realm of possibility that the Department of Education would ask for emergency funding, specifically —

MR. SPICER:  Again, April, I’m just not well-versed in terms of the exact nature of a particular university’s funding and what the requirements would be and how that process works.  So I think it’s probably a question much better asked to the Department of Education.


Q    Thank you, Sean.  Two questions.  First, Buzzfeed is reporting that the Trump administration is expected to appoint a new special envoy to communicate directly with Vladislav Surkov, a top aide to Russian President Putin, once known as the Kremlin’s “Grey Cardinal.”

MR. SPICER:  I don’t have anything on that for you.

Q    And the second question — there are reports that the Justice Department is going to pursue charges against Julian Assange.  Will the Justice Department also be considering charges against, or requesting extradition of Edward Snowden?

MR. SPICER:  We won’t comment on ongoing investigations.  However, I think it’s been pretty clear that the Department of Justice will prosecute any violations of federal law when it comes to our national security.


Q    The President tweeted that he thinks the terrorist attack — or the assumed terrorist attack in Paris yesterday will have an effect on the outcome of the election.  What effect does he think it’s going to have?

MR. SPICER:  I don’t know.  I mean, I think major events have, clearly, effects on voters’ attitudes, but I’m not going to weigh in on — I’ll let the voters of France decide this Sunday what direction they want their country to go in.


Q    Just on Russia, Sean — thanks.  Four times in four days, Russian military jets have flown very close to Alaskan airspace.  Does this concern the President?  Can you comment on their actions over the last few days?

MR. SPICER:  We’re obviously — we’re aware of it.  But we conduct — this is not highly unusual, nor do we — I mean, we conduct military operations in international space.  And as long as those are conducted in accordance with international protocols and rules, then that’s obviously — but we monitor everything.  And any further comment on that I would refer to the Department of Defense.

Q    Hey, Sean, back on the DOJ thing.

MR. SPICER:  Hold on, give me one second.  Let me go to Abby.

Q    Thanks, Sean.  Two quick questions — or maybe more.  On the Egyptian prisoner, do you guys have any sense of what made the difference this time around?  The Obama administration tried for some time to free her.  What was it that you all were able to do that they weren’t that resulted in her being here today?

MR. SPICER:  I would much rather take that question offline.  I think the President and his team worked behind the scenes — I would just leave it at this:  I think that the President and the team worked behind the scenes in a much more productive way, maybe.  One could look at the tactic that was done to achieve the result.  And I think, at the end of the day, we’re just pleased that she’s back home.  And I think it will be for others to look at the different strategies to see why the President was successful and others may not have over a much longer period of time.

Major.  I’m sorry, I told John, and then I’ll —

Q    Well, here, let Major follow, and then —

Q    Just really quickly related to that.  Because President el-Sisi has always said that it would be up to the judicial process in Egypt to render a judgment on this case and that he had really nothing that he could do through his presidential powers to change the status of —

MR. SPICER:  Yeah, and that’s why —

Q    — and so what you’re leaving us with the impression is that the President intervened, that el-Sisi intervened, and that something outside the judicial process made this happen in ways that didn’t occur before.  Is that a fair reading of this?

MR. SPICER:  All I’m going to say is that we are obviously pleased that she is back home and that the President and the team successfully worked to have her — to bring her back home.  I understand the question.  I’m just saying —

Q    I’m just going with what President el-Sisi said.

MR. SPICER:  I understand that.  And I’m just telling you that, as this point, all I’m comfortable in saying is that we’re pleased that she has returned home.


Q    Back on the question of Snowden, but particularly on Assange, would you wave us off the idea that charges are being prepared against Assange?

MR. SPICER:  No, I would wave you — I would just — as I said, I mean, we don’t comment on ongoing investigations.  But I this the department’s view has always been that they would prosecute violations of federal law when it comes to our national security.

Q    Does anybody believe that there’s been a violation of law when it comes to Assange?

MR. SPICER:  I think that’s better directed towards the Department of Justice.


Q    Hi.  USA Today is reporting that the administration is ending its temporary protected status for Haitians that are here in the country and allows them to be in the United States when there’s been natural disasters.  It was outlined in a letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  Can you confirm that and talk to us about it?  And before you send me to DHS, they will not say anything.  (Laughter.) 

MR. SPICER:  Okay, well, then I’m going to refer you to DHS until they have something to say.  I don’t have anything further for you on this.  

So thank you very much.  Have a good weekend, guys.

11:50 A.M. EDT