Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, 5/3/2017, #44
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:25 P.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: Good afternoon. Another busy day here at the White House. As you know, the President has been talking to members of Congress the last few days about the American Health Care Act, up through this morning. The Vice President just left a bit ago to meet with some of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill about healthcare and the rest of the President’s legislative agenda. The President was glad to meet this morning with Representatives Long and Upton who voiced their support for the AHCA earlier this morning.
It’s especially important that we continue to make progress on repealing and replacing Obamacare, as rates skyrocket and insurers keep fleeing the market around the country in anticipation of this impending implosion.
Earlier this week, Aetna announced that it will scale back its presence on Obamacare exchanges even further in 2018, withdrawing from the Iowa exchange. Aetna had already cut its participation in the exchanges from fifteen states to four in 2017. Iowa is going to be hit particularly hard by these recent developments as Medica, the last insurance for most of the state, also announced this week that it will likely stop selling individual healthcare policies in the state, which will affect tens of thousands of Americans.
With reports like these seemingly coming every day, it couldn’t be clearer that it’s time for action on healthcare. We’re glad that so many members are with us, and look forward to welcoming even more on board.
Also, earlier today, the President dropped by an event focusing on school choice that was hosted by the Vice President and Secretary DeVos with students ranging from kindergarten to high school. Most of the students who visited the White House today are some of the thousands of local children who will benefit from the three-year extension of the D.C. School Choice scholarship secured by the President and congressional allies in the budget deal.
The District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which was launched in 2004, provides vouchers to D.C. students whose family either received benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, or earned less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
And this program gets results. Last year, 69 percent of D.C. public school students graduated from high school. That’s compared to an incredible 98 percent of the D.C. scholarship students who received their high school diplomas last year. Funding for the Opportunity Scholarship was one of our priorities during these budget negotiations, and the Trump administration is glad to have ensured that the program’s extension was taken care of through this appropriations bill, on top of the increases in military spending and funding for border security.
Today, the President welcomed the President of the Palestinian Authority to the White House for an official visit. The visit stemmed from a phone call the two leaders had on March 10th, when President Trump invited President Abbas to Washington so they could discuss, in person, ways to move forward on a comprehensive agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The two leaders made their own statements just a little bit ago. But to give you a few additional details, some of the topics that were discussed during their meeting and the lunch were: advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace; preventing incitements to violence, particularly media outlets directly associated with the Palestinian Authority; strengthening efforts to combat terrorism, including defeating ISIS; measures to empower the Palestinian economy and provide economic opportunity for the Palestinian people. And, additionally, the President raised concerns about the payments to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails who have committed acts of terror, and to their families, and emphasized the need to resolve this issue.
Later this evening, the President, along with the Vice President and Mrs. Pence, will host members of the White House Evangelical Advisory Board in the residence for a discussion, prayer, and dinner. The President is proud to welcome these faith leaders to the White House for the first time and thank them for their steadfast support ahead of the National Day of Prayer, which is tomorrow.
Later tonight, the Vice President will also deliver a keynote address at the Susan B. Anthony List 2017 Campaign for Life Gala. The Vice President’s office has more details on that.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. Ken.
Q: Sean, on healthcare, does the President feel like we’ve reached an inflection point here with the House? Is this a make-or-break moment in terms of getting the bill through the House? And what precisely is the President doing, and what arguments is he making to members on why they should support this bill?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think he’s making several points. One is that Obamacare if failing and that, as I just mentioned with that note, that with so many cases around the country, the need to have a provider is becoming greater and greater. Two is that costs are out of control. These are two basic tenets that you’ve heard us talk about. But I think overall the efforts that were made, and especially the effort this morning with Congressman Long and Upton, help bring more people into this effort and make it even a stronger bill, and ensure that Americans have a healthcare system that gets them the care that they need at a price that’s affordable.
Q: Is this a “now or never” kind of moment, though, with the bill?
MR. SPICER: I don’t want to put it there. The President has made it clear before that he’s not trying to set a date for certain. Obviously, that’s up to the Speaker and the House leadership to determine when that time is appropriate. But as you have seen, we continue to move closer and closer to that time, and the number of members who are supporting it continues to grow further and further, and I think that’s a very promising sign.
Q: Yesterday, the President tweeted that FBI Director James Comey gave Hillary Clinton a “free pass” for many bad deeds. Is the President comfortable having an FBI director that gives out free passes serve during his administration?
MR. SPICER: The President has confidence in the director. But I think, clearly, his point was after some of the comments that were made yesterday regarding the reason for the outcome of the election, I think he just wanted to make it clear what exactly happened.
Q: On healthcare, the President appears to be directly involved behind the scenes. How much responsibility does the President plan to take for the outcome of the vote if it does occur this week?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think if we have a vote — which is looking greater and greater every day; but again, I’m not going to get ahead of the House leadership in deciding when that is — my assumption is the House leaders will call that when that number will put us over the top. And I feel like — again, you saw two votes come down today. The President has been on the phone constantly. The Vice President, the Chief of Staff, other members of the legislative affairs team calling members, talking to them, hearing their concerns. But I think we have made this an unbelievable bill and an unbelievable replacement for Obamacare, which is failing, and that’s what we’ve sought to do from the beginning.
Q: Sean, there was a report in Politico yesterday that seemed pretty well sourced indicating that President Trump plans to sign an executive order tomorrow in the name of religious freedom. Will the President sign a religious freedom executive order tomorrow? And will it enable discrimination against LGBT people?
MR. SPICER: So I know we’ve talked about EOs for a long time — executive orders. Tomorrow is National Day of Prayer. There will be a proclamation the President will sign. We’re looking forward to having religious leaders from a multitude of backgrounds come to the White House and celebrate this day with us, but I’ve never gotten ahead of executive orders and I’m not going to start now.
Q: But you can’t deny that the executive order — the President is a friend of the LGBT community. Isn’t that a law?
MR. SPICER: I answered the question. Thank you.
Q: How can the President be a friend of the LGBT community if the President is considering this executive order?
MR. SPICER: Blake.
Q: Thanks, Sean. I want to get the reaction to former President Obama. He tweeted yesterday after Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue that went viral — a monologue you’ve probably seen about his child. Kimmel talked about the need to cover preexisting conditions that need funding for the NIH. And Mr. Obama said, “Well said, Jimmy. That’s exactly why we fought so hard for the ACA and why we need to protect it for kids like Billy.” Your reaction to both of them would be what?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think we share that concern for the Kimmels’ child, as well as any child that needs care, and that’s frankly why the President fought so hard to improve the bill like he did this morning, to make sure that there was that extra layer of protection for anybody with a preexisting condition, no matter their stage in life. That’s why we’re fighting so hard for this.
But I think, most importantly — and I think at the end of Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue, he said that there is no — you know, we need to have some of these things that aren’t Republican or Democrat, that they’re American policies. And I think that’s what the President is fighting for right now, is to make sure that we have a healthcare system that doesn’t matter where you live or your background, that it takes care of people.
We’re making sure right now — we’ve talked about this endlessly over the last month or so — but we’ve got a healthcare system that’s not doing what it’s supposed to. It’s failing. It’s costing people too much. It’s giving people a card, not coverage. And what the President is trying to do by working with these members of Congress is to make sure that we have the strongest possible healthcare system that covers them, that gives them the care that they need, that allows them to go see a doctor, that covers preexisting conditions, and does so in a way that’s not going to be out of range and unaffordable for most Americans.
Q: And I’ll ask you about what Hillary Clinton said yesterday. She said, “If the election had been on October 27th, I would be your President.” And on the Hill today, James Comey, testifying, said — speaking about October 28th — he said, “Would you speak, or would you conceal?” Did James Comey make the right decision on October 28th?
MR. SPICER: Well, look, I’m a Patriots fan, and I think if games ended in the third quarter, there would have been a different team here last week. But you play a game four quarters, you play an election until Election Day. So with all due respect to her, that’s not how it works. You don’t get to pick the day the election is on. It’s set by the Constitution. The President won 306 electoral votes. And I think there’s been plenty of analysis on the election and where people chose to spend their time and their resources and their messaging. And I think it’s somewhat sad that we’re still debating why the President won in the fashion that he did.
Q: “Speak or conceal” — did he make the correct decision?
MR. SPICER: I think, with respect to the election, I think the American people made their decision.
Q: Thanks, Sean. There’s been a lot of focus recently on Ivanka Trump’s role in this White House. Can you clarify for us what exactly her areas of responsibility are here, and what her qualifications are for those responsibilities?
MR. SPICER: Sure. I mean, I think Ivanka has built a very successful business. She’s been working with women to talk about empowerment and education for quite some time. It’s a passion of hers. And I think for her to bring both her business acumen and success, her passion for women empowerment and education and entrance into areas that they haven’t been able to get to is one of the reasons that Chancellor Merkel reached out to her and asked her to come to the W20 Summit.
Because I think she can use her voice to help bring attention to issues. She can use her resources and knowledge of individuals to help break down some barriers that young women, older women face in education and business. That’s where she has always had her passion. That’s what she’s working on now.
Q: But what specifically are her responsibilities here? For example, The New York Times reported this morning that she has a weekly meeting with the Treasury Secretary. What’s that meeting for?
MR. SPICER: Again, I think that I’ve mentioned it. I think there’s a lot of times where she’s meeting with folks to understand an issue, to get up to speed. But I think her primary focus, which she has always said — where her passion is, where her time is going to be spent — is figuring out how to empower women, how to break down barriers for women — whether that’s in small business, in education, young women in poverty or families, and figuring out how to help them.
But of course, I mean, part of that is to have conversations with people in government and figure out what programs exist, where we can help additional folks using government, or fix a government program that might be not properly being utilized. But there’s a lot of that.
Q: Thank, Sean. Back to healthcare. An analysis from AARP showed that the sickest patients will pay nearly $26,000 a year in premiums under the new healthcare law, and that $8 billion, which was included in that amendment this morning, is not nearly enough to lower those costs. So I’m wondering, how does that, which would be a major premium hike on the sickest patients, square with the President’s promise to both lower premiums and take care of those with preexisting conditions?
MR. SPICER: So it sounds interesting to me there are so many variables that are unknown — that to make an analysis of that level of precision, it seems almost impossible.
Q: But —
MR. SPICER: Well, hold on. Let me give you an example. So right now preexisting conditions are covered in the bill. They always have been. We’ve talked about that before. States have the right to receive a waiver. If someone has continuous coverage, that’s never going to be an issue, regardless of — no circumstance is anyone with continuous coverage would ever have a problem with preexisting conditions.
If someone chose not to have coverage for 63 days or more, and they were in a state that opted out, and they had a preexisting condition, and they were put into a high-risk pool, then we’ve allocated an additional $8 billion over five years to help drive down those costs.
So for someone to know how many people that is, what number of states are going to receive a waiver — ask for it, and receive a waiver is literally impossible at this point. So to do an analysis of any level of factual basis would be literally not —
Q: Two follow-up questions. One, would the President prefer — does he have a preference as to whether or not states opt out, given that option? And two, yes or no, will people with preexisting conditions pay higher premiums under this bill than they currently do?
MR. SPICER: I think everything that we’ve done, including the additional $8 billion this year — everything that I’ve seen shows that the cost curve goes down for them in a lot of ways. So if you have preexisting conditions — and again, remember what a small pool that is. If you have a preexisting condition currently, the bill protects you. The only factor would be if you live in a state that potentially asks for a waiver and then is subsequently granted it, and if you’ve gone 63 days without continuous coverage.
So if you have continuous coverage, if you live in a state, it’ll never, ever be a factor. But the President has worked to make sure that in every single scenario — anybody, everybody — he has kept true to his word that preexisting conditions are covered and that the cost curve continues to bend down.
Q: And then on the other question, the congressman, this morning, from Michigan was saying he’s confident, from conversations with his governor, that his state will not ask for a waiver. Does the President have a preference as to whether or not states ask for waivers?
MR. SPICER: The President’s preference — and I’m not — the President believes in states’ rights, number one. Number two, not just preference, his goal is to make sure, as he stated repeatedly, is that preexisting conditions are covered, care coverage goes up, and costs go down. Those are the principles that continue to guide him.
Q: Thank you. I want to go back to Director Comey on the Hill today, and some things he said about Russia. One of the things that he said was, the Russian government is still involved in American politics. Is that the view of this White House?
MR. SPICER: I think that’s the view of the FBI. I’m not —
Q: Is that different than the White House?
MR. SPICER: We rely on them and the rest of the intelligence community to provide the President with updates on what they’re learning. So it doesn’t go that way. The director and the intelligence community update the President on all of the threats that the United States faces and all of the intelligence activity that needs to be briefed.
Q: And in that particular one, does then he accept that assessment from the FBI?
MR. SPICER: Again, I don’t know what he has briefed the President on. I’m not trying to be coy on this, but I’m just saying, like, I don’t know what he recently briefed or how — I know that the question was asked during the testimony. I don’t know what new evidence, beyond what they shared with the President in the December, has happened between then and now.
Q: Okay, and just one more thing on that front. He called Russia “the greatest threat of any nation on Earth.” Is that something the President agrees with?
MR. SPICER: The President has been very clear that he thinks the threat that North Korea poses with the potential nuclear weapon that has range capacity is something that he finds to be threatening to the lives of Americans and our allies.
Q: Sean, I have two healthcare questions. Can I follow up on what you were saying about the President’s conversation with Congressman Upton? Until yesterday, the President thought there was sufficient funding, and Congressman Upton came to him and suggested a billion dollars more. You were just saying that it’s impossible to estimate what would be needed. My question is, why did the President think that there was sufficient protection for those individuals who have preexisting health conditions yesterday, but today he now believes $8 billion will cover it? What persuaded him that the number that he had embraced yesterday was not sufficient and that $8 billion is going to do it?
MR. SPICER: So, in this particular case, Congressman Upton and I think Congressman Long addressed that he, through a series of conversations that he had with the President, shared with the President a concern that he had in their shared goal of covering preexisting conditions. The President, as Congressman Long discussed outside, expressed that — the President expressed to him that the preexisting conditions were covered, and went through the various scenarios. Congressman Long felt as though there were scenarios in which — potentially the high-risk pool. It wasn’t a question of coverage, it was a question of cost. And so the President engaged in a conversation with them and, through some of the analysis that Congressman Upton and Congressman Long had done, the President agreed that if we add an additional safety net, which is, frankly, what that is — not on the coverage, but on the cost — that that could ensure that the cost curve gets further bent downward. And the President agreed.
Because at the end of the day — look, the President has talked about this from the beginning, that he wants to work with members to make it the strongest possible bill, to have the strongest outcome for the American people, and a healthcare system in which both the cost continue to go down. And I think that’s one point, Alexis, that we keep forgetting in this discussion with what we’re trying to do. It’s not just replace Obamacare. Obamacare is dying on the vine. The costs are spiraling out of control, deductibles are going up, and carriers — again, this isn’t a theoretical discussion. Aetna, as we just discussed, is pulling out of states, and counties around the country are now going down to one and, in some cases, zero choices.
So this isn’t a question of just replacing something. We are actually at a point where if we don’t do something, some people in this country will have no options for coverage. We’ve got to do something, and that’s where the President has been willing to work with members, pick up the phone, and figure out how do we get this done to make sure that every American has got the coverage that they need.
Q: I want to also ask about the next step. There are members of the House who are concerned on the Republican side that they could vote for something that will change dramatically in the Senate. What is the President’s message to those members who are concerned about that? Is he going to press the Senate to embrace whatever may or may not come out, but you hope may come out of the House?
MR. SPICER: Well, of course. I mean —
Q: Would be adopted by the Senate in whole.
MR. SPICER: I mean, I think the legislative process works — the Senate will take up the House bill and then they’ll go to conference. And then that’s when both sides, again, will have an opportunity to discuss any potential changes. The President feels really good about where this bill — how this bill has evolved, how much stronger it’s become, to achieve the goals that he set out. And he’ll continue to work with Leader McConnell and others when it gets to the Senate to make sure that anything — and there could be issues that come between now and then. But our number-one goal is to get it out of the House, focus, and then have those conversations with the Senate, and then go to conference.
But for right now — and in a perfect world, they would just take it straight up and we would go. But I have a feeling the Senate is going to want a say at this, so we’ll go from there.
Q: Thanks a lot, Sean. Chairman Upton and Congressman Long were very pleased to (inaudible) floor with this legislative fix. They say they’ve turned their “nos” into “yeses.” Do you believe there’s additional legislative fixes that are still to come before this bill actually hits the House floor?
MR. SPICER: Look, the President always said he’s willing to hear ideas. This is a question for Speaker Ryan, Leader McCarthy, and Congressman Scalise in terms of when is the appropriate time. If they feel that they’ve gotten to a place where they have the votes necessary to take it to the floor based on the number of suggestions and fixes and updates, then that will be up to them. But I’m not going to prejudge, in this case, through those conversations — and the President has constantly been on the phone for the last several days and continues to do so, to hear members’ issues and concerns. And so if there’s a point — but I think we’re getting to that number closer and closer. But that will be ultimately a decision that Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy have to make.
Q: Sean, on timing, I’ve heard different things from the President over the course of the past two weeks. At one point I heard the President say he wants the bill to be taken up now; other times, it’s not important, just get the bill right. What’s your view? Is it very important, as far as the administration is concerned, that this vote take place sooner rather than later?
MR. SPICER: Well, obviously, the sooner the better, right? But we don’t want to put it up for a vote — I mean, the goal is to pass it, which we continue to get closer and closer to every day. But you don’t want to put it up and not move forward. So the President wants to make sure that the leadership is confident that it can pass a bill, and I think he’s done everything he can in terms of speaking with members of the House to get there. But ultimately, it’s going to be their decision to do it. And I think we continue to feel optimistic about the direction that we’ve seen the legislation go.
Q: I want to revisit the President’s comments in his tweets about the omnibus spending bill. He campaigned on his business record, on his ability to make good deals, make better deals than politicians in the past have. Does the President view the spending bill as a good deal?
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q: Sean, can you say definitively that no one with a preexisting condition will pay more under the amendment?
MR. SPICER: I think we’ve done everything we can to do that. And every measure that the President has taken further not only ensures that people with preexisting conditions get covered in every scenario, but does so in a way that bends the cost curve down.
Q: Can you guarantee it?
MR. SPICER: I think — with all due respect, to answer a question and say can I guarantee something — but I can tell you that every single thing that the President has done, including the action that he took this morning to work with members of Congress, does everything by every account to bend the cost curve down, to help anybody that would potentially fall into that small group of individuals to get — to bend the cost curve down who have preexisting conditions.
So the answer is, yes, that we have done every single thing possible to get that down and to ensure that, number one, that that potential is as small as possible. Because the bill covers people with preexisting conditions, number one. Number two, it does everything to ensure that if a state seeks a waiver that they are still covered. But it looks at every single possibility to ensure that people get the care that they need.
Q: Is there a concern — you criticized former President Obama rushing through his healthcare plan. Is this not being rushed through? This legislation hasn’t even been scored yet by the CBO or put up for public debate — this latest piece of legislation.
MR. SPICER: Well, every piece of legislation evolves as it goes through the process. We saw that this morning. I think we had a piece that makes it an even stronger bill. But the underlying principles that we have been talking about have been something that Republicans have been talking about and have had the contours of for the last seven years. This was something that has been part of the process for a long time.
Q: Does he expect to see a vote this week?
MR. SPICER: The President — I’ve answered this a lot of times. The President expects to see a vote when the Speaker and the Leader and the Whip call a vote because they believe they have the votes to go on.
Q: Sean, it looks like we’re on the precipice of a vote on the omnibus spending bill. Senator Lindsey Graham said a short time ago that Republicans got their clocks cleaned on this bill. It looks like as many as 100 House Republicans will vote against it. How do you square that with the pronouncements out of this White House that this was a big win for Republicans?
MR. SPICER: I think Director Mulvaney addressed that extensively yesterday. But to get back to Mike’s point, this is a good deal — a great deal for the President. He got $21 billion in military funding. That is a huge campaign pledge that he made very clearly to modernize and update the military. It fully funds the largest military pay raise in six years. It ends the Obama-era sequestration policy of pairing increases in domestic spending for every dollar to dollar. It got $1.52 billion in border security, which is the first installment in securing our nation’s southern border. It got $1.3 billion to coalminers, which delivers on another promise that he made. There’s no Obama bailout — Obamacare bailout, those CSR payments, which was something that the Democrats wanted. There’s a three-year extension of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Choice, which — you saw the children that will benefit from that this morning. It increases funds for the opioid crisis. It eliminates, rescinds and terminates 150 programs or initiatives.
I think when you — and Director Mulvaney laid this out yesterday — when you look at what the President came forward with a month or so ago and said these are my priorities, he got what he asked for. And I think that’s big. So this is a — the President feels very good about what he got.
And again, I think it’s important to underscore two points. Number one, in the Senate we needed 60 votes. This had to be a bipartisan action because it is a spending bill, so, therefore, we needed to get Democratic votes with us. But if you look at — as Director Mulvaney pointed out yesterday — it used to be a one-for-one spending increase if we wanted a military increase. We got that down from a dollar to 20 cents. That is a huge win for the President. He negotiated a fairly strong deal when it comes to what they got versus what we got.
The other thing that’s important to understand is that this is just the final five months of FY18 [FY17]. Any President coming into office wouldn’t get the first shot at a budget until the end of September of the year after they got elected. So, in theory, he got to push for his priorities — military spending, border security, D.C. schools — all the things I mentioned right out of the gate. And for the last five months of this fiscal year, something that should have happened during the Obama administration, he got his priorities — a down payment on them.
Q: Quick second topic, if I could. This is at least the fourth White House, fourth administration in a row that has come in with optimistic predictions of how Middle East peace will go. What’s going to be different this time?
MR. SPICER: I think the man is different. You look at what — the President’s diplomacy style is paying dividends, whether it’s getting someone who has been held for years in Egypt released; whether it’s the action that China has taken. The relationships and the foundation that the President is rebuilding are going to pay huge dividends for this country in terms of our economic interest, our national security interest. But this President’s style is one to develop a personal bond with individuals. And I think you saw that today with President Abbas, him talking so kindly about the President. You saw that. The relationship that exists and is only getting stronger between him and Prime Minister Netanyahu. You have two individuals who, because of this President, are increasing their desire for peace.
You’ve got an individual in President Xi in China that has taken fairly significant action to help the — work with the United States, especially with respect to our desire to end the threat in North Korea that has been unprecedented. The President’s ability to connect with an individual, to work with them towards a shared goal, to have back-room diplomacy is something that is going to continue to pay dividends and get results for this country.
Q: Can I follow up on John’s question?
MR. SPICER: Charlie.
Q: In January, the President did an interview deriding the “little toy walls” along the southern border — that’s a quote — and said, I don’t know why they’re even wasting their time. Why is the government focused so much on existing border security measures rather than fighting for the wall that he promised that he would build?
MR. SPICER: Thank you for the opportunity to show you some things. So if I can get the first image up. (Laughter.) You asked.
Q: Did you guys coordinate?
MR. SPICER: No. But, you literally could not have (inaudible) on it. This is what exists right now throughout our country. This is the kind of barrier that exists throughout the country. You see a place where cars can literally create little things and drive over. You’ve got places that can get burrowed under. That one they’ve cut through. That one doesn’t seem to be too effective at keeping people. Those images represent our nation’s current border security.
According to a GA report from earlier this year, from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2015, the Customs and Border Patrol recorded a total of 9,287 breaches in pedestrian fencing at an average cost of $784 per breach to repair, right. So every time that they cut through, break through, put something over, it’s costing just under a thousand bucks for us to go out and have to fix.
Now, to the next slide. (Laughter.) You had no idea you were getting this, did you?
So the bill that is about to get passed, Title 6 — which pertains to the Department of Homeland Security’s funding on additional appropriation — states that an additional $497.4 million “for procurement, construction, and improvements.” Of that total, $341.2 million are to — and this is literally what it says in the bill — “to replace approximately 40 miles of existing primary pedestrian and vehicle border fencing along the southwest border using previously deployed and operationally effective designs such as currently deployed steel bollard designs that prioritize agent safety.” So that’s your answer, Charlie.
Q: So —
MR. SPICER: So hold on, hold on, let me just — we have a porous border right now with broken fences, things that can be cut through, places that can just literally be driven over. And to replace this with a 20-foot high bollard wall will protect our country, something that the DHS has designated the most effective way to do this. So that’s what we got out of this bill.
Q: Just one question about the photos. Are those photos of fences or walls?
MR. SPICER: That is called a bollard wall. That is called a levy wall.
Q: So that’s the wall the President promised?
MR. SPICER: No, no, no — there are various types of walls that can be built. Under the legislation that was just passed, it allows us to do that.
Q: What’s that?
MR. SPICER: That is called a levy wall on the left. That is called a bollard wall.
Q: So that’s not a wall, it’s a levy wall?
MR. SPICER: That’s what it’s actually called. That’s the name of it.
Q: He’s building fencing, not a wall.
MR. SPICER: No, no. In this current bill, it allows us to do the following. So to be clear, in several areas along our southern border we have what was in the first slide, which are areas in which someone can literally cut through with a pair of wire cutters or put a little barrier over that a car can drive over the top. Okay? What we’ve done is taken the tools that we have to replace — and if you look at that one in particular, you’ve got a chain-link fence is what is currently at our southern border. That is literally down there now. We are able to go in there, and instead of having a chain-link fence, replace it with that bollard wall. That’s what it is.
Q: But it’s not the wall the President promised?
MR. SPICER: No, no, hold on. Hold on, Jim. We’re going to take turns. But just to be clear — because Charlie asked the same thing so I’ll give you a little help on this one — that this is the 2017 budget. This is a down payment on what the President is going to prioritize in the 2018 budget that starts October 1st.
And as I mentioned to John Roberts, the idea that we even got a shot at this is something that should have been done last term under President Obama. We have an opportunity to use the last five months of the FY17 budget to get the President’s priorities jumpstarted. So he is using the current bill to get his priorities moving and put it down.
To answer the question, it is currently being built in Naco, Arizona; Sunland Park, New Mexico; and we are going to be starting to do this in San Diego, El Paso, and Rio Grande Valley.
Q: So you’re basically just telling supporters, the President’s supporters, to be satisfied with this existing tough-guy fencing until he’s ready to build the wall?
MR. SPICER: No. What I’m telling anybody is that the President said he was going to build the wall and he’s doing it, and he’s using the best technology and what the Department of Homeland Security, under Secretary John Kelly, says is the most effective way to keep people out, to stop drugs, to stop cartels, to stop human trafficking, and to prevent illegal immigration. That’s what I’m telling you.
Q: Mahmoud Abbas stood next to the President today and said he wants to see East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian State. Yesterday, Vice President Pence said you’re still looking at moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. What is the White House view on those remarks? I mean, we didn’t hear anything from President Trump in response to that.
MR. SPICER: I think the Vice President, as you noted, commented yesterday that it’s still something that is being discussed and considered by the President. It will continue to be a discussion that he has with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. But obviously, we’re not going to —
Q: On the Palestinian —
MR. SPICER: Again, I’m not going to — they had a series of private discussions. That is why the President is able to effectively get things done for this country is to not negotiate out in public. He’s going to continue to have discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas moving forward, and he feels confident about where that relationship was and developments that were made today.
Q: He doesn’t object to what President Abbas said, it’s just not decided?
MR. SPICER: It’s not a question of not decided. I’m not going to negotiate what they are talking about in private from this podium. So that’s —
Q: (Inaudible.) That’s why I’m asking.
MR. SPICER: I understand it. I’m just telling you that we are not going to negotiate from the podium.
Q: Just to follow up on the President’s meeting with Abbas, he did say at one point, “Frankly,” talking about Middle East peace and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “maybe it’s not as difficult as people have thought.” Why does he believe that the toughest — arguably the toughest foreign policy challenge in our lifetime may not be as difficult as people have thought?
MR. SPICER: I think both of these leaders have very publicly expressed the confidence they have in the President’s negotiating skills, in the President’s desire to work to get peace, the relationship that he’s built with them individually and the trust and respect that they have for him.
And I think that he, in discussions with them, in private discussions with them, feels very optimistic about the shared goal that everybody has. Obviously, there’s a lot of issues that have to get covered, but the President understands that they respect his ability to want to get this done — his relationships and respect that have been developed.
And I think this is something that he really wants to have happen.
Q: And getting back to healthcare, why even monkey around with preexisting conditions? That’s the most popular thing in Obamacare. Why are you guys spinning your wheels messing around with preexisting conditions?
MR. SPICER: I wouldn’t call it “messing around,” or however you phrased it. I think the President wants to do everything —
Q: Right now, people with preexisting conditions are covered. They’re not discriminated against.
MR. SPICER: No, no, just hold on —
Q: You’re going to change to a system where who the hell knows what’s going to happen. It depends on what state they live in. If they live in this state over here, that governor may seek a waiver and all of a sudden they’re thrown into this system where hopefully that fund is going to cover their preexisting conditions. It is a big change for people who live with those kinds of illnesses, is it not?
MR. SPICER: Well, look, the big change — I guess we have a very different view of this. Because my view, and I think the President’s view, is that Obamacare — if you have a preexisting condition and you no longer have a healthcare provider, or your premiums or deductible are going through the roof, then you don’t have coverage.
And we just read it out. I mean, I don’t — if you have —
Q: So you’re not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
MR. SPICER: No, no, what I’m saying to you right now —
Q: Repeal Obamacare because you’re saying it’s not working, but then why change preexisting conditions?
MR. SPICER: We’re not. No, no, we’re strengthening — I think — look, we have done everything to not only strengthen but to guarantee —
Q: Is it strengthening it if —
MR. SPICER: Absolutely.
Q: — a governor can say, here’s my waiver and no more preexisting conditions?
MR. SPICER: Sure you can. Jim, I walked through this. But I think the fundamental point that seems to be getting lost is that if you have Obamacare right now, in case after case you are losing it. So if you have a preexisting condition and you have a card that says “Obamacare” but no one will see you or you can’t afford it, then you don’t have coverage.
Q: Why not fix that?
MR. SPICER: We are. We’re guaranteeing it. But I don’t know how much —
Q: Why does the preexisting condition component have to be altered? Why not just keep that protection in place?
MR. SPICER: The President has made it very clear that preexisting conditions are covered in the bill under every scenario. I don’t know how much clearer we can state it.
Q: So anybody who has a preexisting condition under Trumpcare, they’re going to be fine, without question?
MR. SPICER: Yes.
Q: Thank you, Sean. I want to follow up on healthcare. I just want to know why the White House is pushing so hard for a vote on this healthcare bill at a time when, as you just said a few minutes ago, it’s literally impossible to analyze its impact on the healthcare system. Why not wait for that analysis to come out?
MR. SPICER: The vote is going to happen, as I’ve said, like eight times now, when the Speaker and the Majority Leader and the Majority Whip want to. Our job is to work as hard as we can to work with members of Congress who want to see their healthcare system improved. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what we’ve done. And so it will be up to the House leadership to decide when to vote.
Q: Thanks, Sean. Two questions for you; one following on Jordan real quick. You just made a guarantee to the American people on behalf of the President regarding preexisting conditions, but you told Matt and then Jordan earlier that it’s literally impossible to know the impact of this law. So how can you make that guarantee?
MR. SPICER: No, no, he was asking — they were asking about cost. The President has made it very clear on numerous occasions that he’s going to make sure that preexisting conditions are covered.
Q: And so then the White House has the analysis to back that up, is what you’re saying?
MR. SPICER: In every scenario, yes.
Q: And then to just follow up on something that Director Mulvaney said yesterday regarding the President’s tweet about calling for a “good shutdown” potentially in September. He said the reason the President sent that tweet was he was frustrated by Democrats spiking the football and thereby poisoning the well for future negotiations. The President, when he was campaigning, said he was going to win for all Americans. Why did the President’s feelings matter at all?
MR. SPICER: It’s the process that I think he’s frustrated with. Because he does want to win for every American, and I think that’s why he’s fought so hard for this. But you’ve seen time and time again Democrats obstruct routine things that they supposedly are for, but do everything they can to obstruct. I think the President is frustrated with the system. He’s talked about how archaic it is in the Senate in particular. Because he’s out there working to try to get, whether it’s healthcare or tax reform or his Cabinet, through the Senate.
There are various things that the President is trying to do that are — issues when he’s having conversations with members of the Senate or the House who will say, I’m with you on this great idea but I just can’t vote with you. He is, I think, understandably frustrated with how hard he’s working to achieve the promises, goals and objectives that he set out with the American people to make the country better and to deal with multiple layers of obstructionism.
Q: Thanks, Sean. So you’ve cited the 60-vote threshold as a reason why funding for the wall wasn’t pursued in this spending bill, but what’s going to be different in September? I mean, presumably the legislative conditions would be the same, so what will change between now and September to give you confidence that we’ll get funding for the border wall then?
MR. SPICER: Well, I think there’s multiple things. When you come in — this CR, there was a lot that was already carried over from last time in terms of the — because it’s not just a continuing resolution, it’s a total omnibus package, meaning that there are multiple bills that are a part of the underlying package that already have increases or underlying policy in them from the previous fiscal year, from the previous Congress, from the President administration.
This bill will reflect in 2018 the President’s priorities in working with a Republican House and Senate. Thank you guys very much. We’ll see you tomorrow in New York. Have a good one.
3:05 P.M. EDT
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