James S. Brady Briefing Room 1:41 P.M. EDT MR. SPICER: Good afternoon. First, at the top, I wanted to note that the President has been briefed on the situation in London. He just spoke to Prime Minister May, and we’ll have a readout on that situation and that call soon. We obviously condemn today’s attack in Westminster, which the United Kingdom is treating as an act of terrorism. And we applaud the quick response that the British police and their first responders made to the situation. The victims in this are in our thoughts and our prayers. The City of London and Her Majesty's government have the full support of the U.S. government in responding to the attack and bringing those to justice who are responsible. We will provide you with further updates as warranted and, as I mentioned, a readout of the President's call with the Prime Minister. Turning to the events of today -- this morning, the President received his daily intelligence briefing. He stopped by the Women in Healthcare panel hosted by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Systems Administrator, Seema Verma. And also, that event was attended by the Vice President and the Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Tom Price. Healthcare professionals have seen the challenges of implementing Obamacare firsthand. They're a valuable asset to the President and his team as we continue to consider and enact policies, like the American Health Care Act, that will make healthcare more accessible and affordable for everyone. The women who were at the roundtable today represent the physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and administrators who make sure that people around the country receive the necessary preventative and lifesaving care that they need every day. The doctors who attend to the patients in the family practices, emergency rooms, and clinics -- and those who support them on the administrative and technical sides -- are one of our country’s most treasured resources. With the passage of the American Health Care Act and the rest of the President’s healthcare reform agenda, everyone, regardless of their financial situation, will be able to take full advantage of this resource. That’s why, at last count, over 40 major associations have expressed their support for the American Health Care Act, with several of them, including the U.S. Chamber [of Commerce], the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and, just today, the National Taxpayers Union calling it a key vote. Following his appearance at the panel, the President and his legislative affairs team hosted several members of the House of Representatives for another meeting on the American Health Care Act. The President acknowledged, as he has before, that the AHCA is only one step in the larger process of fixing the broken healthcare system created by Obamacare, but it’s an essential first step. Undoing and fixing all of the misguided policies is going to require a holistic, multistep process. And that’s why the President and his team are fully committed to maintaining an open line of communication with Capitol Hill leadership throughout this entire process. Throughout the weeks since the AHCA was first introduced, they have been meeting with Republican members from across the political spectrum, many of whom we’ve seen move from “no” to “yes,” as they learn more about the legislation and amendments that have been adopted. Continued coordination between administrative and legislative actions will ensure that our new healthcare system is effective and efficient. This afternoon, the President will meet with the Congressional Black Caucus’s Executive Committee. The President has brought in and will continue to hear from representatives of all interests as he continues to note that he is the President of all Americans. Diversity makes our nation strong, and it also means that we don't necessarily agree on every policy item but that we continue to have a dialogue towards productive policies that help America move forward. The President looks forward to discussing the CBC’s policy priorities and finding ways that they can work together where those priorities align. This evening, the President will have dinner with Secretary of State Tillerson. Today at the State Department, Secretary Tillerson hosted the foreign ministers and senior leaders of the Global Coalition working to defeat ISIS for the first meeting of the full coalition of 68 members since December 2014. This meeting follows up on the defense ministerial Secretary Mattis hosted last month in Brussels. The coalition is united in the fight against ISIS, and this meeting seeks to accelerate international efforts to defeat ISIS in the remaining areas it holds in Iraq and Syria, while maximizing pressure on its branches, affiliates, and networks. This meeting is a part of our whole-of-government approach to defeating ISIS. The Trump administration will use all of the tools of national power, in coordination with our international powers [partners], to cut off ISIS’s funding, expand intelligence sharing, and deny ISIS geographic and online safe havens. Also today, over on the Hill, Judge Gorsuch [is] in his second day of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee. During his nearly 12 hours of questioning yesterday -- now at least I know how someone else feels -- (laughter) -- the judge continued to prove himself an enormously qualified jurist that Americans will all be proud to see on the Supreme Court. It’s not surprising that Senate Democrats are failing to gain traction for any of their potshots and opposition to Judge Gorsuch. There’s simply not enough politicizing the Senate Democrats can do to hide the fact that Judge Gorsuch is an immensely qualified and thoughtful jurist with a lifelong dedication to our Constitution. A few administrative notes here before I take your questions: Last night, we formally announced that the President will travel to Brussels for the May 25th meeting of NATO heads of state and government. During this meeting, the President looks forward to reaffirming our strong commitment to NATO and discussing critical issues to the Alliance, especially Allied responsibility-sharing and NATO’s role against -- the fight against terrorism. The President will also host NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg to the White House on April 12th. Today, the President declared a major disaster exists in the state of Wyoming and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal, and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by a severe winter storm and straight-line winds that occurred in February. We also announced that the President will deliver this year’s commencement address at Liberty University on May 13th. The President is proud to call Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell, his wife Becki and their entire family, his friends, and looks forward to celebrating the success of this amazing graduating class on such a momentous occasion. Finally, a few minutes ago, many of you may have seen that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, gave remarks on the surveillance collected on individuals associated with the President. Let me quote him directly: “I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in the intelligence community reporting. And third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked. And fourth and finally, I want to be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or [of] the Trump team.” My understanding is that Chairman Nunes is coming to the White House later to brief the President on this development, and we will have a readout for that meeting once it occurs. With that, I'll be glad to take your questions. Mara. Q Two questions. One on Nunes and then healthcare. Is your understanding that this -- none of these unmasked names were leaked? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I literally read the statement -- or heard the statement, came out and briefed it. It was wrapping up as we were beginning this. Q Okay. Today in the pool spray, the President said "keep your doctor, keep your plan" didn't work out that way. You didn't get your doctor. You don't get your plan. This is one of the reasons we have to repeal Obamacare. Is the President assuring people who currently like their plan or like their doctor that under the American Health Care Act they can keep their doctor and their plan? MR. SPICER: Well, that's the hope. And what I mean by that is not to be cute, but last time they were promised something that didn't turn out. I can't promise something that a doctor stays in a plan or a plan stays there. But that's a bit different. We understand that we're letting market forces come into play here. Competition. Doctors can change what insurances they take. Plans can come in and out of markets. What I think we can be assured of is a couple of things. One is that currently under Obamacare, premiums are set to continue to skyrocket. We've seen an average of 25 percent. We've noted before in Arizona, they've gone up 116 percent. I think there’s no question that the additional competition and amendments that have been brought into this discussion will help lower the trajectory of that, number one. Number two is I think that they're going to see greater choice. So I think those are the things that we're willing to talk about being part of this plan because you can't -- where they erred last time is went out and made promises that they couldn’t keep. And I think that one of the problems that they did is that they’ve tried to suppress market forces and competition. And instead of lowering costs and increasing choice, which is what they sought to do, it did the opposite. So that's where this is headed, and I think that's important. John. Q Thanks a lot, Sean. On the AHCA, Mark Meadows, who appears to be a firm no in terms of his opposition to the replacement bill, said that 25 members of the Freedom Caucus are opposed to this replacement bill. Do you dispute those numbers? MR. SPICER: I’m not going to share our whip count. I know we saw Lou Barletta, who was a hard no, come out and say he’s yes. Steve King I believe had been a no; he’s a yes. Member by member we're seeing tremendous support flow in our direction, and the count keeps getting stronger for us. So I’m not going to start to get into yes or nos. But I would just say that former Congressman Mulvaney, now Director of OMB Mulvaney, who is a leader in that caucus, has been a very strong advocate of this policy. As you know, he’s been up on the Hill talking to his former colleagues, assuring them of the effort and why the process has to go the way it does. But I’m optimistic in the sense of what we're seeing and the trajectory that this is going, and the number of votes that are flowing our way, not the other way. Q And on the confirmation hearing for Judge Neil Gorsuch, I have not seen any Democrat come out in support of Judge Gorsuch just yet. Do you anticipate that you’ll get Democratic support on this particular nomination? MR. SPICER: I hope and believe so. I think that there have been several that have been spoken very positively. I think he’s been extremely impressive throughout this confirmation process, and you've heard members both in the Senate, on the committee, and then a lot of outside voices comment on how well he’s done, how qualified he is. And I think it’s tough for anybody to say that he’s not immensely qualified for this position. Alexis. Q Sean, related to Congressman Nunes, can you explain why the White House has agreed to meet with him at all about what his findings are? And the reason I ask that is because the minute that Director Comey said that there was an official investigate, it might appear as if the White House is interfering with the investigation. And Congressman Nunes should present his information not to the White House but to the FBI. So why is anyone here at the White House agreeing to meet with him about his findings? MR. SPICER: We’ll have a readout for you after that meeting. I think he did this press conference. He made the announcement that he was coming up to see the President to share these findings. I don't know who else he’s shared them with. I don't know -- to your question, I don't know if he’s briefed anyone else on it in terms of the intelligence community -- either Admiral Rogers or Comey -- of whether this is something they shared with him. But I think after the meeting, hopefully depending on the classification level, we may be able to share more on that with you. Q Can I just add, is the President concerned at all that there will be an appearance immediately, today that he has interfered with an ongoing investigation -- whether it’s a congressional investigation or the executive branch investigation by meeting privately with a congressman who says he has information? MR. SPICER: So let me get this straight. Number one, we asked -- as you know, two weeks ago, we said this was the appropriate venue. Number two, you guys have asked us over and over again, why aren’t we meeting with certain individuals. The chairman of the committee that -- one of the two committees that we asked to look into this -- wants to share his findings, or what he knows. I think that is exactly how we’ve talked about this working. But I would leave it to Congressman Nunes to come up, and to brief and share his thoughts. I don’t know what his plan is. Obviously, he sat -- he briefed the media before he briefed us. He went down and talked about what he had found. So, you know, it’s interesting, I didn’t see any complaints from you guys when he went down and held a press conference for the umpteenth time talking about his findings and what he's found. There is no complaints from the media when he shares what he has found with you guys. But when he wants to come up here and tell us, this is where the investigation stands and here’s what I've unloaded -- or excuse me, learned -- there’s seems to be a little bit of an interesting double standard on that. Q Just to close the loop, because the President said that he had additional information that he believed the White House or he or his representatives would present, related to this investigation, what Congressman Nunes has is not related to that? MR. SPICER: I don’t -- you’re asking me questions that -- he has not briefed us. He has not briefed the President. You guys, as I noted -- he actually went down and spoke to the media before he shared this with us. So I would ask the colleagues that of yours that ask questions, more than you have -- you've had -- collectively, the media has more of an opportunity to ask questions and to hear what he has to say than we do at this point. So once we have more to understand what he said, to the extent that we can, I’m sure we’ll be glad to share it with you. But the media has more information than we do at this point. Jon. Q Sean, staying on that, didn’t we already know that there was incidental collection of intelligence involving some members of the transition team? And I point to -- MR. SPICER: Not the way you guys ask the questions. I mean, you questioned us every day about what we knew, and now you’re coming back to me saying, didn’t we already know this. Well -- I’m doing somewhat of an effective job. Q No, but didn’t we already know that Flynn was monitored in his conversations with Kislyak? MR. SPICER: Right. Q So we know -- MR. SPICER: Again, I guess my point, John, is I don’t know. He made a statement, went down to the press. Until we get briefed on this, until the President gets briefed, I don’t know what he knows. And so to ask -- until that occurs, and until we have the ability to share some of that in an unclassified nature, I don’t want to get ahead of it. I don’t know what he knows. That’s why, apparently, he’s coming up to share his findings with the President. At least that’s what he said. Again, let’s wait and see how this unfolds. Q And on the American Health Care Act, Mark Meadows says they don’t have the votes, they need to start over and do a new bill. That sounds like you’re in pretty serious trouble. MR. SPICER: No, that sounds like one member’s opinion. As I mentioned -- Q Who represents a large contingent of people who oppose the bill. MR. SPICER: No, no, no, but again, I just named a few of the members that are part of that caucus that have come on board. I think that -- look, every day, you see more and more of those members from that caucus and throughout the entire conference express their support for the bill. The President was up yesterday for a while talking to them. We’ve had members -- and the Vice President has been actively engaged -- Mick Mulvaney, Reince Priebus, Marc Short and Rick Dearborn, who lead our leg affairs team. These guys have been flooding the Hill. They’ve been on the phone, having meetings with them. There’s been a series of members up here all day. I think the trajectory is going very well for us. Q And Heritage Action says you can easily fix this bill simply by removing the regulatory framework -- the tax credits and all of that -- and you’ll get massive buy-in from conservatives. But can you do that? MR. SPICER: There are certain constraints that we have in the reconciliation process. And for those who are steeped in the arcane rules of the Senate, there's a thing called the Byrd Rule, and it does not allow policy to be recreated. It has to do with the budgetary nature of that vehicle to get -- that’s sustainable at 50 votes. Right now, there are certain things that I think a lot of people would like but that will not potentially get ruled in order by the Senate parliamentarian. So I understand what people want, but I think that we have created a vehicle to get this done. This is the only way that we will repeal and replace Obamacare. And again, I think people have to recognize that there is a three-step process to doing this. This is exactly how the Democrats enacted it, and this is exactly how we will unwind it and implement a much better system. That’s it, plain and simple. Margaret. Q Sean, I know you can’t get ahead of Nunes, but what he said was, incidental, legal surveillance using a FISA warrant, which would -- MR. SPICER: I don’t believe he said FISA warrant. Q He did. MR. SPICER: Did he? Okay. Q He did. And that’s why I’m asking this question, which is, does the Trump administration have the presumption that foreign leaders or foreign nationals will not be surveilled when they are in contact with -- MR. SPICER: No, look, again, as I said, I don’t want to start talking or guessing what he may say or may not say, or explain this. I think that we will have more information, or I hope to have more information once the President is briefed, and to find out what else has gone on in terms of additional information on this. But I do think it is a startling revelation and there's a lot of questions that need to get asked. I think it's interesting all of the questions are in the presumptive negative towards us, as opposed to "why was this taking place, why were people surveilled ostensibly; they were involved in the campaign." Because it's not -- Q Well, that's why I'm trying to clarify that -- MR. SPICER: No, no, the question is -- the question -- Q -- was your presumption that foreign nationals -- MR. SPICER: No, no, it's not a presumption. Actually, I'm not the one -- Q (Inaudible.) MR. SPICER: Right. Respectfully, I'm not the one with the presumption -- you guys are. I didn’t come up here presuming anything. I actually started my comments off by saying that -- Q Well, I would presume that foreign nationals are being monitored by U.S. intelligence when they are talking to anyone. MR. SPICER: And then the question -- I think there's a series of questions, which is, how many times was an individual picked up? Why were they picked up? Were they unmasked? Again, a lot of this, if they're picked up during a FISA warrant, is that American citizens are prohibited by law from being unmasked, from "having their name put out there." Why would someone's name get put out there? What ways were they described? There's a lot of questions that need to get asked. Those are the relevant issues that need to get asked. How many times was one individual followed? Did their name get unmasked, and why? But there's a lot of things that need to get followed up on. We're not at that position yet, as I've said now multiple times. The Chairman is going to come up here, brief the President, I don’t know to what extent and to what detail. But hopefully, as we move forward, we will have more. Q Is this what you've been -- because you've said there's more information to come, more information to come. Is this what you've been gesturing towards? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. For the eighth time, there is no -- we don’t know what he's going to come up here and explain and share. And until that happens, for me to talk about where we think this is headed -- again, we're not in the business of trying to get to this point yet. We say, this is what they have. We've asked that the investigation be conducted and that people gather up information. What they have and to what extent, we'll know soon. April. Q Sean, I have a series of questions on a topic. Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, met with an official here at the White House yesterday. She's looking for fairness and justice in her son's case. What should we expect to come out of that meeting with this White House official? Should there be a push to make sure that there is an indictment of the police officer's -- MR. SPICER: I mean, that's a Department of Justice question. For us to get involved in a case, a specific case, would be highly inappropriate in terms of trying to guess what the outcome of a case should be. Q Well, along that line, the official, according to Ms. Carr, reached out to the Department of Justice, the civil rights division, had the wrong number; called another department, had the right number. Now, in previous administrations, to include the Obama administration and other administrations, the Department of Justice had limited the numbers of people to call over to the Department of Justice. Has the Attorney General, this Attorney General Sessions, changed that memo? What has he done? MR. SPICER: Well, it would have to be reissued. That's a separate issue in terms of -- every Attorney General issues a memo going back to, I think, Mukasey was the first one -- post-Watergate -- I'm trying to remember who issued the first one. But it has been a practice of I think almost every Attorney General to issue a memo spelling out the procedures that officials in the Justice Department contact the White House and who they can contact, and the nature of which and what their exceptions are, et cetera. Those memos get crafted by each administration, by each new Attorney General. I would refer you back to the Department of Justice on the status of that under this Attorney General. Q So how many officials here have that right, to call the Department of Justice, even if it's for -- MR. SPICER: I don’t know the answer. I would refer you to the Department of Justice. Q But was there wrongdoing in this effort to call over to the Department of Justice? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I don’t know the nature of -- I'll have to look into what you're asking. But I would, again, refer you back to the Department of Justice. Hunter. Q Yes. Thank you, Sean. I have two quick questions. Last November, President Trump dismissed reports he was trying to obtain security clearances for his children as "a typically false news story." Now there are reports Ivanka Trump is indeed attempting to obtain a clearance. What changed there? MR. SPICER: Well, at the time, it was not true. I mean, she wasn’t obtaining a security clearance, so it was not accurate then. There was no -- I think we addressed it during the transition. An official had actually just inquired. There was no actual attempt at the time. The official in question was removed from the transition team. They had merely made an inquiry into what it would take to get an SF-86 process moving forward. No paperwork was ever drawn, no account was opened, and that official was let go. At this time, as I mentioned yesterday, Ivanka has decided to go above and beyond, and act in certain ways to ensure that she complies with certain rules by maintaining the Federal Records Act, getting a security clearance so that if she is privy to any information that is classified, she has to abide by the same rules and regulations in terms of being in a room and how it's handled, et cetera. We have taken appropriate measures to do that. I mentioned the statement yesterday and will stick by it. Q And then the second question on Paul Manafort. The Associated Press has published a report based on documents that he had a plan to "benefit" Vladimir Putin for a client. And with him back in the headlines, I'm just wondering if you still stand by the comment that he had a "limited role" on the campaign. And if you could explain a little bit more about how spending months as the campaign's top official is a limited role. MR. SPICER: Yeah, thank you. I've tried to avoid commenting. I know I've talked to a lot of you about the individual stories, but I think obviously this one has started to catch a lot of buzz. So to comment briefly on this, I think nothing in this morning's report referenced any actions by the President, the White House, or any Trump administration official. I think that's got to be clear from the get-go. The report is entirely focused on actions that Paul took a decade ago regarding -- he's a former advisor of the campaign, and the actions that came to light this morning are about a client that he had last decade. I know I commented on this the other day, and clearly I should have been more precise with respect to Paul's role. So let me clarify this and kind of go through the facts. Paul was hired to oversee the campaign's delegate operation. He had played a significant role in the convention and delegate operations of four previous Republican nominees -- Bob Dole, former Presidents George H. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. And to be clear, he got the job done on the delegates. The President won the Republican nomination after months of speculation after a potentially contested contest -- convention. In total, he was involved with the campaign for a total of just under five months. He was first hired on March 28th to oversee delegate operations. He was made the chief strategist and campaign chairman on May 19th. And his relationship with the campaign ended on August 19th. The AP story focuses on his activities from the last decade. And to place in to context, Paul represented many foreign clients, according to publicly available data, in the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and Europe. His representation of foreign clients is public and similar to the work of Tony Podesta, a Clinton campaign fundraiser, whose brother John chaired Hillary Clinton's campaign. Last year -- not last decade -- Tony Podesta lobbied against sanctions for Russia's largest bank. And John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chair, sat on the board of a Russian-based energy company. This was something tied to Hillary Clinton, who was the face of the failed Russia reset policy. So it's not even close -- what we're talking about now isn't even close to her most significant role with respect to Russia. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, along with the Obama administration, approved a deal that gave Russia one-fifth of America's uranium reserves. Hillary's husband, former President Bill Clinton, received over half a million dollars by a paid speech by a bank connected to the uranium deal. And Vladimir Putin personally called the former President and thanked him for giving the speech. So an individual who worked for less than -- the campaign for five months for the President's two-year long campaign, who worked with a Russian entity a decade ago, is the subject of rampant media speculation all day long, even though the Clintons had much more expensive -- extensive ties, while Secretary of State Hillary was crafting a policy she said was designed "strengthen Russia." And to be clear, the President has no personal financial dealings with Russia. His ties are limited to hosting a contest in Russia once, and selling a Palm Beach home to a businessman in 2005. That's it. And for members of the media trying to conflate Paul's role in activities with Monday's hearing, I have another reminder: Numerous individuals, including former Obama Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, and acting CIA Director Mike Morrell and members of the intelligence community from both parties who have been briefed have said across the board that they have seen zero evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. And that's not going to be changed by former business dealings of a campaign staffer from a decade ago. Sara. Q Thanks, Sean. You and other senior administration officials have sought to assure skeptical Republican lawmakers that phase two of these regulatory modifications will address some of their concerns. So what is Secretary Tom Price waiting for? Why not roll out phase two now if the vote is looking like it's going to be a very close marker? MR. SPICER: I think in some of those cases -- and it's tied to -- it's all one package, and that's why I think you saw some of the stuff he is working on, some of the stuff he is doing. But I think the important piece is to get the phase-one part of it done. He has assured them and talked to them about different administrative actions. Again, part of this is sequencing. I mean, the same way that in Obamacare they didn’t just have Kathleen Sebelius then go out and start implementing things. They passed the bill first through the reconciliation process, got that done, and then she did the administrative piece. We're doing the same process because of how some of the sequencing has to occur. And then the same thing on the legislative front, we've introduced in the House -- all those pieces of legislation have been done. Leader McCarthy has started to talk about the, that do all of the prong -- three steps. So a lot of it is coming together, but part of it is, is a sequencing aspect that needs to get taken care of. But we are moving in the right direction. Can I go to John (inaudible) for the first question on Skype? Q Yes. Good afternoon, Sean, from (inaudible) in Newport. Sean, you have a lot of members of the media saying that President Trump -- the President to all the people. What does the President say -- (inaudible)? Yesterday, you had (inaudible) White House grandstanding at the confirmation hearing. We've had Elizabeth Warren (inaudible), the Boston Globe condemning the (inaudible). You had Rhode Island Governor, Gina Raimondo, boycott. You had (inaudible) while she fundraised around the country. What's the President saying to frustrated Trump supporters who don’t feel they're getting proper representation (inaudible) and in Congress? MR. SPICER: Well, I mean, I think with respect to Judge Gorsuch, which is I think -- pretty clear that's where you're headed on this -- Q Yes. MR. SPICER: Thank you. I just -- I mean, when you look at the praise, I mean, obviously I would love for it to be universal. And while we've gotten bipartisan praise from pundits and former law clerks in both parties, high number of jurists and former people -- legal scholars, members of Congress, we're not going to win everybody. And I think that Democrats have tried to score some points on the committee. They've largely fallen by the wayside. And we've seen very high praise for him. So I would just suggest that anybody who's got a problem with him, I'd love to hear it, because so far most of the issues -- no one seems to have a problem with his academic credentials, his record or anything else. So I'm pretty buoyed by a lot of what we've seen come out of Capitol Hill with respect to him. Blake. Q Sean, thanks. Do you take the House Freedom Caucus at their word, Mark Meadows at their word? There are at least two dozen or so who are "nos." So how do you get from this point right now policy-wise to tomorrow -- something, anything that maybe might flip that? MR. SPICER: I think we're doing it. I mean, piece by piece, member by member, we're getting there, and we're getting much closer. The last couple days we've continued to do that. But then today alone, I mentioned a couple of the other members. Slowly but surely we're getting there, and I feel confident that when the vote comes up, we'll have the votes. Q And let me ask you today, Patrick McHenry, congressman, deputy whip, described the President, as members of Congress were coming in here to the White House, as the "closer." Do you embrace that label? MR. SPICER: He is the closer. Q Do you embrace that label here as it relates to healthcare? MR. SPICER: Absolutely. Ayesha. Q You just said that you're confident that the healthcare bill will pass tomorrow. I want to get a sense of how confident you are. I don’t know if you want to rate your percentage on it. Like, how confident are you that the bill will pass? And if it doesn’t pass, is there a plan B? MR. SPICER: No, there is no plan B. There's plan A and plan A. We're going to get this done. Q And so you're confident -- 100 percent confident? MR. SPICER: We're going to get it done. That's it -- plain and simple. Q Thanks, Sean. I know you said you didn’t know what information you were going to find out today from Chairman Nunes, but my question for you is, when did the President know about this surveillance that the Congressman brought up today on Capitol Hill? He spoke late last week about -- we'll find out more information that would support these wiretapping claims. Is this the information he was talking about? MR. SPICER: Until Chairman Nunes briefs him, we don’t know what he knows versus what the President has been made aware of. And so how that jives, I don’t know. I hope to have more for you later. Q And a quick follow-up on healthcare and just a quick follow-up on Asia. Does the President believe the healthcare bill will pass the House tomorrow? MR. SPICER: Yes. Jonathan. Q Two questions on Paul Manafort. Did the President know that he had worked to advance Putin’s interests previous to becoming the campaign chairman? MR. SPICER: No, the President was not aware of Paul’s clients from last decade. No. Q But is that a problem? You know, now that all this is coming out and there is a whole lot scrutiny -- MR. SPICER: No, no, but what is coming up? What else don’t we know? I mean, where he went to school, what grades he got, who played he played with in the sandbox? Q Well, you didn’t know that Michael Flynn was -- MR. SPICER: Okay, I -- thanks, Peter. I’m answering a question -- Q We're all part of the conversation. MR. SPICER: No, you’re not, actually. The answer to your question is, I think to talk about someone having a client from 10 years ago that had a consulting company with clients from around the world -- Q He paid millions of dollars to advance Putin’s interests. I mean, that’s enough -- MR. SPICER: Well, I don’t know what he got paid to. If you listen to what Paul -- Q The documents said -- MR. SPICER: Hold on. I understand. I’m going to answer your question, if you give me a second. That he was a consultant, he had clients from around the world. There is no suggestion that he did anything improper. But to suggest that that President knew who his clients were from a decade ago is a bit insane. There is not -- he was not a government employee. He didn’t fill out any paperwork attesting to something. There is nothing that he did that suggests, at this point, that anything was nefarious. He was hired to do a job; he did it. That’s it -- plain and simple. Q I’m just saying, given that it was such a focus -- you brought it up just then with Hillary Clinton, that these were corrupt arrangements and that the Clinton Foundation was described as a criminal enterprise, and there was all this discussion of Russia. And you've pointed out -- MR. SPICER: There is a big difference between -- there was dollars -- hold on -- Q I understand. I'm not conflating the President. I’m just asking, is he disappointed, now that he has found this out, that there was this -- MR. SPICER: Found out what, Jonathan? That he had a client over a -- Q That he was working for Putin, for a lot of money. MR. SPICER: -- in the past decade, he had a client, and you’re worried about what? That he held -- I mean -- Q That he was doing work to advance Putin’s interests. MR. SPICER: I don’t know what work he was doing. So to suggest that just because he had a client in the past decade that no one is suggesting was anything improper -- he was hired to count delegates, which is what he did, and he was successful at it, as he had done for George Herbert Walker Bush, Gerald Ford, and Bob Dole. He was hired to do a job, and he did it, and he did it fine. So -- Steven. Q Sean, why did the President fire Paul Manafort? MR. SPICER: Well, for two reasons. One is, I think, that there were some issues coming up with his ties to Ukraine that were becoming a distraction. And secondly, he was, I think, sixteen points down at the time. And he was down in the 20s in women. And I think the President recognized that he needed to make a change for those two reasons. Q Second question on healthcare. As confident and as optimistic as you are -- if at this point tomorrow you don’t have the magic number -- should the Speaker pull the bill from the floor? MR. SPICER: No, this is it. If you want to see Obamacare repealed and replaced, this is the vote, this is the time to act. This is what people have told the American people is going to happen. This vote needs to happen. If you’re waiting for your chance, this is it. We need to act. Cheryl. Q Thank you. Wall Street appears to be getting a little nervous about the possibility of tax reform this year. Can you say definitively that the President will present a package of tax reforms this year? MR. SPICER: Yes. Darlene. Q What time is the President expected to meet with Chairman Nunes this afternoon? MR. SPICER: I don’t -- I was walking out as the Chairman was reiterating -- I literally heard him on the streaming -- like, on the -- you know, his comments -- as he was saying them. So I don’t know that it was scheduled. The President was wrapping up a call with Prime Minister May at the time that I walked out, so I don’t know what was scheduled. Q And was there any consideration given to not meeting with the Chairman given the appearance -- MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I just know what the Chairman said he was doing. I walked out of here before anything had been finalized. He was still wrapping up the call with Theresa May at the time. Zeke. Q Thanks, Sean. You said the President is the closer, there is no plan B, tomorrow is it. So if you -- MR. SPICER: You’ve done a very good job, Zeke. (Laughter.) You guys better be careful, he’s going to put you out of work. Q So if tomorrow night’s outcome doesn’t go your way, if the vote fails, what should we then read into the President’s ability to negotiate and close deals; the White House’s ability to plant any sort of legislation and a legislative -- MR. SPICER: Look -- and I know what you’re trying to get me to -- but we feel very good about the trajectory of this. Members continue to come with us. The number is going higher and higher, not lower and lower. So the trajectory is great. As I mentioned, everybody is out there -- full court press on this, and this is opportunity for anybody who wants to see this done. But I just want to be clear, we have a robust agenda -- tax reform, as I just mentioned, trade, immigration. There’s a lot of other things that need to get done. And I think there’s continued to be widespread support. In a lot of cases, bipartisan support for the President’s agenda. And so we’re going to continue to roll on in that. But we feel very good about where we are now. Mark. Q Sean, I was going to ask, in terms of after the vote tomorrow night, for those Republicans who decide to not support the White House, what kind of relationship -- any change in the relationship -- would they see going forward? Would they expect to see maybe a primary challenge later on? Or this is one of those things where they can vote their conscience if they really believe this isn’t the bill? MR. SPICER: I think we’re obviously -- we believe that this is a great opportunity to achieve the principles that we laid out to the American people. We’re not looking -- this is not -- the President made clear yesterday when he visited with the conference, he’s not there to threaten them; he’s there to explain political landscape to them, and to explain that -- I think that when you keep your promise, no matter what business you’re in, you tend to be rewarded -- whether it’s your customers or your friends, your family, your voters -- that Washington for too long has suffered a deficit of trust, and that we made very clear to the American people, if you gave us this opportunity and this honor to govern, that we would get certain things done. And this was at the top of that list. And this bill represents the best chance of repealing and replacing Obamacare and instilling a patient-centric healthcare system that increases choice and lowers cost, and that this is the only train leaving the station. Jonathan. Q Thank you, Sean. Sean, would then-candidate Donald Trump have hired Paul Manafort, such an important and prominent position in his campaign, if he had known that he had had a $10 million contract with somebody so close to Vladimir Putin to “greatly benefit the Putin government”? If he had known that, would he have hired him? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. I don’t want to -- Paul was hired, as I said, to count delegates. That’s why he was brought in, as he had been for George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Bob Dole. He did his job. That’s what he was there for. And -- Q And to run the campaign. I mean, he was chairman of the campaign. MR. SPICER: No, no. After, what, May 19th or something. But again, I’m not going to -- Q And to run the convention. I mean, you’ll notch it was a very prominent role. MR. SPICER: Yeah -- as he had done for the other three. He had held very significant -- look, so again, you’re basically saying, hey, the work that he did, he had a client a decade ago, would he have -- I don’t know the answer to that -- Q $10 million to promote the interests of Vladimir Putin. MR. SPICER: The answer to your question -- I don’t know. To look back right now and to say, if we knew now what we know then, would we have done things different? I don’t know. That’s a question that the President would have to weigh at the time. Q But he definitely didn’t know. MR. SPICER: No. Q You’re saying he didn’t know. MR. SPICER: No, he did not know. Q He had not idea that Manafort had done this. MR. SPICER: Of course, not. To suggest that he -- I mean, that’s like -- you can think about how many people are involved in a campaign of some sort. And granted, in this campaign it was run lean and mean. But to suggest that everybody knew everybody’s background -- did they pay their taxes, how much did they pay, what deductions did they take, who did they work for in the -- Q Shouldn’t he have disclosed that? I mean, he did work for -- MR. SPICER: Disclosed what? That he had done -- Q He had worked on behalf of an adversary of the United States. He got a $10 million contract. MR. SPICER: Again, I’m not here to vouch for what he did or how -- I don’t know. Q -- but the President would want to know, wouldn’t he? MR. SPICER: Maybe. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know what the circumstances were at the time, and I don’t know what exactly -- so for me to start to infer that what he did or did not do was anything improper is not appropriate at this time. I don’t know what work he did. I know what he was hired to do, and he did his job. Shane. Q I want to ask about Paul Manafort here, too. Are you saying he wasn’t disappointed to learn, in the last 24 hours, that his chief strategist worked for Vladimir Putin’s -- MR. SPICER: I don’t -- no, no -- because again, you’re -- Q What was his reaction -- MR. SPICER: I don’t know, because the story that came out this morning said that he had had client. Paul has put out a statement that suggests this is what he did, this is how he handled it, there were -- I mean, you’ve all read the same. We have not spent a ton of time going to investigate what he did for that client a decade ago. Q Is the President disappointed to learn that this was -- MR. SPICER: I really have not discussed the President’s -- I know what he has made very clear: He hired him to do a job, he did the job well, he got him over the finish line. On August 19th, he was let go of the campaign for the reasons that I have mentioned. Q Can you say if Paul Manafort played any role in the hiring of any people in the federal government after the election? Did he advise the President? MR. SPICER: Not to my knowledge, at all. John. Q Thank you, Sean. Going back to the American Health Care Act, there was always nervousness that moving too quickly on it would leave some very dangerous points in the details. Several publications, including Sara’s, reported today that as a result of a change of a few words, veterans who benefitted from a program called Veterans Affairs, or had the option of getting tax credits, would not get neither under the new legislation, and that 7 million veterans would be cost healthcare. Is the administration following this, and is urging Congress to do anything about it? MR. SPICER: Most veterans get their healthcare either through TRICARE or through Medicare, if they’re over 65 or a combination thereof, correct? Q Well -- but there’s two programs. One is the Veterans Affairs program, and the other is the option -- this is under the current law -- to have tax credits. And my understanding, again, from Sara’s publication this morning and several others, is that 7 million veterans could possibly lose both under this program. MR. SPICER: I would have to follow-up with you. I’m not aware of any modifications to TRICARE in particular that would have that effect. Kristen. Q Sean, thanks. On Monday, the President accused former President Obama and Democrats of rushing through the healthcare law -- jamming it through -- when, in fact, they actually debated it for about a year. This healthcare law was rolled out about 15 days ago. So don’t you run the risk of rushing this through, of not giving it enough time for public debate? MR. SPICER: I think Republicans have talked about repealing and replacing Obamacare since 2010. We’ve campaigned on it in every election since. The principles that are in a lot of these have been very public for a long time. And -- Q Understood. But you just rolled out the specifics, Sean. You just rolled out the actual -- MR. SPICER: And it’s gone through three committees, two of which had unanimous Republican support. Q Just a few days ago. MR. SPICER: I understand that. But we’re working it through the process. This was something the President campaigned on, told the American people would be his top priority. Republicans who ran for the House and Senate said that it would be a top priority. It’s something that they talked about for seven years, Kristen. So to suggest that we’re rushing anything -- I think we’ve done this very, very, very deliberately, and very responsibly to make sure that people could read it. So again, with all due respect to the folks who tackled this in the past, we actually put the bill online, let everyone in the entire world read it, didn’t jam it through and, to quote former Speaker Pelosi, say, if you want to read the bill, wait until we pass it. We actually let the American people and the entire world read what was in it, watch the process occur, and I think that is a much more open and transparent process. Q Let me just ask you a quick question about the terror attack. You said that the President has been briefed. He also spoke with Prime Minister Theresa May. Can you give us any more information about who may have been behind it? And should Americans have any concern, or are there any security changes that they should expect -- MR. SPICER: No, that would be highly irresponsible at this point. I know the British government is investigating this as an act of terrorism at this moment. So for me to sort of get out and ahead of -- I know our homeland security team and our national security team are in contact with them. Secretary Tillerson has issued a statement, as has Homeland Security Secretary Kelly. So we are continuing to monitor the situation. We’re in touch with officials in the British government. As I mentioned, as I was walking out here, the President was finishing up a call with Prime Minister May, and so we’ll try to have an additional readout to you, to the extent that that’s possible. But we’re going to provide the assistance we can to the British government to help get to the bottom of this. At this time, it would be highly irresponsible for us to get out in front of British officials. Charlie. Q You mentioned that there is no plan B, that plan A is the only vehicle -- the only train leaving the station, I believe you said. Does that mean if the plan fails -- if the bill fails, will the President move on to other issues he’s concerned about, like trade, and leave Obamacare in place? And if so, how long is he comfortable with leaving it in place? MR. SPICER: Well, as I mentioned -- I mean, we’re not going to leave it in place because we’re going to repeal and replace it tomorrow, move it through the Senate, and the President will sign the bill. We continue to see the enthusiasm and momentum coming to our direction. So I’m not looking -- as I mentioned, we’re not looking at a plan B. We have plan A, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to go from there. Jessica. Q I’m going to talk about China for moment. Do you now have the ability to formally announce the dates for when President Xi visits the United States? MR. SPICER: I do not know at this time. Q Why not? MR. SPICER: Because that’s not how it works. Because that’s something that we continue to work with President Xi and the Chinese government to coordinate the final dates and times. And then obviously we coordinate the announcement with them as well. But trust me, when we’re ready, we’ll let you and everyone else know. Q And are you going to be prepared to talk about the parameters of the bilateral relationship at that time? MR. SPICER: I’m sure that -- my guess is there will be a lot to discuss at that time. Jeff. Q Sean, has the President asked the FBI director or the NSA or any other agencies involved to come here to the White House and brief him on this new information, or is it just the intel chair? And if so, why not? MR. SPICER: Well, Jeff, it just happened. So it’s a silly question to ask me, literally as I’m walking out here, when the Chairman was wrapping up an event saying that he is announcing that he is coming down here. It’s not like we picked up the phone and then called everyone else. The first step is to actually hear what he has to say and to find out who else he’s briefed, where he’s got that information from, and then we’ll take the next steps going forward. Q Is this the first of several meetings, though? Do you believe he would like to have the FBI director come in? MR. SPICER: I don’t know. It’s literally -- it literally just happened as I was walking out here. So to suggest that other steps have occurred, until that briefing occurs we’ll see what this leads to. I don’t know. Q What’s the state of his credibility tonight? The Wall Street Journal, which has been very supportive of his candidacy and agenda, simply raised a question that he is not doing very well, and they said he could be on the verge of being a “fake President.” What do you believe the state of his credibility is as we sit here today in week nine? MR. SPICER: I think the President has made several promises to the American people, and he’s kept them. He appointed Neil Gorsuch as the judge, which was one of 20 people on a list. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He established a five-year lobbying ban and a foreign ban on -- lifetime, which is all what he said he was going to do. He said he was going to cut regulations, and he did that. He said he was going to start to bring back jobs -- he did that. He said that he was going to start to pay real attention and respect taxpayers, bringing down costs. He’s already done that. He’s backed a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. We’ve talked about that ad nauseam. He’s talked about putting forth a budget that puts defense first -- he did that. He took action on Dakota and Keystone Pipeline -- he did that. I think when it comes to the President making promises to the American people and keeping them, he’s got a pretty high record of doing it. Peter. Q Sean, if I could ask you about the conversation we’ve been having about Paul Manafort, but not specific to Paul Manafort. When Michael Flynn’s name came up at the time, having not registered as a foreign agent, there was a lot of focus on the vetting process that goes into individuals. Back then you said, “We trust people to fill out the appropriate forms that they need to. He has been very” -- referring to the President -- “he has been very committed to making sure we institute high standards here and we’re held to them.” So given your words, is it sufficient to trust the information that the people you hire give you? And can you say with certainty with right now that there isn’t anybody else that’s working in the interests of another foreign government working for this government right now? MR. SPICER: It’s a good question, Peter, because there’s a big difference between working for a campaign or an entity where there’s no forms to fill out -- when you work for the United States government, especially here in the White House, you fill out a security clearance form, you fill out an employment form that asks certain questions under the penalty of law. Those questions -- Q And Michael Flynn still got through, I guess. MR. SPICER: Hold on. No, well -- but again, he filled out forms under the penalty of law. I don’t know what was on his forms or what not was on his forms. Remember, what the President let him go for was not being truthful to the Vice President, not necessarily for what was on a form, which I do not know what he filled out or did not fill out. If somebody fills out a form here, an SF-86, a security clearance form, or another employment document, and lies on that form or misleads, then they’re going to face the penalty of law on that. That’s a big difference between saying when someone was hired on a campaign or another entity, that they should disclose everything in their past whether or not they -- who their clients were. But again, I mean, if someone presented a résumé and it was faulty, sure, I think that if that was -- as you recall, there was another person during the transition that was named to a position that was discussed as not being truthful with some of their works. We let them go. People write things. They have jobs. They describe themselves a certain way. And every time that I’m aware of that we’ve had an incident where someone has not been forthright and truthful, we’ve let them go. But when you work for the United States government, you actually fill out security clearance forms, employment forms under the penalty of law. None of those cases occurred in the past. And to dredge up someone’s work from a decade ago -- it’s not that Paul wasn’t truthful, just to be clear -- you’re trying to conflate something that’s there. You’re trying to make the accusation that somehow he was dishonest or distruthful. Q I’m not asking about Paul Manafort -- MR. SPICER: No, you are. Q I’m not asking about Paul Manafort at all. MR. SPICER: Who are you asking about? Q In fact, what I’m asking is, can you say with certainty that right now -- that there’s nobody working for this White House that is presently working in the interest of a foreign government? MR. SPICER: I can tell you that every form has been filled out -- Q So you trust that the information is -- MR. SPICER: Absolutely. You’ve got to -- people who are filling out forms -- so to sit here and ask me whether I can vouch for -- whatever it is -- a few hundred people that have filled out everything, that would be ridiculous for me to stand here and suggest that I possibly could. What I can tell you is, under the penalty of law, every single person has filled out a form that is being vetted by whatever level of classification that they need to get by the appropriate law enforcement agencies or HR entities. But I can’t prevent somebody from fully disclosing everything on their taxes or filling out a form. What I can tell you is that -- and if there is an instance brought to our attention where someone has misled it, either they will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency or dismissed, or appropriate action will be taken. But yes, there is no tolerance for that. Q And then very quickly, in regards to Devin Nunes and the fact that he’s going to come today and the comments that you began the briefing by telling us -- on March 4th, the President tweeted: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” Does the President stand by his statement that President Obama is a “bad (or sick) guy”? MR. SPICER: I think the President’s tweets stand for themselves. Q So he thinks he’s a “bad (or sick) guy.” MR. SPICER: I’m going to answer the question -- Q Okay, but you said it stood for itself, so I was asking. MR. SPICER: I know. I think the President’s tweets speak for themselves. As for the rest of the tweets, let’s see, as we’ve mentioned before, how this process evolves and what information we can further gather up. Q Thanks, Sean. On the executive order on energy independence, that’s been delayed for several weeks now. Can you -- MR. SPICER: Hold on, why would it be delayed? We never announced them. Q Your office said that it was going to be released several weeks ago. It wasn’t. And then there were reports consequently that said it would be released, and it hasn’t been. So can you give us -- MR. SPICER: I don’t -- with all due respect, I don’t believe I ever announced that that was scheduled to come out. Q Okay. Can you tell us when it will be released? MR. SPICER: No. Q And also, in it, it addresses the Clean Power Plan, which is the Obama-era climate change regulation. And there is apparently no replacement opportunity in that executive order. MR. SPICER: Can I just -- I’m going to cut you off here. We’ve discussed executive orders in the past. I’ve told before -- until they’re ready to be announced, I don’t comment on the scheduling or the -- Q This is a policy question -- MR. SPICER: I know it is, but you’re asking me the contents of it. It’s not a policy question. Q No, no, I just haven’t been able to finish my question. MR. SPICER: Okay. Q Thank you. So apparently there’s no replacement for it. That is the answer to a Supreme Court ruling in 2007. Does the administration feel that it is legally bound to regulate greenhouse gases? MR. SPICER: Let’s wait and see what the executive order says or doesn’t say. I don’t want to get into -- Q (Inaudible.) MR. SPICER: I understand the question. I’m not getting ahead of this at this point. Q Sean, will President Trump hold a news conference on the attack? And also, on his upcoming travel, do you have any guidance on other rallies that he may have? Because that’s where he sends his message out to the American people, including social media. MR. SPICER: He sends his message out in a lot of ways. If there are rallies, then I would refer you to the campaign website to get updates there. As for future press conferences, stay tuned on when the next one is going to be. Q Sean, when you learned that the members of the President’s team may have been in contact with someone who the intelligence community and a federal judge has deemed to be a little bit dodgy, does that give you any pause at all? MR. SPICER: Who are you referring to? Q The people who are subject to the FISA order. MR. SPICER: I’m sorry, can you rephrase the question? Q It’s a reference to Nunes. Members of the President’s team, whether it’s the transition or the campaign, are said to have been in contact -- being picked up by when they were in contact with someone who was the subject of a FISA order. Does that give you any pause at all given the things that you haven’t known before about Manafort and Flynn, et cetera? MR. SPICER: Not until we know further details. I think to get ahead of what we know -- until we know what the chairman is going to brief him on, for me to suggest what he is going to reveal to him about whom and when and how would be inappropriate, at this point, to comment on. I’m going to go to Elizabeth Crisp out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Q Hi, Sean, thanks. Last year, Louisiana suffered one of the worst flooding disasters in our nation’s history. Today, thousands of people remain displaced, and communities are struggling to rebuild. With support from the Obama administration, the state received about $1.6 billion in flood assistance through the CDBG program. The state is seeking $2 billion more in federal aid, and our governor has asked for President Trump’s support. So my question is twofold. What is the Trump administration’s position exactly on the federal government’s role in long-term disaster recovery efforts? And also, can Louisiana count on this administration’s support for additional flood recovery assistance? MR. SPICER: Thanks, Elizabeth. I believe the process works such that the governor makes a request to FEMA; FEMA then puts it through the process. I’m not aware of what the request is or where it stands in the process, and I would refer you back to FEMA on that. Q This is actually -- this is aid separate from FEMA. It’s the long-term part to this. MR. SPICER: Okay. So I know that the budget that was just presented allows for substantial funding for humanitarian assistance, including disaster refugee program funding in priority areas. I think at this point the budget process has just kicked off, and we will now begin the process of working with Congress on -- them draft a budget, and talk about our priorities and where they go forward. The President will have a full budget out in May, and so that will be an appropriate time to do that. But I would refer you back to the governor at this point, and figure out where that stands in the process. Cecilia. Q Can you say today, with certainty, that Paul Manafort never tried to pressure or encourage the campaign to take on a more pro-Russia position on any issues? MR. SPICER: Not that I’m aware of. I can’t -- but there’s nothing that suggests that that was the case. Q And on Nunes, from what you know about what he has said so far, is the White House viewing this, in any way, as vindication of the President’s wiretapping tweets? MR. SPICER: I would refer you to his comment specifically. Until we know what he is going to brief the President on, I don’t want to have to get ahead of this. I think, obviously, the suggestion that he made that people were what they call “unmasked,” meaning that an American citizen who is caught up in a surveillance has, by rule of law, has their name protected; the idea that individuals’ names were unmasked and let known suggests -- raises serious questions: Why was that name unmasked? What was the intention of doing that? There’s a lot of questions that I think his statement raises, and I hope that we can continue to get to the bottom of. But right now, we just don’t -- we’re not there yet. I think that there are a series of questions that need to get answered as to what happened, why it happened, and hopefully we will be able to share more with you going forward. Todd. Q Thanks, Sean. On the border wall, the President’s budget blueprint calls for a couple of dozen lawyers who are going to be dedicated to acquiring land. And I think people are wondering just how aggressive the eminent domain effort is going to be, and how that squares with respect for private property rights. MR. SPICER: As I recall, during the Bush administration similar efforts were undertaken to secure the appropriate property that would be where a fence or a wall, in this case, would be. So this is nothing new. This is the government doing what it has to do to protect its border. I think there’s nobody in America, and I daresay the world, that didn’t believe that the President was committed to building a wall. And I think that we’re going to take the steps necessary to fulfill that promise, to make sure that we have to. So I know that the steps are starting to be taken both in terms of the funding and the administrative steps, to see the President’s vision fulfilled on this pledge that he made to the American people. And we’ll go from there. Q Is there any update on how the wall will be financed? MR. SPICER: I think both the 2017 supplemental has some initial funding in it. The 2018 budget does, and has two -- Q But that's general. I’m talking about where the money will come from. MR. SPICER: Right. And I think that we’re going to continue to do it. Right now, the initial funding that was put in place will allow it to begin. The President has been very clear that using existing resources we’d go forward. There would be continuing discussions about the financing of the wall, both in terms of how we will pay for it and who will be the source of that payment. Q Has he given up on Mexico paying for it? MR. SPICER: No, not at all. Thank you guys, very much. I’ll see you tomorrow. We’ll try to have updates on the subjects that are currently pending. Thank you. END 2:40 P.M. EDT
AVDIYIVKA, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists appeared to be respecting a new ceasefire attempt on Monday after international powers called for shelling to stop and for the withdrawal of banned heavy weapons.
US and China are both busy with internal power struggles so the world will have to wait. There are intense power struggles taking place in the United States and China these days meaning that big new initiatives for the planet as a whole will have to wait until the dust settles in both... [[ This is a content summary only. Visit http://FinanceArmageddon.blogspot.com or http://www.figanews.com/ or http://goldbasics.blogspot.com for full links, other content, and more! ]]
WASHINGTON ― After what may have been the largest demonstration in U.S. history, congressional Republicans don’t seem to think they need to do anything differently to address concerns of protesters at the Women’s March, literally shrugging off questions about the rallies and vowing instead to move ahead with their agenda. Republicans picked up this week right where they left off, working to advance an Obamacare repeal, confirming President Donald Trump’s nominees and even passing a bill preventing federal funding from going toward abortions. When The Huffington Post asked Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) whether she thought Republicans were taking the lessons of the march seriously, she said that Republicans had “got the message.” But asked what that message was, Jenkins shrugged before eventually answering that there were “a lot of angry, frustrated people.” Asked what Republicans were going to do to address those frustrations, Jenkins said the GOP would “continue with our agenda.” When we asked Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) what Republicans might do to address issues associated with the march, he suggested the GOP just needed to continue doing what it’s doing. “If you’re going to tell me the march is about equality, that’s already a foundational principle for Republicans to begin with,” Woodall said. “If you’re going to tell me it’s about standing up for the voiceless, we’ve been committed to giving a voice to the voiceless from day one. If you’re telling me it’s about the sheer numbers of folks who are willing to come together with us to work on solutions, listen, the only things left to work on are hard, they’re not going to get done without a lot of effort, so I’m pleased for all the man and woman power we can get to move an agenda.” If you’re going to tell me the march is about equality, that’s already a foundational principle for Republicans to begin with. If you’re going to tell me it’s about standing up for the voiceless, we’ve been committed to giving a voice to the voiceless from day one. Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) Republicans generally struggled to define what the message of the marches was, but they seemed to think if they just pushed ahead with what they were already doing, voters would reward them. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) said Republicans were focused on the issues they individually hear in their districts and had developed an agenda based on those priorities. (She ignored us when we asked if some of the frustration the protesters were expressing had been born of that agenda.) Democrats didn’t always have a clear answer on what exactly the message was from protesters either, but they at least had some ideas. “The message was we’re not going backward,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) told HuffPost. “We’ve come too far on women’s rights, on LBGT equality, and frankly a broader set of progressive values than even that.” Huffman said he had marched in local rallies in his Northern California district, and he thought Democrats could harness some of the energy from the march. “We’re not going down without a fight. These guys will do executive orders, they’ll pass through political theater like what’s happening in the House today,” Huffman said, referring to that abortion bill passed in the House Tuesday. “But the resistance is growing. The country is awake and mobilizing, and we’re not going to let this happen.” For Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who stayed in D.C. to march with protesters over the weekend, the demonstrations seemed to be the beginning of a political movement. He mentioned that people kept asking him how they could get involved to build on the march’s momentum, and he suggested this was a movement that was just getting started. “They’re not simply going to go home,” Polis said of the protesters. “They are worried, as am I, about the kind of America that Donald Trump’s rhetoric is leading to, and we’re going to stand up and change things.” “I think there will be a whole new generation of activists that will be coming out of the depressing results of the 2016 election,” he added. Again, it was unclear for most members ― Democrats and Republicans ― exactly what people were protesting. Everyone agreed there was an anti-Trump element to it, but there seemed to be a number of alternative issues important to demonstrators: abortion rights, equal pay, racial inequality and many others. But where Democrats looked at a broad array of issues that might motivate voters as a positive, Republicans seemed to see division and a leaderless movement. On CNN on Saturday, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), raised questions about who was leading this movement ― “if this is a movement” ― and he suggested that infighting among Democrats could prevent someone emerging in that role. “Right now it’s very much a soul-search that’s going to create significant problems for the coalition that the Democrats have,” Gardner said. Not every Republican thought the marches were something their party could just dismiss, though, or spin as an internal power struggle. (Who led the tea party again?) Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), one of those Republicans who came to Congress in 2010 with the tea party wave of lawmakers, said the marches were something members of his party needed to take seriously but weren’t. “Not yet, I don’t think so,” Amash said of Republicans heeding the message. As for Amash, he suggested he was different from most of his colleagues because he reaches out to everyone in his district and has the ability to respectfully disagree with his voters. “Whether we agree on every issue or not is not really a problem for me.” In this respect, Amash was like a lot of other Republicans: He believes he can forge ahead with a conservative agenda with impunity. Time and again, members cited conservative constituencies in their carved-out districts and suggested that the conservative agenda they were advocating for was what their voters wanted. Still, there are some members who know the price of Congress and the president getting in front of a moderate district. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), who was a victim of the 2010 wave and now (for a third time) has returned to Congress, suggested Republicans had to determine whether they would press forward with Trump’s agenda or try to differentiate themselves from the president. “They are going to have to make a decision soon,” she said. “I don’t think you can ignore so many people showing up around the country.” -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
Walter Russell Mead, The American InterestNo surprise here: as it has for the last century, the United States remains the most powerful country on earth. America’s dynamic economy, its constitutional stability (even as we watch the Age of Trump unfold), its deep bench of strong allies and partners (including 5 of the 7 top powers listed below), and its overwhelming military superiority all ensure that the United States sits secure in its status on top of the greasy pole of international power politics.
Emily B. Landau, Shimon Stein Security, Middle East America must win back leverage and deterrence over Iran. One of the foremost foreign policy challenges for the Trump administration will be defining its approach toward Iran and the JCPOA—the momentous nuclear deal—and devising a comprehensive policy in this regard, taking into account the serious flaws in the deal itself, as well as Iran’s troubling behavior following the deal’s announcement and implementation. The impulse to scrap the deal—as Trump promised on the campaign trail—is understandable, but at this point renouncing the deal would be a lose-lose proposition. Iran has already pocketed over $100 billion in sanctions relief, and the decision would cause friction with the other P5+1 states. Iran would presumably be free to resume its program with no restrictions, because all UN Security Council Resolutions demanding suspension of uranium enrichment activities have been replaced by Resolution 2231, which endorses the JCPOA. In addition, all ills emanating from the flawed nuclear deal would thereafter be attributed to this decision rather than to the very real issues surrounding the deal and its implementation. Demanding renegotiation of the deal is also perilous. Even assuming that consensus among the P5+1 could be reached on this, which is doubtful, renegotiation would take years, and what leverage would the international powers have to work with to pressure Iran, after having lifted the sanctions? Indeed, at this point, making the best of the bad situation that has been created with the JCPOA would counsel against both renouncement and renegotiation of the deal. However, much can be achieved simply by changing the U.S. approach to the deal and to Iran, and by altering the rhetoric. Given the strong reservations voiced by Trump and his prospective administration toward Iran, the new president should send an unequivocal message, reminding Iran that it violated the NPT by working on a military nuclear program, while warning it against any erosion of the deal and the consequences that will follow from any violation. The next step will be to work with the P5+1 to clear up ambiguities in the JCPOA—especially regarding inspections at suspicious military facilities, and looking for unknown facilities—and set clear guidelines for responding to every type of Iranian violation. Read full article
Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has become a paid pundit for One America News Network. With close ties to the president-elect, Lewandowski brings a higher profile to the fledgling conservative cable channel, based in San Diego. The Daily Beast first reported that Lewandowski landed at OAN. .@CLewandowski_ on how Trump should handle #FakeNews moving forward: @realDonaldTrump's best resource is Twitter account. pic.twitter.com/dd30AYSxKN— One America News (@OANN) January 12, 2017 Publicity materials from OAN claim that it airs “more live news coverage than any other news network” and that it is “fast becoming the 4th rated cable news channel!” The cable channel, which launched in 2013, has begun promoting Lewandowski’s appearances. “We got a lot of help from [Corey] in the past, and he seems like very nice guy and very knowledgeable,” OAN CEO Robert Herring told The Daily Beast “You know, we’re a growing network, and we saw a chance when he quit CNN and we just grabbed it.” In December, Lewandowski announced the opening of a D.C. consulting firm with Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett. Previously, Lewandowski had been a contributor on CNN, but he resigned days after the election in November. His short tenure at CNN began after getting fired from Trump’s campaign in June at a time when there was an internal power struggle to stabilize the campaign after a series of missteps. In March, then-Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields accused Lewandowski of assault for grabbing and bruising her wrist at a campaign event in New York. Video appeared to show him yanking her, but Trump defended Lewandowski’s actions. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
Drowning the World in Oil Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com Scroll through Donald Trump’s campaign promises or listen to his speeches and you could easily conclude that his energy policy consists of little more than a wish list drawn up by the major fossil fuel companies: lift environmental restrictions on oil and natural gas extraction, build the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, open more federal lands to drilling, withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, kill Obama’s Clean Power Plan, revive the coal mining industry, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. In fact, many of his proposals have simply been lifted straight from the talking points of top energy industry officials and their lavishly financed allies in Congress. If, however, you take a closer look at this morass of pro-carbon proposals, an obvious, if as yet unnoted, contradiction quickly becomes apparent. Were all Trump’s policies to be enacted -- and the appointment of the climate-change denier and industry-friendly attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests the attempt will be made -- not all segments of the energy industry will flourish. Instead, many fossil fuel companies will be annihilated, thanks to the rock-bottom fuel prices produced by a colossal oversupply of oil, coal, and natural gas. Indeed, stop thinking of Trump’s energy policy as primarily aimed at helping the fossil fuel companies (although some will surely benefit). Think of it instead as a nostalgic compulsion aimed at restoring a long-vanished America in which coal plants, steel mills, and gas-guzzling automobiles were the designated indicators of progress, while concern over pollution -- let alone climate change -- was yet to be an issue. If you want confirmation that such a devastating version of nostalgia makes up the heart and soul of Trump’s energy agenda, don’t focus on his specific proposals or any particular combination of them. Look instead at his choice of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state and former Governor Rick Perry from oil-soaked Texas as his secretary of energy, not to mention the carbon-embracing fervor that ran through his campaign statements and positions. According to his election campaign website, his top priority will be to “unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.” In doing so, it affirmed, Trump would “open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands, eliminate [the] moratorium on coal leasing, and open shale energy deposits.” In the process, any rule or regulation that stands in the way of exploiting these reserves will be obliterated. If all of Trump’s proposals are enacted, U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will soar, wiping out the declines of recent years and significantly increasing the pace of global warming. Given that other major GHG emitters, especially India and China, will feel less obliged to abide by their Paris commitments if the U.S. heads down that path, it’s almost certain that atmospheric warming will soar beyond the 2 degree Celsius rise over pre-industrial levels that scientists consider the maximum the planet can absorb without suffering catastrophic repercussions. And if, as promised, Trump also repeals a whole raft of environmental regulations and essentially dismantles the Environmental Protection Agency, much of the progress made over recent years in improving our air and water quality will simply be wiped away, and the skies over our cities and suburbs will once again turn gray with smog and toxic pollutants of all sorts. Eliminating All Constraints on Carbon Extraction To fully appreciate the dark, essentially delusional nature of Trump’s energy nostalgia, let’s start by reviewing his proposals. Aside from assorted tweets and one-liners, two speeches before energy groups represent the most elaborate expression of his views: the first was given on May 26th at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota, to groups largely focused on extracting oil from shale through hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken shale oil formation; the second on September 22nd addressed the Marcellus Shale Coalition in Pittsburgh, a group of Pennsylvania gas frackers. At both events, Trump’s comments were designed to curry favor with this segment of the industry by promising the repeal of any regulations that stood in the way of accelerated drilling. But that was just a start for the then-candidate. He went on to lay out an “America-first energy plan” designed to eliminate virtually every impediment to the exploitation of oil, gas, and coal anywhere in the country or in its surrounding waters, ensuring America’s abiding status as the world’s leading producer of fossil fuels. Much of this, Trump promised in Bismarck, would be set in motion in the first 100 days of his presidency. Among other steps, he pledged to: * Cancel America's commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs * Lift any existing moratoriums on energy production in federal areas * Ask TransCanada to renew its permit application to build the Keystone Pipeline * Revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies * Save the coal industry The specifics of how all this might happen were not provided either by the candidate or, later, by his transition team. Nevertheless, the main thrust of his approach couldn’t be clearer: abolish all regulations and presidential directives that stand in the way of unrestrained fossil fuel extraction, including commitments made by President Obama in December 2015 under the Paris Climate Agreement. These would include, in particular, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, with its promise to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired plants, along with mandated improvements in automotive fuel efficiency standards, requiring major manufacturers to achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon in all new cars by 2025. As these constitute the heart of America’s “intended nationally determined contributions” to the 2015 accord, they will undoubtedly be early targets for a Trump presidency and will represent a functional withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, even if an actual withdrawal isn’t instantly possible. Just how quickly Trump will move on such promises, and with what degree of success, cannot be foreseen. However, because so many of the measures adopted by the Obama administration to address climate change were enacted as presidential directives or rules promulgated by the EPA -- a strategy adopted to circumvent opposition from climate skeptics in the Republican-controlled House and Senate -- Trump will be in a position to impose a number of his own priorities simply by issuing new executive orders nullifying Obama’s. Some of his goals will, however, be far harder to achieve. In particular, it will prove difficult indeed to “save” the coal industry if America’s electrical utilities retain their preference for cheap natural gas. Ignoring Market Realities This last point speaks to a major contradiction in the Trump energy plan. Seeking to boost the extraction of every carbon-based energy source inevitably spells doom for segments of the industry incapable of competing in the low-price environment of a supply-dominated Trumpian energy marketplace. Take the competition between coal and natural gas in powering America’s electrical plants. As a result of the widespread deployment of fracking technology in the nation’s prolific shale fields, the U.S. gas output has skyrocketed in recent years, jumping from 18.1 trillion cubic feet in 2005 to 27.1 trillion in 2015. With so much additional gas on the market, prices have naturally declined -- a boon for the electrical utility companies, which have converted many of their plants from coal to gas-combustion in order to benefit from the low prices. More than anything else, this is responsible for the decline of coal use, with total consumption dropping by 10% in 2015 alone. In his speech to the Marcellus Coalition, Trump promised to facilitate the expanded output of both fuels. In particular, he pledged to eliminate federal regulations that, he claimed, “remain a major restriction to shale production.” (Presumably, this was a reference to Obama administration measures aimed at reducing the excessive leakage of methane, a major greenhouse gas, from fracking operations on federal lands.) At the same time, he vowed to “end the war on coal and the war on miners.” As Trump imagines the situation, that “war on coal” is a White House-orchestrated drive to suppress its production and consumption through excessive regulation, especially the Clean Power Plan. But while that plan, if ever fully put into operation, would result in the accelerated decommissioning of existing coal plants, the real war against coal is being conducted by the very frackers Trump seeks to unleash. By encouraging the unrestrained production of natural gas, he will ensure continued low gas prices and so a depressed market for coal. A similar contradiction lies at the heart of Trump’s approach to oil: rather than seeking to bolster core segments of the industry, he favors a supersaturated market approach that will end up hurting many domestic producers. Right now, in fact, the single biggest impediment to oil company growth and profitability is the low price environment brought on by a global glut of crude -- itself largely a consequence of the explosion of shale oil production in the United States. With more petroleum entering the market all the time and insufficient world demand to soak it up, prices have remained at depressed levels for more than two years, severely affecting fracking operations as well. Many U.S. frackers, including some in the Bakken formation, have found themselves forced to suspend operations or declare bankruptcy because each new barrel of fracked oil costs more to produce than it can be sold for. Trump’s approach to this predicament -- pump out as much oil as possible here and in Canada -- is potentially disastrous, even in energy industry terms. He has, for instance, threatened to open up yet more federal lands, onshore and off, for yet more oil drilling, including presumably areas previously protected on environmental grounds like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the seabeds off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. In addition, the construction of pipelines like the embattled one in North Dakota and other infrastructure needed to bring these added resources to market will clearly be approved and facilitated. In theory, this drown-us-in-oil approach should help achieve a much-trumpeted energy “independence” for the United States, but under the circumstances, it will surely prove a calamity of the first order. And such a fantasy version of a future energy market will only grow yet more tumultuous thanks to Trump’s urge to help ensure the survival of that particularly carbon-dirty form of oil production, Canada’s tar sands industry. Not surprisingly, that industry, too, is under enormous pressure from low oil prices, as tar sands are far more costly to produce than conventional oil. At the moment, adequate pipeline capacity is also lacking for the delivery of their thick, carbon-heavy crude to refineries on the American Gulf Coast where they can be processed into gasoline and other commercial products. So here’s yet one more Trumpian irony to come: by favoring construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, Trump would throw yet another monkey wrench into his own planning. Sending such a life preserver to the Canadian industry -- allowing it to better compete with American crude -- would be another strike against his own “America-first energy plan.” Seeking the Underlying Rationale In other words, Trump’s plan will undoubtedly prove to be an enigma wrapped in a conundrum inside a roiling set of contradictions. Although it appears to offer boom times for every segment of the fossil fuel industry, only carbon as a whole will benefit, while many individual companies and sectors of the market will suffer. What could possibly be the motivation for such a bizarre and planet-enflaming outcome? To some degree, no doubt, it comes, at least in part, from the president-elect’s deep and abiding nostalgia for the fast-growing (and largely regulation-free) America of the 1950s. When Trump was growing up, the United States was on an extraordinary expansionist drive and its output of basic goods, including oil, coal, and steel, was swelling by the day. The country’s major industries were heavily unionized; the suburbs were booming; apartment buildings were going up all over the borough of Queens in New York City where Trump got his start; cars were rolling off the assembly lines in what was then anything but the “Rust Belt”; and refineries and coal plants were pouring out the massive amounts of energy needed to make it all happen. Having grown up in the Bronx, just across Long Island Sound from Trump’s home borough, I can still remember the New York of that era: giant smokestacks belching out thick smoke on every horizon and highways jammed with cars adding to the miasma, but also to that sense of explosive growth. Builders and automobile manufacturers didn’t have to seriously worry about regulations back then, and certainly not about environmental ones, which made life -- for them -- so much simpler. It’s that carbon-drenched era to which Trump dreams of returning, even if it’s already clear enough that the only conceivable kind of dream that can ever come from his set of policies will be a nightmare of the first order, with temperatures exceeding all records, coastal cities regularly under water, our forests in flame and our farmlands turned to dust. And don’t forget one other factor: Trump’s vindictiveness -- in this case, not just toward his Democratic opponent in the recent election campaign but toward those who voted against him. The Donald is well aware that most Americans who care about climate change and are in favor of a rapid transformation to a green energy America did not vote for him, including prominent figures in Hollywood and Silicon Valley who contributed lavishly to Hillary Clinton’s coffers on the promise that the country would be transformed into a “clean energy superpower.” Given his well-known penchant for attacking anyone who frustrates his ambitions or speaks negatively of him, and his urge to punish greens by, among other things, obliterating every measure adopted by President Obama to speed the utilization of renewable energy, expect him to rip the EPA apart and do his best to shred any obstacles to fossil fuel exploitation. If that means hastening the incineration of the planet, so be it. He either doesn’t care (since at 70 he won’t live to see it happen), truly doesn’t believe in the science, or doesn’t think it will hurt his company’s business interests over the next few decades. One other factor has to be added into this witch’s brew: magical thinking. Like so many leaders of recent times, he seems to equate mastery over oil in particular, and fossil fuels in general, with mastery over the world. In this, he shares a common outlook with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on harnessing Russia’s oil and gas reserves in order to restore the country’s global power, and with ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, said to be Trump’s top choice for Secretary of State and a long-term business partner of the Putin regime. For these and other politicians and tycoons -- and, of course, we’re talking almost exclusively about men here -- the possession of giant oil reserves is thought to bestow a kind of manly vigor. Think of it as the national equivalent of Viagra. Back in 2002, Robert Ebel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies put the matter succinctly: “Oil fuels more than automobiles and airplanes. Oil fuels military power, national treasuries, and international politics... [It is] a determinant of well being, national security, and international power for those who possess [it] and the converse for those who do not.” Trump seems to have fully absorbed this line of thinking. “American energy dominance will be declared a strategic economic and foreign policy goal of the United States,” he declared at the Williston forum in May. “We will become, and stay, totally independent of any need to import energy from the OPEC cartel or any nations hostile to our interests.” He seems firmly convinced that the accelerated extraction of oil and other carbon-based fuels will “make America great again.” This is delusional, but as president he will undoubtedly be able to make enough of his energy program happen to achieve both short term and long term energy mayhem. He won’t actually be able to reverse the global shift to renewable energy now under way or leverage increased American fossil fuel production to achieve significant foreign policy advantages. What his efforts are, however, likely to ensure is the surrender of American technological leadership in green energy to countries like China and Germany, already racing ahead in the development of renewable systems. And in the process, he will also guarantee that all of us are going to experience yet more extreme climate events. He will never recreate the dreamy America of his memory or return us to the steamy economic cauldron of the post-World War II period, but he may succeed in restoring the smoggy skies and poisoned rivers that so characterized that era and, as an added bonus, bring planetary climate disaster in his wake. His slogan should be: Make America Smoggy Again. Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1. Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World. -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Separatists pushing to split up Bosnia along ethnic lines could endanger its bid to join the European Union and force international powers to intervene, the peace envoy for Bosnia has told Reuters.
WASHINGTON ― Within the Republican rat race to shift core principles and cozy up to the Trump administration, there’s one Republican in the House who seems totally uninterested in running the maze. When Donald Trump proposed a year of jail or loss of citizenship for burning the flag, this congressman said no president should be allowed to “burn the First Amendment.” When Trump said only the media thinks his potential conflicts of interest are “a big deal,” he quote tweeted the president-elect to say that it was indeed a big deal, affixing Trump’s hashtag, #draintheswamp. And when Trump indicated he would nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be attorney general, he said he was “deeply concerned” by the pick. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) says it’s not difficult for him to criticize Trump. He’s just being consistent. “I’m not here to represent a particular political party; I’m here to represent all of my constituents and to follow the Constitution,” Amash told The Huffington Post earlier this week. Amash, a 36-year-old lawyer entering his fourth term in Congress, has quite a bit of experience in breaking with his party. If there’s a bill that passes on the House floor with one member in opposition, there’s a good chance it’s Amash. He’s perhaps the most hated Republican in some orbits of the GOP conference ― Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) once called Amash “Al Qaeda’s best friend in Congress” ― just as he’s perhaps the most respected lawmaker in Libertarian circles. He’s partnered with Democrats to lead the charge against detention at Guantanamo Bay and the National Security Agency’s blanket collection of telephone metadata, and he’s been an outspoken critic of Trump from the very beginning to the very end, when he wrote in Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on his ballot. I’m not here to represent a particular political party; I’m here to represent all of my constituents and to follow the Constitution. At no point in the 2016 election did Amash ever flirt with supporting Trump ― and not because he thought the real estate mogul couldn’t win. He, in fact, said he wouldn’t support Trump because he feared he could win. And now that Trump has done just that, Amash isn’t letting up with the criticism, even as other Republicans trip over themselves to shift positions they’ve espoused for years. Take, for instance, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan ― a pro-trade, pro-immigration reform, anti-cronyism Republican ― has gone out of his way to praise Trump whenever he can. On Thursday, Ryan applauded a deal with Carrier that would offer the company tax breaks in exchange for not moving an Indiana furnace plant to Mexico. “I think it’s pretty darn good that people are keeping their jobs in Indiana instead of going to Mexico,” Ryan said, after years of crying out that the government “shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers.” Amash had a different take. More corporate welfare and cronyism. Equal protection is denied when one company receives favors at the expense of everyone else in Indiana. https://t.co/gPVLLyYQOS— Justin Amash (@justinamash) December 1, 2016 Again, Amash believes he’s just being consistent. “I ran on a set of principles, and it doesn’t really matter which party is in charge or who the president is; I’m going to stick by my principles,” he told HuffPost. He seems unworried by a potential backlash from standing up to Trump. In his congressional district, Amash noted, Mitt Romney did better than Trump ― and Amash did better than all of them. As for Trump going after him, Amash is characteristically unflinching. “Let’s see it happen,” he said. “It’s up to him how he takes it. I’m going to stand by my beliefs and stand up for my constituents and stand up for the Constitution.” Amash says his quote tweets criticizing Trump aren’t personal ― “these are critiques on policy” ― and that he’ll continue calling out his disagreements. One of the biggest areas of discord is national security and surveillance. Trump has taken a number of authoritarian positions, going as far as advocating torture and calling for a Muslim registry. And as much as Trump has tried to bring in every corner of the Republican Party into his transition team, one branch of the GOP has systematically been excluded: Libertarians. Nunes ― the member who tied Amash to Al Qaeda ― serves on Trump’s transition national security team, as does another former intelligence committee chairman: Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who was instrumental in trying to unseat Amash during a heated 2014 primary. (Amash delivered a scathing victory speech that year where he called Hoekstra a disgrace. “I’m glad we could hand you one more loss before you fade into total obscurity and irrelevance,” he said.) Yet another former intelligence chairman who shares bad blood with Amash, former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), was also on Trump’s national security transition team, before internal power struggles cost him his spot. Which is all to say it would be difficult to find three Republicans more ideologically split with Amash on national security and surveillance than the last three Republican chairmen of the intelligence committee. Asked if it was alarming that those were the types of people Trump wanted picking a national security team, Amash was Amash. “Those names are consistent with the positions he laid out during the campaign. It’s not alarming in that sense,” he said. Trump “believes strongly in the surveillance state,” Amash noted, saying those names were “not inconsistent with what he said he would do.” I ran on a set of principles, and it doesn’t really matter which party is in charge or who the president is; I’m going to stick by my principles. As for other Trump team selections, Amash has repeatedly expressed concern over Sessions becoming attorney general, citing his Senate voting record on civil rights and surveillance issues. “The attorney general has a lot of independent authority, so it’s a position we need to be really careful about,” Amash said. On Twitter (apparently the preferred method of communication for both Amash and Trump), the congressman said Sessions supports indefinite detention, mass surveillance, and civil asset forfeiture. “If a Dem nominee held these views, [Republicans] would be screaming for Senate to reject him. We should be consistent with our constitutional concerns,” he said. Regarding Trump’s financial conflicts of interest, Amash noted that many Republicans were just sort of waiting to see what Trump does. But he also indicated that the president-elect’s current plans of action don’t seem adequate. “He has to explain better how he’s handling conflicts of interest,” Amash said. “It’s not enough to say, ‘I’m the president, the president can’t have conflicts of interest.’” Of course, as comfortable as Amash seems criticizing Trump, there are some topics where he just won’t go. When asked about the prospect of impeaching Trump, should he not solve his conflicts of interest or increase the surveillance that he already believes is unlawful, the Michigan Republican, who already chooses his words carefully, spent some extra time coming up with a response. He thought about what he wanted say, pausing for a few moments over and over again, and then, three times, said: “I’m not going there.” -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
STRONG HORSE: French Election Hints at a European Shift Toward Russia. Since the end of World War II, European leaders have maintained their ever-growing alliance as a bulwark against Russian power. Through decades of ups and downs in Russian-European relations, in periods of estrangement or reconciliation, their balance of power has kept the continent stable. […]
President Park is accused of allowing a friend to meddle in state affairsKorea experts in Russia do not believe that Choi Soon-sil, who has been termed the ‘female Rasputin’ by the Korean media, had any influence on President Park Geun-hye's Russia policy. Choi, who has been a friend of the South Korean President since 1974, has been accused of using her friendship with Park to influence state affairs. The 60-year-old daughter of a South Korean religious leader, Choi, has no government post, but is alleged to have a ‘Rasputin-like grip’ on the president's trust and affections. Roadblocks hamper Russia-South Korea economic ties - expert “Investigations will reveal what specific decisions Choi Soon-sil did take part in,” says George Toloraya, Director of Asian strategy Center at the Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “The Korean press speculates that her influence is visible in the closing of the Kaesong techno park. She may have been behind the decision to deploy the American THAAD missile defense system in Korea.” The THAAD deployment is a highly sensitive issue both for Russia and China. Even if the suspicion that Choi was influencing Park’s foreign policy will be proved, it does not mean that Russia-South Korea relations will improve in her absence, says Andrei Lankov, professor of Korean Studies at Kookmin University. “Russia-Korea relations are in relatively good shape and are not even close to being in crisis mode,” Lankov says. “But let there be no illusions. It doesn’t matter who the president of South Korea is. The country will always feel comfortable in the U.S.'s orbit.” North Korea policy Experts agree that Choi's influence may be blamed for an extremely tough stance that Seoul has taken on North Korea. “Park's North Korea policy was highly unreasonable, but I would not limit this to Choi's influence,” Lankov says. “Many South Korean right wingers share the same attitude towards North Korea." “It was Seoul's inflexibility, that led to a growing number of provocations from the North Korean side,” Toloraya says. “In the past two years, Park repeatedly stated that North Korea would inevitably collapse. Experts were in doubt and could not understand where this inside information may have come from. The answer proved to be surprising,” he adds. “Park's North Korea policy was highly unreasonable, but I would not limit this to Choi's influence,” Lankov says. “Many South Korean right wingers share the same attitude towards North Korea." According to Lankov, such a policy could have led to a major conflict. “However, I would not exaggerate this risk. Both South and North tend to saber-rattle but don't want a war. They panic over the possibility of a war.” Domestic squabbles Konstantin Asmolov, a researcher at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, says that the scandal around president Park and her long-time friend is huge, but the real reason behind the hype could be internal power politics within the South Korean governing party (the conservative Saenuri Party). “When sanctions that Seoul imposes on Pyongyang are not working and North Korea is not falling apart, but continues its nuclear program, it becomes clear that this policy leads to nothing, and the South Korean right wing have only one exit strategy: to put the blame on Park and Choi,” Asmolov says. South Korea is scheduled to have elections in December 2017, but there is growing pressure on Park to resign.
A conservative super PAC is out with a new ad against Democratic Wisconsin Senate candidate Russ Feingold, implying that his support for President Barack Obama’s diplomatic deal with Iran threatens to throw the world into a nuclear holocaust. The ad will air statewide and was put out by Reform America Fund, a group that backs Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Feingold’s opponent. It starts with children counting down from 10 in different languages, but before they can finish, a mushroom cloud fills the screen and a message says, “A nuclear Iran is a threat to the world. Russ Feingold supports the Iran nuclear deal.” The ad evokes President Lyndon B. Johnson’s controversial “Daisy” ad, which featured a young girl in a field, counting the petals on a daisy before she’s interrupted by a man counting down and a nuclear explosion. It was meant to frighten voters about the candidacy of Republican Barry Goldwater. Last summer, Obama explained that the Iran nuclear deal ― negotiated by the United States and five other world powers ― was “our best means of assuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.” Iran promised to cap and downsize its nuclear program in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions. Once the deal is implemented, Iran will have disposed of much of its stockpile of uranium and slashed the number of centrifuges it spins. Iran is still bound to United Nations inspections and the reintroduction of sanctions if it reneges on the agreement. Feingold, who is running to retake his old seat from Johnson, stressed in August 2015 that the Iran deal kept military options on the table while working toward a diplomatic solution. “We’re not giving anything up, really,” Feingold said. “We could attack them tomorrow. If they violate these rules, the sanctions can go back into place almost immediately if the United States doesn’t object. And so here’s a chance to actually prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. The alternative is nothing ... and we’ll be stuck with one choice: a war, which I think would be unwise.’” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republicans in Congress ― including Johnson ― opposed the deal, but nonproliferation experts and others in the international community widely supported it. The claim that the nuclear deal will help Iran get a nuclear weapon is just wrong, Matthew Bunn, a nuclear specialist at the Harvard Kennedy School, told PolitiFact last year. “The terms of the deal require Iran to reduce its installed centrifuges by two-thirds, eliminate almost all of its stock of enriched uranium, modify its Arak reactor to drastically reduce its ability to produce plutonium, and to accept much broader inspections,” Bunn said. “Those actions would slow and impede any nuclear weapons effort, not facilitate and accelerate it.” Johnson has claimed that Iran’s frozen assets, which will be freed up when sanctions are lifted, will go “directly to terrorism.” Secretary of State John Kerry has conceded that some of the money could ultimately end up with groups involved in terrorism, but PolitiFact concluded it was not the direct pipeline that Johnson suggested. “Although Iran has more than $100 billion in available frozen assets — most of it in banks in China, Japan and South Korea — slightly less than half will more or less automatically go to preexisting debts,” The Washington Post reported in January. “How the rest is spent will reveal the direction of internal power struggles between Iranian hard-liners and pragmatists.” Reform America Fund, which started in the summer of 2015, initially said “every single penny” it raises will go toward helping Johnson get elected. However, it recently launched a $1.2 million ad campaign targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. The super PAC’s biggest donor appears to be Diane Hendricks, a Wisconsin billionaire and Trump supporter who backs the Koch brothers’ political network. HUFFPOST READERS: What’s happening in your state or district? The Huffington Post wants to know about all the campaign ads, mailers, robocalls, candidate appearances and other interesting campaign news happening by you. Email any tips, videos, audio files or photos [email protected] Want more updates from Amanda? Sign up for her newsletter, Piping Hot Truth. Enter your email address: -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
Vladimir Putin lives by the power of disinformation and misdirection. Putin stole billions. He is ruthless and unchallenged in Russia. Donald Trump has the inclination of a dictator. His net worth is questionable. His use of misdirection -- throwing every single claim of his opponent back in her face -- is without nuance. Trump has an eye for weakness but is clueless about diplomacy, history, and context. Putin has no respect for rule of law. Trump doesn't understand the US Constitution. He would be, in a word, Putin's patsy. Vladimir Putin can read the US polls. Why would he push so hard from Trump's corner with such a small chance of Trump winning in November? Already the international nervousness and turmoil the Trump camp created has served Russia's interests. For Putin, stirring the pot is its own reward. Since the end of World War II, the Soviet Union/ Russia has had a single objective: to erode US power wherever possible. With international turmoil, its possibilities increase. Trump -- with pledges to upset NATO and other signposts of international cooperation -- is Putin's way in: his Trojan Horse. As a historical matter Russia has never operated from the center of international power, because its aims are so clearly transparent and hostile to the Western world and industrialized nations. Trump threatens to upend the cardinal rule of post-war diplomacy: contain Russia. The chip on Putin's shoulder is Russia's eternal grievance: that it always operates from the margins toward the center. In the era of globalization and technology, Russia is still a minor partner even compared to China, the behemoth at its border. Putin detests Obama exactly for this reason: a minority has more power and influence than he has. With Trump, Putin sees how the tables could turn. The volatile non-politician Trump, who lacks the character and stability to be a leader, would be an easy trophy. Hillary, on the other hand, stands for diplomatic centeredness and cultural diversity that is an anathema to Putin. Putin has already taken clear advantage of US policy disasters in the Syria, where Russia can wage war on behalf of another dictator, Assad, without a single concern in the world. American voters are right to worry there is something in Donald Trump's tax returns that show indebtedness to Russia. By withholding his tax returns, Trump wins. If he loses the election, with Russian businessmen and with Putin, he still wins. As for Russia meddling in US elections, why wouldn't it if the means were available and its opportunity in Donald Trump so near at hand. (This OPED was also published at the daily blog, Eye On Miami.) -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.
Dynegy Inc. (DYN) announced the public offering of $750 million aggregate principal amount of senior notes. The notes carry an interest rate of 8.0% and are slated for maturity in 2025.